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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Miami Reclaims Home Court Advantage Against Determined but Shorthanded Chicago

Due to injuries, foul trouble and an ejection, four Chicago players played at least 42 minutes in Friday night's game three versus Miami. Despite being so shorthanded, the Bulls led the 66-16 Heat by as many as seven points and they forged a 70-70 tie entering the fourth quarter. Four-time MVP LeBron James James had a pedestrian game by his lofty standards--25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, 6-17 field goal shooting--but he took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of Miami's 34 points as the reigning champions pulled away for a 104-94 win. Even before James authored that great final stanza, his performance and demeanor were a lot different than they were when he infamously quit versus Boston in the 2010 playoffs and versus Dallas in the 2011 NBA Finals; in the two earlier situations, James did not aggressively seek to score or to create scoring opportunities for his teammates but against Chicago James was actively engaged throughout the game, even at the times when he was not as productive or as efficient as usual. James understands this difference very well and he has even spoken about it publicly, admitting that he previously let the defense off the hook by not attacking in the paint; statistics alone do not indicate a player's effort level, because a player's talent and role can enable him to put up certain numbers even when he is not fully engaged: it is necessary to watch an entire game in order to determine a player's effort level and intensity, traits that cannot be found in the box score. The 2010 and 2011 versions of James might have put up similar numbers in game three but he would not have made the key attacking plays in the fourth quarter and his team likely would have lost because of this; if James had settled for two or three long jumpers instead of attacking the hoop he may have still finished with 20-8-7 instead of 25-8-7 but those few empty possessions would have changed the outcome of the game even if the "stat gurus" would not find much difference between those respective box score totals.

While LeBron James is deservedly the headliner, the Heat would not have won without Chris Bosh's 20 points, playoff career-high 19 rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots. Bosh is very underrated by media members and fans, though the coaches have selected him for the All-Star Game seven times (the fans have picked him as a starter just once). Bosh's versatility is invaluable at both ends of the court: he can post up (though this is not his favorite thing to do), he can score facing up (even beyond the three point line), he sets solid screens, he is a good passer, he rebounds well and his length/mobility enable him to defend multiple positions. The Heat would not be a championship caliber team without his many contributions.

James has been so consistently outstanding and Bosh has been so consistently productive that not much is being said about Dwyane Wade's subpar play; Wade is fourth on the team in scoring versus Chicago (13.0 ppg) and he has almost as many fouls (eight) as rebounds (nine). Earlier this season, Charles Barkley called Wade a declining player. During the regular season, Wade averaged 21.2 ppg while shooting a career-high .521 from the field but he missed 13 games and he has been hobbled by knee problems for the past two years. Those statistics suggest that when healthy Wade's skills may not have declined by much but he is 31 years old and he has been throwing his body into the paint for 10 seasons. All of that pounding has predictably and inevitably taken its toll; Wade never developed a consistent jump shot or post up game (though his inability to drive now has forced him to rely on posting up more than usual), so it has long been obvious that he would not be as effective or durable in his 30s as Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, who was still performing at an MVP level in his 17th season at 34 years of age before his Achilles ruptured under the weight of the L.A. Lakers' ineptitude.

Speaking of ineptitude, here is a thought experiment for anyone who believes that coaching does not matter: picture the Lakers with Tom Thibodeau at the helm and the Bulls with Mike D'Antoni calling the shots. It is hard to imagine that under those conditions the Lakers would have only been the seventh seed or that the Bulls would have made the playoffs, much less advanced past the first round. Thibodeau's Bulls have an excellent defensive game plan, they maximize their limited offensive potential and they always play hard. In contrast, when Hubie Brown covered the Lakers during the playoffs he could not even identify what the Lakers' defensive game plan is and the Lakers did not play with much energy at either end of the court. Leadership matters in all walks of life and the NBA is no exception.

Jeff Van Gundy recently told an interesting story about his time as Pat Riley's assistant. Riley asked an injured player who was dressed in street clothes if that player could give the team even one minute and the player said that he could, whereupon Riley then snarled that the player should be in uniform if that is the case. I don't presume to know what is going on in Derrick Rose's mind or body but he has been practicing with the team for months now. If there is any way that he could play 20, 10 or even five minutes for the shorthanded Bulls then how can he watch from the bench as his teammates give their all against the powerhouse Heat? Maybe Rose really just cannot play but if that is the case then he and the team should say so, because what is happening now does not look right--even if Rose's teammates and some media members are defending Rose. I want to believe that Rose is doing everything he can to come back as quickly as possible but at this point it seems like Rose should either suit up or shut it down until next season. What could possibly change in the next day or two to make him ready to play? If he plays in game four then why couldn't he have played in game three? Rookie Marquis Teague did the best that he could in 11 game three minutes but the Bulls were outscored by four points when he was on the court; what if Rose had played those minutes instead? Even if Rose were rusty, his presence would have altered Miami's defense and possibly created scoring opportunities for the offensively challenged Bulls. Even at 50% or 60% effectiveness, Rose could tip the balance of power in this series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:14 PM

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Harden's Playoff Bricklaying Reveals Cracks in Houston's "Foundation"

The Oklahoma City Thunder made the right decision when they declined to offer a maximum contract to their third best player; instead, they traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets. The Thunder improved their winning percentage from .712 in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season to .732 in 2012-13 and they finished first in the West after finishing second in the West in 2011-12. Their 60-22 record represents the franchise's best regular season since 1997-98 and the fourth best regular season in franchise history. Harden could have stayed in Oklahoma City and blossomed into this decade's Manu Ginobili--an All-Star for a perennial championship contender--but he wanted more money and he wanted to prove that he is not just a very good player but that he is a great player.

Houston General Manager Daryl Morey called Harden a "foundational player"; it is not clear what exactly that phrase means but it is clear that Harden is not a franchise player/elite player--i.e., he is not someone who can be the best player on a legit championship contender. A franchise player/elite player should be worth 10-20 wins over the course of a season but the Rockets only improved their winning percentage from .515 to .549, equivalent to less than three extra wins over the course of an 82 game season. Harden's increased scoring average impressed media members and fans but Harden's play had very little impact in the won/loss column.

After the trade, I declared, "Harden is a very good player but all of his weaknesses will be exposed in Houston if the Rockets expect him to be a franchise player. Harden is not an All-NBA First or Second Team caliber player. He is not someone who can draw double teams over the course of an 82 game season and then carry a team deep into the playoffs as the number one option. He is not Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James."

During the regular season, Harden averaged 25.9 ppg, shot .438 from the field and committed a league-leading 295 turnovers (3.8 tpg). In the playoffs, Harden slightly increased his scoring to 26.3 ppg but his already inefficient game became much more inefficient: he shot .391 from the field and committed 4.5 tpg. NBA championship teams are typically led either by dominant big men (Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon) or versatile perimeter players who possess size, speed, scoring ability, superior passing skills and the ability/willingness to guard multiple positions (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James). Once every three decades or so, an ensemble cast of very good players wins a championship (1979 Sonics, 2004 Pistons); the 2008 Celtics combined the two models by blending together three past their prime Hall of Famers with a young, upcoming point guard and a deep supporting cast of excellent role players.

Numbers rarely tell the complete story about a player or a team and it is true that many great players turn the ball over a lot--but great players make up for those turnovers by being very productive and efficient. Harden does not have the skill set of an elite player; despite his high scoring average, he is a limited offensive player: he shoots free throws and three pointers well but he is not a postup player or an accurate midrange shooter, so if the defense crowds Harden at the three point line while also being prepared to take a charge and/or block his shot in the paint then he is not particularly effective. When has a perimeter player with those skill set strengths and weaknesses led a team to an NBA championship? Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James could score from anywhere on the court, they consistently drew double teams that created wide open shots for their teammates (even on plays for which they were not credited with assists) and they defended much better than Harden does. What about Dwyane Wade? Wade won the 2006 NBA Finals MVP primarily by driving full speed to the hoop and throwing himself into defenders much like Harden does but the similarities end there; Wade had a much better midrange jumper and a much better postup game than Harden, Wade had open lanes to the hoop because Dallas Coach Avery Johnson elected to double team Shaquille O'Neal and Wade, to put it charitably, benefited from some very sympathetic officiating. O'Neal was not as dominant as he had been a few years earlier but he was still an All-NBA First Team center and he produced 28 points, 16 rebounds and five blocked shots in Miami's series clinching 95-78 game six win over Detroit in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals. Wade had 14 points on 6-15 field goal shooting in that contest, plus a game-high 10 assists. It is understandable why Coach Johnson decided to clamp down on O'Neal and force Wade to make plays. Although everything came together perfectly for the Heat in that championship series, in the next four seasons the Heat won 44, 15, 43 and 47 games and they failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Then LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined the team, Wade accepted a reduced role and the Heat made it to the Finals twice. Even though Wade has a better postup game and a better midrange jumper than Harden, Wade's reliance on bulling his way to the hoop has taken a toll on his body, forcing him to miss games and reducing his effectiveness/consistency. So, if Harden is fortunate to team up with the current equivalent of a declining but still potent Shaquille O'Neal and he can arrange for the 2006 Finals' officiating crews to show up for Houston's playoff games then perhaps he can lead the Rockets to a championship; otherwise, a diet of 43-47 wins and a string of first round playoff exits is a reasonable expectation for Houston in the next several seasons. It is also reasonable to expect that if Harden continues to play the same way then his body will prematurely break down much like Wade's body has been breaking down for several years.

Harden is 23 years old. Is it possible that he will develop into an elite player? Perhaps, but he is already a four year veteran. After four seasons, Jordan had already won two scoring titles, an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Bryant came to the NBA straight out of high school but by his fourth season he was both an All-NBA player and an All-Defensive Team player and by the time he was 23 he was an All-NBA First Team performer who had played a key role on three championship teams. James also came to the NBA straight out of high school and by his fourth season he had made the All-NBA First Team and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. Morey asserted that Harden is already a "foundational player" and he paid Harden accordingly; Harden is a very good player but he will have to do a lot of work to live up to Morey's praise and that maximum level contract.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:07 AM

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Monday, May 06, 2013

Defense Rules as the Second Round Begins

Only one of the four teams featured in Sunday's second round doubleheader scored at least 100 points; defense rules in the playoffs--but that also means that a player who can efficiently create shots for himself and for his teammates is even more valuable in the postseason than he is in the regular season. Here are some bullet point observations about the first two conference semifinal games.

Oklahoma City 93, Memphis 91

1) Both teams are down one man offensively--Memphis by choice (the Rudy Gay trade) and Oklahoma City due to Russell Westbrook's season-ending injury. Memphis shot just .427 from the field and the Grizzlies' three perimeter starters combined to shoot 10-30 (.333). Memphis jumped out to a 7-0 lead and stayed on top for most of the game but the Grizzlies' inability to generate enough scoring enabled the Thunder to hang around until Kevin Durant took over in the fourth quarter; the Grizzlies led 73-64 heading into the final stanza but Durant poured in 12 points as the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 29-18 to steal the game.
2) Durant finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots--exactly the kind of Jerry West 1965 numbers that I said the Thunder would need from him in order to have a chance to win this series. The problem for the Thunder is that they barely won even though Durant had a performance for the ages.
3) People should stop talking about how much the Thunder supposedly miss James Harden. We have already seen over the course of an 82 game season that Kevin Martin is a more than adequate replacement for Harden; Martin ably filled the Harden sixth man role as the Thunder increased their winning percentage and claimed the top seed in the West after finishing second in 2011-12. Martin has been up and down so far in the playoffs--but so was Harden last year (and this year, for that matter).
4) The player who the Thunder miss is Westbrook; without him they went 2-2 in the first round versus the eighth seeded Houston Rockets and they barely held off the fifth seeded Grizzlies in game one at home. It should be obvious even to casual observers that the Thunder have many players who either cannot shoot and/or are reluctant to shoot. Maybe Westbrook's critics will now understand why Westbrook shot the ball so much; Westbrook's scoring not only covered up his teammates' offensive deficiencies but his dribble penetration and deft passing created scoring opportunities that those players are not getting now.
5) This is a game that Memphis should have won and, in what will probably be a close series, letting one game slip away could be decisive--but the Grizzlies fell behind the L.A. Clippers 2-0 in the first round before reeling off four straight wins and I still expect that in the long run Westbrook's absence will prove to be the decisive factor in this series, enabling the Grizzlies to make up for the Gay trade.

Indiana 102, New York 95

1) Whoever gave a first place vote to Carmelo Anthony in the MVP balloting--robbing LeBron James of his deserved opportunity to be the first unanimous MVP selection--should have his voting privileges permanently revoked. Not only is James clearly the best player in the league by far but Anthony does not even belong in the discussion for second place--and during this year's playoffs he is once again revealing all of the shortcomings in his mindset and in his game. Anthony is averaging 28.9 ppg in the postseason but he is shooting just .378 from the field. That is not an aberration; his career playoff field goal percentage is .413 and this is the fifth time in his 10 playoff appearances that he has shot worse than .380 from the field. Anthony pouts, he gives sporadic effort defensively, he passes the ball only when he has no other choice and he is averaging a playoff career-high 4.3 turnovers per game.
2) Anthony is the small forward (or, now, power forward) version of Gilbert Arenas, who I correctly pegged as overrated and incapable of leading a team to a championship long before he pulled his Yosemite Sam routine in the Wizards' locker room and became a national joke. A player's value cannot be determined just by looking only at his statistics; his numbers and his skill set have to be evaluated in the context of how he plays and the impact he has both on his teammates and on the opposing team's game plan. The Denver Nuggets shipped out Anthony, did not receive an All-Star in return and are--at the very least--no worse off without Anthony than they were with him. Similarly, the Wizards performed better without Arenas than they performed with Arenas.
3) ABC's Jeff Van Gundy made a very important point during the telecast; the Knicks had poor body language/demeanor and they complained about every foul call (including calls that were obviously correct) while "The Pacers are playing with tremendous poise." The Knicks lack maturity and focus; they showed some improvement in both areas early in the season when Jason Kidd had a more prominent role on the team but as the postseason pressure mounts the Knicks are returning to their old, bad habits. The Knicks had a very good regular season but they breathed life into the comatose Boston Celtics in the first round before finally advancing and they have their hands full now with the Pacers.
4) I still question the Knicks' front office strategy over the past few years and I echo Phil Jackson's sentiment that New York's roster is "clumsy." At one point the Knicks were supposedly building around Amare Stoudemire but now the new story is that they are allegedly better off without him playing; Anthony and Stoudemire do not seem to be complementary players, which means that the franchise's salary cap is out of whack unless/until the team can trade one of the All-Star forwards (most likely Stoudemire).
5) Van Gundy suggested that New York's best offensive set is to run screen/roll actions with Raymond Felton and Van Gundy said that the value of offensive diversity can be overrated; instead of repeatedly running isolation sets for Anthony, the Knicks should feed the Pacers a steady diet of screen/roll action until the Pacers prove that they can stop it--but that would require someone to forcibly pry the ball out of the hands of Anthony, who sometimes seems to think that he gets paid by the dribble and/or by the degree of difficulty of his shots.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:47 AM

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LeBron James Joins Pro Basketball's Elite Four MVP Club

LeBron James is steadily moving toward the top of Pro Basketball's Honor Roll. James fell one vote short of becoming the NBA's first unanimous regular season MVP but by winning the 2013 MVP he joined the sport's exclusive Four MVP Club:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 6 (1971-72, 1974, 1976-77, 1980)
Bill Russell: 5 (1958, 1961-63, 1965)
Michael Jordan: 5 (1988, 1991-92, 1996, 1998)
Wilt Chamberlain: 4 (1960, 1966-68)
Julius Erving: 4 (1974-76 [ABA], 1981)
LeBron James: 4 (2009-10, 2012-13)

Abdul-Jabbar was 29 years old when he won his fourth MVP; he won two more regular season MVPs and he also captured a Finals MVP (his second such honor) as a 38 year old. Russell was 29 years old when he won his fourth MVP and 31 years old when he won his fifth MVP. Jordan was 33 years old when he won his fourth MVP (after taking nearly two full seasons off to play minor league baseball) and 35 years old when he won his fifth MVP; Jordan is the oldest regular season MVP in pro basketball history. Erving is the forgotten member of this exclusive club because the NBA and the mainstream media continue to ignore ABA statistics and ABA award winners. Erving was the first non-center to win three straight MVPs (he shared the second of those three MVPs with George McGinnis). Erving was 31 years old when he won his fourth MVP. He was the first non-center to win the NBA MVP since Oscar Robertson in 1964; Erving's 1981 MVP paved the way for Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan--and LeBron James.

James' fourth MVP elevates him above a very special trio of three-time MVPs: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone. James is just 28 years old and presumably has several prime seasons in front of him. If he stays healthy and motivated he has a realistic chance to tie or even break Abdul-Jabbar's record. James and Russell are the only pro basketball players who won four MVPs in a five season stretch--and James should have received the 2011 MVP (the infamous "Decision" probably cost him that honor), which means that on merit James should have won an unprecedented five straight MVPs!

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:30 AM

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Sunday, May 05, 2013

Miami Versus Chicago Preview

Eastern Conference Second Round

#1 Miami (66-16) vs. #5 Chicago (45-37)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Chicago can win if…the Bulls' defensive pressure forces the Heat to settle for long two point jump shots; the Bulls must keep the Heat--particularly LeBron James and Dwyane Wade--out of the paint while also tightly checking the Heat's three point shooters.

Miami will win because…LeBron James is on a mission; he plays multiple positions at both ends of the court, he has become amazingly efficient offensively and he attracts so much defensive attention that his teammates are able to shoot wide open jumpers and/or cut to the hoop for uncontested dunks/layups. Dwyane Wade has been hobbling for significant portions of the season and Miami has not even missed a beat. Chris Bosh is a very underrated player whose versatility is an important part of Miami's success. Pat Riley made a wise choice when he selected Erik Spoelstra as the coach and Riley has surrounded the "Big Three" with an excellent group of complementary specialists who rebound, defend and/or spread the floor by making three pointers.

Other things to consider: Chicago snapped Miami's 27 game winning streak: "The Bulls beat the Heat by attacking them in the paint at both ends of the court, by making timely fourth quarter shots and by never backing down mentally or physically. Is that the blueprint for winning a playoff series against the Heat? Of course it is--but the problem for Heat opponents is twofold: (1) not many squads have the coaching and/or personnel necessary to execute that game plan and (2) in order to eliminate the Heat a team must execute that game plan four times in a seven game series." If the Bulls had a fully healthy, non-rusty Derrick Rose and if Joakim Noah/Luol Deng/Kirk Hinrich were fully healthy then they would have a realistic chance to beat the Heat four times in seven games. Even as things stand now--with Rose apparently not returning to action this season and the statuses of Noah, Deng and Hinrich seemingly varying from game to game (though Noah appears to be getting healthier)--the Bulls will fight the Heat tooth and nail, possibly even winning two games, but it is difficult to picture Chicago pulling off the massive upset.

The Rose situation is very unusual. I cannot recall another example of any player--let alone a recent MVP--being cleared to play by the doctors, practicing without restrictions for several weeks and not even attempting to participate in the playoffs. I agree with TNT's Kenny Smith that Rose has a track record that must be respected and that we have to trust Rose's assertion that he is not yet ready to play but it is undeniable that if Rose suited up then he would have a big impact even if he could only perform at 50%-60%; the opposing defense would have to respect his presence, which would open things up for Rose's teammates. If Rose could play even just 20 solid minutes per game then this would increase Chicago's depth and return several players to their normal roles. It is difficult to figure out what exactly Rose means when he says that he will not play again until he is "comfortable." Until his recent knee injury, Russell Westbrook had not missed a game in the NBA, college or high school--and I doubt that he was fully "comfortable" every time he stepped on the court. I hope that Rose is not sitting out to preserve his statistics; Kobe Bryant has played on one leg or without the full use of an arm/several fingers because he knew that even in a reduced state he could still have an impact but he once said that other stars are reluctant to do such things because they don't want to hurt their scoring averages. If Rose is healthy enough to play then he should do so even if would just average 10 ppg in 20 mpg.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:45 AM

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Real Talk About Media Coverage of NBA Coaching

I correctly predicted the winner of seven of the eight first round series, including both upsets in the #4 versus #5 matchups; my only mistake was favoring Denver over Golden State: the Nuggets took game one on Andre Miller's buzzer-beating layup and then lost four of the next five games. I should have known better than to pick a George Karl-coached team in the playoffs: Karl has a .599 regular season winning percentage but just a .432 playoff winning percentage; compare that to the winning percentages of championship-winning coaches Phil Jackson (.704/.688), Gregg Popovich (.681/.613), Erik Spoelstra (.660/.633), Pat Riley (.636/.606), Rick Carlisle (.587/.515), Larry Brown (.568/.511) and Doc Rivers (.554/.529) and it is clear that neither Karl's playoff winning percentage nor the gaping differential between his regular season/playoff winning percentages suggest that Karl is an elite level coach.

Coaching matters in the NBA, even though some "stat gurus" dispute this. When I picked Chicago to beat Brooklyn I wrote, "This series features a huge coaching mismatch. TNT's Kenny Smith says that if a team loses by more than five points then blame the players but if it loses by less than five points blame the coach; the games in this series figure to be low scoring and close and I trust Chicago's Tom Thibodeau much more than I trust Brooklyn's P. J. Carlesimo; this is not just about in-game adjustments but also about elements of preparation that give one team an edge over another." Only two of the seven games in the Chicago-Brooklyn series were decided by five points or less--with each team winning one of those games--but five of the games were decided by eight points or less (including the triple overtime contest that Chicago won by eight points) and the Bulls went 4-1 in those games. Brooklyn's other two victories were both blowouts; there is no doubt that the Nets have a more talented team on paper than the injury-ravaged Bulls but the Bulls proved to be a more disciplined and focused squad: the Bulls did all of the "little things" that actually are quite important, such as setting solid screens, executing plays crisply and taking advantage of opportunities to score easy baskets on inbounds plays while also denying Brooklyn similar opportunities.

Bum Phillips once said that Don Shula "can take his'n and beat your'n or he can take your'n and beat his'n." The Chicago-Brooklyn series very much had that feel; in game seven, the Bulls were without the services of 2011 MVP Derrick Rose (who missed the entire 2012-13 season), All-Star Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich while the Nets had all hands on deck yet the Bulls took a huge first half lead and never trailed en route to a 99-93 road win: if everything else were kept the same but the head coaches switched sides, I'd be willing to bet that the Nets would have won the series.

Coach bashing is a favorite media pastime but most media members do not have a clue how to determine if a team is well coached or poorly coached. I respect all NBA coaches tremendously and I fully realize that even a bad NBA head coach knows more about basketball than the vast majority of coaches at any other level of the sport; Karl is a very good NBA coach but he seems to be better suited for rebuilding teams/coaching underdogs than he is at extracting the maximum out of 50-plus win teams. Carlesimo was an excellent collegiate coach and he served as an assistant on Gregg Popovich's San Antonio staff so Carlesimo obviously has a very good basketball mind--but as an NBA head coach he has not measured up well in comparison with the best of the best, a category in which Thibodeau clearly belongs.

When I critique coaches like Carlesimo and Karl I am not trying to suggest that I know more about basketball than they do or that I would be a better NBA head coach; in other words, I am not acting like Bill Simmons. I am just doing my job as an NBA analyst by pointing out that, as much as Karl and Carlesimo know about basketball, there are other coaches who are demonstrably performing at a higher level.

Media members do not like to admit being wrong and it is interesting to see the lengths some of them will go to in order to avoid such admissions. Simmons used to regularly bash Doc Rivers' coaching acumen but now Rivers is widely recognized as a great coach so Simmons had to stop degrading Rivers--but did Simmons admit that he was wrong? Of course not! Simmons' story is that Rivers has evolved into being a great coach. Rivers won the 2000 Coach of the Year award in his first season as an NBA head coach after leading the "heart and hustle" Orlando Magic to a 41-41 record with Darrell Armstrong, John Amaechi and Chucky Atkins as the top three players in the rotation. Has Rivers become a better coach in the intervening 13 years? I am sure that he has; I hope that anyone who does something for more than a decade becomes better at it--but the idea that Rivers was a terrible coach who then became a great coach is absurd. Simmons was dead wrong about Rivers and he should just admit it.

Simmons' arrogance is not unique; Cleveland media members still give the Simmons treatment to Bill Belichick, who took over a 3-13 Browns team in 1991 and transformed them into an 11-5 playoff team by 1994. During Belichick's entire tenure in Cleveland the media relentlessly mocked his coaching strategies and his public speaking style. The Browns have not won a playoff game since the 1994 team went 1-1 in the postseason, while Belichick has won three Super Bowls in New England. Belichick is now widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest coaches in NFL history--but do the Cleveland media members admit that they were wrong? Of course not! They insist that Belichick learned from his supposed mistakes in Cleveland and became a much better coach in New England. Sure, that makes sense: he was a dunce in Cleveland but he became a genius in New England--well, if ignorance is contagious then perhaps one could theorize that he caught it from those Cleveland media members! Smart people are much more apt to learn from their mistakes than stupid people, so there is no doubt that Belichick learned from some mistakes that he made in Cleveland but the record before, during and after his time there shows that he did a great job as the Browns' coach. A lot of those very same media members gave Mike Brown the Belichick treatment during Brown's first term as the Cavaliers' coach and they are no doubt gearing up to do so again as Brown takes over for the fired Byron Scott. We will be told that Brown should hire John Kuester as some kind of "offensive coordinator"--so that the Cavs can hope to replicate the awesome scoring attack that Kuester built during his tenure as Detroit's head coach when the Pistons ranked 29th and 22nd in points scored. Brown will be mocked for talking about his players letting him coach them, even though Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Daly said exactly the same thing; that statement has nothing to do with being a soft person or a bad leader and everything to do with understanding the nature of the culture in an NBA locker room: if a coach cannot elicit "voluntary cooperation" (Pat Riley's way of referring to the concept mentioned by Daly and Brown) then he cannot function effectively.

Mike Brown does not need me to defend him; he is well paid for his services and he is well respected by people who actually understand the technical aspects of the sport--I just wish that media members covered the league more intelligently, but we are all getting the media coverage that we accept/tolerate; perhaps some day editors and consumers will hold writers/TV talking heads to higher standards but it does not seem like that kind of change will happen any time soon.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:31 AM

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