This is where all Special Reports of the Quest for the Ring (QFTR) are archived in one place where they are easy to access on an extremely fast loading page. Special Reports are multi-part and multi-year investigations of basketball topics at the "highest level" and of the greatest interest to QFTR. The term "highest level" as used here means that the topics, people, events, etc. in Special Reports are of the highest importance for investigating, discovering, and reporting on who wins Championships and why and who doesn't and why. Not only are they of the highest importance, but they also are complicated and/or mysterious enough that not everything is known about them while the Special Reports series is being produced. Hopefully everything is known by the time a series is completed!

Special Reports began shortly after QFTR itself started in January 2007. So far two Series have been started and both of them are still ongoing as of February 2011; see the index just below for what the two series are.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Allen Iverson: What Could Have Been Part 3

Allen Ezail Iverson was born in Hampton, Virginia, on June 7, 1975 to a 15-year old single woman, Ann Iverson. His father, Allen Broughton, skipped out on the family and he and his sister Brandy, born 1979, were left in the care of their mother Ann. In 1991, Allen Iverson, Brandy and their mother welcomed a new addition to the family, Leisha, who was very ill, which added to the family bills. By the time Leisha was born, Iverson at the age of 16 was often responsible for taking care of his younger sisters, which was especially difficult with Leisha, who suffered frequent seizures. Mounting medical bills pushed the family further in debt. Iverson had an extremely poor childhood, one often without the basic necessities like electricity, heat or water.

Iverson went to Bethel High in Hampton from 1990-1994. In Part 2, we looked closely at Iverson’s junior and senior years at this school. Now you know that while he was running the basketball and the football teams during those two years, and winning State Championships in both sports in the process, he was also teaming up with his Mom to take care of his two sisters, one of them with frequent seizures. The house that Iverson grew up in lay on top of the city’s sewer pipes. Whenever they burst, Allen’s floor would be coated with sewage.

Iverson’s biological father remained in Connecticut where the family lived before Allen was born. He never played a role in his life, and he was in jail from time to time, including from a jail sentence for stabbing a former girlfriend. Shortly after Allen’s birth his maternal grandmother passed away. The family was continuously broke to one extent or another. Due to unpaid bills, the house was often without electricity and even sometimes water. Iverson once hinted that his Mother sometimes engaged in black market activities to earn badly needed money.

It wasn’t just Ann, Allen, Brandy, and Leisha though; there was another member of the household. Ann’s boyfriend and Iverson’s de facto father, Michael Freeman, had been in and out of jail for most of his life. After a car accident made Freeman unemployed in 1991, a desperate for money Freeman was caught and convicted for drug possession with intent to distribute. Freeman never bought bling; he paid family bills with his black market income. Iverson has remained proud of Freeman through the years. "He never robbed nobody," said Iverson once. "He was just tryin’ to feed his family. It would kill him to come from jail and find out how his family was living. One time he came home and just sat down and cried."

Did you ever wonder who the first person was who taught a young Allen Iverson basketball? To tell him that basketball was his best bet rather than football? To give him the confidence needed to get him to work hard and to excel at basketball? Was it a hot shot agent or well off basketball camp entrepreneur? Was it someone who later got a huge money book deal or movie deal? Was it a famous retired coach or former player?

No, it was none of these. Both Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson come from serious ghettos, the kind where there is a truly large amount of violent crime and black market drug dealing. Because a serious ghetto is where Iverson comes from, it was a ghetto person who started Iverson’s basketball career. It was Michael Freeman, a felon but a striving and meaning well Iverson family benefactor in the time of need. Iverson’s mother enrolled him in a little league type basketball practice program, but the young Allen Iverson was more of a football fan. It was Michael Freeman who pushed Iverson away from football and to basketball.

On Valentines Day 1993, Iverson was connected with a fracas at the Spare Times Bowling Center in the city of Hampton, Virginia. He had a few weeks earlier finished leading the Bethel High football team to the State Championship and he was in the process of leading the basketball squad to the State Championship. Everyone knew Iverson, some were jealous, and a few wanted to ruin the reputation of the young sports hero who came from the wrong neighborhood, the neighborhood where you can buy illegal drugs, and the neighborhood where no sane person would walk down the street at night. I guess they thought there was something unjust about someone who came from such a terrible neighborhood being such a school hero. Surely someone from a good neighborhood should be the hero, right? Or so they thought.

So Iverson and a group of his black teammates went to the bowling ally to unwind from basketball, and to celebrate the recent historical football win. They were loud and were asked to quiet down several times. Eventually, Iverson’s group and another group of white youths started shouting at each other. Not long into the shouting, a big fight erupted, pitting the black youths against the white youths. There has never been agreement about many of the specifics of the fight, especially specifics on what role if any Allen Iverson played. At one extreme, the prosecutors claimed that Iverson was fully involved and that he threw a chair at a girl and another chair at an employee. At the other extreme, others including Iverson claim Iverson was not involved at all.

Prosecutors ironically used a Civil War-era statute designed to protect blacks from lynchings to charge a group of black teens with mob violence. Seventeen-year-old Iverson was tried as an adult, convicted of “maiming by mob,” and sentenced to five years for throwing a chair at a girl. The judge, who was friends with one of the victim’s family, first denied them bail and then sentenced all four to 5 years in prison

Witnesses unaligned with either of the two groups testified that Iverson threw the chair at the girl. But at least according to prosecutors, no one heard Allen Iverson being called a nigger. Kristi Alligood, one of the witnesses, testified: "During a break in the fight, the girl went up to one of the black guys and said ‘Why do you have to make this racial?’ He [Iverson] just pressed two fingers against her face and pushed her away."

A bowling center employee testified that Iverson used a different chair to hit him in the head as well.

The prosecutor, a life-long NAACP member, pointed out that none of the blacks in the fight wanted to pursue charges, and that there were several black witnesses joining white witnesses identifying Iverson as the main culprit.

Iverson and his supporters maintain his innocence to this day. They claim that he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. Evidence against Iverson at trial was limited to witness statements only. Iverson could not be seen on an amateur video tape of the incident, and he claims he left the alley as soon as the trouble began. "For me to be in a bowling alley where everybody in the whole place know who I am and me be crackin’ people upside the head with chairs and think nothin’ gonna happen?" asked Iverson not long after the incident. "That’s crazy! And what kind of a man would I be to hit a girl in the head with a damn chair? I wish at least they’d said I hit some damn man."

Allen’s supporters were enraged that only four people were charged after the fight, all of them black. They were upset with the media’s allegedly biased coverage of the incident. And they claim the whole thing started when one of the white boys called Iverson a "nigger". "It’s strange enough that police waded through a huge mob of fighting people and came out with only blacks, and the one black that everybody knew," said Golden Frinks, crisis coordinator for the National Association for Advancement of Colored People. "But people thought they’d get a slap on the wrist and that would be the end of it." But the little fight in the bowling ally resulted in large 5-year prison sentences.

I remember at the time cracking jokes to myself about how Virginia is the kind of state where you might get a year in the slammer for littering, or two years for allowing your dog to take a dump in a park, or three years for driving with a suspended registration, but with a valid license and insurance. You get the idea; Virginia was a state you wouldn’t want to live in if you thought there was even a 1 in 100 chance that you would make a mistake that would constitute breaking a law. Live anywhere but Virginia. Virginia is not for lovers; it’s for jailers.

But this strange story gets stranger. Virginia’s first black Governor, Doug Wilder, granted Iverson a conditional release from the long sentence after four months behind bars because he became convinced that Iverson had been treated unfairly. While granting clemency, Wilder told Iverson to stay off the courts and to concentrate on receiving his high school diploma. Some time after this clemency nullified the sentence, the conviction itself was overturned on appeal. Therefore, what happened at the Spare Times Bowling Center in Hampton Virginia on Valentine’s Day 1993 remains both factually and legally uncertain to this day.

Iverson was supposed to have been a Kentucky Wildcat, but due to his incarceration, Iverson missed out on a scholarship to Kentucky University.

He studied while in jail, and after 5 months behind bars, Iverson was set free. In the meantime, Ann Iverson went to Georgetown University to convince Coach John Thompson to be her son's guardian, to be both his coach and a father figure. Once Thompson saw Iverson's talent, he accepted, and Iverson was offered a full scholarship to Georgetown University, which of course Iverson accepted.

But no matter what happened after the Valentine’s Day incident, Iverson was now destined to be trapped permanently in a no-man’s land between fully integrated into and accepted by society at large, and being an untouchable outcast. If you are a convicted felon, your pro sports career is pretty much over whether or not it has ever gotten underway. Iverson was a convicted felon, but then he was not one. So he was still technically qualified to become a basketball star, but he would never be fully accepted by basketball fans, including fans of his own teams. Fans in Philadelphia often yelled out nasty slurs when Iverson was near the sideline close to them. For example, they would yell out “Get a haircut,” or “How are the crack sales going?”

Do not forget these details of what happened when Allen Iverson was young. We will return to these things in later parts. For example, this series will explain how Iverson’s upbringing in general and the 1993 Valentine’s Day incident and what resulted from it in particular helped start a fire in 1997 that resulted in Iverson’s course through the NBA to be substantially different from what should have and could have been. The Denver Nuggets, their fans, and to some extent Allen Iverson himself are all still damaged from what the 1993 Valentine’s Day incident played a huge role in causing. In future parts, we will explore the chain of events that began with that stupid incident in the bowling center in Hampton, Virginia and that end with the present day Nuggets playing an offense that is clearly inferior to those of the top teams of the West.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Allen Iverson: What Could Have Been Part 2

In Part 2 of this series, we will start to look at the history of which position Allen Iverson has played, year by year. We will focus in this part on the earliest years, the high school years. We will eventually review the entire history, including a fascinating look at what happened with Team USA at the 2004 summer Olympics, with none other than Larry Brown calling the shots for Team USA, and none other than Allen Iverson not playing point guard for Brown, as usual.

Year, Team, Coach, & Iverson’s Position
1992-93 Bethel High Junior, Mike Bailey, Point Guard
1993-94 Bethel High Senior, Mike Bailey, Point Guard
1994-95 Georgetown University Freshman, John Thompson, Point Guard
1995-96 Georgetown University Sophomore, John Thompson, Point Guard
1996-97 Philadelphia 76’ers, Johnny Davis, Point Guard
1997-98 Philadelphia 76’ers, Larry Brown, Point Guard
1998-99 Philadelphia 76’ers, Larry Brown, Shooting Guard
1999-00 Philadelphia 76’ers, Larry Brown, Shooting Guard
2000-01 Philadelphia 76’ers, Larry Brown, Shooting Guard
2001-02 Philadelphia 76’ers, Larry Brown, Shooting Guard
2002-03 Philadelphia 76’ers, Larry Brown, Shooting Guard
2003-04 Philadelphia 76’ers, Randy Ayers and Chris Ford, Shooting Guard
2004-05 Philadelphia 76’ers, Jim O’Brien, Point Guard
2005-06 Philadelphia 76’ers Maurice Cheeks, Point Guard and Shooting Guard
2006-07 Denver Nuggets, George Karl, Shooting Guard
2007-08 Denver Nuggets, George Karl, Shooting Guard
2008-09 Detroit Pistons, Michael Curry, Point Guard and Shooting Guard

2000 Point Guard
2001 Point Guard
2002 Point Guard
2003 Point Guard
2004 Point Guard
2005 Point Guard
2006 Point Guard
2007 Point Guard
2008 Point Guard
2009 Point Guard

All-Star Games: Point Guard Iverson was named the starting point guard for the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star Game for seven consecutive seasons

2004 Olympics Team: Shooting Guard

Sometimes, those who claim that Iverson can not play the point guard position give the reason that he “can not run the offense.” They claim that he is so aggressive at possessing and scoring the ball, that he would never give himself enough space in his game to run the point effectively. Added to this is the implied rap that Iverson is not intelligent enough in general, or at least not intelligent enough to see the forest instead of just the trees in basketball games.

While watching Iverson at Denver, I have seen the opposite. I have seen him attempt 3-point shots when the Nuggets were striking out from long range and getting killed by the other team in this skill alone. I have seen him do his fade-away jumpers when the refs are not calling all the fouls and seen him pound it inside over and over when they are calling most of the fouls. I have seen him in many games, especially recently, maneuver between the two guard positions like a cat maneuvers in a high place, keeping perfect balance lest he fall to the ground or, in Iverson’s case, lest he err on the side of two much shooting or too much passing. Since Iverson can play both positions at once extremely well, how much sense does it make to claim that Iverson could not play the PG position very well if he were the designated PG? It makes no sense whatsoever. It is a garbage type of argument.

To say that Iverson can’t properly play the PG position for any reason is dubious, but to say he can’t play the position because he “can not run an offense” is especially lacking in validity. The side which has been brainwashed by Larry Brown and George Karl playing A.I. at the SG position over many years into thinking that Iverson can not play the point frequently uses this vague expression “ability to run an offense,” which is never defined. What exactly do they mean by that? I am afraid that it’s one of those flashy lines that doesn’t really have any meaning. Do they mean that Iverson doesn’t run an offense the way they think it should be run? I think that is it, but lord knows that for every point guard, from Eric Snow to Chris Paul, there is a way to run an offense, and you will be lucky if one or tow point guards in the NBA at any given time closely match your idea of a point guard who knows how to run an offense the way you think they should run one.

In other words, everyone claiming that Iverson "can not run an offense" would be arguing all the time about half the actual point guards as to whether or not they can "run an offense".

Broadly but accurately and crucially speaking, basketball coaches must in most cases pick the best guard on the team who can play PG to play that position, which can easily be about half again more important than the SG position for many rosters. Once they have done that, they next have to choose offensive strategies and tactics that make the best use of the skills and talents of the starting five and of two or three key bench players in general, and of the starting PG in particular. If you have a high scoring PG as your starter, you set up plays that make it easier for him to score. If you have a low scoring PG, you set up very few plays where he is the scorer, and more where other players are the scorers.

It is really not that complicated, but when a Coach like George Karl comes along, who doesn’t think you have to choose the best guard who can play PG as the PG, and who doesn’t think strategies and tactics have much value, you can fall into the trap of thinking that this stuff is more complicated than it is if you are not careful. For those who don’t know what they are doing, relatively simple things can easily get annoyingly difficult surprisingly quickly.

There are many ways to run an offense, and many types of point guards to run the numerous ways. This year, Chris Paul of the Hornets is proving, as other high scoring PGs before him have proved, that it is irrational to think that a high scoring PG makes it impossible or even very difficult to have a well run offense. The Hornets are 7th in pace-adjusted offense, while the Nuggets are only 11th. By the way, the Nuggets were 15th a week ago, but after a week of Iverson playing both positions at once, and playing PG at least as much as Anthony Carter, they have moved up four notches. The more Iverson decides to play more like a PG and less like a SG, the better the Nuggets offense is.

Iverson went to Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia. Bethel is famous for the NBA superstar having attended there. In his junior year at Bethel High, Allen Iverson became an all-time legendary high school athlete. There was no stopping him in TWO sports.

In the fall of his junior year at Bethel, Iverson was the starting quarterback for the football team. That team won the State Championship. Aside from being the starting quarterback, Iverson played in the defensive secondary as needed, and he also returned kickoffs and punts. So aside from mostly quarterbacking Bethel High School's football team to the state championship title, he also played 5 different positions to help his team get to the State Championship: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Safety, Running Back, and Special Teams Punt and Kick Returner.

Shortly after Bethel won the Division 5 state football championship in 1992, Iverson made a bold prediction. He had been the star quarterback and defensive back for the Bruins' football team. Now he was saying Bethel would win the state championship in basketball, too.

Here's part of the description when the Daily Press named Iverson its football player of the year:

"Iverson the quarterback passed for 1,423 yards with 14 touchdowns. Iverson the runner gained 781 yards with 15 touchdowns. Iverson the kick returner scored five touchdowns, four on punts. Iverson the defensive back intercepted eight passes."

Three months later, Iverson completed his double. Bethel won the Group AAA state championship and Iverson turned in the greatest year ever by a Group AAA player by averaging 31.6 points a game.

And here's part of the description when the Daily Press paper gave him the same honor for basketball:

"Maybe the nation's best high school point guard, the first team Parade All-American led the Bruins to their first state, Eastern Region and Peninsula District titles. ... He is at the top of the list when players having the complete package of skills are discussed. He has explosive quickness, great leaping ability and NBA 3-point shooting range."

So astoundingly, later in that same year the football team he led won it all, Allen Iverson at the point guard position did in real life fact lead the basketball team to a 28-3 record, a ranking of 25th among all high school basketball teams in the USA Today newspaper, and to earning the Virginia AAA State Championship, the highest honor that a high school basketball team in Virginia can get.

In summary, in the very same year, Iverson ran and led both his basketball team and his football team, and not one but both of those teams won the State Championship! Iverson was beyond good and put up dream numbers in both sports. The Associated Press named Iverson the Group AAA player of the year in both sports.

Iverson's high school junior year is more impressive than Carmelo Anthony leading his team to winning the NCAA Championship in his one year at Syracuse University. The fact is that Iverson ran both his basketball and his football team so well, that both of them won everything you can possibly win.

Given the ever increasing amounts of money available to pro athletes, Iverson may be about the last dual sport star, because fewer and fewer are willing to divert any of their efforts into a second sport, which reduces the amount of time available for developing the main sport, and which therefore reduces the odds that the athlete will become a pro in the main sport. So there won't even be hardly any candidates to match Iverson's junior year in high school, let alone actual athletes who can star in two sports and lead two teams to state championships.

How many people know this Iverson history? Very, very few know of it, and that’s how Larry Brown and George Karl like it. They don’t want you to know about this, because they don’t want anyone second guessing their theory that Iverson could never be all that great at running his teams in the NBA. Once Larry Brown and, by extension, George Karl had decided that an NBA team is just too complicated for little old Allen Iverson to operate, they used the obvious fact that he likes to score to partially mothball his skills by putting him in the shooting guard position. But this position is considered by most coaches to be the spot where you put guards who do not have the kinds of passing and offense running skills that Iverson demonstrated to such a high degree in his early years, and that he still demonstrates to this day while he continuously plays both guard positions at once, to one extent or another.

An impressive list of players have been coached by Mike Bailey. Allen Iverson (Georgetown) headlines a list of nine that went on to play Division I basketball. Others include Tony Rutland (Wake Forest University), Chevy Troutman (University of Pittsburgh), Corey Stewart (University of Virginia & UNC-Wilmington), Chris Jackson (College of Charleston), Taurance Johnson (Florida International), Aaron Sunderland (Cal-State Fullerton), Tahric Gosley (Cleveland State) and Cassin Diggs (University of Pittsburgh).

1997 - 2004 Williamsport Area High School in Williamsport, PA
Elite Eight Finish in 2002 Final Record 23 - 7
Elite Eight Finish in 2001 Final Record 27 - 2
Elite Eight Finish in 2000 Final Record 23 - 7
Final Record 29 - 2 / National Ranking 20th, USA TODAY
Final Overall Record 137 - 32

1994 - 1997 Tullahoma High School in Tullahoma, Tennessee

1985 - 1994 Bethel High School in Hampton, VA
Final Record 28 - 3 / National Ranking 25th, USA TODAY

1979 - 1985 Delaware Valley High School in Milford, PA

* Born 2 Run Pennsylvania Coach (Pennsylvania vs. USA) in 2000
* Pennsylvania Big School Coach of the Year in 1999
* Selected to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1999
* East Coach (Virginia High School League All-Star Game) in 1993

* Darrell Blackman, 2003 Second Team, 2002 First Team
* Ayyub Ali, 2001 Second Team
* Chevy Troutman, 2000 First Team, 1999 First Team
* Tony Rutland, 1994 First Team
* Allen Iverson, 1993 First Team

* Allen Iverson
* Tony Rutland
* Chevy Troutman
* Taurance Johnson
* Darrell Blackman

* Chevy Troutman, Mr. Basketball in Pennsylvania, 2000
* Tony Rutland, Gatorade Player of the Year in Virginia, 1994
* Allen Iverson, Player of the Year in Virginia, 1993

* Allen Iverson, Parade All-American First Team, 1993

* Allen Iverson of the Denver Nuggets
* Tony Rutland in Korea, Austria, Venezuela, Cyprus, NBDL, Syria
* Corey Stewart in South America
* Chevy Troutman in Italy and France

In summary, Mike Bailey, an extremely successful coach over many, many years, was Allen Iverson’s first coach. History shows that he thought Allen Iverson was a great point guard in those early years. Bailey never played Iverson at the shooting guard spot to any extent. It would have been ridiculous had Bailey not taken full advantage of the best high school guard that he would ever have by assigning him to the point guard position, where guards who can both score and pass extremely well should go.

Bailey clearly decided correctly by following the textbook on who should be your point guard, because his team won everything a team can possibly win while he and Iverson were running it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Allen Iverson: What Could Have Been Part 1

So Allen Iverson returned to Philadelphia recently as a Denver Nugget, but for all practical purposes he never left. Amazingly, there has not been the slightest adjustment in Iverson’s role after the move from the 76’ers to the Nuggets. He still has exactly, and I mean exactly, the same role he had in Philadelphia. He’s still playing the same old position, shooting guard, even though he started out in high school, in college, and in his rookie of the year season as a point guard, and even though he returned to that position for most of the 3 1/3 years after Coach Larry Brown left the Sixers, and even though the Nuggets are starting a player at the point, Anthony Carter, who has never been even hypothetically let alone actually regarded as a starting point guard until this year.

In seven years prior to coming on the Nuggets, Carter never started more than 30 games in a season, never played more than 23.5 minutes a game, never made more than 4.8 assists per game, and never scored more than 6.4 points a game. This is the player that George Karl chose over Allen Iverson to be the starting point guard for the Denver Nuggets after Chucky Atkins, who has been regarded as a true starting point guard for many years, was lost for most of the season.

And now as if to make everyone absolutely sure that he doesn’t know what he is doing on the point guard front, Karl has suddenly discontinued the crucial effort to get Chucky Atkins in good form for the playoff run and for the playoffs. Atkins played three extremely good games in a row, against the Grizzlies, the Raptors and the Sonics. Then, after he was only average in the Pistons game, he played only 6 minutes in this 76’ers game. So much for the theory that even Karl is not dumb enough to not know that getting Atkins back into good form is crucial for the Nuggets if they really want to make the playoffs, and if they really want to avoid losing a playoff series 4-0 or 4-1.

Before this season, Carter had started 102 games in an 8-year career and had played about 7,000 minutes. Before this season, Atkins had started 314 games and had played about 16,000 minutes. But in Karl’s mind, Carter needs to start the rest of the way for the Nuggets regardless of whether Atkins is back in good form or not. In fact, Karl apparently doesn’t even consider himself to be responsible to try to make sure that Atkins gets back into top form.

Lord help you if you are injured and don’t come back for awhile while playing for George Karl, because when you do come back, you might find that your entire NBA career now counts for nothing, and you are no longer considered, in Karl’s world, what you were before the injury.

I had a forum conversation with a 76’ers fan on a 76’ers forum. I am reprinting it here, because you can see what I am up against as I explain why the Nuggets have failed this year. And how it turns out that the trade of Andre Miller for Allen Iverson failed, not because it was intrinsically a bad trade, but because the Nuggets simply did not understand that using A.I. in the exact same way that Larry Brown used him would lead to the exact same result, Melo or no Melo: no playoffs or a quick early out in the playoffs. All having Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby on his team does for Iverson is to offset the fact that the Western Conference is far better than the Eastern Conference.

Iverson has ended up in the exact same situation he was in Philadelphia. Iverson in Denver, like Iverson in Philadelphia, continues to be asked to do too much and not enough at the same time. As in Philadelphia, Iverson in Denver is asked to play both guard positions at once and he is asked to be at the same time the number one playmaker and the number one scorer among guards for the Nuggets. But he is not asked to adjust his game a little, so that the number of easy to defend isolation plays he runs is reduced and the number of hard to defend passing plays he runs is increased.

By reading the following interesting interchange, you can see how even a major 76’ers and Iverson fan has fallen into the trap of thinking too narrowly about Iverson and what he can do. There is a logical fallacy, or optical illusion if you prefer, involved with thinking that Iverson can not be a good point guard. And there is more of interest, so read on.

Well, I don't think Iverson is a perfect PG, and he is obviously a much more aggressive scorer than most PGs, but I think it is going too far to say he is a poor PG. Just a few quick reasons off the top of my head:

1. Iverson was the PG in his 2 years at Georgetown University and heavily dominated in assists for his team.

2. As you confirm, Iverson was the PG in his rookie of the year first year in the NBA.

3. As you confirm, Iverson returned mostly to the PG position after Larry Brown was gone. It turns out that although Iverson has played more years at SG than at PG, more coaches have preferred Iverson at PG over SG.

4. The NBA front office has always considered Iverson to be a PG at least as much as a SG, since his position at the all-star games has been PG, not SG.

5. Everyone agrees that Iverson can play either position, and he frequently plays both positions at once at the same time. So if he were truly a poor PG, wouldn't he have evolved over the years to limit himself to the SG role, with or without having to be told to do that by coaches? In other words, if he is much better in the SG role than in the PG role, than why can he still be seen today often running the point, and why is he 7th in the NBA in assists per game, ahead of most of the actual point guards?

6. The Nuggets, once Chucky Atkins went out for most of the season, were left with the choice of playing Iverson at the point or playing Anthony Carter at the point. Carter is someone who never averaged more than 23.5 minutes per game and 4.8 assists per game before he was befriended by George Karl, who likes his personality and conservative playmaking style. So even a good number of those who don't think Iverson is all that great a point guard would have to agree that the Nuggets should have played him at the position in the emergency they found themselves in when Atkins was lost for most of the season. In other words, Karl made a mistake regardless of exactly how great a PG Iverson really is.

These are because of his height. Iverson's height makes him a defensive liability at SG, and tall, effective points are a rarity.

Most of his coaches have preferred him at SG, I'll show you

PG: Davis, O'Brien, Thompson
SG: Brown, Ayers, Ford, Cheeks, Karl

Cheeks didn't have another point option, so he was forced to play AI there, but he hated it. He even played Iguadala there in the 06-07 season over Iverson.

Cheeks can’t be counted as just SG, because it was both, so he should be 1/2 point for each. Ayers and Ford can only count as 1/2 each, because they coached in the same season, and it is even rarer for one of the best players in the NBA to have his position changed during the season than it would be for him to have his position changed from one year to the next. So it is really 3 1/2 coaches each. But I bet if I went back to high school, it would be PG again!

[Sure enough, Iverson's high school coach did indeed think that Iverson was best as a point guard.]

The same is true in the all-star game. He gets point by virtue of being shorter.

Well if he’s too short to play the SG position in the all-star game, then he is definitely too short to play the SG position in ordinary games. One or the other is wrong; either the NBA front office is wrong for listing him as a PG for all-star voting, or Larry Brown and George Karl are wrong for designating him as a SG.

Assists do not equal being a good point guard. Iverson gets most of his assists as bail outs - last resorts after his scoring options are exhausted. He doesn't set up the offense, and he holds the ball for too long to be an effective point. When he runs it, the other players feel alienated from the game, and it leads to inconsistency from the team. His numbers will look great, but the overall offense becomes stagnant. It's why the Nuggets traded for Blake.

There is some truth in your observations, but you can’t use those observations to prove that Iverson is a poor PG, because the SG position has different priorities than the PG position does, and any player moved from PG to SG would have to change his game or be a failure at SG. In other words, there is a lack of logic in saying: “Look, there’s Iverson running another isolation dribble and fade away again. See, he would be a bad PG. But he’s doing what shooting guards are allowed and frequently encouraged to do, so it is an invalid observation.

It's not really much different from saying that Ray Allen, Rashad McCants, or Jason Richardson would not be good point guards based on how they are playing right now. It's true, but it isn't a valid or logical observation. It is an irrelevant observation with respect to the question of which position Iverson should have played.

The nuggets are visibly more energetic and better on offense with Carter in the game. He's not as explosive as Iverson, but he's solid and consistent, which Denver really needs. Keeping Blake would've done them better, but they didn't want to pay the luxury tax.

I think the Nuggets are more energetic and better on offense with the Iverson / J.R. Smith backcourt than they are with the Iverson / Carter offense. Adjusted for pace, and you have to adjust to get the real truth, the Nuggets are about the 5th best team in the NBA on defense, but only about the 15th best team in the NBA on offense.

Playing carter has really helped the Nuggets' turnovers, as Iverson turns the ball over way to much as a point, he's never had even a 2 to 1 assist to TO ratio while playing that position.

First of all that is factually wrong. Iverson had three seasons with a better than 2 to 1 assist to turnover ration while playing his mix of point guard and shooting guard. Asking how many seasons he had with that ratio while the official, designated point guard is a dumb and/or and intentionally misleading question, because Iverson was the designated point guard only a very small number of years.

Moreover, the Nuggets are still a high turnover team even with Carter. Iverson is still handling the ball extensively even while being designated the SG. In every game, Iverson runs the point to one extent or another. The more Iverson runs the point, the less value Carter has in games. J.R. Smith offsets his turnovers with steals and explosive scoring, so the Iverson PG / J.R. Smith SG backcourt would not be worse than the Carter PG / Iverson SG backcourt in terms of net damage from turnovers. George Karl simply decided that he couldn’t stomach the number of turnovers you would get with the Iverson / Smith backcourt; he never made a reasonable estimation of all costs and all benefits.

Don't get me wrong. I'm as big an Iverson fan as there is, and I've watch nearly every Nuggets game since he was traded. But I'd like to see him appreciated for what he is. Classifying him as a point exposes his weaknesses at that position. He's an incredibly versatile shooting guard who can fill in there when needed.

Well the Nuggets lost their starting PG for most of the season, so if AI wasn’t needed then at the position, then when would he be needed? Never, because Karl will go through all kinds of contortions to avoid playing AI at the point, because Karl buys into the myth that AI is a poor PG, or at least because he thinks that AI has been spoiled as a PG by playing SG for so many years.

Iverson briefly started at PG last year for the Nuggets, and did reasonably well. But ever since Karl grew to detest J.R. Smith about a year ago, starting AI at the point has been out of the question, because he would have to start J.R. Smith at 2-guard if he did that and he will not start J.R. Smith under any circumstances. Smith has been one of the best shooting guards in the NBA since 2008 began, but all it has gotten him is about half a dozen more minutes per game. Karl still refuses to even consider starting him and would rather miss the playoffs than start J.R. Smith.

By the way, the reason the Nuggets are struggling is inconsistent effort, especially on the defensive end, and a lack of ball movement. Combining two isolation players in Iverson and Anthony was never a good idea. They don't, and can't work off of each other, so they end up taking turns scoring, with one of them holding the ball 5-10 seconds on most possessions. It effectively limits both of their explosiveness.

And by not involving the players enough, it takes their heads out of the game, which leads to long stretches where they barely play any defense. Carmelo is the worst at that, but Iverson isn't much better, and his height hurts things.

Ok, you have done extremely well describing some of the big problems the Nuggets have with Iverson at SG, unaccountable for how many isolation plays he runs at that position. If Iverson is designated the PG and you tell him: “A.I., I want 10-12 assists per game and 18-20 points per game instead of 7 assists per game and 25 points per game,” and as long as all the years he has played the wrong position for Brown and Karl have not made him unable to adjust, which I greatly doubt, you have gone a long way to solving the big problems that you described.

You see what is going on here? Iverson is faulted for not being a good point guard while he is assigned to the shooting guard position, by people who swear he is not a good enough point guard to be designated as a point guard. This is both a circular and an illogical argument. Most of the Iverson critics are trying to have it both ways. They are criticizing Iverson for not being what he has not been instructed to be, on account of an assumption that he can’t be that. They are watching Iverson playing the SG position and saying “Look, there’s Iverson running all of those isolation plays. You see, he can’t be a good point guard.” To which I respond: you have no point and you are not making any sense.

The bottom line is that the Nuggets clearly should have moved AI to PG after Chucky Atkins went out for most of the season at the beginning of the season. That is what all the basketball sites were expecting at the beginning of the year; all of the depth charts were showing Iverson starting at PG and Smith starting at SG. But George Karl dislikes J.R. Smith with a passion and has overestimated his negatives by far. Almost every decision Karl makes in relation to the guards has the same common denominator: Smith's playing time is reduced from what it would be if a different decision were made.

Now we will never know for sure if the Iverson / Smith back court would have gotten the Nuggets a decent seed in the playoffs, but I would be extremely surprised if it would not have. I think the Nuggets would have been 3rd, 4th, or 5th seed in the West had the Nuggets realized who really was their best point guard, and their best back court.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The George Karl Fiasco, Part 6

In part 6, we compare all current NBA coaches on two crucial factors: experience and regular season success. In part 7, which will be in the next game report, the one for the Hornets game, we will compare all current NBA coaches in playoff experience and in playoff success.


The first number is the total number of games, the middle number is the number of regular season games, and the last number is the number of playoff games.

1 Golden State Don Nelson 2366 2200 166
2 Miami Pat Riley 2127 1845 282
3 Utah Jerry Sloan 1947 1772 175
4 LA Lakers Phil Jackson 1614 1358 256
5 Denver George Karl 1598 1457 141
6 Houston Rick Adelman 1418 1280 138
7 LA Clippers Mike Dunleavy 1231 1160 71
8 San Antonio Gregg Popovich 1040 897 143
9 Detroit Flip Saunders 1029 948 81
10 Boston Doc Rivers 651 629 22
11 Portland Nate McMillan 621 605 16
12 New Orleans Byron Scott 620 580 40
13 Philadelphia Maurice Cheeks 522 512 10
14 Washington Eddie Jordan 491 471 20
15 Seattle P.J. Carlesimo 464 452 12
16 Phoenix Mike D'Antoni 450 404 46
17 Indiana Jim O'Brien 419 388 31
18 New York Isiah Thomas 390 375 15
19 New Jersey Lawrence Frank 371 333 38
20 Toronto Sam Mitchell 298 292 6
21 Atlanta Mike Woodson 289 289 0
22 Dallas Avery Johnson 270 228 42
23 Orlando Stan Van Gundy 262 234 28
24 Minnesota Randy Wittman 252 252 0
25 Cleveland Mike Brown 243 210 33
26 Milwaukee Larry Krystkowiak 66 66 0
27 Charlotte Sam Vincent 48 48 0
28 Memphis Marc Iavaroni 47 47 0
29 Sacramento Reggie Theus 46 46 0
30 Chicago Jim Boylan 20 20 0

In every employment, in every business, in every pursuit of any kind, experience is supposed to produce efficiency and effectiveness in performance. Basketball coaching is no exception. NBA coaching is not a simple thing, and coaches with more experience have a substantial advantage over coaches with less. Therefore, you should tend to see that the coaches with the most experience will also tend to have the best win-loss records. This is exactly what you do see.

Coaches who have been repeatedly stuck early in their careers with bad teams that can not be improved enough to become winners will inevitably get fired after a few years, at the most, and they will never reach what you might call the “permanent head coaching career level,” which I would say is at about 500 games or so.

In a class of their own as the most experienced NBA coaches are Don Nelson-Warriors and Pat Riley-Heat. The third most experienced NBA coach is Jerry Sloan-Jazz. Phil Jackson-Lakers and George Karl-Nuggets are virtually tied for fourth. There are really only 3 coaches in the NBA who have coached substantially more games than Karl has: Nelson, Riley, and Sloan.

Rick Adelman, who is out to get one of the last two playoff berths in the West, is the 6th most experienced Coach. Don Nelson of the Warriors is also gunning for one of the last two seeds. Should both of them succeed, it would probably mean devastation for the Denver franchise, since the Nuggets most likely will not even make the playoffs if that scenario plays out.

The only other coaches who have coached more than 1,000 games are Mike Dunleavy-Clippers, Greg Popovich-Spurs, and Flip Saunders-Pistons. Following the 9 coaches who have the huge experience of more than 1,000 games coached, there is a huge drop-off. The 10th most experienced coach is Doc Rivers-Celtics, with 651 games. Should there be a Lakers-Celtics Championship this year, which seems to become more likely with each passing week, the Celtics’ Coach will be less than half as experienced as the Lakers’ Coach, which will give the Lakers a key advantage, especially if the teams are otherwise about equal.

The other coaches who are much less experienced than the top 9, but who have reached the permanent head coaching career level of 500 games, where they have some protection from being fired if they can not turn a bad team into a winner, would be Nate McMillan-Trailblazers, Byron Scott-Hornets, Maurice Cheeks-76’ers, and, soon to be qualified, Eddie Jordan-Wizards.

The first number is the regular season winning percentage, the middle number is the number of regular season wins, and the last number is the number of regular season losses.

1 Dallas Avery Johnson 0.763 174 54
2 LA Lakers Phil Jackson 0.699 949 409
3 San Antonio Gregg Popovich 0.674 605 292
4 Miami Pat Riley 0.646 1191 654
5 Orlando Stan Van Gundy 0.611 143 91
6 Houston Rick Adelman 0.609 779 501
7 Phoenix Mike D'Antoni 0.606 245 159
8 Utah Jerry Sloan 0.601 1065 707
9 Cleveland Mike Brown 0.600 126 84
10 Detroit Flip Saunders 0.593 562 386
11 Denver George Karl 0.588 857 600
12 Golden State Don Nelson 0.573 1261 939
13 New Jersey Lawrence Frank 0.532 177 156
14 Indiana Jim O'Brien 0.518 201 187
15 Philadelphia Maurice Cheeks 0.494 253 259
16 Boston Doc Rivers 0.491 309 320
17 LA Clippers Mike Dunleavy 0.486 564 596
18 Portland Nate McMillan 0.483 292 313
19 Sacramento Reggie Theus 0.478 22 24
20 New Orleans Byron Scott 0.476 276 304
21 New York Isiah Thomas 0.475 178 197
22 Toronto Sam Mitchell 0.452 132 160
23 Chicago Jim Boylan 0.450 9 11
24 Washington Eddie Jordan 0.446 210 261
25 Seattle P.J. Carlesimo 0.431 195 257
26 Charlotte Sam Vincent 0.375 18 30
27 Milwaukee Larry Krystkowiak 0.348 23 43
28 Minnesota Randy Wittman 0.333 84 168
29 Atlanta Mike Woodson 0.304 88 201
30 Memphis Marc Iavaroni 0.277 13 34

Avery Johnson, who has coached a relatively small number of games, 270, is the most successful regular season coach in the NBA right now. But Phil Jackson, who has won about 7 of every 10 games he has coached, has a far more impressive record than Johnson, because Jackson has coached almost exactly 6 games for every 1 game coached by Johnson.

Trailing Jackson in both experience and success, by small margins, is Greg Popovich. Pat Riley has been an extremely successful coach as well; he’s 4th in success and 2nd in experience.

Among those who have not yet reached 500 games, Stan Van Gundy is most likely the coach who has the greatest probability of becoming a permanent, career head coach, because his success has been substantial. Just behind Van Gundy and with at least 6 0f 10 games won, is Rick Adelman-Rockets, Mike D’Antoni-Suns, Jerry Sloan-Jazz and Mike Brown-Cavaliers. Like Van Gundy, Brown is likely to become a permanent, career coach, unless general managers decide that LeBron James deserves all of the credit for the Cavaliers success and Brown deserves almost none.

In sum, there are 9 coaches who have achieved the 6 in 10 games won or better mark, which I would call the absolute minimum level needed to qualify to be further considered as to whether they might be an historically great coach. Then there is a group of 5 coaches who are over .500, but under the 6 in 10 games threshold. These would be Flip Saunders-Pistons, George Karl-Nuggets, Don Nelson-Warriors, Lawrence Frank-Nets, and Jim O’Brien-Pacers.

So it would appear that Karl is a good Coach, or at least used to be a good Coach, but he comes up a little short as to whether he might be a great Coach. Close counts only in horseshoes, right? Saunders, Karl, and Nelson are all highly experienced coaches who come up short as to whether they might be truly great coaches. Of the 9 most experienced coaches, there are 5 who qualify as very possibly historically great, Jackson, Popovich, Riley, Adelman, and Sloan. And there is one Coach who is less successful than the partially successful trio of Saunders, Karl, and Nelson: Mike Dunleavy-Clippers. Dunleavy is the only heavily experienced Coach who has a losing regular season record.

The bottom line is that George Karl is one of 9 heavily experienced NBA coaches, but he is not one of the 5 heavily experienced NBA coaches who have achieved a regular season record of 6 out of 10 games won or better. Karl is 18 wins short from that mark and the odd thing is, I am certain he would have those 18 and probably more just from his Nuggets job, if he were truly a great coach. Because the Nuggets are not winning as many games as they should be this year, and nor did they last year.

The Nuggets are exactly the kind of team that a great coach can take to a 54 or 58-win season. Were the Nuggets coached by any of the top 5 NBA coaches, Jackson, Popovich Riley, Adelman, or Sloan, I am certain that they would win 54-60 games this season. Under Karl, they are projected to win 48 games and, astoundingly, have a substantial risk of missing the playoffs.

Exactly how well the Nuggets would do were they coached by Johnson, Van Gundy, D’Antoni, and Brown is more uncertain, since these four, while more successful than Karl in win percentage, are not heavily experienced coaches. However, as an educated estimate, I would say that Johnson, Van Gundy, or D’Antoni, were they coaching the Nuggets this year, would produce 50-54 wins, and would be able to insure that the Nuggets would make the playoffs without having to worry about it right up to and including the last week of the season. Brown would be a wildcard, and all bets would be off with him, because his success may be mostly due to LeBron James.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The George Karl Fiasco, Part 5


1984-85 CLE 1-3 Lost in the First Round
1985-86 CLE 0-0 Fired During the Regular Season
1986-87 GSW 4-6 Lost in the Second Round (West Semifinals)
1987-88 GSW 0-0 Fired During the Regular Season
1988-89 Did Not Coach in the NBA
1989-90 Did Not Coach in the NBA except briefly as an Assistant Coach for the Jazz
1990-91 Did Not Coach in the NBA
1991-92 SEA 4–5 Lost in the Second Round (West Semifinals)
1992-93 SEA 10-9 Lost in the Third Round (West Conference Finals)
1993-94 SEA 2-3 Lost in the First Round
1994-95 SEA 1-3 Lost in the First Round
1995-96 SEA 13-8 Lost in the Fourth Round (NBA Championship Series)
1996-97 SEA 6-6 Lost in the Second Round (West Semifinals)
1997-98 SEA 4-6 Lost in the Second Round (West Semifinals)
1998-99 MIL 0-3 Lost in the First Round
1999-00 MIL 2-3 Lost in the First Round
2000-01 MIL 10-8 Lost in the Third Round (East Conference Finals)
2001-02 MIL 0-0 Missed the Playoffs
2002-03 MIL 2-4 Lost in the First Round
2003-04 Did Not Coach in the NBA
2004-05 DEN 1-4 Lost in the First Round
2005-06 DEN 1-4 Lost in the First Round
2006-07 DEN 1-4 Lost in the First Round

Now let’s look at the results in detail. The team that Karl coached is in bold letters.

Boston 63-19 vs. Cleveland 36-46
Boston 3, Cleveland 1
Apr. 18: Thu., Cleveland 123 at Boston 126
Apr. 20: Sat., Cleveland 106 at Boston 108
Apr. 23: Tue., Boston 98 at Cleveland 105
Apr. 25: Thu., Boston 117 at Cleveland 115

Utah 44-38 vs. Golden State 42-40
Golden State 3, Utah 2
Apr. 23: Thu., Golden State 85 at Utah 99
Apr. 25: Sat., Golden State 100 at Utah 103
Apr. 29: Wed., Utah 95 at Golden State 110
May 1: Fri., Utah 94 at Golden State 98
May 3: Sun., Golden State 118 at Utah 113

Los Angeles Lakers 65-17 vs. Golden State 42-40
L.A. Lakers 4, Golden State 1
May 5: Tue., Golden State 116 at L.A. Lakers 125
May 7: Thu., Golden State 101 at L.A. Lakers 116
May 9: Sat., L.A. Lakers 133 at Golden State 108
May 10: Sun., L.A. Lakers 121 at Golden State 129
May 12: Tue., Golden State 106 at L.A. Lakers 118

Golden State 55-27 vs. Seattle 47-35
Seattle 3, Golden State 1
Apr. 23: Thu., Seattle 117 at Golden State 109
Apr. 25: Sat., Seattle 101 at Golden State 115
Apr. 28: Tue., Golden State 128 at Seattle 129
Apr. 30: Thu., Golden State 116 at Seattle 119

Utah 55-27 vs, Seattle 47-35
Utah 4, Seattle 1
May 6: Wed., Seattle 100 at Utah 108
May 8: Fri., Seattle 97 at Utah 103
May 10: Sun., Utah 98 at Seattle 104
May 12: Tue., Utah 89 at Seattle 83
May 14: Thu., Seattle 100 at Utah 111

Seattle 55-27 vs. Utah 47-35
Seattle 3, Utah 2
Apr. 30: Fri., Utah 85 at Seattle 99
May 2: Sun., Utah 89 at Seattle 85
May 4: Tue., Seattle 80 at Utah 90
May 6: Thu., Seattle 93 at Utah 80
May 8: Sat., Utah 92 at Seattle 100

Seattle 55-27 vs. Houston 55-27
Seattle 4, Houston 3
May 10: Mon., Houston 90 at Seattle 99
May 12: Wed., Houston 100 at Seattle 111
May 15: Sat., Seattle 79 at Houston 97
May 16: Sun., Seattle 92 at Houston 103
May 18: Tue., Houston 95 at Seattle 120
May 20: Thu., Seattle 90 at Houston 103
May 22: Sat., Houston 100 at Seattle 103

Phoenix 62-20 vs. Seattle 55-27
Phoenix 4, Seattle 3
May 24: Mon., Seattle 91 at Phoenix 105
May 26: Wed., Seattle 103 at Phoenix 99
May 28: Fri., Phoenix 104 at Seattle 97
May 30: Sun., Phoenix 101 at Seattle 120
June 1: Tue., Seattle 114 at Phoenix 120
June 3: Thu., Phoenix 102 at Seattle 118
June 5: Sat., Seattle 110 at Phoenix 123

Seattle 63-19 vs. Denver 42-40
Denver 3, Seattle 2
Apr. 28: Thu., Denver 82 at Seattle 106
Apr. 30: Sat., Denver 87 at Seattle 97
May 2: Mon., Seattle 93 at Denver 110
May 5: Thu., Seattle 85 at Denver 94
May 7: Sat., Denver 98 at Seattle 94

Seattle 57-25 vs. Los Angeles Lakers 48-34
L.A. Lakers 3, Seattle 1
Apr. 27: Thu., L.A. Lakers 71 at Seattle 96
Apr. 29: Sat., L.A. Lakers 84 at Seattle 82
May 1: Mon., Seattle 101 at L.A. Lakers 105
May 4: Thu., Seattle 110 at L.A. Lakers 114

Seattle 64-18 vs. Sacramento 39-43
Seattle 3, Sacramento 1
Apr. 26: Fri., Sacramento 85 at Seattle 97
Apr. 28: Sun., Sacramento 90 at Seattle 81
Apr. 30: Tue., Seattle 96 at Sacramento 89
May 2: Thu., Seattle 101 at Sacramento 87

Seattle 64-19 vs. Houston 48-34
Seattle 4, Houston 0
May 4: Sat., Houston 75 at Seattle 108
May 6: Mon., Houston 101 at Seattle 105
May 10: Fri., Seattle 115 at Houston 112
May 12: Sun., Seattle 114 at Houston 107

Seattle 64-18 vs. Utah 55-27
Seattle 4, Utah 3
May 18: Sat., Utah 72 at Seattle 102
May 20: Mon., Utah 87 at Seattle 91
May 24: Fri., Seattle 76 at Utah 96
May 26: Sun., Seattle 88 at Utah 86
May 28: Tue., Utah 98 at Seattle 95
May 30: Thu., Seattle 83 at Utah 118
June 2: Sun., Utah 86 at Seattle 90

Chicago 72-10 vs. Seattle 64-18
Chicago 4, Seattle 2
June 5: Wed., Seattle 90 at Chicago 107
June 7: Fri., Seattle 88 at Chicago 92
June 9: Sun., Chicago 108 at Seattle 86
June 12: Wed., Chicago 86 at Seattle 107
June 14: Fri., Chicago 78 at Seattle 89
June 16: Sun., Seattle 75 at Chicago 87

Seattle 57-25 vs. Phoenix 40-42
Seattle 3, Phoenix 2
Apr. 25: Fri., Phoenix 106 at Seattle 101
Apr. 27: Sun., Phoenix 78 at Seattle 122
Apr. 29: Tue., Seattle 103 at Phoenix 110
May 1: Thu., Seattle 122 at Phoenix 115
May 3: Sat., Phoenix 92 at Seattle 116

Seattle 57-25 vs. Houston 57-25
Houston 4, Seattle 3
May 5: Mon., Seattle 102 at Houston 112
May 7: Wed., Seattle 106 at Houston 101
May 9: Fri., Houston 97 at Seattle 93
May 11: Sun., Houston 110 at Seattle 106
May 13: Tue., Seattle 100 at Houston 94
May 15: Thu., Houston 96 at Seattle 99
May 17: Sat., Seattle 91 at Houston 96

Seattle 61-21 vs. Minnesota 45-37
Seattle 3, Minnesota 2
Apr. 24: Fri., Minnesota 83 at Seattle 108
Apr. 26: Sun., Minnesota 98 at Seattle 93
Apr. 28: Tue., Seattle 90 at Minnesota 98
Apr. 30: Thu., Seattle 92 at Minnesota 88
May 2: Sat., Minnesota 84 at Seattle 97

Seattle 61-21 vs. Los Angeles Lakers 61-21
LA Lakers 4, Seattle 1
May 4: Mon., L.A. Lakers 92 at Seattle 106
May 6: Wed., L.A. Lakers 92 at Seattle 68
May 8: Fri., Seattle 103 at L.A. Lakers 119
May 10: Sun., Seattle 100 at L.A. Lakers 112
May 12: Tue., L.A. Lakers 110 at Seattle 95

Indiana 33-17 vs. Milwaukee 28-22
Indiana 3, Milwaukee 0
May 9: Sun., at Indiana 110, Milwaukee 88
May 11: Tue., at Indiana 108, Milwaukee 107
May 13: Thu., Indiana 99, at Milwaukee 91

Indiana 56-26 vs. Milwaukee 42-40
Indiana 3, Milwaukee 2
Apr. 23: Sun., Milwaukee 85 at Indiana 88
Apr. 27: Thu., Milwaukee 104 at Indiana 91
Apr. 29: Sat., Indiana 109 at Milwaukee 96
May 1: Mon., Indiana 87 at Milwaukee 100
May 4: Thu., Milwaukee 95 at Indiana 96

Milwaukee 52-30 vs. Orlando 43-39
Milwaukee 3, Orlando 1
Apr. 22: Sun., Orlando 90 at Milwaukee 103
Apr. 25: Wed., Orlando 96 at Milwaukee 103
Apr. 28: Sat., Milwaukee 116 at Orlando 121
May 1: Tue., Milwaukee 112 at Orlando 104

Milwaukee 52-30 vs. Charlotte 46-36
Milwaukee 4, Charlotte 3
May 6: Sun., Charlotte 92 at Milwaukee 104
May 8: Tue., Charlotte 90 at Milwaukee 91
May 10: Thu., Milwaukee 92 at Charlotte 102
May 13: Sun., Milwaukee 78 at Charlotte 85
May 15: Tue., Charlotte 94 at Milwaukee 86
May 17: Thu., Milwaukee 104 at Charlotte 97
May 20: Sun., Charlotte 95 at Milwaukee 104

Philadelphia 56-26 vs. Milwaukee 52-30
Philadelphia 4, Milwaukee 3
May 22: Tue., Milwaukee 85 at Philadelphia 93
May 24: Thu., Milwaukee 92 at Philadelphia 78
May 26: Sat., Philadelphia 74 at Milwaukee 80
May 28: Mon., Philadelphia 89 at Milwaukee 83
May 30: Wed., Milwaukee 88 at Philadelphia 89
June 1: Fri., Philadelphia 100 at Milwaukee 110
June 3: Sun., Milwaukee 91 at Philadelphia 108

New Jersey 49-33 vs. Milwaukee 42-40
New Jersey 4, Milwaukee 2
Apr. 19: Sat., Milwaukee 96 at New Jersey 109
Apr. 22: Tue., Milwaukee 88 at New Jersey 85
Apr. 24: Thur., New Jersey 103 at Milwaukee 101
Apr. 26: Sat., New Jersey 114 at Milwaukee 119
May 29: Tue., Milwaukee 82 at New Jersey 89
May 1: Thur., New Jersey 113 at Milwaukee 101

San Antonio 59-23 vs. Denver 49-33
San Antonio 4 Denver 1
Game 1 April 24 San Antonio Spurs 87 Denver Nuggets 93
Game 2 April 27 San Antonio Spurs 104 Denver Nuggets 76
Game 3 April 30 Denver Nuggets 78 San Antonio Spurs 86
Game 4 May 2 Denver Nuggets 115 San Antonio Spurs 126
Game 5 May 4 San Antonio Spurs 99 Denver Nuggets 89

Los Angeles Clippers 47-35 vs. Denver 44-38
Los Angeles Clippers 4 Denver 1
Game 1 April 22 Los Angeles Clippers 89 Denver Nuggets 87
Game 2 April 24 Los Angeles Clippers 98 Denver Nuggets 87
Game 3 April 27 Denver Nuggets 94 Los Angeles Clippers 87
Game 4 April 29 Denver Nuggets 86 Los Angeles Clippers 100
Game 5 May 1 Los Angeles Clippers 101 Denver Nuggets 83

San Antonio 58-24 vs. Denver 45-37
San Antonio 4 Denver 1
Game 1 April 22 San Antonio Spurs 89 Denver Nuggets 95
Game 2 April 25 San Antonio Spurs 97 Denver Nuggets 88
Game 3 April 28 Denver Nuggets 91 San Antonio Spurs 96
Game 4 April 30 Denver Nuggets 89 San Antonio Spurs 96
Game 5 May 2 San Antonio Spurs 93 Denver Nuggets 78

Number of series where Karl’s team was favored and Karl’s team won: 8
Number of series where the other team was favored but Karl’s team won: 2
Number of series where Karl’s team was favored but the other team won: 2
Number of series where the other team was favored and the other team won: 12

Finally, let’s take a close look at the four upsets. In 1987, George Karl’s Warriors (42-40) scored a small upset playoff series win over the Utah Jazz (44-38) when they defeated the Jazz in Utah 118-113 in the 5th and deciding game of the series.

Then, in 1992, George Karl’s Supersonics (47-35) scored an upset playoff series win over the Golden State Warriors (55-27) 3 games to 1. Two of the 3 wins, though, were extremely close games, 1-point and 3-point wins.

In 1994, Karl’s most famous playoff failure occurred, in what is regarded by many as the biggest playoff upset/choke in the history of the NBA, though some would rank last year’s Warriors win over the Mavericks as just as or more historic. Karl’s Supersonics (63-19) were defeated by the Dikembe Mutombo and the Denver Nuggets (42-40) 3 games to 2, with the final game of the series being a thrilling and shocking overtime win for the Nuggets in Seattle. The Sonics were the 1st seed of the West, while the Nuggets were the 8th seed.

The next year, in 1995, there was another monumental Karl first round playoff failure, though it is much less famous than the one the prior year. In 1995, the Los Angeles Lakers (48-34) scored a major upset over Karl’s Supersonics (57-25) 3 games to 1. Although the win-loss gap between the two teams in the 1995 upset was less than in the 1994 upset, the Sonics managed to win only 1 game against the underdog Lakers.

In evaluating his record, we can analyze that Karl’s 1992 upset victory offsets his 1995 upset loss. His 1987 upset win, while coaching the Warriors, was just barely an upset, and worth very little weight in this review. So after these dispensations, you are left with that 1994 loss, which is, to repeat, one of the worst and probably the very worst playoff defeat in the history of the NBA. Even if Karl were to win a Championship, or one or two new upset playoff series wins, he would never be able to escape the “coach of the team with the worst playoff series loss in history” tag.

As we will see in Part 6, Karl has a poor win-loss postseason record compared with other current coaches. But this review shows that his poor record is due just as much to his having had a series of marginal teams in the playoffs, especially the Bucks and the Nuggets, as it is due to his actual failures in the playoffs, which could be reduced to that one whopper, losing to the 8th seed Nuggets as Coach of the 1st seed Sonics in 1994.

Overall, and ironically, Karl’s very poor reputation regarding postseason results among avid basketball fans is not entirely supported by the facts. The real truth is that, when you look carefully at Karl’s postseason record, you find that it is only slightly below par not counting the 1994 Nuggets-Sonics shocker. When that is included, his overall playoff record becomes modestly to moderately poor, depending on how much weight you want to put on the 1994 fiasco.

But moderately poor, modestly poor, or even average is just not good enough in professional sports. Whether you consider his record to be modestly poor or moderately poor, it is still not good enough if your objective is to break through to the highest level of the Western Conference, which is the highest level of pro basketball there is in the world. For that huge task, you need an above average in the postseason type of coach.

So although Karl’s postseason record is not as terrible as many including myself have imagined it to be, his record nonetheless reveals that he is almost certainly not the coach you want if you have difficult mountains to climb, but you are determined to climb them, and you have equipped yourself with one the most talented and expensive pro teams in the world with which to make the climb. Quite to the contrary, Karl would be your man if your objective was to tragically waste one of the most talented and expensive pro teams in the world, by not providing it with a Coach who would have all of the skills and abilities needed to perform at a high level in the postseason.

In part 6, you will see that there are a substantial number of coaches right now in the NBA who have shown above average ability in the postseason, so it is anything but impossible or extremely difficult to find and hire such a coach. It is difficult, and requires a huge amount of work, but the payoff for finding the right coach could be a Championship for a team like the Nuggets. Don’t dodge tough jobs if when they are completed a lot of other jobs become a lot easier.

The Nuggets thought they were playing it safe by hiring Karl, who had a good overall record and was already highly experienced at the time he was hired in January 2005. They thought his relatively low opinion of individual players as compared with the great game itself would be a counterweight to the volatile mix of stars they were bringing on to the team. Unfortunately, they overestimated the need for a counterweight to volatile personalities, and they also underestimated Karl’s tendency to penalize rather than teach. As Karl has gotten older, he has become more and more like a 19th century schoolteacher putting any youngster who acts up a little in the corner with a dunce cap. He has become more and more of a disciplinarian and less and less of a motivator and teacher.

The real truth is that the Nuggets’ organization was actually taking a big risk by hiring Karl, because they hired a Coach who has been mediocre at best in the postseason, which is obviously and certainly not appropriate if you have otherwise gone to great expense and great effort to fill out your roster with some extremely talented players, who are simply better than the vast majority of other players in the League. So it was not a safe or a wise choice at all. It was unwise, unsafe, and quite illogical in fact.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The George Karl Fiasco, Part 4

In the first three parts, I focused on the present day thinking and decisions of George Karl. In the next 6 parts, parts 4-9, I will explore the past and explain why Karl should not have been hired by the Nuggets in January 2005. In part 4, I lay out and discuss Karl’s coaching resume, with specific attention paid to the regular season win-loss records and patterns of his teams.

In Parts 6-9, we will look in greater detail at Karl’s previous years as a head coach. We will go over his best players and his teams winning and losing year by year. In other words, we will be giving a narrative complement to the earlier statistical presentation. When we are through, every reader will be extremely well informed about Karl’s history, and what it says about his strengths and weaknesses, from both a statistical and from a historical perspective.

1984-85 Cleveland Cavaliers 82 games, 36-46 .439
1985-86 Cleveland Cavaliers 67 games, 25-42 .373; fired during season
1986-87 Golden State Warriors 82 games, 42-40 .512
1987-88 Golden State Warriors 64 games, 16-48 .250; fired during season
1988-89 Did Not Coach
1989-90 For a short time, Karl was an Assistant Coach for the Jazz, but was fired.
1990-91 Did Not Coach in the NBA; coached Albany in the CBA.
1991-92 Seattle Supersonics 42 games, 27-15 .643
1992-93 Seattle Supersonics 82 games, 55-27 .671
1993-94 Seattle Supersonics 82 games, 63-19 .768
1994-95 Seattle Supersonics 82 games, 57-25 .695
1995-96 Seattle Supersonics 82 games, 64-18 .780
1996-97 Seattle Supersonics 82 games, 57-25 .695
1997-98 Seattle Supersonics 82 games, 61-21 .744; voluntarily left the Supersonics to coach the Bucks at the end of the season.
1998-99 Milwaukee Bucks 50 games, 28-22 .560
1999-00 Milwaukee Bucks 82 games, 42-40 .512
2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks 82 games, 52-30 .634
2001-02 Milwaukee Bucks 82 games, 41-41 .500
2002-03 Milwaukee Bucks 82 games, 42-40 .512; fired at the end of the season.
2003-04 Did Not Coach
2004-05 Denver Nuggets 40 games, 32-8 .800
2005-06 Denver Nuggets 82 games, 44-38 .537
2006-07 Denver Nuggets 82 games, 45-37 .549
2007-08 Denver Nuggets 45 games, 27-18 .600

The most obvious thing to note from his early years is that Karl twice, for two different teams, had a big drop off from the first year to the second year. The second time, with the Warriors, the drop off was truly massive. In both instances, he was fired before the 2nd season was over.

Following these two similar episodes, Karl could not get a coaching job at all in 1988-89. In 1989, Karl was an assistant Coach under Jerry Sloan in Utah for part of the season, but he was once again fired from that job before the season was over. After being fired from Jerry Sloan's staff in Salt Lake City, Karl returned to the Continental Basketball Association as coach of the Albany Patroons for 1990-91, winning the coach of the year award in 1991. He had been a CBA coach in Montana prior to his first NBA head coach position with the Cavaliers. Under Karl, the Patroons completed a 50-6 regular season, including winning all 28 of their home games.

Karl’s dour personality and his hard work produced a huge success in the CBA, which made it theoretically possible for Karl to be invited to return to head coaching in the NBA. And that is exactly what happened. The overall shortage of experienced coaches made Karl an attractive candidate for the Seattle Supersonics in late January of 1992, after they fired Coach K.C. Jones.

Karl’s tenure with the Supersonics, in the regular season at least, turned out to be the opposite, in terms of the win-loss record and in terms of the stability of the winning from season to season, of his time with the Cavaliers and his time with the Warriors. The Sonics during every one of Karl’s 6 ½ years as Head Coach were a rock solid regular season team, with winning percentages ranging from .643 to .780. The Sonics earned home court advantage in round one, at a minimum, in every one of the Karl years.

But the postseasons were entirely another matter and the Supersonics were more like jelly than rock solid in many of the 7 postseasons under Karl. In the next report, which will be for the Nets game, we will look at Karl’s postseason coaching, both for the Supersonics and all the other teams he has coached.

At the end of the 1997-98 season, Karl voluntarily chose to leave the Sonics to assume the head coaching duties for the Milwaukee Bucks. Quite honestly I have not been able to determine Karl’s reason(s) for this move, but if I had to wager I would say that he was most likely not getting along all that well with the Sonics’ front office at the time.

Karl’s performance in Milwaukee ended up about half way between his terrible start as a head coach while coaching the Cavaliers and Warriors on the one hand, and his perfectly rock solid 7 regular seasons with the Supersonics on the other hand. His overall record while Coach of the Bucks was 205-173, not bad but not great either. And his playoff record for the Bucks was mixed as well, even relative to the lower postseason expectations the Bucks had compared with the Supersonics.

At the end of the 2003 season, following a lackluster regular season and a quick exit in the playoffs, Karl was fired for the third time in his head coaching career, as the Bucks hired Terry Porter to replace him. Karl did not coach in the NBA during 2003-04, nor did he during the first few months of the 2004-05 season.

Then on January 28, 2005, Karl was again brought out of mothballs, this time by the Nugget’s organization. With Carmelo Anthony as the cornerstone, the Nuggets were aggressively maneuvering through front office and roster changes to rapidly rise up from being about the worst team in the League to, hopefully, one of the best. The Nuggets organization was extremely ambitious at that time, and Bzdelic did not seem to have the potential to pilot the Nuggets optimally in the great seasons that the front office was dreaming of. The Nuggets front office thought of the franchise as a rising star, and thought of Bzdelic as lacking star power so to speak.

So even though Coach Jeff Bzdelic was good enough to oversee the Nuggets going from 17-65 in 2002-03 to 43-39 in 2003-04, he was given the heave out the door after a 13-15 start in 2004-05. The Nuggets’ front office gambled that Karl’s Seattle regular season performances are more representative of his real abilities than were his other performances. In other words, the front office gambled that Karl was a star coach who had no luck when he was at Cleveland and Golden State. So Karl was handed a talented team that became even more talented, extremely talented in fact, during the next two seasons, 2005-06 and 2006-07.

With the Nuggets maxed out financially, and with the owner in fact paying a luxury tax for running an oversized payroll, the 2007-08 Nuggets of the here and now are loaded to the rafters with talent and skill. The team is a kind of coach’s dream, in that the skills and talents of the best 4 or 5 players are so stratospheric, that a coach can be lazy and/or incompetent to one extent or another and few will notice, because the team will be winning often just from the talents and skills of those superstar and star players.

Despite the overload of talent, Karl and the Nuggets have as yet failed to win more than a single postseason game in each of the three years that the Nuggets have been coached by Karl: 2005, 2006, and 2007. Now here in 2008, there is almost no evidence to suggest that the Nuggets are going to do much better than 1 postseason win this year. Worse still, there is at least a 50/50 chance that the Nuggets will not make the playoffs at all this year, thanks to the Nugget’s inability to make headway against the top half dozen teams of the West. The Nuggets are in real danger of not making the playoffs, thanks to the amazing New Orleans Hornets, who apparently now are one of those top teams, thanks to the again explosively dangerous Golden State Warriors, thanks to Rick Adelman who is most likely going to maneuver his Rockets into one of the playoff slots, and thanks even to the stunning performance of the Portland Trailblazers, despite the fact that they lost Greg Oden to an injury for the entire season.

Assuming that the Suns, the Hornets, the Lakers, the Mavericks, the Spurs, and the Jazz are all playoff locks, the Nuggets are going to have to finish ahead of two out of three between the Warriors, the Rockets, and the Trailblazers, or they are going to go down in history as the most talented team to fail to make the playoffs in the history of the NBA. Since 16 out of 30 teams make the playoffs in the NBA, it is not supposed to be difficult for a highly talented team to at least get a low seed. But for the Nuggets, and this is smoking gun evidence that Karl’s coaching skills are limited, it is and will most likely continue to be, for the duration of the season, dangerously difficult.

To summarize, during his NBA head coaching career, Karl has been fired three times and voluntarily quit a team, the Supersonics, once. During his 20 year coaching career spanning 24 years, (the 4 years difference is because he was not the head coach of any NBA team during 4 years) Karl’s record to the present moment is 856-600, for a percentage of 58.8%. That’s good, but the bulk of the excess of wins over losses was provided by the Sonics gig, and to a lesser extent by the Nuggets gig. And both of these teams were. and are, known as having extremely talented players who can win games without quality coaching. Consider this summary of wins and losses:

Phase 1: 1984-1988 Cavaliers-Warriors 119-176, or 40.3%
Phase 2: 1991-1998 Seattle Supersonics 384-150, or 72.4%
Phase 3: 1998-2003 Milwaukee Bucks 205-173, or 52.4%
Phase 4: 2005-2008 Denver Nuggets 148-101, or 57.1%.

When Karl was brought out of the unemployment wilderness by the Nuggets, his cumulative win-loss record was 708-499 or 58.7%. But this was composed of three phases of his career, one of which was a major failure, one of which was in between a failure and a success, a slight success at best, and the other one of which was a huge success. But another very plausible way of looking at the Sonics years is to hypothesize that they were relatively easy teams to coach because they were very talented and self-motivated teams, with such famous and semi-famous players as Sean Kemp, Gary Payton, Nate McMillan, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, and Vin Baker.

Even if you give Karl huge credit for the Sonics years, his history is a totally inconsistent mishmash of results. This is precisely why you have to consider the “Sonics were easy to coach” theory as stronger and stronger with each passing month that the current Denver Nuggets fail to break through to the top of the Western Conference by being able to beat the best teams in the West on occasion by more than a bucket or two. If the Sonics were relatively easy to coach, and the Nuggets, who I readily admit are not easy to coach, continue to fail to be fully competitive with the top teams of the West, the inescapable conclusion will be that, even though he is a gentleman and someone who means to do well, George Karl was and is a failure at the task of putting a very talented basketball team in a position to win at the highest levels of pro basketball.

Technically the jury is still out, because the 2008 fate of the Nuggets is yet to be seen. But a lot of evidence has already been introduced against Karl, and no one least of all myself will be surprised if the jury returns a verdict of “a gentleman but guilty of not being capable of coaching successfully at the advanced level of pro basketball competition.” If Karl is convicted of that as seems all too likely, Allen Iverson and the rest of the Nuggets will pay the price as victims. They will never experience the thrill and honor of playing in the Western Conference finals or the NBA Championship, which they theoretically could have with the assistance of a highly skilled head coach and able assistant coaches.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The George Karl Fiasco, Part 3

I now move on to the George Karl Fiasco story Part 3. To briefly summarize the first two parts, in Part 1 I carefully described Karl’s belief system as revealed in numerous post-game and other media interviews, as well as in his decisions during games. I then showed how those beliefs have caused him to take away from J.R. Smith big blocks of playing time which, ironically, has made Smith even more impulsive and overly charged up and thus prone to stupid mistakes during games. In Part 2, I identified the only two players who are immune from the threat of being benched by Karl for petty reasons, Allen Iverson and Marcus Camby, and I described in a new very important way the error that will be fatal to the Nugget’s postseason chances that Karl is making regarding J.R. Smith.

Here in Part 3, we take a brief look at what is at stake should the Nuggets be defeated by, in effect, Karl’s beliefs, and fail to even make the playoffs even though they have 3 superstars. Then, in Part 4, we will begin to compare Karl to other Coaches past and present.

The loss of Nene and Atkins to two illnesses may be what exposes George Karl as a poor coach to the world, because I truly believe that most other NBA coaches could get at least the 8th spot with the remaining superstar lineup. But George Karl is not "most other coaches," and he might very well fail to get the 8th spot with Nene and Atkins gone.

As you can tell by reading my lines and reading between them, I have essentially no confidence in Mr. Karl to guide his team to a playoff berth in the wake of and despite the serious roster hits. The strange thing is, the loss of Nene and Atkins, in my estimation, is the perfect scientific experiment to see whether Karl is as problematic as I believe he is.

Karl still has in Carter the point guard he would favor over Atkins even if Atkins were healthy, so the Atkins loss means surprisingly little to the Nuggets under Karl. But the loss of Nene, and the continuing reality that Kenyon Martin is not going to be back to 100% any time this season, means that if the Nugget’s coaching staff tries to get through the season on autopilot, they may crash the franchise plane into a Colorado mountainside.

If Nene and Atkins are going to be gone for most or all of the season, the Nuggets need a signing or two of available diamond in the rough replacements, or even an emergency trade, in order to get some kind of an insurance policy against Karl and his associates failing to make the appropriate adjustments and then failing to make the playoffs with a lineup that still features Camby, Iverson, Anthony, and Martin.

According to the ESPN playoff odds overseen by John Hollinger, which are based on a relatively simple and thus a relatively solid statistical framework, the Nuggets are unlikely to make the playoffs. The playoff odds, which are built on the framework of the Hollinger Power Rankings of the 30 NBA teams, are calculated by computer every night. According to the playoff odds, the Nuggets are expected to finish as either the 9th or the 10th best team in the West, just missing the 8 playoff seeds.

Were the Nuggets to miss the playoffs, it would rank as one of the truly historic franchise failures in the history of pro basketball. Other coaches are able to make the playoffs with players most of whom are not as talented or productive as the Nugget’s 3 superstars, so a Nuggets playoff miss would be a real humiliation for the Nugget’s coaches, the front office, and I guess the players themselves if you believe that they should be able to guide themselves, so to speak, into the playoffs with little strategic or tactical assistance from their coaches.

It would be a true outrage and downright embarrassing to Denver if a team that features Iverson, Anthony, Camby, and Martin could not make the playoffs. Hardly anyone outside of or in the Denver area is going to swallow a "we lost Nene and Atkins" excuse if the Nuggets do not make the playoffs.

The effect of not making the playoffs would go way beyond mere embarrassment. If the Nuggets do fail to make the playoffs, and George Karl does not "retire," how will they be able to get quality potential free agents interested enough in playing for Denver that they and their agents will work with their general managers to work up trades? Potential free agents and coaches the Nuggets might want would continue to look down on the franchise as a "gang that can't shoot straight.” I say “continue,” because this is already a problem to some extent, with many top players preferring the brighter lights, the more successful and glorious playoff histories, and the greater exposure that playing in a huge market either on the East coast or the West coast provides. If the Nuggets fail to make the playoffs, who will want to play for the Nuggets in 2008-09? Instead of helping or staying neutral, the quality free agent players and their agents would be stopping trades and signings where they would go to the Nuggets. Moving J.R. Smith for just compensation would be much more difficult. The situation would be really horrible in my opinion, and could easily lead to the Nuggets failing to make the playoffs again in 2008-09, this time by a wider margin, with them falling to .500 or even worse. .

So it is crucial that the Nuggets make the playoffs, even if they are quickly eliminated. If the Nuggets do fail to make the playoffs, it will set the franchise back and endanger the immediate future. Charles Barkley's derogatory views of the Nuggets will be considered gospel. And failing to make the playoffs could possibly set off a chain of events that leads Iverson to decide that he made the wrong move in his mission to win a ring. He might look for another team.

We shall see. Unless one or two Western teams collapse to some extent, there are going to be two West Conference teams that finish with winning records but do not get a playoff spot. Meanwhile, for the umpteenth straight year, the East Conference will most likely feature at least one team with a losing record that gets a playoff berth. Sports can be just as unfair as life sometimes. Whether the Nuggets make the playoffs in the West is most likely going to be an extremely close call. In fact, which team gets the last Western playoff spot may very well be determined by a tie breaker.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The George Karl Fiasco, Part 2

There are two players on the Nuggets who Karl would never bench or partly bench no matter what: Marcus Camby and Allen Iverson. Why these two? Because these two have such long and great careers, and many awards as well, that they have become legends, already part of the glorious history of basketball, which Karl reveres.

Karl would have to defy his own belief system in order to bench Camby or Iverson, and it is rare for anyone to defy his or her belief system. Neither Camby nor Iverson is likely to ever mess up to the point of deserving to be benched, so this potential flip side of the usual Karl mistake is most likely just a hypothetical.

Kenyon Martin does not qualify as great enough to be part of the glorious history of basketball, so that enabled Karl to bench him for the playoff series two seasons ago and freed him, in his mind, from the responsibility to seek a compromise with his feuding star player.

This is why, by the way, that Iverson gets more burn than Anthony, and why Iverson is always discussed in glowing terms in the media by Karl, whereas Anthony is always minimized to one extent or another. Karl generally refers to Anthony as nothing more than a work in progress who needs to make changes in his game, and never as the cornerstone of the Nuggets franchise.

If Rick Adelman, or any other good NBA coach, was coaching the Nuggets, he would never have a player of the caliber of JR Smith completely benched. He would make sure the player was traded or waived if there was truly a severe attitude problem. On the other hand, Adelman would be at least as fast as Karl to yank Smith, or most other players for that matter, from a particular game if a player was clearly playing very poorly after about 10-12 minutes.

In the NBA, players who are impulsive, young, and poor decision makers due to inexperience, but have a lot of raw athletic ability, commonly have their minutes reduced, but you almost never see them completely benched for games at a time. Karl justifies his periodic complete benching of Smith by complaining about Smith’s personality and how it leads to dumb mistakes on the court. This type of sweeping and derogatory accusation is just not something anyone should accept without proof. I keep looking, but I still haven't found the personality and IQ ratings of basketball players on the internet in order to confirm that Smith is the dumbest player in the NBA, and/or the one with the worst personality. Until I find objective information that shows that Smith has one of the very worst personality ratings in the NBA, I am not going to agree to his being the only very talented player in the NBA who should be totally benched for games at a time. Even if I found such information, I would still not agree to the total benching, but I would acknowledge that Karl had a leg to stand on, something which he doesn’t have right now.

And the Nuggets can't have it both ways at once. If the serious Karl accusations are true, Smith is just about worthless and needs to be waived immediately. Surely no other team will offer anything for the worst personality and the dumbest player. And no other team will ever play him either.

Seriously though, there have been cases where good players have washed out of the League as a result of psychological difficulties. But JR is definitely not in that group. He plays video games for god’s sakes, how dangerous can he be to himself or others? If Karl gets what he really wants, which is JR off the team, Smith will definitely move on and get to play substantial minutes elsewhere.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The George Karl Fiasco, Part 1

Now that the J.R. Smith Fiasco story has been completed for the time being, I am going to move on to the George Karl Fiasco story. Of course, I am always pointing out specific mistakes Karl has made in specific games. But in subsequent parts of the story, I will show why Karl should not have been hired as the Coach of the Nuggets, and I will go over in close detail the reasons why Karl is, at best, a slightly below average coach and, at worst, a very below average coach.

Today I will start the story by going over an extremely important subject that you must understand and always keep in mind if you want to know why and how Karl falls short. This is the root cause of most of Karl’s actual mistakes in actual games.

The most important thing to keep in mind about George Karl is that to him, abstract things such as philosophy and honor are more important than concrete things such as whether someone can bury a 3-point shot and whether the shooting guard out on the floor can successfully guard the opposing shooting guard. As a result, Karl has a bad relationship with the whole concept of talented, professional players. In his philosophy, all such players are small potatoes compared with the grandeur and glorious history and present day reality of basketball. If you don't worship basketball as a concept, it doesn't matter how talented or good a player you are, you are small in Karl's eyes.

Most coaches value players and what they do and what they might be able to do in the near future much more and abstract concepts much less than Karl does. Karl seems to think that if a team has the right philosophy, or in other words the right way of thinking, it can offset all kinds of other shortcomings. But to coin a phrase by twisting Shakespeare a little, there are more things important in basketball than Karl’s or Carmelo Anthony’s or J.R. Smith’s or anyone’s philosophy.

Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the two abstract concepts that are considered critical by most successful coaches, strategy and tactics, are not considered very important by Karl. So paradoxically, and very ironically, while the Nuggets have one of the most abstract coaches in pro basketball, they have one of the least developed and ineffective combination of strategies and tactics in the NBA. Because Karl’s favorite abstract concepts are not the ones that have the biggest payoffs in terms of wins.

Karl is always out for someone's blood for imagined slights against basketball honor, ethics, and morality as he defines them, and he is always playing damaging games of revenge with those who are the most lacking. J.R. Smith is by far the Nugget who Karl thinks commits the most offenses against basketball honor, tradition, and morality. And indeed, Smith, being nothing more than an impulsive 22 year old high school graduate who spends a lot of spare time playing video games and watching old movies, is about the last player you would think of when thinking of players who most epitomize the glory and honor of basketball and the history of basketball.

But who other than Karl really cares that Smith doesn’t fit the honor and tradition of basketball? To me, what is far more important is whether Smith can score and whether he can defend his man. And what is more important than having honorable and right thinking players who reflect well on the great sport of basketball is whether those players have been given some strategy and a few tactics which they can use to win games. Sorry if it seems selfish or crass to want to win more than to want to represent the glory and great traditions of the game, but that’s the way I see it and I am sticking to it.

So J.R. Smith is George Karl’s worst nightmare. Smith to Karl is seemingly someone whose every action or inaction seems to be an affront to the wonderful and glorious history and present day reality of the game. Karl seethes about it, and then overestimates Smith’s negatives and underestimates Smith’s positives. Then he takes the next logical action, which is to bench Smith, or at least partly bench him. Realistically, the only hope for Smith to get playing time often is if a key player is out with an injury or a sickness. The Chucky Atkins hernia was just what Smith needed to stand a chance to get good playing time from Karl, even though he is hated by Karl.

The continual benching and partial benching of JR Smith is just one example of how Karl's belief system produces for him a different reality from the one that the average fan sees. He literally sees things differently than most others do. There are many other, more subtle things that go on in the management of the Nuggets that make the team quite a bit different in actual games from how it would be if it were coached by most other possible alternative coaches. I will point out a few of those things when this story continues in the next report.