Beyond the Boxscore
Maybe David Stern let NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher keep a fancy pen from the high-powered law offices where a tentative new labor agreement was reached.
It's not like the NBA's ruthless commissioner and the owners gave Fisher and the rest of the players much of anything else. The deal handshake agreed to on Saturday — day No. 149 of the NBA Lockout — will reportedly reduce the players' share of league revenues from 57 percent to 51 to 49 percent. In all, the NBA players — the ones that the fans actually come out to see — will give up as much as $300 million in salaries per year over the course of the deal, which is set to run a minimum of six years and up to 10 years.
In other words, the players caved. As most veteran league observers expected all along.
You could see this coming last Sunday at the John Lucas' Lockout Celebrity Game in Houston. You could hear it as Houston Rockets forward Luis Scola railed in open frustration against the decision not to let the rank-and-file players vote on the owners' last proposal. You could hear its echo in Kevin Durant's absence from that game as his agent negotiated with a German team he never truly wanted to play on.
The players were going to play somewhere — and soon. In the end, almost all of them knew the NBA — even this new-look NBA — was their best option.
So thank the players for this 66-game season that is set to start on Christmas Day with Stern's TV-friendly triple header. The owners would have let this season die with little remorse.
The players showed their excitement in getting back on the court (and let's be real, to their paychecks) almost immediately. "If this is true I am Bouta go wake my mom n grandma up and put on a suit and thunder hat and cry! Please be tru," Durant tweeted.
What does it mean for the Rockets? Well, point guard Kyle Lowry looked like the most season-ready player at that Houston Lockout Game, dropping in 3-pointer after 3-pointer in a 30-point effort. Expect Lowry to have a career year for the second straight year . . . and for the Rockets to likely miss the playoffs for the third straight season.
Thank the players for this 66-game season that is set to start on Christmas Day with Stern's TV-friendly triple header. The owners would have let this season die with little remorse.
New coach Kevin McHale is personable, but he needs better players. And if you think signing free agent center Nene Hilario — a tough, testicular cancer survivor who is a great story, but not near a franchise-changing player — is the answer, you must love the thought of scraping after the eighth playoff seed in the West.
What does it mean for the league? Well, the Miami Heat could be the last "super team" you'll see for at least a generation. The new deal is designed to limit teams to one maximum contract each.
Stern and the owners seem to be determined to try and create NFL-style parity in basketball. It might sound great in theory. But the problem is the NBA's long been driven by star-packed teams — that's what creates the interest, from the Showtime Lakers to the Michael Jordan-era Bulls. The NBA experienced a huge jump in popularity last season largely because the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade super team in Miami that everyone loves to hate brought back those days.
And the Dallas Mavericks never would have been able to pull off that great NBA Finals upset if Mark Cuban wasn't allowed to open his wallet wide and add complementary piece after complementary piece.
The NBA will quickly find out it's not the NFL. It needs compelling storylines to thrive — marquee teams that capture the general public's imagination over a long schedule. Does anybody besides Peter Holt care if this new deal allows the San Antonio Spurs to compete again?
The Spurs winning all those titles in their boring fashion is what almost killed the league in the first place.
Still, basketball is back and it figures to take at least a few years for Stern's new rules to screw up the NBA's new popularity. This season will still have LeBron and D-Wade in Miami, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in Los Angeles and Dirk Nowitzki trying to prove that the Mavericks weren't a one-year storybook fluke (good luck with that).
Anyone with an open mind (something most NBA critics do not possess) could not help but notice how humbled the players came across during the lockout. The billionaire winners never seemed all that concerned about the real victim arena workers, the surrounding businesses that depend on those NBA games or the fans, but the biggest of the millionaire players mentioned them again and again.
"I just feel bad for the people who work in the arenas," Derrick Rose, the reigning NBA MVP, said in Houston. "It stinks for us, but let's face it — we'll be fine. It's the arena workers who really feel the lost paychecks."
The NBA players are crushed — and still very much fine.