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David Aldridge

Memphis' concerns over the NBA's new economy led to Rudy Gay's trade to Toronto.

Cap fears force Grizz to tear down promising core too soon


Posted Feb 4, 2013 12:47 PM

Here stands Rudy Gay, a very good if not great NBA player. For years, good-if-not-great players have often been paid like great ones, the fortunate sons who are able to take advantage of owners who think they know what pieces will help them win. That Gay is no longer in Memphis is evidence of a new NBA, one where talent will indeed be redistributed. But if you think this is going to end the prohibitive financial advantages teams like the Lakers and Knicks have, you're crazy.

The Grizzlies traded Gay to Toronto in a three-team deal last week for various reasons, each of which received greater emphasis depending on the audience Memphis' new management team was trying to convince. It told the advanced-stats crowd that Gay's PER and such were terrible. It told the locals in Memphis that the Grizzlies were simply looking to follow in the footsteps of teams like the Spurs, and were certainly willing to continue to spend money. To the basketball purists, the deal was sold as allowing Memphis to return to its low-post roots, feeding former All-Star Marc Gasol and current All-Star Zach Randolph.

Except, of course, the Grizzlies seem to be shopping Randolph, too.

The Grizzlies got young forward Ed Davis from Toronto as part of the trade, along with veteran forward Tayshaun Prince, whom they acquired from Detroit (along with forward Austin Daye) for guard Jose Calderon.

The irony is that five years ago last Friday, Memphis' general manager, Chris Wallace, incurred the wrath of the NBA world when he did what small-market teams were supposed to do -- turn his best player into a bunch of future assets. When Wallace traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers for four players and two Draft picks in 2008, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich crushed him, while most of the rest of the league just ripped him. The Lakers won two titles with Pau Gasol, while Wallace kept adding solid pieces in Memphis.

Marc Gasol -- whom the Grizz got from L.A. in the '08 trade -- lost weight and became a force. Randolph, thought a locker room cancer in Portland earlier in his career, became a leader with the Grizzlies. Wallace drafted Mike Conley to play point guard, ignored those who said Conley would never turn into anything special, and extended him for $40 million. Management brought Lionel Hollins back for a third tour of duty as coach.

And the Grizzlies started to win. Two seasons ago, the eighth-seeded Grizz stunned the Spurs in the first round. Last year they took the Clippers seven games before bowing out in the first round.

They probably weren't as good as the Thunder. But why would they be expected to be when they had only been together a couple of years?

"We had something good going there," former Grizzlies guard and current Mavs guard O.J. Mayo said Friday morning.

Mayo was the first domino to fall, even before Robert Pera completed the purchase of the team from Michael Heisley last year for $340 million. Memphis had been trying to trade Mayo for more than a year (an agreed-upon deal with Indiana in 2011 fell through at the last minute) because the Grizzlies had no intention of paying Mayo -- another good-but-not-great player -- what he would likely be asking for when he became a free agent in the summer of 2012. In the end, Mayo signed a two-year deal with Dallas for $8.2 million, although 2013-14 is a player option.

"It's like it's complicating things, making it hard, looking at numbers," Mayo said of the Grizzlies' approach. "This, that, percentages on the floor, off the floor. It's a good team, a young team. Things are going to happen. It's not too many times that an organization that started down here did good at putting guys in the right spots. Obviously with the new salary cap and stuff, it's going to be tough. But they had a great team. They should have just kept it together and grew."

Of course, the new collective bargaining agreement is designed precisely to keep teams from doing that. The repeater tax kicks in next season for teams over the threshold. The limits on teams $4 million or more above the threshold being able to do sign and trade deals with other teams kick in next season. All the new rules are in place to make teams make decisions on exactly how many good players they can afford to keep.

The big boys felt the pinch last summer. Chicago (Omer Asik) and New York (Jeremy Lin) each passed on the $25 million offer sheets those players got from Houston.

But the smaller markets have got been hit, too, and they don't have the piles of cash from corporate sponsorships or local television deals to fall back on like the bigger markets. Oklahoma City, famously, chose to trade James Harden (to Houston, natch) before the regular season rather than have a third max deal on its books. Now comes Memphis.

Trading Gay, the Grizzlies' leading scorer, is being looked at in one of two ways around the league. Those who believe Gay is grossly overpaid (with $37 million left on his deal over two years), especially for someone who shoots just 40 percent and who has never made an All-Star team, think Memphis will be just as good if not better with Prince.

Others around the league, who believe in the Jim Valvano axiom, Don't Mess With Happy, aren't so sure.

"When you start taking about money moves, and you're doing things to save money, that's when you start talking about Clipperland," a veteran NBA player said Thursday.

Pera doesn't talk much to the media -- though the Four-Letter Network has become Grizzlies Media Central all of a sudden -- but he tried to spin things as positively as possible in a chat with Grizzlies fans on Friday.

"The recent San Antonio Spurs teams have also played at a consistent championship level without a dominant superstar," Pera wrote in the chat, which would come as a bit of a surprise to Tim Duncan. "And I believe with our recent moves, this Grizzlies team as now constructed can potentially become the latest example."

Pera wasted no time remaking the Grizzlies' front office. He fired longtime director of player personnel Tony Barone, Sr., and Barone's son, Tony Barone, Jr., the team's director of scouting. He hired former agent Jason Levien, who had briefly been the assistant GM in Sacramento before becoming part of the ownership group in Philadelphia that bought the 76ers in 2011, as the Grizzlies' CEO.

Levien then hired John Hollinger, an analyst hired by ESPN.com many years ago after developing several advanced basketball statistics that many teams now use, as the Grizzlies' vice president of basketball operations. Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating (PER) has become a standard measuring stick to rank the league's most effective players. Levien also brought in former player agent Stu Lash to become the Grizzlies' new director of player personnel and basketball development.

A reasonable person could conclude from all those moves that Pera is looking for a different approach to evaluating, selecting and compensating players. Of course, everyone says for the record that Wallace will work with Levien, Hollinger and Lash, and that is true. Until the moment it is no longer true, which is likely sooner rather than later.

Maybe the Warriors don't believe in the new basketball metrics that seem to have tipped the scales in Memphis. But there was a reason that, when Golden State's players heard Gay had been traded, the phrase on every player's lips, according to a witness, was "fourth seed!" As in, "We've got the fourth seed in the West locked up now!"

Gay may be a 40 percent shooter, but the Warriors had seen him make shots down the stretch of two or three games the last couple of years, and they're glad to see him gone. There was a reason Andrew Bogut (see below) was delighted to hear that the Grizzlies might not be done dealing.

If the Grizzlies' new front office truly thought that the group it inherited had gone as far as it could, that it couldn't beat Oklahoma City or the Clippers, fine. But how would it know? Gay was hurt and out with a shoulder injury during the 2011 playoff run, yet the Grizz reached the West semis and took the Thunder to seven games. (By the way, Gay scored 28 against OKC in his one game against them this season, on a decidedly-not-40-percent 12-of-21 shooting -- by far his best performance against Kevin Durant to date.)

"When you looked at the game plan for them, and you say, 'We have to account for these guys tonight,' [Gay] was one of them," the veteran player said.

Last season, Randolph was basically playing on one leg, trying to come back from a torn MCL, when the Grizzlies lost in the first round. No one seems to also mention that Memphis played all of last season without top reserve Darrell Arthur, who missed the season after tearing his Achilles' in the preseason.

The teams that win championships, Chris Webber said to me a year or so ago, are stubborn. They stick with their beliefs, their system, their players and their coach (here is where we mention that Hollins is in the final year of his contract, and made his feelings clear when he told TNT's Craig Sager before last Thursday's game with the Thunder: "When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget").

But Pera and Co. were determined to get the Grizzlies under the tax threshold of $70.4 million. They accomplished that in mid-January, dealing Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a 2015 first-rounder to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. The trade saved Memphis more than $6 million in salary and ensured Pera that he would not pay any tax, but it cost the Grizzlies two valuable reserves in Speights and Ellington (Selby, taken in the second round of the 2011 Draft, is a long-term project.)

So, what was the rush to deal Gay? Why not see if a full rotation, with Gay and Z-Bo both healthy, could break through this season? If not, you could always deal Gay in the summer. Was there a small forward in this upcoming Draft that is better than Rudy Gay? Do you think Toronto, on the express train to another lottery, wouldn't have jumped on a chance to get Gay in July, as opposed to now?

This is when a cynic wonders if promises were made not only to avoid paying tax, but to avoid finishing in the red at all this season. This is when a cynic wonders why ownership took Gasol and Conley to dinner in San Francisco before the Grizzlies played the Warriors last month, but didn't take Randolph or Gay -- and if they understand how that was received in the locker room, or cared.

This is when a cynic notes that the Grizzlies were projected to be one of the teams that will be getting enhanced revenue sharing payouts of about $16 million starting next season.

The Grizzlies' new front office people are very media savvy and know how to get the word out to their favored outlets. The advanced statistics, of course, point to the Gay trade as a good one for Memphis. (This is not an anti-advanced stats polemic; one can see the utility of some new numbers yet also be skeptical that they explain everything about a basketball player or team.)

The deal may well wind up a good one for Memphis. Prince's value as a smart, defensive small forward is well worth his salary this year and next, which is far less than Gay's. Plus, Prince was with quality players during the Pistons' run of six consecutive Eastern Conference finals appearances in the 2000s. He's a solid scorer and shooter, never shooting less than 44.8 percent. And his defense remains first-rate, a weapon the Grizzlies can unleash on the likes of Durant in the postseason.

In Prince's first game for Memphis, against Washington on Friday, he made all the right plays on offense when the Grizzlies posted him up, scoring a basket and making three excellent passes out of the post.

The Grizzlies said they made the deal to allow them to make future moves without worrying about luxury-tax implications. They also got a $7.5 million trade exception out of the deals, which they could use to trade for a player making up to that amount for a future Draft pick. (Of course, having traded their first-rounder this year to Minnesota and the 2015 first to Toronto, the Grizzlies can't trade their 2014 first under the Stepien Rule, which prohibits trading first-rounders in consecutive years.)

But having all that "flexibility" only matters if you use it. I have been around far too long not to remember a whole lot of teams that crowed about all the cap space and trade exceptions that they had, only to never use them, pocketing the saved money, and trying to convince their fans that they were far better off holding onto the space for a rainy day.

If the Grizzlies do break through with their new team and get to the West finals or The Finals, what will they do when they have to spend to keep the core together? Will they re-sign guard Tony Allen, one of the team's core leaders, who's a free agent this summer?

What if Davis, who's put up good numbers as a starter in Toronto this season, continues that development over the next year or so, and becomes a restricted free agent in 2014? The Grizzlies will be in the same boat they claim was too confining now; they'll have to pay to keep a quality piece of the rotation or jettison him to stay under the tax.

I don't think Pera and his group don't want to win. I have no doubt they think they're doing the right thing, both financially and basketball-wise. But if Mark Cuban gets ripped for never giving his 2010 championship Mavs team a chance to defend its title, Pera can't skate after shaking up his roster before his team had a real chance to win one.

DRIBBLES

It was a side of LeBron James that does not get seen often.

You saw it when James was handed the Larry O'Brien trophy last June, finally winning his first NBA title. There was awe and wonder in his eyes. And you saw it last week, when James spoke in front of President Barack Obama, as the Heat were honored for their championship at the White House. That wasn't the angry James of the post-Decision first season in Miami, or the clinical James that doesn't let too many people know what he's really thinking.

"It was me," James said last week.

In his 10th NBA season, James seems as comfortable in his skin as he's ever been. He has become himself as a man; this is his game, and these are his friends, and this is his life. He is comfortable enough in his ability to not view working out with Kevin Durant in the summer as something you shouldn't do with your chief rival.

Not to get too Dr. Melfi on you, but when James spoke about how amazed he was that he, a kid from Akron, Ohio, was in the White House with the President of the United States, it seemed like he was finally willing to let the rest of the world in. He let us see the world as he sees it, and live with whatever judgments come from that, and be comfortable with displaying that kind of vulnerability.

"Once he said, 'Keep it informal,' ... I'm not gonna go against what the Prez says," James said. "I know where I come from, and I know what's got me here, and that's the basketballs bouncing. I wouldn't be at the White House if not for the game of basketball. We're all kids from cities that people didn't know too much about. I know I'm (from) one of the small cities. To take me all the way to the White House, that's amazing."

Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem were the only holdovers from the 2006 Heat team that won the title and got an audience with President George W. Bush. (Oddly, Ray Allen came with the Heat, even though he was with the Celtics' team that lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals. Rashard Lewis, who was with the Wizards last season, and new big man Chris Andersen, who was languishing on the Nuggets' bench during Denver's first-round playoff series with the Lakers, were on the trip, too.)

But James could share the moment with the likes of Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller and Shane Battier, as well as with Wade and Chris Bosh, the two main cogs of the SuperFriends that had been put together in 2010 to bring titles to South Beach.

"I loved seeing the smiles on my teammates' faces, and them getting a lot of credit -- sometimes not enough credit -- for what they do," James said. "To have a moment like that, every time they show that, my teammates will be there with me, and Chris and D-Wade. That's the best moment for me."

Even his teammates didn't expect that side of James to come out publicly.

"The one thing that surprised [me] about it is he's been so many places, he's done so many great things," Wade said. "When you seen that come, when you see that kid jump out of him at that moment, you just realize that how much you do in life, no matter where you go, there's certain things that's just always going to be cool to you, and always going to be special. It's just a moment to remember where you came from. I think all of us at that point on that stage, everyone up there was just thinking about where we came from, and was thinking, this is way cool. This is a cool moment."

The Sports Photo Op has become a ritual at the White House in recent years, with all sorts of teams getting their 15 minutes with the President. It's easy to become jaded about the ceremony ... unless you're in the ceremony.

"It was a special moment," Heat coach Erik Spolestra said. "We took a second [Tuesday] before practice to thank each other for that experience. We were all a part of everything that led up to that. I thought it was important that we thanked each other for that, but also to remember everything that went into it last year, the sacrifices and all the work, the perseverance. That was a unique day. Not many people can say they were on the podium with the President. A lot of pictures. I felt like a tourist."

The Heat entourage also got some brief private time with President Obama in the Blue Room.

"I just congratulated him on his second term," James said. "He congratulated us on winning the championship, and also thanked me for being on the Olympic team and representing our country at the highest level. That was pretty cool, that he noticed and was aware of things like that. That was awesome."

Miami's defense of its championship will depend on the Heat being able to recreate moments far more mundane the second half of the season. The Heat's defensive rating of 105 points allowed is currently tied for 12th best in the league; last season, Miami was fourth, at 100.2 points allowed. The team's struggles at keeping opponents off the glass and finding quality depth have been well documented.

Yet the Heat are still making do, in large part because their offense is even more efficient than it was in their 2012 championship season. Miami is third in offensive rating this season after finishing eighth last season, and the Heat's effective field goal percentage (which takes 3-pointers into account) of .542 leads the league, no doubt aided by Ray Allen's presence and James' ever-improving halfcourt game.

Miami, as evidenced by its loss to Indiana last week, still has trouble with size. The Heat have lost to Chicago, Utah and Memphis. But the Heat have had no trouble with Brooklyn and Brook Lopez, winning all three meetings with the Nets handily, and they've also beaten Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

"The one thing that I know is that we can compete for a championship," James said. "That's what we're here for. That's the goal, to put ourselves in a position to win a championship. And we can get it done."

The margin for error will be smaller, unless Andersen or some other unlikely contributor makes a difference in the playoffs. But Miami can still get it done with small ball as long as it is locked in on its opponent and giving Spoelstra those multiple-effort possessions. The Heat is still the team to beat.

And now that he's been to the White House, there's other items on James' Bucket List.

"There's things I haven't done," he said. "I want to go to Rome, see the Coliseum. I want to see the Pyramids in Egypt. I want to do a couple of things like that. I haven't done that yet, for obvious reasons -- I've been stuck playing basketball for the last three years. So I haven't had much time to do that ... I've got a lot of time after the game of basketball. The Pyramids and Coliseum, they ain't going anywhere."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

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

1) San Antonio (2-0) [1]: Won its 10th straight game on Saturday, over Washington. It's the third straight season the Spurs have had at least one win streak of 10 or more games; they've had six such streaks during those three years, including three (11, 11 and 10 games) during the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12.

2) Oklahoma City (1-1) [3]: There are outbursts that are just part of the heat of a game, and aren't a big deal. But Russell Westbrook's deal last week with Thabo Sefolosha seemed bigger. He's got to figure out a better way to channel his anger. The anger is fine. The way he occasionally expresses it to teammates is not.

3) Miami (2-1) [2]: Chris Andersen and Jarvis Varnado are the latest hopes the Heat have of finding a big man help for the second half of the season and the stretch drive

4) Chicago (3-1) [5]: Bulls continue to show incredible resolve, winning without Noah and Boozer last week after winning without Luol Deng the previous week.

5) N.Y. Knicks (3-0) [6]: Back in the hunt for the best record in the East with Miami after unbeaten week.

6) Indiana (2-1) [7]: Don't believe much in regular season "statement" games, but the Pacers' confidence must be high after pounding the Heat Friday at Bankers' Life Fieldhouse, their second convincing win over Miami.

7) Denver (3-0) [8]: Offense in overdrive; averaged 111 points per game in three wins, shooting 50 percent.

8) L.A. Clippers (1-2) [4]: Lost six of last eight and allowed two more points per game over last 10 games. Care to guess what's been different lately?

9) Memphis (2-1) [9]: Grizzlies still need some perimeter shooting, even after trading half of their team.

10) Brooklyn (2-1) [10]: Barclays Center has already drawn 1 million patrons to Nets games and other events in less than five months since its opening last October.

11) Golden State (4-0) [13]: Warriors have a very, very determined look about them these days. Still better to have Steph Curry back on the court.

12) Atlanta (1-1) [11]: Summit meeting between Josh Smith's agents and the Hawks, scheduled for last week, postponed until today or Tuesday.

13) Houston (2-1) [14]: Patrick Patterson making the most out of his opportunities starting at power forward for the Rockets, shooting 67 percent (35-of- 52) in the last six games.

14) Utah (2-2) [12]: Injuries may be affecting Jazz defense: Utah has given up an average of 103.2 points per game in the last five games, including 125 in a 45-point home loss to Houston last Monday.

15) Milwaukee (2-2) [15]: Larry Sanders has a blocked shot in 32 straight games, the current consecutive games mark in that category in the league.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Denver (4-0): Nuggets have won 13 of their last 16 since the start of January. Not coincidentally, Ty Lawson shot 48 percent from the floor (all together, and from 3-point range) in January after shooting 41 percent from the floor and 37 percent behind the arc in December.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Orlando (0-4): Glen Davis (broken left foot surgery) looks doubtful to return by season's end, and now Arron Afflalo (calf) has joined him in dry dock. But, there was some good news for the Magic: if the 76ers make the playoffs this season -- a greater possibility now that Boston's dealing with losing Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger for the season -- Orlando will get a protected 2015 first-round pick from Philly as part of the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum-Andre Iguodala trade.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Who should be the next Executive Director of the National Basketball Players' Association?

The NBPA lies in smoldering ruins, the dysfunction of the last few years, the mistrust and paralysis of years of neglect finally leading to a critical mass of players publicly seeking Billy Hunter's permanent ouster after the union voted to put Hunter on an indefinite leave of absence on Friday. But that's just semantics; Hunter will almost certainly be gone in a couple of weeks, when player representatives meet in Houston during All-Star weekend.

As I type that, though, I am mindful of Hunter's skills as an orator and attorney. You get him in front of a "jury" of players in Houston, he might be able to talk himself out of getting fired. But the chances seem to be dwindling with each passing day, as some of Hunter's most ardent supporters were among the five members of the union's executive committee that voted unanimously to put him on leave.

Hunter will, obviously, have to answer for his ethically questionable decisions to put so many family members on the union's payroll over the years, either directly or indirectly. His last-second gesture last week of firing his daughter from her union position, along with removing his daughter-in-law from her job after the All-Star break and cutting ties with the financial firm that employed his son, seem too little, too late. Raising the point that the union's finances have gone from red to black during his 17-year tenure isn't very persuasive to a clientele that just gave up 13 percent of its collective salary over the next decade in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with the league.

Ron Klempner, who has loyally and ably served the union as its general counsel for the last several years, was named temporary executive director in a statement released by the union's president, Derek Fisher, on Friday. Klempner, to the best of my knowledge, has never had any designs on the job, even though he is widely respected by players; if he wanted the job permanently, there would be no one who knew the issues or players better.

But the sense here is that the union requires a fumigation. There have never been any questions about Klempner's competence or ethics, and any new executive director would be smart to keep him on if he wanted to stay there. But the union needs a fresh start at its most important position. It needs someone that isn't affiliated with the old regime. It needs to send a message that it will be ready to fight the battles of the 21st century.

In 1996, when the union sought to permanently replace Simon Gourdine, the previous executive director, it used the headhunting firm Spencer Stuart, which came up with finalists Bill Strickland, a well-respected attorney and agent, Hunter and Terdema Ussery, the Nike Sports executive and former commissioner of the Continental Basketball Association. Hunter was the unknown back then, a former U.S. District Attorney in California and ex-NFL player. It's time to get another executive search going.

Here are three names that would make sense: David Cornwell, Dick Berthelsen and Ed Tapscott.

Cornwell, who joined the Atlanta branch of the law firm Gordon & Rees last year, has 25 years of experience on all sides of the sports law landscape. He started his career as an NFL lawyer, helping draw up the league's drug policy with its players in the mid 1990s, as well as developing the NFL's minority coaches hiring program. He went on to work with Leigh Steinberg, the former football uber-agent, and then the Upper Deck trading card company.

More recently, Cornwell has been hired by several prominent NFL players who have had various legal problems -- most notably, getting notice that they've violated the league's drug policy. As the guy who helped write the policy in the first place, Cornwell seems to know exactly where the weak spots of the policy are. He also is currently the executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, which represents the interests of head coaches and assistant coaches looking to move up.

Cornwell unsuccessfully ran for the NFLPA's executive director job in 2009, losing to DeMaurice Smith. The two have not had much use for each other since; Cornwell has publicly criticized Smith frequently in the last couple of years, while the NFLPA is currently in litigation against the NFLCA and Cornwell over more than $650,000 the NFLPA says it is owed by the Coaches Association.

Berthelsen was the longtime general counsel for the NFLPA, who retired in 2012 and was the indispensable man through four decades of negotiations between players and the league. He was executive director Gene Upshaw's consigliere and sounding board, and the institutional memory of the union -- and was, briefly, the acting executive director after Upshaw's death in 2008. No one has been involved in sports labor longer; Berthelsen helped negotiate four new CBAs and five extensions of existing CBAs. No one had a better working relationship with the major players.

Tapscott, the Wizards' Director of Player Development, has been on every side of the labor-business battle over the last three decades, on all sides. He has been a team executive (the initial COO of the Charlotte Bobcats, who was directly responsible for building the Time Warner Cable Center, and former GM of the Knicks). He has been a coach, serving as the Wizards' interim coach in 2010.

But he was also a former player agent, for the late Lee Fentress' Advantage International. And he is an attorney. There isn't anyone who is a quicker study and more able to break down complex issues than Tapscott.

Full disclosure: Tapscott is a friend. I have known him since I was an undergrad at American University in the 1980s, running the school newspaper, and he was AU's basketball coach. I know and like David Cornwell personally. We are good acquaintances, if not close friends, and I know his family. I don't know Berthelsen personally, but worked with him quite often when I covered the NFL back in the day. But those relationships do not color my objectivity about whether any of them could do the job.

Fisher has temporarily moved to New York, home of the NBPA's offices in Harlem, to work on the various issues that have come up while the dual investigations into Hunter's practices by the law firm Paul, Weiss (which concluded last month with a sharply critical report of Hunter) and by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York (which never discloses when it's done) were ongoing. Reportedly, he has no interest in the executive director's job.

Which would be a good thing. For Fisher, whom I respect greatly, is not the answer, either.

He is not on a roster at the moment, and while there are some arguments to having an executive run the union who isn't beholden to the NBA schedule, players want someone representing them who is in their shoes. While there is certainly precedent for an ex-player taking on the responsibilities of executive director -- Upshaw led the NFLPA through several labor struggles into an era of relative peace until his death -- the NBPA needs fresh air.

No matter Fisher's experience and knowledge, the latest CBA negotiations have harmed his reputation with a good number of players. Fisher, like Hunter, can sometimes be secretive and disappear when candor and accessibility would serve him better. He often makes statements through his personal publicist rather than through the union.

Fisher initially, and unilaterally, put in motion the hiring of law firm Patton Boggs to perform the internal review. Only after objections were raised did Fisher relent and agree to have Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison conduct the review. Some players questioned why Fisher was so adamant about bringing Patton into the mix. Yet Fisher has certainly earned the right to remain involved in the union's restructuring as president.

But there can't be any questions about how the next executive director is chosen. The search must be transparent, inclusive and beyond reproach. (And, even though everyone feels free now to take shots at Hunter, the search -- and whomever is selected -- must give Hunter a way to leave gracefully and with some dignity. He has done many things wrong that have led to this moment, but he has also helped a lot of players get huge paydays over the last 15 years.)

None of this matters if the players don't take more firm control of their union in the wake of Hunter's controversies. There have to be more than a handful of players who give a damn, who follow through, who stay connected to the union leadership and ask the tough questions, not falling back on, "'I'm just a player" excuses.

None of this will matter if the NBA's superstars don't get more engaged in the process, and tie the success and effectiveness of the union to their own reputations. MLB's union and the NFLPA are much more effective because so many of those sports' stars have skin in the game, and put themselves on the line -- the likes of Tom Glavine in baseball, and Drew Brees in football. Chris Paul is repeatedly named by both those intimately involved in the union and those who rarely engage as someone who could command respect immediately.

If players don't make the effort, the power vacuum formed by Hunter's departure will be filled by someone -- and, likely, it will be someone with an agenda that is not the same as theirs.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

They let Spinal Tap keep touring in Asia, didn't they? From Wande Salako:

I'm a faithful Celtics fan and I keep seeing people bringing up KG and trade. I feel like people keep forgetting that he has a NO TRADE clause. So, why do people keep throwing his name into the trade pot? I doubt that there is anyway that it can be broken. Also I think it makes no sense to break-up this team. Minus some inconsistency, this is a good team. I mean once they get on flow and play Celtics defense and move the ball well without Rondo, than I believe that all will be well. Also, I will be VERY UPSET if Paul is traded, I love that man!

Because of the no-trade clause, I doubt you'll see KG moved anywhere. I don't know that the Lakers hold any great sway over him, even though he has an offseason home in Malibu. Pierce is the guy who could bring the most back, whether from the Clippers (which could at least offer the Cs a solid package of assets), the Nuggets (Denver doesn't have a go-to guy down the stretch other than Andre Miller) or someone else. But that's going to be a tough sell for Danny Ainge, even with Boston's obvious decline.

He must break you. And, the bank. From Dimitar Kazarmov:

(Nikola) Pekovic is about to be a free agent this summer and will likely command a $10-plus million per-year contract somewhere. (Ricky) Rubio will also be paid big money soon. But here is some food for thought, if you are a Timberwolf -- extend Peck and trade (Kevin) Love!

  • Love is an All-Star, and his stock at the moment is higher
  • It is doubtful whether he will re-sign with the Wolves
  • His repeated hand injury
  • Today, stretch 4s are easier to find than classic centers
  • Pekovic will be cheaper

Should the Wolves invest more in Nikola Pekovic than Kevin Love?

Peck is born 200 miles away from the place I am born, maybe I am not fair enough. What do you think?

That is a very plausible scenario, Dimitar. Love has made it quite clear that he doesn't think much of the Wolves' front office or ownership and that he still is salty about having to fight so hard for his extension. And so, team president David Kahn can say Love isn't on the trading block until the cows come home; eventually, Minnesota may well face a day of reckoning and have to pull the trigger. The Wolves could get a pretty good bounty in return for Love, and there would be any number of suitors. If Portland, for example, keeps adding assets to its roster, you could certainly see the Blazers making an offer in a year or so. Love went to high school at nearby Lake Oswego. Minnesota gave an offer sheet last summer to Portland's Nicolas Batum, who wanted very badly to play in Rick Adelman's system. However, Pekovic's value this summer is still a matter of debate.

They would prefer a more modern import than Kevin Spacey. From Jeff Knott:

Considering the NBA and NFL games which have been played in the UK. There has been a real mix of well- supported teams (Knicks in NBA, 49ers, Dolphins in NFL) and less glamorous teams (Pistons, Raptors in NBA, Buccaneers, Jaguars in NFL). There has also been a real mix of good teams (Knicks in NBA, Patriots, 49ers, Steelers in NFL) and weaker teams (Nets, Raptors, Pistons in NBA, Buccaneers, Jaguars in NFL). This has led to a mix of quality competitive games and some absolute blowouts (Sitting through the Pats destroys the Buccaneers at Wembley was not a great advert for American football!). It also strikes me there must be an inherent advantage of East coast teams over West coast teams travelling due to flight times and time differences. On that point, interesting that the NBA has only sent East coast(ish) teams across, while the NFL has sent a mix.

Obviously the top thing for UK fans would be two high-quality, closely matched teams.

Geography matters, especially when the games are in the regular season. The league doesn't mind travel to Europe from the East Coast; the Commish has often remarked that it takes just as long to go from New York to London as it does to go from New York to L.A. So my guess would be you'd continue to see east teams go to England -- though the Lakers would probably always be welcome, right Jeff?

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and other fake animal suggestions for Iran to send into space next time; chimps are so Cold War Ago! to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (27.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, .569 FG, .704 FT): On pace for career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and rebounds—while setting a career low in turnovers per game.

2) Kevin Durant (29.5 ppg, 9 rpg, 4.5 apg, .486 FG, .769 FT): Has scored fewer than 20 points just three times in 47 games this season, and not since Dec. 17.

3) Chris Paul (DNP-bruised right kneecap): Hasn't played since Jan. 21.

4) Carmelo Anthony (18 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.3 apg, .373 FG, .714 FT): Seems to be working so far with Amar'e Stoudemire, for which both players should get credit.

5) Tim Duncan (8 ppg, 5 rpg, 1 bpg, .500 FG, 1.000 FT): You wonder if Pop will keep Duncan out through the whole Rodeo Trip after he suffered a sprained left knee and sprained right ankle Saturday against the Wizards.

BY THE NUMBERS

$25,000 -- Fine for Raptors coach Dwane Casey after criticizing the officiating following Toronto's loss to the Hawks last Wednesday.

$25,000 -- Fine for Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle after criticizing the officiating following Dallas' loss to the Warriors last Thursday.

$15,800,000 -- Price of Deron Williams' new apartment/condo/fortress in Manhattan, according to the New York Post. The TriBeCa penthouse reportedly has 17-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) What a crazy Super Bowl!! Congrats to the Ravens for holding on, and to the 49ers for making a game of it in the second half. (And to Entergy for getting the lights back on in the Superdome. And to Beyonce for ... being Beyonce.)

2) Kyrie Irving is demanding to be included on the short list of the league's best point guards. Like, right now. He dominated one of the top two point guards, Russell Westbrook, in Cleveland Friday night, scoring 13 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter in the Cavs' win. Yes, it was just one game. But Irving's PER this season is in the top 15, he's sixth in the league in scoring and he's going to be on his first All-Star team in less than two weeks. And, he's 20.

3) I knew that Dirk Diggler had thrown a chair into a wall near the visitors' locker room at Golden State after the Mavs were upset by the Warriors in that classic first-round series in 2007, which produced a basketball-sized hole in the drywall. But I didn't know that he had been good-natured enough to sign his artwork until I took a good look underneath the hole last week.

4) You get the feeling the Pistons could be back in business real quick if they can find a legit wing this summer?

5) Play to the whistle rook! (Then again, I am decidedly a member of Team Caron. Love the guy. So I'm not gonna be critical of him here.)

6) To me -- and it is not up to me, of course -- the scenario advanced here, that Greg Oden signs with the Cavaliers and, slowly and gradually, builds himself back up over the next season or two, as opposed to going to a high-expectations place like Miami or Boston, makes a lot of sense.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) There is a need for oxygen in San Antonio this morning, as an entire city holds its breath waiting to hear when Tim Duncan will be able to return.

2) It's hard to be down 50 points in an NBA game, no matter how bad you're playing.

3) Technical foul, on me, for erroneously stating on NBA TV last week that the Mavericks could deal Elton Brand, whom they claimed off amnesty waivers, before this month's trade deadline. Players who were/are amnesty claims can't be traded by the team that claimed them for a year.

4) I think it's time to seriously consider whether the X Games are worth continuing.

5) You can call this Super Bowl ad a lot of things: kinda silly, lame and not especially funny. But I don't think it's racist. Sorry. There's actual racism to get offended and angry about, and this doesn't rise to it.

6) Dude, you already play with gay teammates. You just don't know it. But they do. And that's created a rupture in your locker room that could do lasting damage to your squad.

Q AND A: ANDREW BOGUT

Bogut was finally back on the court for the Warriors last week, seeing his first action for Golden State since the Warriors acquired him at the trade deadline last year from Milwaukee in a three-team deal. The first overall pick in the 2005 Draft spent the last several months rehabbing a right ankle that required microfracture surgery last spring—a procedure the team did not initially disclose. It was the latest physical challenge for Bogut, has gone through injury hell the last few years -- most notably, that gruesome elbow dislocation he suffered in 2011 while still in Milwaukee.

But the 29-year-old, who's on a 25-minute, non-back-to-back games limit for now, showed in his first couple of games that he still can guard bigs without help, rebound and block shots — all things the Warriors need if they're going to continue their surprisingly good season. "Andrew Bogut is a starting center," Coach Mark Jackson said, referring to his centers by committee approach while Bogut was rehabbing. "He's an elite defender, elite passer, elite rebounder, and a big-time post presence. So he makes us better across the board and completes us as a basketball team."

Me: What is it like to finally be back out there again?

Andrew Bogut: It's been a tough two months of rehab. It's just good to be back out on the floor, doing what I love, and especially getting a win.

Me: When you look at your team, what is the one thing that you've said to yourself would improve immediately when you got back on the court?

AB: Defend. Protect the paint. My role in Milwaukee was to score a little more than it is here, and I don't mind that. The scorers we have are phenomenal, so I knew when I came back I could really help the defense, block shots, take charges, and just really command the paint. I think I'm doing a good job of that.

Me: Does the timing on defense ever get rusty?

AB: I think it's IQ related, to be honest. I like to think my basketball IQ is pretty high. [Laughs] But, yeah, it's just talking, helping your teammates, being the quarterback of that defense, making sure that if there is a breakdown I'm coming over to maybe block a shot, get a piece of it, take a charge. That gives the confidence to our guards that they can push up on the ball, and I'm behind them to help.

Me: What will you and David Lee be able to do together, given your respective skill sets?

AB: The possibilities are endless. We're both great passers. He can shoot the ball very well. We can both handle the ball, put the ball on the floor. We're both good post players. We're both unselfish guys offensively. When you have a mix of that at the four and the five, I think it helps.

Me: How do you avoid putting pressure on yourself and maybe try to do too much?

AB: Because I've been through this already, with the elbow. And I've been through it at the start of the season, so I know I have to take my time with it. I'm not a huge numbers guy, where I'm always looking at my numbers. As long as we win, I don't really care what my numbers look like. So just coming back, I think patience is a word I'd probably say. Just be patient with it, and once it all comes together, it comes together.

Me: Do you give any thought to wearing an elbow brace to protect it?

AB: No. I think, it's pretty much as good as it's going to get right now. It's pretty good. They said two years from the injury, you'll probably stop feeling it. It's almost been two years; I had it cleaned out again about a year ago. It feels pretty good, but it's always something that'll be in the back of my mind.

Me: How is the range of motion in that elbow?

AB: Pretty close. It's pretty close [to the left], but it's about 10 degrees, 15 degrees [less]. I struggle shooting the ball sometimes. Sometimes I'll shoot a jumper and it'll just miss by two or three feet, and I'll wonder why. Every now and then it just gives out. That's just how it is.

Me: I know you're a tough guy, but have you been tired of being in constant pain the last two years?

AB: It's part of it. It's the way I play as well. I dive on loose balls. I get after it. I know a lot of people were frustrated with my injuries, but I've had two injuries that I can't control. I haven't had soft tissue or lack of conditioning injuries. I can't really control falling on someone's foot or getting shoved in the back and falling down on my elbow. It's frustrating, when you look back. All I can control is just trying to go out there and keep pushing.

Me: What did you think of that Memphis trade?

AB: Wow. There's a can of worms opened on that one. I hate to judge another franchise, but basically, you know, I guess money's come before winning, essentially. And that's scary. That's scary. Real scary. I guess they thought saving some money and maybe taking a couple more losses is something they'd like to do. I can't believe, I know Lionel [Hollins, the Grizzlies' head coach] personally as well, because I was with him in Milwaukee. I know that right now he really can't say much about it, but he'd be pissed, when you trade away one of your best players, and you've made a run the last two years, and you keep that group together, you've got a chance to do something special. And you trade a vocal piece of your team, it makes no sense to me.

Me: But for you guys, it's great.

AB: Yeah, make another one. We heard they're still trying to maybe move Z-Bo [Zach Randolph], too. So hopefully they do that. Send him to the East somewhere. We might even send them a Draft pick to do that trade with someone else.

Me: What is the ceiling for your team?

AB: I think if we stay together, the ceiling's very high. A lot of the good teams in the playoffs now, the ones you really look at, they started the same as us, kind of get a taste of the playoffs, and then the next year you go a little further. I think we can start doing that. We have all the right pieces. You look at our bench. Our bench is very productive. They've been huge for us this season. Two of the best shooters in the league [Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson] on the squad. I think if we just keep pushing, we'll be good.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Wow that was 1 crazy trade today. Are you serious Rudy Gay is right there under KD, Lebron, Kobe, and Melo. #badtrade
-- Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins), Wednesday, 6:09 p.m., expressing his opinion on the Memphis-Toronto-Detroit trade, and of Rudy Gay in the NBA firmament.

THEY SAID IT

"There's no reason Isaiah shouldn't have been in that game. He's had an incredible year and once again he's not even mentioned. So I feel like that's on the organization."
-- Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, to SI.com, expressing his disappointment that teammate Isaiah Thomas didn't get chosen as one of the 18 players for the Rising Stars Challenge including first- and second-year players that will be held during All-Star Weekend. The teams will be selected by "Coaches" Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley Thursday night on TNT.

"Rondo could be playing in another week. Who knows with him?"
-- Heat guard Dwyane Wade, when asked about the Celtics' future without guard Rajon Rondo, who tore his ACL a week ago last Friday.

"He's a unique talent, but sometimes a change of address is not bad. I'm not saying he's asked for a trade, but he would certainly not fight or resist a situation if it was the right situation."
--Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo, acknowledging to reporters in Toronto that he has been shopping former top overall pick Andrea Bargnani and is willing to trade him before the Feb. 21 deadline.

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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