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Steve Aschburner

In their own ways, Minnesota's Al Jefferson and coach Kurt Rambis are trying to stay patient.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Pressure of patience can create some trying times

Posted Mar 24 2010 11:52AM

Time, though our clocks would argue otherwise, really is elastic. One minute in the dentist's chair can last longer than half a day at the beach. The 24 hours before Dec. 25 when you're a kid? Takes forever. The 24 hours before April 16 when you're a head of household, filing jointly? Flies by.

NBA players, coaches and fans experience similar time tricks. What's longer: a triple-overtime game between the Celtics and the Lakers or the last five minutes of New Jersey-Philadelphia? Eighty-two games chasing 60 victories or 82 games chasing 10?

When time is whizzing by, a lot of things take care of themselves. Pressure begets urgency, which triggers adrenaline, instincts and muscle memory. Gotta act, gotta go, no time to think.

When time drags on, though, the pressure is entirely different.

Patience, the flip side of urgency, matters most. It's a gut-check all its own and in some ways harder to come by than the ability to simply react. Because with patience, there's time to think, wonder and second-guess.

The NBA teams jockeying for playoff position or clinging to some shreds of their postseason goals have it easier, in a sense, than those for whom the lottery is a foregone conclusion.

"Patience is a lot harder," Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said of his youthful roster the other night. "If you think back to how you were at that age, you think you know everything. You want everything to happen tomorrow -- or yesterday. You're impatient. So if things don't happen right away, you get frustrated. You don't appreciate that it's a process and that things develop over time.

"I've been through that with young players. I've seen how long it takes to develop skills, and to break and change habits. I know that it takes time. We've all lived through that. But the players haven't. So while they're going through frustrating times, they want everything to be perfect, they want everything to be right, they want it to work out well for them. And at this age, they have an ego and in a lot of ways, it's about them. 'What's in this for me?' And we're trying to develop team concepts here."

History is rife with wise quotations about patience -- "The secret of patience is doing something else in the meantime" -- but few of them have come from NBA locker rooms or front offices. No matter how well the people there understand the importance of waiting and staying the course, precious wins and infernal losses get posted on a nightly basis. Coaches get hired and fired, players come and go.

Last summer, Timberwolves forward Al Jefferson recalled how impatient he was getting with all the waiting in his career -- three traction-less seasons in Boston, two more in Minnesota -- and fast-forwarded the arc of his career into a blink of an eye.

"I've been here five years," the big guy said. "In five more years, I'll be 30. Five years after that, I'll be on my way out."

Fortunately, basketball and life don't pass by quite that rapidly. But it did show how players often think, how compressed a professional athlete's career can feel and how the future stretches out no further than a week from Tuesday.

"Me, I'm trying to win right away," said Wolves guard Corey Brewer, who just turned 24. "Everybody's telling me 'three years,' saying that's 'rebuilding.' We've been rebuilding. We traded KG [Kevin Garnett] my rookie year, right after I got drafted. Last year, we changed it up again. Now they're saying two years, so hopefully I'm around to see it."

Brewer's teammate, Kevin Love, recently expressed frustration with Rambis' triangle offense, with his playing time, with his role off the bench on a team that sometimes starts Ryan Hollins or Darko Milicic. But it's all relative because, just the other night, Toronto's Chris Bosh -- already an All-Star, likely on his way to a third playoff experience -- spoke of being impatient with the Raptors' need to find a faster gear.

You don't think New Jersey fans are impatient with the Nets, the development of young players there, the team's prospects in free agency this summer, the construction of that new Brooklyn arena and whatever impact Jay-Z and that Russian billionaire might have in ownership tandem? Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, San Antonio grew more than a little impatient with forward Richard Jefferson this season when his acquisition didn't flip a switch in terms of results.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has known only winning, recently preached patience about his former assistant Rambis, now a rookie head coach.

"You look at it in a five-year plan. I think it's good to keep it in perspective in the long term, not the short term for one season," Jackson said.

A couple of days later, even the great Michael Jordan -- in a hurry to dominate pretty much everything he encounters -- was preaching the same thing in his new role as owner of the Bobcats. Just because he has a coach who pushed for seven trades involving 21 players in about 18 months time, that doesn't mean Jordan can succumb to impatient urges.

"I'd like to give my team another year to bond and blend together and see if we can take it further, or we can find something along the road to get us over the hump," Jordan said. "The thing about this team that people tend to forget is we haven't been together a year yet."

Everybody tends to forget that sort of stuff. In the NBA, as in many places, patience is a virtue. It's also downright impossible at times.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

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