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Largest effect will be on larger-market teams

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 4, 2011
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Thankfully for fans and the sport itself, the NBA owners and players came to their senses and agreed on a deal to prevent the disaster of a missed season.

There was a consensus that the players caved in to the owners’ demands and that disbanding the Players Association did little to improve the deal. The befuddling part is that the new collective bargaining agreement could have been signed and cemented three weeks ago, ensuring that the season would start Dec. 1.

Instead, the league will have to add eight games to the schedule, including at least one of those infamous back-to-back-to-backs for each team. Whether the compacted season will prove damaging to the players and product remains to be seen, but there are several players who are coming away from this agreement unhappy with the way matters were handled.

What the NBPA, or trade association, was able to secure by holding out so long were fewer restrictions on luxury tax teams such as the Celtics. In essence, the larger-market owners were on the same side as the players in this battle. A majority of owners wanted stringent penalties on teams that exceeded the cap and to completely wipe out the mid-level exception for teams that spent more than the $71 million limit.

So if the smaller-market teams had their way, the Celtics would not have had the right to sign Rasheed Wallace or Jermaine O’Neal. Now they are limited to adding players to a mini mid-level - a $3 million-per-year deal instead of the $5.8 million of the last agreement.

“Every year brings different challenges,’’ said Celtics president Danny Ainge. “A few years back, we had a target and we went after Rasheed and it was easy that way. We don’t have the same flexibility to do some of those things, but we’re in the game.

“We have a list of players we’d like to get, and right now there’s a lot of teams with cap space and players are waiting for the big paydays, so we have to be patient in this process.’’

The new CBA also includes an amnesty clause that allows clubs to shed one contract signed before July 2011 without affecting its salary cap. While the Celtics would appear to benefit from such a clause, they won’t, because they don’t really have any bad contracts - unless they wanted to move on from Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen or even Paul Pierce, which won’t happen.

The primary candidate was O’Neal, who is in the final year of his two-year deal under the mid-level exception at $6.2 million.

“The amnesty clause is a possibility, but you have to be a team under the cap to take full advantage,’’ Ainge said. “We probably won’t be using that.’’

The Celtics owners have not had any issues spending money in pursuit of a championship. But what is beneficial for the players in the new collective bargaining agreement is a provision that requires teams to spend within 85 percent of the $58 million salary cap.

Last season, the cash-strapped Kings spent just $44 million, barely more than the 75 percent required. That additional 10 percent will ensure that smaller-market and frugal teams add more salary. The 85-percent mark increases to 90 after the first two years of the agreement.

After Garnett and Allen come off the salary cap next summer, expect the Celtics to be more cautious in how they spend because the restrictions increase for tax-paying teams. The biannual exception that enabled the Celtics to sign Marquis Daniels will not be an option for tax teams, and those clubs that are $4 million above the threshold will not be eligible to acquire players via sign-and-trades.

That is an option the Celtics haven’t used much over the years, but it means that a player who demands a trade and perhaps wants to come to Boston would have to play out his contract with his former team and sign with the Celtics as a free agent. Players such as Rashard Lewis and Carmelo Anthony were acquired with sign-and-trade deals.

“I don’t know if there’s any changes to the new agreement that are going to change how we look at the future,’’ Ainge said. “That’s always a delicate balance in trying to win now and trying to build for the future. That’s something that we’ve dealt with every year.’’

In addition, if the Celtics do remain a tax team, there are limits as to how much they can accept in a trade. The financial penalty also increases for teams that have paid luxury taxes four of the past five years.

While the players gave up a considerable amount of basketball-related income and other privileges in the agreement, the larger-market owners should join them in the sacrifice line. Life for these teams will be dramatically different in the coming years.


Finals failure is motivation

Just by happenstance do the Heat face the Mavericks on the new opening night for the NBA, Christmas Day. The game was part of the original schedule but would have been just game 20-something for both teams, a fan-pleasing matchup for the holidays. Now it serves as motivation for the Heat, who led Dallas, two games to one, in the NBA Finals last spring, only to lose three straight.

The Mavericks wound up celebrating on Miami’s home floor and the Heat were criticized as a team that was too old, with superstars who didn’t deliver in the clutch. The loss was humiliating after the Heat basically breezed through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a patchwork roster.

One of the players who should be improved this season is power forward Udonis Haslem, who shaved off his cornrows and is fully recovered from a torn ligament in his left foot that caused him to miss 69 regular-season games.

The Heat have to start all over, although they are picked by most observers to again represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. But it will be an arduous task.

“The only thing we’ve shown is that we’re good enough to get there,’’ said Haslem. “We haven’t proved we’re good enough to win it yet. I appreciate all the accolades and people thinking we’re good enough to win it.’’

The Mavericks entered the Finals as heavy underdogs but wore down the Heat with their relentless offensive pressure. And once Dallas began draining those perimeter shots, the Heat had no response.

“I take nothing away from Dallas - those guys went through a hard road to get to where they went to,’’ said Haslem. “They paid their dues.

“I just figure it was something that we have to go through. We have to experience that before we can truly call ourselves champion. We just have to experience that pain together, and I think that will help us grow.’’

Because of the way LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade were assembled in Miami, the Heat were the league’s most despised team. And many observers were delighted by their Finals collapse, especially after Wade and James were caught on camera mocking Dirk Nowitzki’s illness before Game 4.

“We’ve been through all that last year,’’ Haslem said. “There is nothing they can say to us that we haven’t said to ourselves. We criticized ourselves enough individually and as a team about why things didn’t go the way we wanted them to go. There is nothing anybody can say that we haven’t questioned ourselves about.’’

James has been chided for the past five months, but Haslem came to the defense of his teammate.

“People can criticize LeBron, but he’s only one person,’’ he said. “If people want to say he didn’t play to his capability in the Finals, that’s fine. We should pick up the slack.

“It’s not Dwyane’s job, it’s not Chris’s job. It’s a team effort. We didn’t get it done in the Finals, not LeBron. The Miami Heat didn’t get it done.’’


Green still waits to hear

When the Thunder traded Jeff Green to the Celtics last February, they did so with the assumption that he would have to be re-signed after the season. The Thunder decided to pass on extending Green during the period when he was eligible for those three- to five-year extensions under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

The Thunder decided to sign Kevin Durant - a no-brainer - and had Russell Westbrook and James Harden in the pipeline, making Green expendable. The Celtics inherited Green’s status as a restricted free agent and now must decide within the next week whether to sign him to a long-term extension or allow him to play one more season on his qualifying offer.

Green admittedly struggled at times adjusting to the Boston system and the intensity of being a Celtic. It’s different when you are playing for an underdog alongside neophyte peers in Oklahoma City than it is blending in with seasoned veterans on a team expected to compete for a title.

At times Green was unsure of himself and wilted under the pressure, but he showed enough during his stint to be considered a potential cornerstone.

After a summer to take a deep breath and reflect on the season, the 25-year-old Green has no doubt that he can contribute immensely to the effort. But he will have to wait until the Celtics commit to him financially.

“I’m not concerned or stressing out about it,’’ he said. “I’ll take whatever situation I’m in and make the best of it.’’

Green spent a portion of the summer working out with the Georgetown team and worked on his endurance as well as his offensive game. Many in the Celtics organization believed Green tried too hard to assimilate last season and abandoned some of his skills.

During the postseason, he showed flashes of being the small forward the Celtics believed they acquired, but he also committed a couple of critical turnovers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat.

His potential is enticing, especially when you consider that Green has yet to participate in a Celtics training camp and be fully indoctrinated into the system. The summer in which Green was supposed to field offers and learn his true value instead was spent in a stalemate. Now he won’t know until free agency opens Friday.

“You want to play,’’ said Green. “But you have to be patient and go through the process. I definitely want to go through a training camp but I understand I have to wait.’’

Green took more of a personal stake in the labor negotiations when he participated in the Players Association’s final meeting before it decided to disband.

“That was my first one, so I was there trying to get a grasp on how they do it,’’ he said. “It’s one thing to hear in the media and it’s another thing to be there.’’

What he learned is that “negotiations are something serious. It’s a long, long, long day when you try to do something as big as negotiate a contract for the NBA.’’


Miller’s time may be over

One of the most intriguing aspects of the new CBA is the amnesty clause. The Heat are seriously considering ridding themselves of Mike Miller, who signed one of those infamous mid-level exceptions and has been mostly injured or ineffective the past year. Miller revealed that he had abdominal surgery and could miss two months, meaning the Heat would be without a key 3-point shooter in a shortened season. And remember, Miami still has to fill several roster spots, as Juwan Howard and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are no longer with the team. They could use Miller’s money on a more productive player.


At the time the Chinese Basketball Association stated that it would not sign players to contracts with NBA outs, it appeared that the lockout almost certainly would extend into 2012. So free agent Aaron Brooks accepted one of those Chinese deals a few weeks ago, and now may be regretting it. Brooks would have been a valued commodity but will have wait until March, when the Chinese season is over. Former Nuggets Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith are also bound to contracts, shrinking the free agent pool and putting Denver in quite a roster predicament . . . Celtics second-round pick E’Twaun Moore and former UConn standout Jeff Adrien each played what was expected to be their last game for Benetton Treviso Tuesday in an 87-86 victory over Cedevita. Moore had 13 points and 6 rebounds while Adrien added 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. In seven games, Moore averaged 9.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 25 minutes, exactly the type of experience the Celtics wanted him to get during the lockout . . . Mavericks owner Mark Cuban participated in an ABC show called “Shark Tank’’ this past week at Babson College in Wellesley. Cuban, along with FUBU clothing line creator Daymond John, evaluated two entrepreneurial ideas from Babson students. Cuban has decided not to give his players championship rings on opening night. He wanted to get input from veterans Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry but was not allowed to contact them during the lockout. It is believed that Cuban wants to give his players something more inventive.

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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