There was no time to print new programs before last night’s game between the Nets and the visiting Nuggets: There, on page 28, was Lawrence Frank’s name, first among the six assistant coaches listed. Good-bye to all that. Just a few hours earlier, Frank had been reassigned from bench duties “to doing daily reports,” which presumably means he will now be undermining Jason Kidd’s authority in writing on a daily basis. It’s easy to make up some reason Frank lost his place in Kidd’s inner sanctum — perhaps it was all those times Frank rolled his eyes and air-jerked during Kidd’s halftime team talks. Or maybe the “philosophical differences” that divided Frank and Kidd boiled down to the fact that Frank actually had a philosophy. The harder part to process is why Frank remains in the building at all.
Just a few months ago, I would have never cared about any of this. I was perfectly content watching the Nets from a safe, neutral distance. The only person in the organization I was remotely curious about was Mikhail Prokhorov, mostly because of my hobby fascination with post–Cold War economies. But shortly after the Nets torpedoed the future to acquire two-fifths of Ubuntu, I found myself on their team website, studying ticket packages for the upcoming season. I remember looking out my office window and regarding the fine, possibility-rich glint of a summer day, and convincing myself this was a totally reasonable investment in my future happiness. I convinced my friend Reihan that Nets tickets would improve his life as well and, a few bank transfers later, an official Brooklyn Nets thumb drive and a card loaded with all our tickets arrived in the mail. I began to give a shit about Mason Plumlee and Tyshawn Taylor, I saw wisdom in the signing of Shaun Livingston, I parsed the enigma that is Andray Blatche. I looked forward to Jason Terry doing the jet thing and punching his chest within seconds of his Brooklyn debut. I couldn’t wait to watch Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce again on a consistent basis. I began to receive weekly emails from the Nets and Barclays Center gauging my emotional responses to sponsors, security companies, party supply outlets.
In case you were busy calling out traders on Twitter, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors exploded for 42 points in the fourth quarter as they overturned a 27-point deficit to beat the Toronto Raptors 112-103. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was incensed after the game, saying, "The Warriors, they're who we thought they were. That's why we took the damn court." Casey then pounded the podium and yelled, "Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let them off the hook." When told of Casey's comments, Warriors point guard Stephen Curry frowned and asked, "This doesn't mean I'm Rex Grossman, does it? Because I really don't want to be Rex Grossman."
In the marquee move of a busy day of major league hot stove action, sources are reporting that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will leave the world champion Boston Red Sox, having agreed to terms on a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees. When asked if he saw himself as following in the footsteps of former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, who also moved to the Yankees after winning a World Series title, Ellsbury's eyes darted as he said, "What? No. Who? Who's Johnny Damon? You're crazy." When asked if he was Johnny Damon posing as Jacoby Ellsbury, Ellsbury glared and said, "Why can't you just be cool? If you were cool you wouldn't ask these questions." Ellsbury was then asked if he had ever existed, or if he had always been a clever ruse designed to extend Johnny Damon's career, to which Ellsbury replied, "Seriously, why won't you just let me have this? Please just let me have this."
In case you were busy foolishly enjoying the company of friends and family this holiday season without a television on in the background, here's what you missed in sports over the holiday:
In one of the most stunning endings to a football game in recent memory, Auburn shocked Alabama in the Iron Bowl, winning 34-28 on a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown as time expired. "No regrets," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after the game when asked about his late-game management, "I thought to myself, What's the worst that could happen? And the answer was that the kick could hit a child in the head, creating a trauma that the boy would bury deep into his subconscious. This trauma would then only rear its head again when the boy had grown, fueled by his hate, to become governor of Alabama, and he would then decide by gubernatorial decree to make football illegal. But then I decided that, rightly I might add, that would be impossible; if anything could provoke a coup in the state of Alabama it would be the abolition of football. So I made the right decision, I just got a bad result."
You don’t just acquire depth in the NBA, you develop it. Sure, GMs can sign wily vets and boundlessly energetic youngsters to fill out the roster and spell their core players, but it’s up to the head coach to take all those instruments and conduct an 82-game symphony.
The first two weeks of the NBA season have shown how some teams have shaped their rotations sensibly and effectively, how others are close to cracking the code, and how still others have turned an embarrassment of riches into straight-up embarrassment.
Jason Kidd is a human with a cell phone so I sent him some text messages.
Me: Hey, man. Kidd: Hello? Me: Yo. It’s Shea. How’s the team looking? Kidd: Whose team? Me: Yours, fool. Kidd: Huh? Me: Because you’re the coach. Kidd: oh yeah Me: dude, what do you mean “oh yeah”? Kidd: I forgot Me: yeah, I think we all did Kidd: :/ Me: so how are they looking? Kidd: they look good. Real good. We got a good shot this year Me: good shot at what? Kidd: the title Me: o_O
After a few days of NBA-lite here in Orlando, you realize you take for granted some of the brilliant yet subtle nuances of the real thing. One specific example has been ball-screen defense. Or perhaps more aptly put, the shoddy nature of it during the games at Amway Center this week. At the NBA level, the best defenses defend the pick-and-roll like a finely tuned machine. Big men call out the coverage early, giving defenders on the ball plenty of time to position themselves to force opponents to the desired spot on the floor. In summer league, the communication during that defensive sequence is often late, or worse, nonexistent. The defenders here will try to "weak" (force a defender on a middle screen toward his weak hand) or "down" (force a defender baseline) a ball screen, only to watch helplessly as offensive players blow by their haphazard attempts for easy baskets.
This substandard execution isn’t an indictment against the young players here. Most have never seen this level of sophistication and have had merely a few practices together to figure it out. It’s almost a given, then, that pick-and-roll defense should be a mess at times. Grasping the defensive nuances of NBA schemes is a long process. It’s often the primary reason talented young players find themselves strapped to the bench during the regular season, even players with prodigious offensive talent. For that reason, it’s an encouraging sign when a prospect stands out for his ability to effectively defend the pick-and-roll. Big men who are consistent communicators and guards who repeatedly show they can react to the verbal directions stand out.
Day 1 of the Orlando Summer League could be summed up in one word: long. Turns out five 40-minute games, a seemingly endless number of fouls, and some shoddy, disorganized play can truly test your love and appreciation for basketball. Yet I persevered and somehow managed to cobble together some notes.
Cool it, Cooley
If there were a Vegas line on what player would emerge in my notes from the first game between Houston and Philadelphia, the odds on Jack Cooley would have been about 50,000 to 1. The Notre Dame alum didn’t put up a killer stat line (eight points, six rebounds in 14 minutes) but he did put in killer effort. To say Cooley played hard would actually be a major understatement. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward was a rather large man possessed. Cooley ran the floor, battled on the boards, communicated on defense, and generally hustled his way into my heart. And I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
Summer league is a perfect place for a fringe player like Cooley to endear himself to NBA teams with his rugged, energetic style of play. While the NBA is in an era in which stats and efficiency allow for cold, calculating evaluations of players, Cooley’s good ol’ fashioned efforts are enough to warm the hearts of coaches and executives. Guys that play hard every time they step on the floor may not be statistical darlings, but they are good to have around when coaches need to breath some life into the doldrums of the NBA season (also, Cooley must be doing something right in the stats columns if he’s on Houston’s summer league roster). Players like Mark Madsen survived for years purely on toughness, effort, and rebounding, and Cooley seems to be cut from a similar cloth.
You may have heard that Jason Kidd was named head coach of the Nets last week. It's kind of amazing news, because wow, OK, I guess Jason Kidd is coaching the Nets now.
Mikhail Prokhorov is insane.
This was a bad decision. There's a chance Kidd will succeed, sure. Who knows. Nobody has any idea how a coach is going to fare in any given situation. Anyone who pretends otherwise is lying. But this was a bad decision for one reason: Look at who Prokhorov DIDN'T hire. If the Nets were looking to make a splash, there are at least 10 other point guards who would've been better choices than Jason Kidd — for the Nets or anyone else.
Game 4 of a series in any 2-1 state has always been my favorite playoff game. If the trailing team wins and ties things at 2-2, each of the following games obviously takes on its own sort of hyper-drama. But for this moment, at 2-1, a single game determines the entire feel of a series, with a giant perception gap between outcomes. If the Spurs win tonight, the series begins to feel like a blowout. The city will have a full 48 hours of downtime to drink, eat, reflect, and prepare for a potential championship celebration on Sunday. And if that win comes with another subpar LeBron James effort, the hysteria level around Miami will reach 2011 Finals volume levels again.
And if Miami wins, it’s 2-2 — dead even, guaranteed to return to DOS MINUTOS territory, with the Heat likely having “found themselves again.” This is what we get to ponder for the next 12 hours or so. What fun.
In case you were out getting the oil change you need every 30,000 miles followed by a stern lecture from your mechanic about decimal places, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In a stunning start to the Stanley Cup final, the Chicago Blackhawks turned around a two-goal third-period deficit before Andrew Shaw scored on a deflection 12 minutes into a third overtime, as the Blackhawks took Game 1 at home, 4-3, over the Boston Bruins. "Dude, did you see that game?" asked your work friend Kevin, whom you blew off when he told you to meet him at Coyle's Pub to watch the game yesterday. "Oh my god, incredible." You nodded silently as you tried to keep walking past his cubicle as he said in a slightly too loud voice, "That was what playoff hockey is all about. Crawford, man, those stops! And a lot of questions for Boston going forward, especially if they're down Horton for any length of — you didn't see it did you? I can tell by the dead stare in your eyes. Best game of the year and you didn't even know what channel it was on, did you? Admit it. Admit you didn't know it was on. Don't give me that 'I need my coffee before we rap about hockey' bullshit. You missed the game, and it was awesome, and you betrayed me." After a long awkward moment passed, Kevin laughed and said, "Nah man, it's all right. Just Game 1. But you'll be at Coyle's for Game 2, yeah? Gotta come to Coyle's man. Gotta."
Former New Jersey Nets superstar Jason Kidd has been named the head coach of the now Brooklyn Nets, as they attempt to improve after a disappointing playoff campaign. Kidd is the best point guard to become a head coach since Isiah Thomas took over the New York Knicks head coaching job while also serving as president of basketball operations. Before Thomas came Magic Johnson's brief stint in charge of the Lakers in 1994. When asked about his reaction to the news, current top point guard Chris Paul said, "I'm excited to see how Kidd makes the transition from an idol to a cautionary tale I'll really be able to relate to in about 10 years."
The NBA playoffs are in full swing, and as the amazing continues to happen, the Grantland crew wants to help you buff up on some of the lesser-known faces populating basketball's second season.
Who Is He? Pablo Prigioni.
What’s His Nickname? “The Maestro” has popped up a few times in my search, but I’m suspicious that’s only a result of the YouTube clip below. New Yorkers can help me out here, but apparently there’s a local sportscaster who refers to him as “Priggy Smalls” — make your own judgments there.
Where Is He From? Argentina, but he played professionally in Spain.
Years Played: Rookie.
What’s His Salary? $473,604.
His Game in 25 Words or Fewer: A pass-first point guard who’s fluent in the pick-and-roll, shoots it well enough from 3, and consistently makes great decisions with the ball.
But, holy cow, did Hibbert announce himself to a national TV audience that might have ignored the Pacers this season, including during their first-round win over the Hawks. Hibbert finished with five blocks and played a huge role in holding the Knicks to just 15-of-34 shooting in the restricted area, per NBA.com. There will be nights when the Knicks miss an unusually high number (for them) of 3-point shots and midrange jumpers, and Carmelo Anthony is going through a streak of such nights right now. But if an opposing defense controls the paint like the Pacers did last night, New York will have to work very hard to win even when more of the jumpers fall.
On the November 7, 2012, episode of Pardon the Interruption, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon interviewed Dork Elvis, a.k.a. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. During the interview, Kornheiser asked Morey the following questions: “Is there a specific statistic, Daryl, that you look for in a player that counts for more than any other statistic out there? Is there one thing that you might see that appeals personally to you?”
Morey hesitated, Kornheiser pressed, then Morey suggested that he loves guards who get to the rim: “We really like guys who can attack the hoop. Our point guard, Jeremy Lin, is a great example; so is James Harden. Point guards who are a little more traditional, a little more safe, and stay within their lane, I don’t think they impact winning as much as people think. I like having multiple attack guards and playing with pace.”
Good things happen when guards “attack” the basket. Aside from the obvious — layups and dunks — less apparent results like offensive rebounds, defensive fouls, free throws, and assists are also more likely to occur when attacking guards get near the hoop.
The Knicks are on pace to make history. The team is on track to break the record for most 3-point attempts in NBA history, and so far, they're hitting a ridiculous 41 percent from deep. That number will come down; only eight teams have ever finished a season having hit 40 percent of their 3's, and four of those teams played during the three-year stretch in the mid-’90s when the NBA used a shortened 3-point distance. AND when they hit an inevitable cold stretch, this will be among the two or three dominant discussion topics: The Knicks shoot too many 3's, and they need to pound the ball inside!