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David Aldridge

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LeBron James' emergence as the two-time NBA MVP might not have happened without Mike Brown.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Partnership of Brown, James turns Cavs into true contenders


Posted May 3 2010 7:28AM

AKRON, Ohio -- He was "humbled," LeBron James said a half-dozen times or so on Sunday, in the city he called "his life," to have a second Kia Most Valuable Player award bestowed upon him. You could be cynical, sure, but he didn't have to share this moment with his hometown; he could have had it in a hotel ballroom, like most MVP winners before him did, with only team employees around to cheer.

But he brought the party, such as it was, to the gym on the University of Akron campus where he played a few games as a sophomore, and more as a junior, and almost all as a senior, when the secret was out to the world, and more than 3,000 Akronites showed up, which is a lot more than show up for the Zips' games these days.

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There were genuine moments at Rhodes Arena, where James spoke from a podium, pointing out his old friends from high school, and the "two uncles" that helped raise him in a home without a father. He expressed wonderment at how his mother, Gloria, 16 years old when he was born, raised him with only her mother's help, without all the trappings of wealth that his two boys now enjoy. And watching him work his way through the crowds afterward, with the kids wearing the James t-shirts and the adults wearing the "Hope" t-shirts -- local variations on the famous Shepard Fairey portrait of then-candidate Obama, with James' face replacing the President's -- there was genuine joy on James' face, and pride among the locals at what James has become.

He is a self-made man, LeBron James, an American original.

Mike Brown is not an American original, and that is not meant in any way to insult the man.

He is a grinder, a worker bee, a guy who put in thousands of hours to make himself an expert in his field -- just like Malcolm Gladwell says you have to -- and to be where he is, coaching the best player in the world, in the same way that talent and circumstance and good fortune put Red Auerbach in front of Bill Russell, and Phil Jackson in front of Michael Jordan, and Gregg Popovich in front of Tim Duncan. The greatest players have to be coached -- have to allow you to coach them, as Chuck Daly always used to say -- and it is not easy, but it has to be done, because even the greatest players have to be part of a team in basketball.

And so, for five years, James has allowed Brown, who just turned 40, to coach him, because at any time, James could have gone to general manager Danny Ferry or owner Dan Gilbert and said he didn't want to be coached any more by Brown. He could have said he'd like one of the NBA's coaching closers, please, a Riley or a Jackson, and that would have been that. But the two have persevered, through a couple dozen players, and a half-dozen assistant coaches, and built the Cavaliers into a powerhouse.

Respect where respect is due

"My biggest thing is, I try to show him respect, and let him know that I don't have all the answers, and I'm not his boss, but we're working together for one common goal," Brown said a few days ago. "It's that one goal at the end of the day that matters most. If he feels that, if your quote-unquote superstar feels that, then they're human, too. They're in it 'cause they want to win. So they're going to try to be on the same page with you and allow you to do some things that you may feel may get them over the hump to get that one goal. So it's just about the respect that I try to show him in terms of us working together."

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Mike Brown led the Cavs to the NBA's best record despite a myriad of challenges in 2009-10.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

"I've always wanted to learn," James said during the Bulls series. "'Cause I think, ever since I was a kid, I always was looking at it like I don't know everything. This coach is the reason why I'm here. He understands. He knows the game more than me. And I always understood the team concept of the game. It's not just five guys that's on the court; it's also the guys that's on the bench, and the rest of the guys that is going to help this whole ship move. That's how I've been.

"I've always been coachable and I've always wanted to learn, and then try to (transfer) everything I get from the coaching staff to the players, and try to put it right on the court, and use it to my best knowledge."

This season has been Brown's most challenging. The Cavs brought in Shaquille O'Neal in a desperate bid to close the gap between their inside game and Orlando's Dwight Howard-based attack, which killed Cleveland in last year's East finals. That meant Brown had to figure out a way to utilize O'Neal's low-post skills while leaving James enough room to drive to the basket the way he had for six seasons. And he had to make sure O'Neal wasn't exposed defensively, and incorporate the egos of two proud, successful men. All in a year where anything less than a championship would be calamitous, with James' impending free agency.

Brown has pulled off most of it without a public hitch, with the Cavaliers finishing with the league's best record, and with James giving his blessing to Brown's lineup experiments throughout the first two months of the season.

"You've got to have the head coach and the superstar, to a certain degree, on the same page," Brown said. "Not all of the time. Because you can continue to learn from each other in tough situations ... I learned a lot from Pop (for whom Brown was an assistant coach from 2000-03). That's one of the things I was able to watch, the dynamics between those two guys. It was no different. He used to say it all the time, about Tim: Tim allows him to coach."

Brown, Cavs evolve together

When Brown was hired off of Indiana's bench in th summer of 2005 after serving as Rick Carlisle's associate head coach, the Cavaliers were a mess. They had James, and were just about to commit $60 million of Gilbert's money to free agent Larry Hughes. There was rank confusion about whether they should be a fast-breaking team like the Suns, whether James should be a point forward or small forward (and whether he could play defense) ... and just what in the heck happened with that whole Carlos Boozer thing the year before?

But as Ferry has built the roster, Brown has built the philosophy, bringing the tenets of the Spurs' system to Cleveland. The tape of Brown in guard Mo Williams' head sounds like this: "No middle. Late contest. Extra effort. Nothing but defense."

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Mike Brown, shown in this 2007 photo, has slowly developed a clear system in Cleveland.
D. Lippitt/Einstein//NBAE via Getty Images

By 2007, the Cavaliers' defense was good enough, and James precocious enough, to get to the Finals. But Cleveland's offense was pedestrian, easy to defend -- which the Spurs proved in a 4-0 sweep. James wasn't confident enough in his jumper to use it as a weapon, and the guys James passed to weren't good enough. But that doesn't mean he wasn't making the right basketball decisions.

"He was always coachable," said Keith Dambrot, who coached James his first two years in high school and is now the coach at Akron.

"I was pretty hard on him," Dambrot said. "I knew he could be a pro. I had coached Grant Long (the former longtime Heat power forward) and Carl and Charles Thomas (who both had brief NBA stints in the '90s) at Eastern Michigan. So I really was hard on him. But it was easier for me than the NBA guys because he was just 14."

While James' confidence grew, Brown's offense evolved. He took some things from Carlisle, some things from Popovich and some things from Bernie Bickerstaff -- who gave Brown his start in Denver as an unpaid video coordinator. He shaved back the team's heavy use of 1-4 sets with James handling the ball, in favor of finding more movement and flow in the offense. He got secure enough to let assistant coach John Kuester run the Cavs' huddles as the team's offensive coordinator two seasons ago before the Pistons hired Kuester as coach last summer. (Brown has given similar reign to assistant Mike Malone, the son of longtime NBA coach Brendan Malone, this season.)

"I think he's become more patient," said center Zydrunas Ilguaskas, the team's longest-tenured player. "He obviously learned a lot. I think he trusts his coaches more over the years. Before, he wanted to do everything himself. Now he's starting to share responsbility with the offensive and defensive coaches. As we got better as a team, he got better as a coach. We learned from our mistakes, and so did he."

The Cavaliers, like most winning, veteran teams, also self-police much more than young, losing teams that constantly need a coach looking over their shoulder.

"Mike is a new millenium, business-style coach," O'Neal said. "He does a great job of letting his other coaches get involved. He does a great job of managing the new, different young talent. These guys are different from I when I was (young). He does a fabulous job of doing that. A guy like that will always do better with the new-style player than the old-school coach."

Knowing when to 'attack'

But when Brown wants to make a point to the whole team, says newly acquired forward Antawn Jamison, he often makes it through James. Just as Popovich knows he can jump Duncan because Duncan is secure enough to understand why Popovich picked him to yell at.

"He knows who -- I won't say attack -- but he knows whose attention to get," Jamison says of Brown. "Once he gets LeBron's attention, it trickles down to the rest of the team. And LeBron does a great job as far as communicating with Mike ... Mike is the authority here. He knows how to control the situation, also. But when he needs something done, he knows how to hit LeBron's buttons and get him going, and then LeBron gets everyone else going as well."

Brown is not a screamer, not sarcastic. He makes his points quietly, but forcefully. He's not a shrinking violet -- "he believes in himself," Williams said -- but he treats his players like men.

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Coach Mike Brown (right) isn't afraid to point out LeBron James' on-court mistakes.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

"He does a good job approaching that person knowing everybody's different," Williams said. "If you have four or five kids, all four or five of those kids are different. I have two boys ... that's two different personalities. I can scream at one, and the other one, I have to talk nice to, because every time I scream at him, he starts crying. I think he does a great job of knowing what to say, when to say, how to say it. Obviously, you have a guy like Shaq, with 17, 18 years, he's been there, done that. So you approach him in a different way when you need him to do something. 'Bron, he rarely screws up, so when he does, maybe you won't say anything, 'cause it's not going to happen often."

But it does happen. And just as Popovich peels paint at Spurs' practices when he screams at Duncan, Brown will confront the Franchise when he has to. (It helps that, just as there is no space between San Antonio GM R.C. Buford and Popovich in the Spurs' hierarchy, there's no light between Ferry and Brown, who is in the midst of a two-year extension that carries him through next season. The chain of command is clear.)

It happened recently, ironically, in San Antonio, in late March.

"They was killing us with the same play," Jamison recalled. "Coach came in there and was like, 'Look, you (James) need to get your butt in position and prevent this play from happening.' LeBron was like, you know, I've got to do this and do that. And he said, 'I don't want to hear any excuses; I want it to get done.' And that's one thing I respect about LeBron. Even though you're receiving all these accolades and notoriety, you still know he's the coach and you're the player."

"If he needs to get on me in practice, if I'm not doing the things right, working hard --which doesn't happen much -- then he has the right to get on me," James said. "I try to hold to a higher standard where he doesn't have to get on me, because I need to work hard. I continue to work hard, because I am the leader of the team, and everybody looks up to me."

It is crucial for a team's success that the coach practice a long-honored tenet: you can't treat everyone equally, but you treat everyone the same. It also means the coach has to confront the superstar when he messes up.

"We've had our exchanges this year, not only during the games, but in practices," Brown said. "He's human, I'm human. We're going to react at times. We know that if that does happen, sometimes he may need space, I may need space. But at the end of the day, we're all on the same page."

Dressed for success

On Sunday, LeBron was dressed to the nines, in a beautiful suit, solid blue shirt, purple tie, tie clip, cufflinks. Gilbert had on a power suit, blue shirt, red tie. Ferry was in a nice suit, blue tie. The guy from Kia, the car company that gave James a new car (which neither he, nor anyone in his immediate family, will ever drive, I'm afraid), had on a suit.

Brown had on a red Cavs polo shirt, white sweater vest, and coach's shorts.

"I must say, looking at that panel of guys up there, I am a little bit underdressed," Brown said. "But I do want to say one thing -- none of them have these on, right here." He pointed down at his feet. New, white and red LeBron kicks; maybe the new LeBron Air Max VIIs? I was too far away too see. But defintely from the James Collection.

"I'm represented well by the LeBrons," Brown said.

Back on message, back on the same page.

Dribbles

You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that's, that's, that's part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out ife's this game of inches ... the margin for error is so small, I mean, one half a step too late, or too early, and you don't quite make it; one half-second too slow, too fast, you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team, we fight for that inch! On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch! We claw with our fingernails for that inch! Because we know when we add up all those inches, that's gonna make the (bleeping) difference between winnin' and losing! Between livin' and dying!

I'll tell you this; in any fight, it's the guy who's willin' to die, who's gonna win that inch. And I know if I'm gonna have any life anymore, it's because I'm still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that's what living is! The six inches in front of your face!...you've got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes! Now I think you're going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You're gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows, when it comes down to it, you're going to do the same for him.
-- Coach Tony D'Amato, Miami Sharks

The Cavs have stolen -- make that appropriated -- the locker room scene from Any Given Sunday into their JumboMegaBigScreenTron videos during games. You know when Al Pacino, who was hilarious in this celluloid-chewing movie about pro football, talks about how his team fights for that inch, and that that inch is the difference between winning and losing?

The Celtics teetered on that inch all season. Maybe they're still teetering.

This is the part of sports I find fascinating -- the marrow of a team. The ability to take 12, 25 or 53 players from different ethnic, economic, religious and other backgrounds and meld them together into a cohesive unit, in which the singular goal of winning overwhelms the individual goals of recognition, which comes in the form of money, endorsements -- and, in baskeball, minutes and shots. The battle in any season is to make the many into one, and if you have enough talent, and are well-coached, and have some luck, you have a chance at winning big.

Who knows how it happens? That's what's fascinating.

And that's what's been fascinating about the Celtics this season. They clearly are well-coached and have more than enough talent to get back to the Finals after winning it all two seasons ago. But something went terribly wrong during the regular season, and the team went off the rails, almost into a ditch, before pulling themselves back into something resembling a cohesive unit.

All of a sudden, Boston dispatches Miami quickly, and it's back in business. But how did it happen? How did the Celtics go from losing at home to the Wizards and getting booed off the TD Garden floor in early April to having a real chance against Cleveland?

"I think we're in a situation where we've understood to follow each other and lead each other," Ray Allen said Saturday, as the Celtics' series with the Cavs was getting under way.

What has happened with Boston is this: Rajon Rondo has become a star, one of the top four or five point guards in the game. On just about any other team, Rondo would be getting the ink that Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook gets.

But in Boston, there is still the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Allen. And no matter how often coach Doc Rivers says it's now the Big Four, including Rondo, there still aren't a lot of people who believe that. Including Rondo.

"They're still going to make me shoot. Pick your choice -- Paul, Ray or Rondo?," Rondo asked Sunday.

Yet for the Celtics to get anywhere, Rondo has to lead them. Two years ago, when the Celtics won the title, they got a turbo boost from Rondo's speed, but he wasn't a leader. Now, his game has caught up with his speed, and he has to be the focal point of the team's offense.

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The Celtics must lean more on Rajon Rondo (left) if they are to have a lengthy playoff run.
Elsa/Getty Images

It doesn't mean he takes the game-winning shot. But it means the play starts with him, and likely goes through him, and that he has to make the criticial decisions with the basketball -- when to attack, when to shoot himself, when to pass to Pierce or Garnett or Allen. And that is vastly different from how Boston beat the Lakers in the Finals.

It has meant an adjustment, one that has not always gone well in the locker room this season, not on a team with two proud Alpha Males in KG and the Truth.

"If you look at teams from one year to the next," Allen said, "a team with somewhat similar guys on it, it makes it a different team. The young guy, Rondo, he spent a couple of weeks over the summer with Mark Price, working on his game, trying to get his free-throw shooting better, his jump-shooting better. So, in his mind, he's thinking 'better.' Accountability. And being able to lead these guys, of making that big play down the stretch. When you see that, you know at some point, you have to make that change. For us, as veteran leaders on the team, it's like, OK, sometimes we have to make sure we get him the ball and get out of the way and let him keep rolling, keep doing your thing and allow him to make us better."

Making this task even harder is that the Celtics were trying to do it while Garnett was still getting his stride back after that knee injury that kept him out of last year's playoffs, and while Pierce was recovering from a foot injury. But for Boston to be at its best in the playoffs, Garnett and Pierce had to be rolling -- or, at least, moving forward. So the Celtics were setting up Pierce for game-winning shot attempts the second half of the season when Pierce probably shouldn't have even been playing, while Rondo was holding back, because that's what the team needed, even if it meant losing games.

You didn't hear a lot of Ubuntu talk this year in Beantown.

When Rondo spoke of "agendas" threatening to split the team apart in February, one guesses this was the subject matter he was referring to at the time.

"It was something that just got into the locker room," Rondo said Sunday. "You know, I said something about it, but things just weren't going well and things probably just came out the wrong way."

Why, though, is that "the wrong way?" If that's what it was, that's what it was.

"It was just that everybody wants to do it themself instead of the team," Rondo said. "That's how we got here. Like, I want to win the game, I want to take the last shot, Paul wants to take the last shot, Ray wants to take the last shot, Kevin wants to take the last shot. Too many guys that want to take the last shot. It's a bad thing, but it's a good thing. You don't want guys to shy away from the ball and not to get it, but at the same time we have to keep trusting in our system, get it to the second, third option if the first option's not there. If you get trapped, pass the ball. So, just believing in each other."

There is about an inch's difference between confidence and selfishness. And "we were jumping on one side, and then on the other," Rondo said.

Have the Celtics landed on the right side for good? They looked like their old selves in that sweep of the Heat, but defending Miami is rather simple -- load up on Dwyane Wade and dare anyone else to beat you. Cleveland is a step up in class at both ends of the court. Boston knows how to beat the Cavs, as it showed in the first half of Game 1 Saturday night, when Rondo controlled the game with his impeccable dribbling, passing and decision-making.

The problem for Boston is finishing; as my colleague John Schuhmann pointed out Sunday night, the Cavs have destroyed the Cs in the second half all season. The second half of any playoff game is about adjustments, and finding out the best way to win the game you're playing that night. Saturday, the Cavaliers changed their look, putting the taller Anthony Parker on Rondo instead of Mo Williams, and Rondo couldn't get Pierce going in the fourth quarter.

But this isn't about any one game, even though the Celtics might really regret blowing that first-half lead Saturday.

This is about control, not shots; who will lead, and who will follow.

To Rondo, or not to Rondo? That is the question.

"It's not how the season was planned on going," Rondo said. "Being a Celtic, winning 50 games, that's not up to par. I don't mind the pressure. But there was a lot of pressure my first year, when I stepped up with the Big Three. I welcome the pressure. I'm not bothered by it. I love being in big-game situations ... hopefully I did (play a role). I have a lot of confidence in this team. I probably have the most confidence of anybody in the world that we can win."

One inch at a time.

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Playoff edition)

1) Orlando (1-0): Classic playoff question: rest or rust?

2) Cleveland (2-0): Cavaliers haven't beaten the Celtics in the playoffs since Larry Bird's farewell season (1992).

3) San Antonio (1-1): Spurs make the second round of the playoffs for the 11th time in the last 13 years.

4) L.A. Lakers (3-0): They are a different team when they get rest, and after Game 2 against Utah on Tuesday, they get three days off.

5) Phoenix (2-0): Vindication for Steve Kerr, for Alvin Gentry, for Steve Nash, for Amar'e Stoudemire, everyone.

6) Boston (1-1): It was one game, but KG looked close to 100 percent against Cleveland on Saturday night.

7) Utah (1-2): Jazz have shown remarkable resilience in breaking through to the second round.

8) Atlanta (2-1): Salvaged the season with come-from-behind victory over Milwaukee in first round -- and may have kept team together.

9) Oklahoma City (0-2): Gone Fishin', but what a ride on the way out the door. No team's future is brighter.

10) Denver: (1-1): What a disappointing finish to such a promising season. Gone Fishin' now.

11) Portland (0-2): Gone Fishin', too, and GM Kevin Prtichard's likely not there much longer.

12) Dallas (1-1): Gone Fishin' and left to ponder what to make of the subpar play of the Jasons, Kidd and Terry, against the Spurs.

13) Milwaukee (1-2): Maybe the moment finally caught up with the Bucks: 71.5 points in the last two games against Atlanta. Gone Fishin'.

4) Miami (0-1): Gone Fishin', but lots of people around the league think Riles has something in his back pocket.

15) Chicago (0-1): Gone Fishin', while waiting for Vinny Del Negro's fate to be determined.

16) Charlotte (0-1): Gone Fishin', while waiting for Larry Brown to make up his mind about his future.

Team of the Week

(First-round edition)

Phoenix (2-0): The Suns get credit for great strategy and great execution to close out the Blazers in the first round. They swarmed LaMarcus Aldridge when he caught the ball in the post, and Grant Hill stepped into the Wayback Machine to show some 37-year-old hops, including this ridiculous swattage of Jerryd Bayless in the sixth and deciding game last week. A year ago, it seemed inevitable that the Suns would be broken up and Steve Kerr was GMing on borrowed time. Now, who knows?

Team of the Weak

Indiana (season complete): I don't know the details, so it would be ridiculous as to speculate on what really happened, but one hopes the Pacers had good reason to fire Sam Perkins last week after two years as the team's VP of player relations. Smooth was one of the most well-liked players in the league during his time in uniform, and one assumes he hasn't lost that touch in the intervening years. Again, I have no inside information on what happened, and I'm not being critical of them simply because they fired Sam; I just hope there was a good reason.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Is it time for the Nuggets to think about a restructuring?

Yes, they missed George Karl's voice, and yes, Utah is a tough out.

But the Nuggets came unglued again in the playoffs, and when it's happened again and again in the postseason -- that's a trend. And it has to make management think hard about busting this team up. Carmelo Anthony didn't do himself any good saying he needed help against the Jazz, even if true; it rang of someone looking for somebody else to blame, and that's the burden the best player always has to take. Kenyon Martin never seemed to come all the way back from his knee injury, and Nene got hurt again, and Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith were shells of their regular-season selves.

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The Nuggets might want to rethink their roster after another first-round playoff loss.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nuggets are at a crossroads. It's not uncaring to wonder if Karl has it in him anymore to be a full-time head coach, and it doesn't mean you push him out the door, but it means you take a good, hard look at your staff. I'm in the tank for Adrian Dantley; we went to the same high school and I think he's one of the good guys, so there's no objectivity about AD here. In a perfect world, if Karl couldn't make a go of it next season, Dantley would get a one-year audition as head coach, allowed to put in his own stuff and get the players to hear his voice. But it's not a perfect world, I know.

A nucleus of Anthony, Billups, Nene and rookie point guard Ty Lawson is pretty good. But can the 32-year-old Martin, with one year left on his contract at $16.5 million, keep coming back from knee injuries? This year he had to undergo plasma therapy to deal with severe tendinitis, which kept him out down the stretch in the regular season. Nene suffered a hyperextended left knee against the Jazz and, like Martin, has had to come back from ACL tears. Chris Andersen wasn't quite the player he was last season and he'll be 32 in July.

In a rapidly retooling West, you're either getting better or you're falling behind. Martin would have trade value. So would Nene, with two years and a reasonable $22.9 million left. So, for that matter, would Billups; with Lawson waiting in the wings, it's something the Nuggets would have to at least think about if it brought them a big-time player in return. Dealing any of them would be risky, but understandable, given the team's time frame and owner Stan Kroenke's unwillingness to be a luxury tax payer.

If Karl is back on the bench next season, Denver has a chance to get right back among the west's elite. But he agreed to just a one-year contract extension for next season, in part, because of the uncertainty over his health. Anthony can opt out of his contract after next season, too. Planning for anything other than a one-year, all-out assault to win it all next season wouldn't seem to make a lot of sense -- even if it means breaking a few eggs in the pursuit.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

As always, send your comments, snark and other pleasantries to daladridgetnt@gmail.com. Then, come back next week to see if you are famous.

As long as you understand there are a few folks in the 310 that have a different view. From Mike Garigan:

For years we have heard comparisons of Kobe to MJ on and on. Kobe is a truly great player and a magnificent clutch performer. His on-the-court style is very similar to MJ's ... However, LeBron James is the best player in the game today. He is so dominant in many aspects ... I say all that to say this: There will never be a greater player than MJ. He is unparalled as a basketball player and a competitor. With LBJ's emergence as the NBA's greatest player, it lets you know really how much separation there is between Kobe and MJ when comparing the two. Rarely do you hear of comparisons between LBJ and MJ, which would be more appropriate than the aforementioned comparison.

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Who is more like Michael Jordan: Kobe or LeBron?
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Actually, Mike, if I would compare LeBron to anyone, it would be Magic Johnson, albeit a much faster and stronger Magic. I think Kobe plays much more like Michael than LeBron does. LeBron is a willing passer who seems to prefer drawing and kicking to finishing -- though he obviously can finish.

There are lies, damned lies, and PER. From Eric Lohmar:

Even though I'm a Nuggets fan, I would have to disagree with you on this one: I haven't done my homework, but saw a report while I was in L.A. last week that said Durant shot close to 300 more free throws than Kobe this season. Point being that Durant does get a lot of calls and even though it isn't Phil's job to point it out he has to because the media doesn't. Hmm ... sounds like my job picking up somebody else's slack.

Durant shot 840 free throws during the regular season in 80 games. Bryant shot 541 in 73 games. In addition to the discrepancy in games, doesn't Kobe have better offensive teammates (Gasol, Bynum, Odom, etc.) to whom he gives the ball, whereas Durant is the primary option for the Thunder? Does Kobe play in a more equal-opportunity offense in Los Angeles compared with OKC's understandably Durant-centric attack? The point is, using numbers with no context is a ridiculous way to make a point. And Phil knows doggone well that Kobe gets as many calls as Durant, whether they result in free throws or not. He was playing games and trying to influence the refs, which is fine, except he does it every year in the playoffs -- and that leads a lot of fans and non-fans to believe there are conspiracies afoot where none exist.

Playoffs MVP Watch

(4/26/10-5/2/10)

1) LeBron James (2 games: 27 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 8 apg, .472 FG, .640 FT): Capped off week with second consecutive MVP award and 35, 7 and 7 in Game 1 of the Eastern semis against Boston. Not bad for a guy with one wing.

2) Kobe Bryant (3 games: 25.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.7 apg, .528 FG, .810 FT): Dropped 32 in the clincher against Oklahoma City -- and, as someone humbly suggested last week, took on the task of guarding Russell Westbrook in the final two games of the Thunder series because the Lakers had no choice. He may have to do similar work against Utah if D-Will continues his outstanding postseason.

3) Deron Williams (3 games: 24 ppg, 2 rpg, 9.3 apg, .467 FG, .767 FT): Has been the best player in the postseason so far, with five straight double-doubles in leading Utah to the first-round series win over Denver, and 24 more against the Lakers Sunday in Game 1 of the West semis Sunday.

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Kevin Durant learned some valuable lessons in OKC's first-round playoff ouster.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

T4) Dirk Nowitzki (2 games: 24 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg, .571 FG, .833 FT): The Mavs didn't lose because of the Diggler. He was double-teamed throughout Dallas' series loss to San Antonio, but still managed to keep his team in Game 6 with a superlative effort.

T4) Kevin Durant (2 games: 21.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3 apg, .270 FG, .905 FT): Great playoff lesson for Durantula, who was harassed all series by Ron Artest and never had a good shooting game. Durant forced some shots throughout the series, but still helped his team by getting the foul line. He will look at the cutups in a few weeks, figure out what to do the next time and come back stronger, as all great players do.

6) Dwight Howard (1 game: 6 points, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks, .333 FG, .286 FT): Well-rested after being limited in first-round sweep of the Bobcats with foul trouble. But Superman will have a prohibitive advantage in the next round against Atlanta, against whom he averaged 21 points, 16.8 rebounds and two and a half blocks, shooting 55 percent from the floor. The Magic won three of four this season over the Hawks, winning by an average of 22.3 points per game.

By the Numbers

103 -- Number of college underclassmen who have officially entered the Draft. In a change from recent years, players have only until this Saturday, May 8, to decide whether they'll remain in the Draft or return to college, per a new NCAA regulation. In previous years, undergrads could wait until just before the Draft to decide, but college coaches objected to the long time period, saying it left them in limbo for too long and hurt recruiting efforts.

15 -- Consecutive losses at Staples Center by the Jazz after Sunday's Game 1 loss to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.

.750 -- Win percentage of Jerry Stackhouse teams when he sings the National Anthem before tipoff. Stackhouse's teams were unbeaten in three games before Friday, when the Bucks were beaten by the Hawks in Game 6 of their first-round series after Stackhouse sange the Anthem at Bradley Center.

I'm Feelin ...

1) Welcome to the second round, Grant Hill. Can you believe it took 16 seasons?

2) George Hill was the 26th player taken overall in the first round of the 2008 Draft. DeJuan Blair was the 37th player taken overall in the 2009 Draft. Once again, the luckiest team in basketball just has great players drop into their laps. If only the rest of the league was so lucky! Perhaps they could buy some luck from San Antonio, which has no idea what it's doing in getting good players, other than the luck thing.

3) Speaking of which, I have the feeling that Spurs-Suns IV is going to be another classic.

4) Love this game of chicken that Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss are playing about next season. Like there's another team out there with the personnel the Lakers have, Phil, and there's another coach out there with the 10 rings that Jackson has, Jerry. Wake me at the news conference.

5) Good luck to the Mayor, Fred Hoiberg, the now-former Wolves assistant general manager who took the coaching job at his alma mater, Iowa State, last week. A first-rate guy who will, someday, be a GM in the NBA.

6) Here is what makes this country great: with all the technology and electronic wizardry at our disposal, a few street vendors, including a couple of Vietnam War veterans, are the guys that were primarily responsible for foiling what could have been a deadly bomb attack in Times Square Saturday.

7) Now, can someone make Mayweather-Pacquiao happen?

Not Feelin' ...

1) After he sits down and really thinks about it, I don't think Cubes is gonna panic and order a fire sale following the Mavericks' first-round loss to the Spurs. This was different from Dallas' implosion against the Warriors in '07. The Mavs fell into Golden State's trap for still-inexplicable reasons that year, played the Warriors' game, and paid the price for doing so. This year, the Mavericks played well for long stretches against San Antonio, but couldn't finish the deal. And I think Rick Carlisle, whom I like very much as a coach, has to answer for his inexplicable decision not to play rookie Roddy Beaubois for most of the fourth quarter after Roddy Buckets had been ungardable--16 points in 18 minutes--in the first three quarters of play. Not fired. He just needs to explain why he did it, and if he'll do it in the future. 'Cause that would be a problem. But this group--with Beaubois, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood helping out Nowitzki--should get a full season together before any long-term decisions are made.

2) After he sits down and really thinks about it, I don't think Dirk is going anywhere this summer.

cuban300.jpg
Don't expect Mavs owner Mark Cuban to blow up his team's roster over the summer.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

3) Um, Kobe? The only thing this reminds me of, and I thought about it a lot, was when the late actor Calvin Lockhart, played Silky Slim in Uptown Saturday Night and Biggie Smalls (no, Notorious B.I.G. didn't create the name) in Let's Do It Again. Except Calvin looked fly in his brim. I hope he doesn't come after me. Kobe, I mean.

4) A very subpar Games 6 and 7 from the Bucks against Atlanta should not diminish the great season Milwaukee had, throughout the organization, and the bright future the team has. Will be interesting to see if it is active this summer, waiting for the '11 offseason when it will have cap room, or if the Bucks try to strike while the iron is hot.

5) Carlos Boozer said last month that the Jazz were no longer intimidated by playing the Lakers, after being eliminated the last two years by L.A. You have your chance, Mr. Boozer, and that means no more rebound snatches by Lamar Odom in the guts of a game.

6) We really need a transparent ballot process when choosing the league awards. I would like to hear the argument for why Stephen Jackson received a fifth-place Most Valuable Player vote, which means the voter, whoever he or she is, picked Jackson over one of the following: LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant or Dwyane Wade. I am not judging this person. I would really like to hear their argument. Because, on the surface, it is idiotic. (And underneath, too.) But maybe under the surface, there is an explanation that makes some sense.

Tweet of the Week

Re: The best smelling Cav...It's Big Z... he smells of shortbread cookies... it's very intoxicating.
-- A very disturbed, but very funny, anonymous Tweeter posting under the moniker LeBrons Elbow (@LeBronsElbow), Friday, 3 p.m, who has developed a big following (more than 3,400 since last Tuesday, including moi) since the disclosure that James has been playing with a sprained elbow for the last three weeks.

Other choice LBJE tweets?:

"FYI: on the first Thursday of every month LeBron pays Morgan Freeman to follow him around and narrate his day;"

"Home from the Clinic. Told me I'm bruised. I told them I was forged in the fires of Mordor so that is impossible. We're agreeing to disagree;"

"No I'm not friends with Kevin Garnett's Elbow. We hung out once and all he did was make angry faces."

They Said It

"Been wanting to ask. Where should I go next season and why?"
-- Chris Bosh, tweeting to his fans on Friday and causing apoplexy in the offices of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. He followed that tweet a few minutes later with this post: "Ok...let me rephrase the question. Should I stay or should I go?"

"And I do want to look Gilbert in the eye and see what makes him tick and see what he's thinking. I'll probably give him a hug, and we'll probably kill some aliens with some video games and get to know each other."
-- New Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis, telling Washington's Comcast SportsNet what his approach will be with Gilbert Arenas when the Wizards' guard finishes his 30-day stay in a local halfway house.

"He's in there watching cartoons."
-- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who'd initially been concerned about the mental state of rookie forward DeJuan Blair after Blair was involved in a single-car accident on his way to Game 6 of San Antonio's first-round series against Dallas.

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

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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