Success despite strife
Stern says league able to prosper
OKLAHOMA CITY - Commissioner David Stern offered his State of the League address before Game 1, expressing relief that the NBA enjoyed a successful season after the labor dispute. Stern said the league was able to receive its full compensation from ESPN and TNT despite wiping out 20 percent of the season.
The Oklahoma City-Miami battle, he pointed out, is a testament to two methods of building championship contenders: through the draft for the Thunder and through free agency for the Heat.
The league’s owners feared that smaller-market teams such as the Thunder would lose out on talent and be outspent by bigger-market clubs if the financial structure was not drastically changed. The NBA did not get the hard cap it wanted but one that levied heavier luxury taxes.
“The key feature for me is the leveling of the playing field, because you have to get under the cap [to improve],’’ Stern said. “So even if you’re a big team, what they call a big market, I don’t think that is going to be relevant anymore.
“Think hard cap. It’s everyone’s the same. Ours isn’t quite as hard as we would have liked, but it’s still going to be an important component, and so teams will be very harshly judged on their drafts and on their use of cap money that they have available for the signing of free agents.’’
Stern also said the league’s Competition Committee, which includes Celtics coach Doc Rivers, will meet Monday to discuss, among other things, the block/charge call and flopping . . . Stern said USA Basketball is contemplating using only players 23 and under for the Olympics because NBA owners have expressed concerned over their highly paid players risking injury . . . Miami coach Erik Spoelstra stuck to the starting lineup he used in the final three games of the Eastern finals against the Celtics, bringing Chris Bosh off the bench.
Friends and enemies
While the Celtics faithful desperately wanted a chance at title No. 18, the NBA public appears to relish the matchup between LeBron James and Kevin Durant in this year’s Finals.
James, the Heat superstar, is a three-time MVP, yet one of the greatest players never to win a championship. The Thunder’s 23-year-old Durant is a silky smooth scorer who handles the ball like a point guard but has the length to shoot over forwards. If the three-time reigning scoring champion isn’t the league’s best player, he is second to James.
The two are friends, with James giving Durant advice since Durant’s high school days in Washington, D.C. When Durant was the second overall pick by the Seattle SuperSonics in 2007, he consulted James for advice on being a potential franchise-saving player.
James filled the same role with the Cleveland Cavaliers and led them to the NBA Finals in his fourth season. Durant has led the Thunder to the championship series in his fifth year. They faced off in Game 1 of the Finals Tuesday night, defending each other in an epic matchup.
“Of course, they had one of the best teams in the league this year, so it was easy for people to say that we were going to meet in the Finals,’’ Durant said before the Thunder took Game 1, 105-94. “Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup or me vs. LeBron, but it’s the Thunder vs. the Heat.
“One guy vs. another guy, it’s not going to be a one-on-one matchup to win the series, it’s going to be all about the team. It’s going to be fun.’’
In the series opener, Durant had 36 points and eight rebounds and James finished with 30 points and nine boards.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.