Author: John Krolik

Irving stands with NBA Commissioner Stern after being selected by the Cavaliers as the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft in Newark

What the Cavs should do if the lockout ends


It wasn’t the best year for the Cavaliers. After finishing with the best regular-season record in the NBA for the second consecutive season in 09-10, the Cavaliers had the longest losing streak in NBA history and finished with the league’s second-worst record in 2010-11. In between the two seasons, Decisions were made.

The Cavs’ 2010-11 season was an abomination, but there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to mid-season trade that sent Mo Williams to Los Angeles and forced the Cavs to eat the remainder of Baron Davis’ contract, the Cavs got the Clippers’ 1st-round pick, which turned into the #1 overall pick and Duke guard Kyrie Irving. The Cavs took Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick, who they hope will become a Ben Wallace clone. Here’s what the Cavs can do to bounce back from last season:

1. Find an offensive identity:

The Cavs were bad at everything last season, but their offense was slightly more pathetic than their defense, so we’ll start there. The Cavaliers found out the hard way that Mo Williams is a lot worse at scoring when LeBron James isn’t setting him up with wide-open threes, and Ramon Sessions spent most of his time dribbling the air out of the basketball and recklessly driving to the rim for much of the season. Antawn Jamison got his usual empty stats by firing up long jumpers or twisting shots in the paint whenever he got the opportunity to, but he was neither an efficient scorer or willing passer. The team didn’t pass the ball well, they had no way of getting to the rim, and they were never able to score effectively in transition.

The team got noticeably better offensively when Baron Davis took over — for all the crap Baron takes, he is a true point guard and offensive leader, and he helped the Cavs end the season on a (relatively) high note. (Also, Baron made his threes at a stunningly high clip after being traded last season.) With Davis staying, #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving playing lead guard as well (I think they can co-exist on the court for stretches — Irving is more of a scorer, and Baron is really a passer at heart), and Anderson Varejao coming back to give them a player who can actually finish a pick-and-roll, the Cavs have a chance to build a real, live offense next season. Those help prevent record-long losing streaks.

2. Get Varejao and Thompson working together

Varejao was the Cavaliers’ best player before he got hurt last season. He doesn’t put up big numbers, but he moves relentlessly without the ball, is one of the best defensive power forwards in the league, and actually did a great job when asked to play out of position and guard centers last season. He was also stunningly competent making jumpers and drives from the high post, which may or not continue next season.

For reasons that are, frankly, beyond my comprehension, the Cavaliers chose Texas forward Tristan Thompson with the #4 pick instead of Lithuanian 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas, who seems very similar to Thompson, except that he is four inches taller, won’t be playing next season, and appears to be better at basketball than Thompson. In any case, the Cavaliers took Thompson and Varejao is one of their few untouchable players, so one hopes that the Cavaliers have some sort of plan in place for how a Thompson/Varejao frontcourt pairing is going to work on both ends of the floor. Both players are power forwards defensively who are capable of playing decent defense at the center position, and both are true centers offensively.

We’ll see if Byron Scott can make this work — if he can, it’ll provide a much-needed boost to a defense that was absolutely pathetic last season. If nothing else, maybe Thompson and Varejao’s blue-collar playstyle can encourage some of their teammates to start taking pride in the way they defend.

3. Be Patient.

It’s not going to happen overnight for the Cavs, even after the two top-5 picks. Cavalier fans are going to have to be patient. More importantly, the management is going to have to be patient. Look at the Sonics/Thunder, who drafted their franchise player, were very bad for a season, drafted another semi-franchise player, were very bad for another season, and then got another top-3 pick to build around. Once the Thunder made a few good trades and signings to stock their roster with quality role players, they instantly became a contender without needing to spend big money or pull off a blockbuster trade.

Likewise, the Bulls patiently built around Derrick Rose by bringing in a defensive wizard, a rotation filled with quality role players, and didn’t make a big-ticket free agency signing until they were sure they were ready to start contending. (And, to be honest, the Boozer signing hasn’t done nearly as much for the Bulls as the team’s defensive schemes or “bench mob” has.)

The Cavs want to get back to respectability, but they shouldn’t mortgage their future in order to chase a possible run at a 7th or 8th seed. They should bide their time, wait for the right draft prospects, no-brainer trades, and low-cost players to come along, and slowly but surely begin their run back to respectability. If the Cavs can stay patient and not try to force anything, they might return to being the Cavaliers and stop being The Team That Lost LeBron sooner than most people think.

Video: The NBA 2K12 intro video is here


NBA 2K11 might be my favorite video game of all time. It was the first basketball video game that actually let you call out plays that worked and, after a little while, get your players to go where you wanted them to go on the court and legitimately beat guys off the dribble instead of having the defender fall down after watching a crossover.

I never got tired of running Steph Curry off picket-fence screens along the baseline to open him up for three, converting and-1s with LeBron in transition, or making a read on a sideline pick-and-roll. (I will note that I have played my colleague Rob Mahoney online a few times, and he does none of those things. He takes crazy gambles on defense and has one guy go right at the rim after dribbling around for a while. I have yet to beat him. So there’s that.)

I don’t get as excited about the “classic” stuff as most people do — for reasons I can’t really explain to anyone but myself, I need my sports video games to have some realism to them, mostly because I fake-broadcast my games against the computer, and I need explanations for why Tim Duncan and Prime Hakeem Olajuwon are playing on the same team or against each other. Likewise, I didn’t love 2K11’s Jordan Challenge nearly as much as I loved the other game modes, because the 8-minute quarters and statistical qualifiers forced me to have MJ shoot on every possession, which ran counter to all the things I loved about the normal gameplay — the play-calling and ball-sharing.

However, 2k12’s intro video does heavily feature historical players playing against current players, and I have to admit it’s pretty cool to see the Dream Shake, Kareem’s Skyhook, and the Dream Shake in the game. (Which reminds me: hopefully NBA 2K12 releases a better manual for all the post moves this time around, even if it’s online. I never could figure out how to string together counter-moves like the computer could against me, even after doing all the tutorials.)

Video: Stan Van Gundy shares his coaching secrets

Stan Van Gundy
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Via The Orlando Sentinel’s Zach McCann, here’s video of Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy talking at a coaching clinic at Oivedo High School last Tuesday afternoon. Included are Van Gundy’s views on getting back on defense, not letting role players turn the ball over, hitting the boards, and not fouling. Here’s a link to the video, if you’re interested in hearing the coach of one of the NBA’s most unconventional title contenders, the 08-09 Magic, talk more about his philosophies.

Adelman excited about the “challenge” of coaching Minnesota, will have personnel input

Rick Adelman
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It baffled a lot of folks when Rick Adleman, generally considered one of the better coaches in NBA history, took a head coaching job with the Timberwolves, who have been a fixer-upper franchise since Kevin Garnett’s prime.

Sports Illustrated Sam Amick, who covered Adelman’s team when Adleman coached the Sacramento Kings, recently had an interview with the coach, which is extremely thorough and enlightening even though Adelman isn’t allowed to talk about any of the Timberwolves’ current players. (Lockout!)

Adelman explained why he decided to take over the team with the league’s worst record last year at this point in his coaching career: So a player swore to me there was no way you’d take this job. Why was he wrong?

I just looked at their roster, and I know they’ve lost a lot of games, but they’ve got a very young team that has some talent and I just felt like maybe this is a situation where you add a couple pieces or whatever and you can turn it around in the other direction pretty quickly.

I also thought about the fact that you take some jobs that you think are very good and you end up — because of the expectations and things — that they aren’t what you thought, they just blow up in your face, too. They can be just as tough of a job. That happened to me in Houston, where we lost the two guys, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, and the whole situation changed. I just looked at it and thought, “Maybe it’s a chance for me to take on a challenge like this, and where I am in my career and everything and see if I can’t turn it around.”

Adelman also denied that he has ever had a bad relationship with current Minnesota GM David Kahn, who has been widely maligned for his personnel moves and drafting with the Timberwolves. However, Adelman did say that he will have input in future personnel moves, and admitted that that was an “important” point in negotiations for him. For the rest of the interview, which talks about Adelman’s departure from Houston, his rough years in Golden State, and his former and future assistant coaches, click through and read the full interview.

What the Bulls should do when the lockout ends

Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls - Game Five

The Bulls were one of the NBA”s best success stories last season. Nobody saw them as serious contenders coming into the year, but first-year head coach and defensive guru turned the Bulls into the league’s best defensive team, the Bulls’ bench mob made them perhaps the deepest team in the league, and Derrick Rose became the youngest MVP award winner in the history of the league. The Bulls finished with the NBA’s best regular-season record, and while they only managed to take one game off of the Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, they clearly gave LeBron, Wade and co. all they could handle.

Now the Bulls have to make the leap from title contender to champion, which is even tougher than the leap from good team to title contender. Here are some ways they could do it:

1. Add some versatility to the offense

This was a point that came up over and over again  when the Bulls had trouble scoring during the playoffs, but the Bulls were never a great offensive team at any point last season. The Bulls finished 12th in offensive efficiency during the regular season, and were 8th out of the 16 playoff teams in post-season offensive efficiency. The Bulls’ plan was to grind teams down with their defense and depth, keep games close, and let Derrick Rose take over late in games. It worked until it didn’t — when Rose got locked down in the fourth quarter by LeBron James a few times in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls had no answers, and their fourth-quarter performances ultimately cost them the series.

Rose has room for improvement as an offensive player, especially from the perimeter. Early in the year, Rose’s improved jump shot was a big storyline, but eventually Rose’s jumper went back to being a weakness — Rose shot a career-low 38% on long twos last season, and while he made huge leaps as a three-point shooter, he still only made less than a third of his shots from beyond the arc. In the postseason, his jumper completely abandoned him, and he shot just 39.6% from the field and 24.8% from deep in the playoffs.

The Bulls and Rose need to find ways to generate offense when Rose isn’t able to get into the paint and convert at will if they want to win a championship in the next few years.

2. Plan for the postseason

Derrick Rose took home the MVP trophy, but Chicago’s group of defensive minded super-subs like C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, and even Kurt Thomas were just as important to Chicago’s regular-season success as Rose was.

However, when the rotations tightened for the playoffs, Chicago’s depth stopped being the asset it was in the regular season, and Watson, Asik, and Thomas barely saw the floor. From the day the season starts, whenever that might be, the Bulls have to start planning for teams like the Celtics and the Heat instead of trying to figure out a post-season rotation on the fly — playoff basketball is very different from regular-season basketball because of how much more important individual matchups become and how many more minutes the best players play, and the Bulls have to keep that in mind all season long.

3. Don’t forget what made you a contender

The Bulls had the best record in the regular season because they played a tougher, more swarming brand of defense than any other team in the league, outworked their opponents, and generally broke whatever team they played on a given night. They played like a team with something to prove all year long. If they rest on the laurels of their success last season, they could lose what made them so good — the fact that they played every game like a Game 7. If the Bulls stay hungry, they should be able to capture one of the top two spots in the East again. If they can then find new sources of offense and settle on a true playoff rotation, they could easily bring the NBA Finals trophy back to Chicago.