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Return of NBA normalcy creates must-watch camp storylines


POSTED: Sep 24, 2012 12:56 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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NBA fans are hoping to see relevant seasons from Derrick Rose (left) and Steph Curry.

Finally, a full season again. Never have so many people been so excited about two-a-days.

The lockout ruined a great many things about last season, but the thing it took away that did the most damage was rhythm. The NBA season, like any other, follows a familiar rhythm, a pattern, just like baseball's slow stirrings in late January and early February, as players start reporting to Florida and Arizona. With no summer work in 2011, and no training camp in the fall, the jumbled, anxious Christmas Day start produced uneven, bad basketball. The injuries were just the half of it. The game, frankly, stunk for most of the regular season.

That should change in a week or so. The summer was slightly jangled for some with the Olympics robbing many of a restful offseason. But the rest of the league was able to fall into its familiar patterns, from the Vegas Summer League to offseason workouts under the watchful eyes of team physicians and conditioning coaches.

And next week, teams will again have the luxury of a full training camp, able to take a good long look at players throughout the exhibition season. Players will be able to build themselves up for the long grind, work on things during the preseason games that they may or may not show once the games are for real.

There are the Usual Suspects, who will play in May and June. I will write seventy kajillion words on them. But the start of the season brings so many other things to mind. There's anticipation to see this year's rookie class, which has so much promise. There's comfort in knowing that the NBA's refs, vilified though they may be, will be on the court, instead of the travishamockery the NFL is foisting upon its fans with Pop Warner-level zebras.

As Jets linebacker Bart Scott said last year about something else entirely, "Can't Wait!" (Evidently, that's the last thing that Scott has said to us ink-stained wretches.)

1) Can't Wait ... to see Damian Lillard play for the Blazers. Just have a feeling that the Blazers' first first-round pick is going to be a pretty dynamic player. He is a rarity in our 500-channel universe: a lottery pick that wasn't on TV five times a week at Weber State. He's going to be as exciting a first-year player as there is.

"Damian was the player we coveted and targeted early in the Draft process," general manager Neil Olshey texted Sunday night, "and from day 1 he has exhibited every trait we were looking for in a franchise PG. We are anticipating long term continuity and leadership at the position. If he plays at a level commensurate with his character, dedication and work ethic he will exceed expectations."

2) Can't Wait ... to see Kyrie Irving. Last season's 60-yard dash of a season prevented me from getting to Cleveland to see the Rookie of the Year in action. He showed a much more mature game than a 20-year-old with the rock should possess. My guess is that Dion Waiters will set Irving up much more than people may believe.

3) Can't Wait ... to see what diabolical ways George Karl utilizes Andre Iguodala. Iggy fits right into Karl's sweet spot as a player -- defensive oriented, a willing but not forceful scorer, smart. With JaVale McGee behind him and Ty Lawson in front of him, Iguodala could be freed to do a great many things defensively. And at the other end, he'll be a highlight reel many nights (our guy John Schuhmann had Iggy rated fifth-best in the league last season in field goal percentage in the restricted area) if the Nuggets can turn people over the way they did last year.

4) Can't Wait ... to finally see the Nets' new arena, Barclays Center, next week. I've read and seen so much about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the impact of that team leaving for Los Angeles had on the borough. Now, the first major pro sports team since 1957 is putting down stakes there. Any new building displaces old residents, and there has been enough controversy about Bruce Ratner's vision and plans for that neighborhood to fill a book (or, maybe, just a magazine.) I remain fascinated, and skeptical, of what that building will (or will not) do for the surrounding community.

5) Can't Wait ... for Kevin McHale's first practice in Houston. "Jeremy, you cut here, and wait for...uhh, tall guy? What's your name again? Omer, right. After Omer sets the screen, you come across and, the big kid, uh...Rice? Royce? Right, Royce, you flash in the lane here, and then Jeremy -- not you, Lin, I'm talking to Lamb -- you come off the pin down. Is Camby still here? Coach Sampson, can you work with Motiejunas? What ... Kelvin's gone, too? Really? Where? Milwaukee? What did we get for him?"

6) Can't Wait ... to see Brandon Roy on the court again. He has insisted all summer that his knees feel fine and that while he may not be able to explode the way he once could, he can still play. The Wolves have a lot of parts that should complement Roy's game, with willing passers like forwards Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko and a big man like Nikola Pekovic that should draw attention. The only thing missing is Ricky Rubio, but if the Wolves can tread water until his expected December return ... could be interesting.

7) Can't Wait ... to see what Monty Williams does with better, younger talent. The Hornets' boss had to coach with one hand tied behind his back last season, as the league-owned Bugs sold off Chris Paul and spent most of the year prepping for their purchase by new owner Tom Benson. But two first-round picks, including top selection Anthony Davis, and several trades have given Williams a roster of callow (average age: 24.1 years old) but talented players. Establishing a work ethic will not be a problem for a guy who communicates with his players as well as any coach in the game.

8) Can't Wait ... to get a full season out of Steph Curry, who was cleared last week to resume full-court activities by the Warriors' doctors. His teammate, Andrew Bogut, is not quite as far along and the regular-season opener is still a goal, not a certainty. But Golden State could be a breakout team in the West this season if it could get, say, 140 games combined out of its guard/center duo.

9) Can't Wait ... for that night next spring -- hopefully, it's a cold, cold night in Chicago, like 7 degrees, wind chill of -20, because that's the kind of winter night in the Second City that is usually endured, not enjoyed -- when Derrick Rose looks at Tom Thibodeau and nods, and Thibs sends him to the scorer's table, and the United Center explodes.

10) Can't Wait ... for this election to be over. The 5-year-old looked at a picture of the president the other day and said, "I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message." That was cute. The undercurrent of mistrust and anger on all sides that has poisoned the waters and made it impossible to seek any compromise on any issue, or think it at all possible that someone from the other side may have a point, is not so cute. It is a threat to our country. We disagree on just about everything, but we always have, and yet, managed to figure out ways to get big things done that needed doing. Now there is just my side and your side, his side and her side, and everyone goes on Facebook and likes Obama or likes Romney, and we all watch the cable channels that we agree with and never look at the ones we don't. It's just corrosive, all of it, and no matter who wins Nov. 6, there will be a country in need of leadership, parents who need jobs, old folks who need medicine and kids who need to not to go to school hungry or come home uneducated. There's a lot of work to be done. I have little faith it will happen.

Dribbles

There is still a cold war going on within the National Basketball Players Association.

Derek Fisher, improbably, is still the union's president, despite a) not currently being on an NBA roster, and b) being at war with Billy Hunter, the union's executive director. Hunter has hunkered down and is trying to ride out the storm created when Fisher's allegations about improper business practices within the union came to light. But the first step -- the conclusion of separate investigations by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and an internal review by the union -- has not yet occurred.

In a series of conference calls with player representatives last week, players on a special subcommittee informed the reps they were told by the law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, that its investigation would be completed in the next few weeks. One source reached Sunday night expected the Paul, Weiss report not to be completed until near the end of October.

The conference calls came after the union's annual summer meeting in July was canceled; the meeting was canceled, according to a source, because the players were hoping the investigations would be complete before they met. But there's no indication they'll be done any time soon.

To review: the federal investigation began after Fisher questioned the business practices of the union in April. Fisher never used the word "nepotism," but the review he requested encompassed issues like staffing, management, how decisions are made within the union, potential conflicts of interest and other areas. Fisher wanted to use the law firm Patton, Boggs to conduct the review, and started to put that in motion; that firm began contacting union employees and asking them to cooperate.

But the union's Executive Committee, after initially approving the Patton, Boggs review with a quorum of members, reversed itself, saying that Fisher didn't have the authority to unilaterally begin a review. After a series of conference calls, the full eight-member Executive Committee voted unanimously to ask Fisher to resign. He refused.

Soon after, Yahoo! Sports published a detailed accounting of several recent union business decisions that involved immediate members of Hunter's family. His daughter, Robyn, is the NBPA's director of player benefits, and his daughter-in-law, Megan Inaba, is the union's director of special events. Hunter's son, Todd, was on the board of directors of a bank in which Billy Hunter wanted the union to invest, according to Yahoo!, and worked at an Ohio financial planning company that was hired by the union and paid more than half a million dollars over a period in 2010 and 2011.

During the lockout, the union hired the law firm Steptoe and Johnson, where Hunter's daughter, Alexis, works. Steptoe and Johnson urged the union to pursue its strategy of filing an unfair labor practices charge against the NBA during the lockout, a process that dragged out for months, and came against the strong objections of several high-profile agents, who preferred that the union immediately disband once the players were locked out by the owners in July, 2011, in order to file an antitrust suit against the league.

Hunter has not spoken to the media in months, but did tell the New York Times in April that there was "nothing illegal" with regard to either his family members' employment by the union or the decisions to try and steer business to companies where other family members worked, pointing out that all of his family members were well-qualified to hold their positions, and that his daughter-in-law was hired before she married into his family. Nonetheless, the U.S. Attorney decided to investigate, and the union is cooperating.

The feds are notorious for never letting anyone know when an investigation is ongoing, or over, until they issue a report. It could take another month, it could take another year. According to sources, the U.S. Attorney has asked for internal e-mails and taken computers out of the union's offices in New York, and has gotten detailed financial records -- credit card receipts for union officials, and the like -- for the last few years.

Meanwhile, union employees try to go about their business. There haven't been any raises for many employees for more than two years. Yet there's almost certain to be upheaval after the investigations are over. The union will certainly have to have a new nepotism policy, as well as whistle-blower and conflict of interest policies. People know that when a report comes out and blame is assigned, jobs will be on the line.

"Morale is low," an involved source recently acknowledged. "I will concede that point. But the work hasn't changed at all ... people feel nervous about what happens after this. You're inefficient in one department and you need to get rid of a couple of people in that department."

In the meantime, player input in things like the league's Competition Committee has been very sporadic. Several teams need to replace player representatives that are now on different teams.

Even though Fisher isn't on a roster, and Hunter wants him gone, the union's Executive Committee cannot unilaterally fire him. That would require a vote of the league's 30 union representatives, and players who aren't on rosters can remain in executive positions within the union for a brief period after the regular season starts.

There remains the question of how independent Paul, Weiss can be, given that it was picked by the union to conduct the investigation. And there is uncertainty about whether the union will cover the legal expenses of union employees if they are subpoenaed by the federal investigators. Hunter, the involved source said, will retain his own, separate counsel if the federal investigation leads to indictments.

In addition, the annual "LM2" filing that every union must file with the U.S. Department of Labor is expected to come out in the next couple of weeks. The LM2 will detail the salary that Billy Hunter received as executive director from the union, the salaries of top union officials and money paid to outside counsel and other officials. It's not certain if the LM2 will detail payments to people who were retained by the union during the lockout, such as attorney Jeffrey Kessler and economist Kevin Murphy.

Meanwhile, as camps begin at the end of this week, half of the union's Executive Committee is comprised of players who currently aren't on NBA rosters.

The president, Fisher, is currently unemployed. Of the eight members on the Executive Committee, four -- Keyon Dooling, Etan Thomas, Theo Ratliff and Mo Evans -- are not employed. (Dooling announced his retirement last week from the Celtics.) There should have been elections for two positions at All-Star Weekend last February, but those elections were postponed.

There is nothing in the union's constitution that prohibits players who aren't on rosters from serving, and an argument can be made that it may be easier for non-players to serve, as they would have more time to address issues than those who are busy playing. But active players certainly may want to have more of a say in the union's decisions. Six members of the committee are up for election, not including Dooling.

Some business has been done. Players received about $100 million back from the escrow they gave to owners last season. And as part of the new CBA, an additional 1 percent of the escrow -- about $34 million -- now will go toward retired player benefits. Next year, that amount is expected to increase to around $43 million. It has not yet been decided if that money will be given to players in the form of pension, benefits, death benefits, long term health care, continuing education, or some combination of all of those.

Nobody Asked Me, But ...

What if you paid $4 billion for something that was invisible?

The Lakers' partnership with Time Warner Cable (let's call it TWC from here on out; we all know I'm not referring to The Weather Channel, right?) that will debut two Lakers-centric regional sports networks -- one in English, one in Spanish -- on Oct. 1 is not just a game-changer. It's an industry changer.

The Lakers' hegemony over the NBA has been a fact of life for their weary competitors for a long time, but their new deal with TWC threatens to cement L.A.'s already prohibitive financial advantage well into the next decade.

The problem for fans in the region is that no one outside of TWC viewers would currently be able to see it.

TWC has two million subscribers in Los Angeles. But another three to four million viewers in the area use one of the region's other cable or satellite providers. And none of them has yet reached a deal with TWC to carry the cable channel. That means those three or four million L.A.-area viewers currently will not see the Lakers kick off their preseason Oct. 7.

TWC Sports President David Rone said by telephone Sunday afternoon that it was "really hard to tell" whether a deal could be reached by the start of the preseason. But Rone said that TWC was "encouraged" by what he termed "deep discussions" with most of the holdout providers.

Time Warner Cable's new 24-hour all-Lakers TV channel will have unfiltered access to the team.

"As much as it matters to me and the Los Angeles Lakers, preseason basketball is a different story than regular-season basketball," Rone said. "It might be that the distributors continue to try and run this out, and it may go beyond October 7. But I feel very confident that by October 30, when the regular season is ready to go, we're going to be in a very good spot."

TWC is paying the Lakers somewhere between $2-$5 billion over the next 20 to 25 years -- there have been different estimates bandied about -- in the new endeavor. Whatever the actual amount is, it will dwarf anything that any other NBA team receives for its games. And that only increases the huge financial edge the Lakers have to acquire and keep players.

Luxury tax, schmuxury tax.

"We don't have a $100 million TV deal," a small-market executive moaned last week. "We can't charge the same for some things like other teams can."

Actually, the Lakers' deal is worth at least 20 times that $100 million.

TWC is convinced the investment will be worth it. With two decades of certainty, TWC will never have to worry about renegotiating a rights fees deal with a third party. There won't be a chance of a dispute like the one between the satellite provider Dish Network and the cable network AMC, which airs the hit shows "Mad Men", "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad", among others; Dish took AMC and other networks off of its programming at the end of June and they haven't been on since.

"The company's goal overall is about the delivery of premium content to our customers in the best way possible. We want them to enjoy the things that they do better and better and better," Rone said. "... And when you look at the Southern California market, sports is so important to the customer base. And when you digress from there, you say, what is important in sports to them?...The Lakers are the crown jewel, by leaps and bounds. Our customers want to be sure that they're never interrupted from enjoying the Lakers in any way. The best way to ensure that was to enter into a partnership with the Lakers."

TWC will also broadcast the WNBA's Sparks, Major League Soccer's Galaxy, and Mountain West Conference football and basketball -- specifically concentrating on teams that fall within the network's satellite footprint, including UNLV, San Diego State and Fresno State. But it's the Lakers carrying the mail on this one.

The two TWC channels not only will have the usual pre- and post-game shows (Access SportsNet: Lakers), but will also have an interactive show featuring social media encounters (#LakeShow), rebroadcasts of both current Lakers games (Encore+, which will add social media commentary and footage not on the original broadcast) and historic Lakers games (Timeless Lakers). There will even be condensed one-hour rebroadcasts of recent games, similar to NFL Sunday Ticket's Short Cuts (Lakers Compacto).

And, of course, there will be the requisite reality show -- a behind-the-scenes look at the selection of this year's Lakers Girls squad. TWC basically has the run of the joint, so it will be the only place you can see things like Dwight Howard putting on a Lakers jersey for the first time.

"It may (not) be a proverbial hotline, but the fact is I have a decade-long relationship with Jeanie (Buss, the Lakers' Executive Vice President of Business Operations) and (Senior VP of Business Operations) Tim Harris," Rone said. "I brought that to bear in establishing the team that we've established here. We have been speaking with them for the last 15 months. We've been with them on a day-to-day basis, interacting with them daily, as you say, and even hourly ... it's not even reactive. It's very, very proactive."

Unique content is critical for TWC. Under the Lakers' old deals, there were, basically, games surrounded by pre- and post-game shows. But TWC has the team's permission to be anywhere it can fit a camera, not only to profile players and coaches, but Lakers' fans -- some of whom tend to be fairly famous.

The Lakers' new network will stretch as far north as Fresno, and go south to the Mexican border in Tijuana. It will also be available in Hawaii, where the Lakers had training camp for many years, and go east to Clark County, Nevada, which encompasses Las Vegas.

But the partnership may as well circle the globe, such is its potential impact.

With this kind of money filling its coffers, Los Angeles is simply in a different universe than any other team, including those also in major media markets like New York and Brooklyn and Chicago, or those who are also making mega-deals for their own RSNs, such as the Celtics did with Comcast SportsNet New England and the Rockets are doing in partnership with Major League Baseball's Astros on Comcast Sports Houston.

The only other team that can claim anything similar to the arrangement the Lakers have with TWC is the Yankees, whose YES Network dominates ratings in New York among sports cable companies.

The Los Angeles Times noted last week that if the Lakers re-sign Howard next summer for the expected five-year max deal -- starting at more than $20 million -- the team's 2013-14 payroll will be more than $100 million for just nine players. If they filled out the final spots on their roster with minimum-salaried guys, the final payroll would be somewhere in the $105 million area.

With the new, more punitive luxury tax penalties taking effect in 2013-14, the Lakers would be facing a huge tax bill. Assuming the tax threshold rises from its current $70.3 million to the league projected $73 million in '13, the Lakers would be around $32 million over the threshold. And the new tax on that $32 million would be an additional $94.5 million. That would make the Lakers' total bill for 2013-14 ...

$199.5 million.

A fifth of a billion dollars. For one team. For one year.

But that's next year. TWC has to deal with the present, and reaching an agreement with the cable or satellite companies -- Comcast, AT&T U-verse, Charter, Cox, Verizon FIOS, DirecTV and Dish Network -- that have L.A. customers. Negotiations with each are ongoing, but the clock is running.

At issue is how much TWC is demanding the cable and satellite providers pay it to carry the Lakers' channels. Such "carriage fees" are a crucial way a cable network makes money. ESPN's ability to leverage its enormous reach and programming into the biggest carriage fees in the industry -- currently $5.15 per subscriber per month, according to the media analyst SNL Kagan -- has helped make the Four-Letter Network a financial behemoth over the last two decades, the TV version of the Lakers, able to crush any challenger and bid on any sports property it wants.

TWC is seeking $3.95 per subscriber per month from the cable companies closest to Los Angeles, with those further away being asked to pay less, for both Lakers channels. Rone said those are increases for the cable and satellite companies, not to consumers, though he allowed such increases can be absorbed by consumers down the line.

"When you look at what other RSNs are charging distributors," he said, "and you look at the terms those networks are carrying, and the ratings and the resonance they have in those communities vis a vis the ratings and the resonance the Lakers and the Galaxy and the Sparks have in this community ... we feel very good about the value of our proposition."

There remains the question of how a network that's partners with the team it's covering will report the not-so-good stories that have been known to pop up from time to time on a professional sports team. Will TWC's broadcasters and analysts criticize players and coaches -- or management -- if they think they deserve criticism?

"We're going to cover everything," Rone said. "There's a level of what's going on that if it's part of the zeitgeist, we're all things Lakers and all things Galaxy, and we're going to cover it. But you know that people come at these things from different bents. And it's fair to say that we come at these things from a partner-oriented bent with these networks."

... And Nobody Asked You, Either

When you're poor, you're called crazy. When you're rich, you're called eccentric. From Rick Dhanda:

As we get closer to the start of training camps and the regular season, and it is abundantly clear that the favorites to make it deep in the playoffs are the usual teams with multiple certifiable All-Stars (I guess we're going to stick to the term 'Super Teams') in L.A., Miami, OKC, Boston, and San Antonio while the outliers are the teams with really only one superstar (Dallas, Chicago) or teams with a distribution of talent throughout the team (Pacers, Philly, Memphis), it can be I think deduced that the Super Teams method, however disliked or sneered at, is a certifiable way to bring a team to the forefront of contention. Thus, my question: is there in fact a positive aspect to this more Super Team-themed NBA?

Like anyone outside of South Beach, I was furious with LeBron for leaving a team he had spent his formative years to create further disparity in the NBA by going to play with fellow friends and All-Stars in Miami. Then, I was mad at LeBron once again when Carmelo and CP3 left their respective teams to join teams with more talent. However, I have to admit that there is perhaps one small bright side to All-Stars leaving their respective teams and teaming up in big markets and I myself didn't realize it until players I really, really cared about (despite my respect for LeBron and Wade and please bear in mind I don't live in a city with an NBA team affiliation).

With Nash and Howard's move to the Lakers, I can finally say I am content with the Super Team Phenomena (knowing full well how hypocritical I sound). Since I started watching the NBA and actually picking favorite teams, I have watched time and time again as the Nasty One, Kid Canada, my hometown hero, was thwarted time and time again by the steady Spurs or Mavs. I can say with complete honesty that one of the reasons I started watching basketball was to see Nash finally achieve true greatness by defying all odds and winning a championship.

Yes, you sound incredibly hypocritical, Rick. Most fans are. All sins are forgiven or forgotten if a guy (or gal) is in the home white. That's sports.

Good things come to those who wait ... and wait ... and wait. From Luke Duffy:

Just a thought on James Harden's possible forced exit from Oklahoma.

Now I don't claim to know all of the minor details about basketball, and there may be a very logical reason against what I'm about to say, but if a team drafts a player, or a few players for that matter, and they become as talented as the organization hopes they can be, should a special rule not be put in place that allows that team to hold onto that player for as long as they want?

Say like a different set of rules and contracts for these players existed. Messy, I know, but the Thunder took a gamble on [Kevin] Durant, [Russell] Westbrook, [James] Harden and [Serge] Ibaka, and it paid off. Why should they be forced to see one walk? Or even have a rule in place where for say the first seven or eight years of a player's career, they have to stay with the team that drafted them? Again, in terms of contracts, it gets difficult. But would it not make the league more competitive, too? As an example, Dwight Howard would still be an Orlando player, players like Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins, of small-market teams, would be guaranteed to be with their respective teams for some time, allowing an organization to build around the player they drafted and not risk seeing them walk after their rookie contract expires. Even if there was a max on the number of times you could do this (let's say three), that, again, would make Harden the odd man out as OKC would probably pick Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.

They had such a rule in sports, Luke. It was called the Reserve Clause, and owners in baseball used it for the better part of a century. And only after it was eliminated in the courts were players in all sports truly able to explore free agency. I'm fairly sure the NBPA would also be against any rule that further extends the control a team has over a player. As it is, players can be held on their rookie contracts for up to five seasons, leaving the vast majority of NBA players only one true chance to gauge their worth on the open market if they choose. Remember: The NBA's owners wanted a system that made it as hard as possible for any team to hold onto all of its good players, unless that team was willing to pay big money in the form of additional luxury taxes.

Horses are mostly colorblind. People? Well ... From Cliff Pysher:

Hey, first of all let me say that I'm a big fan. I rarely agree (no offense), but I always enjoy reading. Your articles, and all the articles featured on NBA.com give me a welcome break from studying and all that business (I'm currently a student at Georgetown Law). Considering I am a law student, you might think this email is about the fascinating "in perpetuity" contract leftover from the old ABA merger. There is always more to learn about contracts, and courts are never fully predictable, but contracts like those are never held as enforceable "in perpetuity", at some point it will become too obviously "unfair". Serfdom left a bad taste in our mouths that lasts even today when it comes to obligations in perpetuity.

But my main question is actually about your tiny comment about LeBron's decision to have his friends work for him panning out better than anyone expected. I think there's something to be said for the fact that he could have employed a cat as his publicity manager and he would still be world famous but I agree in principle that they've done more or less a great job except for some obviously poor Decision-making. I am writing about a sentence you included which threw me for a loop. I preface this with the fact that, law student or no, fan or no, I am but a wee 22 years old and my mind is not fully developed:

"He has empowered a group of young African-American men to represent him and protect his brand, and allowed them to develop skills they may not have otherwise had a chance to develop. That is a kind of Decision I can wholeheartedly support."

The crux of the issue is that in my perhaps naive mind, I think it is a shame that race was mentioned in complimenting these kids for going 0 to 60 when presented with the business opportunity of a lifetime. The NBA is about as diverse an organization as there is in this world, I believe there was an article not too long ago about yet another A+ rating in diversity, so my question is why does race continued to get mentioned in connection with individual achievement? I can stomach, in the depths of my ignorance, that racism continues to exist throughout this country and that mentioning race in certain industries is a lot like showing pictures of Kate Middleton's breasts: maybe you don't want to, maybe it's not right, but it's something you don't see everyday. But in the hyper-diverse culture of the NBA doesn't mention of race perpetuate stereotyping or at least race-division? I was raised in the hyper-diverse culture of the New York City Public School system and, while it probably took longer than I'm happy to admit for their methods to teach me basic arithmetic, I learned almost immediately that one is not born with the concept of race and that it is entirely feasible in today's society, given sufficient diversity, to treat everyone based on merit and personality without race as a consideration. The NBA has sufficient diversity for this to apply. If we are unable to look at a person's success regardless of race in the NBA, then there is little hope for the rest of society.

We all would like to live without race being part of our daily discourse, Cliff. But from where I sit and write, that just isn't a reality. And the reality is that most NBA players -- most of whom are African-American -- often choose to empower agents and/or attorneys to act and speak on their behalf. The vast majority of those agents and attorneys are white. You may think I'm injecting race into it by simply mentioning that fact; most of those white agents and attorneys do a fine job by their clients. But the "unusual" in this case is that someone as famous as LeBron James, who could have chosen anyone to be his legal and commercial voice, has opted to let his peers do it. Like him, they are black, and young. That is very, very unusual in the NBA. To not point that out would be putting one's head in the sand.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and explanations why this fellow's video has been viewed more than 262 million times on YouTube to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it!

I'm Feelin' ...

1) Isiah Thomas has never felt he has been given his due as one of the game's all-time great players and leaders. He is always quick to point out that his Pistons routinely sent Michael Jordan's Bulls home for the summer in the playoffs before Chicago broke through in 1991, and believes Detroit's two championships are often forgotten amid the Lakers' five rings in the '80s. He's right. But this is something that Isiah can rightly claim as his, and his alone. And my wish is that this becomes his life's calling, because he is uniquely qualified, as a child of Chicago with the credibility of a Hall of Famer, to try and stop the madness that has beset his hometown.

2) The Knicks have reportedly hired Hakeem Olajuwon to work with their big men (and All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony) during training camp. This is long overdue. Also overdue: Why doesn't the league just hire the Dream to be this generation's Pete Newell, set him up somewhere and let him run a camp for big men that would dovetail with the annual camp run by Tim Grgurich in the summer? My guess is there would be more than enough work for everybody. Not only would such a camp be the perfect showcase for Olajuwon, it would provide a permanent home to great big men coaches like Clifford Ray and Robert Parish. (Here is an accounting of Olajuwon's work last summer with LeBron James.)

3) We at the Tip have a soft spot for Adam Morrison, who has always been honest and reflective about his time so far in the NBA and his disappointments since being taken third overall by Charlotte in 2006. We will be rooting for him as he tries to make the Blazers' roster as a camp invite.

4) Funny.

5) You've never played an $11 million round of golf before. That's one check you run right to the bank to cash.

Not Feelin' ...

1) Just glad doctors found out in time that Channing Frye has a heart condition that he says will keep him out all of next season. Take as long as you need to get healthy, young fella.

2) @RobinRoberts. #TeamRobin. Prayers.

3) I think it would be best for everyone if Billy Gillespie doesn't coach anymore in college, or anywhere else. He needs some time to deal with these demons that obviously are troubling him.

4) Steve Sabol was more important to the rise of the NFL as a sports and social leviathan in the United States than Vince Lombardi, Jim Brown, Pete Rozelle or the Cowboys combined. Because he was their propagandist. And I use that word deliberately, and not pejoratively. Sabol, with his father, Ed, ran NFL Films, which made the game of pro football into more than a sport in the 1960s and 1970s. It was NFL Films that provided the halftime highlights in the nascent days of Monday Night Football, which helped that show become a ratings behemoth. NFL Films brought an East coast kid the exotic "Oakland Alameda County Coliseum," as the great Howard Cosell would always put it, and its weekly highlight shows were must-see TV in the days when you had five or six channels to watch.

The Sabols' ability to wring drama out of the most pedestrian game (or season), marrying incredible camera work with the orchestral brilliance of Sam Spence and the voiceover brilliance of Philadelphia newsman John Facenda, made football a mesh of martial fervor and poetry, with ordinary players made into heroes, while the actual heroes became something otherworldly. With NFL Films providing the dramatic arc and television money the ubiquity, pro football has become the most popular televised sport in this country's history, dwarfing Major League Baseball, the NBA and all the rest.

Sadly, Steve Sabol, who ran NFL Films and was the driving force behind it as his father passed the business along, died last week at 69 after being diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago. I fear I haven't begun to scratch the surface of how important this guy was, so let me let two others try: My wonderful friend Andrea Kremer, who got her start in broadcasting working for Steve Sabol at NFL Films, eulogizes him here much better than I ever could. And my buddy, Jason Whitlock, makes the interesting case here that other than Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier in baseball, the creation of NFL Films was the most important development in the history of American sports culture.

By The Numbers

4 -- Number of NBA players (according to the excellent website Sham Sports and its founder Mark Deeks) who now have full no-trade clauses in their contracts. Deeks Tweeted this week that Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan got the clauses in their new deals, which would add them to Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki as the only NBA players who can veto potential deals.

8 -- Number of majority NBA owners listed among the Forbes 400 richest Americans, in the magazine's annual list. They are Portland's Paul Allen (ranked 20th overall, with an estimated personal wealth of $15 billion), Orlando's Rich DeVos (67th, $5.1 billion), Miami's Micky Arison (68th, $5 billion), Detroit's Tom Gores (tied for 179th, $2.8 billion), Dallas' Mark Cuban (tied for 206th, $2.3 billion), the Clippers' Donald Sterling (tied for 250th, $1.9 billion), Minnesota's Glen Taylor (tied for 285th, $1.7 billion) and New Orleans' Tom Benson (tied for 360th, $1.2 billion). Lakers minority owner and owner of Staples Center Philip Anschutz was 44th overall, with an estimated worth of $7.6 billion. Anschutz announced last week that he was putting his arena construction and management company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, up for sale.

12,000 -- Tickets the Hornets say they have already sold on a per-game average for this coming season, which would be the highest for the franchise since moving to New Orleans in 2002. Now, a "per game" average is just that, an average. That means the Bugs could have, say, sold out a game with the Lakers at the 18,500-seat New Orleans Arena, but sold only 5,500 tickets for a game with Sacramento. The "average" of those two games would indeed be 12,000. But it's still significant progress to have already sold that many total tickets, no matter how they break down individually.

Tweet Of The Week

Anyone wanna go get me an iphone at the Keystone Mall? I'll buy yours and mine if you wait in line :)
-- Pacers forward Danny Granger (@dgranger33), Friday, 9:20 a.m., looking to eliminate the middleman and purchase Apple's latest phone that does everything. Eventually, Granger found someone who'd been standing in line, and he was as good as his word, buying two iPhone5s.

They Said It

"I tend to hold onto the ball too long. They read the floor and there's a certain type of pass where they pick it up real fast and fire it -- they're great at that, and that's something I needed to learn and see."
-- Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, in an interview with the team's website, on how he looks at tapes of guards like Juan Carlos Navarro, Ray Felton and Chris Duhon to try and improve his own game. Lin also looks the usual suspects at his position like Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

"The perception is I'm a sex, drugs, and rock and roll type of person. The reality is I'm kind of like an ocean. Everything is calm, calm, calm. I'm good. When the ball goes up in the air, the waves start rocking."
--Knicks guard J.R. Smith, in a feature on ESPN.com's Grantland that explores why Smith's NBA career has been, to this point, so unsatisfying for everyone -- including Smith.

"They had the better pieces, and winning with the Clippers would be legendary."
-- Clippers guard Chris Paul, in a GQ piece, on why he preferred playing for L.A.'s "other" team.

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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