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SportVU cameras shift focus of what's possible with NBA stats


POSTED: Nov 11, 2013 9:48 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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SportVU cameras, like this one perched atop the Barclays Center rafters, are revolutionizing NBA statistics.

— One hundred and ten feet above the baseline at Barclays Center, from the rafters, a camera points down, at an angle, to the court below.

(They never tell you that, up in the rafters, gravity intervenes. When you're just below the roof of an arena, things come to a point. You don't walk straight; you go uphill. Falling does not really enter your mind as a possibility; there's too much steel between you and the floor. Dropping your phone onto someone's head, however, does.)

The camera, one of six installed at every arena in the league, is the vanguard of the latest front in the statistical revolution. Collectively, if the cameras do what some people think they can, they could well revolutionize sports box scores, Drew Brees' grip on a football, Will Bynum's future contract negotiations and the coach-GM relationship on every NBA team.

The cameras are, of course, collecting data on every possession of every game from this moment forward for SportVU, the data collection and analytic service that was hired by the NBA this season to put its system everywhere, so every team has access to even more statistical info than before.

The cameras capture every movement on the court by every player, so that new information on what is happening on the court, from how much distance a player actually covers during a game to the "hockey assists" -- the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the basket -- which had not previously been tallied league-wide, to how much a player moves (or doesn't) to get a rebound can be compiled.

A priority of incoming commissioner Adam Silver, the NBA pushed SportVU, owned by STATS LLC, to expand the deal the company already had with 15 of the league's teams. Those teams were paying a reported $100,000 per season to use it. For the last three years, SportVU has expanded its NBA presence, putting in the basic system and letting teams use as much or as little of the info as possible. The problem was that since only half the teams in the league had the system installed, teams were only working with half of the available data possible on their own players.

With every team on board this season, the numbers should provide a deeper picture of what's happening on the court. The data samples are still small after two weeks or so of games. But the potential is obvious, as it was when the league started testing out SportVU at the 2009 Finals between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers.

"It was very interesting," said Steve Hellmuth, the NBA's vice president of operations and technology for NBA Entertainment, and the driving force behind the league's involvement with SportVU.

During those '09 Finals, "there was a call made on goaltending," Hellmuth said. "And we weren't able to crunch it. We saw this goaltending call and we thought it was a tight call, but a good call. Later that evening, at like 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, we were actually able to see the track of the ball and see that it was descending -- at two-twenty fifths of a second. And that referee had made the call, and it was the right one ... for all of us, it was kind of an 'a-ha' moment, that we were able to confirm it."

SportVU was born out of the Israeli military in 2005 by scientist Miky Tamir, who was working for Elbit Systems, a defense electronics company that provides products and develops systems in a variety of military applications. The product that eventually became SportVU initially was designed to track the trajectory of missles after launch, to see if the missles went where they were supposed to after they were fired.

GameTime: Player Tracking

Fortunately (or, unfortunately, depending on how big a geek you are), there were people working at SportVU who were avid soccer fans.

"A couple of them were getting out of the military and they were big soccer players, and they were like, what are we gonna do? We think we could use this to track soccer players,'" said Brian Kopp, vice president at STATS, which bought SportVU in 2008. "I had joined a couple of months before and they were like, 'we have this thing for soccer; see if we can figure out how to use it for other sports.' And five years later, here we are.'"

With soccer's long and open fields, with the resulting ability to focus on players operating in space, a system like SportVU was ideal not only to track the players' statistics, but also how much and how long they ran in a game. Tracking that data could allow a team to see how a player performed as the game went on. Did he get tired after running the equivalent of three miles during the game? Did he maintain his speed in the second half? The possibility for new, advanced stats were endless.

STATS began installing SportVU at UEFA Champions League matches in 2008. Soon after, Kopp brought Hellmuth to a match and made his pitch. "We were saying, 'can you imagine this in basketball?,' " Kopp said.

He could.

"I never stopped looking at systems that could accurately track players and the ball and produce a really clear, good data set," Hellmuth said. "STATS had a track record of producing stats for players and the ball, and they had an analytic tool called ICE (a proprietary data integration system) which gives you all of the basics of the platform. That track record of success led us to believe that this is the best system out there ... it's for the basketball operations people at each team, it's for the team operations crew, and on NBA.com, it's for the fans, too. It was the triple play for us."

The usual suspects, teams comfortable with poring over advanced analytics -- like Boston, San Antonio, Houston, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Dallas, among others -- had already been using SportVU. Toronto developed "ghost" technology (Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote about this last March) that would show where players actually were on a given play, with the "ghost" overlapping and showing where they should have been.

Toronto was all in on SportVU. Their analytics people met with Harvard University professors who were crunching the data into more manageable bites. The hope was that the front office and the coaching staff would be able to use the numbers in tandem, to show players what they were capable of if they performed at peak analytic levels.

It didn't work out quite that way.

The analytics guys, according to sources, pushed hard for their new numbers. The coaches were willing to use some of the numbers, but didn't take all of them as gospel. It was less the coaches saying they didn't believe in it than the usual coach's lament about just about everything: (ital.)I have a game tonight. There's no time to boil all this down.(endital)

SportVU camera
SportVU cameras give each NBA team deeper stats information on not just their own team, but on foes, too.

Coaches, being coaches, are also more likely to live with something working one night and not working the next. They are tweakers, not overhaulers.

"The info is great, but it's the presentation," one source said. "You can't talk down to people."

When the Raptors hired Masai Ujiri as their general manager in the offseason, he made numerous changes throughout the organization. The Raptors still use analytics, but made changes in their personnel in that department.

When the league decided the other 15 teams would get the software, too, some of the Original 15 were a little salty.

"I didn't like it," one team executive said Sunday. "But if I was the league I would have done what they did."

Complaints from some of the original teams "did happen," Hellmuth said.

"But it was a double-edged sword," he said. "On the one hand, some of them felt they had invested, and they wondered why the league should intervene. On the other hand, they were very interested in having all 30 teams involved because it would enhance their data. At the end of the day, they tilted to having all 30 teams involved to have a more complete set of data."

It has an impact.

"Two years ago, I was in Detroit presenting to the Pistons and [general manager] Joe Dumars," Kopp said. "I was showing him some of the dribble stuff. He was saying, about one of his guards -- I think it was Will Bynum -- he said 'I'm always telling him he's dribbling too much. Now I can show him the data.' Some of the teams have said the best part is not just the coach telling him, but being able to show him. Now I can show it to them with actual facts."

Over a six-week period during the offseason, the NBA conducted site surveys at the arenas that were to be fitted with the equipment. The teams did the actual wiring of the cameras via coaxial cable; the league trained spotters, two per team, to sit up in the rafters at the hockey press box level in every arena (except, ironically, for Brooklyn, where they're in a video room) to serve as checks on the info the cameras are compiling. Each arena was tested during the preseason, with New Orleans, which only had one home exhibition game, the last to shake out.

The collection process begins with the six cameras, placed in two rows of three on each baseline. The computer vision cameras process the movement of each person on the court -- all 10 players and three officials -- at 25 frames per second. (Interestingly, the data SportVU collects about the referees will not be shared with them; the league will keep that proprietary information will help the league determine their officials' rankings and postseason assignments.)

SportVU camera
Six SportVU cameras capture and compile NBA data once thought to be impossible to measure.

As with soccer, the info is in new areas: how fast is a player running on the basketball court, and for how long? How much does he dribble? How long does his team maintain possession of the ball? How often does he touch or control a rebound within five feet of him?

The data is tracked within two or three seconds of capture. The spotters get their feed about a second later if they need to make any changes to the identification marks by the software. Sometimes, in scrums where several players are clustered, even though the player's heads remain visible, the system can temporarily lose track of who's who. (The cameras have zoom-in features that also help in such cases).

Within 90 seconds, the raw tracking data is sent back to STATS, which applies advanced algorhythms to the data to determine whether an action seen by the camera was a dribble, pass, touch, etc. That data is then linked to the play-by-play of each game to make sure everything matches.

"Once they're combined, we can populate in-game reports -- how many passes, how many touches," Kopp said. "We have the ICE application available on an iPad, or computer. Teams can have access during the game. The 60 to 90 second (time frame) is the delay before delivering the data to a user -- the team, or the arena if it wants to display it."

The next morning, STATS runs even more complicated algorhythms on the data of all the games leaguewide. The entire data file of every game is delivered to every team in the league by 7 a.m. the following morning. You can see the non-proprietary numbers yourself on NBA.com on the Player Tracking link.

The advocates of the new data insist they aren't trying to re-determine who's good and who isn't.

"We are always trying to figure out things like what really makes a great point guard," Hellmuth said. "It absolutely highlights what a spectacular start Chris Paul is off to. Now we have passes per game, free throw assists (passes that lead to players getting fouled as they shoot), secondary assists, points created per assist and points per 48 minutes."

Saturday's Pacers-Nets showdown produced these kinds of new stats, via SportVU:

Roy Hibbert had 11 rebounds on 18 rebound chances, or 61 percent. Brook Lopez had seven rebounds on 15 rebound chances, or 47 percent.

Even though the Pacers have one of the league's best halfcourt defenses, both Indiana and Brooklyn were able to drive effectively. The Nets scored 27 points on 19 drives, a points per possession on drives (PPD) of 1.42, above the league average of 1.2. The Pacers were also effective, scoring 25 points on 20 drives (1.32 PPD).

The Pacers were better on uncontested jump shots, making half of their 36 shots. The Nets went 10-for-26, just 39 percent, on their uncontested shots. That isn't good for Brooklyn, because the Nets shoot the second-highest number of contested shots in the league -- 20.5 per game -- and they only make 34.1 percent of them.

By contrast, Indiana only shoots 11.9 contested shots per game, 22nd overall. And it's probably no surprise that with a lethal perimeter player like Paul George on the roster, the Pacers are second in the league in catch-and-shoot jumpers, making 48.5 percent of them.

The future of SportVU, Kopp hopes, will be as an analytics analysis company as much as a collection company. He spent a year and a half at Green Bay's Lambeau Field "up on the roof," he said, working on a system that would provide NFL teams with their own new data. (The NFL wound up not making a deal with STATS on its prototype, however.) STATS thought it had a way to track the football with SportVU-type technology, a computer chip the size of a nickel, on the football. But quarterbacks who tried it out didn't feel comfortable with it.

There is already a scouting application available through STATS that will allow NBA teams to begin collecting the new data on players in college, and be able to transfer those numbers once they're in the league. The future, maybe five, 10 years out, could involve motion capture, so that teams can plot out the player's release of the ball on his jumper or hook or floater.

"We're on a continuum here," Hellmuth said. "We're going to collect more and more information."

Of course, some aren't sure all that new information will be used by teams for altruistic reasons. What if teams give the new stats more importance at contract time -- you only ran 4.5 miles per game last year, Jones; Anderson here runs 6.3. Could PPD or rebound chances just be another reason teams opt not to pay players, especially in the luxury-tax era?

"Players are so extensively tracked and logged," Hellmuth said. "This is just another layer of info available to coaches and GMs. It's not the ultimate layer; it's just another layer. We have the traditional stats. We have the Synergy stats. And the teams have the stats that they keep to themselves, that they don't share with the public. This is just another layer of information. I think this will provide the baseline of statistics that everyone will use."

DRIBBLES

Meanwhile, the team that plays at Barclays, the Nets, went through a lost weekend. First, they blew a 14-point lead at Washington Friday night en route to an overtime loss. Then, after turning the ball over six times in the fourth quarter Saturday against Indiana, they allowed the Pacers to leave Brooklyn with their seventh straight win to start the season.

Pacers vs. Nets

The Nets fell to 2-4 and are in last place in the Atlantic Division. Few thought there would be a day this season when Philly, Boston and Toronto all would have better records than the $187 Million Team, but here we are.

Of course, the Nets are exactly 7.3 percent through their schedule. They're trying to incorporate a new coach and a point guard who didn't play a minute in the preseason, as well as two future Hall of Famers and a bunch of new role players.

But they knew what the deal was when they embarked on this quest: they're built to win now. The process doesn't always just come together, though.

When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen went to Boston in 2007, they meshed seamlessly with Paul Pierce and the incumbent Celtics. They all bought into Doc Rivers' tales of the Duck Boats and Ubuntu, the role players were veteran guys with no agendas and it all worked out.

On the other hand, the SuperFriends famously came out of the gate 9-8 in 2010, with Armageddon likely if LeBron James hadn't exploded on his old Cavaliers team in early December of that year. The Heat eventually righted itself and made (and lost in) The Finals, but it was a bumpy liftoff.

"It's different for all teams," Paul Pierce said late Saturday night. "I've been on teams where it happens fast. Sometimes, it takes a while. You just never know. But when it happens, it's all good. So we don't know it's going to turn around, when the chemistry's going to be there, when we're clicking on all cylinders. The thing is, we've got to be patient when it does.

"A lot of young teams, they go through the frustrations when losing piles up, and then the arguing, the whispering behind the back, the negative press. But that's not this team right here. I think we're a veteran team that's going to show patience, and we understand. We're going to stay positive until this thing definitely turns around."

Nets vs. Wizards

Thus far, Brooklyn is decidedly average in everything. The Nets are 16th in brick and mortar stats like points allowed (100.2 per game) and field goal percentage allowed (13th, .445) and in the advanced stats like defensive rating (15th, 104.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), opponents' effective field goal percentage allowed (11th, .486) and defensive rebound percentage (16th, .732).

The Nets have moments when they look like the team they think they can be. Their size and length is always going to make them formidable; they can go 7-foot-1, 7-foot and 6-foot-9 across the front line, with 6-foot-9 Andrei Kirilenko and 6-foot-10 Andray Blatche in reserve.

They played the Pacers toe-to-toe Saturday night, with Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert bumping heads in the paint. They rallied from behind and they got strong play off the bench from veterans Shaun Livingston and Alan Anderson. But once again, as they have in all of their losses, they had a bad third quarter and didn't execute down the stretch.

All of that could still be explained away, though. Jason Kidd is getting his sea legs as coach, and Brooklyn has to determine ways to get Lopez more (and better) touches while not neglecting Joe Johnson -- and incorporating all of the new guys, too. Garnett, who is shooting just 32 percent this season, said Saturday night that he needed to find his offensive aggressiveness. He said he's been trying to get Lopez going out of the gate.

"We're very up and down at the moment," Johnson said. "Our coaching staff is still trying to figure out rotations. And since we're a new team and a new unit, it's going to take time to jell. And then you've got your starting point guard miss all of training camp, didn't play in any exhibitions, until our first game, our season opener. So it's going to take some time."

The Nets do benefit from playing in the woebegone Atlantic. The Knicks look like they're in big, big trouble. Philadelphia's coming back to Earth. And while the Raptors and Celtics have enjoyed pretty good (for them) starts, the smart money's still on The Prokhorov's team.

Brooklyn has a roster boasting more than 600 combined postseason games, plus veteran versatility and smarts.

It has an All-Star caliber center in Lopez, who's averaging 20.2 ppg and shooting 58.8 percent. His PER of 27.09 would be a career best and puts him seventh in the NBA, ahead of both LeBron James and Paul George.

"I think we're better defensively" than last season, Lopez said. "I think we're a more unselfish team."

But they're not a healthier one.

Kirilenko has back spasms. The Nets have to parcel out Garnett's minutes carefully, of course, just as Rivers did in Boston. Anything over 30 minutes, and Garnett starts to leak oil. Kidd has insisted that he doesn't want to play Garnett in back to back games, though Garnett played Friday and Saturday.

"That's the league, though," Garnett said Saturday. "I'm sure every team can do down the roster and say this guy's out, important pieces, rotations. And our coaching staff's still trying to establish themselves. That's what it is, man."

Williams sprained his left ankle in September, just before the start of camp, and couldn't do anything for a few weeks. He had worked out hard during the summer, trying to wipe away the figurative pain after the Bulls topped the Nets in Game 7 of the first round in Brooklyn.

But Williams says he can scrape the rust off his game while still getting his teammates involved.

"You just play," Williams said Saturday. "Just play basketball, and It'll happen. It's all about being aggressive. I was a little more aggressive (Saturday), and I'm going to draw double teams, and I think I'm going to be able to find people. If they don't help, then I look to score."

And the Nets don't have the luxury of opening out of town. Every time they lose more than one in a row, they're dissected and cross-examined in the Gotham media, which is fair-minded as ever in its judgment.

"I don't know what expectations everybody has, because I only know what goes on in this locker room," Williams said Friday. "I try not to read the papers or anything like that. We have expectations. We like that. We're just worried about us right now. We're worried about improving every day ... it's just a process, and we're just trying to speed it up."

Kidd is not a big talker during practice, other than to make a specific point to a particular player off to the side. He lets assistant coach Lawrence Frank handle most of the workout ("he talks enough for everybody," Williams said with a laugh. "He's long-winded"). The practices are specific and focused.

In this and many other ways, Kidd is as different from Avery Johnson, fired early last season before P.J. Carlesimo finished up, as two old point guards can be. His affability, the product of near-universal respect from his playing days, masks a toughness and frankness that is always just below the surface. But Johnson often looked like he was spoiling for a fight, even as he tried to ease up.

"I guess, I don't know if we go as long as we did last season, but when we're on the floor, I think we get as much as what we're doing as possible," Lopez said. "I think that's a little different from last season. There's an energy about us, and we try to keep that constant."

Kidd has rules and fines and a kangaroo court, just like any other coach. But with all the pedigree of the veterans on his roster, from Jason Terry to Reggie Evans to Garnett and Pierce, Kidd doesn't have to police the locker room very much.

"If I have to come in as a last resort, I can," he said. "And the fine system is easy. Discipline by being fined is one way, but also talking to them and being real, understanding that mistakes happen, but trying to limit them and learn from their mistakes."

Pierce was mentioning the Eric Stratton Solution as a possible elixir. The Nets start a road trip Wednesday in Sacramento that lasts the whole week.

"Maybe going out west will be good for us," he said. "Sometimes they say you take a trip, all the guys are together, you seem to come together. I've been on a lot of teams that have done that. That's what I'm hoping for."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(last week's ranking in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) Indiana [1] (4-0): First 7-0 start in franchise history.

Spurs vs. Knicks

2) San Antonio [5] (4-0): This is why we like the Spurs: they're grownups. They got into New York on Saturday, spent Saturday night in the big city, then got up Sunday morning, tipped off at noon Eastern (11 a.m. Central), jumped out to a 10-0 lead against the Knicks, blew the lead out to 30 and coasted to a 31-point win. Off to Philadelphia.

3) Oklahoma City [8] (3-0): Reggie Jackson looked awfully good Sunday night in the Thunder's come-from-behind OT win over the Wizards, after Russell Westbrook was ejected (along with Washington's Nene) following a second technical foul.

4) Miami [6] (2-1): Certainly, the Heat will say they're not in any way working through the ennui of yet another regular season, that they're built for this. Me, I go for 'we're bored; wake us in late March.'

5) Phoenix [11] (3-1): Again, y'all don't appear to be clear on this concept: you lose as much as humanly possible (and not Commish detectable), and you get a really high Lottery pick, and we all can move on. You follow?

6) Minnesota [4] (2-2): Ricky Rubio gets his second career triple-double in the Wolves' rout of the Lakers Sunday.

7) L.A. Clippers [7] (2-2): After a meh road trip, Clippers return to Staples for seven of their next nine games.

8) Houston [2] (1-3): Let's see how Rockets come off the deck after back-to-back losses to Lakers and Clippers.

9) Golden State [9] (2-2): Warriors get Harrison Barnes back, and he plays great in his new role as sixth man. That's a big lift off of Mark Jackson's shoulders.

10) Philadelphia [3] (1-3): Evan Turner playing the best basketball of his career, but certainly seems resigned to the likelihood he'll be elsewhere next season.

Trail Blazers vs. Kings

11) Portland [12] (2-1): Wes Matthews picking up the scoring slack with Damian Lillard (26 of 84 his last five games, 30.9 percent) and Mo Williams (37 percent from the floor so far this season) struggling.

12) Atlanta [NR] (2-1): Kyle Korver now 10 games away from tying the NBA record for consecutive games with a 3-pointer. Korver hit a three in his 79th straight game Saturday in the Hawks' win over Orlando.

13) Dallas [14] (2-2): Jae Crowder playing solid at small forward for Mavs in time share with Shawn Marion.

14) Memphis [NR] (2-1): Congrats to Zach Randolph and his wife, who gave birth to Zachary, Jr., on Friday.

15) Boston [NR] (3-1): Boston Herald reports Rajon Rondo took part in 3-on-3 action without permission. One suspects "gaining permission" is not high on his list of activities to follow.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Boston (3-1): Admit it; you thought the Celtics were rancid and would never win again. No, I mean someone else besides you, Mr. Wallace. (See what I did there?) Anyway, Brad Stevens and his team deserve credit for three quality wins, culminating in Saturday's buzzer-beater in Miami.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Utah (0-4): It is hard to see light at the end of the tunnel, but the Jazz has some real good young talent that you hope isn't jaded or disillusioned by all the losing. It's going to be a long, long season in the Wasatch, though.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What in the world is going on in Miami?

Not with the Heat, but with the Dolphins.

This whole issue with Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin and a locker room that seems to be full of followers but no leaders, is so distasteful. You know the basics, I'm sure: Martin left the team last week, saying that he'd had enough of a pattern of hazing from his teammates -- most notably, Incognito, his offensive line-mate. The veterans on the offensive line took a trip to Vegas, and whether he wanted to go or not, Martin wound up paying the $15,000 tab. His teammates called Martin "Big Weirdo."

You can Google all the more salacious stuff at your leisure; suffice it to say Incognito thought it his job to "toughen up" Martin, who graduated from Stanford and is the son of parents who went to Harvard. And almost all of their African-American teammates, instead of castigating Incognito for the horribly vile, racist things he said as he went about dispensing his tough love to Martin, defended Incognito.

And you wonder if one plus one still equals two.

There are no acceptable circumstances under which a white man can call a black man that name. My best friend is a white man; I'd take a bullet for him and would be fine with him raising my kids. And if he ever used that word to me, we'd have a major problem. (Left unsaid is the question of why anyone would want to use that word; the odd rapper aside, the idea that some black people claim they want to "take the power of the word away" by consistently referring to each other by the name makes no sense to me.)

When I first started covering the NBA, I witnessed a sight I'll never forget. I was in the Bullets' locker room after a training camp practice. There were two young players in the room, sitting down, talking with one another. They were both African-American. I wasn't interviewing either; I was just in the room, waiting for God knows who. Anyway, they were both young, and history has consigned whatever they were talking about to the dustbin of my memory. The only thing I remember is that they dropped the n-word early and often throughout their conversations: "this n----r was sayin'," and so on.

Until Bernard King walked into the room, and overheard them.

"Hey, we don't use that word in here," he said. He didn't shout. He didn't threaten. He just said it, as firmly as a Jack Nicklaus 12-footer in the heart of the cup at Augusta, circa 1972.

There was an awkward silence.

And I never heard them use it again. At least not while they were on the roster -- which neither was for much longer.

That is the kind of leadership that is so sorely lacking in South Florida this morning.

The NBA sent out a memo Friday -- a lot of "legalese," one team executive said -- reiterating that teams were responsible to make sure there was no serious hazing going on inside their walls. NBA players surely aren't choirboys or angels, but their transgressions do not usually involve inflicting anguish on their teammates, and hazing usually centers on what kid's backpack the rookies will carry.

"The rooks will do skits and songs," one NBA head coach said Sunday night. "But nothing physical."

One veteran player said he had "never" seen anything remotely like that which is being described in Miami in an NBA locker room. "The only rookie stuff I've ever witnessed has all been appropriate," he said, "and necessary."

Keyon Dooling, the veteran guard who has acknowledged he was molested as a child, texted Sunday that he had never seen anything like that on any of the seven teams he's been on in his career. "The vets usually take care of any problems diplomatically," he said.

So much has been written about the relationship between Incognito and Martin in the last week, I think the fundamentals of the issue have been lost: you have a team so bereft of leadership, so desperate for anyone to take charge, that young black men felt it okay to follow the lead of an older white teammate who is, at best, a very troubled individual. No one appears to have felt that Martin, whose only "crime" seems to be that he kept to himself and didn't join in the hijinks, was worth getting to know, or worth accepting for who he was.

This is a sore spot for me. In the black community, we've been fighting an internecine battle for years, this judgment by some of our own that displaying intelligence or not conforming to supposed ideals means that you're "acting white" or selling out. I don't cover the Dolphins and I don't know these players, but it smells that way: that the black players on the team weren't comfortable with Jonathan Martin because he wasn't like them, and they shunned him in favor of Richie Incognito. Now, Incognito wasn't like them, either, but in this warped worldview, a white guy with tats who may listen to rap is accepted more than the African-American kid from Stanford who just wants to be himself. And that's from where this "honorary black guy" nonsense comes.

Why didn't someone see the value in Jonathan Martin the way he was, and try to get the most out of him the way he was?

Again, I would never claim that basketball players have some kind of virtue that other athletes don't. There have been great feuds and fights between teammates, trades that were demanded because guys didn't get along, big bills at strip clubs across America, liquor and weed and lots of other vices. But what happened in the Dolphins' locker room was something altogether different, unrecognizable. It was not, certainly, anything that could be called sporting.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

Ten thousand lakes, 10,000 problems, but Kevin Love ain't one. From Avi Gillis:

Nightly Notable - Kevin Love

First of all, much love and respect. I always enjoy reading your column.

Now for the main issue: Kevin Love at No. 5!? Are you serious? How can you manage to type his numbers in afterwards and not rub your eyes at what you're writing?

I realize numbers aren't the whole story, but going almost 30-15 is mega-exceptional, even if it's just 3 games, and it hands down beats any of the stats the guys above him have to offer (Chris Paul maybe comes close). The thing is, though, that Love doesn't only have numbers: his team is unbeaten! (With two wins against quality opponents in OKC and NY). That's more than can be said for most of his fellow-superstars (the exception being Dwight Howard). So he's a better candidate for the award on any level you choose at the moment.

I'm not saying LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul and Howard don't deserve consideration, but it seems to me that the only thing keeping them ahead of Love on your list is not their deeds on the court but their pedigree. That is, the fact that they're all longtime mainstays on the list. As a popular columnist, you have the power to influence, to some extent, people's opinions, and that includes MVP voters. I think that by denying this guy a well-deserved top-spot appearance you might actually be harming his chances of winning the award (though I would hope voters are more independent-minded than all that).

In summary, where's the love?

I wish I wielded that kind of power, Avi. I would not only make the tides succumb to my will, I'd be able to keep everything I DVR instead of having it cycle out when there was no more room in the queue. Plus, I'd make Skylar Diggins fall in love with me. In the meantime, I will rank Kevin a little higher this week than five, as he deserves it. And will continue to rank him high when he deserves it. (Do you have Skylar's cell number by chance?)

I looked down. No one was pulling my leg. From Rick Dhanda:

I'm from Toronto so I naturally have somewhat an affinity for the Raptors, similar, I'm sure, to your small affinity for Good Old Cousin LaMarcus.

Regardless, I've been thinking this one through and it seems right to me so here goes:

So the Raptors send Rudy Gay to Dallas in exchange for Shawn Marion's expiring contract, Vince Carter on a Legend Return Tour, DeJuan Blair, and a pick (I'll let Mark Cuban and Masai duke it out for the terms of the pick).

The Raptors and their new smarter GM likely realize the ceiling of this team is too low, and they can still add a quality young player before Jonas plays too well to give them long lottery odds.

So the Raptors get an expiring deal, a chance to reintroduce Vince to the fan base and have him guide their young athletic dunkers, and a solid backup forward to reaffirm their frontline. They shed some salary and increase their lottery odds long term.

Dallas essentially pushes all in with the group that they have. Dirk is too valuable to the franchise to not give him a real last shot at a title in his twilight years. They somewhat create a poor man's 2011 team with J-Kidd/J.J. Barea, Tyson Chandler, Jason "Jet" Terry, and DeShawn Stevenson being replaced with Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Monta Ellis and Rudy Gay respectively. If any player can teach inefficient players how to be better it's Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs become more athletic and have a better chance of replicating the success of that unique 2011 team that was so good in its system.

So, should I email Masai Ujiri/Donnie Nelson my resume?

No, Rick. No, you shouldn't. Notwithstanding the fact that Blair can't be traded until Dec. 15 at the earliest, I can't see the Raptors trading Gay away when they just got him as a key piece to add to play with Jonas, in order to have a chance to -- maybe -- sign another player as a key piece. Cubes would do that deal in a second, but Masai Ujiri is a pretty sharp cookie. That deal doesn't help Toronto.

Despite being nicknamed "The City of Big Shoulders," this town ain't big enough for the both of us. From Jason Chavez:

Chicago didn't just let Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson walk, they decided to pay Mike Dunleavy Jr. and as such could not afford Nate and Marco. Whether that was the best decision remains to be seen, but don't act like they had an option in keeping both

Well, actually, they did have an option, Jason. They chose not to do so because it would have made their payroll higher than they wanted it to be. Which is their perfect right as a franchise, just as it's their right not to go into the luxury tax this season to avoid paying the repeater tax next season. But they did have the choice to sign Dunleavy and retain either Belinelli or Robinson, or just re-sign Belinelli and Robinson.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and better justifications for the "Elephant in the Room" Chris Christie Time magazine cover than the lame one they came up with to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! (Seriously, why not just say 'Geez, is this guy a load, or what?' and be done with it? At least that would be honest.)

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parenthesis)

1) Chris Paul (16.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 13 apg, .411 FG, 1.000 FT): Started the season shooting a cool .980 (48 of 49) from the free throw line.

2) LeBron James (26 ppg, 7 rpg, 8 apg, .609 FG, .767 FT): Just one question, LeBron: why shut the gate on the kids after the bike ride http://fansided.com/2013/10/27/lebron-james-new-nike-basketball-commercial-video/? Couldn't you invite them all in for a snack or something? Some pizza, maybe?

Best of Inside: Dwight Howard

3) Kevin Love (24.8 ppg, 14.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, .458 FG, 1.000 FT): With Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer on the court with him, KLuv's "limited natural ability" is in full flower. Glad to see he has, somehow, overcome the horrible hand that God dealt him.

4) Kevin Durant (31 ppg, 8 rpg, 7.7 apg, .519 FG, .892 FT): Per ESPN, Durant's game-tying 3-pointer with 13.6 seconds left in regulation against the Wizards Sunday was his 12th such basket in the last 24 seconds, the most in the league since 2007-08.

5) Dwight Howard (19.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .587 FG, .490 FT): Kenny Smith said something interesting while the fellas were barbequing Howard on Inside Thursday night following the Rockets' loss to the Lakers: Howard is too talented to be average. And, for the Jet, a 15-point, 14-rebound night for Howard is an average night. You empathize with Howard, but it's hard to argue with that.

BY THE NUMBERS

1900 -- Weight in pounds of a new Larry Bird statue that was dedicated over the weekend at Bird's alma mater, Indiana State University.

Timberwolves vs. Lakers

.048 -- Current shooting percentage of Cavs rookie and No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett. He missed his first 17 shots before making his first bucket last Wednesday against the Bucks. That's the only field goal that Bennett has made in 21 shots through Cleveland's first seven games.

22 -- Consecutive games overall that the Wolves had lost to the Lakers, dating back to 2007, before Minnesota's blowout win at Staples Center Sunday night. The Wolves hadn't won in Los Angeles since Dec. 2, 2005, a streak of 13 straight losses.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Thank you to every veteran and every family of every veteran this morning. The debt each of us owes each of you, simply, cannot be repaid. You are the best and the brightest and our national experiment continues because of the sacrifices you have made. Again, thank you.

2) Saw Danny Granger, who hasn't played yet this season to make sure a sore calf didn't get worse, in the Pacers' locker room Saturday night. He says that he'll start practicing with the team this coming week, with Indiana getting three days off after Monday's home game with Memphis (aka, The Commish's Nightmare Finals).

3) It's not that I'm glad Michael Redd is retiring; just too many knee injuries for him to overcome. But I'm glad that he is able to leave the game on his own terms, after a solid last season in Phoenix in 2011-12. He will, no doubt, do something with the rest of his life far more significant than coming off a down screen.

4) With the winless Jazz taking on water rapidly at the start of the season, and Marcin Gortat already dealt to the Wizards, Utah's Brandon Rush could well jump to the front of the "next veteran player to be dealt for a 2014 pick" line. I can think of a few contenders (Bulls, Grizzlies, Subliminal Man mutters) that could use a shooter like Rush, back from an ACL tear that cost him all of last season in Golden State.

5) The Nets may be struggling to find chemistry on the court, but they're in playoff form off of it.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) This does not make me original in thought. But the Knicks are really going to miss Tyson Chandler.

Knicks vs. Bobcats

2) Glad to hear Bobcats Coach Steve Clifford is going to be okay after having two stents put in his heart over the weekend. Amazing this doesn't happen more often, given the incredible stress coaches are under in all sports, as witnessed with the health scares suffered last week by NFL coaches John Fox and Gary Kubiak.

2A) Which reminds me: while sad that Clifford fell ill, it was good to see Bobcats assistant Patrick Ewing direct the team Friday night in Charlotte against his old team, the Knicks, in Clifford's stead. It will be better when someone gives Ewing a chance to be a coach full time.

3) Shaqtin' a Fool is hereby put on hiatus until further notice.

4) A 1-5 start isn't the bad thing for the Kings. Being 25th in the league in attendance and coming a couple thousand short of a sellout Sleep Train Arena Saturday isn't the bad thing for the Kings. Having a defensive rating of 110.3 points allowed per 100 possessions after six games? That's the bad thing for the Kings.

5) It is beyond sad to hear Andrew Bynum say (not incorrectly) that he's a "shell" of his former self, and to watch Steve Nash try desperately to coax meaningful basketball out of his 39-year-old body. Painful stuff, and this early in the season, it's tough to hear. Tougher for them to deal with, obviously.

6) There's nothing intelligent one can say that will give comfort or heal the hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines that have been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, and the ones in Vietnam that will be in the coming days. Offering prayers or blessings seems terribly hollow, and while I'm sure the Red Cross appreciates anything you can give, even a donation of money or blood doesn't feel like it would matter. Again, I don't know what to say or do that would make a difference, but I wanted to acknowledge that attention is being paid and hope people affected can find shelter and help if they need it.

Q AND A: PAUL GEORGE

You can just tell when a team is ready. There is a focus, a seriousness of purpose, from the start of training camp. Personal agendas are discarded; the "honey-dos," as Rick Mahorn used to call them, are cast to the side. The five players on the court look connected, as if there's a rubber band attached from player to player. And there's almost always a clear-cut alpha male, the leader, the player in whom the others believe and trust.

The Pacers have that look. And Paul George is that player.

That doesn't mean Indiana doesn't need David West posting up in the fourth quarter or Roy Hibbert patrolling the paint every night, the hub of Indiana's league-best defense under Coach Frank Vogel.

Extra Stuff: Pacers Rank

It means the 23-year-old George is now entrusted to make the decisions that matter, on both ends of the court and in the locker room. It means the All-Star and 2012 Most Improved Player needs a new goal: League MVP. It means he has to do more than just shoot jumpers -- a talent at which he excels -- and become more of a playmaker. It means George has to continue his close, friction-free, sibling-like relationship with Danny Granger, with whose family George lived during the summer in California while he was training, with whom he's been close since before George was taken 10th overall in the 2010 Draft, and who used to be the face of the franchise.

It means George has to continue to guard every point guard and wing player of consequence -- from Derrick Rose to Kobe Bryant to LeBron James, each of whom he's guarded regularly for the Pacers -- without complaint. It means George has to do more than he did in last spring's Eastern Conference finals against Miami, when he had great moments but also let James get to the basket for a game-winning layup in Game 1, and went a quiet 2 of 9 from the floor in the decisive Game 7.

It means George has to live up to the five-year max contract that could reach $90 million on which he and the Pacers agreed in August. It means Indiana has to slay the Heat Dragon and get past the team that has knocked it out of the playoffs the last two seasons. It means George has to lead the Pacers to a Finals appearance while the team's window is wide open.

No pressure or anything.

Me: I know what you do in November in terms of wins and losses doesn't always matter later, but I get the sense that it's important to this club to set a tone early.

Paul George: Yeah. Well, we want to be aggressive and start to play well to start the year off. We understand how important the first seed is, and we don't want to wait until, you know, March, June, late in the year. We want to start to play well and start to earn the first seed and get in position to get the first seed. We want to take care of business when we can and try to control everything from the start of the season.

Me: This group seems connected. What have you noticed over the last year that's brought that about?

PG: Everybody, all the returners came back and added something new. And just the experience of us being together going on three or four years now, everybody knows what to expect from one another. And there's a chemistry there that you really can't break. A lot of teams try to assemble teams, put teams together and put guys together, but you've got to jell well. And I think that's the key for us.

Me: Roy says that because you've had to guard all the wings and elite point guards the last couple of years, that he's felt obligated to have your back defensively in order to save your legs for the fourth quarters on offense. Did you talk with him about that or did it just happen?

PG: Roy's always talking. He's always told me, I've got your back, I'll protect the rim. And that gives me the confidence to go out and really pressure up. Because I know I've got one of the best rim protectors in the game. It makes my job easier, and I try to help the same way, and help him down low on digs, and being active on the bigs' spots.

Me: Do you see teams attacking you differently when you're on defense because he's behind you?

Extra Stuff: Cali Swag

PG: I've been getting a lot more postups. They're really trying to post up and use the strength of bigger guys on me. I'm fine with it. I've got the length. Strength is an area I can get better at, but I feel comfortable down there.

Me: How have you tried to get stronger the last couple of summers?

PG: It's really just strengthening my legs and my core. I think running hills and the mountains over the summer really helped me, not only conditioning but in strengthening my legs.

Me: I'm sure you knew they were going to extend you. Did you think about how that would create major expectations on you from the outside?

PG: Not really. Not really. I didn't want to press about it. I didn't want it to have any affect on me out on the court. I was going to continue to come out and play my game. I had been training for a big year before I signed the contract. And I knew what to expect coming into this year, because it was going to be a big year for me. I didn't allow the contract to play any role in how I performed out on the court.

Me: Do you think your arc as a basketball player -- where you grew up, where you went to college, what team drafted you -- all sort of fits together? There seems to be consistency there in terms of how that all allowed you to kind of develop organically, without some of the pressures that other players have.

PG: It did. I've been overshadowed so much, it's now to the point where I want you guys to know who I am, I want you to be able to respect my game and respect what I do out on the court. I think all of that did fuel me and it's keeping me motivated and it's giving me that drive now.

Me: Where does one get that athletic arrogance you have to have on the court? 'Cause you've got to have that.

PG: You have to. You have to. All the elites do. They bring it to the game. I picked that up. I learned that being around guys, being on Team USA, All-Star Weekend. It's a level they carry themselves. That's what I picked up the most.

Me: What has Frank said about what more he wants from you this season?

Inside Stuff: Paul George Fishing

PG: He wants me to be a floor general. That was a role I tried to step into and really tried to step into last year and play into that role. But this year it's a definite that he wanted me to be a floor general, a late game scorer for us. Just be productive throughout the whole game.

Me: You were always good coming off of screens and in screen-rolls. When did playmaking become more important to you?

PG: I knew it was that time. I knew, eventually, I was going to have to step into that role, and I wanted to step into that role. I knew it was just going to take time. With all the elite guys we've got here, David West is still a late scorer for us, and George (Hill) can make shots, and Roy is a contributor for us late in games. It was moreso me wanting to have that role and step into another role this year.

Me: When you were living at the Grangers this summer, did you pay rent?

PG: I did. (Laughs). He forgot we was teammates then.

Me: What were the days like out there training?

PG: I worked out in the mornings, and the morning workouts were mostly ballhandling, iso moves, iso spots. And then through the day, I would run through the mountains. And I would do that three or four times a week.

Me: What did you think about while you were running?

PG: Just pushing through it. Just pushing through the exhaustion. A lot of times, I was winded, I was exhausted. But that Game 7 kept popping up. Not having the energy and not being able to push through, I didn't want to have that feeling again. So that was my motivation, running the mountains.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Great ... House keys, car keys, bags and all left in Sacramento..Must be a sick joke. Only it's real. Hmmm. Life goes on

-- Trail Blazers center Meyers Leonard (@MeyersLeonard11) -- who, unfortunately, lives in Portland -- Sunday, 3:16 a.m. Not the best of starts this season for the for the second-year big man and 2012 first-rounder, who was beaten out during training camp and the preseason for the backup center spot behind Robin Lopezz by Joel Freeland.

THEY SAID IT

"I enjoyed the city, and the fans were great. But it doesn't work out everywhere you go. It's a different coaching style. Coach Carlisle is uptight and kind of plays games with people here and there. Coach D'Antoni is more relaxed. He lets guys get a feel and make mistakes and play. You can't micromanage every situation and pull a guy in and out and in and out. It just doesn't work that way."

-- Lakers center Chris Kaman, who played in Dallas last season and who, obviously, did not get along with Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle -- who Kaman also said was "uptight" and would say one thing to him and something different to others. Carlisle would only acknowledge that things didn't work out in Dallas for Kaman and that he, Carlisle, shared some of the responsibility for that.

"I offer my apologies to everyone, especially the fans. I know they put a lot on me and they count on me a lot. "For everyone I let down, I'm going to get better, going to be better. I'm going to get better at this, on and off the court. I'm going to come back better. I just thank everyone for their concerns and being patient with me."

-- Bucks center Larry Sanders, in a statement following his involvement in an incident at a Milwaukee club last week. Reports claimed Sanders got in a fight with some patrons at the club and that one of the persons involved received stitches for a cut. However, the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office did not choose to file charges against Sanders, who got a $44 million extension last summer from the Bucks.

"I have been at this thing 30 years. And the one thing I never and will never do is look over my shoulder. I won't do that. I got too much pride for that. I think what we have done here for the last few years, we made some major ground and some major steps. But this is a different year. That team that played and won 54 games is not here."

-- Knicks coach Mike Woodson, in an interview with ESPN Radio in New York, on speculation that his job may be in jeopardy if his team continues its struggles through the season. Gotham tabloids are rife with rumors that owner James Dolan has declared his team a title contender this season and expressed that assumption to management and the coaching staff.

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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