What next, Commissioner Stern?

August, 17, 2007
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My ESPN colleague Mike Missanelli of 1050 Radio in New York broke the story today that former NBA official Tim Donaghy will sing to the feds that as many as 20 NBA referees took part in some type of gambling activity.

If true, those referees would be in violation of their contracts, which bar them from engaging in any type of gambling activity other than betting on racehorses during the offseason.

It remains to be seen exactly what type of gambling activity Donaghy is talking about, because there's a heck of a big difference between different types of gambling.

If the referees were wagering $20 on a round of golf or playing poker in a hotel room on an off night, that is certainly not criminal activity, and it's debatable whether it's a fireable offense.

If they were gambling publicly in casinos, that's a more serious matter -- but again it is not illegal. But if Donaghy alleges that referees were placing bets on other sporting events, perhaps even placing their bets by telephone, that could open a whole new can of worms.

Commissioner David Stern spoke on the issue of the league's prohibition against gambling by referees during his news conference in New York last month when the Donaghy story first broke, and there were two relevant quotes dealing with what the punishment would be if a referee was found to have engaged in any gambling activity (the league hired an independent investigator two years ago to look into reports that Donaghy had been seen at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., but that allegation was not substantiated.)

I went back and looked at the transcript today, and Stern was not entirely consistent in saying what the penalty would be in the case of a referee who had taken part in gambling.

During his introductory remarks, Stern said: "The first thing that I would like to say is that our rules are crystal clear; that referees may not either gamble on our games; or, provide information to anyone about those games. We, you know, have a rule that says you're subject to discipline, which would most likely be expulsion from the league and the job."

Note the use of the qualifier "most likely."

Later in the news conference, Stern was asked a follow-up question to which he replied: "You are not permitted to bet if you're a referee. You're not permitted to bet legally and you're not permitted to bet illegally. The legal betting will cost you your job. The illegal betting, depending upon the context, may cost you your freedom."

Now, that's not exactly a vow to fire any referee who might be found to have gambled, but it's pretty darn close.

So now we'll have to wait and see how the commissioner reacts to any information the government provides to the NBA regarding what Donaghy is reportedly alleging.

Would Stern actually fire 20 referees if he found they had gambled on their golf matches? I have a hard time believing so. But if the gambling allegations are any more serious, it's going to be a dicey one for him at a time when he's trying to restore the public's confidence in the integrity of his sport.

The league office had no comment Friday other than to say they have received no new information from the authorities.

The head of the referees' association, Lamell McMorris, told me: "As far as we know, the misconduct was isolated to one individual, and we'll stand by that until proven otherwise. We'll review whatever information Tim Donaghy alleges, but as far as we're concerned, the only person whose conduct has been proven wrong is Tim Donaghy. We're dealing with truth, not hearsay, and the truth is that the only person who has pleaded guilty to any kind of wrongdoing is Tim Donaghy."

Donaghy questions unanswered

August, 15, 2007
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OK, so we know Tim Donaghy stood ramrod straight in court, and we know he spoke in a barely audible voice.

We know he is now a convicted felon, we know he had to surrender his passport, and we know the amount of the fine and restitution he is going to have to find a way to pay.

And, according to the court documents released today, we know that Donaghy "compromised [his] objectivity as a referee because of [his] personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games."

But what we still don't know, and what remain the biggest unanswered questions in this entire scandal, are these: How and when did Donaghy use his whistle to manipulate the outcome of games he officiated?

We may never know the answer, although there is a chance we will find out on Nov. 9 when Donaghy is sentenced. That's because under federal sentencing guidelines, the severity of Donaghy's penalty will be reduced if he cooperates with his victim, which in this case is the NBA.

What would have to happen would be for the NBA to request a meeting with Donaghy at which league officials could ask him any question they wanted -- and you could be certain that the NBA has about 8,000 questions it wants answered by the man at the center of the biggest scandal it has faced.

If Donaghy were to cooperate and answer all the league's questions truthfully, that information would be relayed to the judge presiding over the case. If Donaghy were to refuse to cooperate with the NBA, that, too, would be relayed to the judge, and it would not benefit Donaghy.

And since this is a man facing the prospect of serving up to 25 years in prison, you'd figure he'll do what he has to do to get the most lenient sentence possible.

Donaghy will also have to answer questions from the court during his sentencing regarding the specifics of what he did to break the law. It's possible the questions of how and when he used his whistle to affect the outcome of games he worked will come up in that forum, although there are no guarantees they will.

The bottom line in all this is that, for the foreseeable future, we won't have any definitive answers to the most serious questions in this story. We may get some of them on Nov. 9, but then again we may not. It's going to be a long three months of waiting until we find out.

Gold standard for Team USA

July, 27, 2007
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While everyone was keeping such a close eye on the Tim Donaghy scandal, there was a drop off in attention being paid to Team USA. This just might be the best U.S. national team put together since the 1992 Dream Team -- if everything pans out according to managing director Jerry Colangelo's plan.

Then again, it might only be the best team since the 2003 Olympic qualifying team. That's a matter that's going to be open for debate in late August and early September when the U.S. team takes its annual stroll through the Tournament of the Americas, this time in Las Vegas.

While the American team has struggled like never before in the last three big tournaments, the 2006 and 2002 World Championships and the 2004 Olympics, those five lean years have not been without one hidden gem -- the 2003 U.S. Olympic qualifying team that traveled to San Juan four summers ago.

That roster included Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal, Elton Brand, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Mike Bibby and Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin and Nick Collison.

I remember McGrady telling me a story after the gold-medal game -- a 33-point crushing of Argentina -- how the players had grown so tired of hearing assistant coach Gregg Popovich praise the team from Argentina, they wanted to beat them extra bad just to teach him a lesson about how good they were. Here is a link to the game story I wrote that evening, a game that still qualifies as the best pound-for-pound performance I've ever seen while covering nearly every single game the national team has played since 1996.

So that's the standard I'm going to measure the 2007 team against, because I do not expect them to have anything remotely resembling a problem as they cruise to a gold medal and one of the two Olympic berths at the Tourney of the Americas. With Argentina missing all its seasoned pros except Luis Scola and Carlos Delfino, the defending Olympic champions will not be a threat.

Brazil is an up-and-comer, especially if Anderson Varejao, Nene and Leandro Barbosa all play, but I expect the Americans to shake them off after 28-32 minutes when the teams meet in first-round play Aug. 26. Also in the Americans' first-round group is Canada, which will not be a threat even if Steve Nash does decide to play, which is not the impossibility it once might have seemed according to Friday's Toronto Sun in a staff report filed from the Pan American games in Rio de Janeiro.

If you missed coverage of Team USA's intrasquad scrimmage Sunday in Vegas, which by the way was infinitely better entertainment than the NBA All-Star game held in the same gym back in February, here's a link to my postgame story.

There will be 17-19 guys in camp when the team reassembles Aug. 14 to get ready for the Tournament of the Americas, and the roster must be reduced to 12 by Aug. 21, the night before the Tournament of the Americas begins. (One interesting side note I learned in Vegas: The Olympic roster is going to be due next June 28, even though the Olympics don't begin until Aug. 8.)

Here is my early pick for what the 12-man roster will look like: Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kirk Hinrich, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Kidd, Mike Miller, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh and Michael Redd.

If you exclude the players who missed last weekend's minicamp, that means I'm picking Shane Battier, Kevin Durant, Tayshaun Prince, J.J. Redick and Deron Williams to be cut.

Update: I spoke to Colangelo on the phone this morning after filing this blog entry, and he said Andre Iguodala of the Sixers, David Lee of the Knicks, Devin Harris of the Mavericks, Monta Ellis of the Warriors and Al Jefferson of the Celtics have accepted invitations to play for a USA Basketball practice squad that will scrimmage against the national team Aug. 13-21.

Brandon Roy of the Trail Blazers was expected to be included, too, but a scheduling conflict will keep him out. Colangelo wants to get five more commitments to the 10-man practice squad, which he wants to bring into the USA Basketball pipeline with a long-term eye toward the 2010 World Championship in Turkey and the 2012 Olympics in London.

Ref scandal: 3 big questions

July, 22, 2007
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As we head into a monumental week for the NBA, it's time to look at some of the questions that need to be answered by commissioner David Stern and others concerning the Tim Donaghy case.

Here are three of the biggest ones:

1. How big is this scandal?

The New York Daily News reported Sunday that federal authorities believe Donaghy will cooperate with investigators and possibly name other officials or players involved in the scandal. Stern has already come out publicly and said that Donaghy was the one and only referee under suspicion of affecting the outcome of games he officiated, but if the opposite is true and even more referees are involved, Stern's credibility will take another enormous hit. The Daily News said Donaghy has hired former federal prosecutor John Lauro, who specializes in representing whistleblowers, as his defense attorney.

2. When was the NBA informed that Donaghy was under investigation by the FBI?

The Denver Post reported Sunday that the answer to that question is January, which, if true, would mean the NBA allowed Donaghy to continue refereeing games, including playoff games, despite knowing he might be crooked. Who in the league office signed off on that?

UPDATE: The New York Times reported Monday, quoting two anonymous sources who had been briefed on the investigation, that the NBA had no knowledge of Donaghy's betting and questions as to whether he influenced the outcomes of games until after the season.

Also, the AP is reporting today that a person with knowledge of the FBI investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the NBA was unaware of the FBI investigation until after the NBA Finals.

3. What about all the red flags?

According to data compiled by Stats LLC and reported in the New York Post, Donaghy led the NBA in technical fouls called, whistling 177 of them -- 20 more than anyone else. Donaghy also ranked fourth in blowing personal fouls; was third in ordering free throws and second for fouling out players for the 2006-07 season.

The NBA is meticulous in gathering data on its referees and the calls they make, and if it had a referee calling an inordinate number of technicals, you'd expect they'd speak to Donaghy about it, no?

Also, the Post reported that NBA officials knew that Donaghy was gambling on football and ordered him to stop.

Further, the New York Times reported Sunday that since Jan. 1, Donaghy refereed in 11 games in which the consensus Las Vegas line moved two points or more: "The team on which bettors wagered heavily enough to move the line that far won seven of those 11 games. …

"On Jan. 15, the Philadelphia 76ers were originally favored to beat the Toronto Raptors by a point. Bets came in so heavily on the Raptors that they eventually were favored to win by a point instead. The Raptors won in a blowout, 104-86.

"Two nights later, so much money was bet on the Phoenix Suns against the Houston Rockets that the consensus Las Vegas line, which opened with the Suns favored by 4½ points, moved to 8 by tip-off. The Suns won by 9, 100-91."

Team USA on Donaghy

July, 20, 2007
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Members of Team USA were told Friday by NBA officials to steer clear of answering any questions related to the Tim Donaghy scandal, but not everyone heeded that missive.

I asked LeBron James whether he thought the Donaghy scandal could end up being more harmful to the NBA than the infamous Palace brawl of 2004, and he answered: "I'm not sure. I'm not one to ask. You have to go out on the streets and ask fans of the game whether it was worse than the brawl. I'm not quite sure."

Another reporter asked James if he was disgusted.

"It's a very sensitive matter right now, and the NBA is taking all precautions and doing everything they can to try to make it right, and as a player I just have to sit back and wait and see what happens. But as a competitor, as hard as I play, it is disappointing, definitely."

Chris Bosh said the Donaghy investigation was not a huge topic of conversation among the players, who were alerted to it by USA Basketball officials prior to the first practice of their three-day minicamp.

"Nah, they brought it to us and advised us not to talk about it. But we've been talking about basketball, winning this tournament, jelling as a team, what kind of offense we're going to run. We don't really focus too much on outside things. We're just enjoying each other's company, trying to get to know each other better and becoming a unit."

Said Dwight Howard: "You can't really control that. The only thing I control is how hard I play on the court and how hard my team plays. So if we do our job as a team, we won't have to worry about point shaving and stuff like that.

***

As is my custom with new members of Team USA, I threw the Sheridan pop quiz at Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams, and neither of them passed.

Longtime readers of my columns and blogs already know the question -- How do you call timeout under FIBA rules? -- and the answer -- You can't. Only coaches can call timeouts.

In the past, most players have answered by giving some variation of the standard timeout signal, but Billups and Williams both professed ignorance and answered "I don't know."

Upon hearing the answer, Williams scolded himself because he has played for USAB twice in the past, once on an under-19 national squad, the other time on a junior U.S. national team.

Williams said he also was surprised to learn that the game is divided into four 10-minute quarters under international rules, because he remembered it being two 20-minute halves. He seemed reassured when I told him that his memory was not failing him, as FIBA only switched from two halves to four quarters a couple years ago.

***

In between covering Donaghy and Kobe today, I was able to glean one small piece of information regarding the trade the Phoenix Suns made with Seattle earlier Friday, sending Kurt Thomas and two future No. 1 picks to the Sonics in exchange for the second-round pick the Sonics acquired last week from Orlando in the Rashard Lewis sign-and-trade deal.

Turns out neither of the No. 1 picks the Suns surrendered has any lottery protection, which could make the 2010 draft pick especially valuable if the Suns' fortunes take a precipitous fall by then. The scuttlebutt around the league was that Phoenix GM Steve Kerr made the deal as the precursor to another deal, which he will make using the $8.092 million trade exception he acquired from the Sonics.

The Donaghy File

July, 20, 2007
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I've had the opportunity to speak with a good number of NBA referees throughout my journalism career, oftentimes as a pool reporter getting an explanation for a rules interpretation, other times in more casual settings such as a hotel bar or concierge lounge.

In those latter encounters, different refs have dispensed differing amounts of information, but one topic they all have enjoyed kvetching about is their perceptions, and the public's perceptions, of specific referees. In other words, they enjoy gossiping about one another.

One topic that never got old in my conversations with referees over the past 2 years was the brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which was officiated by Ronnie Garretson, Tommy Nunez Jr. and Tim Donaghy -- the latter of whom has been identified as the referee under investigation by the FBI for allegedly gambling on games he officiated.

Now, I had never heard any kind of allegations related to gambling, and to be extra clear, we don't have any available evidence that there was intentional tampering going on here. But I did hear a number of complaints about the way the officiating crew handled -- or mishandled, as the case might be -- the bedlam that broke out at the Palace on Nov. 19, 2004, after Ben Wallace, then of the Pistons, shoved Ron Artest, then of the Pacers, to incite one of the ugliest brawls in American sports history.

The feeling among many referees was that Garretson and Donaghy, the two senior referees, could have been much more assertive in calming things down before the incident hit its flash point when a fan threw a cup of ice at Artest as he lay prone on the scorer's table. The NBA has never divulged whether Garretson, Donaghy or Nunez were disciplined for their handling of the brawl, but I can assure you that several referees who did not work the game found fault with what appeared to them to be a lackadaisical approach toward controlling a situation that quickly spun violently out of control. I've reviewed raw ESPN videotape of the brawl at our offices in Bristol, and I have to say the complaints about Garretson and Donaghy seem to have merit.

Donaghy also was involved in another controversy a few years back when he engaged in a shouting match with Rasheed Wallace on the loading dock of The Rose Garden in Portland, an incident that led to a seven-game suspension for Wallace, who was then with the Portland Trail Blazers. Donaghy and the two other referees who had worked that game passed by Wallace as they walked to their cars, and Wallace was said to have threatened Donaghy, who had assessed him a technical foul earlier that night during a Grizzlies-Blazers game.

Donaghy, a baby-faced 40, is one of four NBA referees to have graduated from Cardinal O'Hara high school in Philadelphia. The others are Joey Crawford, Mike Callahan and Ed Malloy.

Rockets land Scola 

July, 13, 2007
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Let's have a closer look at Thursday's Spurs-Rockets trade, which basically boiled down to Houston giving up a Greek who desperately wants out of America for an Argentine who's been hoping to get to the NBA for a half-decade.

The Rockets acquired the rights to Argentine forward Luis Scola and center Jackie Butler for disenchanted guard Vassilis Spanoulis and a 2009 second-round draft pick, giving Scola his long-awaited chance to come to the NBA after more false starts than he'd care to remember.

"It's about three years too late," said Scola's American agent, George Bass. "This is great, but when someone gets caught up in a situation like Luis did, it's a tough deal."

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