Posted Mar 22 2010 3:03PM
March is a big month for many bank accounts around the NBA. It is the month that many teams ask for, and receive, financial commitments from current and future season ticket holders for next season. Normally, it's not a big deal. Most teams usually get commitments for renewals well in excess of 90 percent and have a healthy bump in their collective income. But these are not normal times. Not in a double-dip recession. And not when there is so much uncertainty about who will be on whose teams next season.
Just how, for example, do the Cavaliers ask for their fans' money, when their fans don't know if LeBron James will be in the home wine and gold next season? Why would a Heat season ticket holder sign a check for thousands of dollars when he or she has no guarantee that Riles will be able to do what he says he will do -- get Dwyane Wade some help -- or, for that matter, keep Wade in town?
This is the task of suits from coast to coast.
"All we do is say, here's what we are doing and what we will continue to do," says the Cavaliers' president, Len Komorowski. "LeBron has said winning is the most important thing for him. We are united in that. Winning is the most important thing for us. LeBron has said he's done talking about free agency until after the season. We're following his lead on that as well. We're going to focus on what we can focus on and control, and that's focusing on our championship-caliber culture."
Teams have had to learn new flexibility when asking for such large sums of money. Relaxed payment plans around the league have been implemented for the past few years, allowing their ticket holders to finance their tickets over several months. And they've had to come up with all kinds of amenities and goodies to add value to their ticket packages, from chalk talks with coaches to pregame meet and greets with team executives, to discounts on merchandise, to swag and free food. But there's nothing they can do to guarantee that their team is going to land the big free-agent fish. And no one is offering any money-back guarantees if the prime free agents don't come. Fans who commit now are taking a leap of faith.
The Cavaliers' message to their season ticket holders is this: Look at what we've done. We've brought in top flight management. We've made improvements to the roster every season. Our owner has been willing to spend whatever it takes to make those improvements. We've put $35 million into improving Quicken Loans Arena, and built a state of the art practice facility. We've surrounded LeBron with everything he could possibly ask for. And we'll keep doing that, either (hopefully) with LeBron or (if necessary) without LeBron.
Getting actual renewal numbers on season tickets is incredibly difficult, but the Cavaliers claim that their renewals are running ahead of where they were last year, and that they are among the top three teams in the league in new ticket sales for next season.
"Last year we had one of the highest renewal rates in the league, and we are already ahead of that pace, which is pretty compelling commentary in itself," Komorowski said. "And as far as new tickets, we are already one of the league leaders. It's a combination of our business practices and the championship culture that we're striving to do."
Cleveland's 2010-11 renewal notices and electronic messages to its ticket holders include images of James, but the team insists that is not meant to imply to ticket buyers that James will definitely return. The Cavs point out that Shaquille O'Neal, also a free agent at the end of the season, is also included among the images, and the team doesn't know if O'Neal will return, either. Most of the illustrations are team-centric, the Cavs claim, and are not focused on any one player.
"We basically (say) our actions speak louder than anything," Komorowski said. "We're doing everything in our power to win. We're doing everything as it relates to facilities, investments in players, whether it be our fan experience. Our fans believe they can have an impact on the outcome of the game ... this is a market that's acting as one, with a common belief and a common goal. At the end of the day we hope that would be an atmosphere that would be compelling for any NBA player to be a part of."
In Miami, the Heat's message to current and prospective season ticket holders is blunt: We will deliver this summer. Get on board now, or get left behind.
"Our decision, which I think is slightly different from what other teams are doing, is to be very pro-active and honest, not only to our season ticket holders, but to our sponsors and everyone else," says Eric Woolworth, the team's vice president of business operations.
Miami's sales pitch has been ongoing to its ticket holders for months. The team has augmented its annual series of videos to ticket holders featuring Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison. This years' videos have laid out, piece by piece, why the Heat cleared out millions in cap room, what the team plans to do with that room, why it makes more financial sense for Wade to stay in Miami than play elsewhere next season, and how aggressive the team plans to be in July.
In one, "Don't Miss Out," Riley says "now is the time" to write that big check. In another, titled "Why You Should Renew," Riley says: "I'm telling you right now, that we're right on the precipice here of being able to build, I think, a team that you're going to love to be around for the next, you know, 10 years. We hope we can do that. And we're in a position to do that. So, you don't want to miss out."
Woolworth said his marching orders -- talking points, if you will -- to his sales force went like this: "'Listen. All those other teams that cleared all that cap room, they had to give away the farm to do it. We didn't. We have one (superstar) and we need to get one. They need two.'"
Teams like the Timberwolves and Warriors have had to signficantly cut season ticket prices for prospective buyers that bought early. The Heat had a similar bargain: If you renewed by last Friday, your season tickets for next season were frozen at this season's prices. That offer is gone and if the Heat lands a star to play with Wade, you're literally going to pay for it.
"We've told them, 'If we have a good July, we're absolutely raising prices,' " said Woolworth. Hey, give the man points for honesty.
The reactions to that honesty, Woolworth says, have been different.
"From the season ticket holders, it's like, 'Good, that's what you should be doing,'" he said. "From the people in the new sales drive, they say, 'Well, that's not fair,' " Woolworth said. "I say, 'Yes, it is. We're making decisions based on what we know' ... the people who did not renew their tickets the summer before we got Shaquille O'Neal (in 2004), most of those people got left out. The tickets sold out in about a day and a half."
Woolworth says that so far, while sales of new tickets for next season are a little down compared to last season, renewals for next season as a percentage of tickets sold are "signficantly higher" than they've been in years. Miami's sales pitch will continue into the summer -- both to ticket holders and free agents.
"We think our reputation around the league sort of speaks for itself in that regard," Woolworth says. "Players know that this is a good place to play."
In New York -- ah, New York -- the Knicks started selling new season tickets Feb. 18, and will start their pitch to current season ticket holders at the end of March, according to Stacey Escuerdo, the team's VP of Business Public Relations.
"Our overall messaging has talked about when (team president) Donnie Walsh came to NY in 2008 he set out a plan that we have stuck to and has put us in a position to be players in upcoming free-agent classes," Escuerdo said in an e-mail. After the February trade deadline, when the Knicks made the last of their trades that will now allow them to go after two max-level free agents, Walsh sent a letter to current ticket holders.
"Our moves," Walsh wrote, "... have further positioned us to pursue our strategy over the summer."
In Chicago, the Bulls have not yet started their 2011 season ticket drive; they will start billing existing customers for next season 10 days after their current season ends. But the team's Executive Vice President of Business Operations, Steve Schanwald, says the team has already sold 200 new season ticket packages for next season.
"It is likely that our campaign will be centered around our LOVE IT LIVE theme line with ads featuring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and hopefully a key free-agent acquisition," Schanwald said via e-mail. "So we have to stay somewhat flexible in our advertising until we see what develops in free agency come early July."
The team is making no promises about free agency in its pitches or current advertising, Schanwald said..
"We ... don't need to make any promises in that regard through our advertising," he said in the e-mail. "It has been well documented in local media that we have positioned ourselves from a salary cap standpoint to make a run at a major free agent. And if we are successful in our pursuit of a free agent, we will certainly herald that fact in our advertising via all available mediums."
The Bulls feature Rose in their current advertising on billboards, newspapers, mass transit advertising, television, radio and Internet advertising. One of their TV spots features Rose's dunk over Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns with the live call of the game. But they will not be promoting their free agency goals through future advertising. They have heard from their fan base early and often in meetings with season ticket holders and in focus groups.
"Our fans have expressed to us their strong hope that we pursue ALL the top free agents aggressively and that we be successful in getting at least one of them," Schanwald said.
And, just like their more well-known bosses, if they strike out on LeBron, Wade and Co., they will have some explaining to do
Normally, no one cares much about the firing of an assistant general manager, but Tom Penn is very highly regarded around the league. And his sudden outster last week by the Trail Blazers raised a lot of eyebrows, and questions, with rumors flying fast and furious about internal strife within the Blazers and the future of GM Kevin Pritchard.
Penn -- who, in the interest of full disclosure, has involved me in the last year in a few endeavors for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Memphis-based facility that provides care for kids battling cancer and other diseases, regardless of their families' ability to pay -- was fired Wednesday, less than a year after receiving a contract extension from the Blazers. The team said "philosophical differences" were the reason, which makes no sense, as Penn has been directly involved in all of the big decisions Portland has made in the last year, from the attempted acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu to the signing of free-agent guard Andre Miller, to the trade last month for Marcus Camby.
In addition, Penn -- a former criminal lawyer -- is respected around the league as one of the top experts on the salary cap. And in an upcoming offseason in which the Blazers figure to be involved in any number of transactions -- billionaire owner Paul Allen has never been shy about throwing $3 million into trades or to buy Draft picks -- getting rid of such institutional expertise makes even less sense.
"I can't get into any details of it, but again, there were just some ... it was the way we presented it, philosophical differences," team president Larry Miller said by telephone Saturday afternoon. "The organization at the senior levels just felt like it was time to make a change. That was really what it was about. I think people are reading a lot more into it than it is.
"To your point, it wasn't like people woke up Tuesday morning and said, 'Let's fire Tom Penn' ... there is never a good time to do something like that. The feeling was that it was just time to make a change in that area."
The culture of the Blazers is dominated by the "Vulcans," the executives that are the right-hand people to Allen, who is currently battling cancer. A decidedly corporate bunch, the Vulcans (named for Allen's umbrella parent company, Vulcan, Inc., which owns both the Blazers and the NFL's Seattle Seahawks) operate as a shadow government, advising Allen on all aspects of his business. The question now, as it's been for years, is whether they want to be in charge of the basketball side as well as the business side.
Though Miller would not go into specifics about exactly who decided Penn should go, you can bet that the most important Vulcans -- Tod Leiweke, the CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, which has direct oversight over the Blazers and Seahawks; Bert Kolde, Allen's former college roommate and Vulcan board member, and Jody Allen, Paul's sister and Vulcan CEO -- had advise and consent roles.
"It was a group decision involving senior mangament, both in Portland and Seattle (where Vulcan's corporate headquarters are)," Miller said. "It was a group decision. It wasn't an individual decision."
There have been murmurs that the Vulcans were angered at Penn and his agent, Warren LeGarie, after the team gave Penn a new deal last summer. The new deal came after Penn had been courted by the Timberwolves to run the team. The story is that the Vulcans believed Penn, or LeGarie, or both, exaggerated the extent of Minnesota's interest.
Without getting into too many details, let me say this: The Timberwolves, in mid-May, offered Penn their vice president of basketball operations job. I'm not guessing. That the Blazers matched the offer is on the Blazers, isn't it? But it was offered. (After Portland decided to keep Penn, the Wolves hired David Kahn.)
Miller insists the Blazers were not angry at Penn or LeGarie for engineering the Minnesota offer.
"I don't know where that kind of story would come from," Miller said. "The reality is, if that were the case, we probably would have let him go to Minnesota. That sort of thing happens. People get offers. We agreed to let him go to Minnesota (to talk). We could have said no."
Nor, Miller says, was he personally dissatisfied with Penn.
"I like Tom," Miller said. "He's a good guy. He's got a great family. It's really unfortunate it worked out the way it did, but the organization has to do what it thinks is right."
So that still leaves the question of why. Penn and Pritchard were very close; Pritchard has declined all requests to speak about the firing. Pritchard has one year remaining on his contract, but the Blazers have not made any attempts at an extension. The lack of movement toward a new deal has led Pritchard to wonder whether he has a future in Portland -- and whether the Blazers are getting weary of his looking for a new deal. Miller says the team is not looking to move Pritchard out, but that it also is in no hurry to give him a new contract.
"This was not about Kevin," Miller said. "This was about Tom. This was not to hurt Kevin in any way. I know he and Tom were close and were friends, but this was not done to Kevin in any way. I'm definitely happy with Kevin. Kevin's done a great job building this team ...
"What we'll do, what Paul and the management will do, at the end of the season, is evaluate everybody. I've got a year left on my deal. At the end of the season, Kevin's situation will be evaluated and decisions wil be made at that time. Waiting until the end of the season is not unreasonable, because you're talking about a whole year. We wait until the end of this season. It's not like the end of this season is the end of his contract. I think waiting until this summer is probably the right and logical thing."
Part of that evaluation, MIller said, is deciding whether Penn's role should be filled by one person, or if others should be added to the basketball side as well.
"We're in the process now of trying to decide how we want to fill that role, what type of person we want to fill that role with," Miller said. "We're not clear on that 100 percent yet, but that's the process we're going through right now. There will probably be one assistant GM.
"We are looking at the entire structure of the entire basketball organization as well as the entire organization, to make sure we're structured the right way, to make the organization as successful as possible. We're looking at that. I doubt there will be multijple assistant GMs, but there could be some new people."
Final question: Are the Vulcans angry with Pritchard because Portland chose Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, as some have speculated?
Final answer, via Miller: no.
"The way things operate, decisions aren't made in a vacuum," Miller said. "Kevin didn't decide in a vacuum to pick Oden over Durant. It was a decision all the senior management was involved in. All of the senior management agreed to it. Kevin didn't decide by himself to take Greg. Durant is a great player, but we all thought Greg was the right pick for this organization, and when he gets healthy, we still think he's going to be a great player for us."
The only conclusion: Penn hacked off one of the Vulcans something fierce. Whether that Vulcan was just personally aggrieved, or wants Penn's job, only he or she, and Mr. Spock, know for sure.
(Last week's ranking in brackets)
1) Cleveland  (56-15): Cavs closing in on back-to-back 60-win seasons for first time in franchise history.
2) Orlando  (49-21): Three straight 50+win seasons for Stan Van Gundy.
3) L.A. Lakers  (52-18): Bynum (achilles') out for two weeks, missing last big road trip of the season.
4) Dallas  (46-23): Mavs have the inside track to finishing second overall in the Western Conference, which would mean avoiding the Lakers until the conference finals.
5) Denver  (47-23): Nuggets probably need to plan for extended time without George Karl on bench. That's going to be a much bigger deal than people seem to understand.
6) Atlanta  (45-24): Ho-hum; Hawks make the playoffs for third straight season. How times have changed in the Peachtree.
7) Utah  (45-25): Jazz an improbable 5-0 this season when Kyrylo Fesenko starts at center.
8) Phoenix  (44-26): Big win Sunday night over the Trail Blazers keeps Portland at bay for now, and keeps the Suns within striking distance of fourth place and home court in the first round.
9) Boston  (45-24): Despite all their troubles, Celtics still 24-12 on the road this season.
10) Oklahoma City  (42-26): Thunder has huge homestand this week that will determine whether -- if? -- it makes the postseason: Spurs, Rockets, Lakers, Blazers.
11) Milwaukee  (38-30): After winning road trip, Bucks play nine of their last 14 at home.
12) Portland  (42-29): Per the Oregonian, Brandon Roy has made 37 shots n the last 35 seconds of play to either force overtime or win a game for the Blazers in four years, including Friday's against Washington.
13) San Antonio  (41-27): Ginobili showing signs of life. Not coincidentally, so are the Spurs. But they'll be on the road to start the postseason.
14) Charlotte  (35-34): Stephen Jackson slumping (38.5 percent from the floor in March) at wrong time.
15) Miami  (35-34): Heat plays six of next seven on road -- but only one against team with a winning record.
Boston (4-0): Celtics pick up the D, holding opponents to 43 percent shooting in unbeaten week that got them back ahead of Atlanta for third place overall in the East. Paul Pierce (63 percent from the floor, 24.8 points in four games) looks like he's healthy again for the stretch drive. But four of C's next six opponents are Western Conference playoff teams.
Washington (0-4): After brutal schedule this month -- 11 games in 18 days, nine of which were against playoff teams, losses in every one -- Wizards now reduced to advertising a career fair on their Web site. Oh, and Gilbert Arenas is going to be sentenced to prison this week! Friday, Arenas faces a D.C. Superior Court judge, who can sentence Arenas for up to five years in jail after Arenas's guilty plea in January to a felony count of carrying a gun without a license.
How bad did Jeremy Tyler hurt himself for the 2011 Draft?
Tyler, the now 18-year-old prodigy from San Diego who made headlines last year by opting to skip his senior season of high school and play overseas, returned to the United States this week after a frustrating season with the Israeli team he'd played for, Maccabi Haifa. That wasn't how it was supposed to go for Tyler, a 6-foot-11 center who was seeking -- or, at least, his handlers seemed to be seeking -- to change the path amateur players have taken to the NBA for the last four decades, just as Brandon Jennings did by playing in Italy for a year out of high school instead of playing in college.
The conventional wisdom was that Tyler would play in Europe for two seasons, then come back to the States in 2011, when he'd be 19 and eligible for the NBA Draft. By then, the same wisdom said, he would be a lottery pick in '11, if not the top pick, if he came back with two years of international experience under his belt.
Turns out he only lasted a few months.
He was ejected from a game early in Maccabi's season after referees said he head-butted an opponent, and was suspended for a game. He didn't endear himself to his own team, either, getting tossed from practice and establishing few relationships with teammates or coaches. He seemingly believed he belonged without proving he belonged. He played just 76 minutes total in 10 games.
"We got reports from some consultants and friends," a personnel man of a Western Conference power said via text Sunday. "He was immature at best as a player and person ... I do think he hurt his own standing."
The one saving grace for Tyler was that he was with Maccabi for a short time, and played so little, that almost none of the NBA executives and scouts I polled over the weekend had gone to Israel to see him play. But he has done nothing to help himself in the eyes of NBA personnel men -- especially in comparison with Jennings, who had his own ups and downs last year playing for Lottomatica Roma, but who got props for working on his game during and after practice even though he didn't play a lot. And Jennings was picked 10th by Milwaukee in the first round, and has had an excellent rookie season.
"Jennings stuck it out when it wasn't going well for him," texted a veteran Eastern Conference executive Saturday.
Tyler's people point out that among the differences between Tyler and Jennings was that Jennings' family moved over to Italy with him last year to help him with the transition, while Tyler had to go it alone. While acknowledging that Tyler has some growing up to do, they believe that he will improve with time.
Now, no matter what's happened to him, Tyler is still big and talented, so there's still a chance he could recover in time to shake the Commish's hand early on Draft night 2011. Because he played professionally, he cannot play in a U.S. college next year (he had an oral commitment to play at Louisville before going overseas), and will have to choose either between playing in the NBA D-League or finding another team abroad.
He cannot negotiate any kind of free-agent deal with any team. He will have to be drafted in order to play in the NBA. He has a lot of work to do.
"His entire Draft status is going to be determined by how he responds to this," another personnel guy said Sunday, "and if he gives us the illusion that he's grown up or not."
Evidently, he doesn't think Regis Philbin would do so well on the bench. From Chang Liu:
Basically, I don't think enough attention is paid to the coaching styles of the NBA franchises that have the cap space for the big free agents this summer. I'm a native New Yorker, hoping that the Knicks will give me a reason to be a fan again so I'll just focus on them. Mike D'Antoni is not a championship-caliber coach. Defense wins championships and D'Antoni doesn't teach defense. I'm sure a lot of players would love to play in his free-flowing system but if I were LeBron James, looking to win as many rings as possible in my career, I would not play for Mike D'Antoni. It's not just individual defense, its team defense, and D'Antoni teaches neither.
Of course, D'Antoni has supporters who argue that he's never been as bad on defense as the public may perceive, citing statistics like points per 100 possessions (the Suns wanted a fast-paced tempo, so their points allowed wasn't as bad as it would have been if they were trying to slow the game down) and opponent assists allowed (Phoenix tended to crowd the paint and force its opponents to shoot jumpers). The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
Next thing you know, Old Trafford will be draped in white and blue. From James Wilkinson:
I think all the teams in the league should have St. Patrick's Day jerseys, even if it is just small changes to their original kits, like Houston could just change the Red on their home kit to green. Seeing your team wearing a change of colors may be a trivial kind of thing, but I think it just makes games a little bit more interesting and adds a bit more fun to the game. Which leads me to say that I think more teams should start wearing throwback jerseys -- at least more often. I just think it would be nice for fans to go to a game and see their team wearing something other than white and adds a bit of variation to the season. What do you think about this?
As you said, James, teams have had designated throwback jersey nights (here, here, here, here and here, for example) several times a season for the past several years. I don't know how many more times you could do that in a given season.
Phil Jackson has your back. From Giuseppe Bellomonte:
I'm an italian NBA fan (and the Suns) and I live in France that is, from the time point of view, GMT+1 which means ET+6 (and Pacific time +9!!!). I watch NBA games almost every night (well I don't need a lot of rest). My problem is NBA games duration: I wonder how a 48-minute game can become two hours and 30 minutes long?!
That's maybe logic during playoffs because of single-game importance, but during the regular season I think it's too much. So, a 7 p.m. ET game becomes 1 a.m. ET for European fans and it would be such a nice thing a game to last no more than say 48 minutes times two ... or an hour and 35 minutes or so. My solution: starting on time (it never happens), calling less timeouts, shrinking the halftime and time between quarters.
The reality, Giuseppe, is that all of us -- me, you, the players, the coaches, the fans in the arena and those watching at home -- are at the mercy of advertisers. They pay the bills. Commercials -- lots of them -- are going to be on broadcasts, from the beginning to halftime to between quarters, and that makes the games longer and longer. May I suggest TiVo or DVR?
LeBron James (26.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 8.8 apg, .461 FG, .833 FT): Fastest ever to 15,000 points, doing it in 540 games.
Kobe Bryant (26.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 7 apg, .458 FG, .769 FT): Finger still bugging him, leading to higher turnovers, but playing through it, and picking his spots.
Carmelo Anthony (32.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, .452 FG, .846 FT): Channeled his inner Dan Issel with a career-high 20 rebounds in Thursday's win over New Orleans.
Kevin Durant (24.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.3 apg, .345 FG, .970 FT): It's all been pie in the sky stuff for the Thunder this season, but let's see how Durant leads OKC this week after his team blew a lead against Charlotte and never showed up against Indiana.
Dwight Howard (9.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.5 bpg, .462 FG, .458 FT): Fired back on his blog against one of critics on the Four-Letter Network this week, but didn't back it up with the best numbers. Also one technical foul away from a mandatory one-game suspension.
30 -- Days since Zydrunas Ilgauskas' buyout with the Wizards was offiical, meaning today is the first day Ilgauskas can officially begin negotiations to re-sign with the Cavaliers.
38 -- Games by which the Nets trail division-leading Boston entering play this week.
39 -- Consecutive games with one 3-pointer by Houston's Aaron Brooks, a franchise record. Since the All-Star Game, Brooks is averaging 21.6 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting.
1) That was a pretty good first week of the NCAAs, wouldn't you say? Unless you had Georgetown going to the Final Four ... and Texas A&M ... and ... ah, my bracket is toast. But it was still a great week. All Hail Northern Iowa and St. Mary's and Cornell.
2) Maybe the Celtics aren't Dead Team Walking just yet.
3) Okay, the Bucks aren't just a cute story any more. Back-to-back wins at Sacramento (double OT) Friday and in Denver Saturday, 14 out of 16, and a possible first-round preview tonight at Bradley Center against the Hawks. Who thought that would be a meaningful game in November?
4) This outstanding article on ESPN.com by Rick Reilly on George Karl's new daily routine. We see someone with cancer, we give them a hug, we wish them well, we go on with our lives. They don't. They're wrecked by what cancer does to them. This brings it home.
5) This very funny take on fraternization by former pro Eddie Johnson, with a couple of great Larry Bird stories.
6) Here's hoping we see this in a real game by the end of the month.
7) Smart move by the Warriors to cut season tickets for next season across the board, from eight to 28 percent, for early renewers, who started getting invoices for next season in the mail last week. As noted below, the on-court product stinks. Time to give the paying customer a little bit of relief.
1) Warriors are clearly in the "defense optional" stage of the season: last week, they gave up 124, 121, 147 and 123 points in four games, a ridiculous 128.8 points per game. I know Nellie isn't Dick Harter or anything when it comes to D, but he and his players should be embarassed at that (lack of) effort.
2) Three weeks. Thirteen games. The Nets have to win three to avoid matching history, two to avoid making history. Bad news: no more games with Charlotte.
3) Ali Farokhmanesh is a hero today in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Rightly so. But that pullup for a three, up one, with less than a minute left, against the No. 1-ranked team in the country, was the worst decision in the history of college basketball.
4) I before E, except after ... ah, what a mess.
5) I don't think Ersan Ilyasova did it deliberately, but that elbow to Tyreke Evans's jaw Friday night needs to be reviewed by the league, with appropriate penalties to follow.
I will always think of Peter G when I repeat the lines 'We have Clearance Clarence". I send my condolences to his family & friends.
-- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33), Monday, March 15, 3:47 p.m., reacting to the death last week of actor Peter Graves, with whom Abdul-Jabbar starred in the hilarious movie "Airplane!" in 1980 ("tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!").
This week's Mr. Fifteen is Minnesota Timberwolves forward Alando Tucker. The 26-year-old Tucker has appeared in just four games for Minnesota since being acquired by the Timberwolves last Dec. 28 from Phoenix, along with a second-round pick and cash, for guard Jason Hart. Tucker was the Suns' first-round pick in 2007, after finishing as the University of Wisconsin's all-time leading scorer, but saw limited time on Mike D'Antoni's last Phoenix team. Under then-coach Terry Porter, Tucker hoped to become part of Phoenix's regular rotation, but fell out of the mix after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery early last season -- though he did some action later in the year -- and the Suns declined to pick up his option for the 2010-11 season.
In Minnesota, Tucker is stuck in another tough situation -- a very young team that is evaluating its own players in the midst of a dreadful season -- and minutes are scarce behind Corey Brewer at shooting guard and Ryan Gomes at small forward.
(Editor's note: Tucker was waived by the Timberwolves on Monday. This interview took place before that transaction was made.)
Me: How do you stick with it and keep your mind right when you're not getting to play as much as you'd like?
Alando Tucker: Yeah, it's tough, brother. But the main thing to me is to keep working. I stay in the gym a lot. I'm just working on everything I need to work on, to keep my confidence up. I've looked at the history of the league and a lot of different guys, and I just see the opportunities that arise. You have to be ready for them. And I'm trying to stay ready every day for any opportunities I can get. It's tough, because when you're a competitor, all I've ever known was to work hard, and be able to play. If I'm working out and I'm doing something, if I'm proving something on the court, practice court, or whatever that may be, you get an opportunity. And that's the toughest part, that I feel like I haven't got that opportunity. You've got to find some kind of way to keep your confidence up.
Me: I'm sure you said these things to Terry Porter, and Alvin Gentry, and Kurt Rambis -- that if you just got an opportunity, you could live with the results. What have they said when you said that?
AT: Well, you know, when I got to the league, and (Mike) D'Antoni, I was a rookie. I kind of understood. They were telling me how the rotations were short. So I kind of, my rookie year, I didn't want to say too much. Coming back second year, under coach Porter, it was a little different. I talked to coach Porter, and he was actually an equal opportunity guy. He came in, and I actually was playing. He had me in the rotation early in the season. And then I had to have surgery on my knee. So that was kind of a minor setback for me. And from that point, the Suns started losing. And then they called for a trade. They made a trade with Jason Richardson, bringing in Jason Richardson and (Jared) Dudley over for Raja (Bell) and a couple of guys. That kind of made it tough from that point, because then you start looking at money aspects and a lot of different things. Jason Richardson, coming in, a big-salaried guy, he's going to play minutes ... so I had to kind of take a bigger seat back, behind him and Leandro Barbosa. So it kind of made it tough. And the same things were being told to me, that I just keep working every day. They liked everything I was doing. And I've never heard any bad things about the things I (was) doing. It was just waiting for that opportunity. I was unforutunate to not have been given that in Phoenix. And then coming to the situation here with the Wolves, they have a lot of free agents and guys that are working toward something, and I come in the middle of the season, and they're trying to still see, the organization is trying to see what they have in the guys that they have here. So it's kind of tough for me to fall in that position, thinking I have an opportunity here, considering records and whatnot. And it's the same story, pretty much. And that becomes tough. That's the hardest part, when you feel like you can play, you feel like you have something to offer. And you've proven it. I prove it all the time, every time I step on the court, the practice court, or if I'm given a chance. The hardest part is constant, constant effort, but not being rewarded. That's what I find hard.
Me: I know your former Suns teammate, Steve Nash, has told you to keep your head up. What did those words mean to you?
AT: Those mean a lot to me. He talked to me all the time. Even when I saw these guys the past game the Wolves played the Suns, Grant (Hill) and Nash, they came to visit me. Nash stopped by the hotel and came and visited me. And I met with a couple of the guys. They always encourage me. They believe in me. And that gives me the ultimate confidence. And it helps me believe that I can play in this league, and I just have find a spot. Being able to hear it from a two-time MVP of the league, and he sincerely says it all the time, about his story and how he had to keep his head up, and how he stayed in the gym. And it paid off for him. So I know it happens in this league. I know it can happen in this league. And that's what keeps me going, things like that, hearing from him. And then, a lot of other stories in the league you hear. You talk to guys, you talk about Roger Mason and his story. A lot of guys like that. It just gives me hope. And that's why I have to stay in the gym, because you've gotta have hope.
Me: What do you work on when you're in the gym?
AT: I'm always constantly working on ballhandling and shooting, nonstop. That's one of the things that I'm constantly, constantly working on. Every day. You always want to stay familiar with your shot as a player. The toughest part is, when you're not playing, you can lose rhythm. I try to work on all of that -- my rhythm, handling the ball, plays that might happen, plays that we might run in the games, and spots I can get my shots out of in the offense. I work on all those things.
Me: How much triangle are they running now?
AT: A lot of triangle. So you have to try to pick your spots that you can score out of that, or be able to be effective. I picked it up quick. Being a player that played with Phoenix, guarding the triangle and playing the Lakers all the time, you kind of pick it up quick. That hasn't been a problem for me.
Me: Is this time of year harder, because the tournament is on, and your squad, Wisconsin, is having a good run, and you dominated in college, at the highest level?
AT: Yeah. Around this time, watching the tournament, watching March Madness, seeing the tournament, just that feeling, that adreline rush through my body, it's like, yeah, I remember. I can remember those times, playing it ... it makes it tough for me. Because a sheer competitor, being a sheer competitor alone, if you have any, you won't be satisfied. You don't want to be complacent. And a situation like this just burns inside. And that's how I feel. It just burns every minute I can't be on the court. 'Cause I watched it. That's all I've ever known, playing basketball, being able to be effective and do what I do.
Me: I know you do a lot of writing, both poetry and lyrics. Do you find yourself doing more at times like these?
AT: I'm able to balance both. I'm always on the court, but we spend a lot of down time also like in hotels and on the plane. A lot of guys listen to music or do a lot of different things, and I take the time to write, either poetry or musical pieces, for other people and myself. It's really extended for me to be able to write. Others have been finding out that I write. So I write for a lot of local artists, from Chicago and different places, that want me to create songs for them. I do that along with writing poetry.
Me: You still working with 5th Coast Records (in Chicago)?
AT: Yeah, I still have ties with them. I've still got ties with some of the guys up there, and a lot of guys in Phoenix. Any time that they need anything from me, I talk to those guys all the time. They'll call me and hit me with a lot of different things, a lot of different advice for music that they have going on. So I've always got that connection. And then just connecting with a lot of musical guys in Chicagoland, and everywhere I pretty much go. The word's probably gotten passed around that I take this pretty serious.
Me: So are you gonna be spitting or writing?
AT: Oh, I'll do both. I sing, I'm a poet. It takes time for all of it to come out.
Me: Joe Smith is supposed to be the best rapper in the league. You gonna give him some run?
AT: When everything comes out, it all comes from, I guess, it's about the fans and everybody deciding. When I actually start releasing some songs, I'll let everybody else be the judge. I heard he's pretty good, though. We'll see.
Me: At the end of this season, what do you think is going to happen?
AT: I'm going to look at a lot of different situations, as far as my agent, he's got some things going on. I'm going to go and try to work out for some teams and see what they have to say ... whether it's here or somewhere else, I have to take full advantage of the opportunity. So I'll just be (working) this whole summer. But I work around all year. I never really take breaks. So I'm dealing with my agent. I'm confident that he's going to get me in a situation to where I can prove myself, and that's one of the things I'm looking forward to doing this summer.
Me: It's all about playing somewhere next year?
AT: To me, my whole point is getting on the court. I've never worried about anything or worried about my ability or my game. It's just I need somewhere to be able to play. So I feel if you put me on any court, anywhere where they have a need for my position, I'll be able to prove something.
"The type of owner I want to be is, I want them to say, 'I enjoyed hanging out with MJ.' They can call me MJ. They don't have to call me boss."
--Michael Jordan, on how he plans to be hands-on with Bobcats players as the team's new majority owner -- though he also said he has "to pay the bills" and will not always be with the team so that he can fulfill his other business obligations.
"Tonight was a disgrace to how we play and the game of basketball, how we came out, and that starts with me."
--Kevin Durant, channeling his inner Bill Walton, after his Thunder team was routed in Indianapolis by the Pacers on Sunday. Throw it down, big man, throw it down!
"I wasn't scared. I just didn't want to take a risk or chance."
--Lakers forward Pau Gasol, detailing to the Los Angeles Times why he pulled into a local police station on Wednesday to report two men who were following him and his girlfriend. The men turned out to be Spanish paparazzi.
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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