Sam Smith’s NBA news and notes | 01.27.2014

David Stern leaves office as NBA commissioner at the end of this week and will be succeeded by deputy commissioner Adam Silver.

It’s been a terrific and much chronicled 30-year run for the man regarded by many as the top commissioner in American team sports, which generally isn’t a great compliment among the fans.

But there’s no denying the growth of the NBA in Stern’s tenure. The view always is he just happened to be there at the right time with Magic and Bird there and Jordan coming. Perhaps. But nowhere in sports has the commitment to social justice been greater. Even with the great commercial success of the NBA, that will be Stern’s greatest legacy.

Every commissioner has mostly critics and second guessers. And Stern could be a terror. The greatest untold NBA story is Stern’s rages even in owners’ meetings. Maybe it’s further testament that no one ever left and told.

Stern didn’t invent social justice, mobility and equality in the NBA, which has been far ahead of every sport since the Brooklyn Dodgers ran out Branch Rickey. That was mostly Red Auerbach in seeing the future of sports first and prizing success over any form of discrimination. If you could help him win, you were on the team.

The NBA became the first place it was no longer a story when a minority member became a coach or general manager or owner or anything anyone else could be. But Stern went well beyond. He basically saved womens’ basketball and against everyone’s advice made it a viable league. He stepped in after Hurricane Katrina to aid a community with what little the NBA could do to enhance the city’s vitality and confidence, a team and an event, the All-Star game, which returns again next month.

When people ran the other way, David Stern always was taking them against the grain in the right direction. He championed the acceptance of basketball to the world and the world to the often xenophobic U.S. Every major sports business and marketing innovation basically came from the NBA and was copied in every other sport from game presentations to style and international participation.

It makes us all proud to be involved in the NBA.

-- In the first seven games of the season combined in 11 minutes, Terrence Ross scored a total of 44 points. He had 51 in Saturday’s loss to the Clippers. Ross had the lowest scoring average of any player ever to have at least 50, going into NBA lore with the likes of Walt Wesley, Tracy Murray, Dana Barros, Truck Robinson, Charles Smith, Willie Burton and Tony Delk. One of my favorites, though I didn’t see it, was the NBA’s first great scorer, “Jumpin’” Joe Fulks, who never had a 50-point game but had the league’s first 60-point game in 1949. … Former NBA player Cliff “Uncle Cliffy” Robinson is in the TV show Survivor cast for this season. Robinson had a 50-point game with the Suns and survived playing in Portland on a team with Rasheed Wallace, Isaiah Rider, Stacey Augmon and Gary Trent. Tough to see him not winning after that and once being traded for Jud Buechler. … The Pistons fell 10 under .500 losing in Dallas Sunday as one of the big disappointments. So will lame duck general manager Joe Dumars try to make a big move to get to the playoffs? They’ve got the up front glut and are desperate for perimeter shooting. Probably could use Arron Afflalo, whom they once dealt to Denver for a draft pick. You’d think the Magic would be willing to do that. Detroit has lost eight of its last nine at home. It didn’t help in the last loss when Eric Gordon made a layup to go up two with two seconds left and everyone seemed to forget to call the timeout left and they got a heaved 50 footer at the buzzer. Typical of great guy coach Mo Cheeks, he got rookie Tony Mitchell from North Texas State in the game in the closing seconds for the first time in a month against Dallas. Of course, Brandon Jennings went and got the ball in the last seconds down 12 and ran in to make a layup at the buzzer. In that Sunday loss to Dallas, Cheeks substituted center Andre Drummond 11 seconds into the second half as Drummond’s 11-game double digit rebounding streak ended. Cheeks at various times has now benched Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe. But which will be traded? … That was 1-10 for the Spurs against top teams after the Sunday loss in Miami. Being blown out by the Heat Sunday, the Spurs got to rest their starters for the Bulls Wednesday. … The Suns blew out the Pacers last week behind the play of the Pacers they acquired for Luis Scola, Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee. Six of the Pacers’ nine losses have been on the second of back to backs. There are no back to backs in the playoffs.

-- The biggest league mental cases may be the Wizards, who Saturday in Utah failed for the sixth time this season and third time in the last five games and all against teams with poorer records to get over .500 for the first time in four years. It does speak to John Wall’s ambivalent All-Star status as Wall’s shooting once again in those games has been poor. Wall is now tied for the second most games ever by a No. 1 overall pick never to be above .500 in his career. … The Bulls continue to see some of their old buddies with Marco Belinelli in San Antonio Wednesday. He’s having his career best season and has quickly become a Gregg Popovich favorite. Belinelli said he was offered considerably more than the two years and $5.6 million he signed with the Spurs “I know money is important,” he told Texas media. “But I’m a young guy and I want to improve my game. Money will come. I just want to win.” Said Popovich: “He’s obviously highly intelligent. He’s had absolutely no trouble figuring things out. In fact, he’s figured things out quicker than any new guy we’ve ever brought in.”… Former Bulls No. 1 pick James Johnson has found a home with the Grizzlies, who are working themselves back into the tough Western playoff race. Johnson has been a key piece with his defense on a team where his lack of offense doesn’t matter much as they emphasize defending. Johnson’s run of eight straight games with multiple blocks ended with Saturday’s win over the Rockets. But Johnson had eight assists. The Bulls ended up OK getting for Johnson the draft pick they used to select the rights to Nikola Mirotic. Sweeping the Rockets in a back to back, the Grizzlies moved to 2-10 against the conference, though most without Marc Gasol….After all the debate about Derrick Rose’s medical decisions last season, there hasn’t been much talk of Danilo Gallinari rejecting surgery for his ACL tear last year and now acknowledging that didn’t work and having surgery last week that starts the clock for a year out now. His contract expires in the summer of 2016. He is expected now to play some of next season after missing part of last season and all of this season...Kevin Durant has made more free throws this month than all his teammates combined. … Forget about the Wizards. The Timberwolves, at the United Center Monday, have failed 10 times this season to go over .500. It remains tough to figure with a player voted to start the All Star game in the tough Western Conference, Kevin Love. … The Timberwolves, one of the teams with the most injuries in recent seasons, have been one of the healthiest this season. Who knows if it’s coincidence, but the Timberwolves hired as Director of Sports Performance Koichi Sato, who emphasizes improving posture, breathing and balance. Players now walk around balancing things on their head and in baby crawls in techniques used, among other things, for Cirque du Soleil performers. Hey, whatever works.

-- Really, how could you not want a cooperative player like the Knicks’ J.R Smith, who explained his philosophy of defense to the New York Post: “That’s really not my area of expertise. I’m more of a scoring type player. I’ll leave that to those guys. Whatever they want to do, it’s OK with me. Just let me know.” Perhaps now Embattled Mike Woodson (the E is capitalized as Ron Artest said he should change his name to that) appreciates J.R. more after Tyson Chandler complained to the media about the lack of Woodson’s defensive planning and adjustments. Really, who would not want to be part of the Knicks? … Baseball players now are complaining about Carmelo Anthony scoring 62 after Kevin Durant had 54 and Terrence Ross the most unlikely 51 Saturday. They’re saying the ball must be juiced. … The Nets’ Mirza Teletovic was joking, but he probably did have it right after a career high 34 in a win over Dallas: “There’s a lot of open space when you have so many shooters. (With) Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson standing on the court, they’re like, ‘OK, let’s leave this guy from Europe. Maybe he won’t make it.’” … I don’t disagree, but Deron Williams can’t help himself taking a shot at a coach. Supporting Jason Kidd (for now), Williams told reporters: "He was leaning on (Lawrence Frank) a lot. Since Frank left, he's coaching the way he wants to and doing things the way he wants to so that's what you're seeing. I think you see him putting his footprint on the game a little bit more. He's done a great job. He's learning on the job, and we knew that coming in. But he's doing a great job, especially now." The Nets are 10-1 in January after the big return game Sunday of Pierce and Kevin Garnett back in Boston. … But give Williams credit for continuing to come off the bench in his return from injury so as not to disturb the Nets run and chemistry. Similarly coming back from injury, Dwyane Wade came off the bench for the first time in six years Sunday in working back into the lineup. But it doesn’t sound great for the Heat even with the big win over the Spurs. Wade missing these many games resting his knee hardly suggests he’s going to be in good shape for another long playoff run. … There was Mike Brown blasting his players again after Sunday’s blown 20-point second half lead and home loss to the Suns. But it’s tough to find a coach who’s done less with more this season. There’s a lot of talent on that Cavs team and even more with Luol Deng.


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