Kurt Helin

The one where the Nets almost changed name to Swamp Dragons

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Since 1968, New Yorkers sports fandom has generally split along the lines of Knicks/Yankees/Giants and the rhyming Jets/Mets/Nets. In fact, the ABA Nets in part chose their name when they moved to Long Island to rhyme with those other teams (they had been the Americans).

But they were almost the New Jersey Swamp Dragons; the name change was considered in the mid-1990s. Zach Lowe of ESPN has an oral history of the oddly fascinating story.

JON SPOELSTRA, FORMER NETS PRESIDENT: We had no redeemable history. We had never won anything, and our name — it was like calling the Yankees the “New York Second Bases.” The team never had a chance with that name…

SPOELSTRA: The Dragon came up right away, but we needed something to identify it locally. I was sitting in my office with Jim Lampariello, our vice president, and I just said, “Every time I look out the window here, I see this swamp. And every time I think of swamps, I think of swamp rats. What about that?” He just said, “I don’t think that’s very nice. What about Swamp Dragons?” I loved it. Dragons are mythical, and fun.

Nets management liked the idea. Commissioner David Stern… not so much. To put it kindly.

SPOELSTRA: David told me, “This is the stupidest f—ing idea I’ve ever heard.”

RICK WELTS, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NBA PROPERTIES: There was a moment in that meeting when I really wondered how thick the plate glass was, because David came very close to picking up Jon, and tossing him out the 15th floor of Olympic Tower onto 5th Avenue somewhere. He was enraged to have his brand subjected to such a terrible idea.

Jon was a genius. He transformed our industry — how teams handle ticket sales and broadcast rights. He just had one really bad idea.

The other owners ended up backing the name change — remember, this was the era of the cartoony Toronto Raptors logo and the Mighty Ducks in hockey. News of the change leaked, and there was a backlash from the people of New Jersey, but that didn’t stop the momentum. There were mock-ups of team jerseys and warm-ups, what the court would look like, and the rest. Then at the last minute it was the Nets seven-man ownership group that pulled back on the idea. Read the entire story, it’s fascinating.

Ultimately future Nets owners — Bruce Ratner first, now Mikhail Prokhorov — tried a very different tactic to improve the Nets financial fortunes: They moved the team to Brooklyn. Which is as much a real estate deal as anything (the two are developing lands around the new arena) but it did give them a new image, complete with the black-and-gray Jay-Z designed logos.

What would help the Nets image more is putting together good teams again.

Watch LeBron James work at pizza place, get mistaken for Dwyane Wade

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LeBron James is one of the investors in Blaze Pizza, which is trying to stand out in the increasingly crowded fast-casual pizza market. The idea is simple: As with a Chipotle burrito or a Subway sandwich, it’s an assembly line where you tell the worker exactly what you want on your personal-sized pizza, they cook it quickly in an 800-degree oven, and you eat.

To help promote his company, LeBron made this ad where he is working behind the counter at a Blaze Pizza in Los Angeles. The best part is when a woman says he looks like Dwyane Wade. LeBron’s response is “I get that all the time.”

Report: Luke Walton, Mike D’Antoni among Suns’ targets for coaching vacancy

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As we said yesterday, the Phoenix Suns are going to conduct a wide-ranging search for their next head coach. Names are starting to pop up on the rumor mill — Villanova’s Jay Wright was first — but it’s going to be an exhaustive list.

Marc Stein of ESPN named a few names on that list.

NBA coaching sources told ESPN.com that Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton, former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni (who currently serves as associate head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers) and former Suns star Dan Majerle (head coach at fledgling Division I program Grand Canyon in the Western Athletic Conference) are among the names likely to feature a broad list of targets.

Some thoughts on these names and the search.

Luke Walton’s name is going to come up in every coaching search between now and him taking a job. He likes being with the Warriors and can afford to be picky about the job he chooses. Which likely means Phoenix is out. The team that concerns Warriors officials is the Lakers, that’s the one that he may be drawn to.

Mike D’Antoni is an interesting name, a little flirtation with the success of the past in Phoenix. I’m a bigger supporter of D’Antoni than many, but bringing him in would come with a caveat — the roster must be modified to fit his style of play. Which means a roster overhaul in Phoenix. Bring him in and you’re committing to a style of play, which isn’t all bad but with D’Antoni you have to go all in.

Majerle is a popular former Suns player who was a Suns’ assistant coach from 2008–2013.

If I were going to bet on this race, I’d put my money on interim coach Earl Watson to get the gig full time. The players want him, and he has a good relationship with the GM.

Suns guard Brandon Knight has sports hernia surgery

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns say guard Brandon Knight has undergone surgery to treat a sports hernia.

The team said in a news release that the surgery was performed Thursday in Philadelphia by Dr. William Meyers. The Suns said Knight has begun rehabilitation and is to return to Phoenix next week.

Injuries limited Knight to 52 games this season but he averaged a career-high 19.6 points for a Phoenix team that, at 21-58, has the third worst record in the NBA. The Suns have been without guard Eric Bledsoe since he underwent knee surgery in late December.

Jamal Crawford hits game-winning three lifting Clippers past Jazz (VIDEO)

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The night started looking like a break for the Jazz — they could use a win in their quest to make the playoffs, and the visiting Clippers decided to rest their big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan.

But they didn’t rest Jamal Crawford.

The guy making his seemingly annual Sixth Man of the Year push had 30 points on 20 shots, including this game-winning three over Derrick Favors to give Los Angeles a 102-99 win.

This leaves the Jazz in the eighth seed in the West (the final playoff spot), one game ahead of the nine seed Rockets with three to play. Utah’s magic number is three (either their wins or Houston losses) to clinch a playoff spot. Houston has a soft schedule left and should win out, although they also just lost to the lowly Suns so anything can happen. If Utah wins their final three games, they’re in. However, it’s not an easy lineup: Denver (which is playing better of late), Dallas (both teams with playoffs on the line), and the Lakers on the road (Kobe Bryant‘s last game, so it could get interesting).