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David Aldridge

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Finally a champion, Dirk Nowitzki has plenty to smile about this holiday season.
Brandon Wade/Getty Images

In the spirit of the (NBA) season, holiday wishes abound


Posted Dec 26 2011 2:03AM - Updated Dec 27 2011 2:58AM

The low point came Oct. 28.

That was the day after the long night, which was when David Stern sat in the back of Billy Hunter's news conference and yelled "tomorrow!" when Hunter said the lockout could soon be over, as long as the two sides kept at it, which they had for more than 22 hours total in the previous two days. There wasn't a person in the room who didn't think the lockout would end the next day. And then, the next day, Oct. 28, the talks, again, fell apart. The rhetoric was never more harsh. The members of the players' union who emerged from the meetings looked crestfallen. Stern cancelled all games through Nov. 30.

I lost hope.

There would be no 2011-12 NBA season. The damage that would be done to a sport just rising from almost a decade in the sports valley would be incalculable. There was no way to make sense out of the two sides' inability to make a deal. Yes, there were real and profound structural issues that owners had with the league's economic system, and there were true and significant principles that players would preserve at all costs. But in a country -- hell, a planet -- struggling to get out of what was quite close to a depression, arguing over such things to the point where an entire season was at risk only seemed tone-deaf. The more you knew about the lockout, the more minutae you absorbed about repeater taxes and NLRB policy, the more depressed you became. Because you could know everything, or know nothing, and fans didn't care. They just wanted to know when they'd get their basketball back.

Turns out, it was Christmas, the firewall of firewalls.

They're back!

It seems a mite unseemly to give thanks during these holidays that the NBA is back in business. There are so many other things that matter more: the end of a war in Iraq, and the start of an election year in which we will select a president, and chronic unemployment, and the day-to-day struggles of people taking care of aging parents or ill partners, and communities trying to educate their children with fewer resources, and people generally feeling uneasy about the way things are, and the way they expect things will be. It's just basketball, right?

Well, that's true.

But sports matter. They don't cure cancer or build you a house, but people care about their sports, about the diversion they provide and the community they can build. They know the bond that sports create between parents and their kids, and the entertainment that they provide.

In this realm, the NFL is king, but the NBA has its own eclectic bunch of devoted fans, an army of Celtics supporters and Lakers Lovers. (Now there is this thing called a "Clippers Fan," a person with which I'm not familiar, but is supposedly an up-and-coming group.) The basketball will, occasionally, be quite bad. There will be more sprains and pulls than normal. But there will be moments of incredible improvisation, and inspiration, and there will be times when you feel normal again watching the best players in the world do what they do. And "normal" has value. And that is something for which you can be joyous and happy on Christmas, and beyond.

Here's hoping you had, or are having, a happy, meaningful holiday, no matter your specific beliefs. And special post-lockout-here's-looking-ahead-to-an-abbreviated-2011-12- regular-season wishes to:

• Dirk Diggler. Congrats on becoming the most important athlete in a city where Cowboys, and backup Cowboys, and third-string Cowboys, and retired Cowboys, have ruled for four decades. And to the rest of the Mavericks, none of whom had ever won an NBA title before vanquishing the Heat.

Bad Blake, who wasn't really a rookie, but was certainly the Rookie of the Year.

Derrick Rose, a hometown kid who actually wants to stay in his hometown of Chicago, and whose MVP season was right out of a storybook.

Tom Thibodeau, who waited two decades for a chance to show what he could do as a coach.

Larry Drew, who "only" waited 18.

Irving, Williams, Kanter, Thompson, Valenciunas, Vesely, Biyombo, Walker, Knight, Jimmer! and the rest of this year's rookies. Welcome. And get your rest. You're gonna need it this season. (Speaking of which, there is one good thing about the regular season not starting until Christmas--no coach gets fired over the holidays.

The Commish and Long, Tall Adam; Billy Hunter, Ron Klempner, Jeffrey Kessler.

Frank, Bass, Coyle, Broussard.

All the team PR folk around the league, including but not limited to Hallam, Donovan, Black, James, Melton, Glass, Triche, Twiss, Supranowitz, Taylor, Fie, Hall and Preston.

Clipper Darrell, Jim Goldstein, Billy Crystal, Ralph Lawler. The wait is over. You've earned it. Enjoy.

The five or six agents who are honest, trustworthy, don't play media favorites, have no agendas, and return your calls even when it's not in their self-interest. You know who you are.

Spike. Should have big fun in the renovated Garden this season.

Matt Barnes, Marc Gasol, Luke Babbitt, John Wall.

Nazr Mohammad.

John Salmons, Paul Pierce, George Hill, Richard Jefferson.

Antawn Jamison, Andre Miller, Eric Maynor, Kevin (Baby Ice) Durant, Tayshaun Prince.

Steph Curry, Ed Davis, Luke Walton, Al Horford, Damien Wilkins, Klay Thompson, Nolan Smith, Wesley Matthews, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Jr.

Etan Thomas, LeBron James, Ben Gordon, Xavier Henry, Ed Davis.

Amir Johnson, Armon Johnson, Carldell Johnson, Chris Johnson, Ivan Johnson, JaJuan Johnson, James Johnson, Joe Johnson, Trey Johnson, Tyron Johnson, Wesley Johnson.

Kwame Brown, Michael Redd, Danny Greene, Derrick Rose, D.J. White.

Austin Daye, Brandon Knight.

• Mickell Gladness, Frank Hassell, Terrel Harris, Gustavo Ayon, Charles Jenkins, Julyan Stone, Luke Zeller.

• Greg Oden, Jeff Green, Darrell Arthur, Brook Lopez, Baron Davis, Mike Miller. Get healthy.

• And, finally, to George Crowe, Bill Tosheff, Ed Macauley, Walt Hazzard, Dave Gavitt, Armen Gilliam, Robert (Tractor) Traylor, Mike Mitchell, Lorenzo Charles and Scotty Robertson. May you and all other members of the NBA family who went home this year find peace, and peace to your families.

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Evan Turner's rookie season was like a movie out of sync. When things should have been slow, they were speeded up. When they should have been speeded up, they slowed down.

"Sometimes, last year, it went from my head straight forward, to my head slowly going right, and going left," Turner said. "My first postseason game I did all right, but I was so anxious to play, so every time I speeded up."

Indeed, it was all a blur for the second overall pick in the 2010 Draft. While John Wall showed incredible promise in Washington and the Clippers' Blake Griffin ran away with Rookie of the Year honors, there was little good to take from Turner's rookie season. With Doug Collins at the helm, the Sixers overcame a 3-13 start and rode a 37-23 streak to make the playoffs and give the Heat a tough first-round series. But Turner had little to do with the resurgence. Even though the Sixers' run came with everyone chipping in, and Turner not needing to justify his Draft position, he nonetheless struggled.

Although he played in 78 games, he shot only 42.5 percent from the floor, and 31.5 percent from 3-point range. And his "true" shooting percentage (which combines two- and three-point shooting and-free throw percentages) of .484 ranked 302nd among NBA players last season, tied with Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, according to John Hollinger's rankings on ESPN. Put another way, Turner's TSP was tied for 36th worst in the league among qualified players.

So when Turner met with Collins for his exit interview following the 76ers' first-round loss to Miami, his summer homework was obvious. One, lose a little weight. Two, fix his broken jumper. The first is a matter of exercising will and discipline. The second is much harder.

Most players who get to the NBA can't imagine they need to improve their mechanics on anything; they got to the pros with the game they had. For every guy that asks them to change, there are often a dozen who say don't change a thing. But Turner went the other way.

"My thing is, they always say the first step to recovery is admitting it," Turner said. "I wasn't in denial or anything. I knew I had a funky shot. I never was really taught how to hold the ball and everything. So I definitely wanted to learn that way, to make it easier, smoother, and at this level, quicker. Because at this level, the guys are so quick. So that's all I really focused on."

Collins had just hired the guy to help Turner improve his shot: newly-minted Hall of Famer Herb Magee -- the coach at Division II Philadelphia University and the all-time leader in collegiate coaching victories, at 927 and counting in his 45th season with the Rams -- and the renowned "shot doctor" who's worked with the likes of Philly legends Charles Barkley and Jameer Nelson on improving their shots over the years. Turner, who isn't from Philly, heard from just about everyone else who is from Philly that he had to work with Magee if he wanted to get his shot back.

Turner, Collins noted, had his guide hand on top of the ball last season instead of alongside the ball when he released the shot -- a definite no-no. For the first couple of weeks with Magee, the coach worked on breaking Turner of that habit.

"We just focused on shooting the ball straight," Turner said. "He always said, 'every time you shoot the ball straight, you give it a better chance of it going in.' And also making sure I use my shooting hand, not my guide hand. I used to pull it and have my hand like that" -- here, Turner's hands come together and splay apart in opposite directions, like when Vinsanity gave the "it's over" signal at the 2000 All-Star Dunk Contest. Problem is, Carter wasn't shooting a jumper when he did that.

Throughout the summer -- including when he went back to Ohio State for runs with former teammates including David Lighty and Jon Diebler, and when he was back in Philly playing with Villanova University players -- Turner kept working on the new jumper. Magee said workouts were the times to think about the perfect shot, to always be conscious of the form. But when you get on the court in a game, leave the shot alone.

"I would just like to see Evan continue to improve in all areas of his game," Collins said Monday morning. "I really think he's got a chance to be a terrific mid-range player. He's a versatile player that we count on to do so many things for us--ballhandler, we want him to be able to play out on the wings defensively when Dre (Andre Iguodala) is out of the game against some small forwards. We want him and Dre to be able to play together to give us a bigger wing. I'd like to see him improve on getting down to that low post, and being able to post guys up and get to that free throw line. He's one of our best free throw shooters."

Turner's shot looked completely different during training camp and in the Sixers' two preseason games. And he looked much more like the Wooden, Naismith and Robertson Award winner and first-team All-America at Ohio State that looked like a lock for NBA stardom. For now, Collins will leave Turner coming in off the bench behind Jodie Meeks, though Turner will play a lot with the starters. And Collins, taken first overall in the 1973 Draft, knows something about the pressures and expectations that come with going so high.

"He's a much, much improved player," Collins said. "I want him to relax, enjoy all of his hard work. I've talked to him about that. He is a very, very tough competitor. Sometimes he puts a lot of pressure on himself. So much is said about him being the number two pick and all. I understand that, being the number one pick in Philadelphia. I'm trying to relieve that pressure from him."

"He just tries to be really patient," Turner said of Collins. "He just tells me to calm down, take my time and slow down. Don't try to hit a home run every play or anything like that. He's showing confidence in me by letting me progress ... I feel like I just have my feet under me. I know what to expect. I wasn't (in) a deer-in-the-headlights-type mindset (during training camp). And I just keep trying to prepare and help the team the best way I can, and trying to get better every day."

Turner got through last season with the help of his brothers, Darius and Richard, who were in Philly to help him with the transition to the pros. They are still there for him when he needs to get his mind off of basketball.

"They go to school here, and I enjoy their company," Turner said. "When they're ready to move on and do whatever they want to do, that's up to them. But I'll always have a close relationship with my brothers. That's key to me. My brother Darius used to take my mind off stuff (last year). He's like my big brother, so I know I'm going to have that support regardless, whether people are saying negative things about me or whatever ...

"I think as time went on (last year), the light started to get brighter. I started learning a lot more stuff. I think the best thing that ever happened to me -- I don't know about anybody else -- but when you take losses, I think you learn more than when you take wins. When I was getting my butt kicked like that, it made me tougher. I think a lot of people don't really know how to deal with hard times. But I kept fighting. I didn't quit. I tried to make the most of it. That's what winners do."

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1) Miami (2): LeBron says he now believes what many of us have argued for years -- he's even more effective in the low post as a power forward than when he attacks from the top or the wings as a small forward.

2) Chicago (3): Did Luol Deng get away with a travel in the waning seconds against the Lakers Sunday? Yup. Did he make an incredible contest of Kobe's potential game-winner and block Mamba's shot clean at the buzzer? Same answer.

3) Oklahoma City (5): Nobody makes scoring 30 easier than Durantula.

4) L.A. Lakers (4): Will take a while to get used to seeing Devin Ebanks, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts playing major roles for L.A.

5) Dallas (1): Mavs lost fast-break points to Miami 31-10 on Sunday. It's just one game. But that defense was horrible Sunday.

6) Memphis (6): Dante Cunningham played very well for Portland and Charlotte the last couple of seasons when he got minutes. He'll help the Grizz.

7) Boston (7): Considering they didn't get David West and lost Jeff Green for the year, Danny Ainge has nonethleless managed to put together a decent veteran bench, with Mickael Pietrus joining Keyon Dooling, Brandon Bass, Sasha Pavlovic and Chris Wilcox -- and none for big money or long contracts.

8) San Antonio (8): Needs production from second-year man James Anderson with Gary Neal (appendectomy) out for the start of the regular season.

9) Atlanta (9): Good to see second-year guard Donald Sloan appears to have survived the Hawks' final cut. Nice kid who I met last year in Wizards' camp, and who truly believes he belongs in the L.

10) New York (11): Not sure that anyone should expect much from B Dizzle when he returns, even if it is just four to six weeks instead of 8-10. Bad backs usually don't respond well to five games in six nights and lots of plane rides.

11) Orlando (10): Remember when Dwight Howard dunked on the 12-foot rim at All-Star Weekend, and had on the Superman cape, and did the killer Stan Van Gundy impression, and everybody loved everything he did? Good times.

12) Philadelphia (15): Solid second unit with Thad Young, Lou Williams, Evan Turner should do some damage.

13) L.A. Clippers (15): Was hoping that Reggie Evans had been signed a couple of weeks before the big trade, so he could explain to Chris Kaman exactly what he was thinking a few years ago when he grabbed Kaman during a playoff series in the ... um ... lower body.

14) Portland (12): I'm gonna say this right now: don't sleep on the Blazers. They're going to have a few games when they bust 120, easily.

15) Denver (15): Nuggets are a playoff team, to be sure. But they're going to miss Kenyon Martin's interior defense and toughness. This is a team that could have used a guy like Kwame Brown, because he would never have to score to have an impact.

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Who wins the hardware this season?

Y'all like predictions, even though they're ridiculous on the face of it -- how does anyone know who will be injured, or inspired, or fired, or hired, or traded, or heckored by his significant other, or ill, or despised by his teammates, before any of that happens? But I am a man of the people, as long as the people don't bother me while I'm getting bread at the store or putting gas in the car. (That's my "away from the people" time. Got it?) Anyway, my usual caveats: if these picks don't turn out the way I predict, I will disavow all knowledge of ever making them, and if they somehow come true, I will lord it over everyone any chance I get.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

LeBron James, Miami. Like all the great ones, he knows, in excruciating detail, every mistake he made in The Finals. He knows better than you or I ever will. And he had enough humility to seek out those who knew what he didn't know -- how to break through. How to make that last climb up the last hill to reach the top of the mountain. He is where Magic was in 1985, and Bird in '81, and Isiah in '89, and Jordan in '91, and Shaq and Kobe in 2000, when they had questions about themselves and their teammates and a little bit of self-doubt, maybe. James got some answers this summer -- about his game, about leadership, about seizing the moment, not choking it because you're so amped you can't see straight. I think he's ready to break through. I think he's going to find he can be a much more efficient player at power forward, where he's closer to the basket and where his strength and size will help him even more. I think he's going to see, as all the high flyers eventually do, that he can be just as dominant playing a less high-flying game. And I think his Heat are going to win the championship this year because of it. And that will leave Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant beginning their searches in earnest next summer.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kemba Walker, Charlotte. Like the Cavs' Kyrie Irving, Walker will have the ball in his hands a great deal for the Bobcats. But Walker has a little bit more to work with in Charlotte than Irving does in Cleveland, and the Bobcats will probably win a few more games than the Cavaliers, and that sort of thing usually sways voters. Derrick Williams (Minnesota) could challenge as well, as you'd expect he'll have more than a few highlight-reel dunks this year.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Rick Adelman, Minnesota. Laugh all you want; I'll take the guy with 945 career wins entering this season to take a group of young, unproven-in-the-NBA talent (Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams), combine it with a group of young, promising talent (Kevin Love, J.J. Barea) and mold it into something that will contend for the last playoff spot in the West until the final week or two of the season.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

James Harden, Oklahoma City. Although he may start the first couple of games if Thabo Sefolosha (sore foot) is out, Harden is instant offense off the bench for the Thunder and is expected to remain in that role this year. He averaged almost 16 a game after the All-Star break and showed he's one of the league's most unorthodox players to defend. On a team that's a championship contender, Harden will get a lot of attention. Lamar Odom (Dallas) or Mo Williams (Clippers) figure to be in the mix, too.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Dwight Howard, Orlando. Until further notice.

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

Neil Olshey, Clippers. Kind of hard to argue, isn't it? Unless somebody else does something better than acquiring Chris Paul, and signing Caron Butler, and re-signing DeAndre Jordan, and claiming Chauncey Billups--in a week.

ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM

G - Derrick Rose, Chicago

G - Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

F - LeBron James, Miami

F - Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City

C - Dwight Howard, Orlando

ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM

G - Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers

G - Dwyane Wade, Miami

F - Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas

F - Carmelo Anthony, Knicks

C - Andrew Bogut, Bucks

ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM

G - Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

G - Joe Johnson, Atlanta

F - Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers

F - Tim Duncan, San Antonio

C - Andrew Bynum, L.A. Lakers

PLAYOFF TEAMS*

EASTERN CONFERENCE: Miami, Chicago, New York, Boston, Orlando, Indiana, Philadelphia, Atlanta

WESTERN CONFERENCE: Dallas, Oklahoma City, L.A. Lakers, San Antonio, Memphis, L.A. Clippers, Denver, Portland

FIRST ROUND

EAST: Miami over Atlanta, Chicago over Philadelphia, New York over Indiana, Orlando over Boston

WEST: Dallas over Portland, Oklahoma City over Denver, L.A. Clippers over L.A. Lakers, San Antonio over Memphis

SECOND ROUND

EAST: Miami over Orlando, Chicago over New York

WEST: Dallas over San Antonio, Oklahoma City over L.A. Clippers

CONFERENCE FINALS

EAST: Miami over Chicago

WEST: Oklahoma City over Dallas

THE FINALS

Miami over Oklahoma City, 6 games

* NOTE: All predictions assume that Orlando keeps Dwight Howard all season, which I do not believe will actually be the case. If he is dealt, you can advance whichever team acquires him -- New Jersey, Dallas or the Lakers -- an additional round from where I have them going above. In New Jersey's case, obviously, that would mean the Nets make the playoffs instead of Orlando.

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Flyover Country, NBA style. From Jase Hopkin:

I want to ask you if superstar players like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard just want to play in L.A. or New York? I have heard them say that they want to play for championships, but I think that if that is the case, there are better teams than the Clippers and the Nets to join if you want a championship. Now I'm not talking about what teams can offer a good deal for them. I'm talking about Paul and Howard asking to be traded to certain teams. If I was Howard or Paul and I wanted to compete for a championship in the next year or two, I would request to be traded to the Thunder or the Bulls. Both teams are on the verge of a championship. Adding a player like Howard or Paul would put them over the top. The Clippers and the Nets are much farther away. So, it seems to me that what these players really want is the best chance at championship in LA or New York.

This would fall under the category of having one's cake and eating it, too, Jase. You're exactly right; if you're Dwight Howard, and you were genuinely serious about competing for titles, why wouldn't you want to play with Derrick Rose for the next 10 years -- even if Chicago had to give up Joakim Noah and Luol Deng to get you? The Bulls still would have more than enough complementary pieces to make a real run, and one would suspect with D12 and Rose recruiting players the Bulls would have their pick of guys who'd come there. Yes, Chicago is cold in the winter, but they have blankets, coats and gloves there. And Gibson's. And Kingston Mines. And the Navy Pier. But players -- or, more accurately, their agents -- think they can make more money off the court in Gotham or L.A. And agents, in case you didn't know, are very good at being persuasive.

You say po-tay-toe, I say po-tah-tow. From David Hobbs:

I'm a Raptors fan, so I don't usually have much reason to respond to your column, but I thought I'd point out: "Timeouts will be allowed for teams whose strategies could be effected by an instant replay call during the last two minutes of regulation and overtime."

I think you meant "affected," unless you're saying that the team would have a strategy triggered by that replay call (which would be tricky, since the time would be, y'know, "out").

You're right; I meant "affected." Although "effected" is also correct, in that I indeed was saying that a team's strategy could be triggered by the results of the replay, as I tried to show in the example of the team thinking the game is tied finding out it's actually behind behind replay showed a two-point field goal was actually a 3-pointer. But you're still right. Thanks.

The saying isn't "it's all about the opportunity to maximize my growth as a person in the metropolitan area." The saying is "it's all about the Benjamins." From Aiko Thedinga:

Why is money or the business side so much more important than actual sports-related aspects and the chance for success?

I hated to see Larry Hughes leave the Wizards for Cleveland and now I can't fathom the departure of Tyson Chandler from the Mavs. Those people are millionaires, anyway. Why would they leave teams that are clicking?

Because pro athletes are only pro athletes for a short period of time, Aiko. Their window to earn the maximum amount of money they can is very, very limited. You're right; nobody played better basketball with Gilbert Arenas than Hughes. He could spot up when Arenas had the ball and he could handle it well enough to drive when he did. And on defense, Larry didn't mind taking on the opponent's top backcourt scorer. (It didn't hurt that Hughes led the league in steals in his contract year -- though steals is a totally bogus category that doesn't tell you at all how good a defender someone is, some people still get swayed by it.) Anyway, the Wizards offered him $70 million over six years. Great money. Except Cleveland offered him the same over five, and the Cavs had a young LeBron James to play with Hughes.

I would have taken Cleveland's deal, too, and so would you. Same this year with Tyson. Of course he wanted to go back to Dallas; he loved playing there, and his teammates loved him. But not for a one-year deal at $4 or $5 million when the Knicks were offering $60 million over four. Tyson's battled a lot of injuries in his career and this was probably his last chance at a real payday. My only thing is when guys sign new deal and then get up at the press conference and say 'it wasn't about the money.' Of course it was about the money. You'd be a moron if it wasn't about the money. Rod Tidwell didn't say "Show Me the Place That's Best for Me to Continue to Grow as a Player and Person," did he?

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and least appropriate re-gifting ideas (ham, for example, comes to mind) 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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14 -- Christmas Day games for Kobe Bryant after Sunday's appearance against the Bulls, the most games ever played on that day by any NBA player, according to the league. Bryant had been tied with 13 Christmas game appearances with Shaquille O'Neal, Earl Monroe and Dolph Schayes.

509,000 -- Viewers for last Monday's exhibition game between the new-look Clippers and Lakers on NBA TV, the most ever for the network for a preseason game. That total exceeded last year's 501,000 who viewed the debut of the SuperFriends in Miami for a preseason game with Detroit.

61 -- Number of text messages allegedly received by a former community relations director of the Golden State Warriors from guard Monta Ellis. The former employee, who was fired last August, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Ellis, co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber, general manager Larry Riley and other employees last week, saying she was unfairly dismissed after disclosing the texts -- one of which was a graphic picture of Ellis -- to the team. She is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

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1) Sunday was a good day. A very, very good day. I hope you enjoyed your Christmas as much as I enjoyed mine with my family ... and with the NBA, back in business. Speaking of which, thanks to the players, coaches, athletic trainers, media folks, PR people, team officials and staff, commissioners, ticket takers, ushers, bartenders, janitors and everyone else who worked at NBA games yesterday so that we could enjoy some entertainment at home.

2) How can you not be happy for Chuck Hayes, who got his contract after all from the Kings? My only concern is that the initial diagnosis that detailed a heart abnormality has not been refuted, only replaced by a clean bill of health from the Cleveland Clinic. That concern is alleviated by the understanding that there was never a single red flag raised about his health in three years in Houston.

3) Two guys officially retired last week who were among the classiest players I've ever had the pleasure of covering: Peja Stojakovic and Antonio McDyess. Each dealt with terrible injuries throughout his career -- Stojakovic had a bad back, and McDyess had to totally re-make his game after wrecking his knees early in his career, depriving him of ridiculous hops he had coming out of college. Each probably played a year or two longer than he wanted in pursuit of a championship. McDyess soldiered on gamely in Detroit and San Antonio and Stojakovic bounced from place to place, trying to bury the memories of the air ball he shot in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals against the Lakers while with the Kings. He finally hooked on last spring with the Mavericks and in the winter of his career, he had a couple of key turns off the bench during Dallas' run to the ring. Neither ever turned down an interview or was less than completely forthright about himself and his team. They were professionals in every sense of the word, and will be missed.

4) The thing that people miss about the Clippers' transformation is not just that they have a lot more playmaking/ballhandling ability, they also have gotten a whole lot smarter. Having two guards as good as Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups on the floor, whether together or alone, on the court for just about every minute of a game means the Clips' basketball IQ is almost always going to be penthouse high. There aren't going to be dumb passes, stupid decisions and poor outcomes. The game is going to be so easy for everyone just about every night.

5) The Raptors did something really quietly during the lockout that was really smart , and will pay dividends down the road.

6) Appropos of nothing, proud of the Chuckster for being up front about needing to drop the weight and working with Weight Watchers. Very effective ad. As someone who's spent 20 years fighting the battle, I know it's not easy to talk about publicly.

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1) Hope that was the bad one, Dallas. Not much of a beginning to your title defense, being down 35 in the third at home.

2) Oscar Robertson is a curmudgeon. Oscar Robertson is the old man telling those kids to get off his lawn. And Oscar Robertson is exactly, 1,000 percent right. There aren't two dozen guys playing today who know what he did off the court and why it's so important for what they now do on the court, or the role the game's pioneers played in making the NBA as popular a sport as it is today.

3) History, it is said, is written by the winning side. And thus Paul Allen, with a straight face, can tell the assembled media in Portland last week that Kevin Pritchard asked to be fired as general manager during the 2010 Draft. Forget that Allen's crew fired Pritchard's top assistant, Tom Penn, for reasons no one has ever explained adequately, then let Pritchard twist in the wind for three months, with not so much as one word of public support, before, indeed, firing him the night of the Draft. This is a remarkable piece of revisionist history. And, dishonesty.

4) Why?

5) Was that a "Beat L.A." chant Sunday night by Golden State fans ... for the Clippers? That's sacreligious. Stop it.

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Man I'm getting old I'm about to be 23.
-- Hornets guard Eric Gordon (@TheofficialEG10), Friday, 10:21 p.m. I speak for everyone born in the '60s and earlier when I say to Eric, who indeed turned 23 on Christmas Day ... shut up.

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"I think I can finally say this now: Mom, we finally made it."
-- Derrick Rose, to mother Brenda, Video after signing a five-year, $94 million extension to remain in Chicago through the 2016-17 season.

"I think this whole big-market, small-market thing is a little bit overstated in certain areas. First of all, people keep talking about us as big market, and we're smaller than Minnesota. It's important to understand it really isn't big-market, it's kind of attractive teams and those teams that are less attractive."
-- Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, while disclosing to local reporters that he was one of the five "no" votes on the new collective bargaining agreement, despite wanting the season to be played. Arison said his no vote was a "protest" over a proposed new revenue sharing arrangement in which the biggest revenue producers such as his Heat will have to kick back tens of millions of dollars to lower revenue producers whose teams may actually be in larger markets than Miami.

"It was a number of things -- I was being lazy, first and foremost. Hump was doing such a good job a lot of the time, that I'd see him doing his thing and kind of leak out offensively. I didn't really crash the offensive boards. There's really no excuse for that because I didn't leak out defensively at all."
-- Nets center Brook Lopez, before suffering a broken foot last week that will keep him out six to eight weeks, discussing his pedestrian six rebounds per game last season -- while dismissing talk that Kris Humphries' presence affected his own board totals.

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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