Udoka eager for next chapter

Isiah Thomas was the first to plant the seed. Nate McMillan helped water it. When Gregg Popovich echoed the sentiment, suggesting to Ime Udoka two years ago that he might consider going into coaching once his playing days were over, a retirement plan was hatched to fruition.

“Pop told me, ‘I hope I get a chance to hire you some day,’ ” Udoka said. “That made the decision to stop playing a lot easier.”

This week, Popovich got his wish. Udoka, who last played in the NBA in January 2011 with the Spurs, was hired as the team’s newest assistant coach, the first step in a a new career path the 35-year-old former small forward has been plotting for several years.

A veteran of 316 games over seven NBA seasons, parts of three of which were spent in San Antonio, Udoka joins a Spurs coaching staff depleted by the loss of Jacque Vaughn (Orlando head coach) and Don Newman (Washington lead assistant).

Because Vaughn’s spot on the staff was considered “extra,” created specially for him when he became available in 2009, Udoka — a 35-year-old coaching rookie — is expected to be the team’s only bench hire this offseason.

“I ran into Pop in Las Vegas during Summer League (in July),” said Udoka, a Portland native. “He let me know the deal with Jacque, that he was probably leaving. He told me a good opportunity might be there (in San Antonio).”

Udoka joins a staff that includes a pair of longtime Popovich assistants, Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown.

Though new to the coaching game, Udoka believes his varied NBA experiences — with stops as different as San Antonio and Sacramento — have prepared him for a variety of situations.

From his previous stint with the Spurs, Udoka learned the value of meticulous preparation.

“Taking care of your own business, that’s one thing you learn with Pop,” Udoka said. “If you have pride and just do what you do, you’ll be successful, whether the shots fall on any given night or not.”

In a press release announcing the hire, Popovich praised Udoka’s “outstanding work ethic” and “a natural inclination to teach.”

Thomas, who coached Udoka in summer league and for eight games of 2005-06 season with the Knicks, was the first to put the coaching bug in Udoka’s head.

“He said, ‘You don’t score 20 points a game, but the young guys seem to respect you and respond to you,’ ” Udoka said.

Since his retirement in 2011, Udoka had been living in Los Angeles, where his girlfriend, actress Nia Long, and their 9-month old son reside. The Spurs’ history as a proving ground for future NBA head coaches helped lure Udoka back to the game he loves.

“You see their family tree all over the league,” Udoka said. “It’s a great opportunity. You know they’ll help you develop.”

Owners putting ball in players’ court

Facing an ultimatum from league owners and dissension within its membership, the leadership of the Players Association will conduct a conference call today to consider its options.

Spurs forward , a member of the union’s executive committee, said he expects a wide-ranging discussion. One topic will gauge the level of player interest in signing a petition to force a vote that could decertify the union.

The NBA late Saturday night gave the union a formal proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement that Bonner characterized as “basically another 50-50 split” of basketball-related income. It included some changes in the luxury tax system he said represented little change from the owners’ previous positions.

The union rejected the offer on the spot, but commissioner said it would remain on the table only through the end of business Wednesday.

Details of the league’s offer, which Stern promised to put in writing for the union to assess ahead of the deadline, include:

A “band” of revenue for the players between 49 and 51 percent, depending on revenue growth.

Restrictions on teams over the luxury tax threshold, including a ban on both sign-and-trade deals and full use of mid-level salary cap exceptions. The full mid-level would be replaced for tax-paying teams by a “mini” mid-level that would start at $2.5 million, half of the full mid-level.

An added penalty for teams that exceed the luxury tax threshold three times in five seasons.

If it is not accepted by Wednesday, Stern said the offer would be withdrawn and replaced by a much worse deal, with a revenue split giving the players only 47 percent of BRI and a “flex” salary cap system the players already have characterized as an unacceptable hard cap.

Lakers guard , the union’s president, told reporters in New York on Saturday that the NBA deal was not one the executive committee could take to its players for a vote.

Bonner said every member of the executive committee is behind the decision to reject it.

“We’re all on the same page,” he said.

Saturday’s session, which was conducted under the guidance of , head of the , was frustrating for the players.

“Saturday sucked,” Bonner said. “The way we saw to save the season and get a deal was by saying the system was more important to us, BRI more important to them; we can compromise on BRI if they can come more to us on the remaining system issues.

“That’s what we were hoping would get a deal, and we really thought the approach we took was going to get it done. But when George came back after taking our offer to the owners, what he came back with was five or six changes in system things, and all but one were what the owners wanted. It was basically their deal.”

Disbanding the union would allow players to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the league. The more important, immediate result would be some leverage for the union during the roughly 45 days it would take for the to arrange a vote of all 450 members of the union.

The threat of decertification and the uncertainty that comes with it could give the union the leverage it needs to coax a better offer from the league than the deal it rejected Saturday.

“I’m sure we’ll talk about everything on the call,” Bonner said.

Another bargaining session set next week for players, owners

After the resumption of talks earlier this week, NBA players and owners have set another meeting next week to continue their dialogue as they try to end the lockout.

Hoop optimists everywhere hope that more talk between the two sides is a good sign.

The realists aren’t necessarily so sure.

But the fact that NBA commissioner David Stern, NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver, players’ association executive director Billy Hunter and union president Derek Fisher of the Los Angeles Lakers will meet again indicates that dialogue is taking place.

Sam Amick of SI.com reports that the , with the hopes of better productivity with fewer raised voices in the discussion. It could take place Wednesday or Thursday of next week and it would be only the third head-to-head negotiating session since the lockout started on July 1.

It is not clear if Spurs majority owner Peter Holt, head of the league’s labor relations committee, will participate.

With the beginning of training camps scheduled for later  this month and still not yet postponed, Fisher told  reporters that “both sides [are] feeling a sense of urgency” to get a deal done.

The owners and players clearly remain far apart. But the fact they weren’t sniping at each other in the media after their most recent meeting is a good sign that helped set up the upcoming one.