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Chicago Bulls' golden era a reflection of Jerry Krause's words, deeds

Famous quote attributed to former Bulls GM more truth than fiction when it comes to building winning franchise

David Aldridge

David Aldridge TNT Analyst

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Mar 27, 2017 12:07 PM ET

3:24

Jerry Krause constructed one of the most dominant teams in NBA history.

Look, champ. I know guys like that. I grew up with them. I was the fat kid they wouldn't let play. ‘Sit down, fat boy.' That's what they'd say: ‘sit down, maybe you'll learn something.’ Well, I learned something all right. Pretty soon, I owned the game, and those guys I grew up with come to me with their hats in their hands.

-- Arnold Rothstein, infamous racketeer and long-rumored fixer of the 1919 World Series, in the film adaptation of Eliot Asinof’s book about the so-called “Black Sox,” Eight Men Out.

Did Jerry Krause win the argument?

Krause, who built the NBA’s greatest dynasty since the Celtics of the 1950s and ‘60s -- the Bulls of the ‘90s -- died last week at 77. In his time, he made Chicago into a team that could support the game’s greatest star, Michael Jordan, and provide him with the defense, toughness and balanced offense necessary to vanquish all its foes for almost a decade. It was the kind of team he dreamed of creating -- one like baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, which won three World Series and six pennants during nearly two decades as a contender.

In doing so, he laid out all his evidence to support his belief that everyone involved with a team had a piece in its success, not just those at the top.

The rightness of Krause’s argument would be cemented if Krause, at long last, wins election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Krause is a finalist as a contributor in the Direct Elect category; the list for the Hall’s Class of 2017 will be announced a week from today at the Final Four in Phoenix.

“For me there will never be another Jerry Krause in our NBA,” said the Bulls’ longtime senior director of public and media relations, Tim Hallam. “He was one of a kind and I am grateful to have had all the experiences while working with him.”

Krause was famously quoted -- misquoted, he insisted until the last -- in 1997 as saying “players and coaches don’t win championships; organizations win championships.” (Krause said later that the reporter omitted the key word ‘alone’ in quoting him, as in ‘players and coaches alone don’t win championships; organizations win championships.’) Even without that key word, his point was clear: Jordan may have gotten all the attention and adoration, but without teammates, coaches, management and ownership, Jordan wouldn’t have six rings.

Of course, that included Jerry Krause, a two-time NBA Executive of the Year winner, which stuck most solidly in Jordan’s craw.

To say that Jordan didn’t care for Krause is to say Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert had trust issues with one another. But neither achieved his greatest successes without the other.

And a generation later, what is the most respected, most successful organization in the NBA? The San Antonio Spurs -- known for their reticence to discuss much of anything about the team, or how they do business, or with whom they do it -- themselves a mirror image of the NFL’s New England Patriots, who likewise have dominated the NFL for more than a decade, while rarely allowing outsiders any access and never letting dirty laundry find media oxygen. Equally telling: the Bulls, Spurs and Patriots have all been witheringly unsentimental about keeping or paying players that weren’t central to their core.

It would seem, then, that Krause’s position, with or without the word “alone,” was the correct one: franchises that do the best and win at the highest levels are unrelenting in their search to improve the team, and financially disciplined, no matter what that causes players to think of the front office.

2:13

Take a look back at the impact Jerry Krause had on the NBA at large in his career.

But there are notable differences, too.

A legendary scouting career

The Spurs have never had the kind of internal discord, jealousies and infighting that the Bulls did in their heyday: there was never a need to write “The Duncan Rules.” San Antonio’s President of Sports Franchises, R.C. Buford, may not say much about how the Spurs do business, but he’s accessible, self-deprecating and often thoughtful in his dealings with the media. And he and coach Gregg Popovich have been joined at the hip philosophically throughout San Antonio’s two-decade run.

In contrast, Krause famously feuded with his coach, Phil Jackson -- whom Krause had plucked out of the Continental Basketball Association for a job as a Bulls assistant coach -- and earned enmity from many players, starting with Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the latter coming to view Krause darkly for refusing to re-work Pippen’s contracts as he became a superstar.

“He was committed to his job,” says B.J. Armstrong, the former Bulls guard brought into the Bulls’ front office by Krause after he retired as a player, and who is now a prominent player agent. “There’s been a lot said about his style and the things he did and didn’t do, but no one can say he didn’t work hard and wasn’t dedicated to his craft.”

Of course Jordan was chiefly responsible for the Bulls’ six titles in eight seasons (1991-98), just as Bill Russell was chiefly responsible for Boston’s 11 rings in 13 seasons from 1957-69. That is why those two are the first two guys on my Mount Rushmore of the greatest to ever play the game. Jordan lifted the play of almost everyone who shared the court with him, creating a collective will that allowed Chicago to take every challenger’s best shot, year after year, and triumph.

Charles Oakley was one of the gems Jerry Krause unearthed in the NBA Draft.

But Krause, the Bulls’ general manager before and after the championship runs, was the architect, the man who put all the talent around Jordan that enabled him to ultimately succeed. It was something that was hard for Jordan to acknowledge while they worked together. He issued a statement after Krause’s death last week saying, “Jerry was a key figure in the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s and meant so much to the Bulls, the White Sox and the entire city of Chicago.”

They were words that Krause rarely heard during his time in charge.

“I wish he could see some of the nice things being said now, because it wasn’t said very often,” said his longtime former assistant, Karen Stack Umlauf, now the Bulls’ Director of Basketball Administration.

Krause rarely sought to explain himself, however. He was fiercely secretive -- his nickname, “The Sleuth,” given to him by former Bulls GM Pat Williams, who hired him as chief scout in the early ‘70s, was well-earned. He forbade anyone under his domain from ever sharing information with anyone, under penalty of termination -- even with other scouts on other teams, a common practice among those men who are so often on the road and away from family and friends, taking solace in each other’s company. He was basically non-communicative with the local media, braying when anything remotely negative was written or broadcast (though he was always fair with me, an out-of-town guy from Washington, when I covered the Bullets, and later for ESPN).

He snuck around college campuses trying to get info on potential players. He had prospective players the team worked out before Drafts check into hotels under assumed names, with his staff using walkie-talkies to communicate, reportedly using aliases like “Agent Blue” and “Agent Orange” when bringing in Vanderbilt’s Will Perdue for a pre-Draft workout in 1989.

Krause made his living as a scout, both in pro baseball and in basketball, excelling in both. He bounced between jobs in Major League Baseball and the NBA during most of his adult life, something it’s impossible to imagine being possible today for a non-athlete. He began his scouting career in 1961 with the Chicago Cubs, and worked for the Oakland A’s, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Chicago White Sox, where he got to help one of his idols, the beloved owner Bill Veeck.

As a scout for the then-Baltimore Bullets in the late ‘60s, Krause advocated Baltimore drafting Earl Monroe out of Winston Salem State University, a then-little known historically black college -- but, in a precursor to later controversies, seemed to some to take too much credit for “discovering” Monroe, as if no one else was aware of The Pearl’s incandescent talents.

But Krause didn’t come late to Monroe.

“He saw Earl when he was a sophomore,” said Clarence Gaines, Jr., the son of Winston Salem’s Hall of Fame Coach, Clarence “Big House” Gaines Sr., who wound up in Krause’s front office. “Earl didn’t start for my father his freshman year, though he would put him in in special situations. He would do what he had to do, and then (Gaines, Sr.) would go back to his seniors.”

'Great to work with, great to work for'

Krause moved up quickly in NBA circles, coming to run the Bulls by the mid-‘70s as the team’s director of player personnel. Krause was forced out after he supposedly contacted DePaul coach Ray Meyer about taking over for Dick Motta to coach the Bulls without telling ownership, but then resurfaced as a scout for the White Sox in baseball, where he pushed for the team to draft shortstop Ozzie Guillen, who became one of the best at his position during the next decade.

But when Jerry Reinsdorf led a group that bought the Bulls in 1985, Krause was suddenly back in the franchise’s picture. Reinsdorf had bought the White Sox years earlier, so he knew Krause and knew about Krause’s NBA background. He put Krause back in charge of the Bulls as vice president of basketball operations in March, and Krause built the Bulls’ infrastructure from the ground up.

3:21

NBA TV's experts discuss Jerry Krause's storied career.

“To get that second chance and that second opportunity to prove himself, he wasn’t going to let that go by,” Gaines, Jr., said.

Krause made Chicago one of the first NBA teams to truly embrace weight training for players by making strength coach Al Vermeil one of his first hires. Vermeil’s weight room turned Pippen and Grant from skinny pipsqueaks into physically imposing forwards, and they were the key to the Bulls’ “Dobermans” defense, able to trap ballhandlers 40 feet from the basket and recover back to their man.

"The one thing I did take away from Jerry was, Jerry had a work ethic. ... Say what you want, Jerry went out on the road and put in the work."

Former Bulls player and current NBA agent B.J. Armstrong, on Jerry Krause

“He started hiring more people,” Stack Umlauf said of Krause. “There was the business side, and he would say ‘we’re the basketball operations side. We have to bring the coaching side, the training side, all of it together.’ I think he relished putting all of it together before people really knew what he was doing … he was out to prove himself. He was very good to work with. Did I see it was a little shut off from the outside people? Yeah, I saw that. Because things were being said that may not necessarily be true, and you’re not out there defending yourself.”

Krause’s staff was fiercely loyal to him.

Jerry Krause's day-to-day staff swore to his character as a manager and person.

“There’s definitely that side to him that we saw that other people didn’t see. He was great to work with and great to work for,” said Stack Umlauf, a former basketball star at Northwestern University. She was brought in along the same time her brother, Jim Stack, also a former Wildcats star player, came on as one of Krause’s scouts. He ultimately became assistant general manager in Chicago and general manager of the Timberwolves from 2004-09.

Krause does not get credit for his inclusive vision. It is true that the first question he asked Stack Umlauf upon bringing her from her job in the Bulls’ ticket office was “can you type?” But, she wound up doing much more than secretarial work -- she wrote scouting reports on potential draftees and worked out players the Bulls brought to town. Few women at the time were given such basketball-centric responsibilities (and, almost 30 years later, few women still have those job descriptions in NBA front offices).

And Krause gave scouting and management opportunities to African-Americans when few got them.

He hired Gaines, Jr., soon after Gaines had answered his father’s phone in a hotel in 1985, when “Big House” was about to coach an All-Star game in Hawaii. Krause wanted to know if there was anyone there he needed to come out and see; Gaines, Sr., told him about a rugged forward from Virginia Union named Charles Oakley.

Krause came, liked what he saw, kept his mouth shut (of course) and arranged for a Draft day trade with Cleveland to acquire the otherwise little-known Oakley, who became one of the Bulls’ first quality players to surround Jordan.

“He was a very complicated individual,” says Gaines, Jr., who went with Jackson to New York and is now the Knicks’ vice president of player personnel -- and who was the driving force behind New York’s decision to take Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 Draft.

“Jerry really loved the black college scene,” Gaines, Jr., said. “Jerry really loved the black college coaches. He had an affinity for my dad. He had an affinity for Earl Lloyd (Lloyd, the first African-American player in NBA history, was an assistant coach for the Pistons after retiring as a player). He recognized that there was a community that had tremendous talent, but wasn’t getting the recognition, and there was talent there to be had. The relationship he forged with Tex Winter, very inquisitive. The thing that attracted him to Phil, a lot of those qualities are in Jerry. The curiosity. Phil has that curiosity factor.”

Krause also hired Billy McKinney, the former star guard at Northwestern (he was the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer for more than three decades). McKinney played six NBA seasons before retiring in 1984, but when Krause got the Bulls’ GM job, he convinced McKinney to play one final season in Chicago, with the promise of a front office job afterward. McKinney played, and then was hired as an assistant coach and scout. McKinney went on to become the Timberwolves’ first GM, joining the expansion team in 1988. He has subsequently worked for the Pistons, Sonics and Bucks, where he’s now Milwaukee’s Director of Scouting.

“I wouldn’t have a management position if he wouldn’t have hired me,” McKinney said. “I’m always appreciative of how he viewed me and where it’s led me throughout, now, a 30-plus year career in management. Jerry was very passionate about his work and his beliefs. You know he wasn’t well-liked, probably, by a lot of people. He had his way of doing things, and he was a non-conformist.

“Look now at the D-League. That was something Jerry had tried to push through when it was the CBA many years ago. And now it’s come with every team having its farm team like baseball. He had a lot of creative ideas that people weren’t open to, I think, because people saw him more as a baseball scout than anything else.”

And McKinney -- the supposed “Agent Blue” mentioned earlier -- says some of the cloak-and-dagger stuff attached to Krause has been exaggerated.

“Where Jerry was very secretive, that situation (with Perdue) never occurred,” he says. “But Jerry was very secretive. Scouting was much different back then than it is now, because of the availability of the internet. He prided himself on finding prospects, not sharing that information with people. I understood it, just from the standpoint of, if you’re trying to build a winning team, why would you share your information with people who were of the same competitive nature?”

Building a dynasty in Chicago

And it was Krause who brought Pippen, Grant and Bill Cartwright (acquired, over Jordan’s strenuous objections, from New York for Oakley in 1988) and Jackson to Chicago. It was Krause who resurrected the career of Tex Winter, the Bulls’ assistant coach who had developed what Winter called the “triple post offense” while a very successful college coach at Kansas State in the ‘50s and early ’60s, but who had been largely forgotten by the modern basketball until he was hired on as an advisor in Chicago in 1985.

It was Krause who elevated Jackson to coach in 1989, succeeding Doug Collins. Jackson (sort of) convinced Jordan to give up the individual sorties that had become his trademark and try Winter’s system, where all five players on the floor were threats to score, and the ball constantly moved from side to side instead of one man -- Jordan -- having it in isolation almost all of the time.

Krause could take no credit for Jordan, of course. Rod Thorn was the Bulls’ GM in 1984 when Chicago took Jordan with the third pick overall, and Jordan was no diamond in the rough as a player. The fact that Jordan was already on the roster led many to dismiss Krause’s accomplishments: how hard could it be to win with the greatest player ever already in town?

Krause became a foil for Jordan, long credited for coming up with the nickname “Crumbs” for him, having allegedly seen doughnut crumbs on Krause’s clothes one day (Jordan has since said it was actually Oakley who thought it up first), as well as for Pippen. They derided Krause’s physical appearance and his seeming need to be one of the guys, his constant presence on the team bus.

Horace Grant (left) and Scottie Pippen, key cogs in Chicago's first title runs, were both drafted by Jerry Krause.

Krause said that Jordan didn’t like him because Krause wouldn’t take Jordan’s suggestions on players to acquire (like guard Walter Davis) while Krause championed imports like the Croatian star Toni Kukoc (his famous years-long pursuit who came to the Bulls in 1993). Krause, he said of himself, was one of the few people in Jordan’s universe with the temerity to say no to him.

Jordan has since said the origin story for his anger toward Krause came in 1985, his second season with the Bulls, when he broke his foot early in the season and missed 64 games. Upon his return late in the regular season, the Bulls had Jordan on a minutes limit -- which he promptly challenged, citing the “love of the game” clause in his original NBA contract that allowed him to play anywhere at any time.

In Jordan’s re-telling, Krause dismissed his plea, brusquely telling him, “you're Bulls property now, and we tell you what to do.” The reference to “property,” if accurate, understandably set Jordan off.

“I was a young, enthusiastic kid, and that just made me realize this was a business, not a game,” Jordan told Sports Illustrated in 1993. “We never hit it off after that."

As documented by Sam Smith in his seminal book “The Jordan Rules,” Krause became a unifying force for the Bulls’ players during their first championship season, so disliked was he by almost everyone in the locker room. And Jackson took advantage of it in driving Chicago to its first title, believing that Krause -- as Krause believed about Jackson -- took too much credit for the Bulls’ ascension.

“You don't get on the wrong side of Michael Jordan in Chicago and become popular,” Smith wrote for ESPN.com in 2004. “And then there was that wrong side of Scottie Pippen. Not quite so bad. But Phil Jackson. OK, there's something wrong with the guy.

“There was. Plenty. Who knows what the childhood was like, but you can only imagine. The short, fat kid wanting to hang around with the jocks and show them he belonged. It was a lifetime pursuit. But you know how the jocks are. Want it too much, and they take it away from you and throw it around and make you chase it. For Krause, it was acceptance.”

Yet there was an element of cruelty in the taunting. Krause could not fight back publicly against Jordan, perhaps the greatest sporting icon the world had ever seen up to that time -- ridiculously popular and good looking, the epitome of athletic excellence, rich beyond measure.

''At that point,'' Krause told The New York Times in 2003, ''he was God. And you don't fight with God.''

Armstrong, the Bulls’ first-round pick in 1989, observed the back and forth dispassionately.

“As a player, I just knew him as the GM of the team,” Armstrong said. “The one thing I did take away from Jerry was, Jerry had a work ethic. I’m never intimidated about people having a difference of opinion. I learned very early if I was going to be in the game, I had to be able to entertain other people’s ideas. Say what you want, Jerry went out on the road and put in the work. So I respected other players who had that work ethic. I think that’s what’s helped me have success as an agent, my work ethic and being able to evaluate talent. He had a lot of pride in being able to go out and work as a scout. That’s what he did. He was a scout. He was a scout’s scout.”

Krause sought players “transferable” physical skills, like length. While speed and quickness, for example, deteriorates as, say, a guard ages, Magic Johnson was going to be the same 6-foot-9 at age 35 that he was at 20. That was different from shooting skill coming into the pros. A player’s ability or inability to shoot tends to be exaggerated. Most everyone who works at it winds up a better shooter over time.

And Krause believed there were great similarities in the physical tools necessary in baseball and basketball, along with the two games’ intangible needs.

“He had this on his wall: You don’t teach toughness, you draft it,” Gaines, Jr., said. “Whatever toughness means to you, and it means a lot of different things to different people. He didn’t think it was something you were going to acquire at our level.”

Rebuilding a contender on the fly

Krause’s greatest triumph may have been rebuilding the Bulls back into a championship team after Jordan’s return from his nearly two-year baseball sabbatical in 1995. When that season began, Jordan was 32 and Pippen was 30. Grant had left in 1994 for free-agent dollars in Orlando, and Armstrong had been selected by the Toronto Raptors in the 1995 expansion draft. Jordan had shown flashes of his old self, as with the “double nickel” game in New York late in the 1994-95 season, but the Bulls had nonetheless been bounced from the playoffs by the Magic, who carried Grant off the floor on their shoulders at the end of the series.

Jerry Krause's gambled by adding Dennis Rodman (right) in 1996, but it worked out swimmingly for Chicago.

Krause re-tooled. Jim Stack stayed on him all summer about thinking outside the box and bringing in Dennis Rodman, the Bulls’ old foil who had, by then, worn out his welcome in San Antonio. And Krause agreed, after Jordan, Jackson and Pippen all signed off. Krause had already brought in vets like Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley and Jud Buechler during Jordan’s absence. With Jordan back, they became the team’s backbone, always available and ready when the ball found them.

The Bulls weren’t just mentally tougher with Jordan and Pippen leading the way, and still menacing defensively with Rodman’s low-post capabilities, they were smarter, too. And they ripped off three more championship seasons, highlighted by a 72-10 regular season and title in 1995-96.

5:26

Relive the Chicago Bulls' final championship run in 1998.

By 1998, though, everyone had gotten tired of one another. Krause wanted to fire Jackson, but was overruled by Reinsdorf, who signed Jackson for one more season (“The Last Dance,” Jackson called it). By then, Krause had eyes for Jackson’s replacement, Iowa State coach Tim Floyd, and was actively planning the post-Jordan era. After the Bulls’ final championship, Jordan retired, Krause shipped Pippen to the Houston Rockets just before the end of the 1999 lockout and Jackson was off to his Montana digs on his motorcycle.

The Bulls never reached those heights again. Krause tried to build with Floyd and through the Draft, but other than Elton Brand and Metta World Peace (nee Ron Artest) in 1999, Krause’s post-dynasty first-round picks were unimpressive: Corey Benjamin (1998), Marcus Fizer (2000), Eddy Curry (2001) and Jay Williams (2002), whose career was cut short by a motorcycle accident after his rookie season.

And Krause struck out in free agency, too. He came extremely close to getting Tracy McGrady in 2000, but at the last minute, McGrady veered, signing instead in Orlando with Grant Hill.

On the plus side, Krause did trade for guard Jamal Crawford on Draft day in 2000 for Chris Mihm, and he did acquire center Tyson Chandler in a Draft day deal a year later for Brand, who went to the LA Clippers. But the net-net was overwhelmingly bad: a 96-282 (.340) record in the first five post-dynasty seasons.

Floyd resigned early into his fourth season, in 2001. Two years later, Krause followed suit, citing health reasons. He went back to baseball, scouting for the Mets, Yankees and, again, the White Sox -- where was working when he won baseball’s Scout of the Year award in 2010.

He spoke with Stack Umlauf often on the phone, was at her wedding and the hospital soon after she gave birth to each of her kids. But he didn’t talk shop with her after he left the Bulls, while she remained; they had talked several times a day for 18 years.

“He was good about giving it space,” she said. “But he would say ‘I’m heading out to Arizona; I just wanted to let you know.’ And I would say ‘well, I have your cell phone, but good to know you’re going out for the winter.’ He was like extended family to me, as I know I was to him.”

Krause had been contemptuous of the Hall for many years, citing Winter’s exclusion from the Hall as a primary reason. But Winter got into the Hall in 2011. As the bone disease that ultimately claimed his life progressed, Krause made no secret of his hope that he could get in. A week from now, though posthumously, he may finally get his wish.

“He would have really, really enjoyed being inducted into it,” Stack Umlauf said. “When Mr. Reinsdorf got in (last year), he said, ‘this should be Jerry Krause, really. I wouldn’t be here without him.’ That meant a lot to Jerry. For Jerry Reinsdorf to say it meant a lot more to him than anyone else saying it.”

Your Questions, DA's Answers ...

ATL, Shoddy. From Dan Kamhout:

I'm a huge Atlanta Hawks fan & have been a season ticket holder for the past 13 seasons.

My question: is there any reason for having hope in the Hawks future? Team seems like a complete mess & this current losing streak (6 games & counting after Friday) seems to be exposing the organization's lack of talent.

I don't say this lightly (I realize it could take years to get back to being relevant), but I think it's time to completely change course. What we have simply is not good enough.

I think that’s true, Dan, which is why the Hawks were aggressive in trying to pry Jimmy Butler from Chicago at the trade deadline. The Hawks have said that re-signing Paul Millsap is their top priority, but I don’t think you can be a contending team with the 32-year-old Millsap on a max deal worth more than $200 million over five years (as a 10-year vet with the Hawks holding his Bird rights, Millsap can get up to 35 percent of Atlanta’s salary cap next season), especially with Dwight Howard still due $47 million the next two years. With Millsap’s cap hold, the Hawks would have to move either Kent Bazemore or Dennis Schroeder to create any significant cap space this summer -- possible, I suppose, if not likely. But to your general point -- I don’t think many people view Atlanta as presently constituted as a legit contender in the east, so a full selloff/rebuild would certainly make sense.

No Two Ways About It. From Ben Cooke:

In response to the following -- “2) Kawhi Leonard (27 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.5 apg, .545 FG, .947 FT): If there’s ever been a more impressive two-way stretch within 24 seconds of an NBA game than this, produce it." - I'd probably go with Larry Bird stealing the inbounds pass then the sweet dish to DJ, or a certain No. 23 stripping Karl Malone in The Finals and then … okay I don't need to say any more. Bit of American hyperbole, one supposes?

Bird’s steal/pass was astonishing. I have always maintained, though, that Johnson’s cut to the basket, catch and finish was the most remarkable part of that play. That was not an easy shot to make. Jordan’s steal/Last Shot Ever for the Bulls? Okay, you might have me there.

Mount Gobert, Imprenable. From Spencer Wixom:

Why isn't Rudy Gobert being mentioned as the DPOY front runner yet when every statistic points to him being the most impactful defensive player?

Well, many do. Not all. Gobert leads the league in blocked shots per game, for example. But the Warriors’ Draymond Green leads the league in steals per game. Both are important defensive metrics. If you look at NBA.com/stats and its Defensive Dashboard, which measures the difference in field goal percentage between what a player shoots on offense and what he allows on defense, Gobert and Green are tied for first in net difference, at 13.2.

Among players who are playing 30 minutes or more, via NBA.com/stats, Green leads the league in Defensive Rating, at 98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Gobert is second, at 100.2. Per basketball-reference.com, Gobert leads the league in Defensive Win Shares at 5.4; Green is second, at 5.0. Yet if you use NBA.com/Stats, Green is first in DWS, and Gobert is second. The point is, the award is closer than you’re making it out to be.

Send your questions, comments and evidence that your mutt, too, needs to be on The Voicetodaldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)

1) James Harden (33 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 13.3 apg, .485 FG, .815 FT):Love the old-school ethic, Beard.

2) Kawhi Leonard (23.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.3 apg, .543 FG, .682 FT):Student of the game, indeed.

3) Russell Westbrook (24 ppg, 10 rpg, 11.3 apg, .500 FG, .759 FT): Logged his 36th triple-double of the season Sunday, leaving him five short of Oscar Robertson’s single-season record of 41.

4) LeBron James (24.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 8 apg, .574 FG, .769 FT): Now 41 points from passing Shaquille O’Neal (28,596) for sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

5) Kevin Durant (DNP -- knee injury): Looks very close to returning, which will give him some time before the playoffs to shake off the rust.

BY THE NUMBERS

$8,900,000,000 -- Estimated worth, via Forbes, of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. According to the magazine, Prokhorov is now the third-richest NBA owner, behind the Clippers’ Steve Ballmer (worth an estimated $30 billion) and the Blazers’ Paul Allen ($19.9 billion). The Lakers’ Phillip Anschutz, who owns Staples Center and the NHL’s L.A. Kings, and who owns a third of the Lakers, is worth $12.5 billion.

2 -- Punches thrown in total by the Raptors’ Serge Ibaka and Chicago’s Robin Lopez in their fight last week, leading to ejections and one-game suspensions for each. The NBA has truly cleaned up the sport in this regard; it was telling that so many were aghast at actual punches being thrown in anger. I am begging you now to get off my lawn.

324 -- Days, as of this morning, since an NBA head coach was fired. The last one came on May 7 of last year, when Memphis fired Dave Joerger after its first-round playoff loss. There hasn’t been one in-season coach firing this year; as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported in December, the last time there wasn’t a single NBA head coach dismissal during a season was in 1971. But unless there’s some dramatic reason to do so this late in the season, it looks like each of the league’s 30 coaches will finish the year where they started it.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) Yes, it was a loss. And maybe the Suns were a little too giddy afterward. But, it was understandable. How often does a teammate crack 70 points in an NBA game? Props to Phoenix’s Devin Booker for becoming just the sixth player in league history to reach seven stacks.

4:07

Devin Booker looks back on his 70-point game.

2) Denver at Portland, Tuesday night, mano a mano, with the Blazers having just passed the Nuggets into the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, between teams that swapped centers a little more than a month ago.

3) Cool story on Chris Paul’s hands, and the price he pays by using them so effectively.

4) Big congrats to Gonzaga and Oregon, two programs that have sniffed around the Final Four for years, but always crashed, often ignominiously, short of their goal. But both broke through with impressive victories Saturday to advance to this year’s Final Four in Phoenix -- Gonzaga with a wire job over Xavier to make it for the first time in program history, and Oregon with a dominant win over Kansas -- without top player Chris Boucher -- to reach the championship round for the first time since 1939.

NOT FEELIN’…

1) I don’t think LeBron James is crying wolf. The Cavaliers don’t look like a championship team right now.

2) If, as Commissioner Adam Silver indicates he wants going forward, an owner gets involved in deciding whether a player should rest in a future game, what happens when the coach and GM say ‘our medical staff says it’s a good night for player Johnson to sit out,’ and the owner says ‘I need to sell beer and pizza; he’s playing’? There’s a reason owners pay front office types and coaches (and, that matter, all these sports performance people): for their expertise, presumably, in basketball matters.

3) Growing up in the late ‘70s, we were latchkey kids. So while our parents were working, we were left to our own devices when school was over. More often than not, my homework would not begin until after watching "The Gong Show", hosted by Chuck Barris, the game show impresario. The conceit, as Barris saw it, was to reverse the traditional talent show game concept of lots of great acts with a couple of bad ones sprinkled in; he wanted mostly bad acts, with a couple of good ones sprinkled in, to raise (or lower, depending on your point of view) the show’s entertainment value. The show thus turned on its head the notion that “anybody” could be a star; no, most certainly, almost nobody could be a star, but anybody could be on TV for 30 seconds before getting gonged. Barris, who created The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, among others, died last week at 87. He was also fascinating to me for another reason; painfully shy in private, he turned into a raving maniac when in front of the camera; he said later he was having a nervous breakdown dealing with the pressure of sudden fame. But I loved “Chuckie Baby’s” near-unhinged reaction when Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine would make one of his regular appearances; I danced with them in the living room. I loved The Worms. I loved Larry, a guy who could never quite play any of the instruments he swore he could. It was comfort TV, a gathering of misfits having fun together. I miss it.

4) “How’d you know it was me?” 

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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