TrueHoop: Brad Miller

The book on Rick Adelman

February, 6, 2013
2/06/13
7:40
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Rick Adelman
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesRick Adelman: The quiet innovator

Name: Rick Adelman

Birthdate: June 16, 1946

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
A tactician whose schemes have influenced coaches at every level of competitive basketball. When Adelman wants to motivate a player or address a potential conflict, he’s far more likely to sidle up next to the guy at a shootaround or at practice for a quick conversation than make a fuss. Adelman is not a consoler, pep squad leader or speechmaker. His dominant message? Practice is tomorrow at 11. For players who prefer more communication or need hand-holding, this can be difficult, but Adelman has a knack for maintaining harmony.

Is he intense or a go-along-get-along type?
He has the unique ability to manage diverse personalities with his even temperament. Clyde Drexler clashed with an intense Mike Schuler during his early years in Portland, but when Adelman took over, Drexler was on the same page as his new coach from the outset. Adelman errs on the side of less practice, not more, and is constantly mindful of whether his players are in a good place, and that basketball isn’t becoming a chore to them. He isn’t inclined to develop deep relationships with players, but they’re confident he won’t play favorites and won’t call them out in a group setting. Adelman is a quiet teacher, a stoic and somewhat of an introvert, which is a rarity in this profession. On the road, he’s more likely to spend a night in than go out to a dinner where basketball might be the leading topic of conversation. He requires time to recharge.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
Although his schemes offer a fair amount of flexibility, Adelman certainly falls on the system end of the spectrum. He wants the game played a certain way, something expressed in his corner sets that have been replicated a million times over in the league. A few NBA teams actually refer to these play calls as “SAC” (as in Sacramento), where Adelman refined his offensive approach. While the principles of Adelman’s offense remain the same -- all five players engaged, move the ball quickly, remain aggressive as you read and react -- he will adjust and modify the primary options to accommodate different skill sets. The best example would be Yao Ming, who needed to be fed the ball in places on the floor that, in most circumstances, Adelman would prefer vacant.

Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
Adelman believes that a player who buys into the program is entitled to a piece of the enterprise. He doesn’t preside over a dictatorship, but most of all, he pre-empts any conflict by making decisions his players can get behind. His system also entrusts players to make decisions and unleash their creativity.


Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
He has an affection for high-IQ scorers -- Peja Stojakovic, Kevin Martin, Mike Bibby, even Von Wafer. Under Adelman in Houston, Aaron Brooks got the bulk of the minutes over Kyle Lowry at the point until Brooks went down with an ankle injury in Adelman’s final season with the organization.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
A set rotation works best for Adelman, who wants to avoid making waves that might divert the focus of the team away from what’s happening on the court. When Adelman assigns someone to the starting lineup, he’ll exercise patience with that player.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use his veterans?
Young players, especially those who can score, get plenty of opportunities under Adelman. He took immediately to Cliff Robinson in Portland when the Trail Blazers were among the elite. Rookie Jason Williams led the Kings in minutes during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Houston was largely a veteran outfit during Adelman’s tenure. Minnesota has been a MASH unit -- any healthy body will do.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
Adelman isn’t looking for one specific shot in a possession. He imagines a range of positive outcomes and has created a framework for achieving one of those objectives, which we know generally as the corner offense.

The corner isn’t so much a system of play calls as it is a systematic way to promote ball and player movement through smart reads. Multiple players are involved in just about every possession, which keeps offenses humming and players happy.

At its most basic, a corner set will feature three players on the strong side -- at the wing, corner and a big man at the elbow who has the instincts and skills to facilitate offense on the fly, players such as Chris Webber, Vlade Divac or Brad Miller. Offensive players size up the defense, then choose an action that best exploits what the defense surrenders.

In short, read and react.

For instance, a dribble handoff is a popular option within the corner. A wing who can capably read a defense will play out the sequence based on what the defense affords him. If his defender is trying to deny the handoff by hugging him tightly, he can slip back door. If the defender goes under the big man, the wing can stop and pop. If the defender is trailing, then take the ball and penetrate, draw contact or, if help comes from the weak side to collapse, make a pass to a shooter in the corner (Stojakovic and Shane Battier were frequent beneficiaries). Of course, the big man can always fake the handoff and, if his defender bites, turn around and shoot an open jumper. While all this is going on, the weakside big might give his weakside small a down screen. This gives the corner crew another option -- a shooter popping out to the perimeter.

A lot of cool stuff can materialize with the corner, and most playbooks around the league include a couple of “C-sets” with multiple triggers. Ultimately, the collective instincts of the five-man unit drive the offense, and each player on the floor is empowered to do something over the course of the possession to test the defense and keep it guessing. The ball moves and, when run correctly, the offense never starts and rarely finishes with isolation basketball. The corner doesn’t offer the level of structure found in the Triangle or the continuity offense in San Antonio, but it’s easier to pick up and allows players to be a bit more creative -- which can be both an asset and a drawback.

What were his characteristics as a player?
A standout at Loyola Marymount, Adelman was a 6-foot-1 point guard without much of an outside shot and zero speed. But he could defend in the half court, move the ball to the scorers and make a pass on the move. He was chosen by the San Diego Rockets in the seventh round of the 1968 draft, and wore a hockey mask for the first couple of months of his NBA career after breaking his jaw in a preseason game. That Rockets team included Pat Riley. Two years later, Adelman became a charter member of the expansion Portland Trail Blazers team.

Which coaches did he play for?
His first NBA coach was Jack McMahon, regarded as a players’ coach. He also played for Rolland Todd, Stu Inman and Jack McCloskey, all of whom lost a lot of games. Adelman then moved to Chicago, where he played for Dick Motta, before moving on to New Orleans, where he played for the nomadic, fiery, profane Butch van Breda Kolff, then finished his career with the Kings and Phil Johnson.

What is his coaching pedigree?
Adelman got his start at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon, where coaching basketball was just one part of the gig. The position was actually the province of the college’s counseling department and Adelman’s other responsibilities included educating high school kids about the junior college system. Adelman’s big break came in 1983, when he got a phone call from Dr. Jack Ramsay asking him to join the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff. Ramsay’s “turnout” offense, with its continuity, multiple screens, cuts and quick passing, was foundational for Adelman, and Ramsay is very much the spiritual godfather for much of what Adelman has developed as an offensive practitioner. After Ramsay’s departure from Portland, Adelman stayed on under Schuler, then took over the head job when Schuler was let go in February 1989.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
A lover of history who appreciates time to contemplate, Adelman would be on the faculty of a junior college in California or Oregon.

Goodbye, Brad Miller

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
1:53
PM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
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Brad Miller
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Brad Miller's tearful goodbye was felt by many.


Brad Miller wasn’t your typical NBA center during the era of high-flyers and YouTube-inspiring dunks. He wasn’t a guy most people would ever think of paying to see play basketball. In fact, he wasn’t a guy most people thought could play basketball.

The country boy from Kendallville, Indiana, is a slow, unathletic big man by NBA standards. He always has been. When you’re classified that way athletically, you’re not supposed to end up with a long and lucrative career in the NBA. It’s probably the reason he wasn’t drafted out of Purdue University. After playing for a couple of months in Italy, the Charlotte Hornets signed him as an undrafted free agent during the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

Over the next four years, Miller figured out what worked and what didn’t work with his game in the NBA, as he spent time in Charlotte and Chicago. He learned how to maximize his incredible natural skills while minimizing the parts of his game that could hurt his team. He was challenging assumptions about how he could play the game and breaking the assumed protocol of NBA competition.“He’s one of the most skilled big guys,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said after Minnesota’s loss to Denver. “I’ve been very fortunate. I put him up there with Vlade and Chris Webber as far as skilled guys, knowing how to play, making their teammates better.”

As a member of the 2002-03 Indiana Pacers, Miller helped his team to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference while also being named an All-Star over teammate Ron Artest. That summer, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings, where his skill set would be perfectly paired with Adelman’s offensive system.

Miller is a beautiful passer. Watching him operate out of the post and the high-post throughout his 14 years has been a pleasure. He often seemed to know there was an opening to deliver the ball before his teammates even knew they were open. He could throw bounce passes, chest passes, behind-the-back passes, or whatever was necessary to get his teammates a score. The passes were on point, allowing the least amount of movement and execution to get a good shot off. When he integrated himself into Adelman’s system, he was thrown into a world that allowed his game to flourish.

You couldn’t just protect against the pass either. He was a deadeye shooter from midrange. During his days with the Kings under Adelman, he was an incredible weapon from 16-23 feet. He made 46.5 percent of his jumpers from that range, according to NBA.com. Back off of him and he’d snipe your defense with his jumper, just like his second passion in life -- hunting.
Miller will walk away from his 14-year NBA career in order to further develop a hunting show that he has with his friend. While it was a decision that appeared to be very trying and tough as he checked out of his final game Thursday night, it’s one he’s confident in doing.

“I’ve been playing for 30 years, so when it’s time, it’s time,” he said after finishing his 868th game. “My body ain’t worth a [expletive] anymore, but I still have my heart.”

When he was traded to the Timberwolves on draft night of last year, he was being brought in because of his heart. Adelman wanted to have a veteran on the team that not only knew his system but also knew how to be a leader. It didn’t matter that Miller was coming off of a microfracture surgery in May of 2011;Adelman wanted that presence on the team. After the loss to Denver, Adelman praised his veteran big man.

“He cares,” Adelman said. “He really does cares, even though he does his hunting thing and all that other stuff. He cares about the game. He cares about how he plays. You know, I knew he didn’t have a lot left, but the influence he had in the locker room, he tried. He tried to talk to guys and make them understand what it takes to be successful.”

Several of his teammates honored him by wearing bright blue headbands during the contest. Even Luke Ridnour, who was nursing an injured ankle, made sure to dress for the game and be on the bench so he could don the headband. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love appeared in suits behind the team’s bench and paid tribute to Miller by also wearing the headgear.

That’s the kind of lasting impression he left on guys he played with and against in this league. Teammates that played with him for a few hectic lockout-induced months felt it was necessary to honor him. Shaquille O’Neal, who once threw an errant punch from behind at Miller, told the world on TNT to pay him respect for his career during the game’s highlights.

Before he checked out to a tearful goodbye with 5:09 left in the game, Miller gave a microcosm of what made him so special on the court throughout his career. With 7:18 left in the fourth, he hit a 3-pointer from straightaway. A little over a minute later, he caught the ball on the right side of the free throw line for a play Adelman calls “corner.”


“You know, you put him in the game and every time I put him in the game, I tell them just run ‘corner’ and somebody just back cut and you’re going to get a layup,” Adelman explained in frustration post-game.

Malcolm Lee slipped behind his man from the right corner. As he began to pass by his defender’s inside shoulder, Miller delivered a perfect bounce pass that found Lee alone at the basket. It was the last time Miller and Adelman would run that play together and it worked to perfection.

“With him, you know if a guy backcuts, he’s going to get it. And that’s what the value of Brad is,” Adelman said.

After taking a Timofey Mozgov whack to the face, Miller finally walked over to the bench, burst into tears and was congratulated and honored by his teammates as the crowd cheered him on. It was the last time he’d be on the court as an NBA player and you could feel everything it meant to him by being in the arena or watching it at home.

After the game, he was barely able to discuss what it has meant to play for Adelman. He talked about getting to know his family and compared it to how young players are coached in college. “Everything we’ve done together, I’ve just wanted to win.”
He kept trying to be a self-proclaimed “tough guy” by not crying but he couldn’t help getting swept away in the waves of emotions he was feeling.

Adelman summed it up well when he said, “He’s just been terrific. I hate to see him go out in a game like that because that’s not how he plays. And even at the end of his career, he’s going to give you everything he has.”

“It was a privilege to coach him.”

I don’t know how many more centers we’ll see like Brad Miller as the basketball world continues toward athleticism and grandiose highlights. But it’s probably safe to say we won’t expect the next one to make it either.

Congratulations on an incredible career, Brad. It was a privilege to watch you.

Griffin has historic day on historic day

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
5:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that when the New York Knicks hosted the Phoenix Suns on Monday it was the 24th NBA game played at Madison Square Garden on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the highest total at any venue. The Staples Center is second with 20 MLK Day games played.

Traditionally, the Knicks have done well to defend home court on MLK Day, however Monday the trend was broken as the Suns handed the Knicks their sixth loss in the 24 home games played on this historic day.

Amar'e Stoudemire scored a season-high 41 points, which is the most for him since scoring 44 on March 19, last season against the Utah Jazz. It's the 16th time in his career that Stoudemire has topped 40 points, but only the third time his team has lost the game. Stoudemire has now scored at least 20 points in 25 straight games, the third-longest streak in Knicks history (he entered the game tied with Bernard King). Next on that list are Patrick Ewing (28) and Richie Guerin who is the franchise leader at 29 straight.

Stoudemire’s day was impressive, but Los Angeles Clippers rookie Blake Griffin had a day that will be etched in history forever.

Blake Griffin
Griffin
Griffin had a career-high 47 points, the highest total by any NBA player in a single game this season, and the most by a Clipper since Charles Smith scored 52 points at the Denver Nuggets on December 1, 1990. Griffin’s 47 points were also the second-most by any player in a game on MLK Day (Gilbert Arenas had 51 for the Washington Wizards against the Jazz in 2007).

What makes Griffin’s performance even more interesting is that his 79.2 field-goal percentage (19-of-24) was the highest by a rookie who took at least 20 shots in an NBA game since Dec. 6, 1984, when Hakeem Olajuwon made 18-of-22 (81.8 percent) for the Houston Rockets.

It gets better.

In the history of the NBA, only two other players under the age of 22 have ever had a game like Griffin's … Michael Jordan and Rick Barry. Griffin also became just the second rookie over the last 25 seasons to record at least 45 points and 10 rebounds. The other was a 20-year old Shaquille O'Neal back in February of 1993.

Now clearly nobody had a day like Griffin, but there was one more individual performance we couldn’t overlook.

Derrick Rose recorded his first career triple-double, which was the fourth against the Memphis Grizzlies. Over the last five seasons; Baron Davis, LeBron James and Brad Miller have also had triple doubles in Memphis. The only team that has allowed more triple-doubles at home over the last five seasons is the Sacramento Kings, who have surrendered five.

Kevin Martin has no complaints

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
10:13
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Kevin Martin
Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
Kevin Martin is reunited with Rick Adelman and Brad Miller -- and couldn't be happier about it

There might not be a player in the league with a more confounding game than Kevin Martin. Take a look at the odd, left-leaning release on his jumper and you can imagine a nation of high school basketball coaches cringing. Martin's field-goal percentage and defensive game have never been all that impressive on the surface. But once you get past traditional measures -- both aesthetic and statistical -- you'll find a uniquely efficient perimeter player who thrives in systems that take advantage of those gifts.

Rick Adelman's read-and-react offense in Houston is one such system. Although Martin is a capable one-on-one player, he's always been most effective running off screens, cutting, curling or fading to the arc when the defense sags. Martin harbors an appreciation for his days in Sacramento, where he went from an obscure late first-rounder out of Western Carolina to the first option in the offense. But he's thrilled to be back with his first NBA coach, whom Martin credits with helping him become that marquee player.

We caught up by phone with Martin in Houston last week, and talked about the change in culture he's experienced since the trade that sent him from Sacramento to Houston, the limitations of his game and the influence of Brad Miller:

So what's your summer day like?
I decided to get a place in Tampa so I could do some extensive training.

What are you working on in specific?
The basics. Getting my form back because I had surgery on my left wrist last year, so we wanted to get my 3-point shot back. There were a couple of minor mechanical things. Also, defenses load up on me, so I'm working on a lot of counter-moves for when the defense stops that first move.

When you're not in the gym, what do you do in your down time? You a beach guy?
I'm more of a city guy. I like to roam around, maybe check out a restaurant. I also like playing with my electronics -- like the new iPad.

So you're a proud member of the Apple cult?
Yeah!

Sacramento to Houston -- the perception is that's a huge cultural move for you. "Culture" is a term that sportswriters -- and front office people when they're talking to sportswriters -- throw around a lot, but does "team culture" really exist from a player's standpoint?
There definitely is such a thing as team culture. It starts with the organization, what kind of veteran players they have. Here in Houston, Shane [Battier] and Yao [Ming] are the veterans. They set the tone for us on how to be professionals. They've been around the community a lot. They set a big example for young fellas and are just two great leaders with what they do.

So if someone were to drop you in a random locker room of some team you didn't know, you could totally tell whether it was a winning or a losing locker room?
Unfortunately, yes. I've been on both sides of it. We're all paid to play this sport we love. If you're on a team like that as a team leader, you wish it didn't happen and you try to minimize it, but you can only control so much. It's up to the players to be professional about it. But you can definitely tell the difference.

How do they do things differently in Houston?
First, it's a veteran ball club with guys who just want to win. We all made names for ourselves in the league and the only legacy we're trying to leave now is winning. We can all put up nice numbers and things like that. You have to give credit to [general manager] Daryl [Morey] for bringing in those kind of people -- players with a lot of class and who are motivated. Of all the guys on our roster, there's really only one player who came into the league with big expectations, and that's Yao. The rest of us -- we've been the hard workers. I was like the 15th player on the roster my rookie year and had to work my way up. Then I was the No. 1 player for three years. This isn't to disrespect guys, but it's not about hype in Houston. These are guys who have worked their way up the ladder. I'm definitely happy to be in an organization like this. You know what you need to do and you just go out there and get it done. You don't need anyone on your throat all the time.

With Trevor Ariza on the move, what does the situation look like at the small forward on the court for the Rockets?
It shows how much faith Daryl has put in our other 3s -- in Shane and Chase [Budinger]. With the starting lineup we have now, Shane is the defensive stopper, and that helps us a lot there. Those guys will have to pick up Trevor's production on both ends of the court. I think we have a great system that allows other guys to do that.

How do you rate yourself as a defensive player?
Great question. I've never had anyone ask me that. I get judged a lot on it. I try to work hard, but the last three years I was a guy who had to put up 25 points a game just to not lose by 10. But my first two years under Rick Adelman, that's how I stayed on the court. It was because of defense. And I could because I had four offensive players around me. I know I have to get back to that, but I also think Houston is a better place to allow me to get back to that because I won't have to be the No. 1 option every night. Now I can do other things on the court.

So it's true that guys conserve energy on the defensive end because so much is asked of them offensively? That means their defense is less intense.
For some players that's true. Everyone has their roles.

Stat-heads love you because your true shooting percentage -- which takes into account 3-pointers and free throws -- is always impressive. You have this knack for drawing contact and getting to the line, or just draining the 3. But one thing I've never completely understood is how a player like you makes decisions. When you have the ball in your hands out on the perimeter, are you looking to either shoot or draw contact? I'm either going to get a clean shot or I'm drawing a foul? Are you looking to do both? How do you decide in the moment?
There are always different scouting reports on how to guard me. Guys know my first step is so quick so they might back up off me. Right there, I'm just going to take the open shot because I'd rather do that then try to go in there against all those big guys and get hammered on the floor. Then other nights, guys are like, "He's such a great shooter," and they try to get up on me. That's when I use my quickness. Once I get by you, I just know the rules -- you can't bump a guy off his path. If I'm going to the hole, and I've gotten past you, you can't get back in my path. That's how I get a lot of those calls. It's tricky and you have to have a lot of moves in your arsenal and trust your game. As the No. 1 guy the last three years, I've gotten knowledgeable about knowing how the defense plays me.

You didn't pass the ball a lot in Sacramento. Was that a function of the system or is that just not your game?
If you watched those games, when I'm making a move, I'm going to make that move and try to score. Also, there's time where my assists weren't there because maybe I'm not the greatest playmaker, but I will pass the ball and give other guys chances. That's how that went. Over my three years in Sactown, they got rid of (Ron) Artest and I was playing with a lot of guys who were trying to make names for themselves in the league. They were young guys and just learning the game. Once Artest was gone, I was playing with four starters who had never started before. But I also think that's what made me the player I am today because I had all the attention of opposing teams.


So we should expect your assist totals to go up this year, just by virtue of Rick Adelman's system?
Yes.


When we say that a perimeter player knows how "to play off a big man," what does that mean?
I've always wanted to play with a guy like Yao. I think the trick is to keep them happy. You give them the ball when they're in great scoring position and you make the right plays when they give you the ball -- like me and Brad [Miller]. My offensive game is where it is today because of Brad Miller. The way he and Rick taught me how to cut and things like that made me so much better. The last three years in Sacramento, it was all, like, one-on-one. Now I'm back in a system where I can cut. Playing with big guys like Yao who get rebounds for you, you feed them back. Keep them happy.


Let's talk more about Brad Miller and Rick's system.
Rick's system is all about read-and-react. When you're young and watching film, you like to watch a couple of guys who you're modeling your game after, and mine was always Rip Hamilton. I always looked at how he came off screens. That's where my shooting and curling evolved. That was my bread and butter my first three years. Then I moved on to other things. Playing with Brad, he's the one who taught me how to cut at the right time -- not cut too early. When I started doing more iso stuff, I watched film of [Dwyane] Wade iso situations. You put all this together and that's how you become a more complete player.


So Brad was like Yoda Big Man? How did he impart this knowledge to you?
With Brad and me, it was always on the court. And I also got a chance to watch him and Peja [Stojakovic] play a lot my first year because I didn't really play too much. He and Peja had a great connection. I knew I was a lot quicker and had a lot more agility than Peja. So at the beginning, I would always do everything so fast. I'd be too fast before the cut, during the cut, after the cut. Brad would say, "Slow down! You're faster than everybody out here, but you have to read it!" He showed me the ins and outs of making those cuts and reads -- when to come around. Like when a guy plays under you, come around and take the jumper. And when a guy is playing you tight, you just go back door. Brad taught me how to play.

Weekend Bullets

January, 9, 2010
1/09/10
11:15
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive

The High-Grade Sleepers

August, 17, 2009
8/17/09
10:06
AM ET
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

NBA training camps are still a few weeks away, but rosters around the league are gradually taking shape. Once David Lee, Allen Iverson and Ramon Sessions have jobs, we'll be ready to go.

The favorites in each conference are easy to spot -- they bear a striking resemblance to the teams that were playing on Memorial Day weekend. But which teams are lurking beneath the surface, ready to assume the role of improbable contender?

If they can avoid the injury bug, and the chemistry works just right, here are three teams that could emerge as success stories come spring:

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks


It's easy to forget just how dominant the Dallas Mavericks were when they took the floor against the eighth-seeded Warriors on a Sunday evening in April 2007. This was the last game of the postseason's opening weekend, a perfunctory item of business for the Mavs en route to a conference finals matchup against the Suns or the Spurs.
Dirk Nowitzki & Shawn Marion Can this pair inflict serious damage in a brutal Western Conference? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Dallas was one year removed from an NBA Finals appearance, and had just piled up 67 wins in the regular season. Only five teams in NBA history had recorded more Ws in a single season. Dirk Nowitzki was the presumptive MVP (and would go on to win the award).

The Mavs' epic collapse in that first-round series against the Warriors has been well-documented, and over the next two seasons, Dallas would descend from its perch into the Western Conference's upper-middle class.

What's interesting about that falloff is how many of the elements of that Mavs team remain intact today -- to say nothing of the quality pieces that have been added since. 67 wins isn't ancient history; we're talking two seasons ago.

Dirk Nowitzki, at 31, is the same age as Kobe Bryant. While Nowitzki is unlikely to reproduce his 2006-07 exploits, he remains one of the league's best players. Jason Terry has been a model of consistency for Dallas and had arguably the most efficient season of his career as the Mavs' super sub in 2008-09. Josh Howard is only 29. When healthy, he's still one of the more flexible swingmen in the game and a lockdown defender. In 2006-07, J.J. Barea logged fewer than 200 minutes, but he's become a spark plug for the Mavs' quality second unit ever since.

With Jason Kidd settling nicely into the role of veteran facilitator (and surprisingly efficient shooter), the franchise doubled down on the bet that its solid core could maximize what's left of Nowitzki's prime. The Mavs landed Shawn Marion.

Like Howard, Marion is versatile, freakish, and mercurial. Defensively, he can stay in front of speedy point guards, bother face-up power forwards, chase spot-up shooters, and clean up on the boards. Offensively, Marion's downward trajectory the past season and a half began the moment he left Phoenix. Coincidence -- or evidence that his talents demand the care of a veteran, pass-first point guard?

When you consider those assets, then throw in sensible additions like Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries to bolster Erick Dampier on the block, defensive stopper Quinton Ross, and a pair of intriguing rookies, and the Mavs appear ... stacked.

There is no shortage of nightmarish scenarios by which Dallas' gamble can implode. Nowitzki, Kidd, Marion, Terry, and Dampier are all on the wrong side of 30. Howard is accustomed to missing about 15 games a year, and being less than 100 percent for long stretches. The Mavs' best offensive lineup (Kidd-Terry-Howard-Marion-Nowitzki) won't give them much interior defense, and the loss of Brandon Bass makes them a less energetic bunch.

But with Kidd at the point, and a roster of flexible guys who can each serve multiple functions on the floor, Dallas has the potential to develop into a grizzled, selfless squad with the kind of mental edge that just might have been the missing ingredient 28 months ago.


Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls


How much should we read into Chicago's classic seven-game series against Boston? Was the Bulls' gutsy performance a harbinger of things to come, or was it lightning in a bottle? Did they graduate into a team that knows how to scramble defenses with a legitimate pick-and-roll game, or were they just lucky to encounter a crippled Celtics team ill-suited to deal with their quickness and athleticism?

Those aren't the only imperative questions for Chicago. Even if we conclude that they came of age in April, is it fair to expect them to continue their progress without their top scorer, Ben Gordon, whom they lost to Detroit?

Short answer: Yes.

Although there will be nights when Gordon's fearlessness as a sniper will be missed, the Bulls might be better served long-term by the three-guard rotation of Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and John Salmons. With Gordon out of the picture, Rose can assert himself both as distributor and scorer. He's a transcendent young point guard, and one that should flourish now that his running mates in the backcourt are a little more pliable.
Derrick Rose Derrick Rose: Season Two
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Both Rose and Hinrich are expert ballhandlers -- and Hinrich is very comfortable off the ball as well. Salmons, along with Hinrich, is capable of defending all three perimeter positions, can score on pin-downs, slash to the rack, and fire from 3-point range (41.7 percent).

There are good reasons sleepers are sleepers, and the caveats for Chicago reside in its frontcourt. Start at small forward, where Luol Deng will be returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. He last played in a game on February 28. When 100 percent, Deng is a rangy, athletic force in transition and in the halfcourt, where his height and handle give him a big advantage over most defenders at the small forward. When Deng is on his game, he's also the correct answer to the question, "Who's going to make up for Ben Gordon's 20.7 points per game?"

There's a reason why any time a marquee big man comes on the market, he's rumored to be headed to Chicago. But desperate as the Bulls are for help on a threat on the block, we saw something interesting down the stretch last season. Rather than resign themselves to their lack of post scoring, the Bulls began to use Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas in pick and roll schemes, where their agility allowed them to beat their defenders to the rim. So long as Thomas resisted launching jump shots, it worked.

Noah doesn't have the jumper to be a high-post center (like backup Brad Miller), but his passing and mobility around the hoop might be enough in Chicago's offense. Thomas, of course, is the wild card. A composite of his finest moments last season would show him as a defensive ace, capable of creating opportunities for himself off the dribble, hitting a face-up jumper, and blocking any shot in medium proximity.

If that highlight reel can become a reality, if Deng can bounce back, and if Rose can continue his co
urse as one of the game's best young playmakers, the Bulls might turn their novelty act from last spring into a long-run production in 2010.


New Orleans Hornets

New Orleans Hornets


Here's one you can play by the pool:

Name the best starting power forward/center tandems in the NBA.

You could begin with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. After the Lakers' duo, there's only one other pair of starters who each recorded a player efficiency rating greater than 18:

David West and Emeka Okafor.
Chris Paul & Emeka Okafor For Emeka Okafor, playing alongside Chris Paul will be more pleasant than playing against him. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

After playing in relative obscurity with Charlotte over the past five seasons, Okafor moves to New Orleans, where he'll fill Tyson Chandler's spot at center for the Hornets. Chandler was a sentimental favorite in New Orleans -- both of the fan base in the Crescent City and his teammates. The Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler alley-oop was one of the NBA's signature highlight reel snippets.

Okafor may not be an elite center, but he's a very, very good big man and a more complete player than Chandler. For an extensive look at New Orleans' upgrade, take a look at John Hollinger's must-read comparison of Okafor and Chandler.

One of the most productive frontcourt tandems in the league and arguably the best point guard on the planet: That's a pretty nice place to start a season, don't you think?

Paul, West, and Okafor might not warrant a "Big Three" designation, but we can agree that they qualify as some sort of troika -- particularly in a scheme that's as dependent on the pick-and-roll as the Hornets offense.

Unfortunately for New Orleans, the NBA game demands that its best teams field a couple of guys on the wing who can create and/or defend -- preferably both -- and this is where the Hornets have depth problems.

As a catch-and-shoot artist, Peja Stojakovic is about as good as we've seen over the past decade, but he's coming off his worst season since the Clinton administration and is increasingly having trouble staying healthy. The Hornets signed James Posey a season ago to play the same role in New Orleans that he did in the Celtics' 2008 championship run -- defensive and 3-point specialist. Posey is good for 25 minutes per night in that capacity, but not dynamic enough to play much more. Morris Peterson was once thought to be a solution on the wing, but injury and age have slowed him. Those three guys -- each born in 1977 -- won't get them the 96 minutes per night they need from the off-guard and small forward.

The Hornets don't need All-Stars at the wings, but they must get solid production. Enter enigmatic, third-year forward Julian Wright.

Whereas the Hornets' aforementioned veterans have trouble doing much more offensively than spot up and shoot, Wright -- on his better nights -- can do everything but shoot. Though he was a menace defensively for the Hornets -- the team was about five points stingier with him on the court -- Wright took a step back last season offensively. The gifts are apparent, but there's still a lot of refinement needed, both mechanically and mentally.

The elasticity of the Hornets' win total isn't all on Wright and the health of the vets. If Summer League is any indication (that's a much longer conversation, isn't it?), New Orleans scored with its selection of guards Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton in the draft. And forward Ike Diogu was a savvy pickup on the cheap, as well.

One summer ago, the Hornets were being sized up as contenders after a spirited playoff run. This summer, much of the discussion surrounding the team has included the phrase "luxury tax threshold." While general manager Jeff Bower was attending to the spreadsheet, it's possible he constructed a team poised to surprise next season.
Is Carlos Boozer the best thing that never happened to the Bulls? Is Brandon Bass redundant in Orlando? And will DeJuan Blair catch on in San Antonio? 

Carlos BoozerMatt McHale of By the Horns: "It's a bad sign when fans start longing for the halcyon days of the Michael Sweetney Era. And it's especially frustrating for Bulls fans, who had to deal with the loss of Ben Gordon while the league's rich got even richer: Boston got Rasheed Wallace, Cleveland got Shaq, L.A. got Ron Artest and San Antonio got Richard Jefferson ... It makes sense that the fans wanted to see a move. Something big, something juicy. But sometimes, staying the course might be the best plan of action. Or inaction, as the case may be. As things stand right now, the Bulls have a solid core of players -- a budding All-Star-in-the-making, a few savvy vets, some developing youngsters -- and enough expiring contracts to make a major move next summer or at the trade deadline. And Chicago will certainly be a much more attractive free agent destination if the Bulls can match last season's success than if they fell apart because [Carlos] Boozer took his usual 30-40 game vacation and our backcourt players broke down from playing too many minutes. Now, if the Jazz wanted to trade Boozer for some loose parts off the Bulls' scrap pile -- Tim Thomas, Jerome James, Anthony Roberson -- then let's get it done. And while we're dreaming, maybe they'll trade us Deron Williams for Brad Miller's expiring contract. But barring some mass hysteria and insanity in Utah, I guess Bulls fans will have to be satisfied with some incremental progress and hope for the future."

Brandon BassZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "The only real issue with signing Brandon Bass is that -- at least technically -- he plays the position where the Magic were the deepest before his arrival. Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson gave the Magic talent and depth at power forward, making it the only position with a legitimate starter and legitimate reserve (I'd count point guard as well, but that's arguable). When a team has eight players under contract, as the Magic did last week, an all-star and a promising rookie at one position feels like an overabundance of wealth. So, at the surface, bringing in another power forward doesn't make a whole lot of sense (especially a 6-foot-7 power forward who's seemingly too small to fill in as the team's primary backup center, even if the statistics say otherwise). But that doesn't mean it was a bad signing. I love the move - like most Magic fans do - especially for the relatively inexpensive price tag. For a 23-year-old who seeps potential and has already played meaningful minutes on an upper-echelon team, $18 million over four years is a great deal. Anytime you can attain a quality player for that kind of value, you do it."

DeJuan BlairGraydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell: "I love watching [DeJuan] Blair work under the boards. He has a mature sense of spacing and soft, accurate hands. His rebounding was particularly notable on the offensive end, where he consistently turned misses by his teammates into open layups and trips to the line (where he went 5-6). As will be the case with during the regular season, Blair was by no means the tallest player on the floor. But he was the only player on either team whose rebounding count reached double digits. Blair's offensive contributions weren't limited to put-backs; he showed promising signs that a well-rounded offensive game may be in his future. On the first play we ran specifically to him, Blair turned and hit a smooth 12-footer. On the next play, he received the ball at almost the exact same spot and used his defenders over-adjustment to take him off the dribble and draw the foul. Blair's mechanics are a little loose, but the origins of a reliable offensive arsenal are there."

THE FINAL WORD
Raptors Republic: Jarrett Jack, stop-gap?
Cowbell Kingdom: The cap and the Kings.
Valley of the Suns: What to expect from the Suns this week in Las Vegas. 

(Photos by Andrew D. Bernstein, Doug Pensinger, Noah Graham, Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Tyreke Evans did a lot of impressive stuff Friday afternoon in his debut as the Sacramento Kings' point guard. On the game's very first possession, he dished the ball off to the weak side, then rumbled to the block where he backed in a smaller, hapless Sean Singletary, who was whistled for a foul.

Tyreke Evans Tyreke Evans: A different kind of point guard.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBA via Getty Images)

The play call wasn't a coincidence. When the Kings had Evans and some of the other top names come in for their point guard workout, they had the prospects play 2-on-2 inside of 15 feet. Evans' dominance that day gave the Kings a glimpse of how they could use a big, strong point guard to bolster a team that got pushed around last season. 

Evans is nothing if not assertive. When matched up against the likes of Singletary -- and even 6-4 Andre Owens -- Evans repeatedly dished the ball off, darted to the post, then waited for entry pass against a helpless defender. 

When Evans wasn't pushing opposing guards around on the block, he was tripping up defenders with his nasty crossover and getting to the rack.

"He can get into the paint whenever he wants," Kings head coach Paul Westphal said. "I like the way he attacks."

Making Evans a point guard has its virtues, because there are worse places for the ball to be on a Kings' offensive possession than in his hands. Evans is an incredible one-on-one player, something he demonstrated repeatedly Friday against the Pistons in both teams' first Summer League game. The rookie finished with 15 points on 4-10 shooting from the field and 7-10 from the stripe. 

As good as Evans was off the dribble for himself, he rarely looked to create for others. Not once did Evans complete a play for a teammate, something that should concern anyone with a vested interest in the Evans experiment at the point. A couple of times he lobbed passes into traffic, but only if his path to the basket was stymied -- and he failed on virtually every one of those attempts. Evans finished with four turnovers, and his only two assists came on simple entry passes into the post. 

"Hey, let us put some offense in before you say he can't do that," Westphal said, when asked if Evans truly had the instincts to run point. "He's just scratching the surface of what he can do. I think once he gets comfortable with the system and his teammates -- and they get comfortable with him -- there will be a lot of things he can do." 

Westphal might have a point, but what kind of system can the Kings run if there's no legitimate playmaker on the floor who can move the ball with confidence? Kevin Martin is an offensive efficiency machine (greater than 60% true shooting percentage each of the past four seasons), but like Evans, he's best as a one-on-one scorer who would benefit greatly from a pure point who knows how to find a scorer.

Look at the Kings' individual assist rates over the past few seasons, and you'll find that, apart from beleagured point guard Beno Udrih, the team's best distributors were Brad Miller and John Salmons. Spencer Hawes might be a high post threat as a shooter, but there's not much evidence that any semblance of an offense could be run through him. Jason Thompson? Andres Nocioni? Anyone? 

It's entirely possible that Evans' uncanny instincts will allow him to find his inner distributor. Maybe he'll develop the sort of skills that aren't showcased in 2-on-2 workouts. That metamorphosis would be a blessing for Sacramento, but it would also compromise some of what makes Tyreke Evans...Tyreke Evans -- the biggest, strongest, most devastating one-on-one guard in this year's draft class.

There were faint rumors that the Kings might get involoved in the Hedo Turkoglu chase, and there probably wasn't a team in more desperate need of Turkoglu's services as a point forward than the Kings. With their fortunes wed to the extremely talented, but self-sufficient, Evans at the point, the Kings might have to get their playmaking from someone else.

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Our initial intention here at TrueHoop was to cue up the ten best moments across all eight series of the first round. When it came time to start taking nominations, the Celtics-Bulls series stood above all the others. We're tempted to call these highlights "indelible moments," but there have been so many ridiculous shots and outrageous exploits, there's no way to remember them all. In case you've forgotten some of them, here's our list of the 10 most dramatic moments of the series thus far, with every hope that Saturday's Game 7 will extend this list even further:  

1. Joakim Noah's steal and one-man break/power slam (Game 6, 3rd Overtime, 0:40)
In a series defined by its frenetic energy, there isn't a guy on the floor more frenetic and more energetic than Noah. It's only fitting that, with the game tied 123-123, Noah punctuated one of the most dramatic games in postseason history with an improbable steal and fast break.

 

2. Paul Pierce's game-winning step-back jumper (Game 5, Overtime, 0:03.4)
There's a reason sportscasters refer to it as pivotal Game 5. Pierce's tie-breaking bucket over John Salmons was the pivotal play of the series' pivotal game.  

 

3. Ray Allen's game-winning three pointer (Game 2, 4th Quarter, 0:02)

Allen has made a career of coming off screens and hitting big shots from beyond the arc. In a game the Celtics had to have, Allen saved the C's with one of his biggest on record.

 

4. Rajon Rondo's foul on Brad Miller (Game 5, Overtime, 0:02)

Trailing 106-104, the Bulls executed a pretty play that got Miller the ball and a clear lane to the basket, only Rondo had other ideas. As Miller elevated for the layup, Rajon took a swipe at Miller's head and got whistled for a non-flagrant foul -- a decision that will be debated for eternity.

(The play appears at the :40 mark of the video)
 
 

5. Derrick Rose's block of Rajon Rondo (Game 6, 3rd Overtime, 0:07)

Noah's steal and coast-to-coast break was the emotional peak of the third overtime Thursday night, but it didn't seal the game for the Bulls. The Celtics had the ball, down one, with a chance to close out the series, but Rose's defensive stand saved the game for Chicago.

 
 
6. Ben Gordon's game-tying three-pointer (Game 4, Overtime, :04.5)
Leading by three with :09 remaining in overtime, the Celtics elected not to foul on the inbounds pass, which leaves an opening for the unconscionable -- and unconscious -- Ben Gordon. 
 


7. Derrick Rose's driving layup & clutch free throws (Game 1, 4th Quarter, Final Minute)

it's easy to forget that the first fireworks of the series were launched by Rose. In his playoff debut, he twice gave the Bulls the lead in the final minute of regulation -- first knifing through the entire Celtics defense for a driving layup, then sinking a pair of free throws with nine seconds left. As Matt McHale of By the Horns said, "Not only was it one of the all-time great rookie playoff debuts, it spurred the Bulls to an improbable and unexpected upset of the defending champion Celtics...and it let the world know this was going to be a series."

(The plays appear at the 1:35 mark of the video)


8. John Salmons' three-pointer to cut five-point lead to two (Game 4, 1st Overtime, 1:47)

For a few fleeting moments in the first overtime of Game 4, it appeared as if the Celtics had finally wrested control of the series from the Bulls, as Boston built a five-point lead with fewer than two minutes remaining. Then John Salmons hit what Celtics Hub's Zach Lowe called the "most overlooked monster shot of the series."

(The play appears at the 1:28 mark of the video)


9. Paul Pierce's game-typing jumper (Game 5, 4th Quarter, 0:10.5)

Pierce was huge in the overtime period, but it took a nifty spin move and a jumper from Pierce over Derrick Rose in the closing seconds of regulation to lift the Celtics to the extra frame, and keep them from facing elimination in Chicago.

(The play appears at the 1:50 mark of the video)



10.Paul Pierce's missed free throw (Game 1, 4th Quarter, 0:02.6)

After getting fouled by Joakim Noah out on the perimeter with the Celtics trailing by one, Paul Pierce stepped to the line with a chance to put Boston on top. Unfortunately for Celtics fans, Pierce, in the words of Celtics Hub's Brian Robb, "brought back the ghosts of Pierce's struggles at the line from Game 4 of 2003 Eastern Conference finals." If Pierce drained both free throws, would the world have been deprived of the most electric first rounds series in NBA history?

(The play appears at the 2:24 mark of the video)

Sadly, the Celtics-Bulls series will end on Saturday night, while the Magic-Philly series was finally put out of its misery. Sleeper classic for Round Two? Try the Nuggets and Mavs.

Joakim NoahMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Think about it. And I mean think about it really hard. I can say with something like 100 percent certainty that you can't remember a closer, more competitive playoff series. In fact, by all objective measures, there hasn't been one. It now has featured a mind-scrambling SEVEN overtime sessions. And yes, that's easily a NBA playoff record. (Celtics-Hawks and Celtics-Nationals are second with four each…and they took place in 1957 and 1953, respectively.) In fact, it's more than any team in NBA history has ever played in an entire postseason. I'm going to have to track down the official numbers later, but there have been more than 100 lead changes and over 60 ties through six games, and I'm pretty sure that has to be a record too. Again, I'll try to research the final word on those stats. But man oh man oh man, this matchup has been nothing short of legen - WAIT FOR IT - dary! Let's just say that if NASA suddenly revealed that it's sending a space shuttle to Mars using a new kind of super-fuel made up entirely of the awesomeness produced by this series, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. And Game 7 is on the way."

Boston CelticsZach Lowe of Celtics Hub: "I am beginning to feel about this series like a drug addict must feel when he's ready to enter serious rehab. It started out as innocent fun, we experienced some unthinkable highs, but now I'm coming down and I'm ready for it to be over. My friends and loved ones would like to see me at some point. For god's sake, the Houston-Portland game was in the third quarter by the time this game ended. I have to start blocking out four hours just to watch these games. Everyone says you should step back and appreciate history while it's happening. That worked through Game 5. I am no longer appreciating history. I just want the series to be over. And it was over. It felt over. I am still not sure what happened. I know it involved Brad Miller, and that Tony Allen was taking pressure shots for some reason. I may have dreamt that last part."

Orlando MagicZach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "Without the suspended Dwight Howard and the injured Courtney Lee, Marcin Gortat (11 points, 15 rebounds) and JJ Redick (15 points, 5-of-7 from deep) played beautifully and almost made Orlando forget about their franchise center and superb rookie. Gortat was the best big man on the floor, a significant step above [Sam] Dalembert, Theo Ratliff and Reggie Evans. Gortat played his role perfectly -- he consistently brought in rebounds, he kept the Sixers from scoring in the paint, and he put in several dunks and easy lay-ups. And Redick's solid fundamentals and sweet stroke were on display, including a 30-footer in the first quarter when the shot clock was winding down. He looked a lot more like Duke JJ than Magic JJ ... Overall, this game gives a decent look into the mind of human beings. It's a lot easier to perform without the pressure of expectations, and it's a lot more difficult to succeed when a lot is expected out of you. The Magic weren't worried that they should be winning, they were just playing. Having fun, running, shooting 3s -- that's when the Magic are at their best."

THE FINAL WORD
Roundball Mining Company: Stellar breakdown of the upcoming Nuggets-Mavericks series.
Hardwood Paroxysm: Atmosphere? Hustle? Upsets? College ball has nothing on BOS-CHI! 
Forum Blue & Gold: How Andrew Bynum is like "Cedric Ceballos on a Jet Ski."


(Photos by Nathaniel S. Butler, Jonathan Daniel, Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The fallout from L'Affaire Rondo continues. Has Joe Johnson officially emerged from his slump? Are we ready to classify Denver as a "defensive juggernaut"? Is Carlos Boozer a good fit in Detroit?

Brad MillerMatt McHale of By the Horns: "The ruling is a rather predictable cop out, considering that the league hates to admit when officials make huge, game-changing mistakes, especially in high-profile playoff games. David Stern would sooner confess to being the Batman than acknowledge that his referees sometimes err, or that those errors might actually swing the results of important games ... Look, I'm not calling for a fine, or a suspension, or for a redo of the final two seconds of Game 5, or even an admission that, had the correct call been made, the game might have ended differently. I just want consistency. I simply want a league that has spent the last few years trying to outlaw blows to the head that can injure or endanger its players to stand by their supposed mission statement and say, 'Oops, we goofed. Won't let it happen again.' That's it. Is that really too much to ask? According to Stu Jackson: Yes. However, you can probably expect closer officiating scrutiny in Game 6. Game 5 was edging close to 'let 'em play' status. I doubt you'll see that tonight."

Joe JohnsonBret LaGree of Hoopinion: "After [Joe] Johnson's 1-6 start from the field to open Game 5, his eFG% was down to 37.5% for the series. From that point forward, Johnson made five of nine shots (one three-pointer included) and went to the line 15 times. He'd attempted 17 free throws through four games of this series. Johnson didn't go to the line 15 times in a game all season. Or last season. Or the season before that. Or ever in his NBA career. So maybe we should hold off on declaring Joe Johnson back until he makes at least half of his shots in a game rather than scoring his points in a thoroughly atypical and likely unrepeatable fashion."

Denver NuggetsJeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company: "We have seen Denver play pressure defense from time to time during the regular season, but never for entire games and never for multiple games in a row. This team has come alive in the playoffs and they are playing defense that I feel confident saying has never been seen in Denver. Maybe someone from the ABA days can correct me, but the exceptional teams of the mid 1980's never locked down like this team has ... So there you have it Nuggets fans.  Denver dominated this series and won easier than even the most optimistic fan thought possible. The Nuggets averaged 24.2 more points per game that the Hornets and I believe have proven themselves a team to be taken seriously for as long as they remain active in the playoffs."

THE FINAL WORD
Orlando Magic Daily: A comprehensive look at the Magic's Howard-less performances.
The Painted Area: Seven to watch in Euroleague Final Four.
Piston Powered: Looking ahead.

(Photos by Elsa, Scott Cunningham, Doug Pensinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

The NBA announced that Dwight Howard has been suspended for Game 6 of the Magic vs. Sixers series, for throwing an elbow that connected with Samuel Dalembert's head.

I feel that's the right call, after the fact, but remain concerned that the rulebook was ignored during the game.

I'm also convinced whatever happens with Rajon Rondo matters. After reading way too much about those fouls to the head (on a day when, let's be honest, every self-respecting blogger should be writing about the Blazers).

It's about coaching strategy. With the game on the line, and an opponent almost sure to score ... should I have my players hit the shooter in the head? The old idea was to wrap them up. But you have to be close and well positioned to do that. The head ... you can get to that from just about anywhere. And it freaks people out! Makes them miss free throws.

And it all comes down to whether or not that is a flagrant. If a blow to the head is a regular foul, then that's the best course of action in some situations. If a blow to the head is a flagrant, however, well then I'd rather my players didn't do that.

  • ESPN's Chris Sheridan says Rondo would only be suspended if his foul on Brad Miller is retroactively deemed to have been a Flagrant 2 (as opposed to the milder 1 category).
  • Sixer GM Ed Stefanski on WIP (via SportsRadioInterviews): "I have no idea what the league will do, but to me the rule is black and white, it's clear. What I saw was clear, I felt an elbow above the shoulders made contact on someone's head and it wasn't part of the play."
  • Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer: "Watching the play live, it looked like a tussle situation, and I was surprised to see Samuel Dalembert 'escape' with no technical foul alongside Dwight's. Watching the replay? Howard should have been thrown out. I know that talented big men are subject to all sorts of dirty tricks and unseen defensive maneuvers over the course of a game, and that Howard may have been fed up. No excuse. Howard could have knocked Dalembert out ... for good. Nobody wants to see the best player on either side thrown out in the opening minutes, but Howard deserved an ejection. And with that in place, the game felt a bit odd from that moment on. As if it shouldn't have counted. I should be above this, in the moment, in a vacuum, not bringing that context into my observations; but Howard's elbow tainted things. Especially as he went off for 24 and 24. Call me what you want for that, I understand that at some point you have to move on (and it's not as if I give a rip which side wins), but it was a strange game to watch with that early play in mind."
  • NBA rulebook: "A player, coach or trainer must be ejected for ... An elbow foul which makes contact above shoulder level."
  • David Stern to Dan Patrick (Insider) after the suspensions of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for leaving the bench during an altercation in the 2007 Western Conference Finals: "One of the things that I've watched over the years is we've tried so hard to squeeze fighting out of our game and potential injury out of our game. ... This is just an attempt to let the game get decided, you know, in a fair way, but subject to rules. And sports is the one place where you know the rules."
  • Commenter MG on the Sixer blog The 700 Level previews how this kind of thing gets handled if the League lets them play: "On the old Pistons or Knick teams, you can bet that Laimbeer/Salley or Oakley would have have hammered Howard on a legit but hard defensive foul on the other end."
  • Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell, by e-mail: "Both Rondo and Howard delivered relatively dangerous blows to the head and a lot of people are saying they should get a one game suspension but, for Howard, I say 'Why not two?' He should have missed the majority of Game 5 anyway. Think back to the 2007 WCF. After Horry hip-checked Steve Nash and caused the scuffle that got Diaw and Stoudemire suspended, Horry received a two game suspension. But Horry's foul was far less dangerous than either of the two fouls Howard or Rondo committed."
  • A poll about whether or not Rajon Rondo's foul was flagrant. 75% of people, at the moment of this writing, don't think Rondo was going for the ball.
  • Matt McHale of the Bulls blog By the Horns: "It's funny. Back in March, Trevor Ariza hit Rudy Fernandez in the head from behind and got treated like some sort of deranged serial killer. But I guess that play was different because Rudy, who was airborne at the moment of contact, got injured, and because Ariza is bigger than Fernandez. In this case, Miller was the big man, and he's certainly not a threat to leave the ground unless launched from a very sturdy catapult. Oh, and the Ariza-Fernandez incident occurred during the regular season, whereas this is the postseason, which made Rondo's mugging of Miller just a good, hard playoff foul, right? Suuuuuure. And I'm sure that seeing double at the line didn't affect Miller's free throw shooting, either."
  • Another little video look at the Rondo play in question. What's your best guess as to the distance between Rajon Rondo's body, and the ball, at the time he starts his swing? Five feet? Six feet? He's a professional athlete, a master of spacial movement. Unless he thinks he has a five-foot long arm, that's not a play on the ball.
  • Jeremy from Roundball Mining Company: "You can get away with throwing an elbow if you whiff, (J.R. Smith did earlier this season when he threw a short jab elbow at Antoine Wright which sent Mark Cuban into a hissy fit) but if you make contact the NBA will probably take action. If they do nothing to Howard look for Phoenix fans to go nuts once again after they were so strict in the case of the Amare/Diaw leaving the bench rule. The real question is why doesn't anyone care that Chris Paul has thrown an elbow at Dahntay Jones and a punch at Chris Andersen?"
  • Writer Sherman Alexie, via e-mail: "Brad Miller is complaining about dirty play? Ha!"
  • Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog wonders if we don't have more important things to talk about: "Maybe it's the Clipper blogger in me, but I've always taken for granted that bad -- even fatal -- fortune will bestow itself on certain teams in certain situations. This reality is unsa
    tisfying, but life presents certain inconveniences, and few of them are intentional. It's irrational to believe that every missed call is a conspiratorial stunt aimed against your team. Even worse, debating the governance of the game sort of defeats the point of basketball which, for me, has always been that it's a refuge from ... well ... debating the governance of life."
  • UPDATE: Before word of the suspension, Dwight Howard blogged about the incident: "I sure hope there isn't a suspension after what happened between me and Sam Dalembert in the first quarter of Tuesday's game. It isn't like I'm out there trying to hurt anybody. I think everybody knows how I play basketball. I'm just out there trying to win. That's got to be taken into consideration. I think when the league looks at the total picture of what's happened throughout this series that they will understand it's a physical game down in the paint. Really, it's been a dogfight down there the whole series. All I can do now is hope for the best, but I think it will be all good. Philly big man Reggie Evans even came up to me at the end of the game and said he was going to ask his G.M. to not go to the league about trying to get me suspended. I appreciate that from Reggie. Hopefully it will all work out for the best and I'll be out there ballin' for Game 6 on Thursday in Philly."
  • UPDATE: Good bunch of quotes from the Sixers.

The acquisitions of John Salmons and Brad Miller have the Bulls poised for a #7 seed. Phil Jackson is looking toward the playoffs with a shorter bench rotation. Is the Suns' dismal record on Turner Network Television going to cost them a postseason berth?

John SalmonsMatt McHale of By the Horns: "The deal that brought Brad Miller and John Salmons to Chicago was considered by some to be a surrender trade, a sign that Pax had failed in his efforts to bring in a star to play alongside Derrick Rose. That coulda-been player was, supposedly, Amar'e Stoudemire ... Even worse, some people felt that Paxson got fleeced into taking on Brad Miller's hefty contract.

Well, Miller has been better than expected. He's a starting center playing backup, which gives the Bulls depth and versatility up front, something they haven't had in years. And Salmons, well, he's been fantastic, particularly since Luol Deng went down with that stress fracture. During March, he's averaged nearly 22 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond he arc ... Salmons provides a dimension that Bulls have sorely lacked: A player who can create his own shot and consistently get to the basket. That opens things up for everybody else. Oh, and he's a pretty good defender, too."

Los Angeles LakersKurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold: "One quick thought on the sad bench performance in the second quarter last night - it forced Phil Jackson to use a more playoff-like rotation in the fourth quarter. [Pau] Gasol and [Lamar] Odom stayed out with [Jordan] Farmar, [Luke] Walton and Sasha [Vujacic] at the start. Then almost as fast as DJ [Mbenga] came in for Gasol, Kobe [Bryant] returned for Odom. A couple more minutes and the entire group of starters were back on the floor, until the game was very well in hand.
Andrew Bynum could change some of that."

THE FINAL WORD
Daily Thunder: Is Russell Westbrook really the Thunder's point guard of the future?
Valley of the Suns: Phoenix is 0-10 on TNT this season.
Celtics Hub: The five teams C's fans love to hate. 

(Photos by Ned Dishman, David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)

Was the Celtics' loss in Chicago meaningless?  Was the Cavs' win over Orlando at the Q a pyrrhic victory?  Sort out the mixed signals atop the Eastern Conference standings at the TrueHoop Network: 

Boston CelticsZach Lowe of Celtics Hub: "Here's something that tells you all you need to know about this game, a loss ... in which the C's gave up a season-high 127 points to a mediocre team: When the Celtics absolutely had to get one rebound–when they were down 122-119 with 33 seconds left and Derrick Rose missed a jumper–Eddie House was left to box out Brad Miller.

... It is here that I could ask why Doc Rivers had taken Kendrick Perkins out of the game for this possession, leaving a super-small line-up of House-Pierce-Allen-Marbury-Rondo to get the essential stop. I could lament that the C's missed an opportunity to move a game ahead Orlando for the 'all-important' second seed. And I could criticize a truly bad defensive performance, full of slow rotations, missed assignments and poor decisions (hi, Mikki).

But, really, the line-up that was on the court at the end of the game (and for most of the fourth quarter) shows how meaningless this game is in the long run. It was fun to watch precisely because it was so gimmicky. If the Celtics go on to win the title this year, this game will merit one paragraph in the Globe and/or Herald quickie book chronicling the season–and only then to note Leon Powe's knee injury (update forthcoming). It is a game we will have long forgotten come the playoffs."

LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog:"LeBron James is more messianic than you are.  Not only did he completely dominate this game, but he did it against a defense that was well set up and ready to take away his bread and butter from him. The jumper was absolutely in full effect, and this is as good as you're going to see the inside/out game working from LeBron James ...

[I]n the final moments, he was more than a little clutch. That three in front of the Magic bench? I mean, what can I say? He was absolutely feeling it, if he misses we likely as not lose, and the degree of difficulty was through the roof. Absolutely amazing. And sealing it with a savvy pump-fake and foul draw and two clutch free throws instead of getting caught up in the moment and trying a fadeaway dagger? Fantastic ... This is maybe the most talented player ever to pick up a basketball on an absolute mission. Enjoy every game...

This is pretty much the game to show why Howard isn't quite on that MVP level yet (as I see it, tier one is LeBron, Kobe, CP3, and Wade) -- he was dominant defensively and pulling in rebounds, but after looking like a bona fide offensive force the last time we saw him and the last game he played, he was almost invisible on that end tonight, showing some nice hooks and even passes out of double-teams but ultimately only getting 13 points on 8 shots.

A lot of that isn't his fault -- this team loves the three-ball, and doesn't play as disciplined as it should. This is where going from a Jameer to a Skip really hurts you, even if Skip's drilling his shots."

THE FINAL WORD
Roundball Mining Company: Are the Nuggets officially out of their funk?
Hoopinion: Sympathy to Kevin Martin.
By the Horns: A win is a win is a win.
 

(Photos by Gary Dineen, David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Shootaround

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
12:32
PM ET

Chicago and New York were big players at the deadline.  The Spurs and Suns were non-players.  Who got played?  Read the tea leaves at the TrueHoop Network.

Brad MillerMatt McHale of By the Horns: "Are the Bulls a better team today? Yes.

Look, Rome wasn't built in a day. In fact, that McDonald's down the street? It wasn't built in a day, either. This wasn't a dramatic 'Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to the Celtics' uber-makeover. (And how often do those even happen – let alone work out - anyway?) No, we didn't bring in a superstar. Or even a regular star, for that matter. What John Paxson did was address a few of the team's glaring needs while clearing future cap space for a strong run at a bona fide superduperstar in the [insert dramatic music here] Summer of 2010. That's win-win, right?

We needed more size up front, some interior defense and a center who can score. We got all that. Miller is hardly a defensive wiz, but he's at least got the bulk and veteran wiles to body up to opposing big men. He's not much of a post player, but he can shoot and pass as well as or better than most centers. And he seems genuinely psyched up about returning for a second stint with the Bulls...Miller's not a long-term answer. But he's a decent stop-gap. Especially if he's motivated, and it seems like he is."

Allen Iverson

Dan Feldman of Piston Powered: "Pistons president Joe Dumars did Chauncey Billups the favor of sending him home to Denver, and Iverson was the only Nugget who had a big enough expiring contract to make the deal work?

Well, Detroit has Iverson, and last night's game showed the upside of the move - at least until Dumars can parlay Iverson's expiring contract into somebody more valuable.

The game was the type of slow-paced, grind-it-out contest you see in the playoffs. And how many times have the Pistons lost a playoff game because they didn't have a player who could create his own shot?

From 1:30 left in the third quarter until the end of the game, Iverson scored 16 points. None of his baskets in that stretch were assisted.

Iverson, who finished with 31 points and seven assists, drove for layups, found pull-up jumpers and got to the free throw line. He didn't look 25. But he definitely didn't look all of 33, which he has for most of the season.

So even though Detroit lost to the Spurs, one the NBA's top teams, Iverson performance tonight is encouraging for the Pistons in playoff games.

That is, if they make the playoffs."

Mike D'AntoniMike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "As for the Knicks' other deal, it's not necessarily who they got that makes them better. Larry Hughes is an aging slasher/defender who perhaps was never a great defender despite his reputation. Kevin Broom and I used to discuss Hughes' defense, and Broom thought that Hughes' gambles on the defensive end hurt the team. As for the slasher aspect, Hughes averaged 6.9 FT/36 in 2005 and that number has decreased in every full year since (5.4 in 2006, 4.3 in 2007, 3.4 in 2008). That means he's either not able or not willing to get to the hole more, which would explain his tumbling shooting numbers. This year has been a small rebound year for Hughes, as his TS% has increased nearly 60 points from last year (TS% 52.5%) But at this point it's possible due to the small sample size instead of a real improvement.

What's more important about the Bulls trade is that the Knicks unloaded three players for one. [T]he team has been playing shorthanded nearly the entire year. With two new roster spots freed, the Knicks can grab two players from the D-League to fit specific roles (shot blocker?, point guard?) that the team needs.

In both of these deals New York has given up only one player who was in their rotation: Tim Thomas. The Knicks will be able to replace his role on the team with two players. The first is Wilcox who will give New York a big body to defend the post. The second is Gallinari who will provide scoring from the perimeter. Giving the rookie more playing time is the icing on the cake for the Knicks."

THE FINAL WORD
48 Minutes of Hell: Did the Spurs blow an opportunity?
Roundball Mining Company: How about Denver?
Valley of the Suns: Did Phoenix do well by doing nothing?

(Photos by Jonathan Daniel, Joe Murphy, Mike Stobe/NBAE via Getty Images)

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