The Fundamentals

» December 3, 2009 10:25 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:  “Ron Artest is fitting in, and it just keeps getting better and better. Every game there is some progress in the way Artest uses the triangle offense, if there are still occasional turnover hiccups as he learns the system and his teammates. ‘Now I’m in sync,’ he said. ‘I just hopped on that train.’ Said Bryant: ‘He’s getting really comfortable.’ Beyond that, Artest continues to be a free spirit, though just refreshingly so. In case you’re wondering whether to believe his claim on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ that he could have underwear underneath those little shorts, Artest does indeed wear boxer briefs, so that part of his story holds up. Meanwhile, Artest continues to tell other wild stories, including a new one in an interview with Sporting News magazine wherein he says about his 1999-2002 time in Chicago: ‘I used to drink Hennessy … at halftime. I (kept it) in my locker. I’d just walk to the liquor store (near the arena) and get it.’ With the Lakers, though, there’s just a ‘Team Pacquiao’ jacket in Artest’s locker – and it’s actually the exact same jacket that Lakers owner Jerry Buss was wearing the other night. Artest also has the safety net of childhood chum Odom around, and late Tuesday night Artest could be seen reaching into Odom’s locker for a bottle … of moisturizing oil.”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “There aren’t that many people who can relate to the national media onslaught Tiger Woods is going through over the last couple of days. One is LeBron James, who said he and Woods carry the same burden — but it is the deal they signed up for. James said Wednesday that, like his fellow Nike super pitchman Woods, he values privacy for his family. But he knows that, unlike their massive salaries and endorsement contracts, that isn’t guaranteed. ‘As a high-powered athletes you have to manage keeping your family away from some things, but at the same time keeping it open enough where people aren’t trying to dig deep into your personal life,’ James said. ‘You want to be loyal to your family, but at the same time you don’t want to blind them. We do live in a life of media things and stardom.’ It has been James’ position for years that his fans deserve a glimpse into his life because of the support — another word for lots of money — they give him. ‘Without fans there’s no us at the end of the day,’ James said. ‘We do have to do get up every day and work on our games to be the best but the fans who come watch us play support us and we respect. Myself and guys like Kobe and Shaq and Peyton [Manning] and guys like Tiger understand it comes with the territory. No matter how much sometimes you wish you didn’t have to deal with it, you do.’”

Brian T. Smith of The Columbian:  “Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan said there was a connection. The Blazers’ recent offensive woes have transferred to the team’s defense. And Portland’s struggling defense is the main reason the Blazers are suffering through a rough three-game losing streak that has McMillan looking for more and his team searching for answers. To McMillan, the equation is simple. Missed shots on the offensive end of the floor are carrying over and disrupting the team’s defensive mindset. And as a young Portland team attempts to toughen up, every mental lapse is a defensive liability. ‘We have guys who feed off putting the ball in the basket. Which most of our guys do. That’s what they do. They’re scorers, they’re shooters,’ said McMillan, following a Wednesday morning workout at the team’s practice facility. ‘And when that ball is not going in the hole or they’re not getting a touch or a look, it can affect you on the defensive end of the floor.’ The Blazers rank third in the NBA in average points allowed (91.3) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (43.8). But the statistics are somewhat misleading.”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “Swagger can’t be forced. It’s a natural feeling of unnatural confidence. Swagger is John Travolta strutting in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ or Kanye West rapping ‘My swagger is Mick Jagger.’ Swagger is also Chauncey Billups, 5:15 p.m., game night, the Pepsi Center. ‘There’s definitely a certain swagger and certain pride I feel when I pull up in my car and am walking into the arena, thinking, ‘This place is absolutely going to be rocking,’ ‘ the point guard said. Swagger, it seems, is contagious. All the Nuggets have it at the Pepsi Center, where the team has won 18 of its past 19 regular-season games, scoring 110 or more points in 16 of those victories. With an 8-1 home record this season, on the heels of a 33-8 mark last season, the ‘swaggerific’ Nuggets — that’s Carmelo Anthony’s word — have made the Pepsi Center one of the toughest home draws in sports.”

Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star:  “Maybe Sam Mitchell was bored: On the eve of the one-year anniversary of his firing as Raptors coach, Mitchell spent his Wednesday night watching his former team play his hometown Hawks. He found out soon enough that little has changed for the better since he left. With the former coach sitting in the second row across the court from the Toronto bench, the listless, fight-less Raptors lost their fifth straight game in a blowout, 146-115. Meanwhile Mitchell’s successor, Jay Triano, awoke Thursday morning on the one-year anniversary of his promotion to head coach facing his first public crisis on the job. After an unconscionable defensive effort that saw the Raptors surrender the second-most points in franchise history, more than one player openly criticized the coach’s schemes in the game’s solemn wake. And more than one veteran voice said Triano is failing to call out the players who are making the most egregious defensive mistakes.”

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune:  “Shaq’s presence – in addition to making Phoenix particularly vulnerable to the pick-and-roll – marginalized Nash because it cut into his improv act. Asking Nash to dump the ball into the low post is like asking Houdini to do card tricks. ‘Now we’re just having fun,’ Stoudemire said. ‘It’s more of a team game. Last year with the big fella we kind of went to him a lot and it kept a few guys out of their game. Now everybody is involved and it makes it an easy game.’ Broach this notion with O’Neal – that the Suns are better off without him – and the result is as predictable as rain in Seattle. He thinks it’s a bunch of malarkey. ‘I only take advice from experts,’ Shaq told the Tribune after Cleveland’s shootaround Wednesday morning. ‘There are only two experts in the game today. That’s Tim Duncan and myself. He has four rings, I have four rings. I’ve been around for a long time. I know what works. … It doesn’t matter what the so-called experts say because I’m the expert. I’ve been there and done that.’”

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:  “The development of Perkins could be the key to the Celtics’ long-term success. The more he scores and rebounds during the season, the less labor there is for Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen, so the more they are rested for the postseason. Add to that Rondo’s emergence as an elite point guard, and the Celtics have a loaded lineup. ‘I’m just doing my job,’’ Perkins said. ‘Guys are just finding me. A lot of teams help off of me and I feel like I have to do a better job of diving to the rim. I just feel like guys are finding me and I got to make sure to try to be consistent and do something when I get the ball.’ Perkins’s work in the paint is being noticed around the league. He is a formidable center, perhaps not in the class of Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol, but he is demanding respect from opponents. ‘The kid’s gotten better; they have done a wonderful job with him,’’ Charlotte coach Larry Brown said. ‘He knows his role. He defends his position. He’s gotten better offensively.’”

Nick Friedell of  “When the clock was running down and the game was on the line, Gordon was the man the Bulls almost always turned to. Sometimes he hit the shot, sometimes he didn’t, but he was there. Now he’s not. Now he takes those shots for the Pistons. On Wednesday, the Bulls will get their first look at the man who used to fill the role that they haven’t been able to fill.  ‘It’s going to be a different thing,’ Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after Tuesday’s practice, while describing how the Bulls are still trying to fill Gordon’s late-game shoes. ‘[Monday night] it was Brad Miller. Derrick [Rose], obviously has done it. John Salmons, Luol [Deng]. It’s a collective effort there to do that. We haven’t had too many close games in a while, so that hasn’t been one of the issues. I feel very comfortable and confident with guys. When Kirk [Hinrich come back from an injury], he’s capable of doing things. We have enough weapons to be able to make shots at the end. It’s just a matter of setting better screens, better spacing, executing. That hopefully will come as we stay together.’ Del Negro can hope for all the best, but for the time being, the answer is obvious: The Bulls miss Ben Gordon, especially late in games, and the sharpshooter knows it.”

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  “For a decision to be based on something so simple, the question of when Tracy McGrady will play basketball quickly grew complicated. After all the drama of his declared target date now two weeks past and insistence that he is ready, McGrady has returned to Rockets practices and continued to travel with the team, hoping for his chance like so many players on the fringe of a roster. Rockets coach Rick Adelman said again on Wednesday that there is ‘no timetable’ for McGrady’s return. There is, he said, one criterion to meet for McGrady to make his season debut. McGrady, Adelman said, must be ready in Adelman’s estimation to help the Rockets win. As uncomplicated as that seems, however, the decision seems more about basketball than health considerations, with the Rockets wanting McGrady to improve in private workouts and team practices, rather than to move his next step of rehab to actual games. McGrady’s most recent prediction about when he would return had him playing by the Rockets’ current road trip. That now seems unlikely.”

Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer:  “Three years ago, the 76ers and the suits at Comcast-Spectacor spit Allen Iverson out like a piece of gum that had turned from sugary-sweet to flavorless to bitter beyond tolerance. After a decade of enabling and covering for their superstar, the folks who worked in the Wachovia Center offices freely shared their horror stories, giddily relieved that the reign of terror was over. Now Iverson is back, and Sixers president Ed Stefanski says he’ll be a good influence and, furthermore, will play defense. ‘He’s going to have to buckle down, too, because we all have to play defense,’ Stefanski said in a conference call with reporters yesterday. ‘It’s not just about scoring.’ Oh, my. Such charming naivete. Stefanski kept using the phrase ‘basketball decision.’ With Lou Williams out for somewhere around 30 games, Stefanski said, the Sixers simply had gotten the best available free-agent guard to take his place. No one can argue that anyone more talented or accomplished than Iverson was available. But there’s no way to make what is purely a ‘basketball decision’ on Allen Iverson. Not in Philadelphia, there isn’t. There’s just way too much history.”

Ian Thomsen of  “The decision to pass on Brandon Jennings is above all an example of how Walsh is steadily attempting to transform his franchise without resorting to quick fixes. For one thing, he has continued to rely on a scouting staff assembled by predecessor Isiah Thomas. ‘When I come in anywhere, I don’t fire everybody,’ said Walsh. ‘I wanted to give the scouts, the front office people, the opportunity to show me what they can do. So I just haven’t [replaced them].’ It’s not like he hasn’t had other things to do: Walsh has created cap space for 2010 while instilling the Knicks with newfound financial discipline across the board. ‘I could have hired some amazing people,’ said Walsh, who was rumored to be courting Billy Knight, Chris Mullin and Mark Warkentien as prospective GMs. ‘But there are some things you can’t ask the owner to do, and that’s eat some of these (front-office and scouting department) numbers.’ It’s fair to assume that Cablevision’s ongoing spin-off of Madison Square Garden involves a scrutiny of the books and a demand for fiscal responsibility. But Walsh would be pursuing restraint under any circumstances. ‘This is a true rebuilding job in a lot of ways, other than just personnel,’ he said. ‘It’s culture, it’s everything.’”

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:  “They had come out of morbid curiosity, a perverse loyalty to the decades of embarrassment and humiliation here. They had come to see the fruition of how a despicable owner and a mismanaged Brooklyn arena bid transformed the New Jersey Nets back into a sinkhole of a franchise, a punch line for the sport. Families had come to wear paper bags, and a father and son had come to be threatened with expulsion by security for holding up a sign that said, ‘End Ratner’s Reign of Error.’ They had come because, well, they practically give tickets away here now. Before the game, there was a Nets fan rushing down the steps into the lower bowl, waiting for Tom Barrise, the assistant coach told to step into the batter’s box without a helmet for the two blowout losses that would make history and lean into a Clemens fastball. The fan wore a Nets hat, a Nets shirt and held tightly to a game program. He reached out and blurted, ‘Tom … Tom …’ and clenched Barrise’s fist and appeared to be as serious about this moment as any in his life, when he blurted these words straight from his broken Nets heart. ‘One and 17 tonight, coach!’ he said, and held on for a moment and repeated himself. ‘One and 17!’ Who says they’ve stopped dreaming big dreams in Jersey?”

(Photo by Rocky Widner NBAE/Getty Images)

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