Scott Brooks got Kerr’d

When Mark Jackson chided the Bay Area media for looking down on 51 wins, he was not wrong…

But Joe Lacob fired him anyway, and replaced him with Steve Kerr. Who won an NBA historic 67 games!

I believe this created a “Kerr affect” across the NBA. Scott Brooks is the second victim.

The first victim was Mark’s old assistant, Michael Malone. I have no doubt that Vivek Ranadive, who hangs on the Warriors’ every move, noticed that Kerr was instantly better than Jackson. And that gave him the courage to move.

Scott Brooks is the second victim of the the Kerr affect. His players loved him, he went to the playoffs every year (except this one!). But Sam Presti thinks that another coach can take them to the next level.

As Tolstoy says, every unhappy happy family is unhappy in its own way. That’s what makes OKC fascinating. Clay Bennet was apparently content to eke out a profit while making the playoffs. Durant and Westbrook liked Brooks. Sam Presti spontaneously changed the rules of the game.

So now, OKC, and Sam Presti, are on the clock. If OKC does not advance to the championship round, Presti has failed. If one if his stars bolts, Presti has failed. There are not a lot of good outcomes for Presti, short of a championship.

 

Playoff Weekend

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I love the first weekend of the NBA playoffs. Finally, 8 games that count, between teams that care. Sadly, this year, most of the the games were dull.

I suppose Wizards over Raptors counts as an upset. Except, I happen to agree with Paul Pierce: nothing about the Raptors scares me. Both teams are incredibly bad at playing offense. No ball movement, no apparent plan. They both pound the ball for a while, then make something up. Dull, dull basketball.

The interesting series are:

1) Mavs/Rockets. Interesting that Carlisle hurled Stoudemire repeatedly against Dwight Howard in the first half. Amar’e didn’t score much, but Howard racked up 3 fouls and had to sit. After that, Rondo drove  without resistance.

The Mavs made so many mistakes it was comical. Dirk kept pausing to yell at his team-mates. I think they will turn it around, and make this series competitive.

2) Cavs/Celtics. Cavs started to pull away in the 3rd quarter, then Kevin Love picked up his 3rd foul. Incredibly, Blatt did not take him out, and Stevens did not attack him! After a couple of understandably tentative minutes, Love just went off. If the Celtics had spent those two minutes driving at him, he may have either let them off the hook, or committed his 4th foul. Either way, the game changes.

I think the Celtics have the right guys to beat the Cavs, but they don’t start. Jae Crowder gives Lebron problems, defensively. IT2 can’t be stopped by anyone on the Cavs. Kelly Olynyk can’t guard anyone, but I don’t think Love can stay with him either.

3) Spurs/Clippers. It’s a fascinating chess match when Popovich is coaching in the playoffs. Most likely, the Spurs are emotionally spent after 2 straight trips to the finals. But they will not go down easily.

 

 

Lately it occurs to me…

The Warriors are just ridiculously good. I do not know how to feel about this. It’s undiscovered country…

2-way players are now a thing. For the longest time, we had offensive and defensive specialists. We could celebrate them separately, and debate their value individually. A few good teams are still split like this. But the best teams are stacked with 2-way players…

Kevin Love – not a two way player. And you are always better off with 2-way players. That’s why Mo Speights is suddenly the best center on the Warriors. He scores, and plays D…

Jeff Van Gundy gave away the secret on Friday’s broadcast: if you want to rebuild quickly, skip the fruitless pursuit of stars. Instead, sign hard-hat, 2-way players in their prime. He listed four, including Draymond Green. I agree. If someone is smart enough to make Green a max offer, I think they will pry him away from the Warriors, and reboot their franchise. Ahem… Lakers?

What an upside-down season we are having. Best 2 teams in the West? Try Warriors and Blazers. Best in the East? Would you believe Hawks and Raptors? In a few more months, conclusions will be drawn, and the league will re-configure around those conclusions. Best to get on the bandwagon now…

Speaking of getting on the bandwagon now… There is an unprecedented number amount of player movement so early. The trade deadline has been dull for two years, so now teams just pull the trigger early. The deadline will be dull again, I’m sure…

Playing for next year (or 3 years hence, in some cases) is now a thing. A bunch of teams do it. Makes you wonder if a soccer-style 2-tier system would be best for the NBA…?

Mark Jackson – the story that will never die. At this point, Warriors fans just have to embrace it. It is one of those awkward situations where both sides are right. Jackson had a huge impact, and earned an extension, in any normal universe. But Steve Kerr is taking the Warriors to the next level, proving that Qui-Gon Jinn was right: there’s always a bigger fish…

 

 

 

Malone and Jackson, coaching’s Odd Couple, still connected

Michael Malone was sacked last night. Apparently due to philosophical differences between him and the Front Office. Weirdly, a big part of the King’s Front Office is the owner, Vivek Ranadive.  Who personally hired Malone the second he bought the team.

You know what else is weird? In this super-saturated media world, no one saw it coming!? There are a bunch of articles today saying something like “yes, of course, we all knew he was on the hot seat…” Wait! What? It’s possible to follow the NBA more closely than I do, but not by much. I heard nothing about this.

I wrote once about having a sense of the moment. It’s about knowing that the end is already upon you, and winding things up before it gets ugly. Only a few lucky people have this sense. Apparently, Ranadive is not one of them. He could have replace Malone in August or September, but instead threw away a quarter of a season on a guy he had no faith in.

Like the Lakers in 2012, the Kings had deep reservations about their coach going into the season. They used an early losing streak as an excuse to fire him. Which is all well and good, but it wipes out the rest of the season. I can only think of two times that replacing your coach early led to success: 1979-80 Lakers (won the title, but the league was very different then), and the 2004-5 Nuggets (went 32-8 under George Karl to reach the playoffs).

And guess who the supposed leading candidate for the Kings opening is? Yep, gorgeous George Karl.  This could get interesting.

One of the other names mentioned as a replacement is our old friend, Mark Jackson. I think that’s a big reach. Jackson’s principle qualifications are: 1) he is friends with Chris Mullin, and 2) he’s available. But if, as is now reported, Malone was fired for not playing up-tempo small ball, why would the Kings hire MJax? Even ardent supporters have to confess that he was offensively limited, and preferred to pound it inside, just like Malone. I guess Jackson’s name will keep coming up, for every opening, for the next couple of years. It will be interesting to see if he gets another job. Steve Kerr is killing Jackson’s brand with the hot start.

What if time.What if Malone stayed with the Warriors last season? Jackson’s staff retains credibility. Perhaps there is no division on the staff, out of respect for the Jackson/Malone tandem. The Warriors win 51 and still lose in 7 to the Clips, but it seems like less of a failure, more of a “reached-their-peak.” Jackson gets his big extension after all.

Here’s another: What if Ranadive fired Malone after watching Joe Lacob’s latest magic trick: firing his 51-win coach and replacing him with an even better one? Malone and Jackson, coaching’s Odd Couple, still connected.

 

 

 

Can the Lakers keep their pick?

The Lakers owe the Suns a 1st-round pick. It is top-5 protected this year. So the Lakers will have to finish in the bottom 5 of the league to keep it.

To get a handle on this, you have to understand the difference between:

  • Strategic Tanking (ST)
  • Tactical Tanking (TT)
  • Plain-‘ol-Bad (PB)

Strategic Tanking is like first degree murder – it requires malice aforethought. You have to carefully plan to be bad, then ruthlessly execute your plan. Last year, there were an unprecedented six STs. This year, I only see two: Sixers and Celtics.

Tactical Tanking is what happens when teams take advantage of a slow start, and just give up. See the Warriors, 2nd-half of the 2011-12 season. This year, we can expect a few teams to become TTers. At some point, the Wolves, Pacers, and Magic will realize they aren’t contending for anything.

And then there are teams that are just bad. They look okay on paper, and they want to win. But they have mis-matched parts, and they over overmatched by 10 other teams in the own conference. I’m thinking specifically of the Kings, Pelicans, Jazz, Bucks, and Pistons.

So where do we place the Lakers? Before the opener tonight, I would have said PB leading to TT by January.  But after tonight…

I think Mitch Kupchak is an evil genius. The ST is on!

Kupchak was tasked this summer with putting together a roster that would both:

  • sell tickets, and
  • lose regularly

Sell tickets: Kobe, Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer, Linsanity, Ed Davis, Swaggy P.

Lose regularly: Ronnie Price, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre, Carlos Boozer,.

And so far, so good. The Rockets are a good-not-great team, and they just drubbed the Lakers by near 30. Byron Scott limited Kobe’s minutes, which means it’s entirely possible that he is in on the fix.

Julius Randle had the potential to swing some games, but broke his leg tonight.

Zach Lowe rates the Lakers as 4th worst. Actually, his worst ranking is:

  1. Sixers
  2. Wolves
  3. Kings
  4. Lakers
  5. Pacers

Obviously, I disagree. The Kings are a PB team, and the Wolves will be a TT team starting in January. The Pacers will try really hard, and they are in the East. Meanwhile, the Celtics are ST-ing. And so are the Lakers! My ranking looks like this:

  1. Sixers
  2. Lakers
  3. Celtics
  4. Wolves
  5. Magic

Nobody is worse than the Sixers. But the Lakers are so sneaky bad (and playing in the West) that I see them cruising to number 2. The Celtics will try to win,  but they’ll be sabotaged at regular intervals by their GM. Flip Saunders will eventually embrace tanking, and the Wolves are in the West, so they will lose a lot. The Magic are also going to switch to TT-ing later, but they are in the East, so they’ll finish above the Wolves.

 

Bodies are not cars

Ever since MLB discovered the “pitch count,” sports fans have formed a “athlete’s bodies are like cars” metaphor. And it is false.

Every athlete has a certain amount of effort stored up inside. Granted. But it varies by individual. And it short-term. And it declines by year. Which means, in NBA terms, that quoting someone’s supposed “mileage” is BS.

Example: LeBron has 40K NBA minutes on his 29-year-old body. Is that relevant? Maybe.

See, every minute does not count the same. When Lebron was 20, maybe those minutes hardly affected his body. Tom Tolbert is famous for recounting how life in the NBA is a picnic.

Maybe LeBron loafed 25% of his minutes last year. How do you calculate that?

From my very-limited perspective, playing lots of minutes in any given night does not matter. Nor does playing heavy minutes every night. An NBA game is only 48 minutes of clock-time. There are lots of breaks. The country is full of guys who play more than 48 minutes a night in rec-leagues and pick-up games. Number-of-minutes is a stupid metric in the NBA.

What really wears in the the NBA is the every-night expectation. Football players play once-a-week. Baseball players take nights off without remark. NBA players are expected to show up, at top level, every night. For 82 games.  When Gregg Popovovich famously rests his plays for a game, the team gets fined a quarter million dollars. No rest for the weary.

If you really want to measure a guy’s NBA mileage, you have to gin-up some formula that accounts for:

  • heavy minutes
  • in close games
  • where the player is one of the top-2 scorers on his team
  • home or away
  • with how much rest (back-to back? three-games-in-four-nights?)

Let me know when that exists.

 

Melo

He is returning to the Knicks. Of course.

Look, he is waiting around, hoping to unite with another All-Star. But it’s not happening. He can take the NY money, the LA money, or the (much smaller) Chicago money.

Seriously, as long as Jerry Reinsdorf owns the Bulls, they are:

a) never exceeding the tax
b) out of the free agent market

Sorry, not happening. The Lakers money isn’t far off from the Knicks,  Does Melo want to live in NY or LA? That is the question.

Meanwhile, the Lakers will show up here every year, hoping for the fist “piece.” The first piece is a guy who draws other guys. Melo could be that guy. But so could other (future) guys. If the Lakers miss this year, oh well. They’ll get another one. Later.

 

Waiting for Wade (and Melo)…

It is the end of day three of free agency. The Heat stars have not broken radio silence. Well… mostly. Chris Bosh’s agent surfaced long enough to debunk a rumor that had Bosh settling for $11MM/year. Not happening.

So now, the whole world waits for the King, as it should. If LeBron re-signs with the Heat (probably for max-money), then Bosh can soberly decide to accept a pay cut to keep playing with LeBron. Or not. We’ll see.

But wait! I think the whole thing depends on Dwayne Wade. If Wade takes a huge paycut (say, to $10MM/year), the Heat will gain tax space even as Lebron gets paid. That induces LeBron and then Bosh to re-sign.  If Wade holds out for $16MM+, LeBron may bolt (because the Heat will be taxed-out). And if LeBron leaves, will Bosh accept less than max-money himself? The whole Heat cookie could crumble in the next week.

If LeBron flees, and Melo returns to the Knicks, Bosh can get mad-money from the Lakers! Would he still stick with his BFF Wade in that case? What if the Heat won’t match the Laker bid?

After the Decision II, lots of money becomes available. Maybe Cleveland makes that max offer to Gordon Hayward after all. Lots of teams have cap space. Some of them want to win.

Four summers ago, the Big 3 conspired to take less money and form a super-team. Now, they could blow up that team with rational decision making.  There is an owner vs players angle to this as well.

Meanwhile…

There are several teams who are hoarding money for Melo. I don’t see Chicago winning this race, because they can’t/won’t clear enough cap space. That makes it a three horse race between the Knicks, Rockets, and Lakers. Too close to call.

On a related note… the Bulls will amnesty Boozer when Hell freezes over. Jerry Reinsdorf is not giving away a dollar. Not now. Not ever.

If Melo signs with the Knicks, it unlocks a lot of money with the Rockets. Mavs, and Lakers. I look for the Lakers to pull a Cuban, and load up with high-dollar, short-term contracts.