The Sixth Man (cont.)
With an NBA team executive. On 6-foot-2 senior guard Jimmer Fredette of BYU (27.4 points per game, including three 40-point performances in his last four games): "Absolutely he's going to play in this league. He is Mark Price. You can't go to Arizona and get 49 [as Fredette did last year]. Utah-BYU is like Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, it's like Auburn-Alabama: They hate each other. And he goes to Utah [on Jan. 11] and gets 47. He's a killer.
"I'm not saying he's a starter, but to have a guy come off your bench when you're in one of those four-games-in-five-nights stretches and your veterans are tired and he's saying I can score -- I can't guard you but you can't guard me either -- that's valuable. I hear all of these [NBA] guys dismissing him because he's too small, he can't do this or that, and that's the problem with the way people evaluate players: All of the talk is about what a guy can't do. Let's accent the fact that this guy shoots three feet beyond the college three-point line, that he's shooting 90 percent from the free-throw line, that he gets to the foul line and he competes. He goes at his own teammates, his coaches, referees, opponents, because he's a competitive little bastard.
"Look, I'm not taking him at No. 10. But if he's there at No. 25, he's on my team because he's the first guy to practice and the last to leave. I've heard the talk that he's going somewhere in the second round, that he can't do it at the NBA level. OK, we'll see."
With Nuggets coach George Karl. On his affinity for "crazy" players: "There is a theory that you can have one bad apple, but you can't have two. Then there are some people who might say you need at least one bad apple, you can handle two and you might need three, because there are not enough players.
"Me, I've always been one of the guys who have taken the crazies and done a good job with them. I like the crazies a little more than most people, because they have similar things to what I have even though I went to North Carolina. And don't get me wrong, I still believe in character. But because you have a tattoo or because you wear crazy hair or because you wear your emotions too far outside your body, you get labeled. I know, because I still read articles about 'the wild and crazy George Karl, the emotionally unstable George Karl.' When was the last time wild and crazy happened in my career? It was like 15 years ago."
With a team executive. On judging the draft: "I thought DeMarcus Cousins was the No. 2 player in the draft [last year]. Evan Turner is still going to be a good player; it's just that he's not a good fit in Philly. What is unfair is that it's such an opportunity league that favors guys who have a chance to play. There are good players who don't have a chance to play. It was like after the Kevin Love-O.J. Mayo trade [in the 2008 draft] -- a year or two after that, everybody thought O.J. Mayo was the best player in that trade and that it was one-sided for Memphis. But clearly now you can see that trade was one-sided for Minnesota. So sometimes you have to wait a while to find out."
Through the eyes of Phoenix 6-6 swingman Mickael Pietrus. Now 28, Pietrus was born and raised on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. By the time he was 7, he was watching the weekly NBA game on television for any scenes he could catch of his hero Michael Jordan.
"I would like to meet him one day and to thank him for what he does for me, and for getting me into basketball," Pietrus said. "When I was 7, I was watching the All-Star Game to see the new shoes he was wearing. I could not afford them because my mom and my dad, they didn't have any money to give them to me as a gift."
So he showed his devotion in other ways. "I was crazy about Jordan," he said. "I remember back then I used to go to the grocery store with my mom. I would go get the toothbrush and on the back the label would say Jordan [the company name]. I used to carry the label and put it on my shirt."
Pietrus was the middle of three brothers who loved basketball and would grow up to play for the French championship club Pau-Orthez, as Mickael did when he moved to France at 15. Mickael was 9 when his mother died. "She had an illness," he said. "It was tough for me. When I lost my mom, I didn't really have any direction. But I really liked the way Michael Jordan carried himself on the floor and off the floor, too, so I was trying to do the same."
Pietrus didn't begin to play organized basketball until he was 12. For years before, however, he would try to mimic Jordan with a soccer ball or tennis ball.
"I was watching him and I didn't have any skills, but I was trying to do the same moves, the same stuff," he said. "Just trying to be like him. My whole thing was Jordan. My whole thing.
"I used to watch him at 10 o'clock on Wednesday night, because that was when they were showing the NBA game. My grandmother didn't even know that I was watching Michael Jordan, because she would have yelled at me. The thing is he made a great impact on my life, and that is the reason that I'm trying to be the best basketball player that I can be and trying to be in his way."
Once Pietrus was introduced to organized basketball, he was waking up at 6 a.m. and in the gym to practice for an hour each morning before school. What was the global impact of the NBA in the 1980s and 1990s? Mickael Pietrus would say it was enormous. He would become the No. 11 pick of the 2003 draft by the Warriors, and he would play in the 2009 NBA Finals with the Magic. Someday he would like to win a championship, and he would also like to meet his role model.
"I'm very happy that I followed his leadership when I was young," said Pietrus, fully aware that other French children may now dream of following him. "Hopefully somebody is going to do the same by watching me."
The New and the Old. While trying to grasp at which age old players grow too old, I put together a couple of All-Star teams. If they were to meet in a game, which side would win? (I'd favor the old ones myself.)
22 years old or younger
C Brook Lopez, 22 years old
PF Blake Griffin, 21
SF Kevin Durant, 22
SG Eric Gordon, 22
PG Derrick Rose, 22
C Serge Ibaka, 21
PF Kevin Love, 22
SF Michael Beasley, 21
SF Nicolas Batum, 22
PG Russell Westbrook, 22
PG Stephen Curry, 22
G Tyreke Evans, 21
14 years or more in the NBA
C Tim Duncan, 14 years experience
PF Kevin Garnett, 16
SF Grant Hill, 15 (94 draft)
SG Kobe Bryant, 15
PG Steve Nash, 15
C Shaquille O'Neal, 19
PF Marcus Camby, 15
PF Kurt Thomas, 16
SG Ray Allen, 15
SG Tracy McGrady, 14
PG Jason Kidd, 17
PG Chauncey Billups, 14
Ryan Getzlaf leads Ducks past Stars 3-2 in Game 2
Pavel Datsyuk's late goal leads Red Wings to Game 1 win over Bruins