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:
- Former Pac-12 Star Carlon Brown Peaking in Israel.
- NBA Rumors: Faried Unsure of Future in Denver.
- 2014 NCAA Tournament Video Preview: (7) UConn vs. (8) Kentucky.
- Kevin Durant Is Already An All-Time Great Scorer.
- Which GMs Are On The Hot Seat?
- Is There A Team That Could Knock Off The Pacers or The HEAT?
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.
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.
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.”
NBA AM: Jahlil Okafor’s Strange NBA Journey
After things went awry at his first NBA stop in Philly, Jahlil Okafor has a new opportunity in Brooklyn.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Jahlil Okafor.
The former NCAA champion, who spent most of his only college season as the highest rated NBA draft prospect, was supposed to be a sure thing. But then a noted agent of chaos—Sam Hinkie, the former GM of the Philadelphia 76ers who drafted Okafor with the third pick in the 2015 Draft—came into his life, and life took a detour.
With Thursday’s trade of Okafor, shooting guard Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Trevor Booker, the initial, anticlimactic phase of Okafor’s NBA career comes to a close. What lies ahead is a new opportunity to reach his potential with Kenny Atkinson, a coach with a massive reputation for player development. It’s also an opportunity for Okafor to start with a clean slate after his stay in Philly was marred by off-court drama.
“Never having coached him, no player that we bring into our program from another program, we don’t prejudge them,” Atkinson said during Thursday’s media availability in Mexico City prior to Brooklyn’s 100-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We’re going to welcome both of those players with open arms. We judge them on our terms. That’s how we do it with everybody.
“I think they’re coming into a strong locker room. I think they’re coming into a program with a staff that really cares, a front office that is top notch, and I’m really excited about this.”
Interestingly, Okafor’s arrival in Brooklyn means he will share a team with another player whose fate was directly intertwined with his on draft night in 2015: D’Angelo Russell.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers worked out current Knick Kristaps Porzingis to the point of exhaustion but came away convinced that he was a long-term project. After Karl-Anthony Towns went to the Timberwolves with the first pick, the Lakers went with Russell, presumably the safer pick in their minds.
With Russell and Towns off the board, who could know what Hinkie, the maverick GM, and implementer of “the process” would do?
Porzingis, according to Wojnarowski, had his heart set on New York. After Porzingis worked out in front of all 30 teams in Las Vegas, Porzingis’ agent Andy Miller declined to give Hinkie a one-on-one meeting with his client. Thus frozen out of Porzigis’ pre-draft process, Hinkie likewise went with the presumptive safe pick in Okafor.
As with Okafor, Russell arrived in Brooklyn with an opportunity to start over after an off-court mishap (in the form of a bro code violation) in L.A. Fortunately for the newly-minted teammates, Atkinson doesn’t care about the past and is only concerned about what the Nets organization can help them become.
“When we bring in young, talented players it’s a great opportunity for our staff and organization to develop another young player … or two young players because Nik is young, too,” said Atkinson. “I can’t tell you I know their game intimately. Part of the onboarding process, part of the development process is to map out a specific plan for these guys.”
While Atkinson stayed focused on the positives, he wasn’t unaware that Okafor and Stauskas come to Brooklyn with limited resumes on the defensive end.
“I think like anybody that comes into our program, we need to defend the basketball,” said Atkinson. “That’ll be a challenge for both of them, that we need those guys to be two-way players. We’re going to demand it as we do of everybody that comes in our program.”
When Atkinson spoke of a staff that cares about its players, his sincerity became obvious as he spoke of the departed Booker and Sean Kilpatrick, who was waived to make room for Stauskas.
“It’s an emotional day when you lose guys you’ve worked with,” said Atkinson. “Sean Kilpatrick and Trevor Booker … you get close to these guys.”
While Okafor’s strange NBA journey now takes him to Brooklyn, Booker’s day included an unexpected early flight out of Mexico City for his newest destination. Atkinson and Nets GM Sean Marks had an opportunity to meet with Booker once the trade was announced.
“I had a long discussion with him today, me and Sean,” said Atkinson. “It was a mutual respect on both sides, how much we enjoyed him and loved him and how much we appreciated the things he brought to our program.
“He is on a flight tonight to Philadelphia. They want him there, which is normal. I think we’d do the same thing: ‘Hey, can you get here as soon as possible?’ I know they had an injury and it makes total sense to us. Not an easy situation.”
When Jeremy Lin was setting the NBA world on fire at the height of Linsanity, he went out of his way to publicize how Atkinson made himself available as a Knicks assistant to help with his development. Now Okafor will have a similar opportunity in one of the NBA’s marquee arenas under the bright New York lights that Lin shone under and Porzingis longed for.
Okafor couldn’t have imagined on draft night that he’d end up in Brooklyn on the same team as the player drafted one pick ahead of him. But now that his journey has brought him to the five boroughs, he’s presented with the perfect opportunity to re-write his story.
NBA AM: Three Stories From The G-League
Steve Kyler speaks with three players attempting to make the jump from G-League to big league.
Three Stories From The G-League
Over the last couple of days, we have focused the AM feature on the G-League’s Northern Arizona Suns (the NAZ), as you can imagine, when you spend a full day around so many people, many stories of interest emerge. Rather than lump them all into a massive 7,000-word piece, we decided to break them up a little.
On Tuesday, we walked through a day in the life of a G-League coaching staff, yesterday we dove into Anthony Bennett’s quest to get back into the NBA and today we’ll look at three players trying to make their way, in very different situations.
NAZ guard Xavier Silas has been around the proverbial block. He’s had stints in the G-League league, he’s played internationally, had stints in the NBA on 10-day contracts and even in Ice Cube’s Big3 league.
For Silas, the dream of being an NBA player is real, mainly because he’s been so close so many times.
“I have been so close so many times that I feel like just can’t give it up,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I mean last year for the Phoenix call up, I was one of two names they had on the board, and they went with the other guy, you know what I mean.
“Then that happened a little earlier in the season and that happened before, the year before when I was in Bakersfield, so I feel like the odds have to fall in my favor one of these times. I feel like it won’t happen if I give up on it go somewhere else where I can’t get out of a contract or something like that. Playing in the Big3 helped give me some freedom to stay here and do this.”
Silas was one of the inaugural players in the Big3, and earned the kind of payday that made sticking around in the G-league viable.
“My wife is always about going after it and staying with it and not giving up on it,” Silas said of his dream. “I think that if maybe there was some pressure coming from that way, it would be [harder to turn away bigger money]. But right now, I’m not even thinking about it.”
Silas has played in a number of different leagues, but continues to explore the G-League, in part because of how the teams play.
“With me just I like the style of it,” Silas said. “I like the style, the NBA style of it. European basketball is completely different, and you have to be in the right system for it to fit and it’s just a lot of different factors that go into it. Here, it’s like how we grew up playing basketball, you know what I mean. It’s a natural way of playing for us and that’s what I enjoy.”
Silas is having a pretty solid season for the NAZ, his hope is that it translates into a real NBA opportunity this time around.
At first glance its hard to not notice the last name Hollis-Jefferson on a G-League roster. However, the Hollis-Jefferson playing for the NAZ isn’t Rondae, the 22-year old phenom with the Brooklyn Nets, but his older brother, Rahlir. The 26-year-old brother of the Nets emerging star is trying to make his own way as a professional.
“I enjoy watching him play at a higher level,” Hollis-Jefferson said of his brother in the NBA. “I just continue to watch and work. I try to work hard so I can get there with him.
“We trained together over the summer. We don’t really talk about it much during season. We just focus on what we need to do. I’m proud of everything he does, all of his achievements. This year he’s playing really great and I’m definitely proud of him for being focused and going out there and doing what he needs to do.”
Much like his younger brother, the elder Hollis-Jefferson has a unique skillset that has put him on the NBA radar, in part because of the success his brother is having in Brooklyn.
“It’s very possible that people may be coming to that analysis,” Hollis-Jefferson said with a smile.
“We’re kind of similar in terms of play. We both are slashers, I just think I’m a better shooter… watching him play, I’ve got to learn a bit.”
At 26, the elder Hollis-Jefferson has a tougher hill to climb, but the season he’s having with the NAZ, combined with his brother’s emerging success in Brooklyn make Hollis-Jefferson believe in his ability to get a chance in the NBA—something that seem unlikely when he was coming out of Temple.
The Guy On Loan
Not every NBA team has their own G-League affiliate, so from time-to-time, franchises without their own team assign their player to other team’s minor league team. In the case of Mike Young, he is a two-way player for the Washington Wizards who has seen time in Delaware and most recently with the NAZ Suns.
On the surface, you would think being associated with another NBA franchise would be awkward, but the NAZ coaches embraced Young’s skillset and he’s a big reason for some of their success.
“The most strange part is the move,” Young explained. “We had a game Friday with Delaware, we get back to Delaware Saturday, Sunday morning I wake up, they’re like ‘Hey, you’re leaving to Phoenix tomorrow,’ so I think that’s the strangest part.
“Coming to this team, you know, it’s like going to any new situation, I got to learn these guys, they got to learn me, off the court, then on the court we got to figure out each other’s games. It took me three or four games, but we’ve been rolling the last couple of games, and everything’s been good. I’ve been playing better. Everybody’s been playing better, so it’s been good.”
Young tried his best to keep up with the Wizards from afar, knowing that he could be headed back at any point.
“Pretty much everybody calls and checks in, from the Assistant GM, to the player development, to the players on the team,” Young said. “I was with them all preseason, summer league and training camp, so, I’ve built a relationship with pretty much everybody, so everybody texts me. Whenever I play well, I get texts. Whenever I don’t play well I still get texts, you know it’s part of the game.”
Young does his best to focus his attention to his NAZ team and the situation in front of him, something the NAZ coaches appreciate, because it would be easy for a player on loan to not buy into to the plan.
Over the years, the NBA’s commitment to its minor league system has grown from what was an afterthought to most NBA teams five years ago to a mechanism teams are investing considerable time and resources into.
As a result, more and more players are looking at the G-League as a real opportunity to make their way into the NBA, that is something that is evident in talking with G-League players. They understand it’s up to them and that the G-League is simply the stage for them to make their mark.
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 .