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David Aldridge

0329pritchard3608.jpg
Kevin Pritchard's days as Portland's GM could be numbered.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Getting to bottom of Blazers' rotten rift with Pritchard


Posted Mar 29 2010 10:06AM

Not to go all Hamlet on you this Monday morning, but something is rotten in the State of Oregon.

Somebody among Kevin Pritchard's supposed allies in owner Paul Allen's organization seems to want him fired, but doesn't have the courage or the decency to say so publicly.

This sort of intra-office squabbling and bickering happens in every office where people work. I'm sure you don't care much about whether Pritchard, the Trail Blazers' general manager, keeps his job. But part of my job is to give praise when teams are doing things the right way, and to point out when teams are doing things the wrong way.

And what's happening to Pritchard is wrong.

He's being hung out to dry, made to be the scapegoat for ... what, exactly? A hundred and eight consecutive sellouts in the Rose Garden? Trading for LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy on Draft day in 2007? Getting Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez and Nicolas Batum since then? Doing all the heavy lifting to transform the Jail Blazers from a national embarassment to one of the league's most promising teams? In three years?

Nonetheless, by (anonymous) word and deed, Pritchard is almost certainly going to pay for whatever he's done with his job. Whether it's after this season or next is hardly relevant.

Before you ask, no, Pritchard is not a personal friend or a professional source of any consequence; like every GM I've known in 25-plus years, he's much more comfortable gossiping about other teams and organizations than his own. Nor do I have any animus toward Blazers owner Paul Allen, whom I've never actually met (though I've gone through his fine music museum in Seattle and used his computing products from time to time). And I love coach Nate McMillan. But there are people with agendas who clearly have Allen's ear, and are whispering sour nothings into it about Pritchard's supposed shortcomings.

Why on earth this has become an issue now, with the Blazers heading toward the playoffs after overcoming an incredible run of injuries this season, is a mystery.

"Coach brought us in a couple of days ago, and said Pritchard called him, and said he doesn't want this to be a distraction to the team," Roy said last week. "He understands that we're in a tough race here, and we're trying to move up in the standings, and we're also trying to keep the teams behind us off our heels. So I think the guys are doing a good job of just saying hey, we'll deal with that in the offseason. Right now, we're in a tough race."

As you likely know, this began a couple of weeks ago, when the Blazers abruptly fired Tom Penn, the team's vice president of Basketball Operations, and Pritchard's right hand man and close friend. The reason cited --"philosophical differences" -- made no sense, as Penn was on board with all of the major moves the team has made since his arrival in 2007.

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Kevin Pritchard (right) was the man who helped bring Nate McMillan (left) and Brandon Roy to Portland.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The timing made no sense, as the Blazers are trying to hold on to a playoff spot in the hyper-competitive west at the moment, and Penn -- one of the league's top salary cap and collective bargaining agreement experts -- would be more valuable than ever this coming summer, when so many teams will be aggressively looking to improve their rosters and willing to make trades.

The team's president, Larry Miller, talked with me last week, but shed little light on the reason why Penn was sacked, or why he was sacked now. (I have no quarrel either with Miller, the third-year president whom I think is caught in the middle of all this, under orders from above. But no one's asking him to jump on his sword for Pritchard; we all have bosses.)

Question: if Penn's performance was so bad, and his future with the team so marginal, why was he still getting e-mails and texts from the top echelon of team management up to the moment he was dismissed, as a friend revealed last week? And if he did something so egregious as to offend someone's sense of legality or morality, why is the team still going to pay him for the remaining three years of his contract? The only explanation that makes any sense is that Penn was sacrificed to take one of Pritchard's closest allies in the building out of the picture, leaving him vulnerable to a fragging.

Then came stories that painted Pritchard and his agent, Warren LeGarie, in an unfavorable light. No argument here with the opinions of the writers (they're entitlled to them), nor do I believe that they quoted their sources inaccurately. It's the agenda of those sources that I question.

Almost certainly the agenda eminated, directly or indirectly, from the top of Allen's Vulcan Sports and Entertainment group, based out of Seattle and not Portland, which has direct oversight over both the Blazers and the NFL's Seahawks, which Allen also owns.Those are the only people that seem to have a problem with Pritchard; those at or below his level on the Blazers' food chain like him plenty. (Trust me. I checked.) If you judge a man by his friends and associates, well, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich swears by Pritchard. So do others who've worked with Pritchard in his other stops around the league, both as a player and in management.

Because I don't have direct evidence, merely a suspicion, naming names would be inappropriate at this time. But I know one of Allen's closest confidantes has sought to get his hands on the basketball side of Allen's many businesses on a permanent basis for some time, and has been buzzing around both the Blazers and the Seahawks, waiting for an opening. A former Blazers employee who knows what's really going on guarantees to me that this guy is involved in the anti-Pritchard crusade.

Is Pritchard arrogant, as the whispering campaign claims? One would suspect anyone who's had Allen's billions at his disposal to get whatever he wanted would be. So let's just say he is for argument's sake. Does he try to make one-sided deals, your stars for his marginal guys? Guilty. That does not make him unique among his brethren; Jerry Krause was (in)famous for the same, and just as loathed by some of his contemporaries -- and employees, who never wanted to give him credit for bringing in Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Luc Longley, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper and just about every non-Jordan piece that contributed to six NBA titles in eight seasons. The same was said about Bob Whitsitt when he was running things in Portland in the late 1990s and the early part of the 2000s.

Did Pritchard tell player agents that his bosses wouldn't let him give them the contract he really thought their clients deserved? Wow, is he the first GM that's ever played both ends against the middle? Is he insecure about how much money he makes? Aren't we all, about that or something else? (Why are you looking at me like that? Does this tie make me look fat?)

But that's all inside stuff. The bottom line is the bottom line. Since '07, Pritchard traded for Aldridge and Roy, traded for Fernandez, drafted Batum, refused any and all inquiries by other teams about Batum, drafted Bayless, gave a reasonable contract extension to guard Martell Webster, signed Andre Miller in free agency and traded for Marcus Camby. And the Blazers, once again, have the support and love of the community that is such a part of the team's DNA.

And, of course, Pritchard drafted Oden ahead of Kevin Durant. Today, everyone says they would have taken Durantula over Oden. Which is garbage. Don't get revisionist because Oden hasn't been able to stay healthy, and Durant is becoming a superstar. Oden was viewed as a once-a-decade franchise center, just like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Walton or Yao Ming, so mature in comportment and visage that writers and anchors developed a cottage industry of "Oden is really 40" jokes. Many thought Durant would be a star, the very modern model of George "Iceman" Gervin, and that was nothing to sneeze at. But 27 or so GMs would have made the exact choice Portland's GM made.

Instead of squashing all the talk that Pritchard's a goner, Allen has said next to nothing, other than a three-paragraph non-denial denial that Pritchard's goose is dangerously close to the oven door.

"We are not going to make any more long-term decisions today," Allen's statement read. "When the season ends we will evaluate how best to move the Trail Blazers forward. That's no different than the way we have operated for the past 21 seasons.

"I support everyone who works with me, including Kevin Pritchard, and that's why he's our general manager. We all have the same goal -- to bring another NBA championship to the great fans of Portland."

Well, everything's settled, then.

McMillan -- whom, I'm told, has pledged his commitment to Pritchard privately, and whom, like Pritchard, has one year left on his contract -- would only say to me last week, "I have this team, and that's what I can control."

Pritchard didn't want to throw gas on the fire last week when I got him on the phone. But he was adamant in denying that he'd repeatedly gone to Allen and asked for a raise. Is he lying, or parsing words? (He, of course, wouldn't ask for the raise, his agent would.) Don't know. Hope not. But when you've been around a while, you kind of know the guys who are straight shooters, and the guys who don't say anything, and the guys who always put themselves out front for maximum exposure and praise. That hasn't been Pritchard, not to me, anyway.

Leaving us where we started, with Denmark, and Portland, in chaos. And with someone who wants, at the last minute, to jump in front of the parade now that all the elephant dung has been cleaned out: ...'tis an unweeded garden, That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature Possess it merely. That it should come to this!

Dribbles

It's late March, so we must speak now of the Utah Jazz, who are always in the discussion this time of year. But this time ... well, time is what this is all about. Utah is hoping it isn't out of time.

This current incarnation of the Jazz has been together since 2006, when GM Kevin O'Connor manuevered his way to the third pick of the Draft and took Deron Williams, one pick ahead of Chris Paul, who went to the Hornets. And the quartet of Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko has been together ever since, playing for tireless head coach Jerry Sloan and leading the Jazz to the 2007 Western Conference finals and losses the last three years to the eventual Western Conference champion.

This season, Utah is tied with Denver for the Northwest Division lead (Denver holds the division tiebreaker). But one hiccup down the stretch can send any team from second to seventh in a minute. Luckily for the Jazz, it's done pretty well this season against most of the West's playoff teams. Utah has already swept Portland (4-0) and San Antonio (4-0), and won two of three apiece against the Mavericks and Suns. But the Jazz managed just one win in four tries against the Nuggets, and has lost two of three to the Lakers -- the team that's eliminated Utah two years in a row from the posteason.

"We've had trouble with Denver," Sloan said Saturday. "We've had trouble with the Lakers. I think if we can get everybody to play and have every player right on top of his game, I think we can compete against those teams. But we have to prove it. We can't talk about it.

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Carlos Boozer (left) and Deron Williams think the Jazz are built for a playoff run.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images

"Guys have hopes and aspirations and all that stuff, but you can throw that out the window if you're not going to compete. That's the way I've always seen it. That's the way I've looked at it when we play, and that's the only frame of reference I have to go on. You give it your best shot, lay it out there, and if that's not good enough, go home."

This year, Utah thinks it's better prepared for a long postseason run. Kirilenko --currently out with a strained left calf -- has had a renaissance in his eighth season, again looking like the whirling dervish who can lock up opponents on defense and fly around the rim in transition. Williams (18 points, 10 assist per game) made his first All-Star team. Utah's role players, from C.J. Miles to Paul Millsap to Kyle Korver, all have done well. Even raw big man Kyrylo Fesenko has stepped in and contributed. But the most important addition is the tough hide Utah thinks it has grown in those back-to-back playoff losses to Los Angeles.

"I mean, we've got guys that have played them a couple times now," Boozer said Saturday. "It's not going to be that nervous twitch that we've had in previous years, like 'Oh, that's Kobe Bryant.' We've played against them a couple of times, and he's kicked our butt. Now you're going to be used to him and you're going to be prepared for him, more prepared for him.

"It's hard saying it, but in reality, experience really does help you. The teams that win it, they don't win it right away. Not everybody has what Boston had when they got K.G. and Ray Allen to come in. Most teams, they build chemistry, they get experience for two or three years by losing in the playoffs. Then that fourth, fifth and sixth year, they're ready to make a run. And that's where we hope we are."

But hanging over Utah's head is, of course, Boozer's future.

An unrestricted free agent at season's end, Boozer seemingly had one foot out the door last summer, telling audiences in Miami and Chicago that he wouldn't at all mind a trade to either destination. But O'Connor got his Staten Island up and refused to hold a fire sale for Boozer, and trade talks died on the vine. That left Boozer with no choice but to report for work in Salt Lake City, which he has to great effect, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds. But no one is naive enough to think that's smoothed out all the rough edges between Boozer and management.

Utah matched the four-year, $32 million offer sheet the Trail Blazers put on Millsap last summer, so it has an heir apparent ready in case Boozer isn't around next season. But Boozer and Williams have that great big man-point guard bond that is hard to replicate. It helps that Sloan's system hasn't changed since 1989, and that they can do it in their sleep.

Boozer's agent, Rob Pelinka, met with Jazz chief executive Greg Miller, team president Randy Rigby and O'Connor 10 days ago in Salt Lake City. The meeting, reportedly, went well, though no one will lay out any specifics about what went down.

"It was a good meeting, positive," Boozer said. "We'll see what happens July first ... I feel better about it, but we're going to leave it where it is, so it's not a distraction right now, focus on this playoff and see where we end up at, and then we'll talk free agency stuff this summer."

That doesn't soothe Williams, who was angry after the Jazz sent Ronnie Brewer to Memphis at the trade deadline for a future first-rounder. Utah's ownership was willing to pay luxury tax this season, but that isn't an open-ended commitment. Utah already saved millions by giving often-injured Matt Harpring and rookie Eric Maynor to Oklahoma City, and sending Brewer, the starting two guard, only reinforced the notion that the Jazz were trying to lower their tax burden. Even though rookie Wesley Matthews has stepped in for Brewer, and Miles has filled in for Kirilenko, and Utah's defense has come around (the Jazz's point differential of 5.85 is third-best in the league), the window for any contending team is not long.

"We're not getting any younger," Williams said. "It's kind of a sense of urgency right now, with the contract situations the way they are. We could be a different team. We've got to make the best of this opportunity. We don't know where Booz is going to be next year. We hope he's back with us, but we don't know. There's some other guys (most notably, Okur) that are going to be free agents on this team. So this could be a different-looking team."

Utah, simply, can't wait.

"I think we're built for the playoffs," Boozer said. "I think we are. And I think we're a team that can play in a seven-game series, and get out there and do some damage in the Western Conference. We're just anxious to get out there."

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Last week's ranking in brackets)

1) Cleveland [1] (58-16): Big Z belongs in the wine and gold. Good to see him back.

2) Orlando [2] (52-22): Rashard Lewis looked like he was coming on, then shoots 10-of-30 last three games.

3) L.A. Lakers [3] (54-19): Jerry Buss says he'll talk contract with Phil Jackson after the season. Phil told our Scott Howard-Cooper he'd like to come back next season. A little wiggle room there, but it usually turns out all right in the end.

4) Utah [7] (48-26): Nineteen playoff appearances in 22 Jazz seasons for Jerry Sloan.

5) Phoenix [8] (47-26): Seven straight wins for the first time in two years.

6) Denver [5] (48-26): Trying to hold on to No. 2 in the West, avoid second-round series with L.A.

7) Atlanta [6] (47-26): Haven't won 50 games since 1997-98 season.

8) Dallas [4] (48-25): Rick Carlisle has some decisions to make about playoff rotation -- like, how much will Roddy Buckets play?

9) Oklahoma City [10] (44-28): The time is approaching: Who takes the shot when teams double Durant in the postseason?

10) Boston [9] (47-26): Every time you think Cs are coming on ... they play like they did Sunday.

11) Milwaukee [11] (40-32): Salmons averaging 20 points on 46 percent shooting since coming from Chicago in February.

12) Portland [12] (45-29): Changing their attack on the fly, with great results.

13) San Antonio [13] (44-28): Big consecutive wins over Cleveland, Boston.

14) Miami [15] (40-34): Peaking at the right time -- 11 of 14 and five straight -- and fifth place is not out of the question.

15) Charlotte [14] (38-34): Fairly significant game tonight against the Raptors. (3/22/10-3/28/10)

Team of the Week

New Jersey (2-2): Nets win consecutive games and go .500 for the week for the first time this season. More importantly, they assured themselves of finishing no worse than the 1972-73 Sixers. And one more New Jersey win -- I'm looking at you, Washington, next Sunday evening -- means my friend Fred Carter is, and will continue to be, the best player on the worst team in NBA history. Good on ya, Mad Dog! And, things promise not to be dull in Newark next season.

Team of the Weak

Detroit (0-3): Smoked at home by the Pacers, become New Jersey's ninth victim, lose at home to Chicago. Fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Division record this season: 2-14. It was a great run. And now, as Henry Hill said at the end of Goodfellas, it's all over.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

How, exactly, is this reunion of Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards supposed to work?

Arenas will do no jail time after being sentenced Friday to 30 days in a halfway house, two years' probation, 400 hours of non-basketball community service and a $5,000 contribution to a victims' fund after pleading guilty last January to one felony count of carrying a pistol without a license. And thus ends the saga of Gil and Guns and ex-Georgia Tech guard Javaris Crittenton, one of the most bizarre ways a franchise has imploded in recent memory. That Arenas won't be in prison, and will thus be available to the Wizards at the start of training camp next season, meant the Wizards could no longer even consider voiding the remaining four years and $80.1 million on his contract -- a decision team president Ernie Grunfeld made official on Saturday.

But that doesn't mean things just go back to the way they were -- and the way they were wasn't so hot, by the way.

"It's sad," Caron Butler told me on Thursday. "Gilbert really is a good dude, on and off the court. It was just a bad joke gone wrong, totally wrong, and now he has to pay the consequences."

Butler texted Arenas earlier in the week, when Arenas believed he'd be going to prison. Indeed, Arenas had turned off his cell phone in anticipation, but had given Butler a means to get in touch with him. But when you ask Butler why things blew up in D.C., why he, Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood couldn't recapture the magic of a few years ago, he's as lost for explanations as anybody.

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Finding a selfless player to pair with Gilbert Arenas won't be easy.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

"I still can't put my finger on what happened," he said. "It happened so fast."

Well, he won't say it, so I'll have to: Butler and Arenas, by the end, really didn't care for one another -- on the court, at least. Butler, Jamison and Haywood had had enough of Arenas breaking off Flip Saunders' plays, jacking up threes whenever the mood struck and being the "goofball" that suits his personality. It is hardly the stuff of a leader and the guy you're expecting to take you somewhere in the playoffs. And I know Grunfeld has to know this. I get that he has to say publicly that Arenas' teammates loved him, as he said Saturday in officially announcing the Wizards would not seek to void Arenas' contract. I know that throwing Gil under the bus the day after his sentencing was probably not the way to go.

But when the dust clears, the Wizards still have a big problem. Several, actually.

How do you get quality free agents to come to Washington this summer? Yes, the Wizards will have up to $18 million in cap room, third only to the Knicks and Nets leaguewide. But Arenas' reputation is not great, obviously, at the moment, and given his (basketball) shooting proclivities, finding someone selfless enough yet talented enough to make a difference is problematic.

I don't doubt the Wizards will eventually get somebody to take their money, but after all that's transpired, it would be economically suicidal for the Wizards to surround Arenas with a bunch of knuckleheads next year. (Me? I'd dial the 504 area code and graciously offer to take Peja Stojakovic's expiring contract off Jeff Bower's hands a year early to get the Hornets' payroll well below luxury-tax land. Oh, did I mention I also would want Darren Collison? Hello? Jeff? You still there?)

How do you re-acclimate Arenas to D.C. fans? Yes, Gilbert still has supporters, a lot of them, but a lot of other fans are sick of his act and want him gone.

"Obviously, what happened a few months ago, some people are disappointed in," Grunfeld said Saturday. "But I think when he comes back and he does the things that the judge has asked him to do, and he sets a good example -- because he's going to learn from this -- and he sets a good example in the community, he's going to come back. Some people are going to accept him right away. And it might take some more time for others. And he has to maybe get the love back from some of those people. But I think a lot of people will accept it, and there might be some that won't."

Grunfeld allowed that the Wizards have some work to do win back some of their fans.

"Our fans have been great through this whole process for us," he said. "And we've shown that when we put a good product out there, we put a winning team out there, our fans have been extremely supportive. And we're going to try to do the same thing for them. And I think we have to do some things to re-establish the trust with our fan base ... I think they'll come back. I think the number one thing is that we have to put a good product on the floor and win some games."

But Arenas has a lot to answer for. He gave several different versions of what happened that December day to the Wizards. He tried to cover up what happened with Crittenton, offering up a cover story in case the two had to talk separately to the NBA. Prosecutors said before the sentence was handed out that Arenas still has not actually explained why he brought the four guns to Verizon Center in the first place.

The truly sad thing is that Arenas, even after all that has transpired, has it in his power to do something amazing in the District. He is still a terrific basketball player; maybe he'll never be a classic point guard, but he can and will pass when the mood strikes. Lord knows the Wizards are bereft of anyone approaching star status these days; Andray Blatche reverted to form last week, refusing to go back into a game against Charlotte.

Arenas really does connect with so many kids in the area. His trips to the Barry Farms courts in Southeast D.C. to play over the past few summers are the stuff of legend. He could be an incredible inspiration to a whole generation: Have you ever really messed up? Well, I did, too. Cost me just about everything and many of the people I care about. Over some foolishness. But you can come back.

That would be a story of real power and influence in a city where so many people seek those things. If he really got it, and could change, he could make a big difference. People do change.

If only. Ted Leonsis, white courtesy phone.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

That's it, that's the list. (Thanks, TK.) From Patrick Bray:

I'm an Austrailian NBA fan (Come on Bogut/Bucks! I'm not sure if they could win in the first round, but would not want to play them!) and was talking to friends the other day about what player you would choose for in certain situations if you could choose any player in the league; e.g. who would you choose to take the game-winning shot etc. and was wondering if you could lend your esteemed opinion to the following.

If you could choose anyone in the league, who would it be to...

1) Take the final shot to win a game

2) To defend that player on the final shot

3) If you were setting a pick-and-roll, what two players would you choose (has to be on the same team)

4) Come over helpside for a block

5) Kick out a wide open 3 to

6) Post up in clutch time

7) Defend that player in the post

8) Beat their player off the dribble

9) Be injured but still help his team the most

10) Draw up a play for the final shot (Coach)

Answers:

1) Kobe Bean.

2) A healthy Tayshaun Prince. If I can't have that ... I'll take the Bucks' Luc Mbah a Moute and take my chances, because length (Mbah a Moute is 6-foot-8) is the only thing that has given Bryant anything approaching trouble in his career. And, before you bring it up, this was over Charlie Bell.

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Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki might be the league's best pick-and-roll combo.
Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Durantula and Nick Collison, who might set the best screen in the league, are awfully good, but I have to go with a 1/4 screen-roll with JKidd and Dirk Diggler. Once Nowitzki gets on the elbow, just run back down court.

4) Josh Smith.

5) Still ain't nobody better than Walter Ray Allen.

6) Dwight Howard. But I'd foul him before he gets the shot up. Or try to.

7) Varejao. Quick, strong and long.

8) CP3.

9) Tough call, because I certainly don't know everyone's pain threshhold. But I'll go with Manu Ginobili.

10) Lawrence Harvey Brown, c/o Charlotte Bobcats, Charlotte, N.C.

Feel free to disagree: daldridgetnt@gmail.com. I'll post the most well-written demurs next week. There's a better chance yours will be picked if you don't start the note with "Dear Moron."

MVP Watch

(3/22/10-3/28/10)

LeBron James (33 ppg, 6 rpg, 9 apg, .600 FG, .762 FT): LBJ rollng to easiest re-election since ... maybe LBJ. (Yes, I know Reagan won 49 states in '84. Go with the joke, will you!)

Kobe Bryant (17.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6 apg, .537 FG, .833 FT): Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi writes that Kevin Durant is better now than Kobe, and that Kobe is now third behind Durant (2) and LeBron (1). Kobe professes not to care.

Carmelo Anthony (29.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, ,458 FG, .824 FT): He's been with the Nuggets for seven seasons. They've made the playoffs for seven seasons.

Kevin Durant (31.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2 apg, .506 FG, .933 FT): LeBron said last week that he could lead the league in scoring every year if all he wanted to do was score. So could this guy.

Dwight Howard (21 ppg, 17.3 rpg, 3 bpg, .591 FG, .604 FT): Even bigger burden on Superman with latest injuries to Nelson, Carter.

By the Numbers

24 -- Career NBA games coached by the Clippers' interim man, Kim Hughes, through Sunday, since taking over for Mike Dunleavy in early February.

500 -- Career NBA games coached by Sacramento's Paul Westphal, with a mark of 291-209 (.582) in parts of eight seasons for Phoenix, Seattle and Sacramento.

1,332 -- Career victories for Lenny Wilkens, the all-time mark for an NBA coach. Golden State's Don Nelson is now three wins away from breaking that mark after Sunday night's victory over the Clippers.

I'm Feelin ...

1) Holy STAT! Would he convince you to stay in Miami, Dwyane? (By the way, the phrase "elevates and detonates" is now in my lexicon.)

2) Glad that the long-suffering fans of the Bay are going to get ownership and management worthy of their support. I can tell you this: at least one Western Conference owner does not want to see Larry Ellison sinking his considerable fortune into making the Warriors better. Because he will sink that money. And they will get better.

3) That was a pretty good statement about your playoff viability on Friday against the Lakers, Thunder.

4) That was a pretty good statement about your playoff viability on Sunday against the Thunder, Blazers.

5) I thought Sheryl Swoopes would change women's basketball. I think Brittney Griner will change women's basketball. And if she is so inclined, she should be allowed to play in the WNBA next year, not in three years. She is fun to watch, and you can never have enough people in your league that are fun to watch.

6) Shawn Bradley throws his hat in the ring. (And CWebb flushes it on his head.)

7) My friend MaryWade is happy this morning, because she's West Virginia born and the Mountaineers are in the Final Four for the first time since 1959. And that's when Jerry West played for WVU, and Rod Thorn played for WVU, and Hot Rod Hundley had just finished playing for WVU, and they're all good guys that I like a lot, and I figure they're happy, too. And that makes me happy.

Not Feelin' ...

1) You are not making a compelling case for Chris Bosh to remain, Raptors. Nor are you making your GM or coach look very good, because they're the ones who picked you and are playing you.

2) You're not convincing people you've changed, Andray Blatche.

3) Too bad we will be deprived from seeing Mr. Paul in the postseason. A lost season in the Big Easy, even though the blow was softened by the Saints' Super Bowl run.

4) I know it's a rebuilding season in Minneapolis, but sheesh.

5) Real weak to attack a reporter publicly, Urban Meyer. You want to call him into your office and scream at him, go right ahead. But doing it in a setting where you know the guy can't answer back was wrong. At least you apologized on Saturday.

6) Unfortunately, Butler will have a bigger home crowd in Indianapolis Saturday than the Pacers will have down the street at Conseco for home games on Friday and Sunday combined.

Tweet of the Week

Congrats Rondo on breaking my Celtic steal record..your still 2 behind as I stole 3 rings :-)
--
Former Celtic and Laker forward Rick Fox (@rickafox), Friday, 9:24 p.m., giving props to Rajon Rondo for breaking Fox's single-season record for steals, 167, set in 1996-97.

Mr. Fifteen

This week's Mr. Fifteen is Mavericks guard Matt Carroll. The 29-year-old Carroll is in his second tour of duty with Dallas, and his fourth NBA team overall, coming to the Mavericks midway through last season, along with center Ryan Hollins, from Charlotte for DeSagana Diop. When he came to Dallas Carroll hoped the Mavs would put his perimeter skills -- he is a career 40 percent shooter from 3-point range -- to use. But after appearing in 21 games the second half of last season in Dallas, Carroll has played in just 20 games this season, averaging 4.9 minutes a game behind point guards Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea.

Me: How do you stay ready?

Matt Carroll: I look at it as just being a pro. Basically, the stuff that you do at practice, before practice, after practice. On the days all the starters have off, you have to come into the gym and get your work in. Come early to the games. And that's all you can do to stay ready. The hard part, I think, is that you're not getting the game situations, which is what I miss. But you've got to try to make the drills, and the running, and everything you do as intense as you can, so that when you do get in there, it doesn't seem like something you've done too long ago.

Me: I ask 'the Robert Horry question' all the time: would you rather have his career, being on championship teams as a role player, or would you rather play a ton of minutes for somebody as a starter and never win anything?

MC: I tell you what, more people know his name than know mine. He's had a phenomenal career. In my rookie year (2003) I was in San Antonio for a little bit and got to know him a little bit 'cause he was down there. He's just the ultimate pro, though. He was always ready. He came in and mentally, he was always prepared physically, and that's how he was able to hit those big shots. Not many guys can do that.

carroll300.jpg
Matt Carroll wouldn't mind a Robert Horry-type career.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: So would you rather be on a title contender like this team and not play, or be in Charlotte and play all the time?

MC: I tell you what -- it's sort of similar (to the Spurs), but we haven't won a championship yet -- but as a player, you want to play. 'Cause you've put the time in. But the grass is always greener. So when you are a team, if I go to a team, let's say, next year or whenever it is, and I'm playing a lot of minutes, if we're losing, you're going to say 'Damn, I want to start winning.' So, I don't know. I think the grass is always greener.

Me: How did you learn to be a pro?

MC: I think just watching veterans around me. I think I developed a work ethic when I was younger. It's something that got me here. I didn't get here on my physical abilities, I don't think. Obviously I can play the game. I can shoot the basketball. I wasn't the best athlete. But I think my work ethic is kind of what carried me. Getting cut from a team, and then keep working. You know, go to the NBDL. Get called up. Go to the next team. Get cut from a team. Get back. And then I finally get in a situation where I'm in Charlotte where I put a couple of good years together.

Me: The NBA D-League team was Roanoke, right?

MC: (Laughs) Yeah. It's not there anymore. But you know what? The basketball was good. 'Cause you're playing against good players with good talent, the next level below the NBA. But as far as the lifestyle, it's the opposite of the NBA. Right now, we're going to go get on (Mark) Cuban's jet. We're going to have the best food, the most comfortable (seats), movies going, and we're playing cards. In the NBDL, in Roanoke, I'd be down in Huntsville, Alabama, get on the charter bus, stop at McDonalds, maybe Waffle House at 3 in the morning, I'd watch the sun rise 'cause I couldn't sleep on the bus, and then you'd pull in at 9 in the morning, and that was it. My brother (Pat), he's actually playing. He was overseas the last couple of years. He's in Iowa right now.

Me: You trade war stories?

MC: Yeah. But it's different now. They fly a lot more. When I was there, we kind of bused everywhere. 'Cause all the teams were in the southeastern part of the country. Now the teams are all over the place.

Me: When you signed the extension with Charlotte (a six-year, $27 million deal in 2007), did you think, 'I've got some stability, I can make a home there?'

MC: No question. It was one of those things, I was there four and a half seasons, I never bought a house or anything like that. Then I get my deal, and I think it happens to a lot of guys. You say 'All right, this is it. I'm going to be here. I signed a six-year deal. I'm going to be here for six years.' And in your head you're thinking, 'this is the place for me.' But the curse is when you buy that house.

Me: Did you buy?

MC: Yeah, I did. Still have it now. But you're out of here, man. I talked to a couple of guys, like my teammates I played in college, Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy. And they said 'Once you buy it, within a year, brother,' [you're gone]. So, I don't know. It happens to a lot of guys.

Me: When you're sitting and observing, does the game look any different than when you're playing?

MC: I think you learn more. You're not learning from being in the game, but you really get a feel for it just by watching the guys play. Picking up tendencies. I think the game of basketball is a game of reaction. When you're out there and you're playing, you're not thinking all the time, because you're just playing and reacting. But when you're watching it, it kind of slows down a little. You can kind of see how things evolve and how guys guard, and what their tendencies are.

Me: Given your family's pedigree (Carroll's late grandfather, Don "Red" Graham, was the state of Pennsylvania's all-time winningest high school basketball coach, winning 801 games for Pittsburgh North Catholic in a 51-year career), is coaching in your future?

MC: Yeah. I think this summer, I'm going to participate, the NBA has a program at the University of Virginia, the top 100 high school kids in the country. They've had it going, I think, the last couple of years. I think 20, 25 NBA guys are going to go to it, get some real-life coaching stuff. I think in the future that's going to be there. I love the game.

They Said It

"I'm getting more expensive by the game."
-- Amar'e Stoudemire, giving Yahoo! Sports his opinion on how his significant uptick in play over the last month will impact his impending free agent status.

"I feel with my fingers."
-- Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, asked how he felt, the day before his 68th birthday.

"Because the Nets are so good."
-- New Jersey fan Chris Lisi, responding to Nets CEO Brett Yormark when Yormark, walking by Lisi's seat at Izod Center last Monday, asked Lisi why he had a bag on his head. After Lisi's response, Yormark proceeded to yell at Lisi and then walked away. After initially defending his actions, Yormark apparently had a change of heart; at the team's next home game on Wednesday, fans were allowed to exchange paper bags for a nylon Nets bag and a note from Yormark which read "thanks for letting us see your face, we hope we see it more often at Nets games -- Regards, Brett Yormark."

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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