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David Aldridge

Rajon Rondo is now the centerpiece of Boston's Big Three
Rajon Rondo is now the centerpiece of Boston's Big Three.

Old-school Celtics seek fresh identity for another title run


Posted Oct 22, 2012 9:39 AM - Updated Oct 22, 2012 4:48 PM

They had Jason Terry at HealthPoint.

That's the Celtics' practice facility, about 10 miles from downtown Boston. And in July, when Terry first walked into the building, after signing a free-agent deal with the Cs, he understood how his one title in Dallas was trumped by 17 Boston banners.

"A couple of them had old fire, smoke stains on it," he recalled. "I was like, 'Wow, yeah, it's real old school around here.' And then just going out amongst the people in the town. 'Welcome to Boston,' that's what I kept getting. With that accent. It was just letting me know that it was a sports town, and they were for the Celtics. And I knew I was home."

There will be understandable talk of the budding dynasty in Miami this season, and there will be understandable talk of the mix in Los Angeles, and whether the Thunder can win a few titles before they may have to break up the band. But Old Guys always hang around. The Celtics may have some fresh legs in their mix this year, but at heart they're Old Guys, with old souls, the mirror image in the east of what San Antonio is in the west -- the aging heavyweight looking for one more title shot, led by crusty manager/coaches.

There are, of course, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, now 36 and 35, respectively, Garnett looking ornerier than ever after re-upping for one last run this summer, and Pierce much healthier after struggling through the playoffs with a knee strain.

Most importantly -- you read that right -- there is Rajon Rondo, the now-permanent third leg of the next Big Three. The Celtics do not work without KG's barking and the Captain's clutch shot-making, of course, but it is time for Rondo to be the best player on the team. That's the best line of attack to beating the Heat.

The Heat. The Heat. The Celtics still think they were the better team after losing to Miami in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in June. But the Heat won the game and went on to win the title.

"It's in the back of our heads," Rondo said last week.

"There's only about three or four guys that were here last year, and the new guys know what we have to do. They're the team to beat. They're the champions. So you've got to give them respect and you've got to go out there and put it to them. And not just them, any team. It's not just about the Heat."

They have completed their divorce from Ray Allen, now famously in Miami, and like many divorces, it's gotten uglier in the retelling, with each side claiming it was the aggrieved party. (No word yet on which side will get Heinsohn in the settlement.) With Allen now in thrall to his younger, hotter team with the South Beach condo, the Celtics have gone on a journey of self discovery.

"I don't know who we are yet," Doc Rivers said last week.

It may take Boston half of the season to figure that out. They had the makings of a great defensive team the second half of last season with Garnett playing center and Avery Bradley replacing Allen -- then injured -- in the starting lineup. Bradley, though, is out at least until December after offseason shoulder surgery, and there are eight new faces that are likely to be part of the rotation. But Danny Ainge has given Rivers a lot of options.

Terry, who signed a three-year deal with Boston, is still hot that Mark Cuban never gave the Mavericks a real chance to defend their title. "March 14th. Going back to Dallas," he says. "The Jet will be on the runway. I'm definitely going to fly by Cuban, my old buddy, and give him a little love."

But the 2009 Sixth Man of the Year will have some of the creature comforts from his former home in Dallas with him in Boston, courtesy of Rivers.

"Early on he sent me films of Ray Allen, where he was getting the ball and where he liked it at," Terry said. "Then he shot me a text -- 'If the game was on the line, and we needed a shot, and you were going to take the shot, what would it be -- catch and shoot, or pick and roll?' And he basically left it open to me. I told him what I wanted -- I'm not gonna tell you, but everybody knows -- and he put the play in immediately."

Despite having next to no budget, Ainge also managed to trade for Courtney Lee, who will probably start at shooting guard until Bradley returns. He re-signed Jeff Green, who missed all of last season after undergoing heart surgery, along with Brandon Bass, and added minimum vets like Darko Milicic, Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins to provide big man depth. Last week, Boston added Leandro Barbosa to back up Rondo after veteran Keyon Dooling's surprise retirement.

Green's return after coming from Oklahoma City in 2011 gives Boston a new dimension at power forward. He's still a 'tweener at that position, but it's probably the best way to utilize his speed and length, and allow Boston to bring Bass off the bench, where the Celtics struggled to find points last season. Now, Boston will have Bass, Barbosa and Terry firing away.

But, like the Spurs, Boston has to get its core guys to the playoffs healthy. In each of the last four postseasons, Boston has been waylaid by a key injury.

They had to try to defend their 2008 title without Garnett in the 2009 playoffs after his midseason knee injury. Kendrick Perkins' torn ACL in the opening minutes of Game 6 of the Finals against the Lakers may have cost them title number 18. In 2011, Rondo gamely tried to play through a dislocated elbow against Miami in the Eastern semis, and last year, Allen's ankles and Pierce's knee made them shells of what they should have been.

The Celtics and Garnett have figured out how to spread out his 30 minutes most effectively every night -- by what is known in Boston as the "5-5-5" plan. Garnett starts the first and third quarters and plays the first five minutes of each, then comes out. He comes back in just before the end of the first and third, plays through the first few minutes of the second and fourth, then comes out again. And he plays the final five minutes of the second and fourth quarters.

That allows Garnett to blow out his furnace every time he's on the floor, which is the only way he knows how to play and practice, anyway.

With Pierce, the Celtics want to hit that sweet spot between maxing out what Pierce can give them and putting him out there when he's fatigued. Injuries can and do happen anytime, to 22-year-olds and 32-year-olds. But they don't want Pierce out there tired.

"He never misses practices," Rivers said of Pierce. "But there's days when you can see he's clearly not playing right, and it's too late already, that game. You start to think as a coach, we probably should have done something the game before. And that's what we have our whole staff on the lookout for, what the right number is."

Rivers may use different lineups during the season as he tries to figure things out.

"I do think you have to play a certain amount of minutes," Rivers said. "The one thing I don't want to do is sit them down. I think players lose their rhythm too quick. So you know, with Kevin, we've got to find the right amount of minutes where he can get rest and still be sharp. Same thing with Paul. Paul's a tough one, because he really wants to play all the time. But there's a number that we probably shouldn't go over, and I don't know what it is yet. I have to figure that out."

The Celtics were an odd mix on the court last season. While they were an efficient shooting team -- Boston was seventh in the league in true shooting percentage, which includes three pointers and free throws (53.5 percent), and 10th in effective field goal percentage (49.6 percent) -- the Celtics were a turnover machine. They were tied for 25th in the league in turnover ratio (25.7/game). That's almost all on Rondo, whose turnovers have gone up each year he's been in the league.

But Rondo's pluses so overwhelm his drawbacks. No point guard can control a game so completely without ever taking a shot, and no one is as lethal in transition.

"Rajon, to me, is a younger Jason Kidd," Terry said. "Early on in Jason's career, they questioned whether he could shoot the ball. But he was constantly in the lane, he was constantly pushing tempo, he was a floor general. Rajon's the same guy, with a little more attitude."

And Rondo has taken over the leadership role off the court. Longtime Boston scribe Jackie MacMullen detailed last week how respected Rondo is in the Boston locker room, and just how fractured his relationship with Allen really was. He also seems to be making more of an effort to handle the necessary if tedious role of being a spokesman to the media.

Last week in Brooklyn, after an exhibition game with the Nets, Rondo was walking out of the Celtics' locker room. In previous years, he may have well kept going, or stayed in the trainer's room. This time, knowing reporters wanted to speak with him, Rondo turned around.

"I'll be right back," he said. And he was.

"Off the court, we're so close," Rondo said when he returned. "It's crazy, our chemistry. You can say it was [the preseason trip to Turkey] overseas, but regardless, I think we've been close since day one. Each of us leans on one another. We always call and check up on each other off the court and when we get to hotels we always do things together. So the trust is already there."

There are budding mentor/mentee relationships all over the locker room. Terry first saw Bradley at a Reebok all-American camp when Bradley was in high school in Tacoma, about 20 minutes from where Terry grew up in Seattle. Garnett is already working on, and with, first-round pick Jared Sullinger. The rookie doesn't play like a rookie. He plays like he's been in the NBA for six years already.

"You've got Kevin Garnett in your ear, doing this [Sullinger puts his hand next to his head, pantomiming KG yapping] all the time," he said. "You see him moving, you see him tapping me. I'm learning. Every day. Every day. It's like that every day. You've got Kevin just constantly moving his hands, talking, and you're just listening, and you're learning every day. And as you're seeing what he's seeing, the game slows down, tremendously."

Sullinger doesn't take KG's noise personally -- "cause I had Satch Sullinger as a coach," Jared Sullinger says, referring to his father, James, who demanded more, and then more, from his growing son as he taught him the game. "So I learned early that it's not how loud he's saying it, it's what he's saying ... I was blessed to have an angry coach."

Rivers is only occasionally angry. But he spent much of training camp putting one thought in his team's head: Miami. Miami. Miami. To beat the Heat's Fifteen Strong (yes, I know that was the '06 motto) ... and Indiana's ... and Chicago's, once they get D Rose back ... it will take a commitment of at least that many Celtics -- healthy ones. Not to mention the undefeated, undisputed Father Time.

They assemble, for one more assault on the mountain, with Rivers in charge.

"It's one thing to have talented players; it's another to get the best out of them, get everybody on the same page," said Collins, who played against the Celtics for the Hawks last season. "He seemed to, from afar, always to do it. And now that I'm here, a great job of pulling the strings, really orchestrating everything so that everybody buys into [the idea that] we're here to win a title. And that's the main reason I came here, because I want to win a title. Whatever it takes."

DRIBBLES

How noteworthy is it that half of the NBA's head coaches this season will be men of color?

Is this a big deal, or nothing no longer worth discussing? Does it further the NBA's reputation as the pro sports league most reflective of society at large, or have we reached the point -- in this small, sliver of a part of our world -- where constantly pointing out the numbers no longer serves an effective purpose?

There have been large numbers of African-American head coaches in the league for more than a decade, normally fluctuating annually between a third and near half of the league's 30 teams. But last season, for the first time, there were more head coaches of color in the NBA than there were white head coaches, according to The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, run by director Richard Lapchick, which has issued a racial and gender report card noting hiring practices in all of the major professional sports leagues and in NCAA member institutions since 2001.

This season, for the first time, 15 of the NBA's 30 teams will have head coaches of color. Fourteen of the 15 are African-American: Jacque Vaughn (Orlando), Larry Drew (Atlanta), Doc Rivers (Boston), Avery Johnson (Brooklyn), Byron Scott (Cleveland), Mark Jackson (Golden State), Mike Brown (L.A. Lakers), Lionel Hollins (Memphis), Monty Williams (New Orleans), Mike Woodson (New York), Alvin Gentry (Phoenix), Keith Smart (Sacramento), Dwane Casey (Toronto) and Tyrone Corbin (Utah). Miami's Erik Spoelstra, the first head coach of Asian decent in any major U.S. sport to win a championship, is Filipino-American.

Last year, Kaleb Canales became the first Latino head coach in league history when he served as Portland's interim head coach. More than one-fourth of the league's executives last season were also people of color, while 82 percent of players were of color, with 78 percent representation by African-Americans.

The NBA has consistently gotten the highest marks in diversity among the pro sports leagues from TIDES at UCF; in its 2012 report card in June, it gave the league an A+ for racial hiring practices and an A- for gender hiring practices. This is where self-awareness that a positive trend is occurring could degenerate into back patting and lack of humility. Like any large company, the NBA still has some areas where people of color and women don't often find a regular home, like team controllers and physicians. But compared to other leagues, it's much better overall.

"Despite the strong overall grades for the NBA, there is always room for improvement," Lapchick said in the TIDES executive summary. "Most of that is in the area of gender hiring at the team level. But considering all factors, the NBA once again dominated the landscape for being a model league for racial and gender hiring practices."

Black coaches would complain in the past that they never got a chance at high-profile good jobs, having to settle for first chances (sometimes, only chances) with bad teams. And after a bad year or two, they said, they'd get fired, and wouldn't get another shot. But that's changed in recent years. Hollins got a second shot in Memphis in 2009, after coaching the expansion Grizzlies in Vancouver, with a team of young, talented players. Drew took over in Atlanta for another African-American coach, Woodson, and inherited a playoff team. And Brown replaced Phil Jackson in Los Angeles last year.

"From my standpoint, it's never been an issue," said Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, who hired Hollins. "And what are the player ranks, 80? It's obviously natural then that you would have African-American coaches as well. We have a pretty healthy representation of former players that are head coaches at any given time."

Indeed, the NBA has become a league where former players of all races have a better chance of becoming head coaches than in other leagues. Of this year's 30 head coaches, 21 played in the NBA or ABA, with others, such as Portland's Terry Stotts and Toronto's Dwane Casey, starring in college.

Part of this trend is likely due to the game's changing economics. The days of $5 million and up in salaries for head coaches are likely done for the foreseeable future; young coaches looking to get one into one of the world's most exclusive clubs are often willing to take less than established coaches. And after several failed experiments with high-priced college coaches in the '90s, NBA teams are much more reluctant to write a big check for guys with no pro experience of any kind. (That said, if Duke's Mike Krzyzewski had wanted the job, the Lakers were ready to hire him in 2004.) That leaves former NBA players, former NBA head coaches or assistant coaches who get elevated to the head job.

And, as we've asked for years: Why not? Why the hell not?

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

1) Miami: Mike Miller back on the court Saturday was a welcome sight for Heat fans.

2) Oklahoma City: When Manu Ginobili took less from the Spurs than what the Nuggets offered in 2004, it ensured another decade of dominance for San Antonio. James Harden could do that. Then again, as Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman pointed out last week, there's no guarantee that a small market team that keeps it core together and pays luxury tax is going to win anything.

3) L.A. Lakers: The regular season starts in eight days, but the Lakers still haven't worked out a deal with carriage operators to carry their games on Time Warner Cable.

4) San Antonio: Eddy Curry closing in on securing a roster spot after not playing much last season in Miami.

5) Indiana: Pacers' Conseco Fieldhouse interior was the blueprint for the Nets' Barclays Center.

6) Boston: Rookie Fab Melo looking destined for D-League stint to start the season.

7) Memphis: Darrell Arthur (stress fracture) due for a checkup exam next week, and he could conceivably be given the green light to start more basketball-related work afterward. The likelihood is he'll be back a few weeks into the season.

8) L.A. Clippers: You don't want to still hear the words "Lamar Odom" and "conditioning" this late in camp/preseason.

9) Dallas: Diggler out for six weeks following surgery, Chris Kaman hurt. Can the Mavs hold on in the west for the first month or two of the regular season?

10) Denver: Wilson Chandler (hip surgery) back on the court for the first time this season.

11) Philadelphia: Sixers very happy so far with undrafted Villanova rookie Maalik Wayns, who is battling to back up Jrue Holiday at the point this season.

12) New York: Who would have thought something called a "popliteal cyst" would cause Knicks fans such angst? With Stoudemire out 2-3 weeks, 957-year-old Kurt Thomas comes in to hold the fort.

13) Chicago: No Asik, no Rose, no Watson, no change: Bulls still allowing just 86 a game during the preseason.

14) Atlanta: Hawks need to get off to a quick start, with five of their first eight (including a West Coast swing) on the road, and two of their first three home games against Indiana and Miami.

15) Brooklyn: Looking to dramatically improve their efficiency inside the paint, which will have to happen to give D-Wil and Joe Johnson enough room to penetrate and dish, or get to the cup themselves.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT....

How'd you do on the pop quiz, hotshot? (Thanks, Keanu!)

Since I posted the "Are you a real Washington, D.C., sports fan?" item a couple of weeks ago, I figured I owed you the answers to my questions -- even though you chickened out and didn't challenge me! So, here they are:

Q: Who was the "Secretary of Defense" for the Washington Diplomats of the old North American Soccer League?

A: Defenseman Jim Steele, and could there be a better name for a defenseman?

Q: Explain who Robin Ficker is. Or, was.

A: Ficker is (was) a local gadlfly known for sitting behind the opposing bench at Washington Bullets games, hurling insults at players and coaches like other local hecklers like Detroit's Leon the Barber. Ficker's best gag, to me, was when the Bulls were in town during their dynasty and simply read, for two hours, from Sam Smith's The Jordan Rules.

Q: What did Mstislav Rostopovich do every year at the annual holiday concert in December with the National Symphony Orchestra that brought the house down?

A: Rostopovich, the NSO's music director, led the orchestra in a rousing rendition of "Hail to the Redskins."

Q: Don't just tell me who played at Turkey Thicket; tell me where Turkey Thicket is in town.

A: Turkey Thicket, a playground in Northeast Washington, is where Elgin Baylor played pickup games as a schoolboy before starting his Hall of Fame career. Another local, Ed "Monk" Malloy, became known as "The Mayor of Turkey Thicket" due to his owning of the courts in the '50s. He went on to play on the Carroll High School team that won 55 straight games, with teammates that included John Thompson, who went on to break barriers as coach at Georgetown University. Monk Malloy, now also known as The Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., went on to some success as well ... like president of Notre Dame for 18 years.

Q: Name at least one sponsor of Washington Senators telecasts in the late 1960s.

A: Carling Black Label Beer.

Q: Who was Vince Lombardi referring to during his one season as the Redskins' coach when he said, "that SOB must be deaf?"

A: Lombardi was referring to the team's eighth-round draft pick, a talented running back who always seemed to be a step slow. When one of his coaches noticed the running back would listen to instructions with his head cocked, Lombardi made the diagnosis, got a hearing aid for the back, and watched Larry Brown become one of the Redskins' best all-time runners.

Q: Who is Jim Hrycuik and why is he important?

A: Hrycuik was a hockey forward who played exactly one season -- and just 21 games, at that -- in the NHL. But in the first of those 21 games, on Oct. 9, 1974, Hrycuik scored the first goal in the history of the Washington Capitals franchise, against the Rangers.

Q: Who were "Bay-Bay" and "Big Sky?" Why do they matter?

A: John "Bay-Bay" Duren and Craig "Big Sky" Shelton were star players at Dunbar High School in D.C. who were two of John Thompson's first recruits at Georgetown, and helped transform the Hoyas from a 3-23 team before Thompson's first season into a national power.

Q: Name at least two former sponsors of what is now known as the City Open Tennis Tournament.

A: The (now defunct) Washington Star newspaper, Sovran Bank, or Legg Mason.

Q: Where were Washington's annual Soap Box Derby trials held?

A: They've been held in many locations, including Pennsylvania Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue, but I grew up with them on the steep, steep hill of Eastern Avenue, on the border with Maryland, about five minutes from where I grew up.

Q: Tom McMillan, the University of Maryland basketball star, was a U.S. Olympian in 1972. Who was the next Maryland men's basketball player who made an Olympic team?

A: Forward Steve Sheppard, who was on the gold medal winning team coached by Dean Smith in 1976.

Q: Name either of the men who first dressed up as the Fat Lady.

A: Some background: the "Fat Lady" became a symbol of the Washington Bullets' run to the NBA title in 1978. It referred to the saying "the opera ain't over 'till the Fat Lady sings," originally coined by San Antonio columnist and broadcaster Dan Cook. Cook used the saying when the Spurs fell down 3-1 to the Bullets in the Eastern Conference semis (yes, the Spurs were an "Eastern" team back then). Washington Coach Dick Motta then said it in the next round, when the Bullets took a lead over Philadelphia, and it took off in D.C. The first "Fat Lady" was Barry Silberman, the Bullets' Chief of Security at the time, who went on to become an executive for the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, instrumental in getting Time Warner Cable Arena built. After Silberman, Bruce Volat, a season-ticket holder who also would dress up like Moses (the Biblical one, not Malone), wore the Fat Lady gear.

Q: The Redskins had several prolific kick and punt returners from the 60s through the 80s. Name any two.

A: You could have picked any of several: Rickie Harris, Speedy Duncan, Herb Mul-Key, "Fast" Eddie Brown, Tony Green, Mike Nelms, Brian Mitchell -- and, on occasion, Darrell Green. The Redskins have had great returners for a long time.

Q: Who did the radio call of the Bullets' title in 1978? (He did another title call just a few years later.)

A: Frank Herzog, who went on to become the play by play man for the Redskins, just in time to make the iconic call of John Riggins's Super Bowl XVII run in 1983.

Q: Edwin B. Henderson. Go.

A: Henderson introduced basketball to African-American college students at Howard University in Washington at the turn of the 20th century, after learning the game at Harvard University. He then taught younger kids in D.C. how to play the game, helping to grow basketball as a popular sport among black players. Henderson later organized the first African-American athletic conference, coached the Twelfth Street Colored YMCA team to the national title in 1910 and wrote one of the first comprehensive histories of African-American participation in sports. He should be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Period.

Q: Where did Joe Dean Davidson, Dave Brown and Bob Headen coach for years and years?

A: Davidson (Dunbar High School), Brown (Spingarn) and Headen (H.D. Woodson) were legendary coaches in the Interhigh Conference (now the DCIAA), the public high school conference in D.C. Among those who played in the Interhigh were NBA Hall of Famers Dave Bing and Elgin Baylor, NFL players Vernon Davis, Byron Leftwich, Cato June and the late Orlando Brown, and baseball star Maury Wills.

The point of all this was to point out that D.C. has a rich and long history as a sports town, despite what you may hear to the contrary. Are D.C. fans as rabid as those in New York or Philly or Chicago? No, they are not. But they are always there, waiting for someone to whom they can give their hearts.

....AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Let's go out to the barn and pay for a superstar! From Mike Bridgeman:

I, like most fans of the NBA, pull for the OKC Thunder (not over my team, ahem...ATL) because they are fun, exciting, young, really good, and just likeable overall. So the obvious issue right now (duh) is how do they maintain their fearsome foursome? We all know the complications, but if what everyone is being told and shown is true, (you know about how OKC is such a basketball town, and how the players feel that they are like family and money can't come between that) and I'm not suggesting that it is or is not, but couldn't SOMETHING be figured out, just anything? I mean multiple millions of dollars is motivation for many, many things, but lets say that at the end of the day Harden wants the max deal that another team could offer him, which is 4 yr $63 million I believe. That averages out to $15.75 mill/yr. We know that the Thunder organization can't afford/spend that, but an outside the box type of idea could be figured and affective. Lets say that one third of OKC are basketball fans, that's 197,322 people, all "contribute" or "donate" $20 a year to the cause. That's roughly $3.95 mill/yr right there. And let's say that the other three stars "contribute" to the cause, and I believe with all of their contract extensions that they could "afford" some amount, say $1 mill/yr each. That's almost $7 mill/yr all combined, and lets say Harden agrees to I don't know, on average $14 mill/yr...and you do the math. I, unfortunately, am not a lawyer or paralegal and therefore do not know the legal ramifications of my first two ideas or any other outside the box ideas, but I mean I know I and many other ATLiens would drop a Jackson a year to keep J-Smoove in town.

Well, it's outside the box, Mike, that's certainly true. It is, alas, a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for a) anyone other than the team to pay a player's salary, and b) for a player's teammates to pay any part of his contract. Back in the old days (e.g., when I first started covering the league), players could rework their contracts to free up money for their teams to sign other players. Magic Johnson, famously, redid his deal so that the Lakers could sign Terry Teagle one year. But that's not allowed any more.

Life after JJ. From Nicholas Madden:

...I am a big Hawks fan, and I feel that we have gotten better as a team with the departure of Joe despite what most critics are saying. We traded him in for a lot of complementary pieces and 3 point shooters (Korver, Morrow, etc). The Hawks say they plan on playing an up tempo style and I think with Teague's development, the athleticism of both Smith and Horford (if he stays healthy), addition of Lou Williams and other shooters that we have the potential to be a better team. If we go into the post and play an inside-out game I think we can be competitive (assuming they pull it off). I think the only thing going against us is the fact that other teams have also gotten better AKA Knicks, Brooklyn, Celtics, Miami. Curious to see your opinion on the Hawks.

Atlanta is still a playoff team, Nicholas. But I don't think they're top four in the east any more. I believe Miami, Boston and Indiana are the top three teams in the conference at the moment, and Chicago will be when Derrick Rose returns. A Philly team with Andrew Bynum is, to me, better than the Hawks as well, leaving the Hawks to fend for the remaining spots with the Knicks, Nets, Bucks, maybe Detroit. But that's what the season is for.

I love L.A. And its tens of millions of homes that get cable. From Murray Toburen:

...Might I suggest, as a future topic, an explanation and analysis of how local sports network dollars impact

teams and their competitiveness in terms of the league's salary cap. I became especially curious after the Lakers announced that huge new deal with Time/Warner last year.

It doesn't affect the cap at all, Murray. What it does is create a cushion in which a team like the Lakers that is getting somewhere between $2 and $4 billion over 20 years from Time Warner doesn't feel any financial pressure to go deep into the luxury tax to retain players. Let's put the estimate of what Time Warner is paying L.A. at the low end, $2 billion. That's $100 million per year the Lakers are getting from Time Warner. If TW is paying the Lakers $4 billion over 20 years, that's $200 million a year the Lakers get from local TV. That's before they get their cut of the national TV deals, or sell a ticket, or lease a suite, or sell signage inside Staples Center. That means the Lakers have no problems with a team salary that exceeds $90 million, or goes up to $100 million, with the resultant luxury taxes. It's already paid for. That's the edge the Lakers have over teams whose local TV deals pay them, say, $10 million a year. The Lakers never will go into the red even though they're paying tens of millions in luxury taxes, while other teams who don't even get to the tax threshold wind up losing millions. And even if the Lakers go into the red one year, they know there's another $100 million coming next year.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and better ways to spend a fifth of a billion dollars http://content.usatoday.com/sportsdata/baseball/mlb/salaries/team than being swept in the ALCS 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) Welcome back, Dwight. Gotta admit, he looks pretty good in Forum Blue and Gold. (On the other hand, can't get used to seeing Nasty wearing the colors.)

2) Barclays Center is gorgeous inside. My hope is that people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn and can't afford season tickets or the going rate to see Jay-Z or Barbra Streisand also get to enjoy it on occasion.

3) There continues to be, as they say, developments in Seattle.

4) Get on board the Sleep Train!

5) Doesn't sound like there is anything approaching consensus on advertising for jerseys, if the Commish's words last week in Europe are any indication. "This is the one forum that understands that advertising on team jerseys is something that's gone on for decades, both in football and in basketball, and virtually every other sport," he said. "We shall see. There's a pretty big division of opinion right now as to whether we should take that step." Also: Stern said he personally wasn't in favor of it, but wouldn't stand in the way of the Board of Governors if it decides to implement the patches for the 2013-14 season. Kind of hoping that doesn't happen.

NOT FEELIN'...

1) Any NBA fan who is snickering at Lance Armstrong and the revelations about his life and decisions today needs to check him or herself. There is no sports league, pro or college, that doesn't have substance abuse issues, and the fact that the NBA has escaped relatively unscathed so far from a drug scandal doesn't mean there aren't potential problems. Certainly WADA isn't the only entity to point out gaps in the NBA's testing program, but there is far too much uncertainty about HGH testing at the moment for the union to ever sign off on it. And if the players don't agree to be tested (and they shouldn't, until the testing is better), this is all moot.

1A) Speaking of Armstrong, I wish I could say I was surprised. I am not. That doesn't mean his life's work with Livestrong should be denigrated or that contributions to it should end. But his profile should no longer be the face of that organization, and his decision to step down last week from the board was the correct one.

2) I have no doubt that NBA types think the Lakers will clear the financial decks in 2014 to be able to make a run at LeBron James. I just wonder why anyone finds it at all newsworthy that the Lakers will clear the financial decks in 2014 to be able to make a run at LeBron James. Every team is going to try and make a run at LeBron James in 2014. To not do so would be sports malpractice. So the Lakers, and the Bulls, and the Mavericks, and a few other high-profile teams (and don't kid yourselves; the Cavaliers would take him back in a nanosecond), and every other team that can clear the requisite cap room will be ready when and if James opts out of his Heat contract. In related news, the sun will rise tomorrow in the east, and set in the west.

3) You'll be back, Kevin Love. Maybe do regular pushups from now on?

4) Pulling for you, Greg Willard. Hope you are at peace and were able to enjoy working again last week.

5) The new DirecTV commercials with the floating "DVR Full" signs that get in everyone's way really creep me out. They wouldn't make me any more compelled to get DirecTV if I didn't already have it.

BY THE NUMBERS

5 -- NBA titles won (four with the Minneapolis Lakers, one with the St. Louis Hawks) by Hall of Fame guard Slater Martin, who died last week at the age of 86 following a sudden illness. He also was a seven-time All-Star and was all-NBA second team five times.

90 seconds -- Amount of time players will now have after the conclusion of introductions to be ready for the opening tip, per a league directive designed to speed up the start of play. A team whose players are not ready after that minute and a half will be assessed a delay of game warning, which would be followed by a technical foul.

137 -- Points needed by LeBron James to overtake Gail Goodrich to break into the top 50 on the NBA's all-time scoring list. James begins this season with 19,045 points, behind Goodrich's 19,181.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Oh and y'all can stop wit dis Bron playin in LA talk. Dat man dade county certified. Once 305 always 305! U can put da house one dat! Lol.
-- Heat forward Udonis Haslem (@ThisIsUD), Thursday, 10:36 p.m., expressing great confidence that LeBron James will remain in Miami after he is able to opt out of his deal following the 2013-14 season.

THEY SAID IT

"I wouldn't call Delonte high maintenance. Delonte is Delonte maintenance."
-- Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, after the team suspended West for a game for detrimental conduct following an outburst by the Dallas guard in the team's locker room after a preseason game last week.

"Who is that?...I've never heard of him."
-- Wizards guard John Wall, when told that singer/guitarist Jon Bon Jovi was among the crowd at the Brooklyn-Washington exhibition game last week, per the Washington Post.

"They were uneducated as to what I do. They just spoke without knowing. And basically I look at the people who judged me that way, and it's unfortunate and foolish. They should've known me first. But it was half my fault because I wasn't readily available to put those kinds of opinions to rest."
-- Lakers majordomo Jim Buss, to the Orange County Register, on criticism of him over the years as he's assumed essential control over the basketball operations side of the franchise. (Sister Jeanne, the team's executive vice president, handles the business side.)

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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