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David Aldridge

Kobe Bryant (right) should thrive plenty in new coach Mike D'Antoni's offense.

In a dizzying decision, Lakers turn to D'Antoni to right ship


Posted Nov 12, 2012 10:38 AM

The Tip was filed to the folks in Atlanta at 3:04 a.m. ET Monday. That's a normal Monday morning filing time; by then, all the West coast calls have been made, and the writing has been going on for two days, and hopefully it all makes sense when you read it.

Here's how the first few paragraphs read:

This is their move.

Yankee managers have gone to Mariano Rivera for 15 years when they're in trouble.

George H.W. Bush -- Bush 41 -- always turned to James Baker for damage control.

Jules and Vincent brought in Mr. Wolf to clean up their mess in "Pulp Fiction."

The Lakers call Phil.

Mike D'Antoni's appointment as Lakers' coach marked a complete 180 degree turn by L.A.

Barring an 11th hour change of heart by one side or the other, which is always possible -- there are always reasons someone decides not to do something -- the Lakers will likely reach a deal today with Phil Jackson to come back for a third go-round as head coach. Less than two weeks into the season, they fired Mike Brown, with a 1-4 record, a roster he never got to coach and an offense it takes a couple of years to learn. You look up "panic" on Wikipedia today, you might see a picture of Jerry Buss.

And make no mistake; this will be a panic move, by a franchise that has to win this year, with a superstar playing like an MVP, two other superstars who are trying to get their bearings after injuries and a fan base that is coming unglued. Is this when I mention they'd played 6.2 percent of the regular season when they cashiered the guy they're going to have to pay $18 million for exactly 71 regular season games? (And, by the way, whose option year they'll have to buy out, too. Don't expect a discount.)

There was no one -- no one -- who would have had any idea of what was going on that thought the Lakers, ultimately, wouldn't reach a deal with Jackson to come riding back on his motorcycle, just as he had in 2000 and in 2005. He was too big, and their needs were too desperate, for them not to swallow and ultimately pay up.

And then, the messages start coming in. At past 3 in the morning. Which is, even in a 24/7 news cycle, a little unusual. And that is when I was gobsmacked with the news that it would not be Phil Jackson limping around Staples Center, it would be Mike D'Antoni limping around Staples Center.

The sudden change in direction does, however, reinforce an immutable fact of life in the Time of Buss: no one's bigger than the franchise. It's something Shaquille O'Neal found out, even after he'd won Finals MVP awards and led the Lakers to a threepeat. As much as owner Jerry Buss wants to win, he will only bend so much; this far, as Captain Picard said in one of those Star Trek movies, and no further.

We will never know, I suspect, exactly what Jackson was asking for, since it's in neither party's interest to disclose exactly what was on the table, the better for both sides to be able to claim they were the one who walked away. But whether it was money, title, authority, ownership or some combination of all of those, things fell apart quickly Sunday night, leaving Jim Buss, the executive vice president who'd hired Brown, still in charge of basketball operations.

By midnight L.A. time, general manager Mitch Kupchak was on the phone with D'Antoni's agent, hammering out the final details on a four-year deal (three years guaranteed at $12 million, with a fourth-year team option).

"Jim, Dr. Buss and Mitch were unanimous in the decision," Lakers spokesman John Black said verrrrrry early Monday morning.

D'Antoni had made $5 million a year coaching the Knicks, a team not as good as these Lakers are expected to be. But he wanted this job badly. (The alternative was hosting a basketball show on SiriusXM that he was scheduled to start on Monday.) If Nash hasn't reached the heights he had with D'Antoni in Phoenix, when he won consecutive MVP awards, D'Antoni has been just as limited without Nash running his offense.

D'Antoni was the Lakers' clear choice over Mike Dunleavy, who had interviewed, and done well, when he met with Jim Buss over the weekend. And D'Antoni's style will benefit Bryant, not that any system wouldn't once he starts dominating it.

Well, I had said in passing to a GM on Saturday, there are very few people who can coach that team.

You mean coach that guy, the GM said.

Kobe Bryant always respected Phil Jackson ... will that be true with Mike D'Antoni?

Will Bryant respect D'Antoni, whom he's known since he was a kid and D'Antoni was a star player in Italy, and who was an assistant on the 2008 and 2012 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic teams? Yes. But ultimately, something would go wrong -- it always does, this is sports -- and how will Bryant react then? And how will D'Antoni deal with that?

"He's just not a very confrontational coach," says someone who knows D'Antoni well. "And there's going to be confrontations on that team."'

It was hardly a secret around the league that Bryant had run over Brown, that he considered himself as much the coach as Brown had been. He didn't throw Brown under the bus publicly, saying all the right things, no daylight between the two of them. Just last week, he'd told anxious fans to "shut up" and let the team get used to the Princeton. But in all the ways that really matter on a team, Bryant was running things.

D'Antoni, his affable persona with the media aside, has a bit of what the old timers call the "red ass" as well; he can scream and cuss with the best of them. And Bryant likes a coach who challenges him -- as long as he respects him. He says he "loves" D'Antoni. But that's not the same as respect.

D'Antoni's Achilles', we all know, has been defense -- though, as my sabrematrician pals are already pointing out, I'm sure, the Suns' pace skewed some of those defensive numbers. Then again, Nash will obviously shine playing for his old coach, who gave him freedom to do his thing. And here is where one should remember the Lakers went after Nash, not the other way around, to help solidify their deteriorating point guard play. They need him at his best, probing defenses, never giving up the ball until he's good and ready.

Firing Brown, in a way, was an indictment of Kupchak's roster. It became clear quickly that no system would get much production out of the bench that he put together. The only way the Lakers won't exhaust their starters, ironically, is to play faster, so that more people in the rotation can make a contribution.

Perhaps the Lakers feared a similar fate, even with Jackson's triangle offense, with their roster. Nash was willing, of course, to play whatever system was in front of him, but visions of him trying to play off of Shaq, as he did under Terry Porter in Phoenix, danced in one's head. And what if things really didn't, or couldn't, get better this season? That fear was starting to grow.

"You're gonna suck and maybe not make the playoffs, or lose in the first round under Phil Jackson?" a source asked. "[Bleep] that."

Bryant, of course, will score in any offense -- as of this morning, K.B. Bryant is averaging 27.2 points per game, at age 34, shooting 55 percent from the floor, 44 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the foul line. Howard can be just as effective rolling to the basket as Amar'e Stoudemire was. Pau Gasol isn't much of a stretch four, the way Shawn Marion was, but Nash makes everybody look good in this offense. Speaking of which, if Jodie Meeks doesn't become this generation's Raja Bell, I will be surprised.

Here is where the new-stat jacks will point out L.A. was actually scoring just fine with the Princeton; the Lakers were tied for fifth in the league in points per 100 possessions (104 points per game). But they were also third-worst in turnovers at better than 18 a game.

Howard had signed off on Jackson, whom he wanted in Orlando. He is a free agent next summer, and while everyone expects him to re-sign with the Lakers for a max deal, there was no point in gambling with those intentions by waiting until next summer to replace Brown.

Howard certainly won't have more fun playing for anyone as he will playing for D'Antoni, who is still waiting to be cleared to travel from New York, two weeks after undergoing knee replacement surgery. He's on medication and undergoing rehab, but won't be in L.A. until Wednesday at the earliest, if then. Bernie Bickerstaff will continue coaching on an interim basis until D'Antoni arrives.

Given the age of the roster, this still feels more like a patch than a solution. But it's going to be a brightly-colored, multi-textured patch you can put on in seven seconds or less. It will be enjoyable watching The Nasty One getting his fingers wet again as he comes across the top of the key.

Firing Brown so early was a panic move. Giving D'Antoni run of the joint is as big a 180 as you can pull off without getting dizzy.

DRIBBLES

He took this time in his life to make a checklist.

One, he was in a mental hospital.

Keyon Dooling's mental breakdown forced him to deal with a childhood trauma.

Two, he didn't know how he got there.

"It was like hell," Keyon Dooling is saying, from the safety of a chair in his home. "If you're not a person that needs to be in a mental institution, it's no place for you. In my opinion, if that's hell here on earth, I don't want to see it in the next life."

Dooling is safe now, because he was able to finally face down demons he'd kept buried throughout his adult life. He is safe because of a rock-solid wife, an organization that reached out when he needed it, and because he was willing to admit he needed help.

Dooling, basically, suffered a nervous breakdown, which explained his sudden decision to retire in August after 12 NBA seasons. The breakdown culminated in a week-long stay in an asylum, and forced him to finally address the root of his troubles: the sexual abuse he had suffered when he was a child in Florida.

After a lifetime of hiding the truth, Dooling now wants to tell his story, hoping that it will help kids that are in a similar predicament -- or convince potential predators to seek help before they destroy someone's life.

"It started when I was five, and it happened multiple times," Dooling said. "It happened with men and women. I was abused by my brother's friend. I was five; he was about 13 or 14. But also young ladies, older ladies in our neighborhood. In my opinion, I thought I was cool at the time. I thought I was in the in crowd. I thought that was how it was supposed to be. And I was sadly mistaken. I didn't even realize the pattern of behavior I had taken on at such an early age."

(The details are available if you want to Google them, or watch the clips of Dooling's appearance last week on Katie Couric's show with his wife, Natosha. They are as bad as you would imagine.)

Like most victims, Dooling never confided his secrets with anyone, including Natosha, who's been with him since they were both 15. Instead, he became a star point guard in Fort Lauderdale, then at Missouri. Drafted 10th overall in 2000 by the Magic, Dooling's pro career never reached superstar status, but he was a solid pro for six teams, including the Celtics, who acquired him in 2011.

Dooling earned a reputation as a mentor for young players over the years, including the Pistons' Brandon Knight and the Celtics' Rajon Rondo. He was, in the NBA lexicon, a good locker room guy. He ascended to a vice presidential role in the players' union, always immaculately dressed, able to roll in all manner of different worlds, paying his mentor role forward as he had been helped over the years by the likes of Eddie Jones, Doug Overton and Adonal Foyle, among others.

"It's my duty," Dooling said. "I get a lot of pleasure seeing young men, people around their game, reach their goals, accomplish their goals. Uplift their family, uplift their community. And a lot of times, cats just don't know how to do it. They don't know how to put a name or a face to that success they're striving to achieve. I kind of normalize it for them, because I've come from nothing. I've come from the slums, the City Zone, as we like to call it in Fort Lauderdale. I've had a very unique ride, a very unique journey."

But the past was never far behind. As Dooling was deciding whether or not to return this season -- he had an open invite, basically, from the Celtics -- his behavior began to deteriorate. The week before the family moved back up north to Boston to get ready for the season, Natosha began noticing her husband acting erratically. He began having hallucinations.

"I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't good," she said. "Just weird stuff that he would say, or do. I was just like, 'Hmm, what's going on? Is he OK?' I even called his momma at one point, but she really couldn't give me any answers. I knew something was wrong. Actually, I just stayed on my knees. I was just praying. That's all I know to do, just go before the Lord."

Dooling was exhibiting behaviors familiar to soldiers returning from war zones. But Post Traumatic Stress Disorders aren't limited to those who fight in wars. Police officers, firefighters, anyone subject to a severe emotional episode can suffer from PTSD. Dooling's problems came to a head in August.

He was at home, playing in the street in front of his home with his kids. A neighbor thought he was playing too roughly with the kids and called the police. There is uncertainty about how many officers showed up -- 10? 12? 20? -- but it was more than one. The Doolings were new to the neighborhood. They know the police were just doing their job, responding to a call. But a bunch of cops showing up, unannounced, banging on your door is a little disconcerting.

"So I ran to the door to see what was going on," Keyon Dooling said. "I was like, 'Who is this knocking like they're the damn police?' That's what I said to myself. So when I got to the door, it was really the police. They was like, 'Get on the ground, get on the ground, get on the ground!' So I got on the ground."

Natosha didn't know what to do, what to tell her kids. She was scared. Keyon had always been the strong one, able to handle whatever. And now he was being taken away.

"I was just terrified," she recalled. "I was like, 'What is going on? Like, what are these people doing in my house?' ... And they separated us. They had the kids over here and me over there and Keyon over here. It was horrible. I was living in a nightmare. I was really living in a nightmare. I was terrified for myself, for my kids."

Dooling was taken away and hospitalized for evaluation. He didn't remember voluntarily signing into the hospital. The details are hazy, in part, because he was immediately put on medication. One of the primary symptoms of PTSD is paranoia, and Dooling was surely paranoid. He didn't want to see anybody -- or anybody to see him.

"They try to find the right dosage of medicine," he said. "Unfortunately, the dosages are so high that they start out with, all the side effects hit you. And unfortunately, it's [during] visiting hours. So when my wife was coming, I was scared, because I had no control over what I said, what I thought. It was a bad situation."

She noticed.

"When I saw him, you could tell," Natosha said. "It was like they would give him the medicine, like they was timing to give him the medicine. They would give it to him when they knew I was coming, they would give it to him like four, five hours before so he could be a little calm, but still, [he was] talking out of the side of his head."

Throughout his career, Keyon Dooling was regarded as a solid veteran presence.

Even though Dooling wasn't quite right yet, he knew there was no future for his marriage or his family if he couldn't get out of the hospital. While Natosha leaned on family, her pastor and Ashley Bachelor, Rondo's fiancé, for support, Dooling had to straighten himself out.

"I crawled my way out of there," he said. "I had to fight to get out of there. I had to fight. But I'm a fighter. That's what I've always been able to do. Because I've got too much good out here that I'm supposed to be doing. I couldn't be a lost gem, bro. I couldn't let it happen to me or my family."

Eventually, doctors found the right level of meds for Dooling. His head started to clear. That's when he realized he was free to go, having voluntarily checked himself in. But since it was a Friday, he couldn't leave until the following Monday. He called union head Billy Hunter. He relented and saw a couple of visitors -- Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge.

"You do it because you should and because he's such a great human being," Rivers said Sunday. "We all go through stuff. I would go up and just sit with him. And I just kept telling him, don't worry about basketball. I could care less. I don't care if you ever play again. You just get back to being Keyon."

After a week, Dooling was ready to leave the hospital. But he had a lot of work yet to do. He knew playing this season would make no sense, which led to the abrupt retirement. He had made strides spiritually. But he had to deal with the memories of the abuse. He had never told Natosha.

"I think I really blocked it out," he said. "I remember my wife asking me if anything like that had happened to me, like a while back. And I only told her half of the story. Like I was with somebody when I got abused. Like I literally lied about it, like, yeah, I ran up out of there real fast. And it wasn't the truth. So I didn't deal with it. I blocked it out. I knew that it happened, but it wasn't my reality."

She was more disappointed than angry.

"We're supposed to be best friends, husband and wife," she said. "You couldn't tell me that? I don't know why he thought ... I think it was because he didn't want to seem less than a man, that he was molested. I was hurt, a little, that he couldn't tell me. 'Cause I thought we could tell each other everything."

They both wound up in therapy, and still go. He sees a psychiatrist at Harvard ("so I'm Ivy League, finally"), and has, gradually, addressed the pain that he had kept bottled up for three decades. He and Natosha sat down with Couric a couple of weeks ago. They have told their kids. The older two, Deneal and Gabrielle, understand what happened; 5-year-old Jordan and 3-year-old K.J. don't really get it.

He does not think his case is an isolated one among NBA players, or African-American men.

"There's so much hurt, especially when you grow up in the inner city," he says, "whatever struggle it may have been growing up, fatherless, maybe abusive mother, maybe you've seen a stepfather being abused. Maybe you're like me and you were sexually abused. It hurts. Cops abuse people. Teachers abuse people, you know, like verbal abuse, physical abuse, any kind of abuse. It leaves wounds. And as athletes, a lot of times, we don't heal. We don't know how to heal. We're afraid of healing. Thus we get stuck with all this anger and all these different emotions where we don't even know where they're coming from. We've got to go within."

Keyon Dooling's sudden retirement from the Celtics left a void in his life.

But opening up to the abuse was only part of the adjustment. There was the sudden end of his career. He had been thinking about it for a while, but he genuinely loved playing with Rondo, and Kevin Garnett, and was excited about Boston's prospects this season. But he knew he needed time to heal, and to try to improve as a husband and father.

He wasn't the only one who had to deal with it.

"Actually, it came on so fast, and just out the blue," Natosha said. "Honestly, I didn't know how to feel. This is the lifestyle I lived for 12 years, and for it to happen so fast, it was like, it was shocking. It was shocking. So I had to come to grips with, OK, this is not the lifestyle I've been used to living for 12 years. And it just all ended. And it was shocking to me. Just having him home all day when I'm used to having him gone, it was an adjustment."

But soon, the Celtics came calling again, with an idea for a job that would take advantage of all of Dooling's skills and personality. He would work with players on the court, but also be available to them off the court. He wouldn't have to travel, and he could come in to the practice facility or to TD Garden on his schedule, not the team's. He'd do some community service, which he'd enjoyed in other cities. He'd do some TV in Boston. And he'd get to pick Rivers' and Ainge's brains, see how they envisioned putting a team together.

"It's just really good how he kind of bounced back from all this stuff," Rivers said. "He's been such a great mentor for all our players. He comes in the locker room, he can come to our meetings. We just want him around ... I think he's great for Rondo and he's great for Jeff Green, and the message he's giving has been nothing but positive."

The official title is player development coordinator, but it's basically "Keyon's Job."

"It's really custom built for me," he said. "I get an opportunity to still be in the locker room, still mentor the guys in the locker room, which is something that's very near to my heart. We need mentorship. It's something that's very underrated in my league. Not only develop them as players, but as people as well, and that's very important."

At least he's out of the house.

"He loves working with the Celtics," Natosha said. "So this is good for him. Now he's getting out more. Now stuff is back to normal, you know? It's good. We're so happy now, and at peace. Because everything is out on the table. It makes me feel good, because with his story, we can help other kids. And maybe other kids will come out and say hey, look, to somebody they trust and love, I've been molested. I need help. This can help a lot of other people who've been in this situation. And that brings peace to me, knowing that me and my family can help others."

Dooling also wants to help players who have to deal with the expectations that come with suddenly being one of the richest people in town.

He's seen first-hand what NBA players, coming into the league so young, often have to become: the patriarchs of their extended families, the sounding board, the priest, the big brother -- and the local bank. Dooling hopes to help not only Celtics players but players on other teams who are dealing with that kind of pressure.

It's something the league and union each spend a lot of time doing, but Dooling thinks one-on-one, peer-to-peer counseling can help, too. (This is the same approach that former NBA referee Bob Delaney believes helped him beat the PTSD he suffered after spending more than three years as an undercover police officer in New Jersey in the late 1970s.)

The pressure to provide for someone never stops. Dooling had to play a game in Indiana the night after Natosha lost a child.

"We buried my father three years ago in Fort Lauderdale," Dooling said. "I love it; it's the place where I grew up, I take it with me on the court every time I play. I represent Lauderdale to the fullest. But when we buried my father, over a two-day period I got asked for more than $100,000. As I was trying to mourn. I got asked to take pictures; I got asked to sign autographs; I got asked for jobs. It makes your grieving process like, I didn't get to grieve. And that was something that came out in the meltdown process as well, how much I missed my father. I didn't even get to grieve my father."

He has had to cut back -- to friends, to family -- while he puts himself back together. He wants to choose his words carefully here. But players can either empower their community, providing opportunities -- think of how a life is changed if someone who can't afford to go to college can suddenly go -- or they can enable people who aren't as committed and dedicated.

"Not only are we there financially, but emotionally," Dooling said. "We have to hear everybody's stories, deal with everybody's shortcomings. It's a gift and a curse. But what I had to do was stop thinking about everyone, and start taking care of me, and who I'm responsible to, and who I'm obligated to take care of, and that's my wife and my children. And I can be a blessing to many people as I go along, but I cannot be an enabler, not only for the people in my community, or my NBA friends who might rely on me for that comfort or that advice. I have to really focus on what God put me here to do."

He is committed to his therapy, his medications that allow him, finally, to get a good night's sleep, his wife, his kids and his team. He is able to move forward. His money, his cars, his life experiences couldn't pacify him. Only falling as far as he could and putting everything out there for all to see has given him the inner peace he didn't have for a lifetime.

He answers the question before it is finished. Yes. He has forgiven the people that abused him when he couldn't fight back, when he was too scared to talk, too emotionally scarred to deal with the pain.

"Heck, yeah," he says. "I don't have a hateful bone in my body. I can't hate. Now, I don't forget anything that happened to me, and I think there has to be some accountability when people hurt you, and people wrong you. And right now, I'm not concerned or focused on the people who hurt me. I'm more so praying for the people who are going through, the kids who are going through what I had to go through. And I also want the people who know they have these issues, and know they have these behavior problems, and they know they can be a predator, I want them to go seek mental help. Whether it's depression, whether you get stuck in grief from losing a loved one, whether you get physically abused by a husband or a wife, whether you get mentally abused by a husband, father, mother, whatever. I want everybody to get the proper care they need, especially the mental help we all need from time to time to reach our full potential."

He smiles.

There is a piece of paper he keeps with him, when he feels a little out of sorts. Some thoughts he wrote down last year. A lot of things. A reminder to represent Fort Lauderdale the right way. Details about how to play basketball the way he was taught, from Dillard High on. And, finally, a saying from his father, who called him Bubba.

"Remember, Bubba: you are a shooter."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

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

1) N.Y. Knicks (2-0) [3]: Knicks' best start since 1993, won first four games by an average of 17 ppg.

2) Oklahoma City (4-0) [2]: After the western world went insane over James Harden's first two games in Houston, you might want to notice that Kevin Martin is averaging 17.7 ppg on 50.7 percent shooting so far. Oh, and OKC blew through the week undefeated.

3) San Antonio (3-1) [1]: Had to do a double take when I saw this stat: the Spurs' bench outscored Portland's 63-4 Saturday night. Went and looked at the box. Yup. Sixty-three (27 from Gary Neal; 13 from Stephen Jackson; 17 from Manu Ginobili; six from Tiago Splitter) to four (two apiece from Sasha Pavlovic and Meyers Leonard).

4) Memphis (4-0) [9]: Grizz have been dominant in their five wins, winning by an average of 12.6 ppg after Sunday's 18-point rout of the Heat.

5) Miami (3-1) [2]: Good test this week for a team that's struggled in two road games early on: at Houston tonight, the Clippers Wednesday, the Nuggets Thursday, the Suns on Saturday.

6) Philadelphia (3-1) [14]: Evan Turner handling his business on the glass, averaging nine boards a game from the two guard spot.

7) L.A. Clippers (3-1) [8]: Happy trails to one of the genuinely good guys in the game, longtime PR guy Rob Raichlen, who is leaving to get off the road.

8) Boston (2-1) [7]: If you can explain KG's postgame rant after Wednesday's overtime win over the Wizards, please send me a note.

9) L.A. Lakers (1-2) [3]: Bad weeks, 11/5/12-11/11/12: Karl Rove, Mitt Romney, David Petraeus, Mike Brown.

10) Chicago (2-1) [10]: Joakim Noah is playing some of the best basketball of his career.

11) Denver (4-0) [NR]: Nuggets second in the league in rebound differential after two weeks (+9), behind only the Heat.

12) Dallas (2-2) [10]: Marion, Brand the latest Mavs to fall to injuries, just as they get Kaman back in the lineup.

13) Minnesota (3-1) [NR]: Wolves somehow surviving despite a slew of injuries to key players (Love, Rubio, Barea, now Brandon Roy's knee, and, Chase Budinger's knee).

14) Atlanta (1-2) [14]: It's unfair to Larry Drew, but Danny Ferry did hire Mike Brown to coach the Cavaliers when he was Cleveland's GM. Brown is now available and Drew is in the last year of his contract.

15) Brooklyn (2-2) [15]: Unfortunately, the Nets only get to play the Magic once more this month.

Dropped out: Indiana, Milwaukee

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Denver (4-0): Held opponents to 92.3 per game in sweep, including limiting the Warriors to 101 in a double-OT victory Saturday.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Detroit (0-4): Six-game western road trip did not go as planned, as the Pistons remain one of two teams (Washington) that has yet to win a game this season. Lost by 11, 12 and 14 in three of four games last week.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What's a football guy doing running an NBA team?

"Believe me," Mickey Loomis said about a half-dozen times Friday, "I'm no NBA expert."

But Loomis, who helped build the New Orleans Saints into a Super Bowl winner as that team's general manager, now finds himself in the position of having to green light decisions for the Hornets as well as the team's director of basketball operations. New owner Tom Benson named Loomis to that post last June. Benson, of course, also owns the Saints, and he added the Hornets to his portfolio in April, to the tune of $338 million.

With two pro franchises to run, Benson streamlined his management teams, giving Loomis and Saints president Dennis Laucha decision-making authority over the Hornets as well. The teams are also merging some of their sales and marketing staffs.

Dell Demps is still the Hornets' GM, responsible for personnel and coaching decisions. But he and Coach Monty Williams now have to work with Loomis and Laucha before sending recommendations up to Benson for final approval.

"When you buy something you want to have people in place who are going to carry your message," Loomis said by telephone Friday. " ... I'm here to help Monty, and help Dell as much as I can, a sounding board for different ideas. I'm reporting to the owner, advising him. I'm here to help. But I'm not going to take away from my day job. We've got some work to do."

Indeed, Loomis hit the ground running last week, having just returned to the Saints front office after serving an eight-game suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the Saints' "Bountygate" scandal. The NFL determined that Loomis failed to shut down the bounty system that Saints defensive players and coaches created that paid players additional money for injuring opposing players.

Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams received an indefinite suspension from Goodell, while Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2011 NFL season. Defensive assistant coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of the NFL season, and several players received hefty fines and suspensions, though some of those players have successfully challenged the suspensions in court.

Now that Loomis is back with the Saints, he has to address Payton's contract, which may or may not allow him to become a highly sought-after free agent next summer. But Loomis says he still plans to be involved with the Hornets.

"I love the head coach we've got, Monty Williams, and Dell as well," Loomis said. "We've got two great young guys -- and I mean young in terms of their experience. I like them a lot ... what was important to me was the philosophy, and what they believed in in terms of creating a successful environment. There were a lot of similarities in what Dell and Monty believed in and what I believed in."

Demps said Sunday he has a "productive relationship" with Loomis.

"He knows the game," Demps said. "He came to the Draft workouts, and he was with us on Draft night, and in free agency. He's been around. It's not like he's starting from ground zero. He has an understanding of the game and he understands the business, and he has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to beliefs, philosophies."'

It isn't unprecedented to have people from other sports make a mark in the NBA. Jerry Krause was, famously, a baseball and basketball scout before becoming the general manager that built a dynasty around Michael Jordan in Chicago. The Magic made a hockey guy, John Weisbrod, their general manager in 2004, just long enough for him to fire Doc Rivers, draft Dwight Howard and trade Tracy McGrady. (Weisbrod went back to hockey in 2005 and is currently assistant GM of the NHL's Calgary Flames.)

Loomis says he has tried not to be very visible around the Hornets' players and has not had much contact with them ("I know how that is when you get somebody else in the mix"), preferring to work behind the scenes with Demps. But Loomis was the primary point person behind Williams' contract extension, that takes him out now through the 2015-16 season.

And he's been working with Benson on getting a new practice facility built for the Hornets next to the team's new offices, which it shares with the Saints. The Saints have completed their practice facility, but the Hornets' one is still on the drawing board. It's been a priority for years in New Orleans; the team has worked out of the Alario Center in Westwego, about 15 minutes from downtown New Orleans, for the past several years.

"You don't get too many opportunities to build a practice facility, so you want to make sure you do it right," Demps said.

Loomis does have some familiarity with basketball, having played at Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Oregon (now an NAIA school), from 1975-78. But he's still on the learning curve when it comes to the NBA's rules and salary cap.

He's been around the Hornets long enough to see some distinctions between NFL and NBA teams.

"As a group, they're younger than the players we get" in the NFL, he said. "We have players that are juniors and seniors. We're getting them when they're 24, and yet we're getting some 23-year-olds (in the NBA) that are four, five-year veterans. And we have two first-round picks that are 19 years old. That's a significant difference."

He's also taken note of how the grind of an NBA season affects preparation.

"In the NFL, we practice on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then a walk-through on Saturday, and then we play a game," Loomis said. "So we've got a lot more practice time than we have game time. And the NBA is the exact opposite of that ... it's not an eight-to-five every day job for the players. Their time and their travel time are considerably different. The logistics are very different."

Loomis knows enough to know that the Hornets have two great pieces to build around in rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. But character and toughness, as much as talent, will determine how successful the Hornets are in their rebuilding efforts. Meanwhile, he asks questions. He wants to see the whole picture.

"He's picked up the NBA pretty quick," Demps said. "It's been a really good relationship. When his suspension ended, I said to him, 'Now don't forget about us. We want you still coming around.' "

And Loomis accepts what's happened to him in the context of all the things that have gone in New Orleans over the last few years.

"There's a lot worse than a forced vacation," he said.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Hunkering down in the Wasatch. From Colin Johnston:

What do you make of what the Jazz are currently trying to do? As far as I can tell, they are trying to simultaneously be a playoff team this year, build for the future by developing a young core, and horde expiring contracts so as to have a lot of cap space for next season. The issue is that these three approaches are not independent, and doing one directly affects the others. For example, Randy Foye is now getting all of Alec Burks' minutes and his potential for development. I worry that by trying to do too much at present, they are hurting themselves in the future. What do you think?

I think of it as "the Full Indiana," Colin. The Pacers did it for years under Donnie Walsh, constantly reshuffling their playoff-quality roster around their core of Chuck Person, Reggie Miller and Rik Smits until they had a group good enough to contend for titles. And just as Utah plays Foye ahead of Burks, the Pacers played Mark Jackson ahead of Travis Best, etc. It won't hurt Burks to watch for a year or two; he's just 21. Utah has a very good problem going forward; a lot of talent it can put in various packages to go after a superstar next summer.

Get him ahead of the Greek. From Matt Jacobs:

I'm confused like a lot of other people as to why George Karl is starting Kosta Koufos over JaVale McGee? I don't understand what Koufos has done to be put in the starting lineup, and many Nuggets analysts say he's primed for a breakout year? Wasn't he basically at the bottom or near the bottom of Denver's rotation last season?

JaVale McGee's upside is so great compared to Koufos', as he showed in the Lakers series last playoffs he was arguably the Nuggets second or third-most-important player behind Ty Lawson and Andre Miller. He showed that he can control the paint and frustrate opposing bigs with his athleticism and shot blocking. Also, Denver traded a fan favorite and starting center in Nene for him and gave him a $44 million deal last offseason, and he's still coming off the bench! That makes him one of the highest paid bench players in the league ...

I know Karl is probably trying to instill discipline and make him work for playing time, but I believe given the opportunity and time he could evolve into a top 10 center in the league. I could see him averaging 14-15 points a night along with 10 rebounds and 2-3 blocks. The change could also make the Nuggets a legitimate title contender if McGee plays to his potential. This is because there is no other team that could match their athleticism at every position, not even Miami or Oklahoma City. To go along with the high altitude and the great Nuggets crowd, it could be the toughest place in the NBA to play in because they would just run opposing teams off the floor.

Oh, Matt, you sound like every Wizards fan the last three years. JaVale can be a top 10 center if he gets enough playing time! I think it's becoming clear that Pierre (as he calls himself on Twitter, for some reason) is a player best used in short bursts, when his freakish abilities can have the most impact. At any rate, why does it matter who starts? The Nuggets are getting pretty solid play out of two bigs (McGee is 17th among centers in PER; Koufos is 32nd).

He didn't approve my message. From Jordan Sanchez:

I'd like to say I thoroughly enjoy reading and listening to anything you've got to say. You know your stuff.

As for the "But if you don't vote, you don't get to complain about anything" line, I couldn't disagree with you more.

A choice not to vote is stating that you do not believe in nor trust the political system. It's a stand in which one says I don't approve of the electing another human to govern my life. Do you believe President Obama or Romney or any of the other candidates (which people forget about) knows what's best for you?

I won't even begin to bring up the human rights atrocities The Oval Office has allowed to take place and have perpetuated over the years.

My basic point here is that I'll continue to dissect the failed logic that another human being has the right of authority and power over another. I won't complain (and I don't) about what the President chooses to do or not, but I will complain about The People allowing it because they fail to think outside of the ballot and give me, give me, give me (from the 99% to the 1%[everyone's greedy aren't they?]) box.

You are free to take the libertarian position, Jordan, that the government has absolutely no role in your life and should stay completely away from everything you do. I then trust you never drive on any highways or roads paid for by the state. I trust if your house catches fire you don't call the fire department and put it out yourself, and if there's an accident you don't call the cops. And if you have a job, I trust you don't pay any taxes on your income. If you do all that then you don't have to vote. Otherwise, I think you do. I think we all do. And, you are certainly not limited to voting for the Democrat or Republican; there are Libertarians and Greens and all number of different political parties that may hew to your point of view. But casting a vote does not mean you accede to the idea that someone else should "govern your life." You are also free to protest strongly against the very government for which you vote. But if you have no opinion on which operating philosophy should be chosen, how can you complain when either side then governs in that manner? (This would include the human rights atrocities you mention.) By voting, I didn't give the President, Governor Romney or anyone else authority over me. I did express my desire for one direction over another. And, as people died for my right to do so, I am obligated to vote.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and suggestions for how to keep her from getting to the edge to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, interesting or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) LeBron James (21 ppg, 11 rpg, 6 apg, .569 FG, .429 FT): About to break into the top 50 among all-time leading scorers. After scoring 20 Sunday in Miami's loss to Memphis, he is three points behind Gail Goodrich for 50th on the list.

2) Kevin Durant (22.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2 apg, .532 FG, .952 FT): Suggested it would be best to keep the ball out of his hands -- he leads the NBA in turnovers per game -- if OKC wants to cut down on its miscues. We'll wait.

3) Kobe Bryant (25.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, .460 FG, .897 FT): Quintessential Kobe Bean Bryant, Sunday night, on what he likes about interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff: "He gets the [bleep] out of the way."

4) Carmelo Anthony (26 ppg, 7 rpg, 1.5 apg, .447 FG, .750 FT): Doing it all, including defense, for the league's only remaining unbeaten team.

5) Rajon Rondo (14 ppg, 14.6 apg, 2 spg, .459 FG, .583 FT): The Cs' most consistent player by far during Boston's up and down first couple of weeks.

Dropped out: James Harden

BY THE NUMBERS

39 -- Margin of victory by Brooklyn in Friday's 107-68 win over Orlando, the franchise's largest-ever margin of victory in a road game.

24,366 -- Career points for Kevin Garnett, who is three points shy of passing Allen Iverson for 17th place on the league's all-time scoring list.

2 -- Games that Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was suspended by the NBA Sunday after he approached Spurs color analyst Sean Elliott "in a hostile manner," as the league put it on Sunday, following the Spurs-Kings game Friday. Elliott had criticized Cousins during the game for "talking trash" to Tim Duncan, after which Duncan scored on three possessions and blocked one of Cousins' shots. Cousins apparently got word of what Elliott had said shortly after the game; he walked over to Elliott after he was off the air and had a spirited conversation with him, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Last Tuesday, more than 125 million Americans cast a vote for president. This makes me happy. I would be happier if more people voted (see "And Nobody Asked You, Either" above), but you can't question the commitment that so many who did vote had, standing in lines for four, five, six hours or more. Even after the results of the presidential election were known, people stayed in line to vote. That's the power of our country, the belief that ideas and elections matter, and that we accept the results of those elections. I am disheartened that there are many who have turned ugly and vile to express their displeasure with the results. But I am encouraged more by the fact that we have free elections in the first place.

1A) Happy Veterans Day, and thank you to all the men and women who have served our country over the years, and to their families, for the sacrifices you all have made so that people like me can cover games for a living. That is a debt I will never be able to repay.

2) Hi, Jonas. My name is Kevin. Welcome to the NBA.

3) I like these alternate Thunder unis!

4) You are not alone, Spencer Hawes. Solidarity Forever! For the union makes us ... oops. Never mind.

5) It would appear this Nate Silver fellow knew what he was talking about.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Wait. This was two weeks ago!

1A) As it turns out, this was more prescient than Nostradamus.

2) Presented without comment. OK, one comment. This is really bad singing. Horrible, the cat's eyes are about to burst out of its head bad singing.

3) Send good thoughts today to Kevin McHale and his family.

4) This uniform is ... what is the word? Oh, yes. Hideous.

5) Listening to Jim Durham broadcast a game was the audio equivalent of sitting in a hammock on a warm -- not hot -- spring morning, a cool drink in your hand and a light breeze coming in from the west: soothing, familiar, a sensation that you were close to home and near the people you love. His passion and love for the game was evident, which was amazing considering the punishing schedule JD kept, year after year, with the equally amazing Jack Ramsay. And very little of that would have mattered had JD not been as decent a person as he was. His voice, and his character, will be missed.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Apologize for my actions mistakes happen I take full responsibility lost my cool will never happen again !

-- Kings rookie forward Thomas Robinson (@TRobinson0), Thursday, 1:34 a.m., after being suspended by the NBA for two games for elbowing Detroit's Jonas Jerebko in the neck during Wednesday's game with the Pistons. Robinson received a flagrant 2 foul during the game and was ejected.

THEY SAID IT

"I thought the lanes opened up when Michael Jordan used to drive. I used to be like, 'Wow.' But when I saw the president drive, I thought they were bringing the whole motorcade through the lane it was so wide."
-- Scottie Pippen, detailing his pickup game with President Obama the morning of the election last Tuesday.

"You can't put a guy's number in the rafters when he decides he doesn't want to be there. I'm sure I'll get over it at some point, but as of now, I wouldn't put J. Kidd's number in the rafters."
-- Mark Cuban, telling New York reporters why he is currently disinclined to honor ex-Mavericks guard Jason Kidd with a retired jersey ceremony, after Kidd opted to sign with the Knicks instead of staying in Dallas.

"To me it is pretty simple but they won't do it this way: Leave it to the referees. If you just told referees, 'Look, you have a guy flopping and don't give him any calls, period.' That would stop it in a heartbeat. It's natural selection. Once it does not work anymore, it'll disappear. A $500 fine will not have much of an effect. What will have an effect is a guy not getting any calls anymore. Once he stops getting calls, all of sudden the behavior disappears."
-- Stan Van Gundy, to SI.com, on how he would handle flopping. A. Men.

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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