Kurt Helin

A tribute to New York City, Syracuse star Pearl Washington

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NEW YORK (AP) — There wasn’t much space left to stand in the park when we got there. We were lucky to be standing behind a group of kids we had by five, six inches each. Everyone was there for the same reason: to see Pearl. No last name needed. Pearl was coming to play in a summer league game, and that meant a big crowd and few seats – only hot cement.

Dwayne “Pearl” Washington was the latest one-name neophyte in New York’s basketball circles. He was waiting to start his sophomore year at Boys & Girls High School in Brooklyn. You knew which one he was as soon as the layup lines started.

That was Pearl.

He passed away Wednesday at 52 after fighting cancer.

“The first year I coached we had a scrimmage against Boys and Pearl and it was ridiculous,” said Ron Naclerio, the coach at Cardozo High School who has amassed a city-public school record 748 victories. “The next year we thought we could hang with them. Pearl was one of the guys who kids were mesmerized to be with him on the court. There were other great guards in New York his senior year like Mark Jackson, Kenny Smith and Kenny Hutchinson. They didn’t have the fanfare and the following.”

Pearl became a high school legend in New York City. He starred in the PSAL and packed crowds were at most Kangaroos games.

“He had a fabled high school career and his nickname made him even bigger,”‘ said longtime New York high school basketball talent evaluator Tom Konchalski. “If I had to have a Mount Rushmore for Boys High School it would be Sihugo Green, Lenny Wilkens, Connie Hawkins and Pearl. There is no accomplishment that big. He was a mesmerizing, galvanizing presence on the court and he was better than those other bigtime guards because he was a national name.”

“He was ahead of his time. He was a legend by the time he was 14,” said St. John’s coach Chris Mullin, a Brooklyn contemporary of Pearl’s who had some great games against him in the Big East. “Even though he didn’t have a good shot in college you couldn’t stop him from scoring. He was electrifying and an even better guy. I got to know him and I saw him this year when we played them so we got to talk about old times. He was one of the best.”

Pearl ended a national recruiting war when he selected Syracuse. He wasn’t totaling leaving New York City. He would be back each year for the Big East Tournament and what became epic battles against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown and Mullin and St. John’s.

“That was the time of the one names,” longtime college basketball analyst Bill Raftery said. “There was Chris and Patrick and Pearl. He was so embraced by the university and the community. … With his personality he captured the country. Like Stephen Curry does today, he embraced basketball and he embraced life.”

“In my opinion it was those three – Patrick, Chris and Pearl – who made the Big East what it became,” former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said. “Pearl brought more excitement to the Big East and Madison Square Garden than any other single player.”

“I tell people all the time the most difficult player for us to defend was him and we were known for our defense,” former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr said. “We would pack it in and he would come to the back line and still get to the basket.

“There are players who entertain and play at the same time and there are a lot of players who think they entertain and play at the same time. He entertained and played at the same time. People came just to see him play. He was a special, special player. He was really one of the cornerstones of the Big East.”

In the 1986 Big East championship game between St. John’s and Syracuse, the Redmen went ahead in the final seconds on a side jumper by Ron Rowan. The Orange gave the ball to Pearl.

“He wanted that last shot. The great ones always do,” former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca said. “He wanted it. That was the big thing. He made sure the ball was in his hands.”

Pearl drove the length of the court and his shot was blocked by Walter Berry and St. John’s had the title. Syracuse fans had another Pearl memory, even if it was in a losing cause.

Pearl introduced himself to the Big East by hitting a half-court shot at the buzzer against Boston College for a win. He kept running after he made the shot and went directly to the locker room, leaving the fans delirious at what the freshman from Brooklyn had done. The rest of the conference knew it was time for worry and concern.

“He was a unique person. We’ve never had anyone quite like him. As exciting as he was he was just as humble,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “He was huge. He could do so much. Tim Hardaway once told me he watched Pearl on the TV to see him do the crossover. That was who they watched, Pearl.

“There may have been better players but there was never one more exciting.”

Pearl was selected 13th overall in the NBA draft by the New Jersey Nets. He played two seasons with the Nets and another with the Miami Heat. What made him a star in high school and college didn’t translate to the NBA.

“I was really surprised that he didn’t make it in the NBA,” Thompson said. “The way he was able to penetrate should have made him a star.”

The Carrier Dome was a big reason Pearl decided to go to Syracuse. There were often crowds above 30,000 for his home games and there were rarely less than 25,000.

“When he took the court it was like a rock concert in there,” longtime TV analyst Dick Vitale said. “Pearl and The Cuse. Oh man he had it rocking in there. There haven’t been many with that kind of charisma.”

That was Pearl.

Report: Scott Brooks reaches deal to coach Washington Wizards

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Scott Brooks and Washington Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld had met for days out near Brooks’ home in California and with no news there seemed there was no progress. Was Brooks dragging his feet to talk to the Houston Rockets after their season ends (when J.B. Bickerstaff is expected to be let go)? Was he waiting to see what the Lakers were going to do with Byron Scott?

No.

Brooks has signed a five-year deal to coach John Wall and the Washington Wizards, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

David Aldridge of NBA.com and TNT added some details.

This is a good hire by the Wizards — players love Brooks, and he built a strong culture with a young team in Oklahoma City. He knows how to develop players and get them on the same page (something the Wizards need).

And oh yeah, Kevin Durant LOVES him. That doesn’t hurt. Even after an ugly season on the court, this could get the Wizards an interview with Durant after July 1, although it is a longshot he comes home to the nation’s capital. (That’s assuming KD decides to leave Oklahoma City, and even if he is leaving it’s no sure thing he wants to go home to play — a lot of players don’t want those added distractions and pressures.)

The Wizards are a team with talent, but one that has felt like a clash of styles. With Wall’s speed, a shooter like Bradley Beal, guys like Markeiff Morris and Otto Porter (and Jared Dudley) they should get out and run more. But they also had Marcin Gortat playing well as a traditional big, and an old-school coach in Randy Wittman.

The Wizards were one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA last season, missing the playoffs after making the second round the past couple seasons. Look for a few roster changes this summer and a bounce-back season starting in the fall. They just got themselves one of the better coaches on the market.

Report: Kings telling prospective coaches they will be backed if they discipline DeMarcus Cousins

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The Sacramento Kings hate the perception that star center DeMarcus Cousins runs the franchise. That he can push back against coaches with impunity.

Meaning the Kings are are telling to potential coaches — Mark Jackson, Mike Woodson, Vinny Del Negro, Ettore Messina, Sam Mitchel, Luke Walton, and the list goes on and on in a very broad search — that if they feel the need to discipline Cousins next season, the franchise will have the coach’s back.

From Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

The Kings should not hire a coach just because Cousins does or does not like a coach.

However, here’s a novel idea: get his input on the process. Vlade Divac should go to Cousins and say “here are the guys we’re sitting down with, are there guys here you like or don’t like? Why?” Make him feel listened to — and consider his advice. That’s what teams do with franchise players. Don’t make a decision based on it, but put it in the mix with all the other things that need to be considered when hiring a coach. The Kings expressly ignored Cousins’ distaste for George Karl, hired him anyway, and boy wasn’t that a fun season in Sacramento?

If you want to build an inclusive culture, be inclusive.

Then whoever the Kings hire — whatever style of play he intends to bring to the team — stick with it for three seasons. Continuity is a good thing.

Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Thursday: Don’t bet on a cold Durant, Westbrook again

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These have been the most lopsided NBA playoffs in history so far. Maybe tonight’s games will bring us some drama. Did you hear that Basketball Gods, we want a close game! What must we sacrifice to please you? Anyway, here’s what to keep an eye out for on Thursday.

1) Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are not going to go a combined 15-55 again. As Steve Clifford reminded the media — or as Terry Stotts would be happy to tell you as he watches Damian Lillard struggle — it’s a make-or-miss league. In Game 2 Durant and Westbrook missed a lot — missed early, missed good looks late, missed potential game winners. That’s not going to happen again. There’s more drama around if the Mavs will try to break up Westbrook’s pregame dance routine again than there is about whether KD will shoot better. For Westbrook, the bigger questions surround his disinterested and poor late-game defense in Game 2 — when his offensive game was off, he was unfocused (to put it kindly) on key plays down the stretch. Don’t expect that to happen again, either.

The series is 1-1 and going back to Dallas, but the Mavs are going to have to play better because you can be sure the Thunder will. It took a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day by the Thunder for Dallas to win by one point — and now the Mavs could be without Dirk Nowitzki who is questionable with a knee injury (although he joked it’s not going to impact his game because he doesn’t move well anyway). Wesley Matthews and Raymond Felton will need to come up big (again). Expect a storm of energy from the Thunder early, but if Dallas can withstand it at home — or just come back on the Thunder in the fourth like everyone does — this series may get very interesting.

2) At home, with their backs against the wall, with maybe no Stephen Curry against them, can Houston play like they care? Through two games, it has felt like the Houston Rockets are treating their first-round playoff series against Golden State like I used to treat the last week of school before summer vacation. It’s a countdown. Nothing more. James Harden is putting up offensive numbers but serving as little more than a traffic cone for Warriors to dribble around on the other end. Dwight Howard is floating through contests and rarely getting touches. Defensive rotations are late to non-existent. Communication is non-existent. The Rockets have just been a mess.

Curry is officially questionable with his ankle injury, and what motivation do the Warriors have to rush him back? There were flashes this season — a half here, a game or two there — where the Rockets would play close to all the talent on their roster. They would look like the team we all thought preseason was a potential contender. That team likely still would not beat the Warriors, but they could challenge them, make them work for it. I would love to see those Rockets for a night. I just fear they have checked out for summer vacation.

3) Can Toronto get DeMar DeRozan going? The Indiana Pacers have a game plan to shut DeMar DeRozan down — put Paul George on him, have help when he drives, and be physical. It’s worked. Through two games DeRozan is shooting 27 percent, is hitting just 44 percent inside the restricted area, has attempted just six free throws, has one more assist than turnovers, and has a PER of 1.7. DeRozan’s lack of a three ball (0-of-5 in two games) invites some of this pressure. Through two games, the Raptors are 6.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. On the road, in a tough place to play like the Fieldhouse, the Raptors are going to need DeRozan to be better. Dwane Casey needs to come up with sets to get him some space going downhill (they had some success with staggered screens in Game 2).

The Pacers have a different defensive problem — how will they slow Jonas Valanciunas? He has averaged 17.5 points and 17 rebounds a game through the two contests, and the Pacers have no natural matchup to slow him. He’s getting a steady diet of easy shots at the rim because the Pacers’ bigs and help defenders are getting pulled farther and farther out on the floor. The Pacers have options, but each comes with potential consequences — play off screens, have the guard go under, and you better hope Kyle Lowry doesn’t start draining threes. Pre-rotate on plays just leaves another guy open to a smart pass. And on down the line. But the Pacers need to pick a strategy and execute it because JV is killing them inside.

Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford brilliantly, politely tells media they don’t know what they’re talking about

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Steve Clifford is right.

To use myself as an example, I watch a ridiculous amount of NBA games during the season, both in person and on television (or streaming). I talk to people around the league — players, scouts, other basketball junkies — about the NBA and its players and strategies. I keep up on stats (particularly advanced). I’m not ignorant of the game.

But I am no scout, no coach. Not even close. I do not pretend to be. I’m wrong with what I think is going on plenty. I don’t see so many important details. I will talk about adjustments during a playoff series, but coaches often play the importance of those down.

Steve Clifford said all of that brilliantly when asked about adjustments after his Hornets’ loss Tuesday. The video above is part of his speech, here are his full comments.

Teams do make adjustments that matter over the course of a playoff series. Sometimes those work out brilliantly — think Golden State accepting their true identity and going small starting Andre Iguodala in the Finals last season — but as Clifford said often the answer is far more straightforward. For example, Portland’s coach Terry Stotts admitted after his team’s Game 2 loss Tuesday that he did use Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum off the ball more to get them better looks against a trapping Clippers’ defense. And it worked, they got more and better looks — then they shot a combined 12-of-39.

Jeff Van Gundy would remind us it’s a make-or-miss league, and all the adjustments in the world don’t matter if you miss the shots. Van Gundy protegé Clifford reminded us of that, too.