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It's been a while since I've done one of these because, well, I've either been out of town or just really busy. I'll try to be more consistent but sometimes there's days I don't have the cycles to spare And away we go!
Hamilton's nose is broken again
The elbow slammed squarely into the nose of Pistons guard Richard Hamilton during Wednesday’s game in Chicago, triggering a sick gut feeling.
Not another broken nose.
Hamilton’s nose is indeed broken for the second time this season. But this time around, he’s not going to get away with resting and letting it heal on its own.
He will undergo surgery Tuesday, resetting the displaced septum (the flexible cartilage that divides the chambers of the nose). It is not known when he will be able to return to play.
“The way it is now, my septum is blocking the whole left side of my nose, my breathing,” he said. “I can’t wait to let it heal that way. They’re just going to pop it (septum) back over. Hopefully, it will go well like it did last time.”
Boston therapist Dan Dyrek was in Indianapolis on Saturday to examine the tendinitis in Jermaine O'Neal's right knee.
O'Neal, who was bothered by the condition early in the season, is experiencing pain again. He doesn't plan to miss any upcoming games but hopes the Pacers can build a comfortable lead in the Eastern Conference so he can sit out some games at the end of the regular season.
"It's bugging me," he said after scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds against the Sixers. "If I feel I can help my team, I want to be out there playing. I don't want to deal with it going into the playoffs, though, so hopefully we handle our business and solidify our positioning.
"Hopefully when we get to five or six games left in the season I can take some games off and get the knee better."
The Spurs placed Tim Duncan on the injured list prior to Saturday's game, but can activate him at any time because he was not replaced on the active roster.
Should the Spurs later decide to activate forward Sean Marks or another player, Duncan would have to miss at least five games. Saturday's game would count as the first of the five.
Though swelling has not been a problem, Duncan still has stiffness in his left knee and was walking with a slight limp.
He spent Saturday's shootaround doing exercises to strengthen his quadriceps muscles. The Spurs hope the exercises will help prevent a recurrence of the inflammation Duncan has in his left patellofemoral joint.
Without Claxton, Calbert Cheaney (out with tonsillitis) and Troy Murphy, who has missed most of the season because of right-foot and ankle injuries, the Warriors (25-32) put together one of their grittiest efforts of the season.
No one was grittier than Van Exel, who slogged around the court at what seemed to be half-speed. He still found a way to put together a 10-point, seven-assist, six-rebound night, which went a long way toward keeping his team competitive.
Van Exel had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee before the season and has never gotten back to 100 percent. He has missed 19 of 57 games this season because of the injury. Van Exel said he will try to play tonight in Chicago, then have more debris cleaned out of the knee next week.
``I just never let it heal the way it was supposed to,'' said Van Exel, who returned from Oct. 20 surgery only 16 days later. ``I don't like the pain I'm experiencing every day. There's not a day goes by I don't experience pain.''
The injuries to Van Exel and Claxton leave 15-year veteran Avery Johnson as the only pure point guard on the roster.
Payton experiences regret about signing with Lakers
The Los Angeles Times reported that Payton called his agent Aaron Goodwin on Friday, saying he longed to play his trademark aggressive game, but that in 56 games as a Laker he'd been boxed in by Phil Jackson's rigid system, shortened playing time and the organization's unalterable reliance on Bryant and O'Neal.
Goodwin told The Times there are moments when Payton "regrets" his decision to sign last summer with the Lakers, an organization Payton believed would adjust as much to his game as he would to it. Instead, Goodwin said, Payton has become a cog in the system, unable to affect games for long periods, if at all.
"He's not happy," Goodwin told The Times. "To be quite honest, he's tired of it. If they're not listening, it's crazy. All L.A. has seen is a shell of Gary Payton. He's gone out of his way to defer, and he's getting nothing back from Phil.
"He was told he could come in there and be Gary Payton, not be some point guard in the triangle offense…. I would like for them to allow Gary Payton, for at least the last few games, to be Gary Payton."
A sacrifice was implied when Gary Payton joined the Lakers last summer, taking less money than he could earn elsewhere, to play on a team flush with superstars. The tradeoff felt right, given the promise of playing into June.
But 57 games into his Lakers career, the sacrifice has become too great, and the frustration too overwhelming to contain. So Payton took his displeasure public Saturday, in a calm but pointed five-minute monologue after the Lakers' 122-110 rout of the Washington Wizards.
He is unhappy with his playing time, feels constrained by an offense that doesn't maximize his skills and made it very clear that if nothing changes, he'll probably leave as a free agent this summer.
"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," Payton said. "So it's a problem for me right now. I've been trying to hold it in, but it's a problem. I want to play. I don't know what we're trying to do. I don't know what it is. What I'm trying to do is stay away from controversy, but controversy's going to come if I keep sitting on the bench."
Although a Heat spokesman declined to comment on Baker's situation, it was confirmed before Saturday's game that discussions had taken place.
Baker had been in limbo while the players' union determined the forward's status in light of its claim that Boston did not have the right to cancel the remaining $36 million on Baker's contract.
But as Baker spoke with the Heat, the union informed agent Aaron Goodwin that the forward's grievance would not be impacted by signing with another team.
Heat President Pat Riley said at the Feb. 19 trading deadline that his team had interest. Riley has had success in his nine years in South Florida turning around players with tarnished reputations, with Tim Hardaway, Rod Strickland and Lamar Odom among his success stories.
Baker is expected to join a team this week. He would be eligible for a postseason roster because he was waived before March 1.
A contract with the Heat would have to be at a prorated share of the $1.07 million veteran's minimum, with the remaining amount on Baker's Celtics contract having no bearing on a new team's payroll or salary cap.
The Bulls could add Lonny Baxter to the team after he was released by the Raptors on Saturday to make room for free-agent shooting guard Dion Glover.
The 6-8 Baxter was part of the six-player trade in which the Bulls sent him, Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall to the Raptors for forwards Antonio Davis, Jerome Williams and Chris Jefferies. A source said Baxter simply had trouble picking up the offense, and with injuries to Rose and Vince Carter, the Raptors needed a scorer desperately to help snap an eight-game losing streak.
Baxter apparently was released after the Bulls re-signed Johnson, who had started the season with the Bulls and played 18 games. Johnson was averaging 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Lightning.
"Linton is a guy we're familiar with,'' Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "He played well in the CBA, he's familiar with what we're trying to do here and we like him. So we'll see what he can do. Linton makes his shots all the time in practice. He just needs some seasoning and some confidence [to become] a very effective NBA player.''
But Skiles added that they're also interested in Baxter.
"Lonny was not included in that trade because the Chicago Bulls wanted to include him,'' Skiles said. "It was just necessary to get the deal done.''
The biggest concern measures 7-feet-2 inches, when he's playing that is. Dikembe Mutombo, for reasons unbeknown to him and his teammates, is buried on Wilkens' bench at a time when the Knicks are desperate for a defensive presence.
"My own observation from the sideline is I realize after 50-something games my teammates got used to having somebody who is an intimidator in the back," Mutombo said, trying to sound diplomatic. "I think they're kinda confused defensively because we didn't practice all of this."
Mutombo was referring to Wilkens' decision to start newcomer Nazr Mohammed at center against Sacramento and Phoenix. Kurt Thomas started Friday against the Clippers with Mohammed serving as the backup.
The sudden switch fueled speculation that Knicks president Isiah Thomas is behind Mutombo's reduced role. Mutombo, a proud veteran who as recently as Tuesday said he was tired of "this crap," is not about to accuse his boss of ordering his benching.
But it is clear that Thomas is not enamored of Mutombo, who has two major strikes against him. For one, Mutombo was signed by former team president Scott Layden and Thomas has made no secret that he is trying to purge the roster of Layden's players.
Moreover, Mutombo is represented by David Falk, who has engaged in a long, bitter feud with Thomas. Those bad feelings resurfaced two weeks ago when Keith Van Horn - yes, another Layden-Falk connection - was traded to Milwaukee. Thomas also tried to trade Mutombo, who made threats to retire had he landed in any place other than New Jersey or Philadelphia.
Thomas, though, may have one more bullet to fire. The Knicks are still very much in the running for free agent power forward Vin Baker. If Baker is signed, there is an outside chance that Thomas would release Mutombo and eat the final year of his contract. Cutting Mutombo after tomorrow would be especially cruel since it would prohibit Mutombo from qualifying for a postseason roster.
It's begging time in Boston, where personnel moves have become more frequent than victories.
When the referees converged on the scorers' table after the final buzzer of last week's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Fleet Center to determine whether Walter McCarty's three-point shot should count, there was one thing running through the mind of Boston interim coach John Carroll.
"I was ready to beg for anything," said Carroll, who took over when Jim O'Brien resigned on Jan. 27.
When New York visited Denver last week, Nuggets forward Antonio McDyess - formerly of the Knicks - said Isiah Thomas' decision to trade Keith Van Horn to Milwaukee only proved his theory that Thomas is trying to clear out all the players from the regime of previous general manager Scott Layden.
"I couldn't believe it," said McDyess. "I wouldn't put it past him for anybody getting traded on that team but I was surprised it was Keith. I really think he's trying to get rid of all Layden guys. I like Keith. He'll have a great year. I'm surprised they traded him. He was really playing well. To see him go, I was definitely shocked."
Jason Kidd on Charles Barkley referring to Lawrence Frank as Barney Fife: "It was probably after he had a couple Coronas and a burrito." . . .
Sacramento guard Mike Bibby on Barkley's claim that the Lakers would beat the Kings 100 times in 100 playoff series: "We're in the same boat he's in, no rings."
At the Williams Trial, a Tangled String of Contradictions
Five friends and four Harlem Globetrotters were in various parts of Jayson Williams's country home in Alexandria Township, N.J., when a chauffeur, Costas Christofi, was killed two years ago by a blast from a shotgun held by Mr. Williams. Last week, three of the friends, who did not witness the shooting but rushed into the bedroom where it had occurred, testified for prosecutors trying to prove that Mr. Williams, a former New Jersey Nets basketball star, covered up his role in the shooting.
They agreed on one major point: Mr. Williams, 36, wiped the double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun used in the shooting with a towel, apparently to remove his fingerprints.
On many other points, the three offered varying recollections of what they had seen and heard after entering the bedroom and seeing the body of Mr. Christofi, 55, lying beside a polished round table. They disagreed on Mr. Williams's demeanor. They disagreed on his comments in the minutes after the shooting. They disagreed on whether he had orchestrated a cover-up.
Consequently, a jury at New Jersey Superior Court in Somerville will have to sort out strings of inconsistencies and contradictions when it comes time to deliberate on the four cover-up charges against Mr. Williams.
The most incriminating testimony came from Dean Bumbaco, a 37-year-old landscaper who said he has come to dislike Mr. Williams since the shooting. Mr. Bumbaco testified that he saw Mr. Christofi kneeling and then topple over, gasping for breath, after he was shot. Mr. Williams was also on his knees, he said. Mr. Bumbaco quoted him as saying: "My God, my life is over. Did I kill him? Is he dead?"
Marc J. Spears: Henderson faces repercussions for bad call
While a media member could have followed whether Henderson was given a hiatus by checking box scores to see when he worked his next game, it may have gone unnoticed before he came back. There is nothing wrong with the NBA meeting with Henderson.
The NBRA, though, states that the ruling on Henderson "will have a chilling effect on a referee's willingness to make close calls." What? Calls that officials make have been questioned in sports since fans became fans.
Mistakes are even more glaring now with television outlets putting cameras everywhere and cable networks showing replays over and over. There are few jobs more publicly scrutinized than a professional sports referee.
If a call that was criticized can have a chilling effect on a referee's ability to make close calls, that referee doesn't need to be a referee. This is definitely a tough, high-pressure job only for the thick- skinned.
What could have a chilling effect is how Henderson is perceived now that his business is in the street.
Can he referee a game in Denver the rest of this season? Yeah, right.
The folly of the entire matter is that the NBA actually got it right at the start.
When Jackson issued a statement the day after Wednesday's controversial finish, acknowledging the error by the officiating crew, the league put the best human face on the matter.
"This was an unfortunate call at a highly critical point in the game and we very much regret the error," Jackson's statement concluded.
We'll try better next time. We messed up. Just as players, and coaches, have been known to do from time to time.
Put a bad grade on Henderson's performance evaluation? Fine. Put him on double-secret probation? No problem. We're all constantly being evaluated. Players get cut. Coaches (Lord knows) get fired. Executives are removed so Isiah Thomas can make grand entrances.
But why single out referees to be accountable to a level beyond that of other participants?
If anything, the spotlight on Henderson takes the focus from a far greater ongoing concern -- deteriorating relations between referees and competitors.
Based on what he knows about the situation, Mavericks coach Don Nelson says the referees had every right to protest the three-game suspension referee Michael Henderson received Friday.
The NBA suspended Henderson after he blew a call in the waning seconds that cost the Denver Nuggets a likely victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. In a show of solidarity, officials throughout the league wore their jerseys inside-out during Friday's games and wore Henderson's No. 62 on the back.
"As coaches, we've all had players who several times a year make mistakes at critical times that cost us games, and we don't suspend that guy either," Nelson said. "So if that's the only reason, then I think the protest is a legitimate protest.
"The referees are like any human beings. They should be given the benefit of the doubt. We're all going to make mistakes. Every player makes mistakes. We don't suspend players for making mistakes. If we did, we'd have nobody on our roster."
Speaking from almost the exact spot where he confronted a referee last season, an action that the NBA deemed serious enough to suspend him seven games, Jerry Sloan on Friday expressed his support for, of all people -- a referee.
Michael Henderson, suspended three games for making a critical error earlier this week that may have cost the Denver Nuggets a game, probably didn't deserve such a harsh punishment, Sloan said.
"It's a mistake, that's all. People make mistakes," the Jazz coach said on the Arco Arena floor. "They're right more times than they're wrong. We all get upset with them, but when it's said and done, they have a tough job and they work real hard at it. I hate to see anybody get suspended, because it's a guy trying to make a living who just made a mistake."
Peter Vescey: Referee's suspension signals NBA witchhunt
Nevertheless, the league is attempting to say Henderson's slip-up is far shoddier than poor judgment. That it's beneath and beyond excusable, every-day breakdowns such as misidentifying a critical 3-pointer as a two, or voiding a game-winning shot on a charge when it was indeed a block. That it doesn't come close to comparing to missing a call or imagining one. What an outrageously irrational stance! For some reason, the crucifixion is on.
Maybe it's because Henderson is said to be the league's lowest-ranking ref and the time might be ripe to notify him his floor days are numbered. Maybe it's because Henderson supposedly disobeyed instructions given prior to Andre Miller's jumper with two ticks left on the 24-second timepiece. Supposedly, crew chief Jack Nies told him any subsequent shot-clock violation wasn't his responsibility; his sight lines were clearly unsatisfactory.
At the same time, Nies and Jess Kersey, who, by the way, have 60 years of pro experience between them, totally mishandled the touchy situation following Henderson's "inadvertent" call, it says here. When informed Miller's shot had clipped the side ring, Henderson was deflated but undaunted. He supposedly told his partners the Nuggets should retain possession since he didn't blow his whistle until after Carmelo Anthony got the rebound.
That's exactly what I saw and heard. This was the sequence-shot, controlled rebound, whistle. Not shot, whistle and rebound. Or shot, uncontrolled rebound and whistle, as the league claims. I've since talked extensively to two veteran observers of such bang-bang stuff who either watched the game and replay live, or zeroed in on the chaos on tape; they embrace my viewpoint.
Jackson, on the other hand, bluntly stated Nies and Kersey did the right thing by resolving the disagreement with a jump ball, which Shaq is licensed to steal. As usual, Stu doesn't have the foggiest clue what's going on.
``An unprecedented job action was taken against one of their colleagues, so an unprecedented response was necessary,'' said Lamell McMorris, a spokesman and negotiator for the National Basketball Referees Association.
Referees at all 10 NBA games Friday night were expected to take part in the protest, although Eddie F. Rush and Nolan Fine worked the Grizzlies-Bucks game in Milwaukee and did not. The third member of their crew, Rodney Mott, adhered to the protest.
Commissioner David Stern issued a statement Saturday saying the referees' actions were ``woefully inconsistent with the professionalism with which NBA officials normally conduct themselves.''
On Friday, the NBA released a statement from deputy commissioner Russ Granik saying any referees taking part ``will be subject to appropriate discipline.''
McMorris said Rush and Fine were ``intimidated'' by refereeing supervisor Ronnie Nunn.
``From what I understand it was typical bullying tactics by the NBA. Ronnie Nunn came in and threatened them, told them if they wore their shirts inside-out they'd be fired,'' McMorris said.
NBA vice president Stu Jackson did not return a call seeking comment on McMorris' allegation.
Chris McCosky: A fine mess: Pistons have right to be mad
The Pistons were fined $200,000 last week for what amounts to little more than a miscommunication.
The Pistons thought their two new players — Rasheed Wallace and Mike James — were eligible to play because they hadn’t heard otherwise from the league.
The league said the onus was on the Pistons to call and find out whether the deal was complete. Is that really a $200,000 offense? It’s absurd. It presupposes that the Pistons were trying to pull a fast one, trying, in essence, to cheat.
What garbage. The league named its annual Sportsmanship Award after Pistons president Joe Dumars — and now they are calling him a cheater? Not only that, they are calling him a lousy cheater, because a good cheater wouldn’t try to pull a fast one on a nationally televised game, or have Wallace’s news conference broadcast on NBA TV.
If I were Pistons owner William Davidson, I would have had some choice words for Commissioner David Stern. I would remind him who his bosses were (the league owners) and I would tell him he must have a short memory. Just one summer ago, Davidson bailed Stern and his fledgling WNBA out by agreeing not to sell the Detroit Shock, which he was looking to do.
Instead, the Shock went from worst to first, raised attendance, raised television ratings (however slightly), won the championship and became one of the best stories of the summer. For your efforts, Mr. Davidson, how about cutting the league a check for $200,000? Thank you very much.
So the plan, in disassembling the Celtics, is to take the storied team in a completely new direction.
Oh, boy. As if the poor suffering Boston fan doesn’t have enough problems, what with the Yankees signing Alex Rodriguez and everything, right?
“I got a lot of feedback last year in my conversations with players and agents, and they told me some interesting things,” Ainge said. “They told me they didn’t like the way the Celtics play and they didn’t like the weather and the media and fan pressures in Boston. And guys just didn’t like a team that had players that didn’t share the ball. Those were the sad realities of what I discovered when I took over this team last summer.
“So I figured there’s nothing I can do about the weather and nothing I can do about the media scrutiny, but we can do something about the style of play. We have to create an environment that people want to come to.”
Golden State center Erick Dampier, who will probably opt out of his contract and leave $17 million on the table, wants to play in the East. And who can blame him? “I haven’t been to the playoffs and I’m not getting any younger,” he said. “I’m to the point now where I want to win games.” And, in the East, he said, “I’d have a chance to be an All-Star. How many centers are there in the East? Not to take anything away from Jamaal Magloire. But he made the All-Star team in the East, so I know I can definitely.”
Jonathan Feigen: NBA needs to put farm teams in D-League
The NBA will demand an age requirement. No more teenagers, even if every now and then one of the teenagers is Kevin Garnett or LeBron James.
The National Basketball Players Association will refuse. No deal. Too many have succeeded, and if a few mess up and waste chances to develop into NBA players, that's their right. For now -- David Stern's interpretation of the law notwithstanding -- the courts have demonstrated in the Maurice Clarett case that they are on the union's side.
But then, when the impasse seems intractable, the league will counter with the ideal solution, the compromise that might not change the state of basketball forever but makes too much sense to be ignored.
In the collective bargaining negotiations under way, the NBA will soon seek a deal in which it can use the National Basketball Development League as a limited farm system. Players drafted into the NBA would earn their NBA paychecks but could play and improve in the D-League instead of rotting at the end of NBA benches.
The union has feared this since the D-League was started in 2001. But this can help its members in the short term and the sport in the long term. Instead of wasting years in Portland, Jermaine O'Neal could have developed into all he has become much more quickly. Kendrick Perkins, a rookie out of Beaumont Ozen, and Ndudi Ebi, a rookie out of Westbury Christian, could do something they are not now with the Celtics and Timberwolves, respectively. They could be playing basketball.
"It has not been brought up yet," a source familiar with the NBA's negotiation plans said on condition of anonymity. "But if the players association does not agree to an age limit, that is definitely a topic that will be discussed."
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has seen Jermaine O'Neal come a long way since Carlisle coached O'Neal in the Utah summer league in 1996 when both were with the Portland Trail Blazers.
So, when Carlisle hears that O'Neal believes his leadership is the best part of his game, the coach isn't surprised.
"I believe that Jermaine realizes at this point in time in his career and where this team is, a lot of the most valuable tangible things he can bring to this team are stability and leadership," Carlisle said recently. "To me, this year, he's really helped guys around him become better."
Carlisle says O'Neal, on the short list of candidates for NBA Most Valuable Player, has helped center Jeff Foster develop the confidence that he belongs in the starting lineup, where he landed when the Pacers traded Brad Miller in the offseason.
And O'Neal played a key role in helping Ron Artest control his passions and become an All-Star forward.
"He's been a constant in terms of being the source of encouragement for our younger guys," Carlisle said. "Those types of things don't show up in the stats or in the box score, but ... they are essential if you're going to be a winning team."
Dampier, second in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (4.5), fifth in field goal percentage (.516) and sixth in double-doubles (31), is not showing his hand about what he wants to do after this season. But it's clear he's going to look around.
"I'm going to make that decision sometime this summer," said Dampier, before recording 14 points and 18 rebounds (8 offensive) in Wednesday's 99-92 victory over the Grizzlies in The Pyramid. "Right now, my goal is to finish the season strong and see what happens."
Though it was reported Dampier just hired Dan Fegan, an agent with an aggressive negotiating reputation, Dampier denied the report. He said he is interviewing agents and is trying to find one to take him to the next level. His current agent is Jackson, Miss.-based Bus Cook, who has Mississippi homeboy NFL quarterback clients Brett Favre and Steve McNair.
Dampier's decision to stay with the Warriors or move on will be based almost as much on the direction of a franchise as the number of zeroes on his contract.
"To me, it's all about winning games," Dampier said. "I haven't been to the playoffs and I'm not getting any younger. I'm to the point now where I want to win games. The last two years (at Golden State) have been a big improvement."
So where would Dampier like to land? Would the Grizzlies be a player for his services?
"Memphis is close to home for me, they have a winning team and they have a chance to be in the playoffs this year," Dampier said. "But I don't know what type of team they'd have here with me."
Sometimes coach Nate McMillan sits on a table at the edge of the Sonics' practice floor and answers questions after the team's workout.
He stood up. He adjusted his hat. He took a deep breath because he knew what was coming as half a dozen reporters approached to make their standard postpractice inquiries.
"Sometimes, I know your questions before you even get over here," McMillan said later.
So for the umpteenth time this season, reporters gathered around McMillan to take his temperature. The coach was poked and prodded with questions aimed at getting him to describe difficulties the team faced.
McMillan was asked how he felt. He was asked if he was frustrated. He was asked if he was frustrated at being asked how he felt.
"I've got to get out of it if I do," McMillan said, smiling.
He was a good sport even if the questions were thinly veiled inquiries into whether he was fed up. It was a polite way of asking if McMillan was reaching a breaking point.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do if I reach a breaking point," McMillan said.
The Sonics have slipped six games below .500 after dropping a home-and-home with Utah and a home game against Phoenix, all they do these days is complain about the refs, and now there is speculation that NATE McMILLAN won't make it through the Texas triangle trip that begins today.
Think the Raptors are still alive? Consider this: With ALVIN WILLIAMS likely to miss the rest of the season (knee scope) and JALEN ROSE still recovering from a broken hand, this is the backcourt quartet that has to carry them through March: MILT PALACIO, ROGER MASON, JANNERO PARGO , and DION GLOVER.
One more feather in DANNY AINGE'S cap: DARIUS SONGAILA , the Sacramento forward who had a career night against the Knicks on Tuesday (17 points, 13 boards, four assists), was Celtics property last summer -- until Ainge gave him away for two second-round draft picks. The Kings could have fallen apart after BRAD MILLER'S All-Star Game injury, but Songaila kept them going with three straight double-doubles. The kid can play: He's rugged, relentless, high-energy and loves to crash.
For the record, GLENN ROBINSON says he had no role in the firing of Sixers coach RANDY AYERS . "I don't have that kind of authority," he said. "If I did, I wouldn't be trying to get to the coach fired, I'd be trying to make some moves to make the team better." In other words, now he's trying to get BILLY KING fired.
Even when he was the Celtics' front office boss and coaching them to a 15-win season, M.L. Carr always saw the glass as half full. Fans would boo. Carr would smile.
For Danny Ainge, it's not quite the same. Ainge isn't coaching the Celtics, but he is running the franchise. Into the ground, his critics say. The FleetCenter crowds are booing Ainge's product. Ainge, like Carr, is normally good-natured. Unlike Carr, he isn't smiling.
``Danny's making decisions and maybe even ownership doesn't know the whole story,'' said Carr, who coached the Celtics when they went 15-67 in the 1996-97 season. ``It's not fair to judge Danny on four months. Each step he takes is going to offend somebody. But these deals may turn out to be something.
``It's hard to do something and have to explain it to ownership and the press. It magnifies when you're losing. It's a tough position to be in. You have to explain to the guys you have what the plan is, but you don't want them to know the whole story.
``But Danny's got a lot of explaining to do to his star player (Paul Pierce).''
This year in the Eastern Conference, we are likely to see three losing teams in the playoffs. And it doesn't appear that we'll be seeing teams bordering on .500, as was the case in 1991-92, when two 40-42 teams (New Jersey, Indiana) made it along with 38-44 Miami, which qualified over Atlanta via tiebreaker. This year, we may see teams that embrace the 1994-95 Celtics and their 35 wins as their goal.
There is only one winning team in the Atlantic Division -- the Nets. That is unlikely to change over the final six weeks of the season. There are four winning teams in the Central Division, but the Bucks are a slim four games over .500 and have a very difficult month ahead, made more so by the loss of T.J. Ford. Playoff Teams 6, 7, and 8 heading into the weekend were a combined 22 games under .500 -- and separated by one game.
We still won't know until the end of the season whether there will be a luxury tax for this season. The league is telling teams there is a likelihood that there will be a tax, and, depending on whom you talk to, it likely will affect payrolls in the $55 million range and higher. If attendance, which one executive said was up 5 percent, rises to 7 percent, then perhaps there won't be one. But teams are budgeting for one, as evidenced by the Suns deal that got their payroll under $55 million.
Here's a name to keep in mind for the next head coach of the Celtics: Paul Westphal. The former Suns/Sonics coach is now coaching at Pepperdine University but still holds a big place in his heart for Boston, which is where he cut his professional teeth as a player. Westphal also has a relationship with Danny Ainge; he was Ainge's head coach for the three years Ainge played in Phoenix. And if Danny is looking for someone to run an up-tempo offense, he couldn't ask for a better guy. It remains to be seen whether Small Paul (Johnny Most's nickname; Paul Silas was Tall Paul) could be pried from his daily view of the Pacific from the heights of Malibu -- and whether Ainge thinks Westphal is the right choice for what could be a very young team
Showing his stuff: Rookie Hunter gets chance after sitting on the bench
Danny Ainge counts himself among those who hoped to see more of Brandon Hunter [news] earlier than later this season.
``It's been frustrating not to see him get more opportunities this year,'' the Celtics director of basketball operations said of his rookie power forward. ``I knew that, sure, he'd have some ups and downs, but everyone has ups and downs.''
It's the kind of thinking that can make a head coach tear his hair out, but John Carroll certainly understands where these sentiments are coming from.
``I can't really speak to what happened early in the season,'' the Celtics' interim coach said. ``But sometimes people think when a guy gets into the lineup late in the season and performs, that he automatically should have been in there earlier. But he's more equipped to handle it now than before. There were many times back then when he was basically a lost puppy out there.
``I remember that this was a big question last year in Detroit with Tayshaun Prince. But the fact is you go through practice and repetition all season, and it takes a long time to blend in.''
Interim coach John Carroll does not want to be "unproductive" to the vision, but he also has Chucky Atkins aboard now as his starting point guard and floor leader. In terms of point guard skills, Atkins is an upgrade over Mike James and will remain the starter. Banks, the team's No. 1 pick last year and a big part of Ainge's plan, will remain the backup.
Once Atkins arrived and was given the car keys, Banks went back to the pine. He watched Atkins play 43 minutes Wednesday, registering 8 assists with no turnovers in a 2-point home loss to Milwaukee.
If Banks is upset at what has transpired, he's not letting on. Yesterday, after practice, he called Atkins "an inspiration to me" and reminded his questioners, "It's all about being a rookie. My learning comes at practice. I think I learn better at practice.
"I think I'm learning more and more. Chucky is teaching me a lot already. He's been a teacher."
As for playing time, Banks said, "You can't put your head down."
Here's the nuts and bolts: The rules surrounding the collective bargaining agreement say that if the Cavaliers want to give Boozer a rich contract this summer to reward him and keep him for years to come, they will have to decline their team option on him. By doing so, that would put Boozer out on the open market as an unrestricted free agent and there are a dozen teams that could pay him more than the Cavaliers.
That would be a bad short-term business move, considering the club could have Boozer as a great bargain for next season, too, and then he'd be a restricted free agent. Then they could match any offer for 2005-06, the salary cap be darned because of what's called ``Bird rights.'' Making him fulfill his contract is the best course by the book.
What Boozer and his agent are proposing is to make a handshake deal where he would agree to a new contract that the Cavaliers can afford under next year's cap and then sign it moments after becoming a free agent, forgetting the open market. This is a way for Boozer to get his millions now instead of two years from now.
In return, the Cavaliers would likely pay him less than they would by giving him his millions in two years. It is also a risk that Boozer wouldn't bolt for more money somewhere else this summer. Not only that but such unspoken deals are technically illegal under NBA rules and the Cavaliers could be punished for such an infraction.
Bulls coach Scott Skiles won't classify himself as "old school'' because he's only 39.
''Too many times, having any principles at all and being 'old school' are synonymous, and I don't understand that,'' Skiles said. ''Anybody that speaks up about the well-being of the game is 'old school.'
"To me, there are some clear-cut rights and wrongs.''
So when third-year forward Tyson Chandler didn't have his jersey tucked in properly and played 22 scoreless minutes in a 107-88 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, Skiles applied some old-school punishment to the 7-1 forward with a full-game benching in a 95-87 loss Thursday to the Washington Wizards.
''It was just a coaching decision,'' Skiles said. ''I just didn't like him in the game [Thursday night]. I set certain standards on things that as an organization, we're not going to budge off of. Tyson's just now been part of the team recently.
''You could make a big deal out of it and look at it as something punitive. But it's not that. There's just been a couple of little things creep in that I want to nip in the bud.''
His debut as DeShawn Stevenson's replacement made a splash. But Sasha Pavlovic has looked like he's drowning ever since.
And his coach is thinking of pulling him out of the pool altogether.
The rookie guard, handed a starting job when Stevenson was traded last week, responded with 16 points in New York. But he followed up that performance by getting into early foul trouble in each of his next two starts, and he shot a combined 2-for-11 in just 27 combined minutes.
OK, he's a rookie. Inconsistent shooting is part of the package.
What Jerry Sloan objects to, however, is Pavlovic's occasional half-speed effort, which the coach says is partly to blame for the quick fouls.
"He's not ready to play hard, so he makes silly fouls. He turns the ball over, and casually runs through stuff," Sloan said. "You can't play the game casually. Ten years from now, he'll wish he had played harder."
"I'll be honest, I've tried to give him an opportunity to learn by playing. I've tried to give him some minutes, and hopefully teach him what he has to do. And he has to work harder," Sloan said. "Sometimes young players think they're working hard just by being on the floor. But when you're not working hard, you make silly fouls and now you have to go sit down. Then you come back and think, 'Coach is not playing me right.' All these thing go through your mind. But now we'll see if he's good enough to work through this."
Warriors shooting guard Jason Richardson was not playing well in the second game of back-to-backs, and the statistics proved it. In his first 10 games on those second nights, Richardson shot 35.3 percent from the field and averaged only 10 points per game.
In his past four games in the second night of back-to-backs before Saturday's game against the Chicago Bulls, Richardson was shooting 50 percent from the floor and averaging 22.8 points per game.
So, what happened?
"I looked at it," Richardson said. "It was mental, not physical. I was telling myself I was tired on those second nights. But I looked at what I ate, what I did two nights before the game, everything. I think that played a part in why I've had some good back-to-backs lately."
Warriors coach Eric Musselman said it was a psychological thing.
"We addressed it, but the more we talked about it, the more of a burden it became," Musselman said. "So we left it alone."
While trying to hide his boredom watching mom get her toes painted, Thomas received a phone call from Madison Square Garden president/CEO James Dolan and Steve Mills, MSG/Knicks president of sports teams operations. Would you be interested, they asked, in interviewing to replace Scott Layden as the New York Knicks' president and general manager?
"They said, 'When can you come here?' I said, 'I'll drive,"' said Thomas, who immediately went home to Indiana to prepare for the interview. "I reacquainted myself with the salary cap, players, got online and looked at the Knicks' salary-cap situation and came in and interviewed."
On Dec. 22, the 12-time NBA all-star was named Knicks president. From the low of getting fired as coach by the Indiana Pacers last summer, Thomas was back on top. He had been networking to get back on the sideline and now was running a franchise.
"One of the lowest moments of my life," Thomas said of his dismissal. "I was hurt. I was really off-balanced. ... I had not thought about this position. My mind was coaching, coaching, coaching. I never thought about running an organization again.
Chris Broussard: A Move to Point Guard Could Ease Iverson's Aches and Pains
Iverson has missed 17 of 59 games because of injury this season, his most up to this point in a season. Two years ago, he missed a career-high 22 games over the entire season. Iverson, who will turn 29 in June, has been sidelined this season by a bruised right knee, a sprained finger and an injured right shoulder. He missed last night's game, his third straight, with a shoulder injury.
The same durability concerns dogged Michael Jordan early in his career, and the 6-6, 215-pound Jordan adjusted, relying more on his outside shot as he got older. Not everyone believes Iverson is capable of changing his game because he is not a great outside shooter. Much of his success is based on beating his defender to the basket to score, get fouled or draw two or three defenders.
"I think it's part of his game, to be aggressive," said Randy Ayers, who was fired as Philadelphia's coach earlier this month. "If he stops being aggressive, it won't be the same Allen that we're used to seeing. I don't see him playing any other way. I think he bails people out when he shoots jump shots. He's got to continue to attack the basket when it's there."
Iverson, whose game has shown no signs of decline, has often defied those who believe he is a one-dimensional scorer by displaying true point-guard skills in All-Star Games and on the United States national team. Billy King, the 76ers' president and general manager, said Iverson could return to playing point guard, which might cut down on his bumps and bruises. His assist average (6.6) is the highest since his rookie season, when he averaged 7.5 a game while playing point guard exclusively.
"This year, he's played more point guard than in the seven years I've been here," King said. "He's talked about that — that he may at some point have to play point guard. Early in the year, when he was playing at his best, he was playing a lot of point guard. I think he's transitioned toward that direction."
Van Horn Trade Could Haunt Knicks
No official would speak for attribution, but the common sentiment is that to maximize Stephon Marbury's abilities, a team must put good outside shooters around him. The Knicks have no one fitting that description other than the injured Allan Houston. So the pick-and-pop that Marbury ran so well with Van Horn and Doleac has become useless. Also, with no outside shooters to spread the floor, defenses are packing the paint and forcing the Knicks to hoist jumpers. And, Van Horn is a far better rebounder than Thomas.
Two league officials said Isiah Thomas was seduced by Tim Thomas's athleticism. Thomas looked brilliant in scoring 33 against Sacramento, but few around the league believe he will play any more consistently than he did in Milwaukee, where he exasperated team officials with his failure to reach his potential. The book on him is that he does not have the willpower to bring his best game every night.
Finally, Isiah Thomas should have questioned why Milwaukee was so eager to part with Tim Thomas when the team was playing so well. Clubs that are greatly exceeding expectations usually do not like to disrupt chemistry.
Did you really think that Mavs owner Mark Cuban - the man who once handed out soft serve cones at a local Dairy Queen as a unique penalty for insulting NBA referees - could pass up reality TV arena for much longer?
But if Trump can lord over ``The Apprentice,'' then why can't Cuban be ``The Benefactor,'' a millionaire-as-good-guy show ABC is scheduled to begin taping this summer?
Just ask anyone on his luxury-tax-heavy roster. Cuban is already the benefactor of at least 12 men in this world.
``Everyone has dreamed of getting rich, and I want to help one lucky person get there,'' said Cuban. ``This isn't a traditional contest. You don't need special talents.
``I'm not looking to find out who is the grossest, funniest, prettiest, smartest or able to go without food or water the longest,'' he said. ``The right person is going to get on my good side at the right time, and whoever that is, is going to walk away with a check from me for $1 million.''
All a player needs to do in order to survive in the NBA is work hard and be solid. That's all Weatherspoon says he has done for the past 12 years.
It's not about being tall, running fast or putting up big numbers. Weatherspoon's statistics are as modest and quiet as he is. But his approach to the game is what has made him stand out. His work ethic and consistency epitomize everything Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said he wants not only in a player but in a team.
"Clarence is a player like I want our team to be, a team that doesn't beat itself," said Van Gundy, whose Rockets will try for their sixth consecutive home victory today when they face Seattle. "He doesn't beat himself. He knows his game. He knows where he's at in his career.
Van Gundy said from the start that he believed the trade of fan favorite Moochie Norris and John Amaechi for Weatherspoon was worth it. He boasted of Weatherspoon's physical presence under the basket and his rebounding ability. The undersized power forward would be an important addition to the team, Van Gundy said.
The ring-kissing commenced at 5:38 p.m. yesterday, Billy King and Tony DiLeo pushing into the Wachovia Center's visiting locker room to greet Larry Brown.
Truth be told, King and DiLeo, the men in charge of the Sixers' basketball operations, should have stalked into the room to blame Brown for leaving Philadelphia for the Detroit Pistons with the Sixers in such a sad state. But King and DiLeo are still disciples in the cult of Larry Brown, and homage had to be paid.
After all, in so many ways, Brown remains the face of this franchise, even if he won't admit as much. While he and the Pistons make their play for the Eastern Conference championship - their 76-66 win last night another step toward that end - Brown could scan the Sixers' sideline and see the mess he did so much to create. He could see an injured Allen Iverson fresh from a feud with interim coach Chris Ford, a roster shackled with long-term contracts and retreads from Brown's tenure, a team now 11 games under .500 and going nowhere.
And he would deny he had anything to do with it. The failure to discipline Iverson early in his career, the big contracts to Eric Snow and Aaron McKie, the inability and unwillingness to draft and develop young players - Brown said yesterday that he bore no responsibility for any of it. He said there were injuries and circumstance. There always are. With the Sixers, there are always injuries. With Brown, there is always circumstance.
"Samuel Dalembert was hurt when I left," he said before yesterday's game. "Now, he got well, and I always thought he was going to be a pretty good player. When we signed Aaron and Eric, they deserved it, and nobody thought they would be banged up.
"I thought Billy made a great trade getting Glenn Robinson. We didn't expect him to be hurt. ... The six years I was here, the injury situation was very similar to what we face now."
This was typical Brown, splicing revisionist history and subtle self-praise together, delivering a monologue on what wonderful things he did in the face of such hardship, absolving himself and King of any blame for the Sixers' slide. So Dalembert, who couldn't get off the bench in his first season with Brown, becomes the good young center Brown's Sixers could have used. And Robinson's defenseless season here would have been different but for his early-season ankle injury. And Brown just has to point out that when he was in a similar situation, the Sixers went to the NBA Finals and reeled off five straight winning seasons.
What the Kings need and seek to do is defend more consistently from possession to possession. That can start tonight when they hope to regain the services of All-Star power forward Brad Miller against the Phoenix Suns in a 6 p.m. start at Arco Arena.
Clearly, there are different ways to get a job done. The Kings rank No. 1 in point differential, scoring a league-high 104.4 points per game and allowing an average of 97.4 points. The San Antonio Spurs are second, scoring just 90 points per game and allowing a league-low 84.3.
So, while every basketball talking head denigrates the Kings for being so poor defensively, few speak about how inept the Spurs are at the offensive end.
The teams have split two meetings this season, each winning on the other's home court. They likely would have a monster, close, pick-'em type of playoff series if that were to occur in May - and it might.
Brad Weinstein: The 'Boy Wonder' keeps 'em guessing
Troy Murphy was reflecting on the Warriors' summer shakeup early this season when he revealed his routine of looking at the stat lines of some departed 2002-03 teammates.
"I always check 'Boy Wonder' (Gilbert Arenas), Bob Sura, Jiri (Welsch),'' Murphy said. "I have to check those guys to make sure they're all under control. You have to check Boy Wonder first because you never know what that box score could say -- whether he gets tossed, whether he's not playing, or something.''
"Or something" just happened. Arenas, 22, showed his enigmatic side with the Washington Wizards in a series of developments that should have looked familiar to Warriors fans.
Wednesday: Arenas did not shoot for the first 42 minutes, then scored seven consecutive points to help the Wizards win, 76-74. He closed 2-for-3 from the field with eight rebounds and one assist, and maintained afterward, "We're going to keep going this way until somebody complains about something else.''
Brown, naturally, had no complaints about getting team highs of 16 shots and 16 points.
"He looked like a true point guard,'' Brown said.
Arenas did not score any points for originality. A year ago, before a game against New York, the Warriors' Arenas, mindful of Antawn Jamison's grousing about a lack of touches in the team's previous game, decided without telling anyone that he would not look for his offense until the fourth quarter.
The journey is a harrowing one, the delving into Hawks history, a 54-year-old tome riddled with mediocrity, ineptitude and at times plain old stink.
Yet in this winter of discontent as the Hawks have declared yet another new day dawning, it has become necessary to spelunk that old book, with one particular question is being asked more and frequently.
To wit: is this as bad as it gets? Have the Hawks ever been worse? Has the franchise come upon the year that is the Mother Of All Bricks?
Young coach has the Nets playing like champions again
So how does a 5-foot-8, 33-year-old assistant, whose only head coaching experience was for a Catholic Youth Organization team, lead the Nets to 13 straight victories, the most consecutive road wins (6) in franchise history and enjoy the best coaching start in NBA and professional sports history?
Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, who was victim No. 5 in Frank's streak, and who is still trying to dig out of an 0-7 start as a rookie coach, offered his theory.
"They're not doing a whole lot different. What he's done is to get them to play at an extremely high level every night," Van Gundy said. "I notice they're basically running the same system, but everything's harder. All their cuts are harder. They're screening better. They're going to the boards harder. I'm seeing a lot more energy and life at both ends."
Frank's first act as head coach was to hold individual player's meetings to explain their roles. He has employed the same starting five that Scott did, but is using his bench players more.
"You know right away if somebody can do something or can't. And right away, he knew what he was doing from A to Z," said Nets guard Hubert Davis.
We know, it's the same old story for the beast - that's small "b" - of the East.
During their 14-game winning streak, in which they played only one Western Conference team (Houston, as Steve Francis and Jeff Van Gundy were busy lobbing missiles at each other), Lawrence Frank's five didn't need to perform in the half-court in crunch time.
But once they found themselves in a tight game late on the road in Minnesota this past week, their lack of an interior presence was exposed on a night when Kevin Garnett put in a less-than-MVP effort and the T-Wolves were without Sam Cassell.
Frank looked as clueless in his team's 10-point fourth quarter as Byron Scott used to when the Nets couldn't generate anything off their running game and were reduced to heaving up jump shots. The fourth quarter point total matched the Nets' season low, set against Memphis Dec. 13. After that loss, you'll remember, Jason Kidd blistered his head coach, marking the beginning of the end for Scott.
The Nets didn't just take their beating and go home. They complained about the lack of calls and free-throw disparity (17-5), forgetting one fact: If they had a semblance of a low-post game and didn't have to rely on their hit-and-miss perimeter shooting to win close games, they might get to the line when it counts. But as long as the competition is in the East, it doesn't really matter.
Several GMs say they expect Orlando to start seriously entertaining offers for Tracy McGrady at draft time. "I don't know if I'd touch him," said one Western Conference exec. "How many other stars would have allowed their teams to lose 19 straight games? In the East, mind you?" McGrady loves to rip his teammates, which has also raised some red flags among execs. Still, we can see more than a few teams lining up for his services.
Scott, typically, took the high road and wouldn't condemn any Net, acknowledging only that the months of reports that Kidd didn't back him were probably true, given the outcome. Frank, meanwhile, continued to break from the blocks amid constant jokes about his youthful, clean-cut appearance, stories about security guards wanting to see some ID before letting him into a restricted part of an arena and no commitment from management about his future. Even with the change, New Jersey will hit the playoffs with a lame-duck coach.
No wonder. Frank is one month into his career as a head coach, as opposed to Scott dangling without an extension after back-to-back East crowns, and there is little chance he would want to bolt for another team in the summer even if a long playoff run builds credibility. The Nets can lock him up in the summer if they want. Meanwhile, they can also leave their options open for ... Phil Jackson.
It's impossible not to consider the possibility. With Jackson's Lakers contract expiring after this season and the coach himself surprised when the organization went public that its extension offer had been taken off the table, intimates suggest he would be intrigued by the Mavericks, Warriors and Suns, pending job standings there, but New Jersey is easily the most logical landing spot if he leaves Los Angeles. Whether he does is months away from being decided.
Jackson is about the only coach the Nets could hire if Frank does well through the playoffs and gets pilloried. Jackson is also exactly the kind of closer they need after coming close, a role he relishes and the very reason it's impossible to imagine him going to Golden State or Phoenix in building-block situations.
Only New Jersey and Dallas, among places with the current chance of change, could offer his preferred fourth-quarter moment. That he is a former Nets player and assistant who would be a popular choice as the organization plots a move to his beloved New York makes it a natural conclusion.
New Jersey's 14-game winning streak – or rather the way it ended – is a stark reminder of where the balance of power lies.
Minnesota ended the Nets' winning streak Wednesday with a 13-point victory. The Timberwolves accomplished this even though Cassell missed the game with tendinitis in his left ankle and fellow guard Latrell Sprewell was only 1-for-6 from the field.
The ease with which Minnesota pulled away from New Jersey in the fourth quarter forces you to look at the Nets' streak in a different light. What you find is that New Jersey faced only three teams with a winning record before running into Minnesota. The only team it faced from the West was Houston.
We're not advocating that New Jersey's winning streak be adjusted to seven or eight games to more accurately reflect strength of schedule. But when you play in the Western Conference, it's impossible to go four weeks and only play three teams over .500.
"I think, overall, the Western Conference is better," Nets general manager Rod Thorn said. "I would be less than candid if I said anything else.
"But I think Detroit and Indiana right now can play anybody in the league and it would be a tough series. I don't care who it is. I think they're both very, very good teams. And I think before it's all over, we'll be good."
The Heat, with 24 games remaining, is sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot, in position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. Entering Friday night's 10-game schedule, the Heat was two games ahead of the Cavaliers and 76ers and well within reach of a higher seed as well.
So if the Heat is going to attempt to follow the Marlins' blueprint, it would begin now, with an impressive final quarter of the season that displays steady improvement.
''I think there is a lot of room for improvement,'' Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``I think if you look at the Denver game and the Houston game [both wins], I don't know if we're going to play much above that level. But I think our room for improvement is to play at that level more consistently and to play more consistently within the game.''
Van Gundy figures 13 or 14 more wins will safely place the Heat in the playoffs. But if the Heat continues its progression, which has been helped by a period of good health and the constantly improving play of rookie Dwyane Wade, the team probably won't end up just sneaking into the playoffs.
The Knicks and Raptors have key injuries, making the race for the sixth spot the most intriguing. And while it might seem the Bucks are comfortable at No. 5, they still have a West Coast swing and three games against the Heat, meaning Miami could conceivably aim for that high a seed.
With a young team desperate to earn some national recognition, the more teams within reach, the better.
''The good part of it is that you would much rather be looking forward than looking back at the people behind you,'' Van Gundy said. ``You want to look to catch somebody.''
Once upon a time in a far-off Raptor era, there used to be a big board against a wall in the locker room with up-to-date NBA standings.
It was Butch Carter's contention that players should know where they stood, who they were chasing and who was chasing them.
That board is gone now because current coach Kevin O'Neill would rather live one game at a time and leave the big picture far in the background.
But that doesn't mean those standings are forgotten or ignored by his players.
As the Raptors head into the final quarter of the season with a precarious hold on an Eastern Conference playoff spot, Donyell Marshall wants to make sure everyone knows which team has how many wins and which position each team occupies in the jumbled mess that is spots six through 11 in the conference standings.
"Yeah, you have to (watch the standings every day)," the veteran forward said. "Earlier in the year, you don't want to know. But now you have to know what you have to do."
What Marshall sees when he looks these days is a big old mess.
Against all logic, the Raptors, despite seven losses in a row and a roster that seems to lose key components daily, remain closer to the sixth-place New York Knicks than they do the ninth-place Cleveland Cavaliers.
They have won two straight and three of their last four.
They are feeling, frankly, fairly good about themselves.
So now they are talking about . . . the playoffs.
That's right, the Jazz can't help but peek at the paper, scour the standings and see that they are — huh — just three games back of the Denver Nuggets, current owners of the eighth and final postseason position in the NBA's Western Conference.
"We know where we are," swingman Raja Bell said Thursday.
They're starting to discuss it among themselves, too.
"We've definitely had conversations," Bell said, "especially since the All-Star break (earlier this month), just knowing that we're in the hunt, if we can get things going in the right direction."
Before anyone goes making flight plans and reserving hotel rooms for late April, however, perhaps a reality check is in order.
At 29-30, with 23 games remaining in their regular season, the Jazz are not a .500 team. With Portland 29-28, Utah is not even ninth, but instead 10th, in the West. And then there is the ugly issue of the schedule.
Starting tonight, four of the Jazz's next five opponents are Sacramento, Detroit, Indiana and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The other, aforementioned Portland.
That's two of the best in the West, two of the East's top three, and one fighting for the very same thing as the Jazz.
The master plan seems to be working. Clear out the baggage, air out the place a bit and see what grows. With Rasheed Wallace finally employed elsewhere and newcomers Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Darius Miles contributing, the Blazers peeled off a five-game winning streak to creep above .500 (before losing their last two games, at Houston and Dallas), and now there's talk of extending the club's string of consecutive playoff seasons to 21.
Abdur-Rahim has even suggested he would come off the bench, Dale Davis isn't fuming about minutes, and Ratliff provides an interior defensive presence, with teams shooting 40 percent in the six games after Wallace was shipped to Atlanta, a far cry from the soft defense of before. Ratliff had nine blocked shots in a three-point victory at Orlando. There are still problems with discipline, with Miles playing just four minutes against Orlando for missing a team meeting, to which Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks wondered to Portland media, "I have never heard of oversleeping for something at 11 a.m."
So here were the Trail Blazers on Saturday night, sitting in their locker room after a 111-91 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, when the only consolation was that a 22-point second-half deficit was cut to six.
As the players contemplated undressing, or hanging their heads, or pointing fingers, or giving up hope, co-captain Damon Stoudamire cleared his throat and delivered a message.
It was something between a pep talk and a wake-up call, and it seemed to hit home with the players and the coaching staff to the point the mind-set of the team was upbeat as it headed home for perhaps its most important week of the season.
"Damon said some great things," Theo Ratliff said.
Added coach Maurice Cheeks: "You need to talk to Damon. He said some important things."
It wasn't a heated speech -- he never got out of the chair in front of his locker -- but it was pointed and came from a player who has reached the Western Conference finals twice with this franchise.
"I just wanted everyone to know that we are in there, and that this is probably going to go down to the last day of the season, so don't be content," Stoudamire said. "We have fought so hard to get into this playoff race, and now that we are here, we can't be content.
"We have to believe in the coaches and the game plan they run out there, so don't revert to what you want to do. Bad teams revert to individuals who do what they want to do on the floor. . . . If we get in those playoffs, even though we aren't one of the top teams, other teams don't want to see us in there, because we are a dangerous team. But tonight, I just felt like we played like we were content in the first half."
Suns officials are becoming major fans of any team that is playing the Cavaliers.
They might even be designing voodoo dolls of LeBron James and the Cavs while trying to figure out where to stick the pins.
The reason: The Suns get the No. 1 draft pick of the Cavs whenever the Cavs make the playoffs.
This year, the Suns don’t want that pick. They want to use the money they would spend to add another rookie to go after free agents.
That’s why they gave away the No. 1 pick this summer they acquired from the Knicks in the Stephon Marbury trade. They figure letting this pick go saved them about $1.5 million, giving them about $8 million with which to attract free agents.
If the Cavs make the playoffs, that $1.5 million or so comes right back to them, chopping the money available for free agents to less than $7 million.
Chris Tomasson: Genuine draft: '03 class stacks up well
"I've been around a long time, so you could say I'm kind of an expert on professional basketball players," said Lakers forward Horace Grant, in his 17th season. "I think I can argue that other than '84 this could end up being ranked up there as one of the top classes."
Everybody knows about Cleveland's LeBron James and Denver's Carmelo Anthony. But, lately, the average fan is learning there is some depth to this class.
A rookie recently was chosen NBA Player of the Week, and it wasn't one with a multi-million-dollar Nike deal. It was Miami guard Dwyane Wade, who won the honor for the Eastern Conference.
"Every night I get on the court, I like to prove that the rookie class is more than two guys," Wade said.
Forward Chris Bosh leads all rookies in rebounding with a 7.1 average. Bosh, who could be bound for greatness once he puts on some bulk, is averaging 11.1 points.
"People who really don't understand basketball say it's all about me and LeBron," Anthony said. "People who know basketball, they know there are other rookies."
It takes several years before one really can judge a draft class, but the latest group of youngsters to enter the NBA certainly bodes well for the future. Other top rookies are Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich, Washington forward Jarvis Hayes and Milwaukee guard T.J. Ford, who found the competition this season so stiff that he got stiffed from the Rookie Challenge earlier this month.
"It certainly has the makings of (being a great rookie class)," Miami coach Stan Van Gundy said. "You've got guys stepping up to leadership roles and dramatically improving teams, and this rookie class also has some real high-character guys."
Jim Armstrong: Looking at the bright lights? Not our Melo
He may fit the profile of a Gen-X, me-me-me NBA player who would much prefer the bright lights of Los Angeles or New York to this dusty, old cowtown, but that doesn't mean he is one. Fact is, he's anything but.
He likes Our Town, wants to be here - today, tomorrow, for the long haul.
"I ain't going nowhere," Anthony said. "I'll be here. I don't think anybody would ever let me leave this town."
So he doesn't envision one of those trade-me-before-I-hit-the-market scenarios so common in today's NBA?
"Not on my end," he said. "Unless they want to get rid of me." ...
Happens every time. A kid has an image of Denver being Siberia with snow bunnies, then lives here for a while and comes to realize it's Phoenix with the occasional snowstorm.
"It's a great city," Anthony said. "At the beginning, I thought, 'Why Denver?' But my perspective has changed a lot. I thought it was cold, cold, cold, but the weather is good. And the fans are great. You start winning, fans take you in." ...
Timberwolves forward Wally Szczerbiak has watched Kris Humphries play several times this season for the Gophers, and figures the 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman could be a lottery pick — top 13 — if he declares for June's NBA draft, as has long been expected.
"He's tough, he's strong and definitely has a NBA body," Szczerbiak said. "How much he'll play as a rookie depends on what kind of team he ends up on. If he gets with a bad team, he could get a lot of minutes. But you just never know."
Al Michaels' wonderful phrase, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" is still ringing in my ears. Over the next decade, the Olympics was marred once again by turmoil. This time, steroid use stripped medals away from so-called champions and widespread allegations of blood-doping made every athlete a suspect.
Twelve years after that team of the hockey misfits shocked the world, a star-studded collection of basketball's greatest legends reminded us of all that is good about the Olympics. Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. And Charles Barkley. They were everything that the 1980 U.S. hockey team was not. They were marketable stars. They were icons. They were the overwhelming favorites. They were aptly called the Dream Team.
We marveled at their basketball greatness. We loved how they played the game unselfishly. Our pride seemed to be lifted after each blowout win, as if we needed to beat down little ol' Angola to restore our belief in the American way.
Still, it worked. The Dream Team was a success on so many levels. Television ratings soared, and there was renewed interest in the Olympics. Financially, the NBA profited from the worldwide exposure.
So here we are 12 years later, and it seems as if our Olympic spirit is waning. For many, the torch has already been doused by a bucketful of cynicism, greed and apathy. The Games just aren't what they used to be, and maybe that's OK. We'll never have the Dream Team again. Instead, we will have a handful of notable NBA players traveling to Athens, Greece, this summer looking to make amends for the woeful display at the World Games two years ago. But let's be honest: Do we really care about Team USA anymore?
When Norm Nixon retired from the N.B.A., he had only one thing on his mind: owning a business. So Nixon bought a restaurant and a nightclub. Then he decided he wanted to be an example. So Nixon became a sports agent.
"I thought there was a need for former players to represent players," he said, "and also a need for more African-American agents out there."
After serving as an officer for the N.B.A. players association for eight years, he knew contracts as well as he knew basketball. He founded Nixon and Associates, a sports and entertainment company, and over the years he has represented Jalen Rose, Maurice Taylor, Gary Grant and a host of N.F.L. players, including Peter Warrick. He has also worked with the musical artists TLC and L. L. Cool J.
Nixon, 48, said he wished more of today's players would follow in his footsteps.
"If they want to talk, I'll share," said Nixon, who was in Denver on Friday with his client Al Wilson of the Broncos. "But most guys are not trying to do this."
Tack a couple of baskets to the hotel ballroom's walls, bring in some of the top players, pay them little and watch the crowds show up.
It wasn't quite as simple as that, but it was close when the Philadelphia Sphas would play basketball in the Broadwood Hotel.
"To play for the Sphas was like playing for the Lakers today," said Red Klotz, 83, who did play for them and later coached the team.
"We had one of the best teams in the world and it was just a beautiful time. You didn't do it for the money, because they paid so little. We played because we loved the game."
The Sphas, short for South Philadelphia Hebrew Association, began in 1917 and were owned by Eddie Gottlieb, who would later own the Warriors.
"The Broadwood had a beautiful grand ballroom with a stage, balcony, and a dance floor large enough for a basketball court. So every Saturday night, Gotty (Gottlieb) would sell out. About 1,500 people - 65 cents for men, 35 cents for women. Gil Fitch, one of our players, had a band. So after each game, he'd rush out, shower, change, climb on the stage and become band leader for the dance that followed. People would dress immaculately. Even the young kids would wear suits. Scores of Philadelphians have probably told their grandchildren about how Grandpop and Grandmom met at a basketball game at a Broad Street hotel."
The affair raged in the first bitter months of 1970.
Hungry for something wild, Colorado sports fans strayed from their first love, the Denver Broncos, and flocked to a young bunch with soul patches under their lips and sparkle in their game. The Denver Rockets had stolen their hearts.
As the world felt the anti-war heat, 7,100 fans happily wedged into the Auditorium Arena to shred their throats on crisp winter nights. Dozens more shivered outside the creaky building at 14th and Curtis streets, feeding on sporadic updates from anyone kind enough to shout a score from the front door.
It was the new cool. Just a touch radical. And at the hub of the frenzy stood a rookie from the Mississippi cotton fields, a 20-year-old wonder with a thirst for Five Points jazz and, seemingly, a talent for the ages. In 1969-70, Spencer Haywood would blister the fledgling American Basketball Association to the tune of 30 points and 19 rebounds a game.
He was Denver's first megastar, an Olympic gold medalist who boasted the ABA's first million-dollar contract. He was Carmelo a generation before Carmelo Anthony.
"Remember John Ritter in 'Three's Company' ?" he asked. "I don't know if it was because he lived with those two women, but seeing him in the kitchen inspired me."
Meekins started cooking for his family and then worked as a dishwasher at a Holiday Inn before moving up into food service. He trained at the Oakland Community College culinary school in Michigan and worked at restaurants around the country, including the Roxbury in Hollywood and the Loving Spoonful in Farmington Hills, Mich., owned by chef Shawn Loving.
Loving cooked for several members of the Detroit Pistons, and when a friend convinced Diop that a personal chef could help him get his weight under control and keep it there, Loving recommended Meekins.
Neither Diop nor Meekins was sure the arrangement would work.
"I never had a chef before. I said, 'I don't need a chef,' " Diop recalled.
"I thought I'd be bored," Meekins admitted.
But three months into their arrangement, both are happy. Diop is enjoying his best season with the Cavs, and between planning, shopping for and cooking separate meals for Diop and Wagner, who lives down the block, Meekins hasn't been bored.
For Samuel Dalembert, the season has been a mixed blessing.
He is playing regular minutes for the first time in his three-year NBA career after barely getting off the bench as a rookie and sitting out the 2002-03 season because of left knee surgery.
From a team perspective, Dalembert cannot help but be disappointed with the Sixers' lack of success. But that disappointment pales in comparison with the concern he has for his grandmother's safety in the powder keg known as Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Gun-wielding rebels trying to overthrow the regime of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have made walking out the front door a dangerous proposition. The streets are deserted.
"You don't even see a cat," Dalembert said.
Going outside constitutes taking a big risk, so Dalembert's three cousins, all of whom live with his grandmother, do not dare attend school. Trying to flee the country is far more complicated than getting out of the U.S.
Yet Hypromene Charle, the woman who raised Dalembert, chooses to stay in Haiti.
Dalembert has talked to her on the phone five or six times in the past two weeks. He encourages her to stock up on food and supplies when she must travel the five minutes to the central - and most dangerous - part of the city.
"She's like my mom and my dad at the same time," said Dalembert, who spent his first 14 years in Haiti before moving to Montreal with his parents. "When I needed something, she'd go out of her way to give it to me. Growing up, I thought my grandmother was my mom. My grandmother was always there for me. I'll always be grateful for what she did."
Ailene Voisin: Kings must do all they can to keep Divac
Divac, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, is having such an outstanding season that he has tabled his retirement plans and wants to remain with the Kings for another few years, provided of course, that the feelings are mutual.
"Are you kidding?" replied Geoff Petrie, the Kings' president of basketball operations. "Absolutely. Vlade is the heart and soul of this team. It's hard for me to imagine him playing anywhere else because of our style of play, the fixture that he is within the organization and community. And the fact that, with all the injuries, he has always been there for us, always. We will be the first in line."
Better start moving toward the front then. Though teams cannot formally negotiate with players during their free-agency seasons, the Kings can at least initiate the wooing process, showering Divac with love and affection, and with the promise of a communal bash when he finally decides to retire.
This makes sense for several reasons, primarily because he can still play, because he deserves it, and because if the Kings don't wrap him up tightly, someone else will. Those 36 years notwithstanding - and we can only take Vlade's word on the actual birthdate - he will have numerous suitors and abundant options, though playing in Europe in the immediate future does not appear to be among them.
"That is the way I feel now," said Divac, who will earn $12 million this season. "The last couple weeks I have been feeling great. I was talking to (wife) Ana about this. If the money is even close to what I would get somewhere else, I stay here. But if it's big difference - if (the Kings) offer me $2 million and someone else offers me $4 million - I would have to leave. But I would love to come back to Sacramento. This is my city. I am comfortable here. My family is comfortable here. I just hope I don't get any crazy offers and have to leave."
The Kings cannot let this happen. Absolutely cannot let this happen.
Sometimes it takes a long, long time for truth to come out. Consider the case of Paul Silas, a fierce rebounder in his playing days, a member of three NBA championship teams, one of the league's class gentlemen and a competent, fatherly coach again with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Repeatedly, we have heard suggestions that racism -- the reluctance to trust a black head coach -- explained the gap in Silas' résumé, from the end of his head coaching stint with the Clippers in 1983 to his hiring in Charlotte in 1998. This view often was presented as fact, ignoring some personal truth about Silas that only came to light last week: He had a drinking problem, an addiction that dropped Silas to his knees about 15 years ago.
"I was working in New York and was [driving] home and got lost in a drunken stupor," Silas said last week, during a conversation about trouble NBA forward Vin Baker's battle with the bottle. "I started praying and said, 'Lord, if you let me find my way, I won't take another drop.' It was like an illumination. I saw a sign showing where I was. I went home and told my wife [Carolyn], 'That's it.' She knew. This was something I had to deal with. I'm glad I did."
Silas spoke honestly about how it was common in the 1970s to down a couple of beers after a game, and how no one really blinked when he would grab a few extra cans from other players' stalls. He also would load up on the tiny liquor bottles available in first class on the team's commercial flights.
So maybe, just maybe, teams that didn't hire Silas in his drinking days, or passed on his services even after he kicked his habit, weren't focusing on his race.
Matt Steinmetz: What coaches might say -- no holds barred
Skiles and Utah's Jerry Sloan stand together when it comes to brutal public honesty. Most coaches partake in an understood diplomacy, sensitive to making harsh comments about players.
But that got us to thinking. What if coaches began telling the truth -- no holds barred. Here's a sampling of what might be heard around the league:
Warriors coach Eric Musselman: "We'd like to get the ball down low to Erick Dampier more, but in order to do that, he's first got to catch the ball. If he doesn't catch the ball, what's the point? And if he does catch the ball, well, we still have to worry about him turning it over. The bottom line is that a lot of stuff has to go right for him to get a shot off in the low post."
Cleveland coach Paul Silas: "I cannot possibly overstate how much it has helped our ballclub and our franchise to trade Ricky Davis to Boston. You just don't understand how it sabotages you when you have a guy who not only doesn't buy into what you're trying to do, but who also holds a completely incorrect assessment of himself and his own game. Frankly, I was shocked we were able to trade him, and I thank (Boston executive director of basketball operations) Danny Ainge for that."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson: "I am constantly amazed sometimes at how little we get out of Slava Medvedenko and Devean George. I hear a lot of talk about how those guys are nice role players and this and that. Well, I've got news for you, it's not hard to be a role player alongside Shaq and Kobe. Most anybody can do it -- and pretty much, most players could do it better than them."
Milwaukee coach Terry Porter: "I know Keith Van Horn has been criticized over the years. Fair enough. But we were able to get a guy out of here in Tim Thomas, who is one of this league's premier underachievers. Anytime you have an opportunity to make a move like that, even if you're only getting reasonable talent in return, you do it and you do it in a hurry before the other team changes its mind."
"They said, 'When can you come here?' I said, 'I'll drive,"' said Thomas, who immediately went home to Indiana to prepare for the interview. "I reacquainted myself with the salary cap, players, got online and looked at the Knicks' salary-cap situation and came in and interviewed."
On Dec. 22, the 12-time NBA all-star was named Knicks president. From the low of getting fired as coach by the Indiana Pacers last summer, Thomas was back on top. He had been networking to get back on the sideline and now was running a franchise.
So where do you think Thomas went online? Hoopshype?
So where do you think Thomas went online? Hoopshype?
Probably just googled for Layden's moves then went to his interview with reasons why each was bad. That was probably enough to get the job.
He said he looked up their salary situation. There's not many places you can do that; they're getting closed one by one. RealGM and NBAZone used to have those things (NBAZone was generally more accurate than HoopsHype) but they've all closed down their salary pages.
He said he looked up their salary situation. There's not many places you can do that; they're getting closed one by one. RealGM and NBAZone used to have those things (NBAZone was generally more accurate than HoopsHype) but they've all closed down their salary pages.
Yeah, was sort of joking. I suppose he'd have to go to Hoopshype or toy with trades at RealGM ("Oh man I _am_ gonna be a real GM!") if he really did that.
Inside Hoops has the salary info too but it's not as easy to read as Hoopshype.
First off to Kerosene, thanks man. That took a mighty effort on your part to put all of that together & I wanted to let you know I appreciate it.
Second of all, I know we won't do it, but we should really pick up Lonny Baxter. He's young, he's big, he knows how to defend the post, he isn't afraid to battle down low. He's a little rough on the offensive end, but IMO he would be a great pickup for our team. Not the deal breaker that a higher caliber player would be but he would give us something we don't have an abundance of, toughness.
Basketball isn't played with computers, spreadsheets, and simulations. ChicagoJ 4/21/13