1. 2012: The Year In Numbers
Our annual Year in Numbers compilation was initially conceived as a Former Newspaper Guy's attempt to be as statistically relevant as our old friend Professor Hollinger at least once every 12 months.
As 2012 dribbles to a close, now there's a new challenge: Life After Hollinger.
Yet as I've always believed, there are plenty of numbers out there for everyone on Planet Roundball. So we forge ahead with another assemblage of relevant digits, in the time-honored tradition of year-end reviews that you expect from all the media types in your life during holiday season, to bid adieu to an NBA calendar year that belonged to No. 6 in Miami most of all.
With a helpful nudge from the always-assisting Ernest Tolden, Justin Page and all our friends from ESPN Stats & Information, as well as the Elias Sports Bureau, let's go recapping:
In the first of the year's nine coaching changes, Sacramento replaced Paul Westphal with Keith Smart on Jan. 5. The other teams that would follow suit to keep the coaching carousel spinning: Washington (Flip Saunders out, Randy Wittman in), New York (Mike D'Antoni out, Mike Woodson in), Portland (Nate McMillan out, replaced first by Kaleb Canales and then by Terry Stotts), Charlotte (Paul Silas out, Mike Dunlap in), Orlando (Stan Van Gundy out, Jacque Vaughn in), Los Angeles Lakers (Mike Brown out, D'Antoni in) and Brooklyn (Avery Johnson out, P.J. Carlesimo in).
On Jan. 19, Oklahoma City awarded a five-year, $79 million contract extension to Russell Westbrook. Serge Ibaka later landed a four-year, $49 million deal from the Thunder in August, with coach Scotty Brooks also scoring a new four-year deal shortly after the NBA Finals. But three big-money signings -- as you'll see when you make it down to October -- proved to be OKC's limit.
A twice-waived point guard named Jeremy Lin, after 13 DNP-CDs in his first 23 games as a Knick, unexpectedly got his long-awaited shot from then-Knicks coach D'Antoni in early February. Over the next 29 games, 18 of them New York wins, Lin left oblivion behind forever with the sort of fantasy flourish no scriptwriter could have concocted, averaging 18.5 points and 7.6 assists to give birth to the phenomenon that will forever be known as Linsanity.
Linsanity was so absorbing, such a fairy tale, that it merits at least two entries in a row. So here's to the seven straight wins in February with Lin as the Knicks' main spark -- all with Carmelo Anthony out injured -- starting with his 25 points off the bench in a win over the Nets on Feb. 4.
You couldn't have asked for a more fitting regular-season matchup than the Golden State at Philadelphia game on March 2, bringing together two basketball communities on opposite coasts with deep ties to the late, great Wilt Chamberlain on the 50th anniversary of Wilt's 100-point game.
After near-daily trade speculation that overshadowed virtually everything happening in the NBA for the first three months after the 2011 lockout was lifted, Dwight Howard stunned everyone on March 15 by opting into the final season of his contract worth $19,536,360 and waiving his right to become a free agent July 1, thus prompting Orlando to take him off the trading block.
Back surgery in April then wound up sidelining Howard for the final 12 games of his farewell season in Orlando, as well as the first round of the playoffs, after he missed just seven games in his first seven NBA seasons.
In early April, with Lamar Odom averaging an anemic 6.6 points per game, Dallas and Odom mutually agreed to part ways. The Mavs' luck with former Lakers wasn't much better in December, either, when Derek Fisher and Dallas also parted company by mutual consent after Fisher played in just nine games.
Guess who led the league in dunks last season? Presumably you don't need more than a solitary guess to nominate Blake Griffin, who predictably got there with precisely 192 slams before making more significant noise in July by signing a max contract extension that ties him to the Clippers through 2017.
With only seven wins in 66 games, Charlotte wound up recording the lowest single-season winning percentage in NBA history at .106, even worse than Fred Carter's unforgettable 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers who went 9-73 (.110).
The Bobcats' average nightly point margin of -14.3 was the second-worst of all-time, eclipsed only by Dallas' average nightly margin of -15.2 in 1992-93 in an 11-71 season.
Denver, San Antonio and Oklahoma City were the only three teams to average 100 points per game during the lockout-shortened season, down from 11 in 2010-11 and the league's lowest total since only two teams managed it in 2003-04.
In another indicator of the rust inflicted by the five-month work stoppage, 17 teams shot worse than 45 percent from the floor in 2011-12, more than the previous two seasons combined (15).
At 23 years and 6 months old, Kevin Durant supplanted one of my boyhood heroes -- then-Buffalo Braves scoring machine Bob McAdoo -- as the youngest player to win three straight scoring titles. 20-year-old Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, brought the Rookie of the Year trophy back to Cleveland as the Cavs' new post-LeBron beacon of hope.
Durant and Kobe Bryant entered the final week of the 2011-12 regular season locked in the closest scoring race in league history before KD ultimately won it by 0.17 of a point (28.0 ppg to Bryant's 27.9). That margin made it the second-closest race ever seen behind the mere .07 that famously separated George Gervin and David Thompson in 1977-78.
Even with a mere 66 games to work with, San Antonio won 50 games for the 13th successive season, clinching its 15th successive playoff berth as the West's No. 1 seed.
Because of the lockout-condensed schedule, NBA teams combined to play 42 sets of back-to-back-to-back games in 2011-12. Seven teams swept all three games; San Antonio was the only team to do it twice.
John Hollinger ultimately left ESPN.com for the Memphis Grizzlies before 2012 ran out, but his famed PER formula will remain an NBA staple here in Bristol. So it's in Hollinger's honor that we make note of LeBron James registering a PER of 30.8 for the 2011-12 season, his third in the 30s to move within one of Michael Jordan's career-high four seasons with a 30+ PER.
After 112 regular-season wins over two seasons, tops in the NBA in that span, Derrick Rose tore his left ACL on a Game 1 drive against Philadelphia on April 28 and hasn't played in the 243 days since. It had just been announced by the NBA, on April 26, that Rose was No. 1 in domestic jersey sales.
The New Jersey Nets, on April 30, officially became the Brooklyn Nets, giving the cursed borough of New York sports its first professional team since the Dodgers bolted for Los Angeles in 1957.
The Spurs' home victory over Oklahoma City in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals stretched their winning streak, including a 10-0 finish to the regular season, to a ridiculous 20 W's in a row. Then the story got even wilder when the Thunder reeled off four straight victories of their own to bump the franchise they were modeled after out of the Finals.
In what's universally recognized as the finest game he's ever played, LeBron James made 12 of his first 13 shots on the Boston Celtics' floor on June 7, 2012. With the Heat facing a 3-2 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron wound up with a stunning 45 points and 15 boards in a 98-79 victory that not only saved Miami's season but also, quite possibly, changed the course of his career.
On June 21, LeBron became the first player in nine years, since San Antonio's Tim Duncan in 2003, to win the regular-season MVP trophy and NBA Finals MVP award in the same season after leading the Heat to four straight victories over the Thunder following Miami's Game 1 loss on the road.
The Heat likewise became the first team ever to win a championship after trailing in three different playoff series -- 2-1 to Indiana, 3-2 to Boston and 1-0 to OKC -- during a single postseason. Miami is just the seventh team to drop the opening game of the Finals and then win four straight.
With 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in the Game 5 clincher against the Thunder, LeBron emerged as just the sixth player (along with Tim Duncan, James Worthy, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson twice) to post a triple-double in a title-sealing victory.
A mere 42 days after being named NBA executive of the year, Larry Bird resigned his post in charge of the Indiana Pacers' front office on June 27.
At the tender age of 19, Anthony Davis enjoyed a 2012 that could only be topped by LeBron's. On June 28, after leading Kentucky to a national championship as college basketball's player of the year, Davis was drafted No. 1 overall by the New Orleans Hornets ... and would later snag a gold medal as an unexpected 12th man on Team USA.
Steve Nash, one of only two multiple-MVP winners without an NBA championship on his résumé (along with Karl Malone), made the splashiest move of any free agent in July when -- hotly pursued by Toronto and New York -- he convinced the Suns to sign-and-trade him to the hated Lakers for two first-round draft picks and two second-rounders. Jason Kidd heading to New York as Carmelo Anthony's new mentor with the Knicks, after initially indicating he'd be staying in Dallas, was another biggie.
No matter how weak the opposition was, I will never forget what it was like to watch a team of American all-stars drain 29 3-pointers and inflict an 83-point pummeling on helpless Nigeria in pool play at the London Olympics. The hard-to-fathom final score: Team USA 156, Nigeria 73. Highly doubtful that I'll ever cover another game with a margin in the 80s.
When he was finally dealt to the Lakers in a massive four-team blockbuster on Aug. 10, after months of back-and-forth waffling about whether he wanted to stay or go, Dwight Howard left Orlando ranked No. 1 in Magic history in points (11,435), rebounds (8,072), blocks (1,344) and, yes, even free throws made (3,366). And in a major departure from his trademark light-heartedness, Howard is also widely regarded now as the NBA's No. 1 villain after the monthslong Dwightmare, hard as that is to believe when looking back at the bulk of his time in the Magic Kingdom.
Andrew Bynum moved from Los Angeles to Philadelphia in the same blockbuster deal after making his first All-Star team in 2012 ... but also after missing 130 of a possible 394 games over a five-season span with the Lakers. Bynum has yet to play for the Sixers, 29 games into the new season, because of ongoing issues with both knees.
By the narrow margin of 107-100 against its old friends from Spain, Team USA repeated as Olympic basketball champions in London on Aug. 12. The heavily favored Yanks survived Pau Gasol's beastly third quarter and LeBron James' second-half foul trouble to finish the tournament with an average victory margin of 32 points -- compared to 43.8 points for the Dream Team in 1992 -- after an even closer gold-medal game than the 118-107 final against Spain in 2008 in Beijing.
The triumph over Spain allowed Mike Krzyzewski to wrap up his four-tournament run coaching the NBA's best, knowing that any loss would be treated back home as a national disaster, with 50 consecutive wins.
After 18 seasons, all with the Indiana Pacers, Reggie Miller headlined the 2012 Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Class on Sept. 7, giving Springfield its first-ever brother/sister combo by following sis Cheryl Miller's footsteps into the Hall.
Miller is 14th all-time in NBA scoring with 25,279 career points and ranks second in 3-pointers (2,560) behind Ray Allen (2,718).
The other NBA headliner from the 2012 Hall of Fame class was three-time NBA Coach of the Year Don Nelson, who ranks No. 1 all-time in regular-seasons wins with 1,335.
The NBA announced new anti-flopping regulations on Oct. 3 which resulted in Brooklyn's Reggie Evans, just before Thanksgiving, earning the first NBA fine triggered by a flop, costing him $5,000.
In a dramatic change to the NBA All-Star ballot announced Oct. 24, there are now only two position choices available to voters -- guards and frontcourt players -- in a nod to the dwindling number of centers in the modern game.
The sale of the Memphis Grizzlies from Michael Heisley to a group led by Robert Pera, for a reported $377 million, was unanimously approved by the NBA's Board of Governors on Oct. 25.
I was already a high school freshman when David Stern was installed as NBA commissioner, but it's a struggle to remember what this league was like before Stern's forceful rule. Stern's Oct. 25 announcement that he's stepping down on Feb. 1, 2014 -- 30 years to the day he succeeded Larry O'Brien -- means he's down to just over 12 months to go before Adam Silver steps into those big wingtips.
$26 million. That's the difference between the five-year, $79 million contract extension James Harden got from Houston on Halloween and the four-year, $53 million final offer that Harden received from Oklahoma City on Oct. 27 ... which led to the Thunder abruptly (and stunningly) trading him to the Rockets roughly an hour later when Harden wouldn't accept it.
Oh, yeah: Harden quickly left the impression that he just might be worth all that money by scoring 82 points in his first two games as a Rocket.
The NBA started on time in 2012-13 with lockout hell suffocating hockey instead of basketball this fall and winter, 56 days earlier than the Christmas Day launch of the 2011-12 campaign.
NBA teams began the new season with a record-tying 84 international players from 37 countries and territories on opening-night rosters.
Five games. That's all Mike Brown got in charge of Kobe, Pau, Dwight and Nash in Lakerland. Within hours of ESPN.com reporting that Brown needed a successful homestand to save his job after a 1-4 start, Lakers officials decided to move up that timetable before Brown had the chance to win a couple games to ease the pressure, ousting him in the third-fastest firing in league history.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich won his second NBA Coach of the Year award in May, but that won't be what his 2012 is remembered for. It'll surely be the $250,000 fine that the Spurs incurred in late November after Pop decided to put four starters (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green) on commercial flights back to South Texas on the same day of a nationally televised game in Miami in the name of getting his vets extra rest in the wake of a road-heavy start to the season.
On Dec. 5 in New Orleans, with a runner in the lane, Kobe Bryant became just the fifth player in NBA history to score 30,000 points. At 34 years and 104 days old, Bryant will go down as the youngest of the five to reach 30K, though he needed 1,161 regular-season games to get there compared to Wilt Chamberlain, at 35, hitting 30,000 points in 941 games.
Boston's Paul Pierce became the 25th player in NBA history to cross the 23,000-point threshold on Dec. 13 ... and just the 12th to do so playing for only one team.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan quickly followed Pierce's lead on Dec. 18 to become only the 13th player in NBA annals to get to 23,000 points wearing only one uniform.
The Knicks might be off to their best start in forever at 21-8, but Jeremy Lin's Rockets have already swept the season series from New York thanks to two wins by a combined 41 points. On Dec. 17, five months to the day the Knicks announced they wouldn't match his three-year, $25 million offer sheet from Houston, Lin rumbled for 22 points and eight assists in his ballyhooed Madison Square Garden return.
After surprising even himself by beating out Phil Jackson for the Lakers' job, Mike D'Antoni had to coach his first 16 games in L.A. without Steve Nash. After Dallas let Nash go in the summer of 2004 amid fears that he wouldn't hold up physically, Nash missed only 39 games over the next eight seasons in Phoenix before suffering a fractured fibula in his left leg halfway through his second game as a Laker.
When Sacramento suspended DeMarcus Cousins on Dec. 22 in the wake of a heated argument with Keith Smart, it marked the fourth time in 2012 that the enigmatic big man was suspended by his team or the league. Fearless prediction for 2013: We'll be talking lots about Cousins next year, too, given how much trade speculation his constant head-butting with Kings officials has already generated.
The Bobcats entered the weekend on a 16-game losing streak since a 7-5 start no one on Earth projected, making Michael Jordan's franchise the first in NBA history to endure three droughts that long in one calendar year. Charlotte also lived through skids of 16 and 23 games last season.
Few remember it now, but Avery Johnson actually had the highest winning percentage of any coach in NBA history when the Nets hired him. The Lil' General went 194-70 in four-plus seasons in Dallas for a success rate of .735, then registered a mark of 60-116 in two-plus seasons with the Nets before his dismissal Thursday for a winning percentage of .341.
In related Nets news, Deron Williams is shooting a career-worst 39.8 percent from the floor this season.
Late in 2011, Chris Paul dominated headlines when he was traded by New Orleans to the Los Angeles Lakers, only to wind up with the L.A. Clippers when David Stern, acting as lead decision-maker at the time for the then-league-owned Hornets, told New Orleans' basketball people to cancel the first trade for "basketball reasons." By late December 2012, as the NBA's undisputed No. 1 point guard, Paul had sparked the Clippers to a franchise-record, Buffalo Braves-usurping 17 wins in a row ... good for the top spot in ESPN.com's weekly and daily NBA Power Rankings Remember the days of yore when we used to have all those CP3-or-D-Will debates?
There might never be another year like it for LeBron Raymone James, who won his first NBA championship and his second Olympic gold medal to go with his third regular-season MVP award and first Finals MVP trophy. His Airness, in 1992, is the only other player in basketball history to do all those things in the same year. No wonder James, on Nov. 27, officially reclaimed the No. 1 spot from Derrick Rose on the NBA's most popular jersey list.
2. Western Conference
The early word from the DeMarcus Cousins trade watch, according to the latest rumbles on the personnel grapevine, is that Kings co-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof remain reluctant in the extreme to part with their young big man, especially at a time when -- after three suspensions already this season -- Cousins' trade value isn't exactly on the upswing.
There's a growing sense among potential suitors that under-fire Kings general manager Geoff Petrie, who has overseen zero trips to the playoffs under five coaches in the six-plus seasons since Rick Adelman left town, would be willing to move Cousins, preferably in exchange for a dependable veteran of quality or two who could bring some instant improvement to a franchise stuck in lottery land and still plagued by an uncertain future in terms of where this team will be calling home in the long term.
Yet it's believed that the Maloofs just aren't ready yet to entertain the idea of parting with the mercurial center before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, not even after Cousins got suspended for turning on perhaps his biggest non-Maloof supporter in the organization by arguing so heatedly last weekend with Kings coach Keith Smart.
Stay tuned, though. Cousins told USA Today's Sam Amick earlier this week that he won't be pushing for a trade, but Cousins' new agent -- Dan Fegan -- has a contentious history with Petrie after the Kings passed on Ricky Rubio to select Tyreke Evans in the 2009 draft. Trade speculation involving Cousins, now that Steve Nash has returned to calm the Trade Pau hysteria in Lakerland for the moment, is bound to be new favorite sport in 2013 in the slice of the Twitterverse devoted to the NBA.
Front-office sources say that Boston and Detroit, just to name two teams, have let it be known that they are highly interested if and when Cousins does become available. Rest assured there will be more.
Even after all the warnings about the 22-year-old coming out of Kentucky and all the bad shots he's hoisted in Sacramento, where he doesn't seem interested in listening to anyone and also suffers from the lack of a proven point guard who can make the game easier for him, Cousins will continue to draw considerable interest because there are so few young bigs these days with his size, skill and mobility.
Can you be a huge fan of both David Stern and Gregg Popovich?
Longtime Israeli NBA commentator and producer Arik Henig apparently is.
One of the funnier aspects of the Popovich rap video that caused such a stir in the Alamo City, as covered this week by the San Antonio Express-News, is that the man supplying the rap's reverential-to-Pop chorus is Henig.
The same Henig who happens to be a Stern disciple, as explained in this Jerusalem Post article in 2011, dating to the early days of Stern's reign as NBA commissioner.
So maybe Henig is the guy who can negotiate a truce between Pop and The Commish after the whole Restgate affair.
Another not-so-fearless prediction for 2013: Andrew Bogut will be back on the floor for Golden State after the calendar flips.
Can't tell you specifically when, since the Warriors and Bogut have wisely decided that it's best to avoid any talk of timetables until he has his conditioning up to speed and full confidence that his surgically repaired left ankle can handle the rigors of 5-on-5 basketball.
The expectation in the Bay Area remains, though, that Bogut will ultimately rejoin the West's surprise team in the new year and that he's not in danger of losing the entire season after the Aussie 7-footer rushed himself back from surgery to be able to play on opening night, only to remove himself from the lineup after just four games.
3. Eastern Conference
Can't say it any better than Charles Barkley said it Thursday night on the TNT set.
The Chuckster summed up Avery Johnson's firing in Brooklyn thusly:
"Whatever happened in Brooklyn, it happened. This is all on Deron Williams right now. It's time to put up or shut up."
Hard to argue with, huh? After Jerry Sloan's abrupt resignation in Utah in February 2011 and now this saga, even Williams' staunchest defenders -- not exactly the most crowded club these days -- would be forced to acknowledge that D-Will has to start playing like an elite player again if he has any hope of turning down all the heat coming his way for either dooming Johnson through his dissatisfaction with the offense or simply his sub-par production.
Sources briefed on the situation told ESPN.com this week that Johnson besieged his bosses for a contract extension before the season, convinced that he wouldn't have the hammer to coach the Nets as needed in the face of sky-high expectations if he was calling the shots with an expiring contract. The Nets declined those overtures, opting to avoid locking themselves into a coach, but they also figured that they'd be no worse than a top-five team in the East without having to make a coaching change no matter what sort of bench uncertainty lingered.
Firing Johnson so early in the season creates a new problem, since it's no given that the Nets, even with owner Mikhail Prokhorov's deep pockets, can recruit a top-flight replacement mid-stream. But the quick trigger does put the onus on the players who were unhappy or underperforming under Johnson to step up immediately.
The Nets need a lot of stepping up, too. According to the Win Shares metric, among players averaging at least 25 minutes per game, Brooklyn didn't have a top-50 player in the league entering Friday's play, even after all the money Prokhorov spent in the offseason. Williams, at No. 52, was the closest. The only Nets in the top 50 of John Hollinger's equivalent -- known as EWA (Estimated Wins Added) -- are No. 31 Brook Lopez and No. 38 Andray Blatche.
The key to Toronto's recent five-game winning streak?
There are a couple beyond the fact that the Raptors finally hit a favorable stretch of schedule.
1. Andrea Bargnani's injury and subsequent forced removal from the lineup improved the Raptors' struggling D.
Which raises the question: Will Toronto change course now and try to pair Lowry in future trade packages with Bargnani instead of Calderon?
It has been widely assumed for months that the Raptors would try to package Calderon's expiring deal with Barngani's in hopes of landing a top-flight player in return. But the Raps have actually functioned better so far this season when Lowry -- who brings an undeniable "swagger," as coach Dwane Casey likes to say, but is also undeniably up and down with his moods -- has been out of the lineup nursing a variety of injuries.
One source close to the situation said Friday that Bargnani remains "a lock to be moved." That naturally depends on finding a taker for the underachieving Italian forward, but Lowry's contract shouldn't be too hard to attach to a trade, valued at $5.8 million this season and with only $1 million guaranteed of the $6.2 million he's owed next season.
And as Lowry showed Friday night, he's quite capable of doing damage when healthy.
4. Marc's Quote
"We always try to do something special for the sneakerheads on Christmas."
Miami's LeBron James commanders this cyberspace for the second consecutive week by referencing the well-established Christmas tradition that calls for basketball stars to bust out a jazzed-up pair of their usual sneaks on a day when they know that the eyes of the sporting world will be almost exclusively focused on the NBA.
Sports Illustrated's "Point Forward" blog worked up a handy collection of snapshots of the various shoes on display during Tuesday's five-game feast, which I've linked to so you can scroll through and choose your own favorite.
Knowing, though, that you're desperate for my own special insight on the matter, here's the full-disclosure truth from a hopelessly old school 40-something who generally favors all things adidas but openly loves Kobe Bryant's indoor soccer-style kicks more than any high-tops in circulation:
Jeremy Lin's low-cut space boots won the holiday here.
Honestly can't say I'd feel the need to rush out and buy any of the models that were on show this Christmas -- too many crazy colors for this old man -- but I do like my grays and metallic silvers. Combine that with my well-established loathing of all things red, and I was pretty much down to Lin and Kevin Durant's wild blue-yellow-and-orange design for my two finalists.
I know, I know: DeMarcus Cousins is easier to figure out than me.
5. It's Gotta Be The Shoes
6. One-On-One ... To Five
Five questions with Heat forward Chris Bosh about his national-team career after ESPN.com's own Israel Gutierrez just covered all the domestic bases on Christmas Eve:
Q: What's better? An NBA championship or a gold medal?
A: They're different. But both of them are great, I'll tell you that much. It's just a great accomplishment, because not many people have the opportunity (to win both). I just really cherish it. Most of all, I cherish the memories. I had a fantastic time playing in the Olympics, going to Beijing, being on the road with the guys, being a part of Team USA.
Q: Do you like to look at your ring or your gold medal or do you just keep them hidden away?
A: I put 'em away. Only take 'em out when people want to see it. I haven't looked at my gold medal in about two years. So I'll probably do it tomorrow just to remind myself what it looks like.
Q: You couldn't play in the Olympics over the summer because of (an abdominal) injury, but will we see you back in the Team USA program at the next opportunity (for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain)?
A: I'm not sure right now, man. Playing into June every year and having a family now and having kids, it would just depend on the situation and how I was feeling at the end of the season.
Q: Do you and LeBron and D-Wade do your planning together for things like the Olympics?
A: We reminisce. We do a lot of reminiscing. We don't even talk about the future. I think we've talked about Brazil (home of the 2016 Olympics) once. For the most part, we reminisce 'cause we're getting older a little bit.
Q: You're a lot closer to this than we are, so tell us what's the biggest difference about LeBron James now compared to 2011 when you guys lost in the Finals?
A: He just trusts his game. He's worked so hard since then. He understands that he just has to trust his game and let his talent and the game take care of itself.
7. Chatter Box
DeMarcus Cousins' future in Sacramento and the Dallas Mavericks' outlook with Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup are the among the main topics of discussion in Marc Stein's weekly visit with host Marc Kestecher on the NBA on ESPN Radio studio show.
8. Best In The West
Who's the best in the West?
Stein: I've got a question for you first. Are you asking in a Power Rankings kind of way -- with more of the focus on right now -- or a favorite-to-win-the-West kind of way? If it's the latter, OKC is the closest to meeting that standard, even after I just rolled the Clips out in the No. 1 spot Monday in the most recent edition of the rankings. The Russell Coaster and all of its ups and downs continue to give me pause, but KD, Ibaka and, yes, even Russ are all better players than they were a year ago. And Kevin Martin has fit in as well as Sam Presti could have hoped. The Thunder thus remain the team to beat in the West ... to the credit of everyone there after the shock timing of the Harden deal.
To read the entire 5-on-5 roundtable on Western Conference contenders, click here.
9. Film Session
In case you missed it -- or if you're just missing Christmas already -- check it out: Marc Stein and the rest of the TrueHoop team had a lot on their minds when they got together for THTV's second annual Secret Santa edition.
10. Corner 3
Three quick slams and dunks from the deepest recesses of Weekend Dimedom
1. The biggest obstacle Mikhail Prokhorov faces in recruiting Phil Jackson to Brooklyn is not Phil's age (67) or the fact that he's freshly disenchanted with the coaching business after how things played out in Lakerland and no longer wants one more job. I firmly believe Jackson has renewed interest in coaching again after the flirtation with the Lakers ... and I know Prokhorov won't take one or even two nos for an answer after seeing how stubbornly the Nets chased both Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard over the past two seasons. The chief worry for the Nets is talent. The current state of this high-priced roster simply isn't that appealing and won't be that easy to revamp because of the long-term salaries carried by Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace. And Phil, remember, has never coached a team without at least one transcendent star, which the Nets plainly lack given where D-Will's game is.
2. This is probably me getting irrationally excited before I should, but the minor-league lover that occupies a a prominent corner within my complicated consciousness was thrilled to see the Knicks send Amar'e Stoudemire to their D-League team (Erie BayHawks) to get some practice time in before Amar'e's expected return next month. Why? Because I'm gullible enough to believe that we're getting ever closer to seeing an actual front-line NBA player appear in an actual D-League game on a baseball-style rehab assignment. I'm not even sure why this is so important to me, but it just is. It almost happened with Lamar Odom last season in Dallas ... and I will not rest until it happens for real.
3. Jarrett Jack has made the Warriors undeniably smarter and deeper as a team, but he hasn't made reading stories about them any easier. Reason being: Mark Jackson's longstanding nickname is Jack. Not Jax or MJax or anything with an X in it. So any time I see a "Jack said" in a story about the Dubs, I always think it's the coach speaking. Maybe I'll figure it out in 2013.