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David Aldridge

Lockout puts injured players in odd position for rehab work


Posted Jul 25 2011 11:24AM

David West did not concern himself with the Nets, or Pacers, or even the New Orleans Hornets' travails this past weekend. He was immersed in the fortunes of the Garner Road Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs, an 11th grade elite team coached by West's brother, Dwayne, were competing in the 11th grade national AAU championships in Orlando, and West has been a loyal follower of the team for years.

The Bulldogs lost Sunday, but came back Monday morning with a win that gave them the top seed in their pool. And the trip to Orlando has been a welcome respite from the hours of rehab that West is doing in Raleigh, N.C., as he continues his recovery from a torn ACL in his left leg suffered last March 24 in Salt Lake City. Two to three times a day, five or six days a week, West is at the Athletic Performance Center in Raleigh, making rapid progress in his return. After his last visit two weeks ago to New York to see Dr. David Altchek, who performed the surgery, West's prognosis is now that he'd be ready for the start of the 2011-12 season -- if it starts on time.

"The way I'm looking at it, by October, I should be fully healthy," West said Monday morning. "When I go see Dr. Altchek in October, he should be giving me clearance to go out there and do my thing."

The lockout has been an obvious impediment in so many areas, but few are as crucial as the roadblock it presents to injured players trying to rehabilitate their injuries. Players and their agents are forbidden from having any contact with their existing teams, including their teams' medical and training staffs. A player coming off a serious injury, like West, would normally spend hours at his team's practice facility, working with physical therapists and trainers that have spent years gaining that player's confidence and trust. That trust is especially necessary when a player is vulnerable, uncertain if he'll return to past form.

But now, players are on their own, paying for doctors and trainers out of their own pockets -- one more expense with no paychecks coming in.

West, though, has no choice. The 30-year-old opted out of the final year of his contract -- which would have paid him $7.5 million next season -- after suffering the injury. It is a gamble, to be sure, when no one knows what the new rules are going to be in a new collective bargaining agreement. But West believes he will get paid what a two-time All-Star should.

"He knows he has to be ready because it's such a big year for him," said West's agent, Lance Young.

West and Young insist that their decision to opt out will be vindicated when the lockout ends and West goes on the market.

"I talked to my agent, and my whole thing is, I just want to see what's out there," West said. "I'm not saying New Orleans isn't a possibility. I want to see what's out there. and I want an opportunity to win. I'll be 31 at the end of the summer and no matter how great I feel physically and mentally, every year you don't win is a wasted year, a blown year, an opportunity you'll never get back. I don't want any more of those years. I've played eight years. And I want the next three or four years to be different."

Said Young: "When we did the last contract (a five-year, $45 million deal), we worked on front-loading it and trying to get $10 million (in average salary) for him after his third year. The fifth year was $7.5 million. When we did the deal with Jeff (Bower, the Hornets' former general manager), I told David this $7.5 million at the end is just an insurance policy in case you get hurt. When he tore his ACL I said this is what we were looking at. He outplayed his contract. He could get $7.5 million in insurance if he was hit by a bus or something. He just thinks he can go out on the market and get a better deal than that."

The Hornets' problem is the same one the Celtics had when they wanted to sign Kendrick Perkins to an extension. Under the existing rules, the most New Orleans could offer West was a three-year deal for about $26 million. As long as West is healthy, he's almost certain to find a better deal out on the open market. But he could conceivably sign a short deal with the Hornets and test free agency again in a year or two. In the interim, West made sure that teammate Chris Paul knew what was going on, and what was important to him.

"He's got the same mindset I have, just wanting to win," West said. "Dallas getting to the Finals and wining it all, having a guy (Tyson Chandler) that was a part of our core just a few years ago be on that team, it did something to me. It changed my mindset. I just want an opportunity to get on that stage."

Most players rehabilitating injuries have had to scramble to find comparable facilities. But West knew where he wanted to go. He'd grown up in the Raleigh area, playing at Garner High School, and has an offseason home there.

"I took it all into account, the fact that there would be a lockout," West said. "I just assumed there would be. If I had gone down to New Orleans and started working out down there, when the lockout came I would have to end my rehab there and start it somewhere else. From the beginning I said I would do my rehab in one place, with the same doctors, and plus being close to home. I knew some of the Carolina Panthers football players in the area. They do some of their work there. It was an easy choice for me."

"They have a great program for the soccer team at Duke and he was going to go there," Young said. "Then he talked with a couple of the (Carolina) Hurricane (NHL) players and a couple of people that his brother knew in Raleigh. A lot of the football players, when they had knee injuries, they go to this place. And it's only 15 minutes from his house ... it was obviously convenienlty located. And he has two small kids and a wife, and they didn't want to relocate to IMG (in Florida) or Chicgao for four or five months. He wanted to enjoy the house he's never in in Raleigh."

West was fortunate. His injury did not require microfracture surgery. He has not suffered any anterior knee pain, a common malady during rehab. And ACL tears are becoming, if not commonplace, an injury whose recovery time has been reduced significantly in recent years, thanks to improvements in surgery and changes in philosophy. Twenty years ago, people were put in immobilizing ankle-to-hip casts after suffering ACL tears, and could go weeks before beginning physical therapy, which only served to atrophy their leg muscles, extending the rehab process. Now, physical therapists want their patients moving two or three days after surgery.

"The first two weeks (after surgery), they all look like crap, like hell," said Jamie Holt, the physical therapist at APC who has been West's primary therapist during rehab. "They're on medication. They're on crtuches. They can't walk with their normal gait. The first thing is getting the swelling out of the knee and working to improve the hip function. I watched David's injury on film several times and a lot of times it's not the knee, it's the hip. We work on a lot of glute-hip strength, and a lot of work so that the muscles are firing at the same time. We want all the muscles to fire at the same time so that they all absorb it at the same time instead of all the stress landing just on that knee."

Using a TRX suspension strap where his right foot is placed in a stirrups, followed by jumps, squats and lunges on his left foot, West has strengthened all of the muscles in his left leg. He had been doing underwater running on a treadmill, but a couple of weeks ago he was cleared to begin jogging on a track. Sunday was 16 weeks to the day that he suffered his injury. He's gotten through what Holt calls the "danger zone" of eight to 11 weeks after surgery, when a patient often feels great but has yet to really put any strain on the leg. Setbacks often occur. So far, West has been a model patient.

Before the lockout began, general manager Dell Demps sent the team's trainers and strength and conditioning coach to North Carolina to get an idea of what Holt and the APC staff would be doing with West during the summer.

"They asked us, 'If this (lockout) goes extended, are you capable of taking him through September, October, November?," Holt said. "We're kind of prepared for all that type of stuff. He's in no rush. He wants this to be a one-time injury where he doesn't have this happen again. In a couple of weeks, we'll progress to on-court stuff."

For West, the monotony of rehab is tempered by what lies ahead.

"There comes a time where you're not going to see the big improvement," he said. "The rehab gets slow at times. But just staying steady with it, knowing that it is a process, it's going to take some time. This injury has never taken control of my thoughts. I'm never going to allow that nagging, that fear, I've never allowed it to set in. It's given me the confidence that no matter how monotonous it is, I know I'm getting better ...

"I was only down for about 20 minutes, when we were in Utah and when I got the MRI (the next day) in Phoenix. When they told me it was my ACL I was down for literally 20 minutes. By the time the trainers came to my room to check on me, I was all about the rehab. I didn't want anybody to feel sorry for me. I feel like I'm strong enough in the mind to deal with whatever comes up."

West would obviously have more time to rehab if the lockout goes into the fall and leads to the loss of regular season games. But he's not counting on needing that extra time.

"We had been designing one of those return-to-sport braces for David," Holt said. "He said, 'I'm not wearing it.' Well, the surgeon did his job. If we do our job well enough, he's not going to need it."

Updating a few other notable players:

Rajon Rondo, Celtics

(Dislocated left elbow, May 7)

At his basketball camp in Kentucky a couple of weeks ago, Rondo said that he was still having pain in the elbow, and that there is still swelling, though it's subsided over the past couple of months. He said the initial injury was the worst pain he's ever experienced as a player, but that he would be at training camp if the season starts on time.

Manu Ginobili, Spurs

(Hyperextended right elbow, April 14)

Ginobili played through the pain during the Spurs' first-round loss to the Grizzlies, averaging 20.6 points in a losing cause against Memphis. After a couple of months off Ginobili is now back home in his native Argentina, preparing to play again for his country in the FIBA Americas Tournament in Mar del Plata from Aug. 30 to Sept. 11. After that, his agent, Herb Rudoy, texted Sunday evening, no decision has been made about where Ginobili will continue working out.

Caron Butler, Mavericks

(Torn right ACL, Jan. 1)

The day before Game 5 of The Finals, with his team tied 2-2 with the Miami Heat, Caron Butler was forlorn, sitting on a chair outside the Mavericks' locker room at American Airlines Center.

"It's The Finals," he said. "You really want to play and you want to be out there. (But) you want to be healthy. That's the biggest key. You don't want to be out there disabling your team."

Butler was very close to returning from the knee injury he'd suffered on New Year's Day in Milwaukee. He'd been doing individual drills, and some halfcourt work, but he needed a few days of full-court practice, and there weren't any on the schedule. And the Mavericks' doctors weren't ready to clear him. Four days later, the Mavericks won the championship in Miami, and Butler wept in the victorious locker room, out of frustration with his bad luck as much as with joy at Dallas' victory.

"Caron would have been able to play in game seven," his agent, Ray Brothers, said Sunday night. "If it had gone seven games he was 90, 95 percent. He was Rick (Carlisle)'s secret weapon."

Butler has to be ready when the lockout ends, because he'll be a 31-year-old free agent coming off of a bad knee injury. But Brothers believes Butler will still be one of the top two or three free agents.

For the second straight summer, Butler is spending much of the offseason in Chicago, where he's working with super trainer Tim Grover. Grover has many NBA clients, but because he's not affiliated with any particular team, players are allowed to continue working with him and other non-aligned trainers during the lockout. Butler returned to Dallas Sunday evening to continue his workouts at local facilities. Even though the Mavericks' doctors can't have contact with him, they devised a program for him before the lockout that he is faithfully executing with his trainers, Brothers said. So Butler hasn't missed a step since the start of the lockout.

"We always are in place to handle any situation, regardless of whether the team helps us or not," said Brothers, who also arranged for his clients' contracts to be paid out over 18 or 24 months, instead of from November to April, as is normally the case, so that they won't miss paychecks during the lockout. "You combine free agency with the lockout, and technically, you're on your own. He does a lot of strength stuff to get his strength back. This is probably the best thing. the lockout's good for Caron Butler. It gives him more time. He's already passed the time necessarily for him to heal, but he's going to come back stronger and better ... when I could talk to the (Mavericks') doctors, they told me that his knee's probably going to be better than it was before."

Andrew Bogut, Bucks

(Dislocated left elbow, broken left hand, April 3, 2010)

Bogut had surgery in 2010 to repair the injuries suffered in that gruesome fall against the Suns, and returned last season for Milwaukee, playing in 65 games. But he was obviously limited, shooting under 50 percent from the floor for the first time in his career. And his free-throw shooting plummeted to 44.2 percent. After last season Bogut underwent another operation, by Dr. James Andrews. After rehabbing in Milwaukee, Bogut went to Australia in early June, where he rehabbed at his home -- which includes a full-length basketbal court -- for six weeks. He flew to Croatia, where he has family, last week, and plans to spend a month there working with physiology trainers to continue his rehab.

"If Andrew has any setbacks he could call Dr. Andrews right away and he would fly back over to the States," Bogut's agent, David Bauman, said Friday. "Andrew has been ramping up slowly. He knows to dial it back if he feels tightness or swelling. There's no more pain that keeps him from having a full range of motion. Dr. Andrews says he'll have full extension. When they did the (last) operation they took out a bone chip the size of a fingernail and there was some scar tissue to shave. Dr. Andrews said that when Andrew was under anesthesia he was fully able to extend the elbow."

There was some swelling of Bogut's upper tissue in his elbow after the surgery, Bauman said. But Bogut was fortunate that there was no ligament damage in the initial injury. The rest of the offseason will be devoted to getting the tissue swelling down. Bogut would have been cleared in mid-August to play for the Australian national team, which has Olympic qualifying games in September. But because of the lockout, Bogut's Bucks contract became uninsured, leaving him financially vulnerable if he were to suffer an injury. Basketball Australia, which oversees the Australian team, wasn't willing to pick up the approximately $800,000 it would have taken to insure the remaining $40 million on Bogut's contract.

If the lockout is still in place when Bogut returns from Croatia, Bauman said, he may ask Bogut to live with him in Washington, D.C., as Bogut did when he was training for the 2005 Draft. But one thing Bogut won't be doing is playing abroad if the lockout extends into the NBA season.

"Andrew Bogut is not playing anywhere in Europe, anywhere in China, anywhere in Asia," Bauman said. "There's no basketball reason to do that. I'd rather see him play pickup at Georgetown or at Maryland."

Dribbles

Key points to heed in decertification talk

Keep one number in mind as powerful agents beat their chests about decertification: $4 billion. That's the total amount of guaranteed contract money in the system that the NBA and its owners insist will go poof if the players decide to dissolve the National Basketball Players Association. The only reason to decertify would be to hit the owners with an antitrust lawsuit that could, conceivably, net the players a huge financial windfall (treble damages, remember) that would then entice owners to the bargaining table. But it's a gamble.

Nonetheless, some of the game's most powerful agents are pushing NBPA executive director Billy Hunter to start the decertification process soon. Yahoo! Sports reported Friday that at the already-scheduled meeting between Hunter and the agents, they told him that time is running out.

Among the agents at Friday's meeting with Hunter, according to sources, were WMG's Arn Tellem, perhaps the game's most powerful agent (Tellem's basketball division represents, among others: Derrick Rose, Pau and Marc Gasol, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Brandon Roy, Antawn Jamison and Kendrick Perkins) and a longtime advocate of decertification strategy; Leon Rose, Creative Artists Agency's top basketball man (who has LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul among his clients); Excel's Jeff Schwartz, who just signed Deron Williams to add to a client list including Paul Pierce, Jason Kidd, Lamar Odom, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love, and BDA Sports' Bill Duffy, whose company handles Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings, Baron Davis, Greg Oden and the recently retired Yao Ming.

During the meeting, according to sources, decertification was just one option discussed among the group to push owners back to the bargaining table. But it was the one that most agents favored.

"At the end of the day, if the NBA doesn't want to negotiate -- which they clearly don't want to do -- you have to look at the other options that you have, and that's what we're examining," said Priority Sports' Mark Bartlestein, another prominent agent at the meeting who represents more than two dozen NBA players including Danny Granger, David Lee, Mo Williams, Jared Dudley and Taj Gibson.

As far as the $4 billion goes, the league's contention that the contracts would disappear is true only to a point. At some point, the league will reach a deal with the union, and would almost certainly have to reinstate the players' contracts once the union recertified. The alternative would be either implementing work rules on the players without a deal, which would leave the league vulnerable to a potential players' strike, or additional antitrust penalties if players sought redress while they continued to play under the imposed rules.

At any rate, the agents do not believe that the league would actually go ahead and void all of those contracts. Such a move could, at least theoretically, make every player in the league a free agent, able to go wherever they wanted. And owners like, say, Miami's Micky Arison, might have a problem with that.

"Think of the chaos of that," a prominent agent said Sunday afternoon. "All of a sudden Kobe and Chris Paul and Deron Williams are free agents? Some owners would lose their marbles. If your top 20 players in the league could, all of a sudden, do what they wanted?...can you imagine Oklahaoma City? (Kevin) Durant and Westbrook? See ya."

A source with knowledge of the meeting indicated that the idea of "involuntary" decertification did come up; basically, a decertification that woud take place over Hunter's objections. That would require 30 percent of the union's players to sign a petition requesting a vote of the full membership to decertify. That vote would take place at satellite offices of the National Labor Relations Board across the country. A simple majority of the union membership would cause the dissolution of the body.

This was the tactic that several agents, including Tellem and David Falk, tried in 1995, when they were unhappy with the progress made by then-executive director Simon Gourdine on a new CBA. Their clients, including Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller and others, publicly lobbied their peers to decertify. But the players voted 226-134 against decertification. And in 1999, Hunter, who had been on the job for just three years, opted not to go that route during that year's lockout. After that lockout, the makeup of the union's executive director board changed dramatically.

Ewing, the president of the union in '99, was replaced by Antonio Davis, who served briefly until the Lakers' Derek Fisher took over in 2006. The executive committee, full of stars like Ewing and Alonzo Mourning, was replaced by more players representing the league's financial middle class, including Fisher, Miami swingman James Jones, Washington forward Mo Evans, Knicks guard Roger Mason Jr. and Bucks guard Keyon Dooling. (Chris Paul is the only current committee member from the players' upper crust.) That movement was not by accident; Fisher and the union have made protecting the middle class a priority, and there is some thought that the big-time agents want to reassert control over the union.

"I don't think it's about the stars," Bartlestein said Saturday. "The people that have been talking to Billy represent a large portion of the league. It's about reaching a consensus with a large group of players. I think Billy knows we represent a lot of players and we have a good feel of what's going on."

Regardless of their motivation, the agents' move should be a clear indication to commissioner David Stern and the owners that, just as there are owners who are willing to miss a full season to change the existing salary structure in the NBA, there are hawks on the players' side that are just as willing to drag this into the courts, where no one can feel confident they know what will happen.

Hunter, as NBA.com has been reporting for months, has grown more comfortable with the idea of decertification as a last-ditch strategy, and indicated during Friday's meeting that he is not necessarily averse to using the tactic. However, the ruling of the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court in St. Louis earlier this month that upheld the legality of the NFL owners' lockout -- begun after the NFL Players Association decertified -- has made that strategy even riskier.

The basketball union would likely file the case in a venue that is deemed more favorable, such as the First Circuit in Boston or the the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. The ruling of the Eighth Circuit would not be binding in either of those courts. If the First or Ninth were to rule in the players' favor, that could -- potentially, according to legal experts -- lead to the Supreme Court taking on the case.

Hunter and the union would like to wait until their complaint filed against the NBA for not negotiating in good faith is heard. The NBPA amended the complaint earlier this month, saying that the league cancelled the Las Vegas Summer League without bargaining with the players. The union has believed the NLRB, historically slow to decide such matters, might fast-track its complaint and rule in the next few weeks. For the moment, the agents are willing to wait as well. But they won't be very patient.

Bartlestein insisted that the tenor of Friday's meeting was not confrontational.

"I think some people are portraying it like we were marching in there telling Billy what to do," Bartlestein said. "It was very positive. We all have the same goal. It was not contentious, or one side against the other side. Sure, voices get raised once in a while, because it's emotional and everybody has opinions. But nobody knows the exact perfect thing to do ... you have to sit down and analyze everything and come up with a consensus. And that's what the meeting was about, coming up with a consensus about what's the next thing to do."

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

Is Yao Ming a Hall of Famer?

"I'm not the person to ask," said Carroll Dawson, the Rockets' former general manager who drafted Yao first overall in 2002, on Saturday. "I'm the biggest Yao Ming fan on the earth. I've seen his personality and his character ... the guy's 30 years old and he has to quit. It breaks my heart. I have a hard time talking about this. I get very emotional. We didn't start winning with [Hakeem] Olajuwon until he was 31. Big guys develop later. There's no justice."

Based solely on his NBA accomplishments, selecting Yao for Springfield would be a close call. He averaged 19 points and 9.2 rebounds in eight seasons with the Rockets. He made eight All-Star teams (including last season's, though he did not play because of the foot injury that cost him most of the season). But Yao never led the league in any of the major statistical categories; the closest he came was third in field-goal percentage (.552) in 2004-05. He wasn't Rookie of the Year in '03; that went to Amar'e Stoudemire. And the Rockets advanced past the first round just once during his era. But Yao's global impact may be greater than anyone who ever played.

Maybe Michael Jordan was bigger. But not by much. Jordan never had more than a billion people watching every game he played. And for all of his cultural and basketball impact, Jordan never had the hopes and dreams of an entire country on his back every waking moment for more than a decade. China has had any number of outstanding athletes, from gymnasts to divers. But Yao, of course, was bigger than life. Yao could not just make it in the NBA; he had to become a superstar. National pride -- and shame -- is a huge part of the Chinese culture, and the pressure on Yao never let up.

"That's something you and I will never know," said Keith Jones, the Rockets' longtime head athletic trainer. "There's a big part of the country that follows basketball, but there's a lot of people that don't care. We've got a country of 300 million people. (In China) you've got a country of two billiion people, and you're it. You just don't want to disappoint. It doesn't have anything to do with money. You just don't want to disappoint the people that look up to you. He just kept playing, even to his own detriment."

Indeed, Yao is retiring at 30 because he never said no. He didn't say no to the Shanghai Sharks, the team he played for as a teenager. He didn't say no to the Rockets. He didn't say no year after year when China had to qualify for the Olympics, or the World Championships, or the Asian Championships. He couldn't say no when China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. He just played, year after year, and his lower body finally broke down under the strain.

Just getting him to the NBA took years of negotiating with the Chinese Basketball Association, and with the Sharks, who didn't want to lose their star player, but also understood how important it would be to the nation if Yao could succeed on basketball's biggest professional stage.

The Rockets first saw him in 1998, when he was 17. They sent scouts B.J. Johnson and Joe Ash to China, and the scouts were impressed. Ash made several trips over the next two years, and continued to bring good reports back. (When then-Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached the 2000 U.S. men's Olympics team to the gold medal, saw China's frontcourt with the 7-foot-6 Yao standing between 7-foot Mengke Bateer and 7-foot-1 Wang Zhizhi, he was dumbstruck.) Yao was not very impressive in the Olympics playing against established NBA big men like Alonzo Mourning. But when Yao declared for the 2002 Draft, Dawson never hesitated to take Yao with the first pick overall, even in the midst of a lot of second-guessing.

"I got killed," Dawson said. "Rick Majerus just tore me alive one night on TV. Billy Packer was killing me because I took Yao instead of that guard who played one year and then got on the motorcycle (Jay Williams, who was taken second by Chicago, but whose career was shortened after a terrible motorcycle accident following his rookie season). He said anybody that took Yao Ming over him is crazy."

Yao had a good rookie season, including his first 20-point game, which forced a certain bombastic television personality -- who said he'd "kiss Kenny Smith's ass" if Yao ever scored 19 in a game his rookie year -- to pucker up . Yao was learning the NBA and he was learning to drive (teammate Steve Francis offered his ride) and he was learning the language. Sort of. Yao used interpreter Colin Pine for most of his first two NBA seasons, but he really didn't need him.

"Rudy and I went to China when we were negotiating, before the Draft," Dawson recalled. "When we got there we said, 'Would it be possible to talk to Yao Ming and watch him work out?' They didn't answer right away. We met for a few more hours. Then finally they said, 'It is agreat honor for you to come here,' and they let us in. Rudy and I went back there and watched the whole workout. Boy, were we pleased. We had an interpreter with us. Her name was Wendy, cute as a button. It was so important for her to get Yao Ming to the NBA, too. So we're watching him, and Yao sees us, and he comes running over. He says, 'Coach Dawson, welcome to China.' I almost fainted. He speaks better (English) than I do. I said, 'You speak English?' He said, 'Yeah, English second language. Been taking it since grade school.' "

But Yao was already under enormous pressure. He spoke before his rookie season about how he felt celebrity was like being in "a cage." And that didn't change once he got to the States.

"You would see it going into hotels," Jones said. "You could tell he was very uncomfortable with being Yao. He just wanted to be part of the Houston Rockets. As he learned about this country and learned about the league, and kind of understood it, he knew how to protect himself from being above the team. He knew how to deal with the media. He was the best teammate ever."

But Yao was almost never healthy after 2005. A toe required surgery in '05. A year later, he broke his right kneecap and missed 34 games. He missed the last two months of the regular season and all of the '08 playoffs after developing a stress fracture in his left foot. He got through the next regular season, but suffered a hairline fracture in his left foot during the second-round series with the Lakers. That injury cost him all of the next season. And he got through only a month of last season before another stress fracture in the same foot ended his career.

"He had to be, I'm thinking the whole time he was over here, he had the ankle, he had the feet, he had the knees," Jones said. "He had to be in constant pain. But he never bitched about anything. We had to gauge his workouts -- he's going to do this much, and then he's going to stop. Because he wouldn't stop. When Jeff [Van Gundy] was here and a lot of the time with Rick [Adelman], it was 'Yao, you're not going to practice today.' Oh, I can do something.' 'No, you're not valuable to us in practice; you're valuable to us in games.'"

Yao never stopped trying to come back. But his feet wouldn't come with him. And so, his legacy as a player is not so much what he did for the Rockets on the court, but what his presence meant for so many Chinese and Asian kids around the globe. Drazen Petrovic and Vlade Divac made European players believe they could compete with NBA players. Yao brought the Far East into focus, took away some of its mystery and fear. He came not to conquer by force, but to compete alongside, with a gentle manner, a wry sense of humor and a team-first spirit.

"When Yao came, I thought that opened up the whole world," Dawson said. "He was worldwide. Coming over from that culture and coming over here without going to school, and making it work, I can't think of anybody who could do it better."

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

Children aren't the only ones who have problems with caps. From Joseph Valencia:

I have a question about one of the top debating points of the CBA negotiations, the salary cap. What I was wondering was, why can't, as a compromise, the players give in to a hard cap, but demand for it to be higher than the owners' proposal of $62 million? If the cap was raised to around $70-75 million per team, teams like the Lakers wouldn't have to make as drastic salary cuts. Instead of being 32 million over the cap like they were last year, the Lakers would have to trim their payroll by only $15 or 20 million. But there would be less or no exceptions to the cap, just like in the NFL and NHL. Is there some reason why either side wouldn't want this? Since it seems like the whole NBA system could be drastically changed, this could be a good place to meet in the middle.

Billy Hunter, is that you?

As I've written before, the union would sign off on a hard cap if it's high enough -- think $75, $80 million and up. But there's no way the league would agree to such a system that would lock in fixed costs for salaries at such a high rate. Several low-revenue teams claim their chances at turning a profit or even breaking even financially becomes untenable for them even at the current salary cap limit of $58.044 million, so they likely wouldn't go higher even if they were able. Their hope is that teams like the Lakers have to come much closer to where they are than for them to go anywhere near where Los Angeles is.

Right is right, and wrong is...who? From Josh Schlaflin:

While I like that you seperate the issue's that both sides are having, and how they need to get over them, I'm curious as to who you TRULY feel is in the wrong here. I mean, this thing seems so stuck right now, that im not sure who's going to budge. We all assume either the owners and/or the players will eventually, but both sides are determined. So my question is, at the end of the day, which side HAS to cave in for the good of the sport?

You asked two questions, Josh. Who's wrong? I'm not trying to cop out, but both sides are, for different reasons. Owners -- captains of industry in every other endeavor of their lives, smarter than almost everyone else -- somehow become befuddled when it comes to the economics of the NBA. They can't figure out why they can't immediately make money off a $300 to $400 million investment that they financed with monstrous loans. No matter how the Commish spins it, they want protection from themselves. Players can't accept the fact that while, yes, they're being asked to give back a lot of money, a good portion of them are ridiculously overpaid and should take a financial haircut. And they have to come to grips with the fact that, while they are employees, their issues aren't the same as auto workers in Detroit. They are being asked to give back a lot of money. But no one who's been out of work for two years with an underwater mortgage and kids to put through school is going to have much sympathy for their plight. Who has to give in? At the end of the day, owners have more resources than players. It's hard to imagine the players can hold out longer than their bosses.

Gender Equity at both ends of the court. From Devin Henry:

As a young man, the thought of women's professional basketball never appealed to me and even aroused thoughts of ridicule. But then about four years ago I got NBA-TV and they were airing WNBA games during the summer along with "classic" NBA games. Once I started watching the games, I was hooked. I have been a Seattle Storm fan from the beginning, experiencing the ups and downs of seasons with and without Lauren Jackson, I have slowly become familiar with all of the players, and I have even gone to a live game with my wife (Seattle vs. the-then Detroit Shock).

I have learned to appreciate the subtle differences between the men's and women's game, and I try to explain to my friends why the women's game can be just as exciting as the men's game. "It is not better or worse," I tell them; "it is just different." Because of the relative lack of athleticism -- specifically the fact that women do not play above the rim -- the women have adjusted to a different style of play. With the exception of this past NBA season, if I had a choice, I would probably watch a Phoenix Mercury vs. L.A. Sparks game over a Phoenix Suns vs. L.A. Lakers game. My hopes are that the popularity of the WNBA continues to rise (and the introduction and "branding" of Maya Moore might just do that) so that teams no longer have to become walking billboards for pharmaceutical and insurance companies with uniforms that look like NASCAR suits.

So, I was wondering what your thoughts on the WNBA are. First, why isn't there more being done on the NBA side to promote the women's game? I understand that some NBA teams also own their WNBA counterparts, so one would expect more "crossing over" (not just at the All-Star game). Occasionally an NBA analyst will mention the women, but NBA.com journalists don't write on WNBA.com. Plus, there is a general lack of acknowledgement among NBA columnists about the WNBA game. It might as well be a completely different sport.

But more importantly, I read your recent Open Letter and wonder if you have not missed an opportunity to make an effective point in your address to the players. I wonder if it would do some good for the male players to step back and consider, not how much Michael Jordan was paid almost 20 years ago, but how underpaid the WNBA players are today relative to the men. In your letter you nicely placed the lockout in the context of the broader economic crisis and how the profits of the owners and the salaries of the players far outstrip anything that your average working American will ever make in their lifetime. A very fair point. But the gender disparity between men and women in professional basketball also parallels the global disparity between men and women in the workforce.

The short answers, Devin, are:
a) I can't imagine the NBA could do more to promote the WNBA. The league has a TV deal with ABC and ESPN and shows dozens of games on NBA TV; it airs commercials for the league during NBA broadcasts and, of course, it kept the league afloat financially -- an effort that more than a couple of NBA owners have questioned -- for almost 20 years, until finding owners outside of the NBA to begin buying some teams.
b) As you mentioned above, the WNBA is a different sport than the NBA. It has its own website with its own writers that cover the league. Believe me, it's hard enough for me to keep track of 30 NBA teams without adding 12 more to my plate.
c) No question, WNBA players make less than NBA players, just as many women continue to make less than men for doing the same work at the same company. If you're asking whether or not that's fair in the WNBA players' case, it's hard for me to argue that there should be equal pay considering, again, it's a different game that appeals to fewer people, by the available metrics. When Olivier did Hamlet on Broadway, he got more than the guy doing Hamlet in the touring company. I'm sure WNBA players would like to make more, and the top players do make more playing abroad. But at least there is still a league in the States for them for half of the year.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and your "I Went to Washington to Solve the Debt Ceiling Crisis, and All I Got Was an IOU for One Medium T-Shirt" t-shirts to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

By the Numbers

3 -- Separate covers, featuring Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, for NBA 2K12, the latest installment of the popular video game, expected to be released in early October.

27 -- Years that the Celtics will now be on television on Comcast SportsNet New England after agreeing to a 20-year extension with the cable network last week that will run through 2038. The Cs are expected to make up to $20 million per season in the deal with CSNNE, in which the team has an ownership stake.

$67,000,000 -- Payroll for the Knicks last season, according to a source of the New York Post's, which would leave New York shy of the $70 million luxury tax threshold. If true, the Knicks would avoid paying that dollar for every dollar above the threshold tax for the first time since 1999.

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Wasn't it wonderful around 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, when, for a few moments, you could dream about the 2011-12 season, and Ring (or whatever) Night in Dallas on Opening Night, Carmelo's return to Denver Nov. 16 and LeBron-at-Cleveland III two days later? Heat and Mavs in a Finals rematch Christmas Day and D-Rose and the Bulls versus Kobe and the Lakers Christmas Night? And on and on. It was great. And then it all ended, and you were back in Pottersville.

2) As I wrote last week, I don't think the end of the NFL lockout will have a great impact on the NBA's work stoppage. The economy of football , the country's most popular sport by a mile, is so much healthier than that of the NBA that comparisons are silly. But it was nonetheless encouraging to see both sides in the football dispute giving -- probably more than they wanted -- to ensure an on-time start of the regular season. That's the only hope remaining for a resolution to the NBA lockout -- that there will be enough people on both sides with a vested interest in playing next season to reach some kind of critical mass that will produce a breakthrough.

3) Any game played in Seattle involving NBA players makes me happy, and hopeful. Most important line: "Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was in attendance."

4) Good for Baron Davis. Really, really good, for a lot of different reasons.

5) Allow me a moment of parochial pride to crow about the signing of forward Vlad Moldoveanu by Benetton Treviso last week on a two-year deal. The 6-foot-10 Moldoveanu, a flat-out scorer, starred last season for my beloved American University Eagles, and it's a big deal when an AU kid ges a contract with a team as prestigious as Benetton.

Not Feelin' ...

1) I have no problem with Dirk Nowtizki playing for his native Germany at the European championships next month. But I also have no problem with Mark Cuban's position that all this participation in international competition is not good for the Mavericks' bottom line. (See Yao Ming and Kobe Bryant). There are only so many jumps and jumpers in a body, and Nowtizki just got done with a two-month mental and physical grind a month ago. Whether the lockout continues or not, the Diggler hasn't really gotten a break this summer. He probably needs one.

2) Andrew. Bynum. C'mon, son. Don't bogart handicapped parking spaces. Not cool.

3) Sad. But not LO's fault.

4) Sadder. But addiction is a hard, hard thing to beat. My father used to always tell me, 'you don't see no old junkies, son.' Condolences to her family and fans all over the world. (By the way, Saturday was a terrible day, with boxing promoter Butch Lewis and U.S. general and former Joint Chiefs of Staff head John Shalikashvili also passing away.)

5) Good Lord, it's hot.

Tweet of the Week

I got a facial 2day & it was PAIN..facials & losing the finals R similar..the pain is indescribable but n the end ur better becuz of it
-- Dwyane Wade (@DwyaneWade), Friday, 10:09 p.m., tying the lessons learned from his day job to good grooming tips that everyone can benefit from hearing.

They Said It

"I was in my hotel room in Canada and Michael came to my room and saw me lying in bed with Carmen Electra. He just started laughing and said, 'Only you, Dennis.'"
-- Dennis Rodman, detailing his days with Michael Jordan and the Bulls to SLAM Magazine on the eve of Rodman's induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"You think of the Lakers and you think they are a great organization. But if you work inside the organization, it's only a perception of being a great organization. It's probably not a great organization, because great organizations don't treat their personnel like they've done."
-- Former Lakers assistant general manager Ronnie Lester, one of almost two dozen employees let go by the team just before the lockout began, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

"I didn't receive a dime of it, even though it was FIBA-guaranteed. The team folded two months later. It's such a crapshoot."
-- Former University of Utah center and ex-Cav Lance Allred, detailing some of his experiences playing overseas to the Salt Lake Tribune. Allred said he signed a deal to play in Italy for $160,000 that never was paid off, and detailed some of the less-savory aspects, from non-elite travel to less-than-five-star accomodations, of being abroad.

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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