Everyone knows we have a responsibility writing about the NBA. What can we do to make the Lakers champions? You can be a great team with classy people, like in Oklahoma City and San Antonio, but what about the Lakers? Hey, was Kobe limping? Anyway, I do unfortunately have a good idea that I would be surprised if it doesn’t occur. It’s obvious watching the Lakers Pau Gasol isn’t going to make it through this season despite the reports the Lakers currently have no plans to trade him. Note to those in Los Angeles: Check nose length of Lakers’ executives.
Already, Mike D’Antoni has found Antawn Jamison, whom former coach Mike Brown apparently had never met. In the Lakers first 10 games mostly under Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff, Jamison averaged 3.8 points and never scored in double figures. In the last four games before Sunday night, Jamison averaged 17.8 points and 9.5 rebounds with 33 and 12 against Denver (Jamison had 38 total points the first 10 games). Jamison had 10 points in Sunday’s loss to the Magic as he finished the game for Gasol again. Yes, coaching makes a difference on careers as well.
The reason is obvious. Jamison is a D’Antoni system player. D’Antoni doesn’t believe in postups, though with Steve Nash out he’s run some. He spreads the court with shooters and plays pick and roll and pick and pop with his big man. Gasol, of course, could play that big man role. But there’s Dwight Howard, whom the Lakers badly need to resign this summer. They better make him happy, and we know how sad Dwight can get. And Sunday didn’t help against the Magic, of all teams, who fouled Howard all second half and he missed 12 of 21. So D’Antoni is stuck. But you don’t ignore a talent like Gasol. You replace him.
Not that this is new as there have been rumors and suggestions for more than a year: Josh Smith, maybe New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson, the latter a D’Antoni stretch four. He fits, but Gasol to New Orleans makes no sense for the Hornets who basically want no part of the playoffs or a higher lottery seed. But there is one deal that has to happen.
Gasol for Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. The Lakers probably give back a point, like Darius Morris.
It’s obvious for the Lakers. Bargnani is the ultimate D’Antoni player, which is even why Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo has tried to unite with D’Antoni for years. Why not? They had a brilliant run in Phoenix. And Colangelo just missed on Steve Nash last summer. Bargnani, a former No. 1 overall pick, has run out of affection in Toronto. But he’s a seven footer with an excellent three point shot who spreads the floor like few bigs. Nash is still out, and even when he returns isn’t a 30-minute player anymore. Calderon is in the final year of his deal and a point guard who plays pick and roll and scores and can be a perfect backup for Nash.
Gasol makes $19 million for two more seasons with a 15 percent trade addition. It’s a lot to take on, but this is a make-or-break time for Colangelo. He needs to make the playoffs, and despite a poor record the Raptors are close with some nice pieces in Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan. Pau could give them maybe the best front court in the East, tutor Valanciunas and could revive himself as he’s clearly disinterested now with the Lakers. Plus, if the Raptors make the playoffs they get to keep their draft pick from the recent James Harden deal that the Rockets held. It strengthens Colangelo’s hand in building the team as he faces contract renewal. And the community needs to move past the Chris Bosh mess and be a playoff team. Colangelo took a risk with some offseason moves like Landry Fields, John Lucas and now has a top point guard in Kyle Lowry. Pau probably gets them there, and gives D’Antoni the personnel mix he needs to succeed. And he really needs it now with the mess the Lakers have been. Though I still don’t have any ideas for the Wizards.
Did Popovich do the NBA a favor?
-- Perhaps Gregg Popovich did the NBA a favor in a perverse sort of way. After all, it was the only pro league on Page 1 of the New York Times last week, and, after all, isn’t one of the mottos of celebrity, entertainment and business something to the effect of not caring what you say about me as long as you spell my name right? Yes, the nation was talking NBA even if I didn’t care much for the means of getting there. Perhaps no league beyond the NBA becomes the subject of more morality tales and object lessons than the NBA from tattoos to being a role model. Of course, as we know, Popovich sent most of his starting lineup home instead of playing the defending champion Miami Heat, the Spurs’ only game there this regular season. The subsequent $250,000 fine by the league provoked discussion on big brother/too much government of a league making coaching decisions, of, in effect, the right of the individual against the presumed good of the majority, a theme much debated in the recent presidential election. There was the question of precedent of where the line is: Giving up late season games for draft picks or playoff position. And it was the Grizzlies two years ago that appeared to give away two late season games in order to play the Spurs in the first round, and the Grizzlies won. It’s actually one reason I’d wished the Spurs hadn’t done that because I feel they are one of the great organizations in sports. But I’ve often felt their players in recent years weren’t ready for the playoffs the way they didn’t take the regular season serious enough. The big games, and they are few, matter. They are a measure of yourself.
Michael Jordan will tell you to this day when the Bulls finally got past the Pistons in Detroit in the 1990-91 season in winning in Detroit in February it was the turning point toward winning that first championship. I feel badly for the Spurs stars that they’d willingly accept walking away from that sort of challenge. Great players play. No matter Jordan’s respect for Phil Jackson, he wasn’t going home rather than play the defending champion. Same with Kobe Bryant. One can make all the basketball arguments: The Spurs had an easy road trip and could have rested guys in Orlando and Washington, the two games before Miami; what was the NBA thinking scheduling a big matchup with one team resting four days and the other on a fourth game in five nights (I actually think that was Popovich’s point as he is a sportsman of eminent fairness). Everyone moans about TV, but it enables everyone to have those extraordinary salaries, and in life you always are answerable to someone. As it happened, the Spurs reserves almost won, and an NBA guy had a different take, that Popovich was cleverly trying to get his reserves TV pressure time against a great team because they were so poor in the playoffs. You almost couldn’t imagine the varied positions the action created to the point the New York Times front page weighed in on the ethics, Broadway stand-ins and the Obama campaign’s use of Joe Biden instead of the president. Pop got everyone talking NBA in the heart of NFL season. Pretty clever guy. I’m assuming commissioner David Stern quietly gave him a $500,000 marketing bonus.
There’s a secret to Stackhouse’s success
-- It seemed like two years ago I was listening to Jerry Stackhouse’s NBA radio program on Sirius, and it was pretty good. Stack didn’t pull punches, like when he became an NBA hero for decking Christian Laettner on a Pistons road trip. But one of the more remarkable stories of the season has been Stackhouse’s resurrection with the Nets at 38, pushing out MarShon Brooks, at least for now. He’s averaging 7.3 points, but has scored in double figures his last there averaging 14 points and nine of 15 on threes, including nine of 12 threes in wins over the Knicks and Celtics. But Stack has a secret. It’s Taaj Jaharah, an innovative New York trainer and therapist whose work on agility and flexibility basically throughout his career helped Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play until he was 42 and at a high level. “I have worked with him (Stackhouse) since his rookie year in Philly,” Jaharah said in an email. “He has been fastidious in his desire to continue to retrain and to maintain his ease of movement, a truly dedicated athlete. They don't last 18 years in the league without that.” It’s a great lesson for young kids. Players like Abdul-Jabbar and Stackhouse realized when they were kids that training their bodies for that sort of flexibility would extend their career. They probably never realized how long. And this at a time whether to just keep busy more players than ever seem to want to continue their careers. There are eight players at least 38 with the return of Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Derek Fisher and Grant Hill and Kurt Thomas over 40.
NBA news and notes
-- The Bulls see the also struggling Pacers Tuesday, and it’s been a quiet frustration for the Pacers with Roy Hibbert, who doesn’t play much in fourth quarters anymore, replaced by Ian Mahinmi as Hibbert took one fourth quarter shot on the Pacers recent three-game Western trip. He is in the first season of a four-year $58 million extension and shooting 39 percent overall and 57.5 percent on free throws. ... Cavs coach Byron Scott is calling Anderson Varejao “by far” the East’s best center. Well, he is his player. The curiosity is there’s so much trade speculation regarding Varejao in Cleveland. Varejao has been terrific on a bad team, averaging 15.1 points and a league leading 15.3 rebounds. Not that losing LeBron James was a good thing, but Varejao no longer has to play the role of retrieving the misses and getting them back to LeBron, sort of the way you played with Allen Iverson. The talk in Cleveland is draft pick Tyler Zeller can move in for Varejao, which seems ludicrous. Yes, Varejao has value, though 30. But at some point you have to start trying to win. With a top point guard in Kyrie Irving, the Cavs can start. It would be a major mistake to trade Varejao for lottery picks. Ask Tristin Thompson. Of course, I thought no way the Thunder break up a potential dynasty and trade James Harden. ... The Bulls follow Cleveland Wednesday in the All-Star game battle between Varejao and Joakim Noah and go to Detroit, where coach Lawrence Frank found Charlie Villanueva on the bench after he hadn’t played in seemingly a year. Charlie can shoot, and is making 41 percent of his threes as mostly a pop in the pick and roll/pop. It resulted in the benching of Jonas Jerebko, who wasn’t too pleased. He’s always a player I thought had potential and might be a cheap find for someone.
-- It’s been a tough go, or no go, for Al Harrington, who went in for “routine” arthroscopic surgery in May to repair a torn meniscus. He developed a staph infection and has had four more surgeries since and has yet to play as he was part of the Dwight Howard multiteam trade from Denver to Orlando. If Harrington returns, he could be traded in February as he has two partial guarantee seasons left after this. ... Howard’s Lakers, by the way, just finished the “easy” part of their schedule 8-9 and play eight of their next 10 on the road. ... Carmelo Anthony was trying to be supportive, but the words never seem to come out right for him. Asked about former teammate Nene, Anthony told reporters: “It’s still early in the season. I don’t think it’s no time for them (Wizards) to close the lid right now. Nene is a guy that’s not going to play until he’s completely healthy and when he’s healthy, you know what type of guy he is. And they’re missing John [Wall], too.” But that always has been the whisper about Nene, that he won’t come back until he’s perfect, and you rarely are in pro sports. ... I’ve noticed, myself included, we don’t question LeBron James’ last second passes anymore. And the infamous Spurs gone home game is an example. The then disinclined Heat were actually about to lose when James just went to the rim and overwhelmed everyone, as he began doing late in the Boston conference finals and hasn’t stopped. Once you do that — which is all everyone was asking — you can do what you want and you are right all the time. Just ask Michael.
-- Another one of those surprise guys has been the Hornets’ Greivis Vasquez, an afterthought bottom of the first round point guard who has been strong in averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds. Said Chris Paul after Vasquez had 25 points and 10 assists in a Hornets win last week over the Clippers: “That Greivis Vasquez, he's going to be an All-Star." Though with Anthony Davis out with an ankle stress something or other and Eric Gordon now believed to be in federal witness protection it seems New Orleans residents are saving their money with the Hornets’ attendance the lowest since they moved to New Orleans. ... Now no one saw this coming: With opponents trapping James Harden, the Rockets have gone to pick and rolls featuring Omer Asik, who is averaging 15.4 points and 14 rebounds the last four games and shooting 65 percent. And against Toronto last week, Asik dribbled out on a break and passed for the layup score to Jeremy Lin. Yes, he’s catching and finishing, having offense run through him and almost 60 percent on free throws. Make him most improved of the decade. ... The Kings say they finally have Tyreke Evans in the right spot at shooting guard after being badly miscast as a point guard or small forward is playing more in control. But they are overloaded with guards with Jimmer Fredette sixth among six and most likely to be traded at some point. The talk is the Kings would love a first rounder. ... ESPN.com did a long interview with the always candid Mike D’Antoni, who admitted his ego got in the way when Steve Kerr replaced him as general manager and wanted, among other things, D’Antoni to hire Tom Thibodeau as a defensive assistant. D’Antoni declined. Thibodeau then joined the Celtics. D’Antoni admitted in the interview it was a mistake for him to leave Steve Nash and the Suns under criticism he couldn’t win a title. Now those 60-win seasons look pretty good. But D’Antoni almost was Bulls coach in 2010. He had evolved into the team’s top choice before Vinny Del Negro was hired, but management had asked him for 48 hours to consider the offer. All indications were he would get that offer. But the Knicks called the next morning and D’Antoni took the job without giving the Bulls time to decide. D’Antoni would later admit as the Bulls soon won the lottery and drafted Derrick Rose that it was a mistake as well not to wait for the Bulls. ... Sinking quickly in the West is D’Antoni’s old Suns. They sent their lottery pick to the D-league, and big offseason pickup Michael Beasley in Sunday’s loss in New York sat out the fourth quarter for the ninth time in 18 games and is shooting under 40 percent and 27 percent on threes. ... Quite a mess the Warriors got themselves into. Not only did it turn out Andrew Bogut had microfracture surgery last spring, but the Warriors, with such a devoted fan base, seemed to have, let’s say, been overly optimistic about the unpopular deal for the popular Monte Ellis with regular reports Bogut would be ready for training camp. Now he could be out months still and the San Francisco Chronicle suggested he wasn’t happy Warriors management made him look bad. Like the 76ers without Andrew Bynum, the Warriors have been an early surprise in leading their division. But they leave this week on a seven-game road trip.
-- It was a nice welcome to Chicago last week for the National Basketball Retired Players Association, which moved its headquarters from New York. The organization works with former players on life after basketball issues, which we know can be difficult and as one guest symbolized, Chicago’s Antoine Walker, who declared bankruptcy. Former players like Kenny Battle, Stephen Bardo, Emmette Bryant, Jack Marin, Thurl Bailey, Rick Barry, Otis Birdsong, Spencer Haywood, LaRue Martin and Jeff Sanders were on hand. Yes, Jeff. You remember the Bulls first round pick from the 1989 draft behind Stacey King and B.J. Armstrong. He was among many who crystallized the issues many pro athletes have, making the NBA and the best part of your life over in your 20’s or 30. “The hardest part is you are a superstar in high school, college, and I came to the NBA on a veteran team,” Sanders recalled. “Then I fracture my foot the second day of practice. You learn it’s a business, there is no loyalty. You’ve got to earn your position. Forget about the promises.” Sanders admits the frustration drove him to play overseas. He tried a return to the Bulls and got hurt again. “I never looked back or felt sorry for myself,” says the upbeat Sanders. “You keep your head up, keep going and find work to do. You have to have something to fall back on and something else to get involved in.” It’s also why Sanders now is considering being a chapter chairman for the retired players. He played some in the minor leagues, started a software company, coached some in the latest version of the ABA and has settled into work with kids. He now lives in the South Loop and is junior varsity basketball coach and a varsity assistant at the U. of Chicago laboratory school in Hyde Park. He also works with One Hope United, an organization protecting children. “I’ve always loved working with kids,” says Sanders. “The joy I get teaching kids and then to see them do it and the look. It’s so gratifying to help.” Sanders has built himself a new career and he may be helping other of his former colleagues as well.
-- Reports out of Boston were even with the Celtics being dominated on the boards — last in the league by far — they are reluctant to move on Kenyon Martin because they are “wary of his attitude and disposition.” It’s a great message to players. There is life beyond your prime. Continue to treat people badly, and it does matter. ... Who says you can’t laugh living in Milwaukee? You had to love the Bucks fan Saturday after Larry Sanders knocked Kevin Garnett to the ground asking where was Rondo to help. You notice Garnett didn’t do anything when knocked down by Kris Humphries and Sanders. Sanders, by the way is becoming who Tyrus Thomas should have been if he had wanted to. An undersized, explosive forward, Sanders had 18 points and 16 rebounds against the Celts after a triple double with 10 blocks against Minnesota. A late comer to basketball at 14, Sanders finally figured out if he stayed by the basket he could have a career. Thomas refused. The irony is it’s under coach Scott Skiles, who begged — as much as Scott ever does — Thomas to stop shooting jump shots and he’d get a dozen points by accident at the rim. Sanders is and Tyrus, though injured now, is more a poor man’s Hakim Warrick. ... Rajon Rondo is due back Wednesday from his two-game suspension for initiating a fight. Rondo, of course, denied everything, but the NBA was on it immediately as James Capers, one of the league’s top officials, quickly explained to media the circumstances. Credit the NBA for a clear and quick response. Rondo was suspended last year for twice going after officials, which left some to wonder why Rondo got just two games. Quipped coach Doc Rivers: “Usually he goes after the refs, This time it was another guy, so that’s better, I guess.” ... Rivers, incidentally, took hard the death Saturday of veteran college coach Rick Majerus, who as a Marquette assistant gave Glenn his “Doc” nickname. Though Majerus coached primarily in college, he was close and worked with numerous pros and coaches, like George Karl. He was a Bucks assistant as well and remained close with owner Herb Kohl. Majerus had an unusual lifestyle, basically living in hotels while he coached. But he was one of the more beloved figures you’d find, in part for his humor and success but also for the time he’d give to media members, assistants, students. He was the classic guy with the big heart who never forgot what it was like to be the guy with his face pressed against the window watching the famous guys. Yes, he could be tough on players in a Bobby Knight way, but he became as famous as any of them and always had time for those who’d never get there. ... In the toughest loss of all, the NBA lost a wonderful member of its family, Sasha McHale, the daughter of Rockets coach and Hall of Famer Kevin, who remains on leave. How tough was that game last week for the Rockets to attend the funeral and then play in Oklahoma City? Sasha was a 5-11 All-State forward on a high school champion who wore the same 32 and played tough and smart like her dad. She was celebrated by teammates and classmates and attended the University of Minnesota at Duluth. She became sick on a study abroad trip to Australia in 2011 and died last week from complications involving Lupus. It’s the cruelest of losses. You weep for Kevin and his family.