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NBA AM: Can They Really Pay College Players?

It is easy to say “pay college players” but can the system in place really make that happen without killing off other things?… Lakers deny deal with John Calipari.

Steve Kyler

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Unintended Consequences:  Congratulations to the University of Connecticut and all their fans and alumni on their National Championship win over the University of Kentucky. They were truly the better team last night, and for UConn coach Kevin Ollie, it was a sweet victory for one of the nicest guys to grace a NBA locker room.

As the curtain closes on the college basketball season, there is a looming threat to the Madness of March and the outcome of some actions taking place away from basketball might change forever how we view the college sports world.

If you have not been following the story of the Northwestern college football players, they are nearing a decision that could change the landscape of collegiate sports fairly significantly. After successfully winning a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, the group at Northwestern has won the right to unionize, which is the first step towards having collective bargaining power and ultimately winning a path to compensation for players.

The NLRB ruled that an athletic scholarship is two separate situations. The student portion, which comes with a requirement to attend classes and maintain a certain grade point average, while the athlete part is in essence a 50-60 hours a week job and that athletes are in essence employees of the school they play for, which would entitle them to the right to unionize and receive compensations and benefits.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.

On the surface it’s easy to say that paying players is only fair, especially given the billions that are generated on college athletics, especially in football and basketball. Pulling out $10 to $20 million for a general compensation fund wouldn’t cripple the sport, especially when you have coaches and athletic directors earning high six and seven figure salaries.

However, the fight and debate over compensating college athletes is complex, there are a couple of unintended consequences looming that could have a spiral effect.

Some schools use their athletic revenue to fund all of their sports programs as well as back fill education and facility initiatives. For every power house athletic school like LSU or Kentucky, there are Grambling States. Last year Grambling made news due to the horrendous conditions of their facility that included crumbling buildings filled with mold and mildew. The school cited a lack of funding for the state of their program and their facility.

Not every school makes money and a lot of the smaller lesser talked about programs lose money on athletics, even at the dollar amounts generated. The big schools get a larger share of the pie (that’s been negotiated) and the bigger conferences get more of that pie as well (also negotiated). Taking dollars out of that system would have a cascading effect that would take some programs out of the picture entirely.

Some schools have already said if compensating players comes to reality, they would consider dropping out of Division 1 sports or shuttering their programs all together.

Equally, if compensation for players is tied to profitability of a program, you’ll see an amassing of players at the power schools that would make the inequities in some sports even worse than it is now. If you think school are doing unscrupulous stuff to win players now, wait until there is money on the line.

If schools are forced to compensate players, and that’s how it will happen, there is no doubt that secondary programs that are not profitable will get shut down.

It’s easy to say pay the players, there are millions on the table, but those millions go to fund golf programs, swimming programs, lacrosse, sports that don’t generate the interest or the revenue that the major programs do. In turn when the “next level” goes away, will that kill those programs at the high school level? Is there any point in having a High School Lacrosse team, if there isn’t a next level to obtain?

»In Related: Could Indiana Pacers Lose in First Round?

How many non-professional athletes have gotten their college education by way of an athletic scholarship for a second tier sport? Is that what the goal is? Kill the other sports and the other opportunities they provide to compensate players that generate revenue?

Universally, the players who are saying they want compensation are not saying they want professional level compensation. Most are saying they want the gaps in the current scholarship system closed. They want the ability to have some money in their pocket and to have the same level of benefits that non-student athletes have in terms of earning money in a job while attending school.

So is the answer that every student athlete gets to punch the clock at minimum wage?

This is a massively complex situation that is bigger than just pay the players. Despite the money generated, all of that money is accounted for. Recreating the system is a scary proposition because of all of the things we don’t know about how it’s applied.

If the professional side of sports has taught us anything, it’s that no matter how much you make, there is always a desire to make more. Can the college economic system survive what may start as a small stipend to players without destroying the entire system at some point?

It is easy to say pay the players. That sounds fair. That sounds like something that should happen. The problem is all the things that will cause elsewhere.

If players unionize eventually we’ll get to the point where players strike to get the leverage they need to gain ground in negotiations.

Are we ready for our college athletes to strike, to sit out the National Championship game in order to gain compensation? That’s what comes next in the conversation about how to pay players.

On the surface it’s a great idea, but at the next level its vastly complex and will impact other things in ways no one has envisioned yet.

The Northwestern players are expected to vote on becoming a union on April 25. If they vote yes, the college world is headed into a scary and uncharted place. The unintended consequences could change college athletics forever.

Lakers Shoot Down Calipari Rumors:  Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman caught the twitter world by surprise yesterday suggesting on Twitter that win or lose, that Kentucky head coach John Calipari was leaving UK for the LA Lakers and that it was a “#DoneDeal”. What makes the tweet more interesting is a few hours later Chapman tweeted a picture of himself and longtime Calipari power broker William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley.

While the story was fun and certainly created some intrigue, both Calipari and the LA Lakers have tried to shoot down the notion that Coach Cal was headed to LA.

»In Related: NBA Rumors: Calipari and the Lakers?

The Lakers told inquiring reporters that there was zero truth to the report, throwing their support behind current Laker coach Mike D’Antoni.

Calipari was asked to comment about the report during his post-game press conference last night; he also sort of denied the report, with his standard answer regarding the NBA.

“The Lakers have a basketball coach. Kentucky has a basketball coach. I have the best job in the world,” Calipari said. “I’m not even going to dignify that.”

»In Related: NBA Power Rankings: One Week Remaining.

Calipari signed a multi-year contract extension in 2011 that locked him into to Kentucky through the 2019 season. Calipari’s deal pays him roughly $4.6 million per season with an additional $850,000 a year in bonuses and incentives. Calipari’s buyout is only $1 million.

By way of comparison, the LA Lakers signed Mike D’Antoni to a three-year deal worth $12 million in 2012, which has a team option on a fourth year. D’Antoni has one more fully guaranteed year left on his deal.

Six Things You Need To Know:  Every day we try and give you the six thing you may have missed. Here are the six things you need to know today:

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Jarrett Allen Comes Along Quicker Than Planned

Many thought Brooklyn Nets rookie Jarrett Allen would spend a good chunk of this season in the G-League. Instead, he ends the year a starter.

Joel Brigham

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Only five players in the entire NBA are older than Brooklyn Nets rookie Jarrett Allen, a player who was projected to enter the season as one of the league’s biggest projects. He was a first-round pick, but his youth and inexperience had people believing he would take a while to adjust.

By the end of his first season, though, Allen found himself injected into the starting lineup. In other words, he came along a lot quicker than anybody expected.

“I defied some people’s expectations,” Allen told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of people thought I was going to be a G-League guy, and that they were going to have to develop me before I’d be ready to play at the NBA level, but I came in and played well enough to be a starter. I’m playing starter’s minutes now and putting up pretty good numbers. I think I’m doing pretty well.”

He’s grateful to have made such big strides in his first year, but even he stepped into this season believing it might have been a slog getting meaningful minutes.

“I definitely thought that I was going to have to through the process,” he said. “I thought I was going to have to spend time in the G-League, improve from there and then hopefully get into the lineup. So, I decided I was going to be a defensive-minded person really early on. I opened myself up to doing all of the dirty work, and I think that helped make me a bigger part of this team earlier than some people thought.”

Allen actually started the season hurt, which meant he couldn’t participate in Summer League and cut his teeth on less-than-stellar transitional talent. Instead, he put on his NBA jersey and bodied up a real professional player for the first time during training camp.

“The first person I had to guard was Timofey Mozgov,” Allen said, laughing at the memory. “I’m 19, just coming into the league, and that’s my first experience of having to guard someone. I thought to myself, ‘Man, it’s going to be like this the whole year?’ That really is what it’s been like going up against guys like Dwight Howard and Joel Embiid. I’ve spent all year playing against really strong guys, so I guess getting inducted by Mozgov was good for me.”

His whole season has been a nonstop introduction, matching up against star players frequently.

“In Mexico, we played the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I went up to block Carmelo Anthony’s shot. I grew up watching Carmelo forever, so getting to play against him and even blocking his shot, that was that moment when it hit me I was really in the NBA.”

Especially when Allen got into the starting lineup, his defensive assignments got much more difficult.

“The first start was against Kristaps Porzingis, and that was a tough matchup for me. I honestly was nervous that first time, getting my first start against one of the best basketball players in the world. I went in and took the challenge.”

Those challenge are only going to get more challenging, so strength training is going to be his main focus this summer, among other things.

“This offseason definitely is going to be when I add a lot of muscle. I want to add strength, shooting, and offensive game stuff. [Defensively], I think I’ve done pretty well, and I know I’ll get even better with time, but I need to work on offensive skills, dribbling, shooting, and post work.”

Allen self-assesses his first season in the league as a success, but it’s over now, and he can look forward to a sophomore season in which he knows the ropes from Day One.

“I’ve been the little brother of the team this year. Everybody has helped me out, and everybody has bossed me around a little. I had to carry around a pink backpack for a little bit, but after that I’ve just had to carry water for the guys and bring it onto the bus. It hasn’t been too bad, but every rookie looks forward to the day when they aren’t a rookie anymore.”

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NBA Daily: The All-Star Game’s Scandalous Past

The first All-Star Game was birthed of an infamous point-shaving scandal that rocked the basketball world.

Joel Brigham

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College basketball’s point-shaving scandal of the early 1950s remains one of the biggest black eyes in the sport’s history, but without it, there may never have been an NBA All-Star Game.

Known more famously as the CCNY (City College of New York) Point-Shaving Scandal, this public relations nightmare occurred in 1951 when several players from the CCNY Beavers, one of the most innovative teams in college hoops that played their home games at Madison Square Garden and won the national title the year before, took money in exchange for shaving points to help nail down easy wins for bettors.

The story is a lot more complicated that; it starts in the Catskills in New York in the 1940s and slowly works its way into the college game, but the end result is that several players from seven different colleges, most of whom attended CCNY, took money in exchange for impacting the outcomes of meaningful collegiate sports competitions.

Obviously the aftermath of this was significant. CCNY, just a year removed from being national champions, deemphasized their athletics programs and dropped down to Division III, never to return to Division I. Any player found to have been part of the scandal was permanently banned from playing in the NBA, and CCNY head coach Nat Holman, who completely modernized the game of basketball, was cleared of any wrongdoing officially but saw his legacy tarnished because of the whispers that predictably followed the scandal.

The whole thing was awful for basketball in general, so while the NBA was not directly impacted outside of having a few top-rated players be made unavailable in that year’s draft pool, the sports-ingesting public at large soured on the sport somewhat in the wake of these dishonorable actions.

And that’s where the idea for the NBA All-Star Game came together. A handful of NBA bigwigs held a meeting to discuss bettering the league’s perception among fans, and it was there that the idea of an All-Star Game involving the league’s best players surfaced as one possible solution.

The idea was pitched by the NBA’s publicity director Haskell Cohen, who took the idea from Major League Baseball, which had seen the midseason event grow increasingly popular every year. The first one of those took place in 1933 as an attraction at the World’s Fair in Chicago as the invention of a Chicago Tribune journalist named Arch Ward. If it could work for baseball, Cohen argued, maybe it could work for basketball, too.

Boston Celtics owner Walter A. Brown immediately jumped on board, growing so enthralled with the concept that he offered not only to host the event but to take on full financial responsibility for it. If the event was a behemoth failure, Brown himself would incur those losses.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as the first All-Star Game in 1951 drew over 10,000 fans to Boston Garden. That doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, but average attendance at the Garden that season was only around 3,500 people per game. This star-studded exhibition nearly tripled that.

Today, of course, the NBA All-Star Game is an entirely more complicated and dazzling spectacle, with internet votes and slam dunk contests further encouraging fan interest. It’s fascinating to think that it all exists because the league felt the need to do something following a deeply embarrassing scandal for the sport. CCNY’s basketball program certainly isn’t better because of it, but it’s hard to imagine a world without the NBA All-Star Game.

Thank goodness for the rainbows that follow storms.

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NBA Daily: Quincy Pondexter Has Grown With New Orleans

Quincy Pondexter did two stints with New Orleans four years apart, both of which changed his life forever.

Joel Brigham

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By the time the New Orleans Hornets traded for the draft rights to Quincy Pondexter in the summer of 2010, the city was just starting to see some real progress in the reconstruction efforts that followed the half decade after Hurricane Katrina.

In February of that year, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, a victory that the city badly needed, and Pondexter found himself dropped into the sports culture of the league’s most unique city.

Now with the Chicago Bulls, Pondexter would only play in New Orleans for his rookie year before getting dealt to Memphis and signing a multi-year extension, but in late 2014 he was traded back to New Orleans, who had rechristened themselves the Pelicans by that point. He couldn’t believe how much had changed in just four short years.

“You stopped seeing the spray paint on the houses, and the prices start going up on real estate. It was definitely a lot different coming back,” Pondexter told Basketball Insiders. “I remember I had a house there, when I first got there as a rookie, and it was very, very cheap. But when I came back, I had a place probably twice as small for almost double the price. The city had just grown and developed a lot more, especially the downtown areas where you could start seeing buildings being built. You’d start to see the city come back to form, come back to life, and I really, really got to enjoy it my second time.”

That sort of progress was slow to come by 2010, however. Despite five years having passed since the initial devastation of Katrina, New Orleans was finding slow progress toward physical and emotional healing. The team had just moved back to the city full-time a couple of seasons prior after having played a good number of games in Oklahoma City during Louisiana’s recovery, but Pondexter remembers the Hornets giving the people of the city something to root for, too.

“The Saints, when you win a championship, when you’ve been there for years, of course you’re going to be the favorite, but, when the Hornets were part of that, too,” he said. “When you win games, and I had the chance to go to the playoffs with two different stints with them, I think it’s embracing how much the city comes together once you make an achievement like that, and whether you’re at the grocery store, gas station, whatever, people are always going to talk to you about the game of basketball. They don’t talk to you like a fan in New Orleans; they talk to you like a family member. It was really cool to be in a city like that.”

He also admitted that it was exciting to play even a small role in helping New Orleans continue to heal.

“It was a unique experience because the city was rebuilding, and being able to be a part of helping put it back together, it was really special,” he said. “We had an unbelievable star in Chris Paul, and you just don’t realize how much people lean on sports to get through tough times. We bridged that gap, and it was a real unique community to help refurbish the city of New Orleans.”

Coming back four years later, Pondexter had grown up a lot, and while a lot of his next few years with the Pelicans would be plagued by a torrent of medical problems ranging from knee issues to a staph infection, he did get to spend a lot more time in the city after having been there for only a year as a rookie in 2010-2011. That’s when he really fell in love with New Orleans.

“The culture, the melting pot culture, the rich history, it’s so much different from anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I grew up in Fresno, California, went to school at the University of Washington, and New Orleans is just something unique, and I could always say I learned so much from a city like that, about our country, about life, about so many things. About music, about food, about everything in that city, you just really learn so much. It’s a city where you get to put your hair down, and just enjoy being alive.”

Time passes quickly in any NBA career, but playing two times for one team several years apart can’t help but give a person some perspective, which is what it has done for Quincy Pondexter.

“You grow up, you learn the game of basketball, you learn a lot about yourself, and you see what you want in life more,” he said. “I think that was a really big pivotal moment in my life, one I’ll never ever forget.”

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