Grizzlies add mental-endurance coach

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What do the Florida State and Alabama football teams have in common?

1. They’re the only programs to win national championships in the last three years.

2. They employeed Trevor Moawad.

The Memphis Grizzlies, trying to piggyback off that success, are emulating No. 2.

Grizzlies release:

The Grizzlies also added Trevor Moawad, a recognized expert in the field of mental conditioning who has led mental endurance programs for the University of Alabama and Florida State football teams, as mental endurance coach.

Moawad joins the Grizzlies organization to serve as mental endurance coach. Moawad has recently coached under Nick Saban at the University of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State University, helping to guide and lead the development of the players off the field to ensure they are thinking at an elite level on the field. Through the integration of advanced mindset solutions, he has played a vital role in both schools winning NCAA Championships for their football programs in his tenure.

I wouldn’t assume Moawad’s presence and a championship share a causal relationship. Most likely, elite programs like Florida State and Alabama can afford many luxuries – including a coach focused on mental technique . But that’s just an example of many advantages, making it difficult to say which play the most direct roles in winning.

We’ll see how big an advantage is for the Grizzlies, but I think it helps. They’re not the first to use experts on gaining a mental edge, though I don’t know how common they are on staffs around the league as opposed to outside consults.

Under Lionel Hollins, Memphis always struck me as a team with a strong culture of mental toughness. Veterans like Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen help, and they’re still there, even with Hollins in Brooklyn. Might there be diminishing returns that don’t exist with a mentally weak team hiring Moawad?

But my only questions are about how large a positive this is. Moawad should help the Grizzlies, and his mere presence shows Robert Pera’s commitment to building a winner.

Want to know how specifically Moawad will help? Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated wrote a fascinating profile of him, including some examples of his techniques:

The exercise that helped Hightower understand why he needed to speak up during the Auburn game involves a group of players who are tasked with planning a barbecue. Each player wears a number on his head. He can’t see the number, but his teammates can. A one is the low man on the totem pole. A nine is an alpha dog. Moawad instructs the players to treat one another in accordance to the number on each person’s head. When the nine speaks, everyone listens and reacts. When the twos and threes speak, they are ignored. "You start to learn status," Moawad said. "The overall goal is learning where you fit in. At different times, you need to play different roles." Said left tackle Barrett Jones: "By the end, everyone clearly knew what number they were."

Coach Tom Coughlin wanted to know if the mental coaches could find a way to help tailback Fred Taylor — known at the time as "Fragile Fred" because he was so injury-prone — play a full season.

Then they went to work on Taylor. They surveyed the longest-tenured veterans on the Jaguars’ roster to determine what they did that Taylor did not. They discovered that all of the veterans came to work at about 6:30 a.m. Taylor showed up two hours later. They told Taylor he needed to begin showing up earlier. He asked what he needed to do during those two hours. Do what the veterans do, Moawad and Bohling told him. Taylor filled those two hours with training that helped him start 46 consecutive games between 2002 and 2004.

some players arrive on campus unable to look coaches and teammates in the eye. Moawad has a drill to fix that.

Find a friend and try this exercise.

You: OneFriend: TwoYou: ThreeFriend: OneYou: TwoFriend: Three

Pretty easy, right? Now replace each "one" with a clap and try again.

Awfully hard to do without maintaining solid eye contact, isn’t it? Now replace each "one" with a clap and each "three" with a finger snap.

It can’t be done without eye contact. Work that drill enough, and the shiest person can learn to look even the sternest authority figure in the eye.

Moawad also tries to help teammates communicate better with one another. Back when Jones played guard, he sat back-to-back with center William Vlachos. Vlachos had to describe a series of complex shapes on a card in his hand. Jones, without seeing the card, had to reproduce the shapes.

Moawad trains players to believe by changing their internal monologue. He said an athlete says 800-1,400 words a minute to himself on a subconscious level. Those words must be positive, and they also must be the correct words that allow the player to focus on the task at hand and not some distraction in another part of his life or on some external influence like, say, 100,000 screaming fans. Moawad often uses the example of sprinter Michael Johnson, who tried to limit his internal monologue to the same four phrases during a race.

1. Keep my head down2. Pump my arms3. Explode4. Think like a bullet

Moawad has a drill to keep players focused despite external distractions. First, he has a player attempt to find a sequence of numbers in ascending order. Second, he has the player complete the same task with a partner staring silently at his work. Third, the player must complete the task while his partner screams insults at him.

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.

Knicks owner James Dolan: Jeff Hornacek ‘way behind’ in dealing with modern players

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The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek as soon as they returned to New York following their season-ending win in Cleveland.

Then, they really unloaded on the coach.

Knicks owner James Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.

“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”

“The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful.

Knicks president Steve Mills, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability, and Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry, via Berman:

“The evaluation of Jeff for 82 games, we evaluated everything — practices to games to ability to connect with guys. I think we need to be better in that area and with adjustments. It’s something we could be better at with the expectations we have for our next coach.”

“We could have been a little bit better in situational basketball,” Perry said. “We understand the roster as much as anybody. In terms of consistency, we fell a little bit short in that area.”

This is atypical candor about a fired coach. Most teams just thank him and move on.

But I appreciate it. Don’t we all want to know more of what NBA teams are thinking internally? This is revelatory.

That said, I don’t blindly trust the Dolan/Mills/Perry triumvirate. The Knicks have misevaluated too many people for too long. This more about knowing how they viewed things than knowing this is how things are.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a source, Dolan last season sent an email to Hornacek saying he was disappointed in him for not buying fully into the triangle offense. This took place sometime around the All Star break. So we know that as recently as last season Dolan, who loves to tell you he’s not involved, was actually pushing Phil Jackson’s offense down Hornacek’s throat in a not-so-subtle way.

Dolan had Phil’s back. And then on Wednesday, Dolan trashed Jackson for being out of touch. Man, life comes at you fast.

To be fair, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough also cited Hornacek’s lack of connection with his players when firing him. This will be something Hornacek must answer for if he pursues future head-coaching jobs. Hornacek feuded with Marcus Morris in Phoenix and Joakim Noah, Kyle O'Quinn and reportedly Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Not that the Knicks set up Hornacek to succeed. They didn’t.

Now, they must find a coach who will perform better in all the areas they just criticized Hornacek for. That’ll be more difficult than criticizing him on the way out the door.