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NBA Charging Document Reveals League Strategy

Nate Duncan analyzes the new NBA release detailing the league’s strategy to remove Donald Sterling and his wife as owners of the Los Angeles Clippers

Nate Duncan



On Monday the NBA scheduled the official hearing on Donald Sterling’s future as Los Angeles Clippers owner for June 3, 2014. More notably, the “Summary of Sterling Termination Charge” released by the league reveals a number of interesting facets to the league’s strategy. The first confirms what was said in this space a few days ago, namely that Sterling was foolish to refuse to pay his $2.5 million fine. That refusal, as the league points out, provides clear and unequivocal grounds for franchise termination under Article 13(c). Sterling has not-and has stated that he will not-pay the fine, and the league’s release correctly points out that “[a]n NBA membership may be terminated upon the failure of a member or owner to pay any indebtedness owing to the league.”

Of all the charges levied against Sterling, this is by far the most obvious. The rest of the charges against Sterling, though they are likely true, are not nearly so cut and dried.  In particular, the league has argued that Mr. Sterling triggered Article 13(d) by violating agreements preventing him from:

  • Taking or supporting a position or action which may have a material adverse impact on the league or its teams.
  • Failing to use best efforts to see to it that the sport of professional basketball is conducted according to the highest moral and ethical standards.
  • The contractual duty of loyalty to support the league in the attainment of its proper purposes, which include among other things the league’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

“Adverse impact”, “best efforts,” “highest moral and ethical standards,” and “attainment of proper purposes” is apparently terminology agreed to in contracts signed by Sterling. The definition of such terms is in the eye of the beholder, however.  Sterling’s certainly violated these standards by any layperson’s definition, and the Board of Governors’ nearly fait accompli decision that he did would be very difficult to overturn in court. However, Sterling can at least argue that he did not violate these agreements because they are rather nebulous. On the other hand, he has no argument that he shouldn’t pay the $2.5 million.  This further illustrates why the failure to pay the fine was such a mistake.

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Two New Strategies Emerge

Perhaps the biggest bombshell in the league’s release is the allegation that “relevant evidence was destroyed, false and misleading evidence was provided to the NBA’s investigator, and LAC (the Sterlings’ corporation) issued a false and misleading press statement regarding this matter.”  More details will surely come to light concerning precisely what was done in this alleged cover up.

Sterling’s original press release, sent out with the approval of now-deposed Team President Andy Rosner, was rather ridiculous even at the time. It was utterly disingenuous, claiming that Sterling didn’t know whether the tape was altered.  This put the idea that the tape might have been altered in the public’s mind, while falling short of outright lying and stating that Sterling did not in fact say those things. That was further exacerbated by mentioning the lawsuit against Ms. Stiviano and her supposed vow to “get even,” another clear attempt to imply that somehow the tape was not legitimate without actually lying and saying so.

The league contends that these misleading and untruthful acts violated Article 13(A), constituting a willful violation of “various provisions of the Constitution.”  However, a perusal* of the Constitution did not reveal precisely what provisions were willfully violated by these acts.  I expected to find a clause requiring members and their personnel to cooperate truthfully with any league investigation; the CBA is replete with such clauses regarding players’ duties of truthfulness in certain scenarios, such as when submitting to a physical. However, I did not find one applying to owners. Given the specificity elsewhere in the summary, it is surprising that the league did not delineate exactly what provisions were violated. Perhaps this is an indication that the league’s lawyers had as much trouble finding them as I did, but still wanted a vehicle to reveal the evidence of Mr. Sterling’s obfuscations to the court of public opinion.

*I did not have time on short notice to re-read every word of the Constitution, but I did review every section that might logically have applied and did not find anything that jumped out at me.

The second newly revealed strategy is the charge that “[u]nder New York law*, all member teams of the NBA owe each other a duty of loyalty to support the League in the attainment of its proper purposes.” The league contends that LAC breached this duty “through the acts described above, which were injurious, harmful, and disruptive to the NBA.”

*The league’s Constitution, which Sterling of course agreed to, states that it is to be interpreted under New York law. Such clauses are common in contracts, and almost always enforceable.

Practicing in California, I do not profess to be an expert in New York law on the duty of loyalty. But on this point, the summary again returns to the same type of less definite terms, such as “proper purposes”, “harmful,” and “injurious.”

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Fortunately for the league, the Constitution Sterling agreed to mandates that the other 29 Governors of the the league’s franchises are his judge and jury.  And those Governors, who have lived first-hand through this saga, are likely to agree that Sterling’s actions have been “harmful,” “injurious,” and whatever other adjective the league rightfully wants to throw at Sterling.  Even if they did not, the negative publicity that would accompany a vote against termination and the players’ sure outrage if the league did not do all it could to remove him will ensure that Sterling is in fact voted out. Moreover, the obstinate refusal to pay his fine gives any Governor who might have been on the fence for procedural reasons an easy justification to vote in favor of termination.

Once the Board of Governors makes the finding that he violated the Constitution and votes to remove him, Sterling’s power to seek court review of that decision is very limited.  But if he ever gets in a courtroom, he may well regret his decision not to pay the fine or express contrition in the aftermath of his comments.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.


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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz



It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers



When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders



Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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