NBA finals, Lakers Celtics: The Doc, the Master, and when to say enough

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jackson.jpgIf coaching basketball, is, as they say, a chess game, then why is so much of it predicated upon dramatic shifts in approach? Yes, you have your pieces, and yes, you’re maneuvering for advantage, to neutralize your opponent’s pieces and move in for the checkmate (having more points than the other team), but in chess, the sides are equal. Each team begins with the same number of pieces, and each piece has a corresponding alternate on the other side.

This is not how it is in basketball, or any other sport.

Doc Rivers’ knight in this case, Paul Pierce, is considerably better than the Lakers’ bishop, Ron Artest. And Phil Jackson begins this game with his bishop, Kobe Bryant, at a supreme advantage over Doc Rivers. But even more explicitly, in a well matched chess game, your objective is to spring the same strategy. It’s nearly impossible to commit resources to one approach, have it met with disaster, then manage a victory through improvisation and guile. It can be done, but the game isn’t particularly built on adjustment and often when one piece falls, the rest follow.

But it is just that, adjustments and improvisation, that are going to be a central component in the Finals’ coaching matchup. And in a strongly bizarre twist, and for the second time, Doc Rivers may actually have the advantage in this area.

In 2008, we expected a dominant performance from Jackson. After all, he had nine rings at that point and Doc Rivers was a season away from the hotseat, often derided even during that championship season for his inability to formulate a rotation. It looked like it would be a complete wipeout for Rivers against the man with the rings. Turns out, Rivers coached rings around Jackson, consistently having his teams more ready and able to tweak things.

Part of that has to do with the intrinsic nature of both coaches. Jackson is renowned for his resistance to adjusting to his opponent. His philosophy is to force your opponent to adapt to you. In a similar vein, he often resists timeouts during big runs by his opponents, opting to let his team “play through it.”

Take his frontcourt. If Kevin Garnett begins to give Pau Gasol trouble, Jackson won’t be changing his approach; he’ll trust Gasol to come through. This may reflect the coach’s response to all the talk of Rondo. There will be wrinkles, sure. Tiny reflections of things they think of. But you have to force the Lakers pretty far with the edge of your sword to provoke a parry from Jackson.

But this Celtics team has enough versatility and advantages that Jackson needs to adjust that approach. If Rondo is consistently detonating whatever approach the Lakers take on him, Jackson needs to be willing to make those changes, quickly. And if the conventional approaches aren’t working, he needs to be willing to try things before untested. If that means Shannon Brown in for spot duty, go with it. If that means a move away from the overload defense, so be it. Similarly, if a player is having success on the offensive end, sticking with the plan may not be in order, especially if the Oklahoma City Kobe shows up.

Rivers on the other hand, probably has what he needs. The Big 3 and Rondo means that he doesn’t need to juggle much in the way of managing minutes. And any adjustments from there on out are fluid, unlikely to disrupt much. The Celtics’ defense is dependent upon its players knowing when to help one another, and executing the fundamentals. If their talent can stand up to LA’s, Rivers will be in a position to combat whatever wrinkles the Lakers throw at them.

Perhaps this is the series where Jackson comes out on top, however. Maybe he makes one significant adjustment (Bryant on Rondo, perhaps) and comes out on top. But whereas two years ago, this looked like a wild coaching mismatch, suddenly, it appears much closer, due to Jackson’s insistence on playing chess while Rivers mans an XBox.

NBA promotes five referees, including two women, to full-time status

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Ashley Moyer-Gleich is eight years removed from playing in the NCAA Division II tournament. Natalie Sago officiated her first game six years ago, and the players were sixth-grade girls.

They’re in the NBA now – as part of one of the most elite sororities in the game.

Moyer-Gleich and Sago are among five officials who were promoted Thursday by the NBA to full-time status, making them the fourth and fifth women in league history to have that designation. They join former league refs Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner and current official Lauren Holtkamp as women to get formally hired.

“It’s difficult not to say Ashley and Natalie aren’t the second and third `women referees’ being added to the staff,” NBA vice president and head of referee development Monty McCutchen told The Associated Press. “But true equality comes when they’re just going to be `referees’ on our staff. And that’s what we’re really trying to achieve, this sense that their work warrants their advancement.”

The league also promoted Mousa Dagher, Matt Myers and Phenizee Ransom to the full-time level. Dagher further adds to the diversity of Thursday’s moves – he was born in Syria and moved to the U.S. as a 15-year-old in 2006. Myers spent more than a decade in the G League, and Ransom was there for six seasons.

“It’s such a momentous experience, to be working toward being part of the top of your craft and joining our staff,” Holtkamp said. “I’ll never forget getting the phone call and the same will be true for all five of these referees. And Natalie and Ashley, to know they’re joining our staff full-time, I’m beyond excited for them and what this means professionally and personally.”

Moyer-Gleich and Sago have both worked five NBA games this season – three regular season, two preseason. That was enough to confirm what McCutchen and other league officials have known for some time.

They’re ready.

“It’s been unreal, really,” said Sago, whose father has been a referee for more than 30 years. “It’s just been a very fast path for my officiating career and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had great role models, Lauren being one, and other NBA referees at these camps who kept saying, `You’ve got something.’ And all of a sudden, bam, I got the phone call and it’s such an honor.”

Sago got the call from NBA senior vice president and head of referee operations Michelle Johnson as her flight from one G League game to another earlier this month was taking off. She had to wait nearly two hours before she could call her father to give the news.

Her rise was also rapid: She got spotted at a Division III game in St. Louis – a Sunday afternoon game before about 15 fans – about three years ago and invited to an NBA camp.

“It’s very unique, how quickly it’s happened,” Sago said.

There will be a day when Moyer-Gleich, Sago and Holtkamp – along with any other women who follow them, something that seems quite likely with 17 other women working games in the G League this season – will get judged like any other referee, without the `female’ disclaimer.

They all know that day isn’t here yet.

“Everything that we do, that’s in comparison to the same exact thing our male counterparts might do, will be magnified,” said Moyer-Gleich, a standout player at Millersville University in her native Pennsylvania before starting her ref career. “What we do will be held under a microscope. Right, wrong, indifferent, I have come to peace with that.”

Palmer worked 919 contests before retiring in 2016. Kantner refereed 247 games between 1997 and 2002. Holtkamp has been assigned 214 games, and former non-staff official Brenda Pantoja – who never made the full-fledged ranks – was part of seven crews in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

The NBA has made hiring more women throughout the league a top priority, and that extends to the refereeing roster. Over the summer, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said it was “a bit embarrassing” that the league currently has only one full-time female referee.

“I know that I’m good enough,” Moyer-Gleich said. “I know I belong there.”

McCutchen and other top NBA executives agree. He stressed that there was no mandate to hire women. His charge, he said, was to hire the best refs, period.

“I am committed that this be egalitarian,” McCutchen said. “If you can do the work, if you can stand up to the standards of our league but not the standing of our players and apply the rules, that should be open to any package it shows itself in.”

 

Rajon Rondo to have surgery on fractured right hand

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The Los Angeles Lakers did not want to put a timeline on his return when they announced Wednesday night that Rajon Rondo had fractured his hand. Officially the timeline was “weeks.”

It’s going to be more than a couple of weeks — Rondo will have surgery on his right hand in the next day, something confirmed by Luke Walton.

Lonzo Ball has been starting for the Lakers and that will continue (the 1-3 pick-and-roll with Ball setting the pick for LeBron James was something Portland had no answer for). The challenge is depth beyond Ball, the Lakers don’t have another traditional point guard on the roster. Luke Walton said Brandon Ingram will play some at the point now.

Ball said he is up for the added responsibility.

 

Carmelo Anthony’s time with Rockets over, will be away from team but on roster

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You will not see Carmelo Anthony in Rockets’ red ever again.

This is not a huge surprise, he has been away from the team for three games now, ever since his 1-of-11 shooting disaster in Oklahoma City. Both sides have been ready to move on and that has become official.

“After much internal discussion, the Rockets will be parting ways with Carmelo Anthony and we are working toward a resolution,” Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey said in a statement. “Carmelo had a tremendous approach during his time with the Rockets and accepted every role head coach Mike D’Antoni gave him. The fit we envisioned when Carmelo chose to sign with the Rockets has not materialized, therefore we thought it was best to move on as any other outcome would have been unfair to him.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story and added some details.

The problem is there is not a good landing spot for Anthony around the league, so expect this to drag out (as I reported before would likely be the case). Anthony may not want to go to a rebuilding team, and even if he did why would a young squad such as the Kings or Hawks want to take the ball out of the hands of their young learning-on-the-fly playmakers to give those shots to Anthony? On the other end, Anthony just showed he isn’t going to readily accept a role and blend in with a contender. That doesn’t leave a lot of options, and while there were rumors about the Lakers, Heat, Pelicans, and others kicking the tires on bringing him in they each seem to have decided it’s not a great fit.

In 10 games for the Rockets this season coming off the bench, Anthony averaged 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, shot just 40.5 percent overall and 32.8 percent from three, plus the Houston defense has been 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court. At this point in his career, that’s pretty much who Anthony is. Anthony wasn’t the root cause of the Rockets’ slow start to the season, but he wasn’t fixing any defensive or three-point shooting problems, either. At this point, Anthony is a bench/role player in the NBA but feels entitled to a larger role and more deference from teams. With all that, it could be a while before a team steps up to take a chance on ‘Melo.

Tracy McGrady: Carmelo Anthony should retire

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Carmelo Anthony seems done with the Rockets.

Where should the former star go next? Tracy McGrady has a recommendation.

McGrady:

I honestly think Melo should retire. I really do. I don’t want him to go through another situation like this, and people are just pouring negativity on this man’s legacy. I really think, because it hasn’t worked out the last two teams, just go ahead and — you have a Hall of Fame career — just go ahead and let it go.

For what it’s worth, McGrady talked about coming back in 2014. Maybe he retired too soon. However, he said he’d return only if a team made him its focal point.

Some stars transition well into being a role player. Vince Carter is a prime example.

Others don’t. Anthony seems to fit the latter category.

But that doesn’t mean he should retire.

Anthony shouldn’t worry about McGrady or anyone else struggling to watch him decline. If he wants to keep playing and an NBA team will sign him, Anthony should sign. He doesn’t owe it to us to ensure we feel comfortable with his career. It’s his career.

Besides, Anthony’s legacy will be defined by his time with the Knicks and Nuggets. These late years will be forgotten. McGrady is known for the Magic, Rockets and Raptors. Nobody remembers his time with the Knicks, Pistons, Hawks and Spurs. The Basketball Hall of Fame practically even said his time San Antonio didn’t count!

That said, it might not be Anthony’s call. Maybe there’s a team so desperate for a scoring backup power forward, it’d benefit despite Anthony’s ego and defensive deficiencies. But Anthony might just be finished.

If that’s what NBA teams collectively decide, that’s how it goes.

But whatever say Anthony say still has, he shouldn’t worry about McGrady or any of the many like-minded watchers.