Posted Nov 25, 2013 10:27 AM - Updated Nov 25, 2013 8:22 PM
Friday, I got that pit in my stomach again. The same one I had on a few years ago when I saw Greg Oden, again, on the floor at the Rose Garden. Friday, it was the same building, but a different No. 1 overall Draft pick. The feeling was no less awful.
No one touched Derrick Rose in Portland on Friday, just like no one touched Oden the night on Dec. 5, 2009, when his kneecap exploded, and his career, for all intents and purposes, ended -- though he is giving it one last go in Miami. And, just as the Trail Blazers' plans and dreams for their franchise burst apart when Oden fell -- and, soon after, Brandon Roy -- the Bulls' hopes for a championship restoration lay, today, in the hands of trainers and strength coaches and in, frankly, good fortune.
For Rose has been operated on, again. He had the torn meniscus in his right knee repaired, the Bulls announced Monday morning, and he is out for the rest of this season.
That's a gut punch -- for Rose, for the Bulls, for the city of Chicago, for the NBA. For Rose's story was as medicinal for sports fans as his game was electric for basketball fans -- a kid nicknamed "Pooh," from the toughest of neighborhoods, returning to the city and family that raised him to become a superstar.
And now ... who knows? Does Rose become a functional, but no longer feared, player, the way Ron Harper had to re-invent himself once an ACL tear robbed him of his great hops and quickness? Or does Rose become worse -- a comet, streaking out of one's eye seemingly within seconds, the way Chicago lost another sublime talent, former Bears running back Gale Sayers, within six years?
Only the most ardent Bulls supporter would blithely assume Rose will just come back from this latest setback and be himself again, after he needed 18 months to feel like himself again in recovering from his left ACL tear. Even though the operation was a "success -- " doctors were able to repair the meniscus instead of having to remove it, which almost certainly would have led to the "bone-on-bone" pre-arthritic condition that has doomed so many NBA players over the years -- Rose now faces another six months, minimum, of rehab. And if by some miracle the Bulls are still playing in late May or early June ... hooboy. Can you imagine the (bleep) storm Rose would face to play?
The more likely scenario, though, is no less appetizing -- no title run this season, an early playoff exit (even the diminished-without-Rose Bulls should still qualify for the postseason in the truly horrible Eastern Conference), and a major wrench thrown into the Bulls' immediate and long-term future -- a future for which the Bulls have painstakingly planned.
Of all the team sports, the NBA is the most brutal on championship aspirations. A baseball team may lose a star pitcher -- maybe even its ace -- to injury, but it has other pitchers in the rotation and in its minor-league system to try and lessen that loss. The NFL is hard on teams that lose their star quarterbacks, to be sure. But teams have won the Super Bowl with great defense and little else.
In the NBA, though, you're only as good as your superstar. When he's rolling, the hub of the wheel, the pieces a team puts around him fit. That doesn't mean role players aren't crucial; witness the Knicks' freefall without Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense. But a team without its superstar has no chance over 82 games. There's no coaching, no fix, for it.
(This is probably where we should mention, oh, Marc Gasol is going to be out a couple of months.)
Gasol had the bad luck to sprain his MCL the same day that Rose went down. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, Gasol's injury won't require surgery, but his absence will be just as jarring to Memphis as Rose's is to Chicago. Memphis runs everything -- its offense and its defense -- through the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Every team in the West fears the Grizzlies, with their defensive excellence and their brute-force basketball. But a team like San Antonio, already off to a great start, might be able to put prohibitive space between itself and Memphis by the time Gasol returns. Sunday night, USA Today reported he'd be out six to 10 weeks.
One Western Conference executive texted Sunday that Gasol's absence might -- might -- make things easier on offense for the Grizzlies, since now they'll just have one postup guy to feed in Zach Randolph. "But Z-Bo gives up a lot of size defensively vs. other bigs if he is at the 5," the exec said.
"Not sure if they have the depth of quality 4s and 5s to make up the difference," he continued. "Team may be able to play a little more uptempo on both ends...which I would think would make (Coach Dave) Joerger happy.")
Until Friday, the Bulls' plans for next summer were fairly clear. They'd declined any long-term expenditure into the summer of 2014, needing to avoid paying luxury tax for a third straight season and thus being required to pay the dreaded "repeater tax" going forward.
With Rose back, Chicago could build around him and Joakim Noah. Great expectations of luring a third star next summer, via the cap room created by the almost-certain amnesty of the final year of Carlos Boozer's contract, loomed. The Bulls could go in two directions, both promising. They could amnesty Boozer and let Luol Deng walk in free agency next summer, and gain the cap room necessary to sign an impact player. Or, they could package some of their very attractive assets to make a trade.
But either scenario depended on Rose returning to his MVP form. With the best point guard in the game and one of the top three or four centers, Chicago did not figure to have any trouble bringing in that third star, that player that could put them on equal footing with Miami and Indiana for years to come.
That is now all up in the air.
The Bulls may have to come to grips with the fact that Rose is going to struggle to stay healthy throughout his career. Even before the ACL tear, the Bulls were concerned about Rose's fearless drives to the hoop, and the resulting bullets he was dodging after contact -- though, occasionally, he got nailed (including, twice, by Dwight Howard while Howard manned the paint in Orlando, leading to hip and wrist injuries for Rose. Neither was Howard's fault.)
There are, sadly, guys who can't stay healthy. Terrell Brandon was a terrific point guard, an All-Star for the Cavaliers in the late 1990s, before knee injuries stopped his rise (though he played well for the Timberwolves, too). Gilbert Arenas was, of course, an incandescent All-Star for the Wizards last decade before wrecking his knee. Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill ... you know the list.
And if Rose has to be a different, or diminished, player upon his return, it could well change the kind of free agent Chicago seeks. It may compel the Bulls to look harder at re-signing Deng, who has said he will shop around and is looking for a big deal.
The Bulls have had, unfortunately, a lot of experience recently playing without Rose. But they don't have Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli around this season to give them some pop. Jimmy Butler has been banged up most of the season as well. Mike Dunleavy, Jr., is hitting better than 51 percent from 3-point range, and he's going to have to do more. Heck, everyone's going to have to do more.
So suddenly, everything changes. The league looked as if it was going to be Derrick Rose's less than two years ago. He was the reigning MVP, beloved in his hometown, a story of everything that was right about Chicago, basketball and family. This morning, that seems so far away.
He repeats it like a mantra to his young core.
"I keep telling them, we haven't done anything yet," Rick Adelman said last week. "We're trying to establish something. If we can win games and get games here or there that maybe people think we shouldn't get, and we keep getting better as a team, then we're going to have a pretty good chance at the end.
"Right now, everybody wants to talk about playoffs. It's each game. And it sounds like an old cliché, but for this team, it's really true. We've got to show we can win. We've got to show we can play together and get through tough times, and good times. And then, we have to find out if we can stay healthy."
His Minnesota Timberwolves have been listening as they've gotten off to one of the better starts in franchise history. Given the franchise's history, that's not saying much. But the 8-7 kickoff this season has the Wolves in the playoff hunt, and includes wins over Oklahoma City and Dallas, and a 30-point smackdown of the Nets on Friday -- though the Wolves lost three of four last week.
Most importantly, they've survived the first month without major injuries. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio have stayed on the court together, fulfilling the vision of former team president David Kahn, who got major heat for a great many things. But Kahn did sign (and then, re-signed) much of the core that remains, including Love, Rubio, center Nikola Pekovic and guard J.J. Barea.
Minnesota's new braintrust, president Flip Saunders and GM Milt Newton, built on that core by adding free agents Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer this summer. But everything in Minnesota starts with Love, who is tied for the lead in rebounding with Dwight Howard (13.6 rpg), and is fourth in scoring (24.9 ppg) behind Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.
"It feels good, especially to start the year," Love said last week. "The thing we have to do is to continue to keep working. I think if we can continue to stay healthy, we're only going to get better. It's still early in the season. Some of these guys haven't played together a lot ... once we get 20, 30, 40 games in, hopefully this team will get a lot better. I've said it all season long, we're really going to take it a day at a time."
Indeed, the Wolves have been one step forward, one step back much of the first month. After winning their first three games, they've split two games apiece with the Lakers and Cavaliers, lost close at Denver (understandable) and Washington (not so much).
"It's a young team, and it's early in the season, still," Adelman said. "When things are going good, they flow pretty good. But when you start struggling a little bit, missing shots, whatever, then they have a tendency to get into panic mode and try to do too much. They've gotta move from side to side, they've got to share the ball, they've got to trust each other."
The Wolves came into the summer desperately needing a shooting guard upgrade -- where the Brandon Roy gamble fizzled after five games, and they were stuck playing the likes of Alexey Shved and Malcolm Lee through much of the season -- and to deepen their bench. They couldn't re-sign veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko, who took less money to play in Brooklyn. But the money they saved from his salary brought in two starters this season.
Martin, who played last season without much joy at Oklahoma City, was an easy fix at the two. Martin and Adelman have a long relationship dating back to their time together in Sacramento and Houston. After no shooting guard averaged more than 8.0 ppg last season, Martin is scoring 20.5 ppg -- "if he's going to be on the floor 25, 30 minutes, he's going to get 20 points," Adelman said.
Adelman isn't lying. Martin's numbers are basically the same in Minnesota's seven wins in which he played (22.6 points per game, 48.1 percent from the floor) as they've been in his losses (23 points per game, 46.9 percent).
"Anybody can score at any time," Martin said. "We've just got to maintain our focus at the defensive end. That's where we have lapses sometimes and that's where we can get into trouble."
Martin said he was "semi-serious" about a couple of other teams, but Minnesota was the clear choice.
"I just knew they've been needing a shooting guard for a while," Martin said. "Just looking at the guys around, starting with Kevin, an emerging, top young point guard in Ricky, top two or three center in the league, and a great coach in Rick, it just seemed ideal for me. It was easy."
Brewer, a pickup from Denver, has been more than solid at small forward in his second stint in Minnesota, averaging 14.1 ppg while defending foes' top wing players.
Fixing the bench, though, is taking a little longer.
The Wolves traded their ninth pick in the Draft (Trey Burke) to Utah to get two picks. But neither of their rookies, center Gorgui Dieng or swingman Shabazz Muhammad, is ready for major minutes. Injuries to Ronny Turiaf (fractured elbow) and free agent pickup Chase Budinger (knee surgery) have eliminated the Wolves' veteran frontcourt depth. J.J. Barea and Shved are playing, but Minnesota is probably a quality body short in reserve.
Love's body of work -- and body -- are not in question, though.
Out most of last season after breaking his right hand twice -- the first time while doing knuckle pushups during a workout, the second in a game against Denver in January -- Love returned this season in spartan condition after working out in California with Rob McClanaghan, personal trainer to the stars, and is inflicting damage from everywhere on the court.
McClanaghan has an incredible rapport with all of his clients, and his results speak for themselves.
"I stay on top of them," McClanaghan told us last week on The Beat on NBA TV. "With Kevin Love, we worked on the outside three, more of a faceup game, and his ballhandling ... there's no days off. Even on a day off, with me, I'm watching film on them. I'm trying to create new drills. I'll be watching a game, their playoff game, I'll be texting them -- 'did you see that drill? We should work on that.' To me, it's 24-7. It's not just during the summer."
In a follow-up text Sunday, McClanaghan elaborated.
"I just knew we were progressing toward that, and I wanted to take it to another level," he said. "I knew if he could take a guy off the dribble, shoot a step-back 3, jab at a guy on top of playing his back to the basket and shooting a hook, then how do you guard him?"
Love could do those things, McClanaghan saw on film, but he didn't use the moves consistently, "so I tried my best to engrain in it in his mind that this should be a huge part of his game," McClanaghan said.
As a result, Love is not only scoring at a career-high clip, but he's currently third in the league in Player Efficiency Rating (28.1), behind New Orleans' Anthony Davis (29.9) and LeBron James (29.3).
"Rob and I, we watch a lot of film together," Love said. "It's the same with D-Rose, the same with Russell (Westbrook), the same way with Kevin (Durant). We watch a lot of film and break down a lot of film. He just finds different ways, myself included, where I can fit in different shots. Obviously, there's nothing on the defensive end we can work on too much. But offensively, we just find a lot of different ways to score, against different defenders. He knows my strengths and what I'm capable of."
But Love's diversifying offensive game hasn't affected his nose for the ball. He isn't just second overall in rebounds; he leads the league in rebound chances per game (21.4), one of the new player tracking stats the league is incorporating this season, defined as when the player got within 3.5 feet of a missed shot.
"I love playing with him," Rubio said. "He makes me look good. He's a great shooter. Great player overall. He can rebound, he can play in the post, he can play in the pick and roll. So it's something that he's a special player you can't find a lot of times. We have to take advantage of that and build from there."
(Is this where you bring up Love's pending free agency in the summer of 2015? Nah. It'll keep 'til the fall.)
Minnesota's main issue remains its defense. The Wolves are better than they were last season, rising from 14th in defensive rating to their current eighth. But they couldn't get stops at key moments last week in close losses to the Wizards and Clippers, and Aaron Brooks torched them for 26 Saturday in a 112-101 loss in Houston in which James Harden didn't play.
Still, Rubio is a better individual defender than some (okay, me) have given him credit for being over the years: according to Synergy, opponents are shooting just 42.2 percent against him this season, with more than half of his defensive possessions coming as a pick-and-roll defender. In those possessions, teams are shooting less than 41 percent against him.
But the Wolves didn't bring him over from Europe for his D. While he's struggled shooting, he continues to be a dime machine -- he is second in the league in assist percentage among point guards at .432, the percentage of possessions of his that wind up in assists.
"He's such a unique player at his position," Martin said. "A lot of point guards nowadays are looking to score 20 a game. But he's an old, traditional point guard, looking to have 15 assists a night. That's every other player's dream. He's just coming into his own and he's relaxed this year, and he's going to continue to do great things."
The Wolves are just trying to survive a brutal schedule in November, when they play 17 games. Minnesota's last week: at Washington Tuesday, fly back to Minnesota after the game, play the Clippers at home Wednesday, off Thursday, play Brooklyn at home Friday, fly to Houston after the game, play the Rockets in Houston Saturday, fly to Indiana Sunday, play the best team in the East, the Pacers, tonight (7 ET, League Pass)
The month ends with a back-to-back at Dallas and Oklahoma City, followed by a "home" game that is about 1,790 miles from Minneapolis -- in Mexico City -- against the Spurs. But the Wolves get a real home game three days later in Minnesota -- against the defending champion Heat.
No matter whether they get themselves going again, or drop off a little further as their tough schedule continues, though, they know that November means nothing. They haven't done anything yet.
Adelman "has said it from day one," Love said. "We still feel that way. The coaching staff and the players and the entire organization, they're all hungry. We're walking on the floor feeling like we can win every game. We're treating every game like it's our last, a do or die scenario, and if we do that and we continue to stay hungry, we're going to win a lot of games."
(last week's ranking in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)
1) San Antonio  (3-0): Best start in franchise history despite Duncan shooting an anemic 38.9 percent from the floor over his first 11 games, which would be the lowest shooting percentage by far of his career.
2) Indiana  (3-0): Pacers' stranglehold on the Central Division just got a little tighter, and their chances of an easy draw to the East finals got a little greater.
3) Miami  (3-0): Heat winning by average of 16.8 points per game during its six-game winning streak.
4) Portland  (4-0): I don't know if the Blazers can keep this up, but that was an awfully impressive win Saturday night on the second end of a back-to-back at Golden State for their 10th consecutive victory.
5) Oklahoma City  (3-0): Did I read this right? Did the Thunder hold the Jazz to 43 points through three quarters Sunday? Wow, everybody wanted to get home in time for Manning-Brady XIV, huh?
6) L.A. Clippers  (3-2): Matt Barnes (torn retina) out at least two weeks following surgery.
7) Houston  (2-1): James Harden's sore left foot will keep him out a few games. Has shown on defense the last couple of weeks; teams are going right at him with success.
8) Dallas  (3-1): Samuel Dalembert had a double-double against Utah Friday, making all eight of his field goal attempts, but DeJuan Blair looks just as effective when he comes in to play center for the Mavs.
9) Golden State  (1-3): Injuries, the latest to Andre Iguodala, are grinding down the Warriors, decimating their depth.
10) Atlanta  (2-2): Hawks are not seeing the results yet in the won-loss column, but their defense is playoff-worthy; they're top 10 in both defensive rating and points allowed under Mike Budenholzer.
11) Minnesota  (1-3): Rookie Robbie Hummel getting playing time in rotation ahead of Derrick Williams -- whose days in Minneapolis have to be nearing an end.
12) Memphis  (2-1): Grizz play hard all the time, and they were getting better on offense, but they weren't expecting to count on Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis to keep them afloat.
13) Chicago  (1-3): A week ago, the Bulls were 6-3 after being Charlotte, they'd won five in a row and Derrick Rose, while still rusty, was getting back into form. What a difference seven days makes.
14) Phoenix  (2-2): Suns were 7-10 after November last season. They're 7-6 this season after Sunday's win at Orlando, and they're doing it with Eric Bledsoe in and out of the lineup. Incredible job so far by first-year Coach Jeff Hornacek.
15) Denver [NR] (2-1): He's not scoring a ton, but Timofey Mozgov has been a pretty solid plus-minus player for the Nuggets since taking over at center for the injured JaVale McGee.
Dropped out: Philadelphia 
Portland (4-0): Blazers in the midst of their longest winning streak in six years, since winning 13 in a row in 2007. And, an apology: Robin Lopez has been outstanding at center at the defensive end so far. I didn't give him his proper respect before the season. But, among players who play real minutes (25 or more) this season, Lopez is currently second in the league in what the new player-tracking data calls "contested rebound percentage;" he has grabbed 51.8 percent of the rebounds in traffic that have been available to him, just behind Utah's Enes Kanter (55.2 percent).
Cleveland (0-3): There is something seriously wrong with the Cavs, something that needs to be addressed, immediately. They've already gone the team meeting route with little impact. Can't imagine owner Dan Gilbert's going to stand idly by much longer. It may be time for GM Chris Grant to pull the trigger on a chemistry-altering deal.
Are the kids all right in OKC?
He would, on more than one occasion, be ticked off as he drove along Interstate 44.
"You tried to stay positive," Jeremy Lamb recalled late Thursday night. "Sometimes you were upset, about the drive more than the game."
But Lamb is staying put in Oklahoma City this season, one of three young players that have cracked the Thunder's rotation this season. And, if the first month of the season is any indication, they're going to continue getting looks throughout the season.
The 21-year-old Lamb was one of the key pieces the Thunder got back from Houston in the James Harden trade last season, and is backing up Thabo Sefolosha at the two. Third-year point guard Reggie Jackson was thrust into a starting role during the playoffs after Westbrook's meniscus tear, and more than held his own. And rookie center Steven Adams, the Thunder's first-round Draft pick, has earned minutes immediately with his hustle and board work.
The Thunder's not likely to ever find a single player as good as Harden to be their third leg of Kevin Durant/Westbrook triad. They have always managed their team with the idea of developing young players, because after giving Durant and Westbrook max deals, and giving Serge Ibaka a $48 million extension last year, there's just not going to be a lot of money for anyone else.
So, having three young players on their rookie deals for at least the next two years is a necessity, not a luxury.
Lamb helped Connecticut win a national championship in 2010 before being taken in the first round by Houston, so he's used to big moments. He didn't hesitate when Jackson passed him the ball late in the Thunder's fourth-quarter comeback win over Washington two weeks ago. Lamb drained a clutch 3-pointer that helped OKC tie the game in regulation.
"I don't know how he feels about it," Durant said. "I haven't asked him about it. But it's confident out there when he's out on the court. I always just try to give him encouragement no matter what, tell him to keep shooting, tell him to keep being aggressive. Let him make mistakes. Because that's how I learned, and that's how everybody learns in this league. He's going to make some mistakes, but he's getting better."
It would normally be hard to believe that so many young players could earn the trust of veterans who's been to The Finals so quickly. But the vibe in OKC is the same as it is in San Antonio -- no surprise, given that Sam Presti learned his trade with the Spurs before becoming the Thunder's general manager.
"They don't got to prove themselves to us," Westbrook said. "They've got to play. They're going to make mistakes just like the rest of us did. They just have to go out every night and compete."
Lamb got used to every nook and cranny of those 90-plus miles between Oklahoma City and Tulsa last season, when he was an Oklahoma City Thunder rookie, but really, was a Tulsa 66er. All last season, Lamb went back and forth, up and down, between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, playing sporadically for the Thunder -- but significantly for the 66ers, the NBA Development League team and Thunder affiliate.
And, in OKC, that's important.
No one utilizes or believes more in using its D-League team than the Thunder. Last season, OKC led the NBA in D-League assignments, using it 40 times, far outpacing Houston (16 assignments) and San Antonio (14). The 66ers are, basically, a second NBA team for OKC, used to give the Thunder's young prospects playing time.
Lamb played in 21 games for Tulsa, second only to center Daniel Orton (now in Philadelphia) among players who shuttled back and forth. He averaged 21.0 ppg for the 66ers, and played in the D-League playoffs. The Thunder knew it likely wouldn't be able to re-sign Kevin Martin, who OKC acquired -- with Lamb -- in the Harden deal. So Lamb got ready for his shot. Sometimes, his mother and sister would come along for the ride, and listen to him grumble.
"Everyone told me, my time will come," Lamb said. "Be patient. I used that time to sharpen my skills, get better at my skills."
Jackson's waited a little longer. He was a rookie, a late first-rounder in 2011, when the Thunder reached The Finals against Miami, not getting much time at all as he learned the ropes. But OKC veterans like Nazr Mohammad put the word out that the kid was getting things done in practice, and that he was going to be good.
"It was tough," Jackson said. "A guy like Nazr told me to be patient, just continue to work, and my time would come. Nazr and Royal Ivey were my vets. I give them a lot of credit for not letting me go haywire ... just preaching to me on road trips that my hard work was going to pay off."
His chance came, though not in the way anyone in OKC would want, when Patrick Beverley ran into Westbrook's knee in the first round. With Westbrook out, Jackson became the starter. It wasn't always smooth, but Jackson played big in the Game 6 series-clincher against Houston, finishing with 17 points, sevem rebounds and eight assists in 44 minutes.
The encouragement has continued this season, which started with Jackson starting while Westbrook completed his rehab, but has now stabilized around 20-25 minutes as his backup -- though Jackson started Sunday against Utah as Westbrook got a night off.
"Sometimes you get down on yourself when you don't play well," Jackson said. "Perk (Kendrick Perkins) is one of the biggest advocates of being aggressive all the time."
The Thunder raised some eyebrows when taking Adams so high in the first round (the unprotected pick coming from Houston, via Toronto, as part of the Harden deal). Just 20, the New Zealand native was a freak athlete at Pitt, but was incredibly raw. But OKC pulled the trigger and took the 7-footer, viewing him as the team's center of the future.
Adams is still raw. He's still struggling with screen-and-roll defense. But he throws his body around (getting a double-double against Detroit's big frontcourt) and he seems to have a nose for the ball. Plus, he's an amazingly good sport.
In November, of course, a winning team like the Thunder doesn't have any major issues. The vets may not be as charitable in May and June; the minutes may not be as plentiful. But for Oklahoma City to get back to the biggest stage in the next couple of years, it will need one or two of its 1990s-born generation to come through. (Good Lord, I'm old.)
"I think they're doing a great job of coming out every single day in practice, and learning, and listening," Durant said. "They've done a good job. So I always trust in them, always believe in them, no matter what, whether they have a good game or a bad game. I always believe in them."
The N Word, Vol. MCMLXXVII. From David Gomez:
Having never studied history, languages or English at any level after high school I might be way off base in what I am about to write, but nevertheless I'll take the leap.
I'm a big fan of your work but something you wrote in your last Morning Tip got me thinking. Specifically the following phrase: "The word only has power as long as people keep using it".
Racists and racism will exist regardless of the words used so eliminating that word from our vocabulary would not do much as far as eliminating racism from society. So, then, perhaps the real purpose of eliminating the use of the word is to prevent hurting and insulting people through its use. Because the word is ugly and the word is hurtful, if we don't use it people can't be harmed by it.
But can this ever be true? I mean do words themselves have power? Or do we give them that power based on the context in which they are used? Why is the word so hurtful? Because of its meaning, its history and its connotations.
It is the meaning of the word that is terrible and thus I think there is a better way to get rid of this ugly word. I propose a different phrase: "The word only has power as long as we give it power". I feel that by censoring it, by showing fear to a word we are giving meaning to the word and empowering it.
Every time an academic or a journalist has to write or say the n-word, the c-word or the f-word, we empower these words. It is incredible the power these words have, regardless of context people fear them. Like in an interview in which Samuel L. Jackson asked a reporter to say the word; the reporter was petrified in fear even thought the context in which it would have been used would have been innocent.
I'd like to think that we are making progress in making the world a better place, I'd like to think that today the world is a little bit less racist than it was yesterday, and that tomorrow it will be a little less racist that it is today. So I don't want to see people being hurt and offended by words, we should be hurt and offended by the meaning this word conveys, but by showing fear and censoring the word itself we are empowering it, giving it a more powerful meaning and thus hurting and offending more people than we should.
Sorry about the essay, it's just something that I was thinking about all day and would like to hear your thoughts on. As mentioned before, I'm a big fan of you and not just when you write about basketball, so keep up the excellent work!
Thank you, David, for your kind words about me, and for your thoughtful words on this subject. But I'm not changing my mind on this. We can't erase 400 years of brutality and persecution that was personified by that word. We can never reduce the power of that word. The only thing we can do is remove it from the language, just as a thousand words before it fell out of favor for one reason or another. Things are much better between the races than they were 40 years ago, I know. But white people and black still have a long way to go with one another in this country, and this is one thing that keeps getting in the way -- between us, and among ourselves.
I think the Vulcans would have a contrary opinion. From Zane Angelo:
I have a quick question for you. In recent years it seems like the Trail Blazers have been largely ignored (except for their injury woes). Of course, they also lost a lot, so it was understandable. This year, however, they seem one of the most ignored teams in the league and they are 8-2 as of this writing. I know that Portland/Oregon is not the biggest NBA market by any means, but why does it seem like most large sports sites (including NBA.com) seem to totally ignore their recent success? Does no one give it any credibility? Is it just not a large enough market to create content for? Most small-market teams are usually not covered as heavily as their large market counterparts, but successful ones such as OKC and Indiana, or even some small market teams not doing well (Memphis, Phoenix, Cleveland) do get a lot of national coverage. Why is it that teams like the Trail Blazers, Hawks, and Timberwolves (sort of) are so blatantly ignored despite their success?
I do not accept your premise, Zane. I wrote about Portland last week and the Wolves this week. I have written more about Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, all the drama surrounding Kevin Pritchard's still-unexplained firing, the hiring (and firing) of Rich Cho, and on and on. I wrote about Flip Saunders taking over in Minnesota this summer and I did a Q and A with the Wolves' new GM, Milt Newton. And I know my colleagues at NBA.com have written a lot as well. I have found, over the years, that what fans think we do and write about their teams is not at all the same as what we actually do and write about their teams.
Plus, every kid in attendance gets an everlasting gobstopper. From Charles Planck:
As we enter the way-too-long season of many, many meaningless games, why not spice things up?
(1) As of Dec. 31 each season, the 6 teams with the worst won/loss records are demoted to the Remedial D (Dismal) League. Top 24 teams continue to play each other. D-Leaguers play each other and teams from the other Real D (Developmental) League. At end of regular season, top two Dismal Leaguers have play-in games against two lowest seed qualifiers for playoffs within the 24 -- one game eliminations.
This automatically (A) makes all League games fiercely competitive until Dec 31, (B) makes subsequent games of the top 24 more competitive every night, since the bottom feeders are gone, and (C) gives Dismal Leaguers a real incentive to throw off their embarrassing status by having the dramatic possibility of re-entering triumphantly as Playoff teams. Almost no team's position would be secure. There might need to be revenue-sharing of the 24 League team's gate receipts with those of the Dismal 6, but who knows, since their games would be more contested, on average, maybe crowds would stay up.
(2) Rotate All Star Game formulas each year: Under 25 years old vs. over. Left-handers vs. right. U.S. born vs international. College grads vs. early-leavers (or never-enrolleds). The whole weekend is a jokey hack-around sequence anyway; why not make it about different sorts of bragging rights every year?
(3) Eliminate the religious touching of hands with all [!] teammates after free throws. This is as bad as MLB batters and their always loose hitting gloves, or pitchers and their interminable fidgeting.
Interesting, if (mostly) unworkable ideas, Charles! Your "Dismal 6" notion, of course, is a version of relegation, a staple of soccer leagues around the world, including the English Premier League, where the three worst teams are sent out of the EPL into the country's second-best league, the Football League Championship, and the Championship's three best teams are promoted to the EPL. Of course, the details are a little stickier. Relegated teams lose millions of dollars in revenue -- most notably, their share of television revenues -- when they're sent down. They are compensated somewhat by so-called "parachute payments" from the EPL, a form of revenue sharing. If you've paid any attention at all to the machinations between the NBA's relative haves and have-not teams, you know how hard it was to get the likes of the Lakers and Knicks to agree to an enhanced revenue sharing plan a couple of years ago.
Now, you'd like to add another layer? But even with the parachute payments, relegated soccer teams have to cut player salaries immediately -- something not likely to occur in a league like the NBA where almost every player's salary is fully guaranteed. (Good luck getting the union to change that!) And, players in the EPL often have escape clauses in their contracts that allow them to leave a relegated team. So, let's play out your scenario. If, say, the Magic was relegated to the "Dismal 6" on Jan. 1, and was facing the loss of millions in revenue, Orlando's management would likely have to cut a player or two. Hopefully for the Magic, it could cut someone who wouldn't make a difference on the court. But what if it couldn't? What if, all of a sudden, Orlando had to get rid of a Nic Vucevic or a Tobias Harris to pay the bills?
How'd you like to work in the marketing department on Jan. 2? How'd you like to try and sell new season ticket packages then, or get corporate sponsors to try and renew their deals for next year? (No, we'll be back in the NBA...maybe.) In addition, EPL stadiums are not often multiple-use venues like NBA arenas, so a changing schedule doesn't create the headaches that it would if, all of a sudden, the Magic weren't playing the NBA teams they were scheduled to play. Those dates are baked in months in advance. I'm not saying it would be impossible to change at the last minute, but it would be very, very difficult. As for your All-Star and free throw ideas ... I'd have no problem giving 'em a whirl.
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(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) Kevin Love (19.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, .406 FG, .724 FT): Could be wearing down a bit with heavy work load at both ends the first month. Second wind this week with a few days off?
2) LeBron James (18.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, .486 FG, .810 FT): Scored 22 points Saturday, the 508th straight game he has scored in double figures, tying him with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the fifth-longest such streak in league history. The top four: Michael Jordan (866 straight games), Abdul-Jabbar (who had another streak of 787 in a row), Karl Malone (575) and Moses Malone (526).
3) Chris Paul (23.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 15 apg, .516 FG, .750 FT): Already running away with the league lead in assists at more than 12 a game, a title he hasn't won since 2008-09.
4) Kevin Durant (28.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, .436 FG, .816 FT): Durant's new agent came all the way to OKC to visit his star client Thursday. It's what fledgling agents have to do to make sure they don't lose their new clients. And, just to make Durant feel more at home, he brought his wife.
5) Dwight Howard (18 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 3.3 bpg, .690 FG, .609 FT): If you gave Kevin McHale sodium pentathol, he'd admit he'd take 61 percent from the foul line from Howard right now for the rest of the season.
6 -- Consecutive home games the Knicks lost (Minnesota, Charlotte, San Antonio, Houston, Atlanta, Indiana) in November, giving them a winless month at home.
5 -- Oklahoma City fans who have made halfcourt shots since last March, winning $20,000 each, after 33-year-old high school teacher Brad Brucker banked in another 46-footer during the Thunder-Clippers game Thursday. Brucker teaches business and personal finance at Piedmont High School in OKC.
3 -- Free throws the Suns took Sunday night in their win over Orlando, making just one. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Phoenix became the first NBA team in 37 years -- since November, 1977 -- to win a game in which it made just one free throw.
1) The Raptors, as of this morning, are in first place in the Atlantic Division. (Yes, they're 6-7. What's your point?) The Raptors, as of this morning, would host a first-round playoff series in Toronto. Put me down for Air Canada Center in late April, skip!
2) Anthony Davis, currently leading the league in PER, needs to get more pub for his great start to the season for the Pelicans. New Orleans, currently .500, could be one Lottery win away from being a really interesting team next season.
3) We're less than a month into the season, but the Bobcats look like an entirely different team under Steve Clifford.
4) If the Knicks haven't inquired about Kwame Brown, they should. They're desperate for bigs who play any kind of defense; the former number one overall pick has never done much of anything offensively, but he can still guard people and he can move.
5) Friend of the Tip Bob Hurley, Sr., the Hall of Fame Coach at St. Anthony's High School in New Jersey, is embarking on a fundraising drive to try and put the school, which almost shut down due to budget problems a couple of years ago, on solid financial footing more permanently. Coach Hurley formally began the campaign last Wednesday at Madison Square Garden before the Knicks-Pacers game and friends of the program (full disclosure: and friends of mine) have started a website, www.stanthony2020.com, to accept donations.
The hope is that the website and the anecdotes about Coach Hurley will compel people to give, especially on Dec. 3, known as Giving Tuesday -- a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday and their excesses of spending on ourselves and loved ones.
Look at the website. And then, give if you can. The school, and the man, are worth your time and sacrifice.
1) I thought Black Friday was the day after Thanksgiving, not the week before. Ugh. What a horrible night for the NBA.
2) The season is still young. But there are red flags all over the Nets, 3-10 after losing at home to Detroit -- from injuries that were a fear with a team comprised of older veterans, to criticism of Jason Kidd as a coach (not, in fairness, coming from within the organization), to Paul Pierce's horrific shooting slump. There is one thing they can control, however: when Brook Lopez is back up and running, they must forget about being egalitarian and run everything through him. He's their best player. By a lot.
3) Oh, by the way: Gotham is a combined 6-19 as of this morning. By contrast, Los Angeles is 17-12, the Lakers have won three straight and Kobe's coming.
4) The dysfunction in the players' union during the lockout was worse than I thought, if Billy Hunter's court filings last week are any indication.
5) My opinion of Jack Taylor, the Grinnell College (Division III) basketball star who scored more than 100 points in a game for a second time last week, has not changed. Any great player -- any one -- could score 100 in a game if he or she gets to take all the shots. Taylor took 70 shots en route to his 109 points against Crossroads College last week. And I don't think that's what basketball should be about -- one person getting to take all the shots. Basketball, as Phil Jackson says so often, is a flow game when played well, with the ball moving from player to player in an attempt to get the best possible shot. That is not what happens when one person shoots 70 times. It's interesting, I suppose, but it's not basketball.
6) There is a school of thought among some, today, that we need to "get over" the Kennedy Assassination, because it was 50 years ago last Friday. There are those who ask, why keep reliving this horrible event? What do we get out of it? Respectfully, y'all are crazy. There are a handful of seminal events in our country's history, on which you can literally see the nation's fortunes turn, from Lincoln's assassination to the Stock Market Crash, to Pearl Harbor and 9/11. The murder of Martin Luther King. And November 22, 1963. I don't even have to tell you what that day means. You know. The reason we can't "get over" it is because those who were alive that day and were old enough to remember what was happening were profoundly changed by it. It is hard to "get over" what was either the act of a singularly unimportant man, who shattered the confidence of a nation in murdering its president, or the work of a darker conspiracy involving still-uncertain actors. (I say this not to foment new arguments, because after all these years I really don't know.) I will never "get over" 9/11. I would not ask or expect others to "get over" what happened in Dealey Plaza.
He had trouble opening his mouth, having had Tony Allen's shoe inserted into it the other day. An occasional job hazard for Chris Paul, who has run through most of them in his career as one of the league's premier point guards, and who has single-handedly reversed the fortunes of the Clippers.
(Perhaps, one could argue, Blake Griffin's initial presence in L.A. made the idea of staying in L.A. more palatable for Paul when he was traded there in 2011, in that bizarre, Commissioner-induced deal from New Orleans.) Paul's influence on the franchise has been well-documented, up to and including his desire that Doc Rivers be hired as coach to replace Vinny Del Negro last summer. Once the Clippers got Rivers in another Commissioner-induced trade, from Boston, Paul didn't even bother testing free agency, agreeing to a $100 million max deal.
He's gotten off to the best start of his career, setting an NBA record for consecutive points and assist double-doubles to start the season, 13, breaking Magic Johnson's record. With new teammates J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, the Clippers are deeper and more versatile than they've ever been. But that will mean little for Paul, one of the sorest of losers, if he can't lead Los Angeles further in the playoffs than a first- or second-round series. You want to know how far the Clippers are behind the Lakers? Forget the Lakers' 16 franchise championships, or their 16 Finals losses. (Think of that! Thirty-two Finals appearances since 1949!) The Lakers have lost the Western Conference (or Division) finals an additional 10 times.
The Clippers have never reached the conference finals once in their various incarnations in Buffalo, San Diego and L.A. That is the mountain Chris Paul is trying to scale. A sore mouth is the least of his concerns.
Me: You ever been on a roll like this?
Chris Paul: What?
Me: The double-double streak.
CP: I guess not. I don't think so. The big thing is, what are we? Eight and four? Seven and four? (They were, at the time, 8and 4.) I don't care about how I'm doing personally; we've got to win games.
Me: The starters have been good defensively, but there's been a decided dropoff when the reserves come in. What do they have to do to keep that defensive consistency?
CP: (Wednesday), we got off to a really good start. They got back in the game. But the best sequence of our game in Minnesota was done by our bench. Jared Dudley, those guys competed, kept us in the game. So what you learn in professional sports is, some nights, the starters are going to bring it, and some nights, the bench is going to bring it. And every team is trying to find that complete game. We're still trying to do that.
Me: What have the new guys brought to the team so far that you needed?
CP: Man, I think what we get from J.J. is a lot of grit. I don't think a lot of people recognize that when they see him play, how hard he plays, how much he hates to lose. And JD, he's just a great pro. He plays hard. He knows his job. He's just a great guy to have on your team, and in the locker room. That's what makes our team special. What gives us an opportunity is that we have a great mix of guys. We've got, me and DeAndre (Jordan), we're probably the hot heads. We sort of go nuts in here. But then we've got guys that bring the calm, all the different
Me: What's the process been like with Doc?
CP: It's been great. It's been great. Even though it doesn't look like it sometimes during the games. You would think that we've been together a lot longer than we have. Obviously we're getting to know each other, as far as play calls and things like that. During the game, there may be times when we disagree on some things. But, man, I love it. You just learn to appreciate him, because he wants to win as bad as you do. There's been some times after games when we've laughed about a play, or possession, or whatnot. But he pushes me, too. That's what I like. I've been shooting the ball horrible. I mean, horrible, the last five, seven games. And he yells at me. He gets mad at me when I don't shoot. And I need that.
Me: For star players, with any coach, there's that fine line between challenging them and ticking them off. How does Doc move along that line?
CP: I'm not the first pretty good player that he's coached. We've also been given the chance to know each other. And it's not just Doc. It's the assistant coaches as well. Those guys, we have a great mix of our coaches. All of them know their role; they don't try to step on anybody else's toes. Armond (Hill) is great. All of them have their different personalities. TLue (Tyronn Lue) is a guy I've gotten close to. And it's funny, I played against TLue. I played against TLue, I think, four or five years. His basketball knowledge, how much TLue challenges me every game, every possession, is something that I need.
Me: Do you pull Blake off to the side on occasion?
CP: Yeah, I do. But you know, the biggest thing in the growth of Blake -- and I'm not sure everybody sees it like I do -- is that he pulls me to the side. He used to do it every now and then, but now he does it pretty often. I don't usually tell him -- I probably shouldn't tell him -- but I love that. Blake'll pull me to the side, tell me what he thinks I need to do, or 'come on, C, be aggressive.' I think that's where me and him have grown over these three years, and why we have a chance every night. As long as me and him are on the same page, everybody else is ready to roll.
Me: Who polices the locker room?
CP: Oh, man, it's a little bit of everybody. A little bit of everybody. We really have a team. I think two of the people on our team that people don't talk about much, but have two of the biggest voices -- whenever they say something, everybody listens -- is Willie Green and Antawn Jamison. Those guys don't play much, haven't played in a few games, but they work hard, and they pay attention to everything.
Me: Chuck has been critical of Blake, as I'm sure you know -- says he has to be more physical so that teams don't pick on him. What do you say about that?
CP: I think Blake is fine. I think Blake is fine. He's been playing extremely well. That's my teammate. That's my guy. Chuck's not in our locker. That's why I'm sure he gets paid good money by TNT to do what he does. But until he steps foot in there, he's cool.
Me: So what was going on a couple of weeks ago when Serge Ibaka and him squared off?
CP: I don't know. I only know what's going on in our locker room. Blake is cool. He's playing. He's playing extremely well. He's stayed in all of our games, and stuff like that. That's why I need him on the court. All of that other stuff, people can say what they want to. As long as he's on the court, we're good to go.
Me: Do you think that you finally have everything that a true championship contender needs?
CP: I do. I do. Obviously, I'm a little biased. But it's going to take a lot of hard work. It's funny, because I don't know how many interviews we do before different games and stuff this year, but one thing that we're going to say all year long is that it's all about the process. We talk about it as a team. Some nights, we're going to play well, and we're going to lose. Some nights, we're going to play not so well, and we're going to win. It's still about the process. You want to be playing the right way regardless.
"I really don't compare myself with other owners. I'll bet you I'm more patient than Mikhail [Prokhorov] is of his team. Mostly, I think it does not pay to be impatient, because you destabilize your team. It's not like the players don't want to win, it's not like the owner doesn't want to win; everybody wants to win, so it's a question of: Can you get there? With Mike, I think he can get us there. Mostly, I think Carmelo [Anthony] can get us there, and the other players can get us there, they're going to have to jell and I think Mike can do a lot to get that to happen. Because he has their respect."
-- Knicks owner James Dolan, in a rare interview last week with the New York Post, when asked if he is more patient than the average team owner.
"For me, I realize I have about 18 months left of basketball and I want the most out of this that I can possibly get and I don't know if that's going to be one game or the vast majority of what's left, but I have a long life without basketball, so I don't want to give in too soon."
-- Steve Nash, refuting on Friday a Tweet by Peter Vescey that he was contemplating retirement because of the pain in his back that has kept him out of the Lakers' lineup so far this season.
"I feel like I'm letting my teammates down. It's not fair to them for me to be in and out of the lineup. They've got a good thing going. I'm really ready for it to be over with, but it's part of the game."
-- Bobcats center Al Jefferson, on his ankle problems that have kept him out of Charlotte's lineup the last week and a half. He returned to action Friday against Phoenix and had nine points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.
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