Posts Tagged ‘John Stockton’

All-Star Davis Gives N.O. Added Flavor

VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ top 10 plays

Not that the NBA All-Star Game is ever lacking in fireworks or flash or big names, yet it’s always a bit more fun when there is a hometown connection: Tom Chambers rolling to an MVP award before a jam-packed crowd at the vast Kingdome in Seattle in 1987, Michael Jordan at Chicago Stadium in 1988, Karl Malone and John Stockton working their magic in Salt Lake City in 1993, Kobe Bryant touching base with his Philly roots in 2002.

The 2014 All-Star Game got the spice and flavor of a hot bowl of gumbo when Pelicans’ forward Anthony Davis was named as a replacement for the injured Bryant on the Western Conference roster by new commissioner Adam Silver.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

But it was more than just a case of home-cooking since Davis has been performing at an All-Star level from the beginning of his second NBA season, and was probably the biggest snub by the vote of the coaches when the reserves were originally named.

Davis is averaging 20.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and leads the league with 3.3 blocked shots per game and shooting 51.8 percent from the field. He’s grown in confidence and stature at the offensive end, compiling a greatest hits collection of slam dunks, while also making jaw dropping blocked shots far out on the perimeter as a defensive beast.

In January, Davis blocked 51 blocked shots in 15 games. That was more than the total compiled by three entire NBA teams: Heat (50), Cavaliers (48) and Jazz (48). Through the first 101 games of Davis’s career, he had 233 blocks and 132 steals. The only player since 1985-86 to match those numbers in his first 101 games was Spurs Hall of Famer David Robinson. Davis is also on pace to become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 to average 20-10-3 for an entire season.

Davis will also take part in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night of All-Star Weekend. He was the No. 1 pick by Team Chris Webber.

“I would love to be an All-Star,” Davis said in a recent conversation. “It would show that the hard work I’ve been putting into my game during the offseason and every day in practice are paying off.

“It would also bring more attention to our team, the entire Pelicans organization and make a statement, I think, that we’ve got a plan to get better and become a contender in the league. I’ve had great support from the city since I’ve joined the team and making the All-Star team would be an extra bit of excitement for everybody in New Orleans during an exciting weekend.”

Goran Dragic and the world of Suns fans will surely feel slighted that Silver didn’t replace Bryant with another guard. Their valid argument will be that the Suns have a winning record and the Pelicans are below .500. But it never hurts to have the flavor of home in an All-Star Game.

Sloan Squirms As Jazz Hoist Banner


VIDEO: Jerry Sloan crafted a Hall of Fame career as a legendary coach of the Utah Jazz

Another number, another banner, another set of rafters for Jerry Sloan, who considers that an appropriate destination for an old bat — or coot or whatever — such as himself.

“Yeah, that’s where I belong,” he said on the phone the other day, with a quick, self-deprecating laugh. “It’s not something I campaigned for. I told them I didn’t want to do it. They insinuated I needed to do it. So they’ve been good to me. I’ll probably, I guess, change my mind.”

The “it” is the banner that the Utah Jazz will be hoisting high above the floor at Energy Solutions Arena Friday night honoring their legendary head coach. It features the number “1223,” representing the team’s total of regular-season (1,127) and postseason (96) victories with Sloan as coach from 1988-2011.

It’s the second number linked to Sloan to reach such heights — his jersey (4) from his playing days with Chicago was the first one retired by the Bulls.

The ceremony will be take place at halftime of Utah’s ESPN-carried game against Golden State (10:30 ET), after a pregame news conference to be streamed on the team’s Web site.

Uncomfortable or not with all the attention, Sloan will be joined by his wife Tammy, family, friends, former Jazz cohorts including Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone and an arena packed with appreciative fans. And it will cap “Jerry Sloan Day” in Utah, as proclaimed by Gov. Gary Herbert, who probably embarrassed Sloan recalling his No. 3 rank all-time in victories, the Jazz’s 16 consecutive winning seasons and seven division titles under Sloan as well as 19 playoff trips and two Finals berths.

Yeah, the no-nonsense, taciturn Sloan figures to be a little uncomfortable by the end of the night. And though there may be gifts, heck, it’s not likely he’ll be getting a new carburetor for his tractor. (more…)

Hang Time Q&A: Trey Burke On Patience, Pressure, John Stockton And More …




VIDEO: Trey Burke settles into his new role, new city and new life in the NBA

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Trey Burke has had that giant chip on his shoulder from his first day of organized basketball. The first time someone doubted him started the trickle of resolve that turned into a raging waterfall by the time he reached high school in Columbus, Ohio (where he would eventually win Mr. Basketball honors after leading his team to a state title as a senior) and later Ann Arbor, Mich. (where he earned National Player of the Year honors and led Michigan back to the Final Four and NCAA title game after a two-decade absence).

It continued on Draft night in June, when Burke fell out of the top five and was picked by Minnesota only to be traded before he could get the right fit on his hat for the cameras. Next came a rough start in summer league and then a busted finger that cost him the first 12 games of his rookie season, those hiccups, of course, brought more doubters.

But the more people doubt him, the stronger Burke’s drive to continue to silence his critics and fuel his team’s rise, wherever he goes.

Burke talked about patience, pressure, summer school with Hall of Famer John Stockton and much more in a recent Hang Time One-On-One with NBA.com:

NBA.com: You spend your whole life dreaming about playing in the NBA and then you have to sit and watch the first 12 games with the busted finger. What did it look like watching your dream unfold from the sidelines like that?

Trey Burke: A lot of people would have expected me to be down or something like that. But I tried to stay as positive as possible at that time. I knew that when I came back I was going to have an opportunity to play and make an impact, so I tried to do everything I could from taking care of my body to staying in shape to eating right and preparing myself in every way I could to perform right away.

NBA.com: You actually delayed your NBA debut by a year. You could have entered the Draft after your freshman season at Michigan but chose to go back for another year. What did you hear and where from, that made you stay in school another year?

TB: The people that I trusted, the people in my corner, what they were saying sounded accurate in terms of what I needed to work on to improve my stock and be ready for the NBA. Me, I obviously wanted to get to the NBA as fast as I could, I dreamed about it my whole life. But I needed another year to mature and get better, not only the basketball court but off the court. I needed the maturity. I needed the life experiences. I needed that extra year of college. And it worked out for the best really. Had I come out after my freshman year, who knows where I would be now. I might have been a late first, early second or mid-second round pick. I’ll never know. But going back to school, making that Final Four run we made at Michigan, I think looking back it was definitely the right decision.

NBA.com: Coaches and people love to tell a young point guard different things. But you worked with Hall of Famer John Stockton this summer. I cannot imagine you getting any better advice on how to do your current job than you did from him. What did he hone in on in your game this summer and what ultimately was his message to you?

TB: One of the biggest things was pace of the game. And he said he’d watched me before, he watched my game and one thing I could work on was my pace. He said I had to work on setting guys up. He knew that I was a natural scorer at heart, but he knew that I also wanted to become a pure point guard that could score, kind of like a Chris Paul. He said when he started out, a lot of times he didn’t really like to take a lot of 3-pointers because it would mess his shooting percentage up. He said his goal was to try and get the easiest shot for his teammates or himself by attacking and being aggressive in that manner. It was a lot of information he gave me, it was funny, because he would stop us during the workout and just keep talking and talking. You could tell that he had a lot of stuff he wanted to tell us. It was just a great experience to be able to work with a Hall of Fame point guard like that.

NBA.com: There was so much speculation about where you might end up on Draft night. What went goes through your mind as a point guard when the Jazz, a franchise with a history of drafting both John Stockton and Deron Williams, decide you are the guy they want?

TB: Absolutely, I was just talking about that. Minnesota, when they picked me I was kind of like, ‘I didn’t work out with them or even interview with them.’ It didn’t make sense at first. And then five minutes later I get traded to Utah, and I didn’t work out with them. But I got the opportunity to sit down with them in Chicago and the pre-Draft camp and just to know that Deron Williams and John Stockton, some really great point guards came from there, I knew I was going to be put in a great spot to make an impact o this franchise. I just want to have a chance to be an impact player and leave my mark on this franchise. And that’s all you can ask for in the end.

NBA.com: I’ve heard you talk about comparisons to current or past NBA players and the name Chris Paul always comes up. But a former NBA player said you remind him of Allen Iverson in build and with your game. Do your try to pattern yourself after anyone or do you really, at this stage of the game, worry about being Trey Burke first and foremost and let other people worry about the comparisons?

TB: That’s funny, I just thought about this today, I want to go down as my own player. But I watched so much of Allen Iverson growing up that it’s kind of a blessing and a curse right now. I try to do so many things, like his jump shot for example, when he drifts and fades away, that it’s not really beneficial for me because sometimes I fade unnecessarily and it’ll make my shot flat or fall short. And that’s just a habit you pick up from watching such a phenomenal player like Allen Iverson do things that not everyone else can do. Growing up as a little kid, that’s obviously a guy I wanted to pattern my game after, but I know for this team I need to be a point guard first. We’ve got a lot of really good weapons, I’ve got a lot of really good weapons around me and I need to utilize them to the best of my ability. I want to be that point guard that can score if needed, but not at the expense of setting my teammates up. I think that’s when we are best as a unit.

NBA.com: You’ve had so many transitions in the past few years, from Columbus to Ann Arbor and now to Salt Lake City all before your 21st birthday (which was Nov. 12). That’s a lot of life changes in a short amount of time. Does it seem like it’s all gone by in a blur?

TB: It is a lot. Two years ago I was moving into my dorm and basically nobody knew me at Michigan. Some people might have known me after the Mr. Basketball and everything I was starting to make a name and a little buzz, but that seems like yesterday. My mom and dad and everybody was with me and we honestly didn’t know what to expect. But even from the Draft until now, being in Chicago for pre-Draft and then at summer league and now we’re 24, 25 games into the season. It’s all moving fast and that’s why I’m doing whatever it takes to keep getting better as the days go on because you don’t want to miss any opportunities or overlook any of the little things along the way that make this so special.

NBA.com: Is your work ethic born out of the absence from the McDonald’s All-American game and all of the other accolades most “late bloomers miss out on in terms of recognition?

TB: Some of the best players in this league came in with people doubting them, telling them what they couldn’t do and that they would never make it. I’ve always been a small point guard, so I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder from people saying I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t big enough. That just gave me that drive and determination to get better. I know what I can do, I know the parameters of my game and when I’m going outside of my game. Some of the best players in this league had the hype coming in but just as many didn’t have that hype. And it’s a correlating effect, look at a guy like Victor Oladipo that wasn’t really highly recruited in high school. He was the second pick in the Draft and now he’s in contention like myself and Michael Carter-Williams for Rookie of the Year. Guys have that drive when you’re doubted your whole life.

NBA.com: Are you glad you got picked where you did because of the opportunities that are open to you now in this situation as opposed to going somewhere else where, who knows what the expectations might have been?

TB: Absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of people came to me saying, “you were the national player of the year, you should have been a top five pick.” Obviously, you want to be a high pick. But to me, being a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft … who’s going to complain about that. I landed in a perfect situation, and I thank God for that, it’s the perfect fit. In Utah, we’re a young team that’s trying to grow together as a team. We’re struggling a bit right now, but we’re getting better. But I have the opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact. And that’s one of the biggest things I wanted to be a part of coming into the NBA.

NBA.com: You’ve put together some monster efforts already your first (17) games in the league. The 30 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in the win over Orlando sticks out. No Jazz rookie point guard has ever done that. Not Stockton or DWill. Do you have to be careful, though, about chasing ghosts and numbers instead of taking a more measured and methodical approach?

TB: Yes, I’m trying to bring it every single night You have to make sure are playing your best and doing what’s best for your team first every night and not getting caught up in anything else. People talking about you hitting that rookie wall, so you have to be careful. It’s in the back of my mind, but I personally think it’s mental. It’s also about the way you are handling yourself off the court, what you are eating and putting into your body, the amount of rest you are getting. I think all of that comes into play when you’re talking about how you’re going to play when game 40 comes and game 62 comes around, those games when you’re in a cold city and you’ve got a game the next morning and you’re coming off of a back-to-back. All of that factors into how you play. So I’m just going to continue to be around my vets and listen to them and learn from the guys who have the experience in this league to make sure I’m doing whatever I need to do to perform well from start to finish.

NBA.com: You got some great preparation for what you’re going through now trying to help revive a franchise in college. Michigan hadn’t been a championship team for decade before you arrived. It’s a huge burden to carry, on and off the court, when you’re the guy people expect to be that agent of change. Do you take that same knowledge and apply the things that connect in your current situation?

TB: At Michigan we were rebuilding, weren’t highly ranked my freshman year and then boom, the next year we take off and we’re No. 1 in the country for a time and end up making it to the championship game. I know this is a completely different level of competition, so it’s not going to be just like that. But I definitely have been a part of this same sort of thing, even before Michigan. Back in high school it was kind of like that. We came from basically out of nowhere to be the No. 1 team in the country and win a state championship. I’ve always been a part of winning programs that come from a struggle of some sort, from losing before we turn it around. That gives me confidence that it can happen with the Utah Jazz. This is a great franchise, a really family oriented franchise, but one built on all the right things. And all of my experiences, so far, definitely give me hope that we’re going to turn this thing around and be a factor in this league.


VIDEO: Trey Burke joins the Game Time crew on a recent visit to the NBA TV set

Durability Matters: 5 Who Showed Up


VIDEO: John Stockton-Karl Malone Top 10

It was Knicks fan Woody Allen who famously said that 80 percent of success is showing up.

Rarely has that adage been more appropriate in the NBA than the first month of this season when knee surgery has once more scratched Derrick Rose from the Bulls lineup and so many other big names — Andre Iguodala, Marc Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, to name a few — are on the mend or up in the air with their health status.

In an age when analytics have eye-in-the-sky overhead cameras taking video and collecting data on each player on the court 25 times per second, sometimes one of the most basic truths can be overlooked — you can’t help if you don’t play.

Durability is much a part of a player’s makeup and his legacy as any shooting, rebounding or passing skill. Ask Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady, Brandon Roy, Yao Ming, Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway or Antonio McDyess. Check with Sam Bowie and Greg Oden.

So in this black and blue month of blown knees, bad backs and torn Achilles’ tendons, here’s a look at five all-time greats at showing up and then some:

Elvin Hayes “The Big E” was known for the college game at the Astrodome against Lew Alcindor and UCLA, for being an NBA champion (1978), a 12-time All-Star, a three-time All-NBA first teamer, Hall of Fame member, for that trademark turnaround jumper that went down as smooth as a spoonful of ice cream, and a nose for rebounds. He was often described as a horse and it’s true that the Rockets and Bullets rode him harder than the Pony Express. Back-to-back? Three games in three nights? It didn’t bother Hayes. Just unlock the gym and turn on the lights. In 16 relentless seasons, the Big E missed just nine games out of 1,312, never more than two in a single season. He played bumped, bruised, aching and sick. But he always played. On the night of April 13, 1984, at 38, Hayes went the distance in 53 minutes of an overtime loss to the Spurs, the next-to-last game of his career.

John Stockton Rumor always had it that the sun used to rely on Stockton to remind it to show up in the east every morning. It wasn’t just the short-shorts, the pick and roll, the bounce pass, the partnership with Karl Malone and his stoic expression that took him to the Hall of Fame. It was Stockton’s ability to take the court every night and keep time for the Utah offense with the constant beat of a metronome. He played 19 seasons and 1,504 games out of 1,526 for the Jazz, an NBA record for a player with a single team. He was indefatigable with his preparation. Coach Jerry Sloan said: “I only saw John lose in a suicide drill once in all the years we were together. Of course, he finished second and think he was 37 years old.” The longest stretch on the sidelines in his career came when Stockton missed 18 games at the start of the 1997-98 season due to a left knee injury. It was later revealed that he had micro fracture surgery performed and still was back on the court in just two months, running the show as the Jazz made their second straight trip to The Finals.

Robert Parish — An ex-peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter hadn’t even been elected as President when he was drafted in 1976 and Bill Clinton was serving his second term when he finally retired in 1997. In between, “The Chief” played more games (1,611) than any player in NBA history with a stoic demeanor that often belied his greatness. While Larry Bird and Kevin McHale eventually wore down due to age and injuries, Parish simply kept right on chugging down the track like a locomotive into the Hall of Fame and onto the list as one of the league’s 50 Greatest Players. Bill Walton once called him the “greatest shooting big man of all time” for his ability to knock down mid-range jumpers and make free throws. But the enduring image of Parish will always be as a 7-footer making his way down the court on the Celtics’ fast break as one of the greatest finishers the game has ever seen.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar He was graceful with the long arms, long legs and longer two decades of dominance. He was regal with the way he carried himself through the wintry winds of Milwaukee and into the glare of the Hollywood sunshine. He was simply majestic the way he set up on the right side of the basket, took the ball into his hands and let fly with the most singular and unstoppable shot in the history of the game — the skyhook. However, Abdul-Jabbar was not just as tall as a redwood, but as durable too. He played 20 NBA seasons and never suited up for fewer than 74 games in all but two of them. The only occasions that the five-time champion, six-time MVP and NBA all-time leading scorer missed significant playing time were when he broke bones in his hand. The first occurred during the 1974 preseason when Abdul-Jabbar was bumped hard in the low post and got his eye scratched. He then turned in anger and punched the basket support stanchion. After missing the first 16 games of the regular season, he returned to the lineup wearing goggles for the first time. The second break happened in the first two minutes of the 1977 season opener when he objected to a thrown elbow by punching Kent Benson, which forced him out of the lineup for two months.

Karl Malone He was, after all, “The Mailman“, which should, by definition, mean that he was dependable. It also didn’t hurt that he had muscles on top of muscles, a body that that might as well have been a sculpture of a Greek god. In 19 NBA seasons, Malone played in all 82 games 11 times and missed a total of just eight games (three due to suspension) out of a possible 1,432 with the Jazz. He and Stockton formed the most durable — and maybe best — guard-forward combination in league history, playing a record 1,412 games together for one team. It is interesting to note that in what was the best scoring season (31.2 ppg) of his career, Malone lost out in the fan balloting to be a Western Conference starter in the 1990 All-Star Game to A.C. Green of the Lakers. Malone talked about boycotting the game, eventually relented and then sprained his right ankle in the week leading up to All-Star Weekend and was replaced in the lineup by the Mavs’ Rolando Blackman. He also missed the 2002 All-Star Game to be with his mother, who was ill. Malone’s iron man routine finally gave way in his final NBA season when he jumped from Utah to L.A. Malone and the Lakers were off to a great start until he bumped knees with Scott Williams of the Suns and missed the next 39 games. When he returned to the lineup, Malone was never the same. The injury was eventually diagnosed as a torn MCL.

Kia Race To The MVP Ladder: The Clippers’ Chris Paul Takes Over The No. 1 Spot



VIDEO: Chris Paul dominates in Clippers’ victory over Wolves

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Well, that didn’t take long.

After just one week atop the heap on the KIA Race To The MVP Ladder, the two-time reigning MVP has been displaced. Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul takes over at No. 1 this week, replacing the Miami Heat’s LeBron James., whose tumble down the Ladder has more to do with the work of the new faces near the top than it does with anything James has or has not done.

Kevin Love, Paul George, James and Kevin Durant complete the top five of a star-studded list, while Tony Parker, James Harden, Stephen Curry and newcomers Anthony Davis and Eric Bledsoe round out the second half of the Ladder.

Paul is off to a historic start, joining point guard luminaries Magic Johnson and John Stockton as the only players to score 10 or more points and dish out 10 or more assists in the first nine games of a season. And despite being dismissed already as a championship contender by TNT’s Charles Barkley, Paul and the Clippers are right where they need to be at this stage of the season.

Dive in here for more of this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!

Are Jazz Primed For A Rare Stop In Western Conference’s Cellar?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Jazz finished last in the Western Conference was 1979-80, their first season in Salt Lake after the team packed up and left New Orleans. There’s been only a few close calls over the decades, most recently a 26-win, second-to-last finish in 2004-05.

But not dead last.

At 24-58, Utah finished the ’79-’80 campaign tied with Golden State at the bottom of the 11-team West and pulled up the rear in a Midwest Division that went Milwaukee, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago. The Jazz had a 32-year-old “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose knees were so shot that he played in just 17 games and retired, and a 23-year-old Bernard King, who played in just 19 games and sought help for a drinking problem.

Future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, then 23, averaged 28.0 ppg and found a home in the NBA. Shooting guards Ron Boone (12.8 ppg) and Terry Furlow (16.0 ppg) provided the majority of the backcourt scoring. Duck Williams chipped in 6.6 ppg off the bench, ABA vet Mack Calvin averaged 6.4 ppg in 48 games and 24-year-old journeyman Brad Davis signed late and played 13 games before spending the next 12 seasons in Dallas, who retired his No. 15 jersey.

As this mostly unrecognizable and already banged-up 2013-14 team tumbles toward the starting gate, they could use any of those old guards — forget John Stockton — for a little backcourt help. With non-playoff teams like Minnesota, Portland, New Orleans and Dallas looking improved, and new coaches and philosophies in Phoenix (led by ex-Jazz assistant and legend Jeff Hornacek) and Sacramento, could re-booting Utah be in jeopardy of its first last-place finish in three-plus decades?

That might not be all that bad — or even, wink, wink, the plan — considering the anticipated bumper crop of the 2014 Draft. Even money is on the Jazz equaling the 24 wins of ’79-80 when Tom Nissalke‘s club averaged 102.2 ppg to also finish dead last in scoring in a much different 22-team NBA. Through five preseason games, Utah is averaging 87.0 ppg and 18.8 apg, both of which would have ranked last last season.

The Jazz certainly didn’t intend to lose top Draft pick and starting point guard Trey Burke to a busted right index finger in the preseason. He was averaging 7.0 ppg (on dreadful shooting) and 4.0 apg before undergoing surgery to repair the bone. He’ll miss 8-12 weeks, delaying his development. Plus, this team is not one built to endure injuries anywhere.

In the interim, the always game, if not so venerable, John Lucas III appears to be the Jazz’s starting point guard. The next game he starts will be his third entering a sixth season bouncing in and out of the league since 2005. He’ll pair in the backcourt with either Alec Burks or Gordon Hayward, who whether starting at shooting guard or small forward (Richard Jefferson has started three preseason games here), will have to be this team’s Dantley.

Backcourt depth isn’t inspiring. Brandon Rush has yet to play as he recovers from last season’s torn ACL. Undrafted rookie combo guard Ian Clark has managed just 11.8 mpg in four preseason games. Lester Hudson and Scott Machado are scrapping for minutes.

After Burke’s broken finger there were rumblings of interest in bringing back free agent Jamaal Tinsley. Considering the Jazz aren’t exactly worried about losing ground in November — this season’s writing is on the wall — they might be more inclined simply to ride out Burke’s injury.

Just don’t expect smooth sailing. The Jazz get something of a break in their first six games, likely missing Russell Westbrook in their Oct. 30 opener against Oklahoma City, Rajon Rondo at Boston on Nov. 6 and perhaps Deron Williams the night before in Brooklyn. In the other three games they’ll face Phoenix’s new tandem of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on Nov. 1, Houston’s James Harden and Jeremy Lin on Nov. 2 and Chicago’s Derrick Rose on Nov. 8. Then comes this six-pack of opposing point guards: Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, Steph Curry in a home-and-home series and Holiday again.

Ever-knowledgeable Jazz fans have shown a level of understanding as the franchise shifts directions and amasses Draft picks. Now comes the hard part — showing patience. They stand to witness more losses this season than since well before coach Jerry Sloan walked through that door.

Isiah On Open Court: Malone Utah’s ‘Weakest Link’; Regrets ’91 Walk-Off





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When you spend the bulk of your life pursuing and achieving the excellence that Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas has, you tend to spare yourself the agony of looking back, second guessing or worrying about the sensibilities you might have offended along the way. Winning championships at every level affords you that luxury.

But Thomas, an NBA TV analyst these days, decided to look back a little anyway when he hit the couch next to TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and a cast of other TNT and NBA TV personalities.

Isiah didn’t hold back during shooting for the premiere of the critically acclaimed show’s third season (it will air on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. ET on NBA TV) . In fact, he made sure “Open Court” will get off to an explosive start when he identified his former rival and fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone as the man who cost the Utah Jazz a title.

“I thought Utah, going back to that team, I thought they had everything it took to win a championship,” he said. “They had the system, the players, the toughness, they were defensive-minded and everything. I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter they would have beat Chicago.”

When pressed by Johnson about using the term “weak link” in regards to Malone, Thomas didn’t flinch.

“That’s a weak link, because at the end of a game when you are playing at that level, you come down to the last 30 seconds or the last minute of the game, if that guy can’t make fouls shots then he’s the weak link. He’s the guy that you are fouling, the guy you want to put on the line. You’re not fouling [John] Stockton. You’re not putting him on the line, you’re not letting him take the shot. Everything is going to Malone. I thought Malone’s inability to hit free throws is what stopped them from winning a championship.”

Thomas expressed regret for not handling things better against Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons were swept at home in that series and infamously marched off the floor without shaking hands with the Bulls, a move that sparked a decades-long feud between stars on both sides — most notably Thomas and Jordan.

Ernie Johnson asked if Thomas wishes he’d have handled it differently. The response was immediate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “… looking back, we all should have taken the high road.”

But in the heat of the moment, and with what he called Chicago’s posturing in the media leading up to Game 4, Thomas said the walk-off was orchestrated because he didn’t feel the Pistons were being afforded the respect befitting two-time champions.

Don’t miss all that and more on the Oct. 8 premiere of “Open Court” on NBA TV (6 p.m. ET).

Payton: Stockton’s Game Spoke Loudest

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Any list of the NBA’s most notorious trash-talkers would be incomplete – wait, no, it would be an absolute, bleepin’ waste of time – if Gary Payton’s name weren’t atop it. In his Hall of Fame career with the Seattle SuperSonics (and four other clubs), white-hot and often profane on-court chatter was to Payton what long hair was to Samson, as much the source of his greatness as it was the soundtrack of his game.

But there’s more than one way to rattle an opponent. As Payton reflected on his NBA achievements and fast-approaching enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame — he’ll join the Class of 2013 Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBA TV) at the ceremony in Springfield, Mass. — he saved his highest praise for a stone-faced rival who never engaged in much hardwood banter.

In 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz, point guard John Stockton didn’t need to move his lips when he read, whether situations, openings or opportunities.

“Never,” Payton said of Stockton in a Q&A interview with Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. “That is the reason I really respected him because you never could get in his head. He’s the hardest person I ever had to guard. I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech. And then all of the sudden it was over.”

Payton reiterated in an interview with NBA TV’s Kevin Calabro that no matter how much he would talk to Stockton during games, the Utah point guard would go about his business as if nothing happened.

Payton said Stockton’s no-nonsense approach taught him a lot. It also prompted Payton to seek out the Hall of Famer as one of his two presenters for Sunday’s event — new inductees are presented by previously enshrined players or coaches, and Payton will be ushered in by Stockton and legendary NBA/ABA scorer George “Iceman” Gervin.

Payton made them sound like easy choices, telling Spears:

“George Gervin was my childhood idol since I was little. In Oakland I had all his posters on my wall. The Iceman poster where he was on ice blocks in that silver suit. He presented to all my other Hall of Fame stuff for retired jerseys at Oregon State and my high school. John Stockton is because I liked him when I was playing basketball. Everyone said he was dirty. He wasn’t as athletic as us. But he was smarter than us. We knew what he was going to do. We knew he was going to set [tough] picks. We had all the videos on Utah. We were so dumb. We would get caught up with the picks and get mad at him. He would shoot eight times and make nine. Shoot eight free throws and make seven. He’d have 15 assists and four steals. A complete game. That’s just the way he was and I idolized him…”

Payton idolized Stockton in his own way, of course, jabbering as if it was a natural part of inhaling and exhaling while building his reputation as one of the greatest two-way backcourt players in league history. HTB denizen Scott Howard-Cooper talked with Payton recently, too, and got the goods on how close the NBA and its fans came to missing out on his skills and his feistiness.

Spears touched on other topics, including this notion that, for Payton, guarding Stockton was tougher than facing Michael Jordan. (When Jordan reads this, he might ask to edit and re-give his famously competitive Springfield speech, to put Payton in his place):

“Those battles were a little easier. I would have Jordan get mad at me and go back at me. He knew he was really talented and could do whatever he wanted to. But [Stockton] was more of a challenge to me than guarding someone that would talk back to me. When you talk back to me and say something to me it made my game go to another level. John was one who wouldn’t say nothing and you couldn’t figure him out. He’d keep going in the pick and rolls and he and Karl Malone would score a big bucket. At times I would guard Jordan and get him mad and into other things.”

Payton, 45, shared other opinions, including his appreciation of Brooklyn point guard Deron Williams (“same mentality as me”) and Boston’s Rajon Rondo. “He can’t score like I did but he does everything else like I did,” said the nine-time All-Star and No. 2 pick in the 1990 draft.

He talked about Dwight Howard leaving the Los Angeles Lakers and about the Sonics leaving for Oklahoma City, where Payton isn’t interested in having his No. 20 jersey retired to the rafters. That, he believes, should and will happen in Seattle.

“It will be there sooner or later,” Payton said. “It could be years. If I’m 70 and they get a team, hey, so be it. It will be great just as long as it will go up in Seattle.”

And the pesky, pain-in-the-rump playmaker known defensively as “The Glove” talked about his own induction speech. Too bad he won’t be making it as performance art — just imagine the entire speech given in trash-talk cadence and (ahem) vocabulary, challenging as that might be for the NBA TV producers.

Fact is, the guy whose patter could move some opponents nearly to tears might find himself on the other end of things, in that stage-light moment of memories, accomplishments and appreciative faces smiling back at him.

“Everybody wants to know if I’m going to cry,” Payton told Yahoo Sports. “You know what? I’m going to be real with you. I don’t think I’m going to cry. But I got to stay away from watching my mom because if she starts tearing up … That’s the hardest mama in the world to make cry. If she tears up and cries?

“I know Pops ain’t gonna tear up. If he does it, it’s just a bad thing. I’m just going to stay focused and look forward and try not to look anybody in their face.”

Should he need to, Payton can always glance across the stage. That’s where the guy with the stone face will be standing, a source of the edge with which Payton played and that he might need again to speechify.

Laying It On The Line: The Answers

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HANG TIME, Texas – On a recent hot summer day when Allen Iverson announced his retirement, what immediately came to mind was not one single spectacular shot that he made, but all of those fabulous, bone-jarring times he crashed to the floor.

And then got back up.

It wasn’t just his ability to lead the NBA scoring four times that made Iverson special. It was that warrior’s mentality, the trait that made him willing, against all odds, to out-scrap, out-hustle, out-compete everybody else on the court.

Through the history of the NBA, it’s usually been the big men — think Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Charles Oakley — who got the reputation for being strong and tough, but the truth is some of the fiercest players we’ve seen over the past 30 years have been guards.

In addition to Iverson, here’s another handful of the backcourt backbreakers we’ll call The Answers. They’re indomitable. They breathe fire. They don’t ever quit. They would chew off a leg to escape from a steel trap. They’re the ones you want playing in a single game with your life on the line:

Isiah Thomas It was never wise to be fooled by the cherubic face and angelic smile. The truth is that while Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got most of the notoriety for their bruising style and often dirty tricks, Thomas was the real heart and cold-blooded soul of the Detroit “Bad Boys.” Part of what made him the best “little man” ever to play the game was an inner fire that never burned out. He competed ferociously and refused to ever show a sign of weakness. Hobbling on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals, he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter — a Finals record — and nearly pulled out a win that would have given the Pistons their first championship a year earlier. Then there was the night of Dec. 14, 1991 when on a drive down the lane in the first quarter in Salt Lake City, Thomas took an elbow to the face from Karl Malone that opened a huge gash over his left eye. After receiving 40 stitches, Thomas returned to play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Jordan Sure, he had the leaping ability, the defensive desire, the post game, clutch jumper and late-game instincts. But Jordan the All-Star would never have become Jordan the legend and icon without his roaring, brash nature, downright mean streak and readiness to do anything it took to pull out a win. He could barely control his competitive urges, whether it was challenging Bulls teammates in practice, occasionally punching one of them out, or rising up in a game situation to respond to any kind of challenge — real or imagined — that might have been tossed out. There was virtually nothing that could stop Jordan from leaving every ounce of himself in any game that he ever played. The so-called “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals is frequently cited. He spent the night before Game 5 at Utah suffering from severe stomach distress and was a questionable starter. Dehydrated, struggling to breathe, he hit 13 of 27 shots for 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 90-88 win. Just as telling was a story from the training camp of the 1992 USA Dream Team in Monte Carlo. After beating Jordan in a golf match one afternoon, coach Chuck Daly was awakened very early the next morning by a banging on his hotel room door. When he opened the door, Daly found a grim-faced, primed-for-revenge Jordan standing there, dressed for the golf course. “Let’s go,” he said.

Kobe Bryant – You can call him a shameless gunner who never ever met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. Shaq did. You can call him a difficult and unpleasant teammate who would make a guy leave an extra contract year and $20 million on the table to walk away from the Lakers. Dwight Howard certainly did. But after 17 NBA seasons, you can’t call Bryant anything less than the most single-minded, driven competitor in the game today. He won’t just trash-talk opponents, but will ride his own teammates to get them to try to match his level of intensity. (They can’t.) He plays hurt, aching, sick, bruised, broken and he is usually still the best player and hardest worker on the floor. He played half of the 2007-08 season with a fractured finger on his shooting hand and still won the MVP Award and led the Lakers to The Finals. At 34 last season, he averaged the second-most minutes per game in the league last season — trailing only rookie Damian Lillard — until tearing an Achilles tendon on April 12. So then he just took to Twitter from his sickbed to critique his teammates. It’s supposed to take nine months to a year to come back from Achilles surgery, but Bryant plans to tear up the calendar.

John Stockton Another one of those with a choirboy face who might have kept a pair of brass knuckles under his robe. Trying to get him to change his expression was as fruitless as banging your head against a brick wall. His Jazz teammate, The Mailman, had all those big, bulging muscles. But Stockton was equally as strong in competing with the stubbornness and dependability of a mule. Durability is a mark of greatness and in 19 seasons Stockton missed only 22 of a possible 1526 games due to injury. He never drew attention to himself by dribbling behind his back or through his legs, mostly throwing bounce passes that led to layups that were mind-numbingly effective and oh-so-deadly. He was also widely known throughout the NBA for using his 6-foot-1 body — OK, and occasionally his elbows — to set picks on opposing big men. Stockton never went looking for trouble or fights and rarely was involved in trouble, but night in night out he had the strong jaws and voracious appetite of a pit bull.

Clyde Drexler Oh, how nicknames can be deceiving. Clyde the Glide practically slides across the tongue like ice cream on a hot summer day. But it’s a lot like calling the fat kid in the crowd “Slim” or the tall guy “Shorty.” Maybe it was the fact that from the time he was a star in on the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team all the way through his 15-year NBA career in Portland and Houston, the TV screens were filled with images of him floating effortlessly to the basket. In reality, he was as sharp and cutting as razor wire. He went down onto the floor for loose balls and into the crowds of tall trees to come away with the toughest rebounds. He would slice through the narrowest opening to get to the hoop for a critical bucket. He would use arms, legs, elbows — any means possible — at the defensive end, all the while with a smile on his face that belied how much he wanted to destroy you. The defending champion Rockets were down 3-1 in the 1995 conference semifinals, facing elimination and when his teammates entered the locker room, Drexler was stretched out on a table connected to IV bottles. He had the flu and nobody thought he would play. But Drexler dragged himself out onto the court and, though he could not manage a single field goal in the game, played 32 hard and inspirational minutes to spark a Rockets win that started a comeback to their second straight title.

Dropping Dimes Again A Priority For D-Will

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Trivia time: Which point guard, Jason Kidd or Deron Williams, has finished more seasons with a double-digit assist average?

Answer: It’s not the NBA’s No. 2 all-time assists leader. Kidd finished his 19-year career with three (1999, 2000 and ’08). Williams, after eight seasons, already has four, all of which came from 2008-11. Kidd, now Williams’ coach with the Brooklyn Nets, wants to make it five.

“I’m going to push him. I want the best for him,” Kidd told the New York Daily News on Sunday after signing autographs at the Nets’ merchandise store in Coney Island. “When we sit down and talk about goals, team goals and also individual goals, I’m going to push him and I want to get him back to double-digit assists.”

Williams’ pace faltered the last two seasons with various impediments to blame, from former coach Avery Johnson‘s isolation-heavy offense (ask Kidd, who played under Johnson in Dallas, about that) to the extra weight and injury woes the three-time All-Star carried into last season. The Nets extracted Johnson from the equation early on last season, and Williams managed to get healthy and shed some pounds during his free time over All-Star weekend. He was a far more productive player in the second half of the season.

The powerful, 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams averaged 7.7 apg last season, his lowest mark since his rookie year. That came after averaging 8.7 apg in his first full season (albeit a lockout-shortened one) with the Nets.

But the Nets of the last two seasons are hardly the ones Williams, 29, will lead into a 2013-14 campaign full of lofty expectations. An roster-wide talent upgrade should naturally increase Williams’ assist total, perhaps even allowing him to rival 2008-09 when he averaged 10.7 apg and finished second in the league behind Chris Paul (11.0). Since then, D-Will has steadily moved down the ladder when ranking the top playmakers at point guard.

The blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics that delivered Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry (coupled with the free-agent acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko), significantly enhances the Williams’ scoring options and should dramatically increase the team’s 3-point shooting.

The Nets ranked 17th in scoring (96.9 ppg), 13th in overall shooting percentage (45.0 percent) and 17th in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent). Brooklyn’s starting forwards consisted of a declining Gerald Wallace (39.7 field-goal percentage, 28.2 percent from 3-point range) and garbage man Reggie Evans (47.9 percent but on just 3.3 shot attempts per game). Kris Humphries, who started 21 games, shot 44.8 percent from the floor.

Evans can now move to a more sensible role off the bench. Wallace and Humphries are replaced by Pierce, who shot just 43.6 percent from the field last season but a solid 38.0 percent from 3-point range, and Garnett, who hit roughly half of his shot attempts last season (49.6 percent). Add those two to shooting guard Joe Johnson (37.5 percent from beyond the arc) and the offensively gifted 7-footer Brook Lopez (52.1 percent), and Williams should be operating in the halfcourt with a well-spaced floor. It should make double-teaming by opposing defenses both difficult and dangerous.

Terry didn’t have an inspiring first season with the Celtics after a prosperous career in Dallas, but he make 37.2 percent of his 3-pointers, right at his career average (37.9 percent). Kirilenko, a crafty worker without the ball, shot 50.7 percent last season with Minnesota.

Kidd, who fashioned 11 seasons averaging at least 9.0 apg, is promising an up-tempo offense that should benefit Williams’ game. And now with more scorers as targets for Williams, who is on pace to join the 10,000 assist club ( John Stockton, Kidd, Mark Jackson, Steve Nash and Magic Johnson) if he plays another eight seasons, the opportunity is there for him to get back to being a double-digit dime machine.

Incoming scorers
(from 2012-13)
Outgoing scorers
(from 2012-13)
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Player PPG FG% 3pt FG%
Paul Pierce 18.6 43.6 38.0 Gerald Wallace 7.7 39.7 28.2
Kevin Garnett 14.8 49.6 12.5 Kris Humphries 5.8 44.8 0
Jason Terry 10.1 43.4 37.2 Keith Bogans 4.2 38.0 34.3
Andrei Kirilenko 12.4 50.7 29.2 Jerry Stackhouse 4.9 38.4 33.7
Shaun Livingston 6.3 48.0 0 MarShon Brooks 5.4 46.3 27.3