Dominique Wilkins wouldn't wish a ruptured Achilles on his worst enemy. Where once he was the Human Highlight Reel, after his injury his game was changed forever. Elton Brand was never a highflier, but he felt the same pop that Kobe Bryant described after Friday night's crushing injury. His game changed, too. And Chauncey Billups can relate to the struggles of returning to the game late in his career after a devastating injury. It's a tremendous hurdle, even for an accomplished veteran and athletic freak of nature like Kobe. Wilkins, Brand, and Billups provide three case studies of players who made it back from Achilles injuries at different stages of their careers. The trio recently talked about their physical traumas and difficult rehabilitation efforts, and offered words of encouragement for the 34-year-old Bryant.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. Here, we make some predictions about the coming NBA season, ranging from the well-founded to the outlandish.
Welcome to my island of asinine predictions, where I base outlandish claims on very brief NBA preseason YouTube highlights. Your room is ready for you. From this island, I can see, off in the distance, a place where we talk about Rajon Rondo as an MVP candidate. I don't think he'll win it — I don't think anyone besides LeBron or Durant can — but I think he'll be in the conversation.
We're going to be talking about Rondo in a new way this year. I have no doubt there will be moments when he is a petulant, distant, and sometimes awkward presence — the one we've come to know, love, or hate over these last few years. But reports coming out of Celtics camp fill me with nothing but where's-my-fainting-couch anticipation. Rondo organizing offseason flag football games for his teammates? Because he "wanted to take everyone out there, so we could play together, get a little chemistry before we start and have a little fun"? Who is this guy? And when can we go play paintball together?
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore
About 15 minutes after JaVale McGee’s thorough handling of Andrew Bynum was complete, members of the media began to file into the relatively small postgame press room in the bowels of the Staples Center. They were informed that first to the podium would be victorious Nuggets coach George Karl, whose team had just staved off elimination with 102-99 win over the Lakers. The player from Denver, it was announced, would be McGee. Even after the best game of his career — 21 points and 14 rebounds — in the biggest game of his career, there were laughs.
I’m from Los Angeles, and lately, I’ve been wanting to move back. I’d be closer to my family — and Grantland headquarters. Also, I’d get my pickup basketball game back.
They call it “noonball” at USC, my alma mater. I've played ever since my sophomore year, about a decade ago. Pete Carroll played with us for years before leaving to coach the Seattle Seahawks. But we were all equals on the court. It was almost like a fraternity.
A regular pickup game is therapeutic and calming. I’ve lived in New York — the mecca of hoops — for more than three years, and haven’t found anything remotely close to what I had at USC. I played at Columbia for a while before they realized that I didn’t actually go there, and that was the end of that. Most gyms cost more than they should and don’t even include basketball courts. Frequent travel makes it an unwise investment. And the East Coast weather means outdoor games aren’t always an option.
It's Wednesday night in Boston, and Toronto has just unraveled, falling 100-64 to the Celtics. It's a laugher of a victory, but also a best-case-scenario kind of win and Doc Rivers will take it. The lockout-shortened season is particularly threatening to a veteran roster, and Rivers must walk the tightrope between rest and Ws, development and improvement.
"It’s the best defense I’ve seen them play. It’s not anywhere near what I saw from the three games I watched prior. This was a totally different team tonight that we played against than what I saw on tape." — 76ers coach Doug Collins, after Philadelphia’s 85-79 loss to the Knicks on Wednesday
The Knicks’ best defensive effort of this truncated season came Wednesday night against the Sixers, a team that was playing its fifth game in six nights and third straight without its starting center. The Knicks stretched their streak of allowing fewer than 90 points to three games, but it has included opponents such as the Pistons and Bobcats — not exactly world beaters. Still, there are some assurances to be taken in the Knicks’ performance against Philadelphia and the temporarily cooling of Mike D’Antoni’s seemingly eternal hot seat.
Welcome back to your monthly dose of Schadenfreude. Here at the Depressed Fan Base Committee, our job is to kick a city while it is down. And man, there are some down cities in this country. This month, 10 voters identified 35 cities as worthy of recognition. Along with the Top 10 list below, nominees included Detroit; Atlanta; Stillwater, Okla.; every city in Texas; the entire state of North Carolina; and the Three M's: Montreal, Manchester, and Milwaukee. (They still call those “The Three M's,” right?)
Disclaimer the First: We're not doing Happy Valley or Syracuse, so don't even ask. I had a whole slew of jokes lined up, but the Department of Justice flagged every single one. Come on, DoJ, don't you guys have something better to be flagging? I've got a neighbor who listens to Bruno Mars nonstop, and he doesn't even get audited by the IRS.
Don’t feel too bad if you still don’t understand the goals or logic of NBA players during the lockout. Their inability to communicate their concerns has been one of the larger criticisms of the National Basketball Players Association during these negotiations.
The players' union — or the trade association formerly known as the players’ union — began clearly coalescing its points Tuesday. The union invited about a dozen reporters to its offices to hear executive director Billy Hunter and David Boies, the freshly hired and well-respected attorney who will lead the union’s efforts in court against the NBA, discuss the organization’s next step.
The following is a rundown of the players’ complaint. Portions of this blog post that are presented in italics are excerpts from the complaint itself. The quotes are spliced with explanations from Boies.
So this week was filled with more lengthy NBA lockout meetings, but no deal was reached. Next week, player representatives will go over the league’s latest revised offer. In case you’ve forgotten, here a handy timeline that helps explain how we’ve arrived at the umpteenth crucial crossroads in these negotiations.
Nearly every one of these NBA labor negotiations ends the same way. Press conference areas are set up, usually in adjacent rooms, and NBA commissioner David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher discuss the fruitlessness of that particular session. Those conversations with the media sometimes diverge. The sides can be specific or vague. They can project optimism, pessimism, hope, frustration, progress, or regression. But so far, they never include the one thing everyone in the room is hoping for: a joint conference — and a deal.
When the talks don’t go well, there are warnings of “extreme consequences,” accusations of being “snookered,” or the cancellation of more games. When it appears as though inroads have been made, however, the opposite occurs. Such was the situation early Thursday morning, when the league and union ultimately revealed nothing to the gathered reporters after another marathon session, other than that they would meet again in the morning.
“We're not failing and we're not succeeding,” Stern said. “We're just there.”
“There was enough give and take on both sides to merit us both coming back tomorrow,” Hunter said.
He seemed fatigued, yet still upbeat, after Wednesday’s session. I know, because I found myself sharing an elevator — and later a car ride — with him.
The ending of the 1998-1999 lockout signaled a flurry of activity, players going here and there, and eventually a revealing of a circumventing of the system that troubles the Minnesota Timberwolves to this day. To raised eyebrows, the Timberwolves had signed Joe Smith to a one-year, $1.75 million deal a year after he had averaged nearly 15 points and 6 rebounds with Golden State and Philadelphia. Later, it was revealed that he had been promised up to $86 million over seven years in his subsequent contract with Minnesota.
The second contract never saw the light of day because of the violation of the agreement — a gross skirting of the old and new league labor laws. NBA Commissioner David Stern levied the most severe penalty in NBA history by voiding Smith’s contract, stripping Minnesota of five first-round draft picks (eventually reduced to three), leveling a $3.5 million fine on the organization and suspending executive Kevin McHale. Despite the penalties, Minnesota retained their ability to compete for a while. But over the next five seasons, the loss of draft picks crippled the team’s ability to build around Kevin Garnett.
The Timberwolves have not won more than 33 games since 2004-05.
Greivis Vasquez knows all about the importance of a full training camp, which is why he worries about this season’s crop of rookies. Vasquez missed most of camp in his rookie year and was relegated to spot duty much of the regular season. But he shined in the playoffs for the surprising Grizzlies. Grantland's Jonathan Abrams talked to the Venezuela native about the lockout and the wait for a shot at redemption after Memphis’ narrow second-round playoff loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
What have you been up to during the lockout? I just got done playing with my national team. I was back home for a little while after that, but right now, I’m going back home and thinking about playing there if the NBA doesn’t start for a while.
It’s good to have friends — or agents — in high places. That’s what Derrick Williams, the draft’s second overall pick, learned this summer when he received an invite to play alongside Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, and Derrick Rose at an exhibition in the Philippines. Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams recently talked to Williams about how he's handling the NBA lockout, his hopes for a downtrodden Minnesota team, and whether he's prepared for winter weather.
Have you had the chance to make it out to Minnesota yet?
I went right after the draft for like three or four days and worked out with the team, and just got a feel for what a regular workout is like, and the feel of some of the players who I’ll be playing with over there.
How much have you ever dealt with snow? If not, you better get ready.
None at all. I’m an L.A.-area guy where there’s a lot of sunshine, a lot of beaches. Then going to Tucson, Arizona, where it’s 110 degrees in the summer. Now, I’m going to Minnesota where it can be negative at any time or any moment.
Grantland's Jonathan Abrams is staking out Friday's NBA lockout meeting, and he's e-mailing us updates throughout the day. Can someone send Jonathan Abrams a pizza or something? He's probably in for a long day.
From: Abrams Sent: Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 6:05 PM Subject: Adios
It could have been much worse and much better. Worse, in that I was prepared to stay here through the night and watch as my e-mails grew more delirious and frustrated. Better, in that I thought the lockout could be solved today.
Instead of a handshake deal, Hunter said the union had been "snookered" into believing an agreement could be struck today. If I take nothing else away, snookered is now one of my top 5 favorite verbs.
All in all, it was only about eight hours of awkwardly staring at everyone who walked into the hotel and wondering if it was Mark Cuban.
But that is the life of a stakeout reporter: wait, optimism, wait, pessimism, rinse, repeat.
Please tip your reporters, who have delivered you such emotion since the first meeting. They deserve it.
From: Abrams Sent: Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 5:41 PM Subject: E-mail #whatever
These talks ended in the most predictable way. All of the optimism stemmed from just skirting the bigger issue: the actual split. When they got to it, neither side budged and now more games will be lost. Hunter and Derek Fisher already spoke to media, while a kind Mo Evans held up a tape recorder for a boxed-out reporter.
Stern and Adam Silver are warming up. The swarm of media is now by the elevators, blah, blah, blah. Why are you not getting ready for Game 7 anyways?
From: Abrams Sent: Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 5:03 PM Subject: E-mail 11
And the two sides are sadly and officially done for the day. Media has swarmed the lobby with cameras in hands, only to be moved twice by hotel security -- somewhere to where the paying folk can't see or feed the herd.
Some are sad that talks broke during the daylight. Kept hearing an entirely different clientele comes to this venue later in the evening.
From: Abrams Sent: Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 4:47 PM Subject: E-mail 10
The talks appear to be over for the day before 5 p.m., which a) means there is no deal today b) points out the hopelessness of getting too up or down unless there is an actual deal done and c) means that I should have taken the under on when Stern will talk. Reporters are scrambling to cover everything: elevators, exits and hallways. I am still hesitant to give up my prime location. It could be a set up.
From: Abrams Sent: Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 4:22 PM Subject: E-mail 9
There is a $1 pool that most of the reporters throw in on. The aim is to guess what time NBA Commissioner David Stern speaks to the media. The low wager tonight is 9:17 p.m. The latest one is for 2:24 a.m. I placed mine at 10:17 p.m., guessing that there are too many factors that have to fall in place for a deal to happen tonight.
From: Abrams Sent: Fri, Oct 28, 2011 at 4:00 PM Subject: E-mail 8
I made a pact with Brian Mahoney on arrival here. We share a table and vowed to watch over one another’s computers and more importantly, power outlets. Mahoney, the capable basketball writer for the Associated Press, has been gone for an extended period of time. I will now auction off both for a bag of Doritos.
Meanwhile, we're about six hours into the meeting.