The Sixth Man (cont.)
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
"If a guy scores 42 for Minnesota, does it make a sound?"
-- M.B., Minneapolis
Michael Beasley has averaged 32.6 points in his last five games, ever since (as chronicled by the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda) Timberwolves point guard Jonny Flynn urged him to be the aggressive star he was as the top-rated player in high school four years ago. The Wolves have won three of those games and lost the other two by a combined nine points as power forward Kevin Love has joined with Beasley to play the best of his career, as well.
Can Love continue to produce the average of 16 rebounds he has maintained over the last five games? No one has averaged that many since Dennis Rodman's 16.1 in 1996-97. Can Beasley keep pouring in 30 or more points per game? He averaged 14.3 points over his first two seasons, in Miami.
Both are exceptionally hot at the moment, but maintenance and consistency are the hardest traits for young players to acquire. If Love can maintain a 17-and-12 average, and Beasley can produce, say, 22 points per game over the course of the season while proving to be a go-to scorer in tight games, then Minnesota may be on its way to building something. This hot streak doesn't define Love and Beasley so much as it hints at what they can become.
"I keep hearing about a lockout of the NBA players next season. My question is whether I can lock out my own players now. I mean right now. Isn't there some way for me to stop paying these players the same way I stiff my fired coaches?"
-- D.T.S., Los Angeles
Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling actually has reason to want to stop the checks to his underperforming players. Baron Davis has played 10 minutes since Halloween while his teammates have combined to lose eight in a row to drop to 1-12. Chris Kaman's absence until December with a sprained ankle offers another excuse, but the Clippers still have Eric Gordon averaging 23.2 points off his FIBA World Championship gold-medalist showing last summer, and Rookie of the Year candidate Blake Griffin is averaging a mighty double-double. The Clips' early schedule was murderous, but in the last week they've lost to Detroit, New Jersey, Minnesota and Indiana. But then again, that's what makes them the Clippers.
"I want to do what LeBron did. I want to go to a contender, but I don't want the hatred. How do I make that happen?"
-- C.A., Denver
It's hard to know what Carmelo Anthony should do. He can play out the year without agreeing to sign an extension with anyone, but when the next collective bargaining agreement is installed, the Knicks and other teams may not have the cap space to sign him under the new rules. No one knows what that future might bring.
If the Knicks or another coveted team trades for him, Anthony will probably be left with little surrounding talent in his new locker room.
He can focus on making the most of this season with Denver, but the Nuggets don't look capable of contending. If he doesn't get anything out of this season and a lockout wipes out most or all of 2011-12, he'll look back on these prime years as a black hole.
So what is the right answer? Whatever he chooses to do -- even if he chooses to do nothing but play -- threatens him with a punishment of some kind.
How to shave your head. This comes from Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd, who has a full head of hair but shears it off.
"The first time I did it, it was my freshman year in high school. It was the 'in' thing to do -- some of my friends had bald heads -- so when I did it my mom was upset. She didn't like it. She said, 'You don't look right.'
"But I stuck with it because I just felt faster. I need to shave because I don't look good with hair, and I just feel slower when I have it.
"When I was in New Jersey, anytime there was a big game I always shaved my head and somebody started noticing and commenting on it. I think [assistant coach] Pat Sullivan is the one who started that. Whenever I would come out to shoot early, he would always look to see if I cut my hair. He was crazy. If I'd cut it, he would yell out, 'Uh oh, he's locked in, he's ready!' We ended up winning some of those games, so they felt that when I cut my hair that we had a good chance of winning that night.
"Ask Rod Thorn [the Philadelphia president and former Nets president when Kidd played there] about it. Rod and Ed [Stefanski, the Philadelphia GM and former Nets GM] came to Dallas the other day and we went to dinner. Rod said, 'Are you shaving tomorrow?' I said, 'No, I won't shave.' He said, 'Good, all right, we might have a chance.'
"The way I'm looking at it is it's too early to be locking in. If I started doing that now -- I don't want to be tired come the playoffs. I don't want to use them all up. But I might have to start shaving here shortly because of all of my gray hair. It's stress from my teammates missing shots.
"My hair grows quick. I shave it probably once a week with the electric clipper -- I'm not man enough to use a razor. When I wake up from my nap, I normally would shave my head, and then have lunch and head over to the arena. I don't need a mirror because I can do it without looking, I've been doing it for so long. I know it takes under 12 minutes to get it all, so I put that into my pregame routine. I try to do it on the road so I don't have to clean up the mess.
"The problem area is the sides in the back [an inch or two above the ear[, that's where you have to go up there two or three times to make sure you've got it all done. When I was with Jersey, we were going over to the arena in Charlotte and one of the guys said, 'You missed a spot.' All they had was the Bic razor, so I was like, 'Oh man, I never used the Bic and I didn't want to get razor bumps.' But when I got to the arena, I cleaned it up that way. It wasn't one of my best starts that game, and I went over to the bench and said, 'That damn Bic.' That one spot was smoother than it should have been. But then I started making a couple of shots and we started to get it going."
The stereotypical European is a finesse player who doesn't defend and feels most comfortable at the three-point line. "I don't understand," said Nicolas Batum of France, the Trail Blazers' starting small forward. "There are many guys who are tough and who play defense, like Mike Pietrus from France and [Russian forward Andrei] Kirilenko."
Now in his third year with Portland, Batum is a 6-foot-8 Frenchman who is emerging as a stereotype buster. The Blazers deploy his long arms and athleticism to defend everyone from Kevin Durant to LeBron James to Kobe Bryant.
"He has the ability and the potential to be very dominant," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "What we're trying to do is change his mindset from being this nice guy who is respectful, and have him become the guy who they think about when they come to town. So when Portland comes into Oklahoma City, they're like, 'Shoot, I've got to go up against Nicolas Batum.' It's like when you say [Ron] Artest or [Scottie] Pippen or [Dennis] Rodman -- you knew you were going to have your work cut out for you if you were a scorer against those guys, and I think definitely he can become that type of a player."
The half-formed impressions of European basketball don't apply to Batum, who as a teenager sought to attend INSEP -- the French sports academy based in Paris -- but wasn't admitted. Instead, he signed as a 16-year-old with the professional club Le Mans, where he practiced twice a day against fully formed adult professionals, including former NBA players.
"I dominate when I was young, but when I started being professional, it was different because I couldn't dominate like I used to," Batum said. "And I start to don't believe in myself, so the coach pushed me every day at practice and I started to grow up.
"At that time, I'm kind of a lazy guy and my coach in France got behind me. I have to get there one hour before practice and stay an hour after practice. That was good and I thank him for that, because I think one of the reasons I am here is because of him. We learn to play that way because the Euroleague is tough."
It is easy to draw the wrong first impression of Batum based on his gentle personality.
"We see French people as these romantics -- you know, the wine and cheese and the glamour, and he's soft-spoken with the French accent," McMillan said. "But I think mentally, guys like him are a little tougher, and that's the difference between international ball and the players in America now. Over here, it's AAU ball -- they don't get the basics, and if they're really good, they're going to stay maybe one year in college, and most teams are handing these guys the ball so they don't learn the basics of how to play the game."
How many young AAU-raised stars would accept becoming an afterthought on offense in order to focus on the defensive end?
"That's why we play as a team in Europe -- we only care about the numbers on the scoreboard," Batum said. "That's what I learned before I came over here, and when I came over, I didn't change my mind. I play for the scoreboard, not for my numbers. I try to play defense first."
Now the Blazers are asking Batum to be more aggressive offensively, because he has three-point range and the athleticism to beat defenders off the dribble. He has responded by averaging 13.9 points.
"I know if I play defense and the other four guys are watching me play defense and they see me do everything on defense," he said, "then they're going to try to give me the ball on offense."
From new Golden State owner Joe Lacob. On hiring his son, Kirk, a recent Stanford graduate, to serve as the Warriors' director of basketball operations: "I'm very fortunate and he's very fortunate to be able to work with his father, and me with my son. People don't get to do that all of the time. In this case, we both have the same passion for basketball. He was a good player, and frankly he was going to go to work with the Phoenix Suns and Steve Kerr -- he's lucky his dad was able to buy a team, though we didn't know that would happen last spring. We did think seriously about the fact that he wants to be proud and self-made and not have anyone think he had something handed to him. He knows the pressure is going to be on him to perform at a high level and work harder than anybody else.''
From an NBA scout. On what prevents Andrea Bargnani from replicating the success of Dirk Nowitzki: "They both have the height, they're both European and they both shoot it really well. But I don't think Bargnani moves as well as Nowitzki, who is a lot more fluid, more mobile. Nowitzki came into the league and was really skinny as more of a 3 or 4. Bargnani came in built as more of a 4 or 5. It's true that Bargnani is really a power forward, but at 7 feet, he's the closest thing Toronto has to a center. But it really comes down to Nowitzki being more mobile -- you could always run him off screens, and that's something you can't do with Bargnani."
From Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles. On the expectations for improvement this season: "We were picked to win 25 games and finish dead last [in 2009-2010], and we proved everybody wrong. And the question is now that we're picked to be pretty good, are we going to make the predictions right this time? We've got to expect to play well and then prove it on the floor. Look, it's difficult to go from 26 wins when we got here to 46 in two years. But it's very, very, very difficult to go from 46 wins to 54. It seems like eight games should be a piece of cake. But it's very difficult to get into the upper echelon of teams."
Boomer: When it comes to NFL free agents, buyer beware
Rising Stars: Doug McDermott, Creighton Bluejays