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NBA draws lines of battle for players

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports
NBA draws lines of battle for players
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Chris Paul is the only player with a maximum salary on the union's executive committee

NEW ORLEANS – Chris Paul(notes) stood on the Tulane University track Thursday morning underneath a rainbow arch made of teal and yellow balloons in the New Orleans Hornets' colors. Paul was there to host a youth fitness event, and Dennis Rogers, the Hornets' director of basketball communication, was helping coordinate. Hugo, the Hornets' mascot, entertained the children while Randy Greenup, the Hornets' security guard and a close friend of Paul's, also worked the event.

And by the end of the day, Paul wouldn't be allowed to speak with any of them.

With the NBA deciding to implement a lockout after failing to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association, teams are now forbidden from having any contact with players. That's why Paul planned to spend Thursday afternoon playing golf with Greenup. Paul has planned for Greenup to be in his wedding in September, but if the lockout hasn't been lifted, Greenup will need special permission from the league to even attend.

"The past three or four days we've been together all day every day because starting tomorrow I can't talk to one of my closest friends," Paul said.

Life promises to be awkward for Paul and most other players during the NBA's first work stoppage since the 1998-99 lockout. The league gave team officials a long list of people connected to players that they can't communicate with, including agents, family members, personal staff, workout guys and shoe representatives. Several sources said the league office is intent on cracking down on any violations, proposing hefty fines to teams and individuals and possibly even firings. If team officials have a chance encounter with players, they are ordered to record details of the meeting and report it.

NBA.com and team websites can't program pictures or video of players. Employees in team ticket offices can't mention players' names when trying to sell season-ticket packages. One assistant coach has asked for permission for a player to be in his wedding.

"It's crazy," Paul said.

League and team officials can't call, text, email or tweet players. Facebook is out, too. The league might even check phone records of team employees to ensure no contact is taking place. Spouses of team employees also have been instructed not to speak with players' wives or girlfriends, one source said. Nor can teams help players purchase tickets to events in their arenas – like concerts – during the work stoppage.

"I told one of my coworkers that you know this is serious when we are getting briefed about it with all the vice presidents of the team in the room," one team official said.

Many teams spent the past week working out their draft picks and free agents in anticipation of the lockout. Players aren't allowed in team facilities during the lockout. Golden State Warriors rookies Klay Thompson(notes) and Jeremy Tyler(notes) said they planned on grabbing as much gear as possible prior to leaving.

"I'm taking everything they put in my locker," Tyler said.

Older veteran players like Grant Hill(notes) and Jason Kidd(notes) have expressed concern about a lengthy lockout threatening the possible final seasons of their careers. But of all the players, rookies might be hurt the most. They won't have a summer league and some of them could decide to go overseas to ensure they're getting a check. Enes Kanter(notes) and Jonas Valanciunas(notes), who were taken by the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors with the third and fifth picks, respectively, have said they will consider playing overseas in a lockout.

"I'm worried about the lockout, but not to the extent where it's overbearing and it's weighing down on me," said Kyrie Irving(notes), the No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I really don't think the lockout will extend to a year. I don't think the fans could take it. The players can't take it. The media can't take it. Everyone can't take such a big hit.

"The NBA is built on tradition and that's something that they want to hold for a while. I'm hoping that they come to an agreement soon and it doesn't cut into my contract at all."

Longtime NBA agent Bill Duffy said he has been telling players for 2½ years to save their money and prepare for a lockout. Duffy believes the union and players are better equipped to handle a lengthy lockout after their experience in 1998-99, when the season was shortened to 50 games. Still, Duffy also expressed concern about the hard-line stance of some owners.

"There is a new set of owners," Duffy said. "They are more zealous in their convictions.

"The league is flourishing. It would be absurd and foolish for a long lockout."

Paul is a member of the Players Association's executive committee along with fellow Derek Fisher(notes) (president), Keyon Dooling(notes), Theo Ratliff(notes) and Maurice Evans(notes). He's also the only All-Star in the group and the only player on the committee making superstar money ($16.3 million).

With endorsements from Jordan Brand and Right Guard – along with the money he's already saved – Paul is much better positioned than most of his peers to survive a long lockout financially. Despite the financial disparity from the stars and role players, Paul said they're still united.

"My role is very important because I give a different perspective," Paul said. "By being the only [maximum-salaried] guy on the executive committee, I can give a perspective for Carmelo Anthony(notes), D-Wade [Dwayne Wade], LeBron [James] and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, our executive committee is a whole."

Prior to the lockout, teams reached out to some of the noted trainers across the country like former NBA coach and player John Lucas(notes) in Houston, Chicago-based Tim Grover, Las Vegas-based Joe Abunassar and several in the Los Angeles area like Rob McClanaghan and Tony Falce. One NBA general manager said information was passed on to players about where to work out during the lockout. Lucas said about 30 players – about twice as many as usual – will work with him and other former NBA and college coaches and trainers at three sites in Houston.

"Half the league has called me asking, 'What do you have to offer? What do you do? What players will be there?' " Lucas said.

Said Falce: "I'm available eight days a week out of seven."

Some players also plan to play in pro-am leagues, including three prominent ones in Los Angeles. The Drew League in South Central L.A. currently includes Kevin Durant(notes), Ron Artest(notes), Michael Beasley(notes) and J.R. Smith(notes) among others. Rapper Snoop Dogg sometimes attends the free games at Washington Park. While the Drew League finishes play Aug. 13, commissioner Dino Smiley is considering adding a second league if the lockout hasn't been lifted. Two other L.A. pro-am leagues (Nike Real Run and HAX Summer League) begin in mid-August. Several NBA players also play at UCLA. NBA team personnel, however, can't attend games.

"We're getting people cramped in the stands," Smiley said. "Dwight Howard(notes), Zach Randolph(notes) and O.J. Mayo(notes) are supposed to play this weekend."

One NBA GM said he spent much of Thursday speaking to his team's players for the final time before the lockout started. He doesn't know when he'll talk to them again.

If the lockout lasts long, Paul plans to spend a lot of time in his hometown of Winston Salem, N.C., with his fiancé, Jada Crawley, and their young son. He might even return to Wake Forest to take some more classes toward his degree.

"It's not just about [the owners] standing firm," Paul said. "We're just as firm. We're standing together. We're strong. We're unified. We all talk. As long as we stay on the same page like we are right now, I think everything will work out fine."

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