Though he found much of the Hawks' talent today, ex-Atlanta GM Billy Knight is waiting for his next gig.
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Hawks soaring while GM who built team still looks for a job
Posted Nov 16 2009 12:25PM
A lot of thoughts about the mess in New Orleans, the re-birth of the cool in Milwaukee, a huge jump in the Top 15, the Kings' shocking start, T-Mac's progress, Steve Nash's disgust with last season and other stuff this week, but before all that, a few thoughts about a guy who isn't in the NBA right now, and should be.
Watching the Hawks in Boston on Friday night, I saw Joe Johnson taking over in the fourth quarter, and Al Horford putting up another double-double, and Josh Smith filling up the box as always (which is why he was my second pick in my fantasy draft, after Kevin Durant; feeling good about the Timorous Poltroons!) and Mike Bibby looking fresher than he'd been in the last few years, and backup center Zaza Pachulia coming off the bench and throwing his body around.
And I wondered where Billy Knight was, and if he was watching.
As it turned out, he only saw part of Friday's game, because Friday night is Date Night in the Knight household (been there), and he had been out with his wife, Danita. By the time I caught up with Saturday afternoon, he had a chainsaw in his hands, outside his Atlanta home. Not what you may be thinking.
"I've remodeled my basement," he said. "Now I'm working on landscaping for my wife, taking down trees. That's not my forte. I'm gonna have that chainsaw and I might chip off part of the house."
It was good to catch up, but not good, because, at 57, Billy Knight shouldn't have all this free time. With a lot of horrible teams bringing down the quality of play in the Association, Billy Knight should be someone's general manager this season, doing the same thing that he did in Atlanta and the same thing he started with Memphis: finding young talent that is NBA-worthy and allowing it to grow and mature. But he's clearing trees instead, waiting for a call from somebody 18 months after stepping down as the Hawks' GM in May, 2008.
At the time, Knight probably jumped before he was pushed, a victim of the infighting in what had to be the most dysfunctional front office in the league. The Hawks' ownership group, Atlanta Spirit, is a collection of massive egos living in Atlanta and in the Washington, D.C. suburbs that has spent much of the past decade fighting with one another, plotting one coup or another to replace this minority owner with that one, with the ultimate goal of controlling the NBA's Hawks and the NHL's Thrashers, as well as Philips Arena.
The only time they spoke with one voice was when they were trying to remove Steve Belkin, the team's former (for now, anyway) owner that had 30 percent of the team, but who -- with the league's blessing -- was forced out before he could buy out his ex-partners. (Years of legal wrangling have left the various parties pretty much where they were in 2005, when the fight began.)
The Hawks' 8-2 start this season, which already has included wins at Portland and Boston, and a rout of Denver at home, continues the team's upward arc -- a playoff appearance in '08 for the first time since 1999, which led to that crazy seven-game first-round series with Boston; 47 wins last season, and a postseason series win for the first time in a decade. And it's the maturation of Atlanta's core group -- Johnson, Smith, Horford, Marvin Williams -- that made that possible. (The Hawks also still have the NBA rights to Josh Childress, a Knight 2004 first-round pick who is in his second season in Greece after being unable to reach agreement with Atlanta on a new contract the past two summers.)
"I'm proud of those guys," Knight said. "I'm very proud of the way they played this year, and all the way through. I was proud of them that first year ... each year has been a progression when they were getting better and better, and that's what we were trying to do. You know the constraints that were put on us in Atlanta, where we had to do it with a smaller budget ... but a lot of teams are. A lot of teams are doing that. And I didn't have a problem doing it that way."
By the way, this has nothing to do with Rick Sund, who replaced Knight in Atlanta, or the group he's brought in. They have adeptly added to the foundation Knight laid, acquiring Jamal Crawford from Golden State, drafting guard Jeff Teague and signing veteran power forward Joe Smith, making the Hawks that much deeper. But it was Knight that did the heavy lifting.
"I think he did it at two places -- Memphis and Atlanta," says Knight's longtime friend and former boss in Indiana, Donnie Walsh, now running the Knicks. "He went in there when it was at its lowest, slowly built it up with talent, and then he was fired before that talent had the time to emerge. That may be a decision the owners have to make, but it should be stated that he really did a good job down there."
Waiting is the hardest part for a general manager. There is always a face-saving trade out there for a veteran that could squeeze three or four more wins out of a season and constitute job-saving "progress." Despite the hard knocks, Knight never took the easy out.
On a rebuilding team, young players are looking to establish themselves, to make a mark that will get them that next, big contract. Sacrificing numbers for team success is a difficult concept for them to grasp. And the Hawks had a team full of young players -- like Josh Smith, one of the last high school prodigies, and Marvin Williams (more on him later), who played just one season at North Carolina. Johnson was trying to live up to the $70 million free-agent deal Knight gave him in 2005 to leave Phoenix.
Says Walsh: "It's one thing to get the right players. Then you have to let them play for a while. Josh Smith today is a different guy than Josh Smith was last year. Totally different player. And so are some of the other guys on the team."
Coaches aren't patient, either. Their jobs are on the line if they don't win, and it was no different for Mike Woodson, who has survived in Atlanta long past the time most coaches that won 39 games their first two seasons would have. Woodson is a Larry Brown disciple, who taught defense today, defense tomorrow and defense forever, and didn't care who didn't care. (It led to clashes with players and with Knight -- who wanted to fire Woodson during the 2007-08 season. Things are better now; they have dinner occasionally.)
That it took all of them several years to coalesce was understandable, but it hurt Knight's chances of survival. Yet he stuck with his plan and stuck with the players through their mistakes.
"It's wonderful if you can get a great young player, like Shaq in his prime, or a Dwight Howard, or LeBron," Knight says. "But if you can't get one of those kinds of guys, or even then, you have to have a good player at every position. And that's what I tried to do. I wanted good players who could be multi-dimensional at every position."
Any general manager worth his salt works long enough to make his share of mistakes, and Knight wasn't perfect, either. It's clear now that although Marvin Williams has become a solid NBA player, Knight still should have taken either Chris Paul or Deron Williams with the second pick overall in the '05 draft, and addressed the Hawks' decade-long search for a top-shelf point guard. (Utah traded up from the sixth spot to take Deron Williams at three, and Paul went to the Hornets at four.)
Knight says today that Marvin Williams hasn't come close to reaching his potential. As for Paul and Deron Williams?
"I don't really think about that," he says. "That's not how you look at it when you're building a team. When you look back ... the fact is, that's the team you had and you're happy with the guys you have, and you keep building the team and you go forward. Sure, if you had taken one of those guys, there could have been a whole domino effect of things that happened. But that's not what happened. And it's still a good team."
That same summer, Knight ran afoul of Belkin when the co-owner objected to Knight's plan to give Johnson the offer sheet. Belkin now says he only objected to the Hawks giving up so much -- two first-round picks and forwards Boris Diaw and Royal Ivey -- to the Suns. Knight says now that Belkin just didn't want to put that kind of money onto the payroll. At any rate, when Diaw had a brilliant 2005-06 season in Phoenix (and was the runaway Most Improved Player award winner), Knight was excoriated for having been taken.
Four years later, though, the trade doesn't look as lopsided.
Johnson has made three All-Star teams, become one of the league's best closers and will cash in next summer as one of the prize chips in the 2010 free agent class. Diaw hasn't replicated that first season in Phoenix, has struggled with his weight and was dealt to Charlotte with Raja Bell last year for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. The Suns, facing financial problems of their own, dealt one of the two first-rounders from Atlanta to Boston in 2006, along with Brian Grant, for a future Boston pick. (That pick Phoenix sold turned out to be ... Rajon Rondo. If you want to make a Suns executive cry, come up behind him and yell "Rondo!" in his ear.) The second pick from Atlanta was used by Phoenix in 2008 to take center Robin Lopez.
Ultimately, then, the Suns got Richardson, Dudley and Lopez for Johnson. A good deal for them, but hardly a steal.
"Joe Johnson has been better than advertised," Knight says.
Yet despite the Hawks' success, and despite the success of another Knight draftee -- name of Pau Gasol, acquired by Knight over the objections of some in the Grizzlies' front office on draft night 2001 -- Knight hasn't been close to getting another job. His name was mentioned in connection with a possible front office job with Walsh and the Knicks, but nothing has come of it. Other than that, there hasn't been much interest. There have been calls of praise -- from Pat Riley, from Mitch Kupchak, from Danny Ainge. But no job offers.
"I'd like to get back to work. I'm anxious," Knight says. "I'm waiting for a call to put my plan back into action ... I look forward to getting the opportunity to work with another organization. You move full time into that city. You live there full time. I always move my family with me. You immerse yourself into that team. You spend 24 hours a day, every day, doing that. I've got a team of people in mind to bring with me."
For now, he waits.
"He doesn't tell me," Walsh says. "But I think he's really hurt."
•The Hornets have unraveled faster than a Stephen J. Cannell plot. What a mess.
GM-turned-coach Jeff Bower is tasked with righting the Hornets' early-season woes.
Byron Scott paid the price for decisions made above his head, but that's life in the big city, and Scott will likely now rewind in SoCal while waiting for Phil Jackson to call it a career. Meanwhile, New Orleans hands the team to GM Jeff Bower, a good and decent man who wants no part of the spotlight; color me skeptical in the extreme of team president Hugh Weber's story that Bower volunteered to come down and coach, putting his own career on the line in the process.
It's important to me to be consistent, and so I'm not going to be revisionist; I thought Bower's offseason deals for Emeka Okafor, Darius Songalia and Bobby Brown were shrewd, cost-conscious deals that made the Hornets deeper. But that only slowed the talent drain of the last couple of years in New Orleans, where free agents like James Posey haven't produced much and draft picks like Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright haven't been able to earn significant playing time. Bower has yet to find a weakside option that can take some of the ballhandling and playmaking pressure off Chris Paul. Speaking of which, the 3-8 Hornets will now be without Paul (sprained ankle) for at least the next couple of weeks.
And if there was a concern about the team's lack of intensity and focus under Scott, why not promote assistant Paul Pressey? He's been on benches for more than a decade, learning under Doc Rivers (two years in Boston, three in Orlando) and Gregg Popovich (six years in San Antonio), and the next time he backs down from a challenge will be the first.
"We did look internally," Weber told me Thursday. "We felt, though, that this was a situation that warranted someone who had broader experience running a larger, more detail-oriented organization."
Well, are you looking for a basketball coach or somebody to run NASA?
"We're not trying to make a magic potion out of something that's very simple," Weber said. "Teams that thrive do so with direction and accountability."
Look, I get what Weber is saying: You know how the Spurs and Heat and Lakers are going to try to beat you. You know that there's a chain of command that is unassailable. You know that there is an overarching philosophy with those organizations. And New Orleans has been awful for more than just 11 games; this began in last year's playoffs, when Denver humiliated the Hornets in the first round, including that 58-point smackdown at New Orleans Arena. But he knows that Scott wasn't the only problem in the organization, and that he needs to look up the flow chart -- toward ownership under the Shinn family that's been relentless about keeping costs down and luxury tax payments non-existent -- as well as down to find who's responsible ...
•Sometimes, the GM has to calm down the gushing reporter, instead of the other way around.
Couldn't help it, after watching what Brandon Jennings did Saturday night to the Warriors. Forty-five big ones in the second half, 55 for the game, breaking Lew Alcindor's 39-year record for points scored by a rookie, the Bradley Center rocking like it did when Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell were pups. Atter three weeks, Jennings looks like much more than a steal; he looks like a superstar in the making.
"I would never want to put any undue pressure on him and say something like that." John Hammond said on Sunday, at halftime of Packers-Cowboys -- which I figured, correctly, he was watching. "You stay safe and say time will tell. But thus far, he's played extremely well. I think in all these situations where he's stepped up and had big numbers in these games, it's been in a time of need for the team. He's been there when we really needed it."
Jennings isn't the only reason the Bucks are 5-2 going into play Monday. Andrew Bogut has six double-doubles. Milwaukee's defense is allowing just 93 points a game. And the Bucks also know that they've taken advantage of a favorable early schedule, with five of their first seven at home (combined record of their opponents through Saturday: 17-32) and three more at home this week before they have to start extensive travel.
But Jennings has created a discernable buzz, in Milwaukee and nationally (how'd you like to explain taking Jordan Hill over him for the next 10 years in New York?). It's the time of what Pat Riley used to call "The Innocent Climb," when everything's going great and young players can be seduced by attention and success. It can overwhelm both the individual and the team if they're not all careful.
"Mentioned it to him today," Hammond said. "It's a major concern, for anyone to have this much success this quickly, it's sad to say, but it's almost a burden to bear. We and all the people who surround him are going to try and be there when the tough times come ... we do have to kind of protect him. He's not going to say no and we appreciate that. It's almost our responsibility to say no for him at times." ...
•After almost three weeks of the season, raise your hand if you had the Kings down for more victories than the Jazz, Hornets or Wizards. Me neither. And while Jennings is playing great, it'll be a shame if Tyreke Evans' rookie season doesn't get any recognition. He's the first Sacramento rookie to score 20 points in four straight games since Lionel Simmons in 1991. Sac looks just fine after losing Kevin Martin, with Evans moving to shooting guard and Beno Udrih taking over at the point ...
•Some good tidbits from my Insider Report with Steve Nash last week were left on the cutting room floor:
Nash thinks his organization "gave in" to the pressure from national media and fans in Phoenix to win a championship now when it traded for Shaquille O'Neal and brought Terry Porter in to coach half-court basketball.
"Looking back, maybe we should have taken our time and seen what players or opportunities we had to add to our team, instead of having to win it that season," Nash said. "Logically, we looked at it as, 'If we are going to win a championship this season, and give in to that pressure, we are too small.' The Lakers had (Pau) Gasol, (Andrew) Bynum and (Lamar) Odom in the starting lineup, and we started Shawn (Marion) and Amar'e (Stoudemire), who were smaller than all three of them. It was a decision we made, but it was the giving in, I think, to that pressure that maybe we all look back on and maybe regret."
The phrase "giving in" has connotations, so I wondered if Nash thought that owner Robert Sarver and GM Steve Kerr had lost faith in the team's core group -- of which Nash is the first among equals.
"No," Nash said "The fans and the media wanted a championship now, instead of saying 'Hey, we've got a great thing here; let's let these guys ride it out and see what happens.' A few of those series, you can say it wasn't basketball that cost us the series. I'm not necessarily saying it was the suspensions (in the 2007 Western semifinals against the Spurs) or refereeing. We had injuries -- Joe Johnson (who fractured the orbital bone around his left eye in the '05 semis against Dallas), Raja Bell (torn left calf during the 2006 Western finals against the Mavericks). We had a lot of factors ... but people wanted us to win now, and that team wasn't going to win that year. So instead of waiting a year or two and seeing what happened, we kind of pushed the jump-off-the-cliff button and gave into that pressure. And maybe that was rash." ...
•Despite Tracy McGrady's e-mails to the contrary, the Rockets are still of the belief that they won't even consider clearing McGrady to play again until at least a week from now. Houston wants to see McGrady get through a full practice before evaluating his status, and the next one of those isn't until Nov. 23. There's no evidence to think otherwise, even though there's always the possibility that McGrady could wow the team between now and then. The Rockets are taking it day-by-day until there's doctor clearance, but right now even Rick Adelman, I'm told, doesn't think McGrady is far enough along to get back on the court.
Top O' the World, Ma!
1) Atlanta (8-2): Huge win at Boston, excellent so far.
2) Boston (8-3): Probably heard the last about 70 wins
3) Phoenix (9-2): Can make even more hay now at home.
4) Denver (7-3): "Statement win" is cliché, but beat down Lakers Friday.
5) L.A. Lakers (7-3): Gasol back this week ... maybe.
6) Cleveland (7-3): Back-to-back road wins over Magic and Heat impress.
7) Miami (7-2): Could be trouble if Chalmers misses time.
8) Orlando (7-3): Defensive dropoff continues.
9) Portland (8-3): Blazers 6-0 when Andre Miller starts.
10) Dallas (7-3): Howard out indefinitely with bad ankle.
11) Milwaukee (5-2): And Michael Redd is returning this week.
12) Houston (6-4): Abused Lakers 60-38 on glass Sunday.
13) San Antonio (4-4): Finally getting Duncan, Parker back.
14) Toronto (5-5): Calderon, Belinelli look good together.
15) Oklahoma City (5-5): Doing it with ... defense?
Team of the Week
Portland (4-0): Held opponents to 78.8 per game. Greg Oden starting to establish himself at the defensive end.
Team of the Weak
Minnesota (0-4): Wolves lose big, they lose small, they just lose.
Nobody Asked Me, But ...
Why does the NBA still foul players out of games?
If you lay out $200 large for two tickets to a concert, or the new, hot show, and you get there, and the lights go down, and you hear the following: "Ladies and gentlemen, due to an unfortunate incident with a ferret that time and decorum prohibit me from detailing, Bruce Springsteen/Prince/Rihanna/Meryl Streep/Tom Hanks will not be singing/acting in tonight's show. In his/her place, enjoy the musical/acting stylings of Mr. Bob Saget," would you be a touch disappointed?
Having Dwight Howard parked on the bench in foul trouble doesn't do anything to help the Magic ... or NBA fans.
Allen Einstein/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images
So why does the NBA do what no other professional league does -- place within the rules a mechanism for disqualifying its players in a game? Derek Jeter does not get a permanent seat in the dugout in the seventh inning if he strikes out three times. Tom Brady is not sent to the bench after his third interception. But in the NBA, star players frequently sit for long stretches of games, for no other reason than they pick up two fouls in the first quarter or a fourth foul late in the third -- and, occasionally, are not on the floor at all when games are decided.
Before you say it -- no, this is not just about the stars, though they matter, of course. It's true that I started thinking about this after seeing how much foul trouble Dwight Howard has been getting in lately, but that doesn't matter. Stop and think: Isn't Jameer Nelson just as important to the Magic as Superman? (Or didn't you watch the Finals last year?) Don't the Lakers need Lamar Odom on the court and productive to win just as much as Kobe? Every team is impacted when one of its key guys is saddled with fouls. Who can the Spurs win without? Tony Parker? Manu? TD? The entire strategy of games is changed when Carlos Boozer or Mehmet Okur gets two quick whistles in the first quarter.
To see if if I was crazy, I called one of my favorite subversives, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
"I agree," Morey said. "I would be absolutely for not having a sixth foul and you're out. I would just make it more punitive. I would actually make it more punitive starting with the fifth foul."
Exactly. I am not saying that we should do away with personal fouls. Far from it. But in my universe, a player would not be penalized with disqualification after his sixth foul; his team would be penalized for being able to keep him out on the court. There are lots of different ways one could go.
This is hardly a groundbreaking assertion, by the way: Basketball's minor leagues, and the NBA's summer leagues, have all experimented with various ideas over the years that kept players on the floor after six personals. And the idea has been thrashed about in the league's Competition Committee meetings.
"In general, whether it's informally or formally, the whole concept of limiting players' fouls to six has been debated over the years," says Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. "I don't see a change in the foreseeable future, but I anticipate that it will continue to be debated."
Here are some alternatives, though, to business as usual:
Automatic bonus. Let's say Kevin Garnett has five fouls with 10 minutes to go in a game against Atlanta. Normally, and depending on the score and situation, he would likely sit through four minutes of play and two timeouts -- the ones under nine minutes and under six minutes -- before Doc Rivers would put him back on the court. But in the new system, Garnett could keep playing during those crucial four minutes.
If he were whistled for a sixth personal, though, the Hawks would automatically get to the free-throw bonus, regardless of whether Garnett's foul was the Celtics' fifth team foul of the quarter or not. Think of how that could change the momentum of a game. A good free-throw shooting team like Atlanta (second in the league entering play on Friday) could get right back in a game. It would force Rivers to decide: Is KG's presence worth the risk of Atlanta living at the foul line for eight minutes?
Three free throws. Let's say Denver's playing Dallas with 30 seconds left, up three. The Mavericks are not yet in the bonus. Chauncey Billups has five fouls. The Mavericks have the ball and get it to Dirk Nowitzki, who drives. Billups slaps at Nowitzki's arm as he starts to drive. Whistle. Foul on Billups, his sixth. But in the new, modern universe, Billups doesn't leave the floor. He stays -- but Nowitzki, a career 87 percent free throw shooter, gets to tie things up with three tosses. Here's the fair part: Even if he makes all three and ties the score, Denver still has Billups on the floor with a chance to win it on the last possession.
Technical foul plus possession. This time, Orlando is playing Portland. Tie score. Two minutes left. Howard is sitting on five personals. The Blazers post up LaMarcus Aldridge, who misses a turnaround. But Howard is called for his sixth going over Greg Oden's back. Under the new rules, he can stay in the game -- but Portland gets to send Brandon Roy (82 percent) to the foul line -- and then gets the ball out on the side. Would it be worth it for Stan Van Gundy? Whether it would be or not, he could still go to Superman down the stretch.
(I'm sure you have some thoughts, too. Send 'em my way: email@example.com. I'll post some of the best ideas next week.)
And, to be sure, there is an economic factor at work. Fans want to see the best players do their best work, and the players can't do that if they're inhibited by the prospect of an early exit.
Says a Western Conference GM: "Let's say you have Cleveland playing at Memphis (for the only time in a season). Who are they coming to watch? They're coming to watch LeBron, right? Let's say he gets two fouls in the first quarter and has to sit, or gets a third in the second quarter and has to sit the rest of the half. Or he stays in foul trouble in the second half and sits most of the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, we are sports, but we're also entertainment."
Everyone, though, doesn't agree that changes are necessary -- or, at least, that changes can be implemented without detracting from the game.
Critics point out that the summer league games, for example, can go on and on with all the extra fouling and free-throw shooting. The game's flow, always a concern, can grind to a halt. Without the potential dilemma of players fouling out, coaches frequently shortened their rotations, making their depth less of an advantage.
And what about the great players, like Kobe Bryant, and great teams, like the Spurs and Cavaliers, who have learned over the years to play outstanding defense without committing fouls? Would changing the six-and-you're-out rule not penalize those players and teams and level what shouldn't be a level playing field? Shane Battier is a great individual defender, who beats opponents to spots and uses leverage and smarts, not brawn and hacking. If there's no disincentive to fouling, his skill set is lessened.
Those are fair points. They do not sway me, though. I'd rather a team have its best and most important players available throughout a game, and see what happens.
The game is not a painting. It does not need to stand the test of time. It can be improved.
Dwyane Wade (33 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, .463 FG): Another week, another game-winning shot.
Carmelo Anthony (25.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, .418 FG, 20-20 FT): Won battle with Artest Friday.
LeBron James (30.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 6.3 apg, .466 FG): Most comfortable he's looked this season.
Kobe Bryant (22 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3 apg): He's had better weeks.
Steve Nash (17.3 ppg, 11 apg, .565 FG): Dimealicious.
Dwight Howard (17.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3 bpg, .667 FG): Not defending to SVG's liking.
By the Numbers
.050 Combined winning percentage of the Knicks (1-9) and Nets (0-10) through Sunday.
23 Second-half points scored by the Lakers against Denver on Friday, a franchise low for a half.
939 Career victories for Nuggets coach George Karl as of Tuesday, when he passed Red Auerbach for eighth place on the all-time coaches' list.
I'm Feelin' ...
1) This. Seriously, wow. I would argue this encapsulates everything that's great about the NBA: improvisation, grace, athletic power, the imposition of one's will over an opponent, the contribution of international players, pure entertainment value and Marv. Not in that order.
The return of the jovial Gilbert Arenas is something we can all smile about.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
2) The ESPN commercial with Magic, James Worthy, Lamar Odom and guacamole in the O'Brien Trophy. Very funny.
3) Rick Morrissey, Man of His Word. The Chicago Tribune columnist killed the Bulls for taking Joakim Noah with the ninth pick in '07, saying if Noah ever became a "useful" player that he would eat the column. Lo and behold, Noah is averaging a double-double for Chicago, and on Monday, Morrissey trudged out to the Bulls' practice facility, column and salsa in hand, and took a bite. Is there video? Of course there's video!
4) The return of Hibachi! Arenas told local reporters Saturday that he's tired of the Scowlin' Gil persona he's been showing since training camp and is going to return to his old personality. Makes sense, as this Arenas (league-leading 4.8 turnovers per game, 40.9 FG percentage) isn't so hot.
5) Manny Pacquiao, throwback. The welterweight champ throws bombs in the ring, as in his destruction of Miguel Cotto on Saturday showed, but otherwise is a congenial, accessible fellow. Boxing scum, do whatever you have to do to make a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight happen.
6) Brother Hedo in the clutch. A three and a shot-clock beater over Steve Nash in the final two minutes Sunday night gave Toronto a chance to beat the red-hot Suns in Phoenix, and even though Turk missed a game-winner at the buzzer, it was halfway down before it came out. He has no fear at the end of games. None.
7) Bill Belichick, possessor of brass ones. Who else on earth would go for it on his own 28-yard line, ahead by six, with two minutes to go, in the biggest rivalry in the NFL? He will be second-guessed for the rest of time, but the numbers back him up; going for it on fourth works. (Usually.) Was it lack of faith in his defense, or belief in his offense? Don't know. Just remember, though -- the last time a coach made a decision like that late in the regular season that seemed boneheaded and backfired in his face, that coach went on to win the Super Bowl. Yes, it was Barry Switzer.
Not Feelin' ...
1) Jeff Van Gundy's defense, on Wednesday, during the ESPN telecast, of LeBron James not shaking hands with the Magic after the Eastern Conference finals. JVG is entitled to his opinion, of course. But saying James was justified in not congratulating Orlando because players don't do it during the regular season missed the point. It (ital)wasn't(endital) the regular season. It took Mike Tirico to point out that LBJ got the real heat because he didn't talk to the media. And, no, it's not that we ink-and-cyber-stained wretches are all that important. It's that it wasn't cool to leave his teammates to explain the year's last loss after getting media love following all the wins.
2) Bashing LeBron for the uniform change idea. We kill the young guys when they don't show the proper respect -- or don't know the history -- of the players who came before them. Now James pays homage to Michael Jordan by suggesting that the number 23 be retired, as baseball has retired Jackie Robinson's 42, and he gets grief for comparing Jordan to Robinson. Then he says he wants to wear number 6 in honor of Julius Erving, and he gets static because 6 was Bill Russell's jersey. He can't seem to win on this one.
3) Seattle's pain. Can't imagine what it feels like to be a Sonics fans these days, watching Oklahoma City reap the benefits of your suffering. Just can't imagine.
4) Carrie Prejean, media victim. This has nothing to do with politics; I'm just sick of people going on TV then whining about how poorly they're treated when they go on TV. There's a solution. Stop going on TV. Shut up, already.
Tweet of the Week
Lebron is making a major statement in changing his 23 to honor michael jordan. I agree. Im In.
--76ers guard Lou Williams (@TeamLou23), Friday, 12:20 p.m., Tweeting his support to LeBron James's apparant decision to change his jersey number from 23 in tribute to Jordan. Currenly, 11 other players wear 23: Bobcats forward Stephen Graham, Warriors guard C.J. Watson, Clippers center Marcus Camby, Bucks guard Jodie Meeks, Hornets guard Devin Brown, Knicks guard Toney Douglas, Thunder center Byron Mullens, Suns guard Jason Richardson, Blazers guard Martell Webster, Kings guard Kevin Martin and Jazz guard Wes Matthews. Many of the players I was able to contact through their PR staffs also said they'd be happy to give up 23. Douglas, the Knicks' rookie, was an exception.
This week's Mr. Fifteen is Suns rookie forward Taylor Griffin. The 23-year-old is making the transition from college power forward at Oklahoma to small forward in the NBA. But Taylor Griffin is used to making adjustments; he was the star player in the family for a few years, but then had to move over when Blake's game blew up. Taylor was the first Griffin at Oklahoma, but convinced Blake to come to Norman and play with him for the Sooners, just as they did in high school. And Taylor talked Blake into staying one more season, which Blake did, leading the Sooners to the NCAA South Regional final. Now, they've gone their separate ways. Blake Griffin was the first pick in the NBA draft; Taylor lasted until deep in the second round, when the Suns took him with the 48th pick overall.
Me: How's it been so far?
Taylor Griffin: Great. I mean, it's the best job in the world. I'm just learning, soaking up everything I can right now, just learning, observing, listening.
Me: When you go from a starter on a national championship contender to not playing, how do you mentally adjust to that?
TG: I was actually just talking to coach Ego about that. You've got to be mentally strong. I think, during that transition, and you've got to keep in mind that I'm working right now for my career, not just to get in the next game. If that doesn't happen, you can't just have a breakdown 'cause that doesn't happen. For me right now, I'm working toward longevity in my career. And everything I do, every extra workout I do right now, is going to help with that.
Me: So what are you doing after practice?
TG: In terms of shooting, that's the main thing. But I work with [assistant coaches] Dan Majerle and Igor [Kokoskov] a lot after practice. And with this team, the way we play, you've got to stay in shape. I'm doing a lot of cardio, mixing cardio with my workouts, and then, of course, weightlifting and all that stuff.
Me: What are you getting from Dan?
TG: One thing I didn't know coming in was that his situation coming into the league was a lot like mine. He wasn't a shooter, at all. I didn't know that. I think he said the first four years he was just a defensive, energy, rebounding guy. And he's kind of helped me kind of find, that's what's going to get me on the court right now. So that's what I'm concentrating on. In the meantime, I'm getting lots of shots up and letting my offense kind of evolve. I'm going to try to hang my hat on defense, rebounding, just being a tough, physical player.
Me: You looking at anybody on tape?
TG: Obviously, having a guy like Grant Hill on the team is huge. He plays my position. I see him every day. Just observing him has helped a whole lot. I'm trying to take full advantage of that.
Me: Anything about the pros surprised you so far?
TG: Just the timing of everything, it takes a while to get used to. Everybody says how much faster the game is, but really, it's slower. But it's different. It's differently paced. There's moments, most of the time it's pretty slow, but there's bursts of it. That's when you've got to be ready. So it kind of lulls you to sleep, for a guy that's used to playing at that high pace. It's kind of lulls you to sleep, and bam, you're not ready.
Me: What do you think, ultimately, your career arc can look like?
TG: It's hard to say. But I'm hoping for 10-plus years, and I think my work ethic is going to help me more than anything. I feel like I take pretty good care of my body. You can't really do anything against injuries; you don't know about that. But just taking care of my body and learning and being willing to learn as much as I am, and working my butt off, I think I'm going to have a chance to play for a long time.
Me: What has Blake told you about this period of your career?
TG: He's kind of going through a rough patch right now (after suffering a broken kneecap during preseason that will keep him out of action for another month). It's been kind of a little stressful mentally for him. But he's learning. He's going through a lot right now. It's kind of different. Earlier on, when he was still playing, we'd talk, and we'd compare about the differences in the Clippers practices and Suns practices, our training camps and everything. It's kind of a different thing for him. He's more the face of that organization, and trying to be a guy that's going to help bring that team around, and I'm just trying to get minutes. So it's a little bit different, but there's a lot of similarities, and both of us being rookies, we're just trying to do the right thing and work our butts off.
Me: Rookie duties?
TG: I've got to get the donuts every day. I had to wear like a hamburger suit one day--
Me: I'm sorry; a hamburger suit?
TG: A hamburger suit. Earl Clark had to wear like a banana costume. I had to wear a hamburger suit. We had to go out to dinner, go out to like a club. It could be worse.
They Said It
"Our expectations are high, our sense or urgency is high and our patience is low."
--Hornets president Hugh Weber, after the team fired Scott Thursday morning.
"We got to change something bc what we doing ain't working right now! Don't know what but something?????"
--Jazz guard Deron Williams, Twittering about his team's slow start.
"At times like these, I am motivated to work harder. I want to scout more, watch more film, crunch more numbers, ask more questions."
--Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn, in an open letter to the team's fans after its 1-9 start.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.
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