Posted Jan 3 2011 9:41AM
This time, it's not a cliche: 2010 truly was a year like no other in the NBA.
Never have so many teams, essentially, took two years off in preparation to pursue a single group of free agents. Never has that group of free agents been so powerful, holding big markets hostage in New York and Chicago as the players worked their way to a decision. And that decision was ... South Beach, for LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh.
But there was much more to '10 than James' W2 forms. There was the resurgence of the league's best rivalry, and the establishment of a new contender in Oklahoma City, and, finally, a good, solid franchise in Atlanta. A Russian tycoon arrived on the scene, ready to give Mark Cuban a run for his money as the world's most interesting owner. A new group of executives -- Randy Miller in Utah, Ted Leonsis in Washington, Joe Lacob and Peter Guber in Golden State and Michael Jeffrey Jordan in Charlotte -- took control of their teams.
There was, as always, sadness: we lost Maurice Lucas and Quintin Dailey; Manute Bol and Lorenzen Wright; Mel Turpin and Larry Siegfried; Dick McGuire and John Wooden; Matt Dobek and Phil Jasner.
Erik Spoelstra found his voice, with the only people that matter. Allen Iverson had to find his passport to continue playing ball for a living.
Tom Thibodeau finally got his chance to be a head coach. So did Monty Williams. Meanwhile, longtime assistants like Dwane Casey and Darrell Walker, who've had chances before but deserve another, and Mike Budenholzer, who's never gotten the call, waited patiently. Former big man Chris Dudley ran for office and lost. So did Shawn Bradley.
In May of 2010, there was a billboard eight stories high in Cleveland that bore witness to the greatness of James, the near-native son. In December of 2010, there was a billboard eight stories high that bore witness to the greatness of a paint company. The paint company didn't take its talents anywhere.
What a year. Let's count down the top 10 moments.
No. 10 -- Same old story in Portland
The Blazers are, again, ripped apart by injuries, with Greg Oden lost for the bulk of two more seasons after fracturing his kneecap in December of '09, missing the rest of that season, then missing all of the '10-'11 season after having to undergo microfracture surgery in early December.
The team's other franchise player, guard Brandon Roy, undergoes arthroscopic surgery just before the start of the playoffs, makes a miraculous recovery and plays toward the end of the first-round series with Phoenix, but cannot get through the first month of the following season because of debilitating pain in both knees. Roy revelas he no longer has cartilage in either knee. Center Joel Przybilla blows out his knee two weeks after Oden fractures his kneecap, then suffers a setback by slipping in his shower. All the lost man-games leave general manager Kevin Pritchard vulnerable to internal criticism of his decision-making -- i.e., he doesn't kowtow enough to owner Paul Allen's Seattle-based braintrust -- and Allen winds up firing Pritchard on Draft night.
No. 9 -- The Apple, relevant again
The Knicks' free agent acquisitions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton give New York City's franchise a desperately-needed shot in the arm after striking out on LeBron.
The sale of the Nets -- NYC's future team -- to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov ensures the Nets, after two seasons in Prudential Arena in Newark (a significant upgrade on the late, unlamented Izod Center), will move into Brooklyn in 2013 with significant buzz. Of course, having Carmelo would help, too.
No. 8 -- Durantula comes of age
OKC's Kevin Durant increases the pain in Portland by becoming a full-fledged superstar in his third NBA season. He becomes the youngest player in history to lead the league in scoring (30.1), is named first-team All-NBA and finishes second to LeBron James in MVP voting.
He then endears himself to just about every writer covering the L by announcing, quietly, on his Twitter account that he's re-upping with the Thunder with a long-term extension, then caps his Magnificent Summer by leading the United States team to an unexpectedly easy victory in the World Championships in Turkey, including a dismantling of the host Turks in the gold medal game.
No. 7 -- Making the Point
A half-dozen elite young point guards -- Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Brandon Jennings and Rajon Rondo -- take point guard play to a higher level, with guards like Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and Darren Collison waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Andre Miller, Jameer Nelson, Jason Kidd and Devin Harris said, 'What are we, chopped liver?,' making the position a must-have for any team hoping to compete in the next decade. Which is one reason that Washington took John Wall first overall in last June's Draft.
No. 6 -- Suspended animation
The Commish suspends Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas for the final 50 games of the 2009-10 season after Arenas reaches a plea bargain with Washington, D.C. authorities. Arenas pleads guilty to one felony count of carrying a pistol without a license, stemming from the December, 2009 incident in which Arenas brought four unloaded guns into the team's practice facility at Verizon Center in D.C. The suspension sets in motion the dismantling of the Wizards; Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson are traded to Dallas in a deal that brings Josh Howard to Washington, and Antawn Jamison is sent to Cleveland for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who is waived by Washington and re-signs with the Cavs a month later.
No. 5 -- Orlando blows it up
The Magic reach the Eastern Conference finals, but get stomped by the resurgent Celtics. Orlando keeps most of its core group together through the summer, except for Matt Barnes, who signs with the Lakers. The Magic start this season 16-5, and on the outside, everything looks fine. But team president Otis Smith knows something is way wrong, and with two huge, simultaneous deals, he dramatically remakes his team. He sends Rashard Lewis to Washington for Arenas and trades Vince Carter, Mickeal Pietrus and Marcin Gortat to Phoenix for Hedo Turkoglu, Earl Clark and Jason Richardson. How this year's team fares in the playoffs will go a long way toward determining if Dwight Howard stays in town after the 2012 season.
No. 4 -- 'Melo-drama in the Mile High
Carmelo Anthony's army of leakers and whisperers put out the word that the Nuggets' franchise player and three-time All Star wants out of Denver, looking for a combo of superstars like Miami put together to play alongside for the next few years. Of course, when asked, 'Melo says he's just playing and isn't thinking about the future, which is absurd on its face, as he's left a $65 million extension on the table for months (and just, again, told the Nuggets last week that he had no intention of re-signing in Denver, according to a source.)
No. 3 -- A Finals to Remember
The proud Celtics recover from a mediocre regular season, knock out James and the Cavaliers in a second-round upset, then dominate Howard and the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.
The defending champion Lakers withstand a first-round challenge from Oklahoma City, then cruise past Utah and Phoenix to reach The Finals. The resulting Finals is one of the best in history, a seven-game epic that produces the highest-rated championship series in 14 years. Boston takes a 3-2 series lead behind the uplifting play of Glen (Shrek) Davis and Nate (Donkey) Robinson in Game 4, but loses starting center Kendrick Perkins early in Game 6 in L.A. The Lakers proceed to bludgeon the Cs on the glass in the final two games, but the biggest shock of all comes in Game 7. With four likely Hall of Famers on the court -- Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (with a possible fifth in Ray Allen) -- the best player on the floor in the decisive game is Ronald William Artest, Jr., of Queensbridge, N.Y., who goes for 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals.
No. 2 -- Labor pains
Looming like the Sword of Damocles over the league's renewal in interest among fans last season was the prospect of a protracted lockout in 2011. Owners have asked for $800 million in givebacks from player salaries. Players have countered with willingness to give some on their guaranteed piece of the pie, but aren't going to talk about anything close to $800 million. Hard-line owners want to take the players' cut below 50 percent (it's currently 57 percent). Of course a lot of this is posturing and PR, but it's hard to find anyone who believes there won't be a work stoppage next season. Will it be 10 games? Twenty? Forty? Will anyone stand up and say, 'Let's not blow up all the progress we've made since the last lockout, which nearly killed the league'? This one might kill it.
No. 1 -- The Decision
We have talked and written ad nauseum about the reasoning, and whether it was the right thing to do. But no one can argue that on July 8, at 9 p.m., anybody who had the slightest interest in pro basketball -- and thousands more who didn't -- tuned into the Four-Letter Network to see what LeBron had to say. In a sport where owners almost always have the final say in who goes where, here was a player who had all of the juice, who made everyone wait on his every word. LeBron James does not mind being LeBron James, not in the least. And there he was, making everyone take notice.
(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) San Antonio  (3-0): Fair week: routed Lakers by 15, dominated Mavericks in Dallas, blew Thunder out by 27 Saturday. No one can believe what they're seeing, but it's true: the Spurs want to outscore you just as much as they want to stop you.
2) Miami  (3-0): One loss in five weeks, with the prospect of running the table furher as the schedule softens. Probably will take a tiny step back as Mike Miller increases his minutes.
3) Chicago  (3-0): Now 6-2 since Joakim Noah's injury, Bulls' one-two of Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer more than enough to offset most opponents.
4) Orlando  (3-0): Hitting their stride post-trade, getting contributions from all over the roster. And Van Gundy has had a few precious days since last Wednesday to practice -- and begin to figure out who's who.
5) Boston  (2-2): Up higher than they probably should be, but injuries have destroyed their continunity. Got a break with Garnett only expected to miss two weeks, and Rondo back on Sunday.
6) Utah  (2-2): Rookie Gordon Hayward making his mark in rotation as Jazz go back into first in Northwest.
7) Dallas  (2-2): Not playing badly, but running out of healthy bodies with Butler (knee) now out for extended period. Should get Shawn Marion (thigh) back this week; maybe Nowitzki (knee).
8) Atlanta  (3-1): There is no information that I know of that the Hawks either have an interest or could make a real run at Carmelo Anthony. But even if it meant putting Al Horford in the deal, would Atlanta do it?
9) New York  (1-2): Knicks holding their breath that Danilo Gallinari did nothing more than sprain his knee in victory over Indiana on Sunday.
10) L.A. Lakers  (2-2): Lakers 1-3 in their last four games at Staples, each of the losses by at least 16 points.
11) Oklahoma City  (2-2): OKC is a terrific team, but has it made up any real ground with the West's elite teams?
12) New Orleans  (2-2): Big win on the road against Boston, little win on the road against Washington. They all count the same in the end.
13) Denver  (3-0): 'Melo back after five games off for bereavement, and Nuggets finally have their projected starting lineup for this season on the court.
14) Portland  (3-1): Wesley Matthews making $34 million to come off the bench makes no sense. Wesley Matthews making $34 million as Brandon Roy's potential replacement at shooting guard makes a lot of sense. Maybe the Blazers knew more about Roy's knees last summer than they let on.
15) Houston  (2-2): Why chemistry and rosters matter: Rockets may well be able to withstand loss of Yao, because they've gotten used to playing without him. But Houston may not be able to overcome the loss of Chuck Hayes (ankle), their best interior defender.
Orlando (3-0): Won by an average of 13.3 points per game this week, and during the Magic's five-game win streak, Orlando has won by an average of 14 per game. Also lost in the turmoil of the team's two big trades: Brandon Bass is shooting 53 percent (43-of-81) since the deals were made.
Washington (1-2): Even the Wolves and Kings have won a road game this season. But the Wiz stand at 0-16 away from home after falling Friday in Indiana. That's pathetic.
Can a team play zone as a basic defense in the NBA and win a championship?
Zones have been a change-up for lots of teams over the years in the pros. I'm sure teams used it before 1982, but that was the first time I recall a winning team using a variation of a matchup zone, when the Lakers, as Pat Riley said (zone defense being illegal at the time), played "man defense with zone principles."
But as rules changes gradually allowed more and more use of zone in the NBA, teams began experimenting with it.
Former NBA coach Don Casey has spent his adult life advocating more and better use of zones by NBA teams, and continues to blog extensively on the subject. Don Nelson used it while in Dallas and Washington's Flip Saunders was a big proponent of it in Minnesota and Detroit. The Suns played zone to great effect against the Lakers during last year's Western finals. But it's never been a team's primary defense, because coaches often fear two things: playing zone will make them more vulnerable to giving up offensive rebounds, and opponents, given enough time to work on it, would eventually exploit the holes in a zone and destroy it.
But this season, the Mavs have used zones early and often. It's not their primary defense, but they don't have any problem throwing it out there for extensive use. Saturday against Milwaukee, Bucks coach Scott Skiles estimated Dallas used zone on half of his team's offensive posessions. (That number may have been inflated because of Dallas' extensive injuries.)
Dallas has gone to more zone under Rick Carlisle the last couple of seasons as it's gotten longer and more athletic in the frontcourt. The Mavericks got 7-footer Brendan Haywood from Washington at the trade deadline last season, and signed him to a $55 million extension this summer. But Dallas doubled down on its big man investment, getting Tyson Chandler from Charlotte for Erick Dampier in an August trade.
Chandler took the starting job from Haywood during the preseason, and hasn't given Haywood any light since. The Mavs are sensitive about Haywood, who's sensitive about the subject himself. They know they will need him in the postseason if they are to have a chance against the Lakers and Spurs. But for now, they're thriving with Chandler in the middle.
"Tyson is the most active big man I've ever played with in my 13 years in Dallas," Dirk Nowitzki said. "He's all over the court. He's covering up holes in the zone."
Haywood was good at the defensive chatter that guards need to hear if they are to anticipate screens and picks. But Chandler may be better. And there's no question he can use his length in different ways than Haywood, able to get from one side of the paint to the other with ease. On offense, Chandler says playing with Nowitzki gives him the same kind of freedom he had in New Orleans. It wasn't just Chris Paul that gave Chandler room for all those oops; David West's ability to space the floor created room. And like Paul, Jason Kidd knows what to do for Chandler when he has room.
"I've actually wanted to play with Dallas for a long time," Chandler said Saturday. "When I was in Chicago, I wanted to come here, but I was a restricted free agent. I wanted to come here then, but it just wouldn't seem like it made sense."
Now, Chandler in Dallas makes sense. Entering play Sunday, Chandler had the 13th-best plus-minus ratio (+197) in the entire league, behind only Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan among centers (or players who play center). The two-player combinations of Chandler and Nowitzki and Chandler and Kidd were seventh- and eighth-best in the league, at +225 and +214, respectively. (Kidd and Nowtizki are even better on the floor together, at +243.)
And Dallas is tied with the Lakers for fifth-lowest field goal percentage allowed, .437 (Adjusted for pace, Dallas in eighth in John Hollinger's defensive efficiency rankings, allowing 100.1 points per 100 possessions.)
"Tyson's the man," Nowtizki said. "Tyson's a very positive guy, always communicating. In the locker room, he's always vocal. He's been a great, great addition, on and off the floor. Just the energy he brings, the positiveness. Every day, he's fired up. In shootaround, he's screaming, 'What are we doing?' He's been a great influence."
The irony about Chandler being the lynchpin of a zone defense is that, other than a brief stint playing it early in his career in Chicago, he's almost never played it in the pros. His introduction to the zone came last year, while a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the World Championships in Turkey. During discussions with assistant coach Jim Boeheim -- whose matchup zones at Syracuse have been his staple defense for three decades -- Chandler was exposed to a true believer, who gave him an idea of how to play it.
"He just really gave me a feel of how to direct a zone from the back," Chandler said. "The guy in the back has to be the most vocal, 'cause you see everything. You have to constantly put guys in the right position, and the zone has to almost anticipate movement and rotate, so you don't caught out of place. Because in man, you just follow your man. The zone has to be able to shift as it's happening. I felt like with the right personnel, it can be great in the league."
The Mavericks, when healthy, can put great closeout length in the back of their zone, with 7-foot Nowitzki in one corner and the 6-foot-6 Butler (or the 6-foot-8 Shawn Marion) in the other. The zone, Chandler says, was especially effective against teams like Orlando that often use one-on-one or isolation sets.
"Especially when we go against teams with great drivers, teams that are perimeter-oriented, like Atlanta," Chandler said. "Teams like (Milwaukee), when we have all our personnel. Chicago. Teams with really good guard play. You make a guy like Derrick Rose see two or three defenders, not just one. Guys start coming in, getting loose, and then you drop back into a zone, and now they're seeing two or three guys in front of them. It's frustrating. I think it's definitely frustrating for a driver."
"That's what the zone is supposed to do when it works," Kidd said. "Sometimes, maybe you get torched when a team gets hot from behind the arc. But it changes the star. You try to take away the star player's comfort level."
Can a team play zone as a basic defense in the NBA and win a championship?Probably not.
The zone is probably not something you could play 70 or 80 times a game. A good team with strong shooters will figure out a way to get them the ball and break the zone up. The Mavericks, though, will keep throwing it at people.
"Guys adjust in our league," Chandler said. "Guys will adjust to a zone. But for that three or four minutes, five possessions you buy yourself, that's huge in a ballgame."
What is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular. From John Looney:
I usually enjoy your columns, but enough with Arenas. Enough. Stick with San Antonio's resurgence or write about Miami's missing pieces, the potential of the Bulls, [Serge] Ibaka being a defensive force that drains 17 footers, Donald Sterling's bigotry, Garnett's knee, etc.
We get it, Gilbert is good for the media; you have an athlete that will talk (occasionally?) truthfully without cliches, and nothing is better for him than a light and a camera so that he can feel the attention his parents never gave him after being abandoned.
Nothing has changed about him. He plays selfishly, always has. Even him lying about being injured to get Nick Young more playing time was selfish.
First, John, Arenas wasn't "abandoned." He grew up with his father, with whom he is still very, very close. Second, I'm in the business of covering the league, not making moral judgments about its players (well, occasionally I'm in the business of making moral judgments, but not all the time). Arenas is a person about whom many, many people are interested, and want to hear from. Third, you're entitled to your opinion about his play, and many people around the league share it. But even if true, that doesn't mean he's not compelling.
"I Love the 80s" isn't just a cheesy VH-1 show. From David Barling:
No way is the league better now than then (I will concede that by the playoffs, this may be a watershed year that makes a lockout seem stupid). Speaking for the over-40 generation, forget just the competitive greatness of the Lakers, Celtics, Dr J & Malone Sixers and the Twin Tower Rockets, but other teams were a lot of fun and the scores were in the 120s.
Did you not rush home to watch that great Knicks vs. Pistons series with Bernard King and Zeke in the mid 1980s? I loved it when the Lakers (I'm in L.A.) played the Nuggets or the Spurs as the score was always 126-120. Those mid-80s Spurs teams were great with Artis [Gilmore], Iceman and the forgotten Mike Mitchell. The Bucks had great teams with [Bob] Lanier, [Marques] Johnson, [Sidney] Moncrief, etc. The early playoff series were sometimes huge battles with great intensity. The late 80s 'Nique teams that ran with Spud Webb in the game were tremendously fun to watch.
If D'Antoni did not succeed in his experiment with Nash and Seven Seconds or Less, then the league does not have its current renaissance. Your point about Pop being an example, in the 80s he had to run or get fired. He would not have had two years to adjust from a 88-82 game to a 116 to 108 game, IMHO.
Were the '80s better? The elite teams were better because they were deeper. But I can think of any number of quality teams in recent years that had just as hard a time breaking through to win championships (the Webber Kings, the Price-Daugherty Cavaliers, Nellie's Mavs, the Williams-Boozer Jazz teams, those very Steve Nash-led Suns you mentioned) as the Bucks and Spurs of the '80s. Jason Kidd is just as dominant at point guard as Bernard was at small forward, and he's been at it longer than BK. There's no right answer, of course; it's a bar question.
The day the Human Highlight Film went Hollywood. From David Salmeri:
Whilst reading your latest Morning Tip, I needed to point out one glaring omission from the list of notable major in-season trades. The February 24th, 1994 trade by Atlanta which sent Dominique Wilkins to the L.A. Clippers for Danny Manning.
This was a trade that had a massive effect on the entire league, potentially costing Atlanta the title. At the time of the trade 'Nique was still at his peak, having come off the 29.9 ppg comeback season and was averaging a very credible 24.4 ppg through 49 games, and the Hawks were 34-15.
History shows the Rockets going on to claim the 1994 championship against the Knicks, whilst the Hawks lost in the conference semis to the Pacers.
I believe that this was one of the most major in-season trades in the NBA, as it was a team trading their best player away when it was in a position to challenge for the title. None of the other trades involved a contending team dealing their marquee player.
Afraid I don't share your opinion that those '93-'94 Hawks were title-bound, David. Scottie Pippen had a pretty damn good Bulls team under his command that season, and the Knicks, as we all know, took Houston to a seventh game in the Finals. But you're right, I probably should have included it because of the reason you mentioned. Just had to cut off the list at some point.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and egg nog to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently informative, poignant or smart-alecky, we'll publish it!
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (21 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 9 apg, .489 FG, .667 FT): LBJ says he has no chance at MVP because he's teamed with the rest of the SuperFriends. This is known in psychology as "reverse psychology." Or something like that.
2) Dwight Howard (18.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg, .459 FG, .656 FT): Says he's not worrying about his future two years from now, when he can opt out of his deal. Everyone else in Orlando is, Superman.
3) Kobe Bryant (25.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, .448 FG, .768 FT): Let's put it this way: you don't want to be around the Kobester right around now. You really don't.
4) Derrick Rose (21.7 ppg, 4.3 apg, 10.7 apg, .389 FG, .889 FT): D-Rose makes his MVP debut in these parts, and it's probably overdue, given how consistently excellent he's been for Chicago all season. He's carried the Bulls through the injuries to Boozer and Noah, and shows no signs of stopping.
5) Amar'e Stoudemire (27.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.7 bpg, .449 FG, .706 FT): STAT has a great test this week with Tim Duncan and the Spurs coming to MSG on Tuesday. Stoudemire has had some great games in the past against San Antonio.
Dropped out: Dirk Nowitzki (injury).
12 -- Technical fouls for Orlando's Dwight Howard, four short of a mandatory one-game suspension from the league.
39.3 -- Average median age of NBA television viewers, according to Nielsen numbers obtained by CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell. If accurate, that would make the median NBA viewer younger than the typical NHL fan (43.4 years old), or NFL fan (46 years old), MLB watcher (51.4 years old) or NASCAR enthusiast (51.6).
1,153,694 -- All-Star votes for Kobe Bryant, the leading vote-getter as of the second round of balloting for February's tilt in Los Angeles.
1) Happy New Year, y'all.
2) The first time I saw Jason Kidd play point guard in person, he had just turned19 and was playing in the Capital Classic, a high school all-star game just outside of D.C. I watched him in person again Saturday, and other than his adding a three to his game and getting rid of that ridiculous high-top fade he rocked in '92, I realized absolutely nothing has changed about how he controls a game without having to take a single shot.
3) Really bad month for the Kings. Really good ending to a really bad month for the Kings.
4) I was watching Stan Kroenke, the Nuggets' former owner who now is majority owner of the Rams, on Sunday night as his team battled for the NFC West title in Seattle. I couldn't help wondering what he would do if his cell rang, and it was his son, Josh, who now is the majority owner of the Nuggets. And Josh said, 'We've got a trade done with the Heat for Carmelo, and we're getting LeBron, but he wants to meet with you in L.A. tonight. Can you drop what you're doing and hop on the jet?'"
5) Cousin LaMarcus is ballin'. And the Blazers, as ever, refuse to fold up and go home, even after their latest big blow: Brandon Roy out indefinitely.
6) You know, the Winter Classic looks even cooler at night. The NHL should consider making that a permanent feature of the outdoor game.
1) OK, what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on with the Lakers? Another bad home loss on Sunday, this one to the Grizzlies. Beginning to wonder if the Lakers aren't like the then-defending champion Rockets in 1995, when they needed a jump start and got one in the form of a trade for Clyde Drexler.
2) Hard not to think Caron Butler may think twice before he goes to Milwaukee again for a homecoming game. When Butler, from nearby Racine, played for the Wizards, he broke his hand in Milwaukee in 2007 going up to block a shot and missed six weeks. Saturday, after springing for 150 tickets for friends and family to come see him again play in Milwaukee, Butler suffered a knee injury in the first quarter that could be a devastating blow for the Mavericks.
3) Gotta admit, I wasn't anticipating a J.J. Barea-Earl Boykins matchup when I circled Bucks-Mavs on the calendar a few weeks ago.
4) Prayers to Nick Van Exel and his family right now, and to the family of the young man who lost his life in what was either a horrible accident or, as the police currently are calling it, capital murder at the hands of Van Exel's son, Nickey.
5) There are four more proposals for a new arena in Sacramento. Where have we heard this before? Hopefully Kevin Johnson, the ex-Sun who is now mayor, can shepherd one of the bigs through. But it's hard to imagine the economic climate in California is much better than it was when similar proposals died in the state capitol.
6) A scout I trust tells me that the Pacers have slowed down noticeably since that big win over the Lakers in Los Angeles right after Thanksgiving.
7) It's been a great run, Mr. Favre. Now please, please exit the stage.
Real Talk we are playing like (bleep), BUT its a marathon not a sprint. You can hop off the bandwagon if u want but ull be sorry...
-- Lakers forward Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22), Tuesday, 11:33 p.m., after L.A. got hammered by the Spurs in San Antonio. The Lakers lost three straight games by double figures before beating New Orleans on Wednesday, leading to the usual hand-wringing and sky-is-falling talk from Angelenos whenever the defending champs stub their toe.
Normally, Mr. Fifteen is reserved for guys who are on NBA rosters but aren't playing. But the spirit of M15 is to find guys with NBA-caliber talent who are either just beginning their careers, are stuck deep on a depth chart or who are looking for one last chance to impress someone. With the NBA Development League season in full bloom, it makes sense to talk to guys who are getting more reps on their D-League teams as well. Hence we talk this week with Hassan Whiteside, the rookie center of the Sacramento Kings, who is playing with the D-League's Reno Bighorns.
Whiteside, 21, was the Kings' second-round pick in last June's Draft, a project who spent one year at Marshall University and showed a proclivity to block shots. He has a lot to learn about the rest of the pro game, however, and after one two-minute stint in the Kings' season opener, he spent the next month in mothballs. He was sent to Reno at the end of November to play for the Bighorns, coached by ex-Kings and Warriors coach Eric Musselman. Whiteside didn't get a lot of minutes in Reno either in December (although he's had his moments); Nick Fazekas, the former second-round pick of the Mavericks who played in Europe last year -- and was the first pick overall in the D-League Draft in November -- started ahead of him. But Fazekas suffered a sprained ankle late last week that is expected to keep him out a few weeks, which should give Whiteside a chance for extended minutes for the foreseeable future.
Me: What has coach Musselman told you he wants to see from you while you're down there?
Hassan Whiteside: He just wants me to rebound and block shots, just finish ... I just want to learn to seal people in the post, and just work inside for position. Just working on rebounding, really.
Me: Were you expecting to play more there?
HW: I was expecting to play more. I really just wanted to come down here and work ... they don't got a position coach down here. I'm just working on my own stuff ... just floating in the post, staying low, post position.
Me: You worked with (former NBA head coach) Bob Hill before the Draft. What did he tell you playing center in the NBA would be like?
HW: Just really, it's going to be tough. It's a lot of people bigger than me, stronger than me, that spent more years in college. He said it was going to be tough.
Me: Was that true?
HW: Yeah, kind of. But I got hurt (Whiteside suffered a strained left patella tendon early in training camp), so I really didn't play against any of them ... it was cool (in Sacramento). I was just working hard, trying to get better, really trying to develop like the younger players.
Me: Did you practice against DeMarcus (Cousins)?
HW: Yeah, me and him played against each other, one-on-one in the post, and Truck (Robinson, the Kings' assistant), me and him worked out like 30 minutes before practice every day.
Me: What did you learn practicing with DeMarcus?
HW: Don't try to body him up. Don't try to use strength against him. He's probably one of my closest friends on the team.
Me: I'm sure you know people have an impression of him. What would you tell people that don't see him every day or know him?
HW: He's a good person. He just gets frustrated sometimes, like everybody else.
Me: How do you deal with the disappointment of having to wait and not be in Sacramento right now?
HW: Just try to really use this time as like another year, just take it as if I had stayed in college. 'Cause I got more time in the day to get bigger and stronger as a player ... I'm not lifting as much as I did in Sacramento. They've always got a weight room coach. In Sacramento, I did doubles, lifted double than everybody else. Here, it's really hard to find a weight room.
Me: What is the travel like when you're used to flying on private charters?
HW: It's tough. It just really makes you want to get back to the NBA. It's tough. The planes get delayed, you're sitting in the airport for hours. It's tough.
Me: Is getting back to the league what everybody talks about?
Me: Now that Nick is out, you've got to look at that as a great opportunity. But how do you keep from trying to do too much?
HW: Just try to do my role. 'Cause really, he don't want me shooting jump shots or going in. Just trying to do whatever it takes to stay in a game. I just rebound and just dunk.
Me: Do the refs let you play your game, or do you have to figure out how to stay on the floor?
HW: Some of the officials, they was there when I was in college, so they know I block shots and stuff.
Me: How long did the Kings say you'd be in Reno?
HW: They originally told me like two to three weeks, but I really don't know at this point. They're saying, I know I'm not going to be here for the whole year, though. I'm going to have a better understanding of the game, and a better understanding of how great the NBA is.
Me: Who keeps you motivated and positive?
HW: Probably my family. It's just my brother and my mom. Some of my teammates, they tell me I can learn from their stories, just learn from them. Marcus Landry, Aaron Miles, both of them. (My brother) says just keep my head up, and my time will come.
"It's just a little bit frustrating when you come in the locker room and people are talking about the offense. That's not the way you're going to win NBA games. I don't know if it's me, or maybe I'm just different, but I came from a team where everybody's competing and trying to do the stuff that coach is saying. We're just totally changing our rotations, changing our stuff that we set before the game."
--New Suns center Marcin Gortat, after Phoenix lost at home to the Sixers on Wednesday. And Stan Van thought you weren't listening, Hammer!
"If I was playing, I probably wouldn't pass him the ball the next time."
--Phil Jackson, lamenting his players' insistence on feeding and/or watching Kobe Bryant despite his missing 13 straight shots during the Spurs' rout of the Lakers on Tuesday.
"Who's the so-called best center in this league right now? Because I think Andy's up there."
--Cavs coach Byron Scott, praising his center Anderson Varejao to the heavens, and gosh, Varejao is playing great, and if I weren't such a cynic -- and thus think that BScott is doing his level best to blow up Varejao's trade value to the high heavens -- I would take his statement at face value. But I am. Sue me.
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