DA's Morning Tip
Morning Tip Mailbag: Your questions on Kia MVP chase, NBA coaches and more
Yes, another solar eclipse; blah, blah, blah. From Konstantin Epp:
The season came to an end and now the question will be: who will be the Kia MVP? The frontrunners are understandably James Harden and LeBron James, but right at the end of the season Russell Westbrook has accomplished his second season averaging a triple-double. Before last season this wasn’t done for over 50 years and now he has done it twice, but I never saw him at least in the Top 5 of the MVP race.
In my opinion, this is the same reason why LeBron’s last MVP trophy was in 2013. We see him do his thing year after year after year (and even getting better in his 15th season), but at the same time it is nothing special for us and we take it for granted.
I just want to hear your opinion on why is he is left out. Are we already fed up and not impressed with Westbrook because he accomplished it a second time and we saw him do it just last year? Or is it the way he did it? (His point average is lower than last year and he reached this milestone just at the end of the season without time to create a narrative or a case for his MVP candidacy)
It’s a fair question, Konstantin.
I think we do tend to take people for granted when they’ve maintained a state of excellence for as long as LeBron has. And I don’t think there’s any question it’s probably cost him another MVP or two as voters (and I include myself in this) gravitate to the new thing. One could certainly cast an MVP vote for LeBron this year without hesitation. It would be hard for me to do so because the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled so mightily for so many stretches during the season, especially at the defensive end, and LeBron was part of that struggle.
In Westbrook’s case, I think it’s a combination of things. First, every season is its own and has its own drumbeat, so what voters thought last season doesn’t matter this year. And that’s why, while the Thunder’s record this year is basically the same as last year, the circumstances of OKC’s season are totally different. Last year, OKC was coming off the devastating loss of Kevin Durant, leaving the Thunder and Westbrook without a top-five player to play off of.
That Westbrook not only led the team to the playoffs, but put up the numbers he did, was remarkable in that context. Yes, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, in retrospect, were better than they showed there, but they never would have gotten the opportunity there that they have in Indiana. Maybe coach Billy Donovan could have and should have done more to incorporate them. It’s a fair criticism.
Second, it’s so facile to dismiss Westbrook’s triple-double accomplishments by saying he’s hunting stats. Name me a superstar that doesn’t, or hasn’t, or who hasn’t had assistance from time to time from sympathetic home stat crews. The bottom line is that no one had averaged a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1962. Westbrook has now done it two years in a row. To dismiss that is the height of arrogance in our hot-take world. But, it’s also arrogant not to acknowledge the numbers James Harden has put up this season, the record that the Houston Rockets have and the way they’ve played almost all year with Harden on the floor.
Even the White Shadow had a probationary period. From Travis Stevens:
What I’m interested in (aside from the playoffs) is that with several teams starting the search for new coaching staffs, what do you consider to be the most important indicators of success for an NBA coach?
Jason Kidd and Doc Rivers got coaching jobs not long after retiring as players. It seems like they were hired based off their playing careers, where both were great on-court leaders who were known for their high basketball IQs.
Then there are coaches like Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan who had no NBA coaching experience before getting their jobs, but jumped straight from the collegiate ranks. Both had great success in the NCAA, but that’s a very different style of game where many college coaches are successful as much because of their recruiting ability as their coaching ability.
I know coaching pedigree is sometimes a factor. Gregg Popovich has had his assistants picked off for years, but with mixed success. For every Mike D’Antoni that’s been around long enough to have his own coaching tree, there’s been a Jacque Vaughn that’s only lasted a couple of seasons. Phil Jackson’s coaching tree hasn’t been very impressive, but Jeff Van Gundy’s includes Tom Thibodeau, Michael Malone and Steve Clifford. It seems like Luke Walton was picked up by the Lakers, in part, because he learned under Steve Kerr. Rick Carlisle was an assistant for Chuck Daly, PJ Carlesimo and Larry Bird before he got his first head coaching gig. Kenny Atkinson worked under D’Antoni before getting hired by the Nets. And so on.
So, if you had to pick a coach for an NBA team, what factors would you look at?
Great question. To me, the biggest thing an NBA head coach has to have is credibility. How they are credible can take different forms.
A former player brings a certain gravitas to a locker room, to be sure. For example, if Kevin Garnett ever decided he wanted to be a coach, I think he’d have a chance to be good at it; players respect him immensely. Other coaches gain credibility with their work ethic and/or grind, like Erik Spoelstra or Stevens. Obviously, comfort with and belief in analytics, in today’s NBA, is a must as well. Even when you’re not winning, if you can show players why you want them to do something by being comfortable with modern numbers and what they mean — think Brett Brown — you can survive a bad year or two. The late Daly said it so well so many years ago: an NBA team is like 12 different Fortune 500 companies. They must allow you to coach them. As great as Popovich is, if Tim Duncan had tired of being cussed out in practice or in the film room, Pop would have never made it.
It’s not you, it’s me. From Sherley Jean-Pierre:
Has there been any thought given to awarding the No. 1 Draft pick to the non-playoff team with the best record? This would certainly create an incentive against tanking.
Oh, there’s been so much talk, Sherley. And I think that’s part of the problem. Everyone seems to be so desperate to make the Lottery/playoffs perfect that they’re in danger of tinkering them to death (and I’m not talking about your idea, which seems reasonable and logical). It’s just that at some point the league and the teams need to come to an understanding that the Lottery is an imperfect system and that while it may be unfair to Western Conference teams that the balance of power is currently in that conference, there’s no perfect solution that solves all potential problems.
Send your questions, comments and pass the time suggestions (Parcheesi? ISpy?) for when you have an extra passenger riding along on the trip to email@example.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Last week’s averages in parenthesis and for the last week of the regular season, not including playoff games)
1) James Harden (21 ppg, 4 rpg, 10 apg, .400 FG, 1.000 FT): TMI.
2) LeBron James (18 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 6.5 apg, .440 FG, .846 FT): Not that divisions really matter any more in the NBA, but it is something that James’ teams have won 10 straight since 2009, something no other player in league history has accomplished.
3) Anthony Davis (25 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.5 bpg, .475 FG, .632 FT): Here’s hoping Davis’s incredible season, coupled with the Pels’ return to the playoffs, ends all talk of wanderlust and inevitable trades to Boston. Let the Brow percolate in the Big Easy for a spell.
4) Kevin Durant (15 ppg, 4 rpg, 5 apg, .478 FG, .857 FT): Warriors got their hometown discount last summer from KD; I’d be shocked if he doesn’t ask for, and get, the max on a multiyear deal with the usual outs to allow for escalating salaries and a new deal in two or three years.
5) Russell Westbrook (14.5 ppg, 19 rpg, 16 apg, .333 FG, .778 FT): The only number that matters with Westbrook: OKC is 54-14 (.794) the last two seasons when Westbrook gets a triple-double. As that is damn near a full regular season’s worth of games, that ends all debate here about whether Westbrook’s stat-stuffing feats have helped or hurt his team.
Dropped out: Kyrie Irving
BY THE NUMBERS
$2.35 Billion — Reported valuation of the Brooklyn Nets, according to the New York Post, as Alibaba co-founder Joseph Tsai bought 49 percent of the team from majority owner Mikhalil Prokhorov. If that number is accurate it would represent a record valuation for an NBA team, topping the $2.2 billion valuation placed on the Rockets when they were bought outright by Tillman Fertitta last year. Tsai can and is expected to buy controlling interest of the team from Prokhorov in the next couple of years, though Prokhorov’s and his company will continue to own Barclays Center, one of the busiest arenas in the country.
22,124,559 — Leaguewide attendance, per the NBA, this season, which set a new record for one year. The average attendance this season of 17,987 was also a league record, making the first time that NBA buildings operated at 95 percent of capacity.
29 — Consecutive playoff series in which a LeBron James team has won at least one road playoff game, according to Elias, an NBA record. The last team James was on that failed to win at least once on the road in the postseason was the 2009 Cavs, which lost all three games in Orlando en route to a 4-2 loss in the Eastern Conference finals.
I’M FEELIN’ …
1) The acolytes of The Process in Philadelphia have been in full throat as the Sixers have gone buck wild during their run to the playoffs. I hate to be That Guy, but: almost everyone that was on the floor for the 76ers in their Game 1 rout of Miami was someone that Bryan Colangelo had brought to the team since he became its GM in 2016. You remember how well that went over (here, here and here) at the time.
But Colangelo drafted Ben Simmons first in the 2016 Draft. It’s easy to say now that was a no-brainer; at the time, Simmons was viewed by many as the guy who couldn’t even get his LSU team into the NCAA tournament.
Colangelo signed J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson as free agents last summer. He kept funds available to give Robert Covington an extension. Colangelo got killed for trading a future first to move up two spots to get Markelle Fultz, who barely played during the regular season with injuries, while the Boston Celtics got Jayson Tatum third overall and looked brilliant. Yet Fultz has come back after missing four months and done much better than anyone thought he would.
And, Colangelo got Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova at and after the trade deadline for nothing. Yes, Sam Hinkie took Joel Embiid, and should be properly credited for that; Embiid is the engine around which the franchise will run for the next decade. But Colangelo put the rest of the car together.
2) Teams do not let their coaches under contract speak with other teams. The Atlanta Hawks did, giving Mike Budenholzer permission to speak with the Phoenix Suns about their vacancy. Which means, everyone should end the mishegas now: Atlanta should let Budenholzer out of his deal, he should free the Hawks from the obligation of paying him the balance of his contract, which would allow him to go quickly to Phoenix, which has young talent that needs to be developed — prime Bud meat. And the Hawks, who stripped Budenholzer of his team president title last summer, can go about the business of bringing in a new guy who fits what GM Travis Schlenk wants.
3) God speed, Jerry Reynolds, the longtime TV color analyst for the Kings, who’s retiring after more than two decades with the franchise. The second-most famous basketball person from French Lick, Ind., Jerry was quite funny on and off the air. When he was the Kings’ director of player personnel, he once did a minor deal with the then Washington Bullets, the team I covered at the time, trading Byron Irvin for Steve Colter. So I had to call him to get his reaction. “Well,” he said in his twang, “we really shifted the balance of power in the league today.”
5) Nothing to add: this is just really entrancing.
1) Here’s betting that Steve Clifford won’t be out of work very long. The obvious clip-n-save is seeing him reunite with Jeff Van Gundy if the latter gets another head coaching gig next season, but if that doesn’t happen, Clifford should get consideration for head coach vacancies on his own dime. The Hornets’ struggles the last two years were centered on injuries and poor roster choices, not Clifford’s work on the bench.
2) The times I’ve spoken with OKC play by play man Brian Davis over the years, he’s been a very decent person. And I don’t believe for a second that he was trying to pull a fast one by saying Russell Westbrook was playing “out of his cotton picking mind” in the Thunder’s last regular season game. Just an unfortunate choice of words.
3) Best wishes for a quick and complete recovery to Doug Smith, the dean of hoops writers in Canada and the longtime beat writer/columnist for the Toronto Star, who’s coming back from a heart attack.
4) RIP, William Nack, one of the great, great sportswriters of this or any other era. I still read, often, his 1989 appreciation of Secretariat, the horse Nack came to love and chronicle throughout his historic Triple Crown season of 1973. Just take 10 minutes and read this. There’s so much wonderful prose in here, so much detail and so much love for the subject. And Nack details those fleeting moments in one’s life where they are, for a short time, impossibly happy where they are and what they’re doing, and with whom they are doing it. They are the moments we all treasure and then think about when they are gone, until we are gone. Thank you, William Nack, for writing about yours so beautifully.
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