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.”