POSTED: Nov 4, 2013 1:04 PM ET
Despite one huge game-winner, Derrick Rose is off to a slow start in his return.
CHICAGO -- What, really, could Spike Lee say?
The lifelong Knicks fan had traveled to the Madhouse on Madison to see his team play the Bulls in Chicago's home opener Thursday. He had sat, quietly, for most of the evening, as the Bulls controlled New York for three quarters. And, then, the Knicks ground their way back into the game, with Tyson Chandler backtapping offensive rebounds left and right, and the Knicks starting to make threes. All of a sudden, Lee could be hyped at the possibility that the Knicks could steal a road win over one of the East's elite teams. After Chandler made a free throw with 10.8 seconds left, New York was up one.
It was here, though, that Derrick Rose decided to be That Dude again.
Rose was 6-of-22 to that point, still working off the rust from missing 18 months rehabbing his torn left ACL. But he didn't hesitate to go baseline on Knicks guard Ray Felton, starting his trademark floater over Felton -- and, then, Chandler, who came over to help. Rose's shot was a parabola, bringing down moisture as it fell from its apex.
And, as it was wet, it splashed through the hoop. Bulls win.
"Chandler's 7 feet tall," Lee lamented afterward as he walked off the court. As in, as they say back where Spike is from, whaddayagonnado?
Derrick Rose is back. He is not yet the Rose that was the league's MVP in 2011. Through three games, Rose is shooting just 29 percent (15-of-52) from the floor. And in the 24-hour culture, a 1-2 record to start the season will no doubt cause all kinds of guarded talk in this city about whether he will get back to his old form.
But after 18 months of waiting, the Bulls will take the Rose they have now and wait for the old one to find his way. The drama of last spring -- when Rose was criticized by fans and questioned by some for not pushing himself to play at the end of the regular season or playoffs -- was long forgotten.
There is no part of him, Rose insists, that wanted to lash back.
Play of the Day
"That's when you hold grudges against people," Rose said last week. "For me, this whole process has allowed me not to judge people. You see how everybody's going to have their own opinion. Of course, all of them are not going to be what you want to hear. But you can't get mad at people. So, for me, just try to stay far away from it and do my job, which is to go out there, play basketball, and try to win every night."
With Rose back, Chicago, a defensive rock under Tom Thibodeau every season, can now resume dreams of dismantling the Heat's parade float, 12 Blutarskies waiting to jump into the fray. They can win games in the 80s, but unless Rose is consistently shooting a great percentage from the floor or living at the line, the margin of error for such games for the Bulls is razor-thin.
With Joakim Noah also working his way back after missing all of this preseason with a groin pull, it'll likely take much of November for the Bulls' starting five to get back its timing. Once they get a few practices under their collective belt, it'll go more smoothly.
"He makes it easier for all of us," Carlos Boozer said. "He draws so much attention. The reason I had my points (31 against Miami in Tuesday's opening game loss) is because they had so much attention on Derrick. It's that simple. They double-teamed him every time he touched the ball and they made us make plays. We'll probably see that for a lot of other teams, too."
Rose's slow beginning should put to rest, forever, the arguments made by fans and some in the local media last spring that Rose was some kind of villain for not playing at the end of the regular season or the playoffs while Chicago's remaining players gutted their way to a memorable seven-game triumph over Brooklyn in the first round and gave the Heat five tough games in the semifinals before falling.
Because neither Rose's camp, led by his agent and brother, Reggie, nor the Bulls officially ruled him out for the playoffs, seeing Rose work out before games, looking perfectly fine to anyone who wasn't a doctor, seemed the ultimate tease.
In retrospect, the idea that Rose would come right back to his MVP self is as preposterous now as it was last spring, when the whispering campaign was at its height. Rose was expected -- commanded -- to come back without the benefit of training camp, an offseason to get his conditioning and timing back and without disrupting his teammates, who had just spent the entire season learning how to play without him.
Yet with the benefit of all of those things over the last few months, Rose has stalled out of the gate.
Inside Stuff: Rose's Return
He's missed easy shots that he made in his sleep his first two-plus seasons, especially at the rim, through contact -- the toughest shot to master. He's turned the ball over almost twice as much (5.7 per game, including eight turnovers against Philadelphia Saturday) as his career average.
He was, as ever, willing to pass, but his teammates haven't had to play off of him since April, 2012.
"We've got to get used to him having the ball in his hands," Luol Deng said Thursday. "We played a lot off of Jo at the elbow, a lot of cuts and stuff, last year. It'll come. We still, the second unit comes in, we still run the same stuff, with Kirk [Hinrich]. We were familiar with him. I think his timing will come. We really, not that you ever want a guy to be hurt, but all of us kind of stepped up our game when he wasn't there."
Well, they tried to. The Bulls were in the bottom 10 in just about all of the traditional (points per game, field-goal percentage) and advanced (effective field-goal percentage, offensive rating) offensive statistics last season. Chicago's best offense during the playoffs was giving the ball to Nate Robinson and waiting for him to do something amazing. (Which, often, he did.)
But the Bulls, for the second straight summer, let their key bench guys walk. Robinson went to the Nuggets, replaced, essentially, by free agent Mike Dunleavy, Jr. And Marco Belinelli, who started some last season but who could have been a solid player off the bench for the Bulls this season with Jimmy Butler's emergence at the two, went to the Spurs.
The Bulls continue walking a fine line when it comes to their present and near future. The summer of 2014 is where Chicago is likely to make its franchise-solidifying move, having positioned itself to have significant cap room by using its still-available amnesty provision -- almost certainly on Boozer, which would wipe his $16.8 million off the books -- and by letting Deng walk in free agency.
That would let the Bulls bring in a third star to play with Rose and Noah, while still having Butler on his rookie deal, Taj Gibson in the midst of the $33 million extension he got last year and, probably, European import Nikola Mirotic coming over from Spain to replace Boozer. Depending on who is brought in, Butler can play either wing spot. You will not, however, hear about Rose and any little black books of his that he plans to use to recruit. He won't go begging anyone to come help him win a title.
It's why no one thought twice about Rose taking the last shot Thursday, despite his struggles.
"He has a lot of confidence," Thibodeau said. "He had the courage to take and make on the last play."
Rose didn't feel like himself again until the summer. He went through three-a-days in California under the eye of longtime personal trainer Rob McClanaghan, and the knee held up without swelling. Rose gave up wheat-based products and stopped eating candy, the genesis of his nickname, "Pooh" (as in, Winnie The).
D-Rose on The Night of His Return
"All the time, it was something different," Rose said of the workouts, "a whole different type of training. Really using my legs, working on my agility. I had to get used to lifting again. After I got out of college, I wasn't used to lifting. Going back to that, and letting my body get used to it ... everything you can think of, tires, all kinds of new stuff."
Chicago anticipates Butler, who came on strong toward the end of last season, will pick up at least some of the scoring slack the year -- though Butler, the Bulls' first-rounder in 2011, hasn't played much with Rose. But Butler knows how to get a comfort level with Rose, who's famously been killing in practice since February, quickly.
"Just run, and spot up," Butler said. "I feel like when he gets in the open floor, you just try to keep up with him. He's fast, but you get out there, and if he puts it up on the glass, get ready to rebound, or he'll hit you, hit the open guy. Just get out on the open floor."
But it will likely be a work in progress for the first half of the season. Thibodeau, famous for planning each day of the season to come months in advance, doesn't know when his starters will be able to get extended practices together now that the season is under way. (He also chafes at the notion that he plays Rose, Deng, Boozer and Noah too many minutes; another Bulls coach of recent vintage also played fellows named Jordan and Pippen more than 40 minutes during their primes, as I recall.)
Miami showed the template of how to defend Rose in the season opener, meeting Rose almost as he crossed midcourt, showing hard on every screen and roll to make him give up the ball. Miami is unique in its defensive abilities, to be sure; few teams have wing defenders as capable as LeBron and Dwyane Wade, or a big as agile as Chris Bosh.
"We'll see them again," Deng said. "That first game, they were more aggressive than we were. I think they jumped on us and double-teamed every screen, took us out of our rhythm a little bit."
Of course, much was made of James saying the Bulls don't like Miami, and vice versa. That's talk radio hyperbole; in this era of shared agents and agencies, commercials and the like, there's as much hate between NBA superstars as there is between Miss America contestants (though I thought Miss Iowa was cutting her eyes at Miss North Dakota last year).
You ask Rose if he hates the Heat, and he doesn't seem to understand the question. "I mean, they got something we want," Rose says. He views James, and the Heat, as fellow competitors, neither to be despised when opponents in June, nor to be coddled and massaged when free agents in July.
The Bulls, in the World According to Derrick Rose, always have enough.
"I'm just happy to be back on the court," he said, "playing with a bunch of guys that take the game seriously, playing with just one goal, and that's to win a championship."
Last week's rankings in brackets; weekly record in parentheses.
1) Indiana  (3-0): Frank Vogel's defense never, ever rests: Pacers have allowed an average of 83.7 per game in their first three games.
2) Houston  (3-0): Jeremy Lin starting again after Patrick Beverley, who beat him out at point guard, goes down with an injured abdomen.
Michael Carter-Williams' Debut
3) Philadelphia [NR] (3-0): Man plans, God laughs.
4) Minnesota [NR] (3-0): Wolves have led by at least 18 points in each of their three wins; they blitzed the Knicks out of the gate Sunday night, taking a 40-19 lead after one before holding on to the victory.
5) San Antonio  (2-1): By the All-Star break or so, Gregg Popovich, currently with 907 career victories, should move into the top 10 all time, passing Dick Motta (11th, 935 wins), Red Auerbach (10th, 938) and Bill Fitch (ninth, 944).
6) Miami  (2-2): What was in those long boxes that each Heat player took out of American Airlines Arena after Tuesday's opener against the Bulls? No one would say. Money was offered; no dice. Perhaps it's another "Fifteen Strong" situation.
7) L.A. Clippers  (2-1): Will Clippers fans boo Dwight Howard when he comes to town on Monday on their fellow tenant's behalf -- or cheer?
8) Oklahoma City  (2-1): Welcome back, Russell Westbrook! That's the difference between repairing a torn meniscus and shaving it down, I guess; he's back on the court in six months.
9) Golden State  (2-1): Harrison Barnes might -- might -- be back this week.
10) Detroit [NR] (2-1): As advertised, the Pistons are bludgeoning opponents in the paint; Detroit outscored Boston 54-38 on Sunday after crushing Washington 56-28 in its home opener.
11) Phoenix [NR] (2-1): Who knows if it will last, but Jeff Hornacek has the Suns playing hard out of the gate.
12) Portland [NR] (2-1): Cousin LaMarcus, Dame Lillard each averaging 25 per game for the Blazers; Nicolas Batum dropped a triple-double on the Spurs Saturday night, for which he was immediately regretful.
13) Toronto [NR] (2-1): ESPN.com reporting that everyone outside of Jonas Valanciunas is available via trade -- which isn't exactly a shock, though the timing isn't grand at the start of a season.
14) Dallas  (2-1): Mavs have started the season clicking offensively, with an offensive rating of 111.3, currently good for fifth-best in the league.
15) L.A. Lakers  (2-2): Former Grizzlies first-round pick Xavier Henry earns a starting small forward spot ahead of veteran Nick Young.
Dropped out: Memphis , Brooklyn , New York , Chicago , Denver , Atlanta .
(People, please don't take rankings this early in the season seriously. All your favorites will be back in the top 15 before you know it.)
Philadelphia (3-0). This is what I love about the NBA: everybody "knew" the 76ers would not just be horrible this season, but might threaten their brethren's all-time league-worst record of 9-73. And, so, the maligned and disrespected 76ers beat Miami Wednesday, the Wizards on the road Friday and rallied from a 15-point deficit to beat the Bulls on Saturday. The Sixers might well finish 20-62, but for one glorious week, they're the best story in pro basketball.
Washington (0-3): Wizards seem weighed down by the rather modest expectations many have of them to be a playoff team. Which is ridiculous. What will they do if they ever get really good and become legit contenders?
How do you live with getting so close to your dream, but failing? Or, succeeding?
D-League 3-Point Champ
Marcus Landry apologized for calling so late Sunday night. His wife had thrown him a surprise birthday party Sunday afternoon and he hadn't had a chance to check his phone. That he celebrated his 28th birthday in Milwaukee over the weekend instead of at some posh restaurant in Los Angeles was indicative of the way life turns on a dime.
But Landry was home because he was the last -- the last -- player cut by the Lakers at the end of the preseason, the 16th man in a league that only keeps 15 at a time.
"For me, I just get back to the things that ground me, my religion and my family," Landry said. "Analyze the situation, the why and why not. I've been in this for a little while, so I understand that sometimes it can be political, the political game. That's part of life. But you have to shake it off. I have mouths to feed. You have to keep moving."
Like every other team, the Lakers had a maximum of 15 spots available at the start of the season. Unlike other teams, they remain the Lakers, no matter their current station in life. Making the Lakers remains a big deal.
If the Lakers were in their usual championship-hunting mode, they may not have kept that many bodies around. They still may not; contracts aren't guaranteed until Jan. 10. But for now, they're at the max.
"It's such an honor," said Elias Harris, the fifteenth man, on Friday afternoon. "It's such a good feeling to put on your jersey, or your warmups, and then we get in a huddle, and Pau [Gasol], or Steve [Nash], whoever's leading, starts talking. You can describe it, but you have to experience it to know how it feels. It's just an amazing feeling."
Landry, the younger brother of Kings forward Carl Landry, has experienced more mixed feelings since going undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2009. He's had cups of coffee with the Knicks and Celtics, played in the NBA Development League in Maine and Reno, played for Yao Ming in Shanghai and earned paychecks in Venezuela, Spain and Puerto Rico.
He can shoot the ball; he won the D-League 3-point shooting contest held during NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston. So he'll always get a look. But can he get a job?
"I don't think he's done," Landry's agent, Keith Kreiter, said on Friday afternoon. "I think he'll wind up in the league, I really do. 'Cause things do change in this business."
The difference between making an NBA team and not making it is, at once, so small and so big. Yet Mike D'Antoni and his staff had to make a choice.
"No coach looks forward to it, because when you have to draw a line in the sand, no matter where you draw it, there's not much of a difference between the 15th and 16th guy," D'Antoni said last week. "It comes down to partial guarantees. It comes down to age -- in the future, can this guy do this? It's just a thought about down the road."
Landry's demise was Harris' gain. For now, or at least until Jan. 10, Harris, an undrafted free agent out of Gonzaga and four years younger than Landry, is a Laker. Everything about the experience is new, including the anxiety of the last couple of weeks.
"Coming out of college," Harris said, "there was never something like a guy was getting cut. Everybody was at the school because they wanted them there. It was kind of an eye opener. It's a cutthroat business. Everybody's competing for a job, everyone's trying to provide for their family."
Clippers vs. Lakers
Going into the Lakers' camp, there were three guys fighting for two spots: Ryan Kelly, the Lakers' second-round pick from Duke; Harris, who'd finished fourth on the Bulldogs' all-time scoring list, and Landry, who'd played quite well on L.A.'s summer league team.
Kelly missed the summer league and much of training camp and the preseason after undergoing foot surgery in April. But he was a Draft pick, a 6-foot-11 big man who could shoot it deep. Those things matter. Kelly played in only three exhibition games, but was never in real danger of being cut.
"The scouts and the organization saw a stretch four shooter," D'Antoni said. "They know what he can do. He had one really good practice when he came back, but he hasn't played in six months, so he goes back to normal [expectations]. The scouts, they liked him enough to draft him in the second round. So that's the reason. [But] we don't know what we've got there."
So it came down to Harris and Landry. Harris had a $100,000 partial guarantee on his rookie minimum deal; Landry had nothing. (Neither did Xavier Henry, the former Grizzlies' first-round pick. But Henry's camp performance quickly assured him a spot on the team.)
Landry kept his wife, former Marquette player Efueko Osagie-Landry, and their three kids back home in Milwaukee, and stayed at a local hotel near the Lakers' El Segundo training facility. He wanted to believe he had a real shot at making it, but he had had experience getting his heart broken before. In 2010, he'd been a camp invitee in Sacramento, with the opportunity to play with his brother. But Marcus Landry was waived midway through camp.
"Carl's seen me play in training camp with Sacramento," Marcus Landry said. "If you asked him, he would say I was the best player there. I think of all of them, that was the most hurtful of all. I was starting. I was outplaying all of them, whether it was guaranteed contracts or starters."
Harris rented a house in L.A., obviously in no position yet to put down deeper roots.
Postgame: Marcus Landry
"In general, the team chemistry is amazing," Harris said. "There's a good mix between the older and younger guys. Everybody wants to hang out with each other. Same thing when Marcus was here, and even after."
Harris would arrive two hours before the start of practice, to get extra work in "and show them how much I want to be here," he said. He'd soak up advice from Gasol and Nash when he could (Kobe was around, but obviously working on rehabbing his Achilles' tendon injury).
"It was nerve wracking, for sure," Harris said. "But at the same time I was trying to be as positive as possible, because I didn't want the nerves to affect me when I was on the court."
D'Antoni had hoped for one of them to shine, make the call an easy one. Each was a +12 against Golden State in the first preseason game, a +5 against Denver in the second. Harris, who finished second all-time in rebounding at Gonzaga, did OK on the glass; Landry didn't shoot the ball great in the preseason, making just 8-of-29, but that didn't faze the coaches. The difference between the two, at least as the coaches saw it, was minute.
"Maybe today, Landry would be more ready to go in a game," D'Antoni said. "Maybe tomorrow, Harris would be more ready. It's one of those deals."
Said Harris: "I just tried to give consistent effort. Not taking a day off or taking anything light. I think that's what helped them to make a decision. And then, in practice, I can obviously show more, because I had more opportunities. I think they saw my potential, my work ethic. And maybe that was the difference."
Landry, as you might imagine, has a different take.
"My shot wasn't falling," he acknowledged. "My thing was proving to them that I could play defense. That was their No. 1 question, could I guard the perimeter. I did that. I did that in practice against them and then in the games."
Landry didn't play in the last two preseason games. Harris missed the last one against Utah. He drove back after the game with his wife. He didn't hear about the news until the next morning; Landry had been waived after the game. D'Antoni gave him the bad news.
"We have a great relationship," Landry said. "It was more he didn't like to do it, and he was sorry that it happened to me again. That was it. There really was no explanation of why from him or a higher authority. It still leaves me wondering why as well."
Kreiter said D'Antoni "was first class, and so was Mitch [Kupchak, the general manager]. But like you said, they only had 15 spots. He defended. He showed a little bounce. He showed a lot more than his shooting. In vet camp, he showed he was pretty well rounded. I think, quite frankly, if they need a stretch, they'll have to keep him on the radar."
Landry also believes that Harris benefited from the fact that there was another Laker with Gonzaga ties on the roster, center Robert Sacre. He says there was a "big difference" between himself and Harris in camp.
"It was all about the connection, which I'm fine with," Landry said. "If the connection works in my favor, so be it. That's just the way it works. I don't think D'Antoni had anything to do with the decision. I kind of knew that going into camp, that that was a factor. But I was pretty confident in my abilities."
Landry could obviously find a home back in the Development League. But with max salaries at $25,000, it's hard to make ends meet with a young family. So, Kreiter is trying to place Landry with teams in Spain or Italy in the EuroLeague, the highest level of basketball outside of the NBA or D League -- and where salaries can dwarf those anywhere outside the NBA.
"It's a tough way to go," Kreiter said. "And when you're coming off of the D League, you don't make a lot of money. It's a tough way to go, but you're showcasing yourself. You want to chase your dream and stay home, and be close enough to be there in case something happens, but you have to take care of your family. It's a tough, tough call."
D'Antoni was once ("You mean, a few times?" he joked) on the other side of that conversation as his days as a player in the States came to a close. He was fortunate; he became a star in Italy with Olimpia Milano, winning five Italian Championships in 13 seasons. He was considered by many to be the franchise's best player ever. But it was still brutal to hear you weren't good enough to make it in the NBA.
"Especially [with] somebody like Marcus Landry, who deserves to be on a team, who does everything right," D'Antoni said. "For whatever reason, He's good everywhere he goes. He's a consummate teammate. Anything the coach needs, or wants. There's just something where he's got to get a little luck on his side, because he's pretty good."
With some real estate investments also bearing a little fruit, Landry has a little bit of cushion.
"I bought some rental properties," he said. "I just rent 'em out. I learned from my dad. That's what my dad did. He did Section 8 [rental housing, usually apartments in lower-income neighborhoods] and he still does it. Having that learning experience from my father and being able to learn from him was very important to me."
Marcus Landry also wants to spend some time with his older brother, who will miss the first half of the season after undergoing hip flexor surgery last month.
"I know God has a plan for me and my family," Marcus Landry said. "I just try to continue to keep God first and family first, and whatever happens with basketball happens. Carl's advice was, 'If it's for you, it's for you, and if it's not, it's not.' He's constantly feeding me advice. Right now I'm trying to be there for him more, considering he's dealing with an injury."
Despite falling just short in Los Angeles, after his disappointments in New York and Boston and Sacramento, Landry does not, he says, have any doubts that he will, one day, make it for good in the NBA.
"When I did in the past," he said, "it just drove me to work harder."
When 2+3+2 doesn't add up. From Dave Rowe:
I am a longtime fan of NBA basketball as well as your writing and live reporting so it is with the utmost respect that I offer my disagreement with your reasoning in item 2 on your NOT FEELIN'... list regarding the change back to a 2-2-1-1-1 format in the Finals. You mention that the 2-3-2 format does not put the team with the better record at a competitive disadvantage, which is indeed the case since the teams with home-court advantage have a .828 win percentage in the Finals since this format has been in place. One might argue, however, that the 2-3-2 format does put the team without home-court advantage at an unnecessarily higher competitive disadvantage. In the years prior to the format change, the team with home-court advantage won 27 out of 38 times for a win percentage of .711, which is significantly lower than the post-format-change win rate of .828. It would seem from the numbers that the 2-3-2 format gives the team with the better record an increased competitive advantage.
Stern and Silver: Finals Format
I do not have the statistics for all of the 7-game series that followed the 2-2-1-1-1 format but I've seen them quoted during playoff games and if my memory serves me, the win rate of teams with home-court advantage is not far off the .711 win rate of the team with the better record in the Finals that followed the same format. If we look at the win percentage of the Finals team WITHOUT the better record, .289 before the format change and .172 since the change, then it is clear that the 2-3-2 format benefits the team with the better record more than the 2-2-1-1-1 format. Some might argue that a lack of balance between the two conferences might skew the more recent data set but the disadvantage forced upon the team without the better record is still evident. And besides, it's incredibly difficult to beat ANY Finals team 3 times in a row, even if those 3 games are on your home floor. Most teams will drop at least one of the 3 consecutive home games they receive in the 2-3-2 format, leaving them to win 2 road games in order to win the series. It is hard to win any 7-game series without home-court advantage but it is even harder to win a 7-game series without home-court advantage in the 2-3-2 format (win percentage drops from .289 to .172 in the Finals). Does it make sense to punish the team without the better record with a further competitive disadvantage? I understand that traveling so much is not preferable, but following the 2-3-2 format in the Finals puts the team without the better record at a competitive disadvantage (a disadvantage that exceeds that of a team that attempts to win a 2-2-1-1-1 series without home-court advantage).
I don't disagree with anything you said, Dave, and thanks for your kind words. But your main point makes me even more convinced that 2-3-2 is correct. If your numbers are correct, having the better record entering the Finals is even more important than if you're playing 2-2-1-1-1. And that means teams have to take the regular season even more seriously if they want to get it. This, to me, is a good thing. It makes regular-season games for the elite teams more valuable. A coach of, say, a 58-25 team who knew how improved his team's chances were of winning if it has home court in a 2-3-2 Finals might play his regular rotation the last two weeks of the regular season instead of starting to ease off the gas and give his starters rest and games off for "tendinitis." That would be good for fans who don't have the luxury of picking the games they can attend, and who may only get to one game a year. Why should they be penalized with subpar play because the only game they can make is in early or mid April? Yes, it's probably easier for an Eastern Conference team these days to amass a better record than a Western Conference team. That's life in the Big City. And, cyclical. When I first started covering the NBA, Detroit and Boston and Chicago and New York were beating each other's brains out year after year while the Lakers, with few exceptions, coasted through the west.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and filthy air. From Michael Arceusz:
I was just reading your newest Morning Tip (28.10.2013), and I was intrigued by your prediction for Roy Hibbert to be the DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR in the 2013/2014 season. While I agree that Roy has the potential to be the DPOY, I cannot agree with your argumentation.
You've written "Hibbert has become a master at going up to challenge shots in the paint without fouling...", and that is just not true. In fact Hibbert is one of the worst players in the NBA in that aspect. He is fifth worst (3.5 FPG ) in the league in fouls committed per game. If you want to base your prediction on the ability to defend without fouling in the paint then Joakim Noah should be your pick, because with a lot more minutes per game he commits only 2.8 fouls per game, while still being a dominant force in the paint.
I really enjoy your column so I would like to see you put some effort into actually checking the facts before you write something like that.
And before you try to twist your way out of this one with your get of jail free card:" if I'm wrong on any of these, I'll deny I ever made them, even if you show me the link.", this is not an inaccurate prediction, this is an error in your reasoning.
You'd be right, Michael, if putting your hands straight up in the air to contest a shot was the only way you could be called for a foul. But, of course, it isn't. You'd be right if measuring personal fouls was the only way to determine the defensive effectiveness of a player. But it isn't. You can certainly make a case that Noah is a superior defender to Hibbert, and you could use the fact that he commits fewer fouls than Hibbert as part of your reasoning, but you can't say Hibbert commits fouls when he puts his hands straight up in the air to contest shots, because he doesn't. Which was my point. (Why else would other teams now refer to the practice as "the Roy Hibbert" -- and be teaching it to their big men?) By the way, when Dwight Howard won his three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards, he committed 3.4 fouls per game (2008-09), 3.5 fouls per game (2009-10), and 3.3 fouls per game (2010-11).
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and a small, interest-free loan so I can take a trip early next year to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
Weekly averages in parentheses
1) LeBron James (23.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 8 apg, .557 FG, .739 FT): Says he does not yet have his legs under him -- which, if true, is not what the rest of the league needs to hear.
2) Kevin Durant (29.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1 apg, .426 FG, .881 FT): Good to see Durantula is going to try and get back to his old, intense but not over the top self this season. Didn't like seeing him so out of sorts last year.
3) Chris Paul (27.7 ppg, 12 apg, 3.7 spg, .511 FG, .968 FT): Pretty solid showing Thursday night against Steph Curry for CP3.
4) Dwight Howard (15 ppg, 17 rpg, 1.7 bpg, .500 FG, .500 FT): Three games is not a large sample size, but after three games, Howard's offensive rating is a ridiculous 110.1.
5) Kevin Love (29.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg, 3.7 apg, .500 FG, .795 FT): For a fellow with limited natural ability, KLove has come out ballin' this season.
92 -- Number of international players, according to the NBA, that are on rosters this season, a league record. The Spurs, of course, have the most foreign-born players, with 10. France has produced the most current NBA players, 10, a number that includes the Timberwolves' Ronny Turiaf (born in Martinique, the Caribbean island nation that is part of the French Republic), the Wizards Kevin Seraphin (born in French Guinana, also part of the Republic), San Antonio's Tony Parker (who was born in Belgium before his family moved to France when he was a baby) and Chicago's Erik Murphy, who was born in France before his family moved to the United States, and who holds dual U.S. and Finnish citizenship (his mother is from Finland).
143 -- Games since Kevin Durant has scored fewer than the 13 points he had Friday night in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. It was Durant's lowest output since scoring just 12 points against Phoenix on New Year's Eve, 2011, the fifth game of that lockout-shortened regular season.
$24,363,044 -- Lump sum that Kobe Bryant received from the Lakers on Friday -- 80 percent of the $30.4 million salary Bryant is getting this season. Under old Collective Bargaining Agreement rules, players could receive up to four-fifths of their yearly salary at once, with the rest spread out over the course of the season. Under the new CBA, players can only receive up to 25 percent of their yearly salary in a lump-sum payment. But the new CBA allowed certain contracts, like Bryant's, to be grandfathered in.
1) At first blush, I thought the Suns had to give Eric Bledsoe an extension. He was the lynchpin for Phoenix in the three-team deal that sent Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick to the Clippers in the summer. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with their thinking. History offers many examples of teams at rock bottom throwing money away on guys they thought would be part of their core going forward, only to find those guys weren't as good as they thought. It doesn't mean Bledsoe isn't good or won't be worthy of a big offer from another team next summer (which the Suns can match), only that he should prove he's a top-12 point guard first before Phoenix makes the commitment.
2) He got me! I owe you, Bosh!
3) A terrific Q and A by Michael Lee of The Washington Post with deputy commissioner and soon-to-be Commish Adam Silver on his support of the analytics movement in basketball.
4) Sincere congrats to the Red Sox, who captured the New England region and much of America for all the right reasons in capturing the World Series title over the Cards. But that's three championships in a decade. I never want to hear about the Curse of the Bambino again.
5) Happy to see friend of the column Chris Quinn is getting hired by Chris Collins to join Northwestern's staff as the Wildcats' director of player development.
6) Incredible first-person writing from Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley about his scary neck injury suffered a couple of weeks ago, and the harrowing hours he spent in ICU afterward.
1) Walt Bellamy rarely got his due. He was a member of the 1960 Olympic team that dominated the Rome Olympics and won the gold medal, but among his teammates on that heralded squad were Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. Bellamy excelled at center in the NBA, reaching the Hall of Fame in 1993. But he played much of his career during the Russell-Chamberlain era, and those two dominated both the statistical categories and Finals appearances. (An example: Bellamy was the NBA's Rookie of the Year in 1962, averaging 31.6 points per game for the expansion Chicago Packers. Unfortunately, that same season, Chamberlain averaged his historic 50.4 per game for the Philadelphia Warriors.) But "Bells" made four All-Star games and missed just 12 of 1,055 games during his pro career, and when he retired he was sixth all-time in scoring and third all-time in rebounding. His death Saturday at 74 was a surprise to many and terribly sad for all in the basketball family. (Excellent obit here.)
2) When no one's talking, it's hard not to imagine the worst. And thus it's a concern that there is nothing but silence out of Dallas surrounding the sudden resignation of Gersson Rosas as general manager last week, just three months after he took the job and Mavs owner Mark Cuban gushed about Rosas's skill set. Rosas (see Dribbles, here) was the highest-ranking Latino executive in the NBA, and highly thought of around the league, so his departure before he really had a chance to implement any of his ideas doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
3) He was close, in that the Sixers also changed their name ... in 1963, when they moved from Syracuse to Philadelphia.
5) Not the way Rocky wanted to kick off the season.
It remains, to me, a miracle that Allen Iverson is alive.
Aldridge 1-on-1 with Iverson
I've thought that for a long time. Combine the hand that Iverson was dealt from birth in Newport News, Va., where raw sewage often flooded his home, and a family surrounded by death and dysfunction, with his arrest while in high school and conviction of "maiming by mob" while present at a bowling alley brawl (the details of which were, at best, contested by all sides), to his own anger and indulgence issues, combined with the fact that his talents as a basketball player made him, many years, the richest person in town, and you had a cocktail for disaster. Yet there he was last Wednesday in Philadelphia, surrounded by many of the same faces that had been there throughout his 14-year NBA career, fresh from a Reebok trip to Southeast Asia, to, at long last, announce his retirement. It had been three years since Iverson last wore an NBA jersey -- for his beloved 76ers, the team that took him with the first pick of that celebrated 1996 Draft ("it seems like such a short time ago," Ray Allen, who went fifth in that Draft, said last week). Since then, Iverson had had discussions with a team here, a team there, but nothing seemed to fit. The Mavericks had wanted him to play for their D-League team earlier this year, but after thinking it over, he declined. And, so, his career came to a relatively quiet end, after winning four scoring titles, making 11 All-Star teams (and twice being named MVP of the game), and capturing the 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player award as his Sixers made the Finals. It was a career pockmarked by, as Paul Simon put it about something else entirely, incidents and accidents, hints and allegations. He famously sparred with Larry Brown in Philly (and, later, grew to love him; one of the great memories of his career is him screaming, 'Where my coach at?' after he and Brown and the Eastern Conference team rallied to win the '01 All-Star Game in D.C, and Iverson got the MVP trophy.), drove the league batty with a nascent rapping career with the expected controversies, partied hard and spent lavishly, got sued on a seemingly monthly basis, compelled David Stern to institute a dress code and changed the culture not only of basketball, but of the larger youth culture, with his tattoos and braids. He spoke of trying to be a good father for his children, but his parenting skills were challenged by the judge who presided over Iverson's ugly divorce from his childhood sweetheart -- who, of course, was in attendance last week at the retirement announcement. And, through all of it, up to the moment Wednesday when he refused to acknowledge any regrets about anything he did when asked by local broadcaster Howard Eskin, Iverson has remained -- defiantly so -- himself. Which may explain why he's still alive, and beloved by teens in Indonesia as well as black kids in Newport News.
Me: Are you at peace?
Allen Iverson: Yeah. Definitely. I didn't think that I would be. But I am. Honestly, that was the hard part, letting everybody know, just letting my fans know, most importantly. Just me being out, every day, every time somebody sees me, you know, don't retire, this, that and the third. Just to stop it, make it official, and just let all my fans know that this is it.
Me: I know you said there was no single moment when you decided. But once you decided, did you try to talk yourself out of it?
Inside the NBA: Allen Iverson
AI: Every day. Every day. I always felt like, I wanted to do it. But right when I wanted to let my people know that I did, I would freeze up. So I'm playing games with myself, going back and forth with myself. And I just got tired of it.
Me: I thought you would retire after you re-signed here the last time (in 2009) and finished the season. It just seemed like good closure. Did you still have the itch afterward?
AI: I had it. It was there. But I was going through too many things in my personal life. I was going through the situation with my wife, and my daughter was sick at that time, and I wasn't Allen Iverson, you know what I mean? I wasn't giving the game, first of all, what it deserves. And I wasn't giving the organization what they thought they were bringing in. When it comes to basketball, it's my safe haven. For two hours, I don't think about nothing but basketball, you know what I mean? And I found myself at times, on the court, thinking about my daughter. And I found myself thinking about my wife. Things that were unusual, you know what I mean? I'm sitting around, like, 'Damn, this ain't right.' And I go to the bench and sit down, and I'm just thinking about my daughter, thinking about my wife, you know what I mean? And I felt like it was time. It wasn't there. It wasn't right. It wasn't right to my fans, and it wasn't fair to the organization, and I wasn't being fair to myself, honestly. And I take pride in how I perform out there on the basketball court. And it was unacceptable for me. And I knew right there, I can't do this. I wasn't there mentally, and when you ain't there mentally, in anything you do, it's going to be something bad.
Me: I know how much you love this sport. But is any part of you angry with basketball, because it consumed you so much and allowed you the freedom to do things that turned out not to be so good?
AI: You know what, I understand that question wholeheartedly. And in a way, I could be. But I wouldn't use that excuse, you know what I mean? Basketball has done so much for me. Before I'm angry at basketball, I would be angry with myself. So I would never be angry with basketball. Basketball gave me an opportunity to become a household name, to support my family. Took me places, so many experiences. So it's done a lot in my life, and I'm not just talking about the NBA. I've been playing for 30 years. So I would never be angry at basketball.
GameTime: Remembering A.I.
Me: You just came back from Indonesia, right?
Me: So there was any part of you, when you were in Jakarta, at the events or whatever you were doing, did you ever step out of yourself and were tripping, after all these years, that you were in Jakarta, and people are going crazy over me, and I'm this kid from Newport News?
AI: Man, you have no idea of the feeling that I get when I see something like that. It's surreal. It don't seem real. When I'm in China, and the different presidents, or whoever is over there, they say it's Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and it's you. And you see all of these people just outside of my hotel, and I'm like, man, I've been years removed from the NBA. And this is how these people act? You come out and you see people crying, and you see men crying. The only time you see men crying is when Michael Jackson's performing, you know what I mean? And I'm seeing this stuff, and it feels so good, but it feels so awkward, you know what I mean? And then, you have fans over here, but they're all over the world, everywhere I go. And I'm like, you wouldn't even think that somebody from Newport News, you wouldn't think they even knew me. And, I mean, that's what basketball has done for me. That's what the NBA has done for me. It made me global. Basically, at that point, I was a colossal superstar. And that's why I could never be angry at basketball. Basketball's done so much for me. And I know, somehow, someway, out of all those people, I touched somebody's life, and turned it around. And that's God's gift.
Me: Whenever there would be a discussion of the cultural impact you had as a player, I always said that you've sold a lot more tickets and jerseys to white folks than to black folks. Did you ever take note of that phenomenon?
Top 10 Plays of A.I.'s Career
AI: Because I'm all right being me. People in this world ... you obviously have to play a certain role. You have to act a same way. But I think a lot of times, people respect and honor -- even if they can't live their life that way -- they want to live their life that way, as being authentic, being an authentic person. Sometimes, your job won't allow you to be who you are, but you've got to provide for your family. You've got to put food on the table. So you've got to do whatever you've got to do to survive. But a lot of times, people want to be authentic. They don't want to go out of their shell and be somebody else, because they have to. And with me, and the profession I was in, I was able to not have to change. Yeah, I could have did it for more money, or wore my hair a certain way, or dress a certain way, or act a certain way. But I chose to just be me. And I was comfortable with it. I'm comfortable being in a room with a billionaire and I'm comfortable being in a room with a bum. It don't matter. It's the same environment to me. I'm gonna be me, regardless. I'm not gonna try to act like this millionaire for him to look at me a certain way, or act toward this bum for him to look at me a certain way.
Me: What was that spring of 2001 like for you -- the MVP of the All-Star Game, to winning the league MVP, to getting to the Finals -- and being at the pinnacle?
AI: Man, it was a time ... you know how when you go to college, and you're out of college, and you're 10 years removed from college, 20 years removed from college, and you always think like, 'Damn, I wish I could go back to that life again?' Basically, the same way. You think about those moments, like, that was it. That was special. And it was special because the team was special. The guys on the team were special. We didn't have all the talent in the world. We didn't have all the great scorers, all the great All-Star players, things like that. It was just me, as far as the offense, and a bunch of tough-ass dudes. A bunch of hardnosed dudes. And a great coach. And we put it all together. We didn't get it done. But as far as, I feel like, as far as that championship that they won, I feel like if we had been healthy, it might have been close. Not taking anything away from that great team, 'cause they were great, and they had the greatest coach. But I think if we had been healthy, it would have been a lot closer. But they could say the same thing. Everybody's hurt in June. Everybody's beat up.
Me: When did you start to feel Larry Brown?
AI: I don't know exactly when. But if you look at my game, and how I progressed, that's when you can tell. [Laughs] That's when you can tell that I started listening. Because I always used to think it was criticism. But it was constructive, you know what I mean? When you're that young, and you've never had anything in your life, and then somebody gives you a million dollars to play basketball, which you're going to do anyway? I'm going to play basketball every day anyway, and you're going to give me a million dollars for it? At the highest level? I wouldn't say that I was, it turned me into another person. But in actuality, it did. Because I went from this level to that level. And I wasn't, you, I hadn't had anybody get on me like that. Coach Thompson, I was scared of him. There's a difference. I never even thought about not listening to nothing he said. But Coach Brown, I was just taking his criticism from the wrong way. I was taking his criticism the wrong way. And after a while I was like, this is not helping the team, and it's definitely not helping me as a player, because I'm upset all the time. I mean, and he's upset all the time. It's not a healthy environment. And once I started listening to him, that's when my game just ... I mean, he'd teach me things and I'd be like, 'Damn, if I had been listening to this all along, maybe we wouldn't have lost this game, or maybe I wouldn't have made the decision I made.' He taught me the game up here. I had all the physical ability, but when I started listening to him, and listening to what he had to offer, that's what took me to MVP status.
Me: Did the game, as you always hear, get slower as you got smarter?
AI: Yes, it does. I always played fast, but when you get that John Stockton mentality, like I'm not the fastest guy on the planet, and I'm not the guy that can jump out the building, but I can outthink you to beat you, that's what I tried to add to my game, the John Stockton mentality.
Me: Gary Payton says he learned more from playing against Stockton than anybody. Was it the same for you?
AI: The difference with me is, and what made me effective, is I was just as fast, quick, or just as quick, as everybody else that guarded me, or I had to guard. But once I learned how to play, once I learned the NBA game, that made it even more easier for me. I can outthink you, and I'm quicker than you, or can outjump you. That's what made me effective, when I really learned to play the game. The first three years, I was just, up and down the court. Once I started picking his brain, that's what made me effective.
The Goods: A.I. Memories
Me: You said you have no regrets.
Me: So, what did you learn from the things that happened to you?
AI: I learned a lot about making decisions, serious decisions, when you're angry. Definitely. That was definitely an experience. I think that was probably one of the biggest. And giving situations and things time to play out, instead of just reacting, and not trying to let something heal. Just letting it play out instead just of reacting all the time. That was always my problem. I think that's the hardest thing for a man to do in this world, is to think when he mad. And a lot of times, when I got mad, I didn't think; I just reacted. And that's something that I know is going to help me through the rest of my life, especially with raising my kids. And stop, not go off of emotion. Give yourself a chance to think it out, and then respond to whatever situation it is. That's probably one of the things, probably the most important I learned throughout the mistakes that I made.
Me: LeBron James said that you and Michael Jordan were his idols growing up. Do you think, given the impact you had on and off the court, that you were the bridge between Jordan and LeBron?
AI: I think so. I think so. I definitely think. I used to always tell my friends, when I would talk about him, I would say, 'You know what, man? He's just a big me.' And I might have been giving myself too much credit. But just knowing basketball, and how I feel about basketball, I used to tell people, this LeBron James, I used to tell my friends, the first time I went to see him play, I used to say, 'He's just a big me.' And this was when he was in high school. And he turned out to be a ... words can't explain how bad the kid is.
Me: Did you ever want to coach?
Me: Why not?
AI: I think my team, I think they would love me too much. I think my players, I think my players would love me too much. Because I played. And I might not ... nah, matter of fact, I think that's what would make me a successful coach, you know what I mean? Because I would give them that freedom, and hold them accountable for how we played on the basketball court.
Me: All right, clear this up for me: Money-wise, you good?
AI: I can do everything I was able to do when I was playing in the NBA. When I hear those certain things, I think, 'Are these people crazy? Don't they know I got five kids?' I got a family to take care of. I would be out of my mind for it to be like some of the reports I've heard. It's a good thing though, it's a definite upside to those reports. It stops the people coming at you with their hands out. 'Don't you know, haven't you heard the reports?' I'm not living on the streets or on a street corner. I drive the same type of cars, live in the same type of houses, wear the same type of clothes. My kids can eat whenever they want, they don't want for nothing. Sometimes I want to address it, just the man inside me, but for what? People are going to think what they want to think anyways. Like I said, it takes away a lot of the pressure of taking care of 100 people. Hundreds of people.
Me: When you're an athlete, I always thought, I always thought the hardest thing for any pro athlete is saying --
AI: It's still hard, it's still hard, that's our life. It's hard for a guy you grew up with that's trifling. You know Christmas is on the 25th of December and he come knocking on your door on the 24th, saying his kids don't have anything. All you think about is the kids, it's hard to say no. It's hard to say no when somebody can't pay their mortgage and are going to lose their house. The only thing I try to do is balance it out and hold people accountable for their actions.
Me: When you're 70 years old, and you think about your NBA days, what's going to flash through your mind?
AI: The competition. When I was in college, that's all I used to think about: When I get to the league, I'm going to be playing against such and such on this night, and such and such on this night, such and such on this night. And that's the great part about it. I mean, ain't no cakewalks in no NBA game. Everything that you do, that you do successful in those games, you earned it. You earned it. All the hard work that you ever put in, you earned it. All the 'practice' ...
Me: You said that ...
AI: You earned it. And that's what I'll think about. I'll think about the tough times, the bad times. How can you call any time a great time without the tough ones? You've gotta have them. You gotta sprinkle them in there somewhere. You know what I mean? And I don't mind. I understand. That's the way it's gonna go. That's life. Either you're going to fall or you're going to stand up. I rather stand up.
"Even in the midst of going against him, I'm in [the] huddle, I'm saying, 'Don't fall for the okeydoke. He's all right. Don't allow him to take over this game,' not knowing that he was really hurt. That's one regret I have. If had to do it again I would have called a timeout and allowed him to walk off the floor."
--Warriors coach Mark Jackson, to Yahoo! Sports, saying he initially thought Kobe Bryant was faking when he went down in an April game with what turned out to be a torn Achilles' tendon.
"Losing really bothers me. Losing is one thing but with that being said, then all of a sudden you become the blame for an entire organization being the worse, that's when it really bothers you."
-- Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, to the Sacramento Bee, on how he feels he is mischaracterized nationally.
"We take the easy way out right now. We're up 14, 15, now I'm not going to get up and deny the wing -- which we wanted to do the whole night, and which we did for the most part in the first half. Deflections, steals, run outs -- nah, I'm gonna take it easy, we're up 14, I don't have to exert as much energy now. And it always comes back to bite you. It's been that way with this group of guys for a couple years now."
-- Wizards coach Randy Wittman, burying his team Friday after it blew a double-digit lead in the third quarter and lost its home opener to the 76ers.
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