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David Aldridge

Detroit Pistons
Pistons GM Joe Dumars (right) hasn't impressed owner Tom Gores with Detroit's play this season.

With Pistons struggling again, GM Dumars feeling the heat


Posted Mar 10, 2014 12:50 PM

Theirs is the cushiest seat in an NBA front office.

General managers (some also are team presidents, or executive vice presidents; whatever the title, we're talking about a team's decision-maker) have to do a lot to get fired. It takes more than blowing a lottery pick, or busting on a free-agent signing, or picking the wrong coach.

This is back-of-the-envelope math, mind you, but a look at the 30 NBA teams and when they hired their GMs produces a startling number: the average NBA general manager/team president/whatever you want to call it has been at his job for a little more than nine years.

Seven of them have had their jobs for a decade or more. In this, we count executives like Pat Riley. There have been other people called "general manager" of Miami's franchise, but no one believes that anyone else has the final say on South Beach other than Riley, who was formally hired by the Heat as coach and team president in September, 1995.

There are some teams where decision making is a collaborative process. In Charlotte, Rich Cho is the GM, but Rod Higgins -- a confidant of owner Michael Jordan for almost three decades now -- is the team's president of basketball operations. Who makes the final call? Jordan, of course -- but that is true of every team and its owner.

In San Antonio, famously, coach Gregg Popovich and President of Sports Teams R.C. Buford have set the tone, one right next to the other, for almost 20 years.

By contrast, the league's 30 coaches have held their respective jobs, on average, for 2 1/2 years -- and that number is skewed by Popovich, the only coach who's been with his team longer than six years (he assumed coaching duties in December, 1996 ... he was the Spurs' general manager at the time, but Popovich fired Bob Hill as coach and assumed the job. It seems to have worked out.)

Half -- half -- of the league's coaches have been at their jobs for less than two years. By contrast, GMs are, seemingly, bulletproof. (Many coaches grumble when they say this.)

This is where we pick up Joe Dumars, late in another season that has gotten away from him and his Pistons. It's more an indictment of the Eastern Conference than a sign of progress that Detroit remains within 3 games of eighth-place Atlanta. The Pistons were crushed Friday by Minnesota -- a team that, were it in the East, would be solidly in the top eight. But the Hawks lost Friday, too.

The Hawks lost again Saturday. The Pistons lost again Sunday, falling to 24-39. It's that kind of race, a slog to the finish line. Giving free agent Josh Smith $54 million last summer and engineering a trade to bring point guard Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee have done little to turn things around, a setback given the hope that last year's first-round pick, center Andre Drummond, had stirred.

And while a postseason berth this year would likely lead to a quick extermination by Indiana or Miami, it would at least remind some that the Pistons used to play in May and June not too long ago.

Few care now that Dumars, in the early 2000s, built a championship team out of pieces that other teams didn't want. The Pistons won an NBA title in 2004 and made six straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals ('02-08). Those Pistons were a defensive wine press, suffocating opponents in the paint with Rasheed and Ben Wallace and with a young Tayshaun Prince creating havoc on the wings. Rip Hamilton ran opponents ragged off screens, and Chauncey Billups, unwanted after bouncing around his first seven NBA seasons, was the glue.

But that period of extended success has been erased. All that's left is the anger that nearly six seasons of .375 basketball (with one playoff appearance, a four-game dispatch by Cleveland in '09), bad free-agent signings and a series of coaching mishires can bring.

This raises a question that is on so many Detroit lips this morning: not if Dumars -- who's been in the GM seat since 2000 -- should go, but how soon?

Questions, of course, are often simple. Answers are, almost always, much more complicated.

It will be up to owner Tom Gores to decide what to do. The conventional wisdom is that Dumars is a goner, with Gores likely to replace both he and interim coach John Loyer at season's end. Current speculation is that another Pistons Hall of Famer, Isiah Thomas, was in line to replace Dumars. (Gores and the Pistons shot down that talk last week.) Loyer replaced Maurice Cheeks, the latest in a line of coaches who didn't come close to matching the magic Larry Brown captured in Detroit's '04 title run.

It is hardly a secret that Dumars didn't want to fire Cheeks in the middle of the season, and was moved by his owner to do so. That usually doesn't bode well for the future.

For now, Gores is keeping his opinions to himself. He declined to be interviewed for this piece.

Here's where candor is fair to you and to me. I like Joe Dumars. I have since 1989, when I was a young reporter just starting to cover the league, and he was the quiet and respectful member of the Bad Boy Pistons. Detroit was about to win back-to-back NBA championships and Dumars was a classy player. He is so respected by the league that it named its annual Sportsmanship Award after him.

He has carried himself with great dignity through personal tragedy and professional setbacks. He does not play the game of currying favor with the media and treats us all with courtesy. And you should not forget that team that played so well and lasted so long; that is incredibly hard to do.

Dumars has, to be certain, made some mistakes lately. No one who stays on the job as long as he has can avoid that. And if Gores thinks they're enough to bring in someone new, well, he's the owner. He paid the freight for the team, and it's his right.

But he'd be wrong.

Dumars did not get stupid all of a sudden, any moreso than ex-Lakers boss Jerry West did from 1991-96 -- the years between Magic Johnson's initial HIV disclosure and when the Lakers signed Shaquille O'Neal as a free agent. In those five seasons in between, Los Angeles won one playoff series.

Teams have to rebuild. And while the Pistons have been bad since '08, they haven't been quite wretched enough to corral a top three pick in the Draft (and this is where you say Dumars can't even tank properly).

The Pistons' troubles go back to the death of their longtime former owner, Bill Davidson, in 2009. Even before his death, major decisions were delayed because of his poor health; no one else could approve major transactions. After his death in March, 2009, ownership of the team was bequeathed to Davidson's widow, Karen. But that only started another period of inertia. Karen Davidson had no interest in holding onto the team, and almost immediately began looking to find buyers.

For a time, it looked like there might be a deal with Little Caesars magnate Mike Ilitch, who also owns the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings. (Buying the Pistons would certainly have made economic sense for Ilitch as he sought a new building to replace the Wings' aging Joe Louis Arena.) But the deal fell through late in '09.

With no certainty about the team's ownership in place, the Pistons couldn't afford to wait for the LeBron Summer of 2010 to go after free agents. Dumars opted to strike a year early, gambling more than $95 million on then-Bulls guard Ben Gordon and then-Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva in the summer of 2009.

It backfired. Gordon couldn't stay healthy, and Villanueva hasn't justified the contract he received, maxing out at 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds a game in his first season in Detroit. There are reasons for everything that happens, but the bottom line is Gordon and Villanueva didn't pan out. That's one strike against Joe D.

Dumars is also castigated for the carousel of coaches that has come through Detroit on his watch.

He hired a young Rick Carlisle in 2001. Carlisle won Coach of the Year honors in his first season, then led Detroit to the first of its six straight conference finals the following season, winning the Central Division in both years. But Carlisle was fired after the '03 playoffs, with the Pistons bringing in Larry Brown. And Brown won it all for Detroit the following year.

But Brown was fired after the Pistons' seven-game loss to the Spurs in the 2005 Finals, after negotiating a deal to coach the Cavaliers while Detroit was still in the playoffs. Davidson was livid; even if the Pistons had won the series against the Spurs, Brown was gone. Davidson had fired Carlisle as well. Of course, Davidson is no longer with us to explain his thoughts, or if Dumars concurred with his decisions. (An aside: if Cleveland had hired Brown to coach and run its front office ... wow. Think of how that may have impacted the course of league history. LeBron might still be in Cleveland, having won a couple of championships. On the other hand, Brown might have traded him to Portland.)

Flip Saunders was the next coach, and he guided Detroit to three more conference finals. But with James and Orlando's Dwight Howard ascending with their respective teams, and Boston having put together a new Big Three, the Pistons couldn't hold off the charge. Saunders clashed with Rasheed Wallace and lost the locker room, and he was let go after the '07-'08 season.

And here is where the wheels started to come off.

Dumars replaced Saunders with Michael Curry, who had never been a coach before taking the Detroit job. Desperate for offense, Dumars made a huge personnel gamble early in the 2008-09 season, sending the heart of the championship team, Billups, to Denver for the mercurial Allen Iverson, who had worn out his welcome with the Nuggets.

The mix of demanding superstar and rookie coach was a disaster. Iverson still believed he should be the focal point of the offense; Curry didn't have the resume or coaching chops to keep Iverson in line.

Detroit finished 39-43 and made the playoffs, but got swept by Cleveland. Dumars fired Curry and after unsuccessfully recruiting Doug Collins, Dumars hired longtime assistant John Kuester, an assistant on Brown's staff during the championship run. Kuester fared even worse than Curry; even though the Pistons jettisoned Iverson, their big free-agent signings, Gordon and Villanueva misfired. Dissention strafed the locker room. Kuester, too, was gone after one season.

The next hire was Lawrence Frank, who didn't crack 30 wins in either of his two seasons. Dumars fired him. If you're keeping score: Davidson fired Carlisle, Brown and Saunders; Dumars canned Curry, Kuester and Frank.

You may ask, does it matter who fired who? Fair point.

It's been six seasons since the Pistons were last relevant, and there are any number of 30-year-olds out there who are certain they can game the system with the right advanced stats. More and more, owners like smart young men who speak the same language they do.

Dumars can point to success in his last few drafts, even though Detroit hasn't picked higher than eighth in the first round since the Pistons had the second pick overall in the 2003 Draft. (The locals still wince notably when you say the word "Darko", as in former No. 2 overall pick in 2003, Darko Milicic.) He took Greg Monroe seventh in 2010, Brandon Knight eighth in 2011, Drummond eighth in 2012 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last year.

But the Pistons' 2014 first-round pick hangs precariously. Detroit included it, with some key lottery protection, in the 2012 deal that sent Gordon to Charlotte for Corey Maggette. The trade wasn't for Maggette, of course, but to clear Gordon's $13 million off the Pistons' books in 2013 -- which created enough cap room to sign Smith.

The Pistons will keep the pick if it is one of the top eight in the '14 Draft. Otherwise, it goes to the Bobcats. If ever a team had little incentive to make the postseason, it's Detroit. On the other hand, making the playoffs is probably the only way Dumars and others in the organization can save their jobs, and even then, it may well not be enough.

Gores made billions of dollars in his line of work and is a pretty sharp guy. He used that money to buy the Pistons, and it gives him the right to hire and fire who he wants, including Dumars. If Gores did so to bring in someone like Phil Jackson, whom he had come in last summer as an "advisor," so be it. Jackson's obviously of "mind, body and spirit to go back to work," as a confidant put it over the weekend, and the Knicks have an intriguing offer to Jackson on the table.

But again, Dumars didn't get stupid all of a sudden.

DRIBBLES

When Roy Johnson was a young beat guy covering the NBA for The New York Times, he was invited to the paper one day to what was then called "Editor's Lunches," where the paper would invite famous people from the political, arts or sports worlds in to talk, usually on the record. One year, after Johnson had covered the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, the paper invited Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in for lunch.

"So we're sitting in the private dining room," Johnson recalled. "Kareem wasn't saying much, as he was wont to do. Finallly, he said, 'I have a bone to pick with you. In our series last year against Houston, you wrote that the Rockets won the series because Moses dominated me.' I thought, he's going to dress me down in front of my boss. But what he said was, it was a team- oriented thing, and he proceeded to break it down. It made me begin to think about basketball, and team sports in general, as a team sport. It's still a problem today. You look at the NFL, you'd think quarterback is the only position, the way the NFL is looked at today."

Going deeper is what made Johnson a pioneering African-American sportswriter and editor, part of a generation of trailblazers, trying to carry the torch passed down from legendary writers like Wendell Smith, Sam Lacy and Howie Evans. Johnson was one of the first black sportswriters to branch out as well; along with the late Ralph Wiley and current Times columnist Bill Rhoden, Johnson became a fixture on television sports talk shows, lending both credibility and a skeptical voice to conventional sports cant.

He co-authored autobiographies of Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson; Roy Johnson was the first print reporter Magic Johnson spoke with after disclosing his HIV-positive status in 1991.

He reported for the Times, and then became a columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a founding editor of Savoy Magazine, an editor-at-large for Forbes magazine, an assistant managing editor at Sports Illustrated and editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness magazine. Currently, he runs the health and wellness website Fit! Live! Win!

"Sports provides stories of triumph, of tragedy, of overcoming odds, of leadership, almost anything people can relate to," Johnson says. "It's up to sportswriters to convey those stories. It's coming out in a way that's more fair. Athletes are portrayed in a broader context today. The stories I was proudest of were the features, when you didn't just talk to the players, but you went back to his hometown and talked to his high school coach, and talked to his mom."

Johnson started at Sports Illustrated as a fact checker out of Stanford, where he graduated in 1978. (Fact checkers do exactly as the job implies: they take a story submitted by a writer and make sure what's written is accurate. Did John Jones actually graduate from State U in 1985? Is his mother's name Ruth and is she now 72? That sort of thing.)

After three years working on NBA stories by John Papanek (who went on to become managing editor of SI and, later, of ESPN the Magazine), Johnson got a shot at his own beat in 1981, covering the New Jersey Nets for the Times. The NBA editor at SI, Sandy Padwe, had become the Times' assistant sports editor.

"He was exceedingly bright and smart and was a very good reporter and young writer," Padwe said via e-mail. "He was pretty much a natural for the business and had a good head for story ideas and good stories in general. And that is how it played out for him later as the years went by. A very talented guy who should be running some news organization today."

Back then, it was an exciting time to be covering the Nets, who were trying to restore some of the luster of their Dr. J days while in the ABA. Larry Brown had just been named the team's coach.

But in other ways, New York was no different from any other city in the early '80s: there were precious few reporters of color in its teams' locker rooms and its stadium's press boxes. Johnson was fortunate to have mentors like Papanek, who made Johnson respect deadlines ("that was his first advice: he didn't care how good it is, just get it in on time," Johnson recalled). Co-workers like the late Sam Goldaper, a legendary writer who covered the earliest days of the league for the Times, showed Johnson how to be diligent on the beat.

"Dave Sims [later a successful radio host at WFAN, the groundbreaking all-sports station in New York, and now the play-by-play voice of the Seattle Mariners] was also hired," Johnson said. "I think he was hired by the Daily News. There were two reporters of color on the beat. I was young and excited about covering the NBA at the time, obviously the same age as a lot of the players. Great lifestyle, as you know. I lived in the city and drove to Jersey to cover the games."

The NBA was just hitting a new wave of popularity. The NBA had been a distant third at most paper's sports departments in terms of desired beats. Baseball had been the prestigious one for decades, though the NFL (or college football in many towns) would catch, and then pass it. Covering the NBA provided a great opportunity for young men -- it was mostly men -- of color. (I was, later, one of them.)

The NBA of the early '80s barely resembled today's league. But not always in bad ways compared to today. With far fewer media covering the games and teams, players were much more comfortable with writers, inviting them to their homes for interviews. Johnson was the same age as many of the guys he covered, which just happened to be the vanguard of the generation that helped save the league.

"We had tremendous access at the time," Johnson said. "Most of us traveled with the same team, on the same buses, on the same flights. The Knicks were one of the first teams to use charter flights, and the writers were allowed on the team plane. We would write especially fast on game nights, so we could get on the plane."

Johnson may have been a contemporary, but he was also still a reporter, not a player. Yet there was a sense that he and the African-American players he covered had a shared responsibility.

"There weren't a lot of 'us' in the locker room," Johnson said. "Whether it was Earvin or Bob Lanier or Julius [Erving], we tended to get the opportunity to get more time with these emerging stars, and also get better quotes. We had an opportunity, once the conversation went past the game, we'd talk about life. Again, we were all the same age. A lot of these conversations happened over a meal. I remember Buck Williams calling me in the hotel -- what are you doing tonight? It wasn't just Earvin. It was a lot of emerging black stars, like Isiah [Thomas], who just gravitated toward us. These were smart guys who went to college, maybe just one or two years, but they were smart."

Johnson and Sims were among a new generation of young black writers who were covering teams. They may not have faced the overt racism that writers like Lacy and Smith had faced 40 years earlier trying to integrate Major League Baseball's press boxes, but they still had to navigate choppy waters.

"Most of them had to do with travels in other parts in the country," he said. "Not so much with the NBA, but security guards in arenas who didn't necessarily believe you were a beat reporter. Certainly there was a belief at the time that this evolving NBA that was hipper, blacker, was marching to a different beat than in the '60s was not embraced by everyone. There was nothing they could do about it. The popularity was there."

Indeed, with the renaissance of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry, and the rise of the Pistons and Bulls, the NBA had a cache it had rarely owned. Guys like Barkley spoke their minds, paid their fines, and became beloved for both. Barkley then spoke about his life with Johnson in the autobiography "Outrageous," which became more famous after the Chuckster claimed he'd been misquoted in it.

And after Magic Johnson disclosed his HIV status in 1991, he turned to Roy Johnson to tell his first-person story in SI. The two had collaborated on a book two years earlier.

"I was friends with Roy," said Lon Rosen, Magic Johnson's longtime agent. "I had a relationship with Roy, and so did Earvin -- with lots of writers. He considered Roy a friend, and still does. The world has changed with athletes, but it's also changed in the way it covers athletes."

Roy Johnson soon left the grind of daily media to seek other challenges. At SI, he supervised the magazine's coverage of college basketball, tennis and golf. He then left the comfort of a sports publication for editing jobs at Money and Fortune magazines. At Fortune, he headed the magazine's coverage of how this new generation of athletes achieved and maintained its newfound wealth. He did stories on Tiger Woods and Jeff Gordon, stepping outside the NBA box.

In 2000, he went the entrepreneurial route, teaming with Keith Clinkscales to start Savoy Magazine, a publication featuring upscale African-American social lifestyles. Johnson oversaw Savoy and other publications that catered to black readers until 2003, when he went back to SI as a special products manager. He became editor of Men's Fitness in 2007, and continues to work on projects today that try to tackle the obesity epidemic in the United States.

But, like all of us who fell in love with the written word, he's never too far away from telling another story.

"As more of us get the opportunity to not just write, but television and radio, I really would like people to put emphasis on the craft, on writing well," Johnson said. "That's a societal issue. There's not as much emphasis on writing, on speaking well, on expressing yourself in a way that's clear and bright and smart. That's what's missing -- great insight, not just yelling and screaming. Somebody's watching. I'd like to see us raise our game, and bring a level of excellence and integrity to the media."

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's rankings in brackets)

1) San Antonio [6] (3-0): Spurs finally have their expected rotation healthy and on the floor together. Can they get through five more regular season weeks healthy?

2) L.A. Clippers [5] (3-0): Season-best seven-game win streak has the Clips in the hunt for best record in the West.

3) Houston [7] (4-0): The chip on Pat Beverley's shoulder is the size of a Ford Explorer. But he's a big reason for the Rockets' turnaround.

4) Oklahoma City [3] (1-2): Gerald Green scores 41? Jodie Meeks scores 42? What's up with the defense all of a sudden in the 405?

5) Indiana [1] (0-4): Ward and June Cleaver are very worried about the Pacers.

6) Miami [2] (1-3): Are those Shane Battier's minutes we're seeing Michael Beasley getting down the guts of games in the last few days?

7) Golden State [9] (4-0): Have Warriors finally found the consistency of production that they've lacked all season?

8) Portland [4] (1-3): Blazers blowing a great chance to make up ground on struggling OKC.

9) Chicago [8] (2-2): "We played with a lot of hate," Joakim Noah said after the Bulls' win over Miami Sunday. I love Joakim Noah for his hate.

10) Phoenix [10] (1-2): Eric Bledsoe scheduled to come back this week for the stretch drive for the Suns, who have gamely held on in the playoff chase out west since his knee injury in January.

11) Washington [11] (2-1): Seventy-one-year-old Andre Miller, 63-year-old Al Harrington and 94-year-old Drew Gooden -- none of whom were playing two weeks ago; Harrington, the only one of the three on the roster then, was injured -- giving Washington huge production off the bench.

12) Dallas [12] (2-1): Nice to see Devin Harris back, healthy and able to make contributions down the stretch, as he did in Friday's win over Portland.

13) Toronto [13] (2-0): Raptors, 29-14 since the Rudy Gay trade, have a huge game Monday night in Brooklyn against the second-place Nets. A win would leave Toronto five games up on Brooklyn with 20 games to go.

14) Memphis [14] (3-1): Nick Calathes has been a godsend for the Grizz. Kudos to Memphis' front office, which liked Calathes before the 2009 Draft (Calathes had played overseas the last four years), for getting Calathes from Dallas last summer for cash.

15) Brooklyn [15] (3-1): Nets hopeful that Paul Pierce, who had to leave Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, will be back Monday night against the Raptors.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Houston (4-0): NBA's hottest team since New Year's, with a record of 23-6 (.793) after Sunday's OT win over Portland. Props to James Harden and the rest of the non-Dwights for figuring out the best way to effectively utilize Howard and still play the up-tempo style that best suits the team.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

Atlanta (0-3): A month ago, the Hawks were looking at a potential lottery pick from Brooklyn as the Nets floundered. Now, with the Nets surging, Atlanta will likely finish out of the lottery altogether; despite the Hawks' collapse, leaving them nine games under .500 entering play Monday, there doesn't appear to be a legit challenger behind them for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT...

Will things work out this time for Royce White?

White is taking another shot at the NBA, after being a surprising cut by the 76ers at the end of training camp. The 22-year-old forward is in the midst of a 10-day contract he signed last week with Sacramento, which assigned him to its D-League affiliate in Reno. White has played in two games for Reno, with two games remaining -- both in Reno -- before the Kings would have to decide whether to sign him to a second 10-day deal.

Indications are that is exactly what the Kings want to do. Indeed, Sacramento is intrigued enough with White that you shouldn't be surprised if the Kings keep White the rest of the season.

White, one of the Rockets' three first-round Draft picks in 2012, never played a minute in Houston. He did, however, play in 16 games for Houston's D-League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley. He and the team were never able to come to a workable arrangement that would, in White's view, successfully address his anxiety issues.

White suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, a condition that covers any number of fears and phobias that manifest themselves in different ways. Much was made about White's flying anxieties, for example, but those stories were overblown. That particular anxiety was but a symptom of the bigger disorder, and the Rockets and White had agreed on his being able to use a bus to drive to cities where he could avoid taking flights.

The bigger issue White and the Rockets had with one another was who would have the final say on White's daily condition. White believed an independent physician, not one that was affiliated with the Rockets, should give final say on whether or not White was capable of playing on a given day. What, White hypothesized, if he had an anxiety attack the morning of a game and was unable to play that night? You can't take an aspirin to make the anxiety go away, and the things you can take are often among the most addictive medications one can use.

In an interview with Dave Zirin and The Nation magazine in January, White said he wanted to continue his NBA career, but that there had to be protocols in place.

"My situation's got to a point where you can't talk about how to proceed with mental illness as an individual without talking about procedure on an entire league scale," White said in the interview. "That's just the way that the league's got to do it at this point, because of liability and all those kinds of issues.

"Yeah, I definitely still want to play, I'm pursuing it and I'm trying to develop relationships with some teams and trying to clear a path where we can find that balance between supporting mental illness and what that means, and what the business is right now in the NBA. But again, like I said, when you talk about what I'll need is tough to say.

"We really, in terms of me and my representation, we didn't ask for anything more than when possible allow me to drive, and when necessary I'd have to fly; and I was OK with that as well. Outside of that, it's really just respecting and regarding mental illness in the same format that you regard physical illness or injury. And the reason why you can't do that, the reason why we tried to do that is because then we could just use what we already had in our collective bargaining agreement because there's nothing in the CBA that pertains to mental illness -- which causes a big problem, obviously, not having anything on the books on how to proceed."

There haven't been those kinds of discussions with the Kings yet. Both sides are proceeding cautiously -- "real slow," a source said. But there are big differences in White's favor with Sacramento. He wasn't the Kings' first-round pick. There's no guaranteed money at stake. There are no issues that owners have to become involved with yet, no need to bring in lawyers. Both sides can walk away.

The main thing, according to team sources, is to find out if White still has the desire to play -- and if so, then evaluating how he responds to the Kings/Bighorns environment. The initial signs have been encouraging.

"I think they wanted him to come down and just get some game minutes and show he could be a good teammate and play in our system, and he's done all of that," Bighorns Coach Joel Abelson said by phone Sunday. "He's not in great game shape yet, but he's working on that every day, with our coaches and the Kings' staff that's down here. He definitely shows flashes of very high level play. Right now, without being in shape, he's got NBA level elite strength. There's not a guy in our league who can move him. He can get wherever he wants to on the floor. His ability to see the floor is obviously what's intriguing."

White can't go side-to-side much yet, given his lack of conditioning. But he can play in the post. In two games, he's averaging 5.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3 assists in 27 minutes.

"You could see he hasn't played in a while," a league source said over the weekend. "But you could see the flashes, like 'a big guy like that can make a pass like that?' "

The Kings and White have been talking for a few weeks -- White flew out to Sacramento to meet with Sacramento officials before signing the 10-day deal. The Kings were impressed that White was willing to do that when he could have easily spent the next couple of months working out, then signed with someone to play Summer League.

White's 10-day deal expires on Saturday, the day after Reno plays at home against Idaho. If everything works out, White will likely get a second 10-day, and move down to Sacramento, where he'll work out and play with the Kings. They will be finishing a long East coast/Midwest road trip next Sunday. After they return, they'll have four straight games at Sleep Train Arena (March 18-26), so there will be no travel issues. (Everyone insists this is a coincidence. I don't believe in coincidences.)

"We're looking at this as a 10-day basketball contract," Kings General Manager Pete D'Alessandro said Sunday. "The conversations with us and Royce have been really positive. We're looking forward to his continued growth. We'll take this day by day and see where it leads us."

If they and White go forward, the idea will be for the "partnership," as one source put it, to succeed. For now, everyone's in the getting to know you, honeymoon stages of the relationship.

"I was the head coach last year in Sioux Falls, and he came up to me and started a conversation with me," Abelson said. "We had dinner the first night he got here. We walked through some things on the court and then we went and had dinner. We're developing the kind of relationship where we're talking all the time ... he's a thoughtful, engaging guy. Very intelligent. Hey, I'm 31. He could, in a different lifetime, be a friend of mine."

White gets a lot of hate from bozos with Twitter Muscles, but he steadfastly refuses to be a victim. And his hard questioning forces people -- and leagues -- to think better about how they are serving the mentally ill. He cannot "suck it up" and do what others do easily. That he is 6-foot-8 and can play basketball well does not change that in any way. The Kings have the luxury of seeing what didn't work in Houston, and with time, they can tailor a plan with White that serves them both. Stay tuned.

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

When you throw spaghetti up against a wall, some sticks. From Gary Mugford:

As per your column of March 3rd, the system I've heard of that most addresses the tanking solution problem is to run a parallel Draft Division. From the moment (or the day after) a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, teams compete for the top draft picks on the basis of most wins after that. If a team gets eliminated in December [G], than it behooves them to win as many games as possible post expulsion, in an effort to get that top pick. There would be no draft lottery. Ties would be broken based on reverse order of regular standings, with the much-hated (here in Toronto) coin-flip being the next level of deciding. The teams that don't get eliminated before the final day/game of the regular season get draft spots in the now-current way of determination. This system would reward effort (and success), give the worst of the worst more opportunity to win a draft pick by actually winning and would likely eliminate the worst of these dump trades, as most recently personified by the Sixers. There would also be less buying out of contracts for players to go win their title elsewhere, a practice I consider odious. Playing 'nice' with old vets in reward for some unquantified karma down the line strikes me as ... pie in the sky.

While I'm wasting your bandwidth, I have to admit I'd like to also revive an old CBA (Continental Basketball Association) idea: The Point Per Quarter and Three for the Win system. Have each quarter be a point and we won't have some teams mailing in an effort in the fourth (and even third) quarter. Rewarding a team for a good effort with SOME points for winning/tying quarters seems a better evaluation of a game than the one-and-done win/loss system. And think of the pressure of the final game or games of the season as teams know they need a full seven points for standings purposes. The flaw of the system, of course, is that tying quarters means half-points in the standings. I'd like to think we've come far enough in analytics that that SHOULDN'T scare fans. But I could be wrong. Still, I'd like to see effort for four quarters a game. Something we don't always see.

Interesting idea on the Draft Division, Gary. But there are some problems with it -- namely, every team isn't going to be eliminated at the same time, and everyone post-elimination won't play the same number of games, so how do you determine who has the better "record?" A team with a 20-10 (.667) post-elimination record, or one that's 16-3 (.842)? Wouldn't the team with fewer games played post-elimination be able to argue that, since it was in the playoff hunt longer, it's actually the better team? As for the CBA ideas, they sound good in theory. But I've found that a team that's getting drilled on a January night isn't going to muster the energy -- and it's energy, not "effort" or "caring" or any of those buzz words, that teams can't generate every night -- to compete for that fourth-quarter "point." Besides, going for those extra points will only encourage coaches who already are inclined to use short rotations even more incentive to play their core guys even more minutes. Do bad teams develop their young guys or try to win those points in blowouts? I don't think you want to add even more potential for differing agendas between a team's coaches/players and its front office.

We need some cul-cha up in here. From Marko Nemet:

Straight to the point:

1. As for "winning culture" on a rebuilding team, I somehow feel it does quite matter. Maybe Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson, James Anderson etc. won't be on a future Sixers team that will look for Playoffs success, but MCW, Nerlens Noel and coach Brett Brown will. To me it seems important that if the franchise is tanking, it comes from the front office, not the team. Pretty much what Bryan Colangelo said they did in Toronto, meaning that the GM does what he can to make the team weaker/younger/less experienced while the coaching staff drives the same team to as many victories as possible. I don't know if it can be done, but if the team feels that losing is acceptable (not to mention desirable) for a season or two, when expectations come, it might be difficult to cope with them. Just look at the Cavs, not that that's their only problem, of course.

2. As for rewarding losing, how come the debate is always about the tanking? I don't think there's enough discussion on the question of rewarding franchises that are simply badly run, top to bottom. Your position (and I wholeheartedly agree) is that success will come, regardless of market size, if you draft the right players, trade for the right players and pay the right free agents the right amount of money, if I remember correctly. Well, how come this system rewards, apart from tankers, the ones who continually overpay the wrong free agents (sorry Joe Dumars, but Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Brandon Jennings AND Josh Smith?!), draft the wrong guys and make silly trades?! That bothers me more than tanking does. Thankfully, the new Commissioner seems to be very interested in finding a way of rewarding smart franchises. Let's see how he does it.

It is an awful cliché, Marko, but the franchises that I've seen that have won championships, or competed for them on a regular basis, have a single-mindedness of purpose from the top of the organization on down that informs everything that every employee does. That is not the case when players know that their front offices are planning for the future. No one comes out and says 'we're tanking,' of course. But the players know. The coaches know. Everyone knows. And that destroys that single-mindedness referenced above.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and how John Travolta would mangle your name using this "Adele Dazeem Name Generator" to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! (My Travoltifed name is Donald Allorn, by the way.)

MVP WATCH

(weekly averages in parentheses)

1) Kevin Durant (34.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.7 rpg, .540 FG, .805 FT): Part of working Russell Westbrook back into form: KD looked like he was deferring down the stretch as OKC tried to come back against the Lakers Sunday.

2) LeBron James (19.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 7 apg, .390 FG, .733 FT): Nice gesture going on an off night to former teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas' jersey retirement ceremony Saturday, knowing how many of the locals in Cleveland still view him.

3) Blake Griffin (23 ppg, 8 rpg, 6 apg, ,571 FG, .565 FT): The Clippers' power forward makes his MVP debut, after two months of outstanding play (and a few weeks of desultory play by Indiana's Paul George), with a streak of 22 straight games with at least 20 points as good a calling card as anything else the All-Star is doing.

4) Tim Duncan (13.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.3 bpg, .484 FG, .786 FT): Big Fundamental's already lofty career numbers went higher last week, passing Wes Unseld for 11th place on the NBA's all-time rebounds list.

5) LaMarcus Aldridge (22.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, .379 FG, .786 FT): LA's shooting eye not quite back up to snuff after returning from injury, with an unsightly 1 of 13 night against the Hawks on Wednesday.

Dropped out: Paul George

BY THE NUMBERS

127 -- Consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer by the Hawks' Kyle Korver, an NBA-best ever streak that ended last Wednesday when Korver was held without a three in Atlanta's blowout loss in Portland.

.133 -- Three-point percentage (4 of 30) by the Nets in Friday's loss to the Celtics, the worst shooting percentage by a team that shot at least 30 threes in a game in almost three decades.

332 -- Games LeBron James had played without attempting a free throw, dating to Dec. 20, 2009, before being held without a trip to the foul line in 45 minutes Sunday in Miami's loss to Chicago.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Our friends at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are once again teaming with the NBA for Hoops For St. Jude's Week, which runs through Thursday. As you probably know by now, St. Jude's treats children with cancer, sickle cell anemia and other deadly diseases, and doesn't charge the kids or their families a dime for the procedures, operations, travel, housing or food they get and use while at the hospital. St. Jude's does this through the contributions, great and small, of individuals and corporations. It costs $1.9 million per day for the hospital to do all the works it performs. This year's NBA Ambassadors for St. Jude's are Mike Conley, Pau and Marc Gasol, David Lee, Kevin Love and Greg Monroe, along with coaches Mike Brown, Rick Carlisle and Monty Williams. You can help by visiting the website and making a donation, or checking out St. Jude's Twitter and Facebook pages. It's well worth your time.

2) Reading Jeff Pearlman's book about the Showtime Lakers. I thought I had heard all of the relevant stories about the team and that era before, but there is so much that is new and revealing here. (Very few people have actually spoken with Jack McKinney, the starcrossed coach whose bike accident forced him to the sidelines in 1980 -- and which, ultimately, led to Pat Riley's ascension from the radio booth to the Hall of Fame.) You won't be able to put it down.

3) After his third or fourth foot operation, I forget which, the idea that Zydrunas Ilgauskas would have a career long enough to have his jersey retired was laughable. But he proved us all wrong, getting 13 years out of those bad wheels, and getting his number 11 raised to the rafters in Cleveland this past Saturday. Big Z was one of the most decent fellows to play in the league, and I trust it was a joyous day for him and his family.

4) Es verdad. Hablamos sobre los pantalones.

5) 34-0 is 34-0. Congratulations to Wichita State on an incredible season so far and good luck in the NCAA Tournament.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) If the league fines or otherwise disciplines Joakim Noah for "recruiting" Carmelo Anthony, it better be ready to check the cell phones of every player, every coach, every GM, every scout, every athletic trainer and every owner in the league. Because there's a thousand times worse stuff going on than Noah allegedly telling Anthony he's wasting his career playing in New York. I hate selective enforcement, whether it's by the NCAA punishing small schools for minor rules infractions, traffic cops pulling over the guy doing 57 in a 55 while eight cars doing 80 zoom by ... or, this.

2) Everyone must, sooner or later, rebuild. But watching the Clippers gnaw on the Lakers' carcass Thursday was still depressing for anybody with a sense of the league's history.

3) I thought these dinosaurs were extinct. Why can't we kill them off for good? What kind of meteor will it take?

4) Good God. Twenty-five hundred calories in one dish? That is horrifying.

5) I did not know this was agreed-upon practice in the NHL. Seems a bit crazy to take a chance that, in a league where playoff spots can come down to one or two points, that teams would be allowed to dress, in essence, civilians who could actually play in a game if there was a serious injury to a starter.

Q AND A: TREY BURKE

When you've won a state championship in high school as a junior, been named Mr. Basketball in Ohio as a senior, and led the University of Michigan to the national championship game as a sophomore, losing 40+ games as an NBA rookie can be a shock to the system.

Yet Utah's Trey Burke is getting better, not worse, as the Jazz's long season nears its end. His first season in the pros has not been a smooth one -- he missed most of the first month of the season recovering from a broken finger, and he's struggled to find a consistent shot. But he's displaying some of the same leadership skills running the team that were on display at Northland High in Columbus -- where Burke played for Coach Satch Sullinger, the father of his best friend and then-teammate, Celtics forward Jared Sullinger -- and at Michigan, where Burke played alongside Tim Hardaway, Jr., now with the Knicks, and where he became an all-America as a sophomore, winning the Wooden Award and being named AP College Basketball Player of the year. But those accolades, and $4.50, will get Burke a mocha frappachino and little else in the pros.

At an alleged 6 feet, Burke is still figuring out how to get his shot off in traffic, and how to guard the NBA's elite point guards. It's a nightly education in learning how to defend the pick and roll, "and the high frequency that he's playing the pick and roll in this league, compared to where he was last year, and the difference in his position and where to play it, and the consistency that he has to fight his way through it," Jazz Coach Tyrone Corbin says. "And can he generate the pace that we're looking for, while he has to put the effort in at the defensive end? He's learning a lot this year."

Me: It's been about a year since you went on that run at Michigan to the national championship game. Does it feel like it's been that long?

Trey Burke: Not really. It feels like it's been a couple of months, actually. But everything's started going so fast right after the tournament, after that part of the season, it was like a whirlwind. I can look back at it and reflect now and tell it's been a year, but I can tell it's been a lot that's happened since. It doesn't seem that long.

Me: You think about the final game at all? (Michigan lost to Louisville, 82-76, despite Burke going 7 of 11 en route to a game-high 24 points.)

TB: Yeah, from time to time. And it's not even like I think about just that game, because obviously we wanted to win. I think just about that whole week, that whole experience, that whole Final Four experience, our whole fan base coming to Atlanta, all of our families coming there. It was just a great time. We all had a great time.

Me: I'm sure you spoke with Jared [Sullinger] before the season began about what the adjustment would be from the college to the pro game. Has it been anything near what you thought?

TB: Pretty much. He told me a lot, coming into the NBA, the main thing was the strenuous schedule, and the travel. He told me it was similar to college, but it's another level, times two. I didn't know how to prepare for that, because you really can't prepare your body and your mind, more importantly, for that. Right now I'm just trying to get as much rest as I can, especially at this point of the season. We're having some back to backs coming up, and this is a long road. It's important for us to make sure we're getting rest.

Me: Have you heard from Satch [Sullinger]?

TB: I text him, pretty much, every other week. He texts me and tells me how proud he is of me. I got to see him when we were in Utah, he came to the games and stuff. We're in touch.

Me: What is the toughest thing you've found so far about running a team?

TB: The toughest thing about running a team, right now, would be playing through mistakes. At Michigan, I was so accustomed to being adjusted already to the system. Coming into this new system, and asking to find out how I can be effective in this system as well is the biggest thing right now. And I'm getting better at it. My balance is coming along, to where I need to attack, and when I need to get somebody else the ball. I think it's all a read and a learning process.

Me: Do you find there's extra pressure on any point guard who plays in Utah because of the standard John Stockton set there?

TB: I think so, to a certain extent. The fans do a great job, I think, of embracing anybody who comes to Utah, including myself. They've already embraced me and shown me a lot of support. I think there is some pressure with the standard Stockton set, and him being the all-time assist and steals leader in the NBA. When you've got a guy that's the all-time assist leader and steals leader, you've definitely got to come in and try to, not fill his shoes, but you've got to come in and produce. That's what they're expecting. They've seen one of the greatest point guards come through this franchise. To me, I'm going to continue to still work hard to get the most out of my game.

Me: Harder to run the pick and roll, or defend it?

TB: Defending it, by far. It's easier running it because I think if you're slow in the mind and really understand the pick and roll, and know how to make those reads, and for most guards, they do. That's why they're in this league. For any guard, it's even harder to guard it. You've got a guy like [Washington's] John Wall running, coming downhill, full speed. For me, if he's coming downhill at me, I've got to go under [the screen] and try to meet him, and my big's gotta help me contest him at the rim. It's tough, because you have to be able to stop that guy from getting in the paint, and the more the guard's in the paint the more it's going to open up for everybody else.

Me: Who has really worn you out on it this season?

TB: Chris Paul and Tony Parker, I would say, in the pick and roll specifically. I've played against, pretty much, all the guards, and there are some real tough guards in this league. But I think those two, in the pick and roll. Because, for one, they get the ball so low. Like, once they come off the screen, it's a 5- , 6-foot jumper for them. And if the big comes up, it's a lob to Blake [Griffin] or whoever it may be.

Me: How do you keep from getting discouraged if you really get handled out there?

TB: Just keep playing. There has been some nights like that, where guys were just having their way in the pick and roll, and we were losing and things like that. Coming from college and not being used to losing as much, I had to learn to just play through mistakes, watching a lot of film off the court as well. Just learning to learn and raise my (basketball) IQ.

Me: Your best shooting percentages on the floor all are on the left side of the floor. Are teams looking to get you to your right hand?

TB: Yeah, I think so. I think some teams force me left, not knowing that's really the side I like going to. [But] even if they force me right, that's my strong hand. So that's good either way. For me, it's just making the read. Coming off that screen, if the shot is there, taking it. And if the guy comes up, making that pocket pass, that skip pass. It's all about really just making the right play.

Me: Almost all of your perimeter scoring is on mid-range shots. You know this league is pushing everyone to shoot 3-pointers, especially corner threes. Is that something you'll be working on, or will you stick with what you're doing now?

TB: I think it's just, I don't necessarily think that that's a shot I get a lot in the game, the corner three. Unless Gordon [Hayward] is coming off the screen and I'm in the corner, that's pretty much the only time I'm going to get that shot. Certain times when I'm working out or I'm at practice, I'm working on those mid-range shots, coming off the screen, in transition, floaters and things like that. I think that's going to be big for me, being able to knock down that mid-range shot, finishing in the paint.

Me: You got the in-between game going yet? That's really what makes guys like Paul and Parker impossible to guard.

TB: I think so. I think, for me, it's shot selection. I've got the in-between game, but sometimes, I may take a shot that may not be there, necessarily. And I think that's why my percentages are as low as they are right now. For me, I've got to continue to make the right play, take the shot when the defense gives me the shot, basically make the right reads out there.

Me: I read where you spoke with Ray Allen before the Heat game, and he told you how important it was to get a pregame routine and stick with it. Has that helped?

TB: It's helped a lot, tremendously. Ever since then, I've been getting here early, working out, and then working out at the regular time afterwards, before the games. I think it's allowing me to get on a consistent routine. I think it's going to take me a long way, hopefully. It's pretty hard [to parcel time]. It's getting more comfortable for me now, 'cause I'm getting used to the road, what it's like on the road. A lot of times, we get into these cities, and we've already practiced, so pretty much our whole day is to ourselves. So, for me, I try to take a nap. I bring my video games on the road. Just try to kill time so I'm not tired the next day doing too much.

Me: How much did the win over Miami help you, and can that carry over during a long, losing season?

TB: Absolutely. It's a confidence booster, I think, for anybody. They're the defending champions, two-peated, with LeBron, obviously. Coming into Utah, pretty much everybody expected us to lose, and I think that's why we ended up winning. We played hard for 48 minutes, and we did what we needed to do at the defensive end. It affected our offense.

Me: What is coach Corbin in your ear about every day?

TB: Pace. Coach Corbin is on me a lot about my pace, and changing speeds, things like that. That's something that I'm going to work on a lot this summer, getting faster, getting stronger, running the team. When the team is breaking down, being that vocal leader, even though I am a rookie. Bring the guys together, get them going. It's all going to come along, and my teammates let me lead.

Me: Have their been any moments like that when, whether it was Richard [Jefferson] or one of the other vets, you had to say 'I know what you see, but I have to make this decision?'

TB: There hasn't been a moment where I just called them out or anything like that. The vets, they do a great job listening. That's the good thing about this team. We don't have any veterans that are just like, not going to listen to a younger guy, because they have all the answers. They're going to let you talk. They're going to let you learn through your mistakes, and they're going to encourage you more than anything. That's a confidence booster.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Watch the film. No close outs on D, doubles were late, rotations were slow. It was too easy to score. At 54 y/o I could drop 40 on that D
--Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins (@DWilkins21), Tuesday, 1:23 p.m., on how he was not especially impressed by LeBron James' career-high 61 points last Monday against the Bobcats. In subsequent Tweets 'Nique time and again pointed out he wasn't being critical of LeBron but of Charlotte's poor defense.

THEY SAID IT

"Let's not make it about the jerseys. We got our butts kicked."
-- Dwyane Wade, after Miami's 111-87 loss to San Antonio Thursday. Teammate LeBron James was critical of the short-sleeved adidas jerseys the Heat and Spurs wore in the game, saying the jersey pulled on his arm as he shot jumpers throughout the game.

"Sometimes in timeouts I'll say, 'I've got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody's holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.' And I'll get up and walk away. Because it's true. There's nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls -- , and act like I'm a coach or something, but it's on them."
-- Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, earlier in the week, talking to reporters before the San Antonio-Cleveland game about how he feels his players have to be empowered and informed enough to correct the mistakes they make on the court. Another word for all this is "accountability."

"I was two months premature. Very, very small baby. My dad could hold me in the palm of his hand -- that small. That's very small. I wasn't supposed to be here. The doctor had my mom on bed rest for seven months. I wasn't supposed to be here. I made it! So, I'm happy. I'm going to smile. I'm going to enjoy my life. I'm going to have fun, because I wasn't supposed to be here."
-- Dwight Howard, in the premier episode of "The Dwight Howard Show" on Comcast Sports Net Houston, explaining his carefree philosophy. Howard's mother Sheryl, suffered seven miscarriages; Dwight was one of three pregnancies she was able to carry to term.

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