January 05, 2010

SI.com writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the NBA each week. (All stats and records are through Jan. 4.)

1. The alleged Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton incident is just another tale in the NBA's history of gun use by its players. Given that the issue persists, is it fair to say the league is letting its players off too easily in these circumstances?

Ian Thomsen: The impression among many fans is that players are let off easily; the NBA's response is that legal permission to carry licensed firearms supersedes the league's desire to prevent players from packing guns. In this case, however, Arenas broke a rule in the collective bargaining agreement that specifically bans firearms from team facilities. Given the notoriety of the incident, I don't think Arenas will appear to be let off easily by commissioner David Stern.

Jack McCallum: No. But it is fair to say that too many NBA players are too much in love with guns and that guns can be purchased legally (not to mention illegally) far too easily in this country. But don't get me started on that. There is nothing that Stern would rather tighten up than gun use among his players. I've seen him agonize about it in private moments. But his hands are tied by both law and the beliefs of many NBA players that they are targets. That is not going to change.

Chris Mannix: It's interesting how the league now cracks down on gambling, dress codes and on-court physicality, yet it has done little to carve out a clear policy on players and guns. I understand the right to bear arms is one granted by the Constitution, but the NBA -- which, let's face it, still has an image problem -- should have a zero-tolerance policy with its players having guns. If the law deems a player guilty of a misdemeanor gun charge, the NBA should mete out punishment like it was a felony. Arenas is not a bad person; I know that from years spent covering him. But when you bring four guns to the arena -- and the fact that, according to him, they weren't loaded, means nothing to me -- you cross a line. And the league should make an example out of Arenas as a warning to any player who would ever consider doing the same thing.

2. Aside from Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, which rookie has been the biggest surprise, good or bad?

Thomsen:Jonas Jerebko was a second-round pick by Detroit (as well as the second Swede ever chosen in the draft) after playing in the Italian league the past two years. He's a 6-10 forward who has averaged 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 28.3 minutes while starting 29 games at both big frontcourt positions. During the preseason, Jerebko introduced himself to the league by swapping punches with Jamaal Magloire and earning a one-game suspension. Lately, the Pistons have been handing out Viking helmets to fans in celebration of his surprising high-energy presence.

McCallum: Besides the aforementioned duo, the Rookie of the Year race has only three other names -- Minnesota's Jonny Flynn, Golden State's StephenCurry and Sacramento's Omri Casspi. I figured that Flynn would get the serious minutes to show his chops, and Curry came in with an NBA-ready jump shot, so I'm going with Casspi. He's averaging almost 13 points a game, is shooting close to 50 percent and is a big reason that the Kings haven't tumbled into the abyss.

Mannix: I'm declaring co-winners in this category and they both are second-rounders from Pittsburgh. The consensus after the draft was the San Antonio picked up a steal in rugged power forward DeJuan Blair, and he hasn't disappointed. The ACL-less Blair doesn't have gaudy numbers -- he's averaging 6.8 points and 5.7 rebounds -- but that's only because he's behind Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess and Matt Bonner on the depth chart. He's been, at times, unpredictable, racking up 18 points and 11 rebounds one night, one and four the next. Then again, so are most rookies.

Sam Young didn't have as much fanfare as Blair, but the athletic swingman has been a fixture in the Grizzlies' lineup since opening night and has scored double figures in four of his last five games, including a season-high 22 in a win over Phoenix. Like Blair, Young is a keeper.

3. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing David Stern and the NBA this decade?

Thomsen: How to grow the league? The NBA has tremendous potential globally, and the trick over the next 10 years will be in deciding how to convert those opportunities into revenue while growing larger audiences for the long term. Mistakes will be made along the way as no U.S. league has ever ventured outside the country on such an ambitious path. It's going to be a very interesting decade for basketball.

McCallum: You mean besides guns? And the likelihood that, someday soon, a player will stop in the middle of a fast break to tweet about which teammate is running the lane next to him? It remains selling the game to an American public that only wants to hear how inferior the product is.

Mannix: I'd settle for a decade spent not shooting itself in the foot. The spiraling economy presents a host of challenges for attendance and merchandise sales that can't be avoided, but the NBA must make sure it doesn't turn off the average fan. That means no lockouts, fewer questionable calls (and if that means expanding replay late in games, so be it), and balanced, clean games that are a good blend of skill and physical play. It's possible, I've seen them.

4. Before the start of the season, you guys gave your predictions for, among other things, the conference finals. As the midseason mark nears, are you sticking with your picks? If not, what would you change?

Thomsen: I'll continue with the Celtics (over the Cavaliers) and Lakers (over the Spurs). Meanwhile, I anticipated the Wizards would be the biggest surprise. Which they have been ... in a way opposite of my prediction, unfortunately.

McCallum: Both of my choices have won eight of their last 10 games -- the Cavs (I picked them over the Lakers) and the Spurs (I picked them over the Lakers). So, while I really wouldn't take either pick to Vegas -- particularly not the West pick -- things are going too well to wimp out now.

Mannix: I'm sticking with my picks ... nervously. I think a healthy Celtics team is still superior to Cleveland at this point, but Boston's ability to be healthy in April is questionable at best. The Lakers have been the NBA's best team from start to finish so I see no reason to back off that prediction, especially when they have been winning despite a rash of injuries that have sidelined Pau Gasol and Ron Artest.

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