Posts Tagged ‘David Robinson’

Leonard follows his path to title, MVP

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard’s Finals MVP performance

SAN ANTONIO — When the deal went down on Draft night 2011, when the San Antonio Spurs traded humble, team-oriented George Hill, a combo guard who for three seasons ingratiated himself to this team, to this city and most strikingly had found a soft spot in the heart of gruff coach Gregg Popovich, for a mostly unknown small forward with a funny name, all of San Antonio gasped.

Kawhi who?!

Even in the Spurs’ draft room, the decision to pull the trigger was hardly a unanimous, feel-good swap.

“It felt like we were going to get our ass chewed because we just traded the coach’s favorite player,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said on Saturday, reminiscing on the eve of Game 5.

Three years later, the folks in the Alamo City have popularized a different phrase for the player whose mannerisms, work ethic and determination fit this franchise like a glove.

Kawhi not?!

And on Sunday night inside the raucous AT&T Center, Kawhi Leonard, equally as humble as Hill and more reserved than even team patriarch Tim Duncan, forcefully answered that question with a third consecutive authoritative performance. He fatigued LeBron James with relentless defensive pressure and dominated in multiple ways on the offensive end.

Leonard’s 22 points and 10 rebounds led the Spurs to a 104-87 victory, a third straight blowout and the final one that ended the Heat’s two-year reign. It completed the Spurs’ season of redemption after last year’s heartache in South Beach and returned the Larry O’Brien Trophy to South Texas for the first time since 2007.

When Leonard stepped to the free-throw line in the first quarter, 18,581 fans instantly chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” A few hours later they would do it again, this time with even more conviction following confirmation that this quiet, corn-rowed, 22-year-old who had turned the tide of the NBA Finals in Game 3 was now its MVP.

“At the moment, I was just happy,” Leonard said. “Just had faith throughout the whole game, but I didn’t think at all I was about to win the MVP of the Finals.”

Heeding advice from his coach after sub-par efforts in Games 1 and 2 to be aggressive, to quit being concerned about deferring to the team’s elders, the 6-foot-7 Leonard closed out the final three games by averaging 23.6 points and 9.0 rebounds. He went 24-for-35 from the floor and 7-for-13 from beyond the arc. Defending the game’s best player, the reigning, two-time Finals MVP in James, Leonard had six steals and six blocks.

“He shows up the last three games and just plays out of his mind,” Duncan said. “He’s not worried about just doing the little things. He wants to do it all, and he plays with a confidence that is just amazing.”

When he was announced the MVP, his teammates mobbed him and pushed him playfully, and a smile even broke across Leonard’s normally stoic stone face. He grasped the trophy as his mother, Kim Robertson, hugged him and literally danced by his side.

That it was Father’s Day also resonated. Six years ago, Mark Leonard, Kawhi’s dad, was shot and killed at the car wash he owned in Compton, Calif. The case remains unsolved.

“It is a very special meaning for me knowing that he’s gone and I was able to win a championship on Father’s Day,” Leonard said.

The night after learning his father had been shot to death, Leonard played for his Riverside King High team, scoring 17 points in a loss. After it was over, according to the story in the Los Angeles Times, he broke down and cried in his mother’s arms.

“He loved his dad and they were really, really close,” his mother said, clutching the MVP trophy as she watched her son smiling through sit-down television interviews, the kind he typically hates to do because they force him to talk about himself. “I think from the moment that it happened, he wanted to make his dad proud, he wanted to take that as a rocket, keep on moving, moving. Because I was kind of scared. The thing is he is such a good kid, he always wanted to get better and better and better.”

Desperate to keep the series alive, Miami bolted to a 22-6 start, and James was going off, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter. But Leonard scored eight. He buried two 3-pointers and the Spurs closed to 29-22. Leonard nailed his third consecutive 3-point attempt with 4:47 to go in the second quarter. It put the Spurs ahead for the first time, 37-35. When the shot fell through, the roof practically blew off the arena and the party was officially on. San Antonio would never look back.

Leonard became the youngest Finals MVP since Duncan won it in 1999. He was also 22 at the time, and preferred to defer to veteran center and team captain David Robinson, who as usual, was in attendance Sunday to witness this latest title, Duncan’s fifth. Now here was Leonard, basking in the glory, but really no more than a willing pupil who had learned from these remarkably selfless players on this remarkable team, his own value system so much like theirs.

“I mean, look at Tim,” Kim Robertson said. “I think Tim has been a great role model for him, you know, a mentor for him. Tim is always, I always see him taking him to the side and telling him different things and I really think Kawhi respects that. Kawhi, his thing is he always wants to get better, better, better. He does not want to be in the limelight, he just wants to be good at what he loves to do, and that’s it.”

It sounds so familiar. While this Spurs era will always be known for the Big Three with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, it is Duncan who defines it, who followed Robinson as the face of the franchise, and who will one day pass along that mantle. Popovich has made no secret of it, even saying as much last season, that the quiet kid with the funny name is the next in line.

Spurs owner Peter Holt, wandering the floor and basking in the glow of another championship run, was asked if it’s too much burden to place on such a young player.

“Not so far,” Holt smiled. “He’s got pretty broad shoulders.”

As they say around here, Kawhi not?!


VIDEO: Kawhi Leonard addresses the media after his MVP performance

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

All-Star Appearance A Welcome Accolade For Pelicans’ Superstar Davis

Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is a multifaceted All-Star.

Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is a multifaceted All-Star.

NEW ORLEANS — There should be only so many different ways for one player to make you jump off the sofa.

But there’s Anthony Davis posterizing Joel Freeland of the Trail Blazers with a tomahawk dunk; there’s Davis reaching up and back and nearly to the top of the backboard to get a one-handed throw down on Luis Scola of the Pacers; there he is roaring down the lane with the force and ferocity to make Glen Davis of the Magic hit the deck like a bowling pin at the end of an alley.

Then there’s the defensive end, where Miami’s Chris Bosh seems to have him pinned down on the low block and tries to go up for an easy bucket once, then twice. Both times, Bosh has to eat the ball.  When the Lakers’ Pau Gasol gets an offensive rebound and whirls away from traffic, Davis goes right along, a figure skater in tandem. At the finish of the 360 spin, Davis slaps the ball back with disdain.  And there he is suddenly sprinting way out into the left corner to reach up and slap away a 3-point shot by an utterly shocked Tobias Harris of Orlando.

“How many times have I seen a ‘Wow!’ moment out of A.D.?” ponders teammate Ryan Anderson.  “Let’s see, how many games have we played and how many times have I been out there on the same floor at practice?  Every day he’s doing something that makes me shake my head.”


VIDEO: Brent Barry breaks down Anthony Davis’ game

The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft officially became an NBA All-Star when commissioner Adam Silver tabbed him to replace Kobe Bryant on the Western Conference team.  Davis’ ascension to that elite level of play has been there since opening night this season, when he scored 20 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked three shots against the Pacers.

Except for a period of two weeks in December when he was sidelined by a fractured bone in his left hand, Davis has been everything the Pelicans had hoped. Yet he’s also shown he is a unique player, one no one could have imagined even with the advance hype that he brought out of his one college season at Kentucky.

His most identifying physical mark remains The Brow, which crawls like a single entity over one of his large, curiosity-filled eyes to the other. But at 6-foot-10 with a wingspan of 7-foot-5 1/2,  those long, lethal, larcenous limbs enable him to cover space on the court like a basketball version of the four-armed Hindu god Vishnu.


VIDEO: Davis scores 22 points, grabs 19 boards and blocks seven shots against Orlando

“He knows what he’s doing on offense and he’s a smart, aggressive player on defensive,” said Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown.  “Anthony Davis will shine in the NBA for years and years.  I’m telling you, he’s the truth.” (more…)

Z-Bo On Trade Rumors: “There Ain’t No Loyalty Or Love”


VIDEO: Zach Randolph gives a fan his shirt

NEW ORLEANS — The irony is not lost on Zach Randolph.

Just as he is being honored by Kia Motors and the NBA with the November Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, the rumor mill keeps churning out trade talk that the Grizzlies are looking to find him a new home. The latest has him going to the Pelicans for Ryan Anderson.

“Go figure,” Z-Bo said following the Grizzlies shootaround at New Orleans Arena on Friday. “Memphis is a place that I’ve come to love and call home and it’s where I would definitely like to retire. I haven’t made any secret of that. Everybody out there knows how I feel.

“I look at it like this: I understand it’s a business. I really do understand that. This is a small market team and money plays a factor. I understand all that. It’s different now. I don’t know if it’s just changes in (salary cap) rules or just a change in the way of the world. Like I said, it’s a business.

“But yeah, it bothers me. It hurts a little bit. I can’t deny that. But it goes to show you that there ain’t no loyalty in this game. It seems like you only get loyalty in certain organizations. You see it in winning organizations like the Spurs, the Lakers, the Heat.

“The truth is there ain’t no loyalty or love, except in certain organizations where they keep players around, value them. Only a very few organizations seem like they want to keep players around to retire there. Hey, everybody gets traded. It’s part of the league, part of the life. I’ve been traded a bunch of times.”

But after his stints with the Trail Blazers, Knicks and Clippers, it was Randolph’s trade to the Grizzlies in 2009 that allowed him to blossom and become a two-time All-Star. Memphis is also where he earned the big contract that is scheduled to pay him $16.5 million next season unless he chooses to opt out in July.

“I’m not 19 or 20 no more,” Randolph said. “I’m not a young kid coming into the league with my career in front of me, looking to get established and looking to find my place in the NBA. I went through all of that. I feel like I grew up as a player and as a person and I’ve become someone who is valuable.

“I’m 32 now, but I feel like I’ve still got a few good years left in me and I feel like I can be somebody who can contribute to a winning team, be a significant part of team that can contend for a championship. And I think we can do that here. Even more, I feel like I’ve put down some roots in Memphis, helped this team make a name for itself, really become part of the community and to build something that can last. This is where I want to be and where I want to stay. All I can do is make that clear. But it’s a business and it ain’t my call.”

********

Kia Motors and the NBA honored Randolph for his continued dedication to helping underprivileged children and families in need. As a part of the NBA’s Season of Giving, Randolph distributed 900 Thanksgiving food baskets at Booker T. Washington High School and Hamilton High School in Memphis. At both events, select families received tickets from Randolph to attend an upcoming Grizzlies game. Randolph also donated 500 turkeys and 500 spiral hams to be given away to 1,000 people at the Clarence Faulkner Community Center in Marion, Ind. In addition to Thanksgiving meals, he contributed 300 winter coats to students at Memphis’ A.B. Hill Elementary.

“The award is nice, but it’s not the reason that I’m involved,” Randolph said. “I love being with kids, especially those kids who come from a single-parent home. I was one of those kids growing up, so I feel like I can relate. It’s a blessing for me to be able to help someone else, especially in Memphis, a place that has reached out and made me feel at home.”

Prior to Wednesday’s home game against the Thunder, he was presented with the David Robinson Plaque during an on-court ceremony. In addition, Kia and the NBA will donate $10,000 on Randolph’s behalf to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning — marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.

USA Basketball: It’s Too Early To Count LeBron James Out For The 2016 Olympics





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As LeBron James said during the playoffs when asked about his potential participation in the 2016 Olympics, “that’s a long time from now.”‘

That’s three years from now to be exact, which is why it is far too early to count James out of competing in a fourth straight Olympics with the USA Basketball program he helped rebuild.

Despite reports to the contrary, James hasn’t informed anyone at USA Basketball about his intentions for 2016. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo made it clear during this week’s mini-camp that he will give James and the other veteran stars who have competed previously space between now and then, the door will remain open for the future.

James, who already owns two gold medals and one bronze, could play in his fourth Olympic games that summer. But that would be after three more rigorous years of trying to add to his championship haul in the NBA. James has led the Miami Heat to back-to-back titles, earning consecutive Finals MVP awards, and will have endured considerable wear and tear to his body if he continues on his current and torrid pace.

There is also the potential for an exhausting free agent summer after the 2013-14 season, provided James opts to test the market after next season.

But again, so much can go on between now and 2016 that it’s nearly impossible to speculate about who will or will not be willing, able and available in three years. No U.S. male has ever played on more than three Olympic teams ( LeBron is one of only three players to participate three times. Carmelo Anthony and David Robinson are the others.)

“I’m sure all of these guys think they know what’s coming down the line and what they’ll be doing,” said an Eastern Conference executive who is in town this week for USA Basketball’s mini-camp for the Men’s Senior National Team. “But they should know better. Derrick Rose is the cautionary tale for all of these guys. It all depends on where [LeBron] is that year. How healthy is he? How tired might he be from grinding his way through the playoffs? You just never know.”

Kevin Durant and Kevin Love have already committed to participate in the World Cup of Basketball next summer in Spain and will surely be a part of the pool for 2016, provided they are healthy. Durant said there are several other stars from the team that won gold at the London Olympics last summer, he mentioned Russell Westbrook and James Harden specifically, who are interested in joining them.

When asked specifically about James, he said he hadn’t spoken to him about it. “Those guys are older,” he said and then laughed. “Their time is precious.”

Colangelo’s declaration that Durant is the “face of the program going forward” was acknowledgement of the obvious; he’s just 24 and has a larger window than James or any of the other older and more established stars. It was not an indication that James, Anthony and any of the other veteran stars are done with USA Basketball.

In 2016 James could very well play a role similar to what Kobe Bryant played in London. Bryant served as the elder statesman of the group and its leader, while stepping aside offensively and allowing Durant, Anthony and James to serve as the catalysts on the floor.

In the immediate aftermath of last summer’s gold medal run, the rumblings about U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s run being over began percolating. Months later an announcement on his replacement was expected. But he had a change of heart and reaffirmed his commitment to the program and the process for the long-term. Simply put, things change. And Coach K’s influence on James in three years could be significant, if they decide his services are vital to the U.S. cause.

Plus, it’s hard to walk away or even take a step back when the U.S. is in the midst of reestablishing its dominance on the world stage. And the fact is, no one has a crystal ball. No one knows for sure who will be available for competition three years from now.

There is a ton of talent on display here this week and there will be even more NBA stars vying for spots on next summer’s team that will compete in Spain. There’s no doubt that the competition for roster spots will be fierce three years from now in an Olympic summer.

USA Basketball’s pool of talent should be as deep as its ever been, given the way the program has been reconstituted under Colangelo and Krzyzewski. New faces will pop onto the radar as more established ones move on or fade out of the program. There are All-Stars involved in the program that might never make a 12-man roster for a competition. But the surplus of talent will remain, with or without James included.

“The [three] things for all these guys; it’s contract, family and health. And any personal stuff is the reason we have the pool [of players],” Krzyzewski said. “Because anything that can happen human, can happen to Kevin Durant or Kevin Love. That’s why you need more than the main 12 guys. It’s worked well, it’s worked very well, so far.”

Can Dwight Make Lakers House A Home?

.

SAN ANTONIO — Long before they ever squared off down in the paint, exchanged pushes and shoves, elbows and hips and knees in the frenzy of a playoff game, Dwight Howard knew all about the Spurs’ No. 21.

“I literally grew up watching Tim Duncan,” said the Lakers center as he unlaced his sneakers following practice.

Howard was only 11 when Duncan was drafted No. 1 overall by San Antonio in 1997 and Duncan had already won two NBA titles by the time Howard entered the league as the No. 1 pick in 2004.

“He’s a big guy who handled the ball, shot the ball well, had a lot of moves on the block and made it tough for guys to guard.  I loved watching that.”

But Howard never tried to imitate that. The truth is, his angular body and his offensive moves that are less-than fluid did always resemble those of another famous Spur, David Robinson. Those two have become friends, occasionally chatting by phone.

Yet when it came time for hero worship, Howard cast his gaze in the direction of, perhaps, the most famous big man of all time.

“My childhood idol was Wilt Chamberlain,” Howard said.

But it wasn’t grainy old videotapes that piqued his interest. The 1980’s-era Alphie the Robot, a one-foot tall toy that asked questions and dispensed bits of trivia to young minds, first told Howard about Chamberlain.

“He used to say: ‘Wilt Chamberlain scored a hundred points,’ ” Howard recalled.  “I was intrigued by Wilt Chamberlain from that moment on.  I wanted to meet him, but he died before I got a chance to get to the NBA.  He was my childhood idol.”

A six-year-old quickly began to research and learn about Chamberlain.

“He liked to have fun,” Howard said.

It’s funny how things turn out. Now Howard wears the Lakers jersey that Chamberlain once wore, lives just up the street from Wilt’s former Bel-Air palace in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“If you came out the back of his house and looked up to the right, my house is right there,” Howard said. “Mariah Carey lives right by me. You can see the ocean from my rooftop, downtown and the Staples Center from the back.

“And I’ve got a telescope just like Wilt had. The roof of his bedroom used to open and he’d look at the sky. Now I’m looking up at all the same stars.”

Along with a slice of the sky, it seems they also share struggles at the free throw line and a few personality traits, including a persecution complex. (more…)

Pop The Rock Rolls Up On Win No. 900

.

HANG TIME, Texas – It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.

Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.

With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.

Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.

In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra – Popovich stands a step apart and above.

He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.

When he sat at a makeshift table for a news conference last spring when he was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Popovich’s face turned different shades of red. But it wasn’t for the usual reasons of screaming at a referee or boiling at another question from a reporter. He was, in short, embarrassed with the attention.

Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.

“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.

But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.

He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.

“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.

He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.

“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”

Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”

That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.

After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)

On Rare Night, Brown, Manning Reunite

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – On Sunday evening in Dallas, one of the rarest coaching matchups ever in college basketball will take place between Larry Brown and Danny Manning, two men whose relationship traces back decades and generations, and intersects as coach-and-player in the college ranks and in the NBA.

Now as colleagues, Manning, a rookie head coach, brings his Tulsa Golden Hurricane (8-6) to Moody Coliseum to face the legendary Brown in his first season leading the long-irrelevant SMU Mustangs (10-5) in both teams’ Conference USA opener.

“First of all, I dread this game,” Brown said Friday during a teleconference to preview the matchup. “Danny’s been such a big part of my life. Aside from watching him coach and knowing he’s a head coach, and we all take pride in that and know our game is better for that, it’s going to be a special moment for me seeing him on the other bench, seeing him coaching. But I don’t enjoy that opportunity because if we lose, I don’t take loses very well, and if we win, I’m not going to be happy about him being on the losing side.”

The two did very little losing at Kansas nearly a quarter-century ago.

In 1988, Manning, the Jayhawks’ star senior, and Brown, their respected, bespectacled coach, won the national championship. In today’s era, Manning might not have been around to win Most Outstanding Player honors. Instead he’d probably have been grinding through his third or maybe even fourth season in the NBA.

Sunday’s otherwise under-the-radar Tulsa-SMU matchup marks just the second time ever that the coach and MOP of an NCAA title team will face each other as head coaches, according to the hard-digging SMU media relations department. The only other time? Back in 1950 when Howie Dallmar, the 1942 MOP for Stanford, and coach Everett Dean matched wits with Dean still at Stanford and Dallmar at Penn. The pupil won that one 59-58.

In ’88, Manning’s father Ed, whom Brown coached briefly with the ABA Carolina Cougars, was on Brown’s staff. After the Jayhawks won the title, Danny Manning would become the No. 1 draft pick of the Los Angeles Clippers and Brown would take Ed, who died of a heart condition at age 68 in May 2011, with him to his first NBA stop with the San Antonio Spurs.

Five years later, Brown would reunite with Danny Manning as coach of the Clippers.

But what might have been if back then players routinely lasted one year in college as they do today or, before the one-and-done rule, played no college ball at all? Some top players in Manning’s day and before obviously left school after two or three seasons, but it wasn’t the norm. Manning had his chance to go.

“My story at Kansas, there was talk my junior year that potentially there could be some interest for me to look into the NBA,” Manning said Friday on the teleconference. “This is a true story, this is how it went down. My dad comes over to my apartment, he steps one foot in the door and he says, ‘You’re not ready,’ and it was end of discussion. He followed that up by, I think it was a Saturday or Sunday when the season was over, by, ‘Hey, you coming by the house to eat? Mom cooked today.’ And that was the end of my NBA thought-process, so to speak.”

As a junior, Manning averaged 23.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. He shot a remarkable 61.7 percent. As Brown remembers it, Manning would have been the No. 1 pick that season.  That pick belonged to the Spurs, who drafted a 7-footer out of the Naval Academy named David Robinson, a player they’d have to wait on to fulfill his service commitment.

“He’s not telling you the whole story on this whole going pro thing,” Brown said. “His dad and mom came in and saw me. I didn’t know what advice to give them. I thought he was going to be the first pick in the draft. I told his dad that. And based on my background with coach [Dean] Smith, if you were a lottery pick he didn’t let you come back to school. But I spoke to Danny and Ed, and Danny told me he promised his mom and his dad that he would graduate and I basically said, ‘Well, you can go in the pros and come back and graduate.’

“And then Danny kind of said, ‘Well, I really would some day like to be the first pick in the draft.’ And I thought, well, based on my knowledge and how good he was, I thought he’d be the first pick in the draft unless other general managers were crazy. And then the third thing he told me was, ‘I want to win a national championship.’ And I said, ‘Well, the other two we can handle, but you’d have to stay another year to do that.’ That’s at least the way I looked at the story. And lo-and-behold, he graduated, he was the first pick in the draft and we won a national championship.

“So, it was a great story. Maybe I made it up.”

Had Manning left, Brown probably wouldn’t own the distinction as the only coach to win an NCAA and NBA championship, which he got with the 2004 Detroit Pistons during his seventh of nine stops over 26 NBA seasons. But Manning stayed, and no coach has yet to match Brown with double crowns.

Manning went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA and averaged double figures in scoring in 10 of them. He’s seen plenty of short-timers come and go in the college game since his NBA retirement. He was an assistant at Kansas for nine seasons before moving up to Tulsa where he follows in the coaching tradition of Tubby Smith, Nolan Richardson and current Kansas coach Bill Self.

As seasoned as any pro in any draft after four years at Kansas, Manning said one reason he lasted so long in the NBA is because of the stream of young talent drafted into the NBA on potential, players that didn’t possess the maturity to stick.

“That’s the era that we’re in now and it’s based upon potential,” Manning said. “I’ve said this and lots of other people have said this many, many times before, all professional leagues, the backbone of those professional leagues are your solid veteran players and there are a lot of young men that come out early and aren’t quite ready for the rigors of professional athletics, but are there because of their potential.

“And I said I was fortunate and blessed enough to play 15 years. But part of the reason I was able to play that long is because the young men that were coming in weren’t ready. They weren’t ready to make a contribution to the team or accept the role that an older veteran will accept, knowing how special and unique it is to be a professional athlete.”

Sweet 6 Could Make All-Star Debuts

HANG TIME, Texas — Every year when the first batch of NBA All-Star vote totals is announced, it is often reminiscent of one of Capt. Renault’s famous lines from “Casablanca”: Round up the usual suspects.

We could pretty much count on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony being in the starting lineups on Feb. 17 in Houston even before the first online ballot was ever cast.

There are other questions, of course. Will the resurgent Tim Duncan make a return to the Western Conference team after his 12-year streak was broken last season? How many votes will Derrick Rose get, even though he’s been rehabbing his knee and hasn’t played a single game? Will a groundswell of “Linsanity” put Jeremy Lin onto his home court in Houston?

But the most interesting question — and the hottest debates — usually come down to the players that are trying to break out under the All-Star Game spotlight for the very first time.

So, we present a six-pack of the most deserving candidates to take their All-Star debuts this season:

Stephen Curry, Warriors – Nobody’s writing him off as being too fragile anymore, worried that the ankles just won’t hold up. Now in his fourth season, the sweet shooting guard is having his best year. He’s averaging career highs of 20 points, 6.5 rebounds — numbers among point guards that are eclipsed only by OKC’s Russell Westbrook. Perhaps most significant, he’s playing 37.2 minutes a night, having not missed a game. He’s showing the quick release and the accuracy from 3-point range that everyone predicted coming into the league and, now that he’s finally healthy, Curry is playing the role of leader on a 14-7 Golden State team that has been virtually without center Andrew Bogut.

James Harden, Rockets – The Beard exploded into the headlines by scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games for the Rockets almost before he learned the names of his teammates. It was widely acknowledged that Harden had been sacrificing a big piece of his game and potential stardom by coming off the bench for the Thunder. But did everyone think it was a piece the size of Greenland? At 24.7 a game, he is fifth in the league in scoring, trailing only Bryant, Anthony, Durant and James. He also kicks in 5.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game and, quite frankly, does about anything he wants in the Houston offense, raining in 3-pointers or getting all the way to the rim off the dribble. Just by pulling on the uniform, he’s made the Rockets relevant again.

O.J. Mayo, Mavericks — Who would have predicted this when the Grizzlies held the door open and told him not to let it him on the way out last summer? The Mavericks may have struck out in their bids for the high profile names in Howard and Deron Williams, but likely scooped up the free agent bargain of the offseason in Mayo. He ranks 10th in scoring at 20.8 per game, a career best. He’s also shooting at a 48.7 clip, including a sizzling 53 percent from behind the 3-point line. With Dirk Nowitzki sidelined while recovering knee surgery, the Mavs were desperate for someone who could fill up the basket every night and be able to make the big shots down the stretch every night. With a consistency and a concentration of focus that always eluded him in Memphis, Mayo has done it all.

Joakim Noah, Bulls – It might have been easy for the Bulls to simply resign themselves and tread water while waiting for the return of Rose. But Noah is a splasher and he’s responded along with teammate Luol Deng by tirelessly attacking every game as coach Tom Thibodeau has significantly raised his playing time and the level of expectation. Noah ranks seventh in the league in rebounding (10.8), seventh in blocked shot (2.3) and also averages 1.4 steals, all of which has helped give the Bulls the most efficient defense in the NBA and has to put him high in the early conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also averaging 13.6 points and 4.3 assists at the other end of the floor.

Josh Smith, Hawks – He’s flown beneath the radar for so long that it has somehow become acceptable to take what he’s done for granted through eight seasons and counting. By the time this one is over, J-Smoove will likely have 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 2,000 assists and 1,000 blocked shots with the same team. That will put him on a select list with Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Julius Erving, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett. All but Ewing have at least one MVP award to their name and Smith is the only one who has never appeared in the All-Star Game. It took him a little while to get rolling this season, but Smith now has things in gear. He was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for averaging a double-double (21 points, 12 rebounds) in leading the Hawks to a 3-0 record. He is their leading scorer in a 12-6 season that has Atlanta No. 3 in the East standings.

Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers — How is it that the best center in the Eastern Conference could be on the trading block? It has to do more with the Cavs’ miserable 5-17 record rather than any of what Varejao has brought to the table. He’s averaging a career-high 14.8 points and leading the league with 14.9 rebounds per game. Varejao is tied with Memphis’ Zach Randolph for the league lead in double-doubles with 15, and for the 11 games when Kyrie Irving was injured and on the shelf, he might have been the only reason to watch the Cavs. Of course, every G.M. in the league has been watching and with Cleveland in full rebuilding mode, seeking draft picks and young players, there’s a good chance he’ll change uniforms twice this season. That is, of course, assuming he’ll switch into an All-Star jersey for the first time in Houston.