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David Aldridge

The new CBA has even made coaching legends like George Karl expendable.

Karl's ouster proves NBA coaches on thinner-than-usual ice


Posted Jun 10, 2013 11:21 AM

It is the job, NBA coaches say again and again. They are hired to be fired.

And so the fact that a dozen coaches who finished the regular season won't be back to start next season shouldn't be surprising. Each season, four or five coaches are let go, for various reasons. Twelve is a lot more than normal, but there have been other years like this. In 2003 and '05, coaches were cashiered left and right.

George Karl's ouster last week in Denver will produce the sixth coaching change among playoff teams this year. As in, teams that made the playoffs in April. Some of those changes were expected: Jim Boylan didn't have a chance to survive his interim status in Milwaukee. No one expected Larry Drew to get a new contract in Atlanta, even though the Hawks kept the possibility open. And Vinny Del Negro would have probably had to make The Finals to hang on with the Clippers.

They joined Karl, P.J. Carlesimo (Brooklyn) and, unless there's an 11th-hour change of heart, Lionel Hollins in Memphis. And those six (assuming Hollins does not return to the Grizzlies) will join non-playoff coaches Doug Collins (Philly), Keith Smart (Sacramento), Lawrence Frank (Detroit), Lindsey Hunter (Phoenix), Byron Scott (Cleveland) and Mike Dunlap (Charlotte).

Is this coincidence, or the beginning of a new and ominous trend?

Franchise values have never been higher. The bidding war between Sacramento and Seattle for the Kings illustrated that. The group led by software magnate Vivek Ranadive paid $347 million for 65 percent of a team that went 28-54 last season and doesn't have a single All-Star. That means a total franchise valuation of $535 million, which is less than what Seattle businessman Chris Hansen was willing to pay for the team, but still a stunning figure.

There has never been, then, more pressure on coaches to deliver, and to do so immediately. There are no more five-year plans (if there ever were). Winning has never been a more precious commodity. Avery Johnson didn't get out of December in Brooklyn; a .500 record wasn't near good enough to satisfy Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets' brass. Mike Brown lasted exactly five games with the Lakers this season before being cashiered, and his replacement, Mike D'Antoni, was on the hot seat from minute one.

It is the reality of life under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. With the prices the league's newest owners are paying for teams, patience is in short supply.

And there is no sympathy from Olympic Tower.

"I tell you, I think it's a natural consequence of a team putting together a roster, putting pressure on the general manager to configure that roster, thinking they have a chance to compete," Commissioner David Stern said Thursday. "They may be wrong, but that's what happens. And then looking in other directions if, in fact, it doesn't work. And in some ways it has to do with chemistry or perceived chemistry.

"So Larry Drew is out in Atlanta, and Larry Drew is in (in) Milwaukee with different players, different hopes, different place on the scale, etc. And I think you're going to see a fair amount of that as teams feel pressure. Because they're feeling the pressure of a system that allows them to draft players, sign free agents, get revenue sharing, and they better look at themselves in the mirror if they can't compete and be competitive, at the gate as well. So we think that's very much on the way, and it's very much to be desired."

Yet Karl's firing and Hollins' near-certain departure from Memphis seem beyond ordinary.

Yes, Karl made it past the first round only once in nine playoff appearances in Denver. You can fire a guy for that. For all his brilliance on offense over the decades, going all the way back to when he got 108 points per game out of the World B. Free-led Cavs in 1984-85 -- Karl's first season as an NBA coach -- Karl has never been a great defensive coach. You can fire a guy for that. (Grantland's Zach Lowe, as ever, breaks it down brilliantly here.) And George can be a colossal pain in the butt when he feels slighted or wronged, and you can fire a guy for that.

Karl was relentless in his desire for a contract extension, knowing full well that the Kroenke family does not do contract extensions. Josh Kroenke, the Nuggets' president, made a tough but fair decision in letting Karl go.

But did anyone really expect these Nuggets to hold up against the Grizz or Spurs over seven games? Did anyone really expect the JaVale McGee-Kosta Koufos post duo would dominate Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, or Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph?

The Nuggets were a fun, fun team during the regular season, but much like other run-and-gun squads -- pick any Don Nelson team of recent vintage -- they were not built for a long playoff run. They never have been. The advanced-stat crowd will disagree that defense wins championships, and they have a point -- defense isn't just points allowed, or field-goal percentage allowed. But having some ability to slow down opponents, even if it's just forcing a lot of turnovers, is necessary. The Nuggets were in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency, allowing 102 points per 100 possessions, good for 11th overall. But they couldn't catch up to Steph Curry.

Maybe Karl gets a lot of the blame for that. But there just isn't a coach out there who has as many wins, and who seemed so compatible, as Karl did with the Nuggets. Any coach was likely to take a step back record-wise in Denver next season. Letting Karl go seems a convenient way to explain what is likely inevitable.

Hollins' situation is even stranger. In the last three seasons under Hollins, the Grizz have beaten the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference (San Antonio in 2010), given the contending Thunder all they wanted in a seven-game semifinal series (2011), lost a heartbreaking seven-game first-round series to the Clippers (2012) and advanced to the Western finals where they lost to the Spurs (2013).

Is it a great postseason record? Maybe not, but it's a damn sight better than what was accomplished in Memphis beforehand. Has everyone there forgotten that the Grizzlies were oh-fer, as in 0-12, in the playoffs in Memphis before Hollins?

Hollins is 41 games above .500 (196-155) in four-plus seasons there. He's happy in Memphis, a blue-collar town that is perfect for his no-nonsense style. All Hollins expected was a chance to compete for the title the next three or four seasons, with the nucleus of Gasol, Randolph and Mike Conley.

But that's not likely to happen. Though the Grizzlies' management has maintained that it would like to bring Hollins back, it has given him permission to speak with other teams that have vacancies. Hollins has already been contacted by the Nuggets and Clippers. He may meet with Los Angeles later this week after taking part in the league's Competition Committee meetings in San Antonio. His agent and the Grizzlies have had ongoing conversations that have gotten nowhere.

There is nothing wrong with any owner wanting to put their own stamp on their franchise. There is nothing wrong with the Grizzlies, or the Nuggets, deciding to hire someone who shares their vision of building a team (and Hollins, who made his displeasure with the Rudy Gay trade quite well known, has his own views on this -- though I doubt he was so stubborn he was unwilling to adapt at all). There is nothing wrong with coveting a Karl or a Jeff or Stan Van Gundy if any or all were available.

But if a guy with more than 1,100 wins, that's made the playoffs nine straight seasons, that hasn't had a losing record as a coach since 1988 -- if that guy can get fired, after leading his team to a franchise-record number of regular-season wins, then the measure of what success is has been moved, Lucy-style, from the field.

DRIBBLES

Long before Tony Parker knew he was going to be a great NBA player, or how many harangues he'd have to endure from coach Gregg Popovich to become one, Mike Budenholzer was there to smooth things over.

"When I first arrived, when I was a rookie, he came over to my basketball camp in France," Parker recalled Sunday morning, before Game 2 of the Finals. "And I spent a lot of time in summer league with him and Mike Brown [now the Cavaliers' coach)] They was the first two who really pumped me up and gave me my confidence when I first arrived. So I'm definitely going to miss him."

Popovich's holding and shaping of the Spurs has been written about, time and again. But Budenholzer (pronounced BOO-den-hol-zher), the Atlanta Hawks' new coach-in-waiting, has been there just about every step of the way over the last 19 seasons, moving from video coordinator to the bench. The last six years, he's been the Spurs' top assistant.

Long considered one of the NBA's top assistants, Budenholzer will finally get his chance in Atlanta, hired during the Spurs' long break between the Western Conference finals and The Finals by Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who knew Budenholzer quite well from his days in San Antonio as an executive.

"It's hard to explain in words what he means to the franchise," Parker said. "He does a lot of different stuff. Coach Pop is the type of coach that trusts his assistants. He gives a lot of freedom to his assistants. So we're definitely going to miss his knowledge to the game, and all the little talks."

The 43-year-old Budenholzer is fully engrossed in "The Spurs Way." He's been involved in all aspects of the team, from coaching to scouting to personnel decisions, for more than 15 years. So as the Spurs battle Miami for the title, Budenholzer is concentrating on the task at hand, not on his future in Atlanta. Nor is his mind wandering to this being his last go-round with one of the NBA's best organizations.

"I mean, I'm trying not to," Budenholzer said Friday. "We've done a lot of great work together. We've had a lot of great meals together, had a lot of great glasses of wine, bottles of wine. But it's interesting. Even with all the other championships, you're so focused, you're so in the moment. And when it ends, you're almost like, 'Oh, God.' And so I'm trying to stay that way, not think about how I'm not going to be with Chip [Engelland, the Spurs' shooting coach], or with [assistant coach] Brett [Brown], or [assistant] Chad [Forcier] or Pop. And when it's over, just take a big, 'Wow.' "

Ferry wasted little time recruiting and signing Budenholzer to a multi-year deal May 28, during the break.

"We felt it was most important to get somebody who had a clear idea and a system," Ferry said Sunday afternoon. "A good idea how he wanted to play, and a system that was adaptable around the players who may be part of our team going forward. He certainly has a vision of how overall he wants to play philosophically. He's been a big part of building a system there that's been adaptable as the team has evolved over the years."

The public views coaches through one prism: they are Xs and Os masters, needing to motivate players and make in-game adjustments. Ferry, in his time in San Antonio, was able to see Budenholzer through another prism. He had a good understanding of the salary cap, for example, which is something almost required under the new CBA. His ability to help develop young players in the Spurs' system is a necessity, not a luxury.

"In my mind, if the coach can have a grasp of understanding good contracts, bad contracts, understanding why it's important to be able to develop young players, that's important," Ferry said. "With the new CBA and the restrictions it places on you, you have to have more of a programmatic view. It's not just the Draft; it's not just free agency; it's using all the tools that are available out there."

It was Budenholzer, Popovich disclosed last week to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who argued longest and loudest for the Spurs to acquire Kawhi Leonard in 2011. Budenholzer did so even though he knew it meant Popovich would have to part with guard George Hill, a player Popovich loved as much as any.

"I've been in the environment where we had very honest, very heated debate with the coaching staff, and he's been a part of that," Ferry said.

That familiarity will help the Hawks hit the ground running. Atlanta could -- could -- have up to $20 million or so in cap room this summer, depending on the players they keep and those free agents they renounce. But Ferry and Budenholzer will be speaking the same language.

"When they want to argue about systematic issues or approaches, they're not going to have to redefine basketball," Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford said. "They can read each other and recognize what's important to the other one; How can I help you accomplish what you want so you can help get me what I need? They're not afraid to get in a room and argue things out and come out with a homogenous decision."

Buford knew time was short when the Hawks approached Budenholzer, and he knew the Spurs were also getting ready for The Finals. But he had no problem giving Atlanta permission to talk and negotiate with Budenholzer, having given Detroit and Philadelphia permission earlier during the playoffs to speak with him.

"Our coaches have been together long enough," Buford said. "They know their responsibilities. They don't take a lot of supervision. They know what they need to get done. They get Pop what they need to get him, and they have their time. And it's that 24 hours a day. So I'm sure there's time for Bud to be involved with Danny."

Budenholzer returned to San Antonio after spending that one day in Atlanta, and he is back to his work with the Spurs through the rest of The Finals. He will not talk about his future with the Hawks until San Antonio's series with Miami is done.

"He's living up to everything we want him to have," Buford said. "It was great for him to have Al [Horford] here [the Hawks' forward took in Game 1 in Miami], and it was good for him to have the chance to meet him. It probably would have been different if the results had been different. We're all happy for him. We're proud. Looking in the locker room after the game [Thursday] night, it'll be really different when he's gone. Because we've all been in this since we were beginners."

It was inevitable that Budenholzer would get his shot, just as so many other former Spurs players and assistants and executives have during the Tim Duncan-Popovich Era. Ferry, of course, came from San Antonio, as did GMs Sam Presti (Oklahoma City), Rob Hennigan (Orlando), Dennis Lindsay (Utah) and Dell Demps (New Orleans), and coaches Jacques Vaughn (Orlando), Scott Brooks (OKC) and Monty Williams (New Orleans).

For a while, the scuttlebutt was that Budenholzer would succeed Popovich in San Antonio. But things change. Popovich often says he's walking out the door as soon as Tim Duncan does, and that may well happen. But Budenholzer was ready for his chance now.

"It's been a long time that we've been together, and it already feels a little bit weird," Popovich said Saturday. "When I see him sitting there and I know he's not going to be there next season, and I know I'll miss that."

They've been together longer than the 19 years they've worked in San Antonio.

Popovich recruited Budenholzer as a player when he was coaching at Pomona-Pitzer, a Division III school in California, in 1988. Budenholzer committed to Pomona, but Popovich was soon off to bigger and better things, joining Larry Brown's staff at Kansas. Budenholzer played well for Pomona, and by 1992, had just finished a season playing professionally in Europe. By then, Popovich had gotten a job as Don Nelson's assistant coach with the Warriors. Popovich hired Budenholzer in Golden State as an unpaid intern.

"I told him if he wanted to do something, go back in the film room and put those pick and rolls together for me and don't talk to me, don't ask for tickets, don't speak to anybody," Popovich said. "Just do the film and go home. And no money, by the way. That's what he did for a year. That's what he's built like."

Budenholzer quickly earned Popovich's trust, something that is hard-won. And he has shown that he can do everything that needs doing in the Spurs' organization.

Yet the coach of a team has to do even more. He is a face of the franchise. He has to make public appearances and deal with the media and be accountable -- get blamed -- when things go wrong. You never know for sure how anyone will respond to that until they're in the chair. But Ferry is confident Budenholzer can make the transition.

"Mike has been a part of all the decisions that the Spurs have made over the last several years," Ferry said. "Because they do things in a collaborative way. And his voice was very strong in those decisions.

"He'll do well. He'll have his own voice. That's important. He has to be authentic. He'll be Mike Budenholzer. He won't be Gregg Popovich or somebody else. He'll be himself. He's confident and comfortable."

Of course, Pop is going to send his most trusted assistant out on the road with some tough love.

"Well, whatever he's going to have to deal with, those are his problems," Popovich said Saturday. "I'm not going to worry about those right now. We have other problems right now. So that's out of sight, out of mind.

"But for me he's been a confidante for a long time, a really trusted professional and friend all at the same time. Highly gifted, highly intelligent young man, who is going to do a great job, I believe."

The Heat were Budenholzer's team to scout this season, so he's been bearing down on them for weeks. When the Finals are over, though, he's heading straight to Atlanta to start his new life.

"We learn so much from our players," Budenholzer said. "We bring in guys that are willing to be coached, but also who have a lot to offer coaches, in terms of knowledge or tricks, this or that. I'm constantly learning from our players, and learning from Pop. Hopefully that environment puts you in a place where you're ready to step out. It starts with the ownership, too, R.C., the way we do things. At the end of the day, we look at ourselves as basketball coaches. And we're going to go coach basketball. And there's kind of a right way to play it, defensively and offensively, and hopefully that's been ingrained in all of us that have been here, and left. Hopefully, I'm not any different."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

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

1) San Antonio (1-1) [1]: Has a player as good as Tony Parker ever been paid nothing near a max contract at any point in his career?

2) Miami (1-1) [2]: How Mike Miller stays ready to play and contribute in The Finals, when he gets so little burn, for weeks at a time, is amazing.

3) Indiana [3]: Season Complete.

4) Memphis [4]: Season Complete.

5) Oklahoma City [5]: Season Complete.

6) Golden State [6]: Season Complete.

7) New York [7]: Season Complete.

8) Chicago [8]: Season Complete.

9) L.A. Clippers [9]: Season Complete. Clippers will talk with George Karl, Lionel Hollins, Byron Scott and Brian Shaw about their vacancy.

10) Denver [10]: Season Complete. Josh Kroenke will either be lionized or vilified down the road with that quote from last week: "I'm not here to win awards; I'm here to hang banners."

11) Brooklyn [11]: Season Complete.

12) Atlanta [12]: Season Complete.

13) Boston [13]: Season Complete. Doc Rivers can clear up whether he's coming back with one statement released through the team. He has not done so. This cannot make Green Nation feel secure.

14) Houston [14]: Season Complete.

15) L.A. Lakers [15]: Season Complete.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Are playoff adjustments overrated?

You see the pendulum swings after every game of a playoff series: Team A wins Game One, and Team B will never win in the series. Team B wins Game Two, and Team A is doomed. And so on. It is the knee-jerk reaction of fans and media to think the team that wins a playoff game is certain to never lose again, and vice versa.

It almost never happens.

Teams that lose one game in the playoffs tend to play harder, and with more focus, in the next game, and they frequently win those games. Are those "adjustments," or is that just a team playing better?

"Well, I think when you get in the playoffs, especially to this point, you know, no egos in a sense," Miami's Dwyane Wade said. "We have to trust our coaches and our coaching staff to give us the game plan that they feel is going to work. And sometimes it's as simple as that, follow the game plan. Sometimes you might see some things, you might fill some situations in, you bring it up. They have been very receptive.

"(But) Coach will put the plan together that he wants us to do. Once the game starts we have to roll with it. We have to go with that. That's what we're going to do."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has dozens of scouting reports for playoff games in his office -- all his good calls and bad ones, all the successes and mistakes.

"Ronnie [Rothstein, the Heat's assistant coach] was talking about it," Spoelstra said recently. "Of this group, we've been through hundreds, together, of playoff games. [The mistakes] were a little bit of everything. That's the hardest part. That's the hardest part, finding the trends."

Spoelstra's greatest successes in the playoffs were borne from his greatest postseason failure -- losing the 2011 Finals to the Mavericks. In that series, Rick Carlisle won the coaching matchup, building a defense that kept LeBron James stationary, a jump shooter instead of a post-up player.

After that loss, Spoelstra knew he had to revamp the whole Heat system, and he did. He downsized the lineup, putting James in the post and creating a system that surrounded him with 3-point shooters, thus allowing James to maximize his incredible passing while also getting him closer to the basket.

Miami went from a halfcourt team to one that got up and down the floor. But none of that would have happened if Spoelstra hadn't been laid low in the postseason.

"I had to change, too," Spoelstra said. "It took the failure of Dallas. That's all been documented. I took it hard. We all did. We went into that lockout all coming back and committed to re-inventing ourselves, including the staff. It had to start with us."

Some adjustments are obvious. If a player is in a shooting slump, replace him. Shane Battier is in an extended offensive downturn, so Mike Miller has taken a lot of his minutes lately. Some are strategic, like changing where double teams come from, or how to handle a screen-and-roll that is causing your team problems. Some are simply paying more attention to detail. The Pacers left Paul George all alone against LeBron James in Game 3 of the East finals, giving James all the time in the world to make a decision on whether to shoot or pass. George's teammates did a much better job of getting in James' space the rest of the series.

Does a coach know exactly why his team lost a game when he leaves the floor, and what to do about it? Generally, yes. But they have to be willing to hear other points of view.

Pacers Coach Frank Vogel will come into his coaches' meeting the day after a playoff loss and wait to hear what his assistants think before deciding what changes he'll make.

"I have all the ideas in my head of what I want to do, and I basically come in and present them to my staff, and tell them to shoot them down," Vogel said. "They see if there's any pitfalls in what I'm thinking, or what I want to do."

And coaches have to be willing to listen to what their players see on the floor.

"Well, there's pros and cons with having 48 hours in between games, especially after a loss," James said Saturday. "You think about it a lot and it eats away at you. But at the same time it allows you to really pinpoint ways you can get better in the next game ... so the time definitely helps. And the communication, like you said, the communication between the players and the coaches has to be receptive and open and honest in order for the game plan to work, because we have to have everyone on the same page from the coaching staff to the players once we get on the floor because the game is kind of so fast."

Especially in the playoffs, film sessions can be brutal. Players know when they've had a subpar performance, but they have to be accountable, especially in the postseason. There isn't time for niceties.

"We've had a couple [of sessions] where, you know, the players didn't like the coaches," James said. "Coaches didn't like the players. And I think that's very healthy. It happens. The coaches want the players to do everything right, and sometimes the players want to do it or believe that they're doing everything right. So we've had film sessions where we both left out of it, I guess, not liking each other, but agreeing on what happened and owning it and seeing the ways we can get it better in the next game. And it usually happens during the playoffs.

"I think everything is just magnified. It's more emotions, more everything in the playoffs. For a veteran ballclub, we shouldn't sugarcoat anything when it comes to wanting to get better and improving."

When it's a Gregg Popovich film session, it can be especially tough.

"Obviously, you don't want to let your teammates down, first and foremost," Spurs forward Matt Bonner said. "You want to help your team win and you feel bad when you make a mistake on film. But you have to brush it aside and learn from it. That's the key. That's why coaches show films, so we can learn and adjust and get better going forward."

But Popovich isn't an automaton.

"They're definitely open to any feedback, or anything that you see as a player on the court that can help, or needs to be changed," Bonner said. "Obviously, Coach Pop is leading the charge with that kind of stuff. He's down to earth enough where he can have a dialogue with the players and see what they think as well."

Of course, Popovich has famously said that playoff adjustments are somewhat overrated. During his team's series with the Warriors, he was asked why he preferred to start games with Tony Parker guarding Stephen Curry, but then use Kawhi Leonard later in the game.

"I don't know," he said. "I just put their names in a hat and Stephen came out, and so that's who Tony guards."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

What to do in Gotham? From Andre Harrison:

What's your thoughts on the Knicks off season? I think the only trade value they have to get back enough in return to win is Tyson Chandler. I think you have to move him and start Amare at the five. No ones taking Amare's contract. So you move Chandler and hope to get CP3 or some pieces. You could use the free extra money to sign J.R. Smith or another shooting guard or back up small forward at a reasonable price (Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Kevin Martin, etc). Pick up a serviceable big man. You may think I'm crazy but I think Andrea Bargnani may fit the offense they run, a stretch big man who may come cheap.

They can't sign Chris Paul, Andre, unless he's willing to take the veteran minimum or the "mini" mid-level exception. That's all that a capped-out, luxury tax-paying team like New York is able to offer free agents. Nor can the Knicks do a sign-and-trade deal with anyone, another consequence of being a tax-payer beginning this year. I suppose they could trade Chandler, but that would rip the heart out of Mike Woodson's defense. If they want to go all-in offensively, I guess you could start Stoudemire at the five next year. But I don't think they'd get very far.

He does not care for your tracking boxes. From Chris Dellecese:

Since this is the time of year that we always hear about ratings -- the league, or XYZ network, doesn't want Team X vs. Team Y because that would be bad for ratings -- can you pass a message along to all who continue to write that lazy (and boring) storyline?

FANS DON'T CARE ABOUT RATINGS.

LeBron vs. anyone will probably do a good rating. The Spurs vs. anyone probably won't. We know that. It doesn't matter. If you like the game, you'll watch.

Maybe the sales guys at the networks care. No one else does. How does this become an annual issue (and not just for basketball)?

You and other fans may not care, Chris. Unfortunately for you, networks do. And so do leagues. And their opinions matter. Because they're the ones who decide which teams get on TV regularly. And that decision naturally impacts the ratings. If you put, say, the Grizzlies on 25 times during the regular season instead of the Lakers, the Grizzlies might start drawing higher ratings as people got more familiar with their players. But that would take time, and networks aren't too keen on low ratings while shows build an audience; that's why entertainment programs often are canceled after just one or two showings if their ratings are really bad. The TV networks' business is determined by how many people watch their shows. It's a chicken and egg question, to be sure, but no one is going to be the guinea pig.

Kegger at Kobe's! From Brian Ip:

This is my first email to you as I have been looking for some "insightful" question but in vain ... Well, but as I just read from your column that someone could express his frustrations on KD donating money, then I think I can ask something less than inspirational ...This question pops up today and I could not find a satisfying answer from the internet...

"Where does the money from fines go?" People are saying that they go to charity but no one would specify which agency they go to. I am just thinking the money may form a relief fund for disasters, or a specific fine could go to a relevant agency e.g. fine received from "term that disparages gay people" could go to an agency which promotes equality for homosexual people... Could you please enlighten me on this?

There is no one specific charity, Brian. The league and the union split the fine money and pick different philanthropic endeavors on which to use it, like community events and the like, which may vary from year to year.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and notes detailing your sudden discovery that you have an elderly relative in Florida who may need your attention and who may need to turn over her Power of Attorney to you to mmailto:daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! Good luck, Mrs. Mackenzie.

MVP WATCH

(Last week's averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (17.5 ppg, 13 rpg, 8.5 apg, .424 FG, .833 FT): Give James this: He has been consistent about being a team player, and passing the ball to the open shooter, since the day he walked into the league. And on the brightest stage, with the most to lose, he plays the exact same way.

2) Kevin Durant: Season Complete.

3) Tim Duncan (14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 apg, .344 FG, .875 FT): Attempting to become the 26th player with five or more championships. Of course, Bill Russell's 11 rings leads the way, followed by Celtics teammate Sam Jones' 10. The rest, courtesy of NBAUniverse.com: John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinsohn and Satch Sanders (each with eight titles); Robert Horry, "Jungle" Jim Loscutoff and Frank Ramsey (seven); Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Bob Cousy (six); Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, Derek Fisher, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Slater Martin, George Mikan, Don Nelson, Jim Pollard, Dennis Rodman and Larry Siegfried (five).

4) Carmelo Anthony: Season Complete..

5) Chris Paul: Season Complete.

BY THE NUMBERS

1 -- Players from the 1994 Draft that remain in the league after Jason Kidd joined Grant Hill in retirement last week. Kidd went second in that Draft, and Hill third, after Glenn Robinson was the first person selected overall. The only one left is Miami's Juan Howard.

16 -- Teams with the available cap space or exceptions, according to the Houston Chronicle, to take on the contract of 2012 first-round pick Thomas Robinson, currently with the Rockets, for a pick or other non-salary considerations. Trading Robinson may be crucial to the Rockets' pursuit of Dwight Howard; the Chronicle reported Sunday that Houston will also go after Chris Paul in free agency.

33 milliseconds -- Maximum amount of time, according to an estimate by the NBA, between when the ball left Tony Parker's fingertips on his Game 1 clincher and when the shot clock expired.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Let's get this straight: Jason Kidd is a top-10 all-time point guard. Maybe top five. I'd put only Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas ahead of him for sure, and then we could have a spirited debate on whether the likes of Walt Frazier, Bob Cousy, Steve Nash, Lenny Wilkens, Gary Payton or Tiny Archibald were better. But JKidd is in the discussion, for sure, after he officially ended his 19-year career last week by announcing his retirement.

2) If nothing else, the Twyman-Stokes Award may coerce people to research who Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes were. And that is a good thing. Congrats to Chauncey Billups, the first recipient of the award. (And, cool trophy!)

3) Why not?

4) Presented without comment. (BTW, the fabulous Courtney Fallon, from the NBC affiliate in Miami, took this photo.)

5) Titus!

6) Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams -- two great, great champions, who crushed at the French Open this weekend. (This read on Serena by SI's Jon Wertheim is terrific, terrific stuff.)

7) Yasiel Puig: is that Spanish for "Roy Hobbs?"

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Could Jason Kidd coach the Nets next season? Yes. Would he be a unique, solid gamble for a franchise in perpetual war with the Knicks for the back page in Gotham? Yes. Could he inspire players the way Mark Jackson inspires his charges in the Bay? Yes. But I cannot ignore the fact that there are men who have waited 10 years or more for their chance to be a head coach, men like Brian Shaw or Steve Clifford. JKidd could be a good coach, maybe a very good one, right off the bat. But I just believe that there are deserving people who deserve a chance first.

2) Can't believe it's been 20 years since Drazen Petrovic was killed in a car accident in Germany at the age of 28. Those of you too young to have seen him play can, here are just a few highlights of him in the NBA. But he was so much more than a basketball player. He had so much joy in his walk and mien. And he carried such a burden, being one of the first international players to come over to the States and perform well in the NBA. He was a good dude.

3) I guess there isn't much overlap in audiences between the Finals and the Tony Awards. But some of us like a good pick and roll and a good show tune. (In another life, I was an usher at a theatre, and I saw Cats about 7,000 times. The Rum Tum Tugger was a curious cat, indeed.)

4) Godspeed, Nelson Mandela, and hope your stay in the hospital is a brief one.

Q & A: DANNY GRANGER

Danny Granger was one of the first people on the ground in Indiana after the Brawl of Auburn Hills destroyed the marrow of a championship contender and the relationship between the team and one of the NBA's most loyal fan bases. Taken in the first round by the Pacers in the 2005 Draft, Granger was counted on by the franchise to be its new face, one that would bring fans back with good basketball and good character. For four years, Granger held up his end, winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award in 2009, the same year he made his lone All-Star Game appearance. That season, Granger was fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 25.8 points per game; it was the first of four straight seasons in which Granger averaged better than 20 a night. And, gradually, the Pacers put better players around him -- Roy Hibbert, David West, Paul George -- culminating in the team's ascension in the East, all the way to the conference finals this year against Miami.

But Granger watched most of this season; hampered by a knee injury, he played in just five games early in the season. It looked like he would be able to return to action for the stretch drive toward the end of the regular season, but instead, with the pain in his knee returning, he underwent surgery at the end of March to remove a piece of scar tissue from his patella tendon. Now 30, Granger's career is at a crossroads; he is a veteran player with knee problems on a team that now has a budding superstar in George, who'll be seeking a max contract. And Granger has a year left on his five-year, $60 million contract, making him a potentially juicy trading chip for a team that still has a couple of holes to fill on its roster as it faces years of battling Miami, New York and Chicago for supremacy in the conference. Yet the Pacers insist that they have no plans to deal Granger, hoping to see more of him and George together on the floor next season. After Indiana's Game 7 loss in Miami last Monday, Granger, who had not spoken since being shut down at the end of March, spoke about his future.

Me: What do you think the experience of being in the conference finals will do for your team going forward?

Danny Granger: Even when we lost to the Bulls in the playoffs [in 2011], they beat us 4-1. But then, the next year, we come, we lose to Miami in six [in the conference semifinals], and now we're in the Eastern Conference finals. All that experience, it builds. No team just jumps to the forefront, based on the talent that they have. You have to experience those moments. It's just another building block.

Me: What is the mental transition that takes place when you are no longer the focal point of a team, when you go from 'I have to score 25 for us to have a chance to win?'

DG: It's a relief. I think of it as a relief. I'm not 25 anymore. Going to get 22, 23 points a game, it's tough, it's hard, when you have teams gunning for you. I'm 30 now. I'll gladly defer to the younger teammates and put more of the burden on them than on myself. I can still carry a heavy load, but not as much as I did in the past. And I don't want to. It's not even a question.

Me: You have a unique perspective on injuries. I'm sure you have an opinion on Derrick Rose's situation in in Chicago. What is that like when you're trying to get back to the player you know you are, or were, and there's so much pressure on you to get back on the court -- maybe before you're ready?

DG: It's funny. All the people that judge the players, 99 percent of them haven't played, 99 percent haven't been injured like the player's been injured. And they talk so much about Derrick Rose, like, 'Oh, he should have come back.' We play at the highest level of competitive sports in the world. And to do that, you can't be playing on one leg. 'Cause the guy across is playing on two, and he's going to eat you alive. If you don't have confidence in your leg, you just as might as well not be out there. It was the same thing with me. I played for five games, and I could do some stuff, but I'm not going to be out there on one leg, when I can't even do a lateral slide. No one knows what he was feeling. He had a major surgery. So I thought they should have backed off of him. Nobody's been in that situation. Everybody's so quick to judge, when they've never experienced it. They're like, 'oh well, this guy had an ACL, and he came back a little earlier.' Well, that guy's different. Everybody's different. Your body's different; your knee's different. We all move differently. And if he wasn't ready ... I played with Derrick in the World Championships [in 2010]. And he is a competitor. He really is a competitor. There is no way he could have played and would not have been playing, I don't think.

Me: So how do you deal with that, when you're not yourself?

DG: The mental aspect of the game, I think, is way more important than the physical aspect. When you're a player of that caliber, and you've accomplished that much and had a lot of good years, you know what to expect from yourself, and you know when you can give. If mentally, you don't think you're prepared to do it, even if your leg is fine — let's say it is healthy — if mentally, if you don't think it's healthy, it doesn't matter. And I don't think people understand that. If you can drive to the lane and jump off your left leg and go dunk it, even if you can do it, if mentally, you don't think you can do it, you're not going to do it. It's that simple. And it plays such a big part of our careers, I think it's underestimated.

Me: There was a lot of trade talk involving you over the last few years. How happy are you that they never pulled the trigger?

DG: I've been here my whole career. I look at things objectively, and it's very rare for a player to stay with a team his whole career. It just don't happen. So when the trade talks come, you can say, okay, it's my time to go. I love the organization and I had a great time here [but] we understand it's a business. You get older and you move on. That's just the way it is. There's no hard feelings about it; you don't get your feelings hurt. I take it as a business arrangement, basically.

Me: When you think about next year, and the possibilities of you on the weak side and Paul doing damage on the other side, what do you see?

DG: It's scary. I think it's really scary, the things we can do when we play together. I'm really looking forward to it. A guy asked me how did it feel, saying 'What if you was in on that play, or that play?' I can't do that; my injury kept me out. But for the most part, our future is very, very bright.

Me: What does Paul not know that he's going to need to know to take the next step?

DG: I think Paul has had a great season. But the pressure that's going to be applied to him. I think, right now, he's in a great spot. He's had the chance to grow into the position, and he has Roy Hibbert and David West. Hardly anybody has a Roy Hibbert and a David West on their team, not on one team. David West is a monster. A lot of times, David took the brunt of it. When we really needed something to go to, David was our guy. He's got the experience. He's been there. He's done it. And we could always defer to him and say, okay, here you go, go get us a bucket. And David's 33, so we won't always have that rock. When the time comes, Paul is going to have to get really, really assertive. He's so gifted with the pass, he'll pass it off, he'll pass it off. When he really, really gets assertive, he'll understand that the pressure intensifies. And I think he'll flourish. Because he has that as a player. It's just a matter of time.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

@RealJasonKidd‬ ‪@realgranthill33‬ Congratulations on incredible careers. Let me know if you need any retirement advice.
-- President Clinton (@billclinton), Wednesday, 10:39 a.m., offering a helping hand to two ex-athletes who will have very few post-basketball opportunities. For the sarcasm-challenged, that was a joke. I don't think Jason Kidd and Grant Hill will have problems adjusting to life after the NBA.

THEY SAID IT

"It is not in my nature to stop and savor."
-- NBA Commissioner David Stern, during his pre-Finals news conference Thursday, after being asked if he was at all nostalgic at his last Finals before retiring as Commissioner next February.

"When you play 1,200 games or more, you're not going to remember all the games -- nor do you want to, nor do you want to be stuck in that place between 1971 and 1987. I don't want to be stuck there. I don't mind going back to visit, but I don't want to run around wearing No. 6 and No. 32."
-- Julius Erving, to CBSSports.com, on how he had to jog his memory in detailing his Hall of Fame career for the NBA TV documentary, "The Doctor", which premieres tonight at 9.

"It's really not a comparison. If LeBron was playing in the late '80s and early '90s, he would be just an average player."
-- Dennis Rodman, on the Dan Patrick Show, proving that Crotchety Old-Manness is not limited to Crotchety Old Men. Now get off my lawn!

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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