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David Aldridge

As he's done everywhere this season, LeBron James shines bright on David Aldridge's awards list.

On this season's awards ballot, MVP is a true one-man race


Posted Apr 16, 2013 9:37 AM

The end of the NBA season means handing out awards for individual excellence. The good news is that there have never been so many people playing so well, and there have never been so many ways to measure that excellence. I don't believe that advanced stats explain everything, and I think teams still matter more than individuals. But pro basketball at its best is a marriage of the brilliance of the one and the talents of the many, with all sacrificing for the whole.

And, one more time for those who are new to the awards column: these picks are mine. It's my ballot. When you get a vote, you can pick whoever you like for whatever award you see fit. So it's going to be pointless for you to Tweet what an idiot I am, or send me an algebraic formula that "proves" Bismack Biyombo is better than CP3.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

ON THE MENU: Carmelo Anthony, New York; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; LeBron James, Miami; Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers

I'LL HAVE: James.

If LeBron James is not a unanimous MVP selection this year, revocation of said non-unanimous voter's credentials should commence immediately. And this is coming from someone from D.C., who loves Durant and loves how he has accepted the challenge of becoming a better all-around player while pushing his team toward the West's best record.

By every metric, Durant is having a career season. He has already established career highs in rebounds, assists and steals, and his turnovers are down over last season. He's second in the league in scoring, while taking fewer shots than he has since his rookie season, and leads the league in minutes played.

He's about to become just the seventh season-long member of the 180 Club, a designation first conceived by veteran USA Today writer David DuPree for players who shoot 50 percent or better, 40 percent or better from 3-point range and 90 percent or better from the free-throw line. Only Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Jose Calderon have done it.

(Faithful readers pointed out that when I first noted Durant's chances of joining the 180 Club a couple of weeks ago, I omitted Calderon, who achieved the feat as a part-time starter in Toronto in 2007-08, shooting .519 from the floor, .429 from deep and .908 from the foul line.)

Durant's PER of 28.17 was the highest of his career and the second-highest in the league.

Guess who has the highest? Hint: it's the same guy who, according to the invaluable Basketball-Reference.com, leads the league in win shares, at 19.1, and has an insane individual offensive rating of 125 (meaning his presence produces 125 points per 100 possessions for the Heat). NBA.com/Stats has James' offensive rating a little lower, at 113.4, but still has James ranked first in that category.

This is not the hoary chestnut about the MVP being the best player on the best team -- even though that describes James and the Heat. James is the best player on any team, and among any grouping of carbon-based life forms. He is so good and dominant, using words like "good" and "dominant" seems small and pithy.

James has been the best player in the NBA for at least a couple of seasons. But his current version is changing the way the game is played. His embrace of playing in the post, at whatever position coach Erik Spoelstra wants to call it, has changed how other teams are playing the game. Everyone is now playing small, putting as many shooters on the floor as the law will allow. But everybody isn't LeBron. He is sui generis.

No one has his combination of size, speed, strength and smarts, which he uses to carve up defenses. And when it's most important, James can still get to the cup; only Kyrie Irving and Bryant have made more field goals in the last five minutes of play this season, according to NBA.com/Stats.

Miami dominates all the advanced offensive team statistics, leading the league in offensive efficiency (it was tied with OKC entering play Sunday), true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. The Heat does so with James dictating the action, whether from the post or out of screen-and-roll sets. What you don't see any more from Miami is isolations, with James cradling the ball behind the 3-point line and either trying to drive into a crowd loaded up on one side or jacking up a 3-pointer.

My favorite stat: James is fourth in the league in scoring, which you would expect, but is also eighth in the league in total assists, with more dimes than the likes of Calderon and Tony Parker.

Oh, and the Heat won 27 games in a row. You may have heard something about this.

"I mean, he's seen it all," teammate Chris Bosh (see below) said. "Ten years in, he's seen every [defensive] package. Now, he's able to go into the post. He's always had the perimeter game. He's always been able to do the pick and rolls. He's just one of those unique players who can do everything. But, he has the size to do everything. Some point guards can do the pick and roll and post up, but they can't post up a bigger guy, and really just pick and choose their mismatches. He's bigger than most of them. And that's most important thing -- if you double him, he's so unselfish, and he's 6-foot-8. He can see everything. He can see it coming. And he's an excellent passer. So it makes our job easier. We just have to catch and shoot."

OKC's defense is a point better than Miami's in defensive efficiency, but the Heat allows a point per game fewer than the Thunder (yes, some of us greybeards still think points per game allowed is an important stat). But on a team where size is in short supply, it falls to James to guard anyone on the opposition with a hot hand, from point guards to centers, while also getting every rebound that matters -- and he's not bigger than a lot of power forwards and centers. He's set a career high in defensive rebounds this season.

And while Durant has Russell Westbrook (who is also entering his prime) to play off, and can leave the scut work inside to Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, James has accomplished his feats with Dwyane Wade gimpy for a good portion of the campaign. Bosh, as ever, toils unappreciated, but nonetheless knows his role isn't to stand around and watch James conduct the orchestra.

"You'll get hit in the face," he says. "If you're not ready, you'll get hit in the face. And he throws it hard. You've got to be ready for that. Even when you think he's not looking, he sees you. It's just an amazing talent that he has. Unless you want to have a headache, have your hands ready."

The rest of the contenders have their strengths, but can't compare to James and Durant. Anthony has become as efficient on offense as he is varied in the ways he can score, and he's giving more effort on defense. But he isn't in James' stratosphere, and Durant involves his teammates much more than 'Melo. That isn't a criticism of Anthony, just a fact.

Paul's value to the Clippers is obvious to anyone who watched L.A. while Paul was out with a knee strain, and saw the Clippers stagger around like Otis Campbell on a Saturday night in Mayberry. He has, truly, changed the culture of what was the NBA's most soulless franchise, hand-picking most of the players and demanding excellence from all, using whatever hat was needed -- big brother, bully, father, confessor. They all fit. Yet the Clippers have been ordinary since going unbeaten in December, with more questions than answers entering the playoffs.

Bryant's individual brilliance before suffering that season-ending Achilles' tear Friday (see below) may have been the most impressive of his amazing career. At 34, he had a wondrous offensive season for the Lakers, carrying them for long stretches while injuries consumed Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, and while Dwight Howard struggled to regain his form after back surgery.

But defensively, Bryant is a shell of the dominant force he used to be. His defensive gambles and freelancing often left the Lakers exposed (given his teammates' lack of foot speed, one understands why Bryant took the risks, but they nonetheless hurt). He turned the ball over at an alarmingly high rate. And all of his shotmaking couldn't keep the Lakers from teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs. With him gone, they may tip over completely. And even if L.A. hangs on to the eighth spot, the likelihood of an extended postseason run without him is Blutarsky GPA-esque.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

ON THE MENU: Bradley Beal, Washington; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Andre Drummond, Detroit; Damian Lillard, Portland; Dion Waiters, Cleveland

I'LL HAVE: Lillard.

An easy pick, with Portland's rookie lapping in the field in points and assists per game. The Blazers never wavered that the Weber State guard would come in and immediately solidify them at the game's most important position. They were right. After a few weeks of adjustments, Lillard became a handful at the offensive end, with a proclivity for taking over late in games.

Davis came on the second half of the season and actually produced more win shares than Lillard, but dealt with a number of injuries that limited his playing time. He's going to be a really good one.

Beal displayed the shooting range and shot-making ability the Wizards had hoped for, but couldn't stay healthy.

Drummond was a PER beast for Detroit, impacting games much sooner than anyone thought he would after a single inconsistent season in college, and may have shortened the Pistons' rebuild by a year or two.

Waiters and Kyrie Irving, the reigning Rookie of the Year, are going to be a dominant backcourt for the Cavaliers for years to come.

COACH OF THE YEAR

ON THE MENU: George Karl, Denver; Kevin McHale, Houston; Gregg Popovich, San Antonio; Erik Spoelstra, Miami; Mike Woodson, New York

I'LL HAVE: Spoelstra.

As ever, COTY is the hardest award to winnow. There are so many deserving candidates, so many coaches who do excellent work yet will never get a sniff of the hardware. How'd you like to be Tom Thibodeau, have the league's best bench walk away with next to nothing in return, never have your MVP and have long-term injuries to every member of your rotation at different points of the season? And yet the Bulls are still playoff-bound.

Atlanta's Larry Drew kept the Hawks in the hunt despite having next-to-no bench and no contract after this season. Frank Vogel remade the Pacers' offense on the fly and made their defense nearly impregnable. Washington's Randy Wittman kept the Wizards in the top 10 defensively almost all season, despite starting the season 4-28 without John Wall. Those guys kept playing hard, even though they kept losing. That's outstanding coaching.

But you have to pick someone. And it's hard to pick against a guy whose team already has 64 wins in the hopper with two games left.

Yes, James has made 60-win teams happen before. And the Heat have three great players to build around. But you still have to coach it. And for Spoelstra to finally make James see he could be at his very best playing in the post instead of out top -- exactly what Mike Brown tried to convince James to do in Cleveland, without success -- exemplifies a trust that only happens rarely between superstars and their coaches.

A championship validates the things a coach stresses during a season. So you can't roll your eyes anymore when Spoelstra lapses into "owning it" and "our DNA" and such. The Heat players believe it. So it works.

Again, if you want to give the award to Popovich or Karl for the (again) great jobs they've done this season, I'll have no argument. They're both at the top of the game and they continue to take whatever they're given at the start of the season and make it work.

I doubt Woodson will get many votes, but he should. Yes, the Knicks are a veteran team that knew how to play and could police itself, but Woody also kept a lot of what worked under Mike D'Antoni while putting in a lot of his own good stuff (the Knicks run great plays out of timeouts). That kind of security means you believe in what you're doing, and it's shown in New York this season.

McHale makes the list for two reasons: continuing to develop his young players while his daughter Sasha was succumbing to lupus in December, and for running an offensive system that is so counter to everything he believes in as a Hall of Fame player. If you think McHale loves running a scattershot offense of pick and rolls with guards, you're insane. But he has closed his eyes and tried to make the thing work, and with James Harden aboard, it did well enough to get Houston back to the playoffs.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

ON THE MENU: Tony Allen, Memphis; Avery Bradley, Boston; Tim Duncan, San Antonio; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Paul George, Indiana; Larry Sanders, Milwaukee

I'LL HAVE: George

George was one of the main cogs on the NBA's best defense, which leads the league in lowest field-goal percentage allowed both overall and in 3-point percentage, and leads the league in defensive rating (96.5 points per 100 possessions). There's no question that George had help from Roy Hibbert inside, who well could have been on this list. But the All-Star George has become his own defensive force, leading the league in defensive win shares (6.3). Duncan was right there, as well as Memphis' tandem of Allen and Gasol; something kept the Grizzlies winning when they went belly-up on offense for weeks at a time. Bradley locked down guard after guard all season. Sanders intimidated opponents in the middle and is among the league leaders in blocked shots despite (maybe) standing 6-foot-9.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

ON THE MENU: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia; Joakim Noah, Chicago; Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans; Nic Vucevic, Orlando

I'LL HAVE: Vucevic

I was serious about Durant, who has gotten better at everything across the board this season. There is a lot of support for Holiday, a first-time All-Star who set career highs in points and assists and was the only good thing happening in Philly. Noah became a true offensive option for the Bulls; Vasquez looks more and more like a legit starter, leading the NBA in total assists and finishing fourth among qualified players in assist-to-turnover percentage.

But Vucevic gets the nod for doubling his points and rebounds over his rookie season in Philadelphia. Traded south as part of the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum-Andre Iguodala four-team deal, Vucevic is second in the league in rebounding (11.9 rpg, behind only Howard) and is shooting 51.7 percent for the otherwise woeful Magic. Vucevic grabbed a season-high 29 boards with 20 points for the Magic against Miami in December, and has 44 double-doubles, tied for third in the league.

BEST SIXTH MAN

ON THE MENU: Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers; Jarrett Jack, Golden State; Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City; Andre Miller, Denver; J.R. Smith, New York

I'LL HAVE: Smith.

For most of the year, I was going in a laugher with JCrossover. He had been terrific for the Clippers, leading one of the NBA's most productive benches (better than 40 ppg) at better than 16 ppg individually.

But Smith just took it from him.

I don't believe it, either. But it's true. Smith has been a terrific compliment to Carmelo Anthony.

In April, the last month, the most important month of the season, Smith has gone insane, shooting 48.8 percent and averaging 23 ppg. Those numbers are even higher in the last 10 games (50.3 percent, 24.8 ppg) as the Knicks have overcome still more injuries to key players to lock down second place in the East.

Smith is now averaging more points per game off the bench (18.1 ppg) than Crawford, and he has a higher PER than his California opponent. And the Knicks have pulled within a game of the Clippers' record by winning 14 of their last 15 games. The Knicks have needed Smith, and he's responded.

Martin has stepped in and handled the scoring piece that departed when James Harden was traded to Houston, though he's not the playmaker Harden is. The Nuggets bring any number of effective players off the bench, but Miller is the most important. His age doesn't matter; his laconic manner doesn't matter. I'm a fan, and it's my ballot. And Dude can still get it done, providing Denver with that second dynamic ballhandler (along with Ty Lawson) that many teams now employ.

Jack has been a revelation for Golden State, giving the Warriors a steady hand when Steph Curry has been out along with some shotmaking boom when they needed it.

ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM: Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City; LeBron James, Miami; Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City; Tim Duncan, San Antonio.

We don't have to go over these, right? You know about the top four, I trust, and you've heard of the fifth guy? From the Virgin Islands? He's 36, and still playing out of his mind, as his flushes over Pau Gasol and block of Dwight Howard at the rim Sunday night in Los Angeles should have demonstrated. Duncan has been sensational and he's still the last best hope of the Spurs.

ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM: Tony Parker, San Antonio; James Harden, Houston; Carmelo Anthony, New York; Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers; Brook Lopez, Brooklyn

Parker was in the MVP discussion all season, though injuries have slowed him down the second half of the year. Harden's impact on the Rockets is obvious and he's been a better all-around player than almost anyone thought he'd be. Anthony has made the Knicks relevant again; Griffin has developed his game at both ends, and Lopez earns the nod over the likes of Tyson Chandler because he's been one of the most efficient players going (he's fifth in the league in PER and has been top 10 almost all season) and been the most consistent player on the Nets.

ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM: Stephen Curry, Golden State; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers; LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland; David Lee, Golden State; Dwight Howard, L.A. Lakers

Curry has become so much more than a shooter for the Warriors, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Bryant's offensive excellence was the only thing that salvaged a nightmare of a season for the Lakers. Cousin LaMarcus fought the good fight in Portland with very little help. Lee leads the league in double-doubles (54) and is fourth in the league in rebounds per game, often with very little help at the center position. Howard was a shell of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, yet he still led the league in rebounding and was top five in blocks, less than a year removed from back surgery.

DRIBBLES

Three key points in future of Kings saga

It's finally D-Week: Decision Time for Sacramento and Seattle.

After all the jostling and lobbying, all the presentations and Tweeting, all the accusations from fans in each city that the fix is in for the other, the decision on where the Kings will play next season will come. The league's Relocation and Finance Committees will meet Wednesday in New York, followed by the regular two-day Board of Governors meeting, at which point the league's owners will make the call, once and for all: approve or reject the binding deal between the Maloof Family and hedge fund manager Chris Hansen's group for 65 percent of the team -- a franchise valuation that is now $550 million, after Hansen voluntarily upped the price he'd pay on Friday night. (The actual price for that 65 percent is now approximately $357.5 million.)

After the Relocation and Finance Committees make their recommendations to the full body -- neither Seattle nor Sacramento will have representatives from their cities at the meetings, though the Maloofs will be there in their capacity as the Kings' owners -- the league's 30 owners, including the Maloofs, will vote.

Seattle needs the votes of 23 owners for the sale of the team to the Hansen group to be approved. Sacramento needs eight no votes out of 30 for the deal to be rejected.

If the deal is approved, a second vote will then be taken to decide whether to allow the Kings to move to Seattle. A simple majority -- 16 votes -- will determine that.

If the deal with Seattle is rejected, Sacramento stands ready with a counteroffer to the Maloofs that may -- may -- match the parameters of the Seattle offer. Some sources involved in the discussions say it does; other sources say it doesn't.

At any rate, the Sacramento group, led by computer software developer Vivek Ranadive and 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov, along with new investors publicly announced last week, stands ready. Late last week, a source indicated the Maloofs would be willing to sign a backup offer with the Ranadive group if the Hansen deal was rejected by the league.

We have discussed in great detail how Seattle took what looked like an insurmountable lead with the disclosure that Hansen had a binding deal with the Maloofs.

How Sacramento, with Mayor Kevin Johnson running point, came storming back, putting together a coalition of local and regional funding and getting the necessary political support lined up.

Vivek Ranadive (left) and mayor Kevin Johnson are two of many key players in Sacramento's bid.

How the league will center its decision on Article VII of the NBA constitution.

How factors like television market size can be interpreted one way or the other, depending on whose side you're on, and how the two sides went at it in New York earlier this month, when they made their respective pitches. Each of those factors will be important.

But three factors seem to be most important:

The Arena Deals: This is the key issue: which city can get its arena build first, and closest to the amount it currently claims the new building will cost.

The $30 million non-refundable deposit that Hansen made as part of the deal with the Maloofs in January: The Maloofs, according to sources, are insistent that any match of the Hansen deal by Sacramento also include another $30 million in unrefundable deposits. Will Ranadive's group take the plunge? As of Sunday night it was still uncertain.

Makers versus Takers: If the Kings stay in Sacramento, league sources believe the team will remain a recipient of the enhanced revenue sharing program instituted last year. If the Kings move to Seattle, those sources believe the team will become a revenue payer, which benefits both fellow paying teams and those remaining receiving teams.

Seattle and the Hansen group have agreed to build a $491 million arena in the city's South of Downtown (SoDo) area, near where Major League Baseball's Mariners play. The city has pledged up to $200 million in public financing through bonds for the building, which would be back with arena revenues. (The city would commit only $125 million unless and until Hansen also acquires an NHL team to move to Seattle, at which point the city will commit the additional $75 million.)

If those revenues do not materialize as promised, Hansen -- who would provide the remaining $291 million for construction of the new building -- has also pledged to backfill the city's coffers. His group has already spent $50 million acquiring the land on which he wants to build the arena, as well as $7 million.

Sacramento and the Ranadive group have made a non-binding agreement to construct a $448 million arena and sports complex on the city's Downtown Plaza mall site. The city would commit to more than $250 million in public funding for the building -- unheard of in the state of California in the past couple of decades -- with the Ranadive group contributing $189 million.

The bulk of the city's contribution would come from bonds that would be repaid from future parking revenues collected by a city-formed corporation, as well as sales of existing city-owned properties. If the revenues did not materialize as expected, the city would tap into its hotel tax revenues to backfill the losses. The city is also giving the Ranadive group $37 million in city-owned land, including land near the Kings' current home, Sleep Train Arena.

(No matter which side wins, the Maloofs want their money "right after the vote," according to a source.)

Each city has potential hurdles to getting its arena built in the proposed time frame.

Hansen's initial plan was for the Kings to play two seasons in a renovated Key Arena, the former home of the Sonics (his group pledged $15 million last week to renovate the building to make it playable by today's NBA standards), and move into their new home for the 2015-16 season.

But King County Executive Dow Constantine said after he and members of the Seattle contingent met with the league's Relocation and Finance committees April 3 that he could not set a specific date for the arena's completion until after the city's final Environmental Impact Study on the building is completed in November. Constantine told reporters he expected the arena to be up and running by 2017. Mayor Mike McGinn said his understanding was that there was "a two or three-year time frame" for the building to go up.

A judge who dismissed a lawsuit against Hansen's group which claimed construction of the building would violate an initiative that requires the city to make a profit on major construction projects also said she couldn't make a final determination on the lawsuit's merits until after the EIS is completed in November.

But Sacramento also will be hard-pressed to have a building up and running in two years.

It will take a year for Sacramento to complete its own EIS, which is required by state law. That process just began on Friday, when the city announced it was beginning the EIS. After the EIS is finished, objections can be raised against it for up to 175 days. There is also potential litigation being contemplated against Ranadive's group by local attorneys who say the building violates the state's environmental and constitutional laws.

In addition, at least part of the law that created the 175-day limit was declared unconstitutional by a California judge late last month.

Ranadive's group has yet to purchase buildings and lands at the Downtown Plaza site that will be needed to build the new arena. A study commissioned by the architecture and construction company, AECOM, which helped build the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the Nets, estimated it would take $26 million to purchase the necessary buildings and land not already owned by JMA Ventures. That is the company that wants to develop the Downtown Plaza site.

In addition, as SI.com's Ian Thomsen reported over the weekend, a 2005 study commissioned by the city of Sacramento -- a study cited by the Hansen group as part of its proposal to the NBA's committees on April 3 -- projected the cost of a new arena at 7th and K Streets in Sacramento -- almost precisely where Downtown Plaza lies -- at more than $586 million.

The Downtown Plaza site was one of six potential sites looked at by 360 Architecture, a Kansas City-based company that designs and plans stadium construction. The company has designed buildings such as the new Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey that is used by the NFL's New York Giants and Jets, and Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, which houses the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Downtown Plaza site was the most expensive of the six sites looked at by 360 Architecture, and wasn't the preferred site of the company; that site, on the edge of Sacramento's downtown, could house a new arena for $411 million, according to 360.

Sacramento's supporters will no doubt point out that the 2005 study was conducted before JMA, whose CEO, Todd Chapman, has been a champion of the new arena deal, took over Downtown Plaza. And the city has pledged it will be able to handle any cost overruns if the building does come in over budget.

Then there's the $30 million.

One owner late last week indicated a willingness to support the Sacramento bid if the Ranadive group actually and officially puts down the same $30 million non-refundable deposit for the team that the Hansen group made in January.

"I think if they came up with the certainty of a deposit, for me, as an owner, that would be a compelling bid," said the owner, who obviously has to remain anonymous. "They're plenty capable. If they put a deposit, that makes it more compelling."

A second owner echoed that sentiment, saying that the two bids were essentially equal. He said this before the disclosure of the increased valuation of the Seattle offer was made public.

The first owner also expressed concerns about Seattle's ability to follow through on its agreement with Hansen's group to build an arena in Seattle's South of Downtown (Sodo) area, right next to where Major League Baseball's Mariners play at Safeco Field.

"This is a good group of owners," the owner said of the Hansen group. "They've stepped up. They'll build a building. But on the other hand, why didn't the city step up before?"

Another team's executive, however, favors the sale to Hansen and the move to Seattle, citing the binding deal the Maloofs made with the Hansen group.

"He has a deal that is not contingent on anything," the executive said. "But there's no basis to turn one down other than you want to move it to Seattle and we don't want you to."

The executive also said the economic and demographic dynamics are "more progressed" in Seattle.

"The work they've done already kind of speaks to the level of commitment of the group," the executive said. "If that group says they're going to do something, you can kind of rest assured that they will. If the question is what will be the best place to be for the next 25 years, it favors Seattle.

"They've got a site that's assembled and they're ready to go. They've been working on it for a year and a half. And now [in Sacramento] you've got an ownership group cobbled together, and they don't really know each other."

And all three team execs, including the Sacramento supporters, expressed concerns with keeping the Kings in Sacramento because of the revenue-sharing issue. Over the next two seasons, the amount of money that will be going to qualifying teams is expected to nearly triple, up to $16 million annually by the time the new revenue-sharing plan is fully implemented in 2014.

"The one thing that could factor in to owners in the big markets is that Sacramento is a revenue-sharing recipient," one of the owners said. "Seattle probably wouldn't be."

The executive who favors Seattle echoed that sentiment.

"The bigger markets will be moved by which city has the best likelihood of being successful, and a lower likelihood of having to be supported," the exec said.

There remains the question of the ultimate wild card: the Commish.

Stern has said over and over that he will let the owners decide what to do with the Kings. But USA Today reported last week that Stern was working behind the scenes to try and find additional investors who could bolster Sacramento's bid. The league has generally declined to comment publicly on what it calls "rumors" about the Kings' saga.

Stern is a master manipulator, but he doesn't always step in. He let the Sonics move to Oklahoma City in 2008 after it became evident that the team would not be able to work out public financing for a new arena with the state -- even after Ballmer's last-minute proposal for a $300 million renovation of Key Arena of which he would have paid half. Nor did he keep the Grizzlies from leaving Vancouver in favor of Memphis, or the Hornets/soon-to-be Pelicans from leaving Charlotte for New Orleans.

Yet Stern also wouldn't allow the Hornets to be sold to billionaire Larry Ellison in late 2010, whom most everyone believed wanted to move the team to San Jose. At Stern's behest, the NBA bought the Hornets from former owner George Shinn for around $300 million, and kept the team until it could find a local buyer in New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, who bought the Hornets for $338 million last year.

The Maloofs, who have never changed their minds about preferring to complete their deal with Hansen, believe that Stern has indeed gone above and beyond in helping Sacramento's bid, according to a source directly involved in the talk. But they also believe he is acting in the way a commissioner is expected to -- to try and keep franchises where they are, while also making the most money he can for the other owners.

What will Stern do this week? And what did Stern do last week?

We'll probably know for sure next week. Which is when we'll also hopefully know where the Kings will call home for the next few decades.

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(This week's ranking in parenthesis; April 1 rankings in brackets)

1) Miami (4-0) [1]: Sunday's win over Chicago at American Airlines Arena gives the Heat a franchise record 36 home wins this season with one game to play, besting the previous mark of 35-6 in 2004-05, Shaq's first season on South Beach.

2) Oklahoma City (3-0) [2]: Third Northwest Division title in three seasons for the Thunder.

3) San Antonio (2-1) [3]: For all the rending of garments about Manu Ginobili's and Tony Parker's health going into the playoffs, if Tiago Splitter doesn't perform up to snuff in the postseason, it won't matter anyway.

4) L.A. Clippers (3-0) [6]: Getting hot again at just the right time of year.

5) Denver (2-1) [4]: Set a franchise record Sunday with 55th victory of the season.

6) Memphis (2-1) [5]: The Grizz may come to regret losing at home -- their first loss at FedEx Forum in 14 games, dating to early February -- to the Clippers on Saturday night. Home court is slipping away.

7) New York (3-1) [8]: Knicks may get back both Rasheed Wallace and Kenyon Martin for the first round after officially waiving Kurt Thomas over the weekend.

8) Indiana (1-2) [7]: Pacers' loss to the Knicks Sunday assures them of third place in the east, with a first-round series against either the Hawks or Bulls -- and a likely second-rounder against New York without home-court advantage.

9) Brooklyn (3-1) [13]: When all was said and done this season, the Nets have about the record I thought they would at the start of the year. (OK, I had them down for 50 wins, and they won't quite get there.)

10) Atlanta (2-0) [12]: Hawks have quietly become the Eastern Conference's most consistent postseason visitor, reaching the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Only one other East team -- Boston -- has made the playoffs six years in a row.

11) Chicago (1-3) [9]: The Bulls don't want to see the Pacers in the first round, especially with Joakim Noah likely gimpy for the playoffs.

12) Golden State (1-2) [10]: First playoff appearance in six seasons for the Warriors, who could be a dangerous first-round foe if Andrew Bogut gets healthy. This has not been a common occurrence.

13) Boston (1-2) [11]: With KG back, the Celtics have a chance as a dangerous seventh seed against the Knicks. Garnett against Tyson Chandler? Paul Pierce against 'Melo? Will be fun.

14) Houston (2-1) [14]: James Harden. Sore foot. Words you don't want anywhere near one another if you're a Rockets fan going into the playoffs.

15) L.A. Lakers (4-0) [NR]: Things are never dull in LaLa, are they? Lakers, finally, have their destiny in their own hands; win at home Wednesday against the Rockets, and they're in the playoffs, without Kobe and regardless of what Utah does in its last two games.

Dropped out: Utah (15)

TEAM OF THE WEEK

L.A. Clippers (3-0): Monster win Saturday at Memphis is quite a table-setter for the playoffs.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Portland (0-3): With 11 straight losses as the season comes to an end, the Blazers have "regressed to the mean," as the statisticians might say, after hanging around the edge of the playoff picture in the west for much of the season.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Is it over for the Mamba?

No. It isn't.

Originally, the post here was going to be about the Knicks' chances in the postseason. I had been around them for a few days here and there, enough to talk with Jason Kidd and Carmelo Anthony and a couple of other players. It was going to be a good story. But then early Saturday morning happened, and Kobe Bryant went down, and Twitter exploded.

But first things first.

There isn't a chance in hell that Kobe Bryant retires.

None.

Zero.

Write it in ink.

He will invent enemies and doubters where none exist, claim that the whole world believes he can't come back from his Achilles' tear suffered against the Warriors. And that will motivate him to do all the hard, dull work that is now in front of him if he wants to play again.

But you now know better. Here I am, on April 15, 2013, stating unequivocally that Kobe Bean Bryant will return to the Lakers and to the basketball court, sometime next season. He won't be 100 percent right away, he won't be himself, and may never be himself again -- or at least the Kobe we saw most of this season. But he will play again. The Lure of Six -- six championships, which would tie him with Michael Jordan -- rules Bryant's world like Tony Soprano ruled North Jersey.

The Lakers will not amnesty him. It doesn't make sense, either on or off the court. How could owner Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak explain using the amnesty provision on Bryant in July, then watch him come back in nine or 10 months and skip away to another team in the spring of 2014 as a free agent? (Once a team amnesties a player, it cannot re-sign him at any point during the remaining time on his contract -- which, in Bryant's case, would be the 2013-14 season.)

Even if Bryant does miss all of the 2013-14 season, insurance will cover 80 percent of his $30 million salary after he misses the 41st game of next season, so the Lakers would save millions in cash. (And no one is going to feel sorry for a team sitting on a $3 billion local TV deal.)

Even if they wanted to amnesty him -- and they don't -- the Lakers would still be a tax-paying team next season the second they re-sign Dwight Howard. Presumably, they will have a season next year in L.A., and despite all the rumblings about the Mavs or Rockets going after Howard, it's still impossible to see him leaving $30 million on the table to play in Texas, despite the lack of state income tax there.

The post-Kobe future in Los Angeles is coming into sharp focus, and Howard is going to be the fulcrum.

It's far more likely that if the Lakers use their amnesty, it would be on Metta World Peace's $7.7 million next season, not Bryant's $30 million.

Keep in mind, too, that the Lakers -- like every other team that hasn't used its amnesty provision -- has until before the start of the 2015-16 season to do so. So the Lakers don't HAVE to use it this summer.

Either way, they'll plan to re-sign Howard. Only after they have Howard's John Hancock would they entertain potential Pau Gasol deals in a more serious manner, for the kinds of parts that make more sense to surround Howard and to make coach Mike D'Antoni's offense work.

(Wouldn't it make sense, for example, for the Lakers to send Gasol to Toronto, where he could pair with Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas to make a pretty potent frontcourt next season, for Andrea Barngani and L.A. native DeMar DeRozan, and maybe a Toronto first down the road?)

Between now and then, though, the franchise will be on hold, until Bryant's rehab produces ... whatever it produces.

The Achilles' is often an unforgiving tendon once it snaps. An Achilles' tear ended Isiah Thomas's career in 1992, and it's laid any number of players low. Among NBA players of recent vintage? Elton Brand has been solid, but no longer spectacular, since his Achilles' tear in 2007. Memphis' Darrell Arthur, who missed all of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season after tearing his Achilles in December 2011, has returned to be a solid role player for the Grizzlies. The same can be said for Detroit's Jonas Jerebko, who tore his Achilles in 2010 and is back as a solid reserve for the Pistons.

One of the closest modern players in age to Bryant who came back from an Achilles' tear was Clippers guard Chauncey Billups, who ruptured his Achilles in February, 2012, at age 35. He returned to the lineup within nine months, but his return season has been pockmarked with assorted injuries that have kept him off the floor most of the year -- though he insists the Achilles' is fine.

The exception to the rule remains Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, who tore his Achilles a little more than midway through the 1991-92 season with the Hawks. But Wilkins returned the following season and averaged 29.9 points, winning the NBA's Comeback Player of the Year award (when it still existed) and making his eighth All-Star team.

As almost everyone who suffers an Achilles tear does, Bryant thought someone had kicked him in the back of his leg before he fell.

"I remember feeling the same way," Wilkins said by phone Sunday. "I turned around and said, 'Who the hell kicked me?' There was nobody there. I looked down and I could see the top of my toe. And the blood went out of my head and I went straight to the floor. And you talk about pain? I don't think I've ever felt pain like that before."

Wilkins was 32 when he was injured, but was still near his Human Highlight Film apex. He did not want to become a cautionary tale.

"It just depends on the person, the level of commitment that you have," he said. "What I did was overkill, as far as rehabilitating it, getting it ready to go. I worked out twice a day for nine months, not only to get back, but to be able to play the same way I did before I got hurt."

Wilkins did water therapy in the morning, and then strapped himself to an Elgin machine that pulled his reconstructed Achilles' front to back, and side to side, day after day, to try and recapture his natural range of motion. Every month, he added weights to the Elgin, lifting a few more pounds.

The next season, Wilkins posted his highest scoring average in five years and set a career high in 3-point shooting percentage. He played another five NBA seasons before finishing his career in Europe, as an effective -- but different -- player.

"The best all-around season I had was that year after I tore the Achilles," Wilkins said. "You have to learn to play on the ground as well as the air. The thing that made me more grounded was really the fear of jumping, of exploding on that foot. I had to put that out of my mind. If it's going to blow out, it's going to blow out ... it made me pick my spots, decided when I could exert energy and when I couldn't. Instead of an athlete, I was a basketball player, as far as from a mental standpoint."

While Wilkins crumpled to the ground immediately after tearing his Achilles', unable to put any pressure on his foot at all, Bryant was able to get up, shoot two free throws and then limp off the court. The Lakers put the timetable for his recovery at six to nine months, meaning he could be back in time for the start of next season.

"The positive thing about Kobe's tear is he was able to still stand and go out there and shoot free throws," Wilkins said. "With mine, it was swinging from side to side, by the ankle. You couldn't walk on it."

And Wilkins also believes we haven't seen the last of the Mamba.

"Kobe is a competitor, a fierce competitor, one of the best to ever play the game. That edge is what is going to get him through," Wilkins said.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

He does not see gold at the end of the rainbow. From Tod Golding:

I am an average Sacramento citizen with no specific axe to grind. However, it's hard to sit by and see what's happening here with the Sacramento Kings and not feel compelled to reach out. There is a very compelling national story about to play out here in Sacramento that parallels the story of the Cleveland Browns. The drama and the stakes in this story couldn't be higher and, yet, the national media is literally sitting on their collective hands while an entire city is about to get its heart ripped out by the NBA.

The story line is very basic: Sacramento is going to lose its team to the pure and basic vindictiveness of the Maloofs. This team, which was never supposed to be for sale, was sold to the Seattle ownership without the Maloofs offering local investors or the city any opportunity to make a competing offer. In fact, the Maloofs have made it fairly clear that they don't want the team to be sold to a local investor. They want to punish the city.

So, now we're in a position where the city of Sacramento has stepped up to the plate to pay for more than half of a new arena, they've found very qualified, deep-pocketed investors to fund the remainder of the arena and purchase the team, and they've had overwhelming support from the community to keep the team here -- all conditions that would normally keep a team in any city. However, despite all of these factors, the team will likely be moved to Seattle out of the pure greed of the league's owners and the bitterness of the Maloofs.

My point here is: no matter where you come down on this story, no matter how you want to spin the details -- there's a compelling story here that needs to be shared nationally. The league should be held accountable and they won't if this continues to be portrayed as just another battle between two cities for a team. It's the underlying venom and vindictiveness of the Maloofs that should be under full examination. How can a city step up like Sacramento has -- offering a huge public contribution (which Seattle hasn't) -- and still lose its team?

That's a question all of you should be shouting in your coverage. Instead, you're all sitting idly by while a team is yanked from a town. I guess this will make better documentary coverage after the team is long gone.

I understand the passion/anger/bewilderment, Tod. But some of your information is incorrect. As noted above, Seattle has offered a huge public contribution -- up to $200 million -- to construct a new arena. And no one, up to and including the Commish, would bet anything serious on predicting the outcome of Friday's Board of Governors meeting. No one knows what will happen. And there are people in Seattle who are just as convinced as you are that the Kings will stay in Sacramento, with the league working behind the scenes to ensure that that outcome occurs.

March Madness, or a Career Compendium? From Stefan Vasilev:

As the NCAA tournament comes close to its end, I am wondering how big is the impact these games have a players Draft value?

The first several spots look kind of locked every year no matter what the tournament performance of the players is, with the best example being Kyrie Irving (though that turned out well for the Cavs so far).

Pray for Ware!

The tournament has some value, Stefan, especially when teams contemplating taking a particular player can see him in real time against a quality opponent that plays the same position. For example, NBA scouts saw Michigan point guard Trey Burke go against South Dakota State's Nate Wolters in the second round. But for the most part, scouts still trust what they've seen over the length of a player's college career, along with what he did in high school, over the three weeks of tournament play. (But it certainly didn't hurt Kemba Walker to have an incredible Big East and NCAA tournament run two years ago.)

Apples, meet oranges. From Yitshak Merin:

With Kobe passing Wilt Chamberlain, and eventually he will pass Michael Jordan, and surely in a few years LeBron James will be up there passing those folks, I wonder if there was ever an attempt to combine NBA and NCAA points? Surely that will show that Kobe has a long way to go to beat MJ ... or Shaq, for that matter.

I don't think so, Yitshak, and there shouldn't be. They are two completely different kinds of basketball, from the size, strength and abilities of the players to the quality (and length) of play to the length of the season to the officiating to the rules. You can't compare the two. You use grapes to make wine, but you wouldn't squeeze the juices from a bunch of Thompson Seedless into a glass and call it a chianti, if you know what I'm saying.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and most outrageous tax deductions you have the guts to try and claim for fiscal 2012 to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (24 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 7.3 apg, .684 FG, .864): More than made his case for a fourth league MVP award with an incredible regular season.

2) Kevin Durant (22.7 ppg, 9 rpg, 7.7 apg, .622 FG, .950 FT): As The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry pointed out last week, the best case Durantula has for MVP is all the career years so many of his teammates are having this season.

3) Carmelo Anthony (32 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.75 apg, .461 FG, .818 FT): Broke Bernard King's team record of consecutive games with 35 or more points when he posted 36 in the Knicks' overtime loss to the Bulls Thursday.

4) Chris Paul (16.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 10 apg, .459 FG, .923 FT): Played a career-low 33.5 minutes this season as Clips hoped to keep their franchise player healthy going into the playoffs. Mission accomplished.

5) Kobe Bryant (37 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5 apg, .485 FG, .889 FT): You don't really think he's going out like this, do you? He will be back. Don't know if it will be next season or the year after, but we haven't seen the last of Bean. Book it.

BY THE NUMBERS

$25,000 -- Fine levied by the league on Warriors guard Jarrett Jack Sunday for verbal abuse of an official. Jack yelled at an official at the conclusion of Golden State's two-point loss to the Lakers Friday.

17 -- Players with 25,000 or more points, after Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki joined the club Sunday during the Mavericks' win at New Orleans. The victory evened Dallas' mark at 40-40, finally allowing Nowitzki and the other Mavs to shave as a reward for reaching the .500 mark. It took them much longer -- a couple of months -- than they'd hope, which led to the Diggler's Grizzly Adams look.

4 -- Number of players -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Michael Jordan (5), Bill Russell (4) and Wilt Chamberlain (4) -- who have won more than three league MVP awards since the award was established in 1956. LeBron James is a prohibitive favorite to join that group with a fourth MVP for this season.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) I want whatever Metta World took after that 'scope. On second thought, maybe I don't.

2) Smart move, Rutgers. You're getting a heck of a coach in Eddie Jordan, who I think will be rejuvenated taking the reins for his alma mater. Throw out the misguided year in Philly, which Jordan took way too quickly after being fired in Washington. His system is, obviously, tailor made for the college game. That's why they call it the Princeton offense.

3) Kudos to Mark Cuban, for stepping up and taking the blame. Rick Carlisle has never been a better coach, so he needs more pieces to work with next season.

4) Good on ya, Adam Scott. Good on ya.

5) Reader Ed Odeven (@ed_odeven) passed along this good read on Bill Cartwright coaching in Japan this season.

6) The regular season flew by. Seems like we were just in L.A. for the season opener between the Lakers and Mavericks. But the best two months of the season start on Saturday. There is nothing like the NBA playoffs to test the physical and mental mettle of its competitors. Nothing.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) This is why coach Gregg Popovich does what Gregg Popovich does. I don't like it, because fans are the ones who get cheated and literally pay the price for an inferior product. But as Chris Rock said about something altogether different, I understand.

1A) Speaking of which, here is hoping we can get a full 82 games next season out of Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving and John Wall. The league needs a vital Eastern Conference to engage fans throughout the season and in the playoffs, and those four guys are the keys to making that happen next year for their respective teams.

2) KD: Kids and young players watch your throat slash, or whatever you call it, just as much as they watch your buckets and your commercials. Stop it. Not worthy of you.

3) Seems like coach Doug Collins has already made up his mind about next season, even if he's not yet saying so publicly. I hope the reports are wrong. If the Sixers did manage to re-sign Andrew Bynum and he could give them even 60 games next season, that's a playoff team in the East. But if Doug is ready to leave the bench, his health and happiness come first.

4) By the way, those of you Laker fans out there who criticized me on Twitter, often profanely, for writing about the latest developments in the Sacramento-Seattle saga Friday night at the same time Kobe ruptured his Achilles'? Get a life. There are other things going on of importance. Fans in Sacramento and Seattle care a damn sight more about where the Kings will play next season than whether Kobe will play in the playoffs. Of course Kobe's injury was a big story, and it was covered all over NBA.com just like it was on ESPN and everywhere else. That doesn't mean the world came to an end. He didn't die. He was injured. Try and understand the difference.

5) I heard Shaq was still imitating me on Inside. That's cool! I'm sure it's hilarious. You can't take yourself too seriously, after all.

Q AND A: CHRIS BOSH

Erik Spoelstra keeps saying it, even though almost no one believes him. Chris Bosh, he says, is the one player that the Miami Heat cannot replace. Not LeBron James, not Dwyane Wade -- Bosh, the often-criticized 29-year-old who is decidedly the third leg of the SuperFriends. But Spoelstra knows that no matter the public perception of Bosh's game, he's the guy Miami turns to when teams load up on James, or Wade's knees are balky.

Bosh can still get it from the top of the key, or on quick dive-ins to the post. And he can still hit the big shot down the stretch, as he did in the Heat's improbable road win over San Antonio last month, with James and Wade and Mario Chalmers injured and on the bench. He is Miami's lone size at the defensive end; when he was out with an abdominal pull for most of the Heat's playoff series last year with Indiana, Miami never looked more vulnerable. But Bosh, of course, will never have the acclaim or get the respect of James. He handles this, mostly, with aplomb, even as he does and says occasionally goofy things that make fans scratch their heads. And the Heat has made mincemeat of most opponents all season, setting a franchise record for regular season victories.

Me: Has this season been what you expected in terms of getting every team's best shot?

Chris Bosh: I mean, you can never really expect it. It's just something that really hits you in the face, and you don't see it coming. It's something we had to get used to. It was just baffling at first. Coming in, having a short summer, you're not in that great of shape, these guys have been working out way longer than you have. You have all these great expectations. But you still have to play catch-up a little bit. You have to relearn everything. You just don't go, okay, last season was last season, and we'll pick up where we left off. Today's a new day. We have to start over. And it's been difficult. But we've met the challenge every night.

Me: You are such a different offensive team now than you were two years ago. How has that process gone?

CB: It's been difficult. Especially for me, because I've had to change so much about my game. As far as spacing goes, I'm a big. I'm used to running to the front of the rim and posting. [Spoelstra] wants the floor spread. It's just different concepts and different ideas. I really had to get used to it. And I know a bunch of guys did. That's one of the parts that we sacrificed the most, to kind of put the egos to the side. If Coach wanted to do something, he had a vision for the team. We know he wants what's best for the team, so you try to fit that mold as best as possible. It's worked out so far.

Me: When you heard what they wanted to do, how did the analytical side of you work it out with the id side of you?

CB: I started the season at the five, and that was going to be something that we were gonna roll with. And it's kind of changed since then. I've had the chance to play both positions, which are totally different. And the me part was just like, 'oh, man, here we go again. Damn, I usually start at the four, and it's now the full-time five.' And I just had to get rid of that real quick. I came into camp with an open mind, because I had anticipated it. I kind of knew that was gonna come after we won in the Finals playing like that. It's only natural that it's gonna happen.

Me: But it's worked.

CB: It's worked. It's worked. We just have to keep believing in the system, keep relying on each other, keep trusting each other, and just play hard every night, share the ball. And things will work out.

Me: Is there a part of you that's unhappy the win streak ended at 27, before you had a chance to break the Lakers' 33-game streak?

CB: I'm not too disappointed. I don't care about records and stuff. That's just me. We gave it a good run, had people believing for a little bit. But it's something that became a thing, of course. And it was a monkey on our back, man. If you think people were playing hard before, every night [during the streak] was like a playoff game, which was a lot of fun. But that's challenging. We never made excuses. We got into town, sometimes, at three or four in the morning, and we laced 'em up and played. We had a couple of slipups in Chicago, and they caught us sleeping and beat us. Not much room for error.

Me: But you came back and beat the Spurs in San Antonio two nights later, on your game-winning 3-pointer. Was that last play just a case of two veteran guys knowing how to run a screen-and-roll, or has Ray [Allen] picked up better what you're doing out there?

CB: I think it was a mix of both. The coaches have really been pounding the spacing and what we do in the open court. We said before that defensive stand that if we get a stop, we want to run. We felt that gave us the best ability to get an open shot. We ran down, set an early screen and roll, and for one, we have to have chemistry to know where to go. And two, Ray has to make a veteran play. And he did. He saw two guys on the ball, and he didn't hesitate. That's one of the best part about this team, that we trust each other so much to make plays, that if it's the right play, we're making it without hesitation, no matter how much time is left, or what the situation is. We just play basketball.

Me: You're not a big three-point shooter, but you've made some late at huge moments the last couple of years. Why is that?

CB: 'Cause I have to shoot it. The only reason I don't shoot a lot of them is because...I can make it, it's just the fact that I have to work on not filtering it through my brain, instead of just letting it go. It's something I'm working on, just continuing to try to become a complete player. That's a frontier that I can start taking steps in.

Me: What do you think it meant to the team to win a game like that without LeBron, Dwyane and Mario on the floor?

CB: It means a lot to us. We always say how we're a deep team. You can talk about it all you want, but when it's time you have to prove it. And that was a very good game that we played. San Antonio, they're tough. They're a very tough team to play, especially on their home floor. But we wanted to make it a very tough game. We love to compete --everybody from 1 to 15 on the team. No matter the circumstance, it says Heat on our chest. We are still the defending champions, and we have to take that pride with us out onto the court.

Me: What has Chris Andersen brought to the team?

CB: A certain element of toughness. He's a veteran that knows how to play. He just fits right in to what we want do. He brings energy on the defensive end. He creates second-chance opportunities. He's one of those players that, what he does doesn't show up on the stat sheet. And he loves what he does. So he's just been a natural fit for us. We just kept going when he came.

Me: I can't imagine he's locked in to everything you guys are doing out there.

CB: Well, sometimes, it's good to have that balance. But when he's locked in, he's locked in. Sometimes I think that's an element of his game that kind of fools people a little bit. You think he doesn't know what's going on, but he knows what he's doing. He's just baiting everybody.

Me: Do you think the way you and Boston and Dallas and others are playing offensively this season is the way the game is going to be played by everyone going forward—this four out, one game, with misdirection on the weak side and continuous ball movement?

CB: Yeah. It's beautiful basketball. And basketball changes every so often. I think it's just something that's worked. I figured, watching the Finals last year, I just knew that basketball was gonna change. I was thinking, kids are watching this. Colleges, high schools and other pro teams are watching this. And this is gonna be the new mold. And it's just something, if you can get a four guy who can guard the post and be fast at the same time, hit outside jumpers, that's something you really have to look at. Because if guys are too slow, they can't play.

Me: The four is vital to making it work, right?

CB: Yeah, it is. In the 1990s, you had to have two big guys. It was crazy to play four out, one in. It just wasn't gonna work. The game was a lot slower, different rules a little bit. Now it's built for speed.

Me: And it's not just being a stretch four, right?

CB: That's part of it. But not every guy has to be money from the outside. He has to be able to space and play within there. That doesn't mean he can't post up. You can still slice into the post, whatever the system requires you to do, you can do it. But I think it's something that's very unique in the sense of if you can rebound and you can defend, that really gives you enough size, no matter how big you are.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

30 for 30!
-- Ayesha Curry, wife of Golden State guard Steph Curry (@ayeshacurry), Friday, 10:25 p.m., watching her husband go nuts in the first half of the Warriors' game against the Lakers. Curry scored 32 of his 47 points in the first against Los Angeles in Golden State's 118-116 loss.

THEY SAID IT

"For us to make a jump next season, JJ can't be our starting center. I'm not saying he can't be part of the roster. But we need to find a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and gets defensive rebounds at a high rate and that has a presence."
-- Portland general manager Neil Olshey, to The Oregonian, on the team's likely plans to let upcoming unrestricted free agent J.J. Hickson walk after the season. The undersized Blazers have been dominated in the paint this season.

"My confidence is totally gone. I'm just at the point now ... I'm in a situation where I feel like if I miss, I'm going to get pulled out of the game, you know what I'm saying? So my whole concept is just that you can't come out of the game if you're not missing shots."
--Nets forward Gerald Wallace, to the New York Post, on his offensive nosedive the second half of the season.

"I'm Marv Albert, this is Dick Stockton and Kevin Harlan."
-- My TNT colleague Steve Kerr, introducing himself, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller last Thursday as they broadcast the Thunder-Warriors game in Oakland without a play-by-play man. I am now officially politicking my Turner bosses to let Sager, Rachel Nichols and I broadcast a game together next season, as long as I get to do play by play. I'll even switch jackets with Craig. For a quarter.

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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