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Ira Winderman: Fight to avert 2017 NBA lockout starts now

Ira Winderman
Contact ReporterSouth Florida Sun Sentinel
Poential NBA lockout in 2017 already looming

So when exactly is the "appropriate time" for billionaire owners and multimillionaire players to talk about their unimaginable riches?

To former Miami Heat guard Roger Mason Jr., now might be as good a time as any. As a preemptive measure, he might be right, at least if you have any hopes of watching NBA  basketball in 2017-18.

That's when both the NBA and its players have the right to opt out of the current collective-bargaining agreement. And make no mistake, with the changing landscape since the current CBA was written in 2011, when factoring in the new television contract and the $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Clippers, both sides are looking for new work rules.

Recently, that had new union leader Michele Roberts questioning the very essence of the CBA, namely the salary cap, with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver responding in a statement, "We will address all of these topics and others with the players association at the appropriate time."

Enter Mason, who has transitioned from his NBA career into the newly created union post of director of player relations. He recently has been touring locker rooms, including his recent stop back at AmericanAirlines Arena.

"It's all speculative," Mason said of those who see a 2017 NBA lockout as a given. "But one thing I know is I know our guys and I know our guys want their share. And so, ultimately, if that means opting out, or if that means the NBA is going to opt out, we're going to have to deal with it when we get there."

That has been the problem with the NBA, the insistence on "when we get there," rhetoric rather than substance tending to precede the 11th hour. Yet with the union adding Mason as a bridge between the players and the union's executive hierarchy, the opportunities for dialogue going forward figure to be ample.

"No player, no fan, and even the union, we don't want a lockout, we don't want a strike," Mason said as he walked between the Heat and Milwaukee Bucks locker rooms. "But, at the same time, sometimes the cost of doing business is standing firm on what you believe in. And I think us, as players, we believe in the fact that we work really hard. We're all very fortunate to even be in a position to make this kind of money."

To a degree, just as Roberts is making a name for herself with the players with her fiery rhetoric, Mason is looking at the next round of CBA negotiations as a means of setting things straight, having been at the bargaining table with the players at the previous round of collective bargaining.

"The one thing we know is the same story that they got away with back in 2011, which was all the teams were losing money, we tried to scream and holler, 'Well, what about franchise value?' and it came upon deaf ears on that point," he said. "Well, now the Clippers have sold for $2 billion. There are other sales that are going to happen, with Atlanta and so forth, that shows how much appreciation these teams actually create.

"And so the story is different. With Michele, she's coming in with a fresh perspective. She's coming in sort of as an outsider, but it's good to see, it's good to hear her philosophy, because I think that ultimately it will be good for us as players to understand that this time around those same excuses can't hold up."

To some, such rhetoric unnecessarily steers the sport from the court. But what previous CBA negotiations have shown is that it is never too early to start the process, with the other option almost assuredly to stop the games.

"At this point," Mason said, "I've been there once before. Michele has been one of the top litigators in the country. And we all realize the value that NBA players have. So I think this go-around, nobody is searching for a fight, but we do understand that when it's time to do business, we will be better prepared."

IN THE LANE

NEXT STEP:  Had it not been for some tax-trimming by the Heat last February, it very well could have been Roger Mason Jr. in the 2014 NBA Finals with the Heat instead of Toney Douglas. But Mason, who immediately was cut by the Sacramento Kings after that trade, said he has no regrets as he moved into the next phase of his professional career, with the National Basketball Players Association, having previously served as a vice president on the players' executive committee. "I always had an interest in the business side of the sport, and I didn't know whether it was going to be in management or with coaching, but I knew I wanted to stay involved in the game," he said of his current role as director of player relations with the union. "And I think over the last two or three years as my involvement with union, out of necessity became higher, it is something that I fell in love with and felt like I could really make a difference."

THREE OF A KIND: With his 26 points and 12 assists against the Heat on Thursday night, Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul recorded his 10th career double-doubles against the Heat, becoming just the third opponent with 10 or more double-double in points and assists against the Heat in the franchise's 27 seasons. He joins John Stockton (14) and Jason Kidd (11) on the list. As for all those alley-oop dunks against the Heat by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? Clippers coach Doc Rivers sees it as more substance than style. "If we can score 50 points off the lob, I'm all for it," he said. "We have two guys that even I could have thrown a lob to, really. It's not a hard pass with them because you could almost throw it anywhere."

DEFENSIVE STANCE: If the media zigs, it's safe to say Gregg Popovich will zag. So the San Antonio Spurs coach relished defending LeBron James before his team's game this past week against the Cleveland Cavaliers. When the door opened on James' offseason move from the Heat, Popovich swung for the fences. "I'm just happy for him whether he went to Timbuktu," Popovich said. "He should do what's best for him, his family. Everybody else can go swim in a lake. You all do what you want to do; LeBron should be able to do what he loves to do."

MOVING ON: By the time the Heat make it to Madison Square Garden on Nov. 30, it is possible former University of Miami guard Shane Larkin might have gone from starter to out of the New York Knicks' rotation, with the return of offseason trade acquisition Jose Calderon. "I'm not sure what's going to happen to me," Larkin acknowledged. "To be determined. We'll see what happens." Larkin, essentially a throw-in in the package that landed Calderon and Samuel Dalembert from the Mavericks in exchange for Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, has played nearly as much already this season as he did as a rookie last season in Dallas, when a preseason injury delayed his NBA debut.

NUMBER

3. Rank of Miami/Fort Lauderdale television market for Wednesday's Cavaliers-Spurs game on ESPN, with Cleveland No. 1 and San Antonio No. 2.

iwinderman@tribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/iraheatbeat or facebook.com/ira.winderman

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