TrueHoop: 2008 Playoffs
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images Sport
How much can the 2008 Finals tell us about this year's matchup?
So much of the 2008 Finals is instantly familiar: Paul Pierce dribbling the ball at the top of the floor as Ray Allen darts past a Kendrick Perkins baseline screen. Kobe Bryant working on the left block as he watches to see where the Celtics' double-team will come from. Rajon Rondo leading the Celtics in transition, looking for his trailers as they spot up at the arc.
These are sequences we'll see play out again dozens of times over the next couple of weeks, but for every possession that looks like a replica of the present-day Celtics and Lakers, there's a reminder that basketball teams and players are living, breathing, evolving organisms. Two years might not seem like a long time and the transformation might seem undetectable on a given play, but the Celtics and Lakers have changed in vivid and subtle ways.
These two teams have been wildly successful over the past two seasons. Each has won a championship by exploiting its strengths, and the crux of those strategies will likely remain the foundations of their respective game plans. But each will have to make adjustments to counter the turnover in personnel on both teams.
A few major themes from 2008 Finals that could inform what unfolds over the next two weeks:
Boston's Offense vs. the Lakers' Defense
From the opening tip of Game 1, Phil Jackson's defensive strategy is to deploy Lamar Odom -- assigned to Kendrick Perkins -- as the Lakers' primary help defender. The effect of this tactic is multifold. First, since Perkins is often set up down low, Odom is free to glide along the baseline to cut off Pierce's penetration or to pick up Allen as he dashes off screens across the floor. Here's a practical illustration: Pierce holds the ball up top, while Odom sees the action unfold. Will Derek Fisher require Odom's help on the other side of that Allen screen? Will the Lakers need him to meet Pierce in paint? Will Perkins cut behind Odom to the weak side, where a ball reversal to Kevin Garnett will eventually find him wide open underneath. That's a lot to consider for Odom, who has his head on a swivel for many of these half court sets. Often he makes sound decisions and acts decisively. At other moments, he moves to the ball ... but is a step too slow. Sometimes, Boston's off-ball movement and Pierce's attack is so effective that there's little Odom can do.
By making Odom their centerfielder, the Lakers cast their lot with Gasol as the defensive matchup on Garnett. Gasol gets plenty of help from Odom and, later, from Bryant (see below). At times, the Lakers actually double Garnett off the ball down in the low post. Garnett has a decent, though unexceptional offensive series. Where he really hurts the Lakers is on the offensive glass. Garnett collects 22 offensive rebounds in the series. He's also effective at exploiting the Lakers' aggressive double-teams. When Odom slides over to cut off a driving Garnett in the second quarter of Game 2, Garnett skids a little bounce pass to a diving Perkins along the baseline. Perkins goes up strong, drawing a foul from a recovering Gasol for the 3-point play. Boston also sends cutters off back screens to the vacant basket area where Garnett finds them. In general, when things turn sour at the offensive end for the Celtics, they generally reroute the offense through Garnett in the post and allow him to go to work. This is the lubricant that gets things flowing again for Boston. It'll be interesting to see if that's what Rivers turns to when he needs to reboot the offense in the 2010 Finals.
Given what we've witnessed from Rondo over the past couple of years -- and especially in this postseason -- the most striking feature of the Lakers' defense is its willingness to leave Rajon Rondo at will. Once the Lakers return to Los Angeles for Game 3, Jackson switches Bryant onto Rondo, and Bryant doesn't even pretend to guard Rondo in the half-court and spends most of his time blitzing the ball. It's worth noting that Rondo is playing with a gimpy ankle and is still a net plus on defense, but this doesn't discourage Doc Rivers from inserting Celtics' reserve guard Eddie House into the lineup at crucial moments to open up his offense. It's safe to say that nothing has changed more about this matchup than Rondo's growth since 2008.
Although Perkins still affords the Lakers an opportunity to regularly send help, the days of 5-on-3 basketball against Pierce, Garnett and Allen are over for the Lakers. Fortunately for the reigning champs, they don't need as much help in 2010 as they did in 2008. For one, Ron Artest can do what 2008 starting small forward Vladimir Radmanovic can't -- make Paul Pierce labor. In the last Celtics-Lakers Finals meeting, Pierce abuses Radmanovic off the dribble, both in isolation and on side pick-and-rolls where Pierce would spin baseline without resistance. In these sets, the Celtics cleverly situate Perkins and Rondo up top on the weak side to lengthen the commute for Odom and Bryant. When Pierce isn't beating up Radmanovic one-on-one, he and Allen work the 2-3 pick-and-roll to perfection, earning Pierce a mismatch against Derek Fisher or getting Allen an open jumper against a slow-to-recover Radmanovic.
The Lakers' Offense vs. the Celtics' Defense
Walling off the paint has been the top priority of the Celtics' defense since this current core was assembled in 2007. Of all the subplots and tactical maneuvering that we'll see unfold in the 2010 Finals, this figures to be the most constant holdover from the 2008. Not much has changed about the Celtics' stingy defense this postseason. You've heard all the basketball tropes: You can't beat the Celtics in isolation. You can't let the Celtics set their half-court defense. In order to be successful, you must move the ball from side-to-side.
The Lakers struggle mightily against the Celtics' defense in their six-game series two years ago, but on the few occasions Los Angeles has success, they employ these principles. In an effort to force the Celtics to make more difficult decisions, they initiate high pick-and-rolls for Bryant and Gasol, drawing traps on Bryant, which prompts the Celtics to rotate. This opens up narrow seams in the lane through which Odom dives to the tin for a pass, or space on the weak side for Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic or Jordan Farmar to launch a 3-pointer (they combine for a respectable 41 percent clip from beyond the arc).
The Lakers have success early in the clock putting the ball on the floor and driving one-on-one against the Celtics. This allows the Lakers to beat the Celtics’ help defenders to the rim. On one possession with the Lakers teetering in the second quarter of Game 2, Gasol beelines to the hoop before the Celtics' help can arrive, something he does more than once when the Lakers have their offense humming. Even when the Lakers are in deliberate half-court sets, we see a lot more clear-outs for Gasol and Bryant to work one-on-one in the post. When Gasol is inspired, he demands the ball on repeated occasions to work against Garnett, and he’s successful doing so in Game 2. Before halftime, the Lakers even run a 3-4 pick-and-roll with Radmanovic and Gasol, which draws a mismatch for Gasol on the right block which results in an easy bucket and a foul. We've seen that the Lakers aren't afraid to depart from their traditional system when necessity dictates. Against Boston's strong base defense, we should see some reprise of these actions.
It's easy to forget that in June 2008, Bryant and Gasol were still getting to know each other as partners in the offense. So much of the Lakers’ offense is derived from Bryant playing off Gasol at the pinch post -- dribble hand-offs for drives, spot-ups out on the wing, cuts off a rub -- but these actions aren't as fluid in 2008 as they are today. As a result, it's evident that Bryant doesn't yet trust the offense the last time the Lakers faced off against the Celtics. We've seen over the past six weeks that Bryant has fully -- almost beautifully -- integrated himself into the Lakers' offense, something that never really happened for a sustained period of time in the 2008 Finals.
In that series, whenever Bryant makes his move, the Celtics react with sharp timing. What's fascinating about watching the Celtics' defense is the variety -- yet consistency -- of these reactions. Sometimes the double comes from up top (off Fisher), and sometimes from the baseline (off Odom). As intuitive and decisive as Bryant is with the ball in his hands, these different looks impel him to deliberate for a split second. This is just enough time for Boston's pressure to make their incursion into the lane, giving Bryant no space to work. Garnett, in particular, moves with great purpose. He spends much of his time guarding Odom one-on-one, but he's a master multitasker, able to straddle primary and secondary defensive assignments.
The Celtics rarely make bad decisions, which is half the battle against an adept offense like the Triangle that relies on systematic movement. The Celtics throw a variety of looks at the Lakers. Sometimes, Allen or Pierce will front Bryant in the post. And when they do, the back line defender -- be it Garnett, Perkins or P.J. Brown -- is always poised to rotate if the entry pass hits Bryant over his defender. James Posey torments the Lakers with his length and makes life inordinately difficult for Bryant. Posey rarely needs help, which puts a further stranglehold on the Lakers' offense as the rest of the Celtics' defenders stay at home on their assignments. Can Tony Allen replicate Posey's contributions? We'll see.
A couple of inspired Thunder performances aside, the Lakers haven't encountered a defense that operates with such brutal efficiency this postseason. Bryant has been a lethal jump-shooter for the better part of that stint -- and he'll have to repeat those performances and work to find open teammates when Boston's double-teams arrive.
The Lamar Odom Factor (and what Andrew Bynum's presence means)
It’s almost a cliché to tag Lamar Odom as the Lakers’ bellwether, but in those fleeting moments in the 2008 Finals when Odom flashes the full breadth of his game, the Lakers are unstoppable -- even against a defense as stubborn as Boston's. Take the first quarter of Game 4, when the Lakers outscore the Celtics 35-14 (in a game Boston ultimately wins). Odom attacks from opening tip (Literally. He slices through the lane off the bounce 12 seconds into the game). After Odom gets to the rim a few more times in the first, P.J. Brown plays off him to cut off the drive -- so Odom steps back and drains consecutive jumpers from 18 feet. Odom finishes 6-for-6 in the quarter with 13 points and five rebounds.
Odom received the lion's share of the minutes up front over a gimpy Andrew Bynum against a Phoenix offense that relies on transition and the pick-and-roll - schemes against which mobility is essential. Conventional wisdom suggests that against a more convention Boston offense, Bynum becomes a much more important factor. True ... but if Jackson chooses to use one of his two big men as a rover, Odom would again be a logical candidate to defend Perkins and offer help when needed. Another line of thinking would be to put Bynum on Garnett, and grant Gasol a reprieve against the less potent Perkins. Restored to health, Garnett has been a solid contributor this postseason, but he's not quite the same guy who was in constant motion as a primary target off the pick-and-roll in 2008. Instead, he's settled in off the block and done most of his damage as a face-up jump shooter and as a supporting actor with his high screens.
Even with a bum knee, Bynum figures to be an upgrade over Ronny Turiaf -- and certainly Radmanovic who sees a fair number of minutes at the 4 in 2008 -- the two players whose minutes he'll claim. Gasol has become a considerably better defender and rebounder, so we shouldn't underestimate him as a help defender from the low side. Odom's athleticism allows him to move freely, but Bynum's size will be imperative against Pierce's dribble drives, Allen's willingness to attack the basket when confronted with a close-out, and Garnett's work in the post.
Rajon Rondo (and a little bit of Kobe Bryant)
Phil Jackson said Wednesday that he expects Bryant to spend some time guarding Rondo. In 2008, the rationale for this assignment is the freedom it affords Bryant to use his instincts as an untethered ad hoc defender in the half court. The Lakers challenge Rondo to shoot as close as 15 feet and to finish at the rim against Odom. Rondo doesn't fare well. His mechanics are jerky and when he's able to break through the defense and get to the paint, he rushes his finishes.
Two years later, Bryant will get the defensive assignment for entirely different reasons. Rondo has emerged as the rudder of the Celtics' offense. His penetration, orchestration of the pick-and-roll and playmaking -- even in a crowded half court -- generates dozens of quality looks for the Celtics per game. Rondo is also infinitely more confident as a shooter and finisher. Defensively, Rondo is the head of the snake for Boston. His lanky limbs and ability to deny entry passes help snarl the flow of opposing offenses and make it that much easier for the rest of the Celtics to crowd the paint.
In some sense, the performances of Rondo and Bryant in 2008 are the biggest takeaways when rewatching the 2008 Finals. Both performances seem dissonant when viewing them through the prism of 2010. Neither has a particularly good series. Rondo's struggles have more to do with his youth and injured ankle than anything else, while Bryant can't get his preferred menu of shots against a stifling Boston defense. Rondo's maturation over the past 24 months will likely render his 2008 initiation a distant memory. For Bryant, two additional years honing his on-court rapport with Gasol will present Boston's stalwart defense with a more difficult challenge. Throw in Bryant's newfound patience, selective aggressiveness and ridiculous proficiency as a jump-shooter coming into the series -- and it's possible the 2010 Finals won't look anything like what we saw in 2008. Then again, there's something eerily familiar about the dogged consistency of Boston's starting unit, even with Rondo assuming a bigger role in the offense. Those of us who've regarded this team as a lesser model of the 2008 team have been continually proven wrong.
As much fun as it'll be to watch the Celtics vs. Lakers Finals matchup, the Change vs. More-of-the-Same contrast between 2008 and 2010 will be just as interesting.
The NBA's luxury tax -- a 100% tax to the League for player salaries in excess of $67,865,000 -- has proven to be much more effective than the salary cap when it comes to controlling spending.
With all of the complicated bonuses and everything else factored in, just eight of the League's thirty teams are now proven to have been over the luxury tax in 2007-2008.
The Knicks are still the kings in this category, but with big-earning Jason Kidd in the house, the Mavericks are nipping at their heels.
Both NBA finalists are on the list of payers, but of the teams with the eight highest payrolls, only three made it past the first round of the playoffs.
Per the NBA, they are as follows:
- New York Knicks $19,723,946
- Dallas Mavericks $19,613,295
- Cleveland Cavaliers $14,008,561
- Denver Nuggets $13,572,079
- Miami Heat $8,318,879
- Boston Celtics $8,218,368
- Los Angeles Lakers $5,131,757
- Phoenix Suns $3,867,313
The total of all eight teams' tax bills is $92,454,198 which is to be distributed to the 22 teams that did not pay luxury tax.
- Wizard owner Abe Pollin reportedly tells free agent Gilbert Arenas, in a private phone call, that he won't let him leave. Here's some more on that, including talk of a max offer, and news of the Kings being interested.
- Geoff Lepper of the Contra Costa Times: "... the Warriors most definitely have been lowballing Baron. Consider this: When Chauncey Billups was 15 months older than BD is now, he got four guaranteed years worth approximately $11.5 million per season. When Steve Nash was 18 months older than BD is now, he got five guaranteed years worth $13 million per. BD was being asked to take significantly less security than that. Thing is, nobody should be shocked by this turn of events. Lowballing has been the Warriors' default negotiating position for a few years now; it's how they chiseled Barnes down to a lone season at $3 million after his breakout year in 2006-07, and how they forced Pietrus to eat the one-year qualifying offer last season. It's why the books look better and has worked for the team. In this instance, however, it appears to have backfired. The Warriors have had plenty of opportunities to discuss an extension, but by sticking with their usual modus operandi, when Elton Brand opted out with the caveat that he's returning to the Clippers, the opportunity was there for Davis to go home. And he's jumping at it."
- Golden State of Mind: "Take away Baron Davis and Chris Mullin and Robert Rowell are quite possibly fielding the worst team in the league." For what it's worth, Davis does not make the NBA's top fifty in terms of adjusted plus/minus. UPDATE: It appears I owe Mr. Davis an apology. That link was to the top fifty in playoff adjusted plus/minus. Of course, Davis wasn't on that list. For the regular season, he was, by this measure, the 30th most effective player in the NBA.
- I still want Baron Davis to end up in Cleveland.
- Stop-n-Pop from CanisHoopus e-mails: "One of the things that I think has been missed in the discussion of the Mayo/Love trade is the fact that the Wolves picked at 3 while Memphis had the 5 spot because of a coin flip that occurred at the end of the season. Last year, the Wolves and Portland had a coin flip and the Blazers walked away with a lottery numbers combination that netted them the #1 pick and Greg Oden. This year, the Wolves won the better combo and they walked away with the 3 pick and OJ Mayo. Had they lost the flip, we Wolves fans would be sitting around with Kevin Love at the 5 pick wondering how McHale and Co. are going to unload players like Toine and Marko. Thanks to the fortuitous flip, the Wolves got the player they would have drafted anyway while netting Mike Miller, a defensive center to pair with Big Al, salary cap flexibility in the big 2010 free agent season, as well as getting rid of the aforementioned Walker and Jaric. A single coin flip turned Kevin Love into Kevin Love, Mike Miller, and cap flexibility. Who says the Wolves never get lucky?"
- Turquoise sweatsuit? Check. Mini boombox on your belt? Check.
- The Grizzlies can sign an expensive free agent this summer, if they want to. But will they want to? The Grizzlies salary cap situation, from Chip Crain at 3 Shades of Blue: "So with $35,336,586 approximately (not counting Mayo and Arthur's new deals, Marc Gasol's contract plus another likely lottery pick) tied up in option year or qualifying offers that summer and the knowledge that very soon as many as four players will be demanding new contracts, how much free cash does the team really have? Today we could hear the particulars of the Marc Gasol deal but assuming the $3 million deal is correct that puts the Grizzlies at over $38 million. OJ Mayo is slated to make $3,875,040 after being the #3 pick in the draft but actually that isn't a fixed number. Players can sign from 80% to 120% of that figure. It has become standard to pay rookies 120% of the slated number so that could put Mayo's salary at $4,650,000. That brings the Grizzlies salary cap number up to $42.5 million. Arthur would see his salary cap number rise from $970,000 to $1.17 million. That puts the Grizzlies up to nearly $44 million. Assume the Grizzlies have a top 5 pick next summer and we are close to $49 million. The cap number could be $57 million but not much more. Then the new renegotiated contract issue becomes very serious. Do the Grizzlies go back above the salary cap to extend Rudy Gay and sign a big name free agent? Do they delay the negotiations and focus on signing a big name player during the riches of the Summer 2009 free agency? Something to keep in mind when someone suggests we spend some money in free agency this summer."
- Play-by-play of the unfolding Josh Smith free agency courtship period from Sekou Smith of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "I poked around a bit more and found that not only has [Sixers honcho Ed] Stefanski been intrigued by Smith's talent since he was a high schooler coming out in the 2004 draft, he also has a longstanding relationship with one of Smith's agents, Brian Dyke, who is also Kenyon Martin's agent. Stefanski worked in a similar capacity in New Jersey when Martin was there and was in almost the exact same situation as Smith (if you remember, the Nets dared Martin to find a team willing to pay him more than they wanted to and he did just that and left in a sign-and-trade deal with Denver)."
- Assessing rumors the Hornets may have interest in James Posey or Corey Maggette.
- A look at Knick contracts, a suggestion the Knicks ought not to use any of the mid-level between now and 2010, and some notion of why the team has apparently been shopping David Lee.
- The Trent Tucker rule.
- It's official: Rudy Fernandez is a Blazer.
- Eric Musselman chronicles the many coaches Jason Kidd has not gotten along with.
- The idea that LeBron James wants to play in New York does not just come from the imaginations of sportswriters. UPDATE: A good bit of perspe
ctive on this story.
- The Rockets reportedly still want Brent Barry.
- Brian McCormick on the wisdom of crowds: "I cannot wait for the first enterprising organization to save itself millions by investing in the fans. With the information available via the Internet, an organization could replace its General Manager, International and college scouts with its fan base. Imagine the savings in salary and travel expenses. ... Imagine if Sacramento, a team looking to save money, dumped Geoff Petrie and its scouts and turned the organization over to its passionate fan base. The Maloofs could hire SacTown Royalty's Tom Ziller as the de facto General Manager and give him the authority to contact teams about trades. But, all final decisions would be made through a vote on the blog." Or how about letting those fans buy in as minority owners, and vote with their stock? That way the majority owners could keep control, but the fans could have some accountability.
- Video of Derrick Rose's introductory press conference. Here's what stood out to me: Vinny Del Negro talked about the kind of offense he wants to run, and he sounded like Mike D'Antoni talking, with his talk of players having fun, high screen and rolls, getting the most out of people. Suddenly that hire feels less like it's from left field, and more like it's from Phoenix.
- A Laker fan reflects on a great season. Worth the read.
- UPDATE: Would Baron Davis make the Clippers truly great?
- UPDATE: A coach who loves three draft picks: Joe Alexander, Jason Thompson, and Joey Dorsey.
- About 3:30 into this video you can see Gary Payton get an unbelievable reception from the Save Our Sonics crowd.
- Tough Grizz. One of the best columns I have read in a while, about the man in the Grizzlies' mascot suit, who stared cancer in the eye and won.
- TrueHoop reader Ryan has a question: "If Miami is dangling their pick, why the hell isn't Chicago doing everything possible to unload some of their talent and grab Beasley and Rose together? Wouldn't Tyrus Thomas (or Luol Deng if pressed), Kirk Hinrich and a future first for the No. 2 and Marion (they can lease him for the year, let him be a free agent or extend him) make all kind of sense for both parties?"
- If Brian McCormick ran Team USA, the starting five would be Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Jackson, David Lee, and Dwight Howard. That's the kind of role-player rich team I thought Team USA was really going to have.
- Classy NBA superstars, through the years.
- $55,000 for the shirt Doc Rivers was wearing when Paul Pierce dumped Gatorade all over him.
- New Jersey's Rod Thorn says he'd like to trade up to get the top overall pick, says Miami might use the second pick on O.J. Mayo, and gives the impression the Nets could swap their tenth pick for Portland's thirteenth pick.
- Brandon Roy fills in for Paul Pierce at Paul Pierce's camp.
- Meaningful thoughts about the role of sports blogs in the world.
- A mess of Memphis rumors.
- You notice that people in Indiana are surprisingly ready to say goodbye to Jermaine O'Neal?
- Fred Hoiberg of the Timberwolves talks to Britt Robson of the Rake about Minnesota's draft plans. He says no one has knocked their socks off yet with an offer for the third pick. Then he talks about some players he likes: "I think shooting is a priority. Just so the defender is not always sitting in Al Jefferson's lap. O.J. Mayo will be as good a shooter as anyone in this draft. We saw him in Chicago and he was filling it up. Kevin Love is a legitimate three point shooter as a big and is a great passer. Bayliss is a good shooter. Gordon has a great shot. Gallinari made 23 out of 25 college threes in the workout we saw. It was against a chair, but he missed first one and then hit 23 of his next 24 and he's a legitimate 6-10, just a quarter inch shorter than Mchale. Otherwise you just get somebody who is going to fit into your group. Lopez fits our needs because of his size and his wide shoulders. Love does because of his savvy and smarts--he fills gaps defensively and immediately helps our fast break because of his outlet passing and just does so many little things. Mayo averaged 21 points in the toughest league in country last year and has had the spotlight on him since he was growing up in Kentucky."
- The trouble with Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley.
In case you haven't seen this yet.
There's video on TMZ.com of Shaquille O'Neal, on the mic in a New York club, reveling in the fact that Kobe Bryant could not win a title without O'Neal. Then he gets seven different kinds of childish and nasty in rubbing it in.
And remember in 2004 when Kobe Bryant was interviewed by the police in Colorado (PG-13) and implied that O'Neal had paid a woman for her silence?
I don't know if O'Neal's kidding around or what, but O'Neal told the people gathered in the club that Bryant's claim led to O'Neal's divorce:
"I'm a horse. Kobe ratted me out," he rapped. "That's why I'm getting divorced. He said Shaq gave a [woman] a mil. I don't do that 'cause my name's Shaquille. I love 'em, I don't leave 'em. I got a vasectomy, now I can't breed 'em."
Last summer we had underground video of Kobe Bryant losing his noodle. This summer, apparently, it's Shaquille O'Neal. The era of the cellphone video camera is hard on the NBA.
Kevin Hassett is the director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and an adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign. Like a lot of economist-types, Hassett has been inspired lately to poke around the available facts and figures to see if there is any evidence that the NBA, and/or its referees, may have influenced the outcome playoff games as former referee Tim Donaghy has alleged.
Hassett found no smoking gun.
But he did find some weird stuff in elimination games, when calls seemed to favor extending the series more than in other games.
He also found that home court advantage was much more important in the playoffs than in the regular season, which is a bit odd.
Both findings are consistent with what you'd find if you wanted to have as many money-making playoff games as possible. Basically, if every series ended in a sweep, there'd by very little opportunity to make money. However, if every series gets to Game 7 -- which happens when home teams win every game -- the teams and the League have not only three more chances to make money, but the three most exciting games of the series.
(Sidenote: Those money-making opportunities are essentially free. Other than bonuses that grow the deeper a team makes it into the playoffs, players play the post-season for free.)
Hassett explains several factors that could come into play if a team is being favored by the referees. For instance, they may shoot more free throws. They may also, he speculates, be able to play more aggressive defense, which would presumably lead to a lower shooting percentage by their opponents.
Later in the series, a home victory might be necessary for the games to be extended. In that case, the officiating bias might be greater. Sometimes a series might end before seven games if the home team wins. In those cases, the favoritism may be less. In the seventh game, the bias might disappear, as it no longer would serve any purpose. The series will end no matter what.
First let's look at Game 5. In the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, 25 series extended to at least five games. At times when the home team was leading three games to one, and another win meant the end of the series, the visiting team shot 1.1 percentage points better than the home team. When a home-team win doesn't end the series, the home team's field-goal percentage is 5.4 points higher on average than the away team's.
Let's turn to Game 6: In the 2007 and 2008 playoffs, in games where the home team was behind in the series, it was called for 4.1 fewer fouls on average than the away team.
In the seventh game the foul differential drops to just one during the past two years. That's little more than the regular season average.
All the data suggest there have been movements in the number of calls that are consistent with the suspicion that the NBA sought to extend series.
To be sure, such statistics prove nothing, since they are based on small samples. Yet the home bias in the playoffs, and the way in which it seems to change as a series progresses, is troubling, and worthy of further inquiry.
- Who's ready to play in the NBA? Shan Foster is so ready he has burst into song.
- Larry Bird is starting to get famous.
- Team USA is announced. Nate Jones points out that it's a near clean sweep for athletes who wear the shoes of Nike or a subsidiary. Nike sponsors Team USA. Michael Lee of the Washington Post says Gilbert Arenas was right: "All the talk about having a national program of 33 players and forcing them to make a three-year commitment to the program, participate in summer workouts, then tryout for the team in an intense training camp process seems laughable now. Two weeks ago, USA Managing Director Jerry Colangelo scrapped plans to invite about 15 or 16 players to Las Vegas to cut the team down to 12. It was sort of sneaked in during the NBA Finals, so nobody made a big deal about it. I think this team wins the gold, but I can't argue with Gilbert: It looks like Team USA knew what it wanted all along."
- CNBC's Darren Rovell addresses the reality that no player from the 2008 draft class yet has a shoe deal. I have heard several stories of agents asking for Kevin Durant money, only to find it is not available. Rovell explains how the market has been changing: "The basketball shoe market is down from the $4.5 billion the market was at when Nike signed LeBron. Powell says this year basketball shoes will gross in the $2.5 billion range. Then consider how dominant Nike is. Adding up Nike, Converse and the Jordan business, Nike has a 93 percent share of the basketball shoe market, the largest take of any shoe business by one company. And finally, consider this. Michael Jordan is still Nike's best endorser by a mile. Powell says sales of the Jordan brand make up a larger percentage of the overall shoe business than they ever have. For every three pairs bought in this country, two of them (67 percent) are the Jordan brand. Nike has a 24 percent share, adidas has a 4 percent share and Converse has a 2.5 percent share. Given these numbers, you can imagine what it would take for Nike to fork over big bucks when they already have a basic monopoly on the business. And you can imagine how marketable a certain player would have to be in order for adidas to jump at him. Five years ago, the power was in the hands of the players and the agents."
- ESPN's Chad Ford just published a new mock draft. He mentions a potential Portland/Memphis trade: "... the No. 13 pick and the expiring contract of Raef LaFrentz to Memphis for No. 5, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins." I'm getting e-mail from readers in Portland every few minutes claiming this is already done, but am assured that is not so. Whom would the Blazers select if they could get the fifth pick? Insiders are all over the map. Russell Westbrook, Joe Alexander, and O.J. Mayo have all been mentioned. (For what it's worth, John Hollinger's projections consider Westbrook a marginal prospect.)
- On a related note, Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star writes: "Pacers president Larry Bird had hoped Westbrook would visit Tuesday after not working out for them because of an injury last week. That plan got scrapped because I've been told Westbrook has been given a 'promise' by a team picking higher than the Pacers. I'm not sure which team has given Westbrook the 'promise.' Wouldn't it be something if Donnie Walsh took the player his former team has had its eye on for some time?"
- The players who will be invited to the Green Room on draft night: Joe Alexander (West Virginia), Darrell Arthur (Kansas), DJ Augustin (Texas), Jerryd Bayless (Arizona), Michael Beasley (Kansas State), Danilo Gallinari (Italy), Eric Gordon (Indiana), DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M), Brook Lopez (Stanford), Robin Lopez (Stanford), Kevin Love (UCLA). OJ Mayo (USC), Anthony Randolph (LSU), Derrick Rose (Memphis), Brandon Rush (Kansas), Russell Westbrook (UCLA).
- USA Today's Reid Cherner and Tom Weir on the Lance Armstrong of the 2008 NBA Draft, Tennessee's Chris Lofton: "Projected before the season as a first rounder, he battled testicular cancer which was not known until the completion of the year. As a second-rounder or a free agent, this is a guy worth putting a few marbles on. He is a long range shooter who can get his own shot. You can believe the tapes from his junior or his senior year and then make your decision."
- I have been saying for ages that some top high-school graduate would bypass the NCAA and all its rules for the nice income and sound skill development of Europe. Brandon Jennings, having some trouble qualifying to play for Arizona, is reportedly noodling with the idea.
- Plenty of people seem to think that the Golden State Warriors like Jason Thompson, a big man with some perimeter skills. Thompson is a former AAU teammate of Dajuan Wagner, but back then he was not nearly as tall, and played on the wing.
- Getting to know rebound rates, and finding some measures by which Leon Powe is one of the best players in the NBA.
- A pretty amazing roundup of what's going on with the Nets.
- An excellent explanation of why Portland is likely to make a trade or two before long, from Dave at BlazersEdge. Essentially, if the team stands pat, the cap room they have worked so hard to get next summer could be eaten up by cap holds for Martell Webster, Channing Frye, and Jarrett Jack. If Portland is going to get a big-time free agent next summer, and the roster remains as is, those players are still on the roster, they will have to be cut, traded, or signed to reasonable new deals before Portland can make a move. Also, I would not be surprised if Portland spends some or all of that cap space in advance, by acquiring a veteran between now and the trade deadline.
- Mark Cuban vs. the Olympics.
- Candace Parker dunks in a WNBA game. It's the second such dunk in league history, but I suspect the first of many for Parker.
- Eric Musselman thinks NBA teams should spend more time talking to college coaches about draft prospects.
- UPDATE: In Oklahoma City, the Sonics owners have said the team will have a strong economic impact. In court in Seattle, their experts have argued that teams like the Sonics have no impact, and could in fact hurt their host city. A TV news report from Oklahoma City describing the situation.
Teams are completing their assessments, in preparation for Thursday's NBA draft. They are having players show how well they use ball screens, shot fakes, and jab steps. They are measuring just about everything.
And yet many will pick poorly, which surprises me none, because one of the most important things to measure is still largely unmeasurable: the ability to keep caring, day after day, in what is a true test of endurance.
A really good NBA career is a decade-plus obstacle course.
Hard to tell, at this stage of the race, who's going to look good at the end.
Photo of U.S. Olympic marathon trials, by Nick Laham/Getty Images
Pick a successful NBA player. Almost anyone. Chauncey Billups, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash ... they have all had unbelievable bumps in very long roads. And they are all A-List athletes today because, unlike most people, they did not let those bumps knock them off course.
Looking for that quality, in a morning workout, is like picking who's going to win a marathon based on watching people line up at the starting line. It's some information. But not much.
Just about every top player faces punishment from opponents (some bigger, some stronger, some younger, some smarter), injuries, complicated relationships with coaches and teammates, family and friends competing for time and money, media pressure to be everything all the time, stretches when playing time is hard to come by, and all kinds of times when -- ask Amare Stoudemire -- you can't show the world the best of what you can do.
Succeeding as an NBA player means dispensing with these obstacles one way or another. Getting stuck on any one of them, in such a competitive environment, only creates opportunities for others to pass you by.
So, in these final days before the draft, as teams perform their final workouts, and take their final measurements, the challenge is to go far beyond assessing a player's reach, charisma, or sprinting speed. The success of the pick will ultimately rest onhow well a player's will holds up over the course of a tough decade.
David Thorpe tells his players that a career in the NBA is a slog. That's the word he uses. What he means is that it is a long fight, and it is frequently inglamorous.
I remember a Liz Robbins New York Times article from last summer, about legendary Ethopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie. Last summer he was 34, and had already won just about everything a distance runner could possibly win. Many consider him the greatest distance runner ever.
Have you ever run eight miles? No one feels perky at that point of a race. It's just not how humans are wired. Gebrselassie himself says that in long races, you don't race against the competition or the clock, but against the distance. That's your real challenge.
Anyway, so getting up there in age, having endured all kinds of injuries and heartache, Gebrselassie finds himself eight miles into the New York City Half Marathon. He has mananged, somehow, to get himself in the lead group. Meaning he has run so fast that many of the finest runners in the world can't even keep up with him thus far.
Then, when any normal human would be happy to just kind of hang in there and see if they might win, another runner challenges him to run faster -- and he does, all the way to the finish line, where he won by more than a minute.
Just before the eight-mile mark, Gebrselassie broke away from Abdi Abdirahman of the United States and Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya. Gebrselassie then ran gracefully down the West Side Highway to finish in Battery Park City in 59 minutes 24 seconds. ...
As Abdirahman crossed the finish line in 1:00:29 to take second place, 1:05 behind Gebrselassie, he slapped his head in frustration. Abdirahman surged a little too early, he would lament. Gebrselassie quickly recovered and later said Abdirahman had told him to go.
"What do you mean, 'Go'?" Gebrselassie said he wondered. He did not hesitate. "He ask me to go, I am going to go." ...
Of the 9,920 runners who finished (9,960 started), no one was more embraced at the end than Gebrselassie. Fervent Ethiopian fans, wearing the green, yellow and red of the country's flag, waved flags and serenaded him with "Haile, Haile," written by the Ethiopian singer-songwriter Teddy Afro.
Gebrselassie patiently posed for pictures, signed copies of his biography, "The Greatest: The Haile Gebrselassie Story," kissed his fans, did interviews and ran through the crowds, along with two bodyguards, to the awards ceremony.
Running alone must have seemed like a respite from the celebrity fishbowl. "Oh no, it looks like peace," he said, "but it's war."
My thought is that if you could draft yourself a player with that mentality -- to own the race even at its toughest moments, after a thousand challenges -- you'd probably do well, no matter how high he can jump, or how long his arms are.
Which players are built for that? Who has that kind of grit? That intestinal fortitude? That poise? Sadly, we just don't get to know, at this age, for the most part.
But I can tell you this: On Thursday evening, when 60 of the best players will walk the stage at Madison Square Garden, some of them will be thinking that they have arrived at a destination.
The player you want on your team, however, will know that making the League may end the challenge to pay the rent every month. But it does nothing to end life's challenges in general. The work is just beginning. Players who are comfortable with that idea will be the ones winning championships down the road, and making GMs look really smart.
UPDATE: David Thorpe weighs in on this blog post, after the jump.
- Clyde Drexler, trashing Tracy McGrady a little, in a conversation with SLAM's Russ Bengston: "Our games are similar in the fact that we're very talented and make it look easy. But there are certain aspects of our games that I think are completely different. Because I was more of a passer, a penetrator, making my teammates better. I really worked on efficiency, making the game easier so we could rest and get ready for the next game. So those are my thoughts, and Tracy is more of a scorer, he's gonna score in bunches. I coulda done that, but I was really focused on making my teammates better and making the game easier." According to John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ranking (PER), Drexler has a career PER of 21.1. McGrady is a couple of notches better, at 23.4. Drexler averaged 5.9 assists per 36 minutes, McGrady is at 4.8.
- Juan Carlos Navarro flees the NBA for much more money in Spain. Before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, David Stern had this to say about such things: "You know, there are plenty of players who have decided that it would be, Frederic Weis comes to mind, that it would be better to stay, play a shorter season and do what they're going to do. ... We're not concerned about that. If players actually stay in Europe because they can earn more, that's fine. We think that European basketball, which we try to support, might be the better for it, and that's good."
- The Spurs say their arena has been 100% supported by Wind Power since the beginning of this month. Via the Layup Line.
- Andre Miller talking to the Starting Five's Michael Tillery: "People look at basketball the wrong way. Some parents look at basketball the wrong way. They feel like if their kids can score the ball that their kid is going to be the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. What I want to give back to the game is how to play the right way. Everybody can't be Kobe or LeBron. Be able to make simple plays and communicate. Be able to not be an individual. You have to play as a team. If you play it the right way, everybody is gonna get the attention. There is always going to be somebody who gets more exposure because of their talent. Just as they notice that star they notice the little things that makes the team get better. People see that eventually. ... You have role players, you have stars and you have the blue collar worker. The way this league is&it promotes stars. That's how the league makes their money. I think a star in this league is a guy that can make all his teammates better, that's willing to communicate and is willing to make plays in the clutch. A leader and a star is also a guy that when things aren't going right is able to step up and say these are the things we can do right as a team. A star is also someone who can admit when they aren't playing to their potential and accept criticism. There's been a few years where I thought I should have made the All Star team but as I said earlier, the way the league is promoted those stars are going to get that recognition. The fans vote, so of course the fans are going to vote for the stars."
- Memphis GM Chris Wallace, talking to Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue: "There aren't many NBA players who didn't come from high profile Division 1 schools. The junior college player has virtually dried up. There are almost no small college players of any significance. The historic black schools just aren't putting the players out they used to. The Willis Reed's, the Earl Monroe's, the Bobby Dandridge's. It just doesn't happen anymore. I don't know if there are any NAIA ball players in the league anymore. Maybe Devon George might be an NAIA player. That's like 1 guy out of 400 something players. The Juco players or players coming out of JUCO to Division 1 schools, that has come to a halt. So what we are dealing with is basically big time high school players who came out of the BCS conferences with minor exceptions and the high level European players. So you don't have to go out and beat the bushes like you used to do. We're not trying to outfox the experts for the next great player out of Uzbekistan. These are all known players. So our object is not discovery. It is catagorizing. Getting those known players in the right order. Now that's no small feat. If you look back at past drafts you'll see that a lot of times the names are all upside down. Every team in the NBA has blown many drafts. Partly because it is an inexact science at best and more I think because of the decision making and the outside stimulas in the process more than people just don't know talent. So my point is having more people, a large group, doesn't neccessarily lend to a better result. Take the top 10 and there are at most 12-13 players being considered for those spots. Everybody knows who they are. The most casual fan can name them because outside of Gallinari they are all branded players. Now the trick is getting them in the right order."
- If you look at who the Hornets have been working out, you might get the feeling they are planning to move their first-round draft pick.
- An odd peek, via a paternity suit, into how much Tracy McGrady spends on things like clowns at birthday parties for his kids. (Via SLAM.)
- A TrueHoop reader e-mails: "Watched Game 6 on Tivo ... One of the things I watched was the performance of Rajon Rondo. From watching in the arena, it seemed to me that his ability to stymie and disrupt the Lakers had been one of the keys for the Celtics in Game 6, and I wanted to watch on TV to figure that out. Game 6 tally for Rondo: Eight steals (six officially, with the Finals single-game record being seven) -- that's eight times he either got an outright steal or tipped the ball away from the Lakers to a teammate. One other "steal" -- stole it from Farmar -- refs incorrectly called a foul. Three "steals" on the offensive boards -- that's three times he snuck in and "stole" an offensive rebound after a Laker big had appeared to grab it. He had another offensive board and tip-in later. (One disconcerting note about scorekeeping -- in addition to the steals discrepancy noted above, Rondo was credited with only two offensive rebounds on the night. This is wrong by any interpretation, since he had at least four. Not sure what they were watching or what it says about scorekeeping in general.) In sum, he created 12 extra possessions for the Celtics from steals and offensive rebounds (mostly in the decisive first half), plus the one steal that was called a foul, plus another five defensive rebounds, with one turnover, in 32 minutes. So the final stat line for him should have read: 21 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, eight steals. Over 40-minutes this translates to 26 points, 11 boards, 10 assists and 10 steals ... for what would have been the first quadruple-double in Finals history. Not bad for a Game 6 of the Finals." UPDATE: TrueHoop Reader John reacts by e-mail: "It was strange to read the comments you posted today from one of your readers on how the Boston scorekeeper was stingy to Rajon Rondo on a few rebounds. Remember that play in Game 2 whe
re Leon Powe took a pass, ran the full court and threw down a dunk? Rondo got an assist for that play. These things have a way of evening out."
- If you buy some of the most expensive seats in the NBA, you can get some free gas.
- Some current Bulls were on hand to see Derrick Rose's workout.
- Assessing Paul Pierce's chances of making the Hall of Fame.
- Breaking down Kevin Garnett's post-title interview.
- Eight rules of drafting well.
- Michael Grange of the Globe and Mail with a little joke: "A few emailers were eager to point out a rumor coming from Phoenix that would see the Raptors send T.J. Ford and the No.17 pick to the Suns for Boris Diaw. Poked around a little on this and I don't see it happening. One reason is that while the Raptors have had interest Diaw and new Suns coach Terry Porter might have warm feelings for Ford dating from his time with the Bucks, if the Suns trade for Ford how can they be sure Steve Nash will adjust to coming off the bench?"
- David Thorpe tells Chad Ford who he'd take if he had the top overall pick.
- UDPATE: I don't know if this is Renaldo Balkman's car or not. But I know it was a lot of work! Whoever put all this love and attention into those Knick colors -- you will be sad when he gets a new team, the team gets a new logo, or Balkman gets a new number. This is one short-term investment in art.
You might be thinking: What happened to TrueHoop? Some kind of TrueNap? As it happens, I spent nearly all day Thursday in the car going to and from a meeting, and then this morning -- my first back in the office in weeks -- I have been on the phone like crazy. Apologies for the light posting. We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
- Marc J. Spears of The Boston Globe: "Although final medical evaluations have yet to take place, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge does not expect any of his players will need surgery during the offseason. Paul Pierce, MVP of the NBA Finals, suffered a right knee strain during Game 1 against the Lakers, a series that took its toll on some Celtics. Kendrick Perkins missed Game 5 with a left shoulder strain, but started Game 6, and Rajon Rondo was hampered with a bone bruise on his left ankle. Ainge said no players have had X-rays since the Celtics won their 17th NBA championship Tuesday night and that the players probably will be evaluated next week."
- John Tomase of the Boston Herald: "The Phoenix Suns dealt away the draft rights to Rajon Rondo two years ago, and here's what they have to show for it: cash. That's it. Hopefully it was a lot of money, because Rondo may just go down as the steal of the 2006 draft. It's amazing to think that the 22-year-old starting point guard for the world champion Celtics could have been had for so little."
- Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "It was about a year ago that Rod Thorn dialed Mitch Kupchak and floated Richard Jefferson-for-Lamar Odom. The conversation, we're told, didn't last long. Not interested, Mitch said. Besides, I'm a little busy right now, trying to dodge the molotov cocktails Kobe keeps tossing through my office window. Care to bet the Nets try again? ... if you make the deal for Odom, and take him off the books after '08-09, this is what you're looking at in the summer of '10: A $38.2M payroll for eight guys, including the third-year salaries of the two kids they're drafting next week ($2.4 and 1.4, respectively). (That's assuming Mo Ager doesn't get that fourth-year option he's counting on. Sorry, Mo.) By then, the Nets should know for certain when (if) moving day will come, the salary cap will be in the $59-60M area, and there will be a lot of space to fill -- by LeBron, Bosh, Amare, Yao, or any of the other guys who may be free agents that summer. Of course, all that is predicated on somebody actually putting a damn shovel in the ground in Flatbush, which may not happen in our lifetimes."
- Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "On a quiet day in El Segundo, Kobe Bryant seemed upbeat, even cracking a few jokes, seemingly more reassured now by the Lakers' future than by what the team failed to accomplish a few days ago. 'I'm comfortable with what we have,' he said. 'Whatever Mitch decides to do, he decides to do. It's more of a relaxing summer for me because I know we have an opportunity to win. It's exciting. We know we got close and came up a little bit short. I'm excited about the opportunity to get back next year if we're fortunate enough and have a different result.'"
- Ramona Shelburne of the Los Angeles Daily News: "'So that's why I don't really pay too much attention to the media. They blow with the wind. When you win, you're the king of the world. If you don't play a good game, all of a sudden you're soft. I don't think a team that plays in the Finals, and beat Denver, San Antonio, Utah. I don't think you can question whether they're soft. I don't think a soft team could get to the Finals, period. If somebody thinks otherwise, I think you should check yourself.' For the normally polite, intellectual Gasol, that last statement is almost shocking in its feistiness. "
- Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Three weeks on the job, Rick Sund still speaks of the Hawks in the third person ('they') as often as in the first ('we'). During a 75-minute conversation, he even refers to this as 'the city of Seattle.' Wincing, he catches himself. 'City of Atlanta,' he says. 'Sorry.' No apology is required. On the contrary, the new general manager brings precisely what the Hawks have lacked --- the ability to cast an outsider's cold eye on what has been an insulated rebuilding process."
2008 NBA Draft
- Michael Cunningham of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Everybody knows New York turns out the best point guards, if only because you can't help but hear about any decent one from that city. New York leads the world in most-hyped point guards, and the rep is well deserved if you go back to the 1950s, '60s and '70s. But for the NBA's post-Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era, I'll take Chicago. Give me Isiah Thomas, Mo Cheeks, Doc Rivers, Quinn Buckner and Tim Hardaway over Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and Rod Strickland. Dwyane Wade could be on the Chicago list, too. ... Chicago's Derrick Rose is the top point guard in the NBA Draft next week, yet there doesn't seem to be much talk about his city's great tradition at the position. There should be, because the Chicago area has turned out better point guards than New York in the last 25 years or so."
- Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: "The whole issue of 'promises' from team to player is the one that shrouds the final week in mystery most times. Sometimes those promises are hollow, which may leave a player to plummet from where he was expected to be taken far down, past teams he didn't visit for a workout. Sometimes those promises are made by one team simply to block another from seeing someone up close. Even some players realize how legitimate they sometimes are. 'You can (believe them), but on the other hand, I wouldn't take a guarantee,' said Donte Greene. 'I would take it like, `Okay, thanks,' and keep going on with my workouts. I've known a couple guys who've had guarantees and have been sitting in Madison Square Garden (on draft night) looking (ridiculous) because they didn't get picked. Guarantees? I'm not too big on guarantees.'"
- Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Derrick Rose is already a legend to the kids on Chicago's streets, having grown up here. He is already labeled the next Chris Paul, a star point guard in a league where point guards are the new, stylish must-have. He is already the Bulls' next great leader. Someone asked him for his th
oughts on the No. 23 jersey, and he said that number was retired, that he'd find another one. Oh, he had better be good, because if the Bulls take him, they'll be starting all over, but expectations will be immediate. Vinny Del Negro takes his first coaching job at any level. A new point guard, after just one year of college, runs the team. Meanwhile, Beasley will be out there, somewhere, scoring 20 to 25 points a game from every spot on the court, grabbing double-digit rebounds."
- Mike McGraw of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald: "'I thought LeBron James was the luckiest person in the world to get to play in his home city,' Derrick Rose told a mass of reporters outside the Berto Center on Thursday. 'Now I have that chance. I'm just hoping that they pick me.'"
- Alan Hahn of Newsday: "Antoine Agudio took a car service to yesterday's workout with the Knicks here at the MSG Training Center because, the Long Island native said, 'I didn't know how to get to Westchester.' He does believe he is on the right path to the NBA, however, despite his unheralded draft status. That's because he thinks he has what NBA teams need. 'Most teams are lacking shooters, and that's what I do. I shoot the ball very well, I think,' said Agudio, who finished this past season as Hofstra's all-time leading scorer."
- Stan Olson of The Charlotte Observer: "Charlotte picks ninth in the June 26 draft. On Thursday, coach Larry Brown and other team officials were again sorting through the available talent, a group of six that included fast-rising point guard Russell Westbrook of UCLA. But even Westbrook, who likely won't fall to the Bobcats (a check of four mock drafts had him taken at Nos. 6, 7, 7 and 11) would not be an immediate answer. 'All these kids that are coming into the NBA at this stage of their careers are looking at being backups,' Brown said. 'Unless they're going to go to a terrible team, it's generally understood that the first or second player in the draft might start.' And that's it. It's also something Westbrook understands. 'You're not going to come in and just be given playing time,' he said, still sweating from the intense workout. 'You've got to come in and work for it and try to get on the floor as much as possible.'"
- Jeff Rabjohns of The Indianapolis Star: "Former Butler point guard Mike Green stepped off the floor at Conseco Fieldhouse on Thursday, after his 14th workout for an NBA team. At this point, he's convinced he can play in the NBA. 'I never doubted it before, but once I got in the workouts with certain guys, it made it truer, not to me but to people watching,' Green said. 'I feel I can hold my own against anybody.' The 6-1 point guard isn't projected to be selected in the two-round draft Thursday, but if he isn't, it won't be for a lack of effort."
- Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "The Trail Blazers aren't in the market for a center or a power forward, so it would seem as if Thursday's workout session with Nevada center JaVale McGee and Alabama power forward Richard Hendrix was pretty much a waste of time. Not so, Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'When you're in our situation (the 13th pick of next Thursday's NBA draft), you take the best talent available, no matter what the position,' McMillan said. 'That's what we'll do.' And Portland general manager Kevin Pritchard has hinted that if the Blazers use their pick, they might dabble in the 'futures' market, meaning a player such as McGee could get some consideration."
- Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun: "The Raptors also were hoping to work out 7-foot power forward JaVale McGee, but, according to Kelly, the Nevada star couldn't make it to Toronto because of passport issues, although there have been reports that his mother will not allow her son to work out for teams that pick lower than 12th in the draft."
- Joe Juliano of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "NBA scouts had only one season to see Marreese Speights as a regular in the lineup, but Sixers assistant general manager Tony DiLeo said that being on the same team as Horford and Joakim Noah, another Gator on an NBA roster, for his first season benefited him. 'He can score around the basket with both hands,' DiLeo said. 'He can step outside and shoot the jump shot. He's a work in progress, but a talented player.'"
- Mark Kram of the Philadelphia Daily News: "While no one cay say at this point whether any of them will end up wearing a Sixers uniform, DiLeo expects whomever the team selects to be 'a work-in-progress.' 'We have no problem with a project -- someone that we feel could use a year or 2,' said DiLeo, who added that the decision to select high school star Lou Williams had been guided by the same principle. 'We like our team. We think our players are going to get better over the years. We have cap room to go out and get a free agent. And there is the possibility of a trade. So the player [we take] does not have to come in and be the savior.'"
- Martin Frank of the News Journal: "The 76ers recently went to New Jersey, with permission from the Nets and the agents of the players, to watch Ohio State center Kosta Koufus, LSU forward Anthony Randolph, N.C. State forward J.J. Hickson and Syracuse forward Donte Green. The Nets pick 10th and 21st. Hickson and Green later worked out for the 76ers in Philadelphia. DiLeo also said the team had a private workout with Texas A&M center DeAndre Jordan. All of those players are projected to be drafted in the middle of the first round. Randolph was projected to go as high as No. 6, but it appears that his stock is falling."
- Chip Alexander of The News & Observer: "N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe, taking advantage of his NBA networking, now has a better feel for where forward J.J. Hickson would be chosen in the upcoming NBA Draft. Lowe's assessment: between the 10th and 20th picks. 'Initially they said 20 to 30,' Lowe, a former NBA head coach and assistant, said Thursday. 'Now, I'm hearing 10 to 20. So he certainly has helped himself quite a bit.'"
Lakers vs. Celtics
- Gail Goodrich writing in the Los Angeles Daily News: "There really is no other way to describe the Lakers' performance in Game 6 other than to say it was pathetic. It was a complete embarrassment to go into a game of that magnitude and not compete. There is absolutely no excuse for that, and it legitimately calls into question the character of some of their players. This is a young club, and that has to be taken into account. Maybe some of their inexperience showed Tuesday night in their inability to raise their game to match the Celtics' effort, but that excuse only goes so far."
- Lonnie White of the Los Angeles Times: "It's always easier to second-guess when a team falls short, and that's the case with the Lakers. They will have some room to maneuver under next season's expected salary cap, but the key will be the desire to sacrifice in order to win. Boston was able to get this done behind the leadership of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But that's still an open question for the Lakers, who are still looking for the right mix of players to put around Bryant since O'Neal was traded."
- Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "Lost amid the excitement when they got Gasol but crystal clear now, if Gasol was the icing on the cake, Bynum was the cake. Let's put it this way: With Bynum, it won't be any big deal to the Lakers whether Kendrick Perkins plays. The issue now is making the pieces fit with one problem position, small forward ... where Odom would have to go with Bynum at center and Gasol at power forward. Jackson wants a shooter there badly enough to start his favorite Martian, Vladimir Radmanovic."
- Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "... the Lakers anticipate a healthier backcourt when they meet for training camp. Bryant will undergo surgery on his damaged right pinkie after the Olympics in August. He has played with the injury since Feb. 5. What's more, Derek Fisher played the final weeks of the regular season plus all of the playoffs with a partially torn tendon in his right foot. Surgery is not necessary, but he needs several months of rest and recovery for his foot to heal."
- Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: "Paul Pierce and Tiger Woods. The NBA draft and free agency. The U.S. Olympic team and the University of Akron men's basketball team. Those were just some of the topics LeBron James touched on Wednesday in a wide ranging one-on-one interview. ... Q: Will you make any suggestions to the front office? A: I think they know. If my opinion is asked for, I'll offer my opinion, because I am the guy out there playing, and I know talent, I guess you could say. But I think they know. Q: Well, I'm asking your opinion. A: We will get better. I believe in our front office. I think they're going to do a good job this summer."
- Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "We can't forget that Ray Allen, one of the big reasons the Boston Celtics are the NBA champions after beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, was originally drafted by the Wolves with the fifth overall pick in 1996, then traded to the Bucks with a future first-round draft choice for Stephon Marbury. ... Had Allen come here, he would have been a teammate of Kevin Garnett like he now is with the Celtics. Why did Timberwolves vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale prefer Marbury over Allen? 'I thought we needed a point guard at that point,' McHale said. 'I really liked Steph's ability and Steph's explosiveness. I thought he was very, very good here. I think that over the course of his career, Ray has changed teams a few times also, but I think that at the time, we'd do it again. If we could do it again, looking at the two players but not looking back.'"
- Charley Walters of The Pioneer Press: "Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who watched Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics defeat the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA championship Tuesday night, reiterated Wednesday that he has no regrets about trading Garnett. 'We would have been out of the playoffs (had they kept him) a long time ago,' he said. ... 'It just showed me that you don't want to get down to relying on one guy. You better have about three guys -- they don't have to be all-stars -- but like San Antonio and Boston, three guys who in any game can do well. Though we have Al Jefferson, and we're hoping that Randy Foye comes along, there has to be a third part of that.'"
- Tim Buckley of the Deseret News: "The 2008 NBA finals are done, Boston has won, and Jazz coach Jerry Sloan won't go back and watch the replays. Just like he hasn't watched a second showing of the 1998 NBA finals, in which Sloan's Utah team lost 10 years ago to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Sloan, in fact, has never even watched footage of the controversial series-ending Game 6 of those '98 finals. ... 'It's like feeling sorry for yourself when (now-retired Jazz stars) John (Stockton) and Karl (Malone) left. It's the same deal. You have to go ahead and move on with your job and forget that. We're still here trying to work and do the best we can to try to get better. If you're gonna live your life on things like that,' the 20-season-long Jazz coach added, 'then you're gonna be pretty miserable.' It's all water under the bridge, in other words, in Sloan's world."
- Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "Lucky? Yeah, there was some of that. A decade ago, Pierce dropped to the Celtics at No. 10. And it's helpful that Ainge and Minnesota GM Kevin McHale have a relationship -- and yes, McHale deserves another Celtics championship ring for this most recent Boston championship. Even knowing that Bird and McHale have a history, both sides know the Pacers had nothing to offer in a deal to get Garnett and Allen. No first-round draft choices. No intriguing young players, unless you're intrigued by Shawne Williams. No expiring contracts. Nothing. The Celtics made their championship deals because of drafts and trades they made during the franchise's dark period. The Pacers are still waiting for that first glimmer of light. Unless somebody wants Tinsley for, say, LeBron James. Somebody? Anybody?"
- Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Rick Carlisle understands that no matter how the Mavericks fill out their roste
r around Dirk Nowitzki next season, their success starts with the 7-foot former MVP. With that in mind, Carlisle spent an enlightening few days in Wurzburg, Germany, and surrounding areas last week getting to know Nowitzki better -- and getting acquainted with Holger Geschwindner, Nowitzki's longtime mentor in Germany. ... 'In terms of basketball, it was a great opportunity to see how Dirk has trained with Holger over the last several years,' Carlisle said. 'To see his preparation for the Olympic qualifying -- two or three sessions a day -- you just get a sense for how important it is for him and his country to qualify. 'He doesn't have to be doing this. But it's a patriotic thing, a personal thing, and a dream. And I'm really pulling for him.'"
- Michael C. Lewis of The Salt Lake Tribune: "He's as All-American as could be, Travis Hansen. He grew up in the heart of patriotic Utah County, attended athletic powerhouse Mountain View High School in Orem and played basketball for his hometown and church school, Brigham Young University. Yet he could be Russian at the Olympics. Just like WNBA star Becky Hammon, Hansen has been awarded Russian citizenship by President Vladimir Putin, making the 6-foot-6 swingman eligible to play for the former 'Evil Empire' at the 2008 Beijing Games in China -- not long after he holds his second annual basketball camp in Lehi next week, aimed at benefitting underprivileged children in Russian orphanages. ... While Hammond has endured much criticism over her decision to join the Russian team, Hansen apparently has not - perhaps because unlike Hammond, he never was a highly regarded player in the pool of prospective members of the U.S. team. What's more, he's hardly a sure thing to join the Russians in China. International rules allow only one naturalized citizen per team, and point guard J.R. Holden is widely presumed to be the man who will occupy that spot for Russia."
2008 NBA Draft
- Clyde Travis of the Chicago Sun-Times: "Last week, Derrick Rose displayed a new tattoo that proudly reads, 'Family First.' 'I appreciate my family and how supportive they have always been,' Rose said. 'This is a very special time in my life. The trust factor [brother] Reggie and I have built allows me to stay focused, keep grounded and not get caught up in negative interference.' For Reggie Rose, the saying 'I am my brother's keeper' has a special meaning. While mother Brenda kept a low profile, Reggie -- along with brothers Wayne and Alan -- have helped guide their baby brother en route to fulfilling a lifelong dream."
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Kansas State forward Michael Beasley began his two-day visit to South Florida with time Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. He arrived after making a similar visit with the Bulls, who select No. 1 in the June 26 NBA Draft, one spot ahead of the Heat. The Heat's schedule this week also includes a Saturday workout in Chicago by Southern Cal guard O.J. Mayo that also will be attended by the Grizzlies and Timberwolves. Minnesota selects No. 3, Memphis No. 5."
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "As the Trail Blazers continued to ponder their offseason options, field calls regarding potential trades and debate whether to unload the No. 13 pick in the NBA draft, they were presented with another enticing possibility Wednesday morning. And it came in the form of a smooth, playmaking 6-foot point guard from Texas. In a performance that wowed coach Nate McMillan and further enhanced his draft stock, sophomore D.J. Augustin delivered perhaps the most impressive showing during more than two weeks of predraft workouts at the Blazers' practice facility."
- Brian Hendrickson of The Columbian: "Compared to what D.J. Augustin experienced nearly three years ago, NBA pre-draft workouts must feel like a easy ride. Individual drills? Meetings with teams? Defending his small stature, and selling his talent? How could that match the days when he hurriedly packed a few belongings and rushed out of New Orleans before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina? Those events rearranged Augustin’s life overnight. Levees burst near the Gentilly home his family rented on the east side of New Orleans and destroyed his neighborhood."
- Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: "The Grizzlies held a draft workout Wednesday with a group the team will consider with the No.28 pick. New Mexico's J.R. Giddens, DePaul's Draelon Burns, Arkansas' Sonny Weems and Louisville's Juan Palacios participated in the 90-minute session. Giddens, a senior guard, was the featured attraction and even sank a half-court shot at the end of the workout. Griz personnel director Tony Barone Sr. usually ends the workouts with a fake promise of a luxury car to a player who buries the long-range shot."
- Marc Berman of the New York Post: "Today, the Knicks resume workouts, with freshman center DeAndre Jordan the best of the crew. The shot-blocking Jordan is likely a consideration if the Knicks fall out of the top 10. Also to work out are Hofstra guard Antoine Agudio and Massachusetts forward Dante Milligan, a New Yorker and familiar face at the Garden."
- There is a big difference between "making history" and "getting in an obscure corner of the record book." The first implies being famous, widely known, discussed, and remembered. In my book, the Celtics "made history" last night by making good on the promise that came with uniting Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. They won the title in impressive fashion. That we all know, and will all remember. That the margin of victory was x points more than some game that happened y years ago? That's nifty and all, but it should not overshadow what really matters here.
- Quick: Name a Laker who had a good series. Kobe Bryant had moments, but expectations were so high that this'll long be seen as his failure. Jordan Farmar did some stuff. Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Derek Fisher played well for certain quarters.
- Another thought: I now feel more certain than ever that whichever team won Game 4 was going to win this series. That Celtic comeback was the series.
- If you have read the TrueHoop live blogs, then this is not new to you. But it's something I really need explained to me. A Laker timeout is, essentially, everyone sitting still watching Phil Jackson silently draw on his clipboard for an extremely long time. At the conclusion of Phil's drawing, he may or may not address the team for a maximum of 20 seconds or so, often after the buzzer has sounded signaling the end of the quarter. This is what he did even late in Game 6, when the series was decided. I felt sad for the Lakers, that he couldn't even see the merit an addressing his players, who were clearly wrestling with humilation. Phil Jackson is the Zen Master. There may be some clever thinking behind this approach. But it looked wrong to me.
- Great night for Kevin Garnett. Pretty good night for his shoe company.
- Brian Scalabrine runs a mean press conference. He also made a big stink about how well Cleveland played against the Celtics this season.
Celtics vs. Lakers
- Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "Embrace it. Ogle it. Relish it. But, above all, believe it. The Boston Celtics did not just win franchise championship No. 17 last night. They snatched it. They swallowed it. They demanded it. So they've done it. They have claimed the honor of having the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history. One year ago today, the franchise could accurately be described as forlorn. The Celtics were coming off a 24-58 season punctuated by an 18-game losing streak. They had been cruelly treated by the draft lottery, which left them with nothing better than the fifth pick. And now they are champions. Again. Lordy, Lordy, what hath Danny and Doc wrought?"
- Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald: "He shot and he passed, he handled the ball, he played defense. Along the way, Paul Pierce opened the eyes of an entire nation at a time when the spotlight seemingly was reserved for someone else. The renaissance Celtics won the 17th championship in franchise history last night with a resounding 131-92 victory over the turtling Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, an inevitable affair that completed the greatest turnaround in league history. What it did, too, was make Pierce exactly what the Celtics have long said he was, a brilliant player whose talent has never truly been appreciated. Or, for that matter, realized."
- Lenny Megliola of the MetroWest Daily News: "This year's pinup boys were Pierce and Kobe. Many people picked the Lakers to win the series. Many people were so wrong. The Celtics might have been burdened by the expectations this season, especially in the playoffs, but if there were cracks, they were always sealed in time to play on. Each step they took, the Celtics faced more pressure to win it all. So there will be another parade in a town getting mighty accustomed to them. This one comes with a twist. It's all about the basketball team. In L.A., they're green with envy."
- Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "In his best chance at establishing his legacy as a championship player without Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant was seemingly burdened by something even heavier. ... The league MVP was AWFUL, unable to break through even the most basic of one-on-one Celtic defenses, unable to carry a team that needed carrying. ... And, so, in voices that seemingly shook the TD Banknorth Garden, with Bryant standing at the foul line in the third quarter, here came those chants. 'You're . . . not . . . Jordan!' the fans sang, referring to Michael Jordan. No, clearly, at this point he is not."
- Gregg Patton of The Press-Enterprise: "With their (Celtics) top trio on the sunset side of their careers, the chances for more will slip quickly. The Lakers are the ones who are young and talented, with a world of possibilities in front of them. All they have to do now is learn. Maybe it was fitting that these two storied franchises rose so quickly together. Maybe they can do this again. Rematch, anyone?"
- Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: "If the last six games proved one thing, it's that compared to Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant is still a mere mortal."
- Harvey Araton of The New York Times: "There can be no next Jordan, if only because the second coming already occurred even before the original made the last shot of his Chicago Bulls' career in Salt Lake City a decade ago, and not to the N.B.A. Conceptually, Jordan still shoots a round ball into a targeted hole, but his name is Tiger Woods, the game is golf and never has that reality intruded on the finals as it did Sunday when Woods lined up his United States Open-tying putt on the 18th green at Torrey Pines."
- Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle: "The Rockets took significant steps forward this season with the drafting of Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks, with the trade for Luis Scola, with the hiring of Rick Adelman as head coach. If T-Mac was sitting at home on Tuesday night watching the Celtics put the wraps on a championship, he could have been bemoaning the fact that nobody went out and got him Garnett and Allen. And a nice, shiny trophy. Or he could have been setting his alarm for early in the morning to re-committing himself to earning one. Next June that smile on Pierce's face, that joy in Garnett's voice could be his. Anything's possible. Isn't it?"
- Percy Allen of The Seattle Times: "The courtroom battle between Seattle and the Sonics, which began in the middle of the NBA Finals, could have embarrassed the league and distracted from its showcase event. But after two days of testimony, including six hours on the stand by Sonics chairman Clay Bennett on Tuesday, the rest of the NBA world hardly seems interested in the story. Instead, the focus has been on an exciting NBA Finals, which ended Tuesday with the Boston Celtics' victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, and a referee gambling scandal."
- Patrick McManamon of The Akron Beacon-Journal: "If there's a deal out there for Anderson Varejao, the Cavs should do it yesterday. But to complete this deal, Varejao must consent to be traded. NBA rules say a restricted free agent (like Varejao) cannot be traded without his approval for one year starting with the day he signs his offer sheet. This could be a problem if, say, the Cavs wanted to send Varejao to Timbuktu. No NBA player will go there -- no matter the money. But since it's always about the money with pro athletes, Varejao could agree to go elsewhere. If he agrees to a trade he will want one thing: a chance to sign a big contract after next season."
- Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press: "The Carmelo Anthony rumors make sense. The Pistons can send Billups and Prince to Denver for a package headlined by Anthony. ... How about McGrady straight up for Billups and Prince? It works under the salary cap. And if Houston is willing to part with McGrady, the deal makes some sense for both t
eams. ... Other than Anthony and McGrady, I don't see any true superstars who could be available and make sense for the Pistons. They still could make a trade, but they would have to shoot lower."
- David Moore of The Dallas Morning News: "Mark Cuban has been articulate and consistent in his criticism of an Olympic model he considers hypocritical. ... 'It's not that I don't like the idea of them representing their countries,' Cuban said by e-mail. 'If the Olympics were truly a nationalistic endeavor built on sport and part of the public domain, I would be willing to take risk and support their playing. What I don't like is that we lie to ourselves and pretend that the Olympians represent our country. ... They don't. They have taken relatively low paying jobs working for the Olympics, who in turn sell the broadcast and marketing rights for billions of dollars in profits, all the while creating enormous risk for those of us who pay them for their day jobs that support their families. It's amazing how players who are free agents won't participate, but those with guaranteed contracts will. ... I hate the fact that we lie to ourselves and pretend this is about representing country,' Cuban said. 'It's not. It's about money.'"
- Tim Buckley of the Deseret News: "Two Jazz stars -- point guard Deron Williams and two-time NBA All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer -- both have an increasingly likely shot at making USA Basketball's 12-man Olympic roster when it is unveiled Monday. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher reported Tuesday that Detroit Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups has withdrawn from consideration for the team, citing undisclosed personal family issues. That makes Williams, who probably would have made it anyway, a virtual certainty for making his first Olympic team."
- Marcus Thompson II of the Contra Costa Times: "Azubuike said his experience -- walking on the soil of Africa, witnessing firsthand the struggles of Africans -- has changed his perspective forever. The suffering reminds him of the stories he heard of his parents' hardships -- tales of his mom getting water from the lake and carrying it back on her head in a pot, or his dad clearing an entire field with what amounted to a pocketknife. 'I don't think it was as bad in Nigeria (as Tanzania), but I know it was tough,' Azubuike said from a hotel in Tanzania. 'It's eye-opening. It's sad. It's emotional. It's all that stuff. It's a whole different lifestyle there. It's hard to even imagine growing up in a place like this. It's like our problems pale in comparison to the problems they face over here. It will just make me not take things for granted anymore. It makes me want to do more outreach like this. It's a blessing to be able to give. I feel like I want to do that more.'"
- K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune: "Michael Beasley said he enjoyed meeting general manager John Paxson, new coach Vinny Del Negro and several Bulls players on his visit. The power forward also changed his tune slightly from the predraft camp, where he gave politically correct answers about not caring if he went first to the Bulls or second to Miami. 'It would mean a lot being the No. 1 pick and coming to a franchise with so much history and a big legacy,' he said. 'I think [the Bulls] should draft me. I would like to go No. 1. But if that doesn't happen, I wouldn't be offended.'"
- Mike McGraw of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald: "Beasley may have attended multiple high schools, but that also means he has spent plenty of time on his own, forced to adjust to unfamiliar environments. He first left home in eighth grade to attend Laurinburg Academy in North Carolina. Later stops included three more boarding schools, then he went a long way from home to play one season at Kansas State. 'It helped me,' Beasley said. 'It got me prepared for different situations and different lifestyles. I think me going away to school at such a young age helped me grow up earlier than some other guys my age. So far I think it worked out pretty well.'"
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Michael Beasley is on the way. The question remains whether he will stay. The Kansas State forward, who is expected to be taken either first or second in the June 26 NBA Draft, confirmed during a Tuesday visit to Chicago that he would be spending these next two days in South Florida. ... The Heat also is listed among teams scheduled to view Southern Cal guard O.J. Mayo during a workout Saturday in Chicago."
- Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "It should appear blatantly obvious that the Mayo-to-Miami talk is just the type of subterfuge the Heat loves being a part of this time of year, whether it is picking second or 22nd. And it is only fitting Mayo and Miami are playing off each other to create an artificial buzz. Mayo, as many in the business are convinced, is a masterful con man himself, even as a 20-year-old. No, if Miami is going to hold on to the No. 2 pick, it won't be Mayo sporting the Heat jersey. It will be Beasley, regardless of how hesitant the Heat front office is about him (and word is there is a very real concern coming from Miami). There is no excuse for not taking the best player available that night in the draft."
- Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Kevin Love looked mighty short next to Ajinca (an intriguing, long-armed 7-1 prospect), Jordan and Koufos. The Wolves scheduled Love on the same day as them to see how he would perform against such taller, longer players. 'He obviously isn't as tall as some of those guys,' Wolves assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg said. 'He makes up for it with his quickness, his shooting ability and his basketball IQ. He's a smart player, a very unique player.' Love said he didn't shoot as well as he would have liked Tuesday. Wolves basketball boss Kevin McHale said he has no concerns about Love's size and athleticism in a league that seemingly keeps growing smaller."
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "Of the 32 NBA draft prospects who have descended upon the Rose City to make their case to become the No. 13 pick, perhaps no player has expressed a greater desire to land with the Trail Blazers than Joe Alexander. The athletic forward from
West Virginia capped a three-day Portland visit with an impressive workout Tuesday at the Blazers' practice facility. The workout drew praise from Blazers coach Nate McMillan and prompted a sales pitch from Alexander. 'I would really like to be in Portland,' he said. 'They have a young team full of guys that love the game and work hard, and that's what I'm about. I think I would fit in well here.'"
- Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "Nate McMillan referred to Alexander's work ethic as 'unbelievable' after the workout, which included three other forwards -- first-round prospects Donte Greene of Syracuse and Nicolas Batum of France along with Deron Washington, a four-year starter at Virginia Tech. 'He's a guy not afraid of working,' the Portland coach said of Alexander, later saying the former Mountaineer reminds him of Chicago's Andres Nocioni."
- Brian Hendrickson of The Columbian: "Virtually every achievement in Alexander's career seems to be preceded by stories of extra practices and special efforts. The maniacal work ethic has come to define him, and it is a big reason why Alexander has soared from a guy who once failed to convince a Division II school to offer him a scholarship, to one who appears to be a certain lottery selection in next week's NBA Draft."
- Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Tony DiLeo tells agents that if a player works out for the Sixers in the days leading up to the draft, there's a better chance the team will select him. But it hasn't helped. 'We're in the middle of the pack, and most of the time, the agents are hesitant,' DiLeo, the 76ers assistant general manager, said. 'If their guy is projected at eight or nine, they don't want them coming in at 16.' Forget about bringing in top-10 players. The Sixers have struggled to convince anyone who could be a first-round pick at No. 16, their spot, to visit for a workout. ... Out of the 13 players the Sixers have seen in the last two weeks, only three -- Syracuse forward Donte Greene, Nevada center JaVale McGee and North Carolina State forward J.J. Hickson -- are projected to be drafted anywhere near No. 16."
- Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: "One of the most misunderstood players available in the 2008 NBA draft was in Cleveland on Tuesday. The Cavaliers worked out Georgetown center Roy Hibbert on Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. The 7-foot-2, 278-pounder appears to be a player the Cavs are considering with the 19th pick in the first round of the June 26 draft."
Doc Rivers knows the low points of coaching.
A year ago, Doc Rivers was on all the "coaches on the hot seat" lists. Google the phrase "Fire Doc Rivers," and you will find nearly 200,000 results, from message boards, blogs, and mainstream media alike.
He was an object of scorn. Fans and pundits alike targeted Rivers as the weak link on a weak team. It was almost a joke: "Fire Doc Rivers" became the solution to almost any problem that came up in Boston.
The story of his coaching career has turned around 180 degrees with a rousing defeat of the Los Angeles Lakes in Game 6.
Doc Rivers is a champion, and he's not riding on anybody's coattails.
This is David Thorpe, from TrueHoop's liveblog of Game 6: "I actually feel like if the coaching staffs were switched, L.A. would be winning. Doc and Co. have kicked Mr. Nine Rings up and down the floor."
Tonight, Rivers has scaled the heights, and must be one of the happiest guys in sports. From his post-game press conference:
If you can, can you just think back a year to where you were coming to this point now?
Yeah, well, I can tell you where I was at. I was probably on the third hole somewhere golfing and hoping that we were going to improve our team.
You know, this is really sweet, obviously, for a lot of reasons. Just the players, just hanging in there with all of us this year. We really pushed them to play together as a team and a group, and they did it. Really all the praise goes to them. ...
We talked about adversity all year, and we kept saying that it had to come our way and we had to accept it and embrace it. We talked about that before the game this morning. I brought up all those [challenges] and then I just basically said, and as a group, we said it together, no excuses, don't use them. We don't need them. I just thought we had a very tough team mentally in that way.
When you took Paul, Kevin and Ray out of the game with 4:01 remaining, could you sort of talk about that? Was that something you had planned all along? Was it an impromptu decision? How did that play out?
Well, I thought about it a minute before that, and I just thought they came in as a group, and I thought we should take them out as a group. So I did think about it right before I did it.
You know, I refused to allow [team officials] to give me any plans. They all wanted to sit me down and talk about parade plans, and I told them I didn't want to hear about it. I didn't want to talk about it. So really I was unprepared for anything at the end of the game.
It's probably sweeter that way.
And when they came off, what was said?
Just we loved each other. They all said "thank you," and I said "thank you" back. Paul, obviously we ... it's just so sweet. He just kept saying "thank you, thank you, thank you for sticking with me again," and I kept saying the same thing to him.
A week ago, Rajon Rondo could hardly move.
The bone bruise on his ankle, sustained in the third quarter of Game 3, was so bad a week ago that just walking a lap around the team hotel in Los Angeles was an accomplishment worth crowing about to reporters.
Rondo didn't sit out any games, but he might as well have. In Games 4 and 5, the Celtics were only really good when a Rondo replacement -- Eddie House, Tony Allen, or Sam Cassell -- played well.
In the interim, Phil Jackson hatched his most effective strategy of the series: Let Kobe Bryant roam on defense. Matched up with Rondo, Bryant dared the gimpy speedster to become a shooter. Rondo was largely unwilling to capitalize.
Instead, Bryant used his freedom on the defensive end to great advantage, acting as a help defender on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, neither of whom enjoyed the attention.
Tonight was a different story.
Tonight, Rajon Rondo could move.
High-school coaches the world over should get videotape of tonight's Game 6, edit together every hustle play he made, and show it to players before every game.
It would be a long tape. Nearly every moment he was on the court, Rondo either had the ball, or was trying to get the ball. (Embodying Red Auerbach's famous lesson about how to win basketball games: "Get the ball. Don't give up the ball.") He battled the Laker big men for rebounds. He stripped various all over the court, flirting with the Finals all-time steals record in under 32 minutes. He bothered Derek Fisher into one of his worst games of the playoffs. He finished with 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, six steals, and just one turnover.
Most importantly, tonight, Rondo never got gun shy. Once again, Bryant gave Rondo room to roam, and early in the game Rondo missed again and again. But with his coach's command to keep at it ringing in his ear, he warmed up, made Bryant pay attention, and finished the game eight of 20.
After the game and a good champagne soaking in the locker room, Rondo had this to say:
Before the game, I was going through a lot, especially not playing well on the road. I talked to Ray [Allen] about 20 minutes before the game. "Just let the frustration go." He told me I could still be a threat.
I just had to go out there and be aggressive. No matter how many shots I missed, I think I started off 0 for 4 or something like that but I kept attacking the rim, made Kobe play defense. I didn't want to give him the night off, like I did the past couple of nights on the road.The first play of the game was for me. I passed the ball. But from the jump, he instilled the confidence in me tonight that he wanted me to be aggressive. I try to let my defense dictate my offense instead of vice versa.
Rondo, one day, will presumably master that jumper. If it happens while he remains blazingly fast, he will become nearly impossible to guard.
In the interim, however, against the Lakers' sagging D, Rondo's approach in Game 6, was the right approach. By contributing to a balanced offensive attack, Rondo was able to keep Bryant from jamming his teammates. He was also able to convince Coach Doc Rivers to keep him on the floor to create mayhem for the Lakers.
In the biggest of games, the young guard was one of the biggest factors. While he was on the floor, the Celtics outscored the Lakers by 24 points -- the third best of any player in the game.
Post-game, Coach Doc Rivers raved:
I was so proud of Rajon Rondo because, you know, he was really struggling, and to fight his way through that tonight and to play with the energy and the toughness that he played with tonight was absolutely fantastic. I think that almost symbolized our year in a nutshell.
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)