Unfortunately forgotten or overshadowed in these days of basketball analytics, the fascination with numbers and triple-doubles is that Nate Archibald remains the lone player to lead the NBA in scoring and assists when he put up 34 and 11 per game for the 1972-73 Kansas City-Omaha Kings.
That has been his most remarkable accomplishment, perhaps until recently, when “Tiny” manned the sideline as coach of the Aliens of the Big3 league just a year after receiving a heart transplant at the age of 69.
Archibald has always been a ball of energy. The former Celtic is a basketball savant, a Bronx-born magician considered one of the greatest combo guards of all time. And a man who adjusted his game to blend in with the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics and help win his lone NBA title in 1981.
“It’s a good day when you can get up in the morning, do a little bit of walking, open your eyes up, eat a little breakfast, and just enjoy the world, bro,” he said. “It’s a blessing. I tell people, ‘Today’s a good day but tomorrow will be a better day.’ Why is tomorrow a better day? Because I’ll see another day.”
The Aliens are 2-3 and tied for eighth place in the 12-team league entering this weekend’s play. They are an expansion team and Archibald is in his first year coaching in the Big3, among other NBA legends such as Julius Erving, Rick Barry, George Gervin, and Gary Payton, and former NBA veterans such as Michael Cooper, Rick Mahorn, Kenyon Martin, Reggie Theus, and Naismith Hall of Famers Nancy Lieberman and Lisa Leslie.
The league is competitive. It involves strategy different from a five-on-five game, and Archibald relishes the challenge. The Aliens are big-dominated with Greg Oden and Ryan Hollins, and with Big3 veteran Andre Owens and former NBA veteran Brandon Rush leading the team in scoring.
“I believe I’m still a teacher [of basketball],” Archibald said. “Even with this game. I’m a mentor, I’m a teacher, and I’m a coach. We just try to move the ball. If you look at FIBA [three on three] there’s a lot of body movement but not a lot of ball movement.”
Archibald wanted to stay involved in basketball but a heart ailment forced him to take a break and undergo a transplant.
“I remember decades ago I tore my Achilles’ and then I was signed with the Boston Celtics, and people asked me whether I was 100 percent and I said, ‘You’re never 100 percent,’ ” he said. “Never. Ever. I was never 100 percent. And I feel the same in the Big3. It’s about managing [your life], taking care of yourself. It’s about managing your health. I had a birthday June the 22nd, and people talk about you’re born in September, but I was born again because I’m 22 years old now with a 22-year-old’s heart.
“It took me almost a year [to recover]. So I tell people I’m trying to get into better condition now. The traveling is OK. When I go [to cities], I try to do my exercises and try to get the right way and get the right rest. It’s about managing the game [of life]. It’s not always about coaching.”
Archibald, a Hall of Famer, started experiencing health issues a few years ago and finally got his heart examined.
“When it first happened, I had doubts and then I started to pray,” he said. “[God] saved me for a purpose. I’m a messenger. Whenever I get around the kids, I talk about education. Their education is more important than anything else. The obstacles that I had to endure are different than anybody who played basketball. We’re talking about a second chance in life, a second chance in seeing your grandkids and you’re great-grandkids.
“People say, ‘Damn man, it looks like you can still play.’ I say, ‘I don’t know what y’all are talking about. Maybe checkers or marbles or something like that.’ But I’m trying to get my body back in tune because my mind is right. Your mind is saying live one day at a time, don’t plan for the long haul. Because, when we were growing up, we thought we could live forever.
“But when I had that transplant, it was day by day. Do your exercises, get on the treadmill, do your walking, take your meds, eat the nasty food, but it was something you had to program yourself to do. It’s almost like playing. You’ve got to be in shape mentally, physically, and emotionally, too.
“I have to take care of myself because I don’t want a setback. I want to move forward. I don’t want to look back.”
Presti, Thunder rebuild on the fly
Although the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired eight first-round picks in trading away Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Jerami Grant, general manager Sam Presti said the Thunder are not in rebuilding mode.
They acquired Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in those deals — three quality veterans to join Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson, Andre Roberson, and Dennis Schroder to form what should be a competitive team. Of course, the Thunder have been trying to flip Paul for more draft picks, knowing that Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander are natural point guards. But that is going to be difficult.
Paul will earn more than $120 million over the next three seasons and the Thunder would have to find a trade partner with two or three contracts of that amount (roughly $30 million per season) in return for Paul. The Thunder want to develop young players, not necessarily fill their roster with veteran players.
So if Presti is stuck with Paul and there is no real motivation to tank for draft picks since they have 15 first-rounders over the next seven years, the Thunder may as well compete. Right?
“I wouldn’t say we started to rebuild,” said Presti, a graduate of Concord-Carlisle High School. “Our primary focus for our organization based on the circumstances that we inherited this summer is first, we need to reposition the franchise. Second to that, we need to replenish the franchise after 11 years of not ever being able to do that because we were in such a pursuit for maintaining a team that could get to the postseason and contend in the postseason year after year. And ultimately we will be like every team in the NBA, and in professional sports, we have to rebuild a team. But that happens organically.”
While George said his decision to move on and ask for a trade from Oklahoma City was a mutual decision, Presti said that wasn’t exactly the case. The Thunder had no plans to move George before he asked out. With George gone, Presti felt inclined to move their most expensive piece — Westbrook — because they weren’t going to compete for a championship.
The Thunder had no plans of acquiring the expensive Paul without trying to trade him. But the market for an aging point guard at a $40-million-per-season salary is thin, so Presti refuses to acknowledge that the Thunder are starting from the beginning.
“We’re really excited about what he can bring to the team, not only as a player but as a leader,” Presti said of Paul. “We think [Gilgeous-Alexander] has a tremendously bright future in the league and we’re proud to have him as a Thunder player.”
Oklahoma City hasn’t been at this stage as a franchise since its days in Seattle. Even when the Thunder moved to Oklahoma, they had three future Hall of Fame-caliber pieces — Kevin Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden — on their roster. The Thunder moved with a loaded young team.
Now, if Paul plays and plays well, Oklahoma City could compete for the eighth playoff spot in the West. Gallinari is a quality scorer. Adams is one of the best defensive centers in the league, and Ferguson is a rising shooting guard. Don’t feel sorry for the Thunder. Presti doesn’t want any sympathy.
“I can’t sit here and tell you when that process will enact itself, only that our vantage point and our view is going to be to create the best and longest runway for success and not to shortcut that,” he said. “Our decisions from this point on are going to be based on generating as much value for the organization as possible so that at some point we can recreate an elongated period of success we’ve been fortunate to have.”
“That may not necessarily begin itself next season. I think we put ourselves in a position to have a lot of different options as a result of the transactions we’ve been able to make. I wouldn’t necessarily say we’ve started that process.”
The question is whether the Thunder can return to prominence without hitting bottom. Presti made proactive deals to amass draft picks to not only use to replenish the roster with young talent but also for future trades. Oklahoma City made one NBA Finals appearance under Presti, and blew that 3-1 series lead against the Golden State Warriors in 2016, a series that led to Durant’s exit via free agency.
With Oklahoma City having obvious difficulty in acquiring premium free agents because it’s a small market, Presti will have to score big on trades and these litany of draft picks.
“I would just say that we’re going to take a very long view to make sure we’re putting ourselves in position to have as long of a run of success in Oklahoma City as we possibly can,” he said. “I also feel like the way we were able to pivot has given us the opportunity to have a much brighter future going forward and still have a team coming back this season that we feel good about. I’m excited about the challenge, quite frankly, I think the opportunity to run our own race and use the situations that we have here to create the best path forward.
“I really feel passionately that the city and the team have a very special relationship and I’m really driven to try to create that platform for another great Thunder team to take shape.”
It may take a few years but the Thunder were able to acquire enough assets along with quality players to at least be respectable this coming season. And it doesn’t serve in Presti’s best interest to announce that his franchise is in a total rebuild. He has to do his best to create excitement and anticipation for the future.
It’s not always easy for Wildcats
Not every John Calipari recruit is destined for NBA success. Some are just trying to stick in the NBA. Aaron Harrison just finished a stint with the Celtics summer league team and the 24-year-old is pondering his future: stick around the United States and play in the G League or head overseas and play in the more competitive EuroLeague.
Aaron and his twin brother, Andrew, both believed they were destined for NBA success when they left Kentucky after their sophomore seasons. Aaron has played in 35 total games over three seasons for the Hornets and Mavericks. Andrew has played in 145 games but just 17 last season with the Grizzlies, Cavaliers, and Pelicans.
“It’s tough, I mean, there’s a lot that goes into it and it’s probably 30 percent basketball,” Aaron said. “I’m more mature now. I don’t take things personal. Things don’t waver my confidence. You just have to be confident and know you’re the best player [you can be] and play as hard as you can and see what happens.”
The Harrison twins enjoyed two productive college seasons, including a national championship appearance as freshmen. But Calipari never stops recruiting, and with players such as Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray on the horizon, the Harrison twins declared for the draft.
Perhaps at other schools they would have stayed until they were truly NBA-ready, but at Kentucky, the next five-star recruit is ready to take your position.
“When I was a little younger it was all about being an NBA player,” Aaron said. “But now obviously my dream is to be an NBA player but I’ve got to take care of my family. So that’s the No. 1 thing.”
Aaron said he talks with Andrew “10 times a day, minimum. Of course we’re going through a little bit of similar things. But we’re just trying to make it through. It’s not a bad life to live. Obviously we have nothing to complain about. But we’re still trying to get a good chance, a fair chance.
“Maybe I wish I knew a little more [about the business of basketball]. I definitely would have handled it differently. I would have handled coming out of college differently. But overall you can’t go back and change anything. I’m happy. I’m playing basketball for a living.”
The Clippers aren’t playing around when owner Steve Ballmer says he wants to be the primary NBA team in Los Angeles. The Clippers released plans to open a privately financed arena in Inglewood, Calif., very close to where the Lakers played for 32 years before moving to Staples Center. The Clippers were content to play at Staples Center 20 years ago because it meant moving out of the cavernous and dilapidated Los Angeles Sports Arena. But Ballmer is no longer interested in sharing an arena with the Lakers, the NHL’s Kings, and several other events that have caused the Clippers to play the most afternoon games in the NBA. The new arena would be close to the new Rams stadium in the old Hollywood Park racetrack property that is set to open in 2020. And just think, Ballmer could have been doing this wheeling and dealing in Seattle. Ballmer, the former CEO of Seattle-based Microsoft, was very interested in buying the Seattle SuperSonics from Howard Schultz in the mid-2000s and often attended Sonics games. Schultz ended up selling the team to a group led by Clayton Bennett, who eventually moved the team to Oklahoma City. Ballmer then took his money and bought the Clippers for $2.1 billion. But a deal to buy the Sonics could have easily been worked out with Ballmer 13 years ago because he made clear his interest in buying the team. Schultz was apprehensive about selling the team to another Seattle powerbroker and instead claimed Bennett and his investors promised they would keep the team in Seattle. Obviously, that didn’t happen . . . The Celtics invited 7-foot-6-inch center Tacko Fall and high-jumping guard Javonte Green to training camp with a chance to make the team and take the final roster spot. Like many teams, the Celtics are waiting for the market to force some quality free agents into accepting training camp invites and minimum deals. Players such as Kenneth Faried, Jeremy Lin, Lance Stephenson, Nene, Joakim Noah, Jonas Jerebko, and Boston native Wayne Selden are still looking for work. With most of the NBA money already spent on free agents, many of these players will have to accept below-market deals in order to stay in the league. Obviously, many who are available either have an injury history, are aging, or coming off disappointing stints and looking for a fresh start.