Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

What’s All This Talk About the “New” NBA Trend?

Monday, June 29th, 2015

During the NBA Playoffs I listened to the NBA station on Sirius-XM. The various shows would give different perspective regarding strategies, interview players and coaches (both current and former), take callers (some of whom are really out there) and discuss all aspects the game. When a station is 24 hour pro hoops (somewhat deceptive because shows are rerun throughout the day – still, it’s all NBA, all the time), much gets discussed. And when much is discussed, there’s bound to be controversy.

Often the comments aren’t as controversial as they are nonsensical, especially when they’re made by one of the “stat heads” (see yesterday’s blog for the definition). Some of the remarks make you do a “double hear ” (it’s like a double take but with listening). One such comment came a couple days ago and, while I can remember who said it (host or a guest being interviewed), I do recall it was a former player.

His statement was that today’s NBA is trending toward “small ball” – and actually has been for quite a while. He referenced past champions to prove his point, even including the style employed by the Spurs. “And don’t tell me Tim Duncan is a big man,” is how he concluded his theory.

No one on this or any other planet will ever argue that the Warriors philosophy is anything but small ball. While the Spurs offense is based on player movement (call it “old time” ball if you want – or “non-hero” as some have labeled it), to say Tim Duncan isn’t a big man is a bit of a stretch, mainly because . . . he’s the epitome of a big man. Coaches at all levels show videos of Duncan to their big men, explaining how to run the floor to create deep position, how to locate the defender before making a back to the basket move, how a plethora of moves is unnecessary as long as you can perfect two or three, how to have patience so if a double team comes, you can find open teammates – not to mention how to defend on the low block. To make the claim that small ball is trending because the Warriors won it all using it is one thing, but . . . even disregarding the Spurs, small ball wasn’t what won champions in the recent past.

Prior to San Antonio’s victory in 2014, four of the previous five winners were led by either LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, who were voted Finals MVP twice each. What a person can conclude from that “trend” is the team with the game’s best player has the best chance of winning it all. The biggest argument at that time among fans was, “Who is better, Kobe or LeBron”? Because he was hurt nearly all of last year, some fans’ minds, as they are wont to do, have forgotten the brilliance of Bryant’s shot making, defense and maniacal desire to win.

The other championship team during that time, i.e. the one that was in between the Lakers two championship squads and Miami’s pair, was the Dallas Mavericks – whose best player, and Finals MVP (we learned this year that those two are not necessarily the same), was Dirk Nowitzki. Seven foot tall Dirk Nowitzki. Although it is difficult to refer to him as a “big man,” small ball doesn’t include seven footers.

Face it, as long as the hoop is 10 feet in the air, size will always be a factor in basketball. But, just as the recent draft is no indication that teams will draft centers first, small ball has not taken over the NBA. At least the trend will have to occur for a few more years.

A very close friend of mine, upon hearing of this small ball sensation, said if fans really wanted to see small ball, i.e. if they wanted to eliminate the big man or not have size matter, all the NBA needs to do is change one rule:

“Raise the basket to 15 feet. Then, it’s all about skill.”

Playing the “What If” Game With the 1984 Draft

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Welcome back. Here’s hoping the computer – which just got a clean bill of health – will function the way I, a techno-idiot, needs it to.

For the sake of argument (and this blog), let’s consider the following situation: The 1984 first two draft picks were reversed, i.e. Portland had the number one pick and Houston selected second?

Portland, obviously, would have selected Hakeem Olajuwon (since no one felt Sam Bowie was better than Olajuwon – and they had a rising superstar in second guard Clyde Drexler). Then, it would have been Houston’s pick. Houston – who had just finished 12th (last). Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes had just retired at the end of the 1983-83 season and although The Big E appeared in 81 of 82 games, the 6’9″ forward averaged a mere five points in only a little over 12 minutes a game. The Rockets had traded 6’9″ power forward James Bailey (and a pick) for 6’3″ point guard John Lucas (and a pick). In addition, 6’11” center Caldwell Jones had moved from the Rockets to, of all places, the Bulls, and Caldwell’s brother, 6’9″ power forward Major Jones, played the following season in Detroit.

The only size the Rockets had was 7’4″ center/power forward Ralph Sampson who won the Rookie-of-the-Year award after having been the number one overall pick (the Rockets had finished last the previous year as well). They returned 6’6″ second guard Lewis Lloyd who had averaged nearly 18 points a game during his second season in the league and 6’8″ small forward Robert Reid who was the team’s third leading scorer at 14 points a game. It’s already part of history that Houston loved the idea of a “Twin Towers.”

The big question, then, would be, did the Rockets know what the Blazers apparently didn’t, that Sam Bowie’s bones were worse than he was letting on? Or, did they truly feel that Jordan was the better choice? That is a subject that has never been discussed. Did the Rockets believe that Michael Jordan was destined to be the G.O.A.T.?

Even if they did – why has everyone given Houston a pass on not selecting the greatest player of all-time? Sure, they picked a guy who was voted one of the best 50 players ever and he did lead them to two NBA Championships but . . . they only won when Michael “retired” (please don’t count the mini-season he had). It’s hard to find fault with their taking The Dream but, the fact remains that they, as well as Portland, picked someone other than Michael Jordan – when they could have. Note: There is a school of thought (although I’m not too sure exactly how big that school is) that the championship Rockets’ clubs would have beaten the Bulls had MJ not gone to baseball. But that, too, is something that will remain talk for guys at the bar – or the ones who call in to talk shows (probably the same guys).

It probably will never be known what would have transpired had the order been reversed but there was a guy who not only knew, but is on record, as thinking MJ was the way to go. As the story had been told many times, Bob Knight, who’d coached Jordan in the ’84 Olympics told is good friend, Portland general manager Stu Inman, to take Michael with the second pick. When Inman explained to Knight that they had a budding superstar 2 guard in Drexler (who also was voted a Top 50 player of all-time) and desperately needed a center, Knight’s advice was:

“So take Jordan – and play him at center.”

So, How Did He Do?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

On 10/2/14, I blogged about Steve Kerr and his decision to leave his broadcast seat for one a little further down the sidelines. It’s interesting to reflect on what was written – especially when there’s no way of knowing how things will turn out.

Still dealing with computer issues and my man, Jeff, from the Geek Squad told me he can’t get here until July. We’re taking our younger son, Alex, to the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, where he and our older son, Andy (who works and lives in Newport Beach) will fly to Costa Rica for a basketball tournament made up of other D-II, D-III and NAIA players. Alex is playing, Andy’s on R&R.

This labor of love (the blog, not their trip) will be up and running once Agent Jeff diagnoses – and fixes – the problem.

One year while Steve Kerr was serving in the dual capacity of General Manager/Director of Basketball Operations for the Phoenix Suns, he had to hire a new coach. At the time he had a blog and, when asked the question of whether he would take the head coaching job, Kerr responded, “I don’t have experience…coaching is a job that requires training and I haven’t coached at any level…In short, I’m not ready.”

Fast forward to today and Kerr’s embarking on his new job (following his highly acclaimed work as television analyst for NBA games) as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. His unfiltered analysis of (now rival) coaches’ decisions will this season be critiqued by, among others, Mark Jackson, the guy he replaced at Golden State. If anyone needs an example of irony, that will suffice?

As with other analysts-turned-coaches (Doug Collins, Doc Rivers and Jackson), his moves will be open to second guessing – because it’s infinitely easier, and so much more fun, to explain what move should have been utilized after knowing how things turned out. The fact that the Warriors have one of the better rosters in the NBA should make his job both easier (it’s no fun trying to win with a less than competitive club – ask Mike D’Antoni and Brett Brown or, for that matter, Jason Kidd, after this season ends) and more difficult (because, other than alienating the head honchos – and that’s a BIG “other than” – Mark Jackson led last year’s Warriors to a 51-31 record and, although they lost in the first round of the playoffs, it was against the talented LA Clippers in seven games).

After the first official day on the court, All-Star Steph Curry said it was a great practice. Following the second day, Kerr claimed it was better than the first which, he stated, is the goal – to get better everyday. It was reported that in the off season, in an effort to get to bond with his guys, Kerr played golf with Curry, flew to Australia to meet with center Andrew Bogut and went to LA to have dinner with David Lee (the first two I can understand reporting, the third . . . well, I’ve had dinner with many people in LA and the trip is more of an inconvenience for me than it is Kerr, so I found that as a bit of a stretch when talking about Kerr’s off season encounters).

Both Curry and his partner in treys, Klay Thompson, played for Team USA’s World Cup of Basketball’s gold-winning squad. Many in the know, i.e. the league, are calling them the best backcourt in the game. Naturally, they need Bogut and Lee to stay healthy and log big minutes, too. Add to that base group Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala (and, of course, others who have the ability to play complementary roles) and Coach Kerr will find out whether that experience and training he was lacking several years ago were overcome by hours of watching film, attending other NBA teams’ practices and critiquing games analyst Kerr had been doing.

He’ll be thrown into the fire soon enough as his squad opens at The Staples Center against the best basketball team in Los Angeles (and we all know who that is – now). Both Collins and Rivers before him had success moving from the commentator’s spot to the head coach’s job (as, to a lesser extent, did Jackson).

When deciding on how good a job Steve Kerr did, the old adage will apply:

“Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.”

Being in the Huddle Trumps Observing the Huddle

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Due to major computer issues (this post took three times as long to produce because of lack of speed, surprising deletions and other problems), this blog will be temporarily suspended until my man from the Geek Squad, Jeff, pays us a visit early next week. Please check periodically beginning next Tuesday. If there are no new posts, I implore you to scroll to a topic or person who interests you and click on. I’ve done thousands of these and I’ve tried to make each one either entertaining or educational. Sometimes both.

In today’s world of sports journalism (as has been mentioned in this blogspace on more than one occasion), the paradigm has shifted from accuracy to scooping the competition.”Get it first” seems to beat “get it right” entirely too often. Marc Stein wrote a piece yesterday about the dynamic between LeBron James and David Blatt during the NBA Finals. To provide credibility that only Doris Burke could match, Stein penned, “I saw it from close range in my role as sideline reporter through the Finals for ESPN Radio.”

Stein’s article was insightful and, as far as he could tell, fairly done. As a former coach, current father of a college basketball player and fan, I find much of the behavior of NBA players abhorrent. As far as how James treated his coach during the Finals, it did appear that if it had to be summed up in one word, respect would not be that word. If we were to give LeBron the benefit of the doubt, we could say that he was overwhelmed with the series and all he needed to do in order to lead his team to a championship (the Cavs did win two games which were two more than most people felt they would win after Kyrie Irving went down in OT of Game 1) under some severely adverse conditions, the main one of which would be that the Cavs were out-manned – in quality but also quantity.

To add a different angle, permit me to inject a personal story. During the 1991-92 season I served as associate head coach at USC. We were in the stretch run of what would be a fabulous season (our Pac-10 conference record would turn out to be 15-3 but we would come in second to UCLA who went 16-2 even though we had beaten them twice – yeah, we got no help from any of the other conference teams).

Although I’m not absolutely certain, I believe it was our game against Oregon. We were playing them at home and it was one of my scouts (in addition to splitting up the non-conference games, each assistant had three conference teams to scout). In any case, it was late in the game and we were clinging to a slight lead. The Ducks had just made a couple substitutions which set off a signal in my mind. I remembered, as I was preparing the scouting report, that if they ever had that particular lineup in the game, that none of them were shooters.

A media time out had been called and I suggested to our head coach, George Raveling, that we ought to get into “Fist” which was the zone defense that had been very good to us throughout the season (even though we were a predominantly man-to-man team defensively). One of our managers had handed George a clipboard, as he did prior to every time out, and George wrote down where in Fist each of our guys would be. He knelt in front of the team.

As George showed them the board, I said, “They have no shooters on the floor.” Immediately, Duane Cooper, our animated captain (and the best team leader I’ve been around in my 30-year college coaching career) shook his head and waved his hand over the clipboard. “NO! Coach Rave,” protested Coop. “Let us play them man. We can shut them down!”

George looked at the five young guys seated in front of him and said, “The scouting report says go zone. What do you guys think?”

Man!” they all screamed. George erased the board and said, “Let’s play man.”

The horn sounded and the huddle broke. George, sensing my frustration, turned and said, “Hey, Jack, look at them,” as he pointed to the guys, huddling about 10′ from us. Cooper was the most demonstrative. “I know what they’re saying,” George told me. “They’re saying the coaches wanted us to go zone and we said man, so we better not let these guys score. In fact, I guarantee you that’s what’s going on in that huddle.”

We got the stop we needed and knocked down free throws to win the game. In the locker room, I went up to Coop, feigning anger – which he saw through right away – and asked him what was going on in that impromptu gathering out on the floor following the time out. “Oh, man,” he laughed. “I told them, you know the coaches think we oughtta be in Fist and we just told them no, so we better shut these (guys) down or else it will be all our (butts) fo’ sho’.”

What I learned that day is that, if a coach can get “buy in” from the players (no matter how it’s accomplished), it’s better than all the coaching strategy in the world. That’s not to say the way it appeared LeBron James was acting toward David Blatt was excusable, just that:

“Being ON the inside is often quite different than being CLOSE to it.”  

 

How You Feel Toward the NBA Finals Reveals Much About You

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Now that the NBA season has finally drawn to a close, most fans will fall into one of two categories (P or N). See which one more accurately describes how you feel.

P – Golden State was truly a selfless team, had the #1 defense in the league, played with enthusiasm, was the best team all year, was the best team throughout the playoffs, then defeated a team in the Finals who had the best player in the world.

N – During the entire playoffs, Golden State never had to face a healthy point guard (Jrue Holliday, Pelicans; Mike Conley, Grizzlies; Patrick Beverly, Rockets; Kyrie Irving, Cavs). Note: They even avoided Chris Paul because of the Clippers’ collapse against the Rockets.

P – Cleveland had to overcome early struggles, e.g. chemistry issues between coach and players (one in particular), losing Anderson Varrejo so soon in the season, a rough first half of the season (technically, 39 games) leaving them with a 19-20 record at that point, then rallied to win the East and showed enough grit, with their rotation down to seven guys, to take the league’s best team to a 6-game Finals, despite losing two All-Stars.

N – Cleveland was the worst NBA Finals representative ever, the East was a terrible division, the Cavs were just a one-man team with a bunch of role players, they showed little heart and lacked focus in the elimination game – even their hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, ran the headline after Game 6 that said, “NOT ENOUGH GRIT”.  

P – NBA players are the best athletes in the world; it’s amazing how often the referees are right, especially because basketball is the most difficult game in the world to officiate.

N – The refs sucked! Did you see how many times instant replay shows they blew calls?

P – LeBron James’ Finals performance was phenomenal: 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, I’m elated I got to witness it (as opposed to those I missed – West, Russell, Chamberlain and Walton, assuming you’re not old enough to remember); I mean in 1995, Houston’s Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 32.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists (leading the Rockets to sweep), LeBron’s stats are higher in each category – and his team lost!

N – Sure, LeBron posted big numbers – because he’s the only decent player on the team – and his record in the NBA Finals is now 2-4.

P – Steve Kerr made some savvy coaching moves, e.g. getting David Lee to realize his role would be limited after he’d been an All-Star, getting Andre Iguodala to buy into being the sixth man after NEVER having been a substitute in his entire 10-year career (getting him to sacrifice to make Harrison Barnes better and to make their second team better), getting Andrew Bogut to understand he was taking him out of the starting lineup following Game 3 of the Finals (and basically giving him no PT) because he thought they had to “go small” in order to win.

N – Steve Kerr was so lucky he didn’t take that Knicks job; he wound up with a loaded team – including the best shooting guard tandem EVER; Mark Jackson and the general manager should get the credit for the championship, not Kerr.

P – David Blatt stayed the course all season, under difficult circumstances (being named coach BEFORE the city’s favorite son decided to come home), he weathered many storms by media, fans and pretty much anybody who didn’t know (or care) about his credentials and prior coaching successes, he led them to the NBA Finals but when he got there, “big” or “small” it really didn’t matter for the Cavs because, as Doug Collins pointed out, “he didn’t have enough of either – if they go big, they can’t score; if they go small, they can’t rebound.”

N – What an absolutely horrible coaching job done by David Blatt in the Finals; he should have let LeBron coach the team like he had done up to that point; Blatt never responded to any of Kerr’s moves – which weren’t exactly brilliant.

P – It was a special, inspiring moment watching and listening to little Mariana VanHoose sing our National Anthem.

N – Sorry, if you didn’t appreciate little Mariana VanHoose’s rendition of the national anthem, you will never experience a true feeling of contentment while you are on this planet.

If you haven’t figured out the code,

P – You’re a Positive, happy person who enjoyed a hard fought, competitive NBA Finals and appreciates life.

N – You’re a Negative, miserable person who wouldn’t have been satisfied – unless “your” team won – in a sweep (and even then, you’d have found something to complain about, e.g. there weren’t enough FREE nachos at the sports bar where you were).

On the post game show, when the crew from NBA-TV asked him how he prepared to play in the Finals, MVP Andre Iguodala’s response shed perspective on today’s society:

“I didn’t watch SportsCenter, stayed off twitter, stayed off instagram.”

Since Everybody Else Is Chiming In On the Subject of the NBA Finals MVP, . . .

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

With, at most, two games left in the 2014-15 NBA season, one of the main topics of conversation on television and radio, in chat rooms and blogospheres, at water coolers and sports bars is, “Who will be the NBA Finals MVP?”

Some folks say LeBron James. They back up their case with his average statistics after five games –  38.6 points, 12.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists. In addition to those gargantuan numbers, there have been times he’s been the best center, best power forward, best small forward and best point guard on the court for either team (only a completely blind loyalist would try to stake the claim he’s ever been the best shooting guard – but, still, four out of five ain’t bad).

Many people weigh in with the name of a guy who began the series as the Warriors’ sixth man, Andre Iguodala. His numbers? 14.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, plus he’s shooting over 40% from the three-point arc. Another factor in his favor, his supporters point out, is he has been the primary defender on LeBron and has done a better job than anyone else. Something of an embarrassing nature is that the Cavs may resort to “Hack-an-Andre” strategy, after his 2-11 performance from the free throw line in Game 5. If they do, he will be the only non-big man who’s been so “honored.”

There is an a segment of the population who believes the NBA Finals MVP should be the very same individual who was the regular season MVP – Steph Curry. His numbers, to date, are: 26.2 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Unquestionably great numbers – but, they’re dwarfed by LeBron’s. Granted, he has one more win than his Cavs’ counterpart, and if he ups that number to two, it just might be enough for him to sweep the MVPs this season.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith “Mama, there goes that man(‘s mouth) again,” claims that the MVP should be associated with winning. Well, since MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, what about using the definition of “valuable” to decide? After all, that is what the award is called. If that’s the standard that’s used, this entire blog – as well as hours of TV and radio and pages of the written word – have been used for no reason.

LeBron has been criticized by some fans and media alike for his response to the question, “Why are you so confident you guys can win the series?”

“Because I’m the best player in the world. It’s that simple.” How else was he supposed to respond?

Fans say that they want their stars to be humble. But they also want their stars to be truthful – and he was being truthful, especially with the way he’s performing now and the physical situation others who could vie for that title are facing (Kobe and KD). Not only that, but he was being humble. After all, with what he’s accomplished this regular season and playoffs, he could have said, “I’m the best player . . . ever.”

Whether or not that’s how he feels, he’s wise enough to leave it alone, not withstanding the fact he’s probably too tired to attempt any kind of debate.

Let’s recap:

Iguodala? For the defensive job he’s done on James? Really? How much higher than 38.6, 12.4 and 8.8 could LBJ’s numbers possibly be? Curry? When the Warriors have won, he hasn’t always been their dominant guy. When Cleveland wins, it’s all about James. Even in defeat, fans – of both sides and those who are neutral – marvel at what they just saw “the best player in the world” do.

So, OK, if the Warriors win in six and Curry has another sensational game, crown him (in spite of what numbers LeBron totals). But, if the series goes seven – independent of which side emerges victorious, there can only be one MVP – today’s best player in the world.

As Satchel Paige famously said:

“It ain’t braggin’ if you kin do it.”

 

Should His Name Be Stephen A(genda) Smith?

Monday, June 15th, 2015

With the NBA Finals game count at 2-1 in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ favor, Golden State’s coach Steve Kerr made a decision to “go small,” replacing the Warriors’ 7’0″ center Andrew Bogut with the smaller (6’6″) sixth man Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup. Note: As a career assistant, I feel compelled, for the record – and because he deserves the recognition – to mention that Kerr acknowledged that the move was actually suggested by Nick U’Ren, the “Special Assistant to Head Coach & Manager Advanced Scouting” (according to the Warriors staff directory). The result was the Cavs 7’1″ center, Timofey Mozgov, had a career game, scoring 28 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Another result was the Warriors won the game, 103-82.

In an AP story of Game 4 was the line, “Missing All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs didn’t have enough firepower, and their legs were heavy after playing three games in five days against a team that keeps coming in waves.” Some people would give credit to a coach who managed to get his squad to Game 6 of the NBA Finals, despite losing, not only two starters, but two All-Stars, but Stephen A(genda) Smith felt there was a need to view it another way. Almost as if, in this NBA Finals, the two teams are of equal talent with the deciding factor being which coach would perform better. Better yet, which would falter.

So, the series moved to Oakland, knotted at two games apiece. After suffering a 21-point thrashing, it was David Blatt’s turn to adjust his strategy. While he started the same lineup, the Warriors defensive game plan saw a much more aggressive reaction to Mozgov when he received the ball. After five minutes of play – and seeing his team go down 8-2 – the Cavs coach substituted J.R. Smith for Mozgov. In less than a minute, Smith ht a three-pointer, bringing his guys to within three. But now the game was “small ball,” with no player on the floor, for either team, being taller than 6’8″.

However, small ball is deceptive. LeBron was the tallest guy out there for the Cavs, technically meaning he was the center. Just as that point was made by play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, James rebounded a Warrior miss and went coast-to-coast for an and 1. As Jeff Van Gundy said regarding the Cavs’ lineup, “It’s five smalls against five smalls, but you’ve got the biggest, baddest small.” Call it what you want but LeBron is NOT a “small” anything. The guy is 6’8” 250 pounds of steel – making him in that game the tallest, strongest, most skilled player on the floor. The play was reminiscent of a junior high playground with the kid who is the tallest, strongest and most skilled player DOMINATING so badly you feel bad for the other kids. Only in this game, the “other kids” are pretty talented, too.

After that Game 4 home loss, the word from all the second guessers analysts was, sure, Mozgov went for 28 and 10 but the Cavs can’t win that way. Yet, in his post Game 5 comments, Stephen A. wanted to know where Mozgov was. He made the statement that not playing the big man should dispel any notion that LeBron is the de facto coach because he definitely would have wanted Mozgov in there. Wait! Once the game starts, LeBron makes no suggestions, much less decisions? Since when was Blatt granted autonomy with this team? Smith doesn’t criticize people, he excoriates them.

Could it be that Stephen A. has a (not so hidden) agenda against David Blatt? It’s common knowledge (or sense) that, had LeBron decided to return to Cleveland before they hired a coach, that Blatt would be employed elsewhere (yeah, he would have accepted the Warriors assistant coaching position offered to him by Steve Kerr). Adding fuel to this idea of Smith v. Blatt is that Stephen A. made the exact same comment, i.e. LeBron not being the de facto coach after Game 4 when talking about the Cavs bolting to a big lead but doing so by running up and down with the Warriors in the early going – that James would have realized it was foolish to expend so much energy that early in the game. Once again, does LeBron not think he has Blatt’s ear once the ball is tipped? Exactly what did Smith think the Cavs should’ve done when Golden State was allowing them fast break points?

Regarding playing Mozgov, exactly when should he have played last night? In Game 4 all we heard was they couldn’t win if they used the “Mozgov as scorer” philosophy. Now they’re singing (in Stephen A.’s case, spewing) a different tune. The question is, . . . WHEN? When did he think Blatt should have played Mozgov? The Cavs had a one-point lead with 7:47 to go. Was that the time Blatt should have subbed his big guy? It was a one-point game with 4:52 to play. So, was that that time?

From the outset Mozgov had not played well. He was coming off that big game so the Warriors decided to double him immediately – and he had a tough time. What the hell does Stephen A. Smith think Blatt should do? Better yet, what would Stephen A. do if he was the coach of the Cavaliers?

It’s not like Blatt’s screwing up a lineup with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Or even Anderson Varrejo. The last two games James Jones hasn’t scored. Not one point. Mike Miller used to be a three point assassin and an adequate defender. He can still shoot but age has slowed him a little, so unless the game is H-O-R-S-E, he’s not nearly effective – and defensively, losing a step has dropped him below “adequate” defensively. When Mozgov faltered last night, would Stephen A. have rather Blatt inserted Kendrick Perkins, i.e. big for big? That move would have made for interesting commentary.

I came across a quote from the late, witty Columbia professor Mason Cooley that defines Stephen A. Smith (which he would probably take as a compliment because it’s what he gets paid to do):

“Complainers change their complaints, but they never reduce the amount of time spent in complaining.”

 

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.”