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Most teams will shy away from giving '09 picks a big payday

Most teams shy away from giving '09 picks their big payday


POSTED: Oct 15, 2012 10:28 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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All-Rookie in 2009, both Steph Curry (left) and Brandon Jennings still await their contract fates.

The clock ticks ... toward a big nothing, in all likelihood.

There are two weeks before the Oct. 31 deadline for members of the Class of 2009 to be able to get contract extensions from their current teams. If they don't, they'll become restricted free agents next summer, able to receive offer sheets from other teams, as Roy Hibbert and Eric Gordon did last summer. But, continuing the trend of recent years, it's likely that most of the '09 class will find coal in its designer shoes.

Changes in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, combined with teams' unwillingness to make big financial commitments, have made the rookie scale extension a relic.

Only six members of the Draft Class of 2008 commandeered extensions -- Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Danilo Gallinari, Jason Thompson and George Hill. Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka also signed an extension, but because he played a year overseas before coming over, the Thunder weren't under the same deadline to sign him.

Only five players from the Class of 2007 got extensions. Kevin Durant got a max deal for $85 million from Oklahoma City, and Al Horford and Joakim Noah got pretty similar deals worth around $60 million. The Grizzlies gave point guard Mike Conley a $40 million extension, and the Suns worked out a more cap-friendly deal worth $22.5 million with Jared Dudley, continuing a downward trend that started in 2002, when 16 members of that year's Draft class got extensions. By 2005, that number had fallen to seven; the next year it was six.

Of course, it's Ibaka's teammate, James Harden, whose status highlights the '09 draftees, with the Clippers already having given Blake Griffin a max deal. The Thunder's limitations to giving another big deal after Kevin Durant's and Russell Westbrook's -- with Ibaka's $48 million on the ledger as well -- are well documented, but it's equally difficult to see Harden giving OKC a hometown discount.

Working against an extension as well are changes in the new CBA. Teams can give only five-year deals to max players, and they can do that only once. OKC already pulled that trigger with Westbrook's five-year, $80 million deal.

"With the new rules you're going to start to see teams be more selective," one team executive said over the weekend. "You can still re-sign them. You just might want to re-sign them for a little bit less than their options."

The lack of a fifth year takes away a decided advantage for the team that already has the player. That fifth year got Rashard Lewis, for example, an extra $20 million in his contract with the SuperSonics before he was traded to Orlando. Of course, that was a sign-and-trade deal, and starting next season, teams over the tax threshold won't be able to do those, either, nor will fifth years be allowed in sign-and-trades. Now, both the team with the player and the team that wants the player can offer only four years.

In past years, a team could offer that fifth year as security. Not anymore.

"Now (that) you can only give the same amount of years that they can get next summer, the player isn't as interested," the exec said. "Now, you have no advantage. I used to be able to say I' can give you a year more today than you can get next year. So let's talk about a deal and maybe the number is more realistic.' But they've taken that away."

By Halloween, we'll see who got tricked, and who got the few remaining eight-figure treats.

1. Blake Griffin, Clippers: (received five-year, $100 million extension earlier this summer)

2. Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies (now with Thunder): OKC signed Thabeet over the summer to a three-year deal for the veteran's minimum. Only the first season is guaranteed; the last two years are club options.

3. James Harden, Thunder: The $58 million question -- that amount being the max amount a player will get in an offer sheet from an opposing team if he's not signed to an extension. Oklahoma City says all the right things regarding Harden, but the Thunder are looking for a way not to pay a third player a max deal. There is no way Harden won't get a max offer from another team next summer, though. So OKC can pay him now, or pay him later. Or trade him. But that would just bring back more salary and rip the locker room apart.

4. Tyreke Evans, Kings: Evans has shown flashes in his first three seasons, but not enough to pique Sacramento's interest to give him a deal. The Kings will "probably not" be offering an extension, a source says.

Harden and Westbrook Media Day Interview

5. Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves: Because Rubio didn't come over to the NBA until last season, he is not eligible for an extension until 2014. It's likely Minnesota will use its "designated player," five-year max slot for Rubio. That's one of the reasons the Timberwolves gave Kevin Love only a four-year extension for $63 million last year.

6. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves (now with Pistons): Detroit has 15 guaranteed contracts on the books already, so there's no chance for Flynn to get an extension there. He's on a non-guaranteed minimum deal and would need the Pistons to waive or trade a player with a guaranteed deal to make the roster. He has played well for the Pistons so far in camp, though.

7) Stephen Curry, Warriors: The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that the Warriors and Curry agreed to table extension talks until after the preseason, which wouldn't leave them much time before the 31st to knock out a deal.

8. Jordan Hill, Knicks (now with Lakers): Hill signed a two-year deal for just under $8 million with the Lakers in the summer. He was not tendered a qualifying offer by the Rockets before they sent him to Los Angeles last February for Derek Fisher, and was a restricted free agent.

9. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: It's not likely, despite DeRozan's improvement the last three years; they're not close. But don't rule it completely out, either. DeRozan's reps and the Raps have been talking for weeks, generally, but like everyone else, Toronto wants a deal with DeRozan that falls far below the max, and he's willing to test the market.

10. Brandon Jennings, Bucks: "Pretty quiet," said a source involved in the discussions on Sunday. Don't think anything will happen here, given the Bucks' payout to Ersan Ilyasova over the summer and their recent deals with Drew Gooden and John Salmons. And in this case, Jennings may be more interested in seeing exactly how green other pastures are.

11. Terrence Williams, Nets (now with Pistons): See Jonny Flynn.

12. Gerald Henderson, Bobcats: Would be surprised, though Charlotte is keeping its options open on both Henderson and center Byron Mullens until the end of the month.

13. Tyler Hansbrough, Pacers: The Pacers are usually mum about their leanings, so it's possible there could be more happening here than we know; George Hill's extension came at the last minute. But Indiana still has Paul George coming up, and David West's two-year deal is up after this season. "Psycho T" could get caught in a numbers game.

14. Austin Daye, Pistons: Detroit is looking forward to finally having cap room after this season when the contracts of Charlie Villanueva and Corey Maggette come off the books. So, no.

15. Earl Clark, Suns (traded to Magic): Don't see it.

16. James Johnson, Bulls (traded to Kings): Also not happening. The Kings are not exactly flush with disposable income these days.

17. Jrue Holiday, 76ers: Holiday's agent will meet this week with the Sixers and see what their thinking is. Like everyone else, though, it would make more sense for Holiday to wait until the summer, when he could get five years from the 76ers, instead of signing a four-year extension now. He may not have a choice, as Philly has to get Andrew Bynum's deal done first and may not be inclined to put another big contract on the books.

Ty Lawson's Game-Winner

18. Ty Lawson, Timberwolves (traded to Nuggets): The one guy that everyone around the league thinks will get something before the 31st. "They like to make deals," one GM said over the weekend about the Nuggets, and the last couple of years would seem to bear that out. The question is how much Lawson wants. Outside of the max deals that Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams have received during the last year, the biggest point guard contract was Rajon Rondo's $55 million extension in 2009. Other than that deal, which averages $11 million per year, most of the more recent point guard deals have ranged from $8 to $9 million per year, including Jameer Nelson, Mike Conley, George Hill and Jose Calderon. Does Lawson want Rondo money, or would he settle for the going rate?

19. Jeff Teague, Hawks: Teague has taken over as the starter in Atlanta and will be asked to do even more this season with Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn. But his chances of getting an extension? Agent Andy Miller says there are discussions ongoing and it's too early to tell, but it's hard to see Atlanta committing funds to anyone when it can be so far under the cap after this season.

20. Eric Maynor, Jazz (now with Thunder): The Thunder missed Maynor last season after he tore his ACL, and he's been full go so far in training camp. But the issue isn't Maynor's knee any more; the issue is OKC's finances. Forget what a potential new deal for Harden would mean: even with its current payroll commitments, the Thunder may not be able to break even even if they make several Finals in a row the next few years. So OKC will almost certainly wait until next summer and see what the market sets for Maynor's value. In the interim, the Thunder will see how much more money it can wring out of the local economy, and if the details of the league's revenue sharing program somehow change them from a payer to a receiver.

21. Darren Collison, Hornets (now with Mavericks): The Mavericks spent a lot of effort the last couple of years clearing almost all of their big contracts, so they could be players either in 2012 or 2013. After losing out on DWill, 2013 it is. So, unless Collison wants to take a short deal for a discount, don't think there's a match here.

22. Victor Claver, Blazers: Same as with Ricky Rubio, just a year later. Since Claver came over from Europe just this year and is a rookie, he isn't eligible for an extension until 2015.

23. Omri Casspi, Kings (traded to Cavaliers): After last season's horrible performance with the Cavs, no chance for a new deal for Casspi.

24. Byron Mullens, Thunder (traded to Bobcats): See Gerald Henderson.

25. Roddy Beaubois, Mavericks: With Roddy Buckets' history of injuries, no chance.

26. Taj Gibson, Bulls: Chicago may not have a choice but to work out something with Gibson, who will be a highly coveted restricted free agent should he hit the market next summer. "They've made it clear they'd like to sign Taj," agent Mark Bartlestein said Saturday. ""They're making an effort, and so are we ... if we can get something done that everybody feels good about, great. If not, I'm sure he'll have a great year."

Taj Gibson Media Day Interview

27. DeMarre Carroll, Grizzlies (now with Jazz): Because Carroll had already been waived twice, by Houston and Denver, before signing with Utah as a free agent late last season, the Jazz do not have any rookie-scale extension rights with him.

28. Wayne Ellington, Timberwolves (traded to Grizzlies): It would be hard to explain why O.J. Mayo couldn't get an extension, but Ellison, acquired from Minnesota for Dante Cunningham in July, could.

29. Toney Douglas, Knicks (traded to Rockets): They've already put $25 million into Jeremy Lin and the point guard position this summer. So, no.

30. Christian Eyenga, Cavaliers (now with Magic): Also played overseas in 2009 (Spain), so Orlando isn't on the clock yet for him. Even if the Magic were, unlikely to see a new deal.

DRIBBLES

The first weeks of camp and the preseason are for hope, not pessimism. Every team thinks it's going 82-0; who are we to shoot down those dreams? So, let's celebrate the awkward production of Cole Aldrich (consecutive double-doubles in Oklahoma City preseason games last week) in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins. The third-year center could replace Nazr Mohammed in the Thunder's rotation. He's not pretty and he's not a guy that's going to carry OKC anywhere, but he will bang and throw his body around, and the Thunder have been wild about his work ethic since they got him.

Let's see what the Thunder see in Ibaka -- a guy whose experience playing for Spain on the silver medal-winning basketball team at the Olympics, practicing every day against Marc and Pau Gasol, has given his game a little refinement. It's time to enjoy what the Knicks have seen in 35-year-old rookie point guard Pablo Prigioni, and their rookie forward Chris Copeland, who scored 21 against Boston Saturday night and has impressed so far in camp.

You can squint if you're the Rockets, and hope that Omer Asik keeps defending, rebounding, passing and running the floor the way he has so far -- and making his free throws. You can believe that fellow rookie Donatas Motiejunas will show what he's shown so far when the big boys start playing for real.

If you're in Boston, you can buy into Jeff Green, who's been one of the Celtics' best -- maybe the best -- players in camp, showing no ill effects from his heart surgery last year. Green struggled to pick up the Celtics' defense when he first came over from Oklahoma City in 2010, but he's dramatically improved so far. He, along with Rajon Rondo, is playing with "great pace, force and focus," according to an approving Beantownian.

You can love what Gerald Green and Paul George are doing so far in Indiana -- the Pacers do. You can see signs of improvement from Ed Davis in Toronto, continued development from Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe in Detroit. Big Nikola Pekovic has been the best player in the Timberwolves' camp, and Andray Blatche -- my gosh, Andray Blatche -- has been the most pleasant surprise in Brooklyn, showing up in shape, interested and putting forth top effort when he's on the floor.

You can dream. It's October.

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

1) Miami: Big picture: Forget his playing just eight minutes in the Heat's two games in China; Dwyane Wade was able to get through a whole week of practice.

2) Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook signs with Brand Jordan the same week that Wade leaves Brand Jordan for Li Ning, the Chinese shoe company.

3) Los Angeles Lakers: Metta World Peace, always a gentleman first.

4) San Antonio: One GM on Sunday, watching the Spurs play the Rockets, noted that rookie Wesley Witherspoon "didn't break a sweat" at Memphis, yet already looks like another productive cog in the San Antonio Borg.

5) Indiana: Pacers being careful with Danny Granger (knee) during preseason.

6) Boston: There is a rumbling around the league, from people I respect, that the Celtics could be really, really good this season.

7) Memphis: Z-Bo rounding back into form after injuries wrecked most of last season.

8) Los Angeles Clippers: Clippers split two in China with the Heat and get Chris Paul back on the floor.

9) Dallas: Nowitzki contemplating arthroscopic surgery if balky knee doesn't improve.

10) Denver: Nuggets started Iguodala at shooting guard in Friday's exhibition opener, with Gallinari, Faried and McGee up front.

11) Philadelphia: Doug Collins not happy with team's conditioning early in the preseason, and you wonder how long it will take Andrew Bynum to get his sea legs when he comes back at the start of the regular season.

12) New York: STAT dealing with a knee bruise that's kept him out of the first two exhibitions.

13) Chicago: Is this possible? Bulls are 6-for-46 (13 percent) so far on 3-pointers?

14) Atlanta: DeShawn Stevenson squashes beef that no one knew existed with Deron Williams in series of Tweets over the weekend.

15) Brooklyn: Nets need to get bench up to speed before the start of the season. MarShon Brooks (tendinitis) hasn't seen the court yet.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What happens when you lose your mojo?

It happened to Steve Blass. It happened to Nick Anderson. It happened to Floyd Patterson and Tom Watson and Steve Sax -- all athletes who, in the prime of their careers, came mentally unglued.

"My life didn't turn out the way I expected," Roy Hobbs said in the movie "The Natural", explaining the business with Harriet Bird and how it sent him on a detour that only ended at the end of his playing days. He lost confidence, he said, and that turned the best baseball player who ever lived into a bush leaguer. At least until the third reel.

Reading Chris Ballard's excellent piece on the Warriors' Andris Bierdins on SI.com, it is striking how lost a professional athlete can be when he doesn't believe in himself. Bierdins was a double-double machine just a few years ago at Golden State; now he's the Warriors' third-string center, untradeable and uncuttable because of the huge deal he got when he was still a force.

"Most players battle confidence issues throughout their careers," said five-time NBA champion guard Steve Kerr, now my broadcast partner at Turner.

"It's just part of the process," he said. "You have good days and bad days and you have to figure out a way to get through the bad days. Some guys just completely succumb to it and they can't get out of their rut, and you see it at the foul line. A big guy that doesn't want to get to the foul line isn't going to have any confidence in his post moves, and he isn't going to rebound. It just spreads."

But what does one do when that helplessness becomes how that player feels every day on the court?

"Guys handle it differently," said Joe Dumars, the Pistons' president of basketball operations, Finals MVP in 1989 and an Olympic gold medalist. "Some guys feel very comfortable with openly talking about it and other guys -- myself -- felt much more comfortable working it out internally by themselves ... It all comes down to personality and how you work through a loss of confidence or struggle."

The most celebrated case in recent NBA memory, of course, is Nick Anderson, the Magic's guard who was on his way to a great career when he missed four straight free throws in the final seconds of Game 1 of the 1995 Finals against Houston, allowing the Rockets a chance to come back and tie a game they eventually won in overtime. That led to a Houston sweep.

The line of demarcation between that event and the two halves of Anderson's career is almost pristine. Before the misses, Anderson was a borderline All-Star, kept out of the game because of Michael Jordan's presence in the Eastern Conference. Afterward, he was never the same. And the Magic's standing as the Next Great Team officially ended a season later, when Jordan and the Bulls swept the Magic in the East finals and Shaquille O'Neal left for Los Angeles that summer.

Neither Biedrins nor Anderson was his team's star player. While O'Neal had problems shooting free throws throughout his career, he never stopped attacking the basket or looking for the ball.

"I can only talk about myself for this, I personally wouldn't or couldn't allow myself to lose confidence," said Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. "The reason being is teammates can sense that, when you're a captain or team leader you have to be above the fray."

For role players, the stakes are different.

"What motivated me was fear," said former Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, who played 13 NBA seasons. "Fear of failure. Fear of embarrassing myself. That was my biggest fear, that I would embarrass myself. And so I worked hard so I could minimize my fear of embarrassment."

Every player has a routine that he can fall back when the shot doesn't feel right. Most of the time, Kerr could practice his way out of a problem, and that made him develop a deeper level of trust in himself. But what to do when the brain doesn't feel right? Who do you confide in?

"I definitely had moments every season when I felt like I couldn't make anything," Kerr said. "I probably wouldn't say anything to most of the guys, but I might to my best buddies on the team. Late in my career [in San Antonio] I was working with Chip Engelland [now a Spurs assistant coach], but he wasn't on staff at the time, and that was good for me. I could bare my soul to him and not worry about any repercussions. I think everybody is afraid to tell the coach, because then the coach isn't going to play him."

Miller did the same -- quietly.

"Yes at times I would have a private conversation with say a Mark Jackson or my coach at that time about me struggling and how can we script the offense to get me some easy looks," Miller said. "Looking at these baseball playoffs, looks like A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez], [Robinson] Cano and [Nick] Swisher have lost their confidence as opposed to being in a slump ... Most shooters and scorers have to have short term memory."

Unfortunately for Biedrins, he hasn't apparently been able to get past his struggles.

"If you're not strong minded enough to compartmentalize yourself, you're going to have a problem," Mitchell said. "You can lose your confidence offensively. How do you lose your confidence on defense? As a coach, I would sit him down and say, 'You're letting fear dominate your life. And that's something that's unacceptable.' We all have fear. But fear should motivate you instead of paralyze you."

Nuke LaLoosh wore his girlfriend's garters to help him get out of a pitching slump in "Bull Durham". Non-fictional players have restored to drastic measures to get themselves going as well.

"I remember growing a goatee one time," Kerr said. "It sounds crazy, but I grew a goatee. I wrote the letters F.I. on my shoes, for [bleep] it. I went out there and said I'm going to shoot every time. I probably wasn't as confident as other guys. A guy like Jordan, I don't think he ever had a problem with something like that. Most mortals, you've got to train your mind just like you train your body."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Not crazy about the "me" part of "team." From Valerie Gibson:

Dr. Drew on GameTime

A dissenting view: A sport in which, as Chris Paul recently stated, you are with your teammates more than your family, a sport that is fragile and susceptible to issues of loyalty and trust, a sport with a prodigious gap between the best on the team and the worst on the team leaving those in the middle to steady the oars and keep the boat from tipping, the culture of all of this is what Royce White and his advisors have seemingly set aside. Regardless of how it may positively assist Royce in the management of his illness, regardless how mental illness is framed by practitioners and experts, putting oneself above the group, whether it is to say -- look at me I'm great, or, look at me I'm sick, is selfish. Perhaps this is not as he intended, perception rarely is, but he seems to be taking pleasure at this situation he has created.

God bless Royce. May he have a long career filled with achievements but count me as skeptical. He suffers from extreme anxiety in a sport in which you are judged by how you perform under extreme anxiety...

Well, Valerie, I just disagree with your view that he is "taking pleasure at this situation he has created." First, he didn't "create" the situation; he is mentally ill. That's like "creating" cancer. Second, he's trying to be part of the group by coming up with a plan that allows him to participate. If not for this arrangement, he wouldn't likely be playing in the league. I agree with you that he's trying to call attention to himself -- but not for ego stroking. He's calling attention to himself to show both people who are dealing with mental illness and the people who may potential employ them that there are avenues that can be reached that help the person and the business by being proactive rather than reactive. Would it have been better for Royce to have done nothing, have some kind of episode on a flight, then be removed from the team to "deal" with his problem? He's "dealing" with his problem now, before something happens. I think that's the sign of a mature person, not an attention seeker.

Well, even "Cats" closed on Broadway. From Eric Knoll:

Big fan of the Morning Tip, something I look forward to every week. What I've been wondering, though, is what's up with Derek Fisher? Are there really no teams interested in him, or is he being choosey? While his age obviously showed last season with the Thunder, I feel like he still played decent enough for SOMEONE to want him. At the very least, I would think the Knicks would want him based solely on how close he is to being 40. Any insight?

I don't think there's much interest in Derek out there, Eric, at least not that I can pick up. With so many teams investing in young point guards the last few years, there aren't that many teams that really need a veteran point, and the title contenders (Miami, Lakers, OKC, Spurs) all have backups that they prefer to D-Fish. I also suspect, as you do, that he isn't jumping at every offer out there.

It's a Festusival! From Josh Trumm:

We all knew guys like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Austin Rivers, Damian Lillard, Jared Sullinger et al. were going to be playing very good basketball as rookies, but how about Golden State's Festus Ezeli? Guy goes 7-for-8 with eight boards and good defense in place of Andrew Bogut! And he's been solid in his other two games, rebounding and blocking shots. Not too shabby for a high second-round pick (plus he's in the running for best name in the NBA). With him in mind, what lower picks and undrafted players have we maybe not been hearing about who have been playing well and have the opportunity to make an immediate impact on their teams?

I mentioned some of those more unsung guys who had good camps and have played so well in the preseason above. You can add Michael Beasley to that list; he's gotten off to a pretty good start in Phoenix. "Mr. Irrelevant," Robert Sacre, the 60th and last pick in the Draft, has an advocate with the Lakers; Kobe Bryant said last week that Sacre, the former center from Gonzaga, would "definitely" make the team. As for Ezeli, he had his supporters before the Draft, but there were concerns about how much offense he could produce at the NBA level.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and deep thoughts while dropping from 128,000 feet to the ground 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) It must be serendipity -- beautiful serendipity -- that has the Nuggets and Andre Iguodala coming to Philadelphia on opening night on Halloween.

2) Glad to hear my friend Arthur Triche, for so long the excellent public relations director for the Hawks, has a new gig producing sports talk at an Atlanta radio station. He will make that station better with his presence, his humanity and his intellect.

3) Among the things I like best about the NBA is that it does things without fanfare that should be done without fanfare. WNBA referee Brenda Panteja is trying to break into the NBA official ranks by doing some games during the exhibition season. It's hardly a big deal; Violet Palmer has been an NBA ref for more than a decade. Which is, precisely, the point. It's business as usual now in The Association.

4) #TeamRobin.

5) That is one tricked out hooptie!

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) If I'm the Hornets, I'm getting a little sketchy about Eric Gordon, who doesn't seem to, you know, actually play.

2) I thought the time Jeff Malone missed a game with contact lens irritation was the lamest injury I'd ever heard of keeping someone out of a game. Until this week.

3) Of course, there's nothing wrong with things like this; it helps grow the game in a country where the payoff down the road could be immense. But when the league puts millions into endeavors like it, it makes players wonder why the league continually insists it needs them to reduce their salaries in order for the sport to survive at collective bargaining time.

4) My friends who cover politics amaze me. Yes, they have a difficult job, but they don't help themselves, either. They air debates, then talk to people who are paid to spin on behalf of their favored candidates. It would be like covering a football game and asking the cheerleaders on the sidelines who "won." But, Christi, don't you think Romo needed to check down to the tight end more? They analyze sighs and smiles and smirks more than what candidates actually say. Was Biden lying about the administration's knowledge of the request for additional security in Libya? I have no idea, because the last few days have been about his reactions to Congressman Ryan on the split screen. Was Ryan accurate about the details of his tax plan? Don't know, because all you heard and saw was his propensity to drink water. Just don't understand the obsession with theatre instead of substance.

5) Every year I do the baseball playoffs for TBS and TNT, I am reminded of how wrenching the emotions are for fans of their respective teams. To watch more than 45,000 Nationals fans, a strike away from making the National League Championship Series, have their hearts crushed by the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night is to witness a communal anguish. People were too stunned to cry. And it was the same in Denver, Milwaukee and Cincinnati in past years, watching those cities' teams lose to the Phillies in the Division Series. To give your heart to a team and see it laid low in those circumstances makes it so, so hard to go up that mountain again. It is the drama of sports -- one winner, one loser -- that makes it so compelling, and agonizing, to witness.

BY THE NUMBERS

33 -- Members of the Magic's basketball operations staff, an increase of seven since new GM Rob Hennigan took over, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

22 -- Minutes played Saturday by the Clippers' Chris Paul in the Clips' exhibition victory over Miami in Shanghai. It was Paul's first appearance on the court since undergoing thumb surgery following the Olympics.

3 -- Olympians on the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx (Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whelan, Maya Moore), who opened this year's WNBA Finals against the Indiana Fever Sunday night with a 76-70 loss in the best of five series.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

I stick to my strengths....and singing/rapping isn't one of them lol
-- Warriors first-round pick Harrison Barnes (@HBarnes), Saturday, 3:13 p.m., showing unusual self-awareness for a professional athlete/entertainer. Or do we really have to listen to this again?

THEY SAID IT

"I gave him his 30 minutes of fame. It's all good. I wish him the best of luck. He's playing in China, right? I wish him the best of luck. Maybe he'll get back to the NBA one day and see what it's like up close again."
-- Kobe Bryant, responding to sharp criticism of him as a teammate by former Lakers guard Smush Parker, with whom he played from 2005 to 2007. Kobe started it last week by saying Parker was "the worst" point guard he'd played with, and extended the criticism to other former teammates like Kwame Brown and Chris Mihm. Parker responded in an interview on Hard 2 Guard radio (here is a partial transcription) in which he said Bryant was a terrible teammate whose sway over the organization was so complete the team should be named the "Los Angeles Bryants."

"I don't like really calling a man 'Fab.' "
-- Kevin Garnett, explaining to The Associated Press why he gave Celtics rookie Fab Melo the nickname "Melo."

"I know. I'm a jerk. I'm going to go ahead and admit it publically to the whole world. Tell me what to do. What should I do?...It entertains everybody but my wife. When I get home and she says 'geez why are you so mean? You're a jerk, people hate you.' I go I'm sorry honey, I have to do better next time."
-- Gregg Popovich, in an interview with Miami radio station 790 The Ticket, acknowledging that his gruff answers to sideline reporter questions get him in occasional trouble with the missus. I have never met Erin Popovich, but I think she's swell.

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