July 2nd, 2015

Heading to John Wayne airport to pick up younger son, Alex, who just finished a week of hoops (and other interesting items) in Costa Rica. This blog will return on Monday, July 6.

No sooner had the Golden State Warriors won their first NBA Championship – in 40 years – than the talk began regarding back-to-back titles. The first order of business, because not only did the Warriors win it all, but they had the NBA’s best record to boot, was to make sure the team stayed intact. Last year Golden State had the highest payroll in the NBA at $83,433,316 which sounds like an awful lot of money to pretty much everybody, including the Warriors’ landlord, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, whose salary was a mere $78 million.

After picking up the $3.8 million team option on Marreese Speights’s contract and, yesterday, signing free agent Draymond Green, the total committed money for next year’s club (by my crude calculations) is hovering right at $80 million. For only nine players. But don’t panic, Warriors’ fans, that money is for the top nine players (Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Bogut, Iguodala, Livingston, Speights and Ezeli). Chances are, the defending champs will, once again, have the league’s highest payroll but, “Who cares!!!” scream the fans because if there are two things fans are great at they are 1) wildly supporting their beloved squad and 2) spending their owner’s money.

In all seriousness, why would owner Joe Lacob care about the money? It’s not like he’ll be on food stamps anytime soon and, when someone buys an NBA team, the goal is to win the NBA Championship. His bunch won it and (except for David Lee) has everybody back from a team that never faced an elimination game. In addition, it’s a young group (except for Iguodala who turned 31 this year, everybody else is in their 20s – between 25-29). The experience of winning a championship has got to make them stronger next year. Naturally, it goes without saying, that games lost due to injuries, especially to key players, must be avoided. (If it goes without saying, why did I say it?)

They have a coach in Steve Kerr who is wise beyond his years and certainly, with his one and only year of coaching completed, should be an even better coach (Xs & Os, strategy-wise and understanding nuances that occur throughout a game) next season. As far as people skills – mainly with the players – but also with the front office, other team personnel, the media and fans – few can match Kerr’s savvy.

According to Pat Riley – who would know – the Warriors need to beware of “The Disease of Me.” Google it and check out his six danger signals. Another coach who had experience in back-to-back (to back to back to back to back to back . . . ) championships, John Wooden, had the following belief on what is necessary:

“To win takes talent. To repeat takes character.”

 

Recruiting at the Highest Level

July 1st, 2015

The clock struck midnight and July 1 was upon us, meaning the beginning of NBA free agency. With it came the wining and dining of guys who have no trouble wining and dining themselves. Instead of colleges wooing 18-year olds, NBA franchises are begging getting together with older guys (some in their 20s), but who are now more proven performers. Many of these are the same guys who, after graduating from high school (and holding all the cards at that time as well), had to decide on where to ply their trade – and continue their education (unfortunately, but realistically, in that order). Although there was a time period in between (called the NBA draft) in which they were being told who they’d be employed by), they have regained control of their respective situations.

The NBA free agency process is similar to college recruiting, only on a much more expensive level. People who have only read or heard about both would be shocked at how much work goes into trying to sign a recruit or a free agent. Because there are rules on each, e.g. a college official visit can be no longer than 48 hours and NBA teams have salary limitations they can offer, the presentations must be as personalized and creative as possible. As an example, let’s look at the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.

The main three competitors for Jordan’s services are the Clippers, Lakers and Mavericks. In my estimation, the Lakers have next-to-no shot because everything the Lakers can offer, the Clippers can at least match – unless he was a huge Lakers fan as a kid or is steeped in NBA tradition. For the purpose of this blog, let’s assume neither (or that he yearns to play with Kobe for a year, two max).

So, it’s down to a two-horse race. Here’s a list of positives and negatives (in no particular order, mainly because I’m not privy to what Jordan’s priorities are – beyond what has been reported, which is usually quite a distance from the truth). It usually comes down to the comfort level of the player – on, and off, the court. One point in Dallas’ favor is Jordan, a high character guy, is originally from Texas (Houston) and, undoubtedly, still has family in the state. However, the number of NBA players who live in Texas is dwarfed by the number who have homes in LA – independent of whichever NBA team is their employer. “Family” is something that doesn’t change, e.g. the Clippers can’t give him “better” relatives. Ditto when it comes to weather. Neither franchise can make a dent in the other’s strength – nor should they try.

Money, which is a determining factor in the lives of so many humans, is not really a factor because the Clippers can offer 5 years and $110 million, while the Mavs can put a 4 year deal for $80 million on the table. However, Texas has no state tax while California residents pay an ungodly sum to the state – and, without getting too technical, it’s reported some of this season’s free agents want shorter deals because after a new collective bargaining agreement is signed, there will be – as if what they’re paying players now is chicken feed – unprecedented spending.

From a basketball perspective, it’s been reported that Jordan doesn’t want to be fourth or fifth option on offense (his current offensive role with the Clips). Dallas will undoubtedly paint a rosy picture of Jordan offensively, sharing center stage with Dirk Nowitzki (no player’s ego is so out of control that he thinks his offensive role will surpass that of the face of the Mavericks franchise). Since there are no stats to hold them to, Dallas can claim pretty much anything and, certainly, will point out the fact that when Blake Griffin was out with an injury, Jordan’s points per game jumped from 11.5 to nearly 15. There are many holes in that argument but most have to deal with DJ actually believing (which, apparently he does not) that his major role – with whomever he plays – is to rebound and block shots. Why is it that people who excel in an area of life seldom are satisfied with being the best at what they do? Oh, and rest assured, there will be no mention of “Hack-a-DJ” by either team.

Side story: One of the college teams I worked with had a guy whose role with our squad was identical to DJ’s – and, naturally, he wanted a bigger offensive role. One day he approached me and said that we had “plays” for each of our other four starters and questioned why there wasn’t a play or two for him. My message was, “We shoot 43% as a team. That means 57% of the plays are designed for you.” He laughed, not happy with the response, but understanding it.

The yin and yang of this story is the Clippers’ roster has a better chance of winning it all but the Mavs actually won one – and the guy who was the Finals MVP is still there. Doc Rivers couldn’t have promoted a player any more than he did DJ last year but there are rumors of a personality clash between Jordan and Chris Paul. Then again, who would you rather have as your point guard? Nowitzki is a bona fide All-Star; Blake Griffin is today’s superstar. But then you get into that third banana thing again.

Whoever wins the wooing of DeAndre Jordan will come down to which franchise will tug most at his heart strings/appeal to his ego. Also, will his decision be made by his head or his heart (or his agent, but that’s another story altogether)? Both owners are filthy rich (Steve Ballmer has a more money than Mark Cuban but once someone’s net worth exceeds $1,000,000,000, you figure, unless the fortune is inherited – not the case for either man – the person’s intelligence is not to be questioned).

It might just come down the strength of Los Angeles, e.g. Hollywood (that Dallas can’t come close to) versus the imagination of Mark Cuban. Listening to Jordan speak, and seeing his personality in action, he seems like he’d be a natural for TV or movies. And, unless there’s something we don’t know, it seems that those kind of roles would be very attractive to him. Endorsement opportunities abound in LA, but Cuban knows enough people “in the business world” to make comparable offers happen.

Rumor has it the Clips are putting together a kind of This Is Your Life, DeAndre Jordan presentation for their meeting with their center. What X factor will Cuban counter with? If I knew that answer, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be blogging at 2:30 am. Creativity and shrewd thinking are characteristics of Mark Cuban. He lives by the quote I read long ago:

“Did you ever go to a movie and laugh? Ever go to one and cry? You think it’s because of what they put in the seats?”

 

Larry Nance, Jr. Surpassed Frank Sinatra in One Tweet

June 30th, 2015

Way back in 2012, a young college kid tweeted, in reference to the case in which a female hotel employee claimed Kobe Bryant had forced himself sexually on her, “Gee I sure hope Kobe can keep his hands to himself in Denver this time,” ending his message with “#rapist.” That college kid was the University of Wyoming’s Larry Nance, Jr. Fast forward to this past season and the younger Nance garnered the Player of the Year award in the Mountain West Conference. He also realized the dream of every young boy who grew up playing basketball – he was a first round draft pick in the NBA.

Yet, not everything went so smoothly on draft night for the younger Nance because of the team that selected him. Yup, the Los Angeles Lakers. Maybe it’s not every youngster’s favorite squad growing up but it can’t be lower than third. Whether or not that was the case for younger Larry, the tweet changed everything. Frank Sinatra, in his mega-hit My Way, sang that the regrets he had were “too few to mention.” Larry Nance’s tweet would definitely not fit into that category.

Nance, Jr. understands what the NBA is about since his dad, Larry Nance, Sr., following a stellar career at Clemson, spent 13 highly productive years in the league for the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The elder Nance scored over 15,000 points, won the slam dunk contest (1984), was a three time All-Star and had his jersey retired by the Cavs. If he made any comments to his son at the time the youngster used social media to make a statement regarding Bryant’s behavior isn’t known, but there’s little doubt dad has since provided some wise counsel to his son.

The apology from Larry, Jr. was immediately sent to Kobe. After its contents became public, it showed someone who displayed a great deal of remorse. The 2012 tweet, and subsequent letter of apology, should serve as exhibit A when kids anyone decides to use social media to criticize another person. The charges in that case were dropped after the woman refused to testify, a civil suit was settled and Bryant, while never admitting guilt, publicly apologized. Yet, at that time, Nance’s feelings were shared by an abundance of others throughout the country. Once his name was called on draft night, however, had he had the power to go back in time to that particular moment, you can bet his choice would have been different.

As far as Kobe’s reaction to the apology? “The kid figured it out himself,” Bryant told him. “Dude, listen. We’ve all said things and done things that we regret and wish we could take back.” Kobe Bryant is known for his elephant-like memory but, maybe, time – and maturity – have mellowed him. Still and all, when the two play together, it would be a wise suggestion to the rookie that he’d better not blow an offensive or defensive assignment.

In what might be the leading candidate for top understatement of the year, Larry Nance, Jr. said:

“It was definitely something I’ll learn from.”

What’s All This Talk About the “New” NBA Trend?

June 29th, 2015

During the NBA Playoffs I listened to the NBA station on Sirius-XM. The various shows would give different perspective regarding strategies, interview players and coaches (both current and former), take callers (some of whom are really out there) and discuss all aspects the game. When a station is 24 hour pro hoops (somewhat deceptive because shows are rerun throughout the day – still, it’s all NBA, all the time), much gets discussed. And when much is discussed, there’s bound to be controversy.

Often the comments aren’t as controversial as they are nonsensical, especially when they’re made by one of the “stat heads” (see yesterday’s blog for the definition). Some of the remarks make you do a “double hear ” (it’s like a double take but with listening). One such comment came a couple days ago and, while I can remember who said it (host or a guest being interviewed), I do recall it was a former player.

His statement was that today’s NBA is trending toward “small ball” – and actually has been for quite a while. He referenced past champions to prove his point, even including the style employed by the Spurs. “And don’t tell me Tim Duncan is a big man,” is how he concluded his theory.

No one on this or any other planet will ever argue that the Warriors philosophy is anything but small ball. While the Spurs offense is based on player movement (call it “old time” ball if you want – or “non-hero” as some have labeled it), to say Tim Duncan isn’t a big man is a bit of a stretch, mainly because . . . he’s the epitome of a big man. Coaches at all levels show videos of Duncan to their big men, explaining how to run the floor to create deep position, how to locate the defender before making a back to the basket move, how a plethora of moves is unnecessary as long as you can perfect two or three, how to have patience so if a double team comes, you can find open teammates – not to mention how to defend on the low block. To make the claim that small ball is trending because the Warriors won it all using it is one thing, but . . . even disregarding the Spurs, small ball wasn’t what won champions in the recent past.

Prior to San Antonio’s victory in 2014, four of the previous five winners were led by either LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, who were voted Finals MVP twice each. What a person can conclude from that “trend” is the team with the game’s best player has the best chance of winning it all. The biggest argument at that time among fans was, “Who is better, Kobe or LeBron”? Because he was hurt nearly all of last year, some fans’ minds, as they are wont to do, have forgotten the brilliance of Bryant’s shot making, defense and maniacal desire to win.

The other championship team during that time, i.e. the one that was in between the Lakers two championship squads and Miami’s pair, was the Dallas Mavericks – whose best player, and Finals MVP (we learned this year that those two are not necessarily the same), was Dirk Nowitzki. Seven foot tall Dirk Nowitzki. Although it is difficult to refer to him as a “big man,” small ball doesn’t include seven footers.

Face it, as long as the hoop is 10 feet in the air, size will always be a factor in basketball. But, just as the recent draft is no indication that teams will draft centers first, small ball has not taken over the NBA. At least the trend will have to occur for a few more years.

A very close friend of mine, upon hearing of this small ball sensation, said if fans really wanted to see small ball, i.e. if they wanted to eliminate the big man or not have size matter, all the NBA needs to do is change one rule:

“Raise the basket to 15 feet. Then, it’s all about skill.”

Why Not Give Analysts Won-Loss Records?

June 28th, 2015

There is a thought that has been rumbling around in my head for quite some time (there’s plenty of room to rumble in there now that I’m retired). What might have finally got me to comment on it was watching Ryne Sandberg’s press conference announcing he was stepping down as the Phillies’ manager. The move was certainly one he’d never dreamed would happen when he took the reins at Philly. No coach ever takes a job and expects to fail, especially to the point where he steps down or is let go. When we listen to some guys after a big win or a championship, it often sounds like the coach might have “practiced” the comments. Yet, what coach would ever work on a speech after he lost – be it a game or his job? I mean, who goes into a job thinking anything but success?

Here’s my idea. There is so much commentary from the media about sports – and a large portion of it deals with the negative. Talking (and writing) heads have been saying either Phil Jackson is ruining the Knicks by drafting a not-ready-for-prime-time-player in Kristaps Porzingis (the next Darko Milicic) or he got the steal of the draft getting a guy with size (by the way, didn’t he look three inches taller than 7’0″ Frank Kaminsky?) and incredible skills who could be the next Dirk Nowitzki. Some media guys are saying Phil’s biggest mistake was overpaying Carmelo Anthony, someone who took the deal because he’s more interested in money than winning; others are complaining Jackson screwed over Melo by not consulting with him regarding the selection of Porzingis. Still others believe in Phil Jackson and are casting their “vote” for him. Let’s see how it plays out in New York and, then, “look it up” to see how those who weighed in with a comment fared.

Or, all the folks who feel the Lakers made a mistake by selecting D’Angelo Russell with the second pick (or those who praised it), should be on record for all to see (with modern technology, it doesn’t seem like there couldn’t be a link, constantly updated, where a fan could go to see D’Angelo Russell: super, good, average, poor – and which media member went which way regarding how the young guy would fair in the NBA his first (second, third, etc.) season.

All of that chatter makes for intriguing reading and listening. So why don’t we, in this “age of information.” keep accounts of which talker (or writer) made which claims. Coaches are usually paid (at least after a few years on the job) based on their record of success. Should the teams they lead win (which, like it or not, is why they get paid), they are in for bonuses and/or contract extensions. Since it’s become so easy for the techies to gather and store information, why not record prognosticators’ predictions?

If somebody hits on 90% of his opinions two or three years running, that guy ought to be lauded – and paid. If somebody’s selections (based on his research, experience and gut instinct) comes in at only 25%, that guy ought to be terminated – with, of course, some type of severance package. Then, those analyzing the draft (or who’s going to play in the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, World Series, whatever their “specialty” is), would understand what it’s like to be a coach. If the guy’s picks are continually low but he’s a “fan favorite,” i.e. he draws viewers and listeners or gets major hits, he can certainly be retained at the station’s or paper’s discretion – but at least his “won-loss” record would be public knowledge (doesn’t “the public’s right to know” apply to what comes out of a media member’s mouth or mind, as well)? My idea would be especially intriguing for the new breed of “stat heads” – guys who never strapped it on but who love to be part of athletics so they’ve memorized tons of sports minutiae, e.g. who the leading rusher was in Super Bowl XXI and how many yards he had.

Sure, there will be situations beyond someone’s control, e.g. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle get hurt before their careers even get started, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson getting suspended for actions no one could have (or, at least, did) predicted. There are others who fail drug tests, subsequently, losing games or, even, a season. We’d have to give a pass in those instances. But, consider what happens to a coach or manager. It makes winning exponentially more difficult and, almost always, the team’s performance falls off. It hurts the team’s chances for success immeasurably, putting the coach’s job at risk. Such unexpected situations would be the same with predictions so, if nothing else, the media (who’s record would likewise dip) would experience empathy – a trait that’s severely lacking in TV, radio and print comments.

TV and radio analysts, as well as columnists (and social media) tend to gloss over their inaccurate calls. Really, who wants to point out mistakes – especially if it occurs again and again (and, sometimes again and again)? Coaches don’t have that luxury because they’re held accountable for the team’s performance. My proposal is to give the mouthpieces “records,” too, so they can be held to the same standards. Think of the bragging rights that would go to the guys who, time after time, have their prophecies come true.

Unfortunately, it would never fly if the vote where left up to the talking and writing heads. It wouldn’t be agreed to by those people mainly because, while it might be a way to increase their earnings and, certainly, popularity, many aren’t nearly as confident, be it because they find having an opinon so much easier after the fact and because, face it, poor performance could lead to losing a sweet gig. Other than lewd and lascivious behavior – and, possibly, plagiarism – job security in that business is relatively stable (except for cutbacks which, will never be a factor in coaching). Falsifying a resume has caused several coaches their jobs but when media people exaggerate their accomplishments, it’s just a public embarrassment. And, then, only if exposed. What many of them say and what they actually did, often vary – by a quite a bit.

This proposal would mean more work (definitely for their interns if they’re so fortunate) and preparation would be necessary, as opposed to talking off the top of the head, which many find so much simpler, not to mention a heckuva lot more fun. However, it would be immensely popular with the fans. Studio analysis has become synonymous with games – pre, during and post (including days pre and post). In fact, game results (and accompanying strategies) are talked about more, in terms of actual hours and minutes, than the contests themselves. Anybody can pick an upset but for someone to do – and explain why - and then have it happen, that’s makes for serious credibility. As fans have their favorite coaches (to love or disrespect), this idea would give them media members to brag about – or call for their heads. On a personal note (as I’ve blogged so many times in the past), preparation and ability to call plays before they happen is why I believe Gary Danielson is, far and away, the best college football color commentator.

As Stephen Covey said many years ago:

“We judge others by their actions, ourselves by our intentions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing the “What If” Game With the 1984 Draft

June 27th, 2015

Welcome back. Here’s hoping the computer – which just got a clean bill of health – will function the way I, a techno-idiot, needs it to.

For the sake of argument (and this blog), let’s consider the following situation: The 1984 first two draft picks were reversed, i.e. Portland had the number one pick and Houston selected second?

Portland, obviously, would have selected Hakeem Olajuwon (since no one felt Sam Bowie was better than Olajuwon – and they had a rising superstar in second guard Clyde Drexler). Then, it would have been Houston’s pick. Houston – who had just finished 12th (last). Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes had just retired at the end of the 1983-83 season and although The Big E appeared in 81 of 82 games, the 6’9″ forward averaged a mere five points in only a little over 12 minutes a game. The Rockets had traded 6’9″ power forward James Bailey (and a pick) for 6’3″ point guard John Lucas (and a pick). In addition, 6’11” center Caldwell Jones had moved from the Rockets to, of all places, the Bulls, and Caldwell’s brother, 6’9″ power forward Major Jones, played the following season in Detroit.

The only size the Rockets had was 7’4″ center/power forward Ralph Sampson who won the Rookie-of-the-Year award after having been the number one overall pick (the Rockets had finished last the previous year as well). They returned 6’6″ second guard Lewis Lloyd who had averaged nearly 18 points a game during his second season in the league and 6’8″ small forward Robert Reid who was the team’s third leading scorer at 14 points a game. It’s already part of history that Houston loved the idea of a “Twin Towers.”

The big question, then, would be, did the Rockets know what the Blazers apparently didn’t, that Sam Bowie’s bones were worse than he was letting on? Or, did they truly feel that Jordan was the better choice? That is a subject that has never been discussed. Did the Rockets believe that Michael Jordan was destined to be the G.O.A.T.?

Even if they did – why has everyone given Houston a pass on not selecting the greatest player of all-time? Sure, they picked a guy who was voted one of the best 50 players ever and he did lead them to two NBA Championships but . . . they only won when Michael “retired” (please don’t count the mini-season he had). It’s hard to find fault with their taking The Dream but, the fact remains that they, as well as Portland, picked someone other than Michael Jordan – when they could have. Note: There is a school of thought (although I’m not too sure exactly how big that school is) that the championship Rockets’ clubs would have beaten the Bulls had MJ not gone to baseball. But that, too, is something that will remain talk for guys at the bar – or the ones who call in to talk shows (probably the same guys).

It probably will never be known what would have transpired had the order been reversed but there was a guy who not only knew, but is on record, as thinking MJ was the way to go. As the story had been told many times, Bob Knight, who’d coached Jordan in the ’84 Olympics told is good friend, Portland general manager Stu Inman, to take Michael with the second pick. When Inman explained to Knight that they had a budding superstar 2 guard in Drexler (who also was voted a Top 50 player of all-time) and desperately needed a center, Knight’s advice was:

“So take Jordan – and play him at center.”

So, How Did He Do?

June 23rd, 2015

On 10/2/14, I blogged about Steve Kerr and his decision to leave his broadcast seat for one a little further down the sidelines. It’s interesting to reflect on what was written – especially when there’s no way of knowing how things will turn out.

Still dealing with computer issues and my man, Jeff, from the Geek Squad told me he can’t get here until July. We’re taking our younger son, Alex, to the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, where he and our older son, Andy (who works and lives in Newport Beach) will fly to Costa Rica for a basketball tournament made up of other D-II, D-III and NAIA players. Alex is playing, Andy’s on R&R.

This labor of love (the blog, not their trip) will be up and running once Agent Jeff diagnoses – and fixes – the problem.

One year while Steve Kerr was serving in the dual capacity of General Manager/Director of Basketball Operations for the Phoenix Suns, he had to hire a new coach. At the time he had a blog and, when asked the question of whether he would take the head coaching job, Kerr responded, “I don’t have experience…coaching is a job that requires training and I haven’t coached at any level…In short, I’m not ready.”

Fast forward to today and Kerr’s embarking on his new job (following his highly acclaimed work as television analyst for NBA games) as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. His unfiltered analysis of (now rival) coaches’ decisions will this season be critiqued by, among others, Mark Jackson, the guy he replaced at Golden State. If anyone needs an example of irony, that will suffice?

As with other analysts-turned-coaches (Doug Collins, Doc Rivers and Jackson), his moves will be open to second guessing – because it’s infinitely easier, and so much more fun, to explain what move should have been utilized after knowing how things turned out. The fact that the Warriors have one of the better rosters in the NBA should make his job both easier (it’s no fun trying to win with a less than competitive club – ask Mike D’Antoni and Brett Brown or, for that matter, Jason Kidd, after this season ends) and more difficult (because, other than alienating the head honchos – and that’s a BIG “other than” – Mark Jackson led last year’s Warriors to a 51-31 record and, although they lost in the first round of the playoffs, it was against the talented LA Clippers in seven games).

After the first official day on the court, All-Star Steph Curry said it was a great practice. Following the second day, Kerr claimed it was better than the first which, he stated, is the goal – to get better everyday. It was reported that in the off season, in an effort to get to bond with his guys, Kerr played golf with Curry, flew to Australia to meet with center Andrew Bogut and went to LA to have dinner with David Lee (the first two I can understand reporting, the third . . . well, I’ve had dinner with many people in LA and the trip is more of an inconvenience for me than it is Kerr, so I found that as a bit of a stretch when talking about Kerr’s off season encounters).

Both Curry and his partner in treys, Klay Thompson, played for Team USA’s World Cup of Basketball’s gold-winning squad. Many in the know, i.e. the league, are calling them the best backcourt in the game. Naturally, they need Bogut and Lee to stay healthy and log big minutes, too. Add to that base group Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala (and, of course, others who have the ability to play complementary roles) and Coach Kerr will find out whether that experience and training he was lacking several years ago were overcome by hours of watching film, attending other NBA teams’ practices and critiquing games analyst Kerr had been doing.

He’ll be thrown into the fire soon enough as his squad opens at The Staples Center against the best basketball team in Los Angeles (and we all know who that is – now). Both Collins and Rivers before him had success moving from the commentator’s spot to the head coach’s job (as, to a lesser extent, did Jackson).

When deciding on how good a job Steve Kerr did, the old adage will apply:

“Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”

Being in the Huddle Trumps Observing the Huddle

June 19th, 2015

Due to major computer issues (this post took three times as long to produce because of lack of speed, surprising deletions and other problems), this blog will be temporarily suspended until my man from the Geek Squad, Jeff, pays us a visit early next week. Please check periodically beginning next Tuesday. If there are no new posts, I implore you to scroll to a topic or person who interests you and click on. I’ve done thousands of these and I’ve tried to make each one either entertaining or educational. Sometimes both.

In today’s world of sports journalism (as has been mentioned in this blogspace on more than one occasion), the paradigm has shifted from accuracy to scooping the competition.”Get it first” seems to beat “get it right” entirely too often. Marc Stein wrote a piece yesterday about the dynamic between LeBron James and David Blatt during the NBA Finals. To provide credibility that only Doris Burke could match, Stein penned, “I saw it from close range in my role as sideline reporter through the Finals for ESPN Radio.”

Stein’s article was insightful and, as far as he could tell, fairly done. As a former coach, current father of a college basketball player and fan, I find much of the behavior of NBA players abhorrent. As far as how James treated his coach during the Finals, it did appear that if it had to be summed up in one word, respect would not be that word. If we were to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt, we could say that he was overwhelmed with the series and all he needed to do in order to lead his team to a championship (the Cavs did win two games which were two more than most people felt they would win after Kyrie Irving went down in OT of Game 1) under some severely adverse conditions, the main one of which would be that the Cavs were out-manned – in quality but also quantity.

To add a different angle, permit me to inject a personal story. During the 1991-92 season I served as associate head coach at USC. We were in the stretch run of what would be a fabulous season (our Pac-10 conference record would turn out to be 15-3 but we would come in second to UCLA who went 16-2 even though we had beaten them twice – yeah, we got no help from any of the other conference teams).

Although I’m not absolutely certain, I believe it was our game against Oregon. We were playing them at home and it was one of my scouts (in addition to splitting up the non-conference games, each assistant had three conference teams to scout). In any case, it was late in the game and we were clinging to a slight lead. The Ducks had just made a couple substitutions which set off a signal in my mind. I remembered, as I was preparing the scouting report, that if they ever had that particular lineup in the game, that none of them were shooters.

A media time out had been called and I suggested to our head coach, George Raveling, that we ought to get into “Fist” which was the zone defense that had been very good to us throughout the season (even though we were a predominantly man-to-man team defensively). One of our managers had handed George a clipboard, as he did prior to every time out, and George wrote down where in Fist each of our guys would be. He knelt in front of the team.

As George showed them the board, I said, “They have no shooters on the floor.” Immediately, Duane Cooper, our animated captain (and the best team leader I’ve been around in my 30-year college coaching career) shook his head and waved his hand over the clipboard. “NO! Coach Rave,” protested Coop. “Let us play them man. We can shut them down!”

George looked at the five young guys seated in front of him and said, “The scouting report says go zone. What do you guys think?”

Man!” they all screamed. George erased the board and said, “Let’s play man.”

The horn sounded and the huddle broke. George, sensing my frustration, turned and said, “Hey, Jack, look at them,” as he pointed to the guys, huddling about 10′ from us. Cooper was the most demonstrative. “I know what they’re saying,” George told me. “They’re saying the coaches wanted us to go zone and we said man, so we better not let these guys score. In fact, I guarantee you that’s what’s going on in that huddle.”

We got the stop we needed and knocked down free throws to win the game. In the locker room, I went up to Coop, feigning anger – which he saw through right away – and asked him what was going on in that impromptu gathering out on the floor following the time out. “Oh, man,” he laughed. “I told them, you know the coaches think we oughtta be in Fist and we just told them no, so we better shut these (guys) down or else it will be all our (butts) fo’ sho’.”

What I learned that day is that, if a coach can get “buy in” from the players (no matter how it’s accomplished), it’s better than all the coaching strategy in the world. That’s not to say the way it appeared LeBron James was acting toward David Blatt was excusable, just that:

“Being ON the inside is often quite different than being CLOSE to it.”  

 

Of Birthdays, Facebook and Doctor’s Appointments

June 18th, 2015

Yesterday was my birthday. It began innocently enough as I went for my once every six weeks haircut. My stylist is a terrific guy, I really enjoy visiting with him but I’ve noticed it takes half the time it used to to cut my hair. And costs four time what it did in the old days.

Otherwise, I spent the day like I do most days – going to doctor’s appointment(s), riding a stationary bike, doing yoga (mostly restorative), stretching, core strengthening exercises and fitting in some writing, e.g. blogging, research for future articles and speeches and, someday, a sequel to my book, Life’s A Joke. And, of course, eating. Some people eat to live, I live to eat. Sleeping 8-9 hours daily is considered a fun activity. That is pretty much my entire day.

My phone was blowing up yesterday and while I figured some people would wish me a happy birthday, I was stunned to get one message after another, all day (and night) long. Anyone who has been a loyal reader of my posts is cognizant of the fact that I am beyond technologically challenged. My entering the world of Facebook was moving into unchartered waters for me (I’ve never even attempted twitter, instagram, snapchat and whatever other “new forms of communication” I hear about from my two sons – both in their 20s). Still, when my phone wouldn’t stop vibrating – and it was going strong even as I began this blog – I thought it might have been experiencing seizures. I mean, over 125 (and counting) birthday wishes doesn’t exactly vault me into Oprah’s class but, for someone who’s been retired going on four years now, it was nice to know that many people would take even a couple seconds out of their day to send kind thoughts my way. Having lived in nine states, I’ve made a multitude of acquaintances. I heard from classmates (some I’ve known for over 60 years), former coaching and teaching colleagues, administrative and staff members, college players, high school students, radio and TV broadcast partners and, of course, friends. At my annual 10-day job as one of eight commissioners at Michael Jordan’s basketball camp in Santa Barbara, I’ll have to ask MJ how he deals with such unbridled adulation.

One message was from a friend who asked if birthdays counted when you retired. My reply was they counted when you retire . . . until “they” retire you. Then, nothing counts. After responding to him, I left for, what else, a doctor’s appointment. On my way, my college buddy gave me a happy birthday call and I explained I was off to a doctor’s appointment.  When he asked what for, I told him I wasn’t sure.

The day prior to this appointment, while in my primary care doctor’s office, I mentioned to him that I understood why people are upset with the insurance industry. I told him that the following day (yesterday) I had an appointment with a doctor and had no idea what the purpose of it was. I’d seen the guy (referred to me by my doctor) months ago and had just noticed it when I entered this appointment in the calendar on my phone (pretty tech savvy, huh?) a few days ago. When he asked me which doctor I was seeing, I said, “Smith,” whose office is across the hall.

My frustration with the doctors and insurance companies stemmed from, among others, my previous visit to that doctor. I related that I’d seen Dr. Smith and explained about the problem I was having with my right foot. An emergency surgery (a diskectomy at T 10-11 – thoracic back area) had caused severe nerve damage that affected me from my mid-back on down. He told me he couldn’t feel anything wrong and sent me to get x-rays – which were also of no help. His suggestion was that he could “burn” or “kill” those nerves in my right foot and I wouldn’t feel anything in that area. When I asked if that would solve the problem with my right foot, he said it wouldn’t but it might make me feel a little better. However, he cautioned, it might exacerbate my situation. I asked what percentages would he put on the success of surgery.

“50% chance of feeling better, but 50% percent chance of feeling worse.” What?!? I know how bad I feel now and, although my life’s no day at the beach, I’ve learned to deal with it. Worse? I voted no. When I questioned him as to whether he’d do it “if he were me” (a question I’ve found helpful in getting a clearer answer), he said he would not. I thanked him, yet his office set me up with a “follow up” appointment three months later. I explained to my doc extra procedures that were added by another doctor I’d seen the previous week but, after hearing the results of my visit, my primary care doctor (who’s been our family doctor for 20 years and in whom we couldn’t have more faith) agreed with that doctor’s findings. “Your EKG results were showing him something different and anytime we see something different, we believe extra care should be taken.” That was not the case with Dr. Smith, however.

So, there I was yesterday, across the hall, signing in right on time at 3:00 for my appointment with Dr. Smith. The guy at the desk asked me if I was sure about this appointment because they didn’t have it listed. Once again I checked my calendar and, sure enough, there it read, 3:00pm doctor’s appointment with Dr. . . . Jones. I had seen Dr. Smith previously (he was of no assistance) but, hey, Smith, Jones, it’s a natural mistake. As is usually the case, I didn’t have Dr. Jones’ number, only that he was a neurologist. I asked another worker if there was a Dr. Jones in that building, hoping I’d catch a break (since I was already late) but, no, there was no Dr. Jones – only another Dr. Smith.

I called my wife, who takes copious notes, and asked if she could give me Dr. Jones’ number. She said she’d check and get right back to me. I headed home. When I got there, she asked if I had received her text with the number and address I needed. She said she sent a text because if she called, I’d have to either write the number down (while I was driving) or remember it (and, while I used to have a great memory, it’s still great, only much, much shorter). I didn’t hear my phone announce the text (I was listening to John Maxwell’s latest audio book) but wondered why it hadn’t vibrated. Turned out it had vibrated but it was constantly vibrating with birthday wishes.

I called the office and, of course, heard “If this is a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911” (like if I had a medical emergency my first reaction would be, not to dial 911 but to look up my neurologist’s number), then listened to voice mail. The lady returned the call and I explained my confusion between the two most common American names and said that, unless there had been a medical breakthrough in my case, that there would be no need for me to reschedule. If they needed to bill me for the missed visit, so be it.

My next move was upstairs to punish myself on the exercise bike for wasting a good part of the day – with which I could have been exercising, reading or writing. Or doing my favorite activity (now that I can no longer play tennis or golf) – doing sudokus. For the record, I’ve never encountered one – easy, medium, difficult, extremely difficult, whatever category – that I couldn’t do (one of them took me a couple days but after starting over a few times, I successfully completed that one). Life’s little pleasures take on new meanings as you get older – especially if you refuse to immerse yourself in new adventures).

I never realized how powerful Facebook is. These messages, some as short as “HB,” were very much appreciated. Already, I’ve sent two “happy birthday” wishes – one to a friend and his wife who had a C-section on my birthday and the other to a girl whose birthday is a day after mine. Sometimes we need to be reminded that:

“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

 

 

How You Feel Toward the NBA Finals Reveals Much About You

June 17th, 2015

Now that the NBA season has finally drawn to a close, most fans will fall into one of two categories (P or N). See which one more accurately describes how you feel.

P – Golden State was truly a selfless team, had the #1 defense in the league, played with enthusiasm, was the best team all year, was the best team throughout the playoffs, then defeated a team in the Finals who had the best player in the world.

N – During the entire playoffs, Golden State never had to face a healthy point guard (Jrue Holliday, Pelicans; Mike Conley, Grizzlies; Patrick Beverly, Rockets; Kyrie Irving, Cavs). Note: They even avoided Chris Paul because of the Clippers’ collapse against the Rockets.

P – Cleveland had to overcome early struggles, e.g. chemistry issues between coach and players (one in particular), losing Anderson Varrejo so soon in the season, a rough first half of the season (technically, 39 games) leaving them with a 19-20 record at that point, then rallied to win the East and showed enough grit, with their rotation down to seven guys, to take the league’s best team to a 6-game Finals, despite losing two All-Stars.

N – Cleveland was the worst NBA Finals representative ever, the East was a terrible division, the Cavs were just a one-man team with a bunch of role players, they showed little heart and lacked focus in the elimination game – even their hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, ran the headline after Game 6 that said, “NOT ENOUGH GRIT”.  

P – NBA players are the best athletes in the world; it’s amazing how often the referees are right, especially because basketball is the most difficult game in the world to officiate.

N – The refs sucked! Did you see how many times instant replay shows they blew calls?

P – LeBron James’ Finals performance was phenomenal: 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, I’m elated I got to witness it (as opposed to those I missed – West, Russell, Chamberlain and Walton, assuming you’re not old enough to remember); I mean in 1995, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists (leading the Rockets to sweep), LeBron’s stats are higher in each category – and his team lost!

N – Sure, LeBron posted big numbers – because he’s the only decent player on the team – and his record in the NBA Finals is now 2-4.

P – Steve Kerr made some savvy coaching moves, e.g. getting David Lee to realize his role would be limited after he’d been an All-Star, getting Andre Iguodala to buy into being the sixth man after NEVER having been a substitute in his entire 10-year career (getting him to sacrifice to make Harrison Barnes better and to make their second team better), getting Andrew Bogut to understand he was taking him out of the starting lineup following Game 3 of the Finals (and basically giving him no PT) because he thought they had to “go small” in order to win.

N – Steve Kerr was so lucky he didn’t take that Knicks job; he wound up with a loaded team – including the best shooting guard tandem EVER; Mark Jackson and the general manager should get the credit for the championship, not Kerr.

P – David Blatt stayed the course all season, under difficult circumstances (being named coach BEFORE the city’s favorite son decided to come home), he weathered many storms by media, fans and pretty much anybody who didn’t know (or care) about his credentials and prior coaching successes, he led them to the NBA Finals but when he got there, “big” or “small” it really didn’t matter for the Cavs because, as Doug Collins pointed out, “he didn’t have enough of either – if they go big, they can’t score; if they go small, they can’t rebound.”

N – What an absolutely horrible coaching job done by David Blatt in the Finals; he should have let LeBron coach the team like he had done up to that point; Blatt never responded to any of Kerr’s moves – which weren’t exactly brilliant.

P – It was a special, inspiring moment watching and listening to little Mariana VanHoose sing our National Anthem.

N – Sorry, if you didn’t appreciate little Mariana VanHoose’s rendition of the national anthem, you will never experience a true feeling of contentment while you are on this planet.

If you haven’t figured out the code,

P – You’re a Positive, happy person who enjoyed a hard fought, competitive NBA Finals and appreciates life.

N – You’re a Negative, miserable person who wouldn’t have been satisfied – unless “your” team won – in a sweep (and even then, you’d have found something to complain about, e.g. there weren’t enough FREE nachos at the sports bar where you were).

On the post game show, when the crew from NBA-TV asked him how he prepared to play in the Finals, MVP Andre Iguodala’s response shed perspective on today’s society:

“I didn’t watch SportsCenter, stayed off twitter, stayed off instagram.”