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New Jersey Nets forward Eddie Griffin plans to enter the Betty Ford Center next week for six weeks of alcohol abuse treatment, his lawyer told The New York Times.
"Eddie feels he needs further help with his drinking problem," Rusty Hardin said Friday. "He's very disappointed. But he's thankful for the way the Nets have reacted to his request for further treatment. He realizes these are problems he's created."
The decision to move Eddie Griffin to the Betty Ford Clinic in California was made to deal with the Net forward's alcoholism — but also to get him out of Houston, where he had fallen into disfavor with "some very bad individuals," according to numerous sources familiar with Griffin's situation.
"Just say it would be better for him to get out of Houston, some people are looking for him. Leave it at that," one source insisted, claiming the matter involved Griffin's relationship with a woman.
So Griffin, who has acknowledged an alcohol problem and who has been treated for clinical depression and substance abuse in the past at the Menninger Clinic here, voluntarily will check into the famed California rehab next week for a six-week program, according to his attorney, Rusty Hardin.
"He has recognized his problem — and it is alcohol, not drugs — and felt it would be better treated on an in-patient basis," said Hardin, who claimed the move was to "get him away from family, friends" and distractions that might hamper Griffin's recovery.
Washington Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld announced today that the team has activated forward Jerry Stackhouse from the Injured List, and placed guard Mitchell Butler on the Injured List with right knee tendinitis.
Stackhouse has not played this season while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee that took place on October 21st. Last season, Stackhouse led the Wizards in scoring with 21.5 points per game while averaging 3.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Over his eight-year NBA career, Stackhouse is averaging 21.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
"I can pretty much assure you that was my last trip" to Portland, Pippen said. "It's always tough when you're seeing it come to an end as a player. It's been a great ride, but I know that physically my body is taking a beating right now and it's probably going to cost me down the road."
Pippen has another season on his contract, but he is more likely to take a front-office job with the Bulls than return for what would be his 18th NBA season.
When Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks thrust newly acquired Darius Miles into the starting lineup after only one game and demoted Dale Davis to the bench, Cheeks insisted he wasn't committed to that as a long-range strategy.
Cheeks said he probably would tweak his starting lineups with matchups in mind the rest of the season.
What does Davis think of recent developments?
He isn't happy about losing his starting job, but if playing a reserve role helps the Blazers turn their season around and climb into playoff contention, then he'll go along with whatever Cheeks wants.
"It's different, no question about it," Davis said. "Whatever form it takes for us to win, I'm with it. I don't necessarily agree with it, but at the same time, I've got to do what I've got to do."
"If we're winning, I guess it looks like everybody knows what they're doing, right?" Davis said. "Quite naturally, I'm pretty sure I'll probably be playing more than 16 minutes most games. I've just got to get used to it."
Mike Bibby needs rest after having surgery on his left foot? No problem. Chris Webber has to sit out while rehabilitating his left knee? We will be fine. Keon Clark and Jim Jackson depart via free agency? They can be replaced.
It is almost as if it does not matter who the Sacramento Kings send onto the court. As long as the players wear purple and black and execute their intricate offense, they will win and win big.
Last season, when Bibby, fresh off his coming-out party in the 2002 playoffs, missed the first 27 games of the season, the Kings went 21-6. But that accomplishment pales in comparison with what they have done this season without Webber, who had arthroscopic knee surgery last June.
Moving on as if Webber were a role player instead of their best player, the Kings entered this weekend with a 32-12 record, the best in the league.
Sacramento, which averaged a league-high 104.5 points a game through Friday, has been so good that there is talk of Webber's merely fitting in rather than taking over when he returns, supposedly soon after the All-Star Game break later this month.
"I think when Webber gets back, it's going to be up to him," Joe Maloof, one of the Kings' owners, said. "He's a professional, he's been around for years, and he understands that right now we've developed a certain look for our team, or a certain chemistry, that's really been successful.
"When he gets back, he'll have to adjust his game a little bit to what we've been able to accomplish so far."
It's that time of year. The rumors are out there, with the big one having the Warriors interested in acquiring Portland power forward Rasheed Wallace for point guard Nick Van Exel and center Erick Dampier.
Warriors team president Robert Rowell refused to comment on the issue. But he suggested that it is misleading to single out one team the Warriors might be talking to or one player the Warriors might be talking about because the Warriors are "talking to just about every team."
As for Dallas, just when it appeared a package was imminent involving Antawn Jamison or Antoine Walker, owner Mark Cuban put the kibosh on it by overruling Full & Half Nelson. Don and Donnie evidently don't have the juice they thought they had, perhaps with good reason: The Mavs had won nine out of 10 before giving up 70 points to the Nuggets in the second half of yesterday's 107-102 home loss.
Some think Cuban is just delaying things in hopes the Blazers will take Tariq Abdul-Wahad ($6.1M/$6.7M/$7.3M/$7.88M) in order to get Walker or Jamison; Abdul-Wahad's last two years are only guaranteed for 50 and 25 percent, respectively. An infinitely more important factor, I submit, is agent Bill Strickland's disinclination to give any assurance his client would re-sign with the Mavs.
You read it here first: The swelling sentiment, highlights Portland's Rainy Day Worker, is that Wallace aims to play for Thomas' Knicks and will be willing to accept a mid-level salary exception ($12M lower to start than his current $17M salary) come July 15.
If that notion hasn't scared off the competition, it certainly shriveled the herd. Other than, obviously, the Knicks, who want Wallace the sooner the better, the Warriors are the only team who've called lately. Reports about Golden State offering Erick Dampier ($7.55M/$8.1M/$8.8M) and Nick Van Exel (11M/11.9M/12.8M) for Rashweed are, indeed, true.
If Golden State sends Nick Van Exel and Erick Damper to Portland for Rasheed Wallace, the Warriors can then take Wallace's $17 million off their books this summer and lower their payroll to $24.2 million, a good $20 million under the salary cap. "Wow, can you say Kobe (Bryant)?'' said one Western Conference GM. What's appealing about going to the sad-sackWarriors if Bryant opts out and leaves L.A.? For Kobe, it would definitely be his team. You can easily imagine Shaq's take: He can have it, too....
Ainge plans on talking to two old Celtics, Dennis Johnson and Dave Cowens, about his coaching vacancy. D.J. has been scouting for Portland. Cowens recently moved to Florida....
Who says coaches are having a hard time with superstars? Tim Duncan might have taken home the last two MVPs, but that didn't stop Gregg Popovich from recently reaming him out in front of teammates for not shooting enough....
Bruce Ratner is rooting hard for Nets to return to Finals, for more than just the obvious reasons. According to financial experts, if the Nets go deep into postseason for third straight year, they'll lose "only" $15 million.
Carl Steward: Warriors are playing better without Van Exel and should deal him
"It's this simple: The Warriors play better without Nick Van Exel on the floor, healthy or otherwise. Now that he's on the injured list, just watch."
So, have you been watching? I wrote that seemingly illogical statement two weeks ago, when the Golden State Warriors were at their lowest point of the 2003-2004 season. I'm sure deluded Nick The Quick fans cut that one out with the thought that they could be throwing it back in my face right about now.
Since then, though, the Warriors have hammered home my conviction by playing their best and most legitimately promising basketball of the season, all of it without Van Exel. They are 4-2 and probably should be 5-1. They snapped their 12-game road trip in one of the least likely venues -- Portland -- then came home and staged a most impressive victory against Minnesota, just the team with the best record in the NBA.
Perhaps Warriors management finally believes the truth about Van Exel now and not the hype. For the sake of the nice little chemistry thing the Warriors have going, maybe they now realize they have to get rid of him as soon as possible.
To wit, rumors surfaced this week that the team is trying to deal Van Exel and center Erick Dampier to the Trail Blazers for Rasheed Wallace.
Wow, is somebody actually using their noggin in Warriorland for a change? If that's the full deal, whoever's calling the shots in the Golden State front office these days should be making everybody work around the clock to try and get it done.
Quite simply, that trade would be a godsend to the team's short- and long-term future, and if the Blazers are hedging, the Warriors should be figuring out how to sweeten it to ensure its closure.
"I can't wait to get there and start helping the Big Three-plus," Williams said Friday evening before catching a flight from Phoenix to Dallas. "I've always prided myself in playing well in the bigger games. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to getting nasty in the paint with those guys."
Williams, a 14-year NBA veteran, said the situation got tense for him shortly before the 5 p.m. deadline Friday for teams to claim him off waivers.
"It got a little hairy at the end with Miami," Williams said. "They showed an interest, but I have to give credit to [Phoenix general manager] Bryan Colangelo. He and my agent told Miami if they claimed me, I wasn't going to report and would start coaching for the Suns. So that worked out. My wife and I are thrilled to be coming to Dallas."
Owner Mark Cuban said the chances of the Mavericks making more roster moves before the Feb. 19 trading deadline is "slim, slim, slim." The Mavericks have not been linked in any serious trade rumors since the Rasheed Wallace speculation died off.
To end speculation to the contrary, Hawks general manager Billy Knight said Wednesday that the proposed sale and possible ownership transfer has not hampered his ability to make a trade or coaching change.
So, why are the Hawks standing still?
"I haven't come across anything that makes enough sense for me," Knight said. "I'm talking about everything. That's trades, rumors of coaching changes, everything. I'm not going to do anything until I see something that makes sense for us."
"Everyone thinks we should do something," Knight said. "I don't care about everything else that goes on in the league. When I think we can do something that makes sense, I will do it."
At least one person in the NBA wasn't surprised when Jim O'Brien [news] resigned from the Celtics last Tuesday.
``Nah, not at all,'' Kenny Anderson, the Pacers backup point guard who helped the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago, said before the C's 99-98 loss to Indiana last night. ``I just saw how the personnel on that team was changing, and I knew something was going to happen before long.
``I know how Jim O'Brien thinks, and how his teams play. They're real defensive-minded.''
Count Anderson as an O'Brien believer, too.
``He demanded respect because he respected you,'' Anderson said. ``He talked to you as a man. That's why he was well-respected by his players.''
Walter McCarty [news] has kept his tongue in check in the wake of Jim O'Brien [news]'s resignation, but last night he made himself clear. Waltah doesn't love what's going on with the Celtics in general and O'Brien's departure in particular.
``I haven't talked about it until now,'' McCarty said before going for five points in the Celtics' 92-74 loss to the Knicks last night. ``But it's obvious I didn't feel real good about the situation. I'm very frustrated, but like I said, we have a job we have to do.
``I'm not saying I'm frustrated with management. I'm frustrated when you look back on all the guys that have been here. I've had a lot of teammates here, and I've been through the trenches with a lot of guys who are no longer here. It's tough to see those guys playing for other teams and knowing that we had something very special here and now it's gone. We put a lot of work into turning this organization around, and we have nothing to show for those guys.''
According to sources in Boston, it wasn't a case of Ainge's being overbearing. Simply, it was a difference in philosophy. O'Brien wanted to play one way, Ainge wanted to play another.
"You'd think we've been at each other's throats, but that's not the case," said O'Brien, a graduate of Roman Catholic High and St. Joseph's. "Initially, we had a feeling that this could be a great relationship. Was it strained? No more than in any other situation where there are creative differences.
"Danny didn't necessarily share my view, nor should he have to. I prefer to have guys who are ready to smack you in the mouth if you try to bring the ball to the rim. I value guys like that. Danny, basically, wants guys who can score the ball, and that's fine. It's just not a relationship that was made for the long run, that's all."
O'Brien supported the trade by Ainge that sent Antoine Walker to Dallas before the regular season, but he strongly disagreed with the six-player December deal in which the Celtics gave up Eric Williams and acquired Ricky Davis from Cleveland.
Williams was O'Brien's defensive ace off the bench. Davis, a gifted offensive player, has little interest in defense.
O'Brien said his disapproval did not mean that he couldn't or didn't want to coach Davis - an idea he called "a crock." But the trade continued the dismantling of a team that made it to the Eastern Conference finals two years ago and the Eastern semifinals last season.
"We were going in a direction I didn't like," he said. "I understood it, but I found it hard to scrap the strategic plan we had."
Ainge in tenuous position: Must hold players' faith
O'Brien's resignation has been taken as an indictment of the sketchiness of Ainge's vision, even if the coach himself told the Herald last Wednesday that he actually understands what Ainge is trying to do.
But the biggest problem - and it's one that has Ainge on tenterhooks - is that after so many disruptions to the routine, players may finally be looking for the exit as well.
Take Mark Blount [news], for instance. The Celtics center's stock has risen considerably this season. He is no longer just a big body to bring off the bench. He has developed, in O'Brien's estimation, into one of the toughest interior defenders in the league - a vital part of the team's complex scheme.
He's also learned to score in deceptively simple ways that really help this team - off the pick-and-roll, off open elbow jumpers, off put-backs.
Blount, as loyal to O'Brien as the coach was to him, is also in the last year of his contract. In terms of stability, there hasn't been a lot lately that would make the big guy want to stay.
As another player noted while looking up and down the locker room a day after O'Brien's announcement, ``Think about it. What do we really have here anymore?''
Though there is some fan unrest with Ainge -- one fan held up a sign at the FleetCenter Friday night that read "Trade Danny" -- Red Auerbach is still in his protege's corner. Auerbach even went so far as to compare Ainge to Jerry West in terms of work ethic and imagination.
"As far as the ball club is concerned, I think if we had been fortunate in having Baker play as he played the early part of the season, if we had [Raef] LaFrentz playing, I think we'd be highly competitive," said Auerbach. "As it is now, you've just got to do the best you can.
"Strange things have happened this year with teams. I can't understand it, like when New Jersey went into that slump. It was just a matter of time until they got it together, of course.
"As a GM, under normal conditions on a ball club, 80 percent of the time the best deal is no deal. The grass is not greener. But sometimes when you're going nowhere, you've got to try something. You've got to be careful when you're not doing well of giving away what you've got. Danny's aware of that. He's sharp. He's smart. He's active and he works. Eventually, the people of Boston have got to appreciate that."
Peter May: O'Brien took a page from Van Gundy book
"Every coach-management [dispute] is based on expectations: win-loss, how you're playing, who you're playing," said Van Gundy, who sat out the rest of the 2001-02 season and all of last season before ending up in Houston with the Rockets. "It's inevitable, unfortunately. That's how it is. Unfortunately, sometimes, it's just time. Whether it's them deciding or you deciding. When it's time, there's no good time, but you know it.
"It's hard to get to that place where you know what's best. It should set you free to coach your own way. But if anyone tries to sell you on rebuilding, you know it's all a lie. They're telling you, `This is what we're gonna do, and when we need a sacrificial lamb, we're going to fire you and hire someone else.' So you coach to your personality and beliefs, you try to do the best job you can."
That is what O'Brien did, but he simply stopped when he realized he was not going to get blood out of a stone. The shocker about Van Gundy was that few, if anyone, saw it coming and, at the time, it was thought that the Knicks were a decent team. They basically went into a free fall after he left and still haven't recovered.
Van Gundy had nothing but bonbons for O'Brien.
"If you look back over the last three years, I don't think anybody did a better job than Jim O'Brien of coaching his team," Van Gundy said. "Your job as a coach is to get the most out of your team, and there's no doubt he got the most out of that team."
"It's scary," commissioner David Stern said. "I don't have a view. But a lot of our owners seem to think that their team is better than their performance.
"In one or two cases, that might be true. But it's not true in all 17 cases where the coach has been replaced."
In recent days, you've heard coaches and general managers talk about how the pressure to win is more intense, and management isn't as patient as it was 10 years ago. All true. But there's another reason 14 of these 17 changes have come in the Eastern Conference.
Parity. Or mediocrity. Whatever you want to call it.
The East has developed an inferiority complex since Chicago's reign with Michael Jordan ended. It doesn't matter which team emerges. It's viewed as the sacrificial lamb in The Finals.
No team from the conference carries great expectations. When that's the case, every owner expects his team to be just as good as any other.
A coach isn't going to get fired in the Western Conference because he wasn't able to beat the Los Angeles Lakers or San Antonio Spurs. He wasn't supposed to beat them in the first place. A hierarchy is established.
The problem comes when there is no favorite, no pecking order. Success is then determined on a sliding scale.
New Jersey advanced to The Finals the last two years. But the Nets didn't establish dominance in either season. They're not the team by which all challengers in the East are judged.
If you are the owner or general manager in Detroit, Indiana or New Orleans, you know two things. One, there isn't much difference between your team and the Nets. And two, they went to The Finals and you didn't.
You have, in the words of Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, unrealistic expectations because of parity.
As if there was any remaining doubt, the events of the past week confirmed that the pendulum has swung the other way.
The era of coach as NBA powerbroker is history.
The latest round of sideline carnage in the Eastern Conference offered just the most recent evidence of where true authority is consolidated.
Byron Scott is out in New Jersey because Nets President Rod Thorn thought it was best, the overall record and playoff success be damned.
Jim O'Brien had no choice but to step aside in Boston after Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge built a roster that lacked the values O'Brien embraced.
Two weeks earlier, Isiah Thomas felt the need to establish his distinctive executive imprint in New York, so Don Chaney was out after getting less than two weeks to make things work with Stephon Marbury.
In each case, management gave complete control to the front office. It was an approach in marked contrast to when coaches pulled the strings from the sidelines, when Pat Riley sent orders up to the front office and Heat General Manager Randy Pfund, when Rick Pitino orchestrated the moves of Celtics General Manager Chris Wallace.
The fallout of the coaching carnage of `03-04 should be an aggressive recruiting period at season's end.
It is difficult to recall another juncture when so many high-profile, proven NBA winners were available.
Among coaches accessible for re-entry into the market are Riley, Karl, Rivers, O'Brien, Scott, Doug Collins and Rudy Tomjanovich, although Tomjanovich is talking of at least another year away after beating bladder cancer.
And that's not even mentioning candidates such as Mike Fratello and Dave Cowens, known entities who certainly would deliver a recognition upgrade over some of what is strolling the sidelines these days.
The wisest wager just might be to take the under when it comes to the coaching futures of the likes of John Carroll in Boston, Terry Stotts in Atlanta, Randy Ayers in Philadelphia, Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix, Johnny Davis in Orlando or Lawrence Frank in New Jersey. As long as Riley remains in the Heat front office, Stan Van Gundy appears safe here.
Such a warning might also need to be heeded by Denver's Jeff Bzdelik, who has that aforementioned dreaded power broker in his own front office, in Nuggets General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe.
There were few tangible explanations about why it was happening. The Bulls had stopped playing for Bill Cartwright. Rick Carlisle was fired in Detroit because Brown became available. Doug Collins lost his Washington ally, Michael Jordan. Paul Silas didn't like the Hornets' owners. The Suns underachieved under Frank Johnson. There was no common theme.
But there is now. A lot of people wondering if they should be renting instead.
There are only six untouchables: Larry Brown in Detroit, Hubie Brown in Memphis, Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, Phil Jackson of the Lakers, Jerry Sloan in Utah and Jeff Van Gundy in Houston.
Enough others are safe, some with the potential to reach untouchable status depending how the playoffs turn out and some who have the safety net of the moment only because they're new and can't be fired without a real chance. (Can they?)
Rick Adelman, Kings. It's all about the postseason. He has the respect of colleagues, strong backing from boss Geoff Petrie, the financial backing from ownership and the gold star of Sacramento overachieving without Chris Webber. But the pressures of continuing to fall short are mounting.
Jeff Bzdelik, Nuggets. An unknown outside the coaching ranks, he is riding the wave of the mega-turnaround in Denver.
Carlisle, Pacers. For one thing, Larry Bird is his good friend and his boss. For another, Indiana has pushed to the top of the East because Carlisle's structure and discipline have dramatically cut down on the technicals and the wild play.
Mike Dunleavy, Clippers. No one is ever really safe with the Clippers, but he's in the first season and they're loving him so far.
Tim Floyd, Hornets. So much for being the fallback pick. New Orleans has established itself as a legitimate threat in the East despite getting Jamal Mashburn back from injury only last week.
Jordan. He doesn't have many wins, but this is his first season with the Wizards, and it has been marred by long-term injuries to Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas. On the other hand, Jordan was hired before president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, the reverse order of the usual process, giving Grunfeld an opening if he pushes to bring in his own people as the so-called solution.
Eric Musselman, Warriors. The previous player-coach friction has subsided, but even if it hadn't, even Golden State wouldn't have had trouble deciding whether to hitch its future to Nick Van Exel or Musselman. The real question soon becomes whether the Warriors let their coach go into next season, the last of his deal, without an extension and prompts a Musselman power play where he decides to window shop.
Terry Porter, Bucks. He has proven to be more than a hometown pick to excite fans in a depressed NBA market. Milwaukee has greatly exceeded expectations, and Porter is an early candidate for Coach of the Year.
Flip Saunders, Timberwolves. Like Adelman, he's on the edge of being an untouchable, with Minnesota in first place in the Midwest Division immediately after a roster overhaul and Saunders also coaching the Western Conference All-Stars in two weeks. But the Timberwolves need to get past the first round.
Silas, Cavaliers. LeBron James commands the headlines. Silas gets the respect within.
Scott Skiles, Bulls. First-year rule. Oh, and no promises.
Matt Steinmetz: Coaches must be held to a higher standard
A common complaint heard about NBA players is that they aren't willing to work on their games, don't want to improve on their weaknesses, are unwilling to make the proper sacrifices for the betterment of their teams.
Why aren't coaches held to the same standard?
In the wake of Byron Scott's firing by the New Jersey Nets and Jim O'Brien's resignation in Boston because of philosophical differences with general manager Danny Ainge, the convenient summation trotted out there goes something like this: "The poor coaches."
The argument is that they aren't given enough time, aren't supported well enough by management and aren't dealing from a position of strength because players -- many of whom have long-term contracts -- are the ones with the clout over time.
So, like a player who doesn't want the ball at crunch time, many coaches simply linger on the fringe and refuse to take responsibility for a club that's in trouble. Washington's Eddie Jordan was asked earlier this week about the fact that every Eastern Conference team has had a coaching turnover in the past year.
"You get your contract done and say, 'This is what it's all about,'" Jordan told the Washington Post. "I know I'm hired to be fired one day. ... You work hard to get here, you get your deal done, you work as hard as you can, but you know right from the beginning. That's why you get a good attorney, a good agent and get things done as best as you can."
With that kind of attitude, it's not hard to see why so many coaches get fired. Coaching is like playing; you've got to work at it to be good. You can't just come in, do it your way, then when the losing starts, stay locked in the same style.
Jonathan Feigen: Impatience with coaches damages game
Terry Stotts raised a water bottle to the heavens and toasted his good fortune.
Stotts this week became the winner of Survivor, Eastern Conference -- the last coach standing.
"It's kind of a fluke-ish thing," said Stotts, who replaced Lon Kruger at Atlanta on Dec. 26, 2002. "A crazy sort of circumstance. I'm not sure what it says about our coaching profession."
It says a lot of things, but mostly it says that the owners' impatience and lack of support has become not just a way for them to hurt their teams, but to damage the sport as a whole.
Don't like your coach? Not getting enough time and touches for a player so wonderful? Coach doesn't understand you? Just wait. NBA owners have demonstrated clearly -- with 17 changes since the end of last season -- that the coach will be gone before you have to look in the mirror.
"It's certainly an interesting time for the NBA and for the coaching profession," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "It keeps the product not as good as it should be. Stability from ownership, to management, to coach to best players -- is critical to building a team of significance."
Few coaches of sub-elite teams dare accept or admit the obvious -- that the franchise is set up to win next year or down the road. Once that postponed gratification is understood by players, they no longer see the incentive to set screens, dive on the floor or take charges, virtues that win games but do nothing to pad the stats that become vital at contract time.
Since most players most of the time are in, or within one season of, their contractual walk years, the slim chance for significant team success reduces their incentive to care about what the coach says. The better players will be eligible for free agency sooner than the team can become a serious contender.
That is close to the dilemma faced by Nate McMillan. The Sonics coach's natural competitiveness demands that he win each game, even though ownership and management know the team is at least two years away from serious contention. That threshold will be reached more quickly if young players get time, which is usually a poor way to win a given night's exercise.
That's why McMillan often sounds as if he's of two minds -- seemingly dismayed to the point of quitting, and alternately pleased about some signs of progress. He's obligated to play some of the stiffs he's been saddled with by management, yet even if he succeeds, it puts him further away from the high lottery pick who would give the team the potential to win big.
Since the NBA system is largely a creation of its collective bargaining agreement and its presence in a culture of instant gratification, McMillan and his peers have no easy remedy. Unfortunately for them, an easy remedy is available to teams afraid of either trading, or overspending into payroll taxes -- firing the coach.
Given McMillan's unique history with the Sonics, that's unlikely here. That doesn't mean he can't recognize the futility of his enterprise. Whether he would depart on his own is probably a question even he can't answer now.
Stotts said Bucks guard Michael Redd shouldn't have to worry about making the team. Redd, a second-round pick in 2001, is averaging a career-high 22.2 points (seventh in the NBA) and has a 37.1 percentage on 3-point shots.
"Not only is he playing like an All-Star, he is the reason Milwaukee has the fourth-best record in the East," Stotts said.
Stotts spent two seasons with Redd in Milwaukee and says Redd ranks among the "top three [players], as far as work ethic," that Stotts has seen in 12 years in the league.
"I think our players work hard," Stotts said of the Hawks, "but I wouldn't put them in Michael Redd's class."
Now that he finally is getting a chance to play, Michael Redd is taking advantage of it.
"It's early, but it's his bust-out year," Milwaukee Bucks coach Terry Porter said. "Anybody who watched him in the past coming off the bench knew he was capable of what he's doing right now. It's just a matter of getting more minutes, more consistent minutes. With those two things, confidence comes into play and he's playing at a very high level right now.
"When he first got here, he didn't play at all his rookie year. Ray Allen was still here. Sam Cassell was here. Then Gary Payton. So he struggled to get quality minutes. Now he is getting a lot of quality touches."
Said Cavs coach Paul Silas of Redd: "I didn't know he was as good as he is. He paid his dues. He learned from some pretty good players, and when his time came, he was ready."
The value of the Cavaliers' franchise has surged by more than $35 million in the last year with the addition of LeBron James, according to Forbes magazine. In its Feb. 16 issue, the magazine calculated the Cavaliers' current value at $258 million, nearly a 16 percent jump from last year when the Cavaliers were valued at $223 million. It was the third largest increase in the league, moving the Cavaliers up more than 10 spots to become the 15th most valuable franchise in the NBA.
The Chicago Bulls gambled big three summers ago, entrusting the future of the franchise to a couple of teenagers just out of high school.
Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry were raw and inexperienced, but they were also 7 feet tall and incredibly talented. Give them time to develop, and the two could be the best big men in the East - and the cornerstones of a new Bulls dynasty.
Three years later, Chandler and Curry remain certain they'll be a force in the NBA one day. But they're no closer to dominating the game than they were that June night they were drafted, and the Bulls are paying the price with another abysmal year.
Chandler has shown he can live up to his hype, averaging a double-double early in the season, but he's played in only 10 games because of a back injury. Curry gets pushed around too easily for a guy dubbed "Baby Shaq," and he's regressed from last season, when he led the NBA with a .585 field goal percentage.
He's averaging fewer than six rebounds to go with his 12.5 points, and coach Scott Skiles has criticized his conditioning. He's also a frequent target of boos in Chicago - not an easy thing to hear in your hometown.
"I know if I was out there, I could make things easier for him," said Chandler, who was drafted second overall in 2001, two spots ahead of Curry.
"I'm always going to feel like we can be the best two big men in the East. I know we can be. I know we will be."
Maybe former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause's decision to trade forward Elton Brand to the Clippers and build around preps-to-pros prospects Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry wasn't such a good idea after all.
Curry hasn't developed into the dominant inside force that the Bulls projected when they selected the 6-foot-11, 285-pound center in the first round of the 2001 draft. He is averaging 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and has been the target of fans' criticism for most of this season.
"I don't want us to focus so much on Eddy," Bulls coach Scott Skiles told reporters in Chicago last week. "Eddy's potentially a big part of our team. If I'm focusing too much on that, guys could say, 'Well, if Eddy was just playing well, we could win.' Then they could put the burden on Eddy and he doesn't deserve that. It's not like everybody is having a great year except Eddy."
Veteran forward Scottie Pippen said many of the Bulls' shortcomings are the result of a lack of effort and young players not understanding what it takes to succeed in the NBA.
"I think guys have accepted losing here," Pippen told the Chicago Sun-Times. "They've gotten to the point where losing and winning are all the same."
Trade possibility, but Fizer lets agent do talking
Unlike many disgruntled NBA players who are unhappy with their playing time, Bulls forward Marcus Fizer will not campaign to be traded.
Fizer considers it unprofessional to make such a request publicly, so he's letting agent Henry Thomas discuss trade scenarios with Bulls operations chief John Paxson.
One possibility was trading Fizer, 25, to the Los Angeles Clippers for Melvin Ely and Marko Jaric as the Clippers try to clear salary-cap space to pursue Kobe Bryant this summer. Fizer's contract expires after this season, making him a restricted free agent.
But general managers are hesitant to acquire someone who can't land regular playing time on one of the worst teams in the league, which is why there has been minimal interest in Fizer.
Fizer's minutes have been sporadic. He averaged 15 minutes in the first two games of the Bulls' current seven-game road trip, and he scored a combined 26 points in those two games.
''That just shows I can play ball,'' Fizer said. ''I know I can help a team win, and if it's not here, it's not going to be here.
''But everybody in this league wants an opportunity to play.''
Kroenke Sports Enterprises may announce the launch of a 24-hour regional sports network just before the NBA begins its all-star break Feb. 13, according to a source. The arrival of a Kroenke network also could bring the Women's National Basketball Association to Denver.
In previous interviews with The Denver Post, Kroenke officials have said if launched, the new network would be running as early as September. Programming would include telecasts of teams owned by Stan Kroenke - Nuggets, Avalanche and Colorado Mammoth games - as well as local high school and regional college sports, possibly local concerts and other nonsports local programming.
Fox Sports Net has had the rights to broadcast Nuggets and Avalanche games, but those contracts are up. Fox has the rights to Rapids games through next season.
Sura played his most minutes as a Piston — 28 — on Friday in Toronto. If his play, particularly on defense against All-Star Vince Carter, is any indication, he will be in the lineup even more as the season progresses.
This is Sura’s first season in Detroit after five years with Cleveland and three with Golden State, and much was expected of him. But he suffered a back injury before the regular season began, limiting his effectiveness and his playing time.
The back is fine now, and he is playing well.
Sura had nine points, five rebounds and two assists in a 90-89 overtime victory against the Raptors. But his effort against Carter caught the eye of Larry Brown.
“He’s made a big contribution,” Brown said. “No way we win last night (Friday) without him. He’s always been a good defender. That’s always been one of his strengths.”
A network blazer eventually may be waiting for Jon Barry. For now, he's back in a tank top.
Barry, who dabbled in television and radio broadcasting during his absence, was activated from the injured list by the Denver Nuggets on Friday. The shooting guard will play today at Dallas, beefing up a backcourt that has been depleted.
Barry, who hasn't played since Dec. 20, underwent arthroscopic surgery Dec. 30 for a right shoulder labral tear. At the time, it was expected Barry would return in six weeks. But he made it back in 4 ½.
"Everything is feeling good," said Barry, activated after forward Mark Pope was placed on the injured list because of tendinitis in his left knee. "I'm back a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Now, I'll see if I can get my game back."
Utah guard Raja Bell, who also is a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, backed Tim Duncan's decision not to play against his homeland in last summer's Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.
Duncan, who helped the United States qualify for the Olympics, sat out the game against the Virgin Islands.
"I think that was his choice to make," said Bell, who did not play to avoid risking injury because he had yet to sign with an NBA team. "I don't think anybody would have had a problem with him playing against us. We all understood. When he was approached to play for the U.S. we didn't even have a team, so no hard feelings.
"I actually think it would have been better if he had played because a lot of those guys don't get the chance to get out there on the court with him anymore."
Percy Allen: Stern turned around a league, but some see him as a dictator
The true savior of the NBA, the Hall of Fame guard will attest, took over the league 20 years ago today. He didn't make the leap from high school to pros, nor did he play in a Finals.
Heck, he never picked up a basketball. And yet David Stern saved them all.
He rescued the NBA from itself. This diminutive native of Chelsea, N.Y., with his law degree from Columbia University and marketing savvy, did what Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving were unable to do.
He made the NBA relevant.
"He is the one person that has taken the league from where it was and taken it to a level where it is today, and it's been such an incredible journey," Johnson said. "Now the game of basketball, because of David Stern, is closing in on soccer as a world game. For him it must be the greatest feeling."
Anniversaries are a time to reflect, and this one is no different.
The Cavaliers are 3-0 since acquiring Jeff McInnis in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers and that isn't by coincidence.
McInnis has not scored a lot of points. He's only averaging 6.7 points per game, but he has 21 assists and only three turnovers in a Cavs uniform. He's pushed the ball, got the team into their offense and changed the team's pace.
"Jeff has a lot of speed at the point-guard position and he takes a lot of pressure off LeBron [James]," Eric Williams said. "LeBron doesn't have to bring the ball up and he can now improve his scoring and get looser out there. Plus, Jeff gives Kevin Ollie a chance to stay fresh and we can use Kevin even more down the stretch and that keeps our point-guard tandem strong."
That tandem has been so strong that Ollie and McInnis have combined for 31 assists and three turnovers in 149 minutes.
"Jeff stabilizes us and getting the ball out of LeBron's hands was the key," coach Paul Silas said. "We're running the court and Jeff can go through traffic and make plays. He recognizes that we have to go inside early and it's working out very well."
Slow starts have so plagued the Pistons, coach Larry Brown has discussed making a lineup change or two with team president Joe Dumars.
Though it looks like offense is the main problem, Brown said poor rebounding and defense are also culprits. The Pistons have shot poorly and trailed at the end of the first quarter in their past six games.
Any changes will depend on the consistency of first-year starters Mehmet Okur and Tayshaun Prince.
In Friday's overtime victory against Toronto, Prince and Okur sat for most of the second half and all of the overtime.
Okur scored 11 of his 16 points in the first quarter. Prince again struggled, taking only three shots and scoring just two points in 22 minutes.
In the overtime, Brown benched them in favor of Corliss Williamson and Bobby Sura.
"I wanted to put Memo back, but I have a lot of confidence in Corliss on the block," Brown said. "At least he's a presence where they have to guard him."
Before the game, Brown said: "I almost didn't start Tayshaun (against Boston). I almost put in Darvin. (Pistons VP of basketball operations) John (Hammond) and Joe had made mention to me that Michael Curry gave them something early (last year) and when they went to the bench they came in with something else, but we had lost three in a row and I didn't want to do that to Tayshaun. If it continues I wouldn't be opposed to making a couple of changes just to give us some energy. It is a problem, especially on the road."
Marc J. Spears: Healthy Hornets could make run in East
Imagine New Orleans Hornets fans dancing on a packed Bourbon Street with jazz blaring in the background. That would be the scene if the Hornets win the Eastern Conference, which might seem unlikely now, but the view could change quickly once they get completely healthy.
"We can definitely come out of the East," New Orleans forward P.J. Brown said. "I've always said that. I still believe that. The East is tough. You got Indiana and Detroit playing very well right now. But we can make it.
"New Jersey is not playing particularly well, but they are still the two-time Eastern Conference champion. ... But with all our pieces together and everybody healthy, I like our chances."
With the Heat playing musical chairs at center until Brian Grant's aching legs improve, expect the combination of Malik Allen, Udonis Haslem and Wang Zhi-Zhi to continue to plug a gaping middle.
Both Allen and Haslem are considered power forwards, and Wang is a 7-foot-1 guard trapped in a center's body.
Haslem, a sturdy 6-8, has played center throughout his high school and college career at Miami High and Florida. Haslem, who started Friday and helped contain Clippers All-Star Elton Brand, started against former Kentucky rival Jamaal Magloire on Saturday, despite a 3-inch height disadvantage.
"Obviously, they're [centers] stronger in the NBA, but I have the concept down pat," Haslem said. "To me, it's natural to get down there and be physical and compete."
Mitch Lawrence: Marbury's shooting to prove Phoenix wrong for dealing him out
Get out, Steph.
Harsh words to hear, but that's exactly what Stephon Marbury heard when the Suns traded him to the Knicks last month.
He didn't hear, "Thanks for everything, but we're sending you back home." All Marbury heard was, "We don't want you anymore. See ya."
Phoenix called it a business decision, opting to dump Marbury's contract and rebuild. The plan is to get way under the salary cap, maybe bring in some free agents this summer or next, and then hope that Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan get so bored winning titles that they'll soon retire.
Marbury is still young enough - he turns only 27 in 19 days - where the Suns could have included him in their rebuilding plans. That they didn't tells you what they thought of him.
Ask Marbury now about the Suns and it's obvious that he was hurt by their decision, even though he loved coming back to New York to play for his hometown team.
"No comment," was Marbury's rather revealing comment about his old team that was at the Garden last night.
Did he think he'd have a better chance winning a title with the Knicks before the Suns get one?
As great as the Knicks' trade for Stephon Marbury was from the standpoint of public relations and immediate impact, it has to rank among the most lopsided deals in NBA history in terms of the financial obligation the Knicks took on and what they gave up in the way of young players and draft picks.
Phoenix got out from under an extra $100 million in long-term debt, avoided another $5 million in luxury tax this season, pocketed $3 million in cash from the Knicks, gained the rights to young Europeans Maciej Lampe and Milos Vujanic, and picked off the Knicks' first-round draft choice this season and a conditional future first-round pick.
As one Eastern Conference general manager recently said of the deal crafted by new Knicks president Isiah Thomas, "They gave up too much. Phoenix saved a lot of money. The Knicks didn't have to give up the draft pick or so many young players, too."
Swapping the contracts of Marbury and Antonio McDyess was a great exchange for the Knicks because McDyess is on the injured list trying to strengthen his left leg after three operations in two seasons. But Lampe is on the Suns' active roster, and he predicted last night the deal will backfire when he and Vujanic blossom.
"I think it will," Lampe said. "It's just a matter of time."
When Thomas replaced Scott Layden as Knicks president, he immediately questioned Lampe's work ethic, but Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who has coached in Europe, has taken a different approach to the Polish power forward.
"The coaches here are great," Lampe said. "I love it here, working with them. They talk to me a lot more. I feel like I'm more a part of this team than I was in New York.
"I talked a lot to coach D'Antoni, and he told me I'm going to keep playing little by little this season. I could start or play next year. I want to be in the rotation, so it's up to me to prove I can do it."
Barry is both one of the more intelligent players in the league and one of the most realistic, which is why his situation is puzzling, especially to him.
For starters, Barry is in the final year of a contract that pays him $5.4 million this season.
Beyond that, Barry knows that coach Nate McMillan has wanted all season to experiment with a starting backcourt that features Antonio Daniels and Ray Allen, in part because McMillan is not enamored with Barry's perimeter defense.
Barry also realizes that the team - at least management - views Luke Ridnour as the point guard of the future, and that in order for Ridnour to become that player he needs playing time to develop.
At the same time, there is not another player like Barry on the team's roster, and some would argue there are few, if any, in the NBA.
Barry possesses one of the game's most reliable 3-point shots, plus he knows the game better than perhaps a third of the coaches in the league. He can direct an offense, either from the shooting guard or the point guard spot, and he makes his teammates better simply by being unselfish.
And therein lies the conflict: If McMillan wants to utilize Daniels' defense, and management wants to develop Ridnour, and Barry is in the final year of his contract, where does that leave the 31-year-old Barry on a team that insists it is rebuilding?
Does the team trade him and get something of value in return? Does it re-sign him and allow him to play spot minutes as his career dwindles to a close? Does it allow his contract to expire and him to walk away via free agency, getting nothing in return?
Those are questions that thus far management has not found answers for and that Barry has not been willing to address, if only because he does not want to stir up trouble where perhaps quietude and restraint are better options - for now.
"It's just such a curious time to have this injury," Barry said. "There has been a lot of talk about what's going to happen before the trade deadline. We just have to wait and see.
"Now I am not playing, I have to sit back and listen to all the rumors that are floating around. Sometimes that's not smart because you start thinking about it more. If you start thinking about all the options, you can start to go crazy."
Presumably, teams who would have wanted to trade for Barry for a stretch run would be more reticent to call. But Barry said that is not necessarily the case.
"It's not like it takes me too much out of play in that I'll be back at the end of the month," Barry said. "If that was with a new team and a new system, I think I would pick it up rather quick."
Barry said he would prefer to stay in Seattle, but he does not know what the team's plans are.
Barry had six titanium pins placed in the hand to realign it because, he said, the injury not only fractured the finger but also shortened it. He will be forced to miss about 20 games.
"It's a typical situation because you want to be around, you want to help but you don't feel like you are too much a part of the team," Barry said. "I'll just kind of be a fly on the wall, I guess. I'll try to pitch in and point stuff out if I see something out on the floor."
Turns out, the Sixers are suffering from the opposite of what the Sonics maladies are. Philly wants to be a defensive team, but needs scorers. Seattle wants to be an offensive team, but needs some stoppers.
"We either need to go get an offensive team and get rid of guys like me and get guys that are going to come in and score and make up for the defensive end," Snow said. "Or we can go get a defensive team and play a 70-70 game, because what we're doing now isn't working.
"We say we're a defensive team but we don't show it. We haven't shown it all season. Injuries and all that other stuff has given us reasons and excuses to get to this point.
"Is it effort? Is it awareness? Is it the offense that makes the defense worse than it should be. There's all kind of reasons you can make up. But if the mentality around here is going to be we're a defensive team, then it's taking us 50 games to show that."
Snow advocated that Sixers general manager Billy King trade him.
"Do you just sit and throw in the towel for the whole year?" Snow said. "If they (management) feel the team isn't getting better than what we have, then you change it. If any player is against that, that's not right."
So why not this? The Sixers need offense, and the Sonics need perimeter defense. Swap Barry ($5.4 million) for Snow ($4.5 million) and rookie marksman Kyle Korver ($366,000), an Ashton Kutcher look-alike whose specialty is 3-point shooting.
Elvin Hayes always felt as if he were playing the wrong sport. He liked basketball, worked hard at it and became one of the greatest power forwards. But his dream was always to play baseball.
Hayes never got the chance while growing up in Rayville, La. (population 4,234), largely because his family could not afford shoes.
"When I was in elementary school, I went out for Little League but I didn't own any shoes," he said recently. "I didn't own shoes from first grade to ninth grade. I went barefoot in the winter and the summer. Whenever I had to go someplace, I would borrow shoes from a cousin. When I first started playing basketball, I wore two left-footed tennis shoes I pulled out of the trash and taped to my feet."
While Battie's peers were playing AAU basketball and pee-wee football dreaming about careers in the NBA and NFL, Battie was just having fun and not worrying about his future.
"I played some pickup basketball, but I was never into organized bas- ketball," Battie said. "I was into hanging out with my friends and chasing girls. I just wasn't into basketball like that."
Battie especially wasn't into basketball like Derrick, his older brother.
Derrick Battie was the talk of the neighborhood because of his basketball skills. Derrick's skills created some peer pressure on his younger brother.
"My brother was taking things a lot more serious than I was," Battie said. "He was the one that started to influence me. He told me that I needed to start becoming more serious about things because I was about clowning around."
The jokes began to subside once Tony began to see the manifestations of hard work and dedication in his brother's life.
Forgive Allen Iverson if he's a little frustrated.
Iverson has missed 14 games with knee and finger problems, including the last two losses to the New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors. They are 14-18 with him, 5-9 without him.
The Sixers have plummeted to 19-27, the farthest below .500 they've been since the end of Iverson's rookie year, and wouldn't be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
"It's just frustrating because our expectations were so high and we're not getting it done the way we would like," Iverson said after practice yesterday in preparation for his return tonight against the New Orleans Hornets. "I think the positive thing is we can turn it around.
"I don't think it's too late, but time's not waiting for us. We've got to get it done."
Asked if he'd like a little recognition from people outside of greater Detroit, Hamilton grinned and tried to dismiss that notion.
"Man, you know what? I'm here to play," Hamilton said. "I'm just here to have fun. I'm not into being all flashy-dashy, you know? My game is old school. I have a mid-range game and I get to the basket."
But then he paused and said he'd really like to take part in the all-star festivities in Los Angeles.
"I think my play deserves to be there. I think it should have been there for the last two, three years. And hopefully the coaches feel the same way."
Detroit coach Larry Brown said he's already sent in his ballot — he can't vote for his own player, anyway — and guessed that other coaches had done the same.
But all the same, he said Hamilton is underrated.
"He's just a lot more competitive than people give him credit for," Brown said of the shooting guard. "He's not afraid to take the big shot."
Brown likened Hamilton's ability to elevate his play in big games to that of Allen Iverson. The coach then compared Hamilton's ability to come off screens to that of veteran sharpshooter Reggie Miller.
"I coached Reggie and I've never seen anybody use screens like Reggie," Brown said. "But Rip, he's learning about that. He's developed a mid-range jump shot, that a lot of people in the league don't feel really comfortable taking — and which is a great shot."
NBA Insider: Steve Francis shouldn't be on All-Star team
Steve Francis is a pretty talented fellow and clearly a point guard the Houston Rockets hope to lean on for the next decade or more as they build toward an NBA championship. (Assuming he learns to throw the ball to Yao Ming twice as often as he does now.)
But the truth is, Francis probably was the least deserving of the 10 players picked by the fans in balloting for the All-Star Game Feb. 15 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Even Toronto's overrated Vince Carter, the No. 1 vote getter, was more legitimate.
At the time the winners of the league's vast popularity contest were announced, Francis was averaging career-lows in points (16.4) and scoring (5.9), while shooting a career-worst 38.9 percent. He also was averaging 3.7 turnovers, and in the three games immediately before the balloting cutoff, shot 8-of-37 as the Rockets went 1-2.
More 'Insider' picks
MVP: Kevin Garnett
Rookie of the Year: LeBron James
Sixth Man Award: Bobby Jackson
Most Improved Player: Brian Cardinal
Defensive Player of the Year: Ron Artest
Coach of the Year: Jerry Sloan
Executive of the Year: Kiki Vandeweghe
All-Star choices leave Kings in an uncertain place
final results of fan balloting to determine the All-Star starters was announced, and Sacramento winced. Yao Ming edged Shaquille O'Neal at center, dealing a blow to the Brad Miller campaign, and Steve Francis made the opening lineup at guard in a setback to chances for Mike Bibby. Because it always has to be something with the Kings and Los Angeles.
The only certainty for the Pacific Division leaders is that they will have one representative Feb. 15 at Staples Center, with Peja Stojakovic an automatic to be among the West reserves who will be announced Tuesday. Beyond that, it's strictly blindfolds and darts to figure how conference coaches will determine the rest of the roster among a field that remains eternally tight, unlike in the East, where selectors might be satisfied just to remember the name of someone deserving consideration as backup center.
Whatever complaints Sacramento will have, they will also come in the wake of such poor fan support that Stojakovic, an MVP candidate at the midpoint, finished sixth in balloting among forwards, and many of those 456,369 votes undoubtedly originated from Europe via the Internet. Bibby was also sixth, while Miller was third among centers, though nearly 1.2 million behind second-place O'Neal, and Divac fourth. Gone are the days of the enthusiastic push that sent Chris Webber to Washington as the starter in 2001.
The coaches get the vote now to determine the reserves for their respective conferences, but, in reality, only four spots are in play in the West. Yao at center, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett at forward and Kobe Bryant and Francis at guard are the starters. O'Neal at center, Stojakovic at forward and Sam Cassell at guard are locks to be added for the bench. That's eight places, leaving four open for discussion.
Jim Cleamons: Bryant's injury slices into progress
Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. That's the only way I can describe Kobe Bryant's finger injury.
There's always a first time for everything. All I know is he came to the shootaround Friday with a big bandage on his finger. They said he can't play and we can't help it.
I was lucky in that I got hurt only on the court in my career. But you can get hurt doing just about anything. I've heard of guys pulling a groin muscle stretching before a game.
That corner we're supposed to turn seems like a country mile away. Right now, we just have to deal with it. We've got a seven- game trip starting today and the mission for our team is to do some growing.
We certainly were pleased to get Shaquille O'Neal back last week. His presence alone makes people think twice when he's on the floor. They're looking over their shoulder for him.
To me, the glass is always half-full. I've been through this before during my year in Dallas when we made a 27 roster moves in a season, an NBA record.
A two-game losing streak in an 82-game NBA season is nothing, not even a hiccup.
But losing two games the way the Grizzlies lost Friday night against Utah and Wednesday against Portland is a gasp, a nasty catch in your throat that's not going anywhere until things change.
In sum: The Grizzlies have been found out.
In matters of rebounding and toughness - and the two always go together - the Grizzlies are teddy bears. If Goldilocks had been in the Pointed House Friday night to see the Grizzlies bullied into an 85-79 loss to the Jazz, she would have but two words for the home team:
the Kings' style and success come from the necessity for all players to contribute.
In Peja Stojakovic, the league's third-leading scorer, Mike Bibby, Jackson and even Brad Miller, the Kings have players capable offensive domination.
More often than not, though, it is the scoring from a non-star or team-wide defense that eventually leads the Kings' league-leading offense to victory.
Songaila recently has stood out as a player who has done his part at each end of the court. He's gone 17 for 36 (45.9 percent) from the field in the past eight games. This was after he received consecutive "Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions" against Denver and Miami on Jan. 11 and 13.
In the past two games -- victories over Houston and San Antoino, Songaila has gone 8 for 9 from the field.
He's made shots, but he's also been an aggressor on offense and defense. And it's not too early in his career to say the guy has a knack for finding the ball. He's played with a control and consistency during recent weeks after going through a period in which he played tentatively and appeared unsure of himself.
"I just think he's played with more of a calmness," Kings coach Rick Adelman said of his lone rookie. "He can get around guys a lot, but he's not a great jumper, so he has to find a little floater and look to shoot that mid-range jumper."
Forbes magazine released its report on the worth of NBA franchises this week and the Sonics were valued at $196 million, ranking them 27th out of the league's 29 teams. The Los Angeles Lakers were the most-valued franchise at $447 million and New York ($401 million), Chicago ($356 million), Dallas ($338 million) and Philadelphia ($328 million) rounded out the top five.
The ranking should be of no surprise, however. The Sonics are tied for the fourth-worst attendance in the league (14,630). They averaged 15,541 in 41 games last season, with 10 sellouts. Last night's game against the Sacramento Kings was their fifth sellout this season.
Schultz bought the Sonics and Storm from The Ackerley Group for $200 million in early 2001. A new television contract with Fox Sports Net for 70 games next season will bring more value to the franchise and there's talk of building a new arena, but until then it's up to the players to generate more fan support, and money.
Background: Michael Curry, 35, is not only a reserve defensive stopper for the Toronto Raptors, he is also president of the NBA Players Association. He majored in finance at Georgia Southern and earned his master's degree in sports management from Virginia Commonwealth University in May 2001. The 10-year NBA veteran also is making $2.8 million in the first year of his contract. While he is far from an all-star, he will be in Los Angeles taking part in his role as president of the union.
"I enjoy all of it," said Curry, about All-Star Weekend. "I love the technology summit. I love the executive board meetings. A lot of my meetings, I enjoy just as much as the (all-star festivities)."
Stat line: 2.8 ppg; 1.2 rpg.
What's next? The NBA's collective bargaining agreement will last through the 2004-05 season. Curry and NBA commissioner David Stern, however, are optimistic the CBA can be extended longer during the offseason.
"I'm hoping by the end of this summer that we have a new deal in place," Curry said. "I think it is very likely. Going through (the 1999 lockout), sometimes it seems like you are far away (from agreement), but you're not really that far away. I think we all understand the importance of not going into the season (without an extension) when you really can't have a lot of meetings until the next summer when the deal is up.
"In order to get it done, in the summer, you have to have a lot of meetings in the summer."
Marc J. Spears' take: Considering how nasty the lockout was, expect both sides to get something done this summer. Watching the NHL's potential demise in its labor disagreements also gives added motivation. The NBA is making big money right now; so are the players. Neither side wants to mess it up.
"They look at him as a little kid," guard Ray Allen said. "He's small, they try and take the ball from him.
"He has to find out what his niche is going to be. I know he can dribble and he can pass the ball and he can shoot, but there's something early that he has to cling to and say, 'This is what I'm going to do well.' "
Questions of size have never been far behind Ridnour, whether it's about his hometown, Blaine -- which has about 4,000 residents -- or about his 6-foot-2 frame and a lack of strength.
When he was chosen with the No. 14 pick, ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Ridnour couldn't defend the chair he was sitting in.
"The biggest surprise for me is how quick his hands are," assistant coach Dean Demopoulos said. "He has great hands, and he can strip the ball."
Now, after feeling pressure against stronger guards like Earl Watson, Bobby Jackson and Fisher, the questions resurface.
"I get that a lot because of my build, but if you look at the whole season, I've been fine," Ridnour said.
Mike Sielski: Williams has heavy heart over Erving
The story takes Pat Williams back almost 23 years, and even now, his voice cracks and quivers over the telephone as he tells it. This was the summer of 1981, and Williams and Julius Erving had just finished renegotiating Erving's latest contract with the Sixers, and Williams had one more condition: He asked Erving to come to the mountains of northern New York State to help him coordinate a youth sports camp.
Erving agreed, but the day before he was to appear at the camp, he was in Colorado. He landed in Philadelphia at midnight, caught a 7 a.m. flight to Albany the next morning, and arrived in time to spend the day coaching the children.
"All those kids, they were so overwhelmed," Williams, the former general manager of the Sixers, said last night from a hotel room in Houston. "He just poured himself into that day - teaching, demonstrating, posing for pictures. When I drove him back that afternoon and left him at the airport, I sat behind the wheel and started weeping, that this giant of a man had given so much and didn't have to."
But the hard truth is that Julius Erving can't be encapsulated by this anecdote from the Adirondacks, just as he can't by the scandalous videotape sent to the New York Post by his wife's legal team. As a basketball player he was held up as a hero, always gracious, always giving. Since his retirement his indiscretions have seeped out - his fathering two children out of wedlock while married to Turquoise, this tryst he and a lover videotaped somewhere near San Jose 15 years ago - and have painted him as a hypocrite, left him as a punchline for off-color jokes.
Nothing is so simple, and sooner or later everyone who watches sports will learn the lesson of Erving, Kobe Bryant, Mickey Mantle and every other athletic giant hoisted onto a house of cards: Stop being surprised. Stop believing you know them. Stop thinking they're pure. They're only men. They're only us.
SportsCenter has changed the way people talk about sports.
Cavaliers television announcer Michael Reghi has taken it to a new level. Reghi can broadcast a basketball game without using the words basket or ball.
For Reghi, it is ``the rack'' and ``the rock.''
The Cavaliers have been an afterthought for Cleveland sports fans for nearly a decade. If a Cavaliers fan had gone that long without watching a Cavaliers game on TV and then turned on the tube to catch LeBron James, he or she would likely be in a state of confusion.
Reghi is not a bad announcer. He brings plenty of enthusiasm and knowledge to his broadcasts, he just does them in a language all his own.
Reghi seemingly has a phrase for everything, many of which would leave the average fan scratching his head and saying, ``huh?''
Jazz players don't mind obliging autograph seekers
Ayoung fan, thrilled to bump into DeShawn Stevenson in a Salt Lake City mall, took off his own shoe and asked the Jazz guard to sign it. Andrei Kirilenko once obliged an admirer by scrawling "AK47" on a fellow traveler's passport as he changed planes. A 76ers fan who approached Raja Bell on a Philadelphia street pulled out a baby's diaper -- a clean one, fortunately -- and asked him to scribble his name.
Carlos Arroyo will sign for anyone who asks, though sometimes it makes his wife uncomfortable -- like the time a woman insisted he sign her chest. Or it makes Arroyo himself uncomfortable -- like the gentleman who tapped him on the shoulder while he stood at a urinal.
"I was like, 'Hey, can I finish here?' " Arroyo said.
Autograph seekers are an under-the-radar part of the NBA territory, like practices and media sessions. Virtually everywhere players go, kids are waiting with trading cards, or dealers are waiting with stacks of photos. When team buses pull up to hotels, there are normally a handful of collectors standing on the sidewalk, though for the Jazz, their numbers have declined greatly since Karl Malone and John Stockton departed. When athletes walk into a restaurant for dinner, most expect an interruption or two. And when players walk off the court after pregame warmups, swarms of wide-eyed youngsters in their heroes' jerseys lean over railings, Sharpies in hand, begging for a signature.
"I consider it an honor to be asked," said Arroyo, who tries never to turn down an autograph-seeker, even the guy in the restroom. "It's a sign of respect. I put myself in their situation -- it's not something I would feel comfortable about doing. So I know it's not easy, but that's how strongly they feel. And that means something to me."