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Possible NBA contraction? Tighter rules against player complaints? That’s just small, restricted thinking

It’s true, the NBA really is considering contraction …

Of the brain.

The eagerly awaited season is under way, thrilling fans who no longer have to listen to pundits praising, ripping or otherwise cashing in on the Heat before it played a game.

Now pundits can say new things over and over like, “Who hyped these stiffs?”

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Not that you could miss it, but the Lawgivers, a.k.a. Commissioner David Stern and His Band of Barristers are back too, with their fancy lawyering.

Actually, no one follows the NBA hoping a Supreme Court session will break out.

In a well-officiated game, referees go unnoticed. In a perfect season, you wouldn’t know the NBA office is there.

Another perfect season just bit the dust.

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Casting a shadow over his glowing campaign, Stern raised anew the specter of a lockout with more rules to remove players and influence games — or playoff series (see San Antonio-Phoenix in 2007; New York-Miami in 1997.)

In an NBA where people can’t allege conspiracies and tarnish their golden goose, making faces at referees is harmless.

In baseball, haranguing umpires is a beloved tradition. Baltimore’s Earl Weaver made it an art form, bobbing his head so the bill of his cap hit them in the forehead.

No one messed with the Mendy Rudolphs and Earl Stroms … and no one messes with today’s Joe Crawfords and Dan Crawfords … before the NBA went to Automaton Officials, wired electronically to VP Stu Jackson’s BlackBerry.

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Oh, they’re not ready yet?

Happily, the crackdown on player complaints didn’t happen before, or, notes the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan, " Oscar Robertson and Rick Barry would have never finished a game.”

On the bright side, Kobe Bryant went all the way opening night, despite having his Death Stare outlawed.

Not that they have it backward … but shouldn’t the NBA be looking for ways to keep players on the floor?

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How about a no-foul-out rule, which was overdue when Stern was at Columbia Law in the ‘60s?

Why not fine teams rather than suspend players, which really robs fans, now paying to watch their backups?

Whenever I tell Stern how to run his league, I like to mention I think a lot of him, although it’s hard to remember why.

Just kidding.

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Strong commissioners mean order, even if they get carried away like the colonel in “Catch-22" who wants to wire soldiers together to keep their lines straight, or they like wielding power like the NFL’s Roger Goodell, on his second or third crusade this season.

(It’s the one thing that not’s talked to death in the media. NBA broadcast partners are contractually barred from criticizing Stern. I’m guessing that’s standard.)

Stern’s masterpiece, the 1999 labor deal, still serves as the framework, balancing owner-player interests with self-correcting procedures, easy to tweak.

Of course, Stern wants to tweak the players’ 57% of revenue to 43%, the owners’ share, a breathtaking demand if they’re not facing doom.

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Coincidentally or not, Stern insists they are — projecting an is-he-on-mushrooms loss for the league of $350 million this season.

Not that David is having trouble keeping a poker face, but in his presentation last week, he dropped in this aside: “That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.”

The union, which gets to see the books, says the NBA isn’t losing any money.

So does Forbes, whose franchise valuations mean little — Golden State, supposedly worth $300 million, is about to be sold for $450 million, another sign the end isn’t near — but does well-informed projections of operating income.

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Forbes’ breakdown of last season isn’t out — but it projected more than $200 million in operating profits in the 2008-09 season.

Of course, if the NBA concedes it makes money, the question becomes the one union director Billy Hunter keeps asking: What’s the problem? Have your rich teams help your poor ones.

The NBA reportedly distributes $50 million in revenue sharing … compared to baseball’s $450 million.

According to Forbes, 28 of the 30 baseball teams made money in 2009.

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Meanwhile, in the 2008-09 season, Forbes had 18 NBA teams making money and 12 losing it.

Stern reportedly told his rich teams, who oppose more revenue sharing, he’ll fix the system without it.

A 50-50 split, thought to be Stern’s real goal, should do that.

Hunter long ago signaled his willingness to bargain (“We all understand that we live and benefit from the success of the NBA.”)

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So, if a “soft lockout” next summer is likely, so are the chances the sides make a deal by the opener.

The NBA is at DEFCON 1, anyway, even considering folding franchises … in a story that somehow broke just before Stern’s conference call, in which he wouldn’t rule out contraction!

In the Internet age, if an NBA guy says Stern plans to have the sun rise in the west, someone will write it so David can refuse to rule it out.

Much more of this lies ahead, like December’s solemn announcement that the NBA won’t exercise its option to extend the contract, which will run out on July 1, 2011.

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On the other hand, that’s why God put mute buttons on remotes.

mark.heisler@latimes.com


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