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Okafor, Howard and Gordon are among the rookies who have proved they can play.
By Chris McCosky / The Detroit News
Chris McCosky's quick hits
It hard not to feel bad for Herb Williams, who replaces the resigned Lenny Wilkens on an interim basis in New York. After completing a short home stand this week, the Knicks go on a six-game road trip, starting in Detroit then going West for five games. Tough way to start. Of course, as only the New York media can, they are rumoring Pistons Larry Brown as their next coach. It's funny to read the New York tabloids say, "There is increasing talk of Brown leaving Detroit after this season," when the only ones talking about Brown leaving are the New York tabloids. Brown isn't saying it. Joe Dumars isn't saying it. Now, that said, I wouldn't be surprised if Brown did leave this summer. Shoot, he almost left after winning the championship last June. That's what Brown does, he leaves. And the fact that he has a close relationship with Knicks boss Isiah Thomas doesn't hurt. But let's clear this up right now. If Brown thinks he is going to be able to have more say in personnel matters with Thomas than he has here with Dumars, he is mistaken. Thomas respects Brown, as Dumars does. But Thomas is calling the shots in New York and he won't compromise that.
Here's another surprise coming Brown's way. He loves a lot of things about newly- acquired point guard Carlos Arroyo, as he should. But if he thinks he's improving the team's defense against dribble penetration, he is, again, mistaken. Arroyo's inability to stay in front his man drove Utah Coach Jerry Sloan crazy. Arroyo is a quick, penetrate-and-dish point guard. But he is no defensive stopper. Lindsey Hunter's value continues to rise. He remains the team's best on-ball defender.
Former Piston and current president of the NBA players association Michael Curry voiced some optimism for a settlement on a new collective bargaining agreement last week. After attending a meeting in New York last week, Curry said, "There were things we were both trying to establish last time," Curry said. "This deal only needs a little tweaking. The last time we had to come up with a whole new deal. Hopefully by the All-Star break we'll have the framework of a deal in place. We're willing to get a deal done by the All-Star break. But we're not going to take a bad deal at the All-Star break and we're not going to take a bad deal in December."
Rockets Coach Jeff Van Gundy keeps complaining that center Yao Ming gets a bad whistle from officials. "Hey, it's fact," Van Gundy said. "He gets a bad whistle. We're going to be talking about the same thing next year and the year after." That's because the guy can't move his feet. He defends with his hands -- of course he's going to get called for a lot of fouls.
How impressive are the Spurs? Well, a 33-9 record doesn't stink. But their average margin of victory is 11 points a game. Think about that? Only four of their victories have been less than eight points. "Just watch them. It's mesmerizing sometimes," Jeff Van Gundy said. "They're such a machine. Every game is a blowout. Just think about their point differential. 'Oh, on our bad night we won by nine.'"
Clippers center Chris Kaman, the Central Michigan product, has a fan in Chris Webber. "I know him really well. He played with my brother (David, at Central)... I brought him out here to work out with us before he went to college, so I know him. I love him. He's like my white brother. He knows I want to kill him and he wants to kill me."
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AUBURN HILLS -- Believe it or not, we are actually approaching the midpoint of this bizarre season.
Given all the drama -- the brawl, Larry Brown's hip, rumors about Brown leaving, Darko-gate, Kobe vs. Shaq, anti-defense laws (scoring is up four points a game), slacker controversy (Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady), ridiculous comeback attempts (Dennis Rodman, Jayson Williams), coaches getting whacked (Jeff Bzdelik), coaches resigning (Lenny Wilkens, Hubie Brown), coaches injured (Don Nelson), coaches on the hot seat (Maurice Cheeks, Flip Saunders, Mike Montgomery) -- seems like we've already put in a full season's worth.
But it certainly hasn't been dull.
The one thing that has struck me, though, about this half-season is the wealth of rookie talent that has come into the league. I don't usually get too excited about rookie classes (When Tim Duncan came out of Wake Forest, I thought he was too stiff and passive to be an elite player -- good call, huh?) But the 2004 draft class might go down as the deepest in a long, long time, maybe ever.
Last year we got star rookies -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony (though he still is a long way away from being a true star player) and Chris Bosh.
This year there we got at least 16 rookies, solid if not spectacular, who look like they are going to be making an impact in this league for a lot of years. It starts with Emeka Okafor, Dwight Howard, Ben Gordon, Andre Iguodala and Josh Smith.
That alone would qualify it as a solid draft class, but that's just the beginning. Luol Deng, Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, Andres Nocioni, Nenad Krstic, David Harrison, Josh Childress, Devin Harris, Beno Udrih, Jameer Nelson, Anderson Varejo, all these guys look like they have long and successful careers ahead of them.
That doesn't include two others who, before they were injured, were in their team's rotation -- Carlos Delfino and Shaun Livingston.
The midpoint Rookie of the Year, though, has to be Okafor. Again, I underestimated this guy's talent. I thought he would be good, you know, maybe a Dale Davis-type center. But he's surpassed that, averaging a double-double and showing the ability to hit midrange jumpers as well as play his low-post game.
Here are some other midpoint awards and musings:
The Most Valuable Player, thus far, has to be Steve Nash, right? Given that he single-handedly changed the culture of the Phoenix Suns, pushed them to the league's best record before getting injured, made Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion infinitely better players by getting them easy bucket after easy bucket, he has to get the nod.
If you fantasy-league nuts want to pick your MVP based on statistical categories, then Kevin Garnett and LeBron James are your five-category leaders.
But for my money, if I want to make a contender out of a pretender over night, give me Nash.
My coach of the midyear, well, I have two. Sorry. I can't differentiate between the job Nate McMillan has done in Seattle and the one Scott Skiles has done in Chicago. Both have turned around moribund franchises.
Sixth Man of the midyear? Give me Jerry Stackhouse over Antonio McDyess, Corliss Williamson and Ben Gordon.
Defensive player of the midyear? There is only one, and it won't change come April, either. They may as well name the award in his honor and let other people win it in the future -- Ben Wallace.
Among the disappointments, I would list Minnesota (from Western Conference finals to, possibly, a lottery team), the Pistons (they have the best starting five in the East, and one of the top three in the league, they should not be losing to so many bad teams), Utah (injury to Andrei Kirilenko ruined it), Houston (Yao Ming may be the most overrated player in the league) and Denver (no excuse to for being so bad).
As for individual disappointments, Carmelo Anthony continues to top my list; so much talent, so little maturity. Brent Barry has to be on the list. How could he not fit into the Spurs' system? It seems like it was made for him. Then there's Kenyon Martin. His mediocre play has proved two theories -- Tim Thomas had it right when he called him "fugazy" (a fraud) and that Jason Kidd made him an All-Star.
Among the pleasant surprises are the obvious choices, Phoenix and Seattle. Washington continues to show that it may be the prototype for the style of basketball Commissioner David Stern is looking for.
Speaking of the Wizards, another huge surprise, to me, has been Antawn Jamison. I knew he was a productive player, but I had no idea that he was such a solid person and team leader. He is the reason that I don't think the Wizards are going to fall off the radar in the second half.
Finally, here's my all-midyear teams. I took a some liberties with the West, moving Dirk Nowitzki to small forward and Kobe Bryant to point guard (it's my team, sue me).
East -- C Shaquille O'Neal, PF Jermaine O'Neal, SF LeBron James, SG Allen Iverson, PG Chauncey Billups. Second team -- C Ben Wallace, PF Emeka Okafor, SF Antawn Jamison, SG Dwyane Wade, PG Steve Francis.
West -- C Tim Duncan, PF Kevin Garnett, SF Dirk Nowitzki, SG Ray Allen, PG Steve Nash. Second team -- C Amare Stoudemire, PF Chris Webber, SF Corey Maggette, SG Tracy McGrady, PG Kobe Bryant.
It takes a village
The Pistons came away mighty impressed with Magic rookie Dwight Howard last week. He plays with a strength and competitiveness well beyond his 19 years. He more than held his own against Rasheed Wallace, one of the premier forwards in the league.
It's easy to see why Howard is so successful so early. Not only is he mature, physically and emotionally, but the Magic organization has provided an unbelievable support system for him, one that should be a model for all teams with teenaged players.
The Magic have hired a chef to cook his lunches and dinners, making sure he hits the projected goal of 5,200 calories a day.
Strength and conditioning coach Mick Smith is with Howard daily, making sure he lifts weights at least three times a week and keeps his weight above 260 pounds. To date, he has added 22 pounds of muscle and increased his bench press from 225 pounds to 275 pounds.
Former NBA center and assistant coach Clifford Ray, who worked with Ben Wallace early in his career, works Howard out daily after practice, working on both his low-post moves and psyche. It's no wonder Rasheed Wallace couldn't get into the kid's head.
The Magic also made sure Howard's locker was right in between Grant Hill and DeShawn Stevenson. They wanted Howard to have the benefit of Hill's wisdom, especially in terms of handling early success and the demands of the media. They also wanted Stevenson close by, someone closer to his own age that also made the jump from high school to the NBA.
Last, the Magic allow Howard's 24-year-old cousin, Kevin Samples, to travel with him on the road. While his teammates go to nightclubs or fancy restaurants on the road, Howard and Samples watch movies and have marathon video game sessions.
Mavericks assistant coach Del Harris, asked if head coach Don Nelson would be back to normal after undergoing shoulder surgery last week: "I don't know if I'd say he'll be normal. It wasn't a brain operation. But his shoulder will be fine."
We will meet the NBA season halfway. Well, at least in Phoenix, the season is halfway done. That is enough to prompt a midseason perusal of awards and whatnot.
It's as random as Jamal Crawford's shot selection, but we hope we're more accurate.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Night and day are more alike than the Suns with and without Steve Nash. There are better players, but there can't be one of more value to his team. He is posting career-best numbers for passing and shooting. His return Friday solidified what his absence had suggested about how vital he is. His average of 15.3 points per game would be the lowest for an MVP since Wes Unseld (13.8) won in 1968-1969. advertisement
ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM: Nash and Kobe Bryant at guards, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan at forwards and Shaquille O'Neal at center.
ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM: Dwyane Wade and Allen Iverson at guards, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki at forwards and Amarι Stoudemire at center.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Charlotte's Emeka Okafor has more offensive game than anyone imagined. Games of four and six points this month fed doubters, but do 18 points and 19 rebounds Wednesday against Philadelphia sound like a man on the decline?
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Clippers forward Bobby Simmons, stepping up in Quentin Richardson's absence, went from shooting 39.4 percent to 48.3 percent and doubled his scoring average to 15.7 this season.
COACH OF THE YEAR: With all due respect to the Suns' Mike D'Antoni, Seattle coach Nate McMillan is a nose ahead. D'Antoni recognized Phoenix's talent and boldly implemented a style to suit it. The Suns don't back off, making opponents try to stop what they do best. At least a handful of people, including here, picked Phoenix to be in the playoffs. Seattle was pegged to eke its way out of the West cellar. McMillan, despite lame-duck status and barely a ripple of roster movement, also got bold and has the deep-shooting Sonics aiming to go deep in the playoffs.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Oh, you mean the Ben Wallace Award? Big Ben has it again, but do you suppose Shawn Marion can receive some run for guarding power forwards and centers and averaging 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks?
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: You're not going to like this. Boston's Ricky Davis gets the nod, averaging 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game with 46 percent shooting. We're not considering Utah's Mehmet Okur. He should have earned a starting job after signing for six years and $50 million.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Phoenix's Bryan Colangelo. It's not even close. You've seen every move of the past 13 months turn to gold.
BEST TREND: More fast breaks. Eight teams average 100 points or more.
BEST QUOTE: "I don't know what's wrong with that girl." - Seattle's Reggie Evans on Memphis' Pau Gasol
MOST OVERHYPED TEAM: Denver, and it's getting worse under Michael Cooper.
MOST UNDERSOLD TEAM: Seattle. Orlando must be close. The whole rotation didn't play last year.
A statistical analysis by 82games.com ranked who is best in the league at drawing fouls in the clutch (the last five minutes of a game), based on a ratio of times fouled and shots taken. The stats are through Tuesday's games.
Name Fouls Shots
Amarι Stoudemire 9 20
Jermaine O'Neal 5 17
Shaquille O'Neal 12 43
Corey Maggette 15 54
Page 2 of 4 -- Although he's a Chicago guy, made his NBA name in Detroit, ran a team in Toronto, and coached in Indiana, Thomas fully understands what it means to have a vibrant and viable team in New York. Van Gundy's right; there's nothing like it.
Thomas assembled this roster. He imported Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway. He traded for Tim Thomas, Nazr Mohammad, Jerome Williams, and Jamal Crawford. He signed Vin Baker. His DNA is all over this team.
He has said he'd like to coach again, and this is his team. But after Wilkens resigned, Thomas designated Herb Williams to coach for the remainder of the season. Maybe Williams will turn into another Jim O'Brien, but, in all likelihood, he's probably more like another Terry Stotts, another caretaker trying to clean up someone else's mess.
Jackson back to lend a hand, not a fist
Wednesday night in the FleetCenter, the Indiana Pacers will welcome back the second of their three banned belligerents when Stephen Jackson suits up against the Celtics, having served his 30-game suspension for fighting in the stands last Nov. 19 in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Jackson has been practicing with the team for a couple of weeks, and the Pacers received permission for him to travel so that he could practice on the road. (He still was not allowed to go to games.)
Jackson could provide a big lift to the struggling Pacers, who, with Ron Artest out for the season and Jonathan Bender having just returned, have been having trouble stopping opposition swingmen.
"We've been missing a [small forward] since Ronnie went out," said Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "We've been at a deficit at that position for a while. Stephen will help."
Jackson got the second-longest suspension of the three players; Artest's was for the season and Jermaine O'Neal's 25-gamer was reduced to 15 by an arbitrator. The team has been also hit by injuries to virtually everyone; no Pacer has appeared in every game this season, and 16 different players have started. And even though Bender is now back, he won't play back-to-back games for a while.
Indiana is 20-18, and Wednesday lost in New Orleans after winning in Houston the night before. Go figure.
"Just because we're getting players back doesn't mean that all of a sudden we're going to be like we were," Walsh said. "Some of these guys were out for a month or two. We need some consistency and team play."
As for Jackson, he talked about the Nov. 19 incident to Indianapolis reporter Mark Montieth 11 days ago and didn't appear to be all that remorseful.
"It was just in the spur of the moment," Jackson said. "My whole attitude was to get to [Artest] and get him back, but when I got there, things had got a little bit out of control. I hate how it went down, but I don't regret helping my teammate." Continued...
Page 3 of 4 -- He later termed the affair "this little incident" and said, "I'm going to come and play with the same intensity, play the same way. I'm going to have my team's back, 100 percent. Nothing's going to change me. I'm just going to be a little smarter."
Well that's a relief.
"I can guarantee, you won't see me in the stands," he added. "That's one thing I do know."
Jefferson gets a rave review from Davis
Veteran Chicago big man Antonio Davis has seen a lot of guys come and go, and he likes what he sees of Celtics rookie Al Jefferson.
"We were talking about him on the bench," Davis said after last Wednesday's game. "His touch, his size, his demeanor, his awareness -- for a high school kid, it's unbelievable. He really uses his body well. He doesn't try to do things out of his element."
Davis said he considered it "kind of a joy" to watch the 20-year-old rookie, who hit the Bulls for 17 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 0 turnovers.
"He tries to rebound. He tries to play defense the right way," Davis said. "He's not forcing anything. He's not hurting you in any way, so the kid has to play. Bottom line, the kid has to play. He doesn't hurt you. If I'm not mistaken, that's what you want to see."
Jefferson should be a mortal lock to be one of the nine rookies who play a group of one-year veterans on Friday night of All-Star weekend. The NBA said it will announce the participants Thursday.
Tony Allen also could get the call, but one rookie you definitely won't see in the game is the kid Danny Ainge lusted after last June, Seattle center Robert Swift. He has played 28 minutes all season, or one fewer than Jefferson did last Wednesday.
The Blazers finally cut all ties with third-year forward Qyntel Woods after he pleaded guilty Friday to first-degree animal abuse, a misdemeanor in Oregon. He had been charged with dog fighting, a felony, as authorities speculated that he was preparing pit bulls for fights. Woods had been suspended without pay last Oct. 12, and the Blazers have no plans to pay him now that he has been waived, saying he breached his contract. The players' union is appealing that decision, and Blazers president Steve Patterson expects to go to arbitration over the matter. Woods, the Blazers' No. 1 pick (21st overall) in 2002, was in the last year of his three-year rookie deal, and was scheduled to earn more than $1.1 million. One of the conditions of his 12-month probation (he also has to perform 80 hours of community service) is that he can't have pets.
BY LACY J. BANKS SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST Advertisement
If the Bulls continue to improve and end up making the playoffs, operations chief John Paxson and coach Scott Skiles are likely to be considered for postseason awards.
''Let's not get carried away,'' Paxson said, laughing. ''You must be talking about [Suns general manager] Bryan Colangelo. He's done a great job with his team.''
It's fair to call Colangelo and coach Mike D'Antoni front-runners for top exec and top coach. Colangelo's acquisition of free agents Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson transformed the Suns into one of the league's elite teams.
But Paxson and Skiles are producing impressive results without having signed any high-profile free agents and with five rookies on the team.
In fact, Paxson traded Jamal Crawford, who was the Bulls' leading scorer last season, when the team finished with the second-worst record in the league.
But Paxson and Skiles will face some tough competition for individual awards:
*The Magic's John Weisbrod took the league's worst team from last season and has it playing above .500.
Weisbrod traded one of the most talented players in the league in Tracy McGrady and passed on Emeka Okafor to take prep star Dwight Howard with the No. 1 draft pick. Okafor has been great with Charlotte, but Howard also has been impressive.
Coach Johnny Davis, whose deal is not guaranteed for next season, may be securing his future.
**Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Eddie Jordan have Washington 12 wins ahead of last season's pace.
Grunfeld traded the rights to top pick Devin Harris, Jerry Stackhouse and cash to Dallas for Antawn Jamison, who has been terrific.
*General manager Rick Sund and coach Nate McMillan have the SuperSonics playing at a 60-win pace.
*President Pat Riley and coach Stan Van Gundy have the Heat atop the Eastern Conference and 13 wins ahead of last season's pace after trading for Shaquille O'Neal in the offseason.
*Operations chief Jim Paxson and coach Paul Silas have the Cavaliers on target for 51 victories.
That's an impressive feat considering the hit Paxson took for letting Carlos Boozer get away to the Jazz for nothing after Boozer allegedly backed out of an agreement.
SHAQ NOT GUARANTEED: Heat fans will have to buy their three-year season tickets on faith that Shaquille O'Neal will still be with the team.
O'Neal has one year left on a contract paying him $28 million this season and some $30 million next season. He wants an extension of a year or two, and one thing is sure about negotiations for that extension.
''He's going to be very expensive,'' Heat president Pat Riley said. "He knows it. We know it.''
Heat business chief Eric Woolworth says fans must simply exercise faith.
"People are going to have to make their decision based on what they think we're going to do,'' he said. "We can't guarantee what Shaq's going to do.''
ROUND TWO: Last week's fight between Timberwolves center Michael Olowokandi and Nuggets forward Nene was simply a resurgence of the bad blood from last season's playoff series. Nuggets forward Francisco Elson called Kevin Garnett "gay'' after a brief altercation.
But the Nene-Olowokandi bout was the real thing, and it was violent enough for each to draw a four-game suspension without pay.
"It was almost like two atomic bombs just clashed,'' Garnett said. "One's not going to back down. They're both big guys with tremendous physical presence.''
DARKO WANTS MORE: He was glad the Pistons picked him No. 2 in the 2003 draft, but slow-developing Darko Milicic, 19, wants more playing time.
"I would just like a chance to play a couple of minutes in the second quarter,'' said Milicic, averaging .9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 6.9 minutes. "I would like to stay in Detroit. I want to be here. I sit over there for two hours, and it's tough to go in late in games.''
Playing behind Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace and Antonio McDyess, Milicic may find himself out of Detroit if he doesn't improve his 22.7 percent field-goal shooting.
"A player has to earn his minutes,'' operations chief Joe Dumars said.
WAITING GAME: Riley said Miami is definitely interested in acquiring free-agent forward Karl Malone, 41, who's recovering from knee surgery. The Heat, along with four or five other teams, is now waiting for him to make up his mind.
"It's all up to Karl,'' said Riley, who has not talked to Dwight Manley, Malone's agent, since Christmas. "Karl's going to make the decision on what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.''
Knicks operations chief Isiah Thomas wants Raptors forward Donyell Marshall so badly he's willing to accept higher-priced teammate Jalen Rose in the deal. Thomas reportedly is offering Kurt Thomas and Anfernee Hardaway. If the deal goes through, the Knicks will have four former Bulls in Jamal Crawford, Jerome Williams, Rose and Marshall.
Riley angrily denies the TNT report, backed by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, that he had offered Eddie Jones for Latrell Sprewell.
"For TNT to break it is unconscionable on their part because there's nothing to it,'' Riley said. "It's sort of like a snowball rolling downhill, it keeps gathering momentum.''
The Timberwolves have desperately wanted to relocate Spree even before he went public with the demand for an extension "because I have a family to feed.''
The last thing Riley wants is for Sprewell to poison the Heat's chemistry.
If the Nuggets don't keep interim coach Michael Cooper after the season, they'll have a ready replacement in SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan, whose stock has been revived with his team having a great season and with his contract expiring after this season. Seattle was close to firing McMillan last season, when the Sonics finished 37-45. Insiders say McMillan is interested but can't comment for the record until after the season.
If the Bucks don't come through with an extension paying All-Star Michael Redd his market value instead of $3 million, he may go elsewhere for less when his contract expires next season.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Chicago connection: The 23-year-old, 6-4 guard played for Richards High School in Oak Lawn before starring at Marquette. He married his high school sweetheart, Siohvaughn, and he credits her and their marriage with helping him to mature as a man and as a gifted athlete. He says his family provides him an added reason to be disciplined and responsible with his life and his talent. Fried chicken and mashed potatoes are his favorite dish.
Catching up: He became an All-American at Marquette, where he played three seasons and led the Golden Eagles to the 2003 Final Four before turning pro after his junior year. He was drafted No. 5 by the Heat after the Bulls failed to trade up to select him. He was third to LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony for rookie of the year and not only led the Heat into the playoffs, but into the second round. He's averaging over 20 points and seven assists, and new teammate Shaquille O'Neal has nicknamed him "Flash'' because of his speed and quickness.
15: Nuggets 5-5 point guard Earl Boykins, the shortest player in the NBA, played like a giant, scoring an NBA-record 15 points in overtime Tuesday to lead his team to a 116-110 victory over the SuperSonics.
This is where we are with the Knicks: The only person around here with any kind of head coaching experience won't coach the team because, get this, there's too much traffic. So the person who has been entrusted to lead the team into the playoffs is moving over from the third assistant coach's chair.
No disrespect to Herb Williams, but Isiah Thomas should be coaching the Knicks this afternoon against the Bucks at the Garden, and coaching this team from here on out. Given where the Knicks are, it made no sense for Thomas to replace Lenny Wilkens, who has coached more games than any other person in NBA history, 2,487, with Williams, who has coached one.
Isiah has three years of head coaching experience. He's the father figure to this team's two most important players, Stephon Marbury and Jamal Crawford. Since he's put together almost all of this roster, which has mediocrity written all over it, maybe he can squeeze 42 wins and an Atlantic Division title out of it.
But when he was asked yesterday why he hasn't returned to the sidelines, Thomas gave championship-starved New York fans this:
"Because I don't think you can do both in this city, with the way traffic is and everything else."
When they say Isiah Thomas was a great driver in traffic, they weren't considering the roads.
Granted, the Hutch is murder and the West Side Highway can be a parking lot. But for Isiah Thomas to list "traffic" as the first reason he isn't taking the reins ... well, it was as comical as when he later talked about having a history of getting along with everyone, whether as a coach or player.
We can start with Adrian Dantley and Michael Jordan and go from there. In a historical context and in terms of sheer length, Isiah's enemies list puts Nixon's to shame.
The "traffic" explanation was simply as implausible as the organization's official line on Wilkens' sudden departure. Lenny Wilkens wouldn't quit a lost cause.
Thomas reminded everyone that he brought Wilkens in to be a "transition coach." So he replaces him with a neophyte who has never been even a No. 2 assistant? Forget the intricacies of the salary cap. Isiah has trouble figuring out the FDR at 5 o'clock.
"I wouldn't have the stamina to be the president and also coach," he explained. "It's too hard to live here and too many things get in the way."
Again, even if you didn't love the way he coached the Pacers, who never got out of the first round under his tutelage, Thomas is the only person in the Knicks' franchise who is qualified for the job. But you know what really would get "in the way" if Isiah did coach this conglomeration: All the losses.
The really odd thing about the "traffic" line is that Isiah loves to talk about riding the subway, where he claims he is often engaged in spirited discussions with fans. You'd think he'd be better equipped to deal with the highways, coming from Chicago where they have some real nightmares, including the Dan Ryan and the Kennedy. Little did we know he can't handle the Cross Bronx.
Maybe if this were Cleveland, where rush hour is a snap and nobody suffers from road rage ...
"A city not as large as this, maybe," Thomas said about assuming the two-post position. "The energy that is required to do both in this city, you can't."
But let's not buy into Isiah's alleged inability to deal with rubber-necking delays on the Grand Central. He's not coaching this team for one reason: It can't win big. If he took over, his winning percentage (.533) would start falling faster than yesterday's snow. You know who knows that? The players, who were often dazed and confused and too often left to their own devices under Wilkens.
"I never thought he would take over," said Allan Houston.
How about Marbury? Was he surprised Isiah didn't pick up his whistle?
"No," said the league's self-proclaimed No.1 point guard.
Isiah tried to compare Williams' promotion to Lawrence Frank's. But Frank was Byron Scott's right-hand man. Herb hardly said a word to Lenny. Michael Malone handled a lot of game preparation and Brendan Suhr was Wilkens' in-game adviser. Mark Aguirre would be a hard sell, because he sits a row back. And anyway, how could Isiah one day fire his own best friend?
So he goes with Herb, a Garden favorite and the most expendable of the lot. For Isiah Thomas, the decision was as easy as the Saw Mill Parkway at three in the morning.
Mobley providing energetic punch Kings' offense has been lacking
By Dwain Price
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Cuttino Mobley probably doesn't know this yet, but he's better off playing for the Sacramento Kings than he was playing for the Orlando Magic.
No offense to the folks from Disney World, but Mobley's chance of winning an NBA title is much greater with the Kings. Once the shock of the trade wears off, Mobley will realize he's with the best team of his seven-year career.
"It's not a bad thing [playing for the Kings]," Mobley said. "And I want everybody to know that."
With Mobley set to become a free agent at season's end, the Magic -- doubtful it could re-sign the left-hander -- traded him and Michael Bradley to the Kings for Doug Christie on Jan. 10.
Mobley knows how the business works. It can be downright vicious at times.
That's why Mobley wasn't as upset by the trade as his former backcourt mate, Steve Francis.
"I really wasn't shocked," Mobley said. "Maybe Orlando thought I wasn't going to sign back with them, so you had to get something for something."
Mobley is a consistent scorer who will complement the Kings' nucleus of Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby. Sacramento sorely needed Mobley's perimeter offense, especially with sixth man Bobby Jackson out for the season with a wrist injury.
"I think he's fitting in well," Webber said. "He has a loud personality, which is good for this team.
"For me personally, being the leader, I definitely want people that are more vocal -- so you don't always have to be the one screaming -- and we can inspire each other. He's come in and he's played well, so I think it's been good for us."
But while Mobley adjusts to his new surroundings, he still longs for the days when he and Francis patrolled the backcourt for the Rockets and during their brief tenure together with the Magic.
Francis had become a security blanket of sorts for Mobley, and vice versa.
"It's a little weird," Mobley said. "Steve was telling me the other day when I was talking to him, 'It's funny playing at home and you're not there.'
"I said, 'It's funny playing on the road and you're not there.' But you get used to it after a while."
So what does Mobley, who's averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 43.5 percent from 3-point range since joining Sacramento, give the Kings that Christie didn't?
"It's tough to say, because Doug had been here so long," Webber said. "The intangibles he brought to us, you can never replace.
"But I think with Cuttino, he's definitely a scorer and somebody we can go to late in the game, and somebody who can really shoot the 3. We've got something we haven't had in a while, just with energy, just another guard coming in here and being aggressive and speaking his mind and just giving it all he has and not being scared. And that's what we needed."
The Kings have gone out of their way to make sure Mobley adjusts to life on the West Coast, even if things are a little different.
"The guys have welcomed me big time," said Mobley, a Philadelphia native. "C-Webb, Bibby, even [Greg] Ostertag. Guys were talking about hunting, but I'm a city kid. I don't hunt.
"I don't like to kill things, but I know what it feels like to be hunted. I'm from the 'hood."
HE SAID IT
"You lose all credibility if you just hand minutes to a player."
-- Pistons coach Larry Brown on why he hasn't given Darko Milicic substantial playing time.
WHO'S HOT AND WHO'S NOT
Hot: Manu Ginobili: The third-year Spurs guard scored a career-high 48 points in Friday's 128-123 overtime victory over the Suns. That came two games after Ginobili missed Monday's game against the Wizards because of a right quadriceps contusion.
Nenad Krstic: The 21-year-old Nets rookie center from Serbia-Montenegro averaged 13.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in 37.3 minutes during last week's road trip to Houston, Dallas and Atlanta. He also contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds in Friday's victory over the Celtics.
Not: Damon Jones: After shooting 46 percent from 3-point range through early December for the Heat, Jones is only 19-of-76 from beyond the arc for 25 percent in the past 10 games. That includes going 1-of-11 Jan. 14 against the Clippers.
Mark Blount: The Celtics expected big things from Blount after he signed a six-year, $38 million free-agent contract last summer. But Blount has one double-double and 15 single-singles this season. He has 10 or more rebounds only twice.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Kings at Spurs, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, TNT
These two powerhouses, both being chased by the Mavericks, meet twice in a five-day span.
Wizards at Cavaliers, 6 p.m. Monday
Both teams will be without a starting guard. The Wizards' Larry Hughes and the Cavs' Jeff McInnis are sidelined by injuries.
Pistons at Pacers, 6 p.m. Thursday, TNT
They will forever be linked to the Nov. 19 brawl.
BY THE NUMBERS
6 Consecutive losses for the Suns, who were an NBA-best 31-4 before the skid began. Five of the recent losses came while point guard Steve Nash was sidelined by an injury.
21 Games the Magic won last season, a total they've already matched this season.
$302,000 Dollars that Jim Jackson lost in fines while refusing to report to the Hornets. After missing 11 games, Jackson was traded to the Suns on Friday.
Pacers guard Ron Artest will practice Monday with his team for the first time since he was suspended for his part in the Nov. 19 brawl in Detroit. Artest has not had formal contact with his team for 66 days, since NBA commissioner David Stern suspended him for the rest of this season. Artest still won't attend any games and won't travel with the Pacers, who hope Stern will ultimately reduce his suspension. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said: "When you've got a player of that caliber it's a good practice situation, because he can help push your first team."
The Spurs are hoping to sign free-agent forward Karl Malone, but the Miami is also hopes to sign The Mailman. Heat president Pat Riley said he hasn't been in contact with Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, since Christmas. "I think Karl's going to make the decision on what he wants to do, when he wants to do it," Riley said. "I don't know what's going to happen from that standpoint. It's all up to Karl. I have not talked to him."
Law and Order, the NBC TV show, is beginning production on an episode that deals with a basketball fight. It's eerily similar to the Nov. 19 brawl in Detroit. Law and Order supposedly gets its story lines from real headlines in the news. The brawl, which spilled over into the stands, was the worst fight in NBA history.
1. Spurs: Overcame a 17-point 4th-quarter deficit to beat the Suns in OT.
2. Suns: Newly acquired Jim Jackson will provide much-needed help.
3. Kings: Mike Bibby registered a triple-double vs. the Cavs on Thursday.
4. Mavericks: Avery Johnson has a bright coaching career.
5. SuperSonics: Mavs reject Danny Fortson can actually play.
6. Lakers: Maybe they should have traded Kobe instead of Shaq.
7. Rockets: Chalk one up for Tracy McGrady.
8. Grizzlies: One of the league's hottest teams.
9. Timberwolves: Does Randy Moss have a jump shot?
10. Nuggets: At least they'll host the All-Star Game next month.
1. Heat: Found out how tough the West can be.
2. Cavaliers: Uh-oh. Jeff McInnis left Friday's practice on crutches.
3. Wizards: Losing Larry Hughes is devastating news.
4. Pistons: The defending champs are too laid-back.
5. Magic: A middle-of-the-road team.
6. Pacers: They hope Ron Artest won't be fighting in practice.
7. Bulls: Even I don't believe this.
8. 76ers: Help!!! Are Dr. J and Andrew Toney available?
9. Celtics: Please! They don't want Antoine Walker back.
10. Raptors: They're back on the NBA map.
AROUND THE RIM
Van Gundy in the know
Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy has a personal attachment to Coach Carter, the nation's top box-office movie.
As a kid, Van Gundy was a high school rival of Ken Carter, the former Richmond (Calif.) High School standout who returned to his alma mater to become the no-nonsense coach portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie.
"He's actually in the same high school class I was in," Van Gundy said. "That's my county. I played against him in high school."
Van Gundy attended Alhambra High in nearby Martinez, which also is in Contra Costa County.
"We played in an All-Star series," said Van Gundy, who took his family to see the movie last week. "Our county All-Star team played together. He and I played against each other a lot."
Van Gundy said he recently saw Carter when the Heat played the Lakers in Los Angeles.
"He came up to me at halftime and said, 'Hey, you remember me?' " Van Gundy said. "And he said, 'Kenny Carter.'
"I said: 'Hell, yeah, I remember.' So for me, [the movie] had a real personal interest there. And it was really interesting, because that really was their high school gym in the movie."
Jackson ties record
Jim Jackson finally found a new home -- and along the way he tied an NBA record.
The New Orleans Hornets traded the disgruntled Jackson to the Phoenix Suns on Friday. The Suns became the 12th team Jackson has been with during his 13-year career, tying career marks set by Chucky Brown and Tony Massenburg.
The Jackson trade was an obvious one. The Suns had little quality off the bench, and that was before Steve Nash was slowed by injuries.
Jackson refused to report to the Hornets after they acquired him in a trade last month with Houston.
"It brings a veteran-tested, 15-point scorer off the bench," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We want to win right now, and this will help us win right now."
Arroyo jolted by trade
Although he had been in Utah coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse for nearly a month, point guard Carlos Arroyo was surprised the Jazz traded him to the Detroit Pistons on Friday.
Last summer the Jazz awarded Arroyo -- who averaged 12.6 points and five assists last season -- a four-year, $16 million contract, thinking he was the successor to John Stockton.
But Arroyo struggled with an ankle injury and inconsistency this season. Then he got into a heated exchange with Sloan on Dec. 14.
"He didn't want to leave Utah," said Arroyo's agent, Herb Rudoy. "He loves Salt Lake City. He just bought a house and planned to stay a long time."
He should know better
What was Boston Celtics guard Ricky Davis thinking?
During a practice last week, Davis began ranting and cursing because he thought the officiating in a scrimmage was terrible. The problem? Davis' rant took place while a large group of students were in attendance.
So Celtics coach Doc Rivers kicked Davis out of practice. Rivers said Davis "crossed the line."
"I didn't call him or need to have a meeting or anything like that," Rivers said.
The day after the incident, Davis said there was nothing to be embarrassed about, and he expressed no remorse for his conduct in front of the group of kids. But he did apologize to his teammates.
"I was just out there having fun -- a little too much fun," Davis said. "I got carried away."
A fast-break look inside the Mavericks by beat writer Art Garcia.
105-99 victory at Charlotte on Friday
Yes, we know. This wasn't much of a marquee game, but there wasn't much from last week to pick from. Unlike two ho-hum home wins over Washington and the Clippers, the trip to the Queen City represented a potential trap. Not only were the Mavs finishing a back-to-back set, but there is a tendency for teams to take an expansion club lightly. The Bobcats held tough behind talented rookie Emeka Okafor and timely 3-point shooting down the stretch. But the Mavs did just enough, getting big baskets from Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Finley and Jason Terry in the final minutes.
Saturday vs. Philadelphia
7:30 p.m., KTXA/Ch. 21
The top two active scorers square off in Philly's only North Texas visit of the season. Allen Iverson tops the scoring leaders, while Dirk Nowitzki, who led the league for 10 days in December, sits third. (No. 2 scorer Kobe Bryant is out of commission with an ankle injury.) Despite being under .500, the Sixers went into Saturday night leading the Atlantic Division. The teams split their series last season, with each defending its home court.
Dirk Nowitzki moved into exclusive company, joining four other Mavs -- Rolando Blackman, Mark Aguirre, Derek Harper and Michael Finley -- in the franchise's 10,000-point club. With 20 points against Charlotte, the blond bomber also reached the 1,000-point plateau for the sixth consecutive season.
Blackman, Harper and Finley are the only Mavs with more 1,000-point seasons. Nowitzki, exactly at 1,000, reached the mark in only 37 games this season, the fastest he's done it in his eight-year career.
"He's always been assertive," coach Don Nelson said. "He has the ball more now. The next step is to be a great passer, which he hasn't accomplished yet. The step he's made this year is to really improve his defense. He's a pretty darn good defender right now."
Plenty doubted whether Nowitzki would take the next step without Steve Nash.
"And I was one of them," Nelson said. "I thought that he would suffer more. The fact that he's established himself as clearly our best player, any intelligent coach would get him the ball more in positions that he can do something with it."
MAVS' 1,000-POINT SEASONS
Rolando Blackman: 11 (1981-82 to '91-92)
Michael Finley: 7 (1997-98 to 2003-04)
Derek Harper: 7 (1986-87 to '92-93)
Mark Aguirre: 6 (1982-83 to '87-88)
Dirk Nowitzki: 6 (1999-2000 to '04-05)
Sam Perkins: 5 (1985-86 to '89-90)
The Jason Terry in the starting lineup isn't the same Jason Terry we saw the first six weeks of his Mavs career.
"His confidence is at an all-time high, but we always knew that he could score," Michael Finley said. "The biggest adjustment for him from a coaching standpoint was to make him into more of a point guard. He'll never be a true [point] guard."
But he's the Mavs' best option at this point. The biggest difference in Terry's game is his decisiveness. He may not always make the right choice, but he makes one.
Instead of dribbling seconds off the shot clock, Terry is beginning more possessions with a mission. He's getting to spots on the floor, making the easy pass or getting to the basket when the opening is there. And if Terry is knocking down his jumper, as he's done lately, he's that much more effective.
This report contains material from other writers. To contact Dwain Pric
Starting five: Surprises at the midpoint of the NBA season
Web Posted: 01/23/2005 12:00 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News
By the close of the day, 16 of the NBA's 30 teams will have played at least 40 games, which pretty much makes this the halfway point of one of the league's most surprising seasons. The five biggest surprises:
Run and gun: No Olympic grudge
Starting five: Surprises at the midpoint of the NBA season
1. Fast-break basketball returns: Led by the Phoenix Suns, whose flat-out approach to running has them averaging 108.2 points a game, eight teams are averaging at least 100 points. Last season, only two teams averaged 100 or more. The league's average this season is up a whopping 6.09 points per game, from 90.28 to 96.37. That is one of the largest single-season jumps in league history.
2. Steve Nash, MVP candidate: This must be the biggest surprise of all to at least one person: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who let Nash leave Dallas when the Suns offered him a $66 million deal. Anyone who doesn't believe Nash is a legitimate MVP candidate need only observe how the Suns struggled without him when he missed time with an injury.
3. Malice at The Palace: The league never had a brawl like the one in Detroit on Nov. 19, which most observers believe is the ugliest incident in league history. The suspensions handed down by commissioner David Stern to Indiana Pacers Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal shifted the competitive balance in one of the Eastern Conference's most competitive divisions. The ramifications continue to reverberate and even threaten to make more likely an impasse in collective bargaining talks that could lead to a lockout.
4. Miami heats up: After the biggest deal of the summer sent Shaquille O'Neal to Miami, most experts figured the Heat would be much better. Nobody thought they would be the best team in the Eastern Conference at the midpoint of the season. Of course, nobody figured Dwyane Wade would be one of the best players in the conference in the first half, either.
5. The Bulls recover: Admit it. After the Bulls opened the season with nine-straight losses, you figured they were in for another season near the bottom of the NBA standings. Hey, so did we. But Scott Skiles has gotten his players to buy into a defense-first philosophy that has resulted in 14 victories in their past 18 games. They may return to the playoffs for the first time since Michael Jordan departed, and that would be a surprise.