Last night on TV I listened to Michael Jordan give the prepackaged, tired, bland "parting of the ways" explanation General Managers and owners offer the public when firing a coach, and I was disappointed. Larry Brown and I came into the NBA together eons ago. I admired his playing, and I especially admired his coaching. Brown was Jordan's pick to be coach; they're both Dean Smith, North Carolina alums. They're both basketball men. Jordan knows good coaching, but he made it sound as if the Bobcats' losing season was Larry's fault. I understand that somebody must fall on his sword; it's the way things work in sports, and I admit in the past coaching changes often did help. But I believe Larry's Brown's firing represents something new and more troublesome that's happening in the NBA. Something that bodes poorly for the league's future.
Don't get me wrong, I love the modern game of professional basketball; its speed and athleticism makes for a thrilling sport. But, the same attributes that make today's game so exciting might also be its weakness, a weakness born of an increasingly heavy reliance on "go-to" Super Players. A weakness that could, become the League's Achilles heel.
Certainly, the NBA has always relied on superstars, but every season, as the speed and athleticism of players increase, the chances for less athletic teams to even moderately succeed diminishes. This trend has recently been exemplified by the Miami Heat's acquisition of LeBron James and Chirs Bosh, and the Knicks aquisition of Amare Stoudemire. Now Carmelo Anthony is about to bolt Denver for better climes - rumors say he wants to join forces with Stoudemire in New York. Who can say where Dwight Howard will go if Orlando doesn't win a championship soon? (The Magic's recent trade is only a marginal improvement).
Thank God Dirk Nowitzki stayed put in Dallas. Could you imagine if the Knicks had landed Nowitzki? If you haven't noticed, the NBA is already so lopsided that only a very few elite teams exist. The rest of the teams have virtually no chance against them, even though some, like the Atlanta Hawks, have a number of excellent players. Even the Mavericks with that magnificent German will not prevail against the likes of Boston, LA, and Miami. Whoa, you say, Miami is not ready yet. Really? We'll have to wait for the last month of the season to find out. And what about the Heat next season? And the season after? I'm taking bets there is a championship in store for them.
What does this have to do with Larry Brown? I'm afraid that Larry and many other good coaches in the NBA are going to be fired in the future because the playing field on which they are coaching is no longer level. Teams are increasingly stockpiling the best players. You can be a smart and innovative coach but how do you win in such an environment? Kurt Rambis doesn't have a chance. Neither does Sacramento's Paul Westphal, or San Diego's Vinnie Delnegro. You can name a number of other coaches who are doomed to failure and will be, like Larry Brown, replaced by another coach who will, in his turn, be replaced, unless the NBA provides them with some tools to compete against the elite teams. Unless they do, small market franchises without deep-pocket ownership will remain perennial losers.
The league can not wait much longer to solve this problem.
One thing the NBA can do right now that would have an immediate impact is to change its 24-second clock rule to 35 seconds. The extra 11 seconds would allow intelligent coaches (such as Larry Brown) to compete for more points by creating complex offensive patterns that could allow a less athletic, but smarter team, to withstand the pure athleticism of the elites. Yes, it would slow the game down, but not by much. No basketball fan that I know of complains about the 35-second clock in college basketball.
One last comment about Larry's firing. When did Larry Brown become a bad coach? From 1973 to 2005, across three decades of basketball players, he consistently won. This poem is specifically for Larry, but any coach, I'm sure, can relate.
Ulysses by Claude Clayton Smith
There is yet some elastic
in this tired old jock,
enough to toss the ball
around and teach my son
Telemachus the subtle art
of looking left - while
thinking right. To catch
the opposition napping,
to cross them up and leave
them guessing. Elastic
yet to flip the pages of
faded clippings and narrate
tales that live as legends:
the hours of practice,
the hard-fought game,
the occasional moments
What my musings are all about...
Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.
The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.
The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.