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David Aldridge

Seattle skyline
The Seattle skyline, in a photo taken from the Upper Queen Anne neighborhood, shows the area where Key Arena sits.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

Two years later, pain of losing Sonics still stings Seattle


Posted Dec 13 2010 9:49AM

SEATTLE -- Big Lo is still in mourning.

He remembers the day in Olympia, the state capital, when the Seattle SuperSonics were trying to convince the Washington State legislature's Ways and Means Committee, one last time, to build a new arena. Otherwise, the Sonics -- the newly-bought-by-Clay-Bennett-from-Oklahoma-City-Sonics -- were almost certain to leave town, and everyone knew it, even if Bennett was swearing he hadn't yet made up his mind. Of course, Big Lo was there. Big Lo was always there.

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It was Big Lo who was front and center at Mariners games, and Seahawks games, and University of Washington games, and Storm games. If there was a game of marbles involving a Seattle native, Big Lo -- what, you thought a guy that's 6-foot-8 and spent most of his adult life weighing three and a half to four bills would be named "Little Lo" for the irony? -- would be there. It was Big Lo who went to the airport to welcome the Sonics back after road games, and clean off their cars when it had snowed, and who went to the team's practice facility the day Gary Payton got traded to Milwaukee to say goodbye.

So Big Lo was in Olympia the day David Stern came to town to make the league's case that the Sonics had to have a new building, and he had to know what was really up. So Big Lo asked the Commish what was going to happen to his Sonics. Were they staying, or going?

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(From left to right) Don Tremblay, co-owner of T.J. McHugh's restaurant, Camp Jones, executive producer of Sonicsgate, Jason Reid, director, Lorin "Big Lo" Sandretzky, Adam Brown, producer, Brian Robinson, co-founder of Save Our Sonics.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

"I said, 'Mr. Stern, I can't lose these guys,' " Big Lo recalled last week. "'This is my life.' And he looked up at me in my face and he said 'Big Lo, we're going to do everything in our power to keep the Seattle Sonics in Seattle. They're not going anywhere.' I said, 'you know who I am?' He said, 'Big Lo, everybody in the NBA office knows who you are.' "

Big Lo believed.

They all did.

Camp Jones, who grew up on top of the hill on Queen Anne, the Seattle neighborhood where Key Arena is located.

Jason Reid, who would hold Draft night parties at his house and will strike up conversations with strangers in bars if they're rocking Sonics gear.

Brian Robinson, who would skip work on trade-deadline day every year to see if the Sonics had made a move for the stretch run.

Adam Brown, who assumed that enduring the top-seeded Sonics' playoff loss to eighth-seeded Denver in 1994 as a 12-year-old would be his worst memory of the team.

They believed that the Sonics would, somehow, stay in Seattle right until that moment on July 2, 2008, when former mayor Greg Nickels announced he'd abandoned the legal battle that was an hour from being resolved in U.S. District Court by Judge Marsha Pechman. Instead of waiting for Pechman's ruling in the city's lawsuit against Bennett, which was filed to force Bennett to stay in town for the remaining two seasons of the franchise's lease at Key Arena, the city settled with Bennett and his group, allowing the team to move to Oklahoma City in exchange for $45 million that helped pay off the remaining debt the city owed on Key.

And then, there was nothing.

"I cry when I think about it," says Big Lo, aka Lorin Sandretzky, aka Seattle's Biggest Sports Fan, who missed, by his estimation, six Sonics home games in the last 19 seasons the team was in town, and who had his own action figure locally, and who cannot bring himself to watch NBA games any more.

For the last two years, the uber fans that lived and died with the Sonics have had to deal with a lingering sense of loss, trying to rationalize how a 41-year relationship with the NBA unraveled so quickly, allowing one of the league's most solid franchises to relocate. The area surrounding Key Arena has had to deal with the loss of a prized tenant that brought in much-needed revenue in the midst of a severe recession.

More perversely, they've all watched from afar as the former Sonics -- 20-62 in their final season in Seattle -- have blossomed in Oklahoma City into one of the league's most promising young franchises, with an affable superstar in Kevin Durant, a budding second star in Russell Westbrook, terrific role players from Jeff Green to Serge Ibaka to Thabo Sefolosha and outstanding management of the cap by general manager Sam Presti. Leaving them with a hodgepodge of events to fill the time, from the WNBA's Storm to the Harlem Globetrotters to Seattle University basketball. It's just not the same.

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Key Arena, once home to the Sonics, now hosts smaller events -- such as Storm and Harlem Globetrotters games.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

"This is my backyard," Jones said, pointing up Queen Anne Boulevard. "So these are all my guys, you know? And I've got family connections with people that passed away. My aunt would take me to games. I have that 'Not in Our House' shirt. Those playoff games. So that connection is there. And even though she's passed away, it kind of taints that memory a little bit. A little bit."

The sense of loss doesn't stop with fans.

"It's kind of hard to swallow at times," said Nate McMillan, one of the greatest players in Sonics franchise history, and now coaching down Interstate 5 in Portland with the Trail Blazers.

"You have a lot of friends," McMillan said. "You still have a lot of connections to the city. Just the amount of people that are heartbroken because there's no team in the city. You feel for them, but there's really nothing that you can do. To think of all the history, everything that was accomplished as a Seattle SuperSonic, where is it? It's in limbo now. That's tragic."

The history, actually, is in Oklahoma City.

As part of the settlement between the team and the city, a "shared history" arrangement was created. All of the old Sonics' records are now the Thunder's. The championship banners, retired jerseys and the 1979 NBA championship trophy now reside in Oklahoma City.

"It's bad enough knowing that we should have Durant and Westbrook here right now," Brown said, "being the new [Gary] Payton and [Shawn] Kemp. But to see them shattering our old records ... "

The city as a whole has absorbed the blow of losing the Sonics and moved on. The high-tech industry that created Microsoft and made billionaires out of Bill Gates and Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer (more on him later) is still thriving in the nearby suburbs. Fishermen at Pike Place Market are still throwing salmon at one another for the bemusement of tourists. Seattle was ranked the smartest city in the United States in 2009 by the National Resources Defense Council. A rare exhibit of Picasso paintings, drawings and sculptures is concluding a successful run next month at the Seattle Art Museum.

But those who loved the Sonics are still in pain. Some, like Reid, still have League Pass and watch games every night.

"It's just a different way of watching hoops now," Reid said. "For us that still watch it, you don't have this connection that they have to win tonight or I'm going to feel all weird tomorrow and devastated. There's none of that."

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The right rear quarterpanel of Lorin Sandretzky (aka "Big Lo")'s truck says it all for Sonics fans.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

The uber-fans had come to know one another in those frantic days when the Sonics' future in Seattle teetered on the edge. Robinson co-founded the grass roots organzation Save Our Sonics with Kirkland businessman Steve Pyeatt to try and centralize the fans' involvement as Bennett threatened to move the team to Oklahoma City if the state didn't fund a new arena in the suburb of Renton.

The SOS group coalesced around Robinson, a bright real estate investor and lifelong Seattle resident, and lives on in blogging form (www.sonicscentral.com). He wonders why the NBA has not had much contact with Seattle residents since the Sonics' departure. Two years ago, in the midst of the various court cases, it was understandable, Robinson says; emotions were high. But it's been a while now.

"In any business ... you have to talk to your customers once in a while, and figure out what they like, what they don't like, and reach out to them," Robinson said. "But being mad at Greg Nickles and the city of Seattle is different than being mad at 41-year loyal customers. I still can't believe that they haven't at some point done some outreach, and said, 'Hey, that was an ugly situation, but what can we do to move on, to re-invite you back, be customers of our product?' That's been, to me, probably, of this whole thing, the biggest disappointment."

Seattle without an NBA team defies logic. The Seattle-Tacoma Designated Market Area (DMA), with 1.7 million television homes, is the 13th-largest in the country, second largest only to Tampa-St. Petersburg (12th) among U.S. cities currently without NBA teams -- and Tampa is only about 70 miles from Orlando.

Seattle was ranked in the top 10 last year by Portfolio.com among best U.S. cities for young adults. (It should be noted that in the same study, Oklahoma City ranked sixth.) Per capita income is still high; nearby Medina ranked 11th wealthiest among U.S. cities based on 2007 IRS returns.

No one had a better home-court advantage than the Sonics did when Payton was at his trash-talking best, and Kemp was in shape and took alley oops out of the sky, and Seattle's defense was dominant, and the sellout crowds would taunt Karl Malone as he took forever at the foul line to shoot free throws.

"It was a great building," recalled George Karl, Sonics coach from 1991-98. "It was a great, hot building, an energized building. The closest fans that I've ever seen to an NBA court. I liked that."

You could make a movie about why the Sonics left.

So, Reid did.

Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team is, as Jones has put it, a "digital primal scream" that details the franchise's history in Seattle, the sale of the team from Barry Ackerley to Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz, and from Schultz to Bennett, and the ultimate machinations that led to the team's move to Oklahoma City. No one is spared, from local and state government officials, to Schultz, to Stern. Bennett, obviously, gets hit pretty good, but also is given props for simply acting as a businessman would.

"We're not anti-Oklahoma," Brown said. "We're anti-Clay Bennett. We're anti-Howard Schultz. But the point is that people nationally and people in Oklahoma say, 'Well, people in Seattle didn't support the team.' Nothing could be further from the truth."

Says Robinson, with grudging respect: "Clay was dirty in the way he handled it. But he repped his city."

The reason the group made Sonicsgate, says Brown, who served as producer along with Reid (Jones was executive producer), was to counter the conventional wisdom that poor attendance and lack of local interest caused the move. If a team like the Sonics can leave a big market, with a relatively loyal fan base, Brown says, it could happen to any other city.

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Though mostly dormant now, Key Arena was the Sonics' home for 33 of their 41 seasons in Seattle.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

"Really, the Seattle situation is a microcosm of the health of the NBA's economy overall," Brown said. "We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we were the ones who had to be kind of the martyrs, if you will, for fans, to show that this business model is screwed up. And it's really unfortunate that that perfect storm happened here. And next year, they're going to figure it all out. They're going to reduce player salaries, whatever. They're going to make it better on smaller markets. It's going to get fixed. But we were the casualty of all that."

Is Sonicsgate propaganda?

Yes, in the best possible sense of the word, in that it has a distinct point of view of what the truth is,and tries to convince you it is right. It is not an anti-Bennett screed --"Camp was always like, 'Just the facts,'" Reid says -- but it pulls no punches in who it thinks is responsible. The movie, made for about $10,000, won the 2010 Webby Award for Best Sports Film. Payton, who was in the movie and befriended the filmmakers, came to New York to give the acceptance speech -- which, by Webby rule, could only be five words.

"Bring back our Seattle Supersonics," Payton said.

Having the Sonics back in town would be music to Don Tremblay's ears. The co-proprietor of T.J. McHugh's, a celebrated restaurant just around the corner from Key, Tremblay was one of many local businesspeople in the Queen Anne neighborhood who was in the process of extending his lease when the Sonics left.

"They felt like they could break their lease," Tremblay said. "And we said 'Well, what about all the businesses in the neighborhood? Can we go and do the same thing? I don't think so.' I know my landlord wasn't going for that. I don't know that we would have left, anyway. But, it sure would have changed the way we re-negotiated the lease."

The local establishments that dot Lower Queen Anne, up and down Mercer Street, obviously depend on pre- and post-game flows of people coming to and leaving Key Arena for a large chunk of their income. A local comedy club closed its doors within weeks of the Sonics' move, and others have struggled to make ends meet ever since.

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Seattle-area graffiti artists left this mural of a screaming Shawn Kemp alone.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

"We always thought, if we had two or three shows at the Key Arena every month, we were in good shape," Tremblay said. "So during the Sonics' season, you had two a week, almost. You see how big this restaurant is. You've got to fill this restaurant to make the nut here, just with the overhead. So you've gotta be full. And so if there's nothing going on at the Key Arena, and you're just relying on the neighborhood, and the Opera House and the Theatre, it's just not enough."

Tremblay says Key Arena officials told him and other area businesses that they could fill the building with other events after the Sonics' departure, in part because they no longer had to hold dates open for the team during the winter and spring months. That never materialized. Seattle University, which has just jumped to NCAA Division I status, has stepped into the void to play home games at Key, and it's helped some. But it isn't the same; revenue at T.J's after Seattle U games, Tremblay says, is about half of what it was after Sonics games.

Everyone in the NBA, though, hasn't abandoned the Seattle market.

The Blazers are tenatively trying to fill the void, knowing that while Portland and Seattle were natural, bitter rivals for years, and that there are still raw feelings in the Emerald City, totally ignoring a metropolitan area of more than 3 million people isn't good business. The Blazers were awarded the Seattle broadcast market by the league after the Sonics left, allowing them to televise their non-national games here, either on local cable or a secondary over-the-air station, giving them a broadcast presence that stretches all the way to Canada and east to Idaho and Montana.

The Blazers' organization is filled with former Seattle people. Allen still lives in Seattle and also owns the NFL's Seahawks. McMillan, of course, is the coach; assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff coached the Sonics from 1985-90. Rich Cho, the Blazers' new general manager, started in the Sonics' front office. Hersey Hawkins, who played on the Sonics' Finals team in '96, is Portland's director of player development. The vice president of Team Relations, Cheri Hanson, helped keep Karl in line as Seattle's PR director. And, of course, the Blazers' star guard, Brandon Roy, is one of many Seattle natives playing in the NBA; at his urging, the Blazers Video had a scrimmage at his old high school, Garfield, during training camp.

But other than some community activities in Seattle, the Blazers don't have plans for further inroads. Some Seattle fans occasionally make the three-plus hour drive down to Portland, but don't show in signficant numbers.

"We still think it's kind of early," Blazers president Larry Miller texted Sunday. "But we do hope that if there continues to not be an NBA team in Seattle that we can become the Northwest region's team."

Seattle people say that any idea they'll regionalize the Blazers some day is a pipe dream.

"It won't work," says former Sonics coach Lenny Wilkens, who was initially part of Bennett's team, but was demoted from an executive position in 2007 when Presti was named GM, and subsequently resigned from the group before the team's move to Oklahoma City.

"I've gone down for a weekend," Wilkens said last week, at a coffee shop in Bellevue. "My son, Randy, has come down with his wife and the kids, and we'll spend a weekend down there to see a game. To a degree, you'll have a little success with it, but I don't think it'll be huge. The fans are different. These fans, they'll support them, but they want their own."

Indeed, the choice of Bellevue for an interview is not by happenstance. Wilkens' foundation is headquartered down the road, but lots more is happening in Bellevue, a suburb about 15 minutes from downtown. Most of the Sonics' season ticket holders when the team left lived here, on the Eastside. The economic base here is strong; many Microsoft execs live in the surrounding areas. A light rail station is on line to connect Bellevue to existing rail stops in Seattle, all the way out to the airport.

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Former Sonics coach and player Lenny Wilkens thinks Seattle could have a team again -- if an arena is built in Bellevue, Wash.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

This is where most of those who hope for a return of an NBA team believe a new arena must rise. Tremblay and other Seattle businesses aren't crazy about the idea, but Key has already been renovated once, and there isn't any signficant support for another site within the city's borders.

No one expects the local or state government to provide much help, anyway. When Ballmer, the Microsoft CEO, came up with an 11th-hour proposal to keep the Sonics from moving three years ago -- he would provide $150 million toward a second renovation of Key if the city and state would kick in $150 million as well -- Seattle said it could come up with $75 million if the state provided the other half. But the proposal was never even brought up to a vote by the state legislature before Ballmer tabled it.

In the midst of a terrible economic recession, there wasn't going to be much stomach for any kind of public subsidy, especially given the "stadium fatigue" Seattle residents felt after ponying up twice to build new buildings for the Seahawks (Qwest Field) and the Mariners (Safeco Field) in the previous decade. Local grassroots groups that opposed spending any more for sports teams made their mark.

But the diehards think -- hope? -- that times have changed.

Wilkens says there are groups with Eastside ties that are discussing coming together to make another run at the legislature, with the intention of buying an existing team and moving it to a new arena in Bellevue. He acknowledges that he doesn't even know all of the players, so nascent are the plans -- "I know some of them, and I know they're pretty solid," Wilkens says -- but that a plan is coalescing.

(A source with knowledge of the local players involved said last week that a victory by Republican senatorial candidate Dino Rossi over incumbent Patty Murray last month may have accelerated the chances of political movement in the legislature toward public funding for an arena. But Murray won in a razor-thin election.)

"I think the people here understand the politics," said Wilkens, who led the Sonics to the NBA title in 1979. "I can't tell you this for sure, but I think the first time (Stern) went down to Olympia, I don't think he was armed with enough material. And the thing you learn about the politicians here is, they want their due, too ... when David first went down, he didn't have the lay of the land. And I thought that was a disservice to him. And they looked at him like, 'Who are you, coming in here and telling us how we should run our stuff?' ... I felt like someone who really understood our area should have been with David."

Wilkens, it is unstated but understood, understands the area, and thinks he can help in a way he couldn't when he was affiliated with Bennett.

"I've met Frank Chopp," he says, referring to the longtime speaker of the Washington legislature -- without whose approval, the locals say, nothing gets done. "He's an interesting guy. I will tell you he told me I could come anytime, but don't bring some of these other people with me. You have to give respect to the fact that there are certain things in the area that are pressing, and needful, and you can't say that we're better, or we should be ahead of them. That's not how politics works here."

Regardless, the hopes of those who love basketball in this town depend on the acceptance of a simple premise: that it's OK to do unto others what has been done unto you. Obviously, the NBA is not going to expand into Seattle or anywhere else; the only way a city that doesn't have a team can get one is to buy it and move it, just like Clay Bennett did.

Just like Clay Bennett did.

"I've stolen other kids' toys before," Big Lo says. "I'll do it again."

It's a rationale I heard from my best friend, a Baltimore-area native, when that city lured the Browns from Cleveland to replace the Colts. The heartbreak of losing Johnny Unitas was quickly assuaged by getting to see Ray Lewis wreak havoc for a decade, no matter that there was some kid in Cleveland that was feeling the same pain my friend felt watching the Colts leave town in the middle of the night.

To their credit, the SOS guys let words like "hypocrite" roll right off their backs.

"We made Sonicsgate to bring the NBA back to Seattle," Reid said. "I think it's the NBA who set this precedent. They took a stand here in Seattle, and they said no team is safe. If they aren't making money, we will move them to a different market if there's a willing owner, and we will allow for that. And so the rules have been set. The stage has been set. We're just fans. We're pawns in their game. All we can hope for is (the) NBA back in Seattle."

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Knickknacks like this globe commemorating the Sonics' 1979 title team are still around in Seattle.
David Aldridge/For NBA.com

The dream candidate for a new owner is Ballmer, who sold $2 billion worth of Microsoft stock last November in order to do ... what? Ballmer has made no secret of his desire to ultimately get involved in the NBA, and the next time, he'll likely be front and center. Yet having the most money is no guarantee for success; even Ballmer's not going to overpay by millions just for the privilege of ownership. Larry Ellison didn't in Golden State, and wound up losing the Warriors in an upset to the Joe Lacob-Peter Guber group.

But any Seattle businessman who's up front with his intenion to buy a team to move it here will have the SOS guys behind him -- just as, they say now, they would have had more respect for Bennett if he had openly stated he wanted to take the Sonics to Oklahoma City.

Said Robinson: "If it's ethical and honest, I can reconcile myself to any team ... You play the game by the rules, like Knicks-Bulls. There are days you recognize the game requires harder fouls, and you play it the way it is, and you try to do it ethically and honesty. But I will take Sacramento. I will take New Orleans. I will take the Pacers. I will take whoever. Because our first priority is to our city and our fans."

And there they sit, like Brigadoon, waiting to rise again. They only hope it doesn't take them 100 years like it took the fictional residents of that imaginary town. They live in a real town, with real problems, and they know that a basketball team is probably not on the list of most residents' highest priorities. But it is equally important for them, it seems, simply to know they are not forgotten.

Come on. Everyone remembers Big Lo.

"In Seattle?" asks Rashard Lewis, the Magic's forward, who was traded from Seattle, just like Ray Allen, by Bennett, as he shaved salaries and costs in 2007 in preparation for a move he insisted he never wanted, but which, clearly, at the least, he didn't mind.

Lewis is on a team that plays in the league's newest, swankiest building, one that generates revenue hand over fist for its owners. He plays next to a superstar in Dwight Howard, and has been to The Finals, and wants to go again. It's only been three years since he was in Seattle, but it might as well be three centuries, he's so far removed from what was his NBA home the first nine years of his career.

Lewis contemplates another moment. And then, he smiles, a genuine smile.

"Big Lo! Most definitely," he says. "Everybody remembers Big Lo. You can't forget him. Actually, what's crazy is, I talk to him to this day. I still have his phone number. We kind of text every once in a while back and forth. But that's probably the number one Seattle fan, period. Not just basketball. Football, the Seahawks, baseball. You would always see him front and center at games, or you'd see him at TV. And he's there at the airport when we land, two, three in the morning. And he's there when we leave. Big Lo is the number one Seattle fan."

He is a little hurt, but he is not slain.

He shall lay down to bleed a while.

And then he shall rise to fight again.

Top O' the World, Ma!

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

1) Dallas [1] (3-0): When DeShawn Stevenson is pulling up and draining threes with impunity, you know a team is hot.

2) San Antonio [2] (3-0): Tim Duncan played in his 1,000th regular season game on Sunday. Per the San Antonio Express-News, his Spurs have won 707 of those games. Only Scottie Pippen, with 715 victories, won more of his first thousand than the Big Fundamental.

Dwyane Wade
High-percentage shots like these are becoming more and more common for Dwyane Wade.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Boston [3] (3-0): Celts haven't lost since Nov. 21. The Knicks haven't lost since Nov. 27. Who would have thought Knicks-Celtics at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday would, again, have meaning?

4) Miami [10] (4-0): D-Wade shooting a paltry 61 percent from the floor this month. Heat hasn't given up 100 points in eight games, allowing 84.5 during that span. Those are numbers trending north.

5) Chicago [11] (4-0): Bulls haven't had this good a record in five years. They haven't had a point guard as good as Derrick Rose, maybe, ever.

6) New York [12] (4-0): Amar'e playing like an All-Star? Check. Ray Felton playing like an All-Star? Check. Carmelo Anthony noticing Amar'e and Felton playing like All-Stars? Check.

7) L.A. Lakers [8] (3-1): Ho-hum: another meeting with the President in Washington this week, to give him another jersey after another championship season.

8) Utah [4] (2-2): Jazz didn't rise to the occasion in big tests against Heat and Mavericks, though they played well for most of both games.

9) Oklahoma City [9] (3-1): Thunder looks like it has righted itself after a little choppy play the previous two weeks.

10) Orlando [5] (1-3): Stan Van hasn't liked the Magic's offense for a while, and he's right. Whether it's Vince Carter continuing to float through games or inconsistency at the power forward spot or too much watching Dwight Howard in the low post, something's got to improve.

11) Atlanta [13] (3-1): With Jamal Crawford picking up the slack, the Hawks have won four of six since losing Joe Johnson to elbow surgery.

12) Denver [6] (1-3): 'Melo misses games with an inflamed right knee, then returns on Sunday -- coincidentally, in New York, of course -- and Video lights up the Knicks with 31 and 13. But the Nuggets still lose, and the Melo Watch is back on in full force.

13) New Orleans [7] (1-2): The Hornets' defense has been fine for the most part during this recent tailspin. But what's happened to the offense?

14) Portland [NR] (3-1): Brandon Roy says he's done with minute limits. The Blazers say they're not sure they're done with minute limits. Who will blink first?

15) Indiana [15] (2-2): Pacers still second in the league in defensive field goal percentage allowed.

Team of the Week

Chicago (4-0): Taking out Oklahoma City and the Lakers in one week is pretty strong, and giving up 82.3 per game in four wins is even stronger. Derrick Rose is now shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line, by far his best percentage as a pro. Carlos Boozer seemed to integrate himself into the lineup without much trouble. And the Bulls can extend what is now a five-game overall win streak this week with games against the Pacers, Raptors and Wolves.

Team of the Weak

New Jersey (0-3): May have done more than just not be especially competitive in losses to the Hawks and Mavericks, and coming up short down the stretch Sunday against the Lakers. With every moment that the Nets look less than enticing and the Knicks look intriguing, New Jersey loses whatever brownie points it has with Carmelo Anthony, who's making noise now about how it's Gotham or bust. Bust not being Newark in this case. And that's not a shot at Cory Booker's town; just a euphemism.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Leaderboard check in 'Melo sweepstakes

Is Carmelo Anthony going to the Nets, or Knicks?

The game of chicken continues, but as long as Denver controls the situation -- and, until there's a new collective bargaining agreement, and Anthony is a free agent with a team to sign with, Denver still is in the driver's seat -- the Nuggets are, I'm told, still planning to deal with New Jersey, not New York. The Nuggets no longer have any interest in veteran players like Utah's Andrei Kirilenko or Philly's Andre Iguodala. Kids and draft picks are all the Nuggets desire.

Derrick Favors
Derrick Favors gives New Jersey a decided edge in any potential Carmelo Anthony trade talks.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Denver looks at the West, and sees a Lakers team on top of its game and Oklahoma City emerging. But other than that, there's no one so far ahead that the Nuggets can't see themselves getting back in the game in a year or two after trading Anthony, provided they can get a young impact player (or two) in return. And since the Knicks don't have any of those they're willing to deal, it's still a package of future first-rounders and Nets rookie forward Derrick Favors that's the leader in the clubhouse.

Nothing is likely to happen this week or before the New Year, according to a source involved in the discussions. But the Nets still believe they have the best chance of getting Anthony, even as he's refused to commit to an extension past this season. (ESPN.com reported Sunday that Anthony will only sign the three-year, $65 million extension that Denver offered last summer if he's traded to the Knicks.)

Anthony met with Denver last week, according to a source, continuing to keep the lines of communciation open. And while neither side showed its hand, everyone knows where the others stand. Denver's solid start this season hasn't really changed Anthony's mind, but he hasn't officially closed the door in the Nuggets' face. (One Western Conference executive opines that the Nuggets will ultimately give coach George Karl a contract extension, in part as a "mea culpa" for letting Anthony get away)...

Grizz willing to deal Thabeet

Wednesday marks the official start of the trade season, with players who signed free agent deals last summers eligible as of Dec. 15 to be traded. Some GMs around the league believe that Milwaukee, which made substantial commitments this offseason to the likes of Drew Gooden (five years, $32 million) and John Salmons (five years, $39 million), may look to shed some salaries, but GM John Hammond insisted last week that the Bucks just needed to get healthy.

Right now, teams are making their due diligence calls, but no signficant offers. But one mame that is eminently available is Memphis's Hasheem Thabeet, who isn't one of the '10 free agent signees but is getting shopped hard by the Grizzlies, who have their center of the future in Marc Gasol. So the Grizz are looking to cut bait with the second pick in the '09 Draft, Video who's already had an NBA D-League stint, as soon as possible.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Remember, I last took geography in 1980. From Paulius Kasiulynas:

In "I'm Feeling" segment you talked about HOF nominees and I'm glad you mentioned Arvydas Sabonis. The problem is he's not Russian. He never was and probably won't ever become one. He will forever be remembered as the GOAT Lithuanian basketball player. Just pointing that out ;)

You and about a dozen of your countrymen and friends pointed that out, Paulius. I sit corrected. Thanks for making me feel even stupider than normal. I still have my "Lietuva" Grateful Dead t-shirt from the '92 Olympics and I know how big Sabas is to the Lithuanian community. My really bad.

Arvydas Sabonis
Lest we forget again, Arvydas Sabonis was a legendary Lithuanian.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Remind me never to take Rod with me down to the Flats. From Rod Powers:

Good article. My overall thought with this is -- Cleveland needs to grow up. I can understand the extreme disapponitment and even the boos and jeers, but to chant foul language and "Akron Hates You" and have a machine set up to shred LeBron items. Come on !!

I truly believe Cleveland's lack of pro sports championships is totally synonymous with their immature, child-like ways and attitudes.

They needed to vent, Rod. No problem with that from me. Given the hype, the buildup and the virulent things that had been said and written about James beforehand, I thought the Cleveland crowd was pretty restrained. And you have to cut them a little slack; it's been a long, long time since that city won a championship, and they thought LeBron was the guy who was going to take them there again. (BTW, no one chanted "LeBron is a chicken," so there was no "fowl" language, ha, ha, ha.)

Three words: Locker Room Pie. From Cory Heisterkamp:

I have a simple question I would like some insight into: what is wrong with the Blazers right now? Beginning the season they dominated the fourth quarters in comeback wins. Lately, they have been taking third quarter leads and turning them into 'L's. Any thoughts on why this is or what they need to do to get back on track?

Nate McMillan wondered the same thing, Cory, which is why the Blazers have been toying with the idea of not starting Brandon Roy in the third quarter so that he doesn't come back onto the court cold. Don't think that's gonna fly with B-Roy, though, so it's up to Andre Miller to make sure Portland is up and at 'em for minutes 24-36.

Next you're going to tell me that Kanye doesn't like George W. Bush. From Toby Childs:

I'm sure you might have already recieved an email like this from another reader. But ... being from Bellingham, Wash. (an hour north of Seattle), thought I should tell you that Quincy Pondexter may have pulled some wool over your eyes.

"Everything I'm not made me everything I am" happens to be a lyric from a Kanye West song.

The song's even called "Everything I Am."

I didn't say Quincy was original, Toby. Just said it was kind of a thoughtful quote. Which, if it came from Kanye, I guess it was. But thanks.

Send your questions, comments and criticisms about the Tip to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If you provide insight, correct a wrong or are sufficiently snarky, we just might publish your e-mail.

MVP Watch

(Weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) Dirk Nowitzki (25.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, .700 FG, .789 FT): Yeah, you read that right. Seventy percent from the floor this week, 28 of 40. Diggler is sick right now; even when faced with a solid defender, like he was Saturday against Utah's Paul Millsap, Nowitzki is so hot that defenses still have to bring help, as the Jazz did down the stretch, leaving Jason Terry wide open for killer threes.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki is making solid defenders like Paul Millsap look silly of late.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

2) Dwight Howard (22.3 ppg, 12 rpg, 2.3 bpg, .544 FG, .587 FT): His command of the game is becoming complete, but will it be enough?

3) LeBron James (25 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.8 apg, .534 FG, .684 FT): Seems to have deferred some to Dwyane Wade in recent games; the Heat looks like they've found a good balance between their superstars at the offensive end, and has really clamped down on D.

4) Kobe Bryant (27.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 5 apg, .488 FG, .771 FT): I can't remember the last time I saw anyone other than Kobe take the game-winner Video like Derek Fisher did against the Clippers.

5A) Amar'e Stoudemire (33.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.3 bpg, .577 FG, .917 FT): Set a franchise record Sunday with his Video eighth straight game with at least 30 points, breaking the record set by Willie Naulls in 1962. If you're being honest, you have to say that through the first six weeks of the season, STAT has been the best free-agent pickup.

5B) Rajon Rondo (10 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 11.7 apg, .636 FG, .000 FT): Couldn't drop Rondo out of the discussion; he didn't play badly this week, nor did anyone else in the top five. But had to acknowledge how terrific STAT has played.

By the Numbers

25 -- Points that the Raptors trailed by in the second half in Detroit on Saturday before Video staging the largest comeback in team history. Toronto outscored the Pistons 37-17 in the fourth quarter to win 120-116.

632 -- Consecutive games played streak by Portland's Andre Miller, the longest in the league, which was broken last week when Miller had to serve a one-game suspension for shoving the Clippers' Blake Griffin in a Dec. 5 game.

$4,300,000 -- Amount raised at auction last week in New York for the original 13 "Rules of Basketball," a two-page document written by the sport's creator, James Naismith, in 1891, while a physical education instructor in Springfield, Mass. The Naismith family put the rules up for auction at Sotheby's in order to raise money for the Naismith International Basketball Federation.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Dallas has won 12 in a row. Boston has won 10 in a row. The Knicks have won eight in a row. So has Miami. Chicago and San Antonio have each won five in a row. Atlanta (8-2 in its last 10) hasn't been bad, either. There are some hot, hot teams playing excellent basketball right now.

2) No surprise that Doug Collins has the Sixers playing much better basketball, including an Video 18-point takedown of the suddenly cold Hornets on Sunday.

Doug Collins
Coach Doug Collins is slowly getting the youthful Sixers on the right track.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

3) It is so great to listen to Bill Walton doing games again. Watched Kings-Heat on Saturday night and was pleasantly reminded that Walton is doing some Sacramento home games this season. Thoroughly enjoyed working with Bill during our ESPN days.

4) Man, was Video Dallas-Utah fun to watch Saturday. Thought the Jazz were going to post the most impressive come-from-behind win of the season, but Jet Terry thought different. The look on Ronnie Price's face at the end -- fatigue, depression -- told you all the difference between the teams that play to win and the teams that just show up.

5) I can't think of any NBA player who would come to my funeral. It was such a classy touch for Sacramento's Samuel Dalembert to fly across the country on Tuesday so that he could be in Philly Wednesday morning for the service for Phil Jasner, the great Daily News writer who died Dec. 3 of cancer. That's big time.

6) My mom came into this world on Dec. 12, 1925. She left it far too soon. But while she was here, she and my dad gave me and my brother and sister a lifetime's worth of love, confidence and assurance that we mattered. How do you repay someone for that? Thank you, mom. Happy birthday. I love you.

Not Feelin' ...

1) It is Bleak City in Detroit, Mike Ilitch. You can't buy the team soon enough.

2) What Stan Van Gundy said about his team weeks ago is still true: the Magic do not have anyone who can break down the opposing defense. It makes Orlando easy to guard, with the right personnel. Now, most teams don't have that kind of personnel. But the really good ones do.

Raymond Felton
Simply put: Raymond Felton is winning, and the Bobcats are not.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Every time I watched Ray Felton in Charlotte, he was making a big shot or doing something good. But I know the Bobcats found him wanting. Some times you heard it was Michael Jordan that didn't like him; other times it was Larry Brown. But it was always something, to paraphrase Roseanne Rosannadanna. All I know is Felton is balling in New York now, and Charlotte is floundering.

4) The Cavaliers said they were more than just a one-man team, and were going to prove it this season. But ever since LeBron came into The Q and danced on their heads a week and a half ago, they've played like zombies. Bad, uncoordinated zombies. Wake up, fellas. There's 50 games left in the season, and you've got to do better than Video 34 second-half points Sunday night in OKC.

5) The pictures from inside the Metrodome on Saturday night/Sunday morning were incredible. Thank God no one was inside at the time.

6) Godspeed, Elizabeth Edwards. You put up a hell of a fight.

Tweet of the Week

Did not play good or like myself tonight... Gotta get my confidence back, find my game and be the leader for my team that we need!
-- Wizards rookie John Wall (@jimmywa11), Friday, 8:30 p.m., lamenting a 4-of-14, 8-point, -11 plus-minus against the Knicks on Friday. Wall played after missing three games with a sore foot that's limiting his explosiveness and speed. Washington sees no reason to play Wall if he's going to be limited and not himself.

Mr. Fifteen

This week's Mr. Fifteen is Portland Trail Blazers rookie point guard Armon Johnson.

The 21-year-old -- who starred at the University of Nevada beside once again-teammate Luke Babbitt, taken by Portland in the first round of the Draft -- led the Wolf Pack in assists three straight years before entering the Draft early. Johnson actually began the season as part of Portland's rotation, getting solid minutes early on behind Andre Miller. He scored in double figures three times, showing some of the offensive punch that had scouts thinking before the Draft that Johnson could go in the mid- to late first round. (He wound up going in the second round to Portland, with the 34th pick overall.)

But he began losing playing time last month to second-year guard Patty Mills, whom the Blazers think is a better fit with the second unit because of his deeper shooting range. Since the Dec. 1, Johnson has played in just one of Portland's seven games, logging just six minutes.

Me: Have the practices become your games?

1213-armon-johnson-300.jpg
Armon Johnson (left) is learning at the hand of All-Star Brandon Roy and other veterans.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Armon Johnson: Yeah, we don't get to practice much, either, because the games are coming so quickly. I just come in extra early and leave extra late. I have to bump up my time that I come in and bump back the time that I leave. It just means getting more sleep, eating better, trying to prepare my body to do that, any way I can. If you don't have time to get better with the team, I have to do it somehow. And I've been doing it just that way.

Me: Is it hard to stick with those new habits when there's no reward at the end?

AJ: No, it's easier to come in and do those things. But it's tougher to swallow not playing. It's tough to swallow not playing. That's the only thing that's bothering me right now. But we're winning, so I'm happy with that. I feel like I'm helping the team by just coming in and being prepared.

Me: Is it even harder because you did get a little taste of playing time earlier in the season?

AJ: Oooh. Yeah. And I know how I feel like I can do out there. I see different situations where I think I can help in. And that's just the toughest thing. But I've got to respect what's going on out there.

Me: When you do get to practice, what are you learning going against Andre every day?

AJ: That's amazing, man. He's so smart. I know you can see it. Every time he's out there on the court, he's just making different plays. I like to watch him and read, watch his footwork when I'm guarding him in practice and different things, because he's not the fastest anymore. But he really has great footwork and makes good reads. So I try to take my time and pay attention to that more than anything.

Me: Do you work with any of the assistant coaches individually?

AJ: They're working with all these other players. So any of them that I see open, I'm going up to them and asking them to help me out, with anything. I feel like my game's been improving a lot since I haven't been playing. So I'm hoping to get to show that when it's time to go.

Me: Do you have to speak up?

AJ: I definitely go pull them aside and ask them for extra help. I think they like that, anyway. But I'm definitely doing things like that to get out on the court.

Me: What's up with the Nevada flavor in the league these days? You've got yourself, (fellow Blazers rookie) [Luke] Babbitt, JaVale McGee, Ramon Sessions in the last few years. (There was also Kirk Snyder, the former first-round pick of the Jazz in 2004, whose life has fallen apart in recent years. Snyder, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was convicted in May of aggravated burglary, felonious assault and assult stemming from an incident where he broke into a neighbor's home near Cincinnati, Ohio, and attacked a couple. He was sentenced to three years in prison.)

AJ: I think that's just an area, a school where you can go and blossom. We got a nice area around, it's a nice conference to go to, and it's been a good team over the years. They see they've produced pro players, therefore it just shows that you can come there for the talent. You've got some talent that comes in and out of there. And guys work hard. Coaches get them to work hard there, and the facilities are nice. So things are going good around there.

Me: Football team's not bad, either. (Nevada upset then- third-ranked Boise State in late November, knocking Boise out of the BCS title game picture; the Wolf Pack, now ranked 13th, will play Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Jan. 9 in San Francisco.)

AJ: Football team's looking good, too.

Me: What do you still need to work on?

AJ: I still feel like I need to work on making the right decisions and not turning the ball over. That's the main thing right now. Because I feel like I've been improving in so many different, other areas, that that's my main thing, and I need to get out on the court to do that. That's the biggest thing I'm focused on right now.

Me: Did Nate [McMillan] talk to you and tell you, 'this is why I'm going to start playing Patty more?'

AJ: He didn't say this is why, but he said this is going to happen. He let me know that was going to happen, but he never told me why. I just respected that, and I let him know that it wasn't going to be okay with me. I'm going to keep working harder and harder to get back out there. He understood that. And I also understand that's how things go. And I've got to respect the coach.

They Said It

"I think this purchase by us today remains the best, I think, opportunity for the franchise to remain in New Orleans for the long term."
-- NBA commissioner David Stern, on a conference call last Monday announcing that Video the league was purchasing the Hornets franchise after a proposed sale between majority owner George Shinn and minority owner Gary Chouest fell through. The NBA has no timetable for selling the team, though the team's lease with the city and state at New Orleans Arena expires in 2014.

"I can't wait for 2010 to be over."
-- Cavs forward Antawn Jamison, who began the year in Washington waiting for Gilbert Arenas to be suspended, got traded in February to the Cavs, got eliminated in May from the playoffs with the Cavs, saw LeBron James leave town in July, started the season in Cleveland coming off the bench and talked about additional "personal stuff" to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that has made this a rather dreary 12 months for one of the league's all-time good guys.

"When I went through my coaching candidate list, she wasn't on it. I ran into her at a Starbucks."
-- Mavs GM/President Donnie Nelson, Video telling Marc Fein and me on The Beat last week how he picked Nancy Liebermann to coach Dallas' NBA D-League team in Frisco, Texas.

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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