The Sixth Man (cont.)
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
Why is everybody down on me all of the time? TV ratings are up because of me. Christmas Day viewership was up -- not only because I went to Miami but also because of how I went there. Instead of receiving credit for upping the exposure that benefits everyone in the league -- including you -- I wind up playing the villain. Please explain.
-- L.J., Miami
LeBron James, you have things set up just the way you want it. For Michael Jordan, it was about being loved. For you, it is about being recognized. Does it matter whether they like or dislike you? It matters not. You have become a bigger newsmaker than any of the league's more accomplished stars. Every time you open your mouth, news comes out. Any pronouncement you make generates conversation around you. Joe Namath had his era, Jordan had his, and this era of social networking belongs to you. You are a superstar for your time. (Don't even pretend to complain. I know you're loving it.)
I have a problem with anger. Let me rephrase that: My problem is with people not responding to my anger. The people who anger me most right now are my teammates, but I worry they've seen so much anger from me that they no longer pay attention. All bark and no bite. Can you recommend any new threats?
-- K.B., Los Angeles
Kobe Bryant, you should threaten to retire with Phil Jackson. Announce that you'll leave when he leaves. You have a lot of teammates who love being Lakers and starring in Los Angeles, but their job security depends mainly on you. If this early season malaise lingers into January and you run out of options, simply announce that you've had enough of this bleeping bleep (sorry, but isn't that how you might put it?) and you're thinking about retiring after this season. That should wake up everybody.
Then, afterward, you can admit you were lying, like you did after the NBA Finals when you'd claimed you didn't care about beating the Celtics or winning more rings than Shaq.
How can I stop people from praising us all of the time? All I ever hear is how great we are, but I know it isn't true. We're living a lie, but I don't want to expose the lie -- I want to fix the truth before we get exposed. Am I making any sense here?
-- G.P., San Antonio
Gregg Popovich, I understand. Your Spurs have the league's best record -- a phenomenal 28-4 after exploiting the absence of Dirk Nowitzki to win in Dallas on Thursday -- but you also have earned the league's No. 16 field-goal defense. The Heat, Celtics, Lakers and Mavs are in the top five of that crucial indicator at 43.6 percent or better, while you're lagging far behind at 45.7 percent.
But let's be honest. You are loving this paradox. After most every game you can go home without hating yourself because you escaped without losing. Then, the next day at practice you are fully entitled to scold your team to keep improving at the most important end of the floor. You have the best of both worlds -- success without satisfaction. So teach them hard each day and enjoy the glass of wine each night, and have a Happy New Year in your self-made world of coaching nirvana.
How to scout an NBA season. This comes anonymously from an NBA advance scout. I'm going to break this extended interview into three parts, so come back next Friday for Part II:
"Each year, I do 100 games during the regular season where I'll go to an arena to scout other teams. In addition, I'll be at about 20 of my own team's games, so I'll wind up going to 120 games over the course of this season.
"What I generally try to do -- and most other scouts do the same thing - is to go see a team live twice before our team is going to play them for the first time. Then the next time you play that team, I'll try to go see them another time before my team plays them again. If it's been a long time since we've played them -- maybe they've had a coaching change or a major personnel change -- then I might try to see them twice again to get myself ready for the new things they're doing.
"As soon as the NBA schedule comes out before the season, the first thing I do is look at our opponents' schedules and basically count back five games from each game they play against my team. I want to try to see each opponent as close as I can to the time when we'll be playing against them -- but I also need to give myself enough time to turn around the report and get it to our coaches.
"When I'm planning my schedule for the upcoming season, the next thing I consider is the seating in the arenas where I'll be scouting. The quality of the seat is the No. 1 priority. Each NBA team is supposed to provide seating for advance scouts, but there are some arenas where the scouts' seats are so bad that you can't effectively scout either team. Then there are some arenas that give you a great seat to scout the visiting team.
"The other thing you take into account is scheduling yourself to see games that are in close proximity to one another. You don't want to fly back and forth across the country day after day, so whenever you can, you try to keep your travel as short as possible. Sometimes I have to go from the West coast to the East and back again out West because there's no other way to see the teams you have to see. But time is so short, the travel is exhausting and in the winter you never know what you're going to get for weather. So whenever possible, I'll try to plan shorter trips, like going from L.A. to Golden State and then driving to Sacramento.
"Before I scout a team live, I prepare by watching them on tape. I'll try to watch at least one game and preferably two on tape, though there isn't enough time in the day to always be able to watch two games on tape. I'm trying to watch the most recent game you can get your hands on. That gives me a baseline of what teams are going to be running when I go to scout them live. I want to see what the trends are, and if it's in the middle of the season I can see how they've tweaked their plays or how they've adapted to a personnel change. For example, Chicago runs different stuff now than they were running while Carlos Boozer wasn't playing. On the nights Shaq is playing, the Celtics are going to run a couple of different plays more often than when he isn't playing.
"But I can't rely on the tapes for everything. When I go to a live game, I'm able to see things that I wasn't able to see on tape. When I'm at the game I can hear the play the coach is calling, which is the most important thing I'm looking to get. But even then it doesn't always work out. Earlier this year I was scouting Philadelphia, and even though I had a good seat, I wasn't able to hear the calls because of the way Doug [Collins] was calling out the plays -- it was a worthless game for me to do Philadelphia because he was turning away and covering his mouth to where I couldn't see what he was saying. So that was one of those difficult games that I had to piece together the play calls off tape."