Posted on: February 20, 2008 12:59 am
 

Back in the saddle

The first night back out of the All-Star break gate didn't include Caron Butler or Tony Parker and wasn't very successful for Kevin Garnett, who returned from a nine-game absence due to abdominal strain with four points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes in a 124-118 loss in Denver.

The Nuggets drew their largest regular season crowd ever and improved to 12-1 against Eastern Conference opponents, handing the Celtics their first loss in 17 tries against the West. As a result, Denver is back up among the top eight, leaving Golden State without a seat in the conference's cut-throat game of musical chairs.

One debut that did go well was Pau Gasol's first show at Staples Center, playing to a packed that house that seemed to arrive earlier than usual to greet him, not to mention see how Kobe Bryant's right pinkie will hold up. Lakers fans began the 30-game ritual of holding their breath every time he draws contact on that shooting hand, but quickly learned that he's still going to be able to command double teams, deliver nice feeds for easy baskets and play shut-down defense.

Although there's always a chance that he'll re-aggravate the injury, Bryant believes he can do no further damage to the finger by playing and has pledged to deal with the soreness and swelling rather than risk abandoning his team in a playoff race where four games separate the No. 3 seed from missing the playoffs altogether.

Mike Bibby was booed by the boisterous Lakers crowd the first time he touched the ball in an Atlanta uniform and L.A. wound up exploding to a 73-37 halftime lead to spoil their former Sacramento rival's Hawks debut.
The Kings did just fine in their first game without their long-time point guard, winning in Portland's behind Ron Artest's 24 points in what might be his final game wearing his current team's uniform.

All this jockeying for position should become the norm in the Western Conference over the final two months of the season, where "win to get in" has already started. Beating up on the East is practically a pre-requisite, so it was no surprise to see Western teams go 5-0 against the opposing conference.

You can expect at least one more addition to finish up the arms race that Gasol's acquisition kicked off at the start of the month, while the unveilings of Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd with their new teams are on tap Wednesday night.

Posted on: February 19, 2008 5:44 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2008 5:49 pm
 

"The deal that died 1,000 deaths" done

The most drawn out NBA trade in recent history finally took place on Tuesday. It should come as no surprise that the press conferences officially announcing the move were equally melodramatic.

Jason Kidd is again part of the Dallas Mavericks. He'll wear No. 2, hoping for a better time of it the second time around. Owner Mark Cuban said he's looking for another job to pay the massive luxury tax that awaits him when the last year of his new point guard's deal kicks in. By that point, Cuban is hoping he'll have smoked a few dozen Cubans in celebration of the Mavericks' first championship to make it all worthwhile.

Kidd's return is a championship-or-bust proposition, one engineered by a franchise that looked at what they had, compared it to the toys the rest of the Western Conference had at their disposal and decided they needed it to re-arrange their collection. Kidd's savvy late in games and leadership skills overcame all concerns over mortgaging the future (Tony Parker-hound Devin Harris, two first-rounders, center DeSagana Diop) for a fighting chance at winning now.

That's why this deal was always going to get done, with an agreement again reached prior to Sunday's All-Star Game that illustrated a point of no return for the Dallas owner: Keith Van Horn would be signed to a $4 million deal to get this done.

That's it. Rod Thorn tried to put a spin on how much he'd get out of his new formerly retired forward and opted to go with a "we'll see." I'm setting the over/under at games he participates in at five and taking the under. Adding Harris and obtaining financial security for the team's future makes it of little consequence that Van Horn isn't interested in re-igniting his career.

After all, Cuban is paying.

The clock is ticking on Dallas' latest experiment, so the getting-to-know-you fest Avery Johnson is looking forward to with Kidd will have to yield immediate chemistry. That relationship will be the key in this all working, even more so than Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki, because to win, Johnson is going to have surrender control of the team to his new arrival. Johnson knows what buttons to push, but has been guilty of over-coaching during both of Dallas' playoff collapses, letting Miami back into a 2006 Finals it had no business being in and attempting to match up with Golden State by altering his starting lineup instead of forcing the Warriors to have to adjust to them in a Game 1 loss that set the tone for last year's first round upset.

Johnson can afford to relax a little more now. Kidd is his first true point guard. He'll make everyone better. If he makes them good enough, the Mavericks might finally break through.

Without him, they would have no shot. That's why Cuban agreed to pay whatever price. One thousand deaths? Only if his check didn't clear.

Posted on: February 16, 2008 11:29 pm
Edited on: February 16, 2008 11:30 pm
 

All-Star Sat.: Kapono's 3s and a mean dunk show

NEW ORLEANS - Jason Kapono kidded on Friday that he was bringing the 3-point Shootout to new heights with his presence.

"It's because of me," the Raptors sniper declared. "Really, it took off last year. I've got a lot of people over here around my table, the media coverage has been significant, so obviously, I should be in it every year."

There were only a few people who stopped by his media table, including some overzealous TV reporter from Japan, but Kapono had fun with him and this whole event, mingling with fans in relative anonymity when he wasn't tending to his NBA responsibilities.

When he and his wife walked out of a New Orleans restaurant a few hours before the 3-point shootout, no one mobbed him. Only a few people probably even realized who he was. 

"I'm never going to get past that point," Kapono said over being the least-known name invited to this year's event, "but I've come to terms with it."

The way he caught fire on Saturday night, winning his second consecutive shootout title, he looks well on his way to getting his wish of being in this every year.

Kapono knocked down 10 consecutive shots and wound up hitting 17 of his last 20 to tie Craig Hodges' event record of 25 set back in 1986.

His wasn't the only record set on an All-Star Saturday night. Here are my highlights:

  • Deron Williams continues his assault on the coaches and media who left him out of Sunday's All-Star Game, excelling wherever he can since the snub. He shut down Chris Paul in an individual matchup shortly after the reserves were announced and took him out in the Skills competition tonight, setting a new record by completing the obstacle course of making a layup, dribbling through four posts, throwing a bounce pass, hitting a jumper, throwing an outlet pass and finishing with a layup in 25.5 seconds, a new record.
  • That took me longer than 25.5 seconds to write. An impressed Mike Freeman said, it would take me eight minutes to do all that. I'll take the over.
  • Jason Kidd was grooving along nicely until being foiled by his lack of a reliable jumper, missing three times before just giving up and moving on to the outlet pass. Dwyane Wade's event went the way his season has -- he missed a couple layups and ended up finishing in 53.9 seconds, surrendering his title.
  • It also looked like David Robinson was still in shape to play. He's a little bigger in the middle, but looked to be more ready to contribute than many big men cashing pay checks. At the very least, the Spurs can sign him to a deal and trot him out there for long buzzer-beaters. He made up for missing about seven straight short bank shots by drilling a halfcourt shot on his first attempt to help San Antonio's entry claim the Shooting Stars event.
  • Dwight Howard supplied the "haven't seen that before element" that keeps so many "superstars" from competitng in this thing with his inventive dunks, but he wasn't alone. Loved Gerald Green blowing out a candle and Jamario Moon attempting the impossible by trying to finish an alley oop after taking off from behind the 3-point line. Effort, people. Not everything has been done.

Saturday night proved the dunk contest can still be entertaining. At the very least, this night puts baseball's Home Run Derby to shame.

Posted on: February 15, 2008 11:15 pm
 

Horsin' around in the D-League

 
NEW ORLEANS - Morris Almond walked over asking the same question: how are you going to dribble out the clock in a game of H-O-R-S-E?

Although eventual winner Lance Allred of the Idaho Stampede ultimately relented and took a shot with about 10 seconds remaining, leaving Almond a few seconds to knock down a kneeling layup that Allred matched easily after the buzzer, the damage was done. The NBDL embraced its role as the NBA's guinea pig, a resource to develop players as well as ideas, and staged an event you're sure to see added to the NBA's All-Star skills showcase, a good old fashioned game of H-O-R-S-E.

Players were outfitted with wireless microphones to call shots and interact with fans and had a 24-second shot clock ticking down as they took turns trying to give one another letters over a 5:00 period. Allred knocked off Jeremy Richardson in a semifinal that required sudden death, which naturally required a coin toss to see who would go first.

There were free throws made with eyes closed, halfcourt shots attempted, 3-pointers after 360 twirls, shots made sitting down, thrown in off one leg.

NBDL President Dan Reed agreed that it's only a matter of time before H-O-R-S-E is added to the NBA's menu of dunks and 3-pointers. It's an event that has home run written all over it. It just needs to be tweaked.

Almond told me that he had a few shots in mind, like one where he placed his right foot over his left foot and proceded to try and knock down a 15-foot bank shot with his left hand. If you blew on him, he'd fall down. It was inventive, something the Utah Starzz rookie, a first-round draft pick of the Utah Jazz last summer, said he was counting on seeing more of.

"There were different strategies. Some guys tried to just go out there and out-shoot people. I thought there would be a little more showmanship involved. That's what I was out there doing," said Almond, who said he watched old highlights of Pete Maravich playing H-O-R-S-E with George Gervin to prepare. "I think this will definitely work for the NBA. The 24 seconds they gave us to shoot were just right, the perfect length of time to talk trash and get off a shot."

Ultimately, that's the element that needs work to get this baby ready for prime time. There's got to be a crowd-pleasing element involved, which is what made those McDonals commercials where Michael Jordan and Larry Bird played H-O-R-S-E so memorable.

Trying to get into your opponents' head is a fundamental part of this game and one that will make this a fan favorite when it comes up to the big leagues. I want to see Dwyane Wade and LeBron James calling each other out. Kobe Bryant can prove he's the most talented player in the world on a unique stage. It's an event you can't get hurt competing in, so there's no risk factor.

Be prepared to see it sooner than later. Based on what went down in its developmental stage down in the D-League, the ability to milk the clock in the final minute needs to be cut down. Almond will be the first to tell you the shot clock might need to be cut in half when you're in the final 60 seconds.

That said, this experiment saw a healthy start to an event with a promising future.

 


Category: NBA
Posted on: February 13, 2008 11:33 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2008 11:38 pm
 

Expect Kidd deal to get done

Devean George's veto power undoubtedly has made one unhappy camper out of Jason Kidd, especially if he heard Mark Cuban's statement that he doesn't believe a deal will get done. That nugget came on the heels of Avery Johnson's little football analogy over lots of deals getting to the red zone but not being punched in.

Kidd would settle for a field goal at this point. Call Lawrence Tynes or Nick Folk; whatever it takes to get him back into a Mavericks uniform.

Rest assured. It will happen. There's too much at stake (money) for it not to.

Take Cuban's doubts with a grain of salt considering that he repeatedly shot down the possibility of this deal being made in recent weeks, telling anyone who would listen that he had no interest in making a move.

Then consider New Jersey will be willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate the move given its desire to grant Kidd his wish and get back on track to financial stability prior to the move to Brooklyn in 2010.

The players involved in this deal already caught wind of the agreement and know there was a pact made in principle to move them from one conference to another. If it doesn't go through, New Jersey essentially forfeited a game in Toronto that could prove pivotal in its playoff chase because it believed Kidd was gone.

If I were betting on the odds of this getting worked out, I'd say Kidd ends up in a Mavericks uniform by Feb. 21. It will take some manuevering, but where there's will there's a way, even with the convoluted hoops you have to navigate to get a trade worked out in the NBA. Count on it.

  • News that Hedo Tukoglu had been passed over again for an All-Star berth was met with one massive collective groan following the Nuggets/Magic game tonight. Washington's Caron Butler is out due to his hip flexor issue and Boston's Ray Allen took his spot.

Told you when Rasheed Wallace got the nod that Jesus Shuttlesworth would be next in line.

Nothing against Turkoglu, who is actually having the better season, but for the most part, the league has something of an elitist attitude when it comes to events like these and is probably clinging to the notion that it would like to see him do this again next season before bestowing a coveted roster spot.

That said, if this Kidd deal gets done before Sunday and he winds up a part of the Western Conference All-Star team and pushes the need for the East to increase its roster to 13, Turkoglu should get the call, joined by Toronto's Jose Calderon.

I tried to get a hold of league reps regarding this matter earlier today but didn't have much luck. Given everything that's transpired, it sure would seem weird to see Kidd out there starting alongside Dwyane Wade in the Eastern Conference backcourt.

I'll keep you posted... off to New Orleans at dawn.

Posted on: February 12, 2008 1:01 am
 

Cavs' break from norm produces memorable outing

ORLANDO, Fla. - After a disgusting effort against Denver, Cleveland tried to get to Orlando in the wee hours of Monday morning. It wasn't to be. Mechanical problems caused their charter to bail on them, pushing them out of their normal routine in preparation for the second night of a back-to-back against a Magic team that's ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

The team didn't get to Central Florida until 1:30 and didn't wind up checking into their hotel until 2:15, less than five hours prior to tip. The Cavs didn't have the normal team meeting they always stage during back-to-backs, where they watch tapes and go over assignments and the opponents personnel. Instead, Mike Brown just went back to basics and told his team to try and live up to their identity, play hard, play defense and see where that leaves them.

Larry Hughes scored 40 points, Drew Gooden (groin) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (back spasms) started despite being game-time decisions and the Cavaliers wound up frustrating Orlando to the point that Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy wound up at odds, the franchise center benched for his lack of effort on the defensive end.

Look for more on that on Tuesday, though Howard didn't fan the flames, taking responsibility for his deficiencies and preferring to keep the conflict in-house.

"That's between me and Stan," Howard said about what was said that resulted in him being benched for a couple of pivotal fourth-quarter minutes. "We'll deal with that ourselves. That's between me and Stan."

Even a beef between the Magic's coach and best player can't upstage what Cleveland accomplished in its 118-111 win, showing a sense of toughness they're rarely given credit for. Gooden called the performance a stepping stone in the team's growth.

"It was tough. This was probably one of our toughest games, not even physically," said Gooden, who wasn't at 100 percent and said he now knows what he's going to feel like 14 years into his career if he's able to last that long. "This was a mental game. Honestly, knowing that you have a game yesterday, it's a back-to-back, usually you get in late already at night into that city, but getting in in the afternoon..."

Cleveland did so well despite the lack of preparation time that players were petitioning Mike Brown to suspend shootarounds the rest of the way. Fat chance of that, but the circumstances were so dire and his team responded so well that it justifies for Brown that his team is still maturing and learning from all the obstacles they've faced this season. Because of the early holdouts and all the injuries, he feels like his Cavs have been on a roller-coaster they're navigating nicely.

"It's literally something where we don't know until really the last second," Brown told me of his starting lineups these days. "We're going through the (Orlando) game plan and right before we're about to break the huddle, one of my assistants goes, 'hey, Coach, the guys want to know matchups.' That's when Drew knew he was going to start. It's been like that for a while."

  • Donyell Marshall played 15 minutes and wound up with nine points and seven rebounds, both season-highs.

"It's only my eighth game of the year, but yeah, definitely my best game. It feels good, especially with the situation of getting in late. I'm just trying to get in rhythm," Marshall said. "It's going to take some time. People think that your first game back you're supposed to come back and hit all kinds of shots, but it's going to take some time. It's coming along slowly."

  • I notified Gooden about the Spurs' beard-growing contest, one that pales in comparison to the one-on-one facial hair war the Cavs' forward has had all season with Washington's DeShawn Stevenson.

"Am I starting a trend?," Gooden asked before responding to my question on whether he would prefer to end the competition at the All-Star break, like the guys involved in San Antonio's affair are doing. "I think I'm going to go a lot longer than Valentine's Day, and that's just what I'm saying because I don't want to give DeShawn Stevenson out there any ammunition."

There you have it. DeShawn isn't getting off easily; Gooden is in it for the long haul, perhaps hoping to wind up with his own personal bird's nest.


Posted on: February 10, 2008 10:35 pm
 

Stern went for size, so Sheed rightful All-Star

It wasn't a surprise that Kevin Garnett was going to have to bail out of his All-Star appearance. Leading vote-getter or not, if he had to be held out of his homecoming in Minnesota and that showdown against the Spurs, you knew he wasn't going to suit up in New Orleans. Doc Rivers hinted that K.G. would be held out and campaigned for Ray Allen, the only snub on my version of the Eastern Conference All-Star squad.

It made sense -- one Celtic for another, the team with the league's best record represented by the third member that helped restore one of the league's most recognizable franchises.  The only drawback was that it would've replaced the tallest member of an already out-sized team with a shooting guard. Rivers said  he'd make do.

Instead, less than two hours after Rivers went on record that Garnett would indeed be held out following Boston's win over San Antonio, David Stern appointed Rasheed Wallace, who had gone on record as saying he didn't want to go.

I'd like to be up in arms over Wallace's inclusion on the Eastern Conference squad like a lot of you are. One of my boys, the self-appointed Bishop, rang me as soon as he heard the news, sounding all emotional. "They could've gone with Hedo Turkoglu," he whimpered. "He's tall enough."

I disagreed. For my money, Allen or Wallace, who I understand got a lot of support from Eastern Conference coaches, could be the only choices. Rivers himself told me the Sunday before the votes were due in that  he hadn't paid Wallace's bravado much mind because he knew Sheed didn't mean it. In fact, Rivers kidded that he'd play Wallace about 40 minutes if he was selected to try and tire him for the second half of the season. 

That won't happen, either, but I'll take the NBA's decision with a grain of salt in this instance. There's been no great injustice. Wallace has been the second-best center in the East, just ahead of Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, for most of the season. If Charlotte's Emeka Okafor or Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut would've turned it on a little earlier than they did, they might have some beef over not being the commissioner's choice for size reinforcements. Instead, Stern's choice was Wallace, the best big man on a Detroit team that is 37-13, the second-best mark in the conference. To a man, every player who has made it to New Orleans would agree he's an All-Star talent.

Credit Rivers for saying he'd bend over backwards to work with a smaller lineup in order to get his guy the recognition he deserves, but the league wanted to ensure the Eastern Conference wasn't at a competitive disadvantage. I can respect that. This situation doesn't merit outrage. If Caron Butler's hip keeps him out of the festivities, then I'd be upset if Allen didn't get the call. Orlando's Turkoglu would be next in line after that.

Posted on: February 10, 2008 6:56 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2008 11:38 am
 

Despite Marion's fast start, Heat can't be rash

You notice how no one openly wondered whether the Heat were making the right move by trading Shaquille O'Neal for Shawn Marion? There's no need to ask a question you already know the answer to.

Pulling no puches with the truth, this has less to do with adding a Matrix than it does subtracting a Diesel.

At this stage of his career, it's only worth paying O'Neal his $20 million-per-year salary if he can be your closer. He's no longer the type of player you build around. In the next few months, the Heat need to figure out whether Marion is someone they're comfortable shelling that type of money out to keep. His first impression was great, but excuse me if I don't instantly endorse him joining Bill Parcells on the poster for a brighter tomorrow for a city that's had to sit through the Marlins' annual fire sales, the Dolphins' implosion and O'Neal stalling like an '85 Dodge Diplomat.

Marion instantly picked up his new squad's energy level, finishing with 15 points, 14 rebounds and four assists while feeling out his new teammates, but it's still too early to come to the conclusion that this is the perfect tag-team partner for Wade. Bottomline, is he the player who is going to keep Wade from bolting when his own deal is up in 2010?

That's the next step in Miami's resurrection, equally as important as keeping O'Neal's contract from becoming the anchor that sunk the franchise. Is it worth letting Marion unpack permanently?

Deciding now would be like committing yourself to a lifetime of water because that's the first thing you come across following a stroll through the desert. The Heat don't have a lot of time to make up their minds, because if Marion decides he is going to claim his $17.8 million option to stay on through next season, it would make the most sense to start working on an extension, but that decision doesn't have to be made after his first game, which many overzealous Heat supporters are already doing.

Pat Riley jumped the gun in declaring his new tandem the new-school version of Jordan and Pippen. Things may work out that way, but the pairing could also wind up as ill-conceived as the alley-oop pass Wade try to throw Marion in the final minute of Sunday afternoon's loss, a play that would've cut the Heat's deficit to 100-96 but instead sailed harmlessly out of bounds, sealing their fate.

If this is going to work, both need to improve from the perimeter, but most important is probably that their personalities and egos mesh. Both have been fairly laid back in my experiences with them, but at the same time, it's worth pointing out that Marion has always coveted a starring role and Wade has always had O'Neal's shadow to work under. Shaq's veteran influence and his willingness to let Wade shine helped things work as smoothly as they did, but there's no guarantee that this new partnership of guys trying to come up would have similar continuity.

On the plus side, if Flash/Matrix does reign in South Florida, one major beneficiary could be Dorell Wright. Wright's best performances in his three-plus years as a pro have come in games where the tempo is accelerated and it stands to reason that Miami will transition into a run-and-gun squad since Mark Blount would be the only center guaranteed a spot on the roster. In the Heat's three highest-scoring performances of the season, not surprisingly against Phoenix, Golden State and Orlando on a night it was feeling frisky, Wright posted averages of 16.3 points, 12 rebounds and 2.3 blocks on. Best of all, he had no turnovers.

He looked good starting alongside Marion and Blount in the Heat frontcourt on Sunday, netting 15 points and seven boards while again failing to commit a turnover. In fact, he did little that could be considered stupid outside of a few unnecessary fouls, which reminds me that  Shaq once called the then-teenager a can't miss-star back when he was drafted out of high school in 2004, wowed by his basketball instincts. Wright, now  22, is clearly a player excels when he doesn't have to think out there and could put up big numbers over the next few months entering a summer in which he'll be a restricted free agent. Considering how close he and Wade are, his emergence could be another important factor in keeping Wade tied to Miami, undoubtedly Pat Riley's chief objective regardless of whether or not he returns for another season on the bench or moves upstairs permanently.

The Heat won't be making the playoffs, but at least they're worth watching again.  What happens the next few months could affect their franchise for the next decade.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com