Pearl Everlasting

April 27th, 2016 sendarama Posted in college basketball, pro basketball No Comments »

The tall dude with the pronounced paunch and an apparent case of the cocaine sniffles looked vaguely familiar, but it had been several years since I’d seen him dribble under duress, and he looked nothing like the whirling dervish of a point guard who went behind his back and through his legs as routinely as taking a breath. He entered the Big Wheel Bikes store in Georgetown in the summer of 1989 as a customer, not as an icon, and that’s how I figured it.

I’m looking for a bike, he mumbled. I showed him a few options, and then he left.

Two hours later, he came back and said he wanted the black Fuji Royale on the front display hook. He took out his American Express card for payment.

I read the name emblazoned on the front of the card and gulped. “Dwayne Washington,” it read. I looked up at my customer, peered down again at the card, snuck a final stare at Dwayne Washington’s features, and blurted out in astonishment, “Son of a bitch, you’re Pearl Washington.”

That’s right, said Pearl, but it was clear that he didn’t want to have a discussion about basketball.

I told him that I’d never forget his monster performance against Georgetown in the Big East conference tournament final in 1984, and he had trouble recalling the game. Knowing full well that he’d been cut by Miami just a few weeks earlier, and was obviously out of shape, I gingerly asked him what his plans were. He said that he was in DC for a short stretch to be with his girlfriend, and would be attending the Houston Rockets training camp in the fall.

I had the feeling that my efforts to buddy up to Pearl were not being reciprocated, so I gave up trying. I delivered the bike, and we bid our adieus.

When I heard of Pearl’s death last week of a brain tumor at age 52, I was touched, in part because of our brief encounter, in part for my affection for Syracuse, but principally because Pearl Washington was the most exciting college basketball player I’ve ever seen. With the ball in his hands, he was electrifying.

Pearl in mid-dribble

Pearl failed to hang on at Houston, and his descent continued with short stops with Rapid City and San Jose in the Continental Basketball Association, where spectators wondered aloud what had happened to Pearl Washington in a few short years.

It was posited that his ball-handling talents did not translate to the NBA, where 7-foot Goliaths guarded the lane, and his slowness afoot and lack of leaping ability were fatal drawbacks. And he had a problem controlling his weight. But you’d think that the best penetrating point guard in the history of college basketball could find a niche in the NBA among players he had trounced in college.

Pearl himself provided an insight during an interview in 2003 with the New York Times, “I had a God-given talent, and I was always ahead of everybody else in high school and in college. But when I got to the next level, guys were above me. So you have to decide — either you work hard enough to excel in the NBA, or ‘this ain’t for me anymore.’ I didn’t love it enough to really work hard at it anymore.”

To say Pearl’s NBA career was nondescript is to embellish it. Pearl was drafted with the 13th pick in the first round by New Jersey, a moribund franchise whose star point guard, Michael Ray Richardson, had been suspended by the NBA a few months before for cocaine use. He signed for three years and $900,000. En route to consecutive seasons of 24-58 and 19-63 during 1986-87 and 1987-88, the Nets were the pits of the NBA, drawing flies to their makeshift stadium in Hackensack, NJ, and playing in the perpetual shadow of the Knicks.

Pearl came off the bench, averaging about 20 minutes a game. He put up decent numbers, but Nets officials criticized him for being slow and unwilling to work at his game. And there was a bad environment in the locker room. Three Nets were suspended from the league for drug use between 1986 and 1988. When Pearl was left unprotected by the Nets after the 87-88 season, he was drafted by the expansion Miami Heat, who cut him in the spring of 1989. Three years out of college, he was out of the league.

If a lack of motivation and effort were to blame, can you fault the Pearl for not being inspired to succeed in the NBA? He had already blown away expectations at several levels. When he was an 8-year old in the playgrounds of Brooklyn, older players on the court compared his moves to Earl The Pearl Monroe, then a star with the Knicks who was famous for his herky-jerky spin moves and unorthodox shots. He didn’t just live up to the moniker — he usurped it.

The Two Pearls

As a high schooler at Boys and Girls High in Brooklyn, he averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals and was the most highly recruited player in the country. He put Syracuse on the map as a college basketball power and was “the most exciting player who ever played in the Big East and the most important player to our program,” said his coach, Jim Boeheim.

Pearl took ball-handling to a new dimension. He dribbled primarily with his left hand, but shot righty. He created the crossover, a side-to-side dribbling maneuver which freezes defenders at their knees, often causing them to fall backwards. “In the open court, or on the break, or steering through the lane, one on one, there’s nobody better,” wrote Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated during Pearl’s freshman season at Syracuse.

That’s what we’ll remember about the Pearl — his dashing, headlong, daring, and of course, penetrating, forays to the hoop, the Carrier Dome exploding as his lay-in somehow eludes Patrick Ewing’s fingertips, David slaying Goliath.

Even in repose, he’ll never stop being the Pearl. The NBA?…. that’s just a footnote.

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Kristaps Puts Zing in Knicks

December 1st, 2015 sendarama Posted in pro basketball 1 Comment »

He’s the name on the lips of every New York sports fan, even if they’re not quite sure how to pronounce it.

Following his surprise selection by the Knicks as the fourth pick overall in last May’s draft, a choice which was greeted by Knicks fans in attendance with a loud chorus of boos, Kristaps Porzingis, a 20 year old 7’3” Latvian, who played the last two seasons in the Spanish League, has taken several months to acclimate himself to life in New York and to the NBA. He played for the Knicks rookie team during the summer, and bought a home in Westchester where he lives with his father, mother and two brothers and retreats every night to ma’s cooking. Porzingis speaks four languages, is polite and respectful to everybody, and by all accounts, is a hard worker and a quick learner. He is tattooless.

Just your typical NBA player.

While Porzingis was breaking himself in over the summer, Knicks fans took that long to get his name straight. Recently I asked a group of six serious local sports fans around a poker table if they knew the name of the Knicks’ 7’ rookie, and not one of them got it exactly right.

But after watching Porzingis play, you must spell his name correctly. Displaying a variety of skills which bring to mind the best of Dirk Nowitzki, Larry Bird, and Kevin Garnett, Zinger fills up a stat sheet with a plethora of points, rebounds and blocks. He has the offensive variety of Nowitzki, shoots fouls w/ Bird-type accuracy (85%), and rebounds and blocks shots like Garnett. In wins against Charlotte 11/17 and Houston 11/21, his lines were 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 1 block, and 24, 14, and 7, respectively. Here are his numbers over the last five games: 17.0 pts, 11.6 reb, 4.0 blocks, 85% FT, 35% FG3.

Porzingis starts at power forward with 7’ Robin Lopez at center. His range from the 3-point line is without limits. He gives new meaning to the term “stretch forward.” When Lopez sits, he’ll slide over to center, where he has displayed a lefty hook, a nifty drop step move, and several commanding put-back dunks.

Nowitzki has seen Porzingis develop as a youth in Europe. He pulls no punches:

“He is long. He is athletic. He’s got a touch. He can put it on the floor. He is for real. Sky’s the limit.”

Less than a quarter into the season, Porzingis has already spurred a mini Knick resurgence, on the court and among their fans, who are among the most loyal and passionate in sports. A New York sports fan in the 50’s and 60’s could follow up to three baseball teams and two NFL teams but only one NBA outfit. Most of them will tell you that the 1969-1970 and 1972-1973 Knicks, both NBA champs, were their most beloved sports team ever. The 90’s Knicks of Ewing, Oakley, Starks, Mason, and Sprewell were inspiring but not champions. After 15 years of bad basketball and 43 years without an NBA title, veteran Knicks fans, and the sons of Knicks fans, are ready to explode at a playoffs run.

And New Yorkers waste no time in anointing talented newcomers as superstars. Remember Linsanity? After a string of 20-point games off the bench and then as a starter in early 2012, Jeremy Lin became a cult hero. His jersey retailed for $250 and he appeared twice on the cover of Sports Illustrated. His luster dimmed by a season-ending leg injury and by a lack of support from Carmelo Anthony, Lin left as a free agent in the off-season.

Porzingis will be more lasting. Barring injury, he is going to be a franchise cornerstone for years to come, like Ewing. But New Yorkers need a catchword, a hashtag, to provide a short form identification for their hero. Early contenders are Zinger (my choice, which Porzingis has rejected), Godzingis, Porzilla, and KP. Bland though it may be, KP is the leader in the clubhouse, and has been adopted by teammates and by Knick announcer Walt Frazier.

Porzingis in dunk mode.

Porzingis is not the only reason for the Knicks’ fast start.

The Knicks started 8-6, including back to back road wins at Oklahoma City and Houston. A recent four game losing streak has not diminished their obvious upgrade over last year’s 17-65 team, which was far too reliant on Anthony. Porzingis accounts for much of the betterment, and his presence permits Anthony to shoot less, and more discreetly; but there are other new pieces.

Off their lousy 2014-2015 record, the Knicks were not attractive to top free agents, such as Greg Monroe, LaMarcus Aldridge, and DeAndre Jordan. Having drafted Porzingis and point guard Jerian Grant in the first round, Boss Phil Jackson went shopping among lesser free agents to achieve value and team symmetry. He found both.

He re-signed undrafted free agents Langston Galloway (PG) and Lance Thomas (PF) from last year’s squad for a total of 2.2 million. Galloway came from their D league team. Thomas originally came in trade from Oklahoma City, but was not signed past 2015. A 2010 Duke alum, he was cut three times by New Orleans and played in China for a year. Galloway and Thomas are now key players, averaging 25 and 19 minutes a game, respectively.

Jackson then opened the wallet to sign free agents Lopez, sharp shooting 2-guard Arron Afflalo, and the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, Derrick Williams, who languished for four years in Minnesota and Sacramento. Collectively, they earn less per annum than Anthony. Cheap free agents Kyle O’Quinn, Sasha Vujacik, and Lance Amundson round out the roster. On average, 10-12 Knicks get playing time every night. There are exactly two holdovers from last year’s opening night roster – Anthony and starting point guard Jose Calderon.

Unable to sign an elite free agent, Jackson employed other tactics to improve his team – second tier free agency, the draft, and trades. The fourth path to a better record, improvement from within, is now in the works, led by the man they call KP.

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Dolan to Knicks Fans: You Dont Matter (SIC)

February 11th, 2015 sendarama Posted in pro basketball No Comments »

For years, I’ve been preaching the benefits of good grammar to an unreceptive audience.

Linguistic markers, I call them, can brand you as a bright, communicative individual with an attention to detail or as a second-tier intellect who may be careless in other matters.

My obsession with grammar has won few converts, and a lot of negative feedback; but it came in handy recently when my e-mail was hacked. The hacker, in a grammatically flawed e-mail, requested that money be sent immediately to bail me out of a tight spot in the Philippines. My good friend Karen replied , “I was about to cut you a check, but when I noted the bad grammar, I knew it was bogus.”

But James N. Dolan, the embattled owner of the New York Knicks, has given new life to my position.

Dolan is universally regarded as the worst owner in the NBA, and is high on the list of most polls of the Worst Owner in Sports (move over, Dan Snyder). Since he was handed stewardship of the Knicks in 1999 by his father Charles P. Dolan, owner of Cablevision, the once-proud franchise has suffered a series of indignities, culminating in its current 10-42 win-loss record.

When 74 year old Irving Bierman, a Knicks fan since 1952, suggested in a recent e-mail that Dolan had done “a lot of utterly stupid business things with the franchise,” and should resign, Dolan responded with this typo-laden e-mail, which Bierman’s son made public:

“You are a sad person. Why would anybody write such a hateful letter. I am just guessing, but ill bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. What have you done that anyone would consider positive or nice. I am betting nothing. In fact ill bet you are negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe. I just celebrated my 21 year anniversary of sobriety. You should try it. Maybe it will help you become a person that folks would like to have around. In the mean while, start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks don’t want you.”

Knicks owner James N. Dolan

My initial reactions were the following. First, where was Dolan when his third-grade teacher was discussing punctuation? Second, if Dolan is a model of sobriety, then please pass the tequila. And third, this is what happens when you don’t practice good grammar as a youth—you grow up to be a fat, mindless, ill-tempered ex-drunk who just happens to own one of sport’s most historic franchises.

Upon further reflection, I wondered whether NBA commissioner Adam Silver would sanction Dolan for his vituperative response to the legitimate complaint of a life-long fan. Even a liberal-leaning expert on the First Amendment, if a Knicks fan, would have taken no offense if Silver had handed down a suspension or at least a verbal reprimand. And why not? Silver booted Donald Sterling out of the league for private comments made to a self-promoting ex-lover, and recently fined Chris Paul for suggesting that female referee Lauren Holtkamp should consider a new career.

But Silver responded meekly, “Jim is a consummate New Yorker. Jim got an unkind e-mail and responded with an unkind e-mail.”

One possible explanation for Silver’s lame response is that he was mindful of Dolan’s lead role as host of the NBA all-star game, which will be played in New York this weekend. But in avoiding that embarrassment, he has exposed himself to the charge that he is administering uneven treatment, and is insensitive to the plight of long-suffering fans.

But that is the price you pay when you hold yourself out as an arbiter of people’s thoughts and words. Take it from a member of the grammar police.

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Mob Rule in the NBA

April 30th, 2014 sendarama Posted in pro basketball No Comments »

Midst the near universal acclaim for NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s decision to suspend Donald Sterling “for life” for the racist comments attributed to him in a taped conversation which went viral, it has been overlooked, or at least disregarded, that Sterling’s comments were made in a conversation intended to be private occurring several months ago to a girlfriend who may have been trying to set him up. The taping, without Sterling’s consent, was illegal under California law. You can be sure that at TMZ Sports, the smut-dispensing web site which broke the story, they were exchanging high fives at the water cooler when Silver announced The Decision II.

In the absence of social media, the firestorm which greeted the disclosure of Sterling’s comments last Saturday would have amounted to little more than a campfire. A close reading of Sterling’s comments reveals that they made little sense. Were they the calculated expression of a dedicated racist’s antipathy to blacks, or were they merely the rantings of a delusional octogenarian to an opportunistic ex-lover with an ax to grind? Did GF Vi Stiviano plan to catch Sterling on tape? Did she sell the tape to TMZ? Silver didn’t wait to find the answers before hitting Sterling with the nuclear option.

There were sound reasons for Silver’s rush to judgment, but none of them had to do with fairness. You can find more offensive language than Sterling’s in any country club steam room or Thursday night poker game. Sterling has been a rogue owner for 33 years, combining enough negative personality traits to make Charles Manson blush; but is he any worse a person than Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert (abusive mortgage loan practices), Knicks owner James Dolan (gross incompetence, permitted executive harassment and sexual exploitation), or the Maloof brothers, who ran the Sacramento franchise to the ground?

It’s not as if Sterling was broadcasting his animosity towards blacks in a public forum. In fact, his public face was to be supportive of blacks. He retained Elgin Baylor as his GM for 23 years, hired Doc Rivers as coach, and was the recipient of an NAACP lifetime achievement award for (gulp) humanitarianism. Can you punish a man for his private thoughts? Should we not consider that an 80 year old man who grew up when anti-semitism was rampant and blacks would not be served at lunch counters may lack the sensitivity to be discreet in the age of social media?

Indeed, under the collective bargaining agreement, NBA players may be better protected from disproportionate punishment for indiscretions than was owner Sterling. Kobe Bryant made a public slur against gays, and received a mere slap in the wrist. How many NBA players have committed felonies, failed to make paternity payments, or been charged with DWI’s, and resumed their careers with little or no interruption?

No, Silver trumped any concerns about fairness to preserve league stability, retain sponsorships, and return attention to the playoffs, all of which were in jeopardy after the defections of several Clipper sponsors and very real player threats to walk off the court unless Sterling was severely punished.

Mark Jackson, Golden State coach, encouraged his team not to play last night if the punishment was not sufficient. So many current and former NBA stars chimed that “there was no room for Sterling in the NBA,” you’d think they’d worked in hotel management. The Players Association engaged Sacramento mayor and former NBA great Kevin Johnson to be its lead spokesman on the matter, and Johnson did not miss a sound bite. He appeared before a group which included Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Steve Nash, and other dignitaries to applaud Silver’s decision.

But it took a while for the players to rally around Sterling’s punishment. Only after Silver announced that he would hold a press conference on the Sterling matter did the players bring forth the heavy artillery. Until then, they were content to turn their shirts inside out in protest. From Shaq to JR Smith, the Twitter network buzzed with kudos to Silver for showing Sterling the door. By extending the punishment from the anticipated “indefinite suspension” to “suspension for life,” Silver quieted the crowd and diffused the situation.

While Silver’s power to suspend Sterling for statements “prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of the league” is clear, he may be on shakier grounds when he attempts to drum up the required three-fourths of owners’ support for a termination of Sterling’s ownership of the Clippers. If widespread scorn over a misdeed or misstatement is the measure for expulsion, rather than the character of the conduct , some of the more rebellious owners may envision themselves in Sterling’s place. Many Knicks fans, for sure, would have voted to terminate Dolan’s Knicks ownership after the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade.

Silver has been hailed for making a decision consistent with the “cultural diversity“ of the NBA. And cultural diversity is a good thing. But when in obeisance to cultural diversity, a man’s right to be comfortable with his own thoughts is trampled by a social media stampede, that’s a bad thing.

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Big Apple Blues

December 29th, 2013 sendarama Posted in pro basketball 1 Comment »

Carmelo Anthony is disappointed

“My bad,” mouthed Andrea Bargnani in the direction of his Knicks teammates who, like Jack Buck, could not believe what they just saw.

As if choreographed for a New York version of the Wave, many of the 19,500 spectators on hand, Knicks players, and countless TV viewers (including this writer), raised their arms to the sky in reaction to Bargnani’s three-point attempt with his team up by 2 points, ten seconds left in overtime, and a fresh shot clock, on December 18th against the Bucks at the Garden.

Naturally, Bargnani missed, and the Bucks sent the game into a second overtime. The Knicks won it but the victory offered little consolation to any Knick fan with a view to the future.

First, there’s Bargnani. Touted as the next Dirk Nowitzki, Bargnani was drafted first overall by Toronto in 2006 out of the Italian League. He loves to hoist the three-ball, and is pretty good at it. But he plays awful defense, and in 2012-2013, became the first 7-footer in NBA history to average more than 28 minutes and fewer than 4 rebounds per game. He’s what you’d call a soft player.

When the Knicks last summer traded their first pick in 2016 and two second rounders to the Raptors to get him, the move was greeted with mass consternation. Why Bargnani? Last year’s Knicks went 54-28, but there was a fool’s gold quality to it. They became over-dependent on prolific scoring by Carmelo Anthony and the 3-point accuracy of the combustible JR Smith. The regular season success felt more like a one-off than a glimpse of glory to come.

The Knicks’ limitations were exposed in the playoffs against Indiana, which out rebounded the New Yorkers by nine boards a game, and dominated the paint. Going into 2013-2014, the Knicks needed additional front court strength and depth to support the injury-prone Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudamire. They needed to make more defensive stops. They needed to be tougher. The last thing the Knicks needed was another three-point gunner who didn’t rebound or play defense.

The second reason for our dismay over the Bargnani trade was that the Knicks were back to their old tricks of trading first round picks for aging veterans at a time when recent draft picks are turning other teams into contenders.

Now there’s a third reason for not liking the deal – Bargnani’s an idiot.

We knew Bargnani was soft, and that he was not a good fit; but until the Shot, we were not aware of his weak mental component. English is a second language to Bargnani so you can’t blame him for resorting to hip-hop to admit responsibility. A well-rendered “my bad” often results in complete exoneration. But not in the NBA, and not before the smart New York crowd, which did not need Bargnani’s plea to know that it had witnessed a bonehead of epic proportions. The “stupidest shot of the season,” said USA Today.

Bench Reacts to Bargnani Shot

The Bargnani episode came in the midst of a horrible start to the season by the Orange and Blue and on the heels of a brainlock by Coach Mike Woodson just two nights before against the Wizards. Woodson failed to call a time out with seven seconds left and the Knicks trailing by one with the ball under their own basket. Predictably, the possession broke down early and ended with an off-balance 40’ heave by Anthony at the buzzer.

Woodson’s failure to act can be written off as a rare mistake by an otherwise competent coach. But the Bargnani Blunder spotlighted the Knicks’ longstanding but shortsighted policy of trading future number one picks for veteran scorers.

When was the last time the Knicks drafted, nurtured, and retained a good, young player?

Since 2002, the Knicks have traded draft picks which became Nene (2002), LeMarcus Aldridge (2006), Joaquin Noah (2007), and Gordon Hayward (2010). In exchange, they got Antonio McDyess, Stephon Marbury, and Eddy Curry. Enough said. Their first pick in the 2014 draft, which is likely to be a high lottery pick in a very talented draft class, was pledged to Denver in the 2011 deal to get Anthony. Toronto owns their 2016 pick for Bargnani. The only reason the Knicks held onto their 2011 and 2013 picks, which became Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway, is an NBA rule which prohibits teams from trading away future number one picks in successive years.

David Lee, whom the Knicks drafted number one in 2005, would be the answer to today’s trivia question, but the Knicks let Lee go in 2010 for negligible consideration to clear cap space to pursue Lebron James. Now, Lee averages 18.3 points and 9.8 rebounds/game for ascendant Golden State.

In February 2011, the Knicks traded three of their starting five, promising back-up center Timofey Mosgov, plus the 2014 pick, to Denver for Anthony. How’s that working out? As this columnizer predicted nearly three years ago at the time of the trade, the Knicks are not going to achieve anything during the Anthony reign. Anthony remains a marvelous scorer and is having a good season, but he is not a team leader. When the team languishes, so does he. His public comments are less than inspirational. It was a bad sign before the start of the season when Anthony gratuitously declared his intention to opt out of his contract after this year to test free agency. If he were concerned with team morale, he would have remained silent on the topic. In light of his self-absorption, what chance is there of the championship-less Anthony re-upping with a 30-52 Knick team with a fatally flawed roster and no draft pick?… He’s gone, baby.

The author and executioner of the Knicks’ misguided attempts to build a winner by acquiring big names rather than drafting and developing young talent is their owner, James Dolan. Dolan, 58, is the son of cable czar Charles Dolan. James spent his early adult life battling drug and alcohol problems and an allegedly volatile temper. In 1999, Charles Dolan acquired the Knicks, Rangers, Madison Square Garden, and the MSG network and handed over the entire enterprise to his entirely unqualified son.

Dolan’s reign has been a disaster. He is ill-equipped to make the management decisions that successful franchises require. The Knicks are in the tank and likely to stay there. But across the river Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who acquired the New Jersey Nets in 2010 and moved them to Brooklyn, was drinking Dolan’s Kool-Aid.

Perhaps Prokhorov, an accomplished banker, businessman, and politician in Russia, and a self-made man, just could not stand to play second fiddle to the dorky Dolan. Prokhorov seemed more obsessed with surpassing the Knicks than in building a balanced roster. One of his first acts after determining to move to Brooklyn was to take out a 225′ by 99′ billboard directly across from the Garden. He promised a championship within five years.

In his dogged pursuit of big stars, Prokhorov has doled out more draft picks than Dolan.

When Prokhorov missed on getting Carmelo Anthony in 2011, he quickly regrouped and overpaid to get Deron Williams from the Jazz, sacrificing number one picks in 2011 and 2012 for the oft-injured point guard, who was signed only through 2012. Last year, the Nets assumed the bloated contract of fading Joe Johnson in an effort to induce Williams to re-sign. Williams re-upped, but the Nets are paying Johnson 21.5 million in 2013-2014, and are on the hook for another 45 million for the next two years. The Johnson deal is widely considered to be the worst contract in the game. Finally, just prior to the start of this season, the Nets sent their number one picks for 2014, 2016 and 2018 to Boston for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

The Nets thought they had assembled a championship team built around a Big Three of Williams, Garnett and Pierce and a supporting cast of Johnson and Center Brook Lopez. But the trade is beginning to look like the Big Swindle, and not in the Nets’ favor. At 37 and 36, respectively, Garnett and Pierce are slipping. Their numbers are down close to 50% off their career levels. Lopez is out for the season with a foot injury. Williams is batting chronic leg problems. It’s wait ’til next year already for the Brooklyn Bums, I mean Nets.

Pierce and Garnett fail to deliver

The Nets have the biggest payroll in the NBA at 102 million, and the Knicks are second at 89 million. At this writing, their records are 10-20, and 9-21, respectively. It was projected that the teams would contest for Atlantic Division supremacy, not basement occupancy. With both rosters lacking in young talent, no cap room, and not much to be expected from the draft, their futures look as bleak as the present. Sadly for Dolan and Prokhorov, in the NBA, money does not buy happiness.

Dolan and Prokhorov would do well to adopt some of the techniques of their small market competitors,

Where does it say in the NBA by-laws that the owner of a major-market team has to be trigger-happy? Or that patience, character-building, player development, and shrewd trades, are exclusively the province of small or mid-market teams, where there is less pressure to win now and more opportunity to adopt a game plan and stick with it.

It certainly seems that way. Indiana, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and now Portland and Golden State have relied primarily on home grown talent and draft picks to fuel their hot starts. The Pacers, headed by Larry Bird for most of the past ten years, set the standard for small market success.

The Pacer Way

The Pacers have generally operated out of the lottery but have drafted well in the first round and been patient with their young talent. Recent middle and late first round picks Paul George and Roy Hibbert have improved year to year. George, just 23 but in his fourth year, is an MVP candidate, and 7’3″ Hibbert is the league’s best defensive stopper. Lance Stephenson, branded as a trouble-maker out of college, slipped to the second-round in 2010, but is on the verge of becoming one of the league’s best all-around guards. He’s had three triple doubles already this season.

David West , the lone starter acquired through free agency, is a fierce rebounder and low-post presence. Off the bench is former leading scorer Danny Granger, their number one pick in 2005, who missed last season because of injury. George Hill is a fine, complimentary point guard who was acquired by trade from San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard, the Pacers’ number one pick in 2011. During the off-season, the Pacers reinforced their bench, acquiring inexpensive free agents Luis Scola, Earl Watson, and Chris Copeland.

Shrewd draft picks, strategic trades, patient player development. Nine-deep. Those are the ingredients to Indiana’s team cake. When have we used any of these words to describe the Knicks or Nets?

The Pacers exhibit a character and cohesion which is foreign to the Knicks and the Nets. Hardly any tattoos. No twitter accounts. No bickering among teammates. Perhaps it derives from Bird, who demonstrated a fierce competitiveness as a player and looks for the same qualities in his legions. With a grand vision, he has constructed a team which is built for the long haul.

The paradox is that nobody appreciates a team like the Pacers more than New York fans, who care more for teamwork, team character and balanced scoring than the glitz associated with superstars. They would be willing to wait for the big payoff if there was a reason to be hopeful.

But so long as James Dolan and Mikhail Prokhorov are running the show, hope is as scarce as a number one draft pick.

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