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

Thomas strains right groin, says he'll 'be fine for Wednesday'

Thomas strains right groin, says he'll 'be fine for Wednesday'

The bumps and bruises continue to pile up for Isaiah Thomas, adding a new one to the group during Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston. 
 
The 5-foot-9 guard said he strained his right groin in the second quarter, but added that the injury won’t force him to miss any games. 
 
“I’ll be alright,” Thomas told reporters after the loss. “I’ll get treatment. I’ll be fine for Wednesday (against Orlando).”
 
The injury appeared to have happened shortly after Houston’s Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer that put the Rockets ahead 55-45.
 
At the time it didn’t seem all that serious as Thomas, who had 20 points on the night, came down and drained a 3-pointer. 
 
But after the game, Thomas acknowledged his groin did bother him during the game in which he played 33-plus minutes. 
 
“A few drives I didn’t have the lift,” said Thomas, who finished with 20 points. “It is what it is. I’ll figure it out.”
 
Thomas, who played in all 82 regular season games last season in addition to each of Boston’s 21 games this season, has dealt with an assortment of injuries including but not limited to, a swollen middle finger injury on his left (shooting) hand. 
 
Thomas, an All-Star last season for the first time, has played at an elite level that should once again position him to be represent the Eastern Conference. 
 
Following Monday’s game, Thomas is averaging a career-high 26.0 points per game which ranks ninth in the NBA along with 6.1 assists. 

Smart: 'Can’t blame the officials for the outcome of the game'

Smart: 'Can’t blame the officials for the outcome of the game'

The fact that the James Harden of the Houston Rockets went to the free throw line 18 times which was more than the entire Celtics roster (12 free throw attempts total) certainly fired up conspiracy theorists among Celtics Nation. 
 
But what seemed to draw the most ire was what appeared to be a 3-pointer by Avery Bradley late in the fourth quarter that was initially called a long two-pointer. 
 
And after it was reviewed by the good folks in Secaucus, N.J., they allowed the ruling to stand because there wasn’t enough proof in the many replay angles for them to overturn the original call. 
 
The missed lay-ups by Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas in the closing seconds stand out, obviously. 
 
But the 3-pointer that wasn’t a 3-pointer was one of the more talked-about topics in the Celtics locker room afterwards. 
 
“From the angle we saw, it was a three,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told reporters after the game. “We definitely thought it was.”
 
Said Jae Crowder: “I thought it was a three. Nothing we can do about it now.”
 
It was that kind of game for the Celtics, one in which plays that could go either way more often than not, went against them. 
 
And while Bradley’s questionable two-pointer certainly was a factor in the game’s outcome, as was the free throw discrepancy and the late-game misses, ultimately the blame for Monday’s loss falls upon the Celtics players who were still in position to win despite all those setbacks.

They simply didn't get it done, when it mattered.
 
Smart, who had 13 points off the Celtics bench, understands that fans like to blame the officials when a game ends like Monday’s loss to Houston. 
 
“Officials, they did their job,” Smart said. “You can’t blame the officials for the outcome of the game. We made some costly plays down the stretch. Give credit to the Rockets. They made plays and executed down the stretch.”