Brand has waited for years to hear such poetry. Last Saturday, before a near-sellout in the Staples Center, he scored 30 points in a 102--90 win over Cleveland. "There was a time when we lost a lot of games," says Brand, "and the losing [didn't] hurt as much." And now? "You lose a game, and it stings. [That] feels good."
Will Portland's Center Hold?
A rising star says he wants to stay with the team so badly that he may be willing to sign at a discount--an eight-figure discount!--but the team, despite the fat wallet of its billionaire owner, may not be able to afford him.
That could be the story of the Trail Blazers and their 26-year-old center Joel Przybilla, the No. 9 pick in the 2000 draft who was a bust with Milwaukee and then Atlanta. Before the start of last season, Portland signed the 7'1" center to a two-year, $3 million contract, a move for which general manager John Nash was widely criticized--until Przybilla emerged as one of the league's top defensive centers. "I ran into opposition from our [then coaching staff, headed by Maurice Cheeks], who wanted us to sign Scott Williams," says Nash.
Now Nash is being lashed for not including a team option for Przybilla's third year, which would've given Portland his Bird rights. Unless the Blazers dump the contracts of Theo Ratliff, Darius Miles and Ruben Patterson by the Feb. 23 trading deadline, they won't be able to offer Przybilla more than the midlevel exception (about $5 million per year) when he becomes a free agent this summer. "It's looking dim," coach Nate McMillan says of holding on to Przybilla, who could land a deal similar to the $60 million-- plus contracts signed by Samuel Dalembert and Tyson Chandler last summer. "I want him, [management] wants him, but the situation that we're in makes it difficult to keep him."
Difficult, but not impossible. Przybilla says he'd consider a two-year midlevel contract with an option after the first year that would enable him to sign a lucrative, long-term deal with Portland in 2007. The risk is that a career-ending injury in the interim could cost him as much as $50 million. He might take the chance. "My main priority is to stay here because this organization gave me a shot when no one else did," Przybilla says. "I'm happy here, and I've been in places where I wasn't happy. Happiness is a lot more important than money."
Worth The Points?
Whereas you could argue that the Lakers must have Kobe score 30 points to be competitive, Cleveland has been more successful when LeBron doesn't reach that mark. The following are the winning percentages of the top five scorers (dating back to last season) when they go for 30 ... and when they don't.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]