suntimes
TOUGH 
Weather Updates

NBA’s biggest playmaking is between buddies

The Bulls’ Nazr Mohammed says players are tapping old friendships try create super-teams. | Michael Conroy/AP

The Bulls’ Nazr Mohammed says players are tapping old friendships to try to create super-teams. | Michael Conroy/AP

storyidforme: 58866638
tmspicid: 21437764
fileheaderid: 10089589

Updated: January 9, 2014 6:27AM



It’s the NBA’s dirty little secret, and it’s only getting dirtier.

As much as media members, league executives and coaches want to downplay the recruiting that goes on between players from different teams trying to manipulate the system and join forces to chase a title, the practice is alive and well this season, maybe more than ever.

There’s a successful model in place in Miami, where the Heat is going for a three-peat, and the expected free-agent class next summer is filled with franchise-changers.

Recruiting among players was unheard of seven years ago, but it’s all but a necessity for quick title contention now.

‘‘What’s changed it is AAU and how much basketball guys actually play across the country with other players,’’ Bulls veteran center Nazr Mohammed said. ‘‘They know other guys from other cities, other states, other areas, so they’ve played with them in AAU, the McDonald’s game, Adidas camps, all that stuff. So now they have this friendship, and they come to this level and it’s like, ‘Man, I used to like playing with this guy, and I want to play with him again.’ ’’

It’s superstars courting superstars — unless you’re named Derrick Rose.

Rose reiterated Thursday that he will not recruit to help build a better roster — well, at least not until after the 2015-16 season, when his good friend Kevin Love becomes a free agent — but that doesn’t mean the Bulls are without a shrewd, well-liked recruiting presence. Coach Tom Thibodeau has the ultimate in now that he’s working as an assistant for Team USA. He has a core group of former players around the league that swear by him.

Player of the week

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers forward. Not a bad start to his December. Aldridge averaged 31 points and 10.7 rebounds in three straight wins, including 28 points in a win over the Indiana Pacers and 38 points in a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Team of the week

Trail Blazers. See Player of the Week above. Also see that the Trail Blazers are emerging as one of the elite teams in the West

The big five

1. Pacers. 2. Heat. 3. Trail Blazers. 4. San Antonio Spurs.
5. Thunder.

Awful for Andrew

The three teams bad enough to start tanking in hopes of drafting Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins: 1. Milwaukee Bucks.
2. Utah Jazz. 3. Sacramento Kings.

Big number

20 The Heat’s 20-point loss to the Bulls on Thursday was tied for the Heat’s second-biggest margin of defeat with LeBron James playing. The Washington Wizards beat the Heat by 34 in April 2012.

Two to watch
for the week of Dec. 8

Pacers at Thunder, 6 p.m. Sunday: The Pacers have been working through a brutal part of their schedule that continues in Oklahoma City.

Heat at Pacers, 6 p.m., Tuesday: This is a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals — book it.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.