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

Instant Replay: Cubs 6, Phillies 2

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Cubs 6, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs, on the strength of three home runs, hammered the Phillies, 6-2, at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon/evening.
 
Phillies starter Adam Morgan was hit hard.
 
The loss dropped the Phillies to 26-22. They are 1-3 on this road trip and have lost five of their last seven overall.
 
The Phillies entered the day averaging just 3.3 runs per game, the second-lowest mark in the majors. They have been held to two or fewer runs 16 times in their 48 games. 
 
The Cubs have the majors’ best record at 32-14. They are averaging a National League-best 5.7 runs per game.
 
The game was delayed 56 minutes by rain in the seventh inning.
 
It was delayed again for 37 minutes in the top of the ninth.
 
Starting pitching report
Morgan was tagged for six runs in four-plus innings as his ERA swelled to 6.67 in six starts. He was bruised for eight hits. Five were for extra bases and three were homers. One of the homers, a mammoth blast by Jorge Soler, traveled 461 feet.
 
Lefty Jon Lester got the win. He gave up just two runs over 6 1/3 innings and one was unearned.
 
Bullpen report
Andrew Bailey, Brett Oberholtzer and Colton Murray pitched scoreless ball for the Phillies.
 
Trevor Cahill and Hector Rondon finished it out for the Cubs.
 
At the plate
Maikel Franco drove in both of the Phillies’ runs with a sacrifice fly and an infield hit.
 
The Phillies had 10 hits, but only one for extra bases, a double by Odubel Herrera.
 
Tommy Joseph started at first base against the lefty Lester. He singled in his first at-bat, grounded out and struck out twice. Ryan Howard entered the game after the rain delay and struck out in his only at-bat.
 
Soler, David Ross and Kris Bryant all homered for the Cubs against Morgan. Ross’ was a three-run shot with one out in the fourth.
 
In the field
Freddy Galvis made several outstanding plays at shortstop.
 
The Cubs made two errors in the third inning and the Phillies capitalized for an unearned run.
 
Health check
Cody Asche (oblique) and Mario Hollands (elbow) both had their injury rehab assignments shifted to Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
Asche’s 20-day rehab assignment is set to run out on Wednesday at which time the Phillies can bring him to the majors or option him to Triple A. Actually, the Phils could bring him to the majors before if they choose.
 
Right-hander Mark Appel, pitching at Lehigh Valley, was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain, which might explain the big drop in velocity he experienced in his last start.
 
The Phillies promoted Ben Lively to Lehigh Valley to take Appel’s spot. Lively was off to a tremendous start at Double A. The 24-year-old righty was 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA and a 0.943 WHIP in nine starts.
 
Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (2-6, 3.86) pitches Saturday afternoon against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks (2-4, 3.30).

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

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Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

Turns out the hip and abdominal surgeries for both Flyers captain Claude Giroux and rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere weren’t a deterrent from making their countries’ respective World Cup of Hockey rosters.
 
Also going will be center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was added to Team Europe’s roster.
 
All three Flyers were “add-ons” to Team Canada, Team North America and Team Europe as the final rosters were announced on Friday night.
 
The World Cup of Hockey tournament begins in September 17 and ends on Oct. 1.

Giroux, 28, has twice represented Canada at the World Championships and once in World Junior competition.
 
Gostisbehere, 23,  represented the U.S. internationally once the World Juniors. Team North America is all players 23-and-under or “Young Stars” as some refer to them.
 
Despite his poorest offensive output in three years, Giroux still led the Flyers with 67 points this season, playing in his 500th career game and scoring his 500th point. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP.
 
Gostisbehere took the NHL by storm as a November fill-in for the injured Mark Streit and ended up becoming a Calder Trophy finalist. That award will be announced in late June. 
 
He quickly ended up as the team’s first unit power play quarterback, and led all rookie defensemen in points (46), while establishing several club rookie records, including goals by a Flyers defenseman (17).
 
Gostisbehere was voted the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s best defenseman and the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given by the Flyers’ fan club to the players possessing the most “heart.”
 
Bellemare, 32, had 14 points this season as a valuable fourth line checking center and penalty killer. He also celebrated his 100th game as a Flyer. He figures to be a role player for Team Europe.
 
Ghost and Giroux both had off-season surgery on May 17. Their recovery is approximately 10-12 weeks. Both are expected at Flyers’ training camp in September.
 
Incidentally, the Flyers had just 167 man-games lost due to injury this past season. That’s the fewest number of injuries since 1998-99 when they had 120.
 
In all, the Flyers will send eight players – Bellemare, Giroux, Gostisbehere, center Sean Couturier (North America), defenseman Mark Streit (Team Europe), and three players from the Czech Republic – defenseman Radko Gudas, goalie Michal Neuvirth and forward Jakub Voracek.
 
Eight teams will compete in the tournament with every game being played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
 
Philadelphia was one of the host cities for the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 when the Wells Fargo Center first opened as the CoreStates Center.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.