David Stern Sounds Off on LeBron Quarrel; Potential Lockout Looms
A seven-game dream Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics wrapped up in June, followed by a star-studded free-agency class that entered with unprecedented hype. Even the latest Las Vegas summer league has showcased the league's ever-growing brand, with next-generation talent like top pick John Wall filling the gym at UNLV and playing in front of a nationally-televised audience.
But these are not good times for David Stern's league, with the ominous issues piling up and the commissioner having no choice but to address the obvious on Monday.
After spending more than three hours meeting with the league's owners inside the Palms Casino Resort, a candid and cutting Stern came equipped with a lengthy hit list and fired away from the start.
• He ripped LeBron James' one-hour ESPN show on Thursday that was dubbed "The Decision," calling the process of his announcing he would join Miami "ill-conceived, badly produced and poorly executed." Had Stern been consulted, he said he would have suggested James inform Cleveland that he was not returning long before "The Decision" so as to avoid the public humiliation. Overall, his was a just and respectable public lashing, lacking only a direct reference to James' handlers and, specifically, ring leader Maverick Carter.
• He fined Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert $100,000 for his vitriolic letter to James after his departure, calling it "ill-advised and imprudent."
• He criticized Jesse Jackson, albeit politely, responding to the reverend's comparison of Gilbert to a slave owner by saying, "(Jackson) is, as he rarely is, mistaken."
• He was dismissive of reports alleging tampering in the case of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh "bringing their talents" to South Beach, saying the three players were "totally within their rights to talk to each other" about possibly playing together before free agency began. Stern added that the Labor Relations Committee has been asked to explore whether changes to the free-agency process should be part of future labor negotiations. In truth, however, the league is unsure how to police player tampering and has bigger items on its agenda at the moment.
Such as, one could say, the future and viability of the league itself.
Lost in the plethora of story lines rolling off Stern's tongue was the notable absence of any progress relating to labor negotiations. While there was rightful focus on the continued tarnishing of James' brand and reputation, Stern also revealed that most of the owners' meeting was spent discussing the oceans that must be crossed between now and next summer to avoid a lockout.
Except for one thing: it seems Stern is the among the select few who believes it won't happen.
An unofficial FanHouse poll of owners, coaches and involved agents returned an overwhelming sentiment that a lockout is inevitable, with one owner deeming it a "100 percent" certainty. The owners want to go the way of the NHL and its hard salary cap, although their plans are believed to include first-year salary rollbacks of approximately 30 percent that are even more extreme than the 24 percent implemented by the hockey league in 2005. As for the players, it sounds as if they may as well have told Stern to photocopy the current version of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and throw a new signature on the bottom.
"We reviewed their (latest) proposal with the owners," Stern said. "Basically where we are is that we're asking for fundamental changes in the system and the players, as (union director) Billy Hunter has said publicly, would very much like the present system to continue."
There is more recent salt in this wound, too, as the funny money being doled out to free agents this summer has somehow managed to unify both camps even further. One source described the owners' current mood as "militant," while the players have grown even less willing to hear proclamations of relative poverty (Stern now says the projected losses are $370 million for last season) when players like Darko Milicic are signed to $20 million deals.
Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver summarized the league's view on that front, saying, "teams have no business choice but to compete for players." The owners' stance is truly that simple, and the irony as they see it is that the recent flurry of bloated deals are -- in their view -- an indictment of the system even if they are signing the checks. And then there's Hunter, who at 67 may be hoping this is his last CBA negotiation and has thus far employed the "Last Stand" mentality in representing the players with the same unrelenting stance.
It's not looking good at the moment, NBA fans. But heck, at least Game 7 was fun.
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