Posts Tagged ‘Isiah Thomas’

Jump ball!!!: the Phil Jackson debate

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: What does it take to make the transition from great coach to great GM and does Phil Jackson have it?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The debate will rage on for years, long after the results are in and a legitimate case can be made one way or the other about the job Phil Jackson will do as the boss of the New York Knicks.

The initial surge from the hire has subsided, just a bit, and as the Knicks’ last-gasp effort to unseat the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference plays out, it’s a good time to restart this conversation.

Plenty of experts have weighed in, most of them no more qualified to dish on the prospect of Front Office Phil than they claim Jackson is for a job in the front office after making his championship bones (11 times as a coach and twice as a player) on the other side of the line.

My colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, lit the flame this time, questioning Phil’s credentials (it’s blasphemy, and will get you banned from Original Tommy’s Hamburgers for life all over the Southland SHC!).

I had to come to the defense of the Zen master, anyone who has been the common thread in as many championship situations as he has shouldn’t really need defending … but I had to go there in Jump Ball!!!  …

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 3:00 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: JUMP BALL !!!

I get why Knicks fans and players are excited: because they need any reason to be excited. But all the organization did by hiring Phil Jackson was win the press conference. James Dolan did something popular for a change and brought in a superstar. But Phil is a coaching superstar, not a front-office success. He has a lot to prove to earn this attention in the new job.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 1:48 PM, Smith, Sekou

You get Knicks fans, huh? They’ll boo you at the Garden for even suggesting something like that. The Phil factor is much like the Bill Parcells factor was in the NFL, his mere presence alone signals bigger things to come for whatever franchise he is working with. Seriously, ask folks in Dallas and New England. The Knicks need someone who can be held accountable for the big picture vision of the franchise. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with a plan … but if you can get one, why not?

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 5:43 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Would you like a straw or will you drink the Kool-Aid straight from the jug? His mere presence doesn’t signal anything other than the Knicks willing to spend a lot of money. “Bigger things to come” is a slogan, not based in fact. Phil is a brilliant basketball mind. I think, if anything, he is underrated as a coach. I am a fan. But they did not hire coach Phil Jackson. They put someone in charge of basketball operations who has not worked in a front office. And if it’s such a thin line from one job to the other, let’s see how people react when New York names R.C. Buford or Sam Presti or Masai Ujiri head coach. There will obviously be others handling the day-to-day work while Phil handles the big picture and deals in final rulings. But the Knicks are a tangled mess, from salary cap to the roster itself, and he has to get a lot of things right before the Knicks can say they’re at bigger things.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 2:56 PM, Smith, Sekou

Actually, I prefer one of those fancy Camelbak adult sippy cup/water bottles when drinking my Kool-Aid, Scott. You know how I do it. Seriously, though, you are selling Phil short and the job of a general manager in this league way long. I won’t run down the list of knuckle-draggers who have been general managers in this league the past 40 years or so, but there haven’t been a ton of Hall of Famers to speak of in that regard. And to suggest that anyone’s success in the NBA isn’t rooted in equal parts blind luck and superior personnel is a farce. You can’t mention R.C. Buford or Sam Presti without also mentioning Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, the cornerstone/Hall of Fame(caliber in Durant’s case) talents that their organizations are built around. I’m not saying those guys aren’t good at what they do. I’m just saying their jobs are much more manageable because of the personnel in place. Presti was no one’s genius before Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden came into their own. And he’d be the first one to shoot down that label. Phil deserves some time and the benefit of anyone’s doubt right now based on his Lord of the Rings status alone.


VIDEO: WRick Fox discusses the nuances of Phil Jackson’s system and how it will work in New York

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:10 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Then let’s do it this way: What has Phil done to win you over? Are you basing his success as a GM on what he did as a coach? (And, again, I’m the last guy who sells him short. I’m the one who said he was underrated as a coach. He is an all-timer. But that’s a different job.)

On Mar 28, 2014, at 4:37 PM, Smith, Sekou

Seriously! We’re haggling over Phil’s credentials to do a job that has been bequeathed to the children of owners, former agents, guys who have graduated from the video room and folks whose credentials pale in comparison to what the Zen master has accomplished in his storied career. Coach or GM, it doesn’t make much difference to me when we’re talking about management style. Phil’s style has produced unmatched success everywhere he’s been. So he didn’t take the GM training course. Folks have to get over that and let’s see what he can do.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 1:08 AM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

So your argument that Phil Jackson is a good hire is centered on “There have been plenty of bad hires before”? And we’re not haggling. We’re having a discussion in the loftiest of all debate societies: the sports media.

On Mar 29, 2014, at 12:06 AM, Smith, Sekou <Sekou.Smith@turner.com> wrote:

Don’t put words in my mouth … er, on my email, or whatever. What I’m saying is this, for you or anyone else to doubt Phil Jackson’s ability to do this job is shortsighted. You clearly have not embraced the Zen! I’m simply a believer in the power of experience. And no one interested in running a franchise has more championship experience than PJax!

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:19 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Experience is great. And Larry Bird successfully made the transition to head of basketball operations without previously working in a front office, so it can be done. But Larry Legend had two advantages. He was very familiar with the personnel after coaching the Pacers. And, Indiana was a good team. Bird had to make adjustments to a stable situation. Jackson doesn’t need to make adjustments. He needs to marshal an overhaul. The Knicks are a mess of salaries and personnel. He will be relying heavily on others for scouting and for cap management. I don’t think I’m being shortsighted. I’m being practical. Phil was a winner like few others, but that was Zen and this is now. He has to prove he can deliver in a new job. Don’t swoon over a GM because of his coaching record.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 2014 6:51 PM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

You’re making this about all of these other guys and not about Phil. Does he have to prove himself as a GM? Sure. Just as all of those other guys did. But you’re acting like all of the work he’s done in the game hasn’t prepared him for this next step and I think that’s ridiculous. I’m not saying Phil is perfect and can wave his magic Zen wand and fix all of the problems facing the Knicks. But whatever issues arise, they won’t be foreign to Phil. He’s worked in championship situations and has the benefit of that vast experience to use in his new role with the Knicks. Don’t knock a guy as a GM before we give him some time to dig in on the job.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper

Date: March 29, 2014 at 11:35:28 PM EDT
To: Sekou SMITH
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

I hope he does well. I just think it’s fair to be skeptical. If he proves it, if he delivers big results, great. But let’s let him prove it.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 30, 2014 7:38 AM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

I knew I’d get you to come around to my side. And I agree, it’s fair to be skeptical. Just as it’s fair to assume, based on his lengthy history, to give Phil the benefit of the doubt we might not give someone else who doesn’t own more championship rings than fingers!


VIDEO: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas talks Phil, the Knicks and the fit

Hang time podcast (episode 151) featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As soon as Phil Jackson accepts the most challenging mission of his professional career, running basketball operations for the New York Knicks, the rest of us can get back to normal.

Any day now PJax, we do have a regular season to finish here Zen master.

Good luck to anyone trying to figure out how having Jackson on board helps fix a Knicks team that is saddled with bad assets through the end of the 2014-15 season, a superstar, Carmelo Anthony, some believing is eyeing his escape route and a head coach in Mike Woodson who has repeatedly been undercut?

There are, of course, some $15 million reasons for Jackson to come out of quasi-retirement to take the job. But it’s still a seemingly impossible task, fixing the Knicks.

We do our best to sort it all out on Episode 151 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network.

We also have the latest installment of “Are You Kidding Me?” featuring special guest debater and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, filling in this week for fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, squaring off with the Dean of Discipline Stu Jackson. They tackle LeBron‘s black mask and the “one and done” rule and whether or not it harms the NBA game.

And someone had a perfect run in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 151 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Morning Shootaround – Jan. 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns willing to pay Bledsoe | Raptors react to Gay trade | Raptors rolling | Malone tutors Thomas

No. 1: Suns willing to pay Bledsoe – The Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe have a good thing going this season. With Bledsoe at the helm, Phoenix is off to a surprising 19-11 start and would be the fifth seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. The Suns realize it will cost them to retain Bledsoe during free agency this offseason. But, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPLA.com, they are willing to spend:

“What he’s done so far is what we thought he could do,” [GM Ryan] McDonough said.

But they just didn’t know for sure.

That’s why when it came time to lock Bledsoe into a contract extension, the Oct. 31 deadline passed without a resolution, making Bledsoe a restricted free agent this summer.

“Sometimes that works out and both parties think it’s a good deal for them. Other times it doesn’t,” McDonough said. “Obviously we don’t have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don’t have a lot of long-term contracts on our books. So we’ll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him.”

Whatever it takes?

“Correct,” McDonough said. “Any reasonable offer.

“We have some advantages. We’re able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We’re able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we’re holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric’s had a good experience here so far. He’s played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we’re doing.”

For his part, Bledsoe said he’s fine with the situation.

“I was telling [my agent] over the summer, if the contract doesn’t happen I’m ready to play a full season,” Bledsoe said. “I was confident because I’d worked hard all summer, and I knew that I was going to play a lot more than I did the last three years, so I was ready.”

When that came to bear, Bledsoe said he put the situation out of his mind.

“I’ve just got to play,” he said. “I’m focused. I need to keep moving. I’m not worried about [the contract]. If I get worked up about it, I won’t be focused on the game.”

***

No. 2: Raptors React to Gay Trade — Mostly every NBA player realizes that this league is a business and trades happen. Still, this knowledge does not make receiving the news of a trade any easier for players to hear. NBA-TV Canada offers us a rare look at how the Toronto Raptors reacted to the news of a trade on a recent episode of their series Open Gym (reaction starts around the 10:00 minute mark):

***

No. 3: Raptors RollingThose same Raptors who were shocked to hear about their friends being traded have bounced back just fine. They’ve won five of their last six games and appear to be a rare team in the Eastern Conference who can actually win. And they’re doing it with toughness, a word rarely used to describe the Raptors in recent seasons, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

Once again turning up the intensity, the attention to detail, the effort and the toughness when it came down to winning time, the Raptors rolled in another excellent fourth quarter, holding the Bulls to just four field goals on 24 shots in the final 12 minutes of an 85-79 victory.

They did it in what is becoming typical Raptors fashion: Turning the screws when the game got tight.

“These are the kinds of games you have to play if you’re going to be serious about being a playoff team,” coach Dwane Casey said after the Raptors won for the fifth time in the last six games and seventh time in the last nine.

“We have to play with that kind of toughness, that physicality, if we’re serious about being a playoff team.”

Toughness was the buzzword of the night for a game that at times was barely watchable. There were no moments of sustained offensive flow, no fast breaks or transition baskets; it was tough, hard-nosed, beat-’em-up basketball and the Raptors never retreated an inch.

Digest that for a moment: A team that used to have a reputation for softness more than anything, hit first, hit often, hung around and beat a veteran team at its own game.

“You have to meet their force with force if you’re serious about winning,” said Casey. “We did that and we have to continue to do that and I’m not going to let up. I’m not going to relent from that because that’s who we are, it’s who we’ve got to be. I know, to win in this league you have to be a physical, bad-behind team.”

[Demar] DeRozan was, for one of the few times this season, a non-factor offensively because every time he got near the ball, a second or third defender was there to harass him.

“If I have to be the decoy and that helps the next person on this team get an open shot, I’m all for it,” he said. “It’s at the point now where I know I can score the ball whenever I want, but if they don’t need me to do that at that point in time, then I will do whatever I can, whether it’s rebounding, creating a shot for a teammate or whatever it is to get us a win, that’s what I’m going to have to do.”

That attitude is all-encompassing with this group right now.

“I think the guys in this locker room believe — we believe in each other, we believe in what we’re trying to do,” said Lowry. “I think we know we have a chance to do some things and we can take care of business when times are tough. We’re showing the team camaraderie and spirit that we have, we’re all happy for each other.”

.***

No. 4: Malone Tutors ThomasSacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas has proven so far this year that his strong play last season was not just a fluke. He’s averaging 19.2 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game on an impressive 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 42.5 percent from three-point. He credits a lot of his success to the relationship he’s established with new head coach Michael Malone. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the lowdown:

The partnership between Michael Malone and Isaiah Thomas continues to develop as the coach consults the point guard on the best ways to improve the Kings.Malone said fixing some of the Kings’ late-game problems comes down to him calling better plays, and that’s where his relationship with Thomas can help.

“Those things take time,” Malone said. “And one thing I like about Isaiah is we’ve had a lot of conversations, a lot of dialogue, and he’s open, wants to learn and he’s trying to figure it out. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s just a matter of going through it and picking the spots for when do I attack.”

Thomas has referenced Malone and himself more often when talking about plays the Kings should run and the best way to get the ball to players. He and Malone spend a lot of time talking about the Kings.

“On flights sitting together, before practice, after practice, we’ve had a lot of conversations,” Malone said. “Before games where we’ve sat and spent whether it’s been 20 minutes, 45 minutes just talking about the game, players, where guys are most effective, where he can pick his spots. We’ve had a number of conversations.”

Malone’s goal is to create synergy between himself and Thomas because he plays most of the minutes at point guard.

“Isaiah’s got to be an extension of me on the court,” Malone said. “He’s got to make sure he’s getting guys looks, know what plays to call, now what matchups he’s going to exploit and how to get those guys going where they’re most effective, and that’s part of his maturation of going from being a scoring guard off the bench to being a playmaking guard.”

Malone said consulting with Thomas or any other player is part of his job and he wants his players’ input.

“I preach trust a lot, and if I don’t trust my players, it’s just a hollow word,’ Malone said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kyle Korver has now hit a three-point shot in 101 straight gamesKevin Garnett went without a field goal for just the second time in his careerKyrie Irving will undergo an MRI on Wednesday after feeling a ‘pop’ in his left knee

ICYMI of The Night: Paul George decided to end 2013 on a strong note with this dunk toward the conclusion of yesterday’s game against the Cavaliers:


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Paul George

One Team, One Stat: Post-All-Star Improvement From The Kings

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next is the Sacramento Kings, who showed some signs of life (at least on one end of the floor) in the second half of last season.

The basics
SAC Rank
W-L 28-54 25
Pace 96.3 7
OffRtg 103.0 13
DefRtg 108.6 29
NetRtg -5.6 26

The stat

6.6 - More points per 100 possessions the Kings scored after the All-Star break (107.3) than they scored before it (100.7), the biggest improvement in the league.

The context

The Kings ranked 18th offensively at the break, but were the seventh best offensive team after it, better than the Rockets, Lakers, Warriors, Spurs and six other playoff teams. They were still pretty terrible defensively, of course. That’s why they went just 9-19.

But the offense was a breath of fresh air. The offense finished the season ranked 13th, the highest ranking in seven years.

Their free-throw rate and rebounding percentage went down after the break, but they did a better job of taking care of the ball and shot better from both inside and outside the arc.

Kings’ offense, 2012-13

Timeframe 2PT% Rank 3PT% Rank OREB% Rank TmTOV% Rank FTA Rate Rank
Pre-break 46.4% 23 35.0% 17 27.4% 13 15.6% 13 .278 12
Post-break 49.4% 13 38.1% 6 25.0% 21 14.0% 5 .258 20
Total 47.4% 20 36.3% 12 26.6% 16 15.0% 9 .271 14

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TmTOV% = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA/FGA

Two other stats are important. First, the Kings went from 10th in pace (95.2 possessions per 48 minutes) before the break to No. 1 in pace (98.5) after it. And that increase clearly suited them better. They played better both offensively and defensively in their fastest-paced games last season.

Secondly, the Kings increased their assist rate (AST/FGM) from 54.0 percent to 57.7 percent. That’s not a huge increase and, league-wide, there’s no correlation between assist rate and offensive efficiency. But it’s certainly notable when it’s the Kings, who have ranked in the bottom five in assist rate each of the last six seasons.

The highlight of the Kings’ second half was a 116-101 win over the Clippers on March 19, in which they assisted on 25 (68 percent) of their 37 baskets. Watch how, on seven of the 14 threes they hit that night, guys made an extra pass for a better shot…


Hockey assists galore. If their uniforms were white and black instead of white and purple, you might think that was the Spurs. The Kings have had some decent offensive talent, guys that can hurt a decent defense, over the years. But they’ve never really worked together or made the most of what they had.

In that Clippers game, guys were looking for each other. The ball sought the open man and it didn’t stop until it found him.

Marcus Thornton led them with 25 points in that game and was their most improved shooter after the break. His effective field-goal percentage went from 48.3 percent before the break to 57.4 percent after it. Isiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans also improved their shooting and efficiency.

Cousins went from having only 43 percent of his baskets assisted before the break to having 60 percent of them assisted after. If he can permanently cut down on the face-up isos, he might start living up to his potential.

Of course, the Kings made big changes this summer. Evans is gone and Greivis Vasquez – a real point guard – is in his place. Mike Malone is the new coach and brings with him a new system. He’d be justified to start from scratch with this team. But he also might want to show them how good they can be when the ball moves.

Effective field goal percentage = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Isiah On Open Court: Malone Utah’s ‘Weakest Link’; Regrets ’91 Walk-Off





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When you spend the bulk of your life pursuing and achieving the excellence that Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas has, you tend to spare yourself the agony of looking back, second guessing or worrying about the sensibilities you might have offended along the way. Winning championships at every level affords you that luxury.

But Thomas, an NBA TV analyst these days, decided to look back a little anyway when he hit the couch next to TNT’s Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and a cast of other TNT and NBA TV personalities.

Isiah didn’t hold back during shooting for the premiere of the critically acclaimed show’s third season (it will air on Oct. 8 at 6 p.m. ET on NBA TV) . In fact, he made sure “Open Court” will get off to an explosive start when he identified his former rival and fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone as the man who cost the Utah Jazz a title.

“I thought Utah, going back to that team, I thought they had everything it took to win a championship,” he said. “They had the system, the players, the toughness, they were defensive-minded and everything. I always thought like Malone was the weakest link because he wasn’t a good foul shooter. Had he been a good foul shooter they would have beat Chicago.”

When pressed by Johnson about using the term “weak link” in regards to Malone, Thomas didn’t flinch.

“That’s a weak link, because at the end of a game when you are playing at that level, you come down to the last 30 seconds or the last minute of the game, if that guy can’t make fouls shots then he’s the weak link. He’s the guy that you are fouling, the guy you want to put on the line. You’re not fouling [John] Stockton. You’re not putting him on the line, you’re not letting him take the shot. Everything is going to Malone. I thought Malone’s inability to hit free throws is what stopped them from winning a championship.”

Thomas expressed regret for not handling things better against Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls in the 1991 Eastern Conference finals. Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons were swept at home in that series and infamously marched off the floor without shaking hands with the Bulls, a move that sparked a decades-long feud between stars on both sides — most notably Thomas and Jordan.

Ernie Johnson asked if Thomas wishes he’d have handled it differently. The response was immediate.

“Absolutely,” he said. “… looking back, we all should have taken the high road.”

But in the heat of the moment, and with what he called Chicago’s posturing in the media leading up to Game 4, Thomas said the walk-off was orchestrated because he didn’t feel the Pistons were being afforded the respect befitting two-time champions.

Don’t miss all that and more on the Oct. 8 premiere of “Open Court” on NBA TV (6 p.m. ET).

Laying It On The Line: The Answers

.

HANG TIME, Texas – On a recent hot summer day when Allen Iverson announced his retirement, what immediately came to mind was not one single spectacular shot that he made, but all of those fabulous, bone-jarring times he crashed to the floor.

And then got back up.

It wasn’t just his ability to lead the NBA scoring four times that made Iverson special. It was that warrior’s mentality, the trait that made him willing, against all odds, to out-scrap, out-hustle, out-compete everybody else on the court.

Through the history of the NBA, it’s usually been the big men — think Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone, Charles Oakley — who got the reputation for being strong and tough, but the truth is some of the fiercest players we’ve seen over the past 30 years have been guards.

In addition to Iverson, here’s another handful of the backcourt backbreakers we’ll call The Answers. They’re indomitable. They breathe fire. They don’t ever quit. They would chew off a leg to escape from a steel trap. They’re the ones you want playing in a single game with your life on the line:

Isiah Thomas It was never wise to be fooled by the cherubic face and angelic smile. The truth is that while Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn got most of the notoriety for their bruising style and often dirty tricks, Thomas was the real heart and cold-blooded soul of the Detroit “Bad Boys.” Part of what made him the best “little man” ever to play the game was an inner fire that never burned out. He competed ferociously and refused to ever show a sign of weakness. Hobbling on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 against the Lakers in the 1988 Finals, he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter — a Finals record — and nearly pulled out a win that would have given the Pistons their first championship a year earlier. Then there was the night of Dec. 14, 1991 when on a drive down the lane in the first quarter in Salt Lake City, Thomas took an elbow to the face from Karl Malone that opened a huge gash over his left eye. After receiving 40 stitches, Thomas returned to play in the fourth quarter.

Michael Jordan Sure, he had the leaping ability, the defensive desire, the post game, clutch jumper and late-game instincts. But Jordan the All-Star would never have become Jordan the legend and icon without his roaring, brash nature, downright mean streak and readiness to do anything it took to pull out a win. He could barely control his competitive urges, whether it was challenging Bulls teammates in practice, occasionally punching one of them out, or rising up in a game situation to respond to any kind of challenge — real or imagined — that might have been tossed out. There was virtually nothing that could stop Jordan from leaving every ounce of himself in any game that he ever played. The so-called “Flu Game” in the 1997 Finals is frequently cited. He spent the night before Game 5 at Utah suffering from severe stomach distress and was a questionable starter. Dehydrated, struggling to breathe, he hit 13 of 27 shots for 38 points to lead the Bulls to a 90-88 win. Just as telling was a story from the training camp of the 1992 USA Dream Team in Monte Carlo. After beating Jordan in a golf match one afternoon, coach Chuck Daly was awakened very early the next morning by a banging on his hotel room door. When he opened the door, Daly found a grim-faced, primed-for-revenge Jordan standing there, dressed for the golf course. “Let’s go,” he said.

Kobe Bryant – You can call him a shameless gunner who never ever met a shot he didn’t like or wouldn’t take. Shaq did. You can call him a difficult and unpleasant teammate who would make a guy leave an extra contract year and $20 million on the table to walk away from the Lakers. Dwight Howard certainly did. But after 17 NBA seasons, you can’t call Bryant anything less than the most single-minded, driven competitor in the game today. He won’t just trash-talk opponents, but will ride his own teammates to get them to try to match his level of intensity. (They can’t.) He plays hurt, aching, sick, bruised, broken and he is usually still the best player and hardest worker on the floor. He played half of the 2007-08 season with a fractured finger on his shooting hand and still won the MVP Award and led the Lakers to The Finals. At 34 last season, he averaged the second-most minutes per game in the league last season — trailing only rookie Damian Lillard — until tearing an Achilles tendon on April 12. So then he just took to Twitter from his sickbed to critique his teammates. It’s supposed to take nine months to a year to come back from Achilles surgery, but Bryant plans to tear up the calendar.

John Stockton Another one of those with a choirboy face who might have kept a pair of brass knuckles under his robe. Trying to get him to change his expression was as fruitless as banging your head against a brick wall. His Jazz teammate, The Mailman, had all those big, bulging muscles. But Stockton was equally as strong in competing with the stubbornness and dependability of a mule. Durability is a mark of greatness and in 19 seasons Stockton missed only 22 of a possible 1526 games due to injury. He never drew attention to himself by dribbling behind his back or through his legs, mostly throwing bounce passes that led to layups that were mind-numbingly effective and oh-so-deadly. He was also widely known throughout the NBA for using his 6-foot-1 body — OK, and occasionally his elbows — to set picks on opposing big men. Stockton never went looking for trouble or fights and rarely was involved in trouble, but night in night out he had the strong jaws and voracious appetite of a pit bull.

Clyde Drexler Oh, how nicknames can be deceiving. Clyde the Glide practically slides across the tongue like ice cream on a hot summer day. But it’s a lot like calling the fat kid in the crowd “Slim” or the tall guy “Shorty.” Maybe it was the fact that from the time he was a star in on the University of Houston’s Phi Slama Jama team all the way through his 15-year NBA career in Portland and Houston, the TV screens were filled with images of him floating effortlessly to the basket. In reality, he was as sharp and cutting as razor wire. He went down onto the floor for loose balls and into the crowds of tall trees to come away with the toughest rebounds. He would slice through the narrowest opening to get to the hoop for a critical bucket. He would use arms, legs, elbows — any means possible — at the defensive end, all the while with a smile on his face that belied how much he wanted to destroy you. The defending champion Rockets were down 3-1 in the 1995 conference semifinals, facing elimination and when his teammates entered the locker room, Drexler was stretched out on a table connected to IV bottles. He had the flu and nobody thought he would play. But Drexler dragged himself out onto the court and, though he could not manage a single field goal in the game, played 32 hard and inspirational minutes to spark a Rockets win that started a comeback to their second straight title.

Kidd Retires As One Of The All-Time Greats



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Few players in the history of the NBA have held the distinction of being the standard bearer at their position the way Jason Kidd did during his 19-year career, which came to an end today with the announcement that veteran point guard was retiring.

He has been more than just a great player during his career. Kidd has been the prototype at point guard of his generation and arguably the greatest all-around athlete to play the position — name another point guard who graduated high school as a first team USA Today All-American in two sports (baseball).

Kidd didn’t get the chance to revolutionize the game as a “big” point guard. Magic Johnson took care of that while Kidd was still playing with toy cars. But he did continue the renaissance for the position, which is arguably the deepest its ever been right now with an assorted bunch of point guards who grew up with Kidd as the standard.

Everyone from Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams to the new breed of Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, John Wall and Mike Conley have grown up with Kidd as the ideal role model of who and what a true point guard is supposed to be.

A 10-time All-Star who led the NBA in assists five times during his career, Kidd finishes his career second all-time in assists and steals behind John Stockton, another point guard Kidd will join in the Hall of Fame one day. Kidd served as a bridge between the Magic, Isiah Thomas-Stockton era at the position and the current renaissance.

At 40, Kidd joins the man he shared Rookie of the Year honors with in 1995, Grant Hill, who announced his retirement over the weekend on TNT, in leaving the NBA after nearly two decades as a staple on and off the court.

“I think it is the right time,” Kidd told ESPNNewYork.com. “When you think about 19 years, it has been a heckuva ride. Physically, I want to be able to participate in activities with my kids so it has taken a toll. It is time to move on and think about maybe coaching or doing some broadcasting.”

Jeff [Schwartz] and I and my family had been talking this past weekend,” Kidd added of his agent. “We talked a lot and we felt it was the right time to move on and so we notified the Knicks. They were kind of taken aback. We told them [earlier] that I wanted to come back and play. But this weekend was when we got a chance to relax [and really think about it]. It is the right thing to do.”

Kidd won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 and also two gold medals with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team in Olympic competition (Sydney in 2000 and Beijing in 2008), as well as three other gold medals during international competition with USA Basketball.

Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment on Kidd’s resume is the back-to-back Eastern Conference titles and trips to The Finals (in 2002 and 2003) with the Nets, the first ever and only trips to that high ground for the franchise. Kidd elevated a franchise to a championship level and in my eyes never got the credit he deserved for doing so, at least not in the way that Steve Nash did while winning back-to-back MVPs in Phoenix for impacting that franchise in the same way.

Acknowledging his contribution, Nets GM Billy King released this statement: “Jason Kidd was the captain of the Nets during their most successful period in the NBA, and is considered the greatest player in the Nets’ NBA history. On behalf of the entire Brooklyn Nets organization, we congratulate him on his Hall of Fame career.”

Kidd was a first or second-team All-NBA pick 10 times in his career, five each, and will go down as not only one of the best NBA point guards of all time but one of the all-time greats in high school (Bay Area legend at St. Joe-Notre Dame), college (Cal, where his No. 5 is retired) and in the NBA (the Suns, Nets, Knicks and two stints with the Mavs).

A liability as a shooter early in his career, Kidd refined his stroke in his later years and reinvented himself as a clutch 3-point shooter, draining shot after big shot during the Mavericks’ title march in 2011.

An acknowledgement of Kidd’s greatness is in order. We’re saying goodbye to not only one of the great players of his generation, but one of the greatest players the NBA has seen in any generation.

It’s Rarely Easy To Repeat, Heat

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DALLAS — NBA playoff history is loaded with ambitious underdogs against steely defending champions. We’re seeing it now in the Eastern Conference finals as the upstart Indiana Pacers push the reigning champion Miami Heat to the limit. Game 6 in that series, with the Heat leading 3-2 after beating Indiana Thursday night, is Saturday night in Indianapolis (8:30 ET, TNT).

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

LeBron James (Issac Baldizon/NBAE)

Indiana is not only up against a great team. It’s up against great odds. Historically speaking, when a best-of-7 series has been tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has won the series 83 percent of the time.

Still, nothing will come easy for Miami. Over the past 33 seasons, only nine teams have claimed the championship. (The Heat have done it twice.) Only four teams (the Lakers, Bulls, Rockets and Pistons) have won back-to-back titles. And a Miami repeat would give the Heat a chance to do what only two other teams have done: pull off a threepeat. (Michael Jordan’s Bulls did it twice; the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers were the other ones.)

Indiana has had only one trip to the NBA Finals, 13 years ago, when the Pacers lost to the Lakers in six games in L.A.’s first leg of its threepeat. These Pacers have had their chances. In fact, they might look back on  Game 1 in Miami, when LeBron James beat them with a spin-drive to the left that beat the buzzer, as the game that cost them a second chance at The Finals.

Ominous, too, was the Heat’s 90-79 win Thursday night in Miami. The Pacers led 44-40 at halftime even after a handful of missed shots at the rim and a spate of turnovers. But James, after delivering a fiery speech to his huddled teammates, dominated the third quarter and carried Miami to the pivotal Game 5 victory.

The good news for the Pacers? Half the teams that lost Game 5 after being tied at 2-2 gave themselves a chance for a Game 7 by winning Game 6.

Here’s a look at the teams that have successfully defended their title since 1980 and the toughest challenges they faced: (more…)

Durant Doesn’t Deserve A Pass, Only Time





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Kevin Durant is not getting a pass around here. No excuses, no pardon, exoneration or any other escape hatch for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s failures in these NBA playoffs.

There will be no handouts for Durant or any other superstar who falls down on the big stage. Durant should be held to the same standard all of his contemporaries, past and present, have been held to in the annals of this game. You either win it all or you go home with nothing. It’s a fair trade-off and one that all superstars sign off on when they play.

That said, the rush to judge Durant after he struggled against the Memphis Grizzlies without Russell Westbrook is overcooked dramatically. The Thunder’s 3-6 postseason mark without Westbrook, who saw a torn meniscus in his knee end his season in the first round against Houston, says more about Westbrook’s value to his team than it does about Durant’s inability to lift them up on his own.

This notion that a lone superstar of any ilk will lead his team to a championship is a longstanding myth that needs to be debunked. It almost never happens. Not at the NBA level. Not in the past 40 years or so. The only exceptions to that statement might be the Hakeem Olajuwon-led Houston Rockets of 1993-94 and the Dirk Nowitzki-led Dallas Mavericks of 2010.

Magic Johnson didn’t do it alone. Larry Bird didn’t do it alone. Isiah Thomas didn’t do it alone. Michael Jordan didn’t do it alone. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t do it alone. Tim Duncan didn’t do it alone. And the list goes on.

Kobe Bryant had help (in the form of Pau Gasol and others) after serving as Shaq’s superstar partner and LeBron James tried to break the mold in Cleveland, only to find out that he needed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami to seal the deal.

Contrary to Twitter wisdom, there is no shame in recognizing and realizing that reality. This need for someone to blame when things go wrong isn’t a new phenomenon. But it’s taken on epic proportions in the social media age. That’s why it’s fine to point out Durant’s breakdowns against the Grizzlies without absolving him of all responsibility.

He struggled mightily against a complete team that might not have a superstar of his caliber on its roster but is stronger collectively — something especially true when Durant’s superstar partner is out of commission. Jordan knows that better than anyone, having failed repeatedly against the Bad Boys Pistons before he and Scottie Pippen were able to finally stare down that demon.

Trials and tribulation are generally a prerequisite for NBA championship contention. The Grizzlies served that up aplenty in their conference semifinal conquest. Durant was met with defender after defender. He was the focal point of a Grizzlies defensive attack for which he and the Thunder had no counter-punch.

But that doesn’t mean you write Durant off now, not after all that he’s accomplished before his 25th birthday.

It’s not like he laid down for the Grizzlies anyway. He played 46 minutes a night in the series, averaged 29 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.2 blocks, all done — save for Kevin Martin‘s Game 1 outburst — without any consistent supporting cast assistance. And basically every game went down to the wire. Durant, Westbrook and James Harden barely survived a seven-game series with these Grizzlies a couple of years ago, so there is no shame in falling to them under these circumstances.

To his credit, Durant stood up and accepted all of the blame. He didn’t shirk his responsibility as the Thunder’s leader. And with his track record and work ethic, you know his rigorous offseason routine will be fueled by this most recent failure.

His sudden crowd of detractors will, of course, label him and suggest that he just doesn’t have the fire or mean streak to be a champion because he chose to view this latest setback like the adult that he is. No, it’s not the end of his world. He doesn’t view the entire season as a complete waste of time, like Kobe claims he does when his season ends without confetti and a championship parade.

Save the drama, folks. You don’t have to give Durant a pass … he doesn’t want one and doesn’t deserve one.

Just give him the time to right whatever went wrong.

If he’s half the superstar you thought he was before this postseason, you won’t be disappointed.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 117) Featuring Steve Kerr

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Steve Kerr understands the importance of every shot, every possession and every games this time of year. You don’t win five championships in your 15-year career and not comprehend the significance of each and every step you take in the middle of May.

That’s why the sweet-shooting TNT analyst was a must-get for Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast. With the conference semifinals winding down and the conference finals looming, a sobering dose of perspective was needed here at headquarters. We needed someone to provide a little context and perspective to what LeBron James and the Miami Heat are going through right now, what Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are dealing with right now and what it all means in the grand scheme of things.

Things are fluid for so many of the teams still alive in the playoffs, not to mention the teams whose seasons have finished and are searching for coaches and eventually players to help them get to the point where they are still play in mid-May. Kerr breaks it all down, and more, including his assessment that Heat star Dwyane Wade is no longer an “everyday superstar” but an “every other day superstar.”

We thought Kerr’s presence might defuse the normal mid-week volcano that is Rick Fox, whose “Get Off My Lawn” rant of the week includes his debunking of the NBA’s great point guard myth (as he describes it only the way he can).

In Rick’s estimation, we might have seen the last of the point guards to win MVP in the The Finals when Spurs point guard Tony Parker did in 2007. He’ll could very well be the last of his kind, according to Rick, to find his way into the company of elite players at his position like Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Chauncey Billups, the only PGs other than Parker since 1980 to claim that hardware.

(Sorry Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and the rest of you, Rick says don’t bother.)

You get all of that and a whole lot more on Episode 117 of the Hang Time Podcast …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

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