Posts Tagged ‘Charles Barkley’

Morning Shootaround — April 20


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Sunday

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way | Green downplays ‘scrimmage’ comments about Pelicans | Clippers rough up Spurs | Bulls expecting different Bucks in Game 2

No. 1: Wise LeBron shows Cavaliers the way — The man with all of the playoff experience in Cleveland set the tone for the home team Sunday. Yes, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shined in their playoff debut. But wise old head LeBron James is the man who lit the path for his teammates and put the Cavaliers in control in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer provides the details:

Fatherhood has been a theme for LeBron James throughout the course of this season.

James’ wife, Savannah, gave birth to the couple’s third child, daughter Zhuri, in October. So, naturally, that was a reason for James to talk about being a dad.

The topic came up again for more philosophical reasons; deep, philosophical issues like when to talk to his two sons about racism or whether or not it’s safe to let them play football.

Once, after a November win over Boston, James, 30, said his teammates were “like my kids” — a reference to the Cavaliers’ younger players learning the finer points of basketball the way his sons learn their school material.

Really, James has played the role of teacher all season, with varying degrees of success.

The thing about being a parent, though, is sometimes the lesson is taught by example. The Cavs’ 113-100 win over the Celtics in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Sunday was that time for James.

When the ball went in the air Sunday, James became the franchise’s all-time leader with 72 playoff games. It was his 159th career playoff game, counting his four years and two titles with Miami, and during the game he surpassed Michael Jordan (1,022 assists) for the ninth-most playoff assists in league history.

By contrast, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova – four players James relies on in some form — were playing their first-career playoff games.

James spoke to the team before the game about his first playoff game (more on that game later), but he needed to show them. Matched up defensively against former Ohio State standout Evan Turner, James hounded him over the game’s first five minutes. Once, the ball landed in Turner’s hands behind halfcourt, and James was so close to him that Turner could barely turn around.

Turner was trying to move along the perimeter, both with and without the ball, and James was stuck on his every step. Offensively, James scored on a layup in transition and got to the foul line twice. He registered two assists before his hand shot up with 6:45 to go – not even halfway through the first quarter – for coach David Blatt to give him a breather.

“LeBron really pushed himself early, almost to the point of forcing himself to hit that limit, come out, catch his second wind, and then play,” Blatt said. “I think he even did it on purpose.”

*** (more…)

Paul still pounding at the championship door


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks Clippers-Spurs matchup.

LOS ANGELES — When Doc Rivers took over the Clippers job two summers ago and met with Chris Paul, he had this to say to the point guard, rather bluntly: “You haven’t won anything in this league.”

And Paul later admitted: “Yeah, he’s right. I haven’t.”

Here they are, another 50-plus win regular season in the books, another splendid season by Paul behind them, another chance to win something, and the Clippers get the Spurs in the first round starting Sunday night. It’s almost as if the basketball Gods are punishing Paul for stealing the athletic ability from his commercial twin brother Cliff. Or something like that. Paul is perhaps the best point guard of the last half-decade or so, and 10 seasons into a certain Hall of Fame career is still one of the top 10 players in the league, and yet his heavy list of personal accomplishments hasn’t translated into a championship or even a trip beyond the second round of the playoffs.

He is either headed down the same path as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, titans without a title, or maybe the coronation is coming soon, perhaps this June. All Paul knows is the nightmare of last summer, often relived by critics, when he crumbled in Game 5 against Oklahoma City and stumbled into a long, hot summer.

“CP is on a mission and that’s good for everybody,” Rivers said.

Paul seems humbled by his lack of summer success. Introspective by nature, and a proud leader to boot, Paul doesn’t get snippy when asked about his missing ring. He acknowledges his fate without accepting it and simply says, sounding very believable, that his next crack at a championship will be his best crack while also conceding that time waits for no one.

“I feel like you’ve got to seize the moment every year,” he said. “You never know what could happen with injuries and all that different kind of stuff.”

On the even of Clippers-Spurs, a first-round matchup with the aroma of a Western Conference final, Rivers tried to reduce the temperature in the room. Failing to win a title this season, Rivers said, doesn’t mean all is lost. The Clippers are relatively young and the core is still in its prime.

“I don’t think (our) sense of urgency is greater than Tim Duncan’s, and they won the title last year,” Rivers said. “My hope is every single player wants to win a title. Then, isn’t everyone’s urgency the same? I laugh when people say `it’s a must win for (us).’ But isn’t it a must win for the other team?”

Well, sure. It does. But Rivers knows, deep down, the rules are different for superstars. They make the most money, reap the most benefits, luxuriate in the most praise and therefore, in order to confirm their status, shouldn’t winning a title be part of the deal?

Yes, there are excuses. Barkley was stuck on lousy teams in Philly and in Phoenix, he couldn’t beat Michael Jordan. Ewing couldn’t beat Jordan either, and when the window opened a crack after Jordan played baseball, Ewing couldn’t beat Hakeem Olajuwon. Paul can’t beat the Spurs; he’s 0-2 against them in the playoffs, but there’s no icon standing between him and the trophy unless you feel Steph Curry already qualifies.

Paul has been gifted with a top-5 coach like Rivers, and a top-5 forward in Blake Griffin, and a top-5 big man in DeAndre Jordan, and one of the best sixth men in Jamal Crawford. The bench is mostly baloney but if the Clippers are reaching deep into the rotation for help in the playoffs, nothing can save them. Basically, while the Clippers aren’t heads and shoulders above the other contenders in the West or the NBA, they have a chance. Paul has his chance.

And yet he also has perhaps his hardest road ever. He must get through Popovich and Duncan and Parker, and then maybe Harden, and then maybe Curry, and if all goes well and the Clippers are in the NBA Finals, he’ll likely say hello to LeBron.

Therefore: If Chris Paul this summer finally wins his first title, wouldn’t it feel like he just won two?

Blogtable: Statue-Worthy Players

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


BLOGTABLE: MVP Race | Post-All-Star Sloppy Play | Statue-Worthy Players



VIDEO:  Bill Russell statue unveiled in Boston (2013)

> The Hawks this week will erect a statue of Dominique Wilkins outside Philips Arena. In your opinion, who’s next in line to be immortalized in bronze?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d prefer to discuss what the next lofty tribute will be, now that statue-izing has trumped jersey number-retiring and perhaps even Hall of Fame immortalizing. How shall the really, really, really, super-special stars be honored to separate them from the proliferation of bronze figurines standing around outside sports arenas? Naming rights to the buildings themselves? Perpetual blimps that hover over the hero’s city on game days or, heck, why not 24/7/365? How ’bout team nicknames: the Boston Russells, the Chicago Jordans and so on? Maybe we need something on a grander scale, sized like the Collosus of Rhodes or the Statue of Liberty, only it’s Shaquille O’Neal standing astride the I-10 near downtown L.A. As you can tell, I don’t really care who gets the next statue, and no offense to ‘Nique, but we’re rapidly approaching the day when even Paul Mokeski and Chris Gatling get them.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe most obvious answer is Isiah Thomas, leader of the two-time champion Detroit Bad Boys and the best “little man” to ever play the game. But I’m also taking a stand for the pre-MTV generation and saying it’s long overdue for the Wizards to honor Wes Unseld. Go ahead, kids.  Look up those old videos of the 6-foot-7 Unseld using his brute strength and gritty determination to set teeth-rattling picks, rebound and throw some of the best outlet passes to start a fast break ever.  The Hall of Famer played 984 games, all with Baltimore/Washington franchise, leading the team to four Finals and the 1978 title, when he was named MVP of The Finals.  For 13 seasons, Unseld helped put the Bullets on a pedestal in the NBA and it’s time the franchise returned the favor.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Jerry Buss. The statue debate has become particularly passionate in Los Angeles anyway, a new level of status symbol beyond having a uniform number retired, and Buss clearly deserves that ultimate tribute. He was more than an owner. He steered his franchise to the unique glamour personality that lives on today while maintaining a championship level on the court from generation to generation. Buss was such a shrewd businessman and innovator that he became one of the few owners to make the Hall of Fame. It’s not just the Lakers who wouldn’t have been the same without him. Basketball in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been the same. The NBA wouldn’t have been the same. Bronze that man.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Kinda surprised David Robinson and maybe also George Gervin aren’t bronzed already in San Antonio, given what they’ve meant to basketball and the community. I’d vote them, plus Allen Iverson in Philly and Isiah Thomas in Detroit. But we might have to wait until Staples Center makes room in the crowded courtyard for Kobe in 5 years or so.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Tim Duncan, the anchor of five championship teams and at least 16 50-win seasons, is going to be the most deserving once he retires. For now, I’d say it’s either Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. And since Barkley’s best was split between Philadelphia and Phoenix, a Ewing statue in the Madison Square Garden lobby would be most appropriate.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com​Having grown up in Bad Boys country during the 80s and 90s, I’m going with Isiah Thomas. Getting bronzed in Detroit (Auburn Hills for you sticklers) would be a huge step in a reparations program that should be underway for Isisah getting screwed out of his spot on The Dream Team. It’s tough to make up for one of the most egregious slights in the history of organized sports, but it would be a great gesture. Isiah delivered titles to Detroit during the most competitive era the NBA has ever seen. He went up against the giants from two decades and put the Pistons, Detroit and the entire state of Michigan on the basketball map (how’s that for 80s/90s slang?) and deserves to be recognized for doing so.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comI’m not big on this idea that great athletes are automatically deserving of statues. Aren’t there more important contributors to be idolized? But if Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia are building them for their champions from the 1980s, then surely Detroit ought to be designing one for Isiah Thomas.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI am of a younger generation than some of my fellow scribes, so my thoughts will probably swing a bit more current than some others here. I’d like to see a Shaq statue in Los Angeles, and a Kobe one not long after that. Dirk has to get one in Dallas when he walks away, right? But those said, how about the Sixers erecting a statue of Allen Iverson? They’re doing their best to lose games and not be good right now, why not throw their fans a bone and build a monument to The Answer right there outside the stadium, or even downtown somewhere?

Sanders’ buyout — did nerds lose one?

When the Milwaukee Bucks signed Larry Sanders to a contract extension worth $44 million over four years, it was proclaimed as a victory of sorts for the wonks. The numbers-crunchers. The slide-rule set full of folks Charles Barkley might let do his taxes but wouldn’t let near his basketball roster.

So now that Sanders has proven to be a bust for the Bucks — as witnessed by the buyout he and the team were negotiating Wednesday, at a severe reduction ($15 million) from that remaining balance — does that mean the wonks lost one?

Most likely, it depends. The analytics devotees will say that they merely identified what it was that made Sanders so valuable to Milwaukee during his breakout (now looking flukey) 2012-13 season and that he still would be worth every penny if he just continued doing that. Skeptics may counter that breaking someone’s game and value down into decimal points and percentages has about as much predictive power as the past performance of your IRA.

One way or the other, though, Sanders stopped being the player that Milwaukee paid him to be in August 2013 and became the guy who, fresh from his latest NBA drug suspension and personal layoff, should feel like Dillinger for absconding with a third or so of his pact’s actual value.

It could serve as a lesson, too, against the sort of congratulations handed out prematurely when the deal was struck. After noting that Sanders never had averaged double figures in scoring or rebounding and that he wasn’t a superior athlete, ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss back in August 2013 wrote:

Just based on the raw numbers, signing Sanders to this deal makes no sense.

Unless you’re a nerd — the kind who appreciates Sanders’ mastery of angles, the timing of his jumps and his penchant for adhering to his defensive responsibilities. To the NBA geek, this validation of Sanders is a validation of looking deeper than mere “counting stats.” Though Sanders is the big winner with a hefty pile of cash, his success is a giant victory for basketball nerds all over.

It means Kirk Goldsberry, in detailing Sanders’ secretly sterling defense at the MIT Sloan Conference, isn’t talking to a wall. His reality-based ideas can either influence NBA decision-makers or reflect smarter NBA decision-making.

It means Grantland’s Zach Lowe, he of the “LARRY SANDERS!” meme, can get many readers excited about the subtleties of Sanders’ interior defense, stuff that didn’t rate before in-depth writers like Lowe seized the mainstream as their turf. Even if big men tend to make more, they rarely cash in while scoring fewer than 10 points a game. But the basketball cognoscenti isn’t laughing at this contract.

Why? Because the nerds are winning.

Not to go all Sir Charles on analytics, but proclaiming victories is a lot more fun and way easier than acknowledging foibles and shortcomings. “Moneyball” is great until it never wins or even gets you to the World Series. One fella can be just as wrong mining stats as the other guy can be trusting his eyes or his gut.

If the Sanders buyout is a victory for anyone, it’s the Milwaukee accountants. By shedding so much of his guaranteed salary – and then using the “stretch” provision of the collective-bargaining agreement – the Bucks will be able to reduce the salary-cap hit for this signing mistake to about $2.14 million a year for seven years.

As time goes on, that’s a 3 percent claim on the cap that will grow ever smaller. Less significant to Milwaukee’s bottom line than their annual write-down for flat beer and spoiled brats.

As for Sanders and where he might land, anyone who has followed his career – both pre-NBA and since – has to root that it’s in a safe, comfortable spot, whether that includes basketball or not. The personable 26-year-old has had off-court issues that frequently collide with his sincere desire to do the right thing, and playing up to the expectations of that fat contract seemed to be too much for him.

If another NBA team takes a chance on him this season – his buyout would allow for playoff participation, coming before March 1 – in theory he could impact a postseason berth or swing a game this spring. Then again, his best and healthiest option might be to take another step back and return to NBA action only when, and if, it fits with the rest of his life.

Hawks well represented, except one


VIDEO: Coach Mike Budenholzer talks about the Hawks’ success

NEW YORK— The Big Apple is Atlanta North for the weekend with Hawks all over the place, competing in events on Friday, Saturday and finally Sunday when four players and the entire coaching staff will represent the East in the All-Star Game.

“It’s awesome to have everyone here,” said Hawks forward Al Horford. “When we get on the bus, almost half the bus is Hawks. I’ve been here before at the All-Star Game but never has it been to this magnitude, mainly because we have a number of players and our coaches here with me.”

Well, there is one notable absence. Somewhere in Atlanta, the person who put the Hawks together is observing from a distance, to say the least. Danny Ferry took a voluntary leave of absence after the events of this summer, when he read a scouting report that was viewed as racially if not culturally insensitive, and has been a ghost while the Hawks surprisingly soared to the top of the East.

Ferry was responsible, either directly or indirectly, in every member of the Hawks’ All-Star contingent with the exception of Horford, whom he inherited when he became GM three years ago. Ferry matched an offer sheet to keep Jeff Teague, signed Paul Millsap, traded for Kyle Korver and signed coach Mike Budenholzer. That’s one-third of the East team, plus the coach.

The question now is, will Ferry ever get to enjoy the benefits of his hard work from a point-blank range, instead of his TV set?

Well, all indications say that will be up to the next owners of the Hawks, whenever they’re sold, which might not happen until this summer or fall. If left up to the players, however, there’s a pretty clear consensus.

“He brought us all together,” said Teague. “I don’t think anyone would be against it.”

Millsap: “I would welcome him back. We still don’t know the truth as far as everything that’s going on or everything that happened. I try to stay out of it. But we had a great relationship before all of this happened. I’m not going to let one day throw that relationship down the drain. People make mistakes.”

Remember, Ferry wasn’t told to stay away by the league or even the fractured Hawks ownership. He took it upon himself. And technically, he could return on his own accord, although there probably would be some awkward moments if that happened. In any event, one of the groups trying to buy the Hawks is led by Grant Hill. They both attended Duke and remain friends, so you can guess what might happen should Hill’s team win. If another group wins, then all bets are off.

“He’s definitely a great GM,” said Millsap. “And I’m sure this must be tough for him.”

Elsewhere around All-Star Weekend:

Melo will play at least one more game:

Carmelo Anthony will play in the All-Star Game. Otherwise, that’s all he would guarantee.

There’s bait of controversy surrounding the Knicks forward. On one hand, Melo has complained about a chronic left knee problem, which forced him to miss games. But he felt fine enough to play in London in the Knicks’ game against the Bucks, and has played since, leading up to the All-Star Game.

Therefore: With the 10-43 Knicks comfortably out of the playoff hunt and three months to go, will Melo suddenly feel unfit to play once the All-Star Game is over?

It looks that way, and can you blame him? Melo felt he had a responsibility to suit up in London, if only because he was clearly a drawing card, and also serve as host of the All-Star Game since it’ll be played at the Garden.

“I really want to embrace that,” he said. “This will be a moment I’ll never forget. New York won’t forget. I want to be a part of that moment.”

Melo added: “It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Because if I said I’m not participating, I would’ve gotten backlash about it. I’m saying I’m participating, I get backlash. It’s here in New York, the fans voted me in and I’m going to play in the game.”

DeMarcus is good with Karl:

There won’t be any push-back from DeMarcus Cousins when George Karl begins coaching the Kings next week, so says DeMarcus Cousins.

“He’s a good coach,” said Cousins. “I haven’t really had a chance to talk with him, so may things were going on when they brought him in. I’m excited to see him and move forward.”

Cousins dismissed the idea that he was against the hiring of Karl and insists he has no voice in major decisions. If Karl can help the Kings return to a level of respectability they had under Mike Malone, Cousins is fine with that.

“I didn’t want them to fire Mike Malone,” he said. “That wasn’t my doing. And this hiring wasn’t my doing. But I’m fine with it. Look, everybody needs to be on the same page. That’s been the biggest issue so far. We were a team above .500 when Malone was there. Things happen for a reason and there are things beyond our control as players, beyond my control.”

Cousins did say one thing will continue: If the Kings sleep-walk through games, they will hear about it from him.

“As leader of my team, I’m supposed to voice my opinion about how we’ve been playing. I should be in that position.”

Boogie Barks Back:

Cousins also had some harsh words for Charles Barkley. The two aren’t exactly friends; Barkley has criticized Cousins on-air (although Barkley did say Cousins deserved to be on the All-Star team) and Cousins took exception to it then, and now.

“I mean, that’s Charles being Charles, man,” he said. “A lot of people don’t really know the real story about it. I never really had anything to do with it in the first place. It ain’t personal. I mean, I really respect the guy but at the same time I don’t really care what he thinks either. I don’t respect him and I don’t care what he thinks.”

Curry ready for prime time:

You come to New York expecting to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony dominating the billboards. But … Stephen Curry?

Curry is splashed on a huge neon billboard overlooking Times Square, as the spokesman for Express, the men’s casual sportswear company. And others are featuring Curry in ads. And Curry, the leading vote-getter in the West, finds it … amusing if not overwhelming.

“Two years ago I wasn’t here,” said Curry, meaning on the All-Star team. “Now, to have all of this support, from all over the world, fans of the NBA and fans of myself and how I play the game, I feel very humbled to know that we have an impact on so many people.

“There are guys here who are MVPs and who have won championships. That’s what I’m striving for. To know that along the way these kinds of acknowledgments happen, it’s encouraging to keep doing what I’m doing.”

Wade gives thumbs-up to Korver:

Dwyane Wade won’t play in the All-Star Game because of a lingering hamstring injury but he almost pulled another muscle when he was approached by his replacement, Kyle Korver.

Korver was extremely apologetic and Wade was caught off-guard.

“It’s funny,” Wade said. “He had this look on his face like, ‘I’m sorry that you’re not able to play, but really I’m not sorry.’ It was hilarious. So, I’m happy for him to get his All-Star nod.”

Wade added: “Obviously, we came in the league together. So it’s cool that he’s getting his nod. And they deserve it, man. When you play the way they’ve played all year, you deserve to be represented and showcased.”

Davis says Pelicans are all in:

The race for playoff pole position in the West is fierce, with the Suns and Thunder, separated by a half-game, largely considered the favorites for the eighth spot. But Anthony Davis believes the Pelicans are in the picture for the long haul.

“I believe so,” he said. “It’s easy to kind of count us out because of where we’re at in our development, but everyone on the team thinks the playoffs is in our reach. So, yeah, we’re going for it.”

New Orleans has lost 3 straight games and fell a game behind OKC, which is trying to recover from losing Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for a chunk of the season due to injuries. Still, the Pelicans recently managed a split with OKC and Davis is having an MVP-like season.

“We’re not going to give up,” Davis said.

As for OKC?

Durant: “Man, I’m not even thinking about that right now. I just want to enjoy this All-Star Weekend.”

Awkward media/player interview exchange:

Reporter from Europe: “Chris Bosh, you are elegant.”

Bosh: “Thank you.”

 

 

All-Star starters announced tonight on TNT

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Can the King stay on top?

The race between Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry to be the overall leader in voting for the 2015 All-Star Game looks to be coming down to the wire.

NBA All-Star 2015We will discover the winner tonight with the announcement of the 2015 NBA All-Star Game starters, which airs live on TNT at 7 p.m. ET.

LeBron has led in both the Eastern Conference and overall voting since initial totals were announced, totaling 971,299 votes in the most recent returns. Right on James’ heels was Curry, with 958,014 votes.

Sandwiched around the announcement of those voting totals, James missed eight games to rest injuries. Whether that absence will cut into James’ overall vote total remains to be seen. Since returning, he’s played in five games, averaging 30.6 ppg, 7.o rpg and 6.0 apg.

With attention focused on Curry and James at the top of the charts, it’s probably also worth keeping an eye on New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis, who at last count was third overall with 922,381 votes, nearly 50,000 behind James but making Davis the only player besides James and Curry with over 900,000 total votes.

There haven’t been any changes in either Conference’s starting five since the initial voting totals were announced, but a significant surge happened in the last announcement totals. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry leapfrogged Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving to move into third among Eastern Conference guards behind John Wall and Dwyane Wade. The Raptors have mounted a significant social media campaign to get out the vote for Lowry, though at last count Lowry was still well behind Wade (406,974 votes to Wade’s 507,326).

If voting patterns hold, joining James, Wall and Wade as starters for the Eastern Conference should be Carmelo Anthony and Pau Gasol.

For the Western Conference, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol look to hold on to their spots alongside Curry and Davis in the starting lineup.

With last night’s Atlanta win over Indiana, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer clinched the job of coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars and Golden State’s Steve Kerr will helm the Western Conference. Yet aside from Curry, no other players from either team were in the top five at any position in either conference in the most recent voting.

The starting lineups will be revealed during a special one-hour edition of the Emmy Award-winning pregame show “Inside the NBA,” featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the Spurs at the Bulls (8 p.m. ET) and the Nets at the Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.

Bulls’ fans feel more committed than Rose sounds


VIDEO: An excerpt from Rachel Nichols’ interview with Derrick Rose

CHICAGO – Relationships, they say, only go as far as the least committed person. And right now, Chicago Bulls fans feel more committed than Derrick Rose sounds.

There’s the disconnect. There’s the source of the angst and polarization over Rose’s comments earlier this week in which he seemed to put his life after basketball ahead of his $95 million contractual obligations to the Bulls.

That’s really what it comes down to, doesn’t it? No one begrudges Rose the opportunity to attend his son’s graduation 15 years from now or attend business meetings without feeling “all sore,” in his words. But if that’s his priority – and his comments after practice Tuesday made it sound that way – then he was either impossibly naïve or borderline insulting to the people who pay that massive salary.

That would be Bulls management, of course, but also the people who buy tickets, wear No. 1 jerseys and support the advertisers from the team’s telecasts even if they do not or cannot pony up the bucks necessary to attend games at United Center.

The “Inside The NBA” TNT crew lit up Rose on their pregame show before the Bulls-Raptors game Thursday night, with Charles Barkley in particular calling him out for the “stupid” remarks. Even if you wring out the natural tendency of retired athletes to go too often to the “back in my day” stance, what’s left is this simple choice:

If Rose is that worried about anticipated aches and pains when his toddler son graduates from high school or limping down the aisle with a future daughter, he can make this contract his last. Or retire now.

What he can’t do – and retain the adoration of Bulls fans and the respect of many peers – is modulate his performance and availability while drawing his current paychecks.

People both inside and outside the organization are quick to tell us what Rose “meant to say.” Reggie Miller, working the game Thursday night with Kevin Harlan, sounded eager to defend him too, based on a strong performance against the Raptors. But Rose’s words speak for themselves, especially after he doubled down on them in Toronto after shootaround and again in a TNT sit-down with Rachel Nichols. The young man is 26 years old, he can speak his mind and the fact is, management has done him no camera-savvy favors by sheltering him from the typical media demands on a franchise player.

That he said it in the midst of a minor injury inconvenience – two sprained ankles that were said to be getting better over the past two weeks, until his late-game breakdown Thursday – doesn’t much matter.  This was big-picture stuff, going beyond the present to raise questions about the past (as in, could Rose really have come back in 2012-13 after doctors cleared him?) and the future.


VIDEO: Rose takes a tumble and appears to tweak his left ankle

Several Bulls teammates have voiced support for Rose, saying his commitment to the team is clear. But that’s dog-bites-man – show me a teammate who would be quoted on the record challenging the hometown star.

What rankles some fans is what Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith talked about – lots of people who work harder than Rose go home each night to a shack. Others, whether they know it or not, do not like having peeled back the curtain between them and their sports passions. How can Rose not care as much as we do?

Rose admitted to Nichols that he was a more reckless player in his first two years in the NBA. He still was reckless and available enough in Year 3 to become the league’s youngest Most Valuable Player ever. But two serious knee injuries, effectively wiping out the past two seasons, appear to have forced on Rose a sense of mortality. That matters to him and his, hopefully for another 70 years or so.

People who look to Rose, the Bulls and to sports as an outlet from their own demanding, tedious, perhaps tiring lives think mostly about the next 10 or 12 years. Had Rose said he was taking extra precautions now – and games off – so that he might still be playing for the Bulls a decade from now, or that November doesn’t matter if he can be healthy in April to chase a title, no one would have said boo about Pooh.

That’s not what he said. He gave folks a sense that he cares less about the here and now than they do, and that’s the first pull on a thread that unravels this great sports fascination.

NBA TV Fan Night #BestDuos Tournament

bestduosimage

NBA.com staff reports

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It sounds like a slam dunk — or better yet, a sky hook — in theory.

A superstar pairing of Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson against … well, just about any other duo in NBA history. When you stack up their accomplishments (titles, MVPs, All-Star bids, etc.) it’s hard to imagine another pair of NBA superstars past or present, piling up more hardware than the Showtime Lakers dynamic duo.

Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson didn’t do it as long and didn’t do it nearly as big (no titles), but they had flashes that absolutely dazzled the basketball world. Barkley, who starred with Magic on the original Dream Team, ranks as one of the greatest talents the league has ever seen. And Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento these days, spent 12 years shredding opposing teams as one of the league’s elite point guards.

NBA TV’s Fan Night #BestDuos Tournament is the only place where you get to vote on on this all-important issue.

You can cast your vote on Twitter using #BESTDUO1 for Magic and Kareem or #BESTDUO2 for Chuck and KJ.

Keep in mind that this is not a vote on who would win an actual 2-on-2 tournament but a vote on the historical impact of the best duo based on what they accomplished during their respective careers.

Tune into Fan Night on NBA TV every Tuesday for the results of the vote and updates on the current week’s matchup. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade won the Week 1 matchup over Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Moses Malone.

Here is the bracket …

bestduosbracket

Hakeem: Howard is ‘ready’ for an MVP-type season

Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon (left) has seen Dwight Howard’s game mature and grow of late. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

At least one former MVP doesn’t think it should have taken a broken bone in Kevin Durant’s foot to throw the 2015 MVP race wide open.

According to Hakeem Olajuwon, Dwight Howard was already prepared to kick the door down.

“He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready,” said Olajuwon, who won the award in 1994 when he led the Rockets to the first of their back-to-back championships. “Now it’s about having the attitude to go out every night and dominate.”

The Hall of Famer officially rejoined his former team as a player development specialist after Howard signed a free agent contract with the Rockets in July 2013 and recently concluded his second training camp stint working with the All-Star center before returning to his home in Amman, Jordan. Prior to the start of camp, Olajuwon had not worked with Howard since the end of last season.

“He’s older, more mature and you can tell that he is feeling better physically,” Olajuwon said. “I like what I saw. He is a very hard worker. He takes the job seriously and you can see that he has used some of the things we talked about last season and is making them part of his game.”

Howard averaged 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots in his first season with the Rockets and Olajuwon thinks the 28-year-old was just scratching the surface as he regained fitness.

“It was a good start, but last year Dwight was still trying to recover from the back surgery and to feel like himself again,” said Olajuwon. “I think a lot of people don’t appreciate what it is like for an athlete to have a back injury. It is serious. It is a challenge.

“I could see last year when I worked with him in camp that there were some things that he could not do. Or they were things that he did not think he could do. The difference now is that he is fit and those doubts are gone. This is the player who can go back to being the best center in the league and the kind of player that can lead his team to a championship. I think he should be dominant at both ends of the floor.”

Olajuwon is the only player in NBA history to be named MVP of the regular season, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season when he led the Rockets in 1994 and pulled the wagon again as Finals MVP when Houston repeated in 1995. He and Michael Jordan are the only players to win all three awards in their career.

Olajuwon doesn’t believe there is any reason the Rockets, who finished as the No. 4 seed in the West and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Portland last spring, should fall back, even with the departure of rotation players Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

“They have Dwight and they have James Harden,” he said. “That is two of the best players at their positions in the league. Those two can lead. Those two can do enough. You don’t need to have All-Stars at every position.

“The Rockets will need good play from some young players and from others who will be getting their chance to be key players for the first time in their careers. But when we won our first championship in 1994, we had Sam Cassell, who was a rookie, playing at the end of games and making a difference. When we won in 1995, we had Clyde (Drexler). But we also had Pete Chilcutt in the starting lineup and Chucky Brown and Charles Jones stepping up off the bench.

“When you have Howard and Harden, you have two players who can do much of the scoring. What you need are others to not try to do too much. Just concentrate on doing your job and coming to play every night.”

It begins and ends with Howard.

“We all know that center is the key position in the game,” Olajuwon said. “Everything should go through you — offense and defense and the right mentality. If the center is thinking about dominating, the team can go far, can go all the way.

“I played at a time when were so many players that could win the MVP each year — Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. It meant you weren’t going to win the MVP every year. But you had to play like an MVP and have your name in the conversation. I believe that’s where Dwight is now. He is healthy. He is physically fit. He is strong. He wants to win.

“It is about attitude. He should have a season that makes everyone vote for him as MVP. If that happens, they should be contenders for the championship. I believe that. Now they have to believe it.”


VIDEO: Hakeem Olajuwon schools Dwight Howard on post moves back in 2010

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?