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

Ainge: Winning more important than All-Star bids

Ainge: Winning more important than All-Star bids

BOSTON -- When it comes to NBA awards and accolades, players in contention often try to play it cool when asked about whether they are deserving.
 
And then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who gives a definitive response whenever the question about whether he should be an All-Star starter is raised.
 
We’ll find out later today if Thomas will in fact be named as a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team when the East and West starters are announced. 
 
“It’s a little bit refreshing in that he is open about it,” Danny Ainge said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show this morning. “But every player wants to be acknowledged by their fan base, by other players in the league, coaches. You come into the league and as a young player you want to earn the respect of your peers and then you want to get paid and then you want to be an All-Star; maybe that’s the wrong order; and then nothing more important than winning.
 
Ainge added, “Isaiah is having a great year. He’s talked a lot about it. At some point in his career, he’ll talk about the most important thing and that’s winning championships.”
 
Ainge pointed to when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were all Celtics, there was no mistaking that winning came before anything else.
 
But where those guys were in their careers in terms of individual achievements and just age, were major factors in their focus being so deeply rooted in winning.
 
“Along the way they all want to win, but when you get to the point where Paul, Ray and KG were in their 30s, they didn’t care about any of that other stuff because they had it all, already,” Ainge said. “They had multiple All-Star games, they had big contracts, winning became the only thing that mattered.”
 
In other Celtics-related news, Ainge said that there’s no timetable for when Avery Bradley (right Achilles strain) will return to the floor. He has missed five of the last six games with the injury which includes last night’s loss to the New York Knicks which was a game in which the 6-foot-2 Bradley was a last-minute scratch from the lineup