MIAMI – In most respects, their methods couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have built their dynasty on a bedrock of consistency … with core players (first with David Robinson and Tim Duncan and later with Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) and an unchanging style and vision. It’s worked to the tune of five trips to The Finals in 15 seasons for Pop and his crew.
Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have built their program on a foundation that has shifted from Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal the Big 3 of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, sacrificing a long-term vision for whatever formula works right here and right now. It’s worked to the tune of four trips to The Finals, including three straight (… and counting), in the last eight seasons.
The contrasting styles does not overshadow the shared respect between two of the league’s most successful coaches/executives and the mutual admiration between two franchises that represent the past, present and potentially the future of championship-level franchise-building in a league where every team dreams of being the model.
When the Heat put together their current core in the summer of 2009, Popovich was one of the first league executives to call Riley and pay his respects and explained why this afternoon during the Spurs’ media availability session at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“Well, you know I still call him ‘Coach Riley.’ I can’t help it,” Popovich said. “I guess he’s ‘Executive Coach Riley’ and all that, slash whatever. But he’s been a competitor obviously his whole career, since he was he was a player in college and beyond. He put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that. Why wouldn’t you congratulate him for that?”
“So I did. I always respected his competitiveness and how he ran things in New York and LA and so on and so forth. And as an executive, he’s done the same thing. He lets people do what they do, puts things together and he put together a hell of a team. And so I called him to thank him because I respect him so much — not to thank him but to congratulate him. That’s the last thing I do is thank him for that.”
In an environment where envy and raw competition can sometimes go overboard and ruin relationship and off-court friendships, a healthy rivalry between these two shot-callers and franchises should make for an even more interesting battle in The Finals.
MIAMI – Nothing seems to have much staying power anymore. A season of your favorite TV show might run 13 episodes. Tech gadgets need to re-generate every few months or somebody’s stock price plummets. What was the next big thing tomorrow and a huge deal today morphs into old news even before yesterday arrives.
If that’s the backdrop against which we’re to judge the Miami Heat’s immediate predicament — a dynasty curtailed, should they lose to the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena (8:30 ET, TNT) — then maybe the brevity of this whole thing makes sense.
After Game 5, on the same night that James talked about his decision to relocate to south Florida — “That’s what I came here for, to be able to compete for a championship each and every year” — he also was candid about the limited help he was getting vs. the Pacers and the need to reach “back to my Cleveland days” in meeting the must-win challenge.
After the Heat’s 91-77 loss in Game 6, the issues were obvious, the criticism fully revved. On TNT, Reggie Miller called them the “Miami Cavaliers.” Steve Kerr said James was getting “zero help.” And Kenny Smith observed that Bosh and Wade were physically and athletically “outmatched.”
These were the supreme talents who were going to bully the rest of the NBA for years to come? The legends-in-making who would chase down Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and other giants for claims on all-time greatness?
At the moment, Wade looks old, Bosh looks overpriced and James, well, he looks lonely. In his most recent public exposure, he sat alone on the postgame podium in Indianapolis after the Game 6 loss, a long way from the lasers-and-anthems of his Miami introduction in July 2010.
“I mean, we can state the obvious: they’re both struggling,” James said, moments after reminding everyone that he believes in his teammates.
Three seasons ago, in the first season of their grand experiment, the challenge was sorting out their egos and oversized games into a collaboration of trust. Last season, they all figured it out on their way to the championship. This season, the Heat seemed more formidable, its 27-game winning streak as a bit of history and prelude to what, still, they hope is a repeat title. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – One game doesn’t make a legacy.
One play, one moment, in one game, in one season does not make or break a career.
So why does it feel like there is so much riding on Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals for Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade? The growing mob of skeptics is writing him off as too old and battered to rebound from the struggles that have plagued him throughout this postseason and this series in particular. They’re ready to stick a fork in him and declare what had been the “Big 3″ the “Big 1 and 3/4.”
Sure, there is much riding on this game for the other stars involved — LeBron James and Chris Bosh from the Heat and the Indiana Pacers’ trio of Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West. The coaches, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Indiana’s Frank Vogel — and their respective franchises — have much on the line as well.
It goes deeper than that, however, for Wade. This game is about his legacy and whether or not he can bandage that busted right knee of his up tight enough to dial-up a throwback performance and help carry the Heat to victory on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena (8:30 ET, TNT).
Does he have the energy and intestinal fortitude to play through whatever pain he’s in and give the Heat more than the pedestrian (at least by Wade’s own lofty standards) 14.5 points on 44 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds he’s delivering through the first six games? Can the Heat still “Call Tyrone” (Wade’s middle name) or do they need to look elsewhere for salvation, not to mention help for LeBron, in one of the biggest games of the Heat Big 3′s run together?
Wade says he and Bosh need bigger roles to help the Heat advance. They need more touches. And they need someone, presumably LeBron (even though he didn’t mention him by name in his locker room comments after Game 6), to facilitate this process since neither one of them has been able to do it on his own.
“We’ve got to do a good job of making sure me and Chris have our opportunities to succeed throughout the game,” Wade said. “That’s something we’re going to have to look at as a team.”
We’ve got guys individually who want to play better,” Wade said. “But we’ve got to try to help each other out in this locker room and not leave it up to the individual to self-will it.”
It’s hard to tell if that’s a plea for help or just a proud man stating the obvious. The Pacers have clamped down on anyone in a Heat jersey not named James. That’s why we have a Game 7, which is the ultimate proving ground for Wade and Bosh.
For the folks fortunate enough to make it through a conference finals Game 7, it changes lives in some instances. For superstar and future Hall of Famers like Wade, one championship secures your place in history. Two makes you a living legend. Three puts you in that rarefied air that only a select few occupy.
This stage is that great. Wade knows because he’s been here before. The reward carries a world of opportunities with it, a bevy of exposure that would not otherwise be available. Wade knows this better than most, having thrived in the Game 7 spotlight as early as his rookie season with the Heat back during the 2004 playoffs.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Don’t bother trying to get a peek at the blueprints. There’s nothing you can glean from San Antonio Spurs’ secret formula that will work for your team.
No two championship teams are built alike, unless you are the Spurs and all four of your title-winning teams have an identical foundation: Tim Duncan at the epicenter with coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford at the controls.
The only organization with a better championship track record during this same era is that other would-be dynasty in Los Angeles. But the while the Spurs are going to contend with either Miami or Indiana for the Larry O’Brien trophy next month, the Lakers entered an offseason of uncertainty with Kobe Bryant on the mend from Achilles surgery and Dwight Howard‘s free-agency drama looming. It makes you wonder what might have been if the Lakers had been able to manage the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe dynamic and if coach Phil Jackson had stayed entrenched in the organization from the time they started winning championships until now.
What the Spurs have accomplished, however, is not up for debate. They’ve defied logic, the odds and the age of their biggest stars to reach the opportunity to compete for another title when they could have torn those franchise blueprints up a half-dozen times and started over from scratch.
The contrast in styles between the Spurs and Lakers is startling, albeit with nearly identical results for two franchises whose accomplishments the past 15 seasons will come to define an era in NBA history.
The Spurs stuck to their principles with a meticulously crafted core of stars and a series of role players who generally played better in San Antonio than they did elsewhere. The Lakers tried to reinvent themselves regularly (selling their organizational soul in the process, some would say) to keep the pace with their rivals in South Texas.
In a copycat league where everything from the locker room set up to the analytics department is modeled on a nearly identical template from organization to organization, no one has been able to build a sturdier and more consistent operation than the Spurs.
It starts with having a transcendent superstar like Duncan, whose arrival sparked the Spurs’ renaissance. Add in unwavering discipline in the front office and on the bench (in Popovich and Buford), some splendid ownership (Peter Holt) and a market conducive to staying the course (rather than overreacting to the usual ebb and flow of the league) and San Antonio’s success was born.
The Spurs haven’t been to The Finals since winning their fourth title in 2007. Six years? That is an eternity in professional sports. Not many franchises would have survived the fallout from their Western Conference finals flame out against the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, when their juggernaut rolled into that series and led 2-0 before losing four straight games. Not many organizations with championship expectations would have (or could have) stayed the course in those other non-Finals years as well.
There’s no doubt the San Antonio market helps. There isn’t a rush to tear things down every offseason just for the sake of remodeling. The Lakers have changed course countless times during the same 15-year span, spending countless millions to and running through a series of coaches and role players to help them flesh out championship teams led by O’Neal and Bryant and later Bryant and Pau Gasol.
The Spurs understood that even with a power-packed outfit like the one they fielded during Duncan’s prime that there was no guarantee they’d win it all every season. That’s an understanding the Lakers never seemed to grasp during the early and mid-aughts.
James earned the right to do and say whatever he wanted. But it wasn’t his words that stopped me in my tracks. It was Heat president Pat Riley who forced me to pause when he uttered these words:
“Over these 46 years, I’ve had an opportunity to see some great players — and all the ones I’ve observed, watched and have seen, they’ve always gotten better. In my humble opinion, I believe the man right here is the best of them all.”
The best of them all?
Let that sink in for a minute. Roll that statement around in your head and consider what Riley has seen, who he has coached and who he has coached against, and then say it out loud again.
“The best of them all.”
That’s a mouthful coming from a man who has seen and done what Riley has throughout his nearly half century in the game. He’s been immersed in the league longer than I’ve been alive, so I’m not here to refute his humble opinion or even to debate whether or not we should wrap our heads around the fact that LeBron has evolved — in a decade, mind you — into a player worthy of such high praise.
I’m here strictly to examine Riley’s words, to see if there is any way to scan the past four-plus decades of the league and rank LeBron ahead of the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and so many others.
This is a man who played on the Lakers’ 1972 championship team alongside Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich. So his humble opinion comes from a very particular place (player, coach and executive who has won championships), one where few men in the history of the game can draw from.
And yet I still needed time to digest his high praise of LeBron.
He watched Magic revolutionize the game, from the inside.
And Sunday he called LeBron the “best of them all.”
Riley’s Lakers teams battled Larry Bird and the Celtics and, later, he took on Jordan. When Riley coached the New York Knicks, his teams battled Jordan’s Bulls when Jordan was at his zenith. Anyone involved with the league during Jordan’s glory years, teammates and foes alike, tends to show him the proper respect and admit that he’s the greatest thing they’ve ever seen.
Riley retired Jordan’s No. 23 in Miami for Naismith’s sake. And Sunday, he called LeBron the “best of them all.”
The same declaration from almost any other man would mean little to most. Everyone has opinions about who the true G.O.A.T is and most of them are framed by a generational bias that is hard to shake. But when a man with a breadth of experience that travels through time, or at least the past 46 years, points a finger at someone, it wakes you up.
Now, there will be cynics who insist that Riley is simply doing his duty as the Heat’s boss and making sure to dollop the proper praise on his star. After all, Riley is going to need LeBron’s signature on an extension soon to keep the Heat’s current run going.
But Riley doesn’t waste his words. And he certainly doesn’t seem like the type who will pander to a superstar’s ego in that way or on that stage, not just for soundbite’s sake.
Riley has competed with or against and coached or coached against many of the players who make onto the short list we all use when discussing the “best of them all.” For 46 years, he’s been in the middle of the mix in one way or another, well before anyone even knew what analytics were and the advanced-stats craze reshaped the game.
So when he speaks on a topic like this, one that crosses all of the generational lines most people avoid during these discussions, it’s hard not to take his words to heart.
And even if LeBron still trails Jordan, Magic, Kobe, Shaq and many others in the championship rings race, is it so far-fetched to believe that he really does rank at the very top as a truly unique and once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent?
If the Cleveland Cavaliers have their way, that won’t just be a question … it’ll be a reality. The Cavaliers’ coaching search shifted from reuniting with former coach Mike Brown to focusing on another, much more accomplished former Los Angeles Lakers coach.
The Cavs have entered the Zen Master’s zone, per a report from ESPN.com, as they reached out to the “retired” Jackson to gauge his interest in coming aboard to help revive the franchise. It’s not the first time the Cavs have approached Jackson:
Jackson interviewed with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in 2005, when Gilbert was looking for a coach. That year, Gilbert ended up hiring Mike Brown.
Brown and the Cavs have mutual interest in a reunion. Gilbert and Brown met over dinner Sunday night, a league source confirmed.
Jackson is considering other coaching options, sources said. The Brooklyn Nets and possibly the Sacramento Kings – if they relocate to Seattle — are two teams likely to appeal to Jackson more than the Cavaliers, according to sources close to the situation.
The Nets reached out to Jackson before even firing coach Avery Johnson last fall and are expected to check his interest again following the season. The Seattle-based group attempting to purchase and relocate the Kings, led by investor Chris Hansen, is interested in bringing Jackson on board in an executive role if it wins approval for the deal, sources said.
Jackson is believed to be looking for a similar situation as Pat Riley has with the Miami Heat– oversee personnel moves and mentor a head coach. To land and keep Riley, the Heat gave him a deal that included an ownership stake in the franchise.
Jackson entertaining an offer to get back into coaching is one thing. To dive into a situation in need of as much rebuilding work as the Cavs require, however, seems like a longshot. All-Star Kyrie Irving is a promising young talent and the Cavaliers will have financial flexibility this summer, but they just don’t fit Jackson’s usual profile.
With a number of potential coaching vacancies this summer, and Jackson high on the wish list in each and every instance, it makes sense for the Cavaliers to be proactive in their pursuit of arguably the best coach in NBA history.
Whether or not that pursuit produces anything other than interesting headlines and lots of chatter remains to be seen.
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
World Peace expects to start vs. Hornets — Just a dozen days ago, Lakers forward Metta World Peace was thought to be lost for at least the first round of the playoffs (provided L.A. got in) if not for longer. But the man who always has something to say on Twitter has gone through a miraculous recovery from torn meniscus surgery and expects to play tonight against the Hornets. Phil Collin of the Los Angeles Daily News has more on World Peace, his recovery and his teammates’ reaction to it all:
One teammate uttered the words “bionic nan.” Kobe Bryant has taken to calling Metta World Peace “Logan,” the character in “Wolverine.”
Whatever Metta Madness is flowing through his veins, it looks like World Peace will return to the Lakers lineup tonight, 12 days after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
A medical miracle? Not really, World Peace said. He was itching to play the moment he was asked by Dr. Steve Lombardo if he could put weight on the leg, and he hopped out of bed and did so only hours after the operation.
“As long as he didn’t have to stitch anything together, I couldn’t do anything to (further damage) it,” World Peace said Monday after going through 3-on-3 workouts. “I was in great shape. The doc said he was surprised my knee was in such great shape playing 14 years in the NBA and always in a defensive stance.
“When I heard all that, it wasn’t like I was trying to come back to be a Superman. I figured I’ve just got to play through pain and it will get better as time goes.”
“It’s unbelievable,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s different. I’ve never seen this before.”
World Peace said his recovery was so swift because of his diet and offseason workouts.
“I think the way I eat prepares me for a challenge like this,” World Peace said. “Even when I sprained my ankle most people would have been out a couple games and I came right back against New Orleans.
“You can take a lot of medicine, but when you eat right and you’re injured that swelling is minimized. Right after surgery (Lombardo) was amazed how the swelling didn’t even exist.”
Favors heating up as Jazz find rhythm — When the Jazz opted to part ways with Deron Williams at the trade deadline during the 2010-11 season, they instead changed directions of the franchise as they plucked Derrick Favors from the Nets (as well as a future first-round pick — which became Enes Kanter). Favors has had periods of fits and starts with Utah during his 2 1/2 seasons there, showing flashes of the talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick. Particularly on defense, Favors has always been a steady contributor for the Jazz, but his offense and post moves have lacked behind. But lately, as Utah is making its push for the postseason and the No. 8 seed in the West, Favors is getting it done, writes Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune:
When Derrick Favors arrived in Utah, he was a teenage NBA rookie who had just been traded by a team which repeatedly reassured him that he wasn’t going anywhere.
Favors was confused, bewildered and a little disillusioned after being the centerpiece — at least from the Jazz’s perspective — in the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star Deron Williams to New Jersey.
Coach Tyrone Corbin remembers when the quiet, stone-faced Favors joined the Jazz in 2011.
“Scared,” Corbin said. “He was a scared 19-year-old … that was surprised he got traded and didn’t know what to think of it, what to think of us or where to go next.”
Told of Corbin’s description before Monday morning’s practice, Favors smiled.
“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I would say I was just mentally exhausted from the whole thing. Everything I went through in New Jersey and then I was traded here, I was just mentally exhausted.”
When he returned to Utah for the 2011-12 season, Favors “started feeling more comfortable because I knew there weren’t going to be any trade rumors. I knew I was going to be here.”
Favors played well, but Corbin continued to bring him along slowly. He made nine starts in 65 games during the lockout-shortened season.
This year, Favors continued to come off the bench as part of Corbin’s big-man rotation that also included Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter, another developing youngster.
Still, Favors averaged only 22 minutes a game — at least until March 27.
In the second quarter of a game against Phoenix, Kanter was likely lost for the season with a dislocated shoulder.
Favors seized the moment.
In the next six games, he averaged 12.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 27 minutes.
In Sunday night’s 97-90 win at Golden State, Favors finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in 30 minutes. His blocked shot with 40 seconds left helped preserve the critical victory.
“He’s grown all year,” said teammate Mo Williams. “He’s getting to the point where he’s turning the corner. … He’s doing great things for us down the stretch.”
Riley hopes to keep Heat stars together 10 years — Miami Heat president Pat Riley was the man who, back during the 2009-10 season, put together a squad that amassed just 47 win and lost in the first round of the playoffs. After that season, though, Riley constructed the big rebuild of the Heat by re-signing Dwyane Wade while adding in Chris Bosh and LeBron James to create the superteam that Miami has come to know and love. That long-term vision is apparently on Riley’s mind again as he is working on constructing a way to keep the Bosh-James-Wade trio together beyond the summer of 2015-16, which is when all three players have player options on their deal. Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald has more:
While the rest of the NBA community is busy speculating about the future of LeBron James and how the Heat plans to navigate the new salary cap, Pat Riley is thinking long-term about how special the run of this Heat team can become.
Speaking with reporters at the Heat’s “Family Fest” on Sunday, Riley pointed to models of success the NBA considers some the best in its history as the ultimate goal for the Heat while also reminding the city to enjoy this “special time.”
“I just want to keep helping them, keep bringing in more pieces that are going to complement them and hope we can have one of those 10-year rides, you know,” Riley said. “You think about every team, through the Celtics in the ’60s and the Lakers in the ’80s and the Bulls and then again the Spurs, those guys have been together eight, nine, 10 years and if we can keep this group together for eight, nine, 10 years, then we’re all going to have some fun.”
And then a piece of advice.
“So, don’t ever take it for granted,” he said.
Thompson taking on more leadership with Cavs — Much was expected from Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 Draft, last season. But Thompson’s first NBA campaign was mostly a disappointment as he finished as an All-Rookie Second Team member. But this season, Thompson has found more of a groove on the court — the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao freed up more minutes for the youngster — and has become a true building block for Cleveland’s future. As well as his increased on-court production, Thompson is emerging as a spokesman of sorts for the Cavs, something All-Star teammate Kyrie Irving has shied away from. Jason Lloyd of the Akron-Beacon Journal has more:
The evolution of Tristan Thompson as both a man and basketball player has dramatically progressed over the course of the last week. The Cavs will say he has always been one of the team’s leaders, but never so publicly as recently.
Thompson defended his coach as a father figure last week and called any speculation about Byron Scott’s precarious future “bogus.” Then he responded with two sensational performances in victories over the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.
As Kyrie Irving continues to shrink away from any public platform, Thompson is embracing his role as a spokesman — and he’s backing it up with his play on the court, too.
“Just being myself, just being a natural leader and speaking up if I see something is wrong,” Thompson said after the victory Sunday against the Magic. “Just recently y’all have been coming to me, and I’ve been speaking, so I guess you can say I’ve been a leader.”
Because of the position he plays and his immense talent, Irving remains the floor leader. But twice in the past week Irving has been given the opportunity to take a stand publicly and twice he declined.
Asked after a dreadful loss to the Brooklyn Nets if the players had given up, Irving passed and said he wouldn’t answer for anyone else, then embellished the point of his recent shoulder injury as proof he hasn’t quit.
Asked prior to the game Sunday against the Magic about the speculation surrounding Scott, Irving again passed on the chance to support his coach.
“Until that time comes, I’m not really worried about it,” Irving said. “To even imagine that, I’m not going down that road. I’m focused on finishing the season with him and that’s all that matters right now.”
Thompson was so bothered by the speculation that he went into Scott’s office last Thursday and explained to his coach why he said, “All the rumors about coach Scott, hot seat and all that crap, that’s bogus. It’s up to us to go out and compete and play hard because we’re the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. It’s up to us to go out there and play.”
Scott conceded that he was touched by Thompson’s defense but told him to worry instead about his performance on the court.
“I told him, ‘You don’t have to fight my battles,’ ” Scott said. “Any coach would say, ‘I really appreciate the support from a guy like that.’ Then to go out and play the way he’s played has been fantastic. Hopefully he can continue to play that way.”
Nowitzki: ‘Big summer’ looms for Mavs — The Dallas Mavericks’ immense letdown of a season is something that apparently is more than a little on Dirk Nowitzki‘s mind. The Mavs’ superstar chimed in on it yesterday in an interview with USA Today’sSam Amick and, now, is getting the message out to the local writers, too. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on Nowitzki and his thoughts on what will undoubtedly be a summer of changes for Dallas:
Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t want it to end like this.
Slugging it out for the eighth seed — or more likely missing the playoffs — is bad enough once. Or twice.
In the autumn of his NBA career, he wants more. And while he has no problem putting pressure on ownership to find some high-quality warriors to play alongside him, Nowitzki also is OK taking on his share of the workload off the court.
He’s ready to hit the recruiting trail.
“I’ve said it all year long — this is a big summer for us,” Nowitzki said. “We have to get better. We have to get some guys in that can get us back to the top level. We want to be a top-four seed in the West. That was always our goal, to play for the top. So this is a big summer. If [owner Mark Cuban] needs me to recruit and do all that stuff, I’m more than happy to.”
The Mavericks followed up their championship in 2011 by barely squeezing into the playoffs last season. They will probably miss the playoff this season for the first season since 1999-2000.
“I don’t know if it was necessarily Cuban’s plan to go for eight, nine one-year players,” Nowitzki said. “Once you let the championship team go, there were some consequences and obviously some risks that go with it.”
And Nowitzki has made it abundantly clear to Cuban that another season like this one isn’t something he’s interested in.
“My last couple years, I’d love to contend,” he said. “We’ve been a championship team that one year, and once you smell that victory, you want to smell it again. I don’t want to go anywhere else. [Cuban] knows that. Everybody knows that. I want to be a Maverick for life.”
ICYMI of the night: On the heels of the Hall of Fame announcement on Monday, it’s as good a time as any to relive the greatness that was Gary Payton in his prime …:
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 Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil 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.”
HANG TIME, Texas — Whether it’s Friday night in Charlotte, Saturday at home against the Sixers or even Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs, LeBron James will be coming back to a different game than he left.
More rough, more tough, more down in the dirt, use-everything-but-the-kitchen sink.
Because it worked in Chicago. Because it’s the only thing that put James on the wrong end of a scoreboard since Feb. 1.
Because the rest of the NBA is desperate.
If it wasn’t already with his third MVP, the 2012 NBA title and an Olympic gold medal, the 27-game winning streak stamped this as LeBron’s time, an era of contentment, fulfillment and waltzing up and down basketball courts to music that only he can hear.
When it got to the level where Danny Ainge was taking shots at his toughness and Pat Riley was responding quite earthily, then the point had already been made. Opposing defenses might as well be shooting spitballs at a battleship.
The only other answer, of course, is to bring him down by any means, which was the path taken by Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson.
James’ response was predictable, a variation of “How Dare They?” that was really no different from the indignant reactions of Michael Jordan when he was soaring above the game.
The irony and hypocrisy is that it was none other than Riley as the Designer Don of the Knicks in the 1990s who built on the Detroit Bad Boys approach and did as much as anybody to have enforcers Charles Oakley, Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing and friends try to take a piece out of Jordan when they couldn’t stop him.
Everybody now will poke and prod and push and shove and flat out body slam James to throw off his shot or throw him out his comfort zone.
“We know what’s coming now,” said Miami teammate Shane Battier. “We know that’s Eastern Conference basketball, especially in the playoffs. Teams are going to try to make it a game without spacing, without pace and we’re going to try to do the opposite. We’re going to create a bunch of space and try to create tempo. That’s our strength.
“We know that every other team is going to view that Chicago game as some kind of blueprint maybe. That’s OK. We can play any style of basketball that’s required and I’m pretty sure LeBron can handle himself.”
In the end, that’s all that matters, how James handles himself. When opponents tried to body up Jordan, it only stiffened his own resolve. When anybody took him down to the floor with a bit of extra flourish, Jordan usually got back up and made them pay with a bit of extra mustard mixed with venom.
It is a different game now, one where it’s almost impossible to impede a player on the perimeter without setting off the kind of alarm sounds that accompany airport metal detectors. It’s why point guards have never thrived more at any time in the history of the league than today. The rules have been tweaked and rewritten to put less emphasis on brute strength and more on speed and skill.
The dilemma is that James, at 6-foot-8, 260, has the brute strength to overpower while giving up none of the speed and skill. Until somebody finds a way to put a muscle or two on Kevin Durant, LeBron is a cut above, in a class by himself.
Being so talented makes him singular and makes him a target and in the history of stars in any sport that does not make him special. The other guys don’t come to praise you, but to chop you down.
It’s a fact of life and complaining about a lack of whistles from referees or retaliating with a bull rush at Carlos Boozer will not stop it, only let them know that they’ve gotten under your skin.
Jordan channeled his anger into a raging fury that was belied by that photogenic smile that launched a thousand ad campaigns. Oh yes, we all wanted to be like Mike. But never ever forget that Mike, when provoked, could be a very bad man with a ball in his grip.
“We’re aware of what everybody’s game plan is against us,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “They want to prevent layups and dunks and highlight plays at all costs. That can mean hard fouls. We know that.”
Battier views from across the court and across the locker room and sees an awesome physical specimen and a supremely talented player who is finally at peace with who he is.
“I’m pretty sure,” he said, “that LeBron is ready for anything.”
He’ll have to be, since now the plan and the game is going to change.
DALLAS – Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau kept his distance from anything Miami Heat on Saturday.
The Bulls snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak on Wednesday, a physical game that had LeBron James openly complaining about the officiating afterward and questioning the hard defense he endured in the 101-97 loss, Miami’s first since early February.
James’ complaints had some around the league rolling their eyes, including Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who on Thursday went on Boston radio and said James’ whining was “embarrassing.”
Ainge’s criticism provoked Heat president Pat Riley to take the rare step of releasing a statement Friday directing Ainge to “shut the (bleep) up” and to manage his own team.
Thibodeau wasn’t about to jump into that fray on Saturday so his standard answer to any question directly or indirectly related to Miami prior to Saturday’s 100-98 loss at Dallas was simply to say he and his team were solely focused on the Mavericks.
Even when asked about the physical play employed by Carlos Boozer and his team in beating the Heat, and the importance of such a style come the Eastern Conference playoffs, Thibodeau interpreted it as a sly attempt by the reporter to get initiate talk about Miami.
“Nice try,” Thibodeau said.
One topic that Thibodeau did have a response for came in regard to his four-year contract extension that was made official at an Oct. 1 news conference, yet remains unsigned. That tidbit was broached in a Yahoo! column on Friday. Thibodeau called it a non-issue and said it was being held up by the fine print.
“Total non-issue. Total non-issue,” Thibodeau said. “The lawyers had it tied up for a while, whatever they do, I don’t know what these lawyers do, something about language or something. I just got it back and as soon as I get an opportunity, [Bulls general manager] Gar [Forman] will have it. So total non-issue.”