David Stern

After a 66-game sprint in a four-month span, the NBA has reached its postseason and many teams are already marred by injuries. The heavy schedule and lack of off-season preparations seem to be taking their toll on key players. No team was hit harder by this wave of injuries than the No. 1 overall seed Chicago Bulls.

Having played one-third of their season without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have to continue their postseason run without their best player. Rose landed awkwardly while driving to the basket late in the fourth quarter of game one against the Philadelphia 76ers. His teammates and fans feared the worst as he was carried off the courts. Hours later, it was confirmed that he tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic were hit by the injury bug weeks before the postseason got underway. They were well on their way to earning a top four seed in the Eastern Conference but then lost All-Star center Dwight Howard for the season with a
herniated disk.  

Staying in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics’ hopes of making another championship run took a major hit when they lost Ray Allen with an ankle injury. While Allen will not require surgery, he’s expected to miss their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

The most bizarre injury of the playoffs so far goes to the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire. After falling 0-2 to the Miami Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations by punching a glass enclosure around a fire extinguisher in the visitor’s locker room. Stoudemire sustained a lacerated left hand and will likely leave the Knicks without his services in their attempt to stay in the series.

“He’s probably going to be out. I don’t know how bad it is ... Your emotions run high. In a split second, a decision can alter things. You can’t fault anybody. We’ve got to deal with the repercussions,” said Knicks center Tyson Chandler. The Knicks are also without Iman Shumpert, who tore his ACL on Saturday.

The Western Conference side of the bracket has, for the most part, been able to escape the current spree of injuries. The Los Angeles Clippers lost Caron Butler for the rest of the playoffs during their historic 27-point comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. After scoring 12 points in 23 minutes, Butler broke his left hand during the second half.

The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder are amongst the teams who have yet to be affected by injuries. With the Chicago Bulls and Celtics out of the picture in the East, the Heat have a relatively easy path to make a return trip to the Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins agrees that the compact schedule may factor into the current rise in injuries.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Collins said. “The wear and tear, I don’t think there’s any question, the fatigue. What happens during the playoffs, it gets ratcheted up even more.”

Commissioner David Stern disagrees with the assessment saying during a radio interview he stated that the injuries and the tight regular season were unrelated.

“I don’t think it’s related at all,” Stern said. “When anything happens, that’s what’s going
to happen.”After a 66-game sprint in a four-month span, the NBA has reached its postseason and many teams are already marred by injuries. The heavy schedule and lack of off-season preparations seem to be taking their toll on key players. No team was hit harder by this wave of injuries than the No. 1 overall seed
Chicago Bulls.

Having played one-third of their season without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have to continue their postseason run without their best player. Rose landed awkwardly while driving to the basket late in the fourth quarter of game one against the Philadelphia 76ers. His teammates and fans feared the worst as he was carried off the courts.

Hours later, it was confirmed that he tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.
The Orlando Magic were hit by the injury bug weeks before the postseason got underway. They were well on their way to earning a top four seed in the Eastern Conference but then lost All-Star center Dwight Howard for the season with a
herniated disk.

Staying in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics’ hopes of making another championship run took a major hit when they lost Ray Allen with an ankle injury. While Allen will not require surgery, he’s expected to miss their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

The most bizarre injury of the playoffs so far goes to the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire. After falling 0-2 to the Miami Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations by punching a glass enclosure around a fire extinguisher in the visitor’s locker room. Stoudemire sustained a lacerated left hand and will likely leave the Knicks without his services in their attempt to stay in the series.

“He’s probably going to be out. I don’t know how bad it is ... Your emotions run high. In a split second, a decision can alter things. You can’t fault anybody. We’ve got to deal with the repercussions,” said Knicks center Tyson Chandler. The Knicks are also without Iman Shumpert, who tore his ACL on Saturday.

The Western Conference side of the bracket has, for the most part, been able to escape the current spree of injuries. The Los Angeles Clippers lost Caron Butler for the rest of the playoffs during their historic 27-point comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. After scoring 12 points in 23 minutes, Butler broke his left hand during the second half.

The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder are amongst the teams who have yet to be affected by injuries. With the Chicago Bulls and Celtics out of the picture in the East, the Heat have a relatively easy path to make a return trip to the Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins agrees that the compact schedule may factor into the current rise in injuries.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Collins said. “The wear and tear, I don’t think there’s any question, the fatigue. What happens during the playoffs, it gets ratcheted up even more.”

Commissioner David Stern disagrees with the assessment saying during a radio interview he stated that the injuries and the tight regular season were unrelated.

“I don’t think it’s related at all,” Stern said. “When anything happens, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Compact schedule could be to blame for playoff injuries

Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Kentucky's Anthony Davis fight for a loose ball in Monday's national championship game. Davis, the Naismith Player of the Year, scored six points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and had six blocks. Robinson 18 points and snagged 17 rebounds.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

There’s a growing debate in college basketball about what to do with so-called “one-and-done” players — those select few athletes who leave college after one season for a big payday in the NBA.

The Kentucky Wildcats won the NCAA Championship Monday night with a team loaded with “one-and-done” players, beating Kansas 67-59. UK freshmen Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis and Marcus Teague will likely be first-round picks in June’s NBA Draft.

Some argue it’s a problem that degrades the quality of play in the NCAA. Others believe it’s unethical to prohibit young men from pursuing a professional career.

The issue’s roots trace back to 2006: the year the NBA established a new age limit for the draft. Players who completed athletic eligibility at a U.S. high school could not declare for the draft unless they turned 19 years old in the same year as the draft and were at least one year removed from graduating high school.

This rule barred teenagers from bypassing college for the NBA. Since then, college coaches have recruited players that plan exclusively to play one year in the NCAA before going pro.

Texas coach Rick Barnes brought in four “one-and-done” players since the rule change, including Kevin Durant in 2006, Avery Bradley in 2009 and Tristan Thompson and Corey Joseph in 2010. All four were first-round picks.

This June, several college freshmen will hear their names called at the NBA Draft. It’s an issue that’s not going away.
And NCAA President Mark Emmert is not happy with it.

“I happen to dislike the one-and-done rule enormously and wish it didn’t exist,” said Emmert during a CBS broadcast on March 25. “I think it forces young men to go to college that have little or no interest in going to college.”

The NCAA makes millions of dollars in revenue each year from college basketball, so it’s no surprise Emmert wants to get free labor as long as possible (student-athletes aren’t paid).

NBA Commissioner David Stern responded on March 27 to Emmert’s comments.

“A college could always not have players who are one and done,” Stern told reporters. “They could actually require the players to go to classes. Or they could get the players to agree that they stay in school, and ask for the scholarship money back if they didn’t fulfill their promise. There’s all kinds of things that, if a bunch of people got together and really wanted to do it, instead of talk about it.”

Athletes can still bypass college and go to the NBA, though they still must wait one year from high school graduation. Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings played one season in Europe instead of college, then was a lottery pick in 2009.

Jennings is the exception to the rule.

Stern tried to avoid this clash years ago, but the NCAA didn’t play along.

“Years ago I said to the NCAA, I’ve got a great idea. We’ll insure a select group of basketball players. And that will make them more likely to stay in school, because they won’t feel the loss of a big contract,” Stern said. “We’ll designate a pool and those lucky enough to be drafted and make money will pay us back, and those that don’t, it’s our expense.

“The NCAA I think took it to a committee ... and they said it will only work under our rules if we do that for all sports. And I said, I don’t think that’ll work.”

Kentucky is also the exception to the rule. Most teams loaded with talented freshman don’t get far in the NCAA Tournament.

So what’s the big deal? Money. The NCAA wants the best basketball players to play for them. For free.

Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: Kentucky holds off Kansas to capture title

National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter, president Derek Fisher and vice president, former Longhorn Maurice Evans announce the union’s intentions to decertify and file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, narrowing the chances of having an NBA season even further.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW YORK — NBA players delivered a resounding but risky response to one more ultimatum from NBA Commissioner David Stern: See you in court.

The players’ association rejected the league’s latest proposal for a new labor deal Monday and began disbanding, paving the way for a lawsuit that throws the season in jeopardy.

Negotiating went nowhere, so now the union is going away.

And Stern said “nuclear winter” is coming.

“We’re prepared to file this antitrust action against the NBA,” union executive director Billy Hunter said. “That’s the best situation where players can get their due process.”

And that’s a tragedy as far as Stern is concerned.

“It looks like the 2011-12 season is really in jeopardy,” Stern said in an interview aired on ESPN. “It’s just a big charade. To do it now, the union is ratcheting up I guess to see if they can scare the NBA owners or something. That’s not happening.”

Hunter said players were not prepared to agree to Stern’s ultimatum to accept the current proposal or face a worse one, saying they thought it was “extremely unfair.” And they’re aware what this battle might cost them.

“We understand the consequences of potentially missing the season; we understand the consequences that players could potentially face if things don’t go our way, but it’s a risk worth taking,” union vice president Maurice Evans said. “It’s the right move to do.”

But it’s risky.

Hunter said all players will be represented in a class-action suit against the NBA by attorneys Jeffrey Kessler and David Boies — who were on opposite sides of the NFL labor dispute, Kessler working for the players, Boies for the league.

“Mr. Kessler got his way, and we’re about to go into the nuclear winter of the NBA,” Stern told ESPN. “If I were a player ... I would be wondering what it is that Billy Hunter just did.”

The league already has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit seeking to prove the lockout is legal and contends that without a union that collectively bargained them, the players’ guaranteed contracts could legally be voided.

During oral arguments on Nov. 2, the NBA asked U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe to decide the legality of its lockout, but he was reluctant to wade into the league’s labor mess. Gardephe has yet to issue a ruling.

Two years of bargaining couldn’t produce a deal, with owners’ desires for more competitive balance clashing with players’ wishes to keep the salary cap system largely intact. The sides last met Thursday, when the league offered a revised proposal but told the players there would be no further negotiating on it.

Stern, who is a lawyer, had urged players to take the deal on the table, saying it’s the best the NBA could offer and advised that decertification is not a winning strategy.

Players ignored that warning, choosing instead to dissolve the union, giving them a chance to win several billion dollars in triple damages in an antitrust lawsuit.

“This is the best decision for the players,” union president Derek Fisher said. “I want to reiterate that point, that a lot of individual players have a lot of things personally at stake in terms of their careers and where they stand. And right now they feel it’s important — we all feel it’s important to all our players, not just the ones in this room, but our entire group — that we not only try to get a deal done for today but for the body of NBA players that will come into this league over the next decade and beyond.”

Fisher, flanked at a press conference by dozens of player representatives and superstars including Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, said the decision was unanimous. But there were surely players throughout the league who would have preferred union leadership put the proposal to a vote of the full membership, with many ready to go back to work.

The sides still can negotiate during the legal process, so players didn’t want to write off the season just yet.

“I don’t want to make any assumptions,” union VP Keyon Dooling said. “I believe we’ll continue to try to get a deal done or let this process play out. I don’t know what to expect from this process.”

Hunter said the NBPA’s “notice of disclaimer” was filed with Stern’s office about an hour before the news conference announcing the move. Now, the NBPA is in the process of converting to a trade association as the fight shifts to the courts.

“The fact that the two biggest legal adversaries in the NFL players dispute over the NFL lockout both agree that the NBA lockout is now illegal and subject to triple damages speaks for itself,” Kessler said in an email to The Associated Press. “I am delighted to work together with David Boies on behalf of the NBA players.”

Hunter said the bargaining process had “completely broken down.” Players made numerous economic concessions and were willing to meet the owners’ demands of a 50-50 split of basketball-related income — a transfer of about $280 million annually from their feeling the league’s desires to improve competitive balance would hurt their guaranteed 57 percent under the old deal — but only if the owners met them on their system wishes.

“This deal could have been done. It should have been done,” Hunter said.

Over the weekend, Stern said he would not cancel the season this week.

Regardless, damage already has been done, in many ways.

Financially, both sides have lost hundreds of millions because of the games missed and the countless more that will be wiped out before play resumes. Team employees are losing money, and in some cases, jobs. And both the owners and players eventually must regain the loyalty of an angered fan base that wonders how the league reached this low point after such a strong 2010-11 season.

“It’s horrible,” said Ty Agee, president of the Beale Street Merchants Association in Memphis, Tenn. “This is bad. Personally, I don’t believe they will be able to fix it. This is really, really bad.”

And it was seemingly destined. Hunter said he believed years ago owners were going to lock out the players until they could force through the changes they sought. Given that, he has been criticized for not disbanding the union sooner in hopes of creating some leverage that the union never had.

The proposal rejected by the players called for a 72-game season beginning Dec. 15.

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: NBA announces plans to decentify, file antitrust lawsuit

NBA commissioner David Stern discusses the lockout with the media. Stern guided the NBA through its last lockout in 1998, which resulated in a shortened season of 50 games.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

For a sport that brought in more than $4 billion dollars this season, it is hard to believe that there isn’t enough of it to go around.

But it is not how much money there is coming in; it is how teams are spending it that has players and owners at odds. Basketball team owners want a salary cap, “revenue sharing” and the ability to let players go who underperform. Players on the other hand, want to increase their stake on the team’s pay roll, and neither side is budging.

“At every players’ meeting, [the players] had 20 to 25 guys there,” Kevin Durant said while in Austin to host his basketball camp this weekend. “Owners are united, but so are we. And there are more players.”

Prior to the end of this season, players such as Durant benefitted from the collective bargaining agreement settled between the NBA and the players union in 2005. Among other things, the CBA guaranteed money for players regardless of on-court performance and it established a “soft” cap — as opposed to a “hard” cap — which did not set spending limits on players.

But the issue goes even farther down the rabbit hole.

What the owners want
According to NBA Commissioner David Stern, the league expects to lose $300 million this season after losing $300 million last season because of the agreement provisions on spending requirements. The agreement mandated that every team owner spend at least 57 percent of their gross revenue on player salaries, and it is this obligation that the league said is the cause for 22 out of 30 reporting losses this season.

Only a few teams in the league enjoy high annual profits. For owners of some underperforming or smaller market teams, where ticket sales are harder to come by, spending 57 percent of team revenue on the players is too much. The league would like that percentage set closer to 40 .

The players union has repeatedly disputed the owners’ claims that they are losing money, but Stern believes the league has been forthright.

“We’ve given [the union] our certified financial statements,” Stern said. “We’ve provided access to our tax returns, and if there’s more needed, they’ll get more. We’re very comfortable because we’ve given the players association more financial information than has ever been done in the history of sport.”

What the players want
Players union President and Los Angeles Laker, Derek Fisher, said most of the money woes are a result of poor housekeeping.

“We’ve run into situations where teams have either mismanaged spending, overpaid staff or made decisions on rosters and personnel that weren’t in their best interest — things that we’re now being asked to take the hit for,” Fisher said in October.

Executive director for the National Basketball Player’s Association, Billy Hunter, said the owners are manipulating the numbers.

“There has been ongoing debate and disagreement regarding the numbers, and we do not agree that the stated loss figures reflect an accurate portrayal of the financial health of the league,” Hunter said during the season.

Along with maintaining a majority stake in revenues, the players oppose the owners’ “hard” salary cap proposal which would establish strict spending limits on players. The NBA’s “soft” cap has a number of loop holes and exceptions that allow a team to bypass the cap.

Similar to Major League Baseball, the NBA’s soft cap allows teams to spend above the salary cap as long as they pay a luxury tax. Most basketball teams spend above the cap. Boston, New York and Los Angeles can spend more than $100 million, while Minnesota spends less than $50 million. The current soft cap is set at $58 million.

A hard cap would eliminate bidding wars between owners for star players and theoretically spread talent around the league evenly, but for players who are earning well, a hard cap means an end to guaranteed contracts which ensure payment regardless of injury or on-court performance. Hunter called the guaranteed contracts the “life-blood” of the NBA.

“We’ve had that right for years, and it’s not something we’re trying to give up,” Hunter said.

A point of agreement
The one thing both sides want to see in the next collective bargaining agreement is guaranteed revenue sharing — but for different reasons.

Small market teams strongly support revenue sharing so that big spenders such as Boston and Los Angeles play a bigger role in subsidizing teams such as Sacramento or Memphis on an all-around operational level.

Conversely, the players union wants revenue sharing to ensure that those same smaller market teams can increase player salaries across the board.

But for a real conclusion to occur, more than revenue sharing needs to be agreed upon, and soon, before any more causalities to the lockout occur. This time last year, NBA fans fixated themselves to the Lebron James free-agent-frenzy that overturned the sporting world. This year, a free agency can’t occur until an agreement is signed. Freshly drafted rookies can’t practice with their new coaches and teammates, and the summer league will also be canceled if it continues. Negotiations are stalled right now, with neither side able to concede to any of the more contentious
debates.

While no one knows when an agreement might occur, few can dispute that this lockout is going to be messy.  

Printed on 07/07/2011 as: Locked out