Do-or-die deadline for the NBA?

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Do-or-die deadline for the NBA?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- NBA owners, losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year, wanted an overhaul of the financial system to ensure themselves a chance to profit. Players, believing they were the driving force behind record TV ratings and revenues, wanted to keep what they felt they deserved. Now, negotiations that have lasted nearly two years need to end in the next few days. Commissioner David Stern said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if there is no agreement on a new deal by Monday, costing both sides money and driving away some basketball fans who might never come back. "There is an extraordinary hit coming to the owners and to the players," Stern said. Not to mention the people who work in the game and the businesses that depend on it. Stern has repeatedly said owners had two goals in the talks: a way to escape losses and a system where all teams could compete equally, noting that the NBA's small-market clubs aren't nearly as successful as Super Bowl champions like Indianapolis and Green Bay. The problem, they said, was a system that guarantees players 57 percent of all basketball-related income, which includes gate receipts, broadcast revenue, in-arena sales of novelties and concessions, arena signage revenue, game parking and sponsorship dollars. Another problem is a salary cap structure that allows teams to go well beyond it if they were willing to pay a luxury tax, which the big spenders in big markets such as Los Angeles and New York could easily afford. The sides are still divided over the revenue split and the cap, and players insist they would rather sit out games than take a deal that would eliminate gains they fought for years ago. "They're going to sacrifice -- if they lose games, they miss money and all that. They feel they have to take a stand the same way players took a stand for them before they were here. It's actually quite inspiring to listen to them articulate that," said players' attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who also represented NFL players during their four-month lockout this summer. "I think they saw how the NFL players stood together through tough times and ended up with a deal the NFL players thought was fair. They're thinking they're going to do the same thing." The cost, for both sides, would be staggering. Stern predicted a 200 million loss just for the cancellation of the NBA's entire preseason schedule. If arenas are dark on Nov. 1, when the real games are supposed to start, the damage will be even greater. "They're in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. "We're not prepared to share the specifics. But, yes, we've spent a lot of time with our teams walking through those scenarios of lost games, and the damage is enormous, will be enormous." Players' association executive director Billy Hunter said players would lose 350 million for each month they're locked out. The hardest hits likely will be felt by those off the court -- from the 114 people the NBA laid off in July to businesses that depend on fans flocking to the games. From the parking lot of his Crown Burgers restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, Mike Katsanevas can see the edge of EnergySolutions Arena, its blue-and-green lights already twinkling at dusk. What he may not see at all this year are the hundreds of fans who routinely pack his 224-seat restaurant before each Utah Jazz game, parking their cars for free if they order 14 in food, including his famous made-to-order patties crowned with pastrami. "For us, it's a tremendous impact if these games don't go through," said Katsanevas, whose family owns the restaurant just a block north of the arena and five others in the metro area. "Before it used to be our gravy. But now with the economy and everything else that's going on, it's become a necessity." He said all of his 41 employees will see their hours cut if the lockout continues. Players and owners did narrow the financial gap before talks broke down Tuesday. Players proposed lowering their BRI guarantee to 53 percent and owners increased their formal offer to 47 percent. Stern also said he discussed the idea of a 50-50 split, which was rejected by players. With each percentage point equivalent to roughly 38 million of last year's BRI total of 3.8 billion, the union believes a reduction from 57 percent to 53 percent is enough of a concession, saying it would transfer more than 1 billion to owners in six years. So while sharing 50-50 sounds great in kindergarten, it may not work for NBA players. Stern said the league had backed off other demands, like salary rollbacks and non-guaranteed contracts, while offering players a chance to opt out of the agreement after seven years. So there is hope of a compromise in the coming days. Both sides insist they are committed to making a deal, although Silver confirmed last season that some money-losing teams would be better off if there were no season. Fans wonder how the NBA could be on the brink of self-destruction over a few measly percentage points when its popularity has soared. The historic free agency period of 2010, which put LeBron James in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, brought a new level of interest that carried right through the Dallas Mavericks' victory over the Heat in the NBA finals. But in announcing the lockout on June 30, Stern noted that small-market owners didn't particularly enjoy the season or feel included in it, and many have little incentive to go back to a system that looks like the old one. Nor would players want to play under a system that restricts free agency or limits their earning potential. Hunter and union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers have said they are prepared to sit rather than accept a bad deal. That could be the outcome, as damaging as it seems, without a big change in a short amount of time. "I haven't talked to all 400-plus guys, but the guys that I have talked to are all on the same page. While it would be devastating for fans and everything like that, right now we're dealing with some serious business," Detroit's Ben Gordon said. "One thing Derek said is we have to stand for something. It's not only today we're playing for -- it's also tomorrow, for the guys who aren't in the league yet."

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

White Sox bullpen taking pride in slogging through heavy, high-stress workload

It might be figuratively held together with chicken wire and duct tape at this point, and it hasn’t been entirely effective recently. But the White Sox bullpen can’t be criticized for a lack of effort. 

Over the last four days, White Sox relievers have had to throw 19 1/3 innings. To recap: Starter Jacob Turner only lasted 3 1/3 innings Friday against the Detroit Tigers, then Chris Sale was scratched from his start Saturday after blowing up over the team’s uniforms and earning a five-game suspension. The White Sox bullpen shouldered Johnny Wholestaff duties and threw eight innings on Saturday — right-hander Matt Albers started and pitched two of those innings despite throwing an inning in the team’s last two games — in lieu of the team’s All-Star ace. 

David Robertson, who pitched a third of an inning in relief Saturday, pitched twice on Sunday (he allowed three solo home runs to the Tigers to blow the save in his second game). Nate Jones appeared in the first three games of the Tigers series, too, totaling 2 1/3 innings. 

On Monday, both Jones and Robertson were given a much-needed rest day. So Zach Duke, Albers and Dan Jennings were called upon by manager Robin Ventura to cover seven outs against the powerful Cubs lineup. Albers blew the save, but Jennings’ strikeout of Jason Heyward with the go-ahead run on second set up Tyler Saladino’s walk-off single to net the White Sox a 5-4 win. 

“We’ve picked up a lot of innings lately,” Robertson said. “Everybody’s just giving it everything they got right now. It’s obviously, we would’ve loved to have nothing but zeros go up, but that’s not the way baseball works. We’re facing a lot of good lineups. And we’ve just hung tough and tried to at least give us a chance to win. Thankfully, we’ve been very fortunate to walk off these last three games.” 

It’s not just the volume of innings that’s taxing the bullpen, though. With three consecutive walk-off wins — the first time the White Sox have done that since Aug. 4-6, 1962 — have come plenty of high-stress pitches. Over the last week, the White Sox bullpen has the highest average leverage index in baseball, and that’s with this group shouldering the generally low-leverage early innings of Saturday’s game in place of Sale. 

“The more we work, the more proud we are of what we do,” Jennings said. 

Still, this group could probably use a breather. Without an off day until Aug. 1, though, the only way to get one is to be ruled out for a game, as Robertson and Jones were on Monday. 

“Hopefully we can rotate, I know there’s some other guys that I know might need a day so maybe hopefully Nate and Robertson are really fresh tomorrow and we can build off that,” Jennings said. “(Or) maybe we can get that eight, nine, 10-run win where we can kind of sit back and relax a little bit, hopefully.”

Manager Robin Ventura said he went with seniority in choosing who to cover Jones and Robertson’s innings Monday, which helps explain why he didn’t use 2015 first-round pick Carson Fulmer against the Cubs. Fulmer’s recent control issues — he only threw 12 of 30 pitches for strikes in blowing a lead against the Tigers on Friday — could’ve played a factor, too. 

“You’re trusting the guys who have been here,” Ventura said. “You’ve got some new faces that are out there, it would’ve been asking a lot to bring them in and put them in that.”

White Sox relievers have squandered leads in each of the team’s last four games, though: Fulmer on Friday, Jones on Saturday, Robertson on Sunday and Albers/Jennings on Monday. In addition to a short outing from Turner and no outing from Sale, the White Sox are missing right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam from a group that looked to be fairly deep earlier in the season. 

The White Sox relief corps could certainly use a day off or at the least, as Jennings said, a blowout win where some of those young arms — Fulmer, Michael Ynoa and Tommy Kahnle — could polish off some low-pressure innings. But those easy wins have been few and far between this season: The White Sox only have three wins by more than three runs since May 14. 

So if that trend continues, this group is going to have to continue to cover plenty of high-stress innings without a break, at least for the next week. 

“Obviously the bullpen the last few days had to pick up the team, and we take pride in that,” Albers said. “Especially Nate and D-Rob were down today, shoot, they’ve been pitching every day too. Everybody else started to try to pick them up. That’s what we’re here for.” 

The Harbaugh Show rules Big Ten Media Days — and could rule the Big Ten

The Harbaugh Show rules Big Ten Media Days — and could rule the Big Ten

Michigan tight end Jake Butt hit the nail right on the head when asked about his head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

“He’s one of a kind.”

Yes, Harbaugh is certainly unlike any other football coach. He spent the offseason firing off Twitter attacks at opposing head coaches, posting pictures taken with celebrities and starring in a rap video, shouting from behind the wheel of a bright yellow convertible parked on the 50-yard line at the Big House.

He’s demanded all the attention in the college football world since he took the job at his alma mater, and Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days was no different. It was the Jim Harbaugh Show, complete with the star wearing a block-M baseball cap to complement his suit and a sea of reporters engulfing him at a designated podium.

But with all the attention that comes from the off-the-field antics, Harbaugh has worked stunning magic in Ann Arbor. He’s been the program’s head man for a year and a half, already taking the Wolverines from a five-win group that missed out on a bowl game to a 10-win squad that was a win away from playing for a conference title.

“It’s definitely a culture shift, you can feel it through coach Harbaugh,” cornerback Jourdan Lewis said. “You feel what he’s bringing to the program. If you want to say that’s swagger, then yeah, that’s what he’s bringing back.”

And for Harbaugh’s next trick? He’s made Michigan one of the favorites to win this year’s conference championship and a team with legitimate national championship aspirations.

“We have big hopes. We've got big dreams. We've got lofty goals. And all those are achievable. And they have to be worked for,” Harbaugh said Monday. “You can accomplish anything if the work is realized. And those things have to be earned. So we are in the position right now to work to get the things we want. That's the fact. That's the mentality. That's the attitude.”

Harbaugh does plenty of stuff off the field that separates him from the run-of-the-mill college football coach — who else has a picture with Kenny G? — but it’s his uniqueness on the field that had players buying into what he was trying to accomplish.

Harbaugh, the man with “enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” runs four-hour practices. No joke. And they sound horrible.

“Being out there for four hours? That’s like a ‘Titanic’ movie, man, being out there for four hours,” Lewis said.

But the players saw what four-hour practices led to, and it had them coming back for more. Both Lewis and Butt could’ve turned pro this offseason. But they’re back. Why?

“To win,” Lewis said. “Those four-hour practices, I know he wasn’t doing it for no reason. I knew there was a method to his madness. I saw those 10 wins. We knew that we could be something special, and once we knew that, we bought in. These four-hour practices aren’t so bad when you tally up wins. Trying to be something special, and that’s what he’s bringing back. He’s bringing something magical to Ann Arbor.”

“He doesn’t take any days off,” Butt said. “He doesn’t ask any of us to do anything he’s not willing to do himself. He kind of just forces us to be tough. When you’re out there practicing for four hours, smashing into each other, you don’t really have a choice but to be tough.”

Laugh away at Harbaugh’s zaniness and his over-the-top actions: climbing trees, recruiting at sleepovers and donning a different NFL or NBA jersey at every stop on his cross-country satellite-camp tour. But know that it’s working. Aside from the winning and the impressive turnaround he pulled in just one year at the helm, his recruiting successes have been spectacular. This season, he signed the nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class — including No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary — and he currently has the fifth-ranked class for 2017.

Stuff like “Signing of the Stars” and “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” They’re extra efforts to make the program one percent better every day.

“I think a lot of that’s big on recruiting,” Butt said. “He thinks outside of the box, and I think that’s big. A lot of us probably don’t understand the reason behind a lot of the things that he does, but I can assure you there’s a reason behind everything he does. He has a plan for everything, but he’s doing most of those things for the betterment of our team and our program.”

Off the field, Harbaugh creates one social-media-friendly headline after another. On it he’s rapidly moved Michigan from cringe-worthy underachiever to conference-title favorite.

The man with the block-M sweatshirt and the khaki pants has the Wolverines heading in a direction that could end with a shower of confetti.

Then, truly nobody will have it better than Michigan.

Cheering section of one: Melky Cabrera adds three highlight plays to the reel

Cheering section of one: Melky Cabrera adds three highlight plays to the reel

The human GIF made quite an impact on the White Sox on Monday night.

A staple of The Melky Cabrera experience the past year and a half has been the outfielder’s personal celebrations that come with every big play. Monday night’s edition included three rounds of festivities critical to the White Sox pulling out a 5-4 victory over the Cubs at U.S. Cellular Field.

Cabrera got the party started almost instantly, robbing Kris Bryant of a first-inning solo home run before he patted himself on the back in only the way he does.

“I think every celebration is a motivation to try to give us a boost to our confidence and for the fans, too,” Cabrera said through an interpreter. “Every time you can make a good play, it’s good for your team and for your fans to try to invigorate the confidence.”

Cabrera not only leads the team with a .303 batting average -- he’s the biggest self-congratulator of the bunch. It’s as if the GIF function was created for the sole purpose of recording Cabrera’s awkward claps or fist pumps after every big play.

On Monday, he opted to clap for himself after he robbed Bryant of what would have been his 26th homer. Cabrera said he watched the ball the entire way off Bryant’s bat and drifted back to the warning track before leaping and snagging the ball just above the yellow line on the left-field fence.

[MORE: White Sox win in walk-off fashion over Cubs]

On his way down, Cabrera landed hard on the warning track before righting himself against the wall, where he sat with each appendage sprawled in a different direction. At that point, Cabrera held up the ball to show the world he had it in his possession before he stood up and clapped for himself with both hands over his head.

“I thought after that play, things were going to be pretty good today,” said pitcher Miguel Gonzalez, the recipient of the play.

It was only the beginning.

Cabrera’s relay throw home in the third inning led to a rundown that netted an out at the plate when Javy Baez made an ill-advised decision to go home. Then in the ninth, Cabrera recorded the first out, which slowed a game-tying rally, when he fired a perfect strike to second base to throw out Bryant stretching a single into a double.

Each time, Cabrera cheered for himself without shame.

“He’s probably his own best (cheering section), but we try to keep up with him,” said reliever Zach Duke, who often views Cabrera’s celebrations from the bullpen. “It’s great. His celebrations, they’re just truly heartfelt, truly spontaneous and he has such a good time playing the game we can’t help but join in and enjoy the moment.”