Posts Tagged ‘Ron Artest’

George Is A Perfect Fit For Pacers





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Paul George‘s birth certificate confirms what everyone already knows: he’s a Southern California native through and through, something the Indiana Pacers’ young star is extremely proud of. But he couldn’t be more of a Hoosier if he tried.

From his relentless work ethic to his off-court sensibilities (fishing over, say, celebrity party hopping), George is the ideal face of the franchise in Indianapolis, where the excitement and expectations surrounding George and the Pacers for this season are already off the charts.

That’s what makes the reported $90-plus million extension George and the Pacers are closing in on prior to the start of training camp the biggest no-brainer to date. George couldn’t have found a better fit — an up-and-coming franchise for an up-and-coming superstar — and the Pacers couldn’t have found a better ambassador for what should be their most promising team in a decade.

Pacers president Larry Bird told Pacers.com that the deal isn’t done yet, but expects it to be soon:

When asked whether the reported terms were accurate, Bird said, “I never heard that number. I wish it was my number instead of [Paul’s].

Although a new deal isn’t complete just yet and George hasn’t signed on the dotted line, everything is expected to be resolved this week.

“I know Paul’s worth,” said Bird. “I’m not banking on what’s going to happen in the future, even though you do somewhat. It’s what he’s accomplished now and that what we’ll go off of.

“It’s always good to have the leverage but the number has got to be a number we both like. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about money. Yes, he wants to be here. He’s told me that a million times. We want him here so let’s just find a number that works for both.”

Bird, a Hall of Famer, completely understands George’s mindset.

“Well back when I played, if they brought me in and was talking to me, I wanted to get it done before camp,” he said. “So I know it’s important. Security is always the best thing to have in this league.”

With a new contract, there’s more to it than just the length and value of the deal. There’s all the legal items, player or team options, and more that goes into it.

“If you come to the number first, then all the other things sorta fall in place.”

I lived in Indianapolis and covered the team the last time the Pacers entered a season with a budding young superstar (Jermaine O’Neal), a deep roster and championship ambitions. Things are going to get even crazier for George at home than he probably realizes. O’Neal was a fabulous player then, and like George, was a somewhat underrated talent coming into the Draft. He outworked and eventually outplayed that profile and blossomed into an All-Star with the Pacers. The same is true for George.

A city and state that loves its basketball like no other has embraced George in ways it never did O’Neal, who led the Pacers to the best record in the league during the 2003-04 season. Pacers fans always seemed a bit indifferent to O’Neal, who had the misfortune of having to assume leading the team while Reggie Miller was still the franchise’s true face and Ron Artest was in the midst of his most tumultuous time with the franchise. Pacers fans don’t appear to have any such reservations where George is concerned.

They saw as George went toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Miami Heat during Indiana’s run to the Eastern Conference finals last season. They saw George shine on the biggest and brightest stage alongside David West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of a rugged Pacers team that pushed the Heat to a Game 7.

They know that they have the genuine article in George, whose meteoric rise in three seasons has been nothing short of remarkable. His impact on this team last season, while Danny Granger was sidelined with injury, is well documented (courtesy of my main man and numbers guru John Schuhmann of NBA.com).

It’s a testament to the work Bird (as well as Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard) have done in rebuilding the franchise that George is stiff-arming the free agent process (and the lure of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers) that so many of his contemporaries would chase if they were in his shoes.

The best part for the Pacers is that they’ll have George locked up for what should be the prime of a superstar career. George is a true two-way player (not every All-Star plays defense as well as they do offense) on the short list that is headlined by James.

George is far from a finished product, another huge positive for the Pacers, and he understands that. He talked about it repeatedly in July during his time with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team and their mini-camp. How he and Granger co-exist will go a long way in determining just how successful a season the Pacers can put together.

But those are issues Pacers coach Frank Vogel and his staff will gladly sort through with George as the centerpiece of a team that should compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

In fact, none of those lingering issues seem terribly unsettling when you’ve got a perfect fit between a franchise and the (new and) true face of said franchise.

Rating Ray Allen’s Big 3-Pointer





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Ray Allen‘s clutch corner 3-pointer that sent Game 6 of The Finals to overtime didn’t even rank among the top three impact plays in the final analysis of that epic contest.

My main man and NBA.com’s analytics expert John Schuhmann said something about the shot only increasing the Heat’s win probability by 10.8 percent, from 22.0 percent to 32.7 percent, or something like that.

But if the measurement was “Most Memorable 3-pointers Made in The Finals,” Allen’s shot that saved the Heat’s season (for at least 48, or more, minutes) has to rank among the best clutch shots from long distance anyone has made.

Win Game 7 Thursday night and, years from now, Allen’s shot will be the one that sticks out. It’ll rank right along some of the greatest clutch 3-pointers in the history of The Finals … shots like these:

Big Shot Bob (aka Robert Horry)’s dagger for the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 …


John Paxson’s crunch-time strike for the Chicago Bulls in 1993 …


TNT’s Kenny Smith’s money shot for the Houston Rockets in 1995 …


Dirk Nowitzki’s long-range shredder for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 …

Jerry West’s 60-footer (it was only worth two points then) for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 …

And finally, Ron Artest’s (now Metta World Peace) game-saver for the Lakers in 2010 …

The Flagrant Foul Mix (Video)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is not a celebration, we repeat, NOT a celebration of flagrant fouls. We abhor them and believe they are an absolutely unnecessary evil that the powers that be must find a way to get rid of … somehow.

But as students of the game and keen observers of all things basketball, we couldn’t stop watching this mashup of flagrant fouls (courtesy of DOPESIKCEO on YouTube) from over the years.

Notice the startling consistency in how they are perpetrated (from Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer from a yesteryear to Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum these days) and how often they involve someone assuming that they can sneak a cheap shot in despite the thousands of folks watching in the arena (guys in striped shirts with whistles included), not to mention the millions viewing from home:

Kobe: LA Is a Better Fit For Howard

LONDON – Until earlier today, Dwight Howard‘s entire NBA career was spent in a Orlando Magic uniform.

But Kobe Bryant didn’t need to Howard him in purple and gold to know that he’s a better fit in Los Angeles and with the Lakers, on and off the court, than he ever was in Orlando.

The job of blending Howard’s game into what the Lakers will do with a star-studded lineup that also includes two-time MVP Steve Nash and All-Star power forward Pau Gasol is ultimately the responsibility of Lakers coach Mike Brown.

Bryant said it won’t be an issue.

“He’s not going to have to sacrifice much,” Bryant said. “He’ll get more touches here than he did in Orlando. I know, it sounds weird to say, but it’s true. We do a great job playing through the post and playing through Pau … I mean, it’s going to be sensational.”

With one of the premier distributors in the game manning the controls in Nash, there should be plenty of shots for everyone. In fact, the Lakers, at least their top six rotation, will look like an All-Star team. Big 3 or 4? They’ve got a few more, what with Ron Artest and Antawn Jamison in the mix as well.

It’s a lineup that Bryant teammates on the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team never thought they’d see.

“We joked around about it a little bit during the summer,” Bryant said. “The consensus was there was no way we could get Dwight and still keep Pau, and they all love Pau for us. So they were like, ‘there is no way you’re going to let Pau go, and therefore you can’t Dwight.’ And I was like, ‘I think we can make that happen.’ We got Pau for virtually nothing [when we traded for him]. History does repeat itself.”

What Bryant is really looking forward to, though, is the future. Now that the season and summer of speculation is over and the Lakers have what could be a championship contender, training camp is already on his mind.

“It helps because you start getting into a frame of mind of what your team is going to look like,” he said.

He might have said it best earlier, when he said, “it’s going to be sensational.”

Report: Gasol Wants In On Nash Party





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You knew it wouldn’t take long for the Steve Nash-to-the-Lakers news to make its way around the world.

One extremely interested observer is Lakers power forward Pau Gasol, whose name continues to percolate in trade rumors. He made it clear that he’s “excited” about the prospect of teaming up with the two-time MVP,  per Marca.com:

“This is great news and a good time. Anyone would love to play with Steve Nash.”

The Lakers’ power forward has embraced the arrival of the Canadian …: “I’m excited to play with Steve and with all that brings. The player is more generous and less selfish than there are in the NBA. It is also one of the assists historical leaders. “

“Unfortunately I can not control my destiny but I would love to keep the Lakers and will fight the most to try to win another ring, “he said.

Gasol hasn’t been shy in stating his own case for remaining with the Lakers. A frontline crew of Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace with Nash and Bryant in the backcourt gives the Lakers one of the most formidable starting fives in the NBA. All five of them have been All-Stars at one time or another and all but Nash have championship rings.

Whether or not the Lakers are done reshaping their roster, however, remains a mystery as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register points out. As long as Dwight Howard remains a trade option, both Bynum and Gasol cannot escape those trade-rumor crosshairs.

Discipline Delayed For World Peace





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The one thing the sports world didn’t need was another day to watch, analyze and then suffer through the collective paralysis of analysis of the film of Lakers forward Metta World Peace‘s wicked elbow to the side of Thunder forward James Harden‘s head from Sunday afternoon.

But it doesn’t really matter how many times you watch it, how many different interpretations there are of it and how many different ways World Peace tries to explain away the lick he passed as both “unfortunate” and “unintentional.”

The video evidence, and World Peace’s extensive history of incidents as Ron Artest, will make it extremely tough for the league’s judge and jury to show leniency for a player who has straddled the line between having and losing control many times before. Even though it did not come by late Monday night, there is little doubt that a suspension of some sort is on the way in next 24 hours.

And at this stage, it’s really only a matter of how severe a penalty it will be for World Peace and the Lakers, whose regular season finale is Thursday night in Sacramento. While the reaction from folks on both sides of this issue was as immediate (thanks to Twitter and other social networking sites) as it was passionate, discipline for World Peace will have to wait until the league doles it out.

Using the Lakers’ last such incident as a guideline, it would seem that World Peace is in line for at least something along the lines of the five-game suspension Lakers center Andrew Bynum received for his mid-air knockdown of Mavericks guard J.J. Barea in the Western Conference semifinals last year.

But, as one prominent agent explained it, that does not mean the league is limited to game penalties in dealing with World Peace. The league is perfectly within its right to fine him an unspecified dollar amount on top of the games he would be forced to sit out, without pay. For a player who has already missed 111 games due to 13 previous suspensions and lost millions in related fines and penalties, this latest incident is a sobering reminder of a place he probably did not intend on revisiting after a relatively incident-free past couple of years.

“I would think at least five games and anywhere from 5 to 10 games,” the agent said. “I thought it was definitely an egregious act and a totally over the top move. It wasn’t a basketball play. There wasn’t a basketball involved at all. Bynum got five for knocking Barea out of the air. This was just as bad, in my opinion, if not worse. It wasn’t a basketball play. And it wasn’t a mistake. Harden never even looked at Artest, didn’t have his hands up and never knew that elbow was coming. This wasn’t Harden’s fault.”

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PJax: Give Bynum Some Space





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The man who coached Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace (back when he was just Ron Artest) is telling us that Andrew Bynum is no big deal.

Phil Jackson was contacted recently by the Los Angeles Times and basically had this message regarding the increasingly volatile and unpredictable Laker center: chill.

The former Lakers coach told The Times he enjoyed seeing Bynum’s development, even if it had been filled with inexplicable turns the last few weeks.

“Bynum is not quite mature, but everyone should relax and watch him grow up,” Jackson said via email. “This year has been a big step for him offensively…nice to see…and when he takes up the mantle as defensive captain the Lakers can get back in the hunt.”

Jackson was strict with Bynum while coaching him for six seasons, prodding him about his fitness, getting more rebounds and playing better defense.

Bynum’s on-court troubles began last month when he tossed up a three-point shot early in the third quarter of a close game against Golden State. Bynum didn’t exactly apologize afterward after being yanked from the game.

He was fined a total of either $5,000 or $7,500 by the team for his conduct relating to that game, which included shrugging and frowning for a TV camera while sitting at the end of the bench.

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Merry Christmas (5 Times) From The NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Six months seems like a long time to wait for a loved one to return. But when we saw the Christmas Day lineup of NBA games that the schedule making powers-that-be whipped up for us, it melted any lingering animosity we might have had about the 149-day lockout.

By the time you are finished opening gifts, sipping a little coffee and smacking on that cinnamon roll on Christmas morning, you’ll be able to dive into another pile of gifts from the NBA. The blockbuster, five-game lineup (the rest of the schedule comes next week) includes some of the league’s top teams and top stars on a day-long showcase that starts with a special Christmas morning episode of GameTime on NBA TV, followed by an episode of Inside The NBA on TNT that leads into the action.

Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, Noon ET, TNT

Keep An Eye On: Might this wind up being a battle between the Celtics’ Big 3+1 against the Knicks’ Gotham City remix of the Big 3, including the much-discussed Chris Paul joining Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire?

It’s hard to say which way that will go right now, what with somewhat conflicting reports that Paul’s agent is seeking a trade from New Orleans to New York and then Paul saying he has asked for nothing of the sort.  That said, the Celtics have some intrigue going on, too. Rajon Rondo‘s name has been all over the trade rumor mill, despite blanket denials from Celtics’ boss Danny Ainge that he loves his franchise point guard and has no interest in moving him.

Either way, we’re tuning in for this continuation of the playoff matchup that the Celtics won going away last season. And with all of the principles, whoever they might be, well rested and eager to kick off the season the right way, there’s no way this game is anything other than a colossal battle of wills. It’s the perfect way to kick off the big day.

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Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks, 2:30 p.m. ET, ABC 

Keep An Eye On: One can only imagine what sort of splendid banner raising/ring/whatever-else-it-might-be ceremony Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has planned for opening day in Dallas. Having the same Heat team they vanquished in The Finals on the other side of the floor for the festivities is a brilliant move by the schedule makers, who guaranteed that this rivalry gets an immediate dose of energy by pitting these two contenders against each other from the start.

There was plenty of hostility between the two sides by the time The Finals ended. It’s been a long offseason, but surely Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t forgotten about how LeBron James and Dwyane Wade clowned him about being sick during the series. And James must remember all of the heat he took for his struggles throughout the fourth quarters in The Finals.  And you know Mavericks sharpshooter Jason Terry can’t wait to get another crack at the Heat.

We do have to wait a while to see who else is suiting up alongside those stars we already mentioned, including a reportedly bigger and bulkier Chris Bosh. Tyson Chandler is a free agent and has expressed some doubts that he will return to his post anchoring the Mavericks’ defense. Playoff hero Jose Barea is also on the free agent hit list for a number of teams and could end up elsewhere.

Rest assured, whoever suits up will understand the intensity expected when that ball goes in the air. We can’t wait.

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Chicago Bulls at Los Angeles Lakers, 5 p.m. ET, ABC

Keep An Eye On: In this era of superstars collaborating to win titles, it will be refreshing to watch the two guys who refuse to recruit their peers to come play with them square off at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers, still smarting from being smashed by the Mavericks in the playoffs last season, will show us what they’ll look like in the Mike Brown era. Meanwhile, Derrick Rose still seems a bit salty with himself for his playoff performance against the Heat, struggles that no doubt influenced and inspired his offseason workouts.

Speaking of Brown, there isn’t another coach in any sport at any level under more scrutiny than the man who has to replace Phil Jackson on the Lakers’ bench. Brown’s task will be toughened by the fact that the Lakers have to figure out how to reinvent themselves without the security of the triangle offense they used to fuel their rise. Brown will have his hands full with Metta World Peace (the former Ron Artest) while also trying to rebuild Pau Gasol‘s confidence after his playoff struggles last season.

(Remember, the Lakers will play the first five games of this season without Andrew Bynum, who will serve his suspension for that elbow shot to the ribs of Barea during the playoffs last year.)

The Bulls offer their own set of intriguing subplots, having to show that Tom Thibodeau‘s first season (in which he was named Coach of the Year) was no fluke. The Bulls had plenty of skeptics last season as they went about the business of recording the best record in the league. They won’t have that luxury this season. Playing with a target on their chests every night will test their mettle.

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Orlando Magic at Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Keep An Eye On: On paper the Magic and Thunder would appear to be teams headed in opposite directions. Kevin Durant spent his summer cementing his position as, arguably, basketball’s most beloved young star and the leader of a Thunder team that ground its way to the Western Conference finals last season. The Magic, on the other hand, were bounced from the conference semifinals by the Hawks, sparking more rumors that Dwight Howard is ready to bolt.

Howard joins both Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the players most coveted by others, the ones most likely to join a superfriends group resembling what we’ve seen in Boston and Miami in recent seasons. The Knicks and Nets battled for Carmelo Anthony last season and could do the same again for the attention of Howard, who has given no indication as to what he plans to do beyond starting training camp with the Magic.

Strangely, the one story we figured to be most prominent regarding the Thunder seemed to fade during the lockout. All-Star and All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook was under heavy fire from outsiders for his roller coaster performance during the playoffs, sparking debates about whether the Thunder should seek to replace him with someone else. It was a suggestion that sounds as preposterous to us now as it did during the Western Conference finals. We’re expecting big things from Westbrook this season. Opening night is as good a time as any to get started.

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Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Keep An Eye On: Like so many of our nights last season, Christmas will end with a heavy dose of Blake Griffin doing what he does best, making monster highlights. Unfortunately, new Warriors coach Mark Jackson will be on the wrong side of some of those calls he used to make as an ESPN analyst. Because we’re pretty sure Griffin will do a few things to make someone say, “Mama there goes that man” on Christmas night.

The Clippers sit atop the preseason HT rankings for the surprise team in the league this year. With Griffin and Eric Gordon coming into their own last season and the franchise finally showing some true signs of progress on the floor, much is expected of Vinny Del Negro‘s crew this season. How the Clippers handle these heightened expectations makes for must-see-viewing.

We’re also intrigued to see what Jackson will do as a coach. After hearing him analyze for so long, it’s going to be interesting to see what he brings on the bench. Will he make Monta Ellis and Steph Curry even more dangerous as a backcourt duo? Warriors fans have to be banking on it, as that is their only hope to climb up the food chain in the Western Conference. A lot is riding on the Jackson-Ellis-Curry dynamic to help reignite the franchise in Oakland. This will be our first taste.

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The Gym Is Open: The NBA Unleashed

 

– For the latest updates check out: NBA.com’s Free Agent Tracker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The doors are open. The players are back in gyms around the NBA. And so too are the rumors that make this time of year unlike any other on the calendar, even if it is a few months late.

Outside of the trade deadline, there is no better time to soak in the sort of drama we’re experiencing in these days leading up to the union being reformed, the new collective bargaining agreement being finalized and the start of training camp and free agency. All we need is a big top and a ringmaster to conduct the ceremony of this player or that player being sent here or there. This is the circus that is the NBA unleashed from its 149-day lockout.

Today’s version offers more theories on some of the players mentioned in this space yesterday and some interesting, high-profile additions to the list. The fun never stops …

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CHANDLER HEADED ELSEWHERE?

Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN.com: In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end. “I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.” Chandler’s doubts about the Mavericks’ willingness to re-sign him to a lucrative long-term deal are bound to be welcome news for the teams already courting him in these early stages of free agency. Chandler and Denver center Nene rank as the two most coveted unrestricted free agents in the 2011 class, but the overwhelming sentiment in many front offices has been that Chandler’s return to Dallas was essentially a lock after the 7-footer’s role in helping the Mavericks win their first championship. Chandler, though, insisted Wednesday that such assumptions are a misnomer and admitted for the first time that he’s disappointed by the club’s decision not to offer him a contract extension after he was widely credited — most notably by Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki — for changing the team’s defensive culture after three first-round exits in the previous four years.

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TEAMS IN HOT PURSUIT OF NENE

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: The Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers were among the teams that reached out to Nene’s representatives Wednesday, the first day teams were allowed to contact agents to discuss potential deals. Once the offers arrive, it could take more than $13 million annually to sign Nene. While the market is still developing for him and the rest of a thin free-agent class, he’s clearly the focus for every team with cap space and the need for an inside presence. The Nuggets are pressed to keep him, and would likely have to pay significantly more than would’ve been necessary if they had worked a deal with him prior to his opting out this summer. The Nets could be the major threat for Nene because of their combination of salary-cap space and desire to surround point guard Deron Williams with as much talent as possible to convince him to sign an extension. Privately, Williams has made it clear that he’s far less inclined to re-sign a long-term deal with the Nets if they don’t immediately improve their roster. New Jersey can also gather assets and still stay in position to make trade offers to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard.

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METTA WORLD PEACE AN AMNESTY CANDIDATE?

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times: Achieving world peace comes with a hefty price tag. The Lakers might feel the same way about another form of World Peace, this one the goofy 6-foot-7 Lakers forward who flexes his biceps, makes the Staples Center crowd gasp every time he shoots and goes by the first name Metta. The Times’ Mike Bresnahan has reported that the Lakers might waive the player formerly known as Ron Artest via the league’s amnesty clause. Such a move could move somewhat risky considering that Artest’s defense remains strong and waiving World Peace would make it necessary for the Lakers acquire a defensive stalwart to replace him. But the thought process makes sense for basketball and monetary reasons. World Peace averaged a career-low 8.5 points last season and appears, at 32, to be on the decline in maintaining the lateral movement and quickness that have made him a top defender. By shedding World Peace’s three-year, $21.5-million contract, Bresnahan estimated that the Lakers could save as much as $27 millon in salary and taxes in 2013-14 under the new rules, should the Lakers remain between $10 million and $15 million over the tax threshold. That would prove more beneficial than even cutting forward Luke Walton (two years, $11.46 million).  That’s why it’s important World Peace understands and embraces the need to temper his antics, ranging from his Twitter rants to his on-court goofiness and his name himself.

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The Next Step In the Process

– For labor updates, follow: @daldridgetnt | @AschNBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Now that we have the hardest part of that pesky 149-day lockout behind us, it’s time to refocus and turn our attention to the future. And that means the next step(s) teams will take in the process to return the NBA to fully operational.

With the 66-game schedule being arranged and free agency and training camp to begin simultaneously on Dec. 9, we should be in store for some fast and furious personnel action around the league. But before we get there, we have details that must be dissected and discussed.

Again, we’re leaving the designation of winners and losers to others, mainly NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner (who delivered his picks over the weekend).

There are, however, plenty of opinions regarding how this tentative out-of-court agreement between the players and owners was reached and what sort of structure it will allow teams to function in …

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Michael Wilbon of ESPN.com: The funniest thing about these five months of melodrama is that the NBA will begin the season precisely when and how it should anyway. Play should never for any reason commence before Thanksgiving and probably not until the first week of December, at the earliest. Truth is, a tripleheader on Christmas Day with KobeLeBron, D-WadeDirk and D-Rose, plus the Knicks in the Garden hosting the Celtics, is probably better than these two quarrelsome parties deserve. It’s as though they stumbled into beginning the NASCAR season with Daytona. Please, don’t tell me the Christmas Day games need a makeover for scheduling reasons. How do you get better than the Mavericks receiving their 2011 NBA championship rings in front of the Miami players? The Lakers are must-see holiday TV, so if LeBron and D-Wade aren’t available, who better to share the stage with Kobe than reigning MVP Derrick Rose and a conference finalist team? The last time we saw the allegedly revamped Knicks, they were going out like dogs to the Celtics; what better place to start anew with the most overrated franchise in American sports? So please, don’t let the NBA screw up its first call of the new season. These matchups are irresistible. Purposefully or not, the league couldn’t stage a more satisfying comeback. Even if those games are all moved to TNT, I’ll feel the same way about the Christmas Day return.

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Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel: An expected windfall for NBA contending teams in search of affordable talent could wind up short-circuited by the league’s soon-to-be-approved collective-bargaining agreement. The Sun Sentinel confirmed Sunday that instead of players being released under the league’s “amnesty” provision going directly to the open market, a bidding system has been put in place for teams operating below the league’s salary cap to add such players at a deep discount. “That’s what the clause is in there for,” a party familiar with the impending process Sunday told the Sun Sentinel. “It’s so the Lakers can’t go in and scoop up all the players.” Under the amnesty program, a team can waive a player in order to remove his salary from its salary cap and luxury tax, while still paying out the balance of that contract. It had been widely assumed that such players then would immediately hit the open market. That could have positioned the Miami Heat to add players such as Baron Davis, Rashard Lewis, Brendan Haywood or Brandon Roy at the NBA salary minimum, with the players’ previous teams still paying their full salaries. (Team-by-team decisions on specific players, if any, to receive amnesty releases will not be announced until after the CBA is ratified.) However, in an outline of the proposed collective-bargaining agreement obtained by the Sun Sentinel, the NBA instead has instituted “a modified waiver process” that would allow teams operating below the salary cap to “submit competing offers to assume some but not all of the player’s remaining contract.” For example, while Lewis has two years at $44 million total remaining on his contract, a team currently operating below the salary cap could bid to pay Lewis $3 million in each of those years (with the Washington Wizards, who are expected to make Lewis available, then paying the balance of his salary). “Some of it is still not 100-percent worked out,” a party familiar with the impending policy told the Sun Sentinel.

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Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated: I will admit (and not just because it’s easy to look up online) that I didn’t think the NBA owners and players had it in them to reach agreement. I believed a majority on each side of the table wanted to save the 2011-12 season, but I also believed that process and protocol had got the better of them. They knew what they should do, but they didn’t know how to do it — that’s what I thought would be the epitaph on this lost season. But they turned out to be bigger than the overwhelming circumstances. This is not a perfect deal, and it is surely loaded with all kinds of unintended consequences. For all anyone knows, the efforts to limit the dominance of the richest franchises could wind up giving them more power than ever, should a hardened salary cap inspire the players to chase endorsement income in the absence of a big free-agent payday. There are going to be bad feelings all around, and you may see some players refusing to do any commercial or public service work for their teams as an act of protest for the deal they feel was shoved down their throats. For objective people, however, it does no good to exclusively blame the players or the team owners. Because each side needs the other. Together they built up the NBA, together they threatened to bring it down, and together they came to an agreement when they finally realized just how much they need each other. These negotiations could have meant the end for the NBA. What they wound up generating was not the solution to all of their problems. But it is a beginning. In this world, a beginning is something to be celebrated.

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Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: The NBA and Players Association are discussing the formation of a committee to study the age minimum for the league’s draft with the possibility that no immediate changes to the “one-and-done” rule will come in the finalization of the new collective bargaining agreement, a league official told Yahoo! Sports. “Only the agreement to have the committee may be part of the new CBA,” the source said. “I doubt it will have any affect on the 2012 draft.” This could mean the current class of star college freshmen, including potential No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis of Kentucky, will have the opportunity to enter the 2012 draft. The draft’s age rule is considered one of several “B-list” issues that were tabled in settlement talks, but must be resolved in negotiations before the league and players can get a signed agreement. The NBA and its players must still negotiate several more issues, including drug testing and NBA Developmental League assignments. The shelving of the age minimum debate buys the league more time to deal with the high-profile and impactful issue. For now, the rule calls for American-born players to turn 19 during the calendar year of the draft and be one year removed from their high school graduating class. Since its inception, the rule has created an era in college basketball known as the “one-and-done,” where many top players have spent one year on campus before leaping to the NBA. Within the NBA, there’s a growing movement to create a rule similar to Major League Baseball, which requires college players to stay three years before becoming eligible for the draft. Some NBA teams have suggested a system in which the age minimum for the draft would be 20. Under that scenario, non-international players also would have to wait until two years after their senior high school class has graduated.

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