POSTED: Jul 1, 2013 2:38 PM ET
The Lakers are in a near panic mode to re-sign Dwight Howard this summer.
Toward the end of Johnny Carson's 30-year reign as the King of Late Night, the most powerful man in network television, there were signs, however subtle, that the kingdom was under siege. One came in the form of a sketch that aired on Carson's own network, NBC. This was not the occasional (and always unsuccessful) foray by interlopers like Joan Rivers into late night TV. This was open mockery, on "Saturday Night Live".
In the sketch, called "The Carsenio Show", an aging Carson, desperate to be hip, starts using the mannerisms of Arsenio Hall, the comedian whose own new late night show had started to make inroads into Carson's ratings. Carson gets a high-top fade like Hall (as does Ed McMahon), wears his double-breasted suits, banters with an enthusiastic, young studio audience and looks, generally, foolish.
He brings out his first guest, George Wendt, of "Cheers."
"Johnny, what are you doing here?," Wendt asks. "What are you trying to do, change your image?"
Carson, according to author Bill Carter, was furious with the portrayal. But the point was made: The King's reign was ending.
The billboards in L.A. last week reminded me of "Carsenio".
The billboards -- some, more accurately, digital images on buildings -- were part of a campaign conceived by the Lakers to convince free agent Dwight Howard to stay in Los Angeles rather than leave for the Rockets or Mavericks or Hawks. There was the now-necessary hashtag (this one #STAYD12). There was the now-necessary Instagram album. There was ... the whiff of desperation.
Is Howard Money Driven?
The Lakers, begging someone to stay, like Effie White in "Dreamgirls"?
It seemed ... beneath them.
But, there they were. And here we are, perhaps seeing, for the first time in decades, a true sea change in the way the NBA does business.
There are, to be sure, a lot of quality free agents available as the free agency period opens this morning, from do-everything forwards like the Nuggets' Andre Iguodala to the Hawks' Josh Smith, and low-post bangers like Utah's Al Jefferson and Minnesota' Nikola Pekovic (a restricted free agent). There are shooters like Milwaukee's J.J. Redick and Atlanta's Kyle Korver. There are solid veteran centers like the Mavs' Chris Kaman, the Hawks' Zaza Pachulia and Miami's Chris Andersen.
There are big men with big question marks, like Philly's Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden, last of the Blazers, who will likely make a decision on where he'll try yet another comeback in the next few days. There is Golden State's Jarrett Jack, who will have any number of suitors.
Yet Howard's decision (we reject, on general principles, capitalizing the "D" word, as it brings back unpleasant memories) is the one that, again, is the most important one in the league, for a second straight summer.
If Howard indeed rejects the Lakers for either Houston or Dallas (or any other team), the implications will be huge. The natural advantage Los Angeles has had for decades -- it's L.A., for Randy Newman's sake!! -- has been that everyone wants to play there, and that the Lakers would always pay handsomely for the league's best players.
Isiah's Noteworthy Centers
But that edge has neutered somewhat by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Lakers can't just buy up bad contracts of good players anymore, or sign free agent after free agent, without running into punishing luxury tax payments. The Lakers are willing to swallow hard and give Howard $118 million, and they'd be willing to pay up to $70 million this year in taxes, but they can't bring in anyone else to a team that got swept by the Spurs in the first round. There are limits, even to the coffers of a team with a $3 billion local television deal.
Things could change next year, when the Lakers could rid themselves of Kobe Bryant's $30.4 million salary and Pau Gasol's $19.285 million. At the moment, they have one player -- Steve Nash, at $9.7 million -- under contract for 2014-15. They could completely remake the team; even if Howard were in the second year of his extension, and if Bryant (or Gasol) returned at a reasonable number, the Lakers would have more than enough room to go after the likes of LeBron James.
But James, of course, is happily continuing to celebrate his second straight title in Miami this a.m. Hard to see him wanting to leave what he has as long as the Heat keep winning, which is why those 5.2 seconds that separated the Spurs from a Game 6, Finals-clinching win went down just as hard in the City of Angels as they did in the Alamo City.
And there is a different vibe in L.A. It is not freak luck, a witch's curse or Bizarro Los Angeles -- the Clippers are now the team in ascendancy at Staples Center. They are the destination team with the exciting players and the coach with a ring. It may be temporary, but it is a reality that the Lakers have to face.
If you're Howard, you know that even if you re-sign with the Lakers, there's the possibility that they won't be able to surround you with enough quality players in the next few years -- the meat of your prime. You would have to look around hard at a Houston with All-Star James Harden, or hope against hope that the Lakers would change their mind and entertain doing a sign-and-trade with the Clippers so that you could be united with Chris Paul, the dream of yours for two years.
True, there are some unusual confluences at work here. Bryant is coming off the first major injury of his career, an Achilles' tear, at age 35 -- and he doesn't have the greatest relationship with Howard, anyway. The Lakers, already paying off coach Mike Brown for another couple of years, can't easily stomach the notion of firing another coach, Mike D'Antoni. His appearance five games into last season didn't provide a balm as he and Howard struggled to find a coherent existence.
But the Lakers are also missing their leader, the late owner Jerry Buss -- "the best closer in history," as one person put it -- as his son, Jimmy, tries to manage the basketball side. It was Jimmy that opted for Brown over Phil Jackson's disciple, Brian Shaw. It was Jimmy that picked D'Antoni instead of bringing Jackson back, the animosity between the two still at a boil, a fact made more catastrophic considering Phil will soon be Jimmy's brother-in-law (Jackson is engaged to Jimmy's sister, Jeanie, the Lakers' executive vice president).
Yet Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported over the weekend that the Lakers were thinking about bringing one of Jackson's lieutenants, former Wolves (and Lakers) coach Kurt Rambis, on board as an assistant. The inference was clear: Rambis could incorporate some of Jackson's beloved triangle offense into D'Antoni's quiver, without actually being Jackson. The Lakers were also reportedly working on bringing former Magic coach Johnny Davis -- who coached Howard as a rookie in Orlando -- to the bench.
D'Antoni was, reportedly, more than OK with the move, if it helps keep Howard -- "Mike's on board," one source said.
The Lakers were planning to be low-key-but-simple in their pitch, unlikely to mention either the additional $30 million in salary they can offer Howard over other teams, or the 16 championships that they've won. Those things speak for themselves. They were going to say, simply, we need you. Whether Bryant was going to be part of that pitch was still unclear early Monday.
Meanwhile, the other teams lined up to make their pitches, from Houston's cavalcade of stars to Mark Cuban's salesmanship in Dallas, to Golden State's longshot hopes of a sign-and-trade, to the Hawks' more low-key way. Dallas would love to pair Howard with either Smith or Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, but the Blazers are holding onto Cousin LaMarcus until someone makes the mega-offer they can't refuse.
Atlanta was probably the longest shot to get Howard, especially once it became clear that Paul was bound to return to the Clippers; the two would be a package deal in the ATL.
But the Hawks are ready to try, anyway. With the financial flexibility they created last year, they are ready to re-shape their team. Yet if they don't get Howard or Paul, it's not likely they'll chase a bad deal just for the sake of signing someone. They are building for the future, and will not likely succumb to the pressure of winning the news conference with a face-saving sign of a big name with physical warts.
"We'll sit down with people, listen to the thoughts they have, answer the questions they may have about our organization, the direction that we're headed, that we started to establish over the last year, see if it's a good fit for both of us," General Manager Danny Ferry said early Monday morning.
"Everyone has a different style, but we all have our own unique substance in how we're going to operate, how we're going to work. I'm hopeful that our substance is one of hard work and commitment and a group identity, a caring environment, family atmosphere."
The Lakers' atmosphere over the last three decades hasn't been, shall we say, a family-based one. It was wild and often hedonistic, and the daily drama has been there for generations: Magic and Paul Westhead, Riles and the Repeat, Phil and Jerry West, Shaq and Kobe, etc. It has never been easy, but it has always been, ultimately, about Winnin' Time.
Now, it's about begging Howard -- who, it must be said, honestly but without malice, has not yet won anything -- to stay in town. It may well work. But it takes this proud franchise down very different roads than it has been used to traversing.
The billboards can't replace Jerry Buss.
What, or who, could?
"DwightMare II: The Possession" has overshadowed last week's Draft shenanigans, in which the Cavaliers started one of the most unpredictable nights in recent memory by taking UNLV's Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall. It was a shock to the system. Most thought that Nerlens Noel, Alex Len or Ben McLemore would go No. 1.
There were shocks everywhere: Orlando taking Victor Oladipo, an afterthought a couple of years ago, second overall. There was Charlotte taking Cody Zeller fourth rather than the sure-fire offense of McLemore, who fell all the way to No. 7 with Sacramento. There were trades galore as teams tried to get out of the first round and out of the guaranteed money those picks get.
And as surely as Knicks' fans booed their first-round selection -- wait, they cheered?Told you this was a crazy Draft! -- there was the need to immediately evaluate who did well and who did poorly.
A "Winners" and "Losers" Draft column is so predictable and pedestrian, not to mention arrogant -- how the hell do I know if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to be good three years from now?
Better to examine the why of what some teams did last week, because there was some method to their seemingly collective madness ...
"But, Easy ... If you didn't want him killed, why'd you leave him with me?"
-- Mouse the Hitman, "Devil in a Blue Dress", 1994
Cleveland's general manager, Chris Grant, has made it clear since he took over in 2010 that he's not going to change his nature. He's going to always go for the home run, the high upside player, instead of playing it safe. And that will either get him a ring someday or get him fired.
So it wasn't nearly as big a shock as some are making it out to be that the Cavs took Bennett. Grant took Tristan Thompson over the conventional wisdom that believed he had to take center Jonas Valanciunas in 2011. He went for Dion Waiters instead of the obvious pick, Harrison Barnes, in 2012. So it would stand to reason he'd go for the potential explosive talent Bennett possesses rather than play it safe.
If the Cavs can use some of their cap space to sign a significant free agent -- there were some rumblings late Sunday that they could be a player in the Josh Smith sweepstakes, for example -- they'd have a nice collection of players with which to build or to bundle in some fashion to try and get a superstar. The key in Cleveland is talent acquisition, not who plays where. You can always, always, trade talent.
"Charlie, throw the match. [Whoosh!] Now that's a fire! That's a fire! Look at that! Look at that! He'll be all right. Roll Charlie around. Roll him around there ..."
-- Eddie Murphy, "Delirious", 1983
If you're a certain age, you may remember the old Looney Tunes cartoons, where Bugs Bunny would fill a house with dynamite, and then stomp up and down on the wood floor, exposing the hundreds of dynamite sticks he'd planted. That is the state of the NBA's most storied franchise this morning. Danny Ainge has lit the match, and when his franchise-shifting trade with the Nets becomes official July 10 ...
But the pyrotechnics were expected as soon as Doc Rivers made it clear he'd be willing to leave for the Clippers' job. The ability to save $21 million (Rivers' salary the next three years in Boston) and to do what Ainge had long wanted to do but couldn't -- beginning to retool the roster -- made gutting the championship team from five years ago inevitable. So Ainge dealt Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets for a half-dozen players and three Draft picks.
Of the players, guard MarShon Brooks, who played at nearby Providence, is the one who could have the longest stay in Beantown. His scoring ability will be most needed next season and beyond and he gives the Celtics some backcourt versatility -- along with Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. Yet how happy can Rondo be, with the guts of the team he helped to a title now scattered across the country? (There is, of course, a simple solution: send Rondo, along with, say, Brandon Bass, to Indy for Danny Granger -- and his expiring $14 million contract -- along with George Hill and a future first. You're welcome.)
"They're trying to goad me, trying to own me. But this isn't a gunfight. It's not about pride or ego. It's only about money. I can leave now, even with Grama and KGB ... and halfway to paying Petrovsky back. That's the safe play. I told Worm you can't lose what you don't put in the middle ... But you can't win much either."
-- Mike McDermott, "Rounders", 1998
I don't know if Sam Hinkie is smarter than the rest of us, but give the 76ers' new GM credit for having, as Bill Raftery would say, major onions.
Hinkie could have played it safe, taken a prospect with the 11th pick and begun the slow, methodical process of rebuilding the Sixers. Doing so has them maybe contending for the eighth playoff spot next season with a move or two. Instead, he took a bat to the roster and started over, dealing All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans and getting Noel, whom a lot of people thought would go first overall, along with Michael Carter-Williams at No. 11.
More importantly, Philly got the Pelicans' No. 1 pick next year (though it's lottery protected 1 through 5 for New Orleans, Holiday's presence on the Pelicans means a through-the-floor season is unlikely and N'awlins will have to fork over the pick) in a Draft that will be one of the best and deepest in recent years.
That's important because, as someone way smarter than me pointed out over the weekend, the 76ers owe the Heat their 2014 first-round pick from the Arnett Moultrie trade last year. That pick has lottery protection for Philly from picks 1-14, meaning if Philly doesn't make the playoffs next year, it gets to keep the pick. The same would be true in 2015, after which time the Sixers would give Miami second-round picks in 2015 and '16.
So, for more than the obvious (cough-Andrew Wiggins-cough) reasons, it pays for Philly to be exceptionally bad next season.
If Philly winds up with two lottery picks a year from now, with the potential for insane cap space in the summer of 2014, then a bad 2013 season could be worth it. I wouldn't want to be in charge of new season ticket packages this season in Philly, but there's a glimmer of a future down the road -- if Hinkie can hold off the locals that long.
(The final edition for this season! June 17 record in parenthesis; rankings in brackets)
1) Miami : Season Complete
One Ray Allen shot goes in, one Kawhi Leonard free throw goes out. That's the difference between the Heat winning back-to-back titles and the Spurs winning their fifth ring. And that's why talk of "legacies" and such is so incredibly stupid and facile. LeBron James didn't play any better or worse depending on whether those two shots went in or out, so why should his standing in history be impacted by them?
2) San Antonio : Season Complete.
This is going to be a tough, tough decision the Spurs have to make on Manu Ginobiili. If they don't re-sign him they'd have enough cap room to make a run at a top-shelf free agent. But he's been part of the franchise's DNA for a decade, easily the team's most popular player locally. No matter if Ginobili's game has fallen off in recent years, letting him go would come with a steep price.
3) Indiana : Season Complete.
Roy Hibbert tweets Sunday that the Pacers need to get a new contract done quickly with David West.
4) Memphis : Season Complete.
Jerryd Bayless opts in for $3.135 million next season.
5) Oklahoma City : Season Complete.
Surprised a lot of people by taking Pitt's Steven Adams -- athletic, but a project -- 12th overall, when there were guys like Louisville's Gorgui Dieng available that could have stepped into the rotation right away.
6) Golden State : Season Complete.
If the Rockets are indeed shopping Jeremy Lin, would a reunion in the Bay with the Warriors make sense -- even at Lin's preposterous cap number the next two years? Put it this way: Would it make sense if Jarrett Jack leaves via free agency, and the Rockets would take Richard Jefferson's contract back?
7) New York : Season Complete.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., is playing in New York? This must create conflicting emotions within Tim Hardaway, Sr.
8) Chicago : Season Complete.
Can't help but wonder if C.J. Watson could be on the Bulls' radar after playing so well for them two years ago. Ditto John Lucas III, a surprising release by Toronto over the weekend.
9) L.A. Clippers : Season Complete.
Clips have to come out of free agency with a dead-eye shooter. There are more than a few (Redick, Korver) available at non-bank-breaking prices.
10) Denver : Season Complete.
It didn't take long to officially end the Kosta Koufos Era. With George Karl gone, Nuggets deal KK to Memphis for Darrell Arthur. That ensures JaVale McGee will start for the Nuggets next season.
11) Brooklyn : Season Complete.
Getting Lawrence Frank on the bench will be beneficial both to Jason Kidd and to the ex-Celtics who know him from his stint in Boston.
12) Atlanta : Season Complete.
Hawks liked Ivan Johnson, so a little surprised they declined to tender him.
13) Boston : Season Complete.
Waived guard Terrence Williams Sunday, and you hope the young man can find a stable situation somewhere.
14) Houston : Season Complete.
Owner Les Alexander, President Tad Brown, GM Daryl Morey, Head Coach Kevin McHale, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, all in attendance at the Dwight Howard dinner Sunday? I assume this little fella was The Closer. Who could resist?
15) L.A. Lakers : Season Complete.
Sign of the Lakers' tax woes: they're so far into the luxury tax that waving Chris Duhon and his seemingly minimal $3.75 million salary over the weekend (only $1.5 million was guaranteed) could save the club up to $9 million in tax payments.
What do you do in Bismarck, North Dakota, on a Saturday night?
"You'd probably be on the river in the summer," Dave Joerger says. "The Missouri River goes through there."
Dave Joerger's Journey
The people in Bismarck helped shape Joerger. As did the people in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Moorhead, Minn. And, Memphis, where Joerger has been for the last six years, learning the NBA game and becoming one of the league's most highly thought of assistant coaches. Last week, the Grizzlies moved him over those 12 crucial inches, hiring him to replace Lionel Hollins as coach.
The 39-year-old Joerger (pronounced Yay-ger) was long thought the heir apparent in Memphis, despite Hollins' successful tenure with the team. Before Hollins arrived for his third stint of duty as the team's coach, the franchise had never won a playoff game.
But Hollins and GM Chris Wallace built the Grizz into a strong playoff team. They knocked off the top-ranked Spurs in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, then followed that up this year with a trip to the Western Conference finals, knocking off the Clippers and No. 1-seeded Thunder along the way.
But it was clear that Hollins and the team's new management were not on the same page -- about the worth of Rudy Gay, who was traded to Toronto midseason, or the use of analytics, which new owner Robert Pera, general manager Jason Levien and vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger (the former ESPN.com writer) all value highly.
So Joerger's task is to mold those numbers with his 13 years of coaching, while balancing all the new responsibilities and stresses that one foot of coaching real estate represents.
"That's just a training deal, and trusting your instincts, but being competitive and wanting to gain an edge, getting as much information as you can," Joerger said by phone Saturday. "What can happen is, being a competitive guy who does want as much information as you can [get], sometimes it can suffocate you, and what it does is, it debilitates your instincts. You have to keep your instincts sharp while understanding. I'm looking forward to it. It's not just the numbers, but it's the personalities with the numbers.
"With John Hollinger in our office, it has to be, like, a conduit there, otherwise it'll suffocate you. Having an understanding of the information, and putting it in a way so that I can understand it better, and also with our staff. For us, as coaches, more is better. For players, simpler is better. Less is more. You've got to put it in a format that they can understand. If you do that, I think players are receptive. They want to win, too. They're competitive."
The Grizzlies think Joerger will keep that winning edge going. They picked him over the likes of George Karl and Alvin Gentry. Even though money was likely a factor, Joerger's skill set was, too.
"This was a very popular move in naming Dave as head coach," Levien said last week at Joerger's introductory news conference. "I can tell you that in terms of our locker room. I think the guys really respect him in what he brings to the table, and I think they are excited to get started with next season."
Joerger will face heavy expectations after Memphis' 56 wins last season.
"The biggest thing for me is to be myself," Joerger said. "If I do that, and stay true and stay humble, I think it's going to work out. Guys get in trouble when they try to do something that they've seen, or be somebody that they're not. Players see through that in two seconds, and all the people that around you, who know you, they see through that, too."
Joerger established his love of the game learning from his father, Joe, a high school girls' coach in Staples, Minn., a town of 2,974 persons about two and a half hours northwest of Minneapolis. During his last season as the point guard at Moorhead State (now Minnesota State Moorhead), Joerger, who still has the single-game record there for assists (15, against Winona State in 1996), started developing a coaching jones.
"Just to be around really great athletes, and the game, the professional game, that's when it hit me -- the spacing, the athleticism, the shorter shot clock, the 48 minutes," he said. "That's when I really got the professional bug. To have an opportunity to be in the game going forward, I would do anything. And I did."
He was one of the most successful coaches in basketball's minor leagues, winning an International Basketball League title with the Dakota Wizards in 2001, then two CBA titles in 2002 (coaching former NBA players Khalid El-Amin and Miles Simon) and 2004 after Dakota moved to that league.
Grizzlies Introduce Joerger
In 2005, he went to Sioux Falls, and promptly won the CBA title there with the Skyforce. The following year he moved back to Dakota, which was now an NBA Development League franchise, and won yet another ring, giving Joerger five championships in seven seasons. And during those years, several of Joerger's players got NBA callups.
Among the ones about whom Joerger is most proud is Oliver Miller, the former NBA star who couldn't keep the weight off and fell out of the league by 1999. By 2003, Miller was in Dakota, with Joerger, on his last legs. But Miller averaged 16.2 points and 8.7 for Dakota for a month under Joerger, and got a callup from the Timberwolves in 2003, getting a final cup of coffee in the NBA.
"For four years he had been out of the NBA, and he couldn't get in, and he'd played everywhere," Joerger said. "To sit him down after the work he had done in the first six weeks of the season, and in training camp, he had really worked on his weight. And the things that were going on in his life at that time, four years removed from the NBA, to sit him down and tell him that the Timberwolves were bringing him up, that one felt really, really good. They all feel great. They each have their own story, but that one was really cool."
The perils of coaching in the minors are well-known. You walk the knife's edge of developing players so that they can attract the NBA's attention, while trying to keep them engaged in the team concept where they are. The problem isn't that players don't play hard. Most play extremely hard, fighting for a few minutes to showcase their skills. But the question is are they helping you win -- the "buy in," as Joerger puts it.
"When you're in minor league baseball ... you hit .700 and you get called up, or whatever," he says. "Basketball doesn't work that way. Everyone has the perception of, 'If I average 27 a game they'll call me up.' If that was the case, that's all it would be. That's not.
"What we did was trying to convince guys, they're not going to call you up and put John [Stockton] and Karl [Malone] on the other side so you can iso. Or Michael [Jordan] and Scottie [Pippen], whoever. So maybe you don't average 25, but you average 19 or 20, and we're the best team. Because you're doing all those other things. And you show what else you can do. Because that's what you're going to be asked to do when you get up there. That buy in helped them individually and it certainly helped our team."
When Joerger coached in Bismarck, there were no pro teams in the state. But there weren't any Division I or D-II programs nearby, either. Fargo was almost three hours away. The Wizards were the only game in town, in the county, and in much of the state.
"The community is a great group of people," Joerger said. "They care about each other, and live with each other. There's no, let's go 45 minutes to this place, or it's a half hour to there. It's really a beautiful thing ... I learned about people. Looking people in the eye, dealing with people straightforward. Those are values if the Midwest anyway, and certainly there. I certainly learned about the value of community and pride in the organization. Memphis is, relative to the rest of the NBA, it's kind of a smaller market. And there's a lot of similarities. That experience has really transferred well to being here for the last six years, and hopefully for going forward for the next six years as well."
Joerger started thinking bigger after he'd won the first three of his titles. But he thought he needed to show prospective NBA teams he could handle the rigors of an 82-game season. So he went back to back, coaching Dakota through its 48-game CBA season in the spring of 2004, then immediately taking a head coaching job in the summer of '04 with the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) River Raiders of the United States Basketball League. That season ran 30 games. It didn't quite add up to 82, but it was close enough.
And Joerger followed that up by coaching the Spurs' summer league team in Vegas, where he impressed -- "he's very serious about the craft," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford says.
"That was tough," Joerger said of the nearly year-long coaching grind. "It was hard. It was hard on our family, really hard. It was quite a year. I learned a lot. You don't pace yourself but you have to manage your time very well. You can't just go sprint it, just start jumping up and down. You're not going to be able to do that for eight months.
"I never thought about being an NBA head coach [before]. I was an assistant coach and general manager at Dakota for three years. And then we won. After we won an IBA championship and the CBA championship, and somewhere in there, after that period of time, you're like, 'Whoa.' You get some confidence, that maybe your career can uptick. You start thinking about that. And that's what kind of helped me to feel like, maybe we can do some things, try to train yourself for that."
His shot came in 2007, when Marc Iavaroni brought him to Memphis.
All along the way, he'd picked up things from coaches, adding to what he already believed about the game. He liked the chemistry of Larry Krystowiak's team in Idaho in 2003, which played Dakota in the CBA title game. He started picking up ideas for NBA defense watching Rick Carlisle and Kevin O'Neill put in their system during the Pacers' training camp in 2005. The rules changes meant you had to think about defenses a different way; you couldn't just come out and contest every pass now, like in the old days.
"I was doing a lot more learning, in terms of the league and the NBA way of doing business day by day," Joerger says. "The meetings, the life, the hotels. Certainly understanding personnel in the NBA, so there was a great deal of learning there. What I had to share was head coaching experience, but understanding and being respectful that, you know, I wasn't going to pass my notes up. We had experienced guys -- [assistant coaches]Tony Davis, Gordon Chiesa, Andy Greer. Those guys had been in the NBA. You kind of know your place."
Joerger survived Iavaroni's firing in 2009, when Hollins retained him on his own staff.
Hollins gave Joerger the operational reins on the defensive side, and as the team's personnel matured and improved -- Tony Allen chief among the improvements, coming from Boston and bringing his lockup perimeter D along -- the Grizzlies thrived. They improved both in the "terrestrial" stats of points allowed and field-goal percentage as well as the advanced stats like points per 100 possessions. In 2009-10, Memphis had a horrible defensive rating of 109.9; by this year, it had dropped to 100.3.
And as the Grizzlies improved, Joerger started showing up on other teams' radars. Hollins had to work to retain Joerger when the Rockets wanted to hire him as an assistant in 2011; Hollins made him his lead assistant coach, with a lead assistant's salary. Joerger interviewed in Portland and Charlotte last year for those teams' head coach vacancies.
Of course, Joerger finally got his chance to run a team, but it came at Hollins' expense.
Hollins could not get a commitment on a new deal from Pera or the new braintrust. Hollins had been extremely close with the Grizzlies' former owner, Michael Heisley. But the new owners had their own ideas, as new owners tend to do. And so, even though Hollins led the Grizzlies further than they'd ever gone before, he never came close to getting a new contract.
It made for an awkward few weeks. Joerger was clearly the favorite to succeed Hollins if Hollins wasn't retained.
"It was very difficult," Joerger said. "He's a good coach, and he's a good friend. I was right there with him the whole time. The whole year was a contract year for him, and for us. That can be difficult. But I was behind him, 100 percent."
Now, though, it is Joerger who will get the attention, and the heat, and the blame if Memphis doesn't stay on its upward trajectory. But he has spent a decade getting prepared for the moment.
He has ideas for improving an offense that was as bad at times last season as the Grizzlies' defense was good.
"Watch San Antonio," he says, laughing.
But it's less the sets than the standards that made an impression.
"First of all, their culture is tremendous," he said. "Everybody arm in arm. They have high standards, high expectations. Those things transcend everything, and the offense within that, and also their defense. They do great things defensively and don't get enough credit for that. The tenets of get the ball up and down the floor, quickly, not just to shoot quickly, but to get into offense quickly. And the ball movement and the flow, transitioning from defense to offense, and doing it much quicker. Moving the ball around. Trusting some guys with the ball. They don't have to break three guys down to make plays, but they need to be able to handle it and deliver and keeping moving it. When that happens, our playmakers are going to have more room when they get the ball back. That's been Mike Conley, and it's helped Zach [Randolph] and Marc [Gasol]. There's not as many guys keying on them in short space areas."
But the Grizzlies can't get too fancy. Their fan base has made it clear that "Grit and Grind" isn't just a slogan to slap on a towel.
"I think that this town, especially, wants to see hard play," Joerger said. "That is what they want. So that's got to remain. We've got to have the element of toughness. I know that's going to happen going forward. We love to play at home. Those three things, no matter how you play, those things remain constant."
There is one unfortunate aspect to Joerger's ascension to the head coach job. He will no longer rock the sporty goatee he used to wear.
"When I got to 39, I started to think, I don't think I need to look older any more," he said. "When I was 26 and coaching, there probably was five or six guys in the locker room older than me. I was trying to look a little older. I don't think I'll be going with that."
There are limits ... even for Prokhorov. From Esti Herzig:
Garnett, Pierce, Terry Traded to Brooklyn
I don't understand what you mean by "The Nets....are putting all their chips in for the next season or two." When Pierce and Garnett inevitably retire in a couple of years from now, won't that open up significant cap space allowing the Nets to pursue big name free agents to replace them? This is a move that improves this team for a long, long time. Thanks for all the great articles, I can't wait to hear your response!
No, it will not, Esti. Consider the salaries the Nets will be paying to four players in 2014-15: Joe Johnson ($23.18 million), Deron Williams ($19.75 million), Brook Lopez ($15.71 million) and forward Mirza Teletovic ($3.36 million). Those four guys, alone, will make $62 million. Now, add the $12 million that, as Yahoo! Sports reported last week, the Nets have guaranteed Garnett for 2014-15, along with Jason Terry's $5.45 million. That's another $17.45 million. That's $79.45 million, well over both the likely cap and luxury tax thresholds. And that's just for six guys. Even if you took Garnett off somehow, and the Nets opted not to re-sign Pierce, Brooklyn still will be committed to, at least, $67.45 million in 2014-15, and that number is only going to go up as the extensions for Johnson, Williams and Lopez reach their peak in 2015-16, when Brooklyn will be paying $62.7 million for the trio's services. The Nets are all in, and will be all in, for the next three years.
Parochial? Guilty as charged. From Dean Masters:
I was reading your piece on the Garnett/Pierce trade this morning and I saw a sentence that upset me.
Something I have believed and seen across the majority of American sports, but most prominently in basketball, is the lack of respect for other sporting leagues around the world. Basketball is incredibly popular in Europe and Asia, and this is being proven by the amount of players from further afield entering the NBA. So I find it incredibly disrespectful when the Heat parade around calling themselves 'World Champions'. The NBA may be the most talented league on the planet, but that doesn't give you or the teams the right to call themselves World Champions, that's a title that needs to be earned, with no disrespect meant for the Heat or any other NBA champs.
So in your article, the phrase "The Celtics' new "Big Three" quickly came together and led Boston to its 16th world championship, defeating the Lakers in six games." is one I find incorrect due to my above statement, they have beaten no teams from around the world to prove themselves as world champs.
In football (or soccer), the English Premier League is the most talent filled and strongest league in the world, but the winners of the league don't call themselves world champions, not even European champions, to earn those rights they have to play, and defeat, teams from around the globe, regardless of ability.
I believe such competitions should be put in place with basketball before a team can call itself world champions, and you never know, a Spanish or Russian team may beat the NBA champs.
You're absolutely right, Dean. I have to be reminded of that from time to time. The NBA champions are just that, and not "world" champions. The world champion, of course, is the team that wins the World Championships, or the Olympics. So the U.S. men's Olympic team that won the Olympics in London last year is the current world champion. I hope we both agree on that.
This fall on ABC: "Grammar Police," starring William Shatner as Lt. Verbiage. From Mike McGovern:
Just some constructive criticism after reading your article. It was tough to read through the first 3 paragraphs you used the word "along" 6 times. Maybe a thesaurus or mix it up, (e.g. "as well as", "with", etc)
Point taken, Mike. Now move ... over there.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and PR tips for Paula Deen to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! In this case, Paula, adding more butter will not help.
(The final edition for this season, with 2012-13 season averages in parenthesis)
1) LeBron James (26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.3 apg, 56.5 FG, 75.3 FT): Finally, a summer off. He will need it. The thing that trips up almost all teams that even get a chance to ThreePeat is injuries to key players. It doesn't take a surgeon to realize that Miami can't survive a long-term absence of the four-time league MVP.
2) Kevin Durant (28.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.6 apg, 51.0 FG, 90.5 FT): Officially signed with Jay-Z last week, then dropped by the Goodman League in D.C. to drop a couple dozen on the locals.
3) Tim Duncan (17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 50.2 FG, 81.7 FT): You look up "stricken" in the dictionary, you should see a picture of Tim Duncan at the podium after Game 7. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and perhaps the best big man of the last 20 years, and he was as crushed after being denied a fifth title as he was elated at winning four.
4) Carmelo Anthony (28.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 44.9 FG, 83.0 FT): Attended Amar'e Stoudemire's wedding Saturday with LaLa.
5) Chris Paul (16.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 9.7 apg, 48.1 FG, 88.5 FT): Wouldn't it just be easier to acknowledge that, yes, as the Clippers' superstar, you have a vested interest in who coaches the team, and that the team's selection of a coach would be a factor in your decision on whether or not to re-sign, and you made your feelings known to management? Who would think that was a bad thing?
12 -- International players taken in the first round of the Draft last Thursday, the most in NBA history. Led by the first overall pick, UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, from Canada, international players dominated the round, with eight of the top 19 picks born outside of the U.S.
3 -- Miami Heat Draft picks, out of 17 overall, since Dwyane Wade was taken fifth in the first round in 2003, that have been in the team's regular rotation for any discernable length of time -- Dorell Wright (first round, 19th overall, 2004), Michael Beasley (first round, second overall, 2008) and Norris Cole (first round, 28th overall, 2011). That does not bode especially well for Long Beach State guard James Ennis, acquired from Atlanta late in the second round by Miami Thursday.
2 -- Israeli players in the NBA, after the Mavericks agreed to terms early Monday, according to ESPN.com, on a three-year minimum deal with point guard Gal Mekel, who played last season for Maccabi Haifa. Cavs forward Omri Casspi was the first player from Israel to stick on an NBA roster.
1) I don't know if Thomas Robinson, now on his third NBA team in a little more than a year, can play. But I know that getting him for absolutely no one who will ever play a minute in the league is a pretty good deal for Portland.
2) Sacramento's been on a roll of late, and having Ben McLemore fall into its lap at seven continued that hot streak. The Kings followed up their good fortune with a solid second-round pick, Detroit guard Ray McCallum, taken 36th overall.
Free Agent Frenzy
3) But the Grizzlies did them one better by getting the steal of the Draft, San Diego State swing Jamaal Franklin, who inexplicably fell all the way to 41 after being on most mock Draft boards in the 20s. That's incredible value.
4) I am not very smart and I admit that, but doesn't Steve Novak do many of the same things that Andrea Bargnani does, but at a much lower cost next season? The Raptors made off pretty nicely there.
5) Decided I wasn't going to sit around Saturday night waiting for agents and teams to return calls about free agents, and went to the latest Star Trek movie. Not bad at all. The guy who played Spock was so good it was like he was channeling Leonard Nimoy.
West Draft Review: Sacramento Kings
1) Six teams passed on McLemore last Thursday. I think at least two of those teams are going to truly regret that in a few years.
2) On TV Thursday, I used the phrase that the Bulls "wrote off" last season, in part, because they didn't re-sign any of their key components from their very strong bench in 2011-12. That was phrased inelegantly. I know how competitive the Bulls are, from owner Jerry Reinsdorf to GM John Paxson to coach Tom Thibodeau on down, and how much effort they put into last season. The point I was making was if Chicago made the decision as a franchise that it would not go into the luxury tax, and risked losing players as a result, so that it could have greater financial flexibility in subsequent years, that was fine and well within the franchise's rights. But it would be hard, I maintain, for Derrick Rose not to see that and feel like the team was doing everything it could to be as competitive as possible last season -- and that he could take that into account when deciding when or if he should return to the lineup.
3) If there's a Draft and you don't have a single pick in it, does it make a sound up in Canada?
4) Has one city ever had a worse sports week than Boston just went through? On Sunday, Doc Rivers was "traded" to the Clippers, and proceeded to get into a Twitter/broadcast/radio/you-name-it media tiff with ESPN's Bill Simmons. On Monday came the third period, Game Six meltdown against the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals, resulting in the series loss on home ice. And then ... Aaron Hernandez. Good God.
5) Speaking of Hernandez, that makes 27 NFL players arrested since the Super Bowl in February. Or, a little more than half of a standard 53-man team. Imagine what would happen if seven NBA players -- a little more than half of a 12-man team -- had been arrested in the same time frame. Oh, the stories about an "out of control" league. Editors would break their backs looking for synonyms for "thug." There is no joy, no schadenfreude in seeing any group of young men get into trouble with the law. This is more about the public's (and, the media's) reaction, and its collective willingness to seemingly forgive the NFL almost any sin, as long as the games keep coming.
He stood Saturday afternoon alongside a Brazilian center with an Afro two feet high, and a quiet kid from Minnesota who'd terrorized my beloved American University Eagles for four years in the Patriot League. But Bebe Nogueira, the 7-foot-1 Brazilian with the two-foot Afro, and Mike Muscala, the 6-foot-10 Minnesotan who went to Bucknell and was a two-time Patriot League Player of the Year (and who'd battled those four years with Lehigh's C.J. McCollum, taken 10th overall by Portland), have been on NBA scouts' radar for a couple of years.
Prospect Profile: Dennis Schroeder
By contrast, Dennis Schroeder, the German point guard who joined them Saturday as they were introduced as Atlanta Hawks Draft picks, has been on a comet. A year ago, he was playing eight minutes a game for the New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig in Germany's Bundesliga, the country's top basketball league. But over the last 12 months Schroeder, whose late father was German and whose mother is Gambian, exploded onto the scene, both in his native country and worldwide.
The Hawks, who took him with the 17th pick overall last Thursday, had been watching him play with increasing confidence over the past eight months, as he led the Phantoms in scoring and shot 40 percent from 3-point range. And when he was invited to the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland in April and more than held his own, he went from possible second-round pick to a solid first-rounder. The Hawks were not one of the teams that seemed to need a point guard, with Jeff Teague completing his second full season as the incumbent. But that's how compelling a talent the 19-year-old Schroeder has become in a short period of time. Hardly a finished product at 155 pounds or so, he has a lot of work to do, but he draws comparisons with Rajon Rondo for a reason.
Me: What have the last 48 hours been like?
Dennis Schroeder: I was on the flight for, like, nine hours. And I sleep six hours of that. But it was a long flight.
Me: What are your plans for the next couple of months?
DS: Try to work on my body, try to get stronger, try to get some shots up with the coach, and try to work on everything -- pick and roll, defense. And try to get better.
Me: Will you play for the German national team in the FIBA Eurobasket in September, the qualifying tournament for the World Championships in 2014?
DS: This year, my coach calls me every day, and says I want you to play for the senior team. I have to look, because it's tough to play summer league, then [go] to Germany for the national team, then come back to the NBA. I think that's kind of hard. But I have to decide it with my agent. We'll see.
Me: When did you start to think the NBA was a realistic possibility for you?
DS: I think since my dad passed, it was two years ago. I was 16 years old. And I promised him that I wanted to play in the NBA one day. And after that, I worked hard on my game and tried to get better, to try to improve, to make it.
Me: You have a lot of subtlety in your game for someone so young. When you were learning the position, who were some of your teachers?
DS: I think Liviu Colin [the Phantoms' assistant coach], from Braunschweig. He found me in the park skateboarding, and I started playing basketball because he invited me to play in the Under-14 club in Braunschweig. And he teach me every day. He was in the gym. He teach me the shot; he teach me how to play pick and roll. If he was not in my situation and helped me every time, I [would] not [be] here, where I'm at now.
Me: Had you played any organized ball before then?
DS: No. I play every time, street ball, in the park. I played with my big brother. And then my coach, from the second league, he came to ask me to play, to come to practice.
Me: How old is your older brother?
DS: He's 24.
Me: Did you get some hard lessons from him?
DS: Oh, yes. [Laughs] He tried to teach me every time, when I'd do something wrong. And when I'd do something right, he'd tell me every time.
Me: When you got to the Bundesliga, you started playing against men. What was that adjustment like for you?
DS: Every man, they came out of college, and tried to play in Germany. And that's a hard league. I think they're strong. I was not that strong, but I tried to get strong every day, tried to work at it, with weights. And tried to be in the gym. But I think that was the biggest adjustment.
Me: I'm always curious how people pick up English as a second language so quickly.
DS: In Germany, you have to do it in the school. I do it since the fourth grade, to start English a little bit. And then I've played two years professionally now, and everybody speak English. And the coach was from Greece, so he speaks English as well.
Me: Who gave you a hard time on the court in the Bundesliga?
DS: I think a very good player is Tyrese Rice [the former Boston College player who now plays for Bayern Munich], and [former Wright State player] Deshaun Wood [now with ALBA Berlin], too. I played him two years ago. That was hard. But this year, I can hold him in front of me and play very good against him. Tyrese Rice, too. I think those two are the biggest.
Me: And now you make this jump. Are the challenges the same?
DS: I think it's different challenges. This is the best league in the world. Everybody can play. Everybody's strong. I think there's superstars. I try to be there when I step on the court. That's my mentality. I think that's a change, for sure.
Me: I just wondered because, especially in international competitions, many countries in the basketball world have just about caught up with the United States. I didn't know if the NBA was still thought of as the premier league.
DS: Yep. I think everybody's athletic in the league. And in Germany and Europe, it's like, stronger. Not athletic. So they've got both [in the NBA]. That's kind of hard to defend, too.
Me: Many fashion you after Rondo. I wonder if you agree with that, or if you're thinking, 'I don't want to be like Rondo; I want to be like me, Dennis.'
DS: Everybody compares me to Rondo. I think that everybody says that, it's a good feeling for me, too. He's a very good player, three times All-Star. And, yeah, he's a very, very good player. I try to improve on myself, that I get [compared with] a good player like him, too. I work on my shot last summer, and I think my shot is a little better ... I tried to do the technique right with my second league coach [Kostas Flevarakis]. He teach me everything. He tell me, 'You need a better shot,' and I do it, because I trust him and I tried to get better. And he know what you have to do. So I trust him. We'd go every day in the gym and tried to work on it.
Me: Who did you look up to?
DS: I think Rondo, and Chris Paul. That's the best point guards, I think, in the league and in the world. Now, when I play in the NBA, I don't have a favorite player anymore. But they're very good players.
Me: Was it hard to play in Germany this year, knowing that your chances of coming to the NBA were increasing?
DS: I think I played in the Hoop Summit games. It was a great week for me. I was very happy, it helped me a lot. So after that, it was kind of hard. But I finished the season strong, and now I have to focus on the NBA.
Me: I know football [soccer] will always be the number one sport in Germany, but has basketball made bigger strides in recent years there because of Dirk Nowitzki's career and success here?
DS: I think the last two years, it came a little bit up. I think now because a German player has made the NBA now for the Draft, it's come a little bit up, too. Everybody looks up in Germany. Little kids who are playing basketball look up. Because I want to help the German League, too, and try to do some camps. I think it's become popular, too.
Me: Have you met Dirk?
DS: Yeah, for sure. I talked to him on the phone every time. I met him in Dallas for the workout and talked to him then, too. He's cool. He's a very nice guy.
Thank you both for everything #5 & #34
-- Celtics forward Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen), Friday, 11:58 a.m., honoring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce after they were dealt to the Nets in a housecleaning trade (see above) on Draft Day.
"Three is special to me. I understand there are not a lot of players in that caliber, of winning three championships. I wanted to be in there. I wanted it for the legacy that I'm building. I'm not trying to do this for someone else. Selfishly, I want to win this one for me."
-- Dwyane Wade, to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, on what his third championship since 2006 with the Heat means to him.
"I want to ask them to give Cody an opportunity to show he's a very good player. To give the Bobcats a chance to help him be a great player. We're very excited."
-- Charlotte General Manager Rod Higgins, to the Charlotte Observer, after fans booed the selection of Cody Zeller with the fourth pick overall in last week's Draft.
"There's no question there were safer picks but nothing with this kind of upside, nothing close to this. That's the key component of what we have here. How are we going to get our next all-star? I don't want to put that on this kid's shoulder, but I think he has that skill set to become that, if it all falls together for him."
-- Milwaukee General Manager John Hammond, to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, on why he went for 18-year-old Greek forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the first round last week instead of addressing potential holes in the backcourt if Monta Ellis (unrestricted free agent) and/or Brandon Jennings (restricted free agent) leave.
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