When you walked into Charles Barkley’s little slice of the locker room, you might as well have stepped into a whole different world. It was a world where heads were shaved, complimentary tickets distributed, insults hurled, jokes told, social commentary delivered, reporters sent away sated and one of the best basketball players on the planet had to prepare himself for the next game. All of it seemed to occur in the space of five minutes.
“There will never be another player like me,” Barkley once said. “I’m the Ninth Wonder of the World.”
You know? He was right.
Here is Barkley, 13 years after lacing up his sneakers in an NBA game for the final time, more popular than ever as a television personality, opinionator and, well, just plain liver of life.
If Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday on Sunday felt like a royal occasion with seemingly everyone in the basketball world taking time to genuflect in the throne room, then Barkley’s, coming just three days later, has all the trappings of the morning after a keg party. In other words, a lot more fun.
The Chuckster’s persona — and at times, even his person — has almost grown large enough to be one of those floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and that’s actually the perfect image, full of hot air, constantly changing course with the wind and barely tethered to earthbound reality.
He says so many things, and it is our job to figure out which ones he really means. For in these ongoing best days of his life, it seems that everybody still wants to know the real Charles Barkley. Trouble is, the answer has always been a lot more complicated than the question.
During his playing days, was Barkley the obnoxious, overbearing sort who once charged toward the stands to spit on a boorish fan and wound up hitting an 8-year-old by accident? Or the sincerely apologetic type who responded by buying season tickets for the little girl and her family?
Was he the nit-picking critic that found fault in every single thing done wrong by his teammates? Or the selfless, ideal team players who charmed the socks off everybody in the locker room and at the same time lifted them to heights?
Is Barkley the fun-loving fellow who likes to joke and cajole his way through encounters with the media? Or the guy who would always tackle the tough issues of race and child-rearing with his whip of a tongue?
How out of touch is that view today in an era of Tiger Woods, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius?
His was the first voice you normally heard upon entering the locker room and usually the last you heard on the way out. And truth be told, for all the the times his teammates would roll their eyes at some of the things he said, that role of spokesman/court jester was one they needed him to fill almost as much as the slot as one of the greatest power forwards of all time.
“I know a lot of people say a lot of things about Charles Barkley,” his former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once said. “But I’ve never seen a guy who loves this league more than he does. He follows the game. He loves the game so much.”
Who else but Barkley could sit there on the TNT set week after week on Thursday nights and be so outrageous? And who else but Barkley would constantly take the wildly popular show to new heights by allowing himself to be the constant butt of jokes.
“Hey Chuck, Zan Tabak’s in here,” Smith said laughing. “Look it’s Jack Haley, Chuck. Jack Haley!”
And, of course, there was Barkley paying his “I’ll kiss your ass” bet to Smith when the rookie Yao Ming hit the 20-point mark in a game.
Smith showed up the next week with a donkey in the studio, but only Barkley would have unthinkingly believed he had to actually pucker up to the back end of the four-legged ass.
He could have an MVP season and carry the Suns to the 1993 NBA Finals, grab a career-best 33 boards in single game (more than the entire opposing team) and, at an honest 6-foot-4 1/2, toil away to be the shortest player ever to lead the league in rebounding.
Mostly, Barkley could be himself.
Once, when pondering such a milestone birthday, he said: “I just want to be living the day after I turn 50.”
In that case, check in tomorrow when The Chuckster will still be living turribly large.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –Dwight Howard is the latest athlete to give PRP –platelet-rich plamsa – therapy a whirl.
The Los Angeles Lakers will play at Minnesota Friday night, but Howard left the team to return to Los Angeles. He will see Dr. Steven Yoon and undergo the PRP procedure on Saturday, the team announced, in hopes of speeding up the recovery of his injured right shoulder.
Howard will then fly to Detroit and rejoin the team, although his status for Sunday’s game against the Pistons is unclear.
PRP has been around for more than a decade, but mostly relegated to athletes or patients with exceedingly deep pockets. Athletes in all sports have undergone the procedure, from golf’s Tiger Woods, tennis’ Rafael Nadal, baseball’s Alex Rodriguez and football’s Troy Palamalu, among many others.
In 2011, Kobe Bryant flew to Germany to undergo what was called a derivative of the PRP procedure on his right knee. Last offseason it was reported that injured 76ers center Andrew Bynum would also undergo PRP in Germany. Brandon Roy, forced into retirement by chronic knee issues, had the procedure, and it helped him decide to attempt a comeback with the Minnesota Timberwolves, although he has been beset by multiple setbacks.
In Howard’s case, he is seeking to avoid surgery during the season to repair his sore right shoulder, the same injury that kept him out of three games in January. Howard had been playing through the pain until he re-aggravated the injury during the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s ugly loss at Phoenix.
So what is PRP?
The procedure utilizes platelets from the athletes’ own blood to rebuild a damaged tendon. It has been successful in relieving pain and jumpstarting the healing process. The patient’s blood is drawn and placed in a centrifuge for 15 minutes to separate out the platelets. The layer of platelet-rich plasma is then injected into the affected portion of the tendon with the guidance of an ultrasound machine.
There is a short recovery period so Howard might not be able to play in Sunday’s game. Obviously the hope is that it will alleviate Howard’s pain and help his shoulder heal enough so that he can continue to play throughout the season as the Lakers fight for playoff positioning.
L.A. had its modest three-game winning streak snapped at Phoenix on Wednesday night. At 20-26, the Lakers enter tonight’s game at Minnesota four games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Although Howard has had an up-and-down season, he still remains the Lakers’ best hope to make a playoff push. He’s a defensive anchor on a team that struggled all season at that end. He’s second on the team in scoring behind Bryant at 16.5 ppg and he leads the team in rebounding at 11.9 rpg.
The Lakers lost all three games that Howard missed in January, losing to Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
While PRP is not a miracle cure by any stretch, it might be Howard’s best — and last chance — to salvage the season.
Everybody’s got to be somewhere, but Michael Jordan’s whereabouts were of much interest this week and weekend than yours or, at least, mine. With the Ryder Cup golf championship being layed at Medinah Country Club in the Chicago suburbs – and with Jordan serving as an advisor to Team USA at Carolina pal Davis Love III’s request – the Bulls’ Hall of Famer was a target for celebrity snooping.
There were several sightings of His Airness, not only on the course but at some of the finer eateries in the city and ‘burbs.
Team USA — including Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Fred Couples — had dinner Monday and Thursday at Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse in Lombard. Michael Jordan, who was named Team USA advisor, joined the guys Thursday at Harry Caray’s and signed autographs and posed for photos with patrons.
Team Europe – including Jose Maria Olazabal, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia — dined Tuesday at Harry Caray’s in Lombard. Team USA opted for Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse in Oak Brook that night. Woods and co. arrived on a bus and entered through the back.
Bryant had the procedure done a month ago in Germany, according to the Times:
The treatment is a derivation of platelet-rich plasma therapy. PRP procedures are less invasive than many surgeries involving the knee and are viewed as either an emerging solution to knee problems or a financial gamble on unproven science.
Bryant, who turns 33 next month, has been bothered in recent seasons by an arthritic joint in his right knee. He has undergone three other knee procedures since 2003, including surgery last July to remove unspecified loose bodies.
He sat out an overwhelming majority of the Lakers’ practices this past season and saw his scoring, shooting percentage and minutes decrease in his 15th NBA season. He has three years and $83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers.
A report by ESPNLosAngeles.com cited several other notable professional athletes as having undergone the same procedure, including Tiger Woods, New York Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee. There was a much more descriptive definition of the procedure.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – So what’s after “now” and “never?”
In its own way, much more the crucible than a seventh game could ever be.
Once The Finals get to Game 7, the intense, smothering pressure is back on both teams, the glaring spotlight as potentially blinding for anyone who stares into the moment rather than just plays.
Now LeBron James finds himself dangling over the edge of the cliff for the first time in these “it’s-all-about-us” playoffs.
Never will King James and the Heat live down this monumental flop no matter how many future championships — “not five, not six, not seven…” — are out there over the horizon.
Pull it off and he rides into glory. Come up short and anything that comes later will look like a limousine with a license plate reading: 2LTL2L8.
This is the platform that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh put themselves on ever since that night last summer when they danced and celebrated amid the smoke and noise on the stage.
But nobody set themselves up more than James, who put himself on the dissecting table with the nationally-televised “Decision” and brought the basketball world to this point with what was previously believed impossible– delivering an unsatisfying triple-double of 17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.
That’s because when the game was on the line Thursday night, James evaporated in the final six minutes, missing two of his three shots, had no rebounds, no assists and a turnover.
In January 2010, The Q Scores Company took a poll of the general population and found that 24 percent of people thought of James in a positive light, compared to a 22 percent negative opinion.
Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the company, told CNBC that the average sports personality has a 15 percent positive score and a 24 percent negative score.
“LeBron’s positive score at that time was the highest we had ever seen it,” Schafer said.
But since “The Decision” show on July 8, things have gone seriously downhill for the NBA star.
LeBron’s Q Score today?
Schafer says that now only 14 percent of the general population see him as a positive figure, a 41.6 percent drop, while 39 percent view him in a negative light, a 77 percent decline.
In fact, LeBron is now the sixth most disliked sports personality, according to The Q Score Company, behind Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Kobe Bryant.
But wait, there’s more:
Perhaps equally as interesting is the fact that James has apparently dragged down the general population’s opinion of his new teammates.
Dwyane Wade’s positive Q score went from 21 in January to 15 today.
His negative Q score rose from 18 in January to 25 today. Chris Bosh – whose move to Miami was part of what sealed the deal for LeBron – saw even a worse drop. His positive Q score only fell from a 13 in January to a 12 today, but his negative Q Score rose from 21 percent in January to 35 percent today.
Schafer says that LeBron’s “Decision” was one of the most detrimental acts – not related to any anti-social behavior — by a sports personality since the Q Scores were first developed more than 45 years ago.
Lucky for James, the only numbers folks are going to care about in a few days are how many points, rebounds and assists he can pile up playing alongside Wade and Bosh.
The only categories that will matter are wins and losses.
And the only score that will be important at the end of his journey is how many titles he and his new teammates can win together in Miami.
Despite the fact that many of his free agent friends including Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have embraced the social media game, James — nor his business team — has felt the need to engage in the space.
He isn’t active on Facebook and he doesn’t have a Twitter account, but his Web site, which was active from when he was drafted in 2003 through 2006 and has been dormant for at least two years, has now mysteriously sprung to life.
Go to LeBronJames.com and you’ll see a page with LeBron’s pixelated face on it that says “Getting Closer.”
Just a wild guess here, but the only thing LeBron is getting closer to is making a decision on where he’ll be for the next three, five or six years.
Effective athlete Web sites are now few and far between. In the rare occasion when an athlete breaks his own news, it has been broken on social media platforms.
The hottest athlete Web site of the year has been TigerWoods.com, as people read his statements and, more often than not, blasted the golfer in the comments section, which was eventually taken down.
If LeBron is going to break the news on LeBronJames.com, you wonder what would be the most effective way to do it.
Well, for me, there’s only one way because once the announcement gets out, people won’t feel the need to go to the site. The job is to maximize numbers.
Here’s the idea.
The day before the announcement, send out an e-mail to every one who has signed up on the site’s mailing list that LeBron will make his announcement the following day at a particular time. For those who don’t sign up, his business team can send a mass blast to the media that it will be happening.
That next day, James will talk at length — live on streaming video — about each team and what they offered. In between, commercials of James’ partners — Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s — will run. Then, like many of these high school recruiting press conferences, James will choose a hat and say why he went with that team.
If a network like ESPN wanted to take it live, they can. It will, of course, just have LeBronJames.com logos all over it as well as LeBron’s sponsors in the background.
We could always do this the old fashioned way, so to speak.
Some enterprising reporter could tap a source for the news and break it on NBA.com first …
Wherever the news breaks, you know it’ll be blasted around the world.
Everyone (and we mean everyone, check below) has an opinion on where James should go. So it makes sense that just as many people, if not more, will be interested when the decision comes down.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Now that we have that pesky NCAA Tournament out of the way (congrats Duke and bravo Butler) can we please get down to real basketball business at hand?
The NBA schedule makers gave the college kids (and Tiger Woods, Major League Baseball and Monday night, but we’ve got the big boys back tonight.
There are eight games on the schedule and playoff positioning on the line in six of the eight games, starting in Charlotte where the Hawks and Bobcats will square off at 7 p.m. ET and finishing up in Sacramento, where the Spurs and Kings will lock horns in the final Fan Night game of the season at 10 p.m. ET on NBA TV.
Have you seen the standings lately? The Hawks and Celtics are locked in a down to the wire battle for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Out West, the Mavericks, Nuggets, Jazz and Suns all have 50-27 records behind the first place Lakers.
You want drama in the last week of the NBA season, you’re going to get it every night.
Some news, notes, quotes and opinions from around the league and the world of basketball (with a video nod to the latest batch of Hall of Famers):
PIPPEN BEAT THE ODDS TO MAKE THE HALL
Sam Smith of Bulls.com: “Scottie Pippen shouldn’t be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Oh, he deserves it, and it became official Monday in Indianapolis when the Hall of Fame announced that Pippen would be part of the Class of 2010 to be inducted in Springfield, Mass., in August. But there surely is no one who really was less likely to reach the zenith of basketball immortality than Scottie Pippen. He wasn’t even a scholarship player in college. And that wasn’t even at a big school, just tiny NAIA University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark. Pippen was just another gangly kid from rural Arkansas, the last in a family of 12 kids living in two rooms in Hamburg, Ark. Scottie played basketball and football in high school, just one of the guys, about six foot and 150 pounds, nothing special, really, just a kid who liked to hang around the players. College wasn’t expected in Hamburg, so Scottie worked as a welder and his high school coach, as a favor, asked the coach at Central Arkansas if Scottie could have a role. Not a scholarship, not even a position on the team. Manager. You know, handing out the towels, cleaning up in the locker room for guys who had no chance of playing at any big time program. Yes, Scottie was there to pick up for them. Perhaps a symbol for his future, though. I’ve asked him about it many times and he said he enjoyed it, liked being around the guys and the games, never thought much about it as demeaning or beneath him. Scottie’s dad, Preston, worked in a local paper mill but was disabled by a stroke when Scottie was 14. The bigger kids all helped out around the house, Scottie’s sisters much older and out by now so he could have a bed. Scottie was the baby, and a bit spoiled, he’d concede. Still, it was just part of life to work and get along and have some fun.”
COACH K SAYS NYET TO NETS!
J.P. Pelzman of the Record: “Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is the No. 1 head coach option for incoming Nets’ billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, as reported by the The Record in Monday’s editions. But he told ESPN.com Monday morning that he has no interest in the position. “I haven’t been contacted,” Krzyzewski said as he rode the team bus to Duke’s shootaround in preparation for the NCAA title game against Butler at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I wouldn’t have any interest in the job. You would be flattered if someone would offer you a job, but I would not be interested.” On Sunday, Krzyzewski was asked how tempted he was by the Lakers’ offer to be their head coach in 2004. “I was more than tempted,” he said. “I seriously considered it. One, because it was the Lakers. [General manager] Mitch [Kupchak] is great. It would have been an opportunity to work with Kobe [Bryant]. He and I are very close. “I guess because I did not accept it,” he added, “it really speaks to how much I love Duke and college basketball, but especially Duke. When we were talking a little bit earlier, a few minutes ago, about commitment, Duke has been committed to me when I wasn’t with [Bob] Knight and [Adolph] Rupp and those guys [in coaching accomplishments]. “They were committed to me when we were 38-47. … That will never leave my heart, that type of commitment. So I’ll be at Duke even after I stop coaching. “I haven’t changed in that regard,” Krzyzewski told espn.com Monday adding of the Lakers’ opportunity in 2004, “The Lakers’ thing, with their franchise and my history with Kobe, if you were going to do it, I don’t know how you can jump for anything better than that.”
HUGE WEEK FOR THE RAPTORS
Michael Grange of the Globe and Mail: “In an alternate universe, the Toronto Raptors roll in to Cleveland Tuesday on a six-game winning streak, having played some of their best basketball of the season at precisely the right time, and surging for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It’s not entirely far-fetched. The Raptors arguably should have won every one of their past six starts, and in fact had to go out of their way to lose three of them. Head coach Jay Triano has been in the job just over one full season, but he sounded like a grizzled old NBA veteran as he reflected on his club’s last-second loss to the Golden State Warriors at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday. “We shot 47 per cent against Denver, 49 per cent against Miami, 50 per cent against Charlotte, 61 against the Clippers and 56 against Philadelphia,” he said, the numbers still fresh in his head. “And then we play Golden State, the 30th team in the NBA in opponents’ field goal percentage, and we shoot 39 per cent? How does that happen? Actually, that’s just part of the story. Chris Bosh, who has been resurgent of late, shot 11 of 19 himself – meaning the rest of the team shot just 34 per cent – but of course it was Bosh who missed the potential game-tying layup as the clock ran out. But being a head coach in the NBA requires a broad optimist’s streak. So rather than head into Tuesday’s game – which starts the most pivotal week of the season – lamenting the one that slipped away, Triano is seeing the shot chart as half-full. “I can’t complain about anything really,” he said before boarding the team’s flight for Cleveland. “We out-rebounded them; we only had 10 turnovers and gave up 12 fast break points. We won every category except shooting the ball.” … “We have to approach every game the same,” he said. “We have to try and sweep the rest of the way.”
THUNDER-JAZZ, A PLAYOFF PREVIEW?
Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman: “While players and coaches downplay the significance of the Thunder’s 3-0 record against the Jazz going into tonight’s series finale at Utah, there is mounting evidence that Oklahoma City’s success against Utah could make the Jazz a favorable foe in the postseason. The Western Conference playoff picture remains as murky as ever with Dallas, Denver, Utah and Phoenix all deadlocked at 50-27. And the currently sixth-seeded Thunder, shocking as it might seem, still has a chance to climb as high as the No. 2 seed or fall to the eighth spot. Listen to the Thunder, though, and it seems as if no one wants to risk adding bulletin-board material to the Jazz’s locker room by overstating this year’s success against Utah. “We’ve just been blessed and fortunate to win three games against them,” said forward Jeff Green. “Once the playoffs start, those games won’t matter. No matter how many times we beat them in the regular season, if we see them in the playoffs it’s going to be a totally different story.” Or will it? Golden State’s first-round win over Dallas in the first round of the 2007 playoffs serves as the most recent example of how regular season success can carry over. The Warriors, despite being the No. 8 seed, upset No. 1-seeded Dallas in six games after sweeping the Mavs 3-0 in the regular-season series. And one look at the Thunder’s performance against the Jazz indicates that none of this year’s wins were a fluke. “We match up with them well,” said Kevin Durant. “They have a big point guard. We have a big point guard. Jeff and Carlos Boozer go at it a lot. And we have a shooting center in Nenad just like they do in Okur. Down the line, it’s even. Andrei Kirilenko is long an athletic. I’m long and athletic, too. So it’s an even matchup all the way down.”
JOE A NO-GO FOR THE KNICKS?
PeterVescey of the New York Post: “Checking out of Atlanta — a top four team in the East that was a conference also ran until Johnson became its franchise player — to join a grubby outfit like the Knicks at age 29 (July 29) is backward thinking. Been there, done that, and the birth was hardly beautiful; for two seasons (26 and 30 wins) he second guessed his judgment to force a sign-and-trade, and questioned his aversion to hold down Steve Nash and Amare’ Stoudemire on the Suns stage. Conversely, these last three seasons (37, 47, 49 wins and counting), as the supporting actors kept being upgraded and others improved, Johnson prospered proportionately in his role as leader of the playoff pack. Other than those easily led astray investigative types, who honestly believes Johnson would leave a team he hoisted toward the top of the standings and whose stands he helped replenish? Why give up a situation that allows him to become All-Star relevant and handle and shoot the ball whenever he wants, as often as he pleases? So, one way or the other, the Knicks have no chance to hire Johnson, either as their deadliest gunslinger or as deputy dog to LeBron James. Especially, the latter! Ain’t no way Johnson is going to modify his style of game and downscale his governance to be LeBron’s understudy.”
SPURS ARE SUDDENLY THIN AT THE POINT
Jeff McDonald of the Express-News: “For the duration of his acclaimed career, Tim Duncan has harbored a secret. It is a desire so outlandish that, until now, he dared not verbalize it. Like an actor who yearns to be a rock star, the greatest power forward in NBA history has always dreamed of making his living another way. “I’ve been wanting to play point guard for about 12 years now,” Duncan said. “I might finally get my chance.” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t quite that desperate. Not yet, anyway. A couple more ill-timed injuries though, and Popovich might have no choice but to unleash Duncan’s inner Magic Johnson. All-NBA point guard Tony Parker has been on the injured list since fracturing his right hand on March 6. Second-year combo guard George Hill thrived as Parker’s replacement for 16 games before injuring his right ankle in Sunday’s otherwise celebratory win over the Lakers. An MRI taken Monday in San Antonio revealed Hill’s injury to be a strained right peroneal tendon, casting the rest of his regular season in doubt. Though the team has not announced a timetable for Hill’s return, he has been ruled out of games tonight at Sacramento and Wednesday at Phoenix. That leaves the Spurs devoid of a true point guard, now and for the immediate future. It is a disheartening turn of events for a team that has won 15 of its past 20 games and appeared to be jelling just in time for the playoffs. Popovich says he is “real worried about everything coming up without Georgie.” Manu Ginobili refused to even consider the possibility.”
CAVS EARN PERK FOR BEST RECORD, STARTERS REST
Brian Windhorst of the Plain Dealer: “The relative efficiency with which the Cavaliers clinched the top record in the NBA has given them plenty of options going into the last five games of the regular season. Over the past four years, once the Cavs have locked into a playoff spot, coach Mike Brown has sat starters to provide rest. But never have things been settled with so much time left. That fact, plus another huge variable, Shaquille O’Neal, has the team pondering just how to use the time their strong play has afforded them. “I’m not sure there is a right way to do it,” Brown said. “It’s a luxury to be able to rest players so we’re going to want to do that.” LeBron James has made it clear he favors taking some time off. He’s a little banged up and has been dealing with a sore left elbow, among other minor maladies, the past few games. James will probably get at least two of the remaining five games off. Which ones, however, are part of the process the team is considering now. “You’d love to get some rest before the playoffs start,” James said. “I think there’s a few guys who want to keep playing but there’s a few guys who want a little rest and I’m one of them. Once we’ve clinched, the games take on a different meaning.” Of course fans who have tickets to the last several games are going to be interested in which games James might skip. But that may depend on O’Neal. Though the Cavs are not publicly talking about it, the belief within the locker room is that team doctors could clear O’Neal to play within a week. He’s five weeks off his thumb surgery now, which is ahead of the 6-8 week window the team placed on the injury. But recent tests have indicated O’Neal’s thumb has healed quickly and well. That would leave the option of O’Neal getting a game or two in before the playoffs start in two weeks. It might help the Cavs get some of the rust out in a meaningless regular-season game with O’Neal, instead of in a playoff game. If that comes to fruition, it is possible James and some other regulars would take a look at skipping some of the games this week — tonight vs. Toronto, Thursday at Chicago or Friday vs. Indiana — and then coming back together with O’Neal next week. “It is up to Shaq, but if I was him I’d try to play,” James said. “But it doesn’t matter. If we can’t get an opportunity, I just wait until I play with him in the playoffs.”
TIME RUNNING OUT FOR FERNANDEZ
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune: “Enjoy Rudy Fernandez while you can, Trail Blazer fans, through the rest of the season. Because the Spanish sensation won’t be in a Portland uniform next season. Fernandez will do his best to help the Blazers achieve success in the playoffs. Then he’ll be gone – perhaps to play professionally in Europe next season, perhaps to another NBA team via an offseason trade. I’ve thought all season that Fernandez – a household name in his home country with the talent to be the starter on half of the teams in the NBA – wouldn’t be satisfied much longer as a backup. Now I’m convinced. The 6-5 shooting guard is mired in a bonafide slump, lonely and looking forward to a return to his native country in the offseason. “It’s a tough situation for me,” Fernandez confided Monday after the Blazers’ practice session. “I miss my family and my friends. Yesterday was a hard day. My (25th) birthday, and I was by myself.” A year ago, Fernandez had countryman Sergio Rodriguez as a teammate. And Rudy’s family visited a couple of times, as did his girlfriend and a coterie of friends. “It’s been a tough year for Rudy,” coach Nate McMillan said. “He is without Sergio (now with New York), and his mother was here a little more often (last season). I’m sure that’s tough.” Since coming to Portland before last season, Fernandez has had to learn a new language and culture. “I can’t even imagine going to a different country to play basketball,” McMillan said. “Honestly, I would never have done that. I don’t think I could have dealt with being away from my family that long, or being in a foreign country by myself.”
BYNUM’S RETURN REMAINS A MYSTERY FOR LAKERS
Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: “Lakers center Andrew Bynum underwent an MRI exam on his injured left Achilles tendon Monday, and the results were unchanged. He continues to suffer from a strain and there is no timetable for his return to the active roster, a team spokesman said in an e-mail. Bynum will continue to receive therapy from the team’s athletic training staff. He was injured while running back on defense in the third quarter of the Lakers’ victory March 19 over the Minnesota Timberwolves. He sat out for the eighth consecutive game Sunday, when the Lakers lost to the San Antonio Spurs 100-81. The Lakers are 4-4 without the 7-foot Bynum in their lineup.”
BUCKS TRYING TO REGROUP WITHOUT BOGUT
Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: “Nobody was downplaying Andrew Bogut’s season-ending injury after the Milwaukee Bucks’ practice session Monday. His teammates knew full well they had absorbed a major body blow when the 7-foot center crashed to the floor Saturday night against Phoenix, suffering a broken right hand, dislocated right elbow and sprained right wrist in one horrific tumble. But the Bucks players also sounded determined to respond as a group to Bogut’s absence and to continue the streak of strong play that has them poised to clinch an Eastern Conference playoff berth. The Bucks (42-34) have reduced their magic number to two and can clinch their first post-season berth since 2006 if they defeat the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night at the United Center. “I’m really disappointed for Andrew,” Bucks forward Jerry Stackhouse said. “I think he’s worked really hard to put this team in position to be in the playoffs. There’s no way we’d be anywhere close to it without him. “It’s disappointing he doesn’t get an opportunity to taste it a little bit. He’s labored a few years to try to get the team to this point. Obviously the team will try to pick up where we can. It’s going to be difficult. “But we’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of pride. No one guy is going to be able to do it, what ‘Bogues’ does for us defensively and being able to set the tone for us offensively. But I think as a committee we’ll be able to get it done.” Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles confirmed veteran Kurt Thomas would replace Bogut as the starting center and also said 6-foot-10 Ersan Ilyasova could be used at the 5 spot in certain situations, when the Bucks are able to use a smaller lineup. “You’d like a little more time to tinker with things, and we don’t have that,” Skiles said. “Each guy has to do a little bit more. “Andrew makes a lot of hustle plays for us, rebounding the ball and taking charges and things like that. Those are things anybody can do. All the guys know the importance of Andrew to our team. But at the same time, they know they have to go on right now.”