It appears that the chaos surrounding the NBA Players Association is beginning to get cleared up, and now the question is whether major structural changes are in store.
NBPA president Derek Fisher told the Globe last month that he was waiting for the results of an independent investigation into the inner workings of the association — mostly executive director Billy Hunter — before making any decision on whether to continue in office.
Hunter was accused of such things as nepotism — especially when it came to financial dealings with a firm that employed Hunter’s son — and neglecting to get his contract extension approved by the NBPA body.
A report by the law firm of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison was released this past week and made some interesting observations on Hunter’s actions.
The NBPA executive committee, which includes Celtics player development coordinator Keyon Dooling, sought to oust Fisher, but he has refused to resign. Fisher pushed for the investigation into the union’s actions, and it appears that some of his concerns about its workings were legitimate.
According to the report, while no criminal wrongdoing was discovered by the firm, “the facts do show that, at times, Mr. Hunter’s actions were inconsistent with his fiduciary obligations to put the interests of the Union above his personal interests. Further, Mr. Hunter did not properly manage conflicts of interest.”
In addition, Hunter’s contract was never universally approved by the union’s Board of Representatives, one of Fisher’s most serious accusations.
“We also find that the NBPA’s Board of Player Representatives never properly approved Mr. Hunter’s current employment contract with the Union as required by the Union’s Constitution and By-Laws, that Mr. Hunter was aware that his current contract was never properly approved and that he knowingly failed to disclose this information to the Executive Committee and the Player Representatives,” the report states.
The report suggested that “the NBPA should consider whether Mr. Hunter should remain as the Union’s Executive Director and whether new and more effective controls should be enacted to govern the NBPA, its Foundation and its Executive Director.”
The report finds that Hunter negotiated his new contract in 2010 without the union having unbiased legal representation in working out the deal. Instead, Hunter’s confidant, the late Gary Hall, negotiated the extension, which bumped Hunter’s salary $700,000 to $3 million per year.
Because Hunter’s contract was not properly ratified, the report said, the board and the NBPA executive committee should consider whether or not he stays on when it convenes at All-Star Weekend next month in Houston. It is uncertain whether that will occur.
The report also addressed accusations of nepotism, as Hunter has hired his daughter, daughter-in-law, nephew, and son to work with the union or related business.
“His choices created the appearance that he operated the Union in part for the benefit of his family and friends,” the report said. “It was not possible to determine precisely when a tipping point was reached, but at some point in time, NBPA employees concluded that Mr. Hunter was running the Union as a ‘family business’ and, in the word of one, felt ‘surrounded’ by Hunter family members.”
Whether Hunter remains as executive director will be determined by the powers in the executive committee and Board of Representatives. According to a league source, there are two factions in the union — those who are supportive of and loyal to Hunter, and those who are not and believe he has lost the past two labor negotiations to commissioner David Stern.
There are other accusations against Hunter in the report, such as getting paid for an excessive amount of vacation time, mishandling union money with investments, and buying gifts for committee members with union money.
In a statement, Hunter said, “While I strongly disagree with some of the findings contained in the report, I am pleased it recognized that I have not engaged in criminal acts nor was I involved in misappropriation of union funds.
“Regarding my contract — my third in a long tenure of the organization — it was ratified by the NBPA Executive Committee and signed by President Derek Fisher. I believe the contract and extensions are valid. I am pleased to discuss with the Player Representative board any concerns about my contract.
“During my tenure, the salaries of NBA players have more than doubled, and they are the highest-paid athletes in the world. When I arrived at the NBPA in 1996, the challenges were significant. The Union’s financial liabilities exceeded its assets. Today the Union is solvent and its financial future is secure.”
Hunter made it clear he has no plans to resign.
“I look forward to continuing my work with the NBPA, adopting additional recommendations from the report and opening a new chapter of NBPA governance,” his statement said.
“I will be reaching out to the membership to discuss the report and address ways to pursue the best path forward for the NBPA.”
The NBPA’s power structure is uncertain, as many of the game’s highest-paid and more influential players do not participate in union issues. So Fisher and his group of supporters could have a louder voice than before, but it will likely not be powerful enough to unseat Hunter.
If anything, the report demonstrated that more players need to be involved in the union’s business structure and decision-making — or it could weaken even more or even dissolve.
CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE
Young Rivers a bit shaken
Austin Rivers had a well-deserved reputation for being a confident player in his high school, AAU, and college days. But before he scored 8 points in 23 minutes against his father’s Celtics Wednesday, the Hornets guard had scored a total of 10 points in his previous nine games, and he admitted that his once-impenetrable confidence had been shaken.
What’s left of that confidence is keeping him motivated.
“You've seen a lot of guys, rookies, especially our class this year, everyone’s been so up and down,” said Rivers. “There’s guys that I’ve known my whole life that don’t look the same, people with their heads down, and I think I’ve been a culprit as well.
“In games, I’ve had my head down. And that’s never been me. You’ve got to stay up and stay confident and believe in yourself, because to be truthful, confidence for me is a huge part of my game, and I think everyone knows that.
“I’ve gotten here, obviously, off of my hard work and support behind me, but my confidence has always been just steady. No matter how good or bad I play, I always believe in myself. And I think that’s what I’ve got to improve on more, even now, because there’s been times after games where I ask myself, ‘What was I doing?’
“But you can’t think like that, you’ve got to keep going at it. I’ve got to keep going for it, and I know when I do that and I break through it, it’s going to feel so much better.”
Older brother Jeremiah Rivers said it has been strange to see his brother struggle with confidence because that’s always been one of his strengths.
“It’s been weird to see because we haven’t seen that in a while, a good while,” Jeremiah said. “But I know it’s a little natural, and it’s OK, and that was my message to him.
“It’s OK to struggle with your confidence a little. Don’t let it bring you down. It’s part of being a 20-year-old kid in a grown man’s league.
“You’re going up against LeBron James, Kevin Durant, you have to guard Chris Paul, the best players in the world. It’s OK, man. It will all be OK. I’m not worried at all.”
A SALE AND TWO CITIES
Kings aren’t there just yet
The prospects of the NBA returning to Seattle are as bright as they have been in the five years since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City. But being the competitor that he is, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA All-Star, will continue to seek local buyers as he tries to keep the Kings in the California capital.
As for Seattle, the ownership group led by Chris Hansen has made an offer to the Maloofs, but NBA sources said the amount is short of the reported $525 million. According to Forbes Magazine, the Kings are the 23d most valuable NBA team at $300 million, so it’s highly unlikely the Hansen group would offer nearly twice that.
Commissioner David Stern is in a quandary; he wants to right matters with Seattle before his tenure ends in 13 months, yet he doesn’t want to rip a team away from a city that voted for a new arena plan before the owners pulled out of the handshake agreement.
“The one thing we do know is that no purchase-and-sale agreement has been submitted to us,” said Stern, “and we assume if one were going to be executed, the next thing they would do is submit it to us.
“There’s been lots of speculation. The mayor of Sacramento has asked me, ‘Well, if it comes to pass, because we’ve been reading it in the newspapers’ — and he knows that anything he reads in the newspapers is likely to be accurate — ‘could I come in and address the Board of Governors for the relocation committee?’ And I said, ‘Always.’
“Communities that have supported us, and many that haven’t — but Sacramento has been particularly supportive — are always welcome to present. The mayor has been in before.”
The reality is, Stern wouldn’t mind if the Maloofs sold the team, and he also embraces the Seattle ownership group that includes Microsoft mogul Steve Ballmer and department store owner Peter Nordstrom. Also, a move from Sacramento to Seattle would involve the fewest changes for the league. The team could stay in the Pacific Division.
“The mayor of Seattle came in some time ago and told us that he was in favor of having a team, and we always entertain mayors, even for cities that don’t have teams,” said Stern. “Chris Hansen we understand to be a prospective builder there who has acquired land and has been in to have talks with us. But right now we don’t know anything in terms of actionable plans.”
Arena construction won’t begin in Seattle until an agreement is reached on an NBA team, so an incoming club would have to play in KeyArena for a few seasons.
Though NBA sources say such a deal to relocate the Kings there is nearly done, the league maintains the stance that if Sacramento has local buyers that are willing to keep the club there and would help construct a new arena, it will comply.
Celtics trying to save space
The Celtics waived Jarvis Varnado and Kris Joseph not only to clear roster space but to help them avoid the hard salary cap of $74 million. The Celtics have the sixth-highest payroll in the NBA but are approaching that cap because they used the mid-level exception on Jason Terry. In the new collective bargaining agreement, small-market owners pushed for more restrictions on the mid-level exception. In the previous agreement, teams were free to use a mid-level contract in the range of $5 million to $6 million per season. Teams can use the mid-level annually under the new agreement if they are over the salary cap but under the salary tax threshold. Because the Celtics were in that category, they were able to sign Terry, but now they cannot pay more than $74 million in salaries, regardless of the situation. The Celtics want to save their available cap space to add a piece for a playoff run.
Oden isn’t on fast track
Representatives for former No. 1 overall draft pick Greg Oden are adamant that the often-injured big man take his time in attempting a return to the court. It may be next season before he comes back. If Oden is able to physically handle the rigors of the NBA, there will be a slew of teams interested, even if he is relegated to a 20-minutes-per-game player. Oden has played a total of 82 NBA games while Kevin Durant, taken second overall in 2007, has turned into a superstar. The Celtics are among the teams that would be interested in Oden.
A player who could be on the move is Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, who has filled in admirably for the injured Chris Paul. Bledsoe is one of the league’s most explosive reserve guards and may be ready to run his own team. He would come as a bargain because he is still playing under his rookie contract. Paul is a free agent this summer but is expected to seriously consider returning to the Clippers . . . Another intriguing player on the market is former Sacramento forward Donte Greene, who was set to sign with the Nets before injuring his ankle. Greene was a first-round pick in 2008 but never gained any traction, and the Kings allowed his rookie contract to expire. Greene is long and has skills but he has been accused of living too much from the 3-point line, and his work ethic has been questioned. Greene is now healthy and worked out for the Timberwolves . . . The USC job is open, and a couple of coaches with NBA ties may be interested. Former USC guard Robert Pack, now a Clippers assistant, is a rising coach with NBA playing experience. And Reggie Theus, now coaching in the NBADL, may be a candidate.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.