Blakely: NBA labor battle alienating fans

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Blakely: NBA labor battle alienating fans

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com Celtics Insider
Follow @sherrodbcsn
When the Miami Heat fell short of winning an NBA title last spring, they became the butt of many jokes as folks remembered the bold proclamations about multiple titles coming to South Beach, 'The Decision' television special (already spoofed too many times to remember), and of course, the pyrotechnic show they put on before they laced up for their first practice.

Say what you want, but all that adulation and attention did something we had not seen before and may not ever see again.

The NBA free agency period for the first time since, well, ever, had the kind of cross-the-market appeal and relevancy that generated a tremendous amount of interest for the Heat and the league as a whole.

We call that Good For Business, folks.

Comcast SportsNet, the flagship station of the Boston Celtics, set a number of ratings records this past season.

In fact, eight of the Network's top 10-rated Celtics games all-time, are from this past season.

That strong current of interest in the C's as well as the rest of the league, seemed to flow into the playoffs, with the NBA bandwagon busting at the seams following the Dallas Mavericks' first NBA title.

But with the labor stalemate between the players' union and the owners showing no signs of ending anytime soon, building off that end-of-last-season momentum is about as likely as 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins becoming the league's next rebounding champion.

Both sides are expected to gather this week, which will be only the second official pow-wow between them since the July 1 lockout kicked in.

The issues that these two sides have to iron out are long, lengthy and painful to endure for all involved.

And while there may not be a pecking order in terms of what has to be agreed upon first, addressing free agency might be the best tourniquet for the hemorrhaging that the NBA is sure to experience if games are lost.

"We created a lot of interest last year in the season that we had," Mo Evans, Vice President of the NBA Players' Association, told NBA.com recently. "One of the reasons we were able to do that was because of the free agency frenzy that went into the summer. So we need to ease restricted free agency and allow players to have more mobility and have each market to have the opportunity to gather and sign multiple free agents and compete."

It sounds good in theory.

I mean, other than those in Mickey Mouse-ville, who wouldn't mind seeing Orlando's Dwight Howard donning a different colored jersey next year?

But there's a Shaquille O'Neal-sized red flag to this idea, one that will make owners hesitant to open up the free agency floodgates any more than they were last season.

One of the issues that a number of NBA teams had with the way the Heat was assembled, was how the power to negotiate player movement was slipping through the fingers of ownership and GMs, and into the firm grip of players and their respective agents.

Any move that would allow free agency to become even more widely available, would give the players and their reps even more power than they currently have.

And when you look at the issues that the owners are -- so far at least -- not budging on, it'll be difficult for the players union to convince them that allowing more free agency movement is a good idea.

Remember, folks: You're going to hear a lot of talk about the need to restructure contracts, tweak the business model to guarantee owners will profit, as well as reduce the salary cap.

And it all boils down one thing . . . power.

Owners feel the players have too much. The players, obviously, feel differently.

The owners point to 22 teams losing money. The player's union see that as Creative Bookkeeping 101.

At this point, nobody knows -- not the players or owners, and certainly not the fans -- what it's going to take to get a deal done.

But figuring out a way to quickly get back their lost fans needs to be a priority.

We live in a sports world where more and more fans pledge their allegiance to players, not the teams they play for.

That's why you're just as likely to find a Dwyane Wade or Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant jersey in the crowds when they're at home, as you would on the road.

When you have that kind of interest, that kind of momentum, the idea of not playing games seems just stupid.

Let's hope that the owners and players remember this next time they sit down to negotiate. Because for all their talk about what they don't want to give up in a new deal, the most precious commodity in all this -- fans -- appears to be an afterthought.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!