TrueHoop: Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson's way and the highway

May, 6, 2014
May 6
11:20
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Mark Jackson placed enough oomph behind the metaphor to make it seem almost literal.

“I’m fighting for my life,” Jackson said after the Golden State Warriors' Game 6 win against the Los Angeles Clippers, before clarifying: “basketball life.”

Five days later, Jackson suffered basketball death by the hand of an ownership group that had enough. He was smart, funny and charismatic, but also stubborn, abrasive and bellicose. Jackson thrived on having enemies. Eventually, he’d made the wrong ones.

The 2013-14 Warriors coaching staff has ended like a Shakespearean play, with plots and counterplots leading to death for all. Not even the video guy survived the final act.

Mike Malone was able to escape Jackson’s ire with a head-coaching gig in Sacramento, but others were not so lucky. Jackson and Jackson’s loyalists (Pete Myers and Lindsey Hunter) clashed with Brian Scalabrine, which resulted in Scalabrine’s D-League exile. Then Jackson’s group clashed with Darren Erman, leading to Erman secretly recording what became his own pink slip.
Jackson isn’t to blame for everything that happened in these quarrels, but his “us against them” ethos likely exacerbated the rifts.

While it’s true Jackson got the players on his side -- valuable allies to have -- Jackson’s other alliances may have hurt him.

The September introduction of Hunter, a friend of Jackson’s, was regarded as a destabilizing force, according to multiple sources. This marks the third consecutive time his hiring has coincided with a head coach getting fired within a year. Hunter had a reputation as an undermining individual from his days in Chicago and Phoenix. While he did not sabotage Jackson specifically, he made life difficult for others on staff.

It’s quite possible Jackson couldn’t have survived even with a cohesive coaching staff.

It all started off on the wrong foot, with Jackson deciding to coach the Warriors while living in Los Angeles and presiding over his church as pastor. Management found this arrangement less than ideal, but Jackson flat out refused to reconsider.

Being a pastor meant a lot to him, and he wasn’t giving it up for anything. Though he claimed an Oakland apartment, his family lived in Los Angeles and he spent a majority of the offseason there. It was the first of many instances when ownership perspective was met with a firm rebuke.

Jackson just wasn’t a compromiser, and perhaps his players loved that about him. With ownership, such an attitude could only go so far. Bosses generally like to have their input listened to at the very least.

The firing has taught us a few things about Joe Lacob's group, if not a few things about the new class of NBA owners in general. We’ve learned 51 wins is not enough for everybody. Lacob is heavily involved in team operations and expected a top-four playoff seed.

We’ve also learned that the Warriors aren’t the New York Knicks. Stephen Curry might be a budding superstar, but he doesn’t get to hire and fire coaches. Perhaps this Jackson firing will harm the relationship between Curry and management, but Warriors brass is willing to take that risk. That’s bold, maybe hubristically bold, but Lacob didn’t buy this team to live in fear of his employees.

The Lacob group wanted to be in charge of the operation that it, in theory, controls. It isn’t alone, either. To quote Kevin Arnovitz’s annual rundown of the top coaching candidates, “League execs insist there is no consideration more important in hiring a head coach than whether he conforms to the sensibility of ownership -- not personal background, whiteboard skills, media relations, city or even pedigree.”

Jackson didn’t conform, and now he’s gone. Is that fair? Fairness is beside the point in a hypercompetitive environment where tenures are short and glory is fleeting.

Jackson probably could have avoided the fork in the road that led to this, but he chose to do it his way. He worked a second job in Southern California, emphatically flaunted his faith and hired less than highly regarded friends. Maybe he needed to make these kinds of choices to be successful, but he wasn’t successful enough to validate his decisions in the eyes of management.

If you’re going to do it your way, you need to win big. Jackson didn't.

Bogut-less in April

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:54
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Andrew BogutRocky Widner/Getty ImagesWith Andrew Bogut sidelined, the Warriors will need to alter their approach in the playoffs.
Warriors fans will grouse about what could have been against the Spurs last season in the Western Conference finals, but in reality, Golden State had no shot of winning that series. It wasn’t just because the Spurs were great, which they were and continue to be. It was because Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry were spent.

After the series was finished, both gingerly limped to their exit interviews. They had been pushing through searing foot ailments, buying breaks from the pain with injections. The end brought more relief than regret because there was little else to give. The end also brought hope, because imagine what this team could be at full health. Curry and Bogut might have walked like old men sauntering off into the sunset, but their pain-stricken accomplishments promised new beginnings.

Now we’ll never really know what this team could have been, as Bogut will be sidelined indefinitely. His ribs suffered the effects of what may as well have been the chestburster scene from "Alien." We might have an idea based on what transpired this season, but with Bogut out, we won’t see a fully realized Warriors squad in the playoff crucible. That’s a shame.

This isn’t like the time David Lee got injured in last year's playoffs. Carl Landry was a capable Lee understudy, and the Nuggets couldn’t punish Golden State for going small. The outlook is a lot bleaker this time around, especially if the Warriors face the Clippers.

DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin already had the ability to crush Golden State on the boards before Bogut went down. Now Golden State will be relying on Jermaine O’Neal, a solid backup but also someone who jumps once in the time it takes Blake Griffin to jump twice.

Matchups aside, it’s difficult to replace someone with a fair claim to “best defensive player in the conference.” O’Neal can replace some of that rim protection, but it won’t really be the same. Bogut is a bit of a contradiction because his fragility belies an intimidating presence on the court. He’s a confrontational shot-blocker, often latching an offhand paw on his opponent while spiking the shot back from where it came. His offense might be even scarier, as he sets the kinds of screens that would get him fined by Roger Goodell.

Bogut will do anything to win, personifying team play with his defense, passing and willingness to take on physical contact. But he doesn’t exactly fit the bill of “team guy” in sense of office politics. The Aussie is a bit of a loner in this setting, and he’s blunt with assessments of teammates.

In February, Bogut had a bizarre clash with coach Mark Jackson over whether the center had injured himself sleeping. While Bogut never openly criticized Jackson after the oustings of assistant coaches, his “He’s the coach. He makes the decisions. We’re not silly enough to believe anything else” comments didn’t exactly mirror teammates’ glowing praise of their embattled leader.

Now that embattled leader, someone who evangelizes on the benefits of off-court harmony, is tasked with proving that togetherness can compensate for the loss of a 7-foot mercenary. Jackson has an exceedingly tough job, but there are ways in which Golden State could pull off the improbable.

In yet another playoffs, the Warriors must shrink themselves in pursuit of an upset. Small ball worked against the Mavs in 2007 and against the Nuggets in 2013. The future looks grim in 2014, but at least there’s a general precedent for success. Here’s the blueprint for an upset.

Lee in his old Knicks role
[+] EnlargeDavid Lee and Stephen Curry
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe pressure is on David Lee and Stephen Curry to step up in Andrew Bogut's absence.

Lee, the occasional fall guy for GSW shortcomings, gets an increased role doing what he does best: slipping screens and diving to the rim as a small-ball center. This ultimately isn’t a sustainable way to go long term, but such lineups can put up points in the right situations. If Lee is healed coming off this latest back injury, expect him to perform well offensively in the playoffs.

More Draymond Green

Draymond Green should see more time, especially at the 4 spot. Jackson has already said that he likes the Lee at center, Green at power forward lineup and that he will use it in the playoffs. This look makes for an intriguing playoff experiment, especially if Andre Iguodala plays within it. Green and Iguodala have comprised a vicious defensive one-two punch this season. Can they do it with almost no rim protection in the background? The Lee-Green-Iguodala-Klay Thompson-Curry lineup held opponents to a stingy 89.2 points per 100 possessions over the 105 minutes they shared.

Jermaine O’Neal as Bogut facsimile

It’s the backup’s time to shine. O’Neal is Bogut’s opposite in terms of locker-room demeanor -- hand him a mike and he could be mistaken for Jackson’s agent. Now he has the chance to step up for his coach in a huge way.

The Warriors need O’Neal to be a hero, but to pull it off, he must cool it with the hero ball. O’Neal’s 2001 isolation post-ups are fine when he’s sharing the floor with Marreese Speights and Jordan Crawford. When he’s getting minutes with Curry, he needs to be more of a screener, less of a scorer. O’Neal doesn’t screen as severely as Bogut, preferring to evade contact and dive toward the rim. For the Warriors to score at a series-winning pace, they have to adjust O’Neal’s role.

Defensively, O’Neal is just fine. He’s not quite Bogut with the rim protection, but he’s not far off.

One big to rule them all

I’ve long been a proponent of “Bogut, plus shooters,” but the truth is that Golden State’s one-big lineups seem to thrive no matter who the big guy is -- as long as it isn’t Speights, I should say. It might be tempting for Jackson to use two traditional bigs against lineups of size, but Golden State cannot pull off an upset as a conventional, weaker version of itself. To win, the Warriors need to stretch and prod the opposition’s traditional approach.

Stephen Curry needs to do cool dribbling stuff and hit ridiculous shots

Duh.

It’s unfortunate we’ll never get to see that battered 2013 playoff team realize its potential in the 2014 playoffs. That hope is dead. In its place, the possibility remains that Golden State can once again shock the world. It’s unlikely, but it’s probably no more unlikely than Bogut finishing a season wire to wire.

Do Warriors have faith in Mark Jackson?

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
1:02
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Mark JacksonKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsWarriors coach Mark Jackson is a man of deep faith. But is there enough belief in him by the Bay?
The last time Warriors fans saw Brian Scalabrine was on Saturday, and he hardly looked like a man who’d disappear. The 6-foot-9 (now former) Golden State assistant coach leaned in and attacked a halftime interview with gusto, as though he’d been waiting a while for this moment. Mark Jackson’s assistants are not permitted to speak to the media, save for these regular in-game snippets wherein they usually mumble platitudes. “Scal” could not be contained by such a format, though. The “White Mamba” is a big personality. He might sign autographs, but he follows no script.

Scalabrine has since been demoted to Golden State’s D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz. Jackson isn’t explaining the specifics of why this happened. Warriors owner Joe Lacob and Warriors general manager Bob Myers have yet to speak publicly on the matter.

Why did Jackson banish such a popular figure? And what does one make of the report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports that Jackson would go weeks without speaking to former assistant coach Mike Malone, who now coaches the Sacramento Kings? The information void invites speculation about Jackson and his job status, of which there has already been plenty this season.

You could understand how, from Jackson’s perspective, the media swirl seems insane. The Warriors are on pace for their best record since 1991-92. They exceeded expectations in last season’s playoffs. They haven’t even fallen short of realistic expectations this season.

Yet there are questions about whether he will remain in Oakland after this season, and whether he’ll be coaching for his job this postseason. The Warriors are the top-ranked defensive team in the Western Conference, and their coach can’t help but wax defensive.

Back on Feb. 10, Jackson looked at the assembled media and said, “I mean, we are 10 games over .500. Some of you guys haven’t seen that in a long, long time. So keep on acting like you have.” The Warriors had just clobbered the 76ers, but Jackson was dealing with some strange public dispute with Andrew Bogut over whether the ailing center had “hurt himself sleeping.” The news conference may well have epitomized this season. Jackson wasn’t really winning.

A day after the Bogut dispute, in an interview with Tim Kawakami, Lacob followed up some Jackson compliments with: “But some things are a little disturbing -- the lack of being up for some of these games at home, that’s a concern to me.” Lacob then set the expectation bar high, saying: “My expectation was that we would be a serious competitor to be in the top four in the West.” The Warriors are currently clinging to the sixth seed, and Jackson, who has one year left on his contract, lacks a lucrative extension.

But Jackson believes in belief and believes in his guys. Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Festus Ezeli all saw substantial roles as rookies. Green shot miserably throughout last season. Jackson reiterated his faith in Green’s game, kept feeding him minutes, and Green came through big for Jackson in the playoffs. The second-rounder has emerged as a valuable defensive player in his second year. Jackson promotes confidence, bragging outright about his players and their capabilities (he has compared Green’s defense to that of LeBron James, for example). His strategy is to raise internal expectations through effusive praise, in hopes that the power of positive thinking shifts the paradigm of a historically awful franchise.

If he was just an evangelist for confidence, it would be far less complicated. His positive qualities are tethered to matters of some controversy, though, matters that extend far beyond the realm of basketball.

The ordained pastor has obliterated whatever divide might exist between church and sport. He has boldly done it despite answering to an owner who has a different religion. His quotes are peppered with mentions of God, church and Jesus. After a victory over the Denver Nuggets, airtime was given to a celebratory team prayer. His faith-based ethos has seeped into the team culture. From an article by the Mercury News' Marcus Thompson II during last season’s playoff run: “How does it show itself in Oakland? Richard Jefferson's chapel notes taped to his locker. Rubber wristbands reading ‘In Jesus Name I Play’ spilling out of Stephen Curry's cubby. Rookie center Festus Ezeli reading pastor Rick Warren's ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ before a game.”

It’s part of the workplace environment at Oracle now. Jackson sermonized on the arena floor after a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a “Friday Fellowship” drive.

If you’re looking for a reason as to why a seemingly successful coach lacks fan support, you might tilt your head in this direction. The Bay Area isn’t the Bible Belt, after all. According to The Atlantic, it’s actually the least religious major metro area of the country, with only 24 percent of residents claiming “very religious” status. Factor in how NBA fans skew young, plus how young people skew secular, and you have a less than ideal audience for Jackson’s (literal) preaching. After games, Jackson is sharing an intense, sincere worldview with many who either disagree or lack the context to relate. Locally, it doesn’t help matters that the preacher was caught up in a sex scandal early in his Warriors tenure. The slipup served as snarky joke fodder for those who were already cynical about messengers of faith.

[+] EnlargeMark Jackson and Stephen Curry
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezSteph Curry backed Mark Jackson. Will the franchise player get the final say over his coach's fate?
There’s anecdotal evidence that Jackson’s religiosity helps the Warriors. The quite religious Jermaine O’Neal signed a reasonable contract with Golden State. Noted Christian Andre Iguodala built a relationship with Jackson before heading west from Denver. In Iguodala’s introductory news conference, he mentioned getting to know Curry (and Kevin Durant) over chapel sessions at the 2010 world championships.

By all indications, the great majority of Warriors players like how faith intermingles with work. And this is where a certain sweet-shooting superstar comes into the picture. Curry, who points to the heavens after every 3-pointer, likes Golden State’s locker room culture.

In response to the questions that came with Scalabrine’s ouster, Curry, who references “Philippians 4:13” on his sneakers, supported Jackson: “Coach made a decision and we back him 100 percent.” It’s easy to dismiss such a response as “what else is he supposed to say?” but it means something that Curry didn’t deflect. Curry even spoke for the team as a whole, saying, “I know everybody in that locker room supports him 100 percent,” and later adding, “I love Coach and everything he's about. I love playing for him and that’s all that matters to me."

Curry is one of those guys Jackson believed in, and yes, there was a time when doing so wasn’t an obvious choice. Whereas Keith Smart before him benched Curry over turnovers, Jackson let his young star play through mistakes. Smart ultimately sided with giving the offense to Monta Ellis, and it got him fired. Jackson gave Curry free rein, and it got him to the second round.

It’s not a given that Curry’s influence can or will keep Jackson in Oakland, but his opinion certainly matters. When asked if he should have some sway over Jackson's future, Curry responded: “I hope they ask, yeah, for sure. I’ll give them my honest opinion, and hopefully that means something. Obviously at the end of the day I’m not the one making decisions, but I have an opinion.”

The basketball world is used to considering the whims of guys like LeBron, Carmelo, Kobe and Chris Paul. We’re not so used to considering Steph's sway. He's a go-along, get-along type -- thought to be too nice for these kinds of games. This could be a young, amiable superstar’s first major act of political leadership, though. Does Curry leave all of the decision-making to ownership, or does he leverage his star status and loudly stump for the coach who helped him become a franchise player? And can Curry's belief in Jackson trump Lacob's apparent lack of it?

In the meantime, it would appear Jackson enters April coaching not just for his job, but for the entirely unique team culture he built with it. If Jackson can afford to oust the popular Scalabrine, it’s because that culture supports the coach with an uncommon degree of faith.

Warriors' #fullsquad now coming up empty

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
11:12
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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“What's our record, Jordan, with our full squad? What's our record? Full squad. When we have everybody? Does anybody know what our record is? When we've got Andre and Steph and everybody in the lineup? We're pretty darn good." -- David Lee, to WarriorsWorld’s Jordan Ramirez

With that, Mark Jackson’s “no excuse basketball team” gave way to a new slogan for the new year. “Full Squad” was a grand vision of what the Golden State Warriors would be with their vaunted starting lineup, and the phrase doubled as a bulwark against criticism. If you’re judging this team right now, just wait -- we’ll be truly great with our starters back.

On the day “Full Squad” was born, Golden State was a lukewarm 17-13, struggling to find their footing after losing Andre Iguodala to a hamstring strain. The phrase looked prophetic when the Warriors ripped off 10 straight wins with Iguodala in tow. “Hashtag Full Squad” became an Internet sensation and an invincible starting lineup. As with so many Bay Area startups, it seemed the good times would last forever.

But cold reality has set in. With all their starters back, the Warriors have dropped five of their last seven home games. Their supposedly flashy offense has plummeted to 16th in the league, right behind the 19-30 New York Knicks. The low point happened Tuesday at Oracle Arena, when the Charlotte Bobcats crushed a team once dubbed “The New Showtime” 91-75. As if getting killed at home by Charlotte wasn’t bad enough, owner Joe Lacob was in the announcing booth for much of the second quarter, forcing banter before the spectacle of a shockingly feeble offense.
[+] EnlargeDavid Lee
AP Photo/Ben MargotThe Warriors rallied behind David Lee's impassioned words, but they've lost seven of their past 11.

How is the famed Splash Brothers offense collapsing around Stephen Curry’s best season?

The short answer: Nearly everything else is going wrong. The longer answer begins with the man who started “Full Squad” (Lee, not Ramirez), who happens to actually be having a fine season, on balance. Lee was rolling offensively until he crashed into Roy Hibbert on Jan. 20 and suffered a shoulder injury. Since then, Lee is shooting 44.9 percent and nabbing only 7.6 boards a game. He’s taken injections for the injury, but their palliative effects haven’t prevented a drop-off in quality of play.

The other injury-compromised starter is Iguodala, who’s averaging 7.8 points per game since coming back from that hamstring injury. He’s never been defined by scoring in his decade in the league, but 7.8 is illustrative of just how adrift the post-injury Iguodala has been. Somehow, he’s still able to haunt passing lanes and chase guys around screens on defense, but a lack of acceleration is killing his offense.

It might be because Lee and Iguodala have shrunk Klay Thompson's spacing, but Thompson is in the kind of malaise that Russian novels are written about. Over the past five games, he’s shooting a miserable 27.4 percent from the field. The attached problem is that the Warriors can’t shrug off a Thompson slump the way Memphis might if Mike Miller starts missing. Like John Starks in the 1994 NBA Finals, Klay will fire away as though encouraged by the last shank. He’s averaging 17 shots and 13.8 points in this nasty five-game run. Over the same span, Curry is averaging more than twice as many points on three more shots. Also, unlike Klay, Curry does other things on offense besides shoot, sans conscience. Lately the Splash Brothers' family dynamic reminds of Michael Bluth working overtime to compensate for Gob Bluth's loud setbacks.

Harrison Barnes’ struggles have been enumerated, but they’re felt no less acutely since last week. In Friday’s game against Utah, he missed three layups in a single possession. Video-replay reviews move the game along faster than Barnes’ ball-stopping post-ups, but his number keeps getting called.

Strangely, Barnes continues to see heavy minutes in the role of wing creator that he has yet to succeed at, even though another combo forward, Draymond Green, is outplaying him. This brings us to Jackson, the focus of much fan criticism. Jackson deserves credit for leading a franchise from the doldrums to national relevance in less than three seasons. If that seems like the kind of compliment that presages harsh assessment, that’s because it’s exactly that.

Despite the aforementioned injuries, a team this talented shouldn’t be this mediocre on offense. The Warriors appear to atrophy their strengths and accentuate their weaknesses. While their “Full Squad” starting lineup dominates, most other combinations betray a lack of sensible structure. Golden State tends to lean on isolation post-ups as though Jackson is their point guard and not the coach. Even when post-ups aren’t the goal, the offense often stalls out after the defense disrupts Curry or Thompson from getting open.

Jackson rarely uses the free-flowing “Andrew Bogut plus four shooters” strategy that sent Denver packing in last year's playoffs. There’s nothing resembling “Bogut plus four” in Golden State’s 10 most preferred lineups. A unit that included Marreese Speights, Kent Bazemore and Toney Douglas actually has seen more floor time than any Bogut small-ball combination, and Douglas has been off the team for three weeks.

Golden State’s small-ball aversion perhaps wouldn’t be an issue if they could space the floor with two bigs. Teams have adjusted to the fact that Bogut can’t shoot, and they’re increasingly content to sag off Lee (36.8 percent from midrange this season). Throw in how the Warriors arguably lack an above-average 3-point shooter outside the Splash Brothers duo, and it’s a wonder Curry can run a set without an oxygen mask.

Basically, conditions have to be perfect for the Warriors to get offense. To be reductive about it, they have to either play Lee at center (untenable if they wish to maintain a defense) or have the full complement of all their starters. So far, they’ve shown neither the structure nor the bench talent to deal with anything less than ideal circumstances.

That’s the unfortunate, tacit admission of the “Full Squad” slogan. It’s another way of saying, “Conditions must be perfect for us to win.”

The good news? The Warriors are fourth in defensive efficiency, and four of their banged-up starters can rest over the All-Star break. Also, it’s only February, and a 29-20 record is far from a sinkhole they can’t emerge from

The danger is relying on perfect conditions in a sport that’s sure to bring about complications. Full squad or not, a “no excuse” team should find a way to persevere through the trials and tribulations of a season. That’s what a title contender does, at least.

The book on Mark Jackson

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
12:33
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
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Mark Jackson
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesMark Jackson: The lay preacher.

Name: Mark Jackson

Birthdate: April 1, 1965

Is he an emotional leader or a tactician?
Outwardly, he’s an emotional leader, and it’s how he sold himself upon arrival. In last year’s playoffs, a camera captured Jackson telling his team, “I love you.”

Jackson preaches, quite literally. The ordained pastor uses religion in the locker room to connect with his players, and isn’t averse to thanking God for his team’s success.

He also sells confidence. You could even call Jackson a swaggering braggart. He’s positive where other coaches are negative, often talking up his team’s abilities in the hope that messaging will elevate internal expectations.

Jackson isn’t opposed to sly tactics, though. He likes to employ the unexpected trick, like guarding an inbounds pass with Andrew Bogut while zoning up the 3-point line, or calling a sideline buzzer-beater shot for Andre Iguodala as the opposition focuses on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Is he intense or a go along-get along type?
Somewhere in between, as he’s transitioning from the latter to the former. Though habitually sanguine in the appraisal of his team, something has soured of late. He’s been quite frustrated and quite critical of his bench players this season. They aren’t playing well and Jackson is tiring of their lack of production. He’s calling them out publicly.

No matter how viciously Jackson skewers his team, it’ll stay rated-PG. He insists that he hasn’t cursed in over a decade.

Does he rely on systems, or does he coach ad hoc to his personnel?
It’s been ad hoc and the results have rewarded that flexibility. Here’s one example. The Jackson Warriors began with a defensive scheme that included big men who hedged high on pick and rolls. Eventually, the coaching staff decided that David Lee and Andrew Bogut were too slow for such a system. Golden State has played competent defense ever since they adopted a new scheme, one that's predicated on the big men slinking back towards the paint.


Does he share decision-making with star players, or is he The Decider?
He is more the Decider, in part because so many of his players are young. This may change as his guys get veteran experience.

For instance, to hear Curry tell it, he'd prefer guarding the other team's primary ball handler. Jackson overrides that preference and hides Curry on the opposition's worst offensive perimeter player. Though a superstar, Curry's opinion generally doesn't dictate what the team does. After years spent as a "coach on the floor" kind of point guard, Jackson remains in control of his team's in-game approach.

Does he prefer the explosive scorer or the lockdown defender?
Here’s one way to answer that question: David Lee’s playing time has never been in jeopardy.

Does he prefer a set rotation, or is he more likely to use his personnel situationally?
He’s preferred a set rotation, but such preferences are often undone by the reality of running an injury prone team. Also, the recent Golden State bench woes have forced Jackson to scramble for answers. It’s easier to embrace a set rotation when you can rely on bench stalwarts like Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack. Expect more mixing and matching from Jackson in 2013-14.

Will he trust young players in big spots, or is he more inclined to use his veterans?
He trusts young players more than any other coach, perhaps. He started rookies Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli last season. Draymond Green, whom Jackson effusively praises, received a lot more playing time than your typical second-round rookie. So long as the young player is practicing well, he’s afforded the larger stage.

Is he an advanced stats guy?
Yes, but reputedly by accident. Jackson won’t admit to letting analytics dictate his actions, but his actions often agree with the stats. He likes leaving players in the game after they’ve incurred foul “trouble.” He likes when his players fire up 3-pointers immediately off offensive rebounds. He sometimes lets his team run the final play without a timeout to guide them. If Jackson comes about these sound decisions by accident, it may be because bad coaching decisions skew fearful, and Jackson isn’t a fearful coach.

Are there any unique strategies that he particularly likes?
The Warriors run a lot of floppy action (two guards crisscrossing under the basket, off the ball) to get into their sets. Jackson ran this as an Indiana point guard and he’s made good use of it in Oakland. Curry and Thompson race through the kinds of staggered screens the Pacers once deployed to spring Reggie Miller, whom Jackson remains close friends with.

Golden State has adopted an action called “the split game” where they often force defenses to make a quick decision between guarding a cutting Iguodala or guarding Curry as he pops out for a 3-pointer. They also love to free Curry for semi transition 3-pointers with screens above the arc. The most eye-catching Warriors play is “Elevator Doors,” where Curry or Thompson race between two Warriors bigs as they converge to create a massive two-man screen.

Golden State’s execution is more unusual than the particular play calls they use. It’s upside-down world, where big men can push fast breaks and shooting guards regularly punish defenders in the post. The latter strategy is designed to hurt teams that guard Curry with someone other than their smallest player.

What were his characteristics as a player?
Jackson’s stocky frame did not belong in the NBA. He excelled due to vision, guile and a bruising post game. Though a pious man, he would wildly celebrate his successes. Jackson’s celebration of choice was the loose shimmy, which you’ll occasionally see Curry break out as an homage.

Which coaches did he play for?
Rick Pitino, Pat Riley, Larry Brown, Larry Bird, and Jeff Van Gundy are the heavy hitters. He also had an ill-fated stint under Jerry Sloan that ended amid a lot of speculation over whether Jackson turned the team against John Stockton.

What is his coaching pedigree?
Nothing, nothing at all.

If basketball didn't exist, what might he be doing?
He’s already an ordained pastor. Should Jackson leave coaching in the near future, expect him to mix that with his old announcing job.


The spirit of the 1984 Bill James Baseball Abstract was summoned for this project.

TrueHoop TV: Draymond Green, Part 2

July, 19, 2013
7/19/13
12:12
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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When the Golden State Warriors closed out the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs this spring, the team’s post-game celebration was a testimony to its togetherness. Mark Jackson delivered one of his signature benedictions to teamwork, then gave forward Draymond Green the cue to initiate the group prayer as the team huddled tightly, arms raised like a campfire stack.

Green led the prayer with great command. His invocation thanked “father lord” for the blessings bestowed upon the team and asked that the lord continue to bless the Warriors, watch over them and allow them to bond together. Green then concluded the prayer with, “In Jesus’ name, I pray.”

Broadcasted live on national television, the unbridled expression of faith in a specific god was jarring. For anyone who's ever found himself in such a circle but who doesn't believe in that particular god -- or any god -- the experience can be uncomfortable.

Do you participate out of deference to the majority? Stay silent and meditate about something else until it's over? Quietly excuse yourself from the circle? Do you bring your uneasiness to the attention of a coach, supervisor, camp counselor but risk disrupting the cohesion the team, staff or cabin has established?

These are tough questions, especially when there's a sense these rituals are positive, team-building exercises for most. But there are also good reasons we reserve faith for private moments in a civil society. Plurality comes with a price, even if it feels right to praise a higher power at a moment of collective celebration. That's not a statement of political correctness, but a commitment to the idea that great teamwork is about inclusiveness above all else, that units function best when everyone feels like they have a stake in the mission.

Could Green make this accommodation if he was asked? I'd been wanting to find out since May.

Meeting Green in person is an altogether pleasant encounter. He's inordinately grateful for the opportunities he's enjoyed in basketball. Where there's often a chip on a second-rounder's shoulder, Green carries a humble confidence. He loves his job, loves his teammates, his coaches and even loves the chance to share those impressions with strangers and sincerely wants those strangers to feel comfortable.

Green graciously agreed to sit down and discuss the importance of vocalizing his faith in the locker room, and the implications of those declarations.
 
video

Spurs trio outduels Warriors duo

May, 15, 2013
5/15/13
2:09
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive
Game 5 was not about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the duo dubbed by Warriors head coach Mark Jackson as “the greatest shooting backcourt” in NBA history.

Instead, it was about one of the best trios in NBA history. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili won their 93rd playoff game together, tying Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers for the second-most playoff wins as a trio in NBA history. Only Magic, Kareem and Michael Cooper (110) have more.

The veteran trio played like they were in their prime in Game 5. Duncan posted his 143rd career playoff double-double, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second-most in NBA postseason history. Only Magic (157) has more.

Parker had 25 points and 10 assists, his 11th career postseason double-double. He has scored at least 20 points in seven of his last eight games.

Curry and Thompson combined for just 13 points, tied for the fewest they’ve combined for in any game that both of them have played in this season (regular season or postseason). Previously, the fewest they had combined for this postseason was 29.

Neither Curry nor Thompson had any unguarded or transition field goal attempts in Game 5. Kawhi Leonard was primarily responsible for locking down Thompson. He held him to 2-for-7 shooting as an on-ball defender.

The Spurs exploited Curry when he was on defense. The Spurs shot 11-of-16 from the field and scored 30 points (23 in the first half) with Curry as the primary on-ball defender. Five different Spurs players contributed to the 30 points, including 11 points on catch-and-shoot jumpers, and nine off screens or pick-and-rolls. Danny Green led the way with 12 of those 30 points. In total, the Spurs averaged 1.58 points per play with Curry as the primary on-ball defender in Game 5 after he allowed just 0.77 points per play in the first four games of the series.

With Thompson struggling offensively over the last two games (and Curry struggling in Game 5), Harrison Barnes has emerged as a legitimate offensive scoring threat for the Warriors. After never scoring more than 21 points during the regular season, Barnes has scored more than 21 points four times this postseason.

Barnes is the first player in NBA history to score at least 25 points in consecutive playoff games after never scoring 25 in any regular season or postseason game in his career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Warriors have now lost 31 of their last 32 road games (regular season and playoffs) at San Antonio. The Spurs have won 11 of 12 all-time best-of-seven playoff series when leading 3-2.

The Warriors' big-time, improbable stand

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
2:22
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive


LOS ANGELES -- Trailing 112-110 with the ball and 21.4 seconds remaining, the Los Angeles Clippers couldn't have asked for more favorable conditions. The Clippers had Chris Paul at the controls against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, with forward David Lee covering Blake Griffin. No need for Gregg Popovich's whiteboard here. Just let Paul work his magic with Griffin against two guys who often get classified as matadors.

The odds seemed to tilt even greater in the Clippers' favor when the Warriors decided to switch on the Griffin pick. With total command of the court, Paul had Lee in his crosshairs. And if that weren't enough, the generously listed 6-foot-3, 185-pound Curry was now assigned to guard Griffin down on the right block.

Mismatch City. The kind of possession NBA teams dream of on Christmas Eve. The world's best point guard against a beleaguered big man, with the most imposing physical specimen in the league down in the post against a guard who could easily be mistaken for a scurvy victim.

This couldn't possibly be the way Warriors coach Mark Jackson drew up his defensive coverage.

"Truthfully, yes," Jackson insisted. "We had to find a way to contain [Paul], and great players make the adjustment. We tried something a little different and we had to trust our defensive principles. Just a great job by David on the perimeter and a great job by Steph. I thought he lost Blake for a second, but he recovered and kept a body on him."

Paul rejected Griffin's pick at the top of the floor, then dribbled right and attacked a backpedaling Lee. Paul reached the edge of the paint but that's where the incursion stopped, as Lee held his ground.

With 15 seconds still on the clock, a patient Paul realized there was plenty of time to try again. So he backed out and returned to his launching pad just outside the 3-point arc. Lee followed Paul to the top of the floor, then got into a defensive crouch, arms extended outward.

"The No. 1 thing I didn't want to do was give up a 3-point shot for the loss," Lee said. "I wanted to force [Paul] to drive and I know he likes to go right so I wanted to make him go left and force him back into my help."

Defending Paul in this situation is a multitasking nightmare. Lee had to simultaneously guard against the 3-pointer, but also be swift enough to funnel Paul left when he stepped on the gas.

"I was thinking about raising up for the 3," Paul said. "But he gave me the lane and I drove."

This is where the logic behind the Warriors' decision to switch begins to make some sense. The best-case scenario for the Clippers in this situation would be a clean 3-point attempt. Lee might not be fleet-footed, but he's taller than Curry and, therefore, tougher to shoot over.

"It was tough," Lee said. "I just tried to stay close enough to him that he would maybe be a little discouraged by my arm and try to go by me rather than pull up. In a situation like that, he's pretty much in control, but I just did my best."

Paul wasn't surprised by the switch, and made it abundantly clear after the game that the coverage in that situation is immaterial to him -- switch, trap, hedge, assault. In Paul's world, he always has the advantage, particularly against this Warriors' duo.

"You think I care which one of them guards me?" Paul said. "Come on, now. Stephen Curry? All-defense, huh? Psshhhh ... Come on, now."

While Paul and Lee were performing their dance, Curry had to contend with Griffin on the block, but Curry figured this was Paul's game to win or lose.

"In a normal situation, [Griffin] would've been trying to post me up," Curry said. "But in the fourth quarter, with 10 seconds left and CP has the ball, he's going to make the play. So it's my job to just box out if there's a shot."

Ultimately, Curry's instincts were correct, but Paul allowed for the possibility that he'd dish the ball to his power forward, who had a seven-inch and 80-pound advantage over the diminutive guard.

"I was about to drop [the ball] off to Blake, but I saw the layup," Paul said.

It was a shot Paul has taken countless times, a floater in the lane off his right foot. The ball left Paul's right hand and fell just over the front lip of the rim and through the basket -- but not before Curry slid off Griffin, planted his feet in Paul's path, and drew the charge.

"I'm arm's length from Blake to make sure to keep him off the glass as best I can if there's a long jump shot," Curry said. "Once David forced CP to his left, I kind of read the play, read CP's eyes. Is he looking at Blake? Is he looking at the rim? He was looking at the rim to get a shot off. So then you're thinking about getting outside the restricted line to take the charge, and I was able to time it just right where [Paul] hadn't left his feet yet, but I was set up and ready to go."

Curry iced the game with a couple of free throws, as the Warriors prevailed 114-110, handing the Clippers their first loss of the season.

Was the defensive call that won it counter-intuitive by the Warriors? You bet. But the coverage worked, and Jackson praised Curry with his trademark superlative.

"Steph came up with a big-time charge, a big-time charge," Jackson said.

Tuesday Bullets

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
11:38
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Tim Frank of the NBA: "Tonight's NBA games will be played. We are still assessing the situation with regards to the rest of the week."
  • Andray Blatche got an assist from some first responders.
  • What's going to replace James Harden's beard as the icon of Thunder fanhood? The Lost Ogle offers up 11 nominations.
  • Matt Yglesias, Slate's business and economics blogger, on the Harden deal: "[M]y real critique is that the Thunder don't seem to be considering the optionality involved in resigning Harden. Having the guy under contract for a multiyear deal doesn't just carry with it the right to employ Harden's basketball services; it carries the right to trade the right to employ him at any time. So if it did come to pass that the Thunder were a championship-caliber team and nonetheless running some kind of intolerable operating loss, they could always trade him then (or, better, they could trade Westbrook). The existence of the luxury tax can lead to a kind of overthinking and irrational sequencing about these things. When considering whether or not to sign a player for $X million, the question to focus on is whether he produces more than $X million worth of basketball services. If he does, then he's a valuable trade asset at any time. And the luxury tax should be understood as being assessed on the entire team payroll rather than having the entire hit arbitrarily assigned to whomever happens to be the last player you signed."
  • Once everyone in the starting lineup is healthy and and the meet-and-greet is over, the Lakers are going to be a bear to defend. Brett Koremenos of Grantland breaks down five devastating sets from five title contenders, including the Lakers' "slot pick-and-roll into high-low" scheme.
  • Something we often forget about rookies playing their first regular season game in the NBA: Many of them are taking the floor against their idols. That has to be a bit of a jolt, as Portland's Damian Lillard tells it toward the end of his most recent installment of "License of Lillard."
  • Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus unveils his final SCHOENE predictions for the season. Denver and Atlanta look strong. Oklahoma City and Indiana fall a few rungs. And who projects to have the No. 2 offense in the NBA? Your Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • The best in Nikola Pekovic propoganda this side of Podgorica.
  • Says here that Eddy Curry will probably start opposite Dwight Howard in the Mavericks' opener in Los Angeles, as Chris Kaman nurses a right calf injury.
  • One NBA scout has some unkind words for the Golden State Warriors. From his perch, Richard Jefferson causes headaches, David Lee was known to some Knicks teammates as FEMA because he was never there when you needed him and Mark Jackson doesn't have a feel from the game.
  • There aren't any industry studies, but I'd guess there are very few 15 year olds in North America whose Moms chaperoned them to the tattoo parlor -- Wizards rookie Bradley Beal is a notable exception. From Michael Lee in the Washington Post: "Besta Beal joined her son at the tattoo parlor when he got his first ink at age 15, and he needed her permission, because otherwise, 'she would’ve killed me,' Bradley said with a laugh. Beal provided all of the artwork on his arms ... "
  • Media outlets across the nation are publishing endorsements for the presidential election. The ClipperBlog editorial board weighs in and endorses ... Eric Bledsoe for Clippers starting shooting guard: "Across the league, NBA head coaches are facing tough choices as they go to fill out their lineup cards for opening night. Candidates have campaigned for spots since the start of training camp, hoping to show they have what it takes to get the job done. Some races were over before they began -- the incumbent's hold on the seat just too strong. But there are those, like the fight for the Clippers' second starting backcourt spot, that keep coaches up at night. Now it's time to make the call ... After thorough review of the candidates, we believe that the player best equipped to fulfill the necessary responsibilities of starting alongside Chris Paul is 22-year old Eric Bledsoe."
  • Can Rajon Rondo make the leap to first-team all-NBA?
  • Don't you just hate it when you realize that a player you can't stand is, in fact, a big-time contributor? Aaron McGuire of Gothic Ginobili on Jason Terry: "At some point, people who dislike Jason Terry -- myself included -- need to step back and simply start appreciating his production. And let's get this straight now -- I am no fan of Terry's. I think he's bombastic, self-obsessed, and preening. He needs to realize, at some point, that he is not an airplane ... But you know what? He probably was underrated in #NBARank, and in a general sense, Terry is of inconceivably low repute to a vast majority of the NBA's fans. And it makes no sense to me. Last season, Terry was the 5th best shooting guard in the NBA. Really. There were the obvious betters -- Kobe, Wade, Harden, Manu -- and you could make a reasonable case that Joe Johnson was better. Beyond those five? Nobody."
  • Our friends at Ball in Europe, without an NBA franchise on the Continent, are considering which NBA team to adopt as their own. You can cast your vote here.
  • Trey Kerby of The Basketball Jones celebrates the release of Stephen Jackson's "Lonely at the Top," featuring Kevin Durant.
  • Did you hear about the time Matt Bonner dragged Jackson to a Coldplay concert?
  • Marreese Speights would like to remind you that there are 13 other teams in the Western Conference besides Oklahoma City and the Lakers.
  • Serge Ibaka tells us how Brooklyn is like Brazzaville.

Rick Welts' winning streak

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
11:22
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Rick Welts
Alex J. Berliner/ABImages
Rick Welts: "I have to be part of this dialogue in men's team sports going forward."

Momentum isn't just a phenomenon on the floor or in the flow of a seven-game series. By virtually every account, the NBA enjoyed one of its best seasons in 2010-11. Television ratings and merchandise sales soared, while several teams have put lucrative new local broadcast deals in place. Most of all, the narratives and subplots coming out of the season were captivating, storybook stuff.

But the inertia wasn't just felt on the court. The league made strides off it, too.

Sports has always provided a laboratory for a range of social and cultural issues and, in that respect, the NBA achieved a lot of good -- yet another reason why the current lockout and prospect of a cancelled season is frustrating.

Among the more aggressive initiatives pursued by the NBA was GLSEN's "Think B4 You Speak" campaign. Their keynote televised spot, starring Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, was bold, well-produced and unprecedented. Ten years ago, the idea that NBA players would take to the camera during the playoffs to tell kids that using gay as an epithet is uncool would've been noble but naive. Yet GLSEN's ad was as ubiquitous as the NBA's talking basketball and Heineken's The Asteroids Galaxy Tour spot.

How did GLSEN corral Hill and Dudley? The NBA aggressively pursued gay-friendly athletes and enlisted them. The league signed Steve Nash and Brook Lopez up for the print campaign. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard tweeted his support.

Less than 24 hours after the GLSEN public service announcement premiered during the conference finals, the New York Times published a front page feature on Rick Welts. In the body of the article, the then-Phoenix Suns president became the first executive in men's pro sports to come out as gay.

The response to Welts' announcement has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly in gay organizational circles. Gay folks have done well over the past 15 years in political and cultural spheres, but there are still incredibly few recognizable public figures carrying the torch. The same dozen or so celebrities traverse the country speaking at various charity dinners giving pep talks to donors and organizational leaders.

Welts has now joined that roster of out, gay figures and he was honored on Friday night in Beverly Hills by GLSEN, the organization that launched the Changing the Game initiative, under whose umbrella "Think B4 You Speak" campaign resides.

From the outset of the evening, you could sense Welts' presence was different.

He doesn't hail from the entertainment industry and isn't a fixture in charitable gay circles.

This is all new to him -- and, in turn, he is new to the community.

We caught up with Welts at the event, where he was accompanied by his partner, Todd Gage.

Kevin Arnovitz: There's a certain brand of celebrity gay public figures achieve and you're there. Tonight is proof of that. Is that exciting? Disorienting? Overwhelming?

Rick Welts: I really didn't know what to expect. I was probably prepared for a mixed reaction to the story -- maybe 90-10. But it was unconceivable to me that of the thousands of calls, emails, letters -- people still write letters -- every single one has been nothing but encouraging and positive which, for me, was a little overwhelming. It was overwhelming in a positive way, but it did instill in me a sense of responsibility going forward. I really wasn't sure that would be the case. I thought maybe that would be it, that I'd get my 15 minutes of fame, but clearly it just continues.

I'm still trying to figure out what my role should be. I'm all about running the Golden State Warriors. That's my job. That's what I want to focus my time on, but somehow I have to be part of this dialogue in men's team sports going forward. What form that takes, I'm not quite sure yet.

During the early part of your initial media tour, you seemed a little bit reticent at first, like it was all still very new -- which I guess it was. Has your comfort level in those contexts grown?

Welts: I don't think I felt that. Maybe it came across that way. By the time I got to that point, I knew what I'd signed up for. So nothing about it was unexpected or scary. It turned out to be a much easier process than I'd imagined.

We had our Warriors press conference a couple of weeks ago, and there's still a little bit of out-of-body experience when I'm listening to these questions about my sexual orientation in the context of running an NBA franchise. It's okay. I hope on some level it makes a contribution, but I'm really all about doing my job for the Warriors. I want that to be the focus. I know this is always going to be there.

Your job is not to instill in the Golden State Warriors an ethic of tolerance, but do you hope to have an impact -- do you feel obliged to have an impact -- on, say, Dorell Wright, Steph Curry, Monta Ellis and Mark Jackson, who is an observant evangelical Christian? Is "making a contribution," as you say, a hands-on experience whereby you speak to the team for 15 minutes one afternoon after practice and tell your story?

Welts: The answer is, "I don't know." I had a great conversation with Mark on the phone. Everyone in the organization has been incredible. I'll tell you one of the most gratifying experiences I've had since May -- and you'll understand this -- is the interview I had with the Warriors. I was with Peter Guber and Joe Lacob for six hours. I realized I didn't have to guess what they knew or might have known or how they'd feel about it, whether they'd have a problem with that, because I was out.

And it wasn't until about four hours into the meeting when one of them goes, "So how did the announcement go over with the ownership in Phoenix?" I said, "It went over great," and then we went back to the Warriors. For me, as someone who spent his whole business career worrying about how that would affect my ability to be successful in the occupation I'd chosen, that was a pretty amazing experience.

About the move from Phoenix to Oakland. There was a lot of well-wishing on your way out the door. You were going to spend some time contemplating your next move. Then, boom, you had the job at Golden State. Did you already have the Warriors gig lined up when you resigned from the Suns?

Welts: I was at a point in my life where the important aspect of it was living in northern California. My partner has two kids whom he has joint custody of and they live in Sacramento -- so he's not relocatable. I initially thought I'd take some time off. I got some amazing book offers, maybe do some speaking -- and I was really excited about that. But just as I was leaving Phoenix, Robert Sarver said, "I'm going to call the Maloofs in Sacramento and the new guys in Golden State and say, 'You know what? They ought to talk to you.'"

He did that --

--This was before the resignation or after?

Welts: After, but I was still there. So the weekend after I left, I spent that six hours with [Guber and Lacob]. They had a short list to start that I was on, but I wasn't available. Then I became available and the opportunity presented itself.

So you're sitting across the table from these guys. They've paid a lot of money for this team. What's your pitch? What's the Rick Welts platform for how to turn the Golden State Warriors into an elite NBA franchise?

Welts: They had really done their homework on me and I'd really done my homework on them. So we knew if there was a connection on both sides, we were going to make a deal. They wanted to make sure they were bringing in someone who had a general approach to business in the NBA that was not business as usual. They wanted someone who wasn't afraid to think big. For them, what hasn't been done is more interesting to them than what has already been achieved. That's how they envision the franchise and they want someone on the business side who demonstrated that same kind of approach. And that's exactly the kind of owners I was looking for if I was going to jump back in this as quickly as I did.

Let's talk about the No H8 Photo you guys posed for. I'm probably one of only 10 gay dudes in California who doesn't have one. But the airbrushing on those shots is pretty incredible.

Todd Gage (Welts' partner): Airbrushing? What are you talking about?!

Welts: There's no airbrushing.

Please.

Welts: It was something I agreed to. By total coincidence, Todd was in town that day. I called him and said, "Get your ass down here," and he did.

Gage: They take every line out. It's incredible.

Monday Bullets

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
11:24
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • J.A. Adande joined Baron Davis on the campus of UCLA, where the Cavs point guard will try to maintain a GPA, not a PER. At Hardwood Paroxysm, Holly MacKenzie shares a story about how, several seasons back, Davis blew her off in a locker room in Seattle, only to track her down later on in the tunnel to make amends: "[Davis] taught me a lesson: players can be cranky, and sometimes you’ll approach them after a bad loss or performance when they’re angry or bitter or caught up in something. But often times, how someone treats you on that single occasion isn’t a fair representation of who that person is."
  • Davis coached LeBron James in a Drew League game on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles. Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports: "[Drew League director Dino] Smiley said many fans tweeted and sent text messages about James’ arrival. 'Every edge' of the court in the tiny gym, Smiley said, was packed. Smiley said the gym doors were eventually closed shut during James’ game by law enforcement officers, who told fans if they left they couldn’t return"
  • Thunderground Radio evaluates how Sam Presti fared in 2010-11. Was the Perkins-Green trade necessary? Can Reggie Jackson make an impact in the backcourt?
  • Blake Griffin is a monster and, barring injury, projects to be a indomitable franchise player. For the Clippers, that's the easy part. The more elastic variable for the team is Eric Gordon. If the Clippers aren't able to land a marquee superstar, could they still be a force in the West with Gordon as their featured perimeter threat with Griffin down low, provided DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe continue to grow? Nick Flynt of ClipperBlog takes a look.
  • What happened to the Trail Blazers after they broke up their Finals core in 1993? A retrospective from Blazers Edge.
  • I'm a sucker for any basketball post that prominently features Bob Walk, who pitched for the Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. A pitcher named Walk would the equivalent of a hoopster named Travel. But the thrust of the Negative Dunkalectics' post by Chris George is not the dubiously-named Walk, but the playing career of Warriors head coach Mark Jackson: "Mark Jackson was a comparatively small and non-athletic man, largely informed by a street game, who managed to use a few moves over and over again to put up much better numbers than he 'should' have. The combination of the back down, the baby hook, the no-look passes, the teardrop, and the push shot made him one of the most frustrating point guards of his era, even if he never had the ability to be a true star."
  • Jason Terry delivered the first pitch at Sunday's Texas Rangers game to Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler. Dirk Nowitzki via Twitter: "Was jet's first pitch at rangers game better than mine? Didn't anyone see it? Let me know."
  • Who is Manuel Velez Pangilinan? He's the very wealthy, very influential guy behind the pair of exhibition games at Araneta Coliseum in Manila between a slew of NBA stars and standouts from the Philippine Basketball Association. The two games were standing room only and tickets on the secondary market ran as much as four times face value.
  • The WNBA named its 15 best players ever. Ball in Europe follows with its 15 best Euroleague women players in history.
  • Hakeem Olajuwon, Marco Belinelli and Hedo Turkoglu: Each initially excited Raps fans when he signed on the dotted line, only to fall way short of expectations. For good measure, five Raptors draft picks that raised eyebrows.
  • Six years prior to putting on a Raptors jersey, Olajuwon logged 39 points and 17 rebounds in the Game 6 clincher of the 1995 Western Conference finals against the Spurs. NBA Off-Season presents another in their Lockout Classics series.
  • If Kobe Bryant is Derek Jeter, then Derek Fisher is Jorge Posada. Does that make Robert Horry Scott Brosius?
  • Look out, Monday. Wes Matthews is in mission mode.
  • Kings big man Jason Thompson: "Congrats to the NFL on ending their Lockout....NOW its OUR TURN!!!!"

Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Jrue HolidayJrue Holiday drops ... and might be better for it.
(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

As recently as a few weeks ago, Jrue Holiday was a projected top 10 pick. A good number of observers felt that another year at UCLA would've served Holiday well, but there was enough collective faith in his court smarts, defense, and capacity to blossom into a productive NBA guard. Whether it was Ben Howland's slow-it-down offense, playing off the ball alongside Darren Collison, or something else, Holiday found himself as the dreaded "Last Guy Sitting in the Green Room" Thursday night, and ultimately went #17 to Philadelphia.

In the big man division, no prospect dropped farther and harder Thursday night than DeJuan Blair. Projected as a certain first-rounder and as the seventh best player in the 2009 draft class according to John Hollinger's Draft Rater, Blair was a brute force at Pittsburgh with 15.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game, along with a rugged brand of defense. At the combines, Blair's wingspan measured at a eye-popping 7-foot-2.

What caused Blair to slip to the seventh pick of the second round? Concerns about his knees. In high school, Blair tore both of his ACLs and had them surgically repaired. Blair's scar tissue essentially got re-absorbed by his body and the result left Blair with essentially no ACLs.

Although he's suffered no adverse effects ever since, Blair's is an unprecedented injury and one that scared off a slew of NBA executives. Though Blair literally has no ACL to tear, some team physicians feel that Blair could eventually develop a nagging issue that could eventually wear him down. As a result, Blair ended up as the #37 pick of the draft, landing with San Antonio. 

Dropping in the draft is a tough indignity for a young guy to endure. In addition to the dashed expectations and losing face, there's also the monetary loss. As a second-round pick, Blair isn't even guaranteed a contract. Holiday will make less a couple million dollars less over the next four years as the 17th pick than a player who went 10th. 

But once Holiday and Blair get over the initial sting, both will realize that they're in ideal situations -- not in spite of having dropped, but because of it.

Holiday joins a young Sixers team deprived of guards that went into the postseason with a shooting guard platoon of Willie Green and Lou Williams. Philly's point guard, Andre Miller, has an uncertain future with the club. In other words, there might not be a better situation for a young guard than joining the beleagured Sixers' backcourt.

DeJuan BlairWill DeJuan Blair emerge as a second-round steal for the Spurs?
(Photo by Andy Lyons/NBAE/Getty Images)

By virtue of dropping to 37, Blair lands with arguably the NBA's best franchise. Not only will he join a model organization, but he'll be able to step in and fill one of the team's most glaring needs. The Spurs never found the bruiser they needed up front last season. Matt Bonner, Fabricio Oberto, Drew Gooden, and an aging Kurt Thomas all logged minutes as Tim Duncan's frontcourt mate, but none could effectively fill the role. Blair will have the opportunity to step in and help the league's 30th-ranked offensive rebounding team. 

Mark Jackson, Jameer Nelson, and Josh Howard all sat around longer than expected on their respective draft nights, and each fell into ideal situations. With some serendipity and hard work, Holiday and Blair will have the same opportunities to emerge as steals on winning teams. When and if they do, the frustration of Draft Night 2009 will be a footnote.

Opponent as Springboard

February, 16, 2009
2/16/09
3:13
PM ET
Watch this Tom Chambers dunk from the archives. Mitch Richmond's commentary is exactly right, and it is especially clear in the final slow motion version of the dunk: Chambers was up pretty high. But then his knee sails into Mark Jackson's shoulder, and it's almost like planting a foot -- it pushes him up a fair bit higher.

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