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David Aldridge

LeBron James says he's thought about playing 'everywhere' in the NBA at one time or another.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

LeBron keeps teams on edge as he ponders future

Posted Nov 10 2009 8:04AM

Only 31 more weeks of this insanity.

LeBron is going to be a Laker. LeBron is going to be a Net. LeBron is going to be a Bull. LeBron is going to be a Heat. (Shouldn't that be a Hot?)

Each scenario has been posed in the past two weeks, with media folks citing "insiders" of various stripes and supposed connections to James' synapses. Man, LBJ has a lot of "confidantes," all of whom are more than happy to dish on his supposed intentions. Does that strike you as a little odd? Me, too. I suspect it's a little more likely that we are deep into Speculation Season, when everyone desperately wants the scoop on what James is going to do, and throws stuff out there with little more than a vapor of reality.

Which means ... I can do it, too!


LeBron's going to be a Clipper!

At any rate, no one believes James when he says he hasn't made up his mind yet and won't until next July 1, when his free agency kicks in. Every James statement is scrutinized and parsed, like the old Kremlinologists that used to look for hidden clues in the words of the Politburo.

"I've thought about playing everywhere," James said in Cleveland last week. "Every team in the NBA, I've thought about playing one day in my life. Everywhere. Everywhere, at one point in my life. All of them."

Last week was especially silly because, of course, it was James' only trip to New York to play the Knicks this season. For almost two years, the Knicks have been the lead speculators for James, with their ability to clear tens of millions in cap room. Initially, the idea was to have enough to sign two maximum players, but the worldwide recession has hit the NBA, too, and it's no longer a given that the Knicks can go for two superstars next summer. Enter the other suitors, from the Bulls' and Clippers' solid cores, to Miami's three Ws -- water, windsurfing, Wade -- to the championship certainty that would come if Kobe and LeBron hooped together, to Mikhail Prokhorov's $30 billion (you heard me; he's got a lot more in the bank than he's letting on, one of my in-the-know moles says).

Dan Gilbert's terrified that James would walk after this season if he doesn't win a title in Cleveland? No reason to doubt it. In other news, cars drive on the right side of road and leaves fall from trees in the fall.

Don't be surprised, Knicks fans, if LeBron stays put in Cleveland next summer.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Sure, there's a chance James finds L.A. irresistable; he wouldn't be the first. But I can't see how jumping on an already-full Laker bandwagon would appeal to LBJ's sense of history. Nor does that address what the Lakers would do with Ron Artest and the four years left on his deal. Nor do I see Kobe going gently into that good night as a $20 million role player.

Actually, if LeBron wants to play in L.A., joining the Clippers, with Baron Davis, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman, etc., and with cap room next summer to make a major league offer, would make a lot more sense. After all, the Clippers, supposedly, came within a few hours of convincing Bryant to come aboard in 2004.

Of course, no one seems to understand that Cleveland will have access to its own stash of millions next summer, when Shaq's $21 million comes off the books, and could sign its own max player to team with James, Mo Williams and company for the next five years. Who doubts LeBron's own very strong means of persuasion?

"I'm not really too concerned about it, because I know his heart and his love is here in Cleveland," Williams told me last week. "I know that. Just like anybody else, we love the New Yorks, we love the Miamis, we love the L.A.s, we love the Torontos. That's probably the most underrated city. We love those cities. But you can't underrate home."

Of course, Williams has to believe that. Everyone in Greater Ohio has to believe that. James doesn't have to say anything to keep the white-hot pressure on the Cavaliers, who've remade their team twice since his arrival in 2003 to his specifications.

Just keep this in mind: Tim Duncan has had several chances to leave small-market San Antonio this decade. He signed a four-year extension in 2003, a three-year extension in 2007 and has since agreed to a two-year extension through 2011-12. Short contracts, designed to give Duncan maximum leverage -- improve the team, or I walk -- time and time again. Duncan was fiercely loyal to the people, and the city, that picked him first, and built a championship caliber team around him. He was the consumate team player. He listened to the siren call of bigger, more "cosmopolitan" cities, but he always came back to San Antonio.

Just keep that in mind when you hear all the rumors about what the Akron-born, Cleveland-embracing James is going to do next summer.

"Home is home," Williams said. "And on top of that, he got to move all his people out there. New York's expensive."


During the Bulls' championship runs, Steve Kerr always stood up when others hid in the trainer's room. When Michael Jordan wasn't talking, Kerr did. When Scottie Pippen was, on occasion, petulant, Kerr never said "no comment." So it's no surprise that Kerr was front and center when I asked him about the team he put together in Phoenix last season.

"I had a lousy year last year," Kerr said by phone Sunday night. "I'm responsible for putting the pieces in place, and I didn't do a good job."

He can say that now because, like good personnel guys do, he didn't wallow in a mistake; he fixed it. The Suns tried to convince themselves that Shaquille O'Neal was a good fit for their wide-open attack, but last season was a year-long confirmation that square pegs still don't fit well into round holes. Even though Phoenix won 46 games, the Suns didn't make the playoffs, and Kerr cashiered his hand-picked choice for head coach, Terry Porter, at the All-Star break. O'Neal was sent to Cleveland in June in what amounted to a salary dump.

The Suns' return to their up-tempo past has Steve Nash feeling good about the future.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

But Kerr has made amends, and quickly. Alvin Gentry restored Mike D'Antoni's "seven seconds or less" philosophy. Kerr signed free agent center Channing Frye this summer for two years and $3.8 million. He couldn't be more different from the Diesel in the middle, but is better for the spacing that Phoenix needs to run its offense effectively. Jason Richardson, whom Kerr acquired from Charlotte early last season for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, gives Phoenix a wing that can score on his own. Jared Dudley, who also came to Phoenix from Charlotte, gives the Suns some depth and size up front, as does rookie forward Earl Clark.

And, with one game left on its first eastern trip, Phoenix is 6-1, and off to its best start in nine years.

"I feel like our team has a chance to be a good team," Steve Nash said Saturday, the day after his Suns went into Boston and gave the Celtics their first loss of the season. "And mostly because we have good chemistry, we have a good spirit, and we have a little grittiness that maybe wasn't there due to the chemistry last year. We're formulating an identity, and I think it's giving us confidence, and we're enjoying it."

The Suns aren't running the way they did during the height of D'Antoni's run, but they're executing just as well -- maybe better. They can spread the floor with Frye -- whose 20 3-pointers are in the top 10 leaguewide and most among centers -- pulling opposing bigs out on the floor. That creates more room for Richardson and Grant Hill on the wings, for Amar'e Stoudemire in the paint, and for Nash to do what Nash does. They are much better covering the pick and roll. And while they don't have someone as good as Shawn Marion on the glass, they rebound by committee.

Ironically, they have done what Kerr wanted -- they're a much more efficient half-court team, and a better defensive team.

The word Nash uses is "gritty," which is an un-Suns like word.

"I think all of us were very confused at times last year," Nash said. "We talked about being a running team, but we didn't really practice or enforce that. We were of two minds, in a way, and I think it's very difficult, I think, when you're confused, to be gritty, 'cause I think guys are frustrated, and I think the frustration caused us to lose some of that spirit and that chemistry."

Nash had a lot more -- a lot more -- to say about last season. You can hear it on my "Insider Report" on later this week.

Okay, one more tidbit: Nash believes the Suns "gave in" to the pressure of trying to win a championship, instead of sticking with the group that had been the league's most entertaining team for years. Kerr's reaction?

"He's exactly right," Kerr said. "But the only move I would characterize in that regard was the Shaq move. I wouldn't say the Raja or Boris ones were, but the Shaq one, no question, was trying to get over the hump."

Kerr was the boss, so he has to get the blame. But don't get it twisted. O'Neal was a team decision, one that everybody, from Robert Sarver, to D'Antoni, to Nash, not only signed off on, but enthusiastically championed. So if Kerr had to take the heat last year, he should get his moment in the sun, 1/12th of the way through this one ...

• What is Nellie doing with Anthony Randolph? When Randolph only played 10 minutes in the season opener, I was assured that he wasn't back in Nellie's doghouse, where he found himself the first part of last season; it was only because of a back injury Randolph suffered during the preseason. He would soon be logging the big minutes that everyone expected he'd get after a strong second half of last year and a brilliant performance in the Vegas Summer League. But the immortal Mikki Moore continues to start ahead of Randolph, who logged 25 minutes in Golden State's second game and 7 in the third.

Friday, he played 30 minutes off the bench, and posted 13 points, 14 rebounds and drew several charges in the Warriors' embarassing loss to the Clippers. The local papers detailed Monta Ellis yelling at Randolph on the court for blowing assignments, and there continue to be questions about Randolph's work ethic. Fair issues. And Andris Bierdins was back in the starting lineup at center on Sunday. But the Warriors have put rookie guard Stephen Curry on the floor from minute one and allowed him to play through his mistakes. Why isn't Randolph being given the same chance? Are the Warriors going somewhere unexpected -- like the playoffs? ...

• Nate McMillan had to come up with something quick to mollify his grumbling team, and he did on Friday, playing a three-guard rotation with Andre Miller, Steve Blake and Brandon Roy to go with LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden up front. The move looked good against the Spurs; Roy was a +14 against San Antonio, Miller +14 and Blake +7 in the Blazers' big 96-84 win over San Antonio.

Portland had been running in sand all season; the Blazers really miss forward Nicolas Batum, who was injured in the final preseason game with a torn labrum and will be out until February. Miller, who got off to a rough start with the locals after coming to camp in less than pristine condition, was further vexed when Blake started ahead of him at the point. So McMillan came up with the unorthodox lineup, relegating Martell Webster to the bench. The Blazers are hoping that having Miller's court savvy on the floor at the start of games can get them some more fast-break baskets -- and keep him from sulking.

I'm Feelin'

1) Donnie Nelson. The Mavericks' general manager picked Nancy Lieberman to coach the Mavericks' NBA Development League team in Frisco, Texas, next season. This isn't about Lieberman's basketball bona fides; she's forgotten more about the game than 99 percent of us dudes that yak and write about it will ever know. It's about Nelson having the guts to smash the old boys' network that insisted women had nothing to offer the basketball side of an organization. The gals were great at community relations and the like, but they couldn't possibly diagram a hawk cut. Good for him.

2) Bill Walton, who retired from broadcasting last week because of chronic, debilitating back pain. In another life, Bill, Brad Nessler and I were the original ESPN/ABC NBA broadcasting team, and I learned a lot about basketball that season from Big Red. He's a good-hearted man behnd all the on-air bluster, and I hope he finds peace in whatever he decides to do next.

3) Cha Sa-soon, a 68-year-old South Korean woman who passed her written driver's exam last week on what local media said was her 950th try. Of course, the police insist she take a driving test before actually getting her license. Jerks!

4) Empire State of Mind. Comden and Green's "On the Town" begat Liza Minnelli's "New York, New York," which begat the seminal Francis Albert Sinatra cover, but Jay-Z's tribute to Gotham takes the NYC to a whole new level. Plus, there's Alicia Keys. Have I mentioned how I feel about Alicia Keys? I'm strongly pro-Alicia Keys. Very. Really. Strongly.

5) Lionel Hollins. Shut down the 24-hour All-Iverson, all-the-time talk before it could overwhelm him and his young team.

6) Sgt. Kimberly Munley, police officer. With the caveat that with the chaos of a life-and-death emergency, sometimes eyewitness accounts change with time, Officer Munley's actions at Fort Hood on Thursday in stopping a lunatic killer appear to go beyond heroic. They deserve a whole new adjective. Kimmish? Munleyesque?

7) Taj Gibson, Bulls rookie power forward. Some personnel types had him as a big-time sleeper before the draft, and based on his first big start, against Cleveland on Thursday --11 points, 7 rebounds, two more-than-decent jobs guarding LeBron at the top of the key -- they were on to something. And now that Tyrus Thomas is out 4-6 weeks after breaking his arm, Gibson will have to be up to it every night.

8) I see Elizabeth Lambert of New Mexico seems to play over the edge. Which begs the question: what does this say about women soccer players? Why are they so hostile? Are they spoiled? (That's the type of question I always get about NBA players when one of them does something stupid, as if it's a referendum on the whole group.)

9) "Without Bias" ESPN's latest "30 for 30" entry, Without Bias, the story of Len Bias's all-too-brief ascendancy, and his tragic fall at 22. You have to be a D.C. guy to truly understand what Bias meant to my hometown. I was in college but living at home when my father woke me up on June 19, 1986, and told me Bias had died early that morning. I cried then. I cried watching Kirk Fraser's movie. I cry damn near every time I think about Lenny, and I'll be mad at him for a long time.

Not Feelin'

1) Shaq and Z on the floor together. Don't understand a lineup that a) can't spread the floor; Ilgauskas is an excellent shooter for a big man, but doesn't have 3-point range, and b) only makes Cleveland slower. Starting J.J. Hickson at the four, as Mike Brown did Friday vs. the Knicks, makes much more sense.

2) The Blazers' "Rip City" home unis. Great nickname, lousy jerseys.

3) The Hornets' weakside offense. When the ball is out of Chris Paul's hands, nothing happens. A lot of standing around.

4) Popovich, clean shaven. I miss the wandering hobo look.

5) Your name suggestions for the column. Thanks, but ... "The Morning Tip" it is, until further notice.

Top O' The World, Ma!

1) Boston (7-1): Allowed 80.7 points in seven wins.

2) L.A. Lakers (6-1): Making hay at home.

3) Phoenix (6-1): They're not running, they're executing.

4) Orlando (5-2): Doing it without Rashard Lewis and Vinsanity.

5) Miami (5-1): No team outside of the Q depends so much on one guy.

6) Atlanta (5-2): Impressive wins early.

7) Denver (5-2): J.R. Smith finally back after suspension.

8) Dallas (4-2): Josh Howard's return will only help.

9) Houston (4-2): If you play hard, you'll win a lot of games.

10) Chicago (4-2): Deng healthy again and productive.

11) Cleveland (4-3): Need Delonte West back in form.

12) San Antonio (2-3): They look slow. Very slow.

13) Milwaukee (3-2): Brandon Jennings off to blistering start.

14) Portland (4-3): So much tension for a young team.

15) Oklahoma City (3-3): Big win Sunday over Orlando.

Team of the Week

Lakers (4-0): Depleted frontcourt bolstered by contributions from Josh Powell and D.J. Mbenga.

Team of the Weak

Grizzlies (0-4): Shocker: Things aren't going well with AI.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Isn't it time for David Stern to do something about Donald Sterling?

Forget the Clippers decades-long history as a sad-sack, bottom-of-the-barrel franchise. This is worse. Last week, Sterling agreed to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit brought against him by the Justice Department, paying a record $2.725 million in penalties and damages to tenants who claimed they were harmed by his alleged practices of not renting apartments to Latinos, African-Americans and families with children in an apartment complex in the Koreatown section of L.A.

The lawsuit had charged Sterling and his wife, in her capacity as trustee of the Sterling Family Trust, with fostering "an environment that is hostile to non-Korean tenants at the multi-family residential rental properties that Defendants own or manage, or have owned or managed, in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles County ... Providing inferior treatment to non-Korean tenants in the terms, conditions and/or privileges of a rental ... Misreprenting the availability of units to non-Koreans ... Making statements and publishing notices or advertisements in connection with the rental of units that express a preference for Korean tenants and discrimination against non-Korean tenants" ...

And on and on.

This was not the first time Sterling's been charged with discrimination in his housing properties. In 2003, 19 tenants filed a lawsuit against him making similar charges. ESPN the Magazine obtained the testimony of one of Sterling's property supervisors, who claimed that when Sterling bought an apartment complex called the Ardmore, he said the building's odor was "because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they're not clean. And it's because of all the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day."

And on and on.

Sterling has also had issues with women, including one lawsuit filed against him claiming sexual harassment that was, again, settled before it reached trial. The more lurid details are out there in the Internet ether if you really want to see them.

Sterling's lawyers and defenders will surely state, correctly, that a settlement is not an admission of anything. That is true. Sterling may well have his own reasons --monetary, time-saving -- for agreeing to settle. It is hard to believe, though, that someone who is innocent, and accused of an especially ugly racism, would write a check for $2.7 million to make the legal charge go away, rather than fight to restore his good name in a court of law.

Sterling will also point to his lifetime achievement award, given to him in May by the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP -- and which was on prominent display this summer at the Clippers' beautiful new practice facility. Sterling, the NAACP's Los Angeles president said, has been generous to the minority youth community, as evidenced by the thousands of free tickets he gives poor kids for Clippers home games.

Might it be time for commissioner David Stern to levy a suspension against Clippers owner Donald Sterling?
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

That's great.

Can they live at the Ardmore?

The NBA has, rightly, gotten tough on players who fight, players who smoke weed, players who don't dress like they're going to work. It has suspended officials for run-ins with players. I've had no problem with any of that. So why can't the league discipline an owner who has a documented record of alleged hostile behavior over the years? This is a league that uses recidivism as a criteria in doling out punishments to players; a guy that repeatedly elbows opponents in the head will be judged more harshly than someone who's only done it once. What other possible conclusion can a reasonable person reach, given the stream of lawsuits filed against Sterling over the years, than he has shown a consistent pattern of animus toward people of color?

I am not saying the Commish should try and take Sterling's team from him. As the league's bylaws and constitution have been explained to me, an owner would have to either show a pattern of behavior that is so financially ruinous for the league that it has to step in, or has to commit a felony crime, to have the league step in and try to separate the owner from the team. Even then, it would take a three-quarters vote by the Board of Governors to take the team away.

But Stern sure as heck can suspend.

The league has suspended a few owners over the years, from what I've been told, by a couple of sources who would know. It's usually been done quietly and not for very long; garden-variety offenses like coming out onto the court, verbally abusing referees, etc. And Major League Baseball is full of examples of owners being suspended for off-field actions.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for two years in 1974 after Steinbrenner pled guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign. Steinbrenner was allowed to return after 15 months of the suspension. In 1990, Steinbrenner accepted a lifetime ban from Commissioner Fay Vincent after it was disclosed that Steinbrenner had paid a gambler $40,000 to try and find dirt on his former outfielder, Dave Winfield. Steinbrenner served almost three years of the ban before being reinstated.

After Vincent was ousted as commissioner in 1992, a 10-owner committee that worked as a de facto commissioner while a permanent replacement was found voted to suspend Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for one year, and fined her $25,000, after she made racist comments about players and others.

I don't pretend to have a relationship with Sterling. I have spoken to him on a handful of occasions, but one has always given me pause. When the Clippers, briefly, resembled an actual NBA team and made the playoffs in 2006, I was at Staples Center and saw Sterling in the press room. We exchanged pleasantries. Soon after, he asked me, out of the blue, in a way reflecting strong conviction and wild ignorance, why I thought so many black women had children out of wedlock.

Well, at least he asked.

I responded that I didn't think it was a problem limited to one race of people, that a lot of communities were wrestling with the issue, and that there were many likely causes: fewer jobs and low wages that conspired against couples staying together, lack of access to money to start businesses -- and, yes, many men and women who were irresponsible about their choices. That seemed to mollify him a little, but only a little. It was an odd discussion, and I certainly didn't go away from it thinking Sterling was racially progressive, but I didn't note anything sinister in it at the time. Now, the discussion seems more telling.

There are those who don't want sticky old politics gumming up their bread and circuses, or their windmill dunks and no-look passes. Well, this time, we're all covered in something foul.

Stern's NBA hasn't been perfect, but it's been the model among sports leagues, professional and amateur, when it comes to providing opportunties for people of color and women, both in the league office and among its teams, during the last 25 years. It has done so because Stern has insisted it do so. He has not done for any other reason than he thought, and thinks, it's the right thing to do. It is time for Stern to do the right thing, again, and remind everyone that being associated with the NBA is not some inheritance handed down from one generation to another, and that anyone -- no matter their economic standing -- can be separated from it, if only for a while, by odious behavior.

MVP Watch

LeBron James (28.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7 apg, 2.3 steals, .560 FG): Made the annual pilgrimage to MSG look effortless.

Kobe Bryant (35.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, .524 FG): More lethal than ever.

Dwyane Wade (28.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.7 steals, .443 FG): Found a real comfort level with Mario Chalmers.

Carmelo Anthony (26.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.75 steals, .393 FG): Cooled off after torrid start.

Dwight Howard (18.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.25 blocks, .676 FG): Double-double machine.

Steve Nash (17.3 ppg, 10.3 apg, .543 FG): Looks rejuvenated. Maybe it's the winning.

By The Numbers

1: Rebounds that Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic had in three minutes against Houston on Wednesday, which cost Vujacic a coveted "trillion" -- an all-time stat invented by journeyman forward Scott Hastings (now a Nuggets broadcaster). A trillion means a player got in a game for at least a minute, but neither attempted nor made a field goal (two zeroes), neither attempted nor made a free throw (two more zeroes), had no offensive, defensive or total rebounds (three zeroes) and no assists, steals, turnovers, fouls or points (five more zeroes). That's 12 zeroes total. Put the minutes played in front of the zeroes and you have -- voila! -- a trillion; or, in Sasha's case, three trillion.

2: Regular season games the Cavaliers have already lost at Quicken Loans Arena, matching last season's total, when Cleveland was 39-2 at home.

3: Road games lost by the Spurs to start the season, the first time since 1993-94 that San Antonio has dropped its first three games away from home.

Tweet of the Week

As my dog Mort looks at me with sad dead eyes while dressed as hotdog I quietly explain it wasn't my call & some battles aren't worth fighting.
--Thunder forward Nick Collison (nickcollison4), 4:10 p.m., Oct. 31, detailing his dog's unfortunate Halloween costume.

Mr. Fifteen

Our look at the guys who don't play much, or at all, yet find their way in the NBA joins Hornets big man Sean Marks this week. The 34-year-old New Zealand native has gotten a steady Association paycheck for almost a decade, playing for five NBA teams, despite never averaging more than 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. The 6-foot-10 Marks played at the University of California with future pros Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Michael Stewart, and future NFL Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. In the NBA, Marks has done most of his best work in practice, though he has a championship ring from a stint with the Spurs in 2005. Internationally, Marks has led New Zealand to some of its best basketball moments, including a fourth-place finish at the 2002 World Championships. In New Orleans, he's behind a slew of big men -- David West, Emeka Okafor, Hilton Armstrong, Ike Diogu and Darius Songalia -- and isn't active most nights. But he's still smiling.


Me: You're a smart guy and you could be well into a second career by now. Why are you still doing this?

Sean Marks: I think the fire burns still. I still wake up every day and say 'God, I'm lucky to do this for a living.' Whether it's the competitive juices flowing, whether it's the team camraderie, whatever it is, I enjoy being around the guys. I enjoy going to work every day. I enjoy pushing and banging and scrapping it out in practice, and games are a bonus. I still enjoy it, whether it's the typical grind or whatever it is, it's still a lot of fun.

Me: Was there a team where you felt you'd really get an opportunity to play?

SM: I think you've got to think on the positive everywhere. Like everywhere I go, I think, I'm going to get a chance to play here. Obviously it hasn't always worked out, but I take something positive away from every experience, whether it's being the sort of Tim Duncan practice dummy for a few years there. You know, that's great. That improved my game, being able to play against a guy like that day in and day out in practice, and learn from the best, and be around a championship organization. I mean, that's fantastic. You know, there were times, maybe Miami, I got some good minutes there, and then there was an injury. Last year I got some good minutes. I'm still positive about hey, I'm still going to get an opportunity. I still have to stay ready. You just never know. I'm probably running out of time, though.

Me: Was there an assistant or head coach who really worked with you to improve your game?

SM: Again, I think you have to take things from every place you've been, because every place does it perhaps a little differently. Obviously, I'm a little biased toward San Antonio, because we were a championship team. I won a championship with those guys. I think something was done right there...I think that organization was great in what they did for developing players. Brett Brown, who was the assistant, he was sort of a player development guy then, (and) now he's on the bench. He did a lot of work with guys individually with guys. (Spurs assistant) Don Newman, same thing, he was there. But at the same time I could go on every team. Erik Spoelstra, when I was in Miami. I don't think I've come across anybody who's worked harder than that with developing young guys. I mean, you knew he was going to make it to a head coach some day. You look at Rob Werdann on our team. He's getting an opportunity. He's developing guys. I'm learning from him. You're still picking these guys' brains years later.

Me: Was the experience getting to the medal round with the New Zealand national team at the 2002 World Championships as good as it gets for you?

SM: It was definitely up there. In terms of what's the pinnacle of your career, I look at things like just the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, when you're able to walk out in front of 100,000 people, at the Sydney Olympics or the Greece Olympics, and you're representing your country. That's something pretty special, and not a lot of guys have an opportunity to do that. And coming from a country where basketball's not a major sport. So whether it was the stars were in alignment and all that sort of stuff for us to qualify and go that way, things like that were great. Being able to win a championship with San Antonio. International ball is phenomenal, because you grow up with those guys. You talk to any of these international guys, and we always do, myself, Peja (Stojakovic), Darius, 'cause we've grown up playing against each other. The team, even though maybe we play in different professional leagues around the world, we've known each other since we were 16, 17 years old. So it's a special type of bond and a special type of camraderie that those teams have, and that's why it's always fun to get together and play, whether it's the world championships or it's a tournament against Australia.

Me: Do people outside the United States think this country is crazy?

SM: I don't know. I mean, crazy, I don't know about that. I'm now a dual citizen (Marks was naturalized in 2007), so I mean, I consider myself an American, too. And America has been so good to me. I've got family here, it's where I met my wife, my kids are dual citizens. It's a special country, and this'll be home (after retiring). I don't plan on going anywhere else. I'm sure my travels will take me around the globe, but this is ultimately where I think we'll be. Just the possibilities of work in America are endless, and that's for any industry. Obviously, hoops and professional sports like that, baseball, football. But basketball's a worldwide sport. It's about everywhere. To play in the NBA is the pinnacle of my career. That's where everybody strives to be, from when they're five feet tall.

Me: Is it hard not to daydream when you're sitting on the bench?

SM: I don't know. I'm sure you do daydream a little bit. But at the same time, I would think that most guys who are in my circumstances, we realize we're role players. A role player is, do nothing that's detrimental to the team. You sit there, you bust your butt in practice, and you try to push those guys and make them better, and you cheer on the guys from the sideline. And that's been my role for a long time. There's been times when I was the one out there and guys were yelling and cheering me on and stuff, and obviously I hope to continue to be out there and be performing on the court, too.

They said it

"There's times when we miss him. But it is what it is. He's not in the locker room anymore. It's on us to pick it up."
--Bulls center Joakim Noah, on how Chicago is coping with the free agent departure of Ben Gordon to Detroit.

"Just got the call from Doc, bad, bad news. :-("
--Nets guard Chris Douglas Roberts, on his Twitter page, detailing what the Nets later confimred was the first case of H1N1 flu to infect an NBA player.

"The only similarity between Anthony Parker and myself is that both of our sisters are better than us."
--My TNT colleague Reggie Miller, during our Bulls-Cavs telecast Thursday, when asked to respond to the idea that Parker--whose sister Candace was WNBA Rookie of the Year and MVP for the Los Angeles Sparks--has the same kind of three-point range as he did.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.

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