POSTED: Jun 3, 2013 11:32 AM ET
The Pacers have made the Heat's hopes for a return Finals trip as bumpy as possible.
You better bet the entire NBA will be watching Heat-Pacers tonight (8:30 ET, TNT).
This is about legacy now for LeBron James, who famously came to South Beach in 2010 promising multiple championships. He has one. And to get a chance -- a chance -- at a second, he has to deal with a Pacers team built to punish Miami where it is most vulnerable, the way a shot to the thermal exhaust port led to the destruction of the entire Death Star in the first "Star Wars" movie.
So many times in the last 18 months, James has appeared spent, exhausted, incapable of giving more. And then he recorded 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists against the Pacers in Game 4 of the 2012 East semis. He rose against the Celtics for 45 and 15 in Game 6 of the 2012 East finals, when Miami was down 3-2 and on the verge of going out. He closed out the Thunder in Game 5 of The Finals with a triple-double; he held off Spain in the gold medal game of the Olympics in London with five points in the final minutes. So if you think I'm betting against LeBron James in a seventh game of a playoff series, no, I'm not.
Pacers-Heat: Game 7 Preview
But this series isn't about LeBron. It's about the Heat's cloak of invincibility and inevitability, which lies tattered on South Beach.
As I've said many times about sports, you're on top until you aren't. There is no sentiment in sports; you are the best, invincible, and then someone else comes on the scene, and you aren't.
Sonny Liston was feared by people -- literally, his presence frightened them. He so shamed Floyd Patterson after knocking him out in a single round of their heavyweight title bout that Patterson fled town in a disguise. And then came a fighter named Cassius Clay who wasn't afraid of the man whom he called the "big, ugly bear," and he stood just as tall, and threw punches faster, and in one night, Liston was an afterthought.
The Heat have been impregnable all season, ripping off 27 straight wins in a row toward the end of the season, making people think it was possible that someone could challenge the Lakers' 33-game win streak. James was as close to a unanimous MVP award winner as anyone who's ever laced them up. Everywhere you looked, Miami had no real weaknesses, and no real challengers.
Through the Lens: Heat vs. Pacers, Game 6
And then, the Pacers got all up in their grill. Roy Hibbert morphed into Wilt Chamberlain, and the whole thing is teetering on the edge. If Miami wins and advances to The Finals, there will be no real repercussions, even if the Heat lose to San Antonio. Riles can keep tinkering along the margins -- hey, D-Wade was hurt -- and maybe find another bargain-basement veteran to fill in next season. If Wade can be even a reasonable facsimile of his former self, Miami could still run the table in the East.
But if Miami loses tonight ...
It's a sea change. It's chum in the water in a league full of sharks looking to take down the King and not at all interested in helping James or Riley amass more rings. Everything would be different in the Association if Miami loses tonight.
You better bet the entire NBA will be watching.
In Boston, a Heat loss could lead to a reassessment: Do we really have to break this thing up, or should we just tweak it, keep Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett together for one more run?
Inside the NBA: Who Feels the Pressure?
In Chicago, a Heat loss could lead to rejuvenation: You get Derrick Rose back, and add a shooter or two in free agency, and you suddenly have the core of a team that already loves to fight Miami tooth and nail.
In Oklahoma City, a Heat loss could lead to some relief: The Thunder can lick their wounds quietly instead of looking for a big fix in the Draft or via trade. They can keep Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka together and re-sign Kevin Martin at a reasonable rate. Time is on OKC's side, but the clock is accelerated if Miami is suddenly vulnerable.
In San Antonio, a Heat loss could lead to a fifth title for Tim Duncan. Not to say that Indiana wouldn't be a formidable Finals opponent. But getting the world's best, most dominant player off the stage can only be a good thing for the aging Spurs, who would desperately like to get Duncan a fifth ring to equal Kobe Bryant's haul.
Speaking of whom, a Heat loss could lead to just about anything in Los Angeles. What would keep Mitch Kupchak from making the following proposition to Dwight Howard in the wake of a Miami defeat: We will give you $100 million to stay here, $20 million more than anyone else can give you. The $20 million is for you to endure one more season as a non-contender. After next season, we'll get rid of everyone on the roster that makes any money -- Bryant comes off the cap after making his $30 million next season, as does Pau Gasol ($19.2 million) and Metta World Peace ($7.7 million) -- and we will go after LeBron, and anyone else you want to play with.
Press Pass: LeBron James
And in Miami?
What would LeBron think -- honestly, Truth Serum City -- if his team comes up short against Indiana?
The five players Miami had on the court during the gut of Game 5 -- Winning Time, as Magic Johnson used to call it -- were James, Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony. Seriously, how different was that five from the five that were on the floor in Game 6 of the 2010 East semis between Cleveland and Boston -- James' last for the Cavs before bolting for Florida? That Cleveland five on May 13, 2010?: James, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and Anderson Vaerjao.
The irony, of course, would be that the Heat lost a series not because of the newcomers, like Chris Andersen, but because the guys that James assumed would be there with him, Wade and Bosh, came up short. Maybe for different reasons, but short nonetheless.
"The Miami Cavaliers!," Reggie Miller shouted on TNT Saturday night.
What would LeBron think about his future on South Beach if Wade is truly limited the rest of his career with that bad knee? True, Bosh is the Heat's most important player, and this has been a season of sacrifice for him, playing at center. But guys like Shane Battier have sacrificed, too. Battier has slugged it out with players 20 pounds heavier and 10 years younger at power forward all season.
But these were the SuperFriends! Assembled to dominate, not to struggle.
James, like Wade and Bosh, can opt out of the last two years of his contract after next season. But what would he opt out to if he decided to go that route? Who's equipped to put a championship-caliber team around him?
It's no longer good enough to put solid, playoff-level guys around him -- which is why I never thought the Cleveland Reunion Tour notion made any sense.
Kyrie Irving is a very talented player, and Dion Waiters has potential. But neither has been in the playoffs yet. Neither has had to go through the crucible that James has endured. It's hard to trust in and wait for players that haven't played at those levels.
James is 28, not 18. He's been a champion, and he wants to experience that again. You do that with guys who've been there before, more often than not.
Birdman on Suspension
Miami's best play against Indiana had come with Andersen, James and Chalmers on the floor, not the SuperFriends. Until Andersen fouled and shoved Tyler Hansbrough in Game 5, and got a flagrant one that the league upgraded to a flagrant two and suspended him for Game 6, he was this series' revelation. He was perfect from the floor in the first five games of the series as his ink and insouciant manner fit right in. He looked like another brilliant Pat Riley maneuver.
"None of us knew 'Bird," Wade said. "Even knowing him from afar, you didn't know how he was going to be ... at first, he was very, very quiet, just trying to feel everybody out. And then he realized we were just some silly guys. We wasn't full of ourselves. We wasn't stuck on being champions. We was just guys that was happy to be part of a team. Once he seen that, it opened him up a little bit. He's more open with us than he is with y'all, for sure."
It's been years since anyone ran a play for Andersen, whether in Miami or Denver or New Orleans, and yet the Birdman had made his mark in the season's most important series.
"I don't care," Andersen said. "I know when the ball's in D-Wade's hands, and LeBron's, and [Norris] Cole's hands, I know they're going to make the right decisions. With the shooters we have, it doesn't really matter if I get the ball or not. I'm still gonna go in there, I'm gonna chase down offensive rebounds, chase down defensive rebounds and run the floor."
The Miami locker room is not for the squeamish. Andersen fit right in.
"We have a lot of characters," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've said it before -- you can't just be anybody and walk into our locker room. You'll get eaten up alive. You can't have too many milk drinkers. You have to have guys with a personality, with a healthy ego. We did extensive research about this. Once you got to know him through other people, you realize that he's 100 percent a team guy, a great guy, and all about winning and doing the little things. So how he looked on the exterior had nothing to do with anything for us."
Andersen had fit a need for the Heat -- a big man who could finish at the rim consistently, something that Anthony had lacked last season, even as the Heat won the title around his defense and shot blocking in the middle. Miami had spent the better part of two seasons researching Andersen, who had fallen out of favor in Denver.
"We didn't know whether he'd be amnestied," Spoelstra said. "He was taken out of the rotation in Denver, wasn't playing. So we figured they were going to go with the youth movement. And then from there, it just went month to month to month. We had an opportunity to talk to all their coaches, everybody who ever coached him. Every month, it seemed like a new phone call and somebody new we had to talk to, and they all had glowing recommendations."
Andersen has battled the Pacers, and was completely unapologetic for his behavior in Game 5. A perfect Heat player.
"Our locker room, everyone's fair game in our locker room," Wade said. "And I think it's a great environment, Once Bird seen that, that these guys from the outside, no one knows how we are. Even Shane [Battier]. He said, 'From the outside, I thought you guys were a bunch of [bleeps]. He was like, 'That's kind of how y'all was painted. But you're some of the best teammates I've ever had.' In the locker room, we really try to stay as us. We all want to be here. We all are here together. Let's make the best of it."
But the goodwill has been bludgeoned by Hibbert's size, David West's toughness and by guys like Lance Stephenson getting a dozen boards in Game 6. The Heat may well figure out a way to win Game 7, because they have the world's best player, who can achieve incredible heights on the biggest stages. James has tamed all the doubters and haters. He is capable of beating a team as good as Indiana, in one game, by himself. It isn't hype. It's him.
And, it cannot be stated enough, I have learned never to doubt Riley's resolve. He has certainly game-planned any number of scenarios since he pulled off the Great Coup of 2010, all involving how he could continue to surround James with talent good enough to keep him from contemplating other venues.
I can't see how he could turn a gimpy Wade or a limited Bosh into gold, and he certainly is limited further by the new salary-cap rules that keep good teams from hoarding players. Spoelstra hasn't found a good reason to play Miller for long stretches, and Allen and Battier have been wanting on offense down the stretch. But I will never, ever, say Riles can't figure out a way.
Whether he has to do that in two years, or in two weeks, will be what everyone is watching Monday night.
(Last week's record in parenthesis; last week's rankings in brackets)
1) San Antonio (1-0) : The Spurs couldn't have drawn a better path to The Finals, or drawn a more exhausted, challenged opponent than the Miami-Indy winner.
2) Miami (1-2) : Right now, Mario Chalmers is, by far, the Heat's second-best player.
3) Indiana (2-1) : Whatever the Pacers do tonight, they will need to take a long, hard look at their backcourt in the offseason.
4) Memphis (0-1) : Grizzlies gave Coach Lionel Hollins permission to speak with other teams Sunday afternoon, making his departure a seeming certainty.
5) Oklahoma City : Season Complete.
6) Golden State : Season Complete.
7) New York : Season Complete.
8) Chicago : Season Complete.
9) L.A. Clippers : Season Complete. Wouldn't Hollins make all the sense in the world here? Yet you hear that Hollins isn't sure he'd be able to coach this team in the way he'd want. My only guess is that means he doesn't think the team's stars would allow him to challenge and push them the way he was able to get more out of guys like Mike Conley in Memphis.
10) Denver : Season Complete.
11) Brooklyn : Season Complete.
12) Atlanta : Season complete. With Mike Budenhozer in charge, and a ton of cap room this summer, I could see the Hawks making a real run toward the East's elite next season.
13) Boston : Season Complete.
14) Houston : Season Complete.
15) L.A. Lakers : Season Complete.
Indiana (2-1): Whether the Pacers win or lose Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, they have served notice that they are going to be a force in the conference, and in the league, for years to come. Well-coached, well-managed, with a self-policing locker room, Indiana doesn't have a whole lot of weaknesses.
Miami (1-2): Rarely has a defending champion looked so vulnerable, and been pulverized on the boards as badly as the Heat has throughout their Eastern finals series with Indiana. Wasn't it Patrick James Riley who famously uttered, "no rebounds, no rings"?
What in the Wide World of Sports is going on in Denver?
Six weeks ago, the Nuggets were coming off a franchise regular-season record 57 victories, and were a solid No. 3 seed in the West. At 38-3 in the Pepsi Center this season, they had the NBA's best home record. They sported the eventual NBA's Executive of the Year, general manager Masai Ujiri, and Coach of the Year, George Karl.
Fast forward a month and a half. The Nuggets got knocked out in the first round by sixth-seeded Golden State in six games, after winning the series opener -- their ninth first-round playoff loss in the last 10 years.
Ujiri has departed, accepting a five-year, $15 million contract to be the GM in Toronto, replacing Bryan Colangelo. And Karl, who has wanted a contract extension as he enters the final year of his deal, is now publicly "unsettled," as ESPN.com put it Sunday morning, about his future in Denver.
Masai Ujiri Top Executive of the Year
Karl is "antsy" about his situation, a well-placed source said Sunday. "Coaches don't like that 'lame duck' stuff."
Karl is getting paid quite well -- in excess of $3 million per year. A source said Sunday that the Nuggets will not pick up the option on Karl's deal for the 2014-15 season, meaning the 2013-14 season would be the last on his current deal.
"They want to play it out and see where they're at," one league source said. "And they're not going to budge on that."
The Nuggets aren't actively looking to replace Karl, who is just one of eight coaches in league history with more than 1,000 victories. But if he wants to leave for a better deal after his contract expires, they don't appear to be willing to pay more to stop him. The issue is more philosophical, a belief that comes from team chairman Stan Kroenke on down through his son, Josh, the team's current president.
The Nuggets are viewed around the league as one of the less generous organizations when it comes to paying employees. They will spend this much on something, and rarely go much further -- and that includes top executives in the Kroenke Sports organization.
Ujiri was believed to be making around $1.5 million, among the lower-paid GMs in the league. And few of the higher-paid ones have his track record.
Upon his arrival in Denver in 2010 -- from Toronto, where he was Colangelo's assistant GM -- Ujiri was thrown immediately into the fire. He had to immediately resolve Carmelo Anthony's trade demand. He did so brilliantly, creating a bidding war between the Knicks and Nets for Anthony that ended with Denver getting an amazing haul from New York in 2011 as part of a three-team deal for Anthony and Chauncey Billups -- Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Ray Felton, second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 and a 2014 first-rounder.
Ujiri remade the rest of the Nuggets' roster as well, flipping Nene for JaVale McGee and Felton for Andre Miller. And he acquired Olympian Andre Iguodala from the 76ers last summer as part of the four-team deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo to Orlando and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia.
Yet the Nuggets showed no interest in getting Ujiri closer to what his peers in the league were making. So when Toronto made a hard run at him and offered to make him what is believed to be one of the NBA's top five-paid GMs, Ujiri had no choice -- though it took him more than a week to decide.
"At the end of the day, I think I made the right decision," Ujiri said Sunday. "It was a tough decision. There's not a drop of indecisive blood in me. I tried to take my time and be sure it was the right thing, but it wasn't like I was going back and forth."
The Nuggets matched Toronto's five years for Ujiri, but fell far short of the $3 million. After meeting with the Raptors' new CEO, Tim Leiweke, May 24, Ujiri had to wait until the Kroenkes, who also own the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, finalized a new contract with Hall of Famer Patrick Roy to become the team's new head coach. After that, Ujiri wanted to meet face to face with Josh Kroenke.
"I thought, if I'm staying here, I knew what I would be staying for," Ujiri said. "Because of my friendship with Josh, I didn't want to say 'Give me more because I had this offer.' "
Josh Kroenke declined comment Sunday.
Inside The NBA: George Karl
Ujiri has moved quickly to clean out the Raptors' front office, informing veteran executive Ed Stefanski on Saturday that he wouldn't be brought back next season. Though Ujiri would like to bring his assistant from Denver, Pete D'Alessandro, to Toronto, the Nuggets are not expected to let D'Alessandro go. Ujiri will meet with Raptors Coach Dwane Casey this week, to see what plans Casey has to improve the Raptors' offensively.
Meanwhile, Karl is feeling the heat in Denver (more so than nationally) for his team's inability to get past the first round. But you have to live where you work. Not getting anywhere on a new contract does not leave Karl in a strong position going forward.
No, the Nuggets are under no obligation to do anything with Karl until his contract expires. But if they think there's someone out there better than the guy with 1,131 wins -- just 25 short of passing Phil Jackson (1,154) for the fifth spot -- they're playing with fire. The Nuggets already let the architect of their renaissance walk; letting the conductor of the band get wandering eyes would be penny wise and pound foolish.
Give 'till it hurts, and then...give some more. From Steve Lipschultz:
Kevin Durant seems like a great guy with small-town sensibilities, as much as anyone can tell about another person solely through the lens of the media. And it's great that he wrote a big check to help the victims in OKC. But the amount of praise he's received for the donation is over the top, in my opinion. You said his "...standing as a man and as a citizen of the world has never been higher...", for example. This was echoed by many other media stories.
Durant Visits Tornado Victims
KD makes $25-30 million a year! So his donation would be the rough equivalent of me giving about $1,200. I doubt anyone would praise my standing as a man if I did so, even though that amount would impact me much more than KD's amount did him. (I did text in a Red Cross donation of $30!)
Please don't misconstrue, I don't begrudge anybody striking it rich, especially when they work for it; I'm not jealous or bitter toward "the rich". I just thought the level of praise for his gift was disproportionate to his level of sacrifice.
I guess you can have this point of view, Steve, though I'm not sure why it would bother you that KD got praised for reaching out to people who really needed it. No one is suggesting that $1 million is going to rebuild the schools or homes that were destroyed, or provide solace to the families who lost loved ones. It was the gesture, not the amount of money, that was important.
His head is rotating, just like Marc Gasol's does to the open shooter. From Pavel Kirov:
I was quite surprised to not see anyone in the "nobody asked you" section talking about the NBA All- Defensive first team. I know it has happened in the past, but still my mind just does not comprehend how anyone could be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year (like Marc Gasol this year) and not be on the NBA All-Defensive first team ... I know that coaches and journalists have different opinions, but not having the Defensive Player of the Year on the NBA All-Defensive first team seems very strange, especially having in mind that two other centers were tied for the spot in the first year ... could you, please clarify how that could be?
The problem with DPOY, much like Most Valuable Player, is that there is no objective criteria on which we all agree as voters. Those who believe in some of the new numbers like defensive rating or win shares are going to rank Gasol much higher than those who don't, for example, while those who still believe the "old numbers" like blocked shots and rebounds are most important would give more weight to a player like Serge Ibaka. And we all have a vote. There were also likely voters who wanted to give Joakim Noah some kind of recognition for the season he had, and felt a first-team all-defensive vote was warranted.
That "logic" stuff isn't gonna fly around here, sir. From Johannes Seidl-Schulz:
I just wanted to ask: Do you think that the NBA schedule is too tight? As I am from Germany, it is like a tradition here that a soccer team plays once per week on weekends. I love the NBA because every day in the morning you can check the site and see the results, but recently I thought that they probably play too much. At first there are a lot of big injuries (Russell Westbrook, Rose, Rondo) that influence the outcome of a whole season (especially in the NBA). But then I can't even imagine how a coach possibly can coach an NBA team. In Europe, you have a whole week for training to prepare for your next opponent. How does the coaching staff in the NBA install their strategies and tactics? When I see the schedules of "my" teams I just don't know how it's done. They play one night, fly overnight to their next opponent, new places, new hotels, new gyms, media time, than they have one or two days for training and shootaround. For example, people were pretty fast to criticize Mike D'Antoni ... I just thought: "When should he have installed his principles? He just didn't have any time."
You are quite correct, Johannes: the NBA season is too long and there are too many games. (Ideally, I think a 60-70 game season would be about right.) It definitely impacts the quality of play, especially after the All-Star break, when practice time is at a premium. Even when a team gets an off day for practice, coaches are understandably reluctant to involve their better players in much physical work, because they want to keep them fresh for the next game. And while I don't know that there's causation between the length of the season and the injuries that have befallen so many stars this season, I can't imagine the wear and tear helps. But there's nothing that anyone can or will do about it, because owners and players both make more money when there are more regular season games. Why do you think NFL owners are pushing for an 18-game regular season (up from the current 16) so hard? For the moment, players are resisting, but if enough dough is pushed in their faces to reconsider, they eventually will.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and picks for the next set of American Idol judges to email@example.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! As for Idol ... what's Weird Al doing these days? (Dated myself with the Weird Al reference, I know.)
(Last week's averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (27.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 5.7 apg, .477 FG, .667 FT): Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the James Compound this morning. He was actually acting giddy as he walked to the Heat's bus early Sunday morning after his team's Game 6 beatdown by Indiana. Emphasis on "acting" is all mine.
2) Kevin Durant: Season Complete.
3) Tim Duncan (15 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 bpg, .533 FG, 1.000 FT): Funny to read all the (deservedly) glowing stories about the 37-year-old's renaissance and standing in the NBA history books with next to no quotes or insights from the man himself. Been there, done that. I think "Sphinx" is the original Egyptian for "Duncan."
4) Carmelo Anthony: Season Complete. Phil thinks 'Melo could stand to read one of his favorite books from the Phil Jackson Collection during his downtime.
5) Chris Paul: Season Complete, though CP3's folks made sure to leak a story to the Worldwide about how "unhappy" CP3 is with the Clippers for making him the scapegoat for Vinny Del Negro's firing. That led to the Clippers leaping out on Friday and saying, no, no, we fired Vinny, not Chris.
$535,000,000 -- Final valuation of the Kings after the sale of the team from the Maloof family to a group headed by Vivek Ranadive was completed Friday. Ranadive's group purchased 65 percent of the team from the Maloofs, and will also purchase an additional 7 percent of the team from a minority investor for another $15 million.
Press Pass: Hibbert & George
$75,000 -- Fine that the NBA issued Sunday to Pacers center Roy Hibbert for postgame comments after Game 6 of the Indiana-Miami series Saturday night. Hibbert used a two-word slang term that disparages gay people, as well as a common curse word in describing media members he felt had not respected the Pacers this season.
$60,000 -- Estimated amount that a Beverly Hills, CA auction house had expected to receive for Elgin Baylor's 1972 NBA championship ring, one of dozens of items the Hall of Fame forward put up for sale last Friday. Baylor retired nine games into the '72 season but was still given a ring by the team, which won an NBA record 33 straight games that year en route to a 69-13 regular season record. As it turned out, the 1972 championship ring went for double that -- $132,000, bought by a collector over the weekend.
1) Game 7. The words make the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
2) A little surprised the Bobcats went for yet another first-time coach after the Mike Dunlap debacle. But I can't find anyone who has anything but great things to stay about former Lakers assistant Steve Clifford, whom Charlotte hired last week. Still, the Bobcats have a lot of roster overhauling to do.
3) Now, let's see what Vivek Ranadive and his group can do to rebuild the Kings into a contender, as they were during the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac days. They get all praise for pulling off the seemingly impossible and keeping the team in Sacramento. Now comes the heavy lifting.
4) Good low-key hire by Ryan McDonough in Phoenix, bringing in former Lakers assistant GM Ronnie Lester for a front-office position.
5) One thing you can never, ever do is accuse Hall of Famer Rick Barry of holding back in hopes of getting a coaching or front office job, as so many ex-players and coaches who get on TV do.
6) Indiana's Cody Zeller has done a lot to force NBA personnel types to give him another look, both in Chicago and in very impressive workouts last week in California. Zeller will almost certainly be a mid- to lower-lottery pick after showing his athletic ability.
1) Sincere condolences to the family of Monica Murphy, who died of injuries suffered Friday when former Hawks guard Mookie Blaylock, for reasons still unknown, apparently crossed a median on an Atlanta highway and struck a car being driven on the other side of the road by Murphy's husband, who suffered a broken ankle. Blaylock was taken off of life support Friday and upgraded to serious condition Saturday. I hope Mookie gets better, but the Murphys also really need our prayers as they try to get through this tragedy.
2) I'm in no way saying that Mike Malone won't work out in Sacramento. He's earned a shot at being a head coach, and many players swear by his player development methods. It's just been my experience that when you hire a coach before you hire a general manager, there can be trouble down the road. GMs like to feel like the coach they work with is "their" guy and not someone that they had to accept as part of the gig. Again, the Kings' next GM may well have no problem with Malone, but when problems come up -- and they will -- the two have to be in tandem in thought, in philosophy and in demeanor. It's a hard combination to create if it doesn't already exist.
3) Sorry, don't think CP3's supposed anger at the Clippers for supposedly leaving him dry and as the scapegoat for Vinny Del Negro's firing is going to result in his bolting July 1 for different pastures. Too much money available from Donald Sterling's bank accounts, too many commercial opportunities available from Hollywood's studios and producers. Surely none of you out there remains under the impression that star players aren't catered to when it comes to the people who will coach them, do you?
4) Weather, could you please leave Oklahoma alone for a while? Thanks, Weather.
5) Watching Harvey Korman try to keep a straight face during the old Carol Burnett Show skits with Tim Conway was always more entertaining than the premise of the skits themselves. Plus, he was Hedley Lamarr ("that's Hedley") in "Blazing Saddles"! RIP.
5a) Also remembering the great actress Jean Stapleton, who also died over the weekend. You talk about inhabiting a role: Stapleton was Edith Bunker, the long-suffering, thoroughly decent wife of bigoted Archie Bunker, in Norman Lear's groundbreaking sitcom "All in the Family" in the 1970s.
It wasn't a surprise that Grant Hill officially announced his retirement Saturday night, on our TNT set before Game 6 of the Heat-Pacers series. At 40, the oldest player in the league had hinted throughout the season that this was likely going to be it for him.
He spent 19 years as a pro after leading Duke to back-to-back national championships, transitioning from being a superstar in Detroit that many thought could ultimately challenge Michael Jordan, to a crippled, angry player in Orlando, to a wily vet in Phoenix and, finally (with the Clippers) as a player who became known more for his ability to guard multiple positions and players than for the high flying of his early days.
Grant Hill Highlights
It's probably lost on today's hoops generation but, trust me, Hill was a beast when he was young, filling the box score every night (24 of his 29 career triple-doubles came in his first three seasons). In those six Pistons seasons, Hill shared the '94 Rookie of the Year award with Jason Kidd, made five All-Star teams, was first-team all-NBA in 1997 and second team in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. He averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists in those six seasons for the Pistons, leading them to the playoffs four straight times.
But that phase of Hill's career ended when he suffered the first of what became a seemingly unending series of left ankle injuries in 2000. He originally injured the ankle during the regular season, but continued to play on it through a playoff series against Miami; ultimately, he'd broken the ankle playing on it. In the summer of 2003, he underwent the first of four operations on the ankle.
When Hill reached agreement on a $93 million deal with Orlando in 2000, the Magic believed he and Tracy McGrady would start a dynasty that would bring multiple championships to the Land of the Mouse. But Hill's six seasons in Orlando were a nightmare. The ankle limited him to 18 games overall in his first two seasons with the Magic, amid conflicting opinions on what the proper course of rehabilitation should be. By his own admission, Hill came back too quickly after some of the injuries, and only made them worse. In 2003, a staph infection following yet another surgery almost killed him. By that time, the Magic believed it would take multiple seasons for Hill's ankle to fully heal.
After additional surgeries didn't solve the problem, Hill finally got some relief when he sought out Duke's chief of orthopedic surgery, James Nunley, for another opinion. When Nunley operated on Hill, unlike what other doctors had done, he broke all the screws that had held Hill's ankle together, and took out a piece of bone to alleviate the pressure on Hill's ankle. Nunley believed this surgery would provide Hill with the desperately-needed stability he'd been lacking for years.
It worked. After sitting out the 2003-04 season to heal, Hill returned to Orlando and played in 67 games, the most he'd played in five years. After another setback limited Hill to 21 games in 2005-06, he left Orlando the following summer to sign as a free agent with the Suns. And in Phoenix, with the Suns' renowned physical therapy staff and athletic trainer Aaron Nelson giving him a new therapy program, Hill's career entered its third act. Now a role player who could guard almost anyone on the court, Hill formed a strong bond with Steve Nash as the Suns tried to break through in the Western Conference.
The Suns never reached The Finals, but Hill was able to stay on the court. He played in 313 of a possible 328 regular season games his first four seasons in Phoenix. He could still score some, having developed a strong midrange game, but his main value on those defensively-challenged Suns teams was at the other end, as he took on superstars and killers from Kobe Bryant to Kevin Durant to Carmelo Anthony, making up in wiles and toughness what he no longer had in quickness. The Suns reached the Western Conference finals in 2010, losing to the Lakers in six games, as Hill stuck to Bryant like glue, watching him make shot after improbable shot.
He was almost an afterthought this season with the Clippers, playing in just 29 games. But he is retiring on his own terms, able to walk away from the game rather than being carried out.
Me: Why now?
Grant Hill Announces His Retirement
Grant Hill: It's just time. You know, it's so much that goes into getting yourself ready to play, and then what you have to do during the course of the season to maintain. And even when I wasn't playing, you get to the point that you don't want to do it anymore. You still love the game, you still love to be around it, but you just don't necessarily want to play. First time I've ever felt that. I gave myself a month after the season and I still felt the same way.
Me: Red Kerr used to say toward the end of his career, he used to talk to his legs: 'Come on, legs! We can fool them one more time!' Did you feel that way?
GH: I've been doing that for four years! I told Kenny [Smith] that I went to the Phoenix Mercury game last week to see Britney Griner's first game. And she had more dunks in one game than I did all year. That's a sign. [Laughs] But I thought about [retiring] hard last year, decided to give it one last go. I feel really comfortable and really excited about retiring. You know at the end of the day that you did everything you could. You played hard, you did your best. You didn't always play great, you didn't always do the right thing. But you did the best you could. And you can hang your hat on that.
Me: I heard you on the set with the fellas, saying that you were proudest of the fact that you were able to play almost another decade after the doctors in Orlando told you you would have to retire in 2003.
GH: Right, right. That's a big thing. They were showing those highlights from when you were younger, and you really forget about all that. All I remember is fighting to get back, and fighting to play as an older player. That consumes you. And, yeah, I was told in '02, '03, that you won't be able to stay healthy through an entire season. And I played 10 more years. I'm proud of that, and I know what I had to go through. And I also know that I got a lot of joy out of those 10 years. Those experiences, and those games, and those teammates, is something I would have missed if I had walked away. I wasn't the same player. And that was tough. You have to reinvent yourself and humble yourself a little bit. But I got more joy out of those last six or seven years than maybe all of the years prior to that. Those were great times, in college, and my first six years in the league. I've kind of experienced it all in my 19 years. It's time to experience something else.
Me: How crucial were (Suns head athletic trainer) Aaron (Nelson) and the staff there in your rehab and your ability to continue playing?
GH: I think, for me, I was going to play two years there and then retire. I played five, and then one more in L.A. I learned a lot from them and got into a nice little groove in terms of what I needed to do, and what they needed to do, what they wanted me to do, in terms of taking care of myself. It kind of gave me a new lease on life, and let me know that I can become an iron man at the end of my career, become a defensive stopper at the end of my career, but just be healthy and enjoy playing. They're the best in the business. I think the world of them. I'm glad I had a chance to work with them. And, in terms of staying healthy, being able to be active as I go forward, there's a lot of things I learned in my time from Phoenix.
Grant Hill's Career
Me: How important mentally is it for you to go out on your own terms, instead of having to go out because you were injured, as you go forward?
GH: I think, like I said, getting hurt, and going through all the injuries I had to go through, being able to go out feeling good ... I didn't play much this year, maybe because of circumstances, and being a little hurt earlier in the year. But they wanted me back. They felt like I still had something left in the tank. And I do have more in the tank. But I just felt like it was the right time. I still have another year on my contract. But being able to go out when I still had something was important to me.
Me: How hard did CP3 lobby you to stay?
GH: They kind of knew. I talked about it most of the year, and they were like, you can still go. Chauncey [Billups] told me the other day, toward the end of the year, you've got two or three more years left. But it's a grind. I've been doing it for 19 years, four years in college, and you realize, you know what? It's time to do something different. And it doesn't mean that you don't stay around the game in some capacity, that you don't love the game and be a fan, or work in some capacity around the league or around the sport. But, when more of my contemporaries are in the Green Room than in the locker room, you know it's time. [Laughs]
Me: You could, literally, do whatever you want now. You could be a coach, or a GM, or put an ownership group together; you could be Senator Hill, or Governor Hill; you could be a trade ambassador or whatever. How do you even begin to decide what to do next when you have so many potential options?
GH: Well, I'm excited. I have a lot of interests and a lot of things I want to pursue. I also know that I do love the game and it means so much to me, and you want to be around it in some way. I think the league is tremendous in having former players still involved with the business of the sport, whether that's coaching, or front office, or ownership, television. There's so many different platforms in that regard. I look forward to exploring that. There are other things in the business world, and I love collecting art. There's politics, which I've always been interested in. It's about, right now, just kind of decompressing, kind of taking it easy, and just taking the time to figure it all out. I look forward to that. And some people ... I refuse to believe the best part of my life is behind me. I feel like there's some amazing things ahead in the future, and I look forward to pursuing those and exploring them. And I don't necessarily have to do them all at once. The fact that you can take your time and figure it out, but do it right, and be fulfilled, that's the main thing. Whatever it is, you want to enjoy what you're doing, get great fulfillment out of it, and hopefully do a good job and make a difference.
Me: What will you tell your kids about Dad and what kind of player he was?
GH: My youngest one is just starting to -- she's 5 -- and she's starting to understand that daddy, and mommy, are kind of celebrities. [Hill is married to R&B singer Tamia Hill.] She gets a kick out of that. She knows people might stop me when we're out, and ask for an autograph or take a picture, and she [makes] a big deal out of that. My oldest one, she didn't see me in my good years. So when I would go against a LeBron, or go against Kobe, she would talk trash. 'Dad, you can't guard LeBron!,' and those kind of things. I know she's proud; they're both proud. And I'm proud they were able to see me play, particularly the oldest one. There's a lot of lessons, a lot of values that you take from the game, and I find myself trying to instill that in my kids. Things I've learned from coaches, experiences, trying to use sports and basketball as a metaphor. It's in your DNA. And whether that's trying to help young guys, teammates, or whether that's parenting, it's there. It's important. My daughter's getting into basketball for the first time. She's like her dad. She can dribble and pass, but she's not a very good shooter. I look forward to being there and being a good supporter for her.
Me: You understand this will mean more phone calls from one Calvin Hill.
GH: He's forgotten about me. It's all about them now. He loves being a grandfather. But I'm excited. I'm looking forward to it. I did a lot of thinking about it during the year. It's time. It's time to stop prolonging my adolescence and do something different.
Today it's been 3 weeks since the procedure done to knees. I'm finally off the crutches!! #lookingahead
-- Pau Gasol (@paugasol), Thursday, 5:28 p.m., detailing his recovery from the FAST Technique procedure performed May 9 on both of his knees. In the procedure ultrasound waves were directed into Gasol's knees to clean out degenerated tissue. Gasol also got stem cell injections the following week that the Lakers hope will regenerate tissue in the knees.
"The ability to initially disagree and discuss, come to a conclusion and then follow that as a team speaks to people's character, maturity and ability to be comfortable in their own skins. That is the kind of people who can get things done. If you don't have those qualities, you can't do that. Bud's imminently used to that. We have a participatory sort of style here the way we do things. If I'm having a meeting about players or free agents or whatever it might be, (general manager) R.C. (Buford) and his guys are in the room, whether it's been Danny or Dell Demps or Sam Presti or whoever and Bud will be in there and probably one or two other coaches. Maybe eight, nine, 10 people will be there. We will get feisty and we all are a bunch of wise (expletive) to some degree anyway, and we give each other crap and this, that or the other and we get through it. If it takes four minutes or four hours, it doesn't matter. We get through it together. By the time we finish, everybody has been convinced one way or the other and by the time you leave the room it's one decision and everybody follows it -- to the extent that if anybody doesn't give their opinion, their (butt) will be out of here soon because I don't need it. I don't need anybody here who won't give their opinion and stick by it."
-- Gregg Popovich, as part of a Q & A interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, describing the decision-making process with the Spurs that new Hawks Coach Mike Budenholzer has been a part of for the last 18 years.
"No offense to New York, but I'm so, so happy I didn't fall to them in the draft."
-- Warriors guard Stephen Curry, in a Will Leitch piece for Sports on Earth on his newfound superstardom and living by the Bay.
"Well, obviously coaching has been a big part of my life and I love that part of my professional life very much. Nothing like coaching NBA basketball, particularly when you've had really good guys who are really good players and so I was very fortunate and if something came along that made sense, in all aspects of my life, it would be great. But certainly, I know how fortunate I am to be doing games on television."
-- ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy, in an interview with Houston radio station KILT 610, discussing the possibilities of leaving the TV booth to go back to the bench next season.