So What Did We Learn Here? Struggling to Make Sense of the NBA Lockout

So What Did We Learn Here? Struggling to Make Sense of the NBA Lockout

A more punitive luxury tax?

That's it? That's the best you could come up with?

You threw away 16 games worth of revenue and untold amounts on this season's ticket and merchandise sales in favor of a more punitive luxury tax?

I couldn't be happier! Nor more bewildered…

To speak as if there is one central takeaway from the now almost-officially-resolved NBA Lockout would be to lie. There are actually an untold number of takeaways that are almost all—at least—half-right.

Sure, there's more to this deal than just adjustments to the tax—accompanying restrictions to the sign-and-trade, modifications to the Bird Rule, anywhere from 7-9% of BRI—but the biggest changes have rung hollow over the past few days because fans already knew they were coming. It was generally assumed that we were in store for something more. And that's why the lede of perhaps the least sexy labor resolution of all time begins with "a more punitive luxury tax."

It was no secret that the 50-50 split had been on the table since the league first cancelled it's preseason in October. The players conceded 4% of their original 57 right at the start, and the owners—you know, the ones with all the leverage—seemed to be pushing further toward half with every new meeting.

Indeed, this 51.2%-49% moving split was on the table two weeks ago when the players balked and moved to sue the owners in federal court as their only way of gaining any ground in negotiations they were quickly losing.

So what changed in the intervening 12 days between the players moving to sue and Billy Hunter and David Stern taking pictures in matching holiday sweaters?This is where things begin to break down for anyone hoping to make sense of either a) why they've been thus far deprived professional basketball or b) why they're now deprived of the lockout for which they were cheering.

To clarify, those who fall into the latter camp are not those who have an adamant distaste for the NBA and wish to see it go away in favor of, let's say, the advancement of hockey. Those who fall into the latter camp are those fans who were willing to pass up on this season in the name of actually improving the product. And, so, I ask you—if you were in that camp—what about this is any better than before? I'll assume you agree that the answer is, in short, "nothing."

Where are the restrictions on player guarantees? Where is the hard salary cap? Where is the increased revenue sharing not between players and owners but owners and owners? Where are the rules that help to prevent a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard from holding a small market hostage? Where are the rules meant to improve parity? Where is the expansion proposal that would make the D-League both look and function more like the AHL? What in the hell, if anything, did we just accomplish?

To that final question, I have no good answer. See, I—and I fully acknowledge this as a nearly incomprehensible position—love this agreement, because I happen to relish all the worst things about the NBA. If there was ever an epitome for liking "object x" for all the wrong reasons, it would be my fandom for the NBA. Nothing gets my blood pumping more on a Tuesday afternoon than hearing rumors on Twitter that a four-way deal might be in the works and that Ramon Sessions might be a key add-in for salary reasons.

Four years ago, I fell in love with current Washington Wizard Rashard Lewis on the sole basis that his 6-year, $110 million sign-and-trade from Seattle to Orlando was the worst contract I had seen in my life to that point. Whenever anyone asks why I'm such a fan of such an ostensibly awful product, I point to that deal as my primary motivation, and never expect anyone to fully understand.

Outside of actually liking basketball, I'm a fan of the NBA because of its so clearly unsustainable financial mess-making. This is a league who has had a higher minimum cap for 12 guys than the NHL has for 23 and needs a "trade machine" just to tell you which deals are and are not allowable under its system. In no other league is player movement this wildly captivating. Free agent signings and player transactions are like a sport in and of themselves. This is why I love the fact that the new CBA addresses literally none of the things that keep invested in the NBA for "all the wrong reasons," and this is why both you and I should be so bewildered that this league is nearly no better off than when this lockout began on July 1.

Though I've written on multiple occasions that both sides are equally at fault in this stupefying lockout, I have privately sympathized with the players—another wildly unpopular position. I'm sorry, but I refuse to hold Rashard Lewis to a standard that he should tell Otis Smith, "You know what Otis? I'm really only worth half of that salary. Why don't you pay me about 55 million dollars less?"

I don't buy this business about needing to "save the owners from themselves." How is the NBA the only North American sporting league with this problem of needing to spend money to appease its rabid fans? No, stop it, you didn't give Ben Gordon $58 million because you had a gun to your head; you did it because you have poor managerial skills and a weak constitution for financial responsibility. With that in mind, the CBA's new amnesty clause just presents an even greater moral hazard moving forward.

As for the fans who have every right to complain about the likes of Chris Webber, Glenn Robinson and the first two season of Elton Brand, you wouldn't turn down money and neither should they. They shouldn't "know better."

And, hey! That's it. There it is. In a nutshell, we have solved the NBA lockout. None of these guys—neither the owners nor the players—should know any better, because no one is forced to cede any more ground than absolutely necessary. I don't mean to compare the NBA to improving public schools or cleaning up the environment, but what is a collective bargaining negotiation other than a collective action problem?

We all want nice things—quality education, clean drinking water, an equal opportunity for both the Clippers and the Lakers—but it's rare to reach a consensus on how to pay for it.

Make no mistake, the NBA is still as broken as it ever was. But this deal ensures that we will soldier on under a new, though nonetheless outrageous, status quo for at least the next six years.

So what did we learn? What's the final takeaway? It can't really just be a pack of greedy owners taking it to the players and telling the common fan to "go screw," can it?

That can't be said for sure. What can be said for sure is that this process lasted nearly five months and accomplished little but the owners taking money back from the players. No meaningful cap changes, no expanded revenue sharing between teams, no sponsors on the jerseys as a way to find alternate means of revenue.

It turns out that all the owners needed to fix their irreconcilably broken system was anywhere from $280-360 million from the players. Funny, weren't they out a total $400 million last year? Granted, I studied philosophy, and their future revenue projections are always subject to change, but you and I both know that doesn't add up to a definite financial clearing.

So are we, after all this time, finally to believe the players when they argued that owners' financial accounting was illegitimate? Are we as fans to believe that we were cost not only 16 games, but also the opportunity to improve this league for the long-term when the owners decided $320 million worth of BRI was more important than the product itself?

I don't know.

I told you there were plenty of takeaways. And I told you they were all half-right. I wish I had the answers as to why they wasted all this time, and why we will enjoy the benefit of almost nothing in the
way of legitimate change. The best I can guess is that we were lied to—"we" being both the players and the fans.

As such, I really wish I had the will power to tell the NBA that I'm taking my sports-related spending money and buying Los Angeles Kings season tickets, or whatever kind of fraudulent claim I want to make about how aggrieved I really am. But I don't have that will power, and if you're a fan of professional basketball, then neither do you.

Your passion for basketball, my passion for basketball, means nothing to those owners, and yet it means everything. Because when all is said and done, there's nothing that makes me happier on Christmas than watching the National Basketball Association. And they know that. And that's why they know you and I will come crawling back. And that no matter what they do, no matter how selfish they are, no matter how badly they alienate us, we'll keep coming back.

So, what did we as fans of a bad product with no intent on improving learn about rich people who control said product when we're absent any ability to say "no more, we've had enough?"

That's knowledge the owners knew from the start.

Video NSFW

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

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USA Today Images

Temple QB Phillip Walker provides leadership, offensive spark as Owls beat Charlotte

BOX SCORE

Temple quarterback Phillip Walker rolled on the ground in pain after taking a shot late in the first quarter and was immediately forced to the sideline.

With the Owls already trailing and their starting QB’s shoulder dinged up, things certainly weren’t going how the team envisioned opening up its homecoming game at Lincoln Financial Field. 

“It’s a nagging injury that comes and goes,” Walker said.

The pain was able to quickly go away, and then the Owls were able to go off.

Walker returned after a one-play absence to throw a deep touchdown pass and spark 28 unanswered points by Temple during the second quarter of a 48-20 win over Charlotte (see Instant Replay).

The Owls (2-2, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) evened their record with the win before opening up AAC play next week against SMU.

“It was big for us just because we needed to get going offensively,” Walker said of his beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass to Adonis Jennings on the first play of the second quarter. “We knew it would happen. It just takes time. A lot of people come with the same energy every game at the beginning of the game. Just let that energy wear off a little bit. Once you get your opportunity, then you take your shots and make your plays as an offense.”

The Owls’ offense made plenty of plays during that big second quarter. 

A couple of possessions after Walker’s TD pass gave Temple back the lead, the Owls got a gift when Charlotte (1-3, 0-0 Conference USA) quarterback Kevin Olsen and running back Kalif Phillips botched a read-option exchange. The fumble was scooped up by TU defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike and returned 20 yards to the 49ers’ 13-yard line. On the very next play, Jahad Thomas scampered around the left side for a touchdown.

Temple’s defense then forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back for Walker, who connected with Brodrick Yancy on a 40-yard score to break the game open.

Ryquell Armstead tacked on a one-yard touchdown plunge right before halftime to give the Owls a 31-7 advantage at the break.

In all, the Owls outscored the 49ers 28-0 and outgained them 176-66 during the period.

“Once we got the turnover, we had another opportunity in the red zone to make something happen and we did,” Walker said. “Give us the ball in the red zone, we have to capitalize off of it and we have to be able to make a play.”

“I thought the turnovers and field position started helping hitting the big play,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said. “I just think we kind of settled down on offense, got into a rhythm. I think you’re seeing that we’re able to get our quarterback into a rhythm and he’s playing pretty well.”

Temple got contributions from several key players on offense to rack up 507 total yards and 26 first downs in the victory. Thomas and Armstead each had a pair of rushing touchdowns. Eight different players caught passes with five reaching at least 40 yards, including sophomore wideout Yancy, who had four receptions for 70 yards and a score.

However, it all starts with Walker as he continued to build on the momentum he found last week against Penn State. Walker completed 15 of 26 attempts for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The senior quarterback is starting to hit his stride at the right time with conference play coming up and his teammates are following his lead.

“He likes throwing the ball. The more we catch the ball for him the more it makes him look good, makes others look good and allows us to run the offense the way it can be run,” Yancy said.

“He’s been productive,” Thomas said. “Definitely coming into the season he was talking about his completion percentage. He’s a senior now. He feels more comfortable just getting his feet set. When you don’t have people breathing down your neck all the time you can be comfortable out there, so I’m quite sure that’s the reason why he’s playing so well in the last two games.”

With the defense still showing some warts (429 total yards allowed to Charlotte, including 231 on the ground) and the meat of the schedule coming up with conference play, Temple will be counting on Walker to keep his game at a high level to help the Owls defend their East Division crown.

“Looking forward to it,” Walker said of opening up the AAC portion of the schedule. “There are a lot of great teams in this conference. I think this conference can go either way whether it’s anyone from the West or anyone from the East. There’s a lot of great talent. We just have to bring our A game every week. We’ve got a long stretch here, so we just have to come out here and play our game.”

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”