1. Latest Rumblings From Around The League
Here are some fresh dribbles of chatter from the NBA grapevine as collected in arenas, on the phone and via electronic transmissions of all kinds from various team officials, players, coaches and well-placed league insiders:
After spending some quality time with the Warriors during their swing through Texas this week, I am quite sure they're not shopping guard Monta Ellis.
Things always can change fast -- again -- but Ellis has been simply too good since Stephen Jackson's departure for the Warriors to think about trying to move him now.
Skeptics will note that the 79 points rung up by Ellis in a back-to-back road split against Dallas and San Antonio came with coach Don Nelson away from the team because of a bout with pneumonia. Yet Ellis also had 34 points, eight assists and six steals in Nelson's final game before taking leave, leading Golden State to a home rout of Portland with his paint penetration, relentless motion and some uncharacteristically sticky defense against Brandon Roy.
A couple of league insiders called recently asking whether we could offer any backing to rumblings that the Sixers and Warriors were discussing some sort of Elton Brand-for-Ellis swap. We checked and found that there is no credence.
It appears that Jackson's exit, even though he was tighter with Ellis than anyone else on the team, has liberated his little buddy both on the floor and in the locker room. That doesn't mean all of Ellis' well-chronicled clashing with Nelson will be instantly erased when Nellie makes his expected return to the bench next week. The Warriors are nonetheless cautiously optimistic for the first time all season that they can sustain some harmony after seeing the impact of Ellis' increasingly vocal leadership.
Despite being decimated by injuries, Golden State has been right there in road losses to Boston and Cleveland as well as for much of Wednesday's loss in San Antonio after using just six players in the previous night's win at Dallas. When the Warriors followed their victory over Portland by stunning the Mavs, Ellis spoke of how the team is "having fun again" and reveling in a "whole different vibe we have right now."
Is that because Jackson and Nelson were absent? Ellis wouldn't go there.
"Everybody's having fun," Ellis said. "Everybody's energetic, everybody's going through practice alive. That's what I mean by a different vibe. Everybody's moving the ball, everybody's sharing the ball, everybody's playing together.
"When I see myself being more vocal and I see the response that we get, I know that's what we need."
The other pressing question circulating in Oakland, especially after the Warriors' spirited response to interim coach Keith Smart with only six suited-up players in Dallas: Could Nelson's illness be the precursor to his departure from the bench?
Not unless Nelson, 69, is prepared to walk away from some serious money.
Nelson is scheduled to earn $6 million this season and $6 million next season. But his contract, as I understand it, includes provisions that would reduce those amounts significantly if health reasons preclude him from coaching.
The same principle applies to any suggestion that Nelson might ask to move into a consultant's role and let Smart take over. Health issues indeed led to Nelson's abrupt departure from the Dallas bench late in the 2004-05 season, but the Warriors won't pay Nelson $6 million annually to consult. And Nelson wants to collect every cent on his contract, if history is any guide, as much as he wants the 19 wins he needs to pass Lenny Wilkens for the most regular-season coaching victories in league history.
So look for Nelson to coach through the end of this season at the very least, unless his doctors forbid it or his bosses initiate a coaching change. The distinct vibe I get from team officials is that we should expect to see neither of those scenarios any time soon.
It's thus incumbent on Nelson and Ellis to get past their recent head-butting. Of equal interest, as always, is Nelson's coexistence with young forward Anthony Randolph, who would appear to have an opportunity to seize more of a prominent role with Jackson in Charlotte, assuming Nelson is open to it.
"We've buried that," Ellis insisted when asked about the negativity that smothered the Warriors for the season's first six weeks.
Has the worst passed for Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy?
You can never tell with Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
In a rare interview with the Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers this week, Sterling said that Dunleavy "deserves the chance to win with healthy players" but also insisted that "how much we're paying him is no consideration" if he decides he wants to make an immediate change. The prevailing leaguewide wisdom held that the fact that Dunleavy is due to make $5 million next season as well as this season would save him no matter what, but Sterling claims that the ability to pay out a fired coach over a five-to-15-year period renders the issue immaterial.
The best info we have, as conveyed by one source close to the situation, is that Sterling issued a win-or-else ultimatum before the Clippers' home date with Minnesota on Nov. 2 after an 0-4 start. Whether Sterling actually would have gone through with a firing so early had the Clippers lost that game we'll probably never know now because L.A. managed to pull out a 93-90 victory with a lineup pretty close to full strength.
The Clips lost three straight home games in distressing fashion shortly thereafter to New Orleans (before Byron Scott was ousted), Oklahoma City and Toronto (blowing a 22-point lead), raising the volume on the rising fan discontent in Clipperland. But a big home win over Denver on Friday on ESPN, after beating the Thunder on Oklahoma City's floor, would appear to have eased some pressure on Dunleavy.
We've said before that one of the NBA's great myths is the concept of players filing "retirement papers."
It seems appropriate, no matter how quickly you might have dismissed Allen Iverson's retirement announcement on Thanksgiving eve, to review why it's a mostly mythical concept.
League rules dictate that retirement papers are only required in cases where a player is under contract, wants to stop playing and his team doesn't want to let him out of the contract. The most recent example is Orlando's Jason Williams, who had to file papers and sit out an entire season after signing with the Los Angeles Clippers in August 2008 and then abruptly changing his mind some six weeks later to spend more time with his family without ever playing for the Clips.
The league forces players to sit out a full season in such cases to prevent them from backing out of a signed contract to immediately join another team. Williams actually applied for immediate reinstatement last February, but NBA bylaws state that players wishing to return from the official Voluntarily Retired List need unanimous approval from all 30 teams to avoid or shorten the one-year mandatory waiting period. Williams' reinstatement was vetoed by six teams: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Minnesota, San Antonio and the Clippers themselves.
Iverson, by contrast, is a free agent after completing a buyout with the Grizzlies for slightly less than $440,000 of the $3.1 million he signed for in Memphis. So Iverson, like any other vet without an active contract, is not required to send any sort of notification to the league, whether or not he intends to play another NBA game again.
Brandon Jennings enters his first ESPN game as a pro Friday night at Oklahoma City in the midst of his first rookie blip. He missed 26 of 36 shots from the field in the past two games, both road losses (to San Antonio and New Orleans) after Milwaukee's 8-3 Cinderella start.
But being tracked that closely by pests like me is unavoidable for Jennings after his recent 55-point detonation against Golden State. In addition to proving he can handle the physical grind of the five months ahead, as well as the more sophisticated defenses he'll surely see as teams lock on to him, Jennings will be scrutinized on every jumper from here.
That's what happens when you amass 252 points and 59 assists in your first 10 games in the NBA. The only other player in league history to reach those totals in his first 10 games was the legendary Oscar Robertson, who rung up 255 points and 92 assists in the same span as a rookie.
"I think all the hype has been a little bit too much," Jennings said in a recent phone conversation. "It's still early. We haven't even played half the season. But I'm enjoying this. I'm just enjoying being able to play like this."
How could he not? Before his first cold spell, Jennings was averaging better than 25 points per game something only eight rookies in history have managed for a full season. Seven of those rookies are in the Hall of Fame, including the last rookie to do it: Michael Jordan in 1984-85.
Yet the only definitive declaration Jennings is prepared to make about his young career is that he's totally over his roller-coaster experience on draft night, when agent Bill Duffy decided just hours before the draft to pull him out of the green room where draftees wait before they're selected because no lottery team -- not even Milwaukee -- would commit to taking the little lefty. Jennings then unexpectedly returned to the draft stage at Madison Square Garden's adjoining theater from a nearby hotel to get his Bucks hat and handshake from NBA commissioner David Stern.
"I actually thought it was pretty cool," Jennings insists. "No one's ever done that before. I guess you could say [it's a] first.
"The draft night thing was over that night. Once I got picked, all the stress I had went away."
2. D-League Preview
Here's our annual flurry of factoids to get you ready for the ninth season of the NBA Development League, which had 63 alumni on NBA opening night rosters. The D-League's 16 teams tip off their 50-game schedules Friday night.
The four teams operated by NBA franchises: Austin Toros (Spurs), Los Angeles D-Fenders (Lakers), Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Rockets) and Tulsa 66ers (Thunder).
The Toros, D-Fenders and 66ers are fully owned by their parent clubs, but Houston's affiliation with Rio Grande is the first example of the NBA's new "hybrid" model. The hybrid option enables NBA franchises -- for a three-year commitment that costs up to $1.5 million -- to fully control the basketball-operations side of a D-League team while leaving the business side to the minor league team's original owners.
The Rockets inaugurated their new hybrid affiliation with Rio Grande by holding this season's training camp at the Vipers' home in McAllen, Texas. Houston also played the Boston Celtics in a preseason exhibition game there.
The player you'll recognize most:Robert Swift will play for his hometown Bakersfield Jam after multiple knee injuries with Seattle/Oklahoma City left the famously (infamously?) tattooed 7-footer without an NBA team. Swift, who turns 24 next week, was taken No. 12 overall in the 2004 draft by the Sonics.
The history-making rookie: Brandon Jennings (Italy) and Jeremy Tyler (Israel) went overseas straight from high school to study for the NBA, but Tulsa's Latavious Williams is the first high schooler to go straight to the D-League after being selected with the last pick of the D-League draft's first round (No. 16 overall) on Nov. 5.
Williams ultimately was persuaded to start his pro journey on U.S. soil as opposed to going abroad, undoubtedly helped by the knowledge that 20 percent of NBA players at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season had D-League experience, something no other pro league in the world can claim. The 6-foot-8 forward will be eligible for the 2010 NBA draft.
The first call-up: It already happened. Chris Hunter of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants was summoned out of training camp by the Golden State Warriors last week after an All-Star season in the D-League in 2008-09 that was punctuated by a call-up to the New York Knicks on the final day of the regular season.
The Knicks, though, didn't play the 6-11, 240-pound big man in April's finale. Hunter had to wait until his first game as a Warrior for his NBA breakthrough, totaling four points and three rebounds in 14 minutes of Golden State's recent home upset of Portland.
After being granted a hardship waiver to temporarily carry 16 players (one more than the league limit) because it has so many injuries, Golden State chose Hunter on the recommendation of Warriors assistant coach Scott Roth, who served as Bakersfield's coach last season.
The coaching carousel: Austin Ainge, son of Celtics personnel boss Danny Ainge, is the first coach of the Celts' D-league affiliate in Maine, assisted by longtime NBA guard Randy Livingston. Ex-Celtics guard Dee Brown, meanwhile, is the first coach of the expansion Springfield Armor.
Another former NBA player -- Chucky Brown -- has been elevated by the Lakers from assistant to head coach of the D-Fenders. And Austin's Quin Snyder, whom you surely remember from his college coaching days at Missouri, has been joined this season in Texas by Rio Grande's Chris Finch, who doubles as Luol Deng's coach with Great Britain's national team.
Roth, Bryan Gates (former coach of the Idaho Stampede) and Robert Pack (an assistant with Rio Grande last season after retiring as a player) all moved to the NBA as assistant coaches this season with Golden State, Sacramento and New Orleans, respectively.
The future: Nancy Lieberman will debut as the D-League's first female coach next season when an expansion franchise begins play in Frisco, Texas, co-owned by Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
The compensation: D-League players are placed in one of three classifications (A, B or C) based on experience and earn salaries of $25,500, $19,000 or $13,000. Swift, for example, is at the $25,500 mark after making (gulp) $3.6 million with the Thunder last season.
Daily per diem on road trips has been increased from $30 to $40 this season, compared to $113 in the NBA. The D-League also provides housing and medical care to players to offset the comparatively low salaries in relation to what foreign teams pay.
The buyout rules: Foreign teams that wish to extricate D-League players from their current contracts must pay between $15,000 and $45,000 depending on the player's salary.
The All-Star Game: It will again be staged in conjunction with the NBA's All-Star Weekend, starting with a Friday night skills competition and the actual game Saturday afternoon at the Dallas Convention Center in Dallas.
League sources say one idea for the All-Star Game still under consideration would pit D-Leaguers on assignment from NBA against D-League stars with no NBA affiliation.
The NBA D-League Showcase: All 16 teams will convene in Boise, Idaho, from Jan. 4-7 for a total of 16 games in four days, all of which will be televised on NBA TV. Each D-League team will play two games at the showcase in addition to its 24 home games and 24 road games, with executives and scouts from all 30 NBA teams in attendance.
The playoff format: The D-League is bringing back the innovative system introduced last season that enables the East and West division winners and a third team with the next-best record to choose their first-round opponents from the bottom four seeds.
Eight of the D-League's 16 teams qualify for the playoffs, with the first round expanded this season from a one-game showdown to a best-of-three series.
The two division winners and the next six best teams based on record qualify for the playoffs.
(We wrote extensively about this format in the spring because NBA commissioner David Stern said at the time that it would be studied for possible down-the-road implementation in the NBA which would be as radical as anything the NBA has ever tried but most welcomed here.)
The favorite to win it all: There isn't one. Conventional D-League wisdom holds that every team will spend some time during the season in the top five and the bottom five of the mythical D-League power rankings because rosters are always changing.
The only negative on this scorecard (because we've always been minor league junkies at Stein Line HQ): No Cal State Fullerton alumni on D-League rosters at the minute. Hopefully that's temporary.
3. Marc's Quote
"Kaman might be as close to ambidextrous as we've got in this league. It's more normal for smaller guys to be good with both hands. For big guys, it's rare."
Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, when asked to choose between two of his closest friends in the league -- Chris Kaman of the Clippers and Suns guard Steve Nash -- for the mythical title of Most Ambidextrous Player in the NBA.
The subject came up as a postscript to the All-Lefty Team unveiled in last week's Weekend Dime. We received some interesting responses from readers, friends and folks around the league, including requests to (A) name Phil Jackson as coach of the lefties, (B) remind folks that Dwight Howard was a natural lefty as a youngster until an injury forced him to switch hands and (C) select President Obama as an honorary member of the squad because he's surely the most famous lefty baller in the world.
There were also calls for Kaman and Nash to be added because both are such standout two-handed players, but our best compromise was trying to pinpoint the game's No. 1 ambidextrous player. Having played with Nash in Dallas and Kaman on the German national team, Nowitzki was naturally called in to break the tie although New York's David Lee deserves an All-Ambidextrous mention as well.
P.S. -- We deeply, deeply regret that Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was omitted from our original All-Lefty list. As explained last week, there is no official NBA list in circulation because "handedness" is not something the league records like they do in baseball or hockey, so our compiling was done from scratch in consultation with all the teams. Fixing our error and adding Jordan now brings us to 31 lefties in a 431-player league as of Friday morning, which computes to 7.2 percent of the NBA population.
P.P.S. -- We pass this along in the interest of being as thorough as possible: Nash actually makes you think he's left-footed on a soccer field because he uses that leg for passing and dribbling even more than he uses his left hand on the basketball floor.
4. Eastern Conference
Sources with knowledge of the team's thinking told ESPN.com on Friday that they'd prefer to give more minutes to rookie guard Jrue Holiday than to bring back Iverson, refusing to let Philly's well-chronicled struggles at the gate -- and Iverson's theoretical ability to bring some fans back -- detract from Holiday's development.
The only solace for Iverson's devotees in Philly is that there would be no grave short-term financial impediment for the Sixers in the unlikely event that general manager Ed Stefanski and coach Eddie Jordan -- neither of whom was there when Iverson was dealt to Denver early in the 2006-07 season -- change their minds and decide they want to give this a try.
The Sixers awoke Friday some $6.6 million under this season's luxury-tax threshold, so even signing Iverson to the full midlevel exception of $5.9 million (which obviously would never happen) wouldn't push them into luxury-tax territory. The real tax scare for the Sixers will come next season.
Just thinking out loud as we scour the East: Shouldn't Chicago at least be looking into Iverson? Ben Gordon's scoring has been sorely missed, John Salmons hasn't been able to recapture last season's second-half mojo and the Bulls, although very close to the luxury-tax line, have two open roster spots and would not go over the tax line if they signed Iverson to a prorated veteran minimum deal. We repeat: Just thinking out loud.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
58.2: The Sixers' average home attendance of 11,820 means that they're filling the Wachovia Center to only 58.2 percent of capacity, which is the worst percentage in the league. Memphis' per-game average attendance is lower, at 11,387, but that figure represents 62.8 percent of capacity at FedExForum.
8: The Sixers expect to be without Williams for eight weeks after he underwent surgery on Thanksgiving morning to wire his jaw shut in the wake of the injury he suffered in Tuesday's loss at Washington. Anyone know an available scoring guard who might be able to supply some offense in Williams' absence and sell a ticket or two in Philly?
13: Orlando's Anthony Johnson had scored only 13 points all season before his 15-point second half in the Magic's 93-76 victory at Atlanta on Thanksgiving night.
35: Charlotte's 116-81 victory Wednesday over Toronto was the most lopsided win in franchise history, with the 35-point victory margin topping the offensively challenged Bobcats' previous best of 32 achieved in a home victory over Indiana in November 2005.
7: The Nets are the seventh team in NBA history to start a season 0-15.
We continue with a longer look at where the longest losing streak of the decade to start a season places New Jersey in historical terms, with the Nets openly praying they can finally halt their drought -- and ensure they avoid making history -- by winning Friday night at Sacramento.
You'll note that two of the teams on this list (Miami in 1988-89 and Cleveland in 1970-71) are expansion teams. Philadelphia's 1972-73 squad, furthermore, went on to record the worst regular-season record (9-73) that the NBA has ever seen.
The Clippers' 0-17 start occurred during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. (Unrelated fact about the Clippers' 0-16 start in 1994-95: I was a press-row witness for all of those losses in my first full NBA season as a beat writer.)
Worst Starts In NBA History
PS -- Perhaps we've stumbled upon a ray of hope for the Nets: Elias reports that three teams have halted losing streaks of 15 games or longer against Sacramento in the last 15 or so years. Dallas did it twice within a span of 10 weeks in 1994 (ending streaks of 16 and 17 consecutive losses, respectively) and the Los Angeles Clippers finally broke out of an 0-17 start in the lockout-shortened 1999 season with a home win over the Kings.
5. Good To Be A King
6. One-on-One To Five
Five questions with Kings rookie guard Tyreke Evans:
Marc Stein: Does it bother you that people already seem ready to give rookie of the year to Brandon Jennings right now?
Tyreke Evans: He's playin' great. A lot of people doubted him because he went overseas to play, but I knew from the beginning that he was good. I played against him a lot in AAU. He's quick, he's knockin' down his shot and he can pass the ball.
But I don't really get caught up in it. I just go out there on the floor and try to play my game.
Stein: I know [Kings assistant] Pete Carril has been working with you a lot on your shot, but how do you see your first month?
Evans: I came in and got a good understanding of the NBA. Not all the way like I should, but I know how to go out there and let the game come to me and not rush my shot. I'm getting the hang of things.
Stein: Are you mad that you played your college ball in Memphis and the Grizzlies didn't draft you?
Evans: I'm not mad. Not at all. I was blessed wherever I went. If they would have picked me, I would have [gladly] went there, but I was just hoping I got picked [in the] top five.
Stein: On draft night, where did you expect to go?
Evans: I thought it would be either Sacramento or Milwaukee. Sacramento picked me, and I'm happy where I'm at.
Stein: Jason Kidd has always been considered a big guard, but I have to say that you looked huge next to him.
Evans: That's what a lot of people say. Family members call me and say you look like a running back out there. A fullback.
7. Film Session
8.All Things Iverson
I don't think Allen Iverson is finished with the NBA. I'm guessing you don't, either.
You have to at least account for the possibility that there won't be a comeback from "The Answer" -- no matter how cynical you are -- and treat that possibility with the requisite respect for someone who has achieved as much as A.I.
So we've assembled this statistical rewind through Iverson's 14 seasons, which charts how prolific he was at his peak but also how far away from his norm last season and this season were:
• 1996-97 NBA Rookie of the Year
• 10-time All-Star
• 2000-01 NBA MVP
• 2001 and 2005 All-Star Game MVP
• Four-time NBA scoring champion
• One of only three players in NBA history (with Michael Jordan and Jerry West) to average at least 25 points, five assists and two steals per game
MOST CAREER POINTS BY PLAYERS
LISTED 6 FEET OR SHORTER
HIGHEST CAREER PPG NBA HISTORY
Michael Jordan, 30.12
Wilt Chamberlain, 30.07
LeBron James, 27.6
Elgin Baylor, 27.4
Jerry West, 27.03
Allen Iverson, 27.02
THE ANSWER'S DECLINE
(PPG past five seasons)
2005-06: 33.0 (last full season with Philly)
2006-07: 26.3 (15 games with PHI, 50 with DEN)
2007-08: 26.4 (82 games with Nuggets)
2008-09: 17.5 (3 games with DEN, 54 with DET)
2009-10: 12.3 (3 games with Grizzlies)
If Iverson makes it into the Basketball Hall and indeed never plays again in the NBA, he'll join Walt Bellamy (one game with New Orleans in 1974-75) and Walt Frazier (three games with Cleveland in 1979-80) as the only Hall of Famers from the NBA to play in three games or fewer in their final season. Iverson averaged 12.3 points and 3.7 assists in 22.3 minutes per game for the Griz after missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury.
9. Western Conference
Some numbers of note from the West this week:
4: Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant became just the fourth player in league history, joining LeBron James (twice), Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan, to score at least 400 points during the first 15 games of a season at age 21 or younger.
23: San Antonio's 23 consecutive home victories over Golden State account for the longest home winning streak for any team against one particular opponent in the four major North American team sports. It's the longest such streak in the NBA since the Lakers won 26 consecutive home games against Dallas from 1991 through 2003. The Warriors' last victory in Golden State came on Valentine's Day in 1997, late in a season when San Antonio went 20-62 without the injured David Robinson before winning the draft lottery in May 1997 and the right to draft Tim Duncan.
130: Dallas' 130 points scored in Houston on Wednesday night were the most allowed by the Rockets in a game that ended in regulation since they surrendered 133 points to the Atlanta Hawks back on Dec. 3, 1993.
34: Marcus Camby's 15 points and 20 boards in Wednesday's loss to Indiana marked the 34th 20-rebound game of his career, placing Camby fourth among active players behind Ben Wallace (41), Kevin Garnett (36) and Shaquille O'Neal (35). Orlando's Dwight Howard is fifth with 32.
1: When it played New Jersey and Minnesota back-to-back earlier this week, Denver experienced an NBA first, according to our trusty friends at Elias Sports Bureau. Never before had a team played consecutive games against opponents that were both on a losing streak of at least 13 games.
10. Ellis Island
Would the Dubs trade Monta Ellis even after the fourth-year guard racked up 113 points in the Warriors' past three games? (See Box 1.)