From Comcast SportsNet If canceling opening night and the rest of the NBA calendar for November failed to prove how serious David Stern is about saving his owners money, there's this: The commissioner reportedly fined Miami Heat honcho Micky Arison a cool half-million for a tweet suggesting he wasn't one of the owners willing to sacrifice games to save money. In response to someone who labeled the parties involved in the lockout "greedy ... pigs," Arison tweeted, "Honestly u r barking at the wrong owner." That's a lot more per letter than anyone has ever paid on "Wheel of Fortune." And speaking of game shows, the closest thing to a competition involving an NBA player anywhere on TV came Tuesday when New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul showed up with his relatives in tow for an episode of "Family Feud." It was a poor substitute for watching the Dallas Mavericks raise last season's championship banner into the rafters before taking on the Chicago Bulls, one of three games originally on the schedule. On the bright side, Robin Paul demonstrated where her son gets some of his fire from. "We all are competitive," she said. "Very, very, very." The same could be said about both sides in the lockout, though at this late juncture they seem just as interested in cannibalizing their own as the other side. Stern's levy on Arison marked the third time he's lightened an owner's pocket for talking out of school about the lockout -- Charlotte's Michael Jordan and Washington's Ted Leonsis had already contributed 100,000 each to league coffers -- but the extra-heavy hit might reflect more than the commissioner's growing impatience with rule breakers. Though Arison later endorsed the league's party line about the tweet being taken out of context, it's clear that his real sin was exposing the owners' less-than-unified stance. Arison paid plenty to bring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami and made plenty in return, not just for his franchise, but everywhere the Heat played last season. Even if the league's claim that 22 teams are losing money is correct, successful teams such as the Heat, Knicks, Lakers and Bulls can't be thrilled with the prospect of losing an entire season of profits to help the poorer franchises squeeze a more favorable deal from the players. But desperate as the fine made Stern look in his bid to hold ownership together, he still has a much easier task at the moment than his counterparts at the union. The 400-plus members of the players association are being tugged in different directions by executive director Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. They staked out different positions on the central question in the negotiations -- what percentage of basketball revenues the players will settle for -- and the campaigning behind the scenes has grown uglier by the day. Fisher has been accused of secretly negotiating a deal with Stern to get the players to agree to a 50-50 split in exchange for a cushy job with the league down the road. The rumors grew so loud he was forced to respond to the players in an email, saying, "There have been no side agreements, no side negotiations or anything close." For his part, Hunter has been adamant about the players keeping 52 percent -- a drop from the 57 percent they got in the last agreement -- which would still transfer more than 1 billion back to the owners in any new deal. He walked out of a bargaining meeting last week to dramatize his threat the players won't consider a penny less, but the players' weakening position suggests it was little more than grandstanding. At this point, most insiders and likely even the players themselves know the final deal will get made at 50-50 or not at all. Hunter's intransigence has led to speculation that he's taking a hard line to impress players and hang onto his job as much as he's worried about theirs. If the result is a bad deal -- and whenever it's finalized, it likely will favor the owners -- at the very least it gives him an alibi. There's a growing sense that the players would vote to take the deal at 50-50, since the only other option is to walk away, decertify the union, and take their fight to the courts. That would effectively wipe out the season, which has also led some players to question why the union didn't exercise that option over the summer, when some leverage might have made a difference. Instead, it's the owners doing most of the squeezing. Players will lose 350 million because of the canceled games this month, and the threat of sacrificing another round of games, likely followed by the owners putting an even worse deal on the table, should have the desired effect. Stern holds most of the cards, and all he has to do is hold the owners together for a little longer. Buying that loyalty doesn't always come cheap, but as even Arison would likely concede whenever the deal gets done, it's rarely a bad investment.
Each Monday through the Final Four, our own Robbie Buckets -- known in some circles as Rob Snyder, associate producer at CSN -- will take a look at the world of college basketball: Games to watch each week, players who might be on the Celtics' radar come draft time, what's going on locally . . . and, of course, power rankings (which will eventually morph into bracketology). Enjoy!
After a Saturday for the ages came and went this past weekend, it's clear offensive efficiency is ruling the college basketball world. Villanova, UCLA, Creighton, Indiana, UNC, Kentucky, and a slew of other teams are shooting the lights out early in the season. In a rare switch, offensive efficiency is proving more valuable than defensive efficiency early on this year. We aren't used to seeing shooting quite like this, but it makes for great basketball watching. We also have some surprise teams making big moves in the rankings, and I'm sure the shake-ups will keep coming week-by-week with no slowing down.
1. Villanova (8-0) - The defending champs spent a nice week destroying fellow Big 5 teams. On top of that, the Wildcats watched Kentucky fall (more on that later), which moves them up to the top spot. I can make a great case for the two teams behind them to be ahead, but I'll reward a defending champion going undefeated every day of the week.
2. Baylor (8-0) - SURPRISE! The Bears just keep on winning against really good competition. Scott Drew's club has now beaten four top 25 teams in Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and, most recently, Xavier. (I understand it's likely two of those teams won't be ranked this week, but they're still really good.) This is the most impressive early season resume in a long time.
3. UCLA (9-0) - It's one thing to put up massive offensive numbers against lowly competition. It's a completely different thing when you go into Rupp Arena and put up 97 points against Kentucky. Lonzo Ball had a rough go in the first half but he was helped by fellow freshman T.J. Leaf, who is absolutely balling.
4. Kentucky (7-1) - I'm keeping the Wildcats right here because I still saw a lot I liked in the loss to UCLA. Mainly, I think De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk make up the best backcourt in the country. This team still has so much room to grow.
5. Kansas (7-1) - Shockingly, Kansas has decided to go with a small, four-guard lineup as of late. The Jayhawks have benched Landen Lucas and it's working having Lagerald Vick join Graham, Mason and Jackson in the backcourt. I applaud Bill Self for the outside-the-box thinking.
6. Duke (8-1) - Great to finally see the Blue Devils get some of their freshman back, albeit against Maine. The Dukies will probably shoot further up the power rankings next week as they get their fresh legs under them. As of now, I'm still slightly underwhelmed by the overall product (which is being harsh), but I love what I'm seeing from Luke Kennard who -- shhhhhhh -- is a better overall player than Grayson Allen.
7. Gonzaga (8-0) - They haven't missed a beat, putting away frisky Arizona on Saturday. The Dogs are now on cruise control and have a real shot at being the last undefeated team standing this season.
8. Creighton (8-0) - Speaking of undefeated, the Bluejays of Omaha are maybe the hottest offensive team in the country, led by three of the best guards in all of college basketball. (They may even be better than Kentucky's backcourt.) Creighton will be a force in the Big East this year.
9. Indiana (7-1) - The hardest thing about doing rankings is Jekyll-and-Hyde teams like the Hoosiers. What can you say about a team that beat Kansas, lost to Fort Wayne, and then rebounded with a win over North Carolina? You rank them 9. That's what you do.
10. North Carolina (7-1) - Speaking of North Carolina, last week I thought the Tar Heels were the hottest team in college hoops and now they're licking their wounds after being beaten pretty good by Indiana. They're still extremely well-rounded, and should still be in the Top 5 conversation later in the year.
11. Virginia (7-1) - For the first time in years, the Cavaliers lost a home non-conference game. The slugfest with West Virginia went as expected as the two unique defenses went at each other. Hard to drop UVA too far, as they still boast the nation's second-best defense.
12. Butler (8-0) - Hard to believe we're into December and still have three undefeated Big East teams and none of them are Xavier. Butler has looked really balanced this year in wins over Arizona and Utah. I would still like to see more scoring from the guards.
13. Louisville (7-1) - The Cardinals successfully rebounded from a not-bad-at-all loss to Baylor and took down Purdue in a game they tried very hard to lose. Louisville's biggest issue is offensive consistency, which has grinded to a halt at times this season. Defensively, however, there are no issues.
14. Xavier (7-1) - Hey, look, it's another team that lost to Baylor. The loss isn't necessarily bad, but the way X is playing hasn't been totally solid. They're getting almost all of their offense from three players, and their depth hasn't been great. They will still be a really good team, but are starting to look less like a dark horse Final Four team.
15. West Virginia (6-1) - What a win for WVU in Charlottesville. Huggy Bear's press continues to give opponents problems and keeps the Mountaineers in games even when they aren't hitting their shots. They were 25th in the AP poll last week, but are now No. 9 in kenpom. Expect a move once the pollsters read this column.
Providence - What a week for the Friars. They took out previously ranked in-state rivals Rhode Island and are now 6-2 with a quality win. Rodney Bullock is carrying the scoring load, and I have to say I'm very surprised by the development of Kyron Cartwright. His ball-handling and passing have been phenomenal. Ed Cooley is doing wonders with this group..
Rhode Island - Speaking of the Rams, they'll be just fine. A true road loss (albeit still in-state) is nothing to worry about. Now they'll hope Providence becomes a Top 50, or at the very least Top 100, RPI team, and the loss won't even look bad. What Rhody does need to worry about is finding a way to beat good teams. They now have three losses -- to Duke, Valpo (road), and Providence (road). They do have a quality win over a very good Cincinnati team, so they'll just need to take care of conference play and find a way to get a little more from their bench.
WHAT TO WATCH THIS WEEK
- Tuesday December 6: Florida vs Duke (at Madison Square Garden)
- Saturday December 10: Villanova vs Notre Dame (Prudential Center); Michigan at UCLA
POTENTIAL FUTURE CELTICS TO WATCH
Jayson Tatum - Duke finally has a couple of its freshman back, and this is the guy to watch. I was pumped about him prior to the season because he's a 6-foot-7 wing player who does everything effortlessly. Tatum had 10 points and 8 rebounds in his opener despite being very rusty. It's only up from here.
De'Aaron Fox - Kentucky's point guard is the real deal and is so fun to watch. He's a 6-6 bean stalk, so he doesn't necessarily look like a point guard . . . until you see him pass. Fox can also get to the rim and play suffocating 'D'. He's still working on his jump shot, but it's coming along. NBA teams will drool over this guy.
Follow me on Twitter @RobbieBuckets for college hoops musings and off-the-cuff sports takes.
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while fully getting in the holiday spirit by getting the family Christmas tree this week.
*Very good and very sobering story about Craig Cunningham’s slow recovery, and his large support system with the AHL Roadrunners team he is captaining this season. It sounds like it might be a bit of a long road for him, so he and his family will need that support from those around him.
*Tyler Seguin has his shot back, and that’s great news for the Dallas Stars power play. So is that like Stella getting her groove back?
*A KHL player went into a sliding dab formation in order to celebrate a goal on the ice, and we salute him for that.
*The Maple Leafs are trying to fortify their backup goaltending situation after waiving Jhonas Enroth this week.
*Interesting Bob McKenzie piece about a young man that’s hoping to challenge conventional thinking in the hockey coaching ranks.
*TSN’s Scott Cullen takes a look at Winnipeg rookie Patrik Laine’s shooting skills as part of his “Statistically Speaking” column.
*For something completely different: the hits just keep on coming for Netflix as they’re going to double their TV series output over the next year.