NBA not only game making noise this time of year

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NBA not only game making noise this time of year

Monday, April 4, 2011Posted: 4:00 p.m.

By Aggrey SamCSNChicago.com
While the Bulls were making quick work of the Timberwolves in Minnesota last Wednesday, basketball fans at the United Center were treated to a glimpse of the future. The 2011 McDonald's All-American Game was held in Chicago for the first time in two decades and judging from the sellout crowd, it won't take as long for the annual high school all-star game to return to the Windy City.

The East team knocked off its West counterparts, 111-96, but as it goes in these type of affairs, the talent on hand was more important than the final result. New Jersey native Michael Gilchrist, a 6-foot-7 Kentucky-bound small forward that has drawn Scottie Pippen comparisons and James McAdoo, a skilled 6-foot-9 power forward from Virginia who's headed to North Carolina--like his famous uncle, former NBA scoring champion and current Miami Heat assistant coach Bob McAdoo--earned game co-MVP honors.

Perhaps the most impressive player, however, from a potential standpoint, was a Chicago resident. Anthony Davis, who attends Perspectives--a charter school that's far from a city basketball powerhouse--is a versatile forward with the rebounding and shot-blocking ability of the big man combined with perimeter skills of a guard.

In fact, the 6-foot-10 Kentucky recruit--the Final Four team had four players in the game, with Indianapolis point guard Marquis Teague (brother of Atlanta Hawks reserve Jeff) and Oregon forward Kyle Wiltjer joining Davis and the aforementioned Gilchrist--actually was a guard until an eight-inch junior-year growth spurt transformed him from a run-of-the-mill high school player into one of the nation's top prospects, especially after he dominated summer All-American camps and AAU tournaments. With Davis' length, athleticism, non-stop motor and tremendous upside--he's often compared to a young Kevin Garnett--some observers believe he's an early favorite to be the top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Davis scored 14 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked four shots Wednesday.

Another Chicago prospect, 6-foot-5 Wayne Blackshear of Morgan Park High School, also participated in the game. Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the practices leading up to the main event, the Louisville-bound swingman started the contest, although he only scored two points in limited minutes.

Another player in the game with Windy City ties was Austin Rivers, regarded by many as the nation's top overall prospect. An exciting 6-foot-4 scorer, the Duke recruit is the son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

The elder Rivers--who sat courtside at the game--participated in the event himself during his days as a prep standout at Proviso East High School in nearby Maywood, which also produced former NBA player Michael Finley, Lakers guard Shannon Brown and Kansas State star Jacob Pullen.

Michigan State recruit Branden Dawson, an athletic, 6-foot-5 wing from nearby Gary, Ind., also played in the game.

McDonald's has hosted a girls game for some time now and this year's event featured one local prospect, Ariel Massengale from Bolingbrook High School. The three-time state champion and Tennessee-bound point guard was Illinois' Ms. Basketball, and only added to her long list of accolades by leading the East to a 78-66 victory over the West Wednesday night.

Her counterpart for the boys "Mr. Basketball" award--shared with Stanford recruit Chasson Randle of Rock Island--Ryan Boatright of East Aurora High School, was a surprise snub in the minds of many observers. An electrifying 5-foot-10 guard with an incredible knack for scoring, jaw-dropping leaping ability, tremendous ballhandling skills and the speed of a sprinter, the Connecticut-bound showman was the biggest attraction in the Chicagoland area this past high school season.

At UConn, he will attempt to fill the big shoes of another small guard with a huge heart, All-American Kemba Walker. Walker's entire season--particularly his run from the Big East Tournament to Monday night's NCAA championship game--has been awe-inspiring. A big-time scorer this season, NBA personnel types are quick to forget that his point production on an inexperienced Huskies team is out of necessity; he was a playmaking, defensive-minded point guard prior his first two years in college, something that should aid his transition to the next level.

One of Walker's young teammates, freshman wing Jeremy Lamb, has been receiving rave reviews throughout the postseason, in which he has emerged as an excellent secondary scorer. At 6-foot-4, with excellent athleticism, length and range, he has shot up the boards as a prospect, although his slender frame may make at least another year in the college game in his best interests.

UConn's championship-game opponent, Butler, is no stranger to the big stage--the Bulldogs also made it to the finale last season, losing to Duke after current Utah Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward's halfcourt heave rattled out at the buzzer--and pro scouts are likewise familiar with their star junior guard Shelvin Mack. But while a significant amount of time throughout the season is spent evaluating college prospects, NBA executives are only human, leading to Mack's potential pro stature suddenly rising, albeit in a shallow pool of a guard class.

Mack's teammate, senior forward Matt Howard fits the NBA prototype even less--mainly due to his lack of explosiveness--but his skill, strength, ability to knock down jumpers, toughness and various intangibles have also been winning scouts over as of late, despite a collective insistence that clutch performances in the "Big Dance" don't make a difference come draft day.

March Madness, indeed.

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Dwyane Wade's sacrifice for LeBron James as historically surprising as it was successful

Dwyane Wade's sacrifice for LeBron James as historically surprising as it was successful

When Dwyane Wade’s career epitaph is written, the chapter titled “sacrifice” could be the biggest of any superstar of his caliber in NBA history.

Wade is making modifications and sacrifices to his game to accommodate Jimmy Butler, but at age 34 it’s a much easier sell to defer to a player like Butler than his most notable stepback move: Allowing former teammate LeBron James to shine even more during their time in Miami.

The partnership formed by the two was based on the friendship forged by the 2003 draftees, and by the time Wade, James and Chris Bosh made the controversial decision to play together in 2010 free agency, Wade was already a champion.

He was also coming off two of the best seasons by a shooting guard not named Michael Jordan, welcoming a two-time MVP in James to his city and his team.

A whirling dervish after a couple injury-riddled seasons, Wade was rejuvenated after the 2008 Olympics and averaged 28.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks over the next two seasons.

The only problem was the Heat, in anticipation of the celebrated 2010 free-agent class, stripped down the operation to bare bones and Wade couldn’t will the Heat out of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

James had stellar seasons of his own, winning back-to-back MVP’s but couldn’t get his Cleveland Cavaliers to the Finals after pushing them to top seeds in the East both years.

“I led the league in scoring (2008-09) and nobody was knocking down my door for anything. It was just like, ‘Oh, good year.’ And then we went into the summer,” said Wade after Thursday's practice, on the eve of the first Bulls-Cavs matchup this season, Friday at the United Center. “And it was like, ‘I don’t get no trophy presentation, no car, no nothing?’ For me, and I think the same thing happened with LeBron as well, it came a point for both of us where it was like the goal is to play team basketball and to win at a high level.”

The story about their rocky first season together is well-known, as is Wade’s subsequent sacrifice to step back and allow James to take the wheel, with the Heat winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

But had James showed up in the last four games of the 2011 NBA Finals, where the Heat lost a 2-1 lead to the Dallas Mavericks to fall in six games, Wade not only would’ve been MVP of that Finals series, but what need would there have been for him to take a supporting role?

After all, it was James who choked away fourth quarters in that Finals, while Wade was stellar with 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.2 assists to go along with averaging nearly two steals and two blocks.

Wade was 29, as in the same age Jordan was when leading the Bulls to their first three-peat, the prime age when players are maximizing their individual gifts, not suppressing them for a newcomer.

There were plenty of reasonable arguments to be made that it was James who should’ve been deferring to Wade during that time, and a championship would’ve proven that theory.

Still in the conversation for the belt-less title of “best player,” Wade finished seventh in MVP voting in 2010-11 while James finished third.

“Once you get over that, people writing and saying you’re arguably the best player in the game, what does that do for you? How many years can you go into the summer early and say, ‘Oh, he’s one of the best players in the game’ if your goal is to win,” Wade said.

In hindsight it makes sense, and Wade almost seems clairvoyant in sliding over before his body started to show slippage in their last two years in Miami.

But with players being wired to say “nobody’s better than me and I have the receipts to prove it,” it was a massive sacrifice by Wade even with the perspective.

“That first year we both had great individual years. We went to the Finals. (But) we lost,” said Wade matter-of-factly. “And I felt some hesitation as well on his part about playing. I took it upon myself to take that hesitation away from him, to allow him to be what he was and what he is - the best player in the game - and not think too much about stepping on my toes.

“We were stuck together. There was no point in us coming together and doing these things if we’re not going to reach that ultimate goal. I didn’t like that feeling after the first loss in the championship against Dallas. I didn’t like it. And I wanted to change it. And I felt that was the best way I could help.”

Some players sacrifice because they have to, with there being such a great gap in talent between one star and the other that it would almost seem counterproductive for one to try to take a more aggressive tone.

Historically, there have been instances of stars switching teams and accepting lesser roles or even transitions of roles from teammates to accommodate age or ascension or general decline.

Kobe Bryant was arguably every bit of Shaquille O’Neal’s equal during the Lakers’ last two championships in their run (2001-2002), so one could understand the power struggle that took place.

Magic Johnson willingly deferred to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar until the Lakers were bounced in the 1986 Western Conference Finals in five games by the Houston Rockets and the Lakers were in desperate need of a personality transplant to thrive in the latter part of the decade.

Johnson took over while the aging Abdul-Jabbar, nearing 40 years old, took a step back. The Lakers wound up producing the best season of the “Showtime” era in 1986-87, with Johnson winning the first of his three regular-season MVP’s and the Lakers repeated in 1988.

Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar’s partnership extended the Lakers’ decade-long run while O’Neal and Bryant’s tug-of-war led to their demise after 2004.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook couldn’t find that balance during their time together in Oklahoma City, so it wasn’t a foregone conclusion Wade, James and Bosh were going to figure it out.

One of the few players whose acknowledgement of a contemporary’s greatness doesn’t obscure his own, Wade’s pride in his own game and security in his place in history and the present was a big reason why the Heat managed to win.

It’s also why Wade has little issue being big brother to Butler in Chicago.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” said Wade of James. “There are not many players I’ve been with my own eyes that, no matter what team he goes on, they’re a great team. He has that ability to put his stamp on the game. That’s why he is who he is. He’s arguably one of the top three to five players to ever play the game.”

The fact the two were friends certainly aided matters, leading to an understanding and communication between the two without the uncomfortable moments that can often derail promising partnerships.

Those who were around both said Wade’s leadership rubbed off on James, who was described as immature by some during his time in Cleveland. Wade being older and more savvy was just as critical as James’ otherworldly play.

“The one thing from the standpoint of my leadership and my calmness and my ability to prepare, I think all those things rubbed off on him as well,” Wade said. “Just like the things he did rubbed off on me. That’s a sign of people who respect each other, two great players. The same thing here with Jimmy. I’m trying to rub off on Jimmy. But at the same time, Jimmy is rubbing off on me, too.”