Kevin McHale's ouster proves that even successful, playoff-tested coaches can be cut quickly if the team can't meet expectations
POSTED: Nov 23, 2015 12:40 PM ET
GameTime: Harden's Role In Firing
How did James Harden's leadership (or lack thereof) play into Houston's decision?
In This Week's Morning Tip:
No one can be surprised any more that NBA teams fire winning coaches. It's become as much a staple of the league as Quick Change performing at halftime.
And so Kevin McHale was fired last week, his Rockets at 4-7 and reeling, his trip to the Western Conference finals in June no shield, his .598 win percentage in four seasons in Houston no balm. The Rockets' horrible start -- three straight 20-point losses to open the season, two bad losses to Denver, and back-to-back home smokings by Dallas and Boston -- was too much, leaving assistant J.B. Bickerstaff in charge for the rest of the season.
There is recent precedent, of course, with the Lakers firing Mike Brown just five games into 2012 -- and getting deep into talks with Phil Jackson before going for Mike D'Antoni. (Older heads may remember the Seattle SuperSonics firing Bob Hopkins 22 games into the 1977-78 season and re-hiring Lenny Wilkens, who'd been a player-coach for Seattle from 1969-72. Wilkens led the Sonics to The Finals in '78, and after losing to Washington in seven games, Seattle won the NBA title with Wilkens the following season.)
"It's not just 4-7. It's not just that we've been losing. It's how we're losing. We're losing by 10, 20 points to teams have to beat at home in the Western Conference. We don't have time to wait.
– Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, on why Kevin McHale was fired
That doesn't mean cashiering McHale went down well.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said it was "preposterous" that the Rockets fired his former Boston Celtics teammate.
McHale's wife, Lynn, took to Twitter and, as you would expect, took some shots at a lot of Rocket-affiliated people before someone deleted her account.
But it confirms, yet again, how precarious just about every non-Gregg Popovich/Carlisle coach is in this league.
Never have coaches been so vulnerable to one bad season, one bad series, one bad start.
"It's not just 4-7," Morey told me Wednesday on the phone, after the team made the announcement. "It's not just that we've been losing. It's how we're losing. We're losing by 10, 20 points to teams have to beat at home in the Western Conference. We don't have time to wait. The defense just isn't there."
Knicks vs. Rockets
Kristaps Porzingis leads with 24 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks, Carmelo Anthony adds 14 as the Knicks win it 107-102.
Who could really be surprised by McHale's denoument in today's NBA, where George Karl gets fired less than two months after he accepts his Coach of the Year Award in Denver, Mark Jackson gets fired in Golden State after leading the Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in two decades and when Lionel Hollins, the most successful coach in Memphis Grizzlies history, is sent packing after the most successful season in franchise history?
It does not matter that the players failed McHale, not the other way around.
(It is fair to point out here that I like McHale very much, and truly enjoyed working with him at NBA TV. If he wants, he could be as good as anyone doing games, or in the studio. Selfishly, I'd love to work with him again.)
Pressure bursts pipes, and the Rockets, like every other contending team, is under incredible heat to break through. You can't blame this on an inexperienced hedge fund owner who wants immediate improvement next quarter. Owner Les Alexander is one of the most respected and patient owners in the league and he has two championship rings.
We know James Harden's a great player. James hasn't played up to his standards. I can't point to it. I know he'll turn it around."
– Rockets GM Daryl Morey
But his last ring came in 1995.
Now, he has a star center in Dwight Howard with a recent history of debilitating injuries, and a superstar in James Harden that has been less than Curryesque so far this season. The Warriors are running away with the West, and the Rockets have the same record as the Sacramento Kings.
Is McHale the best X-and-O coach walking the planet? Clearly, no. But in an age where everyone must think the same (corner 3-pointers! No long twos! Ice the pick and roll!) or be thought stupid and deficient by the new guardians of the game, someone has to say there's another way to be a good coach in this league. And McHale was a good coach.
He wasn't a pace-and-space, let-the-threes-fly guy. I would not expect one of the greatest post-up players in the history of the game to think that way. But he worked for a GM that believed in that stuff, so he changed, and the Rockets led the NBA in 3-pointers taken and made the last couple of seasons.
Morey says that everyone owns the Rockets' slow start, even though only one guy got fired.
"We believe in this team," Morey said. "We know they can win at a high level. They stopped responding to Kevin. In the Western Conference, there isn't any time. It's not all on Kevin McHale. We all have to look in the mirror. I have to do better. But it's the players that have to lead us out of this."
I asked Morey what he needs to do better.
"Except for Dwight Howard, there really isn't anybody on the roster playing well, and those are all my decisions," Morey said. "I can't hide from that."
That's not completely true. Second-year center Clint Capela has played well at times. So has Terrence Jones -- though he's missed five games with a cut above his eye. But that's about it. Individually and collectively, the Rockets have been a disaster so far this season, after starting the season expecting to be a championship contender.
Rockets vs. Grizzlies
Marc Gasol scores his first career triple-double scoring 16 points, dishing out 11 assists and grabbing 11 rebounds along with to power Memphis over Houston.
Trevor Ariza, signed in 2014 to be the perimeter stopper he's been much of his career, currently has a defensive rating of 107, the second-worst of his decade-long career. His PER of 10.7 is the worst of his career. And he's shooting 32 percent on 3-pointers. Patrick Beverley, whom Houston gave a four-year, $25 million deal this summer, has missed seven games with a concussion and a sprained ankle.
Howard, who missed almost all of training camp and the preseason while dealing with more back problems, is again averaging a double double. But, he's being held out of back-to-back games. Donatas Motiejunas hasn't played at all after offseason back surgery.
And Morey traded for Ty Lawson, bringing the point guard from Denver despite his recent spate of DUI arrests. It's still early in the season, but Lawson is shooting 32 percent overall and 25 percent on 3-pointers, with an assist-to-turnover ratio that's under two.
Bringing in Lawson was supposed to help ease Harden's workload this season and get him off the ball. But he's on the ball more than ever.
Except for Dwight Howard, there really isn't anybody on the roster playing well, and those are all my decisions. I can't hide from that.
– Rockets GM Daryl Morey
Per NBA.com/Stats, Harden leads the league in isolations by a huge amount -- he has 118 such possessions, far more than second-place Carmelo Anthony (90). Of course, Harden was isolated last season, when he finished second to Stephen Curry in Kia MVP voting. But Harden was playing at an MVP level last season. He is not so far this season.
He's averaging 27.9 points, but shooting just 38 percent overall and 27 percent on 3-pointers. Last season, Harden's PER of 26.7 was fifth-best in the league; his current PER is 23.2. NBA.com/Stats shows Harden's defensive rating has risen from 101.9 last season to 107.9 this season. It would be grossly unfair to single out Harden or anyone else for blame for Houston's defensive dropoff; Howard's absence from camp and the preseason certainly has had just as big or bigger an impact. But no one's defense has been good, including Harden's.
A veteran scout who's seen the Rockets multiple times already this season characterized Harden's defense as "very indifferent," and that Harden's offense hasn't been near good enough to make up for it.
While the scout didn't have first-hand knowledge about the Rockets players' happiness or unhappiness with Harden, he said Harden "only passes when he has to -- I would not like playing with him or Dwight unless I was a Steve Novak or someone who just stood in the corner and got open threes."
The dropoff is noticeable.
Trail Blazers vs. Rockets
James Harden scores 45 points, including all nine for Houston in overtime, and the Rockets beat the Trail Blazers 108-103 after firing Kevin McHale earlier in the day.
"We know James Harden's a great player. James hasn't played up to his standards," Morey said Wednesday. "I can't point to it. I know he'll turn it around."
Harden, like his team, has played better for Bickerstaff than he did for McHale, averaging 30.3 points in his first three games for Bickerstaff, along with seven rebounds and nearly nine assists. But he's still just shot 41 percent from the floor -- though he did shoot 33 free throws.
But why is this happening? This is where it gets problematic.
Now, I have learned over the years that no one -- no one -- outside a relationship between two people should speak about the health of that relationship. Nobody knows how my wife and I truly feel about one another, where and anyone who says they do is lying. So I don't know what's going on between Harden and Khloe Kardashian, who've been a couple since the summer, even though she's still married to Lamar Odom, and was at Odom's side after his overdose in October. Who knows? She may be the best part of Harden's life right now.
It's just as possible that Harden's putting pressure on himself to live up to the $200 million contract he got from adidas in the summer as anything else. Who knows? But as long as he's playing poorly, the speculation runs in all directions.
"One reason people love playing for the Rockets is we worry about what's on the floor," Morey said. "I don't talk to him about his personal life. (But) I don't think that's a factor at all."
Meanwhile, it's a great opportunity for Bickerstaff, the son of former coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff. J.B. Bickerstaff is extremely well-regarded around the league -- he's interviewed for vacancies in Detroit, Milwaukee and Phoenix in the past few years. He's familiar with and more than okay following the tenets of the Rockets' thinking on analytics.
"We've been at the leading edge of that and J.B.'s been a big part of that," Morey said. "There's some different mixing and matching that he wants to do. I don't think there's a particular X or O. We measure everything, but this isn't about measuring things. This is about who's the best leader ... right now, I think J.B.'s the right call. I thought Kevin was the right call four years ago, and I'll stand by that call."
Can Bickerstaff fix the defense? He'd better.
"We are going to change things until we win," Morey said. "Since our owner took over we have the fifth-most wins in the league. We win here. And we're going to keep doing things until we win."
(previous rank in brackets; last week's record in parenthesis)
1) Golden State  (4-0): Love that the Warriors didn't shy away from going for the record for consecutive wins to start a season; they embraced the challenge, like great teams do.
Warriors vs. Nuggets
Klay Thompson leads with 21 points, 7 assists and Stephen Curry adds 19 as the Warriors win it 118-105.
2) San Antonio  (3-1): Danny Green entered the season shooting 42.1 percent for his career on three-pointers. After going 1 of 7 Saturday against Memphis, he's currently shooting 29.5 percent (18 of 61) behind the arc.
3) Cleveland  (2-1): Cavs need Timofey Mozgov, out two more weeks, to get healthy if they are to achieve their long-range goals.
4) Atlanta  (2-1): Hawks are still very good on offense, but not quite as efficient yet as they were last season, which is understandable.
5) Oklahoma City  (2-2): Thunder are 3-3 since Kevin Durant went out with a hamstring injury Nov. 10.
Mavericks vs. Thunder
Russell Westbrook leads with 31 points, 11 assists and Serge Ibaka adds 16 as the Thunder win it 117-114.
6) Dallas  (3-1): Who is that guy ... he looks familiar ... playing really well ... but I don't recognize him because he's smiling and happy ... why, that's Deron Williams!
7) Chicago  (2-1): Who has the team-crush on the Bulls in the league office? A weekend off in the Bay Area after Friday's game, with no game until Tuesday in Portland?
8) Toronto  (2-2): 2014 first-round pick Bruno Caboclo, now two years away from being three years away, gets his feet wet with Toronto's NBA D-League team, Raptors 905.
9) L.A. Clippers  (0-3): There is too much season left to panic, but six losses in the last eight -- the last loss Sunday, after falling behind by 29 at home to the Raptors -- better get everyone's attention.
10) Miami  (2-1): In a thousand years, when men (or whoever's replaced us) look upon the ruins of the early 21st century, Grzxylb will turn to Q8TG3, his Combat-o-panion-bot, and say: "Justise Winslow went 10th in the Draft? Really?"
Sixers vs. Heat
Dwyane Wade scores 27 points as the Heat defeat the Sixers 96-91 at home.
11) Phoenix  (2-2): Brandon Knight having himself a November to remember.
13) Utah [NR] (1-1): If you're looking for a tandem that might challenge Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph as the best one-two inside punch in the league, you could do way worse than Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
14) Memphis  (2-1): Mario Chalmers -- five games, 14.4 points per game, seven of 15 from three, 33 of 35 from the line -- has been a pretty decent pickup so far.
15) Washington [NR] (2-0): Looks like Martell Webster's time with the Wizards is done. The veteran swingman will miss all of this season without playing a game after undergoing hip surgery Friday, and he's almost certain to have the last year of his contract bought out next summer.
Dropped out: Denver , Boston 
Golden State (4-0): I tended to pooh-pooh those who've already said the Warriors could threaten the Bulls' 72-10 season, despite their undefeated, history-making start. But if they're okay with going after the best start record, why not think big? As long as they stay healthy, they seem head and shoulders above the rest of the league.
Milwaukee (0-3): Lost to Washington by 29, Cleveland by 15 (during which Khris Middleton was serenaded off the court after fouling out) and Indiana by 37. Gave up an average of 117.7 points in the three losses. The ups and downs of being a young team in this league.
How long can this go on in Philly?
Howard Perkiss is still smoldering.
I met Perkiss exactly a year ago, when the 76ers were 0-8 and desperate to win their first game of the season. He was one of 17 longtime season ticket holders who were meeting with the team's CEO, Scott O'Neil, as part of the team's attempt to continue explaining what GM Sam Hinkie calls "the process" -- the seemingly never-ending rebuild that the team was committed to seeing through.
Perkiss was angry that night, wondering why Sixers fans like him continued to pay comparable prices with fans in other cities when Philly was putting such a terrible product on the court. "We're paying what everybody is paying," Perkiss told O'Neil, "and we're watching three players out of 15 that would make [other] NBA teams."
Worst of the Week: Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers are 0-12 and seemingly worse than last year. They earned the dishonor this week.
O'Neil tried his best to calm the anger in the room, but the team didn't help his argument, losing that night, losing its first 17 games in a row and finishing 18-64 -- the second year in a row they won fewer than 20 games. The Sixers wound up with the third pick in the Draft, taking Duke's Jahlil Okafor.
But the confidence the Sixers had in training camp for a much better campaign has evaporated, with 14 straight losses to start the season going into tonight's game with the Timberwolves (8 ET, NBA League Pass). The Sixers have now lost 24 straight games, including the 10 in a row to end last season. They're 37-141 since Hinkie took over as GM in 2012.
And Perkiss, who's had his tickets for 15 years -- his stepfather had them for 50, he says -- sees no payoff.
"My opinion is the NBA and 76ers represent a giant pyramid scheme," Perkiss said in an e-mail. "We're just flat out getting robbed. We keep getting sold on (the) future only for the team to keep delaying the process. The quality of product keeps getting worse. (The) NBA, 76ers, they could care less. Why do I say that? 'Cause the value of team keeps going up. We're the only losers -- season-ticket holders. Not the fans 'cause they don't pay. Just us, we're the fools. And, the second they get better prices will be raised."
Hinkie has methodically stripped the 76ers of their best NBA players and traded them for an assortment of mostly young guys. When he was hired, his new boss, owner Josh Harris, told him to rebuild the Sixers and to do it the right way.
Harris told Hinkie he would give him the resources and the freedom to do things right, and that if things got ugly at the beginning -- you know, as in going 18-64 last season -- he would stand by him.
TJ McConnell throws the lob to Nerlens Noel for the jam, then steals the ball and hits the triple to end the first quarter.
Plenty of basketball people -- that is, the traditional basketball people -- are skeptical that a bunch of kids with engineering degrees, kids who spend their spare time writing algorithms, know a thing about constructing a basketball team.
Hinkie believes otherwise. He believes the Rockets and Warriors and a bunch of other teams have proven that there's a whole new way of evaluating players and constructing rosters and game plans and all the rest.
But you've heard this story by now.
Except, you haven't.
The preceding four paragraphs, other than changing some names and leagues, are a direct lift from a story written in 2013 about the Houston Astros.
From 2011-13, the Astros were as bad in Major League Baseball as the 76ers have recently been in basketball. During that stretch, Houston went 56-106, 55-107 and 51-111.
Here's are the actual paragraphs, from the actual 2013 spring training story -- that is, before the 51-111 season -- detailing the plans of Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow by my friend Richard Justice of MLB.com:
Luhnow has methodically stripped the Astros of their best Major League players and traded them for an assortment of mostly young guys. When he was hired, his new boss, owner Jim Crane, told him to rebuild the Astros and to do it the right way.
Crane told Luhnow he would give him the resources and the freedom to do things right, and that if things got ugly at the beginning -- you know, as in going 55-107 last season -- he would stand by him.
Plenty of baseball people -- that is, the traditional baseball people -- are skeptical that a bunch of kids with engineering degrees, kids who spend their spare time writing algorithms, know a thing about constructing a baseball team.
Luhnow believes otherwise. He believes the A's and Rays and a bunch of other teams have proven that there's a whole new way of evaluating players and constructing rosters and game plans and all the rest.
And the rest, as the old people like me say, is history.
Covington Finds Grant
Robert Covington gets the pass from TJ McConnell and swings it to Jerami Grant for the dunk.
The Astros did indeed go 51-111 in 2013. They were horrible. Two years later, after years of restocking their farm system with exceptional talent -- some of which panned out, some of which didn't -- the Astros won 86 games in 2015, earned a playoff berth and beat the Yankees in New York in the Wild Card game before losing the Division Series to Toronto. Pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a first-round pick in 2009, was the runaway winner of the AL Cy Young Award. Shortstop Carlos Correa, taken first overall in the 2012 MLB draft, was 2015's AL Rookie of the Year.
All that, of course, is no guarantee that things will flip as quickly for the Sixers. Center Joel Embiid is out for the rest of this season, and even if he does make his NBA debut next season, he'll be two years removed from his last on-court competition -- as a college freshman -- and coming off of two surgeries.
My opinion is the NBA and 76ers represent a giant pyramid scheme. We're just flat out getting robbed. We keep getting sold on (the) future only for the team to keep delaying the process.
– Longtime Philadelphia 76ers season-ticket holder Howard Perkiss
Dario Saric could come over from Eurpoe next year, but as has been written before, it would make more sense financially for him to wait one more season and report to Philly in 2017. By doing so, he'd be three years removed from his Draft date, and thus would no longer be limited to his rookie contract. The Bulls' Nikola Mirotic did this and was able to get a mid-level deal from Chicago instead of having to play on his rookie deal with the Bulls, who acquired the rights to him on Draft night in 2011.
Embiid, who had his second foot operation in August after suffering a setback in his rehab, comes out of the boot he's been in soon. The 76ers consulted physicians from around the country and the world, including specialists from Australia, the Netherlands and Qatar, before Embiid's second surgery.
There are no guarantees that this operation will work -- everyone thought the first one would do the trick -- but Embiid at least is staying on top of his conditioning, after numerous stories came out during the summer about his being out of shape.
"He just seems like (there's) a new level of maturity, a new level of seriousness in him," a source said. "The gravity of the situation is on him; it's on everyone."
But whether or not Saric comes over, or Embiid hits the ground running next season, if you're expecting the Sixers to change anything, you don't know Hinkie. (You're not alone. He doesn't do a lot of talking in public.)
The process continues, unabated.
For the Sixers, the most important thing this season is the same as it's been the previous two -- measuring the production of the team's best players, to see where they're progressing (or regressing). So, while Coach Brett Brown continues to preach being in great shape and players are measured daily in all manner of metrics, the big work is figuring out what they have in Okafor and third-year big man Nerlens Noel, while hoping to find another Robert Covington, the swingman who has become a solid 3-point specialist.
Inside Stuff: Jahlil Okafor
Dennis Scott sits down with Sixers Rookie Jahlil Okafor to talk about his adjustment to the NBA and his desire to be Rookie of the Year.
Okafor is averaging 17.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. The advanced numbers are not so hot: he has an offensive rating of 90 and a defensive rating of 108. Brown is trying to figure out if Noel and Okafor work together -- Noel can guard fours in space better, but that limits his blocked shots, which may be his calling card on defense. Okafor's pick-and-roll defense has been picked apart, but the Sixers are having their fives play under a little in that coverage this season and stay closer to the rim. And, per NBA.com's team stats, Philly is better this season defending shots between the rim and five feet from the basket, and between 5 and 9 feet.
The Sixers' braintrust has a saying: this is not for the faint of heart. But the Sixers continue to believe they're closer than almost everyone believes they are to turning things around. They don't think they're in a different boat than the Los Angeles Lakers were after losing Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, or where the Orlando Magic were after trading Howard to the Lakers, or where the Washington Wizards were after Gilbert Arenas' injuries and suspension.
Local TV ratings, according to a source, are up this season. But, they couldn't be much lower than they were last season, when Philly averaged just 23,000 viewers per game for its game broadcasts -- barely enough to fill the 76ers' arena. The Sixers are next to last in the league in average attendance, according to ESPN.com, averaging 14,240 per game through seven home games. That's a little higher than last season's 30th-ranked average of 13,940.
But the Sixers can't just count on the diehards. They will have to grow their fan base, add players that casual fans know and like, and will come out of pocket to watch in person or on TV.
Yes, this is when we talk about the 2016 Draft.
Extra Stuff: Okafor
Jahlil Okafor talks about his longtime friendship Jabari Parker.
To recap: the Sixers have their own first-round pick. As part of the trade that brought Nik Stauskas to Philly last summer (the Kings wanted cap room to go after free agents), the 76ers can swap first-rounders with the Kings in 2016 if Sacramento has a worse record this season (and, thus, a higher Draft pick). If they don't, Philly keeps its own pick -- which, right now, would have the best chance of being first in the Lottery.
The Sixers have the Lakers' first-rounder next year, a last vestige of the Michael Carter-Williams deal. The protection has shrunk from top five last year (which the Lakers cashed in on, finishing with the fourth-worst record in the league) to top three this year. So if L.A. isn't a bottom-three team this year, the pick goes to Philly.
The 76ers have Miami's first-rounder last year. They would have gotten it last year if the Heat hadn't won the last game of the season, but they'll get it now if the Heat isn't in the bottom (top) 10 of the league -- not likely, given Miami's again-solid team this season.
And, the 76ers have Oklahoma City's first-round pick -- though it's Lottery protected. (Philly can also, as part of the deal that sent Jason Thompson to the Warriors, get Golden State's pick if either the Heat or Thunder finish with a better record than the Warriors -- unlikely, but possible).
Jahlil Okafor misses on the desperation shot at the buzzer but Nerlens Noel follows with a high-flying slam.
Now, it's likely the Sixers won't have or use all four firsts. For the sake of argument, say they only wind up with their own (or Sacramento's) first-rounder, and the Lakers' first-rounder. If -- if -- Saric decides he wants to start his NBA clock as soon as possible (and get to his second NBA contract as soon as possible) and comes over, and Embiid is finally ready next season, and the 76ers add two high first-rounders to that mix, they could open next season with as many as seven Lottery picks on the roster -- Embiid, Saric, the two '16 firsts, Okafor, Noel and Stauskas.
Is that worth three years of utter agony?
Perkiss renewed his tickets because he thought he'd see Embiid this season. He figures he's spent $30,000 the last three years with his partner on their tickets. "I hate myself for not dumping my seats three years ago," he wrote. "The only thing the 76ers have done for season-ticket holders is they guaranteed not to raise rates next year ... gee, thanks.
"It's my own fault for keeping my seats," he concluded.
Brown, meanwhile, continues to cold-call hardcore fans like Perkiss, and meets with fans on home game days, to try and assuage their concerns. They certainly can't be easy conversations, and occasionally, the relentless optimism that's a part of Brown's natural self waxes and wanes. But he comes back ready to teach the next day.
That's earned Brown a lot of respect throughout the organization. He remains committed to the long-term vision, even as the Ls pile up on his record. After all this, he might as well stick around in case the Sixers do turn the corner.
Brown was a strong assistant in San Antonio, but he wanted the chance to be part of something else that was special, where he was front and center. It can descend into cliché: the career assistant who wants his own shop, then plays his vets big minutes in order to steal some wins and make his record better. Well, first of all, Brown doesn't have any vets, save Carl Landry, who hasn't played yet this season. Second, there's no sign that Hinkie or Harris are dissuaded by the bad start.
A year ago, during the 0-17 start, Brown, according to a source, wondered if he was in trouble. Being in San Antonio all those years, he knew that the Thunder had fired P.J. Carlesimo (who became a Spurs assistant) 13 games into the 2008-09 season, when OKC was 1-12. It would have been understandable if Philly had had enough.
Hinkie told Brown that he was safe, that the Sixers were committed to the process, that he was a big part of that. We're trying to do something right here, Hinkie told his coach, and make the good days stack up. The path is hard. It doesn't mean it's any less right.
And, the Eagles and Phillies stink. In Philly, that leaves the Sixers first, and worst, among equals. It's a start.
He never learned to Boogie. From Edward Diener:
As a Celtics fan I would not want DeMarcus Cousins on the team. Although he is a talented player his volatility does not make him coachable. Why you think he would be more coachable under Brad Stevens than George Karl I do not understand. I am just fine with the way that the Celtics are developing now. They absolutely need to keep their good young players and not look for any quick fixes to ruin their synergy. I don't believe in me-first superstars and the Celtic way of winning in the past has never been about such players.
I'm sure a lot of Boston fans agree with you, Edward. But I disagree with your characteristic of Cousins as "me-first." He is many things, but he's not a selfish basketball player. His issues are trust issues, not basketball issues. And he's shown that if you earn his trust, as ex-coach Mike Malone did, that he's coachable. I think Stevens, with his demeanor and people skills, would be able to do the same. And, in my trade proposal, the Celtics would only give up one young player -- Kelly Olynyk -- along with James Young, who isn't in the rotation at present. (Though some have suggested that Sacramento would never consider a deal like mine without Boston including Marcus Smart. Maybe they're right.)
Nightly Notable: DeMarcus Cousins
Highlights from DeMarcus Cousins as he scores 29 points and grabs 12 rebounds in the Kings win.
This is why I never like sequels. From Matt Medina:
I just wanted to let you know that Curry would not be the first back to back MVP since Steve Nash. That honor belongs to LeBron James. He's done it twice since Nash. Maybe you meant first guard since Steve Nash?
Yes, you and about a dozen other people who wrote in are correct; LBJ has actually gone back-to-back twice (2008-09/'09-10, and '11-12/'12-13) since Nash did likewise ('04-05/'05-06). Thanks for the correction. (By the way, don't say "Nash MVP" too loud around Shaq; makes him queasy.)
All basketball is local. From Vince Porcher:
I won't bore you with my rants because I can talk hoops 24-7-365! In your article (24 things...) you wrote that perhaps the NBA will reduce the number of preseason games... if so, why couldn't they have those preseason games during the first 15 days of October and start the season October 15th and end the season on April 15th? Thus, the teams will have 182 days to play 82 games... and, I believe if the schedule can be changed, the dreaded back-to-back games and four (4) games in five (5) days will come to an end completely. How?
By doing the following:
1) All back-to-back games will only be with conference foes who are close to you (distance):
These games can be back-to-back but be smart with it... for example, have some games on Saturday around noon (with the previous night or two free) and the 2nd game on Sunday evening.
The time to travel should help the players be sharper and you should not have more than six "back-to-back" games.
2) No more 4 games in 5 nights, period. Make this against the rule... there should be no more than 3 or 4 games a week, period.
182 days divided by 7 (one week) equals 26 weeks... 26 weeks times 3 games a week equals 78 games... more practice time, more preparation time, fresher players... younger players get more time to prepare and get used to the NBA... minor injuries can be taken care of better, all adds up to better quality of basketball.
Appreciate the thought and work that went into this, Vince. But I don't see this idea getting off the ground. First, owners aren't going to accept even a small reduction in schedule -- at least not until the players accept an equivalent amount in salaries. Second, there's a reason most teams don't schedule afternoon games -- they don't draw as well as games at night. So teams aren't going to want multiple day games on their schedule. Third, I don't know how you can schedule a inter-conference road trip (Eastern Conference teams going West, and vice versa) without any back to backs. Otherwise, the trip would last more than a week, if they're playing four or five games, which is common. What will likely happen is the season starting earlier -- maybe Oct. 15, or a little later. And that extra time will be used to reduce, but not eliminate, the back-to-backs and four in fives.
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(last week's averages in parentheses)
1) Stephen Curry (30.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6 apg, .506 FG, .960 FT): Eighty-eight straight games with at least one 3-pointer.
2) Blake Griffin (19 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, .500 FG, .625 FT): Playing with a sore knee, which has robbed him of some of his explosiveness.
4) LeBron James (25.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, .571 FG, .833 FT): Owes Draymond Green two cases of wine after Michigan State's victory over Ohio State Saturday.
5) Andre Drummond (18 ppg, 14 rpg, 1.3 bpg, .676 FG, .533 FT): Held without a double-double for the first time this season when he scored just eight points Saturday against the Wizards.
5 -- Road wins so far this season for Minnesota, tied with Dallas for second in the league behind Golden State (6). The Timberwolves won seven road games all of last season, tied with New York for second worst in the league behind Philadelphia (6). Those five road wins are the only ones the Wolves have so far; they're 0-6 at Target Center.
Timberwolves vs. Heat
Andrew Wiggins scores 24 points and the Timberwolves overcome a triple-double from Hassan Whiteside to beat the Heat 103-91.
1,343 -- Career games for Tim Duncan before he played a game without getting a single rebound. That streak was broken when Duncan didn't get a rebound in 19 minutes against the Pelicans in New Orleans' 104-90 victory over San Antonio.
6,670 -- Miles, per Air Miles Calculator, that the 76ers will travel during their six-game road trip, which continues tonight in Minneapolis. I've never seen a team go on a trip like this: Philly to Charlotte (449 miles), Charlotte to Miami (653 miles), Miami to Minneapolis (1,504 miles), Minneapolis to Boston (1,123 miles), Boston to Houston (1,598 miles), Houston to Memphis (469 miles), and Memphis back to Philly (874 miles). The Sixers will be in the air for 15 hours and 25 minutes during the trip -- if there are no delays. Good luck with that.
1) My buddy Tim Kawakami wrote about this on Friday, after the Warriors went to 13-0 with their comeback against the Clippers, and he may well be right: Golden State's "Winnin' Time" lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green may be the best five in the NBA, and one of the best lineups in recent memory. You may think you can exploit them inside, but you don't; you may think you can stay in front of them, but you can't; you may think they'll cool off in crunch time, but they won't. At least, they haven't for a good long while.
Arena Link: Jim Barnett
Warriors analyst, Jim Barnett joins the show to discuss the streaking Golden State Warriors chasing history.
1A) And for those who insist "Hack-A" has to be part of a team's game plan against the Clippers: Golden State trailed by 23 points in the first quarter, and never once deliberately fouled DeAndre Jordan to slow L.A.'s blistering tempo in the first half, or down the stretch when the game became tight. And they still won. They beat the Clips by outplaying them, not by outfouling them. (The Warriors did foul Jordan -- but in the flow of the game, to keep him from dunking when he got the ball under the basket, and the like. He made 5 of 8 free throws.)
2) Great column from Nazr Mohammad on the hardest players he guarded during his 17 NBA seasons.
3) Let's make this clear: every NBA team should have a marsupial in its corner.
4) Very cool gesture by Virginia Tech basketball coach Buzz Williams in tribute to Tech's retiring football coach, Frank Beamer.
5) Saw the 3-on-3 overtime format in the NHL for the first time last week. I really liked it. And I'll look at the NHL All-Star Game, which will play 3-on-3 during that game, because of it.
1) It's not just because the Clippers blew a 23-point lead to the Warriors Thursday, or because an unnamed assistant coach and Josh Smith reportedly had words after Sunday's home loss to the Raptors. L.A. is still missing something. At the least, they could use a three who can spread the floor and not force Doc Rivers to play Paul Pierce 35 minutes -- which he didn't want to do six years ago, when they were both in Boston.
GameTime: Clippers Turmoil
Danny Granger, Rick Fox and Brent Barry discuss the Clippers' locker-room following the loss to the Raptors.
2) Good wishes, good health and Godspeed to Mary Beth Budenholzer.
3) No one is happy that Jonas Valanciunas broke a bone in his hand Friday. But the Raptors might be able to not only survive, but thrive, by playing smaller, playing Luis Scola at center and putting four smalls -- Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll -- around him. We'll see if they do that going forward, and if it works. I think it might.
5) Clip-n-Shudder: Boston's Marcus Smart out a couple of weeks with a lower left leg injury that Brad Stevens says could last longer than that.
6) You have my sympathies, Doug Flutie. Just horrible news about your parents. If it's any saving grace, they're back together.
-- Miami's Hassan Whiteside (@youngwhiteside), Saturday, 11:24 p.m., after blocking eight 76ers' shots in Miami's come-from-behind win to keep Philly winless after 14 games. Whiteside leads the NBA in blocks at 4.8 per game. (By the way: who says blocks don't equal defense? Steals can be overrated, but I've never heard anyone diss blocks.)
"I wouldn't call this a rivalry. They're the better team. They have the upper hand."
-- Blake Griffin, after the Warriors rallied from a 23-point deficit in the first half Thursday night to defeat the Clippers in Los Angeles, for Golden State's 13th straight win to start the season.
"To come here and to live in Oklahoma, I didn't know what to think. When I came here, I got to the airport and there was nobody there. Then I went to the hotel and there was nobody in the streets. Then I stayed in the Skirvin (Hotel) and I heard it was haunted. So I said, that's a rough start. But as time went on, I started to realize the core values of Oklahomans. Hard work, resiliency, humility. It made me a better man and it made me a better basketball player."
-- Kevin Durant, per The Oklahoman, as he accepted induction into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame last week.
"I never thought I'd see the day when I become the voice of ball-movement reason. Then you have an issue. I never thought I'd see the day when I'm the one preaching that stuff. That's crazy."
-- Kobe Bryant, on what he's trying to teach his now-young Lakers teammates as they struggle through the first part of the season.
"He's playing great basketball. If anything, he pushes not only me but the whole league to work on their game (with) the way he has been working, the way he has focused and how consistent he has been playing."
-- Derrick Rose, to local reporters, on the impact Stephen Curry has had on the league as Golden State vies for the best start in league history.
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