Younger generation makes NBA's future bright

It’s the kids who are supposed to be the problem—immature, filled with ego and entitlement. But it doesn’t seem that way in this era of the NBA. It’s the new stars who make your proud and the older ones who can make you wince and turn away.

Now, this is hardly a scientific study, and stuff happens and people can change. But people generally change for the better as they get older, or at least become smarter and more understanding. Not so in the NBA.

I’m not sure where it leads, but it could affect this latest trend of moving around to find yourself a championship and raises legitimate questions about just who should represent the U.S. for the Olympics in 2012.

I’ve been thinking about this being around Derrick Rose, who is one of the most unique people to come along in the NBA. It’s not just my observation of his humble and compassionate, yet competitive nature. Coaches and teammates continue to be stunned about his basic decency and unselfish, unpretentious nature with fans and media, especially for a player who seemingly has every right to demand more. No entourage, no special treatment, plenty of time for the security guards and maintenance guys.

When Kevin Durant signed his extension, there was no press conference or TV show. He mentioned it on Twitter. You hear the same things you do about Rose from a guy who already had led the league in scoring. “I just tell myself that I need to do what Jesus would do,” Durant told the Oklahoman in a flattering piece published Sunday. “He would do the same thing, go the extra mile just to please people. So I said why not me?” Durant was quoted saying he most likes seeing everyone smile.

His teammate, Russell Westbrook, is another who yearns for more teaching. There’s Kevin Love in Minnesota, gregarious, outgoing and cooperative. In Golden State this season, Stephen Curry has become a victim of coach Keith Smart, who prefers to feature Monta Ellis. But you never hear anything from Curry. There’s Blake Griffin, who is filled with that aw shucks back home Oklahoma persona when doing everything but dunking.

They credit their teammates constantly. They push others in front of themselves. You don’t see many interviews with them because they are not about the individual.

And then there is LeBron and the gang.

We, of course, know James’ story from coming into the league and calling himself, the “King.” There’s Carmelo Anthony, who held his team hostage the last year while moaning and groaning for years about not getting enough attention. Deron Williams famously pouted and complained enough to get Jerry Sloan to give up coaching. Has anyone ever seen anyone complain to officials and make a spectacle of himself more than Dwyane Wade? Dwight Howard wearing Superman capes. Hey, look at me! You think Rose or Durant ever would be whining why they might not get the MVP?

It seems just about all are searching out other location for their talents. You get the sense these kids today want to build something where they are like Magic and Larry and Michael did.

I’m also not sure what it all means, other than it looks very good for the NBA that it’s nascent cluster of stars is something to be proud of and sets the league up for a bright future.

More immediately, it raises questions about the makeup of the 2012 Olympic team. The general assumption was the 2008 winners would mostly return. Though in talent, it’s already clear some of the young guys have passed them with Rose and Westbrook likely superior to Williams and Chris Paul. You’d easily take Durant over Anthony and Love over Chris Bosh. Kobe Bryant will be too old and beaten up, most likely, and Jason Kidd, Michael Redd, Carlos Boozer and Tayshaun Prince likely wouldn’t be candidates. Which leaves Howard, who played behind Bosh because he can’t shoot, LeBron and Wade? I wouldn’t be surprised to see LeBron and Wade take a pass given the season long endurance race they have with the Heat and having played for several USA teams.

If that happens, it likely wouldn’t upset coach Mike Krzyzewski in the least. Chairman Jerry Colangelo always says you’ve built up credits by playing before, and you’d think he’d push for the game’s top names. But intimates say Krzyzewski loved coaching the 2010 team amidst the growing attitude of the 2008 players, who looked down on that latter group.

Would it be politically incorrect to leave out LeBron, Wade, Anthony, Howard and the like? Or would it be a bold move to push the USA Basketball program into the next era? It would be difficult to ignore the character and talent of this group of players, and for me, I know I’d feel better as an American to see those new guys representing my country.

Knicks 7-12 since trading for Carmelo

-- Who exactly is Carmelo Anthony with all his championships to say some teams “shouldn’t be on the court with us,” as he did after the Knicks lost to the Bobcats Saturday after pretty much saying the same thing when they lost to the Bucks again? It’s likelier Anthony is the latest Tracy McGrady, another self involved high scorer who never helped a team anywhere in the playoffs, as McGrady famously never out of the first round. Sure, New York is in a frenzy with a 7-12 record since the big trade for Anthony, and we do know it is difficult to fit in major pieces smoothly in mid-season deals. But there are certain players who need teams molded around them, like McGrady and Allen Iverson, or they won’t be successful. Anthony may be one.

Amar’e Stoudemire clearly is barely keeping it together as he’s suffered most with the acquisition of Anthony. Whereas the Knicks earlier this season were a team being built around Stoudemire’s game, now Stoudemire, an early season MVP candidate, has been left to find a different game. And maybe someone in his family to chant MVP for him. His most recent coach, Alvin Gentry, called him the game’s best pick and roll player. But with Anthony, most of Stoudemire’s plays come now on isolations. And Stoudemire’s game isn’t to create and beat you off the dribble, like Anthony’s. It seems an awful fit. Stoudemire is a career 54.5 percent shooter. In the last 10 games, he is shooting 43.2 percent and under 50 percent since Anthony arrived. He has shot below 40 percent in three of the last five games. Stoudemire still is getting his points, so he’s becoming a volume shooter, taking more shots to get his average and thus making it two isolation players. You never say never, but those are two players who do not seem to mesh. And still without a point guard and center.

It’s difficult to see where the Knicks’ future looks very much beyond being a second tier playoff team. No surprise, but Anthony already has been booed off the court after a loss. The obvious—if generally unspoken next step—is now that you have them, would you trade one? The same question will come up in Miami this summer if they don’t win: Will they try to turn Chris Bosh into a center and point guard? No one ever does those things once they work so hard to get a star. You generally play it out and try to make it work. And then turn it over to the next guys if it doesn’t as you get fired. GM Donnie Walsh told New York media: "I take more responsibility than the players or the coaches because I made a monumental trade in the middle of the season, and it appears to me they're having a hard time getting together, which is understandable. We gave up a lot. We got back a lot. But I do think this trade is going to make us better in the future. In the long run, this trade will make us a better franchise." Though does that mean a better team or more assets to make more moves? Anthony said it might take until next season for everyone to get on the same page, which may be true, though you don’t like to hear that coming into the playoffs. Like the old line about the car accident, we’re not going to be able to turn away from watching these Knicks even if we wish we could.

Celtics not the same without Perkins

-- Some interesting comments from former Celtic Leon Powe to the Boston Herald about the traded Kendrick Perkins: “I thought he was here for good,” Powe said. “He was a big piece of that championship team. He was a reason they were a contender. It changes your defense completely. You still have (Kevin Garnett), but (Perkins) was your enforcer down there, and he really takes a lot of pressure off KG down there. Everybody says it’s KG’s team, but Perk was down there doing all of the dirty work, and you need a guy like that.” That’s as close to saying the unspoken, which we haven’t heard in Boston since the surprising trade. The Celtics Sunday blew a 25-point lead but squeaked by Minnesota, and had lost six of their last 10 and hadn’t looked very good or interested. Coach Doc Rivers dismissed any injuries saying last week, “It’s all mental. Our attitude shocks me. Right now I think we’ve just become very, very selfish. Not just in trying to get our own, but everything is about how we’re playing individually. You can see it. A guy struggles, he mopes. Everything is me, me, me.”

Rivers’ sad players were, “Feeling sorry for themselves, instead of giving themselves to the team and playing. You can just see it manifest itself throughout the team.” Rajon Rondo, for one, Perkins’ closest friend, has been a basket case, shooting 33 percent the last 10 games and averaging only about seven assists. And they pad his stats in Boston. What it seems more like is the players either realize or believe management has sold them out. The Perkins trade for Jeff Green seems clearly for the future, and with some foresight. Especially for someone like GM Danny Ainge, who played for the Celtics when they began their slide in the late 1980s. The death of top draft pick Len Bias had an effect. But some also felt the Celtics should have been proactive and traded Kevin McHale or Robert Parish when they could have gotten something instead of playing it out and going to the bottom. Not that Perkins was close to retiring, but some see Green as that young star to begin building around. I don’t, but that’s just me. The players’ feeling seemed to be they would get the chance to ride it out for at least one more title run, and Rivers had said all season he looked toward Perkins’ return because that starting five had never lost a playoff series. What’s been interesting is what you hear from players against Boston these days. They say Garnett, a noted trash talker, has been exceptionally quiet. The feeling has been he has no one like Perkins to back him up. Now Nenad Krstic, instead. And it’s not like Garnett is a tough guy. He’s a guy who likes a tough guy behind him, sort of the bully but only in a gang. It reminds me of when the Timberwolves traded Dean Garrett and Garnett was inconsolable, literally sobbing in the locker room, as Garrett was the guy who had to guard the tougher big man, the blue collar guy who had Garnett’s back. Though if it gets Garnett to shut up, it may be good for the NBA.

NBA news and notes

-- It’s perhaps the battle for Coach of the Year Monday when the 76ers are at the United Center. The Bulls’ Tom Thibodeau and the 76ers Doug Collins, a former Bulls coach, seemingly have moved into the favorite spots for the annual coaching award. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, though the Spurs are sliding, is still a candidate, along with the Lakers’ Phil Jackson for getting L.A. going in a tough three-peat season, and others like Nate McMillan and Lionel Hollins. But it’s been more Thibodeau and Collins, who have done the unexpected with their teams. No one, certainly, had the Bulls at the top of the East this late in the season, and few believed the 76ers could make the playoffs. But Collins is one of the best ever in putting players in position to succeed. Elton Brand has more double-doubles this season than in his first two seasons in Philadelphia combined, Andre Iguodala, who just fell to 5.9 rebounds, had along with LeBron James been until last week the only players averaging at least 14 points, six assists and six rebounds. Jodie Meeks has been turned into a Kyle Korver and Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young off the bench have become top Sixth Man candidates with a team moving into the top 10 in field goal defense. Collins was coach of the month in February with the team’s best monthly record in eight years. … It’s a long way down for Homewood-Flossmoor’s Julian Wright, a 2007 lottery pick who supposedly declined to come into the game with his Raptors falling behind the Warriors by 47. Though that would suggest he’s hardly the only one who gave up. … The whatever happened to Ben Gordon update: Averaging 6.8 points in about 18 minutes the last 10 games. "I know Ben is capable of doing more," said Pistons coach John Kuester to local media. "But as of late, Rip (Hamilton) has played at a high level."… One bright spot in a brutal Pistons season has been rookie Greg Monroe coming on strong, averaging 13.4 points and 9.3 rebounds on March and the most double/doubles in a season for a Pistons in the last five years.

-- Miami has been playing more of what I see as their best lineup with Chris Bosh at center and LeBron James at power forward. The Heat ran down Houston Sunday and coach Erik Spoelstra made it clear to local media he isn’t resting anyone. Spoelstra said the players rested Saturday because they had a light practice. It’s also why Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to ease off the pedal the rest of the way. … The Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel counted 26 Heat point guards in the last 10 years with Mike Bibby starting there now. … The Magic’s J.J. Redick, last summer’s Bulls shooting guard target, has missed the last eight games with an abdominal strain and isn’t expected back soon. … Stan Van Gundy often says what no one else wants to but what they are thinking, sort of a less athletic Charles Barkley. So last week in New York, he wondered what all the fuss was about. Said Van Gundy of Madison Square Garden: “It’s not one of the nicer places in the league. It has some history, but no more so than some others. Look, their last championship was in the ’70s. It’s not like this has been the premier franchise in the league for years and years and years. So, no, to me it has no significance.” The truth, to me, is the arena is pretty much a dump with circus smells all the time, a hostile audience and crumbling facilities. I do like the backlit effect like a stage show for the arena, though making it dark in the stands probably is not the best idea for New York City if you want to keep your wallet. … Van Gundy mostly got attention last week for saying the MVP race is over for Derrick Rose. So why was that controversial? Seems sort of obvious. … Magic players have been talking about getting a break in playoff seeding at No. 4 as that will mean a second round series if they advance and things stay as they are against what they say is an inexperienced Bulls team.

-- The statistical service STAT said the Hawks have been blown out with five home losses of at least 20 and three by more than 30 of any team ever with a winning record. See, we wouldn’t have known that a few years ago. … Rick Adelman moved past Red Auerbach for ninth all-time in coaching wins. … Yes, that’s the risk of playing it out. It didn’t hurt the likes of LeBron and Bosh, but David West’s serious knee injury last week likely costs him tens of millions of dollars. He had a chance to sign an extension, but wanted to be a free agent and perhaps leave the bankrupt Hornets. With a torn ACL going on 31, West likely now will never get that big free agent offer. He’ll probably now opt in for the final year and $7.5 million next season. … With Memphis and Portland playing well, the Hornets have nine games left and a two and a half game edge, four on Phoenix, to hold off Houston and the Suns for the final playoff spot. The Jazz likely is out and deservedly so the way they are playing. … Oklahoma City has won 12 of their last 14 with Kendrick Perkins coming on board. They are 6-1 since Perkins returned from injury. … The Mavs seem like the 2000’s Jazz with their 11th consecutive 50-win season and likely no title on the horizon. … I don’t know if it presages anything for the playoffs, but there were some amazing finishes last week with Nicholas Batum’s tip to beat the Spurs that Andre Miller called the best finish of a game over the last minute he’s ever seen and Aaron Gray’s fullcourt pass for Emeka Okafor’s wild fallaway bank to stun the Jazz. With no true dominant team, it could be a wild playoffs. … The Trail Blazers got the ball back with less than a second for that play when Steve Novak threw an inbounds pass out of bounds. Asked about the play, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered: “Yeah, we wanted to throw it straight out of bounds without anybody touching it.”

-- Kendrick Perkins has been singing the praises of Thabo Sefolosha since joining the Thunder as Sefolosha is gaining a reputation as an athletic Bruce Bowen. Said Perkins: “He's a guy who brings value to the court without it really showing up in the stat sheet, He's a huge part of why we're a great defensive team.”… The Thunder hasn’t missed a beat losing Jeff Green, as James Harden has moved in averaging 16 points on 49 percent shooting the last 10 games. … The Clippers gave up their No. 1 to get rid of Baron Davis, but they have a big piece to make a move as they’ll deal Chris Kaman. Back from injury, he’s averaging 14.6 and 7.4 on 51 percent shooting in March, and centers remain in demand. … Reaching desperation, the Suns Sunday benched the disappointing Robin Lopez for Marcin Gortat, who won’t give up that role, and, finally, Vince Carter, who came into the game having started 907 of 915 career games, but was down to shooting barely over 40 percent for the season. He has a $4 million buyout the Suns are expected to exercise and you wonder given his career indifference whether he’d walk away or take a minimum deal to come off the bench for a contender. He doesn’t seem that type. … You sometimes hear management or coaches implying they are glad to be rid of someone, but rarely ever players, and especially of a star. But you’ve never heard so many players practically gleeful to be without Carmelo Anthony. Said Nene: “We're enjoying it right now because everybody feels important." Added Kenyon Martin: “People are just going out and being who they are. Guys utilizing their talents.”….With a win Sunday, the Lakers moved within four of the Spurs with nine left as the Lakers have gone 15-1 since the All-Star break. I’m going Lakers/Thunder and Bulls/Heat for Final Four. Unless I change before then.