Posts Tagged ‘Seattle SuperSonics’

This Baker’s a barista: former NBA star thrilled about his fresh, sober start

There is no way to sugar-coat the theme of the Providence Journals story: It is about a fall from grace, or at least from a fall from the heights of professional sports success to one of those humdrum lives of quiet desperation the poets bemoan.

Vin Baker: NBA All-Star to Starbucks barista.

Baker played 13 seasons in the league, in fact, and participated in four All-Star Games. The 6-foot-11 product of Hartford averaged 15.0 points and 7.4 rebounds, enjoying his best seasons with Milwaukee (four) and Seattle (five). His career got derailed by alcoholism, leading to a quick churning through four teams (Boston, New York, Houston, L.A. Clippers) in his final four seasons.

He was out of the league at age 34, and apparently has lost much of his career earnings – nearly $100 million, according to estimates – through bad investments and regrettable decisions. Now he’s behind a counter in Kingstown, R.I., on Starbucks’ management track (with some time away at Bucks coach Jason Kidd‘s invitation to assist with that team during the Las Vegas Summer League).

Baker’s tale, as told by the Journal’s Kevin McNamara, includes details of his spiral out of the NBA and advice to the many, newly minted multimillionaires for ways not to follow in his sneaker steps. Here is a taste of the excellent, yet in its way all too familiar, story:

Now 43, newly married and with four children, Baker is training to manage a Starbucks franchise. He thanks CEO Howard Shultz, the former Seattle SuperSonics owner, with this opportunity. He’s also a trained minister who savors work at his father’s church in Connecticut. Most important, he has been sober for more than four years.

“In this company there are opportunities for everyone. I have an excellent situation here at Starbucks and the people are wonderful,” Baker says.

Hoop fans might shake their heads and view Baker’s life as a tragic, unfortunate fall from grace. Baker doesn’t see it that way. At all. He says his story is one of redemption, of conquering demons and searching for success in this next phase of life.

“When you learn lessons in life, no matter what level you’re at financially, the important part to realize is it could happen,” he said. “I was an alcoholic, I lost a fortune. I had a great talent and lost it. For the people on the outside looking in, they’re like ‘Wow.’ ”

Like all recovering alcoholics, Baker says every day is both a challenge and a blessing. He now clearly has the perspective of a middle-aged man, not a fresh-faced, 22-year old newly minted millionaire who’s the life of the party. He just wants a chance to keep bouncing back.

“For me this could have ended most likely in jail or death. That’s how these stories usually end,” he says. “For me to summon the strength to walk out here and get excited about retail management at Starbucks and try to provide for my family, I feel that’s more heroic than being 6-11 with a fadeaway jump shot. I get energy from waking up in the morning and, first of all, not depending on alcohol, and not being embarrassed or ashamed to know I have a family to take care of. The show’s got to go on.”

Game 6: 24-second thoughts

VIDEO: Warriors ball movement wore down the Cavaliers defense.

24 — No Hollywood or recording industry celebs for this one. At Game 6 desperation time, Cavs pulled out their big gun in 19-year-old Marlana VanHoose. Blind since birth, the native of Denver, Ky. was undefeated when she sang the national anthem at University of Kentucky women’s basketball games. Her version on Tuesday night was the stirring, emotional call-to-duty the Quicken Loans Arena crowd and the Cavs needed.

23LeBron James in pre-game huddle before tip: “Ain’t no tomorrow.” Personally, I would have channeled John Belushi: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

22 — Size matters. For all the talk about the Warriors taking control of the series with small ball, whether or not there’s a Game 7 depends on how long Cleveland can pound inside with bigs and control the pace. No secrets: Get the biggest guy on the floor (Timofey Mozgov) the ball in the paint.

21 — On a night when the Cavs’ margin for error has practically vanished, they start out with six turnovers in the first seven minutes. Cleveland running down too much of the clock to make decisions, get off a shot. Now third shot clock violation already. Cleveland G.M. David Griffin could probably make a trade to get LeBron James some help in time between shots by the Cavs.

20 — This is what desperation looks like. First quarter Warriors 11 assists on 11 baskets and Cavs nine turnovers with just six FGs. It seemed the one thing Cleveland could not afford to do was let Golden State play from ahead.

19 — Cavs coach David Blatt keeps asking for more effort when he should actually be asking for more players.

18 — Helluva time for LeBron to be worried about the feelings of his teammates. Time to be Terminator, not Facilitator.

17 — Does nobody believe in going up strong to the basket for Cavs? Not even LeBron.

16 — There is one reason why the Cavs are even still in this game: Mozgov’s defense. Exhibit A: block on Draymond Green in low post.

15 — You have to love the enthusiasm and fire of Green. But if he’s going to hang onto Mozgov’s neck, the big guy has every right to put an elbow into his face.

14 — He had 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists in the first half. But it sure looked like LeBron might as well have played the first half from a La-Z-Boy. Was he saving himself for the 24 minutes to save the season?

13 — While Warriors keep moving and moving the ball, Cavs killing themselves by trying to do too much individually. There is not a single Cav who should be permitted to dribble the ball more than once except LeBron. And he’s got to go all the way to the hole.

12 — After Cavs briefly take the lead, Golden State comes back to rip off 7-0 spurt and there’s blood in the water. Cavs are gonna need a bigger boat.

11 — Doesn’t matter if James Jones didn’t catch the ball perfectly on inbounds pass. If you’re gonna be at the rim and miss dunks, you’re heading for summer.

10 — The on-court screamer with the microphone at The Q is standing a midcoast virtually begging the hometown fans to stand up and scream. But it seems they know reality when it smacks them right in the face and Warriors up by a dozen.

9 — For all that he’s done, as brilliantly as he’s played, LeBron and his somewhat passive approach to tonight are costing him a shot at becoming joining Jerry West (1969) as the second player ever from the losing team named MVP of The Finals.

— You want one more reason for the Cavs to worry? Steph Curry goes to bench for a pre-4th quarter rest with Warriors holding 70-58 lead.

7 — End third quarter, Warriors lead 73-61 and one word to describe Cavs: Spent.

6 — Just in case you haven’t filled out your MVP ballot yet, here’s Steph to bang in back-to-back 3s. But Iggy ties him for leading scorer with 25 points, five assists, five rebounds, two steals and all of that splendid work on LeBron. Oh yeah, and Draymond Green has a triple-double (14-10-10)

— Share the ball, share the rewards. Warriors put on the crowning touch with the kind of move-the-ball passing game that had them setting pace in NBA since opening night — 28 assists on 37 buckets.

4Been a while.

June 16, 1975:

No. 1 single U.S. — Sister Golden Hair, America.

No. 1 TV show — All In The Family.

3 — Can you top this? Steve Kerr posts 83-20 (.801) overall record and becomes first rookie coach to win NBA championship since Pat Riley in 1982.

2 — Andre Iguodala becomes first player who never started a regular season game to be named Finals MVP. Curry and Iggy become first pair of championship teammates to split regular season and Finals MVP awards since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson in 1980.

Iguodala: “I want to be Steph Curry when I grow up.”

1 — Wire-to-wire thoroughbreds:

American Pharoah.

Stephen Curry.

1A — Last Western Conference NBA champion not from California or Texas: Seattle SuperSonics, 1979.


Report: George Karl agrees to deal to become Kings coach

VIDEO: Karl, Kings agree on framework of deal

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The Kings are ready to crown a new leader. After several days of rumors, the Sacramento Bee reports that longtime NBA coach George Karl will be the next coach of the Sacramento Kings.

As Ailene Voisin writes in the Bee

After several days of intense negotiations, George Karl has agreed to take over as Kings head coach after this weekend’s NBA All-Star break, The Bee has learned.

An official announcement is expected within the next few days. Terms of the deal were not available, though Karl was seeking a four-year contract in excess of $4 million per season.

An introductory news conference will be held next week in Sacramento. Team executives are postponing the formal media session to avoid detracting from center DeMarcus Cousins’ All-Star debut Sunday in New York.

Karl’s first game will be next Friday, Feb. 20, against Boston at Sleep Train Arena.

The Kings fired coach Mike Malone on December 15 after starting the season 11-13. The Kings began the season 9-5, but went 2-8 while All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins was out with meningitis. Malone was replaced by Tyrone Corbin, who has since gone 7-20.

Karl last coached in Denver in 2013, when he was named Coach of the Year. His career regular season record is 1131-756, and his postseason record is 80-105. The furthest a Karl team has gone in the postseason was when he took the 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals, where they lost the Chicago Bulls.

Karl to the Kings has been discussed for several weeks. When asked about the rumors this weekend, Cousins said, “I ain’t pumped up. I’ve just got a lot on my mind,” he said. “The crazy thing about it is, I’ve just got a question for y’all: How you gonna stop God’s plan? How you gonna do that? How you gonna do that? That’s all I want to know. How you gonna stop God’s plan? The marathon continues. I’m out.”

Morning shootaround — Dec. 10

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 9


Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic | Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint | Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale | Davis leads early Most Improved candidates

No. 1: Lakers tank? C’mon, Magic — The headline was provocative enough (“Magic Johnson: I hope Lakers lose”). But what the former L.A. Lakers great had to say at an event in New York Tuesday grabbed NBA fans’ attention, too, and not necessarily for the right reasons. The Lakers should (gulp) tank? Really? That’s like saying the Buss family should have cooked their family books to qualify for student loans or that MLB team Magic’s involved with should shrink the business part of its Dodger Dogs to boost the profit margin. C’mon, tanking is for the NBA’s working class, not its royalty such as the Lakers or Knicks. If team-building can be described (lifting this from the retirement-planning realm) as a three-legged stool of trades, free agency and draft, the last of those – the target of tanking teams – is most important to small-revenue teams lacking the fat wallets, grand legacies, balmy climate and/or glitzy appeal of L.A., New York and maybe Miami now. Fans in those markets expect better and the Lakers’ many advantages ought to preclude slumming through 82 games to swipe a player desperately needed in … Philadelphia? Here are details from a mash-up report on

Johnson, speaking at a promotional event Tuesday in New York City, said he wants his former team to lose enough games to contend for a high lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft.
“I hope the Lakers lose every game,” Johnson told reporters. “Because if you’re going to lose, lose. And I’m serious.”

Johnson hit Twitter to reinforce his point for his fan base:

And from Kobe Bryant after the Lakers’ victory Tuesday over Sacramento:

“I don’t see teams tanking. It doesn’t happen. Maybe there are certain teams in the league — and this is not one of them — where ownership sits up there in their office and they’re crossing their fingers quietly and hoping,” Bryant said. “But the players themselves? Never. Players play. Players play and players try to win every single game. That’s just what we do.”

And from Lakers coach Byron Scott, who isn’t eager to take on a bunch of losses after suffering through the immediate post-LeBron James years in Cleveland:

“It’s more of a laughing matter to me than anything,” Scott said. “I know [Earvin] and how competitive he is and I understand where he’s coming from — ‘Yeah, lose every game and hopefully you’ll get the No. 1 pick.’ That doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the No. 1 pick. You go out here and try to win as much as you can to try to create that culture of winning again instead of having that loser’s mentality. That’s how I look at it.”

The Lakers are expected to have substantial salary-cap space this upcoming offseason. Aging superstar Kobe Bryant, who will make $25 million next season, swingman Nick Young, [Julius] Randle and second-year forward Ryan Kelly are the only Lakers who have guaranteed contracts beyond this season.

Scott added, “I just think karma is a you-know-what and if you try to lose games, you’re not going to get the first pick.”


No. 2: Rodman questions Knicks’ blueprint — As far as former NBA stars critiquing a storied franchise, the level of discourse slips now from Magic Johnson the team for which he labored to Dennis Rodman questioning the New York Knicks of Carmelo Anthony and Derek Fisher. Rodman might surpass Johnson in North Korean street cred, but the fellow Hall of Famer seemed driven in his comments more by his loyalty to his former Chicago coach Phil Jackson than in any true turnaround at Madison Square Garden. The 4-19 Knicks, off to the worst start in franchise history, have a somewhat hobbled Anthony these days, according to the New York Post. So they were easy for the flamboyant former rebounding star to pick at, as chronicled by’s Ian Begley:

Former Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman weighed in on the team’s poor play Tuesday, questioning whether Carmelo Anthony was the right fit for the Knicks and wondering if first-year coach Derek Fisher is the right candidate for the job.

“If I know Phil [Jackson, Knicks team president], he just feels like [crap] right now,” Rodman told reporters at a promotional event in Manhattan. “I think he just feels like, ‘Wow, I thought I came here to do a great job and revitalize the city of New York.’

“He didn’t expect this. I saw him a couple of times on TV when I was in L.A., and I’m like, I know what you feel like, Phil. You came to be the savior and all of a sudden it’s like, ugh. Then you went and got Derek Fisher. Really, is he coaching? Is Derek Fisher coaching? I don’t get it. I don’t know what’s up with that team, man. You’ve got Carmelo and after that who else do you got?

“They’re not running the triangle. Derek Fisher’s not really coaching. I know Phil is trying to throw his input in the background, but who expected this from Phil? They expected him, we’re going to give you $15 million a year for the next six years and this team is — wow — they might not even make the playoffs.”

In mentioning Jackson’s vaunted “triangle” offense, Rodman kept the blame at floor level:

“I learned that in probably 15 minutes when I was in Chicago,” Rodman said. “It’s not that difficult. It’s a triangle.

“Everybody has an opportunity to touch the ball and shoot it. It seems like it goes back to Carmelo Anthony and then everything stops. What are you going to do?”


No. 3: Best customers for Brooklyn fire sale — The Brooklyn Nets are contemplating a fire sale of veteran stars Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez? That’s the word, as reported by and other outlets. It’s the stuff of which serious buzz can be generated in the NBA, but it’s also reminiscent of a massive story that’s almost four decades old. Sports fans of a certain vintage might recall the great purge of the Oakland A’s in the summer of 1976, when mercurial team owner Charlie Finley tried to sell off pitcher Vida Blue (to the Yankees for $1.5 million), closer Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi (both to the Red Sox for $1 million each). Finley felt the A’s days as contenders were over and feared looming free agency of his stars, but the transactions were killed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn as not being in ‘the best interests of baseball.” The Nets’ days as contenders apparently are over, too, in the eyes of owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and Brooklyn would be trying to get out from under the massive salaries of Williams, Johnson and Lopez. Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider cooked up some possible trade destinations for the Big 3 and here’s a glimpse at the point guard’s (you might have to pony up to see the whole piece):

Williams is not as explosive as he was a few years ago in Utah, but he’s still good enough to be a top-three player on a playoff team. However, besides his non-star production and large contract, Williams also toils at a time when the NBA is rife with quality point guards. However, the upshot is that Williams is a highly skilled player who could develop a floor-based style of running the point (a la Mark Jackson) that might play well for quite a few years.

Best fit: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were one step shy of the Finals last season, but the top tier of the East has since become more crowded. Williams would give the Pacers the upper-echelon point guard they’ve lacked and, on this team, a ball-dominant PG can work. You plug Williams next to emerging shooter Solomon Hill, the currently injured Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West, and you’ve got a contending veteran team, albeit one likely shy of championship status.

A possible package would be something like George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi and Chris Copeland for Williams. The Nets’ motivation would be mostly financial. Hill might be a keeper to run the point in his combo-ish manner, but Scola’s expiring contract is mostly nonguaranteed, Copeland’s deal is expiring and Mahinmi has just $4 million left beyond this season.

Other fits: Detroit Pistons or the Los Angeles Lakers. …


No. 4: Davis leads early Most Improved candidates — The NBA season is barely one-quarter completed, so speculation about any of the “annual” awards is, by definition, premature. But such chatter isn’t illegal and it drives conversations, debates and occasional arguments, so our own Fran Blinebury offered up some players worth considering for the league’s Most Improved trophy, at least after the first six weeks. Eschewing the ever-popular “top five” or “top 10” of Internet list-making, Blinebury limited his field to just four. And only one of them, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, was in action Tuesday night, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the home victory over New York. He was Blinebury’s early MIP leader:

It only seemed as if the long-armed forward was reaching his peak last season. Now he’s threatening to leap and put his head right through the ceiling. We saw it coming over the summer when he led the way for Team USA in the gold medal-winning effort at the World Cup in Spain. He used that experience to throw off whatever shackles he still had on himself and returned to New Orleans ready to lead and dominate. Averaging more than 25 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots and two steals per game, Davis has forced his way into the conversation for MVP. What’s more, he’s making a real case for overtaking soon-to-be-30-year-old LeBron James as the best all-around talent in the game. Even though his Pelicans are bobbing around the .500 mark and will struggle to make the playoffs, he’s the reason to have League Pass and dial him up any time New Orleans is on the schedule. He’s always had the talent, but now there is an edge and attitude to A.D.’s game that commands respect.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: High praise for Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova from LeBron James after Cleveland’s big fourth-quarter comeback against Toronto. …  Another game night, another round of “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts during warm-ups, this time out West. … The losing in Philadelphia can be seen as a half-full opportunity, even for a seasoned NBA vet like Luc Mbah a Moute. …  But Earl Clark apparently doesn’t feel that way about what’s going on with the Lakers, preferring a lucrative deal in China. … For anyone still counting, this is Year 7 for the city of Seattle without the NBA. …


‘Big Smooth’ didn’t gripe about 82

Sam Perkins ranks 19th all time in games played (1,286) and 55th in minutes (36,598). The sleepy-eyed, sweet-shooting forward/center known as “Big Smooth” played at least 80 games in nine different seasons and played all 82 three times.

He’s been retired for more than 13 years, finishing with Indiana in 2000-01 after divvying up his 17 seasons between Dallas, the L.A. Lakers, Seattle and the Pacers. At 53, he’s not especially prone to “back in my day” crankiness, but he does wonder why a workload of 82 games seems too much for NBA players and their coaches in recent seasons.

Cleveland’s LeBron James talked last month about the benefits of playing fewer games, if the NBA would ever curtail its schedule. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has made it part of his calling card – along with taciturn quarter-break interviews – to rest his veteran stars numerous times during the regular season. But Perkins hasn’t been persuaded.

“Huh. I didn’t really have a problem with 82 games,” Perkins said during a Google+ Hangout with “I thought once you got the format and they rolled it out for you, that’s what you had to do. And on top of that, we had to practice three hours a day, two times for two weeks [in training camp]. So I don’t know how much [more] grueling it is now.”

One gripe with which Perkins does agree: The heavy slate of back-to-back games, which grind on the players and may lead to shabbier basketball on those second nights. Or in the Spurs’ case, multiple absences from the lineup.

VIDEO: Perkins talks to

“Back-to-backs take a lot out of you, whether you’re a veteran or a young cat. That will tend to mess with you a little bit with injuries,” Perkins said.

Perkins, a teammate of Michael Jordan‘s at North Carolina who was drafted immediately after him in the 1984 Draft, spends time traveling as an NBA ambassador these days. He went to China with the Brooklyn Nets and spent part of the summer “hanging out” with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup in Spain. Perkins serves on the board of Special Olympics and has been preparing for the Games in L.A. next summer.

Last week he and former NBA player Cedric Ceballos traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for the Beyond Sport global summit and awards. One of that organization’s initiatives, Perkins said, was a program in Cambodia to eradicate land mines, making fields safe for kids to play.

But he seemed happy to spend time Friday answering questions via his iPad about his NBA career on a variety of topics:

On his notoriety as an ahead-of-the-curve, perimeter-shooting big man: “I know coaches did acknowledge the reason why they hate me so much is because all their players now try to shoot the three instead of staying inside. … Back then, Coach [George] Karl, Coach [Mike] Dunleavy and all these guys, they wanted to open up the game. So they said, you might need to work on your shot after practice. I didn’t even think about it, but shooting 3s with Byron Scott and all the guards, it just got better. … Guys, when I see them from different teams now, that’s all they know, that I shot 3s.”

On the 1984 U.S. Olympic experience: “It was grueling. Bobby Knight had us down in Indiana … and we went three times a day. I had never seen anything like it. Guys you had heard about finally meeting, and everybody was wondering ‘Who are you? What are you going to do?’ It was our first time meeting if you didn’t play then in college. Charles Barkley, Chuck Person, Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel. We just had an all-star crew there. … Bobby Knight was a different coach from Coach [Dean] Smith and what I was accustomed to. You had to pay attention because, as you know, Bobby Knight wasn’t one to play with.”

A player he modeled his game after, growing up in New York: “I saw the Knicks a lot. Willis Reed. Dean Meminger. Walt Frazier. Earl Monroe. These are the guys that I always wanted to be like. Because they played hard, they played together.” Perkins also mentioned ABA legends Artis Gilmore, George Gervin and Connie Hawkins – whom he actually saw play on the playgrounds in Brooklyn – as influences.

The NBA players with the best hair and best nickname: “I would have to say [Anderson] Varejao. No, no, I take that back. Joakim Noah. And favorite nickname? It’s got to be Kobe [Bryant]. ‘Black Mamba.’ ”

Favorite teammate: “Chris Mullin, Detlef Schrempf and James Worthy. They were solid.”

His advice to current players about life after basketball: Line up internships in fields that interest them in the offseason. And network. “You definitely have to prepare while you’re playing. They tell you when you come into the league to try to meet as many people as you can – open doors to different avenues. It helped a great deal. And trying to have a positive persona for people to [be attracted to].”

The prospect of NBA franchises in international markets: “The new spot everybody’s thinking about is New Delhi, India. India has the potential of having the NBA there. They have the money, they have the infrastructure. And even though we may not think of India as an NBA country, it is probably one that can sponsor the NBA. It’s fascinating to see the hype for NBA basketball. … The place I would have liked to play would definitely be Spain. It’s a place where I hear a lot of guys go over there, they practice a lot but they don’t play as many games.”

Perkins also participated in a lightning round of word association:

Kobe? “Shooter.”

Knight? “Angry.”

SuperSonics? “Best team I ever played on.”

Michael? “Good teammate.”

Big Smooth? “I think of Byron Scott. He gave me that name.”

‘Free agent’ coaches seek work in ever-shifting job market

One by one, in something approximating inverse order of desirability, the names of NBA free agents have come off the proverbial big board. What began with the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Pau Gasol has dwindled now to fellows such as Andray Blatche, Dante Cunningham and Ekpe Udoh.

This game of offseason musical chairs is played for even more blood among coaches. There are fewer jobs to be had in the first place (five or six per team vs. 15 player positions), and it’s not nearly the meritocracy that it is for players. Abilities, work ethic and results matter less than connections or change for its own sake.

There are a lot of coaching free agents still on the board, both former head coaches and notable assistants. Among the former, we have George Karl, Jeff Van Gundy, Scott Skiles, Mike Woodson, Doug Collins, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Keith Smart, Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Lawrence Frank and Maurice Cheeks.

The latter group, even bigger, includes Jack Sikma, Mario Elie, Terry Porter, T.R. Dunn, Igor Kokoskov, Scott Williams, Bill Peterson, Bernie Bickerstaff, Brian Hill, Bob Ociepka  and, hey, Rasheed Wallace. Actually, you could go dozens deep with solid coaching pros who once were in but now are out, the one place few of them want to be.

“There’s an old expression in the NBA, ‘Never get off the bus. Stay on the bus!’ ” said Jim Boylan, an NBA assistant for most of his 22 years in the league who survived a coaching change in Cleveland this offseason. “We all realize it too — it’s a privilege for us to be involved in the NBA and to coach athletes at this level.”

But it’s fleeting. Coaches face more scrutiny and grab more headlines when they’re fired, but their landings are often cushioned by seven-figure paychecks. Assistant coaches get flushed, and that six-figure salary — while comfy by most folks’ standards — doesn’t go quite so far when you account for the costs of multiple residences or constant moves.

Ociepka, who entered the league in the 1980s as a part-time volunteer scout after a storied career as a high school coach in the Chicago area, scrambled through five NBA teams in five years in the ’90s. Boylan and his wife, Jane, counted recently and realized they have owned or lived in 25 homes during his basketball career.

“It’s not a surprise when you’re an assistant coach in the NBA,” Sikma, the former Seattle and Milwaukee center, said recently. “You look at the number of staffs that have turned over in the last few years — it’s more of a constant than not. You know you’re probably going to have to bounce around a little bit.”

There are a multitude of factors for the turnover, most obvious the turnover at the top. When a coach gets fired, some or all of his staff typically gets shown the door with him. And there has been a LOT of turnover lately — nine new NBA coaches this summer, 13 such changes a year ago. Going back just five years, to the start of the 2009-10 season, only San Antonio (Gregg Popovich), Miami (Erik Spoelstra) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) now have the same coaches. And both the Spurs’ and Mavericks’ staffs have changed considerably.

“Most people who are making the decisions probably have a narrow list going on, from relationships or what they’re looking for,” Sikma said. “It’s a transient line of work for sure. So you have to be quick on your feet.”

Here are glimpses of three assistant coaches whose dance cards are filled to varying degrees. Sikma would like very much to get back in after spending the past seven seasons working with now-retired Rick Adelman. Boylan beat the odds by surviving a coaching change in Cleveland, then beat them again when LeBron James’ yearning for home rocked the Cavaliers’ landscape. And Ociepka is at the point, after so many hirings and firings, where he might prefer more stable options. (more…)

Sikma Gets Wish, ’79 Sonics Get Company

No champagne. No schadenfreude.

Members of the 1979 SuperSonics did not huddle up Sunday

Jack Sikma

Jack Sikma played nine of his 14 seasons in Seattle.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks

evening, rooting against the NFL Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII in the hope of retaining their Seattle specialness. As Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the rest of them dominated the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium, 43-8, the Sonics’ 35-year reign as the city’s only major sports championship was over.

And at least one of them was fine with that.

“That sounds like the [1972] Miami Dolphins and the undefeated thing,” Jack Sikma said this weekend. “No, that’s something different.”

Sikma, an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves on Rick Adelman‘s staff, played nine of his 14 NBA seasons in Seattle. He was a seven-time All-Star for the Sonics, a 6-foot-11 center who anchored the ’79 team that ranked first among the market’s sports franchises in terms of ultimate achievement. Until Sunday.

“First of all, I like football and I like the Seahawks team,” Sikma said, “and I like how they conducted their business this year. They deserved to be where they’re at, having a shot at it.”

Unlike the legend of the ’72 Dolphins, whose alumni are said to pop corks each NFL season when the last unbeaten team loses (thereby preserving Miami’s distinctive claim), rooting against the Seahawks would be a Seattle-on-Seattle crime. Sikma makes his permanent home in that city, so he has a close-up, supportive view of the football team, which failed in its only previous Super Bowl bid (XL).

Jack Sikma

Photo courtesy of Seattle Seahawks

“The organization has shown they have good people making good decisions with their draft picks and free agents,” he said. “The whole story of Russell Wilson – they sign Matt Flynn at quarterback but the third round [of the 2012 draft] comes around and [GM] John Schneider says, ‘Hey, this guy is just too good of a football player. We’ve got to take him. We’ll figure it out.’

“It’s a different animal than NBA basketball, but how they’ve gone about their business, I think would bode well in our league too.”

Sikma learned what it meant to deliver a championship to Seattle’s passionate sports fans, and shared that with Now it’s the Seahawks’ turn, with the Sonics sharing their lofty status.

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.

Bucks Put On The Clock For New Arena


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The good news, Milwaukee, is the BMO Harris Bradley Center will unveil a new home court this season designed in the spirit of Robert Indiana’s awesome MECCA floor at the Bucks’ old home.

The bad news is neither their old home nor the current BMO Harris Bradley Center is fit for an NBA team. Incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver made that much clear Wednesday in speaking to a gathering of Bucks corporate sponsors at a reception called the “Bucks Partner Summit.” It essentially started the clock on the 25-year-old arena and, quite literally, on the franchise’s future in Milwaukee.

“One obvious issue we all have to deal with is we need a new arena in Milwaukee,” Silver said. “At the end of the day, compared to other modern arenas in the league, this arena is a few hundred thousand square feet too small. It doesn’t have the sort of back-of-house space you need, doesn’t have the kinds of amenities we need. It doesn’t have the right sort of upper bowl-lower bowl (seating) configuration for the teams frankly that Milwaukee wants to compete against.”

Silver is the deputy commissioner to David Stern, who has announced plans to step down on Feb. 1, 2014. Silver told the Milwaukee crowd that the league’s collective bargaining agreement ratified in December 2011 positions all 30 teams, regardless of market size, to prosper. A prerequisite is a modern-day arena. Silver also made it clear that cities such as Seattle — which lost an eleventh-hour bid on seizing the Sacramento Kings — Las Vegas and Kansas City are planning NBA-quality arenas to attract teams. Expansion, Silver said, is not on the table, leaving relocation as the only way for a non-NBA city to gain a team.

The Seattle SuperSonics were the last team to relocate in 2008. The franchise was purchased by Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett, and when efforts failed in Seattle to secure public funding to match private funding to renovate the aging Key Arena, Bennett got the green light to leave.

The Bucks remain under the control of one of the NBA’s all-time great owners, Herb Kohl. At the meeting, Kohl described the difficulty he faced just last year in getting the league’s owners to approve the Bucks’ lease extension at Bradley Center through September 2017:

“Getting an extension was not an easy thing. There was some opposition there. None of it was personal — it was all a matter of good business in terms of what’s good for the NBA.”

Milwaukee’s other professional sports team, MLB’s Milwaukee Brewers, moved into Miller Park in 2001, the $392-million stadium that was largely paid for by taxpayers in the five-county region through a 0.1 percent sales tax, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. (The in-state NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, are in a unique situation as the only community-owned professional sports franchise.)

The estimated cost for the new downtown arena in Sacramento is $448 million.

The NBA has no interest in seeing the Bucks and their rich history leave Milwaukee, the franchise’s only home since it joined the league in 1968.

The franchise outgrew the MECCA and the Bradley Center too. A similar version of the old MECCA floor will be great to see this season at Bradley Center, but it’s ultimately plans for a new building the NBA will need to see.

Silver: NBA Won’t Hold Hansen’s Sacramento Acts Against Seattle

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver says Chris Hansen's recent tactics won't haunt him.

Deputy commissioner Adam Silver says Chris Hansen’s recent tactics won’t haunt him.

Sure it seems a little sleazy, writing a fat check under cover of darkness in an attempt to sabotage your competition. Billionaire Chris Hansen’s secret contribution to a group trying to thwart the construction of a new Sacramento arena – even after Hansen had lost his bid to buy and move the Kings to Seattle – smacked of gutter tactics, like Alex Rodriguez allegedly throwing other PED users under the MLB bus or the old Committee to Re-Elect The President [CREEP] of Watergate and Woodward-Bernstein fame.

But just because something isn’t sporting, old chaps, doesn’t mean that it’s going to get in the way of smart business.

A proper sense of perspective figures to prevail if and when Hansen, on behalf of Seattle, attempts again to return the NBA to that city. That perspective looks something like this:

  • $80,000 < $509 billion.

Every day of the week and twice on Sunday, as a matter of fact.

Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and the man who will slide over one spot when David Stern retires Feb. 1 after 30 years in the job, assured Seattle reporters that Hansen’s bit of chicanery likely would not be a deal breaker if he were to make another bid for an NBA team, via either relocation or expansion.

Hansen and two political consultants agreed Monday to pay a $50,000 fine for failing to disclose the donation for a petition effort on behalf of arena opponents. Its goal: Force a citywide vote on Sacramento’s $258 million in public subsidy to the project. Hansen’s bid of $625 million was rejected by the NBA Board of Governors, who chose as Kings buyers a group led by Vivek Ranadive for $535 million.

The anti-arena donation, which violated California campaign-disclosure laws, raised some eyebrows over Hansen’s tactics but probably won’t place hurdles in front of a renewed Seattle effort, should Hansen still be involved, reported Percy Allen of the Seattle Times:

“I would say it won’t affect Seattle’s chances,” Silver said Sunday in Springfield, Mass., before the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony. “I haven’t talked to Chris since those allegations came out. I think as he said, he got caught up in the moment.”

Silver also said:

“We have a lot of competitive owners in the league,” he said “I’m sure all of that will be put behind us.”

To put it another way: NBA owners didn’t get to be multi-millionaires and billionaires by letting little ethical hiccups get in the way of megadeals. Hansen’s ploy was bad form, embarrassing and worthy of some tsk-tsking in the mahogany-paneled inner sanctum. But a hastily stroked, pull-no-punches check for $80,000 isn’t about to scuttle a deal that could deliver a half billion dollar (or more) windfall as an expansion fee to be divvied up among the current 30 teams (that is the Forbes 2013 average franchise value, which was how Charlotte was valued when it entered in 2004). Or an even bigger payday for one of the league’s poorer sisters, moving the revenue-sharing NBA back into the USA’s No. 12 TV market.

The NBA, through Stern and the Governors, has been known to drive home political, financial and even ethical points before. It took a stand, some would say, choosing the lower bid so the Kings could stay in Sacramento. (And it did not, Seattle fans might allege, in allowing Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett to abscond with SuperSonics in the first place.)

But if Hansen remains the most viable option as a deep-pocketed Seattle owner, and the best candidate to land the $200 million subsidies for a new $490 million arena, there’s no way the NBA and its owners snub him. A Sonics redux would be good for business, with a lot more zeroes involved than the regrettable check Hansen cut.