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Posted on: December 2, 2011 3:30 pm
 

Nuggets and the Nene dilemma

To Nene, or not to Nene. This is the potentially franchise-shaping question facing the Denver Nuggets.

This is becoming familiar territory for Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, who no sooner got the job last season when he was thrust into the Carmelo Anthony saga. That one ended well for Denver: Melo and his wandering eye got a max extension and a trade to the Knicks. The Nuggets got valuable assets and picks, including players like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler -- who were already accomplished starters to a degree but also young and cheap enough to build and plan around.

But what about Nene? In a lackluster free-agent class, only Nene and Mavs center Tyson Chandler figure to command max money. Some NBA executives question whether either player is worth a contract starting at the max of $17.4-$17.8 million. If Nene wants to push for a sign-and-trade to a contender -- such as Dallas and Miami, two of the teams on his list -- he'd have to settle for a four-year deal with smaller raises than the Nuggets can offer.

If he wants a five-year deal, he'll stay in Denver. If he just wants a change of scenery, he could get a four-year deal from any number of teams that have cap space or could create it, such as the Nets, Warriors, Rockets or Pacers. In short, Nene has options. Not as many options as Anthony, who had the full extend-and-trade avenue and max sign-and-trade scenario going for him -- but options, nonetheless.

So, why aren't the Nuggets panicking? One, if Ujiri survived the Melodrama, the Nene-a-thon will be a piece of cake. And two, the Nuggets have options, too.

If Nene bolts, Denver is projected to have the most cap room in the league next season -- nearly $39 million, and more if they amnesty Al Harrington between now and then. They have their own first-round pick in 2012 and '13, and could wind up with more if Nene departed via the sign-and-trade route. As weak as this free-agent class is, this year's draft will be deep and exceptional. Not a bad time to undertake a one-year rebuilding/reloading plan if that's what the Nuggets are forced to do.

Also, the Nuggets brass need to find out what Gallinari is going to be in major minutes, not to mention Timofey Mozgov, another piece they got from the Knicks for Anthony. The sting of a rebuilding year also would be minimized by a shortened season. It'll be over fast, and if the Nuggets missed the playoffs, it wouldn't be long before they'd be preparing to pick a potential All-Star in the lottery.

While the Nuggets won't be in the running for a potential superstar free agent like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul or Deron Williams, their copious cap space and assets obtained in the Melo trade would give them flexibility to be one of the biggest players next summer. So do the Nuggets want Nene back? Of course. Ujiri has told him that on many occasions, and as with Anthony, the Nuggets exec has taken the time to build a relationship with his star so there's mutual trust.

But if someone is willing to pay Nene the max in the next week or so, making a 14-point, seven-rebound center a $17 million player? There may be no way to avoid parting ways. And as in the case of Anthony, it could wind up working out for the best for both sides.
Posted on: December 1, 2011 8:29 pm
 

CP3 drama and other free-agent buzz

And it begins.

Get ready for a replay of the Carmelo Anthony saga, with Chris Paul playing the role of protagonist and the big, bad Knicks once again in the villain role.

Cue the small market-big market theme song.

Seen this movie before. It's called "Gone With the Wind."

With Yahoo Sports reporting Thursday that Paul's representatives have informed the Hornets that he will not sign an extension with the team and that he wants to be traded to the Knicks, and with the Hornets immediately shifting into damage-control mode, we're right back where we were with Melo and the Nuggets. There are several key differences, however, that should be noted.

First, as pointed out earlier this week, the new rules take some leverage away from Paul in his bid to get to New York. Oddly enough, the rules that emerged from a lockout that was supposed to be about keeping small-market stars from fleeing to big markets also has taken a measure of protection away from the home team.

But Paul has done something important here that Anthony and his camp -- the same folks from Creative Artists Agency who orchestrated the union of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami last July -- didn't do. Paul has gotten started with his exit strategy much earlier.

Actually, it was last July when Paul's reps first informed Hornets brass that he wasn't sticking around and wanted to be traded to the Knicks, Lakers or Magic. At the time, the world was focused on LeBron and then the Knicks turned their focus to Anthony, who waited until the free-agent dust settled before clamoring to be dealt to the Knicks to team up with Amar'e Stoudemire.

Anthony got his way -- got his cake and was able to eat it, too. He did this under the old rules, which allowed him to get the same max extension (three years, $65 million) that he could've signed had he stayed in Denver. That avenue is no longer available to Paul. An extend-and-trade deal would only get him one year added to the two years he has left, a non-starter for a superstar of his caliber.

An extension with New Orleans would only net Paul two more years for about $39.6 million. This is nothing compared to what Anthony got, and not even close to the extensions that James, Wade and Bosh turned down before joining forces with the Heat. They did so by getting max length and dollars via sign-and-trades, and that option isn't open to Paul, either -- at least not in the same lucrative way. If he opts out and exits New Orleans via a sign-and-trade, he'd only get a four-year, $74 million deal -- compared to the five-year, $100 million the Hornets could offer. Factor in the notion that the Knicks, as of now, don't have close to the assets necessary to pull off such a deal, and it becomes even less likely.

Which brings us back to the original point: Even though it's December, it's technically July on the NBA calendar. Paul's efforts to determine his own destiny are starting much earlier than Melo's did for a couple of key reasons: 1) With Nene and Tyson Chandler the only potential max free agents in this class, there's no one to steal the attention the way LeBron, Wade and Bosh did las July; and 2) the new rules dictate it.

The Hornets' best chance of not getting stuck losing Paul for nothing is to trade him by mid-January or so. This way, New Orleans gets prime assets from a team where Paul is assured of re-signing with, and Paul only has to wait until July to opt out and get his five-year, $100 million deal from his new team once a newly imposed six-month window expires for players to sign new deals after getting traded.

The clock is ticking on Paul's time in a Hornets uniform, and this will unfold much more quickly than the Melo saga did -- in part, because of the new rules supposedly designed to keep star players from changing teams. Go figure.

There's one key difference so far between Paul's approach and Anthony's. Paul and his representatives have yet to say the words that would turn this saga into the kind of circus that the Melo drama became -- the words that Anthony made abundantly clear last season. What are those words? "I will only sign with the Knicks."

If Paul says those words, the tables turn and the game changes. And the Hornets might be inclined to call Paul's bluff and see if playing in New York with Stoudemire and Anthony is worth about $45 million to him -- the difference between what the Hornets could offer him next July and what the Knicks could offer, given that they currently only have about $13.5 million in projected room as the starting point on a four-year deal.

One thing is clear: We've seen this soap opera before. Getchya popcorn.

--

With the National Basketball Players Association reformed as a union Thursday with more than 300 authorization votes from players, the union and league can now begin hammering out the fine print of the agreement and negotiate the so-called B-list issues -- such as drug testing, the age limit, etc. A ratification vote is expected by next week, allowing training camps and free agency to open as projected on Dec. 9.

But -- and you knew there would be a but -- there could be a problem for the dozens of players who signed overseas contracts during the lockout. FIBA rules do not allow the paperwork excusing such players from their obligations to be submitted until the CBA is ratified. Once that happens, teams and agents say they're concerned that there could be up to a 48-hour delay in getting the paperwork processed and freeing the players to return to the States.

Thus, there is concern that such players -- the biggest star being the Nets' Deron Williams -- won't make it back in time for the start of camp. League officials are looking into the matter, but here's one way to look at it: If this is the worst fallout from the five-month lockout as far as basketball operations go, so be it.

--

Sources say there's mutual interest between the Bulls and free-agent forward Caron Butler. But Chicago hasn't ruled out also making a push for restricted free agent Marco Belinelli, whose defensive liabilities wouldn't thrill coach Tom Thibodeau but whose shooting prowess could help open the floor for Derrick Rose. ... Sources confirmed this tidbit passed along by CBSSports.com's Ben Golliver: Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago and is expected to be out until late December or early January.
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:17 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 2:01 pm
 

Nene wants out; six teams in hunt

One of the surest bets of the soon-to-begin 2011 NBA free-agent period is that Nene wants out of Denver. Where he winds up, and how, will be among the most intriguing storylines when the floodgates open around Dec. 9.

The Nuggets are operating under the firm belief that Nene will test the market as an unrestricted free agent, according to a person familiar with the team's thinking. Six teams have registered interest, the source said: Golden State, New Jersey, Indiana, Miami, Dallas and Houston.

Nene, the top unrestricted free agent on the market in the view of many team executives, will have a say over where he winds up -- though not as much as free agents did under the previous system since free agents can no longer get max deals when leaving their teams via sign-and-trades.

Nene, 29, has long coveted Miami and Dallas as landing spots, but would have to force his way to one of those teams via a sign-and-trade since both are well over the cap. And whereas LeBron James was able to get a max deal through a sign-and-trade when he went from Cleveland to Miami, Nene would have to settle for a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises under the new system in such an arrangement.

If the Golden State used the amnesty provision on Andris Biedrins, the Warriors would have enough room to sign Nene outright for close to the max -- but again, that would be a four-year deal with non-Bird raises as opposed to the five-year deal with 7.5 percent raises he'd get by re-signing with Denver. There's no incentive under the new rules for Nene to push for a sign-and-trade as opposed to an outright signing with another team, unless there was a clear preference for a team that didn't have room to sign him.

There is incentive, however, for the Nuggets to accommodate his wishes in the hopes of getting significant assets back through a sign-and-trade. For the Nuggets, the most advantageous scenario would be if Nene wanted to be in Miami, Dallas or Houston enough to be willing to accept less money to get there. 

UPDATE: The Nets would have room sign Nene to a max deal starting at 30 percent of the cap -- $17.4 million -- if they used amnesty on Travis Outlaw. The Pacers have enough room regardless, while the Rockets are close. They would either do a sign-and-trade or trade a player to create cap space or a trade exception. A source indicated the Rockets have no plans to use the amnesty clause on Terrence Williams.

Posted on: November 26, 2011 6:54 pm
 

What's in the deal and how it got done

NEW YORK -- After weeks of stubbornness, posturing, white-knuckle negotiating tactics and finally lawsuits, the NBA labor dispute finally came down to something that had been sorely lacking.

Compromise.

Imagine that.

Instead of losing an entire season and immersing the sport in a debilitating legal battle that would've squandered all its momentum, the NBA is back with a deal that neither side loves, but both sides can live with. In other words, the best kind of deal -- one that both sides walk away from a little disappointed. Based on conversations with officials from both sides, here are the broad strokes of the agreement, with emphasis on elements that had been unresolved when the National Basketball Players Association rejected the owners' latest offer, dissolved and filed antitrust lawsuits that soon will be withdrawn:

* BRI: The players will receive between 49-51 percent of basketball-related income based on the extent of revenue growth. But whereas under the owners' prior proposals, the players felt it would've been nearly impossible to achieve the 51 percent ceiling, sources said they'll have a realistic chance of hitting it by the fifth or sixth year of the deal with robust revenue growth. The players will receive 60.5 percent of incremental revenues beyond projections each season, up to 51 percent in aggregate. Previously, the owners were offering only 57 percent of marginal revenues up to a total of 51.

* Mid-level exception: For non-tax-paying teams, they're four-year deals starting at $5 million in the first two years, with the starting point increasing by 3 percent in subsequent years. Owners had been pushing for alternating 3- and 4-year deals for non-taxpayers. For tax-payers, the so-called "mini" mid-level will be for three years starting at $3 million in the first two years, with the starting point increasing 3 percent in subsequent years. This is an enhancement of the owners' previous offer of a two-year "mini" mid-level starting at $2.5 million.

* Room exception: Teams under the cap get an additional two-year exception starting at $2.5 million (same as previous offer).

* Luxury tax rates: The same dollar-for-dollar as in the previous CBA for the first two years. Starting in Year 3, the rates increase to $1.50 for the first $5 million over; $1.75 for $5-$10 million over; $2.50 for $10-$15 million over; $3.25 for $15-$25 million over; and an additional 50 cents for each additional $5 million (same as previous proposal).

* Repeater Tax: A dollar-for-dollar additional tax for teams that are above the tax line for a fourth time in five years (same as previous proposal). Owners at one time had been pushing for a $1.50 repeater rate, while the players wanted 50 cents. Voila, compromise.

* Sign-and-trades: Available to all teams in the first two years of the agreement. Starting in Year 3, teams that are close to the tax line would only be able to acquire a free agent via a sign-and-trade transaction to the extent that it put the team no more than $4 million over the tax. The maximum length of such contracts will be four years with 4.5 percent annual increases. Previously, the owners had been seeking to eliminate sign-and-trades for all tax teams or teams that would exceed the tax after the transaction. This was a key issue for the players, and the more player-friendly definition of a tax-paying team also applies to use of the mid-level exception. So, if a team is $500,000 under the tax, it could use $4.5 million of the full mid-level. If a team already is over the tax, it would be restricted to the "mini" mid-level.

* Extend-and-trades: With the so-called Carmelo Anthony rule, owners were trying to take away a player's ability to force a trade to a team and sign an extension. The compromise is that teams can acquire player via an extend-and-trade but can only offer a three-year deal (including whatever is left on the player's contract) with 4.5 percent increases.

* Qualifying offers: The players feel they made significant gains here for restricted free agents. Qualifying offers will be guaranteed with the potential to be significantly enhanced based on performance. So for example, a first-round pick between picks 10-30 would be eligible to receive a qualifying offer as high as the ninth pick's if he's a starter for half the regular season games or 2,000 minutes. Second-round picks and undrafted players could be eligible for QO’s as high as the 21st pick based on the same criteria. Similarly, picks 1-14 could have their qualifying offers reduced if they don't meet the criteria. It's a nice compromise that provides opportunities for players who perform and gives owners protection against having to overpay players who don't.

* Escrow: Withholding from player paychecks to account for a potential overage in their BRI share is capped at 10 percent. Owners dropped their demand for an escrow carryover from season to season.

* New player benefits pool: One percent of BRI will be used for annuities and welfare benefits (such as health, life and disability insurance, long-term care and education expenses for themselves and their children). In the unlikely event that 10 percent doesn't cover the players' BRI overage, up to 1 percent of the pool could be used to account for that.

* Contract lengths: All the same as in the previous proposal. Bird free agents can get five-year deals with their own teams, with other deals being capped at four years. Each team can designate one player eligible for a five-year extension of his rookie contract with his own team. A team can have only one player so designated on the roster at a time. The owners had been pushing for four- and three-year contract lengths until recently.

* Annual increases: 7.5 percent for Bird players, 4.5 percent for others. This is up from 6.5 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, in the owners' prior proposal.

* Minimum salaries and rookie scale: Frozen for the first two years and then will begin growing consistent with BRI growth. Previously, owners were seeking to cut both by 12 percent -- another win for the players.

* Maximum salaries: Same formula as in the previous CBA, with this exception in the players' favor: Star players who outperform their rookie contracts will be eligible to extend with their teams at 30 percent of the cap -- up from 25 percent. A player would be eligible by satisfying any of the following criteria: 1) winning MVP; 2) being named first-, second- or third-team all-NBA twice; or being voted as an All-Star starter twice. The Bulls' Derrick Rose, for example, would be eligible.

* Player options: Same as in the previous CBA. Owners had been seeking to eliminate player options for players who make more than the league average.

* Stretch and amnesty provisions: Same as in the prior proposal.

* The luxury tax cliff: Same as most recent proposal. Owners have agreed that a tax-paying team will only lose half the tax money it otherwise would've received by remaining under the tax.

* Minimum team payroll: It's set at 85 percent of the cap in the first two years, and 90 percent thereafter. The cap ($58 million) and tax ($70 million) levels can be no lower than last season's levels in the first two years.

* Deal length: 10 years, with each side able to opt out after Year 6. (Same as previous proposal.)
Posted on: November 25, 2011 11:51 am
Edited on: November 25, 2011 7:11 pm
 

Looking for a deal on Black Friday

NEW YORK -- Negotiators for the NBA owners and players were meeting Black Friday for litigation settlement talks in the hopes of laying the groundwork for a collective bargaining agreement to save the 2011-12 season.

The starting point in the negotiations essentially is where the bargaining talks left off Nov. 10, when the players were left with an ultimatum from the league to accept the framework of a 50-50 revenue split or face a far worse offer. Instead of sending the proposal to the union membership for a vote, the National Basketball Players Association dissolved Nov. 14 and launched multiple antitrust lawsuits against the league's owners.

UPDATE: With those dynamics in mind, the talks take the form of a legal settlement as opposed to a collective bargaining resolution -- with many of the same participants still involved but some new faces, too. The players' lead attorney in the antitrust action, David Boies, has teamed with former NBPA lead outside counsel Jim Quinn in an effort to push the deal across the finish line. But neither Boies nor Quinn was present at Friday's negotiations. Kessler, stripped of his role as lead negotiator for the players, also was not present.

Representing the players Friday were former union officials Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher; executive committee member Maurice Evans; general counsel Ron Klempner; economist Kevin Murphy; and one of Quinn's law partners. For the league, it was commissioner David Stern; deputy commissioner Adam Silver; Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the labor relations committee; general counsel Rick Buchanan; and deputy general counsel Dan Rube.

So the so-called litigation settlement talks had very much the same dynamics as the bargaining talks that broke off Nov. 10, leading to the players' decision to dissolve the union and launch antitrust lawsuits against the owners on Nov. 14. This, with one exception: there were strong indications that Quinn, one of the key figures in ending he 1998-99 lockout, had laid important groundwork during secret discussions he brokered earlier in the week. Stern and other league officials were seen Tuesday at the same location where Friday's talks were taking place. 

Multiple people connected to the talks have told CBSSports.com that the discussions could move quickly towards a deal after the momentum gained in the past week from back-channel talks spearheaded by Quinn. But one person in frequent contact with ownership cautioned that it may take the entire weekend to find common ground, adding that there "could be some anxiety" in the room Friday.

On the 148th day of the lockout, but the first since the labor impasse was transformed into a court battle, there seemed to be little effort to hide the appearance that the faces and issues hadn't changed. A key difference was the absence of Kessler, though the tempestuous attorney was still "very much involved" behind the scenes, according to a source.

The players are hopeful that the owners will be willing to offer substantial movement on a handful of system-related issues around which the talks crumbled two weeks ago, resulting in the unprecedented disclaimer of the NBPA and threatening that the season would be swallowed up by lengthy, costly and unpredictable antitrust litigation. To account for some of those concessions, which would result in a more flexible and opportunistic free-agent market than the owners last proposed, it is possible that the split of revenues could inch upward above 50 percent for the players -- with the remaining difference accounted for by an escrow system capped at 10 percent as teams and players adjust to a reset of player salaries and more restrictive system than the one that existed under the CBA that expired July 1.

The most difficult issues to resolve will be the availability of the mid-level exception for luxury tax-paying teams; sign-and-trade transactions for tax payers; and the definition of a tax payer. Coming out of the collapsed bargaining talks, these were the items that bothered the players the most in terms of restricting player movement -- especially the notion that a team would be considered a tax payer prior to use of an exception that pushed it over the tax line, as opposed to afterward.

But while league negotiators were not expected to fully move toward the players on all the outstanding system issues, there has been "positive movement" from the owners in recent days "to get a deal done," according to the person in contact with ownership. The biggest factor in the potential for a deal by the end of the weekend is not the players' lawsuits, but something much more predictable and relentless: the calendar.

Both sides understand that a season tipoff on Christmas, which would deliver a 66-game regular season with the NBA Finals pushed back only one week, would require an agreement by Monday at the latest. Even that would be pushing it; the league will need about 30 days to finalize the deal and hold an abbreviated free-agent period, training camps and preseason games.

As necessitated by the union's disclaimer, any legal settlement wouldn't be able to take the form of a CBA until the union reformed and was recognized by the owners.
Posted on: November 23, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 6:52 pm
 

Talks resume; is there time?

NEW YORK -- It began with sources indicating that back-channel discussions were under way last week, then took the next logical step when the identity of the third-party intermediary facilitating the resumption in talks was revealed.

Now, negotiations to save the NBA season are back on in earnest, with the focus on ending the lockout with enough time to begin the 2011-12 season by Christmas, as CBSSports.com reported Nov. 18.

Talks resumed Tuesday and are expected to continue Friday after a break for the Thanksgiving holiday, two people with knowledge of the discussions said. Yahoo Sports first reported the formal resumption of negotiations, and the New York Times reported that a Christmas Day tipoff would result in a 66-game season that would end in late April with the NBA Finals pushed back about one week.

With the nearly five-month lockout now a legal matter, the talks are taking place in the form of a litigation settlement. Is there time? Sources familiar with the negotiations maintain that if both sides are serious about finishing the negotiations that fell apart Nov. 14, when the union dissolved and the players began pursuing antitrust damages, a deal could come together relatively quickly.

Billy Hunter, director of the National Basketball Players Association, mentioned Tuesday at the players' Thanksgiving turkey giveaway in Harlem that he expected a settlement conference to take place under the supervision of a federal magistrate in Minnesota -- where the players' antitrust claims have been consolidated -- and that it could happen as early as next week. So if lawyers and negotiators could arrive at some semblance of an agreement by the end of the weekend, it's conceivable that the settlement could be finalized by early next week -- leaving time to open the season by Christmas, with not a minute to spare.

The league would require about a 30-day window to finalize the deal and hold an abbreviated free-agent period, preseason schedule and training camps before play could begin.

Both the league office and the office of the former players' association were in lockdown mode Wednesday, a sure sign of the serious nature of the discussions. Commissioner David Stern hasn't spoken publicly in eight days, and the NBA had no comment on the negotiations except to say that the league "remains in favor of a negotiated resolution," a league spokesman said.

Time will be especially of the essence since the settlement couldn't take the form of a collective bargaining agreement until the players voted by simple majority to reform the union and the owners agreed to recognize the union as the players' bargaining agent. The deal would then go to the players and owners for a ratification vote. All of this would have to be done with extraordinary speed.

As we well know, expedience has not been a hallmark of these negotiations. But the time to deal, sacrifice and show all your cards is now if either side wants to have a season instead of costly, lengthy antitrust litigation with a very uncertain outcome for both sides. And the remaining issues to be agreed upon -- principally restrictions on sign-and-trades and mid-level signings that the league is trying to place on high-spending teams -- are relatively minor compared to the big-ticket item of a 50-50 split of revenues that owners and players already have negotiated.

When the players rejected the owners' latest ultimatum on Nov. 14, they also were concerned about accelerated tax rates the league was proposing for teams that stay above the luxury tax line for multiple years and the interpretation for when a team is considered to be above the tax threshold for the purposes of using exceptions.

As a matter of protocol -- and legality -- former union president Derek Fisher is not participating in the talks. Fisher would only rejoin the picture if and when the union were reformed to approve a possible settlement. So with the talks in the hands of the lawyers, the question of what the starting point is in the negotiations becomes an important one.

When last the two sides bargained, they had basically agreed on a 50-50 split of revenues and had about a half-dozen system-related issues that separated them. The first question is whether or not each side's economic position changes when the negotiations resume. Hard-liners on both sides say the positions should harden, due to the economic losses that have been incurred and the threat of expensive litigation. But Jay Himes, a longtime antitrust attorney and partner at Labaton Sucharow, said the most expeditious result would come if the two sides simply picked up where they left off.

"I don't think anybody will dramatically reassess their position and say, 'Oh, wow, suddenly the calculus has changed considerably," Himes said. "... You can say, 'Well, now it's an antitrust lawsuit, give the players an extra 15 percent because they went out and got themselves a star litigator,' as they did. It sounds good, I suppose, for public consumption, but the science is not nearly that precise when you get in the negotiating room."

And neither is the risk assessment for either side. While the players may feel emboldened temporarily by the prospect of a potential $6 billion damages judgment against the owners if the season were lost, Himes cautioned that leverage can shift "from day-to-day and from decision-to-decision." And while he believes the players "on the merits, have a better shot" at ultimately winning in court, Himes said losing the entire season would be the "worst-case scenario" for them.

"From the players' point of view, at some point the season just dies, and that's really bad for them because most of them don't have good sources of outside income," Himes said. "And if the image of the NBA does suffer from a prolonged lockout, the opportunities for endorsements aren't as attractive because the advertisers don't want to pay for a tarnished brand. So that's a real disaster for the players. I'm sure they would not like to see the season killed."

Himes, co-chairman of Labaton's antitrust group and former antitrust bureau chief in the New York attorney general's office, pointed out another complicating factor for the owners that has flared up to varying degrees throughout the 2 1-2 years of bargaining talks: dissension among high-revenue and low-revenue teams. According to a person with knowledge of ownership activities, the owners recently held another internal discussion about how more money will be diverted to help struggling teams in small markets. Even at this late date, with another month of games and quite possibly the entire season in jeopardy, the owners still were not able to reach agreement among themselves on revenue sharing, the person said.

"That laundry is not necessarily being aired at the moment, but I'm sure that it's affecting the negotiating position of the teams when they leave the players and go back into their own conference room and start talking about where the money is coming from and going to," Himes said.

More than anything, the greatest and most relentless driving force behind this renewed push to get a deal is something neither side can control: the calendar. If the players can count on roughly the same schedule the NFL players got via the same U.S. District Court in Minnesota, they're looking at more than three months before an appeal would even be heard by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. By then, Christmas games would be a distant memory, and the entire season would be toast.

Thus, the time is now to salvage it. 

Posted on: November 17, 2011 7:20 pm
 

GMs served with papers in players' suit

A procedural but interesting wrinkle in the players' antitrust lawsuit in Minnesota emergered Thursday. In addition to filing the complaint in district court, the plaintiffs' attorneys served papers via first-class mail on all 30 NBA general managers, according to court documents in the case.

The certificate of service was amended in the court records Thursday to add the Miami Heat. When the lawsuit was filed Tuesday, the Heat were left off the list of team general managers served with the complaint. For unknown reasons, the attorneys served the papers on Heat executive and salary cap expert Andy Ellisburg, rather than team president and Hall of Famer Pat Riley.

Also, the Knicks' copy of the lawsuit may get lost in the mail. It was sent to Donnie Walsh, who is no longer the Knicks' team president.

Sending the complaint to team general managers does not mean they're liable in the lawsuit. It's simply a procedural step, and also one of many ways that attorneys can and do annoy defendants in civil lawsuits. It is not known if the same procedure was followed in the separate antitrust lawsuit filed in California Tuesday because the government's online database had not finished loading for that case.

In other developments Thursday, commissioner David Stern updated the full Board of Governors via conference call on the state of the collapsed collective bargaining talks and the litigation. In addition to the antitrust lawsuits filed against the NBA in California and Minnesota, the league has a pending case in the Southern District of New York in which it is asking a federal judge to rule that the lockout cannot come under antitrust attack by virtue of the players dissolving the National Basketball Players Association.

Stern explained the meaning of the two antitrust lawsuits, but it is likely that a strategy session discussing how to proceed won't happen until owners on the labor relations committee meet or have a call themselves, according to two people familiar with the league's procedures.



Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:50 pm
 

NBA responds to players' disclaimer

NEW YORK -- Lawyers for the NBA and players now suing the league for antitrust claims exchanged updated arguments in their pending federal case in New York in the hours after the National Basketball Players Association dissolved as a union Monday.

Under order from U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, the NBA furnished a letter Monday offering further proof that its request for declaratory judgment that the lockout was legal was based on adequate facts. The letter was due Monday, and thus included up-to-the-minute arguments in the aftermath of the players' union disclaiming interest to pave the way for antitrust lawsuits, two of which were filed Tuesday.

The players' response was ordered by Nov. 23, but players' attorney Jeffrey Kessler responded Tuesday.

Unsurprisingly, the league argued that the NBPA's decision to disclaim and take up its case with the NBA in federal court under antitrust law further supported the NBA's contention when it filed the lawsuit Aug. 2 that the players were going to do that all along.

"On more than two dozen occasions ... the union has threatened to abandon collective bargaining and commence antitrust litigation to challenge the lockout," league attorneys wrote. "And the  complaint alleges that the union's threats of antitrust litigation are having a direct, immediate and harmful effect on the parties' ability to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement."

League attorneys sought declaratory judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the lockout could not be challenged under antitrust law, asserting that the NBPA's harboring of that threat was hindering negotiations and that a new CBA would be more easily reached if the court pre-emptively removed the threat. In a motion to dismiss, attorneys for the NBPA argued that the court lacked jurisdiction because there was no "ripe controversy" -- since at the time the NBA sued, the union had yet to decertify or seriously consider it. Kessler reiterated those arguments Tuesday.

 "It was only at that moment that the NBPA decided to disclaim its interest in being the collective bargaining representative of the players -- a decision that was uncertain until it was made," Kessler wrote.

Whether or not the NBA's lockout can be legally challenged under antitrust law is only half the story, but it's a very important half. Lawsuits filed in California and Minnesota Tuesday also seek damages -- a step that seemingly would be affected by the New York court's ruling on whether the lockout was legal in the first place. It's all complicated -- far more complicated, costly and risky to both sides than it would've been for the parties to sit in a room and finish a collective bargaining agreement that was, by any measure, 95 percent done when the talks broke down.

"I still can't believe that any of the lawyers on either of the sides is confident enough ... that they're willing to blow up the season, spend hundreds of thousands -- if not more -- on legal fees, and risk either treble damages or billions in player salaries," said Gabe Feldman, director of the Sports Law Center at Tulane University.

 
 
 
 
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