Friday, October 31, 2008

Game has gotten easier for LeBron

Had a chance to go back and watch several opening-night games that I'd Tivo'd, including the Cavs-Celtics game, which BOS won.

Despite the loss, CLE should have a great season. They have a dominant superstar in LeBron; they have outstanding rebounding; and they have great team speed, especially when they play James at the 4-spot along with Varejao at center, Gibson and Mo Williams. With this lineup they can play "small ball" and really spread out the defense.

When they go big -- with Ilgauskas (at the 5), Varejao (4), James (3) and two guards -- they're equally tough to stop.

So it really comes down to "who" and "how" -- who plays and how do they play on a given night.

Bad news for defenders: LeBron has really improved in pick-N-roll situations. The game has become so easy for him. He doesn't get enough credit for how well he moves without the ball.

Gibson's a perfect third guard with great quickness, solid defense, and the ability to hit the the 3-ball.

The big difference for Cavs this year as opposed to last season is how they get out of the blocks. Last season, CLE didn't start the year with Pavlovic and Varejao, and James was slowed some by injuries. And they still won 45 games. It's likely they would've won 10-12 more if they'd had an injury-free start to the season.

As for coaching, Mike Brown is an excellent X's and O's coach with the right temperment and personality for an NBA coach. And CLE's front office has done a great job putting together a versatile roster with almost no holes.

Taking pride in your position

About five years ago, I sat on a plane next to a well-known college football coach who told me that if you want to know how good your team is going to be, look at the offensive line.

In his words, "It's not a sexy position, but they make it all work. A good O-Line can give a mediocre QB more time and open big holes for average RBs. Without a good offensive line, even the best backfield is going to struggle."

So after reading this article yesterday, it's no surprise that Texas Tech has played so well this season.

Besides being big -- 6-7, 354 pounds; 6-6, 335; 6-7, 314; 6-6, 325; and 6-3, 287 -- Tech's offensive line features passionate guys who take pride in their position.

As an example of their solidarity, one Tech offensive tackle created t-shirts with nicknames for each member of the offensive line, saying, "It just seemed fitting to have the O-line shirt. It has all of us in some kind of a superhuman form."

The front of the T-shirt reads: Some Think We're Monsters. The back: You Can Just Call Us Heroes.

"Rylan is the Hulk because of his bench press," Moore says. "Hamby is Mr. Incredible because he looks like the guy. Byrnes is the Kool-Aid man, because he's all upper body. Vasquez is Super Hero Indian because he looks like an Indian. Carter is Mankind, the wrestler who paints his face and messes up his hair like Carter does.

"And Marlon, they call him Fat Albert because he has a big old belly and every day at practice he wears a half-shirt, not the most flattering look. They're a fun group to coach. They play hard, they practice hard, but at the same time they have a lot of fun with it."

Analyzing play-calls upside-down and inside-out

USC's offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the UWashington head coaching job, says "he regularly questions some of his play-calls, regardless of the score, after reviewing game film."

"I look at every call upside-down and inside-out to see if I would have done something different here or there. And inevitably . . . there's anywhere from five to seven plays I would change. That's not necessarily the same five or seven plays other people would change."

A point guard lists the NBA's best point guards

Dave D'Alessandro asked Devin Harris (pictured here) to name which NBA point guards were the best in several categories.

Here's an excerpt of their exchange and a couple of quotes from the story:

Who's the best point guard in the NBA nowadays?

"I think you have to give it to Chris Paul," Devin Harris said, almost instantaneously.

The best shooter among point guards?

"Steve Nash."

Best penetrator?

"Tony Parker. Slight edge over CP."

Best passer off the dribble?

"That would be CP."

Best point guard on the break?

"Probably Deron Williams."

Quickest first step?

"Tony. But Rajon Rondo isn't far behind."

Best handle?

"We can include (Allen) Iverson, right? Then it's A.I. (Jose) Calderon never turns it over, but he keeps it real basic. He doesn't take the same chances other guys do."

What is the one quality that a great point guard needs, anyway?

"The most important thing is respect of his peers and coaching staff," Harris said. "If you don't have that, you don't have anything. You have to work for that. Work to get it, and work to keep it."

Who's the best point guard at getting his own shot?

"Dwyane Wade, if we can count him. You can't pick Gilbert (Arenas), because he just launches from 30 sometimes. That's not hard."

Who's the best at keeping his dribble against a blitz and making a play?


Who runs the best screen-roll?

"It depends. On the side, it's Deron. On top, it's CP."

Quickest hands?

"Rondo, hands down. Brevin Knight, too, but Rondo's hands are so big."

Best defender?

"It's really about team defenses now - you don't go into it dreading anybody. But I'll go with Chauncey (Billups). And Baron (Davis) is a major pain when he's motivated."

Best one-on-one point guard?

"That would be Gilbert."

Best catch-and-shoot guy off the ball?

"My pick would be Mo Williams."

Last one: Who's the most underrated point guard?

This time, he paused.

"Devin Harris," Devin Harris said.

[Nets coach Lawrence] Frank likens it to a relationship between a football coach and his quarterback.

"It's an interesting dichotomy. You have to give trust, yet you hold him the most accountable. He has to feel that the coach is behind him, yet feel that he's held to a higher standard because he's responsible for the other four guys. And it doesn't matter if it's fair or unfair.

The tradeoff is that he has the opportunity to be fearless in his approach, and he gets to carry the torch on the court and in the locker room, set the tone and determine how we'll play."

Don't you need an ego to do this job properly?

"Oh, absolutely," Harris said. "You have to have one, because you're going against very tough guys every night, guys who are coming for your throat. You have to have a swagger, and come in thinking, 'I'm running this team, we have to do it my way.' Absolutely, you have to think that way, and think you're the best one out there."

It's about life experiences

Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who at 45 became the second-oldest pitcher to start a World Series game, on what he treasures most about his long career:

"What you end up remembering is the human relationships. I mean, you'll get money, you'll spend it, but it ends up being about the people you meet and the games you play and the life experiences you have. That's just how it works."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Strong defense helps Lakers get off to quick start

Was in LA last night and had a chance to go to the Lakers-Clips game at Staples. The Lakers won by 38 after beating Portland by 20 in Tuesday's opener.

Offensively, the only Clippper offensive advantage was early in the first quarter when Tim Thomas matched up against Gasol. Thomas had 7 points early before picking up two quick fouls.

After that, the Clippers struggled to score vs the Lakers defense. The slower the Clippers' pace, the more time the Laker defense had to get set.

Speaking on defense, the Laker defense was outstanding, holding the Clips to 37% shooting from the field. They did a great job of keeping the lane compact and limiting the dribble-penetration.

The weakside corner (3 balls) was the only area of the floor the Lakers didn't have covered at times as they did a great job scrambling and rotating to open men.

Baron Davis looked uncomfortable in his first game in an LAC system where Coach Dunleavy called the offensive sets througout the game. The Clippers played at a slower pace than had been talked about in preseason.

Davis only played in one preseason game due to injuries. His lack of reps was evident as he shot just 4-14 from the field. The lack of PT in the preseason likely had something to do with his inability to get into a flow.

Guard Eric Gordon, a Clipper lottery pick, saw most of his action in the 4Q. Gordon is a promising young player who will likely see more minutes as the season goes on, but he struggled in this game.

Undrafted Mike Taylor is a surprising young player with good quickness. A former NDBL player, he's frail, but has good upside. I thought he played well late in the game last night.

In the exhibition season, Taylor shot 9-12 in a win over the Lakers. He also had 11 points (4-4 FG) in 11 minutes against Denver.

The center match-up was no contest as Bynum totally out-played Kaman. When Camby gets healthy he'll really help the Clippers' interior defense. Chris Mihm saw some action in the 4Q for the Lakers, scoring 10 points in 9 minutes.

As for the bench, the Laker reserves had a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the entire game. Whoever wasn't in the game showed a lot of support for the guys on the floor, standing and cheering for their teammates.

It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Lakers, but it didn't show as it's a deep team and Coach Jackson does an excellent job of juggling minutes.

Ariza, Farmar, and Odom all had 20-plus minutes off the bench for the Lakers and it was the bench that opened up the game in the 2Q with a 17-0 run. Seven Lakers scored in double figures.

Coach Jackson's decision to bring Lamar Odom off the bench seems to have worked out well.

Coach Dunleavy had a great quote about Odom:

"He's like a queen on the chess board. He's got the ability to move position from position, almost other than center. He can play the point, forward, he handles the ball, he can distribute, he can make plays, he can play the mobile forward."

John Wooden's 8 Principles of Practice

I've been meaning to post John Wooden's practice strategy as outlined by Swen Nater in his book about Coach Wooden's teaching principles:

1. Fundamentals before creativity: Coach Wooden believes the teaching of fundamentals, until they are all executed quickly, properly, and without conscious thought, is prerequisite to playing the game. Drills must be created so that all of the fundamentals are taught to the criterion that players execute them automatically.

In Coach Wooden's words: "Drilling created a foundation on which individual initiative and imagination can flourish."

2. Use variety. [At UCLA], although the general skeleton of practice lessons were the same, there were lots of surprises that kept things interesting and fun. Coach Wooden "would devise new [drills] to prevent monotony, although there would be some drills we must do every single day."

3. Teaching new material. When creating the daily lesson plan, Coach Wooden was careful to install new material in the first half of practice, not the second. There were two reasons for this: Our minds were fresh and not yet worn down by two hours of high-intensity activities, and he could devise activities during the second half of practice for the application of new material.

4. Quick transitions. During Coach Wooden's practice sessions, one witnessed lightning-quick transitions from activity to activity. Players sprinted to the next area and took pride in being the first to begin. Transitions were as intense as the activities. No time was wasted. With a little ingenuity, creativity, and organization, classrooms can be morphed from inefficient operations to efficient systems.

5. Increasing complexity. Drills evolved from simple to extremely complex and demanding. Every movement, every action was carefully thought out and planned.

6. Conditioning. Coach Wooden's philosophy is for players and students to improve a little every day and make perfection the goal. His method for improving conditioning included one painful demand -- each player, when reaching the point of exhaustion, was to push himself beyond. When this is done every day, top conditioning will be attained over time.

7. End on a positive note. Coach Wooden always had something interesting, challenging, or fun planned for the last five minutes.

8. Avoid altering a plan during the lesson. Once the practice started, Coach Wooden never changed it, even though he may have noticed an existing drill that needed more time or thought of a new one he should have included. The proper place for new ideas and improvements was on the back fo the 3 x 5 index card, which he made notations on.

He strongly believed in ending practices on time; otherwise players might hold back, anticipating the need for energy reserves if the practice was extended. Because we knew the practice would stop promptly at 5:29 p.m. without exception, he felt he could maintain the intensity level throughout the session and we would be willing to extend ourselves.

A mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form

Philadelphia won the World Series last night, but according to Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon his team came away better for the experience it gained.

“A mind once stretched has a difficult time going back to its original form. I’ve always liked that. Everything about us has been stretched. I don’t think our guys are ever going to be satisfied going home in October again.

If you had been there to follow us closely and see what the culture was like two years ago and what it’s like now, the word is ‘remarkable,’ to be able to come that far that quickly.”

Coach Maddon added that it was less about the games and more about personal development:

"Beyond all of the stuff that happened on the baseball field, I am proudest of their growth as people."

A wonderful story of perseverance and determination

Earlier this week, the San Jose paper described DeMarcus Nelson's rise from undrafted rookie to NBA starter as "a wonderful story of perseverance and determination."

According to the article, it's "the first time since the Warriors moved to California in 1962 that an undrafted rookie free agent started in the opener."

Says DeMarcus:

"I wouldn't say that I'm surprised because I set my goals high. It is a blessing that I'm getting this chance so early. But I just knew that if I could get an opportunity, I could open everybody's eyes about who I am.

Every kid who ever plays basketball dreams of hearing their name called and knowing that they've made the NBA. For that not to happen, it felt as if my dream was being taken away. There were guys who went in the lottery that I completely destroyed in workouts.

I thank God for this opportunity, but now it's my job to run with it. I'm going to make mistakes. But as long as I make them out of aggression, I think the team can live with them."

A defensive standout at Duke, "Coach Mike Krzyzewski's structured system changed his game from pure scorer to well-rounded player. As the lone senior and captain last season, he averaged 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists and [in March] was named the ACC's defensive player of the year as Duke won 28 games."

Said DeMarcus' father (pictured above with his son) an associate Baptist pastor:

"I know people reading this story are shocked about DeMarcus. But my son is tough. We did have a five-minute pity party after the draft. But in life, you have two choices: You can lay down or you can get up. He got up and did it the hard way."

Says Warriors coach Don Nelson:

"You just have to pencil in that he's going to be a rookie and he's playing out of position a little bit and he's going to make some errors. You just have to deal with it. But he does so many other things. He's good to have on the floor and he's competitive. I'm willing to sacrifice some mistakes by having him out there."

Parker: My biggest role will be to get everybody involved

Note out of San Antonio about Spurs PG Tony Parker taking on more of a leadership role this season:

I’m trying to establish myself as a leader, and be more vocal,” Parker said. “I want to take more responsibility. My biggest role this year will be to get everybody involved.”

That part of Parker’s game has taken a while to come out of its shell. When he arrived as a 19-year-old rookie in 2001, he experienced considerable and understandable trouble imposing himself on a team overflowing with veterans.

Somehow, he sensed, a 37-year-old NBA graybeard like Terry Porter wasn’t going to be taking basketball advice from a teenager fresh from Paris. At the time, Parker felt it better to be seen, but not heard.

“When you have David Robinson and Steve Kerr and all those guys, you just watch and you listen,” Parker said. “Now, this is my eighth year, (and) we’ve got a lot of young guys. It’s my job to help them.”

Popovich saw signs of that leadership emerging in Parker last season. Finally comfortable in his own NBA sneakers, Parker had no qualms about bossing around even a future Hall of Famer like Tim Duncan.

He’s being really demanding of his teammates, and not worrying about hurting somebody’s feelings,” Popovich said. “He’s not here to win king of the Fun-a-rama. He’s here to make sure everybody does their job.”

If you can't coach both sides, you probably shouldn't be coaching

Good Q&A with coach Scott Skiles on the Bucks website. A few highlights:

On having a balanced approach to offense and defense: "If you can’t coach both sides (offense and defense), you probably shouldn’t be coaching."

On changing the Bucks' culture: "To boil it all down, without X-ing and O-ing, it’s a competitive mind-set that we have to have. We’re all creatures of habit, and it’s habitual. We have to decide who we are and what we want to accomplish. It’s an environment we have to create right here, and it’s got to be the way we go to work every day. We’ve got some habits, maybe, from some guys that have been here that we have to change."

On being optimistically realistic: "There’s a fine line we have to walk here. We’ve got to be positive, excited and upbeat about the season, which we are, but at the same time, we’ve got to realize that last year we only won 26 games. To think we only need one player or something like that is a little foolhardy. We want to be a playoff team and win a title, just like every other team."

On work ethic: "It’s not just a professional-athlete situation. It’s a human-being situation. A lot of people make a lot of money and don’t work hard at their jobs or get excited about going to work. Now if those people are crass enough to think, ‘Well, if I just made more money, then I’d be excited,’ I don’t think that’s very common sensical. So they’re just like everyone else. I think the large majority of NBA players play hard almost all the time. The truth is, there are some that don’t. But the vast majority of them do. I think if you looked at the percentages, it’d be the same as any other profession, or even better."

On players earning minutes: "If you look at my teams, I’m not afraid to play a lot of guys. I do sort of old-fashionedly believe that if guys are going to show up and give it to me at practice, I’ll try to find a role for them, even if it’s very limited minutes. Every coach, I think, would like to have the ideal nine- or 10-man rotation, maybe, on a given night. But that all depends on how the players are playing. They’ll show that to you."

On playing rookies: "A coach knows, historically, that if he’s playing too many young guys, he’s going to get beat. But again, that shows itself to you, too. We like our rookies, and they’ll show you if they’re ready to go out there and earn playing time. If they can’t, you just bring them along a little more slowly and they work their way in.”

The role of inbounder

Corey Maggette had 27 pts in his first real game as a Warrior. As expected, one-third (9) of his points came from the FT line.

While on the subject of Maggette, it's interesting how he is one small forward who does not have the role of an inbounder.

Most NBA teams have their 3-man inbound the ball. But with Maggette's ability to score from FT line extended and below, and his ability to get to the foul line, coupled with the fact that passing is not his strength as a player, it doesn't make sense for him to be the inbounder.

The two best inbounders I've been around are Mike Dunleavy and Shane Battier. Both have great vision, do a great job of reading the defense, and have the length to see over the inbound defender.

And in late-game situations, both are composed as inbounders who are a threat to get the ball back after they make the initial inbound pass.

In search of "smart power"

Good interview with Joseph Nye in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review (pp. 55-59). Mr. Nye is a professor at Harvard's JFK School of Government and the author of the books such as "Bound to Lead" and "The Powers to Lead."

His work has real relevance for coaches, who must work to get their teams to "buy in" to their vision and system.

According to Nye, "great leaders... know how to...exercise 'smart power,' through which they generate trust and mobilize people around forward-looking agendas."

Here's an excerpt of the interview with Professor Nye from the HBR, combined with an interview from June that I found on the Kennedy School website:

In essence, power is nothing more than the ability to affect others to get what you want, and that requires a set of tools. Some of these are tools of coercion or payment, or hard power, and some are tools of attraction, or soft power.

For individuals, charisma (emotional appeal), vision, and communication are key soft-power tools.

There are three skills that are most crucial in the exercise of soft power:

The first is emotional intelligence, the ability to control your own emotions and use them to reach out to others.

Second, the idea of composing a vision of the future that attracts others.

And third, communication skills including both rhetorical skills and also the ability to use non-verbal communication tools.

Those three crucial soft power skills have to be combined with hard power skills in organizations, in politics, and so forth. When we restrain our definition of leadership to only top-down, king of the mountain, we miss the crucial role of soft power in effective leadership.

An effective leader uses soft power to bring others to share his or her vision of where we should go. Now, that vision of where we should go may be partly developed by the leader in consultation with others. It may also be a vision which the leader has developed from his or her background, but the ability to persuade others that this is where they want to go is absolutely crucial.

One way to examine leadership is through a model in which most people lead from the middle. A leader in the middle has to think in terms of a compass. There’s a boss above them, sort of to the north, and they have no hard power with the boss; they have to persuade him or her.

But, frankly, they must also be able to get subordinates to buy into their vision, which is very difficult to do by coercion alone.

So persuasion as an aspect of soft power becomes particularly important. Most of us are really leaders from the middle. Very few of us have no boss above us and very few fail to require cooperation from people on either side of us.

With the exception of the Dalai Lama and perhaps a few others, it's hard to think of anybody who has been able to lead using soft power alone. On the other hand, we often talk about hard power while forgetting that attraction is a very powerful tool. Ignoring it is a mistake.

Working out how to combine hard and soft power depends on understanding the context. A large part of what I call contextual intelligence comes from experience, but there's more to it. Using the tools of power wisely requires both experience and analysis.

I prefer soft power to hard power. You can argue that soft power is slightly preferable to hard because it gives more freedom to the person who is its object.

Effective strategies in the real world are a mix of hard and soft power, and that combination of hard and soft power in effective ways is what I call “smart power.”

Far too often people think that hard power alone is sufficient. Some people equate soft power with winning over the “hearts and minds” of others, but to be effective you need to use a combination of both hard and soft power.

[Teddy] Roosevelt was the epitome of smart power: The combination of soft and hard power in the right mix in the appropriate context. He was acutely alert to the use of hard power. But he was also aware of the importance of soft power.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rose more physical than expected as Bulls top Bucks

Like a lot of people, I was curious to see how D. Rose would come out last night for the Bulls in their opener against the Bucks. [CHI won by 13.]

It's clear he's going to be an outstanding player. Teams will start going under more screens with him and force him to shoot the ball from the outside. He's as quick with the ball and gets places as good as any guard in the league.

Guys bounce off him, too. He's more of a physical presence than I'd expected or seen in the preseason.

Coach Del Negro will have his work cut out trying to find minutes for all of his backcourt guys. Sefolosha started at the 2 spot and played the first six minutes. Hinrich and Gordon both came off the bench, with Hinrich moving to PG when Rose leaves the game.

Having both of those guys puts a lot of pressure on second-unit guys from the other team because of their scoring..

And it gets trickier for Coach Del Negro when Larry Hughes comes back. With Rose, Hinrich, Gordon, Hughes, and Sefolosha -- how are all of those guys going to get consistent minutes? That's a challenge. Factor in Gordon playing for a contract and it gets really interesting...

Tyrus Thomas has improved and had a nice line last night. The Bulls need someone on their front line to step up and give them consistency. That could be Thomas.

As for the Bucks, they're in need of versatility and athleticism. The 4 position is going to hurt Milwaukee. Villanueva, the starter, had three fouls in 9 minutes, and is a defensive liability.

The Bucks are also dealing with health issues with Ridnour, Lue, and Bell. On top of that, there are eight new players on this roster with a new staff trying to find the right strategy.

It's one reason MIL allowed the Bulls to shoot 44 free throws compared to their 20. Only Redd got to the FT line more than four times for the Bucks. They also turned the ball over 19 times, including five from Ridnour. [In his defense, he's not 100% due to injury.]

To make things worse, MIL was outscored 20-1 in fast break points and didn't hold the Bulls below 25 points in any quarter. The lowest CHI shot in any quarter was 47%; 51% for the game.

It's one game. Coach Skiles will get it turned around. In fact, he has a 5-point plan that he's working from.

Observations from the Lakers-Blazers game

Had a chance to watch the Lakers-Blazers opener last night, which LA won, 96-76.

Portland has a great young nucleus with a bright future. They have so many pieces. But they're missing a starting point guard.

Brandon Roy, who starts at the point for the Blazers, shot just 5-15 from the field. With a true PG who could create easier looks, a great scorer like Roy would be much more effective, especially against a good team like the Lakers.

As for the other point guards on the roster, Steve Blake is an excellent guy for your team, but he's a back-up. Bayless isn't ready to be a starter right now. And Rodriquez is a back-up fourth guard on a playoff team.

As for the frontcourt, the Blazers have tremendous depth (and youth) up front at the power forward/center position with Aldridge, Oden, Przybilla, Frye, and Diogu.

Rudy Fernandez had a nice offensive game, shooting 3-5 from 3-point range in 29 minutes and scoring 16 points.

As for LA, the Laker defense has really improved since last season. The second unit changes the pace and tempo for them.

Off the bench, they've got great a great combination of youth/energy/experience Vujacic, Ariza, and Farmar, all of whom really pick up the defense off the bench while the starters set the tone with execution and playoff experience.

Blazers' "Diamond" takes shape

Taking a page from the Celtics' successful plan from last season, the Blazers are building around their version of "The Big Three" with Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Greg Oden.

Coach Nate McMillan's version of the Big Three is what he calls "The Diamond" -- "to symbolize the connection that needs to be established among Roy, Aldridge, Oden and 'Coach Mac.'"

At a dinner recently at Coach McMillan's home, "they all vowed to communicate, recognize and help when one of the trio is struggling. They talked about scenarios where jealousy could arise, and how they would handle it. They talked about what each player needs from the others. They talked about what they value in one another."

Says Aldridge:

"I thought it was a great start to building a chemistry, to building a bond with those two guys. And I think it was important, because I think in order for us to be a good team, that triangle has to be real tight. When things go down, or things get tense, we have to be the three who step up."

Coach McMillan frequently looks for ways to bring his players together away from basketball, putting together bowling nights and holiday parties at his home.

However, "this gathering was different, because it centered on individuals, not team -- a concept that goes against everything McMillan preaches. But sensing the rising expectations of the fan base, and acknowledging his inclinations that this could be a breakthrough season, McMillan extended his invitations."

Says Coach McMillan:

"They have a chance to build something very special here. And I've seen it happen before. But I've also seen it where egos can't work together and they break up and separate. So I wanted to get it all out there. More than anything, I just wanted us to talk.

I knew they were relaxed when they started opening up my refrigerator without asking to get a pop. And I knew they were comfortable when they were going into my cabinets to get spices. I was like 'OK.. This is good. It's working.'"

Before the meeting, Coach McMillan "devised a discussion format where he would serve as a moderator providing the topics."

"They talked about each player's place on the team, particularly Aldridge's. Everyone knew Roy as the All-Star and rookie of the year. And Oden as the No. 1 overall pick. But how did Aldridge feel about being the one rarely talked about? And did the other two take time to think about Aldridge's feelings regarding the attention?"

The following is an excellent excerpt from the article in the Portland paper:

McMillan also presented a possible scenario: Because of knee surgeries to Roy and Oden, he might rest the two for certain practices. Not because of star treatment, but to keep the knees rested.

Aldridge, always a tireless worker, was asked how he felt about that. And Roy and Oden were cautioned that if that scenario does arise, they should respect and acknowledge that Aldridge is practicing.

They spoke to Oden, telling him that even though it was his rookie season, they wanted to see his ego. They wanted to see some attitude.

They talked about the flow of games, explaining to Oden that he shouldn't feel left out if Roy and Aldridge get in a groove and start playing off each other. And they talked about slumps, and how to be prepared if others start calling the team "Brandon's and Greg's" or "LaMarcus and Brandon's."

Then, they took turns talking about the other players.

Roy would tell Aldridge what he liked about his game, and Aldridge would tell Oden how he makes the game easier for him. Oden would reveal how Roy and Aldridge can help him through his rookie season.

"That was a good moment," Roy said. "Because we all know we are all talented players, but to hear what each had to say -- the stuff like, 'I feel like I can take on anybody when I've got you two beside me' -- that was just energizing. And Coach butted in and said, 'That's what we have to bring. That confidence right there.'"

Oden said he felt a little out of place at the meeting and therefore didn't say much.

"They were a bit more vocal than me," Oden said. "I was sitting there thinking, 'I haven't even played yet; I don't even know what it's about.' I didn't know what I could say, because I don't know exactly what it was we were talking about."

Aldridge said the biggest thing he took from the night was a feeling that he indeed belonged in the discussion of the team's Big Three.

"I was coming into this year with the mind-set that it was Brandon and Greg's team, and that I was going to have to do whatever I needed to do to fit in," Aldridge said. "But that night kind of brought me back in and made me realize we need all three of us."

[Thanks to Chris McCabe for passing along the story!]

When you have Jason Kidd, you've got to have an up-tempo game

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle on why he's decided to encourage his team to run this season:

"It's about me doing the right thing for this group of players. When you have Jason Kidd, you've got to have a strong, up-tempo game. So we're committed to getting the ball up and down the court.

Listen, I've always wanted to play at a faster pace; it's more fun to coach. But it's a different kind of coaching because the majority of the decisions fall in the hands of the players. So you've go to educate them in a lot of situations as to what's best for the team, and there's a learning curve. But we're committed to it."

Speaking of Kidd, here's Donnie Nelson's assessment of the Mavericks' PG:

"He’s kind of basketball’s version of Brett Favre, one of the best ever to play the position. What he did for the Dream Team this summer is proof and an indication of that leadership. With the quarterback position being in his hands, that’s something we’re looking forward to."

NBA's best cities/arenas

With the NBA season tipping off last night, I started thinking about the best arenas/cities in the league.

At the top of the list would be Los Angeles (Lakers), NYC, Chicago, Dallas, PHX, Toronto, and San Antonio.

A couple of thoughts:

-- Boston/TD Banknorth Garden: Rich tradition, historic city, big stage, and some of the most knowledgeable fans in the league.
-- Utah/EnergySolutions Arena: Passionate fans who get intensely loud.

-- LA Lakers/Staples: Terrific atmosphere, big stage.
-- Dallas/AAC: Great building, great show, lots of energy.
-- Golden State/Oracle Arena: Incredible fans who really love their team.
-- Detroit/The Palace: Loyal, knowledgeable fans.

-- Conseco Fieldhouse/Indy: Cool old-school feel in the heart of basketball country.

-- New York/MSG: Love the soul and heritage of the Garden; fans can be as tough on the Knicks as their opponent.

-- Chicago/United Center: Always one of my favorite cities; sell-out crowd every night.

-- Oklahoma City/Ford Center: Had a unique college atmosphere when the Hornets played there; friendly fans.

NBA Eurolive Coaches Clinic notes

Thanks to Milan Gajic for passing along his notes from Nets assistant Tom Barrise's presentation at the NBA Eurolive Clinic in London earlier this month.

Click here to download the PDF.

Doc Rivers: Misery + Joy = Coaching

Doc Rivers on coaching:

“I love coaching. Even when it was bad I loved it. I love the winning and I’m miserable when we lost any time, but whether we were good or bad, whether we were the favorite or the underdog, I still convinced myself we would win. I thought we’d win every game I’ve coached. You get your heart broken every night when you lose, but to me it’s a joyous job. Miserable joy, but it’s great work.

I didn’t change two years ago. I’m not going to change now. I don’t laugh or cry about criticism. It’s amusing sometimes but this is the job of second guessing, so do your job to the best of your ability. That’s all you really can do.”

LeBron: There's always work

Several good quotes from and about LeBron James in USA Today's NBA Preview issue yesterday:

Cavs head coach Mike Brown: "If I'm putting LeBron up on the film session or if I'm getting on LeBron about not doing this or not doing that, his teammates see how he takes it, how he accepts it and how he tries to get better from it. It makes it easier for me to go to our seventh player and say, 'Get your behind in gear.' "

Teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas: "A lot of times, people see him step on the court and do the things that he does and go, 'Wow.' What they don't see is 99% of the work that goes in before the game, the hours and hours in film session he spends, the hours in the weight room, the hours he spends shooting before practice, the hours shooting after practice."

Teammate Daniel Gibson: "He always wants to be first. He hates to lose no matter what we're doing. He wants to win at everything."

James on his desire to win an NBA title: "I'm at a point in my career now, if I don't win an NBA championship, it's a failure."

James on his willingness to learn: "I don't know everything. Coach (Mike) Brown has been in this game for a long time. We've got assistants who've been around long before I was born or ever thought about … basketball."

James on his game: "I'm not the greatest of shooters. I'm not the greatest defender. I'm not the greatest rebounder or the greatest scorer. I got everything in my game that can add up to a complete basketball player. There's always work. … There's not one thing that sticks out in my game that somebody can say, 'Well, we're going to let him do this all night and we'll be able to stop him.' Can't stop me."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When you win, you're better, and that comes from having better players

Loved the quote from Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in today's USA Today:

"I'm the same ol' Charlie. I'm the same manager I was when I managed in Triple-A or Double-A or A ball. I know what I can do. When you win, you're better, and that comes from having better players. The players is what makes a good manager. When I send Cole Hamels to the mound, I expect to look good. Give me five Cole Hamels and four (Brad) Lidges in the bullpen, I'll be very good."

One coach's loyalty for another coach

Thanks to Ellis Dawson at USA Basketball for emailing me a good excerpt from Sports Illustrated.

It's an exchange between SI's Peter King and 49ers coach Mike Singletary that (1) illustrates Coach Singletary's depth of loyalty for Coach Nolan and (2) demonstrates the authenticity of Coach Singletary:

On Friday, recounting the story of how he got the 49ers coaching job four days earlier, Singletary got so emotional that he couldn't continue.

I think he was crying, but it's hard to tell over the phone.

"Mike Nolan told me you didn't want to take the job, and he had to convince you to take it,'' I said to Singletary. "Was it that difficult a decision, that emotional?''

"It was ... um ... um ... '' said Singletary.

Then silence. Ten seconds.

"Sounds like it was difficult,'' I said.

"Little bit,'' he said.

Pause. Five seconds.

"I think, first of all, Mike Nolan's a good person. Mike and [wife] Kathy are two of the finest, most giving people I have met in my life. I've watched Mike like a kid would watch his dad, and I've learned so much from him as a coach and as a man. A long time ago, I learned you can find another job, but good friends are really hard to come by.''

Nolan said after he'd been let go, Singletary came into his office and told him he couldn't take the job. They were sitting at a small table in Nolan's office.

"Look at that desk,'' Nolan told him. "It's empty. It's nobody's desk anymore. You're not taking my job if you become coach here. You're helping keep these players together.''

So Singletary took it.

He might have taken it anyway -- my guess is he would have -- but the fact is, out of deference to Nolan, a good man felt he had to get his boss' blessing before taking a job he'd wanted since eschewing a motivational-speaking career to coach in 2003.

Players don't really want a coach to be in the spotlight

As Nuggets coach George Karl enters his third decade as a head coach in the NBA, he acknowledges that "he's not as emotional as he once was during games," but as he told the LA Times this spring, he still loves coaching:

“I’ve mellowed, yes. But I certainly haven’t lost my passion for the game or for winning. Now, players don’t really want a coach to be the one in the spotlight. There was a time when that was important, but I don’t need that anymore.”

He adds: "I don't think anybody enjoys the gym as much as I do."

According to former NBA coach Doug Collins, that passion is critical: "If you're going to coach in the NBA, then you'd better have a tremendous burning in your gut and love what you're doing, otherwise it's just going to beat you down."

The LA Times story shows a different side of Coach Karl, shedding light on his relationship with his kids:

“He’d spend as much time as he could with Coby,” [Rick] Majerus says. “He’d sit around and play cards with Coby and his friends, and then pay off all their losses when the game was over.”

There were soccer games too, and despite not understanding the game, Karl always tried to be there when his children – Coby and daughters Kelci and Kaci – played.

“He dragged me to one,” Majerus says. “Neither of us knew what was going on. Somebody told us we should keep yelling ‘change it.’ So we did, until somebody else came along and told us we should only yell that when our team had the ball.”

Majerus thinks Karl ought to be in line for two honors.

“NBA coach of the year and No. 1 soccer mom,” he says.

Life is like high school

Many thanks to a good friend in Minneapolis for passing along these terrific notes from the book "Selling the Invisible" by Harry Beckwith (who hails from Minneapolis and is pictured here):

-- Life is like high school: Why do so many people believe that sheer technical competence ensures success? Odds are, they learned that in college.

College and graduate school teach us that technical competence is all. None of these institutions reward human qualities that tests cannot measure -- and this is not to suggest they should.

But college graduates learn something: Knowing your stuff is what counts. This lesson of college conflicts with the lesson we learned immediately before it. Children and teenagers learn to value well-roundedness and traits that are likeable.

A high school student in the 1960s and 1970s could learn that it was an honor to "make" National Honor Society, but an even greater one to get into was Key Club, which stressed citizenship, integrity, and other issues of character.

College, then, seduces us with the notion that real life will be an oasis where sheer talent is what counts. This misleading notion is what actress Meryl Streep was reflecting on when a lucky interviewer got a moment with her.

"I really did think that life would be like college," Streep told the interviewer, "but it isn't. Life is like high school."

Life is like high school. Those things that made you popular start mattering again. Hate it, fight it, march in the streets against it, but it is true.

-- The reality of planning: [When planning], start with three ideas: First, accept the limitations of planning. Don't assume that putting eight smart people in a room with good data will automatically produce something. Ford put eight smart planners in a room, and out popped the Edsel.

-- Tactics drive strategy: In successful organizations, tactics drive strategy as much or more than strategy drives tactics. As [Guy] Kawasaki expresses it, "Lead, take a shot, listen, respond, lead again."

-- Execute passionately: If you execute your idea without passion, others will think you lack confidence in the idea, and they will lose confidence, too. Execute passionately. Marginal tactics executed passionately almost always will outperform brilliant tactics executed marginally.

-- Keep moving: "If a shark does not move, it cannot breathe. And it dies. Moving organizations tend to keep moving. Dormant ones tend to run out of air and die. To worsen this problem, not moving rarely causes any immediate pain to an organization. This encourages even more waiting.

Not moving begets more not-moving. By the time the delayed consequences of all this not-moving occur, it is often too late to correct them.

Act like a shark. Keep moving.

-- Good often beats perfect: You easily can get stalled in the shift from strategy to tactics because you are paralyzed by your desire for excellence. Here's a good way to rank The Best Plans: (a) Very good; (b) Good; (c) Best; (d) Not good; (e) Truly god-awful.

Best ranks lower than good? Why?

Because getting to best usually gets complicated. The planning process tends to attract perfectionists. Something paralyzes these people: Their fear that executing the plan will show that the plan was not perfect. So rather than risk being found out, these people do nothing. Too often, the path to perfection leads to procrastination.

Don't let perfect ruin good.

-- Failing isn't failure: Few phobias are more widespread than the fear of failure. But what is failure?

The legendary golfer Ben Hogan said that in 18 holes, he usually hit only two or three balls exactly as he'd planned.

There's little point in killing an idea by saying it might fail. Any idea might fail. If you're doing anything worthwhile at all, you'll suffer a dozen failures.

Start failing so you can start succeeding.

-- The fallacy of expertise: What is an expert? Is an expert anything more than someone with lots of data and experience? The value of an expert's experience is dubious [because] every experience in life is unique. Anytime that we apply the apparent lessons of one experience to another one, we tend to assume that the two experiences are essentially identical.

They never are.

Don't look to experts for all your answers. There are no answers, only informed opinions.

-- A note about common sense: Unfortunately, common sense is not that common. Whenever it does show up, common sense helps in any discipline. But common sense will only get you so far. For inspiring results, you'll need inspiration.

Kerr: I'm willing to pay the price

A story in yesterday's Phoenix paper claims that "if these Suns flame out, [GM Steve] Kerr will go down as the guy who messed up a good thing."

But Kerr, who was a member of five NBA championship teams as a player, isn't ducking the challenge:

"A lot of people warned me when I took the job. They said, 'There are only two places you can go. You can take the next step to the top, or the team goes down and you're the goat.' I'm aware of that. And I'd be lying if I told you that it didn't enter my mind from time to time.

I understand what's at stake. I've kind of laid myself out there in a lot of ways. It may work, it may not. I don't know. But I'm willing to accept the results. I don't expect us to be a championship team in November, and I know I'm going to take a lot of heat during the growing pains. I know I'll pay the price publicly, but I like the path this team is on, and we have to make that transition."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Confidence is born of demonstrated ability

Going back through Bill Parcells' book "Finding a Way to Win" last night and came across some really great stuff:

On preferential treatment for great players: "Great players are special simply because they do more for the team than the rest. Their greatness may buy them preferential treatment in some areas. On the field, they may toss the book aside at times and play on instinct. They've earned the right to take changes -- to be flexible -- because they've proved that their judgment is sound. Consistency is overrated. A leader is obligated not to be consistent, but to be right -- to do what's best for the organization."

On his personal interviews with potential draft picks: "A half hour of candid conversation tells more about people than a mountain of statistics. For starters, I might ask them to name three or four of the most important things in their life. Family or religion often top the list, which is fine; football doesn't have to be number one. But football better be in there somewhere or I'll deduce that this guy isn't all that interested in the job."

On focusing on a player's strengths rather than his weaknesses: "It's easy to downgrade people by dwelling on their weaknesses. It's harder to look at them with fresh eyes and identify their strengths -- and how they can help the organization to function."

On adapting to technology: "If the competition has laptop computers and you're still using yellow legal pads, it won't matter how long and hard you work -- they're going to pass you."

On what will destroy a team: "Three things can ruin any organization. One is your competition. The second is public perception, as shaped by the media. If you're always seen in a negative light, your group's morale will likely go under -- along with your performance. The third factor? Division from within -- and this is the greatest threat, hands down. The first task of leadership is to promote -- and enforce -- collective loyalty, also known as teamwork."

On how a head coach differs from others in the organization: "The head coach is unique in two ways. He's the one person who sees the big picture down on the field. And he's the only one whose fate is totally wrapped up in winning. If the team loses too often, the head coach will be gone."

On how performance impacts confidence: "Confidence is only born of demonstrated ability. A team's collective mental state is ruled by the psychology of results. In other words, past outcomes dramatically affect the group's attitude going into the next game. A team teaches itself what it is on the field, in action."

Remembering that what happens in the locker room stays in the locker room: "Washing dirty laundry in public is probably the quickest way to divide your team from within. The only honest meetings are private meetings. Our [weekly team meetings] are exclusive. Only players and coaches are invited, and our privacy is sacred; even our owner is barred. Secretaries, trainers, equipment men, the PR director -- one of them sets foot in that room. I know how gossip turns into rumors, and rumors into controversies, and we've already got enough of those."

On the coach's role as a teacher: "Be a teacher, not a drill sergeant. I might overcoach a player, might discuss things a little longer than necessary, but he'll know that I appreciate his problem, and that I'll do my best to help solve it. To teach, you have to listen as well as talk. When we experiment with something new in practice, our players' feedback is invaluable, especially from veterans who are honest about any problems they're having."

On what sets disciplined people apart: "(1) The capacity to get past distractions. (2) The willingness to condition mind and body for the task at hand. (3) The ability to keep your poise when those around you are losing theirs.

A proven system

In its NBA preview, the NY Times contends that "age and health are again the primary concerns for the Spurs, who are trying to keep up their streak of championship parades every other June (following 2003, 2005 and 2007)."

As the Times article points out, for the Spurs, "seven integral players are in their 30s: Tim Duncan (32), Manu GinĂ³bili (31), Bruce Bowen (37), Michael Finley (35), Kurt Thomas (36), Fabricio Oberto (33) and Jacque Vaughn (33)."

But Duncan says two factors help separate the Spurs from other teams in the West:

"We have a proven system. We have a proven bunch of guys."

Broadening a player's perspective

Sounds like a combination of playing on the U.S. Olympic team and maturity have helped change Chris Bosh for the better.

According to TOR coach Sam Mitchell:

"His practices are unbelievable, unbelievable. In the past, Chris would just come in ... not go through the motions but just do enough. Now, everything, every possession, every play is 100 percent all out.

I used to tell him all the time, the difference between Kevin Garnett and 95, 98 percent of the league is Kevin played like he practiced. And Chris is getting it, I think the light came on. I can't remember one play that he's taken off in the pre-season, not one. Not one time when he was supposed to run and get to a spot has he not done it.

Chris has got the talent to drag us along. I think he's realizing just how good he really is and how much better he can become."

Says Bosh:

"I've grown mentally as a player over this past summer and everything. Just being in that environment broadened my perspective a little bit, and I just started thinking more. That's what we've been talking about a lot in the past, he (Mitchell) is always telling me how I need to be a better practice player, make sure I push the guys and push myself to get better in practice. I really took that to heart and I'm really taking advantage of being healthy right now."

Coach Harris on the similarities between Avery Johnson and Vinny Del Negro

Del Harris, who enters his 50th year of coaching this season as an assistant on Vinny Del Negro's staff in Chicago, sees similarities between Coach Del Negro (here with Kirk Hinrich) and former Mavs coach Avery Johnson, with whom Harris worked in Dallas:

"Avery kept good notes over the years and he played for some outstanding coaches. As it turns out, Vinny has played for about the same coaches and did the same thing. He prepared himself as he went along and really prepared himself the last few years for this. This wasn't just something he thought about. He's amazingly organized and very bright."

What's different, according to Coach Harris, is where Chicago's team is this season and where Dallas' team was when Coach Johnson took over:

"We're new altogether to the program and he's new to coaching as well. We had an established team in Dallas when Avery started. This is not an established team. This reminds me more of when we started with Mark Cuban after he took ownership of the team, where we had bunch of young guys that weren't established stars but had star potential."

You do the best scouting through your friends

Good story in the NY Times yesterday about the trading of information that goes on in pro football. As the article puts it, the NFL "does not just accept the casual trading of information, but encourages it."

Said Redskins RB Shaun Alexander:

“Every team that you play against, your friends who play for other teams are like: ‘Hey, tell me about this. Tell me about that. This defense, how does it run its scheme? Do they tip it?’ That’s what happens. It’s like advance scouting. You do the best scouting through your friends.”

According to former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci (pictured above), talking with those you have relationships with is critical:

“I probably knew coaches and scouts on every one of the 32 teams. You can’t keep your head in the sand and assume your team knows everything there is to know. Communicating with your friends is not only accepted, it’s necessary. Asking a question — what did you think about so-and-so, what about their plan against you? — those conversations can occur. No harm, no foul. It’s commonplace.”

According to a story in this week's issue of SI, defensive backs often trade information with each other:

If the Redskins' Fred Smoot, for example, is about to face a receiver that his good buddy and former Vikings teammate Antoine Winfield played the week before, he won't hesitate to pick up the phone and ask, "Toine, what did he give you?" The Jets' Darrelle Revis says that as a rookie last year, he called 13-year veteran Ty Law of the Chiefs—both are from Aliquippa, Pa.—before each game. When the Raiders' DeAngelo Hall was a member of the Falcons, he'd watch not only his own tape but also that of his close friend and mentor DrĂ© Bly of the Broncos, with whom he routinely exchanged critiques and clues.

Celtics had a group of guys who were willing to be coached

Sports Illustrated's NBA Preview issue has a good story by Ian Thomsen about how the Celtics have demonstrated how "that in this era of the luxury tax and immature lottery picks, the poor can get rich quick, provided they're shrewd in remaking their rosters."

Boston's top three players -- KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce -- were all over 30 when they led the Celts to the NBA title last season.

"What they did tells you that if you get everybody committed and on the same page, you can focus on the team things," says Phoenix coach Terry Porter, who in Shaq, Grant Hill and Steve Nash has three players 34 or older. "Doc did a tremendous job, but more important, the players took some ownership and policed themselves. They stayed on each other and stayed focused on the task at hand."

From the beginning, Doc Rivers and his staff emphasized defense. Of course, a lot of teams do that. The difference is, according to the article, that Boston's leaders bought in.

"The biggest trick, which the Celtics did, is to get their best players to buy in," says Bucks coach Scott Skiles, who plans to invoke Boston's example to change the culture of his offense-first franchise. "That's going to be one of the challenges from the beginning, to convince some of the guys that if we really want to do something, we've got to build off our defense. And I think we will."

The article ends with a great quote from Doc Rivers:

"I had a group of guys who were very willing to be coached and weren't stuck on who they were. I hear guys say they want to win it, but I think what they're really saying is, I want to win it as long as I can keep doing what I do. I had three stars who said they wanted to win and they would change to do it. I don't think you get that a lot."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The four benefits of precisely scheduled practices

Here's another great excerpt from Bill Walsh's book "Building a Champion." This one's on the importance of carefully structuring practice sessions:

We'd establish four different practice formats, from a very hard, grueling two-and-a-half-hour practice to a light, thirty-minute practice the day before a game.

It's vitally important that players take the field to learn something each session. This approach should be reflected all the way down to the Pop Warner level. The player should be taking the field to learn, and usually to practice something specific that has been discussed with him beforehand.

There were at least four major benefits from precisely scheduling training camp and practice during the regular season:

1. No time was wasted on the practice field. Historically, coaches have unwittingly wasted precious minutes on the practice field. They've spent time on drills that weren't relevant to actually playing the game.

Or, they've run meaningless "filler drills" on one part of the field while other players at other positions worked on specific techniques, because the schedule has not been organized to incorporate all players working on important techniques concurrently.

2. The learning process was accelerated. Players would see the practice schedule the night before, so they knew those areas they were going to emphasize. When you take the field, you want the best possible learning environment. Most often, when that learning is taking place, the player is also getting the needed physical work.

We didn't spend as much time on conditioning drills in training camps as some teams do. We felt that we would be in excellent condition when the season started and we didn't want to fatigue the players so much that they would lose their concentration and be more susceptible to injury.

Teams hold practice for two reasons: To improve their skills and techniques, and to prepare for their next opponent.

During these sessions, it is vital that players communicate with each other. We made a concerted effort to establish an atmosphere in which players communicated in the huddle, at the line of scrimmage, and between plays. Visual and verbal communication can be an extremely important reinforcement during a game.

3. We could approach the game on a broad base, rather than piecemeal. We worked on every phase concurrently. We emphasized all facets of football necessary to ultimately compete with the best.

4. Initially, I coached the coaches. We coached all the players, not just the best ones. We had a distinct philosophy: As long as a man is on the field, he's a 49er. All players, regardless of stature, would get the same consideration.

The coaches who have been the most successful are usually the ones actively involved in the on-the-field, day-to-day coaching. Players will sacrifice for a hands-on coach, because they identify with him as an integral part of the team.

A head coach who sees his role only as motivating the team and organizing the staff is at the mercy of other people. Having spent so many years as an assistant coach, I became more and more aware that someone had to be the source of game strategy and tactics.

On the professional level, it is important that the coach work with individual players and be actively involved in practice, rather than standing remotely away from everyone.

Exchanging on a first-name basis is very appropriate. There really isn't much room for protocol in an atmosphere where so many sacrifices are made.

When I arrived at Stanford, I immediately told the team that everybody was on a first-name basis, that it was a two-way street, that I considered them mature men:

"Set aside the student-professor relationship. You are in an arena that calls for bonding among everyone involved. Sacrifices will have to be made, there just isn't time or need to distinguish between roles and responsibilities. From this point forward we're a group of men who collectively have one common objective, to compete and win."

This freed them to totally express themselves on the football field and challenged them to demonstrate their maturity.

Where to do the walkthrough

Tom Cable, who Al Davis inserted as coach of the Raiders recently, is working hard to get things turned around in Oakland.

He's brought in former Raider players to remind his team of the franchise's proud history. He's reinstituted the tradition of awarding game-balls after victories.

And now, to give his guys a better feel for where they'll be playing when on the road, he's having his team go through walk-throughs at the home team's stadium before the game.

It might seem like a little thing, but seemingly minor decisions can have a big impact on a team's performance.

For instance, visiting teams playing the Lakers or Clippers have to decide, on game days, whether to fight the traffic and make a long bus trip to the Staples Center for their shoot-around or walk-through, or have the shootaround someplace closer to the team hotel.

Some NBA teams stay at the Beverly Wilshire when in LA to play the Lakers/Clips. To bus over to Staples for a one-hour shootaround, then bus back to the hotel for a late lunch before heading back to the arena for that night's game doesn't make sense.

In the past, visiting teams have had shootarounds at UCLA (though that's changed recently). They've also done walk-throughs at health clubs close to the hotel. A few teams have even arranged to have their walkthroughs at a private residence in Beverly Hills that has a full basketball court.

One time with Orlando, Coach Daly had a shootaround outside on the half-court at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey where we were staying.

One summer many years ago, when coaching with Hubie Brown in the LeGrande Trophy Tournament in France, we had a team breakfast and a early game. Coach Brown had an idea for an impromptu walkthrough.

We went in hotel parking lot, chalked off a lane, and used a grapefruit as the ball as we simulated the opposing team (a Greek team) and how we would defend them. The funniest thing was by the end of the walkthrough, the grapefruit had split open and juice would squirt out on every catch.

On back-to-back games, most teams will have a team meal and a walkthrough at the hotel to help save the players' legs. Mike Fratello would create a "key" with athletic tape in the hotel ballroom so we could walkthrough the opponent's sets and how we would defend.

Some coaches elect to stay at a hotel closer to the arena and not worry so much about staying at a hotel close to the best restaurants in area or in the best part of city.

For instance, when in the Bay area to play the Warriors, most teams elect to stay across the bay from Oakland in San Francisco ("The City") which requires crossing the Bay Bridge to get to Oakland for the game.

But if you stay near the arena in Oakland, you avoid San Francisco and bridge traffic and it cuts down on travel time. Jerry Sloan, for one, has had his Jazz teams stay in Oakland for this reason.

Ideally, to get a feel for the arena, you'd like to have a walkthrough on the floor where you'll be playing that night, but that's not always practical.