For Jamaal Tinsley, the best thing about the NBA was the next game, 48 minutes to define yourself anew no matter the past. But after seven years of crafting an image as a hard-nosed, relentless distributor and tenacious defender in Indiana, the next game never came.
The Pacers sat their starting point guard out for all of last season in a largely successful attempt to turn the final page on an era that began with title hopes and ended on the police blotter.
"It was difficult not being able to wake up and go to work," Tinsley said. "My son would ask, 'I don't see you on TV anymore; what happened?' I would tell him, 'Things happen, son. Eventually I'll get back.'"
About to gain an open roster spot with Allen Iverson's quick exit, the Grizzlies proved Tinsley correct, signing him to a one-year contract in mid-November. While re-acclimating to the NBA hasn't come quickly for him, it has come. After playing a token 11 minutes over his first four games, Tinsley has seen his court time, and impact, steadily increase. He's averaging 24.6 minutes, 9.6 points and 4.8 assists over his last five games.
"The hardest part is getting my timing back," said Tinsley, who is now 31. "I'm just trying to get into the flow of the game and help these young guys out ... [to let] them know it's a long season. I missed being around a bunch of guys joking, the different personalities and backgrounds."
It's been a long time since he could smile around an NBA setting. Weary from a string of off-court incidents that began in late 2006 and included his involvement in a pair of shootings (neither of which saw Tinsley disciplined by the law or his team) plus a fight at a local bar (for which he agreed to perform community service), Larry Bird and Co. banished the former Iowa State star last season from all but the team's training facility. The move was the final piece in a process in which the team divested itself of Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest after the infamous Palace brawl unraveled a team that had won 61 games in 2003-04.
Unable to trade the oft-injured and trouble-ridden point guard, the Pacers also could not reach an agreement with Tinsley on a contract buyout until this summer, complicated as it was by the $6.75 million he was owed last season and the two years and $15 million he had coming to him after.
"It was a learning process," said Tinsley. "I don't have a perfect answer for what went wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. They didn't want me to be a part of them and I didn't want to be a part of them. Eventually you just have to move along."
And so he did. Tinsley spent the long months in limbo mixing in workouts when not accompanying his soon-to-be 6-year-old son to school while patiently waiting for a deal that would restart his career.
"Mentally it was tough," he admitted. "I had to come to terms with the idea that if this is it, this is it. But I'd been blessed to play seven years in the NBA; some guys never make it past a year. But the game has been good to me. I made a lot of money off of it and I've been able to use basketball to get what I could out of the game.
"But it's a game, and I wasn't going to let it break me. I got to see my son and my family more, and I was ready for anything."
And while some may assert that a job with the Grizzlies is the definition of anything, Tinsley seems comfortable with whatever role he can carve in Memphis each night.
"There was no real talk about [my role," he says. "I'm healthy, I'm back at my college weight and I'm just here trying to help the ballclub win games."
And should he fail in that mission on one night, he can take comfort in the knowledge that there will be be a next game.
• Carlos Boozer. Look who remembered that he was playing for a new contract. After a a few inconsistent weeks to open the season, the free-agent-to-be has been a beast in his last five games, averaging 25.2 points on 70 percent shooting with 9.8 rebounds and a surprising 5.4 assists. That production, and a little home cooking, has made the Jazz winners in six of their last eight games while boosting Boozer's earnings potential next summer.
• Defense in Charlotte. Taking the air out of the ball has worked wonders for Larry Brown. Playing the league's second-slowest pace, the Bobcats are surrendering a league-low 89.1 points per game. Equally impressive, Charlotte ranks third in the NBA in defensive efficiency (96.8), a measure of how many points a team gives up per 100 possessions (the approximate number in a typical NBA game). That's a big reason why the Bobcats have shed the doormat label at home, where they are 6-3 this season. On the road ... well, some things take time.
• Ersan Ilyasova. Did you predict the lithe Turkish big manwould emerge as a nightly double-double threat this season? Eric Wong over at RotoEvil.com did, suggesting fantasy leaguers to pick up Ilyasova "with a last round pick ... Lots of upside, and most people still don't know about him." Well, they likely do now after the 22-year-old forward has tallied 13.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.5 threes over his last 10 games, which is a far sight better than his Bucks of late. They're losers of four of their last five.
• Trail Blazers. After claiming during the preseason that he wouldn't have signed with Portland if he knew he wasn't going to start, Andre Miller has spent the first month of the season sniping back and forth with coach Nate McMillan about his role, which has bounced from the bench to the starting lineup to a mere 6-minute stint off the pine in a loss to Utah on Saturday. More troubling, writes SI.com colleague Brian Hendrickson, is the effect Miller's loner/quirky personality may have on what was an exceedingly harmonious locker room. It may not be the sole reason why the Blazers have dropped three in a row, but it sure can't help.
• Sixers. Not only has Allen Iverson returned to a team that is not altogether convinced it wants him, but former Sixer Fred "Mad Dog" Carter expressed his desire that the Nets not break the record set by the 1972-73 Sixers for fewest wins in a season. "I certainly hope they don't break it," Carter, who led that 9-73 Philly team in scoring, told FanHouse. "I want to keep that record. I want to maintain my immortality. I was no superstar who won seven titles, so I want to be known for something." As hard as it is to believe that Carter wants to be forever attached to NBA history's worst team, it's equally puzzling what adding Iverson will do for a franchise that needs to use this season as a building block, not an endgame.
• Ron Artest at the charity stripe. A career 72 percent free-throw shooter, the former Hennessy-swilling swingman is connecting on a Shaq-like 54 percent from the foul line this season. "He told me he doesn't shoot free throws well until somewhere in the second third of the season," said Phil Jackson slyly. "So he's given up already on the first third of the season."
• "I just didn't think it had what a team has to have, a heartland, a fan base, an energy source. I don't even know if Jersey has a television station. They get their television feeds out of New York and Philadelphia."-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, recalling his decision to pass on an offer to coach the Nets in 1999.
• "Did everybody think they were losing because of coaching? You've got to look at the lineup that he had to put on the floor every night. I thought he was doing a remarkable job; they were in a lot of games. That's probably as little talent as I've seen anybody put on the floor for a long time with everybody hurt."-- Stan Van Gundy bemoaning the fate of former Nets coach Lawrence Frank.
• "Everyone knows (officials) try to keep games close and that they keep scouting reports on guys. Let the Golden Child or the NBA Without Borders Guys do it, and it's fine and dandy."-- Rasheed Wallace decries the state of officiating to the Boston Herald after receiving his league-leading fifth technical foul in a win over the Raptors on Friday. The NBA didn't agree and fined Wallace $30,000.
• "Everyone knows that he's a damn flopper. That's all that Turkoglu do."--Wallace again, decrying the tech he picked up while guarding Toronto's Hedo Turkoglu.
• "I know he's a blur."-- Vince Carter offering his assessment in the Orlando Sentinal of Brandon Jennings.
•L.A. Times: Not many players can claim to have an opera singer in his posse; Pau Gasol can.
•FanHouse: Interesting interview with Darko Milicic, who has had just about enough of the NBA.
•The Sporting News: You likely already know about Ron Artest's claim that he often drank at halftime early in his career. But did you know he wants to be a boxer when his career is over?
•Arizona Republic: For all of the praise that Steve Nash gets for the Suns' winning ways this season, isn't it about time that coach Alvin Gentry and his staff got some, too?
•Chicago Tribune: As if Antoine Walker didn't have enough trouble trying to skip out of $1 million in gambling debts, it appears that Employee no. 8 may also be a slumlord, too.
•FreeDarko: What if the Heat were the jazz musicians that their new pregame intros suggest ...
1. Iverson may help goose the Sixers' sorry attendance, but we don't see how he helps the team's mission -- to develop a talented young roster. Much as last year's playoff appearance gave off a whiff of success, the Sixers were clearly built to win in the future. Andre Iguodala. Marreese Speights. Thaddeus Young. Lou Williams. Jrue Holiday. This is a core that few teams can match athletically. This is a core that Eddie Jordan was brought in to mold into a cohesive contender. This is not a group that will be helped by watching Allen Iverson take revenge on the NBA's cold shoulder by firing at will in hopes of gaining the long-term deal that no team seems willing to offer. Every minute Iverson plays is one that's stolen from the seasoning of Philly's 25-and-under bunch. That's a big reason A.I. was shipped out in the first place, and why Andre Miller was allowed to leave last summer. Bringing Iverson back may mean a few more wins, but the cost is another year delayed in finding out what this team can ultimately be.
2. Can't say the Raptors put their best foot forward in their effort to convince Chris Bosh to stay in Toronto next summer when the big man's teammates stood idly by after Boston's Paul Pierce dunked on him and then stared him down after inadvertently kneeing him in the groin. Bosh low-keyed his teammates' inaction, but even coach Jay Triano said Bosh should have confronted them. It's a long way to next July, but attachments are formed over an entire season, and when you find out early that your teammates don't have your back against a division and conference rival, that doesn't make for much of a bond.
3.Rod Thorn and the Nets have largely gotten a pass on their decision to have GM Kiki Vandeweghe coach the rest of the season because of Thorn's sterling record with executives and their safety net of knowing that anyone they put into the chair can't squeeze out any fewer wins than the 0-16 Frank did this season. But in reading between the lines of Vandeweghe's acceptance, we wonder if the move is a wasted opportunity. Clearly, Vandeweghe wasn't eager to take the job, not when part of his negotiation was about returning to the front office at season's end, and not when he emphasizes how persuasive Thorn was in asking him to take the post. Add in Del Harris, who had to be called out of retirement to help hold Vandeweghe's hand in his first coaching stint, and it's apparent the Nets won't be getting the benefit of particularly passionate leadership. And that's a waste. There is talent to develop in Jersey, and it's the sort of work that's custom-fit for an assistant coach or someone desperately looking to cut his teeth (e.g. Patrick Ewing). How can Vandeweghe be expected to fill that role with one eye on his old desk and another on what prospective new owner Mikhail Prokhorov will do?