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David Aldridge

Mike Krzyzewski
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski faces some major -- if familiar -- adjustments to his squad's roster.

George injury, late withdrawals raise familiar Team USA issues


Posted Aug 11, 2014 11:17 AM

They have had to deal with this before.

Because the U.S. men's team won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, and the 2010 World Championships, it's easy to forget that each of those squads had to deal with injuries and withdrawals en route to their triumphs.

The '08 "Redeem Team" was supposed to feature guard Chauncey Billups. But he was getting married that summer and withdrew. Amar'e Stoudemire never suited up, preferring to rest his knees. The '10 Worlds team had to play without LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, who were given that rotation off to keep them fresher for the London Games.

In '12, Dwyane Wade's knee kept him off the team. Derrick Rose was still rehabbing his first season-ending knee injury. Dwight Howard (back) and LaMarcus Aldridge (hip) also begged off before the Games. Blake Griffin had to pull out just weeks before when he tore the meniscus in his knee while training. Without Griffin, Howard and Aldridge, the U.S. team had only Tyson Chandler and Anthony Davis to play in the middle, and was vulnerable to big squads like Spain -- which nearly defeated the U.S. men in London in the gold medal game.

Although Paul George's broken leg suffered 10 days ago was gruesome and Kevin Durant's withdrawal a surprise, the U.S. team will still field a team at this summer's FIBA World Cup (Aug. 30-Sept. 14) that's better than just about everyone else. Whether that includes host country Spain is certainly up for debate.

The bigger debate is whether teams will continue to allow their stars to try out for the team in the first place.

USA Basketball, and its majordomo, Jerry Colangelo, have used hammer and tong to make participating in international competition something to be coveted by NBA superstars. Making participation an invitation-only event gave playing in the World Cup or Olympics some cache among the league's elite players. They have engaged corporate sponsors, put training camp in Las Vegas and removed any excuse for not participating.

But the impact to the Pacers of losing George, an All-Star who is just beginning a five-year, $91.6 million max extension, is incalculable. If George misses the entire season, as is likely after he underwent surgery Aug. 2, Indiana's chances of a breakthrough in the now-egalitarian Eastern Conference fall through the floor.

Other teams with other stars in international competition stand to lose money, too. There's the $4 million the Spurs got from the league as their share of the playoff pool they received after winning The Finals in June. There's the ability of franchises that win titles to cash in with season ticket renewals. There's the spike in resales of Finals tickets by brokers and other entities.

And there's Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, saying I told you so.

The fact that Indiana may potentially get a $5.3 million disabled player exception does little to lessen the impact of losing George for most of, if not all of, next season. Yet the Pacers remain steadfast in their support of the World Cup.

"We support USA Basketball," Pacers president Larry Bird said on the red carpet before the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday night. "It's a great honor for these kids to represent their country. I understand that, 'cause I was a young kid at one time. I played international basketball as a high school player, a college player and a pro player. I think it's the greatest opportunity and the greatest honor you could ever have."

Cuban has been railing about NBA player involvement in international competitions for years, decrying the financial payoff that comes to the International Olympic Committee rather than the NBA and its owners, or its players. To that end, Cuban has proposed the NBA develop its own World Cup of Basketball.

"For the IOC, basketball is an afterthought," Cuban wrote via e-mail Friday. "We may create more money than any other Summer Olympic sport, but the profits are not re- invested into the NBA, or into developing basketball around the world. They are reinvested in the IOC's bank account. So as a result, the NBA still has to pay to develop the game globally. So its worse than it looks

"But if we owned a World Cup, guys would still love playing for their country. The standards for safety, trainers, etc., would be ours. Profits from TV, and there would be profits from TV, would go not just to the NBA/Players, but we could take a big chunk and actually develop the game worldwide. The IOC does nothing to develop basketball. We would be able to do far more because we would own the whole vertical chain

"So right now, not only do we not benefit at all, we have to pay to develop the game worldwide and that comes out of the owners' and players' pockets."

But all owners don't agree with Cuban that withholding NBA players is the way to go.

Two owners who have extensive experience with their players playing internationally the last few years said last week that they had not had any change of heart after George's injury.

"I'd rather have them with Coach K and a 1st class staff than in their HS gyms," one owner texted Friday. "If it happened playing pickup he wouldn't have gotten immediate medical attention. Fully support USAB and what it means for the game globally."

This is not a black and white issue. (Of course, nothing is.) But there is risk. The chicken-and-egg quality of the debate has never been starker in the wake of George's injury.

The Spurs have danced with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. On the one hand, Parker's play for France last summer, leading France to its first EuroBasket title, was of invaluable benefit emotionally and psychologically for the 32-year-old, who has desperately tried to raise France to the elite level internationally.

But it's been hell on his wheels.

Parker was out on his feet when the Spurs began training camp at the end of last September, barely a week after he'd finished playing for France. It was not a coincidence that Gregg Popovich shut Parker down for three weeks during the regular season. It worked out in the end for the Spurs, but Parker will not play for France this year in the World Cup, though Spurs teammate and close friend Boris Diaw will.

Meanwhile, the Spurs put their foot down with Ginobili, 37, who still hoped to play for Argentina in Spain. With doctors saying Ginobili needed eight weeks to recover from a stress fracture he played with during the playoffs, San Antonio denied him permission to play for Argentina.

Over the course of his many years playing for Argentina, Ginobili has totaled more than 20 months of international competition -- the equivalent of almost three additional years on the floor. This time, the Spurs said no.

The Rockets had no choice but to watch, helplessly, as Yao Ming's body slowly broke down, year by year, as he played for China in world championships, Olympic qualifying tournaments, and fulfilled other national team obligations. It was part of the cost of getting China to agree to let Yao play in the States. (Of course, the argument is rarely seen from the other perspective: Why wouldn't the Chinese believe that Yao's body broke down because of the grind of the NBA season, leaving them with a lesser player for their national needs -- which would be, after all, their primary concern?)

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern advocated adopting the rules of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, which limits Olympic soccer participation to players 23 and under. But Bryant and other players spoke out strongly against the proposal, and it was quietly shelved.

But Stern's proposal still has some support among some NBA teams.

"To us, it would make sense to have age limits on this," one team executive said. "That would tell you that you have X number of years of risk to accept."

The executive thinks, at the least, that FIBA, basketball's international governing body, should assume greater financial risks for NBA players.

"The injury insurance that's required of those FIBA guys is only for permanent, career-ending injury," he said. "God forbid Paul George doesn't play again. They'll have a portion of the rest of his career paid for. But it's $100 million. And the very first year is on the team. For him, if he's $20 million next year, the first $10 million comes out of the team's pocket, and then the league's (insurance) policy pays 80 percent of it ... there's very little value to the team when the player's playing internationally. You're building your brand a little bit, but the risk-reward relationship is pretty poorly weighed."

Still, there appears to be little momentum for changing the current rules.

"It would appear to me that at this point, they need us a lot more than we need them," the executive said. "We would still have significant international revenues, even if we eliminated our players from being eligible to play in the World Cup and Olympics. The medical care that they receive, the requirements have gotten tighter. But you can't tell me that the medical budgets of Cameroon ... have the same treatment protocols when a kid is playing in underdeveloped environments."

Cuban has been criticized himself for what is perceived as a self-serving reason for opposing the NBA's participation.

"I think people need to read between the lines, which is basically he's not against international competition," Colangelo said in a conference call last week. "He's against international competition when he believes the beneficiary -- being the IOC -- is getting the money. So he's basically saying it's OK for our players to play internationally if the money goes to the NBA and to the team owners. That's the difference."

Cuban's response?

"He is right," Cuban e-mailed late Friday night. But, Cuban added, "the players get 50 percent of the profits, so they would benefit as well."

Cuban believes that, despite the additional workload of an NBA-sponsored World Cup for players in the offseason, they and the union would agree to the new arrangement.

"There is a huge difference between an exhibition game and a game for your nation," Cuban e-mailed. "No one dives for a loose ball in a pro-am game. In a game for your country you are remembered for generations as a quitter if you don't."

For now, the U.S. team moves on, without George, Durant, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook. Again, they'll be undersized. Again, they'll have a tough time with Spain.

Again, they still expect to win.

"We've got a great bunch of young guys who are really together, in my opinion," Colangelo said Friday. "And you take the hits when they come. We have a lot of talent, and there's no reason why we can't win another gold medal. And I would say this. If that were to be the case, it'll be the sweetest win, because of the circumstances."

DRIBBLES

You spend a minute around Becky Hammon, and you're hooked.

Legendary coach John Madden used to talk about "bright-eyed" players when he was an NFL television analyst. Guys, he'd say, that were full of energy and life and positive feeling. That's what Hammon has been throughout her WNBA career, during which she was a seven-time All-Star and named one of the top 15 players in league history.

But, that was the WNBA. This is the NBA. There's a reason why it was such big news when the Spurs announced last week that they were hiring Hammon as a full-time assistant coach. If it wasn't a big deal to hire a woman, someone would have done it by now. (John Lucas had Lisa Boyer on his Cavaliers staff in 2001, but Boyer was a volunteer assistant who didn't travel with the team or sit on the bench.)

The dean of my old journalism school put it succinctly many years ago: We do not do stories on cars that drive on the right side of the road, or leaves that fall from trees.

"I think I'm comfortable with my basketball IQ, stuff like that," Hammon said at an introductory news conference in San Antonio last week. "And I think the coaching stuff just kind of comes naturally to me. This is obviously a huge opportunity, but again, it is basketball. I'm very confident in that area."

As ever with the Spurs, Hammon was already part of the family. The Stars, like the Spurs' NBA Development League affiliate, the Austin Toros, are part of San Antonio's overall basketball program. Ideas flow from one team to the other. Hammon had interned with the Spurs last summer, when she spent time with coach Gregg Popovich and the rest of the staff.

"She was around our team all year long," Spurs GM R.C. Buford said Sunday. "She was rehabilitating an ACL injury so she didn't play overseas. She spent time at the coach's film sessions. She spent time at team practices and team meetings. She sat behind the bench at many of our games. It was clear she had a lot to offer."

Hammon's mastery of Xs and Os impressed the Spurs organization. If you give it 10 seconds of thought, it's not a heavy lift; do women run a pin-down any differently than men?

But no one pulled the trigger until now.

"I think it's great," said Theresa Grentz, the former University of Illinois and Rutgers coach. She, along with her Immaculata University teammates that won AIAW titles from 1972-74, were enshrined in Springfield last week.

"I salute Popovich and the Spurs for doing what they're doing," Grentz said. "Now, she has to step it up, and she will. And I think that's going to open up some doors."

Women have made inroads into the basketball operations side of NBA teams over the last few years. Natalie Nakase, a former UCLA player, was the Clippers' video coordinator last season -- the same job path that several NBA coaches, including Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer, Miami's Erik Spoelstra and Indiana's Frank Vogel took en route to their current jobs -- and was on the Clippers' bench as an assistant coach during the Las Vegas Summer League. The Bulls hired Jennifer Swanson as the team's Director of Sports Performance last season, putting her in charge of Chicago's athletic trainers and strength coaches.

Buford, a former Kansas assistant coach on Larry Brown's staff, surely knows the impact that Kansas' Andrea Hudy has had on his alma mater. She was hired as the Jayhawks' strength coach in 2004 and is now the school's assistant athletic director of sports performance.

But for all the talk about chemistry among players, there is almost never thought given to the dynamic among coaches. They are on the road just as long as the players; they meet more often. They often, naturally, differ on strategies, rotations. And, until now, they've all been guys. A group of guys, no matter how forward-thinking in all other ways, acts differently when there are no women around. (Trust me on this.)

And the Spurs' bench has been in transition during the last year, with longtime former assistants Budenholzer and Brett Brown leaving for coaching jobs in Atlanta and Philadelphia, respectively.

Former Spurs players Ime Udoka (2012) and Sean Marks (2013) had joined Popovich on the bench. But without Budenholzer (Popovich's right-hand man for almost two decades) and Brown (who'd been in San Antonio since 2002), there was a different dynamic than there's been in many years.

The Spurs fulfilled a long-desired goal to bring legendary European coach Ettore Messina into the organization for next season as an assistant, replacing Marks. (Marks' job on the bench was always going to be temporary; his long-term plans are for front office work.) Messina's life and coaching experiences would be good for Popovich, the staff and the team. Hammon, though, is still a player. But the Spurs liked having her around, though they didn't really have a job in mind.

They had thought about ways to use her after Budenholzer and Brown left. But when Hammon went to Popovich during the summer and said she would definitely retire as a player if there was a job available with the team, the Spurs didn't hesitate figuring out the best way to use her. Owner Peter Holt was quickly on board as well.

"It's more a function of Pop's participatory mindset, and I think we viewed this similarly to [current Orlando Magic coach] Jacque Vaughn, when Jacque was at the end of his [playing] career," Buford said.

"We didn't have an opening or a specific need at that time, but here is a player who's a good player and a good leader who is a good basketball player. We'll figure out what we need, but it's clear they can contribute and be helpful. As we viewed Becky, it was a similar introduction that we felt when Jacque joined our group."

Popovich does not want shrinking violets on his staff. He encourages educated disagreements. Like any assistant, Hammon will have to find her voice quickly.

She said she expects to do what the other assistants do -- dividing up opposing teams for advance scouting, developing game plans and the like. And with the Spurs' emphasis on player development over the years, with Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier among the most important people in the organization, Hammon's knowledge of the game will be beneficial.

There is a reason she has been compared with Steve Nash over the years.

"Since we moved into the practice facility, I think development has become a big part of it, but it's become more important as Pop has tried to manage the minutes of our best players," Buford said. "Our coaches and our players have grown that development atmosphere through that. How Becky will engage in that, first, Pop has got to establish the roles when they go on their coaching retreat. I'm sure a lot of attention will be put into that."

Hammon's ascension could also impact coaches outside of the pros.

It drives women coaches crazy that men continue to coach women's college basketball teams in overwhelming numbers. According to the University of Central Florida's 2013 Racial and Gender Report card for college sports, only 38.7 percent of all Division I women's basketball teams are coached by women. And women comprise less than half of all assistant coaching jobs on women's teams across all college divisions.

"Perhaps some [college] ADs may even look at this and go, 'You know, maybe we jumped the gun a little bit giving all these jobs, when we should be looking at and giving jobs to women,' " Grentz said. "'If the NBA can hire a woman, why can't a university?' We've went the other way, and it seems to go in cycles. Hopefully this announcement -- and that's the first thing I thought of -- will make people say, 'There's women out there who can coach. Give them an opportunity.'"

But Hammon can only coach the Spurs. That remains a remarkable, powerful change -- one that reaches back into history as well as reaching to the future.

"It was Geno [Auerimma, the Hall of Fame University of Connecticut basketball coach], when he gave his speech, and he had a player win an award, and he certainly had a lot of players win a lot of individual awards, he said would always look and say, 'You know, I think I had a little something to do with that,' " Grentz said. "So, basically what he was saying to his players who were there that night, when he was being enshrined, was you can say, 'I think we had something to do with this guy winning this award tonight.'

"With Becky, moving forward, the great players of the past, the '50s and the '60s, that might not be recognized, the Redheads [the All-American Redheads, who barnstormed the country for 50 years playing against mens' teams] that went in a couple of years ago, all of those who've been enshrined previously, all those great people, that I'd like to think, that somehow, some way, they have a little bit to do with that announcement this past week. And in 30 years, Becky Hammon is going to tell her story, that she was the first full-time female coach in the NBA. And who knows what will have blossomed from that? But I'd like to think, maybe, if I would, even just a little bit, that the Mighty Macs had something to do with that."

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Who is Michele Roberts' team?

Roberts is humored by the question.

"Do you really have to ask?" she asks, in response, on the phone Saturday. "I'm from the Bronx and have two older brothers. Of course it's the Knicks."

She was a kid in 1969 when the hometown team captured the hearts of many of its denizens, beating the Lakers in seven games in 1970 to capture the title.

"That may be the first and last time I saw my older brother cry, when Willis Reed came out with no knees," she said. "It was the most spectacular team. It was a great team, but Reed set the standard ... I haven't seen anything like that since."

Until July 28, the National Basketball Players Association had never had a woman running its union. But Roberts, a litigation partner at the powerful Washington, D.C. law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, knocked down that barrier in Las Vegas.

She impressed the players that attended the late July meeting there, winning 32 of the 36 votes for the job. Roberts clearly was the favorite of the union's Executive Committee and union president Chris Paul. She will officially take over for interim director Ron Klempner September 15.

Roberts has "an incredible body of work in the law field," said one member of the executive committee who voted for her. "Caring, nurturing side that's going to go a long way with uniting players. Great insight on path to where the union needs to be ... her background is very relatable to our players."

She is, nonetheless, an unusual, trailblazing choice. Her gender is only the half of it.

"I love people saying, 'You go girl,' " she said. "But I don't go around going, 'What kind of glass ceiling am I going to break this morning?' "

Like many high-achieving African-Americans, and women of color, Roberts has been "the first" and "the only" most of her career, spanning three decades. You notice it, of course, but you don't define yourself by it. Entering the male-dominated world of the NBA was the same.

"I never even thought about that," Roberts said. "I really didn't. I knew being a woman was going to be different. It never occurred to me that it would be of such significance. I think it was because a long time ago, I stopped worrying about that. When I started, there weren't that many women in the court. There weren't that many trial lawyers. Women were doing things that didn't bring them into the court room. It was a male dominated, often a white male dominated, job. I got over that a long time ago."

She began her career as a defense attorney in the Public Defender Service in Washington, right out of the University of California at Berkeley's law school. She quickly established a reputation as an up and comer.

"It was clear that when she was a young lawyer, a junior lawyer there, that she was a rising star, someone who was going to become a star," said Angela Davis, a longtime friend of Roberts and a professor of law at the Washington College of Law at American University (yes, my American University).

"It was clear that this was someone who was uniquely qualified as a lawyer," Davis said. "She was someone whom everyone came to watch. You have court watchers, people who just come to court to watch trials. But lawyers came to watch her ... prosecutors used to come watch her, our opponents. And judges, believe it or not. She was just that commanding in the courtroom. She was extremely skilled, extremely charismatic."

Roberts worked in the PDS for eight years, serving as counsel on more than 40 jury trials. In one, she got a jury to acquit her client -- even though her client was on videotape, confessing to the crime for which he had been accused.

"I thought I would do that until the day I die," Roberts said. "And I loved it. But you cross examine so many homicide detectives and you start wondering, 'Is that all there is?' "

She transitioned. In 1991, one of her mentors, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, brought her on board to work with law professor Anita Hill during the contentious confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. Roberts then worked in private practice before moving into the corporate world. She joined Akin, Gump in 2004 as a partner specializing in civil and white collar criminal cases in state and federal courts, before joining Skadden, Arps in 2011.

So why does someone named the best pure trial lawyer in Washington, D.C. in 2002 by Washingtonian Magazine -- "magic with juries, loved by judges, feared by opposing counsel," the magazine raved -- and now locked in at a top firm doing corporate litigation decide she wants to head a sports union that has been adrift for almost two years, basically rudderless since the 2011 lockout?

The girl who loved the Knicks became a woman who still loved the game.

"She's really a basketball nut, really loves basketball, from the city, and I guess that goes back to the Knicks and the playgrounds or whatever," said Fred Cooke, Jr., himself a well-known D.C. attorney and friend who's known her since she worked in the Public Defender's Office.

Roberts knew that Hunter had been fired in February, 2013, after accusations and counter-accusations that ultimately wound up in court, and that the position was still open. And she believed that she shared a common bond with many players that wasn't about race as much as expectations: they, like her, weren't supposed to amount to much.

"I think -- I know -- that the very first time I even entertained a thought of it, I saw one of the players being interviewed on TV," she said. "The question suggested that the union was broken. The player's response, which was fairly passionate, was that, no, it's not broken, and when we take the union back, it's going to be stronger than ever. Some months went by and I heard that Hunter's position was still vacant, and I was surprised by that. And of course I was telling myself, 'What are you, nuts? You're not going to do that.' But I couldn't stop thinking about it."

She did well in the first iteration of the search, conducted by the headhunter firm Reilly Partners. She was one of the two initial finalists for the job when the union met last February. Roberts has connected with juries and judges for years. She knows how to make her case. And her life story resonated with many.

"Not every player, or even the majority, come from single mother backgrounds," Roberts said. "But what they have in common with themselves and with me is they had a mission at a very young age, and they worked very hard to get there. Their membership in the NBA was something that was not promised to them. I also was determined by hook or by crook to get there. Each of them, that notion made sense in the context of their own lives. And I think they appreciated someone saying, 'And I get that. And you deserve to have the best damn union out there.' For some of them, maybe it was being raised by a single mom, like me, or growing up in the projects, like me."

But criticism from prominent agents about the process not being open enough and not looking at enough candidates led to a re-opening of the search, which was headed by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson. Roberts had to wait several more months, though she maintained support from most of the executive committee.

Roberts again became a finalist for the job, this time competing against Dallas Mavericks team president Terdema Ussery and Dean Roberts, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council. Agents again grumbled that the process was closed and that none of the finalists was qualified for the job, and Johnson withdrew from the search process at the 11th hour, for unspecified reasons.

But at some point, the union had to move forward. It hadn't had an ED for 18 months, with a number of issues from the last lockout still outstanding, and with the likelihood of another work stoppage as soon as 2017 looming.

Roberts closed the sale in Vegas, making the case that while she wanted the ED job, the players had to run the union. She would create structure within the union to help players, present information and alternatives on issues, but they would be making the decisions.

"I've been accused for the last 35 years of cross examining my friends, giving opening statements at parties," she said. "The lawyer part of me never stops lawyering. Unlike a jury, these were men, and women, who were looking for something, not just examining the facts. I had what I thought was the recipe for strengthening the union, consistent to what I thought the executive director position was supposed to be."

She will not yet discuss the myriad issues that the union needs to address, from HGH testing to the proposed increase in the age limit for the Draft to whether Clippers players should boycott next fall if Donald Sterling, even technically, remains the team's owner, saying her personal views on those subjects are "irrelevant."

But she says she will be relentless in finding out what the players want to do, and that she and her team will be ready when it comes time to stare across at NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league's owners at collective bargaining time.

"Even when I was a public defender, representing some poor schmuck that was charged with burglary, I had to have a conversation about how to resolve this case," she said. "The notion of high stakes negotiation is not new to me. This will be new to me ... but frankly, I kind of get excited about the notion that this will be a high stakes negotiation. I will have a team. We will start the preparation for the CBA the minute I get in the door."

Her friends believe she will be ready for the new challenges of the union job.

Said Cooke: "I think she will do well, because I do think she is able to operate at different levels. She gets the sophisticated guys. She spent most of the last few years representing corporate America, the Fortune 50 kind of crowd, in her practice. She gets how to communicate with them, what their egos require. She can make the presentation. The package won't be one that will totally put them off. They won't feel like she's an alien from another planet. At the same time, she is absolutely committed to getting the best possible result for her clients."

And she actually likes the game. (There are a few big-time agents who don't. Trust me.)

"I know Michele, and Michele is a basketball fanatic, ever since I've known her," Davis said. "She has season ticket for the Wizards, and if she's not there, she's watching on television. And she loves the players. They have backgrounds similar not only to her, but similar to a lot of the clients she used to represent. She gets fired up if she sees them being taken advantage of."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

He thinks my rankings are rank. From Steve Macdonald:

Portland Trail Blazers
Portland fans expected the signing of Chris Kaman and Steve Blake to move the needle more.

I read your articles regularly, but I was very disappointed in this latest one. There seems to be very little logic to the ratings. Dallas made a trade with NY and you have both benefitting from it. I see Dallas as a much weaker team due to the trade for an injury-prone Tyson Chandler, and with the loss of Vince Carter and Shawn Marion as well. It just seems that if a team gains from picking a guy up like you listed Memphis, even though they lost several contributors to offset it, then the team that lost VC should likely be hurt.

Portland is 29th, but made a lateral move losing Mo Williams for Steve Blake, and added depth at the center position. Certainly there are several teams that have gotten significantly worse. Minny still has Kevin Love and so have really only added to their team at this point, but yet you suggest that moving Love would push them up. Wouldn't trading Love be more likely to make them a worse team?

On another note, could you put it out that Love can't sign an extension until January of 2015 so most of these hacks can stop acting like him opting for FA next summer is some kind of important twist in the trade negotiations?

Let me correct you, Steve. There's no logic to my rankings, as I state right up front every year. But I disagree with your contention that a trade can't benefit both teams. The deal did help both the Mavs, who got a starting center in Tyson Chandler who Dirk Nowitzki said was the best teammate he's ever played with, and the Knicks, who got a legit starting point guard in Jose Calderon. As I wrote, I don't think Portland did anything wrong. I just thought other teams improved their squads more.

Oh, look: an e-mail from a Portland fan. From Max Montano:

I'm trying to understand the logic for your ranking the Blazers at No. 29 in your offseason rankings. I definitely agree there weren't any big splashes, but I'm having difficultly reconciling the fact that the three teams ranked directly ahead of them (Indy, Houston and Miami) took such significant steps backward.

Did you really see them having a terrible offseason? Or was it more that they didn't really do much so you just threw them in at the end.

I certainly would have preferred landing a star, but I think adding a couple of veteran rotation players on very reasonable contracts in Chris Kaman and Blake provides additional depth needed while still allowing opportunity for some of the younger players to develop. I have a hard time seeing this as worse than losing LeBron.

Again: Portland didn't have a terrible offseason. And you can make the case that Indy's and Miami's summers were worse. I just wasn't moved by what the Blazers did. You weigh the pluses and minuses. For example: I penalized Houston for not achieving its stated goal of getting a third star to play with Dwight Howard and James Harden. But the Rockets did get Trevor Ariza, at a much lower price, than they would have had to pay to keep Chandler Parsons. (You can debate whether Parsons is a better player than Ariza, but I think it's basically a wash; Parsons is better offensively, Ariza is the superior defender.) And the Rockets did get an unprotected 2015 first-rounder from the Pelicans for Omer Asik. So, did they have a "worse" offseason than the Blazers? We're talking about degrees here. That doesn't mean the Blazers aren't a good team, or that they won't be better than the Rockets or Heat next season. It's just an opinion, and we each are entitled to ours.

Shocker: someone disagrees with my rankings. From Ron Buel:

Wait David. Your excellent insight about the NBA was tempered by how things came out in the end. You ranked San Antonio ninth, but my Portland Trail Blazers 29th when neither really made significant moves to improve. Portland won 54 games and the first round of the playoffs, against a very tough Houston team. They basically stood pat, with younger players at key positions than San Antonio has, by far. They whomped San Antonio twice during the regular season.

I also don't think you gave enough credit to the moves of Dallas (who will now be very competitive in my opinion) -- Vince Carter has to slow down sometime for gawd's sake. Nor did you give enough credit to New Orleans, who will now be in the playoff mix if they stay healthy this year, with a good defensive center, the missing piece in their line-up. I watched Asik shut down your cousin Aldridge as well as anyone has, when he was assigned the task in the playoffs.

Other than these three, I would note that the East teams need improvement more than those in the West, who with the improvements at Dallas, Denver and New Orleans, have more serious play-off teams (I count 11) than does the East by a count of five.

As far as Portland, Ron, see above. As far as the Mavs, I ranked them seventh, which I think is pretty good. I couldn't rank them higher because, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, they lost Carter, who played extremely well for them down the stretch of so many games the last couple of years. As for New Orleans, we'll see. I'm not down on Asik, but I have to see him get through a season healthy.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and reminders, as if you needed any, to never mess with Brutus the Crocodile to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

BY THE NUMBERS

6 -- Regular season games that Kevin Durant has missed in nine NBA seasons, according to The Oklahoman. Durant announced that he was exhausted mentally and physically last week in opting to leave the U.S. men's national team. Durant starred on the 2010 U.S. team that won the gold medal in what was then called the World Championships in Turkey, and was a key part of the 2012 U.S. team that won the gold at the London Olympics.

4 -- Games that Mavericks guard Ray Felton was suspended by the NBA last week. Felton pled guilty in late July to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm. Felton turned himself into authorities in New York last February following a dispute with his estranged wife. The plea will be expunged if Felton performs 500 hours of community service and pays a $5,000 fine.

2.5-1 -- Current odds of the Cavaliers winning the NBA title next season after Yahoo! Sports reported the long-rumored deal that will send Kevin Love from Minnesota to Cleveland was agreed upon by both teams. The deal cannot take place until Aug. 23, when Cavs rookie Andrew Wiggins can officially be traded, 30 days after signing his rookie deal.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Ed O'Bannon only played 128 mostly forgettable games in the NBA from 1995-97. But his impact going forward on basketball could be enormous. And about time. There is nothing analogous to the financial impact college football and basketball players have on sports. Brilliant young chemists, piano players, architects or historians don't generate billions of dollars in revenues for their schools. They just don't. Those players deserve a cut of the pie.

2) If more young talent is coming into the Sixers' pipeline, Philly is coming right along. I still think the team, as a sign of good faith with its fan base, needs to publicly and substantially reduce some of its ticket prices this season. But getting the No. 1 pick from a year ago for anyone from a 19-63 team would be good work from Sam Hinkie.

3) Actual unretouched evidence of Tim Duncan wearing a jacket. No actual sports coats were harmed in the making of this jpg.

4) Wait a minute. Where is Lamar Mundane on this list? When a 35-foot jumper comes raining out of the sky, it'll wire you up.

5) This Rory McIlroy, though ...

6) Going on vacation for a few weeks. But we'll have some Guest Tippers lined up for you starting next week. I think you'll like them and enjoy their takes on the game. Buona Lettera. I'm outta here.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) Didn't write the normal Tip last week, so didn't get to publicly send my thoughts out to Paul George. Everyone in the Pacers' organization thinks he'll be back with a vengeance, given his work ethic. I truly hope so. He's a good kid and earned everything he's gotten so far.

2) Again: Domestic violence isn't an NFL problem, or an NBA problem. It's a societal problem that we have to get serious about. This culture in which we allow women to be victimized, time and time again, has to change. These are our wives, daughters, mothers, friends and lovers. We have to do better.

3) Brian Scalabrine was very public in his criticism of former Warriors coach Mark Jackson in a series of interviews last week, detailing Scalabrine's demotion from the Golden State bench and his return to the Celtics' organization as a color analyst. Here's the problem I have with Scal, who I like personally: you weren't the coach. Whatever you think of what the coach is doing, or not doing, doesn't matter. An assistant coach is supposed to carry out the coach's ideas to the best of his ability, not carp about them. If Scalabrine ever becomes a coach in this league, he would want, and should expect, loyalty from his staff.

4) Tony Stewart, or whomever, made the right decision not to race in the NASCAR event Sunday, hours after Stewart's involvement in a crash at a dirt-track race Saturday that killed a fellow driver who had gotten out of his car to confront the stock car superstar. (I will not post video of a man being killed by a car. You need to see it so bad, you know where you can find it.) Why it took hours to reach the decision not to race -- after Stewart's manager initially said it would be "business as usual" Sunday -- is nuts.

5) What's the problem here? Drunk? No pants? What's not to love?

Q & A: DAVID STERN

Provinces are nothing. Land is dirt, Eleanor of Acquitaine says toward the end of "The Lion in Winter," the story of Henry II, a man of 50 in the year 1183 -- making him an elderly man in his time -- and how he addresses the issue of succession to his kingdom, stretching through "all of England, and half of France." But empires, their architects hope, are built to last, not erode. I thought of Henry II last week as I saw David Joel Stern, now 71, his hair longer, new glasses upon his face, walking with a cane, having had his hip replaced recently.

The NBA that Stern had a large hand in creating has tentacles spanning six continents, the sport having become, after soccer, the game that the world plays the most. And Stern's contributions to the game were recognized one last time last week when he was officially installed into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. You know many of the highlights: During his three decades as commissioner, the game grew exponentially financially, with players and owners benefiting from explosions in salaries and franchise values. Television ratings spiked during the Michael Jordan years, but have rebounded in the last few years, with LeBron James driving interest. The league has survived three lockouts, two referee scandals, the brawl at Auburn Hills and Stern's more than occasional bellicosity.

When Stern turned the league over to Adam Silver last February, the NBA was on solid footing across the board, still getting the highest grades among all major sports leagues and colleges from the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport for racial and gender diversity. Stern has no more lands to conquer, no more countries in which to do digital rights deals, most of his antagonists laid low.

Of his enemies, Henry II believed many "are brighter folk than I or crueler or more ruthless or dishonest. But not all rolled in one. The priests write all the history these days and they'll do me justice. Henry, they'll say, was a master [expletive]."

The modern day Lion in Winter still has an office in Olympic Tower, no longer putting out daily fires, but still getting the weekly television ratings, still on top of everything going on in the kingdom.

Me: In the last year, we've seen the first openly gay player in the NBA, the first female assistant coach in the NBA, minority ownership of teams no longer raising many eyebrows --

David Stern: That was the way it was supposed to be. And that makes me very proud. The answer is these things have to become unheralded and commonplace. That's what we've tried to do, and I'm delighted to see that it's happened.

Me: Did you think the causes that you espoused along these lines would bear fruit while you were still on the job, or did you think they would happen long after you were gone?

DS: I never had a set timetable in my mind. I just knew that if we talked about the game, the values of the game, and the use to which the game could be put, we'd espouse things that would make the world better. That somehow, it would all bear fruit. We didn't think about it in terms of a specific timetable. Somebody asked me about being opportunistic. We were early adopters with respect to digital, NBA.com, NBA TV, NBA League Pass, even the NBA on cable back in 1979. We didn't have a specific plan, but we had a view that there were things that you had to take advantage of. With respect to social responsibility, we espoused the view that if you don't stand for something, you're not going to stand for anything. And we tried to preach that to the teams, and it was very rewarding to see each of our teams with not just a Community Relations department, and big ones, and with foundations and extraordinary embracing of what sports could do and mean. Basketball Without Borders is taking place as we speak in South Africa. I guess we're in Rome, and I was looking at a recent memo on what was going on with the NBA in Madagascar, and Africa, assisting the State Department and sports diplomacy. This thing is so embedded, and we're going to continue doing our part on a regular basis.

Me: I would think you have two views on LeBron -- that he left Cleveland and Cleveland goes nuts, but he goes to Miami and wins championships. And then, he comes back.

DS: I told LeBron, I thought that regardless of how poorly executed The Decision was, I thought the world was being horribly unfair to him. He was entitled to make that decision and he was entitled to make the decision he made. If it makes him happy, then I'm happy. I think it's great. The additional dividend being, apparently, he has been much appreciated by the fans of the world for his decision to return to Cleveland. And I think that's wonderful. And I think that it demonstrates how embedded the NBA is into the psyche of not just America, but maybe even the world. That during the world Cup, the second-most talked about issue was where would LeBron go? There was a baseball season going on, but everyone wanted to talk about LeBron. I thought that was a very positive development. And it sort of demonstrated something we've said over the years, that the drama that's on and off the court provides fodder for our fans to think about, talk about, and get involved in some discussions about.

Me: Where've you been? You've kind of dropped out of sight publicly.

DS: Where've I been? I've been in my office. I have advisory clients in communications, media and the sports field. I've been giving some speeches, doing some lecturing, traveling some for the NBA. I'm very busy. Maybe almost as busy, some weeks, as I was when I was commissioner. And having a good time, with the ability to watch and enjoy the success of the NBA.

Me: Donald Sterling was --

DS: Careful. I have a cane.

Me: He was there, on your watch, for a while. Why couldn't something have been done about him earlier?

DS: You know, that's an interesting question from some quarters, when the NBA has a history of allowing the judicial process to take its own course. And we've become particularly sensitized to that, especially with respect to our players. And so there was never a final determination of that kind with respect to Donald.

Me: You couldn't do anything?

DS: That's not the way we operate.

Me: Because, legally, he had been convicted of no crime?

DS: That's not how we operate.

Me: Was he buzzing in the back of your head all those years?

DS: You know, over the years, we were working on so many different -- you mean, when we were working with Magic Johnson and HIV, or dealing with Latrell Sprewell and the thing with his coach? We were dealing with Ron Artest going into the stands, we were dealing with [Tim] Donaghy, we were dealing with Gilbert Arenas. We were dealing with subsequent lockouts. We managed to keep very, very busy -- like, Holy Moses, what's up today? What's on the table? And so, for us, there was a lot to do.

Me: Is $2 billion for the Clippers an outlier?

DS: Oh, no, I don't think it's an outlier at all. I think it values one of the markets with the highest television revenue locally. It values the opportunity, the sponsorships, the ticket prices, the building, in a spectacular way. And well deserved.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Takin a bath became one of my biggest struggles!! ‪#CrippledProblems
-- Indiana's Paul George (@Paul_George24), Wednesday, 11:34 p.m. Can you imagine how crazy he must be going these days -- a world-class athlete who has to learn how to do everything differently, and not as well? Incredible, how fate and fortune can change a life in a second.

THEY SAID IT

"I don't plan on going nowhere. I don't have the energy to do it again."
-- LeBron James, addressing an estimated crowd of 30,000 in his native Akron, Ohio, on Friday, during a welcome home celebration, indicating his intention of finishing his career in Cleveland with the Cavaliers.

"I'm just having fun, I'm just messing around. I'm a 20-year-old kid and I just figured that's a way to have fun safely and I can do anything...have to worry about your image. Everyone looks up to you and people like it when I'm funny on Twitter. During the season, that's probably not a good idea."
-- 76ers rookie Joel Embiid, to the Philadelphia Inquirer, on his outgoing Twitter persona. Embiid has "courted" the likes of Kim Kardashian and Rhianna on his account, seeking dates with the two stars.

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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