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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

NBA AM: All-Time Biggest Comeback Wins

The Warriors’ big 24-point comeback over the weekend was incredible, but where did it rank all time?

Joel Brigham

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One of the biggest NBA stories of the weekend was the Philadelphia 76ers scoring 47 points against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter Saturday night, only to blow their 24-point lead in fairly embarrassing fashion.

Kevin Durant joked about not being able to lose to Philadelphia for fear for Joel Embiid peacocking on Twitter afterward, while Embiid wrote about taking the loss in stride, adding “blowing a big lead” to their arsenal of experiences to avoid repeating in games to come.

In any event, that 24-point comeback was one of the most impressive comebacks in NBA history, though the good news for the Sixers is that there have been bigger blown leads than their own. Some of them much, much bigger. Heck, the Miami HEAT blew a 25-point lead just two weeks ago, so crazier things have happened.

The following are those crazier things. These are the biggest blown leads in NBA history:

#5 Boston Celtics vs. L.A. Lakers (2008) – By the time Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals had started, the Celtics had taken a 2-1 lead in the series, and the pivotal Game 4 was going to go down in Los Angeles. From the get-go, the Lakers looked like they were going to tie the series with little problem, jumping out to a quick 26-7 lead and finishing the first quarter up by 21 points. The lead got as large as 24 at one point, with L.A. still holding a 20-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter.

But Boston ripped off a 21-3 run to finish the third quarter, cutting the lead to two and making it a much more exciting game than the first two-and-a-half quarters suggested. Their spirits broken, L.A. lost the game and, eventually, the series.

#4 Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trail Blazers (2010) – The Jazz came into Portland for this February game back in 2010 without starting center Mehmet Okur, whose absence was felt immensely as the Jazz fell into a 25-point deficit, trailing by 23 halfway through the third quarter. After chipping away at that lead throughout the fourth quarter, Utah still faced a four-point hole with just 30 seconds to go in the game, but Deron Williams made a couple of free throws, the Jazz got a stop on the defensive end, and Carlos Boozer put-back a last-second miss to send the game into overtime, where the Jazz put the finishing touches on the remarkable comeback win.

#3 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Dallas Mavericks (2008) – The Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008 were not good. Still rebuilding post-Garnett, they had no business jumping out to a massive lead over the much more talented Dallas Mavericks, but that’s exactly what happened. The mediocre Wolves built a seemingly insurmountable 29-point lead, but as it happens, the lead was in fact quite mountable, as the Mavericks ripped into that lead thanks in large part to 24 second-half points by Jason Terry. With a seven-point victory, the Mavericks pulled off an impressive 36-point turnaround, albeit against one of the league’s worst teams.

#2 Sacramento Kings vs. Chicago Bulls (2009) – In one of the most stunning comebacks in league history, the Sacramento Kings rallied from being down 79-44 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter to demoralize a Bulls team that flat-out didn’t see it coming. Sacramento finished the quarter on a 19-5 run to cut the lead to 19, then got it down to 95-91 with 2:28 left in the game. Rookie Tyreke Evans outscored the entire Bulls’ team 9-3 the rest of the way, and the comeback was complete. All of this was in Chicago, and the city’s fans literally booed the Bulls off the court. Needless to say, that was Vinny Del Negro’s last season as head coach in Chicago.

#1 Denver Nuggets vs. Utah Jazz (1998) – In the midst of a seven-game winning streak, a Jazz team featuring Karl Malone and John Stockton did not enter this contest against Denver in 1998 expecting to fall into a 36-point deficit. The score was 70-36 at halftime with the lead expanding further in the third quarter, but that’s when Utah started to grind their way into the lead behind big nights from Malone (31 points) and Jeff Hornacek (29 points). Despite it being a record-breaking comeback, there was no one big remarkable moment. Rather, the Jazz just dismantled the Nuggets through attrition over the course the second half en route to a truly impressive come-from-way-behind victory.

The fact that teams have come back from deficits this huge is exactly why current NBA teams talk about never taking the foot off the gas. Almost no lead is safe, and that’s the beautiful thing about basketball. Sometimes the momentum shifts, and all that planned Twitter bragging goes right down the tubes. At least in Philadelphia’s case the team on the other end of the comeback was the defending champs.

And as this list proves, it could always be worse.

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NBA

NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, currently 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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NBA

NBA AM: Trading LeBron – Its Laughable, But Hear Me Out

Believe it or not, the Cavs might be wise to explore trading LeBron, just as the Lakers want to jettison Luol Deng.

Steve Kyler

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Trading LeBron – Its Laughable, But Hear Me Out

To say the Cleveland Cavaliers are struggling to find their way might be a bit of an understatement.

The Cavs have won three straight games, albeit against teams like the Mavericks, Knicks, and Hornets – also known as teams they should beat. They are one game above the .500 mark and starting to string things together, but still a far cry from the leader in the clubhouse they are expected to be, but there is a lot of time remaining on the season.

The Cavs have a ton of new faces, they have endured some early injuries including a significant training camp injury to LeBron James, so their struggles are easy to justify, but they are struggles nonetheless.

Bleacher Reports’ Howard Beck chronicled a hefty piece on James this week in which it was suggested by an unnamed NBA executive that maybe the Cavs have run their course and should consider doing the unthinkable, which is trading James.

Before we get too far into this, James has a no-trade provision in his contract, so he controls his future, and that’s always been by design. James has the option to be a free agent this summer, and there has been talk for some time that James may seek a new team in July, especially if the Cavs are not a title contender.

James has been unwavering in his view that he is in “win-now” mode and seeks another championship immediately.

This brings us back to the idea of trading James.

If you have followed the Cavaliers management of the James relationship, they have tried to keep him happy. They have traded for players that fit James’ style of play. They have spent gobs of money re-signing and retaining players in James’ circle. They have done virtually everything possible to keep James content in Cleveland. The problem is they are not dominating. Maybe that changes when Isaiah Thomas enters the equation, maybe it doesn’t.

When former Cav and current Celtic Kyrie Irving asked to be traded from Cleveland, a highly placed executive with an Eastern Conference team suggested that Cavs needed to corner James on his future—not so much as demanding an extension, although the Cavs could do that, but rather demanding an explanation of intention. In other words: ask James directly if he wants to remain beyond the current season.

If the answer is indifference or hesitation, then the smarter move organizationally would be to ask him to agree to a trade. He could always say no, but at least organizationally, you know where you stand and can make decisions based on that, especially if the Cavs can’t climb the Eastern Conference ladder.

If James is receptive to staying, then it’s a no-brainer to stay the course. But, if James has one foot out the door, it’s not crazy to try and extract value out of him while you can, especially if it’s not coming together.

It sounds silly to consider trading one of the league’s top players, but if he is walking in July and you are not certain to reach the Finals does it make sense to let the ship run aground again?

At the end of the day, James would have to approve any trade involving him, but wouldn’t it be smart to at least have the conversation, especially if the best you can be is a few games above .500?

It is still early in the season, so maybe three games become ten, but given how the Cavs have played to this point does that seem likely?

Time will tell.

The Loophole to Jettison Deng

Our own Eric Pincus penned a piece for Bleacher Report this week in which he explains how the Lakers could ultimately be rid of forward Luol Deng’s contract. The answer is something of an exploitable loophole, which as of this week (according to sources), the Lakers seem resistant to explore, but, it remains an option if they wanted to use it.

The Lakers can actually extend the Luol Deng contract. On the surface that seems silly even to consider, but if you follow the logic, it might be the best answer for the Lakers if their goal is to sign two max-level players in free agency in July.

Deng currently has $36.8 million owed to him on his deal. If the Lakers used the stretch-provision, which allows a team to cut a player and spread his remaining contract money over twice the remaining contract years plus one year, they could reduce the cost on Deng down to roughly $7.4 million over five years. He has two remaining years on his deal; twice the remaining years is four, plus one year is five years stretched.

The Lakers could, with Deng’s blessing, add three more years to his deal. The loophole is those years do not have to be fully guaranteed. In fact, they do not have to be guaranteed at all. Adding three more years to Deng’s contract would then allow the Lakers to stretch his remaining guaranteed money out over 11 years, and reduce the $36.8 million remaining down to $3.3 million. That’s a hefty cap number to carry for a decade, but considering that might be the best way to get out of Deng, it’s an option worth considering.

According to sources, the Lakers are fully aware of this option but are not ready to explore it. The Lakers seem to be holding out hope they can trade Deng and possibly a roster piece or two and jettison the salary.

Deng and his agent have been working with the Lakers on trying to find an exit, however, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be a team willing to make a move on Deng that wouldn’t send cap money back to the Lakers.

If the end goal is clear the money from the cap, extending Deng makes the most sense, especially if the Lakers added a million or two to the package as an inducement. It may seem silly to give Deng more money to ultimately be rid of him, but to get an extension done that would allow his remaining money to be spread out over 11 years, that’s not an easy sell to the player, even though he wants out of the situation too.

The other part of offering some additional guaranteed money is the NBA would have to approve such a deal, and anything that blatantly attempts to circumvent “the spirit” of the CBA can be declined.

The wrinkle as Pincus chronicles is that even with Deng gone, the Lakers might not have enough cap space for full max deals. So that wouldn’t be enough space for say LeBron James and Paul George, but it would give them enough flexibility to add say DeMarcus Cousins and George unless the players involved opted for slightly less than their full maximum allowable salary.

It is an interesting option available to the Lakers and well worth the read if you want to dig into the details.

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau.

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