Jan Hubbard’s Postseason Award Choices

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220px-Wilt_Chamberlain_Bill_Russell_2One of my favorite factoids involving NBA awards goes back to the ’50s and ’60s when the two premier legends in the history of pro basketball were dominating the game.

Wilt Chamberlain was a mythical character – a combination of Paul Bunyan, Jack in the Beanstalk and the Incredible Hulk.

Bill Russell was the ultimate winner — 11 championships in 13 seasons.

Yes, I believe Michael Jordan is the best player ever, but Wilt and Russell were bigger than life and their legend is undoubtedly enhanced by grainy black-and-white photos and prehistoric TV footage of exceeding low definition. Plus so much time has passed. Russell retired 45 years ago; Wilt 41.

Their careers intersected for 10 years from 1959-60 to 1968-69 and during that period, they defined rivalry. Wilt and Russell played a staggering 142 times against each other. You think Magic-Bird was a rivalry? Those two played each other exactly 37 times. There has never been, nor will their ever be, a rivalry as prolific as Chamberlain-Russell. They played an average of more than 14 times a season, and that’s not counting preseason games.

Hubbard: Here’s why the Lakers will get Andrew Wiggins

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WigginsWhile Laker haters throughout the NBA are able to enjoy the struggles of one of the two most successful franchises in the league, they perhaps have overlooked the irony of the Lakers’ misfortune.

It seems quite evident what is going to happen. The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs and will be in the draft lottery. Regardless of how few chances they have in the lottery, they’re going to win it.

And Andrew Wiggins is going to be a Laker.

Book it.

Yes, I realize the Celtics are also lottery-bound, and they still have a 17-16 lead over the Lakers in championships. If there is magic in the lottery, the Celtics normally would be logical recipients.

Hubbard: Hornacek has Suns Shining Brightly

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Jeff Hornacek SunsWhen the season was at hand, a number of distinguished correspondents on this site and many others offered predictions that ranged from serious to absurd.

Preseason predictions are a little like Donald Sterling utterances – they’re made to be forgotten. But one I would have remembered if anyone had ventured it was this:

After the month of December, Jeff Hornacek will be named Coach of the Month.

Now that would have been impressive, particularly since the only handicapping involving the Phoenix Suns was their chances of making the lottery and having Andrew Wiggins join the Morris brothers as former Jayhawks on the roster.

Instead, the Suns had a 10-3 December and at 20-12 after Saturday’s win against the Bucks. They are in seventh place in the robust Western Conference and much more competitive for a playoff berth than the No. 1 pick in the college draft.

When you look at the Suns’ roster, their success is hard to figure. The top seven scorers are Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Markieff Morris, Channing Frye, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee. That sounds like a list of the Who’s Who . . . of Who?

But the Suns seem to mirror Hornacek, their coach, who was hardly a flashy player but still managed to play 14 years in the NBA. They were good years, solid years. He did, in fact, make the All-Star team once. And he was also named Player of the Month once in his career, meaning he now has as many coach of the month honors in two months as he had player honors in 14 years.

Hornacek has always been the quiet sort, so he wasn’t necessarily one of those players who was projected as a coach. He obviously knew the game well enough, but “dynamic” was never a word that described him. He has, however, implemented an effective system and proven his leadership abilities.

“Relative to the expectations coming into the season,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told the Arizona Republic, “I’d say it’s hard to say anybody has done a better job than Jeff has.”

BledsoeHornacek has paired point guards Dragic and Bledsoe, and they are the catalysts for the offense.

Dragic admitted to reservations when the Suns acquired Bledsoe in a three-team trade in July, but Hornacek was confident that two point guards would work because for 13 of his 14 NBA seasons, he played in a two-point guard backcourt – first with Kevin Johnson in Phoenix and later with John Stockton in Utah.

“When Ryan asked me about (the trade), I said, ‘Hey, Eric looks like Kevin Johnson when he was here playing in Phoenix, and Goran is kind of like I was,’ ” Hornacek told USA Today. “We turned a team that was winning 28 games (in 1987-88) to winning 55 (in 1988-89).”

Well, that’s partially true, although Hornacek left out one fairly significant fact. In 1988, the Suns also signed unrestricted free agent Tom Chambers and did not have to part with any players. Chambers, in fact, was the franchise player who led the team with a 25.7 scoring average.

They also had a prolific scorer in forward Eddie Johnson, who averaged 21.5 a game, and Kevin Johnson averaged 20.4 in his first season as a starter. Hornacek added 13.5 points a game and, more importantly, he was a sure thing when the Suns needed one. As a player who scored mostly from the outside, he shot 50 percent from the field.

Those were some of the greatest of Suns teams, but the current one is making its own history — although the season is not yet at the halfway point.

Ryan McDonough GM Suns

Hornacek, however, sees a work ethic that can sometimes make up for a lack of experience, or even of talent. The current Suns have no one like Chambers, or even Eddie Johnson, who can fill it up on any given night. But they play hard.

“Once we started [playing hard] and had some success,” Hornacek said, “the guys realized that’s how we have to play. We’re not the most talented guys so they have to play that way. They’ve had their lessons a couple times. When they haven’t played that way, we’ve gotten beat.”

McDonough is a 33-year-old rookie GM who worked for the Celtics for 10 years.

When he began his tenure by trading veterans Martin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Luis Scola, it seemed the Suns were entering the Riggin’ for Wiggins derby. But Phoenix won only 25 games last season, so McDonough was not reluctant to part with veterans and give young players a chance.

The Suns have six first-round picks in the next two years, and maximum cap space, and Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun has always been an attractive place for players. They also have Emeka Okafor waiting in the wings, and a big fellow like that — if he ever gets healthy — can mean the difference between a second-round appearance and a first-round exit.

The Suns are in position to build a contender quickly but not the way others projected for them.

Andrew Wiggins would be a nice prize, but the Suns are playing well enough to ensure that Wiggins will start his career someplace else.

TAKE A SPIN THROUGH JAN HUBBARD’S ARCHIVE FROM SHERIDAN HOOPS.COM. FANTASTIC STUFF ON THE NBA, PAST AND PRESENT.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.

 

Hubbard: Mavericks Quietly off to Surprising Good Start

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Mark_Cuban_2011A little more than a month has passed in the NBA season, but it seems like we’ve already had a full year of distractions, both good and bad. Portland great; Indiana even better. The Knicks and Nets taking turns who’s bad and who’s worse. Kobe close to returning; Rose out for the year. Dwayne Wade hurting; the Atlantic Division hurting even more.

Meanwhile, the last team other than the Miami Heat to win a championship is quietly turning into a solid team, which is interesting for two reasons.

1. How is it that anything Mark Cuban owns is quiet?

2. After winning their first title, the Mavericks took such an unusual approach in trying to win a second.

Hubbard: For the Lakers and Kobe, it was good business

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Los Angeles disasterLOS ANGELES – Arriving in at LAX for Thanksgiving proved to be entertaining as usual.

Kobe Bryant signed his two-year, $48.5 million extension Monday morning, so by the time my plane touched down late Tuesday, the irrational debate and cheap analysis was kicking into a higher gear among Lakers Nation.

This group is one of my favorites because its members live in a self-contained universe where there are only two types of humans – those who are Lakers and those who want to be Lakers.

In the first 24 hours here, I read or heard about scenarios that had LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook coming to the Lakers, although one written report quoted an anonymous Lakers source saying speculation on James migrating to the West Coast was “a pipe dream.”

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