Thursday, November 29, 2007

Off daze - Musings...

After Tuesdays stinker, the Nets don't play until Saturday. Today (Thursday) would normally be a game day. Instead, we have 4 days till the next game.

So I'm sittin' here thinking...

Suppose the Nets got rid of Frank. Who would they get?

Or more aptly, are the Nets just the modern NBA (Nothing But Ability), filled with talent only players who have no fear and take no motivation from their coaches?

There was a time, not too long ago (or maybe it was - 20+ years....) when there were fixer coaches, coaches who could turn teams around. Bill Fitch comes to mind right away. He took the newborn Cavs to the playoffs multiple years, turned the Celts around from an abysmal run to the Championship in 2 years (okay, he had talent), turned Houston into a perennial playoff team from a bad set of seasons, even got the Clippers in. Most remarkable, he took an awful Nets team and got it into the playoffs in 3 years. If you needed a turnaround, he was the guy to call.

There were solid coaches, like Bill Sharman and Alex Hannum, innovators like Jack Ramsay and Hannum, old reliables like Red Holtzman, legends like Red Auerbach. All these guys had one thing in common: They could lead men.

Who are their equivalents now? Larry Brown was kinda like Fitch. The Van Gundys are solid (tho neither has won anything yet), there are legends, like Riley and Jackson.

But can they lead men?

I'm not blaming them. A decade ago Phil could definitely lead men. Then again, his assistant was #23. Riley had the ears of Showtime, but Showtime had ears to go with their obvious talent. The Pistons rallied around Brown, and they didn't have the earthshattering talent of the Celtics, Lakers, 76ers of the 80s. Was that him? Given that Saunders got them nearly as far and the Knicks were just as abysmal the year after, it's not so clear.

I admire Eddie Jordan, whose offense was part of the reason the Nets zoomed in the early 00s. I saw his Wizards play a couple of weeks ago. Was his team listening to him? Didn't look like it...

Maybe the question should be, could ANYONE lead these men?

Maybe what I don't see, what I can't see, is that Lawrence Frank is an excellent leader for today's kind of player - a guy with phenomenal athletic talent and absolutely no mind for the game. Maybe he can get more thru to the young players, so full of themselves and their Sportscenter moves and their bling and newfound millions, than the old style coaches, the my way/highway guys. Maybe he's gotta "just let them play" because there is no other alternative.

I suspect that LF is more in tune with today's reality than most. I suspect because he is always talking "left brain" - basketball, basketball, basketball, and no personality stuff - the players don't mind him and don't mind him managing the game. Maybe he's so inoffensive and "professional" in the locker room that the players, particularly Kidd, Jefferson, VC, are more likely to blame their bipolar play on themselves, and not on poor in-game management.

Maybe that's why, year after year, the Nets get off to a poor or at least mediocre start, then put on these phenomenal end of season surges, when the light bulb goes off and they realize they actually have to play seriously to make the playoffs.

Maybe that's why, year after year, the team is still "trying to find an identity" deep into January.

If that's the case, then that's the case. The new NBA.

If so, though, then it becomes much more incumbent upon the coach to manage the game properly, to grab those close wins by knowing how to cool off a run, call a timeout, draw up a play. Maybe if a coach can steal a few in the beginning of the season a team will gain some confidence and decide that their identity is as a winning team....

Byron Scott was a great competitor, a fierce competitor, when he played. He took the Nets to the finals twice. Actually, he didn't - Jason Kidd did. Jason Kidd was a leader of men who convinced his teammates, rookies and downtrodden veterans like Van Horn and Kittles, that the losing was over and that they could win. Rod Thorn put together a group of rookies who were wide eyed open to play and listen, and a similarly positive minded set of back ups. Fast Eddie brought the back door Princeton offense, and the chemistry between Kidd and Kenyon was obvious.

The Nets won 52 games that year, and should have won about 60 the next, given the talent and experience they had. They also had a great amount of success with San Antonio, and when that became the Finals matchup, it all looked good...

But the Nets only won 49 games that year. And despite cruising to the Finals vs a very weak Eastern Conference, Buddy Byron blew the finals all by himself, failing to play Mutombo consistently, making formulaic substitutions that threw water on their own runs, while failing to call timeouts that would have thrown water on the oppositions'.

Game 6 was the capper. He sat Mutombo too much, sat Kerry Kittles to start the 4th when KK was totally enfuego and the Nets had a 9 pt lead, and, due to those blunders, as San Antonio went on a 19-2 run in San Antonio, failed to call a timeout to stop it.

Had he played Mutombo in Game 1 the Nets might have come home up 2-0 and might have won it in NJ. Had he left Kittles in to start the fourth quarter of Game 6 the Nets might have at least forced a Game 7. Had he called a timeout when it was only an 8-0 run...

Clearly, Kidd was displeased and midway thru the next season Byron was gone, then Nets at .500, way below talent. Frank comes in, the Nets roll off 14 straight and even then only get 47 wins, and bow out in the Eastern Semis, despite being up vs Detroit 3-2 and going home. Kidd could barely walk... So we chalk that one up to bad luck.

Since then, tho, broken record. Bad starts, furious finishes, talent wins out in the first round, talent not enough in the second.

In my informed opinion, Jason Kidd is the best all around player in the league, and his triple doubles prove it. He is the most intelligent and aware player in the league, by far. He did what I have seen no other player or coach ever do - turn a perennially moribund franchise, not just team but entire FRANCHISE, around, into a perennial playoff team.

But in an all-talent league, intelligent all around play is not enough. JKidd is not a scoring machine, not a gun, not a shooter. He can coach on the floor and is essentially obliged to, but he can't make every shot, and is not the guy you want to have the ball in his hands with the clock running down and you need a 3.

They thought they got that with Carter, but he plays, well, bipolarly. They want to have it in RJ, but aside from injury he is not quite money.

Washington has Arenas, Miami Wade, Cleveland LeBron, LA Kobe, San Antonio Duncan, Detroit Hamilton. These guys WANT the ball for the last shot and have the TALENT to deliver. The Nets don't have that guy.

What they need is something to compensate. Something like great in-game strategic and tactical coaching.

I wonder - can anyone get this message to Lawrence Frank? Does he even see this?

Despite the "Big Three" and an improved supporting cast, the difference maker for this team has to be the coach. The difference maker has to be Frank.

Will he step up? Can he step up?

Right now, he shows no sign of it...

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