20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hitting the Links: A Partial Listing of Who Has Been Reading 20 Second Timeout

Since I started 20 Second Timeout in June 2005, literally hundreds of other sites have linked to one or more of my posts. Using Technorati and other means, it is not difficult to keep track of who is reading and responding to what I have written. Here are a few interesting links to 20 Second Timeout:

1) Wall Street Journal readers got a full dose of my writing on June 13 when The Wall Street Journal Online's "The Daily Fix" quoted from my NBCSports.com article about Game Three of the NBA Finals in addition to posting a link to that entire article and a link to a 20 Second Timeout post about the NBA Finals (the link to 20 Second Timeout initially appeared on the front page of that edition of "The Daily Fix" but has since been pushed back by other more recent blog posts about the Finals).

2) Via BlogBurst, USA Today readers are able to keep up with 20 Second Timeout posts here (click on the link and scroll down to "Other voices from the Web"). 20 Second Timeout has consistently ranked among the top 100--and usually in the top 30--out of more than 2500 blogs featured in BlogBurst.

3) Deadspin, one of the largest blogs around, has linked to 20 Second Timeout a few times, most recently during the Cavs-Nets series.

4) The L.A. Times' Lakers Blog includes a lengthy citation from my Why Blogging is Booming and Newspapers Are Scrambling to Catch Up post (yes, there are many layers of irony that a big newspaper like the L.A. Times now has a blog that is quoting from another blog talking about why newspapers are struggling). You can find the excerpt from my post by scrolling down to June 13, 2007 at 2:55 p.m., where "Pfunk36" cited what I wrote and gave a "shout out" to 20 Second Timeout, although he did not provide a working link. Scrolling past his entry, several other readers commented on my post, with my favorite line coming from "Tim-4-Show," who said, "That article left it all on the table. There's very little to argue there except 'but, but...' yeah, move your butt and go blog somewhere else man..."

5) The National Court Reporters Association placed a link on their front page to my post that discussed Toni Christy, the court reporter who typed up press conference transcripts for ASAP Sports during the NBA playoffs.

6) Nets Daily Links, which is part of New Jersey's official team website, includes a link to 20 Second Timeout. Also, Nets Daily Blog linked to my post containing an interview with Julius Erving that I did after the NBA Cares Program in Cleveland during the NBA Finals.

7) Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, regularly reprints my articles from various websites, including my 20 Second Timeout post about Scottie Pippen's legacy and my NBCSports.com article about "The Legacy of the ABA."

8) I rank as the number one NBA blogger at Yardbarker.com (under the username "Doc319," a tribute to the one and only Dr. J and a number from his career statistics that a Julius Erving fan should not have trouble recognizing).

9) Last but certainly not least it should be noted that I am one of the 2000 bloggers (I do not know the person who started this project, nor did I submit 20 Second Timeout for inclusion but I certainly appreciate any and all readers that this additional exposure has brought my way).

One place that used to link to 20 Second Timeout on a semi-regular basis but no longer does so is a certain blog that now resides at the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports." I'd never heard of this blog before I discovered that a link to my site had been posted there, so I have no idea how the site's proprietor found 20 Second Timeout--which was relatively new at that time--nor do I know why 20 Second Timeout has completely dropped off of that site's radar (I also don't understand why a blog that is contained at a huge corporate website spends at least as much time linking to articles from said website that can be easily found anyway as it does to outside material). I do know that 20 Second Timeout contains unique commentary that cannot be found anywhere else, so I suspect that when readers don't find what they are looking for in the way of NBA analysis at the big corporate site that they will make their way here, either on their own, or via The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and some of the other venues listed above. Interestingly, in Lowpost.net's most recent rankings of 220 basketball blogs, 20 Second Timeout is 24th (and rising), while the blog from the "Worldwide Leader" is 32nd (and dropping). "The Leader" has deeper pockets and garners more mainstream attention than just about anyone else but that is an interesting snapshot of the reading and linking practices of the internet's most diehard basketball fans.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:33 PM


Friday, June 22, 2007

Kevin Garnett Does Not Think That He and Paul Pierce Can Outduel LeBron James

Trade speculation does not interest me--but a deal that probably would have happened if Kevin Garnett had not very publicly quashed it is certainly worthy of discussion. As has been widely reported by various outlets, Minnesota and Boston were close to agreeing to a trade that would have sent Garnett to Boston in exchange for several players plus the fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft. This would have allowed Minnesota to start over with a crop of young, talented players, led by Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and whoever the Timberwolves selected with the fifth pick; meanwhile, Boston would instantly become a serious Eastern Conference contender, led by the duo of Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Garnett does not have a no-trade clause but he can effectively scuttle any proposed deal because he can opt out of his contract in one year and become a free agent. Naturally, all Garnett has to do is make it clear that he has no intention of staying with his new team and that kills any potential trade. In other words, while Garnett cannot choose his new destination he has a pretty powerful say in deciding where he won't go. The question, though, is what Garnett has in mind for his future. Perhaps he and his agent know something that the rest of us don't, but it is far from certain that a better situation will emerge for him than playing alongside Pierce in an Eastern Conference where LeBron James carried a team all the way to the NBA Finals. If Garnett does not think that he and Pierce together can beat James and the Cavaliers then how much help does Garnett think that he needs? Maybe his goal is to land in Phoenix and play alongside Steve Nash--but if Garnett goes there then obviously Amare Stoudemire or Shawn Marion leave and it is not at all clear that Garnett is enough of an upgrade over either player to make a difference against the San Antonio Spurs. Frankly, considering Stoudemire's youth and Marion's all-around game, it could be argued that Garnett is not an upgrade over either player, period.

It will be interesting to see which deal bubbles up next and if Garnett immediately shoots that one down, too. Perhaps he is content to simply stay in Minnesota, well off of the national radar, collect his paycheck and become a free agent a year from now.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:39 PM


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dave Cowens Helped Restore Celtics Pride

One of the toughest things to do in sports is to follow in the footsteps of a legend. Dave Cowens took over the center position for the Boston Celtics shortly after the retirement of Bill Russell, who led Boston to 11 championships in 13 seasons. Cowens carved out his own significant legacy, winning an MVP and leading the Celtics to two more championships. Here is a link to my HoopsHype.com article about Cowens (9/30/15 edit: the link to HoopsHype.com no longer works, so I have posted the original article below):

One of the toughest challenges in sports is to replace a legend. For instance, it took Steve Young several years to get the infamous "monkey" off of his back as Joe Montana's successor and, despite some good seasons over the years, UCLA's basketball program is still trying to recapture the glory of the John Wooden era. Bill Russell guided the Boston Celtics to 11 championships in his 13 seasons. The task of replacing him fell to Dave Cowens, who became one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players.

Boston won the NBA title in 1968-69, Russell's final season, but missed the playoffs in 1969-70 with a 34-48 record. Hall of Famer Sam Jones had also retired and John Havlicek moved to the forefront, leading the 1970 Celtics in scoring (24.2 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg) and assists (6.8 apg). He obviously needed some help, so the Celtics selected Cowens with the fourth overall pick in the 1970 draft. Cowens was neither a scoring machine like Wilt Chamberlain nor a defensive powerhouse like Russell but he fit perfectly with the Celtics' fast-breaking style because of his mobility and his aggressiveness on the boards. Though undersized, Cowens was a great rebounder who could get the ball out to the guards and then use his speed to race down court as a trailer on the fast break. He averaged 17.0 ppg and 15.0 rpg (seventh in the league) in 1970-71 and was the co-Rookie of the Year with Portland’s Geoff Petrie, finishing ahead of Pete Maravich, Calvin Murphy and Bob Lanier--one of the strongest rookie classes in NBA history.

Boston had a better record than Atlanta (44-38 compared to 36-46) in 1971 but at that time only the top two teams in each division made it to the playoffs and the Celtics finished third behind New York and Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics got their revenge in 1972, though, posting the best record in the Eastern Conference (56-26) and beating Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs before falling 4-1 to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 1972, Cowens averaged 18.8 ppg and 15.2 rpg (second in the league), earning his first All-Star selection.

Cowens had the best season of his career in 1972-73, averaging 20.5 ppg (18th in the league) and 16.2 rpg (third in the league). Cowens won the regular season MVP and the All-Star Game MVP; he had 15 points and 13 rebounds in the midseason classic, numbers that were actually not quite as good as the ones he put up in the 1972 contest (14 points, 20 rebounds).

"I just enjoyed playing and being in close, competitive games," Cowens says of his seven All-Star Game appearances. "I was lucky enough to win the MVP in Chicago in 1973, but the year before I made a big shot at the end of the game when Jerry West won the MVP. He came down and made another shot to win it. He was an older player, so they wanted to give him the MVP. Probably if he doesn't hit that shot then I win it. I came in second in the voting. Anyway, it was good that he won it; I’ve got no problem with that. Just being involved and playing with that caliber of a team is pretty cool."

Cowens is very much a purist regarding the All-Star Game and its younger cousin, the Rookie-Sophomore Game. "I just like to see good competition...I like it when it's basketball. We're out there promoting the game and you don't want to have people out there just showing off under the guise of playing a basketball game. In basketball there is defense, there is offense, there is passing, there is good pick-setting and there is reaction time and all that other stuff. There is shot making. It shouldn't just be a dunk contest. Otherwise, just let everybody play one-on-one instead of playing a game."

The Celtics' 68-14 record in 1972-73 is still one of the best in the history of the NBA. Much like this year's Dallas Mavericks, they seemed to be in great position to win the championship – and, like the 2007 Mavericks, they watched someone else capture the glory. Boston’s loss is much easier to understand, though... The Celtics fell in the Eastern Conference Finals to the defending conference champion Knicks. The Celtics wrested home court advantage away from New York with a 134-108 Game 1 win but Havlicek injured his shooting shoulder later in the series and essentially played one-armed the rest of the way.

Cowens' Celtics bounced back to win championships in 1974 and 1976. Cowens averaged 19.0 ppg and 15.7 rpg (second in the league) as the Celtics went 56-26 in 1973-74, trailing Milwaukee by three games for the best record in the NBA. Those teams eventually squared off in the Finals. That championship series was very strange because the road team won six of the seven games. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hit an oft-replayed skyhook to clinch a 102-101 double overtime Game Six victory for the Bucks in Boston Garden but the Celtics won Game 7 in Milwaukee to claim their first title of the post-Russell era. Cowens had game-high totals of 28 points and 14 rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds but he was scoreless for an 18-minute stretch while Boston built a commanding lead. Celtics coach Tommy Heinsohn did not believe in double-teaming Abdul-Jabbar but after the 1974 MVP torched Boston for 33.6 ppg in the first six games of the series Heinsohn decided to surprise the Bucks by double-teaming Abdul-Jabbar in the seventh game. Kareem had 14 points in the first quarter but was a non-factor after that. Havlicek won the 1974 Finals MVP.

Boston tied with Washington for the best record in the NBA in 1974-75 (60-22) but the Bullets eliminated the Celtics 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Cowens led the Celtics with 20.4 ppg and lost one of the closest rebounding races ever, averaging 14.7 rpg to finish just behind Washington's Wes Unseld (14.8 rpg). The Celtics had the second best record in the NBA in 1975-76 (54-28), behind only the defending champion Golden State Warriors (59-23). Cowens led Boston in scoring for the second straight year (19.0 ppg) and lost another close rebounding race, averaging 16.0 rpg to finish second to Abdul-Jabbar's 16.9 rpg. The Celtics defeated the Buffalo Braves and Cleveland Cavaliers to earn their second trip to the Finals in three years.

The 1976 NBA Finals are most remembered for featuring "The Greatest Game Ever Played," the triple-overtime Game 5 war of attrition that the Celtics won, 128-126. Boston raced to an early 32-12 lead but the Suns cut the margin to 15 at halftime and tied the score at 95 by the end of regulation. Havlicek hit a shot near the end of the second overtime to put Boston up 111-110, seemingly clinching the win because Phoenix needed to go the length of the court in just one second and did not have a timeout left--but Suns' star Paul Westphal took advantage of a loophole in the rules (the loophole was closed as a result of this game), calling a timeout anyway. The Celtics were awarded one free throw, which Jo Jo White made, but Phoenix got to inbound the ball at halfcourt, setting the stage for Gar Heard's famous jumper at the buzzer. Fatigue and foul trouble proved to be too much for the Suns in the third overtime. The Celtics captured their second title of the post-Russell with an 87-80 Game 6 win.

Cowens left the team for part of the 1976-77 season to drive a cab. He said that he was suffering from "burnout," a new idea at that time that never really was widely discussed until Philadelphia Eagles' coach Dick Vermeil became the poster child for burnout a few years later. Cowens returned to action prior to the playoffs and he performed well in the postseason, averaging 16.6 ppg and 14.9 rpg, but the young and talented Philadelphia 76ers knocked off the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, 83-77. Both teams shot very poorly, which helped Cowens to amass a game-high 27 rebounds. Sixers guard World B. Free missed his first six shots but he eventually got rolling and his 27 points easily led both teams and proved to be the difference.

That was the last hurrah for the Cowens-Havlicek-White Celtics and the franchise entered perhaps the darkest period in its history, missing the playoffs in 1977-78 and 1978-79, going through an ownership change and disgusting the legendary Red Auerbach so much that he almost jumped ship to the New York Knicks. The Celtics also went through several coaches, including Cowens, who served as a player-coach in 1978-79. Auerbach stuck around and made the deals that ushered in the Celtics' third championship era, drafting Larry Bird as a junior eligible and later acquiring Kevin McHale and Robert Parish via trades. Bird's rookie season, 1979-80, was Cowens' last as a Celtic (McHale and Parish arrived the next year). Cowens averaged 14.2 ppg and 8.1 rpg and the Celtics posted the best record in the league, 61-21. They swept the Houston Rockets in the Eastern Conference semifinals but lost to the 76ers 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cowens retired in 1980 but returned in 1982-83, playing half a season with the Milwaukee Bucks before hanging up his sneakers for good. He later coached Bay State in the CBA before becoming an NBA head coach with the Charlotte Hornets and then later with the Golden State Warriors. Cowens also worked as an assistant coach in San Antonio and Golden State and he had a brief stint as head coach of the WNBA's Chicago Sky before he took his current job as an assistant coach with the Detroit Pistons.

He has stayed involved in the game in other ways besides coaching, most notably as one of the founders of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. He, Dave DeBusschere, Dave Bing, Archie Clark and Oscar Robertson formed the group in 1992. "With any team, you have to get good people on your team," Cowens says. "We have a great board now. The office staff is very dedicated and does a lot of work. The founders all said that we wanted to have an organization that would continue this whole brotherhood and family idea. Also, (we wanted) to be able to collectively bargain with different entities out there to create moneymaking opportunities to advance our charitable goals and to have a working relationship with the NBA and the active Players' Association concerning any collective bargaining agreements that would help retired players, such as pension plans, marketing ideas and that kind of stuff."

Labels: , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 4:58 PM


Kevin Garnett's Legacy

It seems likely that this NBA offseason will be dominated by speculation about when/if two of the NBA's biggest stars--Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett--will be traded. Speculating about what might happen in various trade scenarios has never been my cup of tea, so I will wait until something actually happens on either front before offering any Bryant or Garnett trade analysis. It is much more interesting at this point to consider Bryant and Garnett's place in NBA history as things stand now. Regarding Bryant, that is pretty easy: if Bryant retired today, he would be remembered as a three-time NBA champion, a two-time scoring leader and someone who ranked among the top offensive and defensive players in the game. Garnett's legacy, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to define. Yes, he won the 2004 regular season MVP and he has captured the last four rebounding titles but he has not made the All-NBA First Team since 2004. For quite some time, the main knock against Garnett was his inability to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves past the first round of the playoffs. In 2004--with significant help from Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell--Minnesota made it to the Western Conference Finals but since then there has been no talk about Garnett failing to advance past the first round because Minnesota has not even made it to the playoffs. That's right, the last time the "Big Ticket" played in a playoff game Shaq and Kobe were on the same team--and that seems like another lifetime ago. Garnett should be happy that so much attention has been paid to the breakup of the Lakers and the emergence of a new generation of young stars in the NBA that no one has really seriously raised the issue of Garnett basically disappearing from the upper echelon of the NBA since he won his MVP award.

Granted, Garnett has not been blessed with a tremendous supporting cast during most of his time in Minnesota--but young LeBron James just took a team that does not have a single All-Star all the way to the NBA Finals. Garnett has never publicly demanded to be traded and has only rarely voiced much criticism of Minnesota's front office for failing to improve his supporting cast. Garnett has generally been praised for his "loyalty," although ESPN's Stephen A. Smith has criticized him for not being more vocal about wanting to be traded. "Loyalty" is not the only possible explanation for Garnett's behavior, though. Maybe he really is content to finish his career in Minnesota, collecting huge paychecks while neither being criticized for failing to win nor having to deal with the pressure of leading a bona fide contender.

Garnett has put up gaudy numbers during his career--20.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 4.5 apg--but it could be argued that he has less impact on winning and losing then perhaps any other player who has ever won an MVP. Go through the list of MVP winners and try to find another one whose teams missed the playoffs for three straight years while he was healthy and in his prime. Garnett once boasted in a TV ad about how he puts up "20, 10 and 5" (referring to ppg, rpg and apg) year in and year out but one wonders if achieving those stats means more to him than putting up 50 (regular season wins) and 16 (the number of playoff wins it takes to win a championship). Tim Duncan seems utterly unconcerned with attaining certain specific individual statistical totals; he does whatever his team needs him to do to win on a given night.

Another problem for Garnett is that he does not control the paint defensively the way that great big men generally do. When Flip Saunders coached Minnesota, he often used Garnett at the top of the key in a 3-2 zone and Garnett was praised for his ability to hawk opposing point guards--but Garnett belongs under the basket blocking shots. Hakeem Olajuwon was even more fleet of foot than Garnett, as shown by Olajuwon's steals totals, but Olajuwon played underneath the basket and protected the paint--and led the Houston Rockets to two championships. No one would suggest that Duncan is more athletic or a better leaper than Garnett but Duncan has 1840 blocked shots in 746 regular season games (2.5 bpg) while Garnett has 1576 blocked shots in 927 games (1.7 bpg). Anyone who watched the Spurs sweep the Cavs in the 2007 NBA Finals understands that for every shot Duncan blocks there are several others that he alters with his presence.

Scottie Pippen, who played on six championship teams in Chicago and was on the 2000 Portland team that beat Garnett's Timberwolves 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs, once said of Garnett, "He's very productive but unproductive. He gets you all the stats you want, but at the end of the day his points don't have an impact on [winning] the game. He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, but in the last five minutes of the game he ain't the same player as in the first five." Garnett is truly puzzling and contradictory. He undoubtedly plays hard and by annually leading the league in rebounding he shows a willingness to go inside and do the "dirty work." Yet, despite his work ethic he has never developed a go-to offensive move in the post. Garnett did not command enough respect from Cassell and Sprewell to keep them in the fold after the team's one successful playoff run. Garnett's numbers guarantee him a spot in the Hall of Fame but he seems to lack that certain something that the game's truly great players possess. He certainly is still young enough and healthy enough to be a major contributor to a championship team and if he does so then he will greatly change how he is perceived, much like John Elway did--but it just seems like Garnett is destined to be a guy whose statistical resume is impeccable but who will always have more explanations/excuses for postseason failure than examples of postseason success.

I said that I don't like to speculate about trades but I have to mention one scenario that would be fascinating, however improbable it may be due to the salary cap or other reasons: Garnett joining forces with Bryant on the Lakers. Garnett could continue to put up his cherished "20, 10 and 5" while Bryant took the responsibility of making the big baskets down the stretch in the fourth quarter--and Garnett would be productive enough in the first three quarters that Bryant would not have to wear himself out before the final 12 minutes.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:21 AM


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It's a Carnival!

One of the interesting parts of the so-called "blogosphere" is the "Carnival," a collection of links to posts on the same general subject from various blogs that are gathered together at one site. A Blog Carnival gives readers a chance to sample a lot of different blogs in a short period of time and, hopefully, provides additional exposure to the blogs. Ideally, each person who contributes to the Carnival also links to the Carnival on his own site, thus increasing the overall traffic to the Carnival itself.

Ballhype.com helps to put together a Carnival of the NBA that runs approximately once a month. Since I joined Ballhype I have participated in three such Carnivals. I've been so busy with playoff coverage and other posts that I neglected to place links to these Carnivals. Here are links to each one:

43rd Carnival of the NBA

44th Carnival of the NBA

45th Carnival of the NBA

I can't honestly say that I agree with the tone, style and content of everything that appears in these Carnivals but it is clearly in the interest of all of the participants to promote the Carnivals as much as we can and let the open market be the judge of which sites provide the best NBA coverage.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:01 AM


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rick Barry Offers His Take on LeBron's Game and Kobe's Trade Request

Rick Barry appeared on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" to talk about how LeBron James could become even better and about Kobe Bryant's request to be traded. Barry made a total of six main points, which I will list below, with my comments in italics.

1) LeBron James has been in the NBA for four seasons but does not know how to properly use a screen on a screen/roll play. This is the fault of Mike Brown and the coaching staff for not giving him better instruction.

Barry did not specifically explain what James could do better on screen/roll plays but in this article he mentioned that the Cavaliers should involve Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the play and not Anderson Varejao. The Cavs do in fact frequently run screen/roll plays with Ilgauskas, who usually steps back to shoot a face-up jumper, but the reason that Varejao is often in the game is that he moves his feet better on defense. The screen/roll play with Varejao has been very effective for Cleveland in the playoffs the last two years, particularly against Detroit. If Barry means to say that James should take a harder angle off of the initial screen and attack the basket, then he may have a point; James often tends to string the play out, draw two defenders away from the hoop and then look to make a pass. Still, what James does leads to a wide open shot for a teammate and he willingly gives the ball up, so to say that he does not know how to use a screen and has not been coached properly by Mike Brown--who led the Cavs to the Finals in his second season as head coach--is a bit harsh.

2) Along these same lines but speaking more generally, Barry asserted that today's players, including James, are more talented than players were in his day but that they don't know the little nuances of how to play the game. Barry said that his 13 year old son is a better ballhandler than he ever was and that he (referring to himself) would have to learn how to dribble more proficiently to play in today's NBA but that today's players would be even better if they understood the fine points of the game.

Barry cited a specific example in this case: players run to the backboard and try to use their great athleticism to get rebounds but if their opponent has a half step on them then he will get the ball. Why don't guys put a body on their opponent, thus ensuring that they will get any rebound that drops in front of them, Barry wonders. He is right to an extent about the lack of fundamentals in today's game, although if you look at old tapes you may be surprised to see that the fundamentals were not always as great as some people think; plenty of players "back in the day" could not dribble with their off-hand and shooting percentages were lower back then (even without the extra point from the three point shot). Overall, though, Barry is on target with this criticism; my personal pet peeve, which Barry also mentioned as well, is the constant overdribbling that has crept into the game (yes, this means you, Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis): instead of getting the ball and making a strong move straight to the hoop, guys do a lot of "east-west" dribbling that runs down the shot clock and kills any chance of their team developing an offensive rhythm.

3) LeBron James has a fundamental flaw in his shooting stroke.

Barry is right about this. I have mentioned more than once (for instance, here and here) that James shoots more "Oh no--good shot!" attempts than any player in the league; in other words, as I explained in the first post cited above, "shots that look like they are forced or off balance but that he makes with amazing consistency." Needless to say, his lack of good shooting fundamentals came back to haunt James big time versus the Spurs. James has actually improved his shooting form somewhat since his rookie season but he still needs more work in this area. Sometimes, players who are gifted with great jumping ability lapse into the habit of simply elevating from anywhere on the court and firing away, knowing that no one can block or even contest their shot--not that I know this from personal experience, mind you, but you can see this with guys like Clyde Drexler and Dominique Wilkins. Michael Jordan was not a great jump shooter when he was young but he worked and worked until the mid-range turnaround jumper became one of his go-to moves. James needs to put in the same kind of work on this aspect of his game.

4) Kobe Bryant's trade request should have been kept in house.

I about fell off of my chair laughing when Rick Barry said this--the same Rick Barry who talked himself out of Virginia by making derogatory comments about the South that appeared in Sports Illustrated. Barry played for so many teams in his career that an early autobiography that he wrote was titled, "Confessions of a Basketball Gypsy"--and his departures from those teams were hardly handled in the quiet, behind the scenes manner that he now proposes that Bryant should employ. Barry very well be delivering the right message regarding Bryant's situation but it is certainly ironic to hear him say this. By the way, this is why it would be nice if guys like "Mike and Mike"--and other radio or TV talking heads--actually knew enough sports history to call out someone like Barry in this regard: "Hey, Rick, what about the time that you talked your way out of Virginia because you wanted to play on the West Coast?" It would have been interesting to hear Barry's response to that.

5) Barry declared, "I know for a fact that Kobe is not responsible for the Shaq trade," adding that Bryant is rightly incensed that he has been blamed for this over the years.

Barry is 100% correct about this and the particulars of the situation have been publicly documented by none other than Lakers owner Jerry Buss himself, so anyone who continues to blame Bryant is simply ignoring the facts.

6) Barry added that Kobe Bryant "is not selfish" but that he does sometimes force things because the Lakers have failed to give him enough help.

Barry is right on target about this as well. He could have added that, at least in the last month of last season, when Bryant "forced things" it was specifically because Coach Phil Jackson told Bryant that Bryant would have to score a ton of points in order to save the Lakers' season. Earlier in the year, when Lamar Odom and Luke Walton were healthy, Bryant passed the ball more frequently and did not have as many high scoring outbursts. After those guys got hurt--and then came back at significantly less than 100%--Bryant had no choice but to try to score 40-50-60 points. Amazingly, he did that often enough over the last month to set several NBA records and carry the Lakers into the playoffs.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:53 PM


Monday, June 18, 2007

What the Black Sheep Knows

While I was in Cleveland covering Games Three and Four of the NBA Finals, I discovered a fascinating sculpture at Contessa Gallery. It is a work by Markus Pierson titled "What the Black Sheep Knows" and it is part of his "Coyote" series. The Peabody Fine Art Gallery website explains, "The Coyotes are a metaphor for people. They are a symbol of your reckless or wild side--a symbol of pursuing your dreams, wearing your heart on your sleeve, and celebrating all of life’s ups and downs. Markus has chosen the Coyotes (versus painting people) because they allow him a broader and deeper range of emotional expression. 'They are like a velvet glove. I can hit you with a reality, even a harsh one, but the Coyotes themselves take the edge off of the impact.'"

At the base of "What the Black Sheep Knows" is this caption written by Pierson:

I am the black sheep. Born with eyes too wide, a heart too soft, ears that hear a different drum, and a brain that dreams both day and night. Many think me a fool, they scoff at my reckless notions about life and destiny. What they say makes good sense, but I am the black sheep and so I carry on, for the only thing a black sheep is certain of is that you just never know.

Pierson almost died of Crohn's Disease and before he became a world renowned artist he was so poor that he could not even afford to buy a shower curtain as a wedding present for his friends, so he gave them one of his coyote drawings. Someone at the wedding saw the drawing and was captivated by it--and within a year Pierson's work was being displayed in over 100 art galleries in the United States.

What does this have to do with basketball? Everything. Consider the life stories of three of the players who participated in the NBA Finals. Tim Duncan was training to be a swimmer in his native Virgin Islands until Hurricane Hugo destroyed the swimming pool where he practiced. LeBron James was born to a single mother in Akron, Ohio, hardly a hotbed for basketball. Bruce Bowen's father was an alcoholic and his mother was a crack addict. At certain points in each of their lives, the idea that they would one day be playing in the NBA Finals would have seemed completely ludicrous. The media room at the Finals was packed with people from many different countries and backgrounds and I'm sure that at one time the idea that they would be covering this event would have seemed absurd.

In life there are people who will help you just because they can, or because they see a certain spark in you or just because helping others makes them feel good--and there are people who will never help you just because they are not able to help or because they don't see a certain spark in you or just because not helping others makes them feel important and powerful. If you have a dream or a goal then you cannot let that second group of people affect you; you simply must go around them or through them. Negative thinking and negative attitudes are as contagious and deadly as any disease you can imagine and they can cause you more harm than any sickness; illness just attacks your body but negative thinking and negative attitudes can rob you of your very soul. So, whether your dream is to be an NBA player or to be a writer covering the NBA--or anything else--the next time somebody laughs at you or closes a door in your face, think of Markus Pierson and "What the Black Sheep Knows": "...so I carry on, for the only thing a black sheep is certain of is that you just never know."

posted by David Friedman @ 9:40 PM


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Final Thoughts on the 2007 NBA Playoffs

The 2007 NBA Playoffs ended with the result that I predicted before they began, albeit a couple games earlier than I expected. Overall, I correctly picked the winner of 12 of the 15 playoff series, my best performance since I started posting NBA playoff predictions online in 2005; I went 9-6 in 2005 (and also correctly picked both Finalists before the playoffs began, but incorrectly chose the Pistons to beat the Spurs) and 10-5 in 2006 (and did not correctly pick either Finalist before the playoffs began).

Two of the series that I missed this season happened in the first round, Golden State's historic upset of the 67-15 Dallas Mavericks and Utah's seven game victory over the Houston Rockets. I correctly resisted the temptation to jump on the Golden State bandwagon against Utah and the only blemish on my record in round two was Detroit beating Chicago. So, I can honestly say that I was not surprised by much that happened in this postseason. Here are some final thoughts and observations about the 2007 NBA playoffs:

1) San Antonio has to be considered the early favorite for the 2008 championship. Their core players are healthy and staying motivated has never been a problem for the Spurs. Their previous bids to win back to back titles derailed because of injuries to Duncan (2000 and 2006 playoffs) and the presence of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (2004). Obviously, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers--a squad that went 3-2 versus the Spurs in the playoffs between 1999 and 2004--are history and none of the other Western Conference teams have shown that they can beat the Spurs in a series when San Antonio is at full strength. During the 2007 Finals, Duncan said that he had a restful and productive summer before the 2006-07 season and his overall physical condition is better than it has been in years. That does not figure to change this summer, as Duncan will not be playing for Team USA and will be able to again focus on being rested and in top shape for the start of next season.

2) Cleveland's flaws were exposed and highlighted by San Antonio in the Finals but it is important to keep in mind that this was probably the best of the Spurs' four championship teams. LeBron James has taken the Cavaliers to heights that the franchise had never reached before and he did this very quickly and without even one current All-Star as a sidekick. Cleveland needs to surround James with more dependable shooters and needs to acquire an all-around point guard; right now, the position is manned by a committee of specialists: Larry Hughes is a versatile (and injury prone) player who is good defensively but is not a true playmaker or great shooter; Daniel Gibson is a good shooter and willing defender but also not a true playmaker; Damon Jones is strictly a one trick pony backup player, a three point shooter who does little else effectively; Eric Snow is an aging veteran who plays tough defense, particularly against bigger guards who like to postup, but his lack of ability as a shooter makes him a liability at times on offense. It is not at all clear that Cleveland will be able to upgrade its current roster via the draft or free agency, because of their low draft position and because of salary cap limitations that will preclude them from signing certain players. One thing that Cleveland must guard against is complacency. The Cavs will not start next season in the NBA Finals; they will start 0-0 like everyone else and have earn a good playoff seed and survive three rounds of the playoffs in order to get another crack at a championship. The Cavs seemed to take lesser teams lightly during the 2006-07 season and they will have to guard against that tendency next year.

3) Utah looks like a team on the rise, with young stars Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams leading the way. I underestimated this team coming into the season and I will be interested to see how the Jazz respond to their successful playoff run. Will they be hungry to finish the job or complacent after having their first taste of the Western Conference Finals?

4) Detroit is on a downward slide. The brains (Larry Brown) and the soul (Ben Wallace) of the 2004 championship team are gone and the Finals MVP from that season, Chauncey Billups, has hardly looked like "Mr. Big Shot" during the playoffs since that time. The addition of Rasheed Wallace was the final ingredient that pushed that team over the top but, honestly, he has been a liability since then.

5) Phoenix has knocked at the door for several years without getting into the Finals. One would think that anyone would love playing with Steve Nash but grumblings are sometimes heard out of Arizona from Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion that they are not well enough appreciated. It is not out of the question that one of them could be traded. I still can't see this team beating a healthy San Antonio team in a playoff series and I think that the Suns would not have an easy time with Dallas or Utah, either. New G.M. Steve Kerr has his work cut out for him to help the Suns make the leap from good to great.

6) I'm not convinced that Dallas has to make major changes. The Mavericks made it to the 2006 Finals and ran away with the best regular season record in 2007. Any change is just as likely to make the team worse as it is to make the team better. The coaching staff, players and philosophy that are currently in place are good enough for the Mavericks to contend for a championship in 2008.

7) Chicago is a young team on the rise and if the Bulls are able to acquire Kobe Bryant without dealing away too much of their nucleus then they will become the team to beat in the East. Bryant would fit right in with the Bulls' hardworking mentality and focus on defense while providing the offensive "closer" that the team presently lacks (all due respect to the streak shooting and undersized Ben Gordon but he would be much better suited receiving passes from a double-teamed Bryant than trying to create his own shot one on one).

8) Golden State certainly provided a lot of excitement but I question if the structure is really in place for the Warriors to have long term success. They are very dependent on an injury prone point guard (Baron Davis), a--shall we say--volatile shooting guard (Stephen Jackson) and a style of play that involves highly questionable shot selection and gimmicky defenses. I will be surprised if the Warriors' record improves much next year; it's much more likely that injuries or other adversity will keep the Warriors in the 40-45 win range.

9) Orlando and Toronto both appear to be young teams on the rise. The Raptors are kind of "Phoenix Suns East," with former Suns executive Bryan Colangelo running the show and the team employing an uptempo style. The Magic are built more traditionally, anchored in the paint by young stud Dwight Howard.

10) Miami and New Jersey both appear to be teams on the decline. Yes, the Heat's Dwyane Wade is young but the rest of his team's aging nucleus is crumbling around him--and we still don't know what shape he will be in physically to start the season after dealing with shoulder and knee injuries. Jason Kidd led the Nets to two Finals appearances and does not seem to have lost much off of his fastball, so to speak, but New Jersey just does not have enough inside power to be a legitimate title contender.

11) Two very good pieces--Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady--are in place in Houston, so it will be interesting to see how the Rockets respond to new Coach Rick Adelman, who led the Blazers to the NBA Finals twice and who turned the Kings into consistent contenders.

12) Denver's mix just does not seem to be quite right--not enough defense, questionable shot selection from several players and a coach (George Karl) who has historically done better molding underachieving teams than leading talented ones. Karl has won a lot of regular season games but his postseason resume is not nearly as gaudy and includes being on the wrong side of one of the biggest upsets in playoff history when his number one seed Sonics lost to, ironically, the eighth seed Nuggets in 1994.

13) This year I think that we will see that Gilbert Arenas' injury was a blessing in disguise; when he went down, so did the expectations for the Wizards to do anything in the playoffs. The reality is that they lost in the first round to Cleveland in 2006 and, even with Arenas, they would have lost in the first round to Cleveland this year. If he stays healthy, the Wizards will eventually be forced to acknowledge that they cannot advance deep in the playoffs when their leader is a shoot first point guard who has poor shot selection and is not very good defensively.

14) "As the Lakers Turn" figures to be an interesting offseason soap opera. Kobe Bryant has reiterated that he wants to be traded if the team is not able to upgrade the sorry roster of players surrounding him. With Kobe--and if Lamar Odom and Luke Walton stay healthy--the Lakers can win 45-50 games and maybe one playoff series. Without Kobe, the Lakers will plummet into the draft lottery and have to undergo a complete overhaul.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:11 PM