Posted Nov 2 2009 1:04PM
Honesty compels me to acknowledge that the following is, more or less, a ripoff of Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback.
I am not a King acolyte (I like him fine, when he's not penning anti-hoop screeds, that is). I do think, though, that King's column, 12 years running now, is a template for how to cover a professional sports league on a weekly basis. It's got some insider info, and it's got some Xs and Os. It's got opinion side by side with the facts. It's got some personal stuff that gives you an idea of who the guy is and what he believes in. It has a sprinkling of non-football topics. It's a two-way portal between the writer and fans. And it's a must-read for the NFL cognoscenti. I read it every Monday afternoon.
That's what I want this computation of all things orange leather to be for the NBA fan, whether she's a rabid Laker lover or he just likes watching Iverson do work.
Now, what to call it?
We've been spitballing over here at NBA.com International for a name. I thought Not A Blatant Ripoff of Monday Morning Quarterback (NABROMMQ) had a certain ring to it. Others like Monday Morning Point Guard, In the Paint, David Aldridge's Tipoff. I came up with The Morning Tip. I don't know. What do you think? Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet me at @daldridgetnt. Maybe I'll take one of your suggestions. (Maybe I won't. I'm fickle that way.)
Now, onto the first fun week of the season, and how Orlando's Jameer Nelson continues to cope with loss, on and off the court.
He's heard the criticism for four months, that he cost his team a chance at a championship by thinking of himself instead of the team, and of course, he thinks it's all backwards, that he was thinking of the team by coming back and playing as soon as possible.
But if there's no pleasing some people, Jameer Nelson isn't seeking their approval, anyway.
"I've been through tougher things," Nelson said on Friday, in the not-quiet of the Orlando Magic's locker room, and it's a reminder of a loss that he is still working to absorb, two years later. Worse yet, there is no closure, because there is still so much not known about what happened, and why. All that is left is loss; a son who is still grieving for his father.
Nelson's father, whom everyone called Pete, drowned under mysterious circumstances in September, 2007. A tugboat repairman in Chester, Pa., the family's hometown, Pete Nelson simply disappeared while at work one day, his lunch still on the kitchen counter of his shop. He had last been seen painting a boat nearby. He just vanished. Two days later, his body was found floating in the Delaware River. His death was ruled accidental, but that hasn't healed his son.
Since then, Jameer Nelson's basketball life has gone from good to great. He's solidified himself as Orlando's starting point guard, earning the trust of coaches and management with a $35 million contract extension. He made his first All-Star team last season. But a part of Jameer Nelson is still back in Chester, wondering what happened.
Magic point guard Jameer Nelson says a psychologist has helped him deal with the 2007 passing of his father.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
"That's the toughest thing I've ever been through," Nelson said. "This basketball stuff, to me, what people say about me, you weather the storm with that. I'm still hurting on the inside with my father. At the same time, I'm strong enough to deal with it."
So Nelson shrugs at the notion that he shouldn't have played in the Finals against the Lakers, four months after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder, even though he clearly was not himself, shot just 35 percent from the floor, took minutes away from Rafer Alston -- who had started ably in his place -- and relegated solid reserve Anthony Johnson to the bench.
The Magic lost 4-1, and Los Angeles was the better team. But Nelson remembers the layup that Courtney Lee missed at the end of regulation of Game 2 that would have given Orlando a split on the road, and his own failure to close out on Derek Fisher in the closing seconds of Game 4. Fisher, of course, drained a game-tying 3-pointer, and the Lakers went on the take the game in overtime and crush Orlando's soul.
"Who knows what would have happened if those things would have had played out," Nelson said. "I would have been a genius, right?... One thing is, you've got a guy trying to come back and play with an injury, or come back from an injury and play. You always hear, 'Oh, guys aren't tough, and they don't want to play hurt.' You have a guy try to do it and you still get in trouble for it, still get knocked for it. So I mean, either way, I made the right decision to come back. If I wasn't supposed to play, I wouldn't have played."
None of Orlando's braintrust second-guesses the move, either.
"No question I'd do it again. I'd do it 10 times in a row," says general manager Otis Smith, citing Nelson's leadership and toughness; Nelson, Smith says, is Orlando's toughest player. It was Nelson, for example, who told Howard he was "flat out wrong" to criticize coach Stan Van Gundy after Game 5 of the Magic's series with Boston -- a discussion crucial to getting Howard back into the fold for Game 6 two days later. Howard responded with 23 points and 22 rebounds, and the Magic went on to win Game 6 and 7.
But Nelson needed a different kind of toughness -- or, maybe it's the same toughness -- to reach out when he was having trouble dealing with his father's death. For the past two years, he has had weekly sessions with a psychologist -- a fact that he volunteers, matter of factly, when asked who he talks to now that his dad, his best friend, is gone.
"I went to my general manager and just told him that I needed to talk with somebody, because I was having a tough time with it at the time," Nelson said. "He referred (the psychologist) to me, and still to this day, I talk to him once a week, and he helps me get my week straightened out and keep my life on track."
Nelson thought he needed someone from the outside to help him. He understood that friends and family -- and, for that matter, teammates -- meant well, but he didn't want someone to commiserate with him.
"You go to them, they hurt with you," he says. "You go to somebody that's a professional with helping people out, they help you. In the beginning, we don't know each other, so he's going to tell you the truth, and not just sit there and weep with you -- 'Ah, I feel your pain,' all that stuff. You also need your family, but at the same time you need that outlet of somebody being there for you that will tell you the truth."
Smith was not at all surprised to receive the request. He says there are more athletes using psychologists than you would believe, despite the old Tony Soprano notion that seeing a shrink might be viewed as weakness. Smith views it as a strength.
"He started that when he lost his dad," Smith said. "He still uses it. There's quite a few guys who use them. He hasn't changed. The guy has helped him in a lot of different ways. We all need a different outlet. His interest is only in Jameer's state of mind and mental health. It's what I would do with any of our guys. So many times we only deal with the basketball side of things. We don't always deal with the whole person."
Nelson says he no longer has problems coping with his father's passing, but he still values the structure that his psychologist provides.
"I just think some guys underestimate what we do," he said. "We have a lot. I have a family. I have three kids. I have a wife, a mom, a brother and a sister. You try to keep things on track, and I think he helps me do that."
On the court, Nelson is healthy again, and Orlando looks just as formidable this season with Vince Carter running screen and rolls with Howard as it did last season with Hedo Turkoglu running them. Ryan Anderson is a terrific pickup, starting at power forward while Rashard Lewis serves out his 10-game suspension after failing a drug test earlier this year. (Lewis took an over-the-counter supplement that contained a banned substance.) A Van Gundy team will always play defense, and Howard is becoming a monster at both ends of the court, looking more comfortable passing out of double-teams than ever and snatching rebounds out of the air like Miyagi grabbing that fly in The Karate Kid.
But it's Nelson that gets everyone where they're supposed to go, who makes sure that Howard has the pat on the back or kick in the butt, depending on what he needs, and it's Nelson who has Van Gundy's ear whenever the team needs a break, and is the team's unquestioned leader.
"That's what we missed more than anything else," Smith said. "When he's on the court he gets us in our stuff and he's still a threat to do what he does offensively. When he's in a groove we're awfully good."
At 27, Nelson has proven all the doubters wrong; the doubters who said he wasn't a starting point guard, that he couldn't shoot well enough to make defenses pay, that he wasn't a good enough defender. He's the lead guy on a title contender, and if he's healthy in May and June, Orlando can beat anybody. Anybody. And he has peace of mind. He will always be pained that Pete Nelson left him at 57, gone too soon. But he is dealing with it quietly, just like the old man.
"I think about him every day," Jameer Nelson says, "and I know he's with me, not just physically."
• No truth -- none -- to a report linking the Spurs and Warriors in a Manu Ginobili-Stephen Jackson deal, a non-story flatly shot down by both sides, and with some heat which I am not at liberty to reproduce here. Ditto to the supposed connections of the Warriors and Clippers and Warriors and Hornets for Jackson. Other than that, though, the story was right on the money. Discussions have and do continue between Golden State and Cleveland, though there doesn't appear to be any Warriors interest in Zydrunas Ilgauskas nor any interest on Cleveland's part in trading him. Denver is trying, too, but has offered nothing of real value the Bay's way. It should surprise no one that teams are balking on swallowing Jax's escalating loot ($8.45M next year; $9.25M in 2011-12; $10M in '12-'13) into uncertain, new collective bargaining agreement territory.
If the Warriors don't deal Jackson by Dec. 15, when players signed over the summer are eligible to be moved, don't be surprised if they hold onto him until just before the trade deadline. That is, barring another Jax outburst ...
• The Thunder's nice start verifies both the maturing of Oklahoma City's thickening young core (first-rounder James Harden is a keeper) and the tutelage of coach Scott Brooks, who got a two-year extension this summer. And OKC's management team continues to stick with the plan of keeping a low payroll, as evidenced by its extension with guard Thabo Sefolosha this week on a four-year, $13.8 million deal. Part of the plan is an edict from ownership to keep costs down, but GM Sam Presti also has consistently maintained a desire not to overspend for veterans of any stripe (it's why the then-Sonics were amenable to trading Ray Allen as opposed to giving him a new contract) so that when Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook come up for their new deals, the team will have flexibility to retain as many as it wants.
That's left the Thunder in great financial shape for next summer's free agent bonanza. Newcomer Etan Thomas's $7.35 million comes off the books, leaving Nick Collison as the team's highest-paid player next year at a pedestrian (it's all relative, folks) $6.3 million -- the last year of his deal. Assuming Nenad Krstic picks up his $5.8 million option -- a good assumption -- the Thunder will still be just above $38 million in committed dollars ...
Gilbert Arenas is looking solid as the initiator of Washington's offense.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
• Saw the Wizards in person for the first time on Saturday, and while forward Andray Blatche, subbing for the injured Antawn Jamison, is much, much improved, Washington's deal is Gilbert Arenas, and he looks terrific. With the ball in his hands for the first time in his career, Arenas is making good decisions, initiating the offense quite well and picking his spots to attack. He didn't force one shot in 29 minutes, dropping in a sublime 32, and had a signature Agent Zero moment, draining a halfcourt shot at the end of the first quarter against New Jersey.
Former coach Eddie Jordan chiseled lots of clearouts and isolations for Arenas out of the Princeton offense, but Flip Saunders has the ball in Arenas's hands 80 to 90 percent of the time. Saunders doesn't want to limit Arenas's aggressiveness; to the contrary, he wants Arenas to be more aggressive than ever -- as long as that's what the defense is giving him.
"When he gets into trouble," Saunders told me, "is when he predetermines what he's going to do. I think you can't predetermine, 'Well, I'm going to look for an assist on this play.' Those are things that just kind of happen. But the more he plays with our guys, the more it's going to happen ... we're like the typical counterpuncher. You punch us first, we'll duck and miss, and we'll hit you in the ribs" ...
• Tracy McGrady is willing; he practices with the Rockets every day. His knee, not yet. I'm told that he still doesn't have any explosiveness when he gathers himself in the paint on drives, which should come as absolutely no surprise, as he's just eight months removed from microfracture surgery, a procedure that usually has recovery times of at least a year. Give the man credit for getting back out on the court in any condition after a summer in Chicago with Tim Grover, but he can't play yet.
1) Sunday in front of the big screen. Just got the real HD antenna (10 channels before; everything now). And just in time, because Sunday, Nov. 1 was, apparently, the first day in human history that the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL all played on the same day. It's not like there was anything good on, either : Game 4 of the World Series, Favre going back to Green Bay, D. Rose against D. Wade. (I don't pretend to know a lot about hockey, but I know when to shut up and watch Ovechkin play.)
2) The Magic's locker room. We're only in there for a few minutes at a time, and for national schmoes like me, only once or twice a month, if we're lucky. But Orlando certainly seems to have great chemistry this year, despite all the new faces, with Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard busting each other's chops and freely taking shots back.
On Friday, Howard is asked to autograph an infant-sized jersey; he holds it up. "Look -- Jameer's uniform!," he says, as Nelson cracks up.
"What is that, salmon?," Matt Barnes asked about Nelson's pink-like jacket.
"You look like a christmas tree," Nelson said to the green-sweatered Barnes.
And what trip to the Magic's clubhouse would be complete without Howard's spot-on Stan Van Gundy impression?
3) Charlie Manuel. The Phillies' manager is a gentle soul and always ready to talk about hitting. He regaled Joe Simpson (a former teammate of his with the Dodgers), play-by-play man Brian Anderson and I during the Division Series with Colorado with tales of his days in Cleveland as the Indians' hitting coach, tutoring the likes of a young Manny Ramirez. I could listen to him all day. A nice guy who's won over a tough town.
4) Yao Ming. He's not playing this year, he can't even run yet and he's making a phat $16 million this season. But he's still out on the Rockets' practice court almost every day, with his foot in a chair, taking 300 shots a day so he doesn't lose his shooting touch.
5) McHale. If you'll allow me a parochial moment, I think Kevin McHale is going to be dynamite for us on TNT and NBA-TV. I will still remind him about Ndudi Ebi from time to time, though.
1) The refs' new unis. Something about those black shoulder pad things; it's like they're wearing Red Grange's old duds.
2) The MLB-NBA double standard. You tell me what the closet conspiracy theorists would be writing and saying if NBA refs had kicked as many calls as baseball's umpires have in the postseason.
3) Dismissing Donaghy outright. I don't believe everything that Tim Donaghy wrote in his non-published book, or at least the excerpts that were in Deadspin this week. But some of it rings true and you'd be naive to think otherwise. I was in Denver when Steve Javie tossed Iverson, in his first game against the 76ers, and maybe it wasn't personal, but I know that Iverson felt it was. It does not take a leap of faith to believe that refs had nassaus on the side, just like your standard weekend foursome, or that they had feuds with players. They're human. That doesn't, though, make them complicit in conspiracy, as Donaghy infers without producing any first-hand evidence.
4) The new policy that forbids refs from tipping clubhouse attendants. Come on, just because Donaghy wrote some stuff that's embarrassing, don't punish kids and working adults making next to nothing and who could use an extra $100-$200 a week take home.
1) L.A. Lakers (2-1): Defending champions' prerogative, but stunk it up against Mavs.
2) Denver (3-0): 'Melo looks MVP-tastic.
3) Boston (4-0): No physical limits on KG.
4) Orlando (3-0): Superman and Brandon Bass take turns bludgeoning foes.
5) San Antonio (2-1): Soon will set up on LAL's outside shoulder, lurking.
6) Atlanta (2-1): Don't sleep on 'em.
7) Miami (3-0): Broke 17-game winless streak at Indy Friday.
8) Phoenix (3-0): Averaged 117 points against West's bottom-feeders.
9) Washington (2-1): Gil looks smooth.
10) Dallas (2-1): Matrix version 2004 showed up vs. Lakers.
11) Oklahoma City (2-1): The Pistons ain't the Pistons any more, but beating them in Detroit is still impressive.
12) Cleveland (2-2): Bad start, but will be there at the end.
13) Portland (2-2): Looking for consistency at the point.
14) Houston (2-1): Will never cheat effort with Adelman.
15) Philadelphia (2-1): Dropped 141 in OT on Knicks.
Boston (4-0). Celtics went into Cleveland and beat the Cavaliers, smoked Chicago in a playoffs rematch and handled New Orleans on Sunday. Average margin of victory: 19.25 points.
Rubin Carter or Baron Davis? The Clippers' star guard looks an awful lot like Denzel Washington's character in The Hurricane.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
New Jersey (0-3). Nets blow a lead at Minnesota, then get throttled on consecutive nights by the Magic and Wizards. And Devin Harris is going to be out a while with a bad groin. This is the plan -- clear cap room, play the kids, yadda, yadda, yadda. Doesn't make it any easier to take.
Doesn't Baron D's beard look like Denzel's in The Hurricane, when 'Cane was in solitary for a month and babbling to himself?
Kobe Bryant (31.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg): Scored 40+ for the 97th time in career Sunday (h/t my man Michael Eaves at Fox Sports West).
LeBron James (24.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.8 apg): Body language looked off early in the week, according to observers.
Carmelo Anthony (37.7 ppg, 7 rpg, ..536 FG): Dominant at the offensive end, in incredible shape, and putting the Nuggets on his back.
Dwight Howard (21.6 ppg, 16 rpg, 2.33 bpg): Hoovering boards and controlling the paint.
Chris Paul (26.3 ppg, 7 apg): Hasn't gotten much done at the defensive end yet.
Dwyane Wade (27.7 ppg, 4 apg): Reached 10,000 points for his career as the Heat went unbeaten.
-25: Shaquille O'Neal's plus-minus number in Cleveland's 101-91 loss to Toronto Wednesday.
900: Career blocks by 23-year-old Josh Smith as of Friday. The Hawks forward passed Shaq as the youngest player in league history to get to 900 swats -- though block statistics have to always be taken with a grain of salt; they didn't keep them in Bill Russell's day.
4,986,480: Dollars that the Bucks will have spent on forward Joe Alexander by next July, when he'll become an unrestricted free agent if Milwaukee, as Yahoo! Sports reported, declines to pick up his third-year option -- a stunning admission of how badly the Bucks blundered by taking Alexander eighth overall in the 2008 draft.
"what the hell does Ron Artest have on his head?"
-- The Pistons' Charlie Villanueva (@CV31), last Tuesday, 9:42 p.m., on the Chinese characters shaved into Artest's noggin.
You always hear what LeBron and Kobe are up to. But an NBA team has starters and reserves, and it often has guys on the end of the bench that didn't get any regular run. I hope to bring you some of their stories this season. The title implies the 15th guy on the roster; I'm not saying that every guy literally is the last player to whom his coach would turn. Some could be in the rotation with one turn of an ankle or one change of mind. But for now, these guys sit and watch.
This week's M15: Sean Williams, New Jersey
Williams, the 17th pick overall in the 2007 draft, has struggled in his two-plus seasons with the Nets to break into the rotation. The Nets have an aching need for a big man to protect the rim and grab some boards, but Williams is stuck behind starters Yi Jianlian and Brook Lopez, and reserves Josh Boone and Eduardo Najera. Part of Williams's struggles are of his own making; he has been involved in several off-court incidents since coming into the league. Williams also hasn't yet shown a skill set necessary to earn regular minutes from coach Lawrence Frank. He's not all there sometimes, Netters say, despite being a good kid. And, last week, the Nets declined to pick up his fourth-year option. Still, he's only 23, and his inarguable above-the-rim ability will certainly get him a look somewhere -- if he can showcase himself in Jersey this season with some minutes.
Me: Does it get hard not playing, because you wouldn't be in the league if you didn't have talent?
Sean Williams: You've just got to understand the situation that you're in. Once you get an understanding, it makes it a lot easier. If you don't understand it, it can be really difficult. I felt like I went through that last year. I didn't understand the situation I was in. It was really difficult to see what was going on. But once you understand it, it makes it a lot easier. You want to come to work. It's just a job. You've got to approach it like that every day.
Me: So what didn't you understand last year?
SW: Just more your role and the situation you're in. You've got to make it work for you.
SW: By coming to work every day and making sure you're as prepared as possible.
Me: Doug (Overton, the Nets' assistant coach) was telling me that he showed you some tapes of Dennis Rodman. Who else did he show you?
SW: Rodman, (Bill) Russell, (Hakeem) Olajuwon, Ben Wallace.
Me: What message was he trying to send?
SW: Just the activity that those players had. Those players had motors that didn't stop. And they were focused. You could just tell by looking at the film that they were focused on the game and trying to help their team win.
Me: What are guys talking about on the bench during the game?
SW: Just commenting on the game. Just talking about what you see on the court.
Me: You don't say, 'She's kinda fly?'
SW: I'm not gonna say that. I'm not gonna be the one who says that. You know how it goes, though.
Me: You were on the Dallas Mustangs AAU team (which has won two national championships since 1996) in high school. Who else was on that team?
SW: I thought Gary Flowers (now a junior forward at Southern Mississippi) would be in the league by now. We'll see if he gets here in a year or two. Byron Eaton (the former Oklahoma State point guard), that's my man. He's a great playmaker. I thought he would be able to make it. We had Austin Jackson; he's a baseball player (Jackson was the Yankees' 2007 minor league player of the year). He was our starting two guard. He was amazing ... we had a lot of great players. I was like the last addition on that team. I didn't start hooping until I was like, 15. That was the team I was on. And everybody had been together two, three years. I would have never thought I would have made it to the league.
But my man, coach Tony, Tony Johnson, within like a week or two of being with them, he used to ride us all back home in this old raggedy van that he had. He was talking to a college scout and he was like, 'I've got this kid, and I've got three letters for you. He's a P-R-O.' And we was all like, 'What are you talking about?' He was like, 'This dude, Sean Williams.' And we was like, 'Nah, get out of here.' I was so horrible at that time. I had no offensive game. All I could do was not let the other person that I was guarding score. I would never have thought that I would be the only player from my team to get here.
"The other thing is, you run a play, but every time someone cuts, every time you pass the ball, there's a scoring option. I'm not used to that. I'm used to running the play. The play's the play, all right? The play's the play and we want to run the play."
-- The 76ers' Elton Brand, in my weekly podcast, about the adjustments he's making to Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense.
"I'm still having trouble with English."
-- Nets Coach Lawrence Frank, when I asked him how his Russian was in anticipation of prospective new owner Mikhail Prokhorov taking charge.
-- Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle, late Saturday, texting back after his team's impressive back-to-back wins over the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles following a season-opening home loss to Washington.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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