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David Aldridge

Dwight Howard
The sounds of change are evident in the NBA with Dwight Howard headed to Houston.

Howard's move reveals a new world to Rockets, Lakers


Posted Jul 8, 2013 9:54 AM

In an alternate NBA universe somewhere ...

DEC. 8, 2011 NBA TRANSACTIONS -- LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Traded F/C Pau Gasol to Houston, F Lamar Odom to New Orleans, in exchange for G Chris Paul. HOUSTON ROCKETS: Traded F/C Luis Scola, G Kevin Martin, G Goran Dragic, 2012 first-round pick to New Orleans. Acquired F/C Pau Gasol from L.A. Lakers. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: Traded G Chris Paul to L.A. Lakers. Acquired F Lamar Odom from Lakers, F/C Luis Scola, G Kevin Martin, G Goran Dragic, 2012 first-round pick from Rockets.

***

JULY 10, 2013

LOS ANGELES -- Dwight Howard could not contain his glee. The smile that had disappeared from his face for the last two years had returned. Standing alongside his new teammates, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, and with a tanned, rested and ready coach Phil Jackson by his side, Howard announced "there's a new sheriff in town," putting a Lakers cap on his head and ushering in what promises to be the next great era of Lakers basketball.

"This is what every big man dreams of," Howard said, after agreeing to a new four-year deal to play with the Lakers, after an unproductive season in the middle for Houston. The seven-time All-Star ended two years of drama and speculation about his future by taking out a full-page ad in Friday's Los Angeles Times newspaper that read, simply, "Laker For Life," above his signature. (The unusual method of announcing his free-agent choice, according to sources, cost $100,000.)

"The tradition of this franchise, the opportunity to play for the same team as Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Shaquille O'Neal, all the great centers who've come through here, I couldn't pass it up," Howard said in an afternoon news conference.

Yet sources insisted that Howard, who agreed to a four-year deal worth $83 million, was moved just as much, if not more, by the opportunity to play with Paul and Bryant, and to be tutored by Jackson, who has coached 11 teams to championships in Chicago and Los Angeles. The Lakers signed Jackson, who replaced the departed Mike Brown, to a five-year deal at $6 million a year a week ago that allows him to take several games off during each regular season, almost all of them East of the Rocky Mountains, during Lakers road trips.

During those trips, associate head coach Brian Shaw, hired along with Jackson last week, will coach the team. Shaw had been the favorite to replace Jackson after Jackson announced his retirement from coaching in 2011, but the Lakers hired Brown instead.

The 67-year-old Jackson, who has had several health issues the past few years, had vowed he would not return to the sidelines and coach again. He was looking to have an executive role for a team similar to the one that Pat Riley has enjoyed in Miami. But Jackson was swayed to come back to the Lakers after weeks of negotiations between Jackson and team president Magic Johnson, who had returned to the franchise two years ago -- at Paul's insistence, according to sources.

Johnson waged a stealth campaign to get Jackson back on the sidelines, meeting him at his home in Idaho on several occasions to negotiate, cajole and plead for the iconic coach to return to the bench. Johnson was aided in the offensive by Jackson's fiancé, Lakers Executive Vice President Jeanie Buss, who had pushed for Jackson to return to the team.

"Earvin was very persuasive -- and insistent," Jackson said earlier this week. "But if it wasn't the Lakers, I probably wouldn't have done this."

Yet it was likely that Paul's impending free-agent status was the driving factor. Paul never came out and said that Jackson's return would assure his own return to the team next season, but he didn't have to. The Lakers could not take any chances or give Paul any reason to leave, and after Jackson's hiring was announced, Paul announced via Twitter that he was staying, agreeing to sign a five-year deal worth $100 million when the NBA's moratorium ends July 10.

IT'S ON!! #LakerNation Forever, Paul Tweeted on Monday.

Paul and Howard took slightly less than the maximum salaries they could have received to play with one another and to lessen the Lakers' enormous luxury-tax burden, which is likely to exceed $50 million next season. But team sources said the franchise was willing to take the financial punch for a year, expecting Bryant, who will make $30 million next season, to re-sign in the summer of 2014 at a vastly reduced rate.

Getting Gasol, who will make $19 million in Houston next season, off the team's books was crucial to having the flexibility to re-sign Paul and to ink Howard. But the presence of Paul and Howard, along with Bryant, in L.A. for the foreseeable future has already been a financial windfall for one of the league's top revenue producing teams. There is even word that the team would like to re-open the 20-year, $3 billion deal it did just two years ago with Time Warner Cable for the local television rights for Lakers games.

Paul, acquired from New Orleans in a three-team deal with Houston and the Lakers in December, 2011, at the end of the lockout, has rejuvenated the Lakers' franchise. He was a first-team all-NBA selection this season, finishing second to LeBron James in Most Valuable Player voting. And Paul's presence did wonders for Bryant, who played less than 34 minutes a game last season for just the second time in his career since 1998. Bryant, who played in all 82 games this season, said recently he feels so good with the lighter workload that he could play "another four or five seasons" at his current level.

Bryant, as Tim Duncan did in San Antonio, accepted that he had to take a different role at this stage of his career. He still averaged 23 ppg, but often deferred to Paul in the fourth quarters of games. "I'm not stupid," Bryant said during the playoffs. "I'm a student of the game. This is the same thing that Dr. J and Clyde Drexler and other guys had to do to keep winning. CP3 is a bad (expletive). I'm a bad (expletive). We roll together."

With Paul and Howard aboard, Bryant has told confidants he thinks he not only will catch and pass Michael Jordan's mark of six championships with the Bulls, but has an outside shot of getting close to Russell's 11 rings with Boston.

None of this would have been possible if not for Paul's constant, persistent lobbying of Howard, which turned the center away from pitches by the likes of the Clippers and Rockets. "Chris wore me down," Howard said, chuckling.

The Rockets gambled that they could convince Howard to remain in Houston after acquiring him from Orlando in the summer of 2012. But Howard had said time and time again he wouldn't re-sign with Houston, and the lack of a young star player to play alongside him sealed the Rockets' fate. Howard also didn't mesh well with Gasol, who was sent to Houston in the Paul deal. Coach Kevin McHale tried to utilize both players down low, but sources indicated that Howard wanted to play for a team where he'd have more room to operate.

And the Lakers, who made the Western Conference semis last year before losing to the Grizzlies, will give Howard all the room he needs. Los Angeles was pounded inside by the bigger Grizzlies throughout the six-game series without the injured Andrew Bynum, who missed most of the season with knee injuries, and whom the Lakers felt uncertain about committing to a long-term deal. (Bynum could now sign with the Rockets or the Clippers, who need to find another star to pair with Blake Griffin.)

New Orleans was a long-shot destination for Bynum as well, but the Pelicans opted to keep their veteran core of Scola, Odom, Martin and All-Star David West together at least one more season, after upsetting Howard's Rockets in the semifinals of the playoffs and making an improbable run to the Western Conference finals. Howard played heroically, as he had all season, through the pain of his surgically repaired bad back.

With Jarrett Jack running the point, and Carl Landry and Marco Belinelli providing depth and scoring off the bench, the Pelicans have made the playoffs four straight seasons, and are drawing more and more interest from potential buyers, who see the growing, enthusiastic crowds at New Orleans Arena.

The NBA had come close to selling the Pelicans a year ago, but with the team's surprising success the league held onto the franchise, and now thinks the team can get as much as $400 million when it is ultimately sold. There are "numerous" suitors for the franchise, an industry source said last month.

The Rockets, meanwhile, having been stung by the loss of their franchise center, will likely continue to try flipping existing players for younger assets, which they hope they can eventually turn into another young superstar. Their new target, according to sources, is Oklahoma City guard James Harden, whom the NBA champion Thunder kept last offseason by signing him to a $65 million extension -- but who might be available if the smaller-revenue generating Thunder, who beat Miami in six games last month to win the franchise's first NBA title since moving to Oklahoma City in 2008, decide they can't continue to pay luxury taxes on their roster...

***

Back to reality ...

How close were we to the above, alternate universe?

How different would the NBA world be this morning if the Commish hadn't uttered those five fatal words the evening of Dec. 8, 2011: "We're not doing that deal?" If Stern, acting as owner of the then-Hornets, hadn't nixed the deal that would have made Paul a Laker, and moved all the other players to their other cities, the chances of last Friday's events happening would have been microscopic.

The Lakers may well have still been viewed as the gold standard of NBA franchises, impervious to market forces or AAU-raised players. Howard would probably not have to deal with the whispers and doubts, and questions about who, exactly, is running the show in his camp -- him or his advisers? We don't know if Bryant would have torn his Achilles' if Paul had been there to shoulder some of the load the last two seasons.

But Stern did utter those words. And this morning, the Rockets, flush from their free-agent triumph, are the ascendant team in Texas. General Manager Daryl Morey's strategy of constantly flipping players the last three years until he could strike has been vindicated. The constant trades and media speculation wore on the players who had to go through it, leaving coaches frustrated that they couldn't move forward with a roster for more than a few months.

But the strategy, ultimately, worked. (The irony is that Houston's big offseason acquisitions last summer, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, are now likely trade chips, though their high third-year salaries -- the very thing that allowed Houston to get them from their old teams -- limits the universe of teams that will be interested in trading for them.)

All the dealing, and the developing of players like Chandler Parsons, a seeming afterthought of a second-round pick in 2011, left Morey in prime position to make the trade with Oklahoma City for James Harden last October. Finally, Morey had his star -- a base on which to build the franchise. It's easy to say now that everyone knew how dynamic Harden would be when given the ball, but that's Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

McHale put Harden's skills on full display last season, and Harden shined. The combination made the Rockets one of the league's most exciting offensive teams (maybe the Warriors or Nuggets were as potent), and a franchise with a future. And Harden's presence on the Rockets' roster, much like Ray Allen's in Boston after his trade there in the summer of 2008, swayed Howard to come aboard ... just as Allen swayed Kevin Garnett to accept a trade to Boston.

And Paul has, famously, changed the culture in Los Angeles, making the Clippers the hot ticket. And the dominoes fell in his wake. Paul's presence lead Griffin to stay and sign a long-term extension with the Clippers, which led Paul to do the same, which led Doc Rivers to see green, green grass in the City of the Angels.

Meanwhile, the Lakers have become the Magic.

They can call it whatever they want, but putting up billboards and CGI-generated banners imploring Howard to stay was not something they would have done 10 years ago. Or five years ago. It's something a small-market team does (and, in the case of Sacramento, when the Maloof family was trying to convince Chris Webber to re-sign in 2001, did -- they put up a billboard on I-80 that jokingly said co-owner Joe Maloof would mow Webber's lawn if he stayed).

The world has changed. Or, the Lakers have.

It's probably a little bit of both, combined with unfortunate timing. The death of the franchise's patriarch, Jerry Buss, cast a pall over the organization. A healthy Steve Nash would have done wonders for everyone at the start of the season. The Lakers got old at the wrong time, and Howard was not Gasol, who could handle Bryant's moods with relative equanimity. There was no Derek Fisher around to smooth out the rough edges, no young stars that Howard could hang out with or relate with.

There was just Kobe, and he and Howard wouldn't have gotten along in a thousand years. Their personalities, approach to life, to the game, everything, were oil and water. Bryant was stunned, for example, when Howard complained after a game the Lakers won, when guard Jodie Meeks had had a good night shooting, because he -- Howard -- hadn't gotten a lot of second-half touches. Meeks rarely got his moment in the sun; Howard was always the center of attention. Bryant wasn't sure what made Howard tick.

Yet Howard felt as if the Lakers left him on an island, allowing him to accept the blame for the team's defensive ineptness. The Lakers struggled to master basic defensive concepts, like "help the helper," leaving Howard looking silly when he left his man to try and stop a penetrating guard -- and there were a lot of them attacking the Lakers' backcourt all season.

Things got better when Nash returned, and coach Mike D'Antoni tweaked the offense and found better ways to utilize Gasol, who'd been marginalized earlier in the season. But once Bryant went down in the last week of the regular season, the Lakers were finished.

They didn't have much to offer Howard, other than the promise that they'd build around him in the future. But that's what Orlando had offered as well.

Howard wanted to play with another star, just as LeBron James did in 2010, Paul did in '11 and Deron Williams did in '12.

At any rate, there are no guarantees that the Lakers will have their pick of the free-agent litter going forward. The proof will be in next summer's pudding, when the team has, more or less, a blank slate to remake the team. With the new CBA mandating teams spend at least 90 percent of the cap on player salaries, the Lakers will get somebody to play for them. But will that person be a difference-maker, like Howard -- at least, like Howard once was?

There is revisionism, of course, in the wake of Howard's selection. Howard, it is now being written in some quarters, didn't do anything wrong this time. He hosted the teams, he made a decision, he informed the teams that didn't win, he flew to Los Angeles to tell the Lakers.

Except:

a) The Lakers had no meeting set up with Howard on Friday. No one called them to ask for a meeting Friday.

b) Howard never actually met with them. He told GM Mitch Kupchak by phone, something he could have done from Colorado -- or from Berlin, for that matter. Who knows why Howard went to L.A.? Maybe he was getting a change of clothes. But it's wasn't to face the Lakers face to face. And intimating that it was creates the very kind of PR problems Howard insists aren't his fault.

There is also insanity being passed off as wisdom, the foremost being the idea that the Magic "won" the four-team trade last August that set all this in motion (Howard to L.A., Bynum to Philly, Andre Iguodala to Denver and Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo to Orlando). This folderol is possible because Bynum never played a minute in Philly last season, and because Iguodala spurned Denver for Golden State last week, and because Howard ... well, you know.

Let's ask fans in Orlando if they "won" the trade, if they enjoyed watching a team that had been in The Finals four seasons ago go 20-62 last season. You don't lose a franchise player and "win" anything. The Magic spent two years and thousands of man hours trying to convince Howard to stay, to continue to be the face of the franchise and live in a tax-free (sound familiar?) state. Try selling season tickets with Vucevic -- not that there's anything wrong with being Vucevic. But people don't come out of their wallets to see him play.

The Magic moved heaven and earth in 2010 and '11 to try and make Howard happy, taking chances on the likes of Gilbert Arenas and an aging Hedo Turkoglu if it would surround Howard with enough scoring and playmaking to make his life easier. But all their moves backfired, and the situation in Orlando deteriorated rapidly -- setting up that surreal April, 2012, shootaround before a game against New York in which Stan Van Gundy repeated his charges that Howard was trying to get him fired -- with Howard, unaware of what his coach was saying, just a few feet away. Howard then came in and put his arm around Van Gundy, insisting things were fine between the two of them.

I was there. Trust me, it was creepy.

But firing GM Otis Smith and Van Gundy didn't make Howard any more likely to stay in Orlando, and the subsequent trade to L.A. didn't satisfy Howard, either. Some of it wasn't his fault; actually, he never received the credit he should have for coming back and playing so quickly after his April back surgery. Players know well before any of us when they're limited, and Howard was a shell of himself athletically the entire season. Yet he went out there every night and did what he could, which was still good enough to lead the league in rebounding (12.4 per game).

Howard should be much better physically next season. He will have a coach who'll feed him the ball, a contemporary in Harden who'll take a lot of the attention and responsibility off of his shoulders, and a fan base delirious that he spurned NBA royalty for them.

But he has to win now. And win big. He has to beat Paul's Clippers, Kevin Durant's Thunder, Duncan's Spurs and Stepehen Curry's Warriors. He also probably has to beat James' Heat to justify the move. That's life in the big city. (And, yes, Shaq, Houston is a big city.)

Just a few years ago, Howard was the NBA's genial Superman. He now has the chance -- and the responsibility -- to resurrect that character, in the city that NASA calls home.

They are used to shooting stars there.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Will Brad Stevens be a template for future coaching hires, or another college basketball cautionary tale?

The 36-year-old Stevens, the celebrated Butler University coach, was hired by the Celtics last week to replace Rivers. This ascension was one of the best-kept NBA secrets in years, with no leaking of his or Boston's interest getting out. It made the shock of his hiring all the more acute.

"First of all, I never leak stories, as you guys all know," Ainge told reporters in Boston at Stevens' news conference last week. "They try to get me to leak stories. You have to find another source if you want stories leaked. And this was very tight-lipped. As a matter of fact, I was very careful who I shared any information with because of the sensitivity of Brad.

"I could only see this deal blowing up because if he was going to come to the Celtics, he had to do it the right way. It was crucial, I think, in the process. If things had gotten out or leaked, it could have very easily blown the situation."

The Celtics' stealth pursuit of Stevens lasted a few weeks, while Rivers was deciding whether or not to return to the team next season. Once he opted to go to the Clippers, Boston made its move, going for Stevens, who led the mid-major Bulldogs to consecutive NCAA championship game appearances.

"I think the guy's a great coach," said University of Miami Coach Jim Larranaga -- whose son, Jay, is the only holdover member of Rivers' staff with Stevens. The Celtics interviewed Jay Larranaga for the job before agreeing to terms with Stevens on what Yahoo Sports reported as a six-year, $22 million deal.

There is a distinct pattern of successful college coaches who struggled mightily in the pros -- Jerry Tarkanian (9-11 with the Spurs in 1992), Rick Pitino (192-220 in six seasons between New York and Boston), John Calipari (72-112 in three seasons with the Nets), Lon Kruger (69-122 in three seasons with the Hawks), and Mike Montgomery (68-96 in two seasons with Golden State).

The adjustments from the college game to the NBA are obvious -- a longer season, coaching grown men instead of impressionable kids, etc. But they are nonetheless real and difficult ones.

"Part of the hammer you wield is your ability to get players," says an NBA executive with experience at the college and pro levels.

"Whether they're heralded as the greatest class ever, like Calipari, when they get on the court, the impact is such that you (can) say somebody knew what they were going when they got these guys," the executive said. "All that goes out the window when you get to the NBA. Somebody else gets the players; you don't pick them...in college, you have a great deal to say about your schedule, especially non-conference.

"You usually don't play more than two games in a row on the road. You come back home and you usually have two or three games in a row there...when you're a college coach you're the gateway to the NBA. And players say I have to get along with this guy. In the NBA, you're dealing with men. They have wives, they have agents, and they're millionaires."

But Stevens has a lot of things in his favor. He got a six-year deal from Ainge, giving him plenty of time to get up to speed on the NBA game while Ainge builds the roster (and with nine first-round picks over the next five years, he'll have more than a fair shot). There will be next to no expectations on Stevens next season; that left town when Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce did.

Ainge did not make this decision in a vacuum. The Celtics' organization, up to owner Wyc Grousbeck, was involved at all levels of the recruitment. Co-owner Steve Pagliuca, a Duke grad and former player on the Blue Devils' freshman team, certainly had access to the likes of coach Mike Krzyzewski to get a first-hand review of Stevens' abilities.

This is an organization that seems to be all in with its new coach.

Second, there seems to be a perception that the Celtics are throwing an expansion roster out there next season. That is crazy. Rajon Rondo is a top-five point guard, and Ainge was adamant to local reporters at Stevens' news conference Friday that Rondo was not being shopped and would be on the Celtics' opening-night roster.

The Rondo Thing is way overblown, anyway. Rondo is difficult to coach at times, but name me a great player who isn't. He's not psychotic; he's stubborn -- and a lot of the time, he's right. (Just to check, I spoke with one of Rondo's close friends in Boston, who said on Saturday that Rondo was good with the Stevens hire and is devoting far more attention to getting the strength back in his surgically repaired knee.)

A core group of Rondo, Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks, with a healthy Jared Sullinger and rookie forward Kelly Olynyk, isn't going to win a title. But it isn't going to win just 10 games next season, either.

Finally, it does not hurt that Stevens was one of the best minds in college basketball.

"I think he will do a great job," said guard Shelvin Mack, who played for the Hawks last season and who played on both Butler finalist teams. "The front office will put him in a position to be successful."

Stevens' even keel will serve him well in the pros.

"He's always calm and understands it's a daily, step-by-step process," Mack said.

Stevens' philosophy -- known as "the Butler Way" -- is a modern version of John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. Its five principles -- humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness -- were developed by ex-coach and current Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier, who passed it down to subsequent Butler coaches over the years.

"There are a lot of college guys whose demeanor probably doesn't work in the NBA, but I think Brad's does," Jim Larranaga said. "He's got a very good sideline demeanor and composure to deal with whatever he has to. He has good composure with his players, and with the referees. It's a perfect opportunity to bring his philosophy to the pros."

Jim Larranaga says the Butler Way actually owes a lot to former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett.

"I called Barry Collier 20 years ago, and told him I was going to visit Dick Barnett, who I thought was the best coach in college basketball," Jim Larranaga recalled.

"Barry brought it to Butler and I ended up bringing it to George Mason. I already had certain things that were important to me, so I didn't kind of clone it -- I incorporated it. Barry duplicated it, and passed it to Thad Matta (the current Ohio State coach assisted at Butler before becoming coach there in 2000), and (Todd) Lickliter (who preceded Stevens as Butler's coach) used it, and now Brad uses it. I think it's a great, great tool to establish what's important to you. What do you believe in? What do you stress? If you do, I think the whole team will buy into it and succeed."

Stevens also fully embraced the advanced stats movement that has impacted the NBA while at Butler, hiring a statistics major, Drew Cannon, as a graduate manager last season, and then using Cannon's info to help the Bulldogs make yet another NCAA Tournament appearance. Ainge is a devoted student of the new basketball metrics, and Stevens' eagerness to use them at Butler will make for a more natural transition to the NBA.

But Stevens will have a lot on his plate, even if he doesn't have all the responsibilities that Pitino or Calipari did when they came to the pros. He will have to get used to referees, a large and occasionally ornery local media, NBA sets, drawing up plays with a 24-second clock instead of 30.

But he will get the time. The rebuild in Boston has officially begun.

Jim Larranaga told the story of one of his players who didn't seem to be into things early one season. He asked the player what was wrong. And the player was honest -- he hated school, he hated going to classes, he hated studying. After talking with Larranaga, the player did not become a great or willing student. But at least Larranaga understood what was bugging him.

"You're got to find out what's important to the guy," he said. "Is it a guy who's in the last year of the contract -- I need minutes, I need shots? Is it a guy who's on a long term contract, who's maybe not movtivated? Is it a guy who's coming off of an injury, and maybe isn't as confident as he once was? The important thing, in my mind, is understanding people."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Good visibility; unlimited ceiling. From Syondla Sithole:

Now that Miami has won its second championship of the LeBron era, I guess it is natural that the scramble to define LeBron's legacy starts again.

Being from South Africa where basketball is not a major sport (though it is growing every year) means I only recently started to follow the game. But, I do study the history and evolution of the game. I am of the view that just like [Roger] Federer in tennis, LeBron is the most talented player to have played basketball thus far and I'm sure many will concur with such sentiments. But where he ranks amongst the immortals polarizes debate.

LeBron is the only player in Finals history to average 25 points, 10 rebounds & 7 assists. He is also a back-to-back finals MVP & a four-time regular season MVP, a two-time NBA champ and the youngest player to score 20,000 career points. Numbers, which in my book, put him in the top 10 amongst the all-time best basketball players. The only question to ask is: what must he do to be the greatest? Does he have to win more championships than [Michael] Jordan, pass Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] as the all-time leader in points scored or win more MVP trophies and do both of the above?

It will not be up to me to decide if LeBron is the "greatest," because we will never come to a consensus about how to determine that. For example: no one will ever again win 11 titles like Russell did, so if you just go by championships, LeBron -- or anyone else -- will never have a chance. But different people have different criteria, and how would you compare Russell as a player to James as a player, anyway? They play different positions. I doubt LeBron will become an all-time leader in any of the statistical categories, anyway, because he does everything so well; he doesn't hone in on one, like assists, and he's not ever going to take enough shots to approach Kareem's record. But if he keeps winning titles and someday approaches Jordan's six, he'll be in the discussion of Best Ever.

In Defense of Andrea Bargnani. From Marco Principi:

In your latter "I'm feelin'..." you say you don't understand what's the real difference between [Steve] Novak and [Andrea] Bargnani...Now, I'm from Italy and I might be too involved in this matter, but here's the difference:

Bargnani averaged 15.2 ppg in his career, Novak 5.3. Last season, his worst one (he had to face two serious injuries) since his sophomore year, Bargnani averaged 12.7 ppg which is still superior to Novak's career-high 8.8 (averaged in 2011-12). In a seven-year NBA career (they both were drafted in '06), Bargnani scored 6,581 points to Novak's 1,907.

Yes, Novak's shooting percentage is better but Bargnani isn't just a steady outside shooter: he shoots more and from different spots on the floor, and he takes more responsibilities as you can see by the number of his attempts. Not considering the stats is not smart.

Yes, Andrea's defense is an issue, rebounds are an issue; but he is still better than Novak in these aspects of the game. The Knicks needed another scorer capable of creating his own shot and being an offensive threat in order to take some pressure off Melo's shoulders: Andrea is capable of doing that, Novak isn't: that's why they made the deal. I think international players don't get the respect they deserve. Look how often, for instance, Splitter is fouled not getting a call by the referees (and he's the starting center of the Western Conference champions!).

Bargnani is undergoing the same lack of respect that will prevent a bunch of great so-called international players from ever making the All-Star team (Gallinari among them: look how a team that ranked third in regular season lost in the first round without him and listen to George Karl, in the press-conference after the defeat, about the team missing Gallo's defense and leadership). I'm sorry to say this, but there's only one word to describe that: prejudice.

Prejudice is not smart, at all.

I cannot go to "prejudice," Marco, at least how I define the word, to describe how, sometimes, international players are judged. "Stereotyped" seems more appropriate, and I would argue that is something that is lessening as NBA rosters continue to be populated more and more by players from around the world. At any rate, if your main argument is that Bargnani has a higher average and has scored more points than Novak, that's always going to be true -- Bargnani's averaged 30 minutes a game in his career, compared with Novak's 13.5. The question is whether Bargnani's superior offensive production is worth the additional contractual obligation New York will have to bear, compared with Novak's deal -- especially when the Knicks' problems aren't really at the offensive end of the floor. That was my point. I don't think it will be.

A brief period of time when McDonald's was actually good for you. From T.J. Hollis:

Just a note on the "world" championship designation: Back in the mid-1990s there was a friendly tournament set up for the championship team from many national leagues around the world that the Houston Rockets competed in after both title victories (if I recall correctly). I believe McDonalds was the naming-rights sponsor. I would personally love to know why it died off, as well as would love to see something similar return.

This would boost the NBA's popularity across the world in a major way, being able to see our local heroes go toe-to-toe against the big boys instead of (in my country's case) being relegated to watching Patty Mills & Aron Baynes championing the sport of towel-waving.

Could a tournament like this work again?

You are speaking of the McDonald's Open, T.J., which was held from 1987-99, and was pushed by the NBA and FIBA. The McDonald's featured real clubs, not national teams; these were the Celtics and Lakers (Magic Johnson was playing in the 1991 McDonald's in Paris when his HIV was discovered back in the States) playing against international powers like Real Madrid and Olympiacos. It was limited in scope, but the NBA's hopes during its run was to ultimately expand it into a true worldwide tournament to try and determine a true world's "club" champion. But the idea never got traction, leaving the NBA to put its muscle behind the upcoming World Cup of Basketball in 2014 (the re-branded World Championships), with the Commish having to shelve, for now, his idea about limiting Olympic rosters to players 23 and under to push the stars toward participating in the World Cup. At least for the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. team will continue to be populated by the NBA's elite players, regardless of age. I would love to see a true world club championship someday, but there doesn't seem to be much international will for it at the moment.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and tickets to the all-day, all-night party at the All England to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently intelligent, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!

BY THE NUMBERS

1 -- Coaching vacancies remaining (the 76ers) after the Celtics hired Brad Stevens last week. Amazingly, that means that at least two of these three coaches -- George Karl, Lionel Hollins and Byron Scott -- will not be in the league at the start of next season. Given all the vacancies that have come up since the end of last season, that is remarkable.

5 -- Years since the Pistons won a playoff game. They haven't made the postseason for four straight seasons, and were swept in 2007-08 in the first round. By contrast, Josh Smith, who agreed to a four-year, $54 million free-agent deal with the Pistons over the weekend, has made the playoffs with the Hawks the past six years in a row.

6 -- Days, beginning on Thursday, that eligible teams will have to use the amnesty provision on players that were signed before the 2011 lockout. The team will have to pay the remaining salary of the player that is amnestied, but the player comes off of the team's salary cap charge. Fourteen teams -- Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, the Lakers, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Sacramento, San Antonio, Toronto and Utah -- still have the provision available. (New Orleans hasn't used it, but since the Pelicans don't have any players under contract that were signed before the lockout, they can't use the provision.)

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Cleveland is, methodically, putting a very good basketball team together. Adding Jarrett Jack over the weekend is a savvy move by an organization that maintained its cap room early in the process and was thus able to strike when someone who can make a difference was available. Who knows if LeBron will come back in a year? But the Cavs have a lot of good pieces in place already.

2) I don't know how much Manu Ginobili has left, but it's reassuring that he'll finish his career in a Spurs uniform. One more time, Chuck!

3) People who are talking with the Kings' new braintrust are all saying the same thing: it's a new deal in Sacramento. The Kings are being aggressive and smart, and while they may not get everyone they want this summer, a good organization ultimately lands good players.

4) Give the Patriots credit for getting in front of what could obviously have been an awful situation next season.

5) There are good people in the world. When they are brought together by fate, circumstance or for a television story, incredible things can happen. Congrats to all involved, but especially to the two young men who have never, ever given up.

6) We are getting close to the time when, mercifully, I can go on vacation. As ever, we will have four Guest Tippers in August and September, and one of those could be ... you! Every year, I ask to hear from NBA fans from around the world on why they should get to write the Tip column. What is their basketball story? Did they play? Did they coach? What is it about the NBA that they love so much (here is the 2011 submission from Italy's superfan Andrea Cavalli)? How long have they worshiped the orange leather? And now, I'm asking you. Give me an idea of your NBA love at daldridgetnt@gmail.com. I'll start culling through the submissions and come up with a winner before I take off. Fire away!

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Sincere condolences to the passengers and families of Asiana Flight 214.

2) On to basketball. I don't see that statue for Dwight Howard getting built outside of Staples, Mr. Nash.

3) Hue Hollins was a good official, whose long and distinguished career as a referee, including 19 Finals games, should not be defined by one controversial call in the 1994 playoffs between the Knicks and Bulls. He loved the game and his criticisms about the way the league graded its officials was borne out by changes in the system the league implemented in the past few years. Hollins' death was announced last Friday by the Referees' Association, and he will be missed.

4) Would not want to be Cubes, having to face Dirk Nowitzki after swinging and missing again in free agency. Nothing against Jose Calderon or Devin Harris, but they are not who the Mavericks promised the Diggler would be coming to provide support next season.

5) To repeat: eating hot dogs on the Fourth is American. Eating 69 hot dogs on the Fourth is gluttony of the most disgusting variety, a terrible message to send to the rest of the world and a colossal waste of everyone's time that's involved in the sorry endeavor.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Snozberries taste like snozberries.

-- Kings center Cole Aldrich (@colea45), Saturday, 9:24 p.m. I like a man who can quote the great English philosopher/confectioner Wonka without shame or embarrassment. Good day to you, sir! I said Good Day!

THEY SAID IT

"I chose to go to Houston. I wasn't traded. I was just like I had an opportunity to do something for myself and it wasn't anybody's else's choice. It wasn't a friend or fans or based off anybody but myself. In Orlando, I wanted to do everything for everybody else and I wasn't happy inside with what I did. I just wanted to see everybody else happy. This time, I wanted to make myself happy and get back to being who I am, being Dwight, having fun and being happy."

-- Dwight Howard, to the Houston Chronicle, on the process by which he finally decided to sign a free agent contract with the Rockets later this week for four years and $88 million, spurning the Lakers and other suitors.

"My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries. Why it's been left to me to smooth things over, I don't know. Dennis Rodman, of all people. Keeping us safe is really not my job; it's the black guy's (Obama's) job. But I'll tell you this: If I don't finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something's seriously wrong."

-- Dennis Rodman, to Sports Illustrated, as part of the mag's annual "Where are They Now?" issue. Dennis, apparently, is still on Pluto.

"It's obvious the potential this team has to compete for a championship and to come on board at a time like this is great timing for me."

-- Nate McMillan, on being officially named associate head coach of the Pacers last week. McMillan replaces Brian Shaw, who took the Nuggets' head coaching job last month.

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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