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These 10 storylines resonate loudest as we review 2013


POSTED: Dec 30, 2013 11:44 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Ray Allen's big 3-pointer in Game 6 of The Finals changed one potential 2013 storyline.

It was an odd, unfinished year in the NBA.

Seemingly at every turn, there was something not accomplished, something not completed. Tim Duncan didn't get his fifth ring; Kobe Bryant didn't play a second of the playoffs; Derrick Rose didn't play a second of the 2012-13 season. The Eastern Conference imploded at the start of this season, the natural consequence of years of neglect and poor decisions, while the West was harder than ever to navigate.

Yet there were great and fun moments. The Warriors became must-see TV, with the Splash Brothers -- Steph Curry and Klay Thompson -- perhaps becoming exactly what their coach, Mark Jackson, said they were: the best shooting backcourt in history. Playing in front of wondrous crowds in Oakland, Golden State's regular homecourt edge was deepened as one of the NBA's worst-performing franchises actually started winning, and got to the 2013 West semis.

Indiana finally put the Brawl of Auburn Hills behind it with a young team and a young coach that played (and coached) like graybeards. The Pacers didn't win games as much as they slowly choked the life out of foes. Roy Hibbert and Paul George became stars and Indiana took Miami to Game 7 of the East finals.

The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard and the Bucks' Larry Sanders became darlings of the blogosphere. Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov kept spending money and hiring new coaches. Miami started winning on Feb. 3, and didn't lose again until March 27, ripping off 27 straight wins and threatening the Lakers' all-time win streak of 33 straight.

And it was Miami that won the last game of the season, after an incredible seven-game Finals with the grizzled Spurs. San Antonio gave everything it had, only to come up 29 seconds short in Game 6. It was a second ring for LeBron James and Chris Bosh, a third for Dwyane Wade, an eighth for Patrick James Riley, the Architect, who made winning his own personal Moby Dick, a beast that he occasionally can wrestle to the ground.

With that literary effluvia in your ears, here are the top 10 stories of the past year:

10) Triumph of the Nerds: At every level of the NBA, the victory of the advanced statistics movement couldn't have been clearer in 2013. With incoming Commissioner Adam Silver's encouragement, the NBA embraced the notion that more numbers are better by springing for the implementation of SportVU cameras in every arena, to get every stat imaginable (and there will be more that have not yet been imagined) to fans, who can't get enough. Phoenix, Philadelphia and Denver went all-in, hiring general managers who are believers in finding new ways to look at old numbers. Memphis, with analytics people fully in charge, changed its coach, in large measure, because its front office demanded someone who'd blend the advanced numbers with his gut. Boston brought in a new coach, Brad Stevens, who believes strongly in the new numbers. And the MIT Sloan Sports Conference, the brainchild of Houston GM Daryl Morey, is scheduled to be sold-out again in February. Silver and a who's who of owners, movers and shakers are among this year's panelists. This is not a judgment. The new analytics are good tools to use. And they are a measurement of how the game has truly changed in the last five years.

Aldridge 1-on-1 with Iverson

9) The Final Answer: He hadn't played in the NBA since 2010, but Allen Iverson's official retirement from the league in November was still a wistful, bittersweet moment for one of the league's most dynamic players. Iverson was a human catalyst; he caused reactions wherever he walked, both good and bad. He was raw, but rarely did someone burn to compete and win as much as he did. He was impossible at times to deal with, and he should have had a much more dignified exit from the league. But he probably never would have made the pros if he'd ever taken his foot off the brake, compromised, or made nice with people he didn't care for much. He influenced a generation of players that followed, both in how they looked and how they played. Can you imagine a young AI today, with these rules, that don't allow anybody to touch anybody? Goodness.

8) Head Games:The travails of Royce White, one of the Rockets' three first-round picks in the 2012 Draft, shed light on the notion of just who is in charge of a person's course of treatment -- employer or employee? White, whose anxiety disorder was well-known before Houston took him, insisted that he should control the means and methodology of his treatment, and that an independent doctor be used to determine if he was in condition to practice or play on a given day. The Rockets insisted that he work with them and the people they believed could best help him deal with his condition. A series of fits and starts, during which time White never actually played for the Rockets, ended without satisfaction for anyone when Houston traded White to Philadelphia in June. He didn't make it out of the preseason, getting waived by the 76ers in October, and has yet to resurface with another team. But the issues he raised about individual treatment for serious illnesses still resonate.

Westbrook Out: Impact on OKC

7) Hoops, and the Harm: A season defined by its injuries to star players is a season that is diminished. So went the 2012-13 season, one played without Rose, recovering from a torn ACL, and which saw the likes of Bryant (torn Achilles'), Russell Westbrook (torn meniscus), Kevin Love (broken hand), Dirk Nowitzki (recovery from arthroscopy), Rajon Rondo and Danilo Gallinari (torn ACLs), Danny Granger (knee), John Wall (kneecap) and others out for extended periods. Unfortunately, the trend has continued into this season, with Rose and Westbrook again out with knee injuries. Plus, Al Horford is likely out for the season with the Hawks after tearing his pectoral muscle last week

First-year NBA head coaches progress report

6) A Disturbance in the Force: Coaches get fired. That's never a surprise in the NBA. But at the end of last season, three coaches that not only won, but won big -- the Clippers' Vinny Del Negro, the Nuggets' George Karl and the Grizzlies' Lionel Hollins -- were dispatched. Del Negro made the playoffs in two of his three seasons in L.A. Karl won a franchise-record 57 regular season games and was named NBA Coach of the Year. Hollins was the Grizzlies' all-time winningest coach, and Memphis made the Western Conference finals. But that didn't matter to their respective team owners, who made changes, and made it clear that good -- even real good -- may not be good enough in the future.

Garnett, Pierce, Terry Traded to Brooklyn

5) Here Lies Ubuntu: Danny Ainge went on record more than a year ago and said he wouldn't do what the Celtics did a generation earlier, when Boston wouldn't pull the trigger on a deal that would have sent Larry Bird to Indiana and Kevin McHale to Dallas in the twilight of their careers. Given the chance, Ainge would not be sentimental about breaking up the aging core of the Celtics team that won the franchise's last championship, in 2008. And he wasn't. He dealt Paul Pierce, who well could be on the team's Mount Rushmore (I am assuming Bill Russell, Bird and John Havlicek are the other three?) and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn, for a barge full of expiring contracts (save Gerald Wallace's) and Draft picks. He then negotiated the departure of coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers when Rivers decided he didn't want to undertake rebuilding in Beantown after all. Ainge then shocked most of the basketball world by hiring Butler's Stevens to take over, and giving him six years to turn things around.

Dwight Howard: I Will Rise Again

4) Dwight Takes Flight: It didn't take long to see that the Era of Good Feeling in Los Angeles was a pipe dream -- indeed, a disaster. With every passing week, the animosity between Dwight Howard and Bryant deepened, two stars who would never, in a thousand years, understand or get each other. It did not help that Howard was just six months removed from back surgery, and that he was far from his usual dominant self. But the personalities of the two stars, and the inability of coach Mike D'Antoni to figure out how to best utilize them together, left the Lakers in a lurch. Howard was miserable, and had options; the Lakers became desperate, and did something that the franchise never had to do -- it publicly begged a star in the prime of his career to stay. Howard didn't, opting to play with James Harden in Houston after the Rockets successfully wooed him with tales of their own history of dynamic big men. It was validation for Morey, who'd gamed the system for three years waiting for the moment to strike -- and caught the big fish. But it also had the feeling of a sea change in pro basketball -- the new CBA, a new generation of players, the Lakers' brand no longer the key that unlocked all doors. The franchise will surely be great again, but it may never regain its cache.

3) Jason Collins Comes Out: We all knew that there were gay players in the NBA, just as there are in all other pro sports, and at your job, and at your school. But unlike most of those other places, a pro baller is a public person, and the conventional wisdom was that there was just too much resistance to anyone coming out of the closet and announcing that they were gay -- even in a league as (relatively) progressive as the NBA. The belief was it would be several more years before someone had the courage to acknowledge they were homosexual and a pro athlete. Collins shattered all those notions in one historic first-person account to Sports Illustrated.

Sacramento Welcomes Kings Back

2) The Kings Stay Put: What Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and a group of true believers accomplished in a four-month span to keep the city's one major pro sports franchise from bolting to Seattle was nothing short of a civic miracle. Seattle had everything the NBA wanted in a potential buyer -- a small group of billionaires, including Microsoft co-founder Steve Ballmer, an arena plan that had local and regional support, a dedicated fan base with a history of supporting an NBA team and a top-20 television market. Putting a team back in Seattle would also make whole one of David Stern's darkest moments, allowing the Sonics to leave town under pretenses that were, at best, questionable, for Oklahoma City. Nothing against the people of Sacramento, who'd supported that team year after horrible year. But the deal that the Seattle people put together, with local and regional political support behind them, was just too good to pass up. A new building, in a top 12 TV market, making Seattle whole after the Sonics were moved to Oklahoma City, would make things right between the Commish and the Emerald City. Besides, no one could get all the parties together in California politics that would be necessary to provide the political support to get a new arena built in Sac. Until Johnson, against all odds, pulled it off, making it about much more than an arena. His pitch to local and regional business people was that this was an opportunity to transform both the city and the state, bringing in money from all over to line up behind the Kings. With the league's considerable clout behind him, the NBA's Board of Governors voted to approve the sale of the team to a group led by Silicon Valley magnate Vivek Ranadive, who became the first Indian-born majority owner of an NBA team. Ranadive's plan was, and is, to make the Kings a global brand along the likes of Manchester United and the Dallas Cowboys. The team hasn't cooperated, getting off to the same putrid start it has the last few years. But there's finally NBA stability in California's capital city.

The Finals: Game 6 Micro-Movie

1)The Accidental Dynasty: It would be great to write about how LeBron James has slayed all his figurative dragons and how he stands astride the NBA, his individual and team dominance unchallenged. It also would be fiction. The Heat indeed won their second straight Finals title, this time in seven grueling games over the Spurs. But there never should have been a Game 7. If not for one of the greatest clutch shots of all time, by Ray Allen -- not LeBron, or Dwyane Wade for that matter -- the Heat would have fallen in six games and all the questions James thought he'd never have to hear again would have been asked anew. But Allen did knock down that impossible three -- and, given a reprieve, James dominated Game 7 as all the great champions do, with 37 points and 12 rebounds, for his second straight Finals MVP award. By that margin, LeBron is Master of His Domain as 2014 begins, looking to join the rarefied company of Michael Jordan, the field entry of Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant, Russell and George Mikan as the only players to lead their respective teams to three-peats in league history. We will all be watching.

The Finals: Game 7 Micro-Movie

Speaking of which, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all who support the Tip and give me such good feedback, praise and criticism. I need all of it. And Happy Holidays/Happy New Year to:

The Commish and Long, Tall Adam -- performances through Feb. 1 only!

Chris Paul, Roger Mason, Steve Blake, Anthony Tolliver, Ron Klempner and everyone at the National Basketball Players' Association.

Bass, Frank, Coyle, Broussard.

Derrick Rose, Kobe, Rondo, Marc Gasol, Steve Nash, Danilo Gallinari, Larry Sanders, Nerlens Noel. Hope you're all out of triage soon and back on the court.

Carlisle, Rivers, Spoelstra, Terry Stotts, Rick Adelman, Scott Brooks, Thibs, Monty Williams.

Pop. Even at the end of the third quarter.

Lorenzo Brown, Draymond Green, Aaron Gray.

Matthew Dellavedova, Marcus Thornton, Luke Ridnour, John Henson.

D.J. Augustin, C.J. McCollum, O.J. Mayo, A.J. Price, C.J. Miles, J.J. Redick, P.J. Tucker, C.J. Watson.

Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, Elliot Williams, Lou Williams, Marvin Williams, Mo Williams, Shawne Williams.

Red Panda, Quick Change, Christopher, The Jesse White Tumblers.

Jimmy Butler, Otto Porter, Dion Waiters.

Glen Rice, Jr., John Salmons, Jeremy Lamb.

Stephen Curry, Seth Curry, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Jeff Teague, Marquis Teague, Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, Cody Zeller, Tyler Zeller, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Chris Smith, J.R. Smith.

John Wall, Paul Pierce, George Hill, Richard (Ringo) Jefferson. (I don't think his nickname really is Ringo; I needed someone named Richard, as in Richard "Ringo" Starr," to make the Beatles thing work.)

Goran Dragic, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, Marcin Gortat, Bernard James, Derek Fisher, Xavier Henry, Jeff Green, Tony Parker, David Lee, Josh McRoberts, Gary Neal, Corey Brewer, Jameer Nelson, Amir Johnson, Ben McLemore, Anderson Varejao, Beno Udrih, Joel Freeland, Tony Snell, Tony Wroten, James Jones, Anthony Davis, Andre Miller, Chandler Parsons, Kyle Korver, Rudy Gobert, Ian Mahinmi, Jon Leuer, Charlie Villaneuva.

Marv, Reggie, Steve, Kevin, Czar, C-Webb, 3-D, Bones, Kamla, Winer, Vince, Bones, Rodney, ReLo, Lonnie, Scooter, Tony, MD, Tara, Olivia and everyone behind the cameras and behind the scenes that makes Turner the best -- the best -- place I have ever worked. It doesn't seem like a job when it's with talented people like you.

And blessings to Bill Sharman, Walt Bellamy, Ray Williams, Joe C. Meriweather, Dean Meminger, Marv Wolfenson, Gia Allemand and Jerry Buss, as well as their families. May God hold all of you close, and may you be at peace.

DRIBBLES

Herb Kohl walked freely among the patrons Saturday night at Milwaukee's BMO Harris Bradley Center, a ballcap on his head, a smile on his face as he ate a light dinner, signed an autograph and contemplated his future.

"I'm not going to live forever," Kohl said.

And as such, he has begun the process of putting his affairs in order.

Last year, after serving three terms as a Democratic U.S. Senator, Kohl decided not to run for re-election in 2012, thinking it was better to get out while he was still well thought-of rather than be run out of the Senate on a rail. That same philosophy is behind his thinking with the Bucks, the team he's owned for almost 28 years.

Kohl is looking for new investors, to either buy a stake in the Bucks, or have the option to buy them outright at a later date. It is a pre-emptive move Kohl hopes will keep the Bucks in Milwaukee long after his ownership ends.

With the Kings safely in Sacramento for years to come after the sale of the team and a pledge for a new downtown arena, the Bucks are the only team in the NBA that has any question about its future. The Bucks' lease at Bradley Center, where they've played since 1988, runs out in 2017, and that makes them the one team that is vulnerable, potentially, to a move.

Kohl wants to head that off.

The Kings sold last May to Vivek Ranadive's group for an NBA record $535 million. There are any number of people who want to buy teams. Kohl could probably sell for even more -- if he didn't insist on the team remaining in Milwaukee as a condition of the sale.

It is the first -- and only -- time that Kohl has been serious about selling since he almost sold the team to Michael Jordan in 2003.

"He's certainly serious about selling it to someone, whether they're from Milwaukee or elsewhere in the country, as long as they're committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee," said Milwaukee Business Journal reporter Rich Kirchen, who's been covering the potential sale.

Even if Kohl can find a buyer, or investors, the league has insisted that Milwaukee get a new building to replace Bradley Center, one of the league's oldest arenas. Only Golden State's Oracle Arena, built in 1968 (but renovated in 1995) and Madison Square Garden, built in 1968 (and just renovated), are older. Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena and Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills also opened in '88.

"There's not a script for something like this," Kohl said. "You only do it once. So you figure it out as you go. But I know what I want to do. I want to keep the team in Milwaukee for the next generation. In order to do that, we have to get a new facility. We need a long-term lease."

The 78-year-old Kohl, who bought the team from Jim Fitzgerald in 1985, made his intentions official earlier this month, hiring the headhunter Allen and Company ("first class," one owner said Sunday) to seek out potential investors. The process could take up to a year, but Kohl is in no great hurry.

"My interest, as I said when I announced that the franchise was expanding ownership, if I got hit by a bus, there would be a real question about what would happen to the franchise," Kohl said. "So I want to strengthen the franchise. I want ownership to be more stable at this end. And I've said that anybody who is added to ownership or becomes part of ownership will have to have the same commitment that I have to keep the team in Milwaukee. So we have to get that done. Hopefully, we will."

There's plenty of corporate money in Milwaukee. Six Milwaukee-based companies made the Fortune 500 list this past year, from perennials like insurance company Northwestern Mutual, temporary employment fixture Manpower, motorcycle icon Harley Davidson and industrial automation giant Rockwell International to newcomer Joy Global, a mining company. Food behemoth Oscar Mayer and American Family Insurance are 80 minutes away in Madison.

And there are wealthy local individuals who could write the big checks the NBA likes owners to write. Local media have zeroed in on the likes of Brewers majority owner Mark Attanasio, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold -- whose wife is heiress to the Johnson Outdoors recreational products empire, and who lives in nearby Racine -- and former Bucks player Junior Bridgeman, who has become a major player in the restaurant game since retiring.

Bridgeman and Pistons guard Chauncey Billups bought 30 Wendy's locations in St. Louis in August, giving Bridgeman partial or total ownership of 196 Wendy's stores nationwide, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, making Bridgeman the second-biggest franchisee of Wendy's restaurants in the country.

But finding investors or potential outright buyers is likely the easy part. Getting the city and county to approve public financing for a new building is the major lift.

Kohl has said, and reiterated Saturday, that he's willing to make what he calls a "generous" personal contribution toward a new building, but needs some sort of public-private partnership.

"If I could write a check all by myself, I would," he said. "First of all, I can't. But it should be a community endeavor. I said I would make a generous contribution, and I will. But it should be a community project, and I think it will be. And it's only just starting."

It's part of the difficulties of smaller markets. The Knicks' parent company, Madison Square Garden -- helped, no doubt, by the property tax exemption it's held since 1982 -- privately financed the $1 billion renovation of the Garden. Warriors co-owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have committed to privately finance a $500 million building in San Francisco that they hope will open in 2017.

Kohl, though, is hoping for a deal similar to what Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson was able to hammer out for the Kings' new arena. The city pledged to contribute $258 million of the estimated $448 million building, with the Kings paying the rest, as well as any cost overruns. Supporters, as ever, said a new arena would lead to additional development of the downtown Sacramento area.

Kohl, who also seeks a downtown location for a new Bucks arena, believes the same could happen for Milwaukee.

"Sacramento -- that's a model, almost half and half," he said. "They were also helped by the drama with it all. They were so thankful they were able to keep the team; they were this far from losing it. I think they were more amenable to doing some public financing. But public financing is a hard thing to get done. There are some important public figures in Wisconsin who will be hurdles. So it ain't going to be done easily. But I think it will be done."

Currently, though, there is next to no political support in Milwaukee for public financing for a new Bucks arena. Governor Scott Walker will only get behind a measure if it is passed statewide via referendum, likely knowing there's no chance voters would pass it. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has expressed support for a new building, but has said it has to be at least partially financed regionally as well as by the city.

However, nearby Ozaukee and Racine counties have passed resolutions opposing using any regional tax money for a Bucks area. The Racine Journal-Times followed up with an April editorial, writing that it would be "extortion" to put tax dollars into a project.

"If the Bucks want a new arena, they should feel free to build it themselves," the paper wrote. "If that's not good enough, Seattle is still willing to play this game."

A new building in Milwaukee is currently priced at around $450 million, Kohl said.

"Whenever the issue of public financing comes up, people get their dander up," Kohl said. "I understand that. I appreciate that. But, my goal is to do everything in my power to keep the team here in Milwaukee, to keep Milwaukee an NBA city. I think it's important for Milwaukee to remain an NBA city. But in order to do that, we need a new building. So in a sense, we're going to get both. You can either stay in the NBA with a new building, or we're not going to stay in the NBA, and we won't have a new building. We'll get both or we'll get neither. So, I'm working on it. I'm working on it."

Milwaukee still has the advantage of incumbency. The league has made it clear with its work with the Kings that it wants teams to stay where they are. Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, during a September visit, said that the NBA's strong preference is to keep the team here -- but that a new arena was an imperative, given that the league thinks Bradley Center is a few thousand square feet short of ideal and that it lacks back-of-the-building amenities.

"The league has said to us, you have to build a new facility," Kohl said. "We understand that. This building is very well maintained. It's not like it's falling down in any way. But it's 25 years old. And before we get a new building it will probably be another four, five years. So the league has made it clear to us that we need a new building. And Milwaukee needs a new building."

But Kohl has limits. And Milwaukee has doubts.

"Probably in the city is where he'd get the most support, but if you put it to a referendum, I don't know if it would win," said Kirchen. "It doesn't help that the team has only made a real run in the playoffs, really once, in the last 20 years [reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2001], and that was more than 10 years ago. The fan base has sort of dwindled. They like Sen. Kohl, but they don't want to feed that perception of the millionaire players and millionaire owners. They feel they can build their own arena."

Kohl says he remains optimistic a deal will be made. The alternative, ultimately, would put the Bucks in danger of leaving the city they've called home since Milwaukee was granted an expansion franchise in 1968.

"I think it will facilitate getting to a new building, because it will free up some money, bring in people who are willing to invest in a new building, and provide some liquidity to myself," Kohl said. "But when it's all said and done, if I get us to the next generation -- not alone, but as part of getting us to the next generation in Milwaukee, which would mean a new building, and a successor in ownership, whether it would be immediate or down the road...if we can get the new building and ensure the team stays in Milwaukee, I've done my job."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

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

Heat vs. Trail Blazers

1) Miami [1] (3-1): There are nights where Chris Bosh is so disengaged and disinterested, and so awful, you wonder why the Heat keep him around. And then Bosh turns around and plays the way he did Saturday in Portland, with LeBron James injured and out, and you understand why coach Erik Spoelstra continues to say Bosh is the one guy Miami can't really do without. (By the way, that's seven game-tying or game-winning 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime for Bosh. In 10 attempts. That's pretty doggone clutch if you ask me.)

2) Oklahoma City [2] (3-0): OKC can spin it any way it wants: that's three surgeries for Russell Westbrook on the same knee in the last eight months. That is frightening.

3) Indiana [5] (2-0): Followed up loss in Miami with four straight wins, squeaking by an average of 22.8 per game.

4) Portland [3] (1-1): Tough last-second loss to the Heat on Saturday, but a month with wins over Indiana, the Thunder, Houston and the Clippers, five road wins in six games and an 11-3 overall mark with two games left is still pretty impressive.

5) San Antonio [6] (3-1): Kawhi Leonard's 3-pointers down significantly so far this season (29.9 percent through Sunday, after shooting 37 percent in each of his first two seasons).

Inside the NBA: Western Conference

6) Houston [7] (3-1): Dwight Howard may have won the Battle of Shaq, with the Diesel saying Thursday that Howard has every right to scream and yell at his Rockets teammates for not getting him the ball enough.

7) Golden State [8] (4-0): Still kicking the ball all over the place, but have put five straight wins together after Sunday's OT victory at Cleveland to start the Warriors' 12-day, seven-game road trip.

8) L.A. Clippers [4] (1-2): If the Clips are interested in Andrew Bynum, that would be a step backwards. If he couldn't handle playing for a team where there were no expectations, how would he handle returning to L.A. and being viewed as a contender's final piece?

9) Dallas [9] (2-1): Mavs' defense (20th in opponent field-goal percentage allowed; 16th in 3-point percentage allowed; tied for 18th in defensive rating) isn't near good enough for Dallas to be taken seriously in the West.

10) Atlanta [10] (2-2): There aren't five guys in the league who are more genuinely good people than Al Horford. Which makes what seems certain to be another season-ending injury to a torn pectoral muscle all the more lousy.

11) Phoenix [11] (2-1): Add Miles Plumlee to the list of Guys Playing for the Suns This Season that You Had No Idea Could Be Productive NBA Guys.

12) Minnesota [13] (2-0): Wolves close to finally being at full strength, with Chase Budinger's and Ronny Turiaf's season debuts possible in the next couple of weeks. That should stabilize what has been a very inconsistent bench.

13) Washington [15] (1-1): Dodged a major bullet when MRI Saturday showed no ligament damage for Bradley Beal after he had to be carried off the court in Minnesota Friday following a collision with Luc Mbah a Moute.

14) Denver [12] (0-3): Getting shaky in the Mile High: six straight losses, the franchise's longest skid in nine years.

15) New Orleans (2-1): Sometimes, a trade is so simple, so good for both teams, that it must be made. Houston dealing Omer Asik, a 2015 first and Terrence Jones (who both makes the trade work and makes taking on Asik's $14 million salary for next season worthwhile) to the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson and, say, Greg Stiemsma, is such a trade.

Dropped out: L.A. Lakers [14].

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Golden State (4-0): Steph Curry playing out o' his mind right now, and the Dubs are following his lead, moving to a season-high six games over .500.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Cleveland (0-4): Cavs can't close out games, they've lost seven of eight, and Bynum picks now to wig out -- probably for the last time along the Cuyahoga River. A very disappointing season so far.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Why can't teams in New York just rebuild, like everyone else has to?

If they were, say, the Charlotte Knicks, with a record this morning of 9-21, having lost back to back games to, um, Toronto, with no real hopes of being competitive this season and facing the prospect that their star player might walk after this season, wouldn't the choice be obvious? The Charlotte Knicks would start dealing their available assets and take a long, hard look at whether they'd move Carmelo Anthony before the trade deadline. And no one would fault them for it.

If they were, say, the San Antonio Nets, with a coach that looks perilously close to being in over his head, a team that simply hasn't clicked and key players already out for the season and/or on the shelf, wouldn't the path be clear? The San Antonio Nets would "reassign" their coach, make the best deals they could for whatever teams wanted their marquee names and look forward. And no one would say anything about it.

But the New York Knicks -- and, to a lesser extent, the Brooklyn Nets -- apparently do not have that option. You know the conventional wisdom, certainly. You can't rebuild in New York. The fans, both those who pay thousands for courtside seats at the Garden, and those who watch on TV, won't allow it. The media won't allow it. The Garden -- and, now, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov -- won't allow it.

Talking About the Knicks

Which seems silly.

Why on earth can't the Knicks be bad for a year? Maybe two? Especially in a year when there is so much potential reward in this year's Draft?

With the perception growing that Anthony is going to walk -- somewhere -- at season's end, when he becomes a free agent, why shouldn't New York control its most marketable asset? Why shouldn't they do like the Nuggets, who controlled how, when and for how much they'd trade Anthony when they sent him to New York in 2011 for players and picks that rebuilt the Nuggets in less than a year? Why not move Anthony now for as much as you can get -- including, presumably, a 2014 first-rounder that New York currently lacks -- hunker down for three and a half months, take your lumps, but be in a position to potentially get a difference-maker in the Draft?

After all, isn't that how the Knicks' last era of sustained excellence began -- with Dave DeBusschere pumping his fists after New York won the 1985 lottery, and the Knicks taking Patrick Ewing?

"The question is the value of the perception," said a longtime team executive who's worked in New York (I'm not saying for whom), and, like almost everyone else, asked not to be named.

"If you're selling a seat at three grand," the executive said, "your perception is that it's hard to have a [bleep] team, that people aren't going to watch. They may hold onto the ticket but they're not going to watch. So the question is what is the perception of a half-empty Garden? ... but there comes a point where you've patched the quilt so many times, it's just a series of patches. The question is, have they reached that point?"

GameTime: Knicks Analysis

Money is obviously a consideration. New York is estimated to gross more than $2 million per game at Madison Square Garden; if those fans start showing up as empty seats, that could cut deep into the bottom line. A company that just spent $1 billion renovating the Garden needs to get a return on that investment.

"Essentially, what it comes down to, if you're a paying customer, you're paying a premium price to see a product that has to be good," said a former team executive. "Therefore, you tend to do things to try to keep it where it is. You never say in New York that this is not working, we're going to get us a four or five year plan. Donnie Walsh got rid of some bad contracts, and I give him credit for that. But they wound up taking [Amar'e] Stoudemire, when everybody knew Stoudemire was a two, three-year player at best because of his knee. He saved them that first year. What they did for that one period of time, for whatever reason, they kept getting contracts, like the kid from Houston, Stevie Francis, and it put them in an awful position."

Indeed, the Knicks have gone through recent periods of rebuilding. The problem is, owner James Dolan and the executives at Madison Square Garden, the team's parent company, never seem to stick with the plan, or the architect of the plan, for very long.

They hired Isiah Thomas, who was president and general manager from 2003-06. But then they brought in Walsh, who took over for Thomas as president in 2008 and fired Thomas as coach after Thomas had been ordered to coach the team by Dolan, with whom he was, and is, a close friend.

Thomas, now a colleague of mine at NBA TV, had a lot of personnel misses in New York when he was in charge -- a $30 million contract for free agent center Jerome James, and a relationship with Stephon Marbury, his first major acquisition, in 2003, that turned toxic. And hiring Larry Brown, which seemed like a masterstroke in 2005, was a full-blown disaster by 2006.

But by the time Thomas left, the Knicks also had several young players on their roster that are still playing in the NBA: Zach Randolph, Trevor Ariza, Nate Robinson, David Lee, Channing Frye, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford. A pretty impressive list. That group didn't win in New York; young teams almost never do. But they weren't together long enough to see what they could become.

Walsh had another plan -- clear as much cap room as possible for the summer of 2010, when the biggest collection of impact free agents in history, starting with LeBron James, would be available. Walsh wanted to bring in two impact players, not one. (Depending on who you talk with, the Knicks believed, with varying degrees of certainty, that they'd get James.) So out went the young players Thomas had amassed, along with the big-money contracts he'd given out.

The Starters: Knicks vs. Nets Recap

Walsh stuck with the plan over two years, during which the Knicks continued to lose, under new coach Mike D'Antoni. But when free agency arrived in 2010, New York couldn't land LeBron, who went to Miami, and they couldn't get Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer, either. The Knicks did land Stoudemire, for $100 million, gambling that his knees would hold out.

They did not. Stoudemire was great -- for one season.

Walsh and Dolan parted ways after three years, and the Knicks hired Glen Grunwald, who signed free agent Tyson Chandler, took a flier on Jeremy Lin, who exploded on his (and D'Antoni's) watch. Grunwald's team won 54 games last season and was one of the league's best stories, as New York won a playoff series for the first time in a decade.

So, of course, they fired Grunwald, replacing him with former MSG executive Steve Mills -- who had hired Thomas.

These are all smart people. Thomas was excoriated for the Knicks' record, but he's proven to be an astute judge of young talent, having drafted the likes of Tracy McGrady and 1996 Rookie of the Year Damon Stoudamire in Toronto and future All-Star Lee in New York. He also developed a young Jermaine O'Neal in Indiana and assembled those young players in New York.

Walsh is as respected a GM as there is. He built teams that contended in Indiana around Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, whom Walsh drafted in 1986 over the objections of just about everyone in town. And upon his return to Indy two years ago, he helped polish another Pacers team -- built primarily by Larry Bird -- that is now a contender.

Inside the NBA: Nets Discussion

But in the cauldron of New York, everything is ratcheted up.

"The solution for every problem, whether it's in team-building or in the corporate world, is a coherent long-term strategy," said another longtime sports executive. "And the requisite follow through. Sure, you have to be nimble and flexible enough to make midcourse corrections when necessary. But if you did a good job plotting your course you can't keep changing plans every year or two."

How much the MSG people influence Dolan's decisions always is debated. Many who have worked there say the suits' impact is overblown, though their presence in basketball meetings and their willingness to offer opinions -- sometimes strongly -- is not. They were there when the Knicks tried to woo James, and when they worked out the details of the Anthony trade.

"The people in the Garden aren't basketball people," said yet another veteran executive. "They think they're basketball people. They're New Yorkers, so they watch a lot of basketball, but that's a far [bleeping] cry from working in it."

That view doesn't lead the Garden's decision making, those who've worked there say, but it changes their perspective. They share that sense that New York, being New York, must have the greatest players and field a championship team -- a worldview that is not limited to the Knicks, by the way. (A fellow named Steinbrenner seemed to share that belief.) That naturally creates impatience -- and, not a little arrogance.

"The most immodest moniker I've ever heard was, 'Madison Square Garden -- the World's Most Famous Arena,' " the longtime team executive said. "Well, who says? They do!"

The New York media is also a major player in driving perception -- and, by extension, reality. Some of them are good people just doing their jobs like anyone else. But there are some people with agendas, and 8 million people can be influenced by those agendas.

Everything is a big deal there. Everything is a controversy. Everyone is a potential free agent. Chris Paul wants to play in New York! Tony Parker wants to play in New York! Kobe Bryant wants to play in New York! So, after none of them come, the story becomes, "Why didn't you get Paul?"

Dolan, unintelligently, plays into this hand by being almost uncommunicative with the media, and by instituting a policy where MSG employees shadow players and coaches who speak with reporters. It creates nothing but mistrust on all sides. Walsh ended the policy when he was in charge.

The Nets are relatively new to New York, of course, but they've followed the old playbook. Prokhorov has made it clear that he's not interested in going slow, or building through the Draft. He wants to win, and win now. If former coaches Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo couldn't do it, maybe Jason Kidd could. If giving Deron Williams $100 million wasn't enough, bring in Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Kevin Garnett.

The trouble is, no one else is doing it that way anymore. The Nets are a 2004 team in a 2013 world. Teams like Dallas and Portland, which were always a depository for bad contracts, no longer play that game. With the repeater tax and other goodies in the new CBA, no one plays that game anymore. You have to have at least one or two players making major contributions to your team these days that are on their rookie contracts -- in essence, being underpaid for what they produce.

The Nets will find it extremely hard to extricate themselves from their current contract commitments, though Brooklyn's always maintained this group might only be together two years, anyway, with the possibility of cap freedom possible as soon as 2015, when the contracts of Garnett, Terry and Andrei Kirilenko come off the payroll.

But, that's in two years.

"They're in a trick bag at the wrong time," the former team executive said. "They're just in a tough spot."

Current speculation on the secret power behind the throne centers on Creative Artists Agency. That talent rep behemoth just happens to represent almost everyone who currently is in a position of authority in the Knicks' organization, from Anthony and J.R. Smith to coach Mike Woodson to assistant general manager Allan Houston and player personnel director Mark Warkentien.

CAA also uses power broker Wes Wesley, who now represents elite coaches like the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau and Kentucky's John Calipari, as a consultant. One theory posits that Calipari, at CAA's behest, will ultimately replace Woodson on the bench.

Thomas remains friends with Dolan, and may well have been brought back in a decision-influencing capacity a couple of years ago. But Commissioner David Stern said that Thomas -- at the time, the coach at Florida International -- couldn't hold both jobs simultaneously. Of late, Dolan has said that he won't ever bring Thomas back because he doesn't think he'll get a "fair shake" from the media.

"I don't think there's an owner who wants to win more than James Dolan," Thomas said Saturday. "He commits the resources. He does everything he can for the players. He just spent $1 billion on the arena for the fans. I think he'll do whatever it takes to win."

Dolan could display that desire by letting Mills do what needs to be done: get the best he can for Anthony and Felton -- as long as there are 2014 picks involved -- and ride out the storm. There are a few primo 6-foot-9, 6-foot-10, ballhandling lifeboats at the end of the rainbow, in which a team could luxuriate for a few years.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

He will so not be getting his nieces and nephews reduced-price Kobe jerseys for the holidays. From Ned Einstein:

I have ultimate respect for your knowledge of the game, but as far as Kobe -- the ultimate narcissist ball-hog turnover king -- you must not be watching the same games I am. If you were, you would realize that -- assuming they eventually get one really point guard healthy, and Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill and Nick Young remain healthy, the Lakers will clearly end up with a better record without Kobe than with him.

I sense most other players loathe him, and when he comes back, it will take him until the end of the season to reach decent form (not what it even was last year, which was clearly not what it was two years ago, despite all the points he scored because of all the shots he took). So if they really want to tank, they should bring him back and let him demoralize the rest of the team, bog down the defense and hand opposing teams gobs of extra points because of his turnovers. Ergo, your logic makes no sense to me. And I think that viewpoint is deluding most NBA fans, and not being fair to them.

The bottom line is that just when Kupchak had the team in a great position -- likely to get a decent draft choice and likely Carmelo Anthony (at a position they really need scoring from), Jim Buss tossed the team's future into the toilet by giving Kobe that ridiculous extension. No other team would have given him more than $10M (at most) a year for two more years, and thus, he would likely have stayed with the Lakers for $8M a year (or a three-year contract at $10/8/6M), since his endorsement deals would tank if he left the Lakers for a couple million more.

The importance of this idiotic failure overwhelms all other things, and Jim Buss should be excoriated, beyond becoming instantly the NBA owners' permanent laughingstock. I'm betting at owners' meetings he'll receive the equivalent of fraternity hazing for the rest of his mediocre career (until his five siblings vote to either remove him or sell the team -- and they probably have the option of only doing the latter).

That is certainly one position on Kobe, Ned. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the Lakers are a better team without Kobe, though. I certainly don't think so. And they certainly aren't a threat of any kind in the West without him. (Granted, even with him, it's a tough lift for them this season.) Again, they play for rings in L.A., not moral victories or plucky underdog stories. And if you believe Kobe would have played anywhere for $8 million next year, you are sadly, woefully mistaken. Gods do not answer letters, John Updike wrote a half-century ago, and stars -- even fading ones -- with rings do not play in the NBA for $8 million. Tim Duncan isn't playing for $8 million; neither are Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. We will all find out next summer if Jim Buss overpaid Kobe by so much that he couldn't attract another impact player

Do you like your Beatles, or your Susan Boyle? From Chris Hoard:

Amongst the NBA professionals and analysts, I would be interested to find out if they would, generally, rather see a team such the Pacers, Trail Blazers, or Spurs win this season? A team that has either built up through the Draft, astute trades (Pacers) or has a great approach as an organization (Spurs), as opposed to others such as the Heat, Lakers or Brooklyn (who definitely won't this season!) who have historically thrown money at players to win? Here in the UK with the English Premiere League, there is a large number of 'purists' who would rather see teams such Arsenal, who are financially prudent and believe in developing players, come out on top of Chelsea or Manchester City, who are considered to have 'bought' their titles.

Even though the Heat won last season, do you think that even if they won again this season Miami's legacy will ever be seen in the same light or considered on a par, as say, San Antonio's?

Second question first, Chris: any team that wins three titles in a row is an all-time team with a unique legacy. It's only been done by three franchises (Boston, Chicago, the Lakers) in the history of the league. So if Miami threepeats, it will be thought of as one of the NBA's greatest teams, period.

As to whether the media wants what I assume you mean -- a team that doesn't have the star power of, say, the Heat, to win The Finals -- I can't speak for everyone in my profession. Most sports reporters I know don't root for teams; they root for stories. A dynasty like the Celtics is a great story. So is the fall of that dynasty. So either one works. If the Spurs had won last June, it would have been terrific, compelling stuff, with Tim Duncan winning a fifth ring. But Miami's comeback in Game 6 was incredible, riveting theatre, and LeBron was as good as anyone has ever been in a Game 7. I'm not ducking your question, but any team with compelling players can make for a compelling story.

Ironic that someone who is criticizing me for improper use of a phrase in language would throw around the term "Nazi" in a non-war context. Just sayin'. From Des Gillespie:

Another fine Morning Tip this week, although I do feel obliged to correct your misuse of the phrase "the exception that proves the rule." Call me a grammar Nazi if you will, but I can't help feeling a professional journalist should use common phrases correctly. The phrase in question derives from the latin exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis which translates to "the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted". What that means is that the existence of an exception implies the existence of a rule to which it is the exception. The example given in Fowler's Modern English Usage is "Special leave is given for men to be out of barracks tonight till 11.00 p.m.; "The exception proves the rule" means that this special leave implies a rule requiring men, except when an exception is made, to be in earlier." What the phrase does not mean is that an example of a rule not being followed somehow proves the existence of the rule. For some reason many people use the phrase in this way despite the fact that it is completely nonsensical to do so.

You're a grammar cop, Des. But, I suppose, you're also correct.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and something to fill my nights now that Perfect 10 Model Boxing will no longer be available starting Jan. 1 on Netflix to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parentheses)

1) LeBron James (30 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 apg, .538 FG, .571 FT): Good for LeBron to poke fun at himself as a failing golfer in his latest Samsung commercial. (I have always hoped to do an ad dressed in a turkey outfit, like Paul Simon on "Saturday Night Live" in the late 70s.).

2) Kevin Durant (32 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, .541 FG, .810 FT): Durant, again, has to lift his team without Russell Westbrook, and this time, it's for seven soul-sapping regular-season weeks. He has to get some help from Reggie Jackson and the other "others" on OKC's roster.

3) LaMarcus Aldridge (27 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4 apg, .471 FG, 1.000 FT): Will have to show he can make defenses pay when they start doubling earlier and making him get the ball out of his hands.

4) Paul George (25 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, ,594 FG, .833 FT): Responded to shooting slump by scoring 24 or more in five straight games.

5) Chris Paul (27 ppg, 5 rpg, 12 apg, .508 FG, .857 FT): Uncharacteristic misses late in losses to the Blazers and Warriors last week.

BY THE NUMBERS

1.3 billion -- Estimated cost, in dollars, of a proposed arena/entertainment complex in Las Vegas that is being proposed by former NBA player Jackie Robinson, who played for several teams in his career and was on the Sonics' 1979 championship team. The project would not necessarily be designed to lure an existing NBA team to Vegas, though Robinson reportedly would like to do so.

26.7 million -- Number of Tweets, according to the social network behemoth Twitter, that were sent during the seven-game Finals between Miami and San Antonio in June. (By contrast, also per Twitter, 24.1 million Tweets were sent during Super Bowl LXVII between San Francisco and Baltimore in January.)

777 -- Career double-doubles by Tim Duncan, the most among active players, per the San Antonio Express-News, Duncan is second all-time in the category to Karl Malone (814) -- though I'm sure, if someone went to the trouble of checking, Wilt Chamberlain probably dwarfed those numbers, not to mention Russell, Mikan, Bob Pettit, etc.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Happy 2014, y'all.

NBA Rooks: Giannis Antetokoumnpo - Welcome to the NBA

2) Watched Giannis Antetokounmpo for the first time in person Saturday night. Dude looks like a good, good piece to build around. He just turned 19 (!) and he's long as your grandpa's stories on a hot summer day. Hands like Velcro, and he jumps like crazy. Man, what an athletic young man, and he doesn't play like someone who has no clue about the pro game. He's just skinny. But he'll put on weight. That's an intriguing young man Milwaukee's got.

3) Glad to see the Rockets are bringing back Gersson Rosas as executive vice president of basketball operations, even though the circumstances of his leaving Dallas' general manager's spot after just a couple of months of the job remain cloudy.

4) The last time I saw Trey Phills, he was 4. Now, the son of the late Hornets and Cavaliers guard Bobby Phills is a junior in high school, and is following in his father's footsteps as an excellent player and better person.

5) I am, most assuredly, not a Dallas Cowboys fan. But this week, I am, most assuredly, a Jon Kitna fan.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) The proposed anti-tanking solution to the lottery -- the so-called "Wheel" -- shouldn't be shot down immediately. Every proposal is worth discussing. But there are a couple of obvious issues with the idea. First, as with all other fixes, it can't address the systemic problem with building a team in the NBA: you have only 15 spots. To win big, you have to have a transcendent player on the roster. The Clippers were a joke for 30 years. Then they got Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. They're no longer a joke. It's really as simple as that. And those players don't come along very often. There will be incredible excitement in the Wheel Years when a LeBron James-type of talent is available -- but that's every, what, 10 or 12 years? If you look at the history of the lottery, again, the team that has the best chance to get the No. 1 pick rarely actually gets the No. 1 pick. And what if, under the Wheel, the Heat, Thunder, Lakers or Knicks are locked in to get the top spot when there's a true difference-maker -- the next Shaq or CP3 -- coming out? Can you imagine the howling and cries of conspiracy? And under this system, could you trade now, say, for what you know now will the No. 1 pick in, say, 2023 -- someone who is, currently, 7 or 8 years old? What would the point be?

No, tanking is not a good thing. But let's look at the standings this morning. The East is awful, but it's not because teams are throwing games en masse. The Knicks and Nets certainly aren't tanking; they're just having dreadful seasons, for various reasons. Chicago isn't tanking; without Derrick Rose, the Bulls just can't score. Cleveland is struggling; the Wizards can't stay healthy and Atlanta just lost Al Horford for what looks like the season. Meanwhile, two teams that were most suspected of being willing to toss away this season for next June's Draft riches -- Boston and Toronto -- are playing hard, giving their fans their money's worth, and might make the playoffs. I just fear we're looking for a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist.

GameTime: Bynum Suspension

2) No one can be surprised that the Andrew Bynum experiment blew up, right? Bynum himself said earlier this year that he had lost enthusiasm for the game, and he proved it with increasingly damaging behavior. The last few weeks, reports an eyewitness, Bynum stopped working hard and was being disruptive in practices and games. There were no confrontations with the coaching staff, but the vibe he gave off to the Cavs' young players was just not tolerable. Cleveland's wariness about Bynum was why it only guaranteed the first half of the first year of his two-year, $24 million deal.

3) After watching the Rockets take apart the Spurs Christmas night, you can't think San Antonio would be looking forward to a first-round matchup with Houston. The Spurs certainly can play better, but it looked like the Rockets had all the advantages in physical matchups, and could exploit them.

4) We endured Christmas Day -- the uniforms, not the games. Let us never speak of, or see them, again.

5) For the billionth time -- please, for Scott Wedman's sake, foul when you're up three, the other team has the ball and there's more than three seconds on the clock.

6) I am sure I'm not the target demographic for UFC/MMA fights, so whether or not I watch will have absolutely no impact on the sport. I just have never been able to get into it, and from what I read on Twitter Saturday night, after Anderson Silva broke his leg, I suspect that streak to continue. (To be clear: they are great athletes, and if you want to watch them, I'm not judging you or them -- not that you do, or should, care.)

Q AND A: KEVIN LOVE

He plays on an enigma of a basketball team. Some nights, the Timberwolves look like they can beat anyone in the league, given their firepower and given that they have Kevin Love. It is a good thing to have Love. Because you have one of the best power forwards in the game, who is, somehow, making the most of his "limited natural ability" to lead the league in rebounding (13.8) and current rank third in scoring (26.1 per game, behind Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony).

But some nights, Love's teammates don't hold up their end of the bargain. Ricky Rubio has been outstanding most of the season so far, and Nikola (Non) Pekovic (my nickname for Minny's center, given his ridiculously remarkable resemblance to Non, the mute brute of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies (See?) has been more than solid.

Yet the Wolves, after a strong start, fell back to the middle of the pack in the West, inexplicably losing games they should have won. Through the first third of the season, though, Love has been a monster, shooting a career best 38 percent on threes so far while doing work at both ends of the court. And Minnesota, which is slowly getting healthier, is showing signs of making a run. Despite the ups and downs, Minnesota has a good locker room, where J.J. Barea can mock Love for giving too much time to the media ("I had 12 rebounds!," Barea teased, mocking Love's accomplishments), but where Love can give it right back ("He was busy on Christmas making all those toys for the kids," Love responds to the height-challenged Barea).

But Love burns to make the playoffs; he remains the only player from the 2012 Olympic team other than the Pelicans' Anthony Davis to have yet made the postseason. And the success or failure of the Wolves to do it this season will likely be a big factor in Love's decision on what he'll do after next season, when he could be the most coveted free agent on the market.

Me: Last time I saw you, you guys were, 7-3 or 8-3?

Kevin Love: Yeah, we blew that one.

Me: Why do you think that happened?

KL: I don't know. You look at quarters, fourth quarters like [Saturday] night, and you just shake your head and say, 'What's the problem?' We get a little stagnant. We go cold. And I think we just need to find a rotation with our bench that's going to work. If you've watched our games, they've kind of struggled a little bit. And it's funny to me, because in training camp, in practice, they'll kick our butts. They'll really come to play. And we kind of ask, where is that [in games]? So we try to take KMart [Kevin Martin] and Pek out of the game a little bit more, so we can kind of supplement them with the second unit a little bit. But, you know, it's tough. Games like that, we feel like we've blown. Like, the Clippers game was tough for us. Boston was a tough game for us. A lot of games that we thought we could win -- and that happens. But especially early on in the season. I know we've had a tough schedule, but those are games we've got to have if we're going to take the next step.

Love: Playing Well At Home

Me: Has [J.J.] Barea picked it up a little?

KL: Yeah, especially the last two games. But I think it's guys just being able to get into a rhythm. Coach has been toying with the lineup, trying to find combinations that work. Guys just have to stay ready when the opportunity comes. It's an opportunity league. So when the time comes, you need to take advantage of it.

Me: Are you concerned about all these star players going down to significant injuries?

KL: It's unbelievable. It's really crazy. I feel terrible for Russ [Westbrook]. I texted him today, and he was the shortest he's ever been with me on the phone. I know he's really upset. It's tough when it happens. I told him, look, man, in six months, less than six months, I had two broken hands and a knee surgery. So I can empathize. Especially, like Al Horford, that's a real weird injury. Russell, that's the third surgery to his right knee in, what, eight or nine months? D-Rose. It's tough. I don't know what to attribute that to.

Me: Is there any thought that, maybe, guys are training too much in the summer?

Timberwolves vs. Bucks

KL: I don't know. It could be the rehab process, trying to come back too soon. But then you look at Derrick. He really took his time. And with him it could have been a freak accident. It's weird. For somebody like me, even as hard as I train in the summer, first of all, I really take care of my body in the summer. I always ice. I always get massage. I'm always tending to my body for whatever I need. But I'm still working out, doing 15, 18 workouts a week. I feel great. So, knock on wood, I'm straight for these 82 games plus, and head up into the summer and play with the USA team as well. It's definitely a lot. I don't know what to attribute it to. That could definitely be part of it, but a lot of it could be bad luck.

Me: Now you've got a stretch where the schedule eases up a little. Do you have to make a move in the standings now?

KL: I think it's eight of our next 13 at home. You look at our schedule. Pek and I were talking about it before the game. I think our longest homestand is four games. I mean, some teams, I forget who it was. We were looking at their schedule. I think it was Memphis that had seven games in a row at home, or eight games. We were shaking our heads, like they're just sitting here waiting for us. Luckily we were able to pull that one out. But our schedule is not doing us any favors. More than anything, it's a chance [now] to get over the hump, hopefully stay over the hump, and continue to get better. In my mind, I was expecting us to be a few games over .500 at this point. But I also thought this was a chance, when I looked at the schedule, for us to really start taking steps in the right direction. Because we haven't played together that much. Now, we've played 30 games together. We're through the first trimester. Now we should be able to build on it. That's the thought.

Me: The non-playoff streak still burns you, doesn't it?

KL: Of course. I mean, it's tough. Because my first two years, I didn't start. My third year, I finally played heavy minutes, but we were the youngest team in the league. My fourth year, Ricky went down, and Pek started playing heavy minutes. And I was really upset because I really thought we were going to go on a roll. We were 17-17 and it was a short season, and I thought we were going to make our way into the playoffs. Last year was just unlucky, with the injuries. And this year, this is the year. It's definitely something that's weighing on me. But some of the things are definitely out of my control. So all I can do is try to be consistent and try to help this team every night.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Tough loss but I love the fight of our team. Word of advice "don't be in the wrong place at the wrong time" lol. ‪#igotgot‬‬ ‪#GoHawks
-- Hawks forward Paul Millsap (@Paulmillsap4), Tuesday, 2:05 a.m., after doing the right thing and trying to get in the way of a charging three-time league MVP in the waning seconds of Monday's game with Miami. Sometimes, it's important not to meet with success in everything that you do.

THEY SAID IT

"Plenty of times this season I've put it on me, and I'll do that. But I tell you what, each guy in that locker room has got to start looking in the mirror, owning up, and start taking responsibility for their play, and we don't have a lot of that right now ... My challenge to these guys is: who do we want to be? Are we just going to be a team that wins once in a blue moon and comes out here and puts on a performance like that?"
-- Kings coach Michael Malone, after his team gave up 113 points Monday in a home loss to New Orleans that dropped Sacramento to 8-19. It was the eighth time this season, and sixth time this month, that the Kings had allowed 110 or more points in a game.

"If you look at it, I didn't do anything, and I got thrown out of the game. It all boils down to they (the referees) fell for it. To me, that's cowardly. That's cowardly basketball."
-- Blake Griffin, after receiving two technical fouls in the Warriors' chippy 105-103 win over the Clippers on Christmas night. Griffin was ejected in the fourth quarter after getting into a skirmish with Golden State's Andrew Bogut.

"When you have injuries that fear is enhanced and you kind of put yourself under the microscope a little bit and start thinking about it too much. The reality is it can happen to anybody, so you have to be able to tune that noise out and just go out there and perform."
-- Kobe Bryant, discussing how he can't allow consecutive injuries to his right leg -- a torn Achilles' and fractured lateral tibial plateau -- to discourage him from rehabbing and returning to the lineup. Bryant is expected to miss five more weeks after suffering the fracture; he had only played in seven games this season after recovering from the Achilles' tear.

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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