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Hint of good vibrations comes out of labor talks

By Gary Washburn
September 18, 2011

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“Pessimism’’ would be the best word to describe the NBA labor situation after talks last week not only produced a stalemate but led both sides to pull the “solidarity’’ card Thursday after speculation that cracks were forming within the players and owners.

There are some insiders, however, who believe the players’ offer to lower their share of basketball-related income from 57 percent to the 52 percent range was paramount to negotiations. Such a move encouraged positive vibes, especially when deputy commissioner Adam Silver intimated that economic progress had been made over the past two weeks.

Former NBA Players Association executive director Charles Grantham is 16 years removed from his position, but he has special insight into the current labor negotiations and feels positive about the possibility of a full season.

“I saw this week as a sign of progress, not one of dismay,’’ said Grantham, who was NBPA executive director from 1978-95. “This is sort of a concessionary negotiation because the owners have obviously made timeless claims that they are losing substantial sums of money and the union has settled in on the fact there are teams that are facing losses.

“One of the things said in the last negotiations was that the players were willing to take substantially less. From a negotiation standpoint, the major, major piece of this puzzle relates to how much or what share of $1 will go to the players. After the last year and half, they have finally gotten to the point where they are saying, ‘OK we recognize that there’s some loss here and we’re willing to take less.’ And that’s a significant step.’’

The owners responded to the players’ offer of decreased BRI with insistence on an NHL-like hard salary cap, something the players are soundly against. According to Silver, the NBPA insisted that a soft cap be included in any further negotiations, and that’s where the talks screeched to a halt.

No other talks are scheduled, although the sides agreed to keep in touch. Current NBPA executive director Billy Hunter flew from New York to Las Vegas to meet with the players but had little good news to offer. The players came away claiming they were united and prepared to weather a potentially damaging future that may include missed games.

Hunter has been steadfast against decertification, which was discouraged in Thursday’s meeting by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, whose strategy resulted in more issues than solutions during the NFL lockout.

“As long as they don’t follow the strategy of the NFL players by going through this decertification motion, and don’t let the lawyers get them sidetracked here or the agents get them sidetracked there is a full season to be had,’’ said Grantham, who is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University. “You may miss some exhibition games, but I think when it really gets down to it, I just can’t believe that with an average salary of $5 million at this point, going back to ’98, that it’s worth losing any time.’’

Grantham believes the players will be pressed to make a deal once they begin missing game checks because of their brief earning power as professional athletes. There was a perception in 1998 that veteran players, hoping to cash in on one final contract, hurried a deal to prevent the cancellation of the season.

“I think these next couple of weeks are important,’’ said Grantham, “as long as they don’t get derailed through a legal strategy which is flawed. This whole concept of decertification, at this point in the game, makes no sense.

“Theoretically it sounds great if you’ve got three or four years to go through the court system. But you don’t. And if you do your research, you’ll find that every one of those antitrust lawsuits all ended in a settlement. None of them were ever adjudicated.’’

Grantham pointed out that the average NBA salary has increased tenfold over the past two decades and the players could potentially negotiate slower growth in salaries but perhaps a payback in the new collective bargaining agreement if the owners earn a specified amount.

“The agents are out there making that [decertification] noise because their business has been negatively impacted over this last decade,’’ said Grantham, who negotiated four collective bargaining agreements during his tenure. “Because the more wage scales you have and restrictions on salaries . . . players are far more educated today, they are not going to pay a fee when in fact it’s a fixed salary.’’

It has become apparent that the owners are determined to change the entire economic system, and the players will have to accept fundamental adjustments or risk a lost season.

“I think David [Stern] hit it on the head when he said, ‘We should be thinking about solving the [economic] problem,’’ Grantham said. “I agree.

“Forget about all the other stuff. If we solve the problem that we have, then everybody will prosper again. The fights over the rights or the guaranteed contracts, that stuff’s over now. Now you are talking about more money.

“Things are good now. The best thing we could do [back then] is tie our salaries to that growth and that’s all you’ve seen since is growth.

“Unions are going to have to start thinking about other things such as, now that we’re making this money for the players, how do we get them to keep it?’’

McCants fine without game It’s been a difficult post-college road for the 2005 North Carolina NCAA title team. Raymond Felton is on his fourth team in six years. Sean May is out of the league after recurring knee problems and issues with conditioning. Jawad Williams is a journeyman, and Marvin Williams, who was taken second overall before Chris Paul and Deron Williams, has yet to reach his potential.

As for Rashad McCants, he joins May as a flameout who couldn’t follow college success with consistency in the NBA. McCants was selected 14th overall by Minnesota and spent 3 1/2 bizarre seasons there, playing in the final two years of the Kevin Garnett era and then appearing to flourish the year following Garnett’s trade to Boston, averaging 14.9 points in 27 minutes per game.

But McCants didn’t get along with coach Randy Wittman and was shipped to Sacramento, where he spent his final NBA days, a 24-game stretch during which he came off the bench launching shots, averaging 10.3 points in 19 minutes.

There was a perception that McCants was a me-first player, difficult to coach and aloof with teammates. He signed with the Rockets before the 2009-10 season but an abdomen injury caused the contract to be voided. And he was supposed to play for the Cavaliers’ summer league team last year but pulled out at the last minute.

Now McCants is a forgotten man, considered an afterthought because of his lack of development and an unsavory reputation. He turns 27 next Sunday and is unquestionably talented enough to make a roster, but the question is whether the desire remains and teams will overlook his past miscues.

“Basketball was an opportunity, a means to an end after college, and I planned not to solely depend on basketball, so the lockout doesn’t affect me - I have been locked out two years,’’ said McCants, who said he owns successful businesses. “I have been blackballed for two years, so these guys are making a big thing out of the lockout. They don’t know what locked out is.’’

McCants said he is not eagerly pursuing a second chance, and that his previous struggles were a byproduct of playing for two downtrodden teams with unstable coaching situations. McCants believes neither Minnesota nor Sacramento offered him an atmosphere in which to succeed.

“I never got a chance to show my true ability, period,’’ said McCants, who started just 39 games in four NBA seasons. “But it’s understandable when it looks like ‘he’s OK and he’s playing for two of the worst teams in the league.’

“The two worst teams in the league I played on in my whole career, and I was the bad guy because I was the only one who cared about winning. I had the attitude. I was the only one mad about losing every game by 30.’’

McCants said he wants to be considered the “best player in the world not playing basketball’’ and is content if he doesn’t make an NBA return.

One experience he said he cherishes is the time with Garnett, who was vilified during his final years in Minnesota for not making the Timberwolves perennially successful in the postseason.

“This was a guy who could not swallow the fact that everyone around him could handle losing and he couldn’t,’’ McCants said. “And the moment he went to a place that understood winning, he won. So I learned from him that sometimes you have to develop that tough skin, got to be able to take your shots, once your opportunity comes back.’’

There is a resignation on his part that success on the NBA level - or even the chance - may never occur. The league is filled with gifted, athletic players vying for a chance to make a roster, many willing to accept any role.

“The way my career went wasn’t the way I dreamed it, it was more of a nightmare,’’ said McCants. “To actually wake up and be like, ‘Wow that wasn’t even real, now I can actually live in the real life.’ To develop my own company, make real money, and start a real business and be creative and not thinking in a one-dimensional box like they make you do in the NBA.

“I’m not bitter about anything. My NBA lifestyle was amazing. I don’t take anything back. I am grateful for the NBA for putting me in the position I am in now.’’

The NBA may have seen the last of Rashad McCants, unless he is allowed to return under one condition.

“The only way I would come back to the league is if I get to play with Kobe Bryant,’’ he said. “There’s nobody who thinks like me but Kobe Bryant. I just get criticized for what he used to get criticized for because I tried to establish myself the same way he did.

“I was just on a bad team.’’

Workouts make impact It’s nearing late September and a slew of NBA players remains in Las Vegas, training at Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball facility. Abunassar, a former student-manager at Indiana University under Bob Knight and a renowned trainer, has capitalized on players’ desire for intense training and competitive games by organizing a two-week league that features more than 60 NBA players, including Celtics Jermaine O’Neal and Avery Bradley.

The NBA lockout has prevented players from using their teams’ facilities or even consulting with trainers, so they have pursued experts such as Abunassar in Las Vegas or Tony Falce at the HAX Athletic Club in Los Angeles. Their type of multipurpose facilities have become popular for those looking for arduous offseason workouts.

“What made this so feasible to do in such a short period of time was the fact that this is what we do anyways,’’ Abunassar said about the league, which will end in a championship game Friday. “We train every morning.

“We had a tremendous response from around the league of guys. I think it was the right timing, too. Guys are tired of training on their own. They are tired of being in the gym and lifting weights with one or two guys.

“It was hard to put together. It’s been a lot of long days and nights, but once they got here, our system is already set up, so we just divided the teams and we were rolling.’’

The facilities are spacious, with full basketball courts along with areas for exercise and rehabilitation. Several NBA players live or spend extensive time in Las Vegas or Los Angeles during the summer, making these locations convenient. Paul Pierce has played pickup games at HAX, and Abunassar serves as a trainer for Kevin Garnett.

“We have learned the NBA secret, which is to simplify,’’ Abunassar said. “I think after we got rolling [with a facility in Florida], it became much more popular. More guys are seeing the value of being in a facility like this.

“When I first started training, we used a gym. It used to be me and Chauncey [Billups] or Kevin in a gym. It was great and everything, but it’s not the environment we’ve created here, and that’s why I think it is growing.’’

In games Thursday, Houston’s Kyle Lowry dropped 52 points, Denver’s Al Harrington scored 46, Washington’s John Wall scored 41, and Golden State’s Klay Thompson tallied 40.

As the lockout continues, Abunassar said, he expects many of his clients to work out at his facility into October, when they are normally participating in training camps.

Rogers has big job ahead It is uncertain whether the Celtics removed Roy Rogers as their big man coach or he just stepped down, but the former first-round pick is headed to the Pistons with new coach Lawrence Frank, along with former Celtic Dee Brown, who resigned as coach of the NBDL’s Springfield Armor. Celtics president Danny Ainge said the team will not replace Rogers with another big man coach. Armond Hill and Kevin Eastman will work with the big men.

Layups The Timberwolves hired former Houston, Sacramento, and Portland coach Rick Adelman to lead their young bevy of players. Adelman will run a wide-open offense that encourages up-tempo play, something that wasn’t seen under former coach Kurt Rambis, who handcuffed the baby Wolves with the Triangle offense. Perhaps what encouraged Minnesota general manager David Kahn to hire Adelman was the public endorsement of All-Star forward Kevin Love . . . The Nuggets will have their share of roster issues when the lockout ends, as mercurial forward J.R. Smith signed with a team in China, meaning he won’t be available to an NBA team until perhaps March. The Chinese Basketball Association has mandated that any NBA player who signs with a team there has to play the entire league season, with no out clauses. Smith was an unrestricted free agent and would have attracted strong interest in the market, with the Celtics likely on the list. The Nuggets have also lost restricted free agent Wilson Chandler to China, while Ty Lawson and Kenyon Martin are pondering overseas deals . . . The Warriors announced they will retire Chris Mullin’s No. 17 during a Jan. 20 game against the Pacers, another of Mullin’s former teams. The honor is warranted because Mullin was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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