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Peter May | Basketball notes

Being benched would be OK

Cassell's next move likely to coaching

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / March 30, 2008

Sam Cassell's contract expires at the end of this season. We might not be seeing the last of him, however. He could be back in Boston next season - holding a clipboard alongside Doc Rivers.

Or he might decide to try to play another season at age 39. "I feel pretty good right now," Cassell said. "If I was still playing with the Clippers and my season ended like their season is going to end, it'd be my last year. But I like these guys."

One of those guys he likes is Rivers. Cassell already has decided what his next career move will be - coaching - and having been here only a month, he is intrigued by the prospect of joining Rivers's staff. The two already have talked about it, although nothing firm is in place.

"Basketball is my passion," Cassell said. "With me, you like to get paid for what you do, but this is my passion. I've been wanting to be a head coach in this league for a while. Just don't be surprised if I leave this game as a player that I might be right up here with Doc on the staff."

Cassell also mentioned joining George Karl as an option, although we're not sure how long Karl is going to stay in Denver. Rivers appears to have a little bit longer of a leash, especially if the Nuggets somehow don't make the playoffs.

"I just like how Doc Rivers has handled the whole situation," Cassell said. "He allows his coaches to coach and that's the thing I enjoy about being here."

What about it, Doc?

"I think he would be a great coach," Rivers said of Cassell. "I just would hate to be in his meetings because he never shuts up. And how would you keep him quiet on the bench? But he has an unbelievable knowledge of basketball. I told him a week ago, 'I hope you're not retiring any time soon, but if you do, I'd love to have you stick around.' And I meant it."

You can already see the seeds of a future coach simply by watching Cassell on the bench. He is into the game. He takes Rajon Rondo aside to offer encouragement and advice, which, he understands, is one of the reasons he's here. Whether he plays or not, he always is someone to seek out after the game for his thoughts on what just happened.

"I understand what it takes to be a head coach," he said with characteristic Cassellian confidence.

Cassell has made quite a career for himself after coming from a football school (Florida State) and being picked late in the first round of the 1993 draft. He has two NBA titles - and wants a third. He's played in an All-Star Game. He'd been around some of the greats (Kevin Garnett, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ray Allen) before arriving here and, if nothing else, his one month as a Celtic has rekindled the flame, so to speak.

"These guys make the game so enjoyable," he said of the Celtics. "If we lose, these guys talk about the loss. What happened? But everyone has the same intentions. Everyone, even guys who don't play a lot, like Scal [Brian Scalabrine] is in on the discussions. I like that. That's championship basketball. With the Clippers, if we lost, it was more like, 'What the hell just happened?' Well, we lost by 30, that's what happened. Everyone's at fault. Management. Players. Owners. Everyone."

But there remains that other option - returning for what would be a 16th NBA season. Cassell hasn't ruled it out, even if his 15th ends the way he hopes it ends.

"I don't know," he said when asked about next season. "I think I'll play. I feel good. The good thing is I don't have to play 30 minutes every night. I like my backup role. I like having Rajon in front of me. And Doc does a great job managing all this. And as he told me, this is really all about the postseason. They want me to be ready for that."

After that, it's anyone's guess. Coach Cassell? It certainly would be entertaining. And one thing would have to change - Rivers would have to remove the gag order placed on the Celtics' assistants. Cassell not talking? Not in this lifetime.

Among the missing?

The Dallas Mavericks are on the verge of doing something no team has done in 33 seasons - and it isn't something good.

The Mavericks entered the last weekend of March clinging to the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference, barely ahead of Golden State and Denver. One of those three teams is going to Secaucus for the lottery in May, which is a frightening thought. And with the Mavericks' personnel issues (no Dirk Nowitzki) and remaining schedule (six of 10 on the road and seven games against winning teams), the possibility looms that American Airlines Center will be dark in May for the first time.

If that happens, the Mavericks would be the first team since the 1973-74 Milwaukee Bucks to own the best regular-season record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs one year, then fail to qualify for the playoffs the next season.

The 1998-99 Chicago Bulls also qualify, but not totally. The Bulls shared the best record the year before with Utah and the Jazz had home-court advantage. And given the historic diaspora after the 1998 championship, the 1998-99 Bulls were a completely different team.

The idea that the Mavericks could miss the playoffs, especially after their acquisition of Jason Kidd, is mind-boggling, and speaks to the incredible depth in the West. But Kidd has been the Heathcliff Slocumb of the Mavericks; Dallas's loss in Denver Thursday night made the Mavericks 0-9 in games against winning teams since Kidd came on board. He'll get a chance for that first W tonight at Golden State.

Asked about the possibility of his Mavericks missing the playoffs, Mark Cuban told TNT, "If someone would have said to me with 12 games to go you would be four games out of first, before the season started, I would have said, 'I'll take it.' The West is crazy this year, it's so competitive and every game is a playoff game."

Or not.

Webber could make healthy Hall case

Chris Webber, Hall of Famer?

He retires with 17,182 points, 8,124 rebounds, and 3,526 assists, numbers that would have been more impressive had he experienced consistently good health. He never played more than 76 games in a season, and had seasons of 15, 23, and 42 games.

But according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only seven players in NBA history matched or exceeded Webber's totals in all three of those categories: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Karl Malone, and Kevin Garnett. Five of those seven are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are in the green room. And of those, Garnett is the only one yet to play in the NBA Finals, something he hopes to remedy soon.

Barkley went to bat for Webber, who joined the TNT crew for Thursday night's telecast. "Everywhere he's been, he's won," said Barkley, apparently forgetting Webber missed the playoffs in three of his first five seasons. He also missed them playing for the 38-win 76ers in 2005-06, when he played a career-high 2,893 minutes.

"Chris Webber is a Hall of Famer, not just because of numbers but because every team he played on he's been a winner."

The guy who probably knows Webber as well as anyone, Houston (and former Sacramento) coach Rick Adelman, thinks Webber deserves serious consideration for Springfield.

"The numbers are there and if he doesn't make the Hall of Fame, the only reason is because of his injuries," Adelman said. "If he doesn't get those injuries, he might still be playing in Sacramento. When he got hurt it really set us back and set him back big time. He was in the prime of his career right then, playing really well. I think he deserves to be up there."

Etc.

He's not a mad Max
Kendrick Perkins, who probably more than anyone has benefited from the arrival of Kevin Garnett, is on pace to break a Celtics record that has stood for 27 seasons - Cedric Maxwell's field goal percentage mark of 60.9, set in 1979-80. Asked about possibly being supplanted by Perkins, who is shooting 62.3 percent, Maxwell said, "Has he done it yet? I've still got my hexes that I'm saving for layups." Max then got serious, saying, "Look, you have to feel good for him. You can see the change in his game and his confidence. He finishes plays around the basket now. Then again, if he stopped putting the ball on the floor, he might shoot 70 percent." Is Max upset that his mark might fall to a player who doesn't shoot from beyond 2 feet? "Not at all," he said. "Neither did I."

1-2 punched
So, the Suns got to see the Pistons and Celtics some 48 hours apart last week and lost to both (one a blowout, one in overtime). Can we take anything away from the disparity of the two games? "We kicked their butts pretty good when they came to see us," Raja Bell said, referring to the Suns' 85-77 victory over the Celtics Feb. 22 in Phoenix. "So, I think it's pretty square right now. Detroit did beat us twice, but I'd be reluctant to say they're the better team or Boston is the better team. All I can tell you is they're both really, really good." Shaquille O'Neal seconded that. "Different styles," he said, when asked to compare the two. "But in order to come out of the East, they're going to have to go through each other, no doubt about that. Both those teams [are] experienced, veteran teams. You have to play damn near perfect basketball to beat them, especially at their place."

Inconsistent release
Former NBA center Marc Jackson's second tour through Europe seemed, on the surface, to be going well. Jackson, who played last season with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (56 games), was the leading scorer and second in rebounding for Olympiakos, the second-best team in Greece's top league. But in a move that can only be explained by these three words - that's European basketball - Jackson was released just before the start of a three-game playoff series with CSKA Moscow, and was replaced on the roster by Qyntel Woods. (That's a story for another day.) A Greek mole said the main reason for the move was that Jackson and new Olympiakos coach Giannakis Panagiotis, who also happens to be the national coach, have not seen eye-to-eye since Panagiotis took over six weeks ago. He considered Jackson to be more interested in stats, a liability on defense, and a bad influence on Lynn Greer, one of the team's best players (and former Milwaukee Buck, who, like Jackson, went to Temple). Former Sun/Grizzly Jake Tsakalidis is getting more time in Jackson's spot and Olympiakos also will be able to add Baby Shaq (Sofocles Schortsianitis) for the playoffs. He has been on a weight-loss program all season.

It happened in Vegas
When you get bounced from the NBA for violating the league's drug abuse program, your options are pretty limited. No one has to tell that to the Hornets' Chris Andersen. Any FIBA-affiliated team was off limits, so Europe wasn't an option. Nor was the NBA's D-League. But it didn't preclude him from the next best thing - working out with that noted slacker, Garnett, and others in Las Vegas over the summer. Garnett is, of course, maniacal in these matters and no one appreciates that more than Andersen. "It's a great experience to go against someone of Kevin Garnett's status," Andersen said. "It brings the best out playing the best of the best." Andersen also worked out in Vegas with Chauncey Billups, Jermaine O'Neal, and Corey Maggette among others. During the season, he worked out in Denver.

One of the kings of swings
Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni often wonders why the name Manu Ginobili doesn't surface when the topic concerns today's great swingmen. "If you were picking a small forward or a big guard for your team, he's got to be one of the top five that you'd be talking about," D'Antoni said. "I mean, look at what he's done. Three [NBA] championships. An Olympic gold medal. And yet he doesn't even make the All-Star team. I don't know if you mention him in the same sentence with the real greats, but if this is about winning, then what he has done is unbelievable. I don't think we put enough of a premium on that. I think he's one of the best players in the league." D'Antoni saw Ginobili quite frequently in Europe, before Ginobili joined the Spurs. "I was working for the Spurs at the time and we talked about him a lot," D'Antoni said. "I knew he had a chance to be a good pro. But I don't think anyone envisioned he'd be this good."

Peter May can be reached at pmay@globe.com.

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