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Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Sorting out Week 1 in the NBA

By Bill Simmons
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So much happened in Week 1 of the NBA season, it's almost impossible to harness every reaction, observation and opinion into a coherent column. Fortunately, that's why God created lists. Without further ado ...

THE THREE BIGGEST STORY LINES COMING OUT OF WEEK 1

1. The mystery basketball messing with everyone's heads
Take it from somebody who's been watching NBA games since he was still peeing on himself and calling P-B-and-J's the ideal meal: Something's up with the new ball. During Friday's Detroit-Boston game, Rip Hamilton dribbled full-speed toward the basket at the end of the first half, planted his feet at the top of the 3-point line with his momentum still going forward, then launched a 28-foot line drive that rammed off the back of the rim ... only that it stopped like it had been gunned down by a sniper and dropped through the basket.

Watching the game while running on the treadmill, I almost thought I'd blacked out for a second. How the hell did that brick go in? It seemed like an optical illusion, as if Fox Sports Net had CGI'd the shot (like MJ missing against the Cavs in the Gatorade commercial). Intrigued, I replayed the shot on TiVo ... and sure enough, the ball seemingly hit a dead spot on the rim and fell through like a bean bag.

One problem: There are no dead spots on metal rims. Wanna know why? THEY'RE MADE OF METAL!!!

NBA basketball
Hey! It's the NBA's happy fun ball!
And after seeing the Clips-Suns game in person on Saturday night, I'm telling you with complete and total confidence: There is no way in hell that the new ball bounces like the old one did. Rebounds come off the rim differently; in fact, better rebounders (like Elton Brand, for example) are jumping to the spots where they believe an errant shot will land, only the ball will sometimes land 2-3 feet away and you can see them looking confused as they run back up the court. Bank shots ricochet off the backboard so softly that the new ball could add 3-4 points to Dwyane Wade's career average before everything's said and done. Guards with normally impeccable handles (like Steve Nash) seem to be having an inordinate amount of trouble dribbling; we're seeing more palming violations than ever (not including the one in Eddie Griffin's SUV). Foul shots are fussier about rattling in unless the ball hits the front rim and dips over through the hoop; otherwise, there seems to be an inordinate amount of slipping and sliding. Basically, the new ball reacts like a dead fish. It even sounds weird. There's a dull thud to it.

In last week's NBA preview, I wondered if the Commish switched balls to steal headlines in a month usually dominated by the NFL and baseball. Well, I was wrong. They did this to increase scoring, no different than MLB juicing their baseballs back in the late '90s. This particular ball might bounce correctly when being dribbled, but it strikes the rim and backboard like a semi-flat ball that's been sitting in the garage for five years.

How did they unearth the technology to turn the likes of Kevin Ollie and Tony Allen into potential 50 percent shooters some day?

(You got me.)

Once the players eventually figure out all the bounces, wrinkles and nuances, is scoring going to increase?

(I say yes.)

Is this whole thing shadier than Marshall Mathers?

(I plead the fifth. I don't want to get fined by the Commish.)

2. The 'Sheed Rule messes with everyone's head
Something funny happened in the Wiz-Celts game: After Wally Szczerbiak got teed up for reacting to a bad call, they showed a replay of him getting whistled for a foul, angrily gesturing in disgust and then, in the same motion, recoiling backward and canceling out the gesture (almost like a batter checking a swing), then moving toward the official with his palms outstretched, almost like he was pleading, "Please, please, I didn't mean it, I didn't mean it." Nope. He still got the T. The refs aren't messing around this season -- react negatively, you're getting teed. And it's been fairly consistent throughout the league, although it seems like (A) older players are given considerably more rope; (B) you can't overreact, but you can sidle over to the ref, wrap an arm around him and complain for 45 seconds in a calm voice; and (C) the most infamous complainers are on an especially short leash, almost like travelers getting tagged at the beginning of the airport security screening process.

Wally Szczerbiak
The NBA lobotomy is in full swing with the 'Sheed Rule.
The big question: Is it a good idea to give complete and total autonomy to a group of people who, in some cases, are astonishingly inept at their jobs? For instance, at the Suns-Clips game, a new referee named Robbie Robinson (No. 53, if you're scoring at home) made more bad calls in one night than Jeff Zucker made for NBC in the past five years. He wasn't a train wreck as much as a forest fire wiping over everything in his path. And sure, this led to Mike D'Antoni pulling the Ron Burgundy foot-stomping routine on the sidelines a few times (always fun for an arena full of people). But what happens when a referee is killing a game and nobody can argue with him? How is that fun? Why are we protecting people that suck at their jobs?

One other problem, which Kenny and Chuck brought up on TNT last Thursday: It's one thing to limit histrionics and nonstop bitching; it's another thing to penalize competitive people for reacting like competitive people. If somebody gets whistled for a foul he didn't commit, it would be weird if he didn't react in some way. Why not let them naturally react, but if they keep it up or willingly show up a referee in some way, then they get T'd? That's a good compromise, right? I just wonder what's happening to this league. If you can't foul anyone hard, can't make a peep to the refs, can't engage anyone in good-natured competitive banter and can't stare someone down after you dunk on him or block his shot, what the hell is left? Is this basketball or flag football? I feel like we're reenacting the first 60 minutes of "Rollerball" or something. Pretty soon, we'll be calling the stars "Dwyane W." and "Kevin G."

3. The Suns seem messed up
The night after the Red Sox won the World Series -- which seems like it happened about 15 years ago, by the way -- I attended a Suns-Clips exhibition game and remember being struck by how much Nash had changed the chemistry of that team. Here's what I wrote a few days later in my NBA Preview: "Probably the happiest team I've seen in four years. ... You will enjoy watching them. I promise." So when I watched them on Saturday night, I couldn't help but notice that their collective exuberance was gone. And you can blame it on three things.

A. They take playing with Nash for granted now. When he joined the Suns as Marbury's de facto replacement, it played out like the Vinatieri/Manning/chocolate chip cookies analogy that I used in Friday's football column. None of the other Suns could believe their good fortune -- they went from not getting sweets in the Marbury Era to playing with Otis Spunkmeyer. You could see it in the way they were carrying themselves. "WOO-HOO! I'm about to have a career year! I get to play with Steve Nash!" Now, two years have passed, he won a couple of MVPs and they're used to his cookies. They seem business-like to me. I don't know if this is a good thing.

B. They lost a crucial crunch-time guy (Tim Thomas) and a likable ninth man (Eddie House) and replaced them with two guys who don't fit in at all -- wildly overpaid backup point guard Marcus Banks (an awful signing for them in every sense, and if you don't think they wouldn't have just been better by keeping the No. 21 pick, taking Rajon Rondo or Marcus Williams and saving themselves from a $21 million deal, you're crazy) and creepy big man Kurt Thomas (healthy and getting minutes, which isn't necessarily a good thing). Remember, they almost made the 2006 Finals playing six guys because they had the best chemistry in the league. Now it's a little off, partly because they kept the wrong Thomas, partly because of Banks, and mostly because of ...

C. The Stoudemire Dilemna, which is killing them in multiple ways. He's not totally healthy and throws them off whenever he's in the game; it doesn't seem like they know whether they should involve him or pretend he's not there, like he's the token chick playing in a pickup game who everyone is secretly hoping will trip and sprain an ankle. If that's not bad enough, he's a shaky-chemistry guy (why do you think he slipped to No. 8 in the draft?) with a sizable ego who just isn't built for the whole "We can win without you, just take your time, get your legs back and get healthy" routine. He couldn't seem less happy sitting on the bench and not being one of the day-to-day alpha dogs. Believe me, I watched him for four quarters on Saturday. It's one thing to be wearing a suit and cheering guys on; it's another thing to be wearing a uniform getting Scalabrine minutes.

But here's the biggie: The whole subplot of nursing an injured star back to health during games compromises everything the Suns are about. This team is GO-GO-GO-GO all the time. Now they're saddled with this max contract superstar who may or may not ever recover from knee surgery? Psychologically, it's affecting them.

Here's the best analogy I can come up with: Imagine going to Vegas with a group of buddies, one of whom just got canned from his job and dumped by his girlfriend. Now you're walking around Vegas with him and you're ready for a 12-hour gambling binge ... only here's your unemployed, depressed buddy looking like death warmed over and saying stuff like, "I'm not sure how many hours I have in me tonight, I'm supposed to get a call from my ex at midnight" and "I can't gamble that much, I'm already knee-deep into my savings." And you know he's coming back strong some day, but right now, all you know is that he's standing behind the table while everyone else is playing, making annoying comments and secretly resenting the fact that you guys are cutting loose and having fun ... and you wish he'd go up to the room, only you feel guilty for wishing that, and that makes it even worse. Would that ongoing subplot affect the mood of the group all weekend? I say yes.

Anyway, Amare Stoudemire is playing the role of the Unemployed/Separated Guy In Vegas on the Suns. And it's hurting them. Now you know why they signed a comedic genius like Jalen Rose -- this team needs a good laugh.

FIVE GUYS WHO LOOK LIKE THEY'RE BACK WITH A VENGEANCE

1. Kenyon Martin
Looks like the old K-Mart again. Finally. So if you're scoring at home, it takes at least two years to recover fully from microfracture surgery and possibly 50.

(That reminds me, Casey from Austin, Texas, sent along this disturbing e-mail: "I had microfracture surgery a year ago today. I'm writing to tell you my knee, a year after the surgery, is a combination of a frozen monkey fist and a bag of chunky gravy. I understand I didn't have the same surgeon or rehab as Amare, but I'm also not trying to play 100 NBA games in seven months. I'd like to be able to run the bases, maybe play a lazy half-court game of basketball [I've pretty much given up on soccer]. It hurts to walk to my car. How anyone, even Amare, could come back and be 100 percent after this surgery is beyond me. We're talking cartilage here, people. It doesn't grow back. And it hurts.")

Larry Hughes
You don't want to mess with Larry this season.
2. Larry Hughes
Isn't it uncanny how many free agents sign monster deals, then have the Season From Hell for their new teams? I hope this doesn't happen to me after I sign my six-year, $50 million deal to write for US Weekly or Juggs Magazine next spring.

3. Zach Randolph
Playing with renewed vigor and it doesn't look like he ate Kenan Thompson anymore. I can't emphasize this emphatically enough: He DESTROYED Elton Brand at the Staples Center on Monday night. Is there a more unstoppable low-post player? Who can guard Zach Randolph when he's trying?

(Note: The preceding paragraph was not paid for by Paul Allen. Even if it seemed like it.)

4. Allen Iverson
One last statistical frenzy before he runs out of gas and realizes that the second-best player on his team is running like a 65-year-old man.

5. Carlos Boozer
No longer available at a discount price, thank you. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make. And by the way, Danny Ainge's inability to land Boozer before the season was his biggest misfire since the Raef/Antoine trade. It's not often that a consistent 22-10 guy becomes available at a discount for reasons other than "He has a bum knee and we're hoping nobody else realizes it yet," "We're tired of hiding his mini-bar key when we check into hotels" and "We just want to get something for him before he ends up in jail." Whether it was Wally/Jefferson for Boozer, Wally/Perkins for Boozer, Ratliff/Jefferson/2007 No. 1 for Boozer or whatever was on the table (and they definitely talked), you can't let a proven rebounder/low-post player like that slip through your fingers when you're trying to become a running team.

(Quick basketball lesson for you: You can't run fast breaks if you don't have the ball. Not even if you have Steve Nash on your team.)

SIX GUYS WHO LOOK SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE THAN THEY DID LAST SEASON

1. Bruce Bowen
Stick a fork in him. This is a significant problem for the Spurs, by the way -- they don't have anyone to cover the Gilbert Arenas and Corey Maggettes of the world right now. Why wouldn't they deal Brent Barry (his contract expires in 2008) and Eric Williams (his contract expires in 2007) and take the Completely Insane Stephen Jackson off Indy's hands? They already won one title with him, right?

2. C-Webb
Currently in the "Kathleen Turner when she was playing Chandler's transsexual dad on 'Friends'" stage of his career.

3. Boris Diaw
Some actual quotes from Boris' training regimen this summer as his agent hammered out his long-term deal with the Suns: "I already had ice cream today, but screw it -- I could go for a chocolate shake if you're going to Baskin Robbins." ... "Damn, I keep forgetting to get my exercise bike fixed!" ... "Trust me, you have NOT lived until you've had these donuts." ... "Hey, if you see Steve Nash, could you not tell him that I threw up when we were playing three-on-three today?" ... "Also, when you go to our practice facility, can you tell our equipment manager that I'm a 38-waist now?"

4. Channing Frye
Starting to look more than a little Loren Woodsy.

5. Manu Ginobili
Any time a guy loses two steps and develops a bald spot, that's usually a sign that he's on his way out of the league soon. We're sure he's only 28 and not 35, right?

6. Larry Bird
Can we get him a gift certificate to a spa? What about 10 free trips to a tanning salon? I'm worried about The Legend. He's never been the same since the Artest Melee.

SIX GUYS WHO ARE SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER THAN THEY WERE LAST YEAR

1. Kevin Martin
Third-ugliest shot in the league (behind Shawn Marion and Josh Childress) and it just doesn't matter. Dangerous crunch-time guy for some reason.

Carlos Arroyo
"Don't worry about that Orlando jersey ... we ran out. It's still the national team Carlos."
2. Carlos Arroyo
It's like the Magic brainwashed him into thinking that every NBA game was an Olympics qualifier or that Orlando was in Puerto Rico.

3. Chris Paul
I know, I know ... weird guy for this list. But have you seen him this season? He's like a cross between John Stockton and Isiah Thomas. Tons of jawdrop and freakish upside being realized here.

(My friend Grande had a good note on this: "Know what he added this year? A sneer. A mean streak. The kind that says I'm running this show, don't F it up or I'll have you replaced on my team.")

4. Hakim Warrick
Wait, so an excellent college player with big-game experience went a few spots too low in the NBA draft and turned out to be a good pro? You're kidding!!! This never happens!!!! I can't believe it!!!!!

5. Deron Williams
Dramatic difference from his rookie season -- he's 10-15 pounds lighter and looks like he went to John Stockton Summer Camp or something. Hasn't translated for fantasy purposes yet. It will.

6. Jarrett Jack
Now we know why the Trail Blazers didn't want to trade him last summer. Also, he gets bonus points for becoming the first visiting player during the 2006-07 Clippers season to earn "he seems nice" kudos from the Sports Gal.

MY FIVE FAVORITE BENCH PLAYERS

1. David Lee
When Isiah is running the WNBA into the ground six months from now, we'll remember the Lee pick as his finest move for the Knicks. I love this guy -- has that same wild-eyed look that Dave Cowens used to have. Is there any way he doesn't average 14-15 boards a game if they just played him 35-40 minutes a night?

2. Jason Maxiell and Craig Smith (tie)
Energy guys who post up, run the floor, get garbage put-backs, crash the boards and never stop playing hard. Undersized power forwards are becoming like OBP fliers back in the 2000-02 range in baseball -- you can find these guys late in the draft or in Europe and they have an abnormally high success rate. I'd include Ryan Gomes, Chuck Hayes, James Singleton (if he ever played) and even Renaldo Balkman (who's not terrible!) on this list as well. Maybe you don't want them playing in crunch time, but for 12-15 minutes a game? Absolutely.

4. Kyle Lowry
Other than LeBron's dunk over Duncan and Sean May's block-and-glare over a crumpled LeBron (would MJ have ever stood for that?), my favorite play of the first week was Lowry (who can't be bigger than 6-foot-1) trying a follow-up slam to a Mike Miller miss at the end of the second OT in that epic Grizz-Knicks game last Wednesday. He's absolutely relentless. Maybe Jerry West is still alive after all.

5. Matt Freije
You know him as the dude on the Hawks' bench who was celebrating like a Cobra Kai extra during their shocking win in Cleveland last night. Actually, you probably don't know him. But imagine Mark Madsen's illegitimate surfer half-brother made the Hawks, then imagine this kid polishing off a 96-ounce cup of coffee on the bench while watching his team pull off a huge upset in Cleveland. There you go. It's early, but you could be looking at my favorite player of the decade right now.

15 GUYS WHO BELONG ON THE D-MILES MEMORIAL ALL-STAR TEAM

Note: You know how there are young players every year that everyone PROJECTS to be better than they actually are? And when we discuss them, it's always in the context of their potential rather than their production, even though they've never done anything or they always keep getting hurt? Well, I just described the logic that led to Darius Miles' getting traded straight up for Andre Miller and landing a $48 million deal from Portland. So here's the D-Miles Memorial All-Stars. If we made this an expansion team, everyone would pick it to win between 50-55 games and it would end up going 28-54.

Samuel Dalembert
Don't get down on Sam. He might/could be/should be good some day. We promise.
Starting 5: Sam Dalembert, Josh Smith, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Shaun Livingston, J.R. Smith.

6th man: Al Jefferson.

Bench guys: Darko Milicic, Channing Frye, Marcus Banks, Bobby Jackson, Nate Robinson, Rudy Gay.

Inactive: Carlos Delfino, Tony Allen, Nene.

FIVE OPENING-NIGHT E-MAILS THAT SHOULD MAKE YOU GLAD YOU'RE NOT A CELTICS OR KNICKS FAN RIGHT NOW

1. Josh in Brooklyn, N.Y.: "For the first time in my life I'm completely rooting against my own team. Every foul, every TO, it all makes me happy. Even when the Jets were in the Bush sweepstakes last year I wanted them to play well. Now I want the Knicks to look as bad as possible. Blow leads. Play sloppy. Quit on the coach. I just want this fool out of town. I never thought this could happen."

2. Danny in Boston: "After walking through Faneuil Hall earlier today and seeing the statue of Red sitting on the bench smoking a cigar, I couldn't help but think to myself: Who would lead the Celtics to more wins, Doc Rivers or a replica statue of Red placed on the Celtics' bench?"

3. Seth R. in Clifton, N.J.: "The Knicks just blew a 19-point lead and got the ball back with 16 seconds left in a tie game. Isiah calls a timeout, presumably to call a play. What do they do? Inbound it to Crawford. Everyone else goes under the basket and watches Jamal dribble until there are six seconds left and he pulls up for a crazy 3-pointer. In overtime, they get the ball back with seven seconds left and a tie game ... AND THEY DO THE EXACT SAME THING! I know they ended up winning in three OTs, but after the first OT I couldn't watch any more. I think that when Isiah gets to the huddle, he wants to write something on that clipboard for the team but is too embarrassed to admit he is illiterate. It sounds like the making of a 'Hallmark presents' movie."

4. Jason C. in Billerica, Mass.: "I noticed the Celts don't have any plays to run in the half-court offense. This got me to thinking if our boy, Doc, watched "Coach Carter" and noticed that Samuel L. Jackson did not have any plays and just told his players to run up and down the court, which worked for them, so Doc thought it could work for the C's. I now am questioning if Samuel L. could coach the team better than Doc."

5. Jason in New York: "When is the last time a city has collectively rooted for its favorite team to lose every game? I found myself praying for the Knicks to implode in Memphis and when it started to happen, I was as giddy as a school boy. When they ended up winning, I found myself awkwardly disappointed. Even if the Knicks go 0-82 and get the first pick, they give the rights to Greg Oden to the Bulls. So it's not like I'm rooting for the first pick in the draft, I'm just rooting for [the Knicks] to be awful. Is there a precedent for this? Thanks Isiah."

MY 10 FAVORITE RANDOM STORY LINES OF THE SEASON SO FAR (OTHER THAN VLAD RADMANOVIC INEXPLICABLY DECIDING TO START WEARING TRAVOLTA'S WIG FROM "WELCOME BACK KOTTER")

1. The New Rat Pack
Sports Illustrated's fawning, masturbatory puff piece/cover story/PR release about LeBron, Carmelo and Wade was good for one thing: the revelation that those three young players have formed a hangout group called "Our Family" with Chris Paul and Joe Johnson. Apparently they hang out and stuff. And I can see how Paul gets an invite, but Joe Johnson? Joe Johnson??? Who invited him? More importantly, if this were the Rat Pack, LeBron is Sinatra (the leader), Wade is Dean Martin (coolest guy on the group), Joe Johnson is Peter Lawford (in other words, why is he even here?), and maybe you could even talk me into 'Melo being Sammy Davis Jr. But Chris Paul as Joey Bishop??? I'm not seeing it. They may need to replace him with Jalen Rose.

2. Gilbert Arenas
Remember when Michael Jackson started hanging out with Emanuel Lewis and Bubbles the Chimp and getting plastic surgery on his face every other week, and then he made the "Bad" video and everyone came to the collective realization, "Uh-oh, he's gone crazy?" I think we're still about 18 months away from this moment with Gilbert. But anyone who can spur a phenomenal blog report titled "Arenas: I'm not quirky" and inadvertently prove that, yes, he's extremely quirky, is a force to be reckoned with. If he starts wearing one glove and hanging out with Walt from "Lost," watch out.

Kobe Bryant
Some see No. 24, but most see a waste of $85.00.
3. Kobe changes to No. 24
Poor Gilbert gets all the attention for being crazy ... but you have to admit, he hasn't done anything even remotely as crazy as randomly changing his number and screwing over every Lakers fan who spent money on a No. 8 Lakers jersey. Shouldn't the Lakers and Nike form an exchange program here? Bring in Kobe's old jersey, get 50 percent off a new one, then the old jerseys get sent to underprivileged countries? Or would that make too much sense? Capitalism sucks sometimes.

4. Andrew Bynum: The Prince of Juvenation
My friend Matt "Money" Smith (a radio host for the Lakers) summed things up last week after I sent him the obligatory "thanks for warning me about Bynum" e-mail: "I watched him play every minute of every game last season and Summer League this year, so I can say with great certainty ... this came out of nowhere. NOBODY, I mean NOBODY thought he was capable of this. There's no reason to think it will fall off either. His moves are legit, and who's 7-1/290 to slow him down?"

That's the thing: Maybe he'll be up and down this season, but when he's up, is there another center in the league quite like him? He protects the rim, passes out of double teams, has great hands around the basket, up-fakes on his jump-hooks, rebounds in traffic, even has a motor that keeps going and going (unlike a stiff like Eddy Curry). I'm not sure what's missing here. This is stunning. This is startling. There's almost no precedent for it. Just what the Lakers needed: More obscenely good luck. Meanwhile, I have to watch Al Jefferson whip jump-hooks off the front of the rim for the third straight season. I will now pour scalding hot water down my pants.

5. The J.R. Smith era
Check out this excerpt from a Smith feature in the Denver Post last week: "Read a book? What young NBA millionaire has the time? As Smith refined his jump shot on the eve of Denver's season opener, he teased Nuggets teammate Julius Hodge for the heavy reading stacked on his nightstand. What kind of nerd does that?"

(You have to love the NBA, the league in which players tease other players for reading books. We might need to expand the Read to Achieve program to target the actual players.)

6. The Celtics Cheerleaders
If Red didn't pass away before the season, it definitely would have happened on opening night. My Lord. These girls make the Clippers Strippers look like librarians. Anyway, their debut inadvertently led to this classic revelation in Saturday's Boston Herald:

"Before tipoff, there was a lot of good-natured joking about the new in-game entertainment and who would or would not be paying attention to Doc Rivers during huddles. Pierce revealed that before being traded, Ricky Davis was the biggest proponent of a dance team in Boston. 'I won't get a chance to check them out; I'll be in the huddle,' said Pierce, as he offered a sideways glance, showing how he just might get a glimpse. 'I know Ricky Davis really promoted it. I know he did, for sure. He used to ask why we didn't have them.'"

(Come on, man! Ricky needs cheerleaders! And you wonder why he's played in seven playoff games in eight seasons. That was my favorite revelation of the season so far, narrowly edging Cavs rookie Shannon Brown hiring a documentary crew to follow him around for opening night, then being made inactive for the game.)

7. Knicks home games
The last time I heard booing like that at MSG, the Iron Sheik and Sergeant Slaughter were involved.

8. Peja's new look
I'll let reader GD from Redondo Beach, Calif., explain: "Did you notice Peja finally discovered hair removal? Or maybe I've just never seen him play a season opener. Do you think he goes in for an annual Halloween waxing that lasts him the whole season? Could this be an aerodynamic [clause] in his new contract, since he did seem a step slower last year? Whatever his reasons, he went way overboard and it's horrific."

(Couldn't agree more. Let's just hope Carlos Boozer doesn't get any ideas -- that could play out like the waxing scene from "The 40 Year Old Virgin.")

9. Etan Thomas vs. Brendan Haywood
According to the Washington Post, they had ANOTHER fight this week thanks to comments that Haywood's agent made about Thomas winning the starting center job. These guys are the new Ali-Frazier. Anyway, the Post reported that "Thomas felt that Miller's comments were a slight toward him, he approached Haywood and threw the first punch once the argument escalated, a source said. According to the source, Haywood responded to the punch by body-slamming Thomas to the ground, tearing out at least two of Thomas' dreadlocks in the process. The two players were separated by teammates and the altercation ended."

(Note: You can read more about the fight in Etan's just-released poem, "Torn Dreadlocks.")

10. The Doc Rivers watch
If the Celtics blow tonight's home game against Charlotte, TNT and ESPN will be handing in their sealed bids to his TV agent by Thanksgiving. I'd put the money line odds like this: ESPN -170; TNT +150. As for a possible replacement, I'm both delighted and horrified that Rick Adelman, and his career 658-411 record, is available. On the one hand, he has an established track record for getting teams to big games. On the other hand, he has an established track record for blowing those same big games. And so it's come to this: I just want the Celtics to play a big game again. Even if there's an overwhelming chance we would probably lose it.

(That's right: The same guy who once joked that NBA Entertainment should release a "Rick Adelman's Greatest Playoff Collapses" DVD is now pushing for Adelman to coach his favorite team. And you thought Gilbert Arenas and Kobe were the only ones who were crazy.)

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.