Posted Oct 21, 2013 10:17 AM
He has gone from Maine to Boston, Melbourne to San Antonio, each stop shaping him, preparing him for this moment, in Philadelphia ... where he'll likely lose 60 games and be hammered, nightly, by some media know-it-all for leaving the NBA's most stable organization in the league for a pipe dream.
Brett Brown chose to leap.
He has left the cocoon of the Spurs after 13 years for his shot at running the 76ers, a startup if you will. It is a team taking it down to the studs under new general manager Sam Hinkie, with a mandate from ownership to use any and all means to build something that lasts. Hinkie traded his one, young, All-Star -- guard Jrue Holiday -- for an even younger prospect -- big man Nerlens Noel -- and the promise of two high lottery picks next year.
And he picked Brown -- who'd been a very successful coach in Australia before coming to San Antonio as the Spurs' development coach and, later, an assistant coach -- to run the show. But only after Brown insisted on getting a four-year deal instead of the usual two or three.
"I needed to feel good and secure that the ownership group was committed and had a plan, and Sam was going to the be the architect of that plan, capable of delivering that plan," Brown said. "When he combines his obvious analytic background with some human things, you can make decisions about personnel. I believed in his vision. When you talked to the ownership group and you heard the level of patience that they're committed to, that they have traded away Holiday, that they're looking to build something big in this city."
But let us return to that most slippery of NBA concepts, the mandate. It's usually good for about one and a half seasons of butt kickings before the talk turns to a need to "shake up the organization" and that "we owe it to the fans to start winning games," which is OwnerSpeak for "I can't sell season tickets and corporate sponsorships for a 20-62 team."
For now, though, everyone's on the same page. Hinkie and Brown have a blank canvas, free to build the 76ers in any direction. They have no bloated contracts, no obvious stars, no anything, really. Their collective vision will determine what happens in Philly, a city not known for sports patience.
The relationship between the coach and GM is crucial on any team. It is especially important when the team has little else on which it can depend. Hinkie is counting on Brown's seemingly limitless willingness to work, and how he gets players to go all-out -- R.C. Buford, the Spurs' GM, calls Brown the "Relationship King" -- as they work their butts off for him.
"He has a workmanlike approach that's infectious," Hinkie said of Brown. "Regardless of what happens in today's practice, or what happened in yesterday's game, to show up to work the next day and get to work all over again. And he's also really inquisitive. He has strong beliefs about the way the game should be played, but he's also curious about the way that other coaches have chosen to play things. He takes an open-minded look at an out of bounds play from a FIBA game the night before. Or paying attention to a low level Division III game that happened to be on TV the night before."
Curiosity is paramount for Hinkie, delivered from Houston and its analytics-dominant philosophy. And Hinkie is a disciple. He knows that the very word "analytics" causes some to freeze up ("say the words 'skinny jeans,' and I have a negative reaction," Hinkie said on the Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast recently), but he believes advanced stats are but one tool in building a team.
Brown values analytics as well, but among his other core beliefs is going above and beyond with fitness. Working in Australia, he believed Australian Rules Football players to be the best-conditioned athletes in the world. Down Under, he began studying intently how players recover from exertion, and who was more susceptible to injury, based on how they recovered physically after being pushed to their limits. He became a believer in "prehab," strengthening the core, hips and shoulders to avoid injuries before they occurred.
"In my later years in Australia, you started listening to the strength and conditioning coaches," he said. "You always listened and picked their minds: 'Why do you do this? Why does it help with recovery?' Australia was very cutting edge. It was indigenous to Australia."
But Brown had first been exposed to a fanatical belief in fitness 20 years earlier, when he was a two-year captain at Boston University for Rick Pitino. At the time, Pitino was 26, in his first coaching job.
"All of the stories [about Pitino] are true," Brown says.
During the season, Pitino had the Terriers do two-a-day practices. They would do drills with bricks in their hands. They would run the Charles River. They would shovel a lane at the BU track when it snowed so if Pitino threw them out of practice, they could still do their slides. In the summer, Brown was Pitino's demonstrator as the young coach did clinics throughout New England.
"It was inevitable to me even then that he was going to be a great coach," Brown said. "We would do really intense practices. We would practice at all hours of the day ... he brought you to a level physically that you didn't think you could get to, or through. You were broken down and brought back up."
But Brown already had a base, growing up in Maine, observing -- and then playing for -- his father, Bob, a New England Basketball Hall of Fame coach at South Portland and Cheveru high schools. Bob Brown won four state titles and 476 games in 32 years. At South Portland, Brett Brown was the starting point guard in 1979, when he and his father's team went 29-0 and won the Class A state title.
"For whatever reason, we were always in seaside communities, lobster ports," Brett Brown said. "That really is Maine. It really is a very isolated state, and it's a very close state. Maine people tend to take to Maine people. And there's another layer when you dig into fishing communities. He coached fisherman's sons, lobstermen's sons. There was a blue-collar mentality with blue-collar people. There was a toughness to his programs. There was a human side to it that brought people together. And there was discipline."
Bob Brown didn't cut his son any slack. Brett had an 11 o'clock, non-negotiable curfew. Brett also had a girlfriend who lived just down the street. And her family had this newfangled thing called cable television.
"I would be with her and curfew would be at 11, and I would leave her house at about 10:58 and 30 seconds," Brown says. "I would come bursting in the door. And it would infuriate him. He would suspend me in a heartbeat. I was thrown out of practice often. We had the kind of dinner table where you could actually say, 'Well, I don't agree with that. I think that's wrong.' I think we would have ruined many family dinners.'"
Brown learned about the world after college. After graduating in 1983, he worked as a grad assistant at BU for a year under John Kuester, who had replaced Pitino as coach. Brown then left coaching to work for AT&T in sales. He was good at it. And after Ma Bell was broken up in 1982, the communications industry exploded.
"I had made money and invested it and decided I wanted to travel," Brown said. "I didn't want to be a part of the corporate world, so I decided to travel. I was single and 25."
A friend of his from college had married and moved to Australia. He invited Brown to come down and visit for a while. He toured Australia and New Zealand. And then, he met a local girl while exploring the Great Barrier Reef. He decided to hang around a little longer. The local girl ultimately became his wife, and Brown started looking for coaching jobs.
After starting with a pro team in Auckland, New Zealand, Brown moved to Melbourne, on the southeast tip of Australia, where he began an apprenticeship under Lindsay Gaze, an Australian playing and coaching legend, who played in three Olympic Games and coached the Australian national team in four Games.
Brown started as a volunteer coach under Gaze (whose son, Andrew, played on Seton Hall's 1989 NCAA finalist team before returning home for a long pro career), who loved the European draw-and-kick style of offense. After working his way up to assistant under Gaze, Brown got a coaching job in North Melbourne in 1993, and led the Tigers to a National Basketball League title in 1994 -- where Brown's team beat an Adelaide squad coached by Mike Dunlap, the just-fired Charlotte Bobcats coach. In 1996, Brown was an assistant on Australia's Olympic team.
By 1998, though, Brown's Melbourne team was going broke. There were three pro teams in the city, and corporate dollars were stretched too thin. Brown's team was searching in vain for a naming rights sponsor.
Brown had met Buford at a coaching clinic a couple of years earlier.
"I had two young daughters at that stage and I saw an opportunity to better myself," Brown said. "I reached out to R.C. Buford, and asked if you would take me in as a guest. I'll sit in the corner and learn from you and learn from Pop. He said, let me check with Pop."
Brown moved to San Antonio during the lockout season of 1998-99, but the Spurs didn't have a job to offer. He stayed anyway as a volunteer. After a year-plus there, he went back to Australia to coach in Sydney for two years. By 2002, there was an actual job waiting for him in San Antonio, as the team's player development coach.
"When I first came into the Spurs as the Director of Player Development, I think there were probably five of me in the NBA," Brown said. "... Pop said to me, 'Good luck to you; figure it out.' And I loved it. He was very empowering. He really had confidence that you could go in there and figure it out, and he gave you the freedom to do the job the way you thought it needed to be done. He just tried to give some structure to it, that there really was a pre-practice routine to the program."
Brown worked primarily with Manu Ginobili, Steve Kerr and Bruce Bowen, and did a little work later with Tony Parker. He was tireless.
"He didn't have any silver spoons or anything like that," Bowen said. "His dad was hard on him. Rick Pitino was hard on him. And he understands the value of hard work. In '03, that was his first year back here. And we would get together at midnight. His thing was, if you wanted to work, that's all he wanted. Some coaches would be like, if you called, they'd be like, 'All right, I'll get somebody down there with you.' With him, he came all the time. That Phoenix [playoff] series, it was just me and him. We'd go from midnight to 1:30, 2 in the morning."
Brown became a full-time assistant coach for the Spurs in 2006. And he became part of the Spurs Mafia, challenged by Popovich and Buford to argue for the things and players he believed in during meetings. Whether it's the third video assistant or the GM, Popovich has a saying: "Put your big boy pants on."
Hinkie expects the same atmosphere in Philly.
"He believes, and I believe too, in open dialogue, and challenge each other, and call BS when you see it, and talk things out," Hinkie said. "I think that's the kind of environment he's come from, and I believe in that as well."
After Popovich's long-time top assistant, Mike Budenholzer, left for the Hawks' coaching job last summer, Brown could have stuck around San Antonio. He likely would have become Popovich's No. 1 guy -- and, after that, who knows? Popovich has made it clear he's not planning to be a lifer and be carried off the bench.
But Brown, after conferring with three coaches -- Popovich, Jeff Van Gundy and Bob Brown -- took a real hard look when the 76ers called. He heard what he needed to hear from majority owner Josh Harris and Hinkie.
"I felt like they genuinely understood that this is a long process," Brown said. "You could see daylight in two years when they get their own practice facility. I came to San Antonio, and we did not have our own practice facility. I experienced, where do I park; I have to get through the students. You can't park; you have to take an elevator up to the lobby; you have to get through the students. It's hard to establish that culture when you don't have that privacy.
"Then you have that practice facility. And the players know that they'll have that privacy to shoot, and to eat, and maybe bring their children, and maybe bump into the general manger. Our owners in Philadelphia understood that, that it's going to take a few years. And then there's daylight when we move into a beautiful, modern, state of the art facility. Those types of stories were what made me believe they were in it for the long haul."
But the Sixers have to be in it for the long haul with Brown, too. Philly drafted Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams in the first round to replace Holiday, and is counting on seeing Noel, who tore his ACL at Kentucky last winter, at some point this season. They took a flier on Royce White, who couldn't reach an understanding with the Rockets last season on how and when he'd be able to play, and have high hopes for Turkish big man Furkan Aldemir, who came with White from Houston in July for future considerations.
But Philly is going to lose, and lose, and lose this season. Such is the penalty for going all in on Andrew Bynum last year, trading Andre Iguodala to Denver and promising youngsters Nik Vucevic and Maurice Harkless to Orlando as part of the three-team deal. Bynum never played a minute in Philly; he's in Cleveland. And the Sixers were left holding the bag.
Harris cleaned house, going for the full rebuild. Hence Brown's insistence on those four years.
"There's a lot in his background that made him really prepared for this," Hinkie said. "His early days in player development, and his international experience, and the way their teams have played recently, which he has been an integral part of. I had a chance to meet him a couple of years ago ... the more we talked, and he'll tell you we spent many, many hours talking, going through things, it became apparent he was the guy for the job."
A successful season for Hinkie will be one where the focus is on the team's young players, where the 76ers and their new Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, begin synthesizing their philosophy and development of the players that will be going back and forth all year between Philly and Newark, Del.
"I hope we're able to begin the shift in culture, where our players say to be a Sixer and to play for the Sixers is an everyday, serious, hardworking approach," Hinkie said. "That doesn't guarantee you anything. But it gives you a chance to maximize your chance of being successful, both here and around the league. I hope that people will continue to see, and players will continue to see, us as a place where they can get better at their game, and maybe be a place where they can showcase that."
Philly will also be the place where Brett Brown will showcase a lifetime's worth of lessons learned about the game, about himself, about all the people that made this moment possible. It is a city that can tolerate losing if there is genuine effort; that can live with rebuilding if the paying customers get their money's worth.
"It reminds me of Boston," Brown said. "It's a tough, no-nonsense city. And I love that. Because you can just tell it like it is. They know we're going to experience hardship. Nobody's sugar-coating anything. And even though they know we're going to go through it, the pain of losing is real. How do people react in January when you've lost a lot of games in a row, or a big loss? Those things remain to be seen. The city has tremendous pride. The city wants winners. The city wants all of that. And I think my responsibility is to produce a team that plays hard. That they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. They can see where we're trying to go."
1) Miami: Dwyane Wade looks like he's dropped 10 pounds. Ray Allen looks like he's dropped 20 pounds. I hate them equally. Strange.
3) Indiana: Danny Granger getting back into the swing of things slowly.
4) L.A. Clippers: Shots fired: Doc Rivers orders that the Lakers' championship banners be covered up at Staples Center during Clippers games, with Clippers' posters going up instead.
5) Memphis: Grizz have an interesting battle going on for backup point guard behind Mike Conley, with Nick Calathes and Jamaal Franklin trying to take minutes from Jerryd Bayless.
6) Golden State: What to pay Andrew Bogut on a contract extension (our SHC was first on this last week)? If you think he outplayed Denver's JaVale McGee (four years, $44 million) in the playoffs last spring, then a deal starting at $12 million per would seem to make sense. But how can you give Bogut a lot of years, given his injury history?
8) Brooklyn: First observation after seeing the Nets in person: They are a very, very long team. They should lead the league in contested shots.
9) New York: Iman Shumpert, tragically, does away with the Kid-n-Play 'do.
10) Houston: Omer Asik (calf) finally got on the court Sunday against the Mavericks, starting alongside Dwight Howard at power forward.
11) Chicago: Thirty-two points in thirty-one minutes Friday for Derrick Rose against the Pacers.
12) Denver: Just seems like Andre Miller isn't a fit for the Nuggets anymore with Nate Robinson there. Just seems like the Raptors could use a solid backup to Kyle Lowry. Just seems like Masai Ujiri, the former Nuggets' GM, is now Toronto's GM, and has a couple of expiring contracts and an athletic big in Amir Johnson who'd be great in the thin air of Denver. Just sayin'.
13) Atlanta: Two good guys, Royal Ivey and Shelvin Mack, vying for third and final point guard spot behind Jeff Teague and rookie Dennis Schroeder.
14) L.A. Lakers: Kobe changes his Twitter avatar to "1225," which could mean anything, of course. Could it mean the date that the Kobester expects to get back on the court -- Christmas Day, against Miami? Or could it mean he's a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas, born in the year 1225?
15) Dallas: Mark Cuban cleared of insider trading charges by a federal jury last week. The Securities and Exchange Commission had claimed that Cuban took advantage of knowing a Canadian engine search company was about to make a stock offering in 2004 when he sold his stock in the company for $7.9 million, avoiding a $750,000 loss.
Can Greg Oden make a real impact in Miami this season?
The early returns are, as ever with Oden, a little scary.
Oden had been cleared for limited five-on-five work last week, and took part in one such practice session on Monday. But his left knee swelled slightly, and he was held out of Miami's practices the next two days as a precaution.
We all know that any issues with either of Oden's knees immediately ratchet the anxiety level to DEFCON 1. Oden is in Miami because of the three microfracture surgeries he's already had on his knees since being the No. 1 overall pick in 2007, and the fractured left patella, and the additional arthroscopic surgeries. You look up "star-crossed" in the dictionary, you should see Oden's sad face.
But the Heat's optimism for Oden, who picked Miami last summer to resume his career -- he hasn't played a regular-season game since December, 2009 -- remains.
The Heat don't need Oden to win a championship, and there is no pressure on him to deliver one. Oden is in Miami's Big Man Resurrection Program, following in the footsteps of Eddy Curry and Chris Andersen, who went months before they ever saw any real action. (Curry never really saw any; Andersen made his debut late last season and was a key factor in the Heat's playoff success.)
Even though the Chuckster thinks Oden is the most important guy on the team this season, he isn't. Miami will wait all season for Oden to be ready. If he can provide low-post defense and rebounding, all the better when the Heat play the likes of Indiana or Chicago in the playoffs. If not, it only will cost Miami the veteran's minimum.
"He's making progress," LeBron James said last week. "I got the opportunity to be at the facility in August, when he first came down to Miami and started to work out. They didn't even allow him to be on the court past 15 minutes. And now he's been able at this point to do some five-on-five contact drills with us. So he's making progress."
Oden is staying optimistic, continuing daily workouts to strengthen his lower body.
"I don't really take a day off," Oden told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week. "For me, it's maintenance to this knee and maintenance to my body, because some days I'm not able to do the up-and-down stuff that they are able to do. I've got to be in the weight room, riding the bike, lifting and doing all the things I can."
But Oden has always been diligent about his rehab. He killed himself while in Portland, working month after month, year after year, both in Oregon and back in Ohio. The question is what will happen when -- if -- he gets back on the court.
"The main thing for them, and for him, is to be patient," James said. "I know, as a basketball player, if you're out three years, you feel like, man, I just want to get out here. I feel good. But I think our training staff, they're going to do a great job, Spo's going to do a great job of letting him know, 'Hey, this is a long season.' There's no need to rush anything. And the best thing about it is, he doesn't have to feel like he's Greg Oden, No. 1 pick in Portland. He's a guy that's going to help us. He's going to come in, and we just need him to do what he can do -- rebound, block shots, score occasionally. But there's no pressure for him. So hopefully that can ease his mind."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says there will be no problem finding minutes for Oden when and if he returns. Each of the last three seasons, Miami has had significant injuries to frontcourt players going to the playoffs.
"It's not about where the minutes will come," Spoelstra said last week. "The question is, when those minutes come, will you be ready to help us? That's the question for everybody on our roster, outside of the players that are going to play 30-plus minutes."
Oden has maintained an upbeat attitude since coming to Miami, something that has been understandably hard for him over the years. Even during the times when Oden played in Portland, he was hard to get to know. He kept to himself, and teammates often told him he had to lighten up and not be morose.
That won't last long in Miami's locker room. Spoelstra is fond of saying that there can't be any "shrinking violets" in the Heat locker room; with so many alpha males in the place, you will be tested. But if the Birdman can fit in without a problem, Oden should be fine.
"One thing about our team is, we make sure everyone stays engaged," Dwyane Wade said. "Whether that's the way we talk to each other, we just keep everybody engaged. And I think people appreciate that. Nobody on this team acts bigger or better than any other person. Oden is a guy who's quiet by nature. So it's our job to let him know, slowly, that it's OK to open up a little bit. Look at us; we're open books."
You are not supposed to root, of course, in my line of work. But it is hard not to root for Greg Oden, who didn't choose to be 7-feet tall and didn't choose to have his knees betray him. He has had to deal with the Portland Curse of Big Men, and Not Being Kevin Durant -- a one-two punch from which many would not recover.
But Oden is still here, still working, still hopeful that there's a career out there for him.
"Coming here, where the expectations aren't as big ... he can just work as way into things," Wade said. "Even though people are always going to watch him, because he's a No. 1 pick, the expectations wouldn't be like it would be if he was still in Portland, where he was expected to be the No. 1 pick. He don't have to be that here."
Competing is his Achilles' heel. From Sammy Hajomar:
Should Kobe step back for a second and actually realize that if he prolongs his time rehabbing it is more beneficial for him long term? I say this because we have seen what happened to Chauncey Billups and how he came back, but still has issues with his Achilles. Us Laker fans don't want to see Kobe in the state that Chauncey was in. So, why doesn't Kobe give his Achilles more time and actually come back as strong as he was last year? There is no reason why he has to rush this because -- and this coming from a Laker fan -- we all know that the chances of the Lakers actually making it to The Finals this season are extremely slim. I would say take another month off and around December come back at 100 percent. If he rushes his come back he may suffer the consequences of this injury staying with him throughout the end of his career and may potentially cause him to retire earlier than he expects. We all know that Kobe would do anything to get that 6th championship, so why put yourself at risk in exchange for an extremely low chance at making The Finals with a very competitive Western Conference?
'Cause he's Kobe. What more do you need to know, Sammy? There's no way he would ever do anything but come back as soon as humanly possible -- not before he's ready, but when he's healthy enough to play. Doesn't matter to him what the odds are; dude is gonna ball all out.
What was I thinking, ranking a team that reached the second round of the playoffs last season ahead of one that lost in the first round? East coast Bias! From Rueben Tamez:
Longtime fan here. What makes you think the Knicks are better than the Rockets? The Knicks looked absolutely awful in the playoffs and really sputtered at the end of the year. Their roster is full of a bunch of chuckers. Houston whopped them twice last year, and obviously added Dwight and they have a MUCH more balanced team. IMO Houston is worlds better than New York. They are lucky they play in the East or they would be on par with a Dallas/Portland in the West ... battling it out for the 8th seed!
The Knicks may well be lucky to be in the East, Rueben. But they're there, and they did win the Atlantic last season, and they are, in my view, a better team right now -- right now, when we've played exactly zero real games. A week into the regular season, the Rockets may well be, clearly, better than New York. We'll all find out together.
Not until the Commish learns exactly what's in vegemite. From Tom Say:
G'day from Australia! Every year the NBA broadens it's horizons, from exhibition games in Brazil to aid work in Africa. I'm hoping sometime in the near future this will stretch to some form of contact with Australia. The NBA has many events in Asia to expand its global brand and Oz is just a stones throw away. Down under we don't have cable television like the USA. It is possible to acquire, but is expensive and more of a luxury than a necessity. Even when purchased the coverage of the NBA is average at best. Although we don't have many players in the league (Bogut, Patty Mills and a brief appearance of Andrew Gaze in '99) there is a large fan base here and a passionate one at that. Basketball was hugely popular here in the 90's and an exhibition game or 2 would do wonders to bring it back into the public's eye. We had the NBA Jam Session here in the 90's and I was fortunate enough to meet Hersey Hawkins: this is what peaked my interest in basketball. I think it would be a very beneficial endeavor for both the NBA and the fans here that love the game. Fingers crossed all the way from Oz!
This is where great minds, as ever, think alike. Seems that Asch was wondering the same thing, Tom, and asked that very question to the league over the weekend, and got this response from NBA Asia's senior VP. (You have to scroll down toward the bottom to see the Australia info.) Doesn't sound like anything's imminent, but I can't imagine it's going to be much longer before there are preseason games, at least, Down Under.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and unwanted tickets for what should be a heck of a World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it! (Sox in seven. Just a hunch.)
5 -- Members of the 2010 Draft to receive contract extensions after the Jazz and forward Derrick Favors came to terms on a four-year deal worth a reported $49 million on Friday. Favors joins John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and Larry Sanders as 2010 players who have received extensions; members of that class have until Oct. 31 to receive new deals, or they will become restricted free agents next summer.
$50 -- Cost per item of Kevin Garnett's old suits, sweaters and other clothing that he left in his suburban Boston home after he was traded to Brooklyn in the summer, according to the Boston Herald. The clothes were bought by a sports memorabilia shop owner in nearby Saugus, Mass., from the company that Garnett had hired to clean out his house before it was put on the real estate market last week.
$26,000,000 -- Operating income produced in the first year of the Nets' Barclays Center in Brooklyn -- about a third of what the building was expected to produce in the first year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Documents obtained by the Journal indicate the parent company of the building's arena operating company projected Barclays would produce $76 million last year. The shortfall was attributed to marketing, customer service and fees to secure top acts.
1) I suspect I'll have a lot more to say and write about Allen Iverson's retirement when he makes it official next week. For now, it is enough to say and write that it has been time for AI to hang 'em up for a while. You don't want to be the old man at the club and you don't want to look desperate for someone, anyone to sign you when you have had the impact on the game that Iverson had.
2) Yes, it's preseason. It means nothing. But the Pelicans have to be pleased with winning six straight exhibitions -- and, more importantly, doing it mostly without Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans on the floor.
3) Looks like Roger Mason, Jr. will earn a spot on the Heat. They like his ability to play two spots, and he can be their emergency point guard in a pinch.
4) Run -- don't walk -- and buy "League of Denial," the incredible book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru detailing the NFL's years-long campaign to try and disprove a causal link between playing football and developing debilitating brain damage, despite numerous scientific studies which seemed to prove just that. That ESPN, which is basically the television arm of the NFL, allowed two of its best reporters to go after its partner in such a detailed and comprehensive way is a tribute to the network. For the Wadas to make their hypothesis clear from page one: football does cause brain damage, it is the reason players such as the late Dave Duerson and Junior Seau and Andre Waters killed themselves, and the science is unmistakably clear on this. That they do it while also writing an incredibly lucid narrative on the relationships between "the Dissenters," as they label the physicians who gradually come together (and, ultimately, break apart) against the league, is a tribute to their reporting and writing chops -- both of which are sensational.
5) Everybody cries during "Legendary Nights --the Tale of Ward-Gotti," which premiered on HBO over the weekend. You will, too. Rarely has boxing been humanized as it is in the story of Micky Ward, the late Arturo Gotti, their three incredible fights and their even more improbable friendship.
1) Let's go over this one more time. Carmelo Anthony -- like Chris Paul and Deron Williams before him -- will make more money if he opts out of his existing contract and becomes a free agent next summer. I'm sure he wants to be wined and dined by the Lakers and anyone else, but I'll be stunned if he doesn't re-sign with his current team, just as Paul and Williams did.
2) This is when it would be a good time for Dwight to stop talking.
3) Don't like hearing that Joakim Noah is being "shut down" this early in the season. Make that the preseason.
4) Changing starting times to accommodate more international fans' viewing habits is not my idea of being proactive and responsive. Call me a xenophobe, call me unfeeling, but what would the reaction be if a player were injured in a game with, say, a midnight starting time in the States so that fans in China could see the game at a more comfortable hour?
5) I don't have an answer for the myriad problems facing so many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). But what is happening at Grambling University -- the conditions that led to the football team's boycott of Saturday's homecoming game against Jackson State, not the boycott itself -- are profoundly troubling.
6) RIP, Bum Phillips. One of the most colorful NFL coaches in recent years, who had one of the all-time great quotes about his coaching contemporary, Don Shula: "He can take his'n and beat your'n, or he can take your'n and beat his'n."
It was one of the first clips they showed at the NBA coaches' meetings in Chicago last month, just to welcome the newcomer into the fold. There, on the screen, was Jason Kidd, playing for the Mavs in 2010, against the Atlanta Hawks, ever-so-(un)accidentally bumping into the Hawks' then-coach, Mike Woodson, who had taken a step out onto the court to yell instructions to his team.
Kidd, sensing the Mavs needed to regroup and score without the clock moving, saw Woodson stride a little too far out of the coach's box, and, instinctually, got a little too close to him on the sideline, sticking his left elbow out to draw contact. Dirk Nowitzki had no idea what Kidd was doing.
"Dirk," Kidd said, "they have to call something. And they did, hitting Woodson with a technical. The Mavs went on to win the game in overtime. It was one of the smartest ad-libs a player has ever pulled -- and right in line for Kidd, one of the all-time great point guards, a maestro on the fast break, a lockdown defender -- and, late in his career, a willing and able 3-point shooter.
Kidd finished his playing career second on the NBA's all-time assists and steals list behind John Stockton, and will join Stockton in five years in the Hall of Fame. In the interim, the 40-year-old Kidd decided to while away his time in a new endeavor -- joining Woodson as an NBA head coach, in the same city. While Woodson pilots the Knicks, Kidd, with no previous coaching experience at any level, convinced the Brooklyn Nets that he was the man to pilot their team of great expectations and historic payroll.
Bringing Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston to team with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez makes Brooklyn a legit contender. Kidd's job is to make it all work for the Nets, just as he did as a player when the Nets were in New Jersey, when he led the team to its only two NBA Finals appearances.
Me: Now that you're doing this, name two or three former coaches of yours that you're going to apologize to, immediately.
Jason Kidd: Well, I already apologized to [Danny] Ainge. I saw him the other night. Dick Motta would be another. I saw Rick Carlisle this summer, so I would apologize to him, too, for being stubborn.
Me: How did you explain this career change to your wife?
JK: Well, I think it's kind of funny. We talked about it. She thought it was a great idea. But I think the first two weeks of work, she was like, 'these are long days.' But it's been a great transformation from player to coach. And it's also been fun for my family. Now when she comes to the game with the kids, she says, I'm not looking for you on the court; I'm looking at you on the bench. And we're having fun with that.
Me: Every great player who becomes a coach says the same thing: the loss of control drives them crazy. Because you're used to having the game in your hands. So, what do you do with that angst?
JK: Well, I think I give my guys the trust, that I trust them. From day one, that's the biggest thing we talked about. I can't, I can call timeout, but I can't defend or make shots any more. So I trust in you guys to be able to do that, to execute the game plan. But the biggest thing is, trust me. If there's a run, I don't have to always call a timeout. I trust that you guys will be able to get a stop, and get a score at the other end. Because this isn't a young team. This is a team that's been tested, individually -- the guys from Boston, and the guys that have been here. So what we have to do is combine that. We have to trust each other, but also communicate. And those are the things we've worked on.
Me: That 'no timeouts to stop a run' strategy is a Phil Jackson thing.
JK: It's something that I've seen, not just from Phil, but from Pop [Gregg Popovich]. Being able to, when your guys trust you, they'll go the extra mile, do the extra things -- come early, stay late, watch video. Look around the league, you see Pop, you see Phil. They've had a lot of success with that, so why not try to copy it?
Me: When you spoke with Pop and the other coaches, did you think they related to you immediately as a coach, or did you still sense a player-coach vibe from them?
JK: No, I think all the coaches I ran into this summer have all been great, from Doc [Rivers], to Pat Riley, listening to them talk about their story, when they got started. 'Cause it sounded very familiar to mine. I was listening to them and also asking them questions after the fact -- what worked? What didn't work? And the answer that came back was, be yourself. Trust that you know basketball, but also trust your gut. And always be honest and just communicate, and you'll be fine.
Me: What have you found that you can't do anymore, simply because there's no longer any time?
JK: Nap. [Laughs.] As a player, you do shootaround, you have plenty of time to take a nap, have lunch. As a coach, after shootaround, it's more film, more talking to your staff about what you're trying to accomplish. So naps have kind of gotten pushed away.
Me: You're taking the Larry Bird, CEO approach as a head coach, it seems.
JK: Yeah. You know, I have a great staff around me. Lawrence Frank, [John] Welch, Joe Prunty, Roy Rogers. Guys that have been coaching and understand what it takes to coach. But the understanding to be able to draw up a play with five seconds [left]. I understand that I haven't gotten there yet. But I continue to practice with the board. But these guys have done it. So for me, it's to go in, talk to the guys, tell them what I see, what they've done right and wrong, and if there's an offensive play that I can call that they already know, then go with it. But I've always asked, 'do we need to draw it up?' So L Frank or Welch are there to draw up the play if they need to see it.
Me: But I'm sure you have some favorite ATO plays that you could draw up.
JK: Yeah, there's some plays that I'm comfortable drawing. But in the preseason, this is all about being able to give new things to guys, and see how they execute. We can always go, during the season, to my favorite go-tos. But this is also for us to get better. The train's moving, so I've got to be able to feed guys new stuff and see how they accept it on the fly. Can they execute what we draw up, or can they execute what we talked about? Those are things that, as a player, yes, you can do it. But as a coach, it's out of your hands. Did you communicate it to them right, or did you leave something out? And so those are the things that I'm going through.
Me: How will you critique yourself as a coach?
JK: You know, I think trusting myself, being able to take the information and being able to deliver it. That's the one thing that I'll always give myself a grade on at the end of the night. There's a lot of information being thrown my way; how did I process it, and did I deliver it to the guys?
Me: Given your history here as a player, what sense of responsibility do you feel toward this franchise?
JK: It's a huge responsibility, now being the head coach. It's a lot different as a player. For me, as a player, it was just the guys out on the court. As a coach, it's the guys on the court, and on the bench. It's my coaching staff. So there's a lot more that comes from being a head coach.
Me: All the great point guards anticipated the next move on the court. I know you did. So how do you 'anticipate' it will go when you have to jump KG for missing an assignment?
JK: Well, I think that goes back to what we talked about -- trust. And respect. At our opening dinner for training camp, I told the guys, look, I want everyone in this room to be successful. I'm not here to not play you. I'm not here to hold you back from being successful. But you have to trust me. Everyone in this room, you have to start with respect for one another. That's the biggest thing. So, for me, if KG misses an assignment, he wants to be called on it. He wants to be driven. The best players in this league, they want to be driven. They want to be coached. And that's what separates them from just being average. That's what takes them to a whole new level.
Me: Who did that best for you?
JK: Oh, Rick Carlisle was great. You talk about pushing the envelope. We always talk about, players always want freedom -- until you give them freedom. How do they handle it? And structure. That was something that was big. When we had the success in Dallas, it was a matter of, every player wants freedom, but how do you handle it?
Me: What lessons did you take from that championship with the Mavericks?
JK: Well, I think, just family. Having that family environment. We spent a lot of time together, going to dinners. But also, our basketball IQ. We weren't the fastest team. We weren't the most athletic team. But we played together. Win or lose, we trusted, when we took the court, it wasn't just going to be one guy that was going to win the game. It might be Dirk [Nowitzki] who makes the winning shot, or helps us win, but it was going to be a team effort. And that's what made that team special.
Me: And so, are there similarities to your team here?
JK: Very. We're not very fast. We're not very athletic. But our basketball IQ is very high. We all understand how to play. We're playing for letters, in the sense of wins and losses, not for money. It's about championships. Everybody wants to say you have a window. Well, our window is now. And we all understand that in that locker room.
Me: Have you spent any real time with Mikhail Prokhorov yet?
JK: Just at the press conference. We spent a little time together. You talk about an owner who wants to win, he's definitely shown that by putting this team together.
Me: Is that at all odd to you, that you still haven't really gotten to know the guy who hired you?
JK: I know he's watching. (Laughs) I think the way it's run, it's not just Michael, but also Dmitry [Razumov, Prokhorov's right-hand man and daily liason to the team], who is here, and Irina [Pavlova, the president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment Holding USA, the Nets' parent company]. That's the way their business is set up, but there's always Michael. He's always watching. And he'll give a call every once in a while to see how things are going.
Me: If you had to now coach a 21-year-old Jason Kidd, how would you coach him?
JK: How would I coach him? I would first have to listen to him. And I think right after he got done saying something I would say you don't know it all. And just be patient. Just accept the challenge of going tagainst the best basketball players in the world, and if you listen, you might have a chance.
Me: Have you ever sat down and tried to calculate how much money you made assorted teammates over the years?
JK: I haven't. I always hear that. But I've always believed that they've also helped me. It's a partnership. They helped me get [my] jersey going up, and also winning a championship, and also making money. I've helped them, but they've also helped me.
Me: As you look at your team this year, what do you see?
JK: A bunch of guys who know how to play, that are hungry to win. Everyone might talk about their age, but the core of the team, they're young. You have a point guard who's under 30. Our center is, I think he's 25 years old, and he's prepared to be one of the best in the league. So I look at a team that's very talented. And very hungry, and very excited about this opportunity to try and win.
Me: What does Deron need to do better?
JK: Just be himself. Just be himself. Everybody talks about being unselfish. He's already unselfish. Or, does he need to shoot more? He could average 20 points a game if he wants. I think Deron just needs to, we need to raise the bar for him as a staff, but also as teammates. But he just has to be himself, and I think we'll be all right.
Me: Would you have been interested in the job if they hadn't brought KG and Pierce here?
JK: No, I was interested before that, before the trade. I was prepared to go with the team, if I got the job, the team that they had. It would be exciting having a young point guard that hopefully I could help. But not just him. Understanding that it's going to take more than just one guy to win. And if you have that mentality, you're going to win a lot more games than you'll lose.
Me: What have you had to chance in terms of how you live your life now?
JK: Well, I think for me, I have the family, two little kids at home. To spend, I come home, a lot of times, I leave before they wake up, and when I get home, they're going to sleep. So days off, or when I do get time off, you try to spend as much time with the family as you can.
Me: What did you tell them about the DWI?
JK: Family wise? Just that you make mistakes, no matter what it may be. Ticket-wise, or accidents, they do happen. And when things happen, you have to be responsible. And two, learn from it, but never run from it. That's something I've always done. When you make a mistake, learn from it, and hopefully somebody else can learn from it, too.
Me: What did you learn from it?
JK: Well, to understand that you can't do it all. You're not Superman. You're not invincible. If you make a bad decision, things can happen. There's probably a time where people feel like they can get home. But it just takes one. And it took one, and I've learned my lesson, from that one accident.
Me: You have this unique perspective about New York, having played for the Knicks last year and, now, coaching in Brooklyn. Do you buy into the rivalry?
JK: It's a new rivalry. Because both teams are now on the other side of the river. And it's big. You have two teams fighting for a championship. And it's still in its infant stage, but it's high, and it's great for the city...you see a lot of Brooklyn stuff [in the streets]. It's a hot brand. It's a hot team. And there's a lot of excitement about Brooklyn itself. It's good. You still see your Knicks stuff, your orange and blue, but I kind of compare it to Nike and Under Armour. You have the gorilla that's been around for so long, and you have this upcoming brand that's coming. That's kind of how I've talked to people about it, and it's exciting.
Me: Is there any part of you that wants to unretire, just for a day, so you can get on the court, make one basket, and get that 0 for 17 end taste out of your mouth?
JK: No. You know, I'd rather keep that. I came into the league as a non-scorer, and I left as a non-scorer. So we'll keep that intact.
Bout to pick up the cow
-- Lakers center Robert Sacre (@Bobby_Sacre), Sunday, 5:27 p.m.
A return TOTW for Sacre -- who, you may recall, is the tri-owner, along with Chris Kaman and the Lakers' strength and conditioning coach, Tim DiFrancesco, of a cow. The threesome bought the cow at DiFrancesco's urging; the coach is a big advocate of eating grass-fed beef.
"It's funny how each of them talks about what the American people want. The leaders from one side, they talk and say 'The American People want ...' How the hell do these people know what they want? They live in a fishbowl. And then the other side says the same thing. It's kind of comical, if it wasn't so dramatically devastating for so many people."
-- Gregg Popovich, on the just-ended government shutdown.
"I think that's comical."
-- Michael Jordan, responding to a challenge from Grizzlies owner Robert Pera to play him one-on-one for $1 million, to be donated to the winner's favorite charity. Jordan said it would be a "no-win situation" for him to play Pera, but I suspect he didn't mean that there was a chance he could lose. 'Cause, he couldn't.
"Before boarding my flight from Seattle to Boston, I had accidentally left a legal firearm in my bag. I apologize and truly regret the mistake. I was issued a citation by the TSA, whose agents couldn't have been more thorough and professional when dealing with this. I really appreciate their efforts to keep air travel safe."
-- Hall of Famer Bill Russell, in a statement issued Saturday after he was arrested by the Transportation Security Administration at Seattle-Tacoma Airport when TSA officials discovered Russell had not checked his .38 pistol when he checked in for a flight Wednesday. He was charged with having a weapon in a prohibited area and faces likely fines.
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