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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hopes NBA can return in mid-May



Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he hopes the NBA resumes playing games in May, saying that the league’s restart can help bring people together amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview published Tuesday by Dallas television station WFAA, Cuban cited “people I’ve talked to at the CDC and other places” for his admittedly optimistic projection.

“No one has perfect information right now, so all decisions are tough, but if I had to guess based off the people I’ve talked to at the CDC and other places, I would say that the over-under [for a restart] would be June 1, and I’m taking the under,” Cuban told WFAA.

“Hopefully by the middle of May we’re starting to get back to normal and the NBA is playing games, maybe not with fans [in attendance], but we’re playing games.”

Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this month that the NBA was bracing for the possibility of a return in mid-to-late June as a best-case scenario, but Cuban hopes the games resume sooner.

“Sports plays such an important role,” Cuban said. “People want something to root for, people want something to rally around. People want something to be excited about, and if the Mavs and the NBA in general can get out there and start playing games in May so that they’re on TV, sports is what we need right now.”

The NBA suspended the season indefinitely on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. At least 14 members of NBA organizations had tested positive for the virus as of Monday.

The NBA has not formally announced a projected date for return, but Cuban said he expects the league to “lead the way out of this.”

“I’m proud of the NBA and the way we’ve reacted,” he said. “We’ve led the way and hopefully will lead the way out of this. … I think we’re coming together as a community, particularly in north Texas. But I think we need [sports], and I think the NBA is ready to play that role.”

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Australian NBL says sale of team to LaMelo Ball, manager not complete



The manager for potential No. 1 NBA draft pick LaMelo Ball told ESPN that they have purchased his Australian NBL team, although in a statement later, the Illawarra Hawks said no sale has been completed.

“We own the team,” Jermaine Jackson told ESPN. “It’s a done deal.”

No financial details were revealed.

On Friday, the Australian NBL said it was working with Simon Stratford, the current license holder of the team, on “a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.”

The league, which confirmed discussions about Ball’s interest in Illawara, also said it has “final approval of any transfer of license” and that no application for the transfer had been made.

Ball arrived in Australia in August as part of the league’s Next Stars program and established himself as a strong candidate to be the top pick in the draft. The 6-foot-7 point guard averaged 17.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 12 games with the Hawks, posting back-to-back triple-doubles before a foot injury ended his season.

He is automatically eligible for the 2020 draft, per NBA rules, and is the No. 2-ranked draft prospect by ESPN.

Ball enjoyed his time in Australia so much that he decided to make the country a part of his long-term future, especially when financial issues threatened the team.

“Melo loves the Illawarra fans,” Jackson told ESPN. “He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home. When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, ‘Let’s own the team.’

“He is going to be locked into his NBA career, but we are going to hire the right people to oversee everything. He wants to create the best basketball program possible for that community there.”

Jackson, who spent five seasons in the NBA along with stops in Italy, Spain, Greece and elsewhere, said he expects there to be significant interest from the next generation of American stars in following in Ball’s footsteps.

“When high school kids hear LaMelo owns the team, they will want to come,” Jackson said. “They’ll know they will be taken care of. We’re going to put the organization on steroids, building it into a program that guys want to play for. I’m in touch with several former NBA GMs that want to go there to help out and high-level coaches that won every championship you can imagine.”

Ball, who is in Chino Hills, California, preparing for the draft with his brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo, hopes to use the purchase as an avenue to connect with his many young fans who supported him in his time in Australia and to give back to the basketball community, Jackson said. Ball previously donated a month of his NBL salary to the victims of the Australian bushfire.

“When Melo wants to do stuff in the summertime, we’ll be there,” Jackson said. “We’ll take a tour with his family all over Australia, doing basketball camps and connecting with the youth. He wants to inspire the next generation.

“That’s how he was raised by his family. People have a perception of his father, but he has a heart of gold and it trickles down to his kids. His father didn’t take him on a traditional route. He started his own sneaker company, Big Baller Brand. We’ve always talked about ownership. Melo wants kids to think big, especially in times like this.”

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Lakers’ Frank Vogel says no one on coaching staff tested for coronavirus



Although the Los Angeles Lakers revealed this week that all of their players, including the two who previously tested positive for COVID-19, were symptom free following a two-week self-isolating period, head coach Frank Vogel admitted he has no way to be sure whether he or any of his coaching staff ever had the coronavirus as well.

“To my knowledge, the rest of the staff was not tested,” Vogel said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “The only people that were tested upon the news of the Brooklyn Nets’ positive test results were our players. That was from hair following the lead of our team doctor and the local health officials.”

Four Brooklyn Nets players, including Kevin Durant, tested positive for the virus, prompting the Lakers to quickly arrange for their players to receive testing. L.A.’s last game before the NBA’s hiatus was against Brooklyn at Staples Center on March 10.

Vogel, who is spending the layoff at home with his wife and two daughters, said he has been asked by loved ones about seeking out a test for himself, considering the close proximity a coach finds himself in with his players in huddles and the locker room, but he said he chose to follow the instructions he was given.

“It’s just, we were not told to be tested,” Vogel said. “And obviously everybody recognized the shortage of tests and we were only going to do what the local health department told us to do. So, we weren’t asked to be tested at that point.

“I reassured my family that I was in good health and obviously, while I had been around those guys, there had been some social distancing guidelines in place, so I felt fine and I also felt confident that a test wasn’t needed for me personally. But I think everybody is in a case-by-case basis with that.”

Beyond opting not to find a test for himself, Vogel told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that he isn’t even trying to find out who on his team tested positive.

“I don’t even know who are they,” he told MacMullan, “and I’m totally fine with that.”

Vogel is also taking the approach of controlling what he can off the court. He wakes up every morning to work out with his wife; he checks in on his daughters’ school work and respective lacrosse and soccer drills; the family whipped up homemade pizza and binge watched “Stranger Things” and “All American” on Netflix and took in movies such as “Just Mercy” and “Good Will Hunting.”

“Just trying time have as much fun as we can and enjoy the silver lining in this, which is the family time,” Vogel said.

Still, for the coach who saw his first season with the Lakers abruptly come to a halt after guiding them to the No. 1 record in the Western Conference at 49-14, the idea of losing the rest of the season because of a global pandemic is jarring.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “That certainly is a possibility and it would be a huge disappointment if we aren’t able to play. However, we get it, and this is bigger than basketball. And us getting back on the court is not the most important thing for the world right now.

“Hopefully we have that chance, and if we’re not able to, it would be a big disappointment, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

In the meantime, he says he is treating this time period like the offseason, knowing that if the league is able to resume the 2019-20 season at some point, his team will need energy to regenerate the success it had prior to the suspension.

“We’re going to have to recreate it,” Vogel said. “And I think it’s going to be difficult to just say, ‘Hey, maintain, maintain, maintain (during the break) and we just got to pick up right where we left off.’ We have to re-establish our chemistry, re-establish our work ethic, re-establish our conditioning and rhythm and timing.

“But every team in the league is going to have to do that.”

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Australia’s NBL might be the gateway to NBA ownership



Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Dec. 26, 2019. On April 2, NBA prospect LaMelo Ball and his manager purchased the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian NBL.

IN SEPTEMBER, THE team owners of the National Basketball League gathered on a three-story, 37-meter yacht named “Vegas” for their annual excursion off the coast of Australia. Vegas belongs to Larry Kestelman, the Melbourne entrepreneur widely regarded as the individual most responsible for resuscitating professional basketball in Australia and New Zealand.

Three years after purchasing the Melbourne Tigers in 2012, Kestelman bought a majority stake in the NBL and began pouring tens of millions of dollars into rebuilding a league that had fallen into disrepair. He is the NBL’s uber-authority, which means that when a team owner wants to air a grievance, it gets fired in his direction.

As the owners downed their pre-dinner drinks while gliding atop the turquoise waters between Hamilton Island and Queensland, the conversation grew more spirited.

One owner wanted to know when the NBL would start seeing more substantial broadcast revenue. Another pushed back on Kestelman’s insistence that the teams were in a phase where financial investment was vital.

A couple of drinks in, Kestelman had heard enough. A virile, imposing man of 53 with a shaved head, Kestelman put the attendees on notice:

“If you’re selling, I’m buying,” Kestelman told them.

Kestelman challenged any owner on the yacht who had buyer’s remorse or an irreconcilable issue with his vision: I’ll cash you out. And when the team appreciates, I’ll gladly profit.

No one took Kestelman’s offer that day — it was largely rhetorical anyway. Instead, this new wave of owners made deep investments in infrastructure and marketing, steadily building the NBL’s global audience. They’re attracting some of the best basketball prospects in the world onto their courts, while also enticing NBA stars past and present to buy in.

In past years, retired NBA players who generated wealth might have joined an ownership bid for a domestic franchise. These days, that money doesn’t go as far.

“You have to be a billionaire to own an NBA team,” said Kevin Martin, who retired in 2016 after playing 12 seasons and earning $83 million in salary with five NBA teams. “And none of us are billionaires.”

THE NBL IS enjoying a moment.

The league set an average attendance record last season of 6,348 and is up another 9% this season. Franchises that couldn’t find buyers less than a decade ago now trade at a valuation of $9 million. More Aussies than ever play NCAA basketball, with many returning to compete in their home league.

“It’s a must-see league with talent that isn’t going away,” said Tony Ronzone, a veteran international scout now with the Dallas Mavericks.

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