Posts Tagged ‘Karl Malone’

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…)

Expect Dirk To Get 12th All-Star Nod


VIDEO: Dirk has 28 points and nine boards as the Mavs stop the Pistons

DALLAS – In his final game Sunday night before the Western Conference coaches head to their bunkers to select seven All-Star reserves, Dirk Nowitzki left them with one of those vintage performances that this season has spawned the phrase, “He’s still Dirk.”

“Twenty-eight points in 32 minutes,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, glancing over the 10-for-16 shooting, the nine rebounds and the four assists. “I guess he’s an All-Star.”

Is he? That is the question.

“This year [I'm] right up there, and we understand there’s always going to be some guys that deserve it and don’t make it, so that’s just the nature of the game,” Nowitzki said after raising his averages to 21.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg in a win over Detroit. “The power forward spot in the West has always been loaded and somebody is going to feel like they’ve been snubbed, but that’s just part of the game.”

The power forward position, plus a couple centers tossed into the new “frontcourt” designation, is loaded with young, thriving talent. The three starters voted in by the fans are 25 (Kevin Durant and Kevin Love) and 24 (Blake Griffin). Two sure-fire reserves, Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge are both 28. On-the-bubble candidates DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are 23 and 20, respectively. Serge Ibaka, 24, almost gets lost in the discussion because of the superstar teammates who overshadow him. David Lee, an All-Star last season, is like the older brother of the group at 30.

Nowitzki, 35, and Tim Duncan, 37, are like the godfathers. The West coaches put Duncan back on the All-Star team last season after his 13-year run was snapped in 2012, and seemed over for good. Knee surgery during training camp last season sabotaged Dirk’s 11-year run. Now there’s likely room for only one, if that, legendary old-timer on the 12-man squad.

Have fun, coaches. The reserves for both conferences will be announced Thursday night on TNT.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player, as we all know,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is prohibited from voting for his own player, and would seem a prime candidate to give Dirk, his decades-long nemesis, the nod. “Dirk basically — modern times so to speak — has really personified that stretch-4 because he scored from everywhere on the court and from distance … and he hasn’t slowed down much, if at all.”

Prevailing wisdom suggests this is Dirk’s — and Duncan’s — best chance to add one last All-Star appearance considering the aforementioned list of bursting, young talent. Dirk, who ranks seventh among forwards in usage percentage and fifth in true shooting percentage, might still have a few more fine seasons left in him beyond this one, just as Duncan has proved post-35, but the next generation will likely be too strong and push him out of All-Star consideration.

Dirk’s edge this season is lifetime achievement. How heavily will coaches weigh career milestones? Likely heavily. He’s surged up the NBA’s all-time scoring list, starting the season at No. 18 and passing Reggie Miller and Jerry West, among others, to move all the way up to No. 13. He’s 412 points from passing John Havlicek for 12th and it’s possible he will catch Oscar Robertson at No. 10 by season’s end.

Dirk recently collected the 1,000th steal of his career and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kevin Garnett and Karl Malone as the only players with 25,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,000 steals.

“I’ve looked at it pretty closely,” Carlisle said. “He’ll make it. I just have the feeling that he will. You look at his stats, what he’s carrying, the production and the minutes; if he was playing the minutes most of those guys were playing, he’d be a 25-point scorer. So, we’ll see. We’ll see.”

Dirk didn’t think he deserved a spot on the 2012 squad after a slow start to the shortened lockout season. But the coaches weren’t about to let the Finals MVP be swept out of the All-Star Game that easily. They won’t this year either, especially when he’s not exactly a hardship case. In fact, if he does’t make the team, it will be a first of sorts. Five players 35 or older — Malone, Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Michael Jordan and Alex English — have averaged 21 points or more in 11 different seasons. Each time they made the All-Star team.

When his streak did end last season, Nowitzki had little control over it. His right knee required the first surgery of his career during training camp. He missed the first 27 games of the season, probably came back too soon to help save a sinking season and didn’t regain his All-Star form until the second half.

Fending off Father Time (with an eye on a semi-concerning sleeve he again donned on his left knee), Nowitzki has shouldered another near-totally retooled roster to a 26-20 record, good for the last playoff spot in the ultra-competitive West. The Mavs, while inconsistent, not unlike like Nowitzki’s shooting performances, are just 1.5 games behind No. 6 Golden State and three games back of No. 5 Houston, a so-called contender Dallas will attempt to defeat for a third time in four tries at home Wednesday night.

“They still have that big guy from Germany. He’s pretty good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said earlier this month. “And when you have a player like that, you can put a lot of people around him and they’re going to be better. That’s the effect of a Dirk on your team. I bet Monta’s never seen open shots that he’s seen when you come off a pick and roll with Dirk setting it, so he does make you better.”

Monta Ellis would agree. A fringe All-Star candidate himself, Ellis is averaging 19.2 ppg, about what he averaged last season with Milwaukee, but his 46.2 shooting percentage blows away last season’s mark and is at its highest since 2007-08 with Golden State. He’s finding wide lanes to drive and open jumpers to fire thanks to the defensive attention Dirk draws and the spacing he brings.

How dependent are the Mavs on Dirk? With him and Ellis on the floor, they’re averaging a potent 109.1 points per 100 possessions. With only Ellis on the floor, it drops to 102.7.

Dirk’s net rating of 4.0 is easily the highest among Dallas’ starters, a group in which only center Sam Dalembert (1.6) and Jose Calderon (0.2) also boast positive net ratings.

So is Dirk an All-Star? Bet on the coaches granting him the grand stage, if not for one last hurrah, and leaving the lure of a February beach vacation for the years ahead.

“It always means something to be among the best 12 or 13 players in the West,” Nowitzki said. “It has always been an honor. I’ve always had fun going there and representing the Mavericks the right way — but, I did have some fun at the beach last year, too. Either way, I’ll be happy to go, obviously, and always represent the Mavericks. And if not, then I’ll find something else to do.”

Duncan Does What Only He Can




VIDEO: Tim Duncan delivers the dagger to the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Years from now, when folks are cruising through the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and stumble upon Tim Duncan‘s name, I hope they realize exactly what a unique NBA creature he was.

San Antonio’s rock throughout the Spurs’ run as one of the best franchises in all of sports, Duncan’s skill set separated him from the pack of the greatest power forwards and big men who came before, during and probably after his playing days.

You saw him last night, at 37 and into his 17th season of his glorious grind, running off of a screen with the game on the line against the Hawks as Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer,  who spent 19 years with the Spurs, knew exactly what was coming. There he was knocking down a shot that players of his ilk (Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley, etc.) would have struggled to make, had anyone even thought of running a play like that for them at a similar late stage of their Hall of Fame careers.

There is a reason, even with Duncan shooting a career-worst 44 percent this season, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t hesitate to draw up a game-winning play for the most fundamentally sound big man ever. There’s a reason he opts for Duncan over the likes of All Stars (and fellow future Hall of Famers) Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in these instances that require a sure thing.

Only in the Land of Duncan does this happen. He made history, of course, Monday night, becoming the oldest player to record a 20-point, 20-rebound game since the league began recording rebounds. And yet he’ll be overshadowed this morning by flashier highlights from games around the league (that Indiana-Portland game was a showcase of young up-and-coming talent and teams).

Thank your lucky stars that all of today’s technology will allow us to enjoy Duncan’s brilliance for years to come, long after has left the stage and his exploits have faded from the memory of not only his generation, but those that follow.

He is just now cranking up his production this season. He got off to a slow start — it’s allowable for a player with his long list of accomplishments — but is averaging a much more Duncan-like 16.6 points (on 56 percent shooting) and 10.2 rebounds over his past five games.

“I feel a lot healthier now,” Duncan told reporters after the win over the Hawks. “For a while there, I was dealing with some stuff, but now my body is feeling good and I’m starting to get my legs underneath me.”

When healthy, he is still capable of dominating the competition.

Duncan showed us during the Spurs’ run to The Finals last year that he still had plenty left in his tank. His reign as the league’s true big man monarch has not ended … not officially.


VIDEO: Tim Duncan talks about his shot to beat the Hawks

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.

LeBron: On His Way To G.O.A.T.?

Editor’s note: As the NBA embarks this week on a new season, Miami Heat superstar LeBron James stands as the league’s most iconic figure. In today’s final installment in our three-part series on James and his place in the league, we weigh in on where James stands in the greatest-of-all-time argument.

In Part One, we looked at the people who have helped shape James into an international marketing force and a difference-maker for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. And in Part Two, we examined how James’ on-court game has changed since he burst onto the scene straight out of high school in 2003, and how his early failures shaped the player he is today. 


VIDEO: The LeBron Series — G.O.A.T?

Perhaps it would all be different if LeBron James had not come to our doorstep prepackaged and hermetically sealed, all but tied up with a pretty ribbon and bow.

The Chosen One.

We generally like to pick our own heroes and villains, so as the media hype machine began to serve him up when he was still a teenager too young to drive to school at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s in Akron, Ohio, it was only natural that some would instinctively turn up their noses as if he were a heaping serving of broccoli.

Wilt Chamberlain was an overwhelming, almost indescribable giant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was towering, majestic and aloof. Oscar Robertson was angry and unshakable. Magic Johnson wore an endearing, embracing smile that could light up a thousand nights. Larry Bird was a good ol‘ boy caricature come to life. Michael Jordan was transcendent as a competitor and a cultural icon.

Yet now, almost despite all that hype, the argument — joining so many others that seem to constantly swirl around him — can be made that James is indeed on track to go down as the best of them all.

Just the mere suggestion that he could one day soon lay claim to the label of Greatest of All Time — G.O.A.T., as it’s known in the vernacular — will bring baas of protest from the anti-LeBron crowd. They’ll call him a preener, a whiner, a shrinker, a choker, a deserter, a pretender, a poseur.

And yet the resume James has compiled in his first decade in the NBA has not only lived up to the advance billing, it’s exceeded it.

Consider that if he were to fulfill the expectations of most of the experts and be voted the league’s Most Valuable Player again in 2013-14, James would join Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Bird on the short list of three-in-a-row MVP winners. If the Heat play for the championship again next June and he is named MVP of The Finals, he would equal a feat only achieved before by Jordan (twice) and Shaquille O’Neal.

And if James were to claim his third straight regular season MVP, third straight championship and third straight Finals MVP, it would be a first in NBA history.

“He has four MVPs already, before he’s 30,” said long-time foe and close friend Jermaine O’Neal. “He has a lot of confidence and I think the sky’s still the limit as long as that same drive is still there. And I think it will be. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. Sometimes, after the first MVP or whatever the achievements are, people tend to cut the motor down a little bit. But I was talking to people and they said he’s better than he was last year. Pretty difficult to be.”

A desire to get better



VIDEO: LeBron goes global with visit to China

That drive, to constantly put down every outside challenge and thrive on the fires from within, forged Jordan’s reputation as the ultimate big game warrior, practice scrapper, teammate-fighter and I’ll-gamble-on-anything competitor. Jordan would let rivals see the perspiration on that gleaming shaved head, but he’d never shed a drop of sweat from worry or doubt.

James is different. He’ll sit in front of his locker or behind a post-game microphone and admit that he fell short and pledge to do better.

Jordan entered the league as a tongue-wagging, gravity-defying, splay-legged phenom that played with the frisky abandon of a colt that leapt the corral fence. He gave us Air Jordan and taught us to fly while he played basketball in the movies with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He sold sneakers, burgers and sports drinks. Everybody wanted to be like Mike.

James’ arrival was more of an orchestrated corporate sales pitch, pushing a man-child built like a locomotive that barreled down the tracks on the strength of a $100-million endorsement deal with Nike. It seemed a boardroom-drawn image. His game, early on, seemed more manufactured muscle than magic. No one could be King James.

Yet LeBronmania delivered in both form and function. Immediately. He became only the third rookie in NBA history — behind Robertson and Jordan — to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

“I thought he’d be OK. I thought he’d have a little bit of a learning curve,” said former NBA forward and current Chicago Bulls assistant coach Ed Pinckney. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone come in with that much hoopla and perform the way he did.

“Magic and Bird, similar. But they were older. Not a high school kid. He came in and hit the ground running.

“I asked Earl Monroe pretty much the same question. And he said, ‘There was a time when a high school kid coming into the NBA, physically, could just not play. Maybe he’d have a good game or two, but not sustain it.’ Where was the rookie wall [for James], all of that? He just busted right through it.’ This was Earl Monroe saying it.

“For an 18- or 19-year-old kid coming in to the league and performing the way he did, on a nightly basis with all the pressure of handling a team, I think he handled it great and he continues to.”

James’ offensive repertoire keeps expanding, and his four MVP awards in the past five seasons are matched only by Russell (1961-65). Another championship this season would give him three by the age of 29. Jordan won his third at 30.

Tuning out the noise

James has been delivering at such a high level, under such intense scrutiny so consistently and for so long,  that many are expecting a fall. Surely, The Decision to jump from Cleveland to Miami and all that came with it still resonate for many who will never let go of the grudge. He is reminded of it every day in a social media world of instant and constant criticism, where every missed shot and misplay is bitterly dissected. That did not exist for Jordan.

Another debate may still rage — mostly out of Los Angeles — but the truth is, James has clearly surpassed Kobe Bryant as the best player in the game today.

“Nobody with a brain would even begin to argue that,” said one league executive.

James’ Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.6 last season was more than three whole points better than runner-up Kevin Durant (28.3) and was the second-highest single season ever behind 31.7 by Jordan in 1987-88.

In the annual NBA.com poll of the league’s general managers, James was an 89.7 percent choice as the single player they would sign for their team and a 66.7 percent pick as the player that forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments. He was voted most athletic and most dangerous in the open floor.

Still, James’ game has its flaws, at least according to some. In an ESPN the Magazine poll of 26 anonymous players, Jordan was named by 88 percent as the man they’d want taking the final shot with the game on the line. Bryant received 12 percent. James didn’t receive a single vote.

James, though, is universally regarded as more of a natural playmaker than those two, more able to draw defenses to him and more willing to make the pass to a teammate for a better shot.  Former coach Jeff Van Gundy told ESPN:

“When I think of a closer, it’s a guy who can beat you with the pass or the shot. I’d take LeBron James to close it for me.”

New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham recently told Dan Patrick in a radio interview: “If there’s any player in the NBA who could come and be a complete superstar in the NFL, it’s LeBron. He would be the man.”

Jordan vs. James

If Jordan is considered the G.O.A.T. now, James can’t be far behind. The career stat lines of Jordan and James are strikingly similar. And James is only 28, perhaps just entering the meat of his career.

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003

A young LeBron James meets Michael Jordan in 2003
(David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

James has averaged 27.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 6.9 assists, shot 49 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 3-pointers for his career.  Jordan’s numbers were 28.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 49.7 from the field and 32.7 on 3s. Jordan was a lockdown perimeter defender in his day and James is an elite defender at four positions. James is bigger, stronger, much more of a brute force than Jordan, but still can soar with a jaw-dropping 40-inch vertical leap. Jordan was the long, rangy, sinewy embodiment of the ultimate basketball player. James is an athletic anomaly, a virtual tank with the speed of a motorcycle.

As much as the anti-LeBron crowd will protest, it is probably already down to just a three-man debate. And, if you set aside Chamberlain’s gargantuan feats in terms of sheer numbers and records set from a long ago era as too far off the charts to even compare, it comes down to James and Jordan.

Jordan clearly has the edge in the ability to simply pile up points, get buckets when they’re needed. But the analytics crowd will tell you that today’s game is about being able to do more than score. James is the better passer, rebounder, has deeper range and can defend more places on the court.

Jordan dragged his teammates along to championships with the sheer force of his talent and his will. James plays a style that actually makes his teammates better.

On the all-time list of PER, Jordan sits at No. 1 with a career 27.91 rating. James is second at 27.65 and closing.

Want more numbers? How about the Cavaliers winning three out of every four games (61-21) with James in 2009-10 and then losing three of every four (19-63) the next year without him. That’s having an impact.

For all the credit he gets raising his performance for the Heat in back-to-back title drives over the past two seasons, it may have been James lifting an otherwise anemic Cavs roster onto his shoulders and carrying them to the 2007 NBA Finals that was most Herculean.

“Jordan was never able to do anything like that with those Bulls teams before [Scottie] Pippen arrived,” said an NBA general manager.

“I would have to say Bryant and Jordan had that same ability to defend from the perimeter spots, score and make plays from that position, but they never put up the assist numbers that he has,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s more of a hybrid-type guy and you don’t normally think of all-time great players as being hybrid-type players. The truth is he’s Magic Johnson, but much faster and much more dynamic athletically. Really all that’s left to be determined is how many championships he’s going to win. That’s an honest assessment.”


VIDEO:
Would LeBron James have been a star in the NBA of the 1990s?

The measure of the G.O.A.T.

If it’s the counting of the rings that matters, then James still trails Jordan’s six and Bryant’s five. But again, he is only 28. At that age Jordan had just one.

And, really, should that be the measure anyway?

“When anybody says you measure guys by rings, that’s a crock of [bleep],” said Robert Horry, who won seven with the Rockets, Lakers and Spurs. “That’s like saying I’m better than Karl Malone, I’m better than Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. We all know that ain’t true. You can’t go by that. You can’t measure guys by their rings. It’s just ignorant. Having said that, I don’t exactly think LeBron’s done collecting them yet.”

After settling in comfortably in Miami over the past two years, embracing more of the role of alpha dog and learning to enjoy the responsibility and reap the rewards, it is not hard to envision a more relaxed, more confident James climbing higher.

“The story is how far LeBron has come in the last two years on every level,” said TNT analyst and former Jordan teammate Steve Kerr. “Where he was three years ago with The Decision, his play in the Finals against Dallas, the way he handled the post-game interview after Game 6 and the comments he made? He was really at a low point.

“What he has done the last two years is remarkable. He handles himself with grace and class. He’s elevated his game. He is now a champion, he carries himself like one. I think it’s fantastic to see the resilience, particularly in modern society with what he faces. I love what LeBron has done and I have a ton of respect for him. He’s on his way.”

Perhaps closer already to the top than so many think, or will admit.


VIDEO:
LeBron James’ top 10 plays from 2012-13

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).

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.

Hayward, Favors Fully Prepared For Leadership Roles With Young Jazz



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LAS VEGAS – Ask anyone who has knocked around USA Basketball’s mini-camp this week to name the player who has raised the most eyebrows and Gordon Hayward‘s name will come up. The Utah Jazz swingman showed up here this summer with a simple game plan and the perfect blueprint of how to execute that plan.

“They just want you to play hard and compete in everything you do,” Hayward said. “This camp is full of stars, so you’re not going to impress anyone trying to showboat or do anything spectacular. Everybody in this gym has seen it all plenty of times before. [U.S.] Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski lays it all out for you from the start. And if you listen, it’s pretty simple.”

Simple is the opposite of what awaits Hayward and Jazz big man and fellow mini-camp participant Derrick Favors when they get back to Salt Lake City for training camp. No longer are these two lottery picks from 2010 going to operate in the shadows. They’re going to have to step into leadership roles for a young Jazz team that saw seven free agents depart for other destinations this summer.

Hayward will be the team’s leading returning scorer next season after averaging a career-high 14.1 points while logging 27 starting assignments. Favors is the second-leading returning scorer (9.4 points to go along with his 7.1 rebounds in just 23.2 minutes), after starting just eight games while playing behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.

They will be the foundation for a green starting five that also includes Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and rookie point guard Trey Burke. Hayward, 23, will be the oldest member of that group and the most seasoned. It’s a role that Hayward seems more than ready to handle, based on his showing here this week and on the Select Team that worked out against the star-studded crew that won gold at the London Olympics last summer.

“He’s been very impressive,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo. “He’s a very impressive player. He knows how to play. He’s aggressive. He can shoot the ball. He’s made a mark in both camps, last year and this year.”

The same goes for Favors, who has spent most of his time this summer in Salt Lake City under thew watchful eye of Jazz great and Hall of Famer Karl Malone. It’s been summer school that Favors, an Atlanta native, says is absolutely necessary if he’s going to realize his potential sooner rather than later.

“There’s no hiding anymore,” Favors said. “I had to tell my mom and my family back home that it was important for me to stay [in Salt Lake City] and put in the work. I couldn’t let myself get home and get too comfortable. There is so much riding on this summer and this season for myself and [Hayward]. I don’t know what they’ve told him but I know I’ve got be ready to go right now. It’s on me and Enes to hold it down up front now that Al and Paul have moved on.”

Hayward’s looked more like the college star he was at Butler during his time here this week than he has the role player he was asked to be in his first three seasons in the league. His ballhandling, slashing and athleticism have been on full display. He’s more than held his own on defense, too, sticking out in this talented crowd on both ends regularly.

“That’s what you love about things like this,” said Favors, who will team up with Hayward on the Blue team in Thursday night’s intrasquad showcase at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. “I know how good he is. I’ve seen him do this stuff in practice every day. But it’s been funny to talk to some of these other guys and see how impressed they are with Gordon this week.”

Hayward said he’s sticking to the plan this week and making sure to ready himself for the increased role he’ll play for the Jazz when summer school is over.

“It’s something Coach K talked about on the first day,” Hayward said. “You have to adapt, adapt the way you play and be a versatile player. Out here, you know, you’re just one of the guys. But when you get back to your respective teams you’re going to be a more dominant player and have a much bigger role. They want me to be more of a leader next season and Derrick and I have talked about it. We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re both naturally quiet guys so we’re going to have to be more vocal and get on guys when we have to. But it’s time, it’s time for us to be the leaders.”

Cuban Hires GM And Goes Scientific?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Listening to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explain the hiring of new general manager Gerrson Rosas, it’s difficult to tell whetherCuban is restructuring his front office or opening a sports science clinic that Major League Baseball might want to investigate.

Cuban made an appearance on the team’s flagship radio station, ESPN Dallas, and confirmed Rosas’ hiring first reported Monday by Yahoo Sports.

He said the hire had little to do with the former Houston Rockets executive’s role under analytics-driven general manager Daryl Morey in enabling the franchise to trade for James Harden and to acquire free agent Dwight Howard, or with the Mavs’ failures to land a top free agent in consecutive summers.

An exuberant Cuban said Rosas, 35, will provide day-to-day organization and management to the front office as the owner seeks to “push the envelope” in new technology areas, including an expansion of traditional analytics to what Cuban termed “bio-analytics.”

Cuban said that means exploration into areas such as “genetic testing to blood analysis and performance technology,” apparently in an effort to better evaluate players.

“If you want to keep pushing the envelope in new technology areas to give us an edge, you’ve got to hire somebody who has experience in managing those kinds of things,” Cuban said. “We really needed somebody with stronger organizational and management skills.”

Rosas, 35, Cuban said, will report to president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, who previously also held the title of GM. Cuban said he, Nelson and Rosas could all handle potential trade talks with other general managers and discussions with agents depending on which one has the best relationship with that particular GM or agent. Cuban said it was his idea to seek a general manager “to get smarter as an organization” and said he implored Nelson to find the right person for the job.

“We try to take pride in being one of the most technologically advanced teams out there in all of professional sports, not just the NBA,” Cuban said. “And to keep on pushing the envelope in the direction I wanted to go, we wanted to add not just brain power, but organizational, management and process power.”

Part of that plan, Cuban also announced, was to fire 10-year strength and conditioning coach Robert Hackett. Cuban said the right candidate will be “more of an expert in performance technology science.”

Who knows where Cuban’s “bio-analytics” experiment leads, perhaps to clones of the 2011 title team. But no doubt he’s hard-charging technology efforts. He recently awarded $100,000 to biomechanics experts at SMU to research flopping.

Rosas will best serve the Mavs by keeping a sharp focus on streamlining the operation. Both Cuban and Nelson have their hands in plenty of cookie jars. Cuban is an involved investor in a gaggle of businesses, including many of his own, and he’s committed to the popular television show “Shark Tank.” Nelson is co-owner of the D-League Texas Legends and also has outside business interests, while also serving as a nightly ambassador to VIP guests at both Mavs and Legends home games.

“It gives us one more smart person to interact with and help us make smarter decisions,” Cuban said of Rosas.

Bio-analtycis aside, fans just know the team has faltered fast and the roster has been remade for a second consecutive summer around the 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki. Jose CalderonMonta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert are the latest to join Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and the soon-to-be-signed Brandan Wright.

Cuban said his recent comment that drew eye rolls, calling Dallas better off without Howard, was not put in proper context. He said the Mavs wanted Howard, but “failed in that.”

The owner said, with health, his team can be competitive, and said he’s miffed at critics who dismiss Nowitzki’s ability to shoulder this latest collection of talent.

“Like I’ve been telling him, Karl Malone won an MVP at 35 and there’s no reason why he can’t be considered in the MVP conversation at 35,” Cuban said. “I can also tell you that the way people are just randomly dismissing him as just being done has been incredible motivation for him as well.”