Weekly Countdown (cont.)
How does Tom Izzo's rejection of the Cavs' $30 million offer to coach affect their chances to retain LeBron this summer? With Byron Scott reportedly waiting to see what happens with the Lakers should Phil Jackson decide to not re-sign, it seems Cleveland has no one pining for the job. That can't bode well for their campaign to keep The King.
-- Larry, Springfield, Ill.
I think it helps their chances with him, Larry. I can't see how James would have had any interest in playing for a college coach with no NBA experience. I don't know anyone in the NBA who understood the Cavaliers' logic for offering the job to Izzo; if they were unhappy with Mike Brown's coaching, what made them think an NBA rookie could do better? Izzo could be an excellent NBA coach, but it will take him years to learn the league and revise his approach in all areas to adapt to the demands of NBA players. And Cleveland couldn't afford to give him that time to learn on the job.
If it's true that James was OK with the hiring of Izzo, then I view that as a very bad sign for the Cavs. It tells me James didn't care who they hired to coach because he didn't plan to play for him. I just cannot imagine an NBA star who skipped college being convinced a college coach who has never had anything to do with the NBA could lead him to a championship. James isn't going to want to listen to directions from a coach who knows less about the NBA than James himself.
I don't see Izzo's rejection affecting James' decision. Let's give the Cavs some credit for being smart. They came close to botching it this time because owner Dan Gilbert apparently was focused on his alumni ties with Michigan State, but they won't make the same kind of mistake twice. If they can recruit James back to Cleveland, I am certain they'll hire a coach who can make him happy. And the first way to make him happy is to deliver a coach who can help him win a championship.
If James returns then they'll have little problem hiring an excellent coach, that's for sure.
After Steve Kerr's abrupt resignation as the Suns' GM, how do you think that will affect Amar'e Stoudemire's free-agency decision this summer? If he decides to leave, where would he best fit in?
-- Adam, Clayton, N.C.
If they offer him a max contract for six years, then he'll stay. Anything less and he may leave. Money should dwarf the other issues. Miami, Chicago and New York would be among the usual suspects recruiting him.
What is it with the counting of titles as a measurement of a player's greatness? Shouldn't it be on how important the player is to his team when it is winning? If the number of titles was the defining factor, wouldn't Robert Horry be the greatest power forward of all time?
-- Sam M., Helsinki, Finland
I tend to agree with your second question, Sam. You're right, Robert Horry should not be up there among the greatest ever. But when it comes to separating the players at the top of the list, their ability to make the biggest difference and complete the ultimate championship goal has to be an enormous tiebreaker. The players themselves view it that way.
Is Avery Johnson a good fit for the Nets?
-- Katie, Hoboken, N.J.
They need discipline and accountability, and he'll provide that. Johnson has to live with claims that he suffered a meltdown during his Mavericks' 2006 Finals loss to the Heat, but let's be realistic: The Nets are years away from reaching the Finals, and in the meantime, he will create important standards that will help develop his young team. If he ever should return to championship contention, who's to say he won't learn from his experience and be prepared to create a different ending next time?
The Lakers' assistant is (or should be) a leading candidate to become a head coach in the near future. But he isn't necessarily going to take the first job that comes along.
On his readiness to be a head coach. "I feel like I'm ready, but I purposely have not tried to get in the mix this go-round. People know who I am and know what I can do, and those kinds of things work themselves out. It's not like it's in my control anyway; it's not like I can choose -- like I want to be coach of this team and then make it go happen. I have to be chosen. All I can do is continue to learn as much as I can from Phil [Jackson], keep gaining from this experience and every year go as far as we're going in the playoffs and absorbing all of the knowledge that our coaching staff has because those guys have been around for years and years and years. And when the time comes, I'll definitely be ready for it."
On not being a self-promoter. "No, I don't have anybody actively pursuing things or trying to put my name out there. And I don't want to be a guy who, every time there's an opening, you go and interview for this job and the next one. There are some guys who have probably interviewed at four or five places. So it kind of becomes a cattle call. I have the luxury of being in a great situation here with the Lakers, and in a lot of instances, it's better to be an assistant coach here than being a head coach in a bad situation with a bad team where you don't really have a chance."
On being selective. "I look at our front-office guys. Jerry West was the GM for many, many years and Mitch Kupchak was his assistant GM, and I guess understudy, if you want to call it that. I think people around the league have respect for Mitch Kupchak, and there were openings for other GM positions. He didn't run to go be the GM for other teams because the situation in Laker-land is great. So Jerry West exited, it naturally fell to Mitch and now Ronnie Lester is the assistant GM. There are a couple of GM openings, but he's not running out to try to interview at some of the places that have had vacancies. There's a reason for that.
"I don't have an ego and have to feel like I'm the head honcho. I'm in a great situation. We're so visible, we're on national television all the time. I'm coaching one of the best players, arguably, ever to play the game, and I'm with one of the best coaches to ever coach the game, and so I just take that and when the time comes, whatever happens is going to happen.
"You don't need that headache [of coaching a bad franchise]. I played 14 years in the NBA and one year overseas, and I'm not in a money crunch and have to have it where I've got to coach and have a money increase. And so I can afford to do what I'm doing. I'm comfortable, my family is comfortable where we are, I can do it for the love of it and the enjoyment of it and not feel like I have to be pressured to try to elevate myself at this point."
The refereeing. You can't watch a World Cup match without seeing the referee surrounded by players from either team. Like basketball, there is so much gray area and subjectivity to the rules of soccer that no one can ever agree completely on the toughest calls. It's no coincidence that fans of both sports around the world question the competency and integrity of referees in soccer and/or basketball.
The acting. When NBA players are hit hard going to the basketball, they often lay writhing on the floor in hopes of drawing a flagrant foul from the opponent. Now where could they have come up with that idea?
For years I've heard American fans complain about international soccer players who fake injuries in order to compel the referee to award a yellow or red card to the opponent. The player will be carried by stretcher to the sideline, then hop up a minute or two later and soon be sprinting up and down the pitch as if nothing ever happened. Because nothing did happen.
The NBA has created the same dynamic around flagrant fouls. The acting is only going to grow worse.
The Lakers are strong favorites for next season. Not only do they have the talent and coaching (assuming Jackson returns) to win again, but they also have the continuity and togetherness. The Cavaliers and Magic showed how difficult it is to throw talent together and realize instant results. The core of this Lakers team will be spending its fourth year together next season, and if healthy that should be enough to see them through against all comers -- even if LeBron James and Dwyane Wade should team up in Miami. (Which I still doubt will happen.)