Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

The Importance of Coaches Attending Clinics

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The 1971 New Jersey State Coaches Clinic is etched in my memory. One reason is because it was the first one I’d ever attended. Another was for two of the speakers.

One day I was telling a friend that the only two things I remembered from the History of Education class I took as a sophomore in college was 1) never make a statement you can’t back up, e.g. “If you do that again, I’ll have you thrown out of this class” and 2) when you’re finished using an overhead projector, turn it off so the students aren’t distracted by the light on the blank wall. Then we tried thinking of what we recalled from other classes. For many of them we came up empty. Nada. Granted, it was a long time ago but - not to be able to come up with even one item we were taught - that’s just sad.

It was at that point in our conversation I brought up the ‘71 NJ State Coaches Clinic. It was for both football and basketball coaches and since I was coaching both sports at my high school, I split my time, taking into account the topic and the speaker. I told my buddy there were two clinicians I had to hear. One was a football assistant from the Naval Academy whose topic was “Scouting” because one of my jobs as assistant was to scout future opponents. I can still remember a good deal of that talk even though I haven’t coached football in 43 years Example: when scouting a game in person and you’re trying to figure out the play a team is running, watch the triangle made up of the two guards and the fullback. If the guards block ahead, it’s a running play between the tackles; if they drop back, it’s a pass play or a draw; if one or both guards and the fullback go right, the play’s going that way and vice versa if they go left. There are additional examples but I don’t want to bore you (more than I already have). Obviously, the game has progressed since then, e.g. the fullback position has gone the way of the buffalo, but to be able to recall in such detail the contents of a speech over 40 years ago, that would be rendered meaningless a year later (when I embarked on a career as a basketball coach), speaks volumes of the impact that lecture had on me.

The other coach I looked forward to hearing was my college roommate’s high school coach. At that time, he was an assistant coach at Duke. His name was Hubie Brown. If you’ve ever heard Hubie, there’s no need to explain why his speech stayed with me.

At the Coaching U event I attended last Tuesday and Wednesday, the coaches on the program were the two hosts, Brendan Suhr and Kevin Eastman, George Raveling, Lawrence Frank, Shaka Smart, Billy Donovan and Gregg Marshall. Undoubtedly, the coaches in attendance will remember a lot more from that clinic than I did from the one in New Jersey. Yet everything that they do will be for the same reasons.

As William Arthur Ward said:

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

Free Agent Salaries All Depend on the Starting Point

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

On the drive home from North LA a few days ago, I was listening to Sirius XM channel 217, the NBA station, to hear what was happening with the free agent market. Justin Termine, a sports talk show host who is vying for the title of “most obnoxious radio personality” (his chance of being #1 significantly increases every time he opens his mouth), compared the “value” of every NBA free agent whose name came up to what the Cleveland Cavaliers offered the Utah Jazz’s restricted free agent Gordon Hayward. The Cavs’ offer sheet is a four-year, $63 million starting at roughly $14 million. If the Jazz want to keep Hayward, they’ll be forced to match that offer.

Every name that followed elicited the same response from Termine. One such example was, “If Hayward is worth that kind of money, what does Chris Bosh command?” The identical question was posed by “Termine” (as he refers to himself) independent of whichever NBA player’s name was mentioned. It never occurred to him that the same comparison could be done but, as opposed to Hayward’s potential salary, using Tim Duncan’s salary, e.g. “If Tim Duncan is paid $10 million/year, how much can Chris Bosh expect to get on the open market?”

Obviously, the answers would vary greatly depending on which player was used for a comparison. As far as what determines NBA offer sheets and salaries, there are a multitude of factors. Among them are a team’s need, the owner’s willingness to spend (or not to), who the organization’s decision-maker is, how much cap space is available, whether one team is trying to squeeze the free agent’s current team (in the case of restricted free agents), what trades are planned (at that time and in the future) as well as other reasons known only to the individual front offices.

Sure, it would be easier if there was a certain player every team was in agreement was being paid exactly what he deserved and he could be as the measuring stick. Negotiations would be simple. “Here’s what ‘measuring stick’ is getting, what does this guy realistically deserve?” Even then, the difficulty comes with what the team gets after their latest acquisition signs on.

George Karl wrote a book, what now seems like centuries ago, when he was the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics. In it, one of the analogies he makes deals with players’ salaries. He tells of a survey that was done in which people were asked the question, “What would be the first thing you would do if you won the lottery?” 75% of the people said they would retire.

George’s comment that followed was classic (and since he said it, salaries have skyrocketed). “With what these guys are making, it’s like they hit the lottery.

I wonder how many of them retired?”

Although I Wish I Could Say Differently, Some Things Never Change for Me

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Reprinted, with editing, from earlier posts.

During the past seven years I’ve twice posted blogs about my inability to enjoy sports that millions of people absolutely love. Here’s the update: they didn’t do it for me then and they don’t do it for me now. Although I wish they did.

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Car racing draws huge crowds and has an unbelievable following. And while football, basketball and baseball are more popular, hockey is considered one of the Big Four. I’ve always considered myself a true sports fan, yet I can’t get into any of these. Millions of people live and die (literally, for some) over the outcomes of these contests. If that many people have that much passion for such sports, I should have somewhat of an interest -at least in some way, shape or form.

Although I’ve tried, I still can’t see what people get so excited about when it comes to soccer (although yesterday I found myself watching Uruguay and Colombia for several minutes - maybe all the replays and different camera angles make it seem as though teams are scoring more than one goal). When our sons were younger, I used to tell people that if the Chinese knew about what it was like to watch kindergarten soccer (and listen to some of the parents), they’d have done away with water. That’s not really soccer, so let’s see how a true soccer person would describe it.

The late soccer coach at Western Carolina University, Charlie Schneider, was a truly wonderful guy and, on several occasions, a tennis partner of mine. He was extremely intelligent, insightful and enjoyed talking about the philosophy of sports as much as I did. I remember during one of our conversations he told me how much he enjoyed watching basketball because strategically, it was so much like soccer. He proceeded to tell me about how attacking the goal was similar to a fast break in that you wanted your best “ballhandler” in the middle with the ball and your scorers on the wings. Obviously, it was to your advantage if you had “numbers,” i.e. more offensive players than defenders. He talked about the use of the “give and go” play, used so effectively in basketball, albeit something teams executed much more in the ’60s than they do now. It made a great deal of sense, but I wondered why, if there was so much similarity, there wasn’t any more scoring - which is the biggest rap against soccer in this country?

Then, it hit me. It would be similar to the opponent missing a shot and your team rebounding it. The ball would be outletted to your point guard who would turn and start the fast break. It was this visual that got me to understand the problem clearly. Imagine how little scoring there would be in basketball if the court was 120 yards long! No wonder it’s said that soccer players are the best-conditioned athletes in the world (except for maybe decathletes). Think of the kind of shape you’d have to be in to play fast break basketball for three periods in that type of venue.

As far as car racing, Mark Dyer, a brilliant businessman and a friend I met during my stint in Knoxville, at one time served as the director of merchandising for NASCAR. Although we shared a great many interests, he got extremely frustrated trying to get me interested in race cars. The day I told him I didn’t know how to operate a stick shift gave him all the information he needed about me and racing. Maybe if my company represented Danica Patrick like his current employer, IMG, does, I’d find a reason to tune in more often.

My first hockey experience occurred when I was a graduate assistant at the University of Vermont. The team won the Division II National Championship (1973). It wasn’t unusual for them to score double figure goals game after game. When I was working at USC a couple decades later, one of our former SC basketball managers, Dennis Johnson (presently an executive with Time-Warner cable) was an intern at the Great Western Forum. He got a couple LA Kings tickets for our then-four year old son, Andy, and me. I was pretty pumped. Andy, who, throughout a good deal of his early years enjoyed watching sports nearly as much as he did playing them, thus earning from me the nickname, “Fan-dy,” was really looking forward to it as well.

The hockey tickets DJ got for us were great seats and at that time, The Great One, Wayne Gretsky, was playing for the Kings. We got to the GWF late (because of traffic, not because I thought it was fashionable) and the first period was already underway. When the horn sounded ending the first of the three periods, I had yet to see the puck but hadn’t said anything to Andy. He and I went to get something from the concession stand. The players came out for the second period and after a few minutes, Andy, who was unaware there were three periods, looked up at me and, very uncharacteristically for him, said, “Dad, do we have to stay for the whole game?” The definition of a nanosecond was the time in between him asking me that question and me getting up and saying, “No, let’s go, buddy.”

When it comes to watching these sports, the line that sums up how people should approach me about them is:

“Don’t try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

A True Example of Finding Humor Most Any Situation

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Anytime you travel to another country, you’re not only excited about the trip but also a little wary. As I’ve mentioned in a couple recent blogs, Alex, Jane and I went on a 10-day excursion to Tourcoing, France for the 20 & under World basketball tournament. Alex was part of a 10 man squad that was to compete against teams from Turkey, Germany, Montenegro, Israel, Great Britain, Croatia and, of course, France. Each team (that needed one) was assigned an interpreter. In addition, our club had a basketball coach from France who was heavily involved at the grass routes level of basketball there, had several contacts in the U.S. (including our head coach) and, most importantly, was an overall gracious and caring person. His name was Jean-Pierre (I imagine it still is) and the fact he understood the landscape (political and otherwise) and was nearly as fluent in English as the rest of our party was - in English - was extremely helpful. I had taken six years of French, counting junior high, high school and college and tried to get by, but his presence turned out to be quite reassuring.

Tourcoing is a small city. Over here I’ve heard similar areas referred to as “burgs,” to give you a visual of our surroundings. Our plan to go to Paris at least once during our stay got squelched when we learned of a train strike. Jane and I managed to take the tram to Lille one evening which, while it wasn’t home to the Eiffel Tower and Louvre, would definitely be considered a city here.

We leaned on Jean-Pierre quite a bit as he was always with us. In fact, his room was directly across the hall from Jane’s and mine. We became fast friends. One reason was he was interested in “stories from the U.S.” and “stories” are something I have in abundance.

Four of the other teams were staying in the same hotel we were, including Israel. Since the United States is a big draw in France (kind of like the Yankees, the team people love to hate), our first three “pool” games were played at 6:30, right before the home team would play. On the night France played Israel, Jean-Pierre told me he wanted to give me a heads up. After our game, outside the arena, there was going to be an anti-Israeli demonstration by Palestinians living in the area. The fact that I’m Jewish lent a little more intrigue to the story, although the demonstrators had no idea I was anything but a part of the U.S. contingent. When I asked him what he thought we should do (Jane and I always went to dinner after each one of our games), he told me there shouldn’t be a problem, he just wanted to make me aware. He reiterated that we had no real reason to worry.

We lost the game but Alex had played pretty well. As with every game he plays, afterward my mind is usually thinking of what he’d done right, what he’d done wrong and the feedback I planned on giving him. As we got near the exit, I could hear a guy on a microphone. One reason the situation wasn’t as frightening as it might have been was that, at this time of year (or maybe all the time, I didn’t ask), it doesn’t get dark until after midnight (Jane and I marveled at this - and that it got light again about 4:30 am). Once we got outside, the guy with the mic could be heard yelling, “Boycott,” while the crowd would respond with “Israel!” Crowd might be overstating the situation. There were five people in the adjacent parking lot (where the guy with the mic was) and two people on the concourse level of the building. That was the attendance for the demonstration- eight participants. Not to minimize the content of their message, but I’d seen more people at a juicer demonstration at Costco. There were five times as many people there, congregating on the concourse and down below just to chat - or have a cigarette (apparently, our Surgeon General’s report didn’t make it to the other side of the Atlantic).

When I saw Jean-Pierre later that night I said to him, “Jean-Pierre, you told me there was going to be a demonstration tonight. There were eight people there! That’s the best they could do? Eight people?” We shared a laugh and he said he just wanted to warn me. I told him I sincerely appreciated his letting me know but what a (pleasant) shock it was finding the situation as it existed.

All along, I should have thinking about Will Smith’s quote (undoubtedly, from one of his movies):

“Danger is very real, but fear is just a train of thought.”

Coaches Search for Answers, Media Look to Blame

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

For the most part, reporters are an angry group, naturally, some worse than others. Bill Simmons and Stephen A. Smith absolutely blistered Mario Chalmers, each ranting - as well as trying to elicit a laugh - at the point guard’s ineffectiveness. It’s like Chalmers offended them with how poorly he played, like his missed shots were meant for them and they took it personally. Each reporter, and several of their colleagues, had similar criticism after the first two games of Kawhi Leonard. Tonight was Chalmers’ turn. When a team wins, today’s reporters are more prone to criticize the loser (and look for scapegoats) than praise the winner (and look for heroes). It’s not that they ignore the latter group; it’s just that they spend an inordinate amount of time - and, even, revel - in the former’s misery.

One guy was so obnoxious he got Erik Spoelstra to do an impersonation of Gregg Popovich. Later, he had similar “follow up” comments for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Bobby Ramos, representing Bottom Line (apparently, it’s a radio show) asked Erik Spoelstra (although it was more like he vented at him) shortly after the game his team lost, “Coach, you gave San Antonio the credit and you mentioned a couple times that you’re in the Finals. How does a team, in their fourth Finals, come out in the Finals, their first home game, and get beat to the ball, to get stomped the way they did, the kind of heart your championship team has, to come out tonight like they did mentally, has to be something that’s a problem.”

Spoelstra looked at Ramos and replied, “Clearly.” It was the perfect response to someone who, quite obviously, was trying to evoke an emotional reaction from the head coach whose team had just given back the home advantage they stole from the Spurs in Game 2. While Ramos had chosen the perfect target (psychologically), Spo basically looked him in the eye and told him to take his question and throw it in the ocean.

Dwyane Wade and LeBron James came out to face the media and, once again, Ramos attempted, for unknown reasons, to get under the players’ skin. “You have a great defense, they’re averaging 104 points a game, you have a lot of offense, you haven’t broke (sic) 100 yet. Is the problem your lackluster defense or is it the problem you’re having offensively? Lackluster offense?” Possibly because he couldn’t meet him in a dark alley, in the wee hours of the morning, one-on-one, James just laughed at a post game question put down.

And, as with his coach, D Wade offered a calm response. “The problem is we’re down two games to one.” Not sure why Ramos didn’t follow up with, “And I’ve watched your kids play. They suck, too.” Although, with that one, he would have been pressing his luck.

Even Mark Schwartz, of ESPN, asked the asinine question, “Why, in a Finals, would you come out with such a lack of urgency?” Exactly what do these guys expect players to say?

LeBron’s answer was the obvious. “It wasn’t that we came out with a lack of urgency, it’s that they came out so aggressively.” Maybe those questions are asked on the chance that, one time, one time, a player will say, “Because our coach told us to conserve our energy early” or “We had some party last night and we really blew it out. Frankly, I’m surprised we played as well as we did, considering the physical shape we were in just an hour before the game.”

It’s not that former coaches in the media don’t get angry; it’s just that they’re more analytical. They have to be. Naturally, after a 35-year coaching career, I’m more partial to comments and analyses from coaches than I am from media members (and, even, players). That’s why I appreciate hearing Jeff Van Gundy and Hubie Brown do color commentary and Doug Collins in the studio. “That’s what the playoffs are all about,” said Collins, after hearing Simmons’ post game comments about how Miami was in trouble after Game 1, then how San Antonio was in trouble after Game 2, and now how the Heat are in dire straits because the Spurs torched them last night. “Managing the emotional waters,” is how Collins explained the coach’s job.

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if San Antonio could run their offense as easily and effectively as it did last night, that they would do it that way every game? Does anybody think the reason their offense ran so smoothly last night was because of adjustments Pop made after their loss in Game 2? We all need to keep in mind that these are the two best teams in the world. After the Heat lost Game 1, they did what all great teams do. They made adjustments and those adjustments worked. Why? Because they executed them properly, as well as raised their intensity level. Following that game, the tables were turned. The Spurs were the more desperate team. And now the Heat are under the greater pressure to win.

The difference between being a coach and being a media member is that media members are here to educate and entertain the fans (and they direct their commentary to them), while coaches are leaders and must focus on how to get their players to execute as close to perfection as possible and play as hard as they can. Coaches don’t have the luxury media members do because they have a record. Do you think reporters might act differently if, following every game they cover, their work was determined to be a win or a loss - and their jobs were as much on the line as coaches are? In a coach’s world, as with Spoelstra last night, it’s best to remember:

“Better outcomes occur when cooler heads prevail.”

Why Donald Sterling Should Be Pitied

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

The pendulum in the “Donald Sterling selling the Clippers to Steve Ballmer” deal has swung back to “not signing - suing.” The word from Sterling’s camp (which consists of Sterling and his attorney, Max Blecher) is, “I have decided that I must fight to protect my rights. While my position may not be popular, I believe that my rights to privacy and the preservation of my rights to due process should not be trampled. I love the team and have dedicated 33 years of my life to the organization. I intend to fight to keep the team.”

While my position may not being popular?” Those words should dispel any notion that the owner, former owner, still-for-a-little-while owner is suffering from any type of dementia. A promising strategy for Sterling might be the section, “I have dedicated 33 years of my life to the organization” because the Clippers are now one of the top franchises in the NBA after being, arguably, the poorest run professional organization in the world (including Eastman Kodak and the railroad). Maybe he thinks his investment is just now turning the corner.

“I intend to fight to keep the team.” Even though every one of the players, coaches, other employees and every Clippers fan desperately wants me to relinquish my role as owner and can’t wait to start the Steve Ballmer era which will undoubtedly prove to be infinitely more player-friendly, coach-friendly (Mike Dunleavy can attest to that), employee-friendly and fan-friendly. While that last statement might have been unnecessarily lengthy, so was my length of ownership. 

From the onset, I did not want to sell the Los Angeles Clippers.” Someone, maybe Blecher, might want to clue Sterling in that “want to” never had anything to do with it once the now-famous “V tapes” were released. All indications point to the sale of the team, pending approval of the other 29 owners (wonder what odds Vegas is giving on the owners not approving the deal), although a court case is certainly a possibility. If Sterling were to testify, he would probably, at some point, admit his biggest mistake was not using the same head hunting firm that gave the Nixon administration Rosemary Woods.

Commissioner Adam Silver was quoted as saying that if Sterling sued, he’d actually be suing himself. Not quite sure what the commish’s point is. A possible mistake Silver is making (unless he’s holding it as a bargaining chip) is not rescinding the $2.5M fine against Sterling (that the commissioner, allegedly, claimed was still to be collected). Not only is #2.5M pocket change for Sterling, it’s pocket change for the league, every owner and Silver himself. Don’t flip on the “lifetime ban” for goodness’ sakes, but let the poor schmuck think he beat you on some count.

Many people can’t understand why Sterling, who is worth nearly $2B and would be getting another $2B from the sale, would fight such a seemingly losing battle. The answer lies in a line I read several years ago:

“Many people are so poor because the only thing they have is money.”

Can’t a Losing Group Just Acknowledge Another’s Success?

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, NY and Ansun Sujoe of Ft. Worth, TX tied for the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship. Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, MO was third and Ashwin Veeramani of North Royalton, OH was fourth. Each of the top four are Indian-American. In fact, the past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 champions have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999.

What can be concluded from the above? Could it be that Indian-Americans put a greater emphasis on spelling (or, perhaps, education) than other groups? In the sporting world such a run would be hailed as a dynasty. On the Internet it means it’s time to spew venom toward to champions - because “your kind” didn’t achieve victory.

Two such examples are: “wow that blows the spelling bee ends with a tie thats so friggin un-American no wonder the kids that won it are Indian” from Chris Uhl Jr. (@the_best_uhl_c) May 30, 2014. Wow, if that’s the_best_uhl_c, Chris, we can only imagine an opinion of yours that’s a shade under your “best.” It seems as though you’re saying that a tie is un-American, implying that if the finalists were “true Americans,” they would have spelled to the death until one was champion. And: “Nothing more American than a good spelling bee.. Oh wait all the Caucasians are eliminated” from Cale Pieczynski (@CalePie) May 30, 2014. Or was that from @CowPie? Do you mean, Carol, that the “foreign” words that must make up today’s spelling bees need to be replaced by the English ones that were used during the good old spelling bees from your youth (when the Caucasians would win)? 

What’s surely to appear next is a group of protestors, picketing or starting a letter-writing campaign, stating their heritage is being disparaged. They take offense that just because their children aren’t capable of spelling “big words” that it means “their people” don’t value education as much as Indian-Americans. Those who level that charge against them have no idea the type of hardships they’d encountered, from having to fight racism (or, one that’s emerging, reverse racism) and poverty to looking different.

School administrators would be so frightened they’d call a meeting, attempting to downplay stereotyping the winners, all the while praising their own champions - even though in the majority of cases those winners also would be Indian-Americans. These (real) winners should not be confused with Native Americans who used to be called Indians until such groups (the complainers, not the Indians) protested so much no one was allowed to use that term any longer. Unless you lived in Cleveland, in which case, not only could you use the term but you were also encouraged to shell out mega-dollars to watch them play, often badly - which certainly does reflect negatively on the Indians (but not the Native Americans). It seems as though administrators and legislators are dividing the country in the name of unifying it, a testimony to politicians everywhere - each group favoring meetings ahead of accomplishing actual work.

The original article about the spelling bee co-champions stated that although they shared a single trophy onstage for the picture-taking, each would get one for himself, plus the champion’s purse of more than $33,000 in cash and prizes. This would infuriate other groups who would surely take umbrage at how insensitive this action would be to the rest of the participants. Should they not be receiving some type of award (a trophy or plaque or certificate - undoubtedly, with a word misspelled), so their self-esteem wouldn’t be irreparably damaged? No one seemed to be bothered that neither of the winners could spell “corpsbruder” or “antegropelos,” mistakes I would bet would ruminate with them a lot longer than whatever word eliminated the contestants who bowed out in the early rounds.

What is so sad is that, in this day and age, the Chris Uhls and Cale Pieczynskis of the world aren’t infinitely more disturbed that “Caucasians” perform so poorly at, in this case, spelling bees than Indian-Americans. Also disappointing is that, rather than denigrate winners (in disciplines where ethnic groups other than theirs  perform better) why they wouldn’t collaborate with them in order to raise overall skill levels.

Could it be because we desperately want, in our country, to achieve the impossible - to have no one lose? It’s accepted in sports, albeit not always so graciously, and while feelings get hurt, the participants deal with it (and usually come out better and more determined to succeed in the future).

In situations like these, one person who always made sense without ever offending another soul was Mohandas Gandhi. He said:

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”



Comparing the Two Teams in the NBA Finals

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

First, the trivial: In 2013 Miami was the #1 seed in the East (and #1 overall, meaning Game 7 was in South Beach) with San Antonio #2 in the West; this year the Spurs are #1 in West (and #1 overall, meaning a potential Game 7 would be at the Riverwalk) while the Heat is #2 in East.

Four former NBA Finals MVPs  played in the series (the Spurs’ Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James) - just like last year.

We may have the same teams as last season but there are some differences. It’s the first NBA Finals since 1984 without David Stern as commissioner (shouldn’t be a factor) and it’s the first NBA Finals since 1982 without Donald Sterling as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers (also shouldn’t be a factor). As far as rosters are concerned, each team has 10 of the 15 players listed on their roster from 2013 back this year but, as far as the main characters, all return. The format differs with last year’s 2-3-2 changing to 2-2-1-1-1. Whom that favors is in the eye of the prognosticator.

The pressure supposedly rises exponentially as championships are won: back-to-back extremely difficult. As for a three peat, well, only three franchises have ever done it: Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Shaq’s/Kobe’s LA Lakers (each not only three-peated but did it twice), while Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics eight-peated (don’t think anybody has copyrighted that phrase but pretty sure there’s no need). Since the season ended, experts have been telling us that this year’s Heat squad is the worst of the three (this year and the past two championship teams) while the same guys have been saying the old Spurs are getting older.

So do the elder statesmen of the hardwood, led by the older of the two coaches, take this year’s NBA title or can the Heat take the heat and grab this year’s David Stern Larry O’Brien trophy?

Both teams are stable, i.e. no Lance Stephenson-type shenanigans. Although he’s a true “baller,” occasionally (OK, maybe more than occasionally) he becomes a guy who can be “more problem than player” and create unnecessary distractions.

The team concept rules for both clubs, i.e. no Russell Westbrook who, while he’s fearless and comes up big, has the tendency to have too many possessions in which no one else touches the ball but him (example: in Game 4 when he went for 40 and 10 - and OKC won, there were 19 times in which he was the only Thunder player to touch the ball during the entire possession). That said, there probably will be moments in the finals in which each of the teams would love to have Westbrook.

Since each won in Game 6 of the conference finals, there’s no advantage from a “rest” factor. Erik Spoelstra has been closely monitoring D Wade’s minutes all season and hasn’t been reluctant to go deep into his bench. LeBron gets rest, maybe for show, but if (or when) push comes to shove, bet on him being on the floor, fresh and ready to make whatever play - at either end - that needs to be made, no matter how many minutes he’s logged. To find out Gregg Popovich’s philosophy on player rotation, pick up a copy of this week’s (6/2/14) Sports Illustrated. This year’s rotation plan worked more efficiently than any other - if the goal is to keep the main guys as fresh as possible for the finals run. According to a graphic flashed on the screen at the end of the TNT telecast, this is the first NBA Finals in which none of a team’s five starters have logged more than 30 min/game.

Each contest may come down to which team can guard the three-point line best. Since it’s hard for some to visualize a “line” being guarded, let’s use the term that ought to be easier to comprehend - which defenders will best be able to “run the three-point shooters” off of the three-point line.

No matter how much improvement there is in the fields of strength, conditioning and nutrition, the ball will always move faster than the player. Maybe due to aging, maybe due to philosophy drilled into Pop by his coaches and mentors but that is the basis of the Spurs’ offense. As far as the defensive end of the floor goes, athleticism is much more difficult to cover for than it is on offense.

The NBA has become a league symbolized by pick-and-roll basketball. Other fads come and go but defending the pick-and-roll/pop is what the teams that want to score employ. It’s the most difficult offense to guard, one reason being the incredibly physical toll it takes on the defender on the ball. The offense has evolved from a two-man game to one in which all five players are expected to fill certain spots. At the highest level, the problem for coaches trying to figure ways to defend it is that, on the championship level NBA teams, all five “Os” need to be guarded. Trapping, or “blitzing” the ballhandler is a gamble because, when the ball leaves the trap, it eventually finds its way to a player who can score - often with a three.  While there are a multitude of ways to guard the pick-and-roll, a well-executed offense will put points on the board - or at least get a quality shot - more often than the defense will shut it down, keeping in mind that shutting it down entails rebounding misses, or in coachspeak, “a defensive possession isn’t successful until the ball is secured.”

Creating turnovers (in Miami’s mind) or taking care of the ball (from the Spurs’ prospective) will be a major factor because the Heat are incredibly effective in the open floor. For the games in Miami, it will positively impact the heat to a point that the players can almost feel an energy surge.

Where will coaching come into this series? A lot is based on which guy blinks first - and being first is not entirely bad. If it comes down to which guy makes a move following a loss, immediately he’s behind because both of these guys have weapons and it’s usually best to bring out the big guns early. Forget all that. Between them, they have six championships - and, for those born after 1990 - the rings that the team gets for winning the championship, so there’s reason to believe each knows what’s necessary to be done.

As far as which team will win? I’ll take the view spoken so eloquently by one of the two greatest speakers of all-time (MLK being the other), Winston Churchill, who stated (a belief that most sportswriters subscribe to):

“I always avoid prophesying beforehand because it is much better to prophesy after the event has already taken place.” 

The Scrutinization of the Losing Coach

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Headed to SoCal for a few days with younger son, Alex. He’ll be worked out by Fresno native (Hoover HS), Mike Penberthy, who went to NAIA Master’s College, was a two-time NAIA All-America and played overseas for many seasons but will be better remembered for his stint with the LA Lakers when he teamed up with Shaq and Kobe to win the 2001 NBA championship. He was (still is) a dead eye marksman who could also take the ball to the hole and score. But it was his shooting effectiveness that most will recall as he was “cash money” for the Lakers (during the regular season and throughout the playoffs). With a monster big man and the best player in the game (at that time), Mike would spot up beyond the three-point line (sometimes way beyond it) and wait for his man to help on Shaq or Kobe. He’d get open shots and knock them down - over and over and over. Nice work if you can get it. As long as you produce. Mike did and has a ring to prove it. Now his job is player development. Among the NBA guys he tutors are Dwyane Wade, Paul George and Reggie Jackson.

This blog will return Sunday.

Frank Vogel has come under a great deal of heat (as well as all the other Heat he - and the Pacers - are under) for making the comment, “I think anytime you lose three in a row in the playoffs, it shakes your confidence some.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out what people are so upset about. Indiana won Game 1. They just lost three straight games and the distance between their performances and Miami’s is widening. If anything, the Pacers were overconfident (and maybe still are, although I believe, deep down, they suffer from exactly what Vogel said).

If you want to see a picture of Lance Stephenson, go to Webster’s and look up “loose cannon.” Really, you are under LeBron’s skin? Looks like Stephenson won’t be giving lectures on dermatology anytime soon. During Game 4 Miami led from the opening tip until the final horn. After 0-0 the game wasn’t ever tied. Yet Paul George claimed they outplayed the Heat. His comment was understandable within the context he made it, i.e. they shot 50% from the floor and had fewer turnovers than they usually do in games they win. OK, send the box score to the league office, explaining you guys have a trademark style of taking the ball to the basket, as do the Heat, yet they shot a great many more free throws than you did. It won’t change the score (or the officiating) but the response you’ll get back from the league won’t come with a bill for $25K attached. Roy Hibbert, in four of seventeen playoff games this year, has gone scoreless. In a year he was an All-Star. And it’s considered poor coaching strategy to say the team’s (Vogel never Hibbert, or any other Pacer, by name) confidence is shaken?

Who doesn’t think these guys have their confidence shaken? Maybe Stephenson, but if his confidence isn’t shaken, it’s at least stirred. After he made such an asinine statement (about a guy who doesn’t need to be fired up any more than he already is) and followed it up with the game he had, he needs a confidence boast as much as he needs a muzzle. Swagger is one thing - and in today’s game of trash talking (although, apparently, TT is nothing new to hoops) - but quiet confidence works, too.

Midway through the third quarter, Gregg Popovich, considered by more than a few people to be the best coach in today’s NBA, benched his best players. This idea isn’t exactly a novel one. as it has been used as a motivational tool by many a coach, at many a level. Its purpose is to send a message. Basically, the coach is telling his top guys that if you don’t want to play hard, smart and together (I think I saw that on a t-shirt somewhere), you can have a seat right here next to me. Great coaches, including, and especially, John Wooden and Bob Knight, have been quoted that the bench is the greatest motivator.

Then the Spurs’ subs cut the lead to 12 in the third quarter and people (Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller are two on record) thought it might be about time for the starters to reenter. But they didn’t. Not then, or the beginning the fourth, or anytime thereafter. The question many have wondered is, “Why didn’t they?”

Here’s a conjecture. As the TV guys stated, Pop knows his team best. Maybe he felt like, if he put his guys back in, and if they could cut into the lead (12 points is a rather substantial mountain to climb in one quarter), 1) could they realistically win the game, not just make it a close defeat, 2) how much would it take out of his (older) players if they did go back in and 3) how would it affect them if they not only didn’t win, but if OKC expanded the margin of victory? Questions would abound. Was the Thunder sandbagging the Spurs, i.e. letting up against the end of the bench to lure the starters back in - so they could kick their butts again?

Independent of that idea, would it be a wise move with Game 5 (usually the most pivotal game of a seven-game series) only 48 hours away? Since Pop is the master puppeteer, could the thought have crossed his mind - in each of the four games to date, the home team won. If that trend were to continue, we’re in the Finals. If we can win at home, we don’t need Game 4. My Big Three are a veteran group. Do I really want them to have to expend that much energy to try to win a game that’s not only not necessary but may not even be possible to win?

Keep this fact in mind: Gregg Popovich has won a great many more rings - as a coach - than anybody critiquing him. Spo’s not too far behind. And, right now, nobody’s saying anything bad about Scotty Brooks (although, if the Thunder lose Game 5, watch how many people bring up how many minutes he played his starters in last night’s blowout).

I used this quote several times at clinics. I’m sure other coaches have as well. In this profession, the difference between a good coaching move and a bad one can be summed up like this:

“A good coaching move is one that works.”

Was the “Serge Ibaka Difference” Really All That?

Monday, May 26th, 2014

After the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers to advance to the Western Conference Finals, the stage was set for a 1 vs 2 match up (San Antonio having finished ahead of the Thunder in the regular season). What took some of the intrigue out of the pairing was Serge Ibaka, OKC’s starting power forward, sustained a nasty calf injury against LA in the final game of that series. Reports out of Oklahoma City were that the shot blocking, sweet shooting big man was O-U-T for the remainder of the playoffs. As it turned out, Ibaka only had suffered only one of what the Thunder docs and trainers thought was a couple of injuries and, luckily for him - and OKC - it was the less serious of the two.

The first two games were played in, as Sir Charles might call it “la Ciudad de las Mujeres Grandes” (the City of Big Women). While big women might have been in attendance, there was no big Serge sighting. There was talk of him possibly suiting up for Game 3. Hysteria rocked Chesapeake Energy Arena when Ibaka was announced as a starter.

Then, he hit his first four shots, making it an even better, although nowhere nearly as dramatic performance than . . . yeah, I’ll say it, Willis Reed. Sure, Reed’s injury was more extensive from a medical standpoint - if, for no other reason than how much less doctors knew back then. And for pure drama, face it, Reed’s venue was “the world’s most famous arena” - Madison Square Garden. However, from a production standpoint, there’s no comparison. Ibaka had 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks (maybe 10 shot “changes” to neutralize the paint) while The Captain, as Reed was known, exited (noticeably limping) after knocking down his only two shot attempts.

But wait! Should Ibaka be receiving that much credit? Without a doubt, the Thunder would have been hard pressed to win last night without him in the lineup. But there were numerous other contributing factors that went into OKC now facing a 1-2 deficit as opposed to being down 0-3. The impact of Reggie Jackson replacing Thabo Sefolosha, for example, went largely unnoticed, due to the Ibaka medical miracle, yet was a major reason in the Thunder’s victory (Jackson’s positive contribution, OK, but even more because of the elimination of the granted, improbable, yet pitiful play of Sefolosha in Games 1&2). Also, falling under the category of “the greatest indicator of future behavior is past performance,” the unexpected poor outing by Tim Duncan and, of even greater disappointment, the effort of Tony Parker.

Still another major letdown by San Antonio was its usually stellar defense (Ibaka’s stats certainly contributed to that but, even with that performance, the Spurs normally give a much better showing at the defensive end of the floor). MIA, as well, was their normal moving of the ball on offense (not all of which can be blamed on Ibaka’s presence). And while the Spurs had fewer turnovers (16, to 18 for OKC), that stat is misleading because, as the ever astute Charles Barkley pointed out at halftime when the TO topic came up, “Yeah, but we expect the Thunder to turn it over.” Seriously, Barkley’s analysis is nearly always on the money, or at least sounds like it is - and before the action occurs - not after it, a la Bill Simmons).

It seems as though many of the “experts” have been harping on Ibaka’s return as the most important factor in the game, if not the only one. Of all people, the guy who gave an interesting view on reliance of experts is someone who, coincidentally, came back from an even more serious injury than Ibaka’s to be arguably, the best player in professional football. He is none other than Peyton Manning who, in his speech to the graduating class at the University of Virginia, said:

“Remember, the Ark was built by an amateur while the Titanic was built by experts.”