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Posted: Friday July 25, 2008 11:46AM; Updated: Friday July 25, 2008 11:46AM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >
INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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3. You've officially been duped by the NBA's greatest con man, Darius Miles. Everything in your article was like déjà vu. He's been saying the same things to the Portland media since he first signed his contract. He was a changed man after his first child, he was a changed man after he got married, but despite what he said, he was always the same old Miles on the court, off it and in the locker room. This guy doesn't love being an NBA player, he loves the NBA lifestyle. He's fooled the Portland media repeatedly and now it looks like he's fooled you too. I just hope some poor NBA team doesn't buy his act once again.
-- Brady, Portland

You sound like someone I know who works for the Trail Blazers. I'll tell you what I told him: Just because I quote an athlete telling me that he's healthy, how does that mean I'm vouching for him? While I understand your frustration, my best suggestion is that you take your complaints to the franchise that gave him the $18 million remaining on his contract. You won't have to travel far.

It stands to reason that you're hoping another team doesn't buy "his act,'' because if Miles turns out to be healthier than you think, then it will cost your Blazers $9 million in cap space. On this count, again, the Blazers can blame no one but themselves.

The one thing I can tell you about Miles is that, so long as he continues to perform well in workouts, he will surely receive a minimal offer from an NBA team to play next year. If he reinjures his knee, his new bosses won't have to pay him; if for some reason they don't like his act, they can afford to waive him. This week Miles began playing full-court basketball in Chicago under the supervision of athletic trainer Tim Grover. We'll see what happens over the next two months.

2. Which team is likely to become the next Celtics and go from a big loser to a big winner?
-- J.P., Albany, N.Y.

No one. That's the easy answer. No reigning lottery team is going to win the championship next season, though Portland may get to the Finals in a few years.

The losers most likely to realize the biggest improvement are, in order, the Heat, Bucks, Knicks and Pacers. As a result, the bottom half of the East should be stronger than the same tier in the West next season.

1. Do you see any possible way for the U.S. to lose in the Olympics? If you're looking for an underdog, I say count the Lithuanians. They always rank among the best.
-- P. Carter, Austin, Texas

A majority of these catastrophes must take place: The opponent shoots a high percentage from the three-point line and doesn't turn the ball over, while the Americans go cold from the perimeter, suffer foul trouble and lose lone big man Dwight Howard to injury or fouls, thus weakening their defense in the paint. The United States isn't going to win the gold medal without a cold sweat. The last American group of NBA players to go undefeated in a major event without a close game in the final minute was the 1996 Olympic team playing before home crowds in Atlanta.

3 Plausible surprises

3. The Knicks. Even if they dump Stephon Marbury and get less than equal value in exchange for Zach Randolph or Eddy Curry, the Knicks may prove to have more talent than their last few seasons suggest. For comparison, the Bucks may have more trouble adapting to Skiles' defense-based system than the Knicks will have in conforming to D'Antoni's full-court offense.

2. The Mavericks. Rick Carlisle is an efficiency expert with a track record of getting the most out of his teams over the regular season. Who's to say that he can't find ways to squeeze 55 or more wins out of a deep roster led by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and a rejuvenated Josh Howard?

1. The Wizards. For two years they've been clobbered by injuries. All they need is one healthy year out of Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler -- now you'll be looking at a team of three All-Stars at their peak in a conference undergoing transition (behind the Celtics, that is).

2 Things I wish the NBA would do in the year ahead

2. Use its refereeing crisis to explore a new relationship between pro sports and gambling. The business of sports betting and the overall American perspective on gaming have changed enormously since the 1919 Black Sox scandal. The NBA could take a leadership position in raising the question of whether sports gambling should be legalized so that it can be supervised and taxed. Shouldn't we at least be having this discussion? It would only help the NBA to be out front of this issue ... but let's call it a longshot at best that David Stern sees it this way.

1. Take a fresh approach to its game presentations. Remember the long-ago time when throwing T-shirts into the stands and airing video of dancing fans on the scoreboard were swell new ideas? They are neither new nor swell any longer. In fact, they drive my crazy. During timeouts, I twitch and writhe like Chief Dreyfus in the presence of Inspector Clouseau. I am begging the NBA to come up with something swell and new before my nervous breakdown. So innovate already. Please, innovate.

1 Premature prediction on the 2009 NBA Finals

1. Celtics beat Lakers. This time it's a classic seven-game series. The Lakers, having traded before the February deadline for a couple of the veteran tough guys they were lacking last month, are ready to fulfill Kobe's potential. Am I picking the wrong winner? Or does the veteran trio of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have one more title left in them?

 
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