Posted by Joaquin Henson on November 26, 2006, 8:30 p.m. ET
Kings guard torches Sonics
SEATTLE (11/24/06). With two starters sidelined and fresh from back-to-back losses, the visiting Sacramento Kings were supposed to be easy prey for the Seattle SuperSonics in their NBA game at the Key Arena here Friday night.
But the highly-favored Sonics, coming off two wins in a row, never bargained for an explosive performance by 6-7, 185-pound third-year offguard Kevin (K-Mart) Martin who's an early pick for the league's Most Improved Player award this season.
I happened to be in town visiting my brother-in-law Robert and his family after covering the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines and Erik Morales of Mexico in Las Vegas. The flight from Las Vegas to Seattle is only two hours long. I don't get to witness a regular season game too often so this was a treat. I owe a debt of gratitude to the NBA for making the coverage possible----NBA Asia's Sau Ching Cheong, Kam Hung Ip and Flora Tong and of course, the NBA's Terry Lyons.
Martin, 23, is a long-armed, elongated sweet shooter in the Reggie Miller mold. He's quick on the draw and a blur on the court. K-Mart wears No. 23 and it's no coincidence he's playing like a Michael Jordan for the Kings. He may not be as effective defensively as another play-alike Tayshaun Prince but with Denver's Kenyon Martin out for the season, the only K-Mart to hog the headlines is the man from Sacramento.
Against the Sonics, the Kings were badly crippled. Forward Ron Artest sat out the action with a lower back strain while center Brad Miller is nursing a partially torn plantar fascia in the left foot.
New coach Eric Musselman used only eight players, opting to bench rookie Quincy Douby, five-year pro Jason Hart, 10-year pro Vitaly Potapenko and nine-year pro Maurice Taylor. Five of the eight Kings logged at least 32 minutes of playing time, meaning Musselman kept his rotation tight.
It was close in the first half as the teams battled to nine lead changes and six ties. The Kings led, 53-52, on a last second steal and breakaway dunk by offseason recruit John Salmons.
Then, Martin took over in the third period as he hit 14 points, including 10 straight, to silence the homecrowd of 16,757. He went on to knock in 10 more points in the fourth quarter and finished with a career-high 35 on 12-of-19 from the floor and 7-of-9 free throws.
Sacramento erected an 18-point lead on Corliss Williamson's basket, 97-79, with 6:20 left and coasted to a 109-100 victory. Watson buried a triple at the buzzer to end the massacre.
Seattle coach Bob Hill's thick white hair grew even whiter as he just couldn't figure out how to stop the Kings' second half juggernaut. When the Sonics went small, the Kings took advantage by pounding the ball inside. When the Sonics went big, the Kings brought the offense to the perimeter.
Seattle assistant coach Detlef Schrempf said the Sonics don't play as tough with a small lineup and it was evident against the Kings who dominated the matchups in the frontline and the backcourt. Sacramento had more points in the paint, 54-46, and more triples, 9-6.
Hill sent in two point guards Watson and Luke Ridnour in a late experiment to try and save the game. He put Watson on Bibby and kept Ridnour in the mix because of his firepower. Ray Allen was assigned to Martin, leaving Ridnour in a mismatch against the burly Williamson at the three-spot. The result was disastrous.
The game exposed the Sonics' weakness in the middle. Kings frontliners Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kenny Thomas and Williamson scored a combined 40 points on 19-of-29 field goals and 2-of-6 free throws. They also grabbed 27 rebounds.
The night clearly belonged to Martin who increased his scoring clip from 2.9 as a rookie in 2004-05 to 10.8 last campaign, marking the third highest rise in the league behind Boris Diaw and Mike James for a minimum of 40 games. Now, he's averaging 24.7 points and turning heads around.
"Kevin had one of those nights where he needed a half an inch and it was on its way," moaned Hill. "And he was making them. Ray had a tough time guarding him. Damien (Wilkins) had a tough time guarding him. Earl had a tough time guarding him. We even put (Mickael) Gelabale on him. Kevin just had one of those nights."
Martin, a Western Carolina sports management major who was the Kings' first round pick in 2004 as a junior undergraduate, was modest in the wake of his eruption.
"I guess you could say I was in a bit of a groove," he said shyly. "It's still Mike, Ron and Brad's team. I'm just playing my role."
Martin showed his versatility in offense and the Sonics just couldn't keep in step. When the Kings stuck close to him outside, K-Mart put the ball on the floor and drove against the Sonics interior defenders. When they sagged off, Martin knocked down jumpers from long distance.
Jon Naito of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer marveled at Martin's performance.
"He worked his game outside," wrote Naito. "First, showing off his prodigious outside shooting touch. Then when they ran at him, he ran past them, right to the basket. Three-pointers from the wing. Three-pointers from the top of the key while losing his balance. Layups with defenders in his wake.
"Kevin Martin made them from everywhere. Pick a spot on the floor and chances are the Kings guard made a bucket from that mark." Hill was hard on himself in absorbing the Sonics' eighth loss in 14 outings, moving the club to last place in the Northwest. Schrempf, who was in Manila for an Adidas coaching clinic a few years ago, said he felt "terrible" after the loss.
"Our defense was like a sieve," said Hill. "We couldn't keep anyone in front of us. Sideline pick and rolls were okay but we were a step behind them all night. No excuses, they deserve a lot of credit and we were bad."
The Kings raised their record to 6-5, good for third in the Pacific.
Fans will hear a lot more from No. 23----K-Mart (and he's not Kenyon Martin)----before the season's over.
Posted by Joaquin Henson on November 4, 2006, 11:21 a.m. ET
Tribute to Red Auerbach
Arnold (Red) Auerbach is gone and the entire basketball world mourns his passing.
He was one of a kind. Fans loved him in Boston where he turned the Celtics franchise into a dynasty in the NBA. Auerbach coached the Celtics to nine NBA titles, including eight in a row, from 1950 to 1966. Then, he moved to the front office and guided the team to seven more titles, the last in 1986 with K. C. Jones at the helm.
More than his coaching ability, what made Auerbach such a legendary figure in the NBA was his astute backroom wheeling and dealing. Auerbach did the unthinkable in 1956 when he traded two popular All-Stars, "Easy" Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan, for an untested first round pick who turned out to be Bill Russell. He did it again in 1978 when he chose Larry Bird in the draft even if the Celtics had to wait a year before the Indiana State star could play. Five other teams had a shot at Bird but none took the chance that Auerbach did.
Auerbach worked his magic once more in 1981 when he dealt the first and 13th picks for Robert Parish and the third overall choice who wound up to be Kevin McHale.
Auerbach wasn't the conventional, back-slapping general manager of a professional basketball team. He was merciless in pouncing on the enemy. He relished the thought of the Celtics opponents biting the dust and squirming in despair. He lit a cigar when victory was imminent as if to rub salt on the Celtics victims' wounds. It was easy to understand why he was hated as much as he was loved.
Auerbach wasn't only shrewd. He was gruff and often rumbustious. He loved to win by outsmarting his foes and made sure they knew it.
I watched Auerbach coach his last game during the All-Star Weekend in Cleveland in 1997. He was tapped to coach the East team against Red Hozlman's West in the rookies game. Since the league celebrated its 50th anniversary that season, Auerbach and Holzman were "reactivated" from retirement as a tribute to their contributions as legendary coaches.
Auerbach wore a red sweater and chomped on his cigar during a team practice that I covered. He was clearly hands-on as he personally walked the players through patterns. That was nine years ago and it was my first and most memorable All-Star Weekend experience. I snapped a lot of photos of Auerbach up close and I will treasure those forever.
Of course, Auerbach wasn't let down by his players. The East won, 96-91, as Allen Iverson took MVP honors with 19 points and nine assists. Antoine Walker and Marcus Camby also shone for the East. Kobe Bryant led the West with 31 points and eight assists.
The first of Auerbach's trade coups involved Russell. Rochester had the first overall pick in the 1956 draft and Boston, the sixth. Auerbach was determined to pick Russell, no matter what. Rochester didn't like Russell's price tag of $25,000 a year and went for Sihugo Green. St. Louis had the second pick and Minneapolis, the third.
Auerbach knew Minneapolis was interested in Russell so he deftly worked out a deal with St. Louis. He offered Macauley, who was born in St. Louis, and agreed to include Hagan in the deal. St. Louis owner Ben Kerner liked the two-for-one proposition and signed on the dotted line. That season, the Celtics faced St. Louis in the finals and Boston clinched its first-ever title via a 125-123 double overtime win in Game 7 where Russell compiled 19 points and 32 rebounds.
The rivalry between Auerbach and Kerner was so intense that after a close game during the finals, they came to blows. Auerbach ironically punched the man who paved the way for the Celtics dynasty. That was just how Auerbach was.
On the bench, Auerbach used every trick in the book to gain an advantage. He was the first to use the gimmick of baiting the referee to eject him on two technicals as a way to fire up his players.
"Red's greatest talent was knowing how to motivate men in a game situation," said Lee Iacocca. "He would curse, coddle, enrage or do anything he thought would make his team perform better. Red would do anything within the rules to win. And if that wasn't enough, he was perfectly willing to bend those rules to give himself that little competitive edge that spells the difference between winning and losing."
Harvey Araton and Filip Bondy, in their book "The Selling of the Green," said Auerbach was "always looking for an edge, obsessed with the idea of influencing the outcome of the game (as) the pioneer in the ref-baiting business."
As the promoter of Celtics pride, Auerbach was perceived as the walking embodiment of the poor sportsman, wrote Araton and Bondy. But his arrogance was just a psychological ploy to throw off the opposition's mental balance and make it easier for the Celtics to win.
Former Celtics player Tom Heinsohn said Auerbach's strength was in management, "being in control." He created the Boston mystique and parlayed it into a Celtics dynasty.
Auerbach was also a man of vision. In one of the seven books he authored, "MBA----Management by Auerbach," he predicted the foreign invasion of the NBA in 1991 and even cited the Philippines as a future source of player talent. Today, the NBA employs 83 international players from 37 countries----more than twice as many as 10 years ago. As for his prediction about the Philippines producing an NBA player, that still has to happen----maybe, sooner than anyone thinks.
Once the leading scorer of George Washington University, Auerbach earned a master's degree in education from the school. His wife Dorothy died in 2000 after 59 years of marriage.
Auerbach died at the age of 89 in Washington last Oct. 28. He is survived by two daughters, a granddaughter, a great grandson and two great granddaughters. The Celtics are dedicating this season to him.
Posted by Joaquin Henson on October 30, 2006, 12:50 p.m. ET
Fearless forecast of what to expect in 2006-07
The NBA is back with a bang and for the first time in a long time, soothsayers can't seem to confidently put their fingers on a team that's destined to win the championship.
Defending champion Miami returns with a virtually intact lineup that is older, slower and less hungry. Coach Pat Riley decided to give it a shot at two in a row but isn't likely to succeed even if Dwayne Wade is now being hailed as the second coming of Michael Jordan with due apologies to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Gary Payton and Shandon Anderson are all in their 30s. If Miami's future is in the hands of Earl Barron, Jason Kapono, Udonis Haslem and James Posey acting as Wade's choir boys, the Heat is in big trouble.
Riley is obviously not thinking long-term because he doesn't figure to coach many more years. He's looking at the dividends he can reap here and now without thinking of what's next. O'Neal, Mourning and the rest of the aging cast are right on Riley's wavelength. If it ain't broke, why fix it, they chorus.
Last year's losing finalist Dallas, in contrast, made dramatic lineup changes in the offseason to retool and regroup. Coach Avery Johnson got a vote of confidence from owner Mark Cuban with a contract extension and is hoping the Mavericks get the job done this time.
Dallas was two wins short of clinching the NBA title last season and came tantalizingly close to cooling the Heat in the Finals.
Gone from the Mavs roster are Darrell Armstrong, Adrian Griffin, Marquis Daniels and Josh Powell. Devean George, Austin Croshere, Greg Buckner and Anthony Johnson were recruited as veteran backups for the nucleus of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Devin Harris and Josh Howard.
In its December 2006 issue, Slam Magazine picked Miami and Dallas to advance to the Last Dance for the second straight year with the Mavs winding up on top.
"Dallas will be much improved with their experience," said Slam's Lang Whitaker. "The key players have now been to the Promised Land as has Avery Johnson. This season, they'll make it again and this time around, they'll bring back the one thing money can't buy----history."
Slam's picks to top their divisions in the regular season were New Jersey in the Atlantic, Detroit in the Central, Miami in the Southeast, Denver in the Northwest, Dallas in the Southwest and Phoenix in the Pacific.
Sports Illustrated (Oct. 23, 2006) ruled out a Dallas return to the Finals and predicted Phoenix to win the title with Miami the loser in the title playoffs. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the weekly magazine chose Miami over New Jersey and in the West, it was Phoenix over Dallas. The choices to lead their divisions were New Jersey in the Atlantic, Cleveland in the Central, Miami in the Southeast, Utah in the Northwest, Dallas in the Southwest and Phoenix in the Pacific.
Player and coaching movements make for an unpredictable season. With so many shifts and a gruelling 82-game grind, anything can happen until the regular season ends on April 18.
Three new head coaches are in the spotlight. Don Nelson returns to Golden State in Mike Montgomery's place. Isiah Thomas bumped off Larry Brown at the New York helm and Eric Musselman took over from Rick Adelman at Sacramento. Coaches in line to lose jobs in midstream include Milwaukee's Terry Stotts, Toronto's Sam Mitchell, Atlanta's Mike Woodson, Portland's Nate McMillan and New Orleans/Oklahoma's Byron Scott unless they drastically reverse their fortunes.
Major player transfers involved Shane Battier to Houston, Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff to Boston, Peja Stojakovic to New Orleans/Oklahoma, Tim Thomas to the Los Angeles Clippers, J. R. Smith to Denver, Derek Fisher to Utah, Speedy Claxton to Atlanta, T. J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic to Toronto, Ben Wallace and P. J. Brown to Chicago, David Wesley to Cleveland, Flip Murray and Nazr Mohammed to Detroit, Al Harrington to Indiana and Charlie Villanueva to Milwaukee.
If Miami and Phoenix are favored to battle in the Finals, darkhorse contenders are New Jersey and Detroit with Chicago as the sleeper in the East and San Antonio and Denver with Houston as the sleeper in the West.
The Nets should crowd Miami in the race to the top of the Eastern pile. Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson are a formidable threesome and center Nenad Krstic can only get better. Whether they'll be healthy the entire stretch is a question mark.
The Pistons were eliminated by Miami in six in last year's playoffs and coach Flip Saunders is ready to bring the Motor City squad back to the top with Rasheed Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. The Bulls might just steal the thunder from the favorites with Wallace, Kirk Hinrich, Brown, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng in the trenches.
Orlando is a long shot but if Dwight Howard lives up to his billing as the next David Robinson and Grant Hill is healthy for 82 games, coach Brian Hill might be in luck.
The Spurs are still a force to reckon with even as Tim Duncan's numbers aren't as awesome as before. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Michael Finley are back but coach Gregg Popovich's problem is the hole in the middle because Francisco Elson just isn't the answer.
Carmelo Anthony makes the Nuggets a legitimate title threat. If only Kenyon Martin's head is in place, coach George Karl could take Denver to a rocky mountain high. Houston is a sleeping giant with Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, Battier, Bonzi Wells and Vassilis Spanoulis in the mix.
As for the rookies, it doesn't look like anyone will shake up the league like LeBron did in his first year when he averaged 20.9 points in 2003-04. Top draft pick 7-foot Andrea Bargnani isn't likely to impress in Toronto which is parading a slew of foreigners, including 6-8 Jorge Garbajosa and 6-3 Jose Calderon of Spain, 7-0 Nesterovic and 6-10 Uros Slokar of Slovenia and 6-10 Pape Sow of Senegal. No. 2 pick 6-11 Lamarcus Aldridge will at least get playing time at Portland as will another freshman 6-6 Brandon Roy. 6-8 Adam Morrison, the third overall choice, is forecast to become a designated three-point gunner in the Steve Kerr mold at Charlotte whose new managing member of basketball operations is Michael Jordan.
Other rookies to watch are 6-4 Randy Foye of Minneosta, 6-9 Rudy Gay of Memphis, 6-9 Shelden Williams of Atlanta and 6-9 Tyrus Thomas of Chicago.
My fearless forecast? I pick Detroit and Dallas to figure in the Finals with the Mavs clinching in five or six. On this blog, I predicted Detroit to win the title in 2004, the East to win the All-Star Game last February and Miami to capture the championship last season. I was right on the money each time. But in 2005, I chose Minnesota to win the crown before the season started and the Timberwolves didn't even make the playoffs.