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David Aldridge

The Magic -- and 27 other teams -- are trying to figure out how they can get to the playoffs' big stage.
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Finals pose hard questions for teams at home watching

Posted Jun 7 2010 10:24AM

LOS ANGELES -- It's all about the Finals, of course, and there is plenty to chew on after Rajon Rondo's triple-double and Jesus Shuttlesworth's eight threes evened the series for the Celtics, with three to come this week at TD Garden.

But while watching The Finals, it often occurs to me that there are 28 other teams watching and wondering: Are we as good as they are? Are we championship material? Do we need to tweak the roster, or renovate it? Do we have the right coach? The right superstar? Do we have real team chemistry, or are there some clubhouse lawyers in our locker room? Every team but one leaves a season satisfied. Those teams that are in rebuilding mode aren't anywhere near here; they were either in Minnesota last week, or they're in Europe right now, or they'll be in Jersey at the end of this week, looking at Draft eligibles in pre-Draft camps and in workouts in Treviso, Italy.

But what of the teams that made the playoffs, that entered the postseason with big dreams?

Think of this: Ten teams won 50 or more games this season but didn't win their conference championship. That's a lot of disappointment, a lot of angst.

And in a talk-radio, blogging society that demands immediate gratification, and pulverizes anyone or anything that doesn't produce immediate success, it is no longer enough to have a good season. It is Win or Go Home, break through or get fired. (With Mike Brown's ouster in Cleveland, four of the last five NBA Coach of the Year winners -- Brown, Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell and Avery Johnson -- have been cashiered within two years of getting the hardware. Mike D'Antoni, the '05 winner, lasted three more seasons in Phoenix before deciding to leave; Hubie Brown, the '04 recipient, didn't make it out of that calendar year before resigning. Um, Scott Brooks? Make sure there's a backup plan.)

So how does a team proceed?

I thought it instructful to look at it from three different points of view: management, coach and player. The general manager sees the big picture. The coach has to win the game on the schedule tonight. The player's limited shelf life usually demands action immediately -- or, at least, the demand for action immediately.

My three helpmates in this endeavor: Otis Smith, the general manager of the Orlando Magic; Rick Carlisle, the coach of the Dallas Mavericks and Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets' three-time All-Star forward and 2008 gold medalist on the U.S. men's Olympic team.

"I really didn't want to come to this game. LeBron suckered me into it. And he didn't even show," Anthony said with a laugh between halves of Game 2 Sunday night, standing in the bowels of Staples Center.

"I was already down here," Anthony said, "and we were supposed to come here together. And he hit me at the last minute, 'Nah, I ain't going to be able to make it, I have something to do.' I still had the tickets, so I said I'll go. Man, I'm about to leave here myself."

Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets have to figure out what's next for them.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

But Anthony saw plenty while he was around. He saw superstar players vying for a championship, with experienced role players making major contributions. He saw two teams that have made the commitment to paying the luxury tax if it means keeping players like Lamar Odom and Glen Davis and getting players like Rasheed Wallace.

"We have to do something," Anthony said, standing just outside the Lakers' locker room, as Derek Fisher and Jim Cleamons and assorted others waved hello on their way back onto the court.

"For example, use these two teams out there right now," he said. "They definitely made moves to better themselves, to get them to the championship series. If that's what we want to do, and that's everybody's goal, that's what everybody says. But first, you have to do something. We have pieces. If we get one or two more pieces in there, that'll work for our team and everything will be good. I wouldn't say blow it up."

Smith's Magic finished the regular season with a 59-23 record, a third straight Southeast Division title and were generally considered the hottest team in the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs. After sweeps of its first two playoff series, though, Orlando was throttled in six games by Boston in the East finals. It lost the first two games of the series at home and was down 3-0 before making a face-saving showing. Afterward, there were all kinds of howls about Dwight Howard's leadership, and Stan Van Gundy's coaching strategy and Jameer Nelson's subpar play against Rondo.

But none of it fazes Smith.

"I usually don't have a knee-jerk reaction to anything," he said Sunday, nine days after his team's season ended. "We didn't finish the way we wanted to finish. Twenty-nine teams have the same problem."

One year removed from its own Finals appearance, the core of the Magic is set for years to come: Howard in the middle, Rashard Lewis at power forward and Nelson at point guard. Smith will have to make decisions on forward Matt Barnes (who says he'll opt out of the final year of his contract), on Vince Carter (who has one fully guaranteed year remaining on his contract and a partial guarantee for the 2011-12 season -- which would make him an attractive piece to trade). Oh, and valuable bench player J.J. Redick is a restricted free agent this summer, too. But Smith is not looking to make wholesale changes.

"That doesn't make any sense to me," he said. "We're not that far away."

Orlando's ownership has given Smith the green light to go into the luxury tax to keep the team together, and the Magic will be paying tax for the foreseeable future. He already has a general sense of how much the Magic can spend next season. That overarching plan is why Smith has the freedom to do as much or as little as he chooses to alter the roster going into next season. And it also gives him the final say on everything. So, at least for the moment, he's immune to player grousing about minutes or contracts; there is no room between him and Van Gundy.

Magic GM Otis Smith says the team won't make any 'knee-jerk reactions' to its playoff ouster.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

"I'm the GM of this team," Smith said. "So they (the players) can't tell me what they get."

But Smith, who played six NBA seasons for Denver, Golden State and Orlando, believes that the days and weeks immediately following a playoff defeat are the worst times to get an honest evaluation of his group. It's one reason he eschews the exit interviews with players that are a staple of most teams, where coaches and management talk to their players to get their assesment of where the team is and often give the players an offseason workout schedule.

"It's hard to do an exit interview and get anything positive out of it," he said. "I talk to guys on and off during the season. I know them. I know when something's up usually before they do. So I find them (the interviews) to be counter-productive. It's right at the end of the season. Everybody's hurting ... we were one of the final four teams left. You guys have picked us apart. So the players read that. Their families read that. Everybody reads that. So why should I have an exit interview? They're just going to regurgitate everything that's been written anyway."

Carlisle's Mavs were red-hot after a midseason trade brought Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson from Washington in February. Dallas won 13 straight games and finished the regular season 55-27, won the Southwest crown and were second overall in the West. They looked for all the world like a real threat to the Lakers. But the Mavericks never got close to playing Los Angeles, falling in the opening round in six games to the Spurs, their arch-nemesis.

Carlisle's bosses, GM Donnie Nelson and owner Mark Cuban, have never been reluctant to blow things up. But all of their activity over the years has surrounded the one major constant in Dallas for a decade -- Dirk Nowtizki. But the Diggler has indicated he'll opt out of the final year of his contract and test free agency this summer. With so many teams having so much money available for max-level offers, even someone as loyal as Nowitzki has been to the Mavericks could get stars and dollar signs in his eyes. But assuming the Mavericks can keep Nowitzki in the fold, Carlisle is confident he has a strong team returning next season.

"We've had a period now of four or five weeks where you get by the emotion," said Carlisle, who was in L.A. at The Finals Sunday in his capacity as the president of the National Basketball Coaches' Association, giving the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Jack Ramsay and to longtime Bulls and Lakers assistant coach Tex Winter.

Carlisle has done his exit interviews with his players and will now sporadically communicate with them the rest of the offseason. Nowitzki is certain to spend much of the summer in Germany, while Jason Kidd goes to his offseason home in Arizona, and Carlisle gives each of them their space. Some of the younger Mavericks stayed in town after the playoffs and have been working out at the American Airlines Center for the past couple of weeks.

"You make sure you have enough logical and analytical study of the situation," Carlisle said. "It's a long summer. And there will be opportunities. You just have to make sure that the opportunities that you look at the ones that are going to be positive. I look forward to a full training camp with our full complement. I think that's something that's going to be a major positive for us. We'll see what kind of form the team comes back in.

"I think we'll have the majority intact, but with Mark and Donnie, you never know. They're opportunistic and they're not afraid to pull the trigger on big deals."

That kind of (im)patience is right up Anthony's alley, coming off a shocking first-round loss to Utah after the Nuggets won 53 regular season games and the Northwest title. Denver seemed to be the Lakers' major stumbling block in the West; after taking L.A. to six games last year in the West finals, the Nuggets had no fear of playing the Lakers again. But then came the recurrence of cancer in Denver's coach, George Karl, just around the All-Star break, and the Nuggets never seemed to get their footing again, with injuries and uncertainty causing an unraveling down the stretch.

Coach Rick Carlisle has already moved on from Dallas' disappointing playoff run.
D.Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Now, the Nuggets are in no-man's land -- a team with aging, expensive players, playing for an owner in Stan Kroenke that wants to stay under the tax. Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Anthony isn't getting any younger, and the West is getting better and better. The Oklahoma Citys and Portlands are coming on, the Lakers don't look like they're going anywhere and the Mavericks, Spurs, Suns and Jazz are lurking.

So Anthony got back to work two weeks ago, starting his lifting and conditioning program early instead of getting back on the court first. He's 234 pounds, already less than the 236 at which he ended the season. He will spend the summer again with noted "Hoops Whisperer" Idan Ravin, the trainer to many of the NBA's elite including Anthony and Chris Paul.

"I'll be with him the whole summer," Anthony said. "I think he knows players and knows the game. He watches a lot of basketball and he knows what I'm doing, what I'm not doing, where I can get better at. We sit down before we actually even start, watching film. He'll put like a little film tape together and say 'This is what you can do better, this is what you can continue doing,' and we go from there."

If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. That is the pressure that is on every NBA team, every front office person, every coach, every player. It never ends. That's the pressure cooker that destroys so many good people in this game. A 59-win regular season isn't good enough, not even close, not any more, and Carlisle, who has gotten fired after being named Coach of the Year and making the conference finals in successive seasons, knows that as well as anybody.

"That's not our culture," Carlisle said. "Our culture is we think big. We had a good regular season, and it was a tough matchup and a difficult ending. I have a pretty short mourning period, and I'm looking toward next year, and how we get better. And that's how we have to do it."


• The Hawks' coaching search may get some clarity this week, but a new player threw a wrench into what looked like a two-man race between former Mavs coach Avery Johnson and current Dallas assistant Dwane Casey.

Atlanta assistant Larry Drew had an outstanding interview for the vacant head coach job with GM Rick Sund last week, and has put himself smack in the middle of the race. Like the more celebrated Tom Thibodeau, the 52-year-old Drew is a longtime NBA assistant coach who has paid his dues and has long deserved an opportunity at a head coaching gig after apprenticeships with the Lakers, Pistons, Wizards, Nets and Hawks. He had a detailed presentation for Sund that made Sund add Drew to the list of interviewees that need to meet with Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson on Monday.

Levenson is also expected to meet with Mark Jackson, the former player and current ABC/ESPN analyst who has interviewed with Sund as well. Both Drew and Jackson may also meet with Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon, who is just returning this week from a trip abroad and has yet to be involved in the interview process.

Johnson, who met with Sund in Houston on Saturday, is still considered a co-favorite for the job along with Casey, who has given the Hawks assurances he'll have a veteran staff of assistants on board if he gets the job. Casey struggled in his previous coaching gig in Minnesota, in part because he didn't have a grizzled veteran assistant that could have helped him through the potential minefields of his first coaching job.

An impressive interview has put longtime assistant coach Larry Drew in the race for Atlanta's vacancy.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

And, by the way, don't think for a second that the Hawks haven't also been kicking around the tires of Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, who, according to one Cleveland-area paper, has already been offered the Cavaliers' job by fellow Michigan Stater Dan Gilbert. They've made discreet inquiries, I'm told. But there's no chance Izzo would leave his security and success in East Lansing for the Hawks, even though he almost took the Atlanta job in 2000 after winning the national championship ...

• Avert your eyes for the next couple of paragraphs if you don't want to have Labor Talk all over your Finals: The Commish, during his State of the League presser before Game 1, gave a big hint as to how hard owners are going to play in forcing concessions from the Players' Association. I asked him why, if the current economic models are as bad as the league claims (claiming losses as high as $400 million for this season at the All-Star break), so many rich, supposedly smart people -- like Mikhail Prokhorov, and Ted Leonsis, and Michael Jordan, and Larry Ellison -- are either buying, have bought or are trying to buy NBA franchises.

"Actually, in some measure because they think we're going to get a new collective bargaining agreement, to put it that simple, number one," he said, sending shudders through me.

"Number two, there were some bargains in there with respect to Charlotte (which sold for a reported $250-275 million, far below what former majority owner Bob Johnson paid in 2002 for the expansion team)," Stern said. "Fair pricing. I think the Warriors probably make some money (in their sale). We have a broad array of teams. And if somebody asked me whether a team is a good buy, my response is, you'd better hurry up, they're going like hotcakes, and they're going to be even more valuable when we get a system that is even more sustainable."

But owners always caterwaul that they're not interested in the appreciation of their franchises, a point Stern made later in response to another question, saying, "we don't have owners that are prepared to live off the potential appreciation. They want to have a business."

Stern also stood behind the $400 million losses number. Asked to respond to National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter's contention that that number was "baloney," Stern quipped, "I grew up in Stern's Delicatessen. He has his meat wrong."

Equally interesting (and depressing for its dour forecast for 2011-12 basketball) to me was this interview that Hunter gave to the magazine The Nation and its outstanding sports writer Dave Zirin late last month, in which Hunter predicted it would take a decade for his players to regain the lost revenue that they would lose in the event of a lockout.

Interestingly, Hunter raised the possibility of joint cooperation between the NBA and NFL unions, noting that the late Gene Upshaw, then head of the NFLPA, offered Hunter's union a loan to help pay costs during the 1999 NBA lockout. Anyway, read it for yourself, and try to forget that a year from now, we're probably going to be staring a prolonged work stoppage square in the face.

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Finals edition)

1) Boston (1-1): Clip and save in case of a return to Los Angeles: Celtics have won six of 10 road playoff games this postseason.

2) L.A. Lakers (1-1): Have to get Lamar Odom (2 games, 10 points, 10 fouls) out of the penalty box.

3) Orlando: See above: GM Otis Smith doesn't anticipate a big restructuring.

4) Phoenix: Soccer aficiando Nasty Nash off to the World Cup to file reports for

5) Utah: Jazz expected to go big in Draft with ninth pick.

6) Cleveland: Dan Gilbert's really in charge now, and so, keeping or losing LeBron is now on him and him alone.

7) Atlanta: One thing is already certain for next season: This season's first-round pick, guard Jeff Teague, is going to play a lot more.

8) San Antonio: The price of success: This year's pick for the Spurs, 20th overall, is their highest since taking Tim Duncan first in '97.

9) Chicago: Thibodeau will likely be a big hit or a big miss with the Bulls. No in between for the longtime assistant.

10) Oklahoma City: A lot of teams are targeting Jeff Green for a trade this summer, figuring the Thunder won't be able to hold onto him with big paydays coming for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

11) Denver: Capable GM Mark Warkentein still does not have a new contract for next season, and the clock is ticking.

12) Portland: Saw Greg Oden in L.A. this week. He looks good and says his rehab is going well.

13) Dallas: FWIW, a league source told me last week that the Mavericks are very worried about Nowitzki's impending free agency, which would refute the take-it-easy mantra I believed earlier.

14) Milwaukee: Andrew Bogut's rehab is going well, but he says he won't be playing for Australia in the World Championships in Turkey.

15) Miami: Erik Spoelstra tells the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that Riles doesn't have to make assurances to him about his coaching future.

16) Charlotte: For a guy that said he was going to make a quick decision about his future, Larry Brown sure is taking his sweet time.

Team of the Week

(Finals edition)

Celtics (1-1): Considering that Pau Gasol had morphed, Hulk-like, into an indestructable force in the paint -- to hear some of the media panting after Game 1, anyway -- and that, conversely, Kevin Garnett had supposedly become a dessicated shell of his former self, it's a wonder that Boston showed up for Game 2 on Sunday. But the Celtics' backcourt of Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen put on a full-court show in taking away home-court advantage from the Lakers, with three home games this week now on Boston's serve.

Team of the Weak

Grown Ups (Rated PG-13, and opening June 25, presumably, at a theatre near you): With the endless commercial tie-ins and appearances of the celeb cast at the Finals, this story of five players on a elementary school basketball team who get together again 30 years later better be the funniest movie in the history of cinema. You know, like The A-Team, which figures to be the smash hit of the summer with next to no promotion whatsoever!

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Does it make sense for the NHL to play a Stanley Cup Final game on the same night as a game in The Finals? And vice versa, if you're a fan of the puck? I will be quite interested in the ratings for each when they're official later in the week, but for a sport that's desperate to break out of its TV ratings doldrums -- and, by all accounts, has been with a very exciting Blackhawks-Flyers Cup -- going head-to-head with the NBA for a key Game 5 doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

He is a little bloody, but he is not slain. From Eric Lohmar:

Great article that you posted a link to on Manute Bol. I grew up watching the Bullets and still remember screaming the first time I saw Bol hit a 3-pointer. I'm thrilled to see an NBA athlete make such a strong effort to help others less fortunate to the point that he doesn't have much left. If more wealthy people would live this way, we would have less poor people and a far more equal world. It is incredible to see such a strong humanitarian at work. I applaud his efforts and yours for posting the link. I wish this type of story was more frequent in the high-rolling industry of the NBA. It seems far too often NBA atheletes are put up on a pedestal as idols wih fancy cars, luxurious homes and diamond earrings. Bol is one of the greatest men to ever play basketball in my opinion. He may not have championship rings or million of dollars in the bank, but it sounds like he is creating millions of opportunities for impoverished world citizens and that is worth far more in the big picture of life on Earth. I am very grateful for Manute and Dikembe (Mutombo) and their humanitarian efforts. I think those in Heaven would agree.

It's hard not to be impressed by Manute Bol's off-the-court contributions.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

What you said, Eric. What you said.

One Michael Jeffrey Jordan once said of teammate Stacey King, "maybe they should call it powerless forward." From Chris Corlew:

I know you said moratorium on free agency talk and let's pay attention to Lakers-Celtics (great series overview, by the way), but I have a theory and it doesn't involve LeBron.

There's a lot of 4s in the free agency pool -- (Chris) Bosh, (Carlos) Boozer, Amar'e (Stoudemire), David Lee, and probably Dirk (Nowitzki). But my theory is this: teams with power fowards as their centerpieces can't go all the way. Think of past championship teams: the Lakers with Kobe/Shaq, the Bulls with MJ/Scottie, Rockets with Hakeem, the Pistons with Isiah, the Celtics with Bird, the Lakers with Magic/Kareem, the 76ers with Dr. J/Moses, Celtics with Russell/Cousy. Now think of people who lost to them: the Jazz with Malone/Stockton, Sonics with Kemp/Payton, Barkley's Suns, C-Webb's Kings, the Suns with Amare/Nash, and this past decade's Mavs.

KG couldn't get it done until he had Allen, Pierce and Rondo. The one team that throws a wrench in my argument is the Spurs with Duncan, which is why Duncan has to be considered the best 4 of all time. Also Bob Pettit's teams, but the L is different now. My thinking is that traditionally, 4s can't just take over the game the way wings (Jordan or Magic or LeBron or Bird or Wade) can, nor can they impose their will on the post with as much force as centers (Wilt or Shaq or Kareem or Hakeem). What do you think?

No doubt that great centers and point guards usually win championships, Chris. That's why so many doubted Jordan's ability to lead a team to a title; it had almost never been done by a two guard (though there were exceptions; I would argue the '79 Sonics championship team was led by Dennis Johnson and backcourt mate Gus Johnson much moreso than by Jack Sikma and Lonnie Shelton, for example). And there have been some cases where a great four was the centerpiece of a championship team, as with Washington in 1978 and Elvin Hayes -- though Bullets fans know it was the acquisition of small forward Bobby Dandridge that sealed the deal in D.C. that season. And the only people that claim Duncan isn't the Spurs' center are the Spurs.

They were going to go to rock-paper-scissors, but decided against it at the last minute. From L.S. Bingham:

The NBA recently published the Draft tie-breaker order. It shows who won the ties from having the same record after the season. I noticed that in the first round Utah is first, then Atlanta, then Denver. In the second round, Utah drops to last as Atlanta is first of the three and Denver is in the middle. How does that work? If Utah won the tiebreaker, why does it not remain the same in the second round?

Simple fairness, L.S. If one team benefits from a coin toss in the first round, the argument goes, it shouldn't also benefit in the second. For example, the Warriors won a tiebreaker with the Wizards before the Draft; each team finished 26-56 in the regular season, but after the tiebreaker Golden State had a slightly better chance of winning the Lottery than Washington. But after Washington won the Lottery and the first pick overall, the Warriors were awarded a higher second-round pick (34th overall) than the Wizards (35th), even though they had the same regular season record. Hope that makes sense.

As always, send your Finals interrogaries, Draft illuminations and snark to If you write it (first and last name, please), and we like it, we just might print it. All rights reserved -- by me!

Playoffs MVP Watch


1) Kobe Bryant (2 games: 25.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 6 apg, .429 FG, .923 FT): Mamba has been a little off from the floor, with the Celtics doing a good job of building a wall between him and the basket. Expect things to change once Kobe's Road Rage kicks in.

2) Rajon Rondo (2 games: 16 ppg, 9 rpg, 9 apg, .438 FG, .333 FT): Watched DVD of his subpar Game 1 performance late Thursday night after the game with some frosty adult beverages, then dominated Game 2.

3) Pau Gasol (2 games: 24 ppg, 11 rpg, 4.5 bpg, .625 FG, .783 FT): Watch his footwork if you want to see a clinic in big-man, low-post play.

4) Ray Allen (2 games): 22 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1 apg, .500 FG, 1,000 FT): The Lakers have a problem; they'd like to keep Bryant on Rondo instead of making him a help defender on Allen, but if he's shooting lights out over the smaller Derek Fisher, Phil Jackson may not have any choice but to put Kobe back on him.

5) Paul Pierce (2 games: 17 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4 apg, .333 FG, .947 FT): Hasn't gotten himself going from the floor at all against the handsy Ron Artest, but has still helped his team by getting to the foul line and letting the Celtics set up their halfcourt defense.

Dropped out: Steve Nash

By the Numbers

2 -- Number of teams that have reached the Finals by beating the top two teams in the league. The Celtics, who beat Cleveland (61-21) and Orlando (59-23), are the only team other than the 1995 Houston Rockets, which beat top-seeded San Antonio and second seed Utah to reach the Finals, to do so, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

$2,600 -- Amount of money Doc Rivers collected from Celtics players and officials when the team played at Staples Center last February, $100 apiece. Rivers hid the money in a ceiling panel in the locker room then and told his team the only way it would get the money back was to come back to Staples for the Finals.

$57,800,000 -- Estimated economic impact to New York City if LeBron James signs with the Knicks, according to a study done by the city's Economic Development Corporation and reported by the New York Daily News.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) RIP, Coach Wooden. For a young man to come out of a town in rural Indiana in the 1920s and '30s that was home to Klan activities, and not be molded by that experience, is a testament to his family but also to the man himself, who became a great player at Purdue University and then the greatest college basketball coach of all time -- one whose coaching career started at Indiana State, in 1947. That year, Wooden's team was invited to the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (now the NAIA) tournament. Wooden's 12th man, a player named Clarence Walker, was African-American. NAIB rules at the time prohibited black players from playing. Wooden, then 37, in his first season as a coach, in 1947 -- the year Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball -- refused the invitation.

John Wooden's adherence to his principles is what made him stand out, more than his wins.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The next year, the NAIB changed its rule to allow blacks to compete, and Indiana State was invited again. Wooden accepted. Indiana State made the national championship game, Walker became the first black player to compete in a national title game. That means so much more to me than Wooden's 10 national championships at UCLA I cannot begin to express it properly. It is not what a man does when everyone agrees with him that is telling; it is what a man does when no one agrees that reveals his character. As in one of my favorite quotes: "What is popular is not always right; what is right is not always popular." Godspeed, Coach.

2) That's a pretty strong recovery from a subpar Game 1, Rajon Rondo.

3) You are a standup man, Jim Joyce, and baseball is lucky to have a guy like you as an umpire. Why people don't understand this is beyond me: when you make a mistake, if you get up and say 'I blew it,' it's a very short press conference. There are no follow-up questions for a man who's admitted an error, without equivication or explanation.

4) We are obviously in the Free Agent Frenzy these days, but has anyone noticed that in Danny Ferry, and, any minute now, Kevin Pritchard (see below) and Kiki Vandeweghe, and Chris Mullin, and Billy Knight, and Billy King, there are any number of highly-capable executives floating out there without teams?

5) Glad that a smart man like Jeff Van Gundy agrees with me that the league's archaic foul-out rule needs to be changed.

6) Julius Evans, older brother of Tyreke Evans, who brought the hammer down on his kid brother after Tyreke was charged with reckless driving when stopped by California Highway Patrol police last Monday doing 130 mph on the way to a pickup basketball game. Tyreke Evans was briefly handcuffed at the scene but then uncuffed and released when police determined neither he nor a passenger were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But, per Fanhouse, Julius Evans called his brother out in no uncertain terms: "We let him know we're not happy about that going down, especially when we're 3,000 miles away (in New Jersey) and we see he's on the news in handcuffs." Tyreke Evans Tweeted an apology the next day.

7) Great to see Tex Winter and Dr. Jack Ramsay getting their awards on Sunday before Game 2 of the Finals. Anyone who has followed the NBA the last 20 years knows the impact of Winter's Triangle Offense on the NBA, and Ramsay's impact as a coach and commentator has been deep and long-lasting. One of the great times in my life was working with and learning from the Good Doctor at ESPN. He remains a true gentleman.

Not Feelin' ...

1) I agree with Gasol.

2) Trying to work up some outrage like some of my brethren about how horrible Tom Thibodeau treated the poor Hornets as he negotiated a contract with them, only to ultimately spurn New Orleans and reach a deal with Chicago. It's called "leverage." Happens every day in every office in the world, including mine and yours. The Hornets are big boys and quickly moved on to Monty Williams when it was clear they were getting played. Thibodeau gets the job he wants, New Orleans injects some new coaching blood onto the scene and gets a coach that Chris Paul wants. Everybody's happy.

3) Though I'm still miffed that the Czar can't get back onto the bench.

4) The Blazers are not distinguishing themselves with how they're handling the impending dismissal of Kevin Pritchard. If you're going to fire him, show some class and do it now. You would think he was owed that after rebuilding the roster in three years and ridding Portland of its "Jail Blazers" nickname. But we know the antipathy for Pritchard runs deep inside the walls of Paul Allen's Vulcans, and they're acting in an incredibly callous way.

5) With all the tragedies in the world, it's easy to forget about the post-earthquake humanitarian effort still going on in Haiti. Luckily, Alonzo Mourning hasn't .

6) I don't want to hear another word from these guys.Not. Another. Word.

Tweet of the Week

rip great coach, john wooden. i am from iran but in 2 years in america, i know what john wooden did for basketball ...
-- Grizzlies center Hamed Haddadi (@HamedHaddadi15), Friday, 11 p.m., on the death of John Wooden.

They Said It

"I just thought it was important to have clarity for the team going forward."
-- Former Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry, telling me why he decided to resign Friday instead of working out a contract extension with owner Dan Gilbert. Ferry said he didn't want his own situation to become a distraction as the team searched for a new head coach, but friends of his maintain that Ferry didn't want to return to the Cavs once it became clear that Gilbert wanted changes in the decision-making structure going forward that previously had been Ferry's alone.

"As ridiculous as it may sound, if it were today, you'd have guys like Doug Gottlieb scrutinizing John Wooden's coaching decisions."
-- Stan Van Gundy, continuing his war on the Worldwide Leader with a shot across the ESPN college basketball analyst's bow in reflecting on Wooden to the Orlando Sentinel.

"Keep in mind I have my bachelor's and my master's, and I'm ready to go."
-- Shaquille O'Neal, who challenged 14-year-old Kavya Shivashankar, the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion, to a spell-off last Friday while at this year's National Bee as part of his reality show "Shaq Vs." This year's winner was Anamika Veeramani, from North Royalton, Ohio, who correctly spelled "stromuhr," a tool which measures the speed of blood through an artery and is not named after the late great referee Earl Strom, as far as we know.

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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