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David Aldridge

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Many Sonics fans still can't bring themselves to root for the Thunder -- even as they are in The Finals.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

OKC in Finals adds new sting to wound Sonics' faithful bear


Posted Jun 11 2012 11:37AM

It was a busy weekend at Key Arena in Seattle.

On Saturday, Seattle Pacific University held its commencement exercises there. (A big day for the graduates.) On Sunday, there was a doubleheader -- the undergraduate class at Seattle University in the morning, the graduate class in the afternoon. Thousands came through the building on those two days, and for a few hours, things were the way they used to be.

Then, the crowds dispersed, and the New Normal returned. A few folks here and there, maybe some people checking out Shawn Kemp's restaurant, Oskar's Kitchen, which has been open in the Queen Anne neighborhood for more than a year now. But Seattle went back about its business, without the NBA. While the team that built a brand for four decades there was preparing for its first appearance in The Finals. Or, its fourth, depending on which history you choose to accept.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are in The Finals. The fans of the late, lamented Sonics -- the team the Thunder became -- make plans to root for the Miami Heat, just as they rooted for the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs during the playoffs. They will root for anyone that is playing Oklahoma City, their old team, the team that left town in 2008.

"The part that angers me most watching all the yahooing in Oklahoma City is that the city hasn't earned this team," Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley wrote last week. "It hasn't suffered. OKC fans remind me of Florida Marlins or Arizona Diamondbacks baseball fans, who practically inherited championship teams. OKC had one year of growing pains, and that season it was so deliriously happy just to have a major-league team in such a tiny market, it already felt like a winner."

The Thunder are in The Finals, led by a incandescent superstar, Kevin Durant, who was drafted by Seattle with Video the second pick of the 2007 Draft. His fellow superstar is Russell Westbrook, drafted fourth overall by Seattle -- the last player taken by that franchise before its new owner, Clay Bennett, moved the team to Oklahoma City.

The Thunder are in The Finals, playing a high-flying style of basketball reminiscent of the way the Sonics played in the mid-to-late 1990s, led by Gary Payton's sweater-close defense and Kemp's explosive dunks.

The Thunder are in The Finals, playing against the Miami Heat in a series that will draw incredible ratings, playing in a sold-out building of loyal and loud fans. Two thousand miles away, Sonics fans are tormented, left to watch Seattle University and Seattle Storm WNBA basketball, along with the ... Rat City Roller Girls.

"Our most hated teams have always been the Spurs, Lakers and Jazz," said Adam Brown, the producer of the award-winning documentary SonicsGate, which detailed every excruciating manifestation of the franchise's move to Oklahoma City.

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Although he was drafted by the Sonics in 2008, Russell Westbrook never played a minute in Seattle.
Jennifer Pottheiser /NBAE via Getty Images

"It's so perverted and twisted just saying 'go, Manu Ginobili,' " Brown said. "What Sonics fans had to do to root against the Thunder. It's so painful, because they're such a fun team to watch ... they play the style that the '92, '93 Sonics played, with the trapping, the pressure defense, in your face. If it was any other jersey or any other personal circumstances, they'd be our favorite team by far."

The Thunder are in The Finals.

"In some ways it's obviously the worst thing that the Thunder is in the Finals, but it's almost the best thing," said Jason Reid, who directed SonicsGate. "It draws attention to the fact that there was basketball in Seattle."

Seeing the Thunder Video come back in the Western Conference finals and beat the Spurs, one of the Sonics' biggest rivals, didn't provide any sense of closure.

"I didn't think watching that game (the clinching Game 6) was going to be as painful as it was for me," Reid said. "They brought Clay Bennett out, and he's holding the trophy, and he's talking about what a great city Oklahoma City was. We drafted their best player. We drafted Russell Westbrook. I was at the Fox Sports bar with Jeff Green and we celebrated getting Russell Westbrook."

They have never been angry with the fans in OKC, they say over and over again. They are thrilled to see that the Thunder's fan base is rabid and fills Chesapeake Energy Arena every night. Their anger was not even really directed at Bennett, whom they say was conniving, but only doing what they wish someone had done for Seattle.

They were always more angry with the team's former owner, Howard Schulz. He sold the team to Bennett knowing that Bennett was from Oklahoma City knowing that it would be almost impossible to get a new building approved by the state legislature to replace Key Arena. That arena had already been fully renovated once and still couldn't produce the revenue of newer-built buildings.

"We've never said anything bad about the fans of Oklahoma City," Brown said. "They clearly love basketball. They support their team very well. Our movie never ripped the fans ... Oklahoma fans certainly deserve a team. They just didn't deserve the Sonics."

The Thunder are in The Finals, with everyone in town wearing T-shirts, or flying pennants on their cars, and with thousands outside the arena. They have brought their city together, even as the large crowds that used to swarm what was called "Thunder Alley" just behind the arena have been cleared since a shooting during the Lakers' series injured eight people.

"On one hand it hurts, but on the other hand, I feel kind of vindicated," said Brian Robinson, who was one of the co-founders of the "Save Our Sonics" group that petitioned politicians and NBA officials up to Commissioner David Stern to do something to keep the team in town. Now, Robinson heads Arena Solution, a group devoted to getting a team back in Seattle.

"We kept hearing from so many politicians, when we'd tell them about what the team could be doing, that this is worthless," Robinson said. "But we kept saying, this could be a really big thing for our city. Now it's like, told you so. We could have had that."

There is nothing they can do about the move now. They have asked Thunder fans to at least support their drive to keep the history of the Sonics' franchise with the now-gone Sonics. References to the Thunder's first trip to the Finals "since 1996" especially rankle. (The Larry O'Brien trophy from the Sonics' 1979 title, along with the franchise's retired jerseys, are currently on display at a local Seattle museum, but they are, technically, Bennett's property.)

"It confirms all the reasons we can't ever root for that team, especially when they're masquerading with all the Sonics' history," Brown said.

Robinson's group is moving forward in other, more tangible ways. He has harnessed a Who's Who of businesspeople, local merchants, entertainers, sports figures and ... rapper Sir-Mix-A-Lot to his advisory board. The idea is to create a wall of support for a new arena that will not break the bank, and break the back of taxpayers.

And most of the old Save Our Sonics/SonicsGate people believe that plan is the one proposed by Chris Hansen, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Seattle native who is looking to relocate an existing NBA and NHL team to land he purchased in the city's SoDo (South of Downtown) neighborhood near Safeco Field, where the Mariners play.

Under Hansen's proposal, he would put $290 million in private funding toward construction of an arena and buying an existing team. The city would issue bonds for another $200 million. The money would be paid back through increased revenues that would come from the use of the new building solely.

For example, property tax increases that would follow if an arena were built on the existing open land would go toward retiring the bonds. If the teams were to underperform and not meet specific revenue projections in a given year, Hansen's yearly rent would go up. And the city would own the building in 30 years.

There are opponents to the plan, which is why Robinson is amassing as many supporters as he can. The previous arena proposals had to be approved by the state legislature in Olympia, whose leadership constantly opposed any idea of using state money to help Seattle sports franchises. By contrast, the only people voting on this measure are the very local members of the Seattle City Council.

"Sports fans can make a difference," Robinson said. "We can vote somebody out of office. And we will."

The council isn't expected to vote on the proposal until next month.

In the meantime, there will be a rally in Seattle at Occidental Park on Thursday afternoon to support the bill's passage. They're hoping for a few thousand people to show. Kemp and the team's old radio play-by-play man, Kevin Calabro, are expected to attend. That will be in the afternoon. In the evening, the Oklahoma City Thunder will play Game 2 of The Finals against the Heat.

Brian Robinson will not be rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who used to be the Sonics, but are no longer.

"Oklahoma City getting handed a (championship) trophy in November is not terrible timing for us," Robinson said, referring to the ring ceremony before the season opener for the defending NBA champions -- which will be the same week at the general election.

"But, yeah, I'm rooting for the Heat," he said. "As much as I like Nick Collison, I can't. And it's the most entertaining roster I've ever seen, in terms of just playing entertaining basketball. And I'm a big James Harden fan. But, go, LeBron."

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(May 21 rankings in parenthesis)

1) Oklahoma City (1) [2-0]: I don't know if the Thunder will beat Miami in The Finals. But if the Thunder do beat Miami in The Finals, that's going to be the first in a long string of Finals victories for OKC.

2) Miami (3) [2-1]: Back to the brink.

3) San Antonio (2) [0-2]: The Spurs are facing -- potentially -- their first season without either David Robinson or Tim Duncan in the middle since 1989.

4) Boston (4) [1-2]: You know the Celtics have to wonder what would have happened if Kendrick Perkins hadn't blown out his knee in the opening moments of Game 6 of the 2010 Finals. That changed everything.

5) Indiana (5): Season complete.

6) L.A. Lakers (6): Season complete.

7) Philadelphia (7): Season complete.

8) L.A. Clippers (8): Season complete.

9) Memphis (9): Season complete.

10) Atlanta (10): Season complete.

11) Denver (11): Season complete.

12) New York (12): Season complete.

13) Orlando (13): Season complete.

14) Chicago (14): Season complete..

15) Dallas (15): Season complete.

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Miami (2-1): For 48 hours, after losing Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat was on the brink of receiving a withering summer of criticism, and who knows what would have happened if they had lost. But then LeBron James played a Game 6 for the ages, and the Heat team closed out a tight Game 7 with everyone contributing.

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Boston (1-2): There were tears in Doc Rivers's eyes Saturday night in the waning seconds of Game 7, because I think he already knows what the rest of us merely suspect, that this is really the end of the Big Three era. Hard to see Ray Allen coming back, and who knows what deals Danny Ainge will make to revamp his roster? No one is immune, even Paul Pierce, who was almost dealt to New Jersey at last February's trade deadline.

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(Weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (35.3 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 3 apg, .542 FG, .676 FT): The Thing About LeBron is not that he's capable of scoring 45 every game, as he did in his career-altering Game 6 performance in Boston, because no one can do that. The Thing About LeBron is that when he does go for 45, he makes it look like he can.

2) Kevin Durant (30.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 5 apg, .528 FG, .810 FT): The most important stat from the Western Conference finals was 2.5: average turnovers from Durantula against San Antonio. He averaged 3.8 per game during the regular season, an egregious waste of possessions. If Durant can control his miscues against Miami Oklahoma City will have a real chance.

3) Tony Parker (24.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 8 apg, .415 FG, .824 FT): Thunder decided they weren't going to let Parker beat them after Game 2, and that was the difference in the series. But this was the best season of Parker's career, and going forward, the Spurs are going to go as far as he can carry them.

4) Rajon Rondo (16.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 12.3 apg, .412 FG, .636 FT): Remarkable playoff run for Rondo, whose game defies normal definition. It will be quite a challenge for Danny Ainge to put a team around him that takes the best advantage of his skills without his persona overwhelming the rest of the group.

5) Kevin Garnett (14 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, .500 FG, .750 FT): The look on KG's face when Doc Rivers subbed him out in the final seconds of Game 7 -- the incredulous, stubborn, there-has-to-be-something-else-I-can-do look -- tells you everything you need to know about him.

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How is the second half of the first round of the Draft going to shake out?

Last week, we did the top 15 teams in the first round of the Draft, with their team needs, and who they might be looking at where they currently sit. This week, we do teams 16-30 in the first. At the moment, the Nets, Knicks, Clippers, Lakers, Spurs and Jazz don't have any first-round selections.

16) HOUSTON (From New York)

2011-12 RECORD: 34-32, fourth, Southwest

NEEDS: Center, small forward

LIKELY PICK(S): Moe Harkless, F, St. John's, Jae Crowder, Marquette, Jeff Taylor, F, Vanderbilt, Fab Melo, Syracuse

The Rockets also have the 14th pick, so it would be no surprise if they tried to package these two to try and move up for one of the top threes or bigs. If they can't accomplish that, they should be able to get another three to push Chase Budinger. Harkless has the most upside, but he might be gone a pick or two ahead.

17) DALLAS

2011-12 RECORD: 36-30, third, Southwest

NEEDS: Point guard, center

LIKELY PICK(S): Austin Rivers, G, Duke, Terrence Ross, G, Washington, Royce White, F, Iowa State, Arnett Moultrie, F/C, Mississippi State

With Jason Kidd's days almost certainly numbered in Big D, and the Mavs targeting but not assured of getting Deron Williams, getting the point solidified is a priority. If Rivers is still on the board he'd be a target, but the Mavericks have never been shy about taking talent off the board, and Ross, White and Moultrie are talents at their respective positions.

18) MINNESOTA (From Utah)

2011-12 RECORD: 26-40, fifth, Northwest

NEEDS: Shooting guard, center

LIKELY PICK(S): Jeremy Lamb, G, Connecticut, Ross, Taylor, White

The Wolves still haven't solved their two guard conundrum, despite bringing in Martell Webster and drafting Wes Johnson two years ago, and after showing signs of improvement last season a veteran two might be the way they go instead of keeping the pick. But if they stay here, Lamb can certainly fill it up, though there are still questions about his toughness. If Taylor is still on the board, he'd be a great -- wait for it -- value pick here.

19) ORLANDO

2011-12 RECORD: 37-29, third, Southeast

NEEDS: Backcourt help

LIKELY PICK(S): Lamb, Ross, Tony Wroten, G, Washington, Evan Fournier, G, France

If the assumption is that the Magic will get a center in return when and if they trade Dwight Howard, and that the team will figure out a way to keep Ryan Anderson, Orlando can turn its attention to repairing its backcourt. Wroten is not the most consistent playmaker, but the Pac 10 Freshman of the Year makes a lot of spectacular plays with the ball.

20) DENVER

2011-12 RECORD: 38-28, second, Northwest

NEEDS: Perimeter shooting

LIKELY PICK(S): Fournier, Will Barton, G, Memphis, Jared Cunningham, G, Oregon State, Wroten

The Nuggets were great when they could turn you over and get out and run, but they struggled a lot in the halfcourt, and were feast or famine shooting threes. Fournier is a talented two with size; Barton plays with great energy; Cunningham brings it at the defensive end, which would fit right in to how George Karl likes to play.

21) BOSTON

2011-12 RECORD: 39-27, first, Atlantic

NEEDS: Center, frontcourt depth

LIKELY PICK(S): White, Draymond Green, F, Michigan State, Miles Plumlee, C, Duke

The Celtics don't necessarily have a need at the three or four if they keep Paul Pierce and re-sign Jeff Green or Kevin Garnett. But Boston is definitely in "best player available" mode as they start to remake the team, and there still are some good bigs available. White has anxiety issues but he's tough and physical. Green is a terrific talent from a great program and would make a lot of sense for a team looking to get younger and more athletic up front. Plumlee played well at the Minnesota combine a couple of weeks ago and his stock is going up.

22) BOSTON (From L.A. Clippers)

NEEDS: Froncourt depth

LIKELY PICK(S): White, Green, Plumlee, Andrew Nicholson, F, St. Bonaventure

The Celtics could well auction this pick off to one of the teams looking to buy its way into the first round. But if Boston keeps this pick, Nicholson could come into play; he's a potential stretch four who can get some things done inside as well, and concerns about his size were alleviated when he measured 6-9 at Chicago.

23) ATLANTA

2011-12 RECORD: 40-26, second, Southeast

NEEDS: Frontcourt depth

LIKELY PICK(S): White, Green, Nicholson, Henry Sims, C, Georgetown

The Hawks' needs would change if they decide to move Josh Smith, but for now, they could use some better backups for him, and with Zaza Pachulia entering his final year of his deal next year, it wouldn't hurt to get a young center on the roster. Sims knows how to play off of the ball.

24) CLEVELAND (From L.A. Lakers)

2011-12 RECORD: 21-45, fifth, Central

NEEDS: Shooting guard

LIKELY PICK(S): Barton, Fournier, Kim English, G, Missouri, Cunningham, Orlando Johnson, G, UC-Santa Barbara

If the Cavs got their three man at the top of the Draft, they can get a young two near the bottom. English has been one of the best players in the post-college season workouts and his stock is high. Johnson played very well in the New Jersey combine a couple of weeks ago.

25) MEMPHIS

2011-12 RECORD: 41-25, second, Southwest

NEEDS: Depth

LIKELY PICK(S): Plumlee, Nicholson

A prime candidate to sell the pick, as anyone taken here would not only get guaranteed dollars that would push Memphis closer to the luxury tax threshold, but would also struggle to crack the Grizzlies' rotation especially if forward Darrell Arthur returns from a torn ACL that kept him out all season.

26) INDIANA

2011-12 RECORD: 42-24, second, Central

NEEDS: Depth

LIKELY PICK(S): Kyle O'Quinn, F/C, Norfolk State, Sims

See Memphis. Would be very surprised if Indiana, two deep at every position at the moment, kept this pick. But if the Pacers did hold onto it, getting another backup center for Roy Hibbert wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

27) MIAMI

2011-12 RECORD: 46-20, first, Southeast

NEEDS: Backup point guard, center

LIKELY PICK(S): Wroten, Scott Machado, G, Iona, Marquis Teague, G, Kentucky, O'Quinn

The Heat surprised a lot of people by doing a deal for Norris Cole at the end of the first round last year, but a more traditional point guard to back up Mario Chalmers might make sense this year. Machado is a terrific passer who could sneak into the end of the first round, and Teague came on as the year went on for the national champion Wildcats.

28) OKLAHOMA CITY

2011-12 RECORD: 47-19, first, Northwest

NEEDS: None

LIKELY PICK(S): Quincy Acy, F, Baylor, Kris Joseph, F, Syracuse

There is no good reason to keep this pick, and the suspicion is that Sam Presti will use this chip with an expendable contract to move up or down if he sees a good deal. It might make some financial sense to keep the pick to use on an 11th or 12th guy instead of paying the veteran minimum.

29) CHICAGO

2011-12 RECORD: 50-16, first, Central

NEEDS: Point guard, shooting guard

LIKELY PICK(S): Machado, Teague, Doron Lamb, G, Kentucky, Darius Johnson-Odom, G, Marquette

With Derrick Rose likely to miss most of next season and the Bulls uncertain about whether to bring back Kyle Korver or Ronnie Brewer, Chicago could use some young, talented legs in the backcourt. Doron Lamb isn't rated as highly as Jeremy Lamb, but he can shoot it, too.

30) GOLDEN STATE (From San Antonio)

2011-12 RECORD: 23-43, fourth, Pacific

NEEDS: Point guard depth

LIKELY PICK(S): Machado, Teague, Tyshawn Taylor, G, Kansas

The Warriors cannot feel like Stephen Curry will be an 82-games-a-year guy going forward after his first two seasons in the league. So getting someone in place to handle some minutes next year would make a lot of sense. Taylor's effort on defense would be a welcome addition to the sieve-like Warriors.

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Thirty-nine sentences into his letter, he shows that, perhaps, he has some skin in the game. From Spencer Kellar:

I read your article titled Educated Guesses, primarily for the conspiracy theory section. I found many of your points to be very well thought out and put together, and you certainly put a damper on any conspiracy theorist's parade. However, as you might have guessed, I'm not e-mailing you to agree with you completely. I do have a few issues.

I think leaning too heavily to one side or the other is dangerous. Certainly, it's almost illogical to latch on to any conspiracy, whether it be the "9/11 was an inside job" theory or the "The Earth is hollow" theory. But it's also dangerous to write off every theory as foolish, because that can show a lack of thought or a thought process. Though I can spend a few e-mails arguing the merits of the JFK assassination conspiracy, I will keep it short. If we accept everything as it is told to us, and dismiss any other ideas as crazy nutcase conspiracy theories, then we're risking a heck of a lot. Not that I'm saying that a few rigged lottery balls are on par with the assassination of a president via the CIA. But who is to say whether Stern has a hand in the lottery and in games or not? Certainly not Tim Donaghy; he was dismissed as a nutjob by Stern himself after the disgraced ref insinuated what most people already know -- that the Video Western Conference finals, Game 6, 2002, was fixed. Jack Ruby was also dismissed as a nutjob. (Okay, okay, I'll stop).

Who are we supposed to ask? You? Look, I know you truly believe in what your writing, and I'm not trying to create another conspiracy. But what would else would I expect from a writer being featured on an NBA blog? "Breaking News: Stern a Fraud"? No, I don't think that would go over too well. And if Donaghy isn't to be trusted, which ref should I seek an opinion from? Dick Bavetta? Bennet Salvatore? Yeah, no thanks.

All I'm saying is this. Maybe this lottery wasn't fixed. That's a likely possibility. The Hornets weren't that far from the 1st pick, and the odds dictated that they had a decent chance. Maybe it's just great luck for the Hornets. But really, that's not the most suspicious of lottery winners. The Bulls sure lucked out in getting Chicago native Derrick Rose, a true franchise player for a team in need of one, when they had just a 1.7% chance of winning the thing. I mean, come on. Even if it was just a great coincidence, can we really dismiss the conspiracy theories. Who's the real one in denial?

And back to the WC Finals, Game 6, 2002, I'd like a definitive answer from you if you'd give me one, something that you didn't do in your story. Because really, whether it be a David Stern master plan, or refs betting on games, or bigfoot, something was wrong with the officiating in that game. And I mean, really wrong. Like, a heck of a lot worse then usual. Am I Kings fan still suffering from that screwjob? You betcha. Does that make me more likely to side with conspiracy theories? Probably. I'd argue that's only because as someone who has felt the presence of the league effect things, I'm more aware of these things. You'll notice that Laker and Heat fans usually aren't conspiracy theorists. But hey, maybe it's all coincidence. For me though, it's simple. Just 'cause I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get me.

Spencer, I hope you appreciate the irony of your letter which says the NBA may well have fixed a conference finals game and rigged the lottery is appearing on NBA.com, untouched but for a couple of grammatical fixes. Once again, the inference is clear: since I write for NBA.com, I can't possibly be objective -- even as I, for the millionth time, point out that I am paid by Turner Sports and not the NBA, that I write for NBA.com because Turner runs NBA.com, that if Turner decided to start its own website I'd write for that, etc. Okay. I accept the fact that there are people who will simply not believe I can arrive at this conclusion without thinking I'm on the take or otherwise a stooge. That's life.

But you are asking me to believe something that's even more crazy: that there could be a conspiracy involving something of this magnitude, yet no one with direct knowledge of it -- the Commissioner (or someone in authority) told me he wanted Boston in the Finals; I was instructed to inject the ping pong balls with a liquid polymer beforehand that made certain balls come to the surface faster -- has ever stepped forward.

No one has ever credibly sold his or her story for money; no National Enquirer headlines; no "Dateline NBC" appearances. No one has ever come forward just so that they could become famous or have their 15 minutes in the spotlight, because no one has ever done that, right? No one has come forward because they feel betrayed or otherwise have an axe to grind against Stern and/or the league. No one has come forward because they stumbled upon something they thought was kind of fishy, like Frank Wills, the security guard who began the unraveling of Watergate by simply seeing masking tape over a lock that kept a door in the hotel complex open in June, 1972. (Forty years this month since Watergate. My God.)

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Tracing any conspiracy in the Lakers-Kings series from 2002 requires a true starting point -- which is hard to come by.
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

What do you think is more likely -- a massive conspiracy involving at least a few dozen people to fix a playoff game or rig the Lottery, or said conspiracy happening while everyone involved in it remains silent, until they die?

As for Game 6 between the Kings and Lakers, I will repeat what I've said over and over: I don't know what happened in that game. It was out of the ordinary, to be sure. I have my suspicions, to be sure. But I have suspicions about a lot of things for which there is no actual proof.

Here is what Donaghy wrote in his book, Personal Foul, about that game, which he did not work; the officials were Dick Bavetta, Ted Bernhardt and Bob Delaney:

In the pregame meeting prior to Game 6, the league office sent down word that certain calls -- calls that would have benefitted the Lakers -- were being missed by the referees. This was the type of not-so-subtle information that I and other referees were left to interpret. After receiving the dispatch, Bavetta openly talked about the fact that the league wanted a Game 7.

"If we give the benefit of the calls to the team that's down in the series, nobody's going to complain. The series will be even at three apiece, and then the better team can win Game 7," Bavetta stated.

As history shows, Sacramento lost Game 6 in a wild come-from-behind thriller that saw the Lakers repeatedly sent to the foul line by the referees. For other NBA referees watching the game on television, it was a shameful performance by Bavetta's crew, one of the most poorly officiated games of all time.

I don't know if Donaghy is telling the truth. But there are questions that he does not answer. What calls "would have benefitted the Lakers"? Is he talking about flopping on the part of the Kings' Vlade Divac? Fouls being committed against Shaquille O'Neal that weren't being whistled? How was this different from the tapes and/or DVDs that every team sends to the league office during a season when it thinks its team is getting hosed on calls?

To whom did Bavetta "openly" talk about the league wanting a Game 7? Was it Donaghy? One of the other refs working the game? I'm not Perry Mason, but I think I know the difference between direct evidence and hearsay.

Where does the Bavetta quote about giving the benefit of the calls "to the team that's down in the series" come from? When did he say that? And to whom? Did he say it to Donaghy, and if so, was it that morning? A week later? A year later? Was that conversation relayed to Donaghy by someone else? If so, whom? And when? I'm not saying there aren't answers to these questions, but at the moment, we don't have them.

As far as the Lottery, while Cleveland indeed got the first pick the year after LeBron's departure, Irving was by no means a sure thing coming into the league. He played only a small chunk of his one season at Duke. And while a lot of people indeed liked Rose a lot after his year at Memphis, no one was predicting he'd be the league's MVP after his third season. There is some cherrypicking going on here.

I am not naïve, and I don't dismiss out of hand any possibility that there has ever been anything untoward done in the history of this league. But, again: where is the proof? If there is anyone out there who has direct knowledge of a conspiracy or can even point me in a direction, I will happily follow through on what you give me. If you don't think I'd be interested in that story, you have never -- ever -- been a reporter.

Again, it was my understanding that there would be no math in this column. From Jean Paul Maufinet Castellares:

I really enjoy reading The Morning Tip each morning, and frankly this is the first time I disagree with you on something. I am no expert in the game, but I strongly believe the reason coaches do not Hack-A-Whoever each game isn't some noble intent to avoid hurting the flow of the game, but because it isn't effective. I know there is a lot of criticism towards coaches who use this strategy, but since it doesn't break any rule there is no reason whatsoever to avoid using it. The only reason that explains why this incident occurs just once in a while is inefficiency.

The worst qualified free point shooters are Howard and Griffin. Let's examine both cases:

Dwight Howard: .491 FT% X 2 = 0.982

Magic averaged 91.2 possessions and 102.5 points per 100 possessions. Points per possession = 0.935

Blake Griffin: 0.521 FT% X 2 = 1.048

Clippers averaged 91.8 possessions and 102.6 points per 100 possessions. Points per possession = 0.942.

Even the worst qualified free throw shooter in the league scores way more by shooting two free throws than his team on an average possession (0.982 vs. 0.935). That means HAW is never a good strategy. That's why it almost never happens. They only do it when a team is strictly hot and just to cut their tempo. It's an extremely bad strategy based on points scored but it may help cool down the opponent. And it's no guarantee, that's why it is only done fewer than once every 100 games. Just wanted to point that out.

I accept your logic, Jean Paul. But coaches usually don't have their calculators out when they go to HAW. It's normally done, as you say, to interrupt the flow of the other teams' offense. But coaches are also reluctant to use it prominently because, as I said, there is a concern about "uglying up" the game and not allowing players to actually play to decide who wins or loses. Most coaches were former players, and competitors, and they would not force upon their current players what they would have found manipulative back in their day.

DeShawn Stevenson is, apparently, not as logical or as cool as I'd opined. From Eric Kuhner:

Funny, a lot of people have ATMs in their houses. They call them "safes."

Touche.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and torn up Belmont $2 winner tickets for I'll Have Another to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your response is sufficiently thoughtful, funny, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it!

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7' 1.25" -- Height of Illinois center Meyers Leonard, who was the tallest player measured at the Chicago Pre-Draft camp last week.

18 -- Years since the Jazz didn't have a first-round pick in the Draft. Utah traded its first-rounder to Brooklyn in 2011 as part of the Deron Williams trade, and the Nets subsequently sent that pick to Golden State.

28 -- Number of Game 7 playoff appearances by the Celtics in their postseason history, including Video Saturday's Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Heat. With Saturday's loss, the Celtics dropped to 20-8 in such games. The franchise's first Game 7 was in the 1957 Finals, when the Celtics defeated the St. Louis Hawks to win the first championship in the Bill Russell era. By way of comparison, the Grizzlies have played 32 playoff games total in their 17 NBA seasons.

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1) As Bart Scott would say, can't wait for Thunder-Heat. It's the best possible outcome for a season that started in haste and acrimony and fan fatigue from a ridiculous lockout. Forget what the league deserves; the game of basketball deserves to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant slug it out on the game's biggest stage and, hopefully, create the a rivalry along the lines of the game's best, like Russell-Chamberlain and Bird-Magic.

1A) And, this.

2) Pretty good Video Game 6, LeBron James. It wasn't quite a scowl he had on his face as he dropped 45 on the Celtics' beans, but his eyes were dead, like he was in a catatonic state. A great, great performance in one of the most pressure-filled situations one can ever imagine. Easy to say now that the Heat are in the Finals, but if they had lost Game 6, the world of ruin that would have fallen on James would have been spectacular.

3) I like Kevin Pritchard. I don't care if he was "arrogant" or whatever the front office cowards who hide and take anonymous shots at him tell people. He did what any good management person does -- he took chances on people he believed in, and he believed in Greg Oden and Brandon Roy when he was running the Trail Blazers. That didn't work, and he lost his job in Portland, in part, because of it. Now, as Yahoo! Sports first reported over the weekend, he's Larry Bird's choice to become the Pacers' GM as Bird finalizes his deal to stay on as team president, with David Morway being replaced.

The anonymous people are now saying Pritchard conspired behind the scenes to take power from David Morway, who's being let go. BTW, I like Morway, too, and I feel bad that he's losing his job. (The Indanapolis Star took a crack at why that happened on Sunday.)

But can anyone make the case that, somehow, Kevin Pritchard duped Larry Bird? Larry Bird's a pretty smart fellow and he's nobody's sucker. He did this because he feels more comfortable working with Pritchard than Morway. Unfortunate, but that's what happens every day of every week of every year in every office in the world. Morway, a good guy, will get another job soon enough after the exemplary job he did rebuilding Indiana on the fly.

4) Can't wait to see the premiere of Video "The Dream Team" on NBA TV Wednesday (9 p.m. ET). Looks like they got great access and got everyone who mattered to sit down with them.

5) University of Washington guard Terrence Ross helped himself a lot this week in Chicago with his play on the court and his interviews off the court. He's on the list of a couple of teams with top 10 picks, but even if he doesn't go that high he'll go soon after.

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1) I criticized LeBron James for walking off the court in 2009 when the Magic won the Eastern Conference finals. I criticize Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo for doing the same Saturday night. I know all the talk about them being warriors and blah, blah, blah. They're not warriors. People who fight in wars are warriors. They're basketball players. And it isn't too much to ask them to stay on the court for 30 seconds to congratulate the team that beat them. Doc Rivers did. Ray Allen did. Paul Pierce did. Garnett and Rondo should have, too.

2) I hope Tim Duncan comes back and plays next season, but only for my own selfish reasons; I love watching the Spurs play the game, and they won't play it as well without Duncan playing -- or Gregg Popovich coaching, and Pop has been clear over the years that he walks out when Duncan does.

3) Speaking of coaching, Stan Van Gundy went off on ESPN's Chris Broussard, who'd criticized Miami coach Erik Spoelstra after the Heat's Game 5 loss to Boston last week, saying Spoelstra was in over his head as a coach. (Full disclosure: Broussard is a friend.)

Here's the thing: in one regard, I think Stan Van is absolutely right. Reporters like Broussard -- and me -- couldn't coach an NBA game if our lives depended on it, and the judgments we make about coaches, especially in today's viral media, shape perceptions of them. We don't know what NBA coaches have to deal with on a daily basis. We don't know their teams as well as they do. Most of us can't draw up plays or break down tape, or run a practice. We are critiquing something we know nothing about.

But that's true of almost any job.

Can you play a guitar, or act, or sing? Most of us can't. Yet we have opinions about those who can. I suspect Stan Van Gundy has opinions on movies he's seen, but under his logic, he shouldn't express them, because he's never been an actor.

Do you know what the President of the United States deals with on a daily basis? Do you know the pressures of the job, the secrets that can't be revealed, the cost-benefit breakdown of every decision that's made? And yet, we have elections every four years that are, in essence, referendums on their job performance (or, at least, what we expect of them if they get the job). We make judgments every day about things we can't do. Is that fair, or right? Of course not. But that's life. And we all do it -- including NBA coaches.

4) Sad that I'll Have Another had to be scratched from the Belmont and lose his chance at the Triple Crown, but if this column is any indication of what goes on in horse racing, he's lucky.

5) Didn't see the Pacquiao-Bradley fight Saturday night, but some of the fellows seemed a little exorcised about it.

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ANDRE DRUMMOND, CONNECTICUT

This week, we begin a series leading up to the June 28 Draft with some of the players expected to go high in the Lottery. Connecticut's freshman center Andre Drummond may be the most question-raising prospect in the bunch. The 6-foot-11, 278-pound 18-year-old has the kind of size and quickness -- along with a 7-foot, six and a quarter inch wingspan, the longest among the prospects at the Chicago Pre-Draft camp last week -- that makes NBA types drool. But his one season in Storrs featured only flashes of a consistent post presence, with Drummond seemingly disappearing for long stretches on the court.

There were occasional flashes of dominance, like a 20-point, 11-rebound performance against West Virginia in January, but Drummond only averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Huskies, who were bounced from the Big East Tournament in the quarterfinals and got smoked by Iowa State in ther opening game in the NCAA Tournament -- a game in which Drummond only had two points and three rebounds before fouling out. Still, with his size and potential, there's no way he gets out of the top 10 of the first round.

Me: Teams have a lot of questions about you. What is the one question that keeps coming up in your interviews?

Andre Drummond: Am I a hard worker? I definitely am a hard worker. I give my all anywhere I go. Some people don't understand that, because I smile a lot when I play the game. It doesn't look like I'm serious, because I'm smiling. But I definitely love the game of basketball, and I always have a smile on my face.

Me: Where does the smiling come from?

AD: That's just me as a person. I'm always happy. I smile all the time. And I just love playing the game.

Me: So if this persona is out there about you, how do you convince people that that's not who you are?

AD: Definitely, they'd have to trust in me as a player and see that I can play the game and I know what I'm doing, but that I enjoy the game as well.

Me: UConn didn't have as good as season as you would have liked. How do you separate your play individually from what happened to the team?

AD: I'm working a lot harder. I'm working harder than I've ever worked before to build myself an offensive game and a good back to the basket game, to show the folks that I can play this game, that I definitely have an offensive skill set.

Me: Where are you working out now?

AD: I work out of New York with Idan (Ravin, the celebrated "Hoops Whisperer").

Me: What does he have you doing?

AD: It's a whole lot of things. He's having me work on the perimeter, take catch and shoot shots, a lot of back to the basket things, a lot of footwork things. Like earlier today, I was doing the jump rope, and people were like, wow, you can skip rope a little bit. That's a lot of things we do, and footwork is one of the key things we do.

Me: When you get on the floor in the NBA next season, what will you be able to do right away?

AD: I can definitely come in and run the floor, and help get fast break points, rebound the ball, block a lot of shots, definitely get my team going.

Me: Have you heard from some of the past Connecticut players who are playing in the NBA?

AD: Yeah, like Rudy Gay used to come back all the time, Hasheem (Thabeet) used to come back, Ray Allen, Donny Marshall, I mean, you go down the list of guys that came back, and they all just tell me, it's no joke out there. You need to give it your all every single game, play hard. This is a job, and everybody is out there for the same reason.

Me: How good can you be?

AD: I feel like I can be a great player in this league. I can be an All-Star, Rookie of the Year, if I work hard.

Me: What do you want to get across in the interviews?

AD: Just clear the air about the whole 'not playing seriously' thing, and that I'm a hard worker. If I get chose by any team, I'm going to go out there and play my hardest, give it my all, listen to the coaching staff and do anything that they tell me to do.

Me: What is the craziest question you've been asked so far?

AD: I haven't really heard any crazy questions. Everything's just been real basic, asking me who I am as a person, where I lived, how I grew up, what high school I went to, how successful I've been through my years. Nothing really crazy.

Me: Does it surprise you that that kind of basic stuff that people can Google about you would be what they ask you?

AD: Sometimes, Google doesn't really tell the truth about a lot of things. It's better to hear it from the person than to read it somewhere.

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Private party at mark Cuban house ... u should see the estates around dis joint...cood-gracious -alive..my house size of pool houses round here

--Mavericks guard Delonte West (@CharleeRedz13), Friday, 9:49 p.m., detailing a get-together at his owner's small, nondescript home that featured Jon Bon Jovi as the evening's entertainment.

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"She's tough as nails. If I had her toughness, I would have been a starter in the NBA."

-- Thunder coach Scott Brooks, to The Oklahoman newspaper, on his mother, Lee, who told her son she wouldn't leave her hometown of Sacramento to see him coach in Oklahoma City unless the Thunder made the NBA Finals. She will fly to OKC for the first time for Game 1 of the Finals Tuesday.

"This is what he was born for. He didn't grow up wanting to play for Duke, North Carolina or Kansas, even though they're phenomenal programs. He grew up in an NBA lifestyle, and this is what he wanted to be and he thought he was ready."

-- Celtics coach Doc Rivers, talking to Yahoo! Sports about his son, Austin, who declared for the Draft after playing one season at Duke. Austin Rivers has been viewed as "cocky" by some NBA scouts who saw him play, but he's still expected to go in the Lottery.

"Just listening to everyone and looking into some things. Not in a hurry to jump at something. No idea what is next, except, of course, an afternoon nap."

-- Former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, telling the Orlando Sentinel he hasn't decided whether he will get back into coaching next season. Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith were fired by the Magic last month.

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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