NBA lockout looming after this season?

NBA lockout looming after this season?

Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010
10:21 PM

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com
A historic summer for the NBA has passed and for the Bulls, while they didn't acquire quite the star power many expected andor hoped for, optimism runs high, both within the organization and throughout the team's fan base. With the offseason coming to an end, the time to fully delve into the upcoming NBA season is here. Instead of a traditional season preview, issues both throughout the league and in Chicago will be probed daily here on CSNChicago.com up until the squad officially convenes for training camp toward the end of September.

18. Will there be a lockout after this season?

It's still far too early to gauge whether a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) will be reached prior to the 2011-12 NBA campaign and without more prior knowledge about labor negotiations, this writer isn't the one to get too deep into the current state of affairs, let alone the end result, such as a work stoppage. Still, it's worth it to at least probe the surface of the issues at hand.

In the wake of the spending by NBA franchises this offseason, an easy argument can be made that teams must be healthy financially to be able to line the pockets of its players, whether the various contracts deserving or dubious. The league, however, claims that franchises have suffered drastic losses--a major point of contention--and are hamstrung by constraints resulting from the last CBA.

"According to their theory, it's because of the system that's in place that forces them to spend the money, so it's not that they want to spend the money," a vice president on the NBPA's executive committee told CSNChicago.com. "It's the only option they have to be competitive, according to them."

"The thing is, it's still just posturing," the player, who wished to remain anonymous, continued. "We're still working off the last deal. From my standpoint, the last CBA has obviously been working for the last five, six years, so it's been doing what its supposed to do...the owners are trying to make it make a little more sense for them from their perspective. In their words, they're trying to make it make a little more sense for them from a business side."

"It's hard to know what goes into it from a player's perspective because there's really no rhyme or reason at times to why one player gets a deal versus another player. There's been numerous players that you can look at that should have got better deals than what they did, but for whatever reason they ended up having to go elsewhere," he went on to say, using Lakers point guard and NBPA executive committee president Derek Fisher--who he claims had to fight for a new extension despite always wanting to remain in Los Angeles--for an example. "That's the kind of stuff that needs to be stressed, as well. Allowing players to more easily move from team to team, allowing players to be secure, distributing the money to the correct players who are actually performing in those free-agent years."

After a three-hour meeting of the two sides last Wednesday--described as "cordial and constructive" in a joint statement issued afterwards by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA)--all indications point to no progress in sight until after February's All-Star weekend (when the next meeting will occur), at the earliest. That leaves approximately four months--the current CBA expires on June, 30, 2011--to reach a resolution.

"It was more of a discussion on what can be done to make the game grow and what's our perspective and what's their perspective," the player described the negotiations to CSNChicago.com. "It's still no numbers, no nothing...it's basically setting the stage to bring forth changes and it was positive in the sense that they got a better understanding of where we're coming from and we got a better understanding of what they want. Somehow we can make it all work out and it makes sense where we don't shut down the business."

The league reportedly is in favor of imposing a hard cap, similar to the NFL, under which organizations wouldn't be able exceed the NBA-wide salary cap. That would mean the end of deep-pocketed owners being able to exceed the salary cap and pay a luxury tax, as well as player exceptions that enable veterans to re-sign with their teams, regardless of the cap.

While the NBPA objects to such an idea, the recent meeting in New York was more of a forum for proposals and was described as a "positive" interaction by the aforementioned source, a veteran who signed an offseason extension to remain with his current team.

"Just suggestions about making it easier for players to move from team to team, to loosen up restricted free agency so that when a guy who's performing well for his team, for example, doesn't have to be confined to that contract," the player, who indicated that base-year compensation is another told CSNChicago.com. If a player is still on his rookie wage scale, maybe he can get out of it a little sooner so he can go out and be a major player for another team if his team doesn't want to pay him."

"Things like that are ways to improve the game and allow it to even out the competitive balance and that's what one of the issues is," he added. "Every team wants the opportunity to be competitive every year. That goes into making decisions about who to draft and paying the right players. that goes back to the owners policing themselves."

The league and its owners, on the other hand, are more concerned with revenues, over half of which reportedly go to the players. The current economic climate plays its part in their concerns, but overall, they seemingly desire to have a new CBA go in the other direction, with lower player salaries one of the end results.

Although no marked progress was made at last week's meeting, it appears that the league and players are both committed to avoiding a lockout. For those who don't remember the last NBA work stoppage--which ended up abbreviating the 1998-99 season--the threat of fans resenting the pro game as a whole (players, owners, teams and the league alike) will hopefully spur the two sides to come to agreement before going down that less-than-scenic path.

"I don't think there's much frustration on either side because we both understand it's a process and we both understand that if we're both willing to take in each other's ideas and consider each other's ideas to grow the game for fans...people will continued to come out and support it. We both agree that the game is in a great place," the player optimistically told CSNChicago.com. "I think we're definitely on the right track...I don't know if it's going to be anything in place by All-Star weekend. I know that we're working to be further along in the process by All-Star, but how far along we come by that point remains to be seen."

"I think, for the most part, again, as players and the perspective that we're taking, it's a partnership and we're trying to be open to...hearing their suggestions," the NBPA vice president, who ironically took part in the league's Leadership and Development program--designed to help players move into coaching or management positions after their playing days are over; one of the sessions included in the July session in Las Vegas was a CBA tutorial--continued. "We're trying to be open to trying to grow the game, to make it better...I think the owners will hopefully be willing to continue to see that and again, it's so early in the bargaining stage."

Time is on their side--both sides--but it's not too early to consider a potentially negative outcome, no matter how much none of us wants to right now.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Fred Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Bulls defense

Being a better defensive team was a prime objective for Fred Hoiberg coming into camp, as the Bulls hope to reclaim some of their defensive identity that disappeared last season.

Reciting a not-so-true stat routinely to reporters in the first few days, that the Bulls were last in forcing turnovers in 2015-16, means he’s likely barking it to the team in practices (they were actually second-to-last behind the New York Knicks).

“Absolutely,” said Hoiberg when asked if being more aggressive defensively is a goal. “We are turning the ball over way too much. After watching film, our defense is responsible for some of that. We have a guy in (Rajon) Rondo that's a high steals guy, got great hands, great instincts, great wingspan. Jimmy (Butler) is always had great anticipation and one of the top steals guy.”

Butler is one of the best two-way players, along with San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Indiana’s Paul George, but even he admitted his defense slipped last year as the Bulls fell to a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of advanced defensive rankings (15th).

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Rondo was once one of the league’s best defensive point guards before tearing up his knee his last full season in Boston, and averaged two steals last year in Sacramento, but gave up a career-high 107 points per 100 possessions, according to basketball-reference.com.

Whether Rondo was a function of a bad defense overall for the Kings or a player who no longer fully commits himself to that end remains to be seen, but it’s clear Hoiberg wants a more hands-y defense. Too many times last year, the Bulls defense had leaks from the top down, resulting in compromised drives to the basket and breakdowns all around.

More than anything, the Bulls defense was one of indifference, especially after the first 30 games or so.

“Like all staffs we watched a ton of film and tried to figure out with this group how to create more turnovers, how to impact the ball better,” Hoiberg said. “Every day it's been a big emphasis in our defense and we get out and force turnovers and make sure the help is there behind the trap and being aggressive on the ball.”

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

Denzel Valentine a candidate for minutes at the point for Bulls

The common refrain among coaches in the first days of training camp is “this guy had an incredible summer”, a phrase Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has said so much that even he had to laugh when asked who didn’t have a banner summer period.

Of course, that’s before fans and media get to see anyone play, so we can only speculate who’ll win certain position battles, like the starting power forward spot or how deep Hoiberg’s rotation will go.

So in the spirit of speculation, Bulls rookie Denzel Valentine’s versatility makes him a candidate for the backup point guard position, a spot that is filled with different options for Hoiberg to choose from.

“He’s such an instinctive player. He does a great job,” Hoiberg said. “We talk about making simple plays. You’ve done your job when you beat your man, draw the second defender and make the easy, simple play. Denzel is great at that. That’s not a gift that everybody has. That’s not an instinct that all players have. But Denzel certainly has it.”

One wonders if Valentine could find himself on the outside looking in at the start of the season, like Bobby Portis did last year before all the injuries hit the Bulls and forced him into action.

It’s a different vision than when Valentine was drafted as a late lottery pick after a seasoned career at Michigan State. The Bulls hadn’t signed Dwyane Wade or Rajon Rondo in free agency, and had traded Derrick Rose 24 hours before the draft, so the thought was Valentine could be an instant contributor.

Even still, Valentine can likely play anything from point guard to small forward, but hasn’t gotten extensive reps at the point, yet.

“I’ve played on the wing so far. A little bit of point,” Valentine said. “I got a couple reps on the point, but like 70-30. Seventy on the wing, 30 on the point.”

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He got an early jump on the Hoiberg terminology at summer league, so the language isn’t a big adjustment, but having to learn multiple positions along with the tendencies of new teammates can mean a steeper learning curve.

“Yeah, I just got to continue learning sets and learning guys’ strengths so that I can use that to their best advantage,” Valentine said. “Play-make as best I can when I’m at the point guard spot. Just learning the system, learning guys’ strengths, and then I’ll be better at it.”

The presence of Wade and Jimmy Butler, one of whom will likely anchor the second unit as Hoiberg will probably stagger minutes so each can have the requisite time and space, means even if Valentine were on the floor, he wouldn’t have to be a natural point guard.

Hoiberg does, however, crave having multiple playmakers who can initiate offense or create shots off penetration or pick and roll action, meaning Valentine can work it to his advantage.

“I think he can. Jimmy played with the ball in his hands a lot last year,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy rebounds the ball and if Dwyane rebounds the ball, they’re bringing it. Rajon if he’s out there knows to fill one of the lanes. Denzel is an excellent passer. He’s got such good basketball instincts. So if you can get guys out there who can make plays, that’s what it’s all about. I think you’re very difficult to guard in this league when you have multiple ballmakers.”

Other notes:

Dwyane Wade won’t be taking walk-up triples for the Bulls, despite his call that Hoiberg wants him being more comfortable from behind the long line. Hoiberg does want him being willing and able to take corner threes, likely off guard penetration from Rondo or Jimmy Butler.

When Wade played with LeBron James in Miami, cutting from the corners became a staple, so putting him there could be an old wrinkle Hoiberg is adding to his scheme.

Wade took seven of his 44 3-pointers from the corner last season, hitting two from the right side, according to vorped.com.

“When he’s open, especially in the corners, that’s a shot we want him taking. It’s a thing we worked on yesterday, making sure he stays on balance,” Hoiberg said. “He’s got a natural lean on his shot, which has been very effective, being on the elite mid range shooters in our game. That’s allowed him to get shots over bigger defenders. When you get out further from the basket, especially by the line, you need to get momentum going in, work on your body position and work on finishing that shot. He’s got good mechanics, it’s a matter of finishing the shot.”