Posts Tagged ‘David Stern’

Silver Offers Glimpse Of The Fan Within


VIDEO: Commissioner Adam Silver’s opening statement at All-Star 2014

NEW ORLEANS – In the first few minutes of his most notable public appearance to date as the NBA’s newly minted commissioner, Adam Silver may have given people a greater glimpse into what drives him than David Stern, his predecessor, offered in 30 years.

Silver worked solo Saturday night at the annual state-of-the-league All-Star Weekend media session that Stern – part Borscht Belt stand-up act, part bully pulpit – handled so masterfully through the years. After a series of acknowledgements (including one to Stern, who is in Aspen this weekend), Silver offered an “Intro to Adam” that showed the beating heart of a diehard basketball fan.

“The league has certainly changed my life. The game of basketball has,” Silver said, a little nervous and emotional as he spoke of some of the mileposts in his journey to this night. “When I was younger, when my parents were first divorced, basketball is what bonded my father and I together.”

Silver, 51, is a native New Yorker, the youngest of four children. He grew up as a Knicks fan, played on a junior league team in grade school and eventually attended Duke University, where students choose their majors but basketball is nearly everyone’s minor.

“I was never a paint-your-face kind of kid,” Silver said. “[But] when I was there, I experienced some of the best college basketball maybe ever.”

Silver spoke of ACC stars, of Ralph Sampson and Gene Banks, of Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. “I would say that had enormous meaning on my life,” he said, “and it was only sort of back then that I think I started to understand how meaningful this game of basketball is to so many people, and the impact it has on so many people’s lives.”

Silver joined the NBA in 1992 as a special assistant to Stern before working his way into the deputy commissioner role. He has traveled the world and been intimately involved with most of the league’s big ideas and issues: labor negotiations, television contracts, international initiatives to grow the sport, technological innovation. But his passion for the game stayed close to the surface.

“I’ve been with the league so long that if there were issues that I thought required immediate attention, I would like to think in partnership with David we would have addressed those,” Silver said. “The coming together of the larger community of basketball is probably my priority, and that means focusing on the game all the way up from the young level through college to the pros.”

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, already has begun working with Silver on multiple fronts. “Adam has been unbelievable, wonderful,” Paul said this weekend, “in talking with us about increasing the dialogue between the players and NBA front offices.”

But Silver’s news conference was a coming-out moment that kicked off All-Star Saturday night, shared with a roomful and a global TV audience. He worked his way through a number of questions:

  • Asked about technology, Silver quickly balanced that by citing transparency as one of his “guiding principles,” through the use of replays in officiating but elsewhere too. “Transparency in how decisions are made at the league office, transparency in how we deal with our players and the Players Association,” Silver said.
  • Silver said he wasn’t looking to alter Stern’s approach, sounding more like he’d build on it in exploring new opportunities and markets. His respect and fondness for his former boss and mentor were evident. “It goes without saying that virtually none of us would be here without David,” Silver said, congratulating the “commissioner emeritus” on his direct election Friday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Like Stern, Silver is an advocate of adding a year to the current eligibility rule for young players to enter the NBA Draft. Bumping the minimum age to 20 years old and turning prospects’ college careers into two-and-done would help both the NBA and the NCAA, he said, which he considers appropriate. “If players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people, for a longer amount of time, before they come into the league, it will be a better league,” he said.
  • “Tanking,” a buzzword this season as teams consider the depth of the 2014 Draft, conjures teams “losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “There’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game – or certainly, in any time that I’ve been in the league – on purpose.” Rebuilding is something quite different. But Silver sounded open to adjusting the lottery system or odds, as needed.
  • An area in which Silver brings his greatest expertise, and has gained the most trust from 30 owners, is television. Negotiations of the next TV deal are ongoing, with blockbuster expectations attached. As for those who feel that broadcast coverage has been crowded out by cable – affecting fans who don’t have or might not be able to afford cable, where all of All-Star Weekend could be found – that world has changed. “It really to me is the quality of the coverage and the ability to reach homes in America,” Silver said, “which we’re doing now.”
  • Silver talked again about the refinement of the league’s use of instant replay, improving the system while heeding the flow of games. Going to an off-site central replay system “similar to what the NHL does right now,” with plays reviewed more swiftly and consistently, sounds like merely a matter of time.
  • Sleeved jerseys? Silver said he’s sensitive to player concerns but reaction has been mixed and statistics show no adverse effects on performance. Meanwhile, apparel sales have been strong, he said. “On one hand, people keep encouraging me to try new things,” the commissioner said, “and then when we try something new, people say you’ve lost your mind. … It’s something we’re trying. We’re having some fun with it. Long-term, we’ll see.”
  • Those jerseys do provide more acreage for ads, and ads on game jerseys don’t face the same threat of zapping that conventional commercials do. “Those live images are critically important to our marketing partners,” he said. “I think it ultimately will happen.”
  • Expansion, domestically or internationally, does not rank high on Silver’s list. The financial viability and competitive strength of the NBA’s existing teams matters more.
  • The goals espoused during the 2011 lockout – greater financial health and more competitive balance – are playing out in Silver’s view. “The fact that we had four teams in the conference finals last year who are all in the bottom half of the league in terms of market size is a strong indication,” he said.
  • Despite concerns that the players association has not hired a replacement for deposed executive director Billy Hunter after more than a year, Silver said the delay has not squelched dealings with the union. Acting director Ron Klempner is available to address the most pressing issues, and the current CBA can’t be reopened by either side until 2017.

Here again, Silver’s sense of stewardship for the game and the league emerged. He sounded very much in sync, frankly, with comments earlier in the day that came from the NBPA’s player-rep meeting.

Silver said it is important for the players to understand that collective bargaining is only “one small aspect of what their union is there for.” He spoke of pensions, health care and other topics, not necessarily related to wrangling over the 50-50 split between players and owners of NBA revenue.

“Their greatest incentive should be to grow this league with us,” Silver said. “That’s going to have such a greater impact ultimately on their salaries than sort of tinkering around with the percentages of [basketball-related income].

“So I’m looking forward to dealing with a partner in this league, not an adversary, a partner that’s going to continue to build this league with me and with the league.”


VIDEO: Commissioner Silver on the issue of “tanking”

The Rise Of New Orleans’ Pelicans

Tom Benson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Pelicans owner Tom Benson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

NEW ORLEANS — While the geographic incongruity of the Lakers slam dunking near the ocean in Los Angeles and the Jazz playing pick-and-roll music in conservative Utah have become ingrained parts of NBA tradition, the feeling was that for pro basketball to finally thrive in southern Louisiana, a new name to match the region would finally help put down roots.

Thus were born the New Orleans Pelicans. Or, more accurately, a rechristening of the Hornets, arrivals from Charlotte, N.C. in 2002 and temporary refugees in Oklahoma City from 2005 to 2007.

Part resurrecting the banner of a beloved minor league baseball franchise (1887 to 1959) and part homage to the official and resilient state bird that appears on the state flag, seal and commemorative quarter, the new team nickname was an instant hit before the start of the 2013-14 season.

“Actually, it was funny that the reaction all over the country was surprised and, in some cases, not good,” said team president Dennis Lauscha. “Because as soon as the name spread around here, people got it. Immediately. The pelican means something in Louisiana.”

The name-change was the most public evidence of a total revamping and rebranding of the franchise since the purchase by Tom Benson in April 2012. Since the 86-year-old owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints spent a reported $338 million to buy the club from the NBA, there has been a full-court press to make upgrades to every level of the organization in a city that has had a mutually noncommittal love affair with professional basketball since the days after World War II. From the Hurricanes to the Sports to the Buccaneers to the Jazz to the Hornets, loyalty has often been discarded like a plastic beer cup on Bourbon Street.

“That’s why it was important for us to demonstrate right away that this, in no way, was stop-gap ownership,” Lauscha said. “The mandate from Mr. Benson was that if we were going to get into the NBA, then we were going to get in all the way and make the same kind of commitment that eventually produced a Super Bowl championship for the Saints.”

Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

That push is coming every day, more than eight years after the devastation inflicted upon the city and the entire Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the population within the city limits is 369,250, down from a 2000 high of 484,674. But there has been a gain of 28.2 percent since 2007. The greater metro area is now at 1.2 million, off just 8 percent from 1.3 million in 2000.

New Orleans, ranked 53rd, is the smallest television market in the NBA, yet the Pelicans have made significant inroads by finally getting distribution into the prosperous North Shore area of Lake Pontchartrain. The Pelicans had the largest increase in part- and full-season ticket sales in the league and ranked among the top third in merchandise sales coming into the 2013-14 season when the new name became official. Two weeks ago, the team announced a 10-year deal worth a reported $40 million to rename 14-year-old New Orleans Arena as the Smoothie King Center.

“There’s a new energy, a new sense of excitement around the team and whole franchise,” said coach Monty Williams, now in his fourth season. “When I first got here, all I heard was the reasons why guys didn’t want to come here. Practice site, location of the practice site. All these things that to me were excuses. Because you’re not in the game in the fourth quarter, about to shoot free throws and thinking, ‘Man, if we had a better practice site I’d make these.’

“All that stuff can be an excuse. But now I’m listening to people around the league. I’ve got players coming up to me during the game and saying, ‘Hey Coach, don’t forget me this summer.’ I wasn’t hearing that the first few years. Everybody just wanted to get out of here. I didn’t have a problem with that. They weren’t doing anything illegal. I just wanted guys to give it a chance. You can see the potential here. We’ve got an unbelievable fan base. We just need them to come to games more. I’ve been lobbying for that and I think they will once we give them a better reason to.”

Jack Sperling mid-wifed the team through the period when the Hornets were owned by the NBA. Then Mickey Loomis, also general manger of the Saints, became the head of basketball operations, and he and Lauscha undertook a plan that has produced a $10 million Pelicans practice facility that adjoins the Saints in nearby Metarie. It is state of the art and then some, the finest in the NBA.

“They showed me blueprints and plans last summer when I first got traded to the team,” said point guard Jrue Holiday. “I said, ‘OK, that’s nice.’

“Then I got down here for training camp and it was open and all you could say was ‘Wow!’ I think there is definitely a different feel. I’ll be the first one to tell you that two years ago I would say, ‘No, don’t send me down here.’ But now that I’m here and now that we have a new facility and, especially with the team that we have, the players, the coaching staff, it’s definitely one of the top places to be.”

The Pelicans are led by 2012 No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis, who in his second NBA season has posted unprecedented numbers for a 20-year-old. He is the hoped-for franchise anchor for the next decade.

“I can’t and won’t look way off into the future at anything that could happen,” Davis said. “But I’ve got to say that everything that has taken place with the team and around the team tells you that everyone in charge is doing all they can to make it possible for us to succeed on the court.

“I can’t speak for what the atmosphere or the operation might have been like before I was drafted. I can only say that I like my teammates, our coaching staff and the way every effort is being made to improve. And it’s great to play in New Orleans. Except for one trip in the NCAA Tournament in college, I was never here before I was drafted. But I feel at home here. The fans have opened their arms to me, to all of us.”

This will be the second NBA All-Star Weekend held in New Orleans in the post-Katrina Era, yet there is a noticeable difference from the last time in 2008. That game was a kind-of personal pledge from former commissioner David Stern, who wanted to demonstrate to the world that his league was fully behind the recovery effort. That was at a time when there was talk of the team relocating permanently to Oklahoma City. It was before the league stepped in and bought the team from George Shinn and ran it for more than two years.

“I had a sense just before we purchased it that there was not really the necessary effort and muscle to make that team successful,” Stern said. “It deserved a chance to be successful. So when we took over, we put a little elbow grease behind it, improved the business prospects and had some conversations with the mayor and the business community.

“When you are talking about someone with the experience and the know-how and the connections in the city to make the franchise not just viable but very successful in the long run, of course, Tom Benson is the first name on that list in New Orleans.”

The octogenarian is a tireless businessman and promoter of his teams. He attends every Saints game, home and away, sits courtside for every Pelicans home game and has his calendar filled most nights of the week with appearances around town.

“I don’t know a lot about owner-coach relationships because this is my first time doing it,” said Williams. “But I hear some of the other things some coaches go through with their owners and I just sit here and think, ‘I don’t have that problem at all.’ I don’t have anything to say about Mr. B at all, other than he gives you everything you need. When you look at this practice site and the type of money he’s spent on young talent, he makes you want to win for him.

“He comes to the games. He’s talking about my wife and kids. He’s saying, ‘You were busy last summer. You were in Africa, Team USA.’ He’s talking stuff, he wants to win, no question. He’s tasted Super Bowl. What he’s done for us and for all of this to happen in a matter of two years, that’s phenomenal.

“My rookie year as a coach we went to the playoffs and this town, it was like we were in The Finals, and I want our guys to experience that. They haven’t yet. I got a taste of it in my rookie season. There’s no question that it can work here and it will.”

Avery Johnson is a New Orleans native, a graduate of St. Augustine High, who attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and watched his beloved Jazz move away to Salt Lake City in 1979. He spent 16 years in the NBA as a player, five as a head coach and is now an ESPN analyst.

“I always crossed my fingers and hoped for New Orleans, but I wasn’t sure about the NBA ever coming back,” he said. “Then the Hornets showed up, then Katrina hit and you had to figure it was all lost again.

“But now, with Tom Benson owning the club, man with all the contracts, the corporate infrastructure and the synergy that’s possible with the Pelicans and the Saints, I can honestly say for the first time that it’s possible for the NBA to be a success in New Orleans, a big success.”

There is work to do, plenty of it. Lauscha, a native of the area, has dreams of drawing fans from northern Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast region — to Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida.

“Football is in the blood of the people, but there is a lot of history of basketball in Louisiana — Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Karl Malone, Willis Reed. Of course, Pete Maravich at LSU and with the Jazz.

“Its about tapping into that history and tapping into a sense of local pride and connecting this team to the city. I believe we can do that.”

Dell Demps has been the general manager since 2010. In that short time, he’s seen some great change.

“My first year here the team was in the process of being sold. The league took over the team in year two and part of year three. Then getting the leadership of the Benson family, Mickey Loomis, Dennis Lauscha, it gives us an stability.

“Then with the rebranding of the Pelican name, the symbolism of being the state bird and how the pelicans have been able to survive the hurricane, the gulf oil spill a few years ago. Just what that bird stands for — the resiliency of the state, the people, the city of New Orleans. It just gives us an identity that is our own. I think it puts us on the map with a whole new start.”

Stern Enters Hall As Quietly As Possible

VIDEO: The GameTime guys discuss the legacy of David Stern.

NEW ORLEANS – He wasn’t getting close to All-Star weekend. David Stern was so not getting close, in fact, that he chose an opposite destination, leaving New York for the altitude and snow of Colorado, a favorite getaway, and a ski vacation with his wife while most of his former world converged on the Gulf Coast in sunshine for the indoors of basketball. He didn’t want to be the slightest presence as successor Adam Silver took the big stage for the first time as commissioner.

Giving the spotlight a two-hand shove in someone else’s, anyone else’s, direction reached all the way Friday to skipping his own meeting with history, when the Hall of Fame announced Stern had been elected and he stuck with the ski plans anyway. Silver in the audience for the unveiling of the first five names of the Class of 2014 for the basketball museum in Springfield, Mass., while Stern kept a safe distance was an appropriate twist.

This had to play out just right for the commissioner emeritus. More than just whether he would attend the announcement, Stern debated for some time whether to allow himself to be nominated this election cycle or wait a year or two for the lock of first-ballot enshrinement. He had always said the moment would only come once out of office, but then as moving day, Feb. 1, neared, he thought about delaying the Hall in favor of a comfortable chair deep in the shadows.

“He thought he might let it go by for a while,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Hall and a long-time Stern confidant. “He’s a humble guy in many ways and he wasn’t necessarily looking to have another thing happen real quick, because this is a big thing. I had to nudge him a little bit by telling him, ‘We could use you now, not five years from now. People forget quickly.’ He thought about it and he got back to me. He said, ‘OK.’ ”

OK, back into the limelight.

“David is a modest guy and I don’t think he thought this was coming so quickly,” Silver said. “Even though he had a storied career as commissioner, I think he thought there’d be some period of time before he went in the Hall, but they came to him and said now was the time for him to be inducted. He was moved. I spoke to him right after Jerry Colangelo had talked to him. He was moved, he was excited. I think it’s a great book end to a fantastic career as commissioner.”

Stern’s induction ceremony in Springfield in August will come as part of an ongoing Pacers party, with former coach Bob (Slick) Leonard being elected as the third Indiana selection in a row by the ABA committee, following Mel Daniels in 2012 and Roger Brown in 2013. Leonard, now a Pacers broadcaster, is the winningest coach in the history of the rebel league and won three championships.

Sarunas Marciulionis was elected via the International category for a starring role with the Soviet Union and later, after his native land gained independence, Lithuania. He also played seven seasons in the NBA as a shooting guard who would attack the basket with an aggressive, fearless style that belied an easy-going personality that made him popular among fans and teammates with the Warriors, SuperSonics, Kings and Nuggets.

Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton, from the Early African-American Pioneers committee, and Guy Rodgers, via the Veterans committee, were elected posthumously. Clifton was the first African-American to sign an NBA contract, while Rodgers was a college star at Temple who played 12 seasons in the NBA and made four All-Star teams.

Alonzo Mourning headlined the list of finalists from the North American committee, which, like the Women’s field, involves a second election before inductees are announced at the Final Four ahead of the induction ceremony in August: Mourning, Kevin Johnson (a step forward by making it through the first round of voting), Spencer Haywood, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, college coaches Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams and former AAU coach Harley Redin along with Immaculata University’s AIAW national-title teams of the early 1970s.

Chris Webber, eligible for the first time, was not nominated, a missed opportunity for a candidate who would have received some support and possibly made it to the finalist stage. Robert Horry, a unique debate as someone who several times changed history in the playoffs despite posting modest numbers in his career, also was not nominated in his first year of eligibility.

A Meandering Road For N.O. Basketball


VIDEO: Fran Blinebury narrates the history of New Orleans basketball

The author Tom Robbins once said that if New Orleans is not fully in the mainstream of culture, neither is it fully in the mainstream of time. Lacking a well-defined present, it lives somewhere between its past and its future, as if uncertain whether to advance or to retreat.

That might also describe the meandering history of basketball in the Crescent City. With roots that stretch to the earliest professional leagues, the game has followed the unsteady path of an overindulgent visitor in the French Quarter to reach the glitz and glamour that is the 2014 NBA All-Star Weekend.

The state of Louisiana could fill out a virtual Hall of Fame roster with native-born talent — Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, Robert Parish, Joe Dumars, Don Chaney and Bob Love. But the pro game has spent more than six peripatetic decades trying to find an embrace in the Big Easy.

“Honestly, it’s not that big. It’s really not,” said Pacers forward and native Danny Granger of the basketball scene in New Orleans. “Compared to Indianapolis, if Indianapolis is a 10, New Orleans is a 4, as far as high school basketball goes … We’ve always been a football city.”

Still, at the end of World War II, the game began to take wing all across the United States. New Orleans’ first team, the Hurricanes, were part of the Professional Basketball League of America in 1947. Led by 19-year-old guard Paul Seymour, the Hurricanes and the league lasted just eight games before going out of business.

A year later, the Hurricanes were renamed the Sports and joined the second year of the Southern Basketball League. The Sports featured the league’s leading scorer in Alex “Greek” Athas, a product of Tulane University in New Orleans. The Sports went 7-24, the SBL went out of business at the end of the season and a nearly 20-year wait for another pro basketball team began.

The ABA comes to town

The American Basketball Association was the young, defiant upstart league that burst onto the scene in 1967 with a red-white-and-blue ball, a 3-point shot and a wide-open, slam-dunking style of play that challenged perceptions and authority.

And what better place to do that than rowdy Bourbon Street and New Orleans?

Larry Brown (center) of the New Orleans Buccaneers was MVP of the ABA All-Star Game in 1968. With ABA Commissioner George Mikan (left) and Rick Barry. (NBA Photos/NBAE)

Larry Brown (center) of the New Orleans Buccaneers was MVP of the ABA All-Star Game in 1968. With ABA Commissioner George Mikan (left) and Rick Barry.
(NBA Photos/NBAE)

The Buccaneers were coached by the legendary Babe McCarthy with his honey dew Mississippi drawl and his pocketful of down-home sayings:

“Boy, I gotta tell you, you gotta come at ‘em like a bitin’ sow.”

“My old pappy used to tell me, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt every day.”

McCarthy’s team was loaded with talent. The first player signed was Doug Moe, the talented forward out of North Carolina who had been connected to a college basketball betting scandal. Even though nothing was ever proven, Moe, along with Connie Hawkins, had been banned from the NBA for life.

The Buccaneers then added Moe’s good buddy Larry Brown, the 5-foot-9 point guard who’d been dismissed by the NBA for simply being too short.

“I loved every minute of playing in New Orleans and playing with that team,” said Brown, 73, the Hall of Fame coach who is now at Southern Methodist. “I was an assistant coach at North Carolina at the time and figured that was it. That league and that team meant a lot to me because they gave me a chance to prove that I could be a player at the top level.

“Man, that was a team. We had a great kid that nobody ever talks about anymore — Jimmy Jones from Grambling. We had Jackie Moreland, Jesse Branson, Marlbert Pradd and Austin ‘Red” Robbins. We came within a game of winning the championship in that first year (losing 4-3 in the ABA Finals to Hawkins and the Pittsburgh Pipers).”

The Bucs played before largely empty houses at Loyola Field House for the first several months, mostly because they arrived in town the same year the Saints were welcomed into the NFL.

“I went to the very first Saints game ever,” Brown said. “Guy takes the opening kick back 99 yards for a touchdown and the place went crazy. We all figured they’d never lose a game. Of course, with that passion for the Saints, nobody paid attention to us until football season was over. But when it was, the stands were packed. The enthusiasm and interest was great.

“I loved playing for a phenomenal coach in Babe. He had a great feel for the game and he cared about his players. He reminded me of a southern Frank McGuire and that’s the greatest compliment that I can give anybody.”

Even though Brown won the MVP award at the first ABA All-Star Game and Moe was named to the All-ABA team, they were both traded after just one season.

“I think it was about money,” Brown said, “even though Babe always called me his pissant guard and he did get back a 6-7 guard in Steve Jones. That’s OK. Doug and I went to Oakland and won a championship the next year.

“But I wouldn’t trade that experience — that one year — in New Orleans for anything.”

The Buccaneers survived just two more seasons in New Orleans before the franchise moved to Memphis in 1970.

The Pistol Pete era


VIDEO: Ultimate “Pistol” Pete Maravich highlight reel

It was four years later when the NBA finally came to town with an expansion team. The aptly named Jazz fittingly brought in the greatest improvisational artist in the game in “Pistol” Pete Maravich, who’d played college ball at Louisiana State in Baton Rouge and made music with a basketball like Louis Armstrong did with his trumpet.

Avery Johnson, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs, coached the Mavericks to The Finals and is now an ESPN analyst, grew up on the streets of New Orleans’ Sixth Ward, within walking distance of the Superdome. He joyously recalls watching the show.

“As a young kid, the Jazz really sparked my interest in basketball,” he said. “Growing up, my two favorite guys to watch were Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald and ‘Pistol Pete.’

“Since the Jazz were playing at the Superdome and had all those seats to fill, they were practically giving tickets away. So my friends and I were going to as many games as we could, even on school nights.”

“All the kids in our neighborhood wore our [floppy] socks like Pistol and anytime we saw him make a great shot or an amazing pass, we’d all be out there on the schoolyard or playground the next day trying to do it. For a kid my age, it really didn’t get any better than that.”

Trouble was, most of the NBA was always better than the Jazz. In five seasons, the Jazz never finished with a record of .500 record. When Maravich was beset by a series of knee injuries and couldn’t play, the big show lost its headline attraction.

“It was sad when he could no longer be Pistol,” said Brown. “I grew up with Pete and from the time he was young he had a quality on the court that wouldn’t let you take your eyes off of him.

“I saw him play in the state high school tournament. He loved the game. He made players better. He made you enjoy going to watch the basketball game. You didn’t know what was going to happen, but you knew something great would happen.

“I have always been known as a perfectionist coach, talking about playing the game the right way. Pete didn’t play the right way, but he had to play the way that gave him the best chance to win. A lot of people would look at the shots I let Allen Iverson take in Philly and say, ‘That’s not right.’ But when you have greatness like him, you let him do the things he’s capable of doing. The same held true for Pete and there was nobody capable of doing the things he was doing.”

But with Maravich hobbled and fan support hemorrhaging, the franchise was sold in 1979 and the Jazz name was incongruously relocated to Utah.

Post Pete

“In 1979 the Jazz were leaving, a channel called ESPN came on my TV,” Johnson recalled. “It seemed like the world was changing and you couldn’t hold things back.”

“It was playing in the Superdome,” Brown said. “It wasn’t a real basketball facility. Too many seats. And you know, the South was still kind of funny then. I don’t think people were ever passionate about basketball after the Buccaneers left. They were never really attracted to the Jazz, just Pete.”

At that time, a young David Stern was general counsel to NBA commissioner Larry O’Brien and worked hard to try to find a local owner in Louisiana. He couldn’t.

“I never thought even at that time that the NBA couldn’t work in New Orleans,” Stern said. “I always thought the NBA could work anywhere and we’ve proved that over the years with the so-called small markets in San Antonio, Orlando, Utah, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Portland and Sacramento. So even as we were leaving, I never thought there was a reason the NBA couldn’t come back.”

It took 13 years, but when the Hornets could not work out an agreement for a new arena in Charlotte, they relocated. The beat of pro basketball was again in New Orleans.

The Hornets played at the New Orleans Arena, built adjacent to the Superdome. They were coached by Paul Silas and with a veteran roster led by Jamal Mashburn, George Lynch and Elden Campbell, and immediately made two playoff appearances. But a miserable 18-64 record the next season was the worst in the league.

The Hornets parlayed that misery into making Chris Paul their top pick in the NBA Draft in June 2005 and plotted their comeback. But real tragedy struck on Aug. 29 of that year when Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.

More than 1,800 lives were lost, $108 billion in damages suffered to the city and the Hornets were forced to set up a temporary home for two seasons in Oklahoma City.

Former Hornets player P.J. Brown visits a Katrina memorial in 2007. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Former Hornets player P.J. Brown visits a Katrina memorial in 2007. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

“I was so happy when the team had returned to New Orleans and my hometown got another chance,” Johnson said. “Then came Katrina and all you could wonder was ‘What next?’ Would they come back again?”

With rabid fan support for the Hornets and a hunger for the first pro sports franchise in OKC, the question of whether the Hornets would return to the Big Easy continued to be asked. As the city slowly and steadily picked up the pieces and began to put itself back together, Stern — now the commissioner — remained the city’s greatest champion. He gave his steadfast approval to New Orleans as an NBA town.

“Apart from my own previous history with the city, I have an affection because of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that followed,” Stern said. “It was important to me for us to be the first sport to play a regular-season game again in New Orleans after Katrina. We scheduled an All-Star Game [2008] there and people said we were crazy. So it gives me enormous pleasure to see where the franchise is today.”

“That was a very strong statement made by commissioner Stern,” Johnson said. “ ‘We are not going to leave you at the time of your greatest trial.’ It was a sign faith, of hope, of possibility for the future.”

When the Hornets returned, the team was in full bloom with Paul as its leader. He was joined on the 2008 All-Star team by New Orleans teammate David West. The Hornets finished 56-26, their best record ever, were the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and defeated Dallas in the first round.

But things again turned sour two years later when the NBA was forced to purchase the team from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest in a bid to keep basketball in the city. The league, with Stern acting as the de facto owner, ran the franchise for 1 1/2 years. Paul, who’d been an All-Star four times in six seasons in New Orleans, said he wanted out and, after one deal that would have sent him to the L.A. Lakers was turned down by Stern, Paul eventually was traded to the Clippers.

CP3 and the Big Easy

Chris Paul in 2008 (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Chris Paul in 2008 (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Now, three years later, Paul still holds an affinity for the city. New Orleans is more than just a team in a city where his NBA career began.

“[It’s] everything. Everything,” said Paul, who will return this week as a member of the Western Conference. “It’s going to be emotional going back. Obviously I was already going to All-Star regardless because we have some players’ association events and things like that. I still have a lot of my close friends and family there in New Orleans. My pastor lives in New Orleans. I’m doing my daughter’s christening when I go back and stuff like that. My brother’s doing his twins. It’s going to be pretty cool to be back.”

Even though he actually played his first two NBA seasons in Oklahoma City with the displaced Hornets, Paul sank his teeth and his roots into America’s most colorful, most unique city.

His brother got married in New Orleans.  Paul still runs an after-school program in the city.

“It’s crazy because I’m older and a little bit wiser now from when I was there in New Orleans, but it’s the people of New Orleans that make it what it is,” he said. “Everybody talks about the food and the environment and the nightlife and all this different type stuff. But it’s the people. There’s nothing like it. It’s its own language. It’s its own everything. And me being born and raised from the South, the people of New Orleans became my family.

“I did those [first] two years in Oklahoma City so I had no idea. I was going off what everybody was telling me about New Orleans. It’s crazy to hear some people talk about, ‘Oh, New Orleans, I can’t go there, I can’t do this.’ And I tell people, ‘I loved it. I absolutely loved it.’ What you learn is that some people will say that in front of the camera and stuff like that, but when it [the camera] moves, they’ll be like, ‘I hated it.’ But, you know, I’ll talk about New Orleans. I absolutely loved it there. That ‘07-08 season was something special that I’ll never forget. When you’re winning and playing in New Orleans, there’s nothing like it. Nothing like it.”

A new beginning

In April 2012, Tom Benson, the owner of the NFL Saints, bought the team from the NBA. In June the team made Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. And for the start of the 2013-14 season, the Hornets were rechristened as the Pelicans, a nod to the state bird of Louisiana and a source of local pride. Now New Orleans will host its second post-Katrina NBA All-Star Weekend.

In his second season in the league, the athletic forward Davis has exploded at both ends of the court as a franchise player and future All-Star. Jrue Holiday, an All-Star a year ago, has been added to the roster. It’s the fourth season for coach Monty Williams.

“I was disappointed they had to let Chris go,” said Brown. “But I believe in Monty Williams. He’s a smart young coach who used to work for me. They’ve got an unbelievable kid there in Davis. I’m telling you, that kid is the truth.

“I’ll always have a love for that city because of one special season of playing basketball. But after all those years and all those teams and all those different problems, I think they’re finally going in the right direction.”

Walkin’ to New Orleans, as the great Fats Domino sang, goin’ back home to stay.

Blogtable: Three Words, Whole Story

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


Fixing the Pistons | Take a break | Three simple words



VIDEO: Durant wins Kia Player of the Month honors for January

Give us three words to describe the NBA season so far.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHobbled, for all the injuries to notable players. Warped, for the East-least, West-best tilt. And Reaped, for Kevin (the Slim Reaper) Durant’s rather large and cold-blooded step up to MVP favorite.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s Durant’s world.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comInjuries really suck (stink).

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comWhere’s the doctor?

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: “Threes and D.” The league is shooting more 3-pointers than ever and floor spacing is so critical to any offense. But the Indiana Pacers have the best record in the league because they’re so much better defensively than any other team.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: New World Order … from Kevin Durant’s MVP takeover to the Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns all challenging the power structure in their respective conferences, these upstarts made the first half of the season enjoyable. Even Adam Silver taking over the big chair from David Stern speaks to a certain changing of the guard that is going on right now and perhaps this season, if those teams can carry what they’ve done thus into the postseason. I’ll say this, without them the first half of the season would have been miserable to digest. Our entire focus would have been on overanalyzing the Miami Heat, all of the injuries to star players and the dysfunction run amok in New York (both the Knicks and Nets early on, even though the Nets have regained their composure here the last month or so). But instead, we’ve had some fresh faces and new storylines to keep us busy. And that’s always a good thing.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogPass to Durant! There have been surprises in Portland and from several players, but as great as Kevin Durant has been in the past, I don’t think anyone suspected the sustained level of production we’ve seen from him this season. He alone has made every Thunder game must-see TV.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceTwo words: Antetokoumpo-mania!  Or does that count as one?

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA BrasilSlim Reaper Cometh“, or something like that. This “first half” of the NBA season had a lot of surprises – from Indiana and Portland running away with the conference leads in the first couple of months to Phoenix playing like a true playoff contender, to New York, Cleveland and Minnesota playing way below expectations and Brooklyn taking so long to work things out. But the story of 2013-14 for now is how Kevin Durant rose to the next level. Hitting 50-40-90 last season was amazing, but now KD has shown improvement in all areas, especially in leadership, and has taken the Oklahoma City Thunder to new heights. Now, there is an argument on who the best player in the world is, and right now at this moment, the answer is Kevin Durant.

Simon Legg, NBA AustraliaReally open season!‘ For the first time in a few years, we have a number of contenders, so the league is in a good space right now.

What They’re Saying: David Stern


VIDEO: David Stern Essay

David Stern officially stepped down from his position as NBA Commissioner on February 1. Stern guided the NBA through a global expansion that saw the league’s annual revenue grow from $165 million, when he took over the position in 1984, to an estimated $5.5 billion in 2013.

There’s plenty to say about David Stern, and writers from various newspapers, magazines, and Web sites wrote a lot recently about his run as commissioner. Here’s a sample of what they’re saying: 

Kurt Helin, NBC Sports: “When you watch the NBA All-Star Game and the weekend of events Feb. 14-16 in New Orleans, know that was David Stern — the idea of having a dunk contest and other events around the game was something he pushed from the day he took over in 1984. Know that when you watch a mid-season nationally televised game Friday night — where highlight packages and conversation before and after the game happens on ESPN and other outlets — that was David Stern’s vision.

Stern certainly wasn’t perfect — he was a cult of personality that led to two destructive lockouts, plus he already had a foundation to change the league put in place by others when he stepped in the door in 1984. You can make the case that he is more Bill Gates than Steve Jobs — he didn’t create new and innovative things, he just better exploited the market for those things.

Still, the NBA is in a far better place now because of him. Far, far better.”

Ken Berger, CBS Sports: “Stern introduced NBA basketball to the world with the Dream Team, and his stubborn imperialism has given us exhibition games and scattered regular season games all over the globe. Over the next decade, it will be Silver’s job to export the game in a tangible, permanent, meaningful way. Like any Fortune 500 company, when you reach market saturation, you have to find new markets if you want to make more money. Of the four major American pro sports, basketball is in the best position to do so.”

Ian Thomsen, Sports Illustrated: “He set up the NBA to become the only global sports league capable of thriving throughout the world. When Stern took over the NBA, it was a penny-ante organization endangered by bankruptcy. No one was envisioning profitability or expansion for pro basketball, much less the advent of a Dream Team. Stern saw a potential for the NBA that transcended the domestic aims of the rival leagues in America. Will the NBA ultimately become more popular and profitable than pro football or baseball? It’s hard to imagine that day right now, but the potential to be a moneymaker on every continent is something that exists down the road for the NBA to a much greater extent than for the NFL or MLB.”

Harvey Araton, New York Times: “He once explained the sport’s hold on him by recalling the title of a book written by his predecessor, Larry O’Brien, about O’Brien’s time as a strategist for the Democratic Party: No Final Victories. But could we say that the 2011 labor peace — with the owners gaining a 50-50 split of the revenue — represented his final victory? [Adam] Silver, who will be empowered with increasing revenue, with potential European expansion and developing interest in India, Africa and elsewhere, answered first.

‘Not a fair question,’ he said. ‘He already said there are no final victories.’

All right, then. Most cherished on-court memories?

Stern leaned back and pointed to a photograph propped against the wall of him presenting Magic Johnson with the most valuable player trophy at the 1992 All-Star Game, months after Johnson retired from the Los Angeles Lakers upon disclosing he had contracted the virus that causes AIDS.

That was one, Stern said. The other, he said, was ‘was what the Dream Team represented, this much-maligned group of players and sport, on the march to the gold medal stand, being feted like a combination of the Bolshoi, the Philharmonic and the Beatles.’

Stern paused and offered one final plug that made the long voyage sound like the continuing mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

‘And therein launched the globalization of the game,’ he said. ‘Again, no final victories.'”

Richard Lapchick, ESPN: “When he took over, the league was divided by race and lacked diversity at every level. Many people criticized the NBA player base as being “too black” while league and front-office employees were overwhelmingly white and male. From the start, the new commissioner said positions on the court would be filled according to the skills and talent of the contenders. In fact, the percentage of players of color has increased while the percentages of women and people of color in professional positions in the league office and team front offices have advanced dramatically.

Right from the start of his tenure, hiring in the league office included more women and people of color in the New York offices and later in its global offices. The NBA has been the only men’s league to get an overall A for racial and gender hiring practices. It has done so for six consecutive years. The other men’s leagues are now close to the NBA’s A for racial hiring practices, but both the NFL and MLB still get a C-plus for gender. The WNBA, which Stern helped to launch, is the only organization that beats the NBA and has had an overall A-plus. Seventeen years after its launch, the WNBA has had an A in both categories in all but one year.”

Ric Bucher, Bleacher ReportTalk about David Stern’s genius invariably begins with his business acumen, having made a too-black, too-drug-infested sport wildly popular with white corporate America and global TV viewers, thereby transforming the National Basketball Association into a billion-dollar empire.

If it were that simple, though, his run as commissioner might not be ending. But he’s being moved on because the league now is less about creating something and more about exploiting what has been built.

No, Stern is exiting stage right after an inimitable 30-year run because under that dark suit and power tie, he was an artist and a preacher—or rabbi, in his faith of choice—and that’s simply not what his current congregation is seeking.”


VIDEO: Stern on becoming commissioner

Henry Abbott, ESPN: “Getting stuff done is what work is all about in the end. Building consensus is the preferred approach. But it’s hardly as if Stern, who’s fond of bragging that he “knows where the bodies are buried,” is out of tricks should that process break down. Playground bullies tend to prey on those least likely to fight back, but Stern is that rare brawler who pokes his finger into the chests of titans. The NBA is operating today only because the lockout of 2011 is over, and the lockout is only over because Stern was able secure the support of just-enough owners — many of whom hated aspects of the deal.”

Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated: “Hard as it is to compare commissioners among sports and eras and media landscapes (what would Pete Rozelle have thought about the RedZone channel?), Stern is certainly on the sports commish Mt. Rushmore. He completely transformed his league in a way that, I would argue, no other commissioner has. Some of this, of course, owed to good fortune. His first years coincided with Magic [Johnson], [Larry] Bird and [Michael] Jordan. Plenty of forces outside his control — the changing media landscape, technology, the DVR that made sports especially valuable — helped build the NBA into the multibillion-dollar behemoth it is today. But go through the “CEO checklist” — longevity, business savvy, legacy, visionary thinking, generally unwavering support from the boardroom (i.e., the owners), leadership, innovation — and there’s a lot of high marks there.”

Larry Coon, ESPN: “Through the collective bargaining process — sometimes collegial, at other times adversarial — Stern put the system in place to realize his vision. The very concept of the modern salary cap was Stern’s innovation, including the soft cap and the exceptions that defined specific circumstances under which teams could exceed it.

Other mechanisms, including maximum salaries, restricted free agency, the rookie salary scale and revenue sharing were all invented or informed by Stern. These all exist to help the NBA meet its overarching objectives: to grow the league, to create a landscape in which any well-run team could be both financially solvent and competitive on the court and to ensure that everyone — not just the stars — could make a good living playing the game. Stern achieved these goals by combining a broad vision for the NBA with a depth of perspective that only an original architect could have. ‘He gets it all,’ said one league source. ‘There are no translation issues with him.'”

Kelly Dwyer, Yahoo! Sports: “None of the innovations credited to Stern were of his own design, but that’s the way these things often work — in art, commerce, athletics or in the political realm. His ability to sustain the fine work of his predecessors, while pouncing on the evolution of the times that were growing up around him, was brilliant. Expanding international relations, embracing cable and satellite television, attempting to even the financial playing field, recognizing the power of the Internet — the man even artfully detailed the benefits of a legalized modified zone defense in the presence of disbelieving journalists on a cocktail napkin in the summer of 2001. Stern didn’t invent any of these significant positive movements, but he made sure they were implemented tout de suite.”

Mark Heisler, Forbes: “You no longer hear the old charge that the NBA works only for rich teams. Nor is there a trace of the self-loathing in what was once dismissed as a “YMCA league,” that reached its highest expressions with Wilt Chamberlain’s “My Life in a Bush League” Sports Illustrated cover in 1965.

A distant third behind the NFL and baseball through the 1980s, the NBA is now a behemoth. With the owners slicing the players’ 58-42 share of revenue to 50-50 in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, profits and franchise values are ramping up. In an eye-popping bequest to his successor, Adam Silver’s first major piece of business will be to negotiate new network TV deals amid projections that rights fees could double from their current $930 million a season.

Mike Wise, Washington Post: “In hindsight, Stern didn’t sell a black sport to white America; he sold great athletes and good stories to a paying audience willing to accept some of the flawed characters for who they were.

Stern won’t get enough credit for some of his best work: his compassion and empathy for the most discriminated among us, not just poor black kids, many of whom grew up in America’s most impoverished neighborhoods. No, he stood for John Amaechi after the former center came out as gay in his autobiography. When Tim Hardaway made anti-gay comments in reference to Amaechi in 2007, Hardaway’s livelihood in the NBA suddenly ceased. Stern wasn’t having bigotry.”

J.A. Adande, ESPN: “One aspect of David Stern’s reign as NBA commissioner is the indelible personal mark he put on things. It wasn’t just the actions, it was the way in which they did it. These moments often reflected as much of his personality, manner and leadership style as they impacted the league. While you can debate whether another commissioner of this age accomplished more, there’s no doubt that he displayed more attributes — imperious, sarcastic, compassionate, ruthless, among them — than his contemporaries.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 29


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Grizz continue to find their way | Davis boosts his All-Star hopes | LeBron wants to talk with Silver | Shumpert injures shoulder in Knicks’ win

No. 1: Grizz get back into their grinding groove — If you gave up on Memphis a few weeks or months ago after their slow-out-of-the-gate start to the season, you may want to start tuning in to their games again. As our own Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday, Memphis is getting back to its “Grindhouse” ways. That was plenty apparent last night as the Grizz marched into Portland and handed the Blazers, who boast the league’s fifth-best home record, a resounding 98-81 defeat. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal has more on Memphis continued rise:

The Grizzlies didn’t yield a point for the first two minutes, 20 seconds of their game Tuesday night, and the defensive chokehold just got tighter and tighter.

Memphis held the NBA’s highest scoring team well below its average and started a three-game road trip with a 98-81 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in the Moda Center.

The Trail Blazers (33-13) entered the game putting up 109 points on 45.5 percent shooting per contest. But the Griz (23-20) held the Blazers to a season-low point total on just 34.5 percent shooting.

“Our confidence is back,” Griz point guard Mike Conley said. “We believe we’re a good team. We believe we can beat anybody. We kind of lost that. But everybody feels comfortable again and we’re playing hard.”

About four minutes into the fourth quarter, Portland’s television play-by-play announcer pointed out that the Blazers scored on back-to-back possessions just six times in the game.

The Griz simply kept the Blazers misfiring on the perimeter, and contested every shot in the lane. Portland missed its first 12 three-point attempts and was shooting 36 percent through three quarters while Memphis took an 81-58 lead into the final frame.

“We’re just starting to click,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “The cement hasn’t really dried.”

The Griz are certainly making an imprint. They’ve won three straight games and eight of the last nine. Memphis also ended Portland’s five-game home winning streak.

Since center Marc Gasol returned from a left MCL sprain, the Griz are 6-1 and have allowed 85 points per game.

“We were playing like ‘When is Marc coming back?’ as opposed to just playing basketball to the best of our ability and see what happens,” Griz forward Tayshaun Prince said. “But now that we have Marc back you can see a different comfort zone with our team. A lot of guys are playing at a high level. More importantly, we’re playing together.”

***

No. 2: Pelicans’ Davis boosts his All-Star resumeKevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love have the starting gigs nailed down for the Western Conference All-Star squad. Picking the guys who back them up? That’s something that isn’t easy, especially considering the frontcourt/power forward/center depth there is in the West. One such name that’s been bandied about for a bench spot is the New Orleans Pelicans’ uber-forward Anthony Davis. He didn’t do anything to hurt his reserve bid last night, writes John Reid of The Times Picayune, after a dominating performance against the Cavs:

With time running out to impress enough of the league’s coaches to earn a selection as a reserve in the Feb. 16 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis didn’t miss another opportunity to make his case.Davis dominated with eight blocks and 30 points to help Pelicans rout the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-89 on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. It was the third 30-point performance of Davis’ career. Davis dislocated his left index finger in the monstrous effort but doesn’t expect to miss playing time….

“I’m just trying to get better each and every day,” Davis said. “My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball and giving me a chance to score. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, has totaled 27 blocks and averaged 21.8 points in the past five games. He relied on his arsenal of shots — from quick pull-up jumpers to dunks — and didn’t miss many attempts. He made 12 of 18 of shots and had 24 points after three quarters.

Some of Davis’ dominant play came against rookie Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft. He played extended minutes for the first time and scored a season-high 15 points. But Davis overshadowed his effort.

“He’s a very talented individual,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said of Davis. “He kind of messes up your rotations just because he can space (the floor) so well and he plays the game the right way.

“Coach (Williams) did a heck of a job running continuity plays for him and he was catching it in rhythm and knocking down shots. You have to give credit to a good performance by him.”


VIDEO: Anthony Davis runs wild as the Pelicans take down the Cavs

***

No. 3: LeBron wants to talk with new commish Silver — The NBA is just a few weeks away from the official retirement of David Stern (which, if you haven’t read our David Aldridge’s oral history of his career, you’re missing out) and from Adam Silver taking over as the NBA’s new boss. Silver will of course become infinitely more busy than he already is and one superstar is already hoping to earmark some time to talk with him once he officially takes office, writes Sam Amick of USA Today:

The Miami Heat star said Tuesday that he’s in the process of making a wish list of sorts that he will eventually share with Silver, the deputy commissioner who began with the league more than 20 years ago and who has held his current position (as well as Chief Operating Officer) since 2006.

“Um, I’m making (a list),” James said. “I don’t know if I want to make it public knowledge right now, but hopefully I can sit down with the Commish – the soon to be Commish – and just throw out some ideas where I feel like the league can be better, and hopefully he has some ideas for me to see on my part.”

James, who said he planned to schedule a formal meeting with Silver, lauded Stern for the job he has done and gave Silver a warm welcome.

“I think (Silver) is great,” James said. “The opportunities I’ve had to be around him as he’s been the assistant commish, he’s been amazing. He’s easy to talk to. He’s someone that understands the business, who understands what the game of basketball means to everyone – the owners, the players, the coaches, everyone. Everyone included, the whole pie. I’m looking forward to him. I’m excited for him, and best of luck to him. Hopefully he can get 30 years in too like David was able to get. Who knows what his 30 years can do for the game.”

As for the changes he envisions and may seek, he hinted that they are minor.

“We don’t need major change,” James said. “This game has grown from just being in America to over almost 300 countries right now…But the game can always be bigger. There’s a lot of people who love the game who are not able to watch the game, so I feel we can broadcast it in more countries as well and continue to inspire people that want to play the game, who love the game. It’s the greatest game in the world to me. Obviously I’m biased, because I’m in it, but you know the things that we’re able to do out on the floor to inspire people is unbelievable.”

***

No. 4: Knicks’ Shumpert suffers shoulder injuryNew York got some good news during last night’s win over the Celtics as power forward Kenyon Martin returned to the lineup after missing five games with an ankle injury. But just four minutes into the Boston game, the Knicks saw guard Iman Shumpert suffer a shoulder injury and leave the game. How long Shumpert will be out for remains unknown, writes Ian Bagley of ESPNNewYork.com:

Knicks guard Iman Shumpert suffered a sprained right shoulder in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Boston Celtics and did not return.The severity of the injury was unclear.

Coach Mike Woodson said after the Knicks’ 114-88 win that he wasn’t sure how long Shumpert would be out for.

Shumpert dealt with shoulder soreness in training camp but has remained relatively healthy throughout the season, playing in every game.

If Shumpert were out for an extended period, J.R. Smith or Tim Hardaway Jr. would likely replace him in the lineup.

In other injury news, veteran Knicks forward Kenyon Martin returned after missing five games with a left ankle injury and re-sprained the ankle in the first half. Martin had earlier aggravated the injury against the Indiana Pacers on Jan. 16.

“Just overuse,” the 36-year-old Martin said. “Been going every day and playing a lot of minutes. Just needed a break. Not one thing happened. Just been fighting through it, fighting through it, fighting through it, and the body lets you know. So at my age, you got to listen.”

Martin limped to the locker room late in the second quarter. The Knicks said he was available to return.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Great teaser/snippet for Rick Fox‘s upcoming interview with Phil Jackson on GameTime (Jan. 30, 6 p.m. ET), where the coaching legend talks about Dwight Howard’s game, the state of the Lakers and much, much moreScott Brooks is coaching the West All-Star team for the second time in his career … Is Pistons owner Tom Gores to blame for Detroit’s roster woes? One columnist sure thinks so … Interesting look at how the Most Improved Player voting/winners have been doled out the last few years … If Rajon Rondo signs an extension with the Celtics, what might it look like long term for the team? … The Kings revealed the first renderings for their new arena that’s being built

ICYMI of The Night: We’re still thawing out here at Shootaround Central (aka Atlanta), but this nice hustle play from John Wall to race back and swat Steph Curry warms our hearts…:


VIDEO: John Wall hustles back to deny Steph Curry’s layup attempt

Season’s First Half Has Offered Plenty, Including A Sprint Toward Draft’s No. 1


VIDEO: The Beat discusses LeBron James’ evolution as a player in 2013

Rarely has an NBA season played out to its midpoint — at least for many around the league — less about the journey than the late-June destination.

Even the Great LeBronapalooza Free Agency of 2010 didn’t bleed back into the season that preceded it the way some obsessions with the 2014 Draft have tried to pre-empt this one. Even before Anthony Bennett heard his name called, rather surprisingly, as the No. 1 pick last June, the focus for a lot of franchises and their like-it-or-not customers already was fixed on a game of chance 11 months away.

“Tanking” will show up more often in your Google search of this season than “three-peat” (which still is rather special in historical terms, with the Miami Heat positioned to join the Celtics, the Bulls and the Lakers as the only teams ever to achieve that). NBA fans have become nearly as familiar with the names of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart and Joel Embiid as they are with the likes of Paul George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Chandler Parsons, Andre Drummond, Michael Carter-Williams and a bunch of other low national-profile guys already making significant contributions.

It’s as if everyone was getting bored with Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury and only wanted to talk about Masahiro Tanaka — who has yet to throw a pitch.

Milwaukee, somewhat surprisingly, is leading in the rush to the bottom, earning its lottery odds on merit because the Bucks expressly disavowed any notions of tanking and re-stocked the roster with established NBA role players. Other contenders in the down-is-up standings are Orlando, Utah, Philadelphia, Boston, Sacramento and a few others – several of whom didn’t exactly plan it that way.

It didn’t help to keep people’s attention on the present when some of the game’s biggest and high-impact names started succumbing to injuries. You wince just stringing together the list: Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Tyson Chandler, Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, Rajon Rondo, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Kawhi Leonard and on and on. Some are down through summer, others have missed or are missing significant chunks of this season and a lot of teams’ ambitions have been whipsawed by events both unexpected and unfortunate.


VIDEO: GameTime breaks down the many injuries to star point guards this season

New players — the rookies — have plugged some of the holes or added to healthier rosters. Fellas such as Carter-Williams in Philadelphia, Victor Oladipo in Orlando, the Jazz’s Trey Burke, the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway Jr., the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk and the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo have stepped up. (No. 1 pick Bennett? Not so much.) As their careers play out, they might benefit from the chips on their shoulders, put there by getting stuck in coach, relative to the fawning first-class treatment next year’s rookies already are receiving.

Besides injuries and a low-watt class of newcomers (again, compared to what’s supposedly on the horizon), the first half of the 2013-14 regular season featured a warping to the West. It wasn’t just that Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Golden State and others from the Western Conference had more intriguing players, rotations and styles of play than their counterparts in the East. It’s that the superiority has been more than just a matter of taste.

At this writing, with less than half of the 450 interconference games in the book, West teams have dominated by a 143-74 (.659) margin. Only Indiana (11) and Miami (10) have hit double-digits in victories against the opposite conference, compared to eight West clubs vs. the East.

If the season had ended Wednesday night – we can wait while you make your own joke there – two West teams sporting .500 records would be outside looking in, while three East teams lugging sub-.500 marks would be prepping for first rounds. It’s largely a cyclical thing, teams’ competitive arcs and all that. But it was worse earlier and had panicked pundits grasping at extreme fixes, like seeding 16 playoff teams without East-West regard.

Waking up to five .500 teams in the East seems to have calmed that, fortunately.

There have been some happy stories east of the Mississippi. Former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer has had a solid start as coach in Atlanta, leading a reconfigured and Horford-less roster to third place. Toronto has benefited from the jelling of its young core, coach Dwane Casey‘s steady message and GM Masai Ujiri‘s arrival, along with the well-documented addition-by-subtraction of shooter Rudy Gay.


VIDEO: The Starters discuss how the Raptors have turned thing around since the Rudy Gay trade

Chicago has no business chasing a top-4 seed with Rose down and Luol Deng gone. Washington broke .500 briefly – hope someone minted a coin. Brooklyn is dusting itself off after a horrendous and humiliating start. And Charlotte will try to hang on to a projected playoff spot without Kemba Walker for a while.

The West’s biggest surprise has played out in Portland, where the offense is out-Warrior-ing Golden State in points and 3-point potency. Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek has pushed into Coach of the Year conversation despite shedding veterans such as Luis Scola, Caron Butler, Michael Beasley and Marcin Gortat before the season.

As for disappointments, Cleveland promised its fans a playoff team but, at 15-27, faces a struggle to deliver, even in the East . Memphis and Minnesota both envisioned more than hovering around .500 midway through their schedule. New York can deal with its Knicks when it digs out from the latest polar-vortex dump; they’re buried somewhere in those drifts.

Individually, LeBron James still is the NBA’s best player. But his “valuableness” has been under assault from the Pacers’ George and, most of all, that bad man in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant plays for the Thunder and strikes like lightning, stringing together scoring performances lately that call to mind Bryant in his prime and Jordan back in the day. If enough MVP voters suffer from the so-called fatigue of automatically scribbling James’ name first on their ballots, a No. 1 seed in the West for OKC and another scoring title for Durant – with the added heft of working without Westbrook for so many games – might shift that Podoloff trophy to the Slim Reaper. (The Interwebs has been test-driving that nickname for Durant. Thoughts?)

Special mention must be made here of a couple historic events in 2013-14: By the season’s midpoint, not one of the 30 head coaches had been fired, which has to at least tie the record. And we’ve just wrapped up the last of David J. Stern‘s 60 half-seasons as NBA commissioner. In so many ways, especially in light of the Forbes franchise valuations out this week, there already is a creeping sense of “Commish, we hardly knew ye.”

Enough reflection, though. The season’s second half has begun. And somewhere, Kyle Korver just hit another 3-pointer.


VIDEO: Paul George’s rise to stardom has driven Indiana to new heights

Spurs’ New Challenge Measured In Minutes And Months


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and the Thunder handle the Spurs in San Antonio

At this time of year, the sting of a single loss is nothing to really worry about.

It’s the piling up of injuries that cause the pain and could burn up the Spurs’ season.

Forward Kawhi Leonard broke a finger in Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder and will probably be sidelined for a month. He’ll join in rehab and on the bench with center Tiago Splitter (sprained shoulder) and guard Danny Green (broken finger).

Here’s where the challenge begins. Not merely trying to survive without three regular members of the starting lineup, but trying to keep a lid on the minutes of San Antonio’s Big Three.

Coach Gregg Popovich has long treated the bodies of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as if they were art work from a museum, spending the regular season as much as a curator and caretaker as a coach. More anything else, he protects them.

That’s why when the Spurs traveled to Miami for a nationally televised, much-anticipated date against the Heat, Popovich gave Duncan, Ginobili and Parker the night off, even going so far as to booking them on a Southwest Airlines flight home to San Antonio. For that, the Spurs were fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern.

Even a chastened Popovich never apologized for his actions to protect the long term health of his franchise trio and said again after the latest blow that doing anything else would be “unwise.”

So after a Friday night stop in Atlanta, the Spurs will travel to Miami on Sunday for another marquee game against the Heat on ABC (1 p.m. ET). It will be their first trip back to South Florida since Games 6 and 7 of The Finals last June, the first chance to exorcise the demons of those painful losses.

But the Spurs and Popovich have never been about one game. Nor have they been scratching and clawing for every ounce out of the regular season, even if it means falling a spot or two in the Western Conference standings. Their belief has long been that playoff seeding is not as important as health. That’s never been more important than now when Duncan is 37, Ginobili is 36 and Parker is 31.

The Thunder proved again in their 111-105 win that they can ride the prolific scoring abilities of Kevin Durant — even in the absence of the injured Russell Westbrook — and rise to the top of the conference standings.

For the Spurs, it was a defeat that dropped them to 3-8 against the other teams currently ranked among the top six in the West. Yet even with another costly loss, there will be no panic, no change in plan. At least for now.

Popovich maintains that he’ll do everything he can to keep playing time right about where it is for Duncan (29.2 mpg) Ginobili (24.6) and Parker (31.6).

While the temptation may be great and the necessity could arrive if the Spurs have to pull themselves out of a sudden long skid, the focus must remain on the distant horizon. Especially if there is to be any hope of eventually landing the franchise’s fifth NBA title.

The truth is that those title hopes will rest as much with Leonard, Splitter and Green. Their legs and lungs that injected some much-needed youth into the lineup last season, enabling the Spurs to make their surprising Finals run. It was Leonard, Splitter and Green who were the leading scorers 10 months ago on the last occasion when the Spurs beat OKC. That trio walked off the floor at the AT&T Center to a thunderous ovation that was supposed to be a peek at the future.

Theirs is a solar system that still revolves around the Big Three, but the youth and speed of the Little Three give the Spurs defense more bite. They also give Popovich so many more ways to go from night to night, quarter to quarter, possession to possession.

“Kawhi’s news is way tougher than the loss,” Ginobili said on Wednesday night. “We have to figure it out.”

So they’ll go small at times and they’ll reach with defensive match-ups that occasionally are unexpected or exotic. But what the Spurs insist they won’t do is burn themselves out in January or February and leave nothing but ashes for April, May and June.

“I won’t overplay Timmy, Manu and Tony just to win games,” Popovich said.

That’s the challenge. No matter how much it hurts.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rondo to be on minutes limit in debut | Oden happy to make season debut | Cuban wants one last fine from Stern | Noel progressing, can do some on-court workouts | Howard won’t be in Dunk Contest

UPDATE — 11:39 a.m.: Celtics president Danny Ainge says Rondo, barring any setbacks today, will play Friday vs. the Lakers

No. 1: Rondo expected to play Friday vs. Lakers — From yesterday’s trade (which sent de facto point guard Jordan Crawford to Golden State) to an assignment (and recall) to the NBA D-League, things are clearing in Boston for Rajon Rondo to make his season debut. Coach Brad Stevens said Rondo enjoyed his (albeit) brief stint working out with the Maine Red Claws and, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Rondo is expected to play between 18 and 20 minutes when he does debut. ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg reports that Rondo was actually active for last night’s game against Toronto, but didn’t log a minute:

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is still expected to play Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, although he would be limited to 18-20 minutes according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens, who would not say if Rondo was in fact going to play Friday, did have Rondo on the bench dressed in uniform on Wednesday night.

However, Stevens made it clear after Boston’s 88-83 win over Toronto that there was never any plan to play Rondo against the Raptors.

Not even when the game got tight in the fourth quarter and the Celtics were in desperate need for someone to do what Rondo does best – pass the ball.

Up by three points with less than a minute to play, Boston had to call its final time-out because Jeff Green could not in-bound the ball immediately.

Coming out of the timeout, there was never any thought about putting Rondo out on the floor in that situation.

When asked if Rondo would have played if it were an emergency, Stevens quickly shot that down as something considered.

“Well we were up three points with no timeouts trying to get the ball in-bounds and one of the best passers in the world sitting right next to me, so, no,” Stevens said. “He would not have been. I told [assistant coach] Jay Larranaga he was next, and [assistant coach] Walter [McCarty] was right after him, depending on what we needed. So that’s the way we were going to roll tonight.”

And here’s Forsberg’s report on Rondo as well:

Thin on bodies, the Boston Celtics activated Rajon Rondo for Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors, but the point guard did not play and is still targeting Friday’s visit from the Los Angeles Lakers for his 2013-14 season debut.

“[Rondo is] going to go through and do some [pregame] shooting, and there is a chance that he would suit up tonight,” Stevens said before the game. “But I don’t see a chance that he would play tonight, that it would be more about getting back into that rhythm of pregame activity.”

“I think [Rondo] enjoyed it because they kept score. His team usually won,” Stevens said. “But it was more about getting up and down the floor more than anything. I got asked the other day, if and when he comes back, if there would be a minute restriction, and the answer is yes. We’ll cross those bridges with exact numbers when we get there. And go from there. But he looked pretty good.

“[The D-League workout] accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. I have not talked to anybody, including Rondo, since the workout was over. I watched it for a few minutes, and then I left. Because I needed to — obviously, we’ve got a lot going on around here, but we have a game tonight.”


VIDEO: Brad Stevens talks before last night’s game about Rajon Rondo’s D-League work

***

No. 2: Oden happy to get his first NBA minutes — You’re probably already well aware that Greg Oden got his first NBA regular-season minutes since 2009 in the Heat’s blowout loss to the Wizards last night. And, as our own Sekou Smith framed it after the game, this is the first of several big baby steps for the former No. 1 overall pick. But what you might not know is all the details leading up to Oden’s activation and debut last night, which ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh details below:

Greg Oden was smiling about basketball again.

It took him four years to get back to this place. Four years, two microfracture surgeries, a broken knee cap and a battle with alcoholism later, Oden sat at his locker grinning in front of a pack of reporters. The former No. 1 pick in 2007 had played in a regular-season game again, the first time in 1,503 days.

No one really saw this coming. On the morning of Wednesday’s game, the Heat didn’t even know that Oden would make his season debut. They didn’t even think he’d be activated on the roster.

But around noon, a spot opened up for Oden. The Heat traded long-time reserve center Joel Anthony to the Boston Celtics along with two draft picks.

Toney Douglas, the former Golden State Warriors point guard whom the Heat traded for, would not arrive in the nation’s capital in time for the game.

So, Oden’s time had come. The Heat players found out about the trade over lunch and shortly after, Oden got word: he’d dress for the game.

“I didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Oden said. “But I got out there and I did. And I’m happy I got the chance.”

Why bring Oden in then?

“We were down by 30,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.

As if there weren’t enough Heat surprises, Oden came out in the second half with the rest of the starters, subbing in for Shane Battier who watched the third-quarter’s opening minutes from the bench. The aggressive approach ensured that Oden wouldn’t get stiff like he did after four minutes of action in the preseason game in New Orleans. Oden rode a bike during halftime and Spoelstra gave him the nod.

Oden’s final line in eight minutes of action: six points on two dunks and a pair of free throws along with two rebounds. Not captured in the box score were several altered shots and screens.

“It felt good, just being able to be back out on the court,” Oden said. “Honestly, the big thing is, to be able to have now that connection now with my teammates. I’ve been here, I’ve been around, but when you’re not playing, sometimes deep down you don’t really feel part of the team as much. I’m happy I can do that now.”

LeBron James said he didn’t even know that Oden was playing until he saw his fellow No. 1 overall pick lacing up his basketball shoes just before the game.

“Oh, you active?” James recalled asking Oden. “I had no idea.”

James assisted on Oden’s second dunk of the game out of a pick-and-roll, something we’ll probably see many times again if Oden can stay healthy. But it was Oden’s first dunk that James couldn’t believe.

“How is this possible that every time you sit out long periods of time, you decide to come back and you keep getting a dunk on your first attempt?” James said. “That’s pretty cool, man. Hopefully he can continue to stride, getting three minutes a half to five minutes a half to 12. He can be a big plus for us. Obviously in the short amount of minutes tonight, he was pretty good for us.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about Greg Oden’s impact on the Heat

***

No. 3: Cuban wants one last fine from Stern — Since becoming owner of the Dallas Mavericks in 2000, Mark Cuban has racked up plenty of fines from the NBA for his outspoken nature regarding officiating, the league office and, at times, commissioner David Stern. With Stern set to retire from his post in about a month, Cuban told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he wants to get one last fine from the outgoing league boss if for nothing more than old times’ sake. (Worth noting: Cuban may get his wish sooner than he thinks. He walked on the court to berate the officials after the Mavs’ loss to the Clippers last night … fast-forward to the 2:08 mark to see what we mean.):

In an interview with ESPN.com this week to reflect on David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner, which ends Feb. 1, Cuban said he has been telling Stern for months that he is determined to get dinged one last time before his longtime foil leaves his post.

“We talk about it all the time,” Cuban said. “I’m going to have one final fine before he leaves.”

The outspoken owner made the comments in a lighthearted manner before the Mavericks went to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and suffered a disappointing 129-127 defeat to the Clippers that prompted a heated Cuban to walk onto the floor after the final buzzer at Staples Center and chastise the referees who worked the game.

As Mavs owner, Cuban has been assessed 19 league fines that were made public, 13 of which were triggered by either criticizing referees or interacting with them in ways the NBA deemed inappropriate.

Cuban has paid in excess of $1.8 million in fines during his 14 years of Mavs ownership. The most expensive of those sanctions was the infamous $500,000 that Cuban was docked in January 2002 for declaring he wouldn’t hire then-NBA head of officiating Ed Rush to manage a Dairy Queen. The most recent was a $50,000 fine assessed in January 2013 after Cuban responded to a home loss to New Orleans by tweeting: “Im sorry NBA fans. Ive tried for 13 years to fix the officiating in this league and I have failed miserably. Any Suggestions ? I need help.”

Yet Cuban has mostly praise for Stern with slightly more than two weeks to go before Stern’s longtime deputy Adam Silver takes over and the longest tenure of any commissioner in North American professional team sports comes to an end.

“One reason that I truly respect David is that he followed the rules,” Cuban said. “He didn’t want to be king. He wanted to be successful and make the NBA successful. He was less concerned with his legacy than with creating results for the NBA. He knows that the results will stand the test of time and define his legacy.”

Cuban said he would give Stern “an 85 to 90″ out of 100 when grading his three decades in charge and said his only bone of contention with the commissioner during his time in the league — besides the state of officiating — was the amount of money invested in China at Stern’s behest in the continued pursuit of globalizing the NBA brand.

“He’s always been receptive [to me]. We kind of have two relationships. There’s the public relationship about the officiating. And then there’s the business side. On the business side, we get along great.

“On the officiating side, that’s probably the one thing I’d say he’s failed miserably on, but I understand where he’s coming from, because he doesn’t have a horse in the race. Win, lose or draw, as long as the business of the NBA is good, he’s happy. I obviously have a completely different perspective, and that’s where we clash. He doesn’t care who wins. That’s the difference, because I do.

“But on the business side, we’ve agreed far more than we’ve disagreed.”

***

No. 4: Sixers’ Noel OK’d for ‘limited on-court work’The last thing we told you in this space about Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, it was that Philly’s coaching staff was working on a ‘total rebuild’ of his shot. In addition, Sixers coaches were warning fans that Noel may not even take the court this season. Some of that news has changed, however, as ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman reports that Noel has been cleared by the team for some on-court work and he could play within 4-6 weeks:

The Philadelphia 76ers have cleared rookie center Nerlens Noel for “limited on-court work,” but several benchmarks remain before he can return to game action, the team announced Wednesday night.

“After careful consideration and numerous discussions with our medical and performance teams, the consulting physician and rehabilitation staff, and Nerlens’ representatives, some of the restrictions on Nerlens have been lifted and he is now able to participate in limited on-court work,” 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement.

“There are several benchmarks Nerlens still must meet, and during that time we will closely monitor his progress and regularly evaluate his status. Our goal remains the same, which is to give Nerlens every opportunity to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

Noel, who suffered a torn ACL in February while playing for Kentucky, visited Dr. James Andrews in Florida last week.

“He is doing excellent, and the team is taking good care of him,” Andrews told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Andrews said he was unable to provide more information because of privacy laws, but sources told ESPN.com that Noel, the No. 6 pick in this past June’s NBA draft, could return to game action within the next four to six weeks barring a setback.

“He tested really well, and his knee looks great,” one source said. “Dr. Andrews suggested he be cleared to do on-court drills, but the team still has to clear him.”

CSNPhilly.com reported that Noel was seen playing one-on-one against assistant coach and former NBA big man Greg Foster on Tuesday.

***

No. 5: Howard won’t participate in Dunk Contest — Back in 2008, a young Dwight Howard — then with the Orlando Magic — burst onto the national scene with his performance in the Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Since then, Howard’s star has risen and fallen, and with the All-Star weekend being back in the Big Easy, there was some thought that Howard might give the Dunk Contest another try. That’s not going to happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Howard, who won the 2008 dunk contest at New Orleans Arena, said the NBA invited him to dunk again this season in New Orleans, but he declined.“Couldn’t do it,” Howard said.

Howard, 28, said he would participate again, “If I wasn’t so old. I’m getting up there in age, man, I tell you. I got a lot of years.”

Howard, however, said he had thought about that night just because with the return to New Orleans.

“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

“I remember that whole experience,” Howard said. “Being here, the fans were amazing. I saw in past years, nobody tried to really engage the crowd. I like to entertain. I tried to really engage the fans, give them something they’ll remember.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Veteran guard Keith Bogans has been ‘excused’ from team activities with the Celtics … In an interview with an Italian media outlet, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari isn’t sure when or if he’ll return this season … Fantastic read about Blazers guard Wesley Matthews and the strained relationship he has with his dad … Clippers coach Doc Rivers can’t help but marvel at Dirk Nowitzki‘s career … Ex-Spurs forward Richard Jefferson sounds a little bitter about all the hype Kawhi Leonard is getting in San Antonio

ICYMI(s) of The Night: On a 12-game night, it’s tough to find the best plays because so many of them stand out. But today, we’re going with a pair of nice backdoor alley-oops — one from Nicolas Batum to Damian Lillard and another one from Giannis Antetokounmpo to Larry Sanders:


VIDEO: Damian Lillard skies high on the baseline to finish off Nicolas Batum’s alley-oop


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finds Larry Sanders for the reverse alley-oop