The Chris Bosh Disappearing Act

“We can state the obvious: They’re [Bosh and Wade] both struggling,” LeBron James said prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

While the Heat have since gone on to the NBA Finals, so, too, have the struggles of James’ sidekicks.

In Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals against the well-rested San Antonio Spurs, the Heat’s heat flamed out in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 23-16 by a methodical Popovich team that kept plugging away one critical possession at a time, tying their own NBA record for fewest turnovers in a Finals game.

If the Heat don’t raise the red flag and put an end to Bosh’s continued reliance and belief in the three point shot, they will be raising the white flag of surrender as they get steamrolled out of the Finals.

Standing at 6’11”, Chris Bosh has always been a finesse player. But he has also been a head smart, savvy talent, too, that has known when to mix it up. Since joining the Miami Heat, Bosh has taken off the hat of a team’s superstar and settled, taking shot after shot miles from the rim that he would not have dared launching when with the Raptors.

Nevermind Chris Bosh’s decline in points per game. That’s a given when you join up with two other superstars of Wade and LeBron’s caliber, the latter arguably the most dominant player the NBA has seen since Shaquille O’Neal wore purple and gold.

It’s his shot selection.

Let us compare the numbers. In Bosh’s first three seasons with the Raptors (2003-06), he attempted a total of 37 three pointers. Fast forward to 2012-13 with Miami. Chris Bosh launches 74 from downtown with 21 falling through the net (28%, not exactly a high percentage shot from your 6’11” anchor).

The more movement away from the paint, the less opportunity you have to help your team on the boards — and a pretty good reason the Heat are THE worst rebounding team in the NBA this year.

It is as if they take pride in it.

In a December 19 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in which the Miami Heat were outrebounded by a 2-to-1 margin (53 to 24), Erick Spoelstra had this to say.

“Rebounding helps, but there are a lot of other factors for rebounding. If you go through the statistics in the playoffs and ranked them, that isn’t necessarily the biggest key.”

Which is why the Heat were about this close to watching the Hoosier state punch their tickets for this year’s NBA Finals while they took their rods and reels and Nike’s and went fishing down in South Beach.

In just three years, Bosh’s career rebounding average has declined from 10.8 RPG his last year in Toronto to an abysmal 6.8 RPG this year with Miami.

What’s even more alarming is the further declining rebounding rate we have witnessed from Bosh since being pushed around by Roy Hibbert and David West in the Indiana series (4.3 RPG). Then in Game 1 against the lengthy Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Bosh snags a mere five rebounds. While Miami won the battle of the boards (46 to 37) against the Spurs in a 92-88 Game 1 loss, their big (Bosh) was out in no man’s land calling for the rock when he should have been vying for position on the block.

“Look,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following the Game 1 loss, “We’re not going to overreact to those misses. He [Bosh] was open. He hit some big ones already.”

He was open for a reason Spoelstra. It’s because he is 6’11” and shoots 28% from downtown. Better out there than grabbing a putback dunk off a James penetration.

The three-point stripe and European influence have long been whispering to NBA bigs for quite some time to “step on back here and jack one up.”

And Bosh has welcomed it much to the detriment of his team and to his own game.

If the Heat plan to make this a series and win not one, not two, not three but seven rings (and one up Jordan and Pippen — good luck), Bosh better park his behind in the paint and play like Pat Riley will send him back up north across the border if he doesn’t.

And Dwyane Wade? Well, let’s just say a scoreless fourth quarter is its own story.

A Phoenix Sun Soon to Rise

Although the Phoenix Suns management and coaching staff have yet to piece together a championship caliber team that can gut it out past 82 games, there is one area you cannot fault them, and that’s finding the perfect point guard.

In 1996 with the 15th overall selection in the NBA Draft, the Suns picked up a little fellow out of Santa Clara University by the name of Steve Nash. This all while securing Jason Kidd from the Mavericks to command the driver’s seat while Nash waited in study. After losing both Nash and Kidd to the trade block, they signed Nash again in 2004, who went on to win multiple MVPs while carrying the franchise to the top of the Pacific Division from 2004-07.

Out goes Steve Nash in the 2012 offseason to quarterback it in Los Angeles alongside Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard. In comes Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), recipient of the 2012 Bob Cousy Award.

Are you seeing a pattern? I’m seeing a pattern – and it has nothing to do with the bad astigmatism in my left eye.

For those of us lucky enough to live in ACC country, we become privy to the extraordinary in college basketball. And Kendall Marshall is extraordinary, crushing the all-time ACC record in assists in a single season. This all while being a sophomore. Yes, you read that sentence correctly and you are welcome to read it again. As a sophomore.

Here’s the thing about Kendall Marshall: when UNCs starting point, Larry Drew II, abruptly quit in February of 2011 – and I do mean quit (leaving it up to his dad to call Roy Williams to deliver the news) – on his team following a 106-74 victory over Boston College, Marshall’s star immediately went on the rise, relishing his new unshared role as North Carolina’s floor general. The turnover-prone Tar Heels went on a tear, finishing the season at 29-8 with a loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite 8.

Compare this to their previous year when they finished 20-17 and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament, which is about as close to blasphemy (“failed to reach the NCAA Tournament”) as you can get on Tobacco Road.

In the 2011-12 season in which the North Carolina Tar Heels went 32-6 (losing Marshall to a fractured wrist in their win against Creighton), Marshall racked up an astonishing 351 assists to 101 turnovers (3.48 ratio). As Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated points out: Marshall was only thieved of the ball seven times, or 0.4 percent of total possessions played. What’s even more mind boggling is that the Tar Heel point guard was never called for a single traveling or carrying violation. Talk about efficiency and protecting the ball. I can picture Bob Cousy dribbling around in circles in his grave with a smile on his face, proud of his modern day heir.

So here I am, June 28, watching the 2012 NBA Draft live on television. About to scream at my television to be precise. Sure, it is early on but I am viewing team after team pass on Marshall. Then comes the lucky number 13 pick by the Phoenix Suns. Finally, management with a little sense.

You want to know who is a sure thing? Kendall Marshall, barring injury of course.

The NBA is point guard rich these days; or, I should say small guard rich. You have Russell Westbrook and Pistol Pete’s Spanish doppelganger, Ricky Rubio. You’ve got Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Rajon Rondo.

In that list, only Rondo, Paul, and Rubio are true points. Let’s call the other guys what they are: scoring guards. Too small to be a shooting guard and too trigger-happy to be a point.

But Kendall Marshall, he’s a point guard. A true point guard. And he’s the future, sure enough, for not only the Phoenix Suns but the NBA.

Goran Dragic isn’t a slouch. Give the man credit and give the Suns credit for knowing this too, which is why they signed the unrestricted free agent to a four-year/$34 million deal in the offseason. With that said, it’s only a matter of time before Marshall gets his chance and Dragic’s sun sets and a new sun rises. Let’s just hope the Phoenix Suns don’t make the same mistake twice by letting one slip out the door, as they did with Steve Nash in 1998. They were lucky to land Nash again in 2004 after letting him walk the first time. They might not be that lucky with Marshall; but like he showed us on Tobacco Road with Larry Drew II’s departure, a freshman can step up and a sophomore season can make for quite the stellar performance.

Don’t be foolish and overlook this kid. He has an off-the-charts basketball IQ and a knack for the game the NBA only sees once or twice in a decade.

Sometimes the number 13 ain’t such a bad number after all.

Kevin Love: The New Big Fundamental

When Kevin Love declared for the NBA Draft in April 2008, I shook my head. Like Tyler Hansbrough, who was dominating college basketball at the time, I thought of Love as only a college player. He didn’t have what it would take to muster a valid career in the NBA. He would average 10 and 5 for a few years, find himself caught in the middle of a packaged three team deal, then slink to the end of the bench on a non-contender and disappear, never to be seen or heard from again.

Too pudgy. Lacks athleticism and lateral quickness. Plays below the rim. Can’t get up and down the court.

Justified by watching tape of the UCLA Bruins, these were all legitimate knocks on Love’s game.

Sure, he had plenty of strengths to match: great hands, developed post moves and footwork, nice passer, uncanny rebounder, and can step behind the arc and knock down some treys, etc.; but these strengths would be overshadowed and could not compensate for the obvious holes in his game.

Never mind that Love scored in double figures in all 39 games he played as a frosh at UCLA, and that 23 of those games consisted of notching a double-double.

The NBA is fast and Love is slow.

Bust.

But I was wrong. Kevin Love just plays basketball. That’s what he does. He plays the game. He knows the game. Fundamentals may be missing in much of today’s NBA players, but not in Kevin Love; and, while I’m not equating Love with Larry Bird—he’s no Larry Bird by any stretch of the imagination—the supposed weaknesses and what the critics said about the Indiana St. Sycamore in 1978 parallel.

Despite carrying 10 lbs. of concrete in each Converse, Larry Bird still figured out how to get from Point A to Point B in the same amount of time as James Worthy; so, too, has Love honed his craft to not only recompense for his weaknesses, but to mask them almost entirely with his ridiculously high basketball IQ.

“Plays below the rim,” says the critics. With 90% of rebounds snatched below the iron anyway, who needs hops when you have position? Not last year’s rebounding leader with 15.2 per game.

I doubted Love’s ability in much the way Stephen A. Smith doubted Tim Tebow all season long. Although I was watching an elite athlete do his thing before my very eyes, I still couldn’t believe it. Has to be a fluke. Must be a fluke.

Then, on November 12, 2010, Love became the 19th player in NBA history—the first since 1982 (Moses Malone)—to record a “30-30” game, pulling down 31 rebounds to match his 31 points. Then there was that whole double-double streak of 53 consecutive games, the longest streak since the NBA-ABA merger of ’76.

‘Tis no fluke.

Said Kevin Love during an interview with ESPN this January: “I believe I’m the best ’4? in the league. I think you have to believe that you’re the best. I think Mohammad Ali even said, ‘I was the greatest before I knew I was.’ I think everybody needs to have that mindset. That’s part of winning the mind game from the very start. You have to believe it. You have to hold yourself accountable.”

While it’s debatable that Love is the best PF in the Association (I have to go with Nowitzki myself), what we’re seeing is a bonafide freak of nature in the making—a young man with a chip on his shoulder who is just scratching the surface thus far in his career.

Part of being the best is believing you are and Love, as he quotes Ali, already has this. From the very start, before he ever laced up his shoes and stepped foot on an NBA floor, Love had one-upped his critics.

As the malapropic Yogi Berra once said, “[Sport] is 90% mental, the other half physical.”

Therefore, when a story breaks with the headline “Love’s Buzzer Beater Lifts Wolves,” I am no longer surprised. It’s to be expected. I would be more surprised if it said he missed. Now, the real story of Friday’s game wasn’t that Love hit a game-winning three in the final seconds; it’s that Darko Milicic had 22 points and 7 rebounds.

Don’t make me eat another hat Darko. Don’t make me eat another hat.

Series Preview: Lakers – Mavericks

The last time these two teams squared off against one another, four players were ejected.

With the Lakers holding a comfortable 90-73 lead in the fourth quarter, Steve Blake drove to the basket, past the cement-shoed Jason Terry, who, being beat, pushed Blake in the back to the hardwood.

Tempers flared, testosterone levels quickly rose, and a chest-bumping match quickly ensued between Blake and Terry.

As Jack Nicholson looked on through purple lenses, the confrontation escalated. Skinny Artest, also known as Matt Barnes, came to Blake’s aid, charging after Terry like a pissed off Spanish bull, nostrils flaring. Brendan Haywood met Barnes, pointing his finger at him as Barnes walked the sidelines of the Mavericks bench when Mavericks assistant coach, Terry Stotts, attempted to calm Barnes, and was slung to the ground. An oval mouthed Mark Cuban cried all the while in the background behind the Mavericks bench.

Off to the locker room went Blake, Barnes, Terry, and Haywood. That was March 31.

On May 2, the two will meet again in the Western Conference semifinals. But let us not confuse the Mavericks’ late game demeanor on March 31 with toughness. Terry’s cheap shot was out of frustration. Dallas would go on to lose by 28 points, 110-82, shooting just 36.1% from the floor (6-26 from three). It seemed the only area of the game they were efficient in was committing fouls, 27, allowing the Lake Show 39 chances at freebies.

If the March 31 contest can serve as the shape of things to come, let us rub this crystal ball and garner it for all she’s worth.

POINT GUARD
Jason Kidd vs. Derek Fisher

Neither can move the way they did ten years ago but both Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher are savvy veterans who pick their spots and pick them well. With that said, Kidd has the upper hand in that he impacts the outcome of a Mavericks win or loss in a much greater way than does Fish for the Lakers.

Kidd’s improved outside shooting makes him dangerous for a defender to lag off of, but he’s also a very streaky shooter. Fisher, on the other hand, doesn’t shoot often but when he does, it’s never ill-advised – and I think we all know about his clutch performances. Other than Robert Horry and Jerry West, can you name anyone other than Derek Fisher you’d rather have the ball with under three seconds to go and zero timeouts and a full court to sprint down? Your thoughts Jameer Nelson? Manu Ginobli?

Still, the Mavericks don’t win without a big contribution from Kidd. He’ll notch a triple-double or near close to one in at least two games. Fisher serves a different purpose; and although his role is just as vital, it has more to do with his leadership in the locker room and on the court than how many points, assists, and steals he racks up.

ADVANTAGE: Dallas Mavericks

SHOOTING GUARD
DeShawn Stevenson vs. Kobe Bryant

Do I even need to waste my breath?

No.

I will anyway.

I can’t even get DeShawn Stevenson to drop more than three points in practice mode on NBA 2K11 for Playstation 3, so don’t expect for the 6’5” wing to go bananas starting Monday night. Then again, the tattoo of our nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, on Stevenson’s neck explains it all. Ole Abe is worth five and so is Stevenson’s offensive output, unleashing 5.2 ppg. for the 2010-11 season.

But let’s be real: Stevenson isn’t in town for his offense. He gets the defensive assignment, and that assignment is you know who.

Kobe. Well, The Black Mamba’s a different story altogether. In my magic crystal ball, I’m foreseeing at least one vintage Kobe output in this series. Don’t be surprised if #24 goes for 52 or 53 one night. Sure, it’s not 2007 and we’re unlikely to see him drop 62 through three quarters but just as he went soaring through the air for a thunderous jam against Emeka Okafor in Round 1 against the New Orleans Hornets, to think there’s not a little bit of mustard left in his game is to be mistaken.

Badly mistaken.

Sure, Kobe put up some stinkers against the Mavs this year (6-20 FG in 33 min and 8-21 FG in 30 min) but both were in wins: the former a 96-91 win at Dallas and the latter in a 110-82 routing in Los Angeles. That tells you something: that the Lakers are balanced enough for Kobe to stink it up and still get the W.

Let Dirk Nowitzki drop sulfur bombs and the Mavs lose. They don’t have the same balanced attack. Take, for example, their two losses in which The Big German goes for 25 pts (10-19 FG) and 27 pts (10-20 FG). The Mavericks leave with their tail between their legs.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

SMALL FORWARD
Shawn Marion vs. Ron Artest

Marion played reluctant in the first three games of the Portland series, averaging 7.0 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Redeeming himself in the final three games, he averaged 14.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg. For the Mavericks to stand a fighting chance against the Lakers, Marion will need to mirror his last three games against Portland or better. Considering Marion is averaging 18.7 ppg (at nearly 60% shooting) and 6.7 rpg against the Lakers this year, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Where he’ll need to excel, however, is on defense.

Expect Carlisle to place Marion on Bryant at times as well as Odom. His length and athleticism should pose a problem for Bryant, whereas against Odom, the advantage is neutralized.

Say Artest and you instantly think defense (or crazy or The Malice at the Palace). He’ll kiss his guns a couple of times in this series, most likely after manhandling Peja Stojakovic on a key fourth quarter possession. Artest is a pesky defender with quick hands and Stojakovic saves his best choke jobs for the playoffs. The only hope for Peja is if he can literally get Artest to wrap his hands around his neck and choke Peja all the way to a two-game suspension. But I don’t see it happening. That’s in the past for Artest who is fresh off winning the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles, for the sole reason that defense runs the show in the playoffs. Even with the extra miles on his boots, Artest still has enough in his tank to get under the skin of multiple players at multiple positions (PG, SG, SF, PF), including Nowitzki.

POWER FORWARD
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Pau Gasol

Both are routinely criticized for “playing soft.” It’s a European thing. Like listening to the music of David Hasselhoff or still wearing Zubaz zebra-striped workout pants with the elastic ankle ban at the gym.

Seriously, I once saw a film clip of Nowitzki wearing Zubaz pants working out.

The reality is Gasol’s a long string bean, so unless he gains 40 lbs. of muscle, that perception isn’t changing. It has more to do with how he looks than how he plays. The Big German, on the other hand, simply isn’t a true post player – not that he can’t do some damage on the block. Would you believe his basketball idol growing up was none other than Scottie Pippen. ‘Tis true.

And what’s so bad about not being a post player if you’re 7’0” tall and can stroke it from the perimeter with 40% accuracy? Yeah, it kills you on the glass in one regard but it also helps you on the glass in the other regard, pulling the opposing team’s big man out there with you.

Gasol wins the battle in the paint. Nowitzki wins it on the perimeter. And the last time I checked, three points is worth more than two. But the again, I have dyscalculia so what do I know?

ADVANTAGE: Dallas Mavericks — but only by a hair.

CENTER
Tyson Chandler vs. Andrew Bynum

This, my friends, is the key matchup. Since the All-Star break, Bynum has been a stone cold killer. Think Clint Eastwood, only taller. Wearing shorts. Who somewhat resembles Tracy Morgan. Bynum seems to save his best games for Dallas, averaging 16.7 ppg and 11.7 rpg, shooting a ridiculous 70.4% from the field.

Ridiculous.

I love Chandler to death, I really do. I take that back. I love my wife, daughter, and dog. But Chandler, as good as he is on the defensive end, cannot match up with Bynum. Bynum was the Lakers’ MVP in their series against New Orleans and might as well be their MVP in this one. Quit your jawing Colin Cowherd.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

SUPPORTING CAST
As good as Jason Terry is, Lamar Odom is better. He’s big. He’s long. He’s athletic. He can rebound. He can get out and run it as well as any point guard in the league – at 6’10”. Odom is the perfect fit for the Lakers triangle offense off the bench. Coming off the Sixth Man of the Year Award, look for Odom to continue the Lakers run to their third straight championship.

Best of the rest: Shannon Brown, Steve Blake, and Matt Barnes give the Lakers added depth, primarily so from a defensive standpoint. Sure, Dallas has some nice talent coming off their bench as well with JJ Barea and Peja Stojakovic, in addition to Terry, but like I said before, defense runs the show in the playoffs and none of these guys can match the Lake Show in that department.

But hell, who doesn’t like seeing Barea zip around like a little fruit fly out there?

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

COACHING
Rick Carlisle vs. Phil Jackson

Sorry Rick, but The Zen Master only wins in threes and well, you’re sort of in his way. As the Buddha once said, “I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.” And what remains for Jackson to do is win his twelfth championship ring as a head coach.

P.S. If this matchup were Red Auerbach vs. Phil Jackson, I’d still pick The Zen Master. That’s right. I said it.

ADVANTAGE: Los Angeles Lakers

SERIES PREDICTION: Lakers in six: 4-2. Go ahead and call up Jack Nicholson and have him teach Mark Cuban the ropes in his role as the resurrected Randall P. McMurphy for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: The Sequel. The Lakers are going to drive Cuban to the looney-bin.

The Secret To Butler’s Success

Butler’s success doesn’t rest on the shoulders of one man, not Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, or even coach Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs are the quintessential team with their defense leading the way. On each possession, they play hard-nosed, physical defense. They show at the right time and rotate to leave no man unguarded.

It isn’t about controlling the tempo as much as it is, as Brad Stevens says, “prioritizing what is important” and being the aggressor.

Many an NBA analyst will argue there are no surefire NBA studs on this Bulldogs roster; I would disagree.

If a team can honestly believe Sebastian Telfair had what it takes to be selected in the first round, don’t tell me Shelvin Mack isn’t worth putting on the board.

With the right team, Mack’s quarterbacking at the point guard position can, and I believe will, translate at the next level. He has the right size (6’3″) and body build (a solid 215 lbs.), and a composure only matched by UConn’s Kemba Walker during this year’s NCAA tournament.

Mack plays physical, knowing when to bump his man off balance to get his shot (like he did VCU’s undersized Rodriquez). His decision-making is unparalleled. If a “star” can be pointed to on this Butler team, it would be Mack. But unlike most stars, there aren’t stretches within a game where he jacks up two or three bad shots; and in the close games, such as what Butler has played through March and now April, two or three bad shots would have already ended their second straight Cinderella run through the tourney.

That’s where Mack stands out. He doesn’t get rattled. The closer a game comes down to the wire, the looser he plays. Not that there aren’t exceptions: i.e. the poor foul he committed as the seconds waned down against Pittsburgh.

Nevertheless, Mack isn’t a one-man team. Neither is UConn. One man teams don’t make it to the championship – in the case of Butler, two years in a row; for UConn, two of the last three years.

Basketball writers, like anyone putting a pen to paper, want to make the tournament about a star.

Does FedEx employee Chuck Noland get off the island in Cast Away without Wilson? What if Forrest Gump leaves Lt. Dan behind in the jungles of Vietnam? Do we find him as endearing? What if Woody’s jealousy erupts to the point where he pushes Andy’s new space-ranger toy, Buzz Lightyear, out of the window? Okay, bad example. And enough with the Tom Hanks references.

The point is Butler knows The Secret, as Bill Simmons likes to put it. And that secret is sacrifice. With Butler, it really is about the name on the front of the jersey and not the back.

The Butler Bulldogs aren’t about one player and they know it (unlike BYU). They are about the pieces that make the whole. If Matt Howard doesn’t grab the rebound and attempt a desperation full-court shot against Pittsburgh, he doesn’t get fouled. Butler goes home. The end.

If Zach Hahn doesn’t go on an 8-0 scoring spurt against VCU, Butler goes home. The end.

If Ronald Nored doesn’t lock down just about every opposing player he’s matched up against (and we’ll probably see him checking Kemba), Butler probably doesn’t even make the tournament at all.

They know this. Brad Stevens knows this.

Not to say UConn doesn’t.

I just happen to believe this year the shot does fall for Butler and they leave the 2011 NCAA Champions.

What could be better than a true Cinderella, a mid-major school that enrolls just over 5,000 people, putting on her glass slipper and dancing – really, truly dancing?

Butler, to quote Lee Ann Womack, “I hope you dance.”

Catching Up With Earl Monroe

Can you explain the origin of your two legendary nicknames, Earl the Pearl and Black Jesus?

Earl “The Pearl” came from when I was in college my senior year. My first ten games of the season, I was averaging close to 50 points per game. A guy wrote a column and listed the scores of each game and the caption of the column was, “These are Earl’s pearls.” And from that, Earl “The Pearl.”

“Black Jesus” came out of the fact that when I was in Baltimore playing, guys on the team would just call me “Jesus” because I was supposed to be leading them to the Promised Land, and it just kind of carried over from there.

How do you feel about the dynamics of the game today–no handchecking, players not being able to be as emotional as they used to be without getting a technical–as compared to when you played?

The game has changed to make it more exciting and more accessible to fans. When I played, we did have handchecking, which restricted [a player's] movement. They’ve taken that away. A lot of other things they call tighter to allow the offense to roam more and be freer along the perimeter.

What do you feel the Knicks need in order to win the championship, whether it is players or the style of play, to get to the Promised Land?

A presence underneath and a lot more rebounding. If they’d get that and with the role players they have to establish themselves, basically they’d be in a position to start contending. You can’t go [into an opponent's arena], get rebounded every night, and rely on your offense. You need to be able to stop people and rebound the ball.

Given the current Knicks roster, do you see any long-term issues with shot distribution between Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire being that both are pure scorers?

No, I don’t see any real issue. You look at [Landry] Fields for what he was doing the first part of the year; his production will probably go down. But the ball will get into the hands of the guys who can do it, especially when it comes down to end of game situations. It’ll be in Billups’, Stoudemire’s, and Anthony’s hands. Then you have some reliable guys who can shoot the ball from the perimeter. You’ve got Williams who’s a pretty good three-point shooter and Walker has come into his own in getting more playing time.

We forget about #23 (Toney Douglas), who has been out there playing really good basketball lately. He’s been a good asset to this team.

About five years ago, you said that no one in the game reminded you of you. With the increase in guard talent the league has seen recently, has your opinion changed at all?

Not one iota. (Laughs)

When I look out, I see all the stuff I used to do just done in different ways but never all together. In a nutshell, my game was kind of unique. When I came in, no one actually played that way. The things I did, people were like “Oh shucks, he did that!” But now, those things are done everyday, just not the same way… with style and grace. (Laughs)

Would the teams of your era be able to compete with the top-caliber teams in the League today?

As far as the Knicks teams are concerned, I believe we could have been competitive with any team today mainly because we played defense. We had great outside shooters. We didn’t shoot the three-pointer back then but we had great shooters in DeBusschere, Jerry Lucas, Bill Bradley, Clyde, even myself and Henry Bibby. So we would have been very competitive in that way.

The most intangible part was that we were a thinking group. Everybody was a veteran and understood the game. We could think the game through. Of all the young guys coming into the game today, I think that’s one of the glaring pieces missing – understanding the game of basketball.

Your thoughts on super teams: Dwyane, LeBron, Chris Bosh. Now Amar’e and Carmelo?

For the cities those guys are playing in, I think it’s a good thing. (Laughs)

Everything comes in phases. You can’t get everyone on a team. Pretty soon things will start to spread back out. At one time, everybody wanted to come to New York. Once you got ESPN and all the media coverage, guys realized it wasn’t that important to be in New York. Fans would still grow to know who you are.

It’s all about phases and I don’t think this is something that’s going to continue because if you’re only going to have five teams with all the players then you’re not going to have a league.

If you had your selection to pick up any of the free agents at the end of this year or the 2012 season to place on the Knicks roster, who would you pick and why do you think they’d fit?

First guy that comes to my mind is Dwight Howard.

Yeah, that’s a good one.

(Laughs) If you pick up Dwight Howard with who the Knicks have now, I think you’re well on your way.

Do you think a Knicks team that gives up 109 points per game and plays virtually no defense has any chance of winning an NBA championship right now?

No. No chance. That’s one of the things I alluded to earlier. You have to have some kind of inside presence. Rebounding and interior defense is what is going to propel the team to win the championship.

With big guys now stepping out of the paint and onto the perimeter ala a European style, how do you feel about the diminished role of the big man in today’s NBA and teams without a post player anchoring the block?

Basically, the game got quicker.

Guys are getting up and down the floor a lot more. The addition of the three-point shot has opened up the game. Reality is you really don’t have a lot of back-to-the-basket centers anymore. Now at the same time, if you’ve got agile players, long players, and whatnot, you can get away from it.

If you look back to the 90’s when Chicago was doing it, they had Bill Cartwright but he wasn’t a dominant center, so they got away with it. They had Grant and Pippen who played good defense and got the ball out and got running… and they had that other guy. What’s his name? Oh, Michael Jordan. (Laughs)

On this [Knicks] team, if you just had a good center who could rebound and block shots, that’s all he’d need to do because you’ve already got enough firepower to move ahead. When you start going to Europe and getting guys out of there, they weren’t back-to-the-basket players. They were out there [on the perimeter] shooting three-pointers. And if you go all the way back you’ll see that most of your big guys always did want to shoot three pointers and come out from in the lane. This is just a natural progression. Pretty soon, you’ll have teams with just starting forwards. They’re not even going to be talking about centers anymore.

Catching Up With Bobby Hurley

Jeffrey Pillow of HOOPSADDICT.com talks to former Duke Blue Devils great Bobby Hurley, spokesman for the Dove Men’s Care campaign “Journey to Comfort.” Hurley was a member of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s back-to-back NCAA Championship teams in 1991 and 1992, earning MVP honors for the latter campaign. He is the NCAA’s all-time leader in assists (1076) and appeared in the Final Four on three separate occasions.

Topics discussed include the role of his father, Bob Hurley, Sr. in shaping his mental and physical toughness on and off the court; avenging the 1990 defeat by the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels led by National Player of the Year Larry Johnson; playing under Coach K; which teams Hurley believes have a serious shot at cutting down the nets on April 4; his advice to young point guards across the land; and a few words of wisdom for soon-to-be dads.

Earl “The Pearl” Monroe Talks About The People’s Games

I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with the legendary Earl “The Pearl” Monroe on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

Named one of The 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, Monroe was selected by the Baltimore Bullets with the 2nd overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft from Winston-Salem St., where he averaged 41.7 points per game his senior year under legendary head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines.

In 1990, Monroe was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Topics discussed on our call include Monroe’s recent venture into The People’s Games, an athletic competition pitting one city against the other, the first two contenders being New York City and Los Angeles; the current state of the NBA; the New York Knicks and their chances at returning a title back to the Big Apple; and even the origins of Monroe’s two most famous nicknames: “The Pearl” and “Black Jesus;” et al.

Monroe will coach the New York squad and be joined on the pine by his daughter, Maya, a former member of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2001-04) as they face off against former All-American standout at UCLA and NCAA champion under John Wooden, Lucius Allen.

Tryouts will begin Sunday, March 13, 2011, for residents of New York City. Find your location here.

On how he got involved: Actually, Lucius Allen had been talking about this to me and he put the people who started the Games in touch with me. The Games are a new venture and the founder, a guy by the name of Armyan Bernstein (Air Force One, Children of Men), who is a respected film industry executive, and Terry Jastrow (winner of seven Emmy awards), who is the Commissioner, who was at ABC Sports, they conceptualized the Games and got in touch with me, and we had a meeting and I just thought it was something that would be very exciting for everybody involved.

We’re going to be giving back to the Parks departments and we’re going to be doing a lot of things that are going to open up a lot of eyes. This is actually just the beginning. This is basically the introduction of The Games. They are also going to be branching off to do soccer, baseball, football, things of that nature. But basketball is a much more contained sport and it’s one that we’re going after first.

On how The People’s Games compare on an amateur level to playing professionally: I think it’s going to be as competitive. First of all, you’ve got two guys (me and Lucius) that are coaching the teams that are going to be competitive and that were competitive with each other when we played. And add to that, it’s all about bragging rights. We’ve got to be able to beat LA and what they call “out in LaLa Land.” We’re just more hardcore, and I think that’s going to be our biggest advantage – the fact that we’re used to playing under certain circumstances and whatnot, and conditions, and when we put it out on the floor, we’ll just kind of run, and we’ll think about those times in the early 70’s, but these guys are going to take it and make a name of it in early 2011.

On sponsors and keeping the game pure: The only [community organization involved] is the Parks Department. This is completely funded and conceptualized by Armyan Bernstein and Terry Jastrow. This is something they wanted to keep as pure as possible and make sure they weren’t going to be influenced by sponsors or anything of that nature; so consequently, this is being done this way so that we can go back to the time when we were just playing for the love of game and for the thrill of victory (laughs).

For more information on The People’s Games and to find out how you can register, visit www.peoplesgames.com. Stay tuned for the rest of my conversation with Earl “The Pearl” in coming segments.

Williams Won’t Be A Net For Long

Whether the media reports that Deron Williams played a key role in Jerry Sloan filing his retirement papers midway through the season have any factual basis or not, it was time Williams moved on from Salt Lake. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say, the career of the NBA’s longest tenured coach at 23 years, a man as synonymous with the phrase “pick and roll” as peanut butter is to jelly.

For Williams to stay, particularly had Williams signed an extension at year’s end, it would have meant a career mired with the constant whispers and accusations correlating him with Sloan’s abrupt departure. Neither Sloan nor Williams deserve their names to be dragged through the mud of the rumor mill.

A clean break was needed; and while I find it hard to believe a single player could have forced the hand of the stern Sloan to balk or walk, in turn walking, the ultimate decision rested with Sloan alone. It appears from those looking from the outside in that Sloan’s frustration may have had more to do with management trading away key pieces (Boozer, Matthews, Korver) in the 2010 offseason and not picking up others to place Utah in better contention with the familiar Western powers of the Lakers, Spurs, and emerging Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now Williams is with an abysmal New Jersey Nets team at the bottom of the East. In “Developing a Dynamic Duo Takes Time,” Yannis Koutroupis of HOOPSWORLD writes how “the New Jersey Nets hit a homerun at the deadline by acquiring All-Star point guard Deron Williams.”

But did they?

While predicting a player’s future is no more than a guessing game at best, I have strong doubts Williams will stay with New Jersey past the end of the 2011-12 NBA season. Williams is a competitor. His will to succeed seems far too great to be the face of a franchise, along with the talented 7’0″ Brook Lopez, at the very start of a rebuilding process.

Because let’s face it, that is exactly what it is.

Will Mikhail Prokhorov find a way to lure other big name talents to town? What other players even seem poised to land in New Jersey in the near future who won’t be gobbled up by the likes of Miami, Boston, Chicago, and now New York with the Carmelo trade. David West? Greg Oden? Tim Duncan? Tony Parker? Nick Young? Joakim Noah? Glen Davis? Tayshaun Prince? Jamal Crawford? Who?

In all likelihood, the Deron Williams run in New Jersey will end before any homeruns are hit, maybe even before a single can be had. With the sun setting on the careers of Derek Fisher (Los Angeles Lakers) and Jason Kidd (Dallas Mavericks) in the West, you’ll see with these two franchises GMs looking to surround their already existing talent with an essential piece to the puzzle; and that key piece to continuing success is none other than Deron Williams.

Williams, as Charles Barkley noted, is “the best point guard in the NBA. Period.”

He has the size, strength, and athletic ability to score on one end and defend on the other. Not Chris Paul or Steve Nash, who often overshadow Williams, offers that package.

Don’t hold your breath on Williams signing an extension Nets fans. He’s only a Net for now. Enjoy it while you can.

Anthony’s Only Destination Is Mediocrity

Whereas LeBron James’ ESPN televised decision was one of the most pompous displays of egomaniacal self-importance in the history of sports, the viewer could still walk away with at least an alternate conclusion as to why James did what he did: the man wants to win an NBA title.

Carmelo Anthony, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about.

In “Carmelo Anthony: Why He’ll Never Win a Title No Matter Where He Goes,” Elliott Pohnl of Bleacher Report delves out 10 reasons why the 14-karat ring will always elude #15. What Pohnl fails to expand on, however, are Anthony’s two most likely destinations, New York or New Jersey, neither of which has the personnel to place Anthony and his respective team at the upper-echelon of the NBA’s elite come playoff time.

Although Amar’e Stoudemire is an offensive juggernaut, he has never lived up to his athletic ability on the defensive end, particularly on the glass, averaging just 8.6 rpg for his career, and never once reaching the 10 rpg threshold in a single season for a player his size.

But it isn’t so much Stoudemire as it is the coach in place for New York. Mike D’Antoni has forever been lambasted for his lack of strategy on the defensive end. The comparisons between Denver and New York offensively and defensively are eerily similar with Denver averaging 107.58 HME per game and their opponents 105.16, while New York puts up 106.24 points per contest and their opponents 105.80. Not even the dismal Cleveland Cavaliers allow their opponents to drop as many points on them as New York. Topping out the list are the Minnesota Timberwolves at 107.95 — not exactly great company to be sitting beside if you’re wearing the Knickerbocker orange and blue.

While the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets aren’t lying on the bottom rung of the NBA’s gutter this year, a record of 17-40 (already five games better than all of 2009-10), isn’t exactly giving their fans playoff fever. About the only thing worth watching at the Prudential Center in Newark is the dance squad.

Let me repeat: about the only thing worth watching at the Prudential Center in Newark is the dance squad. Seriously, have you seen these girls scantily wrapped in what appears to be black electric tape? At least there is a logical reason some fans do still buy tickets and attend games.

Other than Brook Lopez and Devon Harris, (most likely the trade will send Derrick Favors packing), how is a move to the Nets any upgrade over where Carmelo stands right now; or, any closer to where he would hope to be in the next three years? Damion Jones, Stephen Graham, Johan Petro, and Ben Uzoh probably won’t be delivering Mikhail Prokhorov a title as a supporting cast, no matter how many yachts he could ever promise them. These four are more likely to be delivering pizzas for Grimaldi’s of Hoboken in the coming years than New Jersey/Brooklyn a Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Just saying.

Yet these are the two most likely destinations for the former Syracuse star. At least LeBron had the courage to inflame an entire city and declare that he wanted to put himself in position to win and for multiple years. “The major decision,” James said during his conversation with Jim Gray on July 8, 2010, “was the ability to win now and win in the future.”

While I don’t blame Denver for trying to get their money’s worth in a trade, it appears Carmelo is simply content in going to a mediocre or average team at best. If it all pans out like the reports say, he’ll get just that.