NBA refs suck

I wasn’t able to watch Oklahoma City’s mess of a performance in Game 2, but by all accounts they had no business being in that game at the end, and Miami again deserves credit for playing well just when everyone is ready to write them off.

That said, the no-calls on the last play were just pathetic. Lebron James definitely fouled Kevin Durant in the act of shooting, and then he also fouled Russell Westbrook going for the rebound.

This is why the NBA really sucks sometimes, and why David Stern should just keep his fat mouth shut when someone brings up the lottery. I don’t think it’s fixed, and I think most people who immediately assume “conspiracy” are usually just stupid or lazy, but there are too many weird things going on in the NBA year after year for Stern to act self-righteous when someone questions the integrity of his league. They can find a way to ruin even a great matchup like this one, which may be the beginning of an epic rivalry between Lebron and Durant.

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The Chris Paul fiasco gives NBA a black eye

The proposed Chris Paul trade to the Los Angeles Lakers has created a firestorm.

The Hornets, who are owned by the league which acquired it from George Shinn a year ago, realized it was unlikely they would be able to retain Paul with a contract extension or in free agency after he opted out of his contract after this season.

So New Orleans general manager Dell Demps, a respected player personnel man who came from the respected San Antonio Spurs, went to work, hoping to get something for Paul instead of nothing if he left in free agency. Or in Stern’s words, “Getting something more for that player in the event he will leave than if he stays.”

Demps, in his second year as GM of the Hornets, arranged a huge three-team trade with the Lakers and the Houston Rockets: Paul to the Lakers; Los Angeles forward Lamar Odom to the Hornets and Los Angeles forward Pau Gasol to the Rockets, who would have sent forward Luis Scola, guards Kevin Martin and Goran Dragic and a first-round draft pick to New Orleans.

Stern got serious pressure from a number of owners, including Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who fired off a letter to Stern and other owners calling the trade a travesty.

This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.

Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.

I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn’t appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard.

The teams are still talking in an attempt to salvage the deal and they have appealed Stern’s decision.

Meanwhile, Stern and the NBA are being savaged by commentators everywhere. Here’s Bill Simmons and Micheal Wilbon.

Chaos within NBA players union

The executive director of the National Basketball Association players’ association, Billy Hunter. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS BASKETBALL)

Adrian Wojnarowski has the latest on the turmoil within the NBA players association, and the picture isn’t pretty.

After Billy Hunter made the grand stand of marching out of Friday’s bargaining session, refusing to negotiate below 52 percent of the NBA’s revenue split, a strong movement within the Players Association emerged that vowed the union will never let him act so unilaterally again.

From superstars to midlevel players to rookies, there’s an unmistakable push to complete the final elements of the system and take this labor deal to the union’s 400-plus membership. Beyond that, there’s an even larger movement to push Hunter, the Players Association’s executive director, out the door once these labor talks are done. All hell’s broken loose within the union, and no one is exactly sure how they’re going to get a deal to the finish line.

“Billy can’t just say it’s 52 or nothing, and walk out again,” one league source involved with the talks told Yahoo! Sports. “That will not happen again. It’s time that the players get to make a decision on this, and there won’t be another check lost before they do.”

Rest assured, there’s a vast gulf in the union, and it’s growing with the passing of every day. Players Association president Derek Fisher’s(notes) letter to the players convinced no one otherwise. NBA commissioner David Stern and the owners know it, and it’s part of the reason they won’t raise their offer of the BRI revenue split to 51 percent. There are system issues that need to be resolved for players, but this deal gets done at 50-50, and that’s been true for a long, long time.

In the end, there are two courses for the union: Take the deal largely on the table or blow this up, decertify and lose the season fighting the NBA in the federal courts.

Only, it’s too late to decertify. Everyone wanted to do it back in July when the lockout started, and Hunter refused. His decision had nothing to do with legal strategy, nothing to do with leverage or getting the best possible deal for the players. It had everything to do with what it always does with Hunter: self-preservation. He worried about losing power, losing his job, and he sold everyone on a toothless National Labor Relations Board claim that’s going nowhere.

Jason Whitlock has a different view, putting more blame on Fisher.

Either way, the whole situation is a mess. I tend to think Fisher is right here, realizing that the players can only push this so far.

David Stern answers questions about lockout, contraction of New Orleans

NBA commissioner David Stern attends an NBA preseason game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New York Knicks in Paris on October 6, 2010. The Timberwolves won the contest, part of the annual NBA Europe Live tour, by the score of 106-100. UPI/David Silpa

David Stern visited Bill Simmons’ podcast on Monday and discussed a wide-ranging set of issues, including a potential lockout and the possibility that the Hornets are contracted.

Whether the NBA will try to prevent locked-out players such as Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, while still under contract to their NBA teams, from playing abroad during a potential work stoppage

“If, in fact, there’s a lockout, then the player is free during the course of the lockout to do what he wants to do if his contract is in effect. I don’t want to play that game with anybody. … If we have a collective bargaining arrangement with the union and there’s a lockout, then last time around [in 1998] players were free to do what they’re going to do, because they’ve been locked out.”

Conspiracy theories suggesting that one of the league’s motivations in buying the Hornets was to give itself the ability to easily contract one team for leverage in upcoming labor negotiations

“Well, I guess all I would say to that is that wouldn’t be a conspiracy. I know that there are some owners who might share that view. … Anything that we do gets done by a majority of the owners. All you’re stating is a potential third option. But right now we are steaming full speed ahead with every single possible [intent] to make that team successful in New Orleans, and I think we’re going to succeed. So we’re going to make it unattractive to move it or contract it.”

Click here to listen to the entire podcast.

How to fix the NBA

Commissioner David Stern exudes confidence, even when he’s telling the press that the NBA is going to lose an estimated $400 million this season. Bill Simmons thinks that teams regularly screw over their fan bases by unloading good players at the trade deadline, tanking games late in the season to get a better lottery pick, all without any discount to the season tickets. If a team gives up on the season, why do the tickets remain the same price?

Here are a few of his ideas to fix this model:

Any team that misses the playoffs cannot raise ticket prices the following season. Miss two straight playoffs, season-ticket holders get a 5 percent discount for renewals the following season. Miss three straight, it goes to 10 percent. Miss four straight, it jumps to 25 percent. Miss five straight, it jumps to 50 percent.

Let’s say the 2009-10 Clips knew that, if they missed the playoffs a fourth straight year, they would be looking at 25 percent discounts across the board. Is there any way they keep Dunleavy? No. Is there any way they dump Camby at the deadline? No. Financially, it wouldn’t make sense.

If I were running the NBA, eliminating the illusion of regret would be my biggest initiative. I would give every nonplayoff team the same odds for winning the lottery, just so these teams wouldn’t destroy six to eight weeks of a season for paying customers. Then, I would cut the season by four games, guarantee only the top 12 playoff spots, then decide the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference with a double-elimination tournament for every nonplayoff team that I call the Entertaining As Hell Tournament (see my 2007 column for the gory details). Boom, we just killed the tanking and salary-dumping issues.

Couldn’t that work? Has it even been discussed? Wouldn’t it generate a ton of interest and extra revenue? Wouldn’t you watch? Wouldn’t it put a ton of pressure on teams to stop shutting their best guys down or giving away contract-year guys for no real reason? You can’t give away Camby! We need him for the Entertaining As Hell Tournament in April! And who knows, maybe a wacky 7-seed would gain momentum and pull off a Round 1 shocker in the playoffs. You never know. It’s never a bad thing when those three words are involved.

Ticket discounts for non-playoff teams, equal opportunity in the lottery and a double-elimination tournament — these are all good (albeit fairly radical) ideas. The lottery idea was actually the way the NBA used to do things, and they should go back to it. Tanking at the end of the season is one of the biggest problems with today’s NBA.

As for the length of the season, I wouldn’t stop at cutting just four games. I’d go with a 66-game season. Every team would play each of its division rivals four times (16 games) and all the other teams twice, once at home and once away (50 games). Cutting back on the regular season would make it matter again. Right now, it’s rare for a regular season game to hold much significance.

Fewer games would also mean more schedule flexibility, so I’d set it up so that NBA teams would only play on certain days, say Tuesday (to avoid Mondays during football season), Friday and Saturday. That means there would be 15 games on each night, so NBATV could bounce around from game to game like the Red Zone Channel catching the best action and furious finishes. This would generate interest in the league and make fantasy basketball more appealing. Fantasy football is something that has really helped the NFL increase its popularity over the last decade.

Lastly, I’d cut guaranteed contracts down to a max of four years to re-sign a team’s own players and three years for free agents. This would limit the impact of mistakes, and while I agree with Houston GM Daryl Morey that it’s not a system that favors the prepared, it would increase parity by allowing teams to recover from mistakes more quickly, which is another thing that makes the NFL so popular. (Mediocre teams would benefit from a lottery system that would give equal opportunity to win the #1 pick to all of the non-playoff teams, so you win some and you lose some.)

The problem with Stern is that he’s too conservative in his thinking when it actually comes to the structure of the NBA, its regular season, and its postseason. He helped to usher in a new, more free-flowing game when the league passed stricter hand-check rules, and he has made the NBA an emerging global business, but when it comes to a relatively boring regular season, playoffs that are too long and too inclusive, and a lottery system that encourages tanking, he’s not very open-minded about trying something new.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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