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David Aldridge

Greg Oden
Greg Oden's emotional state after another injury setback is a concern for Portland.
Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Oden's knee injury puts him, Blazers at new crossroads


Posted Nov 22 2010 10:18AM

PORTLAND -- Their two franchise players saw one another, like two ships passing in the night. Actually, they saw each other in the daylight, in the doctor's office, each waiting for his MRI results. Such is the state of the Trail Blazers, Blue Cross Blue Shield's favorite team.

"I just seen it all over his face," Brandon Roy said, and he immediately knew the news on Greg Oden wasn't good.

And then Oden told him. Microfracture surgery. Again. Out for the year. Again.

"I just said 'Greg, it's something you can't control, man. You know you've done everything you can to try to get back on the court,' " Roy said. "And it's unfortunate. But my biggest message was, 'Greg, I care about you as a friend. Whether I ever play a game with you again, I care about you as a person. And I don't want to see you down.' He kind of smiled. It's just something that I understand he's going to deal with for a while."

Oden had spent almost 11 months rehabbing the fractured patella he suffered last December. He has already spent three-plus years rehabbing instead of playing. Yes, he's still young. But every athlete has limits. You can only get cut on so many times. You can only ask someone to start over so many times. There have been worries about Oden's emotional state before, how he had trouble handling all the expectations that have been placed on him. Those will only increase.

"The dream of playing, he's really never had that chance," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said in a quiet hallway Wednesday night, after yet another news conference announcing another season-ending operation. "He gets so close, and you start to taste it. A lot of times, that is what happened to him. He's gotten so close. And then he pushes himself and he does something."

The Blazers have been reeling from injuries and tragedy for so long that beleaguered is their natural state. It's perfectly natural that on Monday, Nov. 8 -- the day of beloved player and coach Maurice Lucas' funeral -- Oden found athletic trainer Jay Jensen and told him that his knee -- the left one -- didn't feel right.

That was a day after Oden had gone hard in a pregame workout in Los Angeles with center Joel Przybilla, also recovering from a knee injury. The workout went well; team physician Don Roberts, watching on TV, told Jensen how explosive Oden looked. Oden himself reported no discomfort immediately after the workout.

But after the team returned to Portland, the story was different.

Roberts drained the knee the next day, Tuesday. On Wednesday, the 10th, Oden was back in Los Angeles with Jensen for a regularly scheduled meeting with Neal ElAttrache, the noted orthopedic surgeon from the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic who repaired Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's knee in 2008 and fixed Blake Griffin's last year. Because Oden's knee no longer had fluid, ElAttrache, according to Jensen, said the swelling Oden reported may have been due to increased activity over the past few weeks.

On Nov. 11, the fluid and swelling returned, back where it was when Roberts had drained Oden's knee on Nov. 9. This set off alarm bells in Jensen's head.

"But as far as what it was, we didn't have any idea, any idea to what was causing it," Jensen said last week. "There were only certain things that can cause it. That would be an irregular surface under his patella, meniscal tear, or what we ended up finding."

That happened on Saturday, after the MRI results came back.

"We were all in an exam room, and it's on a computer," Jensen said. "And so Doc just clicks on it and pulls it up. So we're all sitting in there and we're all looking at it. Greg, I don't think he knew what he was looking at, knows what he's looking at. But I could tell."

Roberts and Jensen saw damaged cartilage in Oden's left femur -- a defect on the articular surface of the knee, an injury the club says is unrelated to the fractured left patella Oden suffered almost a year ago. How and when Oden injured his knee this time is as much a mystery as the initial injury to his right knee before his rookie season. The week prior, an exam of Oden's left knee showed nothing.

"The first thing you think is, 'okay, a microfracture,' " McMillan said. "You're not playing. You're rehabbing. How did that happen?"

And now the Blazers' franchise is at a crossroads.

There is the uncertainty about Oden's future, for Portland did not sign him to an extention by the Nov. 1 deadline for 2007 Draft picks, making him a restricted free agent next summer -- a restricted free agent coming off a fourth knee injury in four years. But the Blazers have really gotten used to playing without Oden over the years; they traded for Marcus Camby last season as Oden Insurance, and anticipate getting Pryzbilla back soon.

Greg Oden
Once again, Greg Oden finds his season over before it even began.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

The state of Roy's knee is equally troubling. Though the Blazers say Roy's MRI showed no change, and that he won't need surgery, he doesn't have any meniscus cartilage remaining in either knee, and his left knee is bothering him to the point where he missed Portland's last three games.

These developments have brought the cowardly revisionists out in full force, of course. Now there are all these anonymous team officials from other teams being quoted in stories. Now its about how everyone knew Oden wasn't going to amount to jack and how everyone knew Kevin Durant was going to be better. Now, we hear how everyone had black flagged Roy's knees while he was at Washington, and what dummies they were up in Portland to draft Oden and give Roy a big extension last year.

What bull.

There were some people around the league who thought Durant would be a great pro, and better than Oden. There were a lot more people who thought you couldn't pass up on an 18-year-old, 7-foot freshman center who hung 25 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks on Joakim Noah and Al Horford in the 2007 national championship game -- while playing basically with one hand. A lot more. (The same people who've been bad-mouthing former Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard for months are certainly among these gutless wonders.)

Roy's knees were a red flag to some teams before the '06 Draft. They weren't "as bad as DeJuan Blair's," said a former NBA executive whose team was also evaluating Roy at the time, in referring to Blair, the second-year Spur who entered the NBA without ACLs in either knee. But Roy's knees weren't good, either.

The Blazers knew that, too, before they traded for Roy on Draft night. They knew he'd had arthroscopic surgery at Washington during his sophomore season, but had been back on the court 11 days after the operation. And they knew that Tim Hardaway and Muggsy Bogues and countless other pros have played without knee cartilage for years. It's not ideal, and it hurts like a son of a gun some nights, but it's not unprecedented.

And they knew it when they agreed to give him an $82 million extension last year. It was a gamble. It may not pay off. But Portland has gotten four strong years out of Roy already. If they get five good-but-not-great years out of him through the life of his extension, that's nearly a decade on bad knees.

But Roy isn't ready to give up, and neither is Portland. The Blazers hope that modifying Roy's hyper-competitive ways can prolong his career. When he returns, he will be limited to 30-35 minutes a game. (The Blazers are still discussing internally whether to keep him out of the second night of back-to-backs.) He will not practice much. And he will continue receiving injections of Orthovisc, an FDA-approved lubricant that is made from hyaluronic acid, a naturally-occurring substance in healthy knees.

Roy said he got relief in the days after the shot. The issue is how often he can receive the shots and still get the maximum benefit. But injections aren't going to save him. He knows he's going to have to change an occasionally stubborn nature to prolong his career.

"I think there's going to have to be some adjustment," he said. "But I think the biggest thing is that I don't get too far away from the player that has made me good in this league. Some of it is my mentality. I have to be a little mentally stronger and understand that there's some things I'm going to have to deal with. But as long as there's no pain, I have to deal with those things."

Said Jensen: "This is something he's been dealing with since his first surgery in high school. So this is not anything really new. I've been around Brandon and a lot of other athletes that have had similar ailments that they've had to deal with and they've played at a high level. Arvydas (Sabonis) played with a bad wheel for many years. And he just learned how to play with it and he didn't let it affect him mentally and affect his game, and he played at a very high level for a long period of time. And I think Brandon has the same kind of will and desire to help the Trail Blazers win in any way that is."

Brandon Roy
Getting Brandon Roy to play a tad less is part of the Blazers' longevity plan for him.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Oden, though, is different.

Roy can be stubborn, but he's basically an outgoing personality. Oden is an introvert, easily wounded, and keeps his strongest feelings bottled up inside. He knows the legacy of Bill Walton and Sam Bowie in Portland, and he knows that Durant has become a supernova. He's grown weary of the media attention/interrogation. Even when he was able to play in the 2008-09 season, he became withdrawn and sullen, even to teammates. It became an issue. And people that have talked with Oden this week say he is having trouble dealing with this latest setback.

Oden's inability to stay healthy has brought understandable scrutiny to Portland's medical staff. I say "understandable" because even Jensen understands that Blazers fans have had it with all the injuries. "We're frustrated, too," he said, pointing out that over the years, the Blazers have tested Oden for diabetes. They've tested him for Marfan's Syndrome. They've tested him for acromegly. They've tested him for gigantism. They've tested his bone density and Vitamin D levels to see if there's anything structurally wrong with his skeleton. They've checked his younger brother, Anthony, a sophomore tackle at Arkansas who's almost as tall and is bigger (6-8, 328 pounds) than his sibling. Every test--every one--has come back negative.

"We are looking at every possible thing to help Greg out," Jensen said. "Everything. Some other physicians of different disciplines. We're checking every avenue that we can. We're not leaving any stone unturned when it comes to that. We're already starting that process, even before he was drafted."

The good news for Oden is that he's only 22 and he's gone through this before.

The bad news for Oden is that he's only 22 and he's gone through this before. And only a couple of other players -- Kenyon Martin and Matt Harpring, for example -- have had multiple microfracture surgeries and returned to the court.

"The physical part of it is easy," said Martin, the Nuggets forward who had his left knee microfracture surgery in 2005 and his right knee microfracture in 2006, after playing 56 games the previous season. "He's physically gifted. But once you start playing with yourself mentally, that's when the struggles happen. Because you start questioning, maybe I'm not good enough, or maybe this is it, or maybe everybody was right. You have to block out that negative part."

Martin got through the first surgery. But he pushed himself too hard to come back too soon, and the overcompensation may have led to the next injury.

"When I woke up from the (second) surgery, that was my roughest point," Martin said. "That day was the roughest part. I was like, 'not again.' But after that, my sister did an excellent job. My sister was there from day one. She'd write scriptures, verses out of the Bible, things like that. She posted them in the room for me, and my bathroom, so when I got up in the morning, that was the first thing I saw. I made sure I read it. That helped a lot."

Oden does have the benefit of a strong family. He is close to his grandmother and parents. He has a strong support group in Portland, working closely with assistant coach Bill Bayno and strength and conditioning coach Bob Medina during the past few offseasons in Columbus. And, now, as Camby said Thursday, there is no more pressure. He's not the face of the franchise. No one expects anything from Oden anymore.

Jensen said he hasn't seen any give-up in Oden yet.

"I think he's reeling a little bit and he's shaken by what's happened. And I think he's questioning 'why me?' But that's not abnormal ... I think he knows how much we care about him and want his well-being. Because for me, yeah, I want him to fulfill his dreams and be a good basketball player.

"But there's more to Greg Oden than basketball. He's a smart, intelligent, charismatic guy that is sensitive and cares about people. So he's got some other good qualities other than just playing basketball."

He will always be linked with Durant, though, and he probably won't ever win that battle. But that ship has sailed. Oden has the next eight months to figure out what the rest of his career, and his life, is going to be.

"It's totally going to be up to him," Roy said. "There's only so many times we can push him, or fans can push him. It's totally going to be up to Greg. You can't blame him one way or another. It's been a tough three or four years for him. But I did notice that he's 22. I was like, 'Greg, you're young, man. My first game in the NBA, I think I was 22.' So look at that side of it ... you're still young. You still can have a lot of years ahead of you.' But the biggest thing is, it's going to be up to Greg."

Dribbles

Changes in Cleveland

Apparently, there was a decision made in Cleveland to continue with the NBA season.

"We still have a schedule," guard Anthony Parker said earlier this month, "and they still tell us to show up and play."

The Cavaliers are no longer title contenders, but they haven't folded up their collective tents as some thought would happen without LeBron James. Before losing back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday to the Hornets and Spurs, Cleveland was playing .500 ball, taking advantage of a pretty soft opening-month schedule, and hanging around near the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

Mo Williams & Ramon Sessions
The doom-and-gloom predictions for the Cavs have been slightly off.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cavaliers aren't doing anything especially impressive statistically. But they play hard for Byron Scott, and they have the motivation of most experts saying they'd be cannon fodder, with James having taken his talents to South Beach.

"We definitely play with a chip on our shoulder, each and every night," Mo Williams said. "They picked us to be the worst team in the NBA -- hey, all right. We definitely take that as fuel."

Scott didn't name a team captain during training camp, thinking the players needed to take ownership of the team collectively. Leadership comes organically, Scott said, pointing out that when he was part of the Lakers' Showtime era, the team belonged to Magic Johnson, though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was, officially, the captain. It was one of a thousand changes Cleveland has to implement this season, from a new GM in Chris Grant to going through the season without Hall of Fame radio play by play man Joe Tait, recovering from a series of illnesses.

"I think we came into training camp with some new challenges this year," Parker said. "We've got a couple of changes in the roster, we've got coaching changes, we've got some front office changes, and we're just facing different challenges. How we're going to be successful is different than how we would have been successful in the past. Now, it's got to be by committee. It's got to be everybody stepping up and contributing, whereas before we probably could lean on one or two guys."

Indeed, Cleveland has five players averaging in double figures in scoring, but none more than Williams's 14.6 per game. The Cavs' bench has outperformed the starters, who've been slowed from developing much continuity with injuries to Williams (groin) and Anderson Varejao (ribs), and with Antawn Jamison accepting a sixth man role after starting virtually his entire career.

As much as former coach Mike Brown tried to diversify the offense, the Cavs ran everything through James, and everyone knew it. They couldn't stop it many nights, but they knew it was coming. Scott has Cleveland running pick and rolls with a series of different guys, with different options, though Williams is now a primary playmaker. It's a role he had with some effectiveness earlier in his career in Milwaukee, though he's not a classic point guard.

Defensively, the Cavs don't have a player with James' ability to chase down fast breaks from behind, and they have slipped noticeably under Scott as they try to learn his system and terminology.

"It's going to be a process," Williams said. "Everything's different. We don't do anything that we've done in the past. What it does is open up a lot for everybody. Everybody's an option on each and every thing. It's a difficult offense to learn, and we're still getting it. But when we do execute the right way, we can do some good things."

Warriors waiting to go shopping

The Warriors have one of the league's dynamic backcourts in Monta Ellis and Steph Curry, but they're still looking for a veteran third guard that can make the halfcourt ramble more restful. Jarrett Jack was one of those Golden State was hoping to repatriate -- Kirk Hinrich would be optimal, but he is in no way available, especially while John Wall's foot heals up -- but Jack was sent packing to New Orleans on Saturday in the Peja Stojakovic deal. There may not be a deal out there for a guard, but if there is, the Warriors are likely to wait until after first-round pick Ekpe Udoh and Lou Amundson return from injuries, and that's not likely until early January.

If Golden State does nothing this season it could wait until next summer, when $17 million comes off of its books from among Vladimir Radmanovic, Dan Gadzuric and Brandan Wright.

Dustup hurting Prince's stock?

Neither side in the Tayshaun Prince dustup with Pistons coach John Kuester last week thinks Prince is trying to argue his way out of town and onto a contender, but all parties came to a similar conclusion: Prince isn't helping himself with prospective suitors by spouting off about his unhappiness with Kuester's style. There's another decent contract out there for the rising free agent forward, whose length and underrated scoring prowess could help many a contender (Boston and San Antonio leap to mind) just as it helped propel Detroit to its unlikely '04 title. But he has to cool the rhetoric.

Top O' the World, Ma!

(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)

1) San Antonio [4] (3-0): Tony Parker is shooting 55.2 percent (80 of 145) in November, averaging 19.6 points and 7.6 assists.

2) New Orleans [1] (3-1): Hornets have four of next five on the road, but the one home game should be a doozy -- next Sunday night against the Spurs. Addition of Jarrett Jack fulfills a major need for a solid backup point who can keep Chris Paul's minutes down.

3) L.A. Lakers [5] (4-0): Lakers put the hammer down against inferior competition, winning each game by double digits (including a 28-point smackdown of the Warriors Sunday night).

Chris Duhon & Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard, Chris Duhon and the Magic are hitting their stride.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

4) Utah [3] (2-2): Jazz win their sixth game of the season after trailing by double digits with comeback win over Portland Saturday.

5) Oklahoma City [7] (4-0): Thunder showing their depth in road wins over Celtics (without Kevin Durant) and Bucks (without Durant and Jeff Green).

6) Orlando [8] (3-0): Magic pound Suns without Steve Nash, Pacers without Darren Collison, and takes the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

7) Boston [2] (1-2): Defensive lapses cost Celts in losses to Thunder, Raptors.

8) Miami [6] (2-1): Injuries -- sprained wrist for Dwyane Wade, broken nose for Juwan Howard and now, ominously, a sprained foot for Udonis Haslem that will keep him out for a while -- testing the Heat's depth.

9) Portland [10] (2-1): Maybe someday, Andre Miller will get the respect he deserves as one of his generation's best point guards. Blazers will run everything through him until Brandon Roy is back up to speed.

10) Chicago [14] (2-1): Good start on the Circus Trip, going two of three in the Texas Triangle (beat Houston and Dallas; lost to San Antonio). But four games in five nights, starting Tuesday against the Lakers, are looming.

11) Dallas [9] (2-2): Mavericks hoping for good news Monday on Roddy Beaubois, who has finally gotten out of the walking boot he's been wearing since surgery on his left foot in August, but who has not yet been cleared to begin fullcourt workouts.

12) Denver [11] (2-2): Nuggets hoping the first of their walking wounded, Chris Andersen (knee surgery), will be back this week. Kenyon Martin is set to visit with Dr. Richard Steadman in Colorado this week to determine when he'll be able to return.

13) Golden State [12] (1-2): Warriors got lucky with David Lee. His elbow infection didn't get into the bloodstream or the elbow joint, which would have added weeks to his recovery time.

14) Atlanta [13] (1-1): Four losses at the Highlight Factory already this season after going 34-7 at home all of last season.

15) Phoenix [NR] (1-3): Suns are reeling defensively, obviously struggling without the Nasty One (groin) on the court the past few games.

Team of the Week

San Antonio (3-0): Spurs have never started a season 11-1, but they've rarely been as productive offensively as they are so far this season: second in the league in scoring at a gaudy 107.8 points per game, 10th in field goal percentage (.471) and free-throw percentage (.783) second in 3-point percentage (.430) and third in assists per game (24). Gregg Popovich has an embarassment of big man riches, with all five frontcourt players -- Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner -- playing well.

Team of the Weak

L.A. Clippers (0-4): Even for this sorry franchise, starting out 1-13 is a low mark. But any team starting three rookies (Video Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe, Al-Faroqu Aminu) is going to struggle, as L.A. did in giving up 113.5 points per game in four losses. And yet another high Lottery pick awaits -- though it wouldn't surprise if the Clips actually put the pick in a package to try and get a veteran three that could step into the rotation next season. Wow. Already talking about next season, and we're not even at Thanksgiving. Such is life in ClipperLand.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

What would you pay Greg Oden on the open market?

It's a puzzlement. On the one hand, he's had four knee operations in the last four years, and will have only played in one-quarter -- 82 out of 328 -- of his possible regular-season games since being taken with the first pick overall in the 2007 Draft. He underwent his second season-ending microfracture surgery last week, this time on the left knee (the right one was done during his rookie season). He can't seem to stay healthy.

On the other hand, he's still 7 feet tall, and he's just 22.

"Did they change the rules?," one GM texted late Thursday night. "How many centers are there in the NBA? Not many."

Even though Blazers president Larry Miller said in a conference call with Portland reporters Thursday that the Blazers plan to give Oden a qualifying offer next summer at $8.8 million to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent, there is almost no one around the league who believes that. Most expect the Blazers will ultimately let Oden test the waters, figuring nobody will offer him anything near that $8.8 million. That was the consensus from a bunch of executives over the weekend, who saw Portland decline to give Oden an extension by the Nov. 1 deadline.

I heard one year for $4-5 million. I heard the bi-annual exception, which was $2.08 million this season. I heard "three years, $15 million, with an exclusion (for) the knee," as one GM texted Thursday. I heard an incentive-laden contract that could, potentially, approach the mid-level exception. A couple of teams said it was too early to make a judgment on Oden; a couple others said there was no way they'd make him an offer, given his physical state. No one came close to $8.8 million.

Among the many unresolved issues, of course, is what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will look like, and what teams will be able to offer players in Oden's category, whether it's restricted or unrestricted. If there's a lockout, no one would be able to negotiate with him or his agent about a new contract -- including Portland. Nor could Oden practice at the Blazers' facility. (Less certain is whether he'd be allowed to rehab there; that's a murkier area that might have to be worked out between the league and the Players' Association with specific language.)

And no one knows if Oden will be healthy by next season, either.

"For such an unreal risk, the payoff will come in two years," another team exec said. "It's always the year after the year (when you) see progress. Next year will be horrible ... it's best for him to do one year, get healthy and avenge."

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Shocking as a Clipper win: people agree with me re: Kobe in Call of Duty: Black Ops commercial. From Eric Van Honacker:

...I wanted to assure you there's at least one guy under 40 (I'm 34 and a gamer, though not fps oriented) who agrees on Kobe not fitting in this commercial. I found the ad well done but it's somewhat shocking and not only because of Kobe. The "normal people" handing guns and firing in every directions made me feel very uncomfortable... Well, not the first time KB looked out of place (remember the white suits ?) ;-)

Kobe Bryant
Many fans weren't big supporters of Kobe's latest commercial venture.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

From Nicky Betts:

I just wanted to say that I agree with you regarding kobe advertising Call of Duty -- I'm an 18-year-old guy who loves a good video game, but it does seem somewhat misguided to wantonly promote such excessive violence.

From Chris Corlew:

...totally agree with about the Call of Duty ad. To show 'everyday' people laughing and smiling while flying automatic weapons and bazookas without showing the death or destructive realities of war is irresponsible and offensive. Also, I'm 22.

From Joshua Stewart:

DA, I am under 40 and a big Kobe and military spec ops video game fan, but the point you make is a good one that I never considered. You have at least resonated with one member of the target audience! And a wonderful story on Manute Bol, whom I (at age 30) barely remember.

I know Kobe well enough to know he's going to do what he wants, so no agent or handler was going to be able to talk him out of doing it. (The league washed its hands of it immediately; I asked before I wrote last week and was told, basically, what's the big deal? It's just a commercial. Which struck me as odd, considering the Commish came down so hard on Allen Iverson when he released his "Jewelz" CD a decade ago that contained not-for-the-kiddies lyrics.) And I know there are Kobe/COD fans who disagree and see nothing wrong with him appearing in the ad. I'd like to hear from you; maybe there's a point I'm missing. As for the White Hot Shoot, who could forget, Eric?

From Stuart Allen:

C'mon! How can I have received an email to select an All-Star this early in the season? What's All-Star form supposed to be that we all talk about -- having good expectations? Getting a good run in the first few days? With early voting, it just simply becomes a popularity test which means that an All-Star virgin will never make the starting five no matter how well he plays. We say a player 'earned his All-Star selection' or how someone had X-number of All-Star selections. Every year it seems to mean less and less. If players are popular, great. If you want to see them, vote for Fan Night. But the All-Star selection is a once-a-year special opportunity that can be used to really reward players that truly put everything in the game and make it a proud and wonderful spectacle.

This is precisely why I don't get worked up over All-Star "snubs," Stuart. It is a popularity contest that has little to do with actual on-court production during the first half of the season. By the way, I have no problem with that. The fans, as I've said a million times, have every right to vote for whomever they want to see in the game. It's their weekend.

1122-lamarcus-aldridge-300.jpg
LaMarcus Aldridge: Blazers forward and David Aldridge's cousin, too?
Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Kinfolk ... on the first and 15th of every month. From Patrick Wiebe:

So are you and LaMarcus [Aldridge] really cousins?? I saw that you said "thanks cousin" (or something similar) to him after you interviewed him at (Thursday's) game where the Nuggets played in Portland. Are you guys really cousins? Or related at all?

No. That's a running joke between LaMarcus and me going back to before the '07 Draft. People asked both of us, independently, if we were related. As far as we both know, we're not -- perhaps distant cousins, because that surname is not common to African-Americans. But not directly. His people are from Texas; mine are from Florida. Maybe they shared a cab back in the day.

Send your questions, comments, witticisms and criticisms to maito://daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If you are sufficiently insightful, critical or snarky, we might just publish your e-mail!

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parentheses)

1) Kobe Bryant (26.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, .419 FG, .969 FT): Didn't shoot it great, but teammates had his back--including, as ever, Pau Gasol, who went 10 for 10 from the field Sunday night against Golden State.

2) LeBron James (27 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 8.3 apg, .508 FG, .813 FT): Time for LBJ to show all of his talents, if Udonis Haslem is done for an extended period of time after tearing ligaments in his foot Saturday, along with Mike Miller remaining out until January.

3) Chris Paul (14.7 ppg, 11.7 apg, 3.7 spg, .424 FG, .857 FT): Came through fairly well in a back-to-back against Jason Kidd and the Mavericks, shooting 59 percent from the floor and averaging 21 and 10 in the two games.

4) Dwight Howard (21 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2 bpg, .556 FG, .605 FT): Superman developing a decent little rivalry with the Pacers' Roy Hibbert, who had some success against Howard last season--but also got smacked down in the final couple of meetings. Saturday, Hibbert had 19 and 10 against the Magic, who won both the individual matchup--25 points, 12 boards--and the game.

5) Rajon Rondo (13 ppg, 3 rpg, 10 apg, .500 FT): Slowed by hamstring injury this week, missed most of Friday's game vs. Oklahoma City and all of Sunday's game against the Raptors.

By The Numbers

.088 -- Three-point shooting percentage so far this season by Orlando's J.J. Redick, who's made just three of 25 attempts behind the arc. He entered the season as a career 37.5 percent three-point shooter.

1 -- Triple-doubles in the history of the Charlotte Bobcats, after Video Stephen Jackson went for 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Charlotte's rout of Phoenix Saturday night.

3 -- Players in league history with at least 17,000 points, 700 rebounds and 900 three-pointers after Cleveland's Antawn Jamison joined Dirk Nowitzki and Scottie Pippen in that odd category on Friday against New Orleans.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Chris Paul isn't going to show his hand, but he can't say the Hornets' first-year GM, Dell Demps, hasn't been proactive in trying to change the roster. Since he got the job in July, Demps has flipped Darren Collison, Peja Stojakovic, Julian Wright, Jerryd Bayless, Darius Songalia, first-round pick Craig Brackins and a protected future first-rounder, turning them into Trevor Ariza, Marco Belinelli, Jarrett Jack, David Andersen, Marcus Banks, Willie Green and Jason Smith. That would be one nominal starter (Peja) who couldn't stay healthy, a sixth man (Collison) who got a lot of playing time last season because Paul got hurt, the guy who replaced that sixth man (Bayless), two bench players (Wright and Songalia) who weren't exactly killing it, a rookie and a Draft pick for two players who are now starting (Belinelli and Ariza), much-needed relief for Paul (Jack) and two productive role players (Green and Smith). Only Jack, at $5 million next season and $5.4 million in '12-'13, eats up any meaningful part of the cap after this season. So far -- so far -- Demps is getting it done, while not bankrupting New Orleans' future flexibility to surround Paul with at least one big-time partner down the road.

Dell Demps
Hornets GM Dell Demps has certainly done what he can to make New Orleans more competitive.
NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images

2) I blew it. I told Nancy Lieberman I'd be in Texas for her D-League debut last week. I really meant to be there, but I lost track of her schedule and mine, which had me in Portland on Wednesday and Thursday for Blazers-Nuggets. The reason why I wanted to be there was so I could spend some time talking about basketball with the Hall of Famer, who has such an interesting mind. Example: because she knew she'd be coaching men -- and in particular, young African-American men, she picked the brain of Mike Tomlin, the Steelers' coach and a former young African-American athlete himself, for several hours this summer. That she would understand that she had to be willing to learn, and that she didn't know everything, is just one example of that interesting mind. I will get down to Frisco, Texas, this season. Promise.

3) Just love this stat: OKC's James Harden is shooting 41 percent from three-point range, 38 percent from inside the arc.

Video 4) Pretty good game-winner on Saturday, Rudy Gay. You couldn't have been defended better. Great offense does beat great defense sometimes.

5) His team stinks, but Blake Griffin is Video going up to 11 on the elevator and dropping you off at eight.

6) Don't laugh at Ben Wallace's public disclosure this week that he wants to go to law school after his career is over in hopes of becoming a defense attorney. Ben told me that a couple of years ago and he was dead serious. He has strong views about how the law is delivered in this country and wants to be on the front lines of changing it. Good for him.

7) Hornets. Spurs. New Orleans Arena next Sunday. Let's just put it this way: I wish TNT had flex scheduling like NBC does for football.

Not Feelin' ...

Video 1) There was much fanfare on Friday when San Antonio's Tim Duncan surpassed David Robinson's mark of 20,791 points, to become what media accounts all referred to as the Spurs' "NBA franchise scoring leader." Only one problem: the Spurs' all-time leading scorer is George Gervin, who scored 23,602 points for San Antonio. The NBA, however, does not recognize the three seasons that Gervin played with the Spurs in the ABA when counting his points. Thus "NBA franchise scoring leader," a totally made-up title, like the WWE's "Intercontinental Champion." We love the Big Fundamental, but around here, the Spurs' all-time scoring champ, for now, is still Ice.

Tim Duncan
Hang on, Timmy. You're not the Spurs' all-time leading scorer ... yet.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

2) If Udonis Haslem is out for a long time -- and even if he isn't -- I think the Heat needs to figure out what it's going to take to get Erick Dampier signed, and do that this week. Everyone in Miami has said the same thing--this is a team built to win a championship right now, not in three years. And the one thing that the Heat doesn't seem to have a defensive answer for is a team with a strong post presence, as evidenced by Zach Randolph's banging in the paint for points and offensive boards in Memphis on Saturday.

3) Goodness, that was weird watching NBA TV on Sunday, seeing Allen Iverson in the home white of Besiktas Cola Turka in a game in Turkey. This is where our modern technology makes life strange and interesting; almost no one was able to see the likes of Bob McAdoo and Dominique Wilkins finish their careers overseas.

4) I hope these things don't come in threes.

5) Last week, I asked where J.R. Smith was this season. Found out Thursday ... he's buried deep in George Karl's doghouse. Late for a shootaround on Tuesday, Smith got put in deep freeze for a couple of games, and he's going to stay there until he starts playing some defense and moving the ball.

6) Bristol Palin is a better dancer than Brandy. Right. In other news, monkeys that flew out of a guy's nether regions sat down and typed Hamlet on a computer in one hour.

Tweet of the Week

Well this might have been the craziest month of my life

-- Jerryd Bayless (@JBay_4), Saturday, after learning he'd been traded for the second time in 27 days, from the Hornets to the Raptors in a five-player deal that sent Peja Stojakovic and Bayless to Toronto for Jarrett Jack, David Andersen and Marcus Banks. Bayless had only been in New Orleans since Oct. 23, when he was dealt from Portland for a future first-round pick.

They Said It

"I know you expect a lot from me, and people expect a lot from me, but I'm not a superstar."
-- Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari, pushing the hype from a good start this season despite New York's recent struggles as a team, to the side to the New York Times.

"It was pretty pathetic all the way around."
-- Bucks coach Scott Skiles, after his offensively challenged team missed all 12 3-point attempts and shot just 33 percent from the floor in a 90-79 loss to Philadelphia on Friday.

"There's an expectation of professionalism on both sides, and his tweets fell short of that expectation."
-- NBA spokesman Tim Frank, backing the Miami Heat's decision not to offer media credentials to Esquire's Scott Raab after Raab -- a Cleveland native -- sent out a series of Twitter messages last week that castigated LeBron James.

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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