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Hornets, Walker recalibrate themselves to suit each other

Star Kemba Walker remodeled (and improved) his 3-point shot, while Charlotte has more offensive punch than it has in years

POSTED: Mar 7, 2016 10:32 AM ET
UPDATED: Mar 28, 2016 12:45 PM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Nicolas Batum (left) is one of many new faces who has lightened Kemba Walker's scoring burden in Charlotte.

He insists he's not pissed.

The question had been put to Kemba Walker Friday: who is more mad that he didn't make the All-Star team: himself or Portland Trail Blazers' star Damian Lillard?

"It's whatever to me," Walker said. "It doesn't really matter, no big deal. I know I've been playing great. I just want to continue to play well, just try to make the playoffs. For me, (the All-Star team is) all about notoriety, it's all about popularity. I'm not as popular as the other guys. It's whatever. If we make the playoffs, hopefully the world will see what we've been doing out here in Charlotte, and the way I've been playing. Maybe it'll help me for next season. I just want to continue my good play. That's what I've been focused on, just keep on getting better and trying to win."

It is a puzzlement, the lack of buzz (see what I did there?) around the Charlotte Hornets this season. They have gotten with the league-wide program and put a team together that embraces 3-pointers and looks for those shots whenever possible. They have a charismatic star in Walker, the requisite flavoring (Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin) and they're extremely well-coached and play defense under coach Steve Clifford. So they're in a smaller market ... Lord knows the NBA Twitterverse is in love with the Utah Jazz.

Pacers vs. Hornets

Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum combine for 64 points as the Hornets defeat the Pacers 108-101.

Maybe it's just whatever. The Hornets, hardly a finished product, just keep playing, having overcome the loss of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a torn labrum, ending his season last month. They're sixth in the Eastern Conference, within striking distance of a top-three finish -- especially if Walker continues his torrid play of late. Since the All-Star break, he's averaging 24.1 points and 6.1 assists while shooting 47.4 percent.

"On the off days, you have to come in and try to maintain your rhythm, just try to keep everything together," Walker said. "I sometimes come by myself, or some of my boys, get up a few shots, not too much, before or after practice. I always find time to get some shots up."

Walker is better because his jumper is better. Teams didn't respect his perimeter skills, sacrificing open looks to keep guards in front of him and not let him get to the rim. But after altering his mechanics in the offseason with shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer, who replaced Mark Price -- Price took the coaching job at UNC-Charlotte last spring -- Walker has become much more consistent from the perimeter.

The 6-foot-1 Walker has always been able to score in the paint, using a collection of floaters and his strength to get his shot off over bigger defenders. "Making the tough shots and leaning in a certain way and a fadeaway and stuff like that, those are tough shots, but those are shots you have to learn to make in this league," Walker said. But his jumper needed work.

Kreutzer moved the ball on Walker's jumper from right in front of his face to off to the side. It took a while for Walker to get used to it, but now he swears by it. After shooting 30.4 percent on 3-pointers last season, Walker is shooting 37 percent on them -- which changes the whole calculus of his offensive game.

Suns vs. Hornets

Kemba Walker scores 26 points and dishes out 9 assists as the Hornets defeat the Suns 126-92.

The evolution was not televised. But it was real.

"It opens up everything," Walker said. "Now I'm just a threat. I'm a threat out there. Guys are running out at me, and I'm able to either give them a pump fake or let it fly. Guys are going over the screens and I'm able to get into the lane and find my teammates a lot better. It just makes things a lot easier for me."

It hasn't been as easy getting recognition.

Not only were the Hornets the only current Eastern Conference playoff team not to have an All-Star, Charlotte was one of just two teams -- Memphis being the other -- that didn't have a representative in a single event during NBA All-Star 2016 in Toronto. The Hornets haven't had an All-Star player since 2010 (Gerald Wallace during the Bobcats days).

The franchise's biggest star remains its owner, Michael Jordan, who continues to have both hands involved with the franchise, and is visible from his courtside seats often, but keeps a relatively low profile otherwise (including declining comment for this piece).

I'm a threat out there. Guys are running out at me, and I'm able to either give them a pump fake or let it fly. Guys are going over the screens and I'm able to get into the lane and find my teammates a lot better. It just makes things a lot easier for me.

– Kemba Walker, on how his improved 3-point shooting has helped his game

"He's here a lot actually, which is great," Walker said. "We always enjoy seeing him. We always enjoy talking to him. I know I do. I love talking to him for the years I've been here. I've had the chance to get pretty close with him. It's been a really fun five years here. We're getting better as the years go. It's been really cool. He's done a great job with the team, giving us advice when we really need it."

Jordan surely had advice for the front office after last season, when the Hornets fell to 33-49. The team's decision to sign Lance Stephenson was a disaster, but that wasn't the half of it. Charlotte finished 30th last season in 3-point percentage (.318) and 14th in True Shooting Percentage, which factors in the impact of 3-pointers, and 12th in offensive rating.

Only one of the Hornets' regular players, backup center Bismack Biyombo, shot better than 50 percent from the floor. Kidd-Gilchrist, a great perimeter defender, attempted no 3-pointers. Walker shot 38.5 percent, as defenses gleefully went under every screen and roll and dared him to shoot jumpers. Al Jefferson had multiple defenders in his lap who could tell him the flavor of the gum he was chewing on a given night.

GameTime: Kemba Walker And Nicolas Batum

The Hornets' Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum join the GameTime set to talk about the second-half of the season and their play as of late.

So the Hornets worked to diversify their roster.

"In the offseason, we made a concerted effort to try and improve a lot at the offensive end -- in particular, our shooting -- as well as improve our overall skill level," General Manager Rich Cho said Sunday. "And when we tried to do that, we tried to find some guys with some versatility. We brought in Batum, [Jeremy] Lamb, Lin, [Frank] Kaminsky -- they can all play more than one position. And we think they complement Cody [Zeller] and Mike, who can also play more than one position."

Charlotte moved Stephenson to the Clippers for center Spencer Hawes, and traded Gerald Henderson and its 2014 first-rounder, Noah Vonleh, to Portland for Batum, the sinewy three who'd flashed during his years with the Blazers, but was never going to be a primary contributor on a team with LaMarcus Aldridge and Lillard.

And the Hornets signed Lin to a team-friendly two-year deal. They've frequently paired him with Walker in the backcourt. With Batum also on the floor, now Charlotte had three ballhandlers, allowing the Hornets to constantly attack defenses from multiple angles. That's created a lot more open shots, and this year, they're knocking them down -- particularly power forward Marvin Williams, shooting a career-best 39 percent on 3-pointers this seaon. And Charlotte has risen from last to 12th in 3-point percentage (.354).

"That's the difference, man," Walker said. "We're making them now. It's not hard because of the guys we have on our team. We have guys who can really, really penetrate and get into the lane, like Nic, who's one of the better passers in our league, Jeremy Lin, guys who can make plays off the bounce, and draw and find the next man. That's all we've been doing. The only difference is making the shots. Me, I'm at a high percentage now. We have big Al, who can get going and draw defenders. That helps a lot. We just have other guys who can get to the basket and drive defenders as well."

Walker Scores 52 vs. Jazz

Kemba Walker scores 52 points, grabs nine rebounds and hands out eight assists versus the Jazz.

And even if Charlotte doesn't always make shots, it gets them. The Hornets are tied for fourth-best in the league in turnovers (just 13.1 per game).

"I'm pretty used to those guys now," Walker said. "We've been playing a lot together. When I come off the ball screen I'm always trying to draw another defender so where I can get my teammates open, and if not, I can score the basketball. But if I do draw two defenders, my job is to move the ball and find the next man. Nic is such a great playmaker as well, where I can draw his man, get him open, then he draws another defender and he finds another man as well. We've been playing with each other really well."

But the Hornets had to change more than personnel. They had to alter their philosophy.

As the Golden State Warriors run the NBA now, everyone is looking for pace and space. But the Hornets are trying to create a hybrid offense -- one that has plenty of threes, but also still finds ways to utilize Jefferson, who remains one of the league's best post players.

Jefferson has been out of the lineup for long stretches of the season --and because of injuries. He missed 11 games early in the season with a strained calf, then missed six weeks after undergoing knee surgery for a torn meniscus. (He also served a five-game suspension from the league for violating the NBA's banned substances program.)

Walker's 30-Point Night

Kemba Walker records 30 points as well as eight assists and seven rebounds to lead the Hornets over the Bulls.

With Jefferson out, the Hornets have used Zeller in the hole much of the season, with good results at both ends. Nor has Charlotte dropped off significantly defensively when playing first-round pick Kaminsky at center.

The Celtics, you may recall, offered up to four future Draft picks for the Hornets' ninth pick overall in last year's Draft, and were shocked when Charlotte said no in order to take Kaminsky, the all-American center.

"I gave an analogy," Cho said. "Somebody says, 'okay, I'm going to give you three or four coins for your quarter, and you don't know if it's going to be four quarters or four pennies, or two nickels and two pennies.' We chose to keep the quarter. We'll see what happens, but we're very happy with Frank."

Jefferson struggled to defend screen-rolls in past seasons, which was one reason he came to camp lighter this year -- and which he and the Hornets hope is helped by the knee surgery. Zeller's individual defensive rating is better than Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Marcin Gortat and other highly-rated defensive big men. And the Hornets' best five-man offensive unit, per NBA.com/Stats, has Zeller at center, along with Walker, Lin, Batum and Williams.

Walker Hits 40

Kemba Walker scored 40 points to beat the Magic on Friday.

But Charlotte didn't want to abandon Jefferson, now 31. When healthy, as he finally is now, he's still a beast on the low block. The dilemma was getting the most out of Jefferson while remaining committed to playing four-out, one-in.

It meant Jefferson would have to get off of the block, where he's set up shop for more than a decade, and do more things on the move. It's an adjustment that bigs around the league have had to make, which begs the question of whether there's still a role for a low-post guy in a 3-point heavy NBA world.

"I just feel like my game will always help," Jefferson said. "It's not like you've got a bunch of guys like me around that do what I do. You don't have many guys like me. You look around the game, it's not like we're here and they just don't want us; it's just not that many of us that can actually do it. And I just think that certain teams are going to want that low-post presence, because the other team's not able to defend it, because they're not used to seeing it as much. My game will always have a place."

Jefferson has been in a lot more screen and roll sets this year.

Nightly Notable: Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker records 38 points, six rebounds and five assists to lead the Hornets over the Lakers.

"Our goal, and he agrees with this, is he's not just running to the block any more," Clifford said. "He is setting a lot more pick and rolls. And it's a couple of things. One, he understands that he has to create more action for his teammates. He's so good down there that when you play the better defensive teams, the play call is just a double team. That's all it is. So it can be good for our team, but he's not going to score. So we worked hard in preseason at him initiating pick and rolls, and then using the roll game to set up his post-ups, where there's no play call, and where it's more difficult for teams to get the ball out of his hands. And he's much better at it."

Jefferson says he's comfortable with his new responsibilities. He can dive to the basket, or look for high-low passes, and then go back to the post if nothing else is available. And on a multiple pick-and-roll action, he can duck in for quick hitters. There are multiple ways to get the ball.

"It's more setting the action for the offense," he said. "I'm not able to just go right to the post no more. You've got to set the action, set pick and rolls and dive and stuff like that."

He leaves the 3-point shooting to his teammates.

"When you have a low-post presence, and you have shooters all around, even with the fours, I just think it opens up more for me," he said. "If they double team, they gotta pick and choose their poison, because we have guys now who can knock down those shots on a consistent level."

Sixers vs. Hornets

Al Jefferson does it all with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks as the Hornets beat the Sixers 113-88.

But the Hornets will need to get themselves back up to speed playing with Jefferson; their continuity has slipped a little.

"I'm pretty used to playing with Big Al," said Walker, who insists the Hornets will have to lean on Jefferson down the stretch and in the playoffs.

"This is my third year playing with him," Walker said. "Other guys have to get used to playing with such a presence in the low post. It's pretty difficult for some guys, because a lot of guys haven't played with such a great low-post scorer. It's definitely a different game. Guys aren't used to throwing the ball in a lot, which I am. As far as the pick and roll with me and Al, we've always been pretty good with the pick and roll. I'm pretty used to it."

Clifford said Jefferson is getting his conditioning back, and the Hornets will limit him, especially on back-to-back nights.

"We're trying to play him the right amount of minutes," Cliford said, "...but this is really October for him. You know how October is. You'd usually play him and then give him a night off, and we're just not in that situation. But I think his skill, his ability to pivot off of his leg, is the best since his first year here. His mobility is good. It's just his conditioning and his timing."

Nets vs. Hornets

Nicolas Batum scores 24 and Al Jefferson adds 18 points as the Hornets clip the Nets, 116-111.

Yet the Hornets haven't sacrificed defense, their calling card under Clifford, with their improved offense, as other teams have.

Charlotte is still ninth in defensive rating, just as it was last season.The Hornets have dropped slightly in points allowed this season. They were sixth in the league last season (97.3 per game), they're 9th (100.5 per game) this season, and they've only allowed two of their last 13 opponents to score more than 100 points. But they defend the 3-pointer better, improving from 22nd in the league last season (when opponents shot .357 on 3-pointers) to 15th this season (.352).

The Hornets will have work to do after the season. Batum will be an unrestricted free agent, and he'll be one of the top wings in demand. Courtney Lee, acquired at the trade deadline from Memphis, will also be unrestricted -- as will Williams, who has had one of his best all-around seasons at the four, and will also have lots of suitors.

As for Jefferson -- also unrestricted at season's end -- he believes that no matter how things work out in Charlotte, the NBA worm will ultimately return to the paint. He does not think himself an endangered species.

"It's good to have that experience and just watch the league change before your eyes," he said. "And I really believe it's going to change back. It's just like clothes. Clothes always come back in style. I really believe the league is going to get back big again. I might be long gone. I might be watching in my La-Z-Boy, but I really believe it's going to go back big again, like when I first got in the league. It's a cycle. It's going to take one team to go big and do it. It's a copycat league. Watch me. You're going to remember when you talked to me today. It might be 10 years, but you're going to remember, 'he said it!' "

TOP O' THE WORLD, MA!

(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)

1) Golden State [1] (2-1): Had this crazy dream that the Lakers blew out the Warriors Sunday. Gotta lay off the Ouzo in the afternoon.

2) San Antonio [2] (3-0): Rolling right along, and got Manu Ginobili back on Saturday to go to 30-0 at home -- without three starters.

Kings vs. Spurs

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 points to lead the Spurs over DeMarcus Cousins' 31-point performance, as San Antonio wins it, 104-94.

3) Cleveland [4] (3-0): The difference between the Cavs when they have energy and when they don't is night and day.

4) Toronto [3] (2-1): Raptors are now three games behind Cavaliers for top record in the East, but they do have the season tiebreaker over Cleveland (2-1).

5) Oklahoma City [5] (2-2): Any team with Nazr Mohammed on it is a better team because of it.

6) L.A. Clippers [6] (2-1): No good answer to this, I know, but do you think the Clips would rather finish fourth and play surging Memphis in the first round and play the Warriors in the semifinals, or finish third and play Dallas in the first round, with San Antonio in the semifinals?

7) Memphis [7] (3-1): Six weeks ago, Zach Randolph was coming off the bench. Now, he's the centerpiece of the Grizzlies' potential salvation.

Suns vs. Grizzles

Devin Booker heats up for 27 points with 9 assists as the Suns beat the Grizzlies 109-100.

8) Boston [8] (3-1): Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Danny Ainge's brain, as he contemplates whether what he's seeing from his team is enough to make a real playoff push, or a regular season mirage.

9) Miami [10] (4-0): Amar'e Stoudemire's individual numbers have been okay since he became the starter at center: 6.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 53.3 percent from the floor. But the team is 14-6 with STAT in the middle, and is fifth in the league during that stretch in Defensive Rating (100.8 per 100 possessions).

10) Atlanta [11] (2-1): Desperate for big man help, the Hawks grab Kris Humphries, cut by the Suns after being traded there by the Wizards at the deadline. He'll help the Hawks on the glass.

11) Dallas [9] (1-2): Another bad loss, to Denver, on Sunday after blowing a four-point lead with 21 seconds left

Mavericks vs. Nuggets

Kenneth Faried scores 25 points and grabs 20 rebounds as the Nuggets beat the Mavericks, 116-114.

12) Charlotte [14] (3-0): Already more home wins this season (21) than all of last season (19).

13) Indiana [12] (2-2): Pacers need to rest up for their next six: San Antonio, at Dallas, at Atlanta, Boston, Toronto, Oklahoma City. They should get C.J. Miles back at least.

14) Portland [13] (1-3): After winning the first three games of their road trip, Blazers sent their defense home early: 118.7 points allowed per in the last three games.

15) Chicago [15] (1-2): Bulls get Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic back, but team's issues predated their injuries.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

L.A. Lakers (2-2): They beat the Warriors. Beat 'em bad. That's enough for us.

TEAM OF THE WEAK

New Orleans (0-3): Eric Gordon breaks his finger again, and Pelicans' faint playoff hopes grow fainter with three straight Ls.

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

What will success look like for Baron Davis?

What will satisfy the 36-year-old, who hasn't played in an NBA game in almost four years, as he continues his comeback from a shattering knee injury with a stint in the NBA D-League with the 76ers' affiliate, the Delaware 87ers? Why is he there? And what will happen?

"Obviously, I don't expect any Kirilenko moments," said Davis's longtime friend and agent, Todd Ramasar. "But that's the great thing about being an older player and being cerebral. You can still make the no-look passes and still make the jumper, and maybe as a third point guard, maybe on an NBA roster at some point. However it ends up, if he goes out and does his thing, the rest will take care of itself."

Top 10: Baron Davis

A look back at the ten best plays of Baron Davis' career.

Whether or not the comeback ends with Davis on the 76ers' roster is anyone's guess. Everything is up in the air at the moment. No one, starting with Davis, has any idea of whether his body will hold up to the grind of playing and practicing again.

"I have great respect for what he used to do," Sixers Coach Brett Brown said Wednesday. "I don't ever remember rushing home to watch a playoff series like I did to watch that Dallas-Golden State series (in 2007). And I get flashbacks of that every time I hear his name. But we have not talked much about that, if at all."

I had asked only because the 76ers appear, under new Chairman of Basketball Operations Jerry Colangelo, to again be embracing the idea of having a few elder statesmen on the bench and available for some of their young heads. They signed Elton Brand in February for the rest of the season to be a sounding board, just as they'd had Jason Richardson on the bench last year, and wanted to add retired NBA veteran Shane Battier as well.

But such a role for Davis in Philly would be down the road. The Sevens agreed to let Davis get his feet wet again in Delaware before even thinking about whether he'd go up to the parent club.

"I'd characterize it as, it's an 87ers' move, not a 76ers' move, but consistent with our strategy," said Delaware GM Brandon Williams, who also is working in the Philadelphia front office in a newly created Chief of Staff role with Hinkie and Colangelo.

"I was told we want to identify, develop, and give opportunity to talent," Williams said. "For the first couple of years, we've kind of been devouring the market for young prospects, that maybe people have passed over. We took a chance with Earl Clark, a guy that people know. But there's still some game there. Is there enough? Is he still thirsty enough, is he still hungry enough, can he help a team? Then we take a chance with Baron. He says, 'the last time I left a court, it was on a stretcher.' "

Indeed. I was there in the Garden that May day in 2012, when Davis was a Knick, playing in a first-round series with Miami that the Heat ultimately won 4-1. (You may remember that series as well for Amar'e Stoudemire slicing his hand open after slamming it into a steel case surrounding a fire extinguisher near the Knicks' locker room after a close Game 2 loss in Miami.)

In Game 4, Davis took a rebound off a miss and went down the court on a fast break. He was parallel to the Heat's Mike Miller, who was trying to get in front of him, and cut across Davis' path as he began to drive to the basket. Davis kept going, and planted his right leg as he tried to gather himself and the ball. His leg collapsed underneath him, and he fell to the floor.

If you look at the tape -- and it is hard -- you can hear one of his teammates, upon seeing the shape of Davis' leg afterward, exclaim, 'oh, (bleep)!" in horror. For it was, indeed, horrible.

He's put in the work. But now it's time to test it out. There's only so much work you can do before you take the test. This is part one of the test.

– Baron Davis' longtime friend and agent, Todd Ramasar

Davis had torn his ACL and MCL, and had partially torn his patella tendon.

He believed the injury was, as Davis wrote as a Guest Morning Tipper last August, the "coup de grace" to his career.

Yet there was Davis on Friday, in Delaware, trying to pick up the pieces of his basketball life.

From the outside, it would seem that Davis doesn't need to do this. He'd already begun the transition to a post-playing career before the injury.

He grew up in South Central L.A., but he went to high school with rich kids at Crosswinds High, where his classmates included actors Kate Hudson and Cash Warren, who became friends. Davis and Warren formed a production company, Verso Entertainment, in 2005. Verso produced the feature documentary about the Crips and Bloods gangs, "Made in America," in 2009, that was nominated for an Emmy Award.

He'd spent much of 2013 and '14 working on another documentary about the Drew League in L.A., which allowed him to dabble with playing. He'd also made a series of mockumentaries about his own supposed comeback that featured Steve Nash and other guys who were still playing, and who, gently, tried to tell "Baron" -- a character who was clueless about his worth as a player and/or actor -- that he was fooling himself.

"The thing is, you've got a pony keg around your tummy," Nash said.

"A lot of people call me 'fat boy,'" Davis said in response. "The thing is, I don't think I'm Charles Barkley fat. I'm like, Shaq fat -- like a dominant fat dude."

Inside The NBA: Baron Davis Comeback

Baron Davis utilizes the help of friends to get him on the road to a comeback to the NBA and consults with veteran Steve Nash for training.

Some of his friends thought the mini-movies were an indication that Davis was poking fun at himself as much as anyone else, and that he wasn't serious about returning. But, he was.

"Everyone has something they're passionate about, and that passion has taken them to certain levels," Ramasar said. "For Baron, there's a passion for basketball, and that took him to the ultimate level. And I think when that's taken away from you, and it's not on your terms, I'm sure at first it's okay, but I'm sure over time it'll start wearing on you. So if I put myself in Baron's shoes, and I'm passionate about the game, I'm sure he felt like, okay, I was one of the elite, and I played this game all my life, and here it was taken away from me. After so much time, I know that what I'm competing against is Father Time, and once it's gone, it's gone. I'm sure he didn't want to live with that kind of regret the rest of his life, which I'm sure would have been weighing heavy on him."

"As much as we respect the guy, he was a great player," Williams said. "He said, 'I don't know if I have 'it' left, but I've got something.' And so, what value can you get from your minor league program? We're going to get some players out of it, but we're also going to get some player development coaches. We might get scouts. We might get front office people out of it. So, I said 'what are you thinking?' He said 'at this stage of my career, I want to know what I have to contribute.' "

That struck a chord with Williams. His own NBA career was brief -- nine games with the Warriors in 1998, three games with the Spurs in 1999, six games in Atlanta in 2003 after playing in the CBA and in France. After he stopped playing, he went almost immediately into the league office, where he quickly moved up the ladder, eventually becoming the Director of Player Development in the league's Community and Player Programs department. There were further opportunities for advancement.

Instead, Williams left the NBA and went to the Rutgers School of Law-Newark. He wanted another skill set. But he empathized with Davis.

"You just want to feel like you spent it all," Williams said. "You don't want to walk around with Canadian money in your pocket."

Inside the NBA: Baron Davis' Comeback

Baron Davis is considering making a comeback in China.

Davis got seriously serious last summer. He worked out in the same L.A. gym as Indiana Pacers star Paul George, who was working out across the court with Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson, his workout partner, and other pros like Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza.

George was there every day at 7 a.m. So was Davis.

"BD looked real good," George said. "To be honest, he didn't look like a 36-year-old. He looked like he was preparing for the Draft. Just his work ethic. He was in the gym every day I was in the gym. He was ready. He didn't say anything about 'my body is aching,' he didn't say anything about his past injury, leaving the game. Everything was like, he was making jokes, telling me 'send Larry (Bird) a text. I'll take anything. Just let me play with y'all.' "

In the afternoons, Davis played in the Drew, and more than held his own against guys a decade younger.

Once George and the NBA players went to their respective camps in the fall, Davis' UCLA roommate and former Warriors development coach, Rico Hines, began putting him through more rigorous paces at Westwood with the likes of Ryan Hollins, Austin Daye, Jordan Hamilton and Dijan Thompson.

Hines was a familiar face who would speak truth to Davis about whether he was getting better or wasting his time.

"Just like any close friendship or voice that can get you motivated, having that person with him on a daily basis on the court that knows him intimately, personally and professionally on the court, and being able to speak to that, was really helping Baron, as with any athlete that's been injured, push past that level of comfort," Ramasar said. "Part of the rehab process is not just getting healthy physically, but it's the mental aspect. Because your mind will play tricks on you to a certain degree, that will (make you) think you can't push any more, or further. Sometimes you need someone helping you or assisting you push past that pain."

Inside the NBA: Baron Davis' Comeback

Baron Davis hooks up with Reggie Miller on his way to his NBA comeback.

The decision was made not to showcase Davis in Europe, where NBA teams would have less access to see him, and where he wouldn't have daily access to his trainers and coaches. Plus, it would be another year of wear and tear, and that would be a gamble for a 36-year-old who hasn't played in almost four years coming off of multiple knee injuries who is looking for one last shot.

So Davis requested a D-League contract, and his name was put into the league's player pool. There were discussions with the Dallas Mavericks' D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends, but they ultimately passed.

Davis then cleared waivers, allowing any team to negotiate with him without losing its claim position for other players in the pool. The Sevens, as the 87ers are known, decided to take a look. Davis caught a redeye from L.A. Wednesday night, was at practice in Delaware Thursday afternoon and played Friday.

Davis played 19 minutes Friday, and he filled up the Sevens' box score: eight points, four assists and three steals in Delaware's loss to Iowa.

Baron Davis' Dunk

Former All-Star Baron Davis gets the feed in transition and finishes with the slam for the Delaware 87ers.

The Sevens' parent club, the Sixers, currently has a roster spot open. But filling that and Davis' journey will run, as Williams puts it, on parallel tracks.

"I don't know if they'll ever intersect," he said. "But there's a case to make. The place you start is, veteran, knowledge, impacting some young players. The one thing that Sam and Jerry have both talked a ton about is sort of balancing the locker room. And it's not just the players. We're looking for great basketball minds, people who can accept this challenge."

But will Davis be satisfied, no matter what happens, when this is over?

"He's really worked his ass off," Ramasar said. "He's put in the work. But now it's time to test it out. There's only so much work you can do before you take the test. This is part one of the test."

...AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

History, like blogs, is written by the winning side. From David Hobbs:

I'm a white guy, and so I don't particularly trust my instincts for this kind of thing, but I was reading your column about the lack of persons of color in front office jobs, and it occurred to me that all of the "old school" players being clowned for not recognizing the Warriors' greatness -- well, they're all black. J.A. Adande had a great, sensitive treatment of Oscar Robinson's criticism, but in general, the reporting seems to have an odious implication that these players can't understand advanced metrics, that they're somehow stupider than the (mostly white) journalists that are rhapsodizing about Curry's all-time-best PER. ...but like I said, I'm not sure that that's really what's going on, and I'd love your thoughts.

The Starters: Robertson Right?

Is bad defense part of the reason Curry is having the year he is?

Thank you for the note, David. In this case, I don't think race on either side -- those who have criticized the Old Guard, or the Old Guard itself -- is a factor. I have not yet seen any former great white players be critical of Curry or claim he would have been handled better in the old days; Rick Barry, I know, leapt to his defense after Robertson's comments. This seems to be strictly generational: today's basketball writers are, in the main, clowning who they feel are out-of-touch old guys. My problem is the underlying assumption I think is implicit; that the Big O and Clyde Frazier have, simply by virtue of being old, relinquished the right to have an opinion on the subject. It's ageism much more than racism, in this case, in my opinion.

Let me rest on this pillow of cash. From Paul Forza:

Just a thought on your piece on executives of color; I thought the most interesting thing is that most African American executives were previous basketball players. The reason I found this interesting is because, as you acknowledged, a good number of African American executives were former players. Before salaries boomed.

Guys who have retired in the last 10 years got paid. A lot. Millions. Is there a chance that the guys with the best eye for basketball have transitioned. Where they used to go back into basketball to coach or be executives, they now don't need to. They have the bank.

The amount of former African American players who are looking to buy NBA teams (Grant Hill, Michael Jordan, Shaq) shows this new financial reality.

This does not go to show why African American analytics guys have not made it into front offices, but the former player scenario could have a positive cause. Maybe.

That's a good point, Paul. It may well be that the financial cushion that many players now have after retiring allows them different options. They don't "need" to go into the front office for a job. But that only applies to a handful of former players, who got eight-figure deals and/or shoe contracts that may still be paying out. The vast majority of players still need to work when they're done playing. My concern is even greater for executives of color who weren't NBA players. At least ex-star players have options, like going into the TV booth. As I reported, only six black executives who didn't play in the NBA or ABA -- six -- have been hired as GMs in the last 20-plus years, whereas dozens of white execs with no NBA or ABA playing history have gotten opportunities.

Can't wait to hear Pop's Miss Congeniality speech. From Huw Hopkins:

Coach Pop and the Spurs must be pretty ticked off. They have beat back Father Time to keep Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and now a healthy--and looking-good--Manu Ginobili in a fit enough stay around to support a refreshed cousin of yours in LaMarcus Aldridge and perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer in Kawhi Leonard. He even managed to get Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, David West and find two new guards for the future and an exciting big man that will buy into a new scheme.

Pop has blended everyone together and might record 70 wins for the first time in his career. The only problem is, the second team to win 70+ wins is in the same conference and are doing it in the same season. How will history look at this Spurs team if it wins 70 but is overshadowed by the Warriors winning 70 or more, too?

Don't know. Do people remember the 1980 Baltimore Orioles, who went 100-62 -- and finished second to the Yankees, who went 103-59? (Probably not, because the Yanks then lost to the Royals in the American League Championship Series.) I do know that Pop will not give a damn how history views his team, no matter what happens, and will have dinner and order a nice bottle after his team's last game this season.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms and proper titles with which to begin addressing our soon-to-be simian overlords to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(last week's averages in parentheses)

1) Stephen Curry (25.5 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 apg, .400 FG, .900 FT): Game, Blouses.

Thunder vs. Warriors

Stephen Curry scores 33 points as the Warriors defeat the Thunder 121-106.

2) Kawhi Leonard (27.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 4.7 apg, .500 FG, .857 FT): Says he's not a superstar just because of one great year. Which is why he's a superstar.

3) Kevin Durant (30.3 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 7 apg, .493 FG, .900 FT): At 48 consecutive games with 20 or more points after scoring 32 points Sunday against Milwaukee.

4) Russell Westbrook (20.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 11.3 apg, .417 FG, .806 FT): 10th triple-double of the season (15 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) on Sunday in OKC's win.

5) LeBron James (26.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, .533 FG, .667 FT): You would like to think LeBron saw how devastating he is, and the Cavs are, when he plays the four and Iman Shumpert slides in to play the three. You would like to think.

BY THE NUMBERS

22 -- Consecutive games the Kings had lost in Dallas -- a streak that Sacramento finally ended on Thursday with a 104-101 win at American Airlines Arena. The Kings hadn't won in that city since February, 2003.

Kings vs. Mavericks

DeMarcus Cousins scores 22 points and grabs 13 rebounds as the Kings defeat the Mavericks 104-101.

24 -- Consecutive free throws made Friday by DeMar DeRozan, against Portland, setting an NBA record for most free throws made without a miss in a regular season game. The previous record was 23, set by Dominique Wilkins in 1992. (Dirk Nowitzki also made 24 straight, in a playoff game.) DeRozan intentionally missed his 25th and final free throw against the Blazers to help protect Toronto's two-point win; he shot it with 0.9 seconds left, and Portland had no timeouts to advance the ball to midcourt after getting the rebound underneath its own basket.

26 -- Consecutive home wins at Oracle Arena without a loss this season by the Warriors. Combined with the 18 straight Golden State won at home to end the regular season last year, the Warriors have won 44 straight regular season games at Oracle, tying the Bulls' 1995-96 record for consecutive regular season home wins.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) This is an NBA column, but seeing college teams -- especially from one-bid conferences -- getting their moment in the sun, and having a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament, is one of the best weeks of the year.

2) It's a little odd that LeBron James would go to Miami, even with three days off, in the middle of the season. But once there, it didn't surprise or bother me that he'd work out with Dwyane Wade. They're still close friends. Wilt Chamberlain frequently had dinner with Bill Russell the night before their teams played each other in Philly or Boston, and no one doubts the fierceness of their rivalry.

Inside the NBA: LeBron And Wade Workout

The Inside crew discuss LeBron James and Dwyane Wade working out together during the season.

3) Devastating reporting and writing about Mookie Blaylock's addictions, and the tragic consequences of them that destroyed two families.

4) Science!

5) A terrific read on one of the most cynic-less stories I ever had the pleasure of covering -- George Mason's improbable run to the Final Four in 2006. I would be lying if I told you I wasn't rooting for the Patriots as they ran through the tournament, culminating in that emotional Elite Eight win over Connecticut in Mason's backyard, D.C.'s Verizon Center.

NOT FEELIN'...

1) Fire Steve Kerr! ;-)

2) The Wizards will have a decision to make about Bradley Beal, hurt again, this summer. Still think the only move is to max him out and hope for the best, but you can understand if there's some reluctance to shell out $100 mil for a guy that can't stay healthy. But ... Steph Curry's ankles didn't look so hot two years into his career, either.

Bradley Beal Injury

Bradley Beal drives, takes some hard contact falling to the floor, and would leave the game.

3) Jeremy Lin was right to decry the tired and stereotypical "Asians are smart" joke at the Oscars last Sunday night. I thought Chris Rock was otherwise great and on point, but African-Americans can't (again, correctly) point out the complete lack of diversity in Hollywood, as evidenced by the absence of any black actor being nominated for an Academy Award, and then be okay with a trite "joke" that stereotypes another group. Not cool. Lin was right to point it out.

4) Not that it was at all appropriate, (or, y'know, legal) to ask, but what if he had answered 'yes. Yes, I do'?

5) When I first started at The Washington Post, I covered some tennis. I didn't know anyone in the sport, and they didn't know me. I was nervous and shy. And one of the first people who reached out to me in the press box at the U.S. Open, who introduced me to a dozen people in the game -- coaches and PR people, former players, anyone who could help me learn the game -- was Bud Collins, the dean of the tennis media, who worked for NBC and the Boston Globe. And he when he finished doing that, he happily answered the ridiculously stupid questions I had for him. He had absolutely no reason to help me. He was famous and had a hundred more important things to do. There was absolutely nothing in it for him. But he did. And the remarkable part is, he did that with dozens of young reporters, helping them learn the game and the people in it, because he loved the game and because he was just that nice a human being. I try to pay it forward with young basketball journalists, in part, because of what Bud did for me all those years ago. RIP to a true gentleman.

Q & A: PAUL GEORGE

He looks worn down. And it's not just the grind of a regular season. It's easy to forget, as Paul George gets through the year, that he is less than two years removed from that horrific broken leg. The leg is healed, but George has more weight on him -- the weight of the Pacers' offense.

Inside Stuff: Paul George Is Back

Pacers star Paul George talks about his amazing return to the court after overcoming a horrific injury.

At the start of the season, Indiana went small, playing C.J. Miles at power forward (in large part because George didn't want to, even though Larry Bird wanted him there). It worked for a month or so, which coincided with an electric start by George.

In November, he averaged 29.5 points per game and shot 47.5 percent from the floor. But his numbers nosedived, along with his shooting percentage, in the next three months, as Miles cooled off and the Pacers struggled to find someone who could back George up offensively. Monta Ellis, who signed as a free agent last summer, has been sporadic; George Hill and Rodney Stuckey have been injured. Most crucially, Indiana's defense cratered with the small ball lineup. So Coach Frank Vogel went big again, starting rookie forward Myles Turner alongside center Ian Mahinmi. And the Pacers' D has gotten better. But that puts more pressure on George to not only score, but facilitate.

George Lifts Pacers Past Wizards

Paul George scores 38 points with six rebounds and two assists to lead the Pacers to victory.

George has shown signs of revival, starting -- believe it or not -- with his 41 points in the All-Star Game for the Eastern Conference. In his first 10 games since the break, he's averaging 25.4 points and 5.2 assists -- more than one assist more than he was averaging before the break. But the Pacers' hopes for an extended playoff run will surely hang on whether George can hold up, and whether his legs have a second act.

Me: How are you feeling?

Paul George: I feel good. I feel good. I feel like I've played against every defense now, and I've kind of figured out how to slow the game down now. It's all about continuing to let the game come. If I don't stay in attack mode, that's when I'm not on my game. If I allow the defense to set, if I allow the defense to dictate what I do, that's when I struggle. These past couple games, I've just been putting my head down, been in attack mode, and forcing them to play the way I want them to play.

Me: In looking at your last few games, it seemed like you were taking a lot of jumpers. Did you think you were relying too much on the fadeaway?

PG: I did. I did. And I got back to ducking my head and getting back to the rim. I think the hard part of this thing now, this whole small-ball thing, is that teams are just switching. I come off a screen and I think I'm free, and the next thing you know, the guy who's setting the screen switches, and I'm right back to one-on-one basketball. But again, if I don't duck my head and make things happen, put pressure on them, then I'm just playing into their hands.

Me: You've had so many types of lineups this year. How do you keep a consistent approach in terms of where you're going to get your shot, and from whom?

The Association: Indiana Pacers

Matt Winer has the story of the Indiana Pacers, who have remade themselves after missing the playoffs last season and are pushing hard to make a postseason return.

PG: I think just preparing. I prepare pretty well on the shots I'm going to get, what kind of shots, what kind of looks, what to look for. I think I've done that well enough to this point. Coming into the game, I know what to expect. It's hard. It is hard, from having Solo (Solomon Hill) or C.J. (Miles) being the screener to having Myles (Turner) or Ian (Mahinmi) being the screener. It's just, we've been all over the place, kind of, with lineups. But now, we're 60 games in. I know what shots I'm going to get now. It's just about setting the man up to get the shot I want.

Me: So if you're playing big now, and Myles or Ian or Lavoy Allen sets the screen, you know their guy's going to go under and make them shoot. Now you've got two guys in front of you. How do you attack?

PG: So, now, when I'm coming off of screens, nine times out of 10, every night, I'm going to get the best defender. The best defender is going to try and play me physical. So when I'm coming off the screen, I'm making sure I keep him on my back. So a lot of times when I come off of these screens, I stop right on the dot. And they're going to run into me.

Me: The Chris Paul?

I think that's the main reason I want this group to get into the playoffs, aside from having the opportunity to try and win it all. But if I'm going to be with these young guys, and be with Myles [Turner], I want them to get that playoff experience. That's one thing you can't take for granted, is the experience in the playoffs.

– Indiana Pacers star Paul George

PG: Yeah, the Chris Paul. So now they have to back up a little bit. So now when I come off of the screen, I kind of bait them, and keep them on my hip. And I've been so good with Ian being the screener, because now I have the pocket pass. That's freeing up the jump shot; that's freeing up me getting into the paint. Just playing games with them now. I think our chemistry has grown, even with Myles, with Jordan Hill. The chemistry has grown with coming off of pindowns, learning how to read defenses. It's much more comfortable now.

Me: So it's vital that screener be able to catch and finish.

PG: It's real important. I think that's the biggest part of the game. What frees me up, what frees them up, is that pocket pass. Because you've got to pick your poison. Either you're going to come off and let me shoot this jumper, or you're going to leave the roll man wide open. And with that, it's going to force rotations, and we've got good shooters. The game has really slowed down for me.

Me: Was playing well at All-Star important for you?

PG: It was real important. Aside from scoring 40; I could have scored two. I remember just being on the bench, and I was thinking in my head, just looking around the stands, thinking in my head. And I was like, 'man, a year ago from here, I was just practicing. I was just learning how to run.' And it put me in reality how far I came, to being back in the All-Star Game, and being in that moment. It was like, kind of, it was like the last stage of the rehab.

Inside The NBA: Paul George

Paul George discusses his near record-setting performance in tonight's All-Star game.

Me: Because you've gone through so many different lineups this season, do you feel like you have one now that can work? Or is it going to be a tinkering deal the rest of the regular season?

PG: I feel like we've got one that works. Myles is coming along. We knew that at some point, he was going to come into the starting lineup. We were just building him up to it. But he's a kid. He's a kid. He's going to have his mistakes. He's going to have his bumps and bruises. But we like what he's bringing. It's just about carrying him along and teaching him. I think that's the main reason I want this group to get into the playoffs, aside from having the opportunity to try and win it all. But if I'm going to be with these young guys, and be with Myles, I want them to get that playoff experience. That's one thing you can't take for granted, is the experience in the playoffs.

Me: And with George and Monta and Ian -- who've been in a million playoff games -- do you think you have guys who won't throw up on themselves if you do get in.

PG: Yeah. We've got a group that transitions well to playoff basketball. We've got veterans. We've got versatility. And we've got guys with experience. And we've shown that we can play with the best teams. We've played Cleveland tight every time. We've played the west coast teams tight every time. I think when it comes to playoff basketball, we're poised for it.

Me: But you wanted that All-Star MVP, didn't you?

PG: I did, man. I did. That was icing on the cake. I was tight about that. I wanted the scoring record for the All-Star Game, and I wanted that MVP. I was going for it.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

-- Portland's C.J. McCollum (@CJMcCollum), Thursday, 5:39 p.m., begging the question: what does a hotel worker look like? I mean, this is an easy call; clearly, these folks could be a banker, a butcher, a lawyer -- or, I suppose, a concierge. So, we've solved nothing here. Apologies.

THEY SAID IT

"It's a really tough profession for players. People, I think, focus on the money they make, and obviously that's great. But how many of us have jobs that on 48 hours' notice, you've got to move your family anywhere they tell you to go and you got absolutely no say in it? He has the right to have whatever reaction he wants to have. I'm not resentful of that at all. I don't take that personally. He was in a tough situation."

-- Stan Van Gundy, to local reporters in Detroit after the Pistons voided their part of the three-way trade with Houston and Philadelphia that sent Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Pistons. Detroit's physicians flunked Motiejunas for undisclosed reasons, a decision Motiejunas, speaking to a Lithuanian reporter on Reddit, said was a "joke," according to the Detroit Free Press.

"Honestly, if we are a 70-win team and champions versus a 73-win team and depleted energy and banged up going into the playoffs, we're trying to avoid that. But at the same token, it's a tough balance. How many times are you going to have this opportunity?"

-- Stephen Curry, on the tightrope the Warriors will walk down the stretch between going after the Bulls' all-time single-season record of 72-10 versus getting much-needed rest for their key players before the two-month postseason slog begins.

"When you're put in the position I've been put in the last couple of years, from number two pick to coming off the bench, maybe getting four minutes, ending up overseas, a lot of things start to dawn on you."

-- Michael Beasley, to reporters in Houston after signing for the rest of the season with the Rockets, on how he hopes to change the arc of his underwhelming (so far) career in the coming years.

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.