We skipped this feature last week because of the Thanksgiving weekend, but here are some ruminations about what's going on around the league.
First, well-wishes go out to Maurice Lucas as he continues to battle with bladder cancer. Luke was tough, ornery, and feared as a player but he's also one of the most stand-up guys you'll ever meet and a wonderful person to talk to. We owe a debt to him for much of the analysis we were able to do in the earliest days of Greg Oden's career, which turned out to be pretty much spot-on. Maurice's return to Portland has helped the team and the greater Blazer community and as part of that community we certainly are thinking about and offering all of our support to him.
We also continue to remember owner Paul Allen as he fights his fight against cancer. It is my sincere hope, shared by all I'm sure, that the next one of these I do doesn't have to start with get-well hopes for any more members of the Blazer family.
The Nets Break the Record
The New Jersey Nets have now officially broken the NBA record for the worst start to a season ever. What are you going to do? The roster is a mess. Coach Lawrence Frank is out, GM Kiki Vandeweghe is in with ultra-veteran coach Del Harris by his side making suggestions but nothing is going to help this franchise in the short run. Rumor has it that their television coverage has been switched over to the "NO" network. Also Ed McMahon knocked on their door yesterday and told them they may already have won John Wall.
Click through for more on the Nets and other stories from around the league...
I don't really feel sorry for management. The team has been in a slow decline since they got to the Finals in 2002-03. Vince Carter kept them on life support but he's always been more of a ticket-seller than a franchise-changer. Devin Harris was their best pick-up but other than that they've made a series of poor choices.
I don't feel sorry for ownership as they're selling the team anyway. They won't be crying over this for long.
I don't even feel that sorry for the fans. As Blazer fans well know at a certain point you stop counting wins and losses and gauge the progress of your team by individual performances, putting together decent quarters and halves, and eventually lottery position. 0-18 stinks but would anybody feel better if the team was 3-15 instead? Hey, if you're going to experience something, go all out. It'll make the story better when you re-tell it years down the road.
The people I feel sorry for are the players. There are some decent guys on that roster, including Trenton Hassell and Jarvis Hayes. They didn't ask for this. Also I feel sad when any player has to waste a year of an already-short career. Being 14.5 games behind the division leader when you've only played 18 qualifies as a waste. It must be eating at them pretty good in the locker room right now and I hope they get the monkey off their backs soon and see better days after.
I also feel sorry for the first team the Nets beat. Welcome to your national headlines. I don't suppose they could hold out until December 19th and then beat the L*kers?
Across the river the Knicks are falling apart at the seams also, starting the season 4-15. Fans are already discontented with coach Mike D'Antoni, both for his system and because he's playing too many veterans on a squad that has little chance of winning and every need for development. D'Antoni, meanwhile, is discontented with point guard Nate Robinson whom he benched for the entire game in the Knicks' last outing versus Orlando. D'Antoni's problem is rumored to be Robinson's defense. This comes as a shock to many who assumed the only "D" he cared about came before an apostrophe. Nonetheless if you're a quick scoring guard who can't play for that coach you had probably better check yourself...something's wrong. It's like Captain Kirk refusing to kiss you. Dude's kissed green women and oozing gelatinous beings from other galaxies. What the heck is the matter with you?
This continues the Knicks' saga as the most dysfunctional franchise in the league by far. At some point there should be a rule that they can't get LeBron James next summer. This kind of behavior shouldn't be rewarded.
AI Goes Home
Allen Iverson has found a home (maybe) back in Philly. He's signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Sixers. It's a low-risk move for Philadelphia. They're not winning anyway and they might be the one non-contending team that Iverson will play for peacefully...as long as they give him minutes. If he doesn't they just 86 him...no harm, no foul. Casual fans will eat up the signing and it'll create buzz around a team that was ailing. It's not the most intriguing destination for Iverson but it makes sense. Decent move.
Artest: Four Quarters and a Fifth
Ron Artest is now saying he drank during halftime when he was a member of the Chicago Bulls. Hey...I'm sure he drove his coaches to do the same. Despite the shocking nature of the story, even if it's true it seems like non-news. We all knew something was wrong back then. Identifying part of it hardly counts as a revelation at this point. It's a little like Paris Hilton admitting she dated a heretofore unidentified sleazebag when she was younger. Really? Who'd have guessed? And like most of the things from the "Bad Paris" days this move by Artest feels self-serving and publicity-oriented. Next step in the master plan: marry Carmen Electra. Yawn. You're just not that shocking anymore, Ron. Play ball.
Brandon Jennings Tears Up the League
Future Rookie of the Year Brandon Jennings has had a fine introduction to the NBA. Averaging 21.5 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds on the season his name is on the tip of everyone's tongue. On the one hand I am duly impressed as well. This guy has got some moves and seems created for the NBA game. On the other hand dude's taking 19 shots per game on a bad team, often topping 20. His overall shooting percentage is fine but he's had some horrific nights. Nobody else is going to take those shots for Milwaukee right now so you can't blame him. But I always like to wait a while before anointing these guys with a Solomon of Awesome Sauce. The Bucks wouldn't be 9-8 without him but they won't be more than that with him until we find out whether he plays well with others.
Blake Griffin Still Down and Out
The Clippers' #1 overall pick Blake Griffin is going to be out until January at least. Blazer fans know exactly how painful that can be. While this in no way can be described as good for the Clips I don't think it'll hurt them as much as it seems. I actually like the way they're playing this year as opposed to last even without Griffin. They're starting to gel a little, they're playing better defense, they seem to be finding themselves a little. I don't think they were going to be that great this year even with Griffin playing. His introduction to the team and the league would have been full of unrest as the team figured out how to cope with his advent while still finding itself. If the Clippers can keep playing solidly they'll create a much stronger pocket around him which should enhance his ability to contribute meaningfully. In the long run his effect might be bigger this way.
T-Mac Tug of War
The drama continues in Houston as Tracy McGrady completes the final stages of his rehab and Rockets coach Rick Adelman tries to decide if and when he really wants him back. It's not a good sign when you're one of the stars of the franchise and management is dawdling on the timetable for your return. The Rockets are doing well enough anyway. They're trying to build towards a stronger future where attitude and effort count as much as name power and talent. Sounds like a mismatch at this point. If you can't trade him, just tell him to go home. Chemistry counts. Besides, it's not like he makes enough difference to win you a title.
You Scored 115 and Still Got Blown Out?
The Toronto Raptors played the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, shot 52% from the field, over 62% from the three-point arc, earned 34 free throws and still lost by 31 points. Everyone who played more than 14 minutes for the Hawks got into double figures and Atlanta ended up with 146 points on the evening. With guys like Turkoglu, Bargnani, Calderon, and Belinelli playing major minutes and no central defensive presence to speak of I don't think there's any scheme that's going to fix what ails them. Sometimes scoring just isn't enough...a concept that has made quite a comeback since the heady days when the Suns seemed the team of the future in the NBA.
From A to Z-Man
Zydrunas Ilgauskas just became the franchise leader for games played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. This offers hope to franchises like the Rockets and Blazers whose own centers have undergone injury problems. Of course Ilgauskas is a different type of center than Yao or Oden but SHHHHH! It's hope!