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Posted: Friday March 27, 2009 1:33PM; Updated: Friday March 27, 2009 3:35PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >
INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown (cont.)

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Chauncey Billups has been instrumental in directing Denver's offense and counseling teammates like Carmelo Anthony in the locker room.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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2. Import leadership. The Nuggets were already committed to a new (or old) approach when they dealt Allen Iverson to Detroit in November for Billups, a blockbuster trade that enabled them to eventually limbo underneath the tax threshold even as their team improved -- a most improbable dream in this recession-based league.

"I'm blessed, for the first time in a long time, of having [leadership from a player like Billups]," Karl said. "Sam Cassell was my leader in Milwaukee. Now, come on, Sam's kind of crazy. Sam believes the right stuff, but he doesn't present it on a daily basis. Chauncey presents it on a daily basis. He reminds me a lot of Nate [McMillan] when I had Nate in Seattle, and I didn't know how valuable Nate was because I was still a young coach. People ask me at the clinics, 'Who was your most favorite player you ever coached?' And I say Nate McMillan, because on a daily basis he brought winning and leadership to [our] locker room and to [our] court.

"Chauncey does that. He makes your words be listened to. And when you're coaching five or six years with a team, that's important. Because they get tired of hearing my stories and my repeats and my desires and my demands. But Chauncey has kind of lifted that up."

Karl, Billups and Martin (who played in two NBA Finals with the Nets) are preaching to their teammates that they can put together an extended run in the playoffs.

"As a coach I try to tell them, 'Don't throw it away,' " Karl said. "Because I think we're good enough to get that snowball momentum that we've had a couple of times in my career [in Seattle and Milwaukee], that if we win in the first round ...

"When we play the right way, we're pretty good. ... I'm not sure we're in that elite group; probably no one is. Except the Lakers, they know they are; Boston knows they are, and Cleveland probably thinks they are.

"There is going to be a surprise team. And what I don't want [my team] to do is throw away the opportunity because of not knowing what it takes. Because we don't have the mature toughness that a Utah might have. We do have a lot of talent that we can throw away five possessions or 10 possessions and make it up, but that's not how you win big. And too many times I say, 'OK, we won, and yeah, you didn't play those first five minutes -- but this is not how you beat L.A. This is not how you beat Houston in Houston. You don't do it this way.' "

1. Have a larger goal. Karl appeared to be nearing the end of his career last season, but now at 57 he is inspired anew. Karl has been liberated of debilitating pain by undergoing hip surgery last summer, his joy for coaching has been rekindled with this year's club and in recent years Karl and his son, Coby, have each survived cancer.

Coby's career, in fact, has a lot to do with Karl's new vigor on the bench. The former Laker left the D-League in January to play for DKV Joventut of Spain.

"You could see me coaching five more years," Karl said. "I could see me coaching more than that. Or I could see, if my son said, 'Coach me in Europe, let's go to Europe,' I would do that.

"I want to coach my son. And that's got to happen probably in the next two or three years. Everybody says it would be bad, but Coby, to me, he's good enough to play [in the NBA]. And if I can't get it done in the NBA, I might do it in Europe."

4 questions rescued from the spam

4. I'm a Raptors fan and don't understand why they have such a hard time winning. To me, it seems they don't have that killer instinct to finish opponents. But more Chris Bosh doesn't have it. More and more, I think they would be better off dealing him. Not in a dump, but in a rare deal talent for talent. What do you think?
-- Matt Harris, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

I think Bosh needs to be paired with finishers. I've said this before, that the same complaints were made of Kevin Garnett at Minnesota. Only when he was surrounded in Boston by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen was Garnett accepted for his strengths.

(Don't get me wrong: Garnett is in a different class than Bosh in his energy level and defensive commitment.)

If you pay Bosh a maximum salary as a free agent in 2010 and don't pair him with the right mix of talent, then you'll be accused of overpaying him because his presence won't result in a winning team. The Raptors should do anything they can this summer to fix the team around Bosh, but for another point of view see below.

3. What has become of Jermaine O'Neal? He wasn't a good fit in Toronto and he hasn't upped his production in Miami. Have the injuries he's suffered robbed him of what he once was? At age 30, it would seem he would still have plenty left in the tank, but the numbers don't say so.
-- Dale Cary, Brunswick, Ohio

This is going to be an interesting time for him in Miami. The Heat demand high effort in practice, which has been a complaint about O'Neal in recent years as he has struggled to recover from injuries. If he can contribute in a big way to Miami in the playoffs and next season (if they don't move his expiring contract this summer), then contending teams may view him as a valuable asset when he becomes a free agent in 2010. But this is a crucial make-a-stand time for him.

2. In your list of complaints about the NBA, you left out the most glaring: The NBA's officiating is awful. I thought the Tim Donaghy situation was supposed to improve the officiating situation? It didn't. Traveling/lane violations/jump ball violations/etc. are called as arbitrarily as ever, and the star system hurts the credibility of the league.
-- Harold Nealy, Ottawa, Ontario

Ian, you write a great column, and I thought your answers to five common criticisms of the NBA were particularly insightful. But there's one criticism you left out that I really think should be addressed more. What about the criticism that the NBA refs give favorable treatment to the superstars? Is that really true, and to what extent does it happen? If it is true, why isn't a bigger deal made of it? It seems to me that if the officials are consistently and intentionally calling the game so as to give certain favored players advantages over their opponents, this should undermine the league's credibility more than anything Tim Donaghy ever did. I've always been amazed that it's often treated as a foregone conclusion that the stars will get the calls and the no-names won't, and no one really seems to get outraged over this and try to change it.
-- Karl Martin, Powell, Ohio

The referees in Europe share your complaint. They believe stars are favored far more often in the NBA than in Europe. (Overall, however, there is no doubting that the NBA has the best officials in world basketball.) There are a lot of complaints to be made about the officiating in any sport. I don't dismiss your criticisms, but on the other hand I see no simple way to address them either.

1. There has been some speculation that some of the 2010 free agents might re-sign with their teams this summer. Any chance of that happening? Why would they jump the gun before they've had the chance to play the market?
-- Brett H., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Each of the top free agents faces a different situation. LeBron James will drive the market, and so he can sign or not as he pleases this year or next regardless of other influences. Even if he thinks a new CBA may be installed earlier than expected, I doubt he would let that influence him to extend his deal with Cleveland unless he's certain it feels right. Lesser stars may feel compelled to go for the sure thing ASAP in fear that the same offer may vanish a year later. But stars such as Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson can afford to make decisions based on their own timetable.

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