Author Archives: Rob Peterson

Stinkface Chronicles: Griffin and the Greats

"Where'd you learn to dunk? Finishing school?" via imaginaryyear.com

With the exception of Kobe Bryant’s three-game 40-point run — his middle finger to Father Time — Ricky Rubio going all “Pistolero” on the NBA and The Jeremy Lin Experience (Have you ever really been experienced?), this truncated NBA season hasn’t provided a the range of exquisite flavors an 82-game season does.

As opposed to the grind of a full season (which I don’t mind because it allows players, teams and story lines to develop), this lockout-truncated season has been more meat grinder. It has been more about what’s missing. First, it was the league itself. Now, it’s the players’ health. By the end, it may be their sanity because squeezing 66 games into just under 130 days is plain crazy.

That’s not to say there haven’t been sublime NBA moments this season. Considering these are The Stinkface Chronicles, you’ll note that I take note of those that have been above the rim. Here are the five I’ve enjoyed most so far.

DeAndre Jordan on Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, Dec. 19, 2011

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gDMERiw9Vs

This one happened during the preseason in December, which just goes to show you how weird this season has been. But this flush on the Lakers’ formidable frontline not only provided a glimpse into the denizens of Lob City (ironic, though it was a bounce pass off a pick-and-roll) but also harkened back to another preseason perpetration of Staples-on-Staples crime and the first entry in The Stinkface Chronicles. The Clippers’ bench — and Lakers haters — took great glee in this one, though Lakers’ fans could counter that the Clips should have been whistled for a technical foul for having 12 men on the court after Jordan’s flush.

4. Vince Carter on Emeka Okafor, Jan. 7, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efxVcT7GpDk

It’s vintage Vince, the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history and it’s beautiful. Also, that’s the fastest Brendan Haywood has moved in quite some time, even with Delonte West riding shotgun.

3. Dwyane Wade on Landry Fields, Jan. 27, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEsQm3cxw2A

Wade shows Fields the ball, loops it around Fields’ noggin and then slams said ball on said noggin’. Euro-steppin’.

2. LeBron James on/over John Lucas III, Jan. 29, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvjjEtjwKHE

Here’s a little bit of trivia for you: who was the announcer when Vince Carter unleashed “Le Dunk du Morte“? On the US broadcast, it was Mike Breen, who had a similar reaction to Bron’s dunk as Doug Collins’ did to Vince’s. Breen chuckles a little like Santa Claus — “Hohohoho” — as he should because these two dunks were the best gifts any dunk connoisseur could receive. (An aside, when I saw LeBron’s slam, all I could think of was Collins’ “he jumped over his heeeeaaad” commentary.)

1. Blake Griffin on Kendrick Perkins, Jan. 30, 2012

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3w_Vy0lDk_A

I rate this slightly ahead of LeBron’s dunk because Lucas didn’t see it coming while Perkins knew full well what he was getting into. Perkins’ act of engagement (and aiding his rise by graciously providing his chest as a step stool) helped make this the dunk* of the season … thus far. So, we thank you, Kendrick.

As for Griffin’s full-fledged assault on Perkins’ puss, we can’t call it the greatest dunk of all-time. That belongs to Vince in 2000. I’ll also argue it doesn’t belong in the Top 10* on two points: One, it had a precedent, specifically Griffin’s throwdown on Timofey Mozgov in the 2010-11 season; and, two: neither were technically dunks as Griffin threw both into the rim instead of grabbing the rim. While I won’t be too much of a Grinch to give the plays their due, I can’t put either into the greatest of all time because of it. What follows is a list of my favorite all-time dunks in an NBA game. Make it yours, because, really, you can’t go wrong when you reference them.

FAVORITE IN-GAME DUNKS OF ALL-TIME (PRE-2011-12 EDITION)

Amar’e Stoudemire on Michael Olowokandi

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1mbLdZlQC1U&feature=fvst

This dunk is the genesis of The Stinkface Chronicles. We thank thee, Amar’e and you as well, Starbury. Your expression speaks volumes. (For more Amar’e, check out a similar destruction of Anthony Tolliver.)

Dwyane Wade on Kendrick Perkins

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cYau7gba5Y

Now, this is a dunk on Kendrick Perkins.

John Starks on Michael Jordan*

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCTfxOrX4k8

OK, it technically wasn’t on Jordan, but he was in the picture and I just wanted to remind everyone about that.

Dominique Wilkins on Larry Bird

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ngtWdgOz0o

Bird looks like he was shot out of the sky.

Baron Davis on Andrei Kirilenko

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYpwjB0IzoU

Isn’t it amazing what Baron Davis can do when he’s in shape and interested?

Tom Chambers on Mark Jackson

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7T_Wg5ilo8

This dunk has the Chris Webber seal of approval.

Shawn Kemp on the Knicks

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVm6USjXAzk

While most people will give Kemp props for his destruction of Alton Lister, I prefer this one because of the degree of difficulty. A double-pump reverse on two defenders? Get the hell outta here /NewYorkvoice. (It’s No. 3 in this compilation which includes classics such as Chris Gatling giving the Reignman his props and Kemp putting a knee into Bill Laimbeer’s onions.)

Julius Erving on Michael Cooper

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCT9QyqhkBU

From the cradle to the crowd rising, like the crest of a wave, as Dr. J skims across the Spectrum floor to Chick Hearn’s call of the cradle (“Way … he rocks the baby to sleep…”) to Michael Cooper going into the fetal position to Beard Dude, everything about this is cool.

Vince Carter on Alonzo Mourning

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcU66xdeGck

Carter, the greatest in-game dunker in NBA history, (I need to trademark that), has more than his share of show-stoppers, but Carter goes chest-to-chest with Zo, one of the more feared shotblockers in NBA history, and destroys him. I had this saved on my DVR for more than two years. I wish I still had it.

Michael Jordan on Patrick Ewing

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R015PScpTM

Oh, no, Jordan’s trapped in the corner by two Knicks. Wait, no he isn’t. But, oh no, there’s no way he’s going to the make it to the hoop. Ewing is there to block it … Never mind. A seven-foot obstacle is no impediment. After Jordan stares down Ewing, you can hear Cliff Livingston go, “Wooohoohoo!” as he mock sprints from the scene of the crime. Or, later in the highlight, Walt “Clyde” Frazier noted that Jordan was gyratin’ and vibratin’ and manages to get a Diet Pepsi commercial all in one comment.

This one play may encapsulate Michael Jordan’s gifts better than any play in his career: the improvisation, the athleticism, the competitiveness. Of all the great dunks in Jordan’s career, this one rises above the rest.

SHOT FICTION: Dwight Howard Plays Charades

We’re a little worried about this lockout. We want basketball. But in case we don’t get basketball, we’re going to give ourselves a season.

The following is a work of fiction and no one was harmed in the writing of this story. These works will be based on how we think the 2011-12 season would play out if the lockout ended and the NBA is able to play all 82 games. Did you get a chance to read the first installment: Ray Allen’s Last Shot? As with that piece of fiction, we hope the lockout will be over soon and this piece of fiction will be the last.

LOS ANGELES Dec. 11 – It was a typical late-autumn Sunday morning in the Westwood area of Los Angeles. To visitors, the air was crisp and cool. To Los Angelenos, it was cold. The early morning mist from the Pacific still hung in the air, but the late-morning sun had started to burn through. It looked as if it were going to be a day worth enjoying. Many would go for a jog or enjoy brunch al fresco with friends. The most sensible people would sit back and let the day unfold, unplanned, before them. The people gathered here at Pauley Pavilion on UCLA’s campus were not sensible people.

We are sportswriters.

We were at Pauley for the Orlando Magic shootaround, which had been moved there because the NBA was staging one of those Clippers-Lakers day-night Sunday doubleheaders at STAPLES Center that try to make people in Los Angeles forget they don’t have an NFL team. The people who care about that sort of thing, that is.

Reporters from Orlando, Los Angeles and a couple of national scribes milled around, chatting and waiting for the Magic to finish going over defensive assignments to cover the Lakers’ new, non-triangle offense. The writers talked with the faint sound of bouncing basketballs, squeaking sneakers and the tornado-siren-like voice of Stan Van Gundy in the background. The audible activity on the court was muffled by a curtain which kept the observers separate from the performers.

Many of the writers hadn’t seen each other in a while. The complimented each other on each others’ recent articles, asked about each others’ families back home, mentioned Marriott points and reviewed Los Angeles restaurants. Having been in Utah and Phoenix, one Orlando writer said he was glad to be in L.A. so he could have his first decent meal of the trip.

“Where’d you go?” one writer asked.

“In-N-Out,” the Magic reporter said with a smile and both men nodded their heads.

Of course, this revelation initiated a discussion about the merits of In-N-Out vs. Five Guys, which had just opened its first franchise in Central Florida earlier this year. The conversation had just started to get good when a Magic PR flack poked his head around the curtain and motioned the media toward the court.

“To be continued …” one national writer said over his shoulder as the media marched in.

On first glance, what they saw was typical post-shootaround disorganization. A few players worked on free throws. End-of-the-bench big men worked on post moves with assistant coaches. Trainers wrapped knees in ice. The most curious sight, though, was Magic center Dwight Howard, sitting courtside with a towel wrapped around his neck and tucked into his long-sleeved shooting shirt. He was pointing at his throat, mouthing the word “No” and shaking his head whe Magic PR asked him a question.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, the coaching lifer, stood on the sideline at midcourt, with a bottle of water, half-gone, in his right hand. Van Gundy, whose salt-and-pepper mustache makes him look far more comic and far less glum than his brother, ESPN NBA analyst Jeff, prepared himself for the media crush. He folded his arms across his chest as if he were a disapproving father waiting at the door to greet the boy coming over to take out daddy’s little girl.

Van Gundy played the part perfectly. He harrumphed and scolded his way through his press conference as only he could. SVG knew why everyone in L.A. was rubbernecking his team. It wasn’t the Magic’s 9-10 record. This was the L.A. media’s first chance to ask about Howard, who has a player option at the end of the season. All signs point to Howard opting out of his deal and seeking employment elsewhere. One of those elsewheres could be with the Lakers, the Magic’s opponent that evening. Would the Magic trade Dwight, as the Nuggets did Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks the year before, to the Lakers in order to get something, anything in return for the three-time defending Defensive Player of the Year? It was only December and nearly every article about the Magic wondered whether Howard wasn’t long for Central Florida.

“Look, we haven’t had discussions about trading Dwight,” Van Gundy said, and reiterated many times during the 10-minute session. “We don’t want to trade Dwight. I know everyone would love to have Dwight on their team. But he plays for the Orlando Magic and as long as I’m coach of the Magic, I want Dwight Howard on our side.

“You can’t replace what he does for us. You just can’t. Why do you think everyone wants him on their team? He’s a unique talent in this league.”

Van Gundy wiped a bead of sweat with the back of his sleeve.

“You guys are the ones speculating in every article,” Van Gundy said as he looked down and shook his head. He shifted his weight from his right foot to his left and then back again as if he were playing defense. “‘Where’s he gonna go?’ ‘Who will we get in return.'”

One Los Angeles writer asked Van Gundy if he and Howard had conversations about Howard wanting out of Orlando.

“We … we don’t talk about that kind of stuff,” Van Gundy said. “I know a lot of you L.A. guys would like Dwight to play for the Lakers. He’s great to coach and fun to cover and he’s good for a good sound bite and a laugh, but he’s with us and will be with us hopefully for a long time.

“I know you have jobs to do and that’s the nature of the business these days is the business of basketball. You guys can have fun with that. You can play your games on TV and in the papers and on the blogs, Twitter or whatever.”

Van Gundy paused, then delivered the blow.

“Hell, you have to have something to write about or else you’d actually have to write about basketball.”

That comment stopped everything cold. The Magic beat writers were accustomed to such barbs about their knowledge of the game itself. They shook it off. But a couple of L.A. writers looked stunned as if Van Gundy reached out and smacked them across the face. One even ran his tongue gingerly over his lip as if he was searching for blood.

It was then a Magic media relations person stepped in. He had some news, bad news for the media. He said Howard wouldn’t speak at shootaround or before the game. Howard had, the PR guy offered, laryngitis.

The media looked at Van Gundy as if he needed to give an explanation. Layrngitis? Van Gundy looked back and shrugged his shoulders.

“All right,” Van Gundy sighed. “Anything else, guys?”

No one had anything else for Van Gundy, but Howard hadn’t moved from his spot on the sideline across the court. To his right, sat Magic point guard and friend, Jameer Nelson. On Howard’s left, another member of the Magic PR department. One brave media member started to make his way across the court. The rest of us followed and Nelson, Howard and the PR flack all looked at the mass moving toward them. The media manager’s eyes narrowed as if he were in a showdown on a dusty Western outpost and he was already at 10 paces. He started to rise off his seat, but Howard reached over and gently patted his arm. Howard nodded and Nelson covered his mouth to stifle a laugh.

“Uh, Dwight …” said the pioneer who started the media migration toward the Magic center.

Howard smiled, pointed to the towel around his neck and threw his hands, palms up, in a silent apology. The media guy glared.

We stood silently, uncomfortably in front of them. Then, Howard held up a finger and asked us for a moment. He leaned over and whispered something to Nelson, who shook his head yes.

“If you want to ask questions,” Nelson offered, “Dwight will answer, and I’ll translate.”

So this was a game. One Orlando writer rolled his eyes. One L.A. writer grunted. Were we game? Seems as if one of us was.

“Will you play tonight?”

Howard nodded his head. “Yes,” Nelson cheerfully responded.

“Are you disappointed with how the season has started for you guys?” was the question.

Howard pouted. Nelson said, “He’s sad.”

“Does it make you want to leave Orlando?”

Howard put two hands over his heart and swooned.

“He loves Orlando,” Nelson said. “Plus, he’d hate leaving me. We were rookies together.”

“How are you and Stan getting along?”

Howard gave two thumbs up and smiled. “Great!” Nelson chirped.

“Have you asked for a trade?”

Howard tilted his head and furrowed his brow.

“C’mon, man,” Nelson said in a tone that implied that not only was Howard not going to dignify the answer with a response, but that it was a stupid question.

Howard then held up two fingers. Nelson said, “Two words.” Howard tugged at Nelson’s sleeve and glared, but smiled while he did it.

“Sorry,” Nelson said. “Two questions.”

“If the Magic continues to slide this season, will you ask for a trade?”

Howard scowled and shook his head. He flexed his biceps and then held out his hand like a traffic cop.

“We’re not going to keep losing,” Nelson said as Howard’s proxy. “We’re going to get it together. I’m going to stay strong and stop this nonsense.”

Howard held up one finger and then made the cut sign. It’s lucky that he did. The last questioner seemed emboldened by the finality of the media session. The last question was a doozy.

“Are you worried that if you come to the Lakers, you’ll be compared to Shaquille O’Neal, that you’ll be following in his footsteps and that you could be seen as being in his shadow if you don’t win a title here? Shaq has been highly critical of you in the past.”

Howard’s jaw dropped and his smile faded. Nelson started to speak, but Howard clamped his hand around Nelson’s wrist. He turned and put up both hands as if to say, “I got this.” Howard cleared his throat and spoke his only words of the interview.

“I’m not answering the L.A. question,” Howard mumbled, “but I love Shaq.”

Moments after the Magic suffered a 110-104 loss to the Lakers — Howard had 21 points, 14 boards and five blocked shots — to drop their record to 9-11, the whole Howard pre-game interview (he did not speak postgame) ran on NBA TV. Shaq, who was making a rare Sunday night appearance in the studio, was asked to comment.

“He doesn’t even mumble as good as me,” Shaq mumbled.

SHOT FICTION: Ray Allen’s Last Shot?

We’re a little worried about this lockout. We want basketball. But in case we don’t get basketball, we’re going to give ourselves a season.

The following is a work of fiction and no one was harmed in the writing of this story. These works will be based on how we think the 2011-12 season would play out if the lockout ended and the NBA is able to play all 82 games. Every other week, we will have a fictional work until the lockout is over. This is the first. The heart believes it will be a singular work and the NBA will be back in business soon. The head, sadly, realizes that it may not be the case.

BOSTON, June 1, 2012 — Ray Allen sat at his locker with a thin towel draped over his shoulders and another wrapped tight around his still-slim waist, a waist that hasn’t gained an inch over Allen’s professional career. His feet were in Jordan brand sandals, his toes separated by pieces of foam cut to fit. Allen said he learned the trick early in his career from a vet on his first team, the Milwaukee Bucks. The foam prevented the toes from sliding and smashing into the toecap and helped minimize bruising and torn toenails. Combine that with regular pedicures the he received to prevent ingrown toenails and Allen’s feet — the base from which he made an all-time NBA record of 2,703 three-pointers — looked as if they could carry him for another 16 seasons.

The scoresheet from the Celtics’ epic 99-98 Game 7 overtime loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals lay between Allen’s pristine feet. The rest of him looked spent. He had just played 51 of the game’s 53 minutes. If he saw his line, it read like this:

M: 51; FG: 13; FGA 19; 3P: 7; 3PA: 11 FT: 6; FTA: 6 REB: 3; AST: 3; BLK: 0; STL: 1; TO: 3; PTS: 39

The 39 points were the most he scored all season, regular or post. The 51 minutes were easily the most. Allen, a free agent, had no reason to hang his head in what had been his best game of this unusual season.

Yet there it hung and his shoulders sagged. Allen’s elbows rested on his knees and his fingers dangled like branches from a weeping willow. The Celtics locker room was quiet and reporters, who had just been informed that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would be the only Celtics to go to the podium, milled about waiting for that precious eye contact from a player, a signal that he was ready to open up or spout cliches.

Most of the reporters had turned away from Allen. They knew that he never spoke to them just after the locker room opened. In fact, it was rare to see Allen there at that time at all. By the time reporters entered after the cooling off period, Allen was gone to treatment, then the showers. If the local scribes did catch a glimpse of him, it was fleeting, like an apparition. When Allen did emerge from the players’ sanctuary, he strode to his locker in a bespoke suit, put a couple things down, usually the book he was reading and a DVD of the Celtics’ next opponent, and then turned around to face the media.

But in the silence that suffocates a space after a devastating defeat, there was what sounded like a sharp sob coming from the direction of Allen’s locker. Then another. Any murmuring between reporters ceased and their heads turned in Allen’s direction. Allen’s shoulders heaved once, then again. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand and made a small circular motion. There was another sharp sound. The seasoned Boston scribes stood in stunned silence. None of them had ever seen this.

If Allen were upset, it would be understandable. It was the worst season of his 16 year, soon-to-be Hall of Fame career. He missed 41 games after the Pacers’ Danny Granger tripped trailing Allen on a screen and rolled into Allen’s right knee in a game on Jan. 6. Allen feverishly worked his way back from arthroscopic surgery. He was ready to return at the end of February, but suffered a setback as doctors had to go back in for a second surgery.

When Allen finally returned against Utah in late March, he came off the bench for the first time in his career. He couldn’t get his timing and his sturdy legs, which propelled him around picks and provided the springboard for the smoothest jumper in NBA history, were now shaky. So was Allen’s confidence.

“I’m working hard to get my rhythm back,” Allen told the Boston Globe in April. “My knee isn’t responding as I hoped it would. Your legs are so important to your shot.”

Throughout his career, Allen’s work ethic had been well chronicled, almost fetishized by the media. They noted how he arrived at the arena at the same time, ate at the same time and went through his pregame routine at the same time every game day. As a military brat, Allen knew routine as discipline and discipline as order. If there was order in his life, Allen knew success, built on a solid foundation of meticulous work, would follow. It did. He won a Big East tournament title at UConn, won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2000 Sydney games, made 10 All-Star appearances for three different franchises and played Jesus in a Spike Lee movie.

Then there was the crowning achievement in his career, the NBA title he helped the Celtics win in 2008. He had come close to the Finals with the Bucks in 2001 and nowhere near them with the Sonics. An alpha dog in Seattle, Allen subjugated his game to blend in with Pierce and Garnett. The result: the C’s 17th NBA title.

But as Allen struggled in his comeback, Yahoo! reported a Celtics source as saying they weren’t going to re-sign Allen, who wanted a two-year extension with the same player option he had when he re-signed for two seasons in 2010. The source noted Allen would be nearly 39 when the extension ended and that it would be in the C’s best interest to seek a younger option at two guard. Combined with the physical ailments, Allen’s world, which he had so diligently worked to put in order, was now out of whack. For the first time in his career, Allen was coming off the bench, a move Celtics coach Doc Rivers said was necessary to limit the guard’s minutes. Allen averaged 12.6 points per game and shot .332 from three-point range, both career lows for a shooter, who, if his jumper could sing, it would sound like Marvin Gaye.

Allen and that melodious jumper re-emerged in the postseason. He averaged 19.4 points in the first round against the franchise for whom he first played, the Bucks. Against Orlando in the second round, he shot a scintillating .435 from three-point range. In the East finals, Allen averaged 24.3 for the first six games running Dwyane Wade, who missed 26 games this year with shoulder problems, through a series of screens designed to bang Wade around.

Then came Game 7 and that overtime and those 39 points, the final three of which gave the C’s an 98-96 lead with 3.4 seconds left in OT. Allen was back. The Celtics were on the precipice of their third Finals appearance in five seasons before Mario Chalmers, the Heat’s fourth option, found himself open for a short-corner three right in front of the C’s bench. Swish.

And now, Allen sat at his locker after what was more than likely his last game as a Boston Celtic and he was … crying? Allen let go of his nose, stood and reached for something in his locker, his back to the reporters. When he turned to head to the showers, Allen instantly noted the sympathetic looks on the reporters’ faces and frowned.

“Hiccups,” Allen said in his flat baritone, his eyes dry and jaw set. “Pinch your nose, hold your breath, close your eyes tight and count to 20. Works every time.”

Now, some reporters looked incredulous.

“You all thought I was crying?” Allen said, neither his expression nor his tone changing. “You know me better than that.”

They did. They knew he’d be back in about 15 minutes, freshly showered, freshly dressed, prepared to answer questions for however long it took to ask them. The reporters would pepper him about the game (“Hell of a game. I thought we had it, we just got caught looking at LeBron and Wade.”), quiz him about his knee (“It’s a little sore, but I’m 37. Everything is sore.”) and query him about his future (“I’d love to be here. Celtics green is the best green I’ve worn in my career. It’s where I won a title. It’s important.”)

With that, Allen paused and pinched his fingers to his nose again. A reporter tried levity.

“Hiccups?”

Allen smirked.

“You could say that,” Allen said. “This whole season has been one.”

He looked over the reporters as if to say, “anything else.” One reporter stepped forward to say good luck and thanks. Allen and the man exchanged pleasantries. Allen then grabbed his book — “Collapse” by Jared Diamond — and his coat. He started to walk out of the locker room with the confidence some mistook for arrogance.

“Yep,” Allen said to no one in particular, “a hiccup. Can’t go out like that.”

With that, Ray Allen, turned, smiled and was gone.

The Fix Isn’t In

As a former journalist, David Kahn knows a good story line when he sees one. But as a current NBA general manager, he should know better.

Moments after the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were represented by owner Dan Gilbert’s son, Nick, won the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery, the Associated Press quoted Kahn:

“This league has a habit, and I am just going to say habit, of producing some pretty incredible story lines. Last year it was Abe Pollin’s widow and this year it was a 14-year-old boy and the only thing we have in common is we have both been bar mitzvahed. We were done. I told Kevin [Love] [O'Connor]: ‘We’re toast.’ This is not happening for us and I was right.”

In black-and-white, Kahn’s words are colder and darker than a mid-January Minneapolis night as his cynicism implies two nefarious things.

One, there’s the implication that the NBA Lottery is fixed. And two, he’s implying the NBA fixed said Lottery, last year for a widow and this year for Nick Gilbert, who happens to have neurofibromatosis, which is a neurological disease that causes tumors to grow in the body at any time. Thankfully, he stopped short of saying the league should capitalize on these storylines by making an NBA Cares PSA out of it.

Of course, Kahn’s quote has caused quite the kerfuffle on the Intertubes: here, here and here. He’s rightfully being smacked around for sounding insensitive, even if, as the video below shows that he may have been joking.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLzYrfhttT0&feature=player_embedded w=640 h=390]

Maybe he was making light of the fact the Timberwolves luck — always bad — never seems to change. Maybe he was trying to make light of the fact that some good luck charms, such as an ultra-confident and charming 14-year-old in a bow tie and Buddy Holly glasses, work better than others.

But one thing is for certain: Kahn, whatever he meant, chose cruel words.

“The NBA has a habit … of producing some pretty incredible story lines ”

No, Mr. Kahn. The NBA doesn’t. Lotteries do. It doesn’t take Shirley Jackson or an old Bogie movie to know that lotteries spawn great storylines. Lottery stories are compelling for the simple fact that winning a lottery is catching lightning in a bottle. Good story lines will sometimes come from the Lottery not because the NBA wants it to, but because of the randomness of the event itself.

The NBA has its share of problems — allowing a numbskull such as Donald Sterling to own the Clippers, by having Isiah Thomas hang around its edges and having the impending lockout hanging like the sword of Damocles over the 2011-12 season — but “fixing” the Lottery results are not one of them.

Would you like to know why? The simple reason is: THE NBA LOTTERY IS NOT FIXED. It is not fixed. It is not fixed. It. Is. Not. Fixed.

As a former employee of the NBA, I have assigned people to report on it. As a reporter for FanHouse, I have covered it. Henry Abbott can vouch for this. True Hoop’s papa and granddad of the True Hoop network was sitting next to me in 2009, and in 2010 when Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld snuck into in 3A like a student late for class only to see his team’s combination of numbers come up three times in the first four draws.

The implication of lottery fixing is not only absurd because of the amount of work, secrecy and complicity needed to pull it off, but also because it’s not even close to being true. Any NBA GM, many of whom have seen the draw process play out in front their own eyes, should know this is a fact. Any NBA GM not named David Kahn should be incensed with Kahn’s statements that their team may have won or lost the Lottery because of a conspiracy, especially because they know it not to be true. One David — Stern — is more than likely furious. I can imagine a 212 area code popping up on one of Kahn’s phones in the immediate future.

For years, the league has allowed reporters into the Lottery draw room in Secaucus and still it has to deal with knuckleheads who think that it’s not on the up-and-up. It’s the NBA equivalent of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Despite doing producing the evidence, there will always be non-believers. These people, however, shouldn’t come from your own ranks.

For some reason, Kahn’s implication also struck a nerve with me as well, and not only for the fact that he seemed to be making light of Dan Gilbert’s son. In the video, you can see that there was an uneasy jocularity in his tone and that he may not want to go there. But go there he did. And the words … It was as if he was impugning everything we — me, other journalists, team officials, league officials — saw in that room.

Here’s one thing I can tell you: ping-pong balls don’t lie.

Kahn should walk back the words for implying that they do.

UPDATE: Turns out David Kahn the GM does love a good Lottery story line. It’s just that David Kahn, the former journalist, forgot how to tell a story well.

Less than 24 hours after making the comments above, Kahn told the excellent Ken Berger of CBSSports.com that he was joking and wasn’t trying to imply that the lottery was fixed.

“The first questions I was asked last night by the reporters were, did I feel that the Timberwolves were jinxed,” Kahn said. “You know, we have a poor lottery record. And I want to say for the record, I don’t believe in jinxes, curses, hocus pocus, and I don’t believe we’ve been harmed in any way. What I said last night, I do believe in the power of story. And I just felt it was a heck of a lot better story for a 14-year-old to beat out two middle-aged executives standing together on a stage on national TV, and that our league has had its own share of luck in being a part of those stories. That’s it. Anybody ascribing anything else to it is completely doing their own thing.”

Kahn pointed out that his comment Tuesday night “elicited laughter,” and said, “There was no follow-up question. Nobody said, ‘Do you understand what you just said?’ No, because everybody knew context. But I do understand, to your point, just reading it dry, that somebody could infer that. So lesson learned.”

Asked again Wednesday if he was simply reiterating his assertion that the lottery results were rigged to produce a better story, Kahn said, “Absolutely not. I’m just saying that, if you look at sports in general, typically fairy tale stories, Cinderella stories, whatever you want to say, those tend to dominate sports. I just knew when you’re standing there with a 14-year-old kid, logically the 14-year-old kid … it had nothing to do with being nefarious.”

Stinkface Chronicles: Kiss My Tail Lights

Taj Gibson and Kirk Gibson are, as far as I can tell, of no relation. Gibson (Taj) is a black 6-foot-9 power forward who plays for the Bulls while Gibson (Kirk) is a white 6-3 former major league baseball player who now manages an MLB team in Arizona that plays in a park with a pool in it.

The only connections the two share are their last name and, either through choice or genetics or a combination of the two, both men are bald.

But after Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the two Gibsons have become connected in another way. Each man proved that people leave games early at their peril. You may miss something spectacular.

Something as spectacular as Gibson’s (Taj) one-handed putback slam.

[flash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOOeMg7eqYM&feature=relmfu w=640 h=390]

Now, wasn’t that a thing of athletic beauty? Gibson (Taj) grabs the ball as it is about six inches below the rim and about four feet from the hoop. I’m no sports scientist, but the physics involved with this thunderous slam are exceptional. So is the reaction of the TNT crew of Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller. From Albert’s simple, “TAJ … GIB-SON!” to Kerr’s “Ohhhhhh!” to Miller laughing, there wasn’t much to say in real time.

(Of course Miller couldn’t resist going over the top with his “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” “analysis” during the replay. I can’t give NBA.com credit for much, but thankfully they excised that from the above highlight.)

Beside the dunk itself and that LeBron James, on the Heat bench, had to stop biting his nails so that his jaw could drop, what’s most interesting to me in the highlight is the gentleman in the gray along the baseline behind the photographers. In real time, he’s walking away just as Gibson (Taj) hammers it home. He turns his head around as soon as Gibson and Bulls fans blow the roof off the barn.

He just missed the most electrifying dunk of the game. (Some, including Dwyane Wade’s own son, would disagree with that assessment.)

You can also feel for the two team attendants who were folding towels next to the Heat bench. They missed it too, but at least they were doing their job, unlike the man in the gray.

Upon further viewing, you can see the man in the gray was more than likely supposed to be watching. He’s a photographer who leaves his position just as C.J. Watson launches the three that Gibson slams home. Instead of capturing Gibson in mid-flight, he’s been caught in mid-flight. Now, he may have been finished for the night or had a specific assignment that didn’t require him to stay put for the whole 48. Let’s just hope that was the case and that his editor didn’t ask the following: “Did you get Gibson’s putback slam? It symbolizes everything the Bulls did in the second half: offensive rebounds, distinct advantage in the paint, exceptional effort for the whole game. I’d like to use that on A1. You got that, right?”

That’d be tough to explain.

Gibson’s (Taj) putback slam and the photog’s early escape reminded me of another “wish I had been there for that Gibson moment” moment. That would be Kirk Gibson’s game-winning homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Most fans remember a gimpy Gibby, Vin Scully’s excellent description (“Talk about a roll of the dice.”) and the drama that followed.

Someone, however, missed that drama. L.A. fans — unlike fans in Chicago — have the reputation of arriving late and leaving early, as if the game is just another stop on their busy SoCal social schedule. To their credit, most fans remained at Dodger Stadium to see if their club could erase a one-run deficit against the game’s best closer.

At 3:53 in this highlight (sorry, MLBAM’s ridiculous restrictions on video continue), you can see a pair of tail lights under the pavilion roof as right fielder Jose Canseco stops between the 370 and 360 signs in right field. Those lights belong to the sucker or suckers who immediately rued the decision to beat traffic and listen to the rest of the game on the radio.

“Hey, you went to the game last night. That was the best. Where were you sitting?”

“In my car. I wanted to beat the traffic out of the stadium”

“They had a man on and Gibson (Kirk) at the plate.”

“But traffic…”

“Idiot.”

Using Gibson’s homer as inspiration, a Dodgers team that didn’t have much offense or talent as the A’s, used pitching, defense, hustle and grit to take the series in five. If you squint, you could substitute NBA MVP Derrick Rose for the whole Dodgers pitching staff — in the fact that like a pitcher, Rose has the ball in his hands and he controls the tempo of the game — the Bulls have plenty of defense, hustle and grit.

Gibson’s (Taj) putback slam will never have the historical impact of Gibson’s (Kirk’s) homer. Some could see it as just another blow to the already dead high horse the Heat rode in on. But Gibson’s (Taj) dunk punctuated the message the Bulls were trying to send to the Heat in Game 1, and to NBA fans who didn’t give them much of a chance: “We’ll be here ’til the end. Don’t go anywhere. You may miss something good.”

No Championship for Old Men

Power — intoxicating and addictive — is never easily ceded. Not by nations and rarely by champions. It has to be taken. In sports, it’s often taken from the aging or the infirm. In the case of the Boston Celtics, it was both.

If you took one look at the Celtics sideline late on Wednesday night, you would have seen Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O’Neal lying on their aching backs, straining their necks to see the action on the floor. You would have seen Kevin Garnett expending the same amount of energy to do half the things he used to do. Shaquille O’Neal, the future Hall of Famer the Celtics signed to combat the Lakers in The Finals, spent what may be his final NBA game as the largest Big & Tall model in history. And as good as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are younger and have more talent.

The Celtics wanted to play, but their bodies betrayed them. Their time has ended. The Lakers too. Three days prior to LeBron and the Heat ending the Celtics’ successful four-year run in the East, the “new old” Mavs — an oxymoron — swept Phil Jackson and the two-time defending champion Lakers, playing like schoolyard chumps, into next season.

If the Celtics or Lakers had forced their series to seven games, we may be able to believe Doc Rivers’ claim that his Celtics team “isn’t done” or Kobe Bryant’s claim that the Lakers will be back as a legit championship force in 2011-12.

But the Heat and the Mavs channeled their inner Anton Chigurh and used their captive bolt pistols to blow a big hole through any notion that the Celtics and the Lakers can remain at a championship level beyond this season. It’s not necessarily age itself, but the changes that come with it. They are like Tommy Lee Jones’ sheriff, who chases the light in his dreams but eventually wakes up before he can catch up to it. Those days are history. Things are different now.

If the Lakers couldn’t set aside their trust issues during the postseason, what makes anyone think that they’ll grow fonder of each other over an 82-game regular season? If the Lakers couldn’t get Phil his fourth three-peat, who thinks they’ll be able to band together for a new coach? Do you think the Celtics’ core will somehow grow any younger over the summer? As much as I like to believe Rivers, one of my favorite basketball people of all time, will return to Boston because he’s “a Celtic,” there have been rumblings for some time about him wanting to take a break. Changes should be coming to both teams.

But based on the history of those two franchises, you’d be inclined to believe they will bounce back. Between them they have 33 NBA championships and 52 combined Finals appearances. Based on what we saw of the two teams, it’s hard to believe that they will be able to dominate foes as they have the past four seasons. The NBA has too much talent on too many different teams. Not only that, that talent is in or close to reaching its prime.

For only the fifth time when both teams have made the postseason in the same year, neither the Lakers nor the Celtics made their respective conference finals series. By not having these specific Celtics or Lakers teams to cheer or jeer in a conference finals is slams shut the door on the post-Michael Jordan era of the NBA.

This will be the first Finals without Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan since 1998. It’s as clear a demarcation point in NBA history as the introduction of the shot clock in 1954 or Bill Russell retiring in 1969 or when Jordan and a hungry Bulls team destroyed an aging Lakers team in 1991.

Consider, too, the men who led them. It will be the first time since 1995 Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Pat Riley won’t roam the sidelines during The Finals. Though, that stat deserves an asterisk considering Riley is the brains behind this current iteration of the Heat. He has the hardware to prove it.

Riley built the Heat in the Celtics’ image using the lure of a homegrown star to attract other stars. LeBron said as much before and after Game 5. Beating the Celtics was the reason he burned every bridge in Cleveland. For LBJ, getting past the Celtics was like MJ finally getting past the Pistons in ’91.

For LeBron, who at times has a loathsome lack of self-awareness, sounded contrite and humble after the Heat’s win. Whether his overall attitude has changed for the better remains to be seen. But one thing we know: the NBA will never be the same. It’s up to the new power generation to shape it to their liking.

Set in Stone?

On Wednesday, when it was announced that Boston was finally honoring the greatest winner in the history of team sports, Bill Russell, with a statue, the Joe Louis monument in Detroit came immediately to my mind.

That photo you see there is of Joe Louis’ fist.

Surrealist René Magritte would disagree with me. He’s probably right. Just as that link doesn’t take you to a pipe, that sculpture above is not Joe Louis’ fist. It’s sculptor Robert Graham’s interpretation of Louis’ fist.

It’s the most striking statue to ever honor an athlete. Many won’t agree with that. Many hate it. That’s understandable. The fist is an abstraction. If it’s not Louis’ fist in the literal sense, it’s not even close to being how people remember the heavyweight champ.

When you think of a statue for an athlete, you envision that athlete in action. Michael Jordan’s statue outside of the United Center is more like it. It’s as dynamic as the man himself with faceless defenders — faceless, because he did it to so many it’s hard to pick just one — getting blasted in MJ’s jetstream.

But many of them are rather pedestrian recreations of the athletes themselves. The Jerry West statue is nice, but this representation is sublime.

That’s why the Louis monument is striking. His legacy and his life were as abstract as the 24-foot, 8,000-pound bronze fist that hangs from a steel pyramid in downtown Detroit. Detroit Yes explains:

So great was Joe Louis that [it's] difficult to measure the historical contribution of this immense figure who, without a close second, is by far the greatest sports figure to ever arise from Detroit and assume center stage on the world theater. It was he who helped shatter the Nazi myth of racial superiority with his dramatic defeat of German champion Max Schmeling during the rise of Nazism. In doing so and then serving his country nobly in the segregated army of World War II, he laid bare the disgraceful hypocrisy that denied Afro American (sic) athletes access to the major leagues of American sport, not to mention all Afro Americans (sic) who were and are denied the basic birthrights of American citizenship.

He did this with his fists and determination. So it is fitting that he is honored with a place at the center of his hometown with an artwork as powerful and controversial as he was.

Russell, meanwhile, came along a generation after Louis, but was just as powerful and just as controversial as Louis was. Like Louis, Russell was a singular athlete. But unlike Louis, Russell was one of the more complex and intelligent men in American sports and he deserves a unique monument to his legacy. Better people, such as Paul Flannery (@pflanns) in Boston Magazine and President Obama have suggested as much.

The question is how to best represent Russell. The Boston Globe video has a couple of nifty computer renderings showing Russell blocking a shot, Russell in a suit and Russell sitting and talking to kids. Each would be a perfectly acceptable rendering of Russell. Of all these suggestions, a statue of Russell rejecting a shot would not only represent his brilliant, game-changing play on the court, but could symbolize his rejection of racism, prejudice and injustice throughout society, and often, directed toward him.

But when I think of what the “best” Russell statue would be, I keep going back to the Louis monument as inspiration. If people want to read about what Russell accomplished, they will be inscribed on the pedestal below. Yet if people want to know who Russell was, it will take more than a statue. That’s why Russell’s statue should be akin to the Louis monument: abstract and open to differing interpretations.

Imagine Russell’s forearms and hands rising from a gigantic block of solid stone, as if rising from the Earth, reaching for the basketball and of course, grabbing it.

(I would like to see it done just to hear Tommy Heinsohn’s reaction to it.)

It would be a stark contrast to most statues of athletes, including the Bobby Orr statue in front of TD Garden. That statue captures Orr at his apex, with him flying through the air after scoring the series-clinching goal against the St. Louis Blues in 1970. Of course, that’s how fans remember Orr. There is no other way.

But how do people remember Russell? Is there one moment in his career that defines him? Russell transcends mere moments and, although the NBA Finals MVP, an individual award, is named after him, no man in American sports history has better represented the concept of team.

Something as direct as a pair of hands around a basketball could be a perfect representation of Russell’s win-first philosophy. It could be, for some, difficult to understand, just as Russell was during his life. It probably won’t happen, though. People will want to see Russell’s goateed visage. Something as simple as Russell’s hands may be too abstract a manner to represent something as tangible as Russell’s athletic excellence.

But think of those hands. Those are the hands that led the University of San Francisco to a 60-game win streak and two NCAA titles. Those are the hands that held a gold medal at the ’56 Melbourne games. Those are the hands that held five NBA MVP awards. Those are the hands that started the famed Celtics fastbreak. Those are the hands that played in 11 Game 7s and never lost one. Those are the hands that don’t have enough fingers to hold all of his NBA championship rings. Those are the hands of the first African-American coach in a major North American sport. Those are the hands that expressed his feelings when words couldn’t after the Celtics improbably beat the Lakers in Game 7 in Los Angeles for Russell’s 11th and final title. Those are the hands that earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Those are some hands.

We don’t need to beatify Russell. He wasn’t perfect. After all, those were his hands that threw the pass that hit the guide wire over the hoop at the Boston Garden against the Philadelphia Warriors, that until John Havlicek stole the ball, put the Celtics seventh straight NBA title in jeopardy. Those were the hands, while coach and GM of the Sacremento Kings, that picked Pervis Ellison with the No. 1 overall pick in 1989. And those were the hands that for years famously refused to engage in the most basic interaction with fans, the signing of autographs.

There’s a reason for that. As Peter May points out, Russell and the city of Boston always had a tenuous relationship.

OK, we all think we know why it has taken this long. Russell never embraced the city of Boston when he played here — it was always “the Celtics” — and, from what we know, for pretty good reason. Boston was not a hospitable place for African-Americans in the 1950s and ’60s (or, as we would discover with court-ordered busing, in the ’70s, either). And God forbid that an African-American might be smart, outspoken, defiant and a great basketball player yet refused to sign autographs.

Vandals broke into Russell’s suburban Boston house, wrote racial epithets on the walls and left feces on his bed. Sports fans in Boston preferred the Bruins, who were pretty terrible while Russell was winning titles, or the inept Red Sox, who were the last team to integrate in Major League Baseball.

It’s not hard to understand why Russell kept many — opponents and the public alike — at arm’s length.

Yet the hands at the end of those arms helped shape modern American sports. Russell was outspoken, he was political, he was bright and he didn’t allow people to compromise or underestimate that intelligence just because he played basketball. A statue representing Russell’s hands isn’t as much about what Russell brought to his teammates, to Boston and to the public at large, but it’s also about what we as fans bring to Russell and to our sports heroes. How do we think of them? What does they represent? How did they achieve it? Why is it important?

Bill Russell sculpted one of the more extraordinary, American lives with those hands. It’s well past time we reach out and honor them.

Too Much Too Soon

Originally, I had planned to break down the Celtics-Heat series, but time, life and people conspired against me. That, and The HP Progenitor did it, then slammed down the mic and strutted away.

Thanks to the mic being broke, anything I would attempt to say in advance of the Heat-Celtics series to would need to be shouted. Not only would that make me look like a lunatic preacher in a subway station, but it would also be redundant, which is worse than being loud.

Instead of position-by-position breakdowns (we know that Rajon Rondo is the key to the series, that Kevin Garnett may break into Chris Bosh’s head and steal whatever confidence Bosh has), let’s just say this series — for the reasons M-Squared mentioned: there is difference between arrogance as a symptom of hubris (the Heat) versus arrogance as a result of accomplishment (the Celtics) — remains the most compelling of all the conference semifinal series.

You have the defending Eastern Conference champs against the prospective heirs to that throne. You have LeBron James trying to live down the demons of last year’s dismal, desultory and deluded performance in Game 5 against the same Celtics in the conference semis last season. You have a team with a superior point guard and one without a halfway decent one. It has a plethora of personalities, plot lines and plenty of potential.

But can it truly be considered great series even if it is a great series?

Granted, I’m projecting. This could be a horrible series where defense reins and offense deigns. We could have a devastating injury or it could just be as dull as a mid-winter’s day. History, however, and the players tell us that it’s go time and that this series is what we and they have all been waiting for.

Yet we didn’t have to wait. This is the conference semifinals, not the ultimate series (The Finals) or even the penultimate series (the conference finals). This is all happening too soon.

That was the knock on the series between the Celtics and Bulls in ’09. Yes, it went to seven games, featured seven total overtimes and had more mind-blowing performances in one series than the last decade of college basketball. But there was always the qualifier: first round.

It may be the greatest first-round series ever, but … so what? It was just the first round.

To be truly great, to be epic — to be revered over time — these games must happen at the end of the journey toward a title, or at least very close to it. The series must have meaning above merely advancing to the next round. Even if it goes seven games and every game goes to double OT, this Celtics-Heat series will be played in historical limbo.

For both teams, there is far more to lose than there is to win.

Because what has it accomplished other than one team moving forward with still two more series left to conquer? What, ultimately, does it settle between them?

The Celtics have been to the conference finals two of the last three seasons and have advanced to The Finals both times. How big of a failure is their season if they can’t make it to the conference finals?

Not as large as Miami’s. After “The Decision” and after “The Party” with Dwyane Wade and Bosh, if the Heat can’t make it out of the NBA’s second round, one would need to consider the wisdom of spending the time, effort and money to build a “super team” but have no supporting cast. The Heat’s grand experiment, at least in the first season, would be a faceplant of epic proportions. Twitter may break in its attempt register all the joy that would be expressed at the expense of Miami’s sadness.

Despite all of the above — maybe because of it — this is the conference series in which you should clear time and space for because it has the greatest potential for incredible drama.

It’s just a damn shame that one of the NBA’s principal postseason protagonists will have to die so early in the film.

No Hard Hats Required*

Now that the Knicks (and Rangers) have gone into their offseason hibernation a little later than usual, the $750-million renovation of Madison Square Garden has begun in earnest.

(And $750M to remake a building — and not build a completely new one — is plenty earnest.)

By the time fans return to MSG at the start of the 2011-12 NBA season (if we get one), gone will be the narrow concourses, a visitor’s locker room so small that owners of even the most cramped studio apartments would sniff at the square footage and bathrooms so cozy that men stand uncomfortably hip-to-hip at the urinals.

(Also gone: cheap seats, which were never really cheap in the first place, but goodness …)

Some say changing MSG could strip the place of its character, but those not chained to sepia-toned nostalgia and haunted by Red Holzman’s ghost know the place, for the reasons listed above, needed to change.

What will mostly remain at MSG, however, is what you last saw of a team swept out of the postseason.

Hardcore Knicks fans may disagree with this and after 39 seasons since their last NBA title, may want more immediate changes and better results. But even bandwagon fans such as myself (though I have lived within three miles of Madison Square Garden for a third of my life), know that in the context of their recent sordid and sad history, the Knicks standing relatively pat should provide something the franchise hasn’t had in a while: stability.

Instead of overhauling the roster as they tried to do, it seemed, on the fly and every six months to please the coterie of frustrated fans, the Knicks will not tear down and renovate the roster this summer. They will tweak, they will seek out a living and breathing center who can defend and rebound for stretches at a time (no need to score, though) and a decent backup point guard to spell the 34-year-old Chauncey Billups.

One of the reasons the Knicks will only do a touch-up is that they don’t have the cap room for an overhaul. On Wednesday, the Knicks announced they would pick up Billups’, $14.2M option for 2011-12. While that seems to be a lot of dough for an aging point guard, the Knicks’ had no alternative. They had to retain Billups. The heady, steady Billups may not be the ideal for Mike D’Antoni’s breakneck offense, but the Knicks have had far worse options (cough, cough Duhon).

(All of which reminds me of a back-and-forth with Denver coach George Karl and Billups after the Nuggets stole him from the Pistons for a washed up Allen Iverson.)

“There are times I’d like Chauncey to play a little faster in the fourth quarter,” Karl said of his point guard, who was playing at an MVP level in the second half of the 2008-09 season.

When told of Karl’s wish, Chauncey smirked and said, “I bet he would.”

After all, coaches may control playing time, but players control the tempo. Whether D’Antoni will push the issue of pushing the ball with Billups remains to be seen. But Mike D. and Billups can make it work. Billups runs the pick-and-roll well, he makes good decisions with the ball and defenders can’t go under screens when he has the ball. D’Antoni, who rides his stars like horses who are put away wet, will need to manage Billups’ minutes and that’s why the Knicks need to find a backup who can hold his own for 20 minutes per.

Finding that guy is a job for this guy — Donnie Walsh. If Knicks are smart — and they haven’t been in the past — they will sign Walsh to a contract extension. He helped lure Amar’e Stoudemire, which in turn helped him to be able to trade for Carmelo Anthony and Billups.

It all could go wrong, though. These are the Knicks and James Dolan is still running the show. You know of Dolan (but who really knows him?). The one who let Isiah Thomas run roughshod over the franchise only to reportedly and repeatedly seek his counsel. At the press conference for the Anthony trade, Dolan tried to Obi-Wan his way through by telling the press, Isiah Thomas was not involved in this deal and he was not the basketball droid the media was looking for.

Of course, no one fell for it. This is why Walsh, according to reports, wants full autonomy. Can you blame him? The Knicks can only move forward if they remove the person from the process who has been holding them back. And if Dolan wants to bring Isiah back, here’s hoping the NBA does what it did the first time: send it into the fourth row. It’d be great if David Stern could step in and appoint someone who loved basketball and who understood what hoops means to the city to run the team in the “best interests of basketball” as Bud Selig did with the L.A. Dodgers.

(Yes, I just suggested David Stern act like Bud Selig, but considering what Donald Sterling — the Donald Trump of the NBA — has been able to get away with, don’t expect the NBA to do anything in New York.)

But more than anything, the Knicks organization outside of Walsh needs to realize it won’t be easy, especially here and especially against emerging teams such as the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat. Yet, as winners, they’ll never need to pay for a meal in the town again. Just ask Walt “Clyde” Frazier, who once said, “There’s nothing like winning in New York.”

(True. Few towns back in the ’70s would be able to foment Walt’s transformation into Clyde…)

Still, the Knicks are far from a championship team, and could be for a while. But for the first time in a long time, as the walls of their arena are torn down, the Knicks have at least tried to set the foundation for future success at MSG.

Now, it’s up to them to find all the pieces to make it fit.

* For the team, not for the building

Setting Joey Straight

Last night, as the New Orleans Hornets were trying to even their series with the Los Angeles Lakers, two tweets caught my eye. One came from the progenitor of this very site, Matt Moore (@HPBasketball):

BEST FIRST ROUND EVER!

The Knicks and their fans may disagree with that sentinment, but at least the Knicks put up a fight in the first two games in Boston. Amar’e Stoudemire’s balky back and the C’s typical stingy D made sure the Knicks didn’t get any strange ideas such as making a series of it.
It’s hard to argue with Mr. Moore’s sentiment, especially if you’re an NBA fan. The level of play has been consistently excellent. Combine that with the lack of clear cut favorite (the West’ No. 1 seed is down 2-1 and the No. 2 seed is tied at 2-2 and add to that, the drama of Kobe Bryant’s sprained ankle) and fans can now factor in the element of surprise. Or at least the prospect of it.

Which brings us to the other significant tweet of Sunday night from Sporting News columnist David Steele:

All the people back in March saying how college was better than the NBA went to bed early last night.

His tweet cuts to the heart of what the NBA and the NBA Playoffs truly are: a committment to basketball.

If you could get any light into the deep and dank basement of any blogger, you would see the dark circles under their eyes and the caffeinated beverage containers strewn across the floor. You’ll see 72 tabs open on Chrome, all to NBA sites and blogs. SportsCenter or NBA TV’s replays of “Inside the NBA” run on a constant loop on the flatscreen.

Why? Because compared to the NBA Playoffs, the NCAA tourney is a one-night stand.

After ignoring the college regular season, we as a nation come to the tourney looking to win the pool and not necessarily for the best basketball. You spritz the Binaca to cover the smell of Keystone Light, you mat down the cowlick with saliva and you try to slur your best lines in order to pick a national champion. If your pool drains before the end of the tourney, that’s just the nature of the amateur beast. These are kids, we’re told, after all and anything can happen. That’s what makes it exciting: the surprises.

Or that’s what college basketball defenders (usually playing a not-so-taxing 2-3 zone) want you to think. Even the little guys have a chance to win.

They may have a chance, but they don’t win, especially when you consider the lowest seed ever to win an NCAA title was a No. 8 Villanova team in 1985. A team from the Big East, beating another team, Georgetown, from the Big East. Milan (Ind.) High that ain’t.

Often the NBA Playoffs lack surprises or monumental upsets, but that familiarity may the most interesting thing about the NBA Playoffs. They’re like a relationships in that they ebb and flow, in that they take work and in that, yes, at times it can become a grind.

Yet in the end, we often get the best two teams playing each other for the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. Consider what many consider the NBA’s “Golden Age” in the 1980s. The Celtics and the Lakers met three times while the two teams snapped up 13 of the 20 Finals appearances.

Just look what happens when you get an “upset” in the NBA? You get the Cavs’ getting swept by the Spurs in the 2007 Finals. That was fun only for the Spurs.

Conventional wisdom tells us that experience — both the Spurs and Lakers have it in bunches — and talent — ditto — that the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets will regress to the mean and that hustle and heart can only take a team so far. Because when a talented team recognizes their passion (i.e. “flipping the switch), the less talented team often is all but making tee times. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be wonderful for the Grizzlies or the Hornets to advance to the Western Conference semis.

Thanks to days off between games, weaknesses get exposed and exploited by better teams. The proper preparation of talent will often bear itself out and after two months of playoff basketball, you know you’re getting the two finest teams in The Finals. There’s something comforting and compelling in that you will be witnessing excellence. It may not always be a great series, but you can take solace in the fact these teams have earned the chance to be playing in June.

Even if you don’t or can’t root for the final two teams, at least your mind can reconcile with your heart that, yes, this is the correct conclusion, that, yes, this is the most appropriate place for this journey to end and that, yes, this is the best spot for our passion for and committment to basketball to bloom.

After all, that’s not too much to ask from the thing you love.