It seems likely Billy Hunter will be out soon as chief of the NBA players union. A review of Hunters stewardship by an independent law firm found nepotism, conflicts of interest and an employment contract that might never have been approved by the player representatives.
Hunters tenure has included two lockouts by the owners that nearly cost two full seasons. He and NBA commissioner David Stern can be similarly ornery. Now both are in the final lap, with Stern planning to retire soon.
Sterns successor, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, is less of a cajoler, more of a consensus-builder. I hope Hunters replacement represents a similar shift in approach.
I always found Hunter, a former federal prosecutor, in constant search for the next fight. He seemed to consolidate power within the union by demonizing the owners. While its natural for there to be tension between labor and management in any industry, Hunter thrived on needless conflict.
I remember Stern once wanting a change to the anti-drug policy that seemed pretty reasonable. Hunter wouldnt concede the point without asking for a concession on some unrelated matter.
Stern appropriately responded that if the players reputation wasnt as important to the union as it was to the league, then theres something very wrong. The change in the drug policy eventually went through.
A union that represents millionaires is out of the ordinary, I know, but Ive long questioned whether the players association does whats best for the majority of its members. It seems an inordinate amount of time and effort is spent on how stars get treated, to the detriment of the middle-class NBA player.
Im not suggesting free-agency rules arent a big deal. Careers are short, so each contract is crucial to a players earning power. But Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett would be rich under any system.
Some of the leagues best teams have evolved toward a system where two or three players make most of the payroll for each roster and many of their teammates play for minimum salaries. That should concern the players union a lot more than whether Dwight Howard gets to sign for $20 million a season, instead of $17 million.
I remember during the first lockout asking a middle-class NBA player why he was sacrificing hundreds of thousands in lost wages to protect the stars earning power. He looked at me like I was crazy, so I said, Just watch.
Then the lockout ended and details of the new collective bargaining agreement came out. I highlighted some key points in the unions favor, almost all of which focused on a handful of elite players compensation.
This player a smart guy who eventually became an agent looked up, gave me one of those what was I thinking? expressions and shrugged. Thats how I will remember the players union of the past 15 years.
Five passing thoughts on the Bobcats and the NBA:
• I get asked a lot if the Bobcats should try to trade for an unrestricted free agent-to-be, like Utahs Al Jefferson or Atlantas Josh Smith. I dont see how you could justify giving up anything of value without assurances that player would re-sign in Charlotte. Why would a star free agent give up the chance to explore the market in July?
• I was initially surprised to see Charlottean Stephen Curry going to Houston to participate in the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend. But it sounds like if a West All-Star cant play due to injury, Curry might get first nod as a substitute. Itd be great to see him make it to the big Sunday event.
• I get more amnesty questions as the trade deadline approaches. A reminder: Each team gets to do one amnesty waiver over the course of the current CBA and it must be a player who was on the roster before the end of the last CBA. The only applicable Charlotte contract would be Tyrus Thomas, and that couldnt happen before next summer.
• You might recall the Bobcats get Portlands first-round pick in June if its outside the top 12 selections. The Trail Blazers are bobbing right about at the cutoff point; through Thursdays games, Portland had the 14th-worst record at 25-24.
• I hear the Bobcats are among many NBA teams keeping tabs on Greg Oden, the former No. 1 pick center looking to make a comeback from chronic knee problems. Oden will have a lot to consider; opportunity to play, opportunity to win, earning power. Theres even been a suggestion the Cleveland Clinics medical reputation works in the Cavaliers favor.
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