Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

Is There Any Way to Derail the Warriors’ Dominance?

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

With the draft happening tonight, there is sure to be a good deal of wheeling and dealing going on, especially if the past few days are any indicator. More trades. swapping of draft picks, out-of-the-box moves made. All in an attempt to catch – or at least somewhat close the gap between everybody and – the Golden State Warriors.

Paul George could be “rented” by the Cavs so they have someone to guard Kevin Durant (so LeBron doesn’t have to play nearly every minute at both ends). Or maybe Gordon Hayward and Jimmy Butler, along with the third pick in the first round, to the Celtics. As if that would be enough to push Boston past the Dubs. How about Jerry West to the Clips in an effort to lure James away from Cleveland (in a couple years). Hey, they wouldn’t have to give him a house, only a housekeeper.

In reality, the only way to make many (most?) of the NBA teams relevant is to go to a hard salary cap. Which, you can bet, is not going to happen. However, as long as it isn’t, a franchise (especially one in a small market) will need to be awfully lucky to vault from the middle, or lower, into contention for a championship. Not a conference championship either. As Phil Jackson said in his book, Eleven Rings, there’s nothing worse than getting to the Finals and losing. I wonder if he still feels that way?

Unless something completely unforeseen occurs, it certainly looks like, barring catastrophic injuries, the NBA world is the Warriors’ oyster. Possibly the best strategy for catching the Warriors is to do it the way the 76ers are trying. Forfeit the next 2-3 years until the guys at Golden State get old and tired of winning.

Another hope the rest of the NBA might have is, although the core group in Oakland (soon to be San Francisco) looks like it will stay together for a while, is to overpay the “others” to break up the Dubs’ bench. For now, it looks as though the boys from the Bay are having too much fun spraying $200K worth of champagne (hey, waste the cheap piss – drink the expensive stuff) but you can bet those “glue” guys’ agents will be whispering (and if that doesn’t work, shouting) in their clients’ ears to take the money. After all, 20 years from now (when you’ll still have the two rings), what would be better for your family – another ring or two (or three) or an extra $10-20 million?

In the back of the agents’ minds – make that front and center of their minds – is this thought:

“4% of more is a helluva lot better than 4% of less.”

 

Another Birthday – Already?

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Yesterday I “celebrated” my 69th birthday. I’m extremely fortunate to have received, via phone calls, email, texts and mainly Facebook posts, virtually hundreds birthday wishes. Things do change, however, as a person ages. For those readers who haven’t experienced the phenomena of the changing attitudes as you grow older, rest assured you will. I remember – and it doesn’t seem all that long ago – when my friends and I thought of 69-year-olds as ancient beings. Now, I read a story of someone who died in their 70s and think, “Such a shame. Way too soon!”

All the talk of getting older reminded me of the story of a young boy being introduced to the Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. After the introductions were made, the young boy looked up at the wise old man and said, as innocent, naive youngsters are wont to do, “How old are you?”

Dr. Peale bent over slightly and said, “Why, young man, I’m 93 years old.”

The little boy’s eyes widened and he said, “Wow. I don’t know if I ever want to be that old!” to which Dr. Peale responded, “That’s because you’ve never been 92.”

Had someone told me I would have to go through 10 back surgeries, beginning at age 39, I’m not so sure I thought I’d think I’d still be around in 2017. Pain is a humbling experience. Successful surgery makes a person truly grateful for modern medicine. Chronic pain is a different animal altogether. The emergency surgery in 2002, following my 54th birthday, set me back physically. No longer could I enjoy an intense, competitive tennis match. It’s not that I was a great player but, as my good friend, Tennis Hall of Famer Mike DePalmer used to tell me, “Tennis is played in levels and the key to enjoying playing it is in finding an opponent with a similar, or slightly better, skill level.”

Golf replaced tennis and it was equally as much fun – just without the aerobic exercise. Then, the pain intensified until the only golf that was part of my life was hearing about my sons’ games and watching the real good guys on television. Still hoping to hit the links someday if only I can get the pain to subside somewhat. I now completely understand the meaning of the phrase, “the only thing that’s golden about your golden years is your urine.”

Currently, I have a team of trustworthy people who are my version of “all the kings horses and all the kings men” – a group of eight men and women, all at the top of their respective fields: a personal trainer, physical therapist, yoga instructor, pain psychologist, massage therapist (not as much fun as it sounds), family doctor, pain doctor and an “alternative” medicine doctor. The last of that esteemed bunch has already injected me once with PRP (platelet rich plasma, aka blood spinning) treatments and I’m returning on July 13 for another session (which should give me enough relief to make it through the two sessions of Michael Jordan’s summer basketball camp, as I return for my 15th year – the only 10 days of the year I work since my retirement in 2012).

The morphine pump which is implanted in my abdomen has had a plethora of pain suppressing medications in it (since 2005). Some helped quite a bit, others not all but it seems the negative side effects have trumped the benefits of the meds and my goal is to wean off of the morphine that’s in it now (as of last Thursday, the amount of daily morphine I receive intrathecally, i.e. directly into my bloodstream, is less than 1.5 mg), until I can finally have the pump removed for good. As much as they help, I’ve never been a fan of foreign objects in my body. PRP might be the answer – if not, I could be looking at stem cell treatments or even another, radical, surgery. But that’s down the road.

For now, I’m subscribing to the philosophy of my good friend, Andy Solomon, long-time associate athletics director at The Citadel:

“The goal is to get older, not old.”

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Hate ‘Em

Friday, June 16th, 2017

While sports have changed over the years, what’s changed infinitely more is media coverage of them. I’m old enough top remember when the greatest sportswriters and broadcasters relied on their written and verbal skills to let fans know who did what and how they did it. What made those guys’ jobs more difficult was, first of all, cable television. So many more stations, so much more “talent” with which to compete. Then came the internet and competition increased exponentially.

In my mind the person who changed it all was Jim Rome. Evidently there was a great deal of intense, deep-rooted hatred, i.e. jealousy, of those who were more talented, more famous and made (a lot) more money by a significantly large segment of those who closely followed their favorite sports. What Rome brought was the art of the insult. What sweeter way to “get even” with people whose lives were – at least seemed like – better than yours than to put them down? The main talents these people possess is they have an opinion and have no problem cutting others down.

Most of this new breed of “media star” are wannabes, guys who have no athletic skill, but desired – needed – to be “in the game.” So, they became writers for the school newspaper (circulation of low double figures) or play-by-play announcers for the campus radio station (wattage of which might have reached the outskirts of the city – as long as it was a one-light town). Some might have become managers but, actually, those who chose that job usually grew to appreciate how much time the players and coaches put in and how hard they work.

The latest, and loudest, of this breed is Justine Termine of NBA-radio. He hosts a show – and lets everyone know it. If you’ve ever heard him, he always goes to break saying his name first, then his co-host, even though the co-host is infinitely more well-known, had a real career in the league or has been much closer to professional basketball than he ever dreamed. People like Eddie Johnson, Nancy Lieberman, Mike Dunleavy, Jason Terry and others. Not only does he rip players and coaches but has decided his schtik is to constantly demean his co-host, calling whomever an idiot or demeaning their opinion. I have no idea what the ratings for the show are but, unless they approach infinity, they can’t match his ego. And, somehow, this guy has managed to stay single.

He tells everyone who will listen – or those who won’t – how professional he is and how he is constantly working on his “craft,” which, basically, is memorizing NBA facts from years gone by. He can tell you anything you ever would want to know (especially about the Celtics, his boyhood team) – and much of what you don’t. He’s a cross between a fountain of useless information and a perfect companion to win late night bar bets.

Yesterday Termine was at his obnoxious best. Apparently, he vehemently criticized (as many others did) Kevin Durant’s decision to leave OKC for the Golden State Warriors. Whether or not someone agrees with KD’s move, it wasn’t illegal. He did what he thought was best for him. Who knows why he did it? If it was to win a championship, … he was right (and it wasn’t like his contribution was minimal). Maybe he would rather live in the Bay Area as opposed to Oklahoma City (imagine that)? Maybe his relationship with Russell Westbrook (or any of his other teammates, coaches or front office people) wasn’t what he’d hoped it would be. Maybe there was another reason.Only he knows (Durant, that is, not Termine)

Why it made Termine so wildly upset is unknown. Why someone else’s career move should so offend him, so much so as to spew venom toward Durant, calling him a coward … there must be a “hero gene” in his family. Possibly one of his ancestors won a war singlehandedly or overcame tremendous odds to make it to this country and raise a family against all odds. Certainly no one he’s related to – including himself – has never choked a term he throws around with regularity. So maybe it isn’t a hero gene but a “clutch” one that permeates his family. After all, pressure to him is when his mic goes dead. Let’s give, Termine credit, however, he did admit that Durant is an incredibly talented basketball player (that was really big of him).

It wasn’t only the Finals MVP that set him off but people who gave LeBron James credit for going up against a powerhouse team that was the Warriors and managing to win a game. It is absurd that people have congratulated James for winning a game when he’s the best player in the game and has a supporting cast which, while not as good as Golden State, does have quite a bit of talent. But to rant and scream like he was going to blow a gasket was way over the top. Even for him. It got so bad (or good) that he referred to himself in the third person. Probably made him feel like a real pro. Justine Termine is the poster boy for the NBA wannabe. Unfortunately – or fortunately for fans who feel it’s unfair for some to have a better life than they do, just because they have athletic skill – that type of talking head will thrive.

Yet what we always need to keep in mind is what my late mentor, John Savage, used to preach:

“You don’t strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”

So Are the Warriors the G.O.A.T. Team?

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

The season is over. There are no more games to be played. What are fans supposed to do? Simple. They argue.

Maybe the talk regarding who’s the best player of all-time, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, has subsided (for a while) but who’s the best baller in the NBA now – LeBron James or Kevin Durant – has intensified. Aside from that discussion, there is another brewing – which is the best team ever?

It had been a topic of conversation for several reasons. One was the season prior Golden State had won a record 73 games. The Warriors faithful claimed that, had it not been for Draymond Green swiping at an opponent’s privates one time too many, they’d have been two-time defending champs. As if that argument isn’t enough, the franchise added free agent Durant during the postseason.

The Dubs blew through the regular season, their biggest adversity a major one – the loss of their leader. Head coach Steve Kerr had to sit down, literally and figuratively, due to adverse reactions to (a botched?) back surgery. Note: I’ve endured 10 back surgeries over the past 30 years so I can seriously empathize with him. As they did last year after Kerr’s initial surgery, the Warriors rallied around an interim coach – last season assistant Luke Walton, this time Mike Brown.

Golden State showed how strong a franchise it has, as well as how talented a bunch they are, when Walton led the squad, going undefeated throughout the first couple dozen contests and 39 wins against only four defeats. That showing certainly aided him in becoming head man with the Lakers. His replacement, Brown, might have one-upped his predecessor by blowing through 11 playoff games when further complications forced Kerr out of action.

The debate over which is the best team ever picked up steam when the Warriors took a commanding 3-0 lead in the Finals, pulling out a close win in Game 3 in Cleveland, raising their playoff record to a spotless 15-0. Just when it looked as though the Warriors had an ironclad lock on the mythical title, they lost to the Cavs in Game 4. And not only lost but got embarrassed! Cleveland buried the Golden State by 21, scoring 49 points in the first quarter and 86 for the half (both Finals records). Fans of certain past Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Knicks and 76ers teams all breathed a collective sigh of relief. Going 16-0 and breezing through an entire playoffs would have been hard to argue.

Other factors that make it so difficult to choose an all-time best is which rules are in effect in a fictional game between this current group of Warriors and, say, the 1985-86 Celtics? Or the 1995-96 Bulls? How about the 1986-87 Lakers? 1982-83 “fo-fo-fo” (actually “fo-fi-fo”) 76ers? The rules of the game and how it was officiated are obviously significant factors when comparing teams from different eras. Another issue to be considered is the use of the three-point line strategically. Better yet, whether or not the three-point line existed! Hint: read on.

Today, what’s in vogue in determining which player or team is performing well has nothing to do with actually watching players or teams actually play. It’s analytics. Now, while I’m an “old head” (as opposed to a “stat head”) fan of the professional game, I also majored in, and taught, math. Yet, for the life of me I can’t understand how analytics has overtaken the sports world. There certainly is some validity to all the stats that have made their way into athletics but it still remains extremely subjective.

Googling “best NBA teams ever” I came across an article entitled, NBA Metrics 101: Where Do 2016-17 Warriors Rank Among All-Time Greatest Teams? According to the criteria used, the most recent champs rank third on the list, behind only the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and the, alleged, best team of all-time … the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks! I’m old enough to remember that team which, behind Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor (later, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and a solid core, was definitely a formidable ballclub. Yet, the best ever? (For the record, there was no three-point line then).

There does seem to be an asterisk, however. At the end of the article, the author does include the following: Note: Postseason advanced metrics only date back to 1974, so the Bucks’ postseason Team Rating is estimated. It was calculated proportionally by using margins of victory and regular-season Team Rating. The Bucks won the argument and they played prior to the age the statistics used to determine the best team were invented!

That alone ought to give the definitive answer to which is the best NBA team of all-time:

“There is no ‘best ever’ team.”

But it does make for great banter among fans. Enjoy it whenever you argue – and go home knowing that whichever squad you claim is best – you’re right.

Why the Warriors Won, Why the Cavs Lost

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Technically, the answer to the title of this blog is the same reason (nearly) every team wins a championship – and the answer is not just talent. It’s more talent. Make no mistake there are additional factors for winning and losing, e.g. injuries or good and bad luck, bounces and calls.

In terms of pure, individual talent, make no mistake, no one in the NBA has more of it than LeBron James. True, Kevin Durant is the MVP of the Finals but don’t think for a minute he’s better than LBJ. Someday, maybe, but as far as an all-around player, the edge has got to go to James. Both are premier scorers (I mean one just put up 39, the other 41), excellent ballhandlers (James a slight nod in that area) and good defenders (Bron better on the ball and chasing down shots, KD a superior help-side shot blocker). Granted, KD is a far superior free throw shooter but where LeBron excels is in the skill of seeing the floor and passing. LeBron averaged a triple-double for the series for crying out loud. Durant supporters might say their guy didn’t have to. However, for those who say Durant was on the winning side while James lost, what do you think the results would have been had the two of them switched sides?

From a coaching standpoint, it was a battle of one guy who won a championship in his first year as head coach against another who did the same. In last night’s game, Ty Lue was criticized for not calling a time out when the Warriors started running out, as was Steve Kerr when the Cavs cut the Warriors lead in the second half. Think about it, seldom was there talk of “Coach should’ve …” which can only mean each made a heckuva lot more right moves than wrong ones.

This series was won last July 4th when Durant announced he was joining the Warriors. He was soundly criticized by many talking heads, some calling him a coward (if you were to ask any of those clowns now, they would say something like they didn’t call him a coward, just that his move was cowardly – but who makes cowardly moves other than cowards)? Many of those characters never won anything in their lives so, while they claim they never would have made his move, they never would have been asked to!

Actually, though, the reality of it was the outcome was determined well before that. The players association had an opportunity to balance the mega television money over several years but they decided they wanted it now. So, instead of only a few teams having the cap space to ink somebody who could demand that type of money, almost every team had the capability to do so.

Whatever went into Durant’s deciding to head to Oakland – the team they nearly beat the prior season – it turned a super squad to an unbeatable one (for all intents and purposes). Joining three other stars and a boatload of quality role players, Durant was the missing link to a team that defied match ups. His ability to stretch the floor (which was already pretty wide open), post up or use a mid-range game to shoot over smaller defenders (with him playing the small forward, everybody who played him was smaller) or take guys to the hole made the Warriors favorites in every game they played.

Back to talent, the Warriors had, as one of my former bosses, Don DeVoe at Tennessee, used to say, “more better players.” That included the starters who, last year, were a wash to this year’s Cavs. Adding Durant pushed the advantage to Golden State – by quite a bit. Where the Warriors had an even greater edge was with their bench. To begin with, having Andre Iguodala coming off of it immediately wins that battle as he’d be a starter for, arguably, each of the other 29 clubs. In addition, Kerr played his whole roster during the season (some not at all for stretches, then calling a player’s number who hadn’t seen any action for weeks) and seemed to pull all the right strings. Those guys, especially the young ones, performed with confidence beyond their years (and some might say, ability).

But, when all is said and done, adding a player like Kevin Durant determined the NBA Finals outcome. It gave the Dubs more talent – as in more than anybody else. After watching the NBA playoffs, what was obvious to all was the statement regarding Durant’s decision made by Tim Legler following last night’s game:

“He needed them and they needed him.”

 

Cavs Silence All Non-Believers, Win Game 4 Easily

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped a heart-breaking Game 3. They played their hearts out, led nearly the whole way, yet still came up short and found themselves on the verge of elimination down 0-3. No one, repeat, no one gave them a chance. That list included Charles Barkley who, laughingly, stated that, had the series gone to a fifth game, even though he was not scheduled to work, that he guaranteed he would be there. Note: Following last night’s contest, Charles said he’d have to renege on his commitment because he was checking into a “fat farm,” to which he should be applauded as anyone who’s watched the award-winning Inside the NBA television show (of which he’s an award-winning contributor) has noticed, he’s become the poster boy for obesity. Congrats to Barkley for (finally) understanding how dangerous a situation he’s in health-wise.

Also joining that thought process was Jalen Rose who had the courage to hold up a broom before the game and Paul Pierce who, when asked what percent chance the Cavs had of winning, his answer was: “Zero.” (Pierce, who vociferously claimed Kevin Durant had leap frogged LeBron James as the best player in the league, was conspicuously silent when questioned about whether he wanted revise his thought process). Others of that ilk, i.e. giving Cleveland no chance, were … everybody! Now, maybe, the guys in the Cleveland home locker room will say that they believed all along but, after their excellent performance in Game 3 (other than the final three minutes), there’s no doubt the situation was about as bleak as it could be. I admit that had anyone asked me what chance I’d have given the Cavs, my number would be awfully close to Pierce’s.

Obviously, being down 0-3 and facing elimination, the Cavs could afford to come out as loose as ever. As they hit shot after shot, in front of a home crowd who oh-so-badly wanted to see their boys represent the ‘Land, the momentum swelled and swelled. A big lead turned into a bigger lead and, even though they shot poorly from the free throw line, they kept putting the ball in the bucket. At the end of the first quarter, they had nearly put up “half a hun’.”

49 first quarter points would be cause for celebration if the opponent were anyone but the Golden State Warriors. Realizing the incredible rate at which the Dubs could score, the Cavs continued a laser focus, especially at the offensive end. That focus gave them an 18-point cushion heading into the halftime break. In the second half they maintained a bend-but-not-break attitude, never letting the lead reach single digits.

When all was said and done, the series is 3-1 in favor of the Warriors – who are going home, knowing they won’t be the first team ever to go through the entire postseason undefeated but who can be the World Champs if they take care of home ice.

The best summation of the game came from (who else?) the, arguably, best coach in the NBA. When asked about the outcome, Steve Kerr simply said:

“We played a desperate team on their home floor, a great team, with great players – and they handed it to us. Simple as that.”

Simple as that.

Cavs Snatch Defeat from the Jaws of Victory in Game 3

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

After the Golden State Warriors won the first two games of the NBA Finals, both rather handily, fans, sportswriters and talking heads reminded all of us that the same scenario happened lasts season when, up 3-1, the Warriors allowed the Cavs to climb back in – and, shockingly, walk away with the Larry O’Brien trophy.

With the Internet and so much information bombarding people at every turn, the Dubs claimed they were well aware of what occurred last season and were bound and determined not to repeat the errors they made. Yet, although they came out focused, Cleveland had other thoughts. As the game wore on, the Cavs dug in, took and kept the lead, although many of their made buckets, especially the ones Irving was making, were miraculous in nature.

Whatever the case, the Warriors scored the last 11 points of the game to win 118-113. Naturally, there a numerous plays that decide the outcome but one, in particular, turned this one from a 2-1 series to what looks an inevitable sweep. Up two, James was one on one against Draymond Green who was saddled with five fouls. Rather than attempting to take Green to the hole, LeBron simply penetrated, drew a help defender and passed it to Kyle Korver. The sharpshooter was open because Kevin Love had screened his man – illustrating it actually was part of their offense. The shot was on line, just a little short. Had Korver knocked down the open three, essentially, the game would have been over and there would have extended drama. He didn’t and now it looks bleak, if not over.

Cavs coach Ty Lue explained his “Big 2” (James & Irving) were playing so well he felt he had to leave them in the game. Between the two, they went for 77 – seventy-seven! – points. At the other end they had to guard Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, respectively. Take Irving off Curry and his match up is Klay Thompson. The drop off in talent is severe for each team but the backups for Golden State are more serviceable than their opposition’s reserves – which explains Lue’s decision to play each mega minutes.

The brilliance of Steve Kerr is saying the right thing at the right time. This time it was telling his guys, when they were down late and the outcome looked bleak, that if they’d just keep plugging away, that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving would wear down – that it was too taxing to go one-on-one for 44-45 minutes, that fatigue would play a role. He admitted he wasn’t sure it would happen since “they were going crazy” but, eventually, his words proved prophetic. (Another Kerr trait, which I noticed up close when I worked for Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian, is everything is about the players).

The Warriors have now won 30 of their last 31 games, going 15-0 in the playoffs. One more win and Golden State will be the first team to sweep through the entire playoffs and the talk of “is this the best team ever?” or, better yet because it doesn’t have to take into account “rules of the era,” “was this the greatest NBA season by any team ever?” will commence.

Hall of Fame player and, now, award-winning commentator, Charles Barkley, summed the Finals up this way:

“The bottom line is they’re too good for the Cavaliers, the Durant factor to go along with Steph and Klay, …”

Barkley’s voice trailed off but, after watching this year’s playoffs, nothing more needs be said.

Another Take on the “One-and-Done” Situation

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Adam Silver has been addressing the NBA’s one-and-done rule. What follows is a blog I posted over seven years ago (5/3/10). While I currently agree with the idea put forth by Colin Cowherd, i.e. expand the Developmental League (allowing players as young as 16) and pattern it after what’s done in Europe, the plan below is another option. See what you think.

So many people are up in arms regarding the NBA rule that forces a high school player to attend college for at least a year before heading to the big league.  Of course, there are alternatives, but many are pretty radical, e.g. playing overseas a la Brandon Jennings.  While it (ultimately) worked out for Jennings (keep in mind he had a terrible experience over there), others have tried and haven’t been as successful as the Bucks’ rookie. Note: Did it really work for Jennings?

If memory serves me correctly (and at this age, that’s a toss up), David Stern said the rule is in place due to some “legalese,” i.e. he’s not too thrilled about it either, but it’s the best of all evils.  With that in mind, it means that the “road most traveled” will be to enter college for at least (and for some, at most) one year.

If that’s the case, why whine about it?  Deal with it.  How?  Make college more relevant to these guys.  If they are as talented as they think they are (and as influential outsiders are telling them they are), then the school’s goal should be to help them – just like colleges are helping all other students.  As I initially blogged on 5/6/07 (and have reprinted at least once), the reason kids go to college is not for an education, but to improve their station in life.

The one-and-dones are going to college because they have to – and once the sand runs out of that year-long hour glass, color them gone – for the big money.  If that’s the reality – and for the great ones, it is – why not give them a curriculum to prepare them for the life they’re about to enter?  That’s exactly what the basketball coach is doing in practice.  How about offering them (and any other student at the university) courses such as money management (including philanthropy for those who hit the jackpot), selecting advisers (mentors, agents, and, although, it could be a sensitive area, friends), dealing with the media, women’s rights (this should be mandatory for many students in the wake of today’s front page stories), nutrition, maintaining physical fitness, accepting the responsibility of being a role model and acting appropriately (whether they want to or not, athletes are role models) and, since NBA players don’t have normal 8-hour work days, nor do they play year-round, a course in how to productively use “down-time” (from doing crosswords and sudokus to keep the mind active, to reading up on a topic of interest, to tennis and golf)?  Many other course possibilities exist if people at the top would put their heads together.

What this does is give an extremely talented young man something that he can actually see will help him in his life after college.  One night a few years ago, the guys on the set of TNT’s NBA game night studio show were giving Charles Barkley a hard time about the (lack of an) Auburn education he got, leaving school without a degree.  Charles had a pretty good comeback:

“I don’t have a degree – but a lot of people who work for me do.”  �

What Happens When There’s Too Much Time Before the Finals

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

The Western Conference ended in a sweep. In fact, the winners of the West, the Golden State Warriors, blew through each of their three opponents – “fo’, fo’, fo’ ” – on their way to the NBA Finals. While most fans felt certain it would be Cleveland who would pull of that scenario – since the East was universally considered to be the weaker of the two conferences – the Cavs failed to do so.

Then, again, their one and only stumble came against a courageous Boston Celtics squad who, after dropping two home games, rallied to somehow knock off the defending champs in Game 3 with a three-pointer in the final seconds. Two games later the series ended and the long wait – an entire week – for a league that fans were used to watching on a daily basis – began.

Story lines abound, many of which are nonsense, e.g. today on NBA radio, a statement was made by the talking head that this is a “must win” series for Kevin Durant. This same guy, who never played a lick of professional (or maybe any other level of) basketball, also made the statement that Pau Gasol was a million years old and if he was put in a pick and roll situation that he, the talking head, could drop 30. Sure, he was exaggerating to make a point as many of these guys – who have no skill but have a platform – do, but they need to be reeled in when it comes to much of their criticism. A must win series? Meaning what, that KD needs to apologize for deciding to join the Warriors if they don’t win it all? That he should admit he made a mistake and head back to OKC? That he should retire from the game – and maybe become a radio talk show host? Him saying he could drop 30 would tend to have a tad more credence.

Admittedly, it is difficult for talk show hosts with all the time they have to fill between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the beginning of the actual championship round. First of all, the “trilogy” talk was certainly the creation of some media member since, unless something of a major upset somewhere (like maybe if Kawhi Leonard had not gotten hurt?) occurred, it was way more than likely that the Finals would match the same two teams that played in it the past two years. Spoiler alert: Unless some team, somehow, adds somebody (probably somebodies) to its club, we almost definitely will be seeing the same two franchises for 2-3 more years. If you disagree, please feel free to comment because, with their current rosters – and the ages of the players on those rosters, it seems (barring injuries) it would take a monumental move, or moves, to unseat either as the Eastern or Western Conference representative in the NBA Finals.

So now the talk has turned to which team in this season’s NBA Finals is the underdog. Kenny Smith made the statement that the Warriors are the team that was up 3-1 last year (after having won it all the prior campaign) – and added, arguably, the second best player in the world. The wise guys in Vegas must agree with The Jet as Golden State is favored to take back the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Steve Kerr, however, has a different take. His feeling is, “They’re the champions. We’re not … They’re a great team, they’re the champs. We’re trying to take what they took from us last year.” Kerr was echoing a similar thought from the Cavs’ star Kevin Love (possibly the only time those two will be agreeing in the next couple weeks).

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me. At the end of the day we are defending our title. We’re trying to repeat which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel,” said Love.

If you have a strong feeling one way or the other, find a way (legally would be preferred) to cash in. Otherwise:

“Why not just let the series play out and see who wins?”

An Instance When Stat Heads Were a Little Too Much into Their Brilliance

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

There are infinitely more people who want to be involved in athletics than are talented enough to do so. One way to become part of the sports world is to create a niche, preferably one that has yet to be “invented.”

Back when the Celtics dominated (1950s-60s), it’s common knowledge that Red Auerbach was the head coach/mastermind of the franchise. Less known is that, during that era, teams couldn’t afford a staff of assistants, scouts, conditioning coaches and a large front office. In fact, Auerbach held many other roles, e.g. general manager, head of scouting, personnel director and travel agent.

Not too long after the Celtics’ dynasty, assistant coaches were introduced to the league. Trainers and doctors obviously were necessary. Then, in the early ’90s, Tim Grgurich left UNLV and became the first “player development” coach in the NBA. In today’s jargon, players are referred to as assets. It only makes sense for professional clubs to improve the productivity and value of their assets. Soon, every team had one. Today, it’s commonplace for franchises to employ a couple player development coaches, along with interns who shag balls and bang against players outside of actual team practice sessions (to keep everyone fresh and decrease injuries).
Everyone I’ve ever met who worked for an NBA team falls in love with their job. It’s exciting, gives employees a certain amount of fame (ego for some who forget where they came from/who they really are) and the perks are incredible – especially now that so many owners are billionaires (unlike when Auerbach patrolled the sidelines). For those in the travel party, per diem is (I think) $135/day (it was $127/day in 2015 but, with the new collective bargaining agreement, how could anybody expect to get by on such a meager amount)? In addition there is usually food in the locker room and on the plane. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that life? There is also the swag – the gear, shoes, supplements, most everything imaginable.
Many players employ personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists (don’t forget agents) – and why not? When the new CBA kicks in next year, the average player salary will be $9 million per year, with superstars making upwards of $35-$40 million – over multiple years. With that much money, so few spots (approximately 450 – 30 teams, 15 players per) and a zillion guys trying to steal your job, it’s vital to be at the top of your game.
So the question is, how does a non-player get involved in this sweet business? Something called analytics is the way to go. Come up with different ways to evaluate performance – for a team’s current players as well as those it’s considering adding to the roster via trades, free agency or the draft – and a person becomes not only valuable, but indispensable. P.S. It works for radio and TV also, as more and more stations are employing passionate “stat heads”, i.e. guys who have no physical skill – we used to call them wannabes – but have memorized minutiae so now they have actually found a place in the sports world.
Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is the pioneer of the fields of analytics, making the low budget Bay Area team competitive, while turning heads of other franchises – and not only those playing baseball. His counterpart in the NBA is most likely Houston’s Daryl Morey (with a honorable mention going to Sam Hinkie). Where there used to be just “stats,” there are currently advanced stats which predict much more than the old ones guys like me are used to, e.g. eFG% is a better version of FG% (just don’t ask me why but, in a nutshell, advanced stats are a much greater indicator of overall player value). Keep in mind, though, they can’t measure heart which is why putting a team together will never be an exact science.
I tell people “I’m not from this century” (by the way – I mean BTW – it’s not something I’m proud of). However, anything that improves the effectiveness and enjoyment of the game, for players, coaches and fans, is most likely a good thing. All that said, sometimes these guys go a tad overboard. The latest absolutely useless statistic fed to the listening and viewing public occurred following Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, in which the San Antonio Spurs blew a 25-point lead to the Golden State Warriors (see my last blog – Kawhi Leonard’s injury most likely had something to do with the outcome).

The analytics’ folks gave us this gem to chew on: “The Spurs were 316-0 when leading by at least 25 points under Gregg Popovich before today (regular season & playoffs).”

Fascinating! I have just one question:

“What is every other coach’s record when leading by at least 25 points (regular season & playoffs)?”