Almost exactly one year ago tonight, Dwyane Wade chewed out his coach, Erik Spoelstra. Not behind the scenes away from his team or even the media, but in the middle of a blowout, Game 3 loss at Indiana in the second round of the playoffs. Chris Bosh was hurt, Wade was playing poorly, the Heat were about to fall behind in the series, and frustrations grew to a boiling point. After the buzzer sounded and tempers cooled, water was not yet under the bridge. Wade reportedly made the short drive up to Bloomington to consult Tom Crean, his college coach from Marquette (now coaching the Hoosiers). One could hardly do more to undermine or discredit the head coach than chew him out on Primetime TV and then seek guidance — COACHING — elsewhere.
Well, you know how the rest played out. LeBron destroyed Indiana the rest of the way, the Heat fought off a feisty Celtics squad and finally got Bosh back in the lineup, and controlled a five-game Finals against the juggernaut Thunder. All was well. “Spo” was still their guy. This year they won 66 games and, as of tonight, are the overwhelming favorite to win a back-to-back title. Spoelstra finished second to George Karl in the Coach of the Year voting.
It’s just funny how this stuff works. If LeBron doesn’t put together one of the greatest performances in playoff HISTORY in Game 4 (40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists) the Pacers likely go up 3-1 and ultimately win the series. Somebody else is coaching the Miami Heat this year, and it’s not unlikely that one or more of the “Big 3” is playing for a different team right now.
The Knicks lost to those same Pacers tonight in a must-win Game 4. They trail 3 games to 1, Indiana is looking like the decidedly better team and fans (on Twitter) are all but calling for Coach Mike Woodson’s head. This is the same Mike Woodson, mind you, that went 18-6 last year after taking over Mike D’Antoni’s 18-24, free-falling Knickerbockers squad. Woody led them to 54 wins this year — more than almost anyone expected — and was third in the C.O.Y. voting. The Knicks play above their talent level. Carmelo is great, Chandler is a beast (when healthy), but the rest of the roster is comprised of severely limited role players (Novak, Copeland) or senior citizens (Kidd, K-Mart, the long list of others that played their way into the ground–maybe literally). It just isn’t a great roster, but they’ve made the second round of the playoffs. Once the dust settles and the sting of a playoff exit wears off, it’s something to feel good about. For Mike Woodson, it’s something that warrants job security and respect.
It isn’t just Mike Woodson. Carmelo is taking his share of heat. On other teams, George Karl — coach of the superstarless, 57-win Nuggets — has been roundly criticized for failing to beat the upstart Warriors even though he no longer had Danilo Gallinari in his arsenal. (Why let a small detail like that get in the way?) Scott Brooks is getting blasted for marginally important lineup decisions and x’s and o’s. Those things weren’t as important before his ownership traded away an MVP candidate and his superstar point guard tore a meniscus. (Why let small details get in the way?) A lot of it is just classic fans second guessing coaches. I do it sometimes myself, but it’s always a little bit discomfiting.
But people making these criticisms also seem to lose sight of the fact that context exists. The playoffs keep moving along here. Eight teams remain and in a few days it will be just four. Most are done right now. The competition is greatest, weaknesses are most-easily exposed and a 50-win team is as likely to be an underdog as a favorite.
Maybe I just follow Twitter too closely. It’s hard to make room for nuance in 140 characters.
A few other notes:
* The NBA Board of Governors meets tomorrow to consider the Seattle group’s bid to buy the Sacramento Kings and move them to the Pacific Northwest. The relocation committee has already voted unanimously against the move (7-0) but that’s where things get interesting: Since the vote the Seattle group has upped his offer to an historic $625 Million bid and also presented EVERY owner with a $115 Million “relocation fee” which basically just lines each teams’ pocket with an extra $4 Million for
nothing their trouble.
If the league blocks the sale and the move it sends a strong message that the league will go a long ways to stop franchise relocation. The Maloof Brothers are clearly set to lose a great deal of money if they have to sell to the local group. If the Maloofs or the Seattle group or the City of Seattle bring an antitrust lawsuit, things will get even more interesting.
* Prep star Andrew Wiggins announced that he’ll be attending Kansas University next fall, playing for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. Chad Ford writes (Insider) that Wiggins would be the Number 1 pick in the 2013 Draft if he were eligible. With Tracy McGrady all but retired, Kobe Bryant recovering from Achilles rupture in advanced age and even Dwyane Wade looking worn down, it’ll be nice to have an up-and-coming megastar at the wing position in the coming years.
* Props go out to occasional Punch-Drunk Wolves commenter, Eric in Madison, for his new gig as Canis Hoopus head honcho. I’ve always been a huge fan of that site and it’s nice to see it will remain in capable hands after Stop-N-Pop’s departure. As his comments around here (and for a few years now, over there) make clear, EiM really knows the game.