Archive for the ‘Detroit Pistons’ Category

When It Comes to Salary, NBA Players Have Options

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Salaries for professional players have skyrocketed beyond anyone’s beliefs, except for agents.  The justification for the mind boggling pay these guys get is that the owners are making money and they’re the ones who are making it for them.  Good point – but let’s delve a bit further.

Basketball players’ contracts are good to look at because they’re guaranteed.  Sure, tickets are sold out but with today’s economy, nearly all of the tickets are being purchased by corporations so they can entertain their clients in the most fashionable of ways.  Winning is considered more fashionable than losing and the guys at the end of the bench aren’t usually contributors so, in the business world, they’re referred to as non-producers and would be cut loose.  Some average fans-on-the-street are still buying tickets when they can afford them – but they’re going to see the best players, whether they play for their team or the opponent.

Another source of income is apparel.  The replica jerseys that are being sold are those of the stars, not players 8 through 12 on the team.  Heck, sometimes not even players 3 through 7.  Parking and concessions are revenue streams for the owners but once again, that money can be traced back to the best players except for maybe, when the game is a blowout and the kids say, “Hey, dad, the scrubs are going in.  Can we get something to eat now?”

The greatest money is made through the television contract and who do you think is driving that baby?  Did you ever wonder why you never get to see the Wizards against the Pistons on Christmas day?  The NBA Players’ Association, through the media, let it be known how much money the owners make.  “On whose backs do they make all that money?” the union leadership and the agents cry.

The answer?  Not on the backs of the many.  On the superstars.  NBA basketball is a team game but it is, without a doubt, a stars driven league.  Plus, if the owners want to play their trump card, all they have to say is, “Who takes all the risk?  When a guy signs a multi-year deal for nine figures and then spends more time in the training room and on the sideline in some sweet game time swag than he does on the floor, how about he give back a percentage so I can cut my losses?”  Just a hunch but I’d venture to say the Players’ Association would be against that proposal. 

When salary negotiations between teams and the players’ agents commence, the latter can take a lesson from the least basketball-looking guy ever, Buddy Hackett:

“As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.

Who Needs Larry Brown’s Help Anyway?

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Coaches are an interesting breed.  If ever there was a profession that exposes incompetence (and competence for that matter), it’s one that keeps score and has a winner and a loser in every game.   Because no one wants to be thought of as a failure, it’s also a profession which comes up with an inordinate amount of excuses.

Ego plays a major part in athletics, coaching included.  Sometimes a seemingly small quote or action occurs that makes for a good story years down the road.  This past August at Michael Jordan’s Flight School (basketball camp), some of the coaches recounted stories from past camps and, if not the best story, certainly one that’s in the finals was when the camp had Larry Brown as the guest speaker.  It was 2004 and he had just led the Detroit Pistons to the NBA championship.

His son was attending the camp so he agreed to speak to the whole group.  After he spoke, the camp broke up for afternoon games.  Prior to the games, there was a period during which the camp coaches were to have their teams go through a brief practice.  I was one of the eight commissioners and, as fate would have it, Larry’s son was in my league.

As his team went out on one of the outdoor courts at UCSB, I could see that Larry, who is the definition of a “coach’s coach,” couldn’t help himself.  The guy who was the actual coach of the team was more of a philosopher than a coach and was doing what he usually did – talking about how things should be.  Since the kids were standing around while the other eight teams were practicing, Larry jumped in and got the guys in a 4-on-4 shell drill.  From a health standpoint, he wasn’t in tip top shape but this was his element.  He never feels better than when he’s teaching the game.

To me, it was an amazing sight.  Upon seeing what was taking place, the “coach” of his son’s team turned to me and, incredibly said, “Is this my team or Larry Brown’s?”  I was stunned to the point where I was speechless.  If you want to know what the significance of that is, ask someone who knows me.  Here’s a guy who just won an NBA championship and he’s helping coach your team.  And you’re complaining about it?

This story reminded me of a quote George Raveling once said:

“You can get a lot done in coaching if you don’t let your ego get in the way.”

P.S, Check me out on  Click on #JackAndCoach.

2010-11 NBA Season to Finally Begin

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Pundits said time and time again that with LeBron’s”Decision” people were talking about the NBA during the summer, heretofore something they’d never done.  Well, the season’s upon us and opening day brings us Miami at Boston, Phoenix at Portland and Houston at LA against the Lakers, the defending champs, determined to three-peat.  Wow!

The following day has Detroit at NJ, NY at Toronto, Atlanta at Memphis, Sacramento at Minnesota, Milwaukee at New Orleans and Indiana at San Antonio.  Somewhat of a letdown after Day 1.  And there are seven more months with a combination of those teams – plus squads like the Wiz, Clips, Cavs, Sixers, Charlotte and Golden State.

There are numerous ways to look at anything and we have are (at least) two options.  You, the fan, has to decide which one you like – and I’d love to find out how fans feel now, and how they feel near the end of the season:

“The glass is either half full or it’s half empty.”

World Wide Wes Has Nothing on MJ

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

For whatever reason, William Wesley, aka World Wide Wes, has been in the news recently.  A sneaker salesman, who allegedly sold more kicks in a bad neighborhood of Philly than other store owners in affluent areas, World Wide Wes caught the attention of some power brokers and, voila, a real life version of Where’s Waldo? came to life.

Many call this cat the most influential man in all of sports and for someone who has no “stats,” he burst on the scene like nobody’s business.  But “the most influential man in sports?”  Here’s a past blog that shows how Michael Jordan defines influence – even when you don’t have it.  This is reprinted from 8/14/07. 

As I mentioned, I spent from Aug. 1-10 at the Michael Jordan Flight School in Santa Barbara where I serve as one of the eight league commissioners (there are eight leagues of eight teams in each league).  This was the fifth year I’ve worked the camp.

Considering most of the campers (ages 8-18) don’t remember seeing Michael as a player, observing the adults is much more interesting than following the kids.  The most amazing story occurred two years ago at the tenth anniversary of the camp.

There was to be a mystery guest speaker on the third night and the speculation ran wild as to his identity.  The camp director is George Raveling.  If you’ve read my blogs, you’ll know I worked with George as a graduate assistant at Washington State in the early ’70s, as an associate head coach at USC in the early ’90s and as assistant chairman on the Recruiting Committee of which he was chairman for about 17 years in between.  During the second day of MJ’s camp, George confided in me the speaker in question was Larry Brown, recently signed as coach of the Knicks, who had a fabulous coaching career which included an NCAA Championship at Kansas and a World Championship with the Pistons.

Later that evening, I was approached on five separate occasions by parents asking me who the speaker was going to be.  Each conversation went something like this:

Parent: “Who’s the mystery guest?”

JF: “I can’t tell you.”

Parent: “But you know who it is?”

JF: “Yes.”

Parent: “Oh, come on, you can tell me (us).”

JF (looking around surreptitiously): “OK, it’s…George W. Bush.”

On no occasion, not once! did anyone question my answer.  I got replies from, “Oh, great, he’s my favorite” to “Good, that will be a great experience for my son” to “I wonder if he’ll wear shorts.”  No one ever said, “Come on, you’ve got to be kidding.”

I did eventually tell them it really wasn’t the President.  They were all disappointed, but no one ever said, “I knew you were putting me on.”

This experience reminded me of Colin Powell’s line:

“You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.”

And it explains why kids today are so gullible – it’s an inherited trait.

NBA Free Agency: Much Ado About Something

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

I’m just not sure what. 

To have a countdown is good theatre but is it that important?  Unquestionably, LeBron James is the most high profile athlete to be on the open market, so to speak, yet where he winds up is limited to a handful of teams, each of which has its reasons why LBJ should establish residence there but anointing this newly formed squad as the latest dynasty might be a little (lot) premature.

Keep in mind that in 2003-04, the Lakers signed Gary Payton and Karl Malone to go along with Kobe and Shaq.  At the press conference, Payton made the classic comment, “You can’t double team all of us.”  On the flipside, I remember wondering how anyone was going to score on them.  In Payton, they had “The Glove.”  Kobe was a lockdown defender even that far back, meaning those two could match up with the best two perimeter players the opponent had, leaving the weakest of the three for whoever would be the fifth starter.  Karl Malone could defend any power forward in the league and just Shaq’s physical presence was enough to enable him to guard a center.  

Yet, not only did they not win it all, they only managed to win one game in the finals, losing 4-1 to Detroit.  Sure, there were injuries – but who’s to say this new superteam that LeBron and whatever other free agent(s) decide to join him, combining with that team’s nucleus, e.g. DWade, or Rose and Noah, or whoever’s left with the Cavs, Knicks, Clippers or even some mystery team – doesn’t encounter the same fate? 

Plus, even with all that megatalent, they won’t exactly have a corner on the superstar market.  I don’t see Kobe joining that bunch and rumor has it that he’s a rather competitive sort, someone who might cotton to the challenge of taking on all comers – especially a “stacked” team.  And, in the process, win his third straight title.  Lest we forget, wherever LeBron takes his talent (unless he fulfills Tiger’s wish), his new (or old) club will be attempting to dethrone the two-time champs.

Then there are other factors that play just as big a role as where the King and his new court, eventually settle.  With the remainder of the talented free agents, how the draft picks perform, sign and trades, and other wheeling and dealing that inevitably will ensue, there are so many other combinations that could arise that one of them, possibly, on paper, could look just as formidable, if not a tad better, than the much awaited consortium, in the process making the new “Unbeatables” the underdog.

Next, throw in the coaching changes that currently exist.  It looks like a few of the soon-to-be co-favorites (Bulls, Cavs and Clippers) will be coached by assistants who have yet to call a time out or by a coach with minimal head coaching experience.  Include the possible (probable?) coaching changes to each of last year’s finalists and it makes for interesting barroom chatter. 

This blog has done nothing but muddle the picture, so the quote that will further confuse the reader.  It’s by that well-known basketball aficionado, William Butler Yeats, and has to do with those fans who dream of multiple championships when the smoke clears:

“But I being poor have only my dreams.  I have laid my dreams beneath your feet.  Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

Now It Really IS “Win or Go Home”

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The difference between the NCAA’s March Madness and the NBA Playoffs is that the colleges have a single elimination tournament, i.e. “win or go home.”  This year, the NBA’s brass, master of slogans, used that phrase to describe their post-season.  If they meant the Lakers in Game Five in Boston, they were right. 

LA lost and had to go home.  Of course, had they won, they would have gone home.  Not only did the Lakers go home after Game Five, but their opponents went home with them.  However, now, it truly is win or go home and primarily because each series is best of seven, the magnitude of a Game Seven – at any point but, especially in the finals, is through the roof. 

TV execs pray for this to occur.  Ticket scalpers drool over an event such as this.  Not just a Game Seven (it’s been five years since the Spurs beat the Pistons and all the way back to 1994 for the Rockets over the Knicks for the one before that) but a Boston- LA final!  Pundits, as well, live for these moments.  If their pick wins, they get to remind everybody how they had it all figured out.  Or have a fellow prognosticator (probably the person they did it for last year when that guy got it right and they missed) sing their praises as all-knowing.  I’ve always felt that picking the winner is a 50-50 proposition, but if somebody can get the score right, or at least the final spread, that is impressive.  Or if the person gives (before the game, columnists) the reason a certain team will win – and it’s something beyond, “The Lakers will take this one because they’re at home and Kendrick Perkins isn’t going to play,” that’s doing homework and putting the pieces together.  Sometimes even the best research goes awry as some role player has a career game – or a superstar falls flat.

I’ve already confessed to being totally befuddled when it comes to making sense of this year’s series, so I go along along with the Ol’ Perfessor, Casey Stengel, who said:

“Never make predictions, especially about the future.”

As crazy as this year’s NBA Finals have been, I can’t wait to hear what those “in the know” have to say.

Does Coaching Psychology Matter in the NBA?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Larry Brown has made the statement that he doesn’t know whether his Charlotte Bobcats can actually beat the Orlando Magic.  Many in the field of psychology would be appalled if they heard the leader of a group say something that would plant a seed of doubt in his team.  Being the underdog in the series, you’d think the coach would try to bolster the confidence of his club.

Why, then, would Brown make a comment like that?  My guess is that what Larry Brown said is exactly what he believes – and he’s been around long enough and has had so much success that he feels it would be foolish to try to play mind games or use some other psychological ploy.  As Charles Barkley (another who’s been known to speak frankly) pointed out, if Charlotte is to win (a game), the Bobcats need someone to have an other-worldly experience in terms of point production, because the Magic, who had five players in double figures in their game two victory, simply have too much firepower for Charlotte.

In the first two games, Dwight Howard, aka Superman, had subpar production, mainly due to foul trouble, yet the Bobcats never even posed a threat.  In game two, they scored a mere 30 points in the first half.  Their defense, or rather their half-court offensive philosophy of walking the ball up the floor on each possession, limited Orlando to only 41 points themselves.    

Gregg Popovich called his team out after their game one defeat in Dallas.  He said the Spurs played “like dogs.”  Whoa!  Psychology majors are in for a real challenge trying to analyze these two veteran coaches.  None of the players for San Antonio, though, when questioned, took exception with their coach’s comments.  And wouldn’t you know it, the Spurs came out in the second game and played like gangbusters, jumping to a 9-0 start and never looking back, leading by as much as twenty points.

The game did get close, however, when the Mavs cut the lead to five in the fourth quarter but eight straight points by ageless Tim Duncan squashed any hopes the hometown club had on sweeping the opening two games.  Not surprisingly, Duncan made no mention of his desire to prove to Pop he wasn’t a dog in the post-game press conference.

Both Larry Brown and Gregg Popovich have grabbed the brass ring – on more than one occasion – Brown claiming an NCAA national championship (Kansas) and a World Championship (Detroit) and Pop winning multiple titles with the Spurs.  Then why did Pop’s psychology work better than Larry’s?  I’ve done a great many of these blogs in which I’ve stated Jerry Tarkanian’s philosophy of coaching (click on the “Jerry Tarkanian” category and you’ll be sure to find it mentioned on numerous occasions).  “Talent” is always Tark’s reply.   

There’s an old saying that sums up why Charlotte couldn’t do to Orlando in game two what San Antonio did to Dallas (even though each is a #7 seed playing a #2).  Substituting for the chicken products that Charles Barkley – The Round Mound of Rebound – or, as he might now be referred to following Tuesday night’s TNT broadcast, the Prince of Profanity – would use in the old adage, the message is:

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

Just In Case You Get the Chance to Coach Superstars

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

On last night’s Lakers-Bulls telecast, they showed the “retired jersey” of Phil Jackson in the rafters at the United Center.  As always is the case, mention was made of Phil winning all those rings but . . . how he always had great players.  First, Michael & Scottie, then Shaq & Kobe and then Kobe and the cast of characters from last year’s team (with the emphasis on Kobe). 

It seems Phil Jackson’s championships can’t be mentioned without someone bringing up the “Yeah, but he had great players” line.  While it is true, there have been many coaches with great players who have failed to win championships – at all levels (remember the Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars of Guy Lewis)?  It takes more than just great players.  And the way championships are won differ with the different personalities of the coaches who lead those talented squads.

There’s Phil and his Zen approach.  Imagine getting NBA players to understand Zen, much less embrace it?  There was a story of how he tried it on one of his early championship Bulls’ teams.  He told the guys to sit quietly and close their eyes.  The legend goes that a few (or more) of the players peeked – and saw Michael Jordan sitting with his eyes closed – and that sealed the deal.  Moral: Get your best player to buy into your philosophy and the others fall right into line.

Doc Rivers coached a team put together by Danny Ainge (with help from his best friend, Kevin McHale) which initially had perennial all-star, but perennial also ran (as far as his team went), Paul Pierce.  Ainge added Ray Allen, one of the best shooters in NBA history (and in case you haven’t noticed, scoring is more important in basketball than any other team sport) and superstar, but also mired on a mediocre team, Kevin Garnett.

Doc knew he had an abundance of talent, but none of these guys had ever won.  He came up with the rallying cry/mantra, “Ubuntu” which (some thought meant “Help me, I’m in my contract year”), but actually, according to none other than Nelson Mandela, meant a concept made up of traits like unselfishness, caring and enabling others.  They rode it to a championship, to the point that when many of the Celtics were asked what their championship secret was, they claimed, “Ubuntu.”  That’s buying in.

Speaking of the Celtics, Red Auerbach had his run of championship after championship.  Bill Russell wound up with more rings than fingers.  What Red did was clever.  He made everybody else hate him, thus taking all the pressure off his guys.  It’s not like he had a bunch of slouches, but the shenanigans he pulled at the old Boston Garden (dead spots in the floor, turning up the heat in the visitor’s locker room, no hot water, and the piece de resistance – the victory cigar).  Plus, he did subtle things, like going to Big Russ and telling him not to pay attention when he yelled at him in practice, but if the rest of the players saw Russell getting an earful, they’d have no right to complain when Red jumped their cases.

The master of massaging egos (and in the NBA, there’s no shortage of that commodity) was the late Chuck Daly.  He took a team and gave it an image.  The “Bad Boys” aka the Detroit Pistons won back-to-back championships with nasty (dirty?) Bill Laimbeer; tough guy Rick Mahorn; bordering on lunatic, Dennis Rodman; if-you-need-a-score, call-me, Vinny Johnson; classy Joe Dumars (how did someone so respected, with so much class become a – vital – part of this team?) and Mr. Hidden Agenda, Isiah Thomas. 

I was working at the University of Toledo (less than an hour from Detroit) during those championship years and a little known fact is that the Pistons’ owner, Bill Davidson, made his early (and big) money in glass – and Toledo was known as the Glass Capital of the World.  We’d get choice seats (Mr. Davidson’s own – right behind the basket at the Pistons end of the floor) because there were many people in Toledo who were quite friendly with Mr. D. 

One of his confidantes told me a story that was not allowed to be leaked (so how did I find out)?  Mr. Davidson was so fond of Thomas that he pledged to him a million dollar bonus if the team won a championship.  Imagine what that kind of dissent that would have caused if it got out.

That’s how good Chuck Daly was.  Because he knew and, yet, had the ability to mold this apparent group of misfits into not one, but two championship teams.  His main strength was that he possessed so little egoWinning was his goal and he focused on working individually with each player on the team. 

Many people have said he knew how to handle players, but as Wilt Chamberlain told his new coach, Alex Hannum, when the coach said to the Big Dipper, “I heard you’re hard to handle.”

“You don’t handle people.  You handle animals,” said the player who caused more rule changes than any other in the history of the game.  Talk about making a statement early in a relationship.

When it comes to winning championships, sure, great players are needed, but as the late & great coach Chuck Daly (coach of the Original Dream Team – talk about egos!) said:

“It’s harder to take a group of really talented players and make them a championship team than it is to take a group of average guys and make them competitive.” 


The Moments that Make/Made Coaching Worthwhile

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Every coach enters the profession, dreaming of the moment he or she gets to lift up the trophy, cut the net down, get thrown in the pool, or whatever other defining ritual goes along with becoming the leader of a championship team.

It never happens as often as any coach likes.  But, . . . other than maybe the coaches who lead the pay-for-play guys, i.e. the pros, there are other moments that make the coach realize he or she is making a difference.  

In the math classes I teach, I often relate “life stories” to learning math (not as difficult as you might think).  When the subject of hard work came up a few days ago, I told the class the foillowing story, even though it happened before any of them were born.

In the fall of 1980, I had just taken a job as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee when the phone in my office rang.  It was our secretary, saying there was an “Earl Cureton” on the phone.  I had coached a 6’9″ center by that name during the one and only season (1976-77) I served as an assistant coach at Robert Morris College.  At the end of that season (Earl’s sophomore year), he left as well, transferring to play in his hometown of Detroit – at UD – for their coach, Dick Vitale.  Still, since it had been so long since I’d talked to Earl, I thought it was a hoax, one of my coaching friends playing some sort of practical joke on me.

However, when I answered the phone, I heard a guy whispering, “coach fertig?” 

I replied, “Earl, is that you?  Where are you – and why are you whispering?”

“yeah, coach, it’s me and i’m in a phone booth at the spectrum.”  The Spectrum was the building the Philadelphia 76ers used to play.  Oh yeah, and a phone booth is where people used to go to make calls before cell phones were invented.  “coach, i think i just made the 76ers –  it was down to me and another guy and i just saw the equipment guy cleaning out his locker!”  Yeah, I’d say that’s was hint-and-a-half that guy was gone.  He said this with as much enthusiasm as a person who was whispering could.

“Hey, Earl, that’s greatCongratulations!

Now, he finally got up his courage to be heard – or else he got tired of the clandestine tone he’d been using up to now.  “Coach, I had to call somebody because I was so excited I just wanted to jump up and high five somebody, but the guy’s locker on one side of me is Moses Malone and the locker on the other side is Dr. J’s.”  (Good idea, on holding off on the celebration since they probably knew they were making the squad).  “The reason I’m calling you, coach, is to thank you for all the help you gave me.  I think you know what I’m talking about.” 

I have to admit I didn’t know exactly what he meant – until he jogged my memory.  “You remember that day in your office when you told me there were a million guys like me and that every day I worked, I would pass someone by, BUT every day I didn’t work, someone would pass me by?  Well, coach, I wanted to let you know that I never forgot that and everyday I didn’t feel like going hard or wanted to take a day off, I thought of what you said and was so afraid somebody was going to pass my by, I fought my way through whatever was dragging me down and worked my butt off.”  Come to think of it, I did remember Dick telling me that, during the year Earl was redshirting (due to the transfer rule – and the only year he was under Dickie V, who would take the Detroit Pistons job that following season), Earl was the hardest working redshirt, i.e. a guy who was only allowed to practice, he had ever seen.  

I now had perfect recall of that day and said to him, “Earl, do you remember who else was in my office that day?”

“Sure,” he said.  Larry and Charlie.”

Right,” I told him.  “And what are they doing now?”

“Last time I heard they were just hanging out.”

“That’s because they were part of the million other guys.”

We exchanged “goodbyes” & “good lucks” and after I hung up, I wasn’t sure who was flying higher – him or me.  For the record, Earl Cureton played twelve (12) seasons in the NBA or seven different teams – and helped two of them win NBA Championships (and the rings that go along with them) by being a key backup, first to Moses in Philly and then to Hakeem Olajuwon with the Houston Rockets.

It’s moments like these (many of which you don’t find out until your career is over) that justify all the hard work and long hours (and even the disappointments) you experienced.  The actual line I told Earl (and Charlie and Larry) in my office that (now) memorable day is worth repeating:

“There are a million guys like you and every day you work, you pass one of them by, but, every day you don’t work, someone passes you by – and you’ll never catch him.”

This story is one of over 200 from my book, Life’s A Joke.  For other excerpts, click on the “Jack’s Book” tab on the Home Page of this website.  

If the Draft Is Such a Crap Shoot Anyway, Why Add More Variables?

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The NBA draft has been cut to two rounds for some time.  As one general manager told me several years ago (when his title was Director of Player Personnel), “I have the easiest job in the world.  I fly around the country, on a really nice expense account, looking at players.  I get paid extremely well, that is, more than I ever thought I’d be making – and a lot more than I was making when I was an assistant coach in college – and when it comes down to it, here’s what happens when we draft.  

“We select with our first round pick whomever the decision-maker wants.  That could be the owner, if he thinks he knows the game (and so many of these guys have made so much dough, they look at the basketball team as their hobby – and figure, “C’mon, how hard can this be?”)  If the owner has a “first lieutenant,” that is, someone he implicitly trusts, (usually the general manager), then the selection will be the GM’s.  If the head coach has the power (and fewer and fewer even want that kind of power), the first rounder will be the pick of the head coach.

“I have some say in who we pick in the second round.  And he gets cut.  So, I feel like I’m stealing money!”

Now, before the reader start judging, let me explain.  The guy who told me this story (many years ago) is one of the hardest working and brightest guys I’ve met.  I also remember asking then-New York Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy, who few people remember started out in college coaching, how in the world he could coach a bunch of guys he didn’t ever see.  This was at one of our self-improvement clinics, during a lunch break when we had some time together.  He explained to me, “No way would I want to be both head coach and director of player personnel or GM.  It’s way too much work.  I don’t even have enough time to watch our next opponent, much less do a thorough job of scouting college and foreign players.  It’s a totally different game from college where you’re recruiting guys you feel are good fits for your head coach.”

All that taken into consideration, it’s amazing how many mistakes – or near mistakes – teams make – with as many people as they have employed to make sure they get it right when their team’s name is on the clock.

Sure the Colts (to briefly switch to football) got it right taking Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, but there are an awful lot of professional people -and fans alike – who remember that Peyton was by no means the overwhelming choice.  And think about how far apart those two are in ability – physical, mental and emotional.

How about the greatest basketball player of all time going third in his draft?  Most people give the Rockets a pass when they decided against taking Michael Jordan and selected Hakeem Olajuwon first – one, because they desperately needed a center, two, the Dream had a Hall-of-Fame career and 3) he did lead his team to the ultimate prize.  But the grief the Portland Trailblazers have had to put up with has been merciless, when they took Sam Bowie – for the same reason.  They needed a center and had a great two guard in Clyde Drexler.

I was at Tennessee when Big Sam played at UK and everybody knew of the fragile nature of Bowie’s legs/knees/feet.  Maybe they felt they won a championship with another center who had lower extremities problems in Bill Walton, so history would repeat.  The classic line regarding the Blazers’ selection at number two was delivered by Bob Knight, who had coached MJ in the Olympic Games and had witnessed up close his skill, work ethic, and competitiveness.  As well as anyone, Bob Knight knew Michael Jordan was destined for superstardom.  So when Portland GM Stu Inman, a close friend of Knight’s, told him they really needed a center, Knight simply said to Inman, “Then draft Jordan – and play him at center.” 

Although taking really young guys is a gamble (e.g. Kwame Brown), taking a foreign player has to be more of a risk than a college guy.  Naturally, having spent 30 years in the college game, I’m biased toward the kids who play in the U.S., in front of rabid crowds and are raised on the NBA much more so than players from overseas.  It does seem like the gap is narrowing and there are some sensational players who weren’t born in this country.

However, one disappointment has been Darko Milicic.  In a previous blog, I mentioned unless a player is a surefire super, like LeBron or Shaq, the team drafting the player usually determines his chances for immediate success.  Milicic was not head coach Larry Brown’s top choice, especially with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade all available and poor Darko spent the entire year riding the pine.  Brown could get away with it because he’s one of the top notch coaches and the Pistons won – B-I-G.

The latest foreign fiasco is Ricky Rubio.  When your team is as bad as Minnesota was last year, and you’re sitting there with three “firsts,” including number four overall, you’d better be more than absolutely sure if you pick Rubio – who, on video, looks like un ultra-talented, pass first (& defend later) big guard who could help win games – and sell tickets.

Timberwolves president David Kahn dealt directly with Rubio and his agent or rep and, I’d bet felt certain, he could work a deal out to have the “European Pistol” in a T-Wolves jersey for this year.  Now, Kahn finds out Rubio decides he wants to play two more years in Spain.  Maybe it will all work out.  Maybe in two years, he’ll be thrilling NBA crowds and Kahn will look like a genius.  I’ll wager now that, even if that is the case, he won’t be playing for the same coach.

Sometimes the decision comes down to:

“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”