Posted Nov 8 2010 10:08AM
It is the time for caveats, and disclaimers.
Such as: We're less than two weeks into the regular season. It would be ridiculous to try to divine long-range meaning into a handful of games. Too many road trips, too many injuries, too many emergings and submergings yet to come to think we know something real before Thanksgiving. (Other than the Lakers appear unbeatable, unless they get hurt or bored.)
Having said that, what great beginnings in New Orleans and Denver, two franchises that have been under siege for weeks, with their signature players making it clear that they'd like to be elsewhere, and right soon. The Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony have held things together for now, and that's a surprise. But Denver has proven veterans at key spots, and a veteran coach in George Karl. And the Nuggets have something in the way of a history. There will be basketball in the Mile High after Anthony leaves town, even if it's a diminished brand.
New Orleans, by contrast, is always a work in progress, always seemingly trying to recover from the latest catastrophe. The Hornets have been a resilient franchise since moving from Charlotte in 2002. They've withstood the public embarassments of their current owner, George Shinn, a two-year move to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the deteriorating performance of key players like Peja Stojakovic. But this year's one-two-three punch -- the Super Bowl drive of the city's favorite sons, the Saints, the ousting of the team's former management team of Byron Scott and Jeff Bower, followed this summer by the disclosure of Chris Paul's desire to be dealt -- looked like sledgehammer blows.
The team's senior leaders had a plan, but it involved that old chestnut, changing the culture. And the changers were two unproven first-timers in their respective jobs -- Dell Demps as general manager, replacing Bower, and Monty Williams as coach, who stepped in for Bower after he had been forced to finish the season on the bench last season after Scott was fired. The Bugs then went 1-7 in the preseason.
Not exactly an easy sell.
"We were hurt because there was a lot of uncertainty," team president Hugh Weber said Sunday night. "Our fan base said 'We want to believe what you're saying. We want to trust what you're saying. But we're going to have to wait and see.' There was uncertainty about Chris, uncertainty about our coach, uncertainty about our ownership situation."
And then came the regular season, and one of those incredible things that happens in sports, when no one expects anything good to happen. The Hornets beat Milwaukee on opening night. Then they beat Denver. Then they beat the Spurs. Then they beat Houston. Then they beat Miami. And then they beat Milwaukee again. And so they sit today, 6-0, one of two unbeaten teams in the league (the other being the Lakers, a franchise about as far removed in every way from New Orleans as is possible).
It's just a start. But what a start.
"We're happy with the start, no doubt about that," Demps said Sunday. "But it's early. We look at it like it's a marathon and we're on the first mile right now."
Weber, who was under fire after firing Bower in July, hired Williams before hiring Demps, the former GM for the Spurs' D-League Austin Toros. But the relationship between Bower and Paul had become cooler in recent months, with Bower's willingness to deal Paul rather than let him walk with nothing causing consternation inside the organization.
But Weber wanted to -- wait for it -- change the culture.
"Part of the selling point with both of them (Williams and Demps) in coming to this situation was we weren't going to take shortcuts," Weber said. "We were going to do things the right way. When we hired Dell, the first thing I told him was, 'We don't have any coaches under contract.' "
Demps had a blank canvas, and he's filled it in: Of the 28 people in the Hornets' basketball operations department, 24 of them were hired by Demps in the last three months, from pro and college scouts to the strength and conditioning coaches.
Williams, the former assistant in Portland and San Antonio, was not the Hornets' first choice for their coach. New Orleans had designs on Tom Thibodeau to take over for Bower, but Thibodeau held out for the Bulls' job. That left Williams, 37, who came in as the league's youngest coach. But Williams brought the same relentless approach to defense that Gregg Popovich, his mentor in San Antonio, brought to the Spurs, and that Nate McMillan had in Portland, where Williams spent the last five years as an assistant.
Williams' players have bought in. The Hornets started Sunday ranked third in the league in points allowed (91.5), fourth in field goal percentage allowed and 3-point defense, and seventh in point differential.
The key guy thus far has been center Emeka Okafor, who came last year from Charlotte in a deal for Tyson Chandler, and proceeded to stink up the joint. Okafor never looked comfortable playing with Paul, who looked equally uncomfortable with Okafor. And considering Okafor had four years and $53 million left on his contract, there weren't a lot of encouraging signs.
But Okafor has been outstanding so far this season. He's shooting an absurd 71 percent, which will come down. But against Miami, Okafor was a force, with 26 points and 13 rebounds. And in the first fortnight, he's looked more active than he has in years.
"I always thought he was a good player," Demps said. "He's been protecting the rim and anchoring the defense. Whether it's rebounding or helping guys out on locations, blocking shots, he's been the guy that's really been a key to our defensive success. He and I and Monty have all talked about his role and the expectations. He's been a pro. He really took care of his body in the offseason. He came in in great shape. That's a start, when guys came in in great shape. He believes in the system. We had conversations during the summer and wanted to get his input on things. He's been engaged. We're not shocked right now. We really believed he was going to be able to produce."
Trevor Ariza came from Houston in the three-team deal this summer that sent guard Darren Collison to Indiana. At the time it seemed odd. If the Hornets are ultimately going to have to trade Paul, at least they had a promising young point in Collison, their first-round pick in 2009. But Ariza has given the Hornets a lively defender and a willing big-moment shooter, as when Ariza drilled a three in the final seconds Friday to cement the win over Miami.
Demps built a rotation on the cheap. Willie Green and Jason Smith came from Philadelphia in a deal for Darius Songalia and rookie Craig Brackins in September, and have both had good moments. One scout I spoke with Saturday night was especially effusive in his praise for Smith, the 7-footer that missed the 2008-09 season with a knee injury. Marco Belinelli came from Toronto in August for former first-rounder Julian Wright and is starting at shooting guard, and the Hornets replaced Collison by picking up Jerryd Bayless from Portland for a future first-round pick. None of them makes more than $3.9 million, and none of them has a contract that lasts longer than 2012.
Paul is still the catalyst. He's looking like an MVP candidate again, currently third in the league in assists (10.2) and tied for eighth in steals (2.33). He's second to the Lakers' Pau Gasol in efficiency, a stat that takes all numbers into account, including points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, field goal attempts and makes and others. Paul had his media-juiced summit meeting with the Hornets' braintrust during the offseason, but the two sides have kept their discussions quiet.
"I was amazed how he works with the young guys," Demps said. "He's a natural leader. And the guys, they believe in him. He's not only helping guys out; he's also asking questions. I see him asking Trevor and David where they want him, what they see out there. He's one of those leaders that listens to input. But he also motivates guys. Guys see that he's playing at a high level."
But whether he's any happier in New Orleans than he was this summer is -- that word again -- uncertain. Demps says he has conversations "regarding the future" on a regular basis with Paul's representatives.
"Now is not the time to talk about those things," Demps said. "We're focused in on the season. We want to get the city behind us. We hope that people want to come see this team play. The fans have been great. They've come out, they've been supportive, they've been loud. They've helped us win games. Hugh Weber and our ownership group has given us everything we need to be successful."
Ownership has OK'd an expansion of the team's practice facility in nearby Westwego, adding a new weight room, training room and upgrade to the locker room, including a steam room right off of the practice courts. The upgrade is expected to be done by next year. Demps took a page from the practice facilities in Cleveland and Portland, as well as the Magic's new arena, which has a practice court in the building, and will also have 24-hour thumbprint access for players like San Antonio's practice court.
"I think we'll have one of the top five facilities in the next year," Demps said. "Everything is state of the art, from the theatre to the conference room to the offices. All the offices will be able to see the court. It's a first-class project."
But fans in New Orleans would like some answers about Paul's future before they embrace the team again. The Hornets' season ticket base has dropped from its high of 10,400 after the '07-'08 season to its current 6,500. The hot start has piqued some folks' interest, both individually and on the corporate side. But the Hornets are competing for the city's entertainment dollar with the likes of the Saints, who have always held the city's heart. And the NFL team's extended run last season -- first being unbeaten into December, then playing through the end of January and into February, and ultimately winning it all -- crowded out just about everyone else trying to get corporate and individual sponsorship, including the Hornets.
"We have people that are real engaged," Weber said. "We're talking all the time. But we haven't had that commitment yet. We think we're going to have some traction in the next few weeks to come."
Part of the remaining problem is that the sale of the team from Shinn to minority owner Gary Chouest has been delayed for several months. Chouest's company, Edison Chouest Offshore, was involved with the cleanup of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of the company's involvement is not known. The two sides are still talking, and a deal may finally be consummated before the end of the year -- for tax reasons as much as anything else.
Demps says he has the OK from ownership to spend within reason -- reason being defined as below the luxury tax threshold. But the Hornets are, frankly, hoping that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players next year will further level the playing field and give them an increased chance to compete. That could help with Paul.
But, remember, it's just a start. Six games. The Hornets are at the beginning of building something they hope will last, and that Paul will want to be a part of it. But there are no guarantees.
"I've never worked for the Spurs," Weber said. "I don't know what they do behind the scenes. Everyone says they're the model for a small-market team. But I've never worked there. We wanted to build a culture of trust, collaboration and some conflict, because we know that everyone is obviously not going to think the same way, but getting some good results from it...
"A few days after we hired Dell, I got a call from Gregg Popovich. He said to me, we're using different terminology, but it's very similar to the way they think. It's something we feel very confident with, both with Dell and Monty."
Conley's deal worth a second look
At first glance, $40 million over five years for Mike Conley doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
OK, at second glance, too.
But the Grizzlies are convinced that locking up the 23-year-old point guard before he hit restricted free agency was the right move, just as Memphis thought getting Rudy Gay off the market before someone could drop an offer sheet on him last summer was worth doing, to the tune of $82 million. You may think Memphis is crazy, but the Grizz believe in their core group, from coach Lionel Hollins on down. And they've been proactive with the players they like.
"Really, he should be in his first season," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said on Friday of Conley, who entered the Draft after his freshman year at Ohio State.
But will the Grizzlies be hamstrung now that they've committed $122 million (Conley could get a couple million more in incentives, but the deal is for $40 million, not $45 million as initially reported) to two players? Memphis still has to retain emerging center Marc Gasol next summer, and guard O.J. Mayo will be eligible for an extension next year. It's not likely Memphis will be putting a lot of money into Hasheem Thabeet, but will owner Michael Heisley continue to OK cap-raising expenditures like Conley's?
Conley was by far the biggest surprise of the five Class of 2007 players that received extensions before last Monday's deadline. Kevin Durant was a no-brainer, Joakim Noah and Al Horford weren't surprises, receiving pretty similar deals, and Phoenix got reserve Jared Dudley done just before the deadline, with a cap-friendly deal of five years and $22.5 million. There had been little hint that a deal was even possible, but the two sides started talking seriously on Sunday and found that they were in the same ballpark money-wise on Monday.
The Grizzlies say the contract for Conley is right in line with other point guards Memphis thinks are in his caliber, from Orlando's Jameer Nelson to Indiana's T.J. Ford (who, to be fair, isn't starting anymore, having been replaced by Darren Collison). I think we can all agree that Conley isn't among the top tier of point guards in the league: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Andre Miller and Russell Westbrook. And it's probably too soon to compare him with the likes of John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans and Collison.
But that still leaves a good cross-section of starting point guards to compare over the past three seasons. I picked each player's last three seasons as opposed to each player's first three seasons; Memphis is making an apples to apples comparison to other guards around the league when giving Conley the new contract, so I will, too:
|Recent point guard contracts|
Compared with some of these point guards, Conley ranks at the bottom in scoring, near the bottom in assists, near the top in steals, and somewhere in the middle in shooting. His average of $8 million per year -- and that's how you usually compare, by the yearly average, not the total dollar amount -- is higher than Nelson's ($7.6 million) and Felton's, ($7.5 million), but lower than Ford ($8.25 million), Harris ($8.4 million), Williams ($8.5 million) and Calderon ($9 million). So Conley's deal isn't an outlier; it's in the same neighborhood as his peers at that position.
Williams, Harris and Ford have already been traded during the life of their new contracts, so the deals haven't been so onerous that the clubs who initially made them haven't been able to get out of them. So if Memphis finds Conley underperforms the contract, the chances of moving him are decent. And in Gay and Conley, the Grizzlies will have assets going forward that they might be able to package if another star player like, say, Carmelo Anthony becomes available in the next couple of seasons.
Verdict? The contract isn't great, but it isn't as bad as you think.
(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) L.A. Lakers (4-0) : When you come up with a reason they shouldn't be No. 1, let me know. And I will summarily reject it.
2) Boston (4-0) : Showed a lot of mettle in overtime wins this week against Milwaukee and Chicago -- but expended a lot of energy, too. Monitoring Cs' gas tank will be a season-long endeavor.
3) New Orleans (3-0) : Six opponents up (five playoff teams from last season), six opponents down, six opponents scoring less than 100 points.
4) Atlanta (3-1) : Hawks won their first six games two years ago, but given their coaching change this offseason, winning their first six games this year was more impressive, even with the relatively easy schedule. After their first loss Sunday comes Orlando tonight, a step up in class.
5) Miami (2-1) : Bosh knows he has to get in where he can fit in, but he has to find a way to impact games more consistently.
6) Orlando (3-0) : Magic continue blowing out opposition; Orlando won three in a row this week after canceled game in New York on Tuesday, by an average of 20 per game.
7) San Antonio (3-0) : Last season: Richard Jefferson averaged 12.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting . So far this season: 20.4 ppg, 65 percent shooting.
8) Denver (2-1) : Nuggets holding their ground with emergency starters Gary Forbes and Melvin Ely in lineup.
9) Portland (2-3) : Blazers have already won four games by double digits, but lost three of four games this week to playoff teams from last season.
10) Oklahoma City (1-2) : Durant discloses presidential pickup game in September with teammates James Harden and Eric Maynor accompanying him to the White House court for a 5-on-5 run with President Obama.
11) Golden State (2-1) : Warriors have won their first three home games for the first time in 20 years.
12) Dallas (1-1) : Mavericks have lost two of first three at home, and have 14 of next 21 at American Airlines Center.
13) Utah (2-1) [NR]: Jazz head East this week for a Where-Do-They-Really-Stand road trip, with games at Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte.
14) Chicago (1-2) : Derrick Rose playing outstanding, but Bulls struggling to hold the fort while injured players come back.
15) Cleveland (2-1) [NR]: Mo Williams taking advantage of the green light he has(20.7 ppg), but is shooting an abysmal 18 percent from 3-point range.
Lakers (4-0): Kind of hard to pick another team after L.A. won by an average of 15 points per game. The Lakers are taking turns dominating; this week belonged to Pau Gasol. He went for a double-double against Memphis on Tuesday. Kobe Bryant scored 30 against the Kings on Wednesday, but Gasol saw his 30 with 30 of his own against Toronto on Friday, and Gasol posted a triple double Sunday (20 points, 14 boards, 10 assists) in a laugher over the Blazers.
Toronto (0-4): Raptors go oh-fer on four-game west coast trip, as the memories of the promise of summer league fade and they start to look like the cellar-dwelling team most everyone predicted they'd be. This pains me. I would love to get back up to Canada sometime this decade.
Why wouldn't the Wizards and 76ers do a Gilbert Arenas-Andre Iguodala trade?
Let me say this at the outset: I hope the Wizards keep Arenas. I'd love to see him prove all of the know-it-alls in my business wrong that say he's a virus that must be protected from Poor John Wall, lest he infect the youngster -- who, in this insipid narrative, is too much the waif to be able to think and make decisions for himself.
Arenas may wear a lot of different hats where his personality is concerned, but I've never thought him to be overtly malicious or mean. My issue is more with the Wizards for how they've coddled him over the years, and now that Wall's here, that coddling should cease.
But it's also clear that both Arenas and Washington need a divorce, as I said a couple of weeks ago. So, assuming Arenas stays on the floor long enough to show that he's again healthy and can play at a high, if not All-Star, level -- a month? two months? -- the Wizards will almost certainly look to move him along. But until that happens, his contract is obviously prohibitive for any team.
Assuming he does get and stay on the court for an extended period, though, there's no doubt in my mind that A) Arenas can still be a prolific scorer, certainly capable of scoring 20+ points on a nightly basis; B) he can still penetrate into a defense and will pass when the defense collapses; C) opponents will still have to game-plan their defense to account for his presence on the floor, which should open opportunities for others.
And while everyone has linked Arenas to Orlando in a potential Vince Carter deal because of Arenas' close relationship with Magic GM Otis Smith -- they cut their NBA player/management teeth together in Golden State -- the 76ers make a lot more sense as a potential destination. (There are no talks between the two as far as I know. Call this a suggestion.)
To me, this makes sense for three reasons:
1) The Wizards don't have a small forward.
2) The Sixers don't have a shooting guard.
3) It's hard to imagine either team getting expiring contracts and/or Draft picks for either player. Neither is a difference-maker on a championship-contending team, and all those teams are pretty set roster-wise, anyway. So you might as well get the most talented guy you can get in return. Arenas is 28, Iguodala, 26, and both have January birthdays.
Doug Collins had been starting Jason Kapono ahead of Evan Turner at shooting guard at the start of the season, with Turner getting minutes here and there at both the two and three spots. And Thaddeus Young is in need of more regular playing time, too. That's why I think Iguodala is superfluous in Philly; whatever the Sixers become, it's going to be with their kids, including Turner, Young, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams. Iguodala is skilled to be sure, but he's never going to shoot well enough to play the two regularly (this is an excellent analysis of Iggy's relative strengths and weaknesses by Kate Fegan of the Philadelphia Inquirer). Arenas is a born 2 with ridiculous range, whose presence would allow Collins to bring Turner along slowly instead of throwing him into the mix right away.
Of course, Turner's ultimately going to be a 30-plus minutes guy at the 2, and Young is certainly a cheaper alternative than Iggy (four years, including this one, and $56.5 million remaining on his contract). Arenas makes even more loot (four years, including this one, at $80 million) than Iguodala, and is coming off all the injuries, surgeries, suspensions and foolishness, so the gamble, most certainly, would be Philly's. But from a basketball standpoint, a team including Holiday, Arenas and Turner, with Young splitting minutes behind Turner and Elton Brand at the 3 and 4, depending on matchups, would be pretty doggone athletic.
By contrast, Washington doesn't have a single dynamic player in its frontcourt, other than the teasing JaVale McGee at center, who isn't near consistent enough nightly to be trusted. Iguodala could live off of John Wall's oops and transition passes, and give Washington an actual person who can defend the player in front of him without help, something in short supply in D.C. Washington got Kirk Hinrich from Chicago last summer in case Arenas wasn't around for one reason or another; Hinrich and Wall have shown some good stretches together early in the season while Arenas recovered from an ankle injury, but Washington's defense is horrible -- the Wizards were DFL entering play Sunday in field-goal percentage allowed, and were the only team allowing opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor.
To make the gamble more palatable for the Sixers, the Wiz would certainly have to include one of their just-drafted young bigs, either Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker or Hamady Ndiaye, in the deal. To make the numbers work, Philly would have to probably include someone like Marreese Speights, who seems to have lost a lot of his minutes to Andres Nocioni, acquired from Sacramento in the Sam Dalembert-Spencer Hawes deal, and veteran Tony Battie.
Would this deal make either team a title contender? No. But it would make each team more balanced, and give two players with talent an opportunity for a fresh start.
Please, whatever you do, don't read "MVP Watch" down below. From Terrence Willis:
First off, let me say that I really like that the Celtics are doing well. I really do. They are a "historied" franchise back in prime form, great competitors, veteran players, championship contenders ... etc and etc, and blah, blah, blah. Also, at this point, I can't deny that it's all pretty much been results of Mr. Rajon Rondo's play at the point guard for the most part. However, I wish people would stop comparing him to some of the more elite players of this league! Rajon Rondo is a point guard that NOBODY GUARDS FROM OUTSIDE OF THE FREE THROW LINE!! FOR GOODNESS SAKES!! Everybody is so unconcerned about him shooting they just back all the way into the paint (Which is ridiculous!). The only problem with that is that now for the most part he doesn't even look to shoot that shot unless he ABSOLUTELY HAS TO! So, for the past four years, he's had ALL day to look around and run the offense becaus nobody puts any pressure on him to make any real basketball decisions for the whole game!!...Don't get me wrong, the kid...He's good...but he IS NOT in the same class as D-ROSE, KOBE, LEBRON, D-WADE, DURANT or ANYBODY ON THE MVP CANDIDATE LIST! (Whispering now) He's not even the 2nd best player on his team.
I think you're being a little harsh on the Rondo, Terrence. He doesn't shoot because the Celtics don't want, or need, for him to. On a team with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, it would be a little presumptuous for RR to start hoisting rocks 18 to 20 times a night. You can argue that he's not the best point in the league, but he's become a critical part of Boston's team, and the Celtics won't win in the playoffs if Rondo doesn't play great.
Please, whatever you do, don't suggest Orlando trade for Rajon Rondo. It will upset Terrence. From Lizzie Gellman:
Hi, I was wondering -- have the Orlando Magic made any inquires about trading for Carmelo Anthony? It seems logical -- the Magic seem like they need one more piece before they could win a championship, and Carmelo Anthony might want to go there. He could win a championship with them, and besides, who wouldn't want to be in Orlando? The Magic seem to have some of the pieces where they could make a trade. They could trade Jameer Nelson, or J.J Reddick, or Quentin Richardson or Vince Carter. Do they have any draft picks they could trade? I'm 12, so I don't really understand the contract part of it, but would it work?
It could work, Lizzie. Orlando does indeed have a lot of pieces it could put together in an offer for 'Melo, though I don't think the Nuggets would be interested in either Nelson (they have Chauncey Billups and Ty Lawson already at point guard) or Rashard Lewis, who just makes way too much money for a team like Denver that wants to stay under the luxury tax threshold in future years. And a team that trades for Anthony will have to sign him to a big deal to keep him, and the Magic are already paying Dwight Howard and Lewis huge contracts.
Vince Carter's contract is not fully guaranteed in the final year of his deal (see below in They Said It for more details), so that's one chip. Redick could be a second, but he can't be traded until Dec. 15 under league rules because he got a new contract this summer from Orlando (the Magic matched Chicago's three-year, $19 million offer sheet and kept him), and he's what's called a "base-year compensation" player. The rules are way too complicated to explain here, but it just means Redick is harder to trade than other players who aren't base-years, and besides, Stan Van Gundy and the Magic like Redick a lot.
Maybe Mickael Pietrus, who got into a dustup with Van Gundy last week about playing time and who is reasonably priced ($5.3 million this season and next, though he has an early out for next year). Center Marcin Gortat would certainly help address the Nuggets' frontcourt problems, and if a starter, would be on the lower end of the starting big men pay scale (four years, $28 million remaining). The Magic has all of its Draft picks going forward and could offer Denver first-rounders in, say, 2011 and 2013.
If you were the Nuggets, Lizzie, would you trade Anthony, guard Renaldo Balkman and Kenyon Martin (whose contract is up after this season and may or may not play this season coming off of knee surgery -- but who could conceivably help Orlando if he was ready for the playoffs) for, say, Carter, Gortat, Pietrus, rookie center Daniel Orton and two first-rounders -- which will certainly be near the end of the first round? (I say that because Orlando is already good and would be even better with Anthony playing next to Howard and Lewis.)?
It's a tough decision, because even though the Nuggets would get a lot of players and picks in return, Anthony is the player Denver fans like best, and none of the players the Nuggets would be getting back are as good as he is. Anything's possible, though. Denver's front office is looking at all kinds of potential deals from all around the league. That's why I think if Anthony gets traded, it'll be closer to the trade deadline in February instead of right now.
Everyone can't be a Super Friend. From Matas Gelezauskas:
I just wanted to ask your opinion on one particular question. Do you think it would've been a good decision for the Heat to pick up Allen Iverson while he was still available? I think he is still better than Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers.
He might be a better player, Matas, but that doesn't mean he'd be a better fit. The last thing Miami needs is another player who's used to having the ball in his hands all the time. The off-guard (technically, the point guard) for the Heat has to be someone who's comfortable spotting up and shooting, not someone who needs to pound the rock and drive. AI is not a catch-and-shoot guy. Never has been. With LeBron and Wade handling the ball, Iverson would just get in the way.
(Weekly averages in parentheses)
1) Kobe Bryant (22 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5 apg, .431 FG, .865 FT): Bryant is so under the radar, and Los Angeles is so smooth right now, that the L.A. Times actually wrote a story on Sunday wondering if things are too quiet in LakerLand, rehashing old problems the team had two years ago.
2) LeBron James (21 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 10.3 apg, .500 FG, .762 FT): Dominance with Dwyane Wade will keep James even fresher as season goes on.
3) Dwight Howard (23.3 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 3.3 bpg, .585 FG, .595 FT): Opposing starting centers vs. Howard in first five games: 7.8 ppg, 11 of 38 (.289) from the floor.
4) Rajon Rondo (11.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 13.3 apg, .571 FG, .625 FT): Someone sent me a note last week saying how much they like the column, but that they couldn't believe Rondo wasn't in MVP Watch. I thought about it for a minute and decided they were absolutely right.
5) Chris Paul (17.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 11 apg, 3.7 spg, .514 FG, .800 FT): Scouts tell me CP3 has never looked quicker or deadlier with the ball in his hands in transition.
Dropped out: Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett
948 -- Consecutive games streak by the Raptors with at least one 3-pointer after last Saturday's loss to the Blazers, a streak that has gone on for more than 10 years, dating to Feb. 24, 1999. The streak was in jeopardy against Portland until Jarrett Jack hit a three late in the 97-84 loss; the Raps finished 1-of-17 from behind the arc.
20,005 -- Career points by Paul Pierce after he drained six free throws in the final 13.3 seconds last Wednesday to seal Boston's overtime win over Milwaukee. Pierce is now only behind John Havlicek (26,395 points) and Larry Bird (21,791) in franchise history. (Interesting that all three never played a second for anyone other than the Celtics during their respective careers.)
$50,000 -- Fine for Charlotte's Stephen Jackson by the league for what it called "verbal abuse of game officials" after the Bobcats' loss to Detroit Friday. Jackson apparently confronted a ref or two after the game; where and who was not disclosed.
1) The first two weeks of the season have been incredible. Great games involving the Heat, Celtics, Bulls, Bucks, Hornets, Blazers, Thunder, Lakers and on and on. Blake Griffin and John Wall are legit; great starts in New Orleans and Atlanta and Golden State; the New York metro area has competent, if not championship, basketball again; OKC is getting everybody's best shot every night. I have to keep saying it: A lockout next summer that destroys the momentum this league is building again, after all these years, would be nuts. Absolutely nuts.
2) Byron Scott has Cleveland playing hard, and the Cavs have some proud guys on that roster. They're not going to win 60 games again, but they're not going to roll over and die without LeBron.
3) It might have only been the Wolves, but the Rockets really needed that win Sunday night.
4) I tweeted on Wednesday that I was glad to see Boston, up three in the final seconds of overtime over Milwaukee, give the foul and make the Bucks shoot free throws instead of letting them do the one thing that could tie the game -- shoot a 3-pointer. I've been a proponent of fouling up three ever since my old NBA 2 Night colleague, Fred Carter, convinced me that this was the proper strategy. (As Fred argued, correctly, the worst likely outcome is that your opponent makes both free throws, leaving you up one with the ball and just a couple of seconds left.) But a fellow tweeter (that's better than "fellow Twit," right?) linked me to a Harvard study last August that I had not seen about the efficacy of the strategy in college ball. I'm not as smart as Harvard guys, so I'll accept their math without question. Decide for yourself.
5) So Chris Mullin was castigated a couple of years ago when he gave Monta Ellis a six-year, $66 million deal, and lost an internal power struggle at Golden State that cost him his GM job. Two years later, Ellis is playing out of his mind, and Mullin had to sign with the four-letter instead of getting another gig. Just pick a number, Chris, and get behind Billy Knight, Jeff Bower and Kevin Pritchard.
6) Good luck to Conan tonight as he makes his TBS debut. And remember if you need any "wild and wacky" sports highlights, Marv isn't the only one who can read a prompter.
2) What Kevin Garnett said to Charlie Villanueva, whatever it was, was likely not cool and over the line. Whether he called him a "cancer patient," as Villanueva tweeted on Wednesay morning, or just a "cancer to his team and the league," as KG claimed on Wednesday afternoon, doesn't really matter, does it? Cancer's not funny, and to defend Garnett on the basis of "it's just trash talk" is weak. (My mother died of cancer, and I'm sure everyone reading this has at least known someone who has died from some form of the disease. Garnett, too.) Isn't anything off-limits?
Again, this is why the league should just let guys fight. I guarantee you KG keeps his mouth shut 40 years ago -- if he'd said something about, say, former Baltimore Bullets forward Jack Marin, who had a large, red birthmark running down from his left shoulder to his elbow, he would have felt Gus Johnson's elbow upside his head, or gotten his back cracked on a Wes Unseld pick, or Marin would have taken him out himself, and they would have scrapped, and that would have been the end of it.
Nor does it matter if Garnett was making a half-baked reference to the autoimmune skin disease that Villanueva has, alopecia areata, which causes Villanueva to lose all of his facial hair, including his eyebrows. Not funny. But, ultimately, it's irrelevant whether I or anyone else is offended; Garnett has to live with it.
At any rate, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger had a great suggestion during the week -- Garnett should join Hoops for St. Jude, the charity arm of the Memphis hospital that engaged the assistance of Nuggets coach George Karl, the Rockets' Shane Battier, Minnesota's Kevin Love, the Lakers' Pau Gasol and Steve Blake, the Grizzlies' Rudy Gay and Indiana's Danny Granger last year.
Each donated a minimum of $20,000 last season for St. Jude, the leading pediatric cancer center in the world. The hospital takes every patient regardless of the family's ability to pay, and has an amazing success rate in the past four decades in treatment and improving the outcomes rate for its young patients. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients that have come to the hospital for treatment have seen their survival rates increase from 4 percent in 1962 to 94 percent today.
Former Blazers executive Tom Penn was the catalyst behind developing the Hoops program and engaging the NBA in getting its players and teams involved; last year the program expanded to include an online auction and the addition of primary school fundraisers around the country. (Full disclosure: I have hosted the banquet for St. Jude held in Las Vegas during the NBA Summer League for the past two years, and I've given money to the cause.)
Yes, joining H4SJ would give Garnett some positive pub. But it would also be a way for some good to come out of all of this craziness.
3) If I call attention to the moron who ripped John Wall for his pregame dance before Washington's home opener by mentioning his name, I'll be giving him oxygen. So I won't. But if you think it's somehow insightful to say you'd take Rajon Rondo right now over Wall -- you know, the guy who's been in two Finals and is entering his fifth NBA season over the 19-year-old kid who's in his first week as a professional basketball player -- you are, as they say, an idiot.
4) I just can't imagine there's been a team in the last 20 years that's had as many months-long or season-ending injuries as Portland has the last two seasons. This is getting ridiculous. Now it's rookie guard Elliot Williams who's dislocated a patella and will miss the rest of the season, making him the third Blazer (Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla) in less than a year to suffer a kneecap injury. And that was followed by Fab Oberto's sudden retirement on Thursday, after he had a scare with the heart ailment that he's been playing with the last few years. It's a shame that NBA fans didn't really get to see Oberto at his best. He had a couple of good seasons with the Spurs, but his best years came for the Argentine national teams that won the silver medal at the World Championships in 2002 and gold at the Athens Olympics in '04.
5) I think Jerry Rice is the best wide receiver to ever play, though some of the older heads will make a case for Don Hutson. But Rice isn't the best football player of all time, as NFL Network's panel of selectors named him last week. Any list that has "Best NFL Player Ever" and doesn't have "Jim Brown" as the next two words isn't worth reading further.
6) I don't even watch the show, but Rick Fox is out on Dancing With the Stars, and Bristol Palin is still in? That's a Scooby Doo moment.
7) Sad to see Chris Dudley lost on a buzzer-beater for governor of Oregon. Not endorsing or condemning his politics, just know he's a decent guy who seemed to run a decent campaign.
Gotta also thank Alvin Gentry for giving me an opp to show the world what I can do.. Can't forget @the_real_nash, he gets everybody paid!!!!
-- Suns forward Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619), Tuesday, giving thanks to many after getting a last-minute, five-year, $22 million contract extension from Phoenix.
"I mean, obviously I'll be Prime Minister one day. But I wasn't going to do it until after I finished playing basketball."
-- Steve Nash, responding to FanHouse about a satirical story in a Phoenix community newspaper claiming that he was immediately retiring from the Suns to "enter Canadian politics." The story, of course, was not true.
"Baron has tremendous amounts of talent and ability, but his focus needs to be on staying in condition and playing at a high level. And he hasn't done that for a while, and I know he's frustrated with that, but there's things he has to do to correct that."
-- Vinny Del Negro, calling Baron Davis out for not being in shape after Davis had to miss games last week with a sore left knee. Davis acknowledged that he normally starts getting in condition for an upcoming season in August, but didn't get the results this past August that he used to.
"Ironically, while the NFL looks to the NBA as a model for a potential rookie wage scale, the NBA looks to the NFL as a model for structuring veteran contracts with less future guarantees."
--Former NFL executive, capologist and agent Andrew Brandt, writing in the National Football Post, about how the grass is always greener on the other side of the other league. But he's right about the lessening of guarantees late in contracts of veteran NBA players, as evidenced by San Antonio's recent extension with Tony Parker. The Spurs will only guarantee $3.5 million of the $12.5 million in the fourth and final year of Parker's four-year, $50 million deal, a fact first reported by the San Antonio Express-News, when Parker is 32.
That's well in keeping with the last year of deals for older players like Vince Carter (only $4 million of the $18.3 million he's due next year, the last year of his contract is guaranteed, when he'll be 34), Lamar Odom ($2.4 million of the $8.2 million he'll be due in 2012-13, when he's 32), Jason Terry ($5 million of the $10.6 million he's due for '11-'12, at age 33), Richard Hamilton ($9 million of the $12.5 million he'll be due in '12-'13, when he'll be 34) and Rashard Lewis ($10 million of the $22.6 million he's due in '12-'13, when he'll be 33).
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The GameTime crew preview Tuesday's Fan Night match-up between the Rockets and the Hawks.
|Mar. 2: Top 10|
Count down the top 10 plays from Monday night.
|David vs. Goliath|
Austin Rivers shares words with Kevin Garnett.
|Mar. 2: Daily Zap|
Run down all the action from a 5-game night in the Association.
|Paul over Garnett|
Chris Paul sinks the step-back jumper over Kevin Garnett.