Posts Tagged ‘David Stern’

What They’re Saying: David Stern


VIDEO: David Stern Essay

David Stern officially stepped down from his position as NBA Commissioner on February 1. Stern guided the NBA through a global expansion that saw the league’s annual revenue grow from $165 million, when he took over the position in 1984, to an estimated $5.5 billion in 2013.

There’s plenty to say about David Stern, and writers from various newspapers, magazines, and Web sites wrote a lot recently about his run as commissioner. Here’s a sample of what they’re saying: 

Kurt Helin, NBC Sports: “When you watch the NBA All-Star Game and the weekend of events Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans, know that was David Stern — the idea of having a dunk contest and other events around the game was something he pushed from the day he took over in 1984. Know that when you watch a mid-season nationally televised game Friday night — where highlight packages and conversation before and after the game happens on ESPN and other outlets — that was David Stern’s vision.

Stern certainly wasn’t perfect — he was a cult of personality that led to two destructive lockouts, plus he already had a foundation to change the league put in place by others when he stepped in the door in 1984. You can make the case that he is more Bill Gates than Steve Jobs — he didn’t create new and innovative things, he just better exploited the market for those things.

Still, the NBA is in a far better place now because of him. Far, far better.”

Ken Berger, CBS Sports: “Stern introduced NBA basketball to the world with the Dream Team, and his stubborn imperialism has given us exhibition games and scattered regular season games all over the globe. Over the next decade, it will be Silver’s job to export the game in a tangible, permanent, meaningful way. Like any Fortune 500 company, when you reach market saturation, you have to find new markets if you want to make more money. Of the four major American pro sports, basketball is in the best position to do so.”

Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated: “He set up the NBA to become the only global sports league capable of thriving throughout the world. When Stern took over the NBA, it was a penny-ante organization endangered by bankruptcy. No one was envisioning profitability or expansion for pro basketball, much less the advent of a Dream Team. Stern saw a potential for the NBA that transcended the domestic aims of the rival leagues in America. Will the NBA ultimately become more popular and profitable than pro football or baseball? It’s hard to imagine that day right now, but the potential to be a moneymaker on every continent is something that exists down the road for the NBA to a much greater extent than for the NFL or MLB.”

Harvey Araton, New York Times: “He once explained the sport’s hold on him by recalling the title of a book written by his predecessor, Larry O’Brien, about O’Brien’s time as a strategist for the Democratic Party: No Final Victories. But could we say that the 2011 labor peace — with the owners gaining a 50-50 split of the revenue — represented his final victory? [Adam] Silver, who will be empowered with increasing revenue, with potential European expansion and developing interest in India, Africa and elsewhere, answered first.

‘Not a fair question,’ he said. ‘He already said there are no final victories.’

All right, then. Most cherished on-court memories?

Stern leaned back and pointed to a photograph propped against the wall of him presenting Magic Johnson with the most valuable player trophy at the 1992 All-Star Game, months after Johnson retired from the Los Angeles Lakers upon disclosing he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS.

That was one, Stern said. The other, he said, was ‘was what the Dream Team represented, this much-maligned group of players and sport, on the march to the gold medal stand, being feted like a combination of the Bolshoi, the Philharmonic and the Beatles.’

Stern paused and offered one final plug that made the long voyage sound like the continuing mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

‘And therein launched the globalization of the game,’ he said. ‘Again, no final victories.’”

Richard Lapchick, ESPN: “When he took over, the league was divided by race and lacked diversity at every level. Many people criticized the NBA player base as being “too black” while league and front-office employees were overwhelmingly white and male. From the start, the new commissioner said positions on the court would be filled according to the skills and talent of the contenders. In fact, the percentage of players of color has increased while the percentages of women and people of color in professional positions in the league office and team front offices have advanced dramatically.

Right from the start of his tenure, hiring in the league office included more women and people of color in the New York offices and later in its global offices. The NBA has been the only men’s league to get an overall A for racial and gender hiring practices. It has done so for six consecutive years. The other men’s leagues are now close to the NBA’s A for racial hiring practices, but both the NFL and MLB still get a C-plus for gender. The WNBA, which Stern helped to launch, is the only organization that beats the NBA and has had an overall A-plus. Seventeen years after its launch, the WNBA has had an A in both categories in all but one year.”

Ric Bucher, Bleacher ReportTalk about David Stern’s genius invariably begins with his business acumen, having made a too-black, too-drug-infested sport wildly popular with white corporate America and global TV viewers, thereby transforming the National Basketball Association into a billion-dollar empire.

If it were that simple, though, his run as commissioner might not be ending. But he’s being moved on because the league now is less about creating something and more about exploiting what has been built.

No, Stern is exiting stage right after an inimitable 30-year run because under that dark suit and power tie, he was an artist and a preacher—or rabbi, in his faith of choice—and that’s simply not what his current congregation is seeking.”


VIDEO: Stern on becoming commissioner

Henry Abbott, ESPN: “Getting stuff done is what work is all about in the end. Building consensus is the preferred approach. But it’s hardly as if Stern, who’s fond of bragging that he “knows where the bodies are buried,” is out of tricks should that process break down. Playground bullies tend to prey on those least likely to fight back, but Stern is that rare brawler who pokes his finger into the chests of titans. The NBA is operating today only because the lockout of 2011 is over, and the lockout is only over because Stern was able secure the support of just-enough owners — many of whom hated aspects of the deal.”

Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated: “Hard as it is to compare commissioners among sports and eras and media landscapes (what would Pete Rozelle have thought about the RedZone channel?), Stern is certainly on the sports commish Mt. Rushmore. He completely transformed his league in a way that, I would argue, no other commissioner has. Some of this, of course, owed to good fortune. His first years coincided with Magic [Johnson], [Larry] Bird and [Michael] Jordan. Plenty of forces outside his control — the changing media landscape, technology, the DVR that made sports especially valuable — helped build the NBA into the multibillion-dollar behemoth it is today. But go through the “CEO checklist” — longevity, business savvy, legacy, visionary thinking, generally unwavering support from the boardroom (i.e., the owners), leadership, innovation — and there’s a lot of high marks there.”

Larry Coon, ESPN: “Through the collective bargaining process — sometimes collegial, at other times adversarial — Stern put the system in place to realize his vision. The very concept of the modern salary cap was Stern’s innovation, including the soft cap and the exceptions that defined specific circumstances under which teams could exceed it.

Other mechanisms, including maximum salaries, restricted free agency, the rookie salary scale and revenue sharing were all invented or informed by Stern. These all exist to help the NBA meet its overarching objectives: to grow the league, to create a landscape in which any well-run team could be both financially solvent and competitive on the court and to ensure that everyone — not just the stars — could make a good living playing the game. Stern achieved these goals by combining a broad vision for the NBA with a depth of perspective that only an original architect could have. ‘He gets it all,’ said one league source. ‘There are no translation issues with him.’”

Kelly Dwyer, Yahoo! Sports: “None of the innovations credited to Stern were of his own design, but that’s the way these things often work — in art, commerce, athletics or in the political realm. His ability to sustain the fine work of his predecessors, while pouncing on the evolution of the times that were growing up around him, was brilliant. Expanding international relations, embracing cable and satellite television, attempting to even the financial playing field, recognizing the power of the Internet — the man even artfully detailed the benefits of a legalized modified zone defense in the presence of disbelieving journalists on a cocktail napkin in the summer of 2001. Stern didn’t invent any of these significant positive movements, but he made sure they were implemented tout de suite.”

Mark Heisler, Forbes: “You no longer hear the old charge that the NBA works only for rich teams. Nor is there a trace of the self-loathing in what was once dismissed as a “YMCA league,” that reached its highest expressions with Wilt Chamberlain’s “My Life in a Bush League” Sports Illustrated cover in 1965.

A distant third behind the NFL and baseball through the 1980s, the NBA is now a behemoth. With the owners slicing the players’ 58-42 share of revenue to 50-50 in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, profits and franchise values are ramping up. In an eye-popping bequest to his successor, Adam Silver’s first major piece of business will be to negotiate new network TV deals amid projections that rights fees could double from their current $930 million a season.

Mike Wise, Washington Post: “In hindsight, Stern didn’t sell a black sport to white America; he sold great athletes and good stories to a paying audience willing to accept some of the flawed characters for who they were.

Stern won’t get enough credit for some of his best work: his compassion and empathy for the most discriminated among us, not just poor black kids, many of whom grew up in America’s most impoverished neighborhoods. No, he stood for John Amaechi after the former center came out as gay in his autobiography. When Tim Hardaway made anti-gay comments in reference to Amaechi in 2007, Hardaway’s livelihood in the NBA suddenly ceased. Stern wasn’t having bigotry.”

J.A. Adande, ESPN: “One aspect of David Stern’s reign as NBA commissioner is the indelible personal mark he put on things. It wasn’t just the actions, it was the way in which they did it. These moments often reflected as much of his personality, manner and leadership style as they impacted the league. While you can debate whether another commissioner of this age accomplished more, there’s no doubt that he displayed more attributes — imperious, sarcastic, compassionate, ruthless, among them — than his contemporaries.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Grizz continue to find their way | Davis boosts his All-Star hopes | LeBron wants to talk with Silver | Shumpert injures shoulder in Knicks’ win

No. 1: Grizz get back into their grinding groove — If you gave up on Memphis a few weeks or months ago after their slow-out-of-the-gate start to the season, you may want to start tuning in to their games again. As our own Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday, Memphis is getting back to its “Grindhouse” ways. That was plenty apparent last night as the Grizz marched into Portland and handed the Blazers, who boast the league’s fifth-best home record, a resounding 98-81 defeat. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal has more on Memphis continued rise:

The Grizzlies didn’t yield a point for the first two minutes, 20 seconds of their game Tuesday night, and the defensive chokehold just got tighter and tighter.

Memphis held the NBA’s highest scoring team well below its average and started a three-game road trip with a 98-81 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Moda Center.

The Trail Blazers (33-13) entered the game putting up 109 points on 45.5 percent shooting per contest. But the Griz (23-20) held the Blazers to a season-low point total on just 34.5 percent shooting.

“Our confidence is back,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “We believe we’re a good team. We believe we can beat anybody. We kind of lost that. But everybody feels comfortable again and we’re playing hard.”

About four minutes into the fourth quarter, Portland’s television play-by-play announcer pointed out that the Blazers scored on back-to-back possessions just six times in the game.

The Griz simply kept the Blazers misfiring on the perimeter, and contested every shot in the lane. Portland missed its first 12 three-point attempts and was shooting 36 percent through three quarters while Memphis took an 81-58 lead into the final frame.

“We’re just starting to click,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “The cement hasn’t really dried.”

The Griz are certainly making an imprint. They’ve won three straight games and eight of the last nine. Memphis also ended Portland’s five-game home winning streak.

Since center Marc Gasol returned from a left MCL sprain, the Griz are 6-1 and have allowed 85 points per game.

“We were playing like ‘When is Marc coming back?’ as opposed to just playing basketball to the best of our ability and see what happens,” Griz forward Tayshaun Prince said. “But now that we have Marc back you can see a different comfort zone with our team. A lot of guys are playing at a high level. More importantly, we’re playing together.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans’ Davis boosts his All-Star resumeKevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love have the starting gigs nailed down for the Western Conference All-Star squad. Picking the guys who back them up? That’s something that isn’t easy, especially considering the frontcourt/power forward/center depth there is in the West. One such name that’s been bandied about for a bench spot is the New Orleans Pelicans’ uber-forward Anthony Davis. He didn’t do anything to hurt his reserve bid last night, writes John Reid of The Times Picayune, after a dominating performance against the Cavs:

With time running out to impress enough of the league’s coaches to earn a selection as a reserve in the Feb. 16 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis didn’t miss another opportunity to make his case.Davis dominated with eight blocks and 30 points to help Pelicans rout the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-89 on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. It was the third 30-point performance of Davis’ career. Davis dislocated his left index finger in the monstrous effort but doesn’t expect to miss playing time….

“I’m just trying to get better each and every day,” Davis said. “My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball and giving me a chance to score. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, has totaled 27 blocks and averaged 21.8 points in the past five games. He relied on his arsenal of shots — from quick pull-up jumpers to dunks — and didn’t miss many attempts. He made 12 of 18 of shots and had 24 points after three quarters.

Some of Davis’ dominant play came against rookie Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft. He played extended minutes for the first time and scored a season-high 15 points. But Davis overshadowed his effort.

“He’s a very talented individual,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said of Davis. “He kind of messes up your rotations just because he can space (the floor) so well and he plays the game the right way.

“Coach (Williams) did a heck of a job running continuity plays for him and he was catching it in rhythm and knocking down shots. You have to give credit to a good performance by him.”


VIDEO: Anthony Davis runs wild as the Pelicans take down the Cavs

***

No. 3: LeBron wants to talk with new commish Silver – The NBA is just a few weeks away from the official retirement of David Stern (which, if you haven’t read our David Aldridge’s oral history of his career, you’re missing out) and from Adam Silver taking over as the NBA’s new boss. Silver will of course become infinitely more busy than he already is and one superstar is already hoping to earmark some time to talk with him once he officially takes office, writes Sam Amick of USA Today:

The Miami Heat star said Tuesday that he’s in the process of making a wish list of sorts that he will eventually share with Silver, the deputy commissioner who began with the league more than 20 years ago and who has held his current position (as well as Chief Operating Officer) since 2006.

“Um, I’m making (a list),” James said. “I don’t know if I want to make it public knowledge right now, but hopefully I can sit down with the Commish – the soon to be Commish – and just throw out some ideas where I feel like the league can be better, and hopefully he has some ideas for me to see on my part.”

James, who said he planned to schedule a formal meeting with Silver, lauded Stern for the job he has done and gave Silver a warm welcome.

“I think (Silver) is great,” James said. “The opportunities I’ve had to be around him as he’s been the assistant commish, he’s been amazing. He’s easy to talk to. He’s someone that understands the business, who understands what the game of basketball means to everyone – the owners, the players, the coaches, everyone. Everyone included, the whole pie. I’m looking forward to him. I’m excited for him, and best of luck to him. Hopefully he can get 30 years in too like David was able to get. Who knows what his 30 years can do for the game.”

As for the changes he envisions and may seek, he hinted that they are minor.

“We don’t need major change,” James said. “This game has grown from just being in America to over almost 300 countries right now…But the game can always be bigger. There’s a lot of people who love the game who are not able to watch the game, so I feel we can broadcast it in more countries as well and continue to inspire people that want to play the game, who love the game. It’s the greatest game in the world to me. Obviously I’m biased, because I’m in it, but you know the things that we’re able to do out on the floor to inspire people is unbelievable.”

***

No. 4: Knicks’ Shumpert suffers shoulder injuryNew York got some good news during last night’s win over the Celtics as power forward Kenyon Martin returned to the lineup after missing five games with an ankle injury. But just four minutes into the Boston game, the Knicks saw guard Iman Shumpert suffer a shoulder injury and leave the game. How long Shumpert will be out for remains unknown, writes Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com:

Knicks guard Iman Shumpert suffered a sprained right shoulder in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Boston Celtics and did not return.The severity of the injury was unclear.

Coach Mike Woodson said after the Knicks’ 114-88 win that he wasn’t sure how long Shumpert would be out for.

Shumpert dealt with shoulder soreness in training camp but has remained relatively healthy throughout the season, playing in every game.

If Shumpert were out for an extended period, J.R. Smith or Tim Hardaway Jr. would likely replace him in the lineup.

In other injury news, veteran Knicks forward Kenyon Martin returned after missing five games with a left ankle injury and re-sprained the ankle in the first half. Martin had earlier aggravated the injury against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 16.

“Just overuse,” the 36-year-old Martin said. “Been going every day and playing a lot of minutes. Just needed a break. Not one thing happened. Just been fighting through it, fighting through it, fighting through it, and the body lets you know. So at my age, you got to listen.”

Martin limped to the locker room late in the second quarter. The Knicks said he was available to return.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Great teaser/snippet for Rick Fox‘s upcoming interview with Phil Jackson on GameTime (Jan. 30, 6 p.m. ET), where the coaching legend talks about Dwight Howard’s game, the state of the Lakers and much, much moreScott Brooks is coaching the West All-Star team for the second time in his career … Is Pistons owner Tom Gores to blame for Detroit’s roster woes? One columnist sure thinks so … Interesting look at how the Most Improved Player voting/winners have been doled out the last few years … If Rajon Rondo signs an extension with the Celtics, what might it look like long term for the team? … The Kings revealed the first renderings for their new arena that’s being built

ICYMI of The Night: We’re still thawing out here at Shootaround Central (aka Atlanta), but this nice hustle play from John Wall to race back and swat Steph Curry warms our hearts…:


VIDEO: John Wall hustles back to deny Steph Curry’s layup attempt

Season’s First Half Has Offered Plenty, Including A Sprint Toward Draft’s No. 1


VIDEO: The Beat discusses LeBron James’ evolution as a player in 2013

Rarely has an NBA season played out to its midpoint — at least for many around the league — less about the journey than the late-June destination.

Even the Great LeBronapalooza Free Agency of 2010 didn’t bleed back into the season that preceded it the way some obsessions with the 2014 Draft have tried to pre-empt this one. Even before Anthony Bennett heard his name called, rather surprisingly, as the No. 1 pick last June, the focus for a lot of franchises and their like-it-or-not customers already was fixed on a game of chance 11 months away.

“Tanking” will show up more often in your Google search of this season than “three-peat” (which still is rather special in historical terms, with the Miami Heat positioned to join the Celtics, the Bulls and the Lakers as the only teams ever to achieve that). NBA fans have become nearly as familiar with the names of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart and Joel Embiid as they are with the likes of Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons, Andre Drummond, Michael Carter-Williams and a bunch of other low national-profile guys already making significant contributions.

It’s as if everyone was getting bored with Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury and only wanted to talk about Masahiro Tanaka – who has yet to throw a pitch.

Milwaukee, somewhat surprisingly, is leading in the rush to the bottom, earning its lottery odds on merit because the Bucks expressly disavowed any notions of tanking and re-stocked the roster with established NBA role players. Other contenders in the down-is-up standings are Orlando, Utah, Philadelphia, Boston, Sacramento and a few others – several of whom didn’t exactly plan it that way.

It didn’t help to keep people’s attention on the present when some of the game’s biggest and high-impact names started succumbing to injuries. You wince just stringing together the list: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Kawhi Leonard and on and on. Some are down through summer, others have missed or are missing significant chunks of this season and a lot of teams’ ambitions have been whipsawed by events both unexpected and unfortunate.


VIDEO: GameTime breaks down the many injuries to star point guards this season

New players — the rookies — have plugged some of the holes or added to healthier rosters. Fellas such as Carter-Williams in Philadelphia, Victor Oladipo in Orlando, the Jazz’s Trey Burke, the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr., the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo have stepped up. (No. 1 pick Bennett? Not so much.) As their careers play out, they might benefit from the chips on their shoulders, put there by getting stuck in coach, relative to the fawning first-class treatment next year’s rookies already are receiving.

Besides injuries and a low-watt class of newcomers (again, compared to what’s supposedly on the horizon), the first half of the 2013-14 regular season featured a warping to the West. It wasn’t just that Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Golden State and others from the Western Conference had more intriguing players, rotations and styles of play than their counterparts in the East. It’s that the superiority has been more than just a matter of taste.

At this writing, with less than half of the 450 interconference games in the book, West teams have dominated by a 143-74 (.659) margin. Only Indiana (11) and Miami (10) have hit double-digits in victories against the opposite conference, compared to eight West clubs vs. the East.

If the season had ended Wednesday night – we can wait while you make your own joke there – two West teams sporting .500 records would be outside looking in, while three East teams lugging sub-.500 marks would be prepping for first rounds. It’s largely a cyclical thing, teams’ competitive arcs and all that. But it was worse earlier and had panicked pundits grasping at extreme fixes, like seeding 16 playoff teams without East-West regard.

Waking up to five .500 teams in the East seems to have calmed that, fortunately.

There have been some happy stories east of the Mississippi. Former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer has had a solid start as coach in Atlanta, leading a reconfigured and Horford-less roster to third place. Toronto has benefited from the jelling of its young core, coach Dwane Casey‘s steady message and GM Masai Ujiri‘s arrival, along with the well-documented addition-by-subtraction of shooter Rudy Gay.


VIDEO: The Starters discuss how the Raptors have turned thing around since the Rudy Gay trade

Chicago has no business chasing a top-4 seed with Rose down and Luol Deng gone. Washington broke .500 briefly – hope someone minted a coin. Brooklyn is dusting itself off after a horrendous and humiliating start. And Charlotte will try to hang on to a projected playoff spot without Kemba Walker for a while.

The West’s biggest surprise has played out in Portland, where the offense is out-Warrior-ing Golden State in points and 3-point potency. Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek has pushed into Coach of the Year conversation despite shedding veterans such as Luis Scola, Caron Butler, Michael Beasley and Marcin Gortat before the season.

As for disappointments, Cleveland promised its fans a playoff team but, at 15-27, faces a struggle to deliver, even in the East . Memphis and Minnesota both envisioned more than hovering around .500 midway through their schedule. New York can deal with its Knicks when it digs out from the latest polar-vortex dump; they’re buried somewhere in those drifts.

Individually, LeBron James still is the NBA’s best player. But his “valuableness” has been under assault from the Pacers’ George and, most of all, that bad man in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant plays for the Thunder and strikes like lightning, stringing together scoring performances lately that call to mind Bryant in his prime and Jordan back in the day. If enough MVP voters suffer from the so-called fatigue of automatically scribbling James’ name first on their ballots, a No. 1 seed in the West for OKC and another scoring title for Durant – with the added heft of working without Westbrook for so many games – might shift that Podoloff trophy to the Slim Reaper. (The Interwebs has been test-driving that nickname for Durant. Thoughts?)

Special mention must be made here of a couple historic events in 2013-14: By the season’s midpoint, not one of the 30 head coaches had been fired, which has to at least tie the record. And we’ve just wrapped up the last of David J. Stern‘s 60 half-seasons as NBA commissioner. In so many ways, especially in light of the Forbes franchise valuations out this week, there already is a creeping sense of “Commish, we hardly knew ye.”

Enough reflection, though. The season’s second half has begun. And somewhere, Kyle Korver just hit another 3-pointer.


VIDEO: Paul George’s rise to stardom has driven Indiana to new heights

Spurs’ New Challenge Measured In Minutes And Months


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and the Thunder handle the Spurs in San Antonio

At this time of year, the sting of a single loss is nothing to really worry about.

It’s the piling up of injuries that cause the pain and could burn up the Spurs’ season.

Forward Kawhi Leonard broke a finger in Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder and will probably be sidelined for a month. He’ll join in rehab and on the bench with center Tiago Splitter (sprained shoulder) and guard Danny Green (broken finger).

Here’s where the challenge begins. Not merely trying to survive without three regular members of the starting lineup, but trying to keep a lid on the minutes of San Antonio’s Big Three.

Coach Gregg Popovich has long treated the bodies of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as if they were art work from a museum, spending the regular season as much as a curator and caretaker as a coach. More anything else, he protects them.

That’s why when the Spurs traveled to Miami for a nationally televised, much-anticipated date against the Heat, Popovich gave Duncan, Ginobili and Parker the night off, even going so far as to booking them on a Southwest Airlines flight home to San Antonio. For that, the Spurs were fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern.

Even a chastened Popovich never apologized for his actions to protect the long term health of his franchise trio and said again after the latest blow that doing anything else would be “unwise.”

So after a Friday night stop in Atlanta, the Spurs will travel to Miami on Sunday for another marquee game against the Heat on ABC (1 p.m. ET). It will be their first trip back to South Florida since Games 6 and 7 of The Finals last June, the first chance to exorcise the demons of those painful losses.

But the Spurs and Popovich have never been about one game. Nor have they been scratching and clawing for every ounce out of the regular season, even if it means falling a spot or two in the Western Conference standings. Their belief has long been that playoff seeding is not as important as health. That’s never been more important than now when Duncan is 37, Ginobili is 36 and Parker is 31.

The Thunder proved again in their 111-105 win that they can ride the prolific scoring abilities of Kevin Durant — even in the absence of the injured Russell Westbrook — and rise to the top of the conference standings.

For the Spurs, it was a defeat that dropped them to 3-8 against the other teams currently ranked among the top six in the West. Yet even with another costly loss, there will be no panic, no change in plan. At least for now.

Popovich maintains that he’ll do everything he can to keep playing time right about where it is for Duncan (29.2 mpg) Ginobili (24.6) and Parker (31.6).

While the temptation may be great and the necessity could arrive if the Spurs have to pull themselves out of a sudden long skid, the focus must remain on the distant horizon. Especially if there is to be any hope of eventually landing the franchise’s fifth NBA title.

The truth is that those title hopes will rest as much with Leonard, Splitter and Green. Their legs and lungs that injected some much-needed youth into the lineup last season, enabling the Spurs to make their surprising Finals run. It was Leonard, Splitter and Green who were the leading scorers 10 months ago on the last occasion when the Spurs beat OKC. That trio walked off the floor at the AT&T Center to a thunderous ovation that was supposed to be a peek at the future.

Theirs is a solar system that still revolves around the Big Three, but the youth and speed of the Little Three give the Spurs defense more bite. They also give Popovich so many more ways to go from night to night, quarter to quarter, possession to possession.

“Kawhi’s news is way tougher than the loss,” Ginobili said on Wednesday night. “We have to figure it out.”

So they’ll go small at times and they’ll reach with defensive match-ups that occasionally are unexpected or exotic. But what the Spurs insist they won’t do is burn themselves out in January or February and leave nothing but ashes for April, May and June.

“I won’t overplay Timmy, Manu and Tony just to win games,” Popovich said.

That’s the challenge. No matter how much it hurts.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo to be on minutes limit in debut | Oden happy to make season debut | Cuban wants one last fine from Stern | Noel progressing, can do some on-court workouts | Howard won’t be in Dunk Contest

UPDATE — 11:39 a.m.: Celtics president Danny Ainge says Rondo, barring any setbacks today, will play Friday vs. the Lakers

No. 1: Rondo expected to play Friday vs. Lakers — From yesterday’s trade (which sent de facto point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State) to an assignment (and recall) to the NBA D-League, things are clearing in Boston for Rajon Rondo to make his season debut. Coach Brad Stevens said Rondo enjoyed his (albeit) brief stint working out with the Maine Red Claws and, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Rondo is expected to play between 18 and 20 minutes when he does debut. ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg reports that Rondo was actually active for last night’s game against Toronto, but didn’t log a minute:

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night.

However, Stevens made it clear after Boston’s 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors.

Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best – pass the ball.

Up by three points with less than a minute to play, Boston had to call its final time-out because Jeff Green could not in-bound the ball immediately.

Coming out of the timeout, there was never any thought about putting Rondo out on the floor in that situation.

When asked if Rondo would have played if it were an emergency, Stevens quickly shot that down as something considered.

“Well we were up three points with no timeouts trying to get the ball in-bounds and one of the best passers in the world sitting right next to me, so, no,” Stevens said. “He would not have been. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed. So that’s the way we were going to roll tonight.”

And here’s Forsberg’s report on Rondo as well:

Thin on bodies, the Boston Celtics activated Rajon Rondo for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard did not play and is still targeting Friday’s visit from the Los Angeles Lakers for his 2013-14 season debut.

“[Rondo is] going to go through and do some [pregame] shooting, and there is a chance that he would suit up tonight,” Stevens said before the game. “But I don’t see a chance that he would play tonight, that it would be more about getting back into that rhythm of pregame activity.”

“I think [Rondo] enjoyed it because they kept score. His team usually won,” Stevens said. “But it was more about getting up and down the floor more than anything. I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We’ll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there. But he looked pretty good.

“[The D-League workout] accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. I have not talked to anybody, including Rondo, since the workout was over. I watched it for a few minutes, and then I left. Because I needed to — obviously, we’ve got a lot going on around here, but we have a game tonight.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens talks before last night’s game about Rajon Rondo’s D-League work

***

No. 2: Oden happy to get his first NBA minutes — You’re probably already well aware that Greg Oden got his first NBA regular-season minutes since 2009 in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards last night. And, as our own Sekou Smith framed it after the game, this is the first of several big baby steps for the former No. 1 overall pick. But what you might not know is all the details leading up to Oden’s activation and debut last night, which ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh details below:

Greg Oden was smiling about basketball again.

It took him four years to get back to this place. Four years, two microfracture surgeries, a broken knee cap and a battle with alcoholism later, Oden sat at his locker grinning in front of a pack of reporters. The former No. 1 pick in 2007 had played in a regular-season game again, the first time in 1,503 days.

No one really saw this coming. On the morning of Wednesday’s game, the Heat didn’t even know that Oden would make his season debut. They didn’t even think he’d be activated on the roster.

But around noon, a spot opened up for Oden. The Heat traded long-time reserve center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics along with two draft picks.

Toney Douglas, the former Golden State Warriors point guard whom the Heat traded for, would not arrive in the nation’s capital in time for the game.

So, Oden’s time had come. The Heat players found out about the trade over lunch and shortly after, Oden got word: he’d dress for the game.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Oden said. “But I got out there and I did. And I’m happy I got the chance.”

Why bring Oden in then?

“We were down by 30,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

As if there weren’t enough Heat surprises, Oden came out in the second half with the rest of the starters, subbing in for Shane Battier who watched the third-quarter’s opening minutes from the bench. The aggressive approach ensured that Oden wouldn’t get stiff like he did after four minutes of action in the preseason game in New Orleans. Oden rode a bike during halftime and Spoelstra gave him the nod.

Oden’s final line in eight minutes of action: six points on two dunks and a pair of free throws along with two rebounds. Not captured in the box score were several altered shots and screens.

“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said. “Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that now.”

LeBron James said he didn’t even know that Oden was playing until he saw his fellow No. 1 overall pick lacing up his basketball shoes just before the game.

“Oh, you active?” James recalled asking Oden. “I had no idea.”

James assisted on Oden’s second dunk of the game out of a pick-and-roll, something we’ll probably see many times again if Oden can stay healthy. But it was Oden’s first dunk that James couldn’t believe.

“How is this possible that every time you sit out long periods of time, you decide to come back and you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt?” James said. “That’s pretty cool, man. Hopefully he can continue to stride, getting three minutes a half to five minutes a half to 12. He can be a big plus for us. Obviously in the short amount of minutes tonight, he was pretty good for us.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about Greg Oden’s impact on the Heat

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No. 3: Cuban wants one last fine from Stern — Since becoming owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Mark Cuban has racked up plenty of fines from the NBA for his outspoken nature regarding officiating, the league office and, at times, commissioner David Stern. With Stern set to retire from his post in about a month, Cuban told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he wants to get one last fine from the outgoing league boss if for nothing more than old times’ sake. (Worth noting: Cuban may get his wish sooner than he thinks. He walked on the court to berate the officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last night … fast-forward to the 2:08 mark to see what we mean.):

In an interview with ESPN.com this week to reflect on David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner, which ends Feb. 1, Cuban said he has been telling Stern for months that he is determined to get dinged one last time before his longtime foil leaves his post.

“We talk about it all the time,” Cuban said. “I’m going to have one final fine before he leaves.”

The outspoken owner made the comments in a lighthearted manner before the Mavericks went to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and suffered a disappointing 129-127 defeat to the Clippers that prompted a heated Cuban to walk onto the floor after the final buzzer at Staples Center and chastise the referees who worked the game.

As Mavs owner, Cuban has been assessed 19 league fines that were made public, 13 of which were triggered by either criticizing referees or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Cuban has paid in excess of $1.8 million in fines during his 14 years of Mavs ownership. The most expensive of those sanctions was the infamous $500,000 that Cuban was docked in January 2002 for declaring he wouldn’t hire then-NBA head of officiating Ed Rush to manage a Dairy Queen. The most recent was a $50,000 fine assessed in January 2013 after Cuban responded to a home loss to New Orleans by tweeting: “Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 years to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help.”

Yet Cuban has mostly praise for Stern with slightly more than two weeks to go before Stern’s longtime deputy Adam Silver takes over and the longest tenure of any commissioner in North American professional team sports comes to an end.

“One reason that I truly respect David is that he followed the rules,” Cuban said. “He didn’t want to be king. He wanted to be successful and make the NBA successful. He was less concerned with his legacy than with creating results for the NBA. He knows that the results will stand the test of time and define his legacy.”

Cuban said he would give Stern “an 85 to 90″ out of 100 when grading his three decades in charge and said his only bone of contention with the commissioner during his time in the league — besides the state of officiating — was the amount of money invested in China at Stern’s behest in the continued pursuit of globalizing the NBA brand.

“He’s always been receptive [to me]. We kind of have two relationships. There’s the public relationship about the officiating. And then there’s the business side. On the business side, we get along great.

“On the officiating side, that’s probably the one thing I’d say he’s failed miserably on, but I understand where he’s coming from, because he doesn’t have a horse in the race. Win, lose or draw, as long as the business of the NBA is good, he’s happy. I obviously have a completely different perspective, and that’s where we clash. He doesn’t care who wins. That’s the difference, because I do.

“But on the business side, we’ve agreed far more than we’ve disagreed.”

***

No. 4: Sixers’ Noel OK’d for ‘limited on-court work’The last thing we told you in this space about Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, it was that Philly’s coaching staff was working on a ‘total rebuild’ of his shot. In addition, Sixers coaches were warning fans that Noel may not even take the court this season. Some of that news has changed, however, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reports that Noel has been cleared by the team for some on-court work and he could play within 4-6 weeks:

The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for “limited on-court work,” but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.

“After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens’ representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work,” 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.

“There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.

“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June’s NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.

“He tested really well, and his knee looks great,” one source said. “Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him.”

CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.

***

No. 5: Howard won’t participate in Dunk Contest — Back in 2008, a young Dwight Howard — then with the Orlando Magic — burst onto the national scene with his performance in the Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Since then, Howard’s star has risen and fallen, and with the All-Star weekend being back in the Big Easy, there was some thought that Howard might give the Dunk Contest another try. That’s not going to happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined.“Couldn’t do it,” Howard said.

Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.”

Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans.

“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

“I remember that whole experience,” Howard said. “Being here, the fans were amazing. I saw in past years, nobody tried to really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I tried to really engage the fans, give them something they’ll remember.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran guard Keith Bogans has been ‘excused’ from team activities with the Celtics … In an interview with an Italian media outlet, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari isn’t sure when or if he’ll return this season … Fantastic read about Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and the strained relationship he has with his dad … Clippers coach Doc Rivers can’t help but marvel at Dirk Nowitzki‘s career … Ex-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson sounds a little bitter about all the hype Kawhi Leonard is getting in San Antonio

ICYMI(s) of The Night: On a 12-game night, it’s tough to find the best plays because so many of them stand out. But today, we’re going with a pair of nice backdoor alley-oops — one from Nicolas Batum to Damian Lillard and another one from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Larry Sanders:


VIDEO: Damian Lillard skies high on the baseline to finish off Nicolas Batum’s alley-oop


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finds Larry Sanders for the reverse alley-oop

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Kings Start Off Season With Extraordinary Game



VIDEO: Kings open 2013-14 season with some flair

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two thousand two hundred forty-eight.

Two thousand two hundred forty-eight previous regular season and playoff games in Sacramento Kings history, 1,161 at the original Arco Arena barn followed by Arco II/Power Balance Pavilion/Sleep Train Arena, and never has there been anything like the one played Wednesday night. No. 2,249.

And counting.

It was another game, except that it wasn’t. It was the opener of the season that wasn’t supposed to be, with 17,317 customers in the building representing the hundreds of thousands from the region who were not. This was a celebration of beating Seattle and beating the odds much more than beating the Nuggets 90-88 to start campaign No. 29 in California’s capital city.

The greatest comeback in NBA history complete by overcoming the strong bid to buy the Kings and move them to Washington state, a passionate fan base danced on the unused grave a lot of others built for them.  It had screamed its redemption before, when the Board of Governors denied the Seattle bid on May 15 and again when the unpopular Maloof family sold the team to a group headed by Vivek Ranadive, but that was different. That was the offseason. Wednesday night was the tangible: their team back on the court.

Jerry Reynolds, with the franchise ever since the move from Kansas City as a coach, executive and, now, television analyst, spoke for the masses when when he said, “It’s a new beginning. It really is. I really equate it to the first home game in the history of the Sacramento Kings. The excitement and the optimism looking forward and all that, and I think that’s exactly where we are 28 years later. New owners, new front office, new coaching staff, a change in players. And more importantly, it’s a new enthusiasm for our fans. I go to the grocery store and people want to the talk basketball with me, and it’s different. It goes back to, ‘Wow, we’ve got our team. It’s our team.’ ”

It was a basketball game, and so much more.

“Oh, yeah,” Reynolds said. “No question. It’ll be nice to get to where it is basketball moments, but right now, it’s just way more than that.”

Minority owner Shaquille O’Neal showed up and, obviously delirious while caught up in the moment, started talking playoffs and even the No. 6 spot in the Western Confetence. (He also said of some former teammates who actually did make the postseason and then some: “There’s a lot of guys on that Lakers team that couldn’t play. Couldn’t play at all.”) Mitch Richmond, the former Kings All-Star who also owns a small portion, was there. So was advisor Chris Mullin, the ex-Warriors great among the many Golden State connections in the new-look Kings. John Doleva, the president and CEO of the Hall of Fame, came from Massachusetts. Mayor Kevin Johnson, the biggest local hero, the mayor who made Season 29 possible, was of course in attendance.

Commissioner David Stern was too. He walked the purple carpet set up for the occasion outside one of the entrances, high-fived some fans and shook hands with others. He generally got a hero’s welcome after many years of being wrongly cast as a villain in the raging Sacramento inferiority complex that the NBA was out to get the small market. It was never close to true – the reality is the Kings would have been gone long ago if Stern didn’t keep standing in the way.

Now that the NBA had backed the California capital, what may be his final trip to town before his retirement was as a hero. He got a loud ovation between the first and second quarters, as he stood at center court with Johnson on his left and Ranadive on the right and received the key to the city from Johnson. The mayor also declared Oct. 30 as David Stern Day, indicating it would be a permanent distinction and not simply this Oct. 30.

“I would say that we have a pretty appreciative group of fans here,” Stern said when asked about his new popularity. “For the NBA. I don’t take it all personally. The owners did the right thing. They had a vote to cast and they cast it in favor of Sacramento. They did it because of what the mayor and the new ownership promised and Senator (Darrell) Steinberg (a representative from Sacramento and president pro tempore of the state senate) promised and the city council promised. Every promise was kept that was made to the NBA and the NBA kept its promise that if these things happened we’ll keep the team here. It’s a grand bargain in the best possible sense.

“This is a very important opening night, and I go to important opening nights. Expansions. Rings. New buildings. And new beginnings. And this is a new beginning, just as I went to Memphis last year on opening night because they had new ownership. I try to get all of the places where there’s new ownership, but I also try to get to places that are worthy beyond that even of celebrating. This is a celebration of the Sacramento fans and what they’ve meant to the league and to this franchise.”

The game was broadcast live in India, Ranadive’s birthplace. The Kings dancers did a routine to Indian music and in native dress. Johnson hugged Stern with a stronger hit than KJ put on Magic Johnson when they rumbled in the Suns-Lakers days, jostling the commissioner. Ranadive presented Stern with a construction helmet to signify the planned new downtown arena. The crowd cheered everything, including, and deservedly, itself.

No, there definitely had never been anything like it. It was the night the city had been waiting for. It was Game 2,249 and Season 29 after all.


VIDEO: Thompson’s board work helps seal thrilling opening win for Kings

Defined In Times Of NBA Tumult, Stern Stepping Down In Tranquility

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NEW YORK – The news of the day surprised few, if they had been following along: Starting in June, the NBA Finals will revert to the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule format currently used in all earlier playoff rounds and for The Finals prior to 1985.

In a nutshell, the reasons for 2-3-2 –- commercial air travel by the teams and catering to newspapers’ travel budgets – no longer are issues for the league, allowing competitive considerations about proper home-court advantage to carry the day. At the Board of Governors meeting that wrapped up in New York Wednesday afternoon, the unanimous recommendation of the competition committee from September was unanimously approved by the NBA’s owners/team reps.

The backstory of it all, though, was more compelling –- this was commissioner David Stern‘s last scheduled Board of Governors session, his last post-BOG news conference. Aside from the closed-door, collective bargaining bloodlettings in which Stern most famously rolled up his sleeves, earned his paychecks and made his bones, these meetings of the 30 team owners ranked a close second in crafting Stern’s reputation across 30 years as NBA commissioner and consummate cat herder. (His bi-annual pressers at The Finals and All-Star weekend placed third, offering glimpses of his many moods and styles to the fans.)

But for his finale, it seemed rather tranquil. For a man whose vision and will shaped the NBA over the past three decades like no others, and whose professional highlight/lowlight reel necessarily would be crammed with lockout moments, talk of “enormous consequences,” subtle verbal jabs and occasional fits of pique, the low-profile business that wrapped Wednesday was awfully tame.

“It is, right?” Stern said as he stepped from the platform, playing along momentarily with the “lightning rod” reputation one wag laid on him during questions and answers. Even Stern knows his best (and worst, equally memorable) moments have come during times of the NBA’s greatest turmoil. But this simply isn’t one of those times.

Business is good. Labor peace prevails at least until 2017. San Antonio’s Peter Holt will continue as BOG chairman. Reports at the BOG from revenue-sharing and collective-bargaining committees were encouraging, as Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver described them. Arena development or renovations are said to be on track in Sacramento, Minnesota, Milwaukee and New York’s Madison Square Garden. And two dozen or more franchises are on track to be profitable by the end of 2014-15, Stern said, assuming they want to be.

“There are some teams who will not be profitable, in many cases because they choose not to by virtue of their payments to either players or coaches or general managers,” he said. “We’re getting to a point that with revenue sharing, teams that are improving their performance will break even or make money, except for those that are ‑‑ I haven’t looked at the Nets’ balance sheet, but my guess is that they’re going to not necessarily be profitable.  But that also involves large payments to build a building as well as large salary, as well as large [luxury] tax payments. But that’s OK.”

The meetings Tuesday and Wednesday might have been as much about Stern’s fast-approaching retirement as the Finals format or other league matters. He’ will step down Feb. 1, 2014, after precisely 30 years, the longest run of any commissioner in the four major U.S. pro sports. Pressed only a little, Stern shared some of what went on.

“Oh, there was a very warm reception last night at dinner at which some speechifying was accomplished,” he said, “and a series of totally embarrassing photos of me over the last 36 years, and a very heartwarming video that was voiced in part by … Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. It was pretty neat.

“It was a little bit over the top. There used to be a joke that said ‘My father would have enjoyed it, my mom would have believed it.’ It fell into that category. But it was very nice.

“I got the opportunity to thank my colleagues at the NBA for their incredible work and saying how pleased I was that the league was in such good hands under those colleagues and Adam’s stewardship.”

Silver will take over as commissioner on Feb. 1, a move that has been ratified and contractually set for the past year. No formal baton hand-off has been scheduled, but All-Star Weekend Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans will be two weeks too late.

At the close midday Wednesday, Stern said, a resolution was read into the meeting’s minutes. “[It] was also very warm and thanking me for my job done in the success of the league,” Stern said. “That provided the basis for me to quickly bang the gavel down on the meeting, and my last words were ‘Lunch is served.’ “

The kudos and plaudits will come rolling in over the final three months or so of Stern’s tenure. He has another victory lap or three in him, beginning with Miami’s championship ring presentation on opening night Tuesday, followed by a trip to Sacramento and the franchise that was saved for that city on his watch.

“The game is in good shape. We came off a great season,” Stern said. “Our teams are going to have record season-ticket sales, renewals are strong, sponsorships are up, gate is going to be up. Everything coming off a very strong base is going to be up this season.  Seems like a really good time to do something else.”

Stern has been Silver’s biggest booster to the owners and in the media, assuring them of a smooth transition. Silver orchestrated a little payback Wednesday, commissioning a David J. Stern bobblehead to give to the owners and team reps. Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert later did an interview in which he joked that the Stern doll only shakes its head side-to-side, rather than nodding yes.

Stern told that story on himself, as relaxed and tranquil as he’s ever been in his job.

“Believe it or not, even including my interaction with the media and the burns I [have] from being a lightning rod, it’s been a great run,” the commissioner said, “and I’m grateful to the owners for giving me the opportunity.”

From 2-3-2 to 2-2-1-1-1

Rod Thorn, NBA President, Basketball Operations, recalled Wednesday a Finals turnaround in which the Celtics and the Lakers played on a Friday, flew from Los Angeles to Boston on Saturday, then played a matinee game at Boston Garden. With that in mind, the NBA will schedule an extra day off between Games 6 and 7 in June, if the 2014 Finals go that long.

No determination has been made yet on turnaround time for subsequent championship series, Stern and Silver said, or for the travel gaps between other games in the series. A Finals that goes seven games will require four airline flights between Game 2 and the finale, rather than the current two, but teams these days fly exclusively on charter flights.

Also, the competition committee felt that facing three consecutive road games (Games 3-5) was unfair to the team that earned home-court advantage, as was spending a full week on the road at that point in the postseason. Silver was said to have urged the owners to approve the change, citing basketball reasons over the business reasons that triggered the 2-3-2 approach. They approved it without dissent.

Interestingly, the teams with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home (if needed) won 21 of the 29 Finals (.724) played under 2-3-2, compared to a 26-12 mark (.684) for the 38 NBA/BAA championships through 1984.

“I think there is a sense that it skews the competition, but it’s not backed up by the data,” Silver said. “The likelihood of a team winning in a 2‑3‑2 format of the favored team is the same as in the 2‑2‑1‑1‑1 format.  But there certainly was a perception … that it was unfair to the team that had the better record that it was then playing the pivotal Game 5 on the road.”
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Owners’ Meeting Vote Might See Stern Take 2-3-2 Finals Format Into Retirement

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When NBA commissioner David Stern packs up his office at the end of his 30-year term Feb. 1, the cardboard box he totes out of Manhattan’s Olympic Tower might have something besides the expected papers, photos and mementos. It might include the 2-3-2 Finals format he helped usher in so long ago.

In the last scheduled Board of Governors meeting of Stern’s tenure, the competition committee’s unanimous recommendation to switch back to a 2-2-1-1-1 home/road schedule of games will be voted on Wednesday in New York. If approved, the switch likely would be made beginning with the 2014 Finals in June, NBA.com has learned.

A desire to align the NBA’s championship series with the format of its other postseason rounds (all 2-2-1-1-1), and questions about the 2-3-2′s effect on home-court advantage have been driving discussion of the change. Stern – who took over as commissioner on Feb. 1, 1984 – presided over the Finals-only switch that began in 1985. But air travel snags and fatigues prevalent when teams flew commercially have been alleviated by luxury charter flights.

Both Stern and his presumptive replacement, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, in recent months have expressed interest in the old format. The dynamic of the team with alleged home-court advantage losing one of the Finals’ first two games and then potentially not getting another home game has been cited as one issue. Others see the inordinate amount of pressure on the team hosting Games 3, 4 and 5 – better not lose! – as an alternative bit of unfairness.

For the record, the teams with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home (if needed) have won 21 of the 29 Finals (.724), compared to a 26-12 mark (.684) for the 38 NBA/BAA championships through 1984.

Among other business at the BOG meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, representatives from Sacramento, Minnesota and Milwaukee were scheduled to brief their fellow owners and officials on arena developments in their markets.

The Kings are in the midst building a new facility, part of their push to stay in town rather than be relocated to Seattle. The Timberwolves have an agreement with Minneapolis for a $100 million renovation of Target Center. And the Bucks are seeking a deal with city and county authorities on the financing of a replacement for the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

The Milwaukee Journal reported Tuesday that team owner Herb Kohl, the retired U.S. senator who has delegated Bucks VP Ron Walter to handle recent BOG business, will attend and discuss the report.

NBA May Alter Start Times To Help Foreign Viewers See More Games

BEIJING – Commissioner David Stern raised the possibility the league will adjust the time some games start in an attempt to appease fans outside North America who now must either stay up late or wake up early to watch games on television.

It’s unclear at this point whether the adjustment will be for regular-season games, preseason games or both.

Speaking before the Warriors beat the Lakers 100-95 before 17,114 at MasterCard Center in the first of two preseason meetings between the teams in China, Stern said former Rockets star Yao Ming brought the idea up in hopes of making future games more accessible to international audiences. Stern gave no indication a decision was near, but was also clear that the league will have to consider what could be a radical suggestion, depending on the new times, at some point.

“I think that the NBA is going to have to wrestle over the next decade as more and more of our viewing audiences are outside the United States is what’s the best time for games to be played so that those fans can enjoy them live as opposed to having to get up in China to watch an NBA game at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Stern said. “I think that’s a fun problem that we’re going to be addressing because so much viewing is happening outside the United States now.”

Any dramatic move would obviously be met with resistance from fans in the United States and Canada, not to mention some of the teams themselves, if times of tipoff are moved much earlier than the current 7 or 7:30 p.m ET. One option that will undoubtedly be discussed is altering only weekend games, when schedules for spectators are more flexible and it is not unusual for early-evening or day starts.

Stern’s comments came as the NBA underlined the desire to continue to strengthen its relationship with China by announcing a partnership with Yao to develop and operate an after-school program called the NBA Yao School. The project is scheduled to launch in February in Beijing, with the hope that similar facilities will open in other parts of the country, including his native Shanghai.

The league has made increasing its presence in the world’s most-populous country a priority in recent years and returning to China for future exhibition games seems an automatic. There are, however, no plans to play regular-season contests anywhere in Asia, incoming commissioner Adam Silver said.

“As you know, we’ve played regular-season games in Asia in the past,” Silver said. “But one of the benefits of playing preseason games here in China is that there’s more time in the schedule for the players to be part of the community, to do charitable events, to conduct clinics and to get to see the country and to get to be more knowledgeable about the culture here. Our regular season is so tight in terms of the number of games, that while we could do it logistically it would mean a team coming in and playing and turning around and leaving right after the game. As Yao well knows, it’s a very tight schedule. So while it’s something we’re going to continue to look at, we think there’s much more benefit that comes from our partnership with the CBA (Chinese Basketball Assn.), with Yao Ming and with the Chinese people by playing preseason games here.”

The league has not staged a regular-season game in Asia since the Kings and SuperSonics opened 2003-04 in Saitama, Japan. Several countries in the region have hosted exhibitions and China has had games in four cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Macao and Guangzhou.

The 2013-14 edition opened with David Lee scoring 31 points in 12-of-16 shooting, Stephen Curry adding 24 points and Andrew Bogut 14 rebounds along with nine points to lead the Warriors to their second win in four preseason games. Nick Young had a game-high 18 points for the Lakers, who dropped to 2-3, while Chris Kaman contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds. Steve Nash started and played 18 minutes in his first game action since spraining his left ankle Friday against the Kings, making three of four attempts with eight points and four assists.

The teams play Friday in Shanghai — 7:30 p.m. ET local time, 4:30 a.m. in California – before returning to the United States for the final stretch of the preseason.