Four SI.com writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the NBA each week. (All stats and records are through Nov. 30.)
1. Tim Donaghy described his scheme for betting on NBA games on 60 Minutes. Has the NBA done enough since the scandal broke to prevent that sort of controversy from happening again?
Ian Thomsen: It's far too early to resolve so murky a subject. The NBA viewed Donaghy as one of the better referees, even as he was betting on his own games, so the league has a lot of work ahead before anyone can say its problems are solved.
The league is now trying to take subjectivity and "gray area" out of referees' decisions by having former ref Bernie Fryer (rehired as vice president and director of officials after the Donaghy scandal) decide whether their calls are correct or incorrect, right or wrong, in the harshest black-and-white terms. This is an attempt at trying to better hold refs accountable to a single universal standard. But it's not over yet -- Donaghy's just now beginning his book tour.
Jack McCallum: To a large extent, the NBA will never be able to do anything about conspiracy theories. There are too many could-go-either-way calls during games, too much ingrained belief that referees favor certain players. Commissioner David Stern is far more schooled on these matters than I, but I'm a little surprised he's not out there battling Donaghy on all fronts, making himself available with charts, graphs, whatever the heck he needs to buttress his case that NBA refereeing is strong and, for the most part, objective.
Chris Mannix: I'll give the NBA some credit: It's taken the mystery out of who is officiating by making the names available well before the game. A new supervisor of officials, Ron Johnson, has been appointed and has seemingly complied with every aspect of the investigation. But the NBA has spent far too much time, in my opinion, trying to discredit Donaghy, and executives refuse to hand over control of their officials to an independent body, a move many (including myself) have called for. The truth is, no matter what the league does, the human factor -- one man's personal issues that led him into this situation -- simply cannot be accounted for. Will a Donaghy-type scandal happen again? Probably not. But there is no way to guarantee it.
Arash Markazi: There's only so much the NBA can do to prevent situations like this. The league isn't going to monitor refs' cell-phone calls and interactions with friends; it just has to trust that Donaghy was, as Stern has said, one "rogue" official. However, the NBA must now guard against referees having vendettas with certain players. Donaghy gave specific examples of players -- AllenIverson, Rasheed Wallace, Ron Artest --being singled out and others -- Kobe Bryant --being given preferential treatment. The league will have to monitor those situations closely and make sure to question, and possibly discipline, officials who might be letting personal bias play into their calls.
2. With Greg Oden out for yet another season to a knee injury, is it fair to say that Portland made a mistake in drafting Oden over Kevin Durant?
Thomsen: I don't think it is fair. Most people in the league felt at the time of the draft that Oden would be the more influential player and should be the No. 1 pick. Even if Durant becomes the bigger star -- and that's becoming a more obvious prediction -- this won't equate to the Sam Bowie pick when Portland ignored Michael Jordan's talent in order to fill its need at center. In this case, Oden appeared to many experts as the bigger talent.
McCallum: Since I tell you when I'm wrong, I'll tell you when I'm right: It was a mistake, and I didn't come to that conclusion just because Oden has proven to be injury-prone. Almost no one can predict bad luck. I always believed that the out-on-the-floor versatile Durant would be a far more valuable asset than a back-to-the-basket center whose offensive game was visibly limited. Having said that, I think Oden can still be a good pro, and I hope his luck changes over the next few years.
Mannix: They made a mistake, but not because of Oden's injury. It doesn't take an NBA scout's mind to realize that Oden, while a big and capable center with superior defensive instincts, does not have nearly the same upside as Durant, a potential All-Star this season and a sure-fire MVP candidate within a few years. Oden will be back, no doubt, and I believe he'll have a long and productive career. But he won't be as dominant as Durant, which is what the Blazers were hoping Oden would become when they selected No. 1.
Markazi: There is no way Portland or any other team could have predicted the injuries that have derailed Oden's career. Of course, after he suffered his second season-ending injury in three years and as Durant has developed into one of the top 10 players in the league, it's easy to say now that Portland made a mistake. I spoke with two NBA general managers after Oden's latest injury, and both said they would have taken him with the No. 1 pick, and that any GM who says they wouldn't have is lying. There is no question that if Portland could do it all over again they would take Durant, but no one can predict injuries. And if Oden had remained healthy, who's to say he wouldn't he wouldn't have been just as good as Durant?
3. Allen Iverson made his debut (again) for the Sixers Monday night. What do you expect his impact on the team to be and do you think he will make it to the end of the season with them?
Thomsen: He will make it to the end of the season. He will lead them in scoring, and they will miss the playoffs.
McCallum: His impact will be minimal in terms of wins and losses. My guess is that when he finds his legs, the 76ers will be a little better than they would've been without him, which is to say an 11th- or 12th-place team. Sure he'll make it to the end of the season. He'll probably play his butt off in an effort to get another contract. But it's almost over for one of the best little men ever to play the game.
Mannix: A.I. will certainly have an effect on the Sixers' box office -- it was standing-room only at the Wachovia Center last night, an astounding crowd for a team that often sees wide swaths of empty seats -- but his impact on their season will be far more measured. The 38 minutes Iverson played last night would have yielded at least 20-points in the past. Last night it produced 11.
Iverson still has his basketball instincts, but his body, ravaged from 14 seasons of mistreatment, is clearly failing him. He will continue to start for the next month or so, but when Lou Williams is healthy enough to play, he needs to be the starter. And that's when the fun will begin. Will Iverson willingly accept a reserve role? Probably not. And Ed Stefanski won't let Iverson pollute the Sixers' locker room for too long, either, which is why it is unlikely A.I. will last the season.
Markazi: Iverson will have some impact on the court, but his biggest impact will be in attracting fans. If his sold-out return Monday night is any indication, he's already making a difference in that department. The problem is Iverson isn't the same player he was when he left Philadelphia three years ago, and his stat line in 37 minutes as a starter during a 93-83 loss to the Nuggets (11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists) isn't going to get much better at this point in his career.
4. The Raptors recently held a team meeting to discuss the lack of communication between their American and foreign players. Is the cultural divide between American and international players a deeper and more problematic issue than has been publicized?
Thomsen: They play different styles and they naturally divide into their own clique -- the same thing happens among the American players on teams in Europe. Internationals are a minority group in the NBA, and it's natural for them to draw strength from one another. It's good to see them and their American teammates having dialog to work things out.
McCallum: I don't think you can make generalizations about it. On a team with a healthy culture, such as the San Antonio Spurs, communication has never been a problem, despite the presence of many international players. On a struggling, underachieving team without a respected, established head man on the bench -- such as, oh, the Toronto Raptors -- it's going to be a problem. The worst news out of that meeting, as reported in the Toronto papers, was that neither American Chris Bosh nor Turkish-born Hedo Turkoglu, the team leaders, said a word.
Mannix: Right, the cultural divide is the Raptors' biggest problem, not an apathetic defense or a soft roster that gets bullied on a nightly basis. There is one reason I don't buy this: the Spurs. Since the turn of the century, San Antonio has had one of the most diverse rosters in the league. Executives like R.C. Buford, Sam Presti and Danny Ferry have made a living plucking top foreign talent and bringing it Stateside. And it's worked out to the tune of three championships this decade. The Raptors' problem isn't the cultural divide between players. It's that the players are a bunch of mismatched parts.
Markazi: The Lakers made it to Game 6 of the NBA Finals two years ago with key players from the U.S., Spain, Slovenia, Yugoslavia and France. The Spurs won a championship the year before with players from the Virgin Islands, Argentina, France, the Netherlands and Yugoslavia. It's not really about where the players are from as much as how they gel on the floor. The Raptors don't mesh well on the court, but that's a sign of their basketball shortcomings, not their heritage.