TrueHoop Archive: May 2007
Canadian Gregory Dole lives in Brazil, and describes himself as a "freelance writer, English as a second language teacher, basketball coach, basketball scout, and world traveller." That's a career that, not too long ago, took him deep into the life of a certain Brazilian Blur (and, to a lesser extent, William Wesley).
In the spring and summer of 2003, before and after the NBA draft, Dole was Leandro Barbosa's translator. In the hopes of landing a book deal, Dole is sharing tales of his time with Barbosa. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth parts were published in recent days. There are more to come. When we left them, Dole and Barbosa have flown to Phoenix for a last-minute team visit to the Phoenix Suns. Barbosa is injured and agreed to the trip only on the condition that he not work out. Dole has, at the urging of the Suns, talked Barbosa into taking the court merely to shoot in front of the assembled executives.
In the rush to get the workout over and done with, Leandrinho keeps on his street shoes and does not bother to take off his new Adidas watch. Not your traditional basketball attire.
Leandrinho goes out in street shoes with his watch on and has one of those days when everything goes in. He does not miss. And with every drill, the assistant coach running the workout adds more and more details, with increasing intensity and speed.
The Brazilian has that dog pound attitude intact, and hits a homerun. The Suns executives can not hide their smiles. They have their prize and it looks like they have a good chance of getting their man.
Workout over, Leandrinho does a taped interview, and puts on the kind of charm you seldom see in athletes. He knows how to work a room and make everyone love him. And they did.
Of course, he is still fuming mad at me for the perceived deception of taking him to Phoenix for an “interview” and instead going through a full workout. There is no love for brother Dole.
Showered and ready to leave, we are instead invited to lunch. The Suns want to do some medical checks on Leandrinho’s hip that afternoon so we will be staying around a while longer.
Walking through the basement of the arena, Griff tries to enliven his guests. “We really like him. Yeah, we really, really like him. So if he is around at our pick, tell Leandrinho that we are going to draft him,” says the Suns man.
I duly translate this awesome bit of news -- that justifies, essentially, Leandrinho's entire basketball career to this point, all those drills at the insistence of his drill sergeant brother, not to mention the last few months of traveling all over the nation trying to impress a team.
I try again. “So, you do realize that this guy just said the Suns are going to draft you. That’s some good news, no? You are a going to be a Phoenix Sun,” I say.
More famous last words from Leandrinho.
“Dog Pound” then takes us to a buffet lunch in the VIP suite at the nearby Arizona Diamondbacks stadium. Below us the Diamondbacks are playing a matinee game. It is pretty f’n cool.
But still no show of emotion from Leandrinho. Even “Dog Pound” is thrown by the Brazilian’s sour demeanor. We go to the hospital to take x-rays of Leandrinho’s hip. The doctor explains that, seeing as the Suns want to draft him, they want to make sure that he is in sound medical condition. A light bulb goes off. Suddenly, at this odd moment, Leandrinho realizes for the first time that he is really going to get drafted by the Suns.
He goes from dead serious to seriously happy as the team of Suns doctors begin to poke, probe, and x-ray him.
Medicals resolved, “Dog Pound” takes us to some fancy mall in Scottsdale as we kill time waiting for our flight.
We leave the air-conditioned hospital and jump into the air-conditioned van outside the exit doors, which is to say we were constantly surrounded by “air-conditionedness.”
We have not yet felt the Phoenix heat.
As we drive to the mall, I remember a classmate of mine when I was a kid who had what I thought at the time was a really cool t-shirt.
The front of the shirt was a picture of a thermometer, a smiling Sun, and a fried egg on a patch of asphalt. Below the design was the phrase, “I survived 125 degree heat in Phoenix.”
Fascinated by the idea of being able to cook food on the street, I never forgot about the t-shirt or the city of Phoenix. Getting out of the chilled meat locker of a van, I am knocked back by a fiery wall of heat.
I laugh. “What? Are you kidding me? It’s hotter than hell here. It’s officially stupid hot. Who can live here?”
Phoenix is not my sort of climate. We run to the mall to escape the heat.
Once inside, it is clear that whereas Phoenix might have seemed like hell to me, to Leandrinho this city is heaven.
Inside the mall is a sea of tall blondes, packed wall to wall, escalator to escalator. “This place," he barks, "is amazing! Delicious. And more delicious. I like this town, I really like this town. This is awesome that they want to draft me,” says Leandrinho.
No joke, I still believe that Leandrinho liked Phoenix more than the other cities because of the ridiculously high percentage of blondes in the city.
“But it is so hot, and it’s not even summer yet,” I said.
“I like it,” said Leandrinho, “it is sort of like the climate in Bauru.”
“Bauru is nothing like it. I’ve been to Bauru and it never gets hot like this. There is no desert in, near or even far from Bauru,” I replied.
“Oh Bauru gets pretty hot, you just may not have been there on a particularly hot day,” said the defender of Phoenix. From that point on, there was no convincing Leandro otherwise. He was in love with Phoenix.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Lakers have released this statement from the elder Buss:
"I talked with Kobe this morning and assured him that I share his frustration and, more importantly, I assured him that we will continue to pursue every avenue possible to improve our team with him as the cornerstone. I told him that we will keep him apprised of our progress and we agreed that we will talk again in the very near future."
"We will continue to pursue every avenue possible" comes off to me as an indication that, at least at this stage, the team has not promised any major shakeups.
Kobe Bryant, for his part, has updated his website with news of his early morning workout. It might seem like there was a lot more sizzle on his site yesterday. But today's update is not without it's sexier moments. For instance, there's a line about "rabbits doing their business all over the field."
Five weeks after firing Rick Carlisle, the Indiana Pacers have hired a new coach.
Jim O'Brien will be named the next Pacers coach, multiple sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein. The team scheduled a news conference for 5 p.m. ET Thursday.
O'Brien previously coached the Boston Celtics, resigning in 2004 after four seasons, and Philadelphia 76ers, who fired him in 2005 after one season. His record in five seasons was 182-158; in three playoff appearances, his teams went 14-17.
Carlisle was fired April 25 after a season in which the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Last week Stan Van Gundy, the former Miami Heat coach, told the Pacers he was not interested in the job.
The team also interviewed Chicago Bulls assistant Jim Boylan and previously spoke with assistant coaches Johnny Davis and Chuck Person, and Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw.
I still remember Coach O'Brien's Celtics raining threes all over the Philadelphia 76ers in the playoffs. If I were Antoine Walker, I'd agitate for a trade to Indiana, because he has never been better than under O'Brien.
ESPN's David Thorpe predicts Detroit will win Game 5 tonight, but says it will happen only if Detroit's roster admits that they have to work very hard to perform at a high level:
Thorpe adds that as Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince are all having trouble scoring, it might make sense to run the offense through Rasheed Wallace, who might draw the double teams that will finally get the Pistons some easy scoring opportunities.
The prevailing tenet among NBA "experts" and analysts is that when the Detroit is focused, it is an elite team. But I stopped subscribing to that when Detroit failed to close out Chicago in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis. At that point, I realized that, unlike a team like San Antonio, Detroit is simply not capable of sustaining consistent levels of excellent play. Whether it is poor offensive output, shoddy rebounding, or lackluster defense, something often goes wrong for the Pistons.
This is who they are, and it is time for them to face the truth. For the second consecutive year they are in danger of losing to the Cavs. And, in the big picture, they are not (yet?) in the same class as San Antonio.
Unlike most teams, admitting this should serve as a rallying point for the Pistons and help them lock in as best as they can for the remainder of the playoffs. Being locked in does not guarantee a solid night of shooting or fewer turnovers, so they are still vulnerable, but it is a better place for them to be in mentally than believing that they just need to clean up a few things to become NBA champions.
That they are a flawed team is OK, as long as they play with passion and pride in recognition that anything less than their best effort will not be good enough. I sense that some players are beginning to understand this, while others keep thinking they have nothing to worry about.
Billy Donovan is expected to become the next coach of the Orlando Magic after he was presented with a substantial contract offer, officials with the NBA team told the Orlando Sentinel.
Donovan, 42, is coming off back-to-back NCAA titles with the Florida Gators. He was in the midst of negotiations for a contract extension at Florida when the offer arrived.
Video highlights, drills, camps, statistics ... there are pretty good mechanisms in place to catch the next Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett. They are freaks of nature who can almost anything they want on the basketball court. Their excellence can be easily demonstrated.
But, for instance, at the pre-draft camp in Orlando going on right now, there are no players like that. What teams are shopping for are complementary players. Role players. Guys who can fit in to the team's larger goals, while contributing very specific things. Playing really good perimeter defense and hitting the occasional three, for instance. Rebounding and blocking shots without getting the ball much. Players who can shine without the spotlight, and who will not be a disturbance in the locker room if they don't get a lot of minutes.
These are guys who might play 15 years without scoring 30 points, or faking someone out of their socks.
The teams that win titles every year all have fat supplies of highly effective role players. Consider that the Spurs just waltzed to the NBA Finals getting long minutes from the likes of Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Fabricio Oberto, Jacque Vaughn, and Francisco Elson.
I talked to ESPN's David Thorpe, who is in Orlando, and he points out that you could stick any of those Spurs I just mentioned in the pre-draft camp, and no one watching would be certain that they were sure-fire NBA players. Because they just do not have the skills to thrive in this hyper, ball-hog, show-your-moves environment.
But they are, in all likelihood, about to be key players on a championship team.
Weird, huh? You practically have to be a star to make the NBA. But then once you get there, the star jobs are almost all filled, so in most cases you then have to learn to be a role player. (No wonder so many NBA players are grumpy.)
Wouldn't it be smarter to develop, nurture, and evaluate who will make the best role players?
Or, to put it another way, isn't it time to stop thinking of role players as failed stars? To me that's like calling a nurse a failed doctor, or an elementary school teacher a failed college professor. It's ridiculous. They're different jobs. The people who are the best in the world at teaching elementary school kids, nurturing patients to health, or playing perimeter defense ... they're not lacking at all. They're the best in the world at something very important. They're champions. And despite the millions spent on recruiting, only the smartest teams know how to find good role players consistently.
UPDATE: Coach, trainer, and blogger Brian McCormick was inspired to write a whole blog post in response, and concludes:
Role players are basically players who have one NBA skill. The stars are players who have the whole package. Rather than trying to show NBA personnel that they have all-around game, these players need to illustrate that they definitely have one NBA skill.
If you shoot like Jason Kapono or Kyle Korver, you can make a team. If you defend like Raja Bell or Bruce Bowen, you can make a team. If you rebound like Ben Wallace, you can make a team. Once you get the chance, then you worry about expanding your game to earn more playing time: Bell and Bowen perfected their stand-still shooting ability to earn starter minutes. Once Strawberry or Afflalo make a roster, that is their next step to earn significant playing time. But, they will make a team because of their on-ball defense, not their well-roundedness.
- Larry Hughes is getting a bunch of shots in his foot so that he can keep playing. Is that creepy? Not really, he tells the Akron Beacon-Journal's Brian Windhorst: "They told me to look away but you see my body art. I'm not afraid of needles." And, the Cavaliers are confident. If they win tonight ... wow.
- Yahoo's Steve Kerr: "To me, Detroit is not itself and hasn't been for four games. That's why I'd be worried if I were a Pistons fan. If Flip Saunders' club is going to win Game 5, it needs to finally put a total game together. That would mean taking care of the ball, rebounding well and getting good, balanced scoring from its starters. We'll see."
- Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold: "Any regular reader of this blog knows how I feel about the soap opera surrounding the Lakers -- I despise it. I like it as much as I like the trend of flopping. I started this blog in large part because I wanted to talk about the Lakers on the court at a time all regular media wanted to talk about what Shaq thought of Kupchak and who Kobe's wife was talking to at games. I just wanted to talk about the games. And yet, in the last few days I got sucked into the front office power struggle made public, the "who is the insider?" soap opera. Certainly all this impacts the team on the court, but it's still more General Hospital than NBA professional. And I feel like I need a shower just following it. Is it really all that hard for Kobe, Jim and Jerry Buss, Mitch, Phil and anyone else in the loop to sit down in a room and talk? Is negotiating through the media really necessary? Don't successful organizations have a master plan that everyone is aware of and working toward? Isn't talking things out face-to-face what good managers and mature adults do? Not everyone has been mature, but now everyone is being immature. These are the days that try fans' souls. It is the kind of day that makes me question my fandom (which Dan said so well) and makes me question blogging about it all. Kobe says he's tired of talking. I think I speak for a lot of fans when we say we're sick and tired of this whole situation, too. Maybe it costs me a bunch of readers, but I'm stepping away from the edge of insanity for a couple days. Write what you want in the comments, but I'm done updating who is fighting for what part of the sandbox for now."
- Etan Thomas wishes we were all a little more upset by those Utah fans hurling stuff on the court at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
- Clay Bennett is not sounding like an owner who plans to stay in Seattle.
- When they're ready to make a movie of this Laker drama, these are the actors they should use.
- Yotam Halperin apparently won't be joining the Sonics this year.
- Taurean Green is hearing the "Billy Donovan to the NBA" rumors too. In his Orlando Sentinel pre-draft camp diary, Green writes: "I've heard some of the stuff, but I haven't talked to him, so I really don't know the situation. I'd be kind of shocked if he left, but it's his decision. I definitely think he'd do well in the pros, if he gets the right team. He's a great coach, and he does a great job making adjustments. If he was in the pros, I'd call him and make sure he drafted me. And the rest of the guys, too. We could be the '07s in the NBA."
- Green caught the eye of the Washington Post's Ivan Carter (who also got hassled by the cops yesterday): "Green just looked like a guy who is ready for the NBA. He's super quick but always under control and though he did finish with two turnovers in 20 minutes, I don't remember him making many bad decisions. He showed a nice J, got into the paint at will and was sharp in the open floor. Basicallly, he made things easier for everyone around him and I now have a better understanding of why Florida was so good the last two seasons." Carter also had nice things to say about the guy playing against Green, Zabian Dowdell.
- The Grizzlies are in trouble. Evan Weiner quotes Michael Heisley in the New York Sun: "The handwriting is on the wall, if you want to have your franchises viable, then you can't have a situation where New York and Chicago and Los Angeles are doing very, very well and some other teams are, but, I would say, a significant percentage of the teams in our league are struggling financially. I am looking at an 800,000-population city and you can say, ‘why are you there?' I basically looked around [in 2000, after he decided to leave Vancouver] and tried to go to what was available to me and we did a tremendous investigation and I am not knocking Memphis, I'm just saying it's a small market and that means we need revenue sharing or some help." In the same article, Heisley says that the league keeps the money from overseas Jersey sales that otherwise goes to teams. Wow. That's a lot of money.
- Raja Bell is in a competition to name the world's sexiest vegetarian. (Via Rising Suns) But Charlie Murphy can tell you it's dumb to ever compete against Prince.
- Flopping is not new.
- Talk of an ESPN vs. TNT game.
- The Oregonian's Jason Quick witnesses Portland's Kevin Pritchard having hushed conversations with front office people from Seattle, Chicago, and Dallas. A Bulls blogger, at least, appears to be warming to the idea of Zach Randolph.
- What Jack McCallum's book "Seven Seconds or Less" can tell you about Marc Iavaroni.
- The numbers say Chris Paul is better than Deron Williams, despite what some bloggers might say.
- The Basketball Jones, with a mighty PG-13 podcast, wraps up the Kobe Bryant situation.
- Hard time for Golden State of Mind's "Yi Movement."
Throughout the playoffs, those Jazz played very well. That team was intense. The future would seem to be very bright.
Even against San Antonio they made plays. Things were happening. San Antonio was just, to my eyes at least, so much better.
Brad Rock of the Deseret News says the Jazz can walk away with heads held high:
So the Jazz are gone for 2007.
Yet in another sense, they're back.
One thing the Spurs, Mavericks, Suns and everyone else in the talent-crowded Western Conference has to know deep down in their size 18 shoes: The Jazz are coming. They're young, confident and most important, now they've had a taste. Isn't that what Jerry Sloan feared all along? That his teams would forget - or never know - what it feels like when every single possession counts. When the Earth seems to tilt with each possession.
So now they know.
This postseason is the stuff they'll remember when they get old.
"Once you get a taste of how good it feels," said reserve guard Ronnie Brewer, "you just want to try to get back."
Wouldn't it be nice to leave it there: a team on the way up.
It's not all peaches and cream, though. Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Derek Fisher all did some pointed questioning of the desire and effort of unnamed teammates (speculated by reporters on the scene to be the imported trio of Gordan Giricek, Andrei Kirilenko, and Mehmet Okur).
Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune reports:
If what Boozer says is true, the Jazz had a player or players who made vacation plans for next week. Not played as if he wanted to go on vacation. Actual plans. Boozer contrasted that with Derek Fisher's supreme effort not to leave the team hanging in Game 5.
"It's sad to say that because where we are, we're in the Western Conference finals," Boozer said, "and we have some guys already having vacation plans.
"On the other side of the spectrum, you see a guy like D-Fish who went across the country to take care of his daughter and fly all the way back just to make it to the game.
"It's sad to have that. You have a couple guys on vacation. One guy having some real life stuff go on and still try to make it back and give everything he has. That's a problem and we need to get that fixed this summer.
"I'll never call out a teammate. I'll never say anything negative directly to a teammate because I love my team and I believe in that code. But we need guys that are always going to give everything they have.
"We need guys that have a championship vision. When you have your vacation plans already, that's not a championship vision."
Similarly, when asked about signing an extension next summer, Deron Williams made clear that he was not happy about how some things went last year. Tribune Columnist Gordon Monson smells change:
Well, well, well. If Deron and Carlos are unhappy, hold onto your shorts, fellas. The offseason might be a bumpy ride.
By the time this sucker is published you just know this story is going to turn itself inside out again.
But I can't shake the feeling that we need some kind of re-cap here. I mean ... what happened yesterday?
Was this simply a bad day at the office, writ large by the presence of the media? (You never had a day when you wanted to be working for the business across the street?) Was it a tantrum?
Is Bryant still demanding a trade?
Apparently more requesting than demanding, at latest check, and not quite as much as before, perhaps? I have a feeling it's the Lakers' turn to talk next on this point. Presumably they'll talk to Bryant at some point, and arrive at some kind of settlement, or not.
In Bryant's latest radio interviews, Bryant says Phil Jackson has opened Bryant's eyes to the idea of staying. But even after talking to Jackson, Bryant has still been sending mixed signals. His website KB24.com has not been updated since yesterday's talk of departure. Late yesterday, even after the calming influence of Phil Jackson and Magic Johnson, and his conciliatory interviews, Bryant reiterated his wish to be traded. Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times reports:
Bryant also said Jackson told him to "just relax and just kick back, continue your training and enjoy your vacation. We'll address the issues. We have to do something in terms of bringing in talent and looking internally into the organization."
So Bryant went to see his young daughter in her ballet class. He tried to take his mind off of the events swirling around him but was continually hit with text messages and calls on his cellphone.
When he spoke to The Times at 5:27 p.m., he reiterated his position from earlier in the morning.
"Nothing's changed," Bryant said. "It's just a matter of I don't want to go no place else. I don't have much of a choice. When things like this go down, you just sit back. What can I do? It's like a broken record."
When asked if he still wanted to be traded, he answered quickly and firmly: "Yes."
Is Kobe Bryant serious?
The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Aldridge suspects that this was always a move to convince Jerry Buss to get rid of Mitch Kupchak:
Bryant never would say "fire that incompetent Mitch Kupchak," the Lakers' general manager, who has failed to build a championship-contending roster around Bryant in Los Angeles. That would be the kind of messy, front-office meddling that gave Magic Johnson a bad name during his early days in Los Angeles and got Michael Jordan tagged as impossible in Chicago.
But when someone of Bryant's wattage demands a trade, as he initially did yesterday - after saying all week that he wanted to wear Forum Blue and Gold the rest of his days - he doesn't have to. That is an unspoken gauntlet, thrown at the feet of owner Jerry Buss: Kupchak goes, or me.
(Bet the commish is delighted that Bryant, and not the conference championships, is the topic around NBA water coolers today.)
Bryant is too smart, too familiar with NBA finances, too fond of the franchise that gave him his start, too aware of his singular, devastating talent to know that there is no way on God's green earth that the Lakers could deal him. He brings too much loot to their coffers and is too vital to their franchise - and to the city - for them to get anything approaching true value in return.
I suspect Bryant is sincere in his upset, and his willingness to leave the team. But like anyone making threats, of course he always kind of hoped that instead of having to follow through, everyone would acquiesce and give him everything he wanted. Which may well include Mitch Kupchak's job. (Kupchak, meanwhile, is trying to get some work done at the pre-draft camp in Orlando.) After talking to Roland Lazenby, I'd be surprised if Bryant's wish list didn't also include Jim Buss -- owner Jerry's son who has a growing role in the front office -- taking a backseat in personnel decisions.
Does Peter Vecsey have a theory?
Why yes he does, thanks for asking. The New York Post columnist says the Lakers and Pacers are working on getting Jermaine O'Neal in purple and gold. Vecsey, who as usual makes this tough to parse by giving no indication who his sources are, theorizes such a trade may be for a package that includes Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum (hope O'Neal stays healthy).
Obviously, this very real swap talk is why Kobe's blithering abruptly ceased late yesterday afternoon.
For days, he'd avoided returning phone calls from the Lakers. Yet, soon after demanding unequivocally to be traded while a guest on Stephen A. Smith's radio show, Kobe spoke to Jackson, who unquestionably clued him in to what's going on.
A couple hours later, Kobe was back on ESPN telling Dan Patrick he hoped his "quality help issue" could be worked out.
Scan the national media, with its assorted sources, and essentially no one expects Bryant to be traded this summer.
In his final column for the L.A. Times, J.A. Adande makes a call as to how this will all shake out:
My prediction: He's here for another year, then there's another frustrated outburst when they don't improve, and the Lakers trade him rather than have him walk as a free agent. For now, the Lakers can't -- can't -- send him anywhere in the Western Conference, even though that's where most of the talent is. The one Eastern team with an abundance of good young players -- Chicago -- needs a low-post player more than a guard. And Bryant will come to realize that if you're going to be on a rebuilding team, it's much better to be in L.A. than some place like Milwaukee.
In the Washington Post, Michael Wilbon sounds certain Jerry West will return to run the Lakers:
Bryant isn't going anywhere. The Lakers aren't going to trade him and shouldn't. West, arguably the greatest basketball executive who ever lived other than Red Auerbach, will get over being steamed at Kobe, push retirement away for a couple of years or so and ultimately save the Lakers. Within the next 48 hours, Kobe will have talked again with Jackson, also with West, also with owner Jerry Buss, who preferred Kobe over Shaq three years ago, and will conclude it was all a misunderstanding. We'll hear inside a week or so that they're all on the same page, that Kobe was simply demonstrating the great passion he has for the team, its fans and winning c
hampionships, which is what he's about.
We'll hear Kobe say he was serious at the time, that his feelings were hurt, but that the club has promised him -- the great West has promised him -- that whatever happened the last three years is over and that the team will do whatever it has to do to return to championship form.
In the Chicago Tribune, Sam Smith writes that a trade to the Bulls is unlikely (and adds that the Knicks are competing with the Lakers for the services of Jermaine O'Neal):
It's only logical the Lakers aren't going to trade Bryant, at least not now. They, along with the Knicks, have the biggest daily gross in the league and charge the most for tickets. Nicholson doesn't pay that price to watch Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas.
And the Bulls would have to give up so much to acquire Bryant -- the consensus best talent in the NBA and the biggest draw -- they effectively would gut their team. Then the Bulls would be the Lakers and Bryant would want to leave, and he can opt out of his contract after the 2008-09 season.
Then you would have nothing.
Kobe Bryant tells ESPN's Dan Patrick that after talking to his coach, Phil Jackson, he is open to the idea that the Lakers might be able to work something out to make him stay. Bryant couldn't give a lot of reasons for optimism, other than Jackson said everything would be OK, and Bryant makes absolutely clear that he trusts Jackson.
Later on Bryant talked to KLAC and backed off the trade talk even further.
Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant apparently have similar goals here: Both want big-name talent on that roster so they can win a title in the next couple of years as Bryant and Jackson cling to their primes.
In getting the front office moving, however, Bryant the superstar has ten times the leverage of Jackson the coach.
If you look at the course of events -- Bryant's rage was reportedly born in a conversation with Jackson yesterday morning -- is it possible that Jackson intentionally riled up Bryant as a tactic to turn up the heat on the front office?
Of course, Bryant, as a player, has an option that coaches don't have: trade. A Bryant trade would be murderous to Jackson's quest to win that tenth title. He'd be starless, under contract with a questionable front office, and miserable. When the fire of Bryant's rage toward the front office burned in the trade direction for a few hours today, Jackson was exceedingly quick to dump cold water on it.
They call Phil Jackson is the master of mindgames, and it looks like Bryant's saber-rattling may get Jackson exactly what he presumably always wanted: Bryant in town coupled fresh direction and a sense of urgency in the front office. ESPN Insider Chad Ford is hanging out with general managers at the pre-draft camp in Orlando and reports:
Most of the GMs I spoke with said they believe owner Jerry Buss won't trade Kobe.
They think he'll fire Mitch Kupchak, replace Kupchak with a GM that Kobe likes (probably not Jerry West, who is very close with Kupchak) and then sell Kobe on a bold course of action.
That move, by the way, is long overdue.
The bottom line, if you listen to what Kobe says, is that he thinks Kupchak lacks the courage to make a big move. He's had chances to acquire Baron Davis, Carlos Boozer and Jason Kidd but talked himself out of each trade because he didn't want to incur the risk involved.
That jibes with what a number of GMs said about Kupchak.
The main thing that amazes me about this: How has Jerry Buss not yet had a conversation with Bryant (that we know of)? How has Bryant not called Buss? Aren't they certain to have that session at some point soon? Is it good for them to let this thing keep playing out as a national soap opera? Maybe it sells some tickets, I don't know. But my gut says that the next time Kobe Bryant picks up the phone, it should be to his boss, not the media.
Work your magic, big Merlin.
Yesterday I asked you to send me links to the most enlightening Tim Duncan articles, interviews, and videos that you could find.
The NBA's reality is that we are deep into the Tim Duncan era -- he is the dominant player of the day -- and yet whenever he is on TV almost no one wants to watch. This year's Finals promise to deliver low ratings.
My knee-jerk response is: watch! Watch him, specifically. Watch tonight. What he does is truly amazing. He owns that paint. And he's so unbelievably efficient. If you get in a certain mood, it's stunning to see.
But I realize that's not for everyone, and unless people can find something to latch onto from this man's character, the "cardboard personality" factor could continue crippling the league for years to come.
But it's a myth that he isn't fascinating. He just isn't comfortable being fascinating in a way that works for typical sports media. (In fact, I think you could make the case that he knows exactly how to be fascinating, but is calculating and intentionally not so.)
The interesting stuff is in there, for sure. It's just not easy to find. TrueHoop reader Terremoto sent me an email that makes it frightfully clear to me how Tim Duncan needs to be marketed to the world: as a wizard. I'm serious! Terremoto writes:
Tim Duncan is the NBA's first superstar nerd. I find it very interesting that Tim Duncan's off the court pursuits include sword and knife collecting, Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy videogames & paintball. Add to that, dude's got a freakin' tattoo of Merlin from Arthurian lore! His other tat is of a Skeleton Jester. No barbed wire or homages to dead relatives here. Just pure (and endearing) D&D nerdcore.
Another NERDCORE story: He wanted his nickname to be "Merlin" when he first got to the league, but his teammates weren't having it.
Wizard. Merlin. D&D. Nerdcore (a word I am using for the first time right now.) Love it or hate it, it's the first true thing about Tim Duncan that everyone can understand in a heartbeat. Everyone knows a dude or two like that.
And that is really him.
I want to see him in a Wizard costume, casting spells, at every NBA event until further notice.
Of course, readers sent me far more than just that.
One of the best stories out there is this documentary about his relationship with Gregg Popovich. Tim Duncan is a good person -- the kind of person who should be celebrated as a role model. Isn't that what we always said we wanted from our basketball players?
S.L. Price wrote a nice Duncan story called "The Quiet Man" (should be here, although link doesn't seem to work at the moment) about Duncan when he was named Sportsman of the Year with his teammate David Robinson. It includes this insightful passage:
Television ratings for the 2003 NBA Finals were down one third from the year before--down, in fact, to their lowest level since the Nielsen rating system began keeping track of the Finals in 1976. Only one thing had changed since 2002: The small-market Spurs, led by Duncan, were back. Here he was at last, the athlete all the moralists and parents and columnists had been seeking for years, the role model, the anti-Me-Me-Me man, finally coming into his own, showcasing the type of game that hoops aficionados had feared was passing into history. But when it came time to watch, Duncan was found lacking.
Does he have to talk the talk, too? Maybe the NBA, in seeking to jack up ratings with years of personality marketing (Shaq! Michael! The Showdown!), has sold the game so far down the river that excellence isn't enough anymore. Maybe Duncan is the litmus test for separating the pure fan from those who are there for the spectacle. Maybe we like (or need) to watch a superstar perp-walk into a police station. Maybe, in the end, we say we value one thing--teamwork, humility, good citizenship--but really want its opposite and switching channels makes it easy to avoid the obvious. Nobody likes being caught in a lie.
This is, I am told (and would love confirmation UPDATE: Not only is it real, but the writer who helped make the assignment reality was none other than my old HOOP colleague Darryl Howerton who is a role model of Tim Duncan appreciation), Tim Duncan's psychoanalysis of himself, from the 1998 lockout, which was published in the March 1999 issue of Sport magazine. As reproduced on a blog I have never heard of, here is a key excerpt:
I'm sure that right now you are all thinking that I must be crazy. But, I assure you, I am normal, I told you I just am always thinking, sometimes about really crazy random things. But in all seriousness, it really should be difficult for me to be too strange. After all, a great family raised me. I had great friends, support and teaching at Wake Forest. I came to a first-class organization in the Spurs family. My best friend from college, Marc Scott, is my business manager, handling my day-to-day operations. And my agent is an attorney by the name of Lon Babby, who also represents players such as Grant Hill and Nikki McCray. I have the loving support of my girlfriend who still attends Wake Forest and is nearing graduation. She helps me cope with the everyday rigors of being an NBA player.
I'm surrounded by nothing but great people. I've been blessed with that, so really, I've got no choice but to be an all-around good person.
At this point, if I were to psychoanalyze myself, I'd have to say I am a clown, cleverly disguised as a regular person. I enjoy jokes, smiling, and making people smile. I may be a little different, but that's OK, who wants to be normal anyway?
There's a whole bunch more Tim Duncan insight out there. For instance:
- Video evidence he's a bit of a goofball. And if a poem to brisket doesn't prove it, nothing will.
- Listen to the audio at the end of this Lang Whitaker post, and you'll hear that he cooks, and is proud of his green bean casserole.
- Duncan has an online diary that he updates a couple times a decade. What can you learn from that? Stuff like he likes spending time with his wife and dogs (one of which, I have heard, is a "cockapoo").
- Here is Tim Duncan on video talking about his promise to his deceased mom to stay in school.
- Here is a whole mess of Tim Duncan factoids and speculation (Did he take a Chinese course at Wake Forest to impress a
woman? Does he dress up for Renaissance Fairs? Does he ride four-wheelers with friends around his house in Texas?) from sources of varying credibility.
- This Associated Press article gives a sense of the classy way he relates to people off the court.
- Remember when he was in major national ad campaigns?
- Tim Duncan, professional wrestling fan, certainly appreciates showmanship in other venues. Let's fit him for that wizard costume. Seven feet tall, in silver and black, please.
From his website, KB24.com:
When you love something as much as I love the Lakers its hard to even imagine thinking about being elsewhere. But, the ONE THING I will never sacrifice when it comes to basketball is WINNING. That is plain and simply what it's all about. It's in my DNA. It's what pushes me to work as hard as I do. It's my daily passion and pursuit.
The more I thought about the future, the more I became convinced that the Lakers and me just have two different visions for the future. The Lakers are pursuing a longer-term plan that is different from what Dr. Buss shared with me at the time I re-signed as a free agent. I have seen that plan unfold for the last three years and watched great trade opportunities come and go, and have seen free agents passed on. That has led to the Lakers not winning a playoff series. All of that was frustrating in itself, but then, this week to have someone "inside" the Laker organization try to blame me in the media for us not being a contender right now -- that is what brought me to my current position today.
I want it to be clear that I still love, with all my heart, the Laker Legacy. From Mikan to West to Goodrich to Wilt to Kareem to Magic. That will never change. And the support my family and I have gotten from Lakers fans is undeniably the best. I will also always believe that.
But, now there is a new road ahead.
Roland Lazenby wrote one of the best basketball books ever, "The Show," which is all about the history and inner workings of the Los Angeles Lakers. He also has great ongoing insight into the Lakers through his excellent relationship with the straight-talking Tex Winter.
As soon as I saw the latest act of this drama, I was eager to get his thoughts.
And I felt sort of odd doing so, as Lazenby teaches at Virginia Tech, where he is in the middle of overseeing a truly cathartic, tear-stained, student-run creative project memorializing the very real events there.
But Lazenby says basketball has been a pleasant distraction for him, and he found a few minutes to share his thoughts, which I have transcribed and edited somewhat for length.
I still think we're in the early stages of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The worst could still be averted, I would think.
It's a difficult situation, though. It's the next act in a long and unfolding tragedy. Everyone is at the stage where they want to point fingers, but they all contributed to this a little, including Kobe Bryant, including Shaquille O'Neal, and including Jerry Buss.
They should have thought about this before they blew it all up.
The tragedy now has become "King Lear," with this issue of transition. Transitions are always difficult, but in the case of the Lakers, it's ludicrous to think of Jim Buss as a personnel guy. I don't know Jim Buss, but I do know that he should study hard how to be a good owner. He is not a personnel guy, and he should not sit anywhere close to the GM's office.
(And the Lakers have always had a complicated "court." Magic Johnson is a voice that's around that cares a lot and is hard to ignore. Jerry West always had his say when he was there. There are a lot of voices even in simpler times.)
I believe Phil seeded a lot of this conflict to serve his own purposes. And Kobe, until now, has been stoic, really not into playing the PR game. But now he's at that age. He identifies with Shaq now. Shaq was impatient with Kobe, because he had things he wanted to get done quickly. Kobe gets that now.
And it's not all Jim Buss's fault. But they need to clear up the personnel situation. Jim Buss is not and never will be a personnel guy, and I think he's the complicating factor.
Jerry Buss has earned respect as an owner. But owners have to let the personnel guys sort out the talent. Jim Buss drawing his identity as the guy who drafted Andrew Bynum ... that doesn't float.
Tex Winter has long said that this organization had some difficult decisions coming, because Andrew Bynum is just too young to do what the organization needs. That's the tough choice.
And the other one is what do you do with Lamar Odom? I'm not convinced he's the problem.
A lot of this latest blow up was ignited by Jim Buss criticizing Phil on that radio show. That's what made it spill publicly. And I think Kobe just realized: this is not going to change.
Everybody wants to blame Mitch Kupchak. I don't buy that. He is sharp. He is trying. But he's forced to make concessions to his owners. In any case, I think he has largely made the same draft picks that Jerry West would have made.
You have to have hard core basketball people who have really dedicated a lifetime to the game.
If I could do one thing to fix the Lakers? I would send Jim Buss off to owner school with his dad.
Shaquillle O'Neal told me in "The Show" that once Jerry West left, there was never anyone he could trust. (The hubris of the situation smells like the Bulls in 1998, when Jerry Krause determined to rebuild the Bulls.)
It's a mess in the front office, especially if you're a player in his prime who is ready to compete for a championship. (Someone pointed out to me once: with all the money the Lakers wasted on players like Brian Grant since O'Neal left, they could have paid Shaq his money.)
Jerry Buss is at an age where it's transition time. I don't know if anything can save it. The ideal thing would be for Jim Buss to stand up and say: "I'm going to let the personnel people do their job. We're going to clear up the front office picture, and re-establish the trust that the players have a basketball person running the show."