Posts Tagged ‘Derek Fisher’

Westbrook Not Sure Opener Is Realistic

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OKLAHOMA CITY –
 An effervescent Russell Westbrook said he’s ready for Saturday’s first team practice — albeit in a limited capacity — but he made no promises for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s opener on Oct. 30 at Utah.

The Thunder’s invaluable three-time All-Star point guard’s continuous rehab from surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee is threatening his status as the league’s reigning iron man. Westbrook has played in 394 consecutive games. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game since the Thunder drafted him No. 4 overall in 2008. The injury occurred in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs and ended Westbrook’s season.

Asked if he’ll be ready for the opener at Media Day on Friday, Westbrook said: “Not sure. I’m not sure.”

“I just know I wake up in the morning, I get to my rehab and then go back to sleep and do it all over again,” Westbrook said. “I just take it one day at a time and try not to look ahead. When something like this happens you have to take it slow. There’s no need for me to rush into looking ahead at the schedule or anything like that, just taking one day at time and try to find a way to get back.”

When he does, the 6-foot-3 Westbrook, whose advantage over defenders is his extreme athleticism and a fearless, attacking style, flatly stated that he has no plans of pursuing a more conservative approach.

“Not at all,” he said.

OKC general manager Sam Presti on Wednesday emphasized the organization’s cautious approach with Westbrook, who will turn 25 on Nov. 12. Coach Scott Brooks reported that Westbrook has experienced swelling in the knee within the last 24 hours, but couched it by saying it is “pretty common when you have surgery, there’s going to be some peaks and valleys.”

Third-year guard Reggie Jackson would likely fill Westbrook’s starting spot as he did throughout the playoffs with Derek Fisher backing him up.

“He’s really worked hard and looks good,” Brooks said of Westbrook. “He will participate in some of our practices, some of the things we planned out three or four months prior to training camp. We’ve had a plan all along that he’s going to participate in some of the practices early on in the practice and he’s going to continue to do some individual work with [new assistant] coach [Robert] Pack.”

The long road back and the prospect of starting the new season like he ended the old one in a suit certainly hasn’t dampened Westbrook’s enthusiasm for the Thunder’s prospects for reclaiming the Western Conference title. He reiterated his belief back in May that observing games while injured will help him return a smarter player and make OKC a better team.

He averaged 23.2 ppg, 7.4 apg, 5.2 rpg and 1.8 spg last season. He scored 48 points with 14 assists and 13 rebounds in the first two games of the playoffs against Houston, part of which he played with the torn meniscus.

The Thunder couldn’t replace such a significant loss. After getting past the Rockets in six games, the Memphis Grizzlies bottled up Kevin Durant in the fourth quarters of their second-round series and won in five games.

OKC will welcome Westbrook’s return, at whichever point it may be.

“My state of mind is positive, always positive for me, confident,” Westbrook said. “In the process of rehab you have to be confident in knowing everything is healing like it’s supposed to. So I’m just confident and taking it one day at a time.”

Expectations Of A Recovering Westbrook

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – When the Oklahoma City Thunder holds Media Day — the prelude to the official start of training camp — in 11 days, it will mark exactly five months since Russell Westbrook had surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.

The injury, sustained in Game 2 of the first round against Houston, derailed the franchise’s championship hopes. It’s no secret that the Thunder won’t sniff the 2014 Finals without a healthy, bouncy, frenetic, All-NBA Westbrook.

Oklahoma City has lost its sixth man in consecutive offseasons. The team traded James Harden to Houston prior to last season and this summer the Minnesota Timberwolves signed Kevin Martin to a contract beyond the Thunder’s tax bracket.

It leaves improving third-year guard Reggie Jackson, high-mileage veteran Derek Fisher, plus hopeful second-year shooter Jeremy Lamb as the backcourt backups. That makes OKC’s bench scoring as uncertain as it has been since the Thunder moved into the NBA’s elite. If a reliable scorer doesn’t emerge, it will require even more of Westbrook’s locomotive-like play as he rebounds from the first serious injury of his career. Westbrook’s recovery and the Thunder’s questionable bench scoring are causing some to ponder if OKC has enough firepower to again reign in the stacked West.

“How will Russell Westbrook return?” is the question Darnell Mayberry presented to Thunder fans on Sunday in The Oklahoman. The good news is Westbrook’s injury was not an ACL tear and so not as difficult from which to recover. Still, it is a question that can’t be answered until the three-time All-Star takes the floor. Even then it might take time for Westbrook to regain full confidence in his knee to resume his hard-charging style.

Westbrook had a monster 2012-13 season, averaging 23.2 ppg and 7.4 apg — but also 3.3 turnovers a game (second-highest among point guards). If there are areas of improvement for Westbrook they are reducing unforced turnovers and increasing his shooting percentage. Westbrook has become far more proficient with his high-bounce free-throw-line jumper, yet he still shot just 43.8 percent last season (20th among point guards), barely up from his career average of 43.2 percent, and down from his career-best of 45.7 percent in 2011-12.

How can Westbrook better his percentage? The simple answer is to become a more selective shooter (something critics have pleaded for from Kevin Durant‘s teammate), which some might suggest means becoming a smarter, more aware floor general.

But can a player whose game is structured on athleticism, explosiveness and high doses of improvisation actually slow the game down enough to regularly make what are often split-second decisions?

Westbrook might have started to figure out that answer for himself as he watched playoff games from high above the floor in a suite, a bird’s eye perspective he said allowed him to better dissect the game and his impact on it. When he addressed the media during the Thunder’s West semifinal series loss to Memphis, Westbrook said he believes he will come back “a better player mentally:”

“I think that’s the biggest thing. Mentally, it’s going to be a big step for myself and moving forward with this team. Getting the opportunity to kind of sit back — this is my first time basically seeing the game from a different view — to kind of sit back and watch a whole game when I’m not playing is different. I think it’s something that can help me to see some of the things that you guys [the media] may see or somebody may see, the crazy shots I shoot, I can sit back and see, so I think it’s good for me.”

For a player who is typically short-winded and often defensive in discussions with the media, the “crazy-shots-I-shoot” revelation has to be a great sign to coach Scott Brooks. He has always taken Westbrook’s bad with his good, understanding that attempting to put a restrictor plate on Westbrook could diminish his natural advantage over opponents.

But if Westbrook discovers ways to implement his own restrictor plate at appropriate times, it could make an already efficient, high-scoring attack — but one dogged by frustrating turnovers (OKC finished in the bottom eight in the league in four of Westbrook’s five seasons and 30th twice) all the more effective.

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”

Failed Drug Tests Aren’t Only Teeth In NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program

Like the folks who run Major League Baseball, the NBA believes it has a strong, modern, effective anti-drug program.

Like MLB, the NBA has worked with its players association and consulted with top authorities in the field to build an exhaustive and ever-evolving list of banned substances, from marijuana to drugs of abuse to the more topical, integrity-challenging steroids, performance-enhancers and masking agents.

So with MLB embroiled in recent weeks in the investigation of and penalties to 14 players snared in that sport’s latest doping scandal – without any indication that even one of those players failed a drug test – the question for the NBA or any other league seemed obvious: How good can an anti-drug program really be if admitted violators aren’t testing positive?

The answer from NBA HQ: Pretty good, because its anti-drug program goes beyond testing.

In baseball’s probe of the Biogenesis clinic in south Florida, it took leaked documents, statements from lab founder Anthony Bosch and an associate, other sources of information and an article in the Miami New Times, an alternative news publication, to snare the PED users.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban on July 22. Twelve major leaguers already have acknowledged their involvement and begun suspensions of 50 games each, while Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez is appealing his 211-game suspension.

The names of athletes from other sports supposedly turned up in the investigation, and NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said that he, chief compliance officer Rick Buchanan and other league executives were not aware of the involvement with Biogenesis of any NBA players.

None wanted to comment specifically on the MLB cases or their ramifications for the NBA. But the league’s anti-drug program has provisions that don’t require a failed test to intitiate the discipline process. Beyond the six random, unannounced tests during each season and offseason to which each player is subject, tests can be administered based on reasonable cause at any time.

Also, the policy allows for evidence coming from outside sources, such as Biogenesis’ trail of texts and electronic messages. A summary of the NBA’s program includes the following:

If the NBA obtains evidence of a player’s use, possession or distribution of a Prohibited Substance, it can take that evidence to a neutral arbitrator. If the arbitrator finds that the player has used or possessed a Drug of Abuse, or has distributed any Prohibited Substance, he will be dismissed and disqualified from the NBA. If the arbitrator finds that the player has used or possessed Marijuana or a SPED, such a finding is considered a violation under the Program and the player will be subject to the same penalties imposed for a positive drug test.

Silver also repeated to the New York Post last week what he and commissioner David Stern talked about after the Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas last month: The NBA is looking to implement testing for human growth hormone (HGH), in addition to the urine testing that’s conducted for approximately 160 prohibited substances on its current list. HGH is on that list and NBA players who participate in international and Olympic competition have undergone the blood testing it requires, but that provision is not yet contained in the league’s anti-drug policy.

Negotiating for that with the National Basketball Players Association – the anti-drug program is “jointly maintained and administered” by the NBA and the union – currently is on hold while the NBPA attends to other business. A new president to succeed Derek Fisher in the top agenda item at the the NBPA summer meeting Wednesday in Las Vegas, and the search for a new executive director to replace Billy Hunter could last through the end of 2013.

Some might consider it luck, and a statement on the early types of steroids and their effects, that the culture of PEDs has not taken hold in the NBA as it has in some other sports.

Now at least – much as MLB has seen in the wake of its latest scandal – the NBA is optimistic that the majority of its players see them as cheating and want to deter their use.

‘The Lockout: A Musical’ Makes Light Of NBA Business-As-Usual

Had this one been in the pile of bad plays through which Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom sifted for their surefire money-loser in “The Producers,” they might never have read down to “Springtime for Hitler.” Conceiving, writing and scoring a story based on one of the NBA’s most acrimonious and regrettable episodes, and producing it as “The Lockout: A Musical,” seems about as ill-advised as bottling and marketing Shaq’s perspiration as Eau de O’Neal at fragrance counters everywhere.

The NBA lockout that delayed the start of the 2011-12 season until Christmas wasn’t much fun for anyone. Big basketball vs. big labor, it featured seemingly endless rounds of wrangling and posturing in Manhattan hotel ballrooms, various shades of purple rhetoric, the loss of 240 regular season games and discarded pizza boxes emptied by sportswriters, courtesy of sportswriters in other cities, who found solidarity through bad takeout food.

Lord Lloyd Webber himself, had he stumbled into a grim session between David Stern, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher and the rest, wouldn’t have sniffed the inspiration for a musical comedy. So what were Ben Fort and Jason Gallagher thinking when they veered into hoops labor strife with a story they already had been writing?

“We always wanted to something sports-related,” said Gallagher, who teams with Fort in the Chicago production company Six Hours Short and also operates the NBA humor site Ballerball.com. “Originally the story was going to be based around free agency – we were observing LeBron James’ ‘decision,’ which was absurd, and some of the even more absurd contracts that went to other players that summer. Then [one year later] the lockout happened.”

That became the backdrop of what Fort and Gallagher describe as “the budding bromance of an owner and player who find themselves on opposite sides of a bitter labor dispute.” In story and song, they tell the tale of Phil Goodman, owner of the fictional NBA Wichita Water, and a zero-time All-Star player named Macon Jones. James’ name actually gets mentioned in the show, Gallagher said, but the other characters are all originals or composites based on various NBA archetypes.

There is, for instance, a Joe Johnson-like character, as in a grossly overpaid good-but-not-great star. There’s an aging, grizzled vet and players association stalwart loosely based on Fisher and a female team executive who exhibits traits of Houston GM Daryl Morey. Because the Illum character – whose tale took over from Jones’ as the primary focus as the play was crafted — is written as a “really lovable” team owner, Fort and Gallagher obviously had to concoct that guy from scratch (kidding!).

“The other 29 are talked of as Prince-of-Darkness type owners, but we wanted our lead to be this dim-witted but good-hearted guy,” Gallagher said. “We try to show the backlash when someone signs a deal that everyone hates. But we said, what if these are really good people doing it? We wanted to humanize it.”

Gallagher said that the first act, thus, is mostly about free agency. The second act plunges the characters into the lockout, giving it what the co-writer said is a “ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ flavor. The player and the team owner really like each other but they can’t even talk to each other because of the lockout.”

There is a Commissioner character who also has villainous overtones, but he deftly is not named Stern. And Gallagher said the NBA has checked in on the production, apparently signing off enough that deputy commissioner Adam Silver joked that he’s fine with it as long as he’s played “by Denzel.”

A 12-song, original cast recording already is available for download. Directed by Joe Giovanetti, “The Lockout: A Musical” will have its world premiere Aug. 23 at the American Theater Company in Chicago and run through Sept. 15. Ticket prices and more information is available at the Web site. And rest assured that HTB will have a critic in the balcony to report back on this pebble-grained production, which might find its spot among other great basketball-themed stage presentations, such as “Twelve Angry Men,” “Waiting for D.Rose” and “A Streetcar Named World Peace.”

Big O: LeBron Would ‘Excel’ As NBPA Prez

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LeBron James is said to be “mulling” making a bid for the presidency of the NBA players association.

Oscar Robertson held that post longer than any NBA player in history.

To this day, Robertson remains the biggest name to have served his fellow players in that capacity. And as one of the game’s true Olympian figures, Robertson cannot imagine a better candidate than James, who is on his way to similar heights.

“Yeah, he’d have to think about it — I think he would have an excellent situation,” Robertson said in a phone interview Thursday evening. “I think if he was president of the players [union], he would excel like he does on the basketball court. I guess, maybe now with all the advice and the consultants and things, it would be a different situation.”

Robertson, the NBA’s legendary “Big O” during his Hall of Fame career in Cincinnati and Milwaukee, served as president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965 to his retirement in 1974. Those were some of the league’s, and the union’s, most tumultuous years, when the two sides hammered out the makings of today’s so-called “player-owner partnership” mostly by colliding repeatedly into each other.

Big O key in early labor battles

Organized by Celtics great Bob Cousy in 1954 and further established by his Boston teammate Tom Heinsohn from 1958-65, the union in 1965 still was fighting for what now would be considered bare essentials: pay for preseason games, better medical care, the concept of an All-Star “break,” modest bumps in meal money and pensions, and a boost in the minimum player salary — out of FOUR figures. All of the strategies and jargon that were in play during the 2011 lockout, like cancelled games and filings with the National Labor Relations Board? Those were in play in the 1960s, too, when the NBPA’s power base was a lot more tenuous.

“Actually, I was naïve when I started,” Robertson said. “I didn’t know anything about it.  Sometimes it’s fate, what happens. So I just got involved. I didn’t know anything about the union whatsoever — I knew what it was because I was in it, but as far as how to run it, it was on-the-job training for me.”

The American Basketball Association (ABA) sprang up in 1967, exacerbating tensions between the NBA’s owners and the players. By 1970, with salaries bid ever higher and the two leagues in merger negotiations, the union filed an antitrust lawsuit to block such a move, given its impact on their employment and freedoms. The players sought to abolish the college draft and the option clause in standard contracts that bound them to their teams in perpetuity. Acrimony spiked, and a lawsuit in the matter soon became known for the union president’s name attached to it: the Oscar Robertson suit.

“I’m glad that I was a star,” Robertson recalled Thursday. “Because if I was a mediocre player, I wouldn’t have lasted very long. Because in those days, the league hated you as a player rep and they wanted to get rid of you.”

Robertson, now 74, wasn’t just a star. He was the LeBron James of his day (or vice versa). Many people know of him as the master of the triple-double — in 1961-62, he famously averaged at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for an entire season. What too many neglect, of course, is that Robertson averaged 30.8 points along with those 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

Even fewer realize that the 6-foot-5, 205-pound guard averaged a triple-double over his first five seasons in the league: 30.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 10.6 apg in 384 appearances from 1960-61 through 1964-65.

Robertson’s game gave him a voice, not unlike James in Houston at All-Star weekend in February. On that Saturday, at the union’s membership meeting at the Hilton, James commanded the room by probing and leading the discussion of NBPA executive director Billy Hunter’s job performance and ethics, outgoing president Derek Fisher’s role, the members of the union’s executive committee and the very future of the association.

James and veteran Jerry Stackhouse, through their comments, questions and actions that afternoon, reportedly imposed order on a group spinning out of control. Stackhouse, who recently told FoxSports.com that the union hopes to name a replacement for Hunter (and acting director Ron Klempner) sometime after Christmas, isn’t expected to be active as a player this season.

But James’ star power as a possible NBPA president could boost the union’s credibility and impact.

Stars have tradition of taking NBPA spotlight

The star-driven NBA has had, for more than a decade, a union driven by role players. What Cousy, Heinsohn and Robertson began, others such as Bob Lanier, Isiah Thomas and Patrick Ewing continued. But since 2001, Michael Curry (2001-05), Antonio Davis (2005-06) and Fisher (2006-present) have headed the NBPA.

Through the union’s first 47 years, 10 players served as president; seven wound up in the Hall of Fame and the 10 combined for 75 All-Star selections. In the past 13 years, Davis’ 2001 All-Star appearance stands alone. None of the last three presidents is headed to Springfield.

That didn’t preclude them from being effective — Fisher worked tirelessly and often thanklessly through the prickly lockout two years ago. But the clout that comes with star status — James has two NBA titles with the Heat, four MVPs, Olympic gold and more — can help immensely, Robertson said.

“I felt I commanded a lot of respect from a lot of different ball players, when you say something to the guys,” Robertson said. “And if you’re friendly with ‘em, other than playing basketball, it will help also.”

Finding NBA stars willing to take on the role, while sacrificing time and outside earning opportunities, has gotten more difficult. Robertson thinks it has something to do with the stakes these days.

“That’s always been [an apathy] problem with some guys,” he said. “But you look at it over the years, with all of the problems they’ve had, a lot of players because they’re making money, they just don’t get involved. They don’t need to — it might hurt you selling a pair of shoes or a headband or something.”

Robertson: NBPA prez a job of ‘sacrifice’

People can debate the merits of a union president who dominates All-NBA teams vs. one who relates (and earns similarly) to the league’s middle class. Either version will wind up logging long hours. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s a sacrifice,” Robertson said. “Especially if you do a good job. If you do the job [the way] they’re going to have confidence in you, sometimes it gets a little lonely. Until something happens.

“I didn’t think about whether it was hard or not [to make time]. It was an opportunity. There was an awful lot going on when I was with the players association, a lot of changes that needed to be done. Some we did right, some we didn’t.”

Robertson is proud of the gains achieved by the NBPA during his tenure. The Robertson lawsuit triggered negotiations that led to free agency, as well as a settlement that paid more than $4 million to then-current players and another $1 million in union legal fees. Pensions improved and the minimum salary tripled on his watch.

Only a handful of his peers or players since have thanked him for his service, Robertson said (“But I didn’t do it for that anyway”). He also said he paid a professional price. Robertson was dropped after one season as color analyst on the NBA’s network telecasts because, legend has it, some owners bristled at such a prominent role for the player who sued them.

On the other side of the ledger, however, Robertson points to the strides they all made. “Look at the money guys are making now,” he said. “Look at the [charter-jet, luxury-hotel] travel. There’s an orthopedic doctor at the games. You get better meal money. You have a right to go to other teams if you don’t have a valid and existing contract with your team.

“There’s no doubt about it — we were there during some [pivotal] years for the NBA.”

So there are some of the pros and cons, in Robertson’s view, as James mulls a potential candidacy: The time commitment, the opportunities skipped, the politics involved, knowing when to delegate and so on. The Hall of Famer said he would be willing to advise James, if asked. Also, Robertson’s old friend Jim Quinn — the attorney who worked on the lawsuit four decades ago and helped broker the lockout settlement 20 months ago — is again working with the NBPA in its search for Hunter’s replacement.

The union’s greatest challenge now? “Getting rid of personality tiffs. That kills you,” Robertson said.

“Somebody gets upset … because somebody doesn’t like what you’re doing, and they start this current going against you. A lot of players, when they start to make millions of dollars and they get agents who also are afraid to have their little nest egg cut off, that’s what happens.”

James, through force of personality and basketball superiority, might be the right choice to stem that.

Who’s Left? A Look At The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been 15 days since teams could start talking to free agents and six days since contracts could be signed. And at this point, pickings are slim. If you want an impact player, you’re probably going to have to settle for a guy that makes an impact only some of the time.

Here’s what’s left on the free-agent market as of Tuesday morning, according to the numbers guys put up last season.

There were 30 free agents available on July 1 (or who became available afterward) who had played at least 2,000 minutes last season. Only three remain …

Most minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 80 2,896 36.2
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 58 2,133 31.4
Nate Robinson CHI 82 23 2,086 25.4
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 62 1,959 31.6
Jason Maxiell DET 72 71 1,789 24.8
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 6 1,636 21.5
Lamar Odom LAC 82 2 1,616 19.7
Alan Anderson TOR 65 2 1,495 23.0
Gary Neal SAS 68 17 1,484 21.8
Beno Udrih ORL 66 9 1,457 22.1

(R) = Restricted free agent

There were 21 free agents who played at least 200 minutes in the playoffs, and six of those guys are still left …

Most playoff minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Nate Robinson CHI 12 8 404 33.7
Gary Neal SAS 21 0 390 18.6
D.J. Augustin IND 19 1 316 16.6
Derek Fisher OKC 11 0 261 23.7
Kenyon Martin NYK 12 1 253 21.1
Devin Harris ATL 6 6 225 37.5
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 4 4 133 33.3
Sam Young IND 15 0 130 8.7
Keyon Dooling MEM 14 0 114 8.1
Ivan Johnson ATL 6 0 108 18.0

There were 31 free agents who scored at least 800 points last season, some more efficiently than others. Only four of those guys are left …

Most points scored, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP PTS PPG eFG% TS%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 1,397 17.5 46.8% 51.0%
Nate Robinson CHI 82 1,074 13.1 51.0% 54.0%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 1,055 15.5 46.6% 53.1%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 1,011 16.3 52.0% 57.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 712 9.4 53.7% 56.1%
Alan Anderson TOR 65 693 10.7 46.0% 50.9%
Gary Neal SAS 68 645 9.5 48.7% 51.2%
Mo Williams UTA 46 592 12.9 48.5% 51.9%
Devin Harris ATL 58 577 9.9 52.5% 56.5%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 564 10.6 44.4% 46.5%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

Of the 30 free agents who grabbed at least 300 rebounds, five remain …

Most total rebounds, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP OREB DREB REB RPG OREB% DREB% REB%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 230 315 545 8.8 13.1% 18.8% 15.9%
Lamar Odom LAC 82 117 363 480 5.9 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%
Jason Maxiell DET 72 135 274 409 5.7 8.6% 17.7% 13.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 109 253 362 4.8 7.5% 16.7% 12.2%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 71 266 337 6.4 5.3% 21.9% 13.2%
Samuel Dalembert MIL 47 105 171 276 5.9 13.9% 26.6% 19.8%
Ivan Johnson ATL 69 76 190 266 3.9 8.4% 20.9% 14.7%
Brandan Wright DAL 64 85 175 260 4.1 8.5% 16.0% 12.4%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 55 195 250 3.7 2.9% 10.9% 6.8%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 59 187 246 3.1 2.1% 7.3% 4.6%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed while on the floor

Of the 24 free agents who dished out at least 200 assists last season, six remain …

Most assists, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP AST APG TO AST/TO ASTRatio
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 521 6.5 203 2.57 24.9
Nate Robinson CHI 82 358 4.4 144 2.49 23.9
Beno Udrih ORL 66 302 4.6 108 2.80 32.4
Jamaal Tinsley UTA 66 290 4.4 106 2.74 45.2
Mo Williams UTA 46 285 6.2 125 2.28 29.1
A.J. Price WAS 57 205 3.6 64 3.20 28.9
Devin Harris ATL 58 197 3.4 88 2.24 24.8
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 177 2.6 108 1.64 13.9
D.J. Augustin IND 76 170 2.2 68 2.50 29.5
Luke Walton CLE 50 166 3.3 60 2.77 39.9

ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions resulting in an assist

There were 49 free agents who recorded a positive plus-minus last season, and 18 of them – including a pair who made a strong impact – remain.

Highest plus-minus, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP +/- OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Lamar Odom LAC 82 +296 104.9 95.4 +9.5
Devin Harris ATL 58 +155 105.2 97.9 +7.3
Gary Neal SAS 68 +101 105.4 101.4 +4.0
Brandan Wright DAL 64 +100 107.9 102.8 +5.1
Derek Fisher OKC 33 +64 107.2 100.7 +6.5
Kenyon Martin NYK 18 +58 109.8 101.4 +8.4
Rodrigue Beaubois DAL 45 +36 102.8 99.3 +3.5
Nate Robinson CHI 82 +32 101.9 101.9 +0.0
Mike James DAL 45 +30 106.8 103.8 +3.0
Jerry Stackhouse BKN 37 +27 103.0 104.6 -1.7

OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions with player on floor

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Heat, Pacers Hit With Flopping Fines



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Not all flops are created equal, as LeBron James and David West (above) and Lance Stephenson (below) illustrated in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The fines handed down by the league, however, came down the same. All three of those players were slapped with a $5,000 penalty for the extra flair they showed in their flops, Hollywood-worthy acting jobs in all three instances.

There were just four flop fines (Tony Allen of the Grizzlies vs. the Spurs in Game 2, J.R. Smith of the Knicks vs. the Pacers in Game 1, Derek Fisher of the Thunder vs. the Rockets in Game 5 and Jeff Pendergraph of the Pacers vs. the Hawks in Game 5) before this current windfall.

The message from the on high is clear to us: Enough of the dramatics!

Unlike foul calls that can be interpreted a million different ways, no one can dispute the acting jobs turned in on these flops. All three of these latest fines were well-earned.

Now we’ll see if the fines will curb the enthusiasm of the Heat and Pacers in Game 5 tonight in Miami (8:30 p.m ET, TNT) …

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‘Fluke Play’ In Third Quarter Nearly Costly For Allen, Grizzlies

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OKLAHOMA CITY – One moment, Tony Allen‘s on the bench, ambitiously waving his towel above his head like he’s back at Oklahoma State in the Final Four or something. The next moment, he’s slinking into his chair as Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins glared at him and barked something at him as though Allen had just asked out the coach’s daughter.

“[I said the] same thing I said to him when he didn’t block out [Kevin] Durant on a shot,” Hollins said. “What the hell are you doing?!”

What in the world happened as the third quarter of Wednesday’s Game 5 wound down to five minutes to play, with Oklahoma City Thunder guard Derek Fisher shooting a corner 3-pointer in front of the Grizz bench and, out of nowhere, Allen’s blue warmup jersey fluttering five feet into the air and landing five feet out on the court?

“That never happened in my career. It was just a fluke incident,” Allen said, shaking his head. “It (the jersey) was tied up in the towel, and I knew it, but it just slipped. I saw it on the floor. I think I’m the only one that saw it because everybody else had their eyes …”

Allen, who had just subbed out of the game seconds earlier, stopped to sort through the surreal sequence.

“I don’t know, it was just a fluke play man,” Allen said. “I just thank God we were able to get out of here with a win.”

Had they not, and they almost did not, there’s no telling what Hollins might have done to his defensive bulldog who had defended Durant so well in helping lead the Grizzlies to a five-game, semifinal playoff victory over the top-seeded Thunder.

Memphis led 60-49 and was in seizing control of the game when Allen’s towel went haywire and spit out his warmup. Fisher’s 3-pointer missed, but the whistle blew the play dead with the foreign object resting on the floor. The ruling: OKC was awarded three points and a technical foul was assessed to Allen for interference. Durant made the free throw for a four-point play without an actual field goal being made.

Now it’s 60-53 and what was a subdued sellout crowd at Chesapeake Arena roared as the Thunder found sudden life.

62-55.

62-57.

64-60.

64-62.

End of the third quarter.

“Man, I thought when they made that run,” Allen said, “I was saying this is all my fault.”

He probably doesn’t want to know what Hollins was really thinking. When Hollins told reporters what he screamed at Allen, the room chuckled, seeing as all had ended well for the Grizz. But Hollins still didn’t smile and he offered a curt retort.

“That was huge. They counted the three points and then they got a free throw,” Hollins said. “That was a four-point play and from that point on we scored four more points in the quarter.”

Said Allen: “He was pretty upset and I can understand why. I shouldn’t do that as a veteran. It was just a bad play considering what was at stake. That could have come back and haunted us, but for the most part we’re a group that’s together and thank God that he didn’t scold me. But he did tell me to get my head out of my butt and get out there and keep playing.”

Memphis again gained control, going ahead 80-68 with 4:13 to go and the franchise’s first trip to the West finals nearing reality. Then the Thunder charged again.

82-75.

83-79.

86-84.

“I just felt like if I get a chance to go back into this game I want to do something to help the team,” Allen said. “I don’t care what it is.”

And so with 3.3 seconds left in Game 5 and the Grizzlies up two, Allen, a career 74.1-percent career free throw shooter, went to the line for two. Either he ices it or he does the Thunder a second big favor and leaves them one last chance.

Bang and bang.

“Luckily, well not luckily,” Allen said, “thank God we were able to get out of here with a win.”