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Thread: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

  1. #1

    Default Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    Ira Winderman: O'Neal, James invaluable

    A midseason look at where the NBA's other hardware is headed, while acknowledging that any championship parade will not be scheduled on eastern daylight time.

    Most Valuable Player

    Jermaine O'Neal.

    Blasphemy, giving the league's top honor to someone from its lesser half? Perhaps. Yet while Indiana has built the bulk of one of the league's top records mostly against inferior Eastern competition, O'Neal stands as the game's best young two-way player, on a team that, beyond Ron Artest, hardly overwhelms with its roster.

    Over the first half of the season, O'Neal has been the Tim Duncan of the East. Of course, Duncan remains the Tim Duncan of the West. But he's had his turn, so consider it along the lines of: Sure Michael Jordan should have won every year, but we recognized the value of diversity.

    Others in the current top-five for consideration, from this view, are Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Baron Davis and Peja Stojakovic. Yup, no mention here for Shaq, who seems to have little interest in regular-season anything.

    Seems nothing's changed

    A pregame meeting between Blazers general manager John Nash and Dallas director player of personnel Donnie Nelson ended at odds, with both teams agreeing to abandon trade talks, but the Blazers' struggles continued with a 108-104 loss at the Rose Garden, their eighth loss in nine games.

    Nash and Nelson met for about 20 minutes -- until pregame introductions -- before emerging with smiles, both content to move on with their seasons, which are heading in different directions.

    "If it could mesh, we would have meshed by now," Nash said of the trade talks. "It seems like we have spent a lot of time talking, and we have been unable to come to a common ground."

    So a deal with Dallas is dead?

    "Dead is a strong word," Nash said. "I think it's safe to say there is nothing imminent."

    Raptors reach out to Oakley for late-season help

    The search for another big man has led the Raptors to contact an old, familiar, often-cranky veteran:

    Charles Oakley.

    Two team sources confirmed yesterday that the Raptors have called the cantankerous power forward to see if he'd be able — or interested — in helping Toronto over the final three months of the regular season.

    The 39-year-old power forward has been working out on his own and hopes to land with some NBA team for a final playoff push either later this month or around the Feb. 13-15 all-star break.

    The Raptors, who are now using a front-court rotation of Chris Bosh, Donyell Marshall, Lonny Baxter and, sometimes, Michael Curry, are most concerned about whether Oakley's skills have diminished to the point where he wouldn't be able to help at all.

    The 6-9, 250-pound, 18-year NBA veteran always keeps himself in good shape and would lift the Raptor basketball IQ by a huge amount if he joins the team but if he can't play, it could become a distraction.

    Orlando's Juwan Howard, a college teammate of Raptor Jalen Rose, is in play, according to a variety of NBA sources, and Toronto might have some interest, according to one source. However, Howard is in the first year of a six-year, $35 million (all figures U.S.) contract that would pay him $7.3 million when he's 37 years old.

    The Magic, who have the worst record in the NBA at 10-30 before last night, are looking to divest high-priced players. The Raptors could offer a package of expiring contracts and Lamond Murray, who has four fewer years on his deal that Howard, and make the salaries match.

    Along with Howard, other NBA big men on the market include Phoenix's Jahidi White, a huge centre who doesn't possess the kind of basketball smarts the Raptors would want, and perhaps San Antonio's Malik Rose, who has fallen out of favour with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

    Doctor: Chance he could play

    Four weeks after Alonzo Mourning had a kidney transplant, he is craving a workout.

    He tells his doctor that he wants to run and lift weights. By the end of this season, perhaps he will want to play basketball, too.

    For now, Mourning must continue to rest. He cannot participate in any physical activity for at least another two weeks, but his recovery has gone so smoothly that his doctor, Gerald Appel, says there is a chance that Mourning will be able to return to the NBA and rejoin the Nets.

    ''As well as I've known Alonzo the last three and a half years, I know that it's in the back of his mind.'' Appel said. ``So it has to be in the back of my mind, too.''

    Stern's Concerns

    Commissioner David Stern had some interesting thoughts on his long-held belief that the NBA should have an age minimum.

    "I want to say gingerly that in my experience as commissioner age was not a factor in judgment in whether you should throw somebody through a plate-glass window (Charles Barkley), kick a photographer in the groin (Dennis Rodman) or other behavior defined as anti-social.

    "I’d like to marshal every argument in favor of my point of view that it’s a good thing that players don’t come into the league at such a young age. But I also realize that the evidence is all over the lot.’’

    Atlanta teen Dwight Howard is expected to be the third prep star to be taken with the No. 1 overall pick when the June NBA draft rolls around.

    That’s not quite as alarming to Stern as it used to be. He says he’s not concerned about such talents as LeBron James, Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett.

    Instead, it’s the elementary school kids with unrealistic dreams that bother Stern most.

    "There are going to be huge numbers of kids whose parents are already approaching me and telling me, ‘He’s 11 years old, and he can bounce the ball extremely well, and he ain’t going to college because he thinks he’s going to go to the NBA.’ And I emphasize the use of the word ain’t.

    "Everyone knows that the chances of that young man becoming a rocket scientist are better than making the NBA.

    "It just doesn’t make me feel great having a system that sort of encourages kids to focus on only one thing. But I’ve been a lone voice on this.’’

    White lets game do the talking

    Rodney White's future remains as uncertain as his stat line, which continues to zig and zag with the best of them.

    The Nuggets' swingman may have the most deceptive scoring average on the team. His 7.4 points per game hides the fact he could be good for the 23 he scored against Boston in December or the nine combined points he scored during Denver's three-game road trip last week.

    White's name hasn't surfaced publicly in trade rumblings in recent weeks, but that doesn't mean he feels any more secure about his status with the team.

    "I still hear trade rumors," he said last week. "I try to just focus on game by game and let my agent focus on that. That's what I pay him for. Let's just see what happens from here."

    "We haven't really pursued anything with Rodney," Vandeweghe said. "I like Rodney. I like him as a player. I like him as a person. He has worked very hard this past month, and I think he has shown a lot of improvement.",...898544,00.html

    Van Exel takes time to rest

    Nick Van Exel knew his painful left knee was affecting his play. He just didn't realize how much until his phone rang Wednesday night.

    "I was talking to a buddy of mine," Van Exel recalled of the cross-country conversation. "(He said,) 'You got your shot blocked by Jason Williams and Earl Watson' (in the Memphis game Monday night)."

    The veteran point guard thought about that for a second and drew the obvious conclusion: He needed to take some time off.

    After discussing it with coach Eric Musselman at Thursday's shootaround, Van Exel placed himself on the injured list.

    The team's second-leading scorer will be eligible to return to the active roster a week from today, but that seems unlikely. If nothing else, Van Exel promises to be patient this time, saying he will work on strengthening the muscles around the surgically repaired knee.

    "I'm so frustrated right now, not helping the team, it's killing me," he said of a recent stretch in which he failed to hit at least half his shots in 11 consecutive games. "I don't know how long I'm going to be out."

    Jamison's fine with role as sixth man

    On Oct. 20 -- eight days before the season opener against the Lakers in Los Angeles -- the Mavericks picked up three-time All-Star forward Antoine Walker in a trade with Boston. Walker immediately moved into the starting lineup, and Jamison became the early season favorite for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.

    At the time, Jamison embraced the deal. He said Walker's arrival not only added another weapon to a team fill with weapons, but that moving to the bench also allowed him to adopt a score-first, everything-else-second approach.

    Three months later, he's still fine with it.

    "I just looked at it as a situation where I get the opportunity to win a lot more," he said. "When you're on a team like this, you need certain guys to sacrifice and I didn't really think it was a problem."

    Jamison said the toughest adjustment he has had to make coming off the bench has been adjusting to the flow of the game.

    "When you come off the bench, the game already is at a certain tempo that you have to try and match," Jamison said. "After four and a half years as a starter, coming off the bench was definitely something new and something that I had to get comfortable with all over again.

    "I'm happy, man. I can't complain at all. Things happen for a reason, and hopefully I'll be here for a while and we can get things rolling."

    Loss leaves Pop peeved

    After keeping his team in the locker room for more than 20 minutes following its 89-79 loss to Indiana, Gregg Popovich finally emerged with a sandwich in his left hand and fire in his belly. He said the loss was the most disappointing of the season because it was not unlike the one the Spurs suffered two nights earlier to Minnesota.

    For that, he faulted nearly everyone in uniform. And himself.

    "I've let the team down from a coaching standpoint in that I have not been demanding enough or made enough people responsible to compete and perform a certain way during practices and shootarounds," Popovich said. "I've been too patient, too lax, too ready to just assume things are going to get better as people spend more time here.

    "That isn't good enough. That lies strictly with me. In that regard, I've let them down significantly. That will be changing immediately."

    Chris Tomasson: Camby prefers Nuggets; they like him

    Why would Camby opt out?

    "He wants to sign a long-term deal," Kaplan said. "Marcus wants to be in one spot. He wants to know where he's going to be playing."

    But would Camby be willing to take a pay cut? He doesn't sound all that enthralled with that prospect.

    "I'm not looking to take one, but that's (Kaplan's) job to get it done," he said. "I have to worry about playing."

    Kaplan talks about Camby signing a contract similar to the seven-

    year, $68 million deal Sacramento big man Brad Miller got last summer. But Miller this season is making $7 million, which, at last look, is less than what Camby is now getting.

    "It's unlikely he would take significantly less (for next season), but I could see a situation where he might make nominally less," said Kaplan, who believes Camby could be in a better overall situation if he has the security of a long-term deal.

    If Camby opts out and then doesn't get a deal he likes from the Nuggets, his options could be Phoenix, the Clippers or Utah, teams that figure to be $7 million or more under the salary cap. Other teams likely wouldn't be able to offer more than the midlevel exception of $5 million.

    "Wherever the price is right," Camby said. "But my first choice is to stay in Denver."

    Rodman as a mentor in NBA?

    Although he'll turn 43 come May and hasn't played in an NBA uniform in nearly four years, Rodman left one courtside observer convinced Friday night that he can hang with most power forwards in the league and teach the league's barely-out-of-their-teens- and-younger set more than a thing or two about how the game is supposed to be played, in the process.

    "The Lakers could use him right now, especially with Karl Malone out (on the injured listed),' Sean Higgins said, smiling and shaking his head in admiration, no doubt, for what he just seen of Rodman, although the Higgins-coached Fresno team lost in the process in the Pyramid, 130-110.

    "He can still rebound his butt off and frustrate opponents, especially the young guys,' Higgins said.

    "And, with the nature of the game now, with so many young guys who still have so much to learn about the game is supposed to be played? Yes, he can play.'

    When Higgins came into the league (in 1990, with the San Antonio Spurs), "there were so many guys in the league, 10- to 15-year veterans, who could teach you how to play,' he said.

    "Now, who are those 19- or 20- year-old guys in the NBA learning from? They're 'learning' it from guys who are 21 or 22. Now, if you've been in the NBA for three or four years, you're a 'veteran."

  2. #2

    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    Marc J. Spears: Thomas' moves bring excitement to Knicks

    "A lot of things needed to happen for this franchise," said Knicks legend Willis Reed, a special adviser for the franchise, at a news conference announcing Wilkens' hiring Thursday. "I have to take my hat off. I've always admired Isiah as a doer, and he has come in and done a great job."

    "I'll say one thing about (Thomas), I know he knows talent," Reed said. "The one thing you must have is talent to win. We are a much better team today than we were at this time two weeks ago."

    Thomas shocked the NBA world by bringing back Wilkens, a local legend and the league's all-time winningest coach. Wilkens will do well with a veteran club, and also teach it the importance of defense. Any thought of Wilkens' transition being a tough one died at the end of his news conference when Marbury interrupted to give him a bear hug.

    New Yorkers are known for being brash and bold, which is what makes Thomas a perfect fit, as evidenced by his quick moves. The spotlights are swirling around the Garden again after Thomas took a bite out of the Big Apple and made the Knicks a potential playoff team.,...898474,00.html


    Without talking to Chaney about his future (or lack of one), Thomas went on David Letterman’s show the night before the firing and laughed and joked about Chaney’s job status.

    The next slap in the face came Wednesday morning. Chaney shows up at the team’s shoot-around amid reports that he has been fired and Mike Fratello will be taking over the team, after the game Wednesday.

    Picture the scene. There is Chaney and his supposedly deposed coaching staff huddled in one corner of the gym, and in another, Aguirre and Glymph were laughing and joking with the players.

    Chaney didn’t find out that he was fired until he showed up at Madison Square Garden at 5 p.m. Wednesday night.

    Why was Thomas so cruel in his handling of Chaney? Because Thomas likely has held a grudge against Chaney since 1994. Thomas had one did not play, coach’s decision his entire playing career. It came in the 1993-1994 season. The coach? Don Chaney.

    Well, Thomas got what he wanted, a puppet head coach in Lenny Wilkens. If you don’t think Thomas is coaching this team from his president’s chair, you are kidding yourself.

    Despite adding Marbury, Knicks make an offer for Crawford

    Bulls operations chief John Paxson is weighing an offer from the New York Knicks for guard Jamal Crawford, according to a league source.

    It's not certain whom the Knicks are offering, and the news is surprising considering New York's backcourt appears to be set with recently acquired point guard Stephon Marbury and shooting guard Allan Houston. Crawford can play either guard position.

    Paxson and Knicks operations chief Isiah Thomas discussed Crawford before Thomas traded for Marbury on Jan. 5, according to a source, who indicated Crawford's name has come up in discussions with other teams.

    After acquiring Marbury, Thomas mentioned Crawford as an elite guard in the NBA.

    ''If you expect to make the playoffs and compete for a championship, you've got to have an outstanding point guard like Jason Kidd, Jamal Crawford, Baron Davis, Steve Nash or Stephon Marbury,'' Thomas said.

    Resentment may have been factor in trade

    The hiring of Lenny Wilkens to succeed Don Chaney as coach of the New York Knicks came as a shock to some. The move by Knicks president of basketball operations Isiah Thomas to tap Wilkens, 66, brings to mind Jerry West's decision to bring in Hubie Brown, 70, as coach of the Memphis Grizzlies.

    However, the process Thomas used was haphazard at best.

    Mike Fratello was the first choice, but negotiations either didn't go far -- according to Thomas and Fratello -- or broke off because of Fratello's contract demands (three years at $5 million annually, general manager title and some control over personnel decisions, according to reports).

    Fratello has denied adamantly the reports and Thomas said he never offered Fratello a contract. Reports surfaced that Fratello really didn't want the job because Thomas eventually will take over as coach.

    Thomas also contacted Doc Rivers, Pat Riley, Doug Collins and Chuck Daly. He even considered himself but decided on Wilkens.

    Wilkens' long, strange trip to Knicks

    On April 24, 2000, Wilkens, the NBA's all-time winningest coach, resigned as coach of the Hawks and the team began a search for a new coach. A month later, then-Hawks general manager Pete Babcock hired Lon Kruger over Isiah Thomas.

    Thomas was so confident he had the Hawks job, he was prepared to buy a home in Atlanta. Upset but undeterred, Thomas still got a job coaching the Indiana Pacers. Wilkens, also upset with the Hawks for other reasons (Isaiah Rider, for instance), lands on his feet with the Toronto Raptors. Don Chaney becomes coach of the Knicks in December 2000 after Jeff Van Gundy stepped down, blaming exhaustion

    Fast forward to the summer of 2003. Wilkens is fired after also becoming the NBA's all-time losingest coach last season with the Raptors. Thomas is fired after leading the Pacers to three consecutive first-round playoff exits. Kruger, having been fired the previous winter after an unsuccessful run with the Hawks, gets back in the NBA as an assistant coach for Chaney.

    Thomas replaced Scott Layden as Knicks team president in late December. On Wednesday, Thomas fired Chaney and members of his staff, including Kruger, and replaced Chaney with Wilkens.

    Just imagine how different things would be in New York (and Atlanta) if the Hawks: A) hadn't forced Wilkens to resign and B) if they hired Thomas over Kruger on March 25, 2000.

    Bob Young: Wilkens in tough spot

    Before Wilkens could even get into town for a news conference, Thomas was already fueling more speculation by publicly admitting that, yes, he had considered hiring himself to coach the team.

    "In all honesty, yes," he told reporters. "In going through the process, you want to put everyone on the table, and I included myself in the decision. At the end of the day I came to the conclusion Lenny would be a better coach than myself."

    That may not be saying much for Thomas' coaching ability.

    It's true Wilkens can claim more victories than any NBA coach in history.

    But he also has lost more games than any coach in NBA history, and a lot more of those have come later in his career.

    Thomas is selling this choice in part because he believes Wilkens, a Hall of Fame point guard, will be good for Stephon Marbury.

    Then again, who played more like Marbury - Wilkens, or that guy who played in Detroit that they used to call "Zeke?"

    Early in Life, Wilkens Learned the Value of Staying Cool

    It might have been that day at the basketball court at P.S. 35 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Little Lenny Wilkens, not yet grown to 6 feet 1 inch and so skinny he might have fitted through a picket fence, was playing ball with some friends. The game was abruptly interrupted by a gang wielding zip guns, knives and tire irons.

    "I realized I couldn't panic," Wilkens said Friday morning, hours before his debut as the Knicks' coach at Madison Square Garden against Seattle. "If I ran or even tried to fight back, I knew one of two things would probably happen: I'd get a good butt-whuppin', or I'd get killed. I thought, `If I stay calm, maybe I'll find a way out.' "

    It turned out that one of the gang recognized Wilkens as another gang member's cousin. They departed, leaving Lenny and his pals shaken but in one piece.

    "You remember things like that; those things help," Wilkens said. "I found that it was better to keep your composure than lose it. As a player it helped, and as a coach it's helped for me to be in control of me."

    Peter Vescey: Double-Dealing in Big D

    Clearly, evidence is mounting that Nelson, who signed a three-year extension prior to this season, is doing his best to get fired to retire to his Hawaiian home, and that Cuban is pressuring him to quit by making his life as miserable as possible. You don't say the stuff they're saying in front of the children, er, players (for the first time in years, some are voicing eagerness to get out of Dodge), unless you're cruisin' for a bruisin' divorce.

    "Sometimes change is good," chirps Nelson, who openly admits he's drinking too many Scotch and sodas. "Mark and I aren't communicating well."

    Not well and, basically, not at all, from what I'm told.

    Contrary to Cuban's counterfeit communication, the Mavs remain very much in the bidding for the $17M forward. Two days ago, they placed Antawn Jamison ($11.3M and four more), Eduardo Najera ($3.4M and four more) and Tony Delk ($2.9M and two more) on Portland's table. Considering owner Paul Allen's mandate not to acquire long-term contracts, I've got to believe that's unsatisfactory.

    "Look for the Mavericks to reconfigure the deal within the next few days," divulges a Dallas snoop. "Nellie knows it's now or never, there's no holding back any more. Look for him to exchange [Antoine] Walker for Jamison and subtract Delk. The fact Walker [$13.5M] can opt out after this season should be much more appealing to Portland."

    My snoop is on the money. Now is not the time for Nelson to be cute. Atlanta sources disclose the Hawks' incoming owners (who should be in place shortly after the Nets' arena in Brooklyn is finished) have ordered GM Billy Knight to dump as much salary as possible mucho pronto.

    A few days ago, the Hawks were unwilling to swap Shareef Abdur-Rahim ($13.5M/$14.6M) and throw-in Chris Crawford ($3M/$3.2M) for Rashweed. That's hardly true any longer. The Blazers would be able to justify picking up an extra year on both of those contracts, I submit, because they can sell Shareef's statistics (20.7 points/ 8.5 rebounds over seven seasons before this one) and his police record is spotless.

    Mavericks Are Rough Around the Edges

    "That's been tough," Nash said. "We went from a little bit of solidity, to the Western Conference finals, 60 wins, and then to come back and have five guys back — that's difficult for any team, especially a team that was close to their goal and was on a relative high."

    The Mavericks and their owner, Mark Cuban, seem to be addicted to change for change's sake. They definitely needed another piece or two after falling in six games to San Antonio in the conference finals. But why trade Nick Van Exel, their heart and soul during the playoffs, for Antawn Jamison when they had Dirk Nowitzki? Even though they robbed Boston in a lopsided trade, why add Antoine Walker?

    All that change and Dallas still did not get what it really needed, a big banger. "We don't have an ideal mix of guys," Nash said. "We've got three guys who play the same position — Dirk, Antoine and Antawn — so that's difficult to fit together and to understand each other and make each other better. So on offense, even with all the firepower, it's really difficult for us."

    Now, there is talk of more change. Jamison has been mentioned in trade talk involving Portland's Rasheed Wallace and Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Although Wallace would give Dallas the inside presence it seemingly needs to compete with the conference elite, he would also bring a carousel full of baggage and yet more change and instability.

    For now, Nelson is off the Mavericks' hot seat

    During the Sixers' stay in Big D this past week, newspapers and sports-talk shows were reporting that a coaching change appeared imminent for the Mavericks. Trades hadn't worked out. The team was poor defensively. It would be lucky to get to 50 wins this season after reaching 60 last season. Was owner Mark Cuban preparing to ax coach Don Nelson and woo Pat Riley back to the bench?

    The clamor faded Wednesday after Cuban and Nelson met before the game against the Sixers. Cuban assured Nelson that he had no plans to fire him. Nelson said that he had no plans to resign. And, basically, the two men said, can we please get back to basketball?

    Interviewed while exercising on a stair-climbing machine in the Mavericks' workout room, Cuban said that he didn't want to give Nelson "the old vote of confidence because that's a kiss of death. I wanted to tell him that you ain't going anywhere."

    Nelson, who ranks second in career NBA coaching victories with 1,118, said that he didn't mind the firing rumors because "it's just part of the job" and that, if he was fired, "there would be no stones cast by this side."

    "If that doesn't happen," he said, "I'm going to continue to work hard, do my job, and try to get this team to be as good as they can possibly be. It's been a hard job so far, and I've not succeeded yet, but I'm going to continue on."

    Scott Howard-Cooper: Mavs near breaking point

    Now they're not even a good regular-season team.

    Avoiding the playoff rush, the Dallas Mavericks are already going under because of a sieve defense that has become worse even after two major trades that delivered nothing in the way of a necessary inside presence. As alarm bells sound, everyone braces for a potential fallout/panic move that can be explained in two words: Rasheed Wallace.

    The Western Conference finalists of 2003 are in the middle of the traffic jam that is the Midwest Division and still have forever to rejoin the Spurs, Lakers and Kings in the pack of proven elite. Problem is, the Mavericks are a swirl of negative conjecture and trade rumors and haven't come close to finding themselves. The other three have at least shown encouraging signs despite injury or early adjustment to new rosters, but Dallas can't even ditch the Rockets and Nuggets in the standings.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    Q&A with the Custodian

    Brian Cardinal is an overnight success story three seasons in the making. He made the Golden State roster as a training camp invitee, and has emerged as an energetic role player. His blue-collar style has earned the nickname "The Custodian."

    Question: After a couple years in the NBA, it looks like you've finally found a niche. Is that a good feeling as a player?

    Answer: It's been fantastic just to have an opportunity to play and be able to contribute. You look around the locker room and know that everybody on the team is expecting you to bring something to the table. That's the best feeling, that you're needed on the team.

    Question: Your style is like a human floor burn. Where did that come from?

    Answer: Just the enjoyment of playing basketball, loving to play. Early on, I knew I wasn't the most graceful athlete. I wasn't the best athlete on the team at Purdue. I knew if I was going to have any opportunity to play, I was going to have to do the little things, and that was to take the charges and get on the floor and get the loose balls. That's what I did early on, and it's really helped me to get where I'm at now.

    Question: Your father was a trainer at Illinois. You were a ball boy on Lou Henson's Final Four team. How did you wind up at Purdue instead of Illinois?

    Answer: I just think through the whole recruiting process, Illinois was looking at other players. Coming out of high school, I came from a small town (Tolono, pop. 2,700) and a school that didn't face the greatest of competition. That kind of altered their thought process because they were recruiting players from Chicago and some of the bigger cities. A kid from a small town like myself, they didn't think too much of, I guess. I had an opportunity to go to Purdue and finished 9-0 against Illinois. I never lost to them. Sweet revenge.

    Question: You and Brad Miller were together for three years at Purdue. Neither of you was drafted. Both of you are doing well now in the NBA. Is there a lesson?

    Answer: I think it stems from hard work. We had a great teacher in coach [Gene] Keady, who taught in order to be successful, we were going to have to work at it and create our own success. That's what we both have done. Brad went undrafted and got some time in Charlotte and played well in Chicago and Indy. Now, he's doing fantastic in Sacramento. My story is pretty similar. I was in Detroit for a couple years, then Washington, then kind of biding my time and learning as I go. Now, hopefully, I've found a place where I can play for a while.

    Question: What's the best thing about playing in the San Francisco Bay area?

    Answer: The diversity of fans. Oakland is nice, but San Francisco is beautiful. I think the difference in culture and being able to go into cities to the different restaurants. It's a tremendous place to play.

    Handling Dalembert with care

    That next level could be a spot in the starting lineup, but Ayers, again, isn't going to rush Dalembert into anything for which he's not quite ready.

    "We'll see," the coach said after the Sixers' practice yesterday at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "We'll see how he keeps developing.

    "The thing I love about him is he's been able to put back-to-back rebounding games together. That's what's been the great thing about it.

    "So we'll just have to wait and see. I'm not ready to put him in [the starting lineup] full-time right now, but if he continues to get better, I think, it's something we have to think about."

    The 6-foot-11 Dalembert, 22, started for the 14th time this season Wednesday night. Eleven of those starts have been as a replacement for Derrick Coleman when Coleman's sore left knee has left him unable to play.

    "If Derrick is available and can play, Derrick will always start," the coach said. "I think you go with him [because] he's warmed up and he's ready to go. I think you play Derrick to start the game."

    Okur emerges as inside force

    Perhaps the most significant turnaround — at least in relation to the Pistons’ continued growth — has been the emotional health of Mehmet Okur.

    After Wallace was ejected Wednesday night against Toronto, Okur took over the game. He scored 14 of his career-high 27 points in the fourth quarter and had 14 rebounds.

    “He did some unbelievable things,” Coach Larry Brown said. “It was kind of nice, with Ben out, for him to have a night like that.”

    Brown has been extra tough on Okur, a 7-footer and second-year player. He has demanded that Okur become more of an inside presence and less of a perimeter jump-shooter. He has demanded that he become more of a force on defense.

    Initially, Okur resisted, openly defying Brown’s orders a few times. There was brooding and there were benchings.

    But a couple of weeks ago, Okur had a long talk with Pistons President Joe Dumars. Dumars calmly explained the difference between instruction and criticism. He explained that Brown, regardless of his methods, was only trying to make Okur a better basketball player. He made it clear that Okur was being paid to do a job, and no matter how angry he might be at his boss, that job still needed to be done.

    Okur has apparently gotten the message.

    Suns to activate Lampe

    He won't be used in close games, as he is the second-youngest player in the NBA (behind only Darko Milicic of the Detroit Pistons).

    Keep in mind, too, that he's a big man, which hasn't exactly been the Suns' area of expertise over the years.

    Even so, the Suns are intrigued to see what their latest young prospect can do.

    "It's about time," says Lampe, who also rode the pine in New York after the Knicks drafted him in June.

    At 6-foot-11, 270 pounds, the Suns hope that eventually, he could play both the power forward and center spots.

    What makes him an interesting player is that, "He can dribble, pass and shoot" like a small forward, D'Antoni says. "He just doesn't have the speed of a 'three.' "

    What's more, though he figures to be a power forward for now, "I don't know why he couldn't play the 'five' (center) spot . . . when he matures into a man and gets stronger.

    "Our challenge is to develop him into a 'four-five' player who can complement Amare (Stoudemire) and guard at both positions." "He's 18, but he's very mature," in that he doesn't appear to be intimidated by his circumstances, D'Antoni said.

    Nuggets fill up bandwagon, eye playoff run

    Magic Johnson has five NBA championship rings, an Olympic gold medal and a NCAA title to his credit. And Johnson is excited about the Denver Nuggets.

    Sounds as if they must be doing something right.

    "They're going to be like the Denver Broncos," said the legendary guard, who is now a Los Angeles Lakers co-owner and vice president. "The owner (Stan Kroenke) deserves a lot of credit for hiring (general manager Kiki Vandeweghe) and for changing things.

    "They said, 'We're not going to lose anymore. We're going to draft right and bring in the right players.' It's incredible. Can you imagine this team making the playoffs and signing some more good players (with the more than $22 million of salary-cap room the team could have next summer)?"

    "We're probably the big story in the NBA right now," Nuggets assistant coach John MacLeod said. "Nobody expected us to be remotely close to what we've done. It's a pleasant surprise, and it's fun."

    Most team officials were hopeful the Nuggets would win 30 games. There was talk that doubling their win total from last season would be cause for cartwheels.

    "I think they've probably exceeded everybody's expectations," Vandeweghe said. "Everyone said expectations to win 30 to 35 games would be a great season. Really, though, when you look at it, you didn't know how good Carmelo (Anthony) would be, and you didn't know which Andre Miller would show up."

    Tom Moore: Turnover of coaches is staggering

    On Wednesday, New York's Don Chaney became the 15th head coach to be fired or resign since the end of last season.

    In the Eastern Conference, 12 of the 15 teams, including the Sixers hiring Randy Ayers after Larry Brown left, have made changes. That means more teams have coaches with less one-half season's experience on their current clubs than all other tenures combined.

    Asked Monday in Orlando if that bothers him, commissioner David Stern said, "Yes, in the sense that you get to know them, and they become like family members. You wish you had a situation where all of your coaches, all of your players, all of your teams would be together for a lifetime.

    "But the reality is in some ways the notion of ownership was that their rosters were better than the results they were getting. I've never seen anything like it and, frankly, I don't think I ever will.

    "That just goes to the pressures on coaches. I think NBA coaches - all coaches - have the toughest jobs. They're judged every single night by 20,000 people in the building, plus all the experts - both media and fans."

    Assistant Woodson wants coaching job

    Pistons assistant Mike Woodson wants to be a head coach in the NBA.

    Over the summer he interviewed with Toronto, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Pistons coach Larry Brown was instrumental in the process.

    Woodson's name didn't pop up when New York Knicks president Isiah Thomas fired coach Don Chaney this week, but Woodson said he talked to Thomas right after the former Piston was hired to run the Knicks.

    "At the time Isiah said he wasn't going to do anything with Don," Woodson said before Friday night's game with Milwaukee. "Don is my neighbor (in Houston) and has been a friend for a long time. My advice to Isiah was to keep him."

    But Woodson said he wanted to be considered before Thomas opted to hire Lenny Wilkens, who has the most victories (and losses) of any NBA coach.

    "It's no secret that I want to be a head coach one day," Woodson said. "I think I'm ready. Larry knows that and he is good about helping his assistants."

    Brad Weinstein: Sloan does it again

    Jeff Bzdelik has the Nuggets on pace for a 29-game improvement from last season. Hubie Brown has the Grizzlies playing winning basketball in January for the first time in the franchise's nine seasons.

    Rick Adelman keeps piling up regular-season victories in Sacramento, even without Chris Webber. Rick Carlisle has done a solid job in Indiana. Ditto Terry Porter in Milwaukee and Flip Saunders in Minnesota.

    All nice coaching stories, but try winning more than you lose with this roster: Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Arroyo, DeShawn Stevenson, Greg Ostertag, Keon Clark, Raul Lopez, Jarron Collins, Curtis Borchardt, Michael Ruffin, Maurice Williams, Sasha Pavlovic, Raja Bell and Ben Handlogten.

    Oops, forgot Paul Grant.

    Jerry Sloan is lapping the field in the Coach of the Year race.

    Lacy J. Banks: In trying times, Sloan doing his best work

    In the last 16 seasons former Bull Jerry Sloan has coached the Jazz, he has guided many better teams. But in the 30-year history of the franchise, nobody has done a better job than Sloan is doing this season.

    Don't ask him to agree. He'll act insulted if you commend him for doing the best coaching job of his life.

    "Heck, I ain't doing nothing special,'' he said. "I'm just doing the job the best I can like I'm being paid to do. I can't ask my players to lay it all on the line and do their best every game if I don't do it myself. It just ain't right. And since these players are paid top dollar to be the best, they owe it to the game, the fans and themselves to come to work every day they can and play their best.''

    The Hornets' four-game losing streak has coach Tim Floyd and his players arguing for the first time.

    "Offensively, I'm really scratching my head right now," the ex-Bulls coach said. "We're not playing with any confidence at all."

    Center Jamaal Magloire is questioning Floyd's coaching strategy.

    "We're not going to win like that, I can tell you that much," Magloire said. "We don't use our inside presence and resort to going smaller."

    Peter May: Champs have been thrown off at the line

    Of the many weird things that have transpired this season, the defending champions' struggles from the line rank as one of the most curious. The Spurs come into today's game ranked dead last in free throw shooting -- an unappetizing 67.1 percent. Six of their top nine scorers are shooting less than 70 percent.

    "We've tried everything," said Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo. "It's scary."

    Newcomer Rasho Nesterovic has blended in much better and quicker on defense than the team expected, Carlesimo says. Ah, but Rasho goes to the line and parents instinctively cradle their kids. He's shooting a ghastly 47.9 percent from the line. Nesterovic never has been a Mark Price clone, but he made 64 percent of his freebies last year.

    Old friend Bruce Bowen, the target of Don Nelson's "hack-a-Bruce" strategy during the Western Conference finals last year, is making only 53.2 percent of his free throws. Believe it or not, that's an upgrade over last year's mystifying 40.4 percent, but it's not something that Bowen likes to dwell on or discuss in depth.

    "Right now," he said Friday, before the Spurs uncharacteristically dropped their third straight, "it's a matter of us not making them. I just have to do a better job of it."

    Matt Steinmetz: Western Conference not so simple to predict

    Before the season began, the Western Conference seemed predictable enough. You had your Big Five -- the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio, Sacramento, Minnesota and Dallas -- all considered a notch above the rest.

    Most figured Phoenix was right behind, with Portland likely having enough to make what would have been a league-tying 22nd consecutive trip to the playoffs. Some team, obviously, had to replace Utah, minus John Stockton and Karl Malone, and Houston seemed a logical choice.

    Now that early season has turned to midseason, it's official: There are playoff spots up for grabs.

    First off, there are only four top-shelf teams. Subtract Dallas. The Mavericks are not elite. They still look like a playoff team, but they've proven quite beatable on the road. After them, it's come one, come all.

    His play remains a mystery, by George

    He's 37 starts into his fifth NBA season and nearing the midpoint of the four-year $18.5 million contract he signed in July 2002. Yet the Lakers' Devean George still has yet to grow into his role.

    "He's been the little brother, the young kid on this team through some championships," coach Phil Jackson said Saturday. "Now he's in a position of responsibility and he has to step into that."

    With Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone all sidelined indefinitely by injuries, George figured to become the Lakers' second option on offense after Gary Payton, the two being the only holdovers in the starting lineup.

    But George is shooting just 31.7 percent in January, down from his 47.1 percent season average. His month has included a scoreless performance against the Clippers on Jan. 4 and a four-point, four-rebound effort in Friday night's 103-83 loss at Sacramento.,1...898968,00.html

    Price doesn't match the product for Lakers fans

    At least the beer was cold, the view unobstructed and the cowbells kept to a civilized minimum.

    Other than that, a complete washout.

    Brodie Downs is a civil engineer by day in Modesto and a rabid Lakers follower by night. He plunked down a tidy $1,200 for prime seating for Friday's Arco Arena meeting with the Kings, just behind the Lakers bench and close enough to catch a whiff of the sweat from Stanislav Medvedenko, Jamal Sampson and Brian Cook and to hear Phil Jackson creak.

    Downs ponied up a month's worth of rent to see what amounted to a summer-league team of ho-hummers. He purchased the tickets at Christmas, as a surprise for his girlfriend, Nicole Chipponeri. Some surprise. No Kobe. No Shaq. No Karl. No chance.

    Bulls can't win, but they narrow gap

    Before Skiles, the Bulls were 4-12 and being outscored by an average of 101.1-90.3, or a 10.8-point difference. Under Skiles, the Bulls are 8-15 and have been outscored by an average of 91.4-88.2, a 3.2-point difference. While the Bulls are scoring 2.1 fewer points, they are forcing their opponents to score 9.7 fewer points.

    ''[These numbers] are great, and I have to keep that in perspective,'' Skiles said after practice Friday. ''But that's not enough for me, and hopefully that's not enough for [his players]. At least that suggests there's a silver lining to all this.''

    ''What hurts most is that we've been in so many games, had the lead in the fourth quarter and still lost. Yes, we're playing better, but not better enough to win more.''

    Mitch Lawrence: Penny's game stops on a dime

    About eight years ago, the very idea that Hardaway could ever be considered a throw-in would have been laughable. Two straight seasons he was voted first-team All-NBA. Four straight seasons he was an All-Star. But Shaq left Orlando, Hardaway's knee went bad and all of a sudden he's an after-thought in the biggest trade the Knicks have made in 20 years.

    Does he still think about Orlando and how it all fell apart?

    "Every day," he said. "I think about it all the time. I think if we had stayed together, I'd definitely have one ring, easily. Maybe two. Either '97 or '98, we'd have won it. Maybe both. But we'd definitely have one championship banner in that arena."

    It's not just that the Magic hit bottom after Shaq left for the Lakers - and still haven't recovered. Hardaway, who turns 33 in July, has gone from a bona fide superstar who was good for 21 points, seven assists and four rebounds a night, to a role player. Chalk it up to five surgeries on his left knee.

    "That was my jumping knee," he said, looking down at his leg. "If I never had the surgeries, I would have stayed right at the top of my game. First-team All-NBA every year."

    Then Penny Hardaway paused. "Of course I think about it," he said.

    No 'fight' in Sonics

    Coach Nate McMillan called timeouts and cursed.

    He pointed out defensive miscues to Vladimir Radmanovic.

    He pulled Jerome James from the game midway through the first quarter and kept the starting center on the bench for the rest of the game.

    But McMillan's hands were in his pockets in the third quarter when Keith Van Horn made a reverse dunk despite being fouled by Radmanovic. The New York Knicks led the Sonics by 30 points and the coach stood in the midst of another lopsided loss to an Eastern Conference opponent.

    "I don't see that fight," McMillan said. "I don't see in our bodies and in our faces that we can find a way to get back into the game or keep it close when things are not going well."

  4. #4

    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    Pacers' O'Neal zones in: Sees stars in grid dreams

    Did you know that Jermaine O'Neal likes to talk about playing for the Colts? Really. The 6-foot-11 Pacer fancies himself a wide receiver and says he'd be money in red zone situations for today's Patriot opponent.

    O'Neal was actually a quarterback in grades seven through 10 before putting away the pads and concentrating on hoops. But he still has gridiron longings.

    ``I can play inside the red (zone) and only inside the red and only run straight routes,'' said O'Neal. ``Nobody's going to out-jump me. I'd be the best in-the-red-zone wide receiver ever to play. Tell Peyton (Manning) that.

    ``Think about it. Peyton, Edgerrin (James), Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and me.''

    Percy Allen: NBA executives returning to prominence

    The stars of a past generation are taking over again, remaking the game into their once-glorious image. If anyone can save this league, it will be these men, the ones who rescued it from the obscurity and ruins of the 1970s.

    These are the men who elevated the game to prime-time viewing and abandoned it once their bodies grew old and they could no longer keep pace with the children who now reign.

    But they will have the final word.

    Didn't Larry Bird always take the last shot for Boston?

    Wasn't it Isiah Thomas who kept opponents guessing, feinting dribble drives and performing feats nobody expected?

    Who was more clutch than Kevin McHale?

    And now they are doing it all over again, calling the shots from the front office. They're not just directing offenses and defenses, they're shaping franchises as well as the league.

    Jones becomes special reserve

    Often stuck behind veteran point guards, the undrafted Jones played a utility role for seven NBA teams in his first five seasons. He played in 67 games with the Detroit Pistons during the 2001-'02 season and in 49 games with the Sacramento Kings last season, but in Sacramento his primary role was to provide injury insurance for starters Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson.

    "In Detroit, he played really well for them, and they went out and signed Chauncey Billups," Porter said. "He was the odd man out. In Sacramento, with Bobby and Mike there, he was brought in because they had the injuries. Then both got healthy, and he was the odd man out again."

    Porter was an assistant in Sacramento last season and had a chance to monitor Jones' play, but Bucks general manager Larry Harris already had signed the the 6-foot-3 veteran to a one-year deal in late July, before Porter was hired as Bucks coach.

    "He could shoot the three, and he had some size," Harris said. "As I talked to coaches and did some background checks on him, everybody said. 'He's gotten better every year.'

    "At times he would come in and score some points quickly in a quarter, but he was maturing as a point guard. It was one of those things that fit perfectly where we were."

    Kurt Kragthorpe: Let's take Retro Night one step farther

    If they really wanted to recreate the 1979-80 squad, the Jazz would have signed eight new players at halftime. That team went through 20 players, from Pete Maravich to Ron Boone to John Gianelli, while Allan Bristow and Ben Poquette managed to play every game of a 24-58 season.

    Seeing the old uniforms -- the ones the Jazz brought from New Orleans and kept for 17 years, until they were sure they were staying in Utah -- and listening to the 70s music was fun. But to keep the novelty from wearing off, what I would strongly recommend for future Retro Nights is a series of re-enactments of memorable moments in Jazz history. You know, like when you visit a Civil War battlefield and they dress up in costumes and stage a historical event.

    Here are some scenes I'd like to see, so I could know once and for all how and why they happened:

    * Rice University students, who founded the Pace Mannion Fan Club because they thought the Jazz guard's name sounded cool, honoring their idol by spelling "P-A-C-E" with their bodies on the floor of the arena lobby after Mannion sparked a Jazz victory in Houston.

    * Adrian Dantley smirking, or whatever he did in the locker room after a win at Phoenix, to cause coach Frank Layden to send him home from the trip and later fine him "30 pieces of silver" to symbolize betrayal.

    * Jazz guards Bobby Hansen and Bart Kofoed fighting at a New Year's Eve party, sending Hansen to the injured list with a broken cheekbone and ending Kofoed's Jazz career.

    * John Stockton cleverly convincing Karl Malone that Charlotte Hornets forward Armen Gilliam had called Malone "overrated" in a television interview, to which Malone responded by scoring 52 points.

    * The Jazz somehow winning a deciding Game 5 of a first-round playoff series at Houston, after Mark Eaton was injured and Hakeem Olajuwon's punch of Billy Paultz went undetected by the officials. They played almost the whole fourth quarter with a lineup that Sports Illustrated labeled the "Fire-Sale Five": Fred Roberts, Rich Kelley, Thurl Bailey, Paultz and the rookie Stockton.

    That was shortly after Miller purchased half of the Jazz, which ultimately led us to Thursday's display. Before the game, Miller wore a warmup suit, complete with a headband. After player introductions, he stripped off the pants and jacket, revealing a basketball uniform with No. 9 -- his old fastpitch softball number -- and strode past mid-court to his usual chair on the front row.

    Public-address announcer Dan Roberts giggled out loud. The fans in Miller's section applauded. Others were apparently too traumatized to react.

    Pilot? Or passenger?

    Phil Jackson walks with angels. That's the only possible explanation for his ascension to a place as arguably the most successful coach in NBA history. Has to be. He inherited Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago. He walked into Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant just as these Lakers were reaching puberty.

    Nothing but good timing and knowing enough to sit still during games.

    Except ...

    "Everyone says, 'Well, he's got the best team,' " said Bulls assistant John Bach, who has been playing and coaching in the league since 1948. "He's the best coach. And it shows."

    "Phil and I are not friends," said Jerry Krause, Jackson's former boss and combatant as operations chief in Chicago. "That's on the record. But I can never say a bad thing about him as a coach. He's an excellent coach."

    "In my mind," ex-Magic coach Doc Rivers said, "he's the greatest coach to ever coach, and he's also the most underrated coach to ever coach, in the same breath."

    A paradox at every turn. Nobody, perhaps in sports history, has accomplished so much and been given so little public credit and respect.

    Still Remembered for a Square-Off

    In a matchup that included Julius Erving and Bill Walton, one of the most enduring memories of the 1977 N.B.A. finals had nothing to do with basketball. It was the sight of Maurice Lucas, Portland's feared power forward, squaring off like a prizefighter against Darryl Dawkins, Philadelphia's backboard-smashing center.

    The scene did not escalate into a brawl, but to this day, fans still bring up the episode when encountering Lucas. "More than anything else in my career, I've been reminded of that incident and reminded of the fact that I was a real physical player," Lucas said in a telephone interview last week. "I'm not reminded of the fact that I was the leading scorer on those teams that I played on. But the old saying goes, `As long as they remember you,' you can't be mad."

    Windhorst on the Cavaliers

    The Cavaliers, and the whole NBA to a certain extent, could learn a thing or two from the Utah Jazz.

    They do things a little differently in Salt Lake, but no one can argue with the results or match their stunning consistency, and perhaps no team knows better how to build and maintain a winner.

    Last season, the Jazz made their 20th consecutive playoff appearance. This year Karl Malone is with the Lakers, John Stockton is retired, not a single big-name free agent was willing to sign in the off-season, their top-scorer is out for the year with a knee injury and coach Jerry Sloan has been distracted as his wife deals with a second bout of cancer.

    There were those, even in Utah, who sheepishly admitted that in the powerful Western Conference, the Jazz might even have to settle for the worst record in the NBA. Well, if the season had ended Saturday, the Jazz would've made it 21 consecutive playoff seasons, even in the fierce West.

    Which begs the question, if they can do it, why can't the Cavaliers? Much less the big-market Clippers, Knicks and Warriors?

    A source close to Shareef Abdur-Rahim reports last week's 46-point thrashing by the Lakers was just about ``the last straw'' and he wants out of Atlanta.

    Rich Evans: Arroyo should fire away, take it easy

    Keep shooting, Carlos.

    And quit being so touchy.

    It seems Carlos Arroyo got a little peeved a few days ago when a sports writer asked him — and this is a paraphrase — if he thought Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was comfortable with a point guard who shoots as much as he does.

    Arroyo's response made it sound as if he thought the question really was: "Why are you such a shot hog?" He responded somewhat testily, then went out and took just five shots in the Jazz's next game, against the Heat, making four of them.

    Arroyo is in his third NBA season, and he should have learned a few things by now, even if he has managed to duck the spotlight before this year.

    He should have learned that rarely — at least in this media market — are questions asked as a means of trapping an athlete into saying something that will cause friction with the coach. That's a tactic popular in such places as New York and Philly but rarely practiced in genial Salt Lake.

    He should have learned that typically questions are just desperate attempts to get an athlete to say something — anything — to fill all those column inches that a writer is expected to churn out on a near-daily basis. Reporters don't always have a wealth of time to carefully think out a question. This isn't diplomacy, it's sports writing, and generally the communication situations are hurried, impromptu and less than ideal.,00.html

    Yao a force even sans mean streak

    The Rockets want him to throw his height around more, in addition to his weight. It's that simple. Francis, in particular, considers it his sworn duty to keep a fire lit under the gently inclined giant.

    "I'm always on Yao's (back)," Francis said. "Coach doesn't really bother him that much during the game, but I'm in his head 100 percent of the time. I want him to dunk the basketball a lot more than he does and just think more aggressively in general.

    "If he takes 14, 15 shots a game, we have a much better chance of winning because he's our best scorer percentage-wise -- and that's without him dunking. If we could just get him to jam every time ... "

    Francis shook his head and feigned disgust.

    "He's such a nice guy," Francis continued. "Too nice. I'd like to make the (U.S.) Olympic team (next summer) so I could elbow the mess out of him, make him really mad. Look, I don't expect him to pop somebody in the mouth every time down. I just want him to keep them honest when they're leaning all over him."

    Patton helps young Cavs adjust

    "It's always been my goal to be on the business side of basketball," said Patton, 33. "I feel passionate about my job because everyone doesn't get to do what they've always wanted to do in life. I'm happy with this opportunity."

    Patton joined the Cavaliers two years ago as the assistant director of player development/player relations. That role involved providing a support system for rookies and the younger players to help in their transition into the NBA.

    Now that role has changed. Patton continues to help the younger players in their transition but he was promoted to director of basketball administration/player development late last year. Including his previous duties, Patton is now involved in the NBA draft, scouting, training camp and summer league.

    "I'm obviously in the same role in helping guys make the transition into the league," Patton said.

    "But from an administration standpoint, I'm working with [General Manager] Jim Paxson and the ownership group in other areas. I don't get caught up in titles in terms of my duties. Basically, whatever Paxson needs to get done, I'll get it done."

    Celtics practice what the coaches preach

    Jim O'Brien finished practice yesterday with a few final instructions for his Celtics: "Get up some free throws. Stay off your feet and get some rest."

    Somehow, those parting words turned into an unsupervised five-on-five scrimmage. Rookies Marcus Banks, Brandon Hunter, and Kendrick Perkins teamed with Jumaine Jones and Michael Stewart to face Paul Pierce, Vin Baker, Ricky Davis, Mike James, and Jiri Welsch.

    Pierce went down after taking a ball to the right eye, apparently ending the pickup game in a tie, though there was a lot of debate over the final score. Pierce was fine, but the trash-talking raged on in the locker room.

    Although the Celtics were allowed to freelance without O'Brien and his staff watching, it was obvious the players were part of a well-coached, disciplined team.

    Baker shouted for his green team to get back on defense. Hunter taunted the opposition after an offensive rebound led to a 15-footer for Perkins. "Too little on the glass," said Hunter. "Second shots will kill you." And there were more than a few turnovers that elicited grimaces.

    Funny, but defense, rebounding, and turnovers were all points of emphasis in yesterday's formal practice.

    "We've consistently turned the ball over," said O'Brien. "We've consistently not come up with key rebounds in the fourth quarter at a high level. But we know who our demons are, we're just not exorcising them right now. We can't have a plus-10 turnover differential with an opponent [as they did in Orlando Friday] and expect to beat them. There's just too many opportunities that you give away and that you're giving them.

    "If there is frustration for all of us, it is that our field goal defense has been solid, but we're giving up too many second shots. And our field goal offense is high and we're turning the ball over too many times."

    Measuring Up

    Orsine Elson, mother of Denver Nuggets reserve center Francisco Elson, had just arrived for the recent holiday season from Europe.

    She took her seat at the Pepsi Center, ready to see her Dutch-born son play in the NBA for the first time.

    Late in the first quarter, Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik went to the bench. Was it Elson's turn to play?

    Not yet. Instead, trotting onto the floor was 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins.

    "When he came onto the court, my mom was in shock," Elson said. "She said, 'Hey, there's a little kid on the court. Get him off the court before he gets run over.' "

    Orsine Elson then was told Boykins is a reserve point guard for the Nuggets. And after several minutes of watching Boykins, she was a fan.

    "That whole night after the game, all she was talking about was Earl Boykins," Elson said.

    Chuck Carlton: Officially, things should be improving

    Mavericks owner Mark Cuban likes what he has seen from the NBA's reworked officiating department – so far.

    "This is a great first step," Cuban said last week. "We're not all the way there."

    The NBA recently offered the media an inside look at how officials are evaluated, and what the league says is increased accountability this season with "standard observers" in each NBA city.

    Ronnie Nunn, the new director of officials, answered questions, as did Stu Jackson, the NBA's senior vice president for basketball operations.

    The idea was to dispel "myths" which have grown about the NBA, Jackson and Nunn said, and improve the quality of officiating.

    Cuban has been critical of officiating since buying the Mavericks four years ago but has done far more, doing his own research and offering suggestions.

    Whether the NBA wants to admit it, Cuban has been a catalyst for the change we're seeing now.

    "The more he gets a chance to know us, know our goals, know that the myths may not be what he and others think they are," Nunn said, "and the more we can talk about these things and get them the right, the better it is for everybody."

    Frank Hughes: Trade winds blowing in Seattle?

    As far as the Sonics go, Sund said, he is not looking to do anything significant, though, as always, he is willing to listen if a deal is a no-brainer.

    "We have made a lot of trades, and we have had a lot of transition in the past 2 1/2 years," said Sund, who has gone through 20 players, including Vin Baker and Gary Payton, since he took over GM duties in 2001. "So we are not actively pursuing anything. But we will listen.

    "We are manning the phones like we always have. We will initiate some calls if we hear some rumors that might make sense, but I imagine some teams will be calling us."

    Sund would prefer to move one of the team's big men, either little-used Vitaly Potapenko or overpaid Calvin Booth, whose contracts runs through the 2006-07 season.

    But what is most probable is that nothing will happen.

    "Every team in this league, from right about now, the middle of January, to the trade deadline, there is dialogue," Sund said. "Keep in mind, this is important, a lot of the dialogue is to plant seeds and get things rolling for June. Then in June and July and August, you have 26 or 27 teams who are willing to do things. Right now, you have five."

    No question, Porter makes statement with Bucks

    Just about everyone around the NBA was willing to grant new Bucks coach Terry Porter the grace period that comes with taking over a team, especially one that figured to be as bad as Milwaukee.

    And with Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell all shipped out of Brew Town last year, and Gary Payton escaping via free agency, the thinking was that Porter, a Milwaukee native, would need lots of his hometown's most famous export to drown his sorrows.

    But, as the season reaches the halfway point, Porter might be reaching for champagne rather than beer, as the Bucks are currently above .500 and the surprise team of the Eastern Conference.

    "From Day One, we really only talked about getting into a position come April to be in the playoff race," Porter said. "Right now, with the few injuries we've had, we're in that position, and we're pleased to be in that position. We take it game by game, and we work on the big picture. And the big picture is trying to be in the playoffs."

    Wizard's Insider

    Though he will be at least $1,000 lighter in the wallet after being ejected for picking up two technical fouls in Wednesday's 115-103 loss to the New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan on Thursday defended his actions, which included rushing on to the court to challenge official Ron Olesiak.

    "I felt that our post players, especially, are fighting down there, doing things the right way, not playing sloppy and I want my players to know I have their backs, that I'm standing up for them," said Jordan, who declined to discuss the caliber of officiating. "Our best player, Larry Hughes, is not demonstrative when he talks with officials. Our young guys are very respectful to them.

    "When I think we're not getting a fair shake, I've got to take a stand. I've got to show my players and show officials that we're not getting a fair shake. That's the only way to do it. You verbalize it respectfully and when it continues, you do a little more."

    Jordan said he has grown tired of other teams getting away with roughing up his players. He received his first technical foul after New Jersey forward Richard Jefferson collided with Hughes and was not administered a foul. Jordan stormed the court in the fourth quarter after forward Kwame Brown appeared to get fouled by Aaron Williams on a layup attempt, but no foul was called. . . .

    Heat players pass the time with tunes and treats for feet on road trip

    How do NBA players prepare for their longest road trip of the season, one that runs 11 days, includes stops in six cities and crosses time zones eight times?

    They talk about pedicures.

    So there were forwards Lamar Odom, John Wallace and Rasual Butler in the Heat locker room, 11 days ago, a night before the plane would depart for Milwaukee, talking about their piggy toes.

    "I could use a pedicure," Butler said, while seated to Odom's right, as his teammate clipped his nails.

    "My pedicure place is in Atlanta," Wallace said, seated across the room.

    "I've got my own place in L.A.," said Odom, who joined the Heat from the Clippers in the offseason. "It's right by where I live, in Marina del Rey. I can set you up. They take care of me."

    Twenty-two hours later, on Jan. 8, the Heat's private plane was headed west, yet to return to South Florida.

    So far there has been snow in Milwaukee, bitter cold in Minneapolis, fog in Sacramento, weather in Salt Lake City that had public health officials warning about poor air quality, a too-brief 24-hour taste of South Florida weather in Los Angeles, and now the cool, crisp but way-too-thin air of Denver.

    Along the way there have been losses in four of the first five games, reunions for players, an incursion into the techno world, a stretch of interminable boredom, six practice sessions, and, yes, more talk about pedicures.

    AJ's Diss No Biggie To Byron

    Johnson, who on Friday labeled Scott "immature" and asked "what do they want, cookies?" for a December victory, also took a slight dig at his former coach for the way he was used last season. Johnson claimed had he played more, Jason Kidd "could've been fresher down the stretch of the season."

    Scott's reaction? "I want cake [not cookies]."

    NBA Leaders

    Blocks Per Game

    1. Theo Ratliff (Atlanta Hawks) 3.12
    2. Ben Wallace (Detroit Pistons) 3.08
    3. Andrei Kirilenko (Utah Jazz) 2.92
    4. Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) 2.78
    5. Jermaine O'Neal (Indiana Pacers) 2.76

    Free Throws Attempted

    1. Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) 324
    2. Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics) 315
    3. Shaquille O'Neal (Los Angeles Lakers) 292
    4. Corey Maggette (Los Angeles Clippers) 279
    5. Tracy McGrady (Orlando Magic) 265

    Defensive Rebounds Per Game

    1. Kevin Garnett (Minnesota Timberwolves) 10.7
    2. Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs) 9.6
    3. Ben Wallace (Detroit Pistons) 8.8
    4. Brad Miller (Sacramento Kings) 8.0
    5. Carlos Boozer (Cleveland Cavaliers) 7.9

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    Yet while Indiana has built the bulk of one of the league's top records mostly against inferior Eastern competition

    What's our record against the West again? And our home record against the West?

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    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA


    Without talking to Chaney about his future (or lack of one), Thomas went on David Letterman’s show the night before the firing and laughed and joked about Chaney’s job status.

    The next slap in the face came Wednesday morning. Chaney shows up at the team’s shoot-around amid reports that he has been fired and Mike Fratello will be taking over the team, after the game Wednesday.

    Picture the scene. There is Chaney and his supposedly deposed coaching staff huddled in one corner of the gym, and in another, Aguirre and Glymph were laughing and joking with the players.

    Chaney didn’t find out that he was fired until he showed up at Madison Square Garden at 5 p.m. Wednesday night.

    Why was Thomas so cruel in his handling of Chaney? Because Thomas likely has held a grudge against Chaney since 1994. Thomas had one did not play, coach’s decision his entire playing career. It came in the 1993-1994 season. The coach? Don Chaney.

    Well, Thomas got what he wanted, a puppet head coach in Lenny Wilkens. If you don’t think Thomas is coaching this team from his president’s chair, you are kidding yourself.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    Price doesn't match the product for Lakers fans

    At least the beer was cold, the view unobstructed and the cowbells kept to a civilized minimum.

    Other than that, a complete washout.

    Brodie Downs is a civil engineer by day in Modesto and a rabid Lakers follower by night. He plunked down a tidy $1,200 for prime seating for Friday's Arco Arena meeting with the Kings, just behind the Lakers bench and close enough to catch a whiff of the sweat from Stanislav Medvedenko, Jamal Sampson and Brian Cook and to hear Phil Jackson creak.

    Downs ponied up a month's worth of rent to see what amounted to a summer-league team of ho-hummers. He purchased the tickets at Christmas, as a surprise for his girlfriend, Nicole Chipponeri. Some surprise. No Kobe. No Shaq. No Karl. No chance.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Weekend Recap 01-18: News from around the NBA

    At least that beat writer who had Jermaine O'Neal as his MVP midway through the season, also had Artest as defensive player of the year.

    So I guess I can forgive him for his comment about inferior eastern conference teams padding our win total.

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