20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Potential Pip Comeback Creates Extra Buzz

Scottie Pippen's plans to come back headlined a busy Friday at NBA All-Star Weekend:

Potential Pip Comeback Creates Extra Buzz

posted by David Friedman @ 1:03 PM


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Friday, February 16, 2007

Day One of All-Star Weekend

You better get your rest beforehand if you ever plan on coming to an NBA All-Star Weekend--because you sure won't get much sleep while you are there. Here is a link to the first of my four daily All-Star Weekend reports for HoopsHype.com:

No Time to Sleep

posted by David Friedman @ 7:55 AM


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

NBA Alllows Their Stars to Shine

My newest NBCSports.com article takes a look at the statistics of some of the NBA's greatest All-Star Game performers. Here is the first paragraph:

The NBA All-Star Game showcases the most supremely talented players in the sport in a format that more closely resembles a "real" game than the All-Star Games in other sports do. The NFL Pro Bowl has a laundry list of alternate rules pertaining to permissible formations, in Major League Baseball's All-Star Game you may only get to see some players take one swing of the bat (if they pop up or ground out) and in the NHL's All-Star Game--well, viewers are still trying to find that one. The NBA All-Star Game is not played with the same ferocity as a playoff game--no All-Star Game is---but in recent years we have seen big comebacks and some strong defensive plays, which would not be the case if the players were just content to run up and down the court.

Click on this link to read the rest of the article:

NBA Allows Their Stars to Shine

posted by David Friedman @ 4:04 PM


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NBA Leaderboard, Part X

Just two games remain before All-Star Weekend. I will be filing daily reports from Las Vegas for HoopsHype.com, so I decided to post the final pre-All-Star Game Leaderboard now; the rankings don't figure to change substantially after TNT's Thursday night doubleheader.

Best Five Records

1) Dallas Mavericks, 43-9
2) Phoenix Suns, 39-12
3) Utah Jazz, 35-17
4) San Antonio Spurs, 35-18
5) Houston Rockets, 33-18

Phoenix has been slowed by injuries to Steve Nash and Boris Diaw and Dallas is starting to pull away. The Jazz, Spurs and Rockets are still bunched closely together. The Lakers have gone just 3-7 in their last ten to slip a bit behind that group. Detroit has the sixth best record but is number one in the East--for now; Miami has creeped up to .500 by going 7-3 in their last 10 games.

Top Five Scorers (and a few other notables)

1) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 30.8 ppg
2) Gilbert Arenas, WSH 29.0 ppg
3) Dwyane Wade, MIA 28.8 ppg
4) Kobe Bryant, LAL 28.7 ppg
5) Allen Iverson, DEN 28.7 ppg

8) LeBron James, CLE 26.2 ppg

11) Vince Carter, NJN 24.8 ppg

13) Tracy McGrady, HOU 23.8 ppg

Arenas' average dropped by .4 ppg after his hibachi melted down in Portland, but he still retains the number two position. Melo and Iverson's averages moved downward slightly.

Top Five Rebounders (and a few other notables)

1) Kevin Garnett, MIN 12.5 rpg
2) Tyson Chandler, NOK 12.1 rpg
3) Dwight Howard, ORL 11.8 rpg
4) Carlos Boozer, UTA 11.8 rpg
5) Emeka Okafor, CHA 11.5 rpg
6) Tim Duncan, SAS 10.8 rpg

9) Shawn Marion, PHX 10.3 rpg

11) Ben Wallace, CHI 10.3 rpg

23) Rasheed Wallace, DET 8.1 rpg
24) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.0 rpg

Chandler vaulted from fifth to second and Duncan and Marion each moved into the top ten (Marion is mere percentage points ahead of Jermaine O'Neal and Ben Wallace). Howard continued his retreat from the top spot.

Top Five Playmakers

1) Steve Nash, PHX 11.8 apg
2) Deron Williams, UTA 9.1 apg
3) Jason Kidd, NJN 8.7 apg
4) Chris Paul, NOK 8.7 ppg
5) Baron Davis, GSW 8.7 apg

The standings have not changed much in this category since the season began. Starbury moved into the top 20 (19th) with a 5.5 apg average.

Note: All statistics are from ESPN.com

posted by David Friedman @ 12:06 AM


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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mark Aguirre: Dropping Knowledge

Mark Aguirre earned three All-Star appearances and played on two championship teams during a golden age of NBA small forwards, the 1980s. During that decade, legends like three-time MVP Larry Bird and 1981 MVP Julius Erving headlined a group of forwards that included Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Bernard King, Dominique Wilkins and James Worthy. Aguirre could score from anywhere: on the post, facing up or bombing away from outside. He also was an excellent passer, very capable of making teams pay for double-teaming him. Now he works as an assistant coach for the New York Knicks, tutoring their big men on the finer points of post play.

Here is a link to my article about Aguirre:

Mark Aguirre: Dropping Knowledge

posted by David Friedman @ 10:07 PM


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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Warner Brothers NBA DVD Trivia Contest, Part III

The newest Warner Brothers NBA DVD hits the streets today. It is titled NBA Street Series Volume 4: Class of '03 and features highlights of 2003 NBA draft picks LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Josh Howard and T.J. Ford.

You can win a free copy of it by being the first person to answer the following trivia question:

1) Who had the best career college three point field goal percentage among Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Josh Howard and T.J. Ford? What percentage did that player shoot?

Contest Rules:

1) Answers must be submitted in the "comments" section of this post; the winner will the first person who correctly answers both parts of the question.

2) To win, your answer must include one of the following: your real name, your email address or the name of your blog/website (I can't mail a DVD to "anonymous").

3) One entry per person (this eliminates random guessing).

4) Contest winners' names will be announced in the "comments" section of this post and in a separate, new post on 20 Second Timoeut's main page; the contest winners will also be contacted via the email address or website information that they provide.

5) In order to receive your prize, you must be able to provide a shipping address within the Continental United States.


The DVD featured in this contest and all of the DVDs featured in the first and the second contests that I held here--plus DVDs about the NFL, NHL and college football--can be purchased at the Warner Brothers website:


posted by David Friedman @ 3:39 PM


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Monday, February 12, 2007

NBA Hot Topics: All-Star Reserves, Nash is Out of the All-Star Game, Riley is Back and Agent Zero's Hibachi is Ice Cold in Portland

While I spent the weekend watching LeBron battle Wade and Kobe a lot of things happened around the NBA (and no, I'm not talking about off court items like ESPN helping someone promote a book that was published by, surprise surprise, ESPN). Here are some quick takes on four subjects:

1) Commissioner David Stern selected Carmelo Anthony and Josh Howard as All-Star reserves to take the place of the injured Yao Ming and Carlos Boozer. West Coach Mike D'Antoni will decide which one of the eight reserve players will replace Yao in the starting lineup. He could go small by shifting Tim Duncan to center and picking a guard or he could elevate his own player, Amare Stoudemire, and keep everyone at their usual positions. At this rate, if a few more players get injured, everyone who was "snubbed" will end up being an All-Star after all. League scoring leader Anthony and all-around threat Howard are certainly worthy participants in the All-Star Game.

2) Speaking of injuries, the Commissioner will be choosing at least one more reserve player because it has been announced that two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash will be unable to participate in the All-Star Game because of the right shoulder injury that has sidelined him recently. He will also withdraw from the Skills Challenge. Ray Allen would be a worthy replacement for Nash; he is having a career year for a poor Seattle team. Zach Randolph is putting up a quiet 24 and 10 in Portland--it is quiet because their games are not on national TV. Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams are each having good seasons for a solid Utah team that lost its only All-Star representative when Boozer got hurt. Elton Brand is having a good season but he and the Clippers got off to such a slow start that he probably will not be picked. My hunch is that Stern will select Deron Williams, replacing a point guard with a point guard and giving Utah an All-Star Game participant.

3) He's baaaaack! Who would have thought that Pat Riley would return to the Miami Heat bench after Shaq got healthy and had some time to work his way back into shape? Seriously, who could have imagined this--other than anyone who as been following the NBA for any time at all. The Associated Press and several other media outlets are reporting that Riley will resume his coaching duties in the first game after the All-Star break. The Heat went 13-17 before his sabbatical and have gone 12-9 since then under Ron Rothstein as Shaq and other players returned to action. I mentioned previously my skepticism of the cliche about the "team that nobody wants to face" but if Riley returns and Wade and Shaq are healthy in May you can rest assured that no one in the East will be looking forward to playing against Miami, regardless of the playoff seeding.

4) Agent Zero's mission in Portland failed miserably on Sunday. Gilbert Arenas pledged to drop 50 points on the Trail Blazers because Portland Coach Nate McMillan was on the Team USA staff that cut Arenas this past summer. Arenas has been blogging about this game, talking about this game and building it up for months. He said that the networks should change the schedule and televise the game. Considering what happened, I think that would have been a great idea, because it would have helped people who only look at his scoring average and three point shooting percentage to understand why he is a solid All-Star, not an MVP candidate. He shot 3-15 from the field, including 0-8 from three point range, and fell a mere 41 points shy of his goal, finishing with nine points, two assists and five turnovers. His turnovers + missed three pointers to assists ratio was 6.5/1. Washington, a first place team in a weak Eastern Conference, lost 94-73 to a bottom feeding team from a strong Western Conference. Yes, it was just one game, but it was a game that Arenas literally circled on the calendar. He is not the kind of player who can just decide to go out and get 40, like MJ used to do or like Kobe Bryant can do for stretches of several games. Arenas is a good player who has worked hard to maximize his talents and should be applauded for that but he is no Kobe, LeBron or Wade. Check out what Arenas' own coach, Eddie Jordan, said about Agent Zero after the Portland disaster: "First of all, we didn't have the leadership out there that we needed with Antawn out. And no one else has stepped up into a leadership role." The "no one else" line is of course a direct shot at the misfiring Arenas. The Washington Post's Mike Wise wrote an interesting article detailing how Washington's season seems to be on the verge of unraveling. Jordan and Arenas are openly feuding because the coach thinks--correctly--that the Wizards must become better defensively, while Arenas believes that the Wizards should stick with the same style of play that led to a first round exit from the playoffs last year.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:27 PM


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Kobe Sizzles, Lakers Fizzle in 99-90 Loss at Cleveland

The L.A. Lakers wasted a scintillating performance by Kobe Bryant--who outscored LeBron James 25-0 in the first 22:01 of the second half--and fell 99-90 to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Bryant had 36 points, seven rebounds and six assists, shooting 12-24 from the field and 11-11 from the free throw line. He was particularly dominant in the second half, scoring the Lakers' first six points of the third period and their first 14 points of the fourth period. Bryant received little help from his teammates, especially the bench players, who scored just 15 points on 3-17 shooting from the field. James had a subpar performance (18 points, eight rebounds, five assists, 5-16 field goal shooting, 8-12 free throw shooting) but the Cavs' reserves came through with 46 points on 15-29 field goal shooting. Sasha Pavlovic led the way with 21 points. James' only second half field goal came on a spectacular dunk that put the Cavaliers up 97-87 with just 21.9 seconds remaining in the game.

In the early going the game looked like the Vladimir Radmanovic Show. The fifth year Lakers forward has been on the receiving end of some pointed barbs from Coach Phil Jackson and he made his first four field goals in the opening quarter, helping the Lakers build a 16-9 lead by the 5:23 mark. Pavlovic entered the game at that point and provided an immediate spark, blocking Radmanovic's next shot attempt and making both of his field goal attempts, including a fast break dunk at the buzzer that put Cleveland up 24-23.

Bryant sat out the first 3:49 of the second quarter and the Lakers fell further behind, trailing 33-27 when he returned to action. Bryant's two hand fast break dunk at the 2:23 mark trimmed the Cavaliers' lead to 43-40. The Lakers missed their last five shots of the quarter and Cleveland closed the half with a 9-1 run to lead 52-41 at halftime. Radmanovic cooled off considerably after his fast start and had 11 points by halftime (he finished with 12). Bryant and James each had 11 points as well. Bryant shot 5-11 from the field and did not attempt a first half free throw, while James shot 4-9 from the field and 3-4 from the free throw line. Bryant added four rebounds and four assists, while James had six and three respectively. The Cavaliers' bench outscored the Lakers' bench 18-4, with Maurice Evans supplying all four points on 1-4 shooting.

With Radmanovic's brief scoring burst over and the rest of the Lakers team looking pretty lethargic it was obvious that the Lakers would need a big second half from Bryant. He set the tone from the start of the third quarter, forcing Larry Hughes to miss a layup, grabbing the rebound and dribbling coast to coast for a dunk. Bryant's aggressiveness helped to put the Cavaliers in the penalty with nearly eight minutes remaining in the quarter and his defensive intensity proved to be contagious; the Lakers even forced a five second violation at the 6:44 mark. The Lakers led 67-64 by the end of the quarter, with Bryant contributing 11 points, three rebounds and one assist while playing all but 18 seconds. James had no points, rebounds or assists in his 11:31 of action, missing five field goals and two free throws.

Pavlovic opened the fourth quarter with a three pointer to tie the score at 67 and neither team led by more than three points until James' two free throws with 2:59 left--his first points of the second half--put Cleveland up 85-81. James scored seven points in the closing 2:59, shooting 5-8 from the free throw line and delivering the soaring dunk that punctuated Cleveland's win. Hughes made a big defensive play with 1:26 remaining, knocking the ball out of Bryant's hands. Pavlovic ended up with the ball, scoring a layup despite getting fouled by Smush Parker. The basket plus the free throw made it a two possession game, 91-85, and the Lakers never got closer than four points after that sequence.

Notes From Courtside:

Kobe Bryant's supposed "transformation" is one of the big stories in the NBA this season. One questioner asked Lakers Coach Phil Jackson during his pregame standup if Bryant has "evolved" to the point that Michael Jordan reached when Jordan was willing to pass the ball to players like John Paxson. Jackson replied: "He has shown the ability to do that and the willingness to do that. You know, he did that (in his fourth year) on the (2000) championship team when he had (Robert) Horry and (Derek) Fisher and guys who were really shooting the ball well and Shaq could finish. To regain the confidence with some of the young players who haven't shown the ability to meet that pressure situation is still a work in progress."

Is it really that hard to understand that Bryant is more eager to pass the ball to guys who prove that they will take and make big shots than he is to pass the ball to guys who don't want to take and/or cannot make such shots? Bryant would have had at least 10 assists against Cleveland if guys knocked down open shots that he spoonfed to them. Bryant delivered a couple Steve Nash-like passes along the baseline that resulted in wide open three pointers that were missed. In his postgame standup, Bryant said, "We've faced this before and sometimes I have to remind them that I haven't lost confidence in them." He emphasized that he wants them to keep shooting, adding that they should adopt his way of thinking: "If I'm 1-5, I feel like I'm due. You just have to be assertive." Bryant's unselfishness or his "transformation" cannot be judged just by looking at his field goal attempts or his assists. The important issue is the decision making process that he employs: does he attack the basket when the opportunity presents itself and not settle for three pointers? When he is double-teamed does he read the defense and find the open man? When he has an advantageous one-on-one situation does he use that opportunity to score? The latter is important, because some "unselfish" NBA stars are really just guys who don't want/can't make pressure shots, so they pass up good shots to give the ball to teammates who have less talent and are not in a better position to score. Not shooting when you are the open guy is just as bad as shooting when you are not open because it results in the same thing: a low percentage shot by someone on your team.


During the pregame warmups, Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis worked with forward Brian Cook on his footwork in the right elbow area (the "pinch post" in the triangle offense). Some of the moves he practiced included a reverse pivot followed by one dribble and a jump shot, a jab step followed by a jump shot and faking a dribble hand off followed by a jump shot. Cook is an excellent catch and shoot player but if he is able to utilize some of these moves in game situations he will be a more effective player in the triangle offense and not just someone who is stationed on the wings waiting for Bryant to find him. He only played three minutes versus the Cavaliers, shooting 0-3 from the field.


Cleveland Coach Mike Brown has been criticized for his team's slowdown offensive style and for his emphasis on defense when the "experts" have figured out that Cleveland's problems are on offense. He addressed these two issues in his postgame standup: "When we move the ball and when we execute we play good basketball. We did a decent job pushing the ball; we had 12 fast break points. The bottom line is that we have to defend. The media and fans think that running is the answer to everything but we have to make sure that we get stops. Prior to this game we had four games where our opponents were averaging around 82 points a game. We came in tonight versus a very good Laker team that averages over 100 points a game and they score 90 and shoot 39 percent from the field. Our guys had a little something to do with that."


In his postgame standup, someone asked Jackson what he said to his team and he replied, "That we gave this game away. We had a 12 point defensive (third) quarter against Cleveland, played really exceptional defense and kept them off of the foul line and did the things that we asked them to do in the locker room. In the fourth quarter we came out and gave them a 35 point quarter, which is exactly the opposite type of defense. We got in foul trouble right away and they just capitalized by going in there, smashing around and getting to the foul line."

He also had a pithy explanation for why Bryant had to shoulder such a heavy offensive load in the second half: "He had a hot hand and we went with the hot hand." Earlier in his remarks, Jackson noted, "According to Kobe, nobody else wanted to step up and that was one of the things that we were looking for, to get somebody else going. Mo (Maurice Evans) had an opportunity underneath the basket and lost the ball and Lamar (Odom; 5-13 from the field, 11 points) looked like he wasn't stepping into the vacuum."

Bryant played all but 18 seconds in the second half as he tried to carry the team to victory. Jackson commented, "I may have played Kobe too many minutes out there. I thought that he might have gotten tired there at the end."

Someone asked why the Lakers went to a zone defense but Jackson replied that they never used a zone in this game: "It might have looked like a zone but it wasn't," he quipped, alluding to players being out of position and not attached to the players who they were supposed to guard.


Lakers forward Lamar Odom is frustrated at the Lakers' lack of communication at the defensive end of the court: "We have to become better as a team defensively if we want to win consistently...We don't communicate. It's funny, as a team everybody is so close off the court but on the court we don't talk at all. If you go by the park where I grew up and watch some guys play four on four you'll hear 'pick,' 'help,' 'rebound,' or whatever. We don't do a good job of that."


Bryant offered this take on the Lakers' fourth quarter woes: "Our defense pretty much caved. We gave up a lot of easy opportunities at the basket and a lot of free throws."

The combination of Bryant's scoring and the complete disappearing act by the rest of his team enabled the Cavs to get away with simply swarming Bryant. Whenever Bryant caught the ball in the frontcourt late in the game, Coach Brown frantically waved both of his hands toward himself, imploring the Cavs to basically ignore the other Lakers and surround Bryant. That led to Hughes' key steal. Someone asked Bryant if he thought that Hughes fouled him on that play and Bryant replied, "It was a great defensive play. I was looking to read some of my cutters and try to get other guys involved in that particular situation and he made a great defensive play."

posted by David Friedman @ 3:04 AM


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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Transcript of February 9 Online Chat at Sports.Sina.com

After the Cavs-Heat game on February 9, I participated in an online chat at Sports.Sina.com. Fans submitted their questions in Chinese; Renjun Bao translated the questions into English and then translated my answers into Chinese. I tape recorded the questions and my answers in order to produce a transcript for 20 Second Timeout readers who are not fluent in Chinese. Two notes about the chat: (1) As soon as the chat was publicized at Sports.Sina.com fans began submitting questions for me to answer, so I received the first seven questions in advance; I did not know what would be asked in the remaining ones until I heard them on February 9; (2) I have slightly edited the transcript for clarity and to remove redundancies. I think that the participants asked some interesting questions and I did my best to provide informative answers:

1. If you rank the NBA's all-time great centers, what's Yao's standing? Top 10, Top 15 or Top 20?

A: I think that it is too soon to put Yao in the top ten or top 15 of all-time. I think that he has the potential to eventually get into that category--but right now if you were going to list the top ten or top 15 centers of all-time you would have to include Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, George Mikan, Robert Parish, Willis Reed, Bob Lanier, Artis Gilmore and Bill Walton (note: I should make it clear that I listed those names randomly, not necessarily in the order that I would rank them, and that this was not meant as an exhaustive list, just an indication of some players whose careers would still rank ahead of Yao's). Those are all players who have had longer careers than Yao has had at this point while performing at a very high statistical level and several of those players took their teams to at least one championship. For Yao to get into that group he would have to continue to play at a high level and then it would help also if he would lead his team to a championship or at least take his team deep into the playoffs.

2. Among those great NBA centers, whose game is similar to Yao's?

A: I wouldn't compare Yao's style to some of the centers that I just mentioned. I would compare him to some of the super tall centers, guys who stood at least 7-3. In that group you would have guys like Mark Eaton, Rik Smits and Ralph Sampson. Of the guys who had that kind of size, I think that Yao is most similar to Smits in terms of the way that he plays, except that Yao is a better player than Smits was. They are similar in terms of their shooting ability. Sampson was more athletic than Yao in terms of blocking shots and his general mobility. He moved laterally better than Yao does. Most of the guys who were 7-3 or taller--other than Sampson and Smits--were limited players. Yao is not a limited player. He has a lot of skills. So I think that Yao is already well on his way to being the greatest player in that group of the super tall centers. The previous category--the greatest of all-time--is something to be discussed a little bit further down the line.

3. With Yao as the leader of Rockets, the team was struggling. With T-Mac as leader, they are doing much better. Can you explain this?

A: This is not an easy question to answer. It is difficult to explain because Yao was playing well before he got injured. You would think that the team's record would drop off without him in the lineup. Obviously, the biggest factor in the Rockets' current success is how Tracy McGrady is playing. I think that McGrady is really playing at an MVP level; he is making everyone around him better. Of course, I think that when Yao Ming returns to health that the team will reach even greater heights than where it is at now.

4. With Steve Francis as the sidekick, Yao was not that great. With T-Mac as the sidekick, we are not sure yet. Do you think the Rockets have a chance to win it all?

A: I think that the Rockets have a chance to win the title if Yao Ming comes back soon and is healthy but I wouldn't call them the favorite to win it all. They are one of a few teams that has a legitimate chance. The other thing that I would say is that trading Francis for McGrady is the best thing that has happened for Yao. He is much better off playing with McGrady than playing with Francis; I think that the same thing is also true for Dwight Howard in Orlando; he is much better off now that he is not playing with Francis. Francis dribbles the ball too much and does not pass enough to his big men, so it is not good for Yao or Howard to play with him.

5. In your opinion, who will be a perfect partner for Yao to win a ring?

A: I think that a healthy Tracy McGrady is a very good partner for Yao. One thing that would help Yao a lot would be to play alongside an athletic power forward who could help him in terms of rebounding and who could assist him in guarding the paint.

6. Somebody argued that the only reason Yao was voted as the starter in the All-Star Game are the Chinese fans (via internet voting). We really want to know, how many votes could Yao have gotten without votes from China?

A: To the best of my knowledge, Yao Ming led in the paper balloting--the in arena voting--in previous seasons, including 2004. In this year's voting, 75% of the votes came from paper ballots, the English language section of NBA.com or from the 1250 T-Mobile stores in America where fans could submit a ballot. Based on that, I don't think that it is accurate to say that Yao was only voted in because of votes from China. All of the evidence that I've seen from this season and previous seasons suggests that that is not the case at all, that he is in fact getting voted in by fans in America, not just fans in China.

7. Which weakness restricts Yao's development most?

A: I would list three things, two in particular. The first thing is his lateral mobility. The second thing is how quickly he gets fatigued. I don't think that the third thing is as much of a problem as it had been but Yao needs to maintain his aggressiveness and attack other players. He should not be passive during games but should always be active and aggressive. I think that he has made progress in all three areas. Obviously, there is only so much that he can do about his lateral mobility.

8. In China, there are two groups: one loves Yao Ming and one dislikes Yao Ming. Do you think that it is the same in America?

A: I don't detect that there are people here who dislike Yao Ming. Obviously, people are fans of various teams, so he probably would not be a favorite player of someone who roots for a team other than the Rockets, but I don't think that there is a negative feeling toward him. I think that the feeling toward Yao is generally positive. I think that when Yao first came over there was a lot of curiosity about him and people wondered how well he would do. Charles Barkley made the statement that Yao would never score 20 points in a single game, so people wondered how much Yao would develop and how quickly it would happen. Now people see that he is a top level player.

9. When Yao does not play, the Rockets do fine. When T-Mac does not play, the Rockets struggle. Which team would go further in the playoffs, the Rockets without Yao or the Rockets without T-Mac?

A: You have to say the team with T-Mac would do better because their record in the last two years shows that. In the past two years when T-Mac has been out the Rockets have tended to lose, regardless of whether or not Yao plays. So it seems that the group of players that they have are more dependent on T-Mac than Yao. I think that one reason for this is that T-Mac creates offense for everyone by drawing double-teams, which creates open shots for other players. The thing that is strange to me is that it would seem like Yao should be able to do the same thing but for some reason it doesn't seem to happen that way or they don't use him in a way in which he would get double-teamed and pass the ball to the other players. He doesn't get a lot of assists, so it seems like they are not fully taking advantage of his passing ability.

10. The uptempo style that Phoenix plays is popular but the Rockets play a slower style. Are the Rockets too conservative?

A: The Rockets play a more conservative style than Phoenix does but that is the right style to take advantage of Yao's skills. The way Houston plays, with a heavy emphasis on defense, is actually, from a historical standpoint, a more successful way to play in the playoffs. If Houston can ever get T-Mac and Yao healthy at the same time and then get a little bit more production from the bench the Rockets could win a championship. The reason that I don't think that Houston will win a championship this year is that championship teams usually have to play together a little while and get used to each other. They added some players this year, like Battier, and I don't think that there is enough time to get everybody healthy and used to playing with each other in order to win a championship this year.

11. How would you characterize Jeff Van Gundy's coaching ability? Where would you rank him among NBA coaches?

A: I would rank him as one of the better coaches. He has already taken a team to the NBA Finals, the 1999 New York Knicks. He has proven that he is a good defensive coach; his teams perform well at the defensive end of the court.

12. Which team will win the All-Star Game and who will win the MVP award?

A: It is very difficult to predict who is going to win an All-Star Game. It is tempting to pick the West because most of the top teams are in that conference but everyone in the All-Star Game is an exceptional player, so any one player could get hot and take over the game for either team. It is almost impossible to predict who will win the MVP but it probably will be a small forward or a shooting guard, someone who gets to take a lot of shots. A lot of times when there is an All-Star from the host city his teammates try to get him the ball and help him to win the MVP; last year the West tried to help McGrady to win the MVP because the game was played in Houston--but the West didn't win and the MVP usually goes to someone from the winning team. This year, with the game being in Las Vegas, there is no one who plays on a team from the host city. Maybe Shawn Marion will win the MVP because he played college basketball at UNLV; I say that half seriously and half joking.

13. In the long run, do you think that there will be NBA regular season games held in China?

A: I think that in the long run that is the direction that things are headed, to have regular season games outside of the United States. I don't know that it will happen immediately in China but it would not surprise me if it happened eventually. I think that there have already been some regular season games in Japan, so I think that having games in China is a natural thing for the NBA to do eventually.

14. David Stern has been the commissioner for a long time. Who do you think will be the next commissioner?

A: That is an interesting question. Russ Granik just retired as deputy commissioner and Adam Silver was appointed to take his place. I think that one might consider him to be the front runner to be the next commissioner but I don't have any reason to believe that Stern is resigning soon.

15. There was a lot of hype about LeBron James before he came into the NBA. Do you think that he has lived up to the hype?

A: I think that he has. In some ways, he has exceeded the hype and has done even better than people expected. If you look at his statistics from last year in terms of points, rebounds and assists, he performed at a level that only Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan have reached in a single season. He has set a number of records for being the youngest player to accomplish various things. There were enormous expectations, yet he has met or even exceeded them and I think that this is remarkable.

The chat ended at this point before I had a chance to add one more point to that last answer: James has met the challenge individually but the next test for him is to take his team deep into the playoffs and eventually win a championship.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:29 AM


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