POSTED: Dec 31, 2012 11:10 AM ET
UPDATED: Jan 1, 2013 10:45 AM ET
LeBron James showed just how dominant he can be in the 2012 NBA Finals.
Considering where it started, the Association turned out surprisingly well in 2012.
Surprising because a season that began with a lockout-shortened regular season, and truly horrible basketball for a couple of months as out of shape players tried in vain to get through stretches of three games in three nights, ended with some terrific playoff series and a worthy champion in the Miami Heat. And in the process, we may have seen the beginnings of what we can only hope will be a decade-long rivalry between LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
They are not mortal enemies; they've worked out together in each of the last two offseasons. (Can you imagine Bird and Magic getting some shots up together in, say, the summer of '86? Just a different time, folks. We all have to get used to it.) They were teammates on the U.S. Olympic team, the two most important reasons the Americans were able to repeat their gold medal performance from '08, this time in London. But they are fierce competitors, the best the league has to offer today, and they were on the same stage together in June at the Finals.
James got the better of it (see No. 10 and No. 1 below), and Miami won. But here's hoping that these two can lead their respective teams back to a place where, as the great columnist Jerry Izenberg said of the Ali-Frazier trilogy in boxing, they were fighting for the championship of each other. In the interim, here are the top 10 stories of 2012, shaped by the recent past and which will no doubt impact the L in the near future.
10) Here Lays the Center. Three decades after Pat Riley opines that the basketball team of the future will have five 6-foot-9 players, the Heat come closer than anyone in fulfilling his vision. Playing small is hardly a new strategy in the league (Phoenix had a little success with playing Amar'e Stoudemire in the middle, if you recall, and Boston exploded last season when it put Kevin Garnett in the middle), but Miami does it better than anyone; with 6-foot-11 forward Chris Bosh accepting his role as the "center," Miami can play LeBron James and Shane Battier at the other two frontcourt spots (Coach Erik Spoelstra loathes the notion of "positions"). The Heat runs its offense through James in the low post, surrounding him with 3-point shooters and Bosh at the top of the key or baseline. Defensively, the Heat can switch on all screen-rolls effortlessly, with the athletic ability and intelligence to be in the right spots for deflections and turnovers. Miami runs an equally athletic Thunder team off the floor in the Finals.
"We weren't trying to make a trend," Spoelstra said Saturday. "It's trying to play to our strengths. Other teams are probably trying to do that as well, but there's some teams that are playing conventional. There's a lot more teams playing conventional than there are playing a different way. And there's a lot of teams playing very well that way. If I'm not mistaken, the team with the best record in the league (the Clippers), they're playing with two bigs, and they're playing with a conventional point guard, and they're playing very well."
Steve Nash Media Day Interview
9) Steve Agonistes. Steve Nash, the two-time MVP, looks seriously at the Raptors and Knicks before the Lakers make an 11th-hour pitch, using an exception to offer Nash a three-year contract. After Nash comes to grips with playing for his once-bitter rival, the Suns agree to send Nash to L.A. in a sign-and-trade deal, giving the Lakers the effective point guard they've been lacking for the last several seasons.
8) The Taxman Cometh. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement's increased luxury tax penalties begin to have an impact on player moves, even though the biggest hits are two years out -- and contending teams are the ones who have the toughest decisions. In the biggest example, the Thunder deal James Harden to Houston because they can't give a max contract to a third player, knowing what the bill will be in 2015 and beyond. Similar decisions are made in Chicago, where the Bulls opt to keep their financial powder dry in the offseason; the only vets they add are those on minimum contracts, and they don't do anything to keep the likes of Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson or Omer Asik, the latter of whom goes to Houston with Jeremy Lin on a backloaded offer sheet that it would be impossible for the Bulls to have on their books in 2014. Meanwhile, the Lakers can stare down a potential $90 million in luxury taxes next season if they max out Dwight Howard because of their gargantuan local television deal -- estimates are between $2 and $4 billion -- with Time Warner SportsNet.
7) Yo, Brooklyn! Forty-five years after the Brooklyn Dodgers leave the borough for the warm and rich pastures of Chavez Ravine, the Nets finally fill the pro franchise void, moving into the billion-dollar Barclays Center. The Nets, with owner Mikhail Prokhorov looking to make a splash, go on a spending binge in the summer, committing to more than $330 million in new contracts -- $98 million for Deron Williams, $58 million for Brook Lopez and $40 million for Gerald Wallace. That all happens after Brooklyn acquires Joe Johnson and the remaining $89 million on his deal in a trade with the Hawks in early July. In October, Jay-Z opens the building with eight concerts before the basketball team debuts its home black jerseys and brings entertaining, if not always successful, basketball to town. The "Brooklyn ... Brooklyn ..." chants are music to the ears, though it does not end well for Avery Johnson (see below).
6) Linsanity. Very few waiver pickups have had the impact of a 23-year-old Harvard grad in New York City, immediately after the Giants won the Super Bowl. Jeremy Lin, an afterthought who is about to be released by the team, gets some garbage time against the Celtics, and with the Knicks desperate, he plays again the next night against the Nets. He scores 25 with seven assists. The next game, he goes for 28 and eight. And a cult is born. Over the next three weeks, the Knicks win nine of 12 with Lin in the starting lineup, and the New York faithful fall in love, filling the Garden and coming with any number of awful puns trading on the last name of someone they'd never heard of a month ago. Lin gives the Lakers 38; he hits a game-winner in Toronto; he drops 28 and 14 on Dallas. And in the process, he becomes a global celebrity on multiple levels. For Asians in the States and worldwide, he is a symbol of athletic achievement in a sport where such success has often proven elusive. For the academically inclined, Lin is proof that you can be a baller and a nerd. For the faithful, Lin's Christianity shows you can be a man of God and still break ankles. It doesn't last -- Lin tore ligaments in his knee in late March and missed the rest of the season, then signed a back-loaded offer sheet with Houston in the summer that New York opted not to match. But it was great while it lasted.
5) Derrick Rose Double Clutches. It is a nightmare for the Bulls and the league: Rose, the reigning MVP and one of the NBA's most popular players, goes down in a heap in the second half of Game 1 of Chicago's first-round series with the 76ers. He is carried off the court, and with him go the Bulls' hopes of a championship. Rose misses the rest of the postseason and the start of the following regular season with a torn ACL, taking one of the game's most appealing personalities and players off the stage at the worst possible time.
4) The Commish Calls it Quits. After 28 years as the NBA's boss of bosses, David Stern announces he will retire as the league's commissioner on Feb. 1, 2014, his 30th anniversary as the top man. His list of accomplishments is immense and substantial, as the league increased its cache with Madison Avenue, became Must See TV and increased the value of franchises 10- and 20-fold. At the same time, Stern's demands of friends and foes, his confrontations and argumentative style make him respected, feared and loathed all at the same time by many of the game's power brokers. The deputy commissioner, Adam Silver, is named Stern's replacement.
3) Let's (Not) Make a Deal. The Lakers bail on Mike Brown five games into the season, bailing on the Princeton offense he wanted to run when injuries, turnovers and age slow their attack to a walk. The Lakers initially tell coaching candidates they won't interview Phil Jackson, then go into extensive negotiations with their former coach. A deal for Jackson to return seems imminent when, suddenly, at midnight on Nov. 12, the Lakers announce they've hired Mike D'Antoni to coach. D'Antoni, who'd just undergone a knee replacement operation the week before, is as stunned as anyone. Jackson says he believed he'd have the opportunity to decide whether he wanted the job; the Lakers say they made no such promises. No one really believes either of them, knowing the acrimony that team president Jim Buss feels toward Jackson.
1-on-1: Steve Nash and Dwight Howard
2) Superman's New Digs. After nearly a year of fits and starts, Dwight Howard's trade request is finally granted. And it's a blockbuster: a four-team deal that sends Howard to the Lakers, Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, Andre Iguodala to Denver and numerous players and future Draft picks to Orlando. It ends an awful year for the Magic, who are pulled along for the ride as Howard hems and haws about whether he wants to stay in Orlando or leave. He actually agrees to a trade to the Nets, only to change his mind on a team flight just before the trade deadline, and then says the next day he will "opt in" for the final year of his contract and stay with the Magic. But reports that Howard has asked that Coach Stan Van Gundy be fired lead to a surreal shootaround before an April game with the Knicks, with Van Gundy claiming the reports are true, only to have Howard walk into the question-and-answer session.
1) LeBron, Colossus. Who knows what clicks in a man's head, when his talent and intelligence and work ethic and desire and experience all come together and make him the absolute best he can be at whatever he does? That was LeBron James in 2012. It is impossible to imagine someone who was more dominant in so many different ways as James is in this, his third league MVP season. He accepts going into the low post, and after working with Hakeem Olajuwon all summer on post moves, along with picking the brains of Isiah Thomas, James sees the full picture of his proper place on a team. He accepts the challenge of Erik Spoelstra, who says he must be the best player at both ends of the floor, every night, and so James guards every position, one through five, depending on the matchup. He guts the Heat through a second-round series win over Indiana when Chris Bosh is injured and Dwyane Wade inconsistent, and then ... oh, then ... there is Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, in Boston, with the Celtics coming off a breakthrough Game 5 win in Miami that surely knocked the wind out of the Heat. Except James rises ... and rises ... and rises, like the Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean, and dominates Boston and its banners and leprechauns and Hall of Famers. He destroys the Celtics with 45 points and 15 rebounds, and if 90 points and 30 rebounds were needed, you sensed James could have come up with that, too. It is impossible to top that performance ... so, of course, James does in the Finals, shredding a very, very good Thunder team and besting Durant, the only other player on the planet as good as James right now. He averages 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists in the five-game series. And, no, he doesn't erase the memories of his tentative, horrible play in the Finals a year earlier against Dallas. That nightmare is what pushed James deeper into the lab, tapping into yet another well of concentration, energy and skill. It's what pushed him, made him understand that the scowling, angry guy that tried to justify The Decision was not who he was, that he had to enjoy playing the game to be his best. And he did. And he was. For good measure, he puts the country on his back at the Summer Games in London. In the Gold Medal Game against Spain, the Spaniards outplay the U.S. team for most of the afternoon. But James rises to the occasion again in the fourth quarter, leading the Americans to the gold they desperately wanted again. As with the NBA, it seems LeBron can win as long as he feels like winning, and if he's greedy ... Lord help you all.
And I think for Avery Johnson, this season will be breakthrough for him. And it's very, very important for him. And I wish him luck.
--Mikhail Prokhorov, Nov. 3, 2012
Johnson's luck ran out last Thursday.
If there was any doubt that Prokhorov, the Nets' majority owner, was as impatient as any American when it comes to winning, he dispelled it when he made Johnson an ex-coach, despite a .500 record in the franchise's first season in Brooklyn.
General Manager Billy King says it was his decision. Prokhorov told reporters last week that he'd decided to fire Johnson a week ago. Does it matter? Johnson is out, P.J. Carlesimo is in on an interim basis, and Phil Jackson is on deck, staring in at the starting pitcher.
Deron Williams said over the weekend that it wasn't his fault Johnson was fired, even as it was clear he had no use for Johnson's offense and that he was not playing at all like the franchise point guard Brooklyn agreed to give $98 million in the summer. His shooting percentages, in front of and behind the 3-point line, are awful, his assists are down and the Nets nosedived after an 11-4 start to the season.
With the Knicks off to a blistering start in the Atlantic Division, the Nets didn't feel they could give up any more ground.
"Even when Deron wasn't in the lineup it was the same thing," King said Friday. "It was almost like, OK, I didn't see a change. Really, we should have lost the Detroit game. Philly we played well and beat them .. [but] then you play the Knicks, it's a blowout. You play Boston, blowout. I throw out the Knicks game because they were rested, and we were coming off a back to back. But with Boston, both of us were rested. We had three days off. I just saw a pattern and I didn't know how [Johnson] was going to get out of it."
The offense wasn't just ill-suited for Williams. The Nets saw regression from MarShon Brooks, whose minutes were sporadic. Brook Lopez got off to a strong start, but had dropped off significantly. Even Reggie Evans, the energetic veteran forward, wasn't playing like Reggie Evans.
Avery Johnson Statement
But the Nets insist, publicly and privately, that their decision to fire Johnson was independent of Williams' opinions. If Williams was so set against playing for Johnson, they ask, why did he re-sign with Brooklyn in the summer, when he could have easily signed with Dallas as a free agent and played in Rick Carlisle's "flow" offense, a much more compatible system? (There is the not-small matter of the $20 million or so more Williams made by staying in Brooklyn instead of going to Dallas.)
If Williams wasn't in love with Johnson's offense, it at least wasn't a deal breaker.
Johnson did make some tweaks to the offense, putting in more of the "flex" sets that Williams liked in Utah, but the Nets' attack was still devoted to one-on-one play from the guards. (Even the Bucks' television broadcast team was wise, saying last week that the Nets' offense constituted throwing the ball to Johnson and watching him in iso sets.)
It was also no secret that Johnson badly wanted a contract extension last summer, and was rebuffed by management, leaving him a lame duck entering the regular season. It was a position that Johnson understandably thought undermined his authority with his players, but the Nets thought he carried it too far.
"Skiles doesn't have one," a source said, referring to Bucks Coach Scott Skiles, who also is in the last year of his contract with Milwaukee. "Thibodeau [Chicago's Tom Thibodeau] didn't have one last year. [Oklahoma City's] Scottie Brooks didn't have one last year. It didn't seem that he was confident, that this is what's working. Like Larry Brown, Larry Brown's gonna coach like Larry Brown. I don't care if it's year one or year Five. Pop [Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich] is gonna be Pop. Pat Riley is gonna be Pat Riley."
And Jackson, if Brooklyn gets him, will be Jackson. The Nets are trying to play coy, and they're saying Carlesimo, who won his first two games as the interim coach, will get a real shot. But Jackson is certainly the guy who'll get the first call when and if Prokhorov decides to look elsewhere for a permanent coach.
"It's Phil," says a league coaching source. "That's coming straight from Russia."
Prokhorov is ridiculously rich and charming and tough when he has to be, of course, but he's not used to losing and he's not used to being spurned. And Jackson could easily say no. The Nets need him, not the other way around. His legacy as the greatest pro coach ever is secure, and coming to Brooklyn, no matter the potential, no matter that he played in New York and loves the city, has very little upside for him. He has nothing to prove.
Prokhorov will, no doubt, give Jackson anything he wants -- the paycheck, the control, the travel restrictions if Jackson wants to be a part-time head coach. But would even all of that be enough for Jackson to take a flier?
He's coached in two places, Chicago and Los Angeles -- one team with the greatest player of his generation, Michael Jordan, alongside a Hall of Fame Swiss Army Knife of a forward in Scottie Pippen, the other team with the greatest player of his generation, Kobe Bryant, playing alongside one of the most dominant big men who ever lived, Shaquille O'Neal. (Love you, big fella, but the MDE is the guy who averaged fitty a game for a full season: Wilton Norman Chamberlain.)
Only the most strident and unrealistic Nets fans believe this team as currently constituted is capable of challenging the likes of Miami in the playoffs. And with all the contracts Brooklyn has just committed to paying the next few years, the window to win is right now. Jackson would have to think the Nets are much closer to a title than most, and who knows? Maybe he will once he takes a detailed look at the roster and hears Prokhorov's pitch.
In the interim (no pun intended), Carlesimo will get Brooks regular minutes, get the ball moving and try to figure out a way to get more consistent play out of Lopez, whom the Nets kept when they couldn't work out a deal for Dwight Howard in the offseason.
"There just was not a belief any more in what he was selling," King said of Johnson.
(This week's record in parentheses; last week's rankings in brackets)
1) L.A. Clippers (4-0) : Clippers have won 17 games in a row. They haven't lost a game since just after Thanksgiving. Temperature in Hell: a frosty 13 degrees. Take your overcoat!
2) Oklahoma City (2-1) : Thabo Sefolosha doesn't get much attention with the Durant-Westbrook dynamic duo center stage most nights, but he should get some props for a ridiculous +39 plus-minus in Saturday's rout over Houston.
3) Miami (2-2) : Big win over OKC on Christmas Day, but the Heat fall to a pedestrian .500 (6-6) on the road after getting smoked on consecutive nights at Detroit and Milwaukee.
4) Golden State (3-0) : After faltering defensively before Christmas, Warriors hold three opponents to average of 85 a game this week -- and, not surprisingly, win all three.
5) San Antonio (3-0) : How times have changed: Spurs played two games against Dallas in a span of eight days. Average margin of victory: 26.5 points.
6) Atlanta (3-0) : Hawks handling business in their division (8-2 in the Southeast, with the two losses against Miami) and 13-4 in the Eastern Conference after Saturday's win against the Pacers. Only the Knicks (13-3) are better in the East
7) N.Y. Knicks (1-2) : Mike Woodson has a tough call with Ray Felton out at least a month: ramp up the minutes of 35-year-old Pablo Prigioni or 39-year-old Jason Kidd? Knicks could really use Iman Shumpert, but he's probably still a month or so away from his return from a torn ACL.
8) Memphis (1-1) : Under the radar: Grizzlies would miss contributions of Quincy Pondexter (knee injury Saturday) if he's out for an extended period; his True Shooting Percentage of .569 is the same as Kyrie Irving's and Blake Griffin's.
9) Chicago (1-1) : Bulls get Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton back Saturday against Washington, but Marco Belinelli was terrific in Hamilton's absence, averaging 15 a game in 12 starts.
10) L.A. Lakers (2-1) : Anti-Hero Ball: in Steve Nash's first four games back, the Lakers have 113 assists on 167 made field goals, a percentage of .676. In the eight games in December before Nash's return, L.A. had 151 assists on 289 made field goals, a percentage of .522.
11) Brooklyn (2-2) : You know you're a man to be feared when you cut a heli-skiing trip in British Columbia short to fire your head coach. That's like a trip James Bond takes before invading Blofeld's secret lair.
12) Indiana (1-1) : Roy Hibbert discloses he's been battling a wrist problem all season, but that alone can't explain zero points and 1 rebound in 21 minutes Saturday against Atlanta.
13) Milwaukee (2-1) [NR]: Bucks going small with very good results of late, routing Nets and Heat to pull into a virtual tie for first in the Central.
14) Utah (0-3) : Missing Mo Williams (sprained thumb).
15) Minnesota (1-1) : With Brandon Roy out again, and likely for a long time, Wolves will need Alexey Shved to continue his solid play (14.5 points, 47 percent shooting in his last four games) at two guard.
Dropped out: Boston .
L.A. Clippers (4-0): Became just the third team in NBA history to go 16-0 in a month with Sunday night's win over the Jazz. (The other two teams were the '95-'96 Spurs, who were perfect in March, 1996, and the '71-'72 Lakers, who also were 16-0 in December and went on to post a 69-13 regular season record and win the NBA title.)
Dallas (0-3): The Mavericks' freefall goes into a third week, having dropped seven games under .500 for the first time in more than a dozen years. And while Dirk Nowitzki is back, Rick Carlisle warns it will be at least a couple of weeks before he's back in real shape.
Who will be willing to gamble that DeMarcus Cousins is going to change?
Not trying to pile on the young man, who is still just 22. Lord knows I hadn't finished maturing at that age, and some would no doubt say that process is still ongoing a quarter-century later. But Cousins's numerous confrontations with members of the Kings' organization, often sullen disposition and inability to control his temper have worn just about everyone in Sacramento raw, and the Kings, sources say, are finally ready to seriously consider moving the third-year center for a package of less talented, perhaps, but more emotionally grounded players.
"If this last thing doesn't work, I don't know what to do," a member of the organization said, referring to the suspension of Cousins by the team after he engaged in a profanity-laden shouting match with Coach Keith Smart at halftime of the Kings' game with the Clippers Dec. 21. The suspension was initially labeled indefinite by the team, but it was reduced to one game, though Smart kept Cousins inactive for a second game last week.
USA Today reported over the weekend the decision to reinstate Cousins so quickly came from owners Gavin and Joe Maloof and not general manager Geoff Petrie. A source with knowledge of the discussions said that Cousins's new agent, Dan Fegan, also was involved in persuading Sacramento to get Cousins back to the team quicker.
It was Cousins's third suspension already this season; the first two were handed down by the league. One was for confronting Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott after a game in which Elliott had criticized Cousins during a broadcast (two games); the other was for hitting Dallas guard O.J. Mayo in the groin during a game Dec. 10 (one game). And the Kings are growing weary of it.
The team was surprised when Cousins showed up for practice on Christmas Eve, thinking the suspension was indefinite. Upon his arrival, "the Christmas spirit was gone," said the league source who is familiar with the Kings. And there was not much sympathy for him afterward when Cousins tried to apologize.
"When he apologized to the team, two players stood up and said 'we've heard this bull(bleep) before,'" the source said. "'You're either going to be with us, or you're not. We don't want to hear any more excuses.'"
Reached Monday morning, Petrie said Cousins is not on the block.
"You can put that one to rest," Petrie said. "He's not going anywhere. You can lay that to rest. Some of that stuff lives in its own reality."
Petrie said the return of Cousins to the team provided "resolution" to the shouting match with Smart.
"Everybody's moving forward," Petrie said. "He's still a young, developing player that's yet to reach his potential and is still a major piece of the future planning here. Everyone's committed to working with his development as a player and his overall growth...he's still an important part of the future. He's like a lot of people. Some have good days, and some days are better than others. We're going to continue to work with him to help him reach his potential, which is still very high."
One significant problem, according to sources, is that Cousins has refused the Kings' entreaties to undergo any type of counseling to deal with his anger issues, which were at the heart of many NBA teams' reluctance to take Cousins high in the 2010 Draft. The push has been especially strong recently, "but that's going nowhere," says a source familiar with Cousins' thinking, citing Cousins' unwillingness to even discuss the subject.
Petrie would not say whether the team wants Cousins to seek counseling.
"Those types of issues are private and should remain with the player, his representatives and obviously the people on the team," Petrie said. "That's really getting into personal information that I don't think anybody really has a right to know. I don't know that you'd want your medical records out there."
As ever, Cousins's prodigious on-court talents are not at issue; he leads the Kings in scoring and rebounding this season. There aren't five centers in the game with his skill set; he's a willing and effective passer, he can score on the block or facing the basket, and he can defend his position. He returned from the suspension Friday and promptly dropped a double-double on the Knicks, his ninth of the season. On Sunday, Cousins added to the Kings' angst with his first career triple-double (12 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) against Boston.
That talent is at the heart of the Kings' disappointment. They truly believed that Cousins had turned the corner last season, walking away from confrontations with referees and showing signs of maturity. With rookie Thomas Robinson coming on board this season, and Tyreke Evans showing improvement at point guard, the Kings thought they were primed to make a move in the Western Conference this season.
Instead, the Kings are buried in 13th place in the west. That's not all Cousins's fault, of course, but the Kings think the constant energy drain on the organization dealing with his incidents has been part of the team's regression. And now that Cousins has replaced his longtime agent, John Greig, with Fegan -- who clashed with the Kings in 2009 when the franchise took Evans instead of Fegan's client, Ricky Rubio, with the fourth pick -- there is fading hope that the team can resolve its relationship with Cousins.
Petrie said he could work with Fegan.
"I've worked with just about every agent in the business at one time or another," Petrie said. "I've known Dan a long time. Everybody wants him to continue to grow and develop. That's the focus on both sides, to keep on developing him and finding ways to help him do that."
Greig had fought fiercely on Cousins's behalf for the last several years, working with his family and associates to put a support system in place that could help him try and mature, including Keith Williams, a Washington, D.C.-based trainer that had helped Cousins shed weight and get in better shape. With a much smaller client list than Fegan's -- Greig represents mainly players in Europe, including former NBA players Pops Mensah-Bonsu and David Wood -- he was a full-time advocate for Cousins.
"I would just say that on my end, I'm genuinely concerned for him to get on the right track," Greig said Sunday morning. "I hope that he's able to see the good nature that's inside of him, and build upon it. I guess that's all I can say."
Cousins told the Sacramento Bee on Sunday that the stress of losing is what's getting to him, and that he gets no credit for the many positive things he does in the Sacramento community.
"The first thing I have to do is keep my mouth shut ... even when I'm right," Cousins told the Bee. "But I'm not depressed. Do I look depressed? I'm rich, I'm healthy. I'm very grateful for the situation I'm in. I'm telling you, it's the stress."
The anger issues, which were present when Cousins was in high school and in his one season at Kentucky, have continued throughout his two-plus seasons with Sacramento. They have included a fight with then-teammate Donte Greene after a game in February, 2011, frequent clashes with then-coach Paul Westphal, and shouting matches with all of the team's assistant coaches: Mario Elie, Truck Robinson, Bobby Jackson and Clifford Ray -- who has long been respected as one of the best big-man coaches of the last decade.
After a final confrontation early last season, the Kings chose Cousins over Westphal, firing him and replacing him with Smart. Smart has bent over backwards trying to establish a relationship with Cousins, with some success; Cousins's outbursts over the last few months have shorter in duration, at least, according to the league source.
But after the latest blowup with Smart, which sources say got personal, the Kings are at their wits' end. And Petrie has to figure out what the best remedy is, with the backdrop of his own uncertain future (his contract is up at the end of the season) and the Kings' uncertain future in Sacramento after this season an obvious impediment to any potential deal. The Maloofs are extremely reluctant to trade Cousins, and they don't want to add to their payroll as they look at potential moves, from Anaheim to Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Petrie insisted Monday that both he and the organization are committed to Cousins for the long haul.
"When I talk to him periodically, it can be about basketball, it can be about life, it can be about last night's game, it can be about today's practice," Petrie said. "We've got an unbelievable staff that works with him on a daily basis. We've got Clifford Ray, who's one of the best big men coaches around. We've got a head coach that continues to invest a tremendous amount of energy to help him. He's all about moving forward and trying to help solve this."
Many execs around the league have the Celtics and Pistons at the top of the list of Cousins admirers, even after this latest episode. The Boston Scenario goes like this: surely Cousins would straighten up and fly right if he was surrounded by winners; if he had Doc Rivers barking in one ear and KG barking in the other, he'd have no choice but to give in to the Mystique.
Still, the Celtics are willing to take the gamble, according to another league source, and embrace the challenge of keeping Cousins on the right path. But if Petrie can't add any payroll, it's hard to see a scenario with Boston that would be enticing for the Kings, unless they're enamored with rookies Jared Sullinger or Fab Melo as centerpieces of a deal.
Including guard Avery Bradley might get a conversation going, but the Cs love Bradley's two-way game and have imagined him a cornerstone of their rebuild; Bradley's rapid development the second half of last season before his shoulder injuries put him on the shelf in the playoffs made it much easier for Boston to absorb Ray Allen's departure.
On the other hand, Detroit would have the requisite young, inexpensive talent to send back to Sacramento if it were inclined to take a gamble on Cousins. Third-year emerging star Greg Monroe would certainly get the Kings' attention, as he did before the 2010 Draft. A league source says the Kings took Cousins instead on Westphal's behalf.
"Geoff preferred Greg Monroe" before the 2010 Draft, the source said. "But (Petrie) was a friend of Paul's and he was trying to help him win more right away...when Paul was there, he did a lot of things to try and help him win games, because (former coaches Eric) Musselman and (Reggie) Theus had been such disasters. Paul was a contemporary of Geoff's; he was a smart guy."
Except, Detroit has no interest in him. At least not anymore.
The Pistons certainly were intrigued with Cousins before the 2010 Draft, and tried to move up from the ninth spot to get him. But once Sacramento took him at five, Detroit went for the next highly-rated big on the board in Monroe, and has been quite happy it did so.
Now, the Pistons plan to build around Monroe and rookie center Andre Drummond. There is no chance Detroit would move Monroe and leave itself with Cousins and Drummond -- who, like Cousins, is immensely talented, but has his own growing up to do after a lackluster one-and-done season at Connecticut before entering last year's Draft.
Washington also has a talented, inexpensive young big in third-year center Kevin Serpahin, who came on at the end of last season, and a surplus of young forwards like Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton. And the Wizards have the one guy who seemed to be able to reach Cousins in John Wall, who played with Cousins at Kentucky before both entered the Draft after their freshman seasons.
But would Cousins do well in an environment that has been even worse from a winning standpoint than Sacramento's? The Wizards went to great lengths over the last year to get rid of young players whose immaturity, they felt, was wearing Wall down, trading center JaVale McGee to Denver for Nene and guard Nick Young to the Clippers and using the amnesty provision to waive forward Andray Blatche.
"No one can (keep Cousins in line), and John doesn't need to try," a friend of Wall's said over the weekend. "I don't think DeMarcus has any interest in doing anything other than what he wants to do."
The battle continues, between the "simple, Southern, homebody kid," as Greig put it, and the guy that cusses out his coaches, one after the other, and has worn his teammates down to the nub. One or the other will win, and a franchise or two hangs in the balance, depending on which one, and when.
They didn't set "Batman" in Muncie City, after all. From Mario Ibarra Diaz:
The Knicks are playing great the past three seasons and they are championship caliber right now and they deserve to play on Christmas day in this year but, are the Knicks really that good historically? They have the most Christmas games than any other team! Does this mean that Knicks history is richer than the Lakers (with Chamberlain, West, Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Kobe, Shaq just to mention a few) or than the Celtics (Russell, McHale, Bird)? I mean, they have won only two NBA championship. I think that the NBA try to make New York Knicks a great team just because they are in a great city. Even with Linsanity, he had a good run but that's it he is not a superstar as all NBA want to make fans believe, he is averaging 11pts and 5 assists. So my question: Is the league really that interested in money that they schedule bad teams instead of championship teams like Spurs back in 2000s? Maybe I am missing something because I am from Ecuador and I don't get to live the whole NBA experience.
No, you didn't miss anything, Mario. The Knicks get on TV more than anyone on Christmas when they are even slightly relevant because they're in New York, the biggest media market and most populated city in the country, and that means people watch them when they're on. But that's the case in just about every pro sport -- the Yankees and Mets and Giants and Jets are shown nationally, I would guess, more than other teams in their respective sports.
No room at the inn, no room in the rotation. From Sam Curtis:
Do you think Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb should get more minutes then they have received so far? If I was Scott Brooks I would put them in each game to see how they are going to play, and with the talent they have more court time is only going to make them better.
It's tough to ask guys like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who've been in the Finals and want to get there again, to be willing to potentially drop games that could mean home court advantage down the road so they can bring along rookies, no matter how talented. Jones and Lamb are long-term projects and the Thunder effectively uses the D League to give them the kind of playing time they need to develop at their own pace.
Luck be a Lady -- with a killer crossover -- tonight. From Jason Jurevicius:
Is there anything in the rulebook saying the NBA is actually the MBA-- Men's Basketball Association?
I've heard the story about Nancy Lieberman in the USBL, but nothing recent or having to do with the NBA. This is probably because of the rise of the WNBA, a league I find entertaining in its own right (go Mercury!). But what if a female wanted to play on basketball's biggest stage, disregarding gender? If a once-in-a-generation talent like Britney Griner wanted to declare for the Draft, could she? And would she get any serious consideration from an NBA team? This is a totally hypothetical question; whether she would want to is a totally different issue (not to mention the locker room issues, among other things.
Two good questions, Jason. As to whether anything prohibits a woman player from declaring for the Draft, the answer is no. The league pointed me to Article X of the Collective Bargaining Agreement regarding player eligibility. There is nothing in Article X that prohibits a woman from declaring her intention to enter the NBA Draft (assuming, for purposes of this argument, that she meets all of the criteria, such as being at least 19, completing at least one season of college basketball or basketball overseas, etc.). However, the language in the CBA certainly assumes all of the applicants will be male, as in Section 1, Paragraph B:
(b) A player shall be eligible for selection in the first NBA Draft with respect to which he has satisfied all applicable requirements of Section 1(b)(i) below and one of the requirements of Section 1(b)(ii) below
You may be too young to recall the Pacers giving UCLA all-America Ann Meyers -- the Britney Griner of her day -- a tryout in 1979. Meyers, now Ann Meyers-Drysdale, didn't make the cut, with the obvious problems -- she wasn't as strong or as fast as her male counterparts. Time and genetics may have narrowed the gap for Griner, but even if so, she'd still have to deal with your second question: would she get serious consideration from an NBA team? My belief is, she would not -- not because of anything she did (or didn't) do, but because the NBA, while more progressive in most ways than any other pro league, isn't that progressive. With only two rounds in the Draft, can you imagine the outcry if a team used, say, a second-rounder on Griner? Would the certain to follow media frenzy be worth it? One thing coaches of any stripe don't want are...wait for it...right: distractions. The GM who picked Griner in the Draft would have to be a really secure, autonomous executive with the full backing of ownership. Now, could a team, conceivably, invite Griner to participate in the Vegas Summer League, or training camp as an undrafted free agent? That would seem much more possible to me -- but it would still require an owner and front office that isn't afraid of negative publicity or second-guessing. In our 24-7 news cycle, debate for the sake of debate culture, both would follow by the bushel.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and any spare passes for, to paraphrase KG, the shenanigans and (bleep) at Times Square tonight, to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! And tell Kathy Griffin I said hello if you see her with Anderson Cooper.
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (29.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 7.3 apg, .580 FG, .848 FT): Saddens Tweens all over America -- and the Commish -- by officially declaring he will never take part in a Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend.
2) Kevin Durant (33 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, .478 FG, .893 FT): Second 40-point game of the season, this one coming against the reeling Mavericks Thursday.
3) Carmelo Anthony (34 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg, .565 FG, .833 FT): Hyperextended his knee against the Lakers on Christmas Day; Knicks are 3-3 without him on the court after Friday's buzzer-beater loss in Sacramento.
4) Tim Duncan (21 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.3 bpg, .578 FG, .917 FT): Fifteen games in December, two games when he really shot the ball badly (combined 3-22 against Houston and Boston). In the other 13 games: 99 of 190 (.521). Human Metronome.
5) Chris Paul (17.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 8.5 apg, .426 FG, .955 FT): You had to feel sorry for Gordon Hayward Friday, left isolated at the top of the key Friday, trying to check CP3 down the gut of the fourth quarter. The result was, alas, quite predictable.
977,444 -- Votes for leading vote getter Kobe Bryant after the second round of fan voting for the Feb. 17 All-Star Game in Houston. Bryant overtook LeBron James (970,314 votes), who had led all players after the first round of voting.
254 -- Minutes between personal fouls called on LeBron James, a span covering seven games. James' "streak" finally ended when he was called for a foul against the Thunder's Serge Ibaka Tuesday, the first time since Dec. 8 that officials believed James had incorrectly come into contact with another player. It is good, apparently, to be the King.
1-- Games this season in which the Wizards have had two players score 20 or more points. They achieved the feat for the first time this season Friday in their win over Orlando, with Jordan Crawford going for 27, backed up by Nene's 23.
1) It is incredible what can happen to a franchise when it expects to start winning games instead of losing them. The Clippers -- the heretofore godawful, long national joke of a franchise Clippers -- now expect to win instead of lose. It is that simple. It is that hard to change. But once it is changed, amazing things are possible.
2) When the Bucks are really committed to moving the basketball, they are a very difficult team to defend. With Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings taking turns breaking down the defense, and Larry Sanders finishing at the rim, they beat Miami at their own smallball game with ease Saturday, on a night when Ellis didn't even shoot it all that well.
3) Good to see you back, Eric Gordon. Hope you can stay on the court for a while.
4) A Nasty Game, indeed. Kick it.
5) Without getting specific -- because this column isn't for letting athletes hawk their wares -- the new spate of commercials with Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin that debuted around Christmas are very good.
6) As we start the New Year, this should make us all feel slightly better about the world and our fellow sharers of it.
1) On Saturday, the Rockets announced that Royce White had accepted a D-League assignment to Rio Grande. On Sunday, White said he wasn't reporting, saying the Rockets' front office was not qualified to dispense mental health advise and was putting him in an "unsafe" position. If there is a resolution possible, it isn't visible from here.
2) Dwyane Wade is too good an athlete to "accidentally" kick an opponent in the groin. You can do better.
3) The Christmas uniforms...well, the commercial was great. The unis (except for Denver's)? Not so much.
4) I hope this isn't it, Brandon Roy. You've given it your all in your comeback attempt. But it doesn't sound very good.
5) RIP to two of the great actors of their generation, Jack Klugman and Charles Durning. It should go without saying that Klugman's portrayal of sportswriter/columnist Oscar Madison in the television adaption of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" was one of the great character roles. And there was no one who worked more than Durning, who appeared in more than 200 TV shows and movies over a five-decade career. But you should read more about Durning. Not only was he one of the first U.S. soldiers on the ground on D-Day in Normandy, surviving wounds in battle, he subsequently was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and escaped a prisoner massacre. He was awarded three Purple Hearts and the Silver Star. And then he turned to acting. What a remarkable life.
6) Another sign of the print apocalypse. But, honestly, I can't remember the last time I'd bought an issue of Newsweek.
Players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and Kevin Durant will never have to worry about shipping their clothes from one city to another with an hour's notice. They'll never have to take their kids to school in the middle of the semester and enroll them in another school a thousand miles away within a week. They'll never have to sell a house or get their mail forwarded. The NBA's elite players get to decide where they'll play, and for how long. Only rarely do the great players get traded without their approval.
But for most of the rest of the NBA's players, staying in one city for your whole career is a pipe dream, and playing for a team is often a year-to-year proposition. Such has been the case recently for Shaun Livingston, once a budding star in the league, now a point guard for hire. The 27-year-old Livingston was the fourth pick in the 2004 Draft by the Clippers, a ballhandling, passing whiz with the size to see over most defenders. Of course, his career arc changed forever when he suffered that gruesome knee injury in L.A. early in the 2008-09 season, and since then, he's bounced from team to team -- Miami, Oklahoma City, Washington, Charlotte, Milwaukee. He was with the Rockets this year before being released at the end of camp, but he was quickly picked up by the Wizards again off waivers in late November.
With John Wall on the shelf indefinitely and replacement A.J. Price out with a broken hand, Washington needed a point guard badly. But after appearing in just 17 games for the Wizards, Livingston was released two days before Christmas. He didn't stay unemployed long, though, as he was claimed off waivers by the Cavaliers on Christmas Day. As the schedule would have it, he was back in D.C. a day later with his new team, which played the Wizards last Wednesday. He had yet to actually set foot in Cleveland.
Me: Take me through the last 72 hours—from the time you play your last game for the Wizards on Saturday to today (Wednesday), when you're back in D.C. with the Cavaliers.
Shaun Livingston: So, Saturday, we have the game Saturday against Detroit, end up coming back, after the game, maybe about an hour after the game, was released. Sunday, flew out to L.A., 4 o'clock flight, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in L.A., got the call Christmas Day that there was a possibility I could be here (with the Cavaliers), got it confirmed about 5, 6 o'clock west coast time. Travel out here (to Washington, where the Cavs played Wednesday) an hour later, back here the next morning.
Me: Who told you that you were being released?
SL: Ernie (Grunfeld, the Wizards' president).
Me: What was the conversation like?
SL: Just telling me the end results. They wanted to switch things up. Wasn't really getting any results done. The record, obviously, played a big hand. They was just trying to find a spark, guys that were aware of the dynamics of the team and could be a sparkplug, somewhat. (The Wizards brought back guard Shelvin Mack, who'd been with the team last season before being released at the end of training camp, to replace Livingston.)
Me: When you spoke with your agent after being released, what did you want teams to know about your game that they may not have seen from you in Washington?
SL: I mean, obviously, that I was trying to give my effort, obviously that I was trying to be as professional as I can, and play the right way. Play the right way.
Me: Were you going home anyway, even before you knew you were being released?
Me: Was there a part of you that just wanted to chill a little once you got back to L.A., maybe wait a few days or a couple of weeks before jumping to another team?
SL: It was good to take a break. Just to get a breath of fresh air. I think that was the main thing, especially going through the type of season it's been this year. So that's always relaxing. That' s definitely like hitting the reset button. Sometimes, you know, people need that...I saw my brother. I spent it out there with my brother, my cousin. I got to sleep in my own bed, you know what I mean? Get off of the box springs.
Me: So Cleveland called...Monday?
SL: I got the call...Tuesday.
Me: Was it Chris (Grant, the Cavs' GM) or (assistant GM) Dave Griffin?
Me: What did he say?
SL: Possibility. Possibility.
Me: Were there other possibilities?
Me: So when you're deciding between teams, what's the criteria?
SL: Personnel. Playing time. Coaching. That was really it: personnel, playing time, coaching and system.
Me: Any experience with Byron Scott before?
SL: No. (I) obviously knew him as a player back in the day, but as a coach, you know he played. Those type of dynamics, having a player-coach relationship, a coach who played, been in this league.
Me: Who else called?
SL: I had a couple of other teams. There was some interest in the Eastern Conference. I think, I'm not sure exactly, but I think Philly was interested, Detroit, maybe some of those teams. I don't know exactly the strength of their interest.
Me: Were you renting while you were in D.C., or staying in a hotel?
SL: I actually rented a condo.
Me: So what do you do with that place?
SL: I don't know—sublease it? You looking for a spot? (Laughs) Downtown. I don't know. I'll find something. There's what, four months left (on the lease).
Me: What do you want to show the Cavs while you're here?
SL: I don't know. I'm gonna fit in, obviously, with the system they have here, play hard and really try to help with the experience, my experience, just being in the league. Try to stay consistent and steady. It's such a long season, so many ups and downs. Just try to be a voice of reason.
Me: Does the car get shipped to Cleveland or L.A.?
SL: The car will be to Cleveland, from D.C. to Cleveland. It's not a bad trip...I'll probably get an auto transport.
Me: And where do you live in Cleveland?
SL: That's a good question. Probably a hotel, until I find a spot, a corporate (hotel), more likely corporate, self-furnished, a place where you can check in and check out.
Me: Do you ever not want to do this any more, just because of all the moves you've had to do?
SL: That's the hardest part, really. It's the business of basketball. It's the hardest thing to deal with on my level. You've got guys that have been on one team their whole careers. I think it really depends on the player. I love the game, obviously. It's loved me back. And so, I'm going to play as long as I can. This stuff kind of gets old, but it's part of it. I'm more of a realist. I accept reality, and I make the most of it.
been sitting on this plane since about 8 am tho...I'm bout to start a fist fight with Samardo just so I feel like something is happening
-- Cavs guard C.J. Miles (@masfresco), Thursday, 2:14 p.m., while waiting to finally get out of Washington after the team's flight back to Cleveland was delayed six-plus hours because of snow in Ohio and high winds in D.C. Miles did not actually pick a fight with teammate Samardo Samuels, as far as we know.
"The information that the Houston Rockets have publicly presented about this situation has been extremely misleading and a lot of times totally inaccurate. An image of support has been presented by the Rockets, but the only logical support here would be listening to the recommendation of the medical professionals involved. That has not totally happened here. I have chosen to not play, because the doctors and I believe it to be unsafe for unqualified Rockets front office personnel to make medical decisions, as they are not mental health professionals."
-- Rockets first-round pick Royce White, in a statement released Sunday, detailing why he refused to accept an assignment to Houston's D-League team. The Rockets had announced Saturday that White would report to Rio Grande, in what the team called the next step in a "multi-week" plan to get White ready to play for the parent club. White has not played all season, claiming the Rockets have not been willing to address the issues developing from White's anxiety disorder in a proactive manner.
"I just feel like — never overreacting to a loss — we just got to start getting back to who we are as individuals. Turning off the TV and stop looking at articles on ourselves and start just losing ourselves in the team a little bit more then the sky's the limit."
--Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, to the Oklahoman after OKC's Christmas Day loss in Miami.
"Often times, situations like that have nothing to do with the ability of the coach. It has more to do with circumstances. We've seen it before. I can't help but think sometimes a little patience could go a long way."
--Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, detailing his unhappiness with the Nets' decision to fire his former point guard and now fellow coach Avery Johnson on Thursday.
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