The end of the weekend mail and a couple of big losses
Back in the days when sportswriters truly mattered, we were blessed in this country with an abundance of giants. They told stories well, make subjects come to life and the likes of them will never been seen again in an era dominated far too much by opinionated screamers more interested in making their point than telling a story.
The world lost Trent Frayne on Saturday; the world is a lesser place today.
RIP to one of the greats.
And now, the mail.
Q: Thanks for Dickens recommendations, Doug!
Now that books have entered the blog, permit 2 "book questions":
Phil Jackson used to give books to his players - books he felt that might motivate them or perhaps help them with some aspect of their lives. Do you know of other coaches who have used book-giving to assist their players' mental approaches and at the same time books that show the coach knows and cares about the players? Do you think such an approach can still work with the current generation of NBA players?
If you had to choose ONE BOOK as required reading for NBA players would you choose a biography of a former player? If so, which one?
Charles N, Mexico
A: I’ve never heard of a coach doling out books ever, other than Phil Jackson and his desire to send messages or deliver lessons to his players. And since many of them – mostly the younger ones – have short attention spans and interests that run more to video games, social media and music, I don’t imagine it would work. Would be a nice thing to try.
I also don’t know if there’s a biography of a player I could recommend as the ONE book because many of them are, well, a bit self-serving and not all that interesting.
Given the context of many of their lives, though, I had to chose one work of basketball non-fiction and one of general fiction, I’d probably leave The Inside Game: Race, Power and Poverty in the NBA by my friends Wayne Embry and Mary Schmidt-Boyer in the their lockers and it would be sitting on top of a copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
Would love to have them read those two and to hear them discuss them.
Q: Hi Doug. I saw your piece on Steve Nash and was amazed at how consistently good he is at the age of 38, especially playing at the PG position which I think is arguably the toughest position to play.
Steve Nash takes a lot pride in conditioning himself, are you surprised that more players do not do the same thing?
Can you provide a top 5 list of players who achieved the most despite not being the most athletically gifted.
Greatest Nash accomplishment? Two time NBA MVP, approaching top 5 all time assist leader group.
Thanks again Doug!!
Monty M, Toronto
A: I think other players try to, just without the level of success that Steve’s had. It’s the willingness to do the work, some measure of physiology probably factors into it and one thing I really think has helped Steve is his off-season love of playing some soccer. It keeps him fit in maybe a different way – different muscles, different training regimens – and breaks up the monotony while allowing him to get workouts in.
As for five other guys?
That’s tough because they’re all good at something but at a level of significance in their careers, I might give you Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Charles Oakley and, oh, why not old friend Jason Kapono. Others? Irregulars must know some.
Nash’s two MVPs are without question, in my mind, his crowning achievement and greatest accomplishment; others tend to come simply from longevity, which might be his second-best accomplishment, lasting this long.
Q: Good Morning. Will there be any Raptor presence at the All Star break? If not does that make your job easier or harder?
John P, Madison, WI
A: It doesn’t look now like there will be any Toronto representation at the all-star weekend and I believe that will be for the first time ever.
It is going to be entirely odd so it should allow me to pursue other story lines – Steve Nash, the state of the game in this crazy year, the other dominant players of the time – so it might be fun. And fun is always easier than, say, trying to come up with a fresh all-star angle about a guy you’ve been covering every day during the season.
I’m kind of looking forward to that aspect of the weekend.
Q: Hey Doug: I know that you don't like draft questions this early in the season, but I had to ask: do you prefer draft, bottle or can?
Keep up the great work - we appreciate it!
Tim H, Windsor
A draft question I like!!!!! Oh, a no-brainer. Unless the joint is really sketchy and may only clean its lines once a generation (and I don’t frequent such establishments too often), it’s draft, can, bottle in that order.
Q: Off-the-court question this time, Doug: in your experience, what's the correlation between players' style on the court and off the court? Do the more flamboyant players tend to dress up more, drive fancier cars, and so on? Or are there Jekyll and Hyde types...say, a blue-collar Reggie Evans type driving a blinged-up Escalade?
Mike D, Toronto
A: I’ll give you just one that I know first hand: Oak was as blue collar a guy as you’ll ever find in professional sports and he dressed with a flair no one I’ve covered could match.
So, as the old saying goes …
Ya never know.
There is no real correlation between on court play and off court style; the most exciting player I ever say play – perhaps you’ve heard of him, Carter was his name – was a rather bland guy where accoutrements of life were concerned.
Q: Hey Doug. Was fortunate enough to have courtside seats for the Celts game and I was actually very surprised at how some players let fans get to them, especially Kevin Garnett. It started with light booing and a little reminder that Aaron Gray had twice as many rebounds than him in the first quarter but it seemed to really get to him and he kept on referring to me as "fat boy" and wouldn't let it go. I told him he was a role player now but I didn't think he would take it to the court. When re-entered the game he demanded the ball on the 3 straight possessions, twice missing but on the third try made the shot and ran by me and yelled "whose the role player now?" He kept on talking and yelling at me even when I was looking another way. I personally enjoyed it but didn't think athlete like KG would let a fan get to him. Since I'm usually sitting up in the rafters, is this a more common occurrence than I think it is? Thanks Doug.
Antonii C, Toronto
A: It’s not all that common, most players are able, and quite willing to block out the fans; if they do get involved with people not on the floor, it’s generally with friends on the opposing teams
But there are some guys that need that interaction, relish it and feed off it. Obviously Garnett enjoyed the byplay with you, Reggie Miller and Spike Lee back in the day, a lot of players and coaches enjoy some chatting with Jack Nicholson at Laker games. But it’s really not that commonplace.
Apropos of nothing, I can’t say I was or am a really big fan but, man, there is no doubting this woman’s singing talents.
World lost another great.
Q: Hey Doug. Nice to beat the Celtics any time you can even if they were on the tough end of a back to back. One of the things I've noticed is that at least in some games the Raps have an increased physicality and are less likely to get bullied around. Sure KG was tired and isn't the same player he used to be but he is more bark than bite and nobody seems to be afraid of him any more. Players like JJ, Big Cat, Gray and even Amir don't back down. Nice to see and it has to help with the defensive toughness.
Caught a little of that Lin kid while you were writing your gamer last night. The kid has had a pretty good week and NYC has gone nuts as only they can. He has to hope he doesn't wake up from this dream!
Dave M, Puslinch
A: I think the Raptors still tend to recoil a bit too often – and not just against the Celtics – but they are more often wiling to give as good as they get more often than they have and I believe that’s attributable to Dwane Casey’s insistence that they toughen up.
Lin? I hope he scores a kabillion points and makes a kabillion dollars and is the subject of a kabillion stories because it’s a good one.
Q: During the Celtic game, DeRozan threw a lob pass to Amir who dunked it. You said we probably wouldn't see that again. Could you explain why?
Rob C, Wingham
A: Mostly because I think DeMar leading a break is fraught with peril because his ball-handling is suspect. That and rebounders seldom look to outlet the ball him makes me think that’s not a play you’ll see often.
Was nice, though.
Q: Hey Doug. I'm following Marc Stein on twitter, and he just said how the Knicks were close to releasing Lin before his breakout game vs. the Nets because last Tuesday was the deadline to release players with non-guaranteed contracts. How amazing is that? And how amazing is this story?
Putting aside the whole "is he for real" debate, the perseverance, determination and hard work he put in, going undrafted, being the 13th man, being released, sent down to the D-league. It's truly amazing and kind of inspirational.
Dave R, Markham
A: It’s a great story, inspirational as you say and even more proof that – on the odd occasion – all a guy needs is a legitimate chance in a system that’s built for his skillset to thrive. Good for Lin, I hope he keeps it up but anyone who tells you they saw this coming is bluffing.
Q: Hi Doug. This isn't a question for the mailbag, but perhaps a link for your readers. NBA.com has a great article on Wayne Embry that I thought you'd like to know about, and maybe pass on.
Peter L, Toronto
A: My Man Asch hits another out of the park.
Q: Hi Doug. Outside of Andrea who do you feel is the best Raptor in the low post? I think it is Aaron Gray.
Freddy W, Cambridge
A: Hmm. Not sure I can agree; Aaron’s hands are suspect. But it truly is a shallow pool so I’m not sure who’s better. Maybe Amir but I bet given the opportunity as an undersized four that James Johnson might be strong enough to be a good post presence.
Q: Doug - Curious about the trade deadline.
Is it mainly the buyers waiting till the last minute to make a deal so they can see who might be available, or the sellers holding off to see if maybe they can sneak in. I know it is not hard and fast but it just seems to me that teams that need a player would try to get him as early as possible, while teams who know they won't make the playoffs would be likely to get something they really want like a young prospect (who is riding the pine) with a little extra if they were willing to go a little early to help the buying team. Just looking for a little insight into the thought process please.
Gerry T, Halifax
A: Think we might need to debunk this “buyers vs. sellers” myth right off the bat. Unlike most other sports – baseball comes quickly to mind – the demands of the CBA vis a vis salary matches and the limits on how much cash can change hands in any transaction and the fact the draft is just two rounds long precludes teams from truly “buying” or “selling.”
And while, yes, teams would like to make changes – if they believe them necessary to make improvements – sooner rather than later, nothing generally happens too early because (a) teams hope the guys they have figure it out and (b) most sports executives, and executives all over the place, tend to need the pressure of a deadline to help the decision-making process speed up.
Besides, if all GMs did their work early, how would some sports networks fill 18 hours on trade deadline day?
Q: Greetings from Spain! All Stars weekend is coming and you've always said there are changes to be made to make it a "must see event". I'm going further and thinking in major surgery, something that would mean some calendar adjustments (a shorter pre-season and an earlier start of real games) to make some space.
Well, next week Euroleague and domestic leagues all around Europe will stop because it's time for the "Cup" in Spain, Italy and many other countries. The Cup is another kind of tournament. 8 teams gather in the same city and play 3 times from Thursday to Sunday (quarterfinals, semifinals and final). Losers go home and there's a winner after just 4 days.
Can you see something like that replacing All Stars weekend? I'm thinking in a NCAA-march-like competition with 8 teams: the first team of every division after half of the games have been played, the home team and the team with the best record among the remainders.
The prize for the winner could be drafts benefits or caps exceptions or something else, oh, and another chance to win a title.
Thanks for your opinions and your work and for all the patience you spend with (some of) us.
Pablo E, Oviedo, Spain
A: I’d love to come cover some of those Cups, probably the ACB but that’s not going to happen. Nor is going to happen here with the all-star game. I know it’s old and staid and rather hum-drum for some (Hi, me!) but the fans seem to like it, the sponsors love it, it’s really relaxed which is a nice break in the middle of the season and I can’t see them changing it at all. Now, if they wanted to take the entire weekend to Madrid or London or Paris or some city with an NBA-calibre arena I’d be all for it; but as for a change in the structure and tone, don’t think that’s what the weekend should be all about.
Q: For some reason, Casey's comment about "staying with the hot hand" (Bayless) caught my attention. We read about the extraordinary work people like Ray Allen do to repeat the same stroke exactly the same way every time. What makes an NBA calibre shooter "hot" one night and average the next? Is there some state of hyper-awareness or vision that kicks in occasionally? Corollary: what makes teammates confident that the shots will continue to fall in? The players and coaches believe in the "hot hand." But does it really exist, or is it just the statistical fluke of the night?
TL I, London
A: If there were an answer to what makes players hot, they’d all be scorching every night. Sometime it’s just the way you feel, a bit more energy gets more legs into a shot, gets you open more quickly, helps in all kinds of ways. You know how it is when you go to work, sometimes you just have more pep than others and it shows in the day’s production. Does for me.
Now, the confidence simply comes from the uber-confidence all pro athletes have, they truly believe they will make the next shot, hit the next fastball, score a goal the next shift; it’s part of their DNA and what separates them from others.
I personally believe “hot hand” is a myth more often than not, things regress to the mean but if you can catch the wave on the way up and know when to bail when it’s on the way down, that’s where you see the “hot hand” theory come into play.
Q: Hello...Any 10 day guys on the Raptor horizon?
Will the HOTC tune out Casey soon? Surely, they must tire of his half time rants. I mean every game telling them they have to compete, how can they stand it?
Instead of the Slam Dunk competition for the All Star Game, how about Scola versus Love. Either a game of one on one, or maybe twister? ( No shoes)
Bob E, Kanata
A: Nah, can’t see a 10-day guy on the horizon; for better or worse the roster is filled out.
The rants probably aren’t as bad as they’ve been made out to be – haven’t heard even a private whine from a player – and I think Dwane’s smart enough to know he has to coddle as well as kill and he won’t go too far too often.
Now, All-star Twister isn’t something that I’d care to see, or even imagine; can we put that to rest?