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David Aldridge

The Maloof family remains at the crux of any decision regarding the Kings' future.

Maloofs still hold key in ever-shifting landscape of Kings' sale


Posted Mar 4, 2013 12:27 PM

We are in uncharted waters this morning.

One team, two cities, two bids, billions of dollars pledged, six weeks to decide. Someone will be elated; someone will be bitterly disappointed. There will be no Solomonic solution, no expansion to make everyone happy. There is a game on, and there will be only one winner.

Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and former NBA All-Star, has indeed made it close between his city, trying to keep its NBA team, and Seattle, the city that is looking to bring the NBA back to town.

Sacramento has made what looked like a gimme putt for Seattle a few weeks ago -- when a group lead by hedge fund manager Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced they'd reached agreement to buy controlling interest in the Kings and planned to move them to Seattle next season -- into a bending, breaking 15-footer going toward the water. It's still makeable. But it's no longer a sure thing.

Yet while Johnson formally announced his own group, with 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov making a formal bid to buy the Kings, with billionaire supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle (the "whales," as the local media and blogging community in Sacramento have referred to them) committing to build an arena in Sacramento, the power of incumbency still resides with the one name the people in Sacramento don't want to hear: Maloof.

The Maloofs -- specifically Joe, Gavin, Colleen, George, Phil and Adrienne Maloof-Nassif -- still own the Kings. And that still holds significant sway among NBA owners.

Owners do not like to tell other owners to whom they should sell their teams.

Informed sources that know the thinking of league owners still believe the ultimate decision on where the Kings will play next season won't be made by the owners on the finance or relocation committees. The final call is, and remains, the Maloofs' to make.

That doesn't mean the Maloofs couldn't ultimately decide to change their minds and swing their backing away from the Seattle group, if they are blown away by the Mastrov/Burkle deal. But it won't come because the league says so, or because David Stern pushes behind the scenes. It will come because they believe it is the best deal financially for them.

Mastrov formally applied to buy the Kings in an electronic communication to the league, and in a letter to the Maloofs expressing his interest, on Friday.

On Sunday, a source involved in the machinations between the team and the two cities put it this way: for the Maloofs to listen to any entreaties to move away from the Hansen group, there would have to be an extremely good reason. And that reason would have to be extremely well articulated.

Understand this, also, though: I believe the league, ultimately, wants to wash its hands of the Maloofs. And I think Stern is genuine in his desire to give Sacramento a legitimate, fair shot at arguing its position to the Board of Governors on April 18. There will be no thumbs on the scale before or during the BOG meeting.

Owners -- first on the Finance and Relocation Committees, and then the full Board -- will have to choose between two bids (though I'm told the Hansen bid is higher), similar in makeup (the Commish loves bids where one guy writes a big check, something both the Hansen and Mastrov groups have) and in intangibles (larger corporate money and TV market in Seattle; ultra-loyal fanbase and only-game-in-town pull of Sacramento).

In baseball, a tie goes to the runner, to the incumbent. Which, in this case, is Sacramento.

Will NBA owners see it that way? We all will find out in six weeks.

Sacramento can't do anything about that now. Yet what has occurred in the space of two months in the 916 is an incredible melding of money, politics and the passion of Johnson, who has worked tirelessly to produce a package that could pass league muster.

"Kevin performs under pressure," said Chris Lehane, a longtime political strategist who worked on Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign and who has been at Johnson's side the last couple of years trying to work with the Maloofs on an arena deal.

Lehane headed the "Think BIG Sacramento" task force that thought it had solved the decade-long problem of finding a suitable arena site when the city, the NBA, the business community and the Maloofs seemed to agree on a proposed $391 million public/private partnership. But the deal, which was announced with great fanfare a year ago at All-Star weekend, fell apart when the Maloofs walked away from the deal a month later.

Now, Lehane said by telephone Saturday, "at the end of the day, it was the mayor. Mastrov is someone who obviously had had an interest in owning a team or having participation in a team here. The 24 Hour Fitness [chain], I think the third or fourth shop was in Sacramento. These are two business guys, but they also had the synergy to work together."

There were other key parties, like Todd Chapman, CEO of JMA Ventures, the San Francisco-based company that owns the site on which Burkle wants to build the arena, a poor-performing mall known as Downtown Plaza. And there was Darius Anderson, the founder and CEO of Platinum Advisors, who has connective tissue with everyone involved.

Former sportswriter and mayoral spokesman R.E. Graswich Tweeted last week, Unmentioned hero in Kings drive is Darius Anderson, Sac lobbyist who formerly worked for Burkle & reps 24hr Fitness. Was key to Plaza sale

Anderson was a chief fundraiser for former California governor Gray Davis, but he was also Chief of Staff for Burkle's Yucaipa Companies for five years in the 1990s. And for the past several years, he's worked as a lobbyist for Mastrov's 24-Hour chain. He is one of those guys who seems to know everyone, and what they want and need.

"You've got two really unique and special individuals that I don't think have ego locked up in how the thing evolves," Anderson said by phone Friday. "What they want to do is have the most successful team. They want to have a viable financial enterprise. And they obviously want to respect the city of Sacramento and the Maloofs and everyone else."

Anderson has known Burkle for 25 years. "He is a guy who literally changed my life," Anderson said. "I wouldn't be where I was without him. He's a true visionary. Ron doesn't get his ego caught up in things."

When Burkle first expressed interest in buying the Kings a couple of years ago, Anderson said, he was not trying to show up or embarrass the Maloofs.

"When this whole thing started, this was not about even an anti-Maloofs deal," Anderson said. "This was, the Maloofs were leaving and they were going to Anaheim. This was about trying to put together a bunch of investors, and maybe they could buy another team."

Anderson had no doubt that Burkle could not only buy a team, but could use it as a catalyst for urban renewal. The two had worked together in San Francisco on Treasure Island, a long-debated spot of land near the city's Bay Bridge that has been eyed as a job- and residence-producing boon for the city since 1995. And Burkle's and Anderson's involvement with Treasure Island has not been without controversy.

The plan approved last year would have put a new arena in a section of Sacramento known as the Railyards. But Burkle and Anderson believe the Downtown Plaza site will work better.

"When I got involved with [Treasure Island], we thought it was going to be a six-year entitlement and we'd be in construction six years," Anderson said. "We just went into our 13th year. I hate to say it, but I've learned a lot from my mistakes. I just didn't think the Railyards would work within the timeline the Maloofs had ... from an urban development perspective, the greatest contribution you could make is to revitalize the downtown area."

When the proposed move to Anaheim fell through, Anderson and Burkle had another opportunity to put a plan together. But the Maloofs had Heismaned all locals buyers for years. So Anderson continued with the Downtown Plaza plan on its own merits.

"Other people had looked at it and other people had tried to acquire it," he said. "Todd Chapman said, 'Let's take a second look at this thing.' Then we went to the Mayor and said, 'Hey, this is what the deal is.' And then we went to Ron. We sort of pulled everybody together. Everything was the right timing. When we did the Downtown Mall, Seattle hadn't even made an offer yet."

Sacramento's plight was familiar to Lehane, who had seen the San Francisco Giants nearly move to Tampa Bay in 1992. But a tentative sale of the team to Florida investors was rejected by Major League Baseball's owners later that year, when a San Francisco group quickly coalesced to put a representative bid on the table to keep the team in town.

"There were certain inherent strengths the San Francisco group focused on," Lehane said. "And once you identified an ownership group, you focused on those assets."

Sacramento's assets are well known. It has had an exceedingly loyal fan base. The Kings are the only major pro sports team in town and get the lion's share of local and regional corporate dollars. Johnson is well liked and respected by the league's owners, and by Stern.

"The challenge has not been the market," Lehane said. "The market has always performed. The question is, does the NBA want to leave a proven market?"

Keeping the team in town would also eliminate the need for the Maloofs to immediately repay the city the $73.7 million loan the franchise received from Sacramento in 1997, two years before the Maloofs bought the franchise. That loan, which helped pay down debt on improvements to what is now Sleep Train Arena, called for the team's owners to pay the city back if the franchise left town before 2027. With interest, that loan now exceeds $77 million.

That is why Sacramento's supporters have said that if local investors can come close to or equal what Hansen's group has offered the Maloofs for 65 percent of the team -- estimated to be around $340 million -- the Maloofs would have to accept the local offer, because they'd actually pocket more money than if they took the Seattle offer and had to repay the loan.

(A source confirmed Sunday night that the Hansen group has sent a non-refundable $30 million payment to the Maloofs as required in the deal.)

For his part, Johnson says he can resuscitate last year's deal, which called for the city to contribute toward the construction of a new arena through selling parking lots and spaces to private companies. The proposal agreed to last year would have had Sacramento contribute $255 million, with the Maloofs giving $73.2 million, sports and entertainment conglomerate AEG giving $58 million and $3 million being generated through the sale of commemorative items.

"This is really the first time in modern history that a California municipal government has stood up for a public-private partnership," Lehane said. "Ever since Proposition 13 [the anti-tax initiative passed by California voters in 1978], you have not had a publicly financed facility built in the state of California. There's obviously a move away from public dollars going into private facilities ... but [in this proposed deal] you're finding money that would not exist but because of an arena."

Other city officials are proceeding cautiously. They are letting Mastrov and Burkle produce estimates of how much the arena will cost.

"The situation is a little different this time than a year ago," City Manager John Shirey said by telephone Sunday. "This group is really interested in building at Downtown Plaza rather than the Railyards. We're trying to be agnostic where the location is, but we're certainly very interested in putting the arena at Downtown Plaza. That gets us revenue sooner than at the Railyards. That was a tight fit because of the Intermodal transportation system we're building there as well. We're not really trying to estimate the cost of the arena. We've left that up to them, to use their consultants. We have been told that they think the costs are very comparable to our estimates of putting the arena in the Railyards."

The city has hired the same parking consultant it used last year when trying to determine how much revenue would be raised by selling the parking lots and spaces, Shirey said. That consultant is expected to produce a report to the city in about a week, and the city's investment bankers will then estimate how much money the city could make from selling the parking. But Shirey is making no assumptions about revenues.

"We're starting from scratch," Shirey said.

And Shirey is clear that Mastrov and Burkle will have to make up the difference for any shortfall in revenue if the sale of the lots doesn't produce the expected revenues.

"The way we're approaching this is we only have so many resources we can commit to this project, and that's it," Shirey said. "Whatever is possible is possible, and then the overage has to be absorbed by the other side, and that includes them acting as the developer of the arena, and they have to be responsible for any cost overruns."

Everyone isn't so sure about that $255 million city contribution, though.

City Council member Kevin McCarty is skeptical that the planned sale can generate that much money, and that the city will be adequately protected from having to cover cost overruns if it doesn't.

In a letter to Shirey last month, McCarty cited the proposed construction of a new arena for the Golden State Warriors in San Francisco, due to open in 2017, that will be financed completely privately. Even the Seattle arena site, McCarty wrote, will require only a 40 percent public subsidy from citizens. The $255 million figure cited last year would represent 65 percent of the total cost of the originally proposed $391 million building.

"I oppose the outline of the Mastrov/Burkle plan since it includes a massive public subsidy of more than $250 million, thus mortgaging our city's future," McCarty said in an e-mail Sunday afternoon.

The Downtown Plaza site would lose almost half of its current available parking spots with the construction of a new arena, putting into question exactly how much revenue the city could develop by selling the remaining spots.

Those kinds of questions are exactly the kind that the NBA digs into.

"The NBA always tests your assumptions -- 'How would it work? How much more money would you be able to put in?,' " said a former longtime team executive who had to try to sell the league on a new arena plan in recent years.

"'Show us the model. How does it work? What revenues can you generate, based on your assumptions?' They know all of those [projections], so don't try to [bleep] us on your assumptions."

Despite those concerns, Shirey believes the city can come up with enough specifics by the April 18 BOG meeting to satisfy the concerns of NBA owners.

"I feel pretty good we can do a term sheet by around the first of April and get that to City Council for consideration," he said Sunday. "But it's a term sheet. It won't be the legal documents, which will be many, many pages. Those won't be final until we do all our due diligence. Getting everything done by April is not realistic, but that's where we were last year."

Lehane is also confident. He worked with Burkle when Burkle helped pull the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins out of bankruptcy and got a new building built for them in downtown Pittsburgh when locals feared the team could move.

As with the Penguins deal, Burkle obviously sees not just a chance to build an arena, but to develop a large patch of a city into an economic engine. AEG turned a parking lot across the street from Staples into what is now "L.A. Live," a self-contained entertainment colossus with restaurants, hotels, the Nokia Theatre, which hosts the Grammy Awards, and ESPN's Los Angeles studios. It is the template for a potential sports and entertainment complex in Sacramento.

"We want things that are family friendly," Anderson said. "An L.A. Live that plays off of the family, but also looks at different activities. We'd look at retail, office, and even residential there. We really see this as a major development that really revitalizes the downtown area."

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Burkle made a very good deal to keep the Penguins in town. The Consol Energy Center, which cost $321 million to build in 2010, is paid for mainly by gambling revenues from an agreement between the team, the state and the Rivers Casino, which will contribute $15 million annually through 2038 toward the construction cost. The Penguins, by contrast, pay a little more than $4 million a year toward retiring the construction debt. But they got the rights to develop 28 acres of nearby land, including the site of the team's old arena, Mellon Arena.

"Sacramento has a market that people have not come to for concerts and events, just because it doesn't have a facility," Lehane said. "This is an arena that would make a lot of sense. And Mastrov is a guy who has the passion and the energy and wants to own a team. The Penguins have become a poster child for the NHL. This is a team that sends its players door to door to thank the season ticket owners. The Thunder have been sort of the poster child for how to do it [in the NBA]. Well, you could have the same thing in Sacramento."

There remains the issue of the Maloofs' antipathy for Burkle. They felt he made them look bad and tried to get the Kings for a distressed price in 2010 when it looked like the team was Anaheim-bound. Yes, Mastrov would technically be the person buying the team, with Burkle building the arena -- an arrangement that was "not by accident," according to a well-placed local source. There is no such animosity toward Mastrov on the Maloofs' behalf.

But the Maloofs aren't stupid. They know that selling to Mastrov means Burkle can make out big time, if the arena deal indeed is the economic catalyst for a revitalized downtown. It would matter. Not as much as the sale price, but it would matter.

That will just be one more hurdle for a city that has made like Edwin Moses the last couple of months. Sacramento has gotten itself into the game. It has a chance. There will be one winner, and one loser.

Six weeks to go.

"The beauty is there's a formal process," Anderson said. "I think the next steps are following a process with the NBA. It's in the hands of the owners. I'm sure they'll do the right thing. They always do, working with the commissioner. We have total confidence in the process. We're optimistic about what the future holds."

DRIBBLES

In the end, it wasn't the dams ... or the roads, or the bridges or the parks. Or the tunnels or the thousands of other public projects ... that were built in those years. It was more invisible than that. Men who were broken only a year before...suddenly felt restored. Men who'd been shattered suddenly found their voice.
-- "Seabiscuit", screenplay written by Gary Ross, adapted from the book by Laura Hildebrand

A shattered National Basketball Players Association, slowly, is beginning to rebuild, on a scale much smaller -- but with more per diem -- than a nation.

The union, with Thunder guard Derek Fisher still at the helm as president, fired its former executive director, Billy Hunter, in a 24-0 vote of player reps in attendance during All-Star weekend in Houston. For the first time in years, the union's star players seemed to be much more interested in taking an active role in the union's affairs.

In Houston, LeBron James challenged both the union's leadership and its membership to take a more active role. In doing so, James seemed to acknowledge what has been a failing of the league's star players; to be more engaged in what is going on, and not just during collective bargaining negotiations.

It's as if today's players sometimes forget how their union started: when superstars including Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West demanded that players be allowed to form a collective bargaining unit -- or they wouldn't play in the 1964 All-Star Game.

Imagine what would happen today during a work stoppage if star free-agents publicly threatened to play an entire season overseas if a new CBA wasn't negotiated by a certain date.

James not only was vocal in Houston but pledged that, short of joining the executive committee, he'd keep a hand in union affairs.

"He has asked to be in a position where he's more heartily informed," a source said Sunday night. "He's pretty much said straight out to the players that while he can't commit time-wise to be in certain places he would be required to be, such as for executive committee meetings, he will be available for different assignments, other committees, and would make the time."

James and the Knicks' Tyson Chandler came to the Feb. 16 meeting in which Hunter was fired straight from the Eastern Conference's All-Star practice.

"It was resolved beforehand that Derek and the guys would come to the locker room Sunday and fill the [All-Star players] in and answer questions," the source said. "LeBron made the special effort not to just rely on that. And he spoke up again at the All-Star meeting" before the game Sunday.

While Hunter and his lawyers mull potential legal action against the union for what they believe is unlawful termination of his contract, the union hopes to move forward with new business during this period of labor peace with the league.

There are a number of issues yet to be resolved from the lockout, including the "B List" non-economic issues. The league is hoping to get an agreement with the union on a new drug test for Human Growth Hormone. Commissioner David Stern said last month that he believes a deal will be worked out with the union on a blood test for HGH by next season.

The NBPA has balked at making an agreement on HGH, but with the National Football Players Association and the Major League Baseball Players Association well down the road toward agreements for new HGH tests, the handwriting seems on the wall for the basketball union.

"We're making progress, turning things around, setting it up so the players' voices can be heard," Denver's Andre Iguodala, one of the union's newly elected vice presidents, said last week. "I think we're heading in that direction. We had a really good phone call [after All-Star weekend], everyone on the executive committee, and we've been pretty much in contact every day, every other day, about new business and how we can move forward. That's our plan."

The new Executive Committee reflects the turn toward having more big names get involved. The Warriors' Stephen Curry and Iguodala joined Chris Paul, a carryover from the previous Executive Committee, as vice presidents. Brooklyn's Jerry Stackhouse, a strong critic both of Hunter's and Fisher's stewardship, also was elected a vice president, as was the Clippers' Willie Green, along with holdovers Roger Mason, Jr., James Jones and Matt Bonner.

For the time being, union counsel Ron Klempner will continue as interim executive director.

"In the past, team reps have always been 10th, 11th guys going to the meetings," Iguodala said. "Eighth, ninth. 10th, 11th guys were going to the meetings, and we weren't as involved as we should have been. But I think we're stepping it up. It's kind of funny. David Stern put in the dress code, and guys really stepped it up.

"I think along with that, you had that sense that if you're going to go to work, you dress like a businessman. You're put in that mind frame. And I think that's rubbed off on many guys, in terms of just knowing our business. And it's turned into how active we can be in the union."

Iguodala acknowledges he's in the "learning stages" about the issues the union faces. But he thought he had to become more involved.

"It's my business," Iguodala said. "That was part of the whole reason why so much of what happened, happened. Where we come from, guys aren't used to having what we have, and having access to it. So something like the union, it may not be as important to guys as it should be. But it's kind of like, we have to wake the guys up. They've got to have awareness.

"I think guys have concerns and questions, but as long as those checks are coming in, they can get full. They can get satisfied. There's something that's bigger than just us. We've got to move forward for the guys coming in, and the next collective bargaining, and the one after that, and the one after that.

"You have to set an environment of, this is how we handle business. We're going to get, the stereotypes are going to be, a bunch of African-American men, as long as they're getting paid, they're going to be fine with that. But we want to make it known where it's common that we care about our business, and we're involved. I think I can help in that area."

The union will be moving ahead with its plans to develop a robust annuity program, along with compelling players to put away a certain percentage of their salaries on a yearly basis for retirement, to create a post-career financial umbrella of sorts that will help get players from the day of their retirement until they can begin accessing their pensions at age 50.

The union got 1 percent of Basketball Related Income to be set aside on a yearly basis for the annuity. The players received $34 million for the annuity during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, and are expected to get between $43 and $44 million this season. There are also hopes to grow the BRI pot further by exploring opportunities with international sales and with digital programming.

It is all part of what those in the former Soviet Union, talking about something totally different, called glasnost -- openness -- after the fall of the USSR in the late '80s. Those in the NBPA say they are looking for transparency in dealing with the players, but a better working relationship with the league as well.

"I think it will be really important that we work with the league," Iguodala said. "Not a fight. You know, this is a big business. They have their share, but we have our share. But if the overall pot grows, both sides win. So I think we definitely need somebody that knows the game, can be interactive with the players. That's what's most important, someone who's really transparent with the business and lets the players know what's going on. Getting the information out to everybody.

"But what's most important going forward, especially with the new commissioner, is somebody who can really interact with him. They're not fighting. When it comes down to business, to collective bargaining, we'll get there. But in between that, we're working together."

That philosophy is not new. And those in the union who have practiced it before have often ultimately been accused of getting too cozy with the league. Simon Gourdine, the union's executive director in the early 1990s, was forced out by players and agents in 1996 after they came to believe he was too close to Stern. Gourdine had worked for the NBA from 1970-81, during which time he rose to deputy commissioner, and was at that time the highest-ranking African-American executive in professional sports.

(Fisher was accused by Hunter, in stories reported by FoxSports.com's Jason Whitlock, of trying to cut a side deal with the league during the 2011 lockout.)

The hope is that the union will be aggressive when it has to be, as with filing appeals on behalf of suspended players, or filing grievances on players' behalf, but will also recognize there doesn't have to be a permanent campaign against ownership.

"It's not always going to be icing on the cake," Iguodala said. "It's not always going to be sweet. Guys might say, 'Well, he's working too close with that side.' But it's a business. And what drives our business is we're all working together and all being on the same page, and moving forward. That's what he [the next executive director] has to do."

And Iguodala has sought out the input of players who haven't been involved in union business in previous years, like his former 76ers teammate Spencer Hawes.

"He's an all-American guy, Republican, he's a smart guy, he understands business, he understands that side," Iguodala said. "We have a lot of guys who, politically, we don't really take a side. But I think you've got to have that strong middle class. But you also need that mind frame that Spencer has. Because he drops a lot of great ideas ... I'm going to keep him on speed dial, and really look for his opinion and his voice, to put it in the pot and stir it up and see what comes out."

Hawes said Thursday that "fresh blood" in the union can bring a new perspective.

"I think we have to kind of get back to the big picture of where the game is now, not only where it is now, but with an idea of where it's going," Hawes said. "If we say whatever the [BRI] split is, if it's this big a difference in 2012 dollars, or whenever the lockout is, if you look toward 2016, when the pie is that much bigger, the amount of money that we fought over is that much bigger.

"You kind of have to have a long-term perspective, not only for the guys that are in the league now, but those that are coming. A lot of guys sacrificed a ton of things that never made anything near the amount of money that we're making now, to put us in a position to grow the game. And I think we owe it to the next generation."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

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

1) Miami (3-0) [1]: Shane Battier, last 11 games, from 3-point territory: 37 of 60, 61.7 percent. That included 4-of-4 in Sunday's comeback win over New York. If Battier stays anywhere near that hot, you can forget about anyone else winning The Finals.

2) Oklahoma City (2-1) [2]: Serge Ibaka may have to take a seat for Tuesday's game against the Lakers after his, um, lower body contact with Blake Griffin Sunday. Ibaka received a Flagrant One foul during the game.

3) San Antonio (2-1) [3]: The Spurs already have 23 road wins. That's more than eight teams' current total wins (Cleveland, Washington, Orlando, Charlotte, Minnesota, Phoenix, New Orleans, Sacramento).

4) Denver (3-0) [5]: If Wilson Chandler is going to play like he did Friday against OKC, the Nuggets may really be the postseason wild card in the West.

5) Indiana (3-1) [4]: It's cool of Roy Hibbert to say he'll pay Lance Stephenson's $35,000 fine after Stephenson had his back in the Pacers' skirmish with the Warriors last Tuesday. I'm just not sure it's legal.

6) Memphis (2-1) [6]: Proof, meet pudding: Grizz 10-4 since Rudy Gay trade, including eight-game win streak snapped Friday with loss to Miami.

7) L.A. Clippers. (3-1) [7]: I'll take seven games of Clips-Thunder in the Western semis, thank you very much.

8) Chicago (2-2) [9]: Joakim Noah is not going to be the MVP, but his 23-point, 21-rebound, 11-block performance against the 76ers Thursday may have been the most dominant performance at both ends of the floor from any player all season.

9) New York (2-1) [10]: James White starting for the time being at small forward, with Jason Kidd coming off the bench to anchor second unit.

10) Houston (2-1) [12]: Remember way back last summer when the Rockets traded Chase Budinger to Minnesota? It was supposed to be a big gamble, right? Chandler Parsons took the bet and the Rockets have won big.

11) Golden State (0-4) [8]: Warriors, losers of 10 of their last 13, take the oh-fer collar on their four-game East trip after winning seven of nine on their previous trip East in December.

12) Brooklyn (1-2) [11]: Nets can't find consistent pieces on the bench, which is why it was surprising they couldn't snag someone at the trade deadline.

13) Boston (2-0) [14]: Maybe Steph Curry was just tired after lighting the Knicks up for 54 in the Garden on Wednesday. But on Friday, Avery Bradley held him to 6-of-22 shooting in the Celts' win. Or maybe Bradley is just a doggone good defender.

14) Atlanta (2-2) [13]: Hawks still holding on to the fourth spot in the East and home-court advantage in the first round, but two games with sixth-place Brooklyn may determine if they can keep fourth.

15) Utah (1-2) [15]: If it comes down to a tiebreaker with the Lakers for that last playoff spot in the West, Jazz have already finished their season series with L.A., winning two of three, thus owning the tiebreaker.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Denver (3-0): Quality wins over Lakers, at Portland, OKC on Friday in a thriller. The Nuggets are so tough at home when Ty Lawson is on his game.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Minnesota (0-3): Longtime Star-Tribune columnist Sid Hartman speculated Sunday that former Timberwolves coach and current ESPN analyst Flip Saunders could replace David Kahn as GM next season. FWIW, Hartman has the ear of Wolves owner Glen Taylor and is pretty plugged in.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What does Jrue Holiday hear when he goes to the supermarket in Philly?

"Andrew," Holiday said Thursday. "If I walk the streets of Philly, if I go to a restaurant, if anything, I hear Andrew. And the biggest thing is, he has so much pressure on him, and he hasn't even set foot on the court yet."

It doesn't look like Andrew Bynum will set foot on the court at all this season. Which makes a decision that's already fraught with peril in the City of Brotherly Love that much more difficult this summer.

In Chicago, the daily drip of information on Derrick Rose's rehab is more encouraging, but no less frustrating.

"He wants to get back to be at the level he was, if not better, more than anyone," Luol Deng said. "So when we do well, or when we struggle, everyone wants to talk about, 'This team is winning without Derrick; imagine what they'd be with Derrick.' Or, 'This team is losing; why should he come back?' It really doesn't matter. The decision should be, 'I feel great, I'm ready to come back.' Or 'I'm not so great; I'm going to come back next year, when I'm ready.' That should totally be [based on] how the guy feels, not how we're doing."

In a season where so many teams have suffered long-term injuries to star players, the 76ers and Bulls have yet to have their on-court reunions. The Mavs got Dirk Nowitzki (knee) back. The Lakers got Steve Nash (hip) back. The Knicks got Amar'e Stoudemire (knee) and Ray Felton (pinkie) back. The Wizards got John Wall (kneecap) back and Golden State got Andrew Bogut (ankle) back, albeit briefly.

But Bynum and Rose are still out, pregnant pauses to seasons that have stalled. The Bulls have more proven talent on their roster and have managed to stabilize themselves through rough patches, and are still solidly in the playoffs. But the Sixers have freefallen, and are on the outside looking in.

Both franchises are at a crossroads. The Sixers have to decide whether Bynum is worth a long-term, cap-shackling contract this summer (and Bynum, an unrestricted free agent, will have all the leverage). The Bulls will have to figure how to add more difference-making talent around Rose next summer without being saddled with crushing luxury-tax payments.

The Sixers and Bynum are mulling whether he should have arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out still more cartilage in his right knee, after it blew up following one full-court practice. Bynum has seen four of the top knee doctors in the country, including James Andrews in Alabama, Richard Steadman in Colorado and David Altchek in New York. But no one can solve the problem of Bynum's knees.

Arthroscopic surgery would sideline Bynum another month. And with the Sixers out of the playoff chase, that would be akin to the rest of the season.

Bynum said Friday that the swelling returned in his right knee after the Feb. 22 practice, and that he was worried he wouldn't be able to play in Philly at all this season, after expressing great confidence in early February that his return was near.

Sixers GM Tony DiLeo reiterated Sunday that the team "doesn't have enough information" yet to make a decision on what it will do with Bynum this summer. The call will come after the team has a consensus from doctors about Bynum's long-term health. Will he ever be able to play a full season? (He's played in all 82 once in his eight NBA seasons.)

It usually takes somewhere between 38 and 42 wins to secure a playoff spot in the East. And unless you're the '72 Lakers or '96 Bulls, you probably would need to play at least 60 to 70 games to get those 38 to 42 wins. Bynum has played in 65 games or more once in the last six years.

Yet the Sixers remain "intoxicated," as one source put it, by Bynum's potential. And they have to, considering they gave up four first-round picks for him. They've tried not to spend energy waiting for him all season, and maintain a brave public front. But it's ground on the team all year.

"I just wanted him to be as healthy as possible," Holiday said. "I feel like the team was that way, too. I actually feel like the only time we talk about Andrew coming back and doing all that is if it's a media question and somebody asks us, a reporter or something like that. But in the locker room, every time we talk about something, if we talk to Andrew, it's about how he's doing and all that. It's not really about, 'When do you think you're coming back?' "

Nobody, of course, ever mentions Jason Richardson's absence. Richardson, acquired from Orlando as part of the four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Andre Iguodala to Denver and Bynum to Philly, is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery last week. J-Rich may be getting long in the NBA tooth, but he still knows how to play and his presence on the floor would have extended Collins' rotation and given him a vet to play with the young guys off the bench.

By contrast, the Bulls' problems are less severe.

Rose has been practicing for several weeks. He looks great, having gotten more muscular across the upper body. But he said in a hallway at United Center last Thursday that he still isn't quite able to go to his right without feeling a pinch in that knee, and thus would have trouble defending someone going to his left. "I'm not afraid to fail," he said, but he will not return until he is 100 percent.

The Bulls have gotten used to playing without Rose. Coach Tom Thibodeau won't give them the out. The results on the court are obvious.

"My game with Derrick is totally different," Deng said. "When Derrick plays, my game is totally different. It's been different this year. I've never been in Tom's system with Derrick out for that long. There's been times when he's hurt and been out, and we tried to keep the same plays. But obviously when you have someone that great, those plays are easier ran, or easier to get what you want."

Rose's teammates have tried to keep him in the loop, keep him engaged, and Rose has stuck around the team more of late; he sat on the bench for the first time this season in Chicago's loss to Indiana Sunday night.

"I know what it's like to be out there that long," Deng said. "For him to know that everything we're doing, he's still a part of it. And he's a lot happier once he started practicing again. He's been invested. He's been in all year. He hasn't been, 'Oh, I'm hurt, so I'm not worrying.' He's been the first one out of the locker room."

Chicago stood pat at the trade deadline, as expected, other than offering Rip Hamilton to no effect, according to league sources. The Bulls can tinker around the margins, as they did Saturday by signing veteran forward Lou Amundson to a 10-day contract. But they cannot go above the $74 million "apron" allowed to teams that exceed the $70.3 million tax threshold by $4 million or less.

And the Bulls' ability to add salary next summer is hamstrung by the kick-in of Taj Gibson's extension, coupled with the continuation of big deals for Rose, Noah, Deng and Carlos Boozer. Chicago still has its amnesty provision available to kill a salary off the books, but the Bulls may just wait until the summer of 2014, when Deng and Kirk Hinrich come off the books and Boozer is entering the last year of his deal.

Everyone wasn't sanguine, of course, about Chicago's strategy, with Derrick Rose's brother, Reggie, publicly trashing the team for not making a move.

"At first, I didn't know how to take it," Deng said. "But everybody has an opinion. As soon as I heard it, I knew a big deal was going to be made out of it. And definitely, a big deal was made out of it. But Reggie is entitled to say whatever he wants."

So Deng wasn't insulted?

"Trust me, if I'm insulted by opinions, I wouldn't be here any more," Deng said with a laugh.

But at least the Bulls have played with Rose before. The Sixers have to make a judgment about a player who's never been on the floor with their young players. They have to guess about a mercurial talent whose true feelings about the game are still something of a mystery. And, of course, the decision is not entirely theirs to make. Bynum can walk, and there is nothing the 76ers can do about it.

That would go over great in the Illadelph. And what must that pressure be like for Bynum?

"I think it sucks," Holiday says. "I know there's pressure from being on the court, and playing, and losing. Because obviously, you're the ones to blame. You're the ones out there playing and not winning. But for someone who's injured and who's obviously had problems with his injury or his knees before, to have all that kind of pressure? I'm not sure how I'd handle it."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

The ball is in the wrong court. From Matt Gelfond:

I am a regular reader of the Morning Tip, and I loved your piece about Kenneth Faried and his support of same-sex marriage in the most recent edition. Given the status and stature of professional athletes in our society, it is of critical importance that athletes like Faried who take a progressive stance on social issues be heard in a variety of fora. As a second-year law student and a citizen of California, I feel obligated to nitpick regarding your mention of California's Proposition 8. You are quite correct that Proposition 8 was an initiative constitutional amendment passed by the voters in 2008, and that it has since been challenged in court as unconstitutional. However, the challenge was brought in federal court (the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, to be precise) not in California state court. In the case known then as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker found that Proposition 8 did in fact violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. After a federal court of appeals (the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit) affirmed the District Court's decision, the sponsors of Proposition 8 appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where the case (now known as Hollingsworth v. Perry) is currently pending and will be heard this term ...

Duly noted and corrected, Matt. Since the column on Faried, another pro basketball player, Dan Grunfeld, has joined Athlete Ally, the organization that is trying to reduce homophobia and increase acceptance of gays and lesbians by athletes in high schools, colleges and in the pros. Grunfeld, the son of Wizards' president Ernie Grunfeld, and who is playing for Hapoel in Israel, announced his support for Athlete Ally in an op-ed published last week in the Huffington Post.

Remember: the first three letters in both Great Sartorial Wardrobe and Goodness, Steph's Winning are GSW. From Doug Thompson:

Really enjoy your Monday column and your work overall. But gotta say, I'm disappointed all you mentioned in this week's column about the Warriors is their unis from the Friday night game, not the gritty, gutty win in OT against San Antonio. The victory is even more significant since you talk about the Spurs' 7-2 road trip.

When the regular season is complete, Jarrett Jack's performance -- and the Warriors' win -- could have ultimately meant the difference between this team making or missing the playoffs. Golden State had lost six in a row before beating a woeful Phoenix team, so ousting the Spurs was huge That momentum carried over to another big win on Sunday afternoon at Minnesota.

I know their unis got a lot of attention -- for better or worse -- but that performance on Friday night at Oracle Arena may just go down as the signature win in what has so far been a memorable 2012-13 Warriors' season.

Doug. Relax. I wrote a huge item about the Warriors in December, about how they were turning the corner and had put a great young team together. Just a couple of weeks ago, I just did a Q and A with Andrew Bogut. I've given your squad a lot of love already. They can take a poke at their clothes without me also having to gush about their very good win over the Spurs.

If it's a day that ends in Y, it's a day with another Westbrook letter. From Abel Ramirez:

As tired as you apparently are of reading "Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook" letters, you don't seem to understand the real problem with Westbrook. It's not that he needs to stop being an aggressive scorer. That's who he is, and the Thunder needs him to keep doing what he does. The problem is that he's not efficient enough to be the team's No. 1 option. He needs to improve his shot selection. Everyone gets on Kobe Bryant for taking bad shots, and I'm sure you can see that sometimes his team benefits from him taking fewer or more efficient shots. That's what Westbrook needs to do. He needs to either improve his efficiency to become one of the best scorers in the league, or eliminate some of the bad shots he routinely takes and turn them into opportunities for his teammates.

As of Sunday morning, Abel, Westbrook was ninth in the league in PER, at 23.66, ahead of James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. Only Chris Paul and Tony Parker have better PERs among point guards. As a team, the Thunder was second in the NBA in offensive efficiency. They were averaging more than 110 points per 100 possessions, second only to Miami. I'm not sure how a team can be much more efficient than OKC is at the moment. And Westbrook was fifth in the league in Estimated Wins Added (13). I continue to believe that Westbrook's bad shooting games are held against him more vociferously as an example of how he's somehow holding Kevin Durant back. But Durant's numbers were even better than Westbrook's in PER (28.79) and EWA (20.4). No, Westbrook does not shoot a high percentage from the floor, but that's not the only way one measures a player's "efficiency." We're just going to have to disagree on this, I'm afraid.

Send your questions, comments and criticisms 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 (29 ppg, 9 rpg, 7.7 apg, .500 FG, .733 FT): Told ESPN/ABC's Lisa Salters he isn't sure whether he'll take Magic Johnson up on Johnson's $1 million offer to participate in next year's dunk contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. To Magic and everyone else, once again: put $10 million at center court at New Orleans Arena, winner take all, and everyone will dunk. Maybe even Magic.

2) Kevin Durant (26 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 7.3 apg, .453 FG, .833 FT): Posted his third triple-double of the season (18 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) in just 27 minutes Wednesday. Per ESPN.com, only two players -- Karl Malone and Fat Lever -- have completed triple-doubles in fewer minutes since 1985.

3) Carmelo Anthony (32.3 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.8 apg, .420 FG, .921 FT): Couldn't get the ball out of J.R. Smith's hands quick enough Sunday to keep him from three crushing turnovers in the Knicks' loss to Miami.

4) Chris Paul (18.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 11 apg, .456 FT, 1,000 FT): Rough weekend for CP3: On Saturday, his alma mater, Wake Forest, was beaten at home on "Chris Paul Day" by Maryland, on the day his jersey was retired; on Sunday, OKC's Russell Westbrook attacked from the opening tip and the Thunder won a playoff-intensity game at Staples.

5) Tony Parker (17.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 7.5 apg, .467 FG, .778 FT): Growing MVP chances take a major hit after TP9 severely sprains his ankle Friday against Sacramento, an injury expected to keep him out a month.

BY THE NUMBERS

7 -- Games, after Sunday's blowout loss in Houston, that the Mavericks will have to win in a row to get to .500 -- and then, per team agreement, be able to shave the beards that they're growing. Most of the players took the pledge in early February. The earliest that they could get to .500 now would be in two weeks, on March 17, if Dallas beats Oklahoma City -- after first beating Houston, Detroit, Minnesota, Milwaukee, San Antonio and Cleveland in a row. Must be getting itchy.

37 -- Career four-point plays by the Clippers' Jamal Crawford, the NBA's record in that category. He reached that number with another four-spot Friday against the Cavaliers.

51 -- Years, as of last Saturday, since Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in Hershey, Pa., on March 2, 1962, for the Philadelphia Warriors over the Knicks.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Gonna say this again for the hard of hearing; there is no other choice to replace Mike Krzyzewski as U.S. men's Olympic basketball coach but Gregg Popovich. Period. No one loves or respects Doc Rivers more than I do, but this isn't debatable. Pop has served his country and served the NBA with equal valor and distinction and he has earned the honor of representing his country in Brazil in 2016.

2) Was talking to a personnel guy over the weekend, who recalled how before the '09 Draft, he and his guys still weren't quite sure Steph Curry was athletic enough to play in the league. Think he's answered that question, with a big ol' exclamation (54) point(s) at the Garden Wednesday.

3) I may write about this next week. You've got Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in Cleveland; John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington; Rajon Rondo (next year) and Avery Bradley in Boston; Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner in Philly; Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in Milwaukee. There's some damn good young backcourts in the Eastern Conference.

4) Just wondering: Who's the guy in the bear costume?

4A) And, just wondering: where did Matt Winer get that 1970 Monday Night Football jacket?

5) On Friday, Mike Woodson did something that coaches rarely do: he told a group of assembled media that he made a mistake playing Jason Kidd so much off the ball. "Bad coaching," Woodson said. If others in his line of work were that honest, they'd head off a lot of problems.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Mike D'Antoni tried to talk the Lakers into going after Utah's Raja Bell as late as last Monday if his former Suns guard could reach a buyout with the Jazz, according to a league source. But the Lakers didn't feel Bell was worth adding more millions to an already-humongous payroll, and they passed, leaving Bell with nowhere to go in time to be eligible for a playoff roster.

2) What do you suppose the Charlotte huddle was like Sunday night in Sacramento, with 3:19 left in the game, when the score was Kings 117, Bobcats 76? What do you think they talked about?

3) Probably the same thing the Pistons talked about Sunday night during their timeout with 6:52 left in the fourth, when the Spurs were clinging to a 96-68 lead. In other action, the Rockets squeaked by the Mavericks 136-103 and Grizzlies hung on for a 108-82 win at Orlando. The basketball Sunday night? With an exception or two, not so much.

4) I really have nothing to add to this. It would be like trying to answer the question, 'Why is your dog writing his name in Sanskrit out in the snow?' What would the point be of trying to come up with an answer?

5) Just wondering what the reaction would be if an NBA player begged out of a game his team was losing by, say, 20 in the third quarter, citing a sore tooth.

6) Godspeed, Mrs. Romano.

Q AND A: TYSON CHANDLER

The fortunes of two teams, the Knicks and Mavericks, have seemingly bisected at the axis of the 30-year-old Chandler. Since Dallas let Chandler, the anchor of its 2011 title-winning defense — and the player Dirk Nowitzki called "the best teammate I've ever had" — walk away for virtually nothing to New York, the Mavericks have dissolved as a defensive force and are struggling this season just to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Knicks have become a defensive-first team with Chandler in the middle, erasing his teammates' gambles and mistakes as long as they funnel everything to the middle.

He was the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year last season, well in keeping with a player whose idol growing up in California was Bill Russell, and he won a gold medal in London with the U.S. Olympic team last summer. Chandler then made his first NBA All-Star team last month in Houston. But while he's most valuable to the Knicks at the defensive end, the 7-foot-1 Chandler has also mastered the art of the "backtap" offensive rebound, a demoralizing weapon that requires more smarts than you might think.

Me: How did you become so proficient at the backtap?

Tyson Chandler: I don't know, to be honest with you. I just know that I'm going after ball any time I get an opportunity to get a rebound. And there's time, after you get labeled as a rebounder, as an offensive rebounder, they're sending two or three guys at you to put a box you out and chip you. And there's times when I know I can't get both hands on the ball. So I just created something where I started tapping it out with one hand. Because I'm a rebounder, and I know what I'm always preaching to my teammates, as far as creating a triangle and a circle around the key to rebound, I know that more than likely, all five guys [opponents] are going to kind of be around that paint. So if I can get it past that first layer of defenders, it's going to be my guys, on the offense, because we're around, on the outside of the perimeter. So I always just try to get it to my guys.

Me: So you may not know exactly which player it's going to, but you know it's going to white, to your team?

TC: Yes. Because I know all of our sets, and I know where guys are supposed to be on the floor at all times. So I can do it without looking. I know, like, if we just ran a pick and roll, Jason Kidd is, more than likely, right here. And Carmelo Anthony is probably here. So I just tip it to where I figure they're at.

Me: And that's out of any set?

TC: Absolutely. Because as a defender, you gotta know where the players are, where they're coming at you. So I just use that to my advantage, and twist it around offensively.

Me: Are you better at it with one hand or the other?

TC: Not really. You can get a lot higher, obviously — the reason why you do a jump ball, you do it with one hand rather than two. I can get a lot higher, and my vertical is obviously better if I do it with one hand. I feel like I can outjump anybody in the league that way. So I just tip it to my teammates.

Me: Does that speak to knowing the game and knowing the personnel and knowing your teammates?

TC: You have to. Because you can start a fast break, too, going the wrong way, if I tip it for a layup to the opposing team. You've definitely got to understand the floor and understand what's going on. The funny thing is I've been watching and studying, the opposing guys we're going to be playing against, and I've noticed players starting attempting it. I've seen some good, and some go terribly wrong. At least I started something ... I know coaches are definitely starting to tell their bigs, 'if you can't get it, tap it back out.' But it's funny, because a lot of times it's awkward. It rolls off the side of a guy's hands. Or they throw it to our team and start a fast break. I'm sure it's definitely going to be the start of a trend, because it's a great play.

Me: Do you see the sag in opponents when you do it successfully?

TC: Absolutely. Because it takes the breath out of them. I know how disheartening it is to play defense for 18 to 24 seconds, and then force a miss, and then somebody taps it out and gives the offense another opportunity to set up again. It's definitely disheartening to a defense.

Me: Speaking of which, your team defense looks like it's getting back in sync a little. What caused that lull just before the All-Star break?

TC: I think when we came out of training camp, we were so focused on defense. Guys were on edge. And that's what you seen out there. And then, at different points of the season, we've had injuries, lineup changes. And it's just a long season in general. So guys just lose their focus a little bit. And Woody [Coach Mike Woodson], we had some meetings and addressed some things defensively, and made some changes, and guys really responded to it.

Me: You ever lobby him to play a little more zone?

TC: Yeah. At times. But this team, we've got to work on one thing at a time. Now, we're just getting guys aggressive. Once we get guys aggressive, then we can implement other things.

Me: 'Cause this could be a really good zone team, couldn't it?

TC: Absolutely. You would think so, with the length and the size that we have. But we've got to get our defensive IQ up there before we try all that sneaky stuff.

Me: Who do you need to see a defensive upgrade from down the stretch for you to be the best you can be in the playoffs?

TC: We've got a couple of players. I wouldn't call any individuals out on the team, because I see it as a team defense. I feel like it's my job to make guys understand what we're doing out there. And so I take on the responsibility. I feel like one of my teammates is not to the level that he should be, I feel like it's my fault. We've all got to raise it and be accountable for it, to be honest with you.

Me: Why is this the toughest time of the year for players to give that defensive effort?

TC: Your body, you just get beat up mentally. You're exhausted. It's a tough time. The end is right there, but you have so much to do before you get there. It's a tough time.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Man enough to carry a squad thru the dark days wit dirt gettin thrown on his name daily and still stand tall

-- Celtics guard Jordan Crawford (@jcraw55), Friday, 1:23 p.m., apparently referring to his time in Washington before being traded at the deadline to Boston. Crawford carried the offensive load for the Wizards while John Wall and Nene were out with injuries, but fell out of the rotation when they returned, and fell out of favor with Coach Randy Wittman and a lot of his teammates.

THEY SAID IT

"I'm not making an excuse. I'm just saying from where we were, it looked like it went in."
-- Veteran Wizards broadcaster Steve Buckhantz, in an interview on Washington radio station ESPN 980, detailing his missed call of a last-second shot by Trevor Ariza that Buckhantz -- from his announcer's perch about 20 rows up and on the other side of Verizon Center -- initially believed had gone in, giving the Wizards a victory. But the shot was an air ball. (Detroit's Hall of Fame broadcaster, George Blaha, initially got it wrong, too.) That didn't stop the boys on Inside the NBA from having a little fun at Buck's expense Thursday.

"I've often thought that he didn't have a name here. He just came in from Europe. Had he been a college player here and done what he did at 19, he wouldn't have been the 28th pick for sure. He would have been first, second or third. He would have been high in the draft and would have been talked about here like the kids who were young studs that are just coming out."
-- Gregg Popovich, to Yahoo! Sports, on why Tony Parker famously slipped to 28th in the first round of the 2001 Draft, where the Spurs scarfed him out of France and made him one of the centerpieces of their dynasty.

"Yeah, I'm a vet if you look at the team we have here."
-- Magic guard Beno Udrih, noting to the Orlando Sentinel that, while 30, he's a graybeard when compared to most of the Magic's kiddie core, with eight of the team's current roster of 14 players under age 25.

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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