Saturday, October 30, 2010

A French For Four More Years

Shortly after logging on to check Facebook and Twitter this morning, I encountered the news that Tony Parker had signed an extension with the Spurs.  If you've known me or followed me on twitter for any extended period of time, you know I've been calling for and thanks to ESPN's Trade Machine, had been scheming to get Tony Parker traded out of San Antonio. In 2003, when the Spurs had just won their second NBA title but Parker was less then stellar against the Nets and Jason Kidd was available. Kidd re-signed with the Nets and then, fortunately for the Spurs, required at least one knee surgery.  Parker turned into an all-star and for a few years a top 5 point guard in the NBA. Still, I wanted him out. He was a speedy point guard who was going to slow down at some point, so why not trade him now and get some value.  The Spurs didn't and then his contract was set to expire so again, why not get some value for him? The Spurs had George Hill has an heir apparent and their were rumblings Parker wanted to go to New York.

Now comes the news that Tony Parker signed an extension. At first I didn't know what to think.  He is apparently healthy and there is now some resolution to something that had the potential to be a gigantic distraction for the whole season (See: Carmelo Anthony).  Then I thought "Good God, what if he signed a 5 year, 70 million dollar extension?!" I thought my head might explode. Then I saw Andrew McNeil from 48 Minutes of Hell tweeted that Parker's French web site was reporting his deal was for 4 years and 50 million dollars. Then, for all my calls for to trade TP, I decided I was happy with the extension.  It's a very reasonable contract in rich basketball player terms, higher then Richard Jefferson's new contract and below Manu's extension from last spring.  More importantly though, the market for a point guard has dried up considerably in the last few years and if the Spurs had just let him walk next summer they wouldn't have even been in a position to replace him.

I don't love this contract and certainly don't love Tony Parker on the Spurs, but short of convincing a dumb GM to give back too much for the speedy point guard who is getting older and will eventually slow down, Tony Parker is more valuable to the Spurs then he is to the other teams in the league. He probably has two more years left in his prime and then hopefully he is able to adjust his game and become a veteran leader for a Spurs team in transition.  Just please TP, don't release any more French Rap albums.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Coach K and Phil: Chapter 2

At this rate, I'll finish this analysis in November of 2011. Chapters 2 of the The Gold Standard and The Last Season begin to show two things. The first is that Coach K's path to Beijing and Phil Jackson's road to the 2004 finals could not have been more different. The second thing it shows is that Coach K and Phil Jackson's teaching styles aren't as different as people tend to think.

Not just a student of the game, but also of history in general, Coach K made it a point to make sure the Redeem Team knew where USA Basketball had been before the failure of 2004.  Having been a member of the 1992 Dream Team coaching staff, as well as head coach of the 1990 World Championships team, K was the perfect man to analyze where USA basketball had gone since the Dream Team.  More importantly he had an excellent understanding of how the rest of the world had developed since Barcelona.  In essence, leading up to the 2008 games, Coach K did his best to do everything in the exact opposite way the 2004 team was brought together.  The majority of the team played together for 2006, 2007 and 2008 unlike to 2004 team that was slapped together a few months before the Athens games.  Only one member from the 2002 World Championship team that finished fifth (Shawn Marion) and only three players from 2003 FIBA Tournament of the Americas were on the 2004 Athens team (Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson and Allen Iverson).  That means there were players from the 2004 team on the 2008 team then there were players from 2002 on the 2004 team (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Carlos Boozer).

Fast forward to the first game of the 2008 games against China, and everything seemed to go right for Coach K and the Redeem Team.  Everyone was healthy, everyone was getting along.  Things seemed to be going so well that I almost wish I were comparing and contrasting what went wrong for the 2003-2004 Lakers and the 2004 Athens team.  Unfortunately, Larry Brown hasn't written that book yet.

Meanwhile, Chapter 2 of The Last Season takes us through Laker training camp and preseason.  You're not going to believe this, but this chapter didn't start with a story of Kobe being angry at Shaq.  That's because Kobe was a no show at the beginning of training camp.  Publicly, the Lakers were fine with Kobe missing the beginning of camp because he was "ill".  But privately, Phil was sure that blow up between him and Kobe was coming.  We'll come back to this.

What I wanted to focus on more was Phil Jackson and his attempts to control the on the court aspects of his job.  Phil spends quite a bit of time talking about who is on the Lakers this year and what's he's expecting from them.  Did you know that the '03-'04 Lakers had 8 new players?  Chemistry would certainly would be an issue Kobe and Shaq not withstanding.  I enjoyed Phil going over what he thought the new faces and role players brought to the table.  A lot has been said and written about Phil as someone who handles egos and personalities well, but is very laissez faire when it comes to what his team does on the court.  Chapter 2 gives me the impression this couldn't be farther from the truth.

Chapter 2 is where you also you see some outside variables play a part in the Lakers season.  Kobe's contract status was up in the air. Phil's contract status was up in the air.  Phil tried to empathize with Kobe on his contract situation but at the same admonished Kobe for making his public declaration to explore free agency during the preseason.

 "I what Kobe is thinking.  Yesterday he reiterated his intention to opt out of his contract and become and unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.  I would never oppose a player's decision to explore his true market value-if only the players in my era had been granted that similar freedom-but I do question his sense of timing."

Phil goes on to say that Kobe is being treated amazingly well despite the Eagle, CO charges looming over everyone and Kobe is doing nothing to show his appreciation to the organization for that treatment.  The Lakers ended up 3-5 in preseason, something Phil does not seem worried about.  What's more concerning for him is the fact that Shaq and Kobe have again taken to the media to trade shots at one another.  Often times Phil would take Shaq aside and let Mitch Kupchak handle Kobe.  The difference between the two of Phil says, is:

"Ask Shaq to do something and he'll say 'No, I don't want to do that' but after a little pouting he will do it. Ask Kobe and he'll say, 'okay' and then he will do whatever he wants"

 The regular season hadn't started and Phil was dealing with more challenges and drama in a few months then Coach K dealt with in 3 years.  To be continued...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Previewing The Spurs

As I write this, we are just a few hours from the kickoff to the start of the NBA season.  I don't think I've ever been this excited for a NBA season where the Spurs didn't win a title in the previous year.  The league changed so much this summer through free agency and trade and could be headed for another change this coming summer thanks to a possible lockout.  I feel like both these changes will help this year's Spurs team. 

I do the following thing every year: I talk myself into thinking this year's Spurs roster is better then the last.  And guess what, I think this year's team is much better then last year.  You know what you're going to get from the always Underrated Big 3, but also George Hill is only going to get better, DeJuan Blair has already shown in the preseason how much he's improved in the offseason.  Richard Jefferson looks to be way more aggressive, which can only help him improve from last season.  We haven't seen Tiago Splitter yet, but if he can pull down 7 or 8 boards and play some great pick and roll defense, then that's already an improvement from last season.  Also, Matt Bonner is only slated for 10 to 15 minutes a game. This also is an improvement from last season.

The thing I like most about this team is they didn't change their core all that much.  Blair replaces Antonio McDyess in the starting 5, Splitter comes in, so there's some much needed depth in the front court.  I know he's a rookie, but I'll take James Anderson as the team's resident 3 point shooter over Roger Mason, Jr. and Keith Bogans.  If Anderson is in anyways NBA ready, this is probably the deepest team the Spurs have had in a long time.  The only question is will anyone step up to become the big shot maker.  I feel like a healthy Manu can take on this role.

Here's something that I've been thinking about all summer long.  Most people in NBA circles feel a lockout will happen next summer.  Tim, Tony and Manu have admitted the championship window is closing on them.  That's why I think, especially Duncan is going to go all out this year.  Sure he will take an occasional back to back off, but I think Duncan is motivated to get a fifth ring.  I think he will be able to conserve some energy now that he doesn't have to always guard the other team's best big man and more then anything I think we're going to see a very determined Duncan this year.  Same for a contract year Tony Parker.  He's healthy, he wants a big deal, whether with San Antonio or elsewhere and I think he's going to prove he's 2007-2008 Tony Parker.

So where does all this optimism I have put the Spurs?  Realistically it still puts them a couple games back of the Lakers and probably a game or two better then Oklahoma City, Portland and Utah.  I think the Spurs will finish 1st in the Southwest and 2nd or 3rd in the West.  You really have to ask yourself which teams in the West got noticeably better from last season and the answer is none of them.  I think Denver will be worse with or without Melo, Phoenix definitely got worse by losing Amare and replacing him with Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick.  Dallas is old and the same team the Spurs beat up last year in the playoffs.  You can argue that OKC is a lot better, and a healthy Portland is better as well as Utah.  The only problem for those teams is they all play in the same division, so they can't all win 55 games, right? 

Once the playoffs start I think the Spurs get out of the first round playing whoever they play, then meet OKC in the 2nd round, play what will be the best series of the playoffs and beat them in 7 games (You can't convince me OKC is better then San Antonio, so don't even try).  Sadly the run probably ends there.  If the Lakers are healthy and they have home court the Spurs won't beat them (probably) and then I'll have to root for Miami or Boston in the Finals.  But I think this year's run will be a lot better then last year's and I'm looking forward to what could be if Kobe Bryant blows out his knee in December or January.  Go Spurs Go.