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Do-or-die deadline for the NBA?

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Do-or-die deadline for the NBA?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- NBA owners, losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year, wanted an overhaul of the financial system to ensure themselves a chance to profit. Players, believing they were the driving force behind record TV ratings and revenues, wanted to keep what they felt they deserved. Now, negotiations that have lasted nearly two years need to end in the next few days. Commissioner David Stern said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if there is no agreement on a new deal by Monday, costing both sides money and driving away some basketball fans who might never come back. "There is an extraordinary hit coming to the owners and to the players," Stern said. Not to mention the people who work in the game and the businesses that depend on it. Stern has repeatedly said owners had two goals in the talks: a way to escape losses and a system where all teams could compete equally, noting that the NBA's small-market clubs aren't nearly as successful as Super Bowl champions like Indianapolis and Green Bay. The problem, they said, was a system that guarantees players 57 percent of all basketball-related income, which includes gate receipts, broadcast revenue, in-arena sales of novelties and concessions, arena signage revenue, game parking and sponsorship dollars. Another problem is a salary cap structure that allows teams to go well beyond it if they were willing to pay a luxury tax, which the big spenders in big markets such as Los Angeles and New York could easily afford. The sides are still divided over the revenue split and the cap, and players insist they would rather sit out games than take a deal that would eliminate gains they fought for years ago. "They're going to sacrifice -- if they lose games, they miss money and all that. They feel they have to take a stand the same way players took a stand for them before they were here. It's actually quite inspiring to listen to them articulate that," said players' attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who also represented NFL players during their four-month lockout this summer. "I think they saw how the NFL players stood together through tough times and ended up with a deal the NFL players thought was fair. They're thinking they're going to do the same thing." The cost, for both sides, would be staggering. Stern predicted a 200 million loss just for the cancellation of the NBA's entire preseason schedule. If arenas are dark on Nov. 1, when the real games are supposed to start, the damage will be even greater. "They're in the hundreds of millions of dollars," Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. "We're not prepared to share the specifics. But, yes, we've spent a lot of time with our teams walking through those scenarios of lost games, and the damage is enormous, will be enormous." Players' association executive director Billy Hunter said players would lose 350 million for each month they're locked out. The hardest hits likely will be felt by those off the court -- from the 114 people the NBA laid off in July to businesses that depend on fans flocking to the games. From the parking lot of his Crown Burgers restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, Mike Katsanevas can see the edge of EnergySolutions Arena, its blue-and-green lights already twinkling at dusk. What he may not see at all this year are the hundreds of fans who routinely pack his 224-seat restaurant before each Utah Jazz game, parking their cars for free if they order 14 in food, including his famous made-to-order patties crowned with pastrami. "For us, it's a tremendous impact if these games don't go through," said Katsanevas, whose family owns the restaurant just a block north of the arena and five others in the metro area. "Before it used to be our gravy. But now with the economy and everything else that's going on, it's become a necessity." He said all of his 41 employees will see their hours cut if the lockout continues. Players and owners did narrow the financial gap before talks broke down Tuesday. Players proposed lowering their BRI guarantee to 53 percent and owners increased their formal offer to 47 percent. Stern also said he discussed the idea of a 50-50 split, which was rejected by players. With each percentage point equivalent to roughly 38 million of last year's BRI total of 3.8 billion, the union believes a reduction from 57 percent to 53 percent is enough of a concession, saying it would transfer more than 1 billion to owners in six years. So while sharing 50-50 sounds great in kindergarten, it may not work for NBA players. Stern said the league had backed off other demands, like salary rollbacks and non-guaranteed contracts, while offering players a chance to opt out of the agreement after seven years. So there is hope of a compromise in the coming days. Both sides insist they are committed to making a deal, although Silver confirmed last season that some money-losing teams would be better off if there were no season. Fans wonder how the NBA could be on the brink of self-destruction over a few measly percentage points when its popularity has soared. The historic free agency period of 2010, which put LeBron James in Miami alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, brought a new level of interest that carried right through the Dallas Mavericks' victory over the Heat in the NBA finals. But in announcing the lockout on June 30, Stern noted that small-market owners didn't particularly enjoy the season or feel included in it, and many have little incentive to go back to a system that looks like the old one. Nor would players want to play under a system that restricts free agency or limits their earning potential. Hunter and union president Derek Fisher of the Lakers have said they are prepared to sit rather than accept a bad deal. That could be the outcome, as damaging as it seems, without a big change in a short amount of time. "I haven't talked to all 400-plus guys, but the guys that I have talked to are all on the same page. While it would be devastating for fans and everything like that, right now we're dealing with some serious business," Detroit's Ben Gordon said. "One thing Derek said is we have to stand for something. It's not only today we're playing for -- it's also tomorrow, for the guys who aren't in the league yet."

As Mitch Trubisky goes, so do the Bears. Right now, that looks like a good thing.

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USA Today

As Mitch Trubisky goes, so do the Bears. Right now, that looks like a good thing.

CHICAGO – The only person who wasn’t happy for Mitch Trubisky was Mitch Trubisky. 

If you watched the suited, showered, and subdued Trubisky stand at the podium under Soldier Field on Thursday night, you would have never guessed he just kept the Bears’ playoff hopes alive by throwing for 241 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-24 win. Instead, the much-maligned quarterback navigated through the 12-minute press conference with the enthusiasm of someone reporting for jury duty.

“Nah, I don’t care about that,” Trubisky said, when asked if he’ll take a moment over the next 11 days to enjoy the win. “I’m just trying to get better every week. Continue to stay hungry and progress each week. We’ve gotten better over the last couple weeks – I’m talking as a team – and that’s what’s most important to me. That’s what allows you to play better as an individual - if you focus on the team first.” 

Aside from the hip debacle in Los Angeles, the quarterback’s infamously-unflappable demeanor hasn’t changed much throughout the few ups and many, many more downs of his third NFL season. What has changed, noticeably, has been his play on the field. Trubisky has ended the last two games with quarterback ratings over 100 and finished both with completion percentages over 70% – the first time he’s gotten over that benchmark since Week 3 against Washington, and only the third time all year. He’s now thrown six touchdowns in two games; Trubisky didn’t even have his sixth touchdown pass of the season until Week 10. 

He was not without flaws on Thursday night, as another ill-advised red zone interception shot the Bears' first drive in the foot. But once again, it was his response – a six-play, 46 yard drive that resulted in the tying score – that had the Bears talking after Club Dub allowed the media in. 

"He's the same guy whether he throws a pick or he doesnt," Charles Leno said. "He's the same guy from the beginning of the game to the end. That's what I love about him."

And while he wasn’t interested in spending time talking about his mini-renaissance, his teammates were more than happy to set the record straight. 

“He’s been a leader,” said Anthony Miller, who continued his strong second-half play with another touchdown catch of his own. “A lot of people have been doubting him, calling him this, that and the third. But we’ve been rocking with him in this locker room. We’ve always had confidence in him, coach has had confidence in him, and he’s just showing y’all we he can do. It’s no surprise to us.”

“We followed our leader Mitch…” added David Montgomery. “ … For me, it’s like a ‘ah-ha!’ moment. Because you see somebody work so hard day-in and day-out. But you’re finally able to see it. A lot of people kind of jumped ship on 10, but Coach Nagy always preaches about staying together as one, and Mitch steps up. I’m just happy for him and happy he’s our quarterback.” 

A packed Soldier Field was even treated to some vintage (if you consider 2018 to be a long time ago, which the Bears players DEFINITELY do) Trubisky on Thursday night. At the start of the 4th quarter, in a two-score game, the Bears dialed up on option play on 1st and 10. Trubisky made the right read, tucked the ball and – after some fine blocking up front – shook Cowboys’ safety Xavier Woods out of his shoes on the way to a 23-yard score. 

“The best part of that, for me, was how excited my teammates got afterwards.” Trubisky said. “Really cool moment. It was good.” 

The Bears have fully adopted the no-one-believes-in-us mantra, but in the quarterback’s case, it’s true. Everyone on the Bears have stood behind him – perhaps at times to a fault – and now, or at least the next 11 days, that decision is starting to feel justifiable. 

“I think one thing is for sure, everybody is seeing what type of people we have on this football team,” Nagy said. “No one has flinched. We've pulled together, become even tighter. We're winning football games now. We're playing as a team.”

Mitch Trubisky's domination of the Cowboys hints at consistency in the future

Mitch Trubisky's domination of the Cowboys hints at consistency in the future

The Bears' win over Cowboys a true turning point for Trubisky 

Matt Nagy had it wrong. After Mitch Trubisky had rallied for a fourth-quarter comeback against the inept Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, Nagy treated himself and his quarterback to a spot of gush:

“Today was Mitch’s day,” Nagy declared.

No. THIS Thursday was Trubisky’s day, a moment when a young quarterback, with the season hanging in the balance, took the heart out of a top-10 defense in the course of a 31-24 upset of the Dallas Cowboys, a third straight win for a now 7-6 Bears team that put together a rare complete game in all phases.

The result, the Bears’ fourth in their last five, allowed BearsNation to keep dreaming playoff dreams, particularly with the Minnesota Vikings (8-4) hosting Detroit on Sunday and the Lions having won three of the last five in Minneapolis. The Vikings and Los Angeles Rams both need to lose two of their final four while the Bears win out, but stranger things have happened this NFL season.

“What I do like is everybody seeing what kind of people we have on this football team,” Nagy said, adding, “I just know that we gotta win. If we don’t win, none of those [playoff-chances] percentages matter.”

But the point this night was Trubisky, who played arguably his finest game as an NFL quarterback, factoring in the caliber of opposition, pressure on the game and his total performance quantitatively and qualitatively. This occasion marked consecutive games in which Trubisky has taken the field trailing at some point trailing and left it winning.

The question that the coming weeks will answer is whether this in fact was something of a turning point in Trubisky’s career, regardless of whether he gets his team to the postseason. Trubisky has had better games statistically but none in games of this importance and against a defense as good as Dallas’.

“That’s what we’re going for, what the whole point of this is,” Trubisky said. “I think it makes us hungrier and we want that feeling week after week.”

Trubisky took charge after a first-drive disaster in the form of his fourth 2019 red-zone interception and picked the Bears up, not once but twice in a must-win situation. His 115.5 rating, on 23-of-31 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns, was the highest of his career against a top-10 defense and the first since the second and third games of his rookie season when coach John Fox and Dowell Loggains strait-jacketed him.

This was entirely different, in multiple ways, both for the quarterback and the entire team.

What Trubisky didn’t cut out of the Cowboys soul with a 17-point first half, leading an offense that hadn’t scored 17 points in six of its previous 12 games, the defense did in eviscerating a Dallas offense that in 2019 had amassed 400-plus yard nine times and 399 once. Despite missing four starters (three injury inactives plus linebacker Roquan Smith, down with a pectoral injury early in the first quarter), the defense held Dallas to 184 yards through three quarters, at which time the Bears led 24-7, their biggest third-quarter bulge since the 28-9 tally vs. Washington back in game three.

A fumble by running back David Montgomery at the Dallas 40 gave the ball to the Cowboys late in the third quarter with the Bears driving for an elimination score. The resulting touchdown, a second by running back Ezekiel Elliott of two yards, allowed Dallas within 10 at 24-14.

Trubisky’s comebacks

But somehow fittingly on this occasion, Trubisky answered that himself, effectively calling his own number and keeping the football on a zone-read. He then proceeded to weave his way nine yards through dispirited Cowboys for a score that left the Cowboys screaming at each other on the bench or just at anything handy on a night when yelling was about all they could do well.

“The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards.” Trubisky said, smiling.

Very, very significantly, it was not the first “comeback” Trubisky engineered on a night when he looked every bit like an NFL playoff quarterback.

Trubisky shook off a first-drive interception in the red zone, his fourth of the season, to generate four straight scoring drives that included touchdown passes of five and eight yards to Allen Robinson and 14 to Anthony Miller and a 36-yard Eddy Pineiro field goal.

According to Stats by STATS, Trubisky became the first quarterback in NFL history to complete more than 70 percent of his passes on more than 30 attempts, throw three or more touchdown passes, rush for more than 50 yards and rush for a touchdown.

In a major positive indicator for the offense under Trubisky, the offense has gone from Robinson leading or tied for most receptions in six of the first seven games, to no receiver leading two weeks in a row over the last six games: Taylor Gabriel/David Montgomery vs. Philadelphia, Robinson vs. Detroit, Gabriel vs. the Rams, Tarik Cohen at the Giants, Miller in Detroit and Cohen (6) against Dallas.

A suspect Dallas team but….

One sense going into Thursday night was that if the Cowboys fell behind, they were a reasonable bet to emotionally quit, an underachieving team that has listened the past few weeks to owner Jerry Jones oil the hinges of a trap door under his head coach Jason Garrett, a situation not entirely to the liking of his team. Indeed, as the first half wore on and the Bears scored to tie, then lead 10-7, the Cowboys became increasingly ragged, with receivers clearly not in phase with quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys eventually missing a 42-yard field goal.

But NFL teams rarely quit without being beaten, which the Bears did in holding All-Pro running back Elliott and one of the NFL’s elite offensive lines to 81 rushing yards, only 10 of which Elliott gained in the second half.

One overarching reality Thursday night was that the Bears weren’t playing some NFL version of the Washington Generals.

This was a moment of reckoning for the Bears and Trubisky in particular in a season in which five of their six victories were against teams with three or fewer wins (Washington, Detroit, New York), for an offense that failed to score 20 points in seven of its 12 games. Trubisky for his part, with a history of lackluster performances against better defenses, had evinced next to no ability to lift his game against competition at the higher levels, which the Dallas Cowboys defense was, ranking in the top 10 for fewest points and total and passing yards allowed.

“The guys on offense are stepping up to the challenge, accepting it,” Nagy said. “That was a very, very good front four there today and that’s a ‘light’ way to put it.”

Consistency coming?

The situation had not reached the depths of “Good Rex/Bad Rex” over Trubisky’s going-on three Bears season. But his inconsistency from game to game, even within games, has loomed as a disturbing element in a sport where “consistency” is the first must-have virtue cited by coaches and players.

Actually, that’s not altogether accurate. Trubisky has had stretches of consistency but they have too often been stretches of mediocrity: three games of sub-87 passer ratings (Saints, Chargers, Eagles), a 131.0 rating despite five sacks in a win over Detroit, then two clunkers (Rams, Giants), then good again against the Lions.

This is not the first season Trubisky’s performance chart resembles a seismograph. Last season three tepid performances to start the season were followed by games vs. Tampa Bay and Miami with a combined 9 TD passes and one interception folding into passer ratings of 154.6 and 122.5. He closed with three straight strong outings in wins over Green Bay, San Francisco, and Minnesota, then let the playoff game get away with three quarters of vapid before a good fourth quarter, which was not enough thanks to Cody Parkey.

And running through all of that has been a pattern of Trubisky failing to produce good games against better teams. That had the feeling of changing Thursday night.

“We’ve just got to focus on staying hungry and staying humble each week,” Trubisky said.

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