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The Nerve of Some Media People

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

Yesterday afternoon I heard a talking head on one of the sports shows on Sirius-XM make the comment, “Steph Curry most definitely let us down. I’m not going to take back the things I said during the season but” . . . and the he blathered on about something or other. It was like he was saying that, while he extolled Curry’s virtues during the season, he wished he had tempered his comments because . . . now he looked bad. His callers, especially LeBron fans, were coming down hard on him – and it was basically Curry’s fault. His saying he wouldn’t take back any of his initial remarks meant he was a stand-up guy – but if only Curry had the intestinal fortitude, people wouldn’t be questioning the limitless knowledge he obtained by watching and reading about sports throughout his childhood and however much of the adult life he’s experienced. His biggest hope is the program director can get Steph to come on the show and apologize to his listeners for his (Curry’s) poor performance in the Finals (although it would be even better if Steph would ask directly for his forgiveness).

People are bringing up that this is the second straight year Curry has been regular season MVP and in neither, was he Finals MVP. This year, had he gone off in Game 7 and the Warriors won the championship, LeBron James would still have won the award – and not one negative word would have been said. James was simply that dominating (disregarding, naturally, Games 1 & 2).

Last year, Andre Iguodala was named MVP for not only his formidable stats of 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists, but mostly for the job he did on LeBron. For the record, James’ stats in 2015 were 35.3 points, 13.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Curry put up 26.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists. During the regular season Curry’s stats were 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists so it wasn’t like there was such a dramatic drop-off. Had Curry received the MVP, there wouldn’t have been too much of an uproar.

As I was perusing the Internet last night, I came across an article in which Dan Le Batard was complaining about John Calipari being on ESPN nearly as much as SportsCenter. “It’s simply not right to give him the entire platform to be out recruiting by himself,” said Le Batard. He included his program which Cal was scheduled to make an appearance on later in the day, saying he should cancel it. This criticism coming from a guy who has his father as a regular on his show rings hollow. While there is certainly a segment of the viewing public who thinks his dad adds to the show, I’m not a member of that segment.

Calipari is so far ahead of every other coach when it comes to recruiting. He was the first to master the art of twitter (I assume it’s an art; I decided not tweet – for two reasons: I’m a technological dunce and, more importantly, can you imagine limiting me to 140 characters)? Unfortunately, the greater majority of coaches would rather complain about one of them gaining an edge than to create a (legal) advantage as Cal has. Isn’t it a major plus for Duke’s recruiting that Mike Krzyzewski (and, to a lesser extent, Jim Boeheim, when he assisted Coach K in 2008 & 2012) to coach the Olympic team and have access to all that publicity? Mike was selected because the decision-maker(s) felt he was the best coach to accomplish the United States’ goal of winning the gold medal. Along similar lines, ESPN is going to pick whichever coach they feel is best for ratings.

As far as Curry and Calipari hearing criticism, I recently received an article via email in which the following quote hit me as the ultimate thought process for someone who has been criticized. It was spoken by Mohandes Gandhi:

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

 

 

 

Was this Baylor Recruit’s Dad Really Surprised?

Friday, June 24th, 2016

There have been intercollegiate scandals nearly as long as there have been colleges. The only thing worse than the laundry list of recent transgressions by institutions, administrators, coaches and players is the fact that, more likely than not, there were so many more in the past that were never reported. With the power of modern technology, however, illegal and immoral acts are not only more difficult to get away with, they no longer can easily be covered up. That type of progress is applauded far and wide.

When it comes to misdeeds (to use the term much too loosely), one of the worst institutions from a historical perspective is the athletics department at Baylor University. Should there be any Baylor apologists, the Bears’ athletics department needs to be reminded of this: “If one person calls you a horse, it might be an insult. If three people call you a horse, it might be a conspiracy. If ten people call you a horse, get a saddle.”

Few people have forgotten the 2003 tragedy that happened at Baylor when one basketball player shot and killed a teammate. An assistant coach recorded a staff meeting (itself an inexcusable act of disloyalty – even if it did expose the head coach as a liar and someone who had lost his moral compass, if not his mind) in which the head coach had decided the best way to handle the situation was to paint the deceased player as a drug dealer, hoping the public would dismiss the death as one less drug dealer on earth. Naturally, this strategy blew up in the faces of all concerned and the NCAA investigated that and several additional allegations, from players’ drug use to coaches making illegal payments to players. The school self-imposed punishments but the NCAA came down harder, including the elimination of one year of any non-conference contests. It was one of the harshest actions taken against a member institution, short of the death penalty.

Memories must run short in Waco. The most recent transgressions include allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of brutality involving several Baylor football players, as far back as 2011 and as recent as this past season. It’s been reported that some coaches and administrators knew about the actions, yet the players involved were not disciplined. Worse, it’s alleged that school officials failed to adequately investigate, or did not investigate at all, the allegations of sexual violence.

In no way can any of what occurred at Baylor be discounted but in a story that could be entitled Ultimate Naivete, the father of a Baylor Bears football signee said he felt betrayed by the school. He said no one from Baylor ever informed its recruits that they were investigating sexual assault allegations. Because of the oversight, he demanded a release for his son from his national letter-of-intent.

Wait, this parent was disappointed the school never notified the prospects they were trying to recruit that there was an investigation going on regarding the mishandling and outright covering up of sexual assaults? What if they had told him and his son, he was asked.

If we would have known, we would never had considered Baylor,” was his response.

How could a school, undergoing a plethora of sexual assault and domestic violence cases, not tell a recruit and his family?

“Sir, I think you just answered your own question.”

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.”

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?”

 

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.”

Even the Pros Can Have Lapses

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you know that I feel that the NBA is made up of the best athletes in the world and that this belief has been formed from 35 years of coaching. I find it impossible to believe that anyone who watches the NBA Playoffs isn’t in awe of the physical talent the players possess. Forget about the superhuman moves they make on a nightly basis, just try to replicate the routine plays they make every game.

It’s futile to attempt to compare eras when discussing who the “best ever” players are, e.g. if three-point shots were a part of the game, does anybody doubt Oscar Robertson, Jerry West or any other premier shooters wouldn’t have made several (hundred)? Thousand? The game has evolved, rules have been changed to “level the playing field” (most of them because of the sheer dominance of Wilt Chamberlain) but also to make the game more aesthetically pleasant for the fans (with the possible exception of the Detroit Pistons fans).

So, while it still the same game, there are those (mainly Baby Boomers) who lament how much greater pro hoops were “back in the day.” Of course, the younger generation thinks the current players are the best who have ever played. Independent of which era you consider yourself from – or whether you feel you’re a basketball aficionado and belong to every period of the NBA – there is one segment of the game that is befuddling. Not only to me, but other coaches, past and present.

There are cardinal rules coaches have used throughout the years, many of which have become outdated. I’ve always maintained that Pete Maravich not only could compete with today’s stars, but that he would be better than he was during his fabulous career. His “style” was frowned upon as showboating whereas today much of it is encouraged – not only because it’s now accepted but because it draws fans. Other teaching points such as “no cross-court passes” and “wings should make a 45 degree cut to the basket on a fast break” (as opposed to run to the three-point line in the corner) have been eliminated.

However – and this is something that makes me cringe when I see it – is breaking one of the major no-no’s of coaching. Every practice I’ve ever held, every coach I’ve ever worked for, heck, every coach I’ve ever spoken to, we all have the same philosophy when guarding three-point shooters: DON’T FOUL GUYS SHOOTING THREES!!! Think for a moment and count off the number of times you’ve seen a three-point shot blocked. Maybe, maybe, at the end of the game when a team is down three or more, the shot or game clock is down and the offense is just hoisting a desperation attempt. Sure, Steven Adams got one in, I think, Game 3 but, pretty close to 100% of the time, a three-point shot will not be blocked. Now, that is not to say three-pointers should not be contested; they certainly should. Three-point shots are a major part of the game. The Warriors are using it with incredible frequency, resulting in remarkable success. The second best team in the NBA in three-point percentage is San Antonio. Third? Right, the Warriors’ foe in the Finals – Cleveland.

Armed with this knowledge, you would think, with points being so precious, a team would be foolish to give away easy ones. Yet, time and again, three-point shooters are fouled, meaning a team is sending a good shooter (the bad ones seldom shoot threes) to the free throw line for three attempts – at the only shot that stays the same from junior high to the NBA, i.e. 15′ away, 10′ high, at a rim whose diameter is 18″ with a ball whose diameter is 9″ – unguarded. The only shot a player gets to take when no one allowed to so much as put a hand in his face.

Throughout the regular season, as well as the playoffs, three-point shooters are going to the line to shoot three FTs – if not to complete a four-point play, a happening that has to feel absolutely devastating (uplifting for the team who scored). Why?

Although there hasn’t been any definitive data done, much of the reason can be traced back to Reggie Miller, the, now, third greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. Reggie would come off a screen, feel his defender trailing, trying to catch up so as to disrupt the shot, even if it was no more than a hand in his face, and Reggie would ever so slightly kick out his legs. At the merest touch of a defender (or maybe not even a touch), referees would see the poor shooter flailing, falling on the floor as if he’d been bulldozed. Reggie was slick. A career 88.8% FT shooter (he shot 90% or better from the stripe eight of his years in the league), he scored 6,237 freebies during is time in the NBA.

Other shooters saw it (not to mention the defenders who knew what had really occurred) and, soon, the Julliard School with Professor Reggie Miller was in session. Instant replay has tried to curtail the action but, the game is simply too fast for referees to catch it. Whether this kind of flailing led to other incidents (Draymond?) is a topic for another time but it is prevalent in shooters. One of the greatest coaches – and far and away the best coaching clinic lecturer ever, Hubie Brown – was one of the first to decry fouling jump shooters. Although virtually impossible, it wouldn’t shock me if, during a game in which Hubie is the color commentator, a player fouls a three-point shooter at a crucial time in the contest:

“and Hubie’s head explodes.”

The Enigma Facing Most of the NBA Franchises

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Two items of business: first, a personal emergency caused me not to blog yesterday. I was in such a rush, I didn’t have time to alert readers and for that, I apologize. Secondly, it’s that time of the year when all the work, blood, sweat, tears and money come to fruition. Yep, college graduation. Younger son, Alex, dons the cap and gown at Cal State Monterey Bay. An academic presentation by him and his group is first, then final residence check out, a grad party or two and the actual commencement ceremony wrap up the week.

For all of those reasons, this blog will take a week hiatus and will return on Tuesday, May 24.

Tracy McGrady made a statement that appalled many, was applauded by many, and is nothing that hasn’t been said before – as in when he was playing. When asked about Steph Curry and his unanimous MVP award, T-Mac said, “Just tells you how watered down our league is. Seriously, think about when MJ played, Shaq. Those guys really played against top-notch competition, more superstars on more teams than it is in our league today. But it’s well deserved; he had a hell of a season.

Big of him to acknowledge the Curry had a hell of a season, wasn’t it? In addition, he was just saying that the vote was unanimous because there aren’t the players in the league that there were when he was in it, trying to point out that the stats accomplished by Curry were done so because there are so many inferior players in the league now, what with expansion and all. That a guy like LeBron James doesn’t provide worthy enough competition?

His comment isn’t as controversial as it seems for the simple reason there are claims like that made every year – made by players from previous generations. Not only that but there is little doubt, today’s players will fully agree with him – years down the road, i.e. after their careers are over and it’s time for them to reminisce. Hey, imagine what the really old timers think. Back when they played, there were only eight teams in the league. Wouldn’t they be considered the absolute cream of the crop?

Sir Charles Barkley made similar remarks, saying the overall talent in the league is the “worst I’ve ever seen it.” Barkley backs up his statement by saying players are coming into the league much too early, that they need to stay in school. On one hand, Chuck makes an excellent point. How can anybody 19-years old (with the exception of Moses Malone and LeBron James) be ready – physically and mentally – to excel in an 82-game season (plus exhibitions and playoffs) against grown men five, ten, fifteen years older, wiser and more mature than they are? Yet, if memory serves me correctly, the law is what caused the mandatory one year after a youngster’s graduating class to be eligible to be drafted, i.e. the “one-and-done rule.” So while what Barkley says is common sense – that it’s foolish to allow it -it’s illegal to hold the kid back.

Football and baseball have a different set of rules but each of those sports allow early entry as well. So what’s the magic age? Certainly, staying in school sounds good but friends of mine who were on the staff at Auburn used to kid that while Charles loved college, he hated class. Even he has said, when asked if he has a degree, “No, but a lot of the people who work for me do.” So staying in school or masquerading in school?

Mark Warkentien, a high-level consultant to the president of basketball operations of the New York Knicks, shared with me his philosophy. “Stein,” as he’s known to many in the business, is one of the most creative thinkers and down-to-earth people I’ve met in all my years in coaching. When asking him about kids coming out before their eligibility is used up, he turned the tables and posed a scenario to me. “With the NCAA’s 20-hour maximum rule and no such restriction in the NBA, where can a kid improve more – especially considering that 20 hours includes, weight lifting and meetings, not to mention team practice? The NBA has no such rules, plus each team has a staff member (who usually has an assistant or two) whose job is designated as a player development coach? Damn good argument.

NBA coaches, possibly because they make so much money (not their fault when franchises are throwing it at them), are getting fired not only for losing or not making the playoffs, but for making the playoffs but not advancing far enough. David Blatt, Mark Jackson, Tom Thibodeau, Kevin McHale, Frank Vogel, Dave Joerger are all examples and while there might be other underlying reasons other than record, it does seem pulling the plug has become easier and easier to do. And, really, how many teams who practice this henchman technique wind up doing that much better?

So, players are entering at such an early age – largely because the NBA is so enamored with “upside.” Meanwhile, coaches are getting the early hook. The dilemma for the coach (or whoever’s job is on the line) becomes how can we improve our roster – quickly? If the answer is through free agency, allow me to let you in on what an NBA coach told me a few days ago (actually, I’ve heard this from several coaches and front office people). “There are only about 5-6 teams where players really want to play: both LA teams, New York, Miami, Dallas and Chicago.” San Antonio can do well because of their history (see how much of a destination it will become when Pop decides to hang ‘em up). Golden State is flying high now but in the recent past, nobody was clamoring to play for the Warriors. Sure, Texas, Tennessee and Florida don’t have state tax but don’t think for a minute players put playing in Memphis and Orlando in the same category as Dallas and Miami. Another factor is the owner. Look no farther than the Clippers to understand that importance. The Warriors and Mavs are winners in that area as well.

The one bit of criticism that makes more sense than anything – certainly more than most of his comments – is what Charles Barkley has been preaching for quite some time regarding the draft. It used to do what it was designed to do – vastly improve a struggling franchise. But now, as Charles says:

“If my team sucks, I don’t want a guy who might be good in five years. That doesn’t help me. I want immediate help.”

 

 

Steve Kerr Shares Brilliant Thoughts on Summer Prep Basketball, But . . .

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Apparently, someone asked Steve Kerr for his opinions on the summer circuit for prep school basketball players. Not surprisingly, his comments were extremely insightful: “Even if today’s players are incredibly gifted, they grow up in a basketball environment that can only be called counterproductive. AAU basketball has replaced high school ball as the dominant form of development in the teen years.

I coached my son’s AAU team for three years; it’s a genuinely weird subculture. Like everywhere else, you have good coaches and bad coaches, or strong programs and weak ones, but what troubled me was how much winning is devalued in the AAU structure.

Teams play game after game after game, sometimes winning or losing four times in one day. Very rarely do teams ever hold a practice. Some programs fly in top players from out of state for a single weekend to join their team. Certain players play for one team in the morning and another one in the afternoon. If mom and dad aren’t happy with their son’s playing time, they switch club teams and stick him on a different one the following week.

The process of growing as a team basketball player — learning how to become part of a whole, how to fit into something bigger than oneself — becomes completely lost within the AAU fabric.”

To say nothing of the lack of fundamentals that young players so desperately need to be taught but aren’t because of “games, games and more games.”

Take a journey with me. The time was the early 1990s. My full-time job was associate head basketball coach at USC. My boss was George Raveling. In my “spare” time, I was assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee for the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). Our chairman? Yup, George Raveling. In fact, Rave and I had been in those roles since the mid-80s when he was the head coach at Iowa and I was an assistant at Tennessee.

During that time, some recruiting rules were changed or amended (for the record, our committee didn’t have the power to change any rules; we just did the legwork, polled the coaches for their feelings on how best to improve recruiting/make it fair for all concerned, then suggest rule changes or amendments to the NCAA Recruiting Committee). Our greatest challenge came in 1991. Summer basketball (people mistakenly place all of it under the AAU umbrella, although the majority of summer hoops is AAU) was regarded as a villain by many coaches, administrators and the NCAA staff as well. Most felt if summer basketball continued down the path it was headed, it would ruin both the high school and college games.

Our charge, as a committee, was to figure out how the NCAA could take over the summer – since it had the power to sanction which events coaches were allowed to attend. What follows is the short version. We formulated a plan for NCAA-run summer camps so that every prospect would be able to attend (naturally, some would fall through the cracks), at the NCAA’s expense, at geographically selected sites, with a final session for the nation’s top players. I regret not logging exactly how many hours of work I put into this project (one of George’s many skills has been that of delegating, although I kept him updated on the progress and, of course, he added some excellent ideas that I, and the rest of the committee, had failed to take into account). We had the logistics of the camps figured out. They would be held at various sites throughout the nation, e.g. one held in Seattle for the prospects in the Pacific Northwest, one in Denver for the kids in the Rocky Mountain states, one in New England for those players, etc. while there might be two such camps in Southern California and New York City, due to the sheer number of highly talented guys in those areas.

We had a list of high school coaches and guys who wrote up (legit) recruiting services who would elicit names and decide which youngsters deserved invitations. Every time a protestation of some sort was brought up, we dealt with it, until we finally had a model to present to the NCAA. We even drew up a budget which included everything brochures, airfare, ground transportation, room and board, referees, gear, insurance for participants (if memory serves me correctly, it was in the neighborhood of $250-300K) which we doubled because we anticipated the NCAA wanting to implement a similar concept for girls.

We presented our model, as we had been instructed, to the NCAA – who summarily rejected it. Word leaked back to me form friends I had in the organization that, although we had the sites selected, the staff (made up of hundreds of high school and retired coaches) committed, the method of choosing which prospects played where (with the final week left open for a session comprised of the “best of the best” made up of those who dominated their particular camp), the NCAA felt the idea was too labor intensive. To me, “labor intensive” simply means work.

So, for those of you who agree with Steve Kerr (count me in that group), let it be known the NCAA had a chance to clean it up. The one thing we need to take into consideration is: With all this going on, there is more money than ever for the NCAA’s television rights and next year, NBA players’ salaries are going through the roof. I guess the only question regarding summer (AAU) basketball is:

“How does that make sense?”

Van Gundy Admits Defeat Without Much of a Fight

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

When I met Jeff Van Gundy he had just completed a graduate assistant season under Rick Pitino at Providence. The occasion was a self-improvement clinic Larry Shyatt and I began a couple years prior. Jeff had written a letter, requesting to be a part of our group, whether as a clinician or just an observer. We asked him to speak on Providence’s full court press.

Jeff showed up with personalized, three-rind binder for each of us (approximately six other assistant coaches), with every drill the Friars used, accompanied by a thorough, enthusiastic explanation of each one. It didn’t take long to realize this cat had exceptional knowledge and, even after his career skyrocketed all the way to attaining NBA head coaching gigs, he continued to attend our gatherings. It was blatantly apparent this young guy was a sensational coach. His knowledge of the game and attention to detail, combined with his ability to communicate with players of any generation, translated to a long-term career in the game.

Whether he fell into the color commentary position or he sought it following a couple successful head coaching tenures, he’s excelled in that area as well. In addition to being able to understand the nuances of the game – and having the ability to explain to the fan – combined with his self-deprecating style captures the hearts of his viewers. His penchant for including the audience, providing thought-provoking commentary and reminiscing about years gone by keep everybody glued to his observations. Unlike many in his field, he doesn’t come off as a know-it-all, more like a fan with an educated opinion.

A couple games ago, while working a Golden State-Portland game, he remarked that the Blazers’ backcourt of Damian Lilliard (Weber State) and C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) had to be as good a pair of guards from “non big time” colleges as ever graced an NBA floor. Independent of whatever challenger someone came up with, the viewing audience just knew there would be a debate. Until play-by-play man, Mike Breen, countered with, “How about the Knicks’ duo of Walt Frazier (Southern Illinois) and Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State)?” With such small colleges as a Big Sky team (Weber) and a Patriot League institution (Lehigh), listeners were ready for an argument.

Instead, Van Gundy (a Knicks’ fan as a youngster) simply gave the following replay:

“That’s the winner. Game over!”

Why the Media Asks Those Timely, Insensitive Questions

Friday, May 13th, 2016

At the NCAA Regional Finals in Anaheim, the #1 seed Oregon Ducks had just lost to #2 Oklahoma in a game that sent the Sooners to the number one goal every college player dreams of – the Final Four. There’s a brief cooling off period before the media is allowed to interview the players and coaches. Because of other media commitments for the winners, the losing team is required to speak first.

Usually the requests are for three players and the head coach to attend the post game press conference. It’s always difficult watching these pressers because the season comes to such an abrupt end. The NCAA tourney is a sudden death ordeal, unlike the NBA’s best-of-seven playoffs. Therefore, every game is like Game 7 to a college kid – meaning the loser has to face the realization that . . . it’s over.

For seniors not only is the season over, but for the guys who aren’t going to play professionally, their basketball career is over. For many of them, they’ve been playing since they could walk. So that’s a pretty big dose of reality to swallow for a 22-year-old kid. Yet, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports Network thought it was both appropriate and necessary to ask Oregon’s seniors, 20 minutes after the game – and their dreams – ended, “How much does this loss hurt?”

Dwayne Benjamin was the first to answer. He looked up and said, “I’ve never felt like this before, never been this sad. Not because we lost but because we can never call this team a team again.” And that is why media members feel obligated to ask the probing questions at such difficult times. Naturally, Benjamin had been sadder – certainly when a loved one died but, for raw emotion, Rothstein got the powerful quote he was hoping for.

Flash forward to last night’s Game 6 elimination victory for Oklahoma City over the San Antonio Spurs. Look, we all get it. Tim Duncan turned 40 last week. While he’s been referred to as “the greatest NBA power forward ever,” there is no doubt that he has slowed down. Considerably. In this country one segment of society loves to deify athletes – until they show signs of no longer having the ability to dominate. Then, they will drop that athlete as fast as they’ll replace him with . . . someone who reminds them of him “back when.”

It was just March 23 that an article was written about “Old Man River-walk” entitled, Stats aside, Duncan may be having his best season yet” (Fran Blinebury, NBA.com). Sure, there has been a transition from being the leader scorer to a veteran “player-coach” but, after all, the Spurs did win 67 (out of 82) regular season games and posted a 40-1 home record during that period. Duncan’s stats have dropped significantly to 8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks (from 19.0 pts, 10.8 reb and 2.2 blocks) but aren’t his current numbers what the Spurs could use from a back up post player? Did he hurt the team that badly during the season? During last night’s telecast, Jeff Van Gundy warned people not to pass judgment on Duncan for his play in the OKC series alone.

Duncan has been taking pay cuts so it’s not like San Antonio would be freeing up a ton of cap space. (In an article on the richest NBA players, he rated ninth with an estimated net worth of $150 million, so he’s as savvy with the financial part of his life as he is with the professional side) and what price can be put on his leadership and the fact that a living legend, a future Hall of Famer is still on the squad, acting as a role model, willing and able to discuss the Spurs’ style and NBA life to the younger guys? The main question for the Spurs is – will whichever player they get in Duncan’s place be an improvement on next year’s roster?

Possibly due to the respect the members of the media have for him – or possibly due to feeling intimidated – the question was of the hem and haw variety: “Have, uh, you taken any time, at all, to think about your future?” Duncan gave the veteran’s reply – which might be why media guys love to ask young kids questions during the tough times:

“I’ll get to that after I get out of here and figure out life. That’s it.”