Three-Point Specialists Among NBA’s Best Bargains

January 6, 2010 2:29 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

The Wall Street Journal’s David Biderman explains in an article that attempts to correlate the rise of the three-pointer with the sluggish economy:

“Teams know these three-point guys can contribute, and they’re the perfect fit because they don’t cost much,” says Wayne Embry,

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a former general manager for the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers and currently a senior basketball adviser for the Toronto

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Steve Kerr, general manager of the Phoenix Suns, likens the situation to the strategy of baseball’s Oakland A’s, who have pioneered the trend of trying to build winning teams by identifying players whose skills were undervalued by the market. “There’s a real financial aspect to it,” Mr. Kerr says.

This season in the NBA, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the key players with the highest three-point-shooting percentages, make 32% less than the league’s top shot blockers, and 36% less than players who rank highest in steals.

Anthony Parker of the Cavaliers and Channing Frye of the Suns, both heavy contributors who are deadly from behind the three-point line, are making a combined $4.6 million this year. Meanwhile, two top shot blockers on woeful teams—the Philadelphia 76ers’ Samuel Dalembert and the Wizards’ Brendan Haywood—score less than Messrs. Frye and Parker yet make neary four times as much. “Guys who can shoot are almost always going to have a place to play,” Mr. Parker says. “But you won’t see them making $10 million.”

Happy Birthday, Gilbert

January 6, 2010 12:11 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Gilbert Arenas turns 28 today, prompting Mike Wise at The Washington Post to pen an “open birthday card” to the embattled Wizards star:

You said it best when we spoke Tuesday night: “I should just steal a quote from Batman, when he said, ‘I’ve been around long enough to see myself turn into the bad guy.’ ” The fans you play for, who used to clamor for your game-worn No. 0 jersey to be tossed to them, now want you gone.

Remember three years ago? The hottest ticket in town was that black American Express envelope, the one that contained an invitation to your 25th birthday party at Love, the club where Sean Combs and other hip-hop glitterati attended. Diddy came to Northeast for you.

The night you threw yourself that million-dollar bash, grabbing the microphone and yelling, “Get drunk and make bad decisions,” everybody laughed and went home thinking, “That Gilbert —

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he’s one quirky cat, but he’s got such a good heart. And, man, he can ball with the best of them.”

Crazy, no? Those same people want to buy you a ticket out of town today.

(Via @BulletsForever)

The Fundamentals

January 6, 2010 8:28 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “I acknowledge that it’s sheer folly to try to make determinations on a long NBA season after one bad road trip, but I still have to ask: WHAT UP WITH VINCE CARTER? The guy has been horrible and, if you’re Magic coach Stan Van Gundy you have to start wondering when he’s going to start playing better. The man they use to call ’Vinsanity’ is driving Magic fans to insanity. He had another awful shooting night (2-of-15) in Tuesday night’s embarrassing 97-90 loss to the lowly, undermanned Indiana Pacers. Is it because Carter is playing on a tender left ankle or should Magic fans start being concerned that, after a dozen years in the league, Vince doesn’t have the incredible spring in his step that he once did? I never thought I’d ever say this, but maybe Magic coach Stan Van Gundy should figure out a way for J.J. Redick to take more shots and

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Vince Carter to take less. So far this season, Carter is the worst shooter on the team (.393) and he is shooting the worst percentage of his career.”

Dave McMenamin of “Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has a theory. In an interview with ESPN 710’s Steve Mason and John Ireland on Tuesday, Morey said he thinks height is overrated. This is basketball we’re talking about, right Daryl? A sport where the 7-foot-7 Kenny George could get a scholarship to a Division I school without being able to run a wind sprint without his knees swelling up the size of balloons; where men spend hours educating their players in all the finer aspects of team defense but just shrug their shoulders when a post player reaches to the heavens for a put-back dunk (‘You can’t teach height’); where 30 out of the last 40 No. 1 picks in the NBA Draft play either center or power forward. Does Morey still think height is overrated after the Lakers simply outsized the Rockets to win 88-79 on Tuesday? Los Angeles held a 50-36 advantage on the boards and a 48-36 control over points in the paint.”

Tom Moore of “Allen Iverson insisted he didn’t wonder if the Sixers would pick up his non-guaranteed contract by today’s deadline. ‘Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about it. I didn’t really know anything about it until this morning,’ said Iverson, breaking into a laugh. The Sixers informed Iverson and the media Tuesday that they’d guaranteed Iverson’s contract for the remainder of the season. They could’ve waived him and subtracted his veterans-minimum salary today, if they wanted to. The Sixers will end up paying Iverson roughly $700,000. ‘Since his arrival, Allen has done everything asked of him and been an excellent teammate,’ said Sixers president Ed Stefanski in a release. Iverson, 34, averaged 15.7 points, 4.7 assists and 33.2 minutes in his first nine games for the Sixers since signing Dec. 3. He missed four games with left knee arthritis. ‘The only frustrating part of the whole thing was getting into playing shape and dealing with my knee,’ said Iverson, a 14th-year pro. ‘That’s been the only rough part of this whole thing.’”

Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: “Carlos Boozer, usually one to smile and joke with teammates while warming up before practices, was in a rather somber mood before Tuesday’s team workout. The Utah Jazz’s current slump is weighing heavily on the power forward’s mind. ‘I’m frustrated. I think we have a lot more capability on this team,’ Boozer said the morning after a disappointing 91-87 home loss to New Orleans. ‘I think we have a group of guys that can compete for a title, and right now we’re not looking like that team.’ The 18-16 Jazz, rather, are looking an awful lot — emphasis on awful — like a lottery team that they’re currently positioned to become. Boozer says the Jazz, who’ve lost five of seven games, need to focus on execution, taking care of the ball, making good passes, being unselfish and playing defense. Other than that, though, Utah’s doing great. Change, Boozer believes, must start with each player. ‘Individually, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror and try to dig out every ounce of passion and energy that we have,’ Boozer said. ‘And collectively we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to do whatever it takes to win the games.’”

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: “The Warriors are poised to post a video online that shows Anthony Morrow making 23 of 25 three-point tries, using ball racks to re-create the same format used in the league’s three-point competition. Apparently, leading the NBA in three-point shooting last season with a 46.7 percentage doesn’t guarantee the guard an invite to All-Star Weekend. ‘I don’t think it’s like that with anybody else,’ Morrow said. ‘If anyone else led the league in three-point shooting, I’m pretty sure they’d be in the three-point contest the next year. I understand, though. I’m used to being an underdog.’ Morrow was undrafted out of Georgia Tech and still hadn’t convinced NBA executives that he could play in the league after shooting 73.9 percent on 23 three-point tries in the 2008 summer leagues. In fact, his $736,420 contract for this season won’t be officially guaranteed until today.”

Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald: “There was a time not too long ago when Heat president Pat Riley flat-out refused to bring in a point guard Rafer-alston to start ahead of anointed prospect Mario Chalmers. Now, if the latest developments flow into fruition as expected, the Heat will soon have its second starting-caliber point guard to presumably jump ahead of Chalmers in the rotation. But this is not about Chalmers, the so-so second-year guard who has been cast as the Heat’s steal of the 2008 draft and the franchise’s face for the present and future at the position. It is, however, about the ability to improve the Heat’s standing in the standings and in the basketball accounting department. The Heat appears on the verge of a reunion with point guard Rafer Alston, who was bought out by the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday and could be in a Miami uniform by the time the team leaves Thursday for its six-game West trip.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “One hamstring injury was bad enough, so the Lakers are taking a long look at Pau Gasol’s daily regimen after the forward-center sustained his second strained hamstring this season. The Lakers are studying his diet as well as his tendency to work more on his upper body than lower body in the weight room. (Not that Gasol is a burly, muscle-bound type, but the team wants him to work out his legs more often when he returns from his most recent injury.) The good news, if there is any for the Lakers, comes from the fact that Gasol’s strain in his left hamstring is a Grade 1 instead of the more serious Grade 2 strain in his right hamstring that kept him out of the season’s first 11 games. ‘There actually is an insignificant amount of tear,’ Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. ‘But it’s something we want to prevent from being anything greater and so does he. We’re hoping this is, like, game to game.’”

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express News: “DeJuan Blair has been a Spur for only 32 regular-season games, but he’s already learned an important lesson: Be ready for anything from coach Gregg Popovich. Blair was one of two Spurs frontline starters who opened Sunday’s game against the Toronto Raptors on the bench. The other, of course, was team captain Tim Duncan, whose absence at the opening tip made Blair’s return to the bench nothing but a footnote. ‘It looked a little funny out there with Tim not starting,’ he said. ‘At the same time, he did it for a reason. Tim needed a little bit of a rest, and he got it. He came in and still played well. ‘Coach Pop knows what he’s doing. You’ve just got to be ready on any given night. Whether you’re starting or coming off the bench, you’ve got to come out there and bring energy. I think I’m the team’s energy guy.’ Blair laughed at the suggestion he might be approaching the mythical ‘rookie wall.’ ‘Rookie wall?’ he said ‘Uh-uh. I’m just playing. I think the rookie wall is for rookies who have a lot on their plate. I don’t really have a lot. I just have to come and play and give a little energy. We’ve got the rest of the team. I’m just energy, so I don’t think I’m hitting any wall.’”

Ken Sugiura of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The Hawks are in their worst slump of the season, and they hope meetings are the solution. After losing their past four and six of their past eight, the Hawks held a players-only meeting Tuesday, which followed a post-practice meeting led by coach Mike Woodson. ‘It was just guys talking about what we need to do,’ forward Marvin Williams said. ‘It was all positive, all positive things.’ The Hawks, who play Wednesday at home against New Jersey, have not had much positive to talk about lately. They fell behind by 25 points midway through the second quarter Monday against Miami en route to a 92-75 loss. They are 21-12 — still the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference — but are reeling. Players said the change has to start on defense. Over the past eight games, the Hawks are allowing opponents to shoot 48 percent from the floor, which is what the second-worst team in the league in that category was averaging before Tuesday’s games.”

Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger: “Everyone understands the Nets’ current philosophy. The young kids have to play, period. They have to play so they can develop, and they have to develop in order for the team to have a shot to win on a consistent and sustained basis in the future. So the Nets are committed to making sure that Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee, Terrence Williams continue to get their minutes, no matter what happens. ‘Could we play more veterans and maybe eke out a couple more wins? Possibly,’’ coach/GM Kiki Vandeweghe said at Tuesday’s shootaround, before the Nets hosted the Milwaukee Bucks. ‘But right now, we’re choosing to stay the course.’ Certainly, it’s fine to have a plan and stick to it – even as the losses continue to pile up at a dizzying rate. But isn’t there some point in the development process for young players, where winning becomes important, too? After all, if the young players continue to play and the team continues to lose at the rate it has all season – 3-30 before Tuesday night’s game – is there a risk that all their ample playing time is doing is teaching the kids how to play just well enough to lose?”

Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star: “OK, Larry Bird. Your mess, your time to clean it up. Everybody knows Bird, the Indiana Pacers president, has absolutely no desire to leave his office and coach the motley collection of talent he has cobbled together for this lost 2009-10 season. But he has no real choice, not as his team continues to circle the drain, losing by 20 points, playing with neither pride nor passion. Tuesday night against Orlando? Yes, an astonishing aberration, a 97-90 victory that came out of nowhere. A career night for Roy Hibbert, who outplayed All-Star Dwight Howard. A solid two-way effort x from Brandon Rush. A glimpse into what-might-be if only the Pacers came to play every night, as opposed to once every five games. It changes nothing. Bird needs to fire coach Jim O’Brien now — even though, truth be told, this isn’t completely O’Brien’s fault. Bird needs to install himself as the coach. His mess, his cleanup. [...] O’Brien walked into an impossible situation — think Orlando’s Stan Van Gundy made the right call when he turned down the Pacers’ job? — and Bird inherited a dysfunctional mess. He inherited a bad situation and did a good job jettisoning Jermaine O’Neal’s contract. But there have been too many mistakes during the rebuilding process, too many errors for Simon to ignore as he contemplates Bird’s future at season’s end.”

Chris Mannix of “Opportunity rarely knocks for teams with bloated payrolls, underachieving players and more long-term contracts than a bailed-out Fortune 500 company. But for the Washington Wizards, it’s banging on their door. And all they have to do is open it and shove Gilbert Arenas right out. With the latest incident involving the three-time All-Star guard, in which D.C. police are investigating whether Arenas, who has admitted to bringing four unloaded handguns into the Verizon Center, brandished a weapon in a threatening manner toward teammate Javaris Crittenton, the Wizards have let the rest of the league know they are open for business. According to multiple league sources, Washington is making its entire roster available and is open to all trades, including for players who bring less talent but have shorter contracts. But while interest in veterans, like Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler, has been strong, sources told that teams aren’t too keen on obtaining Arenas. Along with his obvious baggage from this gun incident, Arenas has had three knee surgeries over the last 2½ years, limiting him to 48 games in that span; he is in the second-year of a six-year, $111 million contract, meaning any team that trades for him now will be on the hook for about $90 million over the next 4½ years; and his teams have won only one series in four postseason appearances. But Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld, who allegedly was the one to report Arenas’ firearms to NBA security, may have another option — one he’s seriously considering should Arenas be charged with a crime: void his contract.”

David Steele of FanHouse: “In his latest effort to joke around with his teammates, Gilbert Arenas got roughly the same result as the previous ones: sending the wrong message all across the country. As he and the Wizards warmed up before their game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wachovia Center, the players circled Arenas, who pointed his index fingers at them as if they were guns. The image was caught on camera, and the photo — of Arenas’ fingers cocked, a grin on his

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face and on the faces of the other Wizards around him — was plastered all over the Internet by halftime. Afterward, he and the players acknowledged that they were doing a take-off on a touchdown celebration from the movie Any Given Sunday, in which a player sprayed his teammates with pretend gunfire as they all fell back in a circle. They asked me to do it,” Arenas said. After meeting with reporters after the game, Arenas appeared to show remorse on Twitter. ‘I know everybody seen the pre game teammate thought to break the tention we should do that..but this is gettn way to much,’ he wrote, adding a few minutes later, ‘I wanna say sorry if I pissed any body off by us havin fun…I’m sorry for anything u need to blame for for right now.’”

(Photo by Fernando Medina NBAE/Getty Images)

Points in the Paint

January 5, 2010 3:19 PM | By Brandon Hoffman
  • Ian Thomsen opines that David Stern will make an example of Gilbert Arenas: “For years, Stern has worried aloud about the players’ reliance on guns for self-protection, but there has been little he could do legally to stop them from packing licensed weapons. In this case, however, the collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from carrying firearms on team property. Arenas has acknowledged moving three unloaded guns into his locker at the Verizon Center last month because he didn’t feel safe keeping them at home after the birth of his third child. Instead of reaching out for assistance in storing the weapons, he not only moved them into the team’s facility but also then allegedly chose to reveal them in the middle of a heated argument. The players are fooling themselves if they think Stern won’t make an example of them as he did of Artest. Imagine if Stern was light in his punishment, only to watch in horror a year or two later as another incident among NBA players led to actual gunfire and injury. Then Stern would bear grave responsibility for not doing everything he could have in the case of Arenas to limit, once and for all, the use of guns by players.”
  • Tim MacMahon’s retrospective on Mark Cuban’s decade as owner of the Dallas Mavericks begins this way: “The waitress at the trendy new club approached Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash with a pair of drinks and pointed to the gentleman across the room who had paid for them. The basketball-playing buddies, who had yet to reach celebrity status, didn’t intend to drink that night. But they had less interest in engaging in a conversation with the man they recognized as a courtside season-ticket holder known for his rants, so they waved politely, sipped on their drinks and tried to avoid eye contact before departing. A few weeks later, the Dallas Mavericks were informed that the team had been sold. Oh, and the new owner had mentioned something about buying drinks recently for Nash and Nowitzki. ‘I’m thinking, ‘Ohhhh, no! That dude!’‘ Nowitzki recalled a decade later. ‘I knew right away who it was: the guy from the front row who is always killing Steve when he was subbing in and always had words for the bench. He was like a really involved fan, so I thought, ‘This is going to be an experience.’‘”

The Fundamentals

January 5, 2010 12:05 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: “At age 33, Tim Duncan leads Popovich’s team in scoring (20.0 points per game), rebounding (10.2) and blocked shots (1.8). Admitting he’d had occasional off-season doubt about Duncan ’s ability to return to the sort of nightly dominance that twice made him the Most Valuable Player, Popovich sounded relieved. ‘I hoped I would (see him back at that level),’ he said, ‘and I have. ‘He’s just been fantastic. He was really wise this summer and took care of himself and was careful with his workouts and didn’t overdo it. He’s reaping the benefits and has been our most consistent player and continues to be the foundation of what we do.’ Duncan chuckled at Popovich’s doubts that he could get back to MVP level. ‘I didn’t know I left this

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level,’ he said. ‘Did I?’”

Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee: “The season-long NBA awards watch can typically change as quickly as an end-to-end LeBron James sprint, but the Rookie of the Year race isn’t looking that way at the moment. By most accounts, Kings rookie guard Tyreke Evans is way ahead of the pack. And considering Monday’s announcement, he’s clearly in a class all his own in the Western Conference. Evans won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award for the second time in as many tries, while Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings was a repeat winner in the Eastern Conference as well. Evans averaged 22.1 points (47.6 percent shooting), 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.62 steals and 35.5 minutes per game in December. He is averaging 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists on the season, putting him just a shade away from the elite class of 20-5-5 rookies that only includes Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and James.”

Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: “Brandon Jennings is averaging 2.84 turnovers while dishing out 6.0 assists per game, the best assist total among National Basketball Association rookies. But Skiles also wants the 6-foot-1 Jennings to keep pushing the pace and attacking Bucks opponents. ‘Especially for a rookie point guard, he’s not a high turnover player,’ Skiles said after the Bucks’ practice session Monday. ‘That’s going to bode well for him as his career goes on. ‘It’s good he’s risk averse, but we need him to stay aggressive. I want him to be aggressive on everything he’s doing, make his decisions on the fly rather than pre-determining, ‘I’m going to come off here and pass it back to a big man. I don’t think he does too much of that. You’d rather have that happening than a guy that’s totally out of control out there that you’re just trying to calm him down all the time.’”

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: “Stephen Jackson is a character. But he also has character. He and, to a lesser extent, Flip Murray have added swagger to the Bobcats. That’s an ingredient they very much needed. To me, swagger is a way of saying, ‘Don’t mess with me. I can back it up.’ That’s different from

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bravado, which is pretentious – faux confidence. Think of it this way: Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith is a pain in the butt. The Panthers put up with his volatility and his diva act because he backs it up on the field. Jackson loses his temper on the court and gets distracted by referees, but the utter calm with which he made those two free throws Sunday showed he can back it up. I can’t think of anything the Bobcats needed more than that kind of closer.”

Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: “With the Warriors in desperate need of some help for Ellis, Maggette has elevated his game to a new level. He has scored at least 20 points in nine of his last 10 games. After getting booed by home fans for taking long jumpers early in the season, Maggette has been determined to pound into the paint. ‘What can I tell you? He’s playing at a high level,’ coach Don Nelson said. ‘He has been quite an anchor.’ Maggette’s new strategy leaves the 30-year-old looking like half mummy and half igloo after games. He does postgame interviews with his legs in buckets of cold water, with ice tightly strapped to his shoulders and around his hamstrings and while massaging his surgically repaired wrist. ‘I’m just trying to keep my body going,’ Maggette said. ‘Ice is the best remedy, and prayer keeps it together. God knows I hurt, but coach is calling on me to do things and I’ve got to do them for my team.’”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: “Courtney Lee is trying to get his inner voice to shut up. He knows exactly what the numbers say. Nobody shooting 19 percent from downtown over the last month can ignore it. Nobody who’s at .395 for the season can act like nothing’s wrong. ‘But it’s numbers,’ the Nets’ shooting guard said after another post-practice shooting session Monday. ‘I’m not going to worry about it. The whole month, I think, has been more productive for me. I feel it — I’m trying to impact the game in a number of ways, and I’ll just try to carry it out on the road now.’ That’s the other thing. The Nets end their seven-game homestand Tuesday night against Milwaukee, and Lee is starting to find a comfort zone at home, where he averages a respectable 14.3 points on .430 shooting. The road, however, is another matter: Those numbers fall to 9.1 and .354 away from home. And the Nets will spend most of the next month (11 of 17 games) on the road.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “Hamstrings have become a major issue for the 29-year-old Gasol, who just signed a three-year, $57-million extension that would keep him under contract through 2013-14. ‘I don’t know what we can do,’ Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. ‘He never felt any unusual sensations or regulation in his running [before Sunday's game]. Warmed up and stretched the normal way he does. It was just something very unusual. We’ll have to do much more intensive research on this now. It’s not related to exercise or an activity that creates this.’ Gasol was not available to reporters Monday, and Jackson was coy when asked how Gasol was injured. ‘It happened before the game in a very unusual way and I’ll let Pau explain that to you when you see him,’ Jackson said. ‘You have to ask him. He told me the story, so I’m just expecting him to tell you.’”

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: “Stan Van Gundy has done plenty to coax a consistently high energy level out of Orlando Magic’s starting unit. He’s put Matt Barnes onto the starting five. He’s examined how certain combinations of players work together. He’s looked at X’s and O’s. ‘Other than Matt, we need much better energy out of our starting unit, not just at the start of games but throughout the game,’ Van Gundy said after practice Monday at Conseco Fieldhouse. ‘It’s almost like they’re waiting for the game to slow down, and there’s no reason for that. We’ve sort of fallen into some bad habits there. We’ve fallen into some habits of only playing certain minutes of the game.’ […] Van Gundy spent part of Sunday studying how different combinations of players performed over the last 12 games. To do that, he studied the players’ plus/minus statistics — the scoreboard differential while those players were in the game. In other words, if Barnes entered a tied game and left with Orlando leading by four points, his plus/minus rating for that span would be +4.”

Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: “Seemingly on track three weeks ago after back-to-back wins over Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Jazz have instead turned into a train wreck. New Orleans’ journeyman Devin Brown engineered Utah’s latest crash-and-burn — a shocking 91-87 loss Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena that continued a lottery-like stretch for the Jazz. They have lost three straight games. They have lost three out of four at home. They have lost seven of 11 games since beating Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Dec. 12. If the playoff started today, the Jazz would not qualify. ‘We have to regroup somehow,’ Deron Williams said. ‘… I didn’t expect to be in this position this late in the season. I thought we’d be playing our best basketball come this time, not regressing.’ Thirty-four games into the season, Utah is two games over .500 and ninth in the West.”

Eddie Sefko of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “The Mavericks had a flashback, and not the kind they like. But as bad memories sometimes do, it might have therapeutic value. When they went to Los Angeles and were blitzed by the Lakers on Sunday night, it was a slap to the side of the head to remind them what they’re trying to accomplish this season. In short, when they ditch their defense, they can f ‘When we tend to not make shots, we used to not play any defense, either,’ Jason Kidd said. ‘And that’s what happened again [against the Lakers]. We stopped playing defense. We got to get back to doing it the right way.’”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle
: “When it comes to describing what they have done poorly, the Rockets have become remarkably adept. But when invited to reveal what they do well, they bomb. They had their chance. They were heading to Los Angeles to face the Lakers, having split their two meetings with the reigning NBA champions. The Lakers’ win came by a point in overtime. Last postseason, the Rockets were the only team to take the Lakers to seven games after splitting four games following the season-ending injury to Yao Ming with Tracy McGrady out. Few teams could match that sort of relative success against the Lakers, but when it comes to explaining why, the Rockets were strategically reticent or spectacularly clueless.”

Ramifications for Arenas Could Be Severe

January 5, 2010 9:28 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Ken Berger reporting for CBS Sports:

Gilbert Arenas’ troubles did not come to an end Monday when he met with prosecutors and police in Washington, D.C., to explain what he was doing with four firearms in the Wizards’ locker room last month. This may only be the beginning, according to two Washington law enforcement officials familiar with the state and federal probe sparked by what the three-time All-Star characterized as “a misguided effort to play a joke on a teammate.”

Arenas’ contrition in a joint statement with his attorney after meeting for two hours with police and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is not expected to sway authorities who are weighing whether to charge Arenas with any crimes, the sources said. Neither is the fact that Arenas is claiming to have been unaware that a recent change in the District’s firearms law did not allow the possession of guns outside the home, one of those law enforcement officials said.

“The U.S. Attorney will have to file charges for possession of a pistol without a license,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have jurisdiction over the case. “The prosecutor cannot simply walk away from this case.”

Depending on what facts are discovered in other interviews with possible witnesses to the Dec. 21 locker room confrontation between Arenas and previously obscure guard Javaris Crittenton, the official said one likely outcome would be the following: Arenas, 27, would be permitted to plead guilty to charges of carrying a pistol without a license, a felony that carries a maximum of five years in prison. Such a charge would require a grand jury indictment, which could be acquired quickly since five grand juries are seated at any given time in the District. Any other charges — which could include misdemeanor counts for possession of unregistered firearms, carrying maximum jail time of six months for each count — would be dismissed. In exchange for Arenas’ cooperation and guilty plea, the prosecutor would ask for no jail time.

“Given his prior offense, however, a judge might consider jail time in this case,” one of the law enforcement officials said. “It all depends on which judge he draws.”

To read the full report, click here.

Inside Team Tyreke

January 4, 2010 3:17 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

The world of amateur basketball, where street agents and handlers compete for the hearts and minds of promising young players, is filled with tales of greed and deceit. But with a strong support group comprised of three brothers, best friend Dwyane Davis, and trainer Lamont Peterson, Kings rookie Tyreke Evans avoided many of the pitfalls commonly associated with the NBA dream. The Evans family put together its plan for grooming a pro when Tyreke was 6. An incredible article from Sam Amick in the Sacramento Bee details that plan, aptly titled “the Blueprint”:

Two couches sit perpendicular in the cozy family room, with a tiny round kitchen table looking more like a bar-room setup near the modest kitchen.

A 50-inch, high-definition television looks out of place near the front door, and the surround-sound speakers sitting in front of the unit probably would disturb the neighbors if they were plugged in.

Never mind that Evans was taken fourth overall in the June draft and given a contract that pays him $3.6 million this season. This place is all about logic over luxury.

The five-minute commute to Arco Arena means he has no excuse to be late for practices or games, and the absence of a house with a roundabout driveway and resort-style backyard is intended to keep him grounded in this big-picture, basketball bubble in which he lives.

It’s all part of a plan called “the Blueprint.”

Evans’ charge is to figure out the NBA game, to dominate like he did back home in Chester, Pa., and at the University of Memphis, while always sticking to the script.

The plan first calls for a Rookie of the Year Award, to be followed by NBA championships, league MVP trophies and two maximum-salary contracts over a 15-year career. This is, they all agree, Evans’ basketball destiny.

The Maturation of Michael Beasley

January 4, 2010 12:07 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Lost amid the talk of Gilbert Arenas, gun possession, and grand jury indictments, have been several positive reports out of Miami concerning once-troubled forward Michael Beasley. Beasley, you might remember, made waves last summer when he checked into a rehabilitation center for treatment of depression and substance abuse. After a month long stay at the Houston-based facility, Beasley apologized for his mistakes and said it’s time to grow up. So far, so good, as Israel Gutierrez writes in today’s Miami Herald:

Beasley was among the topics during that team meeting a few weeks back that supposedly turned the season around. And that only turned up the volume on what had been spoken in whispers mostly since he arrived.

But if you’ve paid attention of late, it wasn’t the first sign of bravado from the soon-to-be 21-year-old.

He proclaimed recently that he’s not a rookie anymore and won’t be treated like one.

That he mostly will only listen to Udonis Haslem for either advice or constructive criticism. And after the Heat’s loss to the Bobcats, another confounding home L, that things will get ugly if the approach doesn’t change soon.

“We’re going into the part of the schedule where we need each other the most,” Beasley said after Saturday’s loss. “If we panic, if we get apart, it’s not going to be pretty the month of January.”

In other words, get off my back and I’ll have your back.

The Fundamentals

January 4, 2010 10:52 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Jonathan Abrams of The New York Times:  “A person close to Arenas who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to disrupt a relationship said Arenas used practical jokes to combat insecurity. Arenas used what he considered slights — he was lightly recruited by college coaches before accepting a scholarship to Arizona and was drafted in the second round — as motivation toward his development into an All-Star. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor weapons and vehicle charges in 2003 after being charged with carrying a .40-caliber handgun and driving without a license during a traffic stop in California. ‘If someone should have bad things to say about him, I’m the jilted agent,’ said Dan Fegan, Arenas’s former agent. ‘He’s immature. He’s always been quirky. Everyone knows he’s a practical joker. But if he gets into an argument, he’ll probably joke about it. And it’s probably the result of a practical joke gone awry.’”

Jason Jones  of the Sacramento Bee:  “Three consecutive losses and a 14-19 record aside, the Kings know they are in a much better place than they were this time last season. Credit has been given to many and praise heaped upon management, coaching and the addition of three rookies who have put new life into the franchise. Meanwhile, Jason Thompson toils with little acclaim. And that’s fine with him. The second-year forward finds he is an expected source of stability this season. He’s the only King to have started all 33 games. His scoring and rebounding are up from last season. Kings coach Paul Westphal continues to expand Thompson’s role as a facilitator in the offense. But as the national media begins to take notice of the Kings again, much of the attention is on Westphal’s leadership – or the play of rookies Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi. Even Westphal acknowledged Thompson is ‘getting a little left out of the discussion’ while averaging 14.8 points. Thompson’s 9.2 rebounds per game are 17th in the NBA. He averages 3.5 offensive rebounds, sixth in the league.”

Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:  “Wade has 20 turnovers over the past three games. The Heat knows the problem is because Wade has received the ball in the post more in recent games. ‘I’ve had a chance to see what I’m doing wrong and my turnovers will go back down,’ Wade said. Wade, who averages 3.44 turnovers entering Monday’s game against Atlanta at AmericanAirlines Arena, has always ranked among the league leaders in the stat. In two of the past three seasons, he’s averaged more than four turnovers a game. At one point this season, he lowered that number to 3 before his recent struggles. After watching film, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the issue is teams are constantly doubling Wade in the post.  ‘It’s a little bit of everything,’ Spoelstra said. ‘…Teams are doubling him there. We just need to work on, one, making fundamental plays in the post but also recognizing it and getting into our spacing earlier. We just need to recognize these situations as we’re getting [the ball] down there more often.’  The biggest adjustment for Wade will be making safer passes out of the double teams.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  “The Rockets have players who can get their shots, with Landry and Aaron Brooks often scoring well late in games. But the next step Adelman wants to see is Brooks add more playmaking.  ‘Aaron is the guy who has the most ability that we have,’ Adelman said. ‘He’s so quick and fast, if he gets a step on somebody, he’s going to get to the basket. There are two areas he has to get better at. One is the little pull-up jumper, which he can make. He doesn’t look for it enough. The other is he’s a scorer first. He’s thinking about his shot. Eventually, he’s got to learn how to find our big guys at the basket when they all converge on him. He doesn’t have great size, (but) there are a lot of guys who don’t have great size who have the ability to find people when they get to the basket.  Unfortunately, for Aaron right now, it’s 100 miles per hour or nothing. When he gets around the guy, sometimes you need to slow down and let the defense commit. That opens up the alleys for you. He still hasn’t quite got to that point, but he has the most ability and most potential of all our guys.’”

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:  “His normally picture-perfect jump shot is coming up short. His drives to the basket are ending with a missed layup or the ball landing out of bounds after his shot is blocked due to a lack of elevation. This is not the same Mike Dunleavy who averaged a career-high 19.1 points two years ago. What you see is a player who is admittedly uncomfortable and trying to feel his way out after playing a total of 36 games in the past two seasons because of a knee problem. ‘I think it’s a combination of things,’ Dunleavy said after practice Friday. ‘I’m hardheaded and I tend to think it’s not my knee or my legs and things like that. Other people who have watched me and seen me on a daily basis say it is. Maybe that has something to do with it and certainly playing with a new group of guys, I haven’t played much with anybody out there.’ Dunleavy is battling through one of the worst shooting slumps of his eight-year career.”

Nick Friedell of   “Derrick Rose has the types of skills that bring video games to life. He has the ability to leave opponents’ heads spinning with the type of quick cuts he makes. He has proven that over and over during the Bulls recent four-game winning streak. The second-year point guard is averaging 25 points a game over his past seven games and is playing like the player everyone in Chicago grew to love last season when he earned the Rookie of the Year Award. ‘That turbo button is a little bit different in the last six, seven games than it was early in the season,’ Bulls center Joakim Noah said of Rose. ‘He’s been playing at a really, really high level so that definitely gives a boost to our team when D Rose is playing like that.’ Rose has made a point of getting to the foul line the past few weeks. Now that he’s back to full strength, he appears much more confident driving to the basket.”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “With Madoff gall, the Nuggets made off with 15 steals Saturday at Utah, and they entered this week with 8.7 swipes per game, third best in the NBA. ‘It’s a philosophy,’ Nuggets coach George Karl said. ‘We’re a team that’s more aggressive on the ball, trying to trap a little more. I like pressuring on the ball, trying to force mistakes. I always felt the best offense is getting fouled or a turnover defense.’ Even more impressive in the Utah game was that two of Denver’s top thieves, Chauncey Billups (1.2) and Carmelo Anthony (1.2) didn’t play. Who leads Denver in steals? It’s none other than Nene, the big man with 1.6 per game. His average leads all NBA centers, and Nene is second in an impressive category —the combination of total assists, steals and blocked shots — trailing only Orlando’s Dwight Howard.”

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:  “Derrick Rose joined a not-so-exclusive club when his Chicago Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic 101-93 on Saturday night. He’s just the latest in a string of point guards who have had big games against the Magic in recent weeks. Taken by itself, Rose’s 30-point, seven-assist performance might not be a cause for concern. After all, Rose won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award after last season, and he’s considered the cornerstone of the Bulls franchise. But Utah’s Deron Williams, Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn also posted strong numbers against Orlando, averaging 19.3 points and 7.7 assists combined. Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings and Houston’s Aaron Brooks also had nice scoring nights, though they weren’t particularly efficient. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged that Rose played a ‘tremendous’ game, but Van Gundy sees an unwelcome pattern developing. ‘That’s another area we’ve got to clear up: Virtually every night it’s the point guard who’s the leading scorer,’ Van Gundy said.”

Ken Sugiuraof The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:  “As of late, the Hawks would make for a good hockey team. If their games lasted three periods, they would be in great shape. Fourth quarters, though, have been their undoing. Poor play at the finish has had a direct role in their five losses over the past seven games, including the past three. They’ve been outscored in the fourth quarter in all five of the losses, to Chicago, Denver, Cleveland (twice) and New York. In three of the games, the opponent trailed after three quarters. Each loss is distinct, but a glaring commonality is the disruption of the offensive play that had served them well through three quarters. The offense grows stagnant and relies on one-on-one play, foregoing the free-flowing unselfishness that characterized the first three quarters. The numbers reflect it.”

Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:  “Thanks to the offseason acquisition of Randolph and center Marc Gasol’s emergence, Memphis has done most of its damage inside the paint. The Griz lead the NBA in points in the paint (52.6 per game) and have scored 50-plus points from inside 21 times. Their commitment to playing inside-out basketball leads to overall offensive efficiency and greatly compensates for the Griz ranking 29th in the league in 3-pointers (3.5 per game). ‘People who said we couldn’t play together don’t know what kind of person I am,’ forward Rudy Gay said. ‘They don’t know Juice (Mayo) or Z-Bo (Randolph). We’ve been deferring to each other all year. We know we all need each other, and Marc’s stepped up to give us another option. As long as we’re moving the ball around, we’re virtually unstoppable.’ Gay’s words have merit. The Griz don’t produce eye-popping assist totals, but their ball movement often produces wide-open shots, point-blank attempts or earns trips to the free throw line.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “It is a facile observation that the Nets are a team with a good talent level and little clue as to how to use it. That’s not an indictment of the coaching staff or the players’ collective basketball IQ. That’s simply the elephant in the room when a team of kids happens to be 3-30. But one of the emerging problems is their lack of an identity at the offensive end, particularly since point guard Devin Harris has returned from injury and Kiki Vandeweghe has taken over as head coach. On a morning when his coaches spent an entire shootaround putting in new options off three different sets (thumb, fist, and zipper, if you must know), Harris said, ‘I’m trying to utilize everything we have. I could come out and shoot 26 or 27 times a night, but that’s not in the best interests of us winning. I’m still trying to feel it out, and find a consistent (formula) that works for everybody.’ So on some nights, they are a high volume pick-and-roll team. On others — when they defend well and aren’t taking the ball out of their own net — they are a running team. And no matter what they are running, they claim the offense is predicated on finding Brook Lopez in the paint, even though he has averaged fewer shots (11.6) than any other Nets starter over the last seven games.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:  “The ‘Baby Bulls,’ which Chicago’s riveting young roster came to be known as, were expected to someday do big things. That day never came, and Chicago ultimately began running circles around itself over the last decade, hiring and firing coaches and bringing in and shipping out prized pieces. Chicago’s course now seems to serve as the chief cautionary case for the Thunder, which faces the Bulls at 7 tonight inside the United Center. The Bulls, despite defying their 1.7 percent 2008 NBA Draft Lottery odds and landing No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose, are once again stuck in mediocrity. Chicago enters tonight’s game 14-17 and is reportedly on the verge of firing coach Vinny Del Negro after just 1 1/2 seasons. Del Negro already is the eighth coach the franchise has had since 2000. But the Bulls’ issues have run deeper than poor coaching. Since Michael Jordan left town, Chicago has confronted everything from contract disputes to cancer players to chemistry problems.”

Mike McGraw of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald:  “The free-agent chase is looming for the Bulls next summer, but there is no reason for fans to get too worked up about whether a chaotic coaching situation will scare away their top targets. Or if the Bulls need to win more games than Miami or New York. When it comes down to it, the city itself figures to be the decisive factor if any of the premier free agents consider joining the Bulls. A few years ago, whenever the Atlanta Hawks tipped off at Philips Arena, visitors could count the small clusters of fans in the seats and wonder how the team managed to stay in business. I asked Hawks star Joe Johnson, one of the 2010 free agents, if Atlanta’s homecourt advantage has gotten any better as the team improved. He didn’t try very hard to sugarcoat the answer. ‘Don’t get me wrong, it’s the home team and I enjoy playing there and I enjoy when the fans do come out,’ Johnson said. ‘But by no stretch of the imagination have we got one of the best home crowds. We don’t. I can’t really even say it’s getting there. In the playoffs, yeah, they’re there. Throughout the regular season, it’s not much of a big difference from what it was. It’s different, but it’s not that big of a difference than what is was when I first got there.’ That comment alone doesn’t mean anything, but it shows that players do appreciate fan support. The Bulls have a remarkably loyal following, having led the NBA in attendance the last decade despite making the playoffs just four out of 10 years.”

(Photo by Ned Dishman NBAE/Getty Images)

Out of Bounds: Arenas Gun Probe No Laughing Matter

January 3, 2010 4:36 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Adrian Wojnarowski’s compendium on the locker room confrontation between Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, which could lead to an NBA suspension or possible jail time, is long on eye-opening anecdotes and brutally honest assessments, ending with this one:

Arenas is trying to laugh his way out of something that isn’t funny and isn’t a joke to his franchise, to the NBA. Maybe Agent Zero tried to get one too many laughs, but whatever happened, however he tries to spin it now, the consequences promise to be immense for him. He has a story for law enforcement on Monday, and maybe it’s the truth and they’ll believe it. Eventually, he’s going to New York for a most unforgiving judge and jury in Olympic Tower, for David Stern, and it will be a good, long time before Gilbert Arenas is back in the NBA.

Asked to comment on the incident, Nets guard Devin Harris estimated that as many as 75 percent of NBA players own guns. UPDATE:  Chauncey Billups, who has changed teams six times, puts the number at 50, adding:  “You got to understand — it’s for protection reasons. We’re targets when we go out, for robberies, so you always have to be worried about protecting everything you worked hard all your life for.”

The NBA currently does not have a league-wide policy on such games, with players left with plenty of free time, holding envelopes stuffed with $113 in per diem for each day of impending trips that can last 10 days or even longer.

Essentially, that makes it a states-rights issue.

“I stopped my guys from playing when I was in Detroit,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s the arguments and stuff over the money.”

The problem is, NBA coaches have enough to handle, let alone what happens on the river and the turn.

“You get a guy who likes to gamble,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, “he can get on a plane and lose $10,000 and it’s not a problem.

“The stakes aren’t important, as long as everybody’s losing what they can afford to lose.”

Although gun culture flatly is prohibited by the NBA, card culture is practically fabric of the sport.

The Fundamentals

December 31, 2009 11:04 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:  “As far as NBA players go, Steve Nash qualifies as a senior citizen. Many of the league’s point guards are at least 10 years younger than Nash, who is more hippie than hip-hop. But nearing his 36th birthday, Nash is showing no signs of decline. In fact, he just might be playing better offensively as any over-35 point guard ever. ‘It’s incredible,’ said Mark Jackson, who ranks third all-time in assists behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd. ‘To me, he is in a discussion with any other point guard that has played this game not named Magic.’ Now in his 14th season, Nash is averaging 18.6 points and 11.3 assists – both of which are approaching his career highs – in only 33.5 minutes per game. His numbers compare favorably to what he averaged when he won the league’s MVP award in 2005 and 2006. The Suns also are winning, entering Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics with a 20-12 record. Whether it’s Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Stockton, Jackson, Kidd or other point guard greats, none have had statistics over the age of 35 that have come close to matching Nash today.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:  “Kevin Durant is on a tear. The Thunder’s small forward enters tonight’s game against Utah with five straight games of at least 30 points, one of them a season-high tying 40-point effort. And Scott Brooks still wants more. The Thunder coach wants his star to start securing the ball better. The issue was raised on the recent two-game East Coast swing through New Jersey and Washington, where Durant tallied 10 turnovers, ‘I tell him he has to be strong with the ball,’ Brooks said. ‘And he’s cognizant of it. He’s a good ball-handler, but when there’s a crowd around him, that’s when he gets into trouble. So as a staff we’ve been trying to teach him to pass out of it and then the ball will always come back around.’ On three possessions in the first quarter against the Nets, Durant simply had the ball slip out of his hands while making a move, suggesting he has grip issues. Durant said he doesn’t use the courtside resin during games. On other trips, defenders stripped Durant on drives to the basket, which might mean his hands are another part of his body that needs strengthening. Durant, who is averaging a career-high 3.68 turnovers and 4.1 in December, didn’t make excuses for the giveaways. ‘I just turned it over,’ Durant said. ‘I need to take better care of the ball.’”

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:  “Nearly 24 hours after the fact, the Spurs still were buzzing about the way Manu Ginobili turned Tuesday’s game against the Timberwolves into a personal time machine that transported him back to his days as one of the NBA’s most electrifying players. Ginobili came to training camp after a summer of enforced inactivity designed to assure complete recovery from a stress fracture of the right ankle. He lately has been reintroducing bits and pieces of the unique game that made him one of the league’s best players. Tuesday night’s near-triple double was the latest evidence he is getting closer to being the real Manu Ginobili. Up next: The confidence that will allow him to attack the basket when he believes his legs have regained the explosiveness that once made him a human highlight reel. ‘That’s the most important thing I’m trying to get back: attacking the rim,’ he said. ‘That’s my main concern right now — get to the rim in traffic and be able to finish with a quality shot, not just throwing it in the air.’”

Brett Pollakoff of FanHouse:  “Doc Rivers told reporters during Wednesday’s morning shootaround that Kevin Garnett’s availability for the Celtics’ game against the Suns that evening would be a game-time decision. It wasn’t quite game time when Rivers met with the media again a little less than an hour before tip-off, but he had made up his mind: Garnett was sitting due to soreness in his right knee — and in all likelihood, was going to miss more than one game. ‘I just decided that if I was debating it, the basketball gods were probably telling me to go with [my initial thought],’ Rivers said. ‘So, we sat him down. We’ve got to wait for it to heal, and we’ll see how long that takes.’ Rivers said that he also expects Garnett to miss Boston’s home game against the Raptors Saturday, but he hopes to have his player back for next Wednesday’s contest in Miami. The schedule definitely played a role in Rivers’ choice to give Garnett some time to heal. ‘I looked at the schedule, and obviously this is a tough game, but when you look at the schedule and then you see the two days, then a game, then three more days — if you’re going to rest someone to get ‘em right, there’s no better time than right now,’ Rivers said.”

J.A. Adande of  “The 16 games Jameer Nelson missed with a knee injury weren’t much of a problem for the Orlando Magic, but his return to the lineup can’t really be called a solution. Backup Jason Williams was far more instrumental in the Magic’s 117-92 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, as Nelson made only 1 of 7 shots and was the only Orlando player with a negative plus/minus (minus-12) in his 23 minutes of playing time. Nelson is 10-for-35 from the field in four games since coming back from arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said there were extenuating circumstances behind Wednesday’s performance — Nelson said he slept for only an hour and a half Tuesday night because of a ‘family issue’ — but the coach sounded frustrated about Nelson’s limited ability to practice after his knee swelled up following the Christmas Day loss to Boston. ‘We’re going to have to go back and evaluate where we are with Jameer,’ Van Gundy said. ‘There’s medical concerns and people don’t want him to get reinjured.’”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:  “Once Suns forward Grant Hill stepped on the floor Wednesday night, he completed his first calendar year as a pro without missing a game. Hill has played 115 consecutive games but has had a lighter load as of late with Leandro Barbosa’s return and Jared Dudley’s impact fortifying the Suns’ wings. Hill had played 26 minutes or fewer in the past four games after not doing so in more than two consecutive games this season. ‘You never want to come out of a game,’ Hill said. ‘I never even want to come out of practice. The thing that makes our team special and the thing we talked about in camp and the thing that has helped us thus far is our depth. ‘Understanding perspective and understanding how long the year is and what we’re trying to accomplish, the more production we can get out of our bench is great.’ Hill has shot better when he plays fewer minutes. He shot 53 percent when playing 30 minutes or fewer and 43 percent when playing more than 30 minutes. Hill, 37, is second to Shaquille O’Neal as the NBA’s oldest starter.”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “The plan made sense — rest Chauncey Billups during Denver’s back-to-back games earlier this week, take four days off, and by Saturday, he’d be back. Not so fast. On Wednesday, when Billups was asked about playing at Utah on Saturday, he said softly: ‘I don’t know man, I really don’t know, to be honest.’ Billups’ groin strain remains a pain on the court. ‘It doesn’t hurt to walk around or even jog — I feel good — it’s the cutting, trying to get by a defender,’ he said. ‘That’s my problem most of the times.’ The all-star point guard has missed five of Denver’s past six games. He played one half at Portland and has since determined he tweaked the groin and ‘kind of weakened the muscle.’ The lingering injury for Billups has led to the Nuggets (20-12) losing five of their past six games.”

Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:  “Maybe the slumping Andrew Bynum misses Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has been around the Lakers sporadically since being diagnosed with leukemia. Jackson thought Bynum might be missing somebody else. ‘I think maybe Kurt [Rambis] being in Minnesota might have an effect because Kurt was working with him a lot more than Kareem the last year,’ Jackson said. ‘I think Kareem had a big impact on Andrew two years ago, three years ago, but Kurt was working with him more hand in hand than Kareem this last year. Kareem hasn’t been here in maybe three weeks. I don’t know if they’re that close in their communications.’ Bynum hasn’t had a double-double in the last 20 games. He started the season with eight in his first nine games.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “It seems far-fetched, given the disjointed, awkward, uneven performances the Nets have had in this homestand. But they undoubtedly play hard enough. Their issues are a lack of patience, execution, experience, and chemistry. ‘Talent’s not the problem,’ said Devin Harris, who continues to play as hard as a point guard can play. ‘It’s all about trying to execute using everyone’s best talent. It’s about five guys staying aggressive at the same time — working together instead of, ‘This guy’s hot right now,’ and everyone else watches. We’ve had two guys hot at a time, mostly one and a half, but never a game when we’re all hitting on all cylinders. And it seems like it’s never more than two. So that’s what we have to get to. We have this talent, and we can’t get it to work together. It has to happen sometime.’ Put it this way: Over their last fourth quarters, the Nets averaged 20.5 points on 40 percent shooting entering yesterday and though their turnovers aren’t terrible — 2.3 per quarter — the timing of the mistakes are excruciating, whether it be a Harris crosscourt pass picked off by Jonny Flynn or Yi Jianlian hanging on the rim.”

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:  “Sixers coach Eddie Jordan became obsessed with the Princeton offense when he and legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril were assistants together in Sacramento. Jordan, who coached the Kings from 1996-98, took the offense with him when he eventually became coach of the Washington Wizards in 2003. He now is implementing it with the Sixers. Things haven’t gone too smoothly with the new offense yet, and Carril thinks he knows what the main problem is. ‘When he was with New Jersey with it [as an assistant coach], they went to the Finals 2 years in a row [2002 and 2003], because he had an exquisite passer on the team [in Jason Kidd],’ said Carril, still a Kings assistant. ‘I think if they had a bona fide point guard on that team, they’d be a heck of a team. A true point guard would get things started. The thing about that offense is, if you start off slowly, the next thing you do is going to be harder, then next thing is going to be harder yet, and then you wind up taking a bad shot or throwing the ball away. It’s really a nice team, but what I really think what he might need is a point guard.’”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “Bathed in the glow of the desert sun and 60-win seasons, Mike D’Antoni cast a warm and fuzzy image as coach of the Phoenix Suns. Fans loved watching his frenetic offense; players loved running it. Like his system, D’Antoni came across as a freewheeling soul, quick with a smile and a quip, every word couched in a disarming West Virginia drawl. Cast against a steely Manhattan backdrop, the portrait looks different now. Beneath the easy grin and the aw-shucks demeanor lies a ruthless pragmatist, dragging the Knicks toward respectability with little regard for anyone’s feelings. In the past month, D’Antoni has benched Nate Robinson, one of the Knicks’ most popular players, and Eddy Curry, one of their highest paid. He has buried Jordan Hill, the team’s 2009 lottery pick, deep on the bench, where he sits next to Darko Milicic, a player that D’Antoni himself wanted to acquire. There is only one thread that links them all: an urgent, insuppressible need to win now, regardless of other priorities. D’Antoni is determined to make the playoffs, even if it means alienating some players and ruining the trade value of others.”

Mike Jones of The Washington Times:  “After weeks of trying either to look on the bright side in regards to his team’s poor performances or find diplomatic ways to discuss its shortcomings, Flip Saunders scrapped all that Tuesday night. The Wizards had suffered their 20th loss, a 110-98 defeat to Oklahoma City, and a failure to commit on defense again was to blame. On Tuesday night – like so many nights before it – the Wizards blew a fourth-quarter lead while letting their opponents dribble circles around them, shoot over them and dunk on them. Said Saunders in a blunt postgame rant: ‘This team for the last five years has been known as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and until we make a commitment – we couldn’t stop anybody out there. … We need a total mindset change. … Whether it’s lineup changes, it’s all up in the air right now. I’m frustrated as anybody, but I feel bad for the people who came to the game and had to watch that. … We’ll come back to practice in two days, and spots will be open for whoever. And if guys don’t like it, that’s fine. Because I’m not going to sit here and look at that anymore. Through 30 games, you evaluate for 30 games, and now the way it’s going it ain’t getting going.’ Saunders called out his players for not being able to play man-to-man defense, forcing him to use zone. He claimed that he, at 54 years of age, could take any one of his players one-on-one. Later in the locker room, the embarrassed Wizards couldn’t disagree.”

Eric Pincus of HOOPSWORLD:  “The Bulls are in somewhat of a quandary.  There are coaching issues and underachieving issues but what’s most pressing may be financial. It’s not how much they are or aren’t making this season.  The concern is payroll for next year – specifically how it pertains to the free agent class of 2010. The Bulls have seven players under contract this summer for a total of $37.7 million.  That’s simply too much. While there’s no certainty that a Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh would be willing to come to Chicago, the team essentially HAS to be in the financial position to make an offer. The trio of All-Stars will each be eligible for deals starting at about $16.6 million (depending on the salary cap number) this summer. Assuming the Bulls renounce the rights to all of their free agents including Tyrus Thomas, Brad Miller and Aaron Gray, the team’s salary computation will come in at about $41.6 million (including four minimum cap holds and roughly $2 million for their 2010 first-round pick). With teams generally projecting the cap to come in at about $54 million, Chicago is set to have just $12.4 million to spend. To make a viable offer to someone like the Chicago-born Wade, the Bulls are going to need to clear about $4.2 million in space. That means one of Salmons or Hinrich has to go.”

(Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood NBAE/Getty Images)

Points in the Paint

December 30, 2009 5:29 PM | By Brandon Hoffman
  • Ziller adds some much needed clarity to the Player of the Decade debate:  “The amazing thing about Duncan is the breadth of his talent. He is reputed as the era’s best defender, and this is absolutely spot-on — Duncan ranks 26th all-time in block rate (the percentage of opponent shots blocked), sixth all-time in defensive rebound rate and second all-time in individual defensive rating (behind, um, Elmore Smith). That individual defensive excellence has translated to team success, with the Spurs having finished no lower than fifth in defensive rating every season this decade; before last season, San Antonio had finished top three every year.” Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant have been dominant, but no player in the post-Jordan era compares to Tim Duncan. Duncan’s offensive and defensive excellence set a standard beyond reach of his rivals.
  • CBS Sports’ Ken Berger on the lack of attendance at Philips Arena this season:  “The Hawks continue to thrive with the fifth best record in the league behind the Big 4 (Lakers, Celtics, Cavs, and Magic), and the city of Atlanta barely notices. Philips Arena remains half-full on most nights; for the Memphis game on Dec. 16, the actual attendance figure was under 10,000, according to a source. So I wonder, as I have on several occasions, what would’ve happened if Philips Arena had been built in the Atlanta suburbs instead of downtown. Atlanta is a sprawling, suburb-dominated city where folks who don’t have to venture downtown have been conditioned against doing so. Traffic is abysmal, public transportation is insufficient, and the last thing people want to do on their average weeknight is sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-285 to see the Hawks play. (Especially after spending a good part of their day in traffic while commuting to and from work.) Would the team draw better if the arena had been built in the suburbs, a la the Palace of Auburn Hills? It turns out, this discussion was had years ago before Philips was built. The Hawks paid $250,000 to a consulting firm to study the best place to put the arena. The recommendation was to build it on the city’s perimeter. Ted Turner, who owned the Hawks then, said thanks for the recommendation, and then decided to build downtown, next to the old Omni. Thus, the fate of a second-class NBA franchise was sealed.”
  • John DeShazier of The Times-Picayune:  “Through 29 games, only two absolutes can be said of New Orleans’ NBA franchise based on the standings and on its level of play: It can’t win on the road, and it isn’t going to the playoffs. Obviously, neither of those proclamations was one we expected to be able make about the Hornets this season. A team with two All-Stars, Chris Paul and David West, should be able to win away from the New Orleans Arena and it should be among the top eight teams in the Western Conference. Those don’t seem to be absurd requests. But here we are, 35 percent of the season complete, the Hornets holding a 13-16 record and not having been a .500 team since the second game of the season.”
  • Bob Finnan of the News-Herald:  “Never before in his career has Shaquille O’Neal been such a non-factor offensively. He’s averaging just 8.4 field-goal attempts a game. His 10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 51 percent shooting from the field are career lows. But you’re not going to hear any complaints from the aging superstar. ‘Nobody wants to see a 37-, 38-year-old man take 20 or 30 shots,’ he said. ‘LeBron (James) is going to take most of the shots. I accept that role. If I was 27 or 28, I’d probably have a problem with that. That’s how it is now. He’s the man. He’s going to take most of the shots.’ Just because his attempts are way down, it doesn’t mean he’s playing poorly. That’s anything but the case. ‘I still think he’s a dominant force for us,’ Cavs coach Mike Brown said. ‘It shows up in a lot of different ways.’”
  • Cue Hollinger (Insider):  “But it’s not just Shaq. The Cavs’ frontcourt is a four-man meat grinder that also includes 6-foot-11 Anderson Varejao, 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas and 6-9 J.J. Hickson. Throw in a small forward who’s bigger than most centers, and the Cavs pound opponents like few others. We saw Cleveland’s muscle bend the Lakers (and their fans) completely out of shape on Christmas, and we saw the same thing as the Hawks melted down offensively in the fourth quarter Tuesday night. Just ask Josh Smith, who flung his headband in anger after taking a shot from Varejao under the boards.”
  • Art Garcia of  “Speaking of those Grizzlies, Zach Randolph is quietly putting together another bang-up season. And judging by the squeaks from the turnstiles at FedEx Forum, it’s really quiet. Memphis’ starting power forward should be in the All-Star discussion averaging 20 points (16th in the league) and 11.4 boards (fifth). He leads in offensive rebounding, with a career-high 4.8. ‘I’m just being aggressive,’ Randolph said, ‘Being aggressive on the offensive end. Being aggressive rebounding, trying to get offensive rebounds. Just the little stuff.’ Little stuff that adds up. The burly left-hander totaled 65 points and 42 rebounds from Dec. 20-22, becoming the first NBA player to reach those levels over a two-game stretch since Hall-of-Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar amassed 67 points and 46 rebounds from Feb. 1-3, 1978.”
  • Britt Robson on Al Jefferson and the triangle offense:  “One major difference between this season and the previous two is Jefferson’s lack of ball dominance with Rambis as coach. As a player, McHale used to revel in taking opponents into what he called ‘the torture chamber,’ using his seemingly endless array of moves to frustrate defenders in the low post. His sets were designed to allow Jefferson similar time and freedom to operate. But the ball and player movement is much more constant under Rambis’ triangle system, and passes to open teammates in response to double-teams is demanded. But the first few months under the new regime were a sobering trial. Bent on maximizing space under the salary cap, president of basketball operations David Kahn pared the roster down to a handful of holdovers. Then the learning — and unlearning — began in earnest. ‘When we first started training camp, Al was running to the left block every time,’ says forward Ryan Gomes, who came over with Jefferson from Boston in the Garnett trade. ‘He was accustomed to thinking, ‘This is the block I like and I showed everyone I can score here.’ But coach was telling him to run to the middle of the floor and then find the ball. This year we have other options. That’s good because last year the double-team was coming even before Al got the ball.’”

Video: Manu Ginobili’s Near Triple-Double

December 30, 2009 3:17 PM | By Brandon Hoffman

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Half an hour after the Spurs’ 117-99 trampling of Minnesota had ended, the Spurs’ locker room was still abuzz about Manu Ginobili’s Night of 1,000 Trick Passes. Three players were engaged in a raucous, though playful, back-and-forth debate about which one them should be featured as SportsCenter’s Play of the Day.

The candidates:

* Richard Jefferson, for catching Ginobili’s no-look touch pass and finishing with a fast-break dunk.

* George Hill, for being on the receiving end of Ginobili’s full-court, over-the-shoulder fling.

* DeJuan Blair, for being in the right place at the right time to snag Ginobili’s behind-the-back-while-falling-out-of-bounds dish.

All of them made a good case. Blair had perhaps the best one.

“He threw the ball behind his back through a space about like that,” Blair said, wide-eyed and holding his hands about a foot and a half apart. “It was amazing.”

They all agreed Jefferson would probably take home top honors. If chicks dig the long ball in baseball, they dig the slam dunk in basketball.

“He got a dunk,” Blair said. “So he’s probably No. 1.”

I’ve never heard a post-game locker room quite so abuzz about the exploits of one player.

The Fundamentals

December 30, 2009 11:07 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “This has been such a gnarly three months for Delonte West and there’s probably more turbulence ahead. But he’s slowly turned the corner a bit over the last few weeks and it has been huge for the Cavs. It helps that LeBron has been playing MVP level again. Mo Williams has been playing All-Star level again. And Shaquille O’Neal has been impacting games like the Cavs felt he could. Even Zydrunas Ilgauskas is on a tear. But the emergence of West has been equal to all those ingredients in why the team has won 10 of 11 games (six on the road). Tuesday’s game was classic Delonte, too. He made about five huge hustle/strength/quickness plays in the fourth quarter alone. Perhaps none bigger than when he got the steal and dunk with 4:22 left that pretty much broke the Hawks’ will. How do I know it broke their will? Because West got a technical for what he said to Josh Smith after the dunk and Joe Johnson whiffed on the free throw when the Hawks already hadn’t scored for seven minutes.”

Chris Tomasson of FanHouse:  “For nearly nine minutes, Atlanta had not scored a single point in the fourth quarter Tuesday night against Cleveland. Dusty pages were being turned back in the NBA record book. Has a team in league history ever not scored in a quarter? Nope. Two teams once scored just two points in a quarter. And Cavaliers coach Mike Brown was a San Antonio assistant in 2002-03 when the Spurs held Denver to three points in the first, still a record for that quarter. ‘It was like, ‘I don’t want to be in the record book if we don’t score,” said Atlanta center Al Horford. Fortunately for Horford and his teammates, the Hawks were spared NBA infamy when forward Josh Smith threw down a dunk with 3:12 left in the game. But the damage had been done. The Hawks, who were hoping to prove Tuesday in what coach Mike Woodson called a ‘measuring-stick’ game that they’re somewhat in Cleveland’s league, trailed just 75-74 entering the quarter. But after their Gobi Desert-like drought, they were down 85-74 before Smith’s bucket, and went on to lose 95-84 at Philips Arena. The Hawks missed their first 10 shots of the quarter.”

Elliot Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News:  “Lakers small forward Ron Artest still can’t remember the exact details about his Christmas night tumble that resulted in a concussion and stitches in his elbow, which forced him to sit out his third consecutive game Tuesday night. One minute, Artest said he remembered coming home from Staples Center with his hands full of Christmas presents. The next minute, he was inside his home and his wife was standing above him and asking him, ‘Are you all right?’ Artest said he believes he must have tripped on the stairs leading to his front door, but he doesn’t remember falling. He couldn’t say whether he fell forward or backward, and he doesn’t recall whether he made it inside on his own or whether he had help. ‘My wife said I was asleep for two or three minutes,’ Artest said in his first public comments since he was injured. ‘It took an hour to get my senses back. I didn’t feel it (falling). That’s the scary part. I’m still woozy at times.’”

Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register:  “Really, the awkwardness from Artest on Tuesday night in front of reporters – aside from him perhaps being a little off from the concussion, prompting Bryant to say: ‘He didn’t look like himself’ – stemmed from Artest being uncomfortable with how few great quotes he could offer if he didn’t remember anything good. At one point he tried to be definitive when asked about how he cut his left elbow, answering: ‘Trying to brace the fall.’ Then he paused, and his tone weakened. ‘I guess it was trying to brace. I can’t even remember.’ The reason the story changed originally from him tripping over a box to carrying a box was because of misinformation provided by Artest’s agent, who was never sure about it. Beyond that, it’s not hard to visualize Artest falling down steps when you think about how often he hits the deck trying to convert those awkward driving layups. But believe it or not, the true bottom line is that the concussion is increasingly the worrisome injury of this era. Brain trauma is indisputably serious stuff, as is the common memory loss that accompanies it.”

Josh Robbins and Matt Humphrey of the Orlando Sentinel:  “The Orlando Magic knew they had acquired a tough player when they signed SF Matt Barnes in July. But perhaps team officials didn’t realize just how tough Barnes is until recently. Barnes is playing despite a couple of painful injuries to his left hand. Barnes said he has torn ligaments in both the palm and top of his hand near his middle finger and ring finger. In addition, Barnes also dislocated his hand’s pinkie recently. ‘Rebounding the ball, touching the ball, trying to strike the ball — it’s all painful,’ Barnes said. ‘It just knocks the wind out of you.’ Barnes said the damage won’t worsen if he continues to play and that rest, not surgery, will heal the injuries. But as he noted, there’s no time to rest. The only good news for Barnes is that he’s right-handed, so the injuries don’t affect his shooting. It’s common to see Barnes leave RDV Sportsplex after practices and Amway Arena after games with his hand wrapped in ice. ‘The thing I really like with him is I just think that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win games,’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ‘A lot of guys will say that that’s what they’re about. But I think with him that’s really all that it’s about with him. He just wants to help you win.’”

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:  “Kevin Garnett has been one of Rajon Rondo’s biggest supporters, but his respect for the Celtics point guard managed to grow Monday night. A night after missing two free throws in a tie game in Los Angeles against the Clippers with 1.5 seconds left and watching Baron Davis hit the game-winning shot over him on the other end, Rondo had 30 points and 15 assists in Monday night’s fall to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif. Rondo made 11-of-18 shots from the floor and 7-of-9 from the line. Garnett liked the way Rondo got back on the horse. ‘Things happen to us that you turn and you ask yourself, ‘Why me?’ ‘ Garnett said as the Celtics had yesterday off in preparation for tonight’s road trip finale against the Phoenix Suns. ‘I told him when he went to the line (Monday), I smacked him and I said, ‘Yeah, redemption. Payback.’ I just kept filling him with that. It either makes you or breaks you, man. You can’t break this kid. This kid is made of carbon, man. Everybody knows what carbon is. You know that it’s damn near invincible. It’s just more than a pleasure to be his teammate.’”

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:  “The passes come zipping from every direction, and in every way imaginable. No look. Behind-the-back. Over-the-shoulder. In traffic. With English. If there’s one thing DeJuan Blair has learned early in his rookie season with the Spurs, it’s that when Manu Ginobili is directing a fast break, expect the unexpected. ‘He can throw it off his back, hit it off his foot,’ Blair said. ‘He can do anything. He’s amazing.’ In the Spurs’ 117-99 trouncing of Minnesota on Tuesday night, Ginobili did everything but sell popcorn. In what coach Gregg Popovich called one of his Argentine guard’s best all-around games, Ginobili had 14 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists and three steals, narrowly missing the first triple-double of his career. Improbably, his overstuffed stat sheet didn’t do justice to the havoc he wreaked on the Timberwolves. With Ginobili in the lead, tossing the ball around the AT&T Center like a live grenade, the Spurs enjoyed a season-high 29 fast-break points en route to their ninth win in 11 games.”

Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:  “The last anyone saw Brook Lopez Monday night, he was slipping through the back door of the locker room without a word, wearing a button-down print shirt and his 2-29 scowl. Nobody thought much of it. In this game, you get genuinely intimidating scowls (Kevin Garnett), narrow-eyed scowls (Kobe Bryant), wide-eyed scowls (Tim Duncan), bemused scowls (Dwight Howard), maniacal scowls (Kenyon Martin), and hammy Hollywood scowls (Anderson Varejao). All consider it an essential part of their equipment. But since he is not exactly a young man of genuinely intemperate disposition, Lopez must work on maintaining The Scowl, and the edge that comes with it. Because the Nets center left after that pounding against Oklahoma City at Izod Center that night, and somewhere along those 10 miles from East Rutherford to Edgewater, he misplaced his foul mood. ‘The fact is, when he gets home, you don’t see the losses affect him — honestly,’ said Chris Lopez, his brother, mentor, and housemate. ‘It’s not like he’s a kettle that’s about to blow. On the court, sometimes the frustration is evident. But it’s not a problem. He stays even-keeled. And I know there isn’t any repressed anger about it.’ Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad.”

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:  “Brand was quick to point out how much the addition of Allen Iverson has benefited him and other inside players, noting that defenses pay so much attention to Iverson, it opens things up for other players. Iverson, in his first game back from a four-game absence with a bum left knee, was everything this team needs him to be – an offensive threat but one that is under control. It is a different Iverson, obviously, from the player he was when he played here before. Maybe it’s because of the ailments that have limited his play, or maybe he’s just become a more mature player, knowing that his role on this team isn’t to be the 25-point-a-game player who has to have the ball in his hands most of the time. ‘That’s what I hope to do for these guys, to just give them that added confidence and believe that we can win basketball games regardless of the situation,’ he said after the Portland win. ‘I’ve been through a lot of wars in my career, and I’ve won a lot of games. Just to share the experiences that I’ve had with them and just try to stay as positive as I can with these guys and keep them positive. With a young team, a lot of times when things are not going right, people start pointing fingers and turn a positive thing into some negative thing not going right. I’m just going to be that voice to make sure that it doesn’t go downhill.’”

Tim MacMahon of  “Rick Carlisle didn’t like the phrasing of a question about how things have changed in his second season at the helm of the Dallas Mavericks. ‘I don’t like the word ‘comfortable,’‘ Carlisle said. ‘You don’t want to be comfortable. If you’re comfortable, then complacency and things like that can creep in. I think you’ve got to maintain a healthy uncomfortableness every day. You’ve got to have the right kind of mindset to come in every day and try to get better. It’s tough when you’re in a stretch when you’re winning some days, but with a veteran team, we’ve got to challenge ourselves to do that.’ Maintaining that ‘healthy uncomfortableness’ can be tough on a coach’s toes. Jason Terry said the biggest difference in Carlisle this season is that he kicks more tables. Greaseboards and laundry bins have also felt the wrath of Carlisle’s foot when he felt he needed to be a bit more demonstrative to get his point across. ‘This year, he’s getting a lot more comfortable and he’s kicking things,’ Terry said, perhaps using a poor choice of words. ‘He’s got a little bit of Avery in him.’”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:  “If his basketball management career doesn’t pan out, Gar Forman at least proved Tuesday night he could enter politics. Refusing to produce the vote of confidence that isn’t coming for Vinny Del Negro, Forman nevertheless placated those clamoring for Bulls management to break its silence regarding the embattled coach. Speaking before the Bulls’ 104-95 victory over the Pacers at the United Center, Forman said the entire organization is disappointed in the team’s 12-17 record. ‘Vinny is our coach,’ the Bulls’ general manager said. ‘As a management team, we are exploring all options to get better. We expect our coaches to work every day to get this team better. I met with the team and we expect the players to work every day to get better.’ Asked in which area he’d specifically like to see Del Negro improve, Forman demurred. ‘I don’t know if you pin it on one guy,’ Forman said. ‘As a whole, we want to continue to get better defensively. We want to be an up-tempo team that takes advantage of our athleticism.’ Asked if he could commit to Del Negro coaching the remainder of the season, Forman basically declined to comment while commenting.”

Howard Beck of The New York Times:  “Michael Jordan did not own the N.B.A. over the past 10 years, as he did in the 1990s. But he haunted it, from near and far, in uniform and from the golf course. Whether he was making an ill-fated comeback as a player or making ill-fated moves as a team executive in Washington and in Charlotte, Jordan still ruled from a distance in the decade that spanned 2000 to 2009. Commentators groped to identify his heir. Every great player was compared to him. Every championship team tried to replicate the dominance of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The closest facsimile — the Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s — won three straight titles with Jordan’s old coach (Phil Jackson) and even some of his old teammates (Ron Harper, Horace Grant). Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1998, but his shadow stuck around for another 12 years. As Jordan said at his Hall of Fame induction in September: ‘You guys have a heavy burden. I wouldn’t want to be you guys if I had to.’ He was speaking to his children, but he could have just as well been addressing Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Allen Iverson and an entire generation of stars who tried to emulate Jordan’s moves, his dominance, his swagger and his corporate prowess.”

(Photo by Joe Murphy NBAE/Getty Images)

Charting the League’s Smartest Teams

December 30, 2009 9:48 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

I’m a day late pointing this out, but it’s new to me so what the heck. This clever graph by FanHouse’s Tom Ziller shows which teams take the bulk of their shots at the rim and from beyond the arc, otherwise known as the second and third most efficient shots in basketball.