CHICAGO – More than any of their NBA peers, the nine members of the National Basketball Players Association’s executive committee gave the most – in time and effort – toward salvaging this post-lockout season. Everyone dealt with the uncertainty and inactivity of the elongated offseason prior to, finally, this hectic 2011-12 schedule. It’s just that the NBPA exec committee dealt with it in coats and ties, in hotel ballrooms, from morning to night (and sometimes on to morning again), enduring all the rhetoric that took most of five months before it distilled into true negotiating .
Too bad they’re not enjoying it more.
Washington’s Maurice Evans, one of the union VPs, had a rare upbeat night against the Bulls Monday at United Center. He scored 14 points in 26:28 off the bench to help the Wizards bag a road victory, 87-84, over the team with the NBA’s best record. It was just his 19th appearance of the season (his third over the past four weeks) and only the second time he has scored in double figures.
But it has been that way for Evans, a journeyman on a team committed to a) young players and b) lottery position. He has averaged 3.4 points and 11.4 minutes when he has participated, down from 9.7 and 27.4 in 2010-11.
He has company among the union brass. NBPA president Derek Fisher, of course, was traded from his beloved Lakers, then cut loose by Houston before landing nicely with Oklahoma City. Fisher’s stats are off a bit too: 5.5 ppg, 24.4 mpg now, 6.8 and 28.0 then.
BEVERLY HILLS — LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul were among the All-Star contingent arriving at a Beverly Hills hotel for Friday afternoon’s meeting between the league and the players.
“I’m worried about the league,” Wade said. “It’s not just about myself, it’s the future of the NBA. We want to be able to be sure this game can continue to grow and prosper. We want this game to go on for many, many years.”
The union was also represented by executive director Billy Hunter, executive committee president Derek Fisher, treasurer James Jones, and vice presidents Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff, Keyon Dooling, Etan Thomas and Paul. All-Stars in attendance included Kevin Durant, Amar’e Stoudemire, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Al Horford.
“We understand that a deal has to be done,” Wade said. “Both sides have to come to an agreement and neither side is going to agree until we meet halfway. Me being one of the ‘faces of the league,’ it’s just coming in and learning more and trying to understand what both sides are going through. That’s the biggest thing.”
The league negotiating team here is headed up by commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and labor relations chairman Peter Holt, owner of the San Antonio Spurs. Among other owners in the room were Michael Jordan (Charlotte Bobcats), Jerry Buss (L.A. Lakers), Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks) and Donald Sterling (L.A. Clippers).
The union is expected to hold a press conference after the meeting in downtown Los Angeles. Stern will hold one Saturday.
Roger Mason Jr., one of the free agent steals of two summers ago, could be closing in on a new deal by the end of the week, league sources told NBA.com. Mason spent the last two seasons in San Antonio.
“We’re going through it day by day,” Mason’s agent Mark Bartelstein said Tuesday. “We have to go through the process. There’s a domino factor to all of this.”
Bartelstein added that a number of teams are interested in the shooting guard who enjoyed a career season in 2008-09 before Mason struggled with his shot last season and fell out of Gregg Popovich‘s rotation. Portland, Miami, Chicago and New York are among those who have contacted the six-year veteran. The Spurs have not.
The “domino factor” Bartelstein referred gets back to those top-tier free agents — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. Once they decide where they’re going, roster and salary slots open up. With the Heat, Bulls and Knicks, especially, Mason is could be seen as cost-effective proven vet to complement a few new high-dollar teammates.
Mason is looking for a chance to contribute again. He played a major role with the Spurs in 2008-09, setting career highs for scoring (11.8), minutes (30.4), 3-point field-goal percentage (42.1) and starts (71). Mason took a step back last season, mainly due to injuries and inconsistency plus the return of Manu Ginobili.
“It started with me in the playoffs last year,” Mason said shortly after this past season ended. “That was the first time I had gotten benched by Pop. It’s kinda lasted a while.
“It hasn’t been ideal, but I think I’ve continued to improve as a player, which is weird because most times if you numbers look the way mine do from one year to the next, you think that you’re a worse player. But I actually feel like I’m a better player.”
Mason feels he can be the long-range threat he was that first year in San Antonio again, and a more complete player. He shot just 33.3 percent from beyond the arc last season and averaged 6.3 points.
Still, the Spurs two-year investment of $7.3 million appears to have paid off after Mason out-played his deal the first year. Mason, 29, is looking for another multi-year deal.
On the eve of free agency last week, Mason tweeted (MoneyMase) the following:
“How quickly people forget that I was considered the steal of free agency last year. A talented team, and injuries, got in the way this year.”
The New Jersey Nets won their 10th game last night, assuring Carter and his teammates on the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers won’t have to slide over for any youngsters trying to match their league record for futility in a season.
We still don’t get why Carter and his mates are so adamant about hanging on to the mark as the team with the worst record in league history. But we are willing to try to understand where Carter is coming from:
Perhaps even more startling than the Nets avoiding history was the team they stepped on to do it.
The Spurs have been playing fantastic basketball of late. Yet they proved that old coaching axiom that, “on any given night …”
“Quick, somebody call hell – find out if it’s frozen over.
The Nets won their 10th game of the season [Monday night], and never mind that the victims — the mighty San Antonio Spurs — were missing two of their best players.
The more pertinent development was that the Nets showed more resolve in the last five minutes than they had shown in the last five months, outscoring Tim Duncan’s team 18-7 down the stretch to post a stunning 90-84 triumph before 13,053 grateful witnesses at Izod Center.
The ancillary benefit: The 1972-73 Sixers – owners of that 9-73 record – still stand alone in NBA infamy.
“It got that monkey off our back,” reserve guard Keyon Dooling said. “I mean, it’s just a relief to not have your name in the history books. When you think of Fred Carter and guys like that, that’s still on his resume. No matter how good of an analyst he is, no matter how good a player he was, that’s still a stain on his resume that you don’t want to have.”
These weren’t the Spurs that had beaten the Nets 14 straight times, of course: They are still without Tony Parker (fractured right hand) and Manu Ginobili was a midday scratch after waking up with a stiff back. It didn’t help, either, that Roger Mason was lost before halftime with a sprained pinky.
So the Nets looked at what the Spurs had left and locked them up over the last three quarters, holding them to a total of 51 points on 36 percent shooting in those 36 minutes.
Duncan? The greatest power forward in history continued to look very creaky, going 6-for-15 with four turnovers – including a crosscourt pass that sailed into the crowd with 7.9 seconds left and the Spurs trailing 87-84. That’s when Devin Harris, who played a brilliant game (17 points, nine assists) finished San Antonio off with a game-clinching foul shot.
“They worked hard for 48 minutes and deserved it,” Gregg Popovich said. “We just didn’t have anybody that could score. And if you’re not scoring, then you at least have to make free throws, which we didn’t.”
Congratulations Kiki Vandeweghe, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez and the rest of the Nets, you have avoided infamy.
More Nets fun from our friends in the Tri-State area:
“History will reflect that the Nets of 2009-10 are bad. It will also now reflect that they are not the worst team in N.B.A. history. After serving as the league’s version of the Washington Generals much of this season, the Nets stiff-armed infamy by claiming their 10th victory in their 74th game, a 90-84 victory Monday over a depleted version of the San Antonio Spurs. “We got 10,” the public address announcer Gary Sussman said as the final buzzer sounded. “The Nets win. The Nets wiiiiiiiiiin.” Never has a 10th victory so late in the season been so sweet. The Nets’ win means that the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers will keep their distinction with nine victories in an 82-game season. This is as good as it will probably get for the Nets, who collectively breathed a sigh of relief that it did not get as bad as it could have gotten. The season started ominously. The team parted with its longtime coach Lawrence Frank, set the record for most losses to start a season with 18, and bequeathed interim coaching duties on a hesitant Kiki Vandeweghe, its general manager. Along the way, the organization pointed to hopeful bright spots ahead: a move from the Meadowlands to Newark and eventually Brooklyn, their pending sale to the Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and the salary cap space they have cleared ahead of this summer’s potential free-agent bonanza. But the nagging issue of whether this team could separate itself from the old 76ers team remained. “You don’t have to ask me about it and you do not get to ask me about it every day,” Vandeweghe said afterward.”
“Mikhail Prokhorov certainly would have been partying Monday night. The Nets, who soon will be owned by one of the richest, most hard-partying men in the world, pulled off a stunner at the Meadowlands Monday night, beating the San Antonio Spurs, 90-84, to earn their 10th win of the season – which clears them of having anything to do with the worst record in history. With just eight games left, the Nets can now look in their rearview mirrors and see the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who remain the worst NBA team ever at 9-73. The Nets have won three of their last four to improve to 10-64. But unlike their future owner, who was shown with drink in hand, bouncing to pulsating beats while surrounded by several good-looking women at a nightclub in Moscow during a segment that aired on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, the Nets stayed modest afterward. “Hey, nobody wants to be the worst team in history so it is exciting to get 10 wins,” said Devin Harris, who had 17 points and nine assists. “But then again, it is 10 wins.” The Nets – who set a franchise-record low with just four turnovers – trailed by five when Matt Bonner hit a 3-pointer with 6:10 left, but took over the game with a 13-2 run that started when Harris hit a fadeaway jumper 21 seconds later. Between that shot and an 18-footer by Terrence Williams that capped the run, the Nets got huge buckets from Lopez and Yi Jianlian. The biggest play came with 7.9 seconds left and the Nets leading by three. After receiving an inbound pass, Duncan tried passing the ball to George Hill, but ended up tossing it out of bounds. Trying to keep Hill from getting in position to shoot a 3-pointer, Courtney Lee slipped but was still able to disrupt the play. Harris was then fouled and hit one of the free throws to give the Nets an 88-84 lead. After Jefferson (16 points) missed a 3-pointer as time expired, the crowd of 13,053 went as crazy as a crowd can go for a team with 10 wins in the final weeks of the season. “A team in a situation like that, you try to take them out of the game early and not make it a ballgame, and they have skilled ballplayers,” Duncan said. “Despite their record, they have a lot of guys who are very good, so we gave them the confidence to stay in it and they made the plays more than we did.”
NETS CHASING THE TIMBERWOLVES FOR SECOND (TO LAST)
“Watch your back, Minnesota. The Nets are gunning for you. “The way we’re playing, I think there’s a chance we can catch Minnesota,” Nets center Brook Lopez said with an absolute straight face. No longer are the Nets worried about being history’s worst team. They got their 10th win last night, defeating the banged-up Spurs, 90-84, to ensure the inglorious title of “Worst NBA Team Ever” will remain with the 1972-73 Sixers, who were 9-73. “It’s a big relief,” said Devin Harris (17 points, nine assists and zero turnovers in 38 minutes). “Nobody wants to be the worst team in history, so it is exciting to get 10 wins. But then again, it is 10 wins.” Not nine, like those long ago peasant Sixers. And now they insist the 14-60 T-Wolves are within reach. The No. 1 pick be damned (there’s no guarantee they get it with the worst record). So they want to catch and pass Minnesota. “I would love to. If we can catch them and not finish last in the NBA, that’d be great,” said Courtney Lee (19 points). “It’s one less problem we have to deal with. You can ask anybody on the team, we don’t care about that [lottery]. We’re on the team this year. We’re trying to win as many as possible.” Hey, they’ve won 3-of-4. And last night’s was perhaps the most improbable. The Spurs were banged up going in as they were without Manu Ginobili (back) and Tony Parker (broken hand). Roger Mason Jr. (sprained pinky) joined them in the infirmary during the second quarter. But, still, they were the Spurs who had beaten the Nets 14 straight times. “Don’t get us wrong, we’re still mad about the overall season. But 10 wins. We’re not in the record book,” said Terrence Williams (11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter), who hit a huge jumper at 2:41 to put the Nets ahead, 85-79.”
“No champagne bottles were uncorked. The lockers weren’t covered to prevent damage and no one jumped on the scorer’s table with arms raised after the most important victory of the season. The Nets were happy, pumping fists and pumping each up during the game. But after the final seconds ticked down on their tenth win of the season, an unexpected 90-84 victory over San Antonio that meant the Nets would have no part of the worst NBA record of all time, they did nothing out of the ordinary. Except for maybe a group exhale and every player in the Nets’ locker room saying they want to catch Minnesota and not finish with the worst record in the league. “We’re not going to jump through the roof because we won 10 games,” said Devin Harris, who played a terrific floor game with 17 points, nine assists and zero turnovers. “We don’t want to be a part of the worst team in history. It’s exciting to get 10 wins. Then again it is 10 wins.” Ten wins means the most futile season remains in the hands of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73. Ten wins also means the Nets (10-64) are just four games behind the Timberwolves, losers of 16 straight. The Nets, winners of three of their last four, have made that their new goal, finishing 29th out of 30 teams. “The way we’re playing, said Brook Lopez, the game’s high scorer with 22 points and 12 rebounds, “I think there’s a chance we can catch Minnesota.” Don’t expect the Nets to throw a party if they achieve that either. Number 10 was anything but perfect. The Nets gave up 33 first-quarter points and shot just 37.6 percent from the field. But it was the perfect storm of no summer signings because the team was being sold, early season injuries, last-second shots and a coaching change that put the Nets in position to be the worst NBA team. And the perfect storm led to this victory. For the Nets that was perfection. “It’s one less problem we have to deal with the rest of the season,” said Courtney Lee, who had 19 points. “It’s a big relief.”