Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lakers v Celtics: Scouting the series

We're finally down to the last two teams:  BOS and LA.  I view this series as a 3-on-3 game.  KG, Pierce, and Ray Allen versus Kobe, Pau, and Odom.   Edge:  Celtics.

Who wins point guard game?  D. Fisher's experience will win out vs Rondo's quickness and athleticism.  Edge:  Lakers.

Role players:  Walton, Vujacic, Farmar, Turiaf, and Radmanovic will out-play Posey, House, PJ Brown, Cassell, Perkins, Davis, and Powe.  Edge:  Lakers.

Coaching:  Phil Jackson's experience in the NBA Finals is the key here.  Both Phil and Doc are good motivators and communicators.  LA's offensive scheme (Triangle) is better than Boston's offensive scheme. 

But, I think Boston's defensive scheme is better than LA's.  The Lakers have struggled against the pick-and-roll defensive scheme in the past.

Despite Boston's home court advantage, I like the Lakers in seven games.

What's ahead for the Spurs this off-season?

With the Spurs bowing out to the Lakers, San Antonio will begin analyzing its roster.  Who stays?  Who goes?  Here's a quick review:

Damon Stoudamire saw little time.  During the last half of the season, SA could have used his roster spot for a promising young NBDL player.   

Robert Horry would make a great player development guys who could help mentor younger players.  His 15 years on the floor is enough.  It's been a great career.

There are a bunch of tougher decisions.  Finley still has some game left, but is on the back side of his career.

Barry has great range and is a good passer.   But he has 12 years of NBA play on his legs.

Bonner's not an athlete, but he's a good guy who works hard and who understands his role.
Like Bonner, Vaughn is a great guy.  He's smart and will make a good coach in the future.  Jacque is a guy you want in your locker room.  He defends well and can run a team, but his shot-range is limited and is still an offensive liability.

It's clear that the Spurs will keep their big three in Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.  They're three of the league's best players.

That leaves Oberto, Bowen, and Mahinmi.  Oberto is a young, aggressive player who doesn't need the ball; he gets his points from garbage.  I think he's better-suited as a back-up power forward to supply energy off the bench.

At 37, Bowen is still a valuable defender and reliable spot up shooter, and Mahinmi is a young player with height who is worth spending some time to develop.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Daly on Collins: Doug is a beyond-brilliant basketball man

I honestly believe that all of the NBA hires this offseason have been good ones. Teams went out and got veteran coaches, with the exception of Miami, but they've had a long look at Erik Spoelstra so it's not like they're gambling.

Larry Brown (CHA), Rick Carlisle (DAL), Mike D'Antoni (NY), Scott Skiles (MIL), and Doug Collins rumored (CHI) should all be successful in 2008-09. Speaking of Collins, you may have seen what Chuck Daly had to say about the possibility of the Bulls' new coach:

''I was shocked at how long it's been taking the Bulls to hire a coach, and now I know why. This is a brilliant hire by the Bulls because Doug is a beyond-brilliant basketball man. He's proven it pretty much everywhere he's been. He really knows the game, understands it, can teach it and he has matured into a wonderful person. 'With them getting the No. 1 draft pick, I don't think they could have hired a better coach."

There are at least two other terrific coaches out there with a combined 28 years of NBA coaching experience: Mike Fratello and Jeff Van Gundy.

To practice or not to practice

After DET won Game 4 (at home), I read where Flip Saunders decided to give his guys a day off from practice so they'd be fresh before Game 5 (at Boston). The Pistons lost Game 5 as Garnett and Allen combined for 62 points.

At the time of his decision, Flip said his team was sluggish in Game 3 (a loss). In his words:

"Sometimes you don't realize, but for 8:30 (p.m. EDT) games, you get done so late. We got in at 3:30 (a.m.), guys get to their place around 4 in the morning. The first thing with fatigue, it starts wearing on you emotionally. First thing you start seeing is a change in how teams play a little bit. I thought we looked fatigued in Game 3 at times for some reason, and last night their shot selection was a little more frivolous than what it was in the other games. That happens with fatigue and it happens with pressure."

The decision whether or not to give your team a break from practice is a tough one for coaches, especially as teams that are still playing are closing in on Game #100 for the season. That's a lot of games and it starts to take a toll on players on both teams.

But it's not only a physical toll. As Flip points out, you can see it in shot selection. The grind of a now 100-game season wears on your mind. Maintaining focus and intensity gets harder. In any profession that requires a high level of focus over a consecutive days, there's a concern for mental and physical fatigue. It's something that you've got to monitor closely in any sport [including baseball, as Joe Morgan points out here.]

Growing up in San Diego, I remember one time when my dad had former NFL coach Paul Brown over to our house to discuss coaching philosophies. Like my dad, Coach Brown was an Ohio native.

I think I was in elementary school. I sat there listening to them talk and, for some reason, one thing that Coach Brown said stuck with me all these years later. He said he believed in have frequent non-contact practices to keep his players fresh and eager for Sunday games.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Steve Kerr: Coaching in the NBA requires training

A couple of days ago over on the PHX Suns team blog, Suns GM Steve Kerr answered questions from fans.  One guy asked simply, "Why don't you coach the Suns?"

Steve's answer demonstrates (1) his honesty; (2) his humility; and (3) his understanding of how difficult it is to coach at this level and the strain it puts on a family.  Said Kerr: 

"There are two reasons I wouldn't coach this team.  One, I don't have the experience. I really believe coaching in the NBA is a job that requires training, and I haven't coached at any level. Two, it's an incredibly difficult job that would make balancing my family life and my career very difficult. In short, I'm not ready. Maybe down the road it's something I'll consider, but not now."

Steve's comments about the necessary training is spot-on.  My years of coaching in the minor leagues were incredibly important to me as I was in a position of calling timeouts, drawing up last-second plays, developing rotations, planning for training camps, dealing with veterans and rookies, creating a vision for the team, etc.

I marvel at how someone can do it coming right from an assistant coaches chair to head coach because the head coaching at minors in one year helped develop more than two years as an assistant on an NBA bench.

There's nothing like  the experience of sitting in the head chair regardless of the level. Working for a Hall of Famer like Chuck Daly was like being in a classroom every day.  Coach Daly was a guy who was intensely interested in teaching -- both his players and his assistant coaches.  He genuinely wanted to help his assistants develop into head coaches.

For assistant coaches, the key is to work for the best head coach you can in order to learn as much as possible.

Ray Allen: Winning gives me the greatest joy

Despite what some skeptics will tell you, there are NBA players who care more about winning than their stat line.

Example:  Boston's Ray Allen.   After putting up 29 points to help the Celts down DET in the Eastern Conference Finals, he said, "My feeling right now is no different than if I scored 10 points and we won the game.  It's a great feeling.  Just winning gives me the greatest joy, regardless of what I've done."

Said Doc Rivers, Allen's coach:  "He never changed his routine; he never did anything different. He kept working on his game, he kept believing every day, and that's probably why he's been so great through his career — because he believes."

[This goes back to my post from earlier today about self-confidence.]

And if that doesn't convince you that winning matters, then maybe this parting quote from Allen, a 12-year pro, will:

"For me, every game is a new journey, it's a new adventure for me.  Every day, I'm working on trying to think about where I had the last shot I missed and getting my legs right and being explosive and just thinking about it and having an opportunity to get better.  So those are my moments, and those are the moments that I enjoy."

Linking confidence with performance

I was reading from the book "My Bat Boy Days:  Lessons I Learned From The Boys of Summer" by former Dodger and Padre Steve Garvey (MLB's MVP in 1974) the other night.  It's an excellent book, but one thing jumped out at me.

On pages 137-138, there's an interesting passage about how a player's confidence influences his ability to perform:

"I learned the importance of confidence to a professional athlete, a lesson I will never forget," Al Kaline told Sport Magazine.  "A big-league ball player, who knows he can hit and has hit well before, must never let himself lose faith in his ability to hit well again-regardless of how long any slump may last."

"For me and every other major leaguer who takes his baseball life and work seriously, confidence is a secret strength.  Without it, many ballplayers who could develop into outstanding hitters and pitchers never realize their true potential." 

"Confidence is an intangible, something that's impossible to see, but it can make or break a hitter or pitcher and it can make or break a team."

Chris Paul is a perfect example of how a player's confidence level effects his play.  As the regular season wore on, his average assists improved consistently (Nov. = 9.8; Dec. = 10.4; Jan. = 11.9; Feb. = 11.6; March = 13.3).  That's a sign of confidence.

He made almost half of his 3-pt shots in March (23-50) after hitting just 25% in January.  That's a sign of confidence.

And if you watched the Hornets in the postseason, you saw how confident he was.  It was pretty remarkable.

Coaches would be wise to monitor their players' confidence level throughout the season.  It could be a key factor in not only a player's development, but wins and losses.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

All-NBA Final Four Team :: 2008

Of the players still playing, here's my "All-Tournament" team:

Tony Parker (PG): Parker's proven that he's capable of not only leading his team, but leading them to championships. He gets in the lane as well as any PG in the league and ranks as one of the NBA's best in-the-paint scorers.

Kobe Bryant (SG): League MVP and arguably the hungriest and most competitive player in the NBA.

Paul Pierce (SF): Excellent scorer in transition. Can post-up anyone and draw fouls because he's so strong. All of that, and he can hit the three-ball, too.

Kevin Garnett (PF): Long and smart, KG is the best defender in the NBA. His defensive spacing is outstanding. On the offensive end, he can post up and is a great mid-range shooter. Best of all, he's incredibly unselfish.

Tim Duncan (C): A smart player who rebounds the ball and has the best mid-range bank shot in the game.

NBA's Final Four: Going to the bench

In every sport, you hear a lot about how important a team's depth is -- who can do what coming off the bench. Scorer. Shooter. Defender. Rebounder. Shot-blocker. Veteran leader. Energy guy. And so on.

What's interesting about the four teams that remain in the NBA postseason is that their biggest weakness may be their benches.

For example, the Spurs have a relatively "old" bench with vets like Horry (16 years), Vaughn (10 years), Finley (12 years), and Barry (12 years). That's not to say they can't play and veterans are great because they provide leadership and smart play. They can also catch fire, like Barry did in Game 4. But the Spurs traded away Udrih and Scola this year and both could have helped off the bench.

When Phil Jackson goes to his bench, he's got Walton, Vujacic, and Farmar -- all young guys who have continually improved. If Bynum and Ariza hadn't been slowed by injuries, LA would have the most depth of the Final Four teams.

Boston's best player off the bench has been PJ Brown. Cassell hasn't contributed as much as people expected and House has been inconsistent. Powe and Davis are still too young for this stage.

I think Flip Saunders has done a great job with his bench. Young players like Stuckey and Maxiell provide athleticism and energy. On the other end of the spectrum, 35-year-old Ratliff and 37-year-old Hunter are still giving the Pistons 10 mins/game.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SI's Ian Thomsen on why the Pistons are poised to win it all

If you missed Ian Thomsen's column on from Friday, you should take a few minutes to read it. It demonstrates the incredible level of communication between not only Flip and his players, but between Flip and GM Joe Dumars.

A couple of highlights:

-- To start the year, Flip held his first team meeting where he asked each guy -- from the superstars to the 12th man -- how'd he'd help the team win an NBA title. Flip saved the list and has used it to keep everyone accountable. In Flip's words: "It was a contract that they gave not to me but to their teammates. It was about accountability.''

-- The Pistons play at a consistently high level, despite criticism that they sometimes "take nights off." According to Dumars, "You're asking these guys to go out there and play at an elite level every second of every game, and that's just not going to happen in this league. There are some nights that teams are going to have your number, and they're going to make shots and you're not, and you're going to come up short. To do what we've done, sitting here six straight years, you're not turning switches off a whole lot. And so that sometimes seems to be more of the emphasis than the six straight years we've done this, and it's like, Are you kidding me?''

-- Detroit's bench is better this year. So is its coach, Flip Saunders. Said Dumars: "We did not have enough youth and athleticism on our team, and we weren't deep enough. So I sat down with Flip and talked about how we have to cut our starters' minutes back."

And Dumars had this to say about his coach: "Flip has gotten a whole lot better here as opposed to when he first walked through the door. That's no knock on him, that's just reality.''
In Thomsen's words: It's about being a leader vs a caretaker.

What really drives the Pistons is the club's winning culture. As Dumars puts it:

"You have to get used to being in that environment where you hear, 'You guys didn't make it to the NBA Finals? What happened?' A lot of other organizations aren't used to that, and what we claim as success here is a lot different than what most people claim is success."

Monday, May 26, 2008

General George C. Marshall: Loyalty, trust, and integrity

A friend sent me a link to an article from a 1973 military journal about loyalty.  The author, Captain Michael Wheeler, a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, contends that loyalty is "primarily a function of trust, and that trust is usually given if integrity is perceived in the object of one’s trust."

In the author's view, it's integrity that inspires loyalty.  So, how is "integrity" defined?  He equates integrity with moral sensitivity, writing that someone with integrity has:

" impartial point of view, an active concern for others, and a disciplined attempt to meet the claims made on one’s behavior. These are the marks of the morally sensitive man, and they constitute a large part of what we ordinarily mean when we speak of personal integrity. These qualities are found in great leaders in any age..."

The most successful coaches, over time, tend to be men of integrity.  As Captain Wheeler writes:

"A man may obey you if he is afraid of you, but his obedience is a weak and fleeting thing. Remove the immediate grounds of his fear and you have removed his sole reason for obeying. But if that same man is loyal to you, his obedience will have been insured in a much more lasting way, for the attitude of loyalty is a stronger stimulus than the attitude of fear."

The author uses General George C. Marshall (pictured above) as an example of a man who was able to consistently inspire loyalty from his troops.   Marshall's biographer wrote that the General:

"...believed in a discipline based on respect rather than fear; ‘on the effect of good example given by officers; on the intelligent comprehension by all ranks of why an order has to be and why it must be carried out; on a sense of duty, on esprit de corps."

Captain Wheeler lists three reasons why Marshall was able to inspire loyalty:

"First, Marshall valued loyalty. Second, he was recognized by friend and foe alike as a man of imposing moral integrity. And third, in the major war of this century, Marshall passed the ultimate military test of the commander: he brought his nation victory."

The world needs clappers

Charles Sweeney, the equipment manager for the Grizzlies, was featured in the Memphis paper yesterday.  I worked with Charles when I was an assistant in MEM.  He's a guy who works hard and genuinely loves what he does.  He really has one agenda:  Do whatever it takes to help the Griz win.

The world needs clappers, see. Everyone can't be the fairy princess in this life. Everyone can't be the star of the production. But the production wouldn't go on without the butterflies and the trees and the rest of the cast. The clappers are as important as anyone.

Guys like Charles have a bigger impact on a team's success than they get credit for.  What's interesting is that though coaches (and their assistants) come and go, in many cases, the support staff, strength coaches, video coordinators, and equipment managers (and their assistants) remain.  

If everyone in a team's travel party was tied to winning, the loyalty factor would creat a stronger bond.  As it stands, since the people I listed above know they're likely to stay on even after a coach and his staff are fired, they're not necessarily loyal to the current staff.

Charles Sweeney wants to win, there's no doubt about that.  I wonder if the same can be said for every one of the NBA's equipment managers.

Happy Memorial Day

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Therrien: If you want to have some success, you have to change everything

Michael Farber has a story in SI this week about the road the Pittsburgh Penguins took to reach the Stanley Cup.  One section of the article really stood out for me.   

Farber writes that the turning point for the then-last place team came in Jan 2006 when, after a Pens loss, head coach Michel Therrien described his team as "pathetic" and "soft," saying "half of the team doesn't care.  I really start to believe their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league...."

[Here's a clip of the press conference where he made the comments.  Note his sincerity and genuine frustration.  His comments are clearly authentic.]

According to one Pens player, "We weren't too happy. I don't want to say that it had to be said, but honestly we were a country club. We had missed the playoffs four years in a row. We'd lose seven of eight, win two, lose three more, and after the game we're like, O.K., so we lost to Edmonton, let's go play Columbus tomorrow. This was a wake-up call."

At the professional level, only a respected, veteran coach could make these statements.  A coach has to have the trust and respect of the lockerroom before making a comment like this or he risks losing the team.

The player's quote ("We were a country club.  This was a wake-up call.") is interesting because it shows that the guys on the team accepted what Therrien said.  They were waiting for him to take a stand, put his foot down, and challenge them.  They needed discipline.

Of course, it was a slow climb out of the valley.  At the end of the season during which Therrien made his statement, the Pens won just 22 games.  A year later, the team reached the playoffs.   And, 12 months after that, they won the Eastern Conference title, their first since 1992.

Here's what Therrien told an AP reporter last week about his comments back in 2006:

"When I came to Pittsburgh, the team was in last place.  When you're in last place, there is a reason. They had good players, but the commitment, not only defensively, but the all-around commitment was not there.  If you want to have some success, we had to change everything: the attitude, work ethic, and commitment, because we were going the wrong way."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Good to great: Finding the right fit for a player and a team

With the draft about a month away, I'm thinking about how more NBA clubs can replicate what Utah, the Lakers, and the Spurs do in terms of drafting players, signing free agents, and trading for guys who fit their system.  

The Jazz are arguably the best at getting players who fit with Coach Sloan's system and style of play.  They look for and sign hard-working, tough players.  Playing hard, by the way, is a skill.  So is setting a screen properly.  

These are things the Jazz value and really look for.   A player like Deron Williams -- a physical point guard -- fits Coach Sloan's scheme perfectly.  And he's succeeded in that system.  That's not a coincidence.  It's carefully planned and perfectly executed.

Phil Jackson has done this in LA.  Coach Jackson loves long players who can play multiple positions in his Triangle offense.  So LA goes out and gets length, e.g., Pau Gasol (and Trevor Ariza).  Alongside Gasol, Odom is flourishing.  Again, it's not an accident. 

The Spurs are another team that have done this over a long period of time.  They've built around Duncan -- fitting the right pieces around him, their cornerstone -- with Pop blending them together.  It's satisfying to watch a team agree on a strategy for building a team, then create a plan for executing that strategy.

When evaluating players, it's more than simply looking at his speed, size, shooting ability, defensive prowess, passing skills, etc.  A player's overall effectiveness depends -- in great part -- on the system he's drafted into (or playing in) -- the team's identity, style of play, offensive and defensive schemes, etc.

You've got to take all of this into consideration when not only drafting players, but signing FA's and trading for players.  [Of course, this requires consistency in terms of coaching (Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson, and Pop have been with their teams for many seasons) and GM/player personnel.]

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who's who in the minor leagues

Here's a quick look at some of the best players in basketball's minor leagues:

Dontell Jefferson:  Went overseas; 6-foot-4; good defender; was in camp with the Griz; played at Arkansas, but his stats weren't bulky; has already won a ring in the minors.
Will Conroy:  Has had chances and up until now, he's proven he is not an NBA player.

Eddie Gill:  Better than a lot of guys at this level because of his experience.  Solid player who will likely get back to the NBA.  An older vet.


Blake Ahearn:  Was called up again this past season; can shoot it, but has a slow shot; small for a 2-guard; not sure he'll get called up again.

Kasib Powell:  This guy does all of the things that help a team win; coaches love him; must improve his shot;  has limited range; defends well;  handles well; can also play the 1 and 3 spots; nice role guy for a winning team. [pictured above]


Gabe Muoneke and Luke Jackson:   Experienced guys who have been there; unlike some of the younger guys in the minors, either of these players can step up immediately and play a few minutes.

Justin Cage:  Could be a sleeper;  solid defender who is improving.

Renaldo Major:  Sat out this season after heart surgery;  is doing fine now;  was called up last year;  tough kid who earned Defensive POY honors in D-League; knows what it takes to win.

Rod Benson
John Thomas
Mike Hall 
Cory Violette
Glen McGowan


Kevin Lyde
Chris Alexander
Other talented players:  Sean Banks , Loren Woods, Julius Hodge.  And watch out for Mike Taylor.  He's draft eligible, but needs another year in the minors.  He's not a perfect 1 or 2, but word is the guy can play.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Clinton, charisma, and coaching

Regardless of your political persuasion, I'd recommend checking out the book "The Clinton Charisma" by Donald Phillips.  [It's about Bill, not Hillary.]  A few highlights:

PAGE 145:  "Once a decision was made, I did not worry about it afterwards." -- Harry Truman 

EM Note:  For coaches, you make a decision -- about a timeout, a rotation, a play, a line-up, a scheme, etc. -- and after the game you can go back and review, but you cant worry about it.  Instead, concentrate on the next game and something you can control.

PAGE 169:  When someone asked Bill Clinton if it was true that he once read 300 books in a year, he laughed and said:  "Yes, that was in 1983 when I didn't have much else to do."  In 1980, he'd lost the race for re-election as Governor of Arkansas.   He used the next two years as a time for reflection and learning.  As part of that, he read almost a book a day.

EM Note:  If you coach long enough, you'll eventually be fired.  It's part of the job, especially in college and the pros.  As a kid (and an adult), I saw it with my father.  I've been fired.  A couple of times, in fact.  Just as Clinton did, I've been reading and reflecting on the last several years.  I travel as much as I can (with two young sons) and I visit with coaches around the country, including Bill Self, Derek Thomas, and Larry Eustacy.  I've become a better coach. 

PAGE 174:  As leaders grow into their jobs, they participate in continued intellectual study, investigate and ponder and engage in personal self analysis and self criticism.  This sustained acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, practice and study is of profound importance in leadership for three reasons.  It helps leaders:

1.  To enhance decision making.  By gaining deeper understanding to the question at hand, leaders are able to make better, more informed decisions.

2.  To persevere after setbacks and failure because leaders are agents of change, they are likely to experience resistance and push back.  The only way to succeed, therefore, is by learning from experience.

3.  To persuade followers.  By communicating a detailed understanding of initiatives and proposals, leaders are able to convince people in the organization of the merits of their actions.

EM Note:  The parallels to coaching are remarkable. 

PAGE 229:  In the modern arena, when somebody mentions a leader's charisma, they're usually alluding to a number of personal qualities and abilities that enable an individual to influence, persuade, and motivate others.  These might include superb oratorical skills, a dynamic positive energy, and unusual calmness, confidence, and assertiveness in any given situation. Mostly, charisma refers to a leader's undeniable ability to bring out the best in people by connecting with them -- physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

EM Note:  This paragraph sums up coaching:  Influence, persuasion, motivation, confidence, assertiveness.

In a Sept. 27, 1993, story in TIME magazine, Clinton is quoted as saying, "I didn't get hired to be America's chief mechanic.  I got hired to set forth a vision." 

This is what every head coach must do in training camp:   Set a vision for your team.  Then, create a plan or map for achieving that vision.  When you've done that, work with your staff to implement that plan -- every day, every game, every week, every month.

Why the Bulls should draft Rose over Beasley

With CHI winning the lottery, the Bulls have to decide who fits in right now, as well as how much better can he get (i.e., his upside).

As I look at this year's draft, if I was sitting in the Bulls' position, I'd ask myself where would D. Rose and M. Beasley be right now at their position?

Rose would rank among the league's top 10 point guards right now, behind only C. Paul, D. Williams, S. Nash, T. Parker, G. Arenas, and B. Davis. Rose is that good. In fact, I think he'll be better than D. Harris, Billups (Chauncey's getting older), J. Kidd (so is Jason), and M. Williams in MIL.

Looking at Beasley today, I don't think he'd rank among the top 10 at either forward spot. Just look at the NBA's best power forwards -- Dirk, KG, Bosh, Boozer, Gasol, Jefferson, Marion, Brand, Aldridge, Jamison, West, Josh Smith. How about small forwards? LeBron, Pierce, Butler, Anthony, Howard, Turkoglu, Iguodala, Kirilenko, Gay, Deng, Artest...

Of course Beasley is a great player. But the NBA is loaded with talented forwards.

Here's my case for taking Rose:

  1. You'd immediately have one of the league's top 7 point guards.
  2. You can trade Hinrich for a team need. I'm sure the Bulls are already getting calls about his availability.
  3. In order to win in the NBA, you need a great PG (Paul, Williams, Nash, etc.)
  4. Rose is a Chicago kid.

Regardless, both Rose and Beasley will be terrific pros. Because they're so young and talented, they've got plenty of upside.

New UT defensive coordinator knows how to grind

Read an article yesterday about Will Muschamp, the new defensive coordinator for the University of Texas football team. Muschamp, who has coached at Auburn, LSU, and Miami (NFL), is legendary for his energy, intensity, and reputation for being a "grinder." [Sounds a lot like a coach I grew up with!]

If you have time, check out the article and watch this clip of Coach Muschamp in action.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How food can bring a team together

SI's Jack McCallum had a note about what brought the Laker players together early in training camp:

[Lamar] Odom had hired a well-known Hawaiian chef, Sam Choy, to prepare meals for the entire team. "Instead of going back to our rooms after practice, we stayed together, put our feet up, hung out and talked," says [Luke] Walton. "All of us, every meal, Kobe included. It was a major, major factor in us coming together." Plus, the food was damn good. "Sam made a chicken crusted with, I kid you not, Cap'n Crunch," says Odom. "Best thing you ever ate in your life."

Credit Odom with a terrific, albeit simple, idea. Food brings people together -- whether neighborhood block parties, Thanksgiving dinners, or... NBA training camps.

Abe Lincoln's philosophy on putting together a quality staff

Read last night an excerpt from a book about Abraham Lincoln called "Team of Rivals." The title refers to how Lincoln pulled together several of his former political rivals when forming his cabinet. The idea was that each man was a leader who represented a different ideology -- conservative, liberal, moderate. In fact, most could have be President.

Lincoln had the confidence to bring them into his camp and the nation benefited from their combined experience and insight. In other words, he wasn't worried that these guys knew more than he did or that they would "outshine" him. Instead of surrounding himself with friends and "yes men," he went out and got the best of the best.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Rick Carlisle in DAL is employing a similar strategy by working to add former NBA head coaches (Stotts and Casey) to his staff.

I wonder what kind of coach Abe would have made...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Older "bigs" vs older "smalls" and the postseason

Teams -- in every sport -- typically add older veteran players with the idea that they'll be able to help their club in the postseason. If your team will likely make the playoffs, it's worth the gamble. In pro basketball, it's big men who can have the biggest impact while having the lowest risk.

Older players who are smaller in stature tend to struggle more than bigs after the 82-game grind. But you can get away with playing bigs as they can do a lot of things that don't show up in the box score: Set a screen, alter a shot, block out on a free throw, make the right read on a pass. And, of course, by nature of their size, they can still get 3-5 boards/game.

If the vet is PJ Brown or Robert Horry, they're still effective shooters, as well.

Yes, there are exceptions to the "big vs little" argument. Derek Fisher has been a great addition to the Lakers. On the other hand, Chris Webber didn't have much of an impact with the Warriors.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Not every player is the same

The SF Chronicle did a story about A's pitching coach Curt Young a week or two ago. The article quotes one A's pitcher as saying:

"He's got a very solid sense of where you are and what you need. Sometimes you need something said to you. Sometimes you need to figure it out yourself. His strongest asset is he doesn't try to make everyone the same. What works for Andrew Brown might not work for Joey Devine. He doesn't blow smoke and say, 'You're great, you're great.' When he steps in and says something, it's very genuine."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Luke Walton: Passing is fun

What does good, crisp passing do for a team?  According to the Lakers' Luke Walton:

"You cut a little harder. You move a little faster. You're looking for the ball because you know it's coming when it should be. Everything's in rhythm. It's hard to express how much fun that is."

Carlise on ego, great ideas, and harmony

Rick Carlisle in today's Dallas Morning News:

"Ego is important because it's what drives you to be good at something.  But whenever it gets in the way of communication and what's best for the organization, that's never good. I'm a pretty humble person by nature – very grateful for the opportunities I've had. 

But when you get into these positions, there's a lot of scrutiny. You have to work to earn the trust of your players and the people you're working with.  

So if the video guy has a great idea that can help win you one more game, I'm going to listen to the video guy. This whole thing has to be a team operation, from the secretaries to the video guys to the training room people to the coaches to the players. All of that stuff works in lockstep.

When you have things out of whack in one area, that stuff can affect what [happens] on the court. So we've got to have everybody in harmony."

Boston's road woes, home streaks, and NBA titles

BOS-CLE Game 7 just tipped...

Looking at Boston's troubles on the road in the postseason is hard to understand, especially after what they did in the regular season and their record vs the West.

Still it's hard to imagine that many of the teams in the West -- Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz, Rockets, Nuggets, Mavs, Suns, Warriors -- couldn't have done away with the Hawks in fewer than seven games.  Further, surely any of those teams could have picked up a win at ATL (or CLE).

With all that said, BOS could still find a way to win an NBA title if they win today at home. Then, they'd have to keep their home court winning streak alive vs DET and the Western Conference champ.

Hey, they'll be due for at least one win on the road in either the East Finals or NBA Finals, which is good enough for a league title.

Pre-game and in-game stuff is over the top

I saw where David Stern is saying enough's enough with all the pre-game, timeout, and halftime "entertainment." He's talked about this before. While I'm sure all of that stuff -- the fireworks, the loud music (as teams are bringing the ball up the floor!), the videos on the scoreboard -- is geared toward the casual fan who may or may not be that interested in basketball, I've gotta say that it's way over the top. It's simply too much. The pre-game intros alone are exhausting (and, in many arenas, silly). Just check this out. Or this.

And that's not to mention all of the "official timeouts" during the game. A timeout is really like a mini-meeting of the coaches and players. With the coaches "miked up" for TV, we're only hearing them emphasize a few quick points. What you won't hear is many of the X's and O's (which is by design to limit the opportunity for the opponent to gain a competitive advantage).

The best timeouts, by the way, are the ones where players take some ownership, giving feedback on what they're seeing out on the floor. Of the coaches I've worked with, Chuck Dalyt was the best at soliciting feedback from his players during timeouts.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spurs-Hornets notes: N.O. has the pieces

Hornets have an edge at home against SA on Monday night:  The Spurs seem to score in transition and get easier baskets at home.  On the road, they've struggled to get out in transition.

When playing in New Orleans, Chris Paul has controlled the pace and gotten easy shots for his teammates in transition.  CP3 is the best in the league at getting in the lane on the break.  Period.  With his confidence at an all-time high, SA will have to contain him.

It's interesting to see how the Hornets have come together.  They've got one of the league's best point guards.  Chandler gives them good size inside.  They did a nice job drafting what turned out to be an All-Star power forward.  Peja's a 10-year vet who gives them a terrific shooter off the bench.  The move to pick up Bonzi was great because he can come off the bench and take over a game.  He's also a low post threat and a threat on the offensive boards.   Mo Pete also fits well with this team and journeyman Pargo is a combo scorer as a back-up point guard.  

Game 7 should be fun.

D'Antoni: Finding something positive in every situation

Loved the story in today's NY Daily News about Mike D'Antoni.  A couple of highlights:

On humility:  "At the end of a chess game, the kings and the pawns all go back in the same box."

His mother on how she raised her kids:  "I'm not raising you to like me, I'm raising you for other people to like you"

On his attitude:  "He knows how to find something positive in every situation, and how to transfer that optimistic view to the people around him."

Notes and comments on the Boston-Cleveland series

A few observations on the BOS-CLE series as it heads to Game 7...

Both teams have had excellent defensive schemes, so both clubs are having to really grind it out on each offensive possession.  You could argue that the Cavs' defense as a team has been better as CLE has to deal with three offensive All-Star-caliber players.  They've essentially made Ray Allen into a quasi-role player.  That's hard to do.

I like how the Cavs have been aggressive with the hard double-team on pick-and-rolls when Pierce handles.    The show and over-under has also been effective.   When Rondo handles, the Cavs have been in a squeeze and under, but he's still gotten in the lane at times.  Boston's guard going under needs to beat Rondo to the spot quicker.  Easier said than done...

Great switch on late-game pick-and-roll in Game 6 by the Cavs with less than 14 seconds on a side-out into middle pick-and-roll.  I noticed CLE assistant Brendan Malone giving defensive instructions to his team during the timeout. 

Despite Cleveland's solid defenive schemes, Boston's "Pistol" action in the flow off makes or misses has gotten them good looks.

On the defensive end, BOS has to deal with LeBron.  CLE is running constant isolations where the Cavs get James the ball and clear out for him.   But without Gibson, the Cavs' best 3-point thereat is a break for Celtics in Game 6 and they won't have to deal with Gibson in Game 7.  I'm a little surprised at the lack of execution offensively.  Clearly, the defenses are ahead of the offenses in this series.

Look for Boston to win Game 7 at home.  The first team to score 80 points in Game 7 will win. I think BOS can get to 80 first.

Regardless, next up is Detroit, a team that can win on the road and will be rested.  DET can score more than the Cavs.  DET can beat BOS in seven games and get to the NBA Finals.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kriegel's new book about Pete Maravich is worth reading

If you get the chance this summer, read the new book "Pistol," by Mark Kriegel, about Pete Maravich. If you're a coach with a son, I'd say it's a must-read, but it's a good read for anyone who has children. It's incredibly well written.

The first 100 pages or so are about Pete's Dad, Press Maravich, who was a fascinating guy. It then goes into Pete's days at LSU, then his career as a pro. It finishes with Pete's post-playing career.

Attention to detail: Defending baseline out of bounds

Talk about attention to detail: I recently re-watched several college games from this past season on Tivo. One thing I noticed was how good Bruce Pearl's University of Tennessee team defended baseline out of bounds. UT had their biggest player (usually the 5 man) over the ball. They'd switch everything and deny the entry pass.

It's a great example of taking a lot of pride in and paying close attention to a special situation like defending an in-bounds along the baseline. Effectively defending 6-8 of these during a game could be the difference in a win or loss. Plus, if you execute to perfection, it might cost your opponent a time out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Coach vs GM vs Owner vs Coach: Tough to balance

Pat Yasinskas over on has a good column today about the fragile relationship between a team's coach and its GM. And, to some extent, the relationship between the GM and owner, and owner and coach.

Yakinskas quotes one NFL owner as saying:

"You can have the best, most qualified people in the world, but it doesn't always matter. You're dealing with exceptionally competitive people, or else they wouldn't be where they're at. That makes me worry about their egos. Hell, I worry almost as much about the egos of their wives because they worry about who's making more money. It's a very tough relationship to keep healthy for a long period of time.''

Feuds between coaches and GMs are well documented. As a Chargers fan,
I read a lot about the Smith-Schottenheimer showdown in San Diego. [It wasn't the first time a Chargers' coach and GM had gotten into it.]

On the owner vs. coach side, Don Nelson and Mark Cuban come to mind.

Of course, Jerry Sloan's tenure in Utah shows that it's possible -- even at the highest levels of sports -- for a coach and owner to get along, even over two decades.

What causes the disputes? First, as the owner above outlines, there are strong personalities involved. Second, the people (coaches, owners, GMs) have typically had a lot of success in their careers. They know what it takes to win/succeed. Third, in many cases, they have the same goals, but different ideas and strategies for achieving those goals.

I've been lucky to work with a number of terrific GMs over the years. Pete Babcock was in ATL when I was an assistant for the Hawks. We still talk or email about once a week. Ditto for John Gabriel, the GM in ORL when I was on staff with Chuck and, later, Doc. I also talk regularly with Garry St. Jean, my GM in Golden State. They're friends who I often turn to for advice and to bounce ideas off of.

Jerry West, our GM in MEM, was one of the most knowledgeable basketball people I've ever had the pleasure to be around. His competitiveness was unbelievable. He really believed in the importance of mental focus in the pre-game routine. He's a great mentor who has been incredibly supportive.

Playing to your strengths

I watched Rick Carlisle's press conference from Dallas. While I was watching it, a friend who was also watching it, called asking about Rick's emphasis on defense.

As I told him, no coach ever lost by playing the wrong defense. Teams lose because they by play that defense poorly. Early on in Dallas, Avery emphasized teaching defense and made it clear what he expected of his players on the defensive end. By doing so, he got his guys to buy into his plan.

In my experience, players want to know about stuff like defensive rotations and where are the rotations coming from and when. You can't be vague about it. It has to be excruciatingly clear. And it has to be emphasized and taught every day.

The same goes for offense. The players need to know where their shots come from in the new offensive system and how they fit in. Understanding a player's sweet spots (i.e., where they're most comfortable shooting from) and developing strategies for getting them shots from those points is the job of the coach and his staff.

As Rick put it:

"You've got to play to your strengths and you've got to adjust."

Late-game fouls

With 12 seconds left in last night's Cavs-Celtics game, with BOS up by six, Delonte West drove to the hoop and was fouled by Pierce. West hit both FT to cut it to four. Granted the Celtics went on to win, but it got me thinking about fouls late in a game.

At the college level, one thing is very clear: In the latter stages of a game, when you are ahead, DON'T FOUL. Just ask Memphis.

I don't mean in the obvious situation, when you're up by four with 6-7 seconds left. It also includes situations where you're ahead by five with 4-5 minutes left, as well.

In the NBA, a coach will have more decisions based on the early bonus. The quality of free throw shooters in the NBA and that the 24-second shot clock cause more possessions than a college game in late-game situations are factors. And, in the NBA, at timeouts you can advance the ball to mid-court, which plays into late-game planning.

Regardless, it's these points that often get moved to the bottom of a coach's "to do list" and come back to haunt them at some point

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Developing young players

Of the 10 guys who were named to the NBA All-Rookie team recently, only Detroit's Rodney Stuckey is still playing.

I've read where Flip has been criticized for not playing his younger players enough. Here's the problem: With a talented, veteran team that's trying to win it all, it's tough to find minutes for young guys. Second, they're still learning the game. Throwing them into a game before they're ready can destroy a player's confidence.

In Stuckey's case, Flip's done a masterful job in helping him develop. Stuckey played 30-plus minutes to help the Pistons close out Game 5 against ORL. In that game, he had zero turnovers (DET only had three the entire game, which is remarkable) and was the point guard in a close-out game. Stuckey also stepped up in Game 4 when Billups went down.

At the same time, Stuckey's stats show that he's still coming along. He's only shot 35% from the field in the postseason, including less than 20 percent from 3-point range. But these numbers will improve as he develops. And he will develop under Flip.

A couple other rookies who received votes, but didn't make the First or Second teams are Boston's Glen Davis and New Orleans' Julian Wright, both of whom have contributed in spots during the postseason.

When it comes to knowing how a player is developing, it's not as simple as looking at the MIN column of a box score. Simply giving rookies lots of minutes doesn't mean they're "developing." It only means they're playing a lot.

Development happens at practice. It happens in the film room and the weight room. And it happens, strategically, during games. Young players need to earn their minutes and be placed in situations where they have the best chance to succeed.

Walt Frazier on leadership, tenacity, and having a plan

Terrific article in today's Investor's Business Daily about NBA legend and Hall of Fame guard Walt Frazier, one of my favorite players growing up. I loved his style of play, including his defensive prowess, which was often overshadowed by his play on the offensive end of the floor.

What I didn't know about until I read the story this morning was how much of a leader he was. The oldest of nine kids, Walt was put into a leadership role early on. Like LeBron, Walt worked overtime on his game. "I was always the first one at practice and the last one to leave. The other players could see that I practiced what I preached."

Frazier points out that while all of the guys in the NBA are talented, many don't succeed. Why?

According to Walt, it's a lack of "tenacity." "Talent is sometimes a detriment, because you take things for granted."

He also talks about his intense competitive spirit, remembering how, as a kid, he'd cry after losing a game. As a pro, the losses ate at him, as did the behavior of his teammates following a loss.

"After a loss, I'd go into the locker room and guys would be drinking beer and fooling around. I couldn't understand that. I took everything to heart."

An interesting sidenote: Today, the 63-year-old Frazier lives in the Virgin Islands.

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jerry Sloan "pushes guys to the limit"

The LA Times today had a feature story on Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who has been with his team for 20 years, longer than any other coach in pro sports. His clubs are always physical and execute well every night. That's a tribute to the 66-year-old Sloan, an 11-year NBA vet as a player who is known for his incredible intensity on the court, while being pretty laid back off of it.

According to Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played for Sloan last year, "When the game starts, a whole new level of intensity comes out."

When asked why he hasn't gone to an uptempo offense, instead sticking with his traditional pick-and-roll system, Sloan essentially says he uses whatever system fits his roster.

"When you don't have guys that can run and run with guys that are more athletic, then you better do something to try and compete with them."

In the article, Kobe claims that Sloan's playbook is "the same stuff," but that his teams "execute extremely well."

I often wonder why more teams don't use a team like Utah as an example. Utah drafts and signs players who fit Coach Sloan's system. The Jazz value intangibles like toughness and often-overlooked skills like screen-setting as an important element for their team to be successful.

LeBron working overtime to find his shot

Near the end of an Associated Press story from today about the Cavs' win over BOS last night was a note I found interesting.   Trying to shake off poor shooting, it seems LeBron was out shooting jumpers three hours before the tip-off in an attempt to "catch a rhythm."

When your star is out on the floor before the ushers and security guards have even made it to the arena, it sets the tone for the rest of the team.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Key to earning players' respect: Help them get better

Saw an article in the Fort Lauderdale paper the other day about new MIA coach Erik Spoelstra, who never played in the NBA.  Of the eight teams left in the NBA playoffs, four have coaches who played in the league at one time (Phil Jackson, Byron Scott, Jerry Sloan, and Doc Rivers).   In fact, Pat Riley, the Heat's last coach, was a nine-year NBA vet.

The article, which discusses the importance of NBA head coaches having experience as professional players, has a couple of interesting quotes from coaches, both current and former.

Chuck Daly:  "Most players want to win.  If they really believe you're a guy who can help them, they will accept you."

Lawrence Frank:  "If you can help guys get better, it doesn't matter if you ever played at the NBA level."

According to the article, Spoelstra, who played in college and overseas, has the four principles that Riley describes as essential to succeed as a coach:  Work ethic, reliability, trustworthiness, and sincerity.

Says Jeff Van Gundy:  "If you have those four things, it doesn't matter if you played in the league or if you didn't, if you're short or tall."

Van Gundy's brother, Stan, who has guided the Magic to the Semis, adds:  "If you are good and competent at what you do, [players] will give you that respect."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

How the Spurs can beat the Hornets...

As the Mavericks did in the first round, the Spurs have struggled against CP3 and the Hornets.  So how can SA get back in it?  

My strategy would be to run and run and run some more.  Make it a fast-paced game.  Think uptempo times 10.  This will keep N.O. out of their half-court game.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Should be smooth transition in Dallas

Expect a relatively smooth transition from Avery Johnson to Rick Carlisle in DAL.  Both Avery and Rick are respected by players, which should make the hand-off easier for the Mavs.  Both guys are former NBA players who knew how to maximize their talent on the floor. Both won NBA titles as players.   Avery a likely a little more emotional than Rick, but both are smart coaches who know what they're doing.

[Rick is second from left in this photo from 1986, between Danny Ainge and Larry Bird.  Bill Walton is at the far right.]
Rick's staff in Dallas -- featuring two former NBA head coaches in Terry Stotts and Dwayne Casey -- demonstrates the confidence he has in himself while surrounding him with guys who know the game and know what's required of an NBA head coach.

As a side note, Rick played for my Dad in the CBA with the Albany Patroons back in the late 1980s.  Even then, I remember my Dad saying how smart Rick was as a player, how hard he competed, and how he'd make a great coach some day.  

Rick is also head of the NBA Coaches Association and he's done a terrific job in that role.   I also think Rick is insightful as a color analyst on TV.  The guys succeeds at whatever he pursues.  

Good hire by Donnie and Cuban in my mind.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Upgrading your team: Musts and Needs

Long-time NFL personnel expert Mike Lombardi has another insightful article on  According to Mike, teams typically fail to improve over the previous season for one of three reasons:  (1) Coaching; (2) offensive/defensive schemes; and (3) talent.

The key for the front office is figuring out where the problem lies.

In his article, Lombardi discusses how legendary coach Bill Walsh (pictured at left) always had two lists:  A "Must List" of areas where his teams MUST improve, and a "Need List" of spots that could use an upgrade, but aren't as critical.

Lombardi also writes that it's not enough to simply identify quality players.  How does a player match up against the teams/key opponents in his division?   Winning divisional games is critical for a team's overall success.  It's an interesting point that's often overlooked in the NBA, where some players are better equipped to play in one conference over the other.

In the end, says Lombardi, it comes down to finding "diamonds in the rough" -- mid-priced guys (and role players) in free agency and the draft who can make "vital contributions."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Keys to beating the Lakers...

For what it's worth, here are a couple of thoughts -- grounded in experience -- on how to beat the Lakers and Kobe:

1.  In the past, they struggled in pick and roll situations.  Now, they have the ability to switch pick and rolls because of their lateral mobility of interchangeable parts.  Still, Pau is the player you want to to involve in middle pick and rolls.

2.  Defensively against LA's Triangle offense, you've got to meet the entry pass as early as possible.  It's critical that you don't get beat on the elbow.  Guard around the play -- go under the cut, not over it.

3.  On Triangle post-ups with a post and two offensive players on the ball side, pressure the ball/passer while the other defender sits in the lap of the post-up player (typically Pau or Kobe).  

4.  The "Kobe Bryant Rules":   The four players who aren't guarding Kobe head-up need to be aware of where his is at all times.  Whenever and wherever he catches the ball, shrink the floor on the catch.  Get to the two elbow areas and the blocks so that Kobe see a wall on his catch.

Of course, Bryant can drive both ways, but you've got to force him one way so that your guys can over-sag the help to that area.  For example, in SAC and GS, we'd force him left on both sides of the floor.

Kobe will kill you at the line.  Keep his FT attempts down by guarding aggressively without fouling.  Easier said than done...

When you have the ball, make Kobe work.  Wear him down.  Bring him off screens and make him chase you to deplete his energy as the game wears on.

Finally, on the Lakers "52" play -- their bread-and-butter in late-game situations when they need a sure basket -- Bryant is the ball-handler on the pick and rolls.  Trap him early and stay with the trap until he's the passer.