TrueHoop: 2009 Playoffs

Remember Adonal Foyle, talking on video in the hallway of the Magic locker room, just after the Lakers had beaten them to win the title? He was sad. There could have been a hundred reasons: He wouldn't be getting a ring for instance, and the future of his career was in doubt.

But what he talked about was the fact that he was on a special team, where every player had same very clear goal all season long.

From training camp, he said, the whole roster had been on the same page: They wanted to win a title, and they didn't care what anybody else thought.

"To have 15 guys all believe the same thing," he says "it's truly special." 

Really? To us fans and outsiders, that sounds like a no-brainer. Why wouldn't every team feel like that?

The truth is that team-building, and leadership among players are, in my best estimation, really not at all like the movies. Everyone does not rally around selfless causes and team goals. Communication is not what you'd dream it would be, and trust is hard to build.

But there are plenty of exceptions, especially on teams that happen to have extraordinary leaders.

In Orlando, that guy is Jameer Nelson. Nelson is a leader in all kinds of ways, on and off the court, and it's no surprise that the Magic have blossomed in his time there. As you may have read in today's First Cup, for the last four years he has essentially run his own training camp for his Magic teammates. Nelson invites everybody to the Philadelphia, and they work and learn and play together. Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis ... it's August, and there they are with Nelson, trying to hit homeruns (as you can see on video) in Phillies' batting practice.

"Given what has happened in Orlando, the stability and teamwork they've had since Jameer has been doing this, you'd think every team would be interested in empowering a player to bring people together in the summer like this," says David Thorpe. "I'm not seeing it, though."

NBA players aren't paid to work in the off-season, and teams can't compel them to do much of anything they don't want to do. So it's not a simple case of requiring players to show up. But enticing them, as Nelson has done, seems worthwhile.

Thursday Bullets

July, 2, 2009
7/02/09
3:20
PM ET
  • Trevor Ariza's agent is making noises about leaving the Lakers, but he has made noises before. The Cavaliers are said to be suitors -- and I'm of the opinion the Cavaliers need to add an active-bodied perimeter player like Ariza.
  • Allen Iverson, on Twitter, saying cryptic things about wanting to play for a coach who knows he'll bring it every night.
  • Steve Blake can hit the open jumper, and lead your children through the harsh wilderness to safety. (Via John Canzano)
  • Jerry Sloan and the Jazz were surprised to learn that the father of their prized new rookie, Eric Maynor, was once cut by Jerry Sloan.
  • Down at the bottom of this post you'll see speculation about Joakim Noah's playing on the French national team.
  • How the Jazz became a luxury tax paying team. Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune says that's bad: "When the Jazz push their payroll past $70 million -- and maybe even $80 million -- it becomes much more difficult for Greg Miller to someday sit at a league meeting and advocate for more protections for small-market teams. Why would the owner of a big-market team make concessions in terms of revenue sharing and luxury tax when his team is being outspent by the Jazz in the first place?"
  • Rob Kurz is on the loose. Just be warned.
  • Hope in Clipperland, a rarity.
  • Candidate for Minnesota's head-coaching job: Portland assistant Monty Williams.
  • Josh Childress is visiting the Bucks today. Remember, though, he has a very nice contract waiting for him back in Greece, and this is the year of the opt-in. Who would turn down a contract based on sunny 2008 projections for a contract based on dour 2009 projections?
  • Very interesting little legal debate surrounding Michael Jordan, Nike, and Michael Jordan gear with Hall-of-Fame logos.
  • Ben Gordon on leaving the Bulls.
  • You know how Twitter can seem kind of big-time and futuristic? Other times it can seem much more down home and pedestrian, even. For instance, from the Bucks' official Twitter feed: "Luc Mbah a Moute will B @ Pick 'N Save in Burlington from 5:30-7pm 2nite! Its the Pick 'N Save nxt 2 Kohl's on 1008 Milwaukee St. C U 2nite!" Everybody got that? Luc Mbah a Moute, in the canned goods aisle.
  • Does Rasheed Wallace have the right temperament for the San Antonio Spurs? If I were to hesitate, his technicals wouldn't be the main reason. It would be because he has often shown a poor ability to handle big pressure games, with blown defensive assignments, disappearing acts on offense, and meltdowns. If things go well for the Spurs, they'll be in a lot of big games.
  • Getting harder to stick up for the Grizzlies, as they acquire Zach Randolph. I don't know how the decisions get made in Memphis, but I feel bad for Chris Wallace. He has to go out there and defend all these moves, but you know owner Michael Heisley must be playing a part.
  • The internet, where mistakes are well-documented, and sloppy work can haunt you.
  • Some insight into the Rockets' love of Marcin Gortat. Is he worth the full mid-level exception. Normally, a mobile, strong and tough big man who keeps improving would be worth more, but I suspect he'll get less.

Tuesday Bullets

June, 30, 2009
6/30/09
1:57
PM ET
  • A lot of rookies arrive in the NBA to quotes like "he'll need to add some muscle." Holy cow. I dare anyone to say that to new Bobcat Derrick Brown.
  • John Krolik of Cavs the Blog on the newly available Charlie Villanueva: "Most 'shooting' big men settle for universally inefficient mid-range jumpers, which makes going to them on spot-up looks a poor play over time. Charlie V's ability to shoot the three makes him one of the best-shooting bigs in the league; his 46.2% eFG on jumpers means he's more efficient from outside than Kevin Garnett, LaMarcus Aldridge, Big Z himself, Jeff Green, Udonis Haslem, Lamar Odom, David West, Chris Bosh, Antawn Jamison, the list goes on. Only a few starting big men are better outside shooters than Villenueva, and most of them are well-known three-point assassins: Rashard Lewis, Troy Murphy, Dirk Nowitzki, et al. So the ability to stretch the floor would definitely be the biggest point in Charlie V's favor."
  • The trailer for the documentary about LeBron James in high school.
  • Don't we all suspect that the best coach hired this off-season will prove to have been Flip Saunders? With that in mind, the Pistons are in the market for a coach, having fired the guy they hired after firing Flip Saunders. You see what I'm saying? Isn't there a chance they would have been better just keeping him?
  • An asset the Suns have that isn't so obvious: Ben Wallace's expiring contract. Here's the suggestion that could be enough to get Tyson Chandler from the Hornets who have demonstrated a commitment to saving money.
  • Rod Thorn is talking about having the cap space to sign two max free agents in the mighty summer of 2010. Dr. LawyerIndianChief of FreeDarko writes, of that draft class: "I'm so f'ing sick of the 'alluring 2010 offseason' I could vomit up fishbones. Beyond the top three 2010 FAs on this list (Bosh, LBJ, Wade -- the former of which are not going anywhere anyway), is there ANY body that you would want your team to throw Rashard Lewis money at? Most of these guys have are gonna be old or have a history of injuries. And any now-monetarily satiated star who is slightly appealing (e.g. Dirk) isn't going to be looking to play in Milwaukee or Minnesota ... they're gonna be looking to go somewhere to get a ring." In some cases, I think dreams of 2010 are just the most palatable way to sell the idea to fans that in a bad economy you have to slash salaries. Also, cap space is good for way more than just All-Stars, and year of lop-sided trades could be a beautiful thing.
  • More on Hedo Turkoglu.
  • More evidence the Blazers really did try to get Shaquille O'Neal. If Portland denies it, I'd imagine that's to protect the psyche of their roster.
  • For years the notion has been that the poor Jazz might lose Carlos Boozer for nothing. Now it almost sounds like they'd be hurt most if he decides to stay.
  • If you are offered Rajon Rondo ... say yes.
  • How long it takes things to happen in NBA games, in graphs.
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remembers Michael Jackson: "own experience with the corrosive effects of fame and lack of anonymity made me view his circumstances with a lot of compassion. I got to know Michael when he was just a boy around 10 years old working with the Jackson Five. My good friend, Bill Cosby use to pick up the Jackson kids on many Sundays to take them to play basketball. When I wasn't playing for UCLA I would always join them for this Sunday tradition."

Free agency starts at midnight tonight, and the class president is Hedo Turkoglu.

The last time we saw the Orlando forward Turkoglu play, he did not have his best game. In Game 5 of the NBA Finals he dawdled on offense. He fell for fakes, and in a key stretch of the game, he made his man, Laker Trevor Ariza, look like an All-Star. At one point, after getting his feet tangled on defense, Hedo looked to be starring in one of those old "help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" ads.

Hedo Turkoglu
The play of a lifetime: With Game 2 of the NBA Finals tied in the closing seconds, Hedo Turkoglu blocked Kobe Bryant's shot, collected the loose ball, and called timeout with 0.6 seconds left. It was for naught: After Courtney Lee's missed buzzer-beater, the Magic lost in overtime.
(Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

As that happened, I was sitting next to David Thorpe, who is a huge fan of Turkoglu's game on most nights. "I don't know," he said, "what Hedo Turkoglu is doing."

This morning Thorpe reflected on Turkoglu, and why he is absolutely a key free agent.

King of the Pick and Roll
"Hedo Turkoglu is the best pick and roll small forward in the league, after LeBron James," says Thorpe. "So the conversation starts there. His ability to handle, penetrate, shoot, change speeds, be crafty and unpredictable -- all with excellent size and length -- that's a killer combination."

Thorpe cautions, however, that he does not believe Turkoglu would thrive in any system. "He's a little bit like Lamar Odom. The game comes so easy to him, and he's so talented, that sometimes he loses focus. Stan Van Gundy handled that really well. He was very smart. He ran a ton of side pick and rolls for Turkoglu, which forced him to lock in. People criticized Van Gundy for that, saying he should have gotten the ball to Dwight Howard more ... but a lot of those side pick and rolls ended in dunks for Dwight Howard. If you just stuck him on a team as complimentary player, and expect him to hit some open shots, then I don't think he would be nearly as productive. But when you keep Turkoglu engaged, he's a very special small forward.

"Turkoglu may have been the third or fourth best player on the Magic this season. But he played better than that, because of how the team forced him to be playmaker, which is what he does best. Now, his sense of urgency still wavered some. But in the playoffs, his focus was just about always there, and that's a huge part of the reason the Magic made it so far."

As a defender, Thorpe says Turkoglu is underrated. "He has length and feel. He's a coordinated athlete. He's also really tall and long. I don't think of him as winning the battle on grit, but it's not like there are a lot of times you watch a Magic game and think Turkoglu's getting killed! When he's engaged, I'd certainly say he's a net positive for your defense.

Hedo Turkoglu
Teams often double Turkoglu on side pick and rolls. One way he can punish them for that is by splitting the double team to get into the lane.
(Emmaneul Dunand/AFP via Getty Images)

Future Blazer?
Where might Turkoglu end up? Now that Vince Carter and his big contract are in Orlando, it would be very tough for the Magic to bring him back. Sources indicate that Portland -- a team that cleared a little extra cap room on draft day -- is leading the hunt, while another suitor could include the Raptors.

Thorpe says that if the Portland rumors are true, Nate McMillan should already be watching the Magic and planning to add a side pick-and-roll to the playbook with Turkoglu and Greg Oden.

"Dwight Howard was amazing at diving to the hoop on the play, running straight down the lane to make himself a threat to catch the ball at the hoop. Greg Oden will have to do that, and then if I were LaMarcus Aldridge, I'd spend the summer mastering the NBA 3, like Rashard Lewis -- because when the small forward and the center are running this play , the help usually comes from the power forward who can be wide open in the corner.

The Making of Hedo Turkoglu
How is it that a 6-10 player grows up with point guard skills? It's quite a remarkable story. Turkish TrueHoop reader Mert Uyar spent some time at his keyboard explaining the Michael Jordan of Turkey from the Turkish perspective.

(Read full post)

The day before the NBA draft, Ricky Rubio played word association.

I said "Sacramento," and he said "Nice weather."

I said "Oklahoma City," and he said "My best friend lives near there."

I said "Minnesota," and he said "Too cold."

It was fairly meaningless. Watch it on video, and you'll see it was a throwaway line. 

Now that sentiment is emerging as something of a major theme of draft night. Does Ricky Rubio hate Minnesota?

When the fifth pick of the NBA draft was announced, Minnesota fans went crazy. They had the their dream player. But the relationship quickly began to feel like unrequited love.

Shortly after the pick, Rubio met the media. At a moment like that, tradition, public relations sense, and just about everything else dictate smiling and saying how much you love your new city -- even if you can't wait to demand a trade.

But the 18-year-old Spaniard was not playing that game. "Are you excited to go to Minnesota?" he was asked.

It was a fair question. It's a team with quality big men, and a mandate for change. What more could a young point guard want? "I'm excited," he responded, "to come to the NBA."

He said his mother hated cold weather. 

He was asked about whether being picked by the T-Wolves might inspire him to stay in Europe. He said: "I don't know yet. I have to think about that ... I'm going to talk to my agent about that and we're going to see." 

He also said he was very surprised that the team had drafted another point guard in Jonny Flynn. He evaded a question about whether or not he'd even come to the NBA -- until the very end of the meeting with reporters when he threw in a line saying "I want to play basketball, and if they give me minutes, I'm going to come."

Just minutes later, his father was quoted in the Spanish newspaper Marca saying it was probable Rubio would not come to the NBA this year. Translated, he said: "He might go now or he might remain [in Europe] one more year ... or even two. It's all open, although the most likely scenario is that he stays in Europe more time. We have to talk with the folks in Minnesota... and see what happens, because, at this point, we can go to Minnesota or otherwise." 

The assumption among those present at Madison Square Garden was that the Timberwolves -- a team long on power forwards and rookie point guards, but short on everything else -- would be trading one of their elite rookie point guards away.

Minnesota general manager David Kahn said that was wholly not the case. On ESPN's TV broadcast, he was adamant that he envisioned Rubio and Flynn playing together. "Absolutely!" he said. "Otherwise we wouldn't have done it." 

He called Rubio potentially a "transformational" player, and was clear that "it was not an attempt to take Ricky to trade him."

(There was a report from a TrueHoop reader in Minnesota that Kahn was effusive about Jonny Flynn, and mentioned to the assembled crowd that it was possible Rubio would not come over this season, which was odd as Rubio had said time and again he would come.)

Whether Kahn intends to keep Rubio or trade him, it's a good strategy to say he's in Minnesota to stay. Were Kahn to say that he drafted Rubio to trade him, he'd lose leverage in trade negotiations. (He needs his suitors to think that he'd hate to part with Rubio, but for the right price ... we could talk.)

Remember when the Bucks drafted Yi Jianlian, and there was much bellyaching about whether not the Chinese player would report to Milwaukee? A year later, Yi was later traded to a team more to his liking, in New Jersey. His hard-bargaining agent was Dan Fegan -- who also represents Rubio.

That's no sign the relationship between the Timberwolves and Rubio will end the same way -- culminating in an eventual departure. But it's starting out in similar vein.

(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)

We're live from Madison Square Garden where there is a ton going on.

As the evening unfolds, this is where you can read TrueHoop's liveblogging, via Twitter, of anything and everything.

A few links for the moment:

And TrueHoop Draft Coverage:

Henry Abbott: Welcome!

Henry Abbott: Chad Ford's instant analysis of the first pick: "Congratulations to the Clippers for not screwing this up." (http://insider.espn.go.com/nbadraft/draft/tracker/round?draftyear=2009)

(Read full post)

In the playoffs, a handful of front offices really sweat bullets.

On draft day, they all do.

Every single NBA front office knows that at this time of year there are opportunities galore. Draft day is one time when roster can be re-made most easily -- via pick, trade or cap maneuvering for free agents. With opportunity comes a certain responsibility to make the best of it.

John Paxson
Playing together, and now working together.
(Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images)

Before word of the Shaquille O'Neal trade broke, I had been asking myself: Which front office is feeling the most pressure today?

All the draft focus has been on teams like Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Sacramento. But I can't believe anyone is sweating as hard as the people in Cleveland. This draft season, they get one more chance -- not many left! -- to find the right help for LeBron James before his free agency next summer. Meanwhile, they must atone for not winning the 2009 title, for which they were favored. If it does not all happen quickly, it will have been seen as squandering, to some degree, LeBron James in his prime.

The Cavaliers are all in, and now they have to pray the cards hold up.

The move to get Shaquille O'Neal absolutely changes the math against Dwight Howard and the Magic. If he's healthy, that's a different series. So this is an important step. And it addresses the notion that Zydrunas Ilgauskas is past the point of being a guy who can deliver long minutes night in and night out.

Now that O'Neal is on his way, however, the Cavaliers remain standing in the middle of minefield, needing to make all the proper choices, and get all the right breaks, to make it safely where they want to go:

  • James does a ton of dirty work for the Cavaliers, from fixing problems on defense to running down opponents' fast breaks. He's not just their star, he's also their long and athletic wing. That's fine, he's young and healthy now. But remember how tired he got in the playoffs? I can't help but think that it would be smart to add a high-energy athlete or two to the mix to reduce some of James' energy expenditure.
  • The Cavaliers didn't give up a ton of talent in this trade, but they did give up some depth, which could come into play.
  • If your two centers have both had spells of their careers on injury-induced retirement watch, you probably need a third center.
  • Re-signing starting forward and high-energy big man Anderson Varejao will be no picnic. Losing him would leave a real void.
  • There are not a lot of trade assets to work with on this roster. The team is well over the cap -- constraining trades -- and has just the 30th pick in this draft. Of the non-essential Cavaliers, young power forward J.J. Hickson is the only one discussed as a trade asset.
  • The team does not want to take on any long-term salaries --preserving a strategy that might let Cleveland add a significant player via free agency next summer.

Hanging over all of that, we have to believe that hanging over all of this is the possibility that any mis-step could lead to James' departure.

What are Cleveland's next moves? You have any ideas?

As much as running one of the best teams in the NBA must be a thrill, today's not the day I'd like to be Danny Ferry. There are still a lot of variables, and a ton at stake.

UPDATE: 

TrueHoop reader Neil says:

A realistic trade that the Cavs can pull off that fits the mold that you mentioned. An athletic perimeter defender that can hit the three.

Cavs send:

Darnell Jackson (non guaranteed contract)
Terrance Kinsey (non guaranteed contract)
J.J. Hickson
30th Overall Pick

Warriors send:

Kelenna Azubukie

Azubukie can be the starting two guard and then West would come off the bench, providing better depth than Gibson. Also, this would relieve a lot of stress on the defensive end for LeBron as Azubukie is a very solid defender. And of course, hitting 44% last year from outside doesn't hurt.

A very simple and small trade, but very possible and I don't see either team turning this down. The Warriors would waive Jackson and Kinsey to save money. Get another solid prospect in Hickson. They want to move Wright and this would allow that. This would also allow them to focus on getting a PG in the draft like Brandon Jennings or Stephen Curry. For whatever reason though, I feel like Jennings and the Warriors are a perfect fit. They also get a late first where they can pick the best available talent or a player to stash over seas.

Will the Shaq experiment work in Cleveland better than it did in Phoenix? What does it mean for the reigning Eastern Conference champs? Would Russell Westbrook chafe at having to slide over to the shooting guard to make room for Ricky Rubio? 

Shaq & LeBronJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "Ever since the Cavs got LeBron, they've been obsessed with getting guys who will be good at 'playing off of him' or benefiting from his strengths. We've gotten loads and loads of role players who don't need the ball in their hands to be effective, spot-up shooters and big men who are comfortable playing pick-and-roll ball and finishing when LeBron finds them. The one time the Cavs took a risk on a true slasher, they got Larry Hughes, and that didn't work out. But as good as LeBron is, he can't create every play, and at some point the offense is going to need to be able to create good looks using players other than LeBron. Mike Brown has taken a lot of criticism for not being able to give opposing defenses any threatening looks without LeBron driving to the basket or playing pick-and-roll, but the fact is the Cavs never had a player other than LeBron who was able to take a defense out of its normal rotations on a regular basis. But now, for the first time, the Cavs have a guy other than LeBron who they can dump the ball to and will get a basket more often than not if the other team doesn't bring a second defender. Defenses are going to have a much tougher time dealing with this team than ever before-now the Cavs have two guys who are all but unstoppable when they only have to deal with one defender."

Shaquille O'NealMichael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns: "The best way to describe Shaq's tenure in Phoenix is that Shaq was that rectangular-shaped Lego piece that you keep trying to jam into a square hole. Sometimes you can cram a piece of it in there and pretend like it works, such as what happened during the short-lived 'Seven Seconds or Shaq' Era, but at the end of the day the piece just doesn't fit. You almost wanted Alvin Gentry to submit to a lie detector test when he kept talking about how great it was to be able to throw the ball down low to the Most Dominant Ever. The thing is Gentry's Suns are built to run guys like Shaq off the floor. Sure, it was nice to get a few easy buckets once in a while, but the Suns cannot compete with [Steve] Nash and Shaq guarding the opposition's pick-and-roll when his offensive game doesn't mesh either. On one hand, this is a case of addition by subtraction in that now Amare (assuming he's not dealt either) is free to operate on the low block by himself, and Nash won't have to worry about mouths to feed, he can just play Phoenix Suns basketball and whoever's open shoots the rock, just like old times. As for what the Suns tangibly get out of this? A pile of money large enough for Scrooge McDuck to dive into."

Russell WestbrookRoyce Young of Daily Thunder: "[Russell] Westbrook has said repeatedly that he wants to be a point guard and I don't doubt him. I wanted to be an astronaut but at some point I had to realize maybe that wasn't happening ... I know the report today is that Westbrook wouldn't be happy about [Ricky] Rubio stepping in. And that's fine, I'd understand that. But I don't think it should be taken as a 'You're not a point guard, move over' type of thing. And I don't think Westbrook would take it that way ... It's not like the Colts drafting Sam Bradford and telling Peyton Manning he has to be a tight end. The ball will still be in Westbrook's hands plenty and he'll probably stay every bit the point guard he is right now. Because if we're honest with ourselves, and Russ is honest with himself, it's not like he's going to be a player like Steve Nash that racks up 15 or 16 assists. He's a scoring point guard and that's what he wants to be. I worry a little about offending Russ. He seems intent on being a point guard and I'd hate to hurt his confidence by bringing in Rubio. If that report is accurate, then that's a little bothersome. It doesn't sound like the Westbrook I've watched and listened to for a year though. He never struck me as a prima donna, I-get-what-I-want-and-I'll-ask-out-if-I-don't-get-it kind of player. He seems like a do-what's-best-for-the-team kind of guy. But I could be wrong."

THE FINAL WORD
Orlando Magic Daily: What the Shaq trade means for the Magic.
Hardwood Paroxysm: Now available for your aural pleasure at iTunes!
PistonPowered: Smart look at Detroit's draft options.
Wizznutzz: The Randy Foye t-shirt is hot off ... whatever t-shirts come hot off. 

(Photos by Ezra Shaw, Sam Forencich, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Monday Bullets

June, 22, 2009
6/22/09
4:50
PM ET
  • Missing from the 2009 draft process: Laser tag.
  • Phil Jackson on returning to the bench, as interviewed on ESPN Radio Chicago: "I have some medical issues that I have to resolve and I have to take care of those in the next couple weeks before I recommit to this thing. I'm emotionally tied to these guys. They've embraced what I try to do and they've embraced the way I try to do it, so that commitment's there. The organization is obviously behind what I want to do and they've extended that offer for continuing here, so that is all positive. It's just covering that hurdle. And, some of that's just getting old, and the wear and tear of the game, and the amount of flying that you do. You know, this 82 game pilgrimage that you go through before the playoffs even begin and the wear and tear and if that's a necessary part or if this is the time now to step back, and regard that as accomplishments done and sit back in the rocker and enjoy watching guys do this. But I'd still like to push on through another year if possible." (Transcribed by, and via, Sports Radio Interviews)
  • Stephen Curry raves about Gerald Henderson. Fire up all the Henderson video you can. I'm no expert on translating NCAA accomplishments into NBA potential, but to me the things he does well are things you can use in the NBA. He's long and athletic, works hard on defense, can play above the rim at both ends of the floor, hits shots stepping back and curling off picks, and is fast for his size.
  • Also, interesting, is that Stephen Curry has been rumored to be drafted by all kinds of different teams, but says he has only worked out for the Bobcats, Knicks, Nets and Kings. He talks about examining rosters for where he could fit in. UPDATE: He also worked out for the Wizards.
  • Comedian, writer and nerdy actor John Hodgman talks about the divide of our times: Jocks vs. Nerds. Barack Obama, in attendance, gets credit as the first nerd president. However, Hodgman questions his credentials: "Despite his Spockish calm and gangly frame, the president is known to dabble in sports. And not just bowling, but the hard stuff ... basketball."
  • Remember the NCAA tournament, when Michigan State center Goran Suton was such a handful, nailing 3s and grabbing rebounds? At that moment, it wasn't hard to see such a skilled and big player (with an amazing tale) being a high draft pick. But the NBA is a different beast, and Suton just barely cracks Chad Ford's second-round mock draft (Insider), at #56.
  • Mark Cuban gets all upset about how unfounded rumors sometimes make it into sports journalism.
  • TrueHoop reader Jeff has an interesting idea. Anyone know where he can see how many combined NBA minutes a certain NBA draft class has played? Be interesting to see if in their first three years the class of 2004 played a total X minutes, while the class of 2002 played 1/2 x.
  • Remember when the draft was a zillion rounds long? Here's a great tale of a guy getting drafted in the late rounds. Larry Brown had just left UCLA to coach the Nets, and just for fun, he drafted UCLA's team manager, who wasn't even a serious basketball player.
  • This year's rebounders. (Thanks Rick.)
  • NBA rules prohibit trading your first-round pick in consecutive years. The Lakers have traded away their 2008 and 2010 picks. So they have to keep this one. But they don't want guaranteed salaries. It's a perfect recipe for taking a player to stash overseas.
  • How do we know Kevin McHale was not a good coach?
  • Britt Robson of Secrets of the City says McHale was the second-best coach in 'Wolves history, but still had to be fired: "The toxic public relations is reason enough to cut McHale loose, but that aspect is actually dwarfed in significance by the philosophical, hierarchical, and temperamental train wreck in the internal affairs of the Wolves braintrust that could have easily occurred if McHale had stuck around. As I've said many times before, what daft, self-destructive gene would compel a new personnel guru like Kahn to put the person who held his job for nearly 14 years on the sidelines in charge of molding and fulfilling his fresh blueprint for restoring the team to respectability? In case folks hadn't noticed, Kevin McHale is hardly a shrinking violet. Even after his longtime buddy and college teammate took over the coaching reins and guided the club to eight straight playoff appearances, the friction between the two men over how to manage the players both on the court and in the locker room steadily escalated, to the point where less than a year after Flip Saunders had his squad in the conference finals, McHale was bouncing him out the door and replacing him on the sidelines, resulting in bad blood and ill will that lingers to this day."
  • Video of Brandon Jennings in Italy. It's a highlight reel, and this his flaws are ignored. But let's be extremely clear: This man can do things that few can. The on-ball steals are crazy, and some of the ball-handling trickery is just weird. Like Chris Paul, it's almost too fast to identify what exactly he was faking ... but the defender certainly bit.
  • Zach Harper of Cowbell Kingdom follows a lead from Twitter and finds where Matt Barnes, Jason Thompson, Donte Greene and others were scrimmaging. A full breakdown, including this: "Matt Barnes' entire warm-up routine consisted of putting on his uniform, stepping onto the court, and making sure his shoes were tied."
  • If your Oregonian eighth grader was fluent in English and Chinese, got all As, was one of the best basketball players in the world at his age, and was really happy in Oregon, how would you handle an invite to an upstart all-expenses paid basketball-centric academy in Las Vegas? Moving the whole family there is probably one of the tougher, but better, options.
  • Zach Lowe of CelticsHub: "The fact that other teams overpaid mediocre players does not mean Eddie House is underpaid."
  • Ben from BlazersEdge runs down the lesser-known prospects working out for Portland tomorrow, and concludes: "Also invited to work out tomorrow are Gladys Fillmore, the friendliest cashier at the Lake Oswego New Seasons, and Curtis Jones, Bridgeport Cinema's Employee of the Month for May."
  • ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider) says Ricky Rubio has a bad cold that hampered his ability to impress Kings' officials.
  • Bloopers are still cool. Or they were always dorky. Either way, there was never any reason to stop watching them.
  • What huh? LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger wrote a book together? (Via a PG-13 Deadspin post.)
  • From Twitter: @sellouttrout asks: "Just curious, if you built a team in which every position was manned with people of the same last name, what last name wins?" I swear I wrote a post about this once. There are many teams with way better depth (Jones, Williams, Smith) but you have to at least consider the notion that DeAndre Jordan could be on the best single-name team ever.
  • Truth About It summarizes a joke Flip Saunders told: "A miracle worker decided to get the lay of the land. On the road, he met a man with the inability to walk, and healed him. He walked further and healed a blind man. Finally, he met a man who was crying hysterically. The miracle worker asked what's wrong and the man said he was a fan of the Washington Wizards. The miracle worker then sat right down and cried right with him."
  • UPDATE: LeBron James makes an unconvincing case that he isn't all that into spa treatments.

I don't really know much about cycling, but I read every article I can get my hands on about the Tour de France.

The timing has always been right. My whole life I have been scouring the sports section for NBA news day in and day out. At some point in early July, most sports sections begin to operate with an editorial ethic you might characterize as "what NBA?"

Right about then, the Tour de France starts. So after triple-checking there are no NBA stories I missed somewhere, I read all those cycling articles. It's fascinating and so different from basketball. Basketball is about as dynamic as sports get -- ten people moving in really complex ways. Cycling is more or less one guy trying to ride a bike faster than some other guys.

Basketball is about symphonies of different movements: handling and curling and passing and leaping and landing. Cycling is more about lung capacity and sheer capacity for suffering. (It's a funny sport where the best in the world, performing at their absolute peak, look like they kind of want to die.)

This year's Finals, however, highlighted a similarity: In both sports, the fifth best member of your team can decide who wins the championship.

Team time trialThe sexiest part of bike racing is the team time trial. This is when nine teammates using all of their fanciest wind-resistant gear team up to fly as past as possible in a race against the clock. They work systematically, taking turns at the front of the line doing the hard work of confronting the wind resistance. Thanks to this teamwork, the pace is dramatically faster than when riders time trial solo.

But here's the deal: For all those guys who are working so hard, in the typical scoring system, they all get the same time, and that's the time of the fifth guy.

Heaven forbid you're on a team with four really strong riders. If they finish three minutes ahead of that fifth guy, it doesn't do anyone any good. You all get the time of that fifth guy. Which is why everyone has to be concerned with how well that guy does.

If two teammates crash, you keep going. If five teammates crash, you stop. The team's going nowhere with four.

Now, consider the NBA Finals. The Magic and Lakers were two of the NBA's best defensive teams all year. Neither plays 48 minutes of straight up man defense -- there is plenty of helping, trapping, doubling and keeping the ball away from option A.

There is a lot of rotating and switching, but by and large what all that means is that the help is coming from the weakest scorer on the floor. The fifth guy gets left all alone, for spells.

And the offense gets to make a decision: Have the main man like Dwight Howard or Kobe Bryant fight to score against a double team, or entrust your NBA Finals experience to someone like Trevor Ariza or Courtney Lee for an open 3.

I mean think about it. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant who can score from anywhere. Pau Gasol who is efficient as all get out. One of the league's great young post scorers in Andrew Bynum. Derek Fisher who has hit legendary shots. Yet 24 times over five games, based on what the defense was giving them, they decided their best offensive option was Trevor Ariza. 

(Twice already I have written about how Trevor Ariza's shooting in these playoffs. It's like an obsession. I'm so impressed that player and coaching staff united to add a powerful new element to his game, it so blatantly paid off. Again, before this year, he had hit nine NBA 3-pointers in his life.)

On offense Ariza was, in many ways, the fifth guy on this bike squad, and he turned in a great time, which lifted the whole team.

Generously lumping in the regular season, I can say the Magic and Lakers played seven times this year. At the end of 48 minutes, the Lakers were ahead twice. The Magic were ahead three times. And the two teams were tied twice. Although the calm, determined, and veteran Lakers were far better in overtimes, these were two pretty evenly matched teams.

In games that close, you can point to just about anything that happened and say it cost a game or potentially the series. A missed layup, a blown defensive assignment, a silly turnover ... every single one of them could have potentially meant everything.

Let me add a new idea to the mix: The fifth offensive players had a huge hand in deciding it. The first players matter most, but the easiest opportunity to really change the game comes to that guy who is all alone, catching the ball, shooting the shot that has become pretty much the most important in basketball (other than a free throw, layup, or dunk, it's the most efficient in the game): The 3-pointer.

Ariza hit at a rate that was impossible to imagine just a few weeks ago. Phil Jackson, meanwhile, gambled that the rookie Courtney Lee would tighten up in his first Finals, and Lee -- a 40% 3-point shooter all season -- obliged by making just two of his eleven shots. Ariza made ten of 24, and the Lakers won.

Teams are set up different ways. Some have abysmal offensive players (Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao, for instance, not to pick on Cleveland) who can be left to double superstars. Other teams keep at least four shooters on the floor at all times. But on almost every team, there are one or two 3-point shooters who are good enough to have the green light, but shaky enough to be left open.

When I look at a roster now, there's something new to look for. Just as you might scan a time trial team for five fast cyclists, I'll scan an NBA roster for not one or two, but three, four, or five really good 3-point shooters. If everyone does their jobs (the stars star, the bigs are big, and the defenders defend), that last shooter is first in line to decide everything.

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images) 

Laker Victory Parade

June, 17, 2009
6/17/09
2:41
PM ET

It's in progress right now. Nearly 100,000 people have reportedly assembled to greet the NBA Champions at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

You can listen live to the radio broadcast, and watch live online. Here's the route.

I have been listening and so far have gleaned a couple of important facts: 

  • Josh Powell's hair is "blown out" for the occasion.
  • Kobe Bryant is wearing a shirt depicting a Nike puppet hand wearing four rings.
  • Sasha Vujacic is doing everything he can to get the crowd excited.
UPDATE: Jeanie Buss tweets that Phil Jackson skipped the parade to go straight to the coliseum, but missed out on a lot of fun, including the "biggest cutest smile" on Andrew Bynum's face, and fans throwing candy to Lamar Odom.

NBA.com had Luke and Bill Walton write open letters to each other, in honor of Luke's first title.

It's 99% pure father-son championship-inspired love-fest.

It's well worth the read, for various nuggets like this:

  • Bill used to write inspirational nuggets from John Wooden on young Luke's lunch bag. And I don't know if it was a phraseology thing or what, but he makes it sound like he might still occasionally provide Luke a sack lunch with messaging on it. Which is probably not true, but would be amazing.
  • The Lakers chartered a plane Sunday morning to bring all kinds of Laker friends and family to Orlando for Game 5. Bill, with back trouble, could not make it.
  • Bill apologizes to Luke for the number of voicemails he has left him.

Near the end of each of their letters, though, they get to what almost any two athletes will get to eventually: A little trash-talking.

Luke finishes his letter like this:

Winning an NBA title also prevents you from throwing any smack my way. I'm in the club now. And I don't want to hear anything about NCAA championships, let's keep the conversation on NBA titles.

When things calm down (and will they ever after you win a championship?), I'm coming to San Diego to visit you. I want to see how you're doing and just catch up. Plus, I want to see Grandma Glo.

I'm going to enjoy this championship but I also know that you'll be there to remind me that while I'm basking in the team's success this summer, guys around the league will be working on their game. I'm sure you'll also remind me that defending an NBA title is twice as hard.

Right now, though, I want to keep it light and fun. Although, I'm sure we'll jaw about whose team is better, this year's Lakers team or the '77 Blazers, your first NBA title team.

Lakers in six, Dad.

Who's stopping Kobe?

Bill Walton's reply (after all kinds of talk about love and pride):

When you get to be my age, trash talking is about all that's left. I fully admit, Luke, that your team is really, really good. Kobe is supreme. Pau, Lamar and Andrew are all top of the line. And Phil Jackson is brilliant.

Right next to your smile on my spirit and soul are the immortal words of Jack Ramsay, who recently said on the 30th anniversary of the 1977 World Champion Blazers in putting that team's abilities in historical context:

"I like our team. We'll take our chances. Anywhere. Anytime. Against anybody."

Blazers in four, Luke. Never forget why you are named after Maurice Lucas.

Wednesday Bullets

June, 17, 2009
6/17/09
11:12
AM ET
  • My office plants are looking great today, thanks for asking (really pleased so many of your are looking out for my plants). They have stared death in the eye and laughed it off. Now they have swagger like Kevin Durant at Barry Farms. But no, they are not the three magically healthy plants that I just learned about from Tim.
  • Kevin Love made some news with his Twitter account yesterday. But that was hardly the best thing he Tweeted. Consider these entries: "A beautiful Hispanic woman walked up to me and said 'Señor Amor may I take a picture with you?'... Señor Amor, I like that." He also pointed out: "Twitsx are for kids." (Thanks, Neil.)
  • "I forget how many. I go blank-headed, I'm traveling so much." That could be me, talking about how many times I ate at the same good cheap restaurant near Orlando. But it's actually Earl Clark, quoted by Ben Couch on the Nets website, talking about how many times he has worked out against James Johnson.
  • For the week of June 8-14, a show called "The Mentalist" was the fifth most-watched show. Everything that was watched more than that was an NBA game or trophy presentation. 
  • Tom Chambers and his multi-jurisdictional peacocks. (Honestly, read this.)
  • David Berri's thoughts on winning the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown.
  • If Diamon Simpson of St. Mary's is a reasonably high draft pick, this guy called it first.
  • At one point during the NBA Finals, somebody said something about how Ricky Rubio's numbers were suspect, coming from the Spanish ACB, and several other people rushed into to say that league is tougher than the NCAA. Debate ensued. I'm on the side of those who say the best European teams would wax the best NCAA teams, mainly because people who have played in both places always agree on that point. To that effect, here's James Gist, telling Tim Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell about his time playing for Angelica Biella in Italy, after being a standout player at Maryland, drafted in the second round last year by San Antonio: "As far as the competition goes, international basketball is a lot more competitive than the collegiate level. In college you usually have one or two, if you're lucky three, good players on your team. That's enough to carry you to a national championship. In Europe, every person on the team makes nearly a million dollars and they have been playing together for years. Countries stand behind their hometown team. It's bigger and the competition is greater. In college when a team or player misses a defensive assignment, the opposing team may not be good enough to execute and punish the team for messing up. If you leave someone open in Europe they will punish you every time. ... Europe is perfect for learning how to play the game right. Knowing when to make the right passes, when to run on a fast break or slow the tempo down, who to get the ball to when the time is right, all comes in to play when you play team basketball. ... I had the chance to play with and against some good veteran players. They may not have been as young or as athletic as me, but they made it work and found other ways to be effective on the court. That helped me understand how to play the game and the important things I needed to know, whether a small trick and how to effectively use technique without relying on pure athleticism. I learned how to be more physical, improved my shooting, and worked hard on being at full energy the entire time I'm on the court. But most of all, I improved my basketball IQ." 
  • Similarly, consider Brandon Jennings telling the DC Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg about Italian basketball: "I think it's more physical overseas. You know, they don't call anything. You can grab, you can choke a player out, you can do anything. It's real rough over there, so I think it'll be kind of easier for me in the NBA. You know, I won't mind getting bumped or being hit, because I've been hit all year."
  • There are many different reports out there that Omri Casspi is one tough dude. I don't know who his agent is, but this is good pre-draft buzz. In a draft where many players are seen as similarly talented, toughness sells.
  • And as long as we're in a Euro-hyping portion of the bullets, Ettore Messina has been mentioned many times as a candidate for NBA jobs, and he just left CSKA Moscow which is in financial trouble. He says on his blog, however, that he has been in talks with Real Madrid.
  • Joey from Straight Bangin' shows up with conviction on FreeDarko, examining how it is that the Knicks have managed to be a relevant and oft-discussed team, even through a decade of meaninglessness on the court.
  • On Ball in Europe, Francesco Cappelletti re-caps Brandon Jennings' European experience: "Scouts aren't so interested in Jennings' stats (5.5 points in 17 minutes per game, 20 percent shooting on 3-point FGs, 2.3 assists, 1.5 turnovers and 2.1 steals per game), but are analyzing his 2008/09 season in other ways; meanwhile, forecasts with Jennings as a high lottery pick increase daily. Why? Jennings still uses one and only one speed (the maximum, naturally); he's not good enough at reading teammates' moves; he too often goes for the spectacular steal instead of defending man and ball; and he hasn't improved as a shooter. On the other hand, Jennings gets credit for his unstoppable first step to the basket; his open-court transition play on fast breaks, at which he has few rivals; and a positively developing passing instinct. ... draft-centric websites put him in Golden State as 7th overall pick or to New Jersey at 11. B.J. is still considered the second-best point guard in the draft ... So congratulations, Sonny Vaccaro! You've worked well for your client's reputation and current account (keep in mind that B.J. became Under Armour's frontman), but in the end, the entire balance of Jennings' season was in the extreme negative.
  • Pete Pranica, Grizzlies play-by-play man, talked to General Manager Chris Wallace and said trading the second overall pick is a possibility, as is drafting Ricky Rubio. Then there is this: "They could pick Hasheem Thabeet at #2, inspiring Grizzlies promotions manager and music maven Carly Knight to commission a local band to cover the Go-Go's song 'We Got The Beat' with re-worked lyric
    s: 'We got Thabeet.'" (In recognition that some of your are too young, too old, or too cool to know that reference ... this is what he's talking about. And you know what? Listen to the original -- you don't have to re-work a darn thing. It sounds precisely like they're saying "We Got Thabeet" already.)
When word emerged that the City of Los Angeles couldn't afford a Laker victory parade, it seemed like something of a tactic to get private donors to fill the gap. Reportedly, they did.

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