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12-29-2003, 12:58 PM
Can Griffin and the Nets help each other?

A free-agent frenzy in December? That's what went down over the weekend as six teams -- the Nets, Knicks, Pistons, 76ers, Magic and Raptors -- duked it out for the right to sign former Rocket Eddie Griffin.

That's right, the guy the Rockets released after spending the past two months in a rehab clinic. That's right, the guy who's charged with aggravated assault for allegedly shooting a gun at his girlfriend. That's right, the guy who was busted in April for marijuana possession.

But hey, he's 22, stands at 6-foot-10, jumps out of the gym, rebounds like madman and can shoot the NBA 3. So all is forgiven. Right?

Insider breaks down the NBA at Week 9, including the Nets' controversial "win" in the Griffin sweepstakes, the return of King James, and a surprisingly strong Bulls backcourt.

Here come the Nets: Are the Nets and president Rod Thorn on the rebound?

Just three weeks ago Thorn's Nets looked frayed beyond the point of repair. His team was 7-11. Prize free-agent acquisition Alonzo Mourning announced his shocking retirement. Players were bickering with one other and embattled head coach Byron Scott. Jason Kidd was privately questioning his decision to re-sign with the team. Kenyon Martin was on the trading block. The team was mired in an excruciating public sale, limiting Thorn's ability to make any radical moves. And most importantly, the team seemed to have totally lost the magic that propelled it to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances.

What a difference three weeks make. Mourning is still gone, Scott is still on the hot seat, the team is still for sale and Thorn still has a number of cap-related issues to slog through -- but on the court at least, the Nets are rolling again. The team has won nine of its last 11, including big road wins against conference rivals like the Pistons and Pacers.

Kidd has overcome a sluggish start to post Kidd-esque numbers in the Nets' last five -- 17.2 ppg, 11.4 apg, 6.4 rpg and 2.6 spg. Richard Jefferson has emerged from mediocrity and has quietly turned into the Nets' go-to scorer, averaging 21.6 ppg and 6.2 rpg in the last five. Martin has taken control of the glass, averaging 12 rpg and 17.2 ppg. Kerry Kittles has broken out of a year-long shooting slump.

While the competition the Nets have faced the past few weeks hasn't exactly been playoff-caliber, the passion that the team is playing with should give fans hope. After getting destroyed by the Grizzlies 110-63 two weeks ago, the Nets have played with a fire that hasn't been evident all season.

The Nets are hoping Eddie Griffin's laundry list of personal and legal problems are behind him.
If that isn't enough to get Nets fans smiling again, Thorn pulled off another coup over the weekend when he convinced coveted free agent Eddie Griffin to join the Nets for a mere $400,000. Thorn outbid the Knicks, Pistons, 76ers, Magic and Raptors for Griffin's services. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this was a case where two people couldn't have needed each other more.

Griffin has a history with the Nets. Thorn traded the draft rights to Griffin to the Rockets on draft night three years ago in return for the rights to Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong. The trade, along with swap that sent Stephon Marbury to the Suns for Kidd, was the spark that turned the moribund Nets into a winner. That Thorn could turn around and acquire Griffin for nothing three years later is amazing.

Griffin comes with baggage, but it wasn't enough to stop an all-out bidding war for Griffin this week. The Rockets released Griffin several weeks ago after waiting months for Griffin to get his life back in order. Griffin's problems started in the preseason when he missed a team flight to a game out west. After being suspended for one game, Griffin was supposed to be back in a Rockets uniform the next day.

He never wore one again. Shortly thereafter a warrant was issued for Griffin's arrest on charges of aggravated assault. Griffin allegedly beat and shot at a former girlfriend who was at his house. The day the warrant was issued, Griffin admitted himself into a hospital for substance abuse and clinical depression. During his stint in the hospital, Griffin reportedly told people close to him that he was through playing basketball.

Griffin has a history of off-the-court trouble. He got into fights with teammates at both the high school and college level. He was also busted by police last April when they found a bag of marijuana in his car. If convicted of the aggravated assault charge, Griffin could spend up to 20 years in prison.

So why do the Nets take this big of a gamble when things apparently are on the verge of turning around? Three reasons.

One, Griffin had the talent to be the No. 1 pick in the 2001 draft. There was a reason the Rockets gave up three first-round picks to get him. Griffin's one of those multi-talented big men who can sink shots from the perimeter or go down low rebounding or blocking shots. Scouts claim that Griffin has the talent to be one of the top shot blockers and offensive rebounders in the game.

Two, the Nets need him. Scott has been getting zero production from the bench and the team is thin in the paint. Griffin's ability to sink 3s combined with his shot blocking and rebounding will help the Nets tremendously. Currently, the team's leading scorer off the bench is Aaron Williams, who's averaging just 6.8 ppg. Rodney Rogers was supposed to handle the bulk of the scoring load of the bench, but he's having another disappointing year, averaging 5.6 ppg on 33 percent shooting from the field. While Griffin's never averaged more than 8.8 ppg in his career, he will be far and away the most dangerous weapon the Nets have on the bench.

Three, financially the risk is minimal. The Nets gave up nothing to get him. The Nets made no long-term commitments to Griffin. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. If he's a bust, the Nets can simply walk away.

The downside to signing Griffin is that no one knows where his head is. His agent and his advisors say that he's "in the best emotional condition he's been in some time." I'm not sure how much solace anyone can take in a statement like that. Griffin's never played the game with much passion to begin with, and his recent comments about quitting basketball can't give the Nets a ton of confidence that Griffin will be tough enough to survive a grueling playoff battle.

The worst-case scenario for the Nets is that he actually comes out plays well and then goes AWOL in the playoffs when the Nets need him the most. Another Griffin breakdown, after he's established himself as an important cog in the team, could be devastating to an already emotionally fragile team.

Of course, the acquisition of Griffin is just another finger in the Nets' cracking dam. It's a short-term solution that doesn't address the long-term realities that Thorn faces. If Griffin completely turns his career around, the Nets likely won't be able to afford to pay him next summer.

Thorn is still struggling to find a way to keep players like Kidd and Martin while still keeping the franchise financially profitable for a new owner. With the sale still in limbo, his hands are tied to make any long term moves. As Insider first discussed on Dec. 18th, Thorn's only viable option may be to trade Kidd to the Spurs for Tony Parker and the expiring contracts of Ron Mercer and Robert Horry. That would give Thorn the financial flexibility to ultimately re-sign Martin, Jefferson, Collins, Griffin (if he pans out) and Parker to long-term deals. As long as Kidd is on the books, the Nets really don't have the flexibility to sign anyone next summer. Given the financial realities that face the Nets right now, it may be the only way to get the spending under control and keep a good, young team on the floor.

King James for MVP?

Last week we touted LeBron James as a legit candidate for NBA Player of the Week. Over a four-game stretch that week, his line of 28 ppg and 6 apg on 51 percent shooting was as good as anyone else's in the NBA.

LeBron James
Point Guard
Cleveland Cavaliers

31 20.2 5.9 6.1 .426 .773

This week, maybe it's time to start the MVP talk. As ridiculous as that sounds for a rookie whose team is just 10-21, hear me out a bit. For the second straight week, James was statistically one of the best players in the NBA. He averaged 26.5 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.3 rpg and 3 spg while shooting 43 percent from the field. For those keeping track at home, James is now averaging 27 ppg, 5.6 apg, 4.5 rpg and 2.6 apg on 47 percent shooting since the Cavs traded Ricky Davis to the Celtics. His team has won four of its last six games, including big wins versus potential playoff teams like the Hornets, Sixers and Blazers.

If the Cavs do the impossible and make the playoffs, is there anyone more worthy? Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Peja Stojakovic, Baron Davis and Shaquille O'Neal are ahead of James. Paul Pierce, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Jermaine O'Neal should probably be ahead as well. They all play for good teams and are putting up dominating numbers.

But after that? Tracy McGrady? James' numbers are similar and his team has a better record. Jason Kidd? Not after he slept through the first month of the season. Zach Randolph, Michael Redd and Carmelo Anthony? Good players who will have to wait another year or two before the spotlight hits them.

If James can keep up the pace, and his team finds a way to sneak into the playoffs in the East after dumping its leading scorer from a year ago, I think James deserves a look. At 18 years of age, he's playing a new position in a new league and he's dominating. While he still needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve that 3-point shot, he's been as good, and as important to his team, as anyone in the NBA the past two weeks. Considering I was a pretty big LeBron skeptic coming into the season, I can't get over how good this kid is.

Isiah finds his man

Isiah Thomas has been on the job as president of the New York Knicks for a little less than a week. He hasn't been able to swing any blockbuster trades, but he has made one significant move that could pay huge dividends for the Knicks.

Thomas told coach Don Chaney it was time to insert second year point guard Frank Williams into the starting line-up and let him do his thing. Chaney denies that Thomas told him to do anything, but Knicks insiders insist that the push came from Thomas. Williams had been impressive in limited action earlier in the year, but was buried behind veterans Charlie Ward and Howard Eisley.

Thomas has compared Williams to a young Walt Frazier and wanted to see if he could improve the Knicks fortunes. Williams was inserted into the starting line-up two games ago and has put up impressive numbers (16 ppg, 5 apg in 27 mpg) and more importantly, two big wins for the Knicks.

"He's unflappable, poker-faced on the court," Thomas told the NY Post. "He doesn't look like he's moving, but he's going around people. They can't seem to keep him out of the paint. He's slow moving, then all of a sudden he takes a quick step and he's around somebody. I think he has an excellent future."

He's not the only one who seems to have Thomas' confidence. Keith Van Horn, who Thomas coveted when he was the head man of the Raptors, put together back to back 28 point games this weekend. He's also averaging 10.5 rpg and is shooting 63 percent from the field.

"The first day, he spoke to us about having confidence in each other, supporting each other," Van Horn told the New Jersey Star Ledger. "I think we all heard him."

Van Horn said it was a rededication on the defensive end that made the difference for him.

"I did the exact opposite," Van Horn said. "I put pressure on myself in terms of focusing on defense and rebounding, and offensively I didn't even think about what I was going to do in the game -- I just let it go and play off instincts. It's paid off."

Crawford and Hinrich sizzle:

On Tuesday, Scott Skiles was laying into Jamal Crawford and his questionable shot selection. Crawford was benched in the fourth after shooting just 2-for-14 from the field in a loss to the Nets. Before that he had similar miserable nights, going 7-for-27 in a loss versus the Cavs, 11-for-26 in a loss to the Spurs and 7-for-23 in a loss to the Pistons.

Jamal Crawford
Point Guard
Chicago Bulls

27 17.6 3.1 5.3 .412 .862

Since Skiles' public rebuke, however, Crawford has put up two gems. He dropped 30 points on 12-for-20 shooting versus the Cavs on Friday and came back the next night and scored 42 points on 16-for-27 shooting against the Wizards. What got into him?

"In an ideal world, you want efficient scorers," Skiles told the Chicago Sun Times. "And you can't get much more efficient than 16-of-27. Jamal got to the line five times. He scored in different ways. That's efficient. Having said that, when you have a guy who can really score and he has a hot hand, you can live with some of the other things. But he was active, and he hasn't played as well on nights when he wasn't as active."

"When you're into the game defensively, it's funny how your shot starts going in," Skiles added. "Every game I want him to play defense whether he's on LeBron James or my grandma. When he does, he has a big offensive night."

Crawford credits Skiles for his quick turnaround. "Coach Skiles told me when I get after it defensively I'm better offensively, and I'm trying to take that advice to heart," said Crawford. "I think I'm picking my spots a lot better. Coach Skiles is sitting me down and helping me on what's a good shot. He's bright and I love playing for him. He was heaven-sent for me."

The other difference for Crawford has been the strong play of backcourt mate Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich is averaging 7.8 apg over his last five -- that ranks fifth in the league during that span behind only Jason Kidd, Eric Snow, Steve Nash and Gary Payton. Not bad company.

Will Nellie take the fall in Big D?

Mark Cuban went out of his way to pursue coach Pat Riley before finally agreeing to give Don Nelson a contract extension this summer.

With the Mavs struggling to fit all of their high-powered pieces together and Riley potentially available to begin another head coaching gig, is it just a matter of time before the quick-triggered Cuban sends Nellie packing?

It sure sounded that way this week when Cuban put the blame on Nellie's shoulders for the team's up-and-down play.

"The issue isn't so much with our players as it is with our coaching staff just drilling them and drilling them and drilling them to death, so we know where we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to be doing," Cuban told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "In terms of personnel . . . I wouldn't change it for anything. . . . Defensively, we've just got to learn to play like a team."

Road Warriors

Want an explanation for the serious amount of parity in the NBA? Look no further than the road. Through Sunday's game, only six teams in the NBA -- the T-Wolves (12-5), Lakers (6-5), Spurs (8-7), Pacers (10-6), Hornets (9-7) and Nets (8-7) -- had winning records on the road. And only two of those teams, the T-Wolves and Pacers, are more that two wins over .500 on the road. By way of comparison, last year 10 teams had winning road records. All of them were at least six games over .500 on the road.

Some good teams have been downright awful away from home this year. The Blazers are 0-10 on the road and 14-4 at home. The Mavericks are 13-2 at home and just 4-10 on the road. The Kings are 16-2 at home and 5-6 on the road. And the Jazz are 12-3 at home and just 4-10 on the road.

Peep Show

New York Knicks: Don't tell Isiah Thomas that he has one of the toughest jobs in sports. "Everybody thinks that you can't fix the cap situation, but I'm used to going against the crowd," said Thomas in the New York Times. "I was a guy who came into the league at 6-foot-1 and everybody told me that I was crazy when I stood up on the first day of training camp and said that the Detroit Pistons would win a championship. I'm the same guy who was told that I was crazy for going to Toronto. I'm the same guy who was crazy for going to Indiana because it was a team that was totally dismantled. Each one of those places has turned out to be very successful and I'm more than confident that I can get the job done here."

Detroit Pistons: Where have we heard this before? "I believe if you defend and rebound better, you get better opportunities to score," Piston head coach Larry Brown told the Detroit News. "We do have to be smart offensively to justify playing both of those guys. You just hope what Darvin [Ham] brings in terms of his defense, rebounding and energy will make it a little easier." Brown is in the midst of changing his rotation once again, taking Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur out of the starting lineup and turning to a more defensive oriented team employed by former coach Rick Carlisle. "Tayshaun is playing so many minutes and I think it is hurting him," Brown said. "We have been talking about using Darvin in the same way they used Michael Curry last year. We will have to be careful who we put around him, but you hope Darvin can give you the energy and defense, and give Ben (Wallace) some support at the start of the game."

Houston Rockets: Lately, Jeff Van Gundy has been inviting Steve Francis to the movies and those movies have always starred the same guy: Steve Francis. "I think I'm seeing the court more," Francis said in the Houston Chronicle. "Coach and I have been trying to dissect film more, and percentages and stats. I think we've been connecting a lot to where I'm recognizing situations to where it's a good time for me to shoot or a good time for me to pass. It's better if you see it on film instead of just talking about it. He's been doing an excellent job of bringing me in and making me watch every single shot that I take, every single pass. The little things have been helping me go a long way. It's a good session. It's definitely needed."

Philadelphia 76ers: What, exactly, does it mean when Allen Iverson is in Philly and the rest of the Sixers are out West? "It means he doesn't have the strength in his leg right now, that only time will help get it back," head coach Randy Ayers said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "We've always been cautious on the side of holding him out and making sure we correct this situation before bringing him back." Iverson has now missed seven consecutive games and eight in the last nine.

Atlanta Hawks: Atlanta general manager Billy Knight says that the reason the Hawks are the worst team in the NBA is, well, because of the Hawks. "We really have to change the culture of the team --- the attitude and the atmosphere of losing. We have to get a different mind-set," Knight said. "It has to eat at you. It has to bother you when you lose. It has to stay with you until the next time you go on the court. It has to mean something. All of those things are important to having a different attitude." The Hawks have fallen to 8-24 and have nowhere to look but the mirror. "People get used to losing too much. You have to change that," Knight said. "Players have to look in the mirror, first of all. It's the players on the court that are deciding the games. This isn't about Xs and Os. It has nothing to do with . . . what the coaches are talking about. It's from within, and everybody has to look at themselves and see what they can do better. You can't give it to someone; they have to have it. You can't make anybody do that --- this is the NBA. You rely on people's personal pride and their own self-worth to approach the games in a professional manner. You just want people to be a pro."

Los Angeles Lakers: Karl Malone most likely isn't playing on Friday and Rick Fox most likely isn't playing the following Friday, either. "We want to have him practice sometime this week if at all possible," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Malone in the L.A. Daily News. "We'll get him on the floor and see how he reacts, then make a judgment later in the week about Seattle." Fox, though, has yet to play this season and was telling folks he would be back a week later. "He's not ready yet," Jackson said. "If he was ready, he would play. He's got to prove it to us. You hate to say it about a guy who's a captain, a member of the championship teams, but we have good players at that position (small forward). He has to show that he belongs there and that he's ready to play."

12-29-2003, 01:38 PM
Mark Cuban went out of his way to pursue coach Pat Riley before finally agreeing to give Don Nelson a contract extension this summer.

Did I miss something? Sam Smith says it, so it's true? I didn't see this reported during the summer AT ALL. Hopefully ESPN's not being so sloppy as to base an article on something Sam Smith said.

12-29-2003, 01:42 PM
Seems like most sports journalist's "research" is looking for unfounded rumors that someone else has stated. If that fails, then they just make it up out of whole fabric. On rare occasions, they might "stoop" to using real facts. i/expressions/face-icon-small-disgusted.gif

12-29-2003, 01:59 PM
I'm just curious to know if I missed something, because I NEVER heard anything about Cuban being interested in Riley until this article.

Well, other than speculation on this board and elsewhere, of course, but never "in print".

12-29-2003, 02:09 PM
For what it's worth (maybe not much) Vescey reported it late last season.

12-29-2003, 02:45 PM
It may be a case of writers trying to strech guilt by association. With the Hardaway trade, multiple Grant rumors, the pusuit of Mourning, and the signing of Best, the Mavs have more recent history with Miami than any other team. Add that to the fact of Riley giving up his coaching duties, and I think you have writers looking at this situation more as obvious than factual.

12-29-2003, 03:15 PM
I read that Vescey NY Post bit, but I didn't put much stock into it at the time.

For what it is worth, I hate Riley, I hate his slow-it-down, thug-encouraging coaching style, and I would be absolutely disgusted if this insider assertion was proven true...

12-30-2003, 12:39 AM
I dont want riley here( i want Larry Bird) but he is not just a slow it down coach. He did that in Miami because thats what he had but he coached the showtime lakers which I guess you guys have forgotten they were anything but slow it down. He adapts to what he has. I just which Nellies attitude would adjust and he would realize that the mavs shouldnt be underdogs.