Posts Tagged ‘Christian Laettner’

The day the rafters almost got ‘Big Z’


VIDEO: Big Z’s No. 11 is raised to the rafters

That warm, embracing jersey-number retirement ceremony in Cleveland Saturday night for Zydrunas Ilgauskas? The one that even LeBron James, in a true show of respect to a admired teammate, felt was mandatory to attend?

It never happens if Ilgauskas had been sitting 18 inches to the right…

I’ve told this story before but the timing is right again, what with Ilgauskas’ No. 11 hoisted into the Q’s rafters: Before Big Z was drafted in 1996, maybe a year before, he came to Minnesota with the Timberwolves’ Euro scout Boris Karebin for some medical procedure on one of his feet (a sign of uncomfortable things to come). He visited the Timberwolves’ practice one afternoon, a gawky 7-foot-3 unknown, and sat on a bench up against one wall.

The practice was being videotaped by the team from a balcony/running track above (this was at the practice court in the health club beneath Target Center, where club members could peer down and watch Christian Laettner, Isaiah (J.R.) Rider & Co. through entire sessions). As the video guy was packing up, he dropped his tripod over the railing and the heavy metal gadget crashed down onto the bench below — right next to Ilgauskas. Scared the heck out of everyone, with a few sheepish, awkward sideway glances to follow, as the realization of what almost happened hit home.

Eighteen inches over, Big Z gets craniumed and maybe isn’t around for the jersey-number retirement. So Ilgauskas got the rafters Saturday but about 19 years ago, the rafters nearly got him. And now you know the rest of the story…

End Of Era: Only Beards Grow In Dallas

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HANG TIME, Texas — Pity poor Jessica Nowitzki, who is not a fan of the Mavericks drive-for-.500 beards.

“It’s not a good look,” husband Dirk admitted the other day. “My wife doesn’t like it that much. But I guess we’ve all got to suck it up and reach our goal.”

It might be time to wonder how tolerant Mrs. Nowitzki will be by October, when the Mavs have a more realistic shot to reach the break-even mark after their spectacular 136-103 flameout in Houston? By that time Dirk and his teammates could look like so many Rip Van Winkles or extras from the cast of “Lincoln”.

The Mavs hardly resemble a team that is sharpening its razors or its playoff claws as a lost season staggers toward the finish. They couldn’t defend, get enough shots for their biggest gun or do much of anything right against the Rockets.

“At the clip, we’re losing and losing (close) games at home, and those are the games you have to win if you want to be in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “We haven’t shown consistently that we can big games. We have to fight and we have another game on Wednesday and we’ll see what we got.”

What they’ve got is a season that jumped off track when Dirk missed the first 27 games following knee surgery and has never developed a sense of rhythm or direction. Now a team that has not won more than three consecutive games all season would have to go 15-8 over the final six weeks just to get to the .500 mark and it’s unlikely that 41-41 would be good enough to make the playoffs anyway.

It’s the end of an era. Assuming there is no postseason basketball in Dallas this spring, it will bring an end to the best stretch of basketball in franchise history, ending a playoff streak that stretches back to 2001, the first full season under Mark Cuban’s ownership.

The Mavs string of 12 consecutive playoff appearances is tied for the 13th-longest in league history and is the second-best active streak in the NBA, trailing only San Antonio’s 15 and counting.

The highlight, of course, was the 2011 championship, but more than a decade of always reaching the playoffs is a worthy feat that marks consistency and constant striving by what has become a model franchise.

How long has it been? Consider that the first year of the playoff streak, coached by Don Nelson (53-39), had a roster that included Shawn Bradley, Christian Laettner, Juwan Howard, Vernon Maxwell, Wang Zhizhi a rookie named Eduardo Najera and a 27-year-old Steve Nash, along with Nowitzki who was in his second NBA season.

Now only Dirk remains as the Mavs close in on coming full circle to his non-playoff rookie season.

“If you want to be in the playoffs we haven’t showed consistently we can win big games,” Nowitzki said. “It was a nice win in Brooklyn [on Friday], and we can’t follow it up.

“Not consistent enough even over one game. A decent half, a decent three quarters here and there, and one garbage quarter. It’s never consistent enough to really be a playoff threat.”

It was a long road and long climb by the Mavs to get to the top of the mountain, but the only thing getting longer these days is those beards.

Timberwolves Catch Yet Another Break: Love’s Fractured Hand

 

This isn’t even funny anymore.

Actually, the gallows humor around the Timberwolves at various points in their checkered history rarely has packed much humor; it mostly has been used to release frustration, in a laugh, clown, laugh way.

Kevin Love’s broken right hand is Exhibit 459, or at least feels like it. The All-Star power forward suffered a broken right hand during a morning workout before practice Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks. The team said Love would be examined by a hand specialist in New York for the fractures to the third and fourth metacarpal bones in his shooting hand.

The injury leaves the Wolves without their top two players for the season’s first month and a half, maybe longer. Point guard Ricky Rubio tore the ACL and MCL ligaments in his left knee last March and isn’t expected back from surgery rehab until December or January.

Minnesota’s “all-in” attitude for 2012-13 – hoping to end a streak of eight consecutive seasons missing the playoffs – was dealt a brutal blow. Last spring, after Rubio went down and Love joined him after April 11 (concussion and neck strain), the Wolves finished 5-20, dashing their postseason hopes.

Digging that kind of hole at the start of this season – a 3-12 start, say, by early December – might be too much to overcome to chase even the No. 8 seed.

(more…)

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 67)

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When we makes promises around here we do our very best to keep them, no matter how crazy they might be.

So when a lifelong Hawks fans asked that we spend a little time talking about one of the NBA’s more surprising teams this season, they are 9-2 since All-Star center Al Horford went down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, we spoke up and said we would. And that’s indeed what we’ve done with Episode 67 of the Hang Time Podcast.

We went straight to the source, snagging a rare, in-studio sit-down with elusive Hawks Vice President of Public Relations Arthur Triche, who has spent 23 years working for the organization. A friend of the program since its inception, Triche dishes on this season’s team while also sharing some of his best memories of past teams, and highlighting some of his favorite former players — Dominique Wilkins, Doc Rivers, Grant LongMookie Blaylock, Steve Smith, Dikembe Mutombo, Ken NormanJR Rider, Rasheed Wallace, Obinna Ekezie, Peja Drobnjak, Christian Laettner and Boris Diaw all made his short list.

He is also the No. 1 ranked PR Tweeter in all of basketball (how many Twitter accounts does one man need?), has AAA insurance and is frightened of Hawks rookie big man Ivan “The Terrible” Johnson.

Triche also objected to this idea that best dunk of all time belongs to either Blake Griffin or LeBron James … you’ll have to forgive the “old man” on that one. Having lived through some of the best in-game and dunk contest slams Wilkins performed over the years, it’s hard to argue with him about this and so many other things.

For all that and so much more, check out Episode 67 of the Hang Time Podcast

LISTEN HERE: 


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Lang Whitaker of SLAM Magazine and Sekou Smith of NBA.com, as well as our superproducer Micah Hart of NBA.com’s All Ball Blog.

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Greatest Team Ever Assembled?

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Posted by Sekou Smith

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – A call came into the HT hotline this afternoon on what should be the hottest topic of the weekend — the 2010 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies going on in Springfield, Mass.

“The original Dream Team is the best basketball team ever assembled, right?’ the caller said. “Surely, you don’t think any other incarnation could handle them do you?”

The easy answer should have been “of course.”

Any team with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, John Stockton, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing as its headliners would have to get the nod, right?

As the caller would clarify moments later, not exactly.

She wasn’t interested in the names so much as she was the games, as in what state was each of those legends’ game in during the time they played together and could they outdistance any other group — Olympic or otherwise — for the title of greatest team ever assembled?

That little wrinkle caused me to think it over a little more before posing the question to all of you.

Do you think the 1992 U.S. Olympic team was the greatest compilation of basketball talent to grace the floor or could some other group, say one of its subsequent reincarnations or even a team before it, lay claim to the title?

I’m having a really hard time finding another squad that can give them a run (the caller, showing her age, suggested that the 2008 U.S. Olympic (Redeem) team — the Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams-led bunch would have given the OG’s fits).

Uh, I’d pay for a ticket to that game. But I don’t know if I see the 2008 group besting the true Dream Team.

What about the 1996 crew? Barkley, Pippen, Malone, Stockton and Robinson stuck around and were joined by Gary Payton, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Reggie Miller, Hakeem Olajuwon and a monstrous, young Shaquille O’Neal (who should have been on the original team as a collegian over Christian Laettner).

And there was also that 2000 team to consider. GP was joined by a brand new cast that included Steve Smith, Vince Carter, Tim Hardaway, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kidd, Antonio McDyess, Alonzo Mourning, Vin Baker, Allan Houston and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

Let’s leave the 2004 team off the list since they had to scrap to get a bronze medal in Athens.

What say you?

(And feel free to include any team ever assembled. But just so you know, we’re going with the greatest player ever, the bald cat below, on the greatest team ever assembled.)

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Dream Team Daydreams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Could there be a more appropriate way to honor the famed Dream Team?

They had to go into the Hall of Fame as a group, even though just about every player on the team (including Christian Laettner, whose college career alone should do the trick) has a rock-solid HOF case on his own.

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The mere mention of the Dream Team makes me daydream back to the summer of ’92 and how much fun it was to see Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (yeah Larry, even at that hobbled state) on the same squad with guys like Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen and Patrick Ewing.

It still sickens me that Isiah Thomas was left off the team (and I’d have preferred Shaquille O’Neal to Laettner), but that’s a rant for another day.

Right now I’m trying to relive those classic Dream Team moments. Ten of the 12 cats on the roster were on the 50 Greatest Players list (another semi-controversial group that deserves a mid-summer rant rather than a pre-playoffs rant).

These assortments of talented players they trot out these days are wonderful to watch. But they lack the legendary sizzle of that original Dream Team.

There’s nothing like the first (team)!

It was a daily freak show for hoops heads worldwide.

I videotaped every game (for you New Millennium babies, video tape is the stuff we had before DVDs) and still have the tapes stashed in a box in the basement of the hideout here.

Now if I could just find a working VCR …

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