Basketball Notes

Celtics among those with plenty of green

By Gary Washburn
July 24, 2011

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As the possibility of a lost 2011-12 season looms larger with each passing day of inactivity by the NBA and the Players Association, both of which haven’t finished pouting after they couldn’t come to an agreement before the June 30 deadline, news breaks that the Celtics have agreed to a 20-year contract extension with Comcast SportsNet New England, meaning the club could earn perhaps $50 million per season in television rights.

And the league is going broke?

While the Celtics are a rare example of a team capable of captivating a national audience with a raucous local fan base, several of their cohorts are not so fortunate. The television deals of the Celtics and Lakers ($200 million per season from Time Warner) show how the league is separated by the haves and have-nots.

And it’s becoming apparent that the lockout is more about bailing out the financially strapped teams than rescuing the entire league.

With a lucrative television package that will carry them through 2038, the Celtics are one of the few teams that appear financially secure. It is this large separation that encouraged the Players Association to suggest last month that owners consider more balanced revenue sharing.

The owners responded by calling that a separate issue, meaning they want the players to participate in restructuring the business model and creating more profits. The question for the players is whether they are game for such a sacrifice.

The difference between the NFL and NBA lockouts is that the NFL is not in financial dire straits. The NFL owners and players have spent the last five months trying to split a $9 billion pie. The NBA’s pie is just over $4 billion, but the league is claiming losses of $300 million per season.

CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell explained why Comcast would agree to such a stunning contract with the Celtics in the midst of NBA labor turmoil.

“In general, we’re seeing a robust market for TV rights,’’ Rovell said last week. “Sports, certainly in the college game, we’ve seen this flourishing. The reason is the competition is greater than ever before. All the big guys are thinking of separate new channels, and the main point is that sports is not TiVo-able. Fox hasn’t signed ‘American Idol’ for the next five years; they don’t know what the media watching environment is going to be. For the most part, no matter how we consume our sports, it’s going to be live. And for those people who offer dual revenue streams, that’s all they need to know to figure out how much they should estimate they can bring in and to figure out how much they can pay.’’

Rovell warns the NBA risks losing the casual fan if the lockout cancels or shortens the season. Those casual fans, especially in smaller and economically struggling markets, are important to the league’s health.

“The Celtics probably have less casual fans [than other teams],’’ he said. “Which means this is less of a risk on the long-term proposition. Time Warner knew that this lockout was coming up before they made the Lakers deal. Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, you have five or six teams that could do this.’’

The Celtics are also getting a 20 percent stake in CSNNE. Teams owning at least part of their television networks began with the Knicks and Madison Square Garden Network, and is another way for some to generate revenue. Such an idea might not work in Milwaukee, Memphis, or Sacramento.

“What the teams have recognized is that they would be shortsighted to try to come up with a number for what they’re worth if they can get a piece of the growing pie,’’ said Rovell. “It’s certainly the future if they can get a piece. The Celtics are in a unique negotiating situation. There would be 15 teams that networks would laugh at if they asked for a piece.’’

The facts are discouraging for fans. This current model created a system in which smaller markets weren’t generating enough revenue, while the NBA overexpanded, with commissioner David Stern offering teams to such cities as Charlotte (again), Memphis, and Oklahoma City. The primary reason the Maloof brothers, owners of the Kings, applied for relocation to Anaheim, Calif., was the potential television contract that awaited them, which would have dwarfed their current deal.

Several NBA insiders believe there are a handful of owners who would rather forfeit an entire season than play under the current conditions because they would sustain fewer losses. That is a powerful bargaining chip when players are not interested in missing one year of paychecks.

“There’s a great tension between the haves and the have-nots, especially given the growing have-nots. Potentially, there’s 20 have-nots,’’ said Rovell. “The owners closer to Stern this time are more small-revenue owners than we’ve ever seen. They need to reform the economics. The real issue in getting the deal done is whether the players believe that they have to pay in part of the growing of the revenues, the growing of the basketball-related income. And when the owners report losses, and it includes depreciation in interest on its new scoreboard or building new stadiums, are the players willing to take part in that?’’

Late Friday, the NBA released its annual audit of the basketball-related income (BRI) for the 2010-11 season, which revealed:

■The league’s BRI increased by 4.8 percent from $3.643 billion in 2009-10 to $3.817 billion.

■Total player compensation also increased by 4.8 percent, from $2.076 billion to $2.176 billion. It was the sixth consecutive season player compensation increased.

■The average player salary for the 2010-11 season was $5.15 million. Over the six-year term of the expired collective bargaining agreement, the average player salary increased by 16 percent, or about $820,000.

The owners are attempting to make the case that the players are flourishing, which makes one wonder why the players would agree to a CBA that would cost them revenues that would go into the owners’ pockets.

“The way the players look at it currently is, the owners are lying because they are putting this stuff in there and we’re now guaranteeing them a right to make a profit,’’ Rovell said.

“And does any business deserve that?’’

Paul playing a leading role These are uncertain times for the entire NBA, especially Hornets point guard Chris Paul, who was involved in the negotiations before the lockout and realizes how far the sides are apart. In reality, the players have been prepared for this work stoppage for at least three years.

Paul is in an interesting position because he can opt out of his contract after next season and perhaps join two fellow All-Stars on one of those superteams that small-market owners are trying to eliminate. Paul would not commit long term to the Hornets, and that situation could become more troublesome if David West leaves via free agency.

As one of the league’s premier players, Paul is trying to exhibit leadership in these turbulent times, and set aside his personal issues.

“I think the biggest thing with this situation is we’ve been trying to prepare for this for a few years,’’ he said shortly after the lockout became official. “The union is going to do everything possible, but the guys have been aware that this is a possibility. The guys should be fine. We hope everyone listened [to our advice].’’

There is a high degree of pessimism on both sides. Some owners are banking on the players caving once they begin missing paychecks.

“Guys just have got to continue to stick together, as we will,’’ Paul said. “We’ve got to stay together. It’s one big group. We are the game and we have to stay unified. I think we’ll be fine. Everybody has to be ready for anything. Negotiations could last a long time. Me? I’m approaching it like we’ll be playing the first day of training camp. I’m training, getting ready, and that’s what I am going to continue to do.’’

The sides haven’t officially met since the lockout began.

“It’s tough, obviously everyone knows that we’re very far apart,’’ Paul said. “But I’m hoping like everyone else that something turns and happens, but like I said, we’re prepared. Anything is possible, so you can never knock anything out of the question. All I can tell you is what we’re going to try to do, and that’s stick together and continue to try to get us a fair deal.’’

Assistance is needed While the Celtics, like all teams, cannot interact with players or make transactions during the lockout, they finally got an answer from the Pistons, who are expected to name Lawrence Frank (above) their head coach, leaving the Celtics without another top assistant.

The Celtics wanted to keep Frank because his work with a banged-up team last season was exemplary, and there aren’t a wealth of defensive coaches on the market. But Doc Rivers has been steadfast in hiring coaches with head-coaching aspirations, no matter how quickly they may depart.

Frank aspired to become a head coach again even when he accepted Rivers’s offer, and he interviewed this offseason with Golden State, Houston, Toronto, and finally Detroit. There is speculation that Frank is going to take Celtics assistant Roy Rogers with him to Detroit. Rogers replaced the popular Clifford Ray last season.

Rivers was impressed with the work of Rogers, who built personal relationships with the veterans because he was near their age. Rogers was the 22d overall pick in 1996, the same year Ray Allen and Jermaine O’Neal were drafted.

So the question is, what does Rivers do now? He likely will have to scour other staffs and ask coaches if they are interested in defecting. New Rockets coach Kevin McHale did just that when he added Kelvin Sampson from Milwaukee and J.B. Bickerstaff from Minnesota.

An interesting name to watch to become the Celtics’ new “defensive coordinator’’ is Larry Brown, who told the Globe in March that he wanted to coach again. It’s unlikely a team would hire the 70-year-old Brown as a head coach, given how his two most-recent stops - New York and Charlotte - ended abruptly.

Rivers played for Brown with the Clippers, and for all of Brown’s detractors, he can coach defense, and Rivers has no problem assigning all of those responsibilities to an assistant. Brown admires Rivers, so chemistry would not be an issue.

As for Rogers’s spot, there are still solid big-man coaches out there. Ray is always available to return, but the Celtics did not ask him back because they wanted an upgrade.

Rivers will be a popular guy in the coming weeks among coaches looking for work, and the lockout has no restrictions over coaching hires, so the Celtics can be as open as they want about the search.

The Celtics will have to fill another vacancy after behind-the-scenes assistant Darren Erman took a job with the Warriors. Erman aided Rivers with scouting and workouts, and was a fixture putting players through their pregame regimens.

Erman, who had been with the Celtics for four years, talked with Rivers and team president Danny Ainge, who encouraged him to accept the promotion on Mark Jackson’s staff, although they didn’t want to lose him.

Layups The Maine Red Claws hired former Virginia and DePaul coach Dave Leitao as head coach, replacing Austin Ainge, who joined the Celtics as director of player personnel. Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was also rumored to be a candidate for the Red Claws position. Leitao, a former Northeastern standout, was a head coach at his alma mater and an assistant at UConn before taking the DePaul job. The Development League will have a season regardless of what happens with the lockout. Its draft isn’t until November, and the regular season begins a few weeks later . . . Shaquille O’Neal began his career as a television analyst last week with his first jab, saying the Heat have the “Big Two,’’ an obvious knock against Chris Bosh. O’Neal is not alone in his criticism of Bosh, who could never get the Raptors past the first round of the playoffs in seven years. Many players around the league believed Bosh received too much hype during last summer’s free agent bonanza, and even O’Neal during his first days with the Celtics openly questioned why Bosh was considered an equal or even close to LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Shots at Bosh tend to be unfair; he was pivotal to Miami defeating Chicago in the Eastern Conference finals . . . Alonzo Mourning is hosting Zo’s Summer Groove in Miami this weekend. The event to support disadvantaged youths, normally includes a star-studded game. But it was canceled because Mourning is an executive with the Heat, so no current NBA players were allowed to participate, another byproduct of the lockout. Only former NBA players and some NFL standouts were expected to appear at the event.

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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