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David Aldridge

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Seems fitting that if Steve Nash (right) leaves Phoenix this summer that he reunite with Dirk Nowitzki.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Finals solve one question of season, but many more remain


Posted May 7 2012 9:22AM

My job is to tell you what I know, not what I think.

But sometimes, you wonder.

The playoffs settle the most important NBA question -- who is the best team in the league? But The Finals can't answer everything. There are so many teams that have a lot of issues going into their respective offseasons, and there are so many variables that will determine whether they can resolve those issues.

Who will win the Lottery? How much money will a team's owner green-light to hire a coach, or sign a free agent? What will the Magic wind up doing with Dwight Howard, and what will the ripple effect be?

Sometimes, things wind up differently than we'd expect or want. That's life in the big city. But here are 10 up-in-the-air situations I wish I could control.

1. I hope the Raptors win the Lottery and get Anthony Davis.

Toronto is like that ex-girlfriend you haven't seen in 15 years. You lost touch with her, and then you heard she got fat and you were secretly happy about it, but then you heard a year ago that she had a lousy boyfriend who treated her bad, and you felt sorry for her and hoped she was doing okay. (If you're a woman reading this, just substitute "boyfriend" for "girlfriend" where appropriate, "him" for "her" and "he" for "she.")

The point is that that the Raptors are positioned to be relevant again in the Eastern Conference. First and foremost, they have a really good coach in Dwane Casey, who has already put his stamp on the team. The Raptors improved significantly on defense this season, rising from dead-bleeping-last in the league in defensive efficiency a year ago (110 points allowed per 100 possessions) to 12th (101.5 points allowed).

DeMar DeRozan is a capable guard. Andrea Bargnani will never live up to being the first pick in the 2006 Draft, but he isn't a bust by any means; I don't recall Kwame Brown ever averaging 19.5 per game, as Bargnani did this season. (I would be concerned about Bargnani's field goal percentage trend line the last three seasons, however.)

Toronto has pieces, but it doesn't have that centerpiece around which you can build a real contender. Imagine a frontcourt of the 7-foot Bargnani, the 6-foot-11 Davis and 7-foot-2 center Video Jonas Valenciunas, whom the Raptors took in the first round last season and expect will come over to the NBA next season after spending the year playing in Europe. Imagine what Jose Calderon and DeRozan could do with Davis swatting shots and igniting the fast break.

And imagine what a defensive guy like Casey could do with one of the best defensive prospects in a generation. Casey was new to the NBA when he was on Seattle's bench in the early 1990s, and George Karl unleashed the ferocious Gary Payton on unsuspecting point guards. Another Sonics assistant, Bob Kloppenburg, designed diabolical halfcourt defenses. With Payton attacking, the Sonics became a lethal unit that harassed opponents all the way to the 1996 Finals. If Casey got his hands on Davis, watch out.

Most importantly, Toronto's a great city, with great basketball fans. I miss going there for meaningful games.

2. I think the should Wizards hire Nate McMillan.

McMillan, fired by the Blazers late in the season, has been linked to the Bobcats' job for months. But it's hard to see a coach as good as Nate -- and who would have as many options -- settling for a job as risky as Charlotte. The Bobcats are a long-term salvage operation and there's no guarantee things are going to improve in the next few years.

If Orlando were to dismiss Stan Van Gundy after the playoffs, one supposes McMillan would be on the Magic's short list, but Dwight Howard's uncertain (unlikely?) future there would take a lot of the starch out of any coach's ardor for that job. Portland, obviously, is not a consideration.

The Wizards have some talent. John Wall is still a piece of NBA clay, but he's shown signs he is starting to get it as a point guard -- though his outside shooting remains atrocious. Nene is a legitmate low-post option, and second-year big Kevin Seraphin came on strong toward the end of the season. So did rookie Jan Vesely. Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton are solid role players. Davis would be a major get, obviously, but even if Washington were to wind up with a Bradley Beal or Michael Kidd-Gilcrhist, the Wizards could be interesting. And it does not hurt D.C.'s cause that McMillan's daughter goes to school in the city.

What the Wizards need is someone who'll make them get serious about executing at both ends, but especially at the defensive end. That's what interim coach Randy Wittman started to do, and what McMillan could hammer home.

3. I wonder if Michael Jordan would reach out to Mike D'Antoni.

With the Bobcats a multiple-year rebuilding program, the only way they'll be competitive in the next few seasons is to outscore people. And the talent that they do have in house -- Kemba Walker, D.J. Augustin, Gerald Henderson -- is suited for an up-tempo attack.

Enter D'Antoni, who'll surely have other, better options (like if the Clippers were to part ways with Vinny Del Negro after the playoffs. I don't have any evidence that that is even being contemplated after VDN quelled speculation about his job security with a strong regular season finish, but this is Donald Sterling we're talking about, after all). But after three-plus years in the meat grinder of Gotham, could D'Antoni be ready for a change of lifestyle -- and expectations? In Phoenix and New York, fans expected those teams to ultimately compete for titles. No one has such delusions in the Queen City. But they'd like to be entertained at least.

The Knicks' personnel made no sense for D'Antoni's style, and yet, when Jeremy Lin came on the scene and gave New York a capable point guard, it all came together -- for a while, anyway. Walker has potential as well.

It's hard to imagine D'Antoni would go to such a place, unless he got an absurd amount of money, control and time to turn it around. But after a history-making 7-59 season, the Bobcats need someone who'll encourage them, make coming to the arena a positive thing. D'Antoni makes basketball fun. In Charlotte, a franchise that is flatlined and not in the city's consciousness, that's going to have to do for a while.

4. I think the Magic should bring back Tracy McGrady next season.

When was Orlando at its best during the Dwight Howard era? When it had a small forward in Hedo Turkoglu whose size and playmaking ability allowed the other three players on the floor to do what they were on the court to do -- catch and shoot. That's why Rashard Lewis worked. That's why Jameer Nelson played at an All-Star level, and Rafer Alston came in and replaced the injured Nelson without a hitch all the way to the '08 Finals.

Turk just can't bring it like that anymore. But McGrady might be able to.

Two-plus years removed from microfracture surgery, he's had two relatively injury-free seasons in a row in Detroit and Atlanta, respectively. And in each of those seasons, he's had an assist-turnover ratio of better than 2-to-1. This season, in 52 regular season games for the Hawks, he was judicious -- and effective -- with the 3-pointer, making better than 45 percent of his 33 attempts. He's still a capable playmaker. If the Magic insist on the same four-out, one-in style around Howard next season, they have to have someone who can make things easier for the other guys.

This is all predicated on Howard giving the Magic a real chance to improve the roster this summer, of course, and Orlando believing that Howard is genuine about returning. Neither may be true. And McGrady's first stay in Orlando was a nightmare of injuries and missed opportunities. But he isn't that same guy, and they aren't that same team. It would be a reasonable gamble for both sides.

5. I hope ABC/ESPN hires Stan Van Gundy when/if he's fired in Orlando.

The thing many people don't know about SVG is that he's really quite funny and self-deprecating. And freed from the burden and torture of coaching, that part of his personality would come out -- especially if he's teamed with brother (and fellow ABC/ESPN analyst), Jeff. The two are, obviously, quite close, and it's been unfair of the Worldwide to have Jeff do his brother's Magic games when he can't possibly be objective and has said as much. The two of them together could be terrific, and Stan's presence would lighten JVG up some, I think, the way Mark Jackson did. It could be great, smart television.

6. I don't think the Knicks should hire Phil Jackson.

Because I don't think Phil can hold up physically to the demands of the job. Watching his last few seasons in Los Angeles were painful, and I don't think he's more spry now at 66 than he was two years ago. Now, everyone's different, of course, and maybe a year off has rejuvenated Jackson.

But even after Pat Riley came back and led the Heat to a title in '06, he realized the next year that he just couldn't do the work anymore, even with a new hip. I would be intrigued to see Jackson get a chance to put a team together as a general manager/team president, but the Knicks just extended Glen Grunwald, so that gig is not available in New York.

New York's personnel does, in some ways, fit the triangle concept. Jackson loves big guards and the 6-foot-5 Iman Shumpert and the 6-foot-3 Lin have the kind of size he'd crave. Anthony would be lethal in the pinch post that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen wore out back in the day. Tyson Chandler is capable of guarding post players without much help, the way Bill Cartwright used to. And Steve Novak is a stretch four in the Jud Buechler/Robert Horry mold.

Would Jackson be swayed by finishing where he started? And would he have to say yes if, as Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski posited last week, the Knicks offered him $40 million for three year's work? Don't know the answer to either. And hope I won't have to know.

7. Along those lines, I do think the Knicks should give Mike Woodson an extension.

Much was made of his playoff losing streak, which ended Sunday, but having a losing streak means your team is in the playoffs. (This reminds me of a line that the late Don Meredith got off on "Monday Night Football" in the early 70s. Meredith's old team, the Cowboys, was playing broadcast partner Frank Gifford's old team, the Giants, in a pretty boring game. Sometime during the broadcast, Howard Cosell offered, 'well, gentlemen, neither of your respective teams is showing me very much tonight.' To which Meredith replied, 'well, Howard, at least we have respective teams.')

Woodson helped guide the Knicks to a postseason berth, and you'd like to see what he could do with a full training camp, maybe another big body and an upgrade at the point next year. He's gotten six straight teams to the playoffs as a coach. He's not a charity case. What he is is a damn good coach who has earned a real chance at one of the (still) glamour jobs in the league.

8. I wish the Maloofs would sell controlling interest in the Kings to Larry Ellison

It's understandable that the family is uneasy being told by others what to do with its business. I wouldn't like it, either. But there isn't anyone in Sacramento who has any faith left in the Maloofs, and it's hard to see an arena ever being built there as long as they're owners, because what they consider negotiating is considered stalling and equivocating by city government officials, who've had enough after the latest arena deal fell through.

Selling 51 percent or more of the team to Ellison would allow the Maloofs to stay on as co-owners while injecting desperately-needed capital into the franchise. And if they could convince Ellison to keep the team in Sacramento as a term of the sale, they'd be viewed as heroes in town instead of pariahs.

I don't know Ellison's business plan, but he desperately wants an NBA team. And the Kings are the closest NBA team to Ellison's home base that aren't the Warriors, who Ellison tried to buy a couple of years ago, losing out to the Joe Lacob-Peter Guber group. If an arena deal was still possible in Sacramento for Ellison, it's hard to imagine him wanting to move the team less than 100 miles to San Jose, where he wanted to spirit the Hornets had he been able to buy them and move them out of New Orleans. And Ellison isn't going to move a team to Seattle; the whole point is to have a team he can go watch every night.

9. I wish the Blazers would just give their general manager's job to Chad Buchanan

Buchanan has been the acting GM since last summer, after owner Paul Allen fired Rich Cho. Portland has said it would consider Buchanan, but has been talking lately about wanting someone with more experience, with names like Mitch Kupchak and my TNT colleague, Steve Kerr, coming up as possibilities. The Blazers also have asked for permission to talk to Indiana's David Morway.

The Blazers' collapse this season no doubt reflects poorly on Buchanan; Portland gambled and lost in trading Andre Miller for Ray Felton, and the team was rocked when Brandon Roy retired and Greg Oden suffered one last knee setback that led to his release. But those injuries weren't Buchanan's fault, and he was able to engineer the deal that got Portland a potential top-three pick in the 2012 Draft from New Jersey for Gerald Wallace. Nobody's a harder-working bird dog than Buchanan, and Portland is in need of front office stability, not another new face that has to prove himself to Allen and his people.

10. If Steve Nash is going to leave Phoenix, I hope he winds up back in Dallas, with his good friend Dirk Nowitzki.

The Nasty One wants a chance to win a championship, and Dallas will retool, whether that's with Deron Williams or someone else. Nash still has a lot left in the tank, and could help, whether as a starter or reserve.

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Injuries, playoffs put USA Basketball in tough position

If the Olympics started this week, USA Basketball would be in some trouble. Because their only true center at the moment, the Knicks' Tyson Chandler, is still barely able to keep down food after a nasty bout with a virus laid him low. And you can't get up and down the floor with just protein shakes in your stomach.

"I wouldn't wish this on anybody," he said last week.

Fortunately for the U.S. men's Olympic team, the Games don't begin in London until the end of July. Until then, head honcho Jerry Colangelo may want to keep as many players wrapped in gauze as possible.

Several stars who were expected to have key roles on the gold medal-defending team have already gone down, from Dwight Howard to Derrick Rose to Chauncey Billups. The injuries left 18 candidates on the senior national team, until the additions of Oklahoma City swingman James Harden and Kentucky freshman sensation Anthony Davis.

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Derrick Rose's ACL tear not only hurt the Bulls, but damaged USA Basketball's future a bit, too.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

"We're going to have to have guys step up," LeBron James said last week. "Dwight is a big part of our team. We was looking forward to having D-Rose on our team at the point guard. So we're going to have to have guys step up in training camp and relish the opportunity."

And while no one has begged off yet, given the punishing schedule after the lockout, it won't be a shock if someone whose NBA team goes into June or The Finals makes the decision to let the younger fellas handle London.

Speaking of which, Dwyane Wade sounded slightly less than 100 percent certain he'll be in London no matter what, even after accepting the invite to what would be his third Olympics after being prodded by his 2008 Beijing teammates ("Kobe was like, 'if my old self is playing, you can,'" Wade said -- and I'm sure Kobe said 'self' there, aren't you?) into putting the band back together one last time.

"I told them, I said, listen, I'm just going to see how I feel," Wade said last week. "This is about being healthy -- I think, for all of us, going into the summer healthy -- and taking it from there."

This was somewhat surprising to Colangelo, reached Sunday night.

"You could, today, probably come up with 10 or 11 that look pretty solid unless something happens," he said by telephone. "Wade's one of those guys, but if he feels like he doesn't have anything left or doesn't think he can go, then we'll make a decision as to who replaces him. We do have a lot of flexibility because we have guys who can play so many positions."

Even after all the injuries, the U.S. team will still be loaded at the wing spots, with LeBron James, Bryant, Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden.

Harden's season in Oklahoma City was too good to ignore when the U.S. coaching and administrative staff met in Las Vegas last week, and it's likely he'll be part of the U.S. team going forward in 2014 for the World Cup of Basketball in Spain and the 2016 Olympic team that will play in Brazil; overlapping talent from one cycle to the next is one of Colangelo's most important precepts.

Howard's absence didn't alarm USAB, because the team still had Chandler and Love from the 2010 World Championship team, along with Chris Bosh from the gold medal-winning '08 Olympic team, to play center. But with this likely being Chandler's last go-round, there was a feeling that getting a young big man into the pipeline with Howard wouldn't be a bad idea. Hence the addition of Davis, who'd be the first college player to make an Olympic team since Duke's Christian Laettner made the Dream Team in 1992.

Davis will bring athletic shot-blocking to the team if he makes it, but he will have a major adjustment playing the international game.

"It's completely different," Chandler said. "There is no comparing. And I would tell him to relish the moment. A lot of guys never get this opportunity. And if he's on the team, it's a once in a lifetime moment. He may never come back. Then again, he might play in three other Olympics. But you never know that. So right now, what you have to do is relish the moment."

And Colangelo recalled how good Durant was after just one season at Texas.

"I remember I met him at the Final Four in Atlanta and he had yet to make a decision about his future," Colangelo said. "... So I met him and he was wide eyed and kind of excited to talk. I said 'Kevin, I don't know what your plans are, but either way I want to invite you to our camp. I want to expose you to USAB. I think it would be like going to grad school.' He said 'I'm there ...

"He almost made the team that played at the Tournament of the Americas, because we had to qualify, as you recall. You look at the way we're structured; do we have a shot-blocker? The answer is no. Will he make it? I don't know. But I spoke with John Calipari and he said 'I bet he's going to do enough to make you keep him.' "

Colangelo had to get special dispensation from USAB to add Harden and Davis, who have not been in the drug-testing program that the other members of the team have been in for months. And he got permission to push back the final deadline for picking the team from June 18th to July 7th or 8th, when the team has training camp in Las Vegas, in part because of the uncertainty created by all the injuries. There's a possibility, for example, that as many as six potential Olympians -- James, Wade, Bosh, Durant, Westbrook and Harden -- could be playing one another in The Finals, which could run as late as June 26.

The U.S. Select Team, which will work out with the Senior Team, will have an even bigger role this season than in previous seasons. There will likely be more rest for Senior Team members than in the past, so the Select Team -- which will include Kyrie Irving, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, among others -- will have more impact.

"Obviously, not having Dwight, not having D-Rose, or Chauncey Billups, those kind of guys, it's a different look of how the team is going to be," Wade said. "But we have a lot of guys that can come in and fill the void, or at least try to fill the void of those guys, but come in and really help the team. I just want everybody to get through healthy, so we can have at least everybody that's on the roster now."

The blend of winning talent from the last two cycles leaves Colangelo confident the U.S. team can still win gold in London, despite all the injuries and a tougher-than-expected preliminary draw.

"When we went to Beijing, we had one gold medal winner in the room, and that was Jason Kidd," he said Sunday. "Now, we have, what? Eight or nine from the two teams? And it's not like we're starting from scratch. They're all indoctrinated. They all know what to expect."

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(April 23 rankings in parenthesis)

1) San Antonio (1) [2-0]: This could change, of course, in the blink of an eye or break of a Ginobili bone, but Gregg Popovich is looking very smart right now resting many of his key players down the stretch of the regular season.

2) Oklahoma City (4) [3-0]: Thunder awaiting word on how serious Game 4 hip injury to Kendrick Perkins is, but Perk will get at least get a week off before the next series begins.

3) Miami (2) [2-1]: Heat's halfcourt defense against the Knicks -- until Sunday, anyway -- was next to impeccable. One of the best close out teams in quite a while.

4) Indiana (5) [3-0]: Roy Hibbert with 17 blocked shots in the first four games against Orlando.

5) L.A. Lakers (6) [2-1]: It's amazing how often the Lakers just forget about Andrew Bynum.

6) L.A. Clippers (9) [2-1]: Caron Butler is a pretty gutsy fellow, isn't he? Much admiration to @RealTuffJuice!

7) Memphis (7) [1-2]: Losing a 27-point lead at home in Game 1 against the Clippers is something the Grizz are likely to regret for a long, long time.

8) Boston (11) [3-0]: This is exactly the kind of playoff series these Celtics tend to win: grimy, ugly, messy, with Paul Pierce getting it done late.

9) Philadelphia (NR) [3-0]: Spencer Hawes (22 points Sunday) finally playing again like the guy who started the season with a chance to be an Eastern Conference all-star. Sixers are dominating the Bulls inside when it counts.

10) Atlanta (8) [0-3]: The Hawks might lose this series, but Jeff Teague has given as good as he's gotten in his battle with Rajon Rondo.

11) Denver (13) [1-2]: The Nuggets, it says here, will have to sacrifice some of their admittedly deep depth this summer to get someone who can put the ball in the basket late in games. I'd target Eric Gordon, but that's me.

12) New York (12) [1-3]: Live to delay the inevitable a couple more days.

13) Orlando (14) [0-3]: Ouch: only one of the Magic's regular rotation players is shooting better than 41 percent from the floor in four games against Indiana.

14) Chicago (3) [0-3]: If you know what the deal is with Rip Hamilton, let me know.

15) Dallas (10) [0-3]: Season Complete. And there was no one who thought when the Mavs picked up Lamar Odom for next to nothing in December that thought this was going to be their fate.

Dropped out: Utah

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Oklahoma City (3-0): Thunder hold the Mavericks to 40.4 percent shooting in the four-game sweep of the defending champions almost four percentage points fewer than their season average.

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Dallas (0-3): Forget the season; the Mavericks will get things straightened out. But why they've waited so long to take care of Rick Carlisle is a mystery. They may have perfectly good reasons. But why add any angst to a coaching staff that's trying to defend a championship?

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How does the illusion of the theatre make you feel what your eyes can't see?

I was fortunate enough to see "Magic/Bird" in New York Saturday night, courtesy of longtime PR maven Joe Favorito, and thanks, Joe. I really didn't know what to expect when we got to the theatre; I knew the basic plot, of course, and knew some of the devices that would be used to further the plot along. (Unfortunately, the show is closing next Saturday after only a month on Broadway.)

The dialogue from playwright Eric Simonson is a fairly straightforward re-creation of moments in each man's career, and if you've followed either or both fairly carefully over the years, you don't learn anything you don't already know. (For real detail and new info, Jackie MacMullen's collaborative book with Bird and Johnson, "When the Game Was Ours," is the seminal work.)

What M/B does very, very well, though, is create the feeling of the era in which the two protagonists began their pro careers -- the underlying and inescapable racial tension between black fans who idolized Magic and the Lakers and white fans who adored Bird and the Celtics. There are two tense but ultimately moving scenes set in a Boston bar, where an African-American Lakers fan and a white Celtics fan trade insults about the other's favorite. The first scene takes place is in the mid-80s at the height of the rivalry; the second is around 1992, when both Bird and Magic are facing retirement because of Bird's aching back and Johnson's HIV disclosure. By the end of the second scene, each fan grudgingly acknowledges the greatness of the other fan's hero. (To Bird's everlasting credit as a man, he never accepted or solicited any of the "Great White Hope" hype, consistently telling any and everyone that the league was full of great black players, that he enjoyed playing against them and learned a lot from them.)

But the league needed saving, and M/B details how Bird and Magic's presence gave the NBA a desperately needed lifeline on which it could hang the Celtics and Lakers during The Finals, dragging the championship series out of the hell that was tape-delayed broadcasts on the East Coast that started at 11:30 p.m. They did that and no one else, including Michael Jordan. Their work ethic, which was ably shown in how each would be pushed by what he imagined the other was doing to get better, brought the NBA's two marquee franchises back to life.

The actor Video Tug Coker is remarkable as Bird, capturing both his physical look and cadence. He may have an easier job, though, in mimicking Bird, who never opened up to too many people outside of a tight circle of Indiana friends. Kevin Daniels, who plays Magic, does not really resemble Johnson, but nails Johnson's delivery and language, most poignantly in the re-creation of Johnson's retirement speech in 1991 after the HIV disclosure.

Again, though, M/B is not about impersonations. The actor Video Peter Scolari plays both Red Auerbach and Pat Riley among his many characters in the play, and he doesn't approximate either physically. It is about capturing the flavor of the time when the NBA teetered on the brink of irrelevancy, and how two men that once couldn't stand each other grew to love each other -- out of fear, respect and, finally, admiration.

It worked for me.

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Strangely, some of you disagree with my NBA awards choices. There's this ... from Ian Dannehy:

I get the logic of not putting Rose on the All-NBA first team because of the injuries, but I just can't get past the fact that the Bulls have won 31 of 38 games Rose has played in, and that is largely why they are the best team in the league record-wise(that's an .800 winning percentage which would be by far the best in the league.) Also going by PER, Derrick Rose is statistically the second-best PG in the league, so it's a little unfair to point out the statistical categories where other PGs are superior when Rose has had better overall statistical production. On the All-NBA team I would put Rose ahead of Rondo. The gap in their production is too great and Rose has been the unquestioned best player on the best team in the league, while Rondo is at best the Celtics' second-best player.

A fair argument, Ian. I just don't agree with you that Rondo was the Celtics' second-best player this season, though. He was their best player, period. He averaged 11.9 points and 11.7 assists, along with 4.8 rebounds. He dominated games in which he barely scored. And he played in 14 more games than Rose did in a season where 14 games was almost 20 percent of the season. Rondo was outstanding this year, and he was better than Rose, in my opinion, and that's all I can give you, my opinion.

And this ... from Kyle Snow:

I'm a loyal reader, and I've always wanted to send in an e-mail just to show my appreciation, but it would be a short one since I generally agree with you on nearly everything concerning basketball. Finally, though, I've found a reason to shoot over an e-mail of dissent.

I am quite surprised that Blake Griffin was snubbed from your list of All-NBA teams. I can think of only one concrete reason he doesn't deserve it: his free-throw shooting. He's one of, if not, THE most exciting players to watch, especially when paired with Chris Paul, and he's played consistently well throughout the entire year. Granted, he's made some silly mistakes near the end of ball games, but he's still such a young player. I mean, he's no Nowitzki a la last year's Finals, but he's bound to be in that echelon as he matures. On that point, I was personally underwhelmed with Dirk's performance at the beginning of the season, and a few weeks ago his team was close to making the kind of history no one wants to make (not making the playoffs after winning a championship), which is not to say it's his fault, of course, but nonetheless ...

Blake is a phenomenally talented player, Kyle. He is not as good right now as LeBron or Durant, or the other forwards on the list. He's not as good defensively as LeBron; he's not as skilled offensively as Durant; he's not as versatile as LaMarcus Aldridge or as deadly down the stretch as Dirk. He just isn't. Can he become that good in the next couple of years? I suspect he can, and will. But he's not there yet.

And this ... from Jimmy Brown:

Why no love for Frank Vogel in your postseason awards article? He didn't even make the "others" list. A guy that takes a team from the eighth seed in the East to the No. 3 seed with no All-NBA players and only one All-Star.

I got a lot of e-mails from Pacers fans about Vogel, who were understandably proud of what he did this season. He did a terrific job and could have made the list for sure. (Again, you pick three or four people for these things. It doesn't mean you think the other 28 guys stink.) One of the things that is least valued, though, is how hard it is to coach a team full of star players, all of whom expect the ball in crunch and expect to be catered to. That's why I gave Mike Brown the nod over Vogel. Hey, I didn't have Lionel Hollins on the list, either, and he did a great job in Memphis. You're not wrong to advocate for Vogel, who obviously got a lot of support from other media around the country.

And this ... from Garrett Rufus:

How is Tony Parker more deserving of first team honors than Chris Paul?

Paul is better than Parker in just about every statistical category (19.6 ppg and 9.1 apg) and has led his less-experienced, less-talented team with a coach no one would vote in the top 10 of active coaches to the biggest win differential from last season to this season.

Tony Parker may be having one of his best seasons (18.6 and 7.7) ever, but if CP were to average what TP is averaging this season, we would say Paul had a down year.

If this is just about stats, then Durant should be the MVP because he scores the most points. Stats matter, Garrett, but they aren't in and of themselves determinate. You look at a lot of things: individual numbers, team numbers, wins, losses, etc. They're not playing golf or tennis out there, they're playing basketball, so I think wins and losses matter -- a lot. Otherwise, what are they playing for? And Parker's team won more than Paul's. You can argue that Parker has a much better supporting cast, but you can't argue that his play wasn't the catalyst for everything that transpired this season in the 210.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and other hobbies for this woman to undertake to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently interesting, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

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(Weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (26 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6 apg, .433 FG, .786 FT): Had his way with the Knicks, but has gotten in some foul trouble the last two games of the series.

2) Kevin Durant (27 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.7 apg, .500 FG, .821 FT): Durant has The Look. The Look doesn't guarantee you'll win a championship, but a player -- and a team -- with The Look usually finds itself in The Finals, at least.

3) Kobe Bryant (27.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.7 apg, .416 FG, .786 FT): Did I see the Kobester starting to trust Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake Sunday night? That would be a huge development for these Lakers.

4) Tony Parker (22.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 7.5 apg, .593 FG, .929 FT): He is now one of those players that gets anywhere he wants to on the court, no matter what defense you concoct to stop him.

5) Chris Paul (26.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .500 FG, .923 FT): One wonders when the Grizz -- or any subsequent opponent of the Clips in the playoffs -- just doubles CP3 every time up court in the fourth quarter and fouls the first Clipper player who catches the ball. The odds are in that team's favor.

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16 -- Years since the Oklahoma City franchise had a series sweep in the playoffs. The Thunder finished a 4-0 first-round knockout of the defending champion Mavs Saturday night; the last time the Thunder did that in the playoffs, they were the Sonics, and still in Seattle.

13 -- Consecutive victories for the Spurs, including three straight against Utah in the first round of the west playoffs, dating back to April 11, when San Antonio was beaten by the Lakers. This is the third time this season that the Spurs have had a win streak of at least 11 games.

66 -- Official number of early-entry candidates -- 49 U.S. underclassmen and 17 international players -- in this year's Draft after the April 29 deadline. Players who've entered their names can still withdraw by June 18. There are about 10 to 15 of you who should seriously consider this option.

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1) Give Amar'e Stoudemire some credit, after his incredibly boneheaded self-check in Miami last Monday, for manning up Sunday and giving the Knicks a double-double (20 and 10) -- with one hand, basically.

2) It's funny; David West went to Indiana in large part because the Pacers had put a team together that could take some of the pressure off of him to be "the man" down the stretch every night. But there was West dominating in the closing minutes of Game 4 in Orlando Saturday, looking like the prime free agent pickup he was.

3) The Thunder looked really impressive against the Mavericks, who didn't play badly at all, even though they were swept. The difference between teams, even in a 4-0 series, is so small. But OKC won every important battle. The NBA is relentless; one moment you're a champion, the next, you're out.

4) And now we'll see what Cubes and Donnie Nelson have up their sleeves. Maybe, as Cuban said after Game 4 Saturday, the Mavericks don't have a plan. But you damn well better bet they have an idea of what they're going to do -- or at least try to do.

5) There have been some awful injuries in the playoffs, but there have been a lot of guts shown by guys like Josh Smith, Al Horford, Amar'e Stoudemire, Caron Butler, Avery Bradley and Ray Allen and Al Harrington, all of whom are playing with injuries.

6) Pacquiao. Mayweather. Now.

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1) I covered the NFL for a while in the '90s, and one of the teams I covered was the '94 Chargers team that made it to the Super Bowl. It's just hard to conceive that someone as gregarious as Junior Seau would take his own life. I don't profess to have known him at all, but in my brief encounters with him he seemed to have it all together. Which, as we sadly know now, was not the case.

2) That was an Video ugly injury to Baron Davis Sunday. Hope BD can get back and get healthy for next season; he certainly wasn't close to normal this year.

3) It certainly doesn't sound like the Suns are going to be doing the things this summer that would compel Steve Nash to stick around in Phoenix for the rest of his career, does it?

4) At this rate, the Bulls will be down to Bobby Hansen, Granny Waiters and Michael Jordan -- the Michael Jordan of the ESPN commercial, not the Hall of Fame basketball player -- by the end of next week.

5) I'm sorry, but being idiotic in the guise of being "provocative" is still being idiotic. Good for the National Association of Black Journalists for calling out New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick for his ridiculous (and, yes, I know, not serious) suggestion that because Nets part-owner Jay-Z uses the N-word in some of his rap lyrics that the Nets could be renamed the "New York N-words."

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Before the start of the season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went to James with a simple challenge: for Miami to be at its best this season, James would not only have to play at an Most Valuable Player level at the offensive end of the court, he'd have to be Defensive Player of the Year caliber at the other end, guarding every position, one through five. That would be the only way Miami could use its full rotation of players, including free agent Shane Battier and returning small forward Mike Miller. James obliged, producing a season for the books that has made him the odds-on favorite to win his third league MVP award.

But the 28-year-old is well award that the only criteria that matters -- and on which he'll be judged -- is winning championships. That was the point of his now-infamous boast when he signed with Miami in July of 2010, and until James delivers a title to South Beach, he will not be forgiven by his many critics, or his predictions forgotten by his many supporters.

Me: When you lie awake at night and think about these playoffs, what goes through your head?

LeBron James: First of all, I'm excited. I'm humbled to be able to be in this position. I grew up as a kid, watching the postseason, watching so many greats do so many great things in this part of the season, this part of the year. I always think back to when I was a kid, and watched those games, so many unbelievable performances, and I just get back to myself and say wow, I'm blessed. I'm humbled to be in this position at this time of the year.

Me: You said recently that you won't consider this season a failure if you don't win a championship. But you also said not winning The Finals last year has motivated you. What specifically has motivated you?

LBJ: I just think the whole year, how everything came down on us. We came to the point where we had an opportunity and we didn't relish it all the way through. That kind of motivated me. I wanted to get back to that point, get back to that moment, but I know it takes baby steps to get there. It takes progress throughout the year, and not take each day for granted, continue to get better. I've been excited all year to play the game of basketball, and try to play it at a high level, and I'm happy to be back at this point where I can compete at a high level.

Me: You told Sports Illustrated that you lost yourself last season. What did you mean by that?

LBJ: For me, I always play the game with a lot of love and a lot of joy and a lot of fun. I always let my game do the talking. I think I got to a point last year where I felt like I had to prove to something to people, or prove doubters wrong. I've never done that in my life. I've always just let my game, play the game to have fun. And my game has always done the talking for me. I got away from that. I tried to play for the wrong reasons. I'm happy that I'm able to look back on that, just use it as a teaching point in my life to now move on and do some pretty good things for our team and our franchise.

Me: You've guarded so many different types of players this season, from Derrick Rose to Kevin Durant to Carmelo Anthony. What is the constant you try to bring when dealing with so many different kinds of elite players?

LBJ: I think everybody always thinks it's just aggression. But it's a lot of studying, knowing where those players like the ball, knowing which direction they like to go in to get their shots, where they're most comfortable on the floor. With Shane (Battier) coming in, we both do a lot of studying. He's definitely helped me study players more, where they're more effective on the floor at all times. When I go off a guy on the floor, he goes on, and vice versa. There's great players in this league, and they're gonna get their numbers. They're gonna get their touches. And you just try to make it difficult for them during the game.

Me: Is the challenge of guarding the great players even more of a motivation for you this season?

LBJ: I don't even want to say this season. I've kind of taken the defensive role the last few years. Ever since Mike Brown came to Cleveland, that's when it all started, when he brought that defensive mindset. And he looked at me and said 'I want you to be a better defender.' And that's exactly around the point where I wanted to learn to be a better defender. I wanted to take as much pride in the offensive end as on the defensive end. And it's just gotten better. As you get older, you get smarter. You know guys' tendencies and you want to get better with it. Like I said, I love the defensive end as much as I love getting a lob or a dunk in transition. I love getting a stop or getting a steal to help our team win.

Me: What did you think you would get from talking to Magic Johnson, and Isiah Thomas, and Hakeem Olajuwon last summer? What was it you hoped you would hear from them?

LBJ: Well, what I thought I would get and what I wanted to achieve in having conversations with them is just their perspective on winning a championship, and what it takes. And if there was something I was missing throughout my preparation that I could gain from those guys, we all know that Magic has multiple championships, and Isiah, and Hakeem and all these greats. It's a process. It's a process and you've got to just continue to work at it. You've got to continue to believe in your abilities, first, before anybody else believes in your abiliites. And you've got to be a leader. That's not just on the floor and off the floor. And throughout the summer, it was great communicating with those guys, and just hearing their perspective from when they played, and what they thought. Like I said, I've always been a historian of the game. I wasn't old enough to watch them live, but I've watched plenty of classic games and I've read about their history of the game. So it was great to have them.

Me: They were pretty good live.

LBJ: (laughs) I bet.

Me: Did any one of them give you a piece of advice that really resonated with you?

LBJ: I think all of them did. I think I've said a lot about Hakeem, not only as far as the game, but off the court as well. That's what surprised me more than anything. I went down to Houston to go train with him and learn a lot about the game of basketball, but a lot of our conversation had nothing to do with basketball. It had to do with family, how you approach the game, how you are as a professional, how you are as a father, and things like that. When you hear that from someone you watched -- and I had the opportunity to watch him live -- that you watched to see him dominate like that, you also learned that it wasn't just basketball. It had a lot to do with life as well. And you let the basketball take care of itself.

Me: Did you want to talk with Michael (Jordan)?

LBJ: Yeah, but because of the lockout, I couldn't. I've always wanted to talk to Michael throughout the years. But I just haven't been able to do it.

Me: This may be your last go-round with the Olympic team. Do you still get jazzed putting that uniform on?

LBJ: Absolutely. To be able to represent my country, doing what I love to do, is the ultimate. To wear the red, white and blue, and the USA on my chest, it has nothing to do with the respective team that you play for, or where you're from. It's about all of us coming together and uniting for one thing, and that's bringing home the gold and standing tall.

Me: How will you merge the respective teams -- the one that you and Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade led in '08, and the one that Durant and Russell Westbrook led to the World Championship in 2010?

LBJ: We've got a lot of veteran guys from the '08 team, and we've got a lot of up and coming guys on the '10 team. KD and Kevin Love and Westbrook and all those guys that was on the '10 team, and you have myself and Kobe and 'Melo and D-Wade and CP (Chris Paul) and all of us from the '08 team. It's going to be fun to kind of merge, I guess the veterans -- I guess I'm a veteran guy now; I'm an old guy now, right? (laughs) -- with Westbrook and KD. It should be fun.

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At least they made it clear.... I respect it!!!!

Bucks guard Brandon Jennings (@Brand0nJennings), Friday, 7:25 p.m., responding to Milwaukee GM John Hammond's comments earlier Friday that the Bucks didn't necessarily feel obligated to give Jennings a long-term extension this offseason.

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"I could find somebody to buy the team. That's not my problem. I have to find someone that's committed to here. It's always best if it would be a Minnesotan. I'm telling you I don't know that's the way it's going to work out. I haven't had a lot of Minnesotans step up."

-- Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, telling the Associated Press that he's now actively seeking someone to come in and become a minority investor in the team with the future option to buy a majority stake from Taylor down the road. Taylor, 71, wants to keep the Wolves a few more years but wants to start the plan of succession now.

"I hope Sam's got enough money to sign him, because he's going to be in high demand."

-- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, referring to both Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti and Thunder forward James Harden, who could be a restricted free agent after next season if he doesn't sign a contract extension this fall. As someone presciently wrote a couple of weeks ago, OKC may have to make a tough call between keeping either Harden or power forward Serge Ibaka after giving max contracts to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

"I think it's the first of many."

-- Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire, after New York broke its 13-game playoff losing streak Sunday against the Heat -- and gave Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony their first postseason victory together.

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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