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David Aldridge

A mix of youth, veterans and defense have helped Charlotte match last season's win total already.

Bobcats quietly stage their turnaround bid after awful season


Posted Nov 26, 2012 9:54 AM

There was, as far as could be ascertained, no champagne Saturday night.

The Charlotte Bobcats' visiting locker room was dry as a Spaulding Gray monologue, with no signs that the players and coaches celebrated their historic seventh victory of the season any way other than perfunctorily. Of course, the win was only historic because the team had been so historically bad last year, winning just seven of 66 games in the lockout-shortened season.

Charlotte's win percentage of .106 last year stands as the worst in NBA history, besting (worsting?) the .110 win mark of the notorious 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73 in a standard 82-game season.

But seven-plus months later, here stands Charlotte, with seven wins in 12 games. With their win Saturday in Washington, the Bobcats got to their seventh win much faster than those 76ers got to their ninth win the following season -- it took them 24 games.

Charlotte is still no better than middle of the pack in most statistical categories. But the Bobcats have already beaten Indiana and Dallas, and they've taken care of the low-hanging fruit on the schedule, withstanding injuries to Gerald Henderson and Tyrus Thomas.

"Awesome feeling," second-year guard Kemba Walker said. "It's definitely a good feeling. It's like a complete turnaround from last year."

That team had a special awfulness, losing its last 23 games in a row. Charlotte went 1-14 in its own division last season, and 2-29 against the Eastern Conference. The Bobcats were last in the league in points per game, offensive rating and defensive rating. They lost an astonishing 21 games -- almost a third of the schedule! -- by 20 or more points. The league's formula for season ticket renewals estimated that the Bobcats would get around 52 percent of their fans to renew; the league average the last few years has been in the 80-plus percent range.

In short, it was a long offseason.

"We hit rock bottom," owner Michael Jordan said at the beginning of this season's training camp, an indelible stain on the Hall of Famer's standing as perhaps the greatest player ever.

"We're grown men," Henderson said. "People are going to talk. People are going to make fun of us, really. We really were the laughingstock of the NBA, and that's not where we wanted to be."

Hard-driving coach Mike Dunlap has turned the Bobcats around with a defense-first style.

Jordan and his management team defied conventional wisdom in hiring former St. John's and Nuggets assistant Mike Dunlap as coach to replace Paul Silas. Dunlap's ascension came out of nowhere; the Bobcats were believed to be choosing between Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and Lakers assistant Quin Snyder for the gig. But Dunlap carried the day.

Dunlap brought his reputation as a hard-nosed, defensive-minded workout guy with him to Charlotte. It's what made coaches like George Karl swear by him. But he also knew he had to know the players of whom he planned to demand so much. So he went to New York during the summer to talk with Walker, and to Atlanta to court Ramon Sessions, who chose Charlotte after opting out of his contract with the Lakers.

He articulated the usual "change the culture" mantra for a losing team. The burn rate for new, young, hyper-intense coaches is pretty high, and it's hard to keep pushing that hard before players start to tune you out. But these players didn't have a choice, given the record.

"I knew the first day I met him that things were going to change," Henderson said. "Coach is just a different guy. He's not anything that NBA guys are used to. But for this particular group, he works well, in terms of just staying on everybody, keep holding everybody accountable. And we're a young group, too, so I think guys responded to him."

He set a crushing pace for his players in training camp, and his long practices have already raised eyebrows around the league. But the results speak for themselves. They've impressed everyone around the league.

Except Dunlap.

Ask him if he's surprised the team has done so well so quickly, and he deflects the arc of the question.

"I don't trust what we've done so far," Dunlap said before the Bobcats beat the Wizards in double overtime. "I would definitely answer that question by saying, 'Let's wait and see.' Even with the strategic part of it, I think you have to work your plan. And we're in the midst of that. I'm certainly not going to push away from our start and kind of not let them enjoy the fruits of their endeavor. But we've got a lot of work to do."

He knew, however, that he had to address what happened last season with the survivors.

"They wanted to talk about yesterday some," Dunlap said. "And I think it's incumbent on me to validate whatever those struggles were. But at the same time, strategically, say, 'You know what? After today, let's not talk about it a lot.' I haven't referenced the past a whole lot. We're a today organization and tomorrow, looking forward type of situation. And we want to continue to forge on."

It helped that Charlotte imported several veterans, along with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second pick overall in the Draft last June, that weren't around to absorb the stench of historic losing.

The Bobcats claimed center Brendan Haywood off the amnesty pile from Dallas with a winning bid of a little more than $2 million. They gave Sessions a two-year, $10 million deal. They traded Corey Maggette's expiring contract to Detroit for Ben Gordon, who had no idea he was about to be traded for the first time in his nine-year career.

"Initially, after last season, obviously I knew the kind of situation the team was in," Gordon said. "My whole thing was just trying to be positive, realize that whatever happened last season wasn't subject to it happening again. I was right. Guys are playing hard. We've got a good mix of young guys that compete every night. I'm happy. It's a good opportunity for me. I'm happy how things shook out and how we're playing right now."

With the Mavericks' decisions to not keep their 2011 championship team intact, Haywood figured he was on his way out of Dallas, anyway, and Charlotte is his offseason home. (It doesn't hurt that he gets the full $27 million the Mavs owed him for the final three years of his contract.)

"I think everybody's embraced [the potential hangover from last season], realized that from the very start, we had to come out with a push," Haywood said. "We couldn't let what happened last year fester over to this season. I think Coach Dunlap approached it like that and we've all followed his lead."

The vets have given the young guys a sounding board. Walker leans on Sessions. Haywood has taken some of the defensive burden off of Charlotte's two young bigs, Byron Mullens and Bismack Biyombo.

Dunlap challenged Walker to get back to being the player that led Connecticut to the national championship just a year and a half earlier, the fearless guard who put defenses on their heels. Walker's raised his scoring average from 12.1 points per game to 18, improved his field goal percentage and is third in the league in steals. But Dunlap's words aren't the only motivations for Walker, who was "humbled" by the Bobcats' collision with infamy last season.

"It made me realize that I had to work extra hard to be at the top of this league, in order to be a good player in this league," he said. "A lot of the shots that I made in college, I wasn't able to make last season, just because of the timing, and guys being bigger, faster, stronger. You think you're open one second, but you're really not. I really did have to start from the beginning, get back to myself, my mid-range shot, be able to knock that down consistently, and just work my way from there."

Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't been as flashy as fellow rookie Damian Lillard in Portland, or as productive immediately as New Orleans rookie Anthony Davis, his former Kentucky teammate. But MKG has had his moments, as when he put up 25 points and 12 rebounds in the win over the Mavs. More importantly, he's brought that ferocious, infectious energy from Lexington, despite continuing to have his struggles shooting.

"Mike loves the game, and he loves to play it," Dunlap said. "He gets extra work in. I think people pay attention to that. He has a charisma that's very hard to describe, and he's given that to our team already."

Slowly, fans in Carolina are starting to come back. Attendance is up a few hundred on average compared to last season. The Bobcats are top five in the league in the number of full season ticket sales this year. They recently completed long-term corporate renewals with two of their biggest sponsors. And that ticket renewal rate that the league thought would be 52 percent after last season's disaster came in at 77 percent instead.

Months ago, the only sports comparisons being made in Charlotte were to the abysmal expansion New York Mets, or the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. Now, Dunlap compares Kidd-Gilchrist's enthusiastic nature to Magic Johnson's, and the Bobcats compare second-round pick Jeff Taylor from Vanderbilt to a young Bruce Bowen.

And the Bobcats actually feel for the winless Wizards. Like winning, losing can also become a habit. And the schedule turns harder starting with Monday's game in Oklahoma City.

"It's only taken us 12 games to get seven wins, whereas last year it took the whole 66," Gordon said. "So guys are enthused about that. It's still in the back of their minds. So they just want to kind of erase that memory as much as they can with playing hard every night and trying to get wins."

DRIBBLES

He knows.

"The onus is on me to play better," Roy Hibbert said last week. "When I play well the team does well. So I take responsibility. I haven't been playing to what I'm capable of, and I think the team has suffered. I'm addressing some of the problems."

Hibbert's start mirrors that of his team, which was expected to be a contender after giving Miami all it wanted in the 2011 East semis. But the Pacers are a pedestrian 6-8 and have missed forward Danny Granger (left patellar tendinosis, out well into January) more than anyone thought.

Granger's absence has had a domino effect. Paul George, the third-year forward, has had to try and pick up the slack in the clutch. Indy has looked at Lance Stephenson, Sam Young and Gerald Green as starters, with mixed results. George Hill, who became the starter at point guard late last season ahead of Darren Collison, is getting used to running the show every night. And Hibbert, who made his first All-Star team last season, has found more defenders in his lap.

Through the first month of the season, he's averaging three fewer points than last season, and is shooting just 37.9 percent, way off of last season's 47.7 percent average -- though he showed signs of life last week with 20 points and 12 rebounds against the Wizards, followed by a triple-double against the Hornets.

Hibbert says he hasn't heard yet from his former college coach, Georgetown's John Thompson III, or the program's patriarch, John Thompson, Jr., the Hall of Fame coach who presided over the Hoyas' rise to prominence. He is not looking forward to the conversation.

"I already know what big coach is going to say," Hibbert said. "He's gonna tell me I know how to play ball. I'm saying it, probably, in a nicer way. The onus is on me. I take responsibility. I just want to grow as a player. You go through funks like this."

There is nothing different, he says, with his preparation this season. He says he's in the weight room all the time, that he's eating right. Other than a need to be more "aggressive," as he puts it, he can't put a finger on why he's had a dropoff to start the season.

Well, unless you address the $58 million elephant in the room.

Is it possible that Hibbert is pressing because of the big bucks contract he got in the offseason? The deal came from an offer sheet that the Blazers gave Hibbert, which Indiana almost immediately indicated it would match. A 7-foot, rapidly developing center who loves to pass is someone you hang onto. But that kind of money creates expectations.

"Before, I would say I wasn't," Hibbert said. "But if I look myself in the mirror, maybe I'm thinking too much. I wouldn't say it's totally because of the contract, but it possibly could be."

It often takes young guys more than a minute to understand the different issues that a max or near-max contract creates. And they wind up not only not doing more than they did before they signed, they regress.

"We all know that he probably put too much pressure on himself after signing that contract," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "And he probably is. And with Danny out, it puts even more emphasis on his performance, and that's probably added something to it. He's not failing because of lack of effort, or not trying, or dogging it, or anything like that. It's just going to take time."

Hibbert's teammates have told him he doesn't need to be Superman in Granger's absence. The Pacers don't need hero ball from their center, or 20 points a game. They just need him to be more consistent.

"I think there are times when he's just not as confident as he should be," forward David West said. "He's got to know he can make certain plays, be a force, be a little bit more measured in terms of his approach. I already tell him to slow down a little bit, concentrate on what he wants instead of letting the defense dictate what he gets. But I think, for him, it's a new role in terms of just being asked to do a little bit more."

But Hibbert is hardly the only problem.

There are a lot of other moving parts that aren't moving as well, and Vogel is trying to change the Pacers' offense on the fly, using some off days late last week to make some tweaks. They were already missing the speed of Collison, who was traded in the offseason to Dallas for backup center Ian Mahinmi, with free agent D.J. Augustin coming from Charlotte to back up Hill.

Neither Hill nor Augustin has Collison's ability to force the tempo ("Obviously you miss a guy who has something as distinguishable as D.C. had in terms of his speed, his ability to push the pace in transition," West said). That much showed up the first two weeks of the season. The Pacers played at a near-walk, making it easy for the opposition to get set on defense.

George is playing more minutes and scoring more with Granger sidelined, but he's shooting a lower percentage than last season. Until last week's explosion against the Hornets, when he made nine 3-pointers en route to 37 points, he'd shot 32 percent behind the arc.

"He's never had to do what he's doing now," team president Donnie Walsh said Sunday. "He's more or less a go-to guy, and he's never been in that position before, where the defense is more or less loading up on him. It's a learning process for him."

The irony is that Granger, and his career average of 18 points, have frequently been undervalued during his years in Indiana. Some fans have pined for hometown star and current Hornet Eric Gordon in a trade for Granger, who was criticized after shooting 38 percent against the Heat in the playoffs.

"Everybody always wanted to point out Danny's flaws," Vogel said, "but Danny's pretty good on both ends of the ball. And he makes the defense honor you. That's part of what Roy's dealing with, too, is the lack of perimeter shooting we have. We've had to really refine our post double-team attack, and the soft double teams. That's what's hitting Roy more than anything. It's not so much they're swarming him on the catch. They're coming underneath the foul line and just daring him to make the extra pass. And he's either got to give it up, or shoot over two guys, and his shot attempts are low. That's part of the problem. And when he's getting good looks, he's not finishing."

Until they can fix their offensive problems, the Pacers will depend on their defense, which has been outstanding the first month of the season. They lead the league in field-goal percentage allowed (40.8 percent) and defensive rebound rate, are second in points per 100 possessions allowed (97.4), and are third in points allowed (92.2), rebound differential (+5.29 per game) and 3-point field-goal percentage allowed (32.4 percent).

The Pacers have time to fix their offensive problems. With Derrick Rose still rehabbing in Chicago, no one looks like they're going to run away in the Central Division. The Pacers are just 1 ½ games out of first, and after playing 11 of their first 17 games on the road, the schedule will turn more in their direction in December. If they can hold on until Granger returns, they could find that chemistry that was the key to their run last season.

Hibbert insists he'll hold up his end with rebounding, blocking shots and scoring in the paint. The Pacers are just as insistent that he not put so much pressure on himself.

"We were playing very slow for five or six games. Teams were just waiting for us, and he had a very difficult time," Walsh said. "... Roy wasn't a 20-point scorer. He's really more of a 15-, 16-point scorer. I don't think he's playing as badly as the numbers look. And he's not the reason for us losing. It's a team thing."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parenthesis; last week's rankings in brackets)

1) Miami (2-0) [3]: Heat one of three teams (New York, Utah are the others) that is still unbeaten at home (5-0), though they've had a couple of close calls.

2) Memphis (1-1) [1]: Grizz again looked like they were a good piece better than a supposed title contender with dominant fourth-quarter performance against the Lakers Friday.

3) Oklahoma City (2-1) [2]: Kevin Martin's roller coaster since Nov. 9: 14 of 35 from the floor against Detroit, Cleveland and Memphis; 23 of 42 against New Orleans, Golden State and the Clippers; 3 of 17 against Boston and Philadelphia.

4) San Antonio (3-1) [5]: Spurs, as ever, persevere through injuries (starting three Kawhi Leonard and his backup, Steven Jackson, are out) while other teams use them as excuses and crutches.

5) Atlanta (4-0) [NR]: Hawks are not at all good offensively, but they're the best in the league in defensive efficiency, allowing just 95.3 points per 100.

6) N.Y. Knicks (2-2) [4]: After allowing 100 or more points just once in their first nine games, Knicks have allowed three straight teams to score 100, losing twice -- though the last one was in Sunday's 121-100 rout of Detroit.

7) Brooklyn (2-2) [7]: Battle of Gotham tonight at Barclays against the Knicks, the makeup game for the postponed season opener due to the wrath of destruction in New York and New Jersey caused by Hurricane Sandy.

8) L.A. Clippers (1-3) [6]: Awful road trip for a team that is supposed to be a legit contender in the West.

9) L.A. Lakers (2-2) [10]: Is that Antawn Jamison, a stretch four, I see out in the distance, suddenly contributing the way other stretch fours (like Shawn Marion, Tim Thomas and Steve Novak) have under Mike D'Antoni?

10) Boston (2-1) [9]: Jeff Green comes alive off the bench Friday with 17 against his old team in a big win over Oklahoma City.

11) Denver (4-0) [NR}: Ty Lawson showing signs of snapping out of his slump.

12) Philadelphia (2-2) [11]: Now the word is Andrew Bynum is out "indefinitely." This is when you start to get really queasy at the thought of giving this guy $80 to $90 million if you're owner Josh Harris.

13) Chicago (1-1) [13]: Just because someone from the Central Division has to be on this list, I guess.

14) Charlotte (3-1) [NR]: No, I can't believe I just typed "Charlotte" either.

15) Golden State (3-1) [NR]: See "Charlotte," above. But wins against Dallas, Brooklyn and Minnesota are legit.

Dropped out: Milwaukee, Minnesota, Portland

TEAM OF THE WEEK

San Antonio (3-1): Spurs look mighty impressive in road wins at Boston and Indiana, followed by double-OT survival at Toronto Sunday. San Antonio is now 6-1 away from home with road games at Washington and Orlando before Thursday's showdown in Miami.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Toronto (0-4): Not for lack of trying; Raptors lost four games by a total of 15 points, including one-point losses to Charlotte and Detroit, and that double-overtime loss Sunday to the Spurs.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Might it not be time for the Lakers to pull the trigger on a Pau Gasol deal?

Kobe Bryant walked off the court in the waning seconds of Friday's loss in Memphis, a show of bad form to be sure, but also an unmistakable sign of his disgust at a .500 record, with no immediate sign that Mike D'Antoni's hiring will right the Lakers' up and down play.

There were ominous hints dropped last week that the Lakers aren't happy with Gasol's conditioning, never a good omen. It's more likely that, as Mike Brown found before him, D'Antoni knows Gasol and Dwight Howard don't quite fit together -- and since Howard is the future of the franchise, it's more likely he stays long term than Gasol. Thus, the need to get something for the 32-year-old while the getting's good.

Both Pau Gasol (right) and Derrick Williams could use a change of scenery.

So, why not deal Gasol to the Timberwolves, as part of a three-team trade that would also include the Wizards?

Again: I have no information -- none -- that the Lakers are contemplating trading Gasol, or are entertaining or seeking offers for Gasol. This is pure speculation, not information or even rumor. This is me thinking out loud.

In this (imaginary) deal, Washington would send second-year forward Chris Singleton and former Laker Trevor Ariza to the Lakers, who would also get guards Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea from Minnesota. The Wizards and Wolves would, essentially, swap 2011 Lottery picks about which both are quite uncertain, with Washington's Jan Vesely going to Minnesota and Minnesota's Derrick Williams going to Washington, along with center Nikola Pekovic. Guard Chris Duhon would go from the Lakers to Wizards to make the trade work cap-wise.

The Lakers may list Gasol at power forward, but that's only because they've had Andrew Bynum and, now, Howard on the roster. Gasol, too, is a center. And in Minnesota, he could return to that position and get the most of his still-considerable array of post moves and deft passing.

And the Wolves' interest in Gasol is hardly news. They've tried to make a deal for him for the last year or so, without success. Gasol playing next to Kevin Love would open up all kinds of possibilities in Rick Adelman's offense, harkening back to the Sacramento days when Chris Webber and Vlade Divac sliced up opposing defenses with brilliant passing from the high and low post. When Ricky Rubio comes back next month, there wouldn't be a better passing team in the game than Minnesota.

By all accounts, Williams made an earnest effort to come to camp in shape this season, but it isn't translating into many more minutes (a little under 24 minutes a game this season, after 21.5 minutes last season). And with Love back sooner than expected from his broken hand, those minutes are more likely to go down than up.

Dealing Williams now would also streamline the Wolves' rotation, with Dante Cunningham capable of backing up Love quite nicely, with no worries about stunting the development of a high Lottery pick. Vesely would have to get in where he could fit in in Minnesota, but Gasol's arrival would get all the attention, allowing Vesely a soft landing and giving Minnesota a bigger young body than Williams to mix into the rotation.

Washington and Los Angeles have done deals before -- the Wiz got Caron Butler from the Lakers in 2005 for, um, Kwame Brown -- so Ernie Grunfeld owes Mitch Kupchak one. This deal would give the Lakers four players who would seem to be much better fits for D'Antoni's system than Gasol, adding to L.A.'s depth with veterans, but at a price that won't give management sticker shock; Ariza's $7.3 million salary would be the biggest of the quartet by far, and none are under contract for more than three years.

Giving the Lakers two wings in Ariza and Singleton that could add greatly to the team's athleticism and transition abilities would be a boost. Ariza's shot has been defective the last couple of years, but he won a title with Bryant in 2009 in L.A. before signing a big free agent contract with the Rockets. He knows what playing with the Mamba is like. And Steve Nash has a way of getting the most out of teammates who can run the floor.

Barea could also thrive playing in D'Antoni's system. He showed in the 2011 playoffs with Dallas he could play important minutes at both guard spots to help his team win games. And if Nash's broken leg limits him this season, having quality depth at the point in Ridnour and/or Barea would keep the Lakers' offense running -- if not at peak efficiency, at least at an acceptable level. (Or did you see the look Kobe gave Darius Morris after Morris missed a wide-open jumper Friday?)

The Wizards are growing concerned with each passing second that Vesely, the sixth pick overall in 2011, is heading toward Bustville; getting another shot at a 2011 Lottery player would solve the problem, and they liked Williams a lot before the '11 Draft.

Williams' spotty rookie year and minutes this season while Love was out seem to have proven that he's no NBA three, but the woeful Wizards' needs are many, so he'd get every chance in the world to solidify himself at the four in Washington, leaving Martell Webster, who's played well so far this season, to start at the three. Adding big Pekovic to the mix would also give the Wiz legit center depth along with promising Kevin Seraphin if and when Nene's next injury sidelines him for a month or two.

The Wizards would also be out of excuses; with the top pick in the 2010 Draft (John Wall), the second pick in '11 (Wiliams) and the third pick in 2012 (rookie Bradley Beal), they would be following owner Ted Leonsis's desire to build through the Draft; dramatic improvement over the course of this season following Washington's disastrous start had better follow.

If Draft picks were needed to sweeten the deal, the Wolves have Memphis' top-14 protected pick next year to dangle, and the Wizards have all their first-rounders going forward. (Though it's hard to imagine anyone helping the Lakers, facing the post-Bryant era in two years, replenish themselves with young, cheap talent.)

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Which of your nightmares is the worst for you? From Ryan Booth:

Since the Thunder have come into the league I have found it very interesting following them and the moves their personnel have made to morph their franchise into the next big dynasty in the NBA.

Of course, the Harden trade has been one of the bigger points for the franchise so far, but that got me thinking about another big move that I believe has flown under the radar more than people think: the trade with the Celtics involving Jeff Green, Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins.

Obviously the Thunder needed a defensive force in the paint to contend with the bigs out West, and I still think Perkins is a top-five defensive center who should be able to successfully contain Dwight Howard in the playoffs, again, this year. Green, however, would be perfect for the Thunder if they had to face the Heat (most likely) again in The Finals, as they could also field their own small-ball line up of Ibaka, Green, Durant, Sefolosha and Westbrook. I believe Green would be able to defend LeBron a little better in the post than KD. Who knows, maybe if Oklahoma got out of the West last year while not trading away Jeff Green, the series could have ended up a little differently.

Would OKC have fared better in The Finals if it had Jeff Green instead of Kendrick Perkins?

As the league seems to be moving towards smaller lineups, players like Green will become a lot more valuable in the future. Not taking anything away from Harden, who does deserve to be a max player and an All-Star this year, but it is a lot easier trying to find a scoring 2 these days than a versatile 6-foot-9 forward, especially if he can guard the current MVP better than most in the league.

So, my question is this: What trade do you think will eventually hurt the Thunder more when we look back on their success 10 years from now, letting Jeff Green go or James Harden?

Hard to say the Green trade hurt the Thunder, as they made The Finals last season with Perk. And even if OKC doesn't make another Finals, it didn't make any with Green on the roster. Look, Harden is a better player than Green, and he was the best player in the trade, so the potential is greater that that deal will be the one the Thunder regrets in the long run.

It's a very important supporting role, Ms. Streep; the wacky neighbor. From Kasper Kjær:

Maybe the Lakers are just too old and slow, but regarding the poor contributions from the bench I was thinking:

Why don't you put Gasol and maybe also Nash on the bench? -- You don't need four guys who can create their own shot on the floor at the same time. Too many leaders ("go-to-guys") on the floor at the same time creates confusion (and not effectiveness) if you don't have clear roles to fill. Too many with the same role creates confusion as well.

And if you replace them with Chris Duhon/Steve Blake and Jordan Hill, it is perhaps safe to say that you start the game off with a better and more athletic defense too.

You don't like my trade (see above), Kasper?

It would be hard, even for the Lakers, to take a guy making $19 million the next two years and play him off the bench. Whatever you think of Pau Gasol, he's a two-time NBA champion, a gold medal-winning member (the 2006 World Championships) of the Spanish National team and one of the great players of his generation. He has pride. And he was the catalyst for L.A.'s two post-Shaq titles. He deserves the respect that being a starter infers.

Sometimes, eating 50 hot dogs in 15 minutes isn't cause for celebration; it's just gross. From Rense Riekirk:

Naturally, I noticed the newly set NCAA scoring record too. 138 points? Wow!

Here in The Netherlands we do not get to see much NCAA basketball, so Jack Taylor and the Grinnell College Pioneers are in itself news to me. It is therefore safe to say that all my information comes second hand (or actually third, if you go by the following article). But in the piece by Barry Petchesky some genuine concerns are raised, which frankly, leave me with a bitter taste in my mouth regarding this unbelievable record.

It seems that the coach of the Grinnell College Pioneers designated one player to take all the shots -- that would be Mr. Taylor, of course -- while the other players were left to play defense and deliver the ball to their designated player, even at the expense of sure points after offensive rebounds.

If this article is correct (and judging by the research it contains, it is), the most important purpose of this program is to set individual records to get media attention (which obviously worked). In a team game such as basketball, I find this a bit sad. Especially when a team is doing this against inferior competition.

A record it may be, but I guess a little dignity was too much to ask for.

Please note: I am not blaming the kid here. But I agree with you and the Deadspin guy. The "record" is such an astonishing celebration of selfish play, standing around and watching one guy, forgetting team ball in the pursuit of ... what? A record that is a testament to everything good basketball is not? This isn't a guy getting 50 in the flow of a game, this is a team subjugating itself so that one of its players can set a record. Even Kobe's 81 a few years ago came in a game that was close well into the fourth quarter. The underpinnings of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point night were that the Warriors deliberately fouled Knicks players in the fourth quarter so that they could get more possessions in order for the Dipper to have a chance at triple-digit scoring. It wasn't good for the NBA game then, and it's not good for the college game now.

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MVP WATCH

(Weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (29 ppg, 8 rpg, 6.5 apg, .509 FG, .706 FT): LBJ compares himself to Tom Brady after hitting Ray Allen for another game-winning three Saturday against Cleveland.

2) Kevin Durant (33.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4 apg, .426 FG, .913 FT): Lived at the free throw line last week, making 42 of 46 in three games.

3) Kobe Bryant (28 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, .464 FG, .844 FT): Kobe says he plans to score more when Nash comes back, because he won't have to facilitate as much of the team's offense. Comforting news. 'Cause we always worry that he doesn't get enough shots.

4) Carmelo Anthony (29.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, .538 FG, .944 FT): Has gone for 20 or more in 11 of his first 12 games this season, including 29 Sunday against Detroit.

5) Tim Duncan (22 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .500 FG, .800 FT): To watch Duncan this season is to watch a master writing a how-to book on what a professional and prideful man handles his business.

BY THE NUMBERS

43 -- Consecutive games with at least one blocked shot by the Thunder's Serge Ibaka, whose streak ended Saturday in Philadelphia.

$5,000 -- Fine amount to Brooklyn's Reggie Evans, the first player to be penalized financially by the league last week for flopping.

$333,333 -- Amount that former Bulls player Horace Grant says he's owed by a brokerage firm that invested the four-time champion's money in bond funds that tanked in the subprime market last decade.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Good to see you back so soon, Mr. Love.

2) I hate that I'm helping the league hawk merch, but the execution of this idea is just too perfect to ignore. Good job, whoever thought of this.

3) Congrats to one of the game's true pros, Udonis Haslem, for becoming the first undrafted player in league history to become his franchise's all-time leader both in games played and in total rebounds. Haslem passed Alonzo Mourning (4,807) last week for the rebound record, the same night that he played in his 606th career game, topping Dwyane Wade's franchise mark.

4) I know Chandler Parsons put up good numbers at Florida. I saw him in person at the NCAA tournament his senior season. And I remember thinking, he can play, but he has to be in exactly the right system to make it in the pros. Looks like he's in exactly the right system in Houston.

5) There is a certain high-ranking league official in New York whose name sounds a lot like "Tim Frank" who is very happy this morning, now that his beloved Fighting Irish will be in the BCS title game. A long time coming.

6) Spike Lee knocked it out of the park with his "Bad: 25" documentary on Michael Jackson's most underrated album. There are so many great cuts, from the title track (originally supposed to be a duet of sorts with Prince) to "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Dirty Diana," "Man in the Mirror" and my favorite, "Leave Me Alone." Every time I see a doc about a group or a collaboration, I'm blown away by the creativity in the music business. I literally do not know what they're talking about, but can appreciate how good they are at what they do. Just listening to Siedah Garrett -- who, of course, also sang with Jackson on the duet "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" -- describe how she and Glen Ballard came to write "Man in the Mirror" is incredible in the re-telling.

... NOT FEELIN'

1) There are no words that can properly express my sadness at the tragedy that has befallen the McHale family. Keep them in prayer.

2) There's a lot of grumbling already in Detroit about rotations. But the players can't throw Lawrence Frank under the bus this year the way they did Michael Curry and John Kuester. Frank's been a coach before, and Joe Dumars isn't going to pay severance to yet another coach.

3) I'm not saying the Wizards are going to come close to or break the Nets' record of 18 straight losses to start a season. But their next five games are vs. San Antonio, vs. Portland, at New York, vs. Miami, at Atlanta, before games against Golden State and New Orleans. That game Wednesday against the Blazers could be, um, important. I'm just sayin'.

4) Seems fairly clear that the Cavaliers need Kyrie Irving. Of greater concern should be that this is Irving's third significant injury in less than three seasons as a player -- one at Duke, barely more than one in Cleveland.

5) An actor is lucky if he or she has one star turn in a career. It is a testament to Larry Hagman's chops that not only did he have two, but that his roles in I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas could not have been more diametrically opposed in tenor. And yet Hagman made both eminently believable -- and, of course, became a superstar with his portrayal of the execrable oilman J.R. Ewing in Dallas. You will have to trust me, kids -- in the summer of 1980, the question "Who Shot J.R.?" was more important to more people than who would become the president of the United States later that fall. RIP to a great actor.

6) Was the end of the lockout really a year ago? Oh, God, it's like a nightmare that I can never wake up from.

Q & A: DWYANE WADE

The Heat's star guard has had to deal with injuries (knee surgery kept him off the 2012 Olympic team; a sprained foot cost him games this month) and getting older (he turned 30 in January, and doesn't attack the rim with the same elan he did a few years ago). But he remained attractive enough for the Chinese shoe company Li-Ning to sign him to a lucrative deal last month that will give Wade a stake in the company as well as a long-term deal. It was something he could not get with his former shoe partner, Brand Jordan.

Dwyane Wade sported these Li-Ning shoes in the preseason.

Wade joins former players like Shaquille O'Neal and current ones like the 76ers' Evan Turner and Wade's teammate, Udonis Haslem, in joining Li-Ning, founded by the company's namesake, the gold medal winning Chinese gymnast (three at the 1984 Summer Games). But Wade is the highest-profile active player to sign with Li-Ning, and certainly the highest profile player to leave Michael Jordan mid-career.

Me: Do you think your decision will start to break the stranglehold that Nike and Brand Jordan have on the shoe game?

Dwyane Wade: No, nothing dramatic right now. They have, Jordan and Nike obviously have an unbelievable [edge]. One thing about the U.S. is that we're brand loyal to something. If we know something, if we're comfortable with something, we're going to stay with it. Our job is just to try to, over the course of time, bring something new, and exciting, just different. Because there is a part of the world that likes to be different, and they like to be a part of something new and different. So, just make a little imprint. We're not looking to do anything crazy. We just want to make an imprint, and prove, obviously, that our brand is just as good as any other brand. And it goes with what you put out. So you've got to put out a good product.

Me: You had total control over design, construction, colors?

DW: Yeah. It was tough. I had a short period of time to do everything. The contract was [finished] late, right before the start of the season. They give you a small window of time to go out and field deals. Normally you need a whole year, or a year and a half, or so more to create something. I think from my conversation with the brand, they did a great job of listening to kind of what I was saying I look for, and tried to create that with the first shoe. Obviously it'll get better as we go on.

Me: Are guys coming up to you?

DW: I've had a few. I have. And it's cool. The funny thing is when I first started wearing them, when people first heard, it was automatically people's reaction. As I said when I signed and when I was in China, I said my shoe is going to change. Over the course, it's going to look a little different. And I've changed a few things. At first they looked a little higher, a little heavier, a little bulkier, and then I sleeked it down a little bit. And then you see guys come and say stuff. And you see them looking. You'll see. It's a couple of things you look at. You look at people get a double take, see their reaction when they look, all of those things. It's been cool.

Me: When you looked at Li Ning, did you factor in the impact non-Chinese players have had over there, like your teammate, Shane Battier -- he got All-Star votes when he played with Yao in Houston!

DW: They're still benefiting up in Houston from that. Obviously, Yao, but look at certain guys ... I remember when Shane, in the World Games in '06, when Peak first sent him a pair of shoes. And I remember our mindset when we saw them. We were like, 'What the hell is that?' And I remember him talking to us about it, and he was like, man, take a chance. And he took a chance and he's so happy with the chance he took. And I got certain people that I talk to, and I said you know what? That's what I'm about. I'm about taking chances. I'm about doing something that I want to do, and being different. So I'm more than happy and thrilled with my decision. I don't regret one thing.

Dwyane Wade says with Li-Ning, he has a big say in the shoe's design, cut and style.

Me: Did you get any resistance from your camp -- your agent, or anyone else -- to doing this?

DW: They gave me all the information that I needed, that I wanted. And they let me make the decision. They brought it to me. Once they brought it to me, obviously I've been with the Nike umbrella my whole career, college, etcetera. So that was my first feeling was, I have to give them [Brand Jordan] a shot to see if they really want me. How much do they want me, how much do they care to have me as an athlete? I understand the business. I understand how it goes. I'm 30 years old and I know how people look at things and all that. I listened to them and gave them the first chance, and I decided it was time to move on.

Me: Did the Li Ning people do anything to blow you away?

DW: Besides the opportunity, just put the opportunity I had aside. I think the biggest thing was I've met and talked with Mr. Li Ning on many occasions, so many different times, and him telling me the importance of me being a partner, and not just an endorser. And what it meant to him, and what it meant to the brand that he's built. And then just the people that they had around. All of that stuff goes a long way with an athlete like myself.

Me: There's more than one way to skin a cat.

DW: It is. It's cool. When I first went over to Jordan, it was cool, it was something I wanted to do. And once you realize what's the cool thing about it was, I wasn't a part of. The cool thing about Jordan is retro. And I'm not a part of that. Once I was in there, and it became, OK, now this is where you're at and this is the business of it, I seen some things that I felt probably wasn't good for me. Obviously it's good for guys like CP and 'Melo that's been there for some years. But it just didn't work for me. I had fun. I had fun with it. But this opportunity, I'm happy with. I'm happy with this opportunity and this chance. It's something I can show my kids that I've done differently, blazing my own trail in a sense. I know guys have done it differently, but not at the point of my career and my stature. I'm excited to really, when my kids get to understand, why are we going to China? Why are they taking trips? What are we doing over there?

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Dear Michelle: @MichelleObama Have you ever been made to feel that believing in & supporting your man is a bad thing? Need advice. ;) Jeanie

-- Lakers Executive Vice President Jeanie Buss (@JeanieBuss), Monday, 5:34 p.m., reaching out to the First Lady for some counsel after a week or so of drama surrounding her significant other, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who was famously left at the altar by his old team in favor of Mike D'Antoni.

THEY SAID IT

"Would people be celebrating me if I scored 138 points? You know how it is, some people would, some people wouldn't. They can all kiss my a-- as I'm sure he feels the same way. If you score 138 points, you kind of have a license to tell people to f--- off."
-- Kobe Bryant, responding to a reporter's question of whether he'd be celebrated if he scored 138 points in a game as Grinnell College's Jack Taylor did Tuesday.

"I'm hoping maybe after these two years to play a couple more years, so it would be the wrong thing now to push it and come back too early and maybe make something worse for the long term."
-- Dirk Nowitzki, telling local reporters that he plans to keep playing after his contract expires in 2014, and thus he will not try to increase his timetable for returning from knee surgery past its current date of mid-December.

"I don't see how anybody can compare us. I've been in this league much longer. He had a great run last year, one of the best I've ever seen. I'm glad he got his money. But to compare me and him is wrong."
-- Ray Felton, to the New York Times, on how he can't understand why people would say the Knicks were better off with Jeremy Lin than with him. Through Sunday, Felton was averaging 15.7 points and 7.3 assists, and shooting 44 percent from the floor in New York, compared to Lin's averages of 10.2 points, 6.1 assists and 34.8 percent shooting in Houston.

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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