Archive for May, 2010

Links To The Present: May 28, 2010

Friday, May 28th, 2010

“The Cavaliers’ coaching search will likely be long and have plenty of twists and turns especially with much nationwide scrutiny as it relates to the future of LeBron James. There will likely be plenty of information and even some misinformation, and retaining perspective on the process will have value for fans.” [Brian Windhorst on the Cavs Coach Search]

“I see Michael Jordan is not there, Scottie Pippen is not there … You know, these guys are not a part,” Wade told the Tribune. “Things like that. So that is probably one of the biggest things for me, because I am a very loyal person.” [The Loyal Dwyane Wade from Chris Broussard's Article]

Short Story:  Was talking to my friend Wes today and he says “Dude, my fiancee is FROM California, and is a sports fan and she doesn’t even know what city the Clippers play in.”  With that in mind…[Clippers Fans Hold LeBron Parade]

Anyone reminded of Rajon Rondo’s two airballed floaters that lead to PJ Brown’s game 7 putsbacks?  “Airballs often create offensive rebounds. You see it all the time.” [Brian Windhorst's Twitter]

Students from Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art painted a billboard with a message to LeBron: You are “the heart of it all” in Ohio. Choose Loyalty. The billboard is located on the campus of Case Western Reserve University (Euclid Rd.) next to Thwing, the student union. It is most easily seen from Bellflower Rd. looking south, very close to the Severance Concert Hall. The hope is that this comes across to LeBron somehow, and he remembers the loyal fans in Cleveland when he makes his decision this summer. The artists encourage Clevelanders to make more noise about LeBron staying in Cleveland to stay competitive with NYC, Chicago, and everywhere else.

So LeBron enjoyed a concert in Cleveland.  I’d like to show off the chip on my shoulder and make some comment about how the coastal elites probably can’t even believe that concerts go on in Cleveland, or that LeBron would even attend a concert in Cleveland.  I’ll just post the link as proof that it happened.

LeBron to judge a dunk contest.

Kelvin Sampson, Mega-Summit, and other things

Friday, May 28th, 2010

-So, Kelvin Sampson. Let me preface all of my thoughts on Sampson by saying that I don’t really watch college basketball. Ideologically, I’ve never really liked the whole “the NCAA makes billions of dollars on athletes whom they refuse to pay anywhere near their market value and cries ‘see no evil’ any time a player or coach acts at all like NCAA sports are a business” thing.  (I swear I thought this before I started attending USC.)

So anyways, the point is that I don’t care what Sampson did or didn’t do with his conference calls or whatever it was when he was at Indiana.  When he’s coaching the big boys, that stuff won’t matter in the slightest. On the other hand, I don’t really know his body of work as a head coach. I like that he’s been tutored by the Spurs and served as an assistant with the Bucks, both of whom have solid on-court systems. My gut reaction to Sampson is that the Cavs could do worse, but they could also do a lot better.

-In better news, William Wesley may be manipulating Tom Thibodeau’s decision! Seriously, I’m excited about this. I am a huge, huge, huge Thibodeau backer. Look at what he did/has done to the Cavs and Magic’s offensive game-plans. (Although the Magic do finally seem to be adjusting a bit.) For the past decade, he’s been the assistant coach on a team with a top-five defense. How many coaches, in any sport, have that kind of track record? The man is the Leo Mazzone of basketball.

I know his profile — defensive whiz, successful assistant on a championship team, et cetera — makes him seem like Mike Brown 2.0, but he’s been doing this a lot longer and a lot better than Brown had been when the Cavs hired him. LeBron + another big FA + a Thibodeau defense = scary.

-So, the LeBron/Wade/Joe Johnson mega-summit. Your thoughts? Personally, I think they were all probably arguing about which of them will get to play with Chris Bosh next season.

-Yes, part of me is a bit frustrated that Kobe is now 0-2 in game-winners in the playoffs and 2-2 in having his teammates bail him out. That said, this one wasn’t nearly as tough as the Thunder one to watch. First, it would have been a miracle comeback for the Suns. Second, the Lakers were going to win in overtime anyways. Third, Kobe played well enough to deserve that win. I am at peace. I’m not sure if that means I’m dead inside or not, is the thing.

-Derek Fisher is of the occult.

-Question for readers: would you prefer the Magic or Celtics to win this series? One of these days I’ll figure out how to make polls, but until then have at it in the comments.

Links To The Present: May 26, 2010

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Mike Brown provided the following statement on Wednesday, May 26th, 2010.

Mike  Brown
Brown

“The past 5 years have been an exceptional experience. I have been very fortunate to lead a group of men who I respect and thoroughly enjoyed coaching on a daily basis. At the same time, I was able to work alongside a terrific coaching staff and with Danny Ferry and a basketball operations team, all of whom I have a profound respect for. We partnered in creating a culture and a standard that I am, and will continue to be, very proud of. None of which would be possible without the dedication and support of Dan Gilbert. I am thankful for the opportunity that he gave to me and my family. We have a deep appreciation for Northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Cavaliers organization, and the people in this community, and have enjoyed making this our home.”  [Cavs.com]

“However, that relationship seemed to erode during the playoffs, when James publicly disagreed with his coach’s motivation methods and in-game decisions. Behind the scenes, sources said James and Brown differed on game plan choices against both the Bulls and Celtics.  No matter what, Brown will be moving away from Cleveland’s west side, where he became a part of the community and formed many friendships. [Brian Windhorst]

“According to sources, the team did not let go Brown’s assistants. That fact is not a formality, especially with the assistants’ strong reputations and relationships with key players, including LeBron James.” [Brian Windhorst on the Cavs Assistant Coaches]

“It couldn’t have been that great. Stats aside, there was no difference in LeBron James’ approach between Games 5 and 6 of this year’s second-round series with Boston. And you can’t have that, this late in the game. There has to be some desperation, be it implied or legitimate. Someone needs to sweat, before the ball even goes up. You never got that from Brown. And, by extension, you never got that from James and company.” [Kelly Dwyer on Mike Brown]

Gotta Love Ozzie Guillen I guess when you only hit 28 dongs in seven THOUSAND at bats you might have an inferiority complex against superstars

“This apparently was not enough for the Hoopster in Chief. The President has now given an interview to TNT — to run in full on Tuesday — and in it he explained that while he doesn’t want to meddle*, well, the Chicago Bulls have an awfully good young core of players, don’t they?  Isn’t it amazing how hard the President is working to not meddle in the affairs of an NBA basketball player?” [Joe Posnanski - SI]

Checking back in with a big list of fears

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Before the playoffs, I wrote and posted a “big list of fears” for the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Now that the playoffs are over, let’s check back in on some of those fears. The stuff in italics are my (unedited, minus the intro) thoughts from before the playoffs. The stuff in normal font are my current thoughts on my previous thoughts. Without further ado:

1. Re-Integrating Shaq
I think Shaq is a great player. I think he’s been playing basketball for long enough to not need much of an adjustment period. He’s playing around savvy veterans who should know how to fit him back into the starting lineup right away. His early-season struggles were as much about Shaq being out of shape and out of sync than any issues with adjusting to the system. By all accounts, he’s kept himself in excellent shape, and seems to be focused 100% on a title.
That being said, Shaq has barely played with the Cavs’ projected starting power forward this season. He hasn’t played in a game since February. For whatever reason, they thought it was the right move to keep him inactive in what would have been a scrimmage game to end the year. Now he’s going to start a playoff game on Sunday? Add that to the fact that Shaq isn’t a plug-and-play guy; he has very pronounced strengths and weaknesses, and there’s risk inherent in trying to incorporate those during the most important playoff run in franchise history.
Everything should be fine. Shaq’s a pro, he’s in shape, and the Bulls don’t present any significant matchup problems for him. But the Cavs’ starting center for the playoffs hasn’t played since February. I worry about this.

1. Re-Integrating Shaq

I think Shaq is a great player. I think he’s been playing basketball for long enough to not need much of an adjustment period. He’s playing around savvy veterans who should know how to fit him back into the starting lineup right away. His early-season struggles were as much about Shaq being out of shape and out of sync than any issues with adjusting to the system. By all accounts, he’s kept himself in excellent shape, and seems to be focused 100% on a title.

That being said, Shaq has barely played with the Cavs’ projected starting power forward this season. He hasn’t played in a game since February. For whatever reason, they thought it was the right move to keep him inactive in what would have been a scrimmage game to end the year. Now he’s going to start a playoff game on Sunday? Add that to the fact that Shaq isn’t a plug-and-play guy; he has very pronounced strengths and weaknesses, and there’s risk inherent in trying to incorporate those during the most important playoff run in franchise history.

Everything should be fine. Shaq’s a pro, he’s in shape, and the Bulls don’t present any significant matchup problems for him. But the Cavs’ starting center for the playoffs hasn’t played since February. I worry about this.

Yeah, this turned out to be a problem. Shaq reverted to how he started off the year, demanding the ball in the post and forcing hooks instead of moving without the ball and trying to get easy shots. He also had problems with the athleticism and physicality of both Noah and Perkins, particularly on the boards. His defense was often suspect. He had some great offensive games, but the Cavs were usually better off with the big fella on the bench. One thing I would like to know is whether or not he would have accepted a demotion to the bench when he was coming back from his injury.

2. Backcourt Production

This isn’t about trusting Mo Williams. I know Mo had a bad series last year, but I don’t think of him as a choker or anything like that. I fully believe that Mo Williams is very good at his job. The trouble is that Mo Williams has a very difficult job. Mo is competent at running the offense and can attack the basket from time to time, but the strength of his game is outside shooting. That means Mo will be counted on to put a ball through a 10-foot hoop 25 feet away from him with large men running at him and trying to make him miss on a consistent basis. This is a very difficult job. It is almost impossible to succeed at Mo’s given task more than half of the time. Since Mo doesn’t have a lot of ways to contribute if his shot isn’t on, I worry about this.

Delonte is the Cavs’ second-best guard, but he’s been terribly inconsistent all year. His three-point stroke never really came around, and he’s been asked to do more on-on-one scoring instead of trying to slash and make his teammates better. He has a good midrange game, but he’s often hit-or-miss as a scorer. Delonte’s talent is still there, but he hasn’t retained his consistency with his move to the bench.

Parker is a spot-up shooter like Mo, but he’s almost completely worthless if he’s not making his threes. As was previously mentioned, making threes is very difficult in an NBA game. His defense is solid, but it’s not good enough to forgive him being an albatross on offense.

Yeah, this was a problem. Mo and Rashard Lewis are learning similar lessons: it’s really hard to succeed against a defense as good as Boston’s when you rely on spot-up threes to score. They rotate fast, the pressure is on, and they pride themselves on not giving up the open looks from the perimeter Mo lives off of during the regular season. Even when Mo played well, he had to play insanely aggressively instead of being able to play his game.

Delonte made some nice plays, but he couldn’t buy a three and he had trouble scoring from the field. AP played as well as can be expected of him — the problem is that the expectations on AP weren’t all that high to begin with.

3. Jamison and Ilgauskas’ shot selection

Jamison is a wonderfully talented player who is capable of doing just about everything on offense and enjoys the occasional scoring explosion, but he takes too many forced jump shots early in the shot clock, especially from a foot or two inside the line. Ilgauskas’ shot has been off all year, and he still settles for it instead of drawing out the defender and rotating the ball. Both of these guys are capable of making those shots, but that doesn’t always mean they should be taking them.

This turned out to be a non-issue. Jamison’s shot selection was fine most of the time, and Z didn’t play enough to have his shot selection become a problem.

5. Free-Throw Shooting

Of the five starters, Mo is great, Parker isn’t a sure thing, LeBron is streaky, Shaq is historically terrible, and Jamison is historically decent and currently historically terrible. Giving up 4-8 free points in a playoff game is not a good idea. I wish the Cavs had more guys they could confidently put on the line late in games.

Didn’t turn out to be a huge problem. Free-throw shooting cost the Cavs game three against Chicago, but since none of their losses to the Celtics were close, you can’t blame any of them on free-throw shooting. So there’s that.

6. Rotations

Who doesn’t get minutes between Shaq/Varejao/Jamison/Hickson/Powe/Z? What about Parker/Gibson/Moon/Williams? How much should Delonte play? Mike Brown is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make based on the matchups and who has the hot hand. I don’t believe he coached a terrible series against the Magic, but giving Ben Wallace Joe Smith’s minutes was a catastrophic error. I hope history doesn’t repeat itself this year.

This is already starting to become a dead horse, but rotations were a major problem. Not having more small-ball lineups for Boston was an absolute disaster.

7. Rust

Low on the list, but on the list. If the Cavs blow out the Bulls in the first round, they were rested. If they struggle, they were rusty. Resting the guys was the right call, but it does disturb me how long it’s been since the Cavs’ starters played.

Complete non-issue.

8. I wish it was possible to combine Jamario Moon and Anthony Parker.

I don’t like how little Parker brings to the table at times. It’s tough to see someone that passive as a starter on a championship team. But do I trust Jamario Moon to hit a wide-open three or not commit a bad foul in a close game? No I do not.

The Cavs needed more of Moon’s length and athleticism to defend the Celtics, but Parker was the one hitting shots.

9. LeBron’s perimeter game

LeBron is easily the best player in the league. I worry about literally every player on the roster before I worry about LeBron. But he will have games where he can’t get to the paint at will and will start launching out of frustration. It’s either easy baskets or impossible shots. I really wish there was a middle option, be it some shots from the 8-15 foot range or a post-up game, but what’s there is very good. Still, I worry.

This turned out to be a huge problem. Just like the Spurs and Pistons did in years past, the Celtics loaded up the strong side on LeBron and knew where to rotate when LeBron got trapped and had to pass. LeBron’s jumper was on in game three, and that was the game the Cavs dominated. In the Cavs’ four losses, James had trouble getting anything going outside the paint. Please develop some post moves and a better mid-range game, LeBron.

A few thoughts on Mike Brown’s departure

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Well, that felt fairly anticlimactic. Mike Brown, who’s been the coach of the Cavaliers for the majority of the LeBron era, won the coach of the year award last season, has one of the best winning percentages among active coaches, and is the only man to have ever coached LeBron James in a playoff game, was fired on Sunday night. When it happened, most NBA fans wondered what took the Cavaliers so darn long to do it. As unfair as that may seem, that’s today’s NBA for you. (By the way, sorry for the late response to this on my part — I spent the last 24 hours moving and away from a computer.)

Make no mistake: firing Brown was probably the right move, given the situation. The bottom line is that the Cavs have failed to meet expectations in the playoffs for two years in a row. When a team fails to meet expectations, the weight of those expectations falls on the coach. More often than not, he finds himself out of a job. After a disappointing season, someone is going to be the fall guy, and it’s a lot easier to change coaches than it is to make a major roster move. If you can’t change the product, change the packaging.

That would be true any year, but it’s never been more true than it is this summer. With so many potential franchise players choosing where they’re going to play next season, perception is everything. On some level, it doesn’t matter if Mike Brown can coach or not at this point. Lots of people think he’s a bad coach, and that is a big deal with this free agency market. Even if (if) LeBron believes in Mike Brown, do you think a guy like Chris Bosh would beg for a sign-and-trade because he wants to play for Mike Brown? Regardless of how the Cavalier brass felt about Mike Brown, they ultimately weren’t left with much choice in this situation.

And that’s a shame, because Mike Brown didn’t deserve to have it end like this. When he took the Cavaliers over, they did not play defense. Without any major roster upgrades, he turned Cleveland into one of the best defensive teams in the league. Under his watch, LeBron James improved tremendously on both ends of the floor. In the 2006, 07, and ’08 playoffs, the team outperformed expectations every year through pure grit, defense, rebounding, and hustle. (And LeBron, although his offensive production used to go way down during the playoffs.)

He did his best to make adjustments when the team made major roster moves, often bringing in players who represented potential defensive liabilities. During this year’s regular season, he constantly tweaked the lineup in the face of a slew of injuries, allowing the Cavs to get the #1 record while playing a variety of styles.

And then the Celtics came and took all of that away. The Celtics beat the Cavaliers convincingly, and then it was time for Mike Brown to go. Maybe he would’ve had a chance if the series hadn’t have been so ugly, but it was. The facts are these: the Cavs won six games this post-season, their lowest playoff win total in the last five years. The Cavs almost never got blown out in the playoffs before — over the course of six games, they were blown out twice on their home floor. After that kind of performance, change is necessary. But how much of the blame for the Celtics fiasco should honestly rest on Mike Brown’s shoulders?

Mike Brown certainly made some mistakes in that Celtics series. His offense wasn’t complex enough to create open looks against Thibodeau’s defense. The intensity was not where it needed to be. He didn’t have his rotations ready for Boston, and not having enough “small-ball” lineups ready to match Boston’s athleticism was a fatal mistake. It’s Monday morning quarterbacking, but there are things Brown probably should have done differently in that series.

All of that being said, let’s take a second to acknowledge that Mike Brown had a very tough task in front of him during that series. Look what he had to work with:

-The Cavs’ three major acquisitions (Williams/Jamison/Shaq), who had been forced into the starting lineup and were brought in to win big playoff games, were all horrible matchups for the Celtics and were often hurting the Cavs in one way or another when they were on the floor. To put it bluntly, they were $40 million worth of suck. What do you do in that situation? Remember, these are supposed to be the players Mike Brown could lean on in tough situations. Do you cut the minutes of three of the four highest-paid players on the team during the most important games of the season? Do you tweak the starting lineup? Wouldn’t those moves reek of desperation?

-A reminder: the starting center and power forward had barely played together coming into the Boston series.

-Mike Brown went into every game having no idea who the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th-best Cavalier was going to be that night.

-The Moon/Parker/West SG situation was a nightmare to figure out. Parker would hit threes, but he would get attacked on defense and was too passive offensively. Delonte made hustle plays and changed the game at times, but he couldn’t find the basket. Jamario’s length was exactly what the Cavs needed on defense, but then he’d miss a wide-open three by a couple of feet.

-J.J. Hickson started for almost the entire year and seems like the kind of athletic big the Cavs needed, but the Celtics were exploiting him on defense every time he touched the floor. Every time Hickson came in, it was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Should MB have trusted the 21-year old to figure it out?

-Do you bring in an ice-cold Boobie Gibson? Or how about Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was the team’s starting center up until this year and was an afterthought player coming into the playoffs? Again, how common are radical rotation adjustments like these in the midst of a playoff series?

Plus the team was getting killed on the boards. Plus the defense wasn’t there. I’m not saying any of the above is quantum mechanics, but the front office gave Mike Brown a LOT of things to figure out in a matter of weeks, and then on a game-to-game basis. Coaching-wise, the degree of difficulty in managing that rotation was darn near off the charts. Mike Brown has always been a guy who prevents losses more than a guy who creates wins — why is everyone acting shocked and betrayed when he failed to perform the roster alchemy necessary to beat a surprise Boston team that the roster hadn’t been built for?

It was Mike Brown’s time to go. That doesn’t mean it’s time to grab the rope and a rail. For five straight years, the Cavs made the playoffs. They won 66% of their regular-season games during that time, and 59% of their playoff games. Mike Brown coached defense, and took the Cavs to the playoffs because of that defense. He never made excuses, got into it with the players or the media, and never let his ego get in the way. He had the perspective and humility to publicly cede control of the offensive schemes over to assistant coaches. He never complained about the perception that his teams were winning in spite of him. He just put on his tie, spit in a cup, and coached very good basketball teams. He never did get that title, but neither have a lot of coaches who are held in a different stratosphere of regard than Brown ever will be. Was he the best guy to manage a team with the kind of the talent the Cavs had over the last two seasons? Maybe not. But over five seasons as a head coach, Mike Brown has shown himself to be a good man who can coach basketball.

Coaching jobs in the NBA are a funny thing. Brown likely won’t be getting a slew of plum offers coming his way anytime soon thanks to his reputation, and there’s only so much any coach can do for a team without much talent. I could see him getting a young team to play defense and sneak into the playoffs in the next couple of years, like Larry Brown and Scott Skiles did this season. At this point, I don’t see Mike Brown coaching a serious championship contender anytime in the foreseeable future. There’s a very good chance that Mike Brown will never have big-time success as a head coach, and an even better chance that his accomplishments over the last five years will be widely dismissed. Sports fans like quick narratives, and Mike Brown’s rubber stamp may always read “Over-matched, under-imaginative coach who may have kept LeBron from winning a ring.” That doesn’t mean Brown’s accomplishments as a Cavs coach didn’t happen, or that he doesn’t deserve a bit of respect for those accomplishments. For all that happened, and all that will be said and written, I hope Mike Brown knows that he could have done a much worse job during his time in Cleveland.

Links To The Present: May 24, 2010

Monday, May 24th, 2010

“Those problems plus, according to sources, some disagreement over some game plans for playoff games with some of the team leaders eventually led to some discord in the locker room during the Celtics series” [Brian Windhorst on The Firing of Mike Brown]

“Usually, teams want new coaches in place before the draft and the start of free agency. But with the circumstances, the team may not be able to make a decision until after James does. That might not be until July.” [Brian Windhorst on Possible Cavs Coaches]

“I think we’re all at fault — the players, everybody. You have to, at some point, accept some of the responsibility. We all have to do that. A coach only can take you so far. At some point you have to do it yourself and we didn’t do it. I think coach Brown will be fine. He’ll be coaching again, and I’m very sure he’ll have success.” [Z from Mary Schmitt Boyer's Article]

“The defensive imprint he had made on the team was, however, similarly overstated, at least of late. A rash of regular-season injuries forced Brown to play a style of basketball in which he did not truly believe. Fitting it all back together on the fly in the playoffs was a task beyond Brown’s means, particularly since the game plan was so different with Shaquille O’Neal than without him.” [Bill Livingston on Mike Brown]

“As the Cavs begin their search, they can’t worry about what James wants in a coach — unless it’s a guy who has a reputation of clashing with most superstars. They need to find the best coach possible, because who knows what James will do.” [Terry Pluto on the Cavs Search for a new Coach]

“For the next five weeks or so, James is a Cav, and the team has the opportunity to try to keep it that way before other teams can officially communicate with James. That means Gilbert has a chance to execute a hire that will excite James and firm up his passion for playing in his hometown.  The Cavs owner, who was the driving force behind the firing of Brown, who had also lost the support of James and his teammates, has already shown that he will spend money on talent. And with that in mind, general manager Danny Ferry will attack the trade market like a corporate takeover specialist.” [Brian Windhorst Special to ESPN]

But money talks.  And Dan Gilbert – despite not exactly breaking the bank over the course of the last two seasons – is arguably one of the most willing spenders that the city of Cleveland has ever seen.  The fact that the Cavaliers could be devalued by over $100 million in the event of James leaving may make the money needed to sway either Jackson or Krzyzewksi be considered marginal at best. [Scott - WFNY]

“But Brown helped James elevate his game. Buying into Brown’s defense-first mantra, James was selected to the NBA’s all-defensive first team the past two seasons. Brown convinced James that a chase-down block was just as awe-inspiring as a monster slam. But many — including President Barack Obama — questioned how much James respected Brown. The coach was tuned out by the media because of his lack of meaty sound bites. Was that the case for the players, too?” [Marla Ridenour - ABJ]

Links To The Present: May 21, 2010

Friday, May 21st, 2010

“And what does it say to a city, to a region whose glory has passed, if its brightest and only star were to decamp? Is it finally time to turn off the lights? If LeBron were to leave for New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, it would be entirely understandable. The legacy of Jordan has led us to this; the elite athlete as a global brand, the image of a multinational corporation. But if James stays, he will have essentially decided that hearth and home is more important than the calculus of hard currency. It will have been a genuine and personal choice. And maybe, in some small way, it will imply that the rust belt is not quite finished yet, as long as people with talent and ambition are willing to stay and rebuild it anew.” [Krai Charuwatsuntorn - ClipperBlog]

“All these rumors out there are absolutely untrue,” said Carter, the most powerful voice in James’ inner circle. “LeBron just wants to win. He doesn’t want to handpick his next coach.” [Maverick Carter from Chris Broussard's Post]

There are about 2^4096 people I’d like to have the NBA investigate for Tampering regarding LeBron James.  Marc Cuban is NOT one of them..

“Truth is, politics and casinos aside, I think Dan Gilbert is the best owner this town has ever seen. He is passionate about the team, but willing to let his coaches, players and front office personnel do their jobs. He supplies financially for every need they might have. He isn’t afraid to spend money. When was the last time you thought that way about a Cleveland owner? If there is hope for the future of basketball in Cleveland (particularly in a post-LeBron setting) Dan Gilbert is a big reason for that hope.” [RICK@WFNY]

Links To The Present: May 20, 2010

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

“Windhorst first met James in 1999, when the player was a freshman at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in Akron. Like James, Windhorst also attended St. Mary’s and the reporter’s mother, Merrylou, taught health and religion there. “I like to joke that she taught LeBron sex ed, and she also taught that to me, too,” he said.” [Richard Deitsch - SI]

Brian Windhorst’s Podcast

Kevin Garnett talked about getting out while you can, but guys like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant have stayed. Bryant wanted to leave the Lakers a couple years ago, but he sure looks happy there now. Paul Pierce never left Boston, though things were pretty bleak at times. He seems happy.
For every example of a guy leaving and finding the pot of gold, there are more who stay and are even happier. (Heck, at this point, Shaquille O’Neal looks like a vagabond.)” [Pat McManamon - Fanhouse]

A look at how Cap Holds affect the Cavs this summer

Taking Danny Ferry to Task for 2005 Moves

Insider Trading Now Legal, Apparently

Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora wrote on the Playmaker Mobile website that James should avoid New York.  “Personally, I think he should stay in Cleveland. I will say this, if he does come to New York, don’t have a bad game. Not one, because Knick fans will come down on him. It goes both ways.” [Marc Berman - NY Post]

What to look for in a new Cavs coach

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

This much is obvious: there’s no way Mike Brown and LeBron will both be on the Cavaliers sideline next season. I’ve been a Brown defender over the years, and looking past Boston instead of putting real time into developing some lineups with a Varejao/James/Moon frontcourt is really the entire organization’s fault. But when teams fail to meet expectations, it’s the coach who’s usually the first to go. So, assuming (for the time being) that LeBron comes back, here are the qualities should look for in a new coach:

1. He has to be able to convince LeBron to stay.

Let’s all be honest with ourselves for a second. If LeBron returns, the Cavaliers will at least compete for a championship in the next couple of years. If he leaves, they will not. It doesn’t matter if the LeBron-less Cavs get a coach who is inhabited by the spirits of Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Tex Winter, and John Wooden. The Cavs will be better with LeBron if their new coach’s strategy is to turn the frontcourt into the Human Centipede. Pretending otherwise would be foolish. It’s not ideal, but there it is.

Do I wish that LeBron wasn’t so insistent on hand-picking a coach, especially when he may value personal relationships over coaching prowess when he makes his selection? Of course. On the other hand, look at things from LeBron’s point of view. He’s the guy getting most of the blame when his teams lose, and it’s his legacy on the line more than anybody else’s. So you can’t blame him for wanting to have as much control as possible over his situation. It is what it is.

2. He has to coach defense first.

Mike Brown was a defense-first guy and things didn’t work out. That said, going out and getting a run-and-gun coach would be putting out a fire with gasoline. This was the most disappointing Cavalier playoff run in recent memory. This was also the season where the Cavs were more inconsistent on defense than they have been since Mike Brown took over. I can’t remember a Mike Brown Cavs squad ever being as content to try and outscore opponents as the Cavs were this season. It worked in the regular season, but it was their downfall in the playoffs.

It’s not a coincidence that the Magic, Lakers, and Celtics were all top-five teams in defensive efficiency this season. Tom Thibodeau has picked apart the Cavs and Magic by coming up with two brilliant defensive strategies — load up the strong side against LeBron and anticipate the skip pass/kick-out, and single cover Dwight Howard and stay at home on the Magic’s shooters. Even when Dwight started scoring on Perkins in game two, Thibodeau stuck to his guns. Compare that to MB, who panicked after KG hit a few step-back jumpers over Shaq in game six.

3. He has to take advantage of LeBron’s versatility.

LeBron can play the four in a small-ball lineup. He can run the point effectively at times. He’s deadly off the ball, and just as good as a playmaker. LeBron showed all of those things this season, but when push came to shove MB didn’t deviate from lineups that featured him at the three. The next Cavs coach has to be confident in his ability to mix up his strategy when it matters most, and that starts with using LeBron in a variety of ways.

4. He has to manage the game, not the egos.

This is where having a “big-name” coach helps. Mike Brown was way too hesitant to bench his big stars when they weren’t getting the job done, and that killed the Cavs against the Celtics. Shaq’s minutes needed to be slashed. Jamison had no chance against KG. LeBron should have been spending time guarding KG. LeBron should have been posting more. Mo Williams should have been spending a lot more time on the pine. Jamario Moon needed to play a lot more.

Despite all of that, Brown continued to give the players with the biggest names and the biggest salaries minutes over the players who would have given the Cavs the best chance of winning. Maybe convincing Shaq to come off the bench was an unwinnable battle, but there were other situations where Mike Brown could have benefited his team by standing up to its players.

5. He has to find a way to coach LeBron.

Coaching LeBron correctly is a catch-22. On the one hand, LeBron is one of the most dynamic talents the game has ever seen, and limiting his freedom on the court will almost always end up hurting the team. You want LeBron being involved in any play as much as possible, because no player can impact a game in more ways. Is a possession where LeBron is forced to wait on the block or the weak side for a good shot, possibly never getting touch the ball, really better than giving LeBron the ball at the top of the circle with 18 seconds on the clock and living with the results?

At the same time, there are times LeBron desperately needs coaching. His footwork in the post needs improvement. He needs to be more aggressive when he does post up. His shot selection from the perimeter is often puzzling, particularly his heat-checks. So what do you do when he disobeys you? Bench him? The team will always be worse off with LeBron on the bench, and LeBron knows it. That makes him tough to discipline. It’s not an easy task, but LeBron’s coach needs to find a way to get through to him without handcuffing him in any way. Good luck.

6. Develop a lineup that can actually fast-break and put pressure on teams with their length and athleticism.

Not all fast-breaking teams need to be bad defensively; just look at what the Celtics did when the Cavs played them. Lineups with length, a real push guard next to LeBron, and solid, swarming defensive rotations should be able to force turnovers, grab long rebounds, and get out on the break. LeBron might be the best open-court player in the history of the NBA, so this isn’t rocket science.

That’s what I have for tonight. Let me know your thoughts.

Some notes on the NBA Draft Lottery

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

(Note: I do not put myself in the company of King or Ghandi. I just like good basketball.)

So it’s the Wizards who get the #1 overall pick. Of course it is. Of course it is. That’s just perfect. Of course the franchise whose fanbase has made hating LeBron a defining aspect of their fandom gets arguably the best pure prospect since LeBron himself. That’s just absolutely wonderful.

Wizards fans, it’s been fun. We all know what I’m talking about. Now, as your franchise was on the brink of collapsing because Arenas brought guns into the locker room, you get a potentially great player to call your own. And you know what? I’m going to enjoy watching him. I love watching John Wall play, and I’m excited about a Wall/Arenas backcourt. A Wall/Arenas/Joe Johnson/Blatche/McGee lineup is very intriguing. The only bummer is that Washington’s best young player on their current roster plays the same position as Bosh/Amar’e. If Blatche was a center, things could’ve gotten really interesting.

Anyways, my point is this. I wish John Wall all the best in his career with the Wizards, and will sincerely enjoy watching the Wizards a great deal in the future. Whether Wizards fans like it or not.

As much as I’d like to say “Maybe if you’d been nicer to LeBron, he might have gone to the Wizards,” I don’t think it would have happened anyways. I don’t think he’ll leave Cleveland for that market, and the Wizards haven’t shown that any of their big men can play a lick of defense. Both big concerns.

Anyone else feel better after the Celtics handling the Magic like this? I’m impressed with their poise — they kept playing Dwight straight up, even after he started scoring on them. Similar to how the Spurs played Nash back in the day. I’m beginning to think the Celtics are the new Spurs.

Also, Rondo. Calling him one-dimensional is missing the point. Sure, he doesn’t shoot, but he has as many options as any guard. Look at the moves he pulled out in the paint today. There was a dream shake. There was a behind-the-back fake. There was that insane reverse with all the English. He can throw passes to the interior or exterior with either hand when he’s in the paint. The defense knows where he’s going. But they don’t know what he’s going to do when he gets there. That’s just as effective as an inside/out game.

Poor Vince Carter. Man, I hope LeBron doesn’t end up that way.

LeBron to the Nets — almost definitely not happening! Now it’s Chicago or Cleveland, with New York being an outside possibility. If I haven’t gone on record with this before, I will now — if LeBron is a Knick next year, it will be for non-basketball reasons. Still can’t count out the possibility.

Alright, that’s all for now. Have fun, everyone.