Making changes for the better

Editor's note: Every Wednesday, senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on the league in "Slams and Dunks."

The first bit of good news has trickled out of the NBA's meeting with Players Association representatives in New York on Monday. All parties agree that it was absolute folly to allow veterans to report three days later to training camp than players with less than four years' experience. That, hopefully, will never, ever, happen again.

Look for an announcement at All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, according to league sources, that the concept will be modified or even outlawed completely. The league is not going to shorten its eight-game exhibition schedule, which is what the union originally wanted in exchange for sanctioning a switch to best-of-seven series in the first round of the playoffs. It's believed that another increase in the overall playoff-pool fund will be enough to get players of all ages in training camp at the same time next season.

And that's as it should be, since everyone needs extra shooting practice these days.

  • Check that. The bit about training camp isn't the only dose of good news. The mere fact that the parties are already exchanging collective bargaining ideas (the NBA has made its first proposal) and setting up meetings after the All-Star Game -- with a view toward hammering out a long-term extension by the end of this season -- is groundbreaking.

    "Yes it is," said commissioner David Stern, conceding in an ESPN.com interview that the efforts on both sides to work together so far in advance of a deadline is pretty much an NBA first.

    "The cynics will say -- and I'm sometimes among them -- that the only way you make a deal is when you're up against a deadline," Stern continued. "But frankly, with business so much on the rebound ... it's a general consensus that it would be a good thing to keep it going."

    That's especially true at a time when the NHL seems to be headed toward an unavoidable work stoppage after this season. Asked to pinpoint reasons behind the NBA's recent increases in TV ratings, attendance and merchandise sales, Stern offered the simplest theory imaginable.

    "Showing up," he noted, "is part of it."

  • Dec. 15 was the deadline for the NBA and its owners to extend the current collective-bargaining agreement for one more season. By doing it on Dec. 8, the establishment enabled us to focus on the other important function of Dec. 15.

    Free agents who signed new contracts in the offseason are ineligible to be traded until 90 days after they signed or Dec. 15 -- whichever comes later. Thus any free agent who signed a contract between mid-July and Sept. 15 will be eligible to be dealt as of next Tuesday, increasing the list of possible trade commodities throughout the league by well over 100 names.

  • Let's run through a few reasons why Memphis' Jerry West was willing to put a first-round pick into the Bonzi Wells deal so soon after the Grizzlies forfeited their last lottery pick to Detroit in June, costing them a shot at either Darko Milicic or Carmelo Anthony.

    Reason A: The pick is only protected in 2005 if it's No. 1 overall in 2005 and is totally unprotected in 2006. But Wells is a lot better than Otis Thorpe was when the Grizzlies traded that pick to the Pistons for Thorpe in 1997.

    Reason B: Although I can't claim to know too much about the draft class of '05 or '06, the chances that the top three that year will be as deep as Darko-'Melo-LeBron James are not real high in an era where the pool of draftees gets ever more shallow.

    Reason C: If that O.J. Mayo kid is in one of those drafts ... and the Grizz are still one of the worst teams in the league ... and the Blazers haven't claimed Memphis' pick yet ... then the Grizz might have reason to be nervous. But West has three seasons left on his contract after this one, and no one expects him to stay on beyond that. Factor in his legendary impatience and you can understand why West isn't terribly worried about who will be on the draft board then.

  • Don't ask me to explain how a 29-point blown lead at home to a Phoenix team that lost Amare Stoudemire -- and subsequently lost games to Orlando and Miami -- is turning around Boston's season.

    Was that really the Celtics winning by 22 in Utah, where the Jazz were 10-1?

  • For the record, I am a Chris Kaman fan. Have been since I saw him in the exhibition season.

    Have to say, though, that I'm struck by the same thought whenever I watch the Clippers' hyperactive rookie center. Can't help but wonder whether, in a previous life, he played the wildly flailing Driftwood in "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh."

  • West is better than East? Then how come Orlando has more road victories than Portland?

  • Sorry. USC has nothing to complain about. Don't talk to me about injustices. The Trojans couldn't be more fortunate.

    The way the refs gave them Tuesday night's game against my Cal State Fullerton Titans, calling a blizzard of fouls against our big men -- including future NBA draftee Pape Sow -- was pure BCS.

    I'm sick of these overrated Pac-10 teams, too afraid to play in our building. Come to Fullerton already. Be men, Pac-10.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.