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Weekly Countdown (cont.)

Posted: Friday March 28, 2008 2:22PM; Updated: Monday March 31, 2008 9:42AM
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4 Questions rescued from the spam

Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets will need a strong finish to make the playoffs.
Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets will need a strong finish to make the playoffs.
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Ian Thomsen will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
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4. If the Nuggets don't make the playoffs (or bow out meekly in the first round), what do you anticipate happening in Denver in the offseason? Are they a team that could have wholesale changes?
--
Gary Andrews, New York

Absolutely. The Nuggets have the third-highest payroll in the league. Owner Stan Kroenke isn't going to pay $82.7 million -- plus a big luxury-tax bill -- for a team that hasn't reached the second round since 1993-94 (when it upset George Karl's top-seeded Sonics). That's why I thought the Nuggets should have traded for Ron Artest last month as a short-term boost who might push them deep into the playoffs. Because they'll probably have to blow up the team otherwise.

3. You wrote, "But it wouldn't be a week in winter if I didn't get a desperate letter from Canada complaining about the lack of respect for the Raptors." Well, before the season you DID pick the Knicks sixth overall in the East, didn't you? What do you expect from up north? Our usual fun-loving, laid-back, too-much-respect-for-sportswriters attitude?
-- Gareth, Toronto

When I picked the Knicks to finish sixth, it was like I did it in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier in front of a MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner. The other day, I was telling my friend Mark Linehan how I think the Toronto Blue Jays will make the playoffs and he said, "Who are they going to play in the World Series? The Knicks?''

Gareth of Toronto should notice by all of the disagreeable letters I post that I don't expect "too much respect,'' or not even a little bit.

2. I was just looking for your opinion on a debate I've been having with a bunch of co-workers. In a three-on-three game, all players in their prime, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain vs. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bill Russell. Who do you think would win?
-- Jim, Milwaukee

Jordan's team is loaded with scoring, while Russell is the only terrific defender on his team. So you would have to like Jordan's team. But what no one knows is that Magic, Larry and Russell spent two months practicing in secret just to get ready for this game. Then they all showed up to find that the referee was Tim Donaghy. So they called the whole thing off before it could happen.

1. According to your story, "Walsh is the gold standard for team executives." Are you insane? His track record with the Pacers over just the last five years, never mind the conduct of their players, would seem to fly in the face of your statement. Please defend your poorly thought-out writing.
-- Jeff Thompson, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

First of all, if my writing were "poorly thought out,'' then how am I supposed to defend it?

It isn't poorly thought out to note that Walsh built the Pacers into an experienced 1999-2000 NBA finalist, then instantly renewed the team by trading Dale Davis for Jermaine O'Neal. Within four years, Indiana was winning 61 games to push the champion Pistons to six games in the conference finals. The young Pacers appeared to be contender for years to come before Ron Artest incited the 2004 brawl that destroyed their title hopes; then injuries undid the rest of it.

Now I'm going to hear from angry people complaining that Walsh shouldn't have built the team around Artest. My answer is that the team wasn't built around Artest. I'm looking at the Pacers' salaries in 2005-06, the year after the brawl, and Artest was the team's fourth-highest-paid player at a relatively cheap $6.8 million. Walsh stole Artest in a 2002 trade that landed future All-Star Brad Miller as well as Ron Mercer and Kevin Ollie while sending Jalen Rose, Travis Best and Norman Richardson to Chicago.

NBA teams are fragile, and they collapse -- look at Chicago and Miami this year. The great thing the Lakers had going with Kobe and Shaq fell into ruin. There isn't a GM in the modern game who hasn't gone through hard times. Geoff Petrie is losing now in Sacramento. Look at Pat Riley. Jerry West lost last year. The exceptions have been Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and Joe Dumars in Detroit, but if they stick around long enough (though Popovich won't; he'll probably be out the door after Tim Duncan leaves), then they'll also face difficult times. This is an unstable league filled with volatile stars, and no one predicts it right all of the time. And that's what I like about the NBA.

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