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David Aldridge

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Derrick Rose (left) and Dwight Howard played one season in college combined.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Altruism far down on list of motives for NBA's age limit


Posted Apr 9 2012 10:18AM

The end of the college basketball season brings the beginning of the handwringing season.

As many of college basketball's most talented players -- its freshmen -- mull whether to enter the NBA Draft or stay in school, the annual debate about whether the league's "one and done" rule is irrevocably harming the game grows. This year's discussion has been seasoned by two developments: the triumph of the University of Kentucky, which won the national championship with three freshman stars (most notably center-forward Anthony Davis), and some sniping between the NCAA's president, Mark Emmert, and David Stern about who's to blame for so many kids wanting to leave early.

(Joining the discussion Saturday was one Robert Montgomery Knight, who said of the one-and-done rule in a speech: "I think it's a disgrace. If I was an NBA general manager, I would never want to take a kid 18, 19 years old, a year out of college. I'd wait until someone else worked two or three years with him to adjust him to the NBA and I'd trade a draft pick.")

Emmert said in various interviews that there's nothing the NCAA can do about the rule, and that it's up to the NBA and its union to negotiate a new rule that would extend the age limit from 19 to maybe 20, or older. Stern came back with his own pointed comments about how the colleges could require their student-athletes to actually go to class as a condition of retaining their scholarships.

Both the prez and the Commish, God love them, are so full of it sometimes.

Is the desire for a higher age limit drawing from a genuine desire for young players to become more mature, both physically and emotionally, thus making them better players and citizens when they come out of school? I'm sure it is. Somewhere. But the cynic in me believes that the overarching desire, both of the NCAA and the NBA, is to keep kids in school in order to better feather their respective nests.

Keeping kids in college helps the NCAA continue to charge billions of dollars in television rights for March Madness -- a phrase which has been copyrighted since 2000. Imagine if Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague all had to play at least another season in Lexington. Can you imagine the ratings to watch that Kentucky team try to repeat? Or do you not remember back in the 1990s when UNLV, and then Duke, had junior and senior-laden squads that had already won one national title and were looking for another?

Conversely, keeping kids in college would help NBA owners immensely by delaying and shortening the potential length of players' careers. The reason Kevin Garnett has been able to earn, roughly, $298 million in salary in his career has not just been because he's a great player; it's because he was drafted at 18 out of high school, able to blow through his three-year rookie deal and sign on the dotted line for $126 million in 1997. (This is when I like to remind people that if Kevin Garnett were a movie, he would, according to IMDB, currently be the 40th-highest grossing film of all time in U.S. Box office sales -- just behind The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and just ahead of New Moon.)

The longer a kid has to wait for his NBA clock to start, the longer he remains on his rookie deal, and the fewer max deals an owner has to give out. That has been lessened somewhat with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules on length and amount of maximum contract -- which also allow players on their rookie deals to get additional money if they "outperform" their relatively inexpensive rookie contracts -- but make no mistake: tens of millions would be saved in salaries leaguewide if the age limit were raised to 20.

It is here that the odd confluence of Stern and Mark Cuban was created last week.

The Commish's usual foil came out on the same side of the argument, saying that he'd do Stern one better if he was in charge -- he'd force players to play three college seasons before being Draft-eligible. Under Cuban's plan, players who didn't want to go to college at all would be able to go down to the NBA Developmental League for up to three seasons, until their equivalent college class was eligible for the NBA Draft.

"I just think there's a lot more kids that get ruined coming out early, or going to school trying to be developed to come out early, than actually make it," Cuban said. "For every Kobe (Bryant) or (Kevin) Garnett or Carmelo (Anthony) or LeBron (James), there's 100 Lenny Cookes."

Cooke was the New York (of course) prodigy who, in 2001, was just as hyped as LeBron James, another high schooler who was becoming a household name. But Cooke was a year older than James, and declared himself eligible for the 2002 Draft after his high school eligibility was used up. Teams were leery of Cooke's game and demeanor and everyone passed; he was never drafted. After a couple of years in basketball's minor leagues, he fell out of sight, to be revived occasionally as a cautionary tale.

This is when I knew Cubes was being too clever by half, as my people used to say.

If there's one thing Mark Cuban believes in, it's accurate data. He never goes into a business, a league or a season without the latest, most accurate numbers possible. So, Cuban knows exactly how many high school guys flamed out coming straight into the league until the rule was amended in 2005. Since Cubes referenced Cooke, the assumption is that he wasn't talking about the "one-and-done" guys -- but we'll get to them, too.

Of course, money doesn't guarantee success or happiness. And many players have blown through seemingly life-altering deals in a matter of years. Eddy Curry has certainly appeared to have lost most of what he made already. The point, though, is that coming out of high school was not a career-killer for most who did so.

Actually, I agree with half of Cuban's proposal.

Personally, I've always favored Major League Baseball's rule: come out after high school if you're so inclined and are willing to take a chance. But if you opt to go to college, you have to go for at least three years, putting MLB on par with the NFL, which has the three-year wait and doesn't allow high schoolers. (Obviously, there are significant physical differences between most high school football players and college players who've been lifting weights and seeing nutritionists for three or four years.)

MLB's rule provides a real choice for the 80 to 90 percent of incoming freshmen who aren't prodigies and who aren't deluded about their actual ability. There are a few baseball players who are good enough to play at the MLB level at 18, and MLB's rule doesn't artificially hold them back. And there may be some people who are so desperate for whatever they can make whenever they can make it that they have to come out.

But most baseball players -- just like most basketball players -- know their limitations, and they know what they need to work on. And I remain convinced through my own experience that college is immensely beneficial to just about everyone, whether you're on the Dean's List or barely breaking a D average. Just being around people of different backgrounds, races, religions, mores and music preferences fements reflection, tolerance and growth.

But until the league and the NCAA and the National Basketball Players Association can come to a meeting of the minds, the "one-and-done" rule for the Draft remains the law of the land. I felt it important to check Cuban's math and see exactly what has transpired since 1995, when Garnett ushered in the modern era of high schoolers entering the Draft. (Bill Willoughby and Darryl Dawkins had, a generation before, come straight into the league from high school.)

From 1995 through 2005, 47 players entered the NBA Draft directly from high school. Not all of them were picked.

The complete list:

1995: Garnett (No. 5 overall)

1996: Kobe Bryant (No. 13), Jermaine O'Neal (No. 17), Taj McDavid (undrafted)

1997: Tracy McGrady (No. 9)

1998: Al Harrington (No. 25), Rashard Lewis (No. 32), Korleone Young (No. 40), Ellis Richardson (undrafted)

1999: Jonathan Bender (No. 5), Leon Smith (No. 29)

2000: Darius Miles (No. 3), DeShawn Stevenson (No. 23)

2001: Kwame Brown (No. 1), Tyson Chandler (No. 2), Eddy Curry (No. 4), DeSagana Diop (No. 8), Ousmane Cisse (No. 46), Tony Key (undrafted)

2002: Amar'e Stoudemire (No. 9), DeAngelo Collins (undrafted), Lenny Cooke (undrafted)

2003: LeBron James (No. 1), Travis Outlaw (No. 23), Ndudi Ebi (No. 26), Kendrick Perkins (No. 27), James Lang (No. 48). (Note: Charlie Villanueva initially applied for the Draft out of Blair Academy in New Jersey, but withdrew and went to Connecticut instead.)

2004: Dwight Howard (No. 1), Shaun Livingston (No. 4), Robert Swift (No. 12), Sebastian Telfair (No. 13), Al Jefferson (No. 15), Josh Smith (No. 17), J.R. Smith (No. 18), Dorell Wright (No. 19), Jackie Butler (undrafted)

2005: Martell Webster (No. 6), Andrew Bynum (No. 10), Gerald Green (No. 18), C.J. Miles (No. 34), Ricky Sanchez (No. 35), Monta Ellis (No. 40), Lou Williams (No. 45), Andray Blatche (No. 49), Amir Johnson (No. 56), Curtis Brown (undrafted), Jr., Kyle Luckett (undrafted)

Those 47 players fit, pretty easily, into one of five categories:

THE SUPERSTARS/THE NEW RICH: Players who made at least one All-Star team, made at least one first, second or third All-NBA team, won a championship or, at the least, made major money during their careers. We mean enough to take care of several generations of family with a minimal amount of preparation.

THE STARS: Players who may or may not have ever made an All-Star team, but who became contributors on good teams -- or had at least one max or near-max contract.

THE PROFESSIONALS: Players who've had solid, if unspectacular, careers. They've stayed in the league year after year, even if with different teams, and who may have gotten a decent or good contract extension along the way.

THE BORDERLINE: Players who struggled to stay in the league, whether due to poor play or injury, who may have had to play in the NBA D-League or abroad to maintain their careers.

THE TOTAL BUSTS: Just what you would think: never played or barely played in the league. Never made an impact, made a huge mistake coming out in the first place and should have gone to college to play or found something else productive to do with themselves.

With that in mind, the lists follow:

• SUPERSTARS: Garnett, Bryant, McGrady, Stoudemire, James, Howard.

Garnett has been dramatically better than anyone thought he'd be coming out of Farragut Academy, making 13 All-Star teams, winning a league MVP in 2004, a Defensive Player of the Year award in '08, four first-team all-NBA honors and nine first-team all-defense honors. And a championship in 2008. And that close-to-$300-mil in career salary.

Bryant, famously coveted and acquired by Jerry West for the Lakers well before being taken 13th overall by Charlotte in 1996, has five championships, a league MVP award (2008), two NBA Finals MVP awards, nine first team all-NBA appearances, nine first team all-defensive appearances, 13 All-Star appearances and four All-Star game MVP awards during his career. He is not Michael Jordan, but no one is ever going to come closer; Kobe Bean is as dedicated a professional and ruthless competitor as there has ever been in the NBA.

The second half of McGrady's career was derailed by injuries, and his postseason struggles are well-documented. But for almost a decade, McGrady was a lethal scorer, capable of dominating anyone. For a time, he and Bryant were equals on the court, with McGrady giving as good as he was getting. He made seven All-Star teams, was the Most Improved Player Award winner in 2001 and was twice first team all-NBA, and got the requisite max deal.

Stoudemire has also been slowed by injuries throughout his career, but he was Rookie of the Year in 2002-03 after being taken by Phoenix, has made six All-Star teams and earned a cool $100 million from the Knicks in the summer of 2010 even though a lot of teams were scared off by the uninsurable state of his knees.

We all know about the travails of LeBron, but no one has had more hype coming out of high school than James did in '03 -- and lived up to just about all of it. Since being taken No. 1 by the Cavaliers, he's earned two league MVP awards, eight All-Star game appearances, two All-Star MVP awards, five first-team All-NBA selections and three first team all-defensive team honors.

Howard has had better weeks, but the totality of his career since going first overall to Orlando in 2004 has been pretty good: three Defensive Player of the Year awards and counting; six All-Star appearances, four first-team all-NBA honors and three first team all-defensive team spots, along with a Finals appearance in 2010.

• STARS: O'Neal, Chandler, Perkins, Jefferson, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Bynum, Ellis.

O'Neal has suffered the past several seasons with injuries, including this one -- he'll miss the rest of the season for the Celtics after undergoing wrist surgery. But he nonetheless got a max contract from Indiana for $126 million that buttressed the meat of his career when he was a six-time All-Star. Chandler had injuries early in his career, but still got $60 million from Chicago, which had taken him second overall in 2001. And after his defensive presence and rebounding helped the Mavericks to a title last year, Chandler got another $60 million last December from the Knicks as a free agent, at age 29.

Perkins went from an overweight kid out of Clifton J. Ozen High in Beaumont, Texas, when the Celtics got him from Memphis in a Draft-night deal in 2003 to the heart of Boston's title defense in '08. He's a physical, nasty guy who teamed with another straight-outta-high schooler -- Garnett -- to make Boston's halfcourt defense almost impenetrable. The Celtics couldn't pay him what he wanted when his rookie deal expired, but Oklahoma City gave him a four-year, $34 million extension after acquiring him last year in a deal involving forward Jeff Green.

Jefferson didn't become a star in Boston, but the Wolves thought enough of him to insist on his inclusion when they traded Garnett to the Celtics in '08. And they thought enough of him to give him a $65 million extension the following year. And the Jazz thought enough of him to take on all that salary when they traded for him in 2010.

Josh Smith has filled up the stat sheets for the Hawks for years, even as he butted heads with coaches and drove fans in Atlanta crazy with his shot selection. Yet the Hawks didn't blink when they matched a $58 million offer sheet Smith got from the Grizzlies in 2008, and Smith will see another major payday in the summer of 2013.

Bynum has been a handful, on and off the court, since the Lakers took him. He's gotten tickets for parking in handicapped zones and been suspended by the league after taking then-Mavs guard J.J. Barea out of the air with a vicious elbow in the waning stages of the Lakers' debacle against Dallas last May in the West semifinals. But he's also become the league's second-best center behind Howard, and L.A. thought enough of his still growing potential to give him a $58 million extension a couple of years ago.

Ellis, the Most Improved Award winner in 2006-07, has yet to make an All-Star team. He couldn't get the Warriors very far, even though he averaged 19.6 points per game for them in six-plus seasons before being traded to Milwaukee in February. But he still got a $66 million extension from the Warriors in 2008.

J.R. Smith has not yet cashed in like the others since coming into the league in 2004, but he's been a productive bench player in New Orleans, Denver and, now, New York, who signed him when his deal in China ended in February.

• THE PROFESSIONALS: Harrington, Lewis, Stevenson, Brown, Diop, Outlaw, Wright, Webster, Miles, Telfair, Williams, Blatche, Johnson.

Harrington has had steady employment and a steady paycheck since being taken by the Pacers in '98, including a $34 million free-agent deal from the Nuggets two years ago. Lewis, famously, cried when he lasted into the second round before being taken by Seattle. And, perhaps infamously, Lewis got $118 million from the Magic as a free agent almost a decade later. He has said he wasn't to blame for the deal he couldn't possibly have lived up to, but after helping the Magic get to the Finals in 2010 he's been dealt to Washington and put in dry dock by the hapless Wizards.

The other pros have had a taste here and there of success -- Stevenson won a title with the Mavs; Williams has become the 76ers' leading scorer; Miles is a solid contributor to the Jazz. Blatche and Outlaw each got $35 million deals in 2010, from the Wizards and Nets, respectively. Johnson, taken in the second round by Detroit, has already earned $45 million from Detroit and Toronto despite career averages of 6.1 points and 5.0 rebounds.

Diop didn't become the force the Cavaliers had hoped when they took him in 2001. But he's gotten in 11 NBA seasons, including this one with Charlotte. Wright apprenticed with the Heat for six years before going to Golden State in 2010, and he's been the starting small forward there ever since, averaging a career-high 16.4 points last season. Webster, now with Minnesota, didn't find a home in Portland, which took him in '05. But he got a $20 million extension in 2008 and is still in the league.

Telfair was supposed to be the next Stephon Marbury; like Marbury, his cousin, Telfair was out of New York City and had the "city game" point guard chops. It never worked out in Portland, which took him 13th overall in 2004. But after bouncing around the league the last few years, Telfair has found new life off the bench with the Suns this season, backing up Steve Nash.

Brown, of course, was Michael Jordan's Albatross, having been taken first overall by Jordan in Washington in 2001 -- and having flamed out spectacularly. He was traded to the Lakers in the Caron Butler deal in 2005, and found wanting by Bryant, who derided just about everything Brown tried to do. But Brown has played 11 years and counting in the NBA. He was playing 20 minutes a game for the Warriors before tearing a pectoral muscle earlier this season.

• THE BORDERLINE: Bender, Miles, Curry, Livingston, Butler, Green.

Bender never lived up to what Donnie Walsh thought he'd become after getting him on Draft night from Toronto. Walsh had hoped the 6-foot-11 Bender would become a huge scorer at shooting guard -- what Kevin Durant became a decade later. But Bender only played one full season out of eight in the league because of injuries. Yet he still made around $30 million.

Miles got off to a great start with the Clippers, who'd taken him third overall in 2000, but found himself dealt to Cleveland (for Andre Miller), and then Portland (for Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje and Jeff McInnis). The Blazers still gave him a six-year, $48 million deal in 2004. Curry hasn't played meaningful minutes in years after the Bulls, who'd taken him fourth in 2001, became concerned that Curry had a pre-existing heart condition that might lead to serious problems on the court. They traded him to New York in 2006, but the Knicks nonetheless gave Curry a $60 million deal that just expired after last season. He's now in Miami, where he's spent the better part of a year trying to get in shape in time to help the Heat down the stretch.

Livingston's promising career was derailed by that gruesome knee injury he suffered in 2007 with the Clippers, who'd taken him fourth overall in 2004 and groomed him to be the point guard of the future. But two years of arduous rehabilitation got him back on the court, and back in the league. He's bounced around the last three years, from Miami to Memphis to Oklahoma City to Washington to Charlotte to Milwaukee. But he's still playing.

Butler went undrafted in '04, but signed with Minnesota as a free agent that summer. He wound up getting a three-year deal worth $7 million from San Antonio in 2006, and got a ring with the team when it won the Finals.

Green was the last high schooler who came straight into the league -- he was taken 25th overall by the Celtics in '05, the last year high schoolers were allowed to enter the Draft. He struggled with the NBA game, never seeming to get the nuances of the league while displaying the ridiculous hops that had everyone interested in him in the first place. The Celtics gave up on him quickly, as did the Wolves, Rockets and Mavs.

But he's still standing, having gone through the NBA D-League and gotten another chance, this time with the Nets, who signed him to two 10-day deals and, then, the rest of the season. Green may have a chance to stick with New Jersey, and if the Nets do pull off a Howard blockbuster this summer, Green could be a primary beneficiary.

• THE TOTAL BUSTS: Young, McDavid, Richardson, Leon Smith, Cisse, Key, Ebi, Lang, Swift, Sanchez, Cooke, Collins, Brown, Jr., Luckett.

McDavid baffled everyone in basketball with his decision to apply for early entry in '96; he wasn't highly recruited by major colleges and had no significant achievements that would signal he had NBA potential. He didn't get a sniff on Draft day. Young came out of Hargrave Military Academy in '98 with a lot of noise, but only played in three NBA games after being taken by Detroit in the second round.

Richardson was influenced by Garnett's success when he declared in '98, but he didn't have KG's game and went undrafted. Leon Smith was a prodigy out of Chicago taken with the 29th pick in the first round by San Antonio and traded to Dallas in '99, but never played a game with the Mavs. Emotional problems on and off the court were followed by an attempted suicide and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. He played just 15 games in parts of two seasons with Atlanta and Seattle.

Cisse was taken in the second round in 2001 by Denver, but never played in an NBA game, playing with the Harlem Globetrotters and teams abroad. Key was a 7-footer out of Compton in whom few teams had any interest, and he went undrafted in 2001.

Several teams were interested the following year in Collins, who'd been a McDonald's all-America. But he'd been twice sent to juvenile hall in California as a teenager, and missed games his senior season of high school with a knee injury. He went undrafted by the NBA, but played several seasons in the Philippines, Argentina and China.

Ebi was one of the few first-round players taken in the talent-flooded 2003 Draft who never made an impact. After two uneventful years with the Timberwolves, who'd taken him 29th in '03, he was waived -- which only added to Garnett's list of grievances against the Wolves' front office.

Lang was a McDonald's all-American in '03, and taken in the second round by the Hornets, but didn't make it out of training camp in New Orleans; it took him three years before he finally had an NBA cup of coffee with the Wizards.

Swift, in part, fell victim to the Sonics' relocation woes after being taken 12th overall by Seattle in 2004. As the team was preparing to leave town it didn't have a lot of staff around to help Swift, who came into the league with talent but wasn't up to the physical demands of the game. After 97 games over four seasons with the Sonics and Thunder (Swift missed the 2006-07 season with a knee injury), Swift was released in 2009.

Brown and Luckett had some college suitors but apparently tried to get in on the last year high schoolers could apply for the NBA. Their gambles didn't pan out; neither was drafted.

Sanchez, who came out of the IMG Academy in Florida, was a "stash" second-round pick by Portland in 2005 and has spent most of his career playing abroad, including a spot on the Puerto Rican national team. He was, however, involved in an NBA trade this season; his NBA rights were sent by the 76ers, who'd acquired them in 2007, to the Grizzlies in exchange for Sam Young.

That's 14 busts, out of 47 players. Thirty-three borderline NBA players, professionals, stars or superstars out of 45 is a .723 "success" rate for high schoolers. Or, more than seven in 10 high schoolers who came into the league from 1995 to 2005 either had a little or a lot of success, and made either a decent living or a ridiculous one.

Admittedly, one man's professional could be another man's bust. But what harm did it do Jonathan Bender to give the NBA a try out of high school? If he hadn't gotten hurt, he might have made it. But he did. And, he didn't. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

But, what about the "one-and-dones," you ask?

From 2006, the first year of the new rule requiring Draft-eligible players be at least one year removed from high school and/or 19 years old, through 2011, 49 players had entered the Draft after their freshman season in college. Here's the list:

2006: Tyrus Thomas, LSU, Shawne Williams, Memphis

2007: Mike Conley, Ohio State, Daequan Cook, Ohio State, Javaris Crittenton, Georgia Tech, Kevin Durant, Texas, Spencer Hawes, Washington, Robert Earl Johnson, Clinton (S.C.) JC, Greg Oden, Ohio State, Brandan Wright, North Carolina, Thaddeus Young, Georgia Tech

2008: Jerryd Bayless, Arizona, Michael Beasley, Kansas State, Eric Gordon, Indiana, Donte Greene, Syracuse, J.J. Hickson, N.C. State, Davon Jefferson, USC, DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M, Kosta Koufos, Ohio State, Kevin Love, UCLA, O.J. Mayo, USC, Anthony Randolph, LSU, JaJuan Robinson, Lincoln (PA), Derrick Rose, Memphis, Bill Walker, Kansas State

2009: DeMar DeRozan, USC, Tyreke Evans, Memphis, Jrue Holiday, UCLA, Nate Miles, Southern Idaho, B.J. Mullens, Ohio State

2010: Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky, Avery Bradley, Texas, DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky, Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech, Keith "Tiny" Gallon, Oklahoma, Xavier Henry, Kansas, Tommy Mason-Griffin, Oklahoma, Daniel Orton, Kentucky, Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati, John Wall, Kentucky, Quintin Watkins, San Diego State, Hassan Whiteside, Marshall

2011: Tobias Harris, Tennessee, Kyrie Irving, Duke, Cory Joseph, Texas, Brandon Knight, Kentucky, Jereme Richmond, Illinois, Josh Selby, Kansas, Tristan Thompson, Texas

Of the 49 "one-and-dones":

• Nineteen (38.8 percent) were top 10 Draft picks. Four of those went number one: Oden (Portland, 2007), Rose (Chicago, 2008), Wall (Washington, 2010) and Irving (Cleveland, 2011). Three were taken second overall: Thomas (Chicago via Portland, 2006); Durant (Seattle, 2007) and Beasley (Miami, 2008). Mayo (Minnesota, 2008) and Favors (New Jersey, 2010) went third; Conley (Memphis, 2007), Evans (Sacramento 2009) and Thompson (Cleveland, 2011) went fourth.

• Love (Memphis, 2008) and Cousins (Sacramento, 2010) went fifth; Gordon (Clippers, 2008) went seventh; Wright (Bobcats, 2007) and Knight (Pistons, 2011) were eighth. DeRozan (Toronto, 2009) went ninth; Hawes (Sacramento, 2007) was 10th overall. (This does not count Brandon Jennings, who technically was not a "one-and-done" because he played in Europe for a year after high school before declaring for the 2009 Draft, when he went 10th overall to Milwaukee.)

• Another 17 players (34.7 percent) were first-round picks outside of the top 10. Bayless (Indiana, 2008) was 11th overall. Young (Philadelphia, 2007) and Henry (Memphis, 2010) went 12th. Randolph (Golden State, 2008) was 14th. (That means 23 of the 49 "one-and-dones" were Lottery picks.)

• Shawne Williams (Indiana, 2006) and Holiday (Philadelphia, 2009) were taken 17th in their respective Drafts. Bledsoe (Clippers via Oklahoma City, 2010) went 18th. Crittenton (Lakers, 2007), Hickson (Cleveland, 2008), Bradley (Boston, 2010) and Harris (Milwaukee via Charlotte, 2011) went 19th. Cook went 21st in 2007 to Philly (and then landed in Miami); Koufos was taken 23rd in 2008 by Utah; Mullens went 24th overall to Dallas (and later shipped to Oklahoma City) in 2009; Greene went 28th to Memphis (and was sent to Sacramento) in 2008 and Orton and Joseph went 29th in 2010 and 2011, to Orlando and San Antonio.

• Another six players -- Jordan, Walker, Whiteside, Stephenson, Gallon and Selby -- were second-rounders in their respective Drafts.

That means 40 of the 49 "one-and-done" players -- 81.6 percent -- were drafted. And of those 40, only three -- Crittenton, Gallon and the star-crossed Oden -- are currently not either in the NBA or in the NBA D-League. Durant, Love and Rose have become superstars; many others, from Irving and Wall and Conley to DeRozan and Gordon and Hawes, are solid starters for their respective teams; most of the remaining players are solid rotation guys.

The bottom line: since 1995, 96 players have either come out of high school directly to the NBA, or come to the NBA after one season of college. And of those 96, 73 -- 76 percent who made the leap -- have had careers ranging from mediocre, in a few cases, to wildly successful, in a few others. Most have had, or are having, perfectly acceptable careers as professional basketball players, doing what they've wanted to do since they were children, and making a good living doing so.

Does that mean many of these guys won't be broke in 10 years? Nope. But that's on them, not on the system that produced them.

So, to Cuban's claims: There aren't "hundreds" of Lenny Cookes who've been chewed up and spit out through the NBA grinder. There are 23 Lenny Cookes. Including Lenny Cooke.

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(March 26th rankings in parenthesis)

1) San Antonio (2) [4-0]: Spurs have two winning streaks this season of 11 games or more after Sunday's win over Utah. This may be Popovich's best coaching job, and that's saying a lot. But it's also a testament to general manager R.C. Buford and the organization that continues to find players willing to totally buy in.

2) Chicago (1) [1-2]: Rose comes back after missing a dozen games with 29 on Sunday, but Bulls lose their third in four games, tightening up the race for best overall record and homecourt throughout the Finals.

3) Miami (4) [3-1]: Showed championship mettle in showdown win Wednesday over the Thunder. But problems in the middle continue.

4) Oklahoma City (3) [1-3]: First three-game losing streak of the season allows the white-hot Spurs to overtake OKC for the best record in the west.

5) L.A. Lakers (7) [2-2]: Impressive win over the Clippers Wednesday tempered by bad loss at home Friday to the Rockets.

6) Indiana (6) [3-1]: Danny Granger picking up the offense (26.3 ppg) during the Pacers' four-game win streak, which ended Saturday with a loss to Boston. But the Pacers, second in the Central Division, still have control of third place in the Eastern Conference over the Atlantic-leading Celtics because of a better record.

7) Atlanta (8) [3-0]: Hawks get most of the week off with two scrimmages against the Bobcats, winning by 27 and 20, respectively.

8) L.A. Clippers (12) [3-1]: Clips rip off eight of nine after swooning in March, stopping 'When is Vinny gonna get fired?' talk for now.

9) Memphis (14) [4-1]: I have a feeling we're all going to be spending a lot of time in the Home of the Blues this spring. The Grizzlies look really, really good, and really, really deep, at the right time of the season.

10) Boston (13) [2-2]: Ray Allen offers to come off the bench to let second-year guard Avery Bradley start.

11) Orlando (5) [1-2]: Well, all the pressure is off of the Magic now. No one will expect them to do anything in the postseason. Which means they'll either make a run to the Finals or go out meekly in the first round. Either way, Stan Van's toast.

12) Dallas (9) [1-3]: Even Cubes realizes Mavs are running out of time to turn on the defending champions' switch. And Nowitzki and Carlisle both turn off questions about Odom. Still can get it going, but this is getting very dicey.

13 Houston (NR) [3-0]: Rockets finally get their starting point guard back as Kyle Lowry returned Sunday after missing 15 games with a bacterial infection. But what to do with Goran Dragic, who played out of his mind while Lowry was laid up?

14) New York (15) [2-1]: Carmelo goes insane against the Bulls in a performance worthy of the Garden faithful Sunday -- a season-high 43 points, including the game-tying and game-winning 3-pointers in regulation and overtime to finish a great comeback.

15) Philadelphia (10) [0-4]: Sixers look like they're running on fumes right now, and are only a game ahead of ninth-place Milwaukee, but should get healthy this week with a Nets-Raptors-Nets three-game sandwich.

Dropped out: Utah

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Memphis (4-1): Grizzlies have one of the most impressive weeks of any team this season -- winning at OKC last Monday, then at home against the Warriors Tuesday, losing at Dallas Wednesday in the third game of a back-to-back-to-back, but getting off the deck to give Miami just its third home loss of the season Friday, then beating Dallas in the rematch in Memphis on Saturday. And, Gilbert Arenas looked Hibachiesque off the bench against the Mavs Saturday before turning an ankle.

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Charlotte (0-4): Seriously thinking of retiring this "award" for the season. The Bobcats are otherworldly bad, expansion team bad, Wizards and Clippers in their darkest days bad, Roy Rubin's 76ers bad, New Coke bad, The Sting II bad, McGovern for President bad.

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Harden or Ibaka: who ya got?

The Thunder -- at least until this week, when it lost three straight games for the first time this season -- have been on a roll. Oklahoma City has had one of the top records in the league all year; it has two superstars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who are now both under long-term extensions with no out clauses through at least 2016; it has a great management team led by GM Sam Presti, a solid coach in Scott Brooks and a loyal, passionate fan base. OKC has become the model franchise.

But, is there a reckoning on the horizon?

After committing the maximum to Westbrook, likely $80 million over five years beginning next season, on top of the $85 million already committed to Durant through the 2015-16 season, the Thunder are putting some serious money on the table in future years. And with owner Clay Bennett historically unwilling to go anywhere near the tax threshold, OKC may have room for only one more superstar salary to dovetail with Durant and Westbrook, along with fill-in players.

Hence, a potential problem with James Harden, the Thunder's outstanding sixth man, and Serge Ibaka, OKC's uber-athletic four. They may not be "superstars," but they are among the league's premier players at their respective positions.

Harden is a shoo-in for the league's Sixth Man award, averaging 16.7 points per game in just under 32 minutes off the bench. On just about any other team, Harden would be a starter at small forward and a perennial All-Star candidate. But in Oklahoma City, he plays behind Durant, and it makes more sense for him to come off the bench, where his scoring punch and, more importantly, his near-impeccable passing help the Thunder maintain half-court continuity throughout the game.

Then there's Ibaka, who leads the league in blocked shots (3.5 per game) and is a scourge to opponents who want to drive the OKC paint. He is 6-foot-10, 22 years old, jumps out of the building and has shown improving offensive skills. With Kendrick Perkins swapping paint with opposing bigs in the middle, Ibaka has been able to play his natural power forward position during the last year, and on just about any other team, Ibaka would be the up-and-coming star. In Oklahoma City, he's the fourth option.

They are both keepers, key cogs to a championship team. But how can you pay them both while paying top dollars to Durant and Westbrook?

The good news for OKC is that Presti has a little time. Harden and Ibaka are both still on their rookie deals, which are paying $4.6 million and $1.28 million, respectively. Neither can become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2013. And Presti has maneuvered his cap brilliantly in the last couple of years, giving Perkins and Nick Collison contract extensions that decrease in salary in future years, giving the Thunder some breathing room down the road.

Presti gave each player a signing bonus up front, using existing cap space. So Collison made $13.2 million last season, but only makes $3.2 million this season, then $2.9 million, $2.58 million and $2.24 million in 2014-15. And Perkins doesn't have huge increases during four-year, $33 million extension that kicked in this season, with salaries of $7.3 million, $8 million, $8.7 million and $9.4 million.

If Presti can somehow convince one of them to take less than what they'd likely get on the market, he still could pull this off. But we play devil's advocate here at the Tip, and so, the question: If you could only keep one of them, which would you keep, and why?

We sent out feelers to 24 of the other 29 teams in the league, also asking a couple of former coaches and executives their learned opinions. Of those who responded, seven picked Harden outright. Six picked Ibaka outright. And another six either couldn't decided or wanted more time to think about it.

The pro-Harden supporters cited his versatility and scoring ability.

"Keep Harden," wrote a Western Conference personnel man. "Hard to find (a) great scorer and facilitator. They think they can keep both???"

"Harden," said a Western Conference executive. "He's a top 3 or 4 small forward in (the) league. Does it all. Very good."

"I would keep Harden," wrote a Western Conference assistant GM. "He can play two positions and will be an all star."

"Harden," wrote a longtime team executive, "because he is a real top line player along with Durant and Westbrook. Ibaka is a solid big, so I would like to keep him too but if I had to choose I would (k)eep Harden and look elsewhere for a big."

"Tough one," wrote a current head coach. "Nine times out of 10 I would side with size. This case I would side with (H)arden. He's an all-star. He does for OKC what (Manu) Ginobili does for the Spurs."

Some folks wanted a Solomonic solution.

"Can't I have both!!," wrote a former NBA coach. "I'd pull a Pat Riley and do my best selling job a la Mike Miller and convince one or both to take a little less for the love of OKC and a Championship!!"

Wrote a Western Conference GM: "I can't make up my mind. Both so valuable. So good. So effective. My call is they will go into the (luxury) tax. If I was to pick today, I would pick Harden."

Another team VP also advocated keeping both, saying it was up to the Thunder's ownership to do whatever it took to keep the team together. "I wouldn't let the (organization) not keep both," he wrote.

Ibaka's supporters were just as sold on him.

"Ibaka," wrote a Western Conference GM. "Harder to replace."

"Ibaka," wrote a veteran assistant coach, "because I think losing him would hurt their defense & team more & Harden's position is easier to replace in my opinion."

One Western Conference GM wrote that he'd favor keeping Ibaka because he suspects Harden's agent, Rob Pelinka, will demand a max deal for Harden, "and he's easier to replace," the GM wrote.

"I would keep Ibaka," an Eastern Conference exec said. ".....so hard to find frontcourt players with presence in the paint ....love Harden, but I would rather have to replace a scorer off the bench, than search for a big like Ibaka."

Wrote another east GM: "Love Ibaka, he is the X-factor for that team...Premier shot blocker in the NBA. Perkins knows how to defend the post but Ibaka is the anchor of their defense."

A veteran scout preferred Ibaka as well, "because of his defense, shot-blocking and rebounding. His offense has gotten a lot better and will continue to improve. Harden is very good, but I think he's easier to replace than Serge."

And there was -- is -- another potential solution.

"I'd keep both," wrote an Eastern Conference general manager, "and get rid of Perkins."

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Four does not equal number one. From Jonathan Owen:

I agree with you about K-Love not being in the top five of the league even though he is putting up ridiculous numbers this year. Love is clearly the best power forward in the league and is doing everything and then some that you would ask from a player of his position. Like you explained, even with Love's outstanding play Minnesota still finds itself outside of the playoffs and with Rubio going down it looks as though the Wolves will have to wait til next year for a postseason game.

My question is can a player dominate enough from the power forward position to carry his team to postseason success? Sure, Dirk [Nowitzki] won a title last year and Tim Duncan has almost a handful of rings, but Dirk plays from the wing and Duncan was always more of a center than a power forward. A look at some of the greatest power forwards like Karl Malone, [Charles] Barkley, Dan Issel, Connie Hawkins, Nate Thurmond and Chris Webber all came up short of winning a title. Guys like KG, [Kevin] McHale and Dennis Rodman all won championships, but not as the feature player on their team.

Is it possible this position is at a disadvantage compared to the others? PFs don't normally control the ball on offense, relying on a point guard or wing player to get them the ball after they have fought for position, therefore, making it nearly impossible to single-handedly take over at crunch time. They also can't patrol the middle on defense, [often] lacking the height and size of a true center.

There have been a lot of fours who have led their teams, from Malone to Barkley. Elvin Hayes led the Bullets to three Finals in the 70s, though Bob Dandridge made the big shots in '78 and '79. And while Duncan played a lot of center later in his career, at least early in his career he was a four playing next to Hall of Famer David Robinson. But you're right, Jonathan; most of the championship teams in NBA history have either been led by a ballhandling guard or a five. The four is the most "dependent" position on the court, to be sure.

The best Alvin in Phoenix since Adams (whose first name was spelled A-L-V-A-N, I know. Just go with the bit). From Drew Matfin:

I have been following the Suns gradual decline from offense powerhouse to a brickhouse this season with much disappointment. Then suddenly the Suns bench starts to shine. I mean the starting five of Nash, Dudley, Hill, Frye & Gortat was leading the league in point differential and yet the Suns were way below .500; Allstar break happens and then the Suns go for second best record in the league. Where are the props for Gentry here. He must have done a hell of a coaching job over Allstar cause Phoenix is at least relevant again.

Gentry has done a great job this season managing an aging team through a tough, short season. He's also gotten some help from a bench he couldn't trust before the break. But since then, Michael Redd and Sebastian Telfair and Hakim Warrick have really picked things up. Now Phoenix isn't a five-man team that loses leads once Nash and Grant Hill have to rest.

Participatory journalism peaked with George Plimpton. There's nowhere to go. From Trey James:

Your articles are always interesting as you know how to add the mastery of getting a story correct with your own inside knowledge and wit. The stories you do on these players and coaches are always A+ material. So that brings me to this question: Why never an article about your own sports adventures? I think we'd all love to hear a story or two about the man that always comes through on a story.

My "sports adventures," Trey, are limited to occasional embarassment on the blacktops and fields of D.C. that my oldest friends still can't quite get out of their mouths without peals of laughter. Never played anything on a meaningful level worth recalling. Hence my respect for guys who do this for a living. My world has always been words. C'est la vie. (See what I did there, with fancy foreign words?)

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and new jacket colors for the Masters winner -- aren't we all tired of green? How about a mustard, almost tan, with some splashes of blue or teal? -- to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, interesting, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

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LeBron James (30.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, .523 FG, .714 FT): Loved seeing him take on the challenge of guarding Kevin Durant down the stretch Wednesday. After that performance it is hard to see how LBJ doesn't nail down his third league MVP award.

Kevin Durant (29.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, .519 FG, .893 FT): Why is Durantula acknowledging the existence of Skip Bayless? Why?

Kobe Bryant (27.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3 apg, .564 FG, .882 FT): Missed his first game in almost two years Saturday at Phoenix with a shin injury. It was so odd seeing him in street clothes. That must be one messed up shin.

Dwight Howard (14 ppg, 15 rpg, 2.5 apg, .545 FG, .571 FT): Pretty sure we won't be hearing D12's spot-on impression of his coach anymore. Too bad. It was really funny.

Kevin Love (27 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3 apg, .456 FG, .813 FT): Nine- and seven-rebound games against Portland and Sacramento, respectively, last week marked the first time all season KLuv posted back-to-back games with fewer than double-figures rebound totals.

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2 -- Games played this season by Eric Gordon. The Hornets' guard, who is likely to get a lot of attention this summer as a restricted free agent, is set to return to action Wednesday after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in February.

12 -- Consecutive seasons the Raptors have failed to post a .500 or better record against the Western Conference. Per the Associated Press, Sunday's loss to the Thunder gave Toronto an 8-10 record against the west this season.

17 -- Consecutive double-figures assist games for Rajon Rondo, the most since John Stockton pulled it off for Utah in 1992, after Rondo dimed up the 76ers with 15 assists Sunday in the Celtics' rout, lengthening Boston's Atlantic Division lead.

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1) Welcome to the Hall, Mr. Miller. Well deserved. And there's a certain wonderful karma to your going in with Mel Daniels, providing a seamless link between the great ABA Pacers teams and the NBA teams that excelled year after year and made the Finals in 2000.

2) Congrats, also, to Don Nelson and Ralph Sampson and Jamaal (Silk) Wilkes, and Katrina McClain and referee Hank Nichols and the All-American Redheads women's team, who were also named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2012.

3) That was some quality theatre Sunday afternoon in the Garden between the Bulls and Knicks, and yes, I'd love to cover that first-round series, thanks for asking.

4) It's not often that a single defensive play gets everyone's attention, but Video Avery Bradley's cap of Dwyane Wade last weekend was a season-defining moment for the Texas rookie.

5) I sincerely hope that Jayson Williams has found a way to live in the 18 months he's been in prison on Riker's Island. Williams is set to be released on Friday after serving that year and a half for the wrongful death shooting of his limo driver in 2002. He was always great fun to be around, but he had demons. Demons don't usually go away. But if you're lucky, you find a way to live with them.

6) That was cool, watching Bubba Watson hug his mom and seemingly everyone who ever had been in his life after he won the playoff Sunday night and got his first green jacket as Masters champion. Cooler still to see him sobbing with joy and relief and whatever else was pouring out of him.

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1) There is a new definition Video of "awkward" in the lexicon.

1A) Seriously, 25 years covering this league, Video I've never seen a media availability like that. I wasn't at Iverson's "Practice" rant, but Larry Brown didn't saunter up to the mike with AI when he was done.

3) Mike Wallace was a giant in my business, towering over so many of us who think we're practicing journalism but never got within a boat length of this guy. He was the ultimate speaker of truth to power; for decades, first locally in New York City, then nationally as the Big Dog on 60 Minutes, Wallace tore into charlatans and crooks and politicians with the fury of a wronged spouse and the smarts of Atticus Finch. For all the times he sat down with heads of state and presidents and the like, though, I liked it best when he confronted some ordinary weasel, some guy who was skimming off the top and thought nobody would be the wiser -- until the CBS truck showed up and Wallace came out, demanding answers. We shall never see the likes of him again. Rest in peace, Mr. Wallace.

4) If there's some reason Jim Cleamons can't get a coaching job in the NBA, after being Phil Jackson's top guy in Chicago and Los Angeles for every one of those championship seasons, somebody needs to explain it to me.

5) Very surprised to see that Florida International fired Isiah Thomas. But here's hoping he can find his way back into the NBA, doing what he did best -- evaluating talent. Maybe he wasn't a great GM, but he knows who can play. He should be in someone's front office as a director of player personnel. A team like Phoenix that is ramping up for the post-Nash and Hill era could stand to have as many eyes on as many people as possible.

6) Hey, all of you comedians tweeting me "jokes" about Brittney Griner's sexuality and/or gender: not funny. Really. Not funny at all. I don't care how much you think it's witty; she's someone's daughter, and neither they nor she should have to tiptoe around the social media for fear that they'll read something hurtful.

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This week's Mr. Fifteen is an M15 in name only. With Derrick Rose slowed recently with back and groin injuries, John Lucas III has become an integral part of the Bulls' rotation, appearing in 44 games and averaging 7 points in 14 minutes per game. He had a career-high 25 points in his first start in January against Washington, scored 24 in place of Rose in a 106-102 win over Miami last month and added 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting on March 19 to spark the Bulls' blowout win over Orlando.

But Lucas has played abroad longer than he has in his four NBA seasons since leading Oklahoma State to the 2004 NCAA Final Four. After spending parts of two seasons playing for Jeff Van Gundy in Houston as an undrafted free agent, he played in Italy for Snaidero and Benetton; played for TAU Ceramica in Spain and spent the 2009-10 season playing for Yao Ming's Shanghai Sharks. The Bulls re-signed him late last season after he spent part of the season there. At 29, Lucas has found his groove -- " dude can score buckets," said his teammate, Kyle Korver -- and stands to make a solid payday as a free agent this summer.

Me: How did you stay motivated through all your different stays?

John Lucas III: I love the game of basketball. It's a game I respect. It's a game I have passion for. I grew up under the game of basketball. It's something I never want to disrespect. Every time I step on the court I just give it all that I have. I like going home, and when I go to sleep, lay my head down, know that I have given it everything I'm supposed to give.

Me: How would you compare Thibs to Jeff Van Gundy, your coach in Houston? Thibs was his top assistant there.

JLIII: They're similar. But, you know, Thibs gives me a little more freedom. Van Gundy, my rookie year, used to count how many times I dribbled the basketball, and put it up on the TV screen. But that was my rookie year. I learned a lot from that. Instead of overhandling the ball, I started to trust my teammates more, and get into the offense quicker. Thibs always tells me, you're a scoring PG. When I put you out there, when you have an opportunity to come off the pick and roll, and they go under, I expect you to shoot. I expect you to knock it down. I expect you to make the right decisions and limit your turnovers, and play the way you've always been playing your whole life. Play free. Play having fun. And that's exactly what I'm doing this year.

Me: What did you gain playing in Europe?

JLIII: I appreciate the game more than I ever did. Because I knew where I wanted to be. Over there, there's more teaching. It's like being in college all over again, two a days. Everything's on a schedule. You have roommates. You don't have much freedom over there. It's not like being a professional player over there. It's like you're going right back into college. But what I will take out of it is the coaches over there stay on you. They don't care who you are. They don't care about how many points you scored or what the situation is. It just makes you grind and appreciate the game more.

Me: What was Yao like as a boss in Shanghai?

JLIII: Oh, great. (Laughs). As a boss, he was great. He really brought the NBA to Shanghai -- the organization, how stuff was ran, everything. And anything you needed, it was there. He definitely was a great boss.

Me: I hear different things about playing in China ... what was it like?

JLIII: I had a blast. Great time. You know, you've got to go over there and open your mind. You can't go over there like, 'Ugh, I'm in China,' dragging around. I was over there learning the subways, I was over there making friends and enjoying basketball. It was the first time I actually enjoyed the game. I wasn't worried about this, I wasn't worried about that. I was like, you know what, I'm going to come over here, try to enjoy this experience, try to learn as much as I can about the culture, and play. And have fun. I did the same this summer when I played in all the leagues in New York, the summer leagues from Rucker to the Nike Pro Am to Hoops Under the Sun, I felt like I was back in the eighth grade again, playing outside, just competing, and knowing that I had that target on my back. Because you know you have that NBA on your back and you have somebody you never heard of come at you. So it makes you compete even more. It brings that edge back out of you all the way in the summer. So when I came in this season I was on point. I was focused. I was like, when that opportunity comes, I'm gonna make the most of it.

Me: Were you at the Rucker when Durant scored 66?

JLIII: Yeah, that was against me. And then, the next day, I had 60. On him. It was an unbelievable performance from him, especially shooting outside like that. Unbelievable. But I was just like, all right, I'm gonna have something the next game. So we played them the next game, and I had 60 and he had 47. But it was a great game. It was fun. Anytime you have a caliber of player like he is, I think he's one of the top scorers in the NBA, come out to those leagues and play, show love to the fans that support him, now they get an up close and personal look at him, and see 'oh, no, it's not a fluke that he makes those shots. That's actually what he do.

Me: When's the last time you played to 11 against your dad?

JLIII: We play all the time. But now he's more teaching and on my case about everything. But we play tennis a lot in the summer.

Me: You pick up the racket against him? (John Lucas II was an all-America singles player at Maryland in the 70s.)

JLIII: Yeah, that's our thing. I was already able to get one set off my father. I played USTA. I was top 50 in the country. I played tennis. And he was mad when I quit to play basketball, because he didn't think I was gonna make it because of my height.

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If I could make a couple shots we win. My bad!
-- Lakers forward Matt Barnes (@Matt_Barnes22), Saturday, 2:09 a.m., after going 1 of 9 from the floor in 30 minutes in L.A.'s 112-107 home loss to the Rockets Friday night.

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"The only thing I'm ever uncomfortable with is bull(bleep). You know. And, so, to come in and 'no comment,' or deny that it's true, and everything. The only thing, I guess, that liberates me is just be honest and deal with what's out there. Some people have a hard time with that, I guess. To me, that's a lot easier to deal with than bull(bleep)."
-- Video Stan Van Gundy, talking about ... you know.

"Of course that's what Blake is going to say because he's in L.A., where actors belong. He's an actor, so of course he would say that."
-- Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, responding to Blake Griffin's comments to reporters after the two had exchanged shoves during the Clippers' win over the Kings Thursday. Griffin had told reporters he would leave what happened between the two on the court and wouldn't discuss it afterward.

"I would rather have guys who have an edge to them. I've told Andrew, 'You've to play with some fire, you've got play with some passion, you've got to have some edge when you're out there instead of just going through the motions.'"
-- Lakers coach Mike Brown, dismissing notions that he would discipline center Andrew Bynum after Bynum was ejected from Friday's loss to the Rockets.

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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