Saturday, June 29, 2013

The End of An Era & An Alarming Trend


When you think back to the Celtics run with the Big 3 & them winning a championship in their first year together, you had to figure there would be at least one more championship before it was said & done. Their best shot for a 2nd title was derailed by an injury to Kendrick Perkins in 2009 when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in 7 games. They ended up going to a total of 2 NBA Finals in their 6 years together. Now on the surface that may sound less than stellar given their early success but when you go back over the years, since 1959 only 15 different teams have won titles. What that statistic tells me is that it is extremely difficult to win an NBA title. So in retrospect, they had an impressive run, making deep playoff runs every year except their last.

When I think back to the start of their run, it was obvious their window wasn't going to be extremely long since they all had been in the league for at least 9 years with Kevin Garnett & Ray Allen having played for 12 years each already. If you told Danny Ainge & Doc Rivers they'd all be together for a good 5 year stretch, I'm sure that would be exactly what they'd hope for. This past year was the start of the end with the departure of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat but it was officially brought to an end with their 1st round playoff ouster at the hands of the New York Knicks. What has transpired since then has been interesting to say the least.

Since that playoff exit, they have traded Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 1st round draft pick & on draft night announced, in principle, the trade of both Garnett & Pierce along with Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets. The obvious reaction is the Celtics are rebuilding & looking towards their future. Every era comes to an end so it should come as no surprise, but the biggest shock is them trading Pierce. You heard constantly at the beginning of last year that Garnett was seriously considering retirement only to be talked into coming back. Now, he's off to play for his 3rd team in his career. Pierce though it seemed would retire a Celtic in the vain of the old Celtic greats like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale & Bill Russell. To imagine Pierce in another uniform is difficult to do.


























When the trade was announced, the blogosphere went crazy with people catapulting the Nets to near the top of the Eastern Conference as a legitimate threat to the Miami Heat. On paper, it would appear they have vastly improved, but I have to say though, I disagree. Teams like the Pacers, Bulls & Knicks will be getting back injured stars Danny Granger, Derrick Rose & Amare Stoudemire so barring any major trades, they'll all be bringing back relatively the same rosters. Continuity is a dramatically underrated element in the NBA. Constant roster upheaval is difficult to overcome. The league is about spacing & it takes time to get used to each other as far as when, where & just as importantly, how you like the ball. You can't learn those things about each other through the course of training camp. It normally takes a year or so. 

Last season for the Nets the lack of continuity can be used as one of the reasons for their season long issues. They went through losing streaks, coaching changes & an embarrassing exit from the playoffs. On the surface, the trade seems to address one of their biggest issues, leadership or a lack thereof. Kevin Garnett instantly gives them a voice & an identity both on the court & in the locker room. That seemed to be their biggest issue as Deron Williams appeared to have trouble assuming that role. Joe Johnson is more a quiet lead-by-example type of player, not a rah-rah guy. Garnett on the other hand is the antithesis of that. He will get in peoples' faces & hold guys accountable which Williams seemed unwilling or unable to do. That, for me, is the only aspect of the trade that I like for the Nets. 

For the Celtics, they got back Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph & three 1st round picks (2014, 2016 & 2018). Those picks can be used for additional deals or by 2016, could be significant as the Nets may be starting to rebuild by then. The contracts of both Wallace & Humphries are interesting from the Celtics standpoint though. Wallace has 3 years & $30 million left on his deal but to be honest, I've never understood people's infatuation with him. He's a tough hard nosed player, but as was evident last year with the Nets, his offensive game is severely limited. I'm not quite sure why the Celtics felt the need to take on that many years at that dollar amount unless it was the only way to make the deal work. I'd have to think Humphries may be used as trade bait as he has 1 year left at $12 million & could help a team in need of a good rebounder. Brooks though may be the most coveted player they took back in the deal. He actually was originally drafted by the Celtics & traded to the Nets as part of a deal where they swapped picks & also got the Nets' 2014 2nd round pick. So essentially, they own the rights to both of the Nets' draft picks next year.  




 I understand what Ainge is attempting to do but I can't help but feel like he could've gotten a better package had he waited, especially since no part of this deal involved any picks from this year's draft. Which brings me to my real issue with this trade. I can't help but feel like this was somehow a Mikhail Prokhorov deal. Since coming to NY he has made it a priority to make a lot of noise & grab headlines in the city. In NY where there are 2 teams in each sport, there is a real big brother/little brother dynamic that exists. The Mets, Jets & Nets are all stuck in the shadows of the more popular & successful, Yankees, Giants & Knicks. Every time throughout the years when the little brothers have tried to win the popularity contest in the city, it has pretty much back-fired. Whenever one of them has attempted it through big trades or free agency, they've had some success, but when it doesn't work, it goes bad fast. For instance, the Mets. After signing big ticket free agents in 2007, they made it to the League Championship Series yet 2 years later were firing their manager & starting a decline that they've yet to recover from. The Jets did the same thing when the hired Rex Ryan, signing or trading for a bunch a veterans & mortgaging their future by trading away a number of draft picks. They did everything possible to make a name for themselves in order to win over the populace even appearing on HBO's Hard Knocks program. They were able to get to two straight Conference Championships, but since then have been on an embarrassing decline.

Since Prokhorov took over, the Nets it seems, have been following the same blue print. They traded for Joe Johnson 2 years after he signed a max contract while playing for the Atlanta Hawks. A deal that was widely criticized as arguably one of the worst contracts ever & the thought was that it would make him un-tradeable. Only, you can never account for a desperate owner with deep pockets. When Prokhorov took over, one of the first things he said he wanted to do was take over the town from the Knicks. He also said their goal was to win a title within 5 years. Big mistakes. The fact that he would even mention the Knicks was a mistake. Especially since the Knicks themselves were desperate to get back to relevance. In a city like NY, there is no better selling point than winning. The majority of fans in NY are too savvy to be fooled by the smoke & mirrors of winning the off-season. As I said there were no picks from this year's draft included in the deal, yet for some reason, it was announced in the middle of the NBA Draft while everyone was watching. That reeks of an attention grabbing move. They could've done this a week later & nothing would've changed. The fact that it came out when it did is a clear sign of a public relations move.

From purely a basketball perspective though, as I said, Garnett makes perfect sense for the Nets but Pierce going to Brooklyn makes little sense. While both are at the tail end of their careers, they still will be counted on for crucial minutes albeit fewer minutes than they're used to playing. The question for Pierce is, how prepared is he to become essentially a spot up shooter? Him & Johnson both like the ball in the same spots on the floor & need it in their hands while they're both used to taking the last shot. Johnson established that role last year for the Nets by taking & hitting multiple game winners, a role that Pierce has played his whole career. Also, when you add Williams & Brook Lopez, that's four guys who need the ball to be effective. In Lopez you have a seven footer who doesn't rebound nor play defense well so if he's not getting the ball in the post, how effective can he be? It's difficult enough when you have two guys that need the ball to be effective so it's hard to fathom having four guys that need it. 



The difficult task of making it all come together will fall into the lap of a rookie head coach in Jason Kidd. I went over the many dynamics of Kidd's transition from player to head coach in a matter of a couple of weeks in a previous post (see: 2 Weeks In The Life of Jason Kidd ). Now though, that dynamic has grown exponentially. Kidd will have to navigate all of these egos while implementing his system. A system which he stated in his introductory press conference was to be more uptempo. Garnett & Pierce at this point in their careers are not suited for an uptempo style of play. If Kidd is forced to change to a more half court system, that should benefit Brook Lopez more than anyone else. Although, as the youngest player in this revamped lineup, it will be interesting to see how often Lopez actually demands the ball in the post which is normal even for the most dominant post players. 

Kidd has hired Lawrence Frank as his top assistant to help ease his transition. He was Kidd's head coach in New Jersey when he took over for Byron Scott & was an assistant in Boston under Rivers for the 2010-11 season. Frank though has never coached a team with this many aging veteran stars. What the Nets have to hope for is that Pierce is more than willing to accept a lesser role & Garnett is able to become the type of leader to Williams that he was to Rajon Rondo. Even Johnson will have to be willing to give up a number of shots for them to have success. Williams is really the key to it all though. As I've said before, he has shown to be somewhat of an enigma & his inability to be a leader with his skills while playing point guard is troubling. I wouldn't at all be surprised if at some point there is talk of bringing Pierce off of the bench in order to create more space for Johnson & Williams on the floor. Again, how will that be received by a guy like Pierce coming from a rookie head coach, even if that coach is a guy like Jason Kidd?

So while it seems the Celtics are on course to end up in the Andrew Wiggins lottery, they may not be as bad as people think which usually is the last thing you want to be as a franchise. In the NBA, the last thing you want to be is mediocre. It's much better to very bad than average. Which is why I can't help but think that Ainge isn't through making deals. The logical next piece for him to move is Rondo. Problem with that though is, Rondo is coming off of knee surgery so they probably wouldn't be getting back top dollar for him. Would Ainge be willing to trade Rondo to a team like Sacramento who desperately needs a floor leader or perhaps to the Detroit Pistons who have some nice young pieces they could offer up? Time will tell but before we assess the Celtics fortunes let's wait & see what other moves they make between now & the start of training camp because any Rondo deal may have to wait awhile so teams have a better idea how healthy his knee is. The Nets roster however, is pretty much set for the most part aside from some smaller moves. Kidd will get his feet wet coaching their summer league team but coaching a bunch of rookie free agents & second year players looking to make an NBA roster is very different from the roster he'll be coaching next season. 

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 NBA Draft Preview




Well it's that time of year again, where you can look back on your team's successes & failures & begin hoping & wishing who your team will draft. I love this time of year because it gives me a chance to get a peek into where the league is headed in the next 10 years. Each year brings a new attitude about the players coming out & this year is no different. All you continue to hear is how weak of a draft it is. I take issue with that line of thinking though. Not so much because it's inaccurate, but more because of the connotations. While it is a draft devoid of any certified superstars, like a LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose, it is a relatively deep draft in terms of substance players, guys who can be glue guys & fill a complementary role on a team.

With any draft you have to remember that there are a list of things to take into consideration when a team picks a player. One of them being where that player is drafted. That can have as much to do with a players career success as anything. A guy may have all the requisite skills to be a force at his position, but if he goes to the wrong team, he can end up becoming nothing more than a bit role player. Nowadays with most of the top players turning pro after their freshman & sophomore years in college, a team can be drafting on potential more than anything else. That makes GMs' & scouts' jobs that much more difficult. I recently heard Steve Kerr, 5-time NBA Champion & former GM of the Phoenix Suns, quote Jerry West when he said, as a GM, "if you're right 51% of the time, you're doing a helluva job."



The best formula quite simply is to draft the best player available. When you try to draft based on need, you can fall victim to reaching for a player. The pressure of being a top draft pick can be overwhelming for some players. They can try too hard to justify their draft position & lose focus of the big picture. The key is to always come away will value for your pick regardless of your draft position. The Spurs took Tim Duncan with the number 1 pick back in the 1997 draft & went on to win 4 Championships with him as their go-to guy. Then in 1999 they took Manu Ginobili with next to last pick of the draft & 2 years later, they took Tony Parker with the last pick in the 1st round. That's what you call getting value for your picks.

Another trap some GMs & scouts fall into is what I call, The Big School Syndrome. Sometimes players at the big schools can be over valued as well as over scrutinized. Guys who go to the big schools are the most heavily recruited so within basketball circles they're already a well known commodity. However, that player must then live up to lofty expectations & their games can begin to get picked apart. A guy like Carlos Boozer is a classic example of this. He was one of the best players while at Duke but he ended up going in the 2nd round to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At the same time a guy who goes to a smaller school can go over looked until someone comes along to shatter that stereotype. Damion Lillard is a perfect example of that. Playing at Weber State, he went unnoticed by most but after the Draft Combine, everyone began to take notice. The Portland Trailblazers obviously made the correct move as he went on to win Rookie of the Year. Him accomplishing so much opens the door for other guys coming out of small schools, until some GM reaches on a player, & he doesn't pan out. CJ McCollum is going to be the next test subject. If he goes high in the 1rd round & lives up to his draft status, GMs will continue scouring the smaller Division I schools looking for the next sleeper. If McCollum doesn't, they'll probably go back to over looking those small school players.



For myself, when I look at the draft, the 1st thing I want to know is the player's height, weight, position & level of athleticism. After taking in all that information, I then start looking at what the player's strengths are. While I want to know his weaknesses, I don't get too caught up in them. If his weaknesses outweigh his strengths, then he probably doesn't belong in the draft in the 1st place. I prefer to focus on what he can do & where he is at in his development. How high his ceiling is & how far is he from reaching it? The one weakness I do take into serious consideration is, his mental approach & attitude. If I'm the GM in New York, I might want to stay away from a guy who has a rep for getting into trouble after hours. Unless his skill set is exceptional of course.

Sleeper picks are the most intriguing. Again, if a guy is good enough to even get drafted, then there is something he can do that's of value to an NBA team. Some guys may not jump off the screen with their athleticism, but they still may possess something intangible like an innate ability to make things happen on one or both ends of the court. You can't get too wrapped up in one category, you have to figure out how good his strengths are compared to his weaknesses.

I don't get into mock drafts either or making predictions of who's going where & at what number, but what I am going to do is list the guys that I feel are the Top 3 players available, my Most Undervalued, Most Overvalued & my favorite, the Sleeper pick. I'll get into why I have each player listed as I do, but again, I'm not really making predictions just evaluations. So with that being said, here we go:

Top 3:


1. Anthony Bennett PF 6-8 240lbs UNLV

Bennett is a physical force with a high motor who likes to attack at all times. He's a great rebounder & can face up & hit open jumpers. He's only 19 so as strong as he is, that will improve as his body matures. He has quick feet & a 7-1 wingspan which helps him carve out space & finish at the rim. His physical skills can translate to being a good defender & he should be able to develop a post game. As is the case with most young players, his energy level on defense isn't always what you want but with the right push he should be able to become a more than serviceable defender as he matures. My biggest concern with him is his mental preparedness. Watching him in interviews he seems almost surprised by the attention he's getting heading into the draft. 


2. Otto Porter SF 6-9 198lbs Georgetown University

Porter to me is the most polished of all the players in the draft because he can do a lot of things very well. He is a very smart player  competes on every play. He plays defense with an energy & sense that you want in a top pick, especially one as skilled offensively as him. Very often guys tend to be one way players having spent much of their development years focusing on one side of the ball. Porter is also a high character guy who has worked to improve his game as evidenced by his much improved jump shot. If you watch him from 2 years ago to now, you can plainly see his mechanics have improved tremendously. Every coach wants a guy like Porter on their team.


3. Alex Len C 7-1 225lbs Maryland University



A lot of draft boards have Nerlens Noel as the top-rated center but I like Len better. Len is better offensively right now than Noel though he isn't as good defensively. He is explosive around the rim & is an above average rebounder already even with his slight frame. He does need to get stronger & develop a legitimate post game, though he showed improvement from his freshman to sophomore year in nearly every attribute. Like Noel he does have an injury concern, though not as serious as Noel's. With his length & energy level he has tremendous upside. 



Undervalued:

1. Steven Adams C 7-0 255lbs Pittsburgh





 I have Adams as my most under valued player based upon draft stock projections by scouts & analysts. The more I watched of him the more I came away surprised at his draft ranking. Adams is 19 but physically looks like he's in his mid-to-late 20s. He has surprisingly good lateral foot speed which allows him to defend guards on pick & rolls plays. He runs the floor well for a man his size & he possesses good fundamentals. With his soft hands he displays a good touch around the rim. When combined with his lateral fluidity, he could turn into a good to very good offensive center in the NBA given the chance. He's also a good rebounder & isn't afraid to mix it up. My feeling is, he's one of those guys who gets overshadowed by the guys from the big schools with the built in reputations because everything I saw of him suggests he can turn into a steal of a pick.

2. Dennis Schroeder PG 6-2 165lbs Germany



The first thing you notice when you sit down to watch Schroeder is his quickness. He's not only extremely quick with a great first step but he changes speeds very well. He's only 19 so his body needs to develop more which may affect him at the rim when he takes contact. Overall though his speed & quickness should enable him to be able to beat his man off the dribble. He's not a very good shooter off of the dribble but his mechanics are good enough that he's a decent spot up shooter. As is the case with most young PGs, he can be turnover prone but he is an excellent passer. The fact that he's an international player may be why he's somewhat under the radar, but one glance & you can plainly see, the kid can play.

3.  Gorgui Dieng C 6-11 230lbs Louisville



When you first see his physical frame it's easy to take for granted his offensive skill set. He has surprisingly soft hands & moves his feet very well. He has a nice touch around the rim so if he ever develops a low post game, he can be very effective. His body is NBA ready & he should be able to contribute right away on the defensive end as a backup center. With his 7-4 wingspan he rebounds & blocks shots well. I think what will surprise whoever drafts him the most though is his passing. Setting him up on the high post will catch defenders off-guard

Overvalued:

1. Nerlens Noel C 7-0 219lbs Kentucky



The more I watch of him the more I come away feeling like he is a by-product of a hype machine. Going to a big-time school like Kentucky & coming in ranked as one of the top high school players, to me, he's a little bit over valued. Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way suggesting that he won't make a good pro but sometimes scouts & GMs can get caught up in the high ceiling attribute. He is an excellent defender both on the perimeter contesting & blocking shots, but his slim built makes him susceptible to further injury. Personally there are 2 other bigs that I would prefer over him especially given his limited offensive skills.


2. Shabazz Muhammad SF 6-6 222lbs UCLA



Muhammad may be the poster child for the AAU hype machine. Coming into college he was being touted as the top player amongst freshmen. What he showed at the Division I level was that he lacked a real explosive skill set as his lateral quickness & overall speed was lacking. The fact that he's left handed helps as does his strength. It's not to say that he's not a good player just not the level of player many, including his dad, seem to think. I do like his guile on the offensive end & what he lacks in explosiveness he makes up for somewhat with his scoring instincts. His highest upside to me would be a Paul Pierce type of game. Putting him on this list doesn't in anyway suggest that he will flop as a pro because I do think he'll have productive career, I just feel that he's being over valued compared to a number of other players.

3. Cody Zeller PF/C 7-0 230 Indiana



When Zeller was coming out of high school he was another of those players that I feel was being a little over hyped. I do think it helped that his older brother was also a top prospect in recent years & was now in the NBA. It seems like sometimes scouts & GMs put more value than I ever would on trends. Whether it be small school players making a big splash & starting a trend or a player's DNA, sometimes too much is put into things that have very little to do with a players success. I think he can be a serviceable player but I just don't see the high upside. He will have to make a big adjustment to his game as supposedly the plan is for him to become a stretch 4 in the NBA. When a guy has to change his game in the summer between his last college game & his first NBA game, that's not a good sign. Maybe he can do it since he is a decent spot up shooter but time will tell.  

Biggest Sleeper:

1. Tony Mitchell PF 6-9 236lbs North Texas



Tony Mitchell went from being a potential lottery pick after his freshman season to being a late 1st rounder after his sophomore season. At times he played with a serious lack of interest, mostly from the defensive end but occasionally from the offensive side also. So much so that even he admitted as much. I give him credit for being up front & honest & addressing it with the hopes of showing that it won't be an issue at the next level. What he did show over his college career though was great rebounding & shot blocking skills. The fact that he went through a coaching change from his freshman to sophomore seasons may explain to some extent the drop in his numbers. Still, there's no excuse for a lack of effort but I personally believe he may have regretted not coming out after his freshman year. It may take a couple of seasons for him to show his talents similar to Lance Stephenson since he may be fighting for playing time, but I am confident whoever takes him will be more than happy with their selection.





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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Miami Heat 2012-13 NBA Champions




There's really no need to get fancy or beat around the proverbial bush when it comes to what they accomplished. Once again the Heat was the last team standing & deservedly so. Last year with the lockout & shortened season, it was somewhat of a blur. This year however, was the usual grind that nearly every other championship team has had to go through. The fact that is was their second in a row does make it even more impressive. Once again, LeBron James was the biggest deciding factor in their championship.

I won't get into all the numbers of how many players in history have done this or that, don't need to. I don't like getting caught up in all those statical numbers, that's for the sports shows to make stories out of. Besides, my eyes tell me all I need to know: he is the best player on the planet. It's just that simple. Game 6 was a microcosm of his entire career wrapped up into 1 game. For most of the game he was having, by his standards, an average game. Not terrible but certainly not great. That's not something you should be able to say about the best player in the world at a time when his team's season is on the line. Then as has been the case before with James, when it seemed his story would be written in an unflattering tone, he lead the Heat back in the final 5 minutes to force overtime where they went on to pull it out.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I'm not a fan of LeBron's but not at all in the fashion that the so-called LeBron haters dislike him. I have no problem admitting his greatness. To not admit it would be foolish. He certainly has had his flaws but at this point in his career, he has now proven everything there is to prove. People shouldn't compare others to him (Carmelo Anthony & Kevin Durant), nor compare him to others (Michael Jordan). If you're really a fan of the NBA be glad you get to root against him or for him & let him define his career as his own, not in comparison to anyone else's. My issues with him started years ago, long before The Decision. I saw a young man who just hadn't proven he could win at the highest level behaving as though he had already accomplished everything. He was the self appointed King James & he certainly acted as though he thought he was the King. I never cared for all the pre-game antics like pretending to take pictures with his teammates or the whole throwing the talcum powder in the air nonsense.



The one that bothered me the most though was a game against the Chicago Bulls in Cleveland when he was still a Cavalier. The Cavs were up by well over 20 points, & while sitting on the bench, in the middle of the game he starting dancing...dancing on the baseline, in the middle of the game. Joakim Noah obviously felt as I did because when LeBron was reinserted into the game, Noah, while sitting on the bench could be seen telling James he was a clown & should be better than that. Noah was right. For all the fans of LeBron who will try to make excuses for him & say it's no big deal, ask yourself this: do you think you would ever see Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett or even Derrick Rose behaving in the same manner? The answer is an obvious no.

I continually told friends who were fans of his that, much like Dwight Howard, he wouldn't win until he got serious & focused all of his mental energy to the task at hand. Even his own current teammate Dwyane Wade was stoic & focused before games. So while James was busy taking faux pictures with his teammates, Wade would be mentally preparing himself for the game. When I finally saw that James was ready was last year in the playoffs when he took to riding a stationary bike in the tunnel outside the locker room. I told my wife as soon as I saw that, "he finally gets it & now he's ready".

I always felt that James would have to hit professional rock-bottom before he would realize how much focus & attention is required to be an NBA Champion. That professional rock-bottom was Game 5 versus the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Here he was about to lose to his personal arch nemesis the Celtics at a time when the Celtics were thought to be too old to even give the Heat a good series. That was the moment when LeBron James went from potentially Dominique Wilkins status to Magic Johnson status, (notice I did NOT say Michael Jordan). In that game 5 James finished with 30 points but went the final 8 minutes without scoring. That seems almost impossible that someone that dominant could go that long in that crucial a spot without even scoring from the foul line, but that was James to that point in his career, a roller coaster of personal successes & failures.



What he did from that point on though is prove himself to be unequivocally, the best player in the NBA & one of the greatest players of all-time. Game 6 versus the Celtics was one of the greatest games ever by one player, playoff or regular season. To score 45 points while only missing 7 field goal attempts is almost unthinkable. Since that moment he hasn't looked back & he again did some remarkable things this season. A lot of people put a lot of stake into the Heat's 27 game win streak this past season as to their greatness, but while impressive, to me is more reflective of the mediocrity of the eastern conference than anything else. But what can't be taken lightly is what he was able to accomplish this year in both the regular season & the playoffs.

Last year they lost Chris Bosh for a portion of the playoffs but with James & Wade still playing at a high level, they were able to win with a couple of tense moments. This year however, both Wade & Bosh were playing poorly. Since James came to Miami, they have had times where Wade or Bosh were either unavailable or just weren't playing well, but this was the first time they both weren't playing well at the same time. There were moments in the playoffs where it was starting to look like James was still in Cleveland only this time his jersey said Heat on the front instead of Cavaliers. He looked like a man on an island. It did help that in the Finals a number of Spurs weren't playing well either but they were getting additional help from unlikely sources like Danny Green, Gary Neal & Kawhi Leonard.

I said in my preview of the finals (see: Tipoff Is Here) that every year an unknown who you least expect, steps up & makes their mark on the Finals. For the 1st 5 games it was Green & for a couple of games it was Neal. Leonard stepped up for the entire series but much like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili, he missed a crucial free throw in game 6 that could've won the series for the Spurs. What I nor most people would be able to account for though was Ginobili having one good game out of 7 in the series. Even when you get an unknown to step up, you still need your all-stars to play like all-stars. The Spurs didn't get that from one of their most important players so if 2 out of those 3 unknowns didn't step up, it would be difficult for an injured Parker & an older Duncan to carry them over the hump.



For Miami though, the fact that both Wade & Bosh were missing in action was offset by James stepping up to new heights. He had some help along the way as a guy like Ray Allen was able to hit a couple of big shots including of course the game tying shot in game 6. He also got defensive help from Shane Battier & Chris "Birdman" Anderson. Mario Chalmers stepped up the final 2 games & unlike Ginobili, Wade was able to dig deep & come up big at the end of game 6 & all of game 7. So while the Spurs needed more from a couple of people to win, the Heat got even more from one guy in LeBron James who already does everything for his team.

One forgotten guy in all of Miami's success has been their head coach Erik Spoelstra. At the most crucial point in the series, he out coached Gregg Popovich. Popovich beat himself with a couple of moves he made late in game 6, right up to the Allen 3 pointer but Spoelstra pushed the right buttons in getting great play from Battier, Anderson & Chalmers at crucial times. Popovich opened himself up to scrutiny when in the final minute of game 6, for some odd reason he chose to sit Duncan in favor of a smaller quicker lineup in order to protect the 3 point line. Obviously that didn't work on multiple levels because with Duncan on the bench, Bosh was able to secure the offensive rebound that lead to the game tying Allen 3.



At the time when I realized he was sitting Duncan, my 1st thought was he must want a defense for offense substitution but you only do that when you have timeouts so you can reinsert him. They of course had no timeouts. The last thing you want a head coach to do at crucial moments is to over think the strategy. By taking Duncan out of the game you're allowing what the Heat do, to dictate what you do. Plus you're talking about sitting one of the greatest players ever in Duncan. Pretty much anyone else you put out there is going to be a worse option than leaving Duncan on the court.

Spoelstra on the other hand sat Battier for most of the Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers & leaned heavily on Anderson during that series. In the Finals, Battier was having a hard time with his shooting & Anderson all of a sudden got a couple of DNP's CD (Did Not Play- Coach's Decision). In layman's terms, he was a healthy scratch. Then at the most crucial point in their season, he turned to those 2 guys & they came up big. Chalmers also stepped up & Allen played 41 minutes in game 6. Now you can say the players did what their supposed to do but it's the coach's job to have all 12 of his players motivated & focused, ready to go at a moments notice. Spoelstra was successful at that.

It's not easy sitting & watching your team fight while you sit on the sidelines. Every single guy on that bench should want to be in there competing. You think Spoelstra didn't want a guy like Udonis Haslem in there if for no other reason than out of respect for all he's meant to the franchise? But he wisely made the decision to go with Anderson when he sensed what Haslem was bringing to the table wasn't enough. Meanwhile Popovich made minimal adjustments. He continued to go to Taigo Splitter even as the Heat were done taking turns blocking his dunk attempts. He finally went with Boris Diaw, who provided a much needed boost & actually helped get them their biggest lead in game 6 & helped keep them in game 7 but it was too little too late. But besides the Duncan benching at the end of game 6 the biggest mistake he made may have been worrying a little too much about getting his aging stars rest.



While it's obviously a legitimate issue for a team with 2 stars who are 36 & 37 respectively, you are talking about the NBA Finals here. There is really no tomorrow. You can't burn them out but you also can't stick to the script when it comes to substitution patterns. You follow that scrpit to a point, not to a fault. If Ray Allen can play 41 minutes at the age of 38, then you can certainly expect a guy like Duncan to find that extra something it takes to get over the top. So while Popovich is widely regarded as one of, if not the best coach in the league, Spoelstra certainly needs to be recognized as having out coached him at least in this series.

So while the Heat bask in the glory of back-to-back championships, they do have some serious questions they need to ask themselves this coming off-season. The most difficult one may be what to make of Wade. Is this who he is going to be for the remainder of his career, a broken down version of himself who can will himself to great moments or will he somehow regain his all-time great form? Also will they keep their Big 3 together or should they trade Bosh for a legit big man or at least a guy who can play with his back to the basket more often? Those are both tough questions especially when you consider that most teams are not going to go out of their way to help out the defending back-to-back NBA Champions. Gone are the days of owners making decisions that help the league more than their own franchise so the Heat may be left with bringing back pretty much the same team while adding a few vets who may be looking to chase a ring before they retire. Having said that though, as long as they bring back LeBron James, they will probably be right there at the end, defending their title in the NBA Finals again.

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What To Do With Dwight Howard?



Ah Dwight Howard...man what an intriguing subject to write about. Before I get into what I think he should do with his impending free agency, I have to delve into the saga that has become his career. For me it starts in 2009. That was the year he took the Magic to the NBA Finals losing in 5 games to the Los Angeles Lakers. Along the way he lead them over a LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers squad in what would be his one & only trip there.

Now the reason I say it started then is because, I have always said that he needs to get serious & focus on his job more. Much like LeBron James he had so much success & accolades so early in his career, I believe it altered his perception of his self worth on the basketball court. Around that time in his career he started questioning his head coach Stan Van Gundy in the media. That started what has turned out to be one of the oddest player/coach relationships I've ever seen. He also had a penchant for making a spectacle of himself with all his pre-game antics. It seemed as though he was hellbent on making a name for himself as a fun loving guy.


Far be it for me to tell Howard how to live his life on the court but I can say with absolute certainty that his happy-go-lucky style has yet to win a title in this NBA. In other words, it's time for Howard to grow up. LeBron went through a similar metamorphosis & came out on top, well Howard needs to see his example & learn from it. You would think playing with Kobe Bryant would've taught Howard some lessons in focus & determination but if how his season ended is any indication, getting thrown out with about 9 minutes left in the 3rd quarter of Game 4, he hasn't learned a thing.

A few years back, Howard followed in the footsteps of Bryant & went to spend some time with Hakeem Olajuwon learning some of his famous Dream Shake moves. It seemed to help as he went on to have one of his most productive years but he still has yet to develop a true signature low post move. It's amazing how many big men these days haven't developed any real low post moves. Shaquille O'Neal is the greatest example of a dominant player never developing a go-to move but still remaining dominant. Shaq spent his best years just overpowering opponents but when his foot speed left him he had no signature move to fall back on. A successful go-to low post move for a big man can be the difference between a great 10 years & a consistently great 13-15 years. When some of your natural skills erode you need a move that requires as much guile as it does skill. Howard still doesn't have that & Shaq never really did.


This past season we saw what can happen to Howard when his dominant athletic skills aren't there. He had his lowest scoring average since his 3rd year in the league while his blocks & rebounds remained close to the same but he just didn't have his usual explosiveness. It would be in his best interest to return to Olajuwon's & continue working on his low post game. Even Shaq, while never having a true go-to move, had soft hands & a soft touch. Howard on the other hand does not. He has little to no touch around the rim & is the reason why at times while in Orlando, Van Gundy wouldn't run the offense through him at crunch time. Add to the fact that he is a horrible foul shooter & it was actually a sensible move not going to him down there.

If he is able to regain most if not all of his explosiveness next year, & as I said, is able to continue to grow his low post game, he should return to his previous dominant self. But the thing is, for a guy like Howard, with all of his sideshow antics, is his best great enough to warrant building your entire franchise around him? That remains to be seen but a lot may be determined by where he ultimately chooses to play.

If he were to stay in LA he'd probably get a chance to start the season as the main guy with Kobe coming off of his Achilles injury. With Mike D'Antoni at the helm, Pau Gasol doesn't seem to be a real threat to the amount of shots Howard should get. If Kobe isn't around for the start of the season, look for D'Antoni to feature Howard in a lot more pick-&-roll situations with Steve Nash & whoever else the Lakers bring in to run the point. There aren't any young studs on the roster that Howard can look to as a definite part of the future there so he would have to trust that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is able to build around him while they remain contenders. One thing his back injury should have done is heightened his sense of urgency to win now though.


There will be a number of teams making serious attempts to bring him in including the Dallas Mavericks & Atlanta Hawks. The problem with both teams is, both of their rosters are pretty thin so whatever success they're going to have, will have to come off of future moves, not necessarily based on their current rosters. The Hawks are in somewhat better shape even though one of their best players is a free agent in Josh Smith. Supposedly, him & Howard are good friends who would like to play together but if you buy into those stories, then Howard must feel that way about almost every great player in the league because every few months a story comes out that there's another great player that he'd enjoy playing with. The Mavericks roster is is so devoid of talent after Dirk Nowitzki that I'm certain they'd have to bring him in as part of a package of free agents, maybe even his buddy Smith. Both teams were banking on Chris Paul being available but with Doc Rivers signing on to coach the LA Clippers, chances are pretty slim that Paul is going anywhere. The Hawks though at least have a younger veteran roster led by Al Horton.

The team that may have the most realistic shot at luring Howard away from the Lakers is the Houston Rockets. One thing the Lakers have over almost every other team is their history & especially their history of all-time great centers. From George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar right up through to Shaqullie O'Neal. They have perhaps the greatest legacy of centers in NBA history. The one team who can compete somewhat with that legacy though, is the Rockets. It started with Elvin Hayes then Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon & more recently Yao Ming. Stacked up next to the Lakers it pales in comparison, but stacked up next to nearly every other team in the league its extremely impressive.

The Rockets possess a few attributes that those other franchises can't really compare to. First off they too have a championship legacy built around the best player in franchise history, Olajuwon with back-to-back championships in 1994 & '95. Back in the 80s even when the Lakers & Celtics seemed to take turns winning titles, the Rockets, along with the Philadelphia 76ers were one of the few teams that actually went to the NBA Finals. Also, they have an owner who has shown over the last few years that he is not afraid to spend to field a championship contender.


The biggest asset that the Rockets possess & not even the Lakers can match, is young stud James Harden. With Harden you're talking about a guy who, if he continues on his upward tick, will be a top 5 player in the league perhaps as soon as next season. Added to that mix is a bunch of young talented players like Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Terence Jones & Omer Asik. If they brought in Howard, Asik would immediately become the best backup center in the NBA.

Now you'll notice I didn't mention the Brooklyn Nets as a legitimate landing spot because I would think that they have had their fill when it comes to Howard's petulant behavior. He could've been a Net a couple of years ago if he had played his cards right. Now, with the development of Brook Lopez you would think that they'd stand pat in the middle & focus on the backcourt of Deron Williams & Joe Johnson, especially after the Jason Kidd hiring. The one caveat to all of that however is Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. He seems to like making a big splash so if the Nets were to make a run at Howard, he'd be the one to initiate it.  

The Rockets meanwhile have the makings for a championship contender if they can bring in a healthy Dwight Howard. They have Olajuwon & Yao Ming who supposedly played a big role in them landing Jeremy Lin, to help in the recruitment & let's not forget their head coach was one of the best low post players in the history of the NBA in Kevin McHale. So you have a good young nucleus led by a possible top 5 player, an owner who has shown a recent history to spend, a city who has always represented well for their franchise & a head coach who has an NBA resume that most would kill for. As presently constructed the Rockets look to be a strong team in the Western Conference so if they were to bring in Howard, while keeping the rest of the roster in tact, that would easily make them one of the top teams & my choice if I was Dwight Howard.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

2 Weeks In The Life of Jason Kidd



Now when the news broke about Jason Kidd's retirement I knew I would have to write something about his career. I mean you're talking about one of the best point guards over the past 20 years so it's only right that a tribute to his illustrious career be written. What I wasn't prepared for though, was him being named the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets less than 2 weeks after his retirement. I had to pause for a moment. I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I knew I would have to write about it but admittedly, I didn't want to make a rush to judgment. 

I don't doubt one bit Kidd's basketball IQ & ability to one day become a head coach, but for me, something seemed off about his hiring. I realized my concern was more about the organization & most importantly, Deron Williams. The method in which the team has chosen to build, centered around Williams, should be at least somewhat of a concern to Nets fans. At his best, Williams is a top 3 NBA point guard but at his worst, he's seems to be a bit of a diva who hasn't had much success in the playoffs. You need to look no further than this past year's playoff ouster by the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls. 


Williams over the years has been somewhat of an enigma. He came to the Nets from the Utah Jazz having played for Jerry Sloan, one of the toughest but best coaches in the game at the time. There were all types of rumors that Sloan retired because of having to deal with Williams everyday. Supposedly, he had grown tired of Williams' defiant ways. The Jazz surprised everyone by trading Williams even after Sloan was already gone. It seemed a peculiar move since they may have been able to keep Sloan if they traded Williams sooner. That says a lot about how the Jazz felt about the direction they were headed in with Williams as the lead player on their roster. 

When he came to the Nets, his new coach was Avery Johnson, who was known as being hard on his point guards. It seemed that Williams would be in a situation more to his liking with Johnson having won a championship as a player playing the same position as him. However, after a couple of losing seasons together, it seemed that Williams had just begun to tune Johnson out. 


The Nets publicly defended Williams after firing Johnson saying he had nothing to do with it, but after his problems with Sloan, one can't help but speculate that Williams at least indirectly had a lot to do with it. There was a point early in the season where Williams openly questioned Johnson's offensive system, even going so far as to say he was more comfortable in Sloan's. A couple of days after that story broke, I was talking to a Nets fan friend of mine & I jokingly asked him what the over/under was for when Johnson gets fired. I knew that when the star player begins to question the coach in the media like that, it's a bad sign. Sure enough within hours of our conversation, it was announced Johnson was being replaced with PJ Carlesimo. 

After Johnson was fired, Williams immediately started playing better which seemed to put to rest the question surrounding his injuries. There was even a quote from a teammate who when asked if he could point to what the biggest difference between Johnson & Carlesimo was, motioned towards Deron Williams suggesting that his attitude was the biggest difference. There seemed to be some feeling in the locker room at least that he was just playing harder for Carlesimo. 


The Nets organization themselves made the right move landing Williams, especially when you look back at what they actually gave up to get him but they've had to throw caution to the wind & completely give him the keys to the organization. Joe Johnson may have been the go-to guy for the Nets this past season, but make no mistake this is Deron Williams' team. The Nets will go as far as he takes them over the next few years. 

So Jason Kidd's biggest task may not be making the adjustment from player to head coach, it will probably be somehow maximizing Deron Williams' skills & more importantly turning him into a leader both on & off the court. There's really no more excuses for Williams. He has a good if not great supporting cast  & now he has a head coach who just 12 months ago was talking about playing with him. If they are unsuccessful, Kidd will probably get a pass being that it's his first year ever coaching on any level while Williams will not, nor should he. 


The Nets meanwhile have shown at times to have a little bit of the New York Jets in them. In other words, they seem to like drawing attention to themselves before they've accomplished anything. If you live outside of the NY area that may not resonate with you but trust me, within the NY metro area, they have gone out of their way to make themselves worth talking about. From the minority ownership of Jay-Z to things like huge ads hanging right outside of Madison Square Garden, home of the Knicks. I can't help but wonder if the owner Mikhail Prokhorov was as much looking to make a big splash as he was wanting to hire the right guy.

It's not as if there's a shortage of good coaches available with guys like Lionel Hollins, Brian Shaw & even my favorite, George Karl (see: The Truth About George Karl Is...) available. Again, I'm not suggesting that Kidd was the wrong choice but the thing is, in life, your reason for doing something can be as important as the choice that you made. So if the Nets made this move in part to placate Williams even further & not because they honestly believed Kidd was the best option available, then it could come back to haunt them.

Guys becoming rookie head coaches & having success is not totally uncommon. Right here in the NY area we've seen it 1st hand when Jeff Van Gundy took over for Pat Riley to coach the Knicks & then more recently when Lawrence Frank took over the New Jersey Nets replacing Byron Scott. The obvious big difference between those 2 & Kidd is, they were both assistant coaches before becoming head coaches. The most recent guy is Marc Jackson in Golden State. Although he has a much younger team & his superstar is coming into his own, unlike the established veteran Williams is. Also, Jackson spent many years in broadcasting before becoming a head coach so at the very least, he sat in on coach sessions & practices in preparation for games.  

You can't help but wonder how both Kidd & Williams will handle any significant losing. Especially if it requires Kidd holding Williams accountable. You'd like to think the respect he has for Kidd will prevent any major issues, but going from being friends off the court to now one being head coach is like being in a relationship & then moving in together. You learn things about one another when you move in together that you never knew about each other. It can either make your bond stronger or ruin it. Hopefully for the Nets, Williams & Kidd, it will grow stronger, because if not, with the Nets salary cap situation it could make for a bad situation.




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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Big 3 Phenomenon

The whole Big 3 phenomenon started with the Boston Celtics acquisitions of both Ray Allen & then Kevin Garnett joining Paul Pierce prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. They went onto have an impressive 1st year together by winning the NBA title with a rookie point guard in Rajon Rondo & the success the Celtics had seemed to get fans & even GMs into a tizzy hoping for their own version of the Big 3. There was one slight problem with that thinking though...what the Celtics were able to do was basically an anomaly.

People lose sight of the fact that successful basketball is built on spacing. It's very hard to win without it. For the Celtics, they had 3 players with perfect personalities, at the perfect times in their careers & who's games all complimented each other. All 3 had been the go-to guy on teams that had plenty of regular season success but limited playoff success. None had the type of basketball egos that would prevent the others from being able to play their style of basketball. In fact, it was a perfect blend of styles.

Garnett by that point in his career was no longer a 20-10 guy but still a very effective scorer who's main focus was to be the anchor on defense. Allen was the long range shooter who was able to get most of his shots off of back screens & picks, another strength of Garnett's. Pierce meanwhile was the mainstay. The only one of the 3 who had been drafted the Celtics. His old school style of play, with his slashing & shooting meant that each man could play in their favorite areas on the floor without having to worry about getting in each other's way.

That natural spacing that they were able to maintain while adding Garnett & Allen made it possible for it to work. The 3 remaining pieces, Rajon Rondo at point guard, Kendrick Perkins at center & Doc Rivers at the helm made it a perfect fit from top to bottom. Perkins was a young yet already established vet who was known as a tough hard-nosed rebounder & defender, while Rondo was a rookie who played great individual defense & was a pass-first point guard. Rivers was a former NBA All-Star & 14 year veteran point guard himself so he was the perfect teacher for Rondo. So with Perkins & Rondo, the team had 2 guys who were also at a point in their careers where it was very easy to acquiesce to the veteran Big 3. So basically you had a perfect storm of talent, ego, style & coaching that immediately paid huge dividends.
Fast forward to the Summer of 2010 & "The Decision". Now, I'm not going to waste any time debating or discussing the move because we all know how it polarized the basketball world but I will remind everyone that LeBron James & Dwyane Wade both took less money to play together while also allowing Bosh to get the max contract. That fact often gets lost in all of the hoopla behind The Decision but in the age of hold outs & lock outs, those guys took less to win together & had they not, it would never have happened.

The biggest difference between the Celtics Big 3 & Miami's are basically all of those points I made about why it worked for the Celtics. With James & Wade, you have 2 guys who both generally played with the ball in their hands most times & in pretty much the same areas of the basketball court. Even Chris Bosh as a 6-11 big man, played a style that would put him squarely in between both James & Wade's forays into the paint as he was more a face up jump shooting big. It helped that all 3 sat together & discussed the idea of playing together & as it's obvious they are actually good friends prior to all of this. That friendship is partly responsible for them being able to make it work quickly.

It took some time in their 1st season to mesh because they all had to adjust their games on some level & the fact that Miami was Wade's town I'm sure caused James to relent to him at times. Ultimately, Wade became the one who had to give up his title as the go-to guy & hand the reigns to the franchise over to James. What they've essentially done is, learn to play at a pace & flow that accentuates their athletic advantage over other teams, in a league that showcases arguably the greatest athletes in the world. It's worked extremely well especially after James developed a low post game thanks to Hakeem Olajuwon.

The Knicks have tried to put together their own Big 3 starting with Amare Stoudemire, then adding Carmelo Anthony. Their dream scenario was to somehow add Chris Paul to that pair but obviously that never happened as Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Nets are trying to establish their own with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson & Brook Lopez while they flirted with the idea of bringing in Dwight Howard. The Oklahoma City Thunder had their Big 3 with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook & James Harden, but Harden became too expensive & they made the decision to trade him.
My point to all of this is, it is extremely difficult to build a Big 3 through trades & free agency by bringing in veterans who have established themselves & their style of play. You need certain conditions that go way beyond just finding the right talent to play together. It takes guys putting egos aside, putting shots aside & the new Collective Bargaining Agreement has to work in your favor as it did for Miami when James & Wade agreed to take less money. The one advantage of building a Big 3 through the draft is, those players all grow into established players together so they learn how to play together while learning how to play in the NBA. The disadvantage however is, it takes patience, a little bit of luck & the financial well with all to make it happen, just ask the Thunder & Harden.

The real truth to the matter is, the Celtics Big 3 wasn't the start of a trend though. The method by which they created their Big 3 was the start of the trend. There's been Big 3's before many times in the NBA. The Lakers with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & James Worthy, the Celtics with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale & Robert Parish & even the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili & Tony Parker. If you look closely though, you'll notice that the only person on that list that was an established veteran when their team's Big 3 was formed was Kareem. Parish was going into his 5th year in the league & was at the very beginning of his prime when he went to Boston from the Golden State Warriors.

So the reality is the Big 3 phenomenon is really nothing new at all, it's just the way the latest trend of Big 3s are being put together that's new. I said in a previous post (see: Tipoff Is Here) that this year's Finals will possibly be a referendum on how teams build their rosters because the Spurs are the last of the traditional Big 3 with all 3 of their stars being drafted by them, while the Heat now represent the new trend of trading for or signing via free agency, established vets to form a Big 3. As I said in that post, in this copy-cat league, depending on the outcome of the series, will teams continue to follow the new trend or will they go back to the old one.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Truth About George Karl Is...

This is a tweet I sent to Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com on June the 7th just a day after the news came down about George Karl. Now, I'm not one to kick a guy when he's down but I have to keep it funky as they say, when it comes to Karl. A little back story on myself & my allegiances...growing up in the 70s I was a Knicks fan but rooted for the Seattle Supersonics because of Gus Williams. Him & his brother Ray are from my hometown of Mt. Vernon, NY & went to the same high school. When the Sonics won the title in 1979 I became an unofficial fan of the team. Fast forward to the late 80s/early 90s & I still followed the team when they drafted Shawn Kemp & Gary Payton. Payton eventually became my favorite player so I began to follow the Sonics even closer because of him. In 1992 they hired George Karl & he immediately had an impact on the team as Payton & Kemp both began to reach their superstar potential. In Karl's 1st year they won 55 games & took a dominant Phoenix Suns team led by Charles Barkley to 7 games in the Western Conference Finals.




That series put that team on the map as serious title contenders for years to come led by Karl, Payton & Kemp. They went on to win 60+ games 2 out of the next 3 seasons but that first 60 win season would be the 1st of many playoff disappointments for Karl as they lost in the 1st round to the Denver Nuggets. Back then the 1st round was just a 5 game series but it was the first time in NBA history that a #1 seed lost to an 8 seed. I still remember that famous shot of Dikembe Mutombo on the ground holding the ball over his head celebrating....it still hurts just thinking about it. As if that wasn't painful enough, the next year they again went out in the 1st round albeit to a decent Los Angeles Lakers team. But once again a George Karl led team went home sooner than expected. By that time Payton & Kemp had established themselves as 2 of the best young players in the game but they began to hear the talk about being chokers. They finally got out of the 1st round the next year & went all the way to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Chicago Bulls. Of course that was no ordinary Bulls team as they had set the NBA record for wins in the regular season by going 72-10.


Now as a fan of the team & with my favorite player playing for them, I had a strong rooting interest in the squad so I followed them pretty closely given that they were on the other side of the country. With a swarming trap defense led by the Glove (Payton) & the Reign Man (Kemp) they were very often on national TV. I can still recall feeling like Karl was a good coach but maybe wasn't good enough to get them over the top. It used to bother me watching him on the sidelines almost looking at times as though he was literally going to break down in tears which left me feeling like, "this ain't the guy". His system was great for Payton but his leadership in the clutch always left a lot to be desired for me.



He left Seattle before the start of the 1998-99 season & went to the Milwaukee Bucks. Again, I had a rooting interest in the team because they had 3 guys who I had followed since their college days in Ray Allen, Sam Cassell & Glen Robinson. Knowing his penchant for coaching up defense I remember wondering if he'd be able to turn them around knowing none of those guys were even average defenders. Much of the success Karl had in Seattle defensively could be attributed to Payton's aggressive style. But once again Karl was only able to take that Bucks team to the brink, getting as far as game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals vs Allen Iverson's 76ers. Within just a couple of years after that loss though the team was out of the playoffs & Karl was on his way out.


In 2004 he went to coach the Denver Nuggets & once again took a mediocre team & managed to turn them into winners aided of course by the drafting of Carmelo Anthony the year prior to him being hired.  Over the next 6 1/2 years with Anthony leading the way, they managed to get out of the 1st round just once, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals. Carmelo showed in his 1 year at the University of Syracuse that he could lead a team to an NCAA Championship, but somehow people still looked at him & placed most, if not all of the blame in his lap. The reality is however, there were a multitude of factors that led to those failures.



Karl developed cancer on 2 separate occasions, with 1 of them totally submarining any shot they had at playoff success. Another year they dealt with some lengthy suspensions of Anthony & JR Smith because of an in-game fight in NY vs the Knicks. They lost them both for a total of 25 games because of that, 15 for Melo & 10 for Smith. They also played in the incredibly dominant Western Conference which fielded 2 different dynasties during that time with the San Antonio Spurs & Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets actually won an 8th seed one year while winning 50 games...50 games!


It's easy for the average person to look at the talented Anthony & assume he's most to blame for their lack of playoff success but that wouldn't be fair. While he of course does deserve some of the blame, as do all of the different superstars Karl coached, success & failure start at the top. Taking all of that into consideration, Karl can't get a pass for the Nuggets playoff failures as he had a top 5 talent in Anthony for over 6 seasons. He also had Allen Iverson for a couple of years to go along with Anthony but I always gave him somewhat of a pass on that because while everyone else assumed it would make them unstoppable offensively, I always felt it was a bad mix of basketball chemistry. At the same time though, that's what the great coaches are paid to do: maximize the talent on your roster. Bare in mind, he also had Chauncey Billups for a couple of seasons just a couple of years removed from a championship with the Detroit Pistons. So he's always had talent everywhere he's gone, but he just wasn't ever able to get them over the hump.


After Denver traded Melo & Billups, the Nuggets went an unconventional route by building the team with a bunch of really good players but no real superstar. He was able to have great success, in the regular season of course as they went 57-25 & 37-3 at home, but once again, yet another George Karl-led team went out in the 1st round, as the higher seed this time to a young Golden State Warriors team led by Stephen Curry.



The obvious trend to all of this is, everywhere he went regardless to how much talent he had he didn't always just lose to the better team, he was very often sent home early from an embarrassing exit. I've heard some compare him to Rick Adelman, one time coach of the Portland Trailblazers & Sacramento Kings. The difference being however is that, Adelman's teams almost always lost to the eventual champions & while they were often undone by legendary great winning plays by his opponents, there weren't many, if any, moments of just flat out embarrassing early playoff exits or poor coaching decisions that led to his teams' failures. The same unfortunately CAN NOT be said for Karl. Quite the contrary, his coaching resume is littered with shockingly bad playoff losses. 


I always tell people if you continually have the same problems with various people in your life, at some point you have to realize there's one common denominator in all of your failures...yourself. So while the rosters & teams changed, the results were relatively the same for George Karl. Suffice it to say while some may think the Nuggets made a mistake by letting him go, when you take a close hard look at his track record, the evidence was there that Coach Karl had perhaps taken that franchise as far as his coaching ability would ever allow.

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