Posts Tagged ‘Lenny Wilkens’

Sikma Wants Seahawks To Join ’79 Sonics

Jack Sigma revs up the crowd in the Seahawks' "12th man ceremony."

Jack Sikma revs up the crowd in the Seahawks’ “12th man ceremony.” — photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks

Seattle will always have its Sonics — even though it no longer has its Sonics.

Between the two sports markets emotionally involved in Super Bowl XLVIII this evening in New Jersey, Denver has given its fans more of a payoff through the years. A pair of Lombardi Trophies (XXXII and XXXIII) for the Broncos as led by John Elway. A couple of laps around the ice (1996, 2001) by the Colorado Avalanche, with the NHL’s Stanley Cup held high by goaltender Patrick Roy. At least an appearance in the 2007 World Series by the Colorado Rockies before Boston’s sweep that fall.

But Seattle? Folks in that market have to go back to the 1979 SuperSonics to find the city’s lone championship (Big Four, North-American team category).

The Larry O’Brien trophy wasn’t even called that then. The NBA commissionership wasn’t even a glimmer in David Stern‘s eye. Michael Jordan? Heck, Larry and Magic weren’t even in the league yet.

Thirty-five years is a long time. How many Seattle sports fans are too young to remember that special spring? How many who lived it aren’t around anymore?

But Jack Sikma was front and center, making it happen, recalling it fondly ever since and basking a little in the glow and nostalgia during this Seahawks team’s push to the Bowl.

Sikma was the 6-foot-11 center on that Sonics title team, a sleeper out of Illinois Wesleyan in the 1977 draft widely remembered for his blond locks and signature “reverse pivot” move. As an obvious link to the city’s crowning sports achievement and a resident who makes his permanent home there, Sikma was a natural to be invited to participate in the Seahawks’ traditional “12th Man” ceremony earlier this NFL season.

“My niece works for the Seahawks,” said Sikma by phone Friday, taking a break from his NBA day job as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. “They asked if I’d be interested and I told ‘em, ‘Of course.’ My only qualifier was that it had to happen really early in the season, because we were going to start ours up.”

So on Sept. 22, with Jacksonville in town, Sikma made the trek up to the upper rim of CenturyLink Field as guest hoister of the team’s “12th Man” flag honoring the fans. “You’re at one end of the stadium, way up top,” he said. “The whole stadium is turned toward the flag pole just before kickoff, and the crescendo starts. You’re waving the flag and whipping up the crowd, and that goes right through the kickoff. It was pretty cool.”

Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers;

The 1978-79 Sonics qualified as cool, too, getting all the way back to The Finals after a seventh-game loss to Washington the year before and then beating that same Bullets team in five games. Seattle had all  its pieces in place that season: Sikma in the middle, a dynamic backcourt led by Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and (Downtown) Freddie Brown, Lonnie Shelton and John Johnson up front, a rotation that included Paul Silas, Wally Walker and Tom LaGarde and head coach Lenny Wilkens.

The biggest change from the previous squad was Shelton, arriving as compensation from New York after the Knicks signed free-agent center Marvin (Human Eraser) Webster. Sikma had played power forward as a rookie but shifted over, with the burly Shelton slotting alongside him.

The Sonics had the NBA’s top defense (100.1 rating) and ranked 14th of the 22 teams offensively (102.7). They won the Pacific Division with a 52-30 record, beat the pre-Magic Lakers in five games and came back from a 3-2 deficit to get past Phoenix. Williams (19.2 ppg) led them in scoring, John Johnson (4.4) in assists, Dennis Johnson chipped in 15.9 ppg and Shelton, Silas and LaGarde combined for 30.1 points and 21.5 rebounds a night. Brown was the deep threat and instant offense off the bench, while Sikma averaged 15.6 points and 12.4 rebounds.

“The pressure was really to give ourselves another chance at The Finals,” Sikma recalled, “especially since we were so close and lost the seventh game at home – it wore on you. We got there and we actually played our best basketball probably all year long. We got up and down [the floor]. Defensively we really closed down the paint. It happened, and the town went nuts. And I’m sure if the Seahawks win, it will be bedlam.”

Seattle’s small-town feel, particularly 35 years ago, meant that many of the team’s sports stars cross-pollinated, attending each others’ games. The Seahawks were an expansion team in 1976, the Mariners began the following spring – and Sikma was pretty young himself. He was single, with time on his hands, and mingled with fans constantly, security far less prevalent than now.

He also learned that team success wouldn’t always come so readily. Sikma played 12 more NBA seasons (another seven with the Sonics, then five with Milwaukee) but never made it back to The Finals.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t appreciate how lucky I was and try to understand how hard it was to do what we did,” he said. “But the guys who had been there – Fred Brown had been in Seattle [since 1971] and really didn’t have a team that ever challenged. John Johnson hadn’t had that opportunity or Dennis Awtrey. They were later-on in their careers. I’m sure it meant a little more to them.”

While not getting back stung, getting there early actually helped him, Sikma said. “I got my money’s worth in those two years,” he said. “My experience under the pressure of it, and just the focus and the preparation, boded well for me for the rest of my career. The confidence that came from that, I couldn’t imagine any other way to gain it.”

Sikma was a seven-time All-Star. He retired having averaged 15.6 points and 9.8 rebounds, and ranks 30th in rebounds (10,816). In fact, as one of just nine players to have at least 17,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 1,000 blocks and 1,000 steals (since blocks and steals began being tracked in 1973), Sikma has a decent case for Hall of Fame consideration. Seven are in (Abdul-Jabbar, K. Malone, M. Malone, Olajuwon, Ewing, Parish, D. Robinson) and one (Kevin Garnett) is active.

Sikma, however, always will have that 1979 championship. He’s rooting for the Seahawks to join the Sonics as ring-bearers – rooting so hard, he’ll watch the game at home alone, he said, to avoid the distractions of a party. “I really respect that organization,” Sikma said. “[Owner] Paul Allen has built a great stadium. They have a rabid fan base and they have solid people like John Schneider running their organization. When you put those things together, usually, you have a high level of success.”

Sikma also would like to see another NBA contender in Seattle some day. The league’s power brokers know all about demographics, disposable incomes and TV market size; Sikma knows the people there.

“It’s a crime there’s not a basketball team there anymore,” he said. “People come out and they root. They’re participating in the game as a fan. There are a lot of young professionals that kind of fit the NBA’s fan mold who live in Seattle. It’s become a very urban city, both Seattle and across the way in Bellevue.

“I sure hope it happens and, if it does, it would be great.”

Funny, but he said exactly the same thing about Seahawks vs. Broncos.

The World, NBA Lose A Friend In Mandela


VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses the legacy of icon Nelson Mandela
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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As the world mourns Nelson Mandela, the basketball world feels that pain deep in its collective soul, having lost one of its greatest ambassadors.

The anti-apartheid leader and former President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 died Thursday. He was 95. Mandela leaves a legacy as a global icon and activist who helped bring about seismic change in his native South Africa as the first black South African to hold the office. He was the first President elected in a fully representative, multiracial election and was a symbolic figure for freedom, democracy and change the world over.

The Mandela-led government was at the forefront of dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality while fostering racial reconciliation.

Mandela was the President of the African National Congress (ANC) and spent 27 years in South African prisons for his political views. He distinguished himself in all walks of life, earning global admiration. A passionate sports fan — he was a true believer in the power of sports uniting people of all walks of life, both in South Africa and around the world — Mandela was instrumental in the NBA’s partnership with South Africa, a mutually beneficial relationship that dates to 1993, some 10 years before the league’s Basketball Without Borders program made its initial foray into Africa.


VIDEO: Former and present NBA players remember life of Nelson Mandela

Players like Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, John Starks and coaches Wes Unseld and Lenny Wilkens joined forces with NBA Commissioner David Stern and then NBPA executive director Charlie Grantham for the first of two groundbreaking trips to the continent, helping to open doors for the NBA in that part of the world and allowing South Africa to show the rest of the world what it means to be transformed from a nation that epitomized racism into a democracy led by one of the greatest leaders the world has seen.

The NBA opened an office in Johannesburg in the spring of 2010, with former Dallas Mavericks executive and Amadou Gallo Fall, a native of Senegal, heading up that effort as the NBA’s vice president for development of the NBA in Africa.

Said Stern on Thursday:

“Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful and inspirational leaders in the world and a great friend of the NBA.  He led his nation to democracy at incredible personal sacrifice, and in rebuilding it, he understood how to harness the power of sport to inspire and unite people of all backgrounds.  Our thoughts and hopes are with the Mandela family and the people of South Africa, and while we mourn his passing, we know that his legacy and quest for equality will endure.”

Celebrating Cousy As Player-Coach

Legendary Celtic Bob Cousy went on to be a player-coach after his Boston days.

Legendary Celtic Bob Cousy went on to be a player-coach after his Boston days.

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When you think of Bob Cousy, a man celebrating his 85th birthday on Friday, you think of black & white photos, grainy film clips and a “Leave It to Beaver” world. Cousy’s Hall of Fame career largely played out in shades of gray — he led the Boston Celtics to six NBA championships and appeared in 13 consecutive All-Star Games, all before retiring after the 1962-63 season.

The Kennedys were in the White House. Cousy’s signature shoe was a P.F. Flyer canvas high top.

But on the occasion of Cousy’s 85th birthday Friday, it was worth remembering that the legendary point guard made himself relevant again as a player — for a brief time — in living color, in the age of Aquarius, with “Laugh-In” on the tube and space junk on the moon.

On Nov. 21, 1969, at age 41, the rookie head coach of the Cincinnati Royals stepped on the floor against the visiting Chicago Bulls. Cousy scored three points, his first in more than six years, in a 133-119 victory, before a crowd of 3,450.

Two nights later, he would play again, making a scoreless cameo appearance against Phoenix in another 14-point Royals victory. This time, 2,866 fans were on hand at the Cincinnati Gardens. He would play five more times as the Royals’ player-coach that season, scoring only two more free throws, partly as backup to the great Oscar Robertson, partly as an intended gate attraction.

The Royals finished last in the league in home attendance in 1969-70 — for the third of five straight seasons — averaging 3,800 per game. Cousy’s bosses were paying him more than $100,000 a season, so the novelty of selling a few tickets to see the old “Houdini of the Hardwood” made marketing sense. Cincinnati GM Joe Axelson, after four months of negotiation that began in the summer, finally pried Cousy’s playing rights from Boston’s Red Auerbach by sending injured forward Bill Dinwiddie to the Celtics.

But the brainstorm didn’t work. Of Cousy’s five “home” appearances, only New York’s visit on Nov. 28 generated much buzz — and that game was played in pre-Cavaliers Cleveland, where 10,438 showed up to see the championship-bound Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the rest go to 23-1 that day.

Still, Cousy’s return to action — after six seasons coaching at Boston College, with a team other than the Celtics, as the latest in a considerable line [at the time] of NBA player-coaches — made headlines.

He scored only five points in his seven token appearances, none in the last four. He added 10 assists to his Boston total of 6,945, which stood as the NBA record until Robertson passed him in 1968-69. And he remains the only player-coach to step back onto the court after such an extended gap from his legit playing days.

The NBA had a rich history of player-coaches in its first three decades or so, with something like 40 men handling both jobs at one time or another.

Richie Guerin, one of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 inductees, logged 372 regular-season games and 43 more in the playoffs in that dual capacity for the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks from 1964-1970. Bill Russell, Cousy’s great Boston teammate, took over for Auerbach in 1966 while still playing, and became the NBA’s first African-American coach. By the end of the 1968-69 season, he was the only player-coach to win multiple championships.

Lenny Wilkens, who won 1,332 games as a coach, got 159 of them as player-coach for Seattle [1969-72] and Portland [1974-75]. Dave Cowens was NBA’s the last player-coach, guiding Boston in 1978-79 late in his player career. And of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players chosen in 1996 to commemorate the league’s 50th anniversary, seven — Cousy, Russell, Wilkens, Cowens, Dave DeBusschere, Bob Pettit and Dolph Schayes — pulled double-duty for some period of time.

Since the arrival of the salary cap, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreements between the league and the players association have not allowed for player-coaches. But Jason Kidd’s hiring by the Brooklyn Nets this summer generated some chatter on the topic, not so much involving coaches returning to the court but veteran players who might be capable of steering their teams through an NBA season.

Kobe Bryant? LeBron James? Kevin Garnett? In a league driven by stars, some might argue that the best and biggest-name players already run their teams. But what has Chris Paul been, if not a “coach on the floor” for the Clippers [beyond any snide remarks about former boss Vinny Del Negro]?

Kidd, for as much as he played for the Knicks last season, might have been able to handle both jobs, especially on a team with more modest ambitions. Some would say the same thing about Chauncey Billups at this stage of his playing career, which takes him back to Detroit this season before, should he want it, a coaching role in the near future.

What Cousy did nearly 44 years ago, though, remains special — one of his many magical accomplishments in lifetime 85 years young now. Happy birthday, Cooz!

Coaches Honor Fitch With Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award

Bill Fitch

In the 1980s, Bill Fitch led Boston to an NBA title.
(Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – These days Bill Fitch gets a special kick out of tuning into postgame news conferences and hearing players say they won’t really know what happened in the game they just played until they look at the video.

That’s because Fitch was sometimes mockingly called “Captain Video” in the early part of his 25-year NBA coaching career for using videotape to analyze opponents and scout talent.

But what was once a joke became a standard and integral part of the game, making Fitch a pioneer. That, along with his 944 career wins and penchant for turning bad teams around, has earned him the 2013 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association. He received the award Tuesday in a presentation prior to Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

“To be honest, I never really thought being known as Capt. Video was a bad deal,” Fitch said. “Other people could laugh and tease all they wanted. The truth is I was glad to that nobody else was doing it, because I thought it always gave our teams a big advantage.

“If you could see my closet today, it’s crammed full from floor to ceiling with old tapes and now with DVDs and I’m still doing film for different people. I still love the competition and the strategy.”

Fitch ranks eighth on the all-time win list and his 2,050 games coached is third. He is a two-time Coach of the Year winner (Cleveland in 1976 and Boston in 1980), led the Celtics to the NBA championship in 1981 and, after moving to Houston, took the Rockets to The Finals in 1986. He was also named one of the NBA’s top 10 coaches of all-time in 1996-97.

The NBCA Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award commemorates the memory of the Hall of Fame coach who won a pair of championships with the Pistons in 1989 and 1990 and led the 1992 USA Dream Team to the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.

“I’ve always said that being a coach made me able to live a life where I never, ever felt like I had a job,” Fitch said. “Honest, it wasn’t about the money. It was about the feeling that I was never working, because I was doing something that I loved. It was about the competition all those relationships that were built.

“I guess what this means is that I’m 81 and going the wrong way. But seriously, anytime you get an honor from your peers it means a lot more. I’m humbled by it. It’s always great to be recognized by the guys you worked with or against. Coaching is the biggest fraternity there is and I’ve always felt like I’ve had more brothers than I could count.

“Chuck especially was a great friend and to get an award named after him makes me immediately think of all the experiences and stories we shared, some of them that could even be printed.” (more…)

1,000: Adelman Celebrates Milestone

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It took longer than expected during this difficult season marred by an onslaught of injury and a family illness, but Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman reached 1,000 career wins Saturday night.

Adelman’s Minnesota Timberwolves got the job done at home, knocking off the Detroit Pistons, allowing the home crowd to join in the celebration. In attendance was Adelman’s wife, Mark Kay, who was hospitalized during the season with an illness that still has no definitive diagnosis. Adelman, 66, took time away from the team to care for her and he has contemplated retiring after the season to stay by her side.

For the moment, through a tumultuous season full of disappointment, Saturday’s victory provided a rare chance to smile and reflect on a tremendous coaching career. Adelman’s career record stands at 1,000-703 (.587). In his 22nd season, Adelman became the eighth coach to reach 1,000 career wins (joining Don NelsonLenny WilkensJerry SloanPat RileyPhil Jackson, Larry Brown and George Karl) and he is the fifth-fastest to reach the milestone

“Glad we got it done tonight,” said Adelman, one of the game’s most innovative if also most understated coaches, said after the 107-101 victory. “It was tough game; they played well. Our guys hung in there and made some plays down the stretch to win the game. Like I said earlier, it’s a great group of players who stayed with us all year long and never stopped playing. They kept battling it through; the coaching staff too. It was good to get it here especially at home.”

Here’s Adelman in his own words, courtesy of The Wolves’ media relations department:

On moment with Mary Kay making everything worthwhile…

“She had to be part of it. I told her I was going to bring her down. She wasn’t very happy about that but she has been there all the years. When you go through a job like this in situations and you move and raise six kids and everything else; if it wasn’t for her I couldn’t have done it. So I’m really glad we did it here. It relieves a little bit of stress. Like I said to you before the game, I think it was in some ways when I look back, it was good for this group. We have had such a tough time that you are just trying to scrap wins out. When you have something like this that you are actually working for there is expectations; there is a little bit more pressure and I think that is good because this group we have to learn what that is all about. To be a good team that’s where the expectations are. It’s not just to win a game, it’s to keep going. I’m really happy with the way they have played the last week.”

On the list of coaching names he has joined…

“It’s special people. Some of the names up there, it’s incredible. I never ever expected to be with that group. But like I said before, I have had some really special situations and we were able to stay a couple of places for a long time, which doesn’t happen in this league very often. To get that many wins, there are good players involved and good coaches staffs involved and good organizations involved. It was special to get this.”

On it being more special to have his sons on his coaching staff…

“That was one of the big reasons why I came here. You always want to win, you always want to have good situations to give yourself a chance because it’s a tough job, but I learned in Houston when we lost Yao [Ming] and lost Tracy McGrady and a bunch of guys that busted our tails every night. It was a lot of fun coaching that group. When I looked at this group this year it’s the same thing. I think there is other ways to get enjoyment. Everybody talks about how you have to win; yeah that’s part of it, but to get around a group of guys you can coach you see them grow individually and as a team, that’s also part of it. And to have my two sons involved, yeah it’s special. That is a huge reason why this was an attractive situation to me. They just didn’t tell me about April before this year that it was so hard to win games in April. I think we have a really group. Like I said, they have really maintained this whole year.”

On where this milestone ranks…

“It’s way up there. Now that it’s done you think about all the years and everything else. It’s pretty special. This has been a difficult year. You have to give credit. You have to thank Glen, David and the whole organization for staying behind me because it was a tough situation. There was never a doubt that I was going to be able to do what I thought I needed to do because of their support.”

On the journey to get here and knowing son Ricky and Derrick weren’t born when he got his first victory…

“Well thanks a lot (laughs). I feel older. I feel older. There is a thousand wins that everybody keeps talking about but I don’t know how many losses too. [He's told 703] Yeah, okay thanks. I knew you would know. I didn’t know (laughs). It is something that you learn as you go on in this league. Like I said, great situations where you walk on the court and you know you have a great chance to win every night. This situation it was tough going out there every day. You learn that it’s a tough business. You have to learn to handle that as well as you do the wins. I think the players have to learn you can’t accept it. It’s part of your job and we got thrown a really tough curveball this year with everything that happened. Even last year at the end of the year. But again, I compliment them for staying with it and hopefully we can get some more before the season ends.”

Pop The Rock Rolls Up On Win No. 900

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HANG TIME, Texas – It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.

Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.

With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.

Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.

In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra – Popovich stands a step apart and above.

He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.

When he sat at a makeshift table for a news conference last spring when he was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Popovich’s face turned different shades of red. But it wasn’t for the usual reasons of screaming at a referee or boiling at another question from a reporter. He was, in short, embarrassed with the attention.

Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.

“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.

But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.

He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.

“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.

He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.

“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”

Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”

That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.

After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)

What To Make Of The Rest In The East?


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –
Steve Nash‘s long-awaited return to action no doubt captivated most of us during the NBA’s Saturday night fiesta.

But while Nash, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers were busy trying to get things in order in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors, there was another intriguing matchup between wannabe contenders in the Eastern Conference.

The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks locked up at Philips Arena in a battle of teams we’re still not quite sure what to make of, what with the Heat and Knicks having already distanced themselves from the pack. A night earlier both teams were at polar opposite ends of the basketball spectrum. The Bulls smashed their way through a physical battle with the Knicks in New York, while the Hawks got stroked by 19 points by the Sixers in Philadelphia.

Fast forward a night and the same two teams looked totally different. In a head-to-head matchup the Hawks dominated the final three quarters of on their way to a 92-75 win.

The game was one thing, a battle of wills between teams trying to forget about the night before in time for a cruel schedule punch that required they both spend no time enjoying or sulking about what happened the night before. The reactions to the outcome from both sides, however, was the truly entertaining part of the night.

Since no one in either locker room has a good explanation for why they can perform at such a high level one night and then fall so flat the next.

“It was a different night, that’s all,” said Hawks guard Lou Williams. “I’m sure you don’t report your best every night. In different games, your body feels different. Your body responds different. Sometimes you travel, sometimes you get an opportunity to sleep in your own bed. Small things like that make a difference.”

Bulls center Joakim Noah, who was in the middle of the action in the win over the Knicks, could tell something was a bit off against the Hawks, who like the Bulls have both impressed with quality wins this season while perplexing with peculiar losses as well.

“We had a letdown because we lost,” Noah said. “One night you come out and play so well and you feel great, and then the next night you come out with the wrong mindset and don’t play well. Our energy was bad, and we settled for too many shots early in the clock. When you’re tired, sometimes you just have to move the ball around, and we didn’t do that. We let (the Hawks) play to their strengths. We can’t get too up or too down about the last two days. You just have to learn from the experience and move on from it.”

If anyone is going to mount a serious challenge to the Heat or Knicks in the East this season, it will have to come from a small group of teams based on what we’ve seen through the first trimester of this season. The Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets,  Boston Celtics and Sixers have all looked the part at times throughout the past two months. And yet it’s hard to tell if any one of these teams is legitimately up to the task.

We know the Bulls’ chances of mounting that challenge improve dramatically if Derrick Rose is able to return from ACL surgery at anywhere near the MVP-level he played at before going down.

What might surprise some is that the Hawks will need a similar charge from the same position if they are going to shed the label of pretenders and take a seat at the table with the true contenders in the East.

“That was probably one of our most energized wins thus far this year,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew, who Saturday night became the second-fastest Hawks coach to reach 100 wins (behind Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens). “I thought at the very beginning our guys did a really good job, and it started with Jeff Teague and his energy defensively at the very beginning. It was a very clear contrast from [Friday night], where I thought he was a little laid back and didn’t really exert himself defensively. I thought he did a phenomenal job with that. When he does that, he just gets us going. It’s something we talk to Jeff about and something we’ll stay on him about constantly to keep him in the mind frame of being the aggressor defensively, because the rest of the guys feed off of that.”

If the Hawks, like the Bulls, want to be taken seriously, the time to step up is now.

History Says Lakers Play Long Odds





History says the Lakers probably had to do something to save a season that was slipping away.

History also says that in making the switch from Mike Brown to Mike D’Antoni they might just as well be expecting to hit one of those half-court shots to win a car than to be hosting a victory parade next June.

Yeah, the odds are long.

In the previous 66 years, only three in-season coaching changes have produced an immediate championship. Then again, twice it happened for the Lakers, in 1980 and 1982.

However, if the focus is a little farther down the line — and D’Antoni is the right choice — the payoff could be down the line. There have been seven different replacement coaches and eight teams that eventually claimed NBA titles.

1956-57 — Alex Hannum, St. Louis Hawks — The Hall of Famer is more popularly known for leading Wilt Chamberlain and the Sixers in 1967, ending the string of Bill Russell and the Celtics at eight titles in a row. But Hannum replaced Red Holzman and interim coach Slater Martin as player/coach midway through the season. The Hawks lost to the Celtics in The Finals that year. But when he retired and went to the bench full-time, they beat Boston to win it all the following year. He was the only coach to beat Boston in the playoffs during Russell’s 13-year career.

1977-78 — Lenny Wilkens, Seattle SuperSonics — The Hall of Famer took over the reins for Bob Hopkins after the Sonics got off to a woeful 5-17 start that season. He put the spark back in the game with an 11-1 start to his regime and took the Sonics to The Finals, where they lost to the Bullets in seven games. The team featuring Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Fred Brown came back to claim Seattle’s only championship by beating the Bullets for the 1979 crown.

1977-78 — Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers — Gene Shue’s talent-laden Sixers were upset by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1977 and then staggered out of the gate the following season with a 2-4 record. A Philly favorite as a Hall of Fame player, Cunningham got the first coaching experience of his career when he took over the controls. The Sixers with Julius Erving lost to the Bullets in the Eastern Conference finals in his first year, were beaten by the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1980 and 1982, but finally broke through and it all when Moses Malone led a 4-0 sweep of L.A. in 1983.

1979-80 — Paul Westhead, L.A. Lakers – First-year NBA assistant coach Paul Westhead moved into the main seat 14 games into the season after head coach Jack McKinney suffered a serious head injury in a fall from a bicycle. The Shakespearean scholar got to cap of an amazing debut season when a fellow rookie named Magic Johnson jumped center, then piled up 42 points, 15 rebound and seven assists in the Game 6 Finals clincher at Philadelphia.

1981-82 & 2005-06 — Pat Riley, L.A. Lakers, Miami Heat – When Magic became disenchanted with Westhead and nudged him toward the door 11 games into the season, the Lakers plucked the former player turned broadcaster from behind the radio microphone to begin a Hall of Fame career on the bench. The untested Riley guided the Lakers to another NBA Finals win over Philadelphia, then won three more titles in L.A. in 1985, 1987 and 1988. After his cross country move took him to New York and then Miami, Riley the G.M. replaced Stan Van Gundy following an 11-10 start in 2005-06. Seven months later, Riley and Dwyane Wade for the Heat out of an 0-2 hole to beat the Mavericks in The Finals.

1991-92 — Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets — A year after he was named Coach of the Year, Don Chaney’s Rockets were stuck in a 26-26 rut and he was fired on Feb. 18. A reluctant Tomjanovich, then a team scout and assistant coach, had to be talked into taking the job. A season later he became the first coach in NBA history to take his team from the lottery to a division title in his first full season on the job. The local legend Rudy T then put enough spot-up shooters around Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to produce back-to-back championships for Houston in 1994 and 1995.

1996-97 — Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs – It was 18 games into the season when G.M. Popovich pulled the rug and fired coach Bob Hill. It was a move that was considered presumptuous and unpopular in some corners of town. But all was forgiven when he took a team with David Robinson and second-year forward Tim Duncan to the championship in 1999. Since that time, he has added Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to the lineup, three more titles and the beloved and cantankerous “Pop” is almost as much a part San Antonio lore as the Alamo.

Riley Wins Chuck Daly Award

MIAMI – LeBron James isn’t the only member of the Miami Heat family to collect a little postseason hardware. The three-time KIA MVP was joined Tuesday by Heat president Pat Riley, who won the National Basketball Coaches Association 2012 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award.

A member of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame’s Class of 2008, Riley adds this latest honor to his long list of achievements. One of the most accomplished coaches and team executives in NBA history, Riley has spent 43 years in the league as a player, coach and executive.

“It’s good to be back … for a minute,” a smiling Riley said from the podium at AmericanAirlines Arena Tuesday night, where he received the award before Game 4 of The Finals between his Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Chuck and I were rivals back in the 80s but there’s a connection that goes back so long.”

Riley praised Daly and all the coaches he’s competed against and learned from in his four decades, and counting, in basketball.

“The only thing I know anything about in my life has been taught to me by coaches,” he said. But he stopped short of saying he’d rather be back on the bench than orchestrating from behind the scenes.

“As far as me missing it, I don’t miss it,” he said. “I feel it in the gut right now. We have a very, very good young coach who’s growing leaps and bounds. I did 30 years. That’s enough.”

Riley joins a distinguished list of coaches who have won the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior winners include Lenny Wilkens in 2011, Tex Winter and Jack Ramsay in 2010 and Tommy Heinsohn in 2009.

Call It A Comeback For Sloan?





HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS – If Dwight Howard thought Stan Van Gundy was tough to deal with, can you imagine how he’d react to Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan?

The former and longtime coach of the Utah Jazz is apparently contemplating a coaching comeback at 70, with feelers from both the Charlotte Bobcats and potentially the Magic, who fired Van Gundy Monday and are currently searching for his replacement.

Sloan has already spoken with the Bobcats about their opening and is “intrigued” by the possibilities in Orlando, per the Salt Lake Tribune:

Asked about his reported interest in Orlando, Sloan said, “I’m sure a lot of people are interested. But I really don’t know what the parameters are going to be or what’s going on. I guess we’ll wait and see what happens.”

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