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Gretzkys for Cash

Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star on the play a lot of people call the "Gretzky:"

Sam Mitchell, the Raptors coach, said he was ranting to his players just the other day about the need for another stat. Call it the hockey assist, as Mike Brown, the Cleveland coach, recently dubbed it. It's the pass that leads to the pass that is the assist. Unlike in hockey, where as many as two players are credited with helpers on any given goal, basketball's assist statistic credits only the player whose pass leads directly to a bucket.

The basketball assist has always been contentious, of course, a judgment call by the scorekeeper. But Mitchell said charting hockey assists would offer incentive to his players to keep the ball moving. As it is, said the coach, their base instinct is to hold the ball "looking to make the perfect pass to the guy who'll score."

"If I'm T.J. Ford, I want the assist," said Mitchell, by way of example. "So instead of me swinging it to (Jorge Garbajosa) and Garbo swinging it to Anthony Parker in the corner and Anthony Parker shooting the wide-open shot, if I'm T.J., why don't I just see if there's a way I can skip Garbo and throw it to Anthony Parker directly?"

Ford's logic, in this completely hypothetical sketch, is understandable. NBA point guards are often judged, however erroneously, by one statistic -- assists per game. So the best play for the team isn't always the best play for either a player's reputation or his net worth.

Skeptics would scoff at the idea that the keeping of hockey assists would change that kind of self-serving behaviour. And even if the club ran an internal contest to crown a hockey-assist champion, the NBA's salary-cap regulations prohibit the offering of financial bonuses.

Still, Ford, for one, was receptive to the idea: "That (stat) might be helpful for the coaches to get that idea across to some guys on the team."

And Mitchell said he believes the reward for leading his team in a specialty statistical category can, indeed, have a positive affect on one's bank balance.

"The reward is you're going to play more minutes," said Mitchell, "and the flipside of playing more minutes is you may get a better contract one day. It all comes down to (money) at the end of the day."