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David Aldridge

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African-American GMs like Otis Smith help make the NBA perhaps the most diverse league in the U.S.
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On 25th anniversary of MLK Day, how would he view the NBA?


Posted Jan 17 2011 11:35AM

He could, apparently, handle a cue stick.

"I hate to hold up your pool game," he once told a group of shocked patrons in an Albany, Ga., pool hall, according to the definitive biography, Parting the Waters. "I used to be a pool shark myself."

And then, Martin Luther King, Jr., showed off a few trick shots.

Sports, of course, were a minor part of King's life. His days were spent in the pursuit of the seemingly impossible -- the destruction of an organized, monetized and armed system of economic and political oppression and suppression four centuries in the making. His ultimate triumph in breaking that system's will, for which he and thousands in the civil rights movement gave their lives, is among the premier accomplishments in our nation's history, leading to the establishment of King's birthday as a national holiday.

The NBA has celebrated King's birthday for years with a full schedule of games as a way of honoring the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Many games are played during the day so that more children can attend, often as a reward for quality work and consistent attendance in schools. The league partners with the Grizzlies in the team's annual MLK Day seminar at FedEx Forum that precedes the team's game in Memphis, where the National Civil Rights Museum was erected at the site of the old Lorraine Motel, where King was slain in 1968. (I was honored to host the seminar the last three years.)

On this 25th anniversary of the establishment of the King Holiday, you wonder what he would think today. How would he react to a country that now has an African-American president -- and thousands of African-American men and women languishing in prison, seemingly cut off from the promise of America that King worked so hard to expand? What would he say about an environment that can produce a billionaire from Mississippi named Oprah, yet have a third of black children still living in poverty? Are black folks doing better (countless numbers of elected officials in state and federal government; self-made giants in entertainment ranging from Tyler Perry to Jay-Z) or worse (a seemingly permanent underclass that can't get out of poverty and stays consistently behind in education)?

And what of sports?

What to think about an industry that has created an iconic figure like Michael Jordan, who crossed over, both on and off the court, into a position of authority and power that no African-American athlete before ever reached? What of the man King knew as Cassius Clay -- Muhammad Ali, born a Christian, converted Muslim, who began speaking of division and separation from whites but whose views evolved toward true Islamic teachings, and who went from being reviled in most circles to the world's most famous and beloved athlete?

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation, King said to open the March on Washington in 1963.

Almost five decades later, there is no utopian industry that has fully embraced King's dream of a society which judges not by the color of skin but by the content of character. But the NBA has made significant strides over the decades. Of all the pro sports leagues, it is further along in incorporating women and people of color in signficant positions, consistently receiving the highest grades from the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in its Sports Racial and Gender Report Card.

But much work remains.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentus decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice...

Once the game's best player, and one of the best ever, Jordan now is an owner, running the Charlotte Bobcats. He is far from a perfect owner -- he drafted Adam Morrison instead of Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay, and he listened to Larry Brown, who insisted on taking D.J. Augustin instead of Brook Lopez, as everyone else in the Charlotte Draft room wanted in 2008. His first coaching hire, Sam Vincent, was a disaster. But the Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history on his watch, and show signs of turning things around this season under interim coach Paul Silas.

And Jordan bought the Bobcats from another African-American man, Robert Johnson, a billionaire in his own right. A rich black man buying a sports team from a richer black man, and hiring a black man to coach a team comprised mainly of rich black men. What would King think of that?

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free...still languishing in the corners and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition...

Joe Dumars was a Hall of Fame player, winning two titles with the Pistons. He won another as an executive in 2004, building a championship team around players no one else wanted. He's seen the Pistons falter just like the city for which they're named, and he's trying to resurrect them in the same manner as the city is trying to rise. He has hired and fired several head coaches. He gets criticism for some of his choices, but not for his intellect or work ethic.

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What would Martin Luther King Jr. think of Michael Jordan's ascension from player to owner?
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

Otis Smith runs the Magic in his image -- no-nonsense, all business. He doesn't much care about what the outside world thinks about his decisions. He wanted to hire Billy Donovan to run his team after Donovan won consecutive national championshiips at Florida, but when Donovan got cold feet, Smith moved on, quickly, hiring Stan Van Gundy. He tells Van Gundy when he's messing up, and he tells his players when they have to do better. And when they don't, as evidenced by his 24-hour overhaul of the Magic in December, Smith moves on -- ruthlessly. He may get heat for his decisions, but not for his commitment or his exercise of his authority.

What would King think of them? And of the men who hired them? And who have not seen fit, yet, to fire them? Though, ultimately, they will?

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now...Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice...

Doc Rivers was a solid if unspectacular player. He worked in television before becoming a coach in Orlando. Working miracles with a rotating roster of castoffs in his first season, he went 41-41 in 1999-2000 and was named Coach of the Year. Less than four years later, he went 1-10 out of the gate and was fired. But a year later he was recycled -- hired again by the league's signature franchise, the Celtics. He went to the playoffs his first year, then went 57-107 the next two seasons, as Boston stockpiled young talent at the expense of winning. No one would have been surprised if Rivers didn't survive the youth movement; most coaches don't.

But Danny Ainge stuck with Rivers, and allowed him to reap the rewards of coaching a team that added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with incumbents Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins. Rivers didn't play favorites, didn't mince words, didn't hesitate to chew his players out or pat them on the back. He came up with the "Ubuntu" concept -- Ubuntu deriving from the South African phrase "I am what I am because of all that we are."

Nine months later, Garnett was screaming at Michelle Tafoya, "Anything is possible! Anything is possible!," after the Celtics routed the Lakers in six games for the 2008 NBA championship.

Ten of the league's 30 teams -- one-third -- currently have African-American head coaches. Over the years, that number has been a little higher some years, a little lower in others. Only Utah's Jerry Sloan is older than the 67-year-old Silas. And on the other end of the scale is Monty Williams, 39, an African-American hired by New Orleans last summer. He is the youngest coach in the NBA. The next-youngest is Miami's Erik Spoelstra, 40, the first NBA head coach of Filipino decent.

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Alvin Gentry is one of 10 African-American coaches in the NBA.
P.A. Molumby/NBAE via Getty Images

Alvin Gentry was head coach in Detroit. Got fired. He was hired by the Clippers. Got fired. He is now head coach in Phoenix, having led the Suns to an improbable Western Conference finals berth last season. He will no doubt be fired by the Suns. Coaches are hired to be fired. But now, African-American coaches are not only fired; they get re-hired -- by good teams, by bad teams. Often they are hired by black executives, but just as often, they're hired by white ones. And no one blinks an eye either way. What would Dr. King think of that?

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds...

You cannot think of the town of Eagle, Colo., without thinking certain thoughts. But Kobe Bryant, the man who was at the center of that criminal investigation, the subject of near-universal scorn and derision, has not only gone through the legal process without going to prison and losing his life or livelihood, he has, again, become a superstar, beloved by millions, able to resume his career and once again become a champion. He has commercial deals and an MVP award, and is generally thought of as one of the 10 to 20 best players of all time. If he had been accused of what he was accused of the day of King's speech, he may well have spent the rest of his life in prison -- if he was lucky -- instead of getting to play basketball again. His guilt or innocence is not the issue here. The fact that he had the means to hire an effective defense counsel and was able to have his day in court, and win, is.

What would Dr. King think of that?

We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence...

The brawl at Auburn Hills may have been the NBA's lowest moment in the last 50 years. It was, frankly, a racial nightmare -- physically imposing black men wandering into the stands to fight with paying white customers. The damage to the building and to the brawlers was repaired, but the damage to the league's brand was deep and long-lasting. It may still be there.

How many advertisers, how many potential ticket buyers, were permanently appalled by what they'd seen? How much of what has followed -- dress codes for players, increased fines for missing team functions and appearances, edicts on "respect for the game" and the like -- have stemmed from that one, bad night?

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Ron Artest's career revival -- culminating with last season's Finals win -- has been historic stuff.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Fifty years ago, the notion of a black man other than a boxer getting in a fight with a white person -- any white person -- and being able to continue with his career would have been laughable. But Jermaine O'Neal wasn't blackballed from the NBA. David Harrison wasn't blackballed. Ben Wallace wasn't blackballed. Ron Artest wasn't blackballed. Artest received a 73-game suspension in 2004, but he was allowed to play again. Six years later, Artest was the best player on the floor in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, against Rivers' Celtics. Artest helped the Lakers win their 15th championship, then announced he'd auction off his championship ring to raise awareness of mental health issues with children. He was almost universally praised for his selflessness.

What would Dr. King think of that?

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny...

There would have been no Bill Russell had Red Auerbach not been secure enough to treat his star player like an equal, a partner, insted of an employee. Auerbach knew what Russell did well and didn't try to change him; figured out what kind of man he was and didn't try to break him; learned what kind of leader he was and didn't try to challenge him; determined how much of a winner he was and didn't try to hog all the credit. Understand: Red had an ego bigger than most. He didn't mind taking his share of the accolades. But he never denied Russell his.

The perception of the NBA as "too black" in the 1970s was, mostly, obliterated in the following two decades. Part of the credit for that goes to winning, engaging players like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Jordan, who made their hyper-competitive natures, winning demeanors and transcendent games into enviable, marketable traits.

But part of the credit goes to the commissioner, David Stern, who faced the racial issues bedeviling his game head on when he took the top job in 1984. The NBA has made a science out of marketing and promoting its star players during Stern's run, expanding the international reach of its talent through television and other media. Some have been critical of the league's approach, saying it makes individuals more important than the teams. But the end result is that the NBA's African-American stars are more well known to more people around the world than any black stars in baseball or football.

My friend Bill Rhoden wrote a book a few years ago with the somewhat provactive title $40 Million Slaves. The argument Bill made was no matter how much players make in the NBA or other pro sports, they still are at the whim of owners that can trade or cut them at a moment's notice. Until they are owners, Bill argued, they are never truly free.

The average salary for an NBA player this season is $5.765 million.

The Golden State Warriors, the last team on the auction block, sold late last year for a reported $450 million.

I wonder if Dr. King would agree with Bill.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

LeBron James made the summer of 2010 all about him. That is said with a mixture of disgust and admiration. For once, it was the athlete that held all the cards, that made half of a league turn its rosters upside down and inside out just to have a chance to sign him. Then he made them all come to him and make their sales pitch, just as if he were Tom Cruise or David Letterman listening to companies that wanted to do business. It was a power play the likes of which the NBA has rarely seen.

He made Dan Gilbert furious. Not because James is black and Gilbert is white, I submit, but because James cost Gilbert a lot of green, and Gilbert knew it.

"I don't have to be who you want me to be," Muhammad Ali said in 1964, the year he became heavyweight champion of the world and Martin Luther King, Jr., won the Nobel Peace Prize.

A generation later, LeBron James makes no secret of his desire to be the first billionaire athlete. He does not really care what you think of him. He made himself into a villain, but he transformed the NBA, brought two friends with him to South Beach, and defies you to stop him while he takes calls from his friends Warren Buffett and Jay-Z. He hires his friends to do his business for him and makes it work for him. Because at the end of the day, he's got all the money and all the commercials and all the power. No rings yet. He's working on it.

Today, I wonder what Dr. King, on what would have been his 82nd birthday, would make of LeBron James. I wonder if he would think things are demonstratively better for black people because there is a segment of black society that is doing very, very well, even as another continues with the same economic and social issues that vexed the country a half-century ago. It is a testament of the progress that has been made that such a debate has real resonance.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King. And Happy Anniversary.

Dribbles

At this point, gallows humor is the only thing that keeps them from crying.

"We ask him, 'What are you gonna look like in a Nets uniform?,' " J.R. Smith said last week. "How cold it's going to be out there. What (city) he's gonna end up in? He could be playing for some team in Alaska."

They also laugh in part because it's a good mask for the anger. They don't bring it up with Carmelo Anthony, because they have gone a long way with him and they respect his decision. But they think they could win a championship with Anthony leading the way, in Denver. They are less than two years removed from the Western Conference finals, and they think they could get there again, now that they're healthy.

"We don't talk to him more, or less," Chauncey Billups said. "It's the same way with 'Melo all year. We don't give it any extra energy."

But, could you still win with him?

"I think so," Billups said, pointing out that last week marked the first time the Nuggets had all of their players on the court.

But they will never find out, unless there is a reversal of the tides that are pushing, inexorably, toward Anthony's departure. Sunday brought the disclosure from a trusted source that the Nets now have permission from the Nuggets to talk directly with Anthony about both the potential trade and the contract extension. But, of course, this is the trade that never actually happens, so an equally trusted source insisted later Sunday evening that no such permission has been granted.

But the inevitability of Anthony's departure can't come soon enough. It will hurt and it will set the Nuggets back years, but it has to be done. The alternative -- getting nothing for their franchise player -- is ... well, look at Quicken Loans Arena these days.

"It's starting to drain the team, the coaches," Smith said. "Everybody's just focused on who's going where and what's going to happen, who we're going to get, instead of just focusing on playing basketball. It's not really something for us to worry about. It's more for the front office. It's very difficult (to ignore), because you never know in your lifetime when you're going to play with one of your good friends, a Hall of Famer -- in the future, hopefully. You never really know when you're going to get that chance again."

George Karl points out that his team has had to deal with the drip-drip of daily 'Melo updates since mid-August, and has played without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen -- who's out again, for a week or so -- most of the season. He actually thinks the Nuggets are a couple of games better record-wise than they probably should be. But this is one time when the word "distraction" really applies.

"It's like teaching school," Karl said. "You could teach a classroom, and a good classroom probably takes in 50 percent. I think my team, in the moments you have to be there, has been there. But I can't deny that there have probably been moments where you would like a little bit more camraderie and a little more concentration. But that happens if it snows outside. We've had more happening than just snowing outside."

The man at the center of it all cannot make a Shermanesque statement about his intentions -- that he definitely wants to leave or stay. Video "You want me to get booed again?," he asked me on the Pepsi Center floor when I asked him about it after the Nuggets' rout of the Heat Thursday.

But everyone knows what 'Melo wants, and he doesn't want it in the Mile High. And that will mean leaving the place where he's been since June of 2003.

"I've spent more years here than I spent in Baltimore, if you want to get technical with it," Anthony said. "I moved to Baltimore when I was nine. I left and went to Oak Hill (Academy) when I was 16. So Denver, this is my home.

"The things that I was able to do, and to bring to this city, especially in '03, after them guys, that team only won 17 games, and for me to come in -- I'm not saying I did it by myself -- but to almost turn that whole situation around, and make the playoffs, and ever since then, we've been in the postseason."

They cheered Carmelo Anthony in Denver more than they booed last week, but there was in the city a sense of melancholy. A foreboding sense that times were about to change -- and not for the better -- in a city that has cold, cold weather this time of year. The city had something wonderful and warm and theirs to embrace and cherish, but it is getting prepared to bundle up even tighter now against the brutal winds, and the snow, and the darkness. Winter is here again.

Top O' the World, Ma!

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

1) San Antonio [3] (4-0): Fifteen straight at home, healthy, rolling and they haven't even picked up momentum from the Rodeo Trip yet.

2) Chicago [4] (3-1): Bulls 11-5 without Joakim Noah at center and with 407-year-old Kurt Thomas in the pivot.

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Kurt Thomas has kept the Bulls' title hopes afloat while Joakim Noah heals up.
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Utah [8] (2-0): Back on track with two home wins this week, but start five-game road trip today in Washington.

4) Oklahoma City [11] (2-0): Thunder has won six of eight going into tonight's playoff rematch with Lakers, but OKC still not the defensive team it was last season (103.6 points allowed during that stretch).

5) L.A. Lakers [7] (3-1): Schedule gets much tougher the rest of the month, beginning tonight with Oklahoma City, and with games against Denver (admittedly, the Nuggets may not be that tough in a few days), Dallas, Utah and Boston coming up.

6) Boston [5] (2-1): With Jermaine O'Neal now looking at surgery that could be season-ending, and Kendrick Perkins rehabbing his knee, having 'Sheed back on the court for the stretch drive is much more plausible.

7) Orlando [2] (1-2): Arenas shooting just 36 percent (49-of-136) since arriving in the Land of the Mouse, and has only shot better than 50 percent from the floor once in those 14 games.

8) Miami [1] (0-3): Play only twice in the next 10 days, giving LBJ's ankle plenty of time to heal.

9) Atlanta [6] (1-1): Hawks' home win streak ends abruptly at 10 with poor effort Saturday against Houston.

10) New Orleans [12] (3-0): Hornets' D continues to be a strength; Bugs have allowed just 91.4 ppg this month on 42.5 percent shooting, and allowed only one opponent out of eight to shoot better than 50 percent.

11) Denver [14] (3-1): Won three at home this week by an average of 30. A nice sendoff for 'Melo, or a reminder of what the Nuggets are still capable of being?

12) New York [10] (1-2): This is what I've heard about Mike D'Antoni as far as Carmelo Anthony is concerned: if the Knicks could somehow make a deal for 'Melo, D'Antoni wouldn't be upset. If they don't, he won't be upset, either.

13) Dallas [9] (0-3): Dirk returns Saturday after missing nine games, gets thrown out in loss to Grizzlies; Cubes Tweets fans asking them to hang in there.

14) Memphis [15] (2-1): What will Grizz do with Z-Bo next summer? Seriously, what is he worth on the open market, and isn't he worth more to Memphis than anyone else?

15) Portland [13] (1-2): Brandon Roy will officially have double knee surgery in Vancouver today. That is much worse than being on double secret probation. Much worse.

Team of the Week

N.Y. Jets (1-0): You walk the walk after you talk the (major) talk, you break through cross-sport barriers and get some recognition from the Tip. No coach has laid down more smack than Rex Ryan did this week; no one had their coach's back more than his defense, which banged Tom Brady around Sunday and took charge in Foxboro. Now let's go get a (bleepin') snack!

Team of the Weak

Cleveland (0-3): Cavs played three games last week. They lost by 55, 22 and 28 points. Goodness, what a train wreck of a season. At some point, Dan Gilbert has to explain to his season-ticket holders exactly what they're paying for.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Does Miami need Mike Miller to win a championship?

"Yeah," Dwayne Wade said Thursday. "We need everybody. We're front-loaded, of course, with our top three guys. But for us to really be a good team, we're going to have to have a collection of guys. We can do a lot, but we of course can't do it all. We understand that we need these guys to really have the confidence to know that when they're on the court, be a threat. Shoot the ball, and do what you've got to do."

The Heat cooled off a little this week; after winning 22 of 23 games, they lost three straight with LeBron James hobbled with a sprained ankle. James' absence finally gave Miller a chance for some extended minutes since his return from a torn ligament in his right thumb that cost him the first seven weeks of the regular season.

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Mike Miller is hoping for more consistent minutes to see how his injured thumb will hold up.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

During the streak, the lack of playing time for Miller was not much of an issue. But Miami is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Miller. To get him the reps he needs to get rid of the rust and to get used to his new teammates will require much more than the 10 minutes per that he's been getting. But to play him longer minutes would likely affect the continuity Erik Spoelstra has gotten from his current rotation.

"When they're rolling and playing as well as they are, you don't want to be the guy who comes in and finally gets his minutes, and shoots every ball," Miller said after Miami's loss in Denver. "Guys don't want to play with that kind of guy."

Miller says his thumb is about 90 percent, maybe less, but that if he's on the court, there are no excuses. Whether he'll get meaningful time is another issue. He played 33 mostly garbage minutes against Denver, by far the most he's played since his return. But when James comes back, those minutes are likely to dry up.

"That's been the most difficult thing," Miller said. "Up until (Thursday), I've been getting two, three minutes a game. It's just tough to do anything in two, three minutes, and it's tough to get any rhythm ... it's going to take time."

This wasn't what Miller or the Heat expected when he signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal last summer. He wasn't one of the main SuperFriends (maybe he's Aquaman?), but the plan was for Miller to make defenses pay whenever they tried to throw out zones or double-team either James or Wade. It never got off the ground, though; Wade missed all but three minutes of the preseason with a hamstring pull, and Miller tore his thumb during a practice just before the start of the regular season.

But the Heat jelled without Miller on the court.

"I think everybody expected him to play big minutes, and then he got hurt," Chris Bosh said. "We still got on a roll as far as the rotation's concerned, and winning our games and everything. But it's a long season. There's going to come a time when he's going to have to get out there and get back into it. It's no telling what will happen. But Mike is a pro. He's been around the block a few times."

With practice time at a minimum, Miller will have to get his reps in the film room. On the court, he says he can do other things besides shoot to help the team -- get on the glass, move the ball. But Miami can't wait for him.

"We won 21 out of 22 games," Wade said. "It's hard just to throw him back in there. Mike was a big part of us, but he's not the only person who ever went through that. Guys come back and it takes them a while to get back into it, especially when you've got a team playing as well as we was playing. But now, you know what? He might get his opportunity."

When James returns, Spoelstra could play them together, with James playing a point forward-type four and Miller at small forward. Playing Miller with Wade and James may accelerate the continuity everyone agrees the SuperFriends need to get with Miller before the playoffs. Of all the opponents Miami has had this season, and may face in the playoffs, time may be the one it cannot overwhelm.

"That's concerning for sure," Miller said. "Obviously, it's tough for everybody. It's tough for the coaching staff, it's tough for the players, it's tough for me. Because I want to play, like everybody else wants to play, but I understand the situation, too. I'm not dumb. I realize I was hurt. I realize they're playing great. I've just got to find a way, and hopefully it'll work out itself."

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Looks like it's back to the Lipizzaner Stallions, Elvis impersonators and half-naked showgirls. From Daniel Cooper:

I was reading your column earlier and your comment about a potential lockout made me realize something: will there be Summer League this year? Because I was thinking about travelling to Las Vegas to check it out and spend some time in the U.S., but I'm not sure if there'll be any basketball to watch. Do you have any idea whether there will be a Summer League?

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Could the NBA Summer League be another casualty of a lockout?
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Alas, Daniel, Vegas would likely be added to the list of casualties of a lockout, after growing over the last six years into the premier summer league, drawing 24 of the NBA's 32 teams last season, drawing strong crowds both to Cox Pavillion and the Thomas and Mack Center at UNLV and getting television play from NBA TV (as does the Orlando Pro League). But the rookies and young vets everyone comes to see would obviously be prohibited from playing. And reports that there would definitely be some combination of NBA D-League and international players on the court in July are premature at best. Everything is on hold until the labor situation is clearer.

"We're exploring different possibilities in the event there is a lockout to still keep a footprint in Vegas, and keep the momentum we built up over a number of years," said agent Warren LeGarie, the driving force behind the Vegas League's growth over the past few years. "We'll start to look about making a permanent decision after All-Star."

Among the possibilities being discussed would be inviting a handful of foreign national teams with NBA players to Vegas, to try and have a stripped-down tournament. But such talks are only in the preliminary stages, and time is running short, for those teams have to finalize their summer schedules soon.

I'm a sucker for Girl Scouts selling cookies and 7-footers with a sob story. From Cary Rodda:

Just wanted to drop you a line to say thank you for the first balanced media piece I've seen on DeMarcus Cousins. The popular storyline on him coming out of the Draft was that he was a problem child, but except for the two incidents you mentioned, he's been no more than a typical young kid who cares a lot about how he and the team do on the court, and who shows it.

To be honest, Cary, it helped me that DeMarcus was playing better when I came to Sacramento to talk to him. He's still not all the way there, but at least he seems to own up to his mistakes.

It just had to be said. From Luke Sorensen:

In this week's "Morning Tip," you commented on the tragic shooting of Rep. Giffords. I know you will get commentary (some surely angry) from both sides on this issue, but I would simply like to thank you. Common sense and common decency are too rare in political discourse. You, however, reminded your readers that this is not a political issue but an ethical and moral one. Again, thank you for the quality of your work and the (unselfish and potentially problematic) stand you took as a journalist. If you get angry communication from those who disagree, I hope you'll remember what your compassion meant to myself and others.

There are certain subjects, like race and politics, where we just talk at each other, Luke, instead of with each other. We're all so defensive and certain our position is right we fail to see the humanity in others who have differing views. I just hope we all can take something out of this tragedy; namely, that we all have to turn down the volume in our discourse, no matter what we're discussing. I'm not blaming anyone for what happened; the young man is clearly mentally disturbed. But we need to stop with the dog whistles that do nothing to help such clearly disturbed people. Thanks for the note.

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) Derrick Rose (26.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, .431 FG, .950 FT): Video Just watch and enjoy.

2) Kobe Bryant (26.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.3 apg, .537 FG, .857 FT): Laid down Video the smackum-yakum on the Warriors Wednesday.

3) Dwight Howard (28 ppg, 15.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg, .604 FG, .722 FT): Picked up his 12th technical of the season against New Orleans on Wednesday.

4) LeBron James (27 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 apg, .458 FG, .400 FT): Left ankle sprain against the Clippers limited James to one game this week. Team is hopeful he can return Tuesday at home against Atlanta.

5) Amar'e Stoudemire (23.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.3 bpg, .357 FG, .824 FT): STAT slows down a little this week, struggling from the floor.

By the Numbers

1,757,216 -- Votes for Kobe Bryant, the overall leader in fan voting through the fourth and final round of announced voting before the starters for the Feb. 20 game are named later this month on TNT.

$5,000,000 -- Amount of a lawsuit filed on Thursday by Mark Cuban against the upstart United Football League, claiming the league had failed to repay him a loan for that amount he gave the UFL last year.

$5,875,000 -- Amount of an injured player exception the Rockets received last week for Yao Ming, who will miss the rest of the season after undergoing ankle surgery. The exception is technically for the mid-level amount of $5.765 million, but Houston can trade for a player making up to $5.875 million.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) The good news is, in a week, hopefully, we can move on from wildly speculating about whether Carmelo's going to the Nets and start speculating wildly about where Chris Paul's going to wind up!

2) We'll take seven more in May just like Video Miami-Chicago on Saturday, please. Only with Noah and LeBron on the court, too.

montaellis300.jpg
An electric scorer like Monta Ellis deserves a place at the All-Star Game this season.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Turned on the TV late Friday night to do something I have done maybe four times in my adult life -- watch the Clippers. Not watch a game where the Clippers were playing someone else, like the Lakers or Spurs. The Clippers. Win or lose, and even at 11 games below .500, they're the buzz of the league right now, and even more so after Video upending the Lake Show on Sunday.

4)Monta Ellis needs to be in the All-Star Game. I leave it to the Western Conference coaches to figure out how.

5) This is a pretty amazing thing Andrew Bogut is doing to raise awareness and funds for the flood-ravaged Queensland area in his native Australia.

6) Saw The Social Network on a plane. It was very good. Not sure it was Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay at the Golden Globes good, but it was pretty good.

7) The woman is happy that the Packers are in the NFC title game. I'm just happy that Aaron Rodgers is showing he was worth all the fuss, after a rocky first couple of years trying to replace Favre. (Whatever happened to that guy?)

Not Feelin' ...

1) Has anybody heard from the Chuckster since last Monday? I'm worried.

2) Isn't there someone, somewhere who will take pity on Antawn Jamison and trade for him? Any place other than the place he's currently at will do.

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Here's hoping some team takes pity on Antawn Jamison and trades for him soon.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Philosophical question: If the Washington Wizards played the Washington Generals at the Generals, someone would have to eventually win, right?

4) Jason Kidd passed Dale Ellis last week on the all-time list for made 3-pointers. That just doesn't seem right, somehow.

5) Great read from SHC on Sam Dalembert's exhausting year flying back and forth to and from his native Haiti since the devastating earthquake. But it's nonetheless depressing that so much remains to be done to rebuild that country.

6) Condolences to Joe Dumars, who lost his brother Mark earlier this month after losing his older brother Daniel last year.

Tweet of the Week

Crazy. Karma is a b****. Gets you every time. Its not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything!
-- LeBron James (@KingJames), 12:29 a.m., Wednesday. Most interpreted this as a shot at Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who famously predicted "bad karma" for James when he left Cleveland and went to Miami last summer, but whose Cavaliers have fallen through the floor in the East, culminating in a 55-point loss to the Lakers last week. After receiving criticism for the Tweet, James said he was re-Tweeting the thoughts of someone else, not himself. The dog that ate James' homework is still at large.

Mr. Fifteen

This week's Mr. Fifteen is Utah rookie forward Jeremy Evans.

The 23-year-old Evans made the Jazz after being taken in the second round, 55th overall, out of Western Kentucky. He is raw -- he only averaged 10 points a game during his senior season for the Hilltoppers -- but he knows how to play (he shot better than 60 percent from the floor every season at WKU and is the school's all-time leader in blocked shots) and has ridiculous athletic ability; Evans high-jumped 6-feet-11 inches in high school despite having no formal training in the sport, and thinks he could have been Olympic caliber if he had stuck with it.

But to make it in the NBA, Evans will also have to add 30 or so pounds to his rail-thin, 196-pound body. With the Jazz, Evans has appeared in 18 games, averaging 6.4 minutes per game.

Me: Coming from a small town (Crossland, Ark.), is this what you thought it would be?

Jeremy Evans: It's everything I thought it would be, and more. Coming from a small town, you only see so much. I really didn't watch TV, but I just knew that everybody looked at (NBA) players like idols, looked up to them and everything. It's everything I thought.

Me: How many people are in Crossland?

JE: Probably like 6,000, if that. It may have grown a little bit, but not too much.

Me: So at any given home game in Salt Lake, there's more people in the arena than there are in your hometown?

JE: Oh, yeah. Probably at Western Kentucky it was that, too.

Me: When did you start to think the NBA was a realistic possibility for you?

JE: Probably high school. I knew I was taller than every other player that I played against, but not only that, the talent level. And then coming in college, seeing I had a chance to play there. Coaches told me if I keep doing it, I have a shot.

Me: Who was the best guy you played against in high school?

JE: Probably Thaddeus Young (the Sixers forward). I'm sure he doesn't remember it, but I had to guard him the whole time, and he guarded me, and I had like 17 on him. So it was a big deal for us ... I think we almost had a chance to win. It was a last-second shot, and I missed it. But we were pretty close.

Me: What was life like growing up and how important was your mother's presence?

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Jazz rookie Jeremy Evans is determined to stick in the NBA.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

JE: Growing up, it was just me, my brother and my mom. She had a brother who played, and he had a chance. But a lot of things didn't work out with him (he is currently in prison). She would always tell me that if I believed in God and everything, I have a shot. We always went to church and everything, and I always believed her. I was always probably the skinniest one, so a lot of people told me that I probably couldn't make it. But I really didn't listen to that. Just kept pushing. I'm just proud to say that everything worked out, and my mom was right. It's just crazy to think back to where you came from and say you made it.

Me: What are they doing to put weight on you?

JE: I try to eat as much as I can all the time. I talk to the nutritionist, try to get four or five meals in a day. Shakes and everything else that possibly could help. Coach said it's going to come with time and age, 'cause I've been trying ever since I got in college, and before that. It's just the way I'm built. I've tried.

Me: Are you lifting? What are you benching right now?

JE: I'm not sure, because we don't do like a whole lot of weight. We just do reps, try to get stronger and faster and all that. I'm not sure.

Me: Describe the first time coach Sloan screamed at you.

JE: I'm not sure what you call screaming is what I call screaming. I don't think he's screamed at me yet. He's probably told me, like not really directly but towards the team, but I'm sure it was pointed at me. I always try to do what he asks, and every coach. If you do what they ask, you'll be fine. He's not too bad.

Me: How friendly have you gotten with Gordon Hayward (Utah's first-round pick)?

JE: We're pretty close. We're the rookies and we've got to stick together, try to make it through. It's not been hard, because the vets, they're pretty good guys. It's been pretty easy so far. I guess that's the only person you can really go talk to, because the other guys, they always have something going on. They have a wife and kids. So Gordon, he's the only one I really talk to. Both of us have girlfriends, and we're built like the same. Got the same struggles on the court. Just slightly different posititions, but one day, they say I'll probably play the 3/4. I work on guarding him all the time, one-on-one, just me and him. But we talk about a lot.

Me: What has impressed you the most so far about the NBA?

JE: That the players are really smart. And even though the game isn't as fast as I thought it was, like going back and forth, up and down, it's still fast. It's set up different. Guys may execute their moves slowly, and then speed it up. You've got to be ready for anything. They know exactly what they're doing and when they want to do their thing.

Me: How much do you pick up from this team about what it takes to be a title contender?

JE: They're very serious. Just watching them, practice, you go out there, and in the game. After the game, if it's a loss, you see the expressions. They don't take it lightly. Even though you have a game the next day, they're still thinking about what else could possibly help. They're always talking about it.

Me: What do you think your career arc is going to be?

JE: I don't want to say too much, but I think I'm going to be doing pretty good, especially if I continue to work at it, work as hard as I have. I'll probably be a lot stronger and know the game a lot more. Smarter, knowing what moves to execute at the right time.

Me: What was Draft night like?

JE: Oh, man, it was like a dream come true. You always dream about making it to the league. A lot of people, that's not a big possibility. There's few numbers that make it. I was just sitting there. I really didn't know what was going on. I didn't know I was going to get drafted. There's nothing better you could ask for. A lot of guys know they're going to make it ... just to go to the area where I was, and watch the Draft with family and friends, particularly not knowing what's going to happen, the excitement, it's just out of the blue. I was just sitting there, and after they called my name, I took off running. I didn't know what to do ...

Me: You took off running?

JE: Yeah. I ran out the building. I was just excited. I needed some fresh air. It got kind of warm.

Me: What would you be doing if you weren't in the NBA?

JE: Probably trying to find like a career in art. Newspaper cartoonist, murals. There's a lot of things you can get into.

Me: Do you still draw every day?

JE: I've picked it like, maybe, the last week or two. I've started a couple of pictures. Try to do a series, maybe, with the team. A couple of guys that I've got going.

Me: How long does it take to do a portrait?

JE: Well, I like to take my time, but I'm always rushing. Just ready to see what the finished product is going to be like. I think that takes away from a lot that I can do, but I think it's still fun.

Me: What's your favorite piece?

JE: A good piece of Michael Jordan that I did, back at home. I wouldn't let it go.

They Said It

"Complementary. And aggressive when I need to."
-- Chris Bosh, describing his evolving role with the SuperFriends this season.

"Don't put me in my rocking chair just yet. Hold on, I'll be back! Stay tuned."
-- Allen Iverson, responding via Tweet to rumors that he was planning to retire after his brief stint in Turkey. Iverson returned to the United States last week to have a lesion removed from his leg, but says he plans to return to Turkey when healthy to play for Besiktas.

"We're looking at all our options. Of course you're going to look at your options! We're businessmen. We've been at this for 10 years without any (arena) success."
-- Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, telling the Sacramento Bee Monday that he and brother Gavin are growing weary of waiting for a new building, though they remain hopeful that a new series of arena proposals advocated by Mayor (and former NBA star) Kevin Johnson will come to fruition. Later in the week, the Kings announced a five-year naming rights deal to rename Arco Arena "Power Balance Pavillion," for the performance technology company that manufactures wristbands that, the company claims, improves a person's core balance and flexibility.

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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