Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Phil, Coach K & Team Building: Chapter 1

Not too long ago I picked up Coach K's The Gold Standard: Building A World Class Team wanting to learn more about The 2008 Redeem Team.  I found the construction of the team and the dynamic of that team once it was built fascinating.  My girlfriend ( Read My Mind MVI if you need her) had been suggesting I read Phil Jackson's The Last Season: A Team In Search Of Its Soul.  Then I had a thought that it might be interesting to compare and contrast the construction of two of the most talented and most talked about teams of the decade.  One succeeded, the other imploded before our very eyes.

So here we are, sizing up two different, amazingly tough tasks by two amazing coaches.  Sure the situations were different, but both coaches say their books are about lessons learned from a team building exercise.  I'll be comparing the two books chapter by chapter. Sit back, enjoy and let me know what you think of this little exercise.

The Gold Standard, Time To Choose Your People: Unlike the '04 Lakers, Mike Kryzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo spent a year putting together the 2006 World Championship Team and almost another two years putting together the Redeem Team.  However, much like the '04 Lakers, Team USA was trying undo what the organization deemed a failure, a bronze in the '04 Olympics.  Coach K and Colangelo started completely from scratch.  LeBron, Wade, 'Melo and Carlos Boozer said they wanted back in according to Coach K, as soon as they stepped off the podium in Athens.  Past that, Coach K says they went so far back to the basics that they asked questions based off of the 5 W's (and the H).  Perhaps the most telling of those questions is "How Dow We Change The Culture?".  It began with interviewing each member individually, then not allowing the team to think about what happens if Team USA fails.

I like everything Coach K & Jerry Colangelo did.  They put together the perfect blend of youth and experience and most importantly a group of men who had one goal in mind.  I now am hopefully done with cliches for the rest of this entry. 

The Last Season, One Mountain At A Time: To be brief, Phil Jackson, Mitch Kupchak and Dr. Jerry Buss constructed the '03-'04 Lakers the exact opposite way the Redeem Team was.  Of course it's not that simple.  Phil Jackson is famously much more hands off then most other great coaches.  In Chapter 1, Jackson remarks that in the off-season he becomes even more hands off by disappearing to Montana for a couple of months.  The Lakers had just gotten bounced from playoffs (by the eventual champion Spurs I proudly add) and the team for the first time since Jackson got there, was evaluating what went wrong and how do they fix it.  They began by looking for a point guard to defend Tony Parker and an experienced big to guard Tim Duncan.  They went out and got Gary Payton and Karl Malone, two men past their primes and Payton at least, a questionable fit for the Triangle Offense.  Then Kobe's Eagle, CO incident happened, then Shaq reported to camp out of shape because he waited a while to get toe surgery because his injury happened on company time so the surgery could also happen on company time (are you listening Andrew Bynum???) and Shaq and Kobe were still Shaq and Kobe.

If I liked everything the Team USA group did, I hate everything the Lakers group did.  Payton was a terrible fit in the Triangle and couldn't stay in front of Tony Parker anymore.  Eagle, CO happened and there's nothing that could be done about that.  Phil's description of his relationship with Shaq is a little off.  Basically he jumped back and forth from being hard on the big fella and wearing kid gloves.  In the aftermath of Eagle, CO, Jackson said he called Kobe twice from Montana.  For a guy who didn't have a good relationship with Kobe to begin with, placing a couple of phone calls while the guys going through the worst time of his life isn't the best way to show him you're in his corner.  It just seesm like Jackson's philosophy works great when everything is going well, but this hand's off approach to this Lakers offseason just doesn't seem like it's the right way to address a team that first needed to retool and then was in need of some crisis management.

Stay tuned for Chapter 2

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Feel Bad For Kevin Durant

It may sound crazy, but I really feel bad for Kevin Durant.  Yes, he is on top of the world right now.  He just dominated the FIBA World Championships in a way we've never seen and hasn't one single piece of bad press since he entered the league.  He even made positive headlines this summer when announced he was signing an extension with the Thunder via twitter as opposed to what LeBron and the other big name free agents did this summer.  There's really nothing to dislike about Kevin Durant.  And that's where he's going to run into a problem.

With the stench of "The Decision" still lingering, fans are looking for the anti-LeBron and the anti-Heat.  Enter Durant and the Thunder.  Small market team with homegrown players who have developed together.  This summer has bred a LeBron vs. Durant culture among NBA fans (even if LeBron and Durant aren't treating it that way). All this is fine except I have this fear that we as NBA fans, not to mention the media, have set Kevin Durant up to fail, or at the very least not live up to our ridiculous expectations of him.

I feel like even if Durant duplicates his numbers from last season and his team wins 50 games again, people will feel underwhelmed this coming season.  What if his touches decrease next season.  Russell Westbrook had his own coming out party at the Worlds.  Serge Ibaka and James Harden are only going to get better and will need the ball more to develop.  This amazingly young team still doesn't have a lot of size.  Should we expect them to beat the Lakers with Cole Aldrich as their only significant offseason addition (or a healthy Blazers or Spurs team with the amount of size they have)?

While Durant was lights out at the Worlds (a style of play he is perfect for), he had his ups and downs during the Lakers series.  We should also keep in mind that so far he's only been to the playoffs once and hasn't played a game 7, let alone win a series.

I love watching Durant play.  I love how humble he is and how he puts his team first.  But let's remember he's still 21, he still hasn't won a playoff series (LeBron had been to the Conference Finals by 21 and the Finals by 22) or an MVP (though he's the hand's down favorite at this point). He's a top 5 player in the league but he's still not better then LeBron and still hasn't accomplished what Kobe's accomplished.  So let's everyone just sit back and enjoy Durant's ride and not set our own expectations for him through the roof.