Posted Oct 12 2010 9:15AM
Paxson is a realist: he knows that you can have a long career in the NBA by accepting your limitations and finding a role. -- Sam Smith, The Jordan Rules
Someone has to be John Paxson.
This NBA offseason has been about the league's superstars, who set themselves up for major paydays and were wined and dined by a third or more of the league's teams. It's been about the Super Friends setting up a potential dynasty in Miami, and the Lakers looking to hold onto theirs, and the Bulls trying to surround Derrick Rose with a lot of talent, and the Hawks betting the $124 million farm that Joe Johnson can take them somewhere past the second round. It made for headlines, controversy and attention.
But someone has to be John Paxson.
Michael Jordan was the game's transcendent star in his day, and Scottie Pippen was a top-50 all-time player. But it was Paxson, the lesser-known, lesser-celebrated guard who has now risen to be team president, who hit the fourth-quarter shots against the Lakers in Game 5 of the 1991 Finals to clinch the Bulls' first championship. It was Paxson who drained the 3-pointer that beat the Suns in Game 6 of The Finals two years later to secure the first of Chicago's two three-peats. In his 10 postseasons -- nine with the Bulls -- Paxson shot 49 percent and 37 percent from 3-point range. In the championshp seasons, he shot 53.8 percent and 44.6 percent from behind the arc.
In that tradition, we want to pick eight who may be poised to Paxson for their respective teams this season. They aren't going to lead their teams in scoring, and may not be tops in any other categories for that matter. But they're going to be critical players, helping bad teams become good and helping good teams become better.
In alphabetical order:
Steve Blake, G, Lakers: One team executive who shall remain nameless for his own good said the Lakers' signing of Blake was the best free-agent acquisition of the offseason. But the point is understandable. L.A. zeroed in on Blake in the opening days of free agency, and for good reason: the 30-year-old Blake is a perfect fit for the triangle and for Phil Jackson. He's a big combo guard who can defend and is longer than people think. He'll provide stability off the bench where the Lakers had inconsistency in past seasons with Jordan Farmar, now in New Jersey.
Amway Center, arena, Orlando: The $480 million building that is the new home for the Magic opened Sunday night. And while arenas don't set picks or close out on shooters, they can provide a team with legitimate home-court advantage in the playoffs, like the old Boston Garden and Chicago Stadium and The Palace at Auburn Hills used to do. Seating around 18,000 for basketball -- and providing revenue streams that can help keep the team's payroll at its current luxury-tax busting $85-90 million -- the AC will be as vital for the Magic's long-term health as Dwight Howard's biceps.
Mario Chalmers, G, Miami: The fourth-year guard has never suffered from a lack of confidence. He thought he deserved more burn when the Heat was horrible, and one suspects that hasn't changed now that LeBron & Co. are in town. He's averaged about seven points per game in each of his first three seasons and that average doesn't have to improve by much for Chalmers to have a huge impact this season.
Someone is going to be wide open just about every night as defenses will have to concede something to try to slow down James and Dwyane Wade from driving from the wings or the top of the key. Chalmers -- one of six returning players from last season's roster, and there's a reason Riles kept him around -- will likely be that guy most nights. He has to improve on last year's 28.6 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line. If he doesn't, Carlos Arroyo will get the next shot at being the unsung hero.
Carlos Delfino, G, Milwaukee: The Bucks could have saved some cash by not picking up Delfino's option for this season. But Milwaukee didn't hesistate in bringing the 28-year-old back for a second season, after he appeared in 75 games last season and averaged 11 points a game playing alongside Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour.
"Unsung hero to me is the guy who might not be the best on your team but does everything well," Bucks GM John Hammond said via text message. "Delfino (is) one of our better defenders, one of our better rebounders, one of our better ballhandlers, one of our better passers, one of our better 3-point shooters."
No surprise that according to the statistical website 82games.com, Delfino and Andrew Bogut were the only two Bucks starters last season that were on each of Milwaukee's top eight best five-man units.
Jared Dudley, F, Phoenix: When the Suns and Bobcats made their December 2008 trade, Jason Richardson was the headline player, Boris Diaw the intriguing talent, Raja Bell the hard-nosed veteran that coach Larry Brown would love, and Dudley was ... not thought of as a significant piece. (Brown did gush over him whenever he mentioned him, but Pound for Pound always gushes ... and then trades.) But Dudley has become indespensible in Phoenix in two seasons. Shooting a ridiculous 45.8 percent from outside last year -- behind only Kyle Korver, Mike Miller and Boobie Gibson -- Dudley created the spacing that gave Amar'e Stoudemire room inside and Steve Nash driving lanes on the perimeter.
STAT is gone to New York, and the Suns are working three new players (Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick) into the mix. Dudley will have to find his way in different spots on the court. But he will always impact with his energy -- "he is the guy that makes every practice competitive," coach Alvin Gentry says -- and with his shot.
Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana: His first two seasons at Georgetown, Hibbert could barely dribble and chew gum at the same time. And then, after working his butt off, Hibbert blossomed as a junior. The suspicion here is that Hibbert is primed for a similar renaissance in his third season with the Pacers after averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds his first two years.
Hibbert not only has been diagnosed with having athletic asthma that may explain why he had trouble staying on the floor, he transformed his body by taking kickboxing lessons, reducing his body fat to 10 percent. The Pacers' strength and conditioning coaches thought the new routine would help him gain flexibility and improve his agility. Hibbert's never going to be called quick, but he's much quicker than he's ever been.
Courtney Lee, G, Houston: The Rockets love the third-year guard's perimeter defense, and for an organziation that values defensive metrics as much as any, that means Lee will impact the team this season (even though he's likely to come off the bench behind Kevin Martin). Don't think about the Lee who looked lost last season in New Jersey; recall the rookie who started on the Magic's team two years ago that made the Finals. Not surprisingly, Lee, like almost all players, is more effective surrounded by better talent. And the Rockets have a lot of it this season. Lee will be a big part of things.
N/A, Oklahoma City: Thought about assigning this to guard Thabo Sefolosha, or rookie center Cole Aldrich, or big Serge (IBlocka) Ibaka, to play Sancho Panza for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. But GM Sam Presti dissuaded me from that notion.
"We wouldn't attribute that role to any one individual," Presti texted early Monday morning. "The identity that Scott (Brooks) is building toward is one where we will call upon several people throughout the course of a game or season to assume the role of doing the little things and showing great discipline toward attention to detail."
Well, OK. Let's see if we can sneak this to Sefolosha, long and rangy on defense and fearless on offense -- the Thunder's Mickael Pietrus, if you will -- without Presti seeing.
Rick Carlisle woke up Friday morning just like every other morning of late. He'd gotten, by his estimation, about five and a half hours of sleep after watching the film of the Mavericks' preseason game the night before. He got up early the next morning and had a quick breakfast. He had to get his daughter to school by 7:30, and after he dropped her off, he grabbed, as he put it Saturday, "a couple of Balance bars and Mountain Dews" and went to American Airlines Center for practice.
About a half hour into the noon practice, though, Carlisle fell to the floor, without warning, creating moments of panic and fear among players and staff.
"I didn't see anything," Jason Kidd told the Dallas Morning News, "but I heard the fall."
Medical personnel arrived and took Carlisle out of the AAC on a stretcher -- though he was awake and alert the entire time -- and transferred him to Baylor University Medical Center for observations and tests. Doctors there determined that Carlisle hadn't suffered a heart attack, or a stroke, or anything serious. He had no previous history of heart problems, and if you saw him this summer you'd see he looks like a Marine, with his trim build and buzzcut.
"I just felt light headed and fainted," Carlisle recalled Saturday afternoon. "I hadn't drank any water that morning, which may have contributed to it. They took me to the hospital and did every test in the world, and everything came back negative."
Carlisle only stayed in the hospital a couple of hours before being released Friday, and went back to the office afterward. He worked out. He felt fine. And he doesn't have any reason to think the episode was anything more than a combination of not eating right, not staying hydrated and maybe not getting enough sleep. He didn't accompany the team to Indian Wells, Calif., for the AutoTrader.com Open on Saturday. Assistant Dwane Casey took over the reins for a night.
"I've been told that this does happen and not to worry about it, because they checked everything out," the 50-year-old Carlisle said. "I'm going to drink a lot more water on a regular basis. I think that's something that's important. And just go from there. They let me out of the hospital and I went back to the office for a few hours and then drove home. There's no limitation on anything or anything like that ... when you fall down, falling down is, I guess, another word for collapse. And when people collapse, everybody thinks heart attack."
Several teams have eliminated or pushed back shootarounds in the last couple of years, listening to the advice of doctors who believe that athletes, like everyone else, could stand to get a few more Zs at night to maximize their effectiveness. The Celtics, Spurs and Blazers have all gotten rid of the early morning shootarounds except in rare cases. But Carlisle has no plans to change the Mavericks' normal schedule. Dallas usually works out around noon, and that won't change.
I expected that Carlisle's wife, Donna, was already in his ear over the weekend about how this could be a good wake-up call for him, and that he needs to take even better care of himself than he already does. And Carlisle did hear about it from one of the most important women in his life. But it wasn't Donna.
"My daughter," he said. "This whole thing disrupted her play date. So I had to hear about that. That's more important than me going to the hospital, anyway."
Pacers happy Hansbrough ready to go
After missing nine months with a combination of maladies -- a concussion, followed by an infection that brought on a case of vertigo -- Tyler Hansbrough was finally back on the court Friday night for the Pacers, finishing with nine points in 19 minutes against Orlando. Indiana's 2009 first-round pick appeared in just 29 games last season before going down, and the Pacers have been very cautious in clearing him for increased activities during camp.
"Our doctors have told us to be real careful with it, and make sure that every day is a good day," Pacers general manager David Morway said. "Make sure he feels comfortable with it."
Hansbrough was supposed to be a big part of the rebuild that team president Larry Bird has been doing for the past few years. He loved Hansbrough's ability and toughness, and didn't hesitate to take him 13th overall in the Draft over the plethora of point guards -- Jrue Holiday, Eric Maynor, Jeff Teague and Darren Collison -- that the Pacers, desperately looking to replace T.J. Ford, could have taken. (Indiana wound up getting Collison this summer, along with veteran forward James Posey, in a trade with New Orleans.) But Hansbrough suffered a shin injury in camp last year and never got untracked.
Morway said Hansbrough isn't suffering any lingering effects from the concussion, suffered in December of last season. Coach Jim O'Brien had thought last year that Hansbrough may have been suffering from Post-Concussion Syndrome, after the vertigo showed no signs of abating. For weeks, Hansbrough continued having dizzy spells, problems with lights, bad headaches and nausea. But those symptoms have dissipated.
Concussions and their effects have become a big issue in all sports, and Hansbrough suffered a couple of concussions while he was an All-American at North Carolina. But the Pacers' doctors were more concerned with the infection that they believe led to the vertigo. Hansbrough has been OK the last few weeks, though, and Indiana would love to have him back on the court to take over at power forward, which is currently being manned by Josh McRoberts after the Pacers dealt Troy Murphy to the Nets in the offseason. Last season, opposing teams shot seven more free throws per game than the Pacers, and they've been getting bludgeoned on the glass during the preseason, with Dwight Howard doing damage last week. Indiana hopes a healthy 6-foot-9 Hansbrough will help make up some of that difference.
"The doctors think he's over it," Morway said, "Everything's gone away ... he's gotten a couple of hits to the head (during practice) and been OK. We're just being extra, extra careful. We want to make sure he's ready for the start of the regular season"
Money matters could decide Parker's future
The rumors about Tony Parker's future -- or lack of future -- in San Antonio all have seemed to center on Parker's supposed desire to leave, a desire that he has continued to deny at every turn. But what's left out of the discussion is that the Spurs also have a decision to make on whether to give the 28-year-old Parker a new deal after this season, when he becomes a free agent. San Antonio may carry as few as 13 players -- the minimum allowed -- on its active roster this season instead of the 15 allowed in order to save some money, so financial considerations are always a part of the team's decision-making plans.
But Parker's case is different than a benchwarmer's, obviously. Even though Gregg Popovich has a soft spot for third-year guard George Hill, Parker has proven himself as a major part of the Spurs' championship runs ever since Popovich made a then-19-year-old Parker the starter during his rookie season in 2001. Plus, Parker made a commitment to San Antonio in the offseason, declining to play for France in the World Championships. He's lifting weights regularly for the first time in a long time and working on his shot. As a result, he came to camp much stronger and has been terrific so far.
The Spurs had a similar decision to make last year, when Manu Ginobili was entering the final year of his deal. After months of discussions, the two sides reached accord in April on a three-year extension worth $38.9 million to keep him out of last summer's free agent class. Whether that happens with Parker is still in the air, though his agent and the team have spoken three or four times this summer.
"It's no different than what we're always operating with," Popovich said. "Same with Manu. We went through the year before we made the decision, and we'll do the same thing here. You can't make decision quickly just because you like the guy."
1) FC Barcelona: Hey, they beat the Lakers fair and square. Although Pete Mickael is going a little overboard with it.
2) L.A. Lakers: Doesn't sound like L.A. is planning to get off to a roaring start.
3) Orlando: Magic playing Lewis back at three in preseason, looking at Brandon Bass at four.
4) Miami: Bosh picking up the slack with Wade out.
5) Boston: Semih Erden getting preseason run with Jermaine O'Neal (hamstring) hobbling.
6) Oklahoma City: Excellent synopsis here by the Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry on Kevin Durant's honest assessment of himself compared to other elite players.
7) Dallas: Rookie Dominique Jones having a solid preseason playing both guard spots.
8) San Antonio: DeJuan Blair pushing for more playing time this season. He had an outstanding camp.
9) Chicago: Bulls being cautious with Ronnie Brewer's hamstring.
10) Atlanta: Something has to give re: Jamal Crawford if Hawks give Al Horford extension.
11) Utah: Will Paul Millsap or Andrei Kirilenko start at power forward?
12) Portland: Joel Przybilla back at practice, but it's the Blazers, so naturally, Jeff Pendergraph tore his ACL this week and is out for the season.
13) Phoenix: Add Suns to list of teams pursuing Erick Dampier.
14) Milwaukee: Second-rounder Tiny Gallon doesn't make it out of the first week of preseason.
15) Houston: Yao: 12 minutes per game in the preseason.
I wonder how often coaches in different sports compare notes?
You'd think they'd be on the phone to one another all the time. The issues are often the same. How do you manage incredibly talented, often narcissistic, highly-paid athletes? How do you manage your time to meet the demands of your team, the media and your family? How hard is it to match wits with men just as smart as you are? Who do you turn to that could have some sense of what your job is like?
This came up when I was doing a Giants-Rockies baseball game late last month for TBS in Denver. Nuggets coach George Karl came to Coors Field for his local weekly TV show in Denver and interviewed Rockies manager Jim Tracy. The week before, Karl had spent a day with Broncos coach Josh McDaniels at the football team's practice facility. Karl sat in on team meetings and practice and addressed the team. It was the first time that Karl had met with the Broncos since coming to Denver in 2005.
"I had never met George before," Tracy said. "In spending some time with him, it became clear that he doesn't just like baseball; he loves baseball. I realized it as we talked more and more. And he wanted to know a lot about Pittsburgh." (Tracy was the Pirates' manager from 2005-07 before being fired, and then being hired by Colorado as a bench coach in 2008; Karl was born in the Penn Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh.)
Time constraints obviously limit the possibilities for cross-sports chit-chat. And unless you were close in childhood, like former NFL coach Steve Mariucci and Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, you probably don't get much chance to meet people outside of the sport that you're involved with. Tony Dungy, the Super Bowl-winning former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, roomed for a while his freshman year at the University of Minnesota with Wizards coach Flip Saunders, but the two haven't remained close. Maybe you have to achieve a certain level in the sport; Bill Parcells and Bobby Knight reportedly are close friends.
On the other hand, coaches are such notorious control freaks, it might be hard for them to ever acknowledge feeling vulnerable or helpless. Perhaps they prefer suffering in silence for their craft.
And why does Denzel have to star in every movie? Can't he play "Waiter #2" sometimes? From Andrew Goo:
I had a thought about the Miami Heat, that I don't believe I have read anyone write anything on the topic. As if no one else in the world is thinking about them and their new big three, I had an idea that would absolutely silence the world the first game they did it. Why doesn't Erik Spoelstra have the two-time defending MVP come off the BENCH?!? Hear me out: Carlos Arroyo, Dwyane Wade, Mike MIller, Chris Bosh, and Joel Anthony are more than a solid starting five. Let LeBron show he will truly sacrifice for the team and be a huge spark plug off the bench if Miller doesn't heat up right away. If it ever needs to come down to 10 deep, the second unit of Mario Chalmers, Eddie House, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem and my man Big Z is basically as good as LeBrons 60+ win team the last two years.
Well, that's an interesting thought, Andrew. It has no chance -- none, zip, nada, zilch -- of occurring, as it would be fun to hear Spoelstra explain why the league's best all-around player isn't, you know, actually playing, while Carlos Arroyo is. But it's interesting.
Mills. Maori for "baller." From Darren Remmi:
I am an Aussie ... and I was wondering your take on whether a healthy Pat Mills can be a positive addition to any NBA team. His talent level is high, but he has suffered injuries that makes teams squeamish about putting him on a roster. When in the NBA D-League for a few games, he tore it up and came back to the Rip City bench. Is he good enough to push for a backup role anywhere, or could he at the least be the third who makes sure the backup works every night (think Beaubois in Dallas)?
I agree, Darren. Patty's performance in the Olympics convinced me he can more than hold his own in the NBA as a reserve, but he has to prove he can stay on the court. Whether or not it works out for him in Portland -- and everyone knows it's a longshot there -- you'd think there would be some team that would scarf him up quickly and develop him.
His beard qualifies for the postseason by itself. From Matthew van Roijen:
What do you think will happen to Gilbert Arenas and the Wizards? Will he be traded before the trade deadline if he plays well enough? Could the Wizards sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed?
I have been fairly consistent in my view that Arenas and John Wall can play together, much like Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe were able to do for a couple of years in New York. It will require Gilbert to play off of Wall rather than the other way around, but I think he's smart enough to do it. And while I'm not naive enough to believe there won't be any bumps in the road (it didn't take Gilbert long to make himself the center of attention again, did it?), the pairing can last long enough that the Wizards should have some trade options by the deadline. (Can't take my eyes off of Orlando.) As for the playoffs, I don't think so, not in an improved East. But Wall's incredible potential is obvious to anyone who's watching.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it's sufficiently funny, snarky or otherwise engaging we just may publish it!
66.7 -- Percentage of NBA general managers who predicted that Kevin Durant would win the MVP award this season, in NBA.com's annual GM survey. Kobe Bryant came in a distant second, with 25.9 percent of the vote.
96.4 -- Percentage of GMs who said that Miami had made the best offseason moves this summer. Which begs the question: what the heck were the other 3.6 percent (Lakers) drinking, and can I have some?
39.3 -- Percentage of GMs who said that Phil Jackson is the best coach in the league. Jerry Sloan (25 percent) came in second, with Gregg Popovich (21.4 percent) coming in third. Here's a link to the survey.
1) Great to see Yao back on the court. The big man means so much to the game, both here and abroad, and he's worked so hard to come back strong from his foot injuries. Second acts in American life can go either way, but if Yao has finally found some stability in those dogs of his, the Rockets could be a real factor this season in the West.
2) The Kings made an excellent hire in promoting Shareef Abdur-Rahim from the assistant coaching staff to assistant general manager. Abdur-Rahim will replace Jason Levien, who abruptly left Sacramento this summer. SAR is and always has been fiercely (if quietly) intelligent, self-aware and as hard a worker as you'll find.
3) Just guessing the spread at the team party was pretty swank.
4) That's a pretty good first week of professional basketball, John Wall. Though Derrick Rose taught you some valuable lessons Friday night. Just wait until everyone starts playing for real, though. The difference in intensity, preparation, everything will amaze you. But you have the tools to adjust, and do so quickly.
5) H2O -- Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt -- is an incredible pitching trio for the Philadelphia Phillies. Having seen them in person do their work in shutting down the best hitting team in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds, was to watch preparation, precision and intimidation come together. No disrespect to any of the other teams left in the playoffs, but who wouldn't want to see the Yankees and Phils hook up again in the Series?
6) This is very welcome news.
7) Don't you wish Boehner and Pelosi would settle the tax debate like this?
1) Seems to me we have a legitimately difficult situation in Portland. Rudy Fernandez genuinely wants to return to Europe to play. The Blazers will not release him from his contract, fearing the setting of a precedent. If new GM Rich Cho were to acquiesce, what would keep the next player who wants out of town from asking for his papers? And the Blazers certainly want to get something for their asset. Would it be possible, then, for the team or teams in Europe that want Fernandez to make it worth Portland's while with a significant financial payment? NBA teams buy out the rights of European players all the time. Couldn't they do the reverse?
2) Just a guess, but it wouldn't shock me at all if Erick Dampier doesn't make a decision about what team to play for any time before the end of the preseason.
3) If Bruce Ratner doesn't make good on this guarantee, he'll have to answer to someone more powerful than David Stern and more dangerous than Alonzo Harris in Training Day. Let's just say you don't want to say nyet to this man, if you get my meaning.
4) Here's hoping the word you hear about how hard the adjustment to the pro game is for Evan Turner, the Sixers' first-rounder, is not true. Or at least temporary.
5) One thing I've learned about Bill Belichick: if he does something, he not only has a reason for doing it, he's figured out all the possible ways it can backfire on him, and has determined that not only will it not backfire, but he's found people who'll step in and perform. So I'd put a lid on all "the Patriots are through" talk after the Randy Moss trade to Minnesota.
There is a rat lose in the locker room!! Smh
Pacers forward Danny Granger (@dgranger33), Friday, 10:35 a.m. This raises several questions. What game was the rat playing that he lost? Who was playing the rat? Did the rat ask for a rematch? How did Granger know the rat lost, unless he has powers of rat communication that he has not told us about? And they need some bigger mousetraps at Conseco.
"It's fair to say I missed the issue. I told them they can do it. When it was announced, my guy said it's not allowed. I blew that one pretty good."
-- The Commish, telling New York reporters on Thursday that it was his fault the Knicks initially hired Isiah Thomas as a consultant, only to find the hiring of Thomas -- still the coach at Florida International -- would run afoul of both NBA and NCAA rules.
"I thought what he did was amazing. What a coup. Period. Nobody else figured that out."
-- Gregg Popovich, praising Pat Riley's summer vacation.
"Regarding the gracious offer to become general manager, Shaq is always welcome to send his resume to Billy King."
-- Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, responding in the Bergen Record to Shaquille O'Neal's offer to become GM of the Nets so he could keep them in his native Newark, where they're going to play for two years, before the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in completed and the Nets move there in 2012.
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