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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Seattle's Youth Movement Will be Led by...P.J. Carlesimo?

The Seattle Supersonics' youth movement took a curious turn with the hiring of P.J. Carlesimo to be the team's head coach. With veterans Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis out of the picture, Seattle is in a rebuilding mode and not likely to make the playoffs this year in the tough Western Conference. Maybe the idea is that Carlesimo has extensive experience as a college coach and that this will help him relate to players like Kevin Durant and Jeff Green but coaching young talent in the NBA is a lot different from coaching young talent in college. College coaches have absolute power and can yell and scream all they want; players are dependent on them to keep their scholarships and will accept such treatment. NBA players do not generally respond well to being browbeaten. Sooner or later, they rebel. That is why you will never see Bobby Knight coaching in the NBA.

By most accounts, P.J. Carlesimo is a good person and a knowledgeable basketball coach. He has been an assistant or head coach on championship level teams in college, international and NBA play. On the other hand, he was just 183-222 in the regular season during head coaching stops in Portland and Golden State and never led a team past the first round of the playoffs. He has not been a head coach for seven years. Some have suggested that the infamous incident when his Golden State player Latrell Sprewell choked him prevented Carlesimo from getting other head coaching jobs but that makes no sense: why would someone assaulting him make his less hirable? Carlesimo spent some time as a broadcaster and then won three championships as a Spurs assistant coach, so it's not like he was in some kind of exile from the game. Instead of wondering why it took so long for him to get hired again as a head coach, I question if he is really the best man for the Seattle job. I do not doubt that he made valuable contributions to San Antonio's success but being a sounding board for Gregg Popovich is not the same thing as running one's own program, let alone basically building a program from the ground up; that requires an array of skills beyond those necessary to be a good NBA assistant coach or even a good college head coach. Will Carlesimo have the patience to deal with the growth curve that all young NBA players go through? Will his young players have the patience to deal with Carlesimo's yelling and in your face tactics? It's one thing for Popovich to yell at his players; he has championship rings and veteran stars who buy into his system.

Seattle is trying to become San Antonio Northwest, much like the Cleveland Cavaliers are attempting to be San Antonio East--but it remains to be seen if Durant is a Tim Duncan or LeBron James level player and, even if he is, if Carlesimo can be a Popovich (or even a Mike Brown) as an NBA head coach. My "clip-and-file" guess? Carlesimo coaches four years or less in Seattle and the team does not make it past the second round of the playoffs in any of those seasons.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:08 AM

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Are the Suns Climbing the Hill or Over the Hill?

The Phoenix Suns reportedly agreed to terms with free agent forward/guard Grant Hill for a two year contract paying $1.8 million for 2007-08 and nearly $2 million for 2008-09, which will be an option year for Hill. Since the Suns apparently will trade James Jones to Portland as part of the draft day deal between those teams, Phoenix has essentially swapped Jones for Hill while saving close to $1 million in salary. This certainly cannot in any way be considered a bad deal for the Suns; they are spending less money on a better player. The problem is that it is championship or bust time in Phoenix. The Suns have been a top contender for several seasons now, Steve Nash has won two MVPs and finished second in the voting last year--but Phoenix has yet to make an NBA Finals appearance in the "Nash era." Suns supporters can talk your ears off with tales of woe explaining why Phoenix "could have" or "should have" made the Finals in various seasons but I much prefer the attitude displayed by this year's Finalists, San Antonio and Cleveland, which was best expressed by Cleveland Coach Mike Brown and Cleveland superstar LeBron James, who each said in heat of the moment press conferences, "We are a no-excuses team." Champions don't talk about what "could have" been or what "should have" been, because the reality is that if you are looking for a reason or excuse to fail you never have to look far--and whatever energy is spent on that search is better directed toward figuring out how to win the next game.

Hill was once considered to be Michael Jordan's heir, which is of course an impossible burden to place on any player. Hill was in the midst of an excellent career when a series of injuries robbed him of hundreds of games and much of his athleticism. Now he is a solid veteran who understands how to play the game and who can have some "flashback" moments or games now and then. He improved his midrange jumper after his injuries and that is a vital part of his game now because he can no longer explode to the hoop at will. Hill is a way below average three point shooter and his durability will always be a question mark. So, while he is unquestionably a better player than Jones, is Hill actually a better fit for the Suns? Jones is a very good spot-up three point shooter. The Suns' offense is based on Steve Nash dribbling around until he breaks down the opposing defense, resulting in lanes for cutters or an open three point shot from the wings. Hill is not the man to shoot those open threes and I question if his body is ready for a full season of cutting hard to the hoop game after game. While no one can criticize Phoenix for making this move, I wonder whether it in fact puts the Suns any closer to winning a title, which at this point is the only acceptable or meaningful goal for this team. Nash will be 34 by next All-Star break and that is a dangerous age for small guards. Granted, Nash has beaten the odds so far by continuing to improve even as he moves well past age 30 but how likely is that trend to continue? John Stockton played until he was in his 40s but he was never as fragile or injury prone as Nash has been; Nash has not missed many games in the past few years but he has a balky back and there is always an issue of whether or not he will wear down deep in the playoffs, neither of which were concerns regarding Stockton. The Suns need to be mentally and physically tougher to reach their goal and they need to be a better halfcourt offensive team. Hill will not hurt them in any of these areas--but he won't improve them much in any of those categories, either.

ESPN's Ric Bucher asserted that adding Hill will improve the Suns' chemistry. It is interesting that there are always chemistry issues bubbling just below the surface in Phoenix and perhaps even more interesting that the mainstream media generally ignores these concerns. Why should anyone have a problem playing with Nash or for Coach Mike D'Antoni? Yet, it seems that Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw are not always happy with their roles. Diaw (and to a lesser extent Marion) is most likely to be affected by the acquisition of Hill, who wants to be a starter. Certainly, if Hill is healthy, one would expect that he would start over Diaw--but Diaw performed much better when he was a starter two years ago than he did last year when Stoudemire's return to form relegated him to a lesser role. I'm not as convinced as Bucher is that Hill's arrival is going to improve the Suns' chemistry.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:23 PM

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dave Cowens Article Reprinted at Legends of Basketball

I don't know if Ray Allen will be able to help Paul Pierce to revitalize the Celtics but Boston fans--and lovers of old school basketball--should check out this link to Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA), and read my article about Dave Cowens, who took over at center for Boston shortly after the legendary Bill Russell retired:

Cowens Helped Restore Celtics Pride

The Cowens article originally ran at HoopsHype.com but Legends added some nice color photos, including one of Cowens shooting a hook shot over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:45 AM

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What is Love? The Greatest NBA Commercial of All-Time

We live in a "Who's Now?" culture, to quote the lamentable fluff on which ESPN is wasting so much airtime. True greatness is about sustaining production over time. Michael Jordan ushered in a new type of marketing when he entered the NBA in 1984--but he backed up all the hype with substance. How would you explain Jordan's greatness to someone who never saw him play? There are a lot of adjectives that you could use--or you could just watch this video:

What is Love?

Yes, it is "just" a commercial but the footage covers the whole arc of MJ's career, from high flying, skinny rookie, to more muscular veteran battling the Pistons, to battle-tested champion, to struggling minor league baseball player, to aging yet still proud Wizard. I remember stopping in my tracks, transfixed, the first time that I saw this commercial; for someone who followed all of Jordan's career, it is like traveling in a time machine. Jordan's last line stays with you, because even though it is "just" a commercial, it rings true to how Jordan played: "Love is playing every game as if it's your last." The footage at around the 4:10 mark shows a quick glimpse of Jordan's amazing two-handed block of a Ron Mercer layup. What most people did not realize is that Jordan was basically playing on one leg; Wizards' practices were closed to the public so that no one would realize how bad Jordan's knee was, how at times he literally was dragging his leg up and down the court. Late in a game versus Chicago, Jordan felt that he was fouled but nothing was called. He raced downcourt, blocked Mercer's layup from behind, pinned it to the glass, caught the ball and barked something at Mercer. That moment is quintessential Jordan--athleticism, fury, competitiveness, trash talking, never quitting, channeling frustration into productivity. Phil Jackson often tells his teams, "Go down as you live," quoting his old teammate "Super" John Williamson's motto--fight to the end, stay true to what your core values are, never quit. To Michael Jordan, there were no "meaningless" games; a regular season game near the end of his career when he had one good leg had to be played with the same intensity as an NBA Finals game.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:43 AM

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Uh, Oh, It's Magic: Orlando Agrees to Terms With Rashard Lewis

There are no "franchise players" available among this year's free agents but the Orlando Magic believe that Rashard Lewis can be the perfect outside complement to inside force Dwight Howard, their franchise player in training. Several outlets are reporting that Lewis will sign a max level five year contract with the Magic. Lewis averaged 22.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 1.1 spg last season. He ranked 11th in minutes per game (39.1), though he did miss 22 games. He has averaged at least 20 ppg, 5 rpg and 1 spg for three straight seasons; those may not seem like tremendously gaudy numbers but only a handful of NBA players have sustained that level of production during that period, two of them being Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. No one would suggest for one minute that Lewis is even close to being as good as either of those All-NBA stalwarts, but he is a major upgrade over Grant Hill and Hedo Turkoglu; Hill may be on his way out of Orlando and headed to a team that he feels can more immediately contend for a title (he seems to have his sights set on Phoenix). Signing Lewis does not make Orlando a championship contender, of course, but it could be worth 8-10 wins in the standings, which would mean having home court advantage in the first round.

Meanwhile, in a short period of time Seattle has gotten a lot younger and less experienced, losing All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis while bringing in second overall pick Kevin Durant and fifth overall pick Jeff Green. Hopes are high in Seattle and the future may indeed be bright but the Western Conference is loaded. Seattle will probably take a step back in the standings--or at least move laterally--before moving forward. Seattle's top returning scorer is Chris Wilcox (13.5 ppg). How will Durant, Green and the remaining Seattle players make up for the nearly 50 ppg that Allen and Lewis scored last year? Also, while neither of those players is great at drawing fouls, they easily ranked first and second on the team in free throw attempts and both of them are splendid free throw shooters. Maybe this is all part of some master plan but at this juncture it certainly seems like it would have been preferable to retain the services of at least one of the team's All-Stars to serve as a leader and as a mentor to young Durant. Think of how Joe Dumars helped a young Grant Hill; Allen would seem to be well suited to play a Dumars-like role for Durant. Seattle fans must now hope that Green's proverbial "upside" is worth getting rid of one of the league's best pure shooters, a player who has averaged at least 21.8 ppg for eight straight seasons, including a career-high 26.4 ppg last season. Yes, injuries limited Allen to 55 games but he says that he is fully healthy now and ready to go. It is interesting to see how executives in each conference are apparently thinking: Western Conference teams like Portland and Seattle are blowing everything up and starting over from scratch, hoping to nurture young rosters to the point that they can either challenge the Spurs or succeed them as Tim Duncan ages; Eastern Conference teams like Boston and Orlando look at how LeBron James seemed to singlehandedly lead the Cavaliers to the Finals and feel like all they have to do is add one All-Star in order to vie for conference supremacy.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:41 AM

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A $6.5 Million Question: Did Don Nelson Use "Confidential Information" to Help Golden State to Upset Dallas?

In case you're wondering how ugly the ongoing feud between Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban and Golden State coach Don Nelson is, Cuban is now claiming that Nelson used "confidential information" to help Golden State to its monumental upset victory over Dallas in the first round of the 2007 playoffs. Punchlines flow quickly and easily about this one--"It's not confidential information that Dallas is soft" or "It's not confidential information that Dirk Nowitzki has no post-up game"--but this is no laughing matter for either side: $6.5 million is at stake.

This all began when Nelson filed an arbitration claim against Cuban for said $6.5 million, deferred compensation that Nelson says Cuban owes him and never paid. Cuban contends that Nelson had a non-compete clause in his contract that forbade Nelson from working for another team; Nelson's response to that is that since Cuban never paid him the deferred money or the $200,000 per year consulting fee that was in the contract that he was no longer bound by the non-compete clause. The case will be resolved by binding arbitration (i.e., no appeals process for the loser) that is expected to take place in October or November after the attorneys for both sides have had time to take depositions and make their cases to the panel of retired judges who will decide the matter.

I don't pretend to know what the ultimate ruling will be but Cuban certainly comes off as both petty and a sore loser. Nelson resurrected a Mavericks' franchise that had been in suspended animation (or lack of animation, to be precise) since Mark Aguirre was traded and Roy Tarpley fell off the wagon in the late 1980s. Nelson drafted Dirk Nowitzki, acquired Steve Nash and groomed a great successor in Avery Johnson; raise your hand if 10 years ago you expected a total of three MVPs and one Coach of the Year Award from those three individuals. When Nelson left Dallas, he passed the reigns to Johnson, who guided the team that Nelson pretty much built from scratch to the NBA Finals. I understand that Nelson's departure from Dallas may not have been harmonious but Cuban should take the high road, acknowledge that Nelson did a great job while he was there, pay him whatever the contract says he owes him and be done with it. Instead, Cuban appears to be searching for technicalities to justify not paying Nelson simply because he is mad at Nelson; saying that Nelson used "confidential information" to help Golden State beat Dallas sounds like the whining of a sore loser. Maybe the arbitration panel will side with Cuban--but that won't make it right.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:56 AM

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Stephen A. Smith Apologizes for Calling Michael Jordan's Draft Day Trade "Stupid"

After receiving phone calls from Michael Jordan and other Charlotte Bobcats' officials, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith apologized on the Sunday morning SportsCenter for his comments during ESPN's coverage of the NBA Draft, when he described the Bobcats' Brandan Wright for Jason Richardson trade as "stupid." Smith now says that he was engaging in excessive hyperbole but he stands by his assessment that the deal will not turn out well for Charlotte. It is always better to engage one's brain before activating one's mouth and/or keyboard; then you don't have to apologize. As for the substance of Smith's contention, it is not at all clear that he is right nor is it clear why he feels so strongly about the subject--well, the latter is just part of the shtick that got him the ESPN job in the first place, but purely from a talent evaluation perspective how can Smith know for sure that Wright, who averaged 14.7 ppg and 6.2 ppg in one college season, will turn out to be a better player and/or better fit for Charlotte than Richardson? Richardson's scoring averages went up each season of his career until last year, when some injuries held him back. Richardson is only 26, though, and if he is healthy then he will likely score 22-plus ppg and average about 6 rpg from the shooting guard position. Smith declared that Richardson is not worth what he is getting paid but Richardson is not even a max contract player, so if he puts up those kind of numbers Charlotte will be most pleased.

Meanwhile, free agent season in the NBA began at midnight on Saturday but there is hardly any earth-shattering news to report. Although players and teams can reach agreements in principle, according to league rules no official announcements can be made until July 11 (this allows time for the NBA and the Players Association to determine, based on the collective bargaining agreement and the league's total revenues, what next year's salary cap will be). Of course, that does not stop team officials and/or agents from leaking information to trusted media sources. Here is what has been reported so far:

1) Vince Carter will re-sign with the Nets.
2) Jason Kapono will leave the Heat to sign with the Raptors.
3) Luke Walton will re-sign with the Lakers.
4) Perhaps as many as 20 teams are interested in signing Rashard Lewis, who may still elect to stay in Seattle.
5) Perhaps as many as 8 teams are interested in signing Gerald Wallace, including his current employer, the Bobcats; during his Thursday rant and Sunday apology, Smith neglected to mention that if Wallace leaves then Richardson's scoring punch becomes even more vital and that is something that Wright would be unlikely to supply as a rookie. If Wallace re-signs, then the Bobcats have a one-two punch with Wallace at small forward and Richardson at shooting guard.

Here is a list (in alphabetical order, with current team in parentheses) of this year's unrestricted free agents (players who can sign with any team regardless of what kind of offer their current team makes):

Malik Allen (CHI), Derek Anderson (CHA), Rafael Araujo (UTA), Chucky Atkins (MEM), Matt Barnes (GS), Chauncey Billups (DET), Steve Blake (DEN), Calvin Booth (WAS), Earl Boykins (MIL), Devin Brown (NO), P.J. Brown (CHI), Matt Carroll (GS), Vince Carter (NJ), Kelvin Cato (NY), Austin Croshere (DAL), Dale Davis (DET), Melvin Ely (SA), Danny Fortson (SEA), Junior Harrington (MEM), Jason Hart (LAC), Alan Henderson (PHIL), Grant Hill (ORL), Eddie House (NJ), Marc Jackson (NO), DerMarr Johnson (DEN), Linton Johnson (NO), Eddie Jones (MIA), Jumaine Jones (PHX), Jason Kapono (MIA), Yaroslav Korolev (LAC), Randy Livingston (SEA), Jamaal Magloire (POR), Sean Marks (PHX), Darrick Martin (TOR), Desmond Mason (NO), Jeff McInnis (CHA), Aaron McKie (LAL), Keith McLeod (IND), Slava Medvedenko (ATL), Chris Mihm (LAL), Mikki Moore (NJ), Dikembe Mutombo (HOU), Andres Nocioni (CHI), Michael Olowokandi (BOS), Bo Outlaw (ORL), Smush Parker (LAL), Ruben Patterson (MIL), Gary Payton (MIA), Morris Peterson (Tor), Scot Pollard (CLE), James Posey (MIA), Vitaly Potapenko (SAC), Jalen Rose (PHX), Michael Ruffin (WAS), Jamal Sampson (DEN), Joe Smith (PHIL), Jerry Stackhouse (DAL), Jake Tsakalidis (HOU), Ime Udoka (POR), Jacque Vaughn (SA), Gerald Wallace (CHA), Luke Walton (LAL), Chris Webber (DET), Mike Wilks (SEA), Mo Williams (MIL), Shammond Williams (LAL), Corliss Williamson (SAC) and Kevin Willis (DAL).

That group of players includes All-Stars, players who are dependable starters, valuable reserve players, some guys who might retire, some guys who should retire and a few guys who many fans might not have even realized are still in the league. Vince Carter is perhaps the headliner but New Jersey appears to have him locked up. Chauncey Billups could certainly weaken Detroit and strengthen someone else if he elects to leave the Pistons. Rashard Lewis is perhaps the most sought after commodity because of his youth, size and scoring ability. Grant Hill supposedly wants to start and to play for a championship contending team; he may have to settle for one or the other. Mo Williams could really help the Cavaliers but would probably have to accept less than his market value to sign there due to Cleveland's salary cap situation. One third of Miami's active roster is on the list, so Pat Riley may do yet another roster overhaul as the Heat try to make perhaps their last run with the Wade-Shaq duo.

posted by David Friedman @ 5:25 AM

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

One Last Reminder About BEST, Then Back To Regularly Scheduled Programming

The NBA Draft is over and we have a little time before the summer leagues begin and before Team USA plays in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, so while all is quiet on the NBA front please indulge this one last reminder: if you like the style and content of the NBA commentary on this site then you should check out (and bookmark) my new site, BestEverSportsTalk. That is where I will be offering regular commentary and analysis on a wide range of sports topics. In addition to the debut post about Frank Thomas, I have also explained why Bjorn Borg is the Sandy Koufax of Tennis and still deserves serious consideration as the greatest all-around tennis player of all-time.

That said, 20 Second Timeout will now return to its regularly scheduled NBA programming.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:34 AM

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