Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

Random Reflections on Father’s Day 2016

Monday, June 20th, 2016

From a personal standpoint, this was the first Father’s Day for me in 28 years without at least one of our two boys present. Probably won’t be the last. Not complaining – just another difficult part of growing old even if that’s the way we planned life to work. Raise the kids, have them leave the house and make a successful life for themselves.

On to the NBA. Game 7 was a nail biter. It’s baffling beyond words as to why the first six were so lopsided. It’s not as if the players didn’t understand what was at stake until last night.

Although the Warriors were obviously not at full strength (Bogut, Ezeli, Barnes and especially Curry – it wasn’t that he was missing shots, it was how badly he was missing them, including bricks and air balls seldom seen during the year), all with major or minor injuries – that should never be brought up because of the good fortune that shone on them last year.

Turning point of the series was Draymond Green and his inability to control his emotions. To me there is little to no doubt that, had Green played in Game 5 in Oakland, with his team up 3-1 and the Cavs devastated after being so dominant in Game 3, there would be a parade in the Bay Area in the near future. However, if any of his teammates had “brought it” to Game 7 like Green did, the Warriors would be back-to-back champs. 32 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists is a monster game from their third option and should certainly should have been enough to win.

Forget the idea of James baiting Green to throw a punch south of the equator so he’d be suspended. The 2016 Finals MVP was simply frustrated that, after such a beat-down they placed on the Dubs in Game 3, that his bunch were going to lose at home, go down 3-1 and have to win three straight, two of them in Oakland (after not coming close in Games 1 or 2) to claim “one for the ‘Land.”

If Harrison Barnes wants a max contract, he must have faith that some NBA front office didn’t watch the Finals. It’s hard to claim you’re a max player when, as a #4 option, you play as badly as he did. Maybe a bad ankle was to blame but, only in the NBA would somebody be able to turn down a $65+ million offer, put on such a bad performance and still wind up with a multi-year contract at $20M/per. Yet, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if a franchise offered him just that. If multi-million and multi-billion dollar owners made decisions for their companies the way they do for their toys franchises, they’d never be in the position they were in to be able to purchase them in the first place. Barnes might be a Kevin Love type – put up big numbers for a losing squad.

Key play last night was LeBron James running down and blocking a sure layup by Andre Iguodala. It’s a remarkable talent of LeBron’s, one we’ve seen again and again but, while most players don’t have the jumping or timing skills he does, a major part of the skill is that it’s all-out effort - something anybody can do.

Forget the idea of Golden State’s pursuit of the Bulls record wearing down the defending champs. In many of those games, the main characters didn’t play the whole fourth quarter. Other games were like the Globbies and the Washington Generals. So, unless someone in the medical field comes out and says that Curry (or others) sustained an injury in a late season game, suck it up and congratulate the new champions.

A valid point, however, is this fact: Cleveland breezed through the Eastern Conference Playoffs (two sweeps and a less difficult than it seemed 4-2 beating of Toronto) while the Warriors swept no one and needed a super human performance from Klay Thompson just to advance to the Finals. Mentally and physically, after an 82 game season (plus exhibitions), nothing is more welcome than an easy path to the Finals.

Something we’ll never know but a lot of people (majority?) feel: Had Oklahoma City beat the Warriors, that parade would have been in oil country.

Kudos to Ty Lue and Steve Kerr for the honest, forthright comments they made in the all the post game press conferences, actually explaining answers to difficult questions, as opposed to the politically correct BS we hear from other coaches and players.

The best NBA regular season ever – winning 73 of 82 games (nearly 90%) should not be dismissed by anyone – unless those people can illustrate that they went through the same amount of time “winning” 90% of whatever it is they do. Including talk show hosts and their callers whose main message is, “The 73 game record means nothing. The simple fact is the Warriors just didn’t finish the job.” Compare their entire season to your own. How do they match up? And, consider, no one is playing defense against you.

No doubt who was going to be voted Finals MVP – whichever team won. It’s doubtful we’ll ever again see anyone lead a Finals in every statistical category: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.  That said, no one should forget that the same feeling existed after the regular season – or that that MVP voting was unanimous for very similar reasons.

Idiocy was on display but not in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The USGA is a laughing stock. In this day and age of technology, their officials told Dustin Johnson, a guy who hadn’t won a major – and gave away (OK choked away) last year’s U.S. Open – that he might be assessed a penalty stroke for something that should have been easily dismissed since he had nothing to do with his ball moving. In no other sport does an official go up to a player during the sporting event and say about a ruling:

“We’ll get back to you.”

How Late Night Comedy Has Changed

Thursday, June 16th, 2016

The late night shows of today are quite a bit different from those of my generation. First of all, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was the late night talk show. As in the only late night talk show (I have to admit I can barely remember Steve Allen and Jack Paar but won’t bore anybody with that). Those shows were predominantly made up of dialogue between Johnny Carson and his guests (mainly TV and big screen stars, i.e. “famous people” but, every so often people like zookeeper Jack Hanna would make an appearance with his animals). Occasionally, the format of the program would branch out and, there would be performances of tomfoolery – like Don Rickles and the hot tub. A piece that will live forever is when Native American Ed Ames, who played Mingo, a Cherokee tribesman on the show Daniel Boone, was Johnny’s guest. He illustrated how to throw a tomahawk – at a wooden cut-out of a cowboy. If, somehow, you’ve never seen it, suffice to say that where the tomahawk landed would make Draymond Green proud. (Google it if you haven’t seen it – it’s one of the greatest spontaneous moments of comedy ever televised).

Today, late night TV shows are plentiful. With ratings being the end-all for networks, these shows have morphed into more than just conversations between host and guest. While the opening of each is still the host’s monologue, after that anything goes. Skits set outside the studio are used – some funny, some not so (although that might be the baby boomer in me speaking) as well as other in-studio ideas to entice viewers to tune in. One invention is the competition model, where guest and host compete against each other, or two guests face off.

Last night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! - one of the main three network shows that come on following the late night news – Jimmy had two NBA stars answer questions from the other’s era. The “contestants” were Hall of Famer Walt “Clyde” Frazier, representing “yesteryear” and New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis, repping today’s generation. Kimmel would pose a question from “back in the day” to Davis, then one from from today for Frazier. If one didn’t get the answer, he other had a chance to correct him.

The first (practice) question for Clyde was, “What is the name of Beyonce’s latest single?” No clue.

After the break, a picture of Jimmy Carter was put up and A.D. was asked to tell the audience the name of the former President. Davis just shook his head. Someone who had spent a year in college (not to mention all those years in elementary, junior high and high school) couldn’t name a president who is still alive. I mean, it wasn’t like he was shown a picture of James Buchanan. Yet, it’s extremely doubtful anyone from UK is in any way embarrassed because, come on, A.D. was here only one year and he led the ‘Cats to a national championship. How much could somebody expect out of the young man? Besides, the most important president to Kentucky players is the one they accumulate so many of when they leave campus – Benjamin Franklin. (Uh, yeah, it’s a joke). Frazier not only said who it was but prefaced his remarks by informing the studio and viewing audience that he hailed from the same state as Carter.

Then, Frazier was shown a picture of Jay Z and was asked what the rapper’s last name was. Cleverly, but incorrectly, he said, “Z.” Davis said, “Carter,” and the game was tied. It continued in similar fashion. Frazier didn’t know the ending to “Netflix and ____” while Davis immediately responded with “Chill.” A.D. said the ending to the line, “up your nose with a rubber ____” was “duck.” He was corrected by Clyde who, somewhat surprisingly, knew it was “hose” (that bit of knowledge possibly the result of all the years he spent with Bill Bradley). Frazier did not know the music festival in Indio, CA was Coachella (Davis did), but the results were reversed when the question about Woodstock was presented (Frazier actually said he was there).

Another history question stumped Davis (if he didn’t know who Jimmy Carter was after seeing his picture, how could he have been expected to come up with who was responsible for the New Deal)? His answer “of what” was a hit with the audience and even drew a response from his opponent who, after saying FDR, commented, “He was thinking of his new deal” (which, of course was full of Benjamins). A white and yellow logo was put up on the screen which Frazier thought stood for “ghost” while Davis quickly said, “snapchat.”

The game winner came when the Pelicans’ all-star recognized Bruce Lee but the former Knicks’ great could only guess “turtle” when shown a picture of a green turtle ready for battle. Maybe Anthony Davis wasn’t keen on American presidents but he’d be damned if anybody thought he couldn’t pick out Michelangelo.

All in all, it was a fun segment, although it does make you wonder, are they exposing themselves as fools or are they simply good sports? Admittedly, the only one of the new generation questions I knew was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle because I had a son who grew up in that era (the green guys’ first one). “Contests” like this have some humor but, for my (old) taste buds:

“Give me Ed Ames and the tomahawk anytime.”

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.”

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).”

In the NBA, Sometimes You Can Get More than Pay For

Monday, June 6th, 2016

The NBA Finals haven’t exactly been riveting to this point. Maybe the home court will flip the scenarios we’ve witnessed in the first two games. Which, even if it is the case, simply delays the inevitable, i.e. a repeat championship for the Golden State Warriors. But at this point, fans will take it. Mainly, however, they would prefer a little drama. Without it, fans turn to another favorite past time – complaining.

Peter Griffin (of Family Guy fame) is famous for saying, “that grinds my gears.” What grinds fans’ gears, most likely because it hits so close to home, is how much money NBA players make. Really, most professional athletes. And their coaches. Throw in college football and basketball coaches as well. It falls under the category of “if you’re going to make that much more than us, we ought to be able to complain when you don’t perform to that fiscal level.” You know, hold somebody else to a much higher level than you hold yourself.

In this finals, if the ten starters were introduced in order of highest to lowest salaries, not only would the top three be members of the 0-2 Cleveland Cavaliers but the two-time MVP wouldn’t hear his name called until . . . next to last. Yup, Steph Curry is the ninth highest paid player in this year’s NBA Finals. It’s not like he (or more likely, his accountant) is filling out the short form, but all the people who feel they’re underpaid can now take solace that someone else who is performing better than everybody else in his profession (like they are), is getting short changed. Sure, he’s pulling in $11.3 million (a bargain for the Warriors franchise). Well, that’s not counting endorsements. Or the winner’s share of the Finals. Or, for that matter, even the loser’s.

Just remember, though, as the saying goes:

“It’s not the money, it’s the principle.”

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.”

 

 

Assessing Cleveland’s Game 1 Strategy

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals is in the books and the game is being dissected by millions. The Cavs directed so much attention to Steph and Klay that the “others” killed them. Each team came in with a game plan and because the Golden State won, most people feel the Cavs screwed up. Due to the fact that basketball is a continuous action game (until the league decided to review referees’ calls, anyway) and there are so many possessions, everybody screws up – players, coaches and, as reviews have shown us, occasionally, refs. So there is much discussion to be had when dissecting game plans after games end.

Because the Warriors’ offense was such an aberration of its normal self, people are talking about what the Cavs did and why it didn’t work. Let’s take a deep breath and give some thought before we go down that road. Prior to the game, had someone from the Cavs’ staff told “The All-Knowing One” (obviously a fictional character) what their defensive game plan was and the wise sage told them that, if they employed that strategy, Curry and Thompson would shoot 8-27 from the floor (that the former would have more TOs than FGMs), that neither guy would make a free throw and they’d combine for 20 points, do you think they would consider changing it?

Two things that were natural for me were numbers (eventually I would major in and teach math) and look at (any) game from the coaching perspective (I was the “coach” when we were kids, e.g. when somebody was needed to organize games and make sure everyone was there,  then I coached various sports from high school days until I retired from coaching 50 years later). As my coaching philosophy began to take shape, numbers (my own form of analytics) began an integral part. One theory I came up with was based on the two teams that were competing. Seldom are they equal, meaning one has a better chance to win, all factors being the same. Essentially, that’s what home court advantage is all about.

As far as putting together a game plan, here’s where I would begin. “If both teams play to 100% of their effectiveness, which would win?” The point spread for Game 1 (which the wise guys who set it have a goal of evening the money bet either way) had the Warriors as six-point favorites. This meant that, not only did they consider the Warriors the better team, but that playing at home would favor them even more. Therefore, it was up to Cleveland to do something to make Golden State inefficient, while making certain their own level of play didn’t shrink too low, i.e. they had to play at a higher level than their opponent - something that was the exact opposite of every playoff series they had to date.

The Cavaliers coaching staff, in putting together a game plan probably asked themselves what was it that made Oracle Arena really rock? Obviously, the answer is when the Dubs score but, beyond that, when did the building shake more than any other time? If you’ve seen Golden State’s home games like I have (living in Fresno, we get the Bay Area sports station – meaning we get every Warriors’ game, home and away), the decibel level is way up there but never so loud as when Steph or Klay knock down one of their insanely quick “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” three pointers. Can anyone blame the staff for thinking items #1 & 2 on the to-do list was find those two – and limit their shot attempts (at the very least, contest every shot they take).

However, the wise old sage said, using that strategy will leave others open. Someone like Shaun Livingston could score 20 points, Andre Igudola could score double figures and even a bench player like Leandro Barbarso could come in and go 5-5 from the floor. In fact, their bench could outscore yours to the tune of 45-10. That’s a huge deficit – but even that could be overcome as long as you limit the points they get off turnovers. Just make sure you’re not so careless that you give up 25 points off 17 TOs.

Armed with all that knowledge, imagine how strongly hearing hold Curry and Thompson to 20 points would resonate with them. Don’t think they might not try to run a similar game plan, of course with a few adjustments, again. The question they need answered following their Game 1 defeat is:

“How do we score more than 89?”

Even the Pros Can Have Lapses

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

If you’re a loyal reader of this blog, you know that I feel that the NBA is made up of the best athletes in the world and that this belief has been formed from 35 years of coaching. I find it impossible to believe that anyone who watches the NBA Playoffs isn’t in awe of the physical talent the players possess. Forget about the superhuman moves they make on a nightly basis, just try to replicate the routine plays they make every game.

It’s futile to attempt to compare eras when discussing who the “best ever” players are, e.g. if three-point shots were a part of the game, does anybody doubt Oscar Robertson, Jerry West or any other premier shooters wouldn’t have made several (hundred)? Thousand? The game has evolved, rules have been changed to “level the playing field” (most of them because of the sheer dominance of Wilt Chamberlain) but also to make the game more aesthetically pleasant for the fans (with the possible exception of the Detroit Pistons fans).

So, while it still the same game, there are those (mainly Baby Boomers) who lament how much greater pro hoops were “back in the day.” Of course, the younger generation thinks the current players are the best who have ever played. Independent of which era you consider yourself from – or whether you feel you’re a basketball aficionado and belong to every period of the NBA – there is one segment of the game that is befuddling. Not only to me, but other coaches, past and present.

There are cardinal rules coaches have used throughout the years, many of which have become outdated. I’ve always maintained that Pete Maravich not only could compete with today’s stars, but that he would be better than he was during his fabulous career. His “style” was frowned upon as showboating whereas today much of it is encouraged – not only because it’s now accepted but because it draws fans. Other teaching points such as “no cross-court passes” and “wings should make a 45 degree cut to the basket on a fast break” (as opposed to run to the three-point line in the corner) have been eliminated.

However – and this is something that makes me cringe when I see it – is breaking one of the major no-no’s of coaching. Every practice I’ve ever held, every coach I’ve ever worked for, heck, every coach I’ve ever spoken to, we all have the same philosophy when guarding three-point shooters: DON’T FOUL GUYS SHOOTING THREES!!! Think for a moment and count off the number of times you’ve seen a three-point shot blocked. Maybe, maybe, at the end of the game when a team is down three or more, the shot or game clock is down and the offense is just hoisting a desperation attempt. Sure, Steven Adams got one in, I think, Game 3 but, pretty close to 100% of the time, a three-point shot will not be blocked. Now, that is not to say three-pointers should not be contested; they certainly should. Three-point shots are a major part of the game. The Warriors are using it with incredible frequency, resulting in remarkable success. The second best team in the NBA in three-point percentage is San Antonio. Third? Right, the Warriors’ foe in the Finals – Cleveland.

Armed with this knowledge, you would think, with points being so precious, a team would be foolish to give away easy ones. Yet, time and again, three-point shooters are fouled, meaning a team is sending a good shooter (the bad ones seldom shoot threes) to the free throw line for three attempts – at the only shot that stays the same from junior high to the NBA, i.e. 15′ away, 10′ high, at a rim whose diameter is 18″ with a ball whose diameter is 9″ – unguarded. The only shot a player gets to take when no one allowed to so much as put a hand in his face.

Throughout the regular season, as well as the playoffs, three-point shooters are going to the line to shoot three FTs – if not to complete a four-point play, a happening that has to feel absolutely devastating (uplifting for the team who scored). Why?

Although there hasn’t been any definitive data done, much of the reason can be traced back to Reggie Miller, the, now, third greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. Reggie would come off a screen, feel his defender trailing, trying to catch up so as to disrupt the shot, even if it was no more than a hand in his face, and Reggie would ever so slightly kick out his legs. At the merest touch of a defender (or maybe not even a touch), referees would see the poor shooter flailing, falling on the floor as if he’d been bulldozed. Reggie was slick. A career 88.8% FT shooter (he shot 90% or better from the stripe eight of his years in the league), he scored 6,237 freebies during is time in the NBA.

Other shooters saw it (not to mention the defenders who knew what had really occurred) and, soon, the Julliard School with Professor Reggie Miller was in session. Instant replay has tried to curtail the action but, the game is simply too fast for referees to catch it. Whether this kind of flailing led to other incidents (Draymond?) is a topic for another time but it is prevalent in shooters. One of the greatest coaches – and far and away the best coaching clinic lecturer ever, Hubie Brown – was one of the first to decry fouling jump shooters. Although virtually impossible, it wouldn’t shock me if, during a game in which Hubie is the color commentator, a player fouls a three-point shooter at a crucial time in the contest:

“and Hubie’s head explodes.”

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.”

 

 

Van Gundy Admits Defeat Without Much of a Fight

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

When I met Jeff Van Gundy he had just completed a graduate assistant season under Rick Pitino at Providence. The occasion was a self-improvement clinic Larry Shyatt and I began a couple years prior. Jeff had written a letter, requesting to be a part of our group, whether as a clinician or just an observer. We asked him to speak on Providence’s full court press.

Jeff showed up with personalized, three-rind binder for each of us (approximately six other assistant coaches), with every drill the Friars used, accompanied by a thorough, enthusiastic explanation of each one. It didn’t take long to realize this cat had exceptional knowledge and, even after his career skyrocketed all the way to attaining NBA head coaching gigs, he continued to attend our gatherings. It was blatantly apparent this young guy was a sensational coach. His knowledge of the game and attention to detail, combined with his ability to communicate with players of any generation, translated to a long-term career in the game.

Whether he fell into the color commentary position or he sought it following a couple successful head coaching tenures, he’s excelled in that area as well. In addition to being able to understand the nuances of the game – and having the ability to explain to the fan – combined with his self-deprecating style captures the hearts of his viewers. His penchant for including the audience, providing thought-provoking commentary and reminiscing about years gone by keep everybody glued to his observations. Unlike many in his field, he doesn’t come off as a know-it-all, more like a fan with an educated opinion.

A couple games ago, while working a Golden State-Portland game, he remarked that the Blazers’ backcourt of Damian Lilliard (Weber State) and C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) had to be as good a pair of guards from “non big time” colleges as ever graced an NBA floor. Independent of whatever challenger someone came up with, the viewing audience just knew there would be a debate. Until play-by-play man, Mike Breen, countered with, “How about the Knicks’ duo of Walt Frazier (Southern Illinois) and Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State)?” With such small colleges as a Big Sky team (Weber) and a Patriot League institution (Lehigh), listeners were ready for an argument.

Instead, Van Gundy (a Knicks’ fan as a youngster) simply gave the following replay:

“That’s the winner. Game over!”