The Inbounds: Retro-veterans and the once-and-future rim protector

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In 2006, signing Ben Wallace to a deal would have been in an incredible franchise-changing move to radically alter the outlook of your defense.

In 2009, trading for him would have been seen as a desperate and flawed move towards overpaying for an unproductive and underwhelming player.

In 2012, it’s a pretty solid move which can shore up your bench, bring veteran leadership (VETERAN LEADERSHIP ALERT) to your locker room and provide you with a strong-willed icon to rally behind.

 

In 2007, Marcus Camby was a shot-blocking machine, the Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Star candidate and considered a superb all-around player.

In 2010, Camby was considered an overrated defender who helped too much, gave up too many points at the rim, and relied too much on his shot-blocking to be considered actually that good of a defender.

In 2012, he’s a solid addition and a huge upgrade to the Knicks’ bench, bringing the kind of tough defense at the rim and rebounding they’ve been missing for several years down low. He and Tyson Chandler should prove to be quite the conundrum for teams.

 

And so it goes.  People like to blame the 24-second news-cycle for the way we tend to lose perspective on things, but it’s always been this way. Go back through the articles all the way back to the SI.com archive about anyone whose game went up or down, and you’re going to find things which look ridiculous in hindsight. That’s pretty standard. You write what you know at the time and some things in this world are just unforeseeable. Look at Stephon Marbury’s career and tell me if during it you would have thought he’d wind up eating Vaseline on UStream. It happens all the time. But particularly with big men defenders, we see a different loping arc.

Tyson Chandler was once thought of as just an athlete who couldn’t put it together. Then all of a sudden in New Orleans, he put it together, and while dunking CP3 alley-oops, it turned out he was a pretty great defender. Three years later, he wins a title with the Mavericks as the biggest difference-maker on a team that had been great for a decade.

Wallace was such a pivotal part of the Pistons’ championship, it’s almost impossible to overrate his performance. He was everywhere. Then in Chicago, he was slow-footed, slow-healing, and just slow. Scott Skiles’ decision in 2008 to repeatedly play him over Joakim Noah was the stuff to drive your hair out. But then he returned to Detroit after a sting with Cleveland where he was just dead money, and he was that lovable veteran who handled the defense as well as he could with the team falling apart around him. The Pistons have moved on this season, after it was thought Wallace would retire, but he’s reportedly thinking about giving it another go. He was still productive last season, still a good defender, but the expectations have changed. That’s the big differential.

It’s the same with Camby. There was a huge backlash against Camby right before he was traded to the Clippers from Denver, based on his tendency to pursue the block instead of keeping with the smart rotation. But since then, he’s been a good defender in Los Angeles, a great defender in Portland, and a pretty good one in Houston. He re-joins the Knicks and should make a substantial impact… for a guy his age. The expectation has changed, and that allows us to view him either more accurately or more favorably, depending on your inclination.

It makes you wonder about the future of so many players we routinely flambe on the internet stove. JaVale McGee could change his identity defensively four times over the next eight years of his career. Joakim Noah could reach DPOY status and then plummet to overrated, injury-prone joke-butt before finishing his career in Chicago a hero. Serge Ibaka laughably wound up second in Defensive Player of the Year votes last year, largely based on the same reasoning Camby wound up winning it in 2007. But he’s going to improve, just like Chandler and Camby did. What then?

The point, as always, is that an NBA career is almost never the same year-in-and-year out. It’s a topographical map with texture, peaks and valleys. Defensive big men are more prone to latter development we’re discovering, because of the amount of mental improvement and wisdom needed to excel in the NBAs new “all-help-all-the-time” defensive structure. You can label a player fairly as a poor defender now, but don’t let it sink in so much that you forget to watch their improvement, even as they get older. Point guards must improve younger, big men almost always make a jump later in their careers. And their continuing evolution makes up a significant impact on how team defenses, and legacies, can change.

Ben Wallace the leader, Camby the rock, Chandler the icon. What will McGee, DeAndre Jordan, and Ibaka become, before they become what they will even later?

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.