Tamika Tremaglio has been thrust into a fascinating, complicated, and yet fruitful situation as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association.
She is 13-plus months into the job, but the former managing principal at Deloitte has been one of the central figures in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the league.
Talks have been amicable. The NBA is flourishing. Gone are the days when small-market owners complained about exorbitant player salaries and about being unable to compete with the large-market teams.
“Someone I know described it as a marriage because you have to have this pseudo-sense of compromise,” Tremaglio said. “You’ve still got to like each other because we still have a job to do. We still want to grow the business. We still want to grow the pot. We want our fans to engage with us. We have to strike that balance, which is the unique piece of this.”
The Bucks won the championship two years ago, have one of the league’s best players (Giannis Antetokounmpo) on a long-term deal, and recently agreed to sell a percentage of the team at a $3.5 billion valuation, 75 percent more than Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers nine years ago.
The league’s television contract expires in 2025, and there are several additional networks interested in broadcasting rights, making the next CBA even more compelling.
Tremaglio said she wants a fair deal but also wants the players to have an additional stake in the financial pie. The goal is more of a partnership than an employer-employee relationship.
“The league is doing well, but I think the challenges we have is sort of this paradigm shift, the players are much more powerful now,” Tremaglio said. “LeBron [James] has [nearly 53 million Twitter] followers and the Lakers have 11 million. So when somebody puts something out, you’re going to be paying more attention to what are brands going to be going after? They’re going to be going after LeBron, the same is true with Steph [Curry], double with what Golden State has. The players’ market has shifted. Our players are more powerful. Our players want to be seen at the same level and want to be treated accordingly.
“Hypothetically, if you allow a governor to be in sports betting, why can’t our players be? They have to carve it out, why can’t we carve it out? That’s more of the tug-of-war, is around the power, I believe, as opposed to, there are some dollar and cents things, but in general, that’s what we are really looking for, equity. And the collective is very unified on that. They want to make sure that they’re recognized for the value they bring to the game.”
There are other issues to negotiate, such as load management, the one-and-done rule, and the length of the schedule, but the league and union have made progress. The primary issue for Tremaglio is a truly balanced partnership between players and owners, something that has never existed in the NBA.
“[The owners] see they don’t have the same power they used to have, which is fine because we all want the same thing,” Tremaglio said. “If they could sort of get on the same page, and many of them have, let’s be clear about that, in terms of everybody wants to grow fan engagement, everyone wants to grow the pie, everyone wants to increase competition, we all want the same thing, but they have to recognize the things you could do back in the ‘60s, you cannot do now. It shouldn’t be that way, quite frankly.
“[Most people] get to choose where we want to work, we get to choose when we don’t want to work there because there are things we may or may not agree to. Why wouldn’t that be true of our players? Those are the things I think are more challenging and those are more emotional things than money. Those are the things that move people more than money.”
In 2011, talks between commissioner David Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter became contentious because the sides were divided on several financial issues, including basketball-related income. The past decade has seen unprecedented growth in the league. Teams are valued in the billions of dollars.
But the stakes are higher this time because of the booming finances and upcoming multibillion-dollar television deal, plus the emergence of sports betting, game streaming, potential expansion, and a midseason tournament. The players want more of an influence on how the business of the NBA operates.
“That’s the thing that’s so critical to understand, it is different,” Tremaglio said. “I don’t think [the owners] like that it’s different. We raise our children because we want them to go out and do well, and that’s what you would expect from the governors, as well. Many of them have gotten on board, but just those types of things is where the rub is.”
Lillard having a career season
Damian Lillard is averaging a career-high 32.3 points in his age-32 season, remarkable considering 20 of the players taken in the first round of Lillard’s draft (2012) are now out of the NBA. The Trail Blazers guard has established himself as one of the best long-range shooters in league history.
Lillard hasn’t gotten the exposure he deserves because he plays in Portland, but Celtics fans will get a long look at him over the next two weeks, as the teams meet twice. Lillard attributes his bounce-back to having abdominal surgery last season, an injury he said had hampered him for years.
This season, he’s shooting a career-best 47.2 percent from the field and is third in the NBA in 3-pointers. Lillard has become an unstoppable scorer because of his ability to stretch defenses from the arc and also take defenders off the dribble.
“My game isn’t based on being super athletic or anything like that,” he said. “I’m not the fastest point guard in the league. I play a quick game, a crafty game. I’m smart. I can shoot the ball. I think being able to shoot the ball the way I can shoot it off the dribble, off the catch, off screens, whatever, that’s a weapon that allows you to play for a longer period of time.”
Lillard remains committed to Portland, even though the Blazers don’t appear any closer to becoming an elite team in the Western Conference. They are surrounding Lillard with young players, hoping his prime extends into his mid-30s.
“Being a student of the game, you’re able to manipulate the game in ways that everybody can’t do,” he said. “So for me, I know that I’ll be able to play at a high level as long as I want to play. Obviously not when I’m an old man, but I’ll be able to do it for a long time. Getting surgery last season, correcting something that I had been dealing with for a few years, I feel like that set me back to 27. I’m basically 27 now. I’ve got a while to go.”
Lillard feels he could be considered among the top echelon of shooters in NBA history, behind Stephen Curry. That’s in the neighborhood of Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, James Harden, and Larry Bird. Lillard is sixth all time in 3-pointers, 946 behind Curry at No. 1.
“We all know who and what Steph is as a shooter is just different,” said Lillard, “but after that I feel like I’m right there in the mix with whoever else comes after that.”
Silver no fan of public demands
Kevin Durant, who was traded for the first time a few weeks ago, made headlines at All-Star Weekend by saying trade demands shouldn’t be private and are good for the NBA. Of the 30 NBA teams, 28 made a trade before the deadline, with Durant and Kyrie Irving going to Phoenix and Dallas, respectively, and changing the power structure in the Western Conference.
The NBA does not agree with Durant. The commissioner and owners believe public trade demands cause locker room chaos, lack of fan support, and other issues. Players are subject to fines for making public trade demands, but several players, including Patrick Beverley and Thomas Bryant, stated they made private demands before being moved by the Lakers.
Durant demanded a trade from the Nets last summer — the demand was leaked to reporters — and eventually rescinded it after meeting with Nets owner Joe Tsai. Irving requested a trade shortly after the Nets’ Feb. 1 loss to the Celtics and was moved four days later.
“When it comes to player movement, I generally think that’s positive,” commissioner Adam Silver said at All-Star Weekend. “In fact, we designed this current collective bargaining agreement with shorter contracts, for example, with the way free agency works, to allow for that.
“I think for fans, you don’t want your team to be locked into mediocrity. You want teams to be in a position with smart management where they can rebuild or make smart moves or, with both teams and players, work themselves out of bad relationships.”
Of course, the more player movement, the more attention the NBA gets. Fans tend to love trades and free agent signings. Once upon a time, the NFL was the lone sport to own a 24-hour, 365-day news cycle. The NBA has edged in on that territory. There are in-season discussions and debates about playoff races, the MVP competition, and the best crop of rookies. There’s trade deadline conversation, playoff talk, and during the summer, free agency dominates the headlines as well as summer league and Team USA basketball.
The league doesn’t believe trade demands are necessary headlines and wants players refraining from publicly airing dirty laundry. The demands made by Irving, and especially Durant, were a direct reflection of the chaos in the Brooklyn organization, whether credible or not.
“I think that the Players Association has agreed with us in our current collective bargaining agreement there are rules against making public trade demands,” Silver said. “I’ve said that many times before. I think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s corrosive to the system. Certainly fans don’t like it. Even lots of players don’t like it as well because, ultimately, they may be going to a particular team under a belief that that player is still going to be there.
“As [NBA vice president of basketball operations] Joe Dumars has pointed out to me many times, lots of players, [for a] long time, have behind the scenes asked for trades, but they haven’t been accommodated because ultimately the teams have concluded that’s not in their interest.”
More than 15 years ago, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant publicly requested a trade on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show. An unhappy Bryant wanted to play for the Bulls or rival Clippers. Lakers management assured Bryant his future was in Los Angeles (with the Lakers, not the Clippers) and he eventually won two more championships with the Lakers.
“You want to find the right balance,” Silver said. “You want, obviously, players to honor their contracts, and at the same time a certain amount of player movement is good. [I’m] so strongly against anything said publicly. I agree that a certain amount of player movement is good, but I think it has to be done in partnership and honoring those agreements that players and teams enter into.”
NBA looking to grow globally
The idea of a world basketball championship has been floated over the past several years, but the best the NBA can do is send a quality team overseas for preseason exhibition games. The NBA also has held regular-season games in Japan, China, Europe, and Mexico. Silver has wanted to expand into the European market, but logistically it’s next to impossible. The NBA likely would have to create an entire European division to reduce travel and that would require expansion, which is not in the immediate plans.
Silver was asked about the NBA champion matching up against the EuroLeague champion for a winner-take-all series. That is not likely to happen.
“Over the years we’ve had some different tournaments where NBA clubs have played European clubs,” Silver said. “It’s something we’ll continue to look at. I think it’s a question of creating the best possible competition. Part of the issue is the cycle of our season versus the EuroLeague. I don’t think it’s realistic that a team would finish the Finals after what we’ve all talked about is a very long season, and then go play in yet another tournament. And then often, because of player movement in this league, it’s a different team the following fall, and they’re not conditioned yet. They haven’t had an opportunity to jell with the team, and then they would enter it directly into competition.”
The most plausible idea would be for a top EuroLeague team to participate in a midseason tournament against NBA teams. But again, several issues would arise about the value of such a tournament, how that would affect regular-season records, and whether it would attract American fans.
“I think long term the way we should be looking at this is — and it may address the issue of the long regular season,” Silver said. “We’ve talked about an in-season tournament to create some additional excitement during the regular season. It may be that at some point there’s an in-season tournament, but it includes clubs from outside the NBA. So those are all ideas we’ll continue to look at.”
The Bulls waived backup guard Goran Dragic just before the deadline for waived players to be eligible for playoff rosters. The Bucks are likely to sign Dragic to supplement a backcourt that includes Jrue Holiday and the improving Jevon Carter. Another player available is Malden native Nerlens Noel, who could provide frontcourt depth for a contender. The Celtics have a roster spot open, and they could use two-way players JD Davison and Mfiondo Kabengele down the stretch, but their contracts would need to be upgraded to standard NBA deals to qualify for the playoff roster. The question for Brad Stevens is whether he wants to carry one additional contract, but there are some intriguing players available, such as Stanley Johnson, Serge Ibaka, and Derrick Favors. Of course, there are veterans who haven’t played this season such as Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, and LaMarcus Aldridge . . . The Hornets were playing solid basketball before former No. 3 overall pick LaMelo Ball fractured his right ankle, costing him the rest of the season. Charlotte has the league’s fourth-worst record and would be smart to improve its chances for a high lottery pick by losing games. The issue is, the Hornets are far behind the tanking Rockets, Spurs, and Pistons. The good news for the Hornets is the team that finishes fourth in the draft lottery only has a 1.5 percent less chance at the No. 1 pick than the top three. The draft is highlighted by two players: French center Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite point guard Scoot Henderson . . . The Thunder were forced to shut down valuable swingman Kenrich Williams with a wrist injury but then added former NCAA champion Jared Butler to a two-way contract. The Thunder were in the mix for the play-in tournament but appear content to prepare for another draft lottery, where they will add yet another prospect in addition to 2022 second overall pick Chet Holmgren, who is sitting out this season with a foot injury … The Hawks hired Quin Snyder as coach to replace the fired Nate McMillan. The Hawks entered Friday at 31-31 and are trying to escape the play-in tournament, but there are several teams chasing Brooklyn for that sixth spot, including the Heat and Raptors.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.