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David Aldridge

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Roster overhauls felt in Dallas and elsewhere will separate the coaching chaff from the wheat.
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

Free agency's frantic start sets tone for coaches, teams


Posted Dec 12 2011 1:13PM

Good Lord, where does one begin?

What was the point of the lockout, again?

Dwight Howard wants to go from Orlando to L.A. or Jersey, but not Chicago, it seems. Chris Paul won't sign a contract extension unless he's traded to L.A., but to the right L.A. David Stern, in one fell swoop (one swell foop?), makes a decision that, somehow, manages to alienate ... everyone.

It was like one of those old bits David Letterman used to do on NBC, when he'd go to the roof of a tall building and drop something, like a watermelon or cantaloupe, watch it burst when it hit the ground, then show the replay over and over. It was almost hypnotic watching all of the pieces splatter and separate.

Lakers fans are apoplectic. Hornets fans are despondent. Rockets fans are confused. Magic fans, who've seen this movie before, are ticked off. Jim Buss is ticked off. Dan Gilbert is ticked off. Chris Paul is ticked off. Dell Demps, the Hornets' general manager, and Hugh Weber, the team's president, who only moved heaven and earth to actually pull off a three-team deal which would have helped all three teams, must feel that they not only have one hand tied behind their back, they're hog tied. Pau Gasol, a sensitive soul, doesn't know what to think. Lamar Odom, even more sensitive, felt unwanted and asked for a trade -- Video and the Lakers obliged. Khloe Kardashian Odom, not at all sensitive, at least not about things like this, just wants to know if the camera crew can get to Dallas by Monday afternoon.

David Stern's Apologists, who think he had to step in and save the league from--horrors! -- employees deciding where they want to work!! -- are matched only by David Stern's Haters, who have found the perfect storm: No matter what decision he makes, it fits a custom-made conspiracy theory.

Thursday afternoon: 'See? The NBA does everything in its power to ensure the Lakers remain successful by okaying a trade of a superstar guard from the team the NBA owns to Los Angeles.'

Thursday evening: 'See? The NBA just cares about money. It doesn't want the Lakers to remain successful. Why else would it stop the trade of a superstar guard from the team the NBA owns? It just wants the Hornets to be more valuable when they're sold.'

Instead of keeping the team that won the NBA title just six months ago together, the Mavericks let several key pieces go, preferring to keep salary cap flexibility and room so they could go after big-time free agents like Howard and Deron Williams next summer -- the same way the Knicks and Heat did for years in preparation for going after LeBron and D-Wade. Mavericks fans were, understandably, skeptical -- and then came 6-foot-10 of Lamar Odom, gift-wrapped, and Cubes didn't have a problem with this transaction, did he? Bulls fans, watching everyone else make moves in the first 48 hours, want to know when they're going to join the party already. The Clippers -- the Clippers!! -- are a destination team now. Everything up is down; everything left is right; cats and dogs, living together ... mass hysteria!

Is this league, two weeks from opening day on Christmas, in disarray, as SI's Zach Lowe put it ?

It very well could be.

And you know what?

I love it.

Now, we're going to find out who's for real.

We're going to find out which coaches really know what they're doing, and can improvise to fit the shifting patterns of an uncertain roster. Or, conversely, we're going to find out who's going to stick to their guns and principles, no matter what.

We're going to find out which players were (as Sixers coach Doug Collins and former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan used to say) jackpottin' around during the lockout -- not working out diligently, and which ones lived in the gym, being professional, earning their money -- and who will be ready from the jump.

We're going to find out who the real leaders are, because this sprint not only will test players' groins and hamstrings, it will test their character and mental toughness. It will be easy to check out on that third game in three nights, because the excuse is right there, low-hanging fruit for the weak minded. But we will see the guys -- I am thinking of Kobe Bean in this case -- who will rise beyond their fatigue and will themselves to productive, even special, nights when they have no legs.

Nobody cares about the NBA? Why have I gained 10,000 Twitter followers in three days?

To be successful this season will require being creative and flexible, on the bench and in the corporate suites. A team with money that will spend it, like Dallas, can act fast and make a big splash. But so can a team with not as much money but which operates quietly and efficiently, like the Pacers did in waiting until the right moment to strike and sign David West.

Houston GM Daryl Morey has been in the middle of a dozen different trade scenarios that have yet to come to fruition at this writing, but he will keep at it. Meanwhile, New Jersey and Orlando seem headed for a showdown. At present, each has a superstar, but the problem is the superstars want to play with one another. That means that someone could win big (there's no guarantee Williams and Howard will play together in Brooklyn or Orlando, after all; it could be Dallas or somewhere else), but someone will definitely lose big. One of those franchises is going to have a brand new building next season without a superstar. Winner take all, loser leaves town. Or leaves the NBA for the next few years. Those are the stakes.

The Hornets, stymied in their three-team trade proposal by the NBA, rolled up their sleeves again on Sunday and started again, with the Clippers the new primary target for Paul. With every day that the league's decision makers for New Orleans, up to and including the Commish, don't approve a CP3 deal, the anger at them, at him, that has been building for months through the lockout from fans and players only swells. Of course, Stern is acting no differently than Jerry Krause or Bob Whitsitt or other decision makers over the years who were impossible to deal with, who would seem to agree to a deal, only to ask for ... one more thing ... before signing off. But he gets no benefit of the doubt; after his role in a second lockout he could not possibly expect any.

There are those who can't believe Stern would act so strongly. One wonders whether these people paid any attention in any class in any school they attended, or were content to continue eating paste out of the jar or writing "Miss Shawn Lincoln ... Mrs. Shawn Wilson ... Shawn L. Wilson ... Shawn Lincoln Wilson" in their notebooks.

Here is a brief list of things that Stern's NBA has, let's say, involved itself in over the years:

• Nixing the sale of the Timberwolves to a group headed by boxing promoter Bob Arum in 1994;

• Voiding the free agent signing of Juwan Howard by the Miami Heat in 1996, claiming the Heat had circumvented the salary cap by reaching an unwritten agreement with fellow free agent Alonzo Mourning before reaching agreement with Howard. (This led to one of the great quotes of all time, from a fuming Riles: "We did not forget how to add ... The only thing we miscalculated was somebody's animus for us");

• Suspending Latrell Sprewell for a year in 1997 after his attack on Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo, a decision that was reduced to the final 68 games of that season after Sprewell appealed;

• Crushing the Timberwolves after determining that Minnesota had entered into illegal secret contracts with Joe Smith that circumvented the salary cap. Stern fined the Wolves $3.5 million, suspended owner Glen Taylor and then-general manager Kevin McHale from team activities for several months and took five first-round picks away from the franchise (two were ultimately restored);

• Suspending Ron Artest for the remainder of the 2004-05 season after his fight with a fan in the stands during The Brawl at Auburn Hills.

Now, many of those actions were crime-and-punishment decisions, but the concept is the same -- David Stern rules the NBA with an iron fist. He pushes -- sometimes, hard -- behind the scenes, cajoling owners to sell and potential owners to buy. He drives a hard bargain at the negotiating table, and he browbeats reporters who write or say things about his league that are inaccurate or, in his view, unfair. (He also does a lot of really good and important things, and, in the main, he's been an outstanding commissioner, one of the best ever ... but you don't want to read that, right?)

But the league shouldn't expect much sympathy, and neither should Stern. They knew that when the NBA stepped in and bought the team from George Shinn, the conflict of interest questions would rain down, and rightly so. How can a league make a fair decision about one of its teams when the other teams own the team? Every decision will be viewed through the eyes of the people affected by it. When the NBA and Stern agreed to take on Carl Landry's salary at the trade deadline, bumping up the Hornets' payroll, Mark Cuban went ballistic, saying it was wrong that the league approved a deal that added payroll to a team that was losing money. And Phil Jackson, while not aware of what Cuban said, reached the same conclusion. That each of these men might have to face a Hornets team that would be improved by Carl Landry's presence in the playoffs had absolutely nothing, I'm sure, to do with their views.

The league shouldn't expect sympathy because Stern insisted he and the league would be hands off when the NBA purchased the team.

"Actually, the league generally approves all trades, number one," Stern said when he was specifically asked about what would happen if Hornets' management came to the league with a trade proposal.

"And number two, as far as we're concerned there have been -- while this process has been going on, there have been two significant transactions," he said. "And our response to both of them was you guys are management, you understand your budget and your instructions, just go ahead, because we've got [NBA-appointed chairman] Jac Sperling, [team president] Hugh Weber here, and if they recommend it, then we're going to be approving it."

A far cry from "basketball reasons," wouldn't you say?

The NBA stepped in to buy the Hornets because the greater likelihood was that someone (Oracle oracle Larry Ellison?) would eventually buy the team from Shinn, and move it. Stern didn't want that; he genuinely felt an obligation to stay in New Orleans post-Katrina, insisting the Hornets' move to Oklahoma City would be temporary even after that city showed for two years it could support the team. If the cause was noble then, it's strictly business now.

The league spent $300 million to buy the Hornets from Shinn; it wants to sell at a profit, and will do what is necessary to make the team profitable. So taking on $39.2 million of Luis Scola, and $34 million of Kevin Martin, wasn't going to make the team more attractive to buyers -- and from what you hear, there are people in the transom that are being vetted. That's what this is about. Not basketball reasons (although there was, as Stephen Colbert would say, some truthiness to that; I'd rather have Eric Gordon and Al-Faroqu Aminu and the Wolves' unprotected first-rounder in a potentially deep Draft than the Odom/Scola, et. al, package) or competitive balance, it's about green. A team with young players on rookie contracts and future Draft picks is going to go down smoother to someone writing a big check.

Of course that all gets lost when people's emotions are at a tipping point, and Gilbert makes sure everyone knows he despised this trade with a conveniently leaked e-mail. These owners won't tell you where they're having labor talks with the union, but this missive just happens to find its way into the hands of a few heavy hitters in the media. (Of course, the time stamp on the e-mail seems to indicate it was released after the league rejected the trade. Gosh, I don't know, it seems, somehow, orchestrated.)

The odd thing is not that Stern nixed the deal. The odd thing is that he seemed so unaware of the horribleness of the timing. On the very day he was announcing the official end of the lockout, and the continuation of basketball, he stops a Hot Stove League Special in its tracks and ticks off just about everybody.

Another bad day for the Commish. There have been a lot of those lately. But it, too, will pass, and this crazy ride will only get faster and faster, pulling you closer to the edge with its centrifugal force, and if you don't want to get thrown off you have to concentrate on a spot somewhere in the middle and hold on for dear life.

Thirteen Days to Opening Day.

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'Swiss Army Knife' a welcome addition in Dallas

Rick Carlisle knew that the Lakers had a $90 million payroll before the weekend. But whether that was the reason they were willing to trade Lamar Odom to Carlisle's Mavericks, the defending NBA champions, doesn't matter. His glee at getting the 32-year-old was evident through the phone Sunday evening.

Here was a player often described as a Swiss Army Knife -- he can do everything -- coming from a team where he was an intregal contributor to two championship teams to a team that doesn't need to learn how to win, but can always use another guy that loves to move the ball.

"A guy that that's easy to play with, you just know he's going to be good in the locker room," Carlisle said. "We had the best passing team in basketball last year. That was a fact. And Lamar is going to help in that area, too."

For the first week of this truncated offseason, the Mavericks were bargain hunting. They got Vince Carter for next to nothing, and had interest in Jermaine O'Neal if and when he shook free from the Celtics in that proposed sign-and-trade deal with New Orleans, because no one thought O'Neal would stay in the Big Easy. But the offseason still looked like a net loss. You don't lose the heart of your defense (Tyson Chandler) and your starting small forward at the start of last season (Caron Butler) and prepare to lose a key part of your three-guard rotation (J.J. Barea) without it stinging a little. That was Dirk Nowitzki not-so-good-naturedly grumbling about how he obviously hadn't taken a big enough paycut last summer to allow the Mavs to keep Tyson Chandler -- whom Nowitzki had referred to as the best teammate he'd ever played with.

But then came Saturday.

The Mavs knew that Chandler was going to sign a $60 million deal in New York. But they got themselves involved by making it into a sign-and-trade deal with New York, which made it a three-team deal by sending Ronny Turiaf to Washington. By doing a sign-and-trade with Chandler, the Mavericks allowed Chandler to get annual raises of 7.5 percent instead of 4.5 percent under the new collective bargaining rules. And Dallas received an $11 million trade exception. That was around noon.

By midnight, the Mavericks were talking to the Lakers about Odom, whose salary fit perfectly into the exception. That meant the Mavericks didn't have to trade any players to Los Angeles, only a future first-round pick that's protected (to 20 in 2012 and can be conveyed any time in the next six years, according to the Dallas Morning News).

"Lamar was like Tyson last year. It all happened start-to-finish in one night," Mavs owner Mark Cuban e-mailed Sunday. "As far as the TPE (traded player exception), when someone willing to spend gets one, the phone always rings."

Said Carlisle: "It happened very quickly (Saturday) night. We finished the deal for the exception and it was within hours that this thing happened. I don't know why they traded him. Obviously, they're doing some other things and they're a heavy tax team. There's a lot going on with everybody. It demonstrates how valuable cap space is and how valuable exceptions are."

All Carlisle knows is that he's got another versatile player he can put on the court with anyone else, and Odom will help make it work. Odom fits into any system, whether it's the triangle that Phil Jackson favored in L.A. or the sets Carlisle runs. (As with all effective offenses, spacing is key for both the Zen Master and the Drill Instructor.) One of the things any coach with a player as important and talented as Nowitzki worries about is, how do I score when he's not on the floor? One look at how good Odom was with the Lakers' second unit while Kobe Bryant rested further illustrated his great versatility. Dallas was so leery of what Odom could do that once last season, a Mavericks player fouled Odom 50 feet from the basket.

"Our analytic information on their team was (that) the lineups with him on the floor were the most effective, both against us and everybody else," Carlisle said. "He can drive and shoot, post, handle. You don't see it very often. Who else in the league can do what he does on an all-around basis? Right now, he's kind of a one of a kind player in this league. This is the kind of guy you always want on your team -- coaching, playing, owning, you name it. Right across the board."

With Odom and Jason Kidd on the floor together, the possbilities for shredding defenses are numerous. With Odom's length, the Mavs make up -- some -- for Chandler's departure, and give Carlisle another body on defense that could play all of the frontcourt positions and take some of the defensive burden off of Nowitzki to play in the hole, as it appeared he might have to do more of this season. And the Mavericks get a guy who will be quite motivated to stick it to his old mates.

"Everything's on paper right now," Carlisle cautioned. "My job is to make it work on the court. That's the next phase of it. But we're excited. And Khloe (Lamar's wife) is my favorite Kardashian sister. She's the coolest. We welcome them both with open arms."

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1) Dallas: One-year contract offers for everyone. Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler gone; J.J. Barea going, DeShawn Stevenson replaced by Vince Carter. There hadn't been a gamble this big in Texas since Bunky Hunt tried to corner the silver market. And then comes Lamar Odom, pretty much, for nothing. Offseason salvaged.

2) Miami: Shane Battier tweets his intention to join the Heat Thursday morning. Cub reporter Kevin Love calls in a huff, asking why he couldn't get the scoop first.

3) Chicago: Bulls fans apoplectic that they haven't been able to land notable free agents early. They do things quietly in the Windy City. Something will happen, and probably sooner rather than later.

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Shane Battier is with the Heat now, but why didn't Kevin Love break the news first?
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

4) L.A. Lakers: Hoo, boy, Mitch Kupchak. You have activated the Kobester's Anger Button. Get out of the immediate area and flee to high ground. Run!!

5) Oklahoma City: Thunder puts $7 million (two years) into re-signing Daequan Cook.

6) Memphis: Grizzlies are set up fairly well for the next couple of years financially, even when/if they match Houston's offer sheet on Marc Gasol. Things don't start getting tight until 2014-15, and they can always move a piece (the Indianapolis Star said Sunday the Josh McRoberts-O.J. Mayo talks may be back on) if necessary down the road. Good players are always in demand.

7) Boston: Brandon Bass will help, but Cs are a big body short at the moment. Can't imagine KG loves hearing he's going to be playing more center this season.

8) San Antonio: Just asking: has anyone, officially, seen that the Spurs have amnestied Richard Jefferson? After whiffing on Grant Hill and Caron Butler, you just wonder ...

9) Atlanta: Hawks' unwillingness to go anywhere near the tax makes anything other than Vintage Aughts signings (McGrady, Stackhouse) unlikely.

10) Orlando: The key to moving Dwight Howard is finding someone who can also take Hedo Turkoglu (three years, $34 million) off the Magic's hands.

11) New York: The way I see it, the only way the Knicks can get Jamal Crawford is if Hawks are also moving another piece to a team with room. Possible, but will be difficult.

12) Portland: The Blazers have angered God. This is the only explanation that makes any sense for why one franchise, continually, has to deal with so much heartbreak. Nothing else can explain how, on the same day, the Blazers announce that Brandon Roy will have to retire because of his knee issues, and Greg Oden suffers a medical setback in his seemingly career-long rehab, and Cousin LaMarcus has a heart scare. It is unfair and unjust. When will it stop?

13) Denver: Desperately tiny if Nene signs elsewhere, Nuggets are talking with 76ers about acquiring Marreese Speights.

14) New Orleans: Even as the Bugs struggled to make a Chris Paul deal that the league will approve, GM Dell Demps was earning respect around the league for his diligence and creativity in trying to put something together.

15) Philadelphia: Early impressions in camp are that Evan Turner is poised for a big bounce-back sophomore campaign.

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How do you thank someone who taught you how to think?

I need you to indulge me for a few minutes. If you can't, I understand. But I need to do this.

My college classmate and dear friend e-mailed me Friday to let me know that Professor French had died.

Professor Valerie French, lover of Greek History and Literature, who taught me and thousands of other students to love them as well. Like all great teachers, she challenged, cajoled, hectored. And listened. And encouraged. And loved. Professor French was in the process of becoming chair of the University Senate -- the faculty's branch of government -- at American University in 1985 and 1986, just as I was in the midst of my tenure as editor of the school paper. So there was this interesting dichotomy where I had to interview Professor French many times, while I was also taking classes with her -- and there was more than one class, because I was in the process of adding history as a second major. And she was quite good; she was the university's teacher of the year in 1985-86. So we spent a lot of time together that year, year and a half. And in the process, we became -- not colleagues, not friends -- but, something. There was a relationship there. And there was a comfort when I saw her, an anticipation that the next few minutes would be better because I would, in all likelihood, learn something, and enjoy the process. In short time I came to love Valerie, not in any kind of romantic way -- her love was Professor Bob Beisner, her husband and the chair of the history department, whom I also adored, and I was, like most 19-year-olds on a campus, happily buzzing about from crush to crush -- but the way that you genuinely love a good friend who only wants you to become a better you, and helps you in that process. I found a lot of papers I wrote that year--about Socrates, the "horsefly of Athens," Plato, the tyrant Critias, and on and on, but of course, the papers weren't just about those people, they were about putting together ideas coherently, and making reasoned arguments on the basis of those ideas. Critical thinking, the work of scholars, was Valerie's world, and for a few months I was an apprentice of sorts, learning the difference between an essay and a book report, finding my way, and when I went off the rails on occasion Professor French was there to steer me back on track. And because college is a transitory place, and you move on, that time ended, and I graduated the following year. But it was as central to what became of my life as any before or since; you are a different person when you leave school than when you get there, or you should be, anyway. And about a year ago, my college classmate and dear friend was in town, and she and my wife and I went out and met Valerie and Bob for dinner. I hadn't seen either Valerie or Bob in years, but the time melted away as we laughed and talked and argued and drank and ate, and it was a wonderful reminder of how, if your'e lucky in life, you know who helped you become the person you are, and you're grateful for them and the time you spent together. My classmate used to always tell me that I was terrible at accepting compliments, always being self-deprecating and dismissive of them, and that sometimes you just should say thank you and shut up already.

Thank you, Professor French. I will truly miss you. And did you notice I wrote a "real" paragraph above instead of a "newspaper" paragraph?

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Maybe there's a reason rappers aren't ballers. From Joshua Stewart:

First, as a disclaimer: I am a basketball junkie and a life-long Lakers fan, in that order.

For the past several months I watched as David Stern and his disconnected owners tried to kill MY league. Thankfully they were unsuccessful and "settled" by agreeing to take more money, proving all they really cared about was how much of it they could make, and not "competitive balance," as if there is such a thing in any sport on any level. Honestly, they could have cancelled five seasons and got everything they said they wanted, I still would have watched because, like I said, I am a basketball junkie.

However, what happened yesterday regarding Chris Paul, the Lakers, Hornets, David Stern and his masters has brought me to the brink of the unthinkable. And it really doesn't matter to me that it was my team, however, because it was the Lakers, that is why we are here. I can handle refs working for the mob. I can handle superstars getting superstar calls by the refs. What I will not stand for is collusion in my league and a dictator running it. This was blatantly done to diminish the chances of a big-market, high-profile team having the fair opportunity to reshuffle their roster and acquire new talent. Even if it wasn't my team, I would feel the same way. David Stern and the 30 (mostly) idiots pulling his strings really do think they can control free player movement. This is supposed to be America, not 1970s Russia.

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The quicker the NBA can separate itself as owners of the Hornets, the better it might be for everyone.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Congratulations, Mr. Stern. Now I have an ultimatum for you, and I promise, unlike you I actually follow through on the ultimatums I give. Either reverse your ruling in the CP3 trade and allow fair player movement, or this basketball junkie will (and it pains me to say this) NEVER watch this league again.

This is the problem with the league owning the Hornets, Joshua. Every decision made is going to be viewed through the prism of the other 29 teams. I know you say it doesn't matter to you that the NBA's veto of the CP3 trade affected your team, but it does -- and that's understandable. But if the trade had been approved, there would have been Laker haters equally convinced that David Stern let the deal go through to assure Laker dominance for the rest of this decade. If Stern acted on the advice of smaller markets, he would be trying to punish excellence and create socialistic-type results; if he ignored their advice, he's a dictator. He can't win. But by buying the team, he set himself up to take that kind of heat. The NBA needs to sell the Hornets, and fast.

Wegman's is a "Big Market." Memphis, not so much. From Jeffrey Graham:

David, I see you talking about small-market teams all the time and I am curious who the small-market teams are and why they are considered a small-market team. I can understand Sacramento or Salt lake City, for instance, due to the actual population of their metropolitan areas, but it seems to me that when you analysts discuss the big-market players like Chris Paul or Dwight Howard, only Chicago, New York, Miami and Los Angeles are ever mentioned. So Houston, Dallas or Phoenix are not included in the large market pool?

A good point, Jeffrey. I am a little too loose with the interchangeable terms "small-market" and "small-revenue," and I will try to be more precise using them in the future. Generally, I am always referring to the revenue teams generate when I use "small market" and "large market." Houston and Dallas are most decidedly large-revenue teams, for example, among the top five or six in the league. Sometimes when I'm trying to make a point, it's easy (and, sometimes, lazy, I admit) to fall back on the already-understood largest-revenue producing teams like New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. But the Warriors generate a fair amount of revenue, too. So does San Antonio. And teams in bigger cities like New Jersey (Newark) and Washington don't make as much money as other large-market teams. I'll try to be more precise in the future. Thanks.

This sentence makes me sleepy. From Aditya Jhamb:

You need to make your columns shorter.....it's extremely long (maybe do a daily thing instead of a humongous weekly column).

I will take it under advisement, Aditya. But may I suggest downing a caffeinated beverage of your choice before plowing into the Tip in the future. And maybe take a day or two to read it all. It isn't going anywhere. We have archives.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and better college football national championship games than a repeat of the snoozefest between LSU and Alabama to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently intelligent, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

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8 -- Players -- Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Jason Smith, David Andersen, Trevor Ariza and Quincy Pondexter -- currently under contract with the New Orleans Hornets.

8 -- Months since David West Video tore his left ACL in a game against the Utah Jazz. On Sunday, West, a free agent who rehabbed diligently in North Carolina this summer, agreed to terms on a two-year, $20 million deal with the Indiana Pacers. He earned it.

8 -- Teams that Chauncey Billups has played for in his NBA career. The 35-year-old was waived Saturday under the amnesty provision by the Knicks, allowing New York to execute a three-team trade with Dallas and Washington that brought Tyson Chandler to New York and Ronny Turiaf to the Wizards.

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1) Today is the 86th anniversary of the most important and wondrous event that impacted my life. On this day in 1925, my mother was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Everything that I am, and have become, and will be is because of the example set by James and Muriel Aldridge. My mom -- a funny, gregarious woman, became a registered nurse in the emergency room at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., and spent more than 20 years helping to save the lives of kids who were scared and needed a friendly face and kind word as they prepared for life-saving surgeries. She's been gone since 1986, and we all still miss her terribly, but what a great life she lived. I love you, mom. Happy Birthday.

2) On New Year's Day, Caron Butler shredded his knee in yet another horrible visit to his home state in a game against the Bucks. Forty-nine weeks later, Butler got $24 million from the Clippers on a three-year deal. If you had seen Butler, near despondent and tears during the Finals when he just wasn't quite ready to play, and heard him on the phone Thursday, healthy and ready to move on, you'd be amazed at how a person's life can turn in such a short period of time.

3) Larry Bird is doing good work putting the Pacers back together. He has used solid drafting (Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough), trades (guards Darren Collison and George Hill) and free agent signings now that he's added David West. West is a relatively low risk, with high-reward potential if he can regain his All-Star form. Indiana has a deep and flexible roster, put together with just one top 10 pick -- Paul George, taken 10th last year. Good work.

4) Really cool accomplishment for Nellie. He and the family should be proud.

5) Get your Heisman on, Robert Griffin III! Look forward to seeing you play on Sundays, young man.

6) I was all set to go to bed Thursday night after a long, long day of phone calls and studio appearances and writing. And then, Behind the Music came on VH1, and it was the one about TLC, and I was spellbound, again, for the 10th time or so watching Left Eye explain how you can sell 10 million records and go broke.

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1) Sorry, Dwight, I'm not buying that you didn't have a "say" in personnel matters in Orlando. You had a "say;" you just didn't "decide." Nor should you. That's Otis Smith's job. If he doesn't do it to your satisfaction, you're well within your rights to look elsewhere, and if he doesn't do it well enough, he will be fired in due time. But you aren't the GM, and you shouldn't be.

2) I really hope Gilbert Arenas takes a minute, or a week, or the whole season, and really thinks about where he wants to play next. His next stop could well be his last in the NBA if he is not careful; he's not a kid anymore, he doesn't look anything like the guy he was in his glory days with the Wizards and he won't have a close personal friend as his general manager the next time around as he did in Orlando. He needs to really think this through and not make a knee-jerk decision just because he wants to play. I still think Arenas could help someone down the road, but it has to be a place where oversized personalities aren't foreign.

3) I really hope now ex-Warriors guard Charlie Bell, amnestied on Sunday, gets the help he obviously needs during what is an equally obvious rough patch of his life.

4) RIP, Colonel Potter. Hope you and Mildred are joined again in the great prarie in the sky.

5) That was one ugly brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier, and even uglier language after. No matter what they meant to say, it came across as if the young men weren't at all reflective or sorry about what happened.

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I'm on my way to the Toyota Center, this is going to be fun. The good thing is that t TC is on the way to the airport, just in case...

Rockets forward Luis Scola (@LScola4), Friday, 11:01 a.m., with the right attitude after hearing he was one of the parts of the proposed three-team trade that would send Chris Paul from New Orleans to the Lakers.

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"I was playing paddle with friends and had a couple of glasses of wine. Maybe Dwight thought it was inappropriate to talk business after a couple of glasses of wine... Maybe I should have waited until the morning."
-- Bob Vander Weide, the long-time and now former president of the Magic, confirming to the Bright House Sports Network in Orlando that he called the team's franchise player, Dwight Howard, at 1 in the morning. Can someone tell me what "paddle" is, by the way?

"To the credit of large-market owners, they understand if we are going to move forward as a 30-team league there has to be a willingness to share more local revenue. Right now, we've not really done that."
-- Bucks owner Herb Kohl, in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on how the new collective bargaining agreement, with its enhanced revenue sharing program, will beneifit small market teams.

"I don't like it. He's great at bringing guys together. I trust management knows what they're doing ... but it's tough."
-- Kobe Bryant, Video to Los Angeles writers, after learning that the Lakers had traded Lamar Odom to the rival (and defending champion) Mavericks late Saturday for a 2012 first-round Draft pick.

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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