The Sixth Man (cont.)
With Magic GM Otis Smith. On Orlando center Dwight Howard's 12 technical fouls, leaving him four away from a league-administered one-game suspension (with more suspensions to come with every second technical he earns thereafter): "I've been concerned about this every year, but this is part of his growth. He knows his importance of being on the floor, and if he has to sit a game, he'll sit a game. Am I concerned? Yes. But I'm more concerned that we're in the same place as last year. That means there's been very little growth in that area. You've got to look for growth in all your guys. I look for growth in him."
With Suns president Lon Babby, a former agent. On maintaining civility with agents: "When you're doing business negotiations, then the most successful ones are the ones that are win-wins for both sides. Identifying what you can give to the other side that's important to them without compromising what's important to you is what makes for a successful negotiation. And in this business, that's magnified a thousand-fold because you're dealing with the same people over and over again. So I tell my kids: 'When you have the leverage, that's the most important time to be gracious, because tomorrow they're going to have the leverage and you're not -- and maybe they'll remember how you treated them under similar circumstances. They may not cut you a break, but at least they'll be gracious about it."
With Mavs center Tyson Chandler. On rehabbing last summer in Turkey while winning a World Championship gold medal with Team USA: "When the season was over I took a week off and then I went right into rehab training to try to get my strength back, my quickness, and also to get everything healed. All the time I was in Turkey -- obviously it's a great thrill to represent your country -- I wanted to make sure I was still doing things to keep me on the floor throughout the [NBA] season. So it was a blessing that I had Casey [Smith, the Mavs' head athletic trainer who was also working with USA Basketball in Turkey] out there with me, because every morning we were continuing to work things out. I was on the regular team schedule of practices and games, but at the same time I had to be mindful of what I was trying to accomplish as an individual. Before and after practice, we would get together and make sure I was doing my rehab."
A Euroleague update. The planet's second-best basketball league has completed its opening round with a number of powerful contenders in the running. David Blatt has coached Maccabi Tel Aviv (9-1) to the Euroleague's best opening-round record around the play of American guard Chuck Eidson and Greek center Sofoklis "Baby Shaq" Schortsanitis, but the Israeli champions have also benefited from a weak group and aren't rated as championship favorites by European insiders.
The focus for the next round is on other familiar names, such as Real Madrid (6-4) and its co-leader of the Spanish ACB, FC Barcelona (7-3). Madrid is led by famed coach Ettore Messina and point guard Sergio Llull, the second-round pick of the Nuggets in 2009. Barcelona has overcome numerous injuries thanks to the guidance of Ricky Rubio, who continues to provide entertaining leadership while shooting poorly (4-of-19) from the shorter European three-point line.
(On Thursday, Barcelona defended its home court in the Spanish league with a 95-75 beating of Madrid that left the two contenders on top of the ACB with records of 10-3.)
Montepaschi Siena (8-2) of Italy is led by the explosive 6-foot American point guard Bo McCalebb, a 25-year-old from New Orleans who surprisingly led Partizan to the Final Four last year. Siena lost its most recent Euroleague game, 73-72, to Barcelona despite 20 points on 12 shots from McCalebb, who is averaging 15.5 this season. "He is very quick and a good penetrator," said one of my European moles. "The difference between him and Nate Robinson is that Nate is a shooter. Outside shooting is McCalebb's weakness, but otherwise he can play defense, pass the ball, and you can't stop him from getting to the basket. He has a chance to be a backup point guard in the NBA, though he'll raise his game if he learns how to shoot."
Other Euroleague contenders include the Greek powers Olympiakos (7-3) and Panathinaikos (7-3).
The opening round of 24 teams will give way to the second round featuring the top 16 survivors. The draw for the next round will be streamed live on euroleague.net from Barcelona on Jan. 4 at 7 a.m. ET. The Final Four will be held May 6-8 in Barcelona, where Rubio may play his farewell Euroleague games before joining the NBA next season.
The positive impact of playing for USA Basketball. The top eight members (as listed below) of last summer's World Championship gold medal team have shown improvement since the last NBA season. In addition, Kevin Durant and Danny Granger have held steady offensively, while Granger in particular has improved as a defender. Only Chauncey Billups and Andre Iguodala have appeared to struggle this season amid injuries, though the circumstances of a new coach and direction in Philadelphia have also affected Iguodala's production. (All stats and records are through Dec. 30.)
1. Kevin Love -- 20.8 points this season (14.0 last season), 15.5 rebounds (11.0)
2. Derrick Rose -- 24.0 PPG (20.8); 8.5 APG (6.0); 4.8 RPG (3.8)
3. Eric Gordon -- 23.8 PPG (16.9); 4.6 APG (3.0); 3.3 RPG (2.6)
4. Russell Westbrook -- 22.3 PPG (16.1); 8.1 APG (8.0); 4.8 RPG (4.9)
5. Tyson Chandler -- 8.5 PPG (6.5); 8.9 RPG (6.3)
6. Lamar Odom -- 15.8 PPG (10.8); 9.6 RPG (9.8); 3.1 APG (3.3)
7. Rudy Gay -- 20.7 PPG (19.6); 6.1 RPG (5.9); 2.7 APG (1.9)
8. Stephen Curry -- 18.8 PPG (17.5); 6.2 APG (5.9)
9. Kevin Durant -- 28.1 PPG (30.1); 6.4 RPG (7.6); 3.1 APG (2.8)
10. Danny Granger -- 21.1 PPG (24.1); 5.5 RPG (5.5); 2.7 APG (2.8)
11. Chauncey Billups -- 16.6 PPG (19.5); 5.4 APG (5.6); 2.2 RPG (3.1)
12. Andre Iguodala -- 14.2 PPG (17.1); 6.1 RPG (6.5); 5.5 APG (5.8)