As I left today’s All-Star practice media session, one of the workers at the Los Angeles Convention Center asked me what it was like to be on the practice floor with all the players and media. I pondered for a minute, and then I told him to imagine what it’s like when a men’s college basketball team wins the NCAA tournament, and people frantically run on the floor. Then I told him to imagine that he had to look for 24 people in that frantic crowd, while trying to get audio, video and whatever else was needed.
His one-word response? “Damn.”
Despite the madhouse that was today’s post-practice media session, there were uplifting and useful moments to be had. The morning started with Justin Friedlander dunking home his 63,000th shot to raise brain tumor awareness. Justin was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor called an optic nerve glioma back in 2009, and he vowed to shoot 63,000 shots — one for everyone diagnosed with a primary brain tumor per year. Justin, who hails from Rockville, Maryland, visited the Verizon Center last year prior to the Wizards/Pacers game, so it was nice to see him complete his journey. All the coaches and players from both the East and West All-Star squads shook his hand, and signed a t-shirt for him. Very moving stuff.
Next, the East and West All-Stars conducted the kind of practice that even Allen Iverson would not turn down. Gregg Popovich, who was mic’d up during the entire session, walked through some very remedial plays he planned on running in tomorrow night’s All-Star game, and then he just relaxed and watched like every other fan. At one point he ran up to Blake Griffin and said, “I’m a huge fan of yours!” Griffin just laughed and said thank you.
Doc Rivers, who was also mic’d up, made a point of telling the crowd he added some Miami Heat plays to the offense in preparation for the game. When the East and West teams were settling in on their respective sides of the court, Rivers saw fit to crack a joke as well.
“Carmelo should stand in the middle of the court, since he doesn’t know where he’s going.”
Anthony laughed, but in that nervous, not-you-too, kind of way.
After a series of shooting competitions between the East and West teams, the media was finally granted access to the All-Stars and the madness began. Hundreds of media members, armed with cameras, recorders, Flip cams, sharp elbows and questions galore, descended upon the All-Star practice floor, looking for answers and stories — and I was among them.
I mainly wanted to ask the All-Star point guards about how long it took for them to feel successful and comfortable as an NBA point guard. Former Wizard, and current Orlando Magic guard Gilbert Arenas, recently had this to say to Michael Lee prior to last Wednesday’s game against the Wizards:
“Hopefully, [the Wizards make] the right decisions by building with veterans around him, like they did with Rondo, like they did Derrick Rose. You’ve got to put veterans so he can learn how to play winning basketball. If he stays with all these young guys, they are just going to learn how to lose and be okay with it.”
I asked Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook if they agreed with Arenas’ hypothesis.
“I don’t think Wall necessarily needs veterans or anything like that, it really depends on his coaching staff, the quality of his supporting staff, as well as his work ethic and what he does in the offseason. Each player is different. For me, the veterans helped me out, I worked hard, and then I had Steph [Stephon Marbury], Lue [Tyronn Lue] and Sam[Cassell], so I couldn’t ask for anymore than that.”
“It really depends on the situation and the system, I mean there’s a whole bunch of keys, like your comfort with the players you’re playing with and stuff like that. It really depends on the player, the level of talent, and their basketball IQ. When I got to Utah, I had superstars all around the league pull me aside, tell me about the grind of a season, how to prepare and things like that. I think that and game experience were key though.”
“I think it takes years to learn how to truly play this position, in this league there’s a lot of different things you can learn from different players. This league has turned into a young point guard’s league, and lucky for me, the coaching staff and Maurice Cheeks have done a great job with me.”
So it seems like the key to point guard success is a combination of veteran guidance, good assistant coaches and just good old-fashioned experience. The irony here is that Wall would have all those things had Arenas not been traded in December. Still, the coaching of Sam Cassell and Flip Saunders should suffice.
Speaking of Arenas, the scrum around Dwight Howard had subsided a great deal by the time I was near him, so I wanted to ask him about Arenas’ progress. Since joining the Magic, Arenas has struggled to find his comfort zone (he’s averaging just eight points and four assists per game), and he sees just 21 minutes of action off the bench. Nonetheless, Howard was encouraged:
“I think he’s just trying to get healthy. He’ll be alright though, right now everyone else is carrying the load. We understand he’s trying to get healthy and we’re not pressuring him to do anything special. Right now, he just needs to get himself right so we can have him 100-percent by the playoffs. He’s improved a lot though. One thing he’s done a very a good job of is passing the ball. Hopefully he can continue to that for us and also score.”