Philly the right answer for Iverson
Allen Iverson is back in Philadelphia. I’m glad to see it and I believe things will work out for him there. He’s still a very special basketball player. He’s got an amount of talent and he brings a level of excitement to the game that not many others can match. Fans still come out to watch him play. That being said, it can be difficult when you allow him to play like he does when your team isn’t winning. I think returning to the 76ers will be a good situation for him. Philadelphia hasn’t played the best basketball so far, but they haven’t by any means thrown the towel in on this season. The acquisition of Iverson adds a proven scorer to a talented group that is capable of doing good things. He’ll be comfortable playing with them in a city he knows well. His teammates are familiar with his game and they won’t be intimidated by his play.
This is a story of a future Hall of Famer returning home to the team where he spent so many years and enjoyed a lot of success. I see it as the perfect way for him to close the book on his career, whenever that day comes. The fact that Philly reached out to him allows the opportunity to play before the fans he grew up with. He won a lot of games there and made some mistakes, too. After all of those events, good and bad, probably 99 percent of the fans there still support him. As I experienced myself, it’s a great feeling as a player to come back and finish your career where you started. I’m sure that looking ahead to the day where his number is in the rafters is somewhere in the back of Iverson’s mind. He put up some impressive numbers there and carried his team to the NBA finals.
There were a lot of reasons to bring Allen Iverson back. He’s got a lot of basketball left in him and he can help his team turn things around season because of his competitive fire. He’s 34 years old and to put things into perspective, I signed the biggest contract of my career at the age of 33. He’s been given a great opportunity by that franchise and he could easily play four to five more years if that’s what he wants to do. His body probably hasn’t endured as much banging or suffering as mine did, so that is in his favor. I don’t think he feels he has something to prove, but a lot of people are going to find out they were wrong about him. The course of events that have taken place over the last few weeks since he first talked about retiring have probably humbled him. I hope he now understands what his position is in today’s game and takes full advantage of it moving forward.
Oden done for the season following left knee surgery
The news of Portland center Greg Oden undergoing season-ending surgery on Sunday is so disappointing to hear. It saddens me because you hear so much about all of his potential and what he might do someday on the basketball court. Yet we have not seen him get that opportunity over any real extended period of time. This season, he was starting to come around (11.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.40 blocks per game through 20 games) and play with consistency. Now, the comparisons to Sam Bowie are back and I suppose at this point, they are inevitable. He doesn’t seem to encounter any minor injuries—it’s always a major one that puts an end to his season and I can’t imagine how tough that is to take for a young player in this league.
I really feel for the kid. He’s put in a lot of work throughout his whole career just to be in the position to be on the floor. But all of his injuries have been so significant and enormous mental challenges for him. It’s not like he’s missing a five-game stretch or two months of the season. He’s being sidelined for significant portions of his young career and I hope that it doesn’t take away from his desire or love for the game. These injuries have been such knockout punches for him and he’s had no choice but to continually focus on the next season.
Everything I hear about Oden is that he’s a great teammate. Portland’s head athletic trainer, Jay Jensen, is a great friend of mine and he speaks very highly of him and his goals. But I would think at this point, the injury is probably breaking him down mentally. He has spent half of his career with the team’s trainer, when he wants to be playing basketball with his teammates. Oden has done his part, coming in early and staying late for treatment. All of that work is essentially done on his own, rather than with the guys out on the floor. In all likelihood, he won’t travel as much with the team as he goes through his rehab.
I actually spoke to Greg prior to this season. I wished him good luck and told him that I hoped that he had a good, healthy year. I said I would keep an eye out for him. Those words still hold true and now more than ever, that is what has to be instilled in him. He’s worked hard to come back from these other injuries and he’ll do it again. He just needs to stay positive and get that encouragement from his staff and teammates. We’ll be waiting to see what he can do once he is back.
Meanwhile, the beat goes on for the Trail Blazers, who are a very young but talented team with a young coach as well. This group has been together for a few years now and they’ve grown together. They’ve shown signs that they have the right nucleus in place. For Oden, he just needs to stay positive and look forward to what he can eventually do for his team. He’s got to write this season off and it’s unfortunate, because I expected some exciting things from Portland. You hate to see the organization lose such a piece of their team like that, because they could have been in a position to really challenge the top teams in the Western Conference, including Los Angeles and Denver.
Deng develops his game
One player who has done well in his comeback from injury is Bulls forward Luol Deng. He’s also dealt with his share of tough situations and setbacks throughout his career, but has bounced back nicely from a stress fracture in his right tibia to average 17 points and eight rebounds per game this season. He’s shown some remarkable consistency and I believe he has an opportunity to become an All-Star for a Bulls team that really needs him.
Deng is capable of being a great leader and scorer. Given an opportunity to embrace both of those roles, he’s really stepped up and answered the call. Granted, the team hasn’t played well as of late and they need to start competing with great intensity and winning games. But Luol has demonstrated an ability to work hard on both ends of the basketball court. If he stays strong and keeps working, good things will happen for him and his team.
At the same time, there have got to be things that Deng can do to translate his production into more wins. Scoring points in the NBA isn’t always about quantity; sometimes it is more about quality. That could mean spreading the wealth a little bit across the board and getting other guys involved. If he continues to score and suddenly teams realize he’s capable of 20 points on any given night, defenses will begin to focus on him more and try to find ways to keep the ball out of his hands, especially when it is late in close games. That’s the one thing I would like to see more from Luol, the ability to take control at the end of games, whether it is scoring valuable points or getting his teammates involved when it matters the most.
Deng is an extremely versatile player who can play out on the perimeter and in the post. That is a valuable combination of talents in the NBA. Luol doesn’t need to set up 30 feet away from the rim—that’s a long way to go to the basket when you want to score. He needs to master that mid-range game, so he’s close enough to hit a 10-foot shot if it’s open, or make his move to the basket. One of the reasons Deng has been scoring more is that he’s gotten some time at power forward. The Bulls are taking advantage of his versatility against other fours who might lack in that area. When the matchups allow, I believe the Bulls are a better team with their smaller lineup out there. Not having Tyrus Thomas out there hurts them in these cases. Because of his athleticism, Tyrus plays bigger than his size in terms of rebounding the ball, extending the lane, and blocking shots. He adds that extra dimension when he is playing and gives the team a lift.
In search of a clutch performer
As I said earlier, Luol is a player that has to be able to step up and hit a big shot at the end of games if his team needs one. I like that the way this Bulls team distributes the basketball. This team is very unselfish and that’s a good thing in itself. But in a way, it’s also a positive because teams don’t know who might take that last shot or step up late in games. It isn’t anything that is given, but Luol has been around long enough and has the credentials to demand it from time to time. Players of his caliber should want the ball in their hands down the stretch. He’s in a position now where he can step up to lead his teammates on the floor and make clutch shots when his team needs it the most, and that in itself is a great opportunity. You can see it when the Bulls play and the ball is being moved around, this team is looking for that guy to take charge. Maybe it is going to be Deng, or maybe it will be Derrick Rose as he continues to get healthier, although we have to remember he is still a very young player. Either way, someone needs to do it so this team can be in a better position to win close games.
The Bulls have had a rough stretch and suffered some bad losses on their trip to the West Coast. But those were some of the best teams in the league who they played. Obviously there will be more road games between now and the end of the regular season in April and they need to work on winning away from home, but let’s not magnify a few bad losses this early in the season, especially with some of their injuries.
Right now, it’s time to regroup. They have an opportunity to be at home for 11 games this month to win some games. Obviously they know by now there are no easy games in the NBA. Getting Tyrus Thomas and Kirk Hinrich back from injury, both of which will happen this month, will do wonders for their bench and depth. The bottom line is that when you are in this situation as a team, you can’t start feeling sorry for yourself or holding your head down. Everyone on the roster is a professional athlete and they are a part of the Chicago Bulls team. No matter how many pieces might break or fall off, they are a team and they need to come together. Every team deals with obstacles throughout the course of the season and it’s as a unit that they need to be worked through. Injuries are part of the game, just like facing tough teams on the road or having one of your best players get into foul trouble. The Bulls talked a lot about establishing a defensive identity at the beginning of the season and that has since fallen by the wayside a little bit. If they revisit that and get guys healthy, some of these recent struggles and adversity will all be forgotten sooner than later.
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