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David Aldridge

Commissioner David Stern (right) and Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver have a tall task ahead.

These dozen owners hold sway over decision on Kings' future


Posted Apr 29, 2013 12:38 PM

At long last, it's time.

At 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, 12 NBA owners will hold a conference call. According to sources, the call is expected to last two hours. And at the end of those two hours, those 12 owners will, finally, make their voices heard. They will either recommend that the league's other owners vote to keep the Kings in Sacramento, or recommend they vote to allow the Kings to be sold to a group that will move them to Seattle.

The recommendation will be just that -- a recommendation. The owners are free to vote how they like. But no sooner than seven business days after the league formally gets the recommendation of its combined Relocation and Finance committees, all 30 owners will decide the Kings' fate. If the league gets a recommendation from the combined committees by Wednesday, it could have the final vote on May 8. But Commissioner David Stern indicated last week that that final vote is likely to take place May 13.

But the recommendation will likely determine which way that vote will go. If eight or more owners vote for Sacramento out of committee, that city will almost certainly be able to find enough votes among the league's other 18 owners to stop the sale of the team to the Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer group. If there aren't that many votes for Sacramento in committee, the sale to Hansen/Ballmer will probably go through.

The May 13 vote will first determine if the league approves the move of the Kings to Seattle, then if it approves the sale of the team from the Maloof Family to the Hansen group on a franchise valuation of $550 million, or $357 million for 65 percent interest in the team. The votes will be taken in that order because the league certainly doesn't want to be placed in the position where its owners agree to allow the sale to Hansen, yet don't allow the team to move to Seattle. Hansen has repeatedly made it clear he doesn't want the Kings if he can't move them.

By voting first on relocation, the league takes care of the second issue; a no vote on relocation will necessarily put the kibosh on the sale to Hansen. That would leave the Maloof family the option of selling the Kings to a group led by software magnate Vivek Ranadive and 24-Hour Fitness founder Mark Mastrov that wants to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Ranadive's group has also submitted a bid for the Kings that reports say is equivalent to the Hansen group's bid, although a letter from the Maloof family to the league that was leaked to the media last week indicated the Maloofs still prefer the Hansen deal.

A yes vote for relocation May 13 will require a simple majority -- 16 of the league's 30 owners. A yes vote on the sale of the team will require three-quarters, or 23, of the league's owners.

The league has spent the last week, since the NBA's Board of Governors did not make a decision at its annual meeting April 18, continuing to vet both groups, according to sources in Seattle and Sacramento.

A source close to the Sacramento group said Sunday night that the league has taken "hours and hours since they left New York" to get even more detailed financial reports from the Ranadive group, which has added new members of the ownership group in the last month. The NBA continues to try to pin down both cities on their arena plans, and whether they can get them built on time and at budget. As I have written many times, the arena deals are the likely determinants for which city gets the Kings.

Both cities are optimistic, but wary.

"We feel good about things, but we'll hold our breath until we're sure," a source close to the Seattle group said Sunday night.

The decision is now, finally out of their hands. But who are these owners? And how will they vote?

Spurs owner Peter Holt will be a key figure in the decisions surrounding the Kings' future.

Anyone -- anyone -- who tells you they know how this is going to go is lying, and no one should take anything said (or written or tweeted or blogged) seriously. All the tough talk from "sources" on both sides is just that -- talk. They've each lobbied, cajoled, tried to tear down the other town. But none of these people, from Hansen to Ranadive to Ballmer to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, gets to decide.

What follows is a series of guesses as to how the dozen owners will vote. Read that again, carefully. Guesses. Not information from "sources." Guesses, based on some knowledge of the owner's (and, by extension, the team's) financial state, their potential future earning power -- and, in some cases, their relationship with Stern.

And while Stern continues to say he doesn't have a dog in this fight, his years-long search for an arena solution in Sacramento (including dispatching arena consultant John Moag to the city on the NBA's behalf), his close relationship with Johnson and his general reluctance to see franchises move lead me to believe he wouldn't be upset if the Kings stayed in Sacramento. There's a difference between believing that and believing he has his thumb on the scale.

Yet, no matter any behind-the-scenes machinations, both sides still need to do some convincing. And these are the people who need to be convinced.

The Gang of 12:

Peter Holt, Spurs, member of both committees (Relocation and Finance)

A confidant of Stern's with his standing as Chairman of the Board of Governors, Holt worked side by side with Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver as the lead negotiators for the league during the lockout. And Holt reportedly led the charge in 1996 that kept the Maloofs from buying the Spurs. As a small-market owner as well, the inclination would be to think Holt would support Sacramento's bid to keep the team. Yet Holt fought hard during the lockout for enhanced revenue sharing, and if the Kings move to Seattle, they would likely go from a revenue sharing recipient to a revenue sharing payer.

The likely vote?: For now, though, I'll make Holt a leaning Sacramento vote.

Clay Bennett, Thunder, member of both committees, chairman of the relocation committee

Again, on the surface, you'd put Bennett down for Sacramento, given that Bennett moved the SuperSonics from Seattle in 2008 to Oklahoma City, and given the enmity with which he is still viewed in Seattle. But many also believe that Bennett desperately wants to try to make amends with Seattle -- if for no other reason to stop the optics of the "Zombie Sonics" fans from harassing the Thunder at stops around the league.

The likely vote?: Could go either way.

Micky Arison, Heat, member of both committees

One of Stern's most trusted confidants, even when they disagree. They did so during the lockout, which cost Arison $500,000 when he posted tweets on his account indicating he wanted to end the lockout sooner rather than later. He's also one of the league's longest-standing owners, who tend to support franchise stability rather than movement.

The likely vote?: The guess is that he would support Sacramento if the prospective owners' money lines up right.

Herb Simon, Pacers, member of both committees

Again, at first glance, you'd think Simon would support Sacramento. Like the Kings, the Pacers play in a small market. Even though they play in one of the league's best buildings, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers lose money annually -- despite a yearly subsidy they have received from the city of Indianapolis for the last several years. Yet Simon, through the family's primary business -- acquisition, ownership and management of shopping malls -- has a long-standing relationship with the Nordstrom family, whose high-end clothing stores have been mall anchors around the country. And Peter Nordstrom is one of the primary members of the Seattle group seeking to buy the Kings and move them.

The likely vote?: The guess, then, is lean Seattle.

Ted Leonsis, Wizards, member of relocation committee

The Wizards are a big-market team that nonetheless does not make nearly as much as other big cities. Leonsis is contemplating starting his own regional sports network that other teams have been able to parlay into cash cows. He is, famously, close with Ranadive, and would certainly be a proponent of Ranadive's vision for the Kings as a 21st century global brand.

The likely vote?: Would consider him a strong Sacramento vote.

Greg Miller, Jazz, member of relocation committee

Miller has had to wrestle with small-market issues since taking over as Jazz owner for his late father, Larry, in 2009. The Jazz opted to trade Deron Williams a year early, in 2010, to the Nets rather than have him reach his free-agent season and hold the team over a barrel. And the Millers are one of the league's older ownership families. But Greg Miller has also broken with his father's ways, delegating much more and staying away from the players. The Jazz are also a revenue sharing recipient, who would welcome another team putting funds into the kitty.

The likely vote?: An uncertain vote.

Glen Taylor, Timberwolves, member of both committees

The former chair of the BOG is also close with Stern. Would think he'd go along with what the Commish wants. And, again, the guess here is that Stern would like to find a way to keep the Kings in Sacramento. And I'm inclined to think Taylor is a Sacramento vote.

But then -- and this is how crazy one can get trying to read tea leaves -- it was Stern who dropped a figurative piano on Taylor's head when he stripped the Wolves of four first-round draft picks and fined the team $3.5 million in 2000 for circumventing the salary cap when it entered into a secret contract agreement with Joe Smith. Could Taylor have lain in wait a decade to give his rebuttal? Don't know.

The likely vote?: I don't have a guess as to how he'll vote, either.

Jeanie Buss, Lakers, member of finance committee

The Lakers' new governor, replacing her late father, Jerry, heads the team that probably pays as much in revenue sharing as any in the league. There's no team that would want the Kings to go from a recipient to a payer more.

The likely vote?: Hard to see her being anything but a strong Seattle vote.

James Dolan, Knicks, member of finance committee

See Jeanie Buss. The Knicks' owner was believed to be adamant to find a solution during the lockout, even as it put him at odds with more hawkish owners.

The likely vote: Would certainly be inclined to go his own way on this vote as well, which I believe would be to vote for Seattle.

Wyc Grousbeck, Celtics, member of finance committee

Boston is also a high-revenue tax payer. A relatively new owner (his group bought control of the Celtics in 2002), Grousbeck is generally thought of as a pro-league guy. But his team's enormous television deal with Comcast Sports Net New England generates incredible revenues that have kept the Celtics on the high end of revenue-sharing payments.

The likely vote?: I'd think he's a Seattle vote, but I'm going to go with uncertain for now.

Robert Sarver, Suns, member of finance committee

He has a strong personal relationship with Johnson, the former Suns All-Star. Smaller-market owner, whose team is also in need of a new building sooner rather than later.

The likely vote?: The guess is he's a strong Sacramento supporter.

Larry Tanenbaum, Raptors, member of finance committee

Owns 25 percent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns and runs the Raptors and the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs. Tanenbaum was a key player in solving the NHL's lockout this year and is respected as a measured voice in both leagues, who thinks about the long-term view of the leagues instead of his team's own self-interest.

The likely vote?: It would be folly to guess which way he's leaning.

That makes my guess -- again, guess -- that there are four owners among the 12 who would support keeping the Kings in Sacramento, three who would vote to allow the Kings to move to Seattle, and five whose votes are uncertain or undecided.

I can't stress enough how much this is not based on any insider information, and how this could be completely wrong -- the supposed pro-Sacramento votes could be pro-Seattle ones, for all I know. Which is the fitting way for this whole saga to finally start toward its denouement, with uncertainty creating an anxiety that has two good cities at their collective wits' end.

And before you ask: I don't know what would happen if the vote is 6-6. But, given how this thing has gone, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if that happened.

DRIBBLES

Spurs back in tune when it matters

Thursday, a group of San Antonio Spurs first-year players serenaded Tim Duncan on his 37th birthday. It was an acquired taste.

"Not too good," forward Kawhi Leonard said. "But, they're basketball players, not really singers."

That has been the case in San Antonio for more than a decade now. They may not be what Madison Avenue wants to sell product (though they've made local ads for years) and they may not be able to carry a tune, but they're back to the business of competing for the championship -- less than a month after it looked like all the team's key indicators were pointing south.

Even as San Antonio was wrapping up a 58-win season, the Spurs didn't seem like a real threat in the West. Coach Gregg Popovich was railing about his team's defensive slippage from top-five unit to middle of the pack, wasting all its work, showing an alarming inattention to detail. The Spurs lost seven of their last 10 games. Parker (sprained ankle and neck) and Ginobili (hamstring) were held out. The Spurs were "discombobulated," to use one of their coach's favorite words. Whether this was another exciting episode of Popovich Theatre designed to motivate in the waning days of the regular season, or a sign of genuine concern, San Antonio spent much of April on eggshells, while the Thunder captured the West's best record.

Then ... Patrick Beverley happened.

No one should be silly enough to write off an OKC team that still features a guy that can get 40 every night. But, as with all teams dealing with injuries, losing a player as good as Russell Westbrook severely lowers the Thunder's margin for error, just as the (insert your team here) are diminished without (insert star player here). Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Andrew Bynum, Kyrie Irving, Danny Granger, Danilo Gallinari ... has there even been such a star-crossed season for stars?

By contrast, after traversing the minefield of the regular season as paranoid as ever about injuries to the team's core of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili (and willing to take one, or 250,000 ones for the team) Popovich's regular-season moves have again positioned the Spurs well for the rest of the playoffs.

Parker looks like himself again. Ginobili's hamstring held up through four games against the Lakers. And even though big man Tiago Splitter sprained his ankle in Game 3, he should be back after the week off the Spurs will now enjoy. And the Spurs should also get Boris Diaw (back surgery to remove a cyst) back for the next round.

They still go methodical in San Antonio, clearing just enough forest to see the next group of trees.

"Focus and health is what we need," Duncan said Friday. "As clichéd as that sounds, that's what we need. We understand what it's about. We understand right now where we sit ... we are an older team. We need every bit of rest that we can get."

It's easy to get caught up in the sweep over L.A., but it would be foolhardy to say San Antonio is completely out of the woods. With Kobe Bryant already out with a torn Achilles', and Steve Nash and Steve Blake soon to join him on the bench with their own hurts, the series with the Lakers had the feel of a glorified scrimmage ("it was weird," Parker told me in the TNT postgame interview Sunday).

But Popovich got a lot out of those four games. Leonard was relentless defensively, Splitter more than held his own before being injured and San Antonio got quality minutes off from reserves Cory Joseph and DeJuan Blair.

Parker's timing and explosiveness came back, gradually and then all at once. He didn't have to tax Ginobili more than 20 minutes in any of the four games, but Ginobili made the most of his time on the court, with 19 assists in 78 total minutes. He threw down a one-handed lefty dunk Sunday for good measure.

"To tell you the truth, and I'm being honest, there's not [been] one year since I've been in the league that I didn't think we had a shot," Ginobili said. "There's been years that we lost in the first round, others that we were first, or we were seventh in the standings. But I've honestly believed that we had a shot. First of all, because we've got the talent, we've got the work ethics, the knowledge. And anything can happen in the playoffs. Somebody goes down, you have a good game when it counts. In very close playoff games, it always goes [down to] one shot, one defense, one mistake."

Duncan was ridiculously good against the Lakers, rendering coach Mike D'Antoni almost speechless at times. He shot 51 percent, played fluidly (it drives Popovich crazy when Duncan hesitates when he catches the ball wide open at the top of the key, as if he'll offend someone in San Antonio by shooting) and had no trouble defending either Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol in the few moments of the series when it mattered.

The Spurs' hopes of beating the likes of OKC or Miami in late May and June, however, still rest with Parker playing like the MVP candidate he was most of the season. He's the one Spur who still possesses the blow-by quickness that compromises defenses. When he can turn the corner for a floater or get to the rim, all of San Antonio's many offensive options are in play.

"He told me he was starting to feel energetic again, and healthy," Ginobili said. "He's got a couple of back problems, but he's turning the corner. He showed it in the second half [of Game 2]."

Duncan long ago ceded the team to Parker's control, a transfer of power that often causes other teams to implode. By contrast, Duncan -- merely the greatest power forward ever -- shrugged and wondered what took so long. (Duncan's worldview could fill up volumes of psychological books. There just isn't another modern-day superstar in the NBA like him.)

He had to be equally adaptable waiting for Parker to get back into form in the playoffs.

"It takes awhile," Duncan said. "We wanted him to jump back in and be in midseason form like he was, and controlling the team. But he got hurt, he was down, and it takes awhile. I know it took me a good eight, 10 games this season just to get back into that rhythm [after suffering a left knee sprain in February], and that's about the time frame it took him. But he looks good now."

After dispatching the plodding Lakers, the Spurs will find their next opponent, whether Golden State or Denver, to be lightning fast. "It's going to be a track meet," Parker said. But the Spurs have time to lace 'em up tight. It's no longer a marathon. It's a sprint. And the finish line, blessedly, is in sight.

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(This week's record in parenthesis; April 15 rankings in brackets)

1) Miami (3-0) [1]: Completed first playoff sweep in the SuperFriends era with its four-game dispatching of the Bucks.

2) San Antonio (3-0) [3]: By this time next week, the Spurs will likely have Tiago Splitter (sprained ankle) and Boris Diaw (back surgery) back. Given how DeJuan Blair and Aron Baynes played against the Lakers, Gregg Popovich may have decisions to make about playing time.

3) Oklahoma City (2-0) [2]: Nazr Mohammad said last year during The Finals that Reggie Jackson was an incredibly talented player who would show it when he got the chance. He's about to get the chance.

4) Golden State (3-0) [12]: Jarrett Jack is a Man among Men, playing for a Team on Fire.

5) Memphis (2-1) [6]: Z-Bo again doing big work inside. He wanted the rock, and he's getting it.

6) New York (2-1) [7]: Looks like Amar'e Stoudemire will be back for the semis, when and if New York finishes off Boston.

7) L.A. Clippers (1-2) [4]: Even if the Clips wind up pulling out their series with the Grizzlies, you wonder if -- just as it happened last season -- six or seven games of banging with the Grizz will leave them physically and mentally depleted for the semis.

8) Chicago (3-1) [11]: Joakim Noah gutting it out on that bad foot for 38 minutes in Saturday's triple-overtime win over Brooklyn, and posting a double-double (15 and 13) to boot, was the stuff playoff legends are made of.

9) Denver (0-3) [5]: As George Karl said Sunday night, the next 48 hours are going to be extremely tough ones for the Nuggets. They have been run over three straight times by a Warriors team that looks fresher, hungrier and better.

10) Indiana (1-1) [8]: Set franchise playoff low with 30 points in the first half of Saturday's Game 3 blowout loss to the Hawks.

11) Brooklyn (1-3) [9]: GM Billy King gets contract extension last week. The same cannot be said for interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who saw months of good works blow up in one horrible week.

12) Atlanta (1-1) [10]: Big lineup with Johan Petro starting at center and Al Horford playing the four paid off against the Pacers Saturday.

13) Boston (1-2) [13]: Anyone who thought the Celtics didn't miss Rajon Rondo, go stand over there. We won't be needing you for a while.

14) Houston (0-2) [14]: Jeremy Lin falling through the floor (5 of 20) in first three games against Thunder, suffering from effects of bruised chest muscle.

15) L.A. Lakers (0-3) [15]: Dwight Howard told me after Game 4 that he was going to "clear his head" for a while before beginning to decide what to do about free agency. The Lakers' braintrust probably needs and wants to do the same before deciding what to do about him.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

San Antonio (3-0): Completed the sweep of the Lakers with Borg-like precision (that's the assimilating Borg from "Star Trek: The Next Generation," not Bjorn Borg -- though, come to think of it, that's kind of how Bjorn Borg beat his opponents, too). The Spurs' professionalism and focus is no surprise after all these years, but in a league full of poseurs and wannabes, it's still something we should all appreciate more.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

L.A. Lakers (0-3): There wasn't anything the Lakers could do with San Antonio with all their injuries, but I've never been to consecutive playoff games at Staples Center (or The Forum) where there was so little energy from the fans. (Jack left early in the fourth quarter!) It's going to be a long, hot summer in the City of Angels.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Who should fill all these coaching vacancies?

It's that time of year, when teams that didn't make the playoffs start cleaning house, and teams that don't last past the first round start making decisions.

Suddenly, there are a half-dozen teams looking for coaches. So it is now in the Association, with Philadelphia, Detroit, Charlotte and Phoenix officially looking for new bosses. The Kings are all-but-certain to replace Keith Smart, whether the team is still in Sacramento next season or in Seattle. Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Memphis, Atlanta and the Clippers are possibly seeking to replace their current incumbents, too. (In a separate category is Minnesota's Rick Adelman, who will decide in the next few weeks whether to return to the bench next season or retire to spend more time with his ailing wife. The choice is completely up to him.)

It would be wrong and unfair to speculate on potential replacements for Smart, Jim Boylan (Bucks), P.J. Carlesimo (Nets), Lionel Hollins (Grizzlies), Larry Drew (Hawks) or Vinny Del Negro (Clippers) while they still have their respective gigs. So let's limit ourselves to the four open jobs -- the Sixers, Bobcats, Pistons and Suns.

Philadelphia 76ers (34-48, T4th place, Atlantic)

Old Coach: Doug Collins (resigned after three seasons; will serve as consultant to owner Josh Harris)

Suggested New Coach: Quin Snyder, assistant coach, CSKA Moscow

The Pistons' young frontcourt could benefit from the tutelage of Quin Snyder.

The Sixers have gone the Legendary Former Sixer route in recent years with Mo Cheeks and Collins, each of whom had a certain degree of success before cresting. With a rebuilding facing them that looks like it's going to take a while to finish, with or without Andrew Bynum, the Sixers would seem to be in need of someone who is a patient teacher. Yet that's a hard sell in such a hard city (which is why a guy like Villanova's Jay Wright, who otherwise could be a outside-the-box choice and who might catch a break in Philly, would probably not work).

But the Sixers know Snyder, who was one of Collins' first hires in Philly in 2010. And Snyder has seemingly turned his life around since flaming out under a cloud at Missouri in 2006, when NCAA investigators piled up the accusations against the Tigers' program. He's punched a lot of coaching tickets at age 46.

After being fired at Missouri, Snyder spent three seasons in the NBA D-League with the Austin Toros. The last two came under the arm of the Spurs' management team, which took over operational control of the franchise in 2007 from Minnesota. He then worked with Collins for a year in Philly as the team's player development coach. Then came a year in Los Angeles with Mike Brown on the Lakers' bench. After Snyder almost got the Bobcats' job last summer but lost out to Mike Dunlap, legendary Italian coach Ettore Messina hired him to CSKA Moscow, the equally legendary Russian team once owned by Mikhail Prokhorov.

There's no doubt Snyder, from the Coach K tree at Duke, can X and O. There's no doubt he can communicate. And he seems to have gotten his life in order. It would be a reasonable gamble to give him a chance to develop further along with a young, rebuilding team.

Charlotte Bobcats (21-61, 4th place, Southeast)

Old Coach: Mike Dunlap (fired after one season)

Suggested New Coach: Alvin Gentry, ex-coach of Suns, Clippers, Pistons and Heat

Alvin Gentry might be just the guy to provide stability to the youthful Bobcats.

There's no getting around the mess that owner Michael Jordan continues to make of the Bobcats. Again, the franchise gambled and lost on an unproven coach in Dunlap, the former St. John's assistant coach who beat out the likes of Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and Snyder after wowing Charlotte's management in his interviews.

After going .286 this season, they were no longer wowed.

While clearly knowing the game, Dunlap lost his veteran players and wore out his younger players, and no one thought it would be a good idea to let him try to find either group next season.

After whiffing on the likes of Leonard Hamilton (while he ran the Wizards), Sam Vincent and Dunlap, Jordan needs to get a proven, professional coach in place who'll make the game somewhat fun and deal with the obvious losing that's ahead the next couple seasons with some good humor. And Gentry, fired this season in Phoenix, has already expressed his interest in the job.

Normally, such public politicking is a sure sign the guy isn't going to get the job. But Jordan should think hard about the 58-year-old Gentry. He is from Shelby, N.C., and played collegiately at Appalachian State University, which is about two hours north of Charlotte.

No, Gentry does not have a great win-loss record in his 12 seasons of work (335-370). But he's got more wins under his belt than the Bobcats do (250) in nine seasons.

What the Bobcats need to not do is fire another coach at the end of next season. They need continuity for the sake of their young players, who can't keep being asked to adjust to yet another system, yet another voice. They need a credible leader who can take their young players, the way Gentry did in Los Angeles with those Lamar Odom/Elton Brand/Darius Miles/Quentin Richardson teams, and give them structure, a playing style, and -- most importantly -- confidence.

Gentry, who assisted Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix, also believes in letting the ball fly offensively. If it's a good shot, Gentry could care less when you take it. He's also a member of the Larry Brown coaching tree, having gotten his feet wet as a coach under Brown at Kansas. Gentry knows what he's doing. Jordan needs to hire someone who can get these Bobcats on the road to respectability.

Detroit Pistons (29-53, 4th, Central)

Old Coach: Lawrence Frank (fired after two seasons)

Suggested New Coach: Darrell Walker, Knicks assistant coach

Longtime assistant coach Darrell Walker seems like the ideal man for Detroit's opening.

You wonder about this league sometimes. There are so many good assistant coaches out there who either never get a fair shot as a coach, or get passed over so often they give up. It took Tom Thibodeau working 17 years as an assistant coach before someone gave him a chance. It took Drew 18 seasons before he got the Hawks' job in 2011.

The list of other longtime assistants who deserve a shot is still so long: Elston Turner, who's been ready for years, but who got passed over in Phoenix for Lindsey Hunter, and then walked; Mike Budenholzer, Gregg Popovich's right-hand man in San Antonio the last five years and a Spurs assistant coach for 16 years; Shaw, whose qualifications are nauseatingly clear, and on and on.

Walker, hired by the Knicks' Mike Woodson last year when Woodson took over for D'Antoni, is in that same category. He's gotten a couple of shots as an interim guy in Washington and Toronto, but never with a team that had young talent that could get better. The Pistons have two good building blocks in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and Walker, an assistant for both Michael Curry and John Kuester in Detroit, as well as Byron Scott in New Orleans, could continue their development.

Walker is a no-nonsense coach who's not afraid to challenge players when they give less than their best. It was what kept him playing more than a decade for the Knicks, Bullets, Pistons and Bulls (where he won a ring in 1993), despite having a suspect jumper. But he was one of the league's best rebounding and defending point guards, and that pugnacious style is tailor made for blue collar Detroit.

The 52-year-old Walker also hasn't stopped growing off the court. He continues adding to his collection of African-American art and supporting artists. And last December, 33 years after enrolling at the University of Arkansas, Walker got his degree in human resource management.

Pistons owner Tom Gores may want to make a splash this summer with a big-name hire. But splashes only displace water temporarily. More often than not, they don't last. Walker could, if someone would only give him a real chance.

Phoenix Suns (25-57, 5th, Pacific)

Old Coach: Lindsey Hunter (interim, not expected to be retained)

Suggested New Coach: Hollins

Ex-Arizona State star Lionel Hollins could turn around the NBA culture in Phoenix.

This should be easy for Suns owner Robert Sarver and team president Lon Babby. There isn't anyone who is more qualified and more able to assuage the despairing local fan base than Hollins, who is in the midst of coaching the Grizzlies in another brutal first-round series with the Clippers. But Hollins is in the final year of his contract, and it certainly doesn't appear that the team's new ownership is at all interested in signing him to a long-term deal. (To be fair, the Grizzlies are only saying publicly that they value Hollins, and privately they may be entertaining the option of bringing him back next season.)

Hollins starred at nearby Arizona State and served as as an assistant coach there twice. He also spent seven years as a Suns' assistant under the late Cotton Fitzsimmons and Paul Westphal. Hollins would provide instant credibility for the Suns after leading the Grizzlies to three straight playoff appearances, with a 143-87 regular season record in those seasons. His demanding defensive style has resulted in the Grizzlies becoming one of the NBA's best defensive teams.

If there's one thing Phoenix needs these days, it's credibility. The Suns have cratered, the halcyon days of D'Antoni and Nash long gone. They waited too long before trading Nash, and then sent him to the hated Lakers; they took chances on players like Michael Beasley, with the expected results. They fired GM Lance Blanks, but changing management isn't going to matter if the on-court product isn't something fans can support.

Hollins isn't afraid to speak his mind, but this isn't about what he says ... it's about what he's done on the court. The Grizzlies were second in the league this season to Indiana in defensive efficiency (allowing 97.4 points per 100 possessions), completing a four-year rise under Hollins under which Memphis has improved from 23rd in defensive efficiency to 8th to 7th.

One can assume the Suns' new GM will have his own ideas on whom to hire, but bringing back someone who was in the charter Hall of Fame Class at ASU would seem to be good basketball and good business. If Memphis doesn't get Hollins signed to a new deal immediately after its season ends, Sarver and Babby should.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

I'm lucky he even performs for us ungrateful voters! From Samuel Parsonson:

I would never email anyone on anything. But this? This must be a joke.

How do you rate these players above Kobe this season?

Russell Westbrook

Tim Duncan

Tony Parker

James Harden

Blake Griffin

Brook Lopez

Kobe on the second team because of Carmelo Anthony maybe. Just maybe. But Kobe on the third team after a 27.3 - 5.6 - 6.0 -1.4 season on 46% FG%?

Please forgive me if the All-NBA teams are an indicator of who played well for high-seeded teams. I thought it was for who was the best players in the league.

Let's start at the beginning, Samuel. Duncan, Griffin and Lopez are big men, not guards. They weren't rated "above" Kobe. They play completely different positions than Kobe. It would be like saying I'm rating Justin Timberlake "above" a list of my favorite girl groups. But I did rate Kobe behind the guards you mentioned: Westbrook, Parker and Harden. (I also rated him behind Chris Paul. Was that OK?)

If you are going to make an argument that Kobe had a better season than Westbrook (who had a higher PER this season than Kobe, a higher assist rate and a higher rebound rate, in fewer minutes per game) or Parker (who had the same PER as Kobe, a higher true shooting percentage and a much higher assist rate), I would simply say I don't agree with you, and I can live with it.

As for Harden, let me ask you (and other Lakers fans, which I presume you are) this: if the circumstances were reversed, and Bryant had averaged 25.9 points for a team that had been ahead of the Rockets all season in the standings, and Harden had averaged 27.3 points for a team that didn't qualify for the playoffs until the final night of the regular season, are you telling me you would say Harden deserved to be rated ahead of Kobe? Of course you wouldn't. You're a Kobe fan, and that's fine. But don't say I'm nuts to rate Westbrook, Parker and Harden ahead of him when the first two were on teams that had much, much better seasons, and the third had numbers that were comparable to Bryant's, on a team that doesn't have nearly as much talent as the Lakers.

It'd be a shame if you went to Ditka's for a late-night bite and sat down on a bag of vipers. Accidents happen. From Mary Ann Tenuto:

It was not much of a surprise to me that your "picks" do not include even one Chicago Bull. The NBA has not been kind to the Bulls this season or any recent season that I can recall. All the genuflecting before the altar of LeBron James and the Miami Heat is similar to the previous genuflecting before the Lakers' altar. As Chicago fans have noticed en masse lately, this also applies to the NBA officials. And ... we're angry!

I don't mean to burst your bubble, Mary Ann, but this isn't the first time a fan of a team thinks I've slighted her squad because of some perceived bias. (You hate LeBron! You hate Kobe! You hate New York! You hate the Rockets! You hate Sacramento! You hate Seattle! Lather, Rinse, Repeat.) And, again, it isn't true. I am not sure exactly which Bull you thought had a season that warranted a superlative. You could make an argument for Tom Thibodeau or Joakim Noah (whom I considered for Coach of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively), but otherwise, whom would you say? Carlos Boozer? Kirk Hinrich? Nate Robinson? I would not. I hope we can agree to disagree.

Skilled swingman Shabazz Muhammad has the look of an NBA small forward.

It rhymes with "pizazz." From Danny Brown:

I was thinking about Shabazz Muhammad. I personally see him as a shooting guard, and I was curious why you thought he was more of a small forward. I think he has the long-range catch-and-shoot abilities that a shooting guard has. Seeing as he was doing all these things as just a freshmen, I think he really has the ability to become a Ray Allen-like player in the sense that he can come off screens a reliably score, as well as posting up smaller guards. He probably won't be near as good a shooter as Ray, but I think they have similar games. Shabazz also moves without the ball which is a great skill. I think he has tremendous potential to be the level of player that Joe Johnson kind of is. As for his skills that make people want him a small forward, like his strength, I don't think this needs to be a part of his game he puts an emphasis on, however, I think toughness like that goes a long way at any position nowadays. Anyways, I just wanted to give you my 2 cents and see what you thought.

A lot of scouts agree with you, Danny (not the shooting like Ray Allen part, though. Don't blaspheme). It will likely depend on who drafts Shabazz and what they have at those two spots. It's just that a majority of NBA personnel folks think he'll have to play more three than two, and that's what I go with when putting players on the Board.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and things that Don Cherry should talk about other than this to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! And, Don, they're called towels. Use them liberally. Problem, such as it is (not), solved.

MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parentheses)

1) LeBron James (23.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 6.3 apg, .583 FG, .611 FT): Had more than enough in storage to carry the Heat to a first-round sweep of the Bucks with Dwyane Wade gimpy and missing Game 4.

2) Kevin Durant (30 ppg, 9 rpg, 6.5 apg, .418 FG, .857 FT): OK, all of you who said Russell Westbrook shoots too much, and that the Thunder needs to get Durant a touch every time down the floor. You're about to get your wish. Hope it works out for you.

3) Carmelo Anthony (32 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 apg, .393 FG, .839 FT): That's not a misprint: three games last week, three assists. Hey, you didn't see Michaelangelo handing the brush over to his assistant Serge, did you? (I have no idea if Michaelangelo had an assistant named Serge; I just remember that wacky character from the original "Beverly Hills Cop" movie was named Serge, and he was funny!)

4) Chris Paul (17 ppg, 4 rpg, 6.3 apg, .487 FG, .909 FT): Grizzlies' harassing defense at home kept Paul off the foul line in Games 3 and 4 of the Clippers' first-round series with Memphis; Paul shot just five free throws total in the two games.

5) Tim Duncan (17.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .558 FG, .833 FT): Celebrated his 37th birthday Thursday. Has the waistline of a 27-year-old. Still plays like an 18-year-old. Hated by middle-aged men everywhere.

Dropped out: Kobe Bryant

BY THE NUMBERS

394 -- Consecutive games played by the Thunder's Russell Westbrook, the longest such streak in the league, which ended after Westbrook underwent season-ending surgery Saturday to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his knee.

12 -- Consecutive victories by the Hawks over the Pacers in Atlanta, after Saturday's 90-69 thrashing. Indiana's last win at Philips Arena was Dec. 22, 2006.

1 -- Playoff series victories, in nine tries, for the Spurs' Tracy McGrady, who wasn't activated until Sunday's Game 4 and played mop-up minutes in the fourth quarter as San Antonio completed its sweep of the Lakers, and McGrady got his first postseason series win. There were no reports he was complaining afterward.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) In December, the Bucks blew the Heat's doors off at the Bradley Center. The Heat remembered that. Next.

2) No one in the NBA -- no one -- thought Steph Curry was going to be this good. But he is. And he's a joy to watch. The Warriors' future is as bright as it gets with Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, and Curry has been incandescent against Denver.

3) Nate Robinson has made a career out of being underestimated and shot-happy. But it works for him, and it's working for the Bulls.

4) Good luck, MJ and Yvette.

5) I didn't want to write too much about the Boston Marathon bombing, because the tragedy is obvious to everyone and there's nothing especially profound I can add. But there were, and are, so many people who have shined in the midst of the horror, from citizens and first responders who ran toward the explosions, not away from them, to help the injured, to the cops in all the jurisdictions that were part of the manhunt, to the FBI and other feds who so quickly figured out who had done this, down to the man whose boat was the site of the endgame.

5A) And, this.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) It's never a good day in the Association when the Lakers get swept aside like confetti at 12:13 a.m. on New Year's Day in Times Square in the first round.

1A) And this is a decidedly bad time for Russell Westbrook's lateral meniscus to go rippy, the Thunder being one of the few teams left that has some sizzle. On the other hand, Durantula is not going to have to worry about getting touches from here on out.

2) And I am pretty sure, despite the Celtics' staving off elimination Sunday, Danny Ainge's U-Haul-A-Rama is about to open up on Causeway Street. We may not recognize the C's on opening night next season.

3) As Mike D'Antoni told us before Game 2 of the Lakers-Spurs series, Steve Nash went through a two-year period with the Suns where he didn't make a mistake on the floor. He was, basically, a perfect basketball player. So it was even sadder to watch Nash limping around, a shell of the MVP he was, for the Lakers last week. Yet in another sense it was such a show of bravery for the 39-year-old to keep pushing, to keep trying to find ways to contribute to his team, even as his body was betraying him.

4) Nostradamus, Brandon Jennings isn't.

5) Well, it's a different way to apply for a job, that's for sure.

6) Most of you didn't know Bill Shapland, who had the thankless job of being the Sports Information Director for a coach who wanted no sports information given out about his team. But Shapland, who worked for Georgetown University and John Thompson -- Big John -- did the thankless work for almost two decades, then did the same for Thompson's son, John -- JT3 to everyone in D.C. Bill could be gruff and cantankerous when carrying out his mission, but he could also be gentle and funny, and he got you what you needed. Bill passed away last week, much too soon and much too young, and he will be missed.

Q AND A: PAU GASOL

The Lakers' season ended Sunday as everyone expected -- at least, as everyone expected after Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Metta World Peace and Jodie Meeks got hurt. It's hard enough to beat the Spurs when you're fully functional; it's impossible when you're as depleted as L.A. was. But the season ended with Pau Gasol battling, as he has for most of the season, even as he played, literally, out of position for long stretches. Gasol got so frustrated at times with Mike D'Antoni, who benched him in favor of Earl Clark earlier in the season, that he intimated in February he might ask for a trade if D'Antoni and Dwight Howard returned next season. Gasol then missed stretches returning from a concussion and from a bout of plantar fasciitis in his foot. But he returned to play as the Lakers squeaked out a playoff berth on the last night of the regular season. But now that the Lakers' season is over, the questions about where the 33-year-old will call home next season will begin again. (As ever, it depends on what Howard does. If Howard leaves via free agency, the Lakers will keep Gasol; if he stays and re-signs, the Lakers will likely trade Gasol.) But the Lakers' Renaissance Man continues to ground himself with other passions (he is currently reading Robert Greene's book Mastery, about the ways of geniuses), and continues to be one of the most affable and approachable stars in the league -- as he was on Saturday, the day before the music died at Staples Center.)

Me: How frustrating has this season been?

Pau Gasol: It's difficult. It's difficult. But I've had such a blessed career. This is one different experience and season to go through. You have years like this. I think we've been through so much this year alone. Making the playoffs was a big thing, a big satisfaction -- I wouldn't say 'success.' We gave ourselves a chance, and things didn't go our way, continued to go downhill as far as injuries, and missing players. But we'll continue to compete and continue to have the fighting spirit we have to have as professionals, as Lakers.

Me: Kobe's been the Alpha Male around here for so long. Do you think, 'Maybe I need to speak up more now, be more vocal, now that he's not playing?'

PG: Definitely, the players, we carry more load now. We are more vocal. The void that Kobe leaves when he's absent is pretty big. He carried a lot of load on the court. He's not a very vocal leader, but he just carries a lot of responsibility on the team, and guys look up to him, and we play a certain way when he's on the court. So we had to make a lot of adjustments as we have missed players, and we all had to step up, be vocal leaders, and make sure everybody's on point when it comes to playing the game.

Me: Does the locker room feel weird without him?

PG: A little bit. It's a little different without him. And he's been very involved, actively involved, even when he's been home. He's been in touch with, pretty much, a lot of players, myself included. Just being very engaged. It's been a tough hit for us to see him go down with his injury. But it's part of the game, and we all suffer different injuries, unfortunately. He's had a very healthy career up to this point, and I'm a big believer that he'll be able to come back from this. He's got this great mindset and spirit and will. But it is what it is now. There's nothing we can do about it at this point.

Me: Did you hear from him after Game 3?

PG: I talked to him after the game. I talked to him at halftime. He was in the training room.

Me: I'm sure he told you to get in the post again, right?

PG: He's a big supporter of my game. He believes in what I do and what I bring to the table at all times. He likes it when I'm in the post, because I facilitate. I have a variety of moves that I can go to. It's always been a big part of my game.

Me: Did you ever have any vision of what your team could be this season?

PG: There was a lot of expectations heading into the season, with the roster we had. But things didn't click. We went through the coaching change almost pretty quickly. The preseason was also messy. So we couldn't envision what has happened through the year. It hasn't been easy. But at the same time, we're professionals. We're people. You live and you learn, and you go through experiences, and you fight through them if they didn't go your way.

Me: Is it hard to see the future, with Dwight being a free agent, and Kobe being hurt and facing a long rehab?

PG: It's uncertain. Definitely, to say the least, it's uncertain. The franchise has decisions to make in the offseason, and they'll make them, and that's totally out of our control. There's no point in thinking about them. But it has been a difficult year. I don't know what's going to happen next year and who's going to be here, and who's not going to be here, and under what circumstances. So that's about it.

Me: Did you find a way to play with Dwight?

PG: Yeah. I think we found a good balance out there, on having a pretty good feel for the game. I'm able to find him a few times a game, give him some easy looks, easy baskets. And that's what I like to do, so he doesn't have as much pressure of running to the post, and having to deliver all the time, and go against one or two players all the time. I think we've found a good groove out there, a good connection. He's a very explosive player, and ducks in hard, gets himself in the lane and goes after lobs. For a passer like myself, it makes it fun to play with a guy like that.

Me: Do you really think your brother is the best defensive player in the league?

PG: [Laughs] He's definitely one of the best, for sure. I think this year, he's done a great job, as he has his whole time in Memphis, of being the defensive anchor. Memphis is one of the top defensive teams in the league, and he is, with Tony Allen, one of the main defensive players. I can see why he got a lot of votes, and why he got Defensive Player of the Year, which I'm extremely happy and proud of. It's a huge accomplishment and recognition for him. It's debatable if they could have voted for another guy, and given him Defensive Player of the Year. But the reality is my brother got it, and there's no way around it. And he should feel happy. That's how I feel.

Me: Is it more rewarding for you, because it's not just what he does physically, but his anticipation, knowing where the ball is going to go, thinking the game?

PG: Yeah, because he's he's not the greatest athlete. He's not super athletic. He's just got a great feel for the game. He's got great hands, and just a very knowledgeable player at the defensive end, both ends of the floor. So for him to be named Defensive Player of the Year, with his body and athleticism, I think it's remarkable. And just more credit to him.

Me: Will you have a discussion with Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss about your future?

PG: Yeah. It'll be a discussion for sure. There's no doubt about it. We all have to look to the future, and to the immediate future. Next season, it's important for everyone, for myself, for the team. I'm sure there's going to be talks. All the parties care. I'd love to continue to be here, continue to help the team be the best it can be, and be on board as much as I can. That's my thought process. But we have to be on the same page. I want to make it work.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Not "selling" boys and girls.Just providing facts.You decide.Let's see how things roll next year and beyond.How many days until opening tip?
-- Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan), Wednesday, 9:12 a.m., in announcing he had re-hired Coach Mike Brown, whom he fired in 2010, to replace Byron Scott.

THEY SAID IT

"I've been known as such a selfish player for so long. I just wanted to show everybody that I can be a team guy and it's all about team."
-- Knicks guard J.R. Smith, in accepting the NBA's Kia Sixth Man of the Year award last week.

"I didn't even realize it at the time, but I was told his hand got pretty close. I don't remember him grabbing it. I don't think he did it on purpose. When I was watching the film last night, I saw it, but there wasn't grab."
-- Blake Griffin, to SI.com, on the, um, close contact that the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph had with Griffin's lower extremities, if you know what we're saying, in Game 2 of the Memphis-Clippers series.

"Those who refuse to watch, based on some misguided cultural snobbery, aren't just missing great entertainment, they are overlooking the best social insight into the American psyche since Huck Finn and Jim explored the soul of America on a raft of lost innocence."
-- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing for the Huffington Post, defending the reality television genre of which he is now a contributor, as a contestant on the ABC celebrity diving show "Splash." No, I can't believe I just wrote that sentence, either.

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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