Archive for the ‘dealing with adversity’ Category

How Late Night Comedy Has Changed

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

The late night shows of today are quite a bit different from those of my generation. First of all, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was the late night talk show. As in the only late night talk show (I have to admit I can barely remember Steve Allen and Jack Paar but won’t bore anybody with that). Those shows were predominantly made up of dialogue between Johnny Carson and his guests (mainly TV and big screen stars, i.e. “famous people” but, every so often people like zookeeper Jack Hanna would make an appearance with his animals). Occasionally, the format of the program would branch out and, there would be performances of tomfoolery – like Don Rickles and the hot tub. A piece that will live forever is when Native American Ed Ames, who played Mingo, a Cherokee tribesman on the show Daniel Boone, was Johnny’s guest. He illustrated how to throw a tomahawk – at a wooden cut-out of a cowboy. If, somehow, you’ve never seen it, suffice to say that where the tomahawk landed would make Draymond Green proud. (Google it if you haven’t seen it – it’s one of the greatest spontaneous moments of comedy ever televised).

Today, late night TV shows are plentiful. With ratings being the end-all for networks, these shows have morphed into more than just conversations between host and guest. While the opening of each is still the host’s monologue, after that anything goes. Skits set outside the studio are used – some funny, some not so (although that might be the baby boomer in me speaking) as well as other in-studio ideas to entice viewers to tune in. One invention is the competition model, where guest and host compete against each other, or two guests face off.

Last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! - one of the main three network shows that come on following the late night news – Jimmy had two NBA stars answer questions from the other’s era. The “contestants” were Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier, representing “yesteryear” and New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis, repping today’s generation. Kimmel would pose a question from “back in the day” to Davis, then one from from today for Frazier. If one didn’t get the answer, he other had a chance to correct him.

The first (practice) question for Clyde was, “What is the name of Beyonce’s latest single?” No clue.

After the break, a picture of Jimmy Carter was put up and A.D. was asked to tell the audience the name of the former President. Davis just shook his head. Someone who had spent a year in college (not to mention all those years in elementary, junior high and high school) couldn’t name a president who is still alive. I mean, it wasn’t like he was shown a picture of James Buchanan. Yet, it’s extremely doubtful anyone from UK is in any way embarrassed because, come on, A.D. was here only one year and he led the ‘Cats to a national championship. How much could somebody expect out of the young man? Besides, the most important president to Kentucky players is the one they accumulate so many of when they leave campus – Benjamin Franklin. (Uh, yeah, it’s a joke). Frazier not only said who it was but prefaced his remarks by informing the studio and viewing audience that he hailed from the same state as Carter.

Then, Frazier was shown a picture of Jay Z and was asked what the rapper’s last name was. Cleverly, but incorrectly, he said, “Z.” Davis said, “Carter,” and the game was tied. It continued in similar fashion. Frazier didn’t know the ending to “Netflix and ____” while Davis immediately responded with “Chill.” A.D. said the ending to the line, “up your nose with a rubber ____” was “duck.” He was corrected by Clyde who, somewhat surprisingly, knew it was “hose” (that bit of knowledge possibly the result of all the years he spent with Bill Bradley). Frazier did not know the music festival in Indio, CA was Coachella (Davis did), but the results were reversed when the question about Woodstock was presented (Frazier actually said he was there).

Another history question stumped Davis (if he didn’t know who Jimmy Carter was after seeing his picture, how could he have been expected to come up with who was responsible for the New Deal)? His answer “of what” was a hit with the audience and even drew a response from his opponent who, after saying FDR, commented, “He was thinking of his new deal” (which, of course was full of Benjamins). A white and yellow logo was put up on the screen which Frazier thought stood for “ghost” while Davis quickly said, “snapchat.”

The game winner came when the Pelicans’ all-star recognized Bruce Lee but the former Knicks’ great could only guess “turtle” when shown a picture of a green turtle ready for battle. Maybe Anthony Davis wasn’t keen on American presidents but he’d be damned if anybody thought he couldn’t pick out Michelangelo.

All in all, it was a fun segment, although it does make you wonder, are they exposing themselves as fools or are they simply good sports? Admittedly, the only one of the new generation questions I knew was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle because I had a son who grew up in that era (the green guys’ first one). “Contests” like this have some humor but, for my (old) taste buds:

“Give me Ed Ames and the tomahawk anytime.”

Did Harrison Barnes Hurt His Free Agent Chances?

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

With the NBA Finals going back and forth in a big way (there hasn’t been a single digit victory all series), the one characteristic that’s mandatory is the ability to not overreact. But that’s only for players and coaches of the participating teams. For talking heads and their callers, overreacting is a way of life. It began during the prior series when the Oklahoma City Thunder went up 3-1 against the defending champion Warriors and prediction of the Dubs’ demise was heard in earnest. Somehow they came back to beat OKC and the “best team of all-time” chant began to heat up again. Then the Finals started with a home team sweep of the first two games in Oakland and the chatter escalated to sizzling levels.

However, after Game 3 ended and the Cavs blew out their rivals – to the tune of 120-90 – there was a complete 180 attitude adjustment from the same people (or maybe the rivals of those who had been calling in). Cleveland had “figured it out” said some of the hosts and more of those jokers who phone in. All claimed the Cavs would be crowned as champions – maybe as soon as three more games. One would think sanity would return when the Dubs prevailed in Game 4 but, nooooo, it just flipped. “Warriors in five” was so obvious because . . . well, whatever the reasons were after Game 2.

Yesterday, my blog was about the choice Harrison Barnes would most likely face following the season. A couple weeks ago a friend of mine (who’s an NBA assistant) and I had a discussion about upcoming NBA free agency. When Barnes’ name came up, my comment was he was in a great place, playing for a solid, championship franchise with a modern-thinking owner (who, in all likelihood will continue to keep the Warriors in contention) and that Barnes would be wise to re-sign with his club (for the 4-year, 16.4 million/year the club offered him). My buddy said there was no chance of that happening because he was going to get a max contract from somebody. (Also, the Warriors could match any offer made by another team, even though that would give them four guys with sky high salaries). My retort was, “I’m not so sure he could be that type of player. Do you think he’s a max player?” His reply was that it didn’t matter because somebody was going to offer him max money. Probably more than one club, too.

My post yesterday pointed out the pluses and minuses of Harrison Barnes staying with Golden State or taking a max deal and ran the gamut of issues from having fun, making plenty and being an integral part of a potential dynasty to taking even more money, being the face of franchise and giving himself a chance to realize individual goals he may have set for himself at an early age.

Barnes certainly has the ability to be that go-to guy, somebody who can be a centerpiece of a team. For the Warriors, his role is the guy who usually makes timely baskets, plays solid defense, rebounds and, mainly, helps the team win. 73 games this season and, quite possibly, another NBA Championship. Every so often, he stuffed a stat sheet and showed the innate talent he’s capable of, put on a display that would open eyes of people who were used to seeing huge games from only Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and, occasionally, Draymond Green. That’s when the wheels in the heads of scouts and execs would turn and they’d visualize Barnes having games like no other player in their franchise could do.

If ever there was a time the Warriors needed Barnes to raise his game, it was during last night’s Game 5 when his team was without Green (due to his suspension). Unfortunately, he was a no-show. My friend and I spoke again after the game.

When a franchise has to invest that much money in somebody, I asked, would a performance like that have any effect? My buddy had a good answer:

“Don’t overreact.”

 

 

 

Harrison Barnes Might Be Faced with a Big Decision

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Unless they have an unprecedented collapse which, holding a 3-1 lead and having as much talent as they do seems beyond impossible (even without Draymond Green for Game 5), the Golden State Warriors are about to put Charles Barkley on his knees. That’s an(other) event that would sell out Oracle. It all started when, after winning it all last season, Sir Charles admitted the Warriors were the NBA champions – but with a caveat. Along with others who refused to believe a team could win a championship using an offense which had as its main weapon the three-ball, Barkley told Warriors’ fans to temper their enthusiasm for their newly crowned champs because not one opponent they faced throughout the 2015 playoffs was at full strength. If they did it this year, Barkley stated, he would get on his knees and apologize to Warrior Nation. Will Barkley begrudgingly admit these Dubs are the beginning of a, dare it be said, dynasty?

A reason to believe the “D” word can be mentioned is their core players are young. Klay Thompson and Green are locked up for multiple years. Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala are signed for next year at $11M plus each. Steph Curry is as well (at a little over $12M) but, when his contract is up and it’s time for a new one to be negotiated, the term “money is no object” will be heard from everyone in the Bay Area – and if there ever was a player who deserved a max contract, the Baby-faced Assassin is that guy. The one vital piece to, if not a dynasty then at least continuity, is Harrison Barnes. Earlier in the season, contract terms broke off between Barnes and the franchise. Actually, between Barnes’ representatives and the Warriors.

The contract that the Warriors reportedly offered Barnes is a four-year extension at approximately $16.4 million per year. Barnes, and/or his reps, are looking for a $20+ million/year deal. One decision, which is out of Barnes’ hands, is that, even if another team offers a max deal to the young small forward, the Warriors have the option to match it. Do that and everything else is moot.

However, if Barnes does have a choice, it won’t be an easy one (for him, the agent gets 4% – and 4% of a ton of money is more than 4% of not quite a ton of money). For the sake of argument, let’s say Golden State decides that the highest they want to go is four years and $16.4 million (after back-to-back championships, everybody feels they should get paid – a lot more than they were) and another NBA team, desperate for a “face” (especially one of someone with not only talent but character) offers (to keep the years equal) four years @$20M/year. Assume that as much as they want to, the Warriors don’t feel it’s prudent to match. What would be the thought process for Harrison Barnes?

Some people (led by Warriors’ fans) will say that money isn’t everything, that he’s a central figure, and a perfect fit, on a team poised for a three-peat (then the talk of “best team ever” gain a lot more credence). And who’s to say they have to stop at three? When LeBron moved to Miami, he initial spoke of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 . . . Dare the Warriors dream that high? There’s no reason to think Barnes wouldn’t improve the next few years and being a starter and major contributor on a team for the ages is quite a nice legacy. Plus, a guy ought to be able to live quite comfortably on $65.6M – and he’d be only 28 when his next contract comes up.

What also needs to be taken into account is something that few players consider (two exceptions being Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan) and that is their mental health, i.e how much fun it is coming to “work” every day, how the guys all seem to get along with each other and the coaches. Like family. Look around the league (or down at the other bench tonight). That doesn’t seem to be the case in too many places. Being the max player on the squad carries a huge burden. The team is paying for max production – every night. That goes for their fans and media as well. Even though, every time the lights turn on, opponents are game planning against you. Independent of whatever team Barnes would sign with, it wouldn’t be as good as the one he’s leaving and, chances are, it might not just be worse but a lot worse. In a best case scenario he’d probably wind up like Paul George, a sensational player, but one who leads a team that has to scrap to finish fourth or fifth in the conference.

Most likely his game would improve – but would it be good enough to keep disgruntled fans and media members from criticizing the franchise for giving max money to a guy who was a just complementary player on championship teams? Not to mention what all the cowards would have to say on talk shows and social media. Especially if the analytics said you were to blame or your production caused some wannabe to lose in his fantasy league. Some of that money would have to be spent on purchasing thick skin.

Now for the flip side. There would be plenty to spend on thick skin. The big money – a difference of $3.6M/year or a total of $14.4M – is a whole lot of dough to, as the saying in the NBA goes, “leave on the table.” If you don’t think so, ask his agent (who stands to lose over half a mil over the term of such a contract). If he wants to be “The Man,” moving and being the face of a team is what most every player of Barnes’ skill level dreams of. Being in that multi-year, $20M/per category separates a guy from the majority of the others in the NBA.

There’s also something most people haven’t thought of, simply because there’s no reason to have it cross the average person’s mind. Harrison Barnes was a highly regarded prospect. He was Mr. Basketball in Iowa and went to the University of North Carolina where he was ACC Rookie of the Year and second team all-conference his first season, first team all-ACC his second (and last). He was the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft. All this he accomplished by the age of 20. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if a player of that prowess doesn’t have dreams – dreams of being an All-Star (chances are pretty remote of achieving that goal if he stays with Golden State), of being one of the top five three-men in NBA history (if not higher) or of being the top dog on an NBA Championship squad. Pretty lofty goals but “from whom much is given, …”

With a person of his character (it was reported he had his first sip of alcohol when he tasted champagne at the post game celebration last season) and his skill set, he would be a PR director’s dream. He already is for Golden State but the question remains:

“Will he consider that to be rewarding enough?”

 

Game 4 Wrap Up

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

After hearing the Chicken Little prophecy of the Warriors being exposed – and, after the Cavs, who now had the formula to beat the defending champs, won again, how all the pressure would be on the Dubs, the NBA world has U-turned back and it looks like there will be a repeat champ. Chauncey Billups made this point: the Warriors have about four two-way players (good offensively and defensively), while the Cavs have only one.

Luke Walton must have forgotten that his head coaching gig doesn’t begin until next season, picking up a technical foul at the end of the half – on a call that showed the officials were wrong. But an assistant coach needs to, as the current saying goes, “stay in his lane.” Judging from the Lakers’ roster, there will plenty to get frustrated about next season. The NBA coffers will be overflowing if Walton brings that act south.

At halftime, Jalen Rose proclaimed Kyrie Irving, who did have a marvelous opening 24 minutes, was playing like Uncle Drew (referring to the old commercial). It was almost like somebody went and told Irving because he played the second half as he did in the commercial. He, alone, could handle everything (on the offensive end). He reverted to going one-on-one (“hero ball” as the TNT guys call it) and the Cavs’ offense became his high- (and low-) light show. Too often, low.

The Cavs had entirely too many missed assignments on defense. This can happen to any team but against the Warriors, the penalty is so severe (usually, resulting in a made three). You know they had a great defensive game plan and that plan was not to leave Curry or Thompson open. All series the Cleveland defense had done such a great job of “staying connected” to the Splash Brothers, giving them no room, limiting their touches and contesting every shot. Not so last night, as the two guards combined for 11 made threes, many practice Js.

Sports commentators, be they former professional players or simply professional journalists, analyze the action and players’ performances, pointing out the good and bad. What separates Stephen A. Smith from his colleagues is that his style is more spewing hatred and disgust toward guys when they don’t perform as he believes they should, almost as if he is personally offended by what they did on the floor. Maybe he’s just more passionate about his livelihood and how the game is played.

Tristan Thompson did a sensational job on the offensive glass (especially in the first half) but he showed some remarkable ability when he was matched up defensively against Curry on the perimeter. His one-on-one defensive prowess were something not often seen by a big man against a guard. Especially considering which guard he was facing.

It is absolutely amazing the information Brian Windhorst, aka “The LeBron Whisperer” gives the world. How he has the access he has is nothing short of miraculous (sure, they went to the same high school – but not at the same time). He’s known around the league as LeBron’s guy, yet he’ll make negative comments about King James. Often what he says isn’t so much negative as it is personal. The fact that he was the one who showed the video replay of the dust up between James and Draymond Green near the end of the contest (when he and LeBron were the last two people in the Cavs’ locker room), sharing the fact the two of them (James & Green) share a business interest. Windhorst refused to say what LeBron’s reply was after watching it, claiming it was private between them.

Also, with so many players and coaches being so diplomatic in their responses, it was shocking Windhorst told the viewers that LeBron looked despondent after the game and was at odds with Kyrie Irving, in that the latter strayed from the game plan (see above comment).

Regarding the James-Green “disagreement,” it was interesting to hear some commentators speak of LeBron stepping over Draymond as the ultimate show of disrespect, while others thought the fault lie with Green for taking a shot at his privates (as if he needed another one of those incidents to be added to his resume) and whatever unbecoming, personal comments he made subsequent to the act.

In the end, it appears to a basketball fan that the Warriors are the more talented squad but, more than that, they are the more disciplined club.

After Golden State’s performance in Game 3, Steve Kerr made the statement that his team was “soft.” At last night’s press conference, when asked about that comment, Kerr stated that one of his team’s problems is that they couldn’t handle prosperity. That reminded me of the following quote:

“Most people can’t handle prosperity. Then again, most people don’t have to.”

Anonymous Sources, 24 Hour Coverage, “New” Brand of Media

Friday, June 10th, 2016

While I don’t know for certain how many times in this blog space I’ve mentioned my disdain for people who feel the need to become “secret informants” on topics from petty to vital, rest assured the number approaches double figures. What would possess people to seek, or allow themselves to be cornered, by a media member who is out to further his career? Whether it’s information on a potential trade, which coach is about to be hired (or fired) or simple gossip in a locker room – especially when the last one directly follows devastating loss?

The reason can’t be fame because the deal is they must remain anonymous so fame is the last thing they want. I doubt it’s money because what’s usually revealed is of little value. What gets scooped never really even seems to be of any great importance. Maybe it’s a quid pro quo, i.e. the guy spilling his guts to acquire a chit that can be called in later, for . . . what? Help with procuring a job? Exposing somebody who did them wrong? Unloading frustration? So if some person happens to be one of the “lucky” ones who gains the confidence of a media member, or if that person is foolish enough to be duped into disclosing information that would be better left in house, who wins?

The fact that none of the Denver Broncos players leaked Peyton Manning’s retirement announcement (he’d let his teammates know that he had made the decision to retire prior to going public with it) is one of the great team accomplishments of all-time, possibly ranking behind only the University of Missouri’s football team keeping Michael Sam’s sexual proclivity quiet until Sam decided it was time to tell the world.

An opposite example would be Game 6 of the Western Conference Playoffs. Oklahoma City was up 3-2 with a home game looming against the defending champion Golden State Warriors – the team they’d thrashed in taking a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven series – the winner to undoubtedly play the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA Championship. The Warriors won at home but had to go to OKC for Game 6. Everybody knew the joint would be rocking and the champagne on ice.

The Thunder were ahead and their future looked bright until a collapse of epic proportions in the last few minutes of the contest. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, whom most would consider the main reasons the club made it that far, played poorly, especially the former, whom the Warriors couldn’t keep out of the paint throughout the series. ESPN’s supersleuth, Chris Broussard, who prides himself on being a true NBA insider, reported after the game that a player/some players/all the other players felt the two stalwarts cost them the game and, thus, a spot in the Finals (and while we’re pointing fingers, probably the Larry O’Brien Trophy).

“As far as their own stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder felt like they were playing to protect the lead in the fourth quarter, whereas the Warriors were playing to win,”  were the words of Broussard. With that, and other comments he obtained from disgruntled Thunder players, a few questions come to mind:

“How much cooperation from Westbrook and Durant does Broussard ever expect to get from here on out?’

“Will the Thunder ever again allow Broussard to talk to players without having someone from the team present at the dialogue?”

“After his report, would anyone but a malcontent ever want to have a conversation with Chris Broussard?”

Takeaways from Another NBA Finals Blowout

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

When asked how his Cavs (and make no mistake about it, they are his Cavs – independent of the coach, GM, front office and, even, owner) followed a 33-point thrashing in Game 2 (in Oakland) with an equally impressive 30-point victory in Game 3 (in Cleveland), LeBron James casually said, “The coaching staff gave us a great game plan and we executed it.” Sensational player, not exactly a quote machine. Cleveland would be just as happy if he remained that way. As scrutinized as he is, James has to have grown weary of life under the microscope. If the Cavs do find a way to win it all, expect a quote or two for the ages from King James.

Trying to explain the same question, Golden State coach Steve Kerr mentioned that his former coach and mentor, Gregg Popovich, used to say when teams that weren’t supposed to win, did win, “Remember, those guys get paid millions to play, too.” Meaning, sure you’re NBA players – but so are the guys you’re playing against. So, without a 100% effort, full attention to a game plan and the ability to dig deep when things aren’t going your way, no team can expect to win – especially in an NBA Finals. Prior to that assessment, Kerr fessed up and said, “We were soft.” Also not a riveting quote but about the biggest insult a coach can throw at his team.

Much has been made of Steph Curry and how so many youngsters (as well as those somewhat older) can relate to him because, unlike so many other professional superstars, his body type is not so intimidating. Although he’s a sleek 6’3″ and 190 pounds (as a kid, I always wished I’d be 6″2′, 200 – got half my wish), he’s not a seven-footer nor does he weigh 260 pounds with a body fat percentage of 5. As a college player, he weighed in around 160. He recently came out and said he wouldn’t be participating in the Olympics because of ankle and knee injuries he incurred. Could it be that, in addition to those issues, he’s just worn down?

What about the question of Kevin Love? Tim Legler and Charles Barkley said Ty Lue should re-insert Love into the starting lineup while Chauncey Billups and Stephen A. Smith let it be known Lue should sit him. Billups said that it’s obvious the Cavs are much better with Richard Jefferson starting – they’re faster, better defensively and Jefferson can attack the basket. Stephen A. vociferously agreed with “Mr. Big Shot.” Smith has the reputation of praising people when they do well and criticizing them when they’re not, although he seems to enjoy the latter much more than the former. Barkley felt Lue should have proclaimed it at the post game press conference – that it was a chance to build up Love and quiet “all the noise.” Legler’s reasoning for starting Love was, “That’s just what you do in the NBA with a player like that.” Smith’s was also based on realism. “He’s making $113 million, he’ll get over it.”

My main thought on why there was such a turnaround – which has importance for the simple reason that this is my blog – is the X factor which is the difference between playing at home and on the road. These guys are pros but they’re also human (which is a defense when they make negative headlines, i.e. the ones that are not on the sports page). At home everything a player does positively is reinforced by the crowd while on the road every negative move made is . . . cheered. At home, make a shot, get a steal, take a charge, block a shot and the crowd’s reaction has got to pump a guy up. When there’s a chance for a loose ball, every player knows any 50-50 ball could mean the difference between winning and losing. The guy who has heard the crowd roar in approval of his play will do anything for his team – and those 20,000+ faithful.

On the flip side, miss a shot (especially an air ball), throw the ball away, get stripped (especially if it leads to a dunk), travel, get beat defensively (especially if the play is going to be shown repeatedly during and after the game), foul – and, no matter how mentally tough a person is – there has to be an affect. Few players can turn that crowd reaction into a positive. So when it snowballs, e.g. a positive play by the home team followed by a negative play by the road squad, and several of those are strung together, it seems like there aren’t enough time outs. Mental toughness is tested.

All of the above considered, for this game anyway – and this will be tested in Game 4 – it might have simply come down to:

“One team was desperate (and played like it), the other was comfortable (and knew they had a cushion).”

Which NBA Era Was Really the Best?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Ever since the Golden State Warriors won an NBA championship with a “small” lineup – and then had the nerve to follow it up with the record for most wins in a season, the argument regarding the best teams of all-time took off. Again. It seems as though every time a team displays some kind of dominance over the other 29, that talk begins anew.

When the Showtime Lakers were piling up trophies – and fans – the claims of how much better than the championship Celtics team they were began in earnest. This lasted until the Pistons went back-to-back and the imminent demise of the NBA was predicted. Who wants to see “thuggery” was the fear far and wide (except in Detroit)? Jordan and the Bulls restored order to the hoops world but that wasn’t enough. “Best team ever!” their fans were clamoring, especially after MJ returned from his brief baseball career and they three-peated for a second time. Somehow, nobody outside of Houston ever seemed to scream about the two-in-a-row Rockets being the greatest ever. Maybe Houston fans were satisfied that the nation learned to “never to underestimate the heart of a champion.”

More recently, the San Antonio Spurs caught the fancy of the viewing public with their brand of team basketball. The fact they did it with mostly players born outside the U.S. might have weakened their stake in being referred to as the greatest team ever – at least on American soil.

So the Warriors have become the newest suitor for NBA fans – and radio talk show hosts. “They’re revolutionizing the game,” the (mainly) younger set proclaim with their version of small ball and firing (at least making) threes in unprecedented numbers. Let the “no-way-it-can-be-proven” debates begin. Baby boomers scoff at the mention of the Dubs’ unselfish team play. “Did you ever see Russell’s Celtics teams play,” they ask, “not to mention those led by Bird?”

The most absurd part of any of these arguments is that it’s not only impossible, but foolish, to try to compare teams from different eras. Oscar and West never had a three-point line. Does anyone believe that, if they could have gotten an extra point for making jumpers from beyond an arc, they wouldn’t have taken advantage of it? Or is there someone out there who believes those two – and so many others of that time – wouldn’t have had the skill to incorporate that strategy into their game? Or that their coaches wouldn’t have considered implementing additional strategies?

What’s even more asinine is to hear former players say, “Those guys would never get off those shots in our day. They’d be worn down, getting hand-checked every time they put the ball on the floor and hit with forearm shivers whenever they crossed the lane. And uncontested layups? Somebody would have laid them out.” These are ridiculous comments on two accounts. First, if the current players played under that set of rules, does anybody think they’d run to the bench crying? Secondly, flip the statement and put today’s rules into the games back then. Are those guys so stubborn that they’d foul out of game after game (or get thrown out) because they felt the rules were too soft? Of course not. Everybody would simply adjust!

It makes for good radio but, basically, is a bunch of goobledegook. No one can actually triumph in these arguments, with the possible exception of the radio host who cuts off a caller (in many cases deservedly so) and anoints himself the winner. Yet, it’s still fun for so many.

The most intriguing comment was made by none other than Larry Legend when the question of which era produced the best basketball. Bird told the New Yorker, “It’s funny how the game has changed . . . (there was a time) I was really worried that the little guy didn’t have a spot in the NBA anymore: it was just going to be the big guards like Magic Johnson. . . But then players started shooting more threes and spacing the court, and everyone wants small guards now. . . My era, you always think that’s the greatest era.”

That last line sums up how players and fans from each era pretty much believe. However, Bird ended the interview with a telling observation:

“But I’m not so sure anymore.”

In the NBA, Sometimes You Can Get More than Pay For

Monday, June 6th, 2016

The NBA Finals haven’t exactly been riveting to this point. Maybe the home court will flip the scenarios we’ve witnessed in the first two games. Which, even if it is the case, simply delays the inevitable, i.e. a repeat championship for the Golden State Warriors. But at this point, fans will take it. Mainly, however, they would prefer a little drama. Without it, fans turn to another favorite past time – complaining.

Peter Griffin (of Family Guy fame) is famous for saying, “that grinds my gears.” What grinds fans’ gears, most likely because it hits so close to home, is how much money NBA players make. Really, most professional athletes. And their coaches. Throw in college football and basketball coaches as well. It falls under the category of “if you’re going to make that much more than us, we ought to be able to complain when you don’t perform to that fiscal level.” You know, hold somebody else to a much higher level than you hold yourself.

In this finals, if the ten starters were introduced in order of highest to lowest salaries, not only would the top three be members of the 0-2 Cleveland Cavaliers but the two-time MVP wouldn’t hear his name called until . . . next to last. Yup, Steph Curry is the ninth highest paid player in this year’s NBA Finals. It’s not like he (or more likely, his accountant) is filling out the short form, but all the people who feel they’re underpaid can now take solace that someone else who is performing better than everybody else in his profession (like they are), is getting short changed. Sure, he’s pulling in $11.3 million (a bargain for the Warriors franchise). Well, that’s not counting endorsements. Or the winner’s share of the Finals. Or, for that matter, even the loser’s.

Just remember, though, as the saying goes:

“It’s not the money, it’s the principle.”

This Year’s Common Theme in Hiring NBA Coaches

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

If dog-bites-man stories were ever ranked, NBA coaches getting fired might lead the list. Every season numerous head guys get pink-slipped for three major reasons: they didn’t win, they didn’t enough or they didn’t win it all. How much does winning matter in the NBA? In the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Orlando’s newly hired coach, Frank Vogel, was quoted as saying that had the team that fired him (Indiana Pacers) had won Game 7 of their first round match up with Toronto, he thinks he would have been retained, while it’s been reported that had that scenario taken place, Raptors’ head coach, Dwane Casey, would have lost his job. Instead, Toronto reached the conference finals (losing in six games to Cleveland) and Casey scored a 3-year, $18 million dollar deal. General feeling? Great for Casey but, in the minds of NBA insiders, Vogel got the shaft.

This year in NBA basketball began surprisingly with a couple guys, Kevin McHale and David Blatt, losing their jobs before the season was half over. Heck, McHale was canned after only 11 games, allegedly collateral damage of a behind the scenes battle with superstar James Harden. Blatt, on the other hand, had been living on the edge before the ink on his initial contract was dry. His biggest mistake was a case of bad timing. Shortly after he was hired, native son and icon (although he once jilted the franchise), LeBron James, shocked the world and returned to the Cavs which necessitated the organization to acquire skilled, experienced men (free agents) rather than skilled, inexperienced youngsters (draft picks) in an effort to win now.

In many people’s minds, McHale and Blatt were victims, or in the language of talk radio, “they got screwed.” Several other franchises made coaching changes this season but, this year, the “they got screwed” belief worked in favor of many former coaches.

Dave Joerger signed on with Sacramento, days after he was shown the door at Memphis, where his work was given positive reviews (considering all the injuries to key players). Nate McMillan who, people close to the game will tell you, did a very good job coaching the Portland Trailblazers (yet got the ax) got promoted to the top spot with the Pacers. Mike D’Antoni is the Rockets new head coach. When the Warriors won it all, playing “small ball” there were no shortage of commentators (mainly former players and coaches) who mentioned much credit should be thrown D’Antoni’s way for what he installed in Phoenix. He tried it, without much success in Los Angeles and New York, but injuries also played a part and when he was relieved of his duties, the “he got screwed” cry was heard. Similar comments for new hires Tom Thibodeau (Minnesota), Jeff Hornacek (New York) and Scott Brooks (Washington)

A group of assistants, Earl Watson, Kenny Atkinson, Luke Walton and David Fizdale, with the Suns, Nets, Lakers and Grizzlies, respectively, got their first opportunity as running their own show (that kind of news always warms my heart as, although it was on the college level, I fully understand how difficult – impossible in my case – it is to land that first head coaching position – and how disappointing it is to go through the interview process, only to be passed over). Ty Lue probably should be considered in that category as well. Other than those guys, however, the theory behind this year’s “new” coaches appeared to have been:

“While the people who hire may give short leashes, they do have long memories.”

 

 

Assessing Cleveland’s Game 1 Strategy

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals is in the books and the game is being dissected by millions. The Cavs directed so much attention to Steph and Klay that the “others” killed them. Each team came in with a game plan and because the Golden State won, most people feel the Cavs screwed up. Due to the fact that basketball is a continuous action game (until the league decided to review referees’ calls, anyway) and there are so many possessions, everybody screws up – players, coaches and, as reviews have shown us, occasionally, refs. So there is much discussion to be had when dissecting game plans after games end.

Because the Warriors’ offense was such an aberration of its normal self, people are talking about what the Cavs did and why it didn’t work. Let’s take a deep breath and give some thought before we go down that road. Prior to the game, had someone from the Cavs’ staff told “The All-Knowing One” (obviously a fictional character) what their defensive game plan was and the wise sage told them that, if they employed that strategy, Curry and Thompson would shoot 8-27 from the floor (that the former would have more TOs than FGMs), that neither guy would make a free throw and they’d combine for 20 points, do you think they would consider changing it?

Two things that were natural for me were numbers (eventually I would major in and teach math) and look at (any) game from the coaching perspective (I was the “coach” when we were kids, e.g. when somebody was needed to organize games and make sure everyone was there,  then I coached various sports from high school days until I retired from coaching 50 years later). As my coaching philosophy began to take shape, numbers (my own form of analytics) began an integral part. One theory I came up with was based on the two teams that were competing. Seldom are they equal, meaning one has a better chance to win, all factors being the same. Essentially, that’s what home court advantage is all about.

As far as putting together a game plan, here’s where I would begin. “If both teams play to 100% of their effectiveness, which would win?” The point spread for Game 1 (which the wise guys who set it have a goal of evening the money bet either way) had the Warriors as six-point favorites. This meant that, not only did they consider the Warriors the better team, but that playing at home would favor them even more. Therefore, it was up to Cleveland to do something to make Golden State inefficient, while making certain their own level of play didn’t shrink too low, i.e. they had to play at a higher level than their opponent - something that was the exact opposite of every playoff series they had to date.

The Cavaliers coaching staff, in putting together a game plan probably asked themselves what was it that made Oracle Arena really rock? Obviously, the answer is when the Dubs score but, beyond that, when did the building shake more than any other time? If you’ve seen Golden State’s home games like I have (living in Fresno, we get the Bay Area sports station – meaning we get every Warriors’ game, home and away), the decibel level is way up there but never so loud as when Steph or Klay knock down one of their insanely quick “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” three pointers. Can anyone blame the staff for thinking items #1 & 2 on the to-do list was find those two – and limit their shot attempts (at the very least, contest every shot they take).

However, the wise old sage said, using that strategy will leave others open. Someone like Shaun Livingston could score 20 points, Andre Igudola could score double figures and even a bench player like Leandro Barbarso could come in and go 5-5 from the floor. In fact, their bench could outscore yours to the tune of 45-10. That’s a huge deficit – but even that could be overcome as long as you limit the points they get off turnovers. Just make sure you’re not so careless that you give up 25 points off 17 TOs.

Armed with all that knowledge, imagine how strongly hearing hold Curry and Thompson to 20 points would resonate with them. Don’t think they might not try to run a similar game plan, of course with a few adjustments, again. The question they need answered following their Game 1 defeat is:

“How do we score more than 89?”