Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
|First nine days of the season (players only)|
I want the happy medium.
I want to be where I think -- hope -- we'll be a month from now, with a bit of wisdom and distance from all these early send-a-message techs designed to show how serious the league is.
Exhibition season, as we feared, didn't help much in defining how fine the new line is, because preseason games rarely generate situations that lead to emotional protest. So the players have to expend regular-season energies to grasp exactly what is permissible and the refs need time, too, to develop some consistency and administer this new emphasis as it's written.
Let me say this, though: When we get past the adjustment phase, I'm just hoping the players will still have the right to react naturally to a bang-bang call that goes against them.
One reflex reaction, even an animated reaction, is only natural and should be permissible so long as it's free of obscenities or hostility.
But that's not what we're seeing so far.
I know, I know. David Stern and his team insist that, even with this new movement to hush back-talking, players are allowed to have a "heat of the moment" response to a call.
The league says what they're trying to eliminate are the scenes where players drag out their protests.
We've already seen instances where both of those missions were ignored.
We've seen Andres Nocioni drive the lane on Opening Night, throw up his hands after a non-call, follow up quickly with a guilty signal to convey that he knows he wasn't supposed to do that ... and still get hit with a T.
And we've seen Tim Duncan and Sam Cassell carry on their typically lengthy after-the-call discussions with officials and go unpunished, presumably because of their star and/or veteran status. I've mentioned it a few times, but I'm still wondering how Duncan avoided a technical foul in Dallas on Opening Night when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had to go out on the floor to drag Duncan away from the refs and back to the Spurs' huddle.
At the start of the season, when everyone is adapting to the new world, I suppose we've got to live with the inconsistencies. You'd like to think that, by December, even Rasheed Wallace will have made the adjustment.
OK, maybe not 'Sheed. But the overwhelming majority.
It's a frustrating wait to get to that point, especially with no guarantee that the players will gradually get some leeway back. And they do deserve some, because it's simply unnatural to outlaw reflex responses to disappointment in heat-of-the-moment circumstances.
Can't say it better than Bill Simmons wrote it Wednesday: "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."
I'm well aware that many of the game's power brokers, starting with Stern, had reached their limit. They were unhappily convinced coming into the season that NBA players were contesting calls more often and more demonstratively than players in any other sport. In the playoffs, some felt, it became an every-whistle kind of thing with some teams.
I get that. But I strongly dispute the notion that a game in which the combatants have to robotically suppress outward emotion and passion is a better game.
Or that the public really prefers it that way.
Wasn't the height of tennis' popularity in this country when we had John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors swinging away at full boil?
Isn't what makes the NBA so appealing as a spectator sport that you can get this close to these guys ... almost like you're in the game feeling it all with them?
No one's advocating swearing. Or slamming the ball down. Or chesting up to refs and gesturing wildly like Billy Martin.
Or those running dialogues with the refs that start with a touch foul on the perimeter in the first quarter.
But you can't mess too much with that first reaction to a tough call. You can't ding South Americans like Nocioni just because they talk with their hands.
That first reaction of disbelief/fury/involuntary protest is one of the surest signals, right up there with those commercials, that the NBA player cares.
Relax, NBA coaches.
Larry Brown walking away with a mere $18.5 million buyout, with about $41 million left on his Knicks contract, does not set a precedent where teams can fire you and get out of paying guaranteed money.
I ran this past a few trusted executives and they all reminded me that the Knicks didn't fire Larry just because he was losing. If that were the case, Brown probably would have received all his money.
The Knicks fired him for a string of offenses that added up to a "breach of contract" claim. A very valid claim judging by the lower-than-expected buyout figure.
This was a situation unlike any other firing. When have we ever seen a coach ousted after Year 1 of a five-year, $50 million contract?
"You can't compare this to a coach with a three-year contract, making $3 million [annually], who gets fired [during or after] his second year," said one Eastern Conference executive.
A scout warns: "Don't get excited about the Hawks. I hate to say it, but they're in trouble defensively. And they look a little disorganized offensively."
You have to permit them at least a little giddiness after a 3-1 start and their victory in Cleveland on Tuesday night because A) they awoke Friday morning with the East's best record and stingiest D at 89.3 ppg allowed; B) if we don't do it now we might not get another chance, and C) these poor guys have had a winning record for a mere 18 days this century.
I wish I were making that up.
Starting with the 1999-2000 season, Atlanta has enjoyed a whopping 12 days over .500 in November 2002 -- when the Hawks last began a season 3-1 -- and went to bed with a winning record for six straight nights this season through Friday.
Let them enjoy their moment.
On the subject of things LeBron James has done that offend more than walking off the floor with 15 seconds left in the Atlanta loss, which I'll get to in a weekend Blog entry, here's another: LeBron sitting out that exhibition game in Rochester last month ... Rochester's first NBA experience in 25 years.
You can't pin that one strictly on him, though. He couldn't have sat without permission from Cavs coach Mike Brown.
But that's why the league has to step in with a new rule next season that forbids teams from letting their players skip exhibitions in non-NBA cities without medical proof stating that they're unfit to play. Wouldn't that do more for growing the game and improving the league's image than calling extra technicals?
Giving stars rest in the preseason has never been a more popular practice than it was this October, but teams can do that at their home exhibitions. Not when they're playing in a neutral venue, exposing the NBA to fans (re: potentially new TV and merchandise customers) who don't regularly have access it to.
The Cavs, I'm told, were among the teams invited to go to Europe for training camp. They declined, which is their right. They certainly wouldn't be the first team to argue that the extra travel involved -- and the time needed to readjust after getting back to the States -- put them off.
But if the schedule sends you to Rochester or Pittsburgh or El Paso -- yes, I've spent a month there covering an exhibition game one night -- you owe it to the customers and the league to play unless you're hurt. For a half or at least a quarter.
No matter what.
Five questions with Rockets forward Shane Battier:
Q: How are you settling in as a Houstonian?
A: I got a couple pair of cowboy boots, so I'm on my way. You've got to have your kickers in Texas.
Q: What about on the court?
A: That's taking a little more time. When you're in a place for five years, you become comfortable. Everything you do is pretty instinctual. You don't have to think a whole lot. When you go to a new place, it's a whole different ball of wax. The way you prepare pregame, to the game situations, practice -- everything is different. It's a good challenge, though. It's good for my career to sort of get those juices flowing again.
Q: Expectations are pretty high in town now that the Rockets have added you and Bonzi Wells. How realistic are they?
A: This franchise has obviously tasted success with the two championships in the '90s, but they haven't had much playoff success in recent years. So the city is hungry for a playoff team. When you throw a couple of names on the roster, people get excited. As they should. But we have a long way to go before we're at that level. Every team in the West has improved, so the main thing for this team is that we have to stay healthy and we have to come together quickly. You get in a hole in the West and you're in big trouble.
Q: There are already doubts about how Bonzi and Jeff Van Gundy will coexist, but you've said from the start that you expect him to do well. Why?
A: I think all that Bonzi really ever wants in his career is to know that he'll be able to get shots and minutes and the ability to produce. I think he'll have those opportunities here. But this is Tracy and Yao's team. You're talking about two of the best players on the planet. It's up to the rest of us to get on their train.
Q: We often heard in recent years that Jerry West would do anything he could to avoid trading you. How much did the trade surprise you?
A: Not at all. After Game 4 of the Dallas series, I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I had probably played my last game in Memphis. Not for any malignant reason, but I knew they had to make some changes. Looking at the roster, there were only one or two guys who they could have traded and gotten fair value in return. So I knew I was probably out the door, which is OK. I'm glad they sent me to a good situation. You're always scared that you'll be traded to a bad situation.
It's way too soon to know what happens next for the Sacramento Kings after the latest proposed plan for a new arena was soundly rejected by voters Tuesday, bringing an unsavory end to a campaign that created unprecedented tension in town.
What we do know: There are actually three potential outcomes as opposed to two.
(1) The Maloof Brothers can start over with the city and try to strike a new arena deal, perhaps at a site closer to Arco Arena than the proposed (and defeated) move to a downtown rail yard.
(2) They can start seriously exploring their options to leave town, something the Maloofs have consistently insisted they don't want to do in spite of all their ties to Las Vegas and serious interest from Anaheim.
(3) They can explore selling the team and buying a new one, which is the newest option on the list but hardly far-fetched.
The Maloofs certainly don't want to sell the Kings after eight wildly successful seasons that transformed one of the league's perennial doormats into a model franchise and made them synonymous with the franchise. But they're also receiving criticism in town like they've never received before, after years of darling status.
Sacramento's anti-arena lobby puts the blame on the collapsed deal squarely on the Kings' owners, including accusations that the Maloofs are holding out for too much public funding and that they intentionally sabotaged the current proposal in hopes of securing a sweeter deal ... or to make it easier for them to move the club.
But such claims overlook a couple crucial facts, according to league sources.
For starters, even if the Maloofs are secretly desperate to move the Kings to Las Vegas, as has long been suspected, that can't happen until Vegas sports books stop taking NBA bets or commissioner David Stern relents on his stance that he'll never put a team there if you can wager on NBA games.
Neither is likely to happen soon, with the sports books understandably unwilling to forfeit millions in NBA revenue and Stern refusing to budge for years, even though he has consented to put February's All-Star Game in Vegas, as well as the NBA's biggest summer league and Team USA training camps.
A crucial secondary point: The NBA, sources say, is adamantly against leaving Sacramento, which ranks as one of the league's strongest markets. The Kings, with the Maloofs in charge, have become a sellout machine. On the assumption that the city will have a new arena someday, which seems a safe assumption, it's also a market with considerable growth potential.
Moving the team ain't so easy.
If the Maloofs reach the point that they want to leave town, don't be surprised if they're encouraged to sell the Kings and buy an ailing franchise, then move their new team to Anaheim ... or Vegas if one of the current obstacles has been removed. The NBA is in no rush to leave a proven market.
Of course, if it plays out that way, I'll be even less surprised if Sacramento's citizenry comes to rue the Maloofs' departure and miss them deeply. They're not popular guys at the moment, but they've been passionate and aggressive owners who've made winning and entertainment big priorities.
Owners like that aren't easy to find.
Funny scene of the week that no one saw: Golden State's Don Nelson walking into the Dallas Mavericks' basketball offices Monday morning like he still owned the place.
While his new team was completing its pregame shootaround -- hours before Mark Cuban arrived at American Airlines Center to trade barbs through the media with his 66-year-old former coach -- Nelson made the rounds to say hello to a few team staffers and Mavs players.
The Warriors, according to NBA front-office sources, are trying to buy out the contract of center Adonal Foyle, who played just six minutes in Golden State's first six games under Nelson and clearly has no role in Oakland given Nellie's preference for smaller lineups.
This is the first of four seasons left on Foyle's, uh, burdensome contract, with the 31-year-old due $37.4 million in that span ... but only $1 million of Foyle's $10.6 million salary in 2009-10 is guaranteed to make the actual value just under $28 million.
Personnel chief Chris Mullin has taken more shots for Foyle's original six-year, $51 million deal than any other move he's made -- and justifiably so -- but the Warriors insisted at the time that serious interest from Orlando and Milwaukee drove Foyle's price up.
One man's take on Orlando's Dwight Howard, from Dimedom's web of front-office executives, coaches and scouts:
"I'm not really surprised that he had a couple games in a row like that [under 10 points]. I don't think he's fully developed a low-post game at this point. He's still not at the stage where you can just go to him on the block. He's a little bit limited there.
It's not like when Brian Hill had Shaq and he was going to go to him every time.
He's also seeing more double-teams and learning how to cope with that is another adjustment for him.
But their perimeter guys are going good anyway: Carlos Arroyo, Grant Hill, [Hedo] Turkoglu. When I saw them, they were running lots of pick-and-rolls, but it didn't seem to me like they were doing it at Dwight's expense. I thought they were really playing like a team.
Instead of just throwing the ball into Howard and trying to play, they're pushing, cutting and playing fast."
This week's edition covered a brewing QB battle in Orlando, what Larry Brown's buyout in New York means for other coaches and the shared struggles of Kenyon Martin and Amare Stoudemire in their recoveries from microfracture knee surgery.
"No, I don't think so. I just want to be alive for another 12 years."
Golden State's Don Nelson, oldest coach in the four major professional sports at 66, shooting down the idea that he'll go to arbitration with Mark Cuban over $6 million-plus in deferred payments and then return to coach the Mavericks in 2018-19 after a 12-year absence ... just like he's doing now with the Warriors after a similar arbitration battle with owner Chris Cohan.
Brian (Villanova, PA): Help settle a debate I heard on sports-talk radio recently: Mad Dog Russo said that the mid-'80s Celtics and Lakers would not just beat Dallas or Miami but crush them. Thoughts?
Stein: Surprised this became sports-talk radio fodder because there really is no debate.
The host in question couldn't be more right and you could probably extend "the argument" to the best Sixers, Bucks and Mavericks teams of that era.
It was a 23-team league back then and the top teams were ridiculously good off the bench. Bob McAdoo as a sixth man? Bill Walton?
Last season was the best in Mavericks history, based on how far they advanced, but I can't sit here and tell you they had their most talented group when you remember that the best Mavs of the '80s fielded the trio of Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper ... plus Roy Tarpley, Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins.
It's just a fact: Expansion has naturally diluted the league's overall quality and now we're seeing the talent spread out more evenly across the league than ever before, thanks largely to the luxury tax.
Look at the Nets and their inability to assemble much of a bench to support their expensive star threesome of Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. Or the Suns letting Tim Thomas go after Thomas had such a great preseason, and then selling off their first-round draft picks.
The luxury tax ensures that '80s depth is a thing of the past. Teams carrying three or four big contracts are scouring for bargains to fill out their rosters to avoid paying the tax.