Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why The Lakers Shouldn't Hire Byron Scott

Already in deep decline due to some stupid moves, the LA Lakers are about to make another monumental blunder--hiring Byron Scott as head coach.

After several interviews, Scott is the leading candidate, boasting  the support of two iconic, influential Lakers--Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Johnson played with Scott during the Showtime era, while Bryant has fond memories of Scott as a mentor during his rookie season.

But there are plenty of reasons the Lakers should look elsewhere for a head coach.

First of all, check Scott's record. After nearly 1000 games as head coach, he has a crappy 44% win percentage. In eleven seasons, he guided teams to the playoffs only four times. And what about the fact that he was unemployed all last season and no one hired him? If he's such a good coach, why didn't other teams come after him? Could it be that he's not such a great coach?

Scott has had three head coaching jobs--New Jersey Nets (2000-2004), the Charlotte Hornets (2004-2009) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-2013). All ended badly. The Nets and Hornets didn't even wait until the end of the season to dump him. Charlotte, where he had been named Coach of the Year in 2008, kicked him out just nine games into the 2009 season. The Nets and Hornets players were fed up with Scott, leaving management no choice but to get rid of him.

Things were even worse in Cleveland. All three of his seasons were disasters. Stumbling along with awful defenses, with teams that were barely NBA caliber, he never won more than 24 games. Though he didn't have top-notch talent to work with, he could have gotten more production out of those players.

NBA players aren't crazy about Scott. According to several sources, when you talk to players around the league, off the record, they'll give you the lowdown on Scott. And it's not pretty. Most brand him as an egomaniac who lets his ego get in the way of decisions. Some players also damn him as notoriously stubborn, which has hurt his teams and turned players against him. Also, they don't like his coaching style. He's an abrasive, surly type whose harsh handling of players wears thin after a few years. As a result of those mental beat-downs, players stop listening and tune him out. In New Jersey, a player uprising, led by Jason Kidd, ran Scott out of town.

As a tactician, Scott is questionable. Though his New Jersey teams were strong defensively his status as a defensive strategist was severely tarnished by his miserable years in Cleveland. As an offensive coach he's always been considered sub par. Ask around the league about Scott in this capacity and you hear the same criticisms over and over--his schemes are ridiculously predictable and are totally lacking in imagination and creativity. His deficiencies in this area got him booted out of Charlotte. The Hornet players hated his offense and deplored his abilities to map game-plans and make in-game adjustments. Sources report that those players griped that Scott made the wrong decisions about who to play and when to play them. In short, they had little confidence in his coaching skills.

And another thing. The shining star on his resume--coaching the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003--is tainted. The Eastern Conference was truly awful then, as bad as it is now, so topping that division wasn't a big deal. In both Finals, the Nets, clearly inferior, were trashed by the Western team.

After that fiasco in Cleveland, many wondered if Scott would ever get another coaching job. There's surprise in NBA circles that he's being considered for a plum job like the Lakers' head-coaching gig since he's not considered a top coach. The Lakers need a smart leader to guide their rebuilding years. That ain't Scott. Laker management may be looking at the turnarounds in New Jersey and Charlotte, for which Scott gets credit. But in both cases, great point guards--Kidd in New Jersey and Chris Paul in Charlotte--were as important as Scott.

At best Scott is a passable coach. The Lakers, one of the top franchises in all of sports, deserve better. They took a few steps down in hiring Mike D'Antoni. They finally came to their senses and sent him packing. And now they're going to hire Scott? Can't they see that is nothing but another step down?

One question. If Phil Jackson were, as he should be, guiding Laker management decisions or at least having a say in them, do you think Scott would be anywhere near the head coaching job? Of course not.

Don't you get the uncomfortable feeling that the inmates are running the asylum?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

How LeBron Sank The Lakers

Wake up, Lakers fans. Stop dreaming of a rosy future. Time to get real. Here's how you should be looking at it. Your team is the Titanic and it just collided with an iceberg. You're going down.

What happened?

Well, defying consensus, tradition and logic, LeBron James, mostly because of  home loyalty, made a decision that rocked the NBA. He abandoned Miami and signed with Cleveland. Free agency, in a holding pattern until he made his decision, was suddenly up and running. Carmelo Anthony went back to New York. Kevin Love may follow LeBron to Cleveland but he's not coming to LA. Finally it's clear. The Lakers, after the worst season in franchise history, have been desperate for a free-agent savior. But they aren't going to get one. No one is coming. What's worse, another key Laker abandoned ship. Pau Gasol, the team's best big man, went to Chicago. Not too long ago, the team had already lost point guard Jordan Farmar to the Clippers. No question, the ship is sinking..

Remember how crappy and laughable the Clippers used to be? That's the mess the Lakers have become. They don't even have a coach, and haven't had one since they dumped Mike D'Antoni on May 1. They'll probably hire Byron Scott. If he does get the job, condolences rather than congratulations are in order. Why? Because the Lakers' roster is bad, really bad.

The big star will be a broken-down Kobe Bryant, an aging superstar who only played in a handful of games last season due to Achilles-tendon issues and a bum knee. The weight of the team rests on his shoulders. Unfortunately he's not good enough any more to carry a team. What's worse, he's such a maniacal competitor that he'll press and press and most likely push himself  into another injury that will keep him out, once again, for part of the season.

They did draft a promising rookie, Julius Randle. But you can't count on a rookie. He could be the next Zach Randolph or he could be a bust. They just signed point guard Jeremy Lin, a skilled ball-distributor who's a wizard at creating his own shot. But he's a weak defender who'll be eaten alive by the legion of quality point guards in the Western Conference. Their big returnees are Nick Young and Jordan Hill. But Young is a selfish gunner and Hill, a defensive specialist, is wildly inconsistent. Both are nice pieces for a good team but sore thumbs on a bad team like the Lakers. No doubt management will sign more players but, for sure, no one who's going to make an impact.

What's funny is that, as awful as the Lakers are, if they were in the Eastern Conference, which is cluttered with bad teams, they would probably make the playoffs. But the West is loaded with first-rate teams. The top ten in this division are all superior to the Lakers, who won't be barging into that elite circle any time in the next few years.

What has screwed the Lakers? Mainly a lot of bad decisions. First of all, they should never have hired D'Antoni as head coach. He was an abysmal failure because the personnel was wrong for his run-and-gun offense. In addition, Jeanie Buss should never have paid Bryant over $20 million a year when he's now not even worth half that. Money that could have been used to improve the roster was wasted on him. Squandering a ton of money on over-the hill Steve Nash was another idiotic move.

Another major blunder was not hiring Jeanie's beau, Phil Jackson, as coach or GM or consultant or something. Instead, boneheaded Jim Buss let his bad feelings toward Jackson cloud his thinking, forcing Jackson into the waiting arms of the Knicks. In the Lakers' glory days, Jerry Buss was around to steer the franchise. His kids lack his savvy and smarts. The team sorely misses its late owner.

Most of all, what has hurt the Lakers is that times have changed. In the old days, when the team had a major hole to fill, they had the clout to attract a Kareem Abdul Jabbar or a Shaquille O'Neal to help pile up championships. Used to be that LA was the prime destination, the shimmering franchise everyone wanted to be part of. But, with the radical media evolution,  it's different now. You don't have to play for LA to make big money in commercials or to become a big star. Places like Dallas, Chicago, Golden State, Miami and San Antonio are much more attractive than LA.

Players want to sign with a well-run organization, with a good team that makes the playoffs. That certainly ain't the Lakers.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why LeBron is Crazy To Return To The Heat

LeBron James is making a big mistake. He may be the best player on the planet but he definitely isn't the smartest.

He recently opted out of his fat contract with the Miami Heat but, almost certainly, after fielding some offers, he'll re-sign with Miami. Stupid move. His goal is to win more NBA championships, to pile up rings at a record rate, to surpass the lofty totals of Michael Jordan (6) and Kobe Bryant (5), the other two players in his elite class. James picked up two rings, in 2012 and 2013, in Miami. But if he wants more, he'd better pack his bags and get the hell out of South Beach.

Miami is desperately in need of a major overhaul. That was obvious a few weeks ago when they lost the NBA championship to the San Antonio Spurs in five games. Actually, they didn't lose, they were bulldozed and buried. After the second game it was clear the Heat was doomed, totally outclassed by a superior team.. Miami was flagrantly and rudely exposed. The other two players in the Heat's Big Three--Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh--have slipped, badly. James was out there all by himself, anchored by two lame stars, an inept point guard (Mario Chalmers) and some subpar role players.

The biggest problem, though, was Wade, not too long ago one of the best players in the league. Saying he's lost a step is being kind. Injuries have mercilessly slowed him down. A friend of mine--a Wade fan by the way--has tapes of games in the recent Finals that focus only on Wade. They were shocking.

Wade's defense was pitiful. He did a lot of standing around. He was usually slow on his rotations, paving the way for many easy San Antonio layups. The Spurs, by far the best passing team in the league, were constantly whipping balls past Wade, who simply couldn't keep up. Young Spurs were blowing by him like he was standing still. Offensively, he's a shadow of his former All-Star form. He can't jump as high as he used to, so his shot is way off. He doesn't drive to the basket any more, he lumbers. Defending him is a cinch. Wade doesn't require double teams now, so defenders can leave him and help out on controlling LeBron, which really cripples the Heat offense.

Bosh isn't much any more either. Once a gritty inside player, he's fallen in love with the three-pointer. He spends way too much time outside, lurking around the perimeter, instead of doing the dirty work inside, the way he used to. With Wade ineffective in the Finals, the Heat needed Bosh to step up his game and be a solid No. 2 man behind James. But Bosh blew it. LeBron sorely needed help, but he didn't get any from Bosh. With Wade and Bosh bungling, the Miami role players, like Ray Allen and Chris Andersen, needed to shine. They didn't.

This is the team--stumbling and crumbling--that James wants to come back to? The only reason they reached the Finals, as the Eastern champ, is because the East stinks. Beating up on those lousy teams didn't take much. The Heat's biggest competition, the Indiana Pacers, is a mess. If either of these two teams played in the powerhouse Western Conference, they'd have trouble making the top five. Even in the soft East, the Heat is going to have trouble passing the Pacers and making it to the Finals next season. Another NBA championship? Out of the question.

Why? Because Wade is nearing 33 but is playing like he's 38. He's only going to get worse. Bosh, who's verging on 31, has a lot of miles, eleven seasons' worth, on him and is past his prime. LeBron can't do it by himself.

The Heat needs to get better but can't. Not enough money. Like LeBron, Wade and Bosh opted out of their contracts recently. Both will re-sign with the Heat for less money, so general manager Pat Riley will have more cash to lure new players. But they need at least one big-time star to make up for Wade's decline, but can't afford one. LeBron now says he wants a max deal, calling for about $20-$22 million a year. Re-signing Wade and Bosh won't be cheap either. But even at reduced salaries, these two will be dramatically overpaid. With the big three hogging most of the money, the Heat won't be able to sign the kind of quality players necessary to win championships.

LeBron should consider signing with some Western Conference team, like Phoenix or the Clippers, that could afford to pay him while not gutting its roster. Add LeBron to any Western team, without subtracting any of its stars, and it becomes an instant championship favorite.

What's likely to happen to LeBron? Putting his personal hunger for more rings aside, he'll probably re-sign with the Heat but, in an effort to help the team, will likely back down from his max-salary demand and settle for less money. But look for him to sign a limited contract--for just a year or two-rather than one for five years..

Right now LeBron's problem is that his loyalty to the Heat and its fan base is overpowering his desire for rings. But as he gets older--he turns 30 in December--and hasn't picked up any more rings, while also feeling his prime years slipping away and that Wade and Bosh are just dead weight, he'll finally see its time to make a move.

Then it's goodbye, Miami.