Can Harden or Westbrook achieve 'Tiny' feat?

Nate Archibald is watching James Harden and Russell Westbrook closely. He finds himself talking about them with increasing frequency.

The NBA legend universally known as Tiny, ‎most of all, is rooting for one of them to do what only Archibald has done in this game: Lead the league in both scoring and assists in the same season.

Yet he's convinced that Harden and Westbrook, like Archibald himself some 43 years ago, aren't consciously trying to pull a Tiny.

Record-book glory, he insists, is just the unintended bonus.

"It wasn't by design when I did it," Archibald told ESPN.com by phone this week, harking back to his 1972-73 season with the Kansas City/Omaha Kings, when he averaged 34.0 points and 11.4 assists.

"I tell people it was by desire.

"I wanted to go out and win games. I had a coach [in Bob Cousy] who told me: 'Your ball, your team. How far you go is how far we go.' That's what Cous did for me. And I think both of them [Harden and Westbrook] are in the same place. Neither one of those guys are out to break records."

That's just one of the reasons Archibald, now 68, feels a kinship with both of these box-score-stuffers even though he doesn't know them personally.

Harden isn't just a fellow lefty any more. The Beard's partnership with new Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni, who broke into the NBA as a player with Archibald's Kings in 1973-74 shortly after Nate's slice of history, has D'Antoni's former teammate watching Houston games closer than he ever imagined.

"I didn't think he was a good passer, but when I saw him in the exhibition season, I was like, 'Oh my God,'" Archibald said of Harden.

"I thought he could just score, but, man, he changed my mind. Mike D'Antoni got it in his head that you gotta pass the ball to some of your guys, because they can shoot the ball, too."

With Westbrook, it's more of a mindset connection. Archibald sees the Oklahoma City Thunder's relentlessly rim-attacking lead guard as "the hardest-driving guy in the league."

"He'll challenge anybody," Archibald said. "I love that. I wasn't as big as him, but I loved to take the ball to the rim and challenge bigger guys."

Truth be told, though, Archibald has bittersweet memories of his finest individual season. The Kings, at 36-46, didn't make the playoffs in 1972-73 and didn't win nearly enough to make it an unforgettable campaign. Tiny ranks his five-season stint with the Boston Celtics, which peaked with an All-Star Game MVP trophy as well as a championship in 1981, as the highlight of an NBA career that spanned from 1970-71 through 1983-84.

"I always tell people that, in my declining years, I played with the best front line in basketball," Archibald said. "That was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and my best friend Cedric Maxwell."

Archibald likewise doesn't deny that the crazy load he carried in 1972-73, averaging a hard-to-believe 46 minutes per game for the Kings in their first season splitting time between Kansas City and Omaha, came with a price. Three times in the ensuing five seasons before he landed in Boston, Archibald played in 35 games or fewer thanks to various injury issues.

"Back then was what I call the 'black and blue era,'" Archibald said. "You saw a lot more handchecking and body-slamming.

"That first season in Kansas City ... new team, new building, new life. Cous gave me the ball and said, 'Your ball, your team, you make it happen.' Cous wanted the team to be like the team that he used to play for [in Boston], where only guards handled the ball.

"I was in shock mode when he did that. I think he saw a glimmer in me that he saw in himself. I always tell people, Bob Cousy to me is like a stepdad."

But logging a whopping 3,681 minutes over the course of 80 games and hoisting 2,106 shots from the field -- without the benefit of a 3-point line to pad his scoring totals and spare him some of that painful contact -- definitely "took a toll on me" in the words of a 6-foot-1 guard who played at a mere 150 pounds.

"You pay for that, too," Archibald said.

Not that he has similar fears for Harden or Westbrook.

"These guys are bigger and stronger than me," Tiny said. "And the technology is different. The medical technology is different. Bernard King, who tore up his knee, he would be back quicker nowadays. He wouldn't have to wait a year and a half or two years to come back. Everything is much better and I think that's why guys last longer. These guys are equipped with a different century than we were."

It's an era he's happy to take in as a fan like the rest of us, gasping at the audacious way Westbrook can finish a game with his left hand. Or wondering if Harden can really continue to be the first player this league has ever seen to generate in excess of 60 points a night with his scoring and passing in D'Antoni's most free-flowing offense yet.

Since Archibald accounted for 56.8 points per game for the Kings in 1972-73, no NBA player has reached the 50-points-per-game level for an entire season.

"I think it puts a lot of pressure on a guy," Archibald said of the roles Westbrook and Harden have. "But those guys can handle it. I don't know if I handled it well or not ... but I would be honored and proud that someone else did that."

Especially since, as Tiny says with a laugh, "you could always say that they did it ... but I was the first."

The Utah Jazz currently possess more than $13 million in cap space, which makes them even more interesting to watch than they already are when they play.

Reason being: Utah's cap space can be used to make a robust in-season extension offer to either point guard George Hill or big man Derrick Favors.

And ...

According to the latest rumbles in circulation on the matter, Hill has emerged as Utah's priority here.

The Jazz just signed center Rudy Gobert to a four-year, $102 million extension, so their frontcourt needs obviously aren't as pressing as securing an anchor for the backcourt. Utah is also known to be fond of Hill's leadership qualities as a playoff-tested veteran on a squad not exactly teeming with postseason experience, which is among the reasons that the Jazz were drawn to Hill as a trade target in the offseason in the first place.

Until his recent thumb injury, Hill was playing sensational basketball in his early days in the SLC. If he can maintain that form all season, Hill would undoubtedly rank as one of next summer's most attractive free-agent point guards behind Chris Paul should he make it all the way onto the open market, given that Stephen Curry and Kyle Lowry are expected to re-sign with Golden State and Toronto, respectively.

Thanks to its available cap space, Utah has the right via the renegotiation-and-extension formula Oklahoma City used on Westbrook to tack that $13 million-plus onto to Hill's current $8 million salary. In addition to raising his standard of living for this season, such an offer also would be a springboard into an extension that takes effect next summer with a starting salary in excess of $22.5 million.

‎Which is precisely where the intrigue would begin to bubble if Utah elects to go that route.

Is a deal starting in that range rich enough to convince Hill, given his well-chronicled fondness for his situation in Utah, to sign off on the extension and forgo his turn on the open market? And what would it mean for Favors' future if that's indeed the route Utah chooses?

Two excellent questions.

November has been quite the month for the 3-pointer.

If it's not big men Brook Lopez and Marc Gasol wowing us with long-ball prowess they never previously felt sufficiently liberated to put on display, it's Curry throwing in 13 3s in a game against poor New Orleans to set a new single-game league record.

It's worth remembering, on this ultra-nostalgic Son of Weekend Dime Friday, that the NBA instituted the 3-point line starting with the 1979-80 season and went nearly a decade and more than 9,000 games before a team sank as many as 13 3s on one night before Sacramento did it on Feb. 9, 1989.

Here's a look at the evolution of the single-game record Curry just broke:

So more than 10 years passed before Ellis topped the eight Barry sank in the first season of the new weapon ... and more than 13 years before Curry bested Kobe's dozen.

P.S. -- Bonus points for you if you remember than Donyell Marshall hit 12 triples for Toronto to equal the Mamba's record in a March 2005 game.

Regular readers well-acquainted by now with our Buffalo Braves obsession have presumably done the math and quickly deduced how excited we must have been here at Stein Line HQ for our first chat with Mr. Archibald.

You guessed it: Nearly 40 years later, we're still not over the Achilles tear that Tiny suffered during a meaningless exhibition game against visiting Detroit just six weeks after the Braves acquired him, forcing Archibald to miss the entire the 1977-78 season.

Which, of course, turned out to be my team's last in Buffalo.

The trade with New Jersey to bring in Tiny and pair him with Randy Smith in the backcourt was the Braves' last hope of getting the city to buy back in after Bob McAdoo, Moses Malone and Adrian Dantley were all virtually given away as part of the ill-fated sale of the club from Paul Snyder to John Y. Brown. With no Archibald, Buffalo wound up spiraling to a 27-55 season in which it gradually became clear, at a mostly empty Memorial Auditorium, that the end was near for the franchise's time in Western New York.

Thanks to a wonderful retrospective series in the Buffalo News in April assembled by my pal Bucky Gleason, I've learned a lot in 2016 about the Braves' demise that 9-year-old me would have struggled to process even if I had known what was going on.

Yet I simply couldn't resist telling Tiny, since I had him on the phone, how excited I was about his Buffalo arrival and how I still keep his only Braves basketball card -- with our powder blue home jersey airbrushed on to compensate for the lack of actual pictures of him in a Braves uniform -- close by on my desk.

"I was fired up to go there, because I looked at the guys that were there," Archibald told me. "We would have been like greyhounds. With Randy ... I had never been on a team that fast. But I went down. I'm sorry I couldn't fulfill that dream. It's unfortunate that people sustain injuries."

Excuse me now while I spend the rest of the weekend sobbing like that young Marcin Gortat fan Twitter made famous.