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George Karl: Fatherless upbringings burdened Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin

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When Phil Jackson was considering taking over the Carmelo Anthony-led Knicks, George Karl said, “I don’t think Melo is a Phil Jackson type of player.”

Maybe Karl was onto something.

In his new book, Karl – like Jackson – reveals himself to be an old white man who struggles to connect with younger black players, including Anthony. Of course, Karl doesn’t put it in those terms. But passages on coaching Anthony, Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith with the Nuggets are filled with demeaning code words, stereotypes and paternalism.

Karl in “Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection:”

The Nuggets team that I would try to lead and coach had three AAU babies: the starting forwards, Kenyon Martin and Carmelo Anthony. And J.R. Smith.

I didn’t know Carmelo specifically, but I’d seen seen him play, and I knew him in a general way. I’d coached a lot of players with his background. I call them AAU babies. Basketball’s AAU babies are similar to the spoiled brats you see in junior golf and junior tennis, but with a few important differences. The USGA and the USTA have some control, and prevent the worst abuses, because there’s less money floating around, and they’re strict about handouts like merchandise and free travel. The best young tennis players rarely bother with college, and great young golfers such as Jordan Spieth give it only a year or two. Besides, golf and tennis are country club sports, with country club parents. Basketball is nothing like that.

I knew right away that our power forward was one of the most insecure, immature players I ever coached. Kenyon Martin had grown up poor in South Dallas. Single-parent home; his mother worked two jobs. He was teased unmercifully, for his stutter, and for his skin color. The other kids didn’t think he was black enough, so they called him Yellow Boy. That must have been miserable, but he found some refuge in sports, especially in high school and AAU basketball.

Carmelo grew up poor in West Baltimore. Single-parent home; his father died when he was two. With the drugs and violence in his neighborhood, it must have been like a combat zone. But like Kenyon, he found a safe place under a hoop and on the playground. Hard work, skill, talent, and lucky DNA got Carmelo into a private high school and onto an AAU team.

Carmelo was a true conundrum for me in the six years I had him. He was the best offensive player I ever coached. He was also a user of people, addicted to the spotlight, and very unhappy when he had to share it.

Wait. There’s more.

He really lit my fuse with his low demand of himself on defense. He had no commitment to the hard, dirty work of stopping the other guy. My ideal—probably every coach’s ideal—is when your best player is also your leader. But since Carmelo only played hard on one side of the ball, he made it plain he couldn’t lead the Nuggets, even though he said he wanted to. Coaching him meant working around his defense and compensating for his attitude.

Our main problem was that he liked to separate himself from our team. A player can talk back to me, we can argue, but that’s between us. One player is a lot less important than how everyone performs together. I don’t think Melo cared enough about being a good teammate.

But he got away with some shit over the years because he made All-Star teams

Some players at the top of the pyramid have so many people swirling around them—helpers and agents and advisors—that it’s hard to get close to them. But far more often I’ve gotten really close with individual players on my teams, and I mentor their existence off the court, especially regarding girls and money. Carmelo was far from the first group. He didn’t need my help and we weren’t close.

Kenyon and Carmelo carried two big burdens: all that money and no father to show them how to act like a man. As you’ve read, I grew up in a safe suburban neighborhood, with both my parents. I had a second father in my college coach, the most moral, decent man I ever knew. And I never made enough money as a player to get confused about who I was. When I compare my background to Kenyon’s and Carmelo’s, it’s no wonder we had a few problems.

J.R. had a slightly different story. He went straight from high school in New Jersey to AAU success to the NBA. His father was on the scene and in his life, which is obviously good. But Earl Smith Jr. urged his son to shoot the ball and keep shooting it from the very moment I put him in a game, which is obviously bad.

Some of Karl’s criticisms are fair. Anthony doesn’t always work hard enough defensively. He’s not always the best teammate, which is particularly harmful from the star player. But Karl had a hand in enabling Anthony’s poor tendencies. It was Karl’s job to reach Anthony – and it’s little wonder he failed.

It seems Karl is trying to be empathetic, but he falls short. He admittedly makes snap judgments about Anthony and Martin based on their upbringings, not actual interactions with the players.

The section on AAU relative to junior golf and tennis contains especially appalling coded language (and ignores that AAU basketball has similar issues as high school basketball, but receives far more resentment).

And let me get this straight: The problem with Anthony and Martin is that they grew up without fathers, and the problem with Smith is that his father was too involved?

Maybe there’s a different actual common denominator here.

Disclosure: I received a promotional copy of “Furious George.”

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.

Spurs’ David Lee will not need surgery on knee, will be ready for training camp in the fall

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David Lee was certainly not going to swing the series against the Warriors one way or another. However, the veteran forward with a varried offensive game still has an NBA role in the right setting.

He has a $1.6 million player option with the Spurs next season, and whatever he decides it’s good news that he will not need surgery to repair the knee injury that sidelined him in the Conference Finals. From Ramona Shelburn of ESPN.

Good news to end the week. David Lee doesn’t need surgery on his knee, per his agent Mark Bartelstein. He’s got a sprained patellar tendon that should heal in about six weeks.

As a big off the bench, David Lee can still help the right team. His game has limitations, but put him in the right situation and he can help. It’s just that due to injury, the Spurs had to ask more of him in the playoffs than he can deliver anymore.

Draymond Green says Warriors are “more relaxed” this season

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Last year, the Warriors entered the NBA Finals with the weight of expectations: Defending NBA champions, 73 regular season wins, if they got the title they would leap up the ladder of all-time great teams, lose and it would be a massive let down. We all know what happened from there.

The Warriors are back in the Finals, taking on the Cavaliers for the third year in a row — but this year things are going to be different. Mostly because of Kevin Durant changing the equation. But also the Warriors mindset is better if you ask Draymond Green. Which Mark Spears of ESPN did.

This makes sense. The Warriors to a man denied the pressure and how physically/mentally taxed they were by the chase for 73, but it clearly wore on them physically and mentally. Green was thrashing about and drawing techs, over-reacting to everything (although sometimes that feels like his default setting). Curry was injured but also tired. The Warriors opened the door, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed through it.

Will a rested Warriors make a difference this time around? Maybe. But again, Durant matters more than rest.