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David Aldridge

Will fans nationwide support the Thunder (and the other teams) as much as the local faithful have?
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Fans at crossroads as cast of unassuming stars grabs torch

Posted May 9 2011 10:11AM

At first glance, these playoffs have the feel of the end of something in the NBA.

The Lakers and Spurs are already gone, ignominiously dumped by the side of the road, and the Celtics are still on the ropes, what with Rajon Rondo's left arm dangling and useless and all. Or, at the least, the postseason is when the Miami SuperFriends, officially, take over the Earth.

But look closer, and you'll see what the playoffs are really about. They're about something -- someone -- that isn't playing or coaching or reffing.

They're about you.

We will find out once and for all in this postseason what you, the NBA fan, care about.

Do you love the game? Or do you love stars?

The NBA is almost always defined by its stars. There was Russell and Wilt, and Kareem and Walton, and Magic and Bird, and Isiah and MJ and the Dream. The last few years have belonged to Tim Duncan, Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade and KG, all superstars, all first-ballot Hall of Famers. But as their collective dominance over the league's landscape begins to wane, as evidenced by the postseason success of new jacks in Oklahoma City, Memphis and Atlanta, can the league sustain the ratings boom of the last couple of years? Will the celebrity culture that threatens to choke all of us like overgrown weeds affect the collective feeling for the next group of stars -- a group that is already making its mark on the floor but is, compared to its predecesors, kind of boring off the court?

Derrick Rose is a beast between the lines. But he's as soft-spoken as they come when the lights are off.

"He's got this great demeanor," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer says, "just a regular dude. But then, he steps onto the court, and he turns into this, this superhero."

Will you watch him if he doesn't do or say something controversial? He won't complain about practice. He won't get in trouble off the court, unless the whole city of Chicago has been snowed. He just plays, and smiles sheepishly when the subject is him.

"If anything, I think that we're laid back," Rose said Saturday of Hoops: The Next Generation. "That's how I look at it. All of the guys that's there now, like all the young guys I hang with, that's in my (Draft) class, I think we're more laid back than them. Like, everybody has their own things. LeBron and them, they love attention. So everybody's different."

This group is coming hard and fast, demanding you pay attention. There goes Rose, blowing by you before you can process his presence. Here comes Kevin Durant, slower, but deadly in his own way, rising above your pitiful contest of his shot, and covering ground in two strides that it takes most guys four to make. Look up; it's Blake Griffin, and rising, and dunking, so very, very hard. There goes John Wall, quick as a flash. And wasn't that Steph Curry, burying another three? And if he misses, there's Kevin Love to clean up the mess. All hungry, all polite, all smiles.

A new era is inevitable. Maybe not this year, but it's coming, and soon, exemplified by Rose, who is known by the bloody nom de guerre, "Pooh." Right. Pooh. Because when he was a baby, he liked to get into the candy jar like Winnie the Pooh, and had a similar skin tone as the famous bear, so he was called "Pooh" by his grams. Yes, we are leaving the era when the best players in the game were "Black Mamba" and "The King" to one that will be dominated by a kid named "Pooh." The symbolism writes itself.

Rose and Griffin, the Rookie of the Year, call almost everyone older than they are "sir" and "ma'am," and do interview after interview -- like Wall, who stayed in the ballroom in the Chicago Westin last year for almost an hour after his media availability was over, literally giving five minutes to anyone with a microphone or notepad.

They will change -- they almost always do -- for the demands on their time will only increase. Inevitably, someone will write or say bad things about them, and they'll mess up and not trust the media so much. They'll get married or have kids and they'll have to pull back, if for no other reason than Rose will soon tire of explaining for the millionth time why he's nicknamed Pooh.

But at the core, this is a solid group of new stars that is champing at the bit to make the league theirs. Will you get behind them? Will you watch a group of guys with no entourages, no horrible CDs, no real identities other than the ones they create on the court? (The biggest controversy from the true stars of the last three Drafts has been Wall doing the Dougie in the Wizards' pregame huddle.) It will be a surprise if there is a Decision from anybody in this group.

"I think the future of this league is in good hands," Rose said. "That's all that I can say. I think that it's guys that are really basketball, like the only thing they think about is basketball. I think all of us sacrificed and dedicated our lives to only basketball. And we're good guys."

Not a punk. Not a pushover. A good guy. Big difference.

The demise of the old in sports is as natural as breathing. Professional sports are merciless; there is no sympathy and no looking back. You are either good enough, or you are not. Mike Tyson was indestructable, until he wasn't, and then he was finished. Dwight Gooden was unhittable, and then he wasn't. The San Francisco 49ers were the baddest NFL team walking, going for a three-peat, and then the New York Giants' Leonard Marshall de-cleated Joe Montana from the blind side, and that was that.

Maybe Duncan and his group have one more run in them, but it doesn't matter if they can't get to the playoffs healthy. Coach Gregg Popovich did everything humanly possible to get them through the regular season without incident, and Duncan and Manu Ginobili still got hurt before the first round. Maybe the Lakers retool and are right back in business next year, but Bryant, after Sunday, has played in 208 playoff games -- the equivalent of two and a half additional seasons of wear and tear. And this was his 15th NBA season. He is a Hall of Fame player. He is not Ponce de Leon. He will need more help, not less, in the coming years.

But with Kobe gone for now, will you watch? So far, the ratings have been terrific, but it's getting to the end now, and we won't have the Lakers and Celtics in the Finals like they've been in two of the last three years -- with the middle year being the Lakers vs. Dwight Howard and the Magic. Will you watch a Dallas-Memphis conference final? Will you watch a Memphis-Atlanta NBA Finals?

We've had this discussion before. The 1970s provided the most democratic era in league history, with eight different champions (Milwaukee, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Golden State, Portland, Washington, Seattle) during the decade. The NBA, as ever, had its showmen, from Earl Monroe and Clyde Frazier to Julius Erving to Rick Barry. But also among its stars were sober men like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld, Maurice Lucas and Clifford Ray, who played hard and physical and with no commercials or endorsement deals. And the league almost died. Ratings were awful and arenas were half-filled, as the perception that most players were drug users and abusers took hold.

Only with the rise of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and the dominance of their respective teams in the '80s -- five titles for Magic's Lakers, three for Bird's Celtics -- did the league start to pull itself out of a nosedive. Then came Isiah's Pistons, Michael's Bulls and Hakeem's Rockets. Detroit won two, Chicago three, Houston two, Chicago three more. All super teams, and the Bulls were the biggest rock stars of all.

Then came Duncan's Spurs -- okay, they were David Robinson's Spurs first -- who played the game the way you said you wanted it played. Team ball. Defense. Moving the ball selflessly on offense. Playing every quarter of every game hard. Never causing a minute's trouble off the court, led by a self-effacing superstar who didn't curse into microphones or hold out or demand to be traded. He played his heart out and he went home to his wife and family, every doggone night. The Spurs had international players who were the very epitome of the American Dream -- work hard, keep your nose clean, become a star. The head coach was gruff and profane, but served his country in ways he'd never, ever tell you about.

They won four championships.

You hated them.

You said they were boring.

You didn't watch.

"If we were in New York," Tony Parker once told me, "they'd love us."

But they weren't. They were in San Antonio, and you didn't watch, just like it was the late '70s again and NBA Finals games were on tape-delay at 11:30 at night.

Now comes a new crop of star players, and unlikely teams. There's no Kobe and no Superman. Can you admire Zach Randolph's footwork? Can you appreciate the one-on-one skills of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford, even as Josh Smith drives you just as crazy as he has everyone in Atlanta for seven years? Can you love Serge Ibaka's weakside help defense and Tyson Chandler's rotations the way you loved Iverson's crossover and KG's scowling, profane defense?

Maybe LeBron and Dwyane swoop in and save the day. You are transfixed by the Heat, interested in its every move and utterance. This was a team built for the Twitter/Facebook age, fully aware of how ostentatious it was when its three stars sat on a stage in Miami in the middle of July and talked about all the championships it planned to win weeks before the start of its first training camp. Miami is young and Boston is old, and old only wins when young is inexperienced or not tough enough, and Miami is neither. If the Heat make The Finals, it may not matter who's on the other side; there will be compelling casual interest and the numbers may be OK.

But what about the future? What if Boston and L.A. are really done for a good long while? You say you want small markets to succeed; they're succeeding.

"It's especially important to see the fans in Memphis being rewarded, after years of not being rewarded," the Commish said last week in Chicago. "It's great to see a young Oklahoma City team. It's great to see the Dallas team giving the Lakers all they can handle after a couple of years of disappointment...Atlanta winning a playoff game, winning a series, and here they are. It's been a year of many, many good stories, both in the regular season and the playoffs. And I think that's why it's not about the marketing; it's about the game. And our fans are voting with their eyeballs, saying, 'Boy, what a wonderful competition we're seeing.'"

Boozer played in Cleveland with LeBron in James' rookie season, and played five years in Utah with Deron Williams before coming to the Bulls to play with Rose. He's seen the Class of 2003 up close, and knows how great the players from that group have been -- but also seen some of its excesses. So where can this kid take this league?

"Don't get me wrong," Boozer said. "No disrespect to 'Bron in his rookie year. No disrespect to DWil. Both of them are two bad (expletives) too. But (Rose) just turned 22 a couple of months ago. The kid got MVP. He's not done yet. He's gonna rack up a whole lot more accolades, and the one that he wants more than anything else is a championship. He knows to be one of the greats, you gotta wear rings ... he's easily one of the top five scorers in the league, just in how natural it is for him. Like, it's almost effortless for him. He can go left, he can go right. Once he jumps, what are you gonna do when he jumps? He'll go underneath you. He'll go around you. And when he's real froggy, he'll jump over you."

Will you take the plunge with him?

Will you?


Former execs, coaches weigh in on Lakers' future

After L.A.'s meltdown against Dallas, one question ran through my head: is this a quick fix, or does Mitch Kupchak torch the place like Henry Hill and Tommy DeVito did in Goodfellas and start over? I went for the former; as bad as L.A. looked against the Mavericks, things aren't always as bad as they seem, and in Kobe Bryant, the Lakers still have one of the three or four guys that are good enough to build a championship team around. People still want to play in L.A.

The Lakers have a lot of pieces that should generate interest from other teams -- maybe not as much attention as Magic Johnson suggested on ABC over the weekend, but some. And the Lakers have gotten it right so many times over the years -- adding a Rick Fox here, a Robert Horry there, bringing Derek Fisher back, trading for Pau Gasol -- you figure they deserve a shot to tweak instead of bulldoze.

But what do I know?

That's why I asked people who do know.

I sent out messages to 19 of the Lakers' competitors on Sunday night, along with a handful of former team execs, coaches and players whose knowledge of the game is impeccable, and asked a simple question: bump in the road, or truly (bleeped)? Of the 19 teams contacted, 15 responded, along with enough former coaches and/or execs and players to provide a solid cross-section of opinions on what the Lakers face in the offseason.

Here's the breakdown:

Bump in the road, or problems remain that are fixable: 11 teams

Lakers are (bleeped): 4 teams

Those who said bump in the road made two main points. One, the Lakers may have just run out of gas after making three straight Finals, and winning two titles. Next year they should -- or could -- be re-energized. Two, they can trade Gasol, Lamar Odom or Andrew Bynum to provide Kobe with the complementary help he needs.

"They have a few issues to address," one team executive said (all responses were via text), "but they're still very good." Another executive said the Lakers were still a top-five team, but needed to improve their bench and become more athletic next season.

Said a third exec: "Can't say they're really (bleeped) with their talent. Now they can change it up because they have chips (Odom-Bynum-Gasol) to surround Kobe with a different cast."

Among the "bumpers," though, there was some disagreement about exactly how the Lakers should retool.

A former head coach said changes weren't just needed in personnel, but in pecking order.

"Their nucleus of Fish (Derek Fisher) and Kobe as leaders is done," the former head coach said. "Kobe has always been very acidic with teammates, and Fish is too old. Phil had run his course also. They need a couple of athletes, a new vet that Kobe respects to hold him in check and a new voice in charge."

Said a former All-Star player: "There's too much talent on roster. Need to add some speed, athleticism, shooters. I think too many outside distractions and tired legs from 3 finals run."

Another current executive echoed the new legs sentiment, adding, "in a way, Kobe has become Shaq and Bynum has become old Kobe-personality wise."

A current general manager didn't think they'd be down for too long: "They are the Lakers and they are in L.A. ... Never (bleeped)!"

Among the "bleepers" was unanimity that the current group has gotten too old to remain a contender. "Too old, too slow and poor chemistry," said one GM. "Kobe needs a legit PG ... He can't handle all the playmaking responsibilities any more."

Would Dwight Howard working full-time as a Laker be all that's needed to fix L.A.'s problems?
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Said another team exec: "Time to break it up a bit. They need to address [the] point guard position and decide whether Pau is their guy."

And another: "Lots of dysfunction. They hate Kobe, have no youth in the program, yada, yada. (Bleeped) meaning they need to make changes. They have plenty of asset value to do so."

Lurking out there, of course, is the supposed savior to all of L.A.'s problems -- Howard. Notwithstanding the fact that Howard insists he's happy in Orlando and is not demanding a trade, and that management continues to believe him, there is the small matter of why he hasn't agreed to terms on a contract extension that would end all the speculation once and for all. One team exec believes that the Lakers have to make a play for Howard, and might be able to get him -- because Howard's representatives, the exec opines, want to make him into a "brand" in either Los Angeles or New York.

"It's a bump in the road if they can move Bynum/Odom for Superman," the exec said.

Top O' the World, Ma!

(April 25 rankings in brackets)

1) Dallas [9] (3-0): If the Mavericks hadn't made a single 3-pointer Sunday, they still would have beaten the Lakers 88-86 just on two-pointers made (44 of 73, good for 60.3 percent shooting). Add in the 20 threes and it was ugly.

2) Miami [4] (1-1): Question: if Joel Anthony is this effective off the bench, why isn't he starting?

Might it be time for center Joel Anthony to join Miami's starting lineup?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

3) Chicago [2] (2-2): No need to panic, but no way the Bulls can feel comfortable, either.

4) Memphis [5] (1-1): O.J. Mayo was terrific on Russell Westbrook down the stretch Saturday.

5) Boston [3] (1-1): "It's still broke" may soon enter the Boston Sports Quote Hall of Fame.

6) Atlanta [8] (2-2): "I will admit I have an interesting group," Larry Drew said Saturday. Meaning: he has no idea which Hawks team will show up in a given quarter, much less a game. Team Schizophrenia was on its best behavior Sunday night in overpowering Chicago down the stretch.

7) Oklahoma City [1] (1-1): Quite a bit of flapping in the Twitterverse about how Russell Westbrook is a ball hog (maybe) and how he cost them Game 3 (only partially true) and that the Thunder should trade him post haste (wow, that would be a big mistake).

8) L.A. Lakers [7] (0-3): It would be best, a fellow longtime GM recommended to Mitch Kupchak Sunday night, to take a couple of weeks off before coming back and starting to figure out what went so very, very wrong.

9) San Antonio [6]: Season complete. Facing the same questions as the Lakers -- retool or reload? -- without all the nasty backbiting.

10) New Orleans [10]: Season complete.

11) Portland [11]: Season complete. They will tender Greg Oden for at least $8.7 million next season to make him a restricted free agent.

12) Orlando [12]: Season complete.

13) Philadelphia [13]: Season complete.

14) Denver [14]: Season complete. Have yet to finalize extension with Nene, who is sounding more and more like he's going to walk away from $11.6 million next season and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

15) New York [15]: Season complete. Working toward two-year extension for team president Donnie Walsh.

Team of the Week

Dallas (4-0): It will be a long time before we see a dismantling of a team as good as the Lakers by a team that played better than the Mavericks. Dallas was like Ray Leonard in the second fight with Roberto Duran. He knew what he had to do, and executed the game plan so perfectly that Duran quit -- just like the Lakers did Sunday, after the seven millionth 3-pointer rained down on their head. The Mavs took the Lakers' heart by being mentally tougher the last six minutes of each of the first three games -- which has been the exclusive province of the Forum Blue and Gold the last several seasons -- and blew the two-time champs off the map Sunday with precision passing and outstanding defense. According to StatsCube, the Mavericks' lineup of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic has been almost unguardable in the postseason, averaging 120 points per 48 minutes and shooting 52.2 percent from the floor. And that was before Terry and Peja went nuts in the clincher on Sunday.

Team of the Weak

L.A. Lakers (0-4): This is how a dynasty ends -- with thunderous applause. (H/T to Princess Padma in the third -- or sixth, depending on your point of view -- Star Wars movie).

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Do the Grizzlies have to think about trading Rudy Gay this summer?

I say this not because Gay has done anything wrong -- he hasn't -- or because the Grizzlies are unhappy with their star forward -- they aren't. But sometimes circumstances conspire to create a new reality that is so overwhelming it forces one's hand. And the Grizzlies' postseason run this year could create that kind of momentum.

There are many persuasive factors.

One, the Grizzlies are 21-13, including Saturday's rally over Oklahoma City to win Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal, since losing Gay, their leading scorer (19.8 ppg), Video to a dislocated left shoulder injury Feb. 15. (The record would likely be better if the Grizzlies didn't posiition themselves for the playoffs and a first-round date with the Spurs by, ahem, resting many of their starters in the final two regular season games.)

Two, they've gone from a team where Gay was the (understandable) offensive focal point to a more balanced unit, with the ball going inside on almost every possession to either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol. Memphis now bludgeons opponents, and with its commitment to Randolph for $68 million on a new extension, it would be silly not to continue force-feeding him the ball for the foreseeable future.

Three, the guys who've taken the bulk of Gay's minutes -- Tony Allen and Shane Battier -- are perfect complements to Randolph and Gasol, providing toughness and defense that Memphis needs. With athletic slasher Sam Young starting at the three, and Allen at the two, the Grizzlies have become a balanced starting five, with a terrific blend of offensive and defensive skills.

Four, Memphis owner Michael Heisley is never going to have a $90 million payroll. He's already on the hook for Randoph, and point guard Mike Conley (starting his five-year, $44 million extension next season), and will have to pay rising restricted free agent Gasol big bucks to keep him around. Gay's $82 million extension suddenly sticks out like a sore thumb for a small-market team. Moving him would give the Grizzlies a chance to keep a core of Randolph, Gasol, Conley, Allen (two years remaining on his $9.4 million free-agent deal from last summer), O.J. Mayo (entering the final year of his rookie deal next season), Darrell Arthur ($2.02 million next season), Young ($947,800 next season) and rookie Greivis Vasquez for years to come.

With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol (right) leading the charge, Rudy Gay could be on the way out.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Five, a former multiple-time All-Star and franchise player -- you'd know him -- broke it down for me further. It's going to be very difficult, the former All-Star said, for Gay to come back next season and pick up where he left off. The team has gone in such a different direction the last two months; how can Gay fit back in? It's human nature for him to want to prove that he's still the man and still should be the team's focal point. But his teammates have this new memory they've created for themselves without him. Unless everyone handles everything perfectly, dissension is almost inevitable.

Six, Memphis may not get a better chance to have the luxury of trading such a talent for meaningful pieces that can sustain their emergence. The Grizz roster isn't aging -- Randolph won't turn 30 until July -- but Battier is 32, Allen 29. Gay is just 24, but if Memphis wanted to solidify the three spot for a while with a (slightly) cheaper guy like, say, 27-year-old Andre Iguodala or 28-year-old Danny Granger -- both very good players probably best served as second or third options on good teams -- now would be a good time to pull the trigger. Or, the Grizzlies could go the deep-depth route. I can't help but imagine Orlando -- whose desperation to keep Dwight Howard happy is at Defcon 5 -- wouldn't be interested in a talent like Gay, and wouldn't be willing to put a package together (some cap-compliant combo of Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass and/or Ryan Anderson) that would get it done.

Not sure if that's convincing enough for the Grizzlies to move their young star. After all, Randolph's maturity is new-found and could be temporary now that he's gotten his cheddar. Gasol hasn't really come on until the last year or so. Mayo was traded to Indiana at the deadline before the deal was rescinded -- by which team, and why, remains a mystery. But the Grizz may need to think about it. You don't win a title if you don't gamble on something big. This would be gambling.

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Membership has its privileges -- and costs. From Owen Kelk:

That was an excellent article on the potential implications to the NBA of the NFL labor decision. However, I don't understand how the following two paragraphs can co-exist in the same article without the writer highlighting the hypocrisy...

#1: The union says the number of underperforming teams is much smaller, and that the NBA is exaggerating the number of teams losing money by assuming losses in its owners' other businesses.

#2: The NBPA finds this claim laughable, given that the Knicks, for example, are owned by Cablevision, the cable and communications behemoth that earned $361 million last year, and whose fourth-quarter profits for 2010 rose 45 percent, with earnings from the fourth quarter of last year rising to $114 million. Whether the Knicks as a business "lost" money doesn't matter, the union argues, if the overall financial health of the team's owners is robust.

Does the union believe the league will survive -- and they as players will prosper -- even if basketball operations as a business unit become unprofitable? Do they believe there are 29 other Mikhail Prokhorovs out there to sustain an unprofitable business model? After all, per the NBPA, it's okay for the franchise to lose money 'cause the owner is already loaded. I'm not sure there are enough "die-hard basketball fan billionaires" to go around. And, why can't the New Orleans Hornets find their own Prokhorov? This leads to contraction. As a die-hard basketball fan, I find this very sad. Unfortunately, I'm not a billionaire, so I must sit as a helpless observer.

NBA commissioner David Stern claims the league's business model is broken.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

Your point is the same one that the Commish and Long Tall Adam Silver claim all the time, Owen: It's the business model that's broken.

Owners ask this in the negotiations with the union: Are you telling me that I have to run a business at a deficit, and that I can never hope to make money on my NBA team? It's a legit question. The counterargument, though, is that almost no NBA owner makes or loses money solely based on how his NBA team does financially. For example, the Sixers are owned by Comcast, which is in the process of buying NBC for $13.8 billion. Do you think Comcast's bottom line is affected in any appreciable way by whether the Sixers make money or lose money?

Now, it's different for, say, Sen. Herb Kohl, who owns the Bucks. Yes, he's rich, but the Bucks are a major source of his income when they're going good and a major drag on his finances when they go in the red. He can't compete with a behemoth like Comcast or Cablevision, or a money-making machine like the Lakers. He certainly may need help to be able to stay in the game. But what form does that help take? The union argues he should get help from his fellow owners in the form of additional revenue sharing, not from the players. I'm not picking a side here; just laying out the different points of view.

Meet Barbara Walters, the new host of "Inside Stuff." From David Ausband:

I really enjoy your weekly article posted on and look forward to your insights and occasional side forays into culture/politics. But I must say I was thrown a bit by this:

"With millions of people still unemployed in the U.S., war raging throughout the Middle East and natural disasters piling up day after day, why anyone would expend any emotional capital caring about the wedding of a monarch precious few people can name to a woman no one outside her immediate family knows is a mystery."

I don't disagree with you per se but I'd bet there are millions of folks who'd say the same about a bunch of highly paid men bouncing a ball up and down a court and the writers who follow them. I love basketball and couldn't give a rat's behind about the royal wedding, but let's not get too carried away with ourselves. It is just basketball after all. You are spot on though. While I sit in my warm safe home, drinking coffee and watching b-ball highlights, there are still people dying in tent cities in Darfur and elsewhere. Just for thrills I'd suggest replacing "wedding of a monarch" with "basketball" in the above sentence. You get the idea.

I do, David. Fair point. But two billion people didn't tune in to watch Game 3 of Lakers-Mavs on Friday night. At least, I don't think they did.

Call StatsCube (!!), Stat! From Bertil Ladefoged:

Does Rajon Rondo deserve a little stats boost every time the Celtics step to the free-throw line?
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

I have a question concerning the NBA rules: I was watching the Miami-Boston game, saw Wade hit a couple of free throws, and started wondering why the guy who assisted those shots didn't receive any credit. Wouldn't it be more fair if you were to get an assist when a teammate hit two FTs (and perhaps .5 assist when he hits 1 FT)? A team like the Celtics shoots like, what, 20 free throws per game? How would Rondo's assist average look if he were awarded assists for all the trips to the free throw line he has set up for his teammates this season? I'm guessing quite high.

This would, of course, make it a difficult to compare today's players to guys like John Stockton, but couldn't you then just add it as a separate category?

Why do I have the feeling, Bertil, that somebody already charts that? (Daryl?) And will make a presentation about it to next year's Sloan Sports Conference?

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and sudden, last-minute vacation plans for the Lakers to If your e-mail is especially witty, informative, thought-provoking or coffee through the nose snarky, we just may publish it!

MVP Watch

(Weekly averages in parenthesis, and note: my regular-season ballot was turned in a while ago. And we all know who won the award. So this is more an academic exercise.)

1) Dirk Nowitzki (25.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.5 apg, .574 FG, .938 FT): A lot of folks asked during the year why the Diggler was always in the MVP Watch. Now you know. Don't get it twisted: Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic were brilliant. But they were open because the Lakers had to pay maximum attention to Nowitzki, who didn't disappoint down the stretch on the road in Games 1 and 2 in L.A.

When Kobe Bryant and the Lakers lose in the playoffs, it's often in grand fashion.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

2) Derrick Rose (31.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 9.3 apg, .434 FG, .808 FT): Only shot the ball well once so far in this series with the Hawks -- but it was a pretty good one time, as Rose Video blew up for a career playoff high 44 in Game 3.

3) LeBron James (24 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, .467 FG, .542 FT): Dominated first two games of series with Boston, along with Wade, but fell to earth in Game 3.

4) Dwyane Wade (29.7 ppg, 5 rpg, 5 apg, .500 FG, .862 FT): Billy Bleepin' Buckner. Aaron Bleepin' Boone. Dwyane Bleepin' Wade.

5) Kobe Bryant (23.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.5 apg, .458 FG, .800 FT): He is one of the greatest to ever play the game and is one of the best winners ever. But when his teams go out in the postseason, they go out badly.

Dropped out: Dwight Howard.

By the Numbers

4 -- Number of times that a team that had the league Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year in the same season went on to win the the NBA title. The Elias Sports Bureau noted this week that Chicago's Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are the 12th player-coach combo to win MVP and Coach of the Year titles in the same season. But only the 2002-03 Spurs (Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich), the '95-'96 Bulls (Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson), the '69-'70 Knicks (Willis Reed and Red Holzman) and '64-'65 Celtics (Bill Russell and Red Auerbach) won NBA championships the same year.

60 -- Consecutive seven-game series since 1977, per Elias, that the Lakers had won at least one of their first two games at home, until the Mavericks won Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center last week.

118 -- First-place votes for the Clippers' Blake Griffin in winning Rookie of the Year honors, the first unanimous choice of writers and broadcasters who select the award since David Robinson in 1990.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) It feels unseemly to celebrate the death of any person. But in the case of Osama bin Laden, how can you escape the notion that the world is a better place without him? How do you not feel a sense of pride knowing how dangerous a mission this was, and how expertly it was carried out by the Navy Seal team? I don't expect everyone to feel the way I do. But if you live in New York or Washington, it's just different. The sense of loss created by 9/11 still sears the heart. Back then, we came together as a country and seemed, for a while anyway, to feel a sense of shared sorrow and resolve. It made us a better country, capable of doing great things if only we would work together. Last week, it seemed, for a while anyway, that we had that sense again.

2) Speaking of which, hello, Pulitzer Prize Photo Committee? You can stop looking.

3) That was pretty inspirational stuff Video from Rajon Rondo Saturday night.

4) You know Joe and Gavin Maloof are going, 'where was this Peja in '02?'

5) The Highlight Factory finally felt like a homecourt advantage for the Hawks Sunday night.

6) Heard from Rev. Tom Pritchard from Sudan Sunrise last week. The organization championed by the late Manute Bol to try and promote reconciliation and healing among the various groups that fought or were persecuted during two decades of the civil war in Sudan will have a reception and silent auction in Washington, D.C. on Thursday as it continues to try to raise money to fulfill Bol's dream of building 41 schools in Sudan that all students, regardless of religion, can attend.

Video Since the last time I updated you on this quest, the people of Sudan participated in an historic referendum last January. The people of Southern Sudan voted to secede from the north, creating a new nation for those who were among the most brutally repressed and murdered during the war, which finally was formally ended in 2005. Southern Sudan will officially be able to declare its independence on July 9, though many obstacles to a longlasting peace remain.

Gary Williams' retirement at Maryland leaves the school without perhaps its biggest advocate.
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

"We had a great year," said Bulls forward Luol Deng, whose family had to flee Sudan when he was 3 for England, and who helped Sudanese-born voters in Chicago vote absentee during the January referendum.

"To me, that's the best news all year, or in a long time," Deng said. "I just think with the country separating, it's been a civil war for a long time. Just having a new country, and both countries having their own rules, it's going to save a lot of lives in the long run. I think it might be a little disagreement with some people that don't want that right now, but the idea and the fact that in the long run, kids will be able to grow up without a war and try to be something."

Those who can't attend Thursday's reception but who'd like to make a donation to Sudan Sunrise can visit

7) Good luck to Gary Williams, one of the really good guys in college basketball, who will go to the Basketball Hall of Fame soon enough with his 668 coaching victories (starting at my beloved alma mater, American University), his 2002 NCAA national championship with the University of Maryland, and the genuine friends he made along the way. While he took teaching his players seriously -- and cursed out every player, assistant and student trainer that sat on his bench during his 22 seasons at Maryland -- that school never had a better representative or champion.

Not Feelin' ...

1) A lot of folks (the Chuckster, Jet, Magic) Video put Andrew Bynum on blast for saying the Lakers had "trust issues" Video after losing Game 2 to the Mavericks. They said such things should be kept in-house. OK, I can buy that. But I can't help but think that if Kobe had said the exact same thing that Bynum said, no one would have said boo. Doesn't Bynum have the right to hold teammates accountable, too?

2) You know, after the 57th or 58th replay, Four-Letter Network, you could have stopped showing Video Rondo's elbow snapping in two. We got it. He hurt his elbow. Please stop showing it.

3) It's gonna be a long, bad offseason in Los Angeles. Remember, the Lakers may well come back to a landscape with a hard cap that may force them to make tough decisions on payroll on top of the personnel moves most seem to think they'll need to make anyway.

4) Thank goodness I was smart enough not to buy Pacquiao-Mosley. My former guest columnist for the Tip doesn't have anything left in the ring against a real fighter like Pacman. Perhaps now the world will finally get Pacquiao-Mayweather -- as always, as it seems in boxing, two or three years too late.

5) Anybody else a little creeped out by the new Snickers commercials with the two sharks comparing the taste of people they just ate? I am all for pushing the envelope, but this crosses into tastelessness.

Tweet of the Week

I don't like Mexican food and I don't drink. How should I celebrate cinco de mayo?
-- Bobcats guard Garrett Temple (@GTemp41), Wednesday, 4:31 p.m., looking to solidify his evening plans.

Q&A: Derrick & Brenda Rose

They are so doggone cute together, Derrick Rose and his mother, Brenda. The day that Rose became the youngest player in NBA history to win Most Valuable Player honors, they sat down for a rare joint interview, holding hands the whole time, because Brenda does not do a lot of interviews, being on the shy side.

But on this day, the Rose family -- South Side Chicago, from Englewood, one of the toughest communities in a tough neighborhood -- could celebrate everything that they did together to make Derrick into a great basketball player. His older brothers, Reggie, Allan and Dwyane, shielded Rose from trouble in the neighborhood and helped keep him, in a word used a thousand times to describe him -- and accurate every time -- humble. His sister-in-law, Shandra, Reggie's wife, moved with Reggie down to Memphis to keep an eye on him when he played college basketball for the Tigers in 2007-08. But it was Brenda -- "my heart," Video as Derrick said when accepting the MVP trophy Tuesday -- that has been the family's North Star, the rock, working as a teacher's assistant and somehow getting four kids through school.

He has her name tattooed on his right hand, on top of a tattooed rose. Took 40 minutes. Hurt like a son of a gun. "Had to take a Vicodin," Derrick says. But that's family.

Me: What does this day mean for you?

Brenda Rose: I can't believe it. I'm so nervous. Excited for him. This has been one of his dreams ever since he turned little. He's my little gym rat. I'm very proud of him.

Derrick Rose: It means a lot. Especially being so young. When I said I wanted to be MVP, I wasn't trying to be cocky or anything. I knew I put a lot of hard work in the offseason. Just working hard every single day during the summer. And it paid off. But I wouldn't have got here if it wasn't for my teammates. They did a great job with giving me confidence, trusting in me, especially being so young, following me, and that's why I'm one of the leaders on my team.

Me: I grew up in D.C., and in D.C. they would say 'Mrs. Rose is strict.'

BR: Yes. Four boys. I had to stay on them. I didn't have too much trouble out of him. But I just stayed on them. They wasn't too hard on me.

Me: How did you know that was the right way to go?

BR: Because of my mother and my grandmother. They was strict. And it was always family first. And my grandmother was always one to say, 'You have to be strong with boys. You can't give 'em an inch, because if you give 'em an inch, they was gonna take a mile.' So I just made sure I tried to stay on them, and they listened. That was the main thing.

Me: I know it wasn't easy, with three older brothers helping. Could you do anything without your brothers or mother knowing about it?

DR: Not in my neighborhood. It was like a family back then, when I was growing up. I was too scared to do something, to tell you the truth. My uncles was living with us. My brothers was there. If I did any trouble it was going to get back to my brothers. So I just tried my hardest to stay in my lane, and it paid off.

Me: What's the best thing about having this time with him, and being able to celebrate Mother's Day with him?

BR: Mother's Day has always been important to us, even when they was growing up. The little silly cards that he would write, he would give them to me. And then I'd get 'I love you.' And that big kiss and stuff. And I still have some of those cards right now. And my boys have always said, 'We love you.' And that was always the most important thing for me. Just to tell me that.

Me: For this to happen here in Chicago has got to be even more special.

BR: When he got drafted, you know, you're supposed to try to stand up (in the green room). And my knees was gone. I could not move. So he had to come down and give me the kiss down, because my knees were gone. When he was the first pick of the Bulls, that meant I could see him more. I didn't have to be traveling, because I'm not a traveler. I'll always be able to see my youngest son. If I had something to tell him, I always could call him on the phone and tell him. That was the main thing.

DR: It means a lot, especially right now. My mother, she's my heart. I'm a momma's boy, whatever you call it. She is everything for me -- my father, sometimes my disciplinarian. My momma's really cool. I can call her and talk to her about anything. I'm happy to be here. If I want to see her, she's not too far where I can easily drive to go see her. Or she can come to me and stay with me. I'm just happy that I could change her life. That's the biggest thing. She worked so hard throughout her whole life, and for her youngest son to come and tell her that everything's OK, that she doesn't have to worry about anything, and get whatever she wants, that's what makes me happy and makes me want to work so hard.

Me: Do you still not want him to come back to Englewood?

BR: I still go over to Englewood. I still have a lot of friends over there. And like he said, the ones he grew up around, I didn't have to worry about them. Don't worry; if he did something, I found out.

DR: Yes, she did.

BR: I still go through there to be with the friends that I always had. And they'll come out to the house and tell me, 'Oh, he's doing good.' So it's still that family bond that I had with Englewood. So I'm still enjoying it.

Me: So, what's the worst thing he did growing up?

DR: I really didn't do too much. I didn't do too much, like Reggie and Wayne and them ...

BR: No, he didn't do too much. The only thing I know once he did was, he was acting up and stuff. And I was after him. But he ran to my mother. He could run real quick to get to my mother --

DR: You used to always throw stuff at me. 'Cause she couldn't catch me. --

BR: I couldn't catch him. And he would run to my mother and jump into her lap, and be like, 'I ain't done anything bad.' And my mother would say, 'Leave him alone'--

DR: She was my savior, my grandma. And after that, she started getting to me.

BR: That was her baby. He did what he had to do.

Me: What is it like watching him play?

BR: I don't believe it, how fast he is, and how quick he is. How he turns his body and stuff. I'll be saying, 'How did he do that?' He can twist it. He'll be turning it this way, turning it that way, and I'll be saying, 'Where did that come from?'--

DR: You can tell my mom didn't hoop at all --

BR: No, I would play baseball --

DR: Baseball, softball was her game.

BR: I'll just be watching how fast he's going. I'll see some moves he do, and it just amazes me to see him on the court.

Me: Do you have to watch what you say on the court?

DR: Oh my God, yes. She calls me about it almost every game. I have to watch what I say. Because she reads my mouth more than she watch the games. I've gotta watch it sometimes. But I'll be so caught up in the game, it's just emotion. And she understands that and I hope everybody around the world understands it, too.

Me: Whether you like it or not, you're a role model. So what do you think winning MVP can do to show young kids how to show themselves and act?

DR: Just staying positive with everything I try to do. Just be positive. Because nowadays, you have kids that are lost, especially where I'm from. And if you read the newspaper and watch the news, it's all over the world, too. So I just try to guide them in the right way, just let them know that doing bad things isn't cool. I just try to stay humble. If they follow me, it's not saying that you're going to be like I am. But it should put you in a good place where you know you're doing everything right, and that's a good thing. Because it helps everybody else out in the world.

Me: Is it a special message for your family to say the MVP of the NBA is from Englewood?

DR: It's unbelievable. Especially coming from where I came from. People barely get done with, get out of high school, barely go to high school where I come from, or drop out. And for me to make it all the way through there, through high school, and to go to college, it's crazy. It's kind of like a Cinderella story or something like that, a make-believe story. Especially knowing what I went through, and what my family went through. And now they're able to do whatever they want. It's unbelievable.

Me: But if Derrick comes over your house tonight Mrs. Rose, he's still gonna have to take out the trash, right?

BR: He takes out the trash. He still runs through the house like a little kid with his nieces and nephews. And like I tell him when he's at my house, it's family time. But he still does what he's supposed to do. I don't worry about that. And I still fuss at him about, don't leave that towel in the bathroom. Pick it up. Put it in the hamper. Because he will do that. You do! So I'll still be on him.

DR: I'm never going to stop being her baby, the baby of the family. Even though I've got nieces and nephews, they still look at me as the baby of the family. No matter how deep my voice gets, I'm always going to be the baby.

Me: What would you say to other moms about what you did and what you were able to accomplish with your family?

BR: It's mainly a lot of love. It's one thing we always did with our family, when they left to go to school, you couldn't just leave out and say, 'Bye.' You had to leave out and say, 'I love you.' And I think a lot of generations now, they don't tell their kids that, that they love them. So you tell them when they leave out, 'I love you.' And when they go to sleep, you tell them, 'I love you.' Because my grandmother told me, you might not wake back up. But to tell them that, that would be the last thing that you would tell them. So you always think about telling them, 'I love you.' I text him and tell him I love him, and he'll text back and tell me, 'I love you more.'

DR: She just learned how to text.

BR: So that will be the main thing we do. We always say we love each other. I think that's keeping our family together, and God is with us at all times.

They Said It

"One professor asked me on the first day what I was doing in his classroom, and shouldn't I be in remedial English or Rocks for Jocks?"
-- Hawks center Etan Thomas, in an op-ed on criticizing Donald Trump for his questioning of President Obama's education background.

"It's all on David. It's all David. Nothing on us. I won't talk to him. We won't put the gun to his head or anything like that. I never speak for guys. They're accessible. If they have something they want to say, I'll let them say it."
-- Hornets general manager Dell Demps, telling the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the team will not put any pressure on forward David West to let them know if he plans to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

"I'm not going to play hypothetical on Dwight. I think he's here to stay and I think we will put the pieces around him to win."
-- Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide, in a Q&A with the Orlando Sentinel last week, when asked if the team would consider trading Dwight Howard before he can become a free agent in 2012 to avoid losing him for nothing.

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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