It’s almost as if Anthony Bennett is the victim of some voodoo carnival fortune-teller incantation that has caused him to switch bodies with an unknown JV player, who even now is stroking 3s and dunking on hapless 15-year-old opponents in a dusty high school gym. The lively, sweet-shooting college athlete who finished with power around the rim has been replaced with a rain-slicked pile of loose bricks covered with a tarp that starts breathing hard after walking from the bench to the scorer’s table. He’s a project, though just what kind is hard to say. Bennett was slowed over the summer by a shoulder injury, coupled with a diagnosis of asthma and sleep apnea, all of which, perhaps, have contributed to his overall appearance as a guy who spent those balmy months trying to tunnel his way out of a giant tub of Häagen-Dazs.
Coaching news has rudely interrupted the endless stream of first-round playoff games, as both Charlotte and Cleveland came to major decisions about their head-coaching positions on Tuesday. The Bobcats’ semi-surprising decision to fire Mike Dunlap with one season left on his contract marked the fourth departure of a head coach since the end of the NBA regular season, which happened just one week ago. That round of firings followed four in-season dismissals, and three of the teams that made in-season changes — Milwaukee, Phoenix, and the Nets — are at the very least going to think very hard about making new hires in the next month or two.
In case you were out avoiding any Coachella spoilers before the second weekend of the music festival, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The NFL schedule was released on Thursday, and wow, WOW, wow, what a schedule it is! Not only will every team currently in the NFL play 16 games, but each of these teams will have a strategically placed bye added to their schedule. Additionally, some teams will be playing one or more games on non-Sunday days such as Mondays and Thursdays. Interestingly, no games this year are scheduled for Tuesdays. Marquee matchups include games between last year's division winners, last year's Super Bowl participants, teams that have quarterbacks people have heard of, and members of the NFC East. Early analysis suggests that the NFL schedule favors those teams that play mostly inferior teams, with the caveat that those favored teams might themselves prove inferior in the future. More NFL schedule–related analysis later in About Last Night, including a prediction you're not going to believe!
Eric Chavez got revenge on his former teammates with a three-run double to key the Arizona Diamondbacks' 12-inning 6-2 win over the New York Yankees. The Yankees also got more bad news on the injury front, as shortstop Derek Jeter has been ruled out until the All-Star break with complications related to his injured ankle. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after the game, "Tonight's loss was tough, as was the news on Derek, but we'll persevere." Cashman then kept repeating the word persevere, as he stripped down to his underwear before asking the gathered media, "Does anyone have that Swedish House Mafia song on their phone? Cause I could really go for getting weird right now." Cashman then had assistant general manager Jean Afterman flick the lights in the room on and off while he danced arrhythmically before collapsing in a heap of tears.
How many adjustments does a team need to make before you just throw up your hands and call it broken? If you read any of the papers in Los Angeles or listen to any sports talk radio or scan through the dozens of purple-and-gold blogs, you’d believe there must be some master solution that will make all the Lakers' disparate parts cohere into some unstoppable basketball force. Once Dwight learns to play with Pau, everything will be fine. Or once Nash learns to play alongside Kobe, the team will stop looking slow and confused on offense. Or once the bench players find their roles, the second unit will look like something more than five random dudes who happen to be standing on a basketball court together.
Up until last week, the dominant excuse/adjustment was something called the “Princeton offense,” which, due to its Ivy League origins and all the requisite unathletic associations, never sat well with the locals who had grown up with Showtime and Shaq. (As a side note, the Princeton offense was mostly a branding problem — if Mike Brown had just called it “the system” and not said a word about New Jersey’s capital of secret societies and lax bros, every sound bite about Princeton and the Lakers would never have existed. They still might have lost a ton of games under Brown, but he at least wouldn’t have been the guy who — gasp! — tried to get Kobe Bryant to play within something as uncool as the Princeton offense.)
Now that Mike Brown and Princeton have bowed out of the Lakers excuse show, the adjustment story has shifted over to Mike D’Antoni and his own system and what will happen when Steve Nash comes back from his injury. That particular story line won’t even get started until Nash comes back sometime next month, which will then set off its own little barrage of separate adjustment stories. And ad infinitum till the Lakers either win or, more likely, do not win the NBA championship.
Shawn Marion, fiercely proud and a little defensive, was fond of telling reporters during the height of the Seven Seconds or Less Era in Phoenix that players made “genius” coaches like Mike D’Antoni look good.
Marion is obviously oversimplifying. Head coaches are hugely important, maybe third on the importance hierarchy in any franchise, behind only the owner and the franchise superstar (if one is present). There are a few reasons why Chicago will rank among the three or five best defensive teams this season and going forward, but Tom Thibodeau’s presence is probably the biggest factor.
But a coach can only work with the players on hand, and the Lakers’ roster brings some structural issues — largely outlined here — that were going to challenge whomever the team named as Mike Brown’s in-season replacement. In a shocking reversal, they’ve chosen D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll system over the triangle and Phil Jackson, whose salary demands and requests for broader organizational control were apparently too much for the Buss family, per the Los Angeles Times and others. Inking D’Antoni to a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth season, may also be a signal that the Lakers believe his style is a better fit for the only pieces — Steve Nash and Dwight Howard — on the books beyond 2013-14, assuming the Lakers convince Howard to re-sign this summer on a max deal.
When reports of the Lakers and Mike Brown adding Eddie Jordan to their coaching staff surfaced, two questions came to mind: (1) Will Jordan bring the Princeton offense with him, and (2) how effective will it be with the Los Angeles Lakers? The first part of that question was answered rather quickly by Brown, who told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports that the Lakers plan on mixing in the Princeton offense: "We're still going to do a lot of stuff we did last year. We're just incorporating some of the Princeton stuff."
It wasn't just Mike Brown who wanted Eddie Jordan. According to Adrian Wojnarwoski the Princeton offense is something that Kobe Bryant wants to see the Lakers run as well. So with the Lakers' head coach and star player both endorsing the new system's arrival, we can assume it's going to be a major part of the Lakers' offensive playbook next season.
Before he became the Lakers’ coach, Mike Brown worked under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs. During his first season in Los Angeles, Brown hasn't used many sets that came from the Spurs — until last night, that is. Tied 93-all against the New Orleans Hornets with 2.1 seconds left, everyone expected Kobe Bryant to get the ball in isolation. You know the drill: He runs to the ball and fires up a tough jumper. But last night, Brown used the threat of Bryant’s standard one-on-one last shot to set up a much easier, wide-open look for Bryant, and the play came almost straight out of the Popovich playbook.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
According to sources, the Indianapolis Colts will release Peyton Manning after 14 years of service. Team owner Jim Irsay informed Manning of the decision on Monday night, after which the two flew together to Indianapolis, where they'll announce the news at a press conference later today. "I promised myself I wouldn't cry," said Manning, "because then I'd have to touch my head to wipe the tears away, and that is so, so painful. Wait, why are you don't write that down. I'm fine. I'm good to play football."