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NBA PM: Roberts Focused on More than Money

NBPA president Michele Roberts is not just focused on the BRI… Blake Griffin talks about Donald Sterling… Kevin Durant goes under the knife

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The Players’ Association has been dead set on opting out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement basically since they agreed to it in 2011 to end the lockout. The players made a lot of concessions and, since then, the value of NBA teams has skyrocketed. The owners, who were complaining about losing money, can no longer make the same claim, especially in light of the league’s new multi-billion dollar TV deal. They’ve benefited greatly from the concessions the players made, and now the players are counting down the days until they can start recouping some of what they sacrificed for the sake of the game.

So much of the 2011 lockout was focused on the split of the Basketball Related Income (BRI), but in a Q&A with Chris Sheridan of Sheridan Hoops, Michele Roberts, the new head of the NBPA, made it clear that she will be seeking more than just an increased share of the BRI on behalf of the players when labor negotiations begin in 2017. That’s the soonest the players can opt out of the current CBA, which Roberts has made very clear from the moment she took over they would do.

“The word that is troubling to me, generally speaking, is ‘restriction,’” Roberts said. “My DNA is offended by the notion that someone should not be able to make a living because he needs to have been alive a year longer. That’s Michele, not Michele NBPA executive director.

“I know what it means to want to be able to make a living and support your family. (Emmanuel Mudiay) can’t play in his country because he’s not old enough. That makes no sense to me.”

Roberts’ view is the complete opposite of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who would have liked to increase the age limit to enter the NBA Draft to 20 yesterday if he could have. The NBA instituted an 19-year-old age limit on entering the draft in 2006, requiring players to be at least one year removed from their high school graduation before being eligible. The subject was revisited during the 2011 lockout, but was tabled and the “one-and-done” rule has remained in place since. Prior to the hiring of Roberts the league had hopes of increasing it sooner rather than later, but that appears to be out of the question now with Roberts in charge.

A topic that has been quite popular lately is guaranteed contracts. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban suggested that if max salaries were to be demolished, players’ contracts shouldn’t be guaranteed. However, that notion has been dismissed by the players and Roberts isn’t open to it either, although she is opposed to capping individual salaries. Owners actually already have the ability to make contracts non-guaranteed, but there’s only precedence for doing it for training camp invites, or in the final year of long-term extensions.

“I have difficulty with rules that suggest that for some reason, in this space, we are not going to allow you to do what is ordinarily allowed in every other aspect of American life – you can work and get compensated at the level that someone thinks you’re worth being compensated at,” Roberts said. “And for all the reasons that it might be reasonable, it still – as a base – the premise offends me. So for me, there needs to be a justification that is substantial. And I’m told that in large part it’s because there’s an inability on the part of some owners to control their check-writing habits. So that’s where I am. Now, there’s a history that led up to max contracts, and I’m not going to pretend it’s not significant. But if you ask me off the cuff, that’s my response.

“I think Kevin (Garnett) said it best [about guaranteed contracts]: ‘Get off of that, Mark (Cuban). That’s not happening. That’s not changing.’”

Clearly, the NBA and NBPA are heading towards another tough labor battle where significant changes are going to be asked for, even before the topics of the BRI and salary cap come into play. Roberts is representing the union with solely the best interest of the players in mind, not ulterior motives. Players won’t be making concessions that force them to make sacrifices while their representative benefits.

“I can tie it up into this whole notion of fairness, but I think at the end of the day they want to be respected for the fact that they are what makes this game successful, and one of the ways to show that is to allow for fair compensation,” Roberts said. “Any limitations on their ability to make as much money as either the teams or anyone else is prepared to pay them is unfair. You know, we don’t restrict the revenue that the owners are able to enjoy. They share it with us, but apart from that there aren’t these overlays that restrict how they can generate new revenue, or what they can do with the revenue. So I think when the players talk about wanting to be treated fairly, they want to be treated as the persons who are responsible for the product. I mean, they create the product.”

Blake Griffin Writes About Sterling: Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin recently put out his first article for the Player’s Tribune in which he details his first interaction with former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and gives some insight over how the players who he claimed “loved him” on Anderson Cooper really felt about him.

Donald Sterling had me by the hand. You know that thing elderly women do where they grab the top of your hand with just their fingers and lead you around? That’s what he was doing. We were in Malibu for his annual White Party, and it was the first time I was meeting him since the Clippers had drafted me in the spring of 2009. He led me through the house to the balcony overlooking his tennis court. The whole party was set up out there. White tents. White umbrellas. White cloth. I showed up in all white. Everyone showed up in all white. Then there was Donald, standing on the balcony overlooking it all, wearing all black. “Isn’t this just fabulous?” he said.

I was hoping to escape down the stairs, find one of my teammates and blend in with the rest of the crowd. I tried to pull my hand away. Nope. Things were about to get weirder. Two blonde models showed up on either side of me. They had clearly been hired for the event. I knew this because they were wearing size XXXX-L Clippers T-shirts tied at the stomach. I looked at Sterling. He had a big dumb grin on his face. I looked at one of the girls, as if to say, “Uhhh, you don’t have to do this.” She looked back: “Uhhh, yes I do.”

As revealing as Griffin’s first interaction with Sterling was, his second recollection of seeing him in true form gives even an even greater look at how obnoxious Sterling could be. It all starts with former Clippers guard Baron Davis lining up for a technical free throw.

As Baron is lining up, Sterling started flapping his arms and yelled to no one in particular, “Why are you letting him shoot the free throw? He’s awful! He’s terrible! He’s the worst free throw shooter ever!”

Baron had been shooting like 87 percent that season. He was by far our best free throw shooter on the floor.

I was standing at half court, right next to Sterling’s seats, watching this out of the corner of my eye, trying not to laugh. I looked at the guys on the other team, like, I cannot believe this is happening right now.

Baron didn’t even react. He walked to the line and sank the free throw as Sterling carried on his rant. After the game, I don’t even think we talked about it in the locker room. Everyone was just used to it. It was both funny and sad. The guy was off his rocker.

Make sure to read Griffin’s piece in its entirety for the rest of his first-hand account of dealing with Sterling and what the change to Steve Balmer as an owner has been like so far.

Durant Goes Under the Knife: Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant underwent successful surgery today to address a Jones fracture in his right foot, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti announced.

The Thunder, Durant and his representatives jointly decided for surgery to be performed by Dr. Robert Anderson with Thunder medical personnel present at the OrthoCarolina Foot and Ankle Clinic in Charlotte, NC. Durant will be re-evaluated in six weeks, at which time a further update will be provided.

The 2013-14 NBA MVP appeared in two games during the 2014-15 preseason, averaging 11.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.50 steals in 15.0 minutes.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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