Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

The Cleveland Cavaliers Are Some Inspiring Story

Monday, June 8th, 2015

After eons of misery, the future for the city of Cleveland is . . . well, let’s just say, it’s not as bleak as it usually is. If ever there was a source of inspiration, this year’s version of the Cleveland Cavaliers certainly qualifies. Following Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Cavs are 1-1 and heading home, having turned the home court advantage to their favor.

It’s a greater accomplishment than it sounds. First of all, the franchise hired a coach who only true insiders knew had the necessary skills to succeed at the highest level of basketball, mostly because he’d had incredible success at the next to the highest level of basketball. The confidence the front office had in their decision to hire somebody named David Blatt, who wasn’t a former NBA player, assistant coach, front office employee, commentator (heck, a guy who didn’t even have experience in the video room) might have waned a tad when hometown favorite (turned despicable villain), LeBron James, decided to U-turn his career and become a Cavalier again. All was forgotten. LeBron was even more beloved than before. But what that new coach’s name again – and what was his plan for gaining LeBron’s trust? People would understand if “European” became “you’re a-peein’ ” in Blatt’s case.

Thoughts of “How will the rookie coach, who few fans ever even heard of, interact with the Savior?” must have entered the minds of the brass (as well as every other fan – Cavs or other). LeBron wasn’t consulted and didn’t sign off on the new head man because the coach was brought on board before the superstar was. Deep down, the front office personnel had complete confidence the transition would be fluid. After all, they’d acquired (more due to LBJ’s involvement than their new coach’s), All-Star “stretch four” Kevin Love, meaning that, with their own point guard phenom, Kyrie Irving, the Cavs now had the recipe for a championship, i.e. their version of The Big Three.There were so many positive vibes in Cleveland that, when franchise and fan favorite, Anderson Varrejo, went down for the year, there was no cause for panic.

Sure enough, the season was smooth sailing. . . until the squad lost three of their first four games (the only win coming in overtime). Then there was the 12-game stretch from Xmas until mid-January during which the club lost 10 contests, leaving them with a record of 19-20. The information super highway being what it is (“unforgivable” is a word that comes to mind), anonymous people (as well as some not so anonymous), felt compelled to weigh in on the coaching part of the equation. With the record as it was, Blatt could have been bracing himself for the unemployment line. Instead, he and the assistant coaches did what every solid coaching staff does – they kept their heads down, trying to figure out how to right the ship.

The front office came to their rescue, obtaining J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks – although there was some concern about bringing in guys who were accused of displaying a halfhearted effort for New York. The key move, one GM David Griffin had in the works for quite a while, was bringing in Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets. Mozgov is Russian and had played for Blatt in Europe which had to comforting for the coach during a season of constant criticism.

Fast forward through the season (Cleveland finished second in the East behind Atlanta) and through the playoffs (in which they lost the services of Love to injury against the Celtics – until, maybe, next year) to the NBA Finals. It would be a monumental task to ask such a club to win it all in LeBron’s (and Blatt’s) first season. James had even asked for patience as they went about creating the proper culture (of winning) and learning a new system. Yet, there they stood, albeit as major underdogs to a Golden State team who was setting all kinds of records, representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Somehow, they kept the first game close – and had a shot (which turned into a couple of attempts) to steal Game 1 from the Warriors.

The ultimate lesson regarding “how teams respond to adversity” occurred. Neither shot went down, the game went into OT and, not only did they lose the game, but the injury-stricken Irving – who had battled back from one problem after another – was lost for the remainder of the playoffs when he knee struck that of Klay Thompson’s who’d been guarding him.

A look at the stat sheet showed that in the second half of Game 1 the Cavs had only three players score – and, for Game 2 (and here on out), one of them wouldn’t be available.

When asked about how LeBron James willed the team to win, David Blatt’s comments were (close but not verbatim), “You’d be hard pressed to find a player who can give an all around performance and all around leadership like he does. That’s what winners do and that’s what he is – a winner.”

As far as LeBron’s remarks on trying to win the championship without either Love or Irving, “I don’t need any extra motivation. Our guys love it. They’re using it as motivation. I have some other motivations I won’t talk about . . . ” Whoa! Did LeBron let the media (and public) in on a little of his personal goals. What might they be? I’d rather not speculate, but do hope to live long enough to discover exactly what it is that’s burning deep in the belly of that beast.

It would be shocking if David Blatt didn’t also have some unspoken goals. Whether, as several insecure coaches I’ve known, he has a list of people who’ve “jumped off his bandwagon” (or who refused to ever get on it) is unknown. Revenge, however, would be, no doubt as sweet for him as it would be for LBJ. To the media, following Game 2, Blatt was frank as he assessed their chances:

“We’re without two All-Stars. I don’t know of another team who could do what we’re doing. What truly matters is what we have as a game plan and that we go out and execute it.”

 

Who’s Fault Is It, Anyway, that the Cavs Won’t Win It All?

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

How absurd is it that David Blatt will be (heck, has been and is being) condemned for the Cavaliers’ (most likely) loss (sweep) in the NBA Finals (even before they’ve succumbed)? It might just be the first time ever that a coach has led a team to the NBA Finals yet earned more ridicule than praise for the job he did. Well, the first time since . . . Avery Johnson took the Dallas Mavericks there – only to “capture the silver” – and catch incredible grief for not bringing home the “Larry”. Especially after winning the first two games of the Finals against the Miami Heat (who, by the way, had Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and veterans Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning).

Today’s fans – and media – want somebody to be held accountable for whichever team loses in the championship best-of-seven series, even though one of them has to lose. Fans want to feel like winners, not almost winners. And, Lord knows, it wasn’t their fault the team came up short (although they’d swear they had a major impact had their team won it all). The media finds writing and reporting negative stories much more captivating than the feel good kind. If only everyone who’s denouncing Blatt would apply the same standards to their own lives, the overall attitude in this country would soar.

But it’s so much easier to criticize (not too mention infinitely more fun) than write a story with a positive spin. Or, at least a straight forward essay on all the adversity the Cavs had to fight through. First, there was the loss of Anderson Varrejo so early in the season (remember how that injury caused Cleveland fans to, more or less, write off the season and adopt a “wait ’til next year” philosophy?) Then, observing Kevin Love run off the floor against the Celtics after Kelly Olynyk yanked on his shoulder, subsequently, discovering that there would be no more Love for the organization for the remainder of the playoffs – the real reason Love went to Cleveland as well as the reason the Cavs wanted the “stretch four.”

Changing the angle of the story by lauding the shrewd moves made by the front office (which, many people don’t realize is, actually, their job). The additions of Timofey Mozgov (without Varrejo, they needed a rim protector which they got but who also developed into a reliable scorer off of pick & rolls and offensive boards) as well as adding a couple of guys who were languishing on a bad (the G rated assessment of the) Knicks squad. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert felt like they’d died and gone to hoops heaven when they put on that Cavs’ uni. And they played like it. As anyone who has ever coached would understand, an outfit with new players and a “rookie” coach (albeit one with a gaggle of professional championships in competition that is one [granted, BIG] level below the NBA) was going to take time to feel each other out, get used to the different jargon and, more importantly, personalities, before a measure of trust could be established. The kind of trust a team needs to become the Eastern Conference representatives in the NBA Finals.

The fact that Blatt was hired prior to LeBron James’ decision to return “home” had to have made for a truly awkward situation. Had the franchise known the King was going to give them a second chance, there’s little (to no) doubt they would have hired a more experienced coach. With the prospect of James joining the roster, there would have been no shortage of excellent candidates who would have literally begged for the job. Instead, the (by most people’s opinion) best player in the game today had to figure out a way to have Cleveland be his team (of that there was no confusion on anyone’s part – including the new head coach), but not fracture the franchise.

Hey, had LeBron made his last shot of regulation (recall, he’d hit a three from the same side just moments earlier), there would be a committee meeting to discuss the parade. And talk about a “game of inches.” Shumpert’s desperation attempt needed another inch or so and they’d be rockin’ & rollin’ in the Capitol of Rock & Roll. So not only could they not get the break they could have used on either shot, they wound up getting a break they certainly could have done without.

Kyrie Irving’s fracture of his left kneecap has cast the darkest of clouds on the Cavaliers’ championship hopes. Blatt is such a convenient target for people like Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon (who shot another veiled dagger at the coach who, right about now has zero time to even think about anything but a Plan B – and maybe C, D & E). The only thing that needs to be discussed when it comes to “pointing the blame finger,” is that the two Cavs’ doctors had cleared the point guard to play. The era of “wink-wink” docs making decisions to appease coaches or front office, i.e. put a player’s health and career on the line just so the team can win is long gone. There are two many cameras, audio recording devices, “anonymous sources” and all other surreptitious angles doctors can lose not only their jobs within the organization but their licenses (and freedom in some cases – ask Dr. Conrad Murray).

Rather than dole out blame, why not shower the entire franchise with congrats (not too many would have picked them to  make it to the Finals at the season’s outset) and think of might have been if only. . . And, maybe, if they can catch a dose of good fortune, maybe . . .

“Nah. Buit think of how much sweeter holding up that trophy will be a year from now.”

Game 1 of the NBA Finals Wrap Up

Friday, June 5th, 2015

The early going of the first game of the NBA Finals had a lot of good and a lot of bad. On the good side, for most of the first quarter, there was pretty solid defensive play, with steals and blocked shots from both squads, creating continuous end-to-end action (the type of effort you’d expect from a couple teams who’d had a week off) It made for the kind of basketball that fans crave. On the bad side, however, there were unforced turnovers (which is where many of those steals came from) and a host of (relatively easy) missed shots (the type of effort you’d expect from a couple teams who’d had a week off). It made for the kind of basketball coaches loathe. Golden State’s coach Steve Kerr kept it in perspective after a first quarter which saw his squad down, 29-19, “Everybody’s a nervous, a little jumpy. Hey, that’s supposed to happen,” said Kerr.

Or as my former boss, George Raveling, used to say during contests like this, “Don’t worry; the game will return to reality.” And, naturally, it did. Comparing some of the numbers, LeBron James was 18-38 for 44 points while Steph Curry & Klay Thompson were a combined 15-34 for 47. James and Kyrie Irving split 12 assists, Curry and Thompson totaled 9 (Curry with all but one of those). The rebounding battle went to Golden State 48-45. While I tried to listen to all the post game comments from players, coaches, commentators and media, I can’t recall one person who made reference to the discrepancy in free throws: 13-19 for the Cavs (with James and Timofey Mozgov taking all but one of those), while the Warriors went 20-22 (including a combined 12-12 from Curry and Thompson). In a game in which one more point in regulation would have made the difference between jubilation and desperation – thus, changing the tenor of the post game comments 180 degrees – it’s amazing something so glaring could be overlooked.

Much was made of LeBron only dishing six assists, yet no one said the main reason was because Golden State’s game plan, obviously, was not to double the Cavs’ superstar. Whoever guarded James, be it Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, or whoever, had to (try and) handle him without help. Throughout the playoffs, James has shown to be a willing passer. The Cavs must feel, as many teams do, that no one defender can play LeBron straight up. It worked last night. If Cleveland had managed to knock down one more FT, the Warriors might be rethinking their strategy.

Following the game (and, according to them, while it was going on), ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon criticized Cavs’ coach David Blatt (really? how shocking!) for playing Irving over 43 minutes (43:37). Smith, in near disgust, spoke of the previous injury and wondered aloud how Blatt could have allowed the Cavs’ guard to be on the floor for so long, the kid having just worked so hard for eight days to get back to doing what he would be needed to do. Wilbon agreed with his colleague. The reason is the Irving injured his left knee. The same guy who’d just returned from a serious left knee injury. Whenever there’s something like an injury to a star – especially one who’d already been injured – stats are thrown out the window. Controversy now rules the day. The average fan doesn’t want to hear that, had Cleveland shot free throws just a little better – or James’ or Iman Shumpert’s shot at the end of regulation had gone in, they would have won. Fans want hard-hitting reporters who’ll discuss contentious topics, not feed them facts (even though they’re called facts) – which is why the focus of (today’s) journalist is less about game analysis and more about . . . blame. In this case, though, what would have made their comments so much more powerful would have been if either of them illustrated exactly when Blatt should have rested him.

A relatively new statistic to basketball is one the game copied from hockey. It’s “plus/minus” which measures how a player’s team does when he’s in the game, i.e. were they ahead, behind or tied, as opposed to how the ball club did when he as out, obviously, the higher the score, the better. The highest +/- for the Cavs for the game (naturally, those who played the entire overtime were -8 for that period) was Irving who checked in at +5. Every other Cleveland player, except for Mozgov (+3), was negative. For the Warriors, only Andre Iguodala (+8) and Harrison Barnes (+11) were above +5. At which point did Smith and Wilbon suggest Irving be rested? For the record, Curry was +5 and played just 58 seconds less than Irving (and keep in mind his +/- for the OT was +8, making him -3 after regulation.

Former NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo, in his post game comments, cautioned fans to remember that during the regulation, “Irving made the play of the game, coming from behind to block Curry’s shot.” One of P.J.’s on-air partners, Chauncey Billups (and somebody who understands playing in, and winning, an NBA Finals), weighed in on his view (and probably that of any great player), “Kyrie Irving means so much to this team. You try to ride him out – especially in Game 1.” Billups thinking is, if you can steal the first game, then it might be possible to cut back on his minutes (had he aggravated his knee). “Mr. Big Shot” continued, “If the last shot goes in” (either James’ or Sumpert’s), “we’re talking about whether the Cavs can win Game 2 and sweep.”

Pat Riley was absolutely right. For coaches:

“There’s either winning or misery.”

 

Fresno State’s Tyler Johnson Has Impressive Rookie Season

Monday, June 1st, 2015

Heading to Stanford to check in with my pain management doctor, then on to LA to visit friends. This blog will return Friday, June 5.

18 players who did not get drafted last year played in at least one game during the 2014-15 NBA season. Talk about fulfilling a dream. I’m sure every one of those guys had, at the very least, hoped to have been drafted. Only 60 guys get picked. If you’re not one of them, what’s your next step?

Although I don’t know for certain, I’d guess each one must have had an agent. That is when the agent makes his money, however little it is. Find the client a job overseas (obviously, as lucrative as possible – and there are some high paying jobs across the seas), try to get him signed as a free agent, get him a spot on some team’s summer league squad, try to place him in the D-League.  Keep his dream alive.

A lot of it depends on the client. How badly does he want to play? Is he willing to relocate – maybe to somewhere they don’t speak English? What’s his ultimate goal – the NBA, to make as much money as he can, or is he the adventurous type who wants to see as much of the world while he’s young (on somebody else’s dime)?

Googling “Fresno State players in the NBA” the results show that the school has placed, to date, 21 players in the NBA, although a Fresno State release claims as many as 30 (for the record, Tark had 10 of the 21, not including one kid who transferred from FSU and eventually made it to the league). The Bulldogs’ latest entry is Tyler Johnson, a youngster who wasn’t very highly recruited and whose freshman year saw him average just over four points for a 14-17 club. He improved every year and during his senior campaign he averaged nearly 16ppg and scored at least 20 points in a game on 13 different occasions throughout his career.

Johnson was one of those 18 who went undrafted but earned a spot on the Miami Heat’s summer league squad. Signed by the Heat in early August, only to be released in late October, he hooked on with a Development League team in Sioux Falls, SD. His play must have caught the eye of someone in the Heat organization because, in mid-January, he got what every D-League player dream of: a ten-day contract.

10-day contracts can lead to something – or they can simply tease a player. Some guys see action, others never even get to play during the 10 days. Most, then, get released – usually heartbroken. Johnson’s 10-day stats? One game, two minutes, two points (FTs). The release part happened to Tyler Johnson, but not the heartbroken. He returned to his D-League outfit, more determined to make it than ever. He had seen actual NBA basketball up close and knew he could hang. A couple weeks later, he signed another 10-day, and did well enough to merit another. Only the rule from the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement is, “After the second 10-day contract, the team can only retain the player by signing him for the remainder of the season.” Johnson had done enough to merit another contract, this one for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. His salary was prorated for the remainder of the season but, still, he had made the NBA!

Although that’s not the way Tyler looked at it. He had not yet made anything (even though the contract he signed was for two years – for over a million per year. He was determined, more than ever, to earn every last dollar. By NBA standards, a million dollars a year isn’t earth-shaking. Not even a minor tremor. To put it in perspective, though, guess what the valedictorian of Fresno State’s graduating class makes? While my research, or nosiness, doesn’t extend that far, suffice to say #1’s salary is less than Johnson’s. Besides, Tyler had additional plans.

What might have play into his hands was that the Heat, a proud franchise with multiple championships in the recent past, were struggling just to make the playoffs. The buzz that used to fill the arena was not nearly what it had been when The Big Three were going to the NBA Finals on a yearly basis or when D-Wade and Shaq put up a banner. Some guys just “play it out” at that time, while others might be banged up from a long season and at far less than 100%. Why go all-out, man, you’re a millionaire?

No matter for Tyler. Bring it on. This was his dream – right there in the palm of his hands and he was going to, just as he did in every game he’d ever played, “leave it all on the floor.” Hustle plays, coming up with 50-50 balls, anything to show he belonged, he did it. The month of March was good to him as he first scored a career high 26 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, in a win over Phoenix and, five days later, he played 44 minutes, scoring 24 points, with six rebounds and six assists in an OT victory against Sacramento.

What many players don’t realize, especially at the end of the season when a lot of guys have already made vacation plans, is it’s not only your front office you’re trying to impress. You’re auditioning for your opponent as well. With today’s technology and staffs full of video people, every game is an audition for every team in the league. The way players are moved around today, Tyler Johnson’s performance for the Heat upped his stock so that somewhere, somebody will want him on their roster.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on his evaluation of Johnson’s career to date: “. . . over the course of the years, undrafted players on average, there’s less then five a year that actually make it and have a role . . . (now the question is) can you sustain it.”

All-out hustle is not a new concept. Arguably the greatest baseball player of all-time, Joe DiMaggio, when asked why he always gave maximum effort, replied:

“There might be somebody coming to the game today who’s never seen me play – and I don’t want to disappoint him.”

More on Thibodeau?

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

For the past (seems like) year, the firing by the Chicago Bulls of their coach Tom Thibodeau was one of the worst kept secrets in the NBA. How the actual dismissal was handled was even more of a blunder. As has been mentioned in this space (more than once), the Bulls’ front office, led by VP of Basketball Ops John Paxson and GM Gar Forman (who, allegedly, is so smitten by Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, he might need counseling if the Cyclones coach rejects the Bulls’ generous advances), has made coaching the team next to impossible for their previous (now) three head men. Every Bulls head coach has to constantly be looking over his shoulder.

From telling the coaches which guys to hire and fire to how many minutes certain players should play, those two must feel their number one duty is to meddle.How someone hasn’t told those two how to get along – or to just stay out of the way – with the coaches they hire defies credulity. Skiles, Del Negro, Thibodeau – and never, never, have either Paxson or Forman taken an iota of responsibility.

Those who defend them say the coaches were hired over their protests. If that, in fact, is the case then the problem lies with someone higher up – and looking at the Bulls’ organizational chart that would mean the culprit would have to be named Reinsdorf. Either Jerry, the owner, or is son, Michael, the prez, would be considered Paxson’s and Forman’s boss(es).  Here are a couple unanswered questions: If the Reinsdorfs hire the guy, why don’t they tell Paxson and Forman to help them succeed? If the answer is they did, then why don’t the owners (including the son because he’ll probably inherit the franchise) see the (not so) hidden agenda, i.e. that those two are undermining the team?

I can remember Mike Krzyzewski talking about how fascinating it was watching the thoroughness and passion of Thibs when he was explaining defensive coverages to the U.S. Olympic team. Justin Farmer, who writes for isportsweb reported, “Thibs is a great coach and the next team he lands with, will get one of the best defensive minds in the NBA today.” Here’s a guy who averaged over 50 wins a year, including a strike shortened season and with Derrick Rose playing in less than half of the games (181 of 394) while Thibs was there. And he’s getting canned? And with a dishonorable discharge at that?

In addition to costing their owner several million bucks to pay someone not to work (a practice frowned upon by a guy like Reinsdorf), both Paxson and Forman have been accused of leaking negative information to the media – and, possibly, poisoning the players’ minds regarding the coaches. The report that at least three players were going to boycott and stay away from the Bulls’ facility if Thibodeau was brought back as coach is interesting. First of all, the three players’ names were, of course, anonymous, anonymous and anonymous – the most highly quoted source of any kind of dirt in an organization, team, company, government, whatever. Hey, if you feel that strongly about an issue or a person, don’t hide behind the cloak of secrecy. Number two, when the hell did individual players get the power to boycott? They’re under contract. Plus, does anyone think, for a second, that Thibodeau would have gotten the ax if the Bulls had won it all? The people who determine that are the ones in uniform. If you succeed (and if the rumors are true, they did), boycott at your own risk because . . . well, have you ever heard of Wally Pipp?

Lastly, if Paxson and Forman actually make the selection this time around – and the Bulls 1) don’t win as many games as they have had in the past or 2) don’t advance any farther in the playoffs, are the next heads to lopped off those of the meddlers. That begs another question, namely, how much will they be allowed to interfere with the new coaching staff? Or will there be a “meddling clause” written into the contract?

Some ground rules need to be set. By no means, will “injuries” be allowed as an excuse should the team not live up to expectations – which are relatively high in Chi-town. This unbridled optimism is due largely due to a very short list of men – Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the only players to be on every one of the six championship squads (Jordan couldn’t win without Pippen; Pippen couldn’t win without Jordan, although each tried without the other) and coaches Phil Jackson and Tex Winter. That’s the total number of players/coaches who made up each championship in the Bulls “dynasty.” Without them, there would be a number of championship banners hanging in the United Center. The number is zero.

So don’t make the Bulls franchise out to be like the Lakers or the Celtics, both of whom won multiple championships in different decades, with completely different players and coaches. Sure, Forman can talk about the “culture” of their organization but, right now, their most recognizable culture is one in which the front office and coaching staffs come together (actually, “apart” is probably a better word) to create a form of “reverse synergy.”

Rumors have it they’re about to shell out $25 million for the next five years for a coach, whom everybody says only positive things about, yet one who’s never called a time out or run an NBA practice. With the track record of Paxson and Forman, Fred Hoiberg better have some magical personality, unless he can string five “Larry’s” in a row.

If you haven’t already, read Steve Rosenbloom’s piece in the Chicago Tribune (5/28/15) on this mess. If he had to choose between Steve and me for a recommendation, Paxson would ask yours truly.

The Bulls Need to Fire Somebody But They Picked the Wrong Guy

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

Full disclosure: At the turn of the century, I was attending a self-improvement clinic (that I helped originate in the mid 1980s), I happened to be sitting next to Tom Thibodeau who was there because he was Jeff Van Gundy’s assistant with the New York Knicks. Jeff had been coming to the clinic since he was a graduate assistant with Rick Pitino at Providence. Due to the proximity (and the fact we went for two days, ordering food in to make the most efficient use of our time, Thibs and I chatted it up quite a bit. At the time I was working at Fresno State for Jerry Tarkanian who had hired Thibs during his short stay as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. We are by no means “boys” but we did get to rekindle our friendship when I saw him at Hall of Fame ceremonies a couple years ago when Tark got inducted. I am definitely biased.

Let’s set the stage: 1993 NBA Finals, Game 6 in Phoenix, Bulls up on the Suns 3-2 in games but down 98-96 with time running out, John Paxson makes a (wide open) three-pointer with 3 seconds to go, allowing the Bulls to win their third straight NBA Championship and second three-peat in the ’90s.

Question #1: What is the shelf life of that shot in terms of Paxson’s golden boy status?

Question #2 Does Gar Forman have incriminating pictures of Jerry Reinsdorf?

In a game of “stare down,” the Bulls blinked first. Their intention was to either get compensation for their coach (with whom they haven’t spoken to for several months) or, because they badmouthed him so bad, no team was willing to give up a draft pick for a guy they knew was going to be fired anyway, let Thibodeau twist in the wind until all the open jobs were filled and, then, fire him. Even though, if he were to be hired by another team, there would be “offset” money, meaning whatever dough he was getting paid by his new employer, was money they could subtract from the considerable (uh, $9 million) they owed him. If that second option sounds childish, . . . you ain’t heard nothing yet.

Bulls’ management talks of the “culture” but I wonder if that culture wouldn’t be in Portland if . . . well, everybody knows about the 1984 NBA draft. What people, especially Jerry Reinsdorf, need to do is get into “today.” Chicago is a destination city for a coach – in terms of the market, fan base and good place to raise a family (at least everybody would learn how to survive those nasty winters). It’s just that it hasn’t been a destination job since . . . Phil left. Not only do Frick & Frack (Paxson & Forman, take your pick as to which is which) fire coaches, every time time they do, it’s nasty to the point of ugly.

Scott Skiles has a good name in coaching circles and might be back in the league as a head man next season. They pink-slipped him. Did he deserve to go? Hey, it’s the NBA – you get fired for not making the playoffs, making the playoffs but losing earlier than the front office thinks you should, not to mention,with everybody owning a camera, one slip up in your personal life (although that last one might be overlooked if you won it all).

Vinny Del Negro got the Clippers job and won 56 games in his final year (including 17 straight). Yet, F&F, allegedly, got rid of Del Negro because he played Joakim Noah more minutes than he was allowed – by F&F. They consulted with the doctors and asked how many minutes Noah should play. The only reason Del Negro played him more is because the game went overtime. It’s a Catch 22 – don’t play him and lose (do that enough and you’re canned) or play him to try to win and piss off the two guys who are power hungry.

How bad are they? They placed time limits on player this year and were upset that Thibodeau played guys too much. What is this pee wee hoops – everybody gets to start at least once and all the players get to play at least once each quarter? Hire your guy and let him coach. Apparently, in both cases, Reinsdorf overruled whichever coach F&F wanted. So they would leak information to undermine the coach (and the franchise). In the Del Negro case, Paxson threw a temper tantrum and began kicking the desk (does someone need a time out, Johnny?) There have been rumors that Paxson likes adult beverages . . . more than is healthy and that they may affect his behavior. Whether or not that’s true may or may not be discovered.

Steve DelVecchio’s story went as far to say, “The relationship between Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls front office is not functional…If the Bulls tried to screw Thibodeau in a childish manner, they’d also be taking themselves out of the running for any candidates that the New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are considering.” That’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” What’s come out is that Thibs is difficult to get along with. Yet, when asked how, it always comes back to F&F telling him they want the  team coached. Hey. hire a guy and let him work. You don;t like the results, then fire him. When Mark Jackson had that success with Golden State but couldn’t get along with the higher ups, they let him go. And look what happened. Maybe that plan works. It did for the Warriors. It hasn’t for the Bulls.

ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted, “More and more you hear Thibs’ admirers around NBA say they fear Bulls (were) determined to let all three open jobs get filled and then let Thibs go.” Would they consider that a “win?” Beyond childish.

It sems as tough F&F have near autonomous power. They were overrules by Reinsdorf, who’s known as the biggest White Sox fan in the stadium and among the biggest fans of the Bulls. Regarding Thibs’ hiring, Joe Cowley, of the Chicago Sun Times wrote, “The Chicago Bulls’ front office reportedly attempted to have Tom Thibodeau hire an offensive-minded assistant coach. The coach pushed to Thibodeau was Doug Collins,. . . (whom they) nearly hired as a head coach again in 2008.” If only. Then, they there was their win-win. If the Bulls won, Doug could snatch the credit; if they lost, they could fire Thibs and hire Doug. Apparently, owner Reinsdorf wanted Vinny Del Negro. So, is this how it works – Pax and Gar don’t get to pick the coach but they can fire him? Because he doesn’t coach the team and use the players the way they think he should?

Now they want Fred Hoiberg, who’s done a great job at Iowa State but has zero NBA experience and is coming off open heart surgery. Do they want him that badly? Even if the rumor is Hoiberg wants to coach in the NBA, didn’t they already hire a Iowa State coach (Tim Floyd) whose claim to fame is . . . he hired Gar Forman?

Sportswriter Darrell Horowitz wrote a scathing article, ripping Thibs. He was pretty much the Lone Ranger within his profession. Wonder what his relationship to F&F is? He wrote things an insider would know (assuming what he wrote is fact. What Thibs has going for him is the president (of the United States, not the Bulls – which happens to be Reinsdorf’s son – he probably nailed the interview) came out in support of him. Darell Horowitz (and F&F) are against him. And got Reinsdorf to belittle Thibs. Until then, people felt Jerry was a Thibs’ supporter – and probably was.

A claim can be made that every one of the Bulls’ championships begin and end with Michael Jordan. While MJ didn’t win those titles all by himself, the Bulls never won one without him. They three-peated, he left and they three-peated when he came back. None without him. Case closed.

Once again, to end the Bulls’ dysfunction, the answer is to have John Paxson and Gar Forman coach the damn team. Then maybe they’d fire themselves and let adults take over. After all, as Jeff Van Gundy said (in support of his man, Thibs):

“These are the same two guys who drafted Tyrus Thomas ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge.”

 

Some in the Media Have Limited Empathy

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

An elimination game is played and the team behind in the series loses. Season’s over. Just like that. Everybody, after exit interviews, will most likely, go their own way, possibly to reconnect with their family, possibly to “get away from it all.” After a long season (whichever sport), there’s a need for R&R.

Before any of that occurs, however, there’s the mandatory press conference. With a multitude of writers, none of whom desire to write the same, trite story, questions range from what happened, to why, to what’s next. Kevin McHale, did a masterful job considering injuries, got the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals, after posting the second best record in the conference.

“What happened?’ was his greeting. The method he uses with the media is anti-Pop. McHale patiently answers every question with substance, e.g. we did a poor job of finishing at the rim, couldn’t keep the Warriors off the offensive glass and we turned the ball over too many times high in their offensive set which caused run-outs by Golden State. Perfect wrap-up – if someone was really interested in why Houston lost. Not enough. Questions about Harden’s poor performance (two days after he posted one of the best playoff games in history),  and “Is it good for the NBA to have new blood in the Finals?” (the Cavs have never won a championship; the Warriors won theirs 40 years ago).

McHale’s answers were wonderful. Regarding Harden’s 13 turnovers, he said, “Look, nobody goes into a game trying to turn over the ball.” His second answer was just as on point. “The Rockets haven’t won one in a while. I wish it was us.” In other words, “Look, we just lost. Do you think I’ve considered that question for one iota?” Can’t the media understand that, during the playoffs (or NCAA tournament, World Series, Super Bowl, whatever for that matter), that while they (the media) think about those things because they have to. Coaches are a different breed. They care who wins. And not because they’re a fan or have a wager on the game. And when they’re eliminated, many choose not to watch any further basketball.

Steve Kerr, on the other hand, felt it was terrific for the league to have “new blood” (same guy asked the question to Kerr after McHale’s presser ended). Because his team (and their new blood) are in it! But the media has to ask an asinine question to Kerr, too, or how fair would they be?

“What do you think of your match up with the Cavs?” was the query. Kerr seemed taken aback. His team had just won the Western Conference championship – in his first year as head coach. He answered as honestly as McHale when he said he hadn’t given it one thought – because they had been so focused on the Rockets. If Kerr had said something about the Cavs, no doubt, some time in the future when his team would lose a game in which they were favored, that writer, or one of his cronies, would accuse the coach of “looking ahead,” just like he’d done during the 2015 Playoffs.

One of the best answers to a media question was what Kerr gave to Doris Burke when she asked him a question about strategy at the end of the third quarter of either Game 3 or 4. Kerr looked at the sideline reporter and simply said:

“I’m not going to tell you that, Doris!”

 

The NBA Has Painted Itself in a Corner

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be consistent.”

Fans Are Warned About Comparing Performances from Different Eras

Monday, May 25th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

No doubt where he stands on that issue.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes the best advice regarding controversial subjects just might be:

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