Posts Tagged ‘MVP’

Morning shootaround — April 14

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 13


Smith: LeBron the ‘real MVP’ | Blazers’ Batum, Kaman, McCollum injured | Bulls pumped about Rose’s playoff return | Robinson finds a role in Philly

No. 1: Smith backs James as ‘real MVP’ — Two more days to go and the 2014-15 season will be in the books. As such, folks are starting to reveal their choices for the NBA’s awards (if you missed David Aldridge‘s great column, catch up on it). Aside from NBA writers chiming in on who they like, the players will be doing the same thing and Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith his no exception. After last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which LeBron James notched a triple-double, Smith crowed about James’ MVP credentials.’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 109-97 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, J.R. Smith was interviewed by the Quicken Loans Arena’s in-house emcee. He was asked for his thoughts on LeBron James’ second triple-double of the season and 39th of his career.

“Who? The real MVP?” Smith said, his message echoing to the sellout crowd of 20,562 who were making their way to the exits. “There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”

“In actuality, if you really wanted to, you could give it to him every year,” Smith said of James, who won the award four times in his first 11 seasons in the league. “I mean, the numbers, what he does for teams. You see one year removed from a team like Miami — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team. So, I don’t think you can do that with anybody else that’s in our league right now.

“Not to knock anything from the other two guys [Stephen Curry and James Harden]. They’re having great years, career years for both of them, but if you want to be realistic about it, you could give it to him every time.” analyzed the consensus top six candidates’ cases for MVP on Monday, looking at the merits of James, Harden, Curry, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, who happens to be the MVP pick of another one of James’ teammates, Kevin Love.

VIDEO: J.R. Smith is fully backing teammate LeBron James for MVP

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Morning shootaround — April 4

VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night


Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”


No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”


No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.


No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Steve Nash calls it a career, but impact on game will live on

VIDEO: Steve Nash was a two-time MVP and one of the greatest players of his generation

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debates about Steve Nash‘s place in the history of the NBA can officially begin now that the two-time MVP has officially announced his retirement.

What is not up for debate, however, is the impact Nash had on the teams he played for and the game. He helped usher in the pace and space era of the game while in Phoenix, where he also collected those back-to-back MVPs, in Mike D’Antoni‘s system. A super team featuring Kobe Bryant, Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in Los Angeles Lakers uniforms never materialized as Nash and Howard battled injuries that derailed the championship aspirations for that group during the 2012-13 season.

Nash’s 19-year career comes to a close with him finishing third behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd on the all-time assists list at 10,355. But Nash could not suit up for the Los Angeles Lakers this season due to injuries. Nash told ESPN’s Marc Stein that it’s “really difficult to put it into words,” now that his career is over. But he did it better than anyone else could in a letter to The Players’ Tribune website, where he broke the news of his own retirement earlier today:

The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes. The obsession became my best friend. I talked to her, cherished her, fought with her and got knocked on my ass by her.

And that is what I’m most thankful for in my career. In my entire life, in some ways. Obviously, I value my kids and my family more than the game, but in some ways having this friend — this ever-present pursuit — has made me who I am, taught me and tested me, and given me a mission that feels irreplaceable. I am so thankful. I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons about myself and about life. And of course I still have so much to learn. Another incredible gift.

Nash went on to thank many of his coaches, teammates, family, friends and other influences, making it a point to identify those who helped him go from a Canada to college star at Santa Clara to a NBA star and eventually one of the all-time greats:

Don Nelson insisted that I score. I always wanted to pass but he said, “It’s goddamn selfish when you don’t shoot.” Or, “If you’re a dominant fucking player — dominate!” He insisted that I be aggressive. That growth was a turning point in my career.

Mike D’Antoni changed the game of basketball. There’s not many people you can say that about. No wonder I had my best years playing for him. His intelligence guided him to never over-coach, complicate or hide behind the game’s traditions. He deserves a championship.

When I dribbled by our bench as a rookie on the Suns, Danny Ainge would say, “Take him!” with intensity and contempt in his voice. That was a huge vote of confidence for a rookie.

I remember when Dirk [Nowitzki] and I were nobodies. He used to say over dinner sometimes, “How are us two stiffs gonna make it in this league?” Somehow we made something of ourselves. After all the wins and all the great times we’ve had around the world together, what really means the most to me are the late nights early in our careers when we’d go back to the Landry Center in Dallas, to play a few more games of HORSE and one-on-one. Dirk and the great city of Dallas got their championship, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Michael Finley was twice an All-Star in his prime, when Dirk and I were young guys on the Mavs. Michael never played in another All-Star Game, but our team went from last place to the Conference Finals under his watch. Do you know how rare that unselfishness is in our game? A true friend and teammate.

The most accurate free throw shooter in NBA history, Nash served as the point guard for the top offense in the NBA for a staggering nine straight seasons (encompassing part of his time in Dallas, 2001-02, through 2008-09 in Phoenix). An eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA pick and five-time assists leader, Nash also won the celebrated J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2007.

His impact on the game, around the globe, will be felt for years.

His underdog story resonates, no matter what language one speaks, as Nash (in his own words) prepares himself for “Life After Basketball.”

I will likely never play basketball again. It’s bittersweet. I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else. This letter is for anyone who’s taken note of my career. At the heart of this letter, I’m speaking to kids everywhere who have no idea what the future holds or how to take charge of their place in it. When I think of my career, I can’t help but think of the kid with his ball, falling in love. That’s still what I identify with and did so throughout my entire story.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 192): The Westbrook MVP Debate

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What would it take for you to put Russell Westbrook at the top of your MVP ballot?

Five, six, seven more triple doubles before the NBA regular season ends?

What more can the one-man band do to convince you that he’s worthy of that No. 1 spot? We debate that very question on Episode 192 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Westbrook MVP Debate.

The mercurial Oklahoma City point guard is playing with a fury we haven’t seen in years (perhaps since Kobe Bryant a few years ago?), a wickedness that is fueling his team while Kevin Durant recovers from injury. He’s had triple doubles in five of his last six games and yet the Thunder are in an absolute dogfight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference playoff chase.

What if the Thunder fail to make the postseason? Does that change your mind about Westbrook’s whirlwind season? Does that knock him down a notch or two? And could you really see a player on a non-playoff team leapfrogging Stephen Curry, James Harden and LeBron James for MVP?

So many questions. And as usual, we do our best to provide some answers to all of those pertinent questions and plenty more on Episode 192 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Westbrook MVP Debate …



As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the MVP race

Analytics Art: MVP leader stats

By Andrew Bergmann (@dubly), for

Here are some key stats on the current MVP race leaders.

Tweet who you think should win the 2013-14 Most Valuable Player Award: Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LeBron James or Joakim Noah, and watch The Starters’ “Starties Awards Show” tonight at 6 ET on NBA TV.


MVP Leader Stats

Andrew Bergmann’s data driven design work can be found on CNN, NBA, Sports Illustrated, Deadspin, Washington Post and USA Today. See more on and Thanks to Tracy Weissenberg for the tip.


Award races head into stretch run

By Fran Blinebury,

Four weeks from today the regular season is over. All eyes will be on the playoffs. And that means the final push is on for the 2013-14 awards.

The duel for MVP honors has been a match race all season between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Michael Carter-Williams jumped out of the pack early as the one to beat for Rookie of the Year. But the other races have been wide open.

Here’s one man’s view as we head into the home stretch:

Most Improved Player

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — This is why the Pelicans were so happy to make him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. This is what coach Monty Williams says Davis probably could have shown last season if the coach hadn’t kept a tight rein on his prized rookie, limiting his minutes and his exposure to getting overpowered while he built up his slender body. When Davis erupted for 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Celtics, it was the culmination of a spectacular sophomore year. He’s been steady and breathtaking at both ends of the court all season, enough to beat out the likes of worthy candidates Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson in a crowded field of contenders. Also getting votes: DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza.

VIDEO: Anthony Davis was nominated for Kia Player of the Month for March

Sixth Man of the Year

Manu Ginobili, Spurs — Following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season that saw him enter the playoffs last spring looking bedraggled, the player who puts the jolt into the Spurs attack is back playing like a live wire in his 12th season. His field-goal percentage is up and his he’s back to doing all the things at both ends of the floor that make him a disruptive force and a difference maker. Jamal Crawford is the closest contender and has done many of the same things for the Clippers. The deciding factor has to be overall team performance. L.A. is in the top half of the Western Conference standings, but that’s once again the Spurs at the top. The return of Manu to his old form is a prime reason. Also getting votes: Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris.

VIDEO: Manu Ginobili talks about the Spurs’ season and his play

Rookie of the Year

Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers — He was the sixth guard selected (11th overall) in 2013 and wasted no time showing he never should have lasted that long. He’s put up big numbers even as the Sixers have suffered through what is a historically inept season. If all of general manager Sam Hinkie’s decisions turn out so well, the pain will be worth the price. The fun could just be starting when MCW gets to team up with a healthy Nerlens Noel next season. It’s a long way back to the No. 2 man in the voting for this category, but we’re jumping the more likely pick and going with Tim Hardaway Jr. His hard-charging style has been one of the few reasons to watch the Knicks all year. Also getting votes: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke. Kia Rookie Ladder

VIDEO: At the All-Star break, Michael Carter-Williams talks about his season

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The Pacers spent the early part of the year polishing their reputation as the league’s top defensive team, with center Roy Hibbert starting to clear room on his mantle as the pre-eminent rim protector in the game. But it is no coincidence that the Pacers’ struggles fit with a slippage in Hibbert’s game. The truth is, when you get him just a little bit away from the basket, he’s not so dominant. Meanwhile the Bulls have shrugged off the loss of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng because Noah simply won’t let them stop working and scrapping and competing. He’s the heart and soul of the team, especially that ferocious defense as Chicago charges late and the Pacers try to regain their equilibrium. Also getting votes: Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard.

VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Joakim Noah about his surge in play of late

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — The first instinct is to say that Jeff Hornacek has taken a Suns team that everyone assumed was diving for the lottery — and the Las Vegas wise guys had pegged for 21.5 wins — and turned them into an uplifting story and playoff contender, and that’s worthy of consideration. The next instinct is to say that Tom Thibodeau is like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, virtually getting limbs chopped off and yet ignoring the wounds and keeping right on with the fight. But when you get right down to the meat of things, it’s all about winning games and some how, some way, Popovich keeps doing that better than anybody else. Never mind that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically senior citizens. Never mind that an assortment of injuries has forced the Spurs to use two dozen different lineups. Never mind all of those lingering mental scars from The Finals last June. Popovich expects the best and his team keeps producing it. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. Also getting votes: Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford.

VIDEO: GameTime delves into how deeply Gregg Popovich’s influence is felt around the NBA

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Thunder — It’s been a two-horse race between Durant and LeBron James almost from the opening tip. You can almost never go wrong picking James, who still reigns as the league’s best player with his ability. It looked like James might be making a late charge for an MVP three-peat with his 61 point game a couple of weeks ago. But an ensuing slump by both LeBron and the Heat took the steam out of that charge. Durant responded and has raised his game even higher over the past 1 1/2 weeks. We also have to go back to Durant’s body of work without Russell Westbrook for 30 games — and counting — as he keeps the Thunder in the hunt for best overall record and heads toward what should be the first of multiple MVP wins. Also getting votes: Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin. Kia Race to the MVP Ladder

VIDEO: Chris Webber and Greg Anthony debate and discuss the MVP race

Riley: LeBron The Best Of … Them All?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sometimes you have to let the words marinate for a bit, take your glasses off, rub your eyes and breathe in the gravity of a statement before you react to it.

I watched LeBron James smile his way through another (well deserved) Kia Most Valuable Player Award ceremony Sunday, his fourth in five seasons. I watched every second and listened intently to every word spoken. James won the award months ago, when he pushed the Heat into overdrive and set them on a course for a record season that included that wicked 27-game win streak and more highlights than basketball law allows.

James earned the right to do and say whatever he wanted. But it wasn’t his words that stopped me in my tracks. It was Heat president Pat Riley who forced me to pause when he uttered these words:

“Over these 46 years, I’ve had an opportunity to see some great players — and all the ones I’ve observed, watched and have seen, they’ve always gotten better. In my humble opinion, I believe the man right here is the best of them all.”

The best of them all?


Let that sink in for a minute. Roll that statement around in your head and consider what Riley has seen, who he has coached and who he has coached against, and then say it out loud again.

“The best of them all.”

That’s a mouthful coming from a man who has seen and done what Riley has throughout his nearly half century in the game. He’s been immersed in the league longer than I’ve been alive, so I’m not here to refute his humble opinion or even to debate whether or not we should wrap our heads around the fact that LeBron has evolved — in a decade, mind you — into a player worthy of such high praise.

I’m here strictly to examine Riley’s words, to see if there is any way to scan the past four-plus decades of the league and rank LeBron ahead of the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and so many others.

This is a man who played on the Lakers’ 1972 championship team alongside Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. So his humble opinion comes from a very particular place (player, coach and executive who has won championships), one where few men in the history of the game can draw from.

And yet I still needed time to digest his high praise of LeBron.

Riley was an assistant with the Lakers when a 20-year-old Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out seven assists in Game 6 of The Finals his rookie year to secure a championship while playing in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was the Lakers’ coach for the four other titles they won during Magic’s tenure as the leader and maestro of the Showtime Lakers.

He watched Magic revolutionize the game, from the inside.

And Sunday he called LeBron the “best of them all.”

Riley’s Lakers teams battled Larry Bird and the Celtics and, later, he took on Jordan. When Riley coached the New York Knicks, his teams battled Jordan’s Bulls when Jordan was at his zenith. Anyone involved with the league during Jordan’s glory years, teammates and foes alike, tends to show him the proper respect and admit that he’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.

Riley retired Jordan’s No. 23 in Miami for Naismith’s sake. And Sunday, he called LeBron the “best of them all.”

Riley came down from the front office to coach the Shaq and Dwyane Wade-led Heat to a title in 2006. And on Sunday, after three full seasons with LeBron, he called the current king of the league the “best of them all.”

The same declaration from almost any other man would mean little to most. Everyone has opinions about who the true G.O.A.T is and most of them are framed by a generational bias that is hard to shake. But when a man with a breadth of experience that travels through time, or at least the past 46 years, points a finger at someone, it wakes you up.

Now, there will be cynics who insist that Riley is simply doing his duty as the Heat’s boss and making sure to dollop the proper praise on his star. After all, Riley is going to need LeBron’s signature on an extension soon to keep the Heat’s current run going.

But Riley doesn’t waste his words. And he certainly doesn’t seem like the type who will pander to a superstar’s ego in that way or on that stage, not just for soundbite’s sake.

Riley has competed with or against and coached or coached against many of the players who make onto the short list we all use when discussing the “best of them all.” For 46 years, he’s been in the middle of the mix in one way or another, well before anyone even knew what analytics were and the advanced-stats craze reshaped the game.

So when he speaks on a topic like this, one that crosses all of the generational lines most people avoid during these discussions, it’s hard not to take his words to heart.

And even if LeBron still trails Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Shaq and many others in the championship rings race, is it so far-fetched to believe that he really does rank at the very top as a truly unique and once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent?

Riley says no.

What say you?

What’s Next For Season’s Stretch Run?

Do either of these star-less teams have a chance to win big? (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Do either of these star-less teams have a chance to win big? (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Calling these “second-half storylines” would be both misleading and bad math, because All-Star Weekend didn’t exactly split the 2012-13 with Solomon-like equanimity. So we’ll go with “home-stretch storylines,” situations and people that NBA fans should keep their eyes on over the final two months of regular-season play. By dealing with trade-deadline drama separately on this site, we can limit this list to the five most compelling things to watch between now and the best-of-sevens:

1. Can the Lakers avoid making the wrong kind of franchise history?

It happened once in the “aught’s,” once in the 1990s, twice in the ’70s and then, continuing backwards, you’ve got to go back to their Minneapolis roots to find an NBA season that wasn’t followed immediately by a postseason for the Lakers. But math is beginning to loom large as a course this team will not pass in 2012-13.

Four games under .500 and 3.5 games out of the final playoff berth in the West wouldn’t ordinarily seem like a failing grade. But there is another team, Portland, wedged between L.A. and Houston that doubles the leap-frog challenge — and no suggestion that any of the clubs above them are headed downward in the conference standings. Then there’s the schedule: More intra-conference games for everyone means that one or more of the Lakers’ chief competition will be winning on many nights. And given their 9-18 road schedule, March looks tortuous with 10 of 15 away from Staples Center.

Stir in all the issues – coach-talent disconnect, miserable defense, fractious locker room – that have been part of the league’s No. 1 storyline to this point and it doesn’t look fixable. The passing of Jerry Buss as Lakers owner seems, sadly, like a clear sign this is not their year.

2. Can the Spurs’ regular-season success translate for a change?

OK, the “for a change” part is a bit snarky, given San Antonio’s four NBA championships since 1999. Yet it’s going on six years since the last one and even in 2007, there was a sense that the club’s window of contention was closing, based on its marvelously constant but aging core.

Coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford have retooled in both precise and daring ways, shifting from the team’s old grinding defensive style to something sleeker, more offensive-minded and more democratic. Still, the Spurs’ three most important players are the same as a decade ago: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

All the controversial “resting” that Popovich practices and all the supposed advantages to old legs and big reputations that we see in the playoffs – no back-to-backs, slower pace, star whistles – haven’t paid off for San Antonio since before the Sonics left Seattle and Gilbert Arenas was a big NBA deal (for good reasons, that is). (more…)

Paul’s MVP Signifies Something Greater for Clips


HOUSTON – The moment was Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers winning All-Star MVP on Sunday night, getting 20 points, 15 assists and four steals in the West’s 143-138 victory at Toyota Center and then getting eight of 12 votes for the top individual award.

In other news, the moment doesn’t matter.

It was fun and even a little historic, Paul becoming the first Clippers player since Randy Smith of the franchise’s Buffalo Braves era to grab an MVP at the midseason showcase. But the best sign about the Clippers at the break is that they have a chance to render an award from an exhibition game close to meaningless. They don’t need Paul beating out Kobe Bryant (two votes) and Kevin Durant (one each) for a credibility boost. The Clippers have the same Paul to thank for that, the way he moved an entire franchise forward just by signaling his intention to stay long term if management brought him in from New Orleans.

Paul is entirely a big-picture topic, down to how he has successfully muted any potential distraction over his free-agent future by strongly indicating at the start of the season he would re-sign in the summer 2013. He is leadership and superstar play.

And now there is this: On the same weekend he was winning MVP honors and Blake Griffin was putting together a dunk highlight reel en route to 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting, sources said the Clippers are not expected to make a deal before the Thursday trade deadline. Certainly not a major one, of the Kevin Garnett variety, as has been speculated.

That could obviously change – they fell into Nick Young at the 2012 deadline when the Nuggets and Wizards needed a third team to complete the Nene-JaVale McGee exchange. But every indication at the moment is that the Clippers are moving forward with who they have.

Their best player had already re-established himself as the premier point guard in the game, whether or not he played well Sunday. That Paul did adds another positive layer to the season, though, and there is never anything wrong with that around a franchise that for too many years had been dragging itself through the gloom. Having an All-Star MVP means something more to them.

“Pretty special, pretty special,” Paul said afterward. “It’s something I’ve never done. And it’s something that definitely coming into the game I wasn’t trying to achieve or thinking that it might even be possible. I told KD [Durant] early in the first quarter, I said, ‘Man, if they score anything, you run. I’ll get you the ball. You score. I want to be the one to give it to you.’ In games like this, it’s so up-tempo and fast-paced, a guy like me that’s a facilitator, I enjoy [it].”

It was a good moment, even if it didn’t matter. One of many that have come this season for Paul and the Clippers. Possibly, they hope, one that will be pushed to the background by what comes next.

Clips’ Paul Wants Back To ‘Happy Place’


Taking on the defending NBA champions … facing their roster of stars … and their Doberman defense … in their building … on national television … coming off an injury … for a team that’s staggering. Nope, those would not be ingredients of any formula for turning a smile upside down for most basketball players.

But Chris Paul, point guard and MIA MVP candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers, can think of nowhere he’d rather be Friday night than facing the grueling challenge of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the Heat in Miami on ESPN (8 p.m. ET). Paul has missed 12 of the Clippers’ past 14 games with a bruised right knee, sitting helplessly by as they’ve gone 6-6 in his absences – 3-6 most recently.

Listed day-to-day on the Clippers’ rather lengthy injured list – with Blake Griffin (hamstring), Jamal Crawford (shoulder) and Chauncey Billups (foot) – Paul was hoping to play in this one. Hey, it’s what he does – or pines to do when on the pine – as told to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“Anybody who knows me knows I’ve been miserable the past however many games I’ve been out,” Paul said while sitting in a black leather courtside seat inside the Heat’s arena, a bag of ice wrapped around each knee. “Like, seriously. This is my life. This is what I love to do. This is my happy place and when I don’t get a chance to play, I can be a very bitter person.”

Join the Clippers’ club, Chris. Over the past nine games without Paul, L.A. has seen its offense swoon; it has averaged 92.2 points compared to 101.8 prior to the 3-6 stretch, with drops across the board in shooting percentages, steals and assists. As a result, instead of outscoring teams by an average of 8.4 ppg, it has been running a deficit of 2.7 ppg.

How a club does when a star player is absent sometimes is a criterion used in MVP assessments. But it’s a lousy one to endure, both for the team and for the guy who’s out.

Paul has coped with injuries before, so he knows the downside of coming back too soon. After Sunday, the Clippers have two sets of back-to-backs before All-Star weekend and their point guard has obligations for that in Houston. Discretion might suggest extra rest, but it’s facing a formidable opponent in Paul.

“I just need to play,” he said. “I’m very impatient. Very impatient. And I know that about myself. I’d do anything to get back on the court.”