Posted Mar 14 2011 1:23AM
It has been hard for Lionel Hollins to watch University of Minnesota basketball this season. First of all, his job doesn't afford him a lot of down time. He travels a lot and he's got practices and shootarounds and games, and he's worrying about when Rudy Gay's shoulder will heal, and he's in the middle of a playoff race that means a lot to his employers, the Memphis Grizzlies. And then he looks at his son, Austin, a freshman point guard for the Golden Gophers, and he's got a totally different game from the old man.
"For me, the hardest part is, he's not me," Lionel Hollins said by telephone Sunday afternoon. "And he doesn't play like me. I know what I was playing like in those situations, and what I was doing. In high school. From the time I started playing basketball, I was an attack, offensive player. He's not that way. He's looking for the open man, looking to pass. But he's been around me coaching, and he's picked that up. He's learning the coaching side of me versus the playing side of me, which is good. But he doesn't know me as a player."
It's an age-old problem for the NBA father -- who starred at Arizona State and then played at the highest level of basketball. Watching a son play the game that both love so much. But we're at the time of year where similar angst-ridden scenes will play out in arenas all over the country.
The NCAA Tournament is here, and with it comes more than a dozen young players who have some family connection to an NBA player or coach. This doesn't count kids like Austin Hollins or his teammate Ralph Sampson, III, a junior center for the Gophers and son of four-time NBA All-Star Ralph Sampson; Minnesota didn't make the NCAA field. Neither did Jeremiah Rivers, the Indiana University guard and son of Doc Rivers, or Jeff and Marcus Jordan, Michael's sons, who play at Central Florida -- though UCF will be playing in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.
Sunday brought signficant angst for several NBA relations at Michigan, where the Wolverines had to sweat it out before finding out they'd been awarded an at-large bid as the eighth seed in the West Region. Michigan's roster features three players whose fathers were in the NBA: guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., the son, of course, of Warriors and Heat guard Tim Hardaway; Jon Horford, a freshman forward whose father, Tito, played in the 1990s and whose brother, Al, is the All-Star center for the Hawks; and Jordan Dumars, a sophomore redshirt forward whose father is the Hall of Fame Pistons guard and current Pistons president Joe Dumars.
Despite the knee injury that has kept his son on the sidelines this season, "It's been fun," Joe Dumars e-mailed Saturday. "He really enjoys playing for coach (John) Beilein and he really likes his teammates."
The Wolverines also feature guard Josh Bartelstein, whose father, Mark, is one of the NBA and NFL's busiest and most successful agents. (In 2012, Michigan will add Glenn Robinson III, the son of former Bucks and Sixers star Glenn Robinson, who was college basketball's national player of the year in 1994 and led the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight that season.)
"It's very exciting for them," Mark Bartelstein said Sunday night. "There wasn't a whole lot of hope at the start of the season."
Josh Bartelstein has had to come back from a concussion that kept him out a few weeks toward the end of the regular season and led to migraine headaches and dizziness, his father said. It was doubly troubling because Josh Bartelstein had worked his way into Michigan's rotation after arriving on campus last year as a walk-on. But he was cleared to play before the start of this weekend's Big Ten tournament.
"Growing up, he was always a really good player, from the fourth or fifth grade on," Mark Bartelstein said. "But people would say, 'Your son is going to play in college,' and you always sort of dismissed it. Being in the business, I knew how hard it was to play in college at a major level. I'm watching all these guys play. I know how hard it is and how good you have to be, how tough it is to play at that level. When the opportunity came up to play at Michigan, he was unbelievbly excited. It's a huge thrill. We went to the Final Four in New Orleans one year. For him to be playing in the tournament is a great thrill."
Among the many other tournament-bound college players who come from NBA pedigrees:
• Nolan Smith, the All-America senior guard at Duke, son of the late swingman Derek Smith, himself a national champion at Louisville in 1980 and who played for the Warriors, Clippers, Kings, 76ers and Celtics during his nine-year pro career;
• David Stockton, freshman guard, Gonzaga, son of Jazz Hall of Fame guard John Stockton (brother Shawn, a junior guard, plays at Montana, which lost to Northern Colorado in the Big Sky conference tournament final);
Michigan has come on late this season with the younger Hardaway leading the way, just as his father helped Texas El-Paso make the second round of the NCAAs in 1987 and 1989, introducing the "UTEP Two-Step" crossover to the lexicon. Tim, Jr., has shined the second half of the season at shooting guard for the Wolverines, including 30 points in a win at Iowa last month and 20 in a win earlier this month against Michigan State that went a long way toward getting Michigan in the NCAA field.
But there have been challenges. In high school, Tim, Sr. was quite willing to share his expertise and his criticism of how his son was playing.
"We would argue about games and what I could have or should have done," Tim, Jr., told the Miami Herald last week, and his father acknowledged the truth of that.
"I kept ragging on him to the point where he didn't want to be around me," Tim, Sr., told the Herald. "Then I sat way up in the stands one game and afterward I said, 'I'm sorry. You really are doing what I asked and more.' I had to check my ego. I had to let him come to me."
Tim, Sr., has talked with Dumars about the irony of their sons playing together, after the fathers knocked heads for so many years in the NBA. Joe Dumars has been able to take a more relaxed approach about the game with his son. Jordan Dumars was a fixture at Pistons practices for years while a teenager, shooting around with a world championship team, getting ragged on like anyone else on the team. He already had a thick skin when he went to college -- first to South Florida, then to Michigan.
"Jordan has been around the game his entire life, so he went in prepared for it," said his father, who was able to attend a couple of MIchigan games this season. "He knows what's expected and how to handle himself."
The success of the sons also has added to what often can be an adversarial relationship between an agent and team executive. Mark Bartelstein represents Pistons like guard Will Bynum as well as former ones like Brian Cardinal and Kwame Brown. Their relationship is good, but as with any agent and president, they've argued over the years about money and other things. Now the conversations are different.
"Joe and I always have a lot of stuff to talk about, Pistons-wise and NBA-wise," Mark Bartelstein said, "and now we spend about half the converstaion talking about Michigan. It's fun to see your kids doing something they love to do, and it's special to do it when no one was expecting you to do it."
Lionel Hollins and Ralph Sampson won't see their kids in the NCAAs -- the Golden Gophers finished ninth in the Big 10 in the regular season and lost in the first round of the conference tournament to Northwestern, struggling at the finish after losing senior point guard Al Nolen to a broken foot. But the Gophers have made two NCAAs under coach Tubby Smith, who won a national championship at Kentucky in 1998. In his first season, Austin Hollins averaged 4.5 points in 17 minutes a game.
"In high school, it was much more confined," Lionel Hollins said. "He went to school, went to practice at 3:30, and at 5, he was done. But there (at Minnesota), you have 6 o'clock weightlifting, then school, then practice, then study hall. He didn't have any study hall (in high school), and he didn't need it because he was a good student. But in college, you have a structure and you have to be a part of it. When I was in college if you had a 2.5 GPA, you didn't have to go to study hall. Now, I think everybody has to go. I think for him the biggest issue was balancing your time and just being tired. The physical commitment wasn't the same.
"I told him, it'll get better when he gets older. You'll be stronger. And you'll understand it better. You want him to do well. You want the team to do well. I like for his team to be successful and go a long way and enjoy that experience of it, not just him going out there and scoring points and the team losing."
NFL lockout sends shudder through NBA
Friday brought the expected in the National Football League, with the NFL Players' Association deciding to file for decertification and sue the NFL in court for violating antritrust law. The league then locked out the players Friday evening, shutting things down for the foreseeable future. And the shudder could be felt throughout arenas in the NBA, whose date with a work stoppage draws closer.
What provides the biggest concern is the idea that NFL owners and players couldn't figure out a way to divide $9 billion. The NBA's pie is smaller -- about $4 billion -- and owners aren't just looking to adjust the split between themselves and players. They're looking to change the system by which the players are paid by going to a hard salary cap. And they're looking at eliminating most, if not all, of the current exceptions to the cap that teams receive in order to re-sign their own players for more money or for capped-out teams to be able to add veterans at relatively low prices.
"Those (NFL) owners are pushing with the money they're making," said a source involved in the NBA discussions over the weekend. "I think our guys will do the same. Maybe there will be some decisions made in this court that will harder or soften one side one way or the other."
Indeed, the NFL lockout will likely swing on what U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson decides when she has a hearing on the players' lawsuit April 6. Nelson got the case instead of U.S. District Judge David Doty of Minneapolis, who has been hearing labor cases between the NFL and the players for more than 20 years, and has generally ruled in favor of the players most of the time. Nelson ruled for the players last week in a dispute with owners about television revenue, saying that the NFL's owners could not pocket approximately $4 billion in money from the networks that broadcast NFL games in case of a protracted lockout.
The precedent set by decertifying was welcomed by Atlanta center Etan Thomas in a column that ran this weekend on the basketball website, HoopsHype. If Nelson rules for the players and that gets the NFL owners to the table faster, decertification will be hailed as a brilliant strategy. But if Nelson goes the other way, NFL players will be left in the cold and their NBA brethren might be less inclined to take that ultimate step.
What little optimism remains that the NBA can avoid its own work stoppage once its CBA expires June 30 dwindles with each passing day, although both commisioner David Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said during the All-Star break that the rhetoric during their meetings with one another was much less heated than in previous sessions. But the reality is that owners want a new system, and the things they're asking for continue to be non-starters with the players.
Sources indicate that the union already has the signatures of all but a few players authorizing a vote to decertify the NBPA if the union decides to use that last-gasp tactic. Player representatives from each team would conduct the vote, although a meeting of the full membership would take place before said vote, one source said. If the players voted to decertify, the signatures of the players who have already voted yes would be submitted, and the union would then file an antitrust lawsuit against the NBA, much as the NFLPA has done.
And like the football union, which has star players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees listed among the plaintiffs, a basketball players' lawsuit would include stars, free agents and probably a player currently in college. The idea would be that a work stoppage would harm players at all levels, from unrestricted free agents to rookies working on their first deals.
The NBPA filed such a lawsuit in 1987, led by Junior Bridgeman, then the president of the union. Joining Bridgeman in the suit that would ultimately bear his name were free agents at the time like Rory Sparrow, Phil Hubbard and Darrell Walker; top Draft picks like David Robinson -- taken first overall that year by San Antonio -- Armon Gilliam and Reggie Williams, and players that were playing overseas at the time. The union didn't win that suit, but the threat that year of decertification led to a strengthening of the recently agreed-to salary cap between the players and owners -- an arrangement that has lasted, more or less, for most of the last 25 years.
But that may change this time around.
Players received booklets in December detailing how to prepare for a lockout. (Bloomberg News unearthed a copy last week.)The booklet included options for purchasing insurance in case of a protracted work stoppage, warned against purchases with little immediate resale value (i.e. clothing and jewelry), told players that this may not be the best time to go to Vegas or Atlantic City and reminded vested players -- those with five or more seasons of experience -- that they can tap into supplemental health packages that have accrued over time to purchase health insurance for their families during a stoppage.
In some cases, those packages could have anywhere between $100,000 and $300,000 built up over the years. That would help defray the costs of purchasing expensive short-term health insurance packages such as COBRA in case there is a protracted work stoppage implemented by the owners.
"We really have talked about it," said Washington's Maurice Evans, a vice president of the NBPA. "We've prepared ourselves. We're very, very unified. And the owners seem to be unified as well."
An antitrust lawsuit filed by NBA players would also be heard in court much as the NFL players' suit will be heard by Nelson, and not by the system arbitrator that handles disputes between players and the league and/or teams arising from differing interpretations of enforcing provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
There is still some hope that a last-second solution can be found, with meetings scheduled before the end of the regular season between smaller groups of players and owners. But the history of these things is that no one moves until real money is lost. In the case of players, that wouldn't happen until the fall, when they stop receiving their game checks. Teams will suffer some in the short term if fans opt not to renew season ticket packages or purchase luxury suites; those renewal notices have already started going out leaguewide. But over the long haul, those that sign the checks are usually able to hold out longer than those that deposit them.
"Everyone's very prepared, but that's not the route we want to go," Evans said. "We all want to work together and get a deal. Our word is partnership. We want to work with the NBA and make a deal. We want to do our part and we want them to do their part."
(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) Chicago  (4-0): Bulls get ultimate compliment from Michael Jordan at 20-year reunion of first championship team Saturday, with His Airness saying current team might win as many titles as Six-Peat Bulls of 1990s.
2) L.A. Lakers  (2-1): Finish tough road trip 3-1 with win over Dallas Saturday; now have seven straight and nine of next 10 back at Staples Center.
3) San Antonio  (3-0): Spurs' win Saturday over Houston marked the seventh sweep of back-to-back games in 14 sets. Spurs are 20-8 overall in back-to-back games this season.
4) Oklahoma City  (3-1): Thunder have feasted on East teams (19-6) this season, with four more this week before playing 12 of its last 13 against Western Conference foes.
5) Boston  (1-2): Got Big Baby back, but Nenad Krstic starting at center for the time being. Can imagine his conversations with KG about defensive principles are going just great.
6) Dallas  (2-2): Rick Carlisle causes kerfluffle by calling his team soft; Cubes and players strongly disagree.
7) Orlando  (2-2): After tonight's game at Staples against the Lakers, the Magic will not travel west of the Mississippi again this season.
8) Denver  (2-0): Nuggets give George Karl extension, amid suddenly rosier-looking future.
9) Miami  (2-1): We won't call Thursday's win over the Lakers a season-saver, but it certainly stopped the nitpicking and naysaying for a few days, giving the Heat time to regroup.
10) Portland  (2-2): Blazers make the smart play, taking Nate McMillan off the board next summer with a two-year extension.
11) New Orleans  (2-1): Fairly good return for CP3 on Saturday -- 33 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds -- after missing two games following that scary spill and concussion last weekend.
12) New York  (2-2): League rescinded Amar'e Stoudemire's 16th technical this week, which would have led to automatic one-game suspension.
13) Atlanta  (1-2): Reeling Hawks hoped to catch Orlando for fourth in East, but now need to pick up their game to hold off Knicks and Sixers and avoid seventh -- which would mean either Bulls or Celtics in first round.
14) Philadelphia  (2-2): Sixers haven't lost back-to-back games in seven weeks.
15) Memphis  (1-2): Grizz .500 (5-5) since losing Gay to separated shoulder three weeks ago.
New Jersey (2-0): Nets have won four straight overall for the first time since Jan. 31-Feb. 7, 2009, and are actually talking -- out loud -- about making a playoff run. Well, they are just five out of the loss column behind eighth-place Charlotte, and they've gotten some really good play of late from one of our favorites, Sundiata Gaines.
Washington (0-2): Two more embarassing home losses for the woeful Wizards, who've dropped three straight and 10 of their last 11. Things have gotten so bad that injuries forced the Wiz to play five rookies during a drilling by the Bucks on Tuesday -- John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Hamady Ndiaye -- and that group actually played harder than combinations involving some of Washington's veterans. And what's the likely reward? Another rookie!
What kind of playoff team will the Knicks be?
It is now mid-March, and thus we have officially passed the threshold where it's now OK to say "if the playoffs started today." So, if the playoffs started today, New York would finish sixth in the East and play Miami in the first round. That might generate a ratings point or 5,000,000. And it would be a great opportunity for the Knicks, who are strong up front (with Amar'e Stoudemire) and at the point (with Chauncey Billups), the two places where the Heat are weakest. But if New York doesn't get better on defense, it will be in the playoffs for about four or five games.
New York had begun rounding into form since acquiring Carmelo Anthony, Billups and Anthony Carter at the deadline for four former members of the Knicks' rotation -- guard Ray Felton, forwards Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, and center Timofey Mozgov. But just when you think the Knicks have turned the corner, they throw out a dud like Sunday's loss at home to slumping Indiana, dropping New York to just 6-5 since the trade -- though most of those games were played without Billups, who'd been sidelined with a thigh bruise and missed six of those games before returning Sunday. He scored nine points in 34 minutes against the Pacers, shooting just 4-of-14 from the floor.
We know New York won't have trouble scoring -- regular season, postseason, cold and flu season ... it doesn't matter. When they play against bad defensive teams, like last Monday against Utah, the Knicks can hang 120 on you without blinking, even though Mike D'Antoni isn't running and gunning as much as in previous seasons. But unfortunately for Gotham proper, bad defensive teams tend not to make the playoffs. In the case of the Heat, for example, New York would be going up against one of the league's most active defensive units, capable of wreaking havoc in the passing lanes, getting out and running, and making swiss cheese out of the Knicks' own poor defense.
But can D'Antoni win big in the playoffs with this group?
"It's kind of hard to say that now," Stoudemire said after the Knicks blew out Utah at the Garden. "It's only been, maybe a week, week and a half, that we've been together, and everybody's surprising me more and more. And Chauncey's been out for a week. So once we get him back in the rotation, we start to figure (it) out and play with each other, then we can figure out what kind of playoff team we can become."
Entering play Sunday, Anthony had averaged 25.6 points per game since coming to New York, shooting 45 percent from the floor. Stoudemire had averaged 28 points on 46.8 percent shooting. And the Knicks' margin of victory in those games was more than 11 points per game. And, just as important, the rest of the team is shooting a collective 49 percent from the floor.
"With those two guys on the floor, we should always be taking high percentage shots," D'Antoni said Monday. "As we go on and they get comfortable with each other, the key is our team, not who scores or how. Just make sure that the team functions."
But the Knicks have shown sieve-like tendencies on defense. They gave up 108 points to Milwaukee, a team that could manage just 56 points Sunday against the Celtics, the fewest points Boston has allowed in a game in 56 years.
Finally, the Mavs hung 127 on them Thursday, and on Sunday, they allowed the Pacers, playing without Danny Granger, to shoot 57 percent from the floor -- with second-year forward Tyler Hansbrough scoring a career-high 29.
New York's rotation has been in flux since the trade. The Knicks started Ronny Turiaf at center immediately after the trade, but have since put Stoudemire in at center, with Jared Jeffries -- who was recently signed after being waived by Houston -- starting at power forward. Guys like Roger Mason Jr., who'd been in dry dock for weeks, are suddenly getting playing time out of necessity -- though guard Toney Douglas, who's played well all season, has filled in for Billups pretty admirably.
If Billups is back and healthy for good, though, the Knicks will be that much more balanced on offense, with someone who will get the ball to the right people. How far can the Knicks go? I don't know. But they'll be interesting.
"Now, my mentality is to play it out, to the last game of the season, see what happens there," Anthony said. "We don't really want to look too far ahead like that. We've got teams and games we've got to take care of right now. March is a tough month as far as the games and the traveling, and just figuring out when we're going to get rest as a team and how we're going to get through this month. It's a tough month, but it's a big month for us, too. Me and Chauncey and A.C. couldn't have came at a better time with this team. Because it really now puts us to the test, to see what this team is made of."
Green with anticipation, not envy, about the Green. And about Green. Enough Green, already! From Mike Harris:
Typically, I agree with what you have to say in regards to the whole league. However, I do not think the Celtics' trade was a net loss. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen will be leaving soon. Rondo is, now, the foundation -- I do believe that the Celtics' organization will make him the best team point guard in the league. He is the team's next franchise player. Keeping Doc and building a team around him (Rondo) is the safest strategy.
Jeff Green is promising, as you mention -- and yes, Kristc is not as scary as Perk, but his numbers are pretty much what Perk delivered. My first point is that rebuilding a powerful force is expensive and progressive. A good manager realizes that their emotions can lead to a hell of second-guess failures. One can calculate too much, make a flashy move and end up like the Miami Heat. A team is greater than the sum of their players -- a gem of wisdom forgotten about in the NBA (no wonder the league is broke). Fortunately for the Cetics, the best part about the first part of a reconstruction effort is that no first move is the wrong move. You add a couple, see how they integrate and make another move.
You are correct about one thing: management will always think down the road. That's the GM/executive's job, and Danny Ainge did his correctly. But I just think when you're close to a championship, you go all in and worry about the future in the future. And Boston is close. Perkins is a known quantity that helped them win one title and get to the brink of another. But Green and Krstic will help them this year and down the road, no question.
A Springfield-based question about the Answer. From Rick Dhanda:
Hey I was wondering whether you think Allen Iverson is headed to the Hall of Fame one day?
No question, he was one of the premier "little men" to play in the history of the NBA. When he was young and had his jets, he was incredible to watch. I wouldn't call him a leader like Isiah Thomas was, or a great passer like Tiny Archibald was. But he was a dynamic force on the floor who never stopped moving, never stopped threatening the defense and never took a night off.
Tag, you're it. From Aaron Pinchback:
I keep hearing about how one of the things that the NBA owners want in the new CBA is a franchise tag similar to the one in the NFL, and I'm a little confused as to why the owners would think this would be a good thing for them.
The franchise tag works in the NFL because while a guy may be angry about getting tagged, most of those guys understand that their careers are so short, they can't afford to let dissatisfaction with their contract to submarine a season. And in the event that you do end up with a player willing to pout through a season, NFL rosters are so large that it is the rare player who's important enough to sabotage a team.
In the NBA, holding a player against his will for a single season would seem to have much more potential to hurt a team than help them. He may decide to handle it very professionally, and I'm sure many players would. But you could also see players working to undermine their team to accelerate their departure. Think Vince Carter in Toronto, or even Sprewell in Golden State. Not that I'm suggesting anything that extreme would happen, but it does show that acting out to get out of a bad situation won't necessarily hurt your earning potential. In both those cases, the player was able to prosper and sign lucrative contracts in new cities.
And in the NFL, when you franchise a guy, you pay him the average of the top five guys at his position. Would it be the same in the NBA? Do owners rally want to pay $12-15 million to guys who don't want to play for them?
So where's the benefit? Unless the tag was for multiple seasons, which I can't see the players agreeing to because it would effectively wipe out free agency for the best guys. So is there some other benefit that I'm just missing?
It won't be exactly the same as the NFL, Aaron. But the major reason as I see it -- no one's said this is what would happen -- would be this: a franchise-like designation would allow smaller-revenue teams (the "small market" designation is in the eye of the beholder) to have the benefits of a Larry Bird exception to a hard cap without actually having that exception. The franchise tag would likely allow a player's existing team to pay more than another team looking to sign that player in free agency. It wouldn't be a cure-all for the smaller-revenue teams, but it would be one way for them to have the best of both worlds -- a hard cap that would give them a more level playing field with the Knicks and Lakers and Bulls of the league, yet not get outspent for their best players.
No, many players wouldn't like it. But at the end of the day they'd face the same dilemma many of them have now -- do I want to win, and take less money, or take more money, and have less chance to win?
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and direct post plays for Chris Bosh to email@example.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, compelling, mind-bending or snarky, we just may publish it! We may, though, cut for space. Just sayin'.
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) Derrick Rose (26 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6 apg, .403 FG, .906 FT): D-Rose says he's "speechless" after hearing Michael Jordan say that he is the likely league MVP this season.
2) LeBron James (25.7 ppg, 8 rpg, 7.3 apg, .585 FG, .647 FT): More pick and rolls with Wade and LBJ, which gets either one of them going toward the basket, which is the whole point.
3) Dwight Howard (18.3 ppg, 17 rpg, 3.3 bpg, .500 FG, .568 FT): Wins his first game in Phoenix on Sunday -- the Magic broke an eight-game losing streak there -- and passed the 10,000-point mark.
4) Kobe Bryant (22 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, .373 FG, .850 FT): Kobester gets in a little conspicuous post-game workout after the Lakers' loss on Thursday to the Heat. Said he needed to work on his game. He does know Miami has a practice court upstairs, right? Maybe he doesn't. Maybe.
5) Dirk Nowitzki (24.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, .500 FG, 1,000 FT): Shooting 53 percent from the floor, an incredible number given his age, the attention opponents pay to him and his return from a knee injury.
12 -- Consecutive 50-win seasons by the San Antonio Spurs, the longest such streak in the league and tying the all-time mark set by the Lakers, who won 50 games every season between 1979 and 1991. The Mavericks will reach 11 straight 50-win seasons with three wins this week.
36 -- Combined 3-pointers by the Warriors and Magic in Golden State's 123-120 overtime victory Friday night, setting an NBA record for most threes in a game. Dorell Wright had eight of the threes for the Warriors; teammate Monta Ellis had seven, a career high.
47 -- Consecutive games since the Raptors have won two straight this season. Toronto missed another chance to put such a modest win streak together Sunday with its loss to Charlotte.
1) On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to meet some of our returning troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the first time I'd been so honored -- and, truly, the honor was mine. We take our armed forces for granted these days. We, who sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, continue to obsess about silly people like Snooki and Charlie Sheen, and go on with our lives as if we aren't fighting wars in two countries . And all the while, our troops go on second, third, fourth tours of duty in those hellish locales, putting their lives on the line for ours. And in many of those cases, they do so willingly.
I met a young man who was a stockbroker in New York and volunteered after 9/11. Another young man was 24, and blind after a grenade exploded a foot or so from his face in Afghanistan. He re-upped, he said, because he saw the incoming troops were even younger than he -- 18 and 19 years old -- and had no idea of what they were about to face. And, he said, if he could, somehow, be sighted again tomorrow, he would re-up again. That is the norm in our military, not the exception. They are remarkable people, from all over our country. But we cannot keep asking the same people, and their families, to continue to sacrifice, over and over, with no end in sight. Their bravery is a shining example of our best and brightest, and for what they do, I will be forever grateful. But we cannot keep asking them to carry the load.
2) With two games left next month against Oklahoma City, the Nuggets could, conceivably, catch the fourth-place Thunder and finish fourth in the West, giving them home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series. Which would, given the cloud that hung over the franchise for seven months before the Carmelo Anthony trade, be remarkable.
3) A great illustration of why the league's financial issues don't all fall neatly into "large market/small market" division.
4) Give Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis credit for being as up front and honest with his fans as possible. This empowers fans to make their own, educated choice: Do I continue to support a team the owner admits is going to be bad for a while, or do I spend my money elsewhere? If he opts to stick with the team the fan then cannot complain when it loses in the short term -- as long as it continues to stay on the path the owner said it would. But he should expect to get improving results from year to year. That's a fair sharing of time and resources on both sides.
5) Ditto the Warriors, putting their money where their mouth is.
6) So stoked to be part of Turner and CBS' coverage of March Madness. But more excited for all of you, because you'll now get to watch whatever game or games you want to watch, in their entirety, on one of the four networks that will show the games: CBS, TNT, TBS and truTV. No more cutaways from your alma mater's game, even if State U is down 20. It's your call. Or if you want to look at Jimmer or E'Twaun from start to finish, go nuts.
1) Jalen Rose is a friend. And he says his feelings have evolved over time, that what he believed as an 18-year-old is not what he believes now as a 38-year-old. But he wasn't 18 when he sat down to be interviewed for the ESPN documentary about the Fab Five era at Michigan and disclosed that, while an 18-year-old, he thought that African-American players recruited by Duke were "Uncle Toms." And that belief, no matter when it is espoused, is misguided, unfair and wrong. We must bury this notion that the only "authentic" black experience is that of poverty, of single-parent homes, of pathology and lack of education.
Oprah Winfrey has lived an authentic African-American experience that started in abject poverty but has ended with wealth beyond most people's imagination. Will Smith grew up in Philly and became a movie star; Condoleeza Rice lived in Alabama during the worst era of segregation and prejudice in the 1960s and wound up being Secretary of State; Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii and became president. Chris Rock and Dionne Warwick are the son and daughter of working-class parents. So am I. But Jaden Smith, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett's son, will be rich every day of his life. His African-American experience will be no less authentic than Jalen Rose's.
It is an insult to Calvin and Janet Hill, and what they have accomplished individually with their lives and as parents, to say their son, Grant, isn't as "real" as black kids who came from impoverished backgrounds, or from the inner city, or that he doesn't value his blackness as much as Rose values his. Grant Hill took an exhibition of African-American art around the country for a year, featuring paintings by Romare Bearden and sculptures by Elizabeth Catlett. Johnny Dawkins grew up in D.C. like me; Carlos Boozer grew up in Alaska. I would never presume that Boozer's life is "less black" than mine or Johnny's. Rose says now that he understands that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski only was picking players that would reflect well on the Duke program, but that he still thinks Coach K wouldn't take a kid "from an urban area to try to teach how to be a young man."
Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows? But the black kids who go to Duke shouldn't be stereotyped, just like the black kids who grew up in Detroit with Jalen Rose.
2) I did read this correctly, right? Knicks tickets are going up an average of 49 percent next season? Will season ticket holders get a bar of gold with their seats? I guess NYC has to pay for the renovation of Madison Square Garden, but isn't that what Spike Lee and Woody Allen and everyone else paying through the nose for courtside seats are already doing?
3) Don't doubt that someone may have told CBSSports.com that Kurt Rambis is in trouble in Minnesota. But if that's so, that stinks. For two years, the Wolves have done nothing but turn over their roster, bringing in younger and younger players, and asking Rambis and his staff to teach and live with all those Ls on their ledger. You don't win with young in this league; you win with talented veterans, and other than Kevin Love, the Wolves barely have enough talent to compete on a nightly basis. (Michael Beasley can score, no doubt, but his defense, like Love's, is, uh, a work in progress.) Lottery picks Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson have been slowed by injuries, and the big man combo of Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic has been decidedly meh.
"This team plays hard," Rambis said last week, "and they have moments where they play extremely well together at both ends of the floor. But they haven't connected it for 48 minutes. They allow teams to get on runs. Clearly we lack the composure and experience and savvy, and maybe in some extent, personnel, to finish out games when things are tight. You know, that veteran, calming influence."
A team source insisted this weekend that it would take a major collapse down the stretch for management to even consider replacing Rambis, who got a four-year contract with the Wolves for that very reason -- to take a lot of losses while developing the team's young talent, including still-in-Europe Ricky Rubio. (The Wolves can buy out Rubio's contract in Spain next season for $500,000, with Rubio paying the remainder, and Minnesota still expects Rubio will come over next year, regardless of whether there's a lockout.) The Wolves have already won more games this season than last, with a month left in the season. Love, who clashed with Rambis last season, has seen that playing on a really bad team won't keep him from individual accolades like making the U.S. World Championship team last year and the All-Star team this year -- and as such, the source claims, Love isn't going anywhere when and if he becomes a free agent.
4) Condolences to Baron Davis, whose grandmother, Lela Nicholson, died last week at the age of 89. BD was very close to her; she helped raise him in Los Angeles, and one of the reasons he was most excited to play in California -- first for the Warriors, then the Clippers -- was that she would get to see more of his games in person.
5) Saw the Jazz Monday in New York. Wow, they are a mess.
6) Don't know exactly what Steve Nash's injury is, but it sounds incredibly painful.
I wanna know who was crying. The 1st and the 15th will always come.
-- Former NBA star Stephon Marbury (@StarburyMarbury), Thursday, 2:10 p.m., making his take on "Crygate" and the Heat clear. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
This week's Mr. Fifteen is Washington Wizards guard Mustafa Shakur. The 26-year-old Shakur has been a basketball nomad since going undrafted out of Arizona, where he was honorable mention all-Pac 10 as a senior in 2007 and finished third in the country in assists.
Shakur signed with Sacramento that summer as an undrafted free agent, but didn't play in a game before being released. He then played for Prokom Trefl Sopot in Poland, TAU Ceramica in Spain and Panellinios BC in Greece before returning stateside and playing in the NBA D-League, first for the Tulsa 66ers, where he became a D-League All-Star last year and then got two 10-day contracts with Tulsa's parent team, Oklahoma City. He played on OKC's summer league team but signed a partially guaranteed deal with New Orleans. He didn't make the final roster, however, and went back to the D-League with Rio Grande, where he was playing when the Wizards signed him to the first of two 10-days this year. After Washington traded Kirk Hinrich to the Hawks at the trade deadline, they brought Shakur back for the remainder of the season.
Me: When you have to fight to get in the league, and stay in the league, as you've had to do, what does that do for a player -- as opposed to being a high lottery pick who's never had to worry about where he was going to be?
Mustafa Shakur: I think you don't take it for granted. No matter what pick you are, it's a timetable. Because you see some guys that came out of my class (and got drafted), they're not even here right now. You might not even know where they are, you know what I mean? It's a timetable on everything, whether it's I have 20 games, or (just) practices to show what I can do, or you have three years guaranteed, it's still a timetable. You try to stay focused, even though it's a little bit harder, a lot more difficult, because you may have three years' worth of opportunity versus some sporadic timetable.
Me: Was there ever a point when you despaired and said, "Maybe this isn't going to work?"
MS: There was never one time where I felt it wouldn't work, even though I had a lot of tough days and tough nights, especially being overseas. I think that was the toughest part of me, because it felt so out of grasp, being overseas. You can't get called up from overseas. Being in the D-League, it kind of changed my perspective, because it was right there. I could see it right there being in the NBA DL.
Me: Was that harder in some ways, because you were so close?
MS: It's harder, but I think it's tough to focus sometimes. If you're playing great and you see somebody else get called up, you're like, man, he's good, but I've been playing hard, too. You just want to be up there, too. That's really the toughest part for a lot of guys, even some of the guys that are still in the D-League, the teams that I played on, that are playing great, but they may not have gotten the opportunity yet. Just staying focused and not going off the deep end, saying I'm going to leave, or just shut it down completely while you're playing.
Me: What was Draft night like?
MS: It was a tough night. I had a lot of, a good amount of teams that said they would probably select me. So that was the toughest thing, seeing those teams go by and not being selected, and having my family at home, and it didn't work out.
Me: I'm sure you can rattle off all the point guards that were taken in '07.
MS: Of course you remember some of the top ones. (Editor's note: Mike Conley, Jr., Acie Law, Javaris Crittenton and Aaron Brooks were among the guards taken in the first round that year, with Gabe Pruitt, Marcus Williams, Jared Jordan, Taurean Green and Ramon Sessions going in the second round.) But like I said, a lot of those guys, you might not even know where they are. They might be overseas themselves, or in the D-League as well. That's what I've learned over the years, is that there's always a timetable and that opportunity will come back around if you're ready.
Me: What was your best experience playing overseas?
MS: The best experience I had was playing in Athens, Greece. I loved it. Unbelievable food, and just history. I had an opportunity to visit the canals, things like that. And also I played in Spain, for a big team, TAU Ceramica. Tiago Splitter, that's (now) on the Spurs, he was my teammate. So that was pretty cool. I had some great experiences playing EuroLeague basketball.
Me: Do you think young guys playing overseas appreciate the kinds of things that are available to them off the court?
MS: Yeah, especially if you're fortunate enough to play in EuroLeague, or one of these really top teams. Like if you get a chance to play for Barcelona, or Maccabi, or one of those teams. I talk to some guys that are still playing over there, that played in the NBA for a few years. It's great for them.
Me: What do you provide to a basketball team right now?
MS: I think for one, I provide some positive backup minutes, of running the show, and keeping things going with energy, and some vocalness. Because I've been around the block a few times. I know that the biggest thing is the communication on the court, and sometimes that's lacking when you're young. I just try to talk as much as possible, so we hear each other.
Me: Your family name is interesting. Do you look at the history of that name and what it means? (Mustafa Shakur is not related to the late rap artist and actor Tupac Shakur; several members of Tupac's family were members of the Black Panther party in the 1960s, while other Shakurs were rulers of Ethiopia in the late 1800s.)
MS: I know what you mean, but I'm not related to that part of it. But I know what you mean. I think I look at the good parts of it, and what my name means -- the chosen, thankful to God. I look at the values my family instilled in me, in being a good person and doing the right thing. So I just look at the positives behind that name, and doing the right thing, and staying focused on helping others, that kind of thing.
Me: What do you see your career arc being?
MS: I think if I just continue to have the willingness to work and continue to get better, I think I can only continue to go up and go forward. That's just the way I look at it. I have an optimistic look at things.
Me: And, now, they got your jersey fixed.
MS: Yeah. I mean, I played great when they had it (he had five points and five assists in 10 minutes in Washington's upset win over Boston Jan. 22), so I really wasn't opposed to them making it.
"No one cried."
-- Doc Rivers, describing his team's reaction to losing at home to the Clippers last week -- in contrast to the supposed reaction of some Miami players after losing to the Bulls a week ago.
"It's not about liking him. It's about admiring his courage. There's only one individual I know that's like that, and that's Michael Jordan."
-- Phil Jackson, asked by the L.A. Times' T.J. Simers if he likes Kobe Bryant. Jackson was talking about how Bryant had played hurt throughout the playoffs last year when Simers asked his question.
"They're still there but they're doing OK."
-- Kobe Bryant, who was able to reach his parents, on vacation in Tokyo, after Friday's massive 8.9 earthquake in Japan. The earthquake has killed thousands, severely damaged nuclear power plants and caused untold millions of dollars of damage throughout the country.
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