Posted Jan 2 2012 9:52AM
Twelve months ago, it was all about LeBron James and The Decision.
For sheer drama, nothing happened in 2011 to top that moment. But the DNA from James's departure to Miami was all over the last year's NBA events, up to and including an owner-imposed lockout that began July 1. The owners' reasoning for stopping play was financial, to be sure, but there was also an element of restoration. James upset the apple cart. Even though David Stern made it clear that James and other players who exercised their free-agent rights weren't doing anything wrong by looking to join forces, small-market owners saw an ominous pattern they were determined to stop.
The Lockout dominated the 2011 calendar, and its end didn't really solve the problems between the league's most successful teams and those that struggle to make money. But they were lessened. And that was probably the best resolution possible.
And there were moments of humor, of great triumph, of unexpected setbacks. As 2012 kicks off -- hopefully without any kind of Mayan end-of-the-world payoff -- we should take one last look back. So, without further ado, here are the top 10 NBA stories of 2011:
10) The Revolution Will Be Tweeted. When the noted singer-poet Gil Scott-Heron died last May the first thing mentioned in most of the obituaries was his biting critique of our consumer culture in the early '70s, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," which predicted uprisings that could not be papered over by soap commercials or Movies of the Week. But four decades later, it is not television that is bringing us information within seconds of its occurrence; it's the Internet. It's Facebook and Twitter.
This past year, the supremacy of Twitter as the immediate forum for breaking sports news was finalized, with dueling Tweets by reporters during the lockout serving as this decade's version of the teletype machines that brought breaking news from Associated Press and United Press International six decades ago. The NBA set up its own Twitter account to refute what it considered inaccurate reporting during the lockout. Players continued to use Twitter to go straight to fans with information. Shane Battier announces he was going to the Heat on Twitter; Steve Novak does the same when he joins the Knicks, just as the Wolves' Kevin Love broke the news of Kevin McHale's firing in 2009. You can dismiss such social media outlets as further trivializing the culture and media. Trouble is, unless you Tweet it or post a link to your Facebook groups, it'll be hours before anyone sees it or hears it.
9) Three and a Half Men call it quits. After a combined 16 NBA titles on the court and on the bench, 23 All-Star game selections (and 19 appearances; four combined years were lost to injury), a dozen nicknames and one country of two billion people made safe for selling merch off the shelves and killer TV ratings, Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Phil Jackson all retired after the 2010-11 season. Jackson's retirement was expected; he'd made it clear last season would be his last. Shaq came to the realization in June, after his body broke down again late in the regular season and he didn't play in the playoffs; Yao made his call in July, after missing most of another season, this time with a stress fracture in his left ankle. But Yao's impact on the game, becoming the first Chinese-born superstar in the NBA, is immeasurable. Shaq was the self-described "Most Dominant Ever" at his position (Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would likely raise a ruckus over that determination) who won three titles in L.A. with Kobe at the turn of the century, then added a fourth playing with Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2006. Jackson broke Red Auerbach's record of 10 NBA championships as a coach, winning number 11 in 2010 with the Lakers to add to his one title as a player in 1973 with the Knicks. Each decidedly different from the other, from different eras and different places, each of the Three Big Men is irreplaceable.
8) All That Jazz. In a stunning two-week period last February, Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan suddenly resigns from his position, longtime assistant coach Phil Johnson resigns with him, current assistant Tyrone Corbin is named coach and Utah trades its franchise point guard Deron Williams to the Nets for a package of players and Draft picks. It is a major departure for one of the league's most stable franchises. There are reports that Williams's frequent clashes with Sloan are a major factor in Sloan's decision to quit, though Sloan and the team deny this. But owner Greg Miller makes it clear that the Jazz did not want to be left at the altar with nothing like the Cavaliers had been in 2010 when LeBron James went to Miami; once Williams would not commit to signing a contract extension, Utah became proactive in dealing him with a year left on his contract. It is another brick in the small-market teams' argument that something is seriously wrong with the game's financial structure -- an argument that will be at the bedrock of the league's lockout a few months later.
7) The Kings' Ransom. Sacramento loses its NBA team in March when the club's owners, the Maloof Family, reaches a deal with the city of Anaheim to move the team to the Honda Center in time for the 2011-12 season. The team, which will be renamed the Royals, will get $75 million from the city to pay for relocation fees and upgrades to the arena, but will be the second tenant in the building, getting the less desirable game dates after the NHL's Ducks, the primary tenant. But questions about the deal from other owners and Commissioner David Stern, combined with an 11th-hour bravura performance from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star, at the league's Board of Governors meeting in April, helps convince the league to give Sacramento one last try at getting a deal for a new arena done. The city must approve a deal by early next year to keep the team in town past this season.
6) Big cities, back in business. With Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony (see below) in New York, the Big Four still chugging in Boston, Deron Williams in Jersey, the 76ers again making the playoffs in Philly, the Lakers still buzzworthy in L.A. and Derrick Rose posting an MVP season in Chicago, the NBA, for the first time in a generation, is relevant again in almost all of its biggest cities. Many dismiss this as East Coast bias, and maybe there's some truth there, but the reality -- as the postseason ratings proved -- is that when teams in cities with the highest populations do well, the league's numbers skyrocket across the board.
5) Bad Blake. The Clippers' rookie-in-name-only, Blake Griffin, turns the league on its head with a display of power basketball and vertical wizardry that gives the NBA's most woeful franchise genuine hope that it can become relevant for the first time in 30 years. If there's no Griffin, there's no way that the Clips can be a player this year for Chris Paul. Griffin's explosive game and nightly highlights makes many people forget -- if only for a minute -- the horrible ownership regime of Donald T. Sterling.
4) 'Melo Makes a Move. After asking for a trade in the 2010 offseason, Carmelo Anthony gets his wish in February of '11, when the Nuggets trade him where he wanted to go -- to the Knicks, along with Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams and Renaldo Balkman, for Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Ray Felton, Timofey Mozgov, New York's first-round pick in 2014, two second-round picks that originated in Golden State and $3 million in cash. The deal only reinforces the belief among owners that superstar players are increasingly seeking alliances with other stars, limiting the amount of quality players around the league. It provides another checkmark in the owners' list of grievances against their players.
3) The Super Friends meet their match. After plowing through the Eastern Conference, the Heat reaches its date with destiny in The Finals with the Mavericks. But instead of rolling through Dallas en route to its anticipated championship, Miami is throttled by a veteran Mavs team that rallies from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit in Game 2, comes back from nine down in the fourth quarter of Game 4 to tie the series, outscores the Heat 17-4 down the stretch in the key Game 5 victory and closes out Miami on its home court in Game 6 for a 4-2 series victory. LeBron James struggles mightily in the fourth quarters, while Dirk Nowitzki shines and wins the Finals MVP award. It is the first NBA title for each of the Mavericks, including coach Rick Carlisle.
2) The Enforcer. David Stern, in his capacity as "owner" of the Hornets -- the league bought the team in December of 2010 when prospective owner Gary Chouest couldn't reach a deal with former owner George Shinn -- rejects a three-team deal worked out between New Orleans, the Lakers and Houston that would have sent Chris Paul to L.A. In exchange, the Hornets would have received Lamar Odom from the Lakers and Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a Draft pick from the Rockets. Houston would have gotten Pau Gasol from the Lakers. Stern's involvement is harshly criticized around the Twittersphere, especially after it is disclosed that some owners from small-market teams -- including Cleveland's Dan Gilbert -- have expressed their objections to Stern about the deal, which they felt flew in the face of everything that had transpired during the lockout with regard to large-revenue teams like the Lakers being able to make themselves better by cherrypicking the rosters of smaller-revenue teams.
1) One Hundred Forty Nine Days of Hell. Everyone knew it was coming, and that it would be bad, and boy, was the Lockout of 2011 bad. For almost five full months, players and owners and lawyers and league officials stared at one another in some of New York City's finest hotel rooms. Owners were determined to lower players' salaries, impose more punitive rules on teams that regularly exceeded the luxury tax threshold and enhance the existing revenue sharing between teams in order to create what they claimed would be a more equitable system that gave more teams a true chance to compete. Players were determined to protect exceptions to the salary cap that allowed middle-class players to get good paydays, fight against rules that made trades harder and preserve the mostly guaranteed contracts that have been a staple of NBA life. There was screaming and yelling, mutual litigation, mediation, decertification (sorry, "disclaimers of interest"), lawsuits, Bill Murray sightings, pizza deliveries to the media horde covering the meetings, accusations of bad faith, "Nuclear Winter," and on and on.
After players conceded approximately $3 billion in salary rollbacks over 10 years, the argument shifted to how the teams would be able to distribute the money -- the so-called "system" issues. Those threatened to cancel the season for good, as a potential season length dwindled from the normal 82, to 75, to 72. And then, on Thanksgiving Weekend, with dueling lawsuits at the ready in Minnesota and New York, the two sides took one last stab at it, and salvaged a 66-game season. And nobody really won. The owners got their savings, then proceeded to start spending again like crazy. Star players kept right on demanding trades to marquee cities. The Commish and Billy Hunter got pilloried from sea to shining sea. But there was a season.
They're at it again.
"I was trying to calm everybody down," Kevin Durant said Thursday. "I was trying to scream the loudest to make sure we was calm. We had went through a tough time; we had given up about six, eight points in a row. Guys were upset, of course, so we all came back to the bench. Reggie Jackson was screaming, Cole Aldrich was screaming, myself, Kendrick Perkins, everybody was. That's a part of the game. We're all competitive. And sometimes, emotions get the best of you."
Once again, the questions come about Durant and Russell Westbrook, and whether they can play together. The latest issue came last Wednesday in Memphis, when an argument erupted on the Oklahoma City bench during a timeout, first detailed by the Oklahoman newspaper. At first, Westbrook was yelling at guard Thabo Sefolosha to shoot the ball when he was open, but soon after, Westbrook and Durant were yelling at each other. About what, no one seemed to want to acknowledge. Even though Perkins told me it was he who was yelling and being yelled at by Westbrook, the story took root that it was OKC's two superstars jawjacking at one another.
"I don't think anybody's really seen that," Durant said. "They're just getting word of mouth."
This started, of course, during the playoffs last season, when Westbrook shot and shot and shot, and Durant wouldn't touch the ball for minutes at a time against the Grizzlies. Westbrook was pilloried for his shot selection and for failing to get Durant shots. (What no one mentions, of course, is that OKC only has three legitimate scoring options every night -- Durant, James Harden and Westbrook. OKC can't win if Westbrook doesn't score. Or didn't you notice the Thunder struggled mightily in their halfcourt sets against the Mavericks Thursday while Westbrook was ice cold? In the fourth quarter, when Westbrook finally got rolling, with a couple of big jumpers, a steal and fast-break dunk, and taking a key charge, so did Oklahoma City. By night's end, the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena was chanting his name.)
Nonetheless, there were rumors -- that Westbrook wanted to go back to his native L.A., that he could be had for Chris Paul. The Thunder insisted the scuttlebutt was false, but it doesn't help matters when the team has had almost a month to hammer out an extension with Westbrook that seemed a fait accompli without success. Maybe it's just the regular negotiating cycle and the two sides will make a deal before the Jan. 25 league deadline for extensions with fourth-year players. The problem is this: there really isn't anyone out there better than the 23-year-old Westbrook, who played in his first All-Star Game last year and looks primed for several more.
So, again, Durant says he has no problem playing with Westbrook.
"No beef," Durant said. "I'm not the type of player or person to have beef with anybody. I just go out there and play. Especially my teammates. I think that's kind of absurd, for people to think that. I love being here. I love playing with Russell Westbrook, let me get that out the way. So nothing's wrong."
But why is the perception still there, when both players have consistently said they like playing with each other?
"'Cause people keep writing it," Westbrook said. "If somebody keeps writing it, somebody else is going to keep writing it. And that's just how it goes. It wasn't even me and Kevin. But that's okay. That's just how it goes."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks swears that his team had the same arguments four years ago, when he first came to Oklahoma City. But then, the only goal was to avoid breaking the 1972-73 Sixers' all-time mark for futility, 9-73.
"Like I've told many people, if anybody's been on an athletic team, on any level -- this is not an exclusive club of being in the NBA, it could be high school, elementary school -- you're going to have situations that come up, if you have competitive guys and a competitive team," Brooks said. "If you don't have disagreements, that means your team's not very good. They're waiting for April to come by or the summer to come by."
No question, there were no shrinking violets on the Lakers', Celtics', Pistons' or Bulls' championship teams of recent vintage -- or any other great team. Great players tend to have huge egos, and they don't like anyone telling them what to do. Whether Westbrook and Durant are just the latest version remains to be seen. But until Westbrook gets his extension, the drama threatens the vast potential of a franchise that has done just about everything right the last four years. And everything that happens between the team's franchise players is going to be scrutinized.
"A lot of teams are coming after us," Westbrook said. "We was in that position before. Now, everything we do is magnified. You've got to careful about what goes on -- huddles, timeouts, whatever it may be. You've just got to be aware of what's going on."
1) Miami (2): Per my man John Schuhmann: the Heat was 1 of 18 from the floor last season in the final 10 seconds of games when tied or down by 1 to 3 points. This season, Miami is already 2 for 2.
2) Chicago (3): One benefit to Bulls of shorter schedule this year: no Circus trip in November, and a very easy road schedule. After Chicago completed its four-game west coast trip Friday in Los Angeles, the Bulls don't go west of Minnesota again until the last day of February (San Antonio), and only have one more road game that far the rest of the season (April 1, at Oklahoma City).
3) Oklahoma City (5): Scary: Thunder didn't even play that well last week, yet still went undefeated.
4) San Antonio (8): Pop already manipulating the schedule now for long-term gain later, benching Tim Duncan for the entire second half of Thursday's blowout loss to Houston to get Tiago Splitter and other younger players some work.
5) Portland (14): ESPN.com reported last week that Greg Oden's actual salary this season is not the $8.9 million that the Blazers had to officially provide in a qualifying offer, but $1.5 million. The agreement to lower Oden's salary came after he reinjured himself before the start of training camp and was likely to again miss a significant portion of the season.
6) L.A. Lakers (4): Talked with a veteran personnel man this week, and he said what I have been thinking: you dismiss the New Lakers at your own peril. They have replaced the loss of size (if not skill) of Lamar Odom with the Josh McRoberts-Troy Murphy tandem. Devin Ebanks could--potentially--be a new version of Trevor Ariza, allowing L.A. to bring Metta World Peace off the bench. Pau Gasol is still a load in the low post. They will defend. They're just getting Andrew Bynum back, and Kobe is still, if not KOBE, with that bum wrist, pretty doggone good. It will take them a while to get used to Mike Brown's system, but they will, and they'll be there at season's end. (Of course, I have them going out to the Clippers in the first round, so there's that.)
7) Dallas (1): He's not Tyson Chandler, but Ian Mahinmi looks much improved and could give the Mavs a boost in the middle in tandem with Brendan Haywood.
8) Atlanta (9): Hawks' next five: at Miami tonight, at Chicago Tuesday, home against Miami Thursday, at Charlotte Friday, at home against Chicago Saturday. Jeebus.
9) Orlando (10): Ryan Anderson, who got some spot starts last season at power forward when Brandon Bass was injured, has beaten out Glen Davis for the starting four spot this season, again spreading the floor for Dwight Howard.
10) Boston (7): Celts won't be penalized much here for losing their first three without Paul Pierce in the lineup. Boston's gonna be okay.
11) Memphis (6): Mike Conley's sprained ankle, originally suffered against the Thunder Wednesday, also kept him out of action Sunday against Chicago. Considering the Grizz dealt backup Greivis Vasquez to New Orleans for Quincy Pondexter, wouldn't a low-priced Luke Ridnour (three years, $12 million) make a lot of sense as a potential backup/emergency starter for a team that probably can't afford another big-ticket player and has aspirations for a deep playoff run?
12) Indiana (NR): Pacers win first three games for the first time in five years.
13) Milwaukee (NR): Bucks, who are pretty healthy for the first time in a very long time, are holding opponents to .398 shooting through four games, topped only by Hornets and Lakers.
14) Denver (15): Danilo Gallinari shot just 34 percent from the floor going into action Sunday night, but showed signs of life (7 of 16) against the Lakers.
15) Philadelphia (12): Sixers distribute 29 assists in rout Saturday at Golden State, Philly's second road win on its five-game west swing. Last season, the 76ers didn't win their second road game until their 24th game of the year.
Dropped out: L.A. Clippers (15), New York (11).
Miami (5-0): Erik Spoelstra has put LeBron and DWade into the post, with the expected devastating results. (My friend Sonny Hill, the legendary Philadelphia broadcaster and 76ers ambassador, compares James's potential down low to the late, great Gus "Honeycomb" Johnson -- and Sonny knows of what he speaks.) Not sure what Mike Miller will be able to add when he comes back from his hernia surgery. Out of the gate, the Heat looks unbeatable. But the race is not won the first week of the season.
Washington (0-4): A rival coach who's seen the Wizards believes this: you put pressure on them, any kind of pressure on them, and they fold like an imploded building. That seems to be the case as the league's last winless team blew a 21-point lead on opening night to the Nets, then proceeded to get throttled by the Hawks, Bucks and Celtics. After Kris Humphries (see below) abused him for 21 points and 16 boards Monday, Andray Blatche whined that he needed to get the ball in the post more; he was accommodated in Atlanta and went 1 for 7 in the paint, putting up a big four and four against Josh Smith. Adding insult to injury, the team's PR staff screwed up and left guard Roger Mason Jr. off the active roster for Friday's game against Milwaukee, making him ineligible when he checked into the game.
Logically, why would you boo Kris Humphries?
Think about it. What has the Nets' forward done that warrants fans booing him every time he touches the ball? He hasn't killed a guy; he hasn't been arrested for drug possession or intent to distribute; he hasn't said something bad about the sitting president or former presidents; he hasn't dissed Beyonce or Faith Hill.
All he did was get dumped.
I don't want to mention the name of Humphries' soon-to-officially-be-ex, because the purpose of her whole life, and the lives of her siblings, apparently, is to get attention. I didn't want to ask Humphries about it, because it would impossible for him to explain to anyone else what went on during his marriage. Being married, I know this: it's impossible for you or anyone else to know what my relationship with my wife encompasses. Even if I tried to explain it, I couldn't -- not completely, and not accurately. Besides which, it's none of your business. And what went on between Humphries and his wife, unless he wants to share it with me, really, is none of mine. This puts me at odds with our TMZ culture. So be it. However, being on a reality show, evidently, is grounds for becoming a public enemy. Doesn't make sense to me.
"You know what, though?," Humphries pointed out last week. "Fans come to the game. Not everyone that comes to a basketball game is a basketball fan, necessarily. A lot of people come to the games, you start coming with someone, it's Friday night and you want to come to the game. They may be familiar with me outside of basketball, so, okay, it gives them something to yell about. To me, I dealt with it last year, too, people yelling stuff, signs, whatever. And it is what it is.
"To me, it's motivation to play. People are on you, you've got to play hard. You've got to try to win. That's the best thing. You come in and get a win when people have been on you the whole game. The same people that are booing you are slapping your hand when you go in the tunnel, saying 'good game.' "
The catcalls would make sense if opposing fans were annoyed by Humphries' production the last couple of seasons, when he's finished fifth and fourth, respectively, in the league in rebounds per game. And with Brook Lopez out until the All-Star break with a foot injury, Humphries has had to get on the glass again for the Nets, grabbing 10 boards per game through Sunday. But he's also picked up his scoring, averaging 12.4 points through the first week of play. If he kept that up, it would be a career high for the 26-year-old.
But that's not why. That's not why Humphries was voted Most Disliked Player in the league in a Nielsen/E-Poll Market Research survey last month.
"I don't know if they even know why they're booing him," Nets coach Avery Johnson said.
Like a lot of other people on the Nets, Humphries's future in Jersey may well depend on whether the Nets can get Dwight Howard to join Deron Williams in Brooklyn next season. Humphries and Howard share the same agent, Dan Fegan, and Fegan would surely be happy -- or, conversely, displeased -- if he can (or can't) get Howard to New York, one of his preferred destinations. Humphries appeared to get caught in the backwash while the Nets went after the likes of Tyson Chandler and Nene in free agency. In the end, Humphries accepted a one-year, $7 million offer right before the start of the season. (But it's unlikely that the Nets would put Humphries in any potential deal for Howard, and not just because they share the same agent; because Humphries was a restricted free agent, the Nets cannot trade him this season unless he gives them permission, because dealing him elsewhere would cause him to lose his Larry Bird rights after the season.)
During the lockout, Humphries shuttled between Miami, Los Angeles and Minnesota, working out while he was taping episodes of his show.
"One thing people don't realize is that no matter what I'm doing this summer--say we were, I was in New York, filming or whatever -- every day, from 8 a.m. until 12:30 or 1, I'm at the gym," he said. "People don't talk about that. And that's what my number one has always been. Not that I need credit for that, but I love this game. This is what I'm about. I think that sometimes, other things become more interesting to people. They want to put other things first. To me, this is what I am. This is what I'm about -- God, family, basketball."
Whatever the reason, though, teams were not quick to make him long-term offers.
"It was a tricky summer," he said. "A lot of teams were doing short deals, and different strategies, because I think a lot of people were nervous under the new deal. It's kind of a fresh start for some guys. But, you know, ultimately, I got back to where I wanted to be. If you ask anyone, everyone wants four or five-year deals and the most amount of money. But I'm happy to be back. I've gotta play on a one-year deal and gotta play hard every night, and put yourself in a position next summer to make it happen. You don't know (what will happen). But I was on the end of my deal last year. If you've got to go out and prove something every year, if you have to play a one-year deal your whole career, whatever. I don't focus on that. To me, it's just go out and play and focus on what you can control."
Of course, it's not just Humphries and Howard that have options. If Williams were to go to his hometown Mavericks after the season, the likelihood of Humphries sticking around would suffer significant shrinkage.
"We have a lot of conversations with 'the general' and with 'the King,'" Williams said, referring to owner Mikhail Prokhorov and team president Billy King. "We're on the same page with everything that goes on, and everything that goes on stays between us. I know (Prokhorov) does his thing. He's kind of behind the scenes. I talk to the number two guy, Dmitry (Razumov, Prokhorov's right hand man) a lot more."
As for Humphries, getting back on the court provides an escape from ... you know. He got a little unhappy when I asked him if everything that had happened to him over the last year made it difficult to know who he could trust. "I think I know where you're going," he said, and that was the end of the interview. But even though that wasn't where I was going, I get it.
Humphries may have chosen to live part of his life in the public eye, and there are those who'd say he thus had to know there was a backlash possible if things didn't go right, but that's just the point. What didn't go right -- a man's private life, or his role in a television show? And why would a downturn in either make fans feel like he was fair game?
"To me, the great thing about basketball and being able to come back to the Nets and all that, is that this is just, like my sanctity," he'd said a few minutes earlier. "I let go of everything. I'm just here with my teammates, hanging out, playing cards, doing what we do. It's none of that. We're hanging out in Deron's room last night, watching the games. It's a different thing, and it's something that, with the lockout and all that, I missed. When you're done playing basketball, I think that's what drives guys crazy, is not being around the team and doing that kind of thing. It's an escape, and it's great to be back with my teammates."
They don't know beans about Beantown. From Josh Trumm:
I know every sports fan thinks that their team isn't getting enough love or attention, but I've noticed that the Boston Celtics are getting absolutely no love from anyone: the media, from free agents, even from a smart guy like you (first-round loss to whatever team Dwight ends up on? C'mon man!). There seems to be a stigma around all their players, particularly Kevin Garnett, who only plays harder than anyone else and anchors the defense (so what if people say he's mean, it's not his job to be nice on the court) ...
They have a top 5 coach in Doc Rivers, who gets the most out of all of his players (what have Leon Powe, James Posey and Eddie House done since playing for the C's?). They have one of the best point guards in the league in Rondo (31 points, five rebounds and 13 assists with five steals won't happen all the time but still) who makes everyone around him better. They have two first-round picks in a stacked draft. With Paul Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen all coming off the books, they have cap space to sign one or two max players to team with Rondo. KG may retire, but even an old Paul Pierce can still be an effective scorer. Ray Allen could shoot 3s for a team until he's 50 with the way he takes care of himself.
To me, this team seems to have more pieces in place to win NOW than the Lakers (Kobe realistically has two or three good years left, and they have very little cap space so they'd be stuck with Metta World Peace and a bunch of overpaid scrub role players. And if Dwight comes, Gasol and Bynum go), Nets (bad contracts would delay putting a good team together by a few years) and Knicks (same problem, to a lesser extent).
This is a team that played without their leading scorer and best bench player and only lost by two points to the Knicks, who needed a superhuman effort from Carmelo Anthony to win it. They have a tradition of excellence (17 banners) and a rabid fan base. They even play in a fairly large market. So why is no one talking about the Celtics as a potential destination for max free agents? Is it the weather?
The Celtics' problem, Josh, is where they are as a team, not where they are located as a franchise. Chris Paul wasn't interested in going there long term without KG and Ray -- which seems like the logical end of things after this season -- so Boston couldn't make a Paul-Rondo deal. I certainly don't think the Celtics are done this year or in the future, but Danny Ainge will have to be extremely creative to add another significant piece next summer.
Everyone isn't feeling the "Wait 'till 2012' vibe. From Hilary Pritchard:
I have been a fan of Jason Kidd's since I first saw him play -- he was a junior in high school at the time, so you can imagine how long ago that was. The guy's game made my jaw drop, and I still think he plays in a dimension all his own. I hope he goes on to coach after his playing days are over (and may that be way in the future). His basketball IQ is off the charts.
So I was THRILLED with the way the Mavs played last year. To me, basketball is the ultimate team sport, and that is what they played -- no ballet was ever as beautiful in my eyes as the sight of five guys locked in to the same play, moving to the same beat, towards the same objective. Poetry in motion doesn't begin to do it justice. When they swept the Lakers (loathing all L.A. teams is part of being a good citizen in San Francisco), I was on another planet. Sheer joy.
It was SUCH a disappointment to see that beautiful team dismantled this year. The loss of Corey Brewer, Peja Stojakovic (I never could spell it), J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and especially Tyson Chandler ... and especially the last two, Stevenson and Chandler.
We've all seen this team before: the Allas Mavericks (they got no D). What are they thinking of??? Vince Carter? Half man, period. Lamar is playing like a sleepwalker, and he's better than that. I don't get it.
I guess I just have to be content that at LONG LAST, I get to see Jason Kidd get his ring -- AND Dirk, and the rest of them. Every single one of them earned it, too. Brian Cardinal, aka The Custodian, has done more dirty clean up work in his career than most. No one works harder than Dirk. It was worth the wait.
But the next person who says to me "Hey, it's a business!" I'm gonna puke on their shoes.
I understand your disappointment, Hilary. I think Dirk Nowitzki (see below) shares it. You work so hard to build a championship team, and then, that team isn't really even given the chance to defend its title. But Mark Cuban is convinced that with the new CBA rules, cap space is a much more important commodity than before, and he was determined to make sure the Mavericks were players next summer. I think they're going after Deron Williams AND Dwight Howard, because the chances of Dallas getting one without the hour are, in my view, slim. And if they don't get them, the Mavs will still be able to facilitate trades for just about anyone they want. Time will tell if the gamble was worth it.
You don't have to give in, even when your body gives out. From Ira Greenberg:
Regarding your They Said It section about Cedric Ceballos and his heart attack:
You said, "He's expected to recover, but his pickup playing days are over."
I had a "small" heart attack while I was playing pick up basketball in 2010. I was back playing pick up basketball three months later, and I'm not a super athlete like Cedric. In fact, after working out a lot, I'm fitter now than I was since my twenties, and I play once a week.
I don't know Cedric's exact situation, but I think there's a very good chance he could recover completely and play ball again if he wants to.
Duly noted, Ira. Hopefully Ced will be able to live a full, healthy life, regardless of whether basketball is involved.
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(Resuming our weekly assessment of the top players in the league. Normally, weekly averages are compiled from the previous Monday through Sunday, but in this week's case, because the season began on a Sunday -- Christmas Day -- we're including that day's games as well.)
1) LeBron James (29.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.6 apg, .598 FG, .809 FT): Celebrated his 27th birthday by going for 34, 10 and 8 against Minnesota Friday. Which led me to ask: LeBron is still just 27 years old?
2) Kevin Durant (27.4 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.25 apg, .547 FG, .800 FT): Durantula hasn't even really unleashed the one-legged, Nowitzki-inspired fadeaway he's been working on all summer.
3) Derrick Rose (19.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 8.6 apg, .471 FG, .931 FT): Whether or not he's really going to get $250 million from Reebok over the life of his shoe deal, he's going to be able to put a new wing on the house made out of crushed soles.
4) Dwight Howard (17.4 ppg, 17 rpg, 3 bpg, .540 FG, .422 FT): Superman has dinner with Deron Williams in New York last Wednesday, professes it's no big deal.
23 -- Consecutive losses by the Bucks in Phoenix, dating back to Feb. 21, 1987. Milwaukee gets another chance to break its streak in the Valley of the Sun next Sunday night, the last game of a five games in seven nights road trip.
800 -- Career victories for Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich following Saturday's victory over Utah. Since firing Bob Hill early in the 1996-97 season and adding the coaching to his general manager's gig -- my first reaction upon hearing the news was, 'who the hell is Gregg Popovich?' -- Pop has a career .676 win percentage, won four NBA titles, spawned, along with current GM R.C. Buford, a league full of management and coaching clones from Oklahoma City to New Jersey to Los Angeles, inspired a satirical Twitter account (@FakeCoachPop) and become one of the great winners in league history.
1,300 -- Weight, in pounds, of a boulder Raptors coach Dwane Casey has put outside his team's locker room at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Casey is the latest NBA coach who has introduced a variation on "Pounding the Rock" to his team -- it's believed Popovich, in San Antonio, was the first. The saying is borrowed from the social reformer and journalist Jacob Riis, who spoke of the art of perseverance in "The Stonecutters' Credo": "When nothing else seems to help I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet, at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before."
1) Happy 2012, everyone. If you had a good 2011, I hope this year is even better, and if you had a lousy 2011, I hope this year is a bounceback one for you.
2) It's only been a week, but a lot of people may have to apologize to Minnesota GM David Kahn before too much longer. Ricky Rubio not only looks legit, he looks like a star in the making. Against Dallas Sunday, he did one of the hardest things to do in basketball -- he dominated a game without shooting the ball. Loved his patience waiting for Kevin Love to clear traffic and roll to the basket for a dunk in the fourth quarter, and how he didn't give up his dribble until he knew exactly where he was going--to Anthony Tolliver in the corner for a killer three. Early. But very encouraging if you're a Wolves fan.
3) That was some pretty good ball Friday night at Staples between Chris Paul and Derrick Rose and their respective Clippers and Bulls, driving and passing and shooting and dunking and blocking shots at the rim and taking charges. I would not mind getting seven games of that in June, not at all.
4) Congratulations to the happy couple.
4a) And to this one, too.
6) And don't forget, The Beat has moved to Mondays at 6 p.m ET. We talk the talk about what's going on in the league, who's up and down, interview the top coaches and GMs and have an argument or two on occasion. Join me, Lang Whitaker (@langwhitaker), Vince Cellini and the country's best writers and broadcasters every week!
1) Not sure why the Kings felt compelled to have Paul Westphal issue a statement Sunday detailing DeMarcus Cousins's demand to be traded. Why not go the time-honored "conduct detrimental to the team" route, and leave it at that, if the Kings wanted to suspend him. If you're convinced you have to move Cousins, why announce it to the world, and thus lessen your leverage?
1a) Having stated the above, it's time for the Suns to move Steve Nash, even though the Nasty One has not asked to be traded. (Grant Hill chose to come back to Phoenix this season as a free agent, turning down the Knicks and Spurs and Bulls. That was his choice.) Nash is going to be 38 next month, and he's not a good defender, and my guess is he won't come cheap after this season, when his contract is up. But after everything he did to make Phoenix Must See (and Attend) TV the last seven seasons, he deserves a chance to finish on a big stage, with a last chance to compete for a ring. There isn't an obvious trade partner with Phoenix here, but here's hoping something can be worked out that would make both sides happy.
2) You wonder why teams like Orlando still aren't sure that it can trust Andrew Bynum to be the centerpiece of a franchise if the Magic trades Dwight Howard to L.A.? This kind of thing is why.
3) David Berri, whom I respect and whose work I have cited positively many times in this space, makes a fair point in this article when he notes we media types almost always get the narrative wrong in labor disputes. Fans may be angry during a lockout or strike, but they almost always come back to the games they love to watch, no matter our predictions of gloom and doom during the work stoppage. But he loses me when he opines that writers/broadcasters come to those conclusions because they're unhappy writing about labor issues instead of games, and thus we have to be "sad and angry," which colors our writing/broadcasting.
I was, without question, sad and angry at times during the lockout. (Most notably, I am informed, during my 3:30-4 a.m. live shots.) But I predicted gloom and doom because I was getting gloom and doom from my friends/family/Twitter followers. Some of them were the usual trolls, of course, who never liked the NBA in the first place and wanted to pile on. But many were from real, honest to goodness basketball fans who were fed up. I'm glad the numbers on Christmas Day were as good as they were, and if they hold up all season I'll be delighted to acknowledge I was wrong about the lasting impact of the lockout. But, I'd point out, there is a season. If the league and union had lost the whole year I think the discussion would be quite different.
DIRK NOWITZKI, DALLAS MAVERICKS
The defending champions have gotten off to a terrible start, falling behind by 35 at home to Miami the day the Mavs raised their championship banner, then trailing by 33 in a loss the next day to the Nuggets, then losing on a last-second shot by Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant on Thursday before finally winning their first game of the season Friday against Toronto. But the week ended for the Mavs with Ricky Rubio slicing them up down the stretch Sunday night. Dallas is struggling to find its footing, incorporating new players like Lamar Odom and Delonte West into the lineup while everyone, including Nowitzki -- who had to come out of the game with the Thunder late in the fourth quarter for a couple of minutes to get a blow -- gets in better shape.
Owner Mark Cuban professes he isn't concerned, pointing out that during his tenure as owner, the Mavericks only had two six-game losing streaks -- in 2000, his first year owning the team, and last season, when the Mavericks went on to win the title. "I love that everyone is already writing us off," he said Thursday. The Finals MVP is also confident the Mavs will turn things around ... sort of.
Me: What the hell's going on?
Dirk Nowitzki: I just think we're an older team, and we could have used two more weeks of training camp. So it's not really going in our favor this year (with) a shortened camp, and we've got some new guys playing some major roles. We look a little lost at both ends of the floor. We're not quite in the shape we need to be. So I think all that stuff kind of compiles on us right now. We're going to be a work in progress. We said from the beginning we don't want to peak in December; we want to peak later. So we've got a lot of work to do, which is kind of hard in this season, too, because you barely have any practice time. We've got four in five nights now, then we have a day off, then we have four in five nights again. So unfortunately there won't be much practice time. So we've just got to get better during games. We got down 30 the other night, and we kept working on stuff, and tried to push each other to get in better shape. So hopefully in a couple of weeks here we'll get better and better.
Me: Was it expected, given the compressed schedule this year, that you might struggle early?
DN: Well, I think, like I said, with a bunch of new guys, we would have loved to have two more weeks of training camp and have a couple more games under our belt with eight preseason games. But I think everybody has to deal with the shortened season. We're fighting through some adversity with what we're going through now. Hopefully it will make us better in the long run. But we'll definitely have some work to do, even on defense, some of the calls aren't natural yet (for the new players), and you've got to react in a second, and if you don't get the calls right, then it's all messed up. I just think we're still all over the place, and we're not where we need to be. Which is the good thing, though -- we've got a lot of work to do.
Me: I'm sure you expected there would be some changes after last season, but how surprised were you that there were this many?
DN: Well, you know, as a player, you would have loved to keep the same team together and really given it another shot, and see if we had enough to really go out there and compete again. But we understand. We've been around for a long time, and the business is part of it, and with the new CBA, Cuban felt like it was better for him to be in a position to have some cap room for the first time, really, in his owner career. So that's the way we went and that's the route we took and we're making the best out of it. I still think we got some nice pieces in. I really like Lamar, his versatility at both ends of the floor, but it's going to take some time for him to get used to it. He's been playing the triangle system, and now you've got all sorts of different calls again, and systems, and he's got to get used to that. So we're just trying to adjust on the fly, and get better from game to game. But, like I said, we're going to miss these guys. We loved Barea, and we loved Tyson, all those guys, Caron was great, Stevenson was our energy stopper. So all these guys, it was hard we let them go. But it's the NBA and you've gotta move on.
Me: But I suspect it wasn't easy for you, at this point in your career, to say 'well, this is a transition year, and we'll get after it again next year.'
DN: Well, it kind of didn't look good there at all when Tyson left, and J.J. left, but then I think we did some nice moves. I think the Lamar move came out of nowhere. I don't think nobody saw that coming. We got Lamar basically for a Gatorade cooler, or a trade exception -- I don't even know what that is. So I think that was another great move by Mark and Donnie (Nelson, the Mavs' general manager). At least we got some players who are experienced, and want to win, and want to play off each other. So we're trying to keep that going, what we started last year. But it's going to be a tough year.
Me: What have you seen so far from Lamar, and how do you incorporate him in, given he was with the Lakers so long?
DN: Well, I think we're trying to work at both ends of the floor. He's a versatile defender. He can guard multiple positions, which is great. He can guard three-four-fives, and we can do some switching. What we're actually trying to make work is the lineup with me, Trix (Shawn Marion) and Lamar, all at once, at three, four and five. But it's really not working that well right now. I think it's going to be a little work in progress. I think we're in each other's way on offense a little bit, and on defense we're not stopping people we should stop. But that lineup has potential. We've got some length, and Lamar is a good rebounder for his size. We can make it work. We just need to play off each other a little more, and play with each other, and get used to it a little more. But I really like what he brings to to the team.
Me: What is his demeanor like right now?
DN: I think he wants to play well, but maybe he's stressing a little bit too much now, too. I think the one shot he came in off (the bench) and shot the first couple of shots right away. I think he's forcing a little bit too much right now, coming into a new situation. I think he needs to relax a little bit. I think he's got some veteran guys around him. So if we just share the ball like we did last year, he's going to get plenty of opportunities. 'Cause me and Jet (Jason Terry), and some of the guys attract a lot of attention. So he's got to use that space, and use his driving ability to get to the basket some, post some, and he's going to shoot some. Just play an all-around good game. But he's just got to relax and play with us.
Me: Rick (Carlisle) said last week that it was on him to get you guys ready to play. Do you buy that?
DN: I mean, coach always tries to bring the attention to him. But like I said, we couldn't even do more in camp. We tried to push each other and be in the best shape we could be in, but we needed a couple more weeks of training camp. But we didn't have it. So I don't think it, it's nobody's fault. We need to push each other more in the games. We need to get back. Our transition defense has been horrible. So we've got a lot of areas to work on. But it's us veterans. We've got to push each other a little harder than we have.
Me: What have you seen so far from Vince?
DN: I think he's a great spot up shooter. You can still run some high pick and rolls where he can get into the lane and make some stuff happen. So I still like what he brings. I like what Delonte brings. He's a solid defender, he can run the team a little bit. I think (Rod) Beaubois and Dominique (Jones) are more like the two guards, and Delonte's more of a, he can play the point guard, backup point for us. To him it's a complete new system for him, and he's got to get used to everything. We're just struggling in a lot of areas. But it's a good thing it can't get worse.
Me: You had the emotion of raising the championship banner on opening day--and then you get killed by the Heat. What was that day like?
DN: Well, obviously, for the organization, for the fans, it was an unbelievable thing to raise that banner. It was a special moment for me. I think (Jason) Kidd and myself, working so long for it, Jet and all these veterans. I watched the banner going all the way up, because I couldn't take my eyes off of it. So it's great to know that nobody can ever take that away for us. It was a special year, special season with a special team. But saying that, I think that season's got to be over now. I think we've got to move forward. We can't always refer to last year--we did this last year, we were doing that last year. We've got to move forward with this new team. We've got some new guys, and we've got to get going. Hopefully we shake this rust off here pretty soon and really get down to playing some Mavericks basketball again, and that's getting some stops, and then we can speed the game up. Really, since we haven't gotten any stops the first two games, we can't really play our game offensively, either. Then, we're stagnant. Even last year we weren't a great team offensively when we had to take the ball out. It's when we were stagnant. We didn't look great offensively at times, but when we got stops, I think that's when we were at our best, and ultimately that's what we're trying to do with this team -- get some stops, get some boards, get some runouts, speed the game up.
Me: You had a real identity as a team last year. What do you think this year's team's identity will be?
DN: Well, ultimately, we're trying to do some of the same stuff, what was working for us, and that's getting some stops, be solid defensively. We still have Trix and Kidd and those guys make it hard on the perimeter. We've got to be tougher on the inside. We're giving up way too many layups the first two games, so we've got to correct that, rebound the ball. And offensively I think we're best when we share the ball, when we don't hold the ball too long, iso, that's not our game. Our game is to swing it, pick and roll it, move it, let another guy get a shot, just always look for the open guy. I think that's the way we want to play.
Me: So it doesn't really matter what position you're in going into the playoffs, as long as you get in?
DN: We showed against the Lakers, I mean, they had home court over us, and we were able to steal two games there and advance. I think a veteran team, a poised team, can go on the road and win big games. We even won the championship on the road last year in Game 6, and won big games last year. But ultimately, yeah, we've got to get going. You don't want to get yourself in too deep of a hole, and want to catch up all season long, and then by the end, by the playoffs roll around, you're going to be tired. We've got to get going here pretty soon and don't fall into too deep of a hole.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30), Thursday, 5:49 p.m. Curry told Bay Area reporters Friday that he went to Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., on Wednesday to get fitted for a new shoe that might help him with his chronically balky right ankle, which he re-sprained last week in a game against the Bulls. Curry said his new shoe is lower and fits wider on his foot.
"The kid has something. He has that Steve Nash capability. They have a gem in him, and he's going to be great for them."
-- Dwyane Wade, gushing about Timberwolves' rookie Ricky Rubio after Rubio went for 12 points, 12 assists and six rebounds against Miami, which needed a LeBron James oop from Wade in the final seconds to eke out a 103-101 win over Minnesota Friday.
"I never forgot one of the things KG told me. He said 'when you get paid is when you're supposed to work. You don't get paid and slack off.' I didn't want to slack off."
-- Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, who lost 30 pounds during the lockout by taking part in twice-daily workouts in Houston and modifying his diet. Perkins said he owed it to the Thunder to try and live up to the four-year, $35 million extension Oklahoma City gave him after acquiring him from Boston last February.
"He went to Harvard, so he might be the smartest guy we have."
-- Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, on newly acquired guard Jeremy Lin, picked up off of waivers last Tuesday after playing his rookie season in Golden State.
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Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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