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David Aldridge

Kobe Bryant
The health of Kobe Bryant's right finger could shape whether or not the Lakers pull of a three-peat.
Nathaniel S Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Health of these stars could be season's biggest story


Posted Sep 20 2010 6:32AM - Updated Sep 21 2010 3:09PM

First, many thanks to Coach Don Casey, "The Hoops Whisperer," Idan Ravin, NBA Senior Official Photographer Andrew D. Bernstein and boxing legend "Sugar" Shane Mosley for pinch-hitting for me during the past month with wonderful guest columns. I hope you enjoyed their insights into the game and the passion each brings to his corner of the NBA world -- coach, trainer, journalist, fan. The contributions of each is vitally important to the continued health of the league going forward.

Second, did you miss me? (Kidding!)

After a seven-week free agent frenzy the likes of which the league has never seen, I needed a break -- from agents, from "friends close to the player," from GMs, from everyone. And they no doubt needed a break from me. Thanks for your understanding while I re-charged the batteries and re-introduced myself to my family.

Since my last Tip, Riles and Stan Van pretty much put the notion that they were ever warm and fuzzy toward one another to bed, which is great for the league. Kevin Durant became an even bigger superstar than he already was, leading the "B Team" of NBA players to the World Championship gold in Turkey and an automatic berth in the 2012 Olympics. And Carmelo cut his supposed list of teams that he'd accept a trade to to 743. And, suddenly, we are a week or so away from the start of training camps, with the preseason close behind. Weren't we all just in Staples Center for Game 7, which ended with Ron Artest being the best player on a court that included Kobe, KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Pau Gasol? And of which ended with Artest and his family taking the craziest victory lap you've ever seen.

Housekeeping notes: I will start the weekly power rankings (Top O' The World, Ma!) next week, as camps get under way. Team of the Week/Team of the Weak and MVP Watch will get going soon after that. I am not sure if I will do Mr. Fifteen or not this year; let me know if you liked it or got something out of it. As always, drop me a note at daldridgetnt@gmail.com, or @daldridgetnt on Twitter.

Now, forward. We know the Lakers and Heat and Magic and Celtics are going to get most of the attention this season, but the fortunes of the 2010-11 season may well hinge not on how teams plan to guard the Super Friends, or how well Shaq accepts coming off the bench, but how soon a bone in Kobe Bryant's hand heals. Or whether the Rockets' training staff can save Yao Ming from himself.

This may well be the Season of Rehab, with many of the game's biggest stars trying to return from significant injuries, and the success -- or failure -- of their recoveries will be a back story all year long. Here are updates for a Talented Ten that are crucial to their respective teams' chances of success:

1) Kobe Bryant, Lakers
• INJURY: Right arthroscopic knee surgery (approx. 7/10), fractured right index finger (12/11/09)
PROGNOSIS: You don't really expect him to miss any time, do you?

Bryant was noticeably slowed by the knee injury early in the playoffs, and the bad finger was a major factor in his shooting 45.6 percent from the floor, the lowest percentage he's had in four years. But the surgery cleaned out the knee and Bryant took the summer off from the U.S. world championship squad to rest both injuries; no one other than his teammate Pau Gasol has gone though a two-year stretch like Bryant, starting with a Finals appearance (and loss) in June, 2008, leading the U.S. team to Olympic gold in Beijing a couple of months later, winning his fourth title in '09, and coming back to repeat with the Lakers last season. Lakers spokesman John Black said that Bryant's rehab is on schedule.

"I'm doing rehab constantly for my knee," he said earlier, "making sure the leg is getting stronger. As soon as the leg gets strong enough to go, that's when I turn it up."

2) Yao Ming, Rockets
INJURY:
Fractured left foot (5/8/09)
• PROGNOSIS: Cleared for training camp

Yao is completely recovered after missing all of last season. He went five-on-five full court all but one day last week. But, as the Rockets disclosed last week, he will be limited to 24 minutes per game during the regular season, and won't play in the second of back-to-back games. In doing so, Houston is continuing to follow the playbook that the Cavaliers used beginning in 2001 with Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Through his first five seasons in the league, Big Z missed two full years (1996-97 & 1999-2000), all but five games of a third season (1998-99) and three-quarters of a fourth season (2000-01) with surgeries and injuries to both of his feet. His career looked over.

But after season-ending surgery in February, 2001, the Cavs held Ilgauskas back the following season. They limited him to 21.5 minutes a game and 62 games overall, with just 23 starts. But ever since that season, Ilgauskas's feet have held up. He played in 91 percent (598 of 656) of the Cavs' regular season games, and most of the games he did miss had nothing to do with his feet (a broken finger, personal bereavement and a waiting period last season after being waived by the Wizards after he was traded from Cleveland for Antawn Jamison). He's also appeared in 67 playoff games since that 2001 injury.

"Every player is different, and Yao Ming is different from Ilgauskas, but his example gives us a data point, and there aren't many, on how 7-footers will react," Rockets GM Daryl Morey said Sunday. "He gives us a very positive example of how this can go. The surgery fixed the problem and really reduced the possibility of this happening again, because the operation realy reduced the stress on the bones in that area."

Yao will be allowed to take part in scrimmages during camp, but likely for just 10 minutes at a time while he gets his conditioning back. Just as in the regular season, he will only play a total of 24 minutes per scrimmage. How the 24 minutes will be divided per half will be up to coach Rick Adelman, but the Rockets want the minutes to be somewhat balanced between halves. There isn't much chance the minute total will be increased in the near future, even if Yao starts carping about feeling good and wanting more run. The days of Yao averaging 36 minutes a game are almost certainly over.

"He's a competitor," Morey said. "He doesn't want to be out of the game. It's one of those where we've got to step in and make sure he understands in the long term, both for our playoff hopes and the rest of his career, we've got to take a cautious approach."

But don't be surprised if the Rockets get a deal done quickly with recently waived Bobcats center Erick Dampier to provide some insurance. I'm told Damp will be in Houston on Monday to meet with the Rockets and the team is hoping he'll prefer being near his Dallas home, with the possibility of those non-Yao minutes available, over the likes of Miami and other teams looking to land the veteran.

3) Blake Griffin, Clippers
INJURY:
Fractured left patella (10/23/09)
PROGNOSIS: Cleared to play

On Jan. 12, the Clippers were 17-18 and opening a road trip in Memphis. They led the Grizzlies 89-77 with 47 seconds remaining in the third quarter. And assistant general manager Neil Olshey was awaiting a phone call from Los Angeles in which he expected to hear that first-round pick Blake Griffin would be cleared to resume basketball activities, and would be joining the team the next day in New Orleans.

"Then, the water main breaks in Memphis," Olshey said, recalling the half-hour delay that followed. "We blow a 12-point lead. We lose at the buzzer. And I get a phone call saying (Griffin's) going to need an operation and it's over."

Everything crumbled from there. The Clippers lost 14 of their next 18 games, Mike Dunleavy stepped down under pressure as coach -- and, the next month, was fired as GM. Griffin never played a minute in what should have been his rookie season, having surgery to repair the broken left kneecap suffered in preseason.

But after rehabbing all spring and summer, Griffin is 100 percent. He has been playing pickup games with his teammates for a month; every Clipper except Eric Gordon -- who was in Turkey with the U.S. World Championship gold medal-winning team -- has been at L.A.'s practice facility for six weeks, lifting and playing. That includes Baron Davis and Chris Kaman, who reported July 17 and has been in every day with Griffin since. When the top three guys are in, there isn't much excuse for anyone else to miss time.

There are no restrictions on Griffin, whose explosiveness on the court and work ethic off it are the best allies new coach Vinny Del Negro could have with a young team trying to rise, yet again, in the Western Conference. But with Griffin back, the Clippers will, at least for now, enter camp for the first time in four years without having a starter unavailable or rehabbing a major injury (either Sam Cassell, Elton Brand, Shaun Livingston or Kaman all missed significant time each season). And it's been four seasons since the Clippers last made the playoffs. They think they have a chance to get back with a healthy Griffin playing up front with Kaman.

That was sealed last week by the team's head athletic trainer, Jasen Powell.

"My trainer sends me an e-mail every Friday, me and Vinny," Olshey said. "You know, this player's doing this, this guy's working on this. So I get the e-mail. It said 'Blake Griffin -- no issues to report.' Best e-mail I've gotten in years."

4) Andrew Bogut, Bucks
INJURY:
Right dislocated elbow, broken index finger (4/3/10)
PROGNOSIS: Cleared for training camp

Few players are as crucial to their team's hopes of making a move from playoff team to legit contender than Bogut, the third-team All-NBA center who was playing as well as any pivot in the game when he suffered a horrific fall just before the start of the playoffs last April. Bogut broke the radius and ulna bones in the elbow, severely dislocated the elbow, broke his right index finger and had bone chips in the arm removed. But he's back. He's been with the Bucks for the last couple of weeks in pre-camp workouts. The finger is fine, and the elbow is healed. But Bogut will still have reminders of the injury this season.

"As one of the doctors put it, Andrew's going to be in pain ... almost every morning, and probably at least for the next year," general manager John Hammond said Sunday. "That elbow's going to be sore. There could be some arthritic tendencies. It could be sore when there's a change of weather. it's going to be an aggravating injury."

Bogut may not have complete range of motion in the arm all season. But the Bucks have to have him on the court.

"He's in excellent shape from a cardiovascular standpoint," Hammond said. "His weight is good. But what he's dealing with is the elbow was so severely dislocated, there is pain there. And he's going to have to deal with that pain during the season. He's ready to deal with it. One thing that's evident from our standpoint is that Andrew is a tough player. He's proven that to us. He'll take a hit. We'll never question his ability to play."

5) Kendrick Perkins, Celtics
INJURY:
Torn right ACL, partial tear MCL, PCL (6/15/10)
• PROGNOSIS: Out until midseason at earliest

Boston didn't bring Shaquille O'Neal aboard because it felt confident that Perkins would come back quickly from the bad knee injury he suffered in the opening minutes of Game 6 of the Finals against the Lakers. The Celtics have all-too-familiar experience with knee injuries suffered by big men in recent years, having lost Kevin Garnett for the playoffs in '09 and Leon Powe early in that postseason, too. Perkins underwent successful surgery in July but will be a spectator until at least the All-Star break, and even then, the likelihood he'll make much of a contribution this season is small.

6) Andrew Bynum, Lakers
• INJURY: Torn cartilage, right knee (4/30/10)
• PROGNOSIS: Questionable for start of regular season

The Lakers said in July that Bynum would be available on a "limited basis" during training camp after his operation to repair the knee he dragged through the playoffs and Finals, earning the respect of his teammates in the process. Bynum in fact will not participate in any preseason games. He will travel with the team, but he has not yet been cleared to begin basketball activities on the court. The Lakers hope Bynum will be able to do some work on court later in the preseason. With Gasol also sitting out the worlds, he's likely ready to handle heavier minutes early on until Bynum is up to speed.

7) Greg Oden, Blazers
INJURY:
Fractured left patella (12/6/09)
PROGNOSIS: Uncertain for start of regular season

Oden is doing some light running and some on-court drills in an attempt to recover from yet another season-killing injury, but he has not yet been cleared to start two-on-two or three-on-three scrimmages. That is expected to come in the next few weeks and be the next step in his recovery, according to general manager Rich Cho. The good news is that the latest X-rays, MRI and CT scans have all shown that Oden's kneecap has healed following surgery last December, and he's rehabbed in Indianapolis and in Vancouver this summer without any setbacks.

"But you just don't know how strong the bone is until it's subject to high impact," Cho said Sunday. "So the longer you wait, the stronger the bone will be." So the Blazers would like to give Oden some more time before throwing him back on the court, even though it will make them shorthanded behind Marcus Camby while Oden and Joel Pryzbilla recover.

"I'm not even that concerned about the preseason," Cho said. "I want him to be ready for the regular season. So that's kind of where our focus is."

8) Rod Beaubois, Mavericks
INJURY:
Broken left foot (8/6/10)
PROGNOSIS: Uncertain for start of regular season

Roddy Buckets broke the foot in early August while training with the French national team for the World Championships. (Without both Tony Parker and Beaubois, France lost in the round of 16 to host Turkey.) Beaubois is no longer on crutches, and the foot is showing signs of progress, but Beaubois is still in a walking boot. There's no official timetable for his return -- Mark Cuban is getting an update from the team's athletic trainers today, he said in an e-mail Sunday -- but Dallas is still hopeful that the second-year guard will be ready for opening night. His return to last year's form will make the Mavs extremely difficult to handle in both the halfcourt and transition game.

9) Josh Howard, Wizards
INJURY:
Torn left ACL (2/22/10)
PROGNOSIS: Out until end of November at earliest

The Wizards and Howard are gambling on one another. Washington is hoping Howard can return to the form he showed in a brief four-game stint for the Wizards after his arrival from Dallas and before his injury, when he averaged 14.5 points per game and expressed a willingness to try and be a team leader. Howard is hoping he can impress enough on a one-year deal to get a better contract for 2011, either in Washington or elsewhere.

But the calendar is conspiring against both of them. While Howard does not have any swelling in the knee and his strength is good, and he can walk on an anti-gravity treadmill, he still can't run or do any full-speed basketball drills, and certainly has not been cleared yet for contact or any basketball activities. Right now the Wizards are saying December looks possible, but a return from an ACL injury usually takes a year at least. Whenver Howard comes back, it's likely there will still be minutes available at small forward, where Al Thornton is Washington's only proven player entering camp..

"I think people forget what a good player Josh was," GM Ernie Grunfeld said Sunday. "He played very well for us those four games. Unfortunately he got hurt. But we felt he would be a good fit for us. We knew he wouldn't be ready for the begining of the season but we're in rebuilding mode. we have a young team and we need somebody from a winning environment who plays hard every night."

10) Joel Pryzbilla, Blazers
INJURY: Fractured right patella (3/6/10)
PROGNOSIS: Out until November at earliest

Pryzbilla fractured the kneecap twice, once just before Christmas in a game against Dallas, and then again in March after he slipped in the shower. Pressed on who was closer to returning -- Oden or Pryzbilla -- Cho said Oden.

"Joel has been working really hard," Cho said. "He's biking 20 miles a day. He just started moving on the court. But Joel's got a ways to go. But you're not going to find a guy that's working harder."

With the uncertainty surrounding the returns of both Oden and Pryzbilla, Porltand would seem to be a likely suitor for a guy like Dampier. But with 15 contracts on the books already, the Blazers would have to move a player for a pick to clear up a roster spot.

Dribbles

Kevin Durant was the goods during the U.S. men's run to the world championship gold medal. But will the Oklahoma City Thunder be left holding the bag?

Durant averaged 28 minutes a game for the U.S. team, the highest total of any player, led the team in scoring (22.8 points per game) and was the focus of every team's defense as the Americans went 9-0 and handled Turkey in its home country. But he and Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (19.4 minutes per game) will have only about two weeks to recover from the six weeks of practices and games for the U.S. team before the Thunder starts its own camp on Sept. 28.

Now, there are caveats. Durant won't turn 22 until the day after camp begins. And Westbrook is only 21. And before the U.S. camps began in Las Vegas in July, both had had three months off since Oklahoma City's first-round playoff loss to the Lakers. And because the U.S. team won the gold at the worlds, it won't have to take part in Olympic qualifying tournaments next summer. So Durant and Westbrook's dance cards won't be filled for a second offseason. But that is then. Coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder have to worry about the now. OKC is the new It Team, but that means the Thunder will also get everyone's best shot.

Kevin Durant
Will Kevin Durant have enough left in the tank for the Thunder after his dazzling play for the U.S. team?
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Mark Cuban and Gregg Popovich have both expressed concerns in recent years about their star players -- Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili -- going cycle after cycle for their respective countries, and all of those players skipped this go-round of the worlds. It's clear that Durant is going to be one of the main faces of the U.S. program going forward, perhaps beyond London and the 2012 Summer Games.

"Scott and I have a lot of confidence in our medical team," Thunder GM Sam Presti said via e-mail this weekend. "They have put a program together that will account for the time our players spent with their national team but also prepare them for the rigors of the NBA season. We will continue to monitor things as camp progresses."

The record is mixed when it comes to how much players are affected by international play when they return to the NBA. Many get through the initial season following a long international run okay, but the second season after has, coincidence or not, been a year when many players have had serious injuries. Michael Jordan played in the 1984 Olympics, helping the U.S. team win gold in Los Angeles. And he played in all 82 games his rookie season. But early in the next season, he suffered the only serious injury of his pro career, breaking his left foot.

John Stockton, Mr. Indestructable -- he played in 1,504 out of a possible 1,526 games (98.6 percent) during his 19-year career -- missed the only significant time of that career when he sat out the first 18 games of the 1997-98 season following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. That was the second year after he played on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team.

"We tried to take it really easy with them when they came to training camp," said 76ers president Rod Thorn, who was Jordan's general manager in Chicago in 1984, after Jordan won his first gold medal for coach Bob Knight's Olympic team. Thorn also had Jason Kidd in New Jersey after Kidd's Olympic turn in 2000 and his participation in the 2003 and 2007 Olympic qualifying tournaments.

"We'd play them not so much in the exhibition games," Thorn said. "And once the regular season starts, go play."

For what it's worth, here's a list of how some of the NBA's best players in recent years have done in the two years after they took part in international competition:

Player International Rotation Games Played
Following Season
Games Played
Two Seasons After Rotation
Michael Jordan 1984 Summer Olympics 82 18
Michael Jordan 1992 Summer Olympics 78 DNP (retired)
Scottie Pippen 1992 Summer Olympics 81 72
Scottie Pippen 1996 Summer Olympics 82 44
Karl Malone 1992 Summer Olympics 82 82
Karl Malone 1996 Summer Olympics 82 81
John Stockton 1992 Summer Olympics 82 82
John Stockton 1996 Summer Olympics 82 64
David Robinson 1988 Summer Olympics DNP 82
David Robinson 1992 Summer Olympics 82 80
David Robinson 1996 Summer Olympics 6 73
Charles Barkley 1992 Summer Olympics 76 65
Charles Barkley 1996 Summer Olympics 53 68
Shaquille O'Neal 1994 World Championships 79 54
Shaquille O'Neal 1996 Summer Olympics 51 60
Reggie Miller 1994 World Championships 81 76
Reggie Miller 1996 Summer Olympics 81 81

The Thunder isn't the only team that has to deal with this, of course. The Lakers have to worry about Lamar Odom. The Nuggets wouldn't last very long if Chauncey Billups, who turns 34 this week, missed any time. The Clippers' Eric Gordon is crucial to that teams hopes of finally getting things together. Gordon went home to his native Indianapolis last week after returning from Turkey.

"You know he's in great shape," Clippers GM Neil Olshey said. "He's been playing all year. It's just a matter of keeping him mentally fresh."

Thorn thinks it's worth the injury risk.

"My feeling is I was always glad when one of our guys played on the team," he said. "I thought it was good for them and good for us...you don't get many chances -- most kids, anyway -- to go do it. It gives them a heightened insight into playing in a real hostile environment. And most of those guys, when they're playing on those teams, play real unselfish."

Presti is kicking concerns about Durant's long-term health -- and whether or not the Thunder would ask him to curtail his international commitments to future U.S. teams after London -- down the road.

"That is a question for down the line," he said in the e-mail. "We are aware of the long term implications and respect them. However, we need to address those issues as they become more relevant and we have more information. We are happy for our guys and proud of the commitment they showed this summer."

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Will Rudy Fernandez get traded before Carmelo Anthony?

I don't know. But it's hard to believe that Fernandez is still on the Blazers' roster a week before the start of camp, after the team and his agent, Andy Miller, have spent the summer trying to broker a trade for the unhappy guard. Fernandez has made it clear he doesn't want to play for Nate McMillan any more, and the Blazers have made it clear that they'd try to accomodate him. But Portland wants a first-round pick for the 25-year-old guard, who averaged 8.1 points in 23 minutes a game for Portland last season, and not just any old first-rounder.

Rudy Fernandez
Rudy Fernandez will be in Blazers camp, but probably won't be in Portland for much longer.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

The Blazers have been dancing with Chicago all summer about a deal for Fernandez. The problem is after the Bulls' big offseason, acquiring Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson, a future Bulls first-rounder is more likely to be near the bottom of the first round than in the 15-20 range Portland is seeking. And with owner Paul Allen's wallet, the Blazers can always buy their way into the first round if they want. So what would the point be of trading Fernandez for a late first? It's the same reason that Portland isn't very interested in a future first that the Celtics, who've been trying to make a deal for Fernandez, could offer.

Fernandez, according to a source, rejected a possible trade to New Orleans, where he could have played for former Blazers assistant Monty Williams, now the Hornets' coach.

Chicago also has that future first-rounder it acquired from Charlotte last February in the Tyrus Thomas deal, and I suspect the Blazers would have more than a little interest in that pick. But it's protected until 2016, and I also suspect the Bulls want to hang on to that pick in case it turns into something good, much like that Knicks pick that became a top-10 selection for Utah this year, six years after New York sent it to Phoenix as part of the Stephon Marbury trade, and Phoenix sent it to the Jazz in a deal for Tom Gugliotta.

The Blazers won't send Fernandez home while they try to work out a trade, and they won't cut him. Reports that Fernandez had agreed to terms with FC Barcelona last week were false. So Fernandez will have no choice but to report to camp next week, even though everyone knows he doesn't want to play in Portland any more.

"I'm still trying to accomodate his request," GM Rich Cho said Sunday.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

I left my heart -- and my All-Star forward -- in San Francisco. From David Murphy:

Although I am still not completely convinced Carmelo Anthony will be traded, it is an intersting story. Frankly, I am surprised it hasn't already been beaten to death - especially in a summer where LeBron James' lunch decision would get 24/7 coverage... Anyway, I just had a couple thoughts about the situation and was wondering what your take on it was. Call me crazy, but if the Warriors were to offer a package that began with Monta Ellis, the Nuggets would seriously consider it, right? By my knowledge of the NBA players who may be "available," who else could replace Anthony's dynamic scoring ability? There are some obvious impediments to a Warriors-Nuggets deal, mainly that I don't believe Golden State can offer a vaible draft pick. I understand the rules to be that back-to-back first-round draft picks of consecutive years can't be traded, and GSW dealt their 2012 pick to New Jersey. However, in terms of talent, I feel that Monta Ellis may be the best Denver could get. Of course it all depends on the Nuggets' opinion on the value of Ellis, Devin Harris, Kevin Martin and other players from teams rumored to be in the mix. The Warriors also have about $17 million in expiring contracts.

The Nuggets aren't going to trade Carmelo to Golden State for any package that doesn't include Steph Curry. The Warriors aren't going to trade Steph Curry to anybody. This would produce what once was called a "Mexican standoff." The only way I could see something happening between these teams is if there was a third team involved that could give Denver more talent than, say, Andris Biedrins. And you are correct about GSW not being able to deal its '11 or '13 first-rounder. But if the Nets got involved in this and offered to give GSW its '12 first back, the Warriors could then deal an '11 or '13 first.

Decisions, decisions. From Steve McQuarrie:

Al Horford and Joakim Noah both entered the league at the same time, with Horford being taken six spots before Noah and generally accepted as the higher-pedigree player with greater upside than Noah. With Horford up for a possible $82 million extension, do you expect Noah to be given a similar extension to Horford? I don't expect that, however I'd argue that perhaps he should be up for something quite similar.

Joakim Noah & Al Horford
Which young center has a bigger upside: Joakim Noah (left) or Al Horford?
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

At the face of the discussion it could be argued that Noah is just as valuable, if not moreso for the Bulls (although with the addition of Boozer, who knows in future). Their production is very similar, although Noah appears to be the more productive player per minute, obviously reflecting his 'energy-guy' role. But Noah would appear to be increasing his level of play during the playoffs significantly. Both appear to bring intangibles to their teams, in terms of leadership ability ...

If you were a GM, which of these players would you take if you had to pay them both $60 million over 6 years? I would take Horford likely for his trade potential down the track, but a part of me thinks Noah is a bigger game-changer if you wanted to win now.

An excellent question/comparison, Steve, and it makes me think there's a weekly "Who Ya Got?" feature that I could incorporate into the Tip this coming season that would pick between two players of equal age/skill. In this case I think I'd take Noah, but not by much. Al is clearly a better offensive player now and always will be, but I think Noah is a better defender and probably will be the better rebounder over time. And it's the teams with outstanding interior defense that win in the playoffs. That extra inch or two Noah has over Al makes a difference, too. Please, Hawks fans, do not send me e-mails about how I'm "dissing" Horford. I'm not. It's a choice. Someone else will, and does, think Horford will be better than Noah.

Remember, send your questions, comments and criticisms to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If we like them, we just might print them.

By the Numbers

:42 -- Time it took Gilbert Arenas to pass the Wizards' conditioning test, according to the Washington Post. Arenas has looked very good in pre-camp workouts, according to a couple of sources.

16 -- Years since the United States won the gold medal in the World Championships in men's basketball, a streak broken by the Kevin Durant-led U.S. team that beat Turkey in Istanbul.

1050 -- Minutes that Memphis rookies Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez would have had to play -- an average of 15 minutes per game in 70 games -- to receive a 20 percent bonus above their first-year salary under a proposal the Grizzlies had for each of their first-round picks, an arrangement that neither player accepted. First-rounders routinely receive the bonus when they sign their deals, but Memphis was tying the bonus to performance incentives -- Henry and Vasquez could also have received the bonus money by playing in the Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend or making the All-Rookie team, according to The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal. But last week, owner Michael Heisley decided to waive the incentives and get the players signed in time for camp.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) There is nothing like two teams that plain don't like each other to generate legitimate buzz. (Yes, your humble correspondent will suffer through two weeks in Florida in May for the Eastern Conference finals.)

2) Great news from the PDX Video on owner Paul Allen, who says he's cancer free.

3) Even 75 percent of Javie is better than no Javie. Good luck to one of the league's top referees

4) David Kahn spells it out for Wolves fans. Hey, he said he was going to be as transparent as possible, and he has been.

5) I was surprised Lou Amundson lasted until September in free agency. An energetic big man who doesn't cost that much should have been scarfed up long before the Warriors got him last Monday. He'll help Golden State and be the perfect backup for David Lee. The Warriors' frontcourt -- Lee, Andris Biedrins, Amundson, Dan Gadzuric and, eventually, first-rounder Ekpe Udoh -- has potential.

6) You can have the field on "Dancing With the Stars." I'll take Rick Fox.

Not Feelin' ...

1) I'm not a cynic by nature. I tend to believe people when they tell me something. But if you think the Heat are going to hold camp at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach to pay tribute to the armed forces -- and not to keep as much of the pesky national media away as possible -- I have a condo on South Beach to sell you for $45.

2) I know LeBron can light cigars with $100 bills for the rest of his natural life, but this still has to give him a little pause, doesn't it?

Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski isn't the only coach who could have taken the U.S. team to a gold medal in Turkey.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

3) All due respect to Bob Ryan, who has written brilliantly about basketball for four-plus decades for the Boston Globe. But if he thinks Coach K is the only person who can coach NBA players to a gold medal, he's dead wrong. If Jerry Colangelo felt most comfortable with Mike Krzyzewski, no problem. He picked the players and the coach. But Gregg Popovich, who served his country as an undergrad in the Air Force and in, let's say, other ways, before changing careers, was -- and is -- as qualified and deserving as anyone to coach the United States in international competition. That it appears he will never get the chance to do so is a same, and wrong.

4) This stinks. Stop it.

5) I know what the rule is. It's a stupid rule. Change it.

Tweet of the Week

No disrespect but UMass has the worst uniforms. Look like a high school team. Haaaaaa!

-- LeBron James (@KingJames), Saturday, continuing to endear himself to Celtics Nation with his critique of the Minuteman unis.

They Said It

"LeBron has every right to go wherever and do whatever, whatever team he wants to. Going to the Heat was his choice, those guys working together. I don't even have a problem with the three of them working together, as long as they follow all of the NBA rules, which I think they did. Where I think LeBron made a mistake, was in how he did it. I don't even have a problem that he had the TV show. But it turned out to be the largest public humiliation in the history of sports. He humiliated the organization, he humiliated the state of Ohio, the city of Cleveland."
-- Mavs owner Mark Cuban, offering his LeBron take to KTCK Radio in Dallas. Later in the week he told another local station, KRLD, that the Heat would be the "Oakland Raiders of the NBA" and that everyone "is going to love to hate that team."

"What has Allen Iverson done to not warrant any interest in him?"
-- Gary Moore, Iverson's longtime advisor and close friend, asking a question to the Associated Press that he probably shouldn't pose to the Nuggets, Pistons or Grizzlies.

"I have a lot left in the tank."
-- Tracy McGrady, telling The Sporting News his left knee is as healthy as it's been in the last two years as he prepares to play for the Pistons this season.

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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