I am just one of 450 players fortunate enough to be a part of the NBA; all of us are playing the game we love, in front of the best fans in all of sports. As we move into the second half of the season, I can tell you that my teammates and competitors around the league have an intense and primary focus -- putting it all together in the stretch run to the playoffs. Win or lose, these are the moments we work for all year long.
And while what happens on the court is essential, I have another privilege off the court -- to lead my fellow players as President of the National Basketball Players Association. As a member of the L.A. Clippers, my job is to compete fiercely against the other guys in the league, but as the elected head of our union, my role, which I take with the utmost seriousness, is to protect the interests of every player, and to preserve the health and integrity of the game of professional basketball.
I serve with player representatives from every team and with an Executive Committee of players who spend countless hours worrying about everything from critical business operations and necessary benefits and assistance for our players to the overall image and reputation of the league. While more people follow the game of basketball than follow the business of basketball, without question the NBA is a serious business, and one that wouldn't exist without the commitment of our players. Alongside our partners in this endeavor -- NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and team owners -- my fellow players and I accept and welcome our responsibilities for growing the game and enhancing the fan experience now, and for long after we've retired.
Working with our Acting Executive Director Ron Klempner, we've spent the past year reviewing and reforming the core policy infrastructure of our union, creating an organization that is strong, strategic, transparent and absolutely accountable to our players. Most notably, over the past many months, the NBPA's Executive Committee has been engaged in an extensive process and exhaustive search for a new Executive Director to lead the day-to-day operations of the union. For your average fan, this may not sound so important, but for our players, it's a big deal. Our next NBPA Executive Director will help define and shape the decisions that will govern the direction of the NBA in the decades ahead.
As ball players, we know a lot about recruiting, so in an effort to conduct a thorough and professional search, we partnered with outside consultants to identify over 200 professionals from the worlds of sports, law, labor and business who might be qualified to lead our union. Our Executive Committee has devoted the time, resources and energy necessary to narrow down this quality pool of potential candidates. During our All-Star Weekend Winter Meeting, we devoted virtually all of our time together to discussing the process that we've engaged in, and the procedures for considering and voting on our next Executive Director. We also heard from our leading candidates for the position to date, and players attending were able to take their measure.
I've been encouraged by the passionate interest in the outcome of these deliberations -- player agents, corporate sponsors, team owners, sports journalists and NBA fans. And while some of these interests have been critical or skeptical of the very deliberate steps we've been taking in this process, it's a testament to the commitment and passion we all have to protect our players and ultimately the game we all love so much. But make no mistake, the decision about our next Executive Director will be made by NBA players, in a process that has been and will continue to be open, transparent, painstaking and professional.
One of our greatest challenges as an organized group of players is managing the logistics that require us to be constantly moving throughout the country. However, we're in the last stages of implementing a plan that will allow every player to consider the candidates, discuss their merits with teammates and fellow union members and very soon, vote on new leadership for the NBPA. The process has taken time, but we know it has been time well spent.
Speaking on behalf of our Executive Committee and player representatives, getting this right has been far more important than just getting it done. This decision will be important to every current player, to our players in the years to come and to the sport of basketball itself. I'm excited and confident about the outcome, as the result will produce the strongest and most-qualified NBPA Executive Director to lead us into a great future for the NBA and our fans.
The zone. That semimythical place that all athletes strive night in and night out to reach. When LeBron James went off for a career-high 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats recently, he said, “It felt like I had a golf ball, throwing it into the ocean.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Chase Budinger knows a thing or two about that feeling, and the pressure that comes along with it.
“When I was playing,” he says, “I was getting close to my other high and once I finally beat it by 10 or something, then I was able to relax a little bit and just keep going. Once you’re past it, the pressure goes away. The pressure is in getting close.”
Just how far did Budinger sail past his previous career high? He nearly doubled it, finishing with an unfathomable 327 points.
In Flappy Bird.
The mobile game sensation might have been taken down from the iTunes App Store and Google Play, but that hasn’t stopped it from consuming nearly the entire Timberwolves’ locker room. Budinger is at the top of the team leaderboard right now, and by a mile.
On the streets and inside the locker room, our TrueCities series brings the mood and soul of the NBA city to you.
"Ricky [Rubio] is second," explains Ronny Turiaf, who brought the game to the team and seems to be the makeshift commissioner of the Wolves’ Flappy Bird league. "He has 187, and I’m third. I got 113."
Though Turiaf’s quest for second recently turned tragic. "Two days ago I was at 112 and one of my friends texted me and he made me lose,” he says. “So I told him that right now I’m not very happy with my friendship with him."
Budinger will be difficult to top; he has a deep yet nuanced understanding of the game and what it takes to win. "All you do is tap the screen," he says. "The bird flaps and you gotta go through tunnels. The way to do best at that game is you need to be somewhere alone and quiet. I think on the plane is a good time to play. Or on the bus, even though you’re moving a little bit."
"Right now," says Turiaf, "Chase is claiming that when you play without the sound, it helps you get better."
Apparently, there’s one player who needs to put it on vibrate. Asked who on the team is the worst, Turiaf replies, "By far, and I mean by far: Corey Brewer."
"I think his high is six," Budinger says.
Brewer, trotting through the locker room behind Budinger, growls, "Get off me, man. I got seven. Seven's my high."
"I kinda gave up when the scores starting getting to over a hundred," Robbie Hummel says. "Because I’m never going to get that. I was, like, 48. And at the start, that was in the mix. I stopped playing because I got so far out of the competition."
But even those who are out of contention keep tabs on the contest, which everyone says has been a source of excitement during a largely disappointing season for Minnesota. "It's fun when everybody's on the same page and playing and competing against each other," Rubio says.
As in any competition, though, accusations of impropriety are bound to surface from time to time. Photoshopped high scores were rampant on the Internet at Flappy Bird’s height, but Budinger insists everything's on the level within the Wolves organization.
“I tried to cheat and take a picture from the Internet, but they wouldn't believe it,” Rubio confirms. “I just have to practice,” he says.
Turiaf is more concerned that Budinger has been juicing, so to speak. “He plays on a different phone. He plays on a Samsung, I play on an iPhone,” he says. That gives him an advantage? “Ricky and I feel like it does, because his phone is bigger. Bigger resolution, so we feel like he has an advantage.”
Although creator Dong Nguyen recently told Rolling Stone that he’d consider bringing the game back, right now there’s no way for Turiaf and Rubio to upgrade to a Flappy Bird-equipped Samsung.
“Unless Samsung wants to call me right now,” Turiaf says. “This is me just trying to let them know that I'm looking for a Samsung, so if they want [me] to do any kind of appearance, all they have to do is just call me up and I'd be more than happy to do something with them. Hello, Samsung! Hello! Hi! I'm available, and I’m not expensive.”
Just don’t call him while he’s playing Flappy Bird.
Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Al Horford is in an exclusive club. It’s just not a group to which one wants to belong. The Hawks center spoke publicly for the first time Thursday following his season-ending surgery to repair a torn right pectoral muscle in December. It is his second experience with the injury after he missed most of the 2011-12 season with a torn left pectoral muscle. It’s the third one to happen in basketball, and I’ve had two of them,” Horford said. For the record, the Grizzlies’ Darrell Arthur also suffered a torn pectoral muscle during the 2009-10 season. Horford said doctors told him that he was not predisposed to such an injury. Horford returned from his first torn pectoral muscle in time for the playoffs. That is unlikely this season. He said this injury was more severe. “It’s my right side and my shooting arm,” Horford said. “I need to feel 100 percent confident with it. It’s just going to be a little bit slower."
Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: The three-guard rotation of Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters and Ramon Sessions has been in a bit of a groove lately. And that has meant reduced playing time for Bucks shooting guard O.J. Mayo. In the last four games Mayo has played a total of 7 minutes, although he served an NBA-mandated suspension in one of those games and was limited to 3 minutes in another after being ejected in the first quarter for striking New Orleans center Greg Stiemsma. Mayo's last extended action was a 20-minute stint in the Bucks' 116-102 loss to Sacramento on March 5. ... "Those guys have really worked well together - Nate and Brandon and Ramon," Drew said in his pregame remarks at Philips Arena. "It's been a really good rotation for us. O.J. is a real pro. The one thing i tell him is just 'You've got to stay ready.' He missed a stretch of games due to illness. He got out of rhythm; he lost conditioning. We've been trying to work with him as far as getting it back." ... Drew said Mayo still is making strides with his conditioning.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: In his 12th season, Carlos Boozer has been around the NBA block. He has experienced highs and lows and said he has tried to remain even-keeled throughout. This season has been one of his most personally challenging, with a reduced role and widespread speculation about the Bulls using the amnesty provision to discard him this offseason. "I've been dealing with that all year, so the (amnesty) talk doesn't bother me," Boozer said. "I just block it out and try to hoop." Boozer is averaging 29.1 minutes, his least playing time since logging 25.3 minutes as a rookie with the 2002-03 Cavaliers. His averages of 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds also are his lowest since that rookie season. And his 45 percent shooting is a career low. ... "It's not what I want but I haven't said anything," Boozer said. "I just keep playing my role and try to support my teammates. I'm doing everything I can to help my team win." Thibodeau consistently has called Boozer an important part. Asked this week if Boozer has remained engaged despite his reduced role, Thibodeau talked about putting the team first and added "if you play well, you're going to play."
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The debate is over. Somewhere between Joakim Noah stripping the ball from Dwight Howard after the Houston Rockets big man ripped down a rebound in the second quarter and Noah throwing a pinpoint bounce pass to Jimmy Butler on a back-cut for an easy basket late in the third, all the talk about which team has the best center in the NBA should have ended. As the 111-87 victory over the Rockets on Thursday showed, that center resides in Chicago. Behind 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, Noah was one pass shy of his fourth triple-double of the season, and more importantly, was a plus-24 in the plus/minus category. Howard? He finished with 12 points, 10 rebound, seven turnovers, was on the bench for the entire fourth quarter, and the team was a minus-28 with the center on the floor. Any questions? “Noah is great,’’ Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.
Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: When Dwight Howard first went against Joakim Noah, Noah was a ballboy at a summer basketball camp. When they met again Thursday, Noah was considered MVP worthy and Kevin McHale’s choice for Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s played very well. He should be Defensive Player of the Year,” McHale said. “They’ve been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, determination and confidence.” Howard included Noah among the league’s top defensive centers, especially appreciating how far Noah has come since he first started playing against him and that his style has not changed at all. “I’ve been playing against Joakim since Adidas camp back when we were 15, 16 years old,” Howard said. “I’ve seen the difference in his game. The one thing that hasn’t changed is his intensity level on the court. He’s always going after it every play, trying to get every loose ball, stuff like that." ... Noah’s success, including Sunday’s head-turning performance in the Bulls’ win against the Heat, offered more evidence in Howard’s argument this season that centers have become under-appreciated.
Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Thunder forward Kevin Durant has been firing off a series of tweets the past few days with the hashtag of #StrongandKind. Turns out, it's part of Durant's partnership with KIND health snacks. Durant is working to get 1 million people to sign a petition on StrongandKind.com to follow five guidelines in promoting “the best way to show strength is to show kindness.” In return, KIND is donating $1 million to the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation to create specialized education and after-school programs for at-risk students. “It’s a company that it’s definitely about what the name is,” Durant said Thursday. “It’s about showing people what being kind is, so it was almost a no-brainer to partner up with them. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: The bond Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol formed runs in many directions, and it doesn’t just include winning two NBA championships and meshing complementary personalities together. Gasol also supported Kobe Bryant for publicly questioning the front office. Those included issues ranging from wanting executives Jim and Jeanie Buss to improve their relationship, decide Mike D’Antoni’s future as head coach and build a championship caliber roster this offseason. “I’m glad that he spoke his mind,” Gasol said following the Lakers’ 131-102 loss Thursday to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “He wants to win. He’s got two years under contract with the franchise. He wants to be in the best possible position to win. Whether you do that publicly or internally, that’s totally up to you. He spoke his mind and you have to respect him for that.” Will the Lakers pull that off? Perhaps easier said than done. ... A source familiar with the situation said the Lakers front office has never suggested D’Antoni’s job is in jeopardy after this season. But the Lakers won’t evaluate D’Antoni until the season ends so they can fully assess both the roster and their offseason needs.
Marc Berman of the New York Post: Mike Woodson wants a chance to state his case to Phil Jackson why he should remain the Knicks coach. He could get his chance Tuesday. The Knicks are making preliminary arrangements to hold their Phil Jackson introductory press conference that day on the Garden floor, according to an NBA source. While the Knicks are on a late playoff push, Jackson’s first major order of business will be deciding on a coach. Thursday, Woodson said on his ESPN Radio appearance he hopes Jackson doesn’t look at him as simply a babysitter and gives him full consideration to finish the final year of his contract in 2014-15. ... Nate McMillan may be strongly considered. As far as Van Gundy, he and Jackson have exchanged verbal darts across the years with Van Gundy once calling Jackson “Big Chief Triangle." “I think [Shaw] could be a perfect fit with Phil,’’ said one NBA source who worked with Jackson. “He’s not afraid to speak his mind." Meanwhile, despite the potential Tuesday press conference, a fan protest against Dolan scheduled for Wednesday in front of the Garden still is expected to go on, according to one of the organizers.
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesIt's hard to argue with Phil Jackson's results, but does his Phil-first process fit the modern NBA?
Phil Jackson is the Winston Churchill of the NBA. He won the biggest wars with a combination of old-school toughness and new-school guile.
Victory in hand, the dominant equation for both became: Big mouth + bigger ego = the verbal victory lap. Any quote book is loaded with Churchill’s high-testosterone patter. Jackson’s latest book, ostensibly about teamwork, has a title that has only to do with Jackson. Michael Jordan didn't win "Eleven Rings." Neither did Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal or Scottie Pippen. Only Phil did.
Jackson is expected to return to the NBA, as a New York Knicks executive, packing not just a lot of the NBA’s gravitas, but the majority of it. Add up all your other coaches, players and experts. If Phil says they’re full of it ... his voice is even money to carry the day.
That has to be a big part of why Jackson could mean so much to a team like the Knicks. The common denominator of their dominant commonness has been bad front-office decision-making, specifically one high-profile overspend after another. There's no arguing James Dolan is an owner without a clue, determined to bludgeon the competition not with his insight, but with his wallet -- a method that, for a bundle of league-wide cap reasons, always makes teams difficult to improve and almost never ends in titles.
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesPhil Jackson's resume alone isn't going to erase the Knicks' woes
If Jackson arrives in New York packing the stature to silence the Knicks’ most foolish impulses, he’ll be a titan. Dolan’s piles of gold -- as a businessman, Dolan is no laughingstock; the Knicks make money -- would be so much shinier with the polish of wisdom.
The Knicks might already be the world’s most over-loved team. New York hoops fans, those hopeless romantics, have been dashing their hearts on the rocks of false optimism since the days of Patrick Ewing. Remember when Zach Randolph was the revolution? Amar’e Stoudemire? Carmelo Anthony?
Time and again, Dolan has gotten his man. Time and again, like Charlie Brown, the fans have believed. Time and again, the only thing needed to prove Dolan got the wrong man has been time.
Will this time be different?
I’m convinced the answer is no, and not because Jackson’s the wrong guy, but because this is the wrong time.
It’s too late. The league is changing too fast, learning too much, and Jackson, for all the open-mindedness that once led him to the novel and wonderful triangle offense, has been telegraphing his incuriousness for more than a decade.
This is not just basketball’s boom time for analytics, it’s also, as Nate Silver wrote recently in ESPN The Magazine, when analytics become basketball necessities, as opposed to niceties. From the stew of SportVu, Catapult and Vantage comes things that really matter: which pick-and-roll defenses stops which ball handlers, which offenses generate the best-quality looks, who plays good defense, the right number of hours to sleep before a big game and, increasingly, which players need to come out of the game right now before their fatigue-induced injury risk skyrockets.
It’s not that any one person knows ALL the right answers. It’s that no ONE person knows all the right answers. Much of this new stuff will prove to science bunk, but the best of it is exponentially better by the day. The only right answer is to be curious.
And at that, the league has passed Jackson by. All his books, all those interviews, all that insight into his thinking, and has he ever even once told of finding value in insight from a younger generation? Or, indeed, from anyone beyond his chosen short list of apostles?
Jackson spoke at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. As he did, I took notes, but I soon stopped. There was no point. Other than a rude joke about needing a “grain elevator” to weigh Shaq, these were all things told previously. The oft-recited Gospel According to St. Phil. His conversation was a museum piece, the recurring soup of the words “Michael Jordan,” “Kobe Bryant” and “Scottie Pippen” that Jackson has been ladling out forever.
More importantly, Jackson was not at Sloan to learn. Never has been. Tuning people out, and discrediting them even, is also a mainstay of Jackson’s game -- just ask Jerry West, or Jerry Krause.
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To fix the Knicks' issues, Phil Jackson must do so from the inside out, not vice versa, writes Ian O'Connor. Story »
Jackson’s Lakers never bothered to attend the stat-geek confab, and the Lakers were famously the only NBA team not to have a representative there last year. Jackson’s generic public take on basketball innovation has long been, essentially, that Red Holzman and Tex Winter knew all that stuff.
At Sloan, Jackson bragged of once playing O’Neal 48 minutes per game -- on the same day sport scientist Michael Regan, of Catapult Sports, explained how resting after stints of just eight minutes dramatically improved performance in Australian Rules Football, a league that’s enjoying massive injury reductions league-wide thanks to science-based things we've learned only in the past decade.
It’s not that Jackson can’t make the Knicks winners. He might. Indeed, as the argument goes, at least he has won, unlike everyone else in the building. But he’s sending all the wrong signals if the task is to outclass 29 other teams in a race starting in 2014. That prize will, almost certainly, go to whoever best masters new ideas, about which Phil says, basically: Who needs ‘em?
The cautionary tale here of course is in Charlotte. Michael Jordan also filled the staff with like-minded friends. But, of course, a great executive is far more than a great player who lost his spring or a great coach who tired of travel. Without piling one good decision on top of another, the team is lost. The Bobcats did everything Jordan’s way for a while, until the competitive forces humbled even Jordan, who now listens not just to his gut and his friends, but also to people such as new executive Rich Cho, who is effectively the team’s ambassador from the post-Jordan, Sloan-infused world of hoops insight.
Jackson and the Knicks aren't playing the exact same tune as MJ and the Bobcats -- they have deeper pockets and more intricate team-building experience -- but they’re sounding a lot of the same notes.
Editor's note: Jeff Schwartz is a prominent NBA agent. This is his first guest post for TrueHoop.
As a longtime and ardent supporter of the National Basketball Players Association, I am deeply troubled by the clandestine process to date in the search for the union's next executive director.
This is a critical hire for the players, who have been impacted so negatively by the most recent collective bargaining agreement. Salaries are down leaguewide, contracts are shorter and include less guaranteed money than they once did, and free-agent movement has been curtailed significantly at a time that NBA franchises are reaching record valuations. Leadership from the union's next executive director is essential to the ability of current and future generations of NBA players to restore many of the critical benefits that were lost in the last round of negotiations. But here we are again witnessing a search marked by the sort of troubling secrecy that has been synonymous with the NBPA for years.
One of the most frequent complaints voiced by players and agents against the previous regime was the union's obsession with secretive practices and compartmentalization. The expectation moving forward was that the NBPA would start to insist on transparency in everyday business operations and in the search for its next leader. The NBPA, however, has unbelievably yielded again to opaque methods in choosing the next union leader. This approach can no longer be tolerated.
The only way to repair the damage that has already been done, in my view, is to bring an immediate stop to the current process and then start the executive-director search over from scratch with a much broader approach.
Transparency in NBPA matters is essential for the healthy functioning of the union and for restoring the confidence and trust of players, agents and the public. Aside from a short meeting at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans -- which only a small percentage of players attended -- information on the search process has been withheld from anyone beyond the union's nine-player executive committee and a handful of NBPA staffers. No one else has been provided information about who was considered for the position, what qualifications were sought from the candidates, and how those qualifications were valued. Aside from the executive committee, furthermore, no one else has been afforded the opportunity to meet with and/or screen any of the purported candidates.
Despite the fact that it was widely reported in the media during All-Star Weekend that there are two finalists for the position, their identities have yet to be publicly disclosed. I've also spoken personally with a number of qualified candidates who either dropped out of the search due to the cumbersome process or say they were ruled out of the search without explanation. This is far too important a decision to be made via such an uneven process.
The next executive director should not be selected by a small group operating in a cone of silence. Players and agents alike should be involved in the process. They should be asked to identify possible candidates, provide their input regarding candidates and, most importantly, contribute to the composition of a list of finalists that is openly distributed to players and agents for consideration and vetting before any candidate is put forward for a vote. The union's announcement at All-Star Weekend that the process will proceed with players receiving video presentations from the two reported finalists is a rushed process at best and a manipulation of the process at worst. Players and agents have the right and responsibility to meet and question candidates face-to-face.
As strange as this sounds to me, I recognize that the prospect of involving player agents in this process is seen as a thorny issue by some in the union. I would counter by saying that the interests of agents and the players they represent, both individually and collectively, are indivisibly intertwined. Agents stand with their clients on the front lines of CBA negotiations with the NBA and represent players' interests during the draft and in contract negotiations with NBA teams. As such, we are stakeholders in this sport on a parallel plane with our clients and should have a voice in determining the NBPA's next leader. And from a strictly economic standpoint, no one is better versed in understanding what it will take for a new executive director to be successful in negotiating with the NBA than the agents.
All the proof you need can be found in the limitations of the current CBA. If the union and executive committee members had listened to some of us during labor negotiations in 2011, perhaps today our players would be rightfully sharing a larger piece of the NBA economic pie. Instead, our players will lose billions in revenue over the life of the current CBA thanks to the 7 percent decrease in their share of basketball-related income from the previous CBA, as well as the knock-on effects of shortened contracts and an increasingly punitive luxury-tax system on NBA teams that acts as a de facto hard cap.
At a time when some are projecting that NBA franchise values will cross the $1 billion threshold in the near future, only 58 players in the league are earning in excess of $10 million annually. Only six players are earning more than $20 million -- and five of those six players signed their original contracts under the guidelines of the previous labor deal. In Major League Baseball, by contrast, 22 players will make $20 million or more this upcoming season.
The union's interim executive director stated recently that there is a "healthy middle class” in today's NBA, with an average salary this season of $5.6 million and more than half of the league's nearly 450 players earning more than $2.6 million. But that “healthy middle class” is greatly exaggerated, with 72 percent of NBA players earning at or below the league average salary and 47 percent making less than $2.6 million.
Many of the fundamental benefits that players struggled for decades to achieve have been wiped out by the deal that ended the 2011 lockout. What is the union's strategy to reverse these trends? As the NBA moves forward into what we all hope will be a period of sustained growth and prosperity, it is incumbent upon the union to give its players every opportunity to share fairly in that growth and prosperity. The selection of the executive director who will lead the NBPA in this critical time in its history is crucial to making that happen.
The process leading to that selection, accordingly, must involve all of us who are concerned with the well-being of NBA players. The players have earned the right to find the most astute union head to protect and expand their interests in the 21st century. The next 10 years in the NBA are poised to be enormously profitable thanks to the fast-rising valuations of media rights and the global demand for the sport of basketball. The players have to make sure they are not left behind. The best way to do this is to bring the current process to an immediate halt and relaunch the executive director search again with the involvement of a larger group that includes the agents.
Jeff Schwartz is the president of Excel Sports Management. Excel's NBA clients include Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler and Kemba Walker.
Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: If Dirk Nowitzki was on a mission on a historic Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz, consider it accomplished. In an extremely efficient game for the 16-year veteran, Nowitzki poured in 31 points on just 12-of-14 shooting in leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 108-101 victory over the Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena. The win enabled the Mavs to improve to 39-27 and remain in eighth place in the Western Conference standings. Other than his shooting spree, Nowitzki passed John Havlicek and became the No. 12 all-time leading scorer in NBA history. Nowitzki needed just one point to pass Havlicek, and he got that out of the way very early when he tallied 10 points in the first period. “Dirk was great from start to finish,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Twelve for 14 is ridiculous, and four for four from 3. It’s hard to do much better than that. He really led our team tonight.”
Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: Being one of the few branches on the Phil Jackson coaching tree means Nuggets coach Brian Shaw gets all the Phil Jackson questions. According to multiple media reports, Jackson will soon accept an offer to become the president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks. Shaw played for and coached alongside Jackson, but this would be a front office job. Saying "Nothing's a sure bet," Shaw on Wednesday added he thought it would be a positive hire for the Knicks. "When you look at people who have been in that position before with that team and what they've done or haven't been able to do, I'd be willing to take a chance on a guy who has had as much success as he's had to try to build something and create a buzz around there that's been missing for a long time," Shaw said. Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony talked to reporters about Jackson's possible arrival and said it wouldn't impact his decision about free agency, but Shaw sees Jackson having a positive impact in a number of areas.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: As last-second shots go, this was one of his best. With the clock ticking down on the Lakers' chances of obtaining a high pick in what could be a loaded draft, Kobe Bryant stepped up by stepping back. With only 18 more chances to lose more games and fall closer to the bottom of the NBA standings, the Lakers announced Wednesday that Bryant's fractured left knee has not fully healed and he will not play again this season. Swish! “The amount of time he'd need to rehab and be ready to play ... we've simply run out of time for him to return,” said Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in a statement. Translated, Bryant finally realized that the best way he could help this team would be to leave it alone. And then, just before he disappeared, he stopped by the media room at the Lakers' practice facility and delivered a few parting shots to increasingly embattled owners Jim and Jeanie Buss. And one! Bryant called the Busses out on a family feud that led to their losing the front-office savvy of Phil Jackson, the 11-time NBA championship coach and Jeanie's fiance who will run the New York Knicks. ... The comments were a stunning reminder of the slow decay of the Lakers since the passing of revered Jerry Buss. Can you imagine any player ever criticizing him the way Bryant just criticized his children? Then again, could anyone ever imagine that in a season during which Bryant played only six games, he could eventually be celebrated for the ones he didn't play?
Harvey Araton of The New York Times: When Phil Jackson’s most recent book tour took him to northern New Jersey last spring, he was asked for his opinion of the Knicks’ reigning star, Carmelo Anthony. Seldom shy, Jackson said, “An amazing ballplayer who still has another level to step up.” From strictly an observer’s point of view, Jackson was most likely speaking in the most general terms. But what if he soon becomes the Knicks’ guiding force and his first major decision has to be whether to woo Anthony back for up to five additional seasons at the cost of almost $130 million? What would “another level” mean, and how exactly would Jackson go about helping Anthony reach it? The essence of Jackson assures us that it would not be in the way that Coach Mike Woodson has used Anthony — essentially giving him carte blanche to dominate an offense mostly characterized by isolation sets on the wing and quick jump shots off high screens or Anthony’s uncanny ability to create space for himself in one-on-one situations. No matter how much authority Jackson might have under Dolan, he would not have the power to guarantee Anthony’s return. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times But while Jackson has been critical of the Knicks’ offense — and seemingly Anthony, by extension — three people who have worked with Jackson believe he would relish the opportunity to integrate Anthony into the triangle offense he used as a coach while winning a record 11 championships with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: As Chris Bosh went to inbound the ball with 3.5 seconds left and the Nets clinging to a 96-95 lead over the Heat, he saw LeBron James slip toward the basket and appear to come free for a second. But what Bosh didn’t account for was the long arms of Shaun Livingston, who managed to get a hand on the pass and tip it away, and after Joe Johnson kept it from going out of bounds, the clock ran out and the Nets escaped with a one-point victory over the two-time defending champions. “It was obviously a turnover,” Bosh said after finishing with 24 points to lead the Heat. “I saw LeBron release, and I threw it to where he was, instead of where he was going. “Shaun Livingston is 6-foot-8 with long arms, and he got a hand on it. That was it.” For the Nets, it was a chance at redemption, after they had lost multiple times earlier this season on miscommunication on switches late in games. “For us to get better at switching,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said of his mindset going into the game’s final play.
Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It was a modest night for Tim Duncan, one of six Spurs in double-figures with 10 points. He added a team-high 11 rebounds for the 794th double-double of his career, fifth best in NBA history. Perhaps the best stat from Gregg Popovich’s perspective: He played only 26 minutes as the Spurs were once against able to take a big lead and milk it without any significant effort from their aging warhorses. ... Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili achieved another joint milestone, winning their 490th game together to tie the Lakers’ Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper for second all-time among NBA trios. (They also tied the same group for third all-time with 663 career appearances.) Both students of the game, Parker and Ginobili seemed legitimately honored with the feat. “Unbelievable,” Parker said. “I feel very blessed to play with Timmy and Manu. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my name would be next to Magic Johnson and Kareem.” Said Ginobili, “We know we are in a very unique situation, having played together for 12 seasons with same coach. It doesn’t happen very often.”
Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News: He darn near had a triple-double. He made three of his final four shots, including a 3-pointer that set the tone for the fourth quarter. But just after the Clippers’ 111-98 win over Golden State on Wednesday at Staples Center, there was Chris Paul taking a self-mandated shooting session. “I don’t think we’ve been complacent at any point and CP is a leader doing something like that,” forward Blake Griffin said. “He puts a lot on himself and after a game where he hit big shots, maybe he didn’t shoot a great percentage — and nobody really did — it shows you how hungry he is.” The teams went out and began throwing haymakers at the opposition. By halftime, there were already 20 lead changes, and in the third quarter, the Clippers turned a six-point deficit into a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. It was entertaining stuff and thoughts raced ahead to the playoffs, since if the postseason was to start Wednesday, they would be first-round opponents.
Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: Neither the Charlotte Bobcats nor shooting guard Gary Neal discussed specifics on why Neal was held out of Wednesday’s 98-85 victory over the Washington Wizards. But it was behavioral, rather than medical, and Neal said he made amends. “I made a mistake,” Neal told the Observer post-game. ‘Me and coach talked about it and we’ll move forward from there.” Coach Steve Clifford called this an “internal team matter.” He said it was over after the game and Neal’s minutes won’t be affected when the Bobcats play the Minnesota Timberwolves at home Friday. Neal, who watched the game in uniform, interacting throughout with teammates, sounded contrite. "Just a mistake, something that happened in the confines of the team,” Neal said. “We talked about it, we discussed it and it’s behind us now.”
Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Before Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley could even begin to explain his heroics to the media, teammate Courtney Lee yelled “Mike Conley for president.” “What he said,” a smiling Conley then told reporters with a beyond satisfied look on his face. The Grizzlies’ visit to the Smoothie King Center ended with everyone in the building having no choice but to exclaim “Conley for the win.” Memphis’ floor general connected on a floater with 1.5 seconds left Wednesday night and capped a 9-0 run that completed the Grizzlies’ 90-88 comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Griz appeared well on their way to losing just as they had done in three previous meetings with the Pelicans this season. However, Memphis’ fourth straight victory had the two key ingredients that’s made it a dangerous squad of late: a diverse offense and domineering defense with the game on the line.
Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: With his block of Andre Drummond in the first quarter, Amir Johnson moved into a third place tie with Antonio Davis in Raptors history for career blocks. Johnson, in his ninth year in the NBA, has 405 blocks and now trails Vince Carter by 10 too move into second behind career leader Chris Bosh. It will take a little longer to track down Bosh, who had 600 in a Raptors uniform. Johnson deserves a place in Raptors history for many reasons. Too often though that credit fails to arrive. Yes, Johnson gets some credit in Toronto for what he has done, but not in proportion to some of his teammates. Johnson is the type of player for whom statistics don’t really do justice. Granted those willing to dig a little deeper into the plethora of stats that are available to the public could easily refute that, but for the most part the stats the every day basketball junkie looks at don’t really don’t give one an appropriate. One of Johnson’s biggest strengths is his ability to get teammates open looks and room to operate with the old-school screens he sets. Willing to take an opponent out of the play with contact is the epitome of a team player and Johnson does it as good and more often than not better than any player in the league.
Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings coach Michael Malone described forward Jason Thompson’s season as “frustrating.” Thompson said that’s a nice way to describe his sixth season with the Kings. “That might not even be to the extreme of how I feel,” Thompson said. “To say that I’m happy, I probably wouldn’t be telling the truth. Some of the things are out of my control and sometimes you’re put in situations where it’s tough to succeed. But in a way, I’m being the ultimate pro and taking what comes to me every day.” What’s come to Thompson lately is he’s out of the starting lineup again. He came off the bench for the second consecutive game Wednesday when the Kings played the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Thompson began the season as a backup before starting 57 games. Reggie Evans started at power forward Tuesday ahead of Thompson, and Derrick Williams started Wednesday. Thompson, the subject of trade talk before last month’s trade deadline, is in the second year of a five-year contract he signed under the front office led by Geoff Petrie, who tried to upgrade the power forward position by adding players before rewarding Thompson. ... Malone, Thompson’s fifth coach in six seasons, understands Thompson’s frustration. “The reality is he’s been around a lot of losing, and nobody likes to lose,” Malone said.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: When I joked with Dion Waiters after the game that he was becoming the voice of sound and reason in the Cavs’ locker room, his eyes twinkled and he flashed a wide grin. “I’ve been in the media a lot for being the bad guy,” he said. “I’m changing my image.” Waiters was joking. Sort of. He has certainly been in his share of headlines this season, but lately he truly has been the role of peacemaker. When Channing Frye seemed irritated with Matthew Dellavedova tonight, Waiters stepped in, just as he has done previously to defend teammates. “Delly’s a chippy player,” Waiters said. “That’s how he plays. He can get under guys’ skin. I was just telling Channing it was nothing, it wasn’t really that serious, he didn’t have to react the way he did.” When Mike Brown exploded following a non-call against the Spurs in a recent game, Waiters is the one who went out to retrieve his coach. Brown turned and saw Waiters coming for him and cracked up. I kept forgetting to ask Waiters what he told Brown that night and finally remembered to ask Wednesday. “You good?” Waiters told Brown. “I said it like 10 times. ‘You good? You good?’” It was obviously the tension-breaker Brown needed.
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiLong after their peak has passed, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are now stuck in the middle.
About a month ago, the Portland Trail Blazers were in a bit of a shooting slump heading into a matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. During Terry Stotts’ pregame media availability, a reporter asked the coach why the shots weren’t falling.
"Well all you guys in the media have been saying it was coming since November," Stotts responded. "So I guess now you can finally write it.”
It was a relatively banal remark, a coach’s show of exasperation with ginned-up media narratives, but it struck me for two reasons:
First, that the tone was uncharacteristically defensive for Stotts, and second, that it seemed to suggest that the team was bracing for impact on its way back down to Earth. A typical Stotts response, in a good mood, would be something like, "We’re happy with the shots we’re getting, and we’ll keep taking them." Instead, what he said was closer to acknowledging that the Blazers know they’re going to be judged by their early-season success, and they’re resigned to riding it out.
If that’s reading a lot into a single quote, it’s inarguable that the mood around the Blazers’ season has shifted, and the standard they set in November and December is a large reason why. ESPN’s own Kevin Pelton has written that the Blazers are likely "doomed" to the West’s No. 5 seed in the playoffs, a fate most fans would have called a best-case scenario in October.
Elsewhere, fans are clamoring for better play in close games, even as the Blazers recently enjoyed a two-year run as one of the more charmed crunch-time teams in the league. While the length of the NBA season has many side effects, few are more jarring than the collective amnesia it seems to induce.
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But the current unease among Blazers observers gets to an interesting question: To what extent are players fixed entities, and when, if ever, can fans expect them to change? A useful reference here is Jason Quick’s recent Oregonian column. Quick argues, and I largely agree, that the Blazers have grown stagnant in close games as they revert to familiar tendencies -- post-ups for LaMarcus Aldridge, long jumpers from Damian Lillard, and a sometimes limiting determination from Nic Batum to hunt shots for his teammates.
Early this season, all these tendencies were a recipe for magic: Aldridge can get a shot on the left block against any defender, Batum has uncanny vision from the wing, and for a long while, Lillard’s hero-ball proficiency was unparalleled. But now that the bounces are going the other way, the Blazers can look unable, or unwilling, to change their formula.
All of which may just be fine. I've written in the past that the Blazers’ success stems in large part from the fact that every player is allowed to play not just to his strengths, but also to his preferences, and that allowance provides an unusually stable foundation. The Blazers are allowed to be themselves and learned early that it produces winning basketball. But when it stops working, is that, too, a referendum on the players themselves?
The Blazers are either free of, or lacking, a superstar player or coach who might offer them some structure in this regard. There are teams whose successes and failures -- LeBron’s Heat, Thibodeau’s Bulls -- revolve around the focal points of those stars, providing an easy cover when things turn south. Jimmy Butler’s shot is off? Thibs is running him ragged. Chris Bosh struggling? He’s just getting used to the spacing with LeBron in the post.
Without those high-wattage focal points, the Blazers are also without easy scapegoats. By most considerations -- and certainly by the players’ consideration -- Aldridge is the Blazers’ cornerstone, but he isn't the sort of star who exercises a gravitational pull over a whole organization. The same goes for Lillard, the only other real candidate for this designation. The Blazers’ collective approach to success is refreshing in the era of alpha dogs and hot takes, but it all denies a certain emotional satisfaction to fans craving context for the ups and downs of a season.
I can’t help but wonder sometimes whether a team’s quality is fixed, and the season is a six-month-long exercise in introducing complicated story structures. If you were to tell Portland fans that the Blazers were a .667 team that neatly lost the third of every three games, I’d imagine they could sit back and more or less contentedly await the playoffs. But the coin, even a weighted one, rarely flips so consistently, and so fans get streaks and lulls onto which they can graft their hopes and insecurities.
So depending on how you look at it, this team is either complacent or comfortable with itself, and depending on how you look at it, that's either a strength or a weakness. The Blazers have mostly sustained the relatively minor injuries they've faced, they aren't really integrating anything new, and they’re ahead of where most analysts projected them to be. They seem to be what they are, which is an uncomfortable position for fans, who would like to believe that all of the margins can be tightened and every weakness addressed.
But the Blazers believe they’re the same team now that they were in November, and it seems unlikely they’ll change their minds 64 games into the season.