Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

It Wasn’t a Happy Ending (That Night Anyway), But a Wonderful Salute Nonetheless

Saturday, June 13th, 2015

Numerous stories have been broadcast as well as articles and blogs have been written and posted regarding the obscene amounts of money that NBA players make. Many people in this country play the lottery, throwing their hard earned money at the longest of odds in a pipe dream to live like . . . an NBA player. And not even a superstar. They’d take the mid-level exception and be happy to never be heard from again.

While John Q. Public has come to the realization that the players are filthy rich, the net worth of each of the owners is so far beyond his comprehension, it’s never even a topic of conversation. Plus, most of the owners (except for, maybe, Cuban or Ballmer, or that other guy, you know, the one who used to play) are somewhat nondescript guys who stay out of the limelight.

Last Tuesday the owner of the Golden State Warriors, Joe Lacob (and if you’re not a Warriors fan, I’ll bet you didn’t know that – see what I mean by nondescript), chartered a plane for the franchise’s full-time employees so they could attend Game 3 in Cleveland. This gesture, coming on the heels of a disappointing 95-93 upset to the Cavaliers in Game 2, was, by all indications, a surprise move by Lacob. Although it might have been set up long in advance, still to do so after a crushing defeat has to earn the owner some big ups.

His beloved team (who won 67 games during a magical season) had just lost home court advantage after producing the best record in the NBA. What made the Game 2 loss all the more bitter was the Cavs lost their second All-Star (Kevin Love was lost earlier in the playoffs) in Game 1 to a devastating injury when point guard Kyrie Irving broke his kneecap in the overtime of Game 1, a 108-102 victory for the Warriors.

In addition to chartering the plane, Lacob also booked 155 rooms for his people. No luck. Golden State fell again, 96-91 to go down 1-2 in the best-of-seven series. With everyone safely back at work in California, the Warriors came alive and tied the series 2-2 with a 103-82 thrashing of the Cavs in Cleveland, thus reclaiming home court advantage for Golden State.

Sure, there will always be cynics who will say, “What else does he have to do with his money?” or “Well, if I had that much money, I’d do it, too.” To that we say – OK, but:

“Exactly what charitable act have you performed for someone else recently?”



Media Should Buy Kerr and Blatt Gifts

Friday, June 12th, 2015

When Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked about whether he was changing his lineup for Game 4, he lied. Then, after the game, he admitted to the press that he lied. His explanation was that he had three options when he was asked – at both game day press conferences – whether there would be a lineup change: 1) let the truth be known, i.e. give out their game plan, 2) evade the question and start what Kerr called, “the twitter phenomenon” or 3) lie. He chose to lie because, “They don’t hand you the trophy for morality, they hand it out if you win.” A couple of ESPN talking heads almost began a discussion regarding the choice of morality vs. winning but, wisely, realized doing so would be akin to committing career hara-kiri because of what the answer is in this particular case, as far as their employer is concerned.

Kerr’s response, and subsequent explanation, should have been lauded by the media. At least there should have been follow up discussion by the studio guys to further analyze Kerr’s honesty. Similarly, Cleveland Cavs coach David Blatt, after being told his guys looked tired, was asked, “Do you think fatigue was a factor?”

As is his standard method of acknowledging a media query, Blatt paused before his response, “Yes. It was the third game in five days, including the trip from the west coast.” What in the name of Gregg Popovich do we have here? Another question directed to Blatt was if he was surprised the Warriors’ lineup. He simply said that they had to make an adjustment because the first three games had gone the Cavs’ way, e.g. Golden State never had a lead after any of the 12 quarters (they led only after overtime of Game 1). Since it worked, the “adjustment ball,” so to speak, is in Cleveland’s court.

Not that there wasn’t any coachspeak. After the remark about their change in starters, Kerr made it clear that the difference was not the lineup change; rather it was because his guys played harder. Then he went on to clarify that in the Finals, “It’s not just about playing hard but about playing every single possession as if it’s your last.” Even when the fact they guarded James differently, shading a second guy toward Lebron, Kerr maintained that wasn’t the reason as much as it was that they were more active. Coaches speaking to their players through the media is nothing new and Kerr, no doubt, realizes if his group brings their A game – in terms of intensity – they shouldn’t drop another at home, meaning they’d be one victory from winning it all.

Some other random observations from the post game analysis are:

Stephen A. Smith is someone who feels as though his job is to explain to listeners what the overwhelming majority want to know: Who’s to blame? People who have talk shows are like that since most of the calls they take are from people who are pissed their team lost. The incomparable one told the viewers that the Cavs (who jumped out to a 7-0 lead) were running, that LeBron didn’t dictate pace – and that David Blatt didn’t implore him to slow it down. A question for Stephen A. who, it’s so apparent has diametrical feelings toward LeBron James and his coach. “At exactly what point this season has LeBron James leaned on David Blatt for strategy?”

Tim Legler, who does a thorough job of explaining all things NBA (to the point that many of his active brethren have crossed him off their Xmas card list), did contribute a rather foolish statement to the evening. He claimed Game 5 was a “must-win” for both teams. Sounds good. Even profound except, independent of statistics, there is only one must-win game for both teams and that’s Game 7.

A major disappointment of the post game press conference was when Kerr was asked the question regarding his changing to a smaller lineup, “After the Cavs began the game with a 7-0 run, did you second guess yourself?” If he was being totally honest, he would have said:

“No, we coaches leave that up to you guys.”

The Next Rule that Might Be Implemented in College Hoops

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Usually when new legislation is passed in college basketball, there is a minor (or worse) uproar from either the coaches or the fans (usually the coaches). Yet, when the new rules (shortening the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds, moving the restricted area arc a foot farther away from the basket and reducing the number of second half times out by one) were passed, nary a whimper was heard. As it should be.

Although shortening the shot will not have the desired effect of increasing scoring (it will increase the number of possessions, but not the number of points), there doesn’t seem to be too much complaining by coaches – probably because this change has been discussed for several years and was inevitable. Note: If you’re interested in why it won’t increase scoring, please check out my post from 3/26/15 (go to the Archives column to the right, to March 2015, click on it and scroll until you get to the desired date).

What coaches ought to be worried about is the next rule under discussion. Most likely, the proponents are the schools that have outstanding talent on a yearly basis, i.e. teams that rely on individual talent creating shot opportunities as opposed to executing an offense to produce a shot. If you haven’t figured out what this change is yet, it’s the elimination of the five-second closely guarded rule. As the rule is now, if a defender is within six feet of the ballhandler (“six feet” being an arbitrary distance depending on the official), a player has to either dribble, pass or shoot before five seconds elapse, or else the whistle blows and a violation is called, resulting in a turnover for the offensive team. However, if the player dribbles – and the defender stays within “closely guarded” range (in front of the dribbler), he (this rule does not apply to the women’s game) must increase the distance (possibly by backing up), penetrate the defense (meaning the defender is no longer considered to be “closely guarding” him) or pick the ball up before the next five seconds elapse. If the dribble is picked up, the player must now either shoot or pass within a new five second count. Adding up the time, this means that a player with the ball can be in possession of it for a maximum of 12 seconds before he must pass or shoot (four holding, four dribbling, four holding).

The proposed rule is what the NBA employs, the one in which a player can stand near midcourt, casually dribbling the ball – or worse, standing, holding the ball – staring at his defender who is more than happy than to stay in his stance, ready to defend once the player decides to do . . . whatever. In the NBA, the highest level of basketball, all too often the case is a player bends at the waist, ball in both hands, on his hip, knowing that everyone in the arena (and watching on TV) is focused on him – and he controls what happens next. The only problem is that, in his mind, he visualizes himself blowing by his defender and dunking on whomever is in his way or drawing another defender and dishing to a teammate for a “sweet dime” (assist). The reality is he can’t get by the guy guarding him and is forced to pull up and launch a contested three – which seldom hits its mark.

Another scenario that often happens is, as the shot clock winds down (usually too close to the end), the ballhandler will request a player set a screen for him. Unless the ballhandler has been taught how to properly run a pick and roll (or pop), what occurs is seldom considered good basketball. And that’s what the most talented guys do.

At the college level, similar to the NBA, the general rule is egos surpass abilities (except in the case of the student-athlete, while the ego tends to be a tad lower than his professional counterpart, the skill level is significantly so). Result? Possessions that end in bad shots more often than not. This rule change will make college basketball more like the professional game. The goal of the NCAA should be to try, at all costs, to keep the two games separate since both are experiencing peak interest.

Those who favor the college game will recite reason after reason why their feelings are what they are. The people who think the professional game is more interesting, exciting, better, will rattle off proof of the superiority of that level of play. Which is as it should be. Don’t force one to be like the other. They’re not the same. As it is, we’re not supposed to talk about money, politics and religion.

“Soon, there will be nothing left to argue.”

Brandon Spikes His Career

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Unless there’s some information that’s being withheld, it can be assumed that Brandon Spikes has made, quite possibly, his last mistake for quite a while. While all the facts are yet to be gathered, it appears Spikes might be trading in his Patriots uniform for an orange jumpsuit. A summary of the most recent events is, while there was some confusion that there had been an accident and that the driver had hit a deer, in fact, it was Mercedes’ own service, Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance, that alerted police. There certainly had been an accident but, not only was there no deer at the scene, there was no driver, either. The car was a 2011 Mercedes Maybach, a super luxury model that costs upwards of a half a million dollars. It is the absolute, top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz, the kind that’s in a class with the Rolls-Royce or Bentley. It comes with many added extras: a massaging, back-seat recliner, sheepskin interiors and its own signature perfumed air-filtration system. Apparently, it rats you out if you’re in an accident and don’t want anyone to know about it.

The “rest of the story” is that a family in a Nissan Murano said they were rear-ended, with the driver of the other vehicle fleeing, something repeated by another caller to 911. The family was taken to the hospital. While none of these incidents have been connected yet, the future for Brandon Spikes looks bleak. However, if it comes to be that the most meaningful accomplishment of his football career is that, due to his considerable missteps (see below), other players will be dissuaded from repeating such transgressions, his legacy will be a positive one.

Spikes’ story is one of an extraordinarily talented football player (the “honors” section of his bio page in the 2009 Florida press guide had 45 items of either awards he’d achieved or recognition bestowed upon him – heading into his senior season). He was chosen in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft (62nd pick) by the New England Patriots.

In his pre-draft evaluation, under the category of “Weakness” the first statement was, “Can be overly emotional at times.” There was also mention made that he had been suspended and missed a game due to an on field incident during his senior season (he tried to gouge the eyes of a Georgia player). In addition, the NFL investigated a compromising video of him with a woman that was posted online. Also, near the end of the 2010 season he received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy.

There are several things that make up a player that can derail his career when left unchecked. Temper, as noted above, is one (these are in no particular order). Another one is ego. The next, quite often, a by-product of the ego – his mouth. In addition, there’s another part of his anatomy that can cause considerable complications – and those affect more than just the player (but that’s another topic for another time).

Right now, looking at the case of Brandon Spikes, we see a guy who was (and, undoubtedly, still is) in desperate need of some type of mentor. After four seasons with the Patriots, the team placed him on the IR for, what they claimed was a nagging knee injury. Rather than speak with club officials, Spikes went public, blasting the franchise. As an illustration of compounding a mistake, he interjected into the discussion another Pats’ player who he felt was mistreated. While the player, Aqib Talib, corroborated Spikes’ assessment, Spikes still needed someone to advise him of “proper complaining etiquette.” Another time he “came to a teammate’s defense” was when, following the conviction of Aaron Hernandez (a teammate at both Florida and New England), Spikes made a comment about the justice system which has served as just another example of, during the thought process, in most cases, “discretion is the better part of valor.”

It’s easy to place all the blame on Spikes but, looking at all of this through his eyes, he did sign a one-year, $3.25 million contract with the Buffalo Bills, which must have boosted his theory that a player should simply speak his mind. Shortly thereafter he went on another rant against his former squad. Then, with all the history he’d had with New England, the franchise showed everyone – including the members in the Spikes’ camp, that the NFL truly is “just a business” when the Patriots offered him a one-year deal worth a maximum value of $2 million on May 16 (the only guaranteed money in the deal was a $25,000 signing bonus). If there is anybody out there who thinks he’ll see a penny of the $1,975,000 that’s left, that guy is also in desperate need of a mentor.

Oh yeah, this latest “incident” took place at 3:30AM.

The refrain of the old song by Peter, Paul and Mary, Where Have All the Flowers Gone wasn’t referring to some of today’s athletes and their decisions but it ought to be their theme song:

“Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?”


The Cleveland Cavaliers Are Some Inspiring Story

Monday, June 8th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Flashback to a Memorable Experience

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

The following is a blog I posted over five years ago. The actual story occurred in December of 2004. After watching yesterday’s Triple Crown victory by American Pharoah, I wondered how many guys on the team (who are now 21-23 years old) that I accompanied to SoCal remember our quick stop at Santa Anita. Due to how it ended and the final remark of a Hall of Famer, my guess is all of them.

During my last year of coaching (2004-05), I scheduled an out-of-town tournament for the Buchanan (CA) HS boys basketball team in Glendora, CA. We split four games, but what I’m certain impressed the guys far more than the basketball were the side trips I arranged.

In addition to visiting the Rose Bowl and touring Cal Tech’s campus (if you ever wondered where the most brilliant high school students go to college, check out anyone enrolled at that institution), I cashed in a favor from a relationship I’d made with a member of the media. Larry Bornstein, of the Pasadena Star-News, was one of our beat writers when I was coaching at USC.

Although Larry was assigned to cover Trojan basketball, his first love was writing about the ponies. He knew everyone in the horse racing business. During my final two years at SC, we lived in Arcadia, in a house that was located a block and a half from Santa Anita, the legendary racetrack.  I asked Larry if he could set up a tour of Santa Anita for our players.

Not only did we get an insider’s view, complete with a visit to the jockey’s locker room – seeing the size of those little uniforms after having been in the world of basketball for 35 years was astonishing – but, while we were being given a “history of Santa Anita” presentation,  who should come walking down the track but the most recognizable white-haired man in the horse racing game.  Yup, the one and only Bob Baffert, the famous trainer who yesterday (5/16/10) posted his fifth Preakness win.

One of the hardest working and most honest, yet also one of the most naive players I’ve ever been around was intrigued by the gasps he heard from me and a couple of others who recognized the man heading our way. “What do we have here?” inquired the personable trainer. When our host said, “A high school basketball team,” Bob asked if there were any questions. Our young guy piped up, “What exactly do you do?”

If that young guy – or any of the others who were with us –  don’t remember Baffert’s profound answer, I ‘d be shocked. In fact, I’d give the same odds (3:5) that were on American Pharoah yesterday.  Because Baffert simply looked at him, through his ever-present sun glasses, and said:

“I don’t do shit.”

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

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game 1 of the NBA Finals Wrap Up

Friday, June 5th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pat Riley was absolutely right. For coaches:

“There’s either winning or misery.”


More on Thibodeau?

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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