Posts Tagged ‘Bill Walton’

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

LaVine delivers more than dunks in Vegas

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rookie Zach LaVine from UCLA tore up the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Zach LaVine jumps really high and talks really fast. He exudes a brash confidence like Russell Westbrook and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton.

This latest UCLA product is headed either for a stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves or cold, hard NBA reality.

“I’m a very confident person, I always hold myself to high standards,” LaVine said Friday after scoring 22 points with four assists in the Wolves’ sixth and final Summer League game. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me. I feel  always like changing peoples’ minds, you know, ‘He’s not NBA-ready, why’d he come out?’ and different things like that. So I just come out here and always try to prove my point. I think I fared well for myself.”

There was little not to like about the 6-foot-5, 19-year-old’s debut in the Las Vegas Summer League. Everybody was aware of his athleticism coming in, but many were skeptical about his decision-making and the durability of his 180-pound frame..

“I definitely have to get in the weight room and let my body mature. But if they can’t touch you, you know, strength really isn’t a factor,” LaVine said. “I feel I’m a pretty physical person, just not the strongest yet, so I definitely have to get into the weight room. But I use my speed to my advantage.”

He averaged 15.7 points a game and more than five free-throw attempts per game in the Summer league. Twice he got to the line 10 times.

Fans mostly will remember a dazzling array of dunks. He’s already nominated himself for the dunk contest when February’s All-Star weekend props up its big tent in New York City.

“I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that,” LaVine said  “I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time, maybe since I first started dunking. So I have some dunks in my package.”

The Wolves are more intrigued by the 13th overall pick’s size at the shooting-guard position, his ball-handling and his higher-than-expected court IQ at point guard. He bounced between the two positions during Summer League.

He scored in double figures in all six games. In the final three games he averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He had two games with five turnovers, but averaged just 3.6 turnovers in 32.2 minutes a game, a good rate considering he was playing with little practice time and with unfamiliar teammates, most of whom won’t sniff the NBA.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good, but he exceeded all our expectations thus far,” Wolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s smart, he’s athletic, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s a sponge, he learns. We threw a lot at him. We’ve run a lot of NBA sets, we’re doing a lot of things defensively and he just picks it all up.”

The Wolves could have playing time available. Behind point guard Ricky Rubio is the diminutive J.J. Barea, who is in the final year of his contract and has seen his shooting percentages drop the last two seasons. Behind shooting guard Kevin Martin is young Russian Alexey Shved, who took a step back last season after a promising rookie campaign.

“I feel like I’m player,” LaVine said. “Wherever he [team president and coach Flip Saunders] needs to play me at; if that’s the 1, I feel like I can handle the ball and run the team, to a point where I’m still learning the position, but I feel like I can handle it. I like scoring the ball as well, so whatever he needs me to do, facilitate, shoot, defend, anything he needs me to do.”

There’s a chance LaVine could be one of two 19-year-old talents in Minnesota. If the Wolves deal Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be set up with two tremendously gifted athletic wings for years to come.

For now, LaVine is headed back home to Seattle to train. The league will have to wait to see if he builds on his Summer League success. But Timberwolves fans should know that they will hear from their newest addition.

Morning Shootaround — June 22


VIDEO: The Inside crew has another nuanced discussion about Carmelo Anthony’s future

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo weighing salary against winning with his decision | Love deal on hold, Thompsons smiling | Report: Bulls pursuing trade for Magic’s Afflalo | Embiid fits Lakers’ needs

No. 1: Carmelo weighing salary against winning – As cold and crass as it might sound, the fact is Carmelo Anthony‘s potentially career-defining decision about whether to opt in for another year in New York with the Knicks or to bolt in free agency is really about trying to win titles or trying to cash in on one last huge payday. Because no one is convinced he can do both by staying with the Knicks. His decision is due Monday, giving Anthony one final night of restless sleep to figure out his future. His options, as Benjamin Hoffman of The New York Times details, are set in stone both ways:

If Anthony does nothing with his contract and chooses to stay with the Knicks for the 2014-15 season, he will earn $23.3 million. If he opts out and signs a maximum contract with the Knicks, he can earn about $129 million over five seasons, depending on the final salary-cap ceiling. If he signs a maximum contract with a team other than the Knicks, he can get up to $95 million over four years. If he forgoes his rights to re-sign with the Knicks and wants to form a Big 4 in Miami with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it is hard to envision a way in which he could earn more than $58.8 million over four seasons.

It is that cold, hard reality that has Pat Riley, the Heat’s president, calling the idea of obtaining Anthony a “pipe dream” — even if he did not specifically use Anthony’s name.

The question now, with the deadline for Anthony to opt out of his contract coming Monday, is how much he values winning. The Knicks seem unlikely to contend next season, and Anthony will be voting with his own money if he chooses to walk away from the rebuilding franchise.

At 30, and with more than 800 games played, including the playoffs, Anthony will probably never again have as strong a case for demanding a gigantic payday. He just had one of his best all-around seasons, even if it came in a frustrating season for his team, and any team looking to sign him can reasonably expect the durable Anthony to be productive for the length of the contract.

The prospect of playing with the Heat’s threesome, all of whom he has shared time with on the United States men’s national team, would certainly be enticing, but the Heat’s ability to manipulate the salary cap can go only so far.

With nearly every contract on the roster involving some form of option, the Heat are currently committed to more than $80 million in salary next season, which is far in excess of the estimated $63 million salary cap. In a highly unlikely move, the team could reduce its salary commitments to $8 million if it declined all its team options and if every player eligible opted to become a free agent. That $8 million would have to fill 10 roster spots, leaving roughly $55 million to sign Anthony, James, Wade and Bosh. Split evenly, they would each earn less than $14 million next season. Anthony last made that little money in 2007-8 and would potentially be leaving $70 million on the table over the duration of the contract.

As good as the Big 4 would be, the Heat would need more than them to re-establish themselves as title contenders.

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Jack Ramsay: A game, a life, a vision

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Whether it was as an octogenarian fitness fanatic skipping rope in a hotel exercise room, those bushy eyebrows dancing above his piercing eyes as he discussed the game he loved or watching one of his teams pass and cut and blend in perfect harmony, the images of Jack Ramsay are all about movement.

The 89-year-old coaching legend who died of cancer Monday morning was relentless in his beliefs about physical training, mental preparation and the correct way to play basketball … and never stopped actively promoting them.

As a native Philadelphian just learning about the game, it was Ramsay’s overachieving St. Joseph’s Hawks teams that swooped up and down the court of the historic Palestra in the early 1960s that first captured my attention and admiration.

In my first year covering the NBA, it was Ramsay’s harmonious vision of the game — move without the ball, make the extra pass, play as one — that made his Trail Blazers of Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Bobby Gross, Johnny Davis, Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik and the rest NBA champions in 1977. They had such style and elegance and were in tune that you could almost close your eyes and hear music.

Those Finals were the perhaps the greatest contrast in styles ever, pitting Ramsay’s Blazers against the prodigious one-on-one talents of a 76ers roster that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and Lloyd Free.

During one practice at The Finals, the Sixers, coached by Gene Shue, spent most of an hour jacking up jump shots, exchanging dunks and killing time. McGinnis took time out to smoke a cigarette in the bleachers. A short time later, the Blazers entered the same gym and began running though layup lines and precise drills as if they were in a Marine boot camp. (more…)

Tarkanian Plans To Attend Enshrinement

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Jerry Tarkanian, who has been battling serious health problems for years and had a pacemaker and stents inserted in his heart after being rushed to the hospital in July, is planning to attend his Hall of Fame enshrinement next month, his son said.

Whether the former UNLV, Long Beach State and Fresno State coach, who also had a 20-game stint with the Spurs in 1992-93, will be able to speak at the Sept. 8 ceremony in Springfield, Mass., has not been determined. But, Danny Tarkanian said, “unless something happens” his father will “absolutely” make the trip as one of the 12 members of the Class of 2013.

“We’re hoping he’s going to be able to speak on his own,” Danny Tarkanian said Monday. “It’s going to be a close call. Some days he’s having a good day, other times he’s not. It’s hard to tell. He’s made great progress the last five days…. We’re hoping he will be strong enough to walk up there, with a walker, to give the speech.”

If Tark is unable to speak at the ceremony, someone will accept on his behalf, as has been with the case in the past if an honoree was too ill or unable to attend.

“It means a lot to him,” Danny Tarkanian said of his father’s long road to Springfield, a wait so long that the 83-year-old former coach was removed from the ballot for lack of support before returning to consideration on the latest ballot and getting the necessary support. “I think he was very happy when it happened. I don’t think he’s as cognizant as he would have been a few years ago. But this has picked him up spiritually.”

The choice for the presenter, who will accompany Tark to the stage but has no speaking role?

Bill Walton, in more than a little bit of irony.

“It is,” Danny Tarkanian said. “And it’s a nice irony, actually.”

Though Jerry Tarkanian had the ultimate respect for John Wooden and Wooden held his up-and-coming rival at Long Beach in such high regard that Wooden recommended Tark for the Indiana job that went to Bob Knight, the Tarkanian camp always held UCLA responsible for turning the NCAA on Tarkanian. The blame went to powerful athletic director J.D. Morgan and not Wooden, and Walton had not yet started his varsity reign, but Tarkanian picking a Bruin for the honor is good stuff for the history books.

That it would be Walton the individual, though, is no surprise. Walton was an early supporter, saying in the 1970s that the NCAA was unfairly targeting Tarkanian during years of pursuit, and they grew closer when Tarkanian began to spend several months a year in San Diego, Walton’s hometown, in addition to Las Vegas. When Tark had a serious health scare in San Diego and was hospitalized approximately six weeks, Walton kept in contact to see if he could help in any way.

“What we try to do now is we look back on all the positive things,” Danny Tarkanian said. “And a guy like Bill Walton, what he’s done, to have the chance that he would be the one to introduce him, is the best.”

As Mavericks Flounder, Cuban Talks Of Drafting Baylor’s Griner?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Go ahead Dirk. Shave it off.

As Vince Carter said last week after the Dallas Mavericks’ first failed attempt to get back to .500, the beard brigade served its purpose, bringing this group of mostly one-year rentals closer and focused on making a run. To their credit they did. But now, as Carter also said, the hubbub surrounding their quest to finally shave after two months of battling to break even is — ahem — growing out of control.

To the point that the Indiana Pacers used Dallas’ planned post-game shave party with the now-famous Omar the Barber as motivation for their 25-point pounding of the Mavs last Thursday.

Still, Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas’ career lone superstar — looking half uni-bomber, half-Bill Walton ’77 — promised to abide by the non-shaving pact initiated by O.J. Mayo back in late January.

“We only have 10 games left,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to shave now.”

Now, with eight to go, it’s time. After Tuesday’s second failed attempt for .500, a 20-point road drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas is 36-38 and essentially out of the chase for eighth, now a two-team race between the Lakers and Utah Jazz. Nowitzki, who had 33 points in an overtime win against the Clippers last Tuesday and 35 in Saturday’s miraculous comeback to beat the Bulls, fizzled in L.A. with just 11 points, appearing as old as the 45 years his mother said that beard makes him look.

There is no shame in the longtime face of the franchise opting for a shave. It will be refreshing, perhaps even a bit rejuvenating to see your still-youthful face again and finish out this lost season on a positive note.

Nowitzki’s 11-year All-Star run came to an end this season and he could suffer his first sub-.500 season since the turn of the century. Plus, he’s on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons, a remarkable run that only the Spurs can outdo, recently cinching a 16th consecutive playoff appearance.

The offseason promises to be a long one for Nowitzki, who turns 35 in June and who will wait and see how owner Mark Cuban again reshuffles the deck entering the final year of his contract.

Since winning the NBA title in 2011, the Mavs are 72-68 with a first-round sweep. He has grown weary of a makeshift roster and even questioned Cuban’s strategy earlier this season.

Surely Nowitzki didn’t take solace in Cuban’s comments Tuesday in Los Angeles that got him trending on Twitter. Cuban said he’d consider drafting giant of the women’s game, 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner.

It’s doubtful this is the star Nowitzki had in mind to join him for his twilight seasons.

Back in star-studded L.A., where he was filming the TV show “Shark Tank” last July when Deron Williams wondered why he wasn’t in his Manhattan living room, Cuban told reporters regarding Griner:

“Would I do it? Right now, I’d lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it’s not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.”

Perhaps Cuban saw the inevitable to come Tuesday night and figured he’d preempt Shaq’s big night and this beat-up, sub-standard Lakers team eventually demolishing of his Mavs by going headline hunting.

For one, Cuban has often talked about the heightened importance of the draft under the new collective bargaining agreement. Those more rigid, financially punishing set of rules convinced him to dismantle the 2011 title team, particularly by not re-signing Tyson Chandler and choosing to rebuild a contender through cap space and draft picks.

Dallas hasn’t hit on a draft pick since Josh Howard in 2003. Last June’s second-round pick, Jae Crowder, is the closest yet to becoming a contributing rotation player. Fellow second-round pick, 6-foot-10 former Air Force staff sergeant Bernard James, might tell Griner this gig isn’t so easy. First-round pick Jared Cunningham, a combo guard, has played a total of 26 minutes in a season the Mavs brought in Derek Fisher and then Mike James.

With free-agent star power this summer expected to stay where it is, and Dallas light on trade assets to acquire a rising impact player, the Mavs must find success in the draft — be it in the first round or the too-easily dismissed second round.

The Mavs need contributors, not marketing gimmicks. And that’s no shot at Griner, who dominated the women’s game and was recently described probably quite accurately by one Dallas radio commentator as the Wilt Chamberlain of women’s basketball.

But Griner can’t play in the NBA, and for Cuban to even suggest that he’d consider selecting her with a draft pick should only make the still-bearded, still-committed Nowitzki roll his eyes.

Back Away From The Edge, Clipper Fans

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HANG TIME, Texas — From Bill Walton’s feet to Danny Ferry’s bolting for Italy to the choice of Michael Olowokandi to practically any decade of Donald Sterling’s long and painful stewardship, it is practically built into their DNA.

Fear! Dread! Panic!

So maybe you can’t blame Clippers fans for seeking out a tall mast from which to jump.

But we will.

Relax.

Yes, it’s now a three-game losing streak that has your boys slipping behind the Spurs into third place in the Western Conference playoff race. Yes, the latest blow came at the hands of the lowly Suns, who are more barren than an Arizona desert and are memorizing the name of their new coach (Lindsey Hunter).

No, the ball’s not going into the basket as often as they’d like. No, Blake Griffin wasn’t zooming toward the rim to catch alley-oops for dunks, wasn’t attacking the basket and wasn’t taking enough shots.

Come on, surely you can take off your sunglasses to see that handsome young man in the dapper outfit sitting over there on the bench, not far from coach Vinny Del Negro.

Meet Chris Paul, fire-starter, All-Star and MVP candidate whose stock is only soaring higher as he waits for a sore knee to feel better.

Maybe everyone was fooled when the Clippers swept a three-game road trip a week ago with Paul on the sidelines nursing his knee. But does anyone really think this team, this season, this talk about the Clippers as real championship contenders doesn’t revolve around CP3?

Everything the Clippers try to do with their offense is based on having the ball in Paul’s hands, letting him make plays, buckets and decisions, as Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles notes:

The Clippers don’t want to make any excuses while Paul is out, and there’s certainly a chance he could be out for a week as he was the last time he sat out with a bruised right kneecap. But with the Clippers up by one with 7:45 left in the game, the Clippers sure could have used Paul or at least Chauncey Billups running the offense to close the game out. Eric Bledsoe is a great change-of-pace point guard and can give the Clippers a spark in the second and third quarters, but Del Negro likes to lean on Paul (and Billups when he’s healthy) early and late in games and it’s not hard to see why.

“All that stuff changes with Chris or Chauncey out there,” Del Negro said. “There’s no excuse. We were in this game and whoever is out there I have confidence in and they got to make the plays.”

Paul is the one who gets the ball to all of the other Clippers in the best position for them to score. Paul is the one who creates the open spaces for open shots. Paul is the one who turns them from a collection of diverse talent into a team.

Yes, there are games that you can win over the course of a long season without your star player. The Clippers did that in going 3-0 through Memphis, Houston and Minnesota. But that was never the point.

Imagine the Heat without LeBron James or the Thunder without Kevin Durant. Heck, even imagine the Three Stooges without Curly.

The show still goes on. But nobody really comes to see Shemp.

We don’t need laboratory slides to know that panic is in your blood, Clipper fans.

Just relax and know that CP3 is just collecting a few more MVP votes this week.

Brook Lopez’s Sore Foot Key For Nets





HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Brook Lopez is day-to-day, and a franchise holds its breath.

In his third game back last season from a broken right foot, Lopez destroyed the Dallas Mavericks for 38 points and teammate Deron Williams roared: “He was a monster tonight.”

Lopez lasted just two more games, a second injury to his size 20 right foot ending his season for good. But the league and Williams — who would choose the Nets over the Mavs last July — got a glimpse of what could be with the 7-footer with the sweet set shot.

The hard-luck Nets, rebranded in black and white and having taken Brooklyn by storm, couldn’t escape the season’s first month without another scare from Brooks’ brittle right foot. The medical report on this one — a ligament sprain to the mid-foot and not a fracture — allowed for a brief exhale.

Still, it can’t be comforting for a franchise that removed itself from the Dwight Howard circus and awarded Lopez a $61 million contract. The Stanford man played at an All-Star level in his first 14 games, leading the Nets in scoring at 18.5 points a game on a career-best 53.4 percent shooting. His rebounding is improving and he’s blocking more shots than ever before.

Most disappointing for Lopez is he didn’t miss a game through his first three seasons and now has played in just 19 of the last 83. The moment he went down in the final of two preseason games following last year’s lockout will go down as the start of his injury timeline.

There has to be real concern here, although the Nets are swallowing hard trying not to show it. Big men have endured a notorious history with chronic foot ailments, the most famous being Bill Walton, the most recent being Yao Ming.

At the moment, Lopez is listed as day-to-day. He’s missed the last three games. The Nets, 11-6 overall, are 1-2 without him, losing two games they might have lost with him, at Miami and against Oklahoma City. But Avery Johnson’s bunch sure would have loved to attack those clubs with a revived Andray Blatche spelling Brooks instead of starting for him.

Lopez’s availability for Friday’s home game against the improved Golden State Warriors is uncertain. So are the Nets’ heady prospects if problems with Lopez’s big right foot continue to persist.

Our Fab Five All-Time NBA Teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – There’s nothing like a list to get everyone stirred up and there’s nothing that Hang Time likes to do more than provide the straw that does the stirring.

So first we’ll provide with what the good folks at The Sporting News – continuing their 125th anniversary celebration – are calling their Top 10 NBA teams of all time.

But that’s the easy task. We here at Hang Time will do the heavy lifting and boil that down to our Top Five, including some changes:

No. 1: 1996 Chicago Bulls – Nobody’s really going to argue with the consensus top choice, are they? Michael Jordan fresh out of retirement and at the top of his game, joined by fellow future Hall of Famers Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the Bulls set the NBA record with 72 wins and outscored opponents by an average of 12.2 per game. These Bulls knew they were going to win every time they walked onto the court and usually were right.

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Heat join the instant-contender ranks

Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday when the Heat were a team with one All-Star struggling to keep their heads above water in the playoffs.

Well, actually it was.

Then, barely 11 months ago, LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade on stage at American Airlines Arena for that smoke and laser light show. Which brings to mind a few other NBA teams that have made the rapid ascent from middling to championship contender.

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