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David Aldridge

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All-Stars Russell Westbrook (left) and Kevin Love are near locks to receive contract extensions.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Most '08 draftees still trying to convince owners to pay up


Posted Jan 16 2012 6:29AM - Updated Jan 16 2012 7:57PM

In a week where Kobe oiled up his shootin' arm and D-Wade screwed up his ankle and the Bulls' Zombies kept winning despite playing nine games in six days (I may have that backward), owners kept their powder -- and their checkbooks -- dry. And it looks like, for the most part, they will keep on keeping 'em dry, continuing the trend of the last few years.

With less than 10 days before the Jan. 25 deadline for contract extensions for the Class of 2008, only one of the 30 first-round picks from that Draft -- Derrick Rose, natch -- has received a new deal. And not too many of Rose's fellow first-rounders are going to join him.

At the moment, only a handful of players -- Minnesota's Kevin Love, Denver's Danilo Gallinari and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook -- are even in the hunt to get deals, though several players' agents are engaged, or will soon engage, in conversations with their respective teams. But so far, no one's betting on the come for an Eric Gordon, or a Roy Hibbert, or a JaVale McGee. There's always someone that gets a deal below the radar, as when Phoenix's Jared Dudley got a five-year, $22.5 million extension last year. So is it possible that the Wolves give Michael Beasley, taken second overall by Miami in '08, an extension? One supposes. But not likely.

That would continue the trend of recent years of fewer and fewer extensions for drafted players.

Last year, only five of the 30 first-round picks in the 2007 class got extensions: Kevin Durant (five years, $85 million), Atlanta center Al Horford (five years, $60 million), Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (five years, $40 million) Bulls center Joakim Noah (five years, $60 million) and Dudley. That was one fewer extension than the 2006 class -- Toronto's Andrea Bargnani, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha, Boston's Rajon Rondo and the Nuggets' Renaldo Balkman. That was one fewer than the seven players from the Class of '05 that got extensions. And it's a far cry from the 16 contract extensions received by the Class of 2002.

Coming out of the lockout, it's not that surprising that teams are reluctant to be the first to make a high eight-figure commitment, even to young talent. Owners that were adamant that salaries had to be reined in as a cause of the lockout may well be reluctant to be big spenders.

"No one wants to set the market," a team executive texted Sunday night. "They would rather wait and try and let the guy get a deal and match. Also make sure the guy doesn't get hurt."

Another factor is the increasing number of "one-and-done" players who enter the Draft after one season in college, another executive e-mailed Sunday.

"Younger players need more time to develop, so by the time they become eligible for extension, teams still don't know for sure if they're ready or not, so therefore you have fewer and fewer tems offering extensions to guys," the exec said. "Plus you simply have to manage your payroll more tightly these days ... because it's critical to have flexibility to be in a position to get better, so you better be sure that guy you're giving an extension to is the right guy."

Some Draft classes, of course, don't warrant many extensions. But this is a pretty talented bunch, with as many skilled players taken toward the bottom of the first -- like the Blazers' Nicolas Batum (taken 25th overall in '08) and Indiana's George Hill (26th) -- as were taken among the Lottery picks.

There is, of course, Love, the All-Star double-double machine and the linchpin of any hopes the Timberwolves have of returning to relevancy. Gallinari was among the haul Denver received from New York last season in the Carmelo Anthony trade; ESPN.com reported that the Nuggets and Gallinari's agent, Arn Tellem, were talking last week. New Orleans' Gordon was the key player in the Chris Paul trade last month, with the Hornets insisting they had to have the 23-year-old guard, who's already been on the U.S. World Championship team and is one of the game's up-and-coming scorers.

In case you didn't remember, the order from '08, with the original team drafting the player listed:

2008 Draft contract status
Pick Name Originally drafted by ... Contract/Career status
1. Derrick Rose Bulls Signed five-year, $94.8 million extension with Bulls
2. Michael Beasley Heat Traded to Wolves before 2010-11 season
3. O.J. Mayo Wolves Traded to Grizz on Draft night
4. Russell Westbrook Sonics Still with Thunder
5. Kevin Love Grizzlies Traded to Wolves on Draft night
6. Danilo Gallinari Knicks Traded to Nuggets as part of Carmelo Anthony deal on Feb. 22, 2011
7. Eric Gordon Clippers Traded to Hornets in Chris Paul deal on Dec. 14, 2011
8. Joe Alexander Bucks Out of NBA
9. D.J. Augustin Bobcats Still with Bobcats
10. Brook Lopez Nets Still with Nets (injured this season)
11. Jerryd Bayless Blazers (from Pacers) Traded to Raptors as part of five-player deal on Nov. 10, 2010
12. Jason Thompson Kings Still with Kings
13. Brandon Rush Pacers (from Blazers) Traded to Warriors in Dec. 18, 2011 deal for Louis Amundson
14. Anthony Randolph Warriors Traded to Wolves (via Knicks) as part of Carmelo Anthony deal on Feb. 22, 2011
15. Robin Lopez Suns Still with Suns
16. Marreese Speights Sixers Traded to Grizzlies in three-team deal between Sixers, Grizzlies and Hornets
17. Roy Hibbert Raptors Traded to Pacers on Draft night
18. JaVale McGee Wizards Still with Wizards
19. J.J. Hickson Cavaliers Traded to Kings in June 30, 2011 deal for Omri Casspi
20. Alexis Ajinca Bobcats Out of NBA
21. Ryan Anderson Nets Traded to Magic as part of June 25, 2009 trade for Vince Carter
22. Courtney Lee Magic Traded to Nets on June 25, 2009; traded to Rockets as part of four-team deal between Hornets, Nets, Pacers and Rockets on Aug. 11, 2010
23. Kosta Koufos Jazz Traded to Wolves as part of Carmelo Anthony deal on Feb. 22, 2011
24. Serge Ibaka * Sonics Still with Thunder
25. Nicolas Batum Rockets Traded to Blazers on Draft night
26. George Hill Spurs Traded to Pacers in June 23, 2011 deal for Draft rights to Kawhi Leonard.
27. Darrell Arthur Hornets Traded to Grizzles on Draft night
28. Donte Greene Grizzlies Traded to Kings on Draft night
29. D.J. White Pistons Traded to Thunder on Draft night; traded to Bobcats as part of Nazr Mohammed deal on Feb. 24, 2011
30. J.R. Giddens Celtics Out of NBA
* = not eligible for 2012 extension because he played overseas in 2008-09

Highlighting some of the decisions that have to be made by a week from Wednesday:

O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies (taken 3rd overall)

It's a near-certainty that Mayo doesn't get a deal -- not in Memphis, anyway. The Grizzlies have had him in trade talks for months, most notably last February, when they almost sent him to Indiana for Josh McRoberts. That deal fell apart at the last minute, with each side blaming the other. Last week, Yahoo! Sports reported the Grizz had talked with New Jersey about a deal sending Mayo to the Nets for Anthony Morrow, though those talks weren't going anywhere. Having committed $82 million to Rudy Gay, $68 million to Zach Randolph, $56 million to Marc Gasol and $40 million to Mike Conley, Memphis is pretty close to maxed out on big contracts. Mayo's best shot at a new contract will come when and if he's traded, not before.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder (4th overall)

On the other hand, it'll be a stunner if Oklahoma City doesn't give Westbrook an extension. The fourth-year guard is as vital to OKC's title chances as Kevin Durant. Make no mistake; with only two other guys who can consistently but the ball in the basket (Durant and James Harden), the Thunder need Westbrook's ability to score and create. They just don't have anyone else with his game. And keeping its young core together has been the whole raison d'etre for Oklahoma City the last few years. The team didn't go after big-monied free agents in past offseasons, in part, to save that money for the day when its home-grown stars had earned their keep. Even though he's struggled on occasion this season, and even though he has his ups and downs with everyone in the locker room, now is that time for Westbrook. The question, of course, is whether the Thunder are willing to get Westbrook anywhere near Durant's $85 million deal, or would be more interested in a Rajon Rondo ($55 million) kind of extension.

OKC's general manager, Sam Presti, declined to comment on the state of the negotations last week, other than to say, "As we have said the last several years, Russ is someone that we hold in high regard both as a player and person."

Kevin Love, Timberwolves (5th)

Most people around the league believe this is as close to a sure thing as possible. Love has been informed, shall we say, at every step of the Timberwolves' rebuilding process the last couple of years. It doesn't mean he had veto power, but he was not surprised by anything management has done. And just as it was important to surround Ricky Rubio with enough talent to make his arrival easier, the Wolves needed to improve both the talent and the coaching dynamism to keep West coaster Love from seeking greener pastures. Exit Kurt Rambis; enter Rick Adelman. Exit Jonny Flynn; enter Rubio. With rookie Derrick Williams and vet guard J.J. Barea in the mix, Minnesota's core group is much deeper than even a season ago, and Love has noticed. And if the Wolves are going to continue the newfound era of positive pub they're getting, giving Love every dollar agent Jeff Schwartz wants is imperative.

"Minnesota will pay Love," an executive with another team said Sunday; the max the Wolves can give him is a five-year deal in excess of $80 million. (Rose got more because, under Video the new collective bargaining rules, he was eligible for additional "rookie pool" money after winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player award last season.)

Danilo Gallinari, Nuggets (6th)

Talks between Gallinari and the Nuggets are "going well," a source said Sunday night, and the Nuggets are hopeful they'll be able to keep Gallinari around just as they've inked Nene and guard Arron Afflalo to long-term deals in the last few weeks. Denver wasn't able to surround Anthony with enough star talent to keep him happy, so the team has pivoted to a new approach -- call it Knicks West -- with Gallinari seemingly replacing Wilson Chandler, who's playing in China this season and will be difficult to re-sign once the Nuggets get Gallinari extended.

Eric Gordon, Hornets (7th)

Gordon is in a tough position; with the Hornets currently owned by the NBA, the likelihood of the league okaying a major financial commitment to anyone before the team is sold (Commissioner David Stern maintained last month that that could happen by the spring) is iffy -- especially considering how the league insisted on young, inexpensive players as part of the Chris Paul deal. (Not to mention the fact that the team's other "owners" -- the 28 other teams -- weren't all that happy when New Orleans acquired Carl Landry and his salary last year at the trade deadline.) And Gordon might be reluctant to re-up with New Orleans until the team is sold, if at all. But the two sides are "working on it," a source texted Sunday night.

Brook Lopez, Nets (10th)

The Nets were not likely to give Lopez, who's the major piece in their potential trade package for Dwight Howard, a new deal to begin with. The fact that Lopez is out for a couple of months with a stress fracture in his right foot seals the (non) deal.

Jason Thompson, Kings (12th)

The Kings, according to a source, will not be offering Thompson -- no longer starting in Sacramento and posting career lows in points and rebounds -- an extension.

Marreese Speights, Grizzlies (15th); J.J. Hickson, Kings (19th)

The agent for both players, Andy Miller, said last week that he'd had "boilerplate" conversations with the Kings about an extension for Hickson, but had not made much headway. Hickson is hoping that Sacramento wants to keep him around after giving up a first-round pick and forward Omri Casspi for him last summer. The two sides will "revisit" a deal in the next few days, Miller said. Speights, who was just traded from Philly as part of a three-team deal after underachieving in an injury-plagued year last season and falling out of favor with the club's braintrust, isn't going to get anything done in Memphis and will be restricted next summer. (Miller also represents Serge Ibaka, who would have major interest from any number of teams next summer, except he isn't eligible for a new contract until the end of July. Ibaka doesn't qualify for restricted free agency because he played a season in Spain before coming to Oklahoma City in 2009.)

Roy Hibbert, Pacers (17th)

In this case, it appears the player is the one who's reluctant to do a deal.

Hibbert has established himself as a promising young center, and big men are always in short supply. With the likes of Dwight Howard and Deron Williams unlikely to be on the open market next summer, no matter what they wind up doing, Hibbert and agent David Falk may gamble that the 25-year-old Hibbert can generate signficant interest on the free-agent market, even if he's restricted.

"I'm not saying 100 percent we wouldn't do (an extension), but I'd say it's likely," Falk said Friday. "He likes Indiana, it's a great place, it's worked out well. But it's my opinon that generally, these things are hard to do. If I was an owner I wouldn't do one unless I got a discount ... I think more than anything else, the reason guys do extensions, in my opinion, is when you have a client who is insecure that he's going to get paid. I went through this with Jeff Green a year ago. I tell the guys, don't expect to get one. You're doing the deal a year in advance, and all you're getting is security. Centers don't grow on trees. If the guy has the confidence to wait, he's probably better off waiting."

JaVale McGee, Wizards (18th)

The Wizards would like to lock up McGee, who is second in the league in blocks at 3.2 per game, 10th in rebounds (10.1 per game) and has shown improvement at the offensive end. But at 1-11, Washington is not anxious to put big money into any of its players. The Wizards have learned from extending underachieving Andray Blatche a couple of years ago that paying for potential is not the way to go for a team that has so much rebuilding yet to do.

That means while McGee and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, are surely looking at the four-year, $43 million that the Clippers gave DeAndre Jordan by matching the Warriors' offer sheet in December as a reference point, the Wizards aren't inclined to go anywhere near that kind of yearly outlay; witness their unwillingness to offer restricted free agent Nick Young anything more than a one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer, which he wound up signing. Barring an 11th-hour compromise from one side or the other, the Wizards will let McGee and Armstrong find a market this summer and then decide whether to match any offers he receives.

Ryan Anderson, Magic (21st)

Anderson has made this a very tough call for the Magic, posting a career year playing at power forward alongside Dwight Howard. Anderson, dwarfing his previous career averages (he's currently averaging 17.2 points and 7.3 rebounds) is currently tied with Chris Paul for 10th in the league in John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (24.88), ahead of other power forwards like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki. Anderson's agent, Jeff Austin, points out that Anderson led the Pac 10 in scoring as a senior at the University of California, outperforming other Pac-10ers like Love, Westbrook and Mayo in 2007-08. But there have not yet been any substantive talks with the Magic. Austin says he understands that, especially this season, teams are likely taking their time looking at how their pieces fit -- or don't fit -- before commiting one way or the other.

"I think everyone's just waiting," Austin said. "I like it better, because everything is (normally) so deadline driven. If you start two weeks before, you're not going to get anything done until the last week anyway, so you might as well wait until that last week."

Nicolas Batum, Blazers (25th)

Batum's agent, Bouna Ndaiye, met with the Blazers in San Antonio this weekend. Both sides have expressed interest in getting a deal done, but the Blazers have a problem: Gerald Wallace indicated last week that he would probably play out his option and become a free agent this summer. That means Portland will have two small forwards to sign. How much can Portland put into one position?

"I have an idea of what I want, but I want to see what they come up with," Ndaiye said before the meeting. "There's another factor -- Gerald. I don't know if you can pay both."

But with the season so short, Batum is already less than six months from becoming a restricted free agent himself. And while the Blazers would still have the right to match any offers, Batum would at least be able to shop around.

"We are not anxious to get something done now," Ndiaye said. "If it becomes July 1st, July 2nd, we'll have offers. If something good happens (before), we'll look at it. If it doesn't, we'll wait."

George Hill, Pacers (26th)

Hill's agent, Michael Whitaker, met with the Pacers in Indiana on Saturday, and said there was a "good possibility" that a deal could be worked out before the 25th. But if not, he's confident Hill, picked up from San Antonio on Draft night last June for the rights to Kawhi Leonard, will have a lot of suitors.

"They did express they would like to get a deal done before the deadine," Whitaker said Sunday night. "We did talk more about the possibility of doing four years instead of three years. That's about as far as we've gotten so far. If it makes sense, it's something we'll consider doing. If not we'll see what happens this summer. We both appreciate that they've expressed they want to get something done before the summer, especially since he's just played 11 games with them. I think that's a good thing."

Darrell Arthur, Grizzlies (27th)

Arthur could have been in line for an extension, but his preseason Achilles injury, which will keep him out all season, makes that a moot point. The Grizzlies want him back next season, though, at the right price. The team's window to compete with this core group is wide open, and Arthur, who had an outstanding playoff series against the Spurs, is part of that core. Memphis thinks there's a reasonable contract there in his future.

D.J. White, Bobcats (29th)

The Bobcats, according to a source, have some interest in extending White, one of the few bright spots (9.9 points, 5.8 rebounds) in an otherwise terrible season so far in Charlotte. A final decision is expected this week.

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Meanwhile, Celtics forward Jeff Green's successful aortic aneurysm surgery Monday means he should be able to return next season. But where will that be?

As ESPN.com reported last week, Boston decided to rescind the one-year, $9 million qualifying offer it had tendered to Green in mid-December, after his condition was revealed. That means Green will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. With Boston looking slow at the start of the season, not tying up the 25-year-old Green to be part of the team's new core would seem to be a gamble -- an understandable one, given the circumstances. But a gamble nonetheless.

But Boston is still in the mix.

"It's a place he's going to give very strong consideration regardless of his status," said Falk, Green's agent, on Friday.

The Celtics were proactive in helping Green find the source of his problems after his physical with the team in early December revealed a problem. Boston provided a number of specialists for Green, who recommended he undergo surgery.

"I thought they handled it really first class," Falk said. "They helped us with the doctors. They were terrific. He's going to go back to Boston and rehab. He was very appreciative. It's not like he'd been there for a while."

But Boston nonetheless got off the hook for the $9 million by rescinding the offer.

"I tried to talk them out of it, for their own benefit," Falk said. "But they had reasons. It was like a Christmas present. If you have the choice of being a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent, I don't think too many people would say I'd like to be restricted." (Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations, did not respond to texts over the last few days.)

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Though they rescinded their one-year contract offer to him, the Celtics remain interested in Jeff Green.
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Green struggled in Boston last season after coming from Oklahoma City in the deal that sent Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder. His problems were most acute at the defensive end, where the Celtics' coverage schemes are totally different from the Thunder's. But the Celtics were counting on him to provide scoring off the bench this season and give Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce much-needed rest during the hectic regular season. The Celtics, as you might notice, need all the athletes they can get on the court. Without Green, Boston has had to scramble to fill those minutes with the likes of Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavovic, and has looked slower and older than usual in stumbling to a 4-7 start. Does Doc Rivers believe his team can snap out of it? Sure. Is he nonetheless worried? Well, let's say he's always worried; he's a coach. And allowing Green the opportunity to test the market next summer puts a lot of teams that should have a lot of cap room into play -- although, again, Boston remains on Green's potential short list.

The Wizards, according to sources, have long coveted Green, who played locally at Georgetown and who would provide some desperately needed maturity and young experience next season for one of the league's most callow teams. Assuming the Wizards use their amnesty provision next summer to free themselves from the final season of Rashard Lewis's contract -- $22.69 million -- they'd be in prime position to give Green a big payday, assuming everything checks out post-operation. And if the Nets, say, lose out in the Dwight Howard-Deron Williams sweepstakes, they'll have a lot of flexibility, too.

Every patient condition is different, of course, so their operations and recoveries will be different, too. But several NBA players, including Etan Thomas and Ronny Turiaf --now with Washington -- have undergone heart-related procedures in recent years and been able to return to the court and be productive players. Falk said the doctor who perfomed the operation on Green at the Cleveland Clinic said it was, relatively, a "simple procedure" that physicians have improved on dramatically in the past few years, to the point where it's almost considered routine.

"He told me (Green) would have had more of a problem coming back if he'd torn an ACL," Falk said.

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(Last week's ranking in parenthesis; weekly record in brackets)

1) Oklahoma City (2) [3-0]: Won six straight entering tonight's game against Boston, beginning a stretch of 11 of the next 14 on the road -- but no back-to-back games until OKC plays three sets of them to finish the stretch on Feb. 10.

2) Chicago (3) [5-0]: How about John Lucas III, Video going for 25, 8 and 8 in Derrick Rose's absence Wednesday against Washington to complete a B-cubed sweep? Mental toughness of this group unmatched at the moment.

3) San Antonio (5) [3-1]: Something has to give: Spurs unbeaten (9-0) at home, winless (0-4) on the road.

4) Dallas (7): [4-0]: D-fence: Mavs have only allowed one of last eight opponents to 93 points, haven't allowed more than 100 since Dec. 29.

5) L.A. Lakers (6) [3-1]: Emotional homecoming tonight for ex-Angeleno Lamar Odom in his first contest against his old team. Kobe will welcome him back to Staples with a hug ... and a forearm shiver.

6) Miami (1) [0-3]: Blew leads at Golden State and the Clippers, then got blown out at Denver. The problems are likely no thicker than getting Dwyane Wade (ankle) back in form, though.

7) Philadelphia (13) [3-0]: Sixers holding opponents to 25.6 percent on 3-pointers, tops in the league.

8) Indiana (10) [2-2]: Pacers' great start hasn't translated into boffo attendance at what I still call Conseco -- Indiana's average of 14,586 patrons through five home dates in 18,236 -- Bankers Life Fieldhouse (OK?) ranks just 25th in the league.

9) Atlanta (8) [3-1]: Hard to see Hawks being able to survive loss of Al Horford long-term, and team has been unwilling to take on salary to get anywhere near the luxury tax, so making a trade for a quality big man unlikely.

10) Denver (12) [2-2]: Nuggets come East this week (Milwaukee, Philly, Washington, New York) after long homestand.

11) Orlando (11) [2-2]: Magic next team up for a B-cubed, playing Knicks, Bobcats and Spurs on Monday-Wednesday.

12) Portland (4) [1-3]: Jamal Crawford, Ray Felton getting off to brutal starts (shooting 34.7 percent and 36 percent, respectively).

13) L.A. Clippers (15) [2-0]: Major sigh of relief: MRI on CP3's hammy, injured in the fourth quarter Saturday against the Lakers, was negative; Paul listed as day to day.

14) Utah (14) [3-1]: Impressive second night of a back-to-back win Sunday at Denver. Coach Ty Corbin doing a first-rate job finding room for Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap on the floor together, and Jazz have won seven of last eight with a deep team at all positions.

15) Memphis (NR) [2-1]: Rudy Gay trying to pick up the slack with Z-Bo out until All-Star break.

Dropped out: Boston (9).

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Dallas (4-0): Got the stalled truck back in gear with four straight, winning by an average of 21 per game, including back-to-back squeakers by 26 over Milwaukee Friday and 39 over hapless Sacramento Saturday. Sandwiched in between was a gut check on Wednesday in Boston, winning without Jason Kidd and without much offense, but getting it done down the stretch at both ends.

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Toronto (1-4): You lose to Washington and Sacramento on successive nights, that's weak. You average 84 a game over five games -- including 64 on Saturday against the bone-tired Bulls -- that's weak. Part of that is playing without Andrea Bargnani, I know, but still ... weak.

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Do the Knicks have their answer at point guard?

At around 6 p.m. Thursday, in Memphis, coach Mike D'Antoni was extolling how rookie point guard Iman Shumpert was handling the pressure of being on the league's biggest stage, how he was dealing with having to run a team with major egos and talents like Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, how the first-round pick seemed like he could grow into the position.

That was before Shumpert's 15 first-half shots against the Grizzlies. Which would have been fine, except he missed 12. And totally froze out Stoudemire and Anthony in the process. Now, D'Antoni is known for encouraging players to take shots when they're open, but ...

"I'm not crazy," D'Antoni said at halftime, walking to the Knicks' bench before the second half started. "He's trying to solve the problems of the world all by himself."

And so it goes for the Knicks, who have entrusted Shumpert with the ball out of necessity, with Toney Douglas not able to do the job consistently and Baron Davis not yet ready to do the job at all, with his balky back not yet ready for contact.

Of course, in a perfect world, Shumpert would have backed up Chauncey Billups this season, learning the position from one of the best of his generation. But amnestying Billups in early December was the only way the Knicks had enough cap room to sign Tyson Chandler to a long-term deal, and shoring up things in the middle was the team's biggest priority in the offseason.

So the Knicks have gone with Shumpert, the 6-foot-5 rookie from Georgia Tech whose defensive skills are already solid, but who is learning the ups and downs of the offensive side of the ball. He's shooting just 37 percent, including 25 percent from 3-point range. But Shumpert insists that he's up to the grind.

"I don't really feel that pressure," Shumpert said before the game. "A lot of people say it's 'cause I'm, being a Chicago-area kid, the mecca to them is New York, and to me, it's more, I think I would have more pressure playing in United Center. That could be a little bit of it. But I don't really feel the pressure. I see it as it's a lot easier, because I have a guy like Amar'e who takes so much of the attention. I got Tyson behind me, yelling out every screen that's coming. It really takes a lot of pressure off of me. So maybe that's why I don't feel it as much. But I love a big stage. So I just like it. The fans are really energetic. So I really like being in Madison Square Garden."

But he hasn't been booed yet.

"I've been booed," he corrects. "They booed me Draft night."

This is true. Knicks' fans at Prudential Center, where the Draft was held, did indeed express their displeasure at New York's taking Shumpert, who was coming from a Tech team that finished 13-18 and didn't make the NCAA Tournament, while others from more successful teams were still on the board, like Florida State forward Chris Singleton, who went a pick later to the Wizards. Of course, as D'Antoni helpfully points out, the Knicks have a couple of guys at the forward spots who'll probably get the lion's share of the minutes (Anthony and Stoudemire), so taking another forward probably wasn't the best use of a first-round pick. Thus, former team presdient Donnie Walsh went with Shumpert, who entered the Draft even though his college coach, Paul Hewitt, thought he might not yet be read to play in the pros.

But Walsh saw a two-way player who could guard both backcourt positions, and whom he believed would expand his game once he got to the NBA. When you recall that the Knicks also only have second-year player Landry Fields at the two, having a versatile player like Shumpert available made even more sense.

"I think the whole league thought he was a first-round pick," Walsh said last week. "We picked him because we thought he was the best player for what we needed. I think he can play point guard. I think he had the instincts to play point guard ... he's a very confident guy. I think he's coming into the league the right way. He's coming in running everything. I'm going to get everyone involved, and then, if I need to get mine, I will go for that."

Of course, that was before the 15 first-half shots, too.

But Shumpert is long and willing to get on the floor, and he does have the ability to guard both backcourt spots. Plus, his confidence never wavers for long. He thought he was ready after his junior year at Tech, even though the team struggled last season. He and Hewitt, now at George Mason, came to an agreement, he says, with Hewitt believing Shumpert could have helped a young nucleus at Tech as a senior.

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Iman Shumpert showed he wasn't shy about shooting -- and that he has plenty to learn about the NBA -- in last week's game against the Grizz.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

"After the season, I just continued to work out; I didn't take much of a break," Shumpert said. "When we played pickup a couple of weeks later, I felt like I had made a jump from the rest of the team. After that, I just was ready to go. I felt I was ready."

He and Douglas -- and Mike Bibby, whom New York signed as additional point guard insurance -- will have to hold things together for the Knicks to stablilize themselves until Davis, whom the Knicks signed last month after he was amnestied by the Cavaliers, is ready to return from his back injury, and while Anthony is recovering from a bad wrist and sprained ankle.

Davis is traveling with the team and is working out, but he has just been cleared to begin running and hasn't been cleared yet to start contact work -- athough D'Antoni said over the weekend that Davis might start practicing with the team next week. Davis says his back was so messed up he contemplated retiring, but he's made progress in the last few weeks, working with the Knicks' training and conditioning staff on strengthening both his core and his legs. And unlike his youthful ward, Davis does believe New York is the mecca of basketball, which is why he went there instead of in Miami, which was recruiting him hard.

"To me, this is a place I always wanted to fall," he said. "I don't mind going to New York, because I know how they love and appreciate just going out and playing with passion, playing with your heart and soul. And you're judged by what you do on the court and how you perform on the court, not what is being said about you. The fans make their own assessments, make their own opinions. I just love the energy; I just love the culture. I just felt it was a good place and a good fit for me and my game, and how I play. It would have been a great situation in Miami, too, but I'm real close with Melo ... me and Melo talked all the time. He was like, 'What you gonna do, skinny?' I just talked to him a lot. And I used to coach Tyson when he was in the eighth grade when I was in L.A., for the AAU nationals. I was like, 'Damn, Tyson is going there, too?' I just felt like there was a real close camaraderie."

But like Davis, Shumpert is already a veteran when it comes to returning from injury, having gone down in a heap on Christmas Day against the Celtics with what initially looked like a season-threatening injury. As it turned out, Shumpert had only sprained his right medial collateral ligament instead of tearing it or other vital parts, and he missed only nine days before returning Jan. 4. Soon afterward, the fans who had booed him in June were chanting for him to go into the starting lineup ahead of Douglas, and D'Antoni agreed a few days later.

Shumpert enjoyed hearing the fans in New York cheering for him, but he knew that meant they weren't cheering for Douglas.

"Toney's a warrior," Shumpert said. "Toney's going to go out there and he's going to go hard. Neither me or Toney have a problem coming off the bench. I think I'd be able to appreciate it more if he didn't have to come off the floor while they did it, because it's almost like a diss to him. To have the Garden saying that, yeah, it brings a smile to you, but during the game, it's me and my team. When I hear it after the game, it's nice, but during the game, it's me and my team."

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What if they had a vastly improved and exciting team, and 33 percent of the people came? From Dmitry Cohen:

I'm loving the Sixers' fast start. They are a team that is on the "good guy" side of the arguments made against the teams that are patched together from trios of colluding superstars. They are and old-school team (built by good drafting and all about team work).They've been getting a lot of buzz and I am really proud of that. However, it's an embarrassment to me as a fan and supporter of my team and city to see them on TV, at home, and have the stadium empty. They were playing the Pacers last Monday. Here you have a team that is exciting, up-and-coming, causing some stir in the league playing a team that you could say the same thing about and yet the stadium was awkwardly empty. I was so bothered that I actually looked online to see the attendance at the game.

It was about 8,612.

What?

That's not right. That's a little over one-third of capacity. Unfortunately, it's not only the Sixers. I watched yesterday's Memphis-N.Y. game (thanks Rudy for beating a division rival) and there was the same effect. Great basketball on display, but hardly anyone was there to witness it. It reminded me of those SportsCenter clips in baseball where they hit a homerun into the sea of empty seats. Is this a result of the economy? A reaction to the lockout? Or is it that we now have an 82-(or 66-) game preseason for the only type of basketball people care about? As difficult as it is to take, the first two are understandable. It's this last reason I am most worried about.

I can't speak for every team, Dmitry, but the league did the Sixers no favors with the early part of the schedule. Philly began with a five-game west coast road trip (which, I'm told, was even worse in the initial version of the schedule). And when the Sixers came back to Wells Fargo Arena, these were their first five home games: Detroit, Toronto, Indy, Sacramento, Washington. Yes, the Pacers are improved, but as far as league-wide star power, that quintet of teams is not exactly the quill, as Kid Twist put it in The Sting. Let's see what happens if the Sixers keep winning and future opponents with a little higher Q-ratings come to town.

Don't cry for me, Rawalpindi. From Chinmay Rahalkar:

The lockout has ended and world is a round shaped again. But I wanted to share my experience of playing basketball growing up in India. I want to do this so that players, owners, executives and especially, Stern realizes that the game is bigger than anybody.

I first played basketball when I was 6. I used to tag along with my brother. My city (Nagpur -- Central India) at that time had robust basketball structure. We had seven clubs competing fiercely for 4-5 club championships a year. Local newspapers regularly covered the tournaments and basketball had a decent following in my city. The infrastructure was very basic though. We had open-air basketball courts and for most purposes old balls to play [with]. We used to play on tar courts. I remember myself playing in shoes with holes and I wasn't the only one! But I still continued and so did my friends.

In those days TVs were not common in India and cable TV was prohibited. One of the players in my club had relatives in U.S. who used to send VHS cassettes of NBA games to us. I remember watching Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and, of course, Michael Jordan. They were all doing crazy things on the court and after watching such games (once in a while) we used to rename ourselves (I was always Larry!) and then try to imitate the moves!

At that time we had no idea how NBA is structured or that Bulls is owned (or can be owned!) by someone. We had no idea how much money [the] NBA makes (or loses!). [The] NBA, for us, wasn't a business. It was basketball for us. For us the game was [the] awesomest thing and the joy was pure.

I think the League and the players should know how they positively impact people far and wide and how international the game is. Yes, I understand the importance of money; players, owners and everyone in between needs to make money. But instead of squabbling over the money they made they should fight over how to increase the earnings. For example, their revenues can grow substantially if they increase footprints in India ... India is a fertile ground with rising middle class. I want Kobe to go there; I want Wade and LeBron to go there. (I really want Ray Allen to go there. He rocks!) I am pretty sure that will substantially increase the NBA revenues.

I am giving away this business strategy to NBA for free. I don't want any money for that. I just want these folks to play their best.

I started typing this during the lockout but couldn't get around sending it to you. The game has started all right. But I would be lying if I say I am a same enthusiast as I was last April. This episode has left a bitter taste. Moreover I didn't see any apology from NBA (Stern, man, get real!) or from the players. The feeling of being inconsequential or an after-thought during this process makes me sad.

I know how much you feel for the game. I also know you get to talk to game executives and players. Can you please convey my -- as a basketball lover from India -- feelings to them?

Consider them conveyed, Chinmay. Thank you for your e-mail. One thing: I know that India is a priority for the league. There is not a full-time office there yet, but that is not to be unexpected coming out of a worldwide recession. This details some of the NBA's plans.

The first shall be last, and the last ... shall go to Orlando. From Ben Martell:

One of the things I like to do from early in the season is think about whether there are players out there that might be deserving of their first all star nod, and follow them a bit. Except Bynum, who looks to be getting elected, who do you think are the 5 players who might sneak in for their first all star nod (or, would deserve to but might get snubbed)? For my money, the five I'm looking at right now are [LaMarcus] Aldridge, [Luol] Deng, [Andre] Iguodala, [Kyle] Lowry and Al Jefferson.

Those are five good ones, Ben. I'll be stunned if Cousin LaMarcus and Deng don't make it, and I suspect Andrew Bynum will making his first appearance on the big stage in late February, too. You can certainly make a case for the others you mentioned, and I would probably add Monta Ellis to that list. (I know the Warriors stink, but as I've said a billion times over the years, All-Star Weekend is for the fans, not a referendum on who the best teams are.)

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and DVDs of the 49ers-Saints game 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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(Averages from last Monday through Sunday in parenthesis.)

1) LeBron James (28 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 6.7 apg, .517 FG, .583 FT): Trying to carry the load with Dwyane Wade gimpy.

2) Kevin Durant (26.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3 apg, .560 FG, .905 FT): Has scored fewer than 20 points only twice in a dozen games.

3) Dwight Howard (29 ppg, 18 rpg, 1 bpg, .567 FG, .471 FT): Not often that a guy sets an NBA record and it feels so dubious, but Supe did best Wilt Chamberlain's 34 free throw attempts with 39 against Golden State Thursday when the Warriors resorted to "Hack-a-Howard" strategy.

4) Kobe Bryant (43 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, .504 FG, .896 FT): Four straight 40+ point performances for any 33-year-old biped with a kajillion miles on its tires is amazing. To do it with all of his hurts is nothing short of incredible.

5) Derrick Rose (24 ppg, 3 rpg, 9.3 apg, .456 FG, .833 FT): Grinding it out with a bad toe.

Dropped out: Kevin Love.

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39 -- NBA coaches who have won 400 or more games on the bench, per the Milwaukee Bucks. Scott Skiles became the 39th last Thursday with a win over the Pistons.

754,737 -- All-Star Votes for Dwight Howard after the first returns from fans for the Feb. 26th game in Howard's home city, Orlando, the most of all players. Howard leads Kobe Bryant (690,613 votes), LeBron James (640,789), Derrick Rose (640,476) and Dwyane Wade (637,912) among the league's top vote getters.

41 -- Combined free throws made without a miss Thursday between the Bucks and Pistons, who set an NBA record for the most free throws made by two teams in one game without a miss. Detroit made all 24 of its free throws; Milwaukee each of its 17. It was only the second time in the shot clock era that neither team missed an attempted free throw in a game. The previous time was in December, 2000, when Atlanta and Toronto combined to make all 16 free throws.

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1) I know it was actually Sunday, but Happy Birthday, Dr. King. I cannot begin to thank you for what you and millions of other, less famous people did to give me and others a real opportunity to be counted and to succeed or fail on our own, without the shackles of a society where racism was encased in law.

2) That was quite an atmosphere at Staples Saturday night. My impressions: a) The Lakers are still very good, but Kobe cannot survive if he has to carry this heavy an offensive load; b) Bad Blake has gotten much better in the halfcourt; c) Reggie Evans may wind up being as good a pickup as Caron Butler or Chauncey Billups; d) You can whine about the hold that superstar players have on the NBA, but you cannot discount the impact of superstar players in the NBA. Chris Paul is that dominant a field-tilter; e) I picked the Clips over the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, and got a bunch of e-mails and Tweets from Lakers fans. The playoffs are a different animal, I know. But I stand by the pick.

3) A cynic would say this is a publicity stunt. I'll be a cynic tomorrow. Good on ya, KLuv.

4) That was 60 minutes of pretty quality football in San Francisco on Saturday. Kudos to both the 49ers and the Saints for putting on an incredible show, and give Alex Smith and Vernon Davis props for two drives for the ages, in a city used to big drives in the playoffs.

5) Run, fake news host, run!

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1) Had the same reaction to the latest version of "Hack-a-...." (Dwight, Shaq, etc) that I've always had: the player has the power to end the nonsense himself one of two ways -- make 80 percent of your free throws, or take care of business at the other end, the way Wilt would have, by blasting anyone on the opposing team who came down the lane, and repeating the practice until they stopped fouling him intentionally.

2) Hard to watch Nasty Nash in pain in the waning seconds at San Antonio Sunday. The season is young, but the Suns look so, so old.

3) The Kings have won four games ... how?

4) The woman in my life is a Packers fan. The children in my life are Packers fans. They are sad today, so I am, too. But the Giants deserved to win; they thoroughly outplayed Green Bay, and if not for a couple of dubious calls, the margin of victory would have been even bigger.

5) I hadn't watched "One Life to Live" since a brief, latchkey period in my life in the late 1970s and early '80s when Judith Light did a star turn as the tormented Karen Wolek, but I was nonetheless said to hear OLTL ended its 44-year run of original episodes with a final taping last week. (I understand there are plot spoilers in the attached story, so don't read it if you don't want to know what happens.)

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This week's Mr. Fifteen is Knicks' rookie big man Josh Harrellson, New York's second-round pick from Kentucky.

For much of his college career -- first at Vincennes University, then at Kentucky as a sophomore and junior -- Harrellson looked nothing like a pro prospect. He played just 88 minutes at Kentucky his junior season; stuck behind future first-rounders DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton, Harrellson lost his edge -- he couldn't go up and down the court more than three times before slowing down.

But Harrellson committed himself to getting in better shape before his senior season, living in the gym at Kentucky in the summer of 2010, and it paid off in a big way. He became one of college basketball's best rebounders, with the largest jump of any player in the country, from 1.2 rebounds his junior season to 8.8 boards as a senior. In the NCAA Tournament, he played a huge role in Kentucky's run to the Final Four. Against Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, who would have been a top-five pick in the Draft had he come out, Harrellson had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Harrellson has already gotten into the Knicks' rotation, fulfilling what former GM Donnie Walsh thought he saw when he took him 45th overall. "He's going to get position," Walsh said, "and he's strong as a bull."

Harrellson has also become a fan favorite in New York for his enthusiasm and hustle. Plus, he already has an endearing nickname --"Jorts," which was given to him after he wore a pair of jean shorts on his official visit to Kentucky a couple of years ago.

Me: It's hard enough for a rookie to come into the league under normal circumstances; how much harder is it to pick things up with a very limited camp and almost no practice time?

Josh Harrellson: It's very difficult. I learn new things every day. I'm glad I got Jared (Jefferies), Amar'e (Stoudemire) and Tyson (Chandler) to be able to help me, three great veterans that have been through the wringer. Tyson's won a championship, Amar'e knows what it takes to win. I got three great guys to look up to and help me every day. With those three guys it makes it a lot easier. But I'm still a couple of steps behind where I should be at this point. Every day is a new learning experience and I'm just trying to catch up to everybody else.

Me: Where were you working out during the lockout?

JH: Primarily Kentucky. IMG (in Florida). But I spent most of my days at Kentucky. We've got the best facilities in the world; no reason not to go back there and just work out somewhere where I've got access 24/7.

Me: Did you work out with your old Kentucky coaches?

JH: A little bit. Pretty much I just did a lot of pickup games, a lot of all-star games at Kentucky. We had a lot of guys back. We had John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson. And then on top of that, LeBron came in town. The Oklahoma City Thunder came in town. So we had a lot of people come through. So we had great pickup games every day. Plus the guys that are there now. We had a lot of great runs.

Me: How does being part of that Kentucky tradition help you with confidence, help you believe you can play at this level?

JH: Coming from Kentucky, I played against the best of the best every day. I had to guard DeMarcus Cousins every day in practice, Daniel Orton, and then this past year I had to guard Enes Kanter (the freshman was ruled ineligible by the NCAA but was allowed to practice with the Wildcats all season, then declared for the Draft and was taken third overall by Utah) every single day in practice. I've had a great opportunity to go against the best of the best, every single day. Which most people like that don't get to do. Jared Sullinger, he's the best on his team. He doesn't have a guy to go against like Enes, like me. Same thing with (North Carolina's) Tyler Zeller. They just don't have the same caliber to go against. I mean, those guys are already at an elite level, but they could still improve so much by going against other guys that are at an elite level with them. And I've had an opportunity to go against the best of the best. So every game I went into, my approach was, you know, I'm going against the best in practice, so if I can stop him, I should have no problem going in this game. And coming from Kentucky, playing in front of 24,000 fans every night, that's kind of another thing, coming into the NBA, you play in big arenas. I'm used to that. I'm used to playing in sold-out arenas, going on the road, being the number one team to beat, stuff like that. I'm used to stuff like that.

Me: How good is Kanter going to be?

JH: I think he can be tremendous. His potential is through the roof. I think there's no limit for him. He's got great hands, great footwork, great shot, skill level. He's over from Europe, so he's got that European skill level, and I think he'll be a tremendous basketball player.

Me: Is there a part of you that goes 'I wasn't playing in college two years ago, and now I'm in the NBA'?

JH: Oh, yeah, every day. It's still a blessing, all of the opportunities I've had. I've been very fortunate to make the most of them. Just to be in the NBA and to be able to play for the Knicks, and be able to travel, be in the rotation, every day I'm still thankful for the opportunities I've had. It still amazes me when I can sit back and think about it. Two years ago, I didn't even play at Kentucky. I transformed my whole senior year, and now I play for the Knicks. So it's crazy to think about it.

Me: What was that transformation like? I know you spent that whole summer in Lexington with Kenny Payne (the former Louisville star who played four years for the 76ers in the early 90s and is now an assistant coach at Kentucky).

JH: It was tough. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I had to condition every day before practice for 45 minutes, and then I had to practice on top of that. It was the toughest thing I've ever done. But to be able to do that, transform my body, change my mindset, gain confidence, to get through that, put me at the next step. Because now, I attack anything with an open mind, knowing that if I got through that, I can get through anything now.

Me: Did the tournament convince you you could play in the NBA?

JH: Yeah. I had a couple of good games, and then NBA scouts were talking about, 'Who's the big white kid you guys got?,' stuff like that. I came out of nowhere. And then I was on radars. And then at tournament time, I kind of turned it up a notch, started playing tremendous basketball. And I think that really got all of the NBA scouts noticing me and knowing my potential.

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With DeMarcus Cousins (right) as his college teammate, Josh Harrellson often found minutes hard to come by at Kentucky.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Me: Why did you embrace the "Jorts" phenomenon instead of taking yourself more seriously?

JH: I'm open minded. I always go, in everything I do, with an open mind. I don't want to make any judgments. When you don't like something is when you go in thinking you're not going to like it. So they started calling me 'Jorts.' At first, I didn't mind it. I really didn't know what it was. And then I kind of seeing more and more of it, and I just started embracing it. At first I thought it was going to come in and go out, but it stuck with me. People still call me that every day now. And to be able to embrace that nickname, it's something that identifies me, identifies who I am. So I just wanted to embrace that nickname.

Me: You convinced Stoudemire to put on a pair yet?

JH: Not yet. But I'm gonna get him in some, though. I'm gonna make a bet or something where he's gonna lose, and he's gonna do it.

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Watching Breesus operate is like sipping a fine appertif and enjoying a good Havanan. Calming. Reassuring.

-- Heat forward Shane Battier (@ShaneBattier), Saturday, 5:54 p.m, on Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

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"Because of his success in the past, given what he's done. He's a champ. He's an MVP, and he's hit a bunch of last-second shots. That's the time you have to put pride aside a little bit, and do what's best for the team. He's quickest, and he's gonna get a shot off. He relishes those moments."
-- Chris Bosh, in an interview with GQ Magazine, explaining why he would prefer Dwyane Wade take a hypothetical last-second shot for the Heat instead of their fellow teammate LeBron James.

"I'm committed to the guys as long as they're going to perform, but they've got to perform. They've got to show they have an opportunity to win. Otherwise, I've got to at least make an effort to go another direction."
-- Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge, in an interview with Boston's WEEI Radio last week, about his patience level with his now 4-7 team.

"I would make a special exception, just for Nets players. They can keep calling me Mikhail."
-- Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov, responding via e-mail to the New York Times when the paper asked if his team's players would have to refer to him as "Mr. President" if Prokhorov defeats Vladmir Putin in the Russian presidential election.

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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