Mike gets a phone call from general manager Bryan Colangelo. He takes it in his bedroom and returns looking glum. "Amar�'s going to get another opinion on his knee," says Mike. "We know he can't keep playing like this."
SHOOTIN' THE BREEZE
The best thing about this coaching gig is walking into a gym every day. There is a giant rack of perfectly inflated balls and a half dozen baskets. Alone, you shoot around or maybe just dribble up and down the floor a few times, get loose. Gradually the players come out. You toss a ball to one of them and assume a rebounding position, for this is their game. The ritual takes on a comfortable, familiar rhythm. Pass, shot, rebound. If a shooter comes into the lane, you offer some token defense, then box him out, all of it at half speed.
As they fire and you rebound, there's conversation. Over the week I heard swingman Jimmy Jackson and Dan talk about a high school game that Jackson played against former NBA point guard Kenny Anderson's team more than 15 years ago at the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. I heard Nash, as he sank baseline jumper after baseline jumper-17 in a row by my count-talk about how his brother and sister were better athletes than him but that they didn't have his drive to succeed. I heard Marion discuss the house he built for his mother in Las Vegas. I heard Lever-Pedroza, a point guard on Mexico's national team, talk about his dreams of playing for an NBA club in a city with a vibrant Hispanic community. His mother is Mexican, his father is Lafayette (Fat) Lever, an Arkansas-born former All-Star guard for the Denver Nuggets.
I'm rebounding for Thomas, who smiles and glances toward the sideline. "You see that man?" he asks, pointing at John Shumate, a former Notre Dame star who's now a Suns college scout. "He was the coach at SMU, where I really wanted to go. But he thought I should go to junior college for a year because I hadn't played much high school ball. [Instead Thomas went to TCU, where he led the nation in scoring and rebounding as a senior.] I tell you, every time we went up against [SMU], I just played my butt off." The memory pleases Thomas.
"Hey," he says to me. "You want to shoot some?" It's one of the things that will stick with me: You want to shoot some?
The teams for tomorrow night's open scrimmage at the McKale Center were set a couple of nights ago. Nash, Jackson, Jones, Thomas, Burke, Lever-Pedroza, Tischer and guard Leandro Barbosa make up the White team to be coached by Iavaroni, Dan D'Antoni and, well, McCallum. Stoudemire, Marion, Bell, Diaw, Thompson, center Brian Grant and guard Eddie House are on the Orange team to be coached by Gentry and Weber, who are at each other all the time but like to be together. Mike D'Antoni will sit at midcourt and evaluate screwups by players as well as coaches. Since then, however, Stoudemire has been pulled because of his aching knee. Mike is talking on his cell to assistant general manager David Griffin, who has to finalize the rosters for the scrimmage.
"Without Amar�, the Orange needs another guy," says Mike. "We'll give them Tischer."
Gentry shakes his head. "Lucas Tischer for Amar� Stoudemire," he says. "Now there's a trade that will go down in history."