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Basketball Notes

A former Minuteman feels his time has come

By Gary Washburn
December 5, 2010

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In his two-year journey to the NBA, former UMass swingman Gary Forbes soaked in the experience of being a basketball nomad. He traveled to Europe, Asia, and South America, playing with several teams, some stable, some near collapse. He returned to the United States to play in the NBA D-League, then headed back overseas for more résumé building.

His quest to reach the NBA was completed last month when he was a surprise addition to the Denver Nuggets, and the team’s only rookie has seized the opportunity, averaging 6.2 points in 12.7 minutes per game.

Forbes will make his return to the Bay State Wednesday with the Nuggets, looking to show the region that UMass remains capable of producing NBA-caliber players.

His confidence is high, and Forbes is not content with moderate success. He wants to become a permanent part of the Nuggets’ rotation and be a dependable contributor for coach George Karl.

Forbes, a former Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, thought he deserved better than the road he was forced to take.

“I pretty much knew every day that if I came in and I gave 100 percent of my abilities, I could definitely play on the court,’’ he said. “After the first week or so [of the NBA season], it became regular five-on-five basketball. You know, be the first guy there, last guy to leave, and show the coach he can trust me.

“I was always confident that I could play in the NBA. Even when I was in college, I knew I was an NBA player. I just had to have someone take a chance on me and give me the opportunity.’’

The situation Forbes landed in probably couldn’t have been better for him. The Nuggets were short on forwards with Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen injured, and newly acquired Al Harrington playing more power forward. Forbes is shooting 48.7 percent from the field 50 percent and the 3-point line.

Against his hometown New York Knicks Nov. 16, Forbes scored 19 points and had a career-best nine rebounds as the Nuggets raced to a victory.

But life is not a blur for Forbes. He is taking everything in stride, and the team’s veterans have served as mentors.

Chauncey [Billups], Melo [Carmelo Anthony], and Al are like my big brothers right now,’’ he said. “They teach me the different stuff off and on the court. It’s good having those guys there.’’

The Nuggets are trying to win now, especially since Anthony appears ready to leave. They are off to a 12-6 start, 9-1 at home.

“It’s good to contribute, and I have never been one of those players to settle or sell myself short,’’ said Forbes, who averaged 20.3 points for the Minutemen in 2007-08. “I know my abilities and what I can do.

“I’ve got a lot of people to prove wrong and I’ve got a big chip on my shoulder, and hopefully, with opportunity, I’ll be able to prove that.’’

Forbes has played with Type 1 diabetes since being diagnosed with the condition five years ago, a testament to his desire to reach the highest level. And that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Karl, a brutally honest coach who can be tough on rookies.

“Gary has gotten some opportunity because of the situation and I think he’s done great,’’ Karl said on the team’s website. “His confidence for a young player is pretty impressive. He thinks he belongs out there. He plays with a lot more confidence and consistency than most young players.’’

And he will have special motivation at TD Garden Wednesday. The Celtics passed on him with the 60th and final pick in the 2008 draft (although they nabbed a gem in Semih Erden).

Players such as Ante Tomic, Richard Hendrix, Shan Foster, and Maarty Leunen were taken in that draft and have yet to play in an NBA game.

It seems Forbes has a long payback list, even if many of those targets are not actual doubters but perceived ones. Undrafted players face long odds to make the NBA, and Forbes wants to stay, so he will use any motivation he can.

“Not being drafted, teams not taking a chance on me, I got a lot to prove,’’ he said. “Being from UMass, a small school — myself, Stephane Lasme, Tony [Gaffney] have been in the league, but I just don’t want to be another UMass player who has made the NBA. I want to make an impact in this league.

“That’s my next goal. And when I get there, that will be icing on the cake.’’

SENSE OF SECURITY
Bulls consider Noah a keeper Joakim Noah was one of those fortunate draft picks from the class of 2007 to sign a contract extension and not risk restricted free agency next season. That could prove vital in 2011 if there is a lockout and those players entering their fifth year don’t have contracts and teams aren’t allowed to make offers during a summer window.

Noah doesn’t have to concern himself with that after agreeing to a five-year, $60 million deal with the Bulls. Four of the first nine picks in 2007 — Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, and Noah — received extensions. Just one of the final 21 — Jared Dudley — got a long-term deal.

Noah, once considered an erratic player with little offensive skill, has transformed himself into one of the league’s most valuable post defenders and rebounders. Chicago is just getting accustomed to playing with top free agent addition Carlos Boozer, who has been in two games since returning from a broken thumb.

With Boozer and Noah signed for the next five years, the Bulls appear to be in stable shape in the post.

“I understand there’s a CBA next year, so not a lot of players from my class got contract extensions,’’ said Noah, who is averaging career bests of 15.5 points and 12.2 rebounds. “So I feel like they definitely did it because they like me, and I’m pretty happy about it.

“I think it’s tough. When people put numbers like that in front of you, it’s very hard to say no.’’

Noah is known for his quirkiness, which was considered a weakness when he was struggling but now is seen as engaging. The consensus among scouts is that Noah is a rather unusual person but has a tireless work ethic. That encouraged the Bulls to offer the lucrative deal.

“You have to keep things in perspective a little bit,’’ he said. “Some people are telling you no, don’t take it. But at the end of the day, I feel like I did the right decision.’’

CHEMISTRY LESSON
Colangelo did what he had to Jose Calderon has lived nine lives in Toronto. Over the years, the Raptors have tried to find a more talented replacement for the Spanish point guard. And each time, they failed. They even had a deal done with Charlotte for Tyson Chandler, but Bobcats general manager Michael Jordan backed away.

Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo continued his policy of honesty by saying the Calderon deal would have improved the team. When it fizzled, Colangelo said he hoped Calderon and Jarrett Jack, the latest potential replacement, would improve their relationship and eliminate the need for another major move.

But they couldn’t get along, and Colangelo moved Jack to New Orleans last month. Very rarely are general managers so brutally frank about player relationships. We credit Colangelo for detailing why he wanted to trade the productive Jack — because he was the most marketable commodity. Calderon is a liability defensively and is a better 3-point shooter than 2-point shooter.

“We came to the conclusion last year that one of either Jose or Jarrett had to go,’’ Colangelo said. “And I made that proclamation that I would trade one of the two, if not both.

“We went into training camp with the notion that maybe it was going to work and maybe it would play out to be a favorable situation, and if you look at the whole premise of why we got Jarrett Jack, we needed arguably a better backup point guard. We needed a player that would complement the rest of the team, which we got [in Jerryd Bayless].’’

Sometimes the best-laid plans of general managers never pan out. Some players are unable to overcome personality clashes. Sometimes there is resentment sparked by the competition. And it’s the responsibility of the GM to make the tough call. Colangelo did.

“Whether it was competing agendas, one player up, one player down, it never seemed to have a good chemistry or flow there, because there was something that obviously wasn’t working,’’ he said. “Some of that [leadership] is overplayed. The locker room was void of leadership at the beginning of the year. And I can’t say that any one person has stepped up.’’

HARD FEELINGS
Heat vs. Cavs no love match LeBron James left Cleveland a winner last Thursday but he may have lost some friends there.

The Cavaliers players whom he bolted on to take his talents to South Beach felt angry and betrayed. According to insiders, Antawn Jamison and Daniel Gibson were upset that James did not inform them of “The Decision’’ before his July 8 nationally televised announcement.

And his closest friend on the team, Mo Williams, hasn’t spoken with him since.

Prior to Thursday’s game, James looked for former teammates to shake hands with, and Williams accepted reluctantly. When asked about his relationship with James this past week, Williams refused to specifically address the state of it. He had told reporters in the summer that he was incensed at James’s departure.

When asked why he stopped talking to James, Williams said, “Because I’m a Cavalier and he’s a Miami Heat player. I’m having fun, playing basketball, doing everything we can to try and get wins. I got enough on my plate here.

“I voiced my opinion this summer, media day. I think it was well chronicled.’’

Daniel Gibson, who exchanges text messages with James, almost got into a postgame altercation with former Celtic Eddie House Thursday. They were called for double technicals late in the game for jawing after a foul. Gibson wanted to continue the exchange, but House was restrained and walked away.

Following the game, House walked down the hallway toward the Cavaliers locker room and waited for Gibson. But Gibson and his fiancée, singer Keyshia Cole, exited Quicken Loans Arena in the opposite direction.

ETC.
Criticism not without risks Cleveland coach Byron Scott was fined $35,000 by the NBA for comments following a Nov. 26 game against Orlando, when he told reporters, “It’s hard when you’re playing against eight people. That makes it a lot tougher. I’m just saying there’s five white jerseys and three with stripes. It’s hard to play against all of them out there.’’ Scott added that he expected a fine, and he received a big one. “My postgame comments were me telling the truth,’’ said Scott. “That’s how I felt at that particular time. I wasn’t trying to get us any respect or anything. I was just saying how I felt the game was being called on that particular night.’’ Calling out officials is a dangerous endeavor, especially since you risk damaging relationships with referees who will work future games. For instance, Bill Kennedy worked Friday’s Bulls-Celtics game, and his history with Doc Rivers is well-documented. During a game in March 2009, Rivers was ejected by Kennedy, and the coach told reporters he had been baited, accusing Kennedy of provoking him. Now, Celtics fans always wonder about Kennedy whenever he officiates a Celtics game. Kennedy tossed Rasheed Wallace out of a December loss to Philadelphia last season, although that could be attributed to Wallace’s unadulterated recklessness with officials. Rivers said the Chicago incident was the only time in his career that he meant to get fined for his statements (he was docked $25,000). He is usually very careful about criticism. “The one time, the Chicago incident, I clearly knew what I was doing,’’ he said. “The other times, you usually do it because you’re [angry]. Coaching is just as emotional. Afterwards you told the truth, but you are usually going to get fined for it. You hope that the officials officiate the same. You’re always concerned because it’s a human game and you worry about grudges. I don’t think that happens, but it’s human.’’

Layups The Hawks made up for a gaffe they made five years ago, signing Damien Wilkins, the nephew of Dominique Wilkins. They had five picks in the 2004 draft, including three in the second round, and passed on Damien, who was signed by the SuperSonics. Wilkins lasted longer than any of the Hawks’ three second-rounders and expressed disappointment that his uncle wouldn’t take a chance on him . . . After receiving a one-game suspension for berating officials, Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson wrote a letter to Bobcats fans promising to improve his behavior. Jackson has always prided himself on speaking his mind but realized his mouth was costing his team, which is off to a disappointing start . . . DeMarcus Cousins was kicked out of practice last week by Kings coach Paul Westphal, then responded with 20 points and 8 rebounds against Indiana. NBA executives knew that drafting Cousins would mean dealing with his mercurial attitude, but the 20-year-old is averaging 10.8 points and nearly 7 rebounds in 23 minutes. He is also the league leader in fouls per game (4.3) despite the limited minutes. He averages an alarming 8.7 fouls per 48 minutes.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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