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Thunder working hard to get past post-Harden shock


POSTED: Nov 5, 2012 12:22 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Coach Scott Brooks (center) and OKC's talented core remain on the same page.

Scott Brooks needed a sign that things were still normal in his world, and he got it, at the usual time, about 8:45 one morning last week. There was a knock on his door at Oklahoma City's practice facility.

"Kevin's here," his assistant said.

And, as ever, a few seconds later, another knock.

"Russell's here."

And with that, the Thunder went back to work, because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were ready to sweat, get some shots up, like they are just about every day -- well before the team starts its actual practices.

Yes, the trade of James Harden to Houston rocked the franchise, just as the team's equilibrium had been jolted in February of 2011 when Jeff Green was sent to Boston for Kendrick Perkins. But the Thunder got past that and got to The Finals last June. They are confident they'll get past Harden's departure, too.

The coaches had eaten at a San Antonio restaurant on the Riverwalk Wednesday night, occasionally glancing at the Spurs' game with New Orleans on the televisions above the bar. But Harden's debut with the Rockets against Detroit was of interest as well, and when Brooks and his coterie were leaving, assistant Rex Kalamian gave him the final tally.

"Thirty-seven," Kalamian said.

GameTime: James Harden

Harden topped that with 45 points Friday night in Atlanta, getting off to the kind of start that MVP candidates [see below] do. The Thunder As We Knew Them, meanwhile, were officially, hermetically sealed. A three-year run of basketball that was, at once, the stuff of fairy tales and tragedy -- the plucky mid-market team with a superstar who never even contemplated the bright lights of the big city. (The tragedy, of course, is that the people of Seattle, who had supported the SuperSonics for 40 years before the franchise moved to OKC, had to watch it unfold on television 1,000 miles away.)

There will forever after be a line of demarcation when we mark the Thunder franchise, Before Harden and After Harden, just as there was with other teams who made seismic trades. The Pistons moved Adrian Dantley, the heart and soul of the team that went from joke to title contender in two seasons, in the middle of the 1989 season. They did so to bring in Isiah Thomas' good friend, Mark Aguirre, from Dallas. If Detroit didn't win the title immediately, Thomas would forever be branded a franchise killer, and Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey rendered impotent.

They didn't win one title.

They won two.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, et.al -- whom Magic Johnson predicted would be "the team of the '90s" -- became no such thing after dealing the young, pre-ACL tear Ron Harper to the Clippers for Danny Ferry in 1990. Harper was one of the few players at two guard who held no awe of Michael Jordan, and could (just about) match him move for move. Cleveland could only watch as the Bulls of the late 1990s -- with Harper, whom Chicago acquired from the Clippers in 1994 -- leapt above them and Detroit to lay claim to that decade's undisputed championship.

While Harper helped Michael Jordan to the last three of his six titles, the Cavs went into a steady decline that didn't bottom out until 2003, when Cleveland took LeBron James with the first pick of the 2003 Draft. (And we know how that ended.)

So, there's no guarantee how this is going to go for the Thunder. Nobody knows for sure, starting with Durant. He was at the Notre Dame-Oklahoma football game in Norman, half an hour from OKC, when he got the text last Saturday that the Harden trade was official. Even though Durant was well aware that things could go that way, it was still, to use his word, shocking.

"People get it confused," he said last week, "but we get attached to people. 'Cause you're with these guys, fighting with these guys every single day. You kind of build a bond with them, a friendship with them over the years. You start to become family. And so to see a guy that's been here since day one, since we started this thing, get moved like that, it was tough. It was tough, not because of the basketball part of it, but just to see him every day was tough. But we've got to move on. We're very excited about the team we have, and it's going to be a very fun year."

Indeed, as Brooks said, the cupboard's not bare. OKC still has three Olympians at its foundation -- Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, who played for silver-medal winning Spain. The debate that raged through the Association for the last few months is now over. The Thunder picked Ibaka over Harden. Or, they chose Ibaka's contract over Harden's.

But, as I've noted many times recently, Thunder management made the call, in large part, because it knew Durant and Westbrook would deal with it and wouldn't complain about it publicly or privately. It goes back to the unusual two-way trust between an organization and its 24- and 23-year-old superstars.

Last season, OKC put veterans like Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey (and, at the trade deadline, Derek Fisher) on the back of its bench to help police the locker room. After adding younger, cheaper players like rookies Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb, who came from Houston in the Harden trade -- the only way the cap-strapped Thunder will be able to replenish the roster for the foreseeable future -- the vets are gone, leaving Durant and Westbrook to step up that part of their games.

"Me and Russell, we were here before James," Durant said, "and I think we went through the tough times of losing, and moving from Seattle, just going through that whole year. When James got here, it seemed like we won 50 games, we went to the playoffs, so everything was going downhill from there. Me and Russell, we've been through everything, the Olympics, The Finals, losing seasons and first make it to the playoffs. We've grown as brothers as well.

"And they trust in us that we're going to keep the organization up, no matter what. If we have a tough stretch of games, they depend on us to come in every single game, be the same workers and always bring that positive attitude. We're looking forward to a new leadership role that we're stepping into."

Replacing Harden as sixth man will be Martin, who has played in obscurity -- "in the basement," as he says -- for most of his eight previous NBA seasons with the Kings and Rockets. The last few seasons in Houston, players tried to ignore the fact that just about all of them were involved in trade rumors every day.

"It can mess with a team," Martin said. "As you can see this summer, everybody went, except myself. I knew it was coming. It's kind of tough. I came to Houston to play, to pair with Yao [Ming], to see where I could take us with the franchise player. But he got hurt, unfortunately; he worked so hard to get back. It just changes the whole dynamic of where the team wants to go. We all kind of expected it."

For much of the summer, Martin thought he could be headed to Orlando, as Rockets GM Daryl Morey tried in vain to acquire Dwight Howard. He wound up doing much better than that. The first person he heard from the night of the trade was Durant, and hearing from the best player on the team so quickly was a palliative.

"I prepared through the summer to be the best player possible," Martin said. "Now, I'm sure it's going to be more under a microscope. Now I just have to go out there, know that they traded for me. I'm sure they could have gotten a lot of other players. But they traded for me, who I am. I've just got to be the person I am that fits into this system."

It's the second time in less than two years the Thunder had to deal with major change. Ironically, it was the trade of Green to Boston that solidified Harden's sixth man role, and Durant dealt with the moving of his best friend on the team to the Celtics for Perkins. Even though Perkins was coming off an ACL tear and didn't produce for the Thunder until the following season, when he dropped 30 pounds, he was not made to feel an outcast.

"They welcomed me with open arms," Perkins said. "We're doing the same with Kevin and Jeremy. I ain't gonna lie; when I got here, I didn't know what to expect. And I tell everybody, I pretty much forgot about Boston -- I ain't forget about them, but I kind of moved on within a few days, just because of how they embraced me as far as the family, made me feel a part of it and everything."

Martin's First Basket for the Thunder

Martin will also have to adjust to coming off the bench, something he hasn't done since his second season in the league, six years ago.

"That's a big question," he says. "I feel like just like they've been telling me, it's a process, and the results will come now or later. It's a long season, and it's definitely different for me. We'll see how it goes."

Martin's ability to score has never been questioned. But the Thunder also need someone who can replace Harden's playmaking abilities. Brooks felt quite comfortable down the stretch of games putting the ball in Harden's hands in sets that look an awful lot like what Harden is doing all the time in Houston. (Thus explains the difference in Harden averaging 16.8 points as an OKC reserve and 35.3 ppg as a Houston starter.)

But that's not Martin's game.

"They're different, in how they like to do things," said forward Nick Collison, a chief beneficiary of playing with Harden in recent years. "James was really more of a ballhandler, create off of angle pick-and-rolls, drag screens, stuff like that. Kevin, more, likes to cut, do stuff off the ball. So we'll just have to figure out the best way to play."

Brooks insists the adjustments will be minimal -- "we don't need time," he said after Thursday's last-second loss to the Spurs. "We know how to play." The return of guard Eric Maynor, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, will help with the playmaking. The Thunder also need more consistently good decision-making from Westbrook and Durant, who famously were each top 10 in the league in turnovers last season.

During his busy summer, which included an Olympic turn in London, leading the U.S. team to defend its gold medal, and putting the finishing touches on his movie, Thunderstruck (yeah, well, um ... ), Durant got in the weight room and tried to get stronger and slow his game down. He continues to pick assistant coach Mo Cheeks' brain about how to attack defenses and how to value the hockey assist while remaining in attack mode.

"Last year, I would, sometimes I would run too fast in the lane and get a charge or a turnover," Durant said. "So, just trying to slow down a little bit, and also be as aggressive as much as I can, not only just to score, but to make basketball plays, make the right basketball plays. So just watching film and seeing how I can learn throughout the season is going to get me better."

Inside the NBA: Westbrook

As ever, Westbrook is a lightning rod, criticized to the hilt when he has a subpar effort, as he did against San Antonio (he took the blame for losing Tony Parker defensively before Parker's game-winning shot). But when he comes back the next night to make 13 of 24 shots and score 32, he's only doing what he's supposed to. It will be that way until OKC breaks through and wins it all. And there is no guarantee that is ever going to happen. Ask the Cavaliers.

But hope springs eternal, especially when it comes from the well of deep disappointment. Durant may work out with LeBron James in the offseason, and he may have been James' Olympic teammate. But he wants what James has. The tears he shed after Game 5 are still in his head.

"It was tough seeing those guys get their rings, seeing them celebrate The Finals," Durant said. "That was tough. And I think about it to this day. But the only thing I can do is continue to get better and have faith in what we do here, and how I approach the game every single day, and it'll all work out. I've just got to keep doing the same things every single day for me to get better, and we'll see what happens.

"But everybody's a rivalry we're playing at any given night. It's not just the LeBrons, or Kobes, or Melos. Every single team we play is a rival. That's how we're going to try to approach it."

DRIBBLES

That the Thunder played the Spurs in their season opener was karma. GM Sam Presti came from San Antonio and saw how the Spurs managed to keep their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for a decade, despite the fact that Duncan was the only one of the three to ever get a max deal. How the Spurs have managed that is one of the great mysteries of recent NBA history.

Well, it's not, really. Just as Durant and Westbrook trust Oklahoma City's management, San Antonio's three stars trust coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford. The Spurs bring all manner of role players in and out of town -- Danny Ferry becomes Steve Kerr becomes Robert Horry becomes Richard Jefferson becomes Diaw or Tiago Splitter -- but the Big Three never go anywhere.

Why do they take less than they could get?

"Everybody asks me that," Parker said Thursday. "I was talking with a couple of my friends and they were asking that. I was like, I don't know. I think it's just the atmosphere here, the family atmosphere. For me personally, why I did it was because, deep down in my heart I know Pop will take care of me until the end of my career. So that's why I felt like I can take less now and help the team out. And we were able to sign Danny [Green] and Boris [Diaw]. And I know when I get a little bit older, I know Pop will take care of me. I really feel that."

Having just turned 30, Parker's also got at least one more big deal coming his way. Ginobili, though, is on the back nine of his career, but he got a three-year deal for almost $39 million from San Antonio at age 32, despite years of struggling through nagging injuries. Duncan got $30 million guaranteed this summer, not that he was going to sign anywhere else.

Parker signed a four-year extension in 2010 for $50 million -- again, less than he would have gotten had he played his old deal out and become a free agent. That the Spurs made him that offer after a season in which he, too, missed a lot of games with injuries made an impression.

Thunder vs. Spurs

Parker does not begrudge Harden asking for, and getting, a max deal for almost $80 million from Houston. But he preferred having the best chance to win a title with the Spurs, and he knew he'd have to shave a little to put the best possible team around him and Duncan and Ginobili.

"On the one hand, you can take less money like I did, like what Manu did, and stay with a winning team," Parker said. "Or you can do your own thing and be your own man, like [Tracy] McGrady, and try to be a superstar and want to make the All-Star team, and [Harden] decided to do that. I wish him luck. Both ways, you can't go wrong. It depends who you want to be.

"A lot of people ask me, 'How are you so successful in San Antonio?' Because, I say, we did a lot of sacrifice. When you look at Manu, Manu did a lot of sacrifice to stay here. I did the same thing. Sometimes when you want to win championships, you have to do that."

Mind you, Parker said this almost two years after he said the Spurs were down to their last strike, in the 2010-11 season. He knew there was a lockout coming, and Duncan looked as if he was wearing down, and the Spurs couldn't stop people like they used to when they won four titles.

But after the Spurs were upset in the first round of the 2011 playoffs by the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, they underwent yet another metamorphosis. They traded Parker's backup, George Hill, to Indiana for the rights to rookie Kawhi Leonard. They gave Green significant playing time and brought Stephen Jackson back for a second tour of duty and added Diaw off the waiver wire.

Popovich accepted the fact that his team couldn't lock opponents down any more, so he decided to outscore them, looking to run at every opportunity. And the Spurs, almost literally, sprinted through the lockout-shortened season, finishing with the league's best record and winning 20 straight games through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

For weeks, they played near-flawless basketball, putting on nightly clinics in ball movement. After sweeping the Jazz and Clippers, and embarrassing the Thunder in the first two games of the Western Conference finals, there wasn't a man, woman or child outside of central Oklahoma that thought the Spurs wouldn't finish off the Thunder and face Miami in The Finals.

But, they didn't.

Now, they look up at the Thunder, wondering if they'll get another shot.

Inside Trax: Thunder vs. Spurs

"To go up 0-2, and to lose 4-0, with the veterans we had, and the guys we have, it hurt," Jackson said. "To have a lead in Game 6, it hurt even more. For them to put this team together, keep the same team from last year, it shows that they think we can do it."

Once Duncan decided to play instead of retire, everyone else's decisions were easier. He started the season with an easy assignment -- his doppleganger, Hornets rookie Anthony Davis. (Some of us think Davis is more Garnett than Big Fundamental, but to each his or her own.) Duncan wondered, not unreasonably, if he could remain himself before being cloned.

Then he went out and gave Davis 25 and 13.

No surprise, given Duncan came to camp (again) in peak condition, as he has for years and years. It's rubbed off; Jackson came to camp at 212 pounds, the lightest he's been in years.

"Being in camp together, being able to work out before camp started, it helped a lot," Jackson said. "I came a week and a half before camp and worked out. To be able to do that, knowing that I was going to be here all season, and being happy to be involved in the game, not like I was in Milwaukee, it's helped me out a lot."

The new rotation has to continue holding up its end. Green knows he has to be a better, more consistent threat from the perimeter, and at some point down the road, he envisions that he'll help Parker with some ballhandling duties. Leonard guarded Kevin Durant last week and will have similar defensive assignments at small forward throughout the season, after earning Popovich's trust as a rookie. Now, Popovich says he wants Leonard to be a Spur for life.

If that happens, Leonard will -- probably -- outlast Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. In present-day San Antonio, it's all about managing their minutes, sitting them on the odd back-to-back or fourth game in fifth nights, so that they're all there for the playoffs. That Parker hit the game-winner at the buzzer to beat the Thunder in the season opener was fine, but San Antonio's only real measurement of success against OKC now is in May and June.

"We'll see how the season goes," Parker said. "I think as long as we're fresh, that's all that counts."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)

1) San Antonio (3-0) [6]: Would imagine Pop is pretty happy with wins over New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Utah. Wait.

Ray Allen's Game-Winner

2) Miami (2-1) [1]: Do you share the feeling that there's a Cheryl-Ladd-joins-Charlie's-Angels-unfair vibe to Ray Allen draining game-winning 3-pointers less than a week into the season?

3) New York (2-0) [13]: Hard to believe, but this is the first time the Knicks have won their first two games to start the season since the lockout season -- the 1999 lockout season.

4) Indiana (2-1) [5]: Gerald Green starting for now in place of the injured Danny Granger.

5) Oklahoma City (1-2) [2]: Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers.

6) L.A. Lakers (1-3) [3]: Ugh: Los Angeles Times reports Sunday that Nash could be out up to a month, not just a week.

7) Boston (1-2) [4]: Truth: Rajon Rondo got pwned, as the kids say, by Brandon Jennings on Friday.

8) L.A. Clippers (2-1) [8]: With James Harden now starting in Houston, the odds have dropped dramatically that Jamal Crawford will be a strong Sixth Man of the Year favorite.

9) Memphis (1-1) [7]: ESPN.com reports late Sunday that the Grizzlies are hiring ex-Sixers minority partner and former assistant Kings GM Jason Levien to head basketball and business operations in Memphis for new owner Robert Pera.

10) Chicago (2-1) [12]: Smart decision by Taj Gibson to take the money and run.

11) Brooklyn (1-0) [15]: I cannot tell you how cool it was to see former Dodgers Ralph Branca and Joe Pignatano, along with Gil Hodges's son, Gil Jr., before the Nets' opener in Brooklyn Saturday.

12) Atlanta (1-1) [14]: Without Josh Smith, that was a heck of a road win Sunday at Oklahoma City.

13) Dallas (1-1) [10]: Darren Collison, leading the pack of 2009 Draftees that didn't get extensions along with Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings, was outstanding against the Lakers on Tuesday.

14) Philadelphia (1-1) [11]: Doesn't look like Andrew Bynum is going to be playing any time soon.

15) Milwaukee (2-0) [NR]: Mike Dunleavy, Jr., scores 29 off the bench, Brandon Jennings hits game-winner at the buzzer to hold off Cleveland Saturday.

Dropped out: Denver [9]

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Orlando (2-0): There are only three players left on the Magic roster -- guards Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick and forward Hedo Turkoglu -- from the team's 2009-10 team that made The Finals. After Nelson was held out of Sunday's game against the Suns with a strained groin and quad, Orlando's starting lineup consisted of guards E'Twaun Moore and Arron Afflalo, forwards DeQuan Jones and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, and center Nikola Vucevic. But they've beaten Denver and Phoenix in Orlando.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Sacramento (0-3): The Kings haven't played badly this week, losing in double overtime in Indiana and by six at Chicago. But they've lost nonetheless, getting outrebounded by 12 per game the first week of the season.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Is there a ladder high enough for Lakers fans to come in on from off the ledge?

There was a reason #FireMikeBrown was trending on Twitter last week, as L.A. lost its first three games of the season for the first time since Jerry West was coaching the team back in the late 70s. All the heat is on Brown, who has been swimming upstream in the City of Angels ever since he succeeded Phil Jackson 16 months ago.

Before Sunday night's laugher over the Pistons finally put L.A. in the win column, the Lakers hadn't won a game since May 18, when they beat the Thunder in Game 3 of the West semis. After that, though, Oklahoma City won the last two games of the series, the Lakers went 0-8 in the preseason and 0-3 out of the gate.

GameTime: Lakers Offense

This confirmed two unshakable principles for many, though not all, Lakers fans:

1) Brown is a moron, and

2) The Princeton offense is offensive.

And that was before Steve Nash broke his leg.

Brown, a good man and a secure coach, has never been a favorite of Angelenos who pined for a big personality hire to replace Jackson. They salivated at the thought of Mike D'Antoni running Seven Seconds or Less, the logical successor to Showtime, in Staples Center. But Jim Buss, the Lakers' boss now that his father, Jerry, has taken a back seat, is the guy that hired Brown. He's not going to pull the plug so soon.

Even after a winless preseason, much of Laker Nation expected the engine to fire up once the games meant something. Instead, the Lakers were routed at home by Dallas on Tuesday, left in the dust at Portland on Wednesday and fell back into familiar, give-Kobe-the-rock-and-stand-around mode in Friday's loss to the Clippers.

"I feel like I'm in my own way," Nash said after Tuesday's opening night loss to the Mavericks.

Brown -- and, not unimportantly, Nash -- thought it no longer made sense for the 38-year-old guard to play the freewheeling, end-to-end style for the 24-30 minutes he was expected to play this season, the way he had done the last seven seasons in Phoenix. No one is a better warrior or more Spartan in his training than Nash, but he could stay fresher longer if he was occasionally off the ball.

"We could keep the game simple offensively, give the ball to Steve Nash like he did in Phoenix, let him play pick and roll, spread the floor and go, and just be a heck of a defensive team," Brown said. "But what I'm trying to do is trying to prepare for the long haul, and for the playoffs. I'm giving them a little bit at a time, hoping I don't overload them too soon and too early."

So the Lakers brought in former Wizards and 76ers coach Eddie Jordan, a disciple of Pete Carril and Carril's Princeton offense. The Princeton is, famously, an equal opportunity offense in which players read and react to the defense to create mismatches. It's similar in philosophy to Jackson's oft-used triangle offense, if not in its terminology and execution.

Ideally, this would make it easier for everyone -- easier on Nash, easier on Kobe Bryant, easier on Dwight Howard. But it hasn't gone that way so far. The combination of new teammates plus a new system to learn equals that fraction of hesitation that leads to turnovers. Turnovers lead to runouts, and a team this old doesn't get back in transition all that well.

Howard, of course, missed all but the last preseason game recovering from back surgery. Bryant's foot kept him out of the last three exhibitions. The nominal starting five of Howard, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Bryant and Nash has had very little time to practice together.

"In the preseason, we was running a couple of different sets," World Peace said. "And then when the last game was over in the preseason, in practice, we added a piece. For a basketball player, it just felt good. For a veteran, it was like, 'Wow, this is how we're going to play this year.' I was like, 'Wow, the coaches did a really good job of having us confused a little in the preseason, and then added one little piece that made it make sense. It was beautiful."

Arena Link: Dwight Howard

Until Sunday, that was one of the few good looking things in SoCal.

"I think it's going to be a struggle at times early, because we're still trying to figure it out," Nash said before suffering the non-displaced fracture of his right fibula. "Not only learn the offense, but learn one another. That's kind of the two parts of it, learning where to be, where to go, and then learning how to do that in the context of cohesion and understanding each other. That takes time, those two components."

Of course, these Lakers don't have time. Bryant, in his own words, is not the most patient fellow, and with thirty-somethings throughout the rotation, the learning curve has to be accelerated. That isn't easy with Princeton.

"I was talking to some of the guys and they were like, this is the third year we've had three different offenses," said Antawn Jamison, who made the playoffs three times in Washington playing the Princeton offense under Jordan.

"It's tough, especially in that situation," Jamison said. "It's difficult. I dealt with it for six or seven years, and it took me a couple of times just to [say] 'Oh, I remember this, I remember that.' It's gonna take time. The thing I like about it, though, you've got some great minds, with Kobe and Pau. Installing it in D.C., we had some great players. But here, I mean, you've got a lot of history."

Princeton works best with a big man who can pass. At its best, as when Carril was on the bench as an assistant to Rick Adelman in Sacramento, and had Vlade Divac and Chris Webber up front, the Kings ran a nightly clinic on how to initiate offense from the high post, with Divac able to slip bounce passes for backdoor layups, or hitting Webber on a high-low lob. Even not-great bigs like Jason Collins, who started at center on the Nets' teams that made consecutive Finals with Jordan on the bench as Byron Scott's assistant, are able to contribute with ball reversals and dribble handoffs.

With Howard a better scorer than passer at this point in his career, Gasol will handle that role most nights for the Lakers.

"Dwight, we want him close to the basket," Gasol said. "And when I'm in that position, I'll be close to the basket."

Said Howard: "It's not going to come overnight. We all understand that. We keep up with the process, stay patient, at the end of the year, we should be holding up the trophy."

Because Princeton works against tendencies, though, players who normally have sweet spots in a standard halfcourt offense -- think Paul Pierce coming right to left off a screen for an elbow jumper -- have to score from other places on the floor. And that means everyone has to be as much facilitator as scorer.

"I think that's just another aspect of gaining control of this offense, is for us to relinquish that need, and that urge that we've all had to take that responsibility of being the main guy," Nash said. "As we learn the offense, and we learn each other, part of that is learning our personalities, make it make sense for those guys' personalities."

Nash's appearance in Forum Blue and Gold still looks odd. The reasons he's here are certainly sensible. But the mix of Nash's skills as a distributor and someone who lives in this league when he's on the move wouldn't seem to work with Howard, who's been the sun around which satellite guards have floated. (Actually, Gasol and Howard look like they already work pretty well together; this offense is tailor made for the all-around excellence of Gasol's halfcourt game.)

Nash will figure it out; there's no offense he doesn't master. If the Lakers can rely on their defense to hold them up now, opponents can only hope they don't figure things out at the other end. (Until then, Kobe's still more than capable of putting up 40, as he showed in Friday's loss.)

"He's still trying to pick his way," Jamison said of Nash. "He's still trying to get into the flow of things, trying to figure out what can't I do, what can I do, what I should be doing. That's the most important process as far as your point guard, being comfortable with it."

I asked Nash if the Princeton, played correctly, could help extend his career.

"We'll see how it can help me," Nash said. "The beauty of the offense is how it can help all of us, how we can help each other. If we're helping each other get better, making reads and cutting to sacrifice for a teammate, picking to get each other open, I think it can help all of us. And then, it'll help me. That's the goal, for this offense to have all five guys be a threat simultaneously, so that the defense can't scout us easily, or load up on the ball, so we can pick teams apart."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Some real-world experiences in our "post-racial" society. From Valerie Morales:

I read to my 74-year-old mother your response to Chuck. She's a retired Episcopal priest who finished her career at the National Cathedral. The tears you referenced? Include my mother in that particular cohort. In her career, working in Georgia, parishioners refused to take communion from her. She experienced death threats when she worked in Indianapolis. She had to understand cruelty on the front end but live with its consequences on the back end. Her father, a University of Michigan-educated engineer, was denied the opportunity to work where he lived in Chicago and was forced to work in Michigan making him a part-time father because of bigotry. So when I read your reply to Chuck to my mother, it was a perfect storm of past hurts rising from the edges of a volcano that had been dormant all these years.

Oh, how misleading the suggestion that race is part of a sordid past history, now renegotiated. I offer this. A few days ago in a local McDonald's I was approached. I was wearing a Berkeley t-shirt; proudly. My son graduated from Cal in 2010. I was asked a question: did I go to Berkeley. No, I said. My son did. Oh, was the reply. A second question. When did my son play football? As if that was the only way he could get in. No, I said. My son doesn't play sports. Later, when I repeated this story to my son Chris, a Berkeley employee, he said "Welcome to my world." Doesn't matter after he left Berkeley he got his Masters in Economics. He has to be an athlete. That is his ceiling, how young black men in intellectual environments are defined. Add to that the new poll revealed last week with results that 55 percent of whites have anti-black views ... well, just do the math. The number of black coaches in the NBA this year must be recognized, celebrated and praised.

Well, I thought so, Valerie. I'm afraid I just don't think we've achieved a "colorblind" society just yet because we elected the first president of color in 2008. And yet, there has been undeniable progress on so many fronts. That was the point of the original post; does the fact that half of the league's coaches are of color mean we've reached a level of achievement where we don't have to spend as much time pointing out the numbers? And I still don't have an answer for that.

Still looking to be the top dog in the Apple. From Harraj Kahlon:

I was wondering what your thoughts were on the New York Knicks this season. They got older but with that I believe comes experience. Carmelo Anthony is my favourite player which is why I would like to see him win a championship. Last season, I noticed Carmelo making a greater effort on the defensive end than in years before. As well, he was sharing the ball more than before. Do you think they have what it takes to crack into the top 4 in the Eastern Conference?

There's an outside shot, Harraj. Despite the Knicks' big win over Miami Friday, you still have to rate the Heat ahead of New York, and I'd add Boston and Indy as well. If they're productive and healthy at the point, though, the Knicks should be in the mix for that fourth spot with Chicago, Brooklyn and Philly.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and other words to use besides "happy" the next time you have a sideline interview at the end of the third quarter to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it! (I'm thinking of going with "satisfied" next go-round.)

MVP WATCH

(The return of our weekly summary of the NBA's elite; weekly totals in parentheses)

1) LeBron James (23 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, .531 FG, .867 FT): Funny, you don't hear about how he doesn't get it done in the clutch when the guy he passes to actually makes the game-winning shot.

2) Kevin Durant (22.7 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, .469 FG, .760 FT ): Became the second-fastest player in league history to reach 10,000 career points on Thursday. The fastest? LeBron.

3) Kobe Bryant (26.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, .597 FG, .947 FT): The first pick of the Custom Made Insiders did everything we expected he'd do in the first week, even as the Lakers dropped three of their (actual) first four games.

4) James Harden (35.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.3 apg, .529 FG, .818 FT): Was trying to think of the last-traded guy in recent years (I mean a real trade, not the technical sign-and-trades like Cleveland sending LeBron to Miami for picks, etc.) who had a debut like this. Carmelo had 25 in his first game for the Knicks, but he was 10 of 25 from the floor. Ray Allen's first game for Seattle after six-plus seasons in Milwaukee? He went for 26, but was 9 of 27. Anyway, it was an incredible first three games in the 732 for The Beard.

Play of the Day

5) Brandon Jennings (17 ppg, 13 apg, 4 spg, .467 FG, .800 FT): Leading the league in average assists and steals, leading the "2009 Draft picks that didn't get extensions and are showcasing themselves Derby" out of the gate.

BY THE NUMBERS

84 -- International players that made NBA rosters this season, tying the record set in the 2010-11 season. According to the league, the 84 players come from 37 countries and territories, 29 of the NBA's 30 teams had at least one international player on their roster -- I'm looking at you, Philadelphia 76ers -- and the Spurs have the most international players (eight) of any team this season.

868,000 -- Average, in total viewers, of Wednesday's Lakers-Blazers game on NBA TV, which made it the network's most-watched telecast ever. We're getting there, people. And thanks for watching. (Speaking of which, make sure you tune in for the season premier of The Beat, tonight at 6. OK, parochial part of The Tip over ... back to your regularly scheduled week in review.)

$1,000,000 -- Amount pledged by Mavs owner Mark Cuban toward Hurricane Sandy relief.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Go. Vote. Again, I don't care, nor is it my place to care, who you vote for, just as you shouldn't care who I vote for. But if you don't vote, you don't get to complain about anything. It will be harder for folks in the Northeast who are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy to get to the polls, but hopefully they have the time and ability to cast their ballot. And I only hope that whoever wins on Tuesday is able to govern, finding common ground where there is room for compromise.

1A) On the other hand, she has had quite enough of the election, thank you.

1B) And, this, presented without comment. Just glad so many people feel strong enough to contribute, one way or the other.

GameTime: Rookie Report

2) Damian Lillard. Go.

3) The Mavs have a real good rookie in Jae Crowder. Talk about an energy provider!

4) A really good post about how advanced basketball stats and old-school "gut" aren't mutually exclusive, just two ways of saying the same thing. I acknowledge that I am late to the analytics side of basketball, but there are now a few stats that I think are well worth using along with some -- not all -- of the more traditional numbers. (I still believe points allowed and field goal percentage allowed are important metrics, but I also see the value of points allowed per 100 possessions.)

5) A week after he was one of the last preseason cuts by the Jazz, our new friend Chris Quinn signed late in the week to play in Spain with Valencia. Congrats.

6) You know, kinda like those Spurs grey home unis.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) All due respect to those runners and/or friends and families who came to New York for the Marathon, and had it canceled at the last minute by Mayor Michael Bloomberg -- who made the right decision at the worst possible time, after all those people had committed to come. But you all are only out the cost of a plane ticket, or a room at the Marriott. You didn't lose your homes. You didn't lose your cars. You didn't lose your life. And, while I am sympathetic to your plight, it remains more important that the city of New York use all of its energies and resources to helping those who have suffered those kinds of losses. Yes, a lot of people worked very hard to prepare for the race, and it raises lots of money for many good causes. But that money can be raised in other ways, at other times. By the way, no animosity or blame whatsoever is directed at the New York Road Runners, who put on the race. This is squarely Mayor Bloomberg's fault for waiting so long to do what he should have done Wednesday.

2) I think, Monty Williams, if you had it to do over again, you'd choose different words to describe your frustration about Anthony Davis being held out of Saturday's game against the Bulls to deal with the NBA's concussion protocols.

3) Man, Brandon Rush. Many thoughts to you this morning. Can't imagine what you're going through.

4) Anybody else get the sense that scores are down noticeably the first week of the season? Seems like there are a lot of 86-83s out there.

5) My God, what more can happen to one man? Thoughts and best wishes to Matt Long and his family, and all the other families who are still without power and shelter this morning. And condolences to those who lost loved ones because of Hurricane Sandy.

Q & A: MIKHAIL PROKHOROV

The billionaire owner of the Nets had the grand opening of his team's $1 billion Barclays Center delayed when Hurricane Sandy's wrath forced the postponement of Brooklyn's regular season opener with the Knicks from last Thursday to Nov. 21. And, if you believe Forbes Magazine, Prokhorov didn't have a great week with his bottom line, either. (Down to $8 billion or so. The horror. The horror!) But he had a smile on his face as he walked into the media room Saturday, his team's new opening night, as it played the Raptors.

Prokhorov is planning to attend more than a quarter of the team's home games this season, trying to work his schedule to coincide with the team's longer home stands -- but he is unsure about what he will do in the spring, when the playoffs begin, and when he expects his team to still be playing. (And, Prokhorov appears determined to re-enter the political world in his native Russia, so he may have other commitments.) It's a fair expectation, given the $330 million in contract commitments he okayed this offseason, from Deron Williams' $98 million to Brook Lopez's $60 million, and everything in between. In the interim, he would be very pleased if the Nets take over New York City.(endital)

Me: What do you think this building and this team being here could ultimately mean for this borough?

Mikhail Prokhorov: The team is not only about business. It's about people, the atmosphere, about feeling. And of course, Brooklyn is our home. The first time I visited Brooklyn was the middle of the '90s. And really, I knew about Brooklyn, but this is just the heart of the U.S. immigration, the great Russian diaspora. And what I didn't [know] was the story of Dodgers. It was the strongest link between Brooklyn and basketball, because of the street ball, this is home in Brooklyn. This is, just for me was a new story. For me, it's very important to have this feeling of community. And we hope, and we want this place will be the heart of Brooklyn, and the heart of the community. I am lucky we are on the right way.

Me: There were, as you know, a lot of people in the community that didn't want this building to be constructed here, for a number of different reasons. But the building is here now, and it will be here for decades. What do you say to those people who had objections?

Raptors vs. Nets

MP: It's their team. It's a part of the community. They're our fans, and they're most welcome here. And I'm happy that we can do something together ... some people, they are very conservative. For example, in my civil life, I am also very conservative. So, I think it's a matter of getting used to it. So please come to the arena, have fun with the Nets, and I think we'll change your mind.

Me: You agreed to a large financial commitment in terms of salaries this offseason. As GM Billy King came to you with each of these potential contracts, did you ever say 'Wait a minute; I've already spent plenty. How much more do you want?'

MP: It's a very good question. It's a combination of love of sport and business. So what we need first is to change the team's mentality. My approach in any business [is] to find the best people on the market and let them do their job. So with Billy King, I have a great guy with excellent feeling of players. With [coach] Avery Johnson, we have undeveloped talent, with strong passion for discipline. And on the one hand, he's great with the players who need real great discipline, and on the other side, he established excellent relations with the stars. So we're a team. And we're a very clever team, because if you look to our roster, it's very, very reasonable. We collect all the pieces in a very reasonable way. So we have, for example, excellent rotation -- like 10, 11, maybe 12 men. And so, this is just very smart [for] team spirit. We all do our job. Because all of our team, we want to have a championship. But it's not a fast way, immediate way. Because we have three years left.

Me: You did say you would win a title within five years of buying the team. So where are you with that plan?

MP: We only have three years left. I have said, also, that I would marry if we haven't [won] the championship. So I am maybe the most devoted guy for the championship for the time being.

Me: Do you have a preliminary list of ... people ... in case you have to follow through on that?

MP: I'm sure we'll have the championship. If not, we can make a casting together, OK?

Me: I'll have to talk to my wife about that. In terms of changing the culture of the Nets ... in what other ways have you tried to do that besides taking on salaries?

MP: So, we need to train, and to leave in a winning spirit. Winning spirit, it's very important. Not only for one single player, but the team. And, it takes time. You need to have a combination of stars, like very deep bench, with young players and very strong veterans. So, we are on the way. I am lucky now we have a good opportunity to play on a very high level of basketball. And I think for Avery Johnson, this season will be breakthrough for him. And it's very, very important for him. And I wish him luck.

Me: How disappointing was it that the game had to be postponed Thursday?

MP: Just, I think everybody was disappointed. But it's nothing compared to what people have been through in the few days. I think the authority did its best. They acted in the interest of public safety. And we all understand, of course.

Me: How sympathetic are you, how moved were you when you heard about the hurricane?

The Association: Sandy's Aftermath

MP: We have been watching what has gone here. In Russia, two months ago, we have the same event, flooding, which killed more than 150 people. We know how sudden and devastating these things can be. So we suffer a lot, and a lot of my Russian friends, they ask me just to express solidarity with all the people who suffered and were affected by the storm. So, you are in our thoughts.

Me: So much has been made of this budding rivalry now with the Knicks --

MP: I think it's really great for the city, for the fans, to have, like, crosstown rival. And I don't think James Dolan is crying. He really understands that it's great for the Knicks to have such a rivalry, just for business, for pleasure, for fun, just for the city.

Me: But you want to win that rivalry.

MP: Just from inside, I'm always a winner.

Me: What is the philosophy for you -- not just as the owner of a team, but generally -- when it comes to winning? Why is it important to you?

MP: It's very important, and I have my own approach to any business. I want to find the best opportunities ... with the Nets, it was the worst team in the league, but with a great potential. Because the team, they were looking to move to the huge market, build new arena. And now, here we are. So, now it was a great impact. So, I'm lucky that it's happening.

Me: But you were in a position to take advantage of that opportunity when it came up.

MP: It's a part of my profession to have adventures and challenges.

Me: Other owners are much more involved in the day-to-day operations of their teams than you. Why do you think it's better to hang back?

MP: Just imagine, I have more than 20 assets, different kinds of businesses. So, just, you need to collect the best people, the best team, and you need to be on the strategy side. And if they need me, I am 24 hours at their disposal. It is my philosophy in any business, including basketball.

Me: Is there any part of you that wonders, 'What if we'd been able to get Carmelo?'

MP: Just, it's not easy to comment on the other players, because NBA rules prohibit. But frankly speaking, there are a lot of opportunities for the championship. So we need to keep all the doors open.

Me: Do you think you will always be ready, able and willing to spend whatever it takes, if a player becomes available?

MP: You know, I try to be really very reasonable. We need to have our championship, and I am ready to spend as much to reach this goal. But on a very reasonable way. Not to spend the crazy money. Because like NBA rules, they're very tough. You need to be very, very cautious and to be very smart, and just be ready all the time to go in the right direction.

Me: When you are in Brooklyn and run into people, what do they want to hear from you? What do they say to you?

MP: Just, most of the time, I like to see them, or maybe they like to see me. Or, we can say, 'Let's go Nets,' or, 'Thank you for the team.' So it's very open talks.

Me: You rode the subway, right?

MP: Yeah.

Me: Did they recognize you?

MP: Yeah.

Me: What was that like? You couldn't leave.

MP: I think they were a little bit surprised. Just, we make some pictures as well.

Me: You used to financially fund the legendary CSKA basketball team in Russia, which has been successful for many, many years. Are there parallels between building a championship team there and in the NBA?

MP: I think it's not applicable. Because in Europe, you have no limits. If you have money, you can spend whatever you like. So it's easier. But here, I like the stuff, very competitive. And you need to be smarter, stronger, to have better strategy, etcetera, etcetera. So I like the rule.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

WTH is Andrew Bynum doing with his fro...man I'll rather have @spencerhawes00 mullet than have that
-- Celtics forward Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen), Sunday, 1:56 p.m., apparently not impressed by the new 'do of Sixers center Andrew Bynum. BTW, here is Hawes' coif in all its glory.

THEY SAID IT

"The big lesson was if a player is not willing to extend, no matter who they are, no matter where they are playing, no matter what kind of season you had, you can not risk going into a summer and having them leave in unrestricted free agency and get nothing back for it."
-- Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, saying last week that if he had it to do over again, he may have traded LeBron James before James' walk year, the same way the Thunder headed off a potential departure of James Harden by trading him to Houston last week.

"Death, taxes and Pop winning 50 games. You can count on them."
-- Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, on the Spurs' likely finish by the end of the regular season with Gregg Popovich at the helm. He has won at least 50 in each of his 13 full, non-lockout seasons, and he won 50 in last season's 66-game schedule, too.

"I accept my Brian Scalabrine role. I'm cool with it."
-- Rasheed Wallace, detailing his victory cigar role for the Knicks, at least at the start of this season.

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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