Stern: Lockout gains worth the pains
PHOENIX — We now can feel cozy in the knowledge that our pesky NBA lockout — and its subsequent sardine-packed schedule — was not a colossal boondoggle.
As evidence, we have testimony from commissioner David Stern.
"It's been a great year, surprisingly good for us in terms of all the metrics that we use," Stern said. "Much better than we had a right to expect . . . but we'll take it."
Stern, whose appearance in these parts seems as welcome as the first 100-degree day of the year, finished a business stop in town by visiting US Airways Center for Tuesday night's Phoenix Suns-San Antonio Spurs game. How's that for Memories-of-'07 irony? And Boris Diaw now works for the Spurs.
Anyway, before tipoff, Stern and deputy commish Adam Silver fielded inquiries from the media.
Before handling those questions with a great deal of finesse, Stern was happy to let everyone know the new collective bargaining agreement was on its way to creating an NBA utopia worth a few months of hand-wringing inactivity. Never mind that — in a sports world overcome with parity — there are terrific opportunities to create a diminished sense of drama.
The real variable is financial, not competitive, parity. But let's not allow such skepticism to run interference for happier days. So . . . back to the commish.
"We think the new CBA actually is beginning to work already in a big way," Stern said. "Revenue sharing is going to be a game-changer for markets of all sizes. It's going to help us level the playing field, and we're pretty excited about that."
And he didn't forget to mention the punitive gusto from the upgraded luxury-tax penalty.
"Teams are concerned about their expenditures, because they don't want to be taxpayers with the higher tax," the commish reminded us.
As evidence of future financial comeuppance for the league's glamour teams, Stern led with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I see accusations being made . . . observations being made . . . that the Lakers may have had some transactions that had to do with reducing payroll," he said.
Right, after their shocking elimination from the Chris Paul sweepstakes, the Lakers used Lamar Odom's dismay in almost being traded as a cue to ship him (and a contract that expires, pending a team option for one more season) to the Dallas Mavericks for a draft pick and a cup of trade-exception sugar.
Instead of using the exception to bring in Michael Beasley (a reported option) at the trade deadline, the Lakers avoiding taking on the extra salary. But they did use the draft pick — and a couple of deadwood players — to pry point guard Ramon Sessions out of Cleveland, avoiding any major on-court slide into level-playing-field mediocrity.
Even though the addition of Sessions looks pretty good for LA thus far, future leveling off of Lakers glory may have more to do with the front-office impact of Jim Buss (son of longtime owner Jerry) and less with the CBA.
Stern also used the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks as an example of CBA-inspired fiscal responsibility. The Mavs, you may recall, rewarded free agents Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and Caron Butler with one-year offers (or so it was reported) to maintain what the commish referred to as "flexibility."
For the record, Chandler, Barea and Butler all are working in other towns.
And while Mavs owner Mark Cuban has dismissed it as speculation, his team is expected to have sufficient cap-related flexibility to at least explore the notion of hiring both Deron Williams and Dwight Howard this summer.
This could be defined as one man's level playing field being little more than another man's long-range plan to remain in championship contention. Cuban, a seemingly undeterred, luxury-tax-paying participant in the past, won't be eager to cough up a lot more loot for hopping over the threshold. But he probably won't be attempting to remain competitive on a shoestring budget, either.
Early in his declaration of post-lockout survival, Stern mentioned how the Cleveland Cavaliers are on the mend, thanks the miracle of high draft picks. While I'm pretty sure that was not intended as contrast to the Suns' stated plan to reach elite status, it did seem — considering geography — ironic.
Although the premise of building through the draft is attached to the pain of severe (and hopefully temporary) losing, the Suns and post-LeBron James "Decision" Cavaliers occupy different predicaments. But we also realize that if circumstances inspire Steve Nash to take his talents hundreds of miles away from South Mountain this summer, the Suns could be in contention for a very high draft pick of their very own next year.
As for the league's interpretation of this much-discussed shoehorn of a season, Silver offered some perspective I've been considering since the campaign began.
It's only an average of two more games per month, he said. And while that seemingly benign increase can add up, the variables of travel and grotesquely-limited practice time are — in my opinion — general topics for whining among coaches every season.
"It's not ideal," Silver said of packing 66 games into a season that began on Christmas Day and ends in late April, "but it's better than the alternative."