Updated: Jan. 12, 2006, 4:52 PM ET
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Phil-thy mouth taunts Kwame
By Marc SteinEditor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this weekly around-the-league notebook edition of the Dime.
You know about his controversial book and the relationship he's trying to rebuild with Kobe Bryant.
You also probably know that he's now co-hosting a weekly Sirius radio show on the same satellite network as Howard Stern, who, we can confirm, isn't related to David Stern.
And, yes, you heard right: Phil Jackson did indeed tell reporters earlier this week that he has been regularly calling Kwame Brown a sissy. Except the crude word Phil has been using makes sissy sound like a compliment.
The Zenmeister obviously has lots to say in his twilight coaching years. Great news for anyone who wants to be entertained by the ultimate insider.
I'm nonetheless moved to ask: Shouldn't the Kwame quote have caused at least a minor furor?
The reflex answer: Because it is Phil Jackson -- and because it is Kwame Brown -- there isn't a great rush to challenge the remark. Jackson has as much credibility as anyone who has ever coached this game. Brown's toughness has been questioned every day of his NBA career.
Phil can actually say anything he wants about anything. Right?
It's one of the most stunning on-the-record remarks I can remember.
You never, ever hear a coach publicly say something like that about one of his players, even in jest. Anything goes in the locker room or on the practice floor, but this? The stuff in the book about "uncoachable" Kobe doesn't come close.
I could believe it was never meant for public consumption -- just Jackson being quippy with writers before a game -- if Jackson's explanation wasn't another shot. "The thing I do is that I meow when I go by him," Jackson said Thursday, trying to downplay his original remark by revealing that Lakers assistant Brian Shaw has been making cat noises around Brown.
Shaw insists the whole idea was trying to get Brown believing he can be a Big Cat down low. Believable or not, the clear feeling you get from Jackson is that he's fed up with Kwame already, with Brown having missed nine games with thumb and hamstring ailments and looking lost when he has been available.
I thought all along, as soon as the Lakers dealt for Brown, that Phil-Kwame relations would be a much bigger problem than the Phil-Kobe dynamic. Yet I never expected Phil, after just two months, to let something like this slip to the press when he knows Brown's history of fragility. Phil, after all, did get the full Kwame scouting report from Michael Jordan before the season began.
The kid has been coddled long enough, no question, but I thought Jackson's methods of motivation were a bit more sophisticated. He has always seemed to know exactly who could and couldn't handle these psychological ploys. It seems awfully early in the Kwame experiment to choose this path, no matter how disappointing he has been so far.
A happy ending here would see the 23-year-old prove us all wrong and use this new low in Kwame-bashing as the pivotal point in an overdue turnaround. Yet you don't have to be a veteran Kwame-watcher to know that would be a surprise ending. A massive surprise.
The smaller surprise? Keeping things in-house this time, as he promised, hasn't been as easy as the Zenmeister of multimedia made it sound.
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Margaret Norton/NBC via Getty Images
With recent comments concerning Kwame Brown and Chris Bosh, Phil Jackson has made his coaching return into quite the talk show.
1. Sorry, Chicago. I've given it some more thought and I still don't have a problem with Scott Skiles electing to keep Ben Gordon in a sixth-man role ... when he's healthy enough to play, of course.
Gordon, for starters, is simply more effective when he comes off the bench at this stage of his career. He's also finishing games, which is all that should matter for a second-year man.
The Celtics, remember, kept Kevin McHale as their sixth man for a good half-decade because the job suited him so well. Nothing wrong with Skiles doing that for at least the rest of the season unless it proves detrimental to the team.
It would only be questionable strategy on Skiles' part if: A) Gordon's game starts to crumble because he's not starting; B) Chicago starts losing games early because the starting lineup lacks punch; or C) Skiles persists with using Gordon and Luol Deng as reserves.
It doesn't make sense for Chicago to keep opening games without its two top scorers, which is why it's about to stop happening. The Bulls wanted to ease Deng back in slowly after wrist surgery, but he's obviously ready to start again.
2. This might just be me getting carried away with amateur psychology, but did you pay close attention to all the hugs Larry Brown got from his former Pistons players before last Friday's homecoming game at The Palace?
The embrace from Ben Wallace couldn't have been much chillier. No. 3 looked like he couldn't wait to get it over with. No eye contact.
It only lasted a couple seconds, but the frosty interaction just might back up the notion circulating late last season that no Piston was bothered more by Brown's flirtation with other jobs than Big Ben ... if you jump to conclusions as amateur psychologists like to do.
3. Most of my friends in the audience know where I stand on North American gridiron football: Damon Allen is the only quarterback I care about. But even I got the joke when Derek from Westland, Mich., wrote in asking me to ask Joe Dumars -- since the Pistons seem to be running just fine without Larry -- if he has any extra time to help out the Lions.
The relationship between Kevin Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak, by all accounts, is as good as it's ever been after they huddled for an offseason sitdown to discuss what they needed to do to get Minnesota back to the playoffs.
And that sentiment was relayed to us even before Wally got hot.
After a poor November by his standards, during which he averaged just 14.8 points on 43.2-percent shooting, Szczerbiak began the new month averaging 24.3 points on 63-percent shooting over four games -- all road victories. He obviously can't stay that hot, but Garnett -- more than ever -- needs Szczerbiak to distract defenses with no other top-flight scorers on the Wolves' roster.
Szczerbiak also knows that none of the above changes the fact that he -- not Garnett -- is the Wolves' prime candidate to be dealt between now and February along with center Michael Olowokandi, who's in the final year of his contract. Szczerbiak's contract (worth $37.5 million over three years after this season) doesn't make him easy to move, but Minnesota is exploring every option in its attempts to build one more contending cast around Garnett.
"I've been speculated in trade rumors my whole career," Szczerbiak said. "This is my seventh year here and there's no offseason where I haven't thought maybe I could be somewhere else, but you can't let that affect you. I try not to read those rumors." ...
The Rockets were thrilled to arrive in Sacramento for a nationally televised game and find a team as deeply submerged in a funk as they are.
Reason being: Houston is now just one game into its first six-game road trip since the spring of, yes, 1989. That's almost 20 years, and that's a serious scheduling quirk given that every other team in the NBA since the start of the 1989-90 season -- except the two-year-old Charlotte Bobcats -- has had at least two trips spanning six or more games.
Of course, as noted basketball philosopher Rosie Perez once said, sometimes when you win you really lose (or something like that).
Translation: Houston's plans to detour to Las Vegas for some team bonding before Sunday's game at Portland, spilled by TNT's studio team during a post-game interview with Tracy McGrady, are likely to be met with a fine (if not kiboshed totally) by the league office, which generally views such excursions as providing extra benefits to players. ...
I wouldn't have traded Jamaal Magloire for a swingman, $1 million and a future first-round pick that probably won't be in the lottery. And several teams in this league apparently agree, given the widespread reaction of shock that greeted Milwaukee's acquisition of Magloire for a package headlined by Desmond Mason and the aforementioned first-rounder (unprotected) in June.
The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets took a more-than-respectable record of 8-10 into the weekend, and the classy P.J. Brown -- essentially their only veteran, forced to move to center when Magloire left -- thinks he knows why.
"We're playing much better Western Conference ball," Brown said. "Our strength is with our guards, creating a lot of havoc at both ends. They open up the lane for the big guys. Last year we struggled to adjust [in their first season in the West], but this year we're more athletic and we've got a better grasp. We're starting to become a Western Conference team."
It's still early, of course, but you can safely say that the surprising Hornets have gotten more athletic. Although shooting guard J.R. Smith doesn't shoot it well enough for me, there's no disputing that Chris Paul and Smith form an interesting, havoc-causing backcourt tandem.
The unexpected progress of third-year power forward David West, furthermore, is what convinced the Hornets that they could move a ready-to-go Magloire for another athlete (Mason) and justify trading big-for-small ... at least to themselves.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Happy as he is as a Hornet, the pumped-up Chris Paul admits below that he, too, is surprised Atlanta didn't draft him.
Marc Stein talks with New Orleans/Oklahoma City point guard Chris Paul:
STEIN: What were your rookie goals after just two years at Wake Forest?
PAUL: Definitely win more than 18 games [New Orleans' total from last season]. And just try to have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3-to-1 and hopefully, eventually, win Rookie of the Year.
STEIN: Are teams still underestimating the Hornets - do you think you're still sneaking up on people?
PAUL: Definitely. But we like to be a surprise team. The more teams doubt us, it might make our jobs a little easier.
STEIN: Did you get a chance to spend any significant time in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina struck?
PAUL: I was in New Orleans about a week and a half before it hit. I actually had a house I was in the process of building [near teammate J.R. Smith's house]. That's who we're playing for. When we're on the road, we have New Orleans on our jerseys, and I think that fires the guys up a little bit.
STEIN: On draft day, where did you think you were headed?
PAUL: Honestly I thought I might go to Atlanta [at No. 2], because my workout for Atlanta went really well. Atlanta was closer to home [in North Carolina] and being a momma's boy I wanted to be closer to home. I felt like my workout for them was probably my best, but once it got to New Orleans [at No. 4], I knew Coach [Byron Scott] wasn't going to pass me up. I'm totally happy to be in the situation I'm in now.
STEIN: Seeing the Hawks now, and thinking about what kind of backcourt you could have formed with Joe Johnson, I've been wondering myself how Atlanta could pass on you.
PAUL: [smiling] Good question.
Crack all the Titanic Division jokes you want (and we certainly do). No matter what you or I say, Le Commish isn't listening to the hecklers.
Asked again this week if we'll someday see him scrap the divisional map and seed teams for the playoffs strictly by record in each conference, this was David Stern's answer: "It's not going to happen."
"Go back and look at the clips last year [at this time] and look at what you were talking about," Stern said during an ESPNews appearance Thursday. "[It was:] 'The Atlantic Division is going to have a playoff team under .500, change everything, change the seedings, change this, change that.' It's early December. It's like the second week in December. Cut it out."
You don't have to heed the order, of course, but his rebuttal does have the support of recent history. As weak as the Atlantic Division was and remains, it still (somehow) managed to produce three playoff teams with winning records last season: Boston (45-37), Philadelphia (43-39) and New Jersey (42-40).
This season, in an improving East, the Titanic, er, Atlantic will be lucky to send more than one playoff representative, thanks mostly to a Central Division that offers up five playoff contenders. But I suppose it is a bit too soon to dismiss the whole group. OK, Commish? ...
One more reason why Orlando's Dwight Howard -- with Amare Stoudemire sidelined -- ranks as the most coveted young big man in the game: Howard bade farewell to his teen years Wednesday night with his 46th double-double; 17 points and 16 boards in his final game as a 19-year-old.
On the all-time list of double-doubles for a teenager, Cleveland's LeBron James is next ... with a mere 21. Minnesota's Kevin Garnett? He had only 12 before his 20th birthday. ...
The Hawks began the weekend on a 9-73 pace, with players publicly acknowledging locker-room discontent and second-year coach Mike Woodson fighting to keep his job, mainly because the coach is the easiest thing to change for a team that looks farther away from respectability than anyone imagined.
Yet in the buildup to his humbling return to Phoenix last weekend, as he fielded questions about his struggles as a young leader to hold the group together, Joe Johnson told a far more sobering story, recounting the day before Hawks center Jason Collier died in October.
"We were in the training room together, on tables next to each other," Johnson said. "We were just kind of sharing stories about what we do in the summer, that kind of stuff. It was really the first [extended] conversation we had."
The next morning, Collier was gone, struck down at 28 by a sudden cardiac rhythm disturbance caused by an enlarged heart. "You're here today and you can be gone tomorrow," Johnson said. "You can't not think about it."
One man's take on the Sacramento Kings, from Dimedom's web of front-office executives, coaches and scouts:
"They're playing with no zip. They seem dead out there. Rick Adelman is facing a lame-duck situation [in the last year of his contract], but the Maloofs [co-owners Gavin and Joe Maloof] have been in a "maintain" mode since trading Chris Webber and I don't know if there's anything left to maintain.
They're going to have to flip that roster. It's a bad combination of guys -- Bonzi [Wells] and Reef [Shareef Abdur-Rahim] don't fit into the offensive scheme they play and their young guys are nowhere near ready.
I'm sure they don't want to trade Peja [Stojakovic], but they have to think about getting something for him while they can before he becomes a free agent [in the summer]. He looks very disinterested, probably because he can't get easy shots like he did with Webber and [Vlade] Divac around."
"It's gotten so bizarre, we've had our trainers yelling out to players on the court to pull up their shorts. They start the game with the
shorts at the right levels.
"But as the shorts get heavy with sweat, get pulled on by defenders or as guys get tired and tug on their shorts, they slide down. So to save the players and the team fine money, our trainers are constantly yelling to them during a game."
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, offering a glimpse of life in the new NBA and the league's crackdown on shorts that stray past the knee.
|DEC. 7: KOBE BRYANT VS. RAPTORS|
You say that Kobe Bryant should pass more no matter what. I said last week that maybe, just maybe, he'd be a more willing passer if the options around him were more dependable.
If there were more nights like Wednesday night, in other words, when Bryant appeased everyone by taking only 12 shots and racking up nine assists in a 102-91 cruise past in Toronto.
You'd be wise, though, to hold off on presenting this one as any sort of blueprint game. The Lakers aren't playing one of the two worst teams in the league most nights.
How many times a season can L.A. realistically expect to have four players (Lamar Odom, Smush Parker, Laron Profit and Luke Walton) score more points than Bryant and let Kobe sit out the fourth quarter?
The Lakers had that kind of balance only once last season in games in which Bryant logged at least 25 minutes, and for that you have to go back almost a year to a home victory over Golden State on Dec. 3, 2004.
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