Looking back, Stern says “Malice in the Palace” was hardest thing he faced

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David Stern has seen a lot in 30 years as NBA Commissioner. Remember two years before he took over NBA Finals games were recorded then shown after your local news at night. NBA playoff games were tape delayed up through 1986.

Now franchise valuations are way up, the NBA is a billion dollar business and Stern helped market and guide that. He is deservedly going to get a lot of accolades over the next four months.

But it wasn’t all rainbows and puppies — there were some hard times. Stern was on the John Feinstein Show on CBSSports Radio and talked about those dark days and what was the darkest of them. (hat tip and translation courtesy Eye on Basketball):

“Whether it’s Tim Donaghy, whether it’s Magic Johnson being HIV positive, or Ron Artest going into the stands, or Latrell Sprewell deciding it would be a good idea to strangle his coach or Gilbert Arenas bringing a gun into the locker room, I see that as, those crises have to be managed.”

Which one was toughest?

“Each one kept my up in its own way,” Stern said. “But the brawl that happened between the Pistons and the Pacers provided much of the media in the course of that weekend to use the words ‘thugs’ and ‘punks’ with respect to all of our players which to me is freighted with respect to what they’re really saying and brought up visions of the way the media treated us a decade or more earlier.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the marketing guru, the guy most concerned about the NBA brand, found that the most troubling times. Pacers players went into the stands to fight Pistons fans. It was a terrible black eye for the league — players fighting fans. As he said, it gave an avenue for those who hate the NBA and their players, whatever their reason, to go on the attack. To paint all the players with a broad brush.

Spreewell and Arenas, those are workplace issues (you can’t bring a gun into your office, Arenas can’t into a locker room). Magic’s HIV ended up with him helping change perceptions about the disease.

But there was no good out of the Malice in the Palace. It was just a mess.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.