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David Aldridge

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Grant Hill's defensive acumen has been one of the few bright spots for Phoenix this season.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Hill's late-career surge reshapes Suns' plans for rebuilding


Posted Mar 28 2011 1:08PM

He makes it impossible for the Phoenix Suns to move on.

Grant HIll gets in his defensive stance, and doesn't go for any of Kobe Bryant's head fakes, and contests just about every shot -- all 31 of them -- that Bryant shoots in 48 minutes of regulation, and three overtimes, last Tuesday.

He takes contact and gives it; he gets in the passing lanes, he comes up with steals and makes a basket or two himself. But the defensive end is the amazing end. From the time he returns to the game late in the fourth quarter, with 4:43 left in regulation, until he fouls out with 2:18 left in the third overtime -- a continuous stretch of 17 minutes, 25 seconds -- Bryant goes 3 -of-11 against Hill.

Hill is 38 years old.

And that must drive the Suns nuts.

It should be easy now, watching the Suns set in the West (couldn't resist), to say this is the end, that it's time to rebuild, to trade Steve Nash somewhere where he'll have one last chance to be on the big stage, like when Mister Roberts finally gets transferred from the USS Reluctant to the Livingston so he can take part in the waning war. And that it's time for Hill to retire, to pick whichever network he'd like to spend the next 15 years working for and get on with his second career already.

But then Nash drops 20 dimes on the Lakers, and throws a pass behind his back, Video while double teamed and falling out of bounds, right on Marcin Gortat's hands. And Hill holds Bryant to 3-of-11 in crunch, just like he held Kevin Durant to 3-of-14 shooting earlier this month -- "I bet you Kevin Durant will never go 3-of-14 the rest of his career," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry says.

He competes. That is a skill, just like shooting and passing and rebounding. He is a leader by example. Hill and Nash, the Suns say, have had great impact on their younger players like Channing Frye.

"I still feel like I can play a little bit," Hill said Tuesday. "The guy had 40, but I felt like I made him work for it. If I can still defend decently against the best player in the game, maybe I can play a little longer."

Unless there is a miracle in the desert, he will play only another couple of weeks this season. A year removed from their run to the Western Conference finals (and the longest playoff run of Hill's career), the Suns are four games behind eighth-place Memphis in the West -- but they lose all the relevant tiebreakers to the Grizzlies and Hornets, who are in seventh. A slew of terrible losses early in the season -- "two games against Philly, at Detroit, at Sacramento," Hill recalled -- has left Phoenix on the outside looking in.

Josh Childress, Phoenix's big offseason acquisition, can't get on the floor regularly. The big trade in December that sent Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to Orlando for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat brought mixed results; Gortat has gradually gotten used to playing with the Suns, and Gentry has used him a lot recently instead of slumping Robin Lopez. But Carter hasn't contributed as much, which may explain why Gentry had him in drydock against the Lakers down the stretch and in the overtimes until Hill fouled out.

But what to do going forward?

Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, has already begun saying that it's time to trade Nash. Hill is a free agent at season's end. The Suns could blow everything up and start over. But what if Gortat is the real deal at center, or at least a complementary piece to Lopez? Phoenix could have used a guy like Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline, but it was hard to do everything at once. The best Phoenix could do was use a pick along with backup point Goran Dragic to get Aaron Brooks from the Rockets, who should start reducing the 37-year-old Nash's load at the point.

But are Hill and Nash enough to build around for one last charge? Is this the same core group -- minus Amar'e Stoudemire -- that got to the Western Conference finals last year? Or was that a mirage, no longer real without Stoudemire's production?

"Those are the questions," Suns president Lon Babby said Sunday evening, before Video Phoenix dropped another tough game, to Dallas. "They're good questions. What we've tried to do so far is get better in the short term and the long term, and I think we've done that. The first thing we did was sign (forward Jared) Dudley to a long-term contract because we thought he was a core guy. The trade in December gave us a center, I think, for years to come with Gortat, who not only made our current team better but put us in a good situation going forward, gave us flexibility, because we got out from under Hedo's contract. And we got a Draft choice, and that helped us get Brooks, who we're going to take a look at."

Gentry, of course, would love to go to training camp -- whenever that is -- with the team he had the day after the trade deadline. (That won't include Carter, whom the Suns will buy out for $4 million instead of paying him $18.3 million next year.) And he wants Hill back.

"The guy should be on the all-defensive team, and I'll keep saying that," Gentry said. "And I'm saying that after a guy (Bryant) just got 42 points. But I can tell you right now, on anybody else, he would have gotten 60. What he's done at his age, and what he's brought to our team, I don't know if you can verbalize what he means to our team, or what he does for our team."

Hill was off the ball more while Turkoglu was in Phoenix. Now he handles it again when it's out of Nash's hands. But the Suns have been playing catch-up all season. Those first two months, when Gentry pointed to 17 blown leads, will be the Suns' downfall.

"If anything, that's a lesson," Hill said. "The lesson is we've got to take care of business, and you've got to do it early. If you do that, when you get to this point, instead of fighting to get in, you're fighting to get into position."

And Hill has had to play while being dragged into a controversy of ghosts over the last two weeks, driven by comments made by a teenager 20 years ago. Everyone naturally focused on Hill when former NBA player Jalen Rose, while promoting an ESPN documentary on Michigan's "Fab Five" era, acknowledged that while he was in high school, Rose thought that African-American players recruited by Duke in the late 80s and early 90s were "Uncle Toms," and that Duke wouldn't recruit inner-city kids such as himself. Rose later said that he no longer believes that, that he was only reacting with envy to the two-parent household that Hill and other black players sought by Duke had, and that he respects both Hill and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

But Hill didn't like hearing his name, inferred or otherwise, coming out of Rose's mouth. He wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, saying it was "insulting and ignorant" to trash black players who went to Duke. "I am proud of my family," he wrote. "I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five." Rose then countered with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which he said his "Uncle Tom" comments were taken out of context.

Hill had said Tuesday night that he would talk "soon" with Rose. "I don't want to get into it now," he said then. "We'll have a conversation. We'll be cool and we'll talk. I'm not concerned about it." And, indeed, Hill and Rose spoke over the weekend, which Hill Tweeted about on Saturday.

Babby says there's "no reason to think" Hill and Nash can't continue playing at a high level the next couple of years. There's a part of Babby that says let's savor what we have as long as we have it, everything that they bring to the table in Phoenix in terms of leadership, work ethic, setting a standard that makes an organization better if their teammates accept their example and strive for the same. And Babby, who was Hill's agent for many years before changing sides of the table last year to take the executive job with Phoenix, says he's not bothered by questions about whether he can be fair in assessing someone with whom he had a business and personal relationship for 17 years.

"I don't hide the fact that I have the utmost respect and affection for him, personally and professionally," Babby said. "One of the great parts of this job is being able to see him play every day ... I don't even profess to be objective about him. I don't have to defend myself against charges that I'm biased, because I admit I'm biased. Anyone who's around him is biased. He's a once in a generation guy, much like Steve is."

To that end, though, Babby will recuse himself from contract negotiations with Hill this summer, leaving the Suns' discussions with Hill -- and with Babby's former partner at Williams and Connolly, Jim Tanner -- in the hands of Phoenix's assistant general manager, Lance Blanks. "I'm going to let Lance do it, because I just can't do it," Babby said.

But Hill has a decision of his own to make, too.

Like many older players still getting it done -- Jason Kidd comes to mind, too -- Hill would be thrown off by a prolonged lockout, uncertain of where he'd play next season, or whether he wants to. With every passing day without basketball, it will get harder to decide, harder mentally to gear up for another assault on the mountain, to put off a cushy retirement and a life out of the spotlight with a singing star of a wife, Tamia.

The irony, of course, is that after all the years of injuries, it's not Grant Hill's body that's betraying him. He's started all of Phoenix's 70 games this season. Now it's the mind.

"It wasn't hard this last time, after last year," Hill said Tuesday, as the Suns' season slipped away. "It may be hard going forward."

Dribbles

Clips' Williams embraces fresh start

As Mo Williams recalled it, it didn't take all that long to decide. For him to escape the hell that the Cleveland Cavaliers had become, and to be able to spend the meat of his career Video tossing Video alley-Video oops to Blake Griffin and live in Los Angeles, he had to waive his early termination option in his contract for 2011, which means he'd have to play the final two years of his contract with no out.

"I said, 'Sure,'" Williams said.

And within a few hours, Cavs GM Chris Grant was texting Williams back, telling him he'd been able to put together the deal that sent Williams and Jamario Moon to the Clippers for Baron Davis and L.A.'s unprotected first-rounder at the trade deadline. It was a potential game-changer for the Clips, who got out from under Davis' big contract and won't have to tie up big money in a rookie that may not play much in the future. The Cavaliers got a second lottery pick and a talent in Davis, who had fallen out of favor in L.A. with coach Vinny Del Negro.

And the 28-year-old Williams gets another chance to play off of a young superstar. For two years in Cleveland, Williams tried to find a comfort level with LeBron James, and while there were lots of regular-season successes, neither Williams nor the Cavs could get it going in the playoffs. Then James left last summer, and the bottom fell out in Cleveland. But Williams, who missed 13 games earlier this season for Cleveland with a hip injury, has been released from purgatory, and expects to do more in Los Angeles.

"I'm three years older now," Williams said. "I'm not that young guy to come in just to help out with scoring. I think my role will be different here, because we've got Eric Gordon and Blake. They'll be our two scorers. My job will be leading this team, running this team, being a scorer when needed. I think that will be my best role, the role I want to play -- score when needed, but basically getting these guys involved, getting in them in situations to excel, spacing the floor."

The Clippers can barely conceal their glee at replacing Davis with Williams, even though BD helped the Clippers play, basically, .500 ball after getting off to that 1-13 start. By shedding Davis' huge contract, with $28.6 million left after this season, L.A. can devote those resources to other players who will help keep Griffin happy as he approaches restricted free agency in three years. L.A. has to pay Gordon, and DeAndre Jordan, even before maxing out for Griffin.

"Having Mo out there hitting big shots is huge for us," Griffin said. "Baron was doing that, and now we have a guy that's perfectly capable. He's done a great job. The more we play with each other and the more familiar we are, the better off we'll be."

Every guard that Los Angeles surrounds Griffin with from now on must be a real outside threat. Gordon fits the bill. And as a career .386 shooter from behind the arc, compared with Davis' .320, Williams looks to be a superior perimeter fit.

"He's the first guy on the first bus, first guy out there, shooting for an hour, getting his game right," Del Negro said. "Stuff like that. That stuff is invaluable. Because we have a lot of young players. And to do it the right way and have good practice habits, good preparation, and then be able to direct the team and run the team as a point guard. He does that well. We're trying to build a rapport, understand what he's comfortable is, and he's trying to understand where he can utitilize the guys out there."

Williams' postseason experience won't come into play this year, but starting next season, playoff apperances are a must for the Clippers, who are on the Griffin Clock until further notice. Although Williams shot just 41 percent from the floor in 25 playoff games with the Cavs, that's 25 more playoff games than just about anyone on the Clippers' roster has played in.

"I learned how to win," Williams said. "We won a lot of big games. Almost every game we played was a big game, and then obviously, you know the big, big games -- the Bostons, the Orlandos, the Lakers. I've been in those moments and I've learned a lot from those moments. It wouldn't be a surprise when I'm put back in those situations."

Top O' the World, Ma!

(March 14 rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)

1) Chicago [1] (4-0): Bulls one of just three teams (San Antonio, Denver) with at least 30 wins at home.

2) L.A. Lakers [2] (3-0): Cleared the decks for Thursday's showdown at Staples on TNT with the Mavericks, which could decide second place in the West.

3) Oklahoma City [4] (3-0): Thunder back in playoffs and rolling.

4) Dallas [6] (3-0): Jason Kidd has become a lights out 3-point shooter. In the rest of BizarroMavs World, Dirk Nowitzki releases a rap album and Mark Cuban decides to live in the Vegas Hilton, in the penthouse, and is never heard from again.

5) San Antonio [3] (1-3): Still think Duncan (out indefinitely with sprained ankle) doesn't matter, despite diminished numbers?

6) Orlando [7] (3-0): Slowly rounding into form, but injuries (Redick, Richardson, Nelson) keeping them from full strength.

7) Denver [8] (3-0): Not only are Nuggets 12-4 since Carmelo/Billups trade, they have won those 12 games by an average of 17.5 per game and won 10 of the 12 by double digits, including wins of 40, 33, 30 and 20 points.

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The Sixers have cooled a bit, but are rounding into playoff form as the season winds down.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

8) Boston [5] (2-2): Reeling Celtics hope to get O'Neals back in the next week or so, but Rondo (finger) has tailed off signficantly the last eight games, shooting just 29.2 percent from the floor.

9) Miami [9] (3-0): Streaking again, with five straight and eight of last nine starting with Video season-altering win over Lakers two and a half weeks ago. The Heat are now essentially tied with Boston for second in the East, and if Miami finishes ahead of the Celts, that means home court against Boston in a potential conference semifinal series down the road.

10) Portland [10] (2-1): You really, really think the Lakers or Mavs want to see these guys in the first round?

11) New Orleans [11] (2-1): Devastating injury to David West puts even more pressure on CP3 -- and might open the door for Houston or Phoenix to make an 11th-hour playoff push.

12) Memphis [15] (3-1): Z-Bo, team talking extension, per the Memphis Commerical Appeal. He deserves it.

13) Atlanta [13] (2-2): Hawks embarassed themselves on TNT Tuesday Video with their pitiful home loss to Bulls, but finished the week by clinching a fourth straight playoff appearance.

14) Philadelphia [14] (1-2): Sixers have flattened out after strong stretch to get within sniffing distance of the playoffs.

15) New York [12] (0-4): Gothamites worried that Stoudemire has worn down from playing big minutes -- he's averaging a career-high 37 per game this season and is on pace to break the 3,000-minute mark for the first time.

Team of the Week

Virginia Commonwealth (2-0): The Rams, who finished fourth in the regular season in the Colonial Athletic Association and were roundly ripped by college basketball's cognoscenti when given one of the last at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, were said not to have a single good regular-season win on their resume. Fair criticism. So they beat USC (Pac-10) in the First Four round in Dayton. Then they bounced Georgetown (Big East) in the second round. Then , they took out Purdue (Big 10) in the third. Then Florida State (ACC) in the Sweet 16. Then, Sunday, they did a near wire-to-wire job on Kansas (Big 12). Twelve days, five wins, five power conferences, Final Four-bound. Criticism answered.

Team of the Weak

New York (0-4): Only the ineptitude of the Eastern Conference keeps the freefalling Knicks -- currently seventh in the East -- within striking distance of the No. 6 seed. If they can overtake the Sixers -- whom they trail by two games -- for sixth, they'd catch another break by playing third-place Miami. The Heat are weak at center and point guard, where the Knicks are stronger. But with the way New York is falling apart, that might not matter.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

How is this going to work in Anaheim for the Kings? Or Royals or whomever?

The team about to be known as the former Sacramento Kings has an agreement in place with the city of Anaheim to move there and play at the Honda Center, the current home of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, starting next season, as part of a deal where the city of Anaheim will provide $75 million to the Kings from the sale of bonds -- $50 million in relocation money and $25 million to improve the Honda Center's facilities, including the locker rooms. (The city has also reportedly sought to trademark "Anaheim Royals," in apparant homage to the franchise's earlier iterations in Rochester and Cincinnati before being renamed the Kings when it moved to Kansas City.)

The loan -- and it's spelled out as such in the agreement -- is subject to repament in full; the Kings' owners, Joe and Gavin Maloof, are on the hook for the full $75 million. (The proposed 103-page deal between Anaheim and the Kings -- referred to as "TeamCo" in the document -- can be found here.)

"TeamCo's obligation to pay the VCAP payments shall survive the termination of this agreement and/or the VCAP financing agreement," Section 8.5 (c) spells out in ominous detail. The Anaheim City Council is set to vote on the proposal Tuesday.

The loan comes from the management company that runs Honda Center, which would be responsible for repaying the city, but is clearly coming out of the pocket of Henry Samueli, the majority owner of the Ducks, the primary tenant in Honda Center. Samueli bought the Ducks from Disney six years ago with the idea of luring an NBA team to Anaheim as well; the corporate giant's ownership of the Ducks and control of what was then called the Pond were not nearly as attractive to prospective NBA teams as the lay of the land now in Anaheim, which is close to the Inland Empire, home to 5 million or so folks in Orange County and the surrounding area.

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Gavin (left) and Joe Maloof would take out a $75 million loan from the city of Anaheim if the Kings move there.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Among the highlights of the document:

• The deal runs through 2026, but the Kings can extend it five additional seasons by notifying Anaheim up to one year before the end of the agreement.

• The Kings have an escape clause after 10 years in Anaheim, but would have to pay the city $20 million, plus an additional $30 million if they play within 125 miles of Anaheim before 2026 (which sounds like it was put in place to prevent any move in the future to San Diego, two hours south).

• The Kings will get 92.5 percent of ticket sales money, with Samueli getting the other 7.5 percent. They will split parking revenue and concessions 50-50 with Samueli.

• The Kings would get a third of any new revenue generated if Samueli does a new naming rights deal with someone other than Honda, which is currently paying Samueli $60 million in a 15-year naming rights deal that begin in 2006.

• The management company will get most of the money from the sale of 1,715 Club Seats, 84 luxury suites and 40 so-called "Terrace Suites" that will be in the basketball configuration at Honda Center. The Maloofs would get a slice, too.

But for all the potential of Anaheim for the Maloofs, there are at least seven serious potential pitfalls to their making a successful go of it in Anaheim:

1) The Kings, at the moment, stink. It would be hard enough competing for discretionary income in southern California against Kobe and Bad Blake if you had a good team. But Sacramento, even after a season-high three-game win streak, is 20-52, ahead only of Toronto, Washington, Cleveland and Minnesota. The Kings have a couple of intriguing pieces in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, and they probably have the best role players of any of the really bad squads. But it hasn't come together yet, and in the murderous West, there's no guarantee it ever will. Meanwhie, the Lakers are full speed ahead behind Kobe, and the Clippers have become a road draw as well, having sold out almost all of their home games since All-Star Weekend.

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Is a core of DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans and others enough to put fans in the seats in Anaheim?
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

2) Big Local Footprints. The sports empire of multi-billionaire Philip Anschutz, who built Staples Center and the adjacent L.A. Live complex, and who owns several Major League Soccer teams as well as parts of the Lakers and the NHL's L.A. Kings, is accelerating. Anschutz already has a $700 million naming rights deal with Farmers' Insurance for a football stadium that hasn't yet been built, next to Staples in downtown L.A., that is expected to ultimately lure an NFL team back to Los Angeles.

Anschutz isn't going to sit idly by and let a fifth of his Lakers audience -- it's estimated 20 percent of Lakers and Clippers fans make the drive from Orange County -- get away without a fierce fight.

And Arte Moreno, who owns Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Angels, went to court to get his team recognized as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to gain a foothold in the L.A. area. He has made the Angels into one of baseball's biggest-grossing teams and would be both neighbor of and competitor with a new team in town.

3) NBA NIMBYism. The acronym "NIMBY" is a well-known political/civic term standing for "not in my back yard." It means that while people tend to like the idea of, say, more jails, no one wants to see a jail built down the street from their house. Similarily, while NBA owners are loath to get in the way of their brethren when they see a better deal in another city -- I can't remember a relocation application being turned down in the last 30 years -- owners are also sensitive to the idea that the lucrative L.A. market could be hurt by the insertion of a third team 30 miles from Staples, where the Lakers and Clippers play.

4) A Fantastic Finders' Fee. An NBA team executive put it to me this way this weekend: The Grizzlies had to pay a $30 million relocation fee to their fellow NBA teams when they moved to Memphis, a small market. The Hornets had to pay $30 million when they moved from Charlotte to New Orleans, a small market. The Sonics had to pay $30 million when they moved from Seattle to much smaller Oklahoma City. What could owners ask for this time when the Kings move from very small Sacramento to very large Los Angeles -- and, in the process, weaken one of the league's best markets (see No. 3)? It might be much more than $30 million. Which might explain what the Maloofs will do with much of that $50 million loan from Samueli. Which won't leave them a lot of scratch to pay down some of their other debts.

5) The Boob Tube. The Kings may have caught a break with the Lakers' new deal with Time Warner, reportedly for up to $3 billion over the next 20 years, on two TW channels, one Spanish language. That could open up a programming window on Fox Sports West, which currently broadcasts Lakers and Clippers games on cable. But the Lakers' new deal doesn't kick in until 2012, which would leave the Kings scrambling to get on the air next year. But two longtime former executives said Sunday that they couldn't believe that David Stern would green-light any move unless the moving team had a local TV deal in hand. The Kings will have to hit a home run with their new local TV plan; the current one in Sacramento is one of the least lucrative in the league. As late as 2002, the Kings were getting less than $1 million in rights fees for their local cable TV package, former team president John Thomas told the Sacramento Bee.

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Moving out of Sacramento has plenty of positives -- and just as many negatives -- for the Kings' future.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

6) Renting versus owning. The proposed deal essentially makes the Kings a tenant in Honda Center. They'll make more money renting in Anaheim than owning in Sac, but they'll have to advertise for Ducks games, and there's no language indicating the Ducks will have to do them same for them. The Kings won't get the lion's share of the luxury suite and club seat money. They will get the less-desirable days for home games compared with the Ducks (I don't think it's presumptuous to assume the Kings won't max out on TNT Thursdays a ton next season, one of their assigned "regular" nights for home games).

7) It's SoCal. As a longtime team executive in the area put it Saturday, "It still comes down to, 'Are we going to go see basketball, or are we going to go to the beach?' "

The Lakers ae fairly bulletproof when it comes to competition for the sports dollar, though Bryant can't play forever. The Clippers, though, will likely point to how everything is trending up with Griffin's arrival -- increased sales across the board, in ticket sales and corporate deals, improved local television ratings. And they'll talk up the potential of Griffin to be the linchpin to a financial renaissance in years to come -- and how all of that could be damaged if the Kings set up shop nearby -- when the Kings talk to the NBA's Board of Governors on April 14 and 15 in anticipation of the April 18 deadline the team has to officially file for relocation.

It's not likely there will be enough votes to stop the move. But a lot of owners are going to have some hard thinking to do.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Charlie Brown said it: a great potential is man's heaviest burden. From Gabriel Glenn:

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Can Duke phenom Kyrie Irving ever live up to the potential once he gets to the NBA?
Harry How/Getty Images

Let me start by saying that I'm a fan. I'm writing this in regards to a recent article you posted on the potential greatness of guards who may (or may not) enter the NBA Draft. I don't want to come across as too critical, primarily because I'm deferring to your level of insight that I as a fan don't have. Having said this, do you think that in some cases, the hype around certain players becomes more real than the young man's level of talent? In this particular case, I'm referring to Kyrie Irving. Please bear in mind that I am a long time fan and follower of the Duke Blue Devils. I just find it hard to understand how a player who has been injured almost the entire season gets the nod over Nolan Smith who has (at least on some occasions) put the Blue Devils on his back and willed them to victory. Not only that, be he seems to have the skill set and the maturity to go along with his obvious desire to compete. Call me old school if you will, but I have a greater appreciation for players who've shown a sustained ability to compete over one who's potential makes him the object of more speculation than anything. I think we both agree that over the years, we've seen more Greg Odens and DeMarcus Cousins than Blake Griffins come out of the college ranks (regardless of their position). I'm just hoping for the day when someone comes out and says, "This kid has a lot of potential, and I think we should leave it at that."

Fair points, Gabriel, but NBA personnel people have to make projections. The kid they draft at 19 is going to become a man on their watch, and they have to take their best educated guess as to what kind of man he'll be. And that is especially true of teams in the Lottery, who almost always have to deal in potential. Rare is the GM who'd take the certainty of a Shane Battier first overall over the possibility that Kwame Brown or Tyson Chandler or DeSagana Diop might become a great big man. (That's why the Blazers still aren't sure if they should fish or cut bait on Greg Oden.) And that's why GMs get fired -- when they miss on calls like that. But that's the job. And so many teams, especially those that are lacking in talent, would take the chance on an Irving becoming great than a Smith being very, very good.

Like tissue paper. From Sai Visesh:

Everyone knows how the "S-word" (soft ) was used on Pau Gasol after being dominated by Boston big men in the 2008 Finals. We know how badly he took it, and how he always cringes when hearing that word. Now, Chris Bosh is going through a rather similar phase, with the "S-word" being thrown around in reference to him too..

If I'm not wrong, the main reasons for them being called soft is that they are big men who dont bang inside too much. They settle for jumpers, rebound in single digits and so on.

My question is, why hasnt Dirk Nowitzki ever been called soft? He's a 7-footer who has a finesse game and seldom rebounds. He is a below-average defender. He almost always jump shoots ... and to me, his style of play is very similar to Bosh and Pau, just more efficient. Why hasnt he been called soft?

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Dirk Nowitzki, who was once regarded as 'soft' in his early days in Dallas, has since shedded the title.
Ronald Martinez/Allsport

In your e-mail, Sai, you say you're a teenager, so you may have been too young to remember the knocks against Dirk, accusing him of that very thing his first few years in Dallas under former coach Don Nelson. When Avery Johnson took over for Nelson, he cajoled the Diggler to go into the paint more and mix it up, something Dirk took to heart and worked on extremely hard. He's never going to be Buck Williams, but Nowitzki has gotten better at it. And he is what he is, which is the best shooting big man in league history. (Patrick Ewing had range, but not Dirk's range.)

The Third Rail of American Life. From Jerry Worthington:

This week you touched on how you weren't feelin' Jalen Rose's comments on how black players that got recruited to Duke were Uncle Toms. I was really shocked to hear that statement from Mr. Rose, although he was just a kid then. What got me thinking is this: what he said doesn't only apply to Duke, but everything. The reason why I didn't like the statement is because that's like saying, "Black people who play folk/rock are uncle toms, and not living the black experience". Which is something that I actually do, I play folk/rock music and love it.. The article made me realize (even further) that people are very ignorant.

Even though what he said has nothing to do with me, it's about blackness, something that you also touched on. In America, we as black men get judged for being black, let alone the stereotypes that follow. And, if we actually get sense and not behave as if we came from the usual (you know), we get judged by people for acting "white." That's just something I don't approve of.

Neither do I, Jerry. It is among the most insidious things we do to one another as black folks (and I am not speaking specifically about Jalen here). That's on us. There is no "usual" black experience; we all come from somewhere and someplace different, with different values and history and families, just as Chris Webber grew up differently in Detroit than Jalen did. I know that Jalen knows that and I take him at his word that he doesn't believe now what he believed then. We must allow that people have the capacity to change and grow.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and unused Final Four tickets to daldridgetnt@gmail.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'.

MVP Watch

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) Derrick Rose (25.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 10.5 apg, .457 FG, .938 FT): Adds to accolades in sensational year with career-high 17 assists in victory over Bucks on Friday.

2) LeBron James (28 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, .593 FG, .837 FT): Scored 30 or more in four of last five, including 33 in Sunday's win over Houston.

3) Dwight Howard (27.3 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 3.3 bpg, .711 FG, .651 FT): Stan Van insists voters have already decided on Derrick Rose for MVP over his guy, who is averaging 23.1 points a game this season.

4) Kobe Bryant (36.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.7 apg, .481 FG, .833 FT): Bad neck, bad ankle, bad finger, bad knee ... and still a bad man.

5) Dirk Nowitzki (21.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 2.7 apg, .404 FG, 1,000 FT): Made 74 consecutive free throws after going 2-for-2 Sunday against the Suns. Per the NBA, it's the longest streak of the 2010-11 season, though Nowitzki made 82 in a row spanning the end of last season and the beginning of this season.

By the Numbers

18 -- Years that Barry Ackerley owned the Seattle SuperSonics before selling the team to Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz in 1999. The 76-year-old Ackerley, who made a lot of his money owning billboards, died last Monday after suffering a stroke.

51 -- Games that Milwaukee guard Michael Redd has played the last two-plus seasons, as he's been derailed by a series of torn ACLs and MCLs in his left knee. Redd has returned to practice and is expected to get back on the court this week after missing 14 months following the latest tears.

$293,000 -- Money raised this weekend by Derrick Rose, Pau and Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Al Horford and JaVale McGee -- who each pledged $1,000 for every point scored this weekend for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief. Rose led the way with 54 points in two games for $54,000, with Pau Gasol ($49,000) and Westbrook ($47,000) close behind.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) It was true in Cleveland, it's true in Miami: LeBron's best position is power forward, something Mike Brown tried to convince him of without success. No one can guard LBJ down on the block, either, and not only is he much closer to the basket, his presence as a "stretch four" (a driver from the wing, not a shooter) opens up room for Dwyane Wade.

2) That was Video some inbounds pass from Andre Miller to Nicolas Batum for the game-winning bucket at the buzzer Friday against the Spurs. Remember when nobody thought Miller would be around for the third and final year of his deal with Portland, because of the partial guarantee in year three? Now it looks like a bargain.

3) Welcome back, Joe Tait. You were missed.

4) Sixty-three minutes Tuesday night between the Lakers and Suns at Staples was as exciting as a regular season game at the end of March could possibly be.

5) In two years, I suspect, Da'Sean Butler will be the latest San Antonio reclamation project to be an impact player in the pros. And, once again, people will scratch their heads and say, 'How did the Spurs get this guy?' And R.C. Buford and those guys down there will shake their heads and say it's all luck, that it's all because of Tim Duncan. And you'll point out that Duncan was drafted in 1997, and now it's 2013, and you've added George Hill, DeJuan Blair, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter and Butler since 2008. And they'll say, no, we're not smarter or better than the other teams, it's all Duncan -- who is now happily retired and back in the U.S. Virgin Islands, swimming, while the Spurs win 50 games again.

6) VCU or Butler will be playing in the national championship game a week from tonight. Love it ...

Not Feelin' ...

1) Speaking of which, how's your bracket looking today? Mine resembles the car at the end of Bonnie and Clyde.

2) If Rick Adelman is done in Houston, I don't think it would take him very long to find work somewhere else. I can think of three teams right now who aren't in the playoffs that I think would be if Adelman were coaching them next season. (Not going to mention them out of fairness to the gents who currently have those gigs.)

3) I love when guys do this: A day after refusing to go into a Video blowout loss in Golden State on Friday, and getting called out on it by his coach, the Raptors' Julian Wright, after apologizing to his teammates, tells the media the incident is "a thing of the past." Dude. The 1976 Summer Olympics, held in Montreal, are "a thing of the past." Baywatch is "a thing of the past." Something you did 24 hours ago is not "a thing of the past."

4) That is one cruel, cruel twist of fate for David West, out for at least six months after tearing his ACL Friday night. He was going to get a major payday this offseason, either in Nawlins or somewhere else, if he had decided to opt out of the last year of his deal. Now I suspect he'll be a Hornet next season, taking one of the biggest names out of the free-agent pool.

5) Equally cruel news for one of our favorites, Nets guard Sundiata Gaines.

Tweet of the Week

one day my kid will ask me! who broke ur nose daddy??? what will i say?? a guy 5.6 tall with 150 pounds.I'm gonna look like fool!!! buahhaha
-- Suns center Marcin Gortat (@mgortat), Saturday, 2:06 a.m., after he broke his nose in Friday's loss to New Orleans running into non-Atlas like teammate Steve Nash.

Q & A: Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers

We catch up this week with Lakers All-Star forward Pau Gasol, who is having another great season this year as L.A. prepares to defend its NBA championship again.

Me: You have once again turned it on after the All-Star break as a team, winning 14 of 15. Were you at all concerned that this time around, All-Star would come and go and you wouldn't be able to ratchet it back up?

Pau Gasol: Not really. I was a little bit worried at times, because I thought there was points and time where we could have done better. But I also understood our position and our team, and have great faith in our team and our chances. I'm not surprised the way we turned it up and the way we're getting it done.

Me: How important is it to have that kind of faith to fall back on this time of year?

PG: It's important, because we're being asked, being put in a position to respond, and we have responded. And that's really important. Because you know you can count on your team and each and every one of the components of the team to go out there and get the job done.

0328-pau-gasol-300.jpg
Pau Gasol and the Lakers are standing tall and look like serious contenders as the playoffs near.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: The one loss was in Miami. How important was that game?

PG: It would have important. Unfortunately we couldn't get that one at that time. As far as evaluating the trip, it was a pretty good trip, beating San Antonio, Atlanta and Dallas. We couldn't get the last couple of minutes of that (Miami) game the way we wanted to play, and we really didn't do it. We move on. It happens. We've been doing pretty well since. The overall trip was good. We set the tone really well on that first game against San Antonio. Then Atlanta, we kept our focus and our aggressiveness. The Miami game didn't turn out to go as well. They played with a little more energy and more intensity. They wanted it a little more. They were a little more desperate than we were at that time, which makes sense. And then we were able to finish up the trip with a good, very valuable win in Dallas.

Me: There was a lot of criticism of Derek Fisher early on. Did that fall into the same category of, 'I trust him to be there in April and May, when it counts?'

PG: I don't think you can criticize a guy like Fish really, on how is he doing on those early moments of the year. He is a guy that's going to give you his best and who has done that for many years. I don't know how you can question his performance level.

Me: Have you seen a change in Lamar (Odom) over the years?

PG: He's always been a productive, versatile player. I think he might be more mature now, as he's gotten more years, as we all do. But for the most part, he still does a great job coming off the bench, just adjusts to any role, whatever the coach asks him to do. He's a key piece in our puzzle.

Me: Could you handle that kind of uncertain role -- sometimes I start, sometimes I come off the bench?

PG: I don't know. I don't know. I've always been a starter, and very few rare games I started off the bench, mostly because I'm coming off a long injury. Probably not. I'm not sure. Hopefully I won't be in that position. Maybe at one point I will. But it is tough. It's tough. You've got to be mentally ready to make that transition. 'Cause when you come off the bench, you're not as warm or as ready as if you started the game from the beginning. So it's something admirable.

Me: Was any part of you surprised when Kobe went out after the Miami game and got up some shots?

PG: No, not really. Even though I didn't expect it. The media brought it up to me the next day. So it didn't surprise me.

Me: How have you gotten back your defensive rhythm?

PG: By working at it in practice, and putting our minds and our hearts into it, really. It takes a special focus to play defense collecitvely, and to understand that's what you need to do. You need to cover for each other and you need to communicate and you need to hustle.

They Said It

"Our attitude shocks me. We're just not ready to win any games right now the way we play, the way our approach is to basketball games."
-- Video Celtics coach Doc Rivers, after Boston's inexplicable Video home loss Friday to Charlotte, dropping the Cs further behind surging Chicago in the race for the best record in the East.

"I'm proud of him. He earned his stripes."
-- Kobe Bryant, praising teammate Andrew Bynum after Bynum received a two-game suspension from the NBA for Video throwing a flagrant elbow at Minnesota's Michael Beasley last weekend.

"Oh, yeah. It's a nice studio apartment, I'm sure."
-- "Late Night" talk show host Jimmy Fallon, while pleading with Dwight Howard to join the Knicks in two years, after Howard noted that he loved Orlando and has "a nice, two-bedroom house" there, according to a transcript from the Orlando Sentinel.

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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