Category: NBA

Michele Roberts on N.B.A. Competitive Imbalance: Don’t Blame the Players

Michele Roberts has heard the complaints about the N.B.A.’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, signing an All-Star. She has heard the whining about the league’s best player, LeBron James, moving westward in the first week of free agency. She has seen fans and pundits proclaim the league isn’t competitive enough, and has watched the blame for that land on the doorstep of the National Basketball Players Association and its decision three years ago to reject a league proposal to prevent the limit on player salaries from rising faster than ever before.

After keeping quiet for a week, Roberts, executive director of the players’ union, fired back over the weekend. In a series of emails, she rejected the idea of blaming the players’ decision on the issue known as cap smoothing as nonsense. General managers and coaches may want to blame the players for their teams not being good enough to contend for a championship, she said, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

“Frankly, I have been amused by the chatter suggesting that smoothing — or more accurately the failure to smooth — has now become some folks’ boogeyman de jure,” Roberts said in an email. “While we haven’t yet blamed it for the assassination of MLK, some are now suggesting that it is responsible for all that is presumably wrong with today’s NBA.”

“Needless to say, I beg to differ.”

First, for those not fluent in the N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement, a bit of background is in order.

In October 2014, the N.B.A. signed a new television agreement that nearly tripled the amount the league received annually for its national television rights, to $2.66 billion from $930 million, beginning in 2016. The salary cap, which limits the amount each team can spend on players, is tied directly to league revenue. So, in 2016, the first year under the new agreement, the salary cap increased by $24 million, to $94 million, about the same amount it had risen the previous 11 years combined.

The N.B.A. knew this was going to happen, and executives believed a gradual increase of the salary cap was preferable. So the league in 2014 proposed artificially depressing the salary cap for the 2016-17 season. Instead of a sudden rise in the cap, the league offered to provide the players with a lump-sum check that they could divide themselves. That way, teams would not end up signing players to inflated contracts merely because those players had the good fortune of becoming free agents in the summer of 2016.

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“Under the concept we discussed, the total salaries paid to players in the aggregate each season would not have changed, but smoothing would have allowed for steadier, incremental Cap increases, instead of a one-year spike,” an N.B.A. spokesman, Mike Bass, wrote in an email.

In February 2015, union representatives from each team unanimously rejected the N.B.A.’s proposal. Roberts said two economists retained by the union concluded players would be worse off under the plan. It has long been accepted wisdom among sports unions that getting every player the highest possible salary is very good for all players.

So, in the summer of 2016, unspectacular players such as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov all signed contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. Those deals have proven to be poor investments for their teams. With two years left on their contracts, Noah and Deng are all but out of the league, and Mahinmi and Mozgov are little-used substitutes receiving starter money.

During that same summer, the Golden State Warriors — just off a Game 7 upset loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals — had enough salary cap space to sign free agent Kevin Durant, and enough space the summer after to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Without the salary cap spike, that would have been impossible unless all three took significant salary cuts.

Flash forward to last week, when the Warriors, fresh off their third championship in four seasons, signed the All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, and James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers. With the smoothing issue once again at the center of the debate over how the N.B.A. became so lopsided, Roberts decided she had heard enough.

Agreeing to artificially lower the salary cap “offends our core,” Roberts wrote. “It would be quite counterintuitive for the union to ever agree to artificially lower, as opposed to raise, the salary cap. If we ever were to do so, there would have to be a damn good reason, inarguable and uncontroverted. There was no such assurance in place at that time.”

She called the concept fundamentally unfair to players. Many of them had been preparing for the expected spike well before the television deal was signed by agreeing to contracts that allowed them to become free agents in 2016.

Also, Roberts explained, instead of artificially depressing the salary cap, the league could have proposed advancing television money into 2015 and increasing spending. But it didn’t want to “in part because teams weren’t expecting an early Cap increase,” Roberts wrote.

“Just the same way that they shouldn’t be faulted for seeking to meet teams’ expectations,” she added, “folks should recognize how important we felt it was to meet the reciprocal expectations felt by the players.”

She dismissed the idea that the 2016 spike had caused a soft market this year. “We opened free agency with 9 teams that had significant Cap room, in excess of $10 million each,” she wrote. “Frankly, before the spike, that’s about as healthy of a start as we’ve ever had.”

Roberts believes the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Lakers will all challenge the Warriors, and the young Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, as well as “a host of other teams are not conceding a damn thing this season.” There have always been dominant teams in the N.B.A. — as there have been in baseball, she pointed out, wh

cap — and they come in cycles.

“We exist to enhance the lives of the players — to provide them with freedom, opportunity, job security and economic wealth,” she wrote. “We actually believe we can provide it all — all these things, plus competition. The fact that one of the 30 teams, at this moment in time, is having its own moment, doesn’t trouble us or make us question the merits of our system.”

Roberts knows that since 2016 whispers have percolated through the league that she rejected cap smoothing because it was the first major decision of her tenure, which began in 2014, and she wanted to avoid the perception that the league could strong-arm the new union director.

Citing her long and bruising legal career as a trial lawyer for some of the country’s most prestigious law firms, she said she would have embraced smoothing if the union’s independent experts had recommended it.

“I stopped making decisions (especially potentially bad ones) to ‘make a statement’ or ‘prove something’ well before I passed the bar,” she wrote.

With rising television ratings and revenues suggesting the N.B.A. is stronger than ever, Roberts is fairly certain who should shoulder the blame for any team that struggles because they signed bad deals.

“I get that there are folks who believe that some of the contracts executed post the smoothing rejection were too large,” she wrote. “I vehemently disagree as I am sure do the players that negotiated those contracts. However, if that’s the beef folks have, take it up with the GMs that negotiated them. The argument that we gave teams too much money to play with is preposterous.”

The King Has Landed: Making Sense of LeBron James in Purple and Gold

Magic Johnson has delivered on his promise: The Lakers have their superstar. And not just any superstar—possibly the greatest of all time. But there is more that needs to be done to create the dynasty L.A. fans have been waiting for.

It’s been in the works for more than a year. Around the start of the 2017 NBA playoffs, executives and agents across the NBA began to increasingly discuss the possibility of LeBron James taking his talents to the Lakers after hitting free agency in 2018. One year later, it manifested into reality. LeBron James agreed to a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers, Klutch Sports announced in a press release on Sunday night.

The announcement was low-key compared to James’s past two decisions, but his plans are now bigger than ever. Los Angeles is home: LeBron owns two mansions in Brentwood and has invested in numerous businesses across the city, and it’s where Klutch Sports, the sports-management agency that represents James, conducts some of its business and where Uninterrupted, James’s sports media and entertainment company, is primarily based. Multiple sources across the industry have confirmed that James’s son, Bronny, has committed to play basketball at private-school powerhouse Sierra Canyon, which was first mentioned by Gary Payton in an interview with Black Sports Online. With his family settled and a long-term contract with his new team, James can begin his transition to his postcareer life. Movie star. Businessman. Team owner. In Los Angeles, LeBron will continue building his empire in his spare time, when he isn’t competing for championships.

N.B.A. Finals: Warriors Stun Cavs With Late Surge to Win Game 3

08cavs4-jumboIn an absolutely stunning defeat, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had led for much of the second half, fell apart in the closing seconds of Game 3 of the N.B.A. finals and ended up losing to the Golden State Warriors, 118-113. Golden State, after an 11-0 run at the end of the game, now has a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.

In the final 3 minutes and 10 seconds of Game 3, the Cavaliers saw their chances of an upset in these finals essentially evaporate. The Warriors closed the game on a huge run that was all Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, with Durant’s 26-foot 3-pointer with 45 seconds remaining putting the team on top to stay, 114-113.

The run seemed to come out of nowhere, with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving dominating for much of the second half, combining for 77 points in the game. The two-man dominance was simply not enough, even with a solid effort from J.R. Smith, thanks to the Warriors’ stacked lineup. Klay Thompson, Durant and Curry combined for 87 points, with Durant leading the way with 31 and Curry improbably tying Kevin Love as the game’s top rebounder with 13.

With the win, the Warriors have now extended their postseason record to 15 consecutive games, and in Friday’s Game 4 have a chance to be the first team to complete a postseason undefeated. Needless to say, no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the N.B.A. finals. But if there is a glimmer of hope for the stunned Cavaliers, no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit until last year when Cleveland did that against Golden State.

Steph Curry becomes first player to make 400 3-pointers in an NBA season

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The Golden State Warriors are on their way their 73rd victory of the season, and Stephen Curry hit an equally preposterous milestone Wednesday. With his eighth 3-pointer of the game against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors guard and reigning Most Valuable Player has made 400 3s on the season.

This has never been done before. Curry is the only player to even hit 300 3-pointers in a single season. He did that more than a month ago.

Last year, Curry made 286 3-pointers. That’s second all-time. Third is his teammate, Klay Thompson, this season. He’s made 276, including four on Wednesday.

This season, the Milwaukee Bucks made a total of 433 3-pointers. Three years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies made 382. No one has ever played the game remotely like Curry, and that’s why no one else has come close to reaching this record.

“Early in my career, I didn’t even like to shoot,” Steve Nash told Bruce Arther of the Toronto Star in December. “Different coaches had been imploring me to shoot, but you know, I’m a people pleaser. My mentality was, if I had a tough shot I would take it in the fourth quarter. I think Steph says, I make shots. So he’s constantly pushed the envelope of what kind of shots he can take.

“It’s almost like I didn’t know what Steph is doing was possible. Because I’d never seen it. He’s taken the things that those ahead of him did, and expanded on them at a rate that’s unbelievable. Some of the shots he takes, 10 or 20 years ago you would have said, what is he doing? I think he’s the most skilled player we’ve ever had, as far as all-around skill.”

Nash is one of Curry’s main influences, and he was one of the best and most creative players of his generation. Nash is also one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, a member of the 50-40-90 club. For years, Curry has been compared to Nash because of his style and skill level. In Nash’s 18 seasons in the NBA, though, he never made more than 179 3-pointers in a season. Four hundred? He never even attemped that many — his season high was 381 attempts.

Curry will soon join Nash, now a special assistant to the Warriors, as a two-time MVP. He’s also firmly established himself as the best shooter who has ever lived. The ones who came before him couldn’t even imagine this.

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant scores 60 points, makes NBA history in final game

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers
Apr 13, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Fans cheer after Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) hits a jump shot during the third quarter against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Bryant was playing in the final game of his NBA career. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant said goodbye to the NBA on Wednesday night, and he definitely did it on his terms. The Lakers star finished his final game with 60 points on a stunning 50 shots, the most of his NBA career and the most in NBA history since 1984.

It was the most points by a player in their final NBA game. It was the most shots taken in recorded NBA history, passing Michael Jordan. It was an unrelenting assault in the form of shots. The man so revered for his indomitable will showed it in gunning in a way never before seen. Bryant made his career by doing things his way the entire time, and it was that way in the end.

The night came amid emotional farewells from former teammates, rivals and fans. Bryant missed his first five shots, clearly caught up in the emotion of the moment, but once he got cooking, he went right to work.

For Bryant, whose game was always built upon usage, taking it on himself to drag his teams forward, it’s only fitting that the Lakers’ future Hall of Famer ended his career putting up an insane scoring night amid a torrent of shots.

Just One More for Curry and Bryant

13CURRYKOBE-COMBO-master675OAKLAND, Calif. — On his way to fulfilling his obligations for a news media maw that included roughly 20 television cameras, Stephen Curry turned to a staff member who was with him during his rookie 2009-10 season. Curry was struck by how much things had changed.

“Another ’09-type scrum,” Curry joked.

It was a different time, of course. Curry recalled that the Golden State Warriors were essentially out of the playoff picture by the All-Star break. Nobody was talking about records or legacies. His face was not splashed on magazine covers. He was merely trying to survive the grind of a taxing profession and improve.

On Tuesday, Curry and his teammates prepared for the opportunity to make more history. With a win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday at Oracle Arena, the Warriors (72-9) will own the N.B.A. record for victories in a single season, breaking their tie with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10.

“To be in this position is special,” Curry said, adding: “It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come. My first three years, we didn’t make the playoffs. So your perspective is a little different.”

If nothing else, the final day of the regular season will have some flair. As the Warriors close out their chase, Kobe Bryant is expected to appear in his final game when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. Bryant, 37, announced in November that he would retire at the end of the season, his 20th with the Lakers.

Bryant won his fifth and final championship when Curry was a first-year player with the Warriors. But even as their careers overlapped for the past seven seasons, they are headliners of different eras, the slow erosion of Bryant’s game coinciding with Curry’s sharp emergence.

After Tuesday’s practice, Curry sounded almost wistful about the season and everything the Warriors had achieved. Curry recalled that when the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich coached the Western Conference All-Stars in February, he gave a little speech in which he reminded the players to slow down and appreciate the present. The message stuck with Curry.

“It’s human nature at times to let your mind drift off,” Curry said, “but it cheats the beauty of what’s going on right now. It’s kind of like society in general — so fast paced. You’re always wondering about what’s going on next, what I have to do next — tomorrow, next week, next month.”

The Warriors are a relatively young team, and there is an understandable tendency to imagine their future and all the possibilities. What else can they accomplish? Curry wants to guard against that instinct. There are no guarantees — ask Bryant about the toll of injuries, about the turnover of team personnel — and the Warriors may never again find themselves in a position to hunt another record as fabled as the one held by the Michael Jordan-era Bulls.

“I didn’t understand how hard the 72 wins in the N.B.A. really was until I got into the N.B.A.,” Luke Walton, an assistant coach for the Warriors, said, “and then I remember thinking to myself that the record will never be touched because it’s just too hard to win that consistently. And for our guys to do what they’ve done all season is just incredible.”

It goes a long way toward explaining why Curry and teammates like Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have refused to miss a game down the stretch. It has become a thornier issue for the coaching staff. Walton acknowledged that Coach Steve Kerr’s late-season calculus would have been a lot of different if not for the team’s pursuit of 73 wins.

“The downside is normally none of our starters would be playing,” Walton said. “Because of what we’ve accomplished this season, and our guys saying they want to go for the record, our minds can’t switch strictly to that championship goal until after this game is over.”

On Tuesday, Kerr missed practice because of a doctor’s appointment, Walton said. Aside from Kerr’s absence, though, it was a fairly typical morning for the Warriors here at their training complex. They watched game film, worked on fundamentals and avoided any mention of the number 73, at least until they fielded about a bazillion questions from reporters.

“You can’t not talk about it at this point,” Green said. “The whole world is talking about it now. It’s everywhere. There’s no way to hide from it.”

The Warriors seemed pretty loose, all things considered. Several members of the Los Angeles Angels, including Mike Trout, attended practice. Celebrity cameos are a regular occurrence with the Warriors. It was no big deal.

“Talented guys in their trade,” Curry said. “So it’s pretty cool for them to come out and watch us practice.”

Bryant, who seems to study the game’s history as much as any player, has encouraged Curry and his teammates to pursue history, to collect championships. And on a night when Bryant says he will conclude his career, the Warriors will go about their own business — and continue to press forward.

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“In Chicago, they have a championship banner that says 72-10,” Green said. “If we don’t win a championship, we’re not posting a banner that says — God willing — 73-9, unless we win the championship. As bad as I want this record, we need to get something to go along with it.”