Posted Mar 12 2012 9:09AM
They have gone back and forth for months. Trade him. Play it out. Trade him. Play it out.
Well, now it's coming down to crunch time, and the Magic have to trade or get off the pot.
Dwight Howard has had a foot out of the door all season, and it is indicative of how dominant a center he is that his numbers have been ridiculously good (20.9 ppg, 15 rpg, 2.2 blocks) despite having to find creative ways to say nothing in city after city. But nothing has changed. Howard doesn't think the Magic are good enough to be a champion, and he wants to go somewhere that will be. So, Orlando has to decide whether it wants to gamble, oh, the franchise on ... the franchise. Could the Magic, a solid second in the Southeast, catch fire?
Howard is the biggest domino that has to fall before the NBA's Trade Bazaar closes at Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline. But those who are expecting a league-wide fire sale of prime talent may be disappointed.
There are factors working against teams going hog wild to make deals (my man John Schuhmann pointed out some of the details here last week).
The new rules in the new CBA make sign-and-trade deals almost pointless for the trading team. There is no longer that extra year that the home team got on S/T deals in the past that would make the player more willing to do them -- and give the home team a better chance at making a fairer deal by being able to get additional assets.
Cap room is a more precious commodity than ever; because of the incredibly punitive nature of the luxury tax after the 2012-13 season, teams are going to be increasingly reluctant to use the full mid-level exception on players, for fear it will put them in tax hell. So, the way to get players is to have the cap room to either take in their contracts or sign them as free agents.
In addition, with the 2012 Draft shaping up to be one of the strongest in recent years, teams are more reluctant than they have been in recent years to part with picks as part of deals.
But there will be some trades. There almost always are. So let's look at the likeliest candidates.
Potential suitors: Nets, Lakers, Warriors
Orlando is still trying to sell Howard on the idea that it will surround him with players good enough to convince him to stay. The Magic know Howard's desire to win is genuine, and they are trying to meet him more than halfway. They are still trying to convince him that he has made tens of millions of dollars in endorsements there, and that he is poised to make even more in the years to come. (It has been pointed out to Howard, for example, that Disney, about 15 minutes down the road from Amway Center, owns ESPN and a couple other small media companies.) But the second after Howard leaves the room, his engagement with the Magic dissipates.
And, so, my guess right now -- and it's a guess -- is that the Magic move Howard by Thursday. If they haven't gotten there with him by now, it's not likely they'll get there with him by the summer. And the one thing that haunts the Orlando franchise more than anything else is Shaq's departure for L.A. in 1996, leaving the Magic with nothing. And Orlando stayed at nothing until 2004, when it took the teenaged Howard out of high school with the first pick in the Draft. With a new arena that needs to be filled, the idea of a long, drawn out rebuilding program isn't palatable. (In addition, primary owner Rich DeVos, now in his 80s, is not likely to OK the slow and easy approach.)
The Nets' package of Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks and multiple first-round picks is probably the best Orlando will see before Thursday, and Lopez's ankle injury will not factor into the Magic's decision on whether to accept it.
Golden State insists it is serious about going after Howard, even if he has said he has no desire to sign a long-term deal there. The Warriors' Monta Ellis-featured offer is DOA.
Potential suitors: Rockets, Magic, Wizards
The Magic have held out for Andrew Bynum in a potential deal for Howard for months. But as we get close to the deadline, their resolve will be tested. Can they afford not to "settle" for a four-time All-Star that is still a top-five power forward? (But, will Jimmy Buss be willing to take on the kind of salary that bringing in the likes of Howard will mean -- almost certain massive tax payments in three or four years?) The Rockets thought they had Gasol in December, of course, in the three-team deal that the Commish put the kibosh on, and they haven't stopped trying ever since. But Houston remains unwilling to give L.A. Kyle Lowry, the point guard the Lakers insist they have to have in return for Gasol.
If Houston can't make the deal work, the Wizards could be a long shot. Washington has the potential cap space to absorb the remaining $38.2 million on Gasol's contract after this season. The need to surround John Wall with talented and professional players like Gasol is reaching Defcon I levels, and the likelihood the Wizards will be able to attract free agents, despite their cap space, with their dysfunctional locker room is increasingly remote. The Wizards have expiring contracts of some value, including that of ex-Lakers big man Ronny Turiaf. But they're a longshot to get Gasol.
Potential suitors: Unknown
The Hornets remain determined to move Kaman by Thursday, according to a source involved in the discussions. His expiring contract is manna for any number of teams who could use a top-10 center with a chip on his shoulder. Atlanta would make sense, even as a two-month rental; the Hawks need a center with Al Horford out at least until the end of the regular season, and they have their own expiring contract in guard Kirk Hinrich. They would make more sense if the Hawks had no intention of re-signing Kaman in July; Atlanta is terrified of getting anywhere close to the tax threshold. Dallas is never out of the picture, especially with the Mavericks' injuries up front, but Dallas doesn't have expiring contracts it would be willing to give up.
Potential suitors: Unknown
For all the talk of teams looking to get Bogut, I'm told Bogut wouldn't be devastated if he leaves Milwaukee, either. Even though Bogut will be out for several more weeks with a broken ankle, and even with his history of injuries, he's in high demand, even with $27 million due through 2014. The Warriors have lots of pieces, but most of them have long-term contracts, and Golden State already had its fill of Stephen Jackson, whom the Bucks are insisting be part of any package that includes Bogut. The 76ers could certainly use a big man with Bogut's passing skills; Spencer Hawes has been laid up for weeks. But they aren't likely to be interested in Jackson with Evan Turner's emergence, and other than Andres Nocioni ($6.6 million), Philly doesn't have any palatable contracts for the Bucks.
Potential suitors: Timberwolves, Bobcats
It's obvious that Crawford and Nate McMillan aren't working. Nobody really thought they would, but the lack of money available elsewhere for Crawford made a two-year deal with Portland for $10 million the only contract worth signing. Now, though, the Blazers are looking to cut their losses. Initially, a deal with Minnesota, which coveted Crawford initially, seemed like a no-brainer, with the Blazers re-patriating Luke Ridnour to Oregon. But Ricky Rubio's season-ending ACL tear Friday has made that potential deal much less likely, with the Wolves needing to hold onto their veteran point guard. So, now, according to a source, there's a chance Crawford winds up with the Bobcats in a potential deal for guard D.J. Augustin. Augustin has played just fine this season, but he's expendable now that Kemba Walker is there.
Mavs running out of time to right ship
Jason Terry was almost mumbling to himself in the Mavericks' locker room Thursday. He had not played the final five minutes of another game the Mavericks lost ( this time to the Suns), wasn't on the floor when Dallas' backup point guard, Roddy Beaubois, missed two open looks in the final seconds that would have tied the game. Afterward, Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle said "coach's decision" when asked why Terry didn't play. Twice.
"What do you think my thoughts are about not being on the court?," he asked, when asked. "Ain't no thought. You know how I feel if I'm not on the court when it's time to win the game. I can't check myself in and out the game. So you have to ask the person that didn't have me in the game why I wasn't in the game."
And this was before the Mavericks ended a three-games-in-three-nights road stretch with two more awful performances, getting blown out in Sacramento on Friday night and smoked by the Warriors in Oakland on Saturday. Three games, three nights, three losses to sub-.500 teams. And, suddenly, the Mavericks have dropped seven of nine since the break, their hold on the final playoff spot in the west only a game and a half. It left Terry talking about the need to make a trade following the Kings' loss, though owner Mark Cuban had said earlier last week that the Mavs wouldn't be active before Thursday's trade deadline unless a team called with a blockbuster offer. (I e-mailed Cubes Sunday, asking how concerned he was about his team's play. His answer: "I'm not." Well, that clears everything up.)
"We expect sometimes, I think, sometimes, we're just supposed to just go show up and think we're gonna win the game," forward Shawn Marion said. "That's not gonna happen. We have to go out there and get a little gritty ... but I'll tell you this: we better find this (bleep) soon. If not, we're gonna be on the outside looking in. Everybody's having their problems. That's the thing with the league. Same time, hopefully we can get it going, close it out strong."
Actually, the Mavericks' defense hasn't been the issue. This season's defense compares, at least statistically, with the celebrated D anchored by Tyson Chandler in the middle and with DeShawn Stevenson harassing on the wings last season. The Mavs are fifth in field-goal percentage allowed, seventh in 3-point percentage allowed, ninth in points allowed, sixth in points allowed per 100 possessions.
But the Mavericks seem to have lost their killer instinct, and their chemistry. And, while it's true a lot of players, including Terry and Vince Carter and Delonte West, are in the last year of their respective contracts, that was the case last season as well, when Chandler, J.J. Barea, Stevenson and Caron Butler were playing for their next deals. How'd that turn out?
Part of Dallas' struggles are injury-related. Centers Brendan Haywood (ankle) and Brandan Wright (concussion) have been out the past several games. Haywood can go north and south OK, but any change of direction is still too much at the moment. That's left Ian Mahinmi in the starting lineup, and although Mahinmi has played very well at times, Dallas has to play much smaller than normal for long stretches.
Part of Dallas' struggles are personnel-related. Beaubois has continued to struggle all season, leaving the Mavs with few answers to give Kidd rest. The guy who was supposed to be Kidd's backup, West, has missed the last 13 games after fracturing his right ring finger in mid-February and undergoing surgery. The surgical pins, West said last week, are supposed to come out this week, but it will be a couple more weeks after that before he can think of returning.
"We had a good rotation going there," Dirk Nowitzki said. "When West went down, that really hurt our perimeter rotation. He was playing great. He's probably one of our best perimeter defenders. He played great on offense. He's more of a point guard, than, obviously, Roddy is. He was getting us into our stuff, and we've been really struggling now with him out, especially when Kidd checks out. We've got to make sure we get him healthy, especially looking forward to the playoffs. Because he's a competitor."
And part of Dallas' struggles are not of its doing; Lamar Odom's problems finding comfort in his new surroundings and getting himself right on the the court have been a saga worthy of a reality show.
Odom returned to the team a little more than a week ago, after missing 10 days to be with his ill father. But Carlisle had made it plain in a radio interview that he thought Odom's first-half approach to the season left the impression with some that Odom wasn't, as Carlisle put it, "all in." Carlisle has said subsequently that he thought Odom was committed to the team, but acknowledged he'd used tough language to, as Carlisle put it, put some "heat" on Odom for the second-half stretch. Odom has played better since his return, but still is trying to find himself.
"No, it's frustrating. It's frustrating," Odom said. "You're used to playing on one level, and you feel like you're doing to kind of get there, and it's not coming, or it's not showing up in the numbers. I think here on this team it's important to just kind of take it game by game. We were talking about our season earlier, and how funky it is. I've just got to take my time, stop thinking so much ... just a couple of months ago, if I was at the rim, whenever, I was dunking it, or making the move I wanted to make, not even thinking the game, just reacting. Now I catch myself in positions where I'm not doing what I'm accustomed to doing. So you can't help it. But once you get past that block, everything will be all right."
Odom says he's meditating to deal with the stress and expectations -- a coping mechanism he got, yes, from coach Phil Jackson in L.A. -- and says he's committed to Dallas for the rest of the season.
"I'm cool being here. I'm cool being here," Odom said. "I mean, I'm here, we're going to play this year out, see what happens. Nobody knows what's going to happen; nobody knows what the future holds. But I'm a Maverick. I'm loyal to that. They wanted me here and I'm playing for the team that wanted me."
There were reports out of Dallas during the break that some of Odom's teammates were getting a little weary waiting for him to snap out of the season-long funk he's been in, and while they were sensitive to his need to be with his family, they wondered if 10 days away was too much time. You ask them about it, of course, and they say everything's cool and that they need him if they're going to have any chance to repeat.
"Everybody has their moments and goes through things (that are) personal," Kidd said. "And on the court, where you feel you just can't make a shot or help your teammates. This is a good group of guys. I think he's playing well for us now."
But Kidd also knows it's hard to develop trust in any player quickly, no matter their pedigree. And that is made harder when you come to a team, like Odom did, that had already won a championship. They did it without you.
"When I was a free agent, going to San Antonio, after we had just lost to them in the Finals (in 2003), it's hard to go to a place that just won a championship," Kidd said. "And that's the kind of thing I thought about for him is, hey, they just won a championship. How am I gonna fit in with a group like that? It takes time. And even without a championship, it takes time. When I got traded here, it took a little time. On paper, it always looks good, but a change of scenery takes time."
But the Mavericks are running out of time.
"We've got to adjust on the fly," Nowitzki said. "Down the stretch, that was our strength last year. That's why we won the championship: because we were the best executing team down the stretch. When it was a close game, we just knew we'd win. Now, it's not the case any more. Why that is, I don't know."
(Last week's rankings in parenthesis)
1) Chicago (1) [3-1]: Deng (wrist) back on the shelf, and says he may sit out a while. Tough call: rest or rust?
2) Oklahoma City (2) [3-1]: End of 14-game home win streak the only blemish on another strong week, and Thunder recover with blowout over Charlotte.
3) Miami (5) [3-0]: Heat tied with Bulls in the loss column for best record in the league, played three fewer games.
4) San Antonio (3) [1-1]: Spurs finally getting everybody back; Ginobili, T.J. Ford and Tiago Splitter all back on the court last week.
5) Orlando (6) [3-1]: Should be an interesting next 96 hours in the Land of the Mouse.
6) L.A. Lakers (4) [2-2]: Always seem a win away from going on a tear, or one loss from catastrophe.
7) Atlanta (7) [2-2]: Josh Smith supposedly wants to be traded. Who doesn't want to be traded these days?
8) Memphis (9) [2-1]: Grizzlies, who've won 10 of their last 12, suddenly flirting with top four, first-round host status in playoffs, hot on the Clippers' heels.
9) Philadelphia (11) [3-1]: Sixers picked up their game this week in holding off Atlantic challengers Boston and New York. Evan Turner now starting and put 24 and 15 boards on the Kinicks Sunday.
10) L.A. Clippers (8) [1-3]: Suddenly, the Clippers are no longer in first place in the Pacific Division.
11) Denver (NR) [2-2]: Nuggets still have five games left on nine-game home stand.
12) Dallas (9) [1-3]: Things are, shall we say, a little tense in Big D.
13) Boston (15) [2-2]: If Jermaine O'Neal is out for the rest of the season, hard to see Cs having enough size up front to challenge in the playoffs.
14) Houston (14) [1-3]: Kyle Lowry's absence (abdominal distress, fever) and Rockets' slide no coincidence.
15) Indiana (12) [0-4]: Pacers' last 15 games: five straight losses, six straight wins, four straight losses.
Dropped Out: New York (13)
Detroit (3-0): Joe Dumars pleased, as he should be, with the Brandon Knight-Greg Monroe combo: Pistons are 10-7 over the last six weeks after a 3-16 January, with wins over the Lakers and Hawks this past week.
New York (0-4): Back to the brink. The Knicks are 2-8 since Carmelo Anthony's return. It's a problem without a good solution; they're not going to move 'Melo, and they can't move Amar'e Stoudemire.
How can you stop D-Wade from coming down the lane if you can't stop your head from spinning?
Kurt Thomas remembers warming up the evening of Feb. 29, before his Trail Blazers played in Denver against the Nuggets. He remembers going to chapel before the game. And then ... he remembers waking up on the plane going back to Portland.
"I'm just amazed when I see boxers, and these MMA fighters," Thomas said Saturday night. "I don't remember anything from that night ... my teammates and all the staff and everything, they were reminding me of things that happened. And then, I saw the video."
The video filled in the blanks in Thomas's memory. It showed Nuggets rookie forward Kenneth Faried, fighting Thomas for a loose ball early in the first quarter, jump in the air -- and, while trying to control the ball, accidentally kicking Thomas in the face with his left foot, sending Thomas tumbling out of bounds into the baseline signage at Denver's Pepsi Center. After a few moments, Thomas rose, only to nearly collapse again, saved only when teammate Gerald Wallace caught him as he fell. Thomas staggered to the locker room, and was diagnosed with a concussion.
That diagnosis meant Thomas was subject to the NBA's new protocols for players with concussions. So far, several players, most notably first overall pick Kyrie Irving and Bucks center Andrew Bogut, were kept out of play until they passed the league's new series of baseline tests. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant was diagnosed with a concussion after a hard foul at the All-Star Game by Wade (the foul also broke Bryant's nose). But Bryant didn't miss any game time, in part because of the timing of his injury: the Lakers had two days off after the All-Star Game before returning to action on Wednesday, the 29th (ironically, the same day Thomas suffered his concussion). So Bryant had more than 48 hours to clear his head before being examined by team physicians.
After several players suffered concussions during the 2010-11 season, including one suffered by then-Hornets guard Chris Paul, who had to be carted off on a stretcher, the league announced the new protocols last December. It hired Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher as the director of its program.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said during All-Star Weekend last month that the league wanted to prevent players from putting pressure on teams to get them back on the court before they were ready.
The new protocols keep players from returning to play until they complete several tests -- a combination of agility drills, combined with several questions designed to see if a player's acuity has returned to previous levels. The player must be symptom-free for at least 24 hours before he is allowed to return to action. All players underwent testing during the preseason, giving the league a raft of data to compare. Kutcher also took a look back at concussions suffered by NBA players in recent years.
Kutcher, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, and an expert on concussions who has testified before Congress, developed the NBA's program in consultation with team physicians and athletic trainers. Kutcher consults with a team's physicians and medical staff in determining whether a player is ready to return, but it is the team that makes the final decision.
"Really, what we decided to do with our protocol this season was that I would discuss each case, so that I had a sense of any particular patterns or certain events that were ongoing," Kutcher said in a telephone interview last week. "We did have from previous years, but nothing compared to what we're doing this year."
While basketball concussions aren't quite the same, or as frequent, as those suffered by football or hockey players, they do share many of the same characteristics.
"There's not the repetitive sense of contact over and over again" as in football or hockey, Kutcher said. "So we don't have the same concern over long term additive effects of playing the sport. That being said, concussions do happen in the sport, and they can be serious. One of the things we took into account into setting up the program was ... let's gather information about each injury, describe the mechanism you're looking at, time lost, and those types of things, and begin to understand exactly what are the unique circumstances of the NBA concussion.
"So far I would say that our concussions have been, essentially, as I would expect them to be, which is to say the several day injury that results, completely, and the players have had no problems. So far, so good. But we are very aware that we have unique athletes, we're going to be monitoring these injuries to try and figure out if there's anything in particular that we need to be careful about."
Wallace, who teased Thomas Saturday for recalling when he got "knocked out," has his own, bad history with concussions. He suffered four concussions in a four-year period while in Charlotte, though only two of those were memorable enough to remember -- "Danny Granger caught me in midair, and Mikki Moore got me with an elbow," Wallace said. The Moore elbow, in February of 2008, was so acute that Wallace remembers nothing about the whole day, only coming to when he woke up, tethered to a stretcher in an ambulance. Wallace missed more than two weeks of play and missed eight games with what was diagnosed as a Grade 3 concussion. According to the University of Missouri's medical website, a Grade 3 or "classic" concussion is defined by loss of consciousness for a brief period of time, with no memory of the event afterward.
"As time goes by, you start getting those flashes back of what happened," said Wallace, whose nickname, "Crash," defines his headlong playing style. "I can see what happened, and how I got hit, just off of that account, thinking about it. I still don't remember going to the game. I couldn't tell you what I did that morning, that evening, leading up to the game."
Doctors treating athletes with concussions still have to break through the resistance that almost everyone involved puts up, Kutcher said.
"There are a number of ways," he said. "The first thing to realize is especially during a game or a practice, at the time of the injury, it's very common to hear the story of the athlete or the coach or the teammate trying to downplay the symptoms. You know, 'it's OK, I just got my bell rung, I'm going to go back out there, let's go.' What people don't understand is that it's pretty common that the concussed athlete doesn't know they're concussed. It's a very simple concept -- the part of the body that's doing the recognition of the injury is the thing that's injured. It's a common thing that we see in other neurological conditions that the patient just isn't aware of their deficit. The first thing is to bring in the teammates and the coaches and even the officials on some levels, where everyone sort of takes responsibility for monitoring people. And it's the people that know the individuals the best that are best suited to be able to point out any abnormal behavior, that this person isn't acting himself and so on and so forth.
"The other thing that's important is the concept that once concussed, the injury could last, let's just say seven days, kind of an average time. If that person is allowed to rest, if they don't continue to play, if they don't get hit again. If that doesn't happen, if they continue to play or get hit again, that seven-day injury can become a two-week injury, or a month-long injury. And so with that, you appeal to the athlete's side, both the athlete and the coaches, and say, OK, if you sit down right now, you might miss this half. If you play, you might be out a week or two weeks. So do you want to miss a half of basketball, or do you want to miss three or four games?' So you use that kind of, just logic. That seems to help a lot at almost every level. They start understanding that concept. Ultimately, I think the increased awareness that we're seeing in concussion, I have definitely noticed improvement in athletes bringing symptoms forward. So, it's education. It's education in preseason, when somebody's injured, postseason. I have seen improvement in that concept. It's not as bad as it was even two years ago."
The league says there was no thought given to delaying the implementation of the program this season because of the lockout-shortened schedule, which has far more games in a compressed period of time -- and could thus cost a player more games lost this season if he had a concussion and maintained the symptoms for a few days or longer. The initial discussions with Kutcher about developing the program, a league spokesman said, began more than a year ago. The league finalized the policy last summer, in the midst of the lockout, and once the lockout ended each team's medical staff received training in the telltale signs not only of a concussion, but the symptoms that linger long after the initial injury.
Kutcher does not have to physically examine the player himself before recommending he return to action or be held out longer.
"To be clear, I am not clearing any of our players," Kutcher said. "That is the role of the team physician. I felt it was very important that our policy reflect the concept that the people who are best suited to make these decisions are the ones who know the athlete the best. But my role is more of a resource, on the one hand. Team physicians, athletic trainers will call me with just questions, the nuances of how things are going. I provide my expertise and information and guidance to help them make the best decision. And my other main role, really ... is to act as the person at the NBA who hears about every injury, so I can kind of oversee the league wide experience."
Thomas, who missed two games, did have to speak with Kutcher and complete the tests before the Blazers' medical staff cleared him to return.
"The main thing was they just wanted to make sure that I was fine, that I was stable, and that I had a clear mind," Thomas said. "Once I felt confident that I go out there, I didn't have any problems going back out there. They had me doing all kinds of stuff. They had me doing the concussion test, running, walking. They had me speed walking, running, jumping. They had me doing all kinds of things. The trainers and the doctors did an outstanding job with me, and I'm definitely grateful."
Thomas is one of the NBA's toughest guys, who's still wrestling in the paint at 39, with guys who are, now, often 10 years or more younger. He's been in the game 16 seasons and doesn't back down from anyone. But the concussion was unnerving.
"I tell my guys, I tell Gerald, thank you for catching me," Thomas said. "Because I was going down again, in my opinion, after watching it. I don't wish that on anyone. It was that frightening. The fact that I can't remember anything, that's definitely something that's scary."
He sees things the rest of us just don't see. From Niko Karvanen:
I was just reading your article this week and noticed how you call Boston Beantown. And to my recollection, Kobe Bryant is often recalled as Kobe Bean. So, isn't it weird that Kobe is a Laker yet people call the Lakers' worst enemy's town after him?
I'm pretty sure the etymology of Beantown dates back before Kobe's birth in 1978, Niko. In fact, I know it. Here. Yes, there is a whole body of American History that has nothing to do with the development of our great game. Came as a shock to me, too.
It is not true the right side of his watch reads XII, I, II, III, V, VI. From James Reid:
I totally agree with you about LeBron, but whatever happens the spotlight is going to be on him in the fourth, especially in the playoffs. What do you think it is with him in the fourth? Will it be an issue that bothers him for the rest of his career or do you think he will step up and win championships? If the issue does continue to dog him, how will affect his legacy and where he goes with his career in the future?
My guess -- and it's just a guess -- is that once LeBron wins one championship, he'll relax and play much better in subsequent years down the stretch of games. He is not a natural shooter; he's worked hard at it, but we all know that jumper is not consistent. And, look, everybody needs to stop comparing him to Jordan. He isn't Jordan; neither is Kobe, though he's close. A great clutch player has to be like a closer in baseball, able to block everything else out and forget what happened the night before. (Robert Horry used to say he never minded taking all those clutch shots over the years because he really, really didn't care if the shot went in or not.) But if LeBron doesn't get over this hump, absolutely, it will affect the legacy.
His favorite nighttime soap in the 80s wasn't "Dallas," if you get my meaning. From Michael Cevering:
I remember you once wrote that you enjoy "dynasty" basketball. I know there are many people that disagree with you on this topic, and originally I was one of them. But with thinking, I've decided dynasty basketball is the most exciting to watch. Not because of the All-Stars that play, or because of the number of games they win, but because of the season-long vigor and panic of fans who watch these teams avidly to analyze whether they can win it all. We all watch the teams we hate as much as we watch the teams we love because of the competition -- that's dynasty basketball. And that avid-ness of fans exists not just during the season, but during the offseason when we all watch to see who is traded where.
Now, let me say something personal about this: I don't like the Heat, because I don't like clear-shot winners. I don't think Chicago or Boston or Indiana or others have the ability to beat Miami in the playoffs. To me, that is not dynasty basketball. Dynasty basketball is about knowing who is talented but not knowing who will win in the end. It's about known competition with an unpredictable winner. That is why I don't like Miami: I know they'll win, despite all my desire for them not to.
I would love Miami, however, if more stars came together. If Dwight went to New Jersey to play with Deron Williams, I would love to see a New Jersey-Miami match up. A seven-game battle of those stars would be incredible. Can Dwight's league-leading defense and D-Will's talent beat the King, D-Wade and Bosh? I don't know. That's why it would be exciting.
Agree with the enjoyment of "dynasty" ball, Michael. Disagree that we "know" the Heat will win. A lot of people thought a Miami title was inevitable last season, too. That's the great thing about sports: we don't know. What makes "dynasty ball" great is not that the outcome is predetermined, but that there is a worthy team for everyone to try and defeat. Think of all the teams the Bulls had to beat in the 1990s, year after year: the great Cavaliers teams of Mark Price and Brad Daugherty; Ewing's Knicks, Reggie Miller's Pacers, the high-flying Blazers, StocktontoMalone. Every season was a new challenge, and there was never certainty that Chicago would pull through. That they did made them even more compelling to watch the following season.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and casting ideas for "Game Change II: The Possession" to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your response is sufficiently interesting, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Last week's averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (26.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4 apg, .580 FG, .667 FT): I'm sure LeBron had a fine, fine week. But I just read Esquire writer and Cleveland native Scott Raab's screed against James, "The Whore of Akron." Man, he does not like LeBron James. But it's a great read. Sorry, NBA and Miami. It's profane and childish and self-loathing. And, it's a great read.
2) Kevin Durant (25.3 ppg, 7 rpg, 4 apg, .440 FG, .882 FT): On pace to shoot 50 percent from the floor for the first time in his career.
3) Kobe Bryant (28 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.8 apg, .359 FG, .875 FT): Shooting percentage dropping as heat on Mike Brown to rein in his shot selection is growing.
4) Derrick Rose (21 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 10.5 apg, .356 FG, .871 FT): Rolling, rolling, rolling.
5) Chris Paul (24.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 7.8 apg, .540 FG, .862 FT): Newly masked CP3 and Kobe going on "Phantom of the Opera" touring company.
18 -- Consecutive victories by the Lakers over the Timberwolves, the longest current win streak by one team over another in the league.
$25,000 -- Fine levied against Knicks guard J.R. Smith by the NBA on Saturday for posting what the league deemed "inappropriate" pictures on his Twitter account. (You can Google them, I'm sure.)
$30,000,000 -- Amount of money former Duke stars Christian Laettner and Brian Davis may owe numerous people and companies who have taken them to court in the last few years, according to a Wall Street Journal story. The money allegedly came from loans Laettner and Davis got from numerous athletes, including Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen and NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman.
1) We're all about the Orange Leather of the NBA here, but there is nothing better than the incredible anticipation and joy that 68 colleges and their basketball teams will feel between now and the start of the NCAA Tournament Tuesday in Dayton. Good luck to all of those teams, and congratulations on their efforts.
2) God, Lakers-Celtics on a Sunday afternoon never gets old, does it?
3) Lionel Hollins, quietly (of course), is doing an amazing job in Memphis this season. Still not sure when they're getting Z-Bo back. But he's getting a great season out of Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo.
4) Watching Grant Hill play defense, against everybody else's best perimeter players -- and a few of their best post players -- on a nightly basis is really something you should consider doing in the next few weeks.
5) If you think Robert Griffin III is going to be an elite-level, multiple-Pro Bowl quarterback over the next decade, and you have told anyone who'd listen what a great developer of quarterbacks you are, then it was a no-brainer to trade multiple first-round picks and a second to the Rams to get him. But make no mistake -- the clock is now on Redskins coach Mike Shanahan in D.C., not RGIII.
1) This was a bad, bad weekend for the Spanish Olympic men's basketball team. And it's bad for anyone who was looking forward to a Spain-United States matchup in the medal round of the Summer Games in London.
1a) Though it's a sad weekend in Minnesota, New Orleans is suddenly very, very interested in how the Wolves finish without Rubio.
2) Please. Not one more "rumor" about Pau Gasol getting traded. Just tell me when it's done. Seriously. It's really gotten ridiculous, and he deserves better from the Lakers, who seem to have forgotten they wouldn't have won their last two titles without him.
3) Every team goes through a funk three or four times a season. But there's a bad, bad vibe in the Dallas locker room right now. I don't know that a trade fixes it.
4) I am not saying this because he was an early, early pick for my fantasy team. But, goodness, can't Steph Curry stay healthy? OK, maybe it is a little because he was an early, early pick for my fantasy team.
5) It's been a year since the Japanese tsunami killed tens of thousands. Here's hoping we've all learned from that tragedy about what we can and cannot do in the face of such a cataclysmic event. And continued prayers to the families and communities that are still trying to rebuild.
The Nasty One, who turned 38 last month, is having another ho-hum season: leading the league in assists per game (11.0), shooting 54.4 percent from the floor, 40.2 percent from 3-point range, 86.6 percent from the line, and boasting an assist-turnover ratio of just under 3:1. That he is doing it for a Suns team that is a shade of the once high-powered ti team that also featured Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and coach Mike D'Antoni makes Nash's accomplishments this season even more remarkable.
His continued high level of play has led to rampant speculation that Nash must want to leave Phoenix to play for a contender with his remaining time as an elite player. Of course, the way Nash keeps himself in peak physical condition, that day may still be a few years away. At any rate, the Suns have made it plain that they won't entertain the idea of dealing Nash until he tells them he wants to leave. The whole idea of a trade is likely moot anyway, given that he's a free agent at the end of this season. But all the trade rumoring has made these last days before the trade deadline nervous ones in the Valley of the Sun.
Me: So, I'm not supposed to ask you about this right off the bat, but ... how many goals did you score in one game with your left foot?
Steve Nash: Well, I am pretty fairly left-footed.
Me: But five in one game, like Lionel Messi?
SN: If I ever scored five in one game it wouldn't have been quite the competition level he's doing it against. It's crazy. He's maybe the best to ever do it. And he's not even probably in his prime yet.
Me: You're a world-class athlete, but do even you have a sense of wonder watching a guy like that in another sport who's so good?
SN: Oh, for sure. Messi is, there's nobody like him, either. Like you can't even really compare. Actually, to be honest, you can. He's really like Maradona. Which is saying an incredible amount, because the things that Maradona did are the things that people were saying 'Wow, how is that even possible?' And for him to be doing it and then some, in a time and era where the game is so athletic and physical and demanding, so many games, it's even more impressive.
Me: It always seems like he's out there by himself.
SN: That's the mark of a great player, is that people can't get close to him. He always has people scared to get too close, because he'll go by them, and not close enough to affect him. That's how a guy can create so many opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Me: You may have had that feeling a few times yourself.
SN: Well, I mean, that's the idea. But he's doing it at a rate and a level that's impressive. And it's phenomenal.
Me: Your starters have been pretty good this year. It's when the bench comes in that you've had trouble. How hard is it, especially this year, to ration yourself minutes-wise but play enough to be able to win the game?
SN: Well, this is a tough season for everybody. Our team, we're a team in transition, as management has said, and we're trying to do the best we can and really wait for free agency this summer. For players, you're not waiting; you're trying to win games. With our difficult schedule, and trying to incorporate new guys, especially on the second unit, it's been a challenge. We're playing better basketball now, but the west is deep and difficult. We were slow to start. So it's a big game of catch up now. We've got a difficult schedule, and I don't just mean the number of games; I mean the teams we're playing. So we have to produce off the bench.
Me: With you and Grant (Hill), being leaders, did you approach the season any differently?
SN: No, not really. I think because there's so much uncertainty, I just tried to do exactly as I always do, and just keep doing it, until the season came back around. The one difference was I really didn't get to play much basketball. I trained every day but we usually come back in September and play basketball. That's when I start playing again, although I trained throughout the summer. We didn't have that this year. I played with the guys maybe four days and then we went to camp. I think everybody in the league is getting some rust off throughout the season, but I don't think that's been too much of an issue thus far. But we can definitely be physically challenged here, and finish the season strong.
Me: I have spoken to both Alvin (Gentry, the Suns' coach) and Aaron (Nelson, the Suns' athletic trainer) about maintenance. Are you honest with them and tell them the truth about when you're hurting and maybe need a day off?
SN: Well, there's certain things I tell the truth, and certain things that I don't bother. Some things, I think I need to tell Aaron, because he can help me with them. But there's other things, like 'I'm tired' and 'I'm sore,' that he's going to roll his eyes at me. We're tired and sore all the time, I think, in this league, but we're fortunate here that we have a great training staff that keeps us prepared and able to recover and prevent injury at a pretty alarming rate. Aaron does a fantastic job and he's really helped me for sure.
Me: What does he do that's different?
SN: Well, they do a lot of manual therapy, a more holistic approach to the body, instead of saying 'Well, your hamstring's sore; let's treat the hamstring.' They look at your gait, your movement, and different muscle groups that may causing the brunt of of a poor movement pattern to be in your hamstring. When in reality it's your back, or maybe your ankle. I think that's something that's new as far as trainers go, and it's been a big help to us.
Me: You're used to playing for championships. What do you play for now?
SN: Yeah, it's tough. You want to be there or at least have a shot to play (for one). We're just trying to get into the playoffs, so for me, that's become the challenge, just to see if we can sneak back into the eighth spot in some way. You've got to bury yourself in that just like you would try to win a championship. Just trying to find the reward in that and kind of the challenge to get up every day and make that what I'm striving for.
Me: Can you afford to wait for the summer and free agency? 'Cause that's a crapshoot.
SN: There's a lot of factors, there's a lot of factors involved. There's so many. I don't know what's going to happen this summer. I don't know how the free-agent market will play out for myself, as a free agent, or for the Suns, garnering free agents. There's so many moving parts. And I know that. So for me, I'm just concentrating on trying to make the playoffs right now, and when the summer comes, we'll reevaluate. Right now we've got our work cut out for us. We've got a demanding schedule to try to get back in there. I'm too tired to think about the summer.
Me: There's a week before the trade deadline, and everybody around here says they won't trade him unless he tells us. I'm assuming you haven't told them that yet?
SN: No. I feel like I have a great kinship with this franchise, and this city. We've had a lot of great times. The fans have been fantastic to me. I love my teammates. I don't feel like it's my place right now to kind of ask to be traded. You never know; maybe the club will have a change of heart in the next week, but right now, I think everyone's comfortable where we are, trying to improve and get this club in the playoffs.
Me: What have you seen when you watched Jeremy Lin play?
SN: Well, he's a terrific player. He attacks the basket. He's really good in pick and roll situations, and transition, I think he's shown he can shoot the three. He gets to the line as well. He can do a little bit of everything, really. He's doing an amazing job. And I think most importantly, he competes and his teammates respond to him. They believe in him. That's a huge component of being a lead guard in our business. You've got to tip your hat to him. It's been fantastic to see.
Me: I was talking to an assistant coach on another team today, and he said one of the big differences in today's game is that because so many young players don't know the game as well as they used to, older players can stay on the court and continue to play at a high level. What is the challenge to you to continually play and excel against guys who are, now, much younger?
SN: Well, for me, I still love to play. I still love to compete. I get a chance to play against the best players in the world. I get a chance to compete. Just that, right there, is something I think my life needs. The lifestyle, to wake up every morning and challenge yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, to get better, it's a pretty good gig. You think about what I'd be doing if I wasn't doing this, and I think this is probably better than that.
Me: What would you be doing?
SN: I don't know. Obviously, I love my foundation, and I have a production company which I really enjoy as well, and there's a few other things that I spend time doing which are great, and being dad. But I don't think any of them will give me what this does. They're all important parts of my life, but this gives me something that none of those can give me.
Going to bed with a big smile on my face. We getting RG3!!!!!! #SKINS
-- Wizards guard and Redskins super fan Roger Mason III (@MoneyMase), Saturday, 12:52 a.m., detailing his happiness at the football team's reported acquisition of the second pick in April's NFL Draft Friday night. The Redskins are expected to take Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the newly acquired pick.
"I guess what I am doing is admitting that at some level I am prejudiced and that I recognize that I am . There are a lot of things in my life that I need to improve at. This is one of them. Sometimes I make stupid throw away comments that I quickly realize are wrong. It doesn't happen often, but it happens. It was a mistake and I realized it. I learned from it."
-- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, on his blog, in a mea culpa of sorts after making remarks at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that were viewed by some as homophobic.
"As somebody said to me, I won't quote who it was because that would be inappropriate, if you love basketball, it's hard not to feel badly for Ricky Rubio today because of the way he plays. But again, as I reminded people upstairs, this is a temporary hiatus."
-- Timberwolves president David Kahn, in a Saturday news conference officially announcing that Ricky Rubio would miss the rest of the regular season with a torn left ACL.
"Who's going to take the last shot? Whoever's open."
-- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, after Dwyane Wade hit a game-winning shot with 0.1 seconds left in overtime Saturday against the Pacers. That came after LeBron James hit the game-tying 3-pointer late in regulation, and scored Miami's last eight points to force overtime.
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