Posted May 21 2012 9:24PM
Gregg Popovich must be the next U.S. men's Olympic basketball team coach.
This is only an opinion, of course, but it is bolstered by being 100 percent correct.
This has nothing to do with Popovich's current run with the Spurs -- 18 straight wins and counting after sweeping the Clippers in the second round Sunday, giving San Antonio yet another berth in yet another Western Conference finals -- which marks the seventh time the Spurs have gotten at least that far during Popovich's tenure. It has everything to do with his love of country, integrity and ability to get the best from his teams.
Mike Krzyzewski has served his country with honor, restoring the U.S. team to the top of the heap with a gold medal in Beijing in 2008 and a world championship won under great duress in Turkey in 2010. He molded two totally different core units -- the Kobe Bryant/LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Carmelo Anthony-led Olympic team and the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook/Kevin Love/Tyson Chandler-led world championship squad -- into winners.
But Coach K announced last week that the London Games in July and August will likely be his last as the U.S. coach. That means a successor will have to be found, and soon. Given USA Basketball czar Jerry Colangelo's desire for continuity, it's likely that the next coach will go through at least three cycles: the renamed world championships in Spain in 2014 (the FIBA Basketball World Cup), the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the 2018 World Cup, which has not yet been awarded.
This is in no way a slight to Boston's Doc Rivers, a great coach with all of the boxes checked -- championship pedigree, great relationships with players, willing to challenge his charges when he has to, universally respected at all levels of the game. No one would say he is a bad, or wrong, choice. The same goes for Nate McMillan or Mike D'Antoni, two of Krzyzewski's assistants the last few rotations. (For reasons that aren't all his fault, I think Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, who's also a veteran assistant on Coach K's staff, would be a tough sell.)
Of course Doug Collins, with his history as an Olympian on the cheated 1972 U.S. team, and his connection with Krzyzewski through his son, Chris, the Duke assistant, would be an outstanding choice if interested. So would Rick Carlisle. So would North Carolina's Roy Williams or Michigan State's Tom Izzo, if Colangelo decided to go the college coach route again.
But Popovich is head and shoulders above anyone else. And he's due.
"I just think it's his turn," a veteran coach with vast international experience said of Popovich Sunday. "I like Coach K, but I thought it was (Popovich's) turn before. There's no doubt in my mind that Pop should be the coach. He's earned the right."
The circumstances of why Popovich has never gotten the nod are murky, and he's not the first coach with a glittering resume not to be picked. Phil Jackson never wanted the job, and other outstanding coaches like Jerry Sloan never got the call, either (although Sloan was an assistant on the 1996 Olympic team staff).
Since the pros were invited by FIBA for the 1992 Olympics, only eight coaches have been selected to coach either them in either the Olympics or World Championships: the late Chuck Daly, who led the Dream Team to the gold medal in Barcelona; Don Nelson, who won gold at the '94 worlds; Lenny Wilkens, who won the gold in Atlanta at the '96 Summer Games; Rudy Tomjanovich, who won a bronze medal at the '98 worlds and gold in 2000 in Australia; George Karl, whose 2002 world championship team was beset with squabbling, and finished sixth in Indianapolis; Larry Brown, whose 2004 Summer Games team in Athens also fell apart; Mo McHone, who coached the 2005 team that tried to qualify for the '06 worlds without using NBA players, and Krzyzewski.
Popovich was an assistant with Karl in '02 and with Brown, one of his closest friends in life, on the '04 U.S. team that stumbled to the bronze medal. It's no secret that several of the players who are now the core of the Olympic team, including James and Anthony, clashed with Brown; while Brown gave big minutes to Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Richard Jefferson, James and Anthony received scant playing time, and Brown suspended James for an exhibition game after James was late for a team meeting. (Tim Duncan was also on that team, and it was the last time he participated in international competition, swearing off of future Olympic teams in part because of the terribly inconsistent officiating.)
Were the U.S. team's terrible showings in '02 and '04 -- the impetus, after all, for bringing Colangelo in the next year and giving him the power to unilaterally pick future teams -- held against Popovich? (A source close to James said Sunday that James thinks "very highly" of Popovich, echoing public statements James has made, and would have no problem playing for Popovich in future international competitions.) Or is there some other reason -- or someone else that Popovich has rubbed the wrong way?
Popovich will never talk about this, but there are enough people who will. They make it clear that the Air Force Academy graduate, who spent five years on active duty for his country after graduating, and captained the Armed Forces team that won the 1972 AAU championship -- earning an invitation to try out for the '72 Olympic team in the process -- was terribly hurt when he didn't get the call after Brown.
For his part, Colangelo told the Sacramento Bee last week that Popovich and Krzyzewski were his two finalists for the job in 2005, but that while Krzyzewski "almost jumped through the phone" upon being notified he was a finalist, Popovich was, according to Colangelo, less enthusiastic.
"Afterward, he sent me a letter and said I misinterpreted what he said," Colangelo told the newspaper. "He felt I had misjudged him, and maybe I did. But that was a long time ago. How can anyone argue with his record, his performance? With him as a great coach?"
Reached Sunday for further comment, Colangelo demurred, saying via text he didn't want to talk further about the coaching search. "It is best to wait until after the Olympics," he said in the text.
Popovich's resume alone makes him Olympic and World Cup worthy. Winning four championships with the Spurs, and doing so in a way that has never brought a moment's shame or angst to the organization, should answer anyone's questions about his abilities to organize, motivate and go up against the world's best teams and coaches.
I have maintained for years that the Spurs have the exact same problems that other teams have -- squabbles over money, or playing time, or shots, the same jealousies and same insecurities and same prima donnas. The difference is, you never, ever hear about them. That is in part because general manager R.C. Buford knows the kind of player that will best fit into the San Antonio culture but it is also because of the fealty most players that come into the organization feel toward Popovich. They are not afraid of him -- not most, anyway -- but their respect for him is universal.
"It's a different organization," forward Danny Green said earlier this season. "They put the bar high. It's a higher standard. It's a different group of guys."
Popovich takes some getting used to. Is he profane? Most assuredly. Does he suffer fools? God, no. But he meets the players where they live, literally and figuratively. He was secure enough to walk into owner Peter Holt's office a few years ago -- when Duncan was entering the prime of his career -- and suggest that it might be time for a new voice, a new coach, because he didn't think his players were listening. Holt, wisely, told him to give it some time. Of course, San Antonio swept Cleveland the next spring to win its fourth title.
Popovich has consistently said he's the luckiest former small college coach in recorded history, and he's right to a certain degree. Duncans don't grow in the Texas soil or in the Virgin Islands. But it's one thing to tie your proverbial rope to a star, and another altogether to stay at or near the top for 15 years, to remake your team from a defensive scythe to a run-and-gun outfit on the fly, and to continue to command the respect of players who were kids when you first came on the scene.
Whatever happened in the past cannot be undone. But if Popovich and Colangelo ever open a bottle from the coach's private stock, let it breathe, pour a glass or two and start talking, the guess is that they'll find they have a lot more in common than they realize.
And, hopefully, Colangelo will realize there's no one more qualified to represent this country in basketball than the son of Serbian and Croatian parents who has become one of the great coaches this country has ever produced.
The National Basketball Players' Association has had a rough few weeks, but is trying to get back in the business of representing players rather than being rendered into tatters with a civil war between the union's leaders and its president, Thunder guard Derek Fisher.
The NBPA announced last week that it would seek system arbitration on behalf of four players who'd been claimed on waivers after being cut by their former teams last season: Knicks guard Jeremy Lin and forward Steve Novak, Clippers guard Chauncey Billups and Blazers forward J.J. Hickson.
Without getting too deep into the weeds, the union is claiming that since the players were picked up on waivers, rather than signing with those teams of their own volition as free agents, each should be allowed to sign new deals with those teams in July as either Larry Bird or "Early Bird" free agents -- which would allow each to sign bigger and longer deals.
Players who've spent three seasons with the same team get full rights; players who've spent two seasons with the same team get "Early Bird" rights.
The league argues that because the players are no longer on their former teams, their Bird clocks are, in essence, re-set, and each would be allowed only to re-sign as a non-qualifying free agent, with a 20 percent raise on their existing salaries, or to re-sign with their current clubs using either the bi-annual ($1.9 million, but can't be used in consecutive years) or mid-level ($5 million) exceptions for teams above the salary cap but below the luxury tax threshold.
The union wants to have the grievance heard before the start of free agency in July.
The importance of a favorable ruling by an arbitrator is obvious for the Knicks, who want and expect to re-sign Lin, and are ready to use the mid-level to keep him in New York. But if the Knicks have to use the full mid-level on Lin, the mid-level exception would not be availble for them to sign other players.
If they can sign Lin or Novak as regular Bird free agents, they'll have the $5 million exception to use on other players. But the league is balking at that possibility. One of the main issues of the lockout actually didn't involves teams versus players, but teams versus one another, with smaller-market teams railing against the ability of big revenue-producing teams like New York to be able to re-sign all of its players time and again using exceptions.
"We are confident that our interpretation of the agreement is correct," a league spokesman said in a statement earlier this month.
Billups, who missed much of the season after tearing his Achilles' in early February, had been angered after being claimed off waivers by the Clippers in December. He'd been hoping to become an unrestricted free agent and go to Miami after the Knicks used the amnesty provision to waive him. But the Clippers had enough cap room to outbid everyone else, and claimed Billups for a little more than $2 million.
At issue in all of this is the word "trade."
After Blazers center Chris Dudley successfully won a grievance against the league that upheld the validity of his contract with Portland -- a multi-year deal with an out clause after one season, which was all the time a player then had to play for a team before getting his full Bird rights -- the league disallowed all future one-year opt out deals and forced the union to a stricter rule.
In 1995, the sides agreed that a player would have to play three years with one team before getting full Bird rights, but players sent to other teams through what was called "assignment" would also get their Bird rights.
But in 2005, the word "assignment" was replaced by the word "trade," meaning a player would maintain his full Bird rights if he and his existing contract were traded from one team to another -- an action over which he had no control. The union is arguing that claiming a player and his contract off of waivers is, essentially, the same thing as trading him to that team, since he has no choice but to play for the team that claimed him if he wants to keep his contract.
Lin had signed a two-year deal as a rookie with Golden State in 2010, but the Warriors waived him in early December. He was then claimed by the Rockets, who also waived him, just before the start of the season, in order to create enough cap space to sign center Samuel Dalembert.
A system arbitrator has to be agreed upon by both sides. To expedite the process the league and union could agree to use arbitrators that have done similar work before, such as Calvin Sharpe or Kenneth Dam. Dam ruled in the Joe Smith case in 2000, ruling that Smith and the Timberwolves had entered into secret, illegal contracts to circumvent the salary cap. After the league fined the team $3.5 million and took five first-round picks away from Minnesota (later reduced to three), Dam ruled that Commissioner David Stern was within his rights to impose the harsh penalty.
Sharpe heard grievances filed by former Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley and Knicks guard Stephon Marbury against their respective teams, both of which were settled with buyouts that allowed the players to go elsewhere.
(May 7 rankings in parenthesis)
1) San Antonio (1) [4-0]: The Spurs are going to lose again. Right? Who's with me? Anyone?
2) Oklahoma City (2) [3-1]: Lost in the late-game heroics of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Saturday is that James Harden continues to struggle with having to both guard Kobe Bryant and being productive offensively. Harden is shooting just 30 percent in the first four games.
3) Miami (3) [1-2]: Miami has gotten quality offensively performances from Mario Chalmers (25 points in Game 3) and Udonis Haslem (14 points in 25 minutes in Game 4) in the last two games of its series with the Pacers. Chalmers' performance got lost in the Wade/James hoopla Thursday, but when someone else besides Wade or LeBron can make perimeter shots, the Heat are extremely hard to beat.
4) Indiana (4) [2-1]: Pacers took a body blow Sunday, but I think they've got a second wind. This series is far, far from over.
5) L.A. Lakers (5) [1-3]: If L.A. loses this series to the Thunder, don't be surprised if the Pau Gasol to Chicago talk starts up again.
6) Boston (8) [1-1]: Per NBA.com's Advanced Stats, Paul Pierce is averaging 14.7 points per 36 minutes when Andre Iguodala is on the court -- and presumably guarding him -- and 28.3 points per 36 minutes when Iguodala is on the bench.
7) Philadelphia (9) [1-1]: Mo Cheeks told me years ago that Thaddeus Young was doggone near unstoppable playing the four rather than the three. He showed it in Game 4 Thursday down the stretch with a few incredible plays.
8) L.A. Clippers (6) [0-4]: Season complete. Clips need a two guard who can give Chris Paul and Blake Griffin room to operate next season.
9) Memphis (7): Season complete. Owner Michael Heisley tells the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the Grizzlies' season was "miraculous" given the team's injuries, but that he will not wade into the luxury tax next season.
10) Atlanta (10): Season complete. Picked up Coach Larry Drew's option for next season.
11) Denver (11): Season complete. Priority should be locking up Andre Miller, while letting JaVale McGee set his own market in restricted free agency.
12) New York (12): Season complete.
13) Orlando (13): Season complete. Magic still going through their season-ending review, but insist that it won't take long to make a decision on Stan Van Gundy's future.
14) Chicago (14): Season complete. The Bulls have some thinking to do this summer. No one is going to take Carlos Boozer's contract in exchange for a quality point guard who can man things until Derrick Rose returns from his torn ACL. The good news for Chicago is that there are a lot of veteran, quality points available in free agency, like Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups and Jason Terry and Andre Miller -- and former Bull Kirk Hinrich. The sales pitch? Start for us for a year, split time with Rose the second year, be his backup the third year, assuming he's back to being 100 percent. Someone will likely be amenable to that.
15) Dallas (15): Season complete, but the Mavericks took care of their most pressing business last week by locking up Rick Carlisle for four more years.
San Antonio (4-0): The Spurs are the most dominant postseason team I've seen since the 1988-'89 Lakers won their first 11 playoff games by an average of 8.9 points per game, sweeping Portland, Seattle and Phoenix. That was the L.A. team that made The Finals but got swept by Detroit after losing Byron Scott and Magic Johnson to hamstring injuries.
L.A. Clippers (0-4): A disappointing end, to be sure, with Chris Paul looking less than himself. But when you think about how much this franchise has been transformed in less than six months, this has been a remarkable season.
Do you remember your first playoff experience?
"Yes," the Heat's Chris Bosh said. "I haven't had many."
The playoffs come, and a whole season's worth of experiences can go by the boards, or be the catalyst for a team winning a championship.
One bad night can define a career; witness the Sonics' Dennis Johnson going 0-for-14 in Game 7 of the 1978 Finals against the Bullets.
One made shot can lead to redemption; witness the Celtics' Dennis Johnson draining the game-winner on the road to beat the Lakers in Game 4 of the 1985 Finals.
Or the Celtics' Dennis Johnson having the instincts to cut hard to the bucket in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern finals against the Pistons, just a second after Larry Bird stole Isiah Thomas's inbounds pass, then having the skill to hit a twisting layup with a second left to give Boston an improbable win that led to ultimate series victory.
Or, for that matter, Isiah Thomas, who rebounded from that moment of horror to score 25 points in the third quarter of Game 5 of the 1988 Finals on a gruesomely sprained and swollen ankle. The Pistons lost that series, but didn't lose in the playoffs again for three years, winning two titles behind their leader and captain.
Everything is different in the playoffs.
"All the players, all the coaches, all the NBA, everybody, you live for playoff basketball," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "You fight all season long to improve as a team, improve as a player, and fight for positioning."
The differences start as soon as players take the court. Many are adamant that playoff games are officiated differently than they are in the regular season -- not in favor of one team or another, but games are called differently. Some refs put the whistles away; some get trigger happy.
"Officiating is going to be a factor," Clippers guard Mo Williams said. "You've got to really judge their temperament. I always tell the young guys to really know the offiicals. All the officials are different. Some are gonna let you play real physical, and some are gonna be tight with the whistle. You've just got to know your boundaries. It's going to be different. ... I think guys understand, but until they experience it, it's going to be a different story."
Bosh's first time came in 2007, with the Raptors. Toronto was the third seed in the East, and played a veteran Nets team with Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and ex-Raptor Vince Carter in the first round. New Jersey triumphed in six games.
"It all happened so fast," Bosh said. "That's what I remember. I had waited so long to get there, and I came out there in Game 1. I was a little bit too hyped and I picked up two fouls. But after I settled down, I had a pretty decent series (17.5 points, 9 rebounds, though he shot only 39 percent). It was over so fast. Just like two weeks later, I was back in Texas, and it was like a dream."
Bosh's teammate, LeBron James, had been christened into the postseason a year earlier, in Cleveland, against the Wizards. That series began at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs were making their first postseason appearance in eight years.
"I remember the electricity, the excitement in that building," James said. "That was the first time we'd made the playoffs in a while ... I had a triple-double that first game. It was amazing. It was electrifying. It felt different, right from the moment you ran on the court."
The playoffs are a dream for coaches, too, in one respect: it's the one time of the season they have their players' undivided attention. But it becomes that much harder to get them to stick to the game plan, especially if it doesn't work from one game to the next. It helps if your core group is veterans that understand conceptually what you're talking about. But every team isn't that fortunate.
"It's what we talk about all the time: it's our reality and everybody else's reality," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Everybody else's eyes are based on the results. Our eyes are based on whatever that process is. Are we defending it the way we're supposed to? And if we are, make or miss, but that's the correct way. And you stay the course. And now, if they make a couple shots, that it doesn't skew your perception, and you start to make things up and panic."
The Thunder's young charges learned that the hard way when OKC made its postseason debut three years ago against a seasoned Lakers team. The Thunder lost Game 6, and the series, by not executing a simple box out, which led to Pau Gasol's offensive rebound and putback.
"It was the first time a bunch of 19, 20 year olds (were) in the playoffs, playing against the Los Angeles Lakers," Brooks said. "I was hyped. I was beside myself, couldn't sleep, and all of my players were."
The first time is something the Thunder's Kendrick Perkins does not remember fondly. He was just 20 years old and less than two years removed from Clifton J. Ozen High School when he was thrust into the Celtics' playoff lore against the Pacers in 2005, in Game 6 of their second-round series.
"Paul (Pierce) had gotten into some kind of confrontation with Jamaal Tinsley, and he got ejected," Perkins recalled. "And Paul was going to the free-throw line. There was like, maybe, two seconds on the clock, and Paul was going to the free throw line."
But with Pierce ejected, Indiana Coach Rick Carlisle got to pick which Celtic would go to the foul line in his place. He chose Perkins, who was shooting just 64 percent.
"It was a tie ball game," Perkins said. "All I had to do was make one free throw, and we win the game."
The Celtics still went on to win the game in overtime, but Perkins is still ticked off at his two misses.
"It was loud in there, too, man," he said. "It was crazy. I know the difference of it is, first of all, everybody starts off 0-0. That's the first thing. The intensity picks up. And after you play a team for two times in a playoff series, pretty much, every team knows what each other do. I feel like the scouting is more detailed. You know you've got time to focus on just one thing. The key to the playoffs is just advance. I don't care how you advance, just advance."
You never know who can help you win a playoff series. It could be a superstar, like Michael Jordan. But it could be a role player, like little-used Celtic Glenn MacDonald, who came off the bench in the third overtime to spark Boston's win over Phoenix. Yes, the Celtics won the game that everyone remembers for Suns forward Gar Heard's game-tying bucket at the buzzer of the second OT.
"One thing I know from being on that team in Boston, you're going to have one guy that plays on your team that can win the game for you in a playoff series, when you're trying to win a championship," Perkins said. "So all it takes is one of your role players, or your superstars, that's gonna win that game for you. No matter what it is. Whether it's down the stretch, taking charges, getting offensive rebounds, putbacks, whatever it is, you're going to have one guy in that locker room that's going to win that game for you."
He stands at the border, denying entrance to all but the true believers, and those who sucked up to Vince Carter back in the day. From Kelechi Chiadi:
Reading your piece on the Raptors was hilarious, not because of the lousy/fat girlfriend metaphor but because it's a mischievous attempt to jump on the raptors wagon when they are about taking a step towards winning.
Real Raptors fans has stayed faithful in teams' lousiness and fatness. I have read and listened to you for the past 7yrs and never heard you say anything good about us. So you are not welcomed now. Thanks but no thanks.
Kelechi, you have figured out my master plan. Amazing that no one else had your powers of observation. Because there's been so many positive things to write about the Raptors over the last decade. But now that the Raptors stand a 3.6 percent chance of getting Anthony Davis, I'm all in! Not only do I want a seat on the bandwagon, I want to drive it! Oh, Canada, our home and native land...
And now, an opposing view. From Luxsman Sivapalan:
Thanks for the Toronto Raptors mention on The Tip. Toronto is a great basketball city and it seems that we are just one center piece away from being relevant again in the NBA. Being a lifetime Raptors fan, this year has felt very long despite the shortened season. I have to admit if Davis were to land in Toronto, it would turn things around. However, going into the Lottery with the Raps at 8th with a low chance of drafting Davis. I just wanted to know what do you think about the NBA draft lottery system and how do you think teams that are trying to establish a culture or make the playoffs be rewarded for their effort?
There's been much written of late about the need to change the lottery system (ESPN.com's Henry Abbott has led the charge, creating a whole section in his True Hoop blog to solicit ideas on how to solve the "tanking" problem in the league). The pro-reform folks say that a) the lottery doesn't do what the league says it will -- help the worst teams become better -- because the same teams seem to be in the lottery every season, and b) it rewards mediocre managers, who otherwise would be replaced by more competent GMs if they didn't consistently get good, young talent in the Draft.
There's some truth to both of those statements.
But the people that are responsible for the truth in those statements are not those who are running the day-to-day operations of teams. They are c) the owners, and d) you, the fans.
There is not one owner in this league who couldn't have a playoff team within two years, if he (or she) were so determined.
Let me repeat that.
There is not one owner in this league who couldn't have a playoff team within two years, if he (or she) were so determined.
Making the playoffs is, relatively speaking, easy. But it's not cheap. And that's where the owners are, consistently and, amazingly, not held to account.
The Bobcats could hire anyone short of Phil Jackson to coach their team next season. They could hire proven winners like Jerry Sloan, Nate McMillan or Mike D'Antoni, any one of whom would dramatically increase their chances of winning. But they'd have to pay them top dollar -- or, more likely, above top dollar -- to come into an organization that went 7-59 last season. To convince a Sloan or McMillan to come aboard, Michael Jordan would have to pay them $5 to $7 million -- the $7 million being the annual average of Doc Rivers' new deal in Boston.
I am not saying Jordan should do it. Only that he could do it. And if he chooses not to do it, that means he's not doing everything he could do to make immediate winning more likely. (Yes, a young, energetic assistant like a Frank Vogel or Erik Spoelstra could be successful in Charlotte, too. But it's less likely -- at least at the beginning.)
The Bobcats could make a max offer to any 2012 unrestricted free agent out there: Deron Williams, Ray Allen, Jeff Green, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, and on and on. If they only got one or two players, combined with their young nucleus of Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo and Gerald Henderson, they'd be in the playoffs within a couple of years. But would that group be better than Miami or Chicago? Probably not.
This is where owners get to say that, instead of just being good enough to lose in the first round, they're trying to build a "championship caliber" team with young players, when we all know the last teams that win in the postseason are teams built around young players. What they're really doing, of course, is cutting their payrolls by getting as many guys on their rookie deals as possible, the rookie deals being a fraction of what the league's elite players get as they near free agency or become free agents.
And you let them get away with it.
If you keep coming to the games, and paying top dollar for tickets, beer, food and parking, even as your team loses and loses and loses, why wouldn't an owner pocket as much of your loot as he or she legally could?
The Bulls went 10 years between the team's last title, in 1998, and winning the lottery in 2008 and taking Derrick Rose first overall. During that decade, they made the playoffs only three times and won only one first-round series. Before Scott Skiles arrived in 2004, Chicago's six-year record after the Jordan-Pippen-Jackson era was 103-352. Yet in those six seasons Chicago was first, first, second, ninth, fifth and third, respectively, in attendance. I know that much of that attendance was already locked in, with the Bulls forcing season ticket holders to extend their deals well into the future in order to catch the last year or two of the Jordan Era.
But I was there for at least a few of those "in between" games from '98 to '08. There were a lot of people at United Center, watching some horrid basketball. And they were happy and entertained. A lot of people just want to be entertained on a cold winter night; I get that. But you can't have it both ways. Either winning matters to you -- and you'll hold your team accountable if it doesn't win -- or you're happy being entertained. There's not a right or wrong answer here. But owners are only swayed into action when you stop showing up.
There continues to be malfeasance up near Brainerd. From Charles Noble:
David, always enjoy reading your articles - I just wish you would write a bit more about my Minnesota Timberwolves. We Timberwolf fans have not been blessed with great luck (who could forget 1992 when we should have gotten Shaquille O'Neal or Alonzo Mourning but ended with Christian Laettner?) or when we've had the luck, we've chosen poorly (Pooh Richardson over Tim Hardaway). I sure would appreciate a few of your thoughts on what you think my beloved T-Wolves should do in the offseason and Draft now that they have a solid power forward and point guard (Nikola Pekovic is a pretty good center, too). Given past history, i would like some advice to reach our management's ear :). The ultimate goal: What do you think we should do to get in the playoffs next year?
Make Eric Gordon an offer the Hornets have to refuse. Or see if there's a deal to be made with Memphis for O.J. Mayo. (Or, if they want to do it a little cheaper, they could do a whole, whole lot worse than going after Houston's Courtney Lee.) The Wolves need a standstill, no-doubt two guard who'll knock down shots off of Ricky Rubio's transition passes or when Kevin Love passes out of double-teams down low.
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(Weekly averages in parenthesis)
Since LeBron James has already captured the regular season Most Valuable Player award, we now will transition to who is having the best postseason. There were great performances in the first round, from Denver's Ty Lawson to the Hawks' Jeff Teague, but we move on now to those who helped lead their teams into the conference semifinals...and, they hope, beyond.
1) Kevin Durant (27.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3 apg, .542 FG, .857 FT): I don't know if Oklahoma City is going to win six championships like the Bulls, or two like the Pistons. But I know that the way they reeled the Lakers in during the fourth quarter of Game 4 Saturday night, getting timely stops and forcing turnovers -- and the way Durant took over, taking on the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant down the stretch, and came up with a steal in the final minute, then calmly walked into the game-winning 3-pointer like he was waiting for a bus, reminded me of the way Chicago and Detroit used to win playoff games -- and, ultimately, titles.
2) Tony Parker (17.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 7.8 apg, .525 FG, .828 FT): Playing the best basketball of his career: completely in control on the court, getting others involved but scoring when needed. If Oklahoma City advances as well, a Parker-Russell Westbrook matchup would be scintillating.
3) LeBron James (30 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 5.7 apg, .479 FG, .656 FT): One for the ages on Sunday, with 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists against Indiana to help even that series at 2-2.
4) Kobe Bryant (28.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, .385 FG, .886 FT): Maybe there was a little Hero Ball Saturday Night, with Andrew Bynum getting only four shots up in the second half against the Thunder.
5) Chris Paul (12.8 ppg, 4 rpg, 9.3 apg, .368 FG, 1,000 FT): Played hurt, and clearly wasn't himself for long stretches against San Antonio. But was arguably the single biggest pickup in Clippers history, including Bill Walton's arrival in the late '70s from Portland.
0 -- Number of NBA arenas older than Milwaukee's Bradley Center (which opened in 1988) that have not yet had significant renovations -- oops, sorry, Madison Square Garden, "transformations" -- to their interior. Detroit's Palace of Auburn Hills and Sacramento's Power Balance Pavilion each opened the same year as Bradley Center; only MSG and Golden State's Oracle Arena, which opened in 1966 but which underwent an entire restoration in 1996 in which the building was nearly gutted and then rebuilt, are older. Bucks owner Herb Kohl said Friday that he's ready to make a substantial personal contribution toward construction of a new arena in Milwaukee.
4 -- Seasons as an assistant coach in Phoenix for former Bulls head coach Bill Cartwright, whose contract for next season will not be renewed, according to the Arizona Republic.
11 -- NBA seasons played by former U.S. Olympian Bob Boozer, who died Saturday night at age 75 after suffering a brain aneurysm Friday. Boozer, the first overall pick in the 1959 Draft, was on the celebrated 1960 U.S. Olympic team featuring Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson that was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. Boozer won an NBA title in 1971 with Robertson in his last pro season, with Milwaukee.
1) I'd say DWade answered the bell Sunday afternoon, wouldn't you?
1A) And that goes double for LeBron. He was man-sized on Sunday against the Pacers. Doug Collins used to always say the great ones leave their imprint on a game; Game 4 should read "property of LBJ" on the back. When the Heat's duo plays like that ... why don't they play like that all the time again?
3) The men and women who set up and clean Staples Center should get some quality duckets to one of the playoff games this weekend, don't you think?
4) Smart move by the Hawks, picking up Larry Drew's option for a third season as head coach. Continuity is important, and if the Hawks are ever going to break through in the East, Drew's no-nonsense, steady hand will be vital.
5) Iona guard Scott Machado was among the players who helped themselves Draft-wise during this weekend's college combine in New Jersey, sponsored by the Nets and Rockets. New Mexico forward Drew Gordon and Missouri swingman Kim English also played well, according to personnel types who attended, and while none of these players may go in the first round, they helped solidify potential second-round status.
6) Good move by the league in adding some owners and players to the Competition Committee, which has been the exclusive province of general managers. Having different voices in the room is never a bad thing.
1) Everyone is dying. Well, that's an exaggeration. So many people who were important to my youth seem to be leaving us at the same time. Last week there was Donna Summer and Chuck Brown, who were at two very different ends of the music spectrum. Summer was the Queen of Disco, of course, and one of the first women who broke through my sports-addled brain when I was a teenager to announce her, um, presence. Chuck was the King of Go-Go music, a uniquely D.C. blend of call and response, percussion-based sound that never has really taken off nationally. And that was part of its charm. Chuck was beloved in all parts of the city, and his concerts produced celebrations rather than confrontations. He was an icon and a gentleman. He will be missed.
2) You could stop Hack-an-Evans (or Hack-a-Jordan, Hack-a-Ben, etc), with one simple rule change: any foul off the ball is two shots plus possession. Period. It would stop.
3) I really enjoy talking about basketball and other sports with 99 and 44/100s percent of fans, almost all of whom are polite and well-meaning and decent. But a handful of you stink. And you should have the guts to put your name behind the swill you post.
I asked the 76ers' forward, Thaddeus Young, about how he tries to defend Boston's Paul Pierce during their Eastern Conference semifinal series. He thought for a minute. 'You know, he's got that old man strength,' Young began, and you knew exactly what Young meant. For 13 years, the 34-year-old Pierce has used that deceptive body, lack of speed and mediocre hops to score a measly 25,138 points (including playoffs), becoming the second all-time leading scorer of pro basketball's all-time winningest franchise.
Pierce passed Larry Bird this season to move into second place, behind only John Havlicek (26,395 points), and by the time he's done playing in Beantown he'll likely have many of the franchise's records in his back pocket; he's already the club's all-time leader in 3-point attempts and makes, and free-throw attempts and makes. (He's also first all-time in turnovers.) Pierce is second among all Celtics in steals, fifth in assists and blocks, and third in games played, minutes played and defensive boards. But there are no guarantees. Pierce, the 2008 Finals MVP, signed a four-year extension in 2010 that will likely keep him in Boston the rest of his career, but that's all that's certain.
GM Danny Ainge has made no secret of the fact that he'd rather break up the Big Four of Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo sooner rather than when it's too late. With Garnett and Allen free agents after this season, the Celtics are facing a franchise reboot when they lose their last game of the season. Boston is hoping that doesn't happen in this round against the younger, spryer 76ers. With Miami struggling in its series against Indiana, the Celtics can see an inside lane to one last Finals for this group -- but only if it can take care of Philly first.
Me: You've been in a million playoff games. When you go on the road, what is the mindset when you have a big game?
Paul Pierce: Well, you know you don't have a lot of room for mistakes when you go on the road. Focus has to be up. You know the [other] team is going to be up. They play their best basketball at home. Everything has to go up -- from detail to concentration, to doing all the little things it takes to win. Some things you can kind of get away with, because you use the crowd to give you energy. On the road, it's a little different. You've got to really pay attention to detail. You have to come with your A game.
Me: Is it harder to trust teammates on the road, because you have so much going against you?
PP: No, I don't think it is. When you're on the road, I think that's when teams really come together. It starts, I think, with the plane ride, to the bus ride. It's all just you guys in there. You don't have a building behind you. It's about the team that's going to be in that huddle, in that timeout, and knowing that you've got 15 guys against 16-plus thousand fans. I think the trust really goes up on the road.
Me: What is Andre Iguodala trying to do in this series to take things away from you?
PP: I think them as a team, it's more of what they're doing as a team, as far as me coming off of down screens, they're using a big to kind of corral. When I post up, they're sending another man at me. So I have to find different ways to score, maybe in transition, maybe in early offense ... I'll figure it out ... they're doing a good job of trapping in the post, trapping on down screens, trapping on the pick and roll. Maybe the early opportunities will be there for me, maybe when we go to our small lineup and we bring a shooter on the floor, there will be less double teaming.
Me: How do you rely on your institutional memory when you have one or two bad games to get you out of a slump?
PP: I don't never think I'm in a slump. I really don't know what a slump is.
Me: How is your knee?
PP: It's OK.
Me: I know, if you're out there, it's good enough to go.
PP: I'm not making no excuses. I'm a better, even with my knee at 20 percent, I'm a better player than I've been playing. As long as I'm out there, I expect to be pretty much who I am.
Me: How does Doc help you guys in these types of situations?
PP: Well, he doesn't panic ... he's about as poised a coach as you're gonna get on the road, and that, I think runs through the rest of the ballclub. Some guys may get a little anxious, but Doc remains a steady, calm (influence) in tough environments, and that fluctuates throughout the team.
Me: All right, got to ask an odd question: why did you start wearing the headband?
PP: 'Cause my hairline was starting to recede. [Laughs] No, that's not true. I remember, I don't know if it was my third year or fourth year. We all wore headbands at the start of a west coast swing. We won like three or four or five games in a row, and it kind of turned around our season. And I never stopped wearing them from that point on. But the other guys stopped wearing them. As a team, we wore them for a four- or five-game stretch, and I just kept it going.
Me: You prefer the green or the white?
PP: I like the green and white one the best, actually. We have a green and white one.
Me: Did you ever watch guys like Slick Watts back in the day, and think, 'That looks kind of cool?'
PP: Of course ... I was more of a wristband guy. I used to wear two wristbands in college. But I think [the headband] started looking trendy again, and I like how I looked when I put it on.
Me: Do you give any thought to the sense that this group may not be together next year?
PP: Definitely. I pretty much know this group probably won't be together this year. It almost was not together in the middle of this year [laughs]. You know, definitely. Management is looking to the future. Maybe I have one or two good years left. Same with Ray [Allen]. Same with KG. They're probably going to build for the future. So this is a real sense of urgency right now to get this thing done one last time.
Me: You ever look around and go, 'This was a pretty good group,' or 'I'll miss this when it's over?'
PP: I enjoy it every day. Every day I have a chance to step out with future Hall of Famers. 'Cause I've been there through the times when I've played with young players, wet behind the ears, really didn't know the game too much, going through the bad losses. From Day 1, when they got here, I really appreciated everybody.
Me: I know how important it is for you to finish your career in Boston. When it's over, where do you think you'll be in the Celtics' pantheon?
PP: You know, that's really not up to me to decide. All I can do is just go out there and leave it all on the court. People who make those decisions, you know, there's going to be five different opinions, because there's so many great Celtics legends that's done so many great things. You know, you've got to just leave it up to them, let the chips fall where they may.
Me: Why was it so important to you to be a great Celtic player? How did the mystique get to you to the point where it became important to you?
PP: Well, once you become a Celtic, and once you talk to the former players, the Bill Russells, the John Havliceks, the Bob Cousys, Red Auerbachs, you get a better understanding of what it really means to be a Celtic. Me being there so many years, it took me some time to really understand. But just being around these guys constantly, just talking to them, it really means something. It's almost like it becomes a religion. These guys always come back to the games years later, they form a special bond, because they're won championships. I wanted to be a part of that group. I wanted to do everything I could to be a part of that group, so maybe one day I could come back and rub elbows with all the great Celtic legends. It's just such a great history behind the franchise. It's like it's own fraternity. And I wanted to be a part of that.
-- North Carolina sophomore guard and likely lottery pick Kendall Marshall (@kbutter5), Thursday, 9:22 p.m., on the rapid development of the Pacers' all-star center. Marshall played high school basketball at nearby Bishop O'Connell High in Virginia.
"I have friends on every team and every team thinks I'm there to root for them. I try to put on a neutral stance as much as possible when I go to the games, with the exception of the Lakers games. The Lakers players are all aware that I root for the other team. With the exception of Kobe, they seem to take it pretty well."
-- NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein , who attends more playoff games than most broadcast crews -- and flies coach to every single one of them, he says -- in an "as told to" column for GQ magazine. And, it's true -- he lives in L.A. and can't stand the Lakers. Long story.
"I don't know Wade. I don't know the coach. That's disrespectful. Why he said it? When he said it? That's none of my business. (But) he can guarantee a fight."
--Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, telling his beat writers how he'd handle a player like the Heat's Dwyane Wade if that player got in his face during an argument, as Wade did with his coach, Erik Spoelstra, during the Heat's Game 3 loss Thursday to Indiana.
"While he will hopefully be at a very high level in 12 months, it still may take slightly longer to be at his pre-injury level. That's not uncommon in athletes of this caliber."
-- Bulls team physician Brian Cole, during a news conference last week in which the team said Derrick Rose would miss most, if not all, of next season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.
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Isaiah Thomas scores 18 points and dishes out 6 assists as the Celtics defeat the Knicks 96-92.
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LaMarcus Aldridge pours in 27 points and grabs 9 rebounds to help Portland turn back the Phoenix Suns, 87-81.