Posts Tagged ‘Allen Iverson’

Lottery madness is fool’s gold

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver address the tanking issue and revising the lottery system

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – No one dares utter the dirty seven-letter word without fear of retribution, well, no one other than Mark Cuban. The Dallas Mavericks owner has been vocal about the tanking issue and what needs to be done about it.

But if you ask NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, lottery madness is much ado about absolutely nothing:

As the NBA regular season comes to a close you’re possibly one of two fans; either rooting for your favorite team to win out for better playoff positioning, or wanting your favorite stars to “rest” to gain better lottery positioning. Some call losing strategic others call it “tanking.”

Regardless of the preferred jargon, the practice is out of bounds.

Since 1985, the NBA put a system in place to award the NBA’s worst teams with the best chance for top picks in the subsequent draft. The first five years of the “Early Lottery System”, involved a random drawing of an envelope from a hopper. Under this system each non-playoff team had an equal chance to win the first pick. That didn’t directly help bad teams improve, so in 1990 the new weighted lottery system was implemented to give the team with the worst record the best chance of landing the first pick.

Currently the 14 teams that fail to qualify for the post-season are placed into a draft lottery. The team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. Depending on who’s projected to be drafted first, some may argue it’s worth losing a ton of games for the 25 percent chance of selecting the new face of a franchise. The numbers say it’s closer to being 100 percent wrong.

​Since 2004 (the last 10 lotteries) the team with the worst record won the lottery once in 2004 when the Orlando Magic went 21-61 and used the pick to select a center named Dwight Howard. Not bad. Howard enhanced ticket sales, led the team to a Finals appearance and eventually bolted for greener pastures. Now, the Magic are back in the lottery for a second consecutive season. If that number isn’t startling, dating back to 1985 there have only been four instances were the team with the worst record won the draft lottery.

DRAFT​–TEAM​–#1 Pick
1988–​CLIPPERS​–Danny Manning
1990​–NETS​–Derrick Coleman
2003–​CAVALIERS–​LeBron James
2004–​MAGIC–​Dwight Howard

​Simply put, this league is all about obtaining results. If a team is going to throw a season away in an attempt to get the No. 1 pick, let’s hope the player can return more than jersey sales. Which brings us to a more startling number. Since 1985 there have only been two No. 1 overall picks to win a Championship with their original team; David Robinson (1987) and Tim Duncan (1997).

Call it good fortune but the Spurs organization has been known to draft well regardless if it’s the first overall pick or the first pick in the second round. As for the two worst teams with the best odds to win the lottery, the Milwaukee Bucks (14-63) and Philadelphia 76ers (17-60), have been in a battle for who can lose the most games all season long. Milwaukee has maintained the title despite the Sixers tying a NBA record with 26 consecutive losses.

If the balls bounce their way one should win the coveted No. 1 pick. Milwaukee won the lottery twice in their team history, selecting Glenn Robinson (1994) and Andrew Bogut (2005). As for the Sixers they won the lottery in 1996 which resulted in one of the greatest Sixers in team history, Allen Iverson.

Memo to non-playoff teams and their fans, there’s no art to the science of winning the draft lottery.

Therefore instead of focusing on losing now to get better later, encourage your team to compete throughout an 82-game season. Besides, even if a team fails to win the #1 pick in a lottery doesn’t mean they won’t hit the jackpot, just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder (Kevin Durant, No. 2 Pick in 2007 Draft).


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has had a remarkable season by anyone’s standard

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 150) Featuring Bestselling Author Jeff Pearlman

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Transcendence for NBA players is an interesting concept. Does a player who starred in the 1950s or 1960s have any chance of being the same type of player today? What would the stars of this day and age look like if they plied their trade in the 1980s or 1990s?

Just because you ruled the basketball world in one era doesn’t guarantee you could do it again in every other era. Just how relevant a player is from one era to the other, however, is a debate that will rage on for generations. Where would the stars of yesteryear rank today?

Just because you score a career-high and franchise-record 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, as LeBron James did Monday night, doesn’t mean Hall of Famers like Dominique Wilkins are going to be impressed.

We gave it a good run this week on Episode 150 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring The New York Times bestselling author and fellow hoops head Jeff Pearlman, whose definitive work on the “Showtime Lakers” is available now and absolute must-read. The story of the origins, Hollywood roller coaster that Dr. Jerry Buss, Magic Johnson, Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Showtime Lakers took us on was one of a kind. The back story on how the dynasty was built and maintained is one that you won’t want to miss.

We frame the discussion with some great stories about guys like Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, Mike Tyson (yes, Mike Tyson) and so many others who played a role in the Lakers becoming arguably the most famous franchise in NBA history and one of the most storied in all of sports.

Our friends at NBAE also provide us with a fantastic look back at Allen Iverson’s top 10 career plays, fresh off of his jersey retirement ceremony in Philadelphia Saturday, in Sounds of the Game. And the leader of the pack remains on his throne in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 150 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring The New York Times bestselling author Jeff Pearlman …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: The Starters talk LeBron’s big night and its place in history

KD Keeps Streaking As Russ Blasts Off


VIDEO: Durant pours in 42 points in Thunder’s rout of Sixers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –LeBron James scored a career-high 61 points on Monday night. How would Kevin Durant answer a night later in what’s becoming a must-see, game-by-game, blow-by-blow MVP race?

Durant totaled 42 points on 14-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists in a mere 32 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 125-92 dismantling of the moribund Philadelphia 76ers. It was an individual performance that stacked up more to a Sixer of another era, The Answer, as in Allen Iverson, than to LeBron.

For the 26th consecutive game, Durant scored at least 25 points, the third-longest such streak in the last 25 years. The two players who’ve gone longer? Durant did it for 29 consecutive games during the 2009-10 season. And Mr. Iverson, the man who watched his No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers jersey raised to the rafters Monday, got it done in 27 consecutive games during the 2000-01 season. That’s it. Those two. No LeBron to be found.

In fact, after Tuesday’s 106-103 loss at Houston, James has sandwiched his 61 — his second game of the season of 40 points or more — with games of 20 and now 22. Durant, meanwhile, notched his 10th game of 40 points or more and his fourth in the last nine games. He made his first seven shots and was 8-for-11 with 21 points by halftime. Then came 21 in the third quarter on 6-for-9 shooting and his night was done.

Had he not unnaturally struggled at the free throw line, going 12-for-18, Durant probably would have hit 50 for a second time this season.

“It’s his fault,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks kidded. “I would’ve ran one more play for him to get 50 if he would’ve made his six free throws.”

But get this: Kevin wasn’t the story of the night. Because Russ ended up being Russ.

Russell Westbrook, in his sixth game back from a third right knee surgery since last April, ripped the 76ers for a triple-double — 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — in a land speed record of 20 minutes, 17 seconds. At least it’s the fastest anyone’s accumulated a triple-double in nearly 60 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s just physically so gifted and he is so competitive,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You know, there is a — and I say this respectfully — there is an angry competitor that wills his way into doing stuff, and I say that with the utmost respect, and so you saw those physical abilities along with just such a strong mind. It’s a powerful combination.”

Westbrook racked up eight assists in his first stint of six minutes, 34 seconds.

“Fourteen assists in 20 minutes,” Brooks marveled. “I mean, potentially if he had played more minutes, he probably could have had 20 assists tonight.”

That’s now 40 assists for Westbrook in his last five games, and perhaps the best sign that his knee is feeling fine is the 10 rebounds. He had 12 in the previous four games. The triple-double was his second of the season. The first came on Christmas Day at New York, his unsuspecting final game before being summoned back to the operating table.

“It is crazy,” Westbrook said of his rapid-fire filling of the box score. “I’m just trying to get my groove back. It is crazy to be able to do that in such a short amount of time, but it was fun.”

“I’m super proud of him,” Durant said of his buddy during a TV interview after the game.

It’s a great sign for the Thunder (46-15), who have now won three in a row since losing their first three games of Westbrook’s return out of the All-Star break. They are without injured starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but they did welcome newcomer Caron Butler into the rotation for the first time.

Bought out by the Bucks last week and signed by the opportunistic Thunder, the veteran small forward logged 26 minutes off the bench and contributed two points, an assist and five rebounds. He received a warm welcome from the home sellout crowd.

“I was just excited to be in that environment,” Butler said. “It felt like being at UConn again.”


VIDEO: Westbrook tallies triple-double in just over 20 minutes

Philly Comes Together To Honor Iverson

VIDEO: Allen Iverson’s jersey jersey retirement ceremony

PHILADELPHIA – The motto for the Philadelphia 76ers this season has been “Together We Build,” a not-so-subtle nod to the aggressive rebuilding campaign the Sixers embarked upon starting on Draft night. Unable to live in the present, at least for this season, the Philadelphia 76ers have largely lived with their eyes on the future. But at least for one night, they pivoted toward the past and spent an evening celebrating the legacy of Allen Iverson.

Before a sold-out crowd of 20,856, with new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on hand along with Sixers legends from Dr. J to Moses Malone to former team president Pat Croce, the 76ers retired Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey in an emotional halftime ceremony. (“I’m proud of myself for not losing it, the way I felt like I was,” Iverson said later.)

When the buzzer sounded signaling the end of the first half, no fans headed toward the exits. After a video tribute, Iverson strolled onto the court to thunderous cheers as well as chants of “MVP! MVP!” Dressed all in black, his braids peeking out the back of a black hat, AI made his way down a row of friends and family, stopping to give each person a hug.

After a taped video message from former coach Larry Brown and a presentation of a personalized boat from the current Sixers ownership, Iverson stepped to the microphone. While swaying back and forth, Iverson ran down a list of people he wanted to thank, from various members of his family, to former teammates, to even Michael Jordan, “for inspiring me and giving me a vision. I was one of those kids who wanted to be like Mike.”

He ended by thanking the Philly fans that had given him such love throughout his career. “Y’all gonna have to show me the fool who says dreams don’t come true. Because they do.”

“I love y’all,” Iverson said. “And now it’s time to party.”

Iverson, who ended his career playing 25 games for the Sixers at the end of the 2009-10 season, officially retired in October, and received a standing ovation from fans between quarters back then at the Sixers’ home opener. But Saturday night was the first chance Sixers fans have had to fully revel in the AI experience. Throughout the night, an endless Iverson highlight reel rolled on the scoreboard, as well as tributes from the NBA’s current stars, from Chris Paul to LeBron James. In true Philly fashion, James drew the most vociferous boos of the night. But the brotherly love for Iverson felt endless. The hashtag in use throughout the night, “#AI3Forever,” seemed as much a wish as a statement.

A few moments later, Iverson held a press conference in the Sixers’ press room. As he took one large step from the floor up onto the elevated stage, the 38-year-old Iverson muttered, “I’m too old for this.” Sitting alongside three of his children, Iverson seemed circumspect. He termed his feelings from the evening as “bittersweet,” noting the finality of the ceremony: “Some part of my heart hurts because I realize that it’s over.”

While Iverson said he loves spending time with his kids and watching NBA basketball, he admitted that he couldn’t watch Sixers games with the way they’re struggling now. “It’s hard to watch because I want to help,” he said. “But it will turn around. it will happen.”

Iverson said he would pass on becoming a commentator only because he does not want to be “that guy on camera criticizing other guys.” Would he go into coaching? “Maybe rec league, high school.”

Although Iverson never won a championship, his impact on the league was undeniable. No player of his generation left as large of a mark on the culture of basketball. Braids, tattoos, arm sleeves, the comically large shorts — the recent proliferation of all of those things can be traced directly to AI. While Iverson was frequently decried for being “just” a volume shooter/scorer, it speaks to the singularity of his talent that no player of similar stature has been able to replicate his production since.

More than anything, Iverson always felt genuine — to his fans, certainly, but more importantly, he seemed to be true to himself. That authenticity endeared him to fans around the world with a ferocity seldom seen. People weren’t just casual fans of AI, they LOVED Allen Iverson. Maybe it was his size, the way he was a literal giant-slayer on the floor. Perhaps it was his heart, the way no obstacle could slow him down. Or maybe it was his fearlessness, like when a rookie Iverson put Michael Jordan on skates with a crossover dribble. That was a moment of coronation, not so much a passing of the torch but an instance of the torch being yanked away from one generation by the group on deck. Whatever it was, it all came together into a package that was larger than life.

These days the only AI in Philadelphia is After Iverson. The Sixers’ 122-103 loss to the Wizards on Saturday hardly registered. Until the Sixers are able to build a foundation that allows them to contend, they will still be building, together. And on this evening, it was special to have Allen Iverson be part of that process. During his portion of the presentation, earlier in the evening, Commissioner Silver had said that Iverson “defined the city of Philadelphia, more than any other athlete.”

Iverson made clear that he understood this. And that the feeling was mutual. “I was their own,” he said of Philadelphia and the Philly fans. “I am Philly. It’s going to always be like that.”


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker discusses Allen Iverson’s impact

Hang Time Q&A: Trey Burke On Patience, Pressure, John Stockton And More …




VIDEO: Trey Burke settles into his new role, new city and new life in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trey Burke has had that giant chip on his shoulder from his first day of organized basketball. The first time someone doubted him started the trickle of resolve that turned into a raging waterfall by the time he reached high school in Columbus, Ohio (where he would eventually win Mr. Basketball honors after leading his team to a state title as a senior) and later Ann Arbor, Mich. (where he earned National Player of the Year honors and led Michigan back to the Final Four and NCAA title game after a two-decade absence).

It continued on Draft night in June, when Burke fell out of the top five and was picked by Minnesota only to be traded before he could get the right fit on his hat for the cameras. Next came a rough start in summer league and then a busted finger that cost him the first 12 games of his rookie season, those hiccups, of course, brought more doubters.

But the more people doubt him, the stronger Burke’s drive to continue to silence his critics and fuel his team’s rise, wherever he goes.

Burke talked about patience, pressure, summer school with Hall of Famer John Stockton and much more in a recent Hang Time One-On-One with NBA.com:

NBA.com: You spend your whole life dreaming about playing in the NBA and then you have to sit and watch the first 12 games with the busted finger. What did it look like watching your dream unfold from the sidelines like that?

Trey Burke: A lot of people would have expected me to be down or something like that. But I tried to stay as positive as possible at that time. I knew that when I came back I was going to have an opportunity to play and make an impact, so I tried to do everything I could from taking care of my body to staying in shape to eating right and preparing myself in every way I could to perform right away.

NBA.com: You actually delayed your NBA debut by a year. You could have entered the Draft after your freshman season at Michigan but chose to go back for another year. What did you hear and where from, that made you stay in school another year?

TB: The people that I trusted, the people in my corner, what they were saying sounded accurate in terms of what I needed to work on to improve my stock and be ready for the NBA. Me, I obviously wanted to get to the NBA as fast as I could, I dreamed about it my whole life. But I needed another year to mature and get better, not only the basketball court but off the court. I needed the maturity. I needed the life experiences. I needed that extra year of college. And it worked out for the best really. Had I come out after my freshman year, who knows where I would be now. I might have been a late first, early second or mid-second round pick. I’ll never know. But going back to school, making that Final Four run we made at Michigan, I think looking back it was definitely the right decision.

NBA.com: Coaches and people love to tell a young point guard different things. But you worked with Hall of Famer John Stockton this summer. I cannot imagine you getting any better advice on how to do your current job than you did from him. What did he hone in on in your game this summer and what ultimately was his message to you?

TB: One of the biggest things was pace of the game. And he said he’d watched me before, he watched my game and one thing I could work on was my pace. He said I had to work on setting guys up. He knew that I was a natural scorer at heart, but he knew that I also wanted to become a pure point guard that could score, kind of like a Chris Paul. He said when he started out, a lot of times he didn’t really like to take a lot of 3-pointers because it would mess his shooting percentage up. He said his goal was to try and get the easiest shot for his teammates or himself by attacking and being aggressive in that manner. It was a lot of information he gave me, it was funny, because he would stop us during the workout and just keep talking and talking. You could tell that he had a lot of stuff he wanted to tell us. It was just a great experience to be able to work with a Hall of Fame point guard like that.

NBA.com: There was so much speculation about where you might end up on Draft night. What went goes through your mind as a point guard when the Jazz, a franchise with a history of drafting both John Stockton and Deron Williams, decide you are the guy they want?

TB: Absolutely, I was just talking about that. Minnesota, when they picked me I was kind of like, ‘I didn’t work out with them or even interview with them.’ It didn’t make sense at first. And then five minutes later I get traded to Utah, and I didn’t work out with them. But I got the opportunity to sit down with them in Chicago and the pre-Draft camp and just to know that Deron Williams and John Stockton, some really great point guards came from there, I knew I was going to be put in a great spot to make an impact o this franchise. I just want to have a chance to be an impact player and leave my mark on this franchise. And that’s all you can ask for in the end.

NBA.com: I’ve heard you talk about comparisons to current or past NBA players and the name Chris Paul always comes up. But a former NBA player said you remind him of Allen Iverson in build and with your game. Do your try to pattern yourself after anyone or do you really, at this stage of the game, worry about being Trey Burke first and foremost and let other people worry about the comparisons?

TB: That’s funny, I just thought about this today, I want to go down as my own player. But I watched so much of Allen Iverson growing up that it’s kind of a blessing and a curse right now. I try to do so many things, like his jump shot for example, when he drifts and fades away, that it’s not really beneficial for me because sometimes I fade unnecessarily and it’ll make my shot flat or fall short. And that’s just a habit you pick up from watching such a phenomenal player like Allen Iverson do things that not everyone else can do. Growing up as a little kid, that’s obviously a guy I wanted to pattern my game after, but I know for this team I need to be a point guard first. We’ve got a lot of really good weapons, I’ve got a lot of really good weapons around me and I need to utilize them to the best of my ability. I want to be that point guard that can score if needed, but not at the expense of setting my teammates up. I think that’s when we are best as a unit.

NBA.com: You’ve had so many transitions in the past few years, from Columbus to Ann Arbor and now to Salt Lake City all before your 21st birthday (which was Nov. 12). That’s a lot of life changes in a short amount of time. Does it seem like it’s all gone by in a blur?

TB: It is a lot. Two years ago I was moving into my dorm and basically nobody knew me at Michigan. Some people might have known me after the Mr. Basketball and everything I was starting to make a name and a little buzz, but that seems like yesterday. My mom and dad and everybody was with me and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. But even from the Draft until now, being in Chicago for pre-Draft and then at summer league and now we’re 24, 25 games into the season. It’s all moving fast and that’s why I’m doing whatever it takes to keep getting better as the days go on because you don’t want to miss any opportunities or overlook any of the little things along the way that make this so special.

NBA.com: Is your work ethic born out of the absence from the McDonald’s All-American game and all of the other accolades most “late bloomers miss out on in terms of recognition?

TB: Some of the best players in this league came in with people doubting them, telling them what they couldn’t do and that they would never make it. I’ve always been a small point guard, so I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder from people saying I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t big enough. That just gave me that drive and determination to get better. I know what I can do, I know the parameters of my game and when I’m going outside of my game. Some of the best players in this league had the hype coming in but just as many didn’t have that hype. And it’s a correlating effect, look at a guy like Victor Oladipo that wasn’t really highly recruited in high school. He was the second pick in the Draft and now he’s in contention like myself and Michael Carter-Williams for Rookie of the Year. Guys have that drive when you’re doubted your whole life.

NBA.com: Are you glad you got picked where you did because of the opportunities that are open to you now in this situation as opposed to going somewhere else where, who knows what the expectations might have been?

TB: Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of people came to me saying, “you were the national player of the year, you should have been a top five pick.” Obviously, you want to be a high pick. But to me, being a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft … who’s going to complain about that. I landed in a perfect situation, and I thank God for that, it’s the perfect fit. In Utah, we’re a young team that’s trying to grow together as a team. We’re struggling a bit right now, but we’re getting better. But I have the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact. And that’s one of the biggest things I wanted to be a part of coming into the NBA.

NBA.com: You’ve put together some monster efforts already your first (17) games in the league. The 30 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in the win over Orlando sticks out. No Jazz rookie point guard has ever done that. Not Stockton or DWill. Do you have to be careful, though, about chasing ghosts and numbers instead of taking a more measured and methodical approach?

TB: Yes, I’m trying to bring it every single night You have to make sure are playing your best and doing what’s best for your team first every night and not getting caught up in anything else. People talking about you hitting that rookie wall, so you have to be careful. It’s in the back of my mind, but I personally think it’s mental. It’s also about the way you are handling yourself off the court, what you are eating and putting into your body, the amount of rest you are getting. I think all of that comes into play when you’re talking about how you’re going to play when game 40 comes and game 62 comes around, those games when you’re in a cold city and you’ve got a game the next morning and you’re coming off of a back-to-back. All of that factors into how you play. So I’m just going to continue to be around my vets and listen to them and learn from the guys who have the experience in this league to make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do to perform well from start to finish.

NBA.com: You got some great preparation for what you’re going through now trying to help revive a franchise in college. Michigan hadn’t been a championship team for decade before you arrived. It’s a huge burden to carry, on and off the court, when you’re the guy people expect to be that agent of change. Do you take that same knowledge and apply the things that connect in your current situation?

TB: At Michigan we were rebuilding, weren’t highly ranked my freshman year and then boom, the next year we take off and we’re No. 1 in the country for a time and end up making it to the championship game. I know this is a completely different level of competition, so it’s not going to be just like that. But I definitely have been a part of this same sort of thing, even before Michigan. Back in high school it was kind of like that. We came from basically out of nowhere to be the No. 1 team in the country and win a state championship. I’ve always been a part of winning programs that come from a struggle of some sort, from losing before we turn it around. That gives me confidence that it can happen with the Utah Jazz. This is a great franchise, a really family oriented franchise, but one built on all the right things. And all of my experiences, so far, definitely give me hope that we’re going to turn this thing around and be a factor in this league.


VIDEO: Trey Burke joins the Game Time crew on a recent visit to the NBA TV set

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gasol, D’Antoni clear the air | Report: Clips deal for Redick was nearly pulled | James heaps more praise on Iverson | Warriors’ offical scorer enters landmark season

No. 1: Gasol, D’Antoni clear the airPlay in the post last season for the Lakers was a confusing and often frustrating one for the team and its fans. On one hand, the Lakers were trying to make Dwight Howard happy by running the offense through him as much as possible, which often marginalized Kobe Bryant in particular. On the other hand, when they tried to run the offense through an injured Pau Gasol, the results were often frustrating due to Gasol’s gimpy status all season. Such was the delicate-if-unsuccessful balance coach Mike D’Antoni tried to strike last season. D’Antoni spoke with USA Today‘s Sam Amick about the gameplan last season, clearing the air with Gasol about his role this season and more:

The air has long since been cleared between Pau Gasol and Mike D’Antoni, and that’s saying something considering they work in a city where smog is as much a part of the landscape as the Los Angeles Lakers flags that still fly from passing cars.

But even without Kobe Bryant here at the outset, the two most important men in the Lakers’ new mission swear the regular season starts with an outlook as clear and bright as one of those rare days when you can see from Staples Center to the Hollywood Hills where departed big man Dwight Howard once resided. Gone are the days of placating the big man with the hopes that he’d re-sign, running the offense through him as a political ploy while the most skilled post player on the planet — yes, that’s Gasol — was mostly marginalized and pushed to the perimeter. And make no mistake, D’Antoni admits, it was nothing short of a season-long recruiting effort that made most basketball purists cringe, including him.

“It was very uncomfortable,” D’Antoni, the Lakers coach, said about the Howard-Gasol dynamic last season. “I knew I was messing on (Gasol) last year. That’s not fair to him. But that was the situation we were in. How do we make the best of it? I was just trying to make the best of it. But no, it wasn’t fair to him.

“I think it was all (politics). It was all that. We wouldn’t do that (normally). If nobody had names on their jerseys, and we were just playing? You go through Pau. There’s not a question. No question.”

The Lakers won’t have Bryant for the foreseeable future as he continues to recover from his April Achilles tendon tear and are already dealing with another round of health setbacks from point guard Steve Nash. In the here and now, they likely will go as far as Gasol can carry them. And that, as he well knows, means he must play like the Gasol of old rather than the old Gasol.

“I definitely believe I can do it,” Gasol told USA TODAY Sports this week. “I know it. I bounced back really well. The procedure went well, my tendons are a lot healthier now than they were before. I have a lot more healthy tissue that regenerated well. I worked hard during the summer to be in the position that I’m in today, and I look forward to just to going out there and doing what I know best.”

The summer brought with it a key question: Would he train like normal and hope the declining state of his knees miraculously improved or have a nascent medical procedure that could help him become basketball’s best ballerina again? He opted for the latter, and — for now, anyway —the plan is working to perfection.

The May 9 “FAST technique” procedure may have been minimally invasive, but it left him in crutches and — because of its newness in the medical community — unsure whether it would work. Stem cells were taken from his pelvis and injected into his knees to replace the damaged tissue that had been removed. Ultrasound wavelengths were aimed at his tendons in order to debride the damage in there too. Gasol said the procedure had only been performed 20 times when he decided to become the 21st, but it was far more attractive than the alternative.

“I had nothing to lose really, because as painful as (the knees were) feeling at the time and through last year, I just needed to do something,” Gasol said. “I just couldn’t continue otherwise. I would’ve gone down.

“You’re much more limited. You can’t explode. You can’t really jump. You can’t really bend as much. You can’t move as quickly and explosively. You’ve just got to adjust and with my skills and my IQ, I could still be productive, but not the go-to guy probably.”

***

No. 2: Report: Clips deal for Redick was nearly pulled — This is an awful complex story to boil down into a paragraph or so, but the nuts-and-bolts version from Yahoo!Sports.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski is this — the Clippers had agreed to ship Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Phoenix as part of the three-team deal that would put free agent J.J. Redick in L.A. But at the last minute, after the deal was all-but consummated, Clippers owner Donald Sterling had a change of heart. It’s a must-read story about the inner workings of a nearly pulled deal:

In the early afternoon hours of July 3, owner Donald Sterling called Los Angeles Clippers president Andy Roeser and informed him he had rescinded approval on moving Eric Bledsoe and acquiring free agent J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade agreement. The three-team deal – delivered the owner’s blessing only two days earlier – no longer interested Sterling.

Call it off, Sterling instructed Roeser, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Deal’s dead.

It didn’t matter the news had broken 24 hours earlier of the Clippers sending Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns with the Suns’ Jared Dudley and Milwaukee’s Redick, on a four-year, $27 million contract, joining Los Angeles. It didn’t matter the public had been praising Doc Rivers‘ first deal as the new senior vice president of basketball operations and coach, that Rivers and general manager Gary Sacks had given their word to teams, agents and players that this was a finalized agreement.

That bizarre turn of events had stayed within a tight circle of league executives, coaches and agents at the start of free agency in July.

After Sterling vaporized the deal on July 3, leaving chaos in his wake, the owner bolted for a beachfront holiday weekend in parts unknown. From the Suns’ and Bucks’ front offices to Redick’s agent, Arn Tellem, to the credibility of the Clippers franchise itself, those involved understood that perhaps only Rivers had the freshly minted cachet and power of persuasion to undo this looming disaster with Sterling.

Once a deal had been agreed upon and passed Sterling’s initial approval, Redick had turned down comparable offers, including one from Minnesota, to join the Clippers.

For Rivers’ system and culture, Redick and Dudley were ideal fits. They were twentysomething players replacing an aging, expensive Butler in the final year of his contract.

For the first few hours, these arguments were slow to register with Sterling, sources told Yahoo Sports. Looking back, only the owner knows why he attempted to blow the deal up. Yes, Sterling had been fond of Bledsoe. He was young, explosive, impactful on the Clippers’ second unit. Some believed too, that Sterling stereotyped Redick and didn’t want to pay $27 million for a bench player.

With Sterling, rational thought and debate aren’t always part of the discussion. Whatever his reasons, everyone else awaited Rivers’ conversations with Sterling. Rivers contract gave him ultimate management authority on deals, and several sources dealing with the Clippers say that Rivers was beyond embarrassed and humiliated. He feared the unraveling of the deal would cost him his credibility and paralyze him in future trade and negotiation talks, sources said.

***

No. 3: Wade, James heap praise on Iverson — In an offseason interview with ESPN the Magazine‘s Chris Broussard, LeBron James made it known that Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan were his two childhood idols. As the Sixers get ready to honor Iverson before their season opener Wednesday against the Heat, James — as well as his teammate, Dwyane Wade — took time to praise Iverson again, writes Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com:

Just days after Miami Heat forward LeBron James listed Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan as his childhood idols, the NBA’s reigning MVP continued to heap praise on the former Philadelphia 76ers star.

“Pound-for-pound, probably the greatest player who ever played,” James said of Iverson, who will retire in a Sixers pregame ceremony ahead of Wednesday’s home opener against the defending champion Heat.

James was asked Monday for his thoughts on Iverson ahead of Wednesday’s ceremony.

“[Iverson] reminds me of Floyd Mayweather,” James said, comparing Iverson to the undefeated boxer who has 18 titles to his name and stands just 5-foot-8. “You could never question [Iverson's] heart, his will to want to win. A true warrior.”

Although Iverson was one of the top scorers of his era, his career was cut short at age 34 when injuries had taken a toll on his effectiveness. Iverson’s playing career ended unceremoniously in 2010 after a 25-game stint with the 76ers, the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1996.

Iverson hasn’t found work in the NBA since.

“I hate the fact that his career ended the way it did,” James said Monday. “But he had an unbelievable career.”


Miami’s Dwyane Wade also considers it a privilege that he’ll be at Iverson’s retirement ceremony on Wednesday.

“One of my favorite players obviously of all time. Michael Jordan, Kobe [Bryant], T-Mac [Tracy McGrady] and A.I.,” Wade said. “Those were the ones that I looked up to coming up. I take pride in wearing No. 3 because A.I. wore No. 3.”

As it turns out, Wade’s first preseason game and regular-season game as an NBA player came against Iverson. What did he remember about those games?

“I was scared as God knows what,” Wade said. “He’s just a great competitor. He’s one of the best to do it.”

“It’s going to be a great moment, I’m sure, for everyone that was a fan of Iverson and the way he changed the game — all the little boys in their driveway doing the A.I. crossover,” Wade said.

***

No. 4: Warriors’ official scorer celebrates 50th season — Some fans wonder what it would be like to watch up close as legends like Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and LeBron James played the game. If you’re looking for someone who’s had that experience, look no further than Fred Kast, the Golden State Warriors’ official scorer. He’s been on the job for 49 seasons and will have his 50th season on the job starting Wednesday night. In a great story by the Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, Kast recalls his tenure on the job and some of the great moments he’s witnessed:

When the Warriors open their season Wednesday, Fred Kast will be stationed in Oracle Arena’s best seat.

Since the early days of the franchise’s move west from Philadelphia, he’s been manning the front row at Warriors home games in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Daly City.

It’ll be no different this season.

Kast is set to celebrate his 50th anniversary as the Warriors’ official scorer, a job that has both mandated his penchant for meticulousness and has afforded him the opportunity to witness some of the world’s greatest athletes from a center-court floor seat.

“I’ve seen Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Satch Sanders. Where do you want me to start?” Kast said. “I don’t go quite as far back as George Mikan, but I saw Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. Bob Davies and Bobby Wanzer. Everybody, from Wilt Chamberlain to Michael Jordan.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to see all of them play from that perfect seat.”

Kast took copious notes as Nate Thurmond inhaled 20 rebounds per game from 1966 to ’68, Rick Barry returned from his self-generated holiday to the American Basketball Association in the early 1970s, and Sleepy Floyd scored 29 of his 51 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers in the 1987 playoffs.

He was still scrawling away when Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin created their high-octane “Run TMC” trio in 1989-1991, Baron Davis made everyone believe with a monstrous dunk over Andrei Kirilenko in the 2007 postseason, and Stephen Curry leaped into the national consciousness last season.

But none of those special moments in time mean more to Kast than the 1974-75 championship, a title the Warriors swept from heavily favored Washington.

He’s been instructed that he’s part of the league’s refereeing crew when he’s doing his job as official scorer, so he’s not supposed to show courtside emotions. Kast follows the policy as long as he can, but a lack of fundamentals on the court can cause him to break what is his natural character every once in a while.

It was a matter of a chance that turned into a 50-year passion.

Kast was walking down one of the arena’s ramps when he recognized an old college buddy, Art Santo Domingo. He needed someone to sub as the Warriors’ official scorer, and he knew that Kast breathed the game.

“I said, ‘Where are you sitting?’ ” Kast recalled. “When he said, ‘On the court – right at center court,’ I said, ‘I’m your man.’ “

He’s been that man for 50 years – missing only four or five games per season during his most arduous travel years in medical sales and even fewer games since his retirement in 1999.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: New addition J.J. Hickson is likely to start on opening night in place of the injured Kenneth Faried … In case ya missed it, Kyrie Irving is back as his alter ego: Uncle Drew … Jazz backup big man Andris Biedrins injured his ankle in practice … Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson talks about his coaching career, Michael Jordan‘s tenure as an NBA exec and more

ICYMI Of The Night: Let’s not belabor the point … the season-opener is here at 7 p.m. ET on TNT, so make sure you’re all geared up for Bulls-Heat


VIDEO: Bulls-Heat preview as NBA season tips off

Blogtable: Toughest Player … Ever

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Dual dueling PGs in Houston | Tough Guy award | What to make of the Pelicans


Allen Iverson

Allen Iverson (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose looks like he’s back, Russell Westbrook is dunking in practice … who’s the toughest, most resilient NBA player you’ve ever seen?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comJerry Sloan was the Dick Butkus/Mike Ditka of Chicago basketball in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He didn’t get that clenched-fist profile hoisting pretty jumpers. Long before he was a Hall of Fame coach, Sloan was a spit ‘n’ vinegar Bulls guard alongside also-nails-tough Norm Van Lier. Those two — and more important, their opponents — needed cut men in their corners more than coaches on their benches.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comPound for pound, it’s got to be Allen Iverson. The little guy was bounced off more courts than anything without “Spalding” stamped across its face and kept right on coming back for more. Runner-up: Isiah Thomas.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Certainly it’s impossible not to immediately think of Michael Jordan, who played in at least 78 games in a season 12 times and through all kinds of injuries and illness. Larry Bird, too, with his awful back issues and Kobe Bryant, who had seemed almost impervious to injury until his Achilles blowout. Steve Nash is another guy who took all kinds of punishment and kept on coming. But one player fresh on my mind is Rudy Tomjanovich. I recently finally read John Feinstein‘s book “The Punch.” Tomjanovich wanted to walk right back on the court even though the punch Kermit Washington delivered caused Tomjanovich’s skull to leak spinal fluid (of course he didn’t quite know it at that moment). For him to come back after an injury that could have killed him and required multiple surgeries, to average 19.0 points and 7.7 rebounds a game the next season and make the All-Star team is nothing short of remarkable. Tomjanovich was always tough, but that brand of toughness stretches well beyond the imagination.

Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Finals

Kobe Bryant in the 2000 Finals (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kobe Bryant could have been a hockey player. Ultimate compliment. John Stockton is in the conversation. He didn’t battle serious injuries, but he was a point guard constantly setting hard screens on bigs, he never missed games. Grant Hill and Zydrunas Ilgauskas defined resilient — the number of times they could have retired because of injury, refused, and built lengthy careers through determination as much as talent.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s easy to recall both Jason Kidd and Steve Nash playing playoff games with one eye mostly swollen shut. I’ve heard stories about Chuck Hayes separating his shoulder on multiple occasions, popping it back in and getting back on the floor. But I don’t think anyone tops Kobe Bryant playing through the various injuries that he’s had over the years. In ’09-10, he put up over 1,500 shots with a broken finger on his shooting hand!

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That’s a ridiculously tough question to answer given what passes for toughness in today’s NBA. I think the toughest and most resilient player I have seen during my time as a conscientious observer of the NBA would certainly have to be two different players (I always go with Charles Oakley and Derrick Coleman as the two toughest, based solely on the eyewitness testimony of guys who played with and against them during their era). If we’re talking about guys who have bounced back from significant injury to regain their status in the league or the guy who are willing to sacrifice life and limb to stay on the court, the guy willing to drag around a dangling limb if he has to in order to keep his team in a position to win, that’s another story. You never really know what kind of pain threshold a particular guy might have and you certainly have no idea if they are willing to push it to the limit in this day and age, not with all of the science out there that indicates physical trauma of any kind can having a detrimental and lasting impact on an athlete’s life for year and years to come. That said, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo strike me as guys who have and will give it all up to compete and compete at the highest level. Kobe popped an Achilles and got up and walked down the floor and shot free throws, man. And you remember when Rondo got his arm twisted the wrong way and came back later and played, or when he tore his ACL last season and finished the game like it was no big deal. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if those things make you tough, resilient or just plain crazy.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogKevin Willis. Considering he started playing for the Hawks when I was a kid and then was still playing in the NBA by the time I was out of school and working covering the NBA… I mean, that’s a pretty wide span. He always kept himself in tip-top condition, which is why he was able to play until he was 44 years old. I had the pleasure of being able to share a few meals with Kevin toward the end of his career, and he was always terribly careful about what he would order and what he would allow himself to eat. (I was not so careful.) There may have been guys who were “tougher,” meaning guys who were ready to fight at the drop of a hat, but I don’t think anyone has ever been more resilient than Kevin Willis.

Karan Madhok, NBA.com IndiaThe player that immediately springs to mind is Allen Iverson. Perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound player ever, Iverson played much bigger than his 6-foot stature and dominated opponents on a nightly basis in his prime. He was also tougher than nails when it came to playing through injury, highlighted by the memorable 2001 season when he carried the undermanned 76ers to the Finals while also carrying various sprains, contusions and who knows what other pain in his body.

Jacopo Gerna, NBA.com ItaliaI’ll pick up Bill Laimbeer. Despite an ordinary body, he was a four-time All Star and a clutch player for the Detroit Pistons when they won two championships. Coaches, players, fans … when they talk about “playing hard,” what does it mean? I suggest a Laimbeer DVD. Look how he was able to face down bigger centers, opening the court with his silky mid-range shot and 3-pointers, playing pick-and-pop alongside Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. For sure he committed many hard fouls, and sometimes he flopped to the ground after a slight brushing. But his reputation for physical play (“he’s a thug”, said his former teammate Dennis Rodman) overshadowed his skills. To me, he was always more than a “bad boy.”

Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA.com Philippines:  Kobe Bryant, no doubt. He has been playing through injuries throughout most of his career — mentally and physically no one can match the Mamba. He prepares himself and uses every advantage he can to take care of his body. The image of Kobe walking by himself with a ruptured Achilles is a testament of his incredible toughness and resiliency.

Aldridge: Ex-MVP Iverson To Officially Retire From NBA This Month

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The long, illustrious, controversial career of Allen Iverson appears finally to be coming to an end. The 11-time All-Star is expected to finally and formally announce his retirement in Philadelphia at the end of the month, according to league sources.

Rumors that Iverson was ready to retire were rampant in September, but the 38-year-old guard never made a formal announcement. But sources say that the official announcement is scheduled for Oct. 30, the day after the NBA’s regular season begins, when the 76ers play their home opener against Miami.

In addition, sources indicate that the organization may be discussing some kind of post-playing position for Iverson. Though he wouldn’t be expected to have input with the current coaching staff, Iverson could travel with the team on occasional road trips.

If Iverson is indeed through playing — he had brief dalliances with teams in Turkey and China the last couple of years while trying to get back into the NBA — it will end one of the greatest careers in league history, one in which Iverson’s image and lifestyle made as many headlines as his on-court play.

In 14 NBA seasons, Iverson scored 24,368 points, averaging 26.7 points a game. His point total is 24th on the all-time scoring list.

The first overall pick of the celebrated 1996 Draft, Iverson was an electric performer who sold tickets and jerseys, and was must-see TV for years while carrying the league into the post-Michael Jordan era. Iverson was one of the most dynamic “small men” in league history, standing roughly 5-foot-10, and maybe 170 pounds. But he played with the heart of someone much bigger, repeatedly driving into the paint to challenge anyone who got in his path. His ballhandling skills (some would say occasionally aided by a palm or two) and amazing speed made him almost impossible to guard with one player.

He was not a great 3-point shooter (31.3 percent for his career), and shot a lot more than his teammates. But his drive, will and passion (he always referred to “playing every game as if it’s my last”) always gave his teams a chance.

Demonstrative, often profane, but searingly honest about many of his faults, Iverson lived his life in the public eye, often clashing with the league’s ideals about demeanor and dress. He often wore do-rags over his head, wore his hair in braids and had tattoos all over his body, single-handedly changing the styles of NBA players almost overnight.

The dress code instituted by Commissioner David Stern in 2005, in which players were told to wear “business casual” attire when conducting league business and sport coats and dress shoes while not playing but on the team’s bench, was informally known as the “Iverson Rule.”

Iverson led the 76ers to the 2001 Finals, the same year he was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. His love-hate relationship with then-coach Larry Brown was the source of endless media scrutiny and attention, with each insisting the other was the cause of the problems. In the end, though, both came to have great affection and respect for how they influenced each other.

Iverson outlasted Brown, who departed for the Pistons in 2003. Philadelphia finally dealt Iverson to Denver in 2006, after then-owner Ed Snider granted Iverson’s request to be traded. In a little more than a season and a half for the Nuggets, Iverson had occasional moments of the old brilliance, but Denver lost in the first round of the playoffs in both seasons. Three games into the 2008-09 season, Denver sent Iverson to Detroit.

Iverson was second on the team in scoring in Detroit, but he clashed with first-year coach Michael Curry. The Pistons lost in the first round of the playoffs and didn’t re-sign Iverson in the summer. He signed with Memphis in the offseason, but his time there was a disaster; then-coach Lionel Hollins confronted him during the preseason and demanded he be more team-oriented. After three games, Iverson left the Grizzlies on a personal leave of absence. He played his final 25 NBA games for his old team, the 76ers, in an act of seeming closure both for him and the franchise.

His legacy as one of the league’s all-time greatest players is assured. Almost any young point guard playing today says he emulated Iverson growing up. Just days ago, LeBron James told ESPN the Magazine that Iverson and Jordan were his two favorite players as a kid.

Five Who Could Crash Scoring Race Party

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – First-time scoring champ Carmelo Anthony lit up April, averaging 36.9 ppg to deny Kevin Durant a fourth consecutive scoring title.

It won’t be terribly surprising if Melo collects a second trophy this season. Prior to Durant’s three-peat, Kobe Bryant (2005, ’06), Tracy McGrady (’03, ’04) and Allen Iverson (’01, ’02) all repeated, so that’s a pretty decent track record for staking back-to-back scoring titles.

Starting with last season’s top five scorers — Anthony (28.7 ppg), Durant (28.1), Bryant (27.3), LeBron James (26.8) and James Harden (25.9) — plus a strong candidate pool coming, the scoring race should be a fun one, and the top five scorers in the league come April 2014 might look different than it did in 2013.

Of course, for a player to move into the top five, one most fall out.

So which player or players are vulnerable to vacating the top five? Start with the three players I think are as close to top-five locks as possible: Melo (he’s still just 29 and by far the Knicks’ No. 1 option); Durant (he has so many ways to score that he can drop 30 hopping on one leg); and James (he can score whenever and however he wants, and he’s finished in the top four in scoring in nine consecutive seasons).

That leaves two that could slip and open a spot: Harden (the addition of Dwight Howard will alter Houston’s offense and spread the scoring wealth); and Kobe (it’s dangerous to doubt him considering he’s finished in the top five since finishing sixth in 2001-02, but, at 35 years old and coming off Achilles surgery, there has to be some dropoff, right?).

Which players will make a run at cracking the top five? Here’s my top five:

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: The offense-starved Bulls will welcome their point guard back after he missed all of last season recovering from ACL surgery. He’s had plenty of time to hone his game and Rose will return with a vengeance, perhaps reaching his 2010-11 level when he averaged 25.0 ppg and won the league MVP. That season put him on the cusp of the top five, just 0.3 ppg behind Bryant and Amare Stoudemire.

2. Kevin Love, Timberwolves: Another injury returnee, Love played just 18 games last season due to a right hand he broke twice. He’s got Ricky Rubio to set him up, an offensively gifted center in Nikola Pekovic to draw attention down low and shooters around him such as Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger. Love is set up to return to the 26.0 ppg he averaged  in 2011-12 when he shot 37.2 percent from beyond the arc and finished fourth in the scoring race.

3. Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Yeah, yeah, maybe he shoots too much considering he plays alongside that Durant guy. But Westbrook’s a stone-cold scorer and Thunder coach Scott Brooks knows it. After his knee injury in the first round, Westbrook (he finished sixth in scoring last season at 23.2 ppg) declared that he will return a smarter player. Maybe it means he’ll take fewer bad shots, but don’t expect him to necessarily take fewer shots since the Thunder lost 3-point ace Martin to the Wolves in free agency.

4. Blake Griffin, Clippers: This guy takes a lot of flak for a perceived lack of development in his low-post and mid-range game, and I have said that he must find less violent ways to score to truly become great. I think the powerful Griffin delivers this season on a team loaded with options and one that will be smartly coached by Doc Rivers. Despite a lack of finesse, Griffin still managed to average 22.5 ppg in 2010-11 and is a career 52.9 percent shooter. Only 24, Griffin’s career is just getting started, and he’s got Chris Paul to make his ascension all the easier.

5.  Stephen Curry, Warriors: The best pure shooter in the game today averaged a career-best 22.9 ppg last season and then increased it to 23.4 ppg with an electric postseason. His scoring potential is off the charts. But he’s also got a team to run and that includes some pretty nice targets in Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut. Still, like Westbrook, this kid is a born scorer and as long as his ankles hold up, Curry is going to put up some huge games for a team attempting to move up into the Western Conference elite.

Laying It On The Line: The Answers

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HANG TIME, Texas – On a recent hot summer day when Allen Iverson announced his retirement, what immediately came to mind was not one single spectacular shot that he made, but all of those fabulous, bone-jarring times he crashed to the floor.

And then got back up.

It wasn’t just his ability to lead the NBA scoring four times that made Iverson special. It was that warrior’s mentality, the trait that made him willing, against all odds, to out-scrap, out-hustle, out-compete everybody else on the court.

Through the history of the NBA, it’s usually been the big men — think Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Charles Oakley — who got the reputation for being strong and tough, but the truth is some of the fiercest players we’ve seen over the past 30 years have been guards.

In addition to Iverson, here’s another handful of the backcourt backbreakers we’ll call The Answers. They’re indomitable. They breathe fire. They don’t ever quit. They would chew off a leg to escape from a steel trap. They’re the ones you want playing in a single game with your life on the line:

Isiah Thomas It was never wise to be fooled by the cherubic face and angelic smile. The truth is that while Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got most of the notoriety for their bruising style and often dirty tricks, Thomas was the real heart and cold-blooded soul of the Detroit “Bad Boys.” Part of what made him the best “little man” ever to play the game was an inner fire that never burned out. He competed ferociously and refused to ever show a sign of weakness. Hobbling on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals, he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter — a Finals record — and nearly pulled out a win that would have given the Pistons their first championship a year earlier. Then there was the night of Dec. 14, 1991 when on a drive down the lane in the first quarter in Salt Lake City, Thomas took an elbow to the face from Karl Malone that opened a huge gash over his left eye. After receiving 40 stitches, Thomas returned to play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Jordan Sure, he had the leaping ability, the defensive desire, the post game, clutch jumper and late-game instincts. But Jordan the All-Star would never have become Jordan the legend and icon without his roaring, brash nature, downright mean streak and readiness to do anything it took to pull out a win. He could barely control his competitive urges, whether it was challenging Bulls teammates in practice, occasionally punching one of them out, or rising up in a game situation to respond to any kind of challenge — real or imagined — that might have been tossed out. There was virtually nothing that could stop Jordan from leaving every ounce of himself in any game that he ever played. The so-called “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals is frequently cited. He spent the night before Game 5 at Utah suffering from severe stomach distress and was a questionable starter. Dehydrated, struggling to breathe, he hit 13 of 27 shots for 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 90-88 win. Just as telling was a story from the training camp of the 1992 USA Dream Team in Monte Carlo. After beating Jordan in a golf match one afternoon, coach Chuck Daly was awakened very early the next morning by a banging on his hotel room door. When he opened the door, Daly found a grim-faced, primed-for-revenge Jordan standing there, dressed for the golf course. “Let’s go,” he said.

Kobe Bryant – You can call him a shameless gunner who never ever met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. Shaq did. You can call him a difficult and unpleasant teammate who would make a guy leave an extra contract year and $20 million on the table to walk away from the Lakers. Dwight Howard certainly did. But after 17 NBA seasons, you can’t call Bryant anything less than the most single-minded, driven competitor in the game today. He won’t just trash-talk opponents, but will ride his own teammates to get them to try to match his level of intensity. (They can’t.) He plays hurt, aching, sick, bruised, broken and he is usually still the best player and hardest worker on the floor. He played half of the 2007-08 season with a fractured finger on his shooting hand and still won the MVP Award and led the Lakers to The Finals. At 34 last season, he averaged the second-most minutes per game in the league last season — trailing only rookie Damian Lillard — until tearing an Achilles tendon on April 12. So then he just took to Twitter from his sickbed to critique his teammates. It’s supposed to take nine months to a year to come back from Achilles surgery, but Bryant plans to tear up the calendar.

John Stockton Another one of those with a choirboy face who might have kept a pair of brass knuckles under his robe. Trying to get him to change his expression was as fruitless as banging your head against a brick wall. His Jazz teammate, The Mailman, had all those big, bulging muscles. But Stockton was equally as strong in competing with the stubbornness and dependability of a mule. Durability is a mark of greatness and in 19 seasons Stockton missed only 22 of a possible 1526 games due to injury. He never drew attention to himself by dribbling behind his back or through his legs, mostly throwing bounce passes that led to layups that were mind-numbingly effective and oh-so-deadly. He was also widely known throughout the NBA for using his 6-foot-1 body — OK, and occasionally his elbows — to set picks on opposing big men. Stockton never went looking for trouble or fights and rarely was involved in trouble, but night in night out he had the strong jaws and voracious appetite of a pit bull.

Clyde Drexler Oh, how nicknames can be deceiving. Clyde the Glide practically slides across the tongue like ice cream on a hot summer day. But it’s a lot like calling the fat kid in the crowd “Slim” or the tall guy “Shorty.” Maybe it was the fact that from the time he was a star in on the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team all the way through his 15-year NBA career in Portland and Houston, the TV screens were filled with images of him floating effortlessly to the basket. In reality, he was as sharp and cutting as razor wire. He went down onto the floor for loose balls and into the crowds of tall trees to come away with the toughest rebounds. He would slice through the narrowest opening to get to the hoop for a critical bucket. He would use arms, legs, elbows — any means possible — at the defensive end, all the while with a smile on his face that belied how much he wanted to destroy you. The defending champion Rockets were down 3-1 in the 1995 conference semifinals, facing elimination and when his teammates entered the locker room, Drexler was stretched out on a table connected to IV bottles. He had the flu and nobody thought he would play. But Drexler dragged himself out onto the court and, though he could not manage a single field goal in the game, played 32 hard and inspirational minutes to spark a Rockets win that started a comeback to their second straight title.