View Full Version : ESPN Insider - 4/19/06 - 'Truth elusive in Life with Larry'

04-20-2006, 01:34 AM
Truth elusive in Life with Larry

Chris Sheridan
posted: Monday, April 17, 2006

Nobody knows what Larry Brown is going to do except for Larry Brown, and even he might not know for sure.

Isn't it always this way with LB?

I was on the set of "Cold Pizza" last week, chatting with a longtime New York tabloid reporter who is a regular on that show, when the discussion turned to Brown and whether he'd stay with the Knicks -- and for how long.

"Let me tell you the quintessential Larry Brown story," he said.

Back when that reporter was a beat writer for the New Jersey Nets, he was getting word from impeccable sources that Brown (then the Nets' coach) was leaving to take the coaching job at Kansas University. He confronted Brown with the information, telling him he wanted to give him one last opportunity to comment before the story hit print.

"It's not true," Brown said.

"But Larry," the writer persisted, "my sources on this are telling me it's a done deal, and I'm putting it in the paper."

"OK, it is true," Brown replied.

If that had been the only Brown doublespeak story I had heard this season, it'd be one thing. But it just so happens that when I was in Indianapolis last fall waiting for a Pacers practice to end, the Pacers front office people, their beat writers and myself got to telling a few Brown stories, and the one that sticks in my mind was a recounting of Brown's final days in Indiana when he was ready to leave for the Philadelphia 76ers.

At least one writer had been tipped by Brown himself that he would be leaving, but the information was strictly off the record and was not to be published. The writer let the Pacers' front office people know that he planned to write it the following day (holding it for 24 hours out of respect for his agreement with Brown), and the Pacers huddled with Brown to plot a strategy of what they'd say publicly, no matter how far it was from the actual truth.

When the coach's office door was opened for Brown's pregame meeting with reporters, Brown tried to quash the rumors in the most unequivocal language possible. He was misleading the reporters, of course, but only a couple other people in the room knew it, and they recalled being astonished by how sincere Brown sounded as he told everyone something other than the truth. A couple days later, of course, he was gone.

Those stories are worth bearing in mind as the NBA's biggest fiasco, Brown's New York Knicks, limp into the summer with their coach's future far from certain.

The Knicks put out a statement Monday morning, with Brown's full knowledge, saying he was expected to coach their final game of the season Wednesday night on the road against the New Jersey Nets if he received medical clearance from his doctors.

At the same time, ESPN reported that Brown would not coach New York's final two games.

Given what we know about Brown, how can we know what to believe?

On Wednesday night Brown either will or won't show up, and the fact of the matter is that Brown is apt to change his mind not just hourly, but by the minute. In the time it took you to read this blog entry, he might have changed his mind three times.

Brown's players on the Knicks haven't been able to figure him out all season, and the one player who acted as somewhat of a liaison for him in the locker room, Antonio Davis, was dealt away at midseason. Brown had input into that trade, which brought Jalen Rose to the Knicks, just as he gave his blessing to the other midseason deal -- Trevor Ariza and Penny Hardaway to Orlando for Steve Francis.

The blame for the failure of Rose and Francis to be incorporated into any kind of a winning scheme rests with Brown, who utilized those two players in the same haphazard, mad professor-like manner in which he ran the team all season.

I talked to a lot of folks with the Knicks on Monday, trying to get their best reading on what's actually going on. They all gave basically the same answer: They weren't quite sure what Brown was thinking or plotting, and none of them were either discounting or putting too much credence into anything they were hearing.

That's the way things are in Life With Larry, and the Knicks should have expected something like this to happen when they decided to bring him aboard.

Help wanted: Fixing the 14 that missed the playoffs

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN Insider

While 16 teams are headed to the playoffs, the rest are going back to the drawing board.

A couple teams that missed out on the postseason can be branded monumental failures (that would be you, Knicks and Timberwolves), while others did pretty much as expected (take a bow, Bobcats and Raptors) and a few more can be slotted as major underachievers (yes, that's you Golden State, Seattle, Philadelphia) though not out-and-out disasters.

With the regular season wrapping up tonight, it's time for a closer look at each of the non-playoff teams, what went wrong and why, how it can be fixed, and what ways and means each team has to fix its problems. We'll start from the bottom of the standings in each conference, meaning the worst go first:


New York Knicks
What went wrong: Coming out of training camp, incoming coach Larry Brown was not set on specific rotations or roles for his players, and he never did decide. New York set an NBA record for the most different starting lineups, and the Knicks went into their final game trying to avoid their 60th loss -- unprecedented in franchise history.

What needs to be fixed: The midseason trades for Jalen Rose and Steve Francis inflated next season's payroll to $125 million, perpetuating the way, way over-the-cap spending philosophy that everyone except James Dolan can see makes no sense. Most of the other owners are getting a hefty chunk of Dolan's money from the tens of millions he'll pay in luxury taxes.

How they can fix it: This year's pick belongs to Chicago from the Eddy Curry trade, and the Bulls have the right to swap first-round picks with the Knicks next year as well. New York does have two lower first-round picks, Denver's and San Antonio's. The Knicks also will use their full mid-level exception on one player (Speedy Claxton, Vladimir Radmanovic and Reggie Evans all make sense) and dangle Rose's expiring $16.9 million contract and Maurice Taylor's expiring $9.75 million contract to teams seeking cap space for the summer of 2007. Trading Marbury and/or Francis will be difficult, but not impossible.

Charlotte Bobcats
What went wrong: Emeka Okafor sprained his ankle Dec. 19, let it heal for four weeks and then sprained it again when he stepped on teammate Gerald Wallace's foot in a double-overtime victory over the Rockets. He hasn't played since. Sean May showed brief flashes, but not much more, and the 'Cats seven- or eight-victory improvement is no better than what should be expected of a second-year expansion franchise.

What needs to be fixed: They need a scorer, and they'll probably look for one in the draft rather than making a big purchase and a long-term commitment in what's considered a mediocre free agent class. Okafor gets his cast taken off his foot next week, so he's still got a long recovery road ahead. People close to Bernie Bickerstaff believe he'll stick around as coach for at least another year, seeing what he can produce in the Year 3.

How they can fix it: They have another high lottery pick, and they'll be picky shoppers on the free agent market. They'll make a value buy or two to replace Jake Voskuhl, Jumaine Jones and Kareem Rush's cap slot, but otherwise they'll keep their newfound cap room (their 75 percent cap limit expires in July, and they'll be as much as $25 million under) as their ace in the hole. Raymond Felton has made Brevin Knight expendable, but don't look for the Cats to trade anyone else. They're pretty happy with where they are. Other than Orlando, which other non-playoff teams have as high a rating on the hope meter?

Atlanta Hawks
What went wrong: They've doubled their victory total from last season, so there's been measurable improvement. But the price they paid for Joe Johnson was extremely high, and passing on Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Raymond Felton in the draft continues to defy rational explanation. They were 8-32 on the road, better than only the Knicks and Blazers.

What needs to be fixed: No offense to Royal Ivey, but it's time for a new starting point guard, and it's time to mix in a couple veterans, too. There are plenty out there on the free agent market this summer, some who fit the bill in both areas (Jason Terry, Speedy Claxton, Mike James, Sam Cassell, Bobby Jackson). Al Harrington will be an unrestricted free agent, and both sides still must decide whether it's best for Harrington to stay at a reasonable price or move on through a sign-and-trade to a team willing to pay him more.

How they can fix it: They'll keep their lottery pick, but they still owe a No. 1 to Phoenix from the Johnson trade, and next year's pick is protected for only the first three picks. They'll be under the cap this summer, but their flexibility on the free agent market will be hindered severely until they make a decision on Harrington.

Toronto Raptors
What went wrong: They knew they were going to be bad even before training camp began when then-GM Rob Babcock admitted even he didn't think they were a playoff team. No surprise he didn't last. Jalen Rose's impending departure was a big distraction until Babcock's successor, Wayne Embry, finalized the deal that got Rose off their cap and put them about $10 million under the cap this summer. The Rafael Araujo experience has been an utter failure, a waste of a No. 8 pick.

What needs to be fixed: Chris Bosh's future needs to be secured, but that can happen only if he accepts the extension the Raptors will offer him. Mike James' future is up in the air, too, with few believing the Raptors will want to commit long-term to him despite the stellar season he had. They'll have another lottery pick, and they need to find another Charlie Villanueva-type talent more than they need another Joey Graham.

How they can fix it: Most of the $10 million in cap space will be earmarked for a center, but there isn't much out there aside from Joel Przybilla and Nazr Mohammed, unless they go the trade route and try to get Jamaal Magliore from the Bucks. If they decide not to keep James, they'll try to move him in a sign-and-trade deal but would then possibly leave themselves with a gaping hole in the backcourt. Jose Calderon isn't ready to start at point yet.

Boston Celtics
What went wrong: Some teams are the right mix of young and old, but this one has young guys and old guys who just aren't a good mix. The young guys need more experience, including a point guard, Delonte West, who should be playing shooting guard, and the older guys, Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak, do not make those around them better.

What needs to be fixed: Finding the correct remedy has been a tricky task for team president Danny Ainge, who would like to see Doc Rivers simplify his defensive schemes while he sets about the task of finding the right playmaker and spare parts to continue building around Pierce and Szczerbiak. At least that's what he says he'll do, although many do not believe him since he almost traded Pierce to Portland on draft night last season.

How they can fix it: Clearing Mark Blount's inflated salary off the cap was a key move, but are the C's absolutely sure they want to build around big men Kendrick Perkins and Al Jefferson? There's still a need for another big body if the right point guard can't be found in the draft. Ainge can expect plenty of calls asking what he plans to do with Pierce.

Orlando Magic
What went wrong: Building around Steve Francis and Grant Hill turned out to be a bad idea, but at least the Magic ditched that scheme and made a deal with New York that will give them loads of cap room for the summer of 2007. In many ways, the Magic still are paying for their bad drafts and bad trades over the past six years. They have little left to show for Tracy McGrady, and the Fran Vazquez miscalculation on draft night last year was huge. They can't afford a repeat with this year's pick.

What needs to be fixed: The young core of Dwight Howard, Darko Milicic and Jameer Nelson is as promising as any young threesome in the league, but the Magic can't be content with just them. If they can ship Grant Hill and his expiring contract in exchange for the right mix of young players, it'll jumpstart their rebuilding momentum before they dive into one of the best free agent markets in NBA history.

How they can fix it: Finding a way to get Vasquez to leave Spain would be a start, and finding a taker on the trade market for Hill would be a huge plus.

Philadelphia 76ers
What went wrong: A horrendous month of March knocked them from what appeared to be a certain playoff perch, and the organization was incensed at Allen Iverson and Chris Webber for showing up just before tipoff for the home finale Tuesday. It has been 14 months now since Webber came aboard, and his addition was not exactly supposed to lead to a first-round ouster and a trip to the lottery.

What needs to be fixed: As always in Philly, it's a question of what type of players need to be put around Iverson. And once again, there's a question of whether the correct mix of players for that task even exists. If they're committed to taking another shot with Iverson and Webber as the lead tandem, they'll need more experience and fewer overpaid underachievers (that means you, Sammy D). But the time may have come to blow it up completely.

How they can fix it: Trading Iverson makes more sense than ever, and trading Webber would be a boon, too. Too bad the initial task is risky and the latter is nearly impossible, as Webber is still owed $43 million over the final two years of his deal (Iverson still has $60 million coming over the next three years). Would any team be able to take on both of those contracts? The Knicks could, and a package including Stephon Marbury and Jalen Rose might get it done. General manager Billy King got the Sixers below the luxury tax threshold, which might end up saving him his job. But if Philadelphia wants to keep its payroll there, it won't use its mid-level exception. That'll make fixing this problem even tougher.


Portland Trail Blazers
What went wrong: The franchise promised a few years ago to move forward with players of better character, but they devoted most of their payroll to Darius Miles and Zach Randolph, both of whom were suspended in the past several days for egregious acts of insubordination -- Miles changing out of his uniform at halftime after coach Nate McMillan sat him in the first half; Randolph for leaving the arena during the third quarter of a game he was sitting out (he missed the team photo earlier that night).

What needs to be fixed: Billionaire Paul Allen is expected to sell the team, which is hemorrhaging money, and no one knows in which direction the Blazers will turn -- or even whether they'll remain in Portland -- until that issue is resolved. General manager John Nash could be out of a job in a matter of months, if not days. In short, they're an utter mess from top to bottom.

How they can fix it: Winning the draft lottery would help, but a more realistic solution would be to acknowledge their mistakes with Randolph and Miles and ship both out of town in exchange for expiring contracts that could make them the No. 1 player in the 2007 free agent market. Someone certainly will get a lot of phone calls, whether or not it's Nash.

Minnesota Timberwolves
What went wrong: The Szczerbiak-Ricky Davis trade worked out about as well for them as it did for the Celtics, which is to say not very well. It might have placated Kevin Garnett temporarily, but how long will it last? Over the past two seasons, they've been as disappointing as any other team in the league (except the Knicks, of course).

What needs to be fixed: Do they move forward with Garnett, or without him? Owner Glen Taylor, GM Kevin McHale, coach Dwane Casey -- along with Garnett himself -- all need to answer that question. They've missed the playoffs for two straight years, and Garnett's legacy is at stake. Right now he's as famous for what his contract did to the NBA as for he has done on the court.

How they can fix it: If their pick is in the top 10, they'll keep it. Otherwise they must give it to the Clippers as part of the payment for the Sam Cassell-Marko Jaric trade. They'll have the mid-level exception to use, but at some point Taylor will tire of throwing good money after bad. Marcus Banks will be an unrestricted free agent, and he might have been the best player they got in the big midseason trade with Boston. Their window was open two years ago, but now it's closed. It's a question now of which Kevin lasts longer, Garnett or McHale.

Golden State Warriors
What went wrong: Their strong finish to the 2004-05 season gave them delusions of grandeur they had no business believing, and they turned out to be exactly what they've been for years: A bad team in a tough conference. Coach Mike Montgomery never won the respect of the players, and GM Chris Mullin never overcame the bad deals from the past (Adonal Foyle) that he exacerbated with questionable deals in the present (Mike Dunleavy's extension).

What needs to be fixed: By all accounts, owner Chris Cohan is ready to blow it up. It might start with Montgomery and Mullin, and it might also include the shopping of Baron Davis. But a blowup is coming, and it might extend to trades of Troy Murphy and/or Jason Richardson. What they have now is certainly not working.

How they can fix it: If you're looking for a team willing to take a chance that Iverson might be a good fit, start looking here. They need to get out from under Foyle's contract (he's owed millions through 2009-10), and they'll get callers for Murphy. Davis is still owed $59 million over the next three years, and this might be their last good opportunity to move him.

Houston Rockets
What went wrong: To put it simply, Tracy McGrady's back went out. They couldn't win without him, even with Yao Ming returning from toe surgery and producing monster numbers. You marry yourself to a superstar, and you put yourself one superstar injury away from being barely better than the Knicks. The scary part is that McGrady's back injury might only get worse.

What needs to be fixed: If Jeff Van Gundy is such a great coach, what exactly has he done since 1999 except earn a lot of money and alienate everyone around him except his assistant coaches? A new GM is coming in, and Daryl Morey will spend a year apprenticing under Carroll Dawson before assuming control. At some point, he's going to have to bring in some youth.

How they can fix it: They're tied into McGrady long-term the same way they're tied into Yao, so all they can do is cross their fingers and hope McGrady's back injury doesn't worsen. They'll be in the draft lottery, and they'll likely use their mid-level exception to replace a couple of their older players.

Seattle SuperSonics
What went wrong: They overachieved so much a year ago, it might have given them a false sense of bravado heading into this season. They had too many players who wanted the get paid more than they wanted to win, and by the time Seattle traded Vladimir Radmanovic and Reggie Evans, this was already a lost season.

What needs to be fixed: Is Ray Allen staying or going? Better yet, what about Rashard Lewis, who can opt out and become a free agent in 2007 and might feel it's time to cash in with someone else. With the team up for sale and possibly relocating to another city in four years if a new arena isn't built, the Sonics might be on the path to tearing things down.

How they can fix it: They've fallen in love with Chris Wilcox, and they love Robert Swift. That'll be great two years from now, maybe, but in the meantime they're going backward, not forward. Because Lewis is likely to opt out of his contact a year from now, the Sonics will have to explore whether this is the best time to get maximum value in return. They'll get a lot of calls on Allen, too, and he could be the most valuable trade asset on the market this summer if Garnett stays in Minnesota.

New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
What went wrong: When they hit a snag, everything unraveled. And they tried too hard to make stopgap moves that ignored the crux of the problem -- they're too young and not good enough along the front line to compete with the big boys. Coach Byron Scott feuded with second-year guard J.R. Smith, and nobody filled the gap at shooting guard with any kind of consistency.

What needs to be fixed: The Aaron Williams and Marc Jackson/ Linton Johnson trades didn't help as much as they'd have liked, and the acquisition of Moochie Norris (under contract for $4.5 million next season) will keep them from being the free agent players they could have been. They run the risk of losing unrestricted free agent Rasual Butler over the summer, which would only worsen their perimeter deficiencies.

How they can fix it: They have a lottery pick as well as Milwaukee's first-round pick from the Jamaal Magloire trade. They'll have to make a decision on what they're willing to pay to keep Speedy Claxton, who will be an unrestricted free agent.

Utah Jazz
What went wrong: Carlos Boozer's hamstring injury forced him to miss more than half the season, and after he returned Utah's late push for a playoff spot fell just short. Several pieces are in place as the Jazz keep moving further away from the Stockton-Malone era, but they still need a boost in athleticism and a better shooting guard to help spread the floor.

What needs to be fixed: Both Larry Miller, the owner, and Jerry Sloan, the league's longest-tenured coach, need to figure out how long they want to perpetuate their marriage. There are too many signs pointing to a possible breakup to be ignored.

How they can fix it: They need to tinker rather than overhaul. If Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, Boozer and Deron Williams can all stay healthy for close to 82 games, they'll be a playoff team next year.

Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

04-20-2006, 01:38 AM
Chat with John Hollinger

Welcome to The Show! On Monday, NBA columnist John Hollinger will stop by to chat about the season, with the playoffs right around the corner.

Send your questions now and join John in The Show on Monday at 3 p.m. ET.

Hollinger archives: Columns | Chats

SportsNation John Hollinger: Greetings everyone. Not much meaningful basketball coming up the next three days, but playoffs are just around the corner. Let's get started on the questions.

Aaron (West Laf, IN): Alright, JH...let's hear you're latest MVP talk. Any changes? Simmons says Bryant (and Billups is #8 on his list?!)..but Stein says Bryant can't win it because he does silly things like elbowing M.Miller and costing his team 3 games. give us your status...

SportsNation John Hollinger: I put Bryant a distant fourth. My top three guys are LeBron, Dirk and Wade. A month ago Wade looked like a home run to me, but he struggled down the stretch while LeBron and Dirk dialed it up. Choosing between LeBron and Dirk, I have to go with LeBron just because he's played so many more minutes -- basically, he's providing the same production for a greater duration.

Big Ben and Billups Detroit, MI: hey What Up John, I have a question for you. Why can't my man Billups win the MVP? I mean he is the best player on the best team and I thought MVP award goes to a guy who's team can win the Title. How can the best team all year not get anything but maybe the D/A.

SportsNation John Hollinger: You can be the best team without having the best individual player, or the best rookie, or the best sixth man, or the best defender, and the Pistons have proven that. This is why I get upset when people want to vote based solely on a team's record, as if it's LeBron James's fault that he doesn't play with three All-Stars.

Mitch (St. Paul): The seeding format is really putting a damper on my enthusiasm for the playoffs this year. I just can't take the proceedings seriously when the team with the fifth-best record in a conference is put in a better position than the team with the second-best. It's a complete farce.

SportsNation John Hollinger: I hear you Mitch, and it's worse because the league should have seen this coming and didn't. It's completely unfair that the 2-3-6-7 teams in the West have it so much easier than the other bracket.

Larry (Omaha): John, I heard Mark Jackson say yesterday on ABC that Kobe Bryant would go down as the greatest player ever, ahead of MJ? Does Mark need to have his medication adjusted, or does he have a valid point?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I couldn't disagree more. This was the best season of Bryant's career, and he wasn't clearly the best player in the league. In fact, up until two years ago he wasn't the best player on his own team. So while Kobe's a great player, the MJ comparison is seriously pushing it.

Colby (South Jersey): Speaking of Playoffs, the Sixers are a team that should have made it with their over-priced roster. Any chance C-Webb opts out of his contract or will Billy be trying to move Iverson or Dalembert this summer? Thanks in advance John!

SportsNation John Hollinger: "C-Webb opts out." Ha-ha. Keep dreaming. The Sixers' problem is that trading only AI or C-Webb doesn't really get them anywhere -- they'd have to trade both of them for it to do much in terms of cap flexibility and being able to rebuild. They're basically stuck.

Rob (Los Angeles, CA): Were you one of the many ESPN writers that picked the Lakers to miss the playoffs? Isn't it fair to say that the Lakers have exceeded everyone's expectations this season?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Yes, I was, and that's why I think Phil Jackson should win Coach of the Year. He got more out of guys like Smush, Walton and Mihm than I thought he could.

Matt (Seattle, WA): Are we really looking at a potential Clips-Spurs Western Finals? Is there anyone in the Clippers way that can even compete with Brand and Kaman in the middle? Considering Denver's frontline is always injured, and the Suns tallest active player is 6-10 (I'm not counting Burke or Skita), who's to stop them? I'm a Suns fan, but after watching them destroy us last time in AZ, I'm actually finding myself thinking....I'm afraid to play the Clippers!

SportsNation John Hollinger: Clippers have a great path to the conference finals now that they tanked ... er, were defeated ... against Seattle. Much depends on health -- Denver's bigs, Kurt Thomas and Corey Maggette all are question marks.

John (NYC): I am picking the Kings to upset SA. Artest and Wells will eat the Spurs wings alive. Bibby and Parker are pretty even and Duncan isn't good enough right now to where the Spurs had that big an advantage in the front court

SportsNation John Hollinger: I think that's a major stretch. Duncan, even on his worst day, has more than enough juice to take apart Kenny Thomas, and I don't see Sacto stopping Parker.

Charles (San Jose): John, does that mean Phil did the best coaching job in the league or that many analysts made preseason mistakes?

SportsNation John Hollinger: LOL .. that's always the question at award time -- the "surprise" teams always do unusually well in the voting, and part of that maybe that writers don't like to admit they were just wrong. In Phil Jackson's case, even after seeing them all year I still don't understand how he won 44 games with that team, so that's why he gets my vote.

Carl (DC): Why not Flip for Coach of the Year? You predicted the Pistons to finish 5th in the East yet they set a franchise record for wins - surely that's a greater overachievement compared to your predictions than the Lakers.

SportsNation John Hollinger: I picked Detroit fifth with a win total in the 50s - I just thought Cleveland and especially Indiana would be much better than they were. Flip, Avery Johnson and a few other guys all have good cases ... I just thought Phil Jackson's body of work was the most impressive.

Stan, VA: Kobe's not the best player in the league??? Could you elaborate on it a little more...up until two years go..was it his fault that Shaq was with him..O well..I guess

SportsNation John Hollinger: No, LeBron is the best player in the league.

Shawn (Ann Arbor): The talk about Kobe vs. MJ got me wondering: anyone with eyes knows that Jordan was one the best if the #1. Do all the stats you put together say the same thing?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Yes, Jordan was the best by a mile.

Andy (Ventura, CA): Kobe a distant fourth? This is what people get from listening to a stat man. There are intangibles that make someone great. You constantly prove your lack of credibility because numbers ignore those things. Man should not have gone to the moon because of the money (a tangible), but the intangibles like the boost in national pride outweigh those things.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Ah, the first NASA analogy of the day. Kobe is fourth on my list BECAUSE of the intangibles. None of his teammates like him and he helped get the team's best player traded. Shouldn't that be part of the equation?

Drew: So shouldnt D'antoni be COY. He got more out of Raja Bell, James Jones, Eddie House, etc...That is the same rationale and its like you said "he cant help it if he DOES have 2 all stars, right? Its not his fault

SportsNation John Hollinger: D'Antoni was my choice until the Suns faltered down the stretch. I just think Phil did more with less, but I can understand how somebody could think the opposite. COY is definitely an inexact science.

Brandt (Lakeland, Fla.): Say Fran Vasquez decides to come to the NBA next year and Grant Hill somehow gets healthy, what do you expect of the Magic next season? Does this team have the potential to go on 5-year run of success?

SportsNation John Hollinger: The Magic are buliding something pretty good down there, especially if Hill plays and they get some help from the first-rounder. They still need a shooting guard and another big guy, but their young guys look great.

Nick (Chicago): Going off the recent front page article... how does your statistical analysis explain what the Chicago Bulls have been able to do (get into the playoffs) even when the best player, in terms of PER, is Andres Nocioni ranking in at #63?

SportsNation John Hollinger: 1) they play in the East, 2) they're well above average defensively, which PER can't measure outside of blocks and steals. If you're wondering, it was a similar case for these guys a year ago.

Evan (Valparaiso, IN): Since the Bulls charged their way into the playoffs, is Skiles going to get more consideration for Coach of the Year? There is NOT one coach in the league that does more with less!!

SportsNation John Hollinger: Skiles gets a lot of mileage from his guys, but I think last year he would have had a much better shot than this season. He still needs to figure out the roles in the backcourt and how to use Deng and Nocioni together.

Sanchez (Santa Barbar, CA): Despite being a Laker fan, I can see how Kobe could not be the MVP. But two things bother me, one, even if he "helped get the teams best player traded" that was two years ago. What does that have to do with 2006? Number two is defense, I think of James and Dirk as subpar defenders while Bryant is a superior defender. Isnt defense half the game?

SportsNation John Hollinger: It was two years ago ... but it's still materially affecting the Lakers, isn't it? As for defense, that's the best card in Kobe's hand. LeBron and Dirk aren't as bad as you make them out to be, but Kobe is clearly better.

Bryan (Fayetteville): In your opinion, why does Dirk not get a lot of top 2 MVP talk from a lot of writers and analyst? He has been so consistent all season and has been hot the second half of the year, even with the injuries around him!

SportsNation John Hollinger: Because it's not an easy pic to write an impassioned column about. I'm only half-kidding here -- the Nash argument is so easy to make, even if it's logically tenuous, whereas the Dirk argument doesn't have the same sex appeal. That's a stupid way to settle an MVP debate, of course, but I do think it may end up in the wrong guy getting the trophy.

Matt (Santa Monica, Cali): If Phil is the COY, then KB8 has to be MVP. He has carried this team all year and without him they have 25 wins. Your thoughts are appreciated.

SportsNation John Hollinger: I see no connection between the two at all. Phil is coach of the year because a team with no defensive talent still played decent defense. Kobe isn't the MVP because other players were more valuable.

Jerome (NYC): By "wrong guy" you mean Nash?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I think what will happen is that Nash won't have the most first-place votes, but will end up winning because so many ballots have him second or third. In which case, we'll have another controversy to dissect just like a year ago.

Anthony (Chicago): How is Lebron the MVP? He's a terrible deffender and until his team picked up a legit second late game option, inFlip Murray, he couldn't close a game out. How can such a bad deffender win MVP in a year with so many better options?

SportsNation John Hollinger: Because the "late game option" Flip Murray was on the end of the bench for one of the worst teams in the league, and didn't become a "closer" until LeBron kept finding him for wide open shots. As for the defense, he's not Bruce Bowen, but he's much better than you're giving him credit for.

Kris, India: Are you trying to break Sports Guy's chat record?

SportsNation John Hollinger: No, I think that record is like Wilt's 50-point average in a season. Nobody's going to be nearing that one for a long time.

Michael (Mastic, NY): If the Bulls play the Pistons in the first round do they have a chance to make it interesting or will they go down 4-0 or 4-1?

SportsNation John Hollinger: This year's Eastern Conference could provide the least interesting first round in playoff history. I'm just hoping one of the series goes to six games.

Aaron (Mich): Is Ben Wallace the Defensive MVP?

SportsNation John Hollinger: To me he is, but I think Bruce Bowen will win the award. For me, a big guy usually has a lot more defensive impact than a perimeter defender, especially one like Bowen who makes no impact on the glass. So to me it comes down to Duncan and Ben, and with Duncan being more limited this year Ben gets my vote.

ken (nj): whhy do all you guys assume detriot is a lock for nba finals.. miami, nj, cleveland, milwaukee, washington, indiana..those teams all have beaten the pistons..whyyyyy!!!!

SportsNation John Hollinger: Because they don't have to beat Detroit once .. they have to do it four times in seven games. The best-of-seven format all but eliminates the possibility of the upset. Barring injury, I can't see Detroit falling short.

Tom (Sacto): What about Artest for Devensive POY? He turned a whole team's defensive attitude around. Plus, ask Manu if he's looking forward to that matchup in the first round.

SportsNation John Hollinger: Can't sign off on a guy who only played half a season, especially since he has trouble chasing 2s (like every time he guarded Hamilton).

roberto, brooklyn, ny: I don't see Dirk as an MVP candidate. He scores outside and drives from time to time, but does he dominate in any other way besides scoring consistently?

SportsNation John Hollinger: It's what he doesn't do -- turn the ball over. Dirk creates piles of shots while hardly ever turning it over, and that makes the Mavs a massively efficienty offense. He's also become a much better rebounder.

Jay (Cleveland): Bill Simmons rules You are starting a draft based on production of this year (including defense), who is the first 5 picks?

SportsNation John Hollinger: He said Kobe, I'd go with LeBron. And I'd probably take Wade second.

paul (minneapolis): ALL NBA team? Mine looks like Kobe, Nash, Duncan, Dirk and Lebron with Wade & the Pistons as the 2nd team.

SportsNation John Hollinger: First - Kobe, Wade, LeBron, Dirk, Brand; Second -- Nash, Billups, Pierce, Garnett, Duncan

Jim (LA): Is Kidd still an elite PG or is he in a major decline?

SportsNation John Hollinger: I don't think he has quite the same zip in his step in transition, but he did a real great job this year on the defensive end, often switching onto shooting guards at the end of games to get stops. I could easily see him getting first team All-D.

The Sports Guy, ESPN: Hollinger, you'll never break my record, ever, I own your soul!

SportsNation John Hollinger: Well, I'm not breaking it today anyway. That's all the time I have but we'll do this again next Monday at 3.

Chat with Marc Stein

Welcome to The Show! On Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein will drop by to talk as the NBA regular season winds down.

Send your questions now and join Marc in The Show, Monday at 1 p.m. ET!

Stein Archive: Chats | Columns

SportsNation Marc Stein: Hello, all. Last chat of the regular season. Just so you know, tomorrow night's Midweek Dime will have my complete awards ballot: MVP and everything else. So I'm going to try to focus on other stuff here.

Andy (NYC): Marc have you heard anything either way whether or not Bosh will sign the max with the Raptors this off-season? Your colleague Sherdian seems to think its not a slam dunk, while Hollinger does.

SportsNation Marc Stein: I'm in the slam-dunk camp. Bosh is a smart guy and he understands that he'd be taking a huge financial risk to refuse a guaranteed max deal this summer and play on a one-year setup. Everything I've heard suggests that I can plan on a summertime trip to Toronto for the press conference.

Joey (Corona, CA): Do you see Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce on the move this offseason? Who's most likely to be gone and to where?

SportsNation Marc Stein: I know for a fact that KG and the Wolves do not want to part ways no matter how many KG trade rumors you'll be hearing between now and October. I'm almost as confident about Pierce staying in Boston. So it's the Sixers who must be watched closest. Philly will be forced now to look at every possibility, including AI trades, after this disaster of a finish. But as we've discussed here previously, Iverson's market is more limited than it might have been a year or two ago. Teams previously desperate for a ticket-seller, like Atlanta and Orlando, are unlikely to bust up their youthful cores for AI as he heads into his 30s. Orlando definitely wouldn't. On second thought, maybe Atlanta would still consider it, but then the Hawks would be doing so more for business reasons (filling their half-empty building, in other words) than basketball reasons. At this early stage, I'm openly struggling to give you a list of teams that would feasibly gamble on Iverson, not so much because he's 30 and expensive but because the Sixers have struggled for so long to find players who can be effective alongside him. The market for Webber, meanwhile, is even more limited because of Webb's age (33), health situation (still recovering from microfracture knee surgery) and contract (he's owed $43 million for the next two seasons).

D (San Diego): Will the Sonics really leave Seattle? How does this sound? San Diego SuperSonics!

SportsNation Marc Stein: There's a lot of threatening talk coming from all sides these days, but it's hard to know just how dire the situation is at this stage. It does look as though a Seattle suburb is prepared to step up and inherit the Sonics if they can't work things out with the city. At this point, I'm just hoping that the great Pacific Northwest doesn't lose both of its NBA teams. As for San Diego, though, I get the sense that the NBA would rather try a few other markets first. I'm sure that SD would be right behind Las Vegas if you polled media types and asked them where they'd like to see an NBA team, but competing with the paradise conditions down there doesn't sound like a smart business decision.

Ed, (toronto, ont): What are the chances of Toronto aquiring Jamaal Magloire?

SportsNation Marc Stein: Not good. The Bucks are going to get lots of trade offers for Magloire once the season ends and I don't think Toronto has enough extra pieces on its to tempt them. But the big Canadian becomes a free agent in the summer of 2007 and there's always a chance that new Raps boss Bryan Colangelo can try to swing a three-way trade.

Steve (Andover, MA): You put Mike James on that list of the 10 guys you'll miss most when the playoffs start and NOT PAUL PIERCE. My question: Who the heck are you?

SportsNation Marc Stein: I am a guy who enjoys watching Mike James play more than watching Paul Pierce. Won't try to explain it because I don't know if I can. I've just become a big James fan this year. I'm not normally moved by gunning and yapping but he fascinates me. It's not a knock on Pierce; everyone has their favorites.

Abe Solberg (Berkeley, CA): Would you favor a switch to 5 game series in the playoffs? I used to enjoy the first round because of this feature and I wonder whether 5 games would be the way to go all the way through the playoffs. Your thoughts?

SportsNation Marc Stein: Definitely. I think we all miss it. But the comissioner says they're not going back to best-of-five. Best-of-sevens potentially add home games for both teams in the first round, wihch means extra revenue.

Nathan (Texas): Could we possibly see a Staples Center series in the second round along with the I-35 series? And would that be a good thing for basketball outside of Southern Cali and Texas?

SportsNation Marc Stein: I suppose anything is possible. But I really don't think you have to worry about the rest of the country because I struggle to believe that we'll be seeing the Clippers and Lakers meet in Round 2. Sorry.

Charles (San Jose): Marc, what do you think about Greg Anthony thinking the Lakers have a chance to upset the Suns because they dominated a home game without Steve Nash and Raja Bell, with reduced minutes for Shawn Marion, and with significant minutes for two guys who won't see any daylight in the series - Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Pat Burke?

SportsNation Marc Stein: I think Greg, my old buddy from our Fullerton-Vegas days, is entitled to his opinion. I just don't agree with it. The Suns would much rather see the Lakers as opposed to the Kings. I expect Phoenix to run them off the floor in five. Six at the most if Kobe goes nuts.

Mark, NC: The Bobcats will have a TON of cap space who do you see them trying to sign or will they wait this year out and try to spend big next year on some high profile talent?

SportsNation Marc Stein: They plan to save their money for one more summer. Until the summer of 2007. That's what I've been told.

Jerome (NYC): Is there anything in the NBA today that is more annoying than Haslem CONSTANTLY chewing on his mouthpiece? I reckon the NBA should take care of that before they even consider taking the tights away.

SportsNation Marc Stein: Stop being a Heat Hater.

Carlos, Chicago: Marc, in anticipation of todays matchup, who has a bigger upside of potential future all-stars, The Chicago Bulls or Orlando Magic (and who will win tonights game)? Thanks from playoff bound Chicago!!

SportsNation Marc Stein: Congrats to the Bulls. They deserve everything they're getting for finishing with a flourish. I was riding them like Skiles when they had losing records in February and March seemed to turn down every invitation to move up in the standings. But this 10-2 roll means they've earned their way in.

SportsNation Marc Stein: As for your question, Carlos, the reflex answer is naturally Orlando because of Dwight and Darko (and maybe Vazquez) and Nelson's progress at PG. But it's premature to say so because the Bulls, on top of this rally into the tournament, also have the Knicks' No. 1 pick coming and buckets of cap space in the summer. I'd rather have Dwight Howard and Darko on my roster already, but the upside of the Bulls' situation makes it close.

Hector (Anaheim):: Aren't you selling Phil a little short on what the lakers could do in the playoffs? Nobody has been better than Phil Jackson in the postseason, and it sounds as if he has been sizing up Phoenix for a couple of weeks.

SportsNation Marc Stein: Don't think so. Phil's presence is the reason, even more than Kobe, that I picked the Lakers to reach the playoffs back in October. But Phil and Kobe can only do so much with the limitations of the Lakers' personnel. Dare I say that the Suns can handle LA's bigs even without Kurt Thomas and Amare. It's a lot to ask Kobe to be brilliant four times in seven games against a team that will run him ragged.

Tomas, Austin: Should the Clippers be fined for losing big to a lottery team at home? It sure looks like they are tanking to play a 45-win team at their place rather than a 60-win team on the road.

SportsNation Marc Stein: The problem is proving it. How can you prove they were tanking against Seattle?The Clips can easily argue that, because they've already clinched a playoff spot, they've earned the right to limit their starters' minutes in these final games to guard against injury for the post-season.

SportsNation Marc Stein: The seeding system bothers me more than anything the Clips might or might not have done. Kudos to the Grizz for winning six of seven and finishing the season strong, but if the Clips beat Denver in the first round and the Grizz get smoked by Dallas, will Grizz fans be satisfied with this strong finish?

bill (philly): Rumor in Philly is that AI will Quietly ask Billy King to trade him and the Sixers will this offseason. My money is on the Nuggets, your thoughts.

SportsNation Marc Stein: Those teams did have some talks at the All-Star break so it's natural to assume that they might revive those discussions. I'll also concede that Denver is a team open to gambling, but surely even the dice-rolling George Karl would have questions about an Iverson/'Melo partnership. I'm not betting on Denver.

Thomas (Memphis, TN): "Kudos to the Grizz for winning six of seven and finishing the season strong, but if the Clips beat Denver in the first round and the Grizz get smoked by Dallas, will Grizz fans be satisfied with this strong finish?" NO!

SportsNation Marc Stein: Thanks for confirming that.

WTFGlenn, GR, MI: Marc, congrats on being the only ESPN talking head (out of 12) that picked the Pistons to win the East back in October. What kept you from picking them over the Spurs?

SportsNation Marc Stein: Like a lot of folks, I loved the Spurs' off-season moves. And I still like them, actually. Finley has had his moments and I never expected anything from Van Exel until the playoffs anyway because he is the PG version of Rob Horry. NVE planned all along to save his gas for the playoffs.

SportsNation Marc Stein: But Detroit is the undeniable favorite when the playoffs begin. This was their best regular season ever and the Pistons' bench is deeper than it was last spring. Factor in the Spurs' injuries -- their two best players, TD and Manu, are still hovering in the 85-percent range -- and the fact that Detroit will host every Game 7 it has to play in the playoffs and it's impossible to argue otherwise.

D (Indiana): are you picking the pistons now?

SportsNation Marc Stein: No. I can't. You know my rules by now. I picked the Spurs at the start of the season and, barring catastrophic injuries that completely change the landscape and force my hand, I stick with my picks.

Greg (Miami): Heat Hater, you are. In the top 10 of your latest Power Rankings, you had a positive thing to say about all of those teams ... except the Heat. Why is that again? Oh, yeah ... YOU ARE A HEAT HATER (and a Pistons lover).

SportsNation Marc Stein: First of all, Greg, I'm pretty sure I mentioned flaws for several teams in the top 10 of the rankings. Secondly, please tell me: What in Miami has been so positive during this regular season apart from D-Wade? What positives have I been ignoring? How many weeks has your team impressed you, Heat Lover? Pat Riley has had harsher things to say about this team than I have, judging by some of the quotes I've seen lately. If they do in the playoffs what we haven't seen in the regular season, I'll be the first in line to praise them. But I'd like to understand, from the Heat Lover perspective, what I should have been raving about over the past six months?

SportsNation Marc Stein: Heat Lovers have a whole week to come up with answers to my question. We'll do this again soon and inevitably revisit that subject after the playoffs get under way.