Ray Ratto

Labor deal not owners' priority

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Labor deal not owners' priority

With time running out before the holiday season shutters all businesses, it is time for the National Hockey League owners to treat themselves. I mean, at this point, who else will?

And the treat? Cancelling the rest of the season, just so everyone knows that they mean business. Or in this case, lack of business.

It is clearly what they want now, just as much at this point as seeing Don Fehr with a spike through his head. They’re not talking, even though they’ve already received all the concessions made to this point. And their countersuit to the players’ disclaimer of interests threatens voiding all their contracts, essentially making every player an unrestricted free agent.

In other words, the years of roster- and franchise-building are now considered expendable to the greater need, which is showing the continent who’s boss.

And the only way the owners can do that and feel good about themselves to themselves now is to close the shop, put their feet up and say, “Well, that was a good year’s work.” Because it’s a very short step from “We don’t care who’s on our team” to “We don’t care if we have a team.”

And that is the hill with the little tiny flag they have decided is good to die upon, for reasons that baffle all other interested parties.

They surely see the signs everyone else does. Commercially, companies are leaving the hockey market in droves, or making massive reductions in investment. The television networks are already thick with alternative programming – except of course for the NHL Network, which has a smaller inventory than most junior college TV stations.

In addition, two Canadian polls have found (through the small sample size that limits all such endeavors) that more than half of the nation doesn’t give a damn whether they come back or not. Canada.

And in a triumph of meaningless statics conjoined to tell a greater truth, Gary Bettman’s personal odometer has just passed 2,000 days in the job, and 500 of those days on lockdown. And there is an increased interest in never seeing him touch the Stanley Cup again.

And Bettman is just the office manager in this little enterprise. We now also know who the hardline owners are leading the charge to keep the padlocks in place, the moderate owners who feel like negotiating a deal on everyone’s behalf is beneath them, and the ones just waiting for someone to give them a check. And as we know, the modern owner craves only money more than anonymity. Knowing who the villains, the silent majority and the spongers are by name works against their interests.

That’s why they hired Bettman – to be the abuse magnet for this sorry performance. And he’s outlived his value.

It is now clear to anyone that the owners are so tired of dealing with the boogeyman they have created in Fehr that they’d rather not deal at all. And Fehr isn’t going anywhere, which leaves them with Option B.

The “Closed For The Season” sign in the front window.

Some will suggest that the union is responsible for this state of affairs, on the basis that you always do what the boss says whether you like it or not. Well, no – not in collective bargaining.

In addition, as we said, the union has done all the significant giving here, and the art of making a deal is not insisting upon surrender but finding a midpoint that can be airtight (for owners who like to screw with the salary cap rules) and hurt everyone an endurable amount.

Baseball owners learned this while dealing with Fehr, amazingly, and their business has grown sixfold in 15 years.

The NHL owners have decided it isn’t the deal that’s important, though, but the head on the stick. They’ve already shown how little they think of those whose livelihoods depend on the ancillary businesses around the sport, so feeling bad for arena workers and souvenir salesmen and restaurateurs, etc., is wasted on them.

And now that they’ve been properly and publicly shamed for preferring the pike to the pen, and having discovered that Bettman is now more a screen door than a shield, blame delegation wise, they’re kind of cornered, public relations-wise.

Thus, they have to give to each other in a bizarre Secret Santa ritual that probably has to be held in a dark cave. And what they have to give is another cancelled season. After all, they did so well with the last one that they clearly remember it only with fondness.

So they may as well get on with it. Or in this case, off with it. They’ve made Canada hate the sport they sell. They’ve made television hate the programming they provide. They’ve made corporate America treat them like they were  anthrax salesmen. They’ve run the table.

So a hearty fa-la-la-la-feh to all 30 merry gentlemen. They’ve made another holiday extra special – for each other. Now they can talk about the sport they all profess to love in the past tense, a fitting reward for them all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

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USATSI

Who is now the Warriors' biggest rival?

Earlier we discussed how the Golden State Warriors have seemingly moved beyond hating on NBA officials (three technical fouls in 18 days is a stunning reversal of their formerly disputatious form), but we may have forgotten one new reason why they have found a more Buddhist approach to the cutthroat world of American competitive sport.

They lack someone new to hate.

Their much-chewed-upon rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers actually lasted two years, and now the Clippers are busy trying to prevent military incursions into their locker room from the Houston Rockets. Their even more famous archrivalry with the Cleveland Cavaliers seems to be imploding – with the total connivance of the Cavs themselves – before our eyes. Even cutting off their hot water made them laugh when two years ago not letting the Warriors' wives get to the game on time torqued them mightily.

And since we know that you locals desperately need a bête noire for your heroes (even though their biggest foe is actually their own attention spans), let us consider the new candidates.

HOUSTON

The Rockets have been among the Warriors’ most persistent contender/pretenders, having faced them in both the first round of the 2017 postseason and the conference finals in 2015. Both ended in 4-1 Warrior wins as part of a greater piece – Golden State is 19-4 against the Rockets in the Warriors’ bad-ass era, 10-2 at home and 9-2 on the road, and has finished an aggregate 59.5 games ahead of the Rockets in the past three and a half years.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include James Harden and Chris Paul, while Rockets fans loathe Draymond Green and Kevin Durant and work their way down from there.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 32,353): 19. The Rockets need to win a playoff series before even matching the Clippers, who as we all know came and went in a moment.

SAN ANTONIO

The previous platinum standard in Western Conference basketball, the Spurs have never really gone away, though they have aged. Their pedigree is not in dispute, and Steve Kerr has essentially become the next generation of Gregg Popovich. It is hard to create a rivalry out of such shamelessly mutual admiration.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include . . . uhh, maybe Kawhi Leonard for winning two Defensive Player Of The Year Awards instead of Draymond Green, though that’s not much to go on, frankly. Spurs fans hate Zaza Pachulia for stepping beneath Leonard and ending last year’s series before it started.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 23): 1. If they didn’t have to play against each other, I suspect these two teams would date.

OKLAHOMA CITY

The Thunder’s 3-1 collapse in 2016 is all but ignored now because the Warriors did the same thing one series later, but lifting Kevin Durant was quite the consolation prize for Golden State, and the definitive finger in the eye for the Thunder, who turned their team over completely to Russell Westbrook, for good and ill. Even with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are still trying to relocate their stride.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Westbrook and Anthony for defining the I-need-the-ball-in-my-hands-to-function generation, and owner Clay Bennett for Seattle SuperSonics nostalgics. Thunder frans hate Durant, followed by Durant, Durant, Kim Jong-un, Durant, leprosy, Draymond Green’s foot, and Durant.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 440): 220. Westbrook is a human lightning rod, Anthony is the antithesis of what Warriors now regard basketball (they’d have loved him a quarter-century ago), and Stephen Adams for getting his goolies in the way of Green’s foot. Plus, some savvy Warrior fans can blame OKC for extending their heroes to seven games, thus making the final against Cleveland that much more difficult. This could work, at least in the short term.

PORTLAND

Damian Lillard is a much-beloved local. Plus, the Blazers have never interfered in the Warriors’ universe save their 1-8 postseason record. There are no truly hateable players on either side, though Stephen Curry threw his first mouthpiece in Portland, and Green is a perennial.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 1): 0.

BOSTON

The new pretender to throne, with the Eastern Conference’s version of Kerr in Brad Stevens. Even better since taking advantage of Kyrie Irving’s weariness with LeBron James, and until proven otherwise the team the Warriors should most concern themselves with.

Hateable players for Warrior fans include Irving, who made the only shot in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, while Celtics fans hate Durant for not signing with them.

RIVALRY RATING (out of 67.7): 26, though this will rise if the two teams meet in the Finals. The last time they did, Bill Russell owned basketball.

THE REST OF THE EAST

Still too remote to adequately quantify, though Toronto, Miami and Milwaukee are clearly difficult matches for the Warriors. If you put them together, Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Hassan Whiteside with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe coming off the bench, coached by either Eric Spoelstra or Jason Kidd, would make a fun team for the Warriors to play against. Probably not functional, but fun.

And finally:

SACRAMENTO

Some decade the two teams’ geographical proximity will matter, but for now, they remain essentially two full professional leagues away from each other. We just mentioned them so Kings fans wouldn’t feel any more slighted than they already do.

How? Why? In 2018, the Warriors have been borderline zen

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USATSI

How? Why? In 2018, the Warriors have been borderline zen

On a day and night when 21 technical fouls were called and five players ejected over 11 National Basketball Association games, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers received none of either in a game that should have created enough tension to warm the Yukon. This clearly makes no sense . . .

. . . unless of course the Warriors, having set a new trend early in the season for agonized dissent, have moved on to whatever the next thing is.

While a simmering uncivil war has bubbled between officials (and the management types who started this whole thing by telling officials to cut down on conversations and calm interactions with players and coaches), the Warriors have been on as close to their best behavior as they can manage.

Since the new year turned, the Warriors have played eight games and amassed only three technicals, one to Steve Kerr and two to players (Zaza Pachulia and, yes, you guessed it, Draymond Green). Oh, they still lead the league with 29 spaced over eight players and Kerr, plus seven ejections led by Kevin Durant’s three, but their seemingly insurmountable lead has been reduced to three over Oklahoma City and Phoenix (Phoenix?) and four over Houston and Charlotte (Charlotte?).

Indeed, you’d think that they could have mustered up at least one Monday night in Cleveland given the hype for this seemingly dying rivalry. I mean, the league even offered up one of its best and most strident officials in Scott Foster, whom Warrior fans are convinced is deliberately mean to the Warriors.

But here, too, is an outdated trope. The Warriors are 14-1 in their last 15 regular season games with Foster, and their postseason record of 7-5 with him is more a measure of him getting the maximum number of Finals games, where the Warriors have seven of their 16 postseason defeats. That doesn’t prove bias as much as it does frequency of use.

But we wander into the woods here. The point is, as the new discussion point is the much-advertised summit meeting between officials and players union officials at the All-Star break, the Warriors have been borderline zen. Why? Who knows? Maybe player performance maven Chelsea Lane is putting tranquilizers into their athletic drinks. Maybe they’ve taken up chanting. Maybe they can turn their ire on and off as they do the rest of their game. Or maybe these are the dog days for mouthing off at The Man.

Except that everyone else in the league seems to be taking up the cause of the revolution, so that last one can't be it.

Now we are willing to accept the possibility that so many day games Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday put the players off their typical routine, although the biggest incident of the evening happened in the night game between Houston and the Los Angeles Clippers.

It may simply be, then, that the Warriors either have nothing more to complain about, have taken to heart the lectures about their lectures, or they really have moved on to the next thing that separates them from the field.

Maybe never losing a road game ever again. Although, tediously enough, that is a record already held by . . . yes, them.