By Ben Golliver
• You've surely heard of the "playoff beard" concept: a group of players agrees not to shave during the postseason as a show of solidarity. ESPNDallas.com reports Dirk Nowitzki (see right) and some of his Mavericks teammates (Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones and O.J. Mayo, among them) are rocking ".500 beards" -- refusing to shave until they hit the break-even point with their regular season record.
• Dallas is currently 21-28, so the earliest it could hit .500 is Feb. 26. The good news for Dallas, who beat Portland on Wednesday, is that the rest of their February schedule is fairly soft (including games against the Kings, Magic and Hornets) and stacked with home games (six of their next seven are in Dallas).
• Lang Whitaker's YOLO All-Star teams include Amir Johnson, Tony Allen, Larry Sanders and JaVale McGee. Hard to argue with any of them.
• Vantage dissects the all-important corner three in stunning detail.
• The Basketball Jones took a crack at ranking the names of every NBA player.
• Billy Hunter, in an interview with Howard Beck of the The New York Times, lets the NBPA know that they will have to pay him if they want to fire him.
In a 65-minute interview conducted at the Newark offices of his lawyer, Thomas Ashley, Hunter passionately defended his record and his reputation, and he indicated that he would not leave without a fight.
“I intend to exercise all my options, as of this moment,” Hunter said.
Hunter is owed $10.5 million on a contract that runs through 2016, and he said he expected to be paid the balance if he is fired. Contrary to the audit — which determined that Hunter’s contract was not properly approved and thus unenforceable — Ashley contended that the contract is binding under Delaware law, where the union is incorporated, setting the stage for a possible legal battle.
“They would be required, if they terminated him without cause, to pay him the remainder of his contract and benefits,” Ashley said.
• Pau Gasol is expected to miss more than a month with a foot injury. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant essentially tells Dwight Howard that it's time to man up, ESPNLA.com reports.
"We don't have time for (Howard's shoulder) to heal," Bryant said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ESPNBoston.com's Jackie MacMullan. "We need some urgency."
"Dwight worries too much about what people think," Bryant told MacMullan. "I told him, 'You can't worry about that. It's holding you back.' He says, 'OK, OK, OK,' but it's always hovering around him. He just wants people to like him. He doesn't want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing."
• Sam Amick of USA Today Sports writes that the James Harden and Rudy Gay trades are a sign of things to come thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, which makes it exceedingly difficult to keep multiple big-dollar players on the same roster.
The dollar-for-dollar format that was in place in the old CBA has been replaced by a structure in which a team like the Lakers is on pace to pay at a rate as high as $4.25 for every extra dollar. But the "repeater tax" is a major factor as well, as – starting in the 2014-15 campaign – teams that are in the tax in four of any five seasons will be paying yet another dollar for every dollar above the threshold as well as facing serious restrictions when it comes to the mechanisms put in place to build their teams.
"If you can find a reasonable facsimile (of a player) for a reduced (financial) number, you're going to do it," one Western Conference general manager told USA TODAY Sports. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the CBA. "The punitive nature of where we're going with the repeater tax and the escalating tax number puts you in a position where it's just not viable to have a third or fourth guy on your roster paid like a first or second guy."
• Kevin Arnovitz with a look at John Hollinger's new life as a Grizzlies executive.
• Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani returned to the court on Wednesday for the first time in nearly two months after suffering an elbow injury. He was immediately booed by Raptors fans. Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun reports his reaction.
"No reaction, I try to focus on the game, I hear some cheers, some boos, but I try to lock in and try to be aggressive, try to do my best to help the team. It’s not my role to say it’s fair or unfair, I’m a player so I just have to go in and try to contribute to the team."
• FoxSportsFlorida.com reports Mike Conley, Greg Oden's agent, is pumping the brakes on his client's comeback. There had been some discussion recently that Oden might sign with a team prior to the end of the 2012-13 season to continue his rehabilitation under their guidance.
“A few weeks ago, I’d probably have said it was 80 percent,’’ Conley said of Oden signing with a team this season. “Now, I’d say it’s 50-50.’’
• Derek Bodner of Liberty Ballers offers some thoughts on the Sixers' participation in last summer's four-team blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard from Orlando to Los Angeles. In particular, he looks at Philly's parting with Nikola Vucevic, who has emerged nicely in Orlando.
We live in a world where we grade things based off of outcomes, but you have to look at the reasoning behind a deal perhaps more-so than results when determining whether it was the right decision. Despite an unfortunate set of circumstances that, to this point, have not worked out for the 76ers, the chance to acquire a potential superstar who could be a cornerstone of a franchise is one the 76ers could not pass up, and one the 76ers should not pass up should the situation present itself in the future.
Superstars are the hardest thing to acquire in this league. If guys like Nikola Vucevic are the opportunity cost to acquiring even risky cornerstones, so be it.
• Big changes could be coming for the NCAA because of a lawsuit launched by Ed O'Bannon. Charles Pierce digs in at Grantland