1. What The Scouts Are Saying
Twenty-ish games to go until the regular season gives way to the real season.
With teams generally right at or just a touch beyond the 60-game mark on their 82-game schedules entering the weekend, we're down to those 20-ish games and one last round of trusty takes from advance scouts who've again consented to provide some courtside insights into a handful of pertinent topics from around the league.
The following observations come from five scouts surveyed by ESPN.com this week, all of whom were granted anonymity so they could speak as candidly as possible about what they see while traveling to and then charting three to four games weekly to record every play their rivals run.
Western Conference scout on the Thunder's ongoing evolution:
"I really want to not like them because they play so much isolation basketball, but the bottom line is that they've consistently shown that they have two guys who can win you the game at the end. [Russell] Westbrook seems to have always had that confidence. [Kevin] Durant seems to be growing by leaps and bounds every week. It's scary to say, but this is an improving team.
"I don't want to compare them to the Michael Jordan Bulls, but there's a little something that reminds you of how [Chicago] got slapped around by the Pistons until they grew up and were ready to beat them. The Thunder is getting a dose of that now. All the playoff wars this team has already been through is giving them a real veteran feel.
"They've got some issues sometimes on offense that everybody knows about, but I think Scotty Brooks emphasizes the right things. You can't harp on these guys on every little thing. You gotta pick your battles, and he's consistent in what he's preaching when it comes to defensive effort."
Western Conference scout on Charles Barkley's contention that the Thunder won't be able to beat the Heat in a potential Finals rematch because they don't score enough inside to punish Miami's lack of size:
"That has merit. I don't listen to those guys a lot, but I agree with a lot of what Barkley says when I do hear him. He's a very traditional basketball thinker.
"But I just think Durant and Westbrook have defied the odds. I've watched them close out so many games. I think they can compensate [for a lack of inside scoring] with the way Durant and Westbrook turn defense into offense.
"It's a nontraditional approach, but the Miami Heat do the same thing in terms of makeup and their approach to the game. Is there really any difference between Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka making their living offensively by shooting jump shots? The Heat have proven that you can win like that in today's NBA. Neither of them have the inside game that Barkley talks about, but both of those teams have coaches that demand consistent defensive effort. And more often than not, [both teams] are delivering that kind of effort.
"The problem OKC runs into is that there's no one in the Western Conference on the perimeter who can handle Durant, but then in the Finals he comes up against LeBron. Durant's used to having his way, but then all of a sudden he meets LeBron and there's resistance. He's met his match on all these isos.
"Miami is the only team OKC plays where Westbrook and Durant will [face] a duo that's more athletic than they are or has more juice than they do. But let me tell you something: Westbrook, erratic as he can be at times, is closing the gap on Wade. That could start to tip the scales a little bit."
Eastern Conference scout on whether anyone in the conference has a chance at upsetting Miami:
"They can be beaten by no team in the East. Not in a seven-game series. They've obviously started to turn it on and made anyone who was worried about [Miami] early in the season look foolish.
"I guess you could make the argument that Indiana can take 'em to six games, but they don't have a tested star to get them over the hump when it's tell-all time. That's a little bit too much to ask from Paul George or David West. You may not have noticed this, but LeBron's the same size as David West.
"It's going to take a team, a program, an organization like the Spurs to do the job. That's the only team I see capable. Oklahoma City before the [James Harden] trade, yes, but not after the trade."
Eastern Conference scout on the ceiling for the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics:
"I'll buy your [contention] that they're playing happier without him, but when it comes down to the big games, you need a couple a-holes. And Rondo is the leading a-hole Boston has. He affects the game like nobody else.
"During the regular season, I agree, he plays for stats too much, but when it comes to the playoffs, he's playing to win the game. He's definitely a diva and he definitely has his issues, but who does Miami have to game-plan for if Rondo isn't there? Paul Pierce is a warrior, but he's only going to be able to play 15 top-level minutes out of 30. [Kevin Garnett] is a defensive specialist at this point in time. The totality of the Heat overtakes the totality of the Celtics when Rondo's not there, but I still think he's in Miami's heads and the Celtics are in the Heat's heads when the teams are at full strength.
"Without Rondo, Miami wins that series in five."
Western Conference scout on LeBron James' ridiculous February:
"He's legitimately as good as advertised. And I'm not sure how many guys in this league can really live up to that. He's always been confident, but he plays now with a supreme level of confidence and total peace.
"I didn't want to like him as much as I like Kobe (Bryant), but he's on that level for me now. In crunch time, I still want Kobe to shoot it, but when I sit there (on press row) I literally marvel at LeBron's skill sometimes.
"He's capable of playing any position on the floor except for the (center spot), as everyone knows, but my favorite thing about (LeBron's) game is his north-to-south driving ability. There's three guys in this league who, going north to south with the ball in their hands, I don't know how you stop them. It's James Harden because he's got that Eurostep, Russell Westbrook if he gets a running start ... and LeBron is the best at it. It's ridiculous."
Western Conference scout on Dwight Howard's defense:
"I've always struggled to buy into all the praise because, to me, when a guy specializes in blocked shots, that doesn't make you a Defensive Player of the Year. The biggest comparison, to me, is Tyson Chandler, who does so many things other than blocking shots. Switching on pick-and-rolls, taking charges, getting deflections and then also coming over to get the nice block ... Tyson is a legit do-everything defender for a big.
"But Dwight's activity doesn't come near what it was pre-back surgery, pre-shoulder [problems], pre-L.A. He tries to be physical once in a while, but if he can't block a shot, I'm not seeing the same guy we saw in Orlando. Not the last year in Orlando, but the few years before that, I thought he did a lot more and was way more active.
"I know he's talked about how hard it's been to get in game shape because of all the injuries, but I've seen him take the path of least resistance too many times. But maybe he has time to get in better shape before the playoffs."
Eastern Conference scout on the looming possibility of a Memphis-Denver matchup in the first round of the playoffs:
"The Nuggets are kind of like the Knicks of the West to me. Not in terms of style of play, but because you're basically talking about a team with a lot of good pieces. They could win a round -- they could even make it all the way to the [West] finals if the seedings are in their favor -- but it's a safer bet to say they're going to have trouble when they play teams like Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Memphis. Whoever it is that'll guard a little bit.
"I just think it's a bad matchup for Denver. [The Grizzlies] have Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince to throw at Iguodala and Gallinari, and then they're too big inside for Denver. The Nuggets are going to wish they had one more consistent shooter if those teams see each other.
"And then Memphis will have problems against a good half-court defensive team like the Spurs. That's where they'll miss Rudy Gay, because they don't have that one guy that's going to take the big shot coming out of timeouts. Even with the Clippers, you know it's going to be Chris Paul or Chauncey [Billups]. Tayshaun isn't that guy, Tony isn't that guy, and Mike Conley is a complementary offensive player.
"For the regular season and the locker room and team joy, I think everyone's probably secretly ecstatic that they made the trade. But in the playoffs, good defensive teams can just load up on the other two guys [Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol]."
Western Conference scout on whether the Clippers could actually beat San Antonio or Oklahoma City in a playoff series:
"The Spurs will negate their athleticism because they move the ball so well, but I think they're a wild card to give OKC a real battle. Do I think they can actually win that series? No. But they have the potential to make those games crazy. And when you do that, when you put some chaos into the game, maybe OKC gets rattled and loses it. But I doubt it.
"The Spurs move the ball so well that the Clippers' athleticism doesn't have a chance to make an impact on the game. But a helter-skelter kind of game is good for the Clippers, and they can create that sort of environment [against the Thunder].
"Blake [Griffin] and Ibaka ... that's a matchup that the Clippers can win. DeAndre [Jordan] and [Kendrick] Perkins ... that's a matchup where DeAndre can at least get a push."
Western Conference scout on Milwaukee's acquisition of J.J. Redick and the Bucks' ceiling with Redick lined up alongside the smallish backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis:
"I don't think it's a long-run recipe for playing at a high level, but they are playing well with the three smalls. J.J.'s not a bad defender. He's not a stopper, but I don't think he's a liability. So as long as he's not [required] to guard a post-up [small forward] like Carmelo [Anthony], J.J. can guard. He runs off screens all day long, so he knows how to chase people off screens [defensively]. And he's quicker than people think.
"And they all play hard. That's one thing that [ousted coach Scott] Skiles got into [Jennings and Ellis]. I think they can play those guys together and stay in games, as long as they play hard, because it's a problem defensively to guard them.
"If they can just shade guys into the lane, [Larry] Sanders is back there to bail them out. I wasn't a fan [of his] two years ago, but he's learned to control his emotions a little bit and made a concerted effort to improve the midrange jump shot. His shot used to look bad, but if he's open at 16 feet now, I feel he's going to make it. And defensively he's just a beast. He gets overeager sometimes and gets in foul trouble, but he's super long and quick and has great timing.
"They're not beating Miami, but they'll make it interesting for a half at a time. And if they could get to [No.] 7 or 6 [in the East] and play somebody else in the first round, they could make some noise."
Eastern Conference scout on the Knicks' addition of Kenyon Martin:
"They're still just pieces and parts to me, but I like the addition of Kenyon Martin. He's hungry. He's tough. He's been in the playoffs. He can guard a few different positions, and he's got something to prove coming back from China and signing on a 10-day contract. ... That's unheard of for a No. 1 pick.
"Toughness, grittiness, leadership ... he'll give them 15 or 20 minutes of that, and he'll rebound the ball. And it's a good mix to play [Martin] with or behind Amar'e [Stoudemire]. But that doesn't change my opinion on the Knicks. They're going to win a first-round series just because they'll beat somebody on talent, but they're not really built for the playoffs. When they play Miami, Indiana, Boston, even Chicago ... look how much Chicago is struggling to score and the Knicks have lost to them three times. So you tell me."
Eastern Conference scout on whether the Lakers will indeed make the playoffs
"They can. I'm not ready to say they will because I haven't studied their schedule, but it looks like Kobe's on a mission to make sure they don't miss out [now].
"They still can't stop anybody, but their players seem to be adapting better to [Mike] D'Antoni's system. And [Pau] Gasol's not there, so they don't have to worry about trying to play through the low post.
"But I wouldn't say, based on what I've seen, that they're playing dramatically better than they were. They're just a little bit more buttoned up."
2. Marc's Quote
"It's a sad trade deadline then."
Milwaukee's J.J. Redick, reacting to the suggestion that he was the darling of the NBA's 2013 trade deadline with some humor aimed at himself, after fears of the NBA's ramped-up luxury tax -- which will punish teams for contract mistakes way harder than ever before -- contributed to a deadline day of many moves but no marquee names.
Redick has been in the news a lot lately, not only in the wake of his trade to the Bucks but also for his views on some critical comments earlier this week from Dwight Howard. But the above sentiment from Redick was a leftover from our extended conversation in last week's Weekend Dime and came with a self-deprecating laugh, with Redick insisting that the disappointment in some quarters about the lack of a blockbuster before the trade buzzer doesn't faze him.
"I've got thick skin, man," Redick said. "I really mean what I said [about being] a hoops junkie. I watch NBA League Pass pretty much every night. My wife doesn't like it, but I'll watch the Bobcats and the Kings play if it's the only thing on. I just enjoy basketball, and I like to know what's going on in the league. But I don't take anything personally."
Which is a stance presumably easier to adopt after the steady stream of barbs he took after four years as a shooting guard/lightning rod at Duke.
3. There Are Exceptions
Last season's lockout, you'll recall, pushed the trade deadline back from the first Thursday after All-Star Weekend to March 15.
There are a handful of unused trade exceptions out there, as a result, that were created at the deadline last March but will quietly expire between now and next Friday because they were rendered useless after this season's Feb. 21 trade deadline. That's because teams that ultimately miss out on the playoffs aren't allowed to start trading again until April 17, with teams that make the playoffs only allowed to resume trading once they're eliminated ... or one day after The Finals for the respective championship combatants.
The biggest of the vanishing exceptions is the $13 million trade exception that Denver created in March 2012 when it dealt Nene to Washington. The other nine trade exceptions that expire next week were all valued at less than $1.5 million -- and thus not a must to list here -- but fear not: There are still 26 active TPEs leaguewide, headlined by Orlando's mammoth trade exception worth $17,816,880 which it created last August as part of the four-team blockbuster that sent Dwight Howard to Hollywood.
For the purposes of review, quoting the ever-helpful Larry Coon of NBA Salary Cap FAQ fame, teams manufacture trade exceptions when they take back less salary in a trade than they send away. And as Larry often reminds, TPEs can't be used to sign free agents or be combined with anything else in subsequent trades, not players nor even other trade exceptions. He also advises us to liken TPEs to department store gift cards that come with a one-year expiration date. Teams can use trade exceptions to take on additional salary in trades, but any remaining balance after one year is lost forever.
Here's a list, then, of the trade exceptions around the league that remain active, along with their expiration dates ... as well as a bonus link to Coon's recent piece on expiring TPEs:
|TEAM||PLAYER TRADED AWAY||EXPIRES||AMOUNT|
|LA Clippers||Reggie Evans||7/11/13||$1,622,617|
|LA Lakers||Christian Eyenga||8/12/13||$1,174,080|
|Oklahoma City||Cole Aldrich||10/28/14||$425,280|
|New Orleans||Hakim Warrick||11/13/13||$500,000|
|Golden State||Charles Jenkins||2/21/14||$762,195|
|Golden State||Jeremy Tyler||2/21/14||$762,195|
|New York||Ronnie Brewer||2/21/14||$854,389|
|Oklahoma City||Eric Maynor||2/21/14||$2,338,721|
4. One-On-One ... To Five
Five questions with Rockets rookie forward Thomas Robinson:
Q: What was your reaction when you got word that the Kings were trading you halfway through your rookie season?
A: Shocked. I think I reacted just like everybody else would react.
Q: Where were you when you heard?
A: I think I was on my way home from practice.
Q: And the best way to describe how you feel now? Insulted by it? Angry?
A: It is what it is. I came to a good situation, so it doesn't matter. I'm here now. Whole different situation. Whole different team. I thank God for giving me the chance.
Q: It's been such a crazy season in Sacramento. How jealous do you think some of those guys are that you were able to get out and go to a playoff team?
A: I'm not sure. I think they're happy for me more than jealous. I never had problems with my teammates. I never had a problem there, period. It's a business, and you've got to learn that as you go. Unfortunately, I learned that quicker than other people. You know that it's a business, so you can't take anything personally.
Q: Were you as surprised as some of us on the outside that the Kings drafted you in the first place when they already had DeMarcus Cousins?
A: Yeah, but like I said, I don't care about it now. I'm just glad to be here. Whatever happens happens. It's meant to be. ... I think [Houston will be] really good for me.
5. Western Conference
I can't remember a disciplinary decision from the league office that triggered so much commentary from active players on Twitter -- most notably from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Blake Griffin himself -- but we now have an answer.
Some checking with the league office this week revealed that Stu Jackson & Co. deemed Ibaka's contact with Griffin's, uh, groin area to be unintentional. The league view, I'm told, is that Ibaka was slapping at an arm that Griffin unexpectedly pulled away, leading to the painful connection and thus distinguishing the play from the "groin altercations" that earned Wade and DeMarcus Cousins suspensions earlier this season.
My view is that Ibaka unequivocally should have been suspended for a game anyway, because when you swing that hard -- no matter what you are aiming at -- you have to be accountable for the final outcome. When a defender tries to make a hard play on the ball and winds up connecting with a driver's head, there are consequences. Same thing here.
Yet you can, when armed with the league's logic in this case, at least understand how it arrived at the notion that what Ibaka did -- as part of multiple attempts to move Griffin's arm -- differs from Cousins' infamous swipe at O.J. Mayo's crotch or Wade's kick at Ramon Sessions' crotch. As hard as it will always be in any sport to try to judge intent, Cousins and Wade can't really suggest they were doing anything but trying to dole out a shot to the groin. Neither quite wound up as wildly as Nicolas Batum on Juan Carlos Navarro at the Olympics, but it's pretty clear where they were aiming.
(An aside: Imagine what sort of player tweets would have been flying around if Twitter was this popular in 2007 when Amar'e Stoudemire bolted off the Phoenix bench in that fateful series against San Antonio.)
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
51: Entering Wednesday's play, San Antonio and Miami were both shooting nearly 51 percent from the field in first quarters for the season, giving further credence to the theory that good teams take the first quarter in NBA games more seriously than we've been led to believe.
3: San Antonio's Tony Parker went to the sideline with that unfortunate ankle injury as one of only three players this season averaging better than 20 points and seven assists. The others are Miami's LeBron James and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.
34: At 34 years, 195 days old, Kobe Bryant became the second-oldest player in NBA history to total at least 40 points and 10 assists in a game with his 42-and-12 eruption Wednesday night in New Orleans. Larry Bird was 35 years, 99 days old when he pulled it off for Boston in March 1992. Gary Payton and Elgin Baylor also had 40-and-10 games when they were 34.
71: The 71 points scored by Oklahoma City by halftime Tuesday night against the Lakers matched the highest first-half point total from any opposing team in Dwight Howard's career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, New York is the only other team to top the 70-point mark against a Howard-led team by halftime -- in December 2004 in Dwight's second month in the league.
The Rockets don't just put a strain on scoreboards. For anyone who likes to indulge in the sport of NBA payroll-tracking and salary-cap bookkeeping, keeping up with Houston's maneuvers is a workout.
After the Rockets' latest moves before last month's trade deadline, they have had 25 players on this season's books. That includes the 15 currently on the roster, which is full again following Monday's return to Clutch City for Aaron Brooks, along with a whopping 10 players who have been waived or bought out.
Here's a list of the 10 players who are not on the current Rockets roster but who count for nearly $11 million combined toward the $58.044 million salary cap in 2012-13:
Jon Brockman: $1,000,000
Daequan Cook: $3,090,942
Derek Fisher: $644,005
Gary Forbes: $1,500,000
Lazar Hayward: $1,174,080
Tyler Honeycutt: $809,875
JaJuan Johnson: $1,089,240
Shaun Livingston: $1,000,000
Scott Machado: $236,802
E'Twaun Moore: $381,098
PS -- Grantland ace Zach Lowe has a longer look at Houston's unorthodox approach to team-building that sources say will continue this summer with the free-agent pursuit of Dwight Howard -- and Andrew Bynum and Josh Smith if Howard rebuffs them -- to pair with star swingman James Harden.
PPS -- Houston still had just a shade under $5 million in leftover salary-cap space before signing Brooks, who received a two-year deal (Year 2 at Houston's option) worth $2.4 million for the rest of this season and potentially $2.5 million next season if Brooks is still on Houston's roster after June 30. One source with knowledge of the deal told ESPN.com that Brooks surrendered just under $3.4 million of the $6.6 million guaranteed in his Sacramento deal for the right to be bought out and return to free agency after clearing waivers.
6. Eastern Conference
The persistent whisper into Stein Line HQ, according to sources with knowledge of the talks, is that Josh Smith-to-Milwaukee is the trade scenario Atlanta came the closest to consummating before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
Reports this week that the Sixers and Hawks were close on a deal that would have sent Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes to the Hawks in a package for Smith were dismissed by one source who insists that the Hawks' talks with Philly were never as serious as the discussions with the Bucks.
Yahoo! Sports subsequently reported Friday that the Celtics and Hawks hatched a three-way trade scenario that would have brought Smith to Boston and routed Boston lifer Paul Pierce to Dallas that ultimately collapsed when Atlanta sought an additional first-round pick from the Celts.
Yet it's believed that the Hawks, like many teams over the past few years, had internal questions about how serious Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge really was when it came to surrendering Pierce or Kevin Garnett at the deadline. Although Pierce, Garnett and Rajon Rondo have all been openly mentioned in trade speculation since the Celtics' crushing defeat to the Lakers in Los Angeles in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, with Ainge known to aggressively call around the league to see what's available in potential deals, there remains considerable skepticism about his willingness to actually go through with dealing with Pierce or KG after those 30-somethings helped end Boston's two-decade championship drought.
What's indisputable is that the Hawks, given their druthers, had hoped to send Smith to the Western Conference if they found a workable trade. Sources say that Dallas was among the teams that rejected those overtures, with the Mavs unwilling to add a draft pick to a package that would have cost them Vince Carter and Chris Kaman's expiring contract in addition to rookie Jae Crowder and the expiring deals of Brandan Wright and Dahntay Jones in exchange for Smith. The Mavs simply weren't prepared to give up Carter, Crowder and a pick for an undeniable talent but longtime enigma who A) could leave after the season via unrestricted free agency, B) reportedly wants max money and C) wasn't guaranteed to fit well alongside Dirk Nowitzki since both play the 4.
When all of its J-Smoove talks fizzled, Atlanta opted for a much smaller deal involving two of the players in the proposed Smith-to-Dallas deal by swapping Anthony Morrow for Jones.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
16: Miami's 16-game winning streak entering Friday's home date with Philly means LeBron James is two wins shy of Michael Jordan's longest-ever winning streak. Jordan's Bulls won 18 in a row during their 72-win rampage in 1995-96; Wilt Chamberlain's Lakers hold the NBA record with a 33-game win streak in 1971-72. Magic Johnson's longest winning streak with the Lakers was a 16-gamer in 1990-91, while Larry Bird's Celtics topped out at 14 consecutive wins in 1985-86.
48: Entering Saturday's visit to Golden State, Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings had racked up 48 assists in his past three games, tops in the league this season for any player over a three-game span.
14: Kyrie Irving's decisive 11 points in Wednesday's fourth quarter in Cleveland's come-from-behind win over visiting Utah marked the 14th time this season that Irving scored in double digits in the final period. That was good for fourth in the league, entering Thursday night's play, behind Kevin Durant (20), Kobe Bryant (19) and Jamal Crawford (17).
2: Irving, who has been playing through a knee injury after missing 14 games thanks to a variety of earlier ailments, is about to become only the second player in league history born outside of U.S. borders to average better than 20 points and five assists in a season. Tony Parker did it in 2008-09 and is doing it again this season. Irving will soon be a Team USA fixture for years but was born in Australia.
20: As the third option in Miami, Chris Bosh's career scoring average has dipped to 19.6 PPG. But if he were to finish his career in the 20s, Bosh would make the NBA Draft Class of 2003 only the second in history with four 20-PPG men, along with the Class of 1970 ... making the not-so-risky assumption that LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony are there to stay too.
The Bucks have a number of tricky financial decisions to make with Brandon Jennings headed for restricted free agency, newly acquired J.J. Redick soon to be an unrestricted free agent and Monta Ellis expected by many teams to give strong consideration to opting in for next season at $11 million despite the longstanding presumption in Brewtown that he's determined to opt out. So there are a lot of variables in play at season's end, since paying all three -- as well as they've been playing together -- would figure to be a serious stretch for the small-market Bucks.
Yet word is that Milwaukee has some interest in bringing back free-agent-to-be Samuel Dalembert separate from sorting out the futures of its backcourt trio. The veteran center had fallen completely out of favor under Scott Skiles and was widely regarded as a near-lock to be dealt this trade season before re-emerging as a contributor behind Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Larry Sanders under interim coach JimBoylan. (Boylan's own ability to stick around beyond this season, of course, remains yet another matter of debate.)
The only number that matters in the short term, mind you, is seven. With the threat of Philadelphia or Toronto working their way back into the race for No. 8 steadily fading, Milwaukee dreams of moving up just one more spot in the East standings, since the No. 7 seed spares you from seeing Miami in the first round of the playoffs. But the Bucks might have to focus on trying to catch Brooklyn, Atlanta or Chicago given the way Boston has come together in the wake of Rajon Rondo's season-ending injury.
7. All The King's Men
8. Chatter Box
Marc Stein, NBA
What are Denver's realistic playoff prospects? Marc Stein joins hosts Les Shapiro and Tom Nalen on ESPN Radio in Denver (102.5/103.5 FM) to discuss the Nuggets' home-court dominance, Ty Lawson's second-half emergence and how far they can really go in such a tough conference.
9. Film Session
In advance of Miami's bid to stretch its winning streak to 17 games Friday night with Philadelphia in town, Marc Stein joins "SportsCenter" to discuss the contributions from the Heat's role players and coach Erik Spoelstra in support of the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade duo driving the defending champs.
10. Corner 3
Three slams and dunks from the deepest recesses of Weekend Dimedom:
1. Good organizations tune out the noise. So why would the Bulls care one whit about the external obsession surrounding Derrick Rose's return from knee surgery? If Rose doesn't have complete confidence in his left leg, which he clearly does not if he's practicing but still not mentally ready to return to full active duty, there is zero reason for him to come back this season. None. What exactly is he rushing back for? What is the payoff? Even if he made an Adrian Peterson-esque return to immediate greatness, where is Chicago going this season when Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich are also all banged up to varying degrees? If the public and the press are getting impatient, so what?
2. Golden State was back in its short-sleeved soccer jerseys Friday night on ESPN against Houston in a showdown of conference foes trying desperately to cling to their positions in the West's top eight. The rest of us, meanwhile, will largely resume being mortified by a shirt design that I'm convinced, no matter how much we all protest, will become more and more standard in coming years. The reality is that there's no shortage of business-minded industry these days certain that an NBA jersey with sleeves is going to be easier to sell to the public at large because a jersey with sleeves is easier to wear after buying one. And it's going to take a lot more than Twitter protest noise to dissuade them.
3. I know it's the sort of question that only an absolute travel geek like me would ask, but I can't help it: What happens to the Suns' US Airways Center now that US Airways is merging with my hometown American Airlines? We can't possibly be headed for an NBA where 1/10th of the arenas (Miami, Dallas and Phoenix) have AA branding on the building, can we?