The Sixth Man (cont.)
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
How do you say "buffoonery'' in Russian?
-- R.H., Detroit
Richard Hamilton, this is what happens when you find yourself depending on the kindness of a Russian oligarch. So you aren't going to be boondoggled into the Carmelo Anthony trade to New Jersey. Who is going to feel sorry for you? You're so well off with a contract guaranteeing you $21.5 million over the next two years that other teams can't afford to trade for you. It doesn't help that you're averaging an 11-year low of 13.2 points, or that the Pistons have turned into Eastern playoff contenders since benching you last week.
If you really want to leave Detroit, you're going to have to play your way out. No one is going to take on your contract if you're viewed as inflexible or uncooperative. How are you going to audition yourself if you keep getting yourself kicked out of games by complaining to the refs? Miserable is not a good look for someone looking for a new job -- and especially not for you, who not so long ago played with so much joy. There is no way you can be washed up at age 32, but if you don't play your way into a trade by next month and the lockout eats up all of next season, then all of a sudden you're going to find yourself seeking a new contract as a 34-year-old shooting guard -- and how many of those not named Ray Allen are excelling in the NBA these days?
I have a rookie forward who is doing pretty well, but from my courtside seat I've learned to pick out little sayings of wisdom I enjoy sharing with my players, and I think they appreciate them too. Next game I was thinking of yelling, "Hey, ballhog, stop scoring so much!'' Or maybe I'll remind him, "Hey, showoff, they don't give extra points for dunking hard!'' I take pride in motivating my players, it's my favorite part of owning the team.
-- D.T.S., Los Angeles
Donald T. Sterling, there has been much talk recently that rookie forward Blake Griffin may be the savior who changes the Clippers' culture. Which reminds me, you've won one playoff series in three decades. Griffin has a better chance of teaching Bostonians to say "park the car'' properly than he does of changing the culture maintained by you.
It would be a terrific story for everyone if the Clippers could be transformed into champions -- believe me that I would love writing it -- but the record has demonstrated for the worst part of 29 years that you do not preside over winning teams. From everything I've been able to gather, the force of your personality has exerted greater influence over the Clippers than the will of any executive, coach or player who has ever worked for (and sued) you.
Will Griffin change the Clippers, or will the Clippers change Griffin? I wish I didn't have to ask these questions.
People are always asking how long I can last before I get fired. Me, I'm asking how long I can take coaching these guys until I can't take it anymore. When did it become illegal for a coach to yell at his players? It's like having 15 wives, and every time I lose my temper we have to talk it out, and I have to see it from their point of view and admit how difficult I can be -- no, really, it's my fault -- when all I'm asking the guy to do is follow his man over the screen. Not under! Over! Is it that hard? Get over the screen. Would you do that for me, please? Am I allowed to ask you to do that?
-- S.V.G., Orlando
Stan Van Gundy, this week you reacted to Gilbert Arenas' struggles by saying, "The biggest thing he is struggling with now is me. ... He's not enjoying playing and I'm a big reason.''
You said this before Arenas had issued a public complaint. To Arenas' credit, when asked about his struggles, he didn't blame you.
I understand why you take the hits, and I credit your intelligence for taking them. But I find myself asking: Has Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan ever taken the blame for being insistent? Were Bobby Knight or Casey Stengel ever concerned their players didn't appear to enjoy playing the game? Even Connie Mack in his straw hat was not so conciliatory after the fact as you are.
This is how difficult it has become to coach in the NBA: A demanding coach with a .653 career winning percentage has to negotiate a preventive truce on a daily basis in order to maintain control of his team. Coaching in the NBA is the hardest job in pro sports. There is nothing else in the same ballpark because NBA players wield so much power, not only because of their guaranteed contracts but also because basketball provides them with so much more freedom than players are given in baseball or football.
I suspect the relationship between NBA coach and player may begin to change with the next collective bargaining agreement, if it eventually becomes feasible to waive contracted NBA players as Belichick and Ryan are able to do in the NFL.
NBA coaches will always need to relate to their teams in a personal way, because basketball is such a fluid game and the NBA is so reliant on stars. A special blend of trust will always be necessary. But I am certain that coaches in other pro sports were discussing -- no doubt with sympathy -- your need to show concern for the enjoyment of a player who is being paid $17.7 million to come off the bench.
How to become an NBA player. This comes from 6-9 Pistons center Ben Wallace, who last month became the second undrafted player to play 1,000 NBA games. On his way up he received help from former NBA player Charles Oakley, who steered him to Oakley's former school, Division II Virginia Union; Wallace would also run across his current Pistons coach, John Kuester.
"I grew up in between Salem and Montgomery, in a small town called White Hall, Ala. I fantasized about being a football player, a tight end and a D-end. But then I grew into basketball. At the end of my sophomore year of high school, I hit a growth spurt and went from 6 feet to about 6-5 over the summer.
"We were playing pickup in a park back home called the Holy Ground. I picked up a basketball and dunked it. It was crazy. I'm pretty sure it was an accident. I went up and I had no intention of dunking a basketball, I was just going to try to get to the basket. Boom! Everybody was all excited -- 'Do it again!' I did it again and I was like, 'I can do this.'
"I went to Charles Oakley's basketball camp in Alabama, and that's where I met the junior college coach from [Cuyahoga Community College in] Cleveland. This was my junior year going into my senior year, and I was telling him then I was a football player. But he was telling me, 'If you ever decide you want to play basketball and you need a school to go to, give me a call.' So the next year I called him and he came down to the camp again. I worked out, I did my thing and he was like, 'I can definitely give you a scholarship -- watching you from last summer to now, it was like a night and day change.'
"When I was coming out of high school, everybody assumed I was going to play football. So I really didn't have a whole lot of offers for basketball, and the schools that were offering me were too close to home. My family wanted me to get away from home -- 'Get away from here, go do something. We'll always be here, you'll always be able to come back, but go do something.'
"Going up there from Alabama -- never seeing snow before, I didn't even have a winter coat -- it was a culture shock. I realized I wanted to be in the NBA, but nobody was talking about professional basketball for me at that time. Failure was not an option for me. I wasn't going to be that one that went to school for two years and came back home, working those dead-end jobs that everybody else in the community was doing. One way or the other, I was going to have to make it. That's why I put all of the energy into basketball, and every year I could feel some part of my game was changing, some part of my game was growing, and I was just trying to keep it moving.
"Coming out of junior college, I averaged 26 [points], 18 [rebounds] and six [blocks]. I could have went anywhere I wanted, pending if I graduated from junior college. But something happened around the team. The coach got fired, some other people came in, and it just messed up our team. The coach was suing the team and my name was in the lawsuit. They said that I was getting paid, so that made me ineligible. But I'm still waiting on that payday. I never saw none of that money.
"I knew I was getting better, but I didn't think my game was that good where I could sit out one year and still make it to the NBA like I was planning on doing. So I called Charles Oakley's number, and he said give [Virginia] Union a call and see what's up before it gets too late. I called coach [Dave Robbins] and he had one scholarship left but he had offered it to some other guy. I went home for the summer and called him back and I said, 'I'll pay my way first semester.' He was like, 'You don't need to do that. The other guy decided to go somewhere else. If you want to come, we have got a scholarship for you.'
"He'll tell you I was the first player he ever took sight unseen -- all because Oakley called. Oakley said, 'He's a grown man out there.' Oakley never said anything good about anybody as a basketball player. You had to be able to play a little bit to make him talk about you.
"When it came time for the  draft, I had a couple teams call me and say, 'If you're available late second round, we're going to take you.' But that never happened. As soon as the draft was over, I got a call from Boston. So I came and worked out. They had me playing the 2 and 3, man. It was M.L. Carr and John Kuester. Yeah, Kuester. Every day I remind him of that. He just laughs.
"After that workout, I was feeling down about myself, because I realized I could play on this level. But people were telling me that I'm too small to play the 4 and the 5. I left and went to Italy. I was over there playing for about a month and I ended up getting a call from Washington. They wanted me to come work out. I'm like, 'No, I've got a job here and I'm not leaving to come back there for a workout and y'all are going to put me at the 2 and 3.' Then [Wizards GM] Wes Unseld called me personally, and he said, 'We need a big guy that can defend and rebound.' And then I came back and went to Washington.
"Since my freshman year of college, I always prided myself on taking care of my body and being stronger and outlasting anybody I played against. My conditioning and strength -- that's always been my gift, because when the game starts, everybody's fresh and the talent is equal. Then when the game ends, I'm still going strong and everybody else starts fading. But I had people tell me almost every other day that I was too small, too slow, couldn't do this, couldn't do that. If I truly listened to those people, I wouldn't be here. I'd be a doctor or dentist or something.''
Wallace, 36, has won an NBA championship with the Pistons, and he is a four-time Defensive Player of the Year and four-time All-Star. He needs to play 47 games to surpass Avery Johnson (1,054) as the undrafted player with the most NBA appearances in league history.
With Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony. On accusations that his wife, LaLa Vasquez, has been urging him to leave Denver: "It's upsetting because I know the conversations that me and her have on a daily basis, and never once -- and I'm not just saying it because she's my wife -- [did] she come out and say, 'Let's get out of Denver, I don't want to live here.'
"I commend her because it's tough for her too. She is somebody who has her own thing going on, and she has to deal with [the trade rumors] too when she's out and about. People ask her about it wherever she goes.
"But it gets misconstrued -- she never once said where she wanted me to go or her wanting me to leave Denver. She respects me enough for me to make that decision on my own for my own career. But at the same time, I do consult with her on everything.''
With Cavaliers coach Byron Scott. On how he thinks the AAU culture of fraternization among rival NBA players has hurt the league: "I think the fans don't respect these players like they did back in the '80s, for a number of reasons. I think they think they're spoiled, No. 1, and they always say it's AAU that ruined them. That's the first thing -- they think they make all this money and guys are spoiled. Going back to our era [in the '80s], that just wasn't the case. You got traded, and you played for that team.
"The closest I've seen to those days was Magic [Johnson of the Lakers] and Isiah [Thomas] and Mark [Aguirre of the Pistons] back in our day, and when they were on the court they still weren't very friendly to each other. But I don't think they ever sat down with each other and said, 'Man, it would be nice to play together.' I think their sitdowns were more like, 'Man, next year when we play each other we're going to beat y'all's ...' You know? More than, 'I'd love to play with you and lets make sure we all ...' It just wouldn't happen. And I think those guys have made that clear -- Michael [Jordan] has come out, [Charles] Barkley has come out, Magic -- that it just wouldn't happen back in the day. So it's just a different time and era, and we've got to get used to it. This is how it is right now.''
With Pistons 6-8 guard Tracy McGrady. On how his shift to point guard at age 31 compares to a pitcher winning without an explosive fastball: "It's just like Greg Maddux, he never was a 95 mph fastball pitcher, but he knew how to maneuver that thing. That's what I got to do, absolutely. Late in my career I have to modify my game a little bit because I'm not the young, athletic guy I once was. It's great to have that skill set.
"I'm comfortable with the position, and I think having me there puts everybody at their natural position, because I think Rodney [Stuckey] is a 2-guard more than he is a point guard.''
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