Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Five Years Later, the Problem Still Exists

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

What follows is a blog I posted five years ago – to the day. Other than my man, John Welch, having moved to a couple of other NBA franchises, this situation exists today as it did then. And isn’t getting any better.

Hall-of-Fame coach Larry Brown used to say high school coaching is the purest form of teaching the game of basketball. In California, high school coaches are allowed to work with their players year round. While this can be an invaluable time for coaches and their teams, overzealous members of the profession can, unwittingly, cross the line and put undue pressure on their players – and themselves.

It’s June and every weekend there are tournaments (whether high school or AAU) in which teams can play up to six-eight games.  My philosophy has always been that when kids are in the gym, they don’t get into trouble. Recently, I spoke with John Welch, an assistant with the Denver Nuggets (and with whom I served on Jerry Tarkanian’s Fresno State staff). John is a true basketball junkie, known to those in the business as “Johnny Workout.” He has strong feelings about kids playing too much. Too much five-on-five, that is. John, as well as many other coaching “lifers,” sees two problem areas. One is not enough attention to fundamentals. The other, a real bone of contention with Welch, is that kids don’t play enough one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three.

John’s belief, shared by many other veterans in the business, is that kids learn much better how to play when fewer guys are involved. Young guys playing five-on-five can hit a jumper, leak out for a breakaway layup and hit another shot during the course of the game, then “hide” – and think they played well. Fewer guys in the game force kids to be more active participants – in pick and roll situations, help and recover, understanding offensive spacing, etc.

Another issue with five-on-five is that it’s a game - meaning score is kept. Sure, score is also a factor in three-on-threes, etc. but there’s one difference: coaches aren’t involved. Last night, a few of us “dinosaurs” watched high school competition and saw a varying amount of “coaching intensity”- ranging from some coaches encouraging to others enraged. Somewhere, someone made the claim that losing is unacceptable – ever! – when individual player improvement should be the ultimate goal of the off-season.

The “win-win-win” adage was adopted by a few coaches, some of which became extremely successful. My feeling is that these coaches would have been successful anyway – without the excessive pressure these spring and summer games inflict upon teenagers. Yet, due to this desire to excel, too many coaches are coaching like the outcomes actually mean something – and, unknowingly, burning out their most valuable assets.

The consensus among the group I was with is that:

“The only coaches in the country who need to be stressing this late into June are the staffs of the (two teams still playing).”

Game 4 Wrap Up

Saturday, June 11th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 10th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaways from Another NBA Finals Blowout

Thursday, June 9th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which NBA Era Was Really the Best?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I’m not so sure anymore.”

This Year’s Common Theme in Hiring NBA Coaches

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Balance Is a Key to Life – and Making Comments When a Team Is Down (or Up) 3-1

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

Anyone with a lick of mathematical knowledge, or even common sense, is aware that being down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series is a undesirable. In fact, 233 such scenarios had taken place in NBA history and, in all but nine instances, whoever was “3” got to “4” before “1” did. So, when the Golden State Warriors – the defending champion Golden State Warriors – were faced with a 3-1 against in their Western Conference finals, the outlook was bleak. However, there was a chance for them to become the tenth upset winner, but only if they could hold serve at their own joint (Oracle), beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in OKC, an arena in which they not only lost Games 3 & 4, but where blown out in Game 6 and then come through in Game 7. Formidable tasks indeed.

For stat heads, or analytics as NBA folks have come to refer to them, when the first two goals were realized, the odds were flipped. Heading into Game 7, it was the Thunder who faced the overwhelming uphill battle of getting to the NBA Finals because only 20% of visiting teams historically win Game 7s. If only we could expose fans – and media members – by showing, side-by-side, i.e. split screen, their comments prior to Game 5 (definitely prior to Game 6) with what they say before (and after) Game 7. Full disclosure: after witnessing Game 5 in Oakland, I made the observation that the Warriors didn’t look good enough in that victory to have a chance in the Game 6 hostile arena.

Some people make much stronger, bordering on hateful, comments. Wouldn’t it be wonderful (and with technology the way it is, there’s little doubt this will be instantly manufactured to embarrass such know-it-alls), if there was a bank into which these remarks could be stored so when the “impossible” happens, viewers, listeners and readers will be forced to face the music and, if they have any decency, apologize for their incorrect, spiteful predictions. Based on how obnoxious or derogatory their initial comments were, their punishment should range from everyone they know being alerted to them being exposed nationally to reverting to olden times when people were stoned. At least with nerf balls.

Among the quotes I heard or read were:

“Steve Kerr just sits on the bench with that dumb look on his face, without a clue of what to do.” (Heard following Game 4)

“How could Curry be a unanimous MVP when Westbrook is clearly outplaying him in the series?” (also following Game 4)

When asked (prior to Game 7) which team the Cavs would rather face in the Finals, “I have heard from the Cavs’ players that, in no uncertain terms, because of last year, they want the Warriors.” This means that the Cavs would rather play, to capture the NBA Championship (every player’s dream), a seven game series against Golden State, with the Warriors having home court advantage than the Thunder, in which Cleveland would have the benefit of home court. (His credential should be stripped for reporting that – especially if he believed it).

Although there is something to this next comment, give it some thought before accepting it at face value. “The Thunder reverted to ‘hero ball’ and that’s why they got beat.” Yet, couldn’t what Thompson and Curry did be considered “hero ball” as well? When it’s broken down, “hero” has a positive connotation, yet “hero ball” is a negative term. What’s the NBA cliche – “It’s a make or miss league?”

Westbrook was chided for not giving Curry any credit after the game – and people say, well, that’s the kind of guy Westbrook is. Yet, throughout the series, Westbrook couldn’t say enough positive things about players – Durant, Adams and other of his teammates. It’s just that, after a series is over, the “normal” person can “let it go.” The fact Russell Westbrook can’t, or won’t, doesn’t make him an endearing role model to parents whose kids want to emulate the ultra-talented guard or to those of us who believe in sportsmanship. Possibly he will outgrow that attitude, but if it means he does so at the risk of, even a minor lessening of his skills in order to do so, I’d imagine his coaches, teammates, front office and owner could find a way to forgive him.

The NBA Playoffs have cemented my belief in post season play in one way:

“Ain’t sports great?”

The Enigma Facing Most of the NBA Franchises

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Monday, May 16th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How does that make sense?”

One Reason for the NBA Coaching Carousel

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

Seemingly moments after losing his job in Memphis, Dave Joerger was hired by the Sacramento Kings. Back room dealing goes on in most businesses (I think anyone who doesn’t think so is an incurable optimist or naive as all get out), so why not in the NBA? It was reported that the Kings had interviewed Sam Mitchell, Vinny Del Negro and Mike Woodson – all former NBA head coaches with varying degrees of success. They also made it known that both Kevin McHale and Mark Jackson, also NBA ex-head coaches with proven track records, were going to be afforded interviews. Apparently, the Kings were looking for someone with head coaching experience.

Hold on just a minute. It was widely known the Kings were targeting Luke Walton for the top spot – a job he evidently did not desire since he showed no interest in even interviewing. Note: Walton’s sudden surge in the eyes of NBA decision-makers is an excellent example of being ready for your opportunity when it presents itself – even if it’s just an interim position. (Inheriting a championship team that had every vital piece returning aids in the success process too – but, still, he could have screwed it up). So maybe the Kings wanted an assistant? The coach who got the pink slip, Mike Malone, supposedly had bonded with enigmatic post player, Demarcus Cousins and he had been an assistant when he was named to the top spot. Rumors surfaced (in the NBA rumors are closer to the truth than in any other major professional sport) that assistant coaches Elston Turner of Memphis and Nate McMillan of Indiana were going to be interviewed, although selecting the former would be somewhat ironic since he was an assistant on the staff of Joerger. I mean, why settle for a second banana when you can have the one on top?

First and foremost, though, at the top of the Kings’ list of qualities for their next head coach (their third in three years) is, according to GM Vlade Divac, “a coach who will be on the same page with the front office and the players.” Divac said he felt George Karl was a great coach (fifth all-time in wins) and did some great things with the team but, as the favorite saying of those who fire coaches goes, “we need to get a new voice.” That statement means different things to different organizations. In Sactown the translation is we need to get somebody who can get along with Cousins and maximize his talents (which means gaining his trust and buying in to the coach’s philosophy first). When John Calipari’s name was bandied about, there was absolutely zero interest from the Kentucky coach. Sure, Cal said all the right things – how Cuz was never a problem to coach, etc. but left unsaid was, “After all I had to put with – for only ONE season – you think I want the challenge of dealing with this cat for 82+ games?”

Also not to be forgotten in the conversation is Rajon Rondo (another UK product) and another ultra-talented player whose biggest negative, from the people I’ve heard who have worked with him, is that he is absolutely convinced that, whichever room it is, he has to be the smartest guy in it. Somewhere down the list is actual knowledge of basketball. Right or wrong, that’s the way it is in today’s “Association.”

To further prove the theory, it was immediately reported that, after firing Joerger, the Grizzlies were interested in Frank Vogel who had performed quite admirably as coach of the Indiana Pacers. Larry Bird, as honest as any NBA executive is, was visibly upset at having to make a coaching change yet he, too, used the “new voice” mantra.

As I’ve noted on innumerable occasions in these posts, my experience is with the college hoops game more so than any other level. Here’s an observation I made while watching the Oklahoma City Thunder upset the San Antonio Spurs. Comparing the respect for Billy Donovan, the two-time national championship coach at the University of Florida and Billy Donovan, the guy who has just led a team to the NBA Western Conference finals:

“At Florida, Billy’s players worshiped him; at OKC, they tolerate him.”