The NBA Has Painted Itself in a Corner

May 26th, 2015

When I first heard the NBA was changing the instant replay system and was going to use a central location (Secaucus, NJ, aka The Meadowlands) to make the final determination on “reviewable” calls, my initial thought was it was a positive move. Someone, with access to all camera angles would be able to view a play without the distractions that referees are subjected to (Jumbotrons which elicit groans from 10,000+ fans, general crowd noise, individuals seated at the scorer’s table, etc.). Whoever was in charge at Secaucus would then make the proper call (to the best of his or her ability since some of them are so close) and the game would continue.

While I’m not certain what type of system is used, the one described above isn’t it. There still continues to be interminable delays and, although not the norm, rulings that fly in the face of the video. As I’ve stated a number of times previously in this blogspace, the flow of the game is interrupted, in too many cases, never to return. All because referees, who have always been cast as villains – and still are – can’t officiate a game that’s nearly impossible to officiate perfectly. With the new system, we have replaced human error with . . . different human error.

But now, the NBA has made their position untenable. Two nights ago when the Cavs’ Matthew Dellavedova either collapsed, was pulled down or intentionally dove on the Hawks’ Al Horford’s lower leg, frustrating Horford to the point he “loaded up” an elbow and brought it down somewhere between Dellavedov’s head and shoulder, connecting or grazing his pesky opponent, the call went to Secaucus. With Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, two men with enough NBA experience that their opinion ought to carry enough weight that the viewer is comfortable with whatever their explanation is, saying that the call could be a foul on Horford (“That’s playoff basketball”) or a “flagrant one” (because he did load up the elbow), the officiating crew – including those in Secaucus – decided it merited a “flagrant two” which has an additional penalty of ejection of the offending player. Steve Javie, longtime NBA referee, justified the call, reading word for word the definition from the rule book of a “flagrant two.”

The concern was, in a playoff game, if a player is going to deserve an ejection, shouldn’t it be for something more vicious and deliberate than what Horford did to Dellavedova? To my eyes, it looked as though Horford “pulled the elbow,” i.e. he held back what could have been a frightening scene had he “lost his mind” and decided to actually deliver a crushing blow. Whatever, Javie went verbatim instead of applying a little common sense. This is often done in order to “do the right thing” by his officiating brethren – as can be expected. It’s still not right.

Unfortunately, a perfect storm occurred to ruin the NBA’s party just 24 hours later. Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut got tangled on the baseline and, in chronological order, 1) Howard pushed Bogut with one arm (the rule book definition of a foul), 2) Bogut shoved Howard with both arms (maybe no more of a penalty than Howard’s move but certainly “illegal” to a greater degree) and 3) Howard extended his left arm, throwing an elbow at Bogut’s face (done in frustration but, by written rule, a classic “flagrant two”). What to do? Go to Secaucus. Somehow, the Great and Powerful Oz (of Secaucus) saw it as merely a flagrant one. An impartial observer might see it the same way. Unless the Horford foul was used as a comparison. In every way, from every angle, what Howard administered to Bogut was much worse an offense than what Horford did to Dellavedova. Following Van Gundy’s remark to that point, Javie said it was still a judgment call. Sorry, Steve, we know where your bread is buttered and, while your current job puts you in a difficult spot, you can’t make that statement with a straight face.

From the NBA rulebook (with my comments in parentheses): “. . . the criteria used by the officials and league office for reviewing elbow specific contact and actions (italics mine). . . Severity of Contact (Howard’s definitely greater than Horford’s), Legitimate Basketball Play (absolutely not), Legal Positioning (no), Intent or Reckless Swing (yes), Thrown Elbow (yes), Result of Contact (greater than what Dellavedova received). The NBA is an entity that makes many decisions based on precedent. In this case, the precedent was set in the Cavs-Hawks contest and, although the league has stated that Horford is to receive no additional punishment, they can’t rescind his ejection.

What’s so much worse is the consequences of the call are much more widespread than in the previous game. If it was decided to be a “flagrant two” foul, it would mean the Rockets’ big man would be ejected. However, because of a compilation of previous transgressions, he would be forced to miss the next game, too. Therefore, an upgrade to a flagrant two would mean Howard would not be allowed to play in Game 5, taking away a major piece of Houston’s attack at both ends of the floor. With the game being played at the Warriors’ Oracle Arena, the Rockets, down 1-3, would be facing monumental odds. Of greater effect in another area, viewership  (and radio listenership) could take a huge hit if Howard isn’t allowed to play. It’s bad enough for those folks that the Clippers (and their LA market) didn’t advance.

If the call is upgraded to a “flagrant two,” Howard is out. If it’s not, the league’s new replay system would take a serious credibility hit. The NBA is in a no-win situation, caused mainly by itself. Implement a replay system, have a group of three or four people (in case of untimely illness or injury) and give them autonomy regarding supporting or overturning calls. The league doesn’t even have to disclose the names of those people. All players, coaches and fans are looking for is the mantra officials are supposed to live by anyway:

“Be consistent.”

Fans Are Warned About Comparing Performances from Different Eras

May 25th, 2015

Who’s the best of all-time? Independent of which athlete or team, from whichever sport, the “experts” always caution us that, due to different rules and circumstances, it’s impossible to fairly give each athlete or time period his, her or its proper due. Just the fact that today’s athletes and coaches have to deal with the massive volume of media members they can see, as well as so many more they can’t, certainly should eliminate any comparison among sports before and after the Internet. Social media has changed the game of life for all of us, none so much as the celebrities whose lives are under a constant microscope.

While salaries have skyrocketed to numbers we never thought we’d be able to comprehend (and, in some cases, we really cannot), so has the invasion of each athlete’s privacy. The concept that “everyone has a camera” is by no means to suggest that sympathy be rendered unto those who act illegally, irresponsibly or immorally. What we need to keep in mind as we judge others (always a dangerous situation) is that, in the past there just might have been similar transgressions committed by those whose only redeeming quality is that they were born at the “right” time.

Dallas Cowboys’ legend, Roger Staubach, is someone whose life is that of the great American hero. He attended from the U.S. Naval Academy, won the Heisman Trophy, served a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam, was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, led them to two Super Bowl victories (was MVP of the first one) and is enshrined in both the College and NFL Halls of Fame. If Roger says something, people listen. He is a leader of men who undoubtedly realizes the impact his words will have.

A couple of days ago, Staubach fired a salvo across the bow of his former squad after they signed free agent defensive end Greg Hardy. To summarize, while a player for the Carolina Panthers, Hardy was accused of physically assaulting and threatening his girlfriend. He was convicted and is suspended until Week 12 of this season in relation to the domestic abuse charges (although he and Dallas are hopeful the suspension will be considerably lessened after his appeal). The charges were eventually dismissed, in large part due to the alleged victim not making herself available for questioning and a possible out of court settlement with Hardy. As a result of the dismissal, Hardy’s earlier conviction has been expunged.

The former signal caller extraordinaire minced no words when asked about the signing of Hardy. “I wouldn’t really enjoy being in the locker room with someone I knew was a domestic violence person. That’s how I feel,” Staubach was quoted in The Dallas Morning News. “Today you know more about the personal lives of players. Back in the old days, there were some issues. But we never really had a domestic violence, smoking marijuana or … I’m sure it happened though, we just didn’t know about it. I would have really had a hard time with a teammate that you look at as a courageous, tough guy on the football field … to abuse a women in any shape or form, there’s just no excuse for it.”

No doubt where he stands on that issue.

“Well, it depends on getting a chance to understand the red flags … like the Hardy situation,” Staubach continued. He explained that the Cowboys management feels “that this guy deserves a second chance.” As far as Roger Staubach’s stance on the matter? “I don’t have any tolerance toward domestic violence. If I was making the decision, it probably wouldn’t have been good for the Cowboys.”

Whether Staubach’s comments were meant to be as controversial as they’ve become is irrelevant. The debate is on. There will be the diehard Cowboys’ fan who will take issue with Staubach, saying incidents like domestic violence were just as prevalent, but not reported, during Staubach’s tenure with the team and chances were, he did share a locker room with teammates who committed domestic violence. Also, there will be those who say the legal system has run its course and when he finally suits up, Hardy will have paid his price.

Whatever the case, there are certain factors we should all be able to agree upon:

“Playing a game professionally is a privilege, not a right, and obeying the law should be Rule #1.”

A Couple of Old Timers Who Either Have Short Memories or Different Values When Discussing Today’s Scandals

May 24th, 2015

Bobby Bowden, former iconic Florida State football coach, when asked about Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who also led the Seminoles to a national championship, made the statement, “I think it’s a consensus among FSU fans and boosters that he was an embarrassment to the University.”

Ol’ Bobby must have forgotten that while under his purview, Florida State University gained the nickname “Free Shoes University” in 1993. Seems that his players were provided more than $6,000 worth of shoes, a major NCAA violation. The university suspended five players for several games. Later, in the spring 2007, a number of FSU athletes, including football players, were accused of cheating in an online music history class. Although no coaches were proven to have any knowledge of the scandal, an NCAA investigation claimed that Florida State was guilty of additional major violations. Among other penalties, a total of 12 wins were stripped from Bowden’s record. After the NCAA restored the 111 games they deleted from Joe Paterno’s record, Bowden was quoted as saying, “Am I going to get my 12 back now?”

Whether or not Winston was an “embarrassment” to the school or not isn’t the case here. Certainly many of his actions were not only immature but deplorable. It’s just that Bobby Bowden might want to defer to someone else (actually, many someone else’s) when the subject of improper behavior is brought up.

Don Shula, the legendary Miami Dolphins coach, said his Dolphins always played with “class” and did things the “right way.” This line was used when the media approached Shula about his thoughts on the subject of the New England Patriots and Deflategate. Apparently, Shula doesn’t want to see anything that would compromise the integrity of the game – and the Hall of Famer is quite outspoken on the topic.

Yet, Shula is currently in the midst of an uncomfortable lawsuit. According to an article for YardBarker, writer Steve DelVecchio says, “Shula is one of a handful of coaches who have been accused of warning players that they would be cut from their teams if they did not take painkillers to return to the field.” We need to remember that “back in the day,” such an attitude was commonplace in football – from the professional level on down. It’s just that, as new scientific research is discovered – and society evolves – such behavior is seen as intolerable  macho.

It’s not known, nor has it been proven, that Shula broke any rules, but having a charge as serious as threatening to cut a player if he didn’t take painkillers isn’t as easily dismissed as it would have been when he was coaching. Years from now, deflating footballs may be well within the rules. Forcing players to take painkillers will never (again) be tolerated.

Sometimes the best advice regarding controversial subjects just might be:

“If you have an opinion – unless you have no skeletons in your closet – you might think twice before offering it up.”

 

Unlike Sinatra I Have My Regrets

May 23rd, 2015

Recently returned from Los Angeles where George Raveling and I spent a couple hours doing additional Q&As for George’s website (see CoachGeorgeRaveling.com, video, JackAndCoach). Actually this idea was hatched by yours truly after George told me he had a guy build a website for him (see my 1/7/14 for  ore on the site and the “guy). As my last post explained – for those who know George Raveling even a little, this will come as no shock – the website is sensational, with all the bells and whistles (just using that term is an indicator of which generation I’m from – and granted, by choice – stuck in). Long story short (before it gets too late to make that claim), I suggested that in addition to interviewing famous ladies and gents (once again, a 20th century reference), he needed to have someone interview him. And immediately volunteered for the job.

The “guy” (technological genius would be more accurate) George selected to build his website came extremely highly recommended. Alex Cervasio is a proud (the word doesn’t come remotely close to describing how much of a Gator he is) University of Florida graduate. He owns the company CVASconsulting.com. I’ve had the occasion to be in Alex’s company on numerous occasions and am increasingly impressed every time we get together. His list of clients provides him with immediate credibility. When I found out he’s only in his mid-20s, I was absolutely floored. If ever there was someone who not only keeps up with what’s happening but helps create it, that someone is Alex.

On my drive home my thoughts wandered to my second year out of college. It was 1971 and I was teaching at my alma mater, Highland Park (NJ) High School. One of my colleagues in the math department (actually he was my geometry teacher only eight years earlier) had gotten donated one of those old IBM mainframe computers and he was going to give us a tutorial. Since I knew I was going to be a graduate assistant basketball coach (somewhere) the following year, I begged out of his sessions. Why in the world would I need to know how to operate something so complex? I was going to be a basketball coach. How could that knowledge help me?

When computers came along, I kinda hoped they were a fad. Believe it or not, omniscient has never been a word to describe me. Possibly because I didn’t jump in on the ground level (I am completely convinced that had I learned from him, I’d have developed a confidence that all people who are computer savvy have), I developed a fear of anything technologically related. Thus, I have to depend on the “Alex’s” of the world (which includes my younger son of the same name) to assist me in even the simplest of functions.

Alex Cervasio had no such issues. He had his first laptop when he was 10! For his 13th birthday (about the turn of the century), his parents asked him what he wanted for is  birthday. His request?

“100 shares of Apple stock.”

How do you think that worked out for him?

 

 

Random Thoughts Before I Head to LA

May 20th, 2015

As of October 2014 there were over 1 billion websites (a milestone confirmed by NetCraft – who/whatever they are/that is). I am on record as stating that one of the most informative, as well as most professionally done, belongs to my friend/boss/mentor George Raveling. On it you can find, obviously, the man’s bio and guest articles on basketball and other topics. But that only scratches the surface of the site. There’s also a section with his suggestions of the best books to read (on various topics, not just basketball), another area entitled “Food and Travel” (throughout the world, not only the U.S.), one in which George interviews people of influence, e.g. David Falk (Michael Jordan’s agent), Oscar Robertson, Dr. Harry Edwards and John Calipari, to name just a few, and a tab called “Life Lessons” which is invaluable to young and old alike. 

After initially perusing the site and watching several of the interviews (for hoop junkies, the one with Hubie Brown is mesmerizing), I mentioned to George that, since it’s his site, someone should interview him – and added, “Who knows you better than I do?” (I was a graduate assistant for Rave in 1973 at WSU and joined his staff as associate head coach at USC in 1991, also serving as the assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee – he was chairman – for fifteen years in between).  The result is a Q&A (called “JackAndCoach“), with me asking questions designed to elicit responses that will enable the reader better understand this complex and fascinating man (who happens to be a member of the next, i.e. 2015, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame). I couldn’t recommend this website more highly.

All of the above was brought up because I’ll be in Los Angeles for the next couple days, filming (if that’s the proper 2015 term) more  “JackAndCoach” segments. This blog will return Saturday, May 23.

How great is it to watch the Western Conference Finals and see one guy from each team, of relatively normal size, dominate the game? One thing about last night’s game is that it did keep fans in their seats.

Nominee for greatest decision of the year (maybe longer, e.g. decade, this century, all-time): Steve Kerr choosing to accept the head coaching job with the Golden State Warriors in lieu of Phil Jackson’s offer to coach the Knicks

The trade most of America (at least the segment of it I deal with) is clamoring to see: ESPN’s Doug Collins to TNT for Shaquille O’Neal. And to make sure it gets done, even though they have plenty of their own, give some money (as much as it takes) to ESPN. Then, negotiate that all NBA Playoff games be on TNT. The quartet of EJ, Jet, Chuck and Collins would definitely be classified as “must-see TV.” Allow ESPN to add Bill Simmons (and Skip Bayless if they desire) to their group to make that show completely obnoxious and unwatchable.

The salute to David Letterman is wonderful but it seems like tonight we’ll be hearing his eulogy. It’s a show of love and respect by so many – celebrities and fans – that is so heartwarming but wouldn’t it feel better if Dave would at least give us a hint regarding his future plans? It’s almost like he’s going to Montana (or somewhere) to play with his son until his time is up. It would be soothing to all of us, including Dave (I’m guessing), if there was announcement of a “special” he’d be hosting a year from now. That would give everyone something to mark on their calendars. We’ve gotten used to having David Letterman as part of our viewing lives. Speaking for us night owls.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” How many people have ambivalent feelings over wanting the Cavs and LeBron to win it all but can’t stomach the thought of David Blatt holding the Lawrence O’Brien trophy? Or vice versa? 

When Charles Barkley brings up, which he does quite often, that what really upsets him about coming in second in the 1989-90 MVP voting (to Magic Johnson) is that he had so many more first-place votes than anyone else – but didn’t get any second- or third-place votes. Without ever saying it, he’s well aware why that phenomena occurred – and the moral of the story is:

“While it’s nice to be good, but it’s good to be nice.”

 

When Is Chicago Front Office Going to Be Held Accountable?

May 19th, 2015

Supposedly, one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA is that the Chicago Bulls are going to fire Tom Thibodeau. One reason that’s given is because he plays his guys too many minutes. On several occasions he violated the “minute limit” set forth by front office (Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman). These are the same guys who ordered minute limits while Vinny Del Negro was the Bulls’ head coach and when Del Negro exceeded Joakim Noah’s limit, in order to win an overtime game, Paxson blew his top (not an infrequent occurrence) and, allegedly, attacked De Negro. It seemingly was a move that showed Paxson’s ego exceeded his ability to reason because if the two actually would fight, Paxson would undoubtedly come in a solid second place.

Critics of Thibs mentioned that “the team quit on him” during the last game of the Cavs series. One thing that everyone, including his most outspoken critics that will say about Tom Thibodeau is that he’s an NBA lifer. To level a charge as serious as his team quitting on him – a guy who knows better than anyone that the NBA is a player’s league – begs the question, “Why?”

Could it be that behind his back, management was convincing players that the reason they were hurt was because the coach was overusing them? Granted, the NBA season is brutal on a man’s body. Setting and running into screens, diving on the floor (for most guys), taking charges, the banging anytime a rebound comes off, the pounding the knees get on a nightly basis – it’s a job in which the participants ought to be compensated . . . oh, wait, never mind. That idea was for the guys who did the same thing 40 years ago – albeit without the same speed and quickness, and verticals that were a foot or so lower.

I’m more of a basketball fan than baseball but I’ve heard “pitch count” more than I’ve heard “minute count.” Apparently, Pax and Gar treat the players like long term investments and would rather lose a game or two (or more) if it means more length to  player’s career. Yet, at no time have I ever heard nor read of any studies done that have calculated exactly how many minutes an NBA player should play in order to maximize the length of his career. What it looks more like is a show of power by the two executives.

What’s understood in the Chicago Bulls organization is that, although Jerry Reinsdorf is the owner, he’s more interested in his other pro franchise, the Chicago White Sox. So he leaves running the operation to those two. The Bulls, as a franchise, makes more money than nearly any other NBA club which apparently satisfies Reinsdorf. Extending a good player’s career, even at the risk of losing games in the present, gives the VP & GM more security when they discuss the roster with their boss.

With the track record Paxson and Forman have with coaches, why is no one talking about dismissing them? Sure, cutting a coach loose is as much a part of the NBA as private planes. How come when the Bulls fire a coach, it’s always so ugly? As if coaching in the NBA isn’t tough enough – especially with all the injuries that happen to every team – how much more difficult must it be with constant meddling from front office personnel. The front office drafts a guy. If the coach doesn’t think the guy is good enough or, maybe just not ready, can’t there be a civil conversation about the reason the coach isn’t using him? Does anybody think a coach doesn’t want to win?

With the Bulls, that’s evidently not the case. Who’s in power is the overriding factor – which is foolish. If Paxson and Forman have the juice to can Thibodeau, it’s obvious who has the power. So why not let the guy coach, i.e. what you hired him to do? When Thibs’ name is brought up, everybody throws bouquets at the guy when it comes to coaching prowess. If the Bulls saw fit to hire the guy, let him do what he does best. There has been no word that Thibodeau tries to tell the other two how to do their jobs. Paxson, and to a lesser extent, Forman, have had success (on a limited basis) in managerial positions. Maybe they should give co-coaching a shot.

Instead, it’s a soap opera – again. Firing Del Negro was a scene – it was no secret Pax and Gar undermined him as they’ve been accused of doing to Thibs. But why stop there? Scott Skiles, another respected coach, was shown the door after performing admirably, considering where the club was when he arrived and where it was when he departed.

Why does so much drama surround John Paxson?

“Maybe it’s because his middle name is MacBeth.”

NBA Basketball Is at a Crossroads

May 14th, 2015

It’s that time of the year when colleges let out for the summer. Jane and I will be heading to Monterey to help younger son, Alex, move his “stuff” back home. Naturally, his car isn’t big enough to accommodate everything he originally brought in the fall – especially with the addition of the golf clubs he took back after spring break – then include what he’s accumulated throughout the year. So . . . we’ll have a two-car caravan heading back to Fresno on Sunday. Or Monday, depending on the weather in both locations; it’s a shame to waste a trip to the coast.

This blog will return on Tuesday, May 19. Allow me to suggest you take some time to catch up on some of my earlier posts if you haven’t visited this site in a while. I’ve been putting out some thought-provoking and entertaining comments, and would love to get your feedback.

“The first year, they took my hand check away. The next year, they took our forearm away. And then, I retired. I was done. I was like, ‘I’ve got to move my feet? I quit. This is no fun anymore.’ ” That quote, from an article by TNT’s David Aldridge, was made by a player who, currently is one of, arguably, the two best coaches in the NBA. Glenn “Doc” Rivers made his “retirement” statement, leaving the game that was intent on increasing scoring. In addition to the no hand checking rule, there was no “bumping” cutters, a rewording of flagrant fouls, instituting an illegal defense rule and others that were implemented to make the game more attractive to the fans. Not all the changes were to the defender – palming the ball has been ignored for over two decades. And the accusation that the NBA allows for an extra step has been increased, on occasion, to a couple of extra steps.

The NBA has again changed the way referees officiate, only in this case, they’ve instituted “fact checking” to the officials’ duties. Flagrant Foul calls (1 or 2), clock malfunctions, whether a successful basket was goaltended, interfered with, or a 2 point or 3-point field goal (for old fans who just began re-watching NBA games after a prolonged absence, the answer is yes, your team’s score actually did decrease after you went to get a cold beverage because it was determined that the shot from a few possessions ago was a two and not a three, so don’t blame the beer). Also, restricted area replays are conducted BUT only during the last two minutes of the fourth period and during all of overtime

The NBA Replay Center, located in Secaucus, NJ (which used to be famous for pig farming – and the smell that created an ambiance indigenous to the area) has a Crew Chief whose decisions are final. This idea was created with good intentions. “Get it right” was the league’s goal. If you’re a loyal reader of the blog space, you are well aware of the number of times I have either mentioned instant replay or produced an entire blog on the subject but this one is different, i.e. it’s not about the interminable length of time the officials take – and then get it wrong, obviously wrong according to the broadcasters and replays that the viewers are shown.

This post is about the creative decision-making that is used when deciding exactly how much time is left during the end of a game, e.g. what the criteria seems to be is, as soon as the ball goes out of bounds, the clock is changed to what the clock inset on the video displays. The actual verbiage from the NBA’s Description of New Replay Rules is: The game officials are reasonably certain that a game clock malfunction has occurred during the play. (A game clock malfunction includes situations caused by a mechanical malfunction or human error, such as a clock starting too soon or too late or an inbound play, stopping during play (whether or not it is re-started), or running too quickly during play, but does not include discrepancies resulting from what the officials determine to be normal reaction time or reasonable anticipation in starting the clock (bold is mine).

Yet, time is always added. That’s because they do take into account the referee’s reaction to seeing the ball go out and the time it takes to actually blow the whistle. In addition, the time it takes for the timekeeper to hear the whistle and send the message to the brain to stop the clock. I have no problem with this method as it is a truer indication of the correct time that’s left to be played. Forgive me for not recalling which game it was (I believe it as the Cavs-Wizards from Tuesday night) when the official changed the clock from, I believe 1.2 or 1.3 to 2.0 seconds. The ball can be seen going out of bounds with exactly 2.0 seconds and no time for human instincts.

Where this new version of “let’s go to the replay” fails is that same action happens every time a whistle is blown! To be totally accurate – and fair – the officials would have to check the clock throughout the entire game. Maybe there is some sort of technology being devised to do just that since it’s blatantly apparent that is not a feasible answer. Games would take an eternity to complete and nobody (with the exception of concessionaires) would be in favor. Yet, are we really getting a true winner each game?

Without doubt, the NBA has good intentions for all involved – players, coaches, administrators, owners and, of course, fans. So, it looks as though the NBA has to decide: 1) leave the game as it now is (even though an inordinate amount of time is being “wasted” – until the referees, or Crew Chief, make a decision), 2) go back to the human element and let the games play out as they used to or 3) find some techno genius who can have the clock synched to the officials’ whistle (I recall an experiment done with NCAA officials, and possibly NBA refs as well, but there were far too many malfunctions).

If the NBA is intent on getting it right, maybe they should take the attitude that the greatest inventor of all time had. When Thomas Edison would try out an idea that did not produce the result he’d hoped for, he didn’t view it as a failure. He would simply say:

“Well, I’ve just discovered another way it DOESN’T work.”

 

Can the Clippers-Rockets Game 5 Result Be Explained?

May 13th, 2015

After watching the first four games of the Houston Rockets-Los Angeles Clippers, anyone would have predicted the Clips would be heading back to the beach for some R&R until the Warriors-Grizzlies series ended. L.A. had been so dominant in the series – at both ends of the court. Defensively, they took Houston out of the action they usually run, which most of the time culminates with James Harden getting the ball with the floor spread. When that happens, in general something good occurs for the Rockets, e.g. Harden taking the ball to the hole (and getting fouled), the bearded one passing to big guys whose defenders moved up to help on his penetration, or Harden pivoting and throwing the ball to open shooters stationed beyond the three-point line. And 1’s, dunks and wide open threes – that offensive strategy got the Rockets the #2 seed in the tough Western Conference.

When Dwight Howard accepted Houston’s offer, the Rockets, wisely, sought out the services of Hakeem Olajuwon. Howard had been relying on overpowering defenders – because he could. At 6’11”, 265 pounds (with minimal body fat), the big man was both a immovable object and an unstoppable force. Olajuwon took the (gigantic) diamond in the rough and showed him that finesse can be as potent a weapon as power. Howard improved his footwork immensely and it was apparent that he’d put time in to learn actual offensive moves, although none are to be confused with “The Dream Shake.” The major problem Howard was having in this particular series was, while his moves have gotten better, simply put, they’re no match for the defense of DeAndre Jordan who, all season, was a strong candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year (he finished third). In addition, every so often, the Clippers change up their coverage to further confuse the big guy.

When the Rockets were on defense, their biggest issue was the one that leads to defeat nearly every time – they couldn’t keep L.A.’s ballhandlers in front of them. In Game 1 – in Houston – the Clips’ point guard, Chris Paul, who’d injured his hamstring (while making one incredible play after another) in Game 7’s defeat of the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, was in street clothes. The coach’s son, Austin Rivers, started in his place. (Side note: Has there ever been a more perfect storm than the 22-year old Rivers, who wasn’t always beloved as a teammate during is one year at Duke nor during his three previous seasons in New Orleans, finding a home with his dad. How many times do coaches coach their son and it’s a disaster, e.g. dad gives son green light but neither are proficient at coaching or playing to realize it’s a bad strategy; dad is so hard on his kid, it has a negative effect on the youngster’s performance; other players resent coach and or player, etc. With the Rivers’ guys, Doc is a brilliant coach (as his championship with the Celtics would attest), the other players claim the coach rides his son worse than the others BUT it’s so well-adjusted a family that Austin feels comfortable to “play his game,” realizing that if his dad gets on him, it’s never personal, always about basketball – and that when all is said and done, he has his father’s unconditional love. This dynamic has unleashed the skills everyone knew Austin had because of the extreme confidence Doc has in him.)

After winning Game 1, the Rockets barely held on to win Game 2. Then came two games in Los Angeles. The place was packed (no such animal as the “fashionably late arriving crowd.” The fans knew that the Clippers only had to win their home games to move onto the Western Conference finals. Plus, the return of Chris Paul further juiced up an already frantic crowd. Their team had outplayed the Rockets, basically, for the majority of both Games 1 & 2. The fans, with new owner Steve Ballmer leading the cheers, smelled blood when the Clips began pulling away – and the result was a 25 point blowout, only to be followed by another beat down, this one by 33. The next, most obvious question for Clipper Nation was, “Who’s next, the Warriors or the Grizzlies?”

Then, Game 5 and, can you believe it – role reversal – the first time a team that had lost two playoff games by at least 25 points won the next one. When a friend of mine mentioned how inexplicable Game 5 was and asked me what I thought would happen next, I could only state the obvious:

“That’s why they’re playing Game 6.”

Is It Possible for Anyone to Be Impartial with the NFL’s Ruling of Deflategate?

May 12th, 2015

Anyone who declares sports, whether it be playing, watching or both, are a major part of life is aware that the word fan is short for fanatic. That being the case, everything that comes out of the mouth of a fan (using the literal meaning of the word) should be disregarded when discussing a controversial subject, i.e. if you idolize a player, you’ll let more slide than if you despise him. As we’re witnessing, a lot more. Of course, there are many categories in between those two. Let’s take a look at both sides.

The current major topic being bantered is the NFL’s ruling against Tom Brady and the Patriots. A four game suspension for the Pats’ QB for not fully cooperating with Ted Wells’ investigation isn’t surprising for two reasons. One is that it took so long (people wanted it to be simple, did he or didn’t he?) The other was Wells strongly felt Brady was stonewalling, as well as lying to, him. People don’t like being played and Wells was frustrated. But . . . while the investigation absolved the franchise, including coach Bill Belichick, of any wrongdoing, the NFL took away a first- and fourth-round draft pick. To further illustrate how upset they were – or just to show how powerful (they think) they are – they levied the biggest team fine in NFL history – $1 million. Mixed message.

Brady’s lawyer (and undoubtedly Tom’s biggest fan), Don Yee, (not unexpectedly) made the statement that the ruling “is ridiculous and has no legitimate basis.” When their livelihood is billable hours (something the public learned long ago from John Grisham), that’s exactly what a client expects his legal mouthpiece to say. Because the tone of Yee’s remark is so indignant, it supports the theory that “everybody hates lawyers . . . until they need one.”

When Pats’ fans were interviewed, they were borderline hysterical. Comments ranged from, “He did it all the time, but it was because they were all OVERinflated” to “Such BS. They couldn’t prove anything so they just added this ‘more probable than not’ BS so it seemed less like a gigantic waste of time and money” to “What if it was done by the Colts’ ballboy and management trying to frame the Patriots? Cuz that’s what I seriously think.” Seriously? Of course, there were other quotes coming out of Boston, several of which were X-rated. You guys can imagine what they were. Hint: Whatever you imagine is correct. Or worse.

Wait, now, let’s not forget the flip side – the New England Patriots and Tom Brady haters. One post read, “Ban the New England Patriots from the NFL and strip them of their Super Bowl XLIX.”  Another entry was “First Spygate. Now Deflategate. Conclusion: Cheaters gonna cheat.” And, “If Bob Kraft is a true man of integrity, he will take it out of the league’s hands and fire Belichick. Not holding my breath.” Good idea. The part about not holding your breath.

Former NFL QB and current ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer addressed the severity of the punishment, explaining four games is entirely too long. Is Dilfer’s response that of a level-headed observer or, being a true insider, does he know what type of shenanigans go on with quarterbacks, ball boys, locker room attendants and footballs, and thinks the real crime was getting caught? Another ESPN analyst, Tedy Bruschi, weighed in with his feeling. “We play! That’s what we do. We don’t talk. We play. You come to Foxborough, it’s gonna be snowing. It’s gonna be cold. C’mon in here! You wanna say all you want? You wanna change the rules? Change ‘em! We still play. And we win. That’s what we do.” Then, again, Bruschi’s opinion cannot be considered exactly neutral.

How will Brady’s legacy be affected? The answer for some will be “not at all” (guess which side those people are on?) For the other side it might be “tainted” – just like Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds and Marion Jones. If that was the case, it would so ironic since one act is “pumping up” while the other is “deflating.”

Dwayne Allen, tight end for the Indianapolis Colts, the other team in the game in question, took a different angle when asked his thoughts, “They could have played with soap for balls and beat us. Simply the better team. We have to continue to build!” Something to be said for mixing humility with humor.

As Steve Politi of NJ.com jokingly said:

“The Deflategate story is the perfect no-middle-ground issue. Either you think that Tom Brady and the Patriots cheated and deserve to have the book thrown at them, or you live in New England.”

 

 

Enduring a Season of Relentless Pressure from the Media, Blatt Provides an Outstanding Analogy

May 11th, 2015

Other than the first and the fifteenth, NBA coaches don’t have the one of the more enviable jobs. Other than a handful of them, the employees they count on most make significantly more money than hey do. Often, what they know best, they can’t use because “higher ups” meddle. Sometimes the meddling even comes from the players. Unless a coach possesses an additional title, e.g. general manager or president, his fate is mostly determined by how the players perform or, occasionally, by a referee’s call (or non-call).

And, then, the (not-so) poor coach is mandated by the league to attend a post game press conference, where await for him a bunch of people who, in many cases (especially if the team lost – or worse, if it’s mired in a losing streak), seem to revel in posing questions that will make him look incompetent no matter what answer he offers. Of all the NBA coaches who had to go through this grind (plus, those who are still involved in the process), Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt has had it worse than any of his colleagues (usually, the word “arguably” would be inserted but, for this year, that’s completely unnecessary).

What has turned into the nomination for soap opera of the year began innocently enough when Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert offered his vacant head coaching position to a guy who had experienced nothing but phenomenal success, over a long period of time, at the highest level of basketball (not called the NBA). People were lauding the move, especially fellow coaches from all levels of hoops, exclaiming Blatt to be a great choice, independent of the fact he had no experience on the NBA level. A former player at Princeton where he learned under the legendary Hall of Fame coach, Pete Carril, Blatt had to think he had hit the lottery.

Then, the Cavs made a move that was to thrust him into a job that even that no Hall of Fame tutelage nor Ivy League education could prepared him for – they brought back LeBron James. Blatt’s maiden voyage into the NBA coaching wars just gave him, arguably, the biggest weapon of all. Where the expectations of success changed from, “Go ahead, Dave, show ‘em what you got!” to “Whoa, does anybody think the new guy is ready for this?” Or as Sean Highkin of Pro Basketball Talk reported on January 15, “Talk of his being fired has been present practically since the start of the season.” Good luck, Coach.

Simultaneously adding to the strength of the team and the overwhelming pressure the new head man now faced, the Cleveland front office made some powerful moves. First, they acquired (supposedly with James’ overt gestures to make it known how much the team needed him and how much LeBron wanted him), Kevin Love joined the roster. When it looked like the title hopes were crushed after losing Anderson Varejao on December 23, they added big man Timofey Mozgov and traded for defensive stopper Iman Shumpert and sharp shooter J.R. Smith from the Knicks. A season of learning the NBA game, with all the nuances and idiosyncrasies that take coaches years to understand, the season became a season under the microscope. Reporters and writers (some of whom were in favor of hiring each one’s favorite son) were poised to scrutinize Blatt’s every move. Toss in social media and both pregame (first) and postgame (second) guessing took on lives all their own.

Blatt’s start was reminiscent of what Erik Spoelstra encountered following the formation of the Big Three in Miami, i.e. rocky. Probably because he had no other choice, the rookie coach (a term that was used ad infinitum) endured and the squad became to realize success. But nothing short of a trip to the NBA Finals at worst or, an NBA championship at best, will even approach silencing his critics. And, in this day and age of screwed up expectations, even those might not suffice.

In Game 4 of their series with the Bulls, a loss would have put them down 1-3, facing three straight elimination games (they hoped), the Cavs fell behind, only to rally and go ahead by five with under 30 seconds to go. As has happened, seemingly, the majority of the season, strange events occur. Summarizing, 1) the Bulls hit five points in a row, 2) the Bulls’ use multiple times out (as in all they had left) just to inbound the ball, 3) Blatt signals for a time out (that they don’t have), with a) he’s restrained and b) no referee noticing (had the Cavs been granted one, resulting in a technical foul and, most certainly, a Bulls’ victory, Blatt might have left the country – of his own volition, 4) James drives to the basket and possibly getting fouled – but no call, 5) the referees huddle to check the exact time left (thus, affording the time out they didn’t have to the Cavs, 6) resetting the game clock from 0.8 seconds to 1.5 and 7) LeBron James nailing a basket at the buzzer – tying the series at 2-2.

During the presser that followed, a reporter asked a question regarding James’ dominating the ball and trying to make (force) plays whenever he touched it. Pointing out that James had 8 turnovers, he asked the coach, “Do you want to live and die with LeBron?”

Blatt finally got a chance to put that Princeton education to use. The exchange follows:

Blatt: “When I go to dinner, I usually get the check. Do you know why?”

Reporter: “Because you make the most money.”

Blatt: “No. The reason is because I take it. LeBron, he takes the responsibility. He knows who he is, what he does, what he needs to do for this team and he takes responsibility.”