TrueHoop: Mike Woodson

Mike Woodson's long goodbye

April, 21, 2014
4/21/14
11:03
AM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
Special to ESPN.com
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Mike Woodson Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesOusted New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson never found sustained success in two-plus seasons.
After two and a half tumultuous years, Mike Woodson’s term as New York Knicks head coach came to a close Monday morning. His dismissal ends what was, even by the Knicks’ standards, a strange chapter in recent NBA history.

Woodson’s coaching reputation has swung wildly over the last 26 months. Under Woodson’s direction, the Knicks went 72-34 from when he took over for Mike D’Antoni in March 2012 through the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s not as if Woodson’s name was mud before the Knicks' 100-game hot streak, but his regular-season success in Atlanta -- the team won more games than the year before in five consecutive seasons -- was tainted by Atlanta’s inability to make noise in the playoffs. The Hawks never lost to a lower seed, but they never really looked capable of a deep playoff run, either.

After his time in Atlanta, critics cast Woodson as inflexible and somewhat dreary from a tactical standpoint. Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense repeatedly broke down in the playoffs, and his Hawks never had an effective backup plan.

But after coaching under Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks, Woodson seemed to become a believer in the spread pick-and-roll, and his Knicks rode that action, and a barrage of 3-pointers, to a 54-win season in 2012-13. The conversation around Woodson changed almost overnight: He had won full buy-in from Carmelo Anthony and somehow kept J.R. Smith focused; he modernized his offense and embraced the state of the art in basketball strategy.

The Knicks, for the first time in a long time, exceeded expectations. Was it Woodson? Or were the Knicks just more talented than people realized? Wasn't it Woodson who made Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland useful players?

Before the 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins combination of metrics and analysis predicted the Knicks would be the top seed in the East. The two main reasons were Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the point guard-center battery of the 2011 champion Mavericks. Kidd was old, sure, but he still made his teams better with rebounding, shooting and crisp ball movement. With the Knicks, Kidd’s play became the shared language through which Anthony’s game could communicate with the spread pick-and-roll.

When Kidd retired, the Knicks’ half-court offense descended into Babel. Again, this was partly due to situations outside of Woodson’s control. In the offseason, the Knicks replaced important shooters Novak, Kidd and Copeland with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani. World Peace was a defensive contributor during a brief period of good health, but otherwise the Knicks essentially scrapped the identity that made them so dangerous -- great ball movement and killer shooting -- in favor of big names.

The same Wages of Wins analysts who picked the Knicks to be very good in 2012-13, then picked the Knicks to finish outside the playoffs, as did the SCHOENE metric developed by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.

Whether Woodson ever really believed in the free-wheeling, 3-pointer crazed offense of 2012-13 is an open question. The Knicks abandoned their small-ball strengths at the first sign of trouble in the 2013 playoffs, abdicating their perimeter advantage to wage an unwinnable war inside against the Pacers. And this season, Woodson often professed a desire -- possibly at behest of the front office -- to make the “Big” lineups work, even though playing Bargnani, Anthony and Chandler together had miserable results.

Strategy aside, if you consider the variable roster quality during the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether Woodson is responsible at all for either the good times or the bad ones.

Doubt that those role players the Knicks lost in the offseason really matter enough to so dramatically swing the Knicks' win-loss records? The fact is Carmelo Anthony was actually better this season than he was last season. Logic argues that he wasn't the controlling factor in the Knicks' success.

With Kidd and the shooters gone and Chandler hobbled, the Knicks just didn't have a very good roster -- so they weren't a very good team.

This gets us closer to the truth of Woodson’s value as a coach. Of course his teams in Atlanta got better every year, the roster improved every year, too!

Young stars such as Josh Smith and Al Horford joined the Hawks as rookies and followed a logical trend: They were better at 21 than 20, and better at 24 than 23.

History suggests Woodson does not make his teams better, nor does he really inhibit them. He puts his players in positions to succeed, but he is no Rick Carlisle, masking flaws with smoke and mirrors.

Given the Knicks’ lack of draft picks and tradable assets, the roster probably won't be much stronger next year. If they want a significantly better record, they'll need to find a coach who can win more games than player quality projects.

Woodson will be remembered as a players' coach, one who forged strong bonds with difficult personalities but never found a way to make them much better than they already were.

Knicks working their strengths

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
2:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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New York Knicks
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty ImagesHave Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks cracked the code?

The Olympics are an interesting laboratory for the NBA's best players. International basketball long ago embraced small-ball systems, and the composition of the U.S. roster this summer invited the Americans to follow suit once again.

For Carmelo Anthony, this meant playing the power forward spot, a decision that everyone in the known universe not named Carmelo Anthony has been prescribing as a way to advance his stagnant career.

Anthony had been reluctant. In his defense, it's not as if he's the first small forward to resist change. It took LeBron James eight years to buy in, and Rudy Gay is still skittish about sliding over to the 4 when Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol takes a seat.

This season with the Knicks, Anthony has logged exactly one of his 226 minutes as a small forward. One minute! You can barely heat a Pop-Tart in one minute.

Anthony's other 225 minutes have been at power forward. What has this done for his individual numbers?

Not much. He's logging a Player Efficiency Rating of 21.08, virtually identical to last season and his lowest mark since his sophomore season in the NBA.

But what are his team's efficiency numbers offensively? 111.6 -- tops in the league. You can go inside the numbers with Bradford Doolittle here.

Anthony's move to power forward has allowed Mike Woodson to get more efficient lineups and players on the floor. J.R. Smith's playing time is up seven minutes from last season, and he is rewarding the Knicks with a PER of 23.38. A leaner Raymond Felton can play alongside Jason Kidd in the backcourt -- both are shooting extremely well from the outside -- and Felton's numbers have improved.

Anthony's adjustment to the 4 gets defensive ace and off-ball maven Ronnie Brewer substantial playing time. The four most common lineups with Brewer are defensive juggernauts. Nobody in the NBA who has played more minutes and posted a better defensive rating. Brewer is also posting tremendous numbers on the offensive end. As one of the premier cutters in the game, he has introduced an element of deception and motion to a Knicks offense that was stuck in the mud last season.

On Thursday night, the Knicks roared back to beat the Spurs in San Antonio. After the game, Spurs swingman Stephen Jackson had this to say:
I think last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots. This year he’s trusting his teammates, and it’s shown out there, especially tonight. It’s amazing how they went from two guys shooting all the balls to a team that everybody has confidence in everybody else.

"On offense, they are playing together, and guys are accepting roles around their strengths," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

It's important to note that Anthony had a poor statistical night in San Antonio. He scored nine points, shot 3-for-12 from the field and went to the line for only four attempts in 41 minutes -- though he did collect 12 rebounds.

But let's focus on Jackson's comment. "Last year Melo would have forced a lot of shots." Know how many times Anthony took 12 shots or fewer when he played 30 minutes or more in 2011-12? Twice.

Phenomenons like these always remind me of something legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons said a few years ago. Back when sabermetricians identified on-base percentage as one of the most undervalued statistics in baseball, there was a tendency among a small slice of devoted statheads to treat players who didn't draw walks as terminal cases.

Gammons, who was by no means dismissive of analytics, was quick to point out that strike-zone judgment could be learned. If a major league player identified that as a weaker element of his game, he could teach himself the skill. He might never lead the league in walks, but he could become a measurably more valuable batter.

Anthony has never been one to draw walks, so to speak, and he probably hasn't been called coachable in years. But what if he can teach himself how to take pitches? What if he can, at 28, pick up the nuances that allow scorers to make their teammates and themselves more efficient?

Las Vegas Summer League Bullets

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
2:52
AM ET
Chau By Danny Chau
ESPN.com
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Understanding Atlanta and its fans

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:39
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Atlanta Sports Fans
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images Sport
Is Atlanta a "real sports town" like New York?

I practically grew up at the Omni. I had a more familiar relationship with our chain-smoking usher decked out in her red sateen jacket with the octogonal patch sewn on the sleeve than I did with the administrators who roamed the halls of my elementary school.

At the time I started attending Hawks games, the population of metro Atlanta was around 2.3 million people, qualifying it as a medium-sized market still in its relative infancy as a major league city -- the Falcons were the first to arrive in Atlanta in 1965. When I attended my first Hawks game in 1981, the team had been in Atlanta for only 13 years. At age eight that meant nothing to me, but for my father, who was born and raised a couple of miles from the Omni, the Hawks were still a novelty. For most of his lifetime, southern cities simply weren't candidates for big-league sports teams for reasons ranging from economics to history. It's not a coincidence that major league teams arrived just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Those teams have now been in the city for more than 40 years, but Atlanta still suffers from the reputation of being a horrible sports town. The city's pro sports teams -- most notably the Braves -- have trouble selling out postseason games. Even though the Hawks have climbed into the ranks of the NBA's elite and feature an electrifying roster of athletes, they still rank in the bottom half of the league this season in attendance -- behind the Wizards and just a smidgen ahead of the Clippers. The question of support is all the more riddling because Atlanta has become a magnet for multi-national corporations over the past 25 years.

In today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Michael Cunningham reports that the Hawks are frustrated that, many nights, supporters of the opposing team are more vocal at Philips Arena than Hawks partisans:
The marquee teams and stars who’ve visited Philips Arena this season have been too warmly received for Woodson’s tastes.

“It shouldn’t be that way,” Woodson said. “There [are] enough people in this city to support the Hawks. I think we are a fun team to watch. We’ve grown definitely over the years, from the time we started to where we are today.

“Sure, I’d like to see more people in their seats and rooting for our guys.”

Instead, the Hawks have seen fans root for opponents in their house.

... Now Woodson would like for Hawks fans to do their part to make Philips unwelcoming for visiting teams. That’s how it was for the Pistons when Woodson was an assistant coach there prior to taking over the Hawks.

“When you came up in The Palace, you were in ‘Detroitland,’” Woodson said. “They [fans] made the difference in a lot of ballgames that we won. And it needs to be like that here.

Pop-sociologists have all sorts of theories for the general apathy in Atlanta. They cite the temperate climate, which keeps residents outdoors for much of the year. They point out that Atlanta has produced only one championship in the collective 152 seasons that the four major sports have been played in the city. In recent decades, the traffic on the ribbons of highways that snake through the region has become hellacious and a commute downtown at rush hour is an awful experience.

Each of these factors plays a part, but I like Jamal Crawford's theory a little better:
Hawks guard Jamal Crawford makes the case that support for visiting teams is due to the significant number of transplants in Atlanta. Crawford was on the other end of that equation when he played for the Knicks, who were supported by relocated New Yorkers in several cities.

Since I attended my first Hawks game in 1981, that 2.3 million has grown to nearly 6 million people who live in the region. Needless to say, native Atlantans aren't procreating at a frenetic rate. More than a third of the people who moved to the city between 2000 and 2004 were from out-of-state. That domestic migration is a huge factor in the region's growth. Overall since 2000, nearly 50,000 more US-born people from somewhere else in the country are arriving in metro Atlanta each year than leaving. Global migration represents a big part of the population boom, as well -- 13.4 percent of metro Atlanta's population is foreign-born.

There's a logical counter-argument to all of this: More people should mean more fans, irrespective of where they were born, right?

Yes and no.

If you've ever spent time in an older city outside the Sun Belt, you know how central sports teams are to the natives. Bostonians, New Yorkers and Chicagoans have passed down their loyalties from generation to generation. My late grandfather was born at Georgia Baptist hospital in 1916. He was a native Atlantan through and through. He loved his city and its institutions -- but none of those institutions were sports teams. By the time the Hawks arrived in Atlanta, my grandfather was in his early-50s. Few rabid sport fans cultivate visceral attachments to expansion teams as 50-something empty nesters. The serious middle-aged fans I know grew up listening to Red Barber, Jack Brickhouse and Marty Glickman. Those voices were the tour guides to young fandom. My grandfather didn't have that, and it wasn't something he could pass on to me.

By and large, I found the Hawks at school, where a band of nine year olds rallied around Dominique Wilkins, who was arguably Atlanta's second larger-than-life athlete behind Hank Aaron (Steve Bartkowski and even Dale Murphy didn't carry the same kind of charisma). Those of us who were native Atlantans (only about half the class, even in the mid-80s) weren't raised on tales of Earl the Pearl or Bill Russell. The only sports anecdotes my father relayed to me were stories of watching the International League's Atlanta Crackers at Ponce de Leon Park.

So the dynamics in Atlanta go further than even transplants. Natives themselves have a shallower pool from which to draw. Does that excuse Atlanta's lackluster fan support, particular when you consider the Portland Trail Blazers entered the NBA two seasons after the Hawks moved to Atlanta? Does a city need to apologize for its collective apathy toward its sports teams? These franchises aren't institutions like the school board or law enforcement agencies, or even non-profits like museums or the opera -- entities that require civic support to survive. The Atlanta Hawks are an entertainment product whose profits go into the pockets of some very wealthy individuals. Would I like to see my hometown embrace the Hawks the way residents of Salt Lake City and Portland support their teams? Sure. But nowhere else on the commercial landscape do employees bitch about customers not supporting the goods they produce and/or sell. If the foot traffic isn't coming in off the street, then it's up to management to figure out smarter ways to entice those potential customers. The Minnesota Timberwolves are figuring that out. So are the Charlotte Bobcats.

I don't mean to criticize Mike Woodson or any other Hawk who'd prefer that Josh Smith get more applause at Philips Arena tonight than Kobe Bryant. That's a reasonable wish, but it doesn't change the fact that, for a bevy of reasons, the organization is up against some tough conditions. Business is business -- particularly in an exploding market where there are more ways than ever to spend your money.

Saturday Bullets

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
11:39
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Jason Kidd's unusually clever play

February, 26, 2010
2/26/10
11:07
PM ET
Hollinger By John Hollinger
ESPN.com
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Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images
Mike Woodson took a charge from Jason Kidd that ended up costing Atlanta.

ATLANTA -- Jason Kidd may be an old dog, but he still has some new tricks up his sleeve.

With 1:36 left in regulation in the Mavs’ 111-103 overtime win over the Hawks, Kidd made a move he said he’d never tried at any level. It was the veteran move to end all veteran moves -- a player drawing contact from an opposing coach.

“That play just presented itself,” said Kidd. “It’s just something that’s reaction and understanding what the team needs.”

Atlanta led 97-95 at the time as Kidd dribbled down the left sideline and saw Hawks coach Mike Woodson a full step into the court directing his players where to be on defense. Woodson didn’t see Kidd barreling toward him, but Kidd knew exactly how to take advantage.

The 36-year-old vet dribbled even further left than normal, straight toward Woodson, and made sure he drew contact. Woodson leaped away at the last minute, but he’s been retired for 20 years now and his instincts aren’t quite as sharp as when he was starring for the Kansas City Kings. The result? Contact between Kidd’s extended forearm and Woodson’s chest, and an automatic technical foul on Atlanta. Dirk Nowitzki’s free throw gave Dallas a key point that cut the Hawks’ lead in half -- one that proved crucial since the game eventually went to overtime.

“I went in a straight line,” said Kidd. “If I can’t beat him [to the spot], I’m in trouble.”

“[The official] said I was on the floor,” said Woodson. “I tried to move back and I was moving back and [Kidd] reached over the line and grabbed me.”

As near as anyone can tell, this was one of the few instances of such a play ever happening -- one coming when Milwaukee coach Del Harris collided with Denver guard Michael Adams in 1991. That play, however, happened because Harris walked on to the court to protest a call; Adams never intended to cross paths with him. Then Sonics coach Bob Hill "fouled" Rip Hamilton in 2006.

This play, on the other hand, happened because Kidd forced it to happen. Teammate Jason Terry called it the smartest play he’d ever seen.

“I saw him on the court, and we needed to get us a point somehow,” said Kidd. “I made the officials make something happen. He’s not supposed to be on the floor but for some reason it’s a fashion thing for coaches to be out on the floor…I’m surprised it hasn’t happened more.”

Kidd and Woodson shared some words immediately afterward, but it wasn’t bad blood as much as immediate lobbying to the refs for what to call.

“He was talking like I tried to take him out,” said Kidd. “I was saying you can’t be on the floor, you’re a coach, you’ve got no uniform on.”

As both Carlisle and Mavs owner Mark Cuban pointed out afteward, it should have been a technical foul on Woodson regardless since he was well out of the coaching box. But it likely would have slid had Kidd not forced the officials to make the call -- Woodson isn’t the first coach to wander on the court while giving defensive instructions.

“Sometimes you take a step or two [out],” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. “It’s very rare to see a coach out as far as he was, but it does happen.”

Kidd’s veteran move was one of two rare plays he contributed to in the fourth to help rally Dallas from a 13-point deficit in the last five and a half minutes of regulation. The other was a five-point play with 4:50 to go that cut Atlanta’s lead from 11 to six. First, Dallas got a foul and basket from Brendan Haywood. When he missed the subsequent free throw, Kidd grabbed the offensive rebound and quickly pitched it out to an open Jason Terry, who sank a 3.

That sequence was part of a lightning fast 12-0 Dallas run that took just 1:39. Kidd’s fingerprints were all over it -- after the five-point play, he stole a pass to Joe Johnson and threw ahead to J.J. Barea for a run-out lay-up, then found Dirk Nowitzki for a wide-open 3 on the next trip.

Kidd, who finished with 19 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds in what Carlisle termed “an all-time great performance,” then teamed with Nowitzki (37 points) to finish off the Hawks in OT. Kidd posted Mike Bibby with the Mavs up by four and 1:06 left and, when Atlanta’s Josh Smith inexplicably doubled him, kicked to an open Nowitzki for a 3-pointer that all but sealed it.

Nonetheless, it was a play Kidd made that did nothing for his own stat line that everyone in both locker rooms talked about afterward.

“He did what he had to do,” said Woodson. “I’ve got to take the hit for that.”

Mike Woodson on what works

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
5:17
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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SLAM's Lang Whitaker spent 36 hours embedded with the Atlanta Hawks, during which time they picked up a nice road win over the Mavericks. It's a fun, occasionally PG-13 for language, read.

In a hotel ballroom, the morning after a game and a flight, Woodson addressed the team as Whitaker scribbled notes. Woodson said:

This team has a chance to do something special if you believe in each other. If you feel like what we’re trying to do on the court isn’t going to work, speak up! I have zero ego as a coach, none. If you think you see something that’s going to work better than what we’re trying to do, speak up! Say something to me! But what I’m telling you guys is that if you guys will just consistently do what we’re asking you to do on defense, we’ll win games. I don’t give a s--- about the offense; you guys can score more than enough points to win games. The offense isn’t the problem. But you have to get stops on defense, and if you’ll listen to what we’re telling you, I promise you’ll get stops. The s--- works, okay? The s--- works, but you guys just have to have the pride and the heart to buy into it and do what we’re asking you to do every time down the court. ...

Guys, I’ve been in this League as a coach and a player for 28 years. I won one title with Detroit a few years ago, but I’d like to win some more, and I know all of you guys would, too. Look, your clock is ticking. My clock is ticking. We’re not going to be around this League forever. This team is possibly good enough to win a title. You guys who weren’t here before this year, I’ve never been able to say that before this season. But you guys could do something really special. You just have to trust each other and do what you’re supposed to do out there on the floor. The s--- works, you just have to execute and trust.



Apparently the Hawks got the message. Later that night, in the locker room after the win, this was the conversation:

“Guys, great win,” Woodson rasped. “Remember what I said? You can win playing defense! We struggled with the offense but your defense was terrific.”

“The s--- works!” blurted out [rookie Jeff] Teague, cracking up the entire room.

“That’s right, it does, it works,” Woodson said, smiling. “Alright guys, let’s get home. You’ve got tomorrow off, and then we’ll come back in on Monday and get back to work. No more let ups, guys!”

“No excuses!” yelled [Al] Horford.

“No sir, no excuses, guys,” Woodson said. “Oh, and guys, today is Josh Smith’s birthday. Jeff Teague, get up here and sing Happy Birthday, rook.”

The short shot clock in Cleveland

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
10:07
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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After being toasted for most of the season's first two months as the newest inductee into the Eastern Conference elite, the Hawks lost in miserable fashion to a Cleveland team Tuesday that dispatched them in four games in the conference semifinals last spring. Atlanta didn't score for the first 8:48 of the fourth quarter.

Exactly 24 hours later the Hawks had a chance to redeem themselves, albeit in a much more hostile environment on Cleveland's home floor. Coming off the mortifying loss Tuesday night, an Atlanta win was improbable, though not impossible.

The Hawks came to play. They led by 12 at halftime, and answered each Cleveland run. The Cavs clawed back in the fourth quarter, and the final five minutes was a see-saw affair shaping up as a regular season classic with big shots by Joe Johnson, LeBron James and Mo Williams.

With 1:58 remaining in the game and Atlanta leading 99-98, Mo Williams misses an awkward runner that doesn't draw iron. Al Horford comes down with the ball.

Watch the sequence and pay attention to the shot clock.

It doesn't reset as the Hawks bring the ball upcourt for arguably their biggest possession of the season:



Hawks head coach Mike Woodson spends a few minutes lobbying the game officials. With no dead ball between Josh Smith's rushed attempt to drive to the hole against an artificially short clock, and Varejao's putback on the other end that gives Cleveland the lead, there's no reasonable resolution if you're Atlanta other than rewinding the clock to 1:57 and giving the Hawks the ball for a full possession.

Of course, that would mean nullifying Cleveland's ensuing bucket, something I can't imagine would sit too well with the Cavs.

Wednesday Bullets

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
12:19
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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  • You know that old basketball meme that says a coach drawing a technical foul is one way to fire up his team? As Bret LaGree of Hoopinion enumerates, the possessions following Mike Woodson's technical last night in Atlanta were every bit as ugly as the ones that preceded it. Hoopinion also had this morsel in its recap of the Hawks' loss to Cleveland: "It's easier ... to work in isolation ... than to put in the hard, collaborative work to integrate five players in a productive concert of motion. It's easier to walk the ball up the court than it is to work hard to get the ball, be it via turnover or defensive rebound, then press on to push the ball up the court and attack a defense before it's set."
  • The Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman on the relationship between Alonzo Mourning-Michael Beasley: "Michael and Zo talk just about every day immediately after practice. Zo also pops his head into the locker room after games, looks at Beasley, shakes his head with a smile, and keeps on going. When Zo is looking to take his kid home after games, you're not sure if he means Trey, his 13 year old, or Michael, his 20 year old."
  • Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles on the mystery surrounding Ron Artest's concussion: "The problem is we still don't know what happened because he doesn't know what happened. During the course of the impromptu 10-minute long press conference at halftime, Artest said some variation of the phrase 'I can't remember' 15 times."
  • Rahat Huq of Red94 on the mixed emotions that accompany Tracy McGrady's departure: "This team, as currently composed, will need an elite player to attain the heights it seeks. While the vision had crumbled of McGrady once more becoming that player, I felt he could at least masquerade in the role, utilizing the vestiges that still remained of a once deadly arsenal, boosting the team through close fourth quarters. But that will not happen – Tracy McGrady is gone."
  • Zach Lowe noticed an interesting trend when the deliberate Celtics' offense confronts one of the league's get-out-and-run squads, at least prior to the Celtics' loss at Oakland Monday night: "Bizarrely, the C’s have had a lot more trouble against the hares of the league when they drag the hares down to Boston’s own tortoise pace. When they give in and run like crazy at the hares preferred speed, the C’s have been 6-0 against Golden State, Indiana, New York, Phoenix and Minnesota since the start of last season."
  • It's a pretty amazing feat: The last time the San Antonio Spurs weren't a top five team in defensive efficiency was 1996-97. This season, they rank 14th. Basketball Free For All examines the roster to figure out why.
  • Graydon Gordian of 48 Minutes of Hell gets the full Gregg Popovich treatment during the postgame press conference following the Spurs win over Minnesota.
  • The Bobcats and Raptors meet tonight in Toronto. In their last meeting at Charlotte, the Raps lost by 35. Zarar Siddiqi on the pre-Thanksgiving massacre: "You might recall the last Bobcats game, it’s the one where you almost stopped being a fan. You know how in movies when a violent crime is committed against somebody, the memory is a bit hazy and they only remember the most shocking parts, and when the police asks them to recall the events of that miserable night, they burst into tears because they just remembered how awful it all really was."
  • According to Dan Steinberg of D.C. Sports Bog, it appears as if the Washington Times won't have sports section after tomorrow.
  • What's sent the Wizards spiraling from respectability? Matt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm offers this theory: "In a way, LeBron killed it. And I know that hurts.But when he spoke to Gilbert at the line, something changed. Nothing was right after that. It was just disaster after disaster, be it the quiet unfortunate kind (the playoff elimination sans Gilbert), the abject demolition (the injury 08-09 season), or this year, the death of hope."
  • Clippers center DeAndre Jordan tweets: "My boy @Baron_Davis came to the plane in a cashmere robe and sweats, so we decided it was time for a photo shoot babyyyyyyy ... http://tl.gd/1d7io"
History finally catches up with the Pistons, in unceremonious fashion. The Spurs need help from their supporting cast to avoid a similar fate. Meanwhile, the Celtics-Bulls series is shaping up as a postseason classic -- and the Hawks as a postseason bust.

LeBron JamesJohn Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "This game felt more like an execution than a coronation; there's a strange lack of pleasure in taking this team that was once a juggernaut, that handed LeBron [James] his first playoff loss and bore witness to his greatest triumph (so far.) Ben Wallace was wearing our colors. Chauncey [Billups] is on fire a thousand miles away. The once-raucous Detroit crowd was chanting 'M-V-P' for LeBron instead of 'DEE-TROIT BASKET-BALL,' the tale of how the Pistons leading the league in attendance but having to send e-mails to Cavalier season ticket holders to fill their seats for the playoffs, a stark reminder of how Detroit's infastructure has crumbled around it while Allen Iverson and his $13 million dollars can't be bothered to be in the building. Those facts, tossed off in the third quarter, stirred up more emotions than anything happening on the court."

Tony ParkerMatt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "[Tony] Parker's been brilliant. But as we've seen, the Mavs are essentially running Kobe rules on Parker. Throw different looks at him, let him get his, and shut down the rest of the squad. If the usage rates were more evenly distributed, you could at least make the case that the rest of the Spurs are trying, they're just not falling. However, the Spurs got to where they are by playing a team game ... I'm not trying to make the argument that Spurs need to have Parker score fewer points. Because that would be like saying I should dig my way out of a hole by throwing my shovel out of the hole. But what's happening is the Spurs aren't forcing the issue with their other components, the Mavs are playing better defense ... and the Spurs are turning to their two superstars to bail them out. If the Spurs want to get back in this series, they need to force the issue with the rest of their roster. Unfortunately ... it doesn't look like the talent is there for them to produce like that. Maybe believing in a team concept is only effective if you have productive members of the complete effort."

Paul PierceZach Lowe of Celtics Hub: "In this epic, ulcer-inducing 121-118 Bulls win, there were so many key moments in the last 30 seconds of regulation and the two overtimes that it's almost impossible to even remember what came before, let alone isolate a key moment from the first 46 minutes of the game. Just think, in the last 30 seconds of regulation and the two OTs, we had: Not just one, but both teams electing not to foul when nursing a three-point lead with fewer than 12 seconds to go ... three really great free shooters missed free throws in a 17-second span of the first overtime ... two separate misses on lay-ups by Glen Davis ... Doc [Rivers]' decision to bring Tony Allen off the bench cold to defend Ben Gordon with the game tied at 93-93 ... and at least three Pantheon Clutch Shots." 

THE FINAL WORD
Piston Powered: Now that that's over...
Hoopinion: Mike Woodson's curious substitution patterns.
The Two Man Game: The evolution of Dirk Nowitzki.  

(Photos by Allen Einstein, Ron Hoskins, Jonathan Daniel/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Shootaround

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
11:26
AM ET

The Hawks can't switch on defense to save themselves. Let's switch up the playoff format.  Switch Brian Scalabrine for Kevin Garnett to no ill-effect?!  Flip the switch at the TrueHoop Network:   

Mike BibbyBret LaGree of Hoopinion: "...Mike Woodson seriously diminished the Hawks' chances of winning in Utah when he decided that, defensively, this team would spend the season switching on every screen. It's a functional strategy against teams with a limited number of offensive options and/or little off-the-ball movement. Against Utah it essentially rendered the Atlanta defenders stationary, calling out switches but never moving their feet as the Jazz players ran their offense without interference.

It's an odd, passive choice for a team that has an admitted problem with playing hard. Certainly, in general, some ground must be ceded in deference to Bibby's defensive limitations in order to reap the benefit of his offensive talents. I don't believe this to be any sort of platonic ideal of a defensive basketball team but they haven't been challenged to become a better defensive team. In the terrible home loss to the Clippers, Acie Law IV got chewed out by Woodson and Marvin Williams for screwing up a defensive possession by having the temerity to try and fight through a ball screen. A blown assignment? Yes. An example of a young player trying to earn more playing time by giving extra effort? Yes, also, but his effort was viewed primarily as disruptive rather than positive. A small moment, to be sure, but one that has obviously stayed with me for more than two weeks."

Patrick Ewing

Mike Kurylo of Knickerblogger: "This week marks the 5th anniversary of KnickerBlogger. When I started this venture, I didn't imagine it would last this long. Five years ago, blogging was still in its infancy. There were less than 2 million blogs when KnickerBlogger came into existence. Just six months after, the number of blogs had doubled. Today it's unknown how many blogs there are. One estimate is 200 million. Many of them are powered by individuals like myself.

More important than the number of blogs is the role they perform. Once derided by the mainstream media, just about every newspaper, magazine, and network hosts their own blog. They are now an essential part of the world's information and entertainment. Blogs fill an important niche in the world. Previously the only avenue for the common man to voice his opinion was through those who held the keys to kingdom. Often his voice was not heard by the public. Blogs have taken the words of the everyman and projected them from the world's tallest soap box.

Five years ago my goal with KnickerBlogger was to create a platform for those who felt their opinion was not represented in the mainstream. Judging by the other readers who come here to share their thoughts and my affiliation with True Hoop Network that allows me to bring these voices to the mainstream, it seems that I have succeeded. I can only wonder what KnickerBlogger will be in five more years."

BracketsMatt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "The eighth spot in the East should be a tournament. It would be a three-day tournament held the week before the playoffs. The runner-up gets an extra 4% in the lottery. And it would be some of the absolute best basketball you're going to see this season. I don't envy the college game for the randomness of March Madness, I love the assuredness of the Association's championship system. There's no doubt at the end of the season that the champion has earned it and deserved it. You can debate a team was better but the sample size is sufficient to provide legitimacy. But for the East's eight spot? Who cares about legitimacy? We're all aware that no team is surviving playing three days in a row, then having to turn around and travel for a seven game series against the best team in the East. But it would be terrific ball. Derrick Rose versus Deven Harris. Villanueva versus Harrington. The Raptors bizarre mutation versus the composite Bobcats.

This is logistically impossible, and impractical to the nth degree. But I say it because you should know that under your nose, as the rest of the League rots in the downturn, carrying out the same pattern that's been set, there is a shimmering pool of imperfect, incredible basketball happening underneath your local stations."

THE FINAL WORD
Hornets247: Welcome back, Tyson Chandler.
Celtics Hub: No KG, No problem.
Roundball Mining Company: The Nuggets are looking weary.

(Photos by Gary Dineen, Fernando Medina, Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images)

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