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David Aldridge

Ben Uzoh
Undrafted rookie guard Ben Uzoh recently had his contract fully guaranteed by the Nets.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Some blue-collar rookies finally get their moment in the sun


Posted Jan 10 2011 9:02AM

Today is a big day in the NBA.

No, not because Carmelo is about to be traded. In fact, this is about as far from Carmelo's world as you can get and still be talking about the same game.

In a league that is dominated by one-name superstars with nine-figure contracts, where endorsement dollars are thrown around like rose petals, today is for the (relative) blue-collar guys. Today, all NBA contracts are guaranteed for the rest of the season.

Unlike contracts in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball, most NBA player contracts are fully guaranteed upon signing. But not all of them. Second-round picks and non-drafted free agents often are signed to non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed deals. In partially guaranteed deals, the team gives the player a portion of his yearly salary up front, but the player has to stay on the team all season to get the rest. And teams can still avoid paying the remainder of those salaries if those players are released by today. Teams had until last week to put players with existing deals on waivers in order for them to clear by today.

The SuperFriends never have to worry about days like today. But guys like Ben Uzoh do. Today, Uzoh, a rookie guard with the Nets -- at least as of this morning -- can relax.

"It was a relief," said Uzoh, who was undrafted out of Tulsa last summer. "It's pretty much a day-to-day evaluation. You try to keep your head above water. You try to deal with the up and down rookie growing pains and confidence and things like that. It's definitely a tough sitaution."

There are only a handful of undrafted rookies in the league. Manny Harris is starting at shooting guard for the Cavaliers. Guard Ish Smith has made the roster in Houston and has gotten some playing time of late with the ankle injury to Aaron Brooks. Small forward Gary Forbes has carved out a regular role in the Nuggets' rotation. Golden State guard Jeremy Lin had a handful of appearances for the Warriors before being sent to (and, last week, recalled from) the NBA D-League.

No doubt Wesley Matthews is their patron saint.

Matthews, famously undrafted last season, signed a free agent deal with Utah, then became one of Jerry Sloan's favorites as a rookie. In one year, Matthews went from hanging on, then flourishing, to a $34 million free agent deal with Portland, which signed him to an offer sheet last summer that the Jazz declined to match.

Uzoh hasn't had that kind of breakthrough. He's gotten some playing time in Jersey behind Devin Harris and Jordan Farmar, appearing in 16 games and averaging 10 minutes per game. Harris and Farmar have been gracious, Uzoh says, with their time and tips. ("They had their growing pains, too," Uzoh said. "They keep telling me I'm doing good.") While being on a losing team puts everyone on edge -- not to mention the angst caused by Anthony's imminent arrival -- it also gave Uzoh a chance to play a lot more than he probably would have on a winning team.

"I embraced the whole situation," Uzoh said. "It starts in practice, trying to be the best pro you can be, on and off the court. I got to play a couple of mintues here and there. I just tried to be sound defensively ... it's always tough, especially because you're thinking of so many things. I don't want to play scared. I don't want to make too many mistakes, things like that. As well as you don't want to try to do it all by yourself, hit a home run."

Of course, that may change if Uzoh, as appears to be the case, is part of the three-team mega-deal that will send Anthony and Chauncey Billups to New Jersey, with Uzoh joining almost half of the Nets in Denver. And he'd find himself in the same situation all over again, playing behind Harris and Ty Lawson.

"I'm not a fool," Uzoh said, and this was Sunday afternoon, before the deal was closing in. "I'm pretty open to all of those things. I can't control that, that's the thing. But I'm definitely aware of all the scenarios."

Uzoh's tried to save as much of his $475,000 salary as he could, and he got much-needed support from his parents when he went back to San Antonio over Christmas.

"I got to go home and spend time with my family, and of course we talked about the date that was coming up," he said. "It actually was a relieving time for me. I went home and drew strength. I drew strength and comfort. I came back with the goal in mind of seizing every opportunity that came up. The things they always told me was they were just protud of me. That they don't know how hard it is because they're not in my shoes, but at the same time they know it's very difficult. They told me they were proud of me. That's all you need to hear as a son."

Uzoh couldn't relax until he officially heard from the Nets. That came from coach Avery Johnson last Wednesday morning, before the team's shootaround for its game that night against Chicago.

"I had just got to the facility, and everyone was saying, 'Coach wants to see you,'" Uzoh recalled. "I was like 'Man, what did I do?' I'm a rookie. It's the natural instinct to think about something like that. I went in and he said, 'Have a seat son. I just want to congratulate you. We're going to guarantee you the rest of the year.' I just started smiling from ear to ear. I think I said, 'Thank you, Avery.' I didn't think of him as a coach. I thought of him as a friend. I wanted to give him a hug."

After calling his family, Uzoh started hearing from his teammates.

"I really haven't bought a whole lot of things," he said. "The guys know it. They're teasing me now, 'OK, rookie's got a guaranteed contract, he's charging for this and that.' I just tried to save ... I really don't have too much in my apartment. I'll probably just decorate the apartment. Probably another coat, because it's cold on the East coast. It's very cold."

What Ben Uzoh really can buy now is more time. He's off the clock, at least until the end of this season. Then, he's back to square one. The payday that made Wesley Matthews a rich man is still out there, somewhere.

"What it feels like is, to be honest, I'm always thinking big picture," Uzoh said. "Now that I've thnakfully passed this step, I'm thinking of the next step, and that's working hard and getting better. Becasue after this year, the same thing could possibly happen again."

Dribbles

Kings, Cousins working out kinks

Finally got to see Sacramento rookie DeMarcus Cousins with my own eyes last week, and he put on the full display of skill, temper, strength, petulance, smarts and ref-baiting that makes him the most intriguing rookie in the league this season.

He's either going to be great or Stanley Roberts. There's can't be any in-between; he's too good.

And of late, Cousins has been better.

He's scored 20 or more points four times in the last six games, averaging 21.2 points and 9.2 rebounds during that stretch on 55.3 percent shooting from the floor in 32 minutes per game. He's in much better shape than when he came to camp. And he even sprinted down court last week against Denver after a questionable call instead of giving the refs another earful.

He's accepted responsibility for the benching he received from the Kings after flashing a choke sign at Golden State's Reggie Williams at the foul line four days before Christmas. He's got no problem with Kings Coach Paul Westphal throwing him out of practice last month after the two exchanged words -- Cousins's actual words to Westphal, I'm told, were 'oh, so you think you're a (bleeping) comedian?' -- and understands he can't yell at underlings in the Kings' organization without consequence.

"It was just a lot of frustration," Cousins said last week. "And trying to listen is like the last thing you want to do. So it was just an adjustment. I've got to be more professional. I mean, (Paul) was right. If it's my fault, it's my fault. I came in. And, I mean, he's the coach. So I have to do what he say. Bottom line."

It's easy to see why the Kings think Cousins is worth the trouble. They have steadfastly refused any and all inquiries about his availability from other teams who would love to steal the 6-foot-9 center, figuring he couldn't possibly have a shelf life in Sacramento. But with Cousins and Tyreke Evans as their base, and solid role players with which to surround them, the Kings -- even at 8-26 and dead in the water in the Pacific Division -- have a future. Unlike Rasheed Wallace -- one of many players Cousins gets compared to incorrectly -- Cousins wants to be in the hole.

So the Kings, privately and publicly, say they have no interest in trading him.

"He's 19," says a member of the organization.

He's also 275 pounds or so, down from the 290 he sported at the pre-draft camp in Chicago.

"He's very, very talented, kind of an old school offensive game," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "Uses his angles and his size and his thickness to get where he's going. He's got great hands."

Sacramento is an elite point guard away from potentially straightening out really well, and yes, the Kings will have a bunch of money available for free agency next summer, thanks for asking. (It might not even take that; I could see Luke Ridnour really helping out here, for example. Maybe Kirk Hinrich, if the Wiz have a jones for, say, Omri Casspi.)

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The Kings are willing to help DeMarcus Cousins mature due to his tantalizing on-court potential.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

"DeMarcus is somebody who really, really wants to be good," Westphal said. "He knows that he has a temper that he needs to control. And I think he appreciates that somebody is going to help him do that. It doesn't mean that he likes it every minute of his time, but I think he does appreciate that people have his best interests at heart. For his long-term success in this league, he's got to learn how to control his temper and his emotions ... as soon as a person learns that, he can focus his competitiveness in the right way. I think DeMarcus is on his way to doing that."

Says Cousins: "Me and Paul are good. He's showing tough love, and I had to make an adjustment. He's the coach, so I had to make an adjustment."

Westphal told Cousins he had similar issues with temper growing up as a player.

"I had somebody help me understand that if you don't have poise, you're always going to be frustrated, and using your energy in ways that are counterproductive," Westphal said. "It was Rex Hughes (the former Kings assistant and interim head coach with Sacramento and San Antonio). This was back in junior high days. I had the worst temper in the world. He was refereeing and kicked me out of the game, and told me how he used to have a temper, and he never really did learn to control it, and it hurt his career. 'And don't be like me,' he said. And I never forgot it. I started focusing on being competitive without shooting myself in the foot with my temper."

Cousins says he can play with Evans, even though they both need the ball to be at their best.

"You have to find your role and you have to play your role," Cousins said. "Maybe you came from college and the ball was in your hands most of the time. You come to the NBA, it's not going to be there. That's something you have to adjust to ... it might be a player that's hot. Tyreke may be hot. Casspi may be hot. Beno (Udrih) may be hot. So you have to just get it off the boards."

By most accounts, Cousins has a goofy, funny side to him that he shows only to people he trusts. If his teammates have any real problems with his temperament, it's more of the eye-rolling variety than as if they have major issues with him. He's 19. And he can help the Kings, maybe, get out of the wildnerness again.

"It has been hard," Cousins said. "I come out of a lot of winning programs. It just helps you. I just take it as it being helpful for later on in your career. You've been in the hard part of your career. So just keep fighting, and keep fighting, until you get to the good parts."

Top O' the World, Ma!

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

1) Miami [2] (4-0): Thirteen straight wins on the road after knocking off hot Portland in a great overtime thriller on Sunday. SuperFriends score 97 of Heat's 107.

2) Orlando [4] (4-0): Won nine straight since Dec. 23. Made up exactly one game in the standings with Miami.

3) San Antonio [1] (2-2): Lost two games last week. Lost four games previous eight weeks.

4) Chicago [3] (2-2): Thibodeau benches Carlos Boozer for the final 14 minutes of the Bulls' upset loss to New Jersey Wednesday.

5) Boston [5] (3-1): Hoping to get Kevin Garnett back this week.

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Jamal Crawford has been hot of late as the Hawks are finding their rhythm at home.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

6) Atlanta [8] (3-0): Jamal Crawford is 34-for-63 (54 percent) from the floor in last four games after 12-for-3 (36.4 percent) in previous four. And Hawks have now won 10 straight at home.

7) L.A. Lakers [10] (4-0): Season-ending, garment-rending, L.A.-disillusioning crisis appears to be over after undefeated week.

8) Utah [6] (2-2): Treading water for a while now, and not showing much of the defensive fight that you'd expect from a Jerry Sloan-coached Jazz team.

9) Dallas [7] (1-2): Officially lost Caron Butler for the season, a major blow. But as DeShawn Stevenson put it last week, "We have to get the German back." Mavs don't play until Wednesday at Pacers.

10) New York [9] (2-1): Is Ray Felton an All-Star? Just askin'.

11) Oklahoma City [11] (2-1): Not hating on IBlocka, but RWest would have been my choice from the 405 for the Slam Dunk contest at All-Star.

12) New Orleans [12] (2-2): Larry Ellison tells San Jose Mercury News he bid $350M for Hornets but was beaten out by slightly larger bid by NBA. Think the Commish prank-calls Ellison late at night?

13) Portland [14] (2-2): Patty Mills got a lot of run down the stretch against the Heat Sunday. Nate McMillan loves how Mills spread opposing defenses with his long-range ability.

14) Denver [13] (1-3): And so it appears to be ending in the Mile High, with a total rebuild. A real shame; Carmelo's Nuggets were fun to watch.

15) Memphis [NR] (2-1): Griz fight their way into the Western Conference playoff race. Yes, that was a joke.

Team of the Week

Miami (4-0): Going into Sunday's game in Portland against the Blazers, the Heat's average margin of victory during their amazing streak was 13.2 points. Add in Sunday's 107-100 win over the Blazers and Miami has now won 21 of 22 games since the end of November.

Team of the Weak

Houston (0-4): Competitive all week, but couldn't break through against Denver, Portland or Utah. And this week's schedule isn't any easier as Boston, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Atlanta loom. Plus, Aaron Brooks is hobbled by an ankle injury.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Will Carmelo be on a plane for Jersey by the time you read this?

Depends.

Are you having breakfast, lunch or dinner?

If you're eating an omelet, maybe not. But if you're chowing down on an 18-inch Porterhouse, maybe.

The proposed three-team deal between Denver, New Jersey and Detroit remains contingent on whether Anthony will give the Nets a guarantee he'll sign the $65 million extension he refused to sign in Denver. If Anthony approves, he'll go to Jersey, along with Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams. Devin Harris, first-round pick Derrick Favors, guards Anthony Morrow, Stephen Graham and young Mr. Uzoh, along with two first-round picks, will go to the Nuggets. Rip Hamilton will go from Detroit to New Jersey; New Jersey would send Troy Murphy and center Johan Petro to Detroit.

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Carmelo Anthony, not surprisingly, is the key factor in a Detroit-New Jersey-Denver swap.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The deal will go ahead even though Billups is not interested in staying in New Jersey past this season. He would seek a buyout, but I was told late Sunday/early Monday morning that such an arrangement wouldn't take place until this summer, when Billups would be entering the last year of his contract, at $14.2 million. The buyout would likely restore the non-guaranteed portion of Billups's 2011-12 salary, if history is a guide to these sorts of things. It's a sign of the desperation with which the Nets want to make this deal happen that they're willing to chance Anthony being unhappy if Billups isn't around after this year.

And make no mistake: owner Mikhail Prokhorov is the driving force behind all of this. He's desperate to find a centerpiece around which to build his team when it goes to Brooklyn in two years. Anthony's agent, Leon Rose, is equally desperate to get his client what he wants--a New York-area address. OK, he actually wants a New York City address, but the Knicks remain bystanders on this one.

But the deal still requires that commitment from Anthony. And Detroit doesn't want Petro, because he has two years left on his contract. But it's not a deal-breaker, given that the Pistons will save millions by taking Murphy's final year at $11 million and trading the two years and $25 million left on Hamilton's deal. (And only $9 million of Hamilton's $12.5 million in the final season is guaranteed.)

The trade will also allow Detroit to put Ben Gordon in the starting lineup, where everyone in the league expected he'd be after signing a $55 million contract in 2009. The proposed sale of the Pistons is not a factor in the talks; owner Karen Davidson has given Joe Dumars free rein to make the move, and she's still making the calls up to and until the new proposed owner, Tom Gores, officially takes charge. At any rate, he's not going to torpedo a deal that saves him payroll.

"Still working," one of the parties said late, late Sunday night. But it's as close as it's ever been.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Clearly, he did not watch "Dancing With the Stars." From Andrew Goo:

Could you please write an article or maybe even a paragraph or anything in your Monday Morning Tip about how Lebron James is leading all NBA forwards and is third overall in All-Star voting? The reason I ask is because this is the same person that is getting booed in 97 percent of the cities he visits. The All-Star Game is for the fans. If the fans dont like LeBron, then why is he doing so well in fan voting?

Granted he would make the game anyways, it baffles me how two-faced a lot of NBA fans are. How can you yell and curse at someone so much and then go and vote for him to be in the All-Star Game? It doesnt make sense to me. I am clearly a true LBJ fan, and I think that people either need to stop crying about what he did in July, or they should have not votes for him at all.

Two things can be true at the same time, Andrew. Fans that dislike LeBron (and I'm not sure they all really do as much as it is expected of them to boo the Heat this season) still want to see his individual skills on display in an All-Star Game. And I still think the number of fans that actually don't like LBJ are a sizeable minority compared with his supporters. And as I have to say over and over every year: the All-Star Game is for fans.

He's also not sure about Stephen Tyler replacing Simon on "Idol." From Alwayne Allen:

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Brandon Jennings' inclusion in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest drew some fans' ire.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

How in the world did Brandon Jennings get chosen for the dunk contest?! If it was the Skills Challenge I would be fine with that, but the DUNK CONTEST? I've never seen him do any spectacular in-game dunks, and unless he does some after returning from injury, I'll be highly disappointed. Unless J.R. Smith said he didn't want to be in the contest, I think he was snubbed. He should DEFINITELY be in the dunk contest!!! Not so sure about Serge Ibaka either, (Russell Westbrook would get my vote) but I think he's a better candidate than Brandon.

With three big men dunking -- Blake Griffin, JaVale McGee and Serge Ibaka -- the league opted, I think, for contrast in the less-than-six-feet Jennings. There's a natural little guy underdog factor with Brandon, much as there was with Spud Webb, Dee Brown and Nate Robinson (all of whom won dunk contests).

The last word (for now) on Agent Zero. From Aaron Pinchback:

So I know there was a call last week to stop covering Gilbert Arenas, but I just want to point out something that I think people get wrong about him. It irks me that he has a rep for being a selfish player.

Yes, he takes more shots than what you would expect from a "pure" point guard. And yes, many of those shots were of what we could call "questionable" quality. But can I also point out that Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler both made their first All-Star appearances playing with Gilbert? Larry Hughes never made an All-Star team with Gil (thought he probably should have in 2004-05), but he did have his best year as a pro and was able to parlay that into a big-time contract with the Cavs. Even lesser role players like Deshawn Stevenson and Jared Jeffries had their most productive seasons playing next to Gil.

Now, I'm not necessarily saying that Arenas was responsible for their success, but if he was the team-killing ball-hog many portray him as, I don't know if these guys would've been able to flourish playing next to him.

And as a passionate NBA fan and lifelong resident of the D.C. area, let me say this: Gil was the best thing to happen to this team in the past 30 years. He made this team relevant in a way it hadn't been in decades. As someone who grew up trying to get excited about Ledell Eackles and LaBradford Smith, I cannot explain how exhilarating it was to have a real live, no-foolin', NBA All-Star running the show for the home team.

You don't hear me disagreeing with anything you said, do you, Aaron?

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and pictures of dead presidents on greenery to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently informative, poignant or smart-alecky, we'll publish it!

MVP Watch

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (33.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 6.3 apg, .533 FG, .816 FT): Seems like he's found a way to co-exist with D Wade.

2) Dwight Howard (22.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg, .585 FG, .686 FT): Has posted double-figure rebound totals in 27 of Orlando's last 29 games, and 31 of 37 games all season.

3) Kobe Bryant (23.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, .427 FG, .739 FT): Kobe discloses to Peter Vescey that his knee was much worse last season during the playoffs than he let on, which has the double advantage of a) being impossible to disprove, and b) only adds to the legend of the Kobester.

4) Derrick Rose (25.8 ppg, 2.75 rpg, 4 apg, .492 FG, .846 FT): D Rose may trail Rajon Rondo in All-Star votes, but he had the better of their matchup Saturday. in Chicago, with 36 points, including career highs in free-throw attempts (19) and makes (15).

5) Amar'e Stoudemire (24.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.7 bpg, .458 FG, .800 FT): Glowing piece in NY Daily News Sunday may be the high-water mark of STAT's stay in Gotham.

By the Numbers

3 -- Free throws made by Boston's Rajon Rondo in two games this weekend, after making just two free throws in a 12-game stretch dating from Nov. 17 to last Wednesday. The C's point guard only attempted nine free throws during that stretch. But he has missed 10 games this season with hamstring and ankle injuries.

14 -- Consecutive victories by the TrailBlazers over the Timberwolves after Friday's 108-98 win in Minnesota. The Wolves haven't beaten Portland since March, 2007.

23 -- Consecutive double-doubles for Kevin Love and Blake Griffin through Sunday. Per Elias, this is the first time two players have had double-double streaks this long since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton did so in 1977.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Nice touch by the Cavaliers.

2) The Suns may well get the last laugh when it comes to Amar'e Stoudemire and his $100 million contract with the Knicks. But STAT Video got the first laugh.

3) That was a pretty Video impressive comeback by Miami in Portland Sunday night. If LeBron is going to shoot like that from 3-point range, I'm not sure there's any defense you can draw up against the Heat that would make any sense.

4) Great to see Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and David Lee joining the Hoops for St. Jude team this season. Each will pledge $20,000 along with returning players Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Steve Blake, Rudy Gay and Nuggets coach George Karl to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. HFSJ and NBA Cares are teaming to sponsor Hoops for St. Jude Week March 4-11, when fans will be asked to visit the program website, www.hoopsforstjude.org, and make either monthly or one-time donations to the hospital, which treats children with life-threatening diseases and researches potential cures regardless of whether the family is able to pay the bills.

5) Give the Clippers some credit. They're playing much better (seven wins in their last 10 games after Sunday's victory over Golden State), and it's not just Blake Griffin that's doing damage. Like just about everyone else from the U.S. team that won the World Championships in Turkey, Eric Gordon has come back an even better player, averaging more than 23 a night.

6) Godspeed to the people of South Sudan, who voted Sunday in a proposed secession from the north, the root cause of a two-decade long civil war in which around 2 million Sudanese were killed and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. Peace and reconciliation for Sudan was the cause of the late Manute Bol, who wanted to build 41 schools in his country that any children, whether Muslim or Christian, could attend. The Bulls' Luol Deng, a Sudanese native who moved to London as a child, voted absentee in Chicago on Sunday.

7A) That was some run by the Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch Saturday.

7B) I'll take Oregon tonight. Speed kills.

Not Feelin' ...

1) I don't talk politics in this column, 'cause you don't care about mine and I don't care about yours. But we have to ask ourselves something vital this morning: what kind of people do we want to be? (Thanks to my friend Lisa, a priest, who asked this question first.) Do we want to take politics so seriously that we would shoot those with whom we disagree? It is altogether likely that the man who tried to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords was mentally disturbed and not espousing any particular political philosophy. But he went on his murderous rampage in a climate where poltiicians speak openly of "Second Amendment solutions" to political problems and where dog whistles are sent out every day over the airwaves that question the legitimacy of the United States government. We are better than this. We need to remove the strain from our discourse that dehumanizes everyone that doesn't march in lockstep with us. And we all need to pray for the Giffords family and all the families of those who were killed and wounded Saturday.

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Chris Grant probably already knows this, but just in case: it's time to make some deals in Cleveland.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

2) I'm sure Cleveland's GM, Chris Grant, already knows this, but it's time to pull the trigger. Nothing good will come from keeping these Cavaliers together another second. Not hard to understand how this particular group of players just doesn't have anything left in the tank in Cleveland.

3) Remember like it was yesterday, even though it was 2003. LeBron was 18 and in his first month with the Cavs; Carmelo was 19 and in his first month with the Nuggets when the two met as pros in Denver for the first time. Both teams were just starting on very long journeys that would take them deep into playoffs, but never to a championship. And, now, it certainly looks like Anthony will join James in seeking a title elsewhere. That's probably for the best. Looking at the Nuggets in Sacramento last Thursday, the Nuggets had the collective body language of a team that finally was wearing down after months of trade talk, and weary of one another.

4) Glad to see Roy Hibbert so public in his desire to find out what's wrong with him, but sad to hear that something's so wrong with him that he needs professional help.

5) I'm starting to get a queasy feeling about Dirk's knee.

6) I don't know Jim Harbaugh at all -- I covered his brother, John, a little when he was special teams coach up in Philly. And Lord knows if someone offered me 25 large, I'd probably be getting new business cards, too. But there will always be bad NFL teams to go to every year. You don't usually get a chance to coach a quarterback like Andrew Luck who might be able to take you to a national championship in 2012.

Tweet of the Week

May have 2 stop my son from watchin NBA games. He stared down the ref & walked back on defense cuz the ref didn't call a foul lol #RoleModel
--Bobcats center Nazr Mohammed (@NazrMohammed), Saturday, 2:11 p.m. Probably doesn't need further comment.

Mr. Fifteen

This week's Mr. Fifteen is Denver Nuggets forward Renaldo Balkman. The 26-year-old Balkman is in his fifth NBA season and third with the Nuggets, but his fortunes are going in the wrong direction. After playing in 53 games for the Nuggets in 2008-09, Balkman slipped to just 13 games last season and has played in only four games this season, totalling 37 minutes. Balkman has fallen out of George Karl's rotation and seemingly out of favor with the coach, with rookie Gary Forbes or Al Harrington taking the backup minutes at small forward behind Carmelo Anthony or at power forward if the Nuggets play small. It's a far cry from Balkman's first two years in the league, when he played in New York as a first-round pick of Isiah Thomas in 2006 and played in 133 games over two seasons.

Me: Rick Pitino is going to coach the Puerto Rican squad in the Tournament of the Americas next summer. You thought what that might be like playing for him?

Renaldo Balkman: I haven't really thought about it yet. But from playing in college (at South Carolina) and playing against him, I know he's a great coach. I'm happy that we have a new coach. Actually, it was my first year last year, so this year it's going to be a new year. Coach is Coach, so it's going to be a new setup. I just can't wait ... we start from the top to the bottom, new everything, to the plays, to the managers and everybody is changing. It's a big change and it's a big difference.

Me: Was playing for Puerto Rico something you'd thought of before last year?

RB: I thought about it (Balkman's grandmother is Puerto Rican, which made him eligible to play for the team), I just never pursued it. And then somebody contacted me about it and I thought about it hard, seriously, and I pursued it last summer. It was great. It was great for me to keep playing in the summer and not get into trouble. It keeps you from doing stuff you're not supposed to do. It kept me focused coming into this year.

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Though playing time has been sparse for him in Denver, Renaldo Balkman is staying professional.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: What is it like this year trying to stay prepared with the Nuggets?

RB: You just go through practice every day, work out every day, the same regimen. It never changed. The only thing that changes is at game time at night. In the morning, it's the same thing -- practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. And at night, you might not play, or you might play. You've got to be ready at every opportunity, 'till he calls your name. You never know.

Me: What is the daily regimen like?

RB: I mean, when you go to practice, go hard, play hard, every possession. Show them I want to be here. That's the main thing. Even like this summer (on the Puerto Rican national team), show them I wanted to play basketball and not just sit on somebody's bench. When the season started, I started off well, and it's just by staying focused, staying positive, 'Cause if I bring any negative energy to it, then I mess up, and that messes up the whole team. So I pretty much stay the same with everybody and myself, and when I go out there I just try to play basketball.

Me: Is it harder to play on a bad team, or not play on a good team?

RB: It's harder to play on a bad team. Because you want to be successful. It's yourself, the team and your career. So I'd say being on a bad team.

Me: Do you talk to George or to management about your situation?

RB: They know. They know. I mean, we talk every now and then, nothing like all the time. We're not like best buddies or anything. You know how coaches and players can be sometimes. But at the same time, if he calls my name, I do the best I can do. Like I say, stay professional about it.

Me: Do you get to the point where you say, 'if you're not going to play me, I'd like for it to happen somewhere else?'

RB: I mean, it gets to that point a lot. But at the same time, I'm here. And whatever happens after this, happens. I can't just keep running on how I'm not playing, or get rid of me, 'cause I might go somewhere else and not play, too. It might be my destiny to play here. I'm not playing right now, but after a while, I might get to playing, and end my career here in Denver. So I don't want to wish bad on me by getting traded. I do want to play basketball. I'm a basketball player. I came in this league playing basketball. I don't know want to end up leaving the league not playing basketball and not nobody knowing who I am. But for the most part, I stay professional about it and come to work every day and work hard.

They Said It

"I will use this time to consider all of my options, and will make a decision regarding my career plans as I get closer to the end of my rehab."
--Yao Ming, in a statement released Thursday by the Rockets, after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle, leaving his future in some doubt.

"We're in a confined airplane and things get heated. I'm done with it. No more gambling."
-- Grizzlies Coach Lionel Hollins, describing why he banned gambling on the team's charter after a fight broke out during a flight on the plane last Monday, to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. O.J. Mayo and Tony Allen fought over a debt Mayo owed Allen during a card game; the incident was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

"We all talk about playing together. It's fun to talk about."
-- Kevin Love, telling SI.com that he's had conversations with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, two of his fellow U.S. men's basketball national team teammates, about someday joining forces.

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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