Posted Feb 14 2011 9:11AM
Greg Miller didn't want to believe what he was hearing. No, that's wrong. He believed it. He just wanted to do something to change it.
The new owner of the Utah Jazz is not troubled by transitions. He has been dealing with that for the last three years, as his father, the late patriarch of the Jazz, Larry H. Miller, struggled with the diabetes that would eventually take his life in 2009. But Larry Miller made sure that his children knew enough about his various businesses to take over. The Millers met weekly over the past few years as a family to discuss how things would go after Larry Miller's passing. (They still meet weekly.)
So Greg Miller had thought about what life would be like for his team after Jerry Sloan left. He would honor his father's wishes and hire assistant coach Phil Johnson to replace Sloan when the time came. Johnson had turned down chances to leave Utah over the years for head coaching jobs, and Larry Miller had told him he wouldn't forget, and he didn't.
But when Jerry Sloan told Miller and general manager Kevin O'Connor last Wednesday that he was going to resign as head coach, Miller wasn't ready.
"I thought it was an emotional reaction," Miller said on Friday. "The locker room is an emotional place. I said 'Jerry. why don't we do this at the end of the season?' He said he didn't have anything left to give. I said, 'Well, how about we wait until the All-Star break? That's just three (more) games.' He said no, he was done. I said, 'You've coached 23 years, you can do three more games.' But he didn't want to do that. So at that point I focused on making the transition as smooth as possible."
The first thing was to offer Johnson the job. But before Miller could speak, Johnson said he was leaving with Sloan.
"And Jerry had this look on his face," Miller said. "He told me (later) that that was the first he'd heard of that."
Sloan's decision to quit has created a firestorm in Salt Lake City, much of it directed toward guard Deron Williams. Reports of Williams and Sloan constantly arguing over the past few months were cited in local and national reports as major factors in Sloan's decision to leave after 23 years as head coach. But Miller says he got no word, directly or indirectly, from either Sloan or Williams that their relationship had been damaged to the point where they couldn't work with one another. The first time Miller knew something was wrong, he said, was in the locker room. (Miller said he had a "brief conversation" Thursday with Williams in which he told the guard how valued he was -- and that was all.)
There's no handbook, as Miller said, to handling a coaching change, much less the sudden retirement of one of the game's icons, and one of its most revered.
Miller and O'Connor went to great pains at the news conference Thursday officially announcing Sloan's resignation -- he'd slept on it Wednesday night at Miller's request, but hadn't changed his mind when he met Miller, O'Connor and team president Randy Rigby in his office Thursday -- to claim that Williams had played absolutely no role in Sloan's decision.
Not everyone believed that, of course, including Karl Malone, who said the idea that Sloan would walk away from a challenge was "b.s." among other things.
(And while it's easier to dismiss the out-of-towners, it's very hard to dismiss Steve Luhm. The Luhminator has been covering the Jazz for two decades for the Salt Lake Tribune. The rest of us parachute into town and into the team from time to time, but there is no one more wired into the inner workings of the team than Luhm. And if he writes something, you can best believe a) it's right on the money and b) he's given it a lot of thought before pushing the send button. So if he says (and he did) that the deterioration of Sloan's relationship with Williams was a major factor in Sloan's resignation, that's not something you just ignore.)
With Johnson also leaving, Miller didn't hesistate to move on to Tyrone Corbin, a longtime assistant in Utah (seven years) in his own right who had interviewed in New Orleans, Chicago, Phoenix and Seattle for vacant head coaching jobs over the past few years. He was a finalist with the Hornets and Bulls, and many around the league figured it was just a matter of time before the 48-year-old got his shot.
It's probably fair to say that the 44-year-old Miller may be closer to Corbin than he was with the 68-year-old Sloan.
"I revere Jerry and everything he's done for this franchise," Miller said. "But now that he's gone, I'm excited. I'm excited about Tyrone. Tyrone and I are contemporaries. And we are coming in under similar circumstances. He is replacing a legendary coach here in Salt Lake City and I took over for someone who was a beloved member of the community that I was compared to when he died. I still am. And that's one of the things I told Tyrone. We had dinner the other night. And I said, you should absolutely take things that you liked from Jerry. But you have to do what you think is right, too."
It is the culmination of the break from the way Larry Miller did things and the way his son does things. Larry Miller was famous for sitting courtside, warming up with the players, occasionally confronting them during games when he thought they weren't giving enough effort, and never -- ever -- being a luxury tax payer. But Greg Miller only visits the locker room briefly and tries to stay away from the players.
And the Jazz spent millions in tax last season and will spend millions more this season after taking on the big contract of Al Jefferson in a trade with Minnesota. The team in the fifth-smallest market in the NBA has the sixth-highest payroll, Greg Miller says. (But one of the reasons Williams has been so salty of late is that the Jazz didn't spend more to keep free agents like Wes Matthews and Kyle Korver.)
"My father wanted his hands in everything," Miller said. "If he could have, he would have taken every ticket for every game and he would have looked at every car in our dealerships. But I think our businesses had outgrown that. I believe in delegating. My father's style worked for him, and I think my style works for me."
Vogel taking new responsibilites in stride
He has heard, of course, from "everyone he's met in his whole life." Or, maybe, it just seems like that. But Frank Vogel says that moving over 12 inches from the assistant coach's chair to the head coach's chair hasn't been that big a deal. At least, not yet.
"Ask me when we've lost five games in a row," Vogel said on the telephone Sunday afternoon, the day after his Pacers won in Milwaukee, breaking a six-game losing streak there and winning for the seventh time overall in the eight games since Vogel took over on an interim basis for Jim O'Brien on Jan. 30.
Indiana hasn't exactly beaten the NBA's elite during the streak -- there are Torontos and Charlottes and Milwaukees and Minnesotas littered throughout the recent schedule -- but considering where the Pacers were when they fired O'Brien, they win now with no apologies. The streak has vaulted Indiana into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and the Pacers have won by an average of 9.4 points in the seven wins.
"I think they needed a change in identity," Vogel said. "I think we needed to be a different basketball team. What we were doing (before), I was behind coach [O'Brien] 100 percent. But I think we needed a change."
Indiana was in disarray when O'Brien was fired, out of the playoffs, with the rotation changing nightly, several players in O'Brien's doghouse and center Roy Hibbert talking about his visits to a psychiatrist to deal with his depression following a protracted slump. But the 37-year-old Vogel has simplified the rotation, and gone to a lineup he thinks makes the Pacers more of an inside, power team.
Josh McRoberts starts at power forward, moving Danny Granger back to his natural small forward spot. Mike Dunleavy, Jr., at 6-foot-10, is the starter at two guard. With the 7-foot-2 Hibbert in the middle, Indiana is huge across the front.
And while Vogel has streamlined the rotation, he's also giving young players like rookie forward Paul George and Dahntay Jones more run, after they were exiled under O'Brien..
"I kind of think the two are similar," George said of Vogel and O'Brien Sunday. "They have the same kind of coaching style. But coach Frank is more of a younger coaching style. He's kind of open minded, whereas coach O'Brien was kind of strinct in what he wanted. (Vogel)'s more lenient. If players see something on the court, coach Frank is more open minded to make changes on the court, to see what we see. That's the main difference."
Since the change, Indiana is outrebounding opponents by 47-38, including a 58-39 bludgeoning of the Trail Blazers in a 100-87 win 10 days ago, the Pacers' most impressive win during the run.
"We had to make changes and make things happen," George said. "James Posey, Jeff Foster, Danny, our leaders, they really set the tone for us. Now everybody's out there together, out there and having fun, and playing the kind of basketball we knew we could play. Roy's been the Roy we saw at the beginning of the season. He was so energized and pumped ... now everything's back to normal. You see his scoring, his rebounding, his antics, his fist pumps. That's big. We feed off of Roy. He's a big emotional guy and when he's down, he's hanging his head. Roy's like a mentor for me, and when he's down I kind of get down."
Vogel says he wants the Pacers to be "one of the best passing teams in the NBA," modeled after the Celtics.
"Before our Miami game, rather than show them tapes of ourselves -- and we had a lot to clean up after our last game -- I showed them an edit of the two times Boston played Miami" before Sunday, Vogel said. "I told them, 'I want you to watch the way they move the ball, the way they have proper spacing. Pick and roll, that guy hits the roll, the other man makes the skip pass. It was pass, pass, pass, shot.' This passing has nothing to do with Hall of Fame talent. It has to do with playing an unselfish brand of basketball."
But talking about the changes is a tightrope for Vogel, for it was O'Brien that brought him into the NBA and has been there for him at every turn. O'Brien hired him at Kentucky, then brought him to the bench with the Celtics, then had him in Philadelphia as an advance scout, and brought him to Indiana. When team president Larry Bird was ready to make a change, Vogel wanted the job, but he felt for his mentor.
"Obviously my first reaction was disappointment that they're letting go of coach O'Brien," Vogel said. "The ironic thing is they called me together, coach and Larry. Larry called me and let me know they were going to make a change, and was I interested? And before I could answer, coach O'Brien interceded and said, 'I'm behind this all the way if you want to do this.'"
It has been a whirlwind ride for Vogel, whose story reads like a bad novel. A point guard at Juniata (Pa.) College, a Division III school, Vogel went to his coaches after his junior season and informed them that he was planning to transfer -- not for more playing time somewhere else, but to take a chance at becoming a student manager at the University of Kentucky, where he could begin his drive toward becoming a coach. Except he didn't know anybody at the University of Kentucky.
"They were floored," Vogel says now of his Juniata coaches. "They understood it, because they understood what my aspirations were . But they weren't happy about losing their starting point guard."
Vogel wrote letter after letter to Rick Pitino at Kentucky, and got the polite, 'Well, if you're ever around and we meet up, say hello and maybe we can talk" brushoff. But Vogel was able to work his way into the Five Star Camp in Pittsburgh in 1996, where he finally met Pitino and his assistant, O'Brien. Then, Vogel was told that Kentucky only took in-state kids to be student managers, and that it just wouldn't work out. But he was stubborn, and got back in front of O'Brien again. And O'Brien finally relented.
"I told him, 'I can do anything for you,'" Vogel said. "'I've got a good basketball mind. I can be in the film room 24 hours a day. You don't have to pay me nothing.' He made it happen with coach Pitino. And I didn't leave that building. I spent the whole (first) year there in the coaches' office."
When Pitino went to the Celtics, he took O'Brien and Vogel with him, making Vogel Boston's video coordinator. After Pitino was fired, O'Brien took over in Boston, got the Celtics to the Eastern Conference finals and put Vogel on the bench as an assistant.
After O'Brien resigned as Celtics coach early in 2004, he took Vogel with him to Philadelphia when he became head coach there. But O'Brien clashed with then-76ers general manager Billy King and was fired after one season. But that didn't reflect badly on Vogel, who kept a foot in the door by taking advance scouting jobs for the Lakers, and then the Wizards.
"I knew he was working his butt off for Jim," King said Sunday. "I just felt he was a guy that was a coach. That was all he wanted to do. I think getting back with Jim really allowed him to continue to develop as coach. Working with Dick Harter (in Boston) all those years, you're going to learn something. And he was willing to learn and listen. I think he was smart enough to stay with scouting when he was out of a coaching job."
When O'Brien got back on the NBA bench in 2007 with Indiana, he brought Vogel back again. Vogel has coached the Pacers' summer league team the last couple of years, but it would be a stretch to think that many people envisioned he'd be the lead guy one day. But in the recent tradition of assistants like Lawrence Frank and Scott Brooks, Vogel is getting a chance.
He is trying to motivate his team in different ways, including a clip from the film Rocky II, when Apollo Creed's manager is trying to convince him not to fight Rocky again. His style, the manager says, is all wrong for you.
"Apollo was wondering if he should fight Rocky again," George said. "His agent was saying Rocky is not going to go down. As much as you beat him, you pretty much have to kill him, but he's going to keep coming. And those teams, like Miami and the Celtics, those guys don't want to face that. They don't want that problem."
Speaking of which, the Pacers have a good problem. As of now, Vogel is still the interim coach. There have been rumors that former Cavs coach Mike Brown is likely to get the permanent gig next summer -- or whenever the lockout ends. But Vogel professes not to be worried about his future employment, and he isn't planning to go to Bird and demand a new contract.
"Coach Pitino said, never chase money, never chase jobs, just chase winning," Vogel said. "Everything else will take care of itself. That is the farthest thing from my mind right now."
(Last week's rankings in brackets; this week's record in parentheses)
1) San Antonio  (3-1): Spurs and Sixers set offense back "a decade" on Friday in Philly's win, according to Gregg Popovich, but SA is still 5-2 on Rodeo Trip with two games left before All-Star.
2) Dallas  (3-1): Peja drops in 22 Saturday. Needless to say, if Stojakovic can still bring the perimeter funk, the rest of the Mavs can bring the defensive noise.
3) Chicago  (2-1): Bulls are unbeaten (11-0) against their Central Division opponents this season.
4) L.A. Lakers  (3-1): Hard to call Lakers' win in Boston Thursday a statement win, but regardless of the style points, it was a good win. Just as Sunday was a bad loss in Orlando.
5) Boston  (1-2): Nobody does chippy like the Cs. Heat the latest team to fall into Boston's pattern of pushes, shoves, hard fouls, rough picks -- and losses .
6) Miami  (2-1): Eight-game win streak goes by the boards, but Heat looked comfortable in a slugout kind of game with Boston Sunday -- and Chris Bosh looked effective for one of the few times in his career against Kevin Garnett. Good sign going forward for Miami.
7) Orlando  (3-1): Now that was a statement game by the Magic Sunday in beating the Lakers. Just keep in mind Orlando thought it had made a similar statement last season by beating L.A. in Orlando, and fizzled out in the playoffs.
8) Oklahoma City  (1-2): Thunder poised to be buyers at the trade deadline.
9) Portland  (3-0): It's hard to believe that Nate McMillan hasn't been tied up already to an extension and will be one of the top free agents available this summer. But he will be.
10) Memphis  (3-1): Grizzlies have won 11 of 14 in playing their best ball of the season.
11) Atlanta  (0-2): Hawks drop two at home to Philly and Charlotte, and now go out on the road for seven straight straddling All-Star break, including Knicks, Lakers, Suns and Blazers.
12) New Orleans  (1-3): Bugs have nosedived while Emeka Okafor (strained oblique) has been out, losing five of their last six and seven of their last nine.
13) Utah  (1-2): Well, that was quite the week.
14) Denver  (1-3): Carmelo pats himself on the back for being able to handle the firestorm that he created by asking to be traded from a perfectly good, contending team. Interesting.
15) New York  (1-2): Constant trade talk may be wearing down Knicks' resolve.
Portland (3-0): Four straight wins overall to stay ahead of surging Memphis for the final playoff spot. Cousin LaMarcus: averaging 33 points, 9.3 boards, shooting 56.7 percent from the floor in three wins this week, including 42 in the win over the Bulls.
L.A. Clippers (1-3): Road trip that Clips were hoping would solidify them as a true turnaround team has fallen to pieces. Five losses in first six games of an 11-game swing that will overlap with the All-Star break, including giving Cleveland its first win in 27 games on Friday and losing to lowly Toronto on Sunday.
Will anybody in any sport ever manage or coach a team for 23 years again?
This came up when I was doing a radio show in Salt Lake City Friday. One of the hosts pointed out that in the past five months, three of pro sports' longest-serving managers and/or coaches -- the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox (25 seasons as manager), Sloan (23 seasons in Utah) and Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher (16 seasons) -- have left their jobs.
Each was given authority over his team that used to be the norm in sports, but is now quite rare. Each was backed by management to the hilt -- or, in Fisher's case, at least until the last couple of years.
There are organizations -- the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Twins, to name two -- that don't make managerial or coaching changes lightly, and believe in a proper chain of command. The Steelers have only had three head coaches since 1969 -- Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. Tom Kelly managed in Minnesota from 1986 to 2001, and Ron Gardenhire has been the skipper since 2002. But what Sloan accomplished over more than two decades in Salt Lake City does seem unlikely to be duplicated.
"Obviously, all of us would say that would be very, very unlikely," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich -- the new leader in the NBA clubhouse, in his 15th season in San Antonio -- said Saturday. "If somebody does it, it's going to be a long time from now. What he did was certainly unique."
There are a couple of places where coaches seem to have the kind of autonomy and staying power that makes an assault on Sloan's mark possible. The Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid has been there since 1999, gone through controversies with Terrell Owens and the trading of Donovan McNabb -- within the division -- and endured public trials concerning the sobriety of two of his sons. But Reid has the full backing of owner Jeffrey Lurie, and is being allowed to rebuild the team yet again.
Tony LaRussa will be starting his 15th season in St. Louis with the Cardinals, and seems to have a lifetime pass to stay there as long as he likes.
And, perhaps, Utah.
"My father believed that when a coach was entering the last year of his contract, the players would not always be as responsive as they should have been," owner Greg Miller said last week. "We always liked to let the players know that we fully backed the coach. That's why we always wanted to have a plus-one with Jerry's contract."
For his part, Popovich said there was "absolutely" no way he'll coach the Spurs eight more seasons and challenge Sloan's mark. He's often said that he'll coach as long as Tim Duncan plays; Duncan has one year remaining on his deal through 2012. And he has never been afraid to face his own perceived limitations.
Indeed, Popovich went to his owner, Peter Holt, early in the 2006-07 season and said that he thought his players were tuning him out, and that it might be time for him to step aside and let them listen to another voice. Holt talked his coach off the ledge, told him he was doing just fine -- and a few months later, the Spurs won their fourth NBA title.
How many green elephants can dance on the head of a pin? From Oliver Smith:
...(H)ow many minutes do you forsee Shaq playing now that Kendrick Perkins is back? I am a huge Shaq fan, and I like Perk's style, but I really feel like the big fella gives the Celtics more (obviously on offense) than Perkins. Also, he is seems to be a better rebounder (slightly). It does make sense that he comes in with the second unit, to be another option out there. I just hope he is used as the season and playoffs progress. So, as good as the Celtics starters have been together when healthy, I feel that Shaq is an integral part of what they need to accomplish even though his skills are diminished.
Ideally, the Celts don't want to play Perk more than 20-24 minutes right now, so if and when Shaq is healthy I suspect he'll be around 24, Perk 20, with Big Baby getting some run here and there in the middle. (Those minutes will also depend on Jermaine O'Neal's health, obviously.) I agree with you that Shaq might make more sense with the second unit -- or at least he did until Marquis Daniels' injury. Won't shock me at all to see Boston make a move for a veteran swingman -- and, yes, I think Shane Battier would make some sense there. The problem is a deal is not possible right now given Boston's assets -- no way the Rockets are interested in Jermaine. It would have to be a three-team deal of some kind, with the third team willing (for some reason) to buy Jermaine O'Neal out. Doesn't seem likely.
From Aleksander Mishkov:
I would like to point just one thing. People are talking way too much about [Kevin] Love's individual seasons, and how great his numbers are. But, can some of you NBA columnists dare to make an article about his crappy defense? THE BOY DOESN'T CONTEST SHOTS! He leaves people open so he can get back and go after the rebound. Every single PF in this league has had a great game against him. Do that math, and you will see how good he actually is. LaMarcus [Aldridge] should have gotten the [All-Star] nod -- he carries the Blazers into playoffs without [Greg] Oden/ [Brandon] Roy.
No question; Love is a poor defender and that Cousin LaMarcus is better at it. I've advocated for Aldridge's inclusion on the All-Star team. I would just say this: stats like plus-minus are invariably slanted toward good teams; even good individual defenders don't put up good numbers if they're playing with bad defending teammates. So, Love is bad. But so are most of the guys he plays with.
From your mouth to (hopefully) the Commish's ears. From Harry Zhang:
I agree with what your stance about not giving All-Star roster spots to players who don't want to be on the team. My question is: Could the NBA come up with a rule that allows players chosen for the game to opt out? Great players like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki (my favorite player in the league, since I'm a die hard Mavs fan) have said they wouldn't mind skipping the game, so shouldn't the league let them do so? After all, the game is purely an exhibition and let's be honest: as great as Tim Duncan is (again, I'm a Mavs fan, so that's hard for me to say) there are more fun players to watch. This way players who don't want to play in ASG don't have to, and some people that cleary deserve to (Kevin Love?) can get a chance.
Not only would an opt-out rule allow new players like Love to be showcased, it might improve the quality of play. Veterans who are somewhat used to (jaded about?) the All-Star experience tend to pace themselves. New guys tend more to let it all hang out. (That's just my opinion, FWIW.) But it won't happen. The league has always feared that if it allows players to beg off they'll do so in large numbers, either through their own doing or under pressure by their teams. All-Star Weekend is a huge showcase for the NBA and it wants its premier players on the court.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and new sets for the Jazz to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail bon mots are sufficiently thought-provoking, challenging, funny or snarky, we just might publish them!
(weekly averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (26.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 8.3 apg, .525 FG, .684 FT): Almost averaged a triple-double, but a missed free throw Sunday at Boston was a killer, and he had more problems with Rondo than you'd think.
2) Derrick Rose (29.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, .471 FG, .952 FT): Has gone through a gauntlet of elite point guards in the last week -- Andre Miller, Deron Williams, Chris Paul -- and outperformed all of them. Simply having a great season.
3) Dwight Howard (25.8 ppg, 16.8 rpg, 4.3 bpg, .667 FG, .608 FT): Problem of the week, month, year, future: getting the ball to Superman more often. He got it Sunday against the Lakers and pulverized them.
4) Kobe Bryant (23 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.3 apg, .507 FG, .810 FT): Can't ever remember the last time Kobe didn't shoot a free throw in a game, but he didn't get to the line against the Magic on Sunday.
5) Dirk Nowitzki (16 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.3 apg, .425 FG, .813 FT): Off week shooting for the Diggler, but Mavs continue their strong rebound from late December-early January swoon when he was out with the knee.
1 -- Road wins by the Wizards after Sunday's 115-100 win over Cleveland, breaking their 0-25 swoon away from Verizon Center this season. Good God, the Cavaliers' defense is awful.
3,033 -- Career regular season and playoff games played and coached by Jerry Sloan in a 35-year career as a player or head coach with the Baltimore Bullets, Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz.
1) You can bring about regime change in a country with a thousand bombs that kill tens of thousands of people. You can also do it when people rise up, with nary a weapon in hand, and stand up to power themselves. Your politics should not color your admiration for the Egyptian people and what they were able to accomplish in 18 days, without the help of any military force or superpower, in bringing down a strongman who held power for three decades.
2) LeBron handled a no-win situation with a tactless fan on Friday in as measured a way as you can expect. Good for him.
3) I wanted a true Toilet Bowl, too, between the Wiz and Cleveland Sunday night. But that was some pretty good stuff Friday night from the Cavs and Clippers. Hard to remember the last time so many people were watching and were interested in a battle between an 8-45 and 20-32 team. And that was the block of the year from J.J. Hickson on Bad Blake.
5) The story about Michael Jordan, perhaps, wanting to come back and play at age 50 is at least a year old. I asked Jordan about the rumor on the Red Carpet in Springfield before he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2009. He said it wasn't true, though it was in kind of a joking manner. Let's put it this way: nothing Jordan decides to do when it comes to comebacks will ever surprise me again.
6) All-Star. Los Angeles. A busy time, but a fun time.
1) Doesn't Craig David have a song that goes"everytime we take one step forward, you take two steps back"?
2) That was a nice, quiet little bomb agent Bill Duffy dropped to Marc Stein of ESPN.com over the weekend about how maybe the Suns should look to move his client, Steve Nash, this coming summer. When I texted Duff on Saturday, he reiterated that what he said was "non-confrontational" toward Phoenix but that it was "in the club's best interest" to start thinking about it. Stay tuned.
3) I love my old newspaper, The Washington Post. I love its history and its impact and I am forever grateful that the paper hired me when I was a wet-behind-the-ears punk. (Now I'm a dry-eared punk.) But this may bethe dumbest headline in the history of headlines. The Wizards couldn't overlook George Mason if they played them.
4) The Lakers' "road" unis on this East coast trip? Bad idea. Colossally bad idea. New Coke bad. Lieberman-for-President bad.
5) Doc Rivers is a great coach. He should have given the foul to LeBron up three in the final seconds Sunday. It's a pet peeve of mine: give the foul, up three. The worst that can happen (usually) is your opponent makes two free throws and you're up one with the ball with seconds remaining. Every coach on earth would take that scenario. These are professional players. They will hit a three if you give them a chance.
6) Sad to see one of the league's really good guys, Bob Ortegel, let go by the Mavs last week after doing color on their TV broadcasts for the last 23 years. (That number 23, again.) He always had a smile and a good word and he will be missed.
Sorry I misses the freebies but a win is a win, right???
-- Kevin Durant (@KDthunderup), Sunday, 1:38 a.m., after missing two free throws with 5.8 seconds left and Oklahoma City up two against Sacramento. The Kings missed a last-second shot, though, and the Thunder held on for the 99-97 win.
This week's Mr. Fifteen is Spurs forward Steve Novak, who was just signed to a 10-day deal last week. The 27-year-old began the season with the Mavericks, playing in seven games before he was released in November. He then played in the NBA D-League with the Reno Bighorns, appearing in two games before getting the call-up from the Spurs. Novak is in his fifth NBA season. He was a second-round pick by the Rockets in 2006 and had some promising moments playing for Jeff Van Gundy his rookie season. But Novak was traded to the Clippers in 2008, where he played some of his best basketball, including a career-high 23 points against the Knicks in 2009.
Me: Were there other opportunitites out there for you while you were in the D-League, or did you want to wait until the right NBA team called?
Steve Novak: To be honest, to start the year off, my best options were overseas. But I had a son (Mack), who's seven months now. So he was a newborn. So it was important to me to stay in the U.S. I just was more secure and closer to my family. That's why I wanted to stay initially. So I went to camp with Dallas, and that worked out really well. I got let go a month ago, and then I tried to kind of see what overseas looked like. If I was more comfortable, maybe going over with the little guy. But we just decided to go to the D League to see what happens, and two games in they called. And obviously, if San Antonio calls, you jump at it. There's obviously not many better franchises in any sport out there. I was excited about it.
Me: Fatherhood changes everything. Did you think at all about sitting out the season?
SN: I never thought about not playing. I think it was sort of a blessing in disguise, being able to have just that month when I was released and looking for a team, to just be with him. It's time that most parents don't have, the luxury to have. I knew at the time that I wish I was still on a team, but since I'm not, at least the timing is perfect if I'm not going to be playing. Leaving is so much more difficult now. I'm on a 10-day. I haven't seen him for about 10 days now. And he's doing stuff that he wasn't doing 10 days ago. Every parent knows how it is. So it is tougher to leave. You just have your wife send you as many text pictures of him as possible. We go to Chicago in two games (Novak lives in Milwaukee) and she'll be there with him.
Me: What was that month like being off and unemployed?
SN: Well, you know, with the whole way the economy's been lately, it gives you at least a little bit of a look (at reality). I think that we're very blessed with the way that we're taken care of in terms of the way that we're paid. And I know that a lot of people don't have the luxury to take a month off. And I think having that month, it's nerve-wracking. You don't know what's next. You don't know if (a callup) is coming tomorrow. You don't know if it's not going to come. It definitely gave me a glimpse just into the uncertainty of not knowing what was next.
Me: What was the reasoning behind Reno? Just staying sharp?
SN: Really, I think after a month, I think that was enough time, where we had kind of made enough calls. We got my name out there, tried to see what was out there, and we weren't really comfortable with anything that we found. So I figured if I'm just going to be working out at home more, or going to play, it's probably better to be out there playing. Just because I think out of sight, out of mind is true in a lot of cases. Just to get out there and play, I didn't think it was going to hurt.
Me: You're a little older than most first-time D-Leaguers. Did that give you any different perspective on playing there?
SN: Not really. No. I think I'd been in the D League for eight or nine games my second year. And it was, I would say, I had a different perspective then, because I couldn't get called up. I was with the Rockets at the time. I was just there to get more minutes. And this time, I think, I just really had a, it was just like a Pro-Am in the summer. You're there to refine your skills, to play, to stay in shape, and everybody's in the D League for the same reason. You hope you get a callup. You hope to get a good gig overseas, something like that. That was why I was there. And it's just an understanding on the team. It's no disrespect to any of your teammates. Everybody knows that that's what it is. The coaches (know) that's what it is. So that was why I felt it was kind of...it was a good experience and it served its purpose for me very well.
Me: When you first came in the league you were getting some minutes in Houston. What was your overall experience like there?
SN: I loved Houston. Coming in as a rookie, I think, to a team that had veterans like Juwan Howard and Shane Battier and Dikembe (Mutombo) and Yao (Ming), those guys, I think I was on a different type of team with the Clippers. We weren't as veteran laden --
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, interrupting: What the hell are you talking to him for? He hasn't played a minute!
Me: I talk to everybody.
SN (laughs, continuing): For me it was, my first couple of years in the NBA, it was a dream come true. To learn from guys like that was great. Obviously, I played for Jeff Van Gundy my first year, then Rick Adelman my second year, so two very different coaches. I really got to see a spectrum of coaches. It just was, to be honest, a whirlwind the first couple of years. It just happened so fast. And your contract is guaranteed, so you're not worried about what's next, what's next, what's next; you're just worried about trying to get on the court, trying to get on the court. And I still have a house in Houston. I love Houston.
Me: Does having "stretch four" talent give you a chance to stick in this league, maybe moreso than five or 10 years ago?
SN: I think, definitely. I may be biased, because that's my skill set. But I definitely think that stretch fours, if you look at the championship teams over the last, like you said, the last decade, I think they've all had very strong stretch fours, in terms of shooting and being able to guard four men and holding up defensively. It's just, in my mind, it's a really tough position to guard. It just gives defenses trouble. I just hope I'm right.
Me: I know you just got here, but do you have any sense of this team already?
SN: There's a business environment. I've been in a lot of different environments, and this one, the first day I got here, the first game that I experienced game day and the walkthrough are different than any team I've been on. It's very, very business. There's just not a lot of room for joking. I mean, there's times for the joking and the having fun and the camraderie of being with all the guys. But it's not on game day. It's not in the locker room. It's really just sort of more a quiet environment. You really just go about your business. It's not like people are checking up, like, 'Did he go and get his work in?' No, when it comes game time, you're either ready or you're not. If you play well, coach is going to keep you in; if you don't, you're coming out. It's, very, very business atmosphere.
Me: Obviously on a 10-day, you don't know what the future is going to be. But if you don't make it here, if the worst thing is you get to be back with your kid, that's not all bad.
SN: No, no it's not. You just have to keep perspective, especially through times when you're with a team, you're not with a team, you're at home and you're back with another team. Obviously my goal now is to make it work with this team, one, for myself, and two, because of the opportunity I'm being given on a team like this. I don't think those come along often. So I'm just going to try to make the most of it.
"I wouldn't be opposed to it. You know how much I love Italy. I grew up there."
-- Kobe Bryant, telling Los Angeles writers Friday that he hasn't ruled out playing overseas next season if there is an extended lockout. Bryant's father, Joe, played seven seasons in Italy toward the end of his playing career, with young Kobe in tow, learning how to speak fluent Italian and beginning to work on his own nascent game.
"I've been begging Rick Sund and the Hawks for the last three years -- please get a center so my son can play his normal position."
-- Tito Horford, Al Horford's dad, to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, about his (relatively) undersized son's plight playing in the hole every night, and his request of Hawks' management to do something about it. Al Horford won back-to-back national championships in college at Florida playing alongside Joakim Noah.
"If I had been able to play, the Clippers would have been a vibrant team, a dynamic team, would have had a new arena in my hometown, San Diego. It's a stain and stigma on my soul that I will never be able to cleanse."
-- Bill Walton, lamenting the demise of the Clippers in San Diego because of his numerous injuries that kept him off the floor in the early 1980s -- and, he believes, ultimately led to the team's move to Los Angeles in 1984. Walton was discussing the Kings' future in Sacramento if they do not get a new arena deal in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.
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