The Fundamentals

» December 23, 2009 10:13 AM | By Brandon Hoffman

Fran Blinebury of  “More than seven months since his most recent setback put him on the sidelines right in the middle of the Houston Rockets’ second-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers and five months since he underwent reconstructive surgery on his left foot, Yao is taking, well, steps toward perhaps one final shot at what has been a star-crossed NBA career. While he has shed the hard, uncomfortable cast in favor of a smaller, removable boot and has recently taken to walking on a treadmill — with the load on his feet limited to roughly half his body weight — the 7-foot-6 Yao still uses crutches that look like they could be used in a pole vault competition to get around. And as he negotiates the aisles of a Houston restaurant carefully and hears words of encouragement from many of the surprised diners gazing up from their tables, he smiles and nods and sometimes wonders if they can even comprehend the anguish. ‘This time, because of all the things they had to do rebuilding my foot, there was more physical pain after the surgery,’ Yao said. ‘But it was knowing what the rehab means that, right when they came to put the mask over my face before the surgery, almost made me say, ‘No. No. No. Forget it.’ ‘ The truth is, his parents would have preferred that their son not put himself through another round of surgery and tireless toil and Yao himself might have thought about prematurely ending his playing career. ‘But I asked the doctors whether someday in the future, if I had a son, would I be able to get onto the court and play basketball him without the surgery,’ Yao said. ‘They told me no. I want to have a normal life. I want to be able to do those things with my son. So if I was going to need surgery anyway, why not have this and try to play again.’”

Ian Thomsen of  “It is time, to put it nicely, for Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to grow nasty. Roy is a two-time All-Star and Aldridge wants that status. This is their fourth year together after joining Portland as top-six picks in the momentous 2006 draft, and last summer each signed five-year extensions worth a combined $149 million. The evaluation of the Blazers’ roster applies, as well, to the likes of second-year guard Jerryd Bayless, who filled in with a career-best 29 points in a 105-102 beating of Phoenix last week. But no one should focus on the role players at the expense of the stars. Portland’s stars are Roy and Aldridge, and now is the time for them to grow up as franchise leaders. McMillan agreed with that assessment wholeheartedly during our talk last week. ‘They certainly understand it, but they’re still trying to adapt in the sense that that’s not their nature,’ said McMillan, while adding that Roy and Aldridge need to be ‘demanding and not concerned about your feelings [as] teammates. They don’t want to look selfish. Well, you’re the best player on the team. Get the ball. They want to be liked, but as I told Brandon and LaMarcus, ‘You didn’t probably think of this when you were drafted or as you were dreaming of being an NBA player, that you will be running an organization. Basically that’s what you’re doing. You inherited this. You were the second pick, the [sixth] pick and all of that, and you signed your contracts — and all of a sudden it’s yours. Now what do you do with it?’”

Britt Robson of  “There was a small dust-up in Miami last week when Heat president Pat Riley questioned the efficiency and conditioning of Dwyane Wade, noting that the superstar guard’s production was ‘down about 10 to 15 percent from what he was last year.’ Riley was quick to buffer the barbs with an unsatisfying mixture of pro-forma praise and tough love. ‘I manage the team and there isn’t anybody that loves Dwyane more than me and there isn’t anybody that will be more honest with him than me either … and I think he respects that,’ Riley said. As long as Riley is preaching the virtues of accountability and honesty, a little context is in order. After Wade propelled Miami to a 43-39 record and No. 5 playoff seed last year via the best non-MVP season in recent memory, Riley sat on his hands in the offseason, preferring to stow salary-cap space in the hopes of signing a 2010 free agent, such as LeBron James or Chris Bosh, to pair with Wade for a future title run.  In other words, the Heat have hung Wade out to dry this season, relying on an extension of his extraordinary skills and effort to keep the team competitive and reap a little lucre for the franchise with some first-round playoff games.”

Brian Windhorst of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “Delonte West’s legs are indeed back and so is his overall fitness. After reporting to training camp having lost weight and looking gaunt, West is looking and feeling strong again. He had 12 points, six assists and three steals against the Suns. It included not just that dunk, but a series of aggressive drives to the basket and fierce defensive intensity that helped slow down the powerful Phoenix offense. ‘He’s getting back to himself each game,’ LeBron James said. ‘He’s so tough, he’s talented and gifted and we’re so happy to have him.’ Sunday night in Dallas, West had 18 points and four assists off the bench. Overall he seems to be playing with more poise and is looking closer every day to the player he was last season, when a career year helped the Cavs to 66 wins. ‘His weight is up; his strength is back; his athleticism you can see; his confidence is back and he’s making good decisions,’ said coach Mike Brown. ‘And all of it was good to see.’”

Michael Wallace of the Miami Herald:  “The key to Michael Beasley’s recent consistency has been carved out of disrespect. Beasley has taken offense to what he believes has been an overwhelming amount of criticism aimed at the Heat from the media and national NBA analysts who question whether star guard Dwyane Wade has adequate help. With Wade struggling with his shot and playing through soreness in his back and wrist, the Heat carries a 13-12 record and an 8-8 mark at home into Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz to close out a six-game homestand. ‘I read a Charles Barkley quote when he said we were a team full of Tito Jacksons,’ Beasley said after Tuesday’s practice. ‘I do not think that at all. Udonis Haslem is one of the best shooters [and] hardest-working rebounders in the league. And I think I can score with anybody in the NBA. It’s not about saying it anymore. It’s about doing it.’”

Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post:  “The Nuggets are one of those high school exam questions that made you wonder about the strength of a GED. When the Nuggets pass more, they win more. But their offense is built around attacking the rim more than any other NBA team, and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony gets to the line more than every NBA player not named Dwight Howard. How can the Nuggets stick to their offensive philosophy but also make sure the team comes first? Tricky, huh? Such is the delicate issue that coach George Karl, his coaches and players face. ‘There’s no question that the pass and our offense go hand in hand,’ said Karl, whose Nuggets are 19-9. ‘Maybe we have to make more adjustments to get the gaps more open, to get the spacing better and to continue to try to get 30 layups and 30 assists (per game).’ The Nuggets rank 13th in assists per game (21.3), and all the cool kids — the Lakers, Celtics, Mavericks, Suns — rank in the top five. Utah has pick-and-rolled its way to No. 1 at 26 assists per game. When the Nuggets win, they average 23.4 assists. When they lose, mercy me, they average just 16.6.”

Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel:  “The Bucks rank 29th, or next to last, in the National Basketball Association in free-throw percentage, converting just 71.8% of their attempts. The only team shooting worse is the Orlando Magic at 70.5%. Bucks coach Scott Skiles and the players are getting plenty of advice from frustrated fans, who wonder why a pro player making millions of dollars can’t make a free throw. ‘My ego I hope is not running away from me here, but I was a 90% free-throw shooter,’ Skiles said. ‘I doubt I’m going to get a free throw coach better than that. It’s just mental. Mike’s an 84% career free-throw shooter. Bogues made 69% of his free throws his senior year in college (at Utah). It will happen. In one of these games it will go down to the wire and we’ll make eight of our last eight and hopefully it will be over with. You’ve got to have confidence up there. We’re all pros, and step up and knock it down when it counts.’”

Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:  “As well as Cleveland forces missed shots, its defense has been among the worst at causing turnovers. But that was its strength Monday, when Cleveland ended a 19-game Suns home win streak with the primary weapon of 30 points off turnovers. Phoenix committed 19 turnovers with 10 of those on passes. Cleveland got into passing lanes and applied ball pressure. ‘The most glaring thing about it was they turned up their defense and pressured us, we basically turned the ball over,’ coach Alvin Gentry said. ‘I guess you could call them forced turnovers. But to me, they were unforced turnovers when you can’t make a pass from A to B.’ Gentry said the Suns gave the Cavaliers too much respect in each loss to them this month. Despite going 4 for 19 on 3-pointers and not making a shot over six crunch-time minutes, the Suns still shot 47.4 percent Monday against a team with a 43.5 defensive field-goal percentage. But they denied themselves a chance to compete in the fourth, when they had six turnovers and gave up 11 unanswered points in two minutes. Grant Hill was the only Suns starter to score in the fourth. The Suns had the second-most turnovers in the NBA last season and give up 18.4 points off turnovers per game this season, for the fourth-highest average.”

Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel:  “It was during a private chat with Van Gundy in mid-November that all-star center Dwight Howard asked the volatile coach if he could curb his ‘negativity,’ especially his constant berating of players and their mistakes. Van Gundy conceded he was ‘draining’ his team’s ‘enthusiasm’ and vowed to change, from the bench on game-nights to his post-game news conferences. Howard told the Sentinel that Van Gundy has been more positive and his turnaround has helped the team. ‘It has,’ Howard said. ‘Early in the season, we’d miss shots or something and you’d look over at Stan and see him kicking water bottles and punching stuff. Now he’s fine with it. He understands that nobody’s perfect. He’s been doing a good job at it. Me and Stan talk a lot, text a lot, whatever. One thing we just asked him is that, ‘Coach, when you have a positive energy about yourself, it makes our team better.’ We flow better. We play better.’ The Howard-Van Gundy heart-to-heart took place just before the Oklahoma City game in Orlando on Nov. 18. The Magic are 13-4 since then.”

Ken Berger of “After this dreadful back-to-back dose of embarrassment, the fractures in the Bulls locker room are too wide for any coach to heal. ‘The thing is, if you were my friend, I would tell you a lot of things,’ Noah said to one reporter who asked about the Bulls’ disjointed offense Tuesday night. ‘But I feel like if I say something, then it’s going to make things really bad. We’re going through hard times and I don’t want to make it any tougher.’ That wasn’t the only indictment of Del Negro that emerged Tuesday night. The most troubling, to me, came during the layup line. Less than 24 hours after blowing a 35-point lead on their home floor, the Bulls were clowning around during warmups as though they were getting ready to play the Rockettes. Miller, who contributed nothing but a scowl after tipoff, exerted more energy blocking shots and throwing alley-oop bounce passes than he did in the game. I learned two things from watching the Bulls’ layup drill: 1) Jannero Pargo can’t dunk, despite a half dozen of his best efforts; and 2) The Bulls are an undisciplined mess, a team that lacked the conscience to be ashamed of what happened to them the night before. Of course, it carried over to the game. It always does.”

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:  “Game days usually go like this for NBA teams: Get to a gym (away team goes to host arena, home teams to practice site), go over a game plan for that night’s game, get in some shooting and some drills, then leave after about an hour to rest up at home or a hotel. But some coaches around the league are getting away from the traditional game-day shootaround that has become commonplace in the NBA since coach Bill Sharman started them for the Lakers in 1971. Boston coach Doc Rivers, who dropped shootarounds earlier this season, told the New York Times: ‘All of them, to a man, said, ‘Wow, it took some getting used to, but I’m fresher. I love it.’ So there it is.’ The Sixers don’t appear to be a team that is going to give up the game-day ritual any time soon. ‘I think that the teams that are discussing dropping shootarounds are the teams that are winning,’ said Sixers’ forward Elton Brand. ‘I think it prepares you for the game, for the game plan. If you’re winning and your team can kind of worry about themselves a little bit more than the other team and they can dominate and win, then I can see there not being a need. With a younger team, like we’ve got, or a team that runs offensive sets that are harder to stop or new to someone, I think it’s better to walk through them, get out of bed and walk through them.’”

Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee:  “The family swears the tale isn’t true: Colleen Maloof didn’t recently send sons Joe and Gavin to their bedrooms without supper, forbidding them to reappear until their vocabulary lists included terms such as innovative, imaginative, creative. But something happened. The family that made its fortune in sales and marketing – then seemingly forgot about sales and marketing – is doing everything from cold-calling customers to selling Kings tickets during the recent visit to Arco Arena by the Washington Wizards. ‘That dollar-beer night was a huge success,’ Kings co-owner Joe Maloof said. ‘Gavin and I were so excited by the size of the crowd, seeing all those fans again, that we went into the ticket booths and started selling. The only bad thing is that we didn’t expect such a large turnout and the beer lines were too long. We’ll fix that for next time. We have a ton of other stuff lined up, believe me: Food. Beverages. Parking. We’re looking at everything.’  Why the epiphany now? Why not sooner? Anyone know a good shrink? For whatever reason – the empty seats, the crippled economy, something as simple as finally grasping the need to re-engage the community – the Maloofs have busted out of their mansions and become beer guys again.”

Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle:  “The Twitter-verse was buzzing after Tuesday’s revelation that, the celebrity gossip Web site that went mainstream with its coverage of Tiger Woods’ indiscretions, would launch a sports site in 2010. ‘That’s the last thing we need as athletes,’ Shane Battier said. Battier told a reporter he was welcome to follow him around, but cautioned there wouldn’t be much dirt to be dug. But Battier recognizes he might be the exception, too. ‘The way I look at it is, people want to have the experience of being an athlete or being a rock star,’ he said. ‘Being on the inside… That’s what pro sports have sold, be it helmet cams or cameras in the locker room. It’s become a very, I think, dangerous thing, trying to mess with the integrity of the sport when you allow too much access. It’s unfortunate – I think it takes from our job, the sports side of it, and it makes more of a reality show.’ He was asked if the situation was frustrating, and Battier said it wasn’t. ‘It’s the life we choose,’ he said. ‘I’m not complaining about it. I love my life. It’s a different era than the Bird-Magic era of the ‘80s when you just played basketball and went home at the end of the night.’”

(Photo by Bill Baptist NBAE/Getty Images)

3 Responses to “The Fundamentals”

  1. basketball is fun Says:

    That wasn’t the only indicitment of Del Negro that emerged Tuesday night.

  2. john amaechi Says:

    I hope your christmas was as enjoyable as mine was.

    Classy laker fans as usual!

    Giving the cavs the finger!

    At least KOBE!! can still get off whenever he wants.


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