Lockout talks lead to no November games

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Lockout talks lead to no November games

After all of the optimism surrounding the past two days of NBA lockout negotiations, Friday's talks in New York ended--somewhat briefly, compared to Wednesday's marathon session--with a much less positive outlook. League commissioner David Stern subsequently announced that league would cancel an additional two weeks of regular-season games, wiping the November schedule clean, an anticipated measure.

"Our games are cancelled through," said a grim-looking Stern, in contrast to his jovial demeanor after Wednesday's session. "The end of the month of November."

"It's not practical, possible or prudent," he continued. "There will not be a full NBA season."

No further bargaining sessions are scheduled for this weekend--Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the players' association president, told NBA.com he was flying back to Los Angeles--or otherwise. Friday's breakdown occurred because of the continued impasse over the division of basketball-related income--and the animus between the two sides apparently returned.

Union executive director Billy Hunter claimed Stern was "snookering" the media when the commissioner confirmed he was prepared to make a major economic move Friday.

"What he was trying to do was position himself on those other system issues (such as the luxury tax and mid-level exception) so he could get his number on BRI," said Hunter. "It appears that more we give on the system, we may be painting ourselves into a corner."

"They got to the place again where it was, '50-50, take it or leave it,'" he continued. "Today, we're leaving it, like we left it last week.

"Derek and I may it clear that we could not sell a 50-50 deal to our membership, not with the system."

Added Fisher: "We've dropped our BRI percentage from 57 percent to 52.5.

"Right now, it's still not enough for them to feel that this deal should be closed," continued the veteran guard, who cited "artificial pressure" as a reason to not rush through a deal that would last his constituents 10 more years. "We're still not sure if they're at 50 or they're at 47.

"Today just wasn't the day."

Stern confirmed that no further bargaining sessions are scheduled.

"I'm not going to project future negotiations," he said. "We've had, until this afternoon, several good days of give-and-take."

"We've made some major progress on length of contract," the commissioner continued. "We spent a fair amount of time talking about revenue sharing today.

"We made a fair number of concessions."

The commissioner revealed his take on how the negotiations ended for the day.

"Billy Hunter said he wasn't willing to go a penny below 52 percent," he said. "He closed up his books and walked out of the room."

"We were at 47," Stern added. "Today, our offer was 50."

Predictably, Hunter's view on the situation was very different.

"We did what it was the league said they needed," he said. "Their eyes got bigger and they wanted more and more and more, so finally, we had to shut it down and say, 'it can't be.'"

"Our number was our number," Hunter continued. "We just couldn't bridge the gap."

"I know that we have gotten a deal by this weekend, it was very likely, highly probable that we could have gotten a full season."

Ominously, Stern indicated the league's next offer--when the two sides meet again--will be less favorable.

"We're going to have to recalculate," said Stern.

"We've lost approaching 200 million," he continued. "We'll lose several hundred million dollars more."

"You can assume that our offer will change to reflect the changed economic circumstances."

So, despite progress on significant system issues, such as the mid-level exception and even some movement on the luxury-tax policy, it appears that if not back to square one, the two parties are again at odds, with conflicting opinions on their respective stances. One thing, however, is for certain, as Stern glumly summarized.

"The amount of dollars lost to the owners is extraordinary and the amount of dollars lost to the players is also extraordinary," said the commissioner. "In the short run, the owners will not be able to make it back and I know for a fact, in the short run, the players will not be able to make it back, and probably will never be able to make it back."

Neither will the dozens, even hundreds of people employed by the league and its teams or the people making their livelihoods based on games being played, not to mention the fans currently being deprived of NBA basketball.

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NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

NBA Buzz: In wake of trade deadline, Bulls again caught in the middle

Thursday's trade with Oklahoma City points out the problem with trying to stay in playoff contention while also rebuilding the roster with more young and athletic players.

The Bulls obviously hurt their postseason chances by dealing locker-room leader and rock-solid pro Taj Gibson and their best 3-point shooter in Doug McDermott. And, at first glance, the players they got back don't look very impressive.

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made it clear that one of the objectives in Thursday's deal was to free up playing time for his last two first-round draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis. He also made it clear that newly acquired point guard Cameron Payne would play a lot over the final 25 games of the season.

So, how does Fred Hoiberg now deal with an unwieldy number of players expecting to get minutes? If Payne is going to play, that probably means Rajon Rondo is out of the rotation. But will Rondo sit by quietly so the Bulls can preserve his $14 million salary slot for possible trades this summer? Or will the front office be forced to offer him a contract buyout?

And what about the other two players acquired in the Oklahoma City deal? Long-range specialist Anthony Morrow is suffering through one of the worst seasons of his career, hitting just 29 percent of his attempts from 3-point range. Will he get the minutes previously given to McDermott, or is he a candidate for a buyout? Paxson cryptically said Morrow's role is "still to be defined."

Joffrey Lauvergne, a 6-foot-11 center, has some ability, but he's a restricted free agent at season's end and it's hard to project him getting any meaningful playing time behind Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio.

So let's add it all up. Hoiberg now has four point guards — five if you count Isaiah Canaan — and three centers to juggle, plus he'll have to find minutes for Valentine, Morrow and Paul Zipser at the wing spots behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

How will Portis fare as the new starting power forward? And what to do with Nikola Mirotic? His fading confidence is probably at a new low after the team's failed efforts to find him a new home before the deadline.

It will be fascinating to see if this team can manage to hold onto a playoff spot after losing Gibson and McDermott, to say nothing of the maddening inconsistency we've witnessed over the first 57 games of the season.

Good health will be critical, with the team's two best players, Butler and Wade, each enduring some bumps and bruises in the final weeks leading up to the All-Star break. We've seen what the Bulls look like without Butler, and it's not pretty. They're 1-5 in the games Butler missed because of illness and a right heel contusion.

The story is different when Wade has been out. The Bulls are 5-4 in the games he's missed because of illness, injury or just plain rest. Still, the 12-time All Star has shown the ability to raise the level of his play when the games matter most, and you can expect he'll be a big factor for the Bulls down the stretch. Don't forget, Wade almost single-handedly took an undermanned Miami team to within a win of the Eastern Conference Finals last season with a turn-back-the-clock playoff performance.

Hard to gain much from looking at the remaining schedule. Only 11 of the remaining 25 opponents have winning records, but we've all seen how that's gone in the past. If the Bulls can head into April around .500, they should be in position to make a strong closing run with a pair of matchups against the NBA's worst team, Brooklyn, along with games against the Pelicans, Knicks, 76ers and Magic to close out the regular season.

Of course, since Hoiberg has been told to give significant minutes to Portis, Valentine and Payne the rest of the way, it's possible making the playoffs isn't quite as important as it was at the start of the season. Questions about Butler's future will start up again as we approach the NBA Draft in June since Paxson wouldn't commit to trying to build around the three-time All Star, and if Butler goes, it's a pretty safe bet that Wade follows him out the door.

Life's never easy in the NBA when you're stuck in the middle. Maybe the trade with Oklahoma City is the signal we've been waiting for that a full rebuild is on the horizon.

[MORE BULLS: What the Bulls are getting in point guard Cameron Payne]

Here are a few stories from around the Association that have caught my attention.

Off to see the Wizards

The Wizards have been on fire since Dec. 12, putting together a 25-12 record. In case you haven't noticed, fourth-year forward Otto Porter is among the league leaders in 3-point percentage, shooting 46.5 percent to go along with 14.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. It's going to cost the Wizards a small fortune to sign the restricted free agent this summer.

Washington's backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal is finally starting to reach the potential everyone saw when the Wizards upset the Bulls in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two are combining for an average of 45 points and 14 assists per game, with Wall now a perennial All Star capable of taking over games with his scoring and playmaking. Beal probably should have made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as well with his 22.2 points per game scoring average, shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The Wizards also made an under-the-radar pick-up, getting Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn for a first-round pick in this summer's draft. You probably haven't watched a lot of Brooklyn Nets basketball over the last couple years, but Bogdanovic is a good 3-point shooter who can also score off the dribble, averaging 14 points a game this season, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range. Bogdanovic will be a major upgrade for a Wizards bench that's struggled this season.

Moving to Canada

Toronto made two good moves before the deadline, acquiring a starting power forward in Serge Ibaka and a backup small forward in P.J. Tucker. Ibaka's ability to block shots and stretch the floor from the 3-point line should help the Raptors on both ends, while Tucker gives them another strong perimeter defender to go along with DeMarre Carroll in a possible playoff series against LeBron James and the Cavs.

LeBron loading up

Speaking of the Cavs, they're expected to add former Illini star Deron Williams to their bench once he clears waivers and completes a buyout with Dallas. Williams gives Cleveland the additional playmaker James has been demanding for the last couple months and sets up a potentially epic Finals matchup against Golden State. Williams gets a chance to compete for a championship late in his career, and he's still capable of being a difference maker in big games, averaging 13 points and seven assists per game. Cleveland is now loaded in the backcourt with Kyrie Irving, Williams, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and swingman Kyle Korver.

No luck for the Celtics

The one contending team that didn't make a move at the deadline is Boston. Danny Ainge talked trade with the Bulls about Butler and with Indiana about Paul George, but in the end he wasn't willing to give up those precious Brooklyn first-round draft picks he's been hoarding for years. Keep in mind the Celtics reportedly love University of Washington guard Markelle Fultz, who's expected to be the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and they'll have enough cap room to make a run at free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played for Brad Stevens at Butler.

Even with the addition of Butler or George, the Celtics might not have been able to take down King James and the Cavs in this year's playoffs, but they are still lurking as the rising power in the East. Now, we'll all have to wait to see what Ainge does in the days leading up to the draft.

Quote of the week

Gibson gave the Chicago media one last lengthy session before boarding a private jet with McDermott to their new home in Oklahoma City.

On his time in Chicago: "Every day I came to the locker room just seeing my name on the back of a Bulls jersey was a dream come true."

So what will it be like to join a new team after eight and a half seasons in Chicago? "I'm like a kid going to a new school. I don't know where to sit on the bus."

Something tells me Russell Westbrook and the Thunder will let Gibson have any seat he wants.

Good luck in Oklahoma City, Taj (and Doug). You will be missed by Bulls fans and media.