Sports Outside the Beltway

76ers fire coach Maurice Cheeks

Another NBA case of blame the coach.

The slumping Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday became the fifth NBA team to make a coaching change before Christmas this season, deciding they had to fire Maurice Cheeks despite extending his contract twice in the past year.

As reported by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, citing sources close to the situation, Cheeks was informed of his dismissal Saturday morning after the Sixers suffered their eighth loss in 10 games Friday night at Cleveland and dropped to 9-14.

The move was officially announced by the Sixers later Saturday. Assistant general manager Tony DiLeo will replace Cheeks on an interim basis. Philadelphia defeated the Washington Wizards behind Elton Brand’s season-high 27 points on Saturday night in DiLeo’s first game.

Philadelphia who isn’t a very good shooting team, has to contend on a regular basis with teams like Boston and Cleveland who are tearing up the league at present. When someone is 22-2, that makes it difficult for other teams to play .500 ball.

The firing of Cheeks is dumb in light of this.

NBA coaching sources told the Sixers were determined to give Cheeks every chance to halt Philadelphia’s slide after picking up his option for this season in February, extending his contract again in September and spending big money in the offseason to sign Brand away from the Los Angeles Clippers and re-sign Andre Iguodala.

No matter how often I see it done, I remain dumbfounded by pro sports franchises and universities to fire coaches with time remaining on their contracts. You pay for someone not to coach.

In light of the way the NBA recycles coaches, I expect Cheeks to pop up somewhere else in league. After all didn’t half the NBA keep rehiring Kevin Loughery in spite of his mediocre track record.


Washington Wizards fire Coach Eddie Jordan

The second head coach firing of the 2008-09 NBA season has taken place.

Eddie Jordan was fired as coach of the Washington Wizards on Monday after opening the season 1-10 without injured starters Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood.

Ed Tapscott, the Wizards’ director of player development, will replace Jordan on an interim basis, running his first practice as the team’s new head coach Monday morning, a team spokesman told The Associated Press.

The firing was first reported by The Washington Post on its Web site.

Assistant coach Mike O’Koren was also let go, and the Wizards named Randy Ayers as top assistant coach, a source told ESPN’s Ric Bucher.

Jordan was in his sixth season with the Wizards and led the team to the playoffs each of the past four. In September, shortly before the start of training camp, the Wizards picked up a one-year option to keep him under contract through the 2009-10 season.

Frankly I would have been more inclined to giving Jordan more time to work out the problems in Washington. These two recently fired coaches were producing dismal results too but didn’t have Jordan’s success in previous season.


Oklahoma City Thunder fire coach P.J. Carlesimo

It didn’t take long for the recently moved NBA franchise to fire its first ever coach.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, off to a league-worst 1-12 start in their new home town, have fired coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Assistant coach Scott Brooks has been named interim coach.

The Thunder dropped their 10th straight game on Friday night, a 105-80 home loss to the New Orleans Hornets. Sources told that Carlesimo was fired before the team boarded a flight to New Orleans for Saturday’s game against the Hornets.

I can’t fault Thunder management for blaming Carlesimo after a 1-12 start. Brooks will certainly improve on that record, but it won’t take much to do it.


Phil Jackson’s Hall of Fame Career

Phil Jackson is about to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. J.A. Adande takes a look at his unique style of coaching.

Phil Jackson enters the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, and to understand how he coached his way there, it might help to familiarize yourself with the concept of “antimatter” — that is, to realize that the opposite of something is still something, not nothing. That way, it makes sense that some of his best coaching moves come from not coaching, that the best way for players to appreciate him is to not play for him.

For a man with such an immense ego, the irony is Jackson has derived so much success by taking himself out of the equation. He realizes coaching isn’t about getting the players to do what you want, it’s about getting them to want to do what’s right. He always put the game above himself, placed his trust in the players more than his ways.

Opposing coaches might wonder why he doesn’t make an adjustment while they run the same play successfully against him time after time. Fans get agitated when the other team runs off 10 consecutive points and Jackson steadfastly refuses to call a timeout, sitting as motionless as if he were modeling for a Buddha sculpture. Jackson always believed that during times of duress, if the players discovered their own solutions they would benefit in the long run. He was right.

What is the essence of coaching? Getting the most out of your players and putting them in position to win. You won’t find a coach or manager who did that on a more consistent basis than Phil Jackson.

Jackson’s big number is the record nine NBA championships he shares with Red Auerbach, but here’s the telltale stat: Only once has Jackson lost a playoff series in which his team had home-court advantage. That means that nearly every time they were supposed to win, they did. A grand record of 35-1 when starting at home. His squads almost always maxed out, even these past two Lakers first-round departures, who traveled just as far as they were built to go.

Sure he’s had great players, most notably Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and Shaq and Kobe in L.A. But Auerbach coached 10 future Hall of Famers in Boston, so he wasn’t exactly doing it with scrubs. And if the best talent always guaranteed the best results, Marty Schottenheimer would still be coaching the San Diego Chargers. Why didn’t the 1991 Portland Trail Blazers or the 2002 Sacramento Kings win championships? Oh, that’s right, Rick Adelman was coaching them.

Another sign of Jackson’s success: the way his critics keep turning into allies.


When players see the alternative usually involves more stress and less winning, they realize they’re better off with Jackson. That’s why these days you’ll hear Bryant praise Jackson for “his understanding of the game, his understanding of unit cohesiveness, his patience. I think all of those things, the little intricacies of the game that he’s really picked up, that a lot of coaches and players don’t really understand, he’s mastered. It’s separated him from the pack, in my opinion.”

Jackson can do X’s and O’s. But he isn’t the best at it. And it’s not what he does best. Sometimes less is more.


The goal of Buddhism is nirvana, a state of being that’s devoid of wants and fears, the extinction of the individual consciousness. There’s that notion of nothing again. For Jackson, it might be more of a means than an end. He might not have reached nirvana, but he has made it to Springfield, Mass. He’s the “Seinfeld” of the sidelines, turning the concept of nothing into success.

It’s been an amazing thing to watch. He’s simply unparalleled in modern professional sports, with its free agency, massive league expansion, and culture of individuality. Nobody has come close to getting this much of out teams since the era when great coaches could stockpile talent and keep the same stars together for a decade or more.


NBA Mock Draft

ESPN’s Chad Ford offers the Sports Leader’s take on the impending NBA Draft.

It’s almost draft day, and the picture is getting clearer and fuzzier simultaneously.

We’ve been able to narrow down the list of prospects that each team is considering, but two things stand in the way of getting a complete picture.

One, this is a time when many GMs are notorious for dropping smoke screens. A source in Memphis swears the team is taking Joakim Noah. Another says to bank on the Grizzlies’ taking Mike Conley. Someone is misinformed or bluffing.

Two, there is a flurry of trade conversation, starting with Memphis, Boston, Charlotte and Chicago all talking about trading away their lottery picks. Meanwhile teams such as Golden State, Phoenix and the Lakers are trying hard to move up. Others — like Portland, Indiana and Toronto — are trying to get in or grab another pick.

The talk in Phoenix about trading up in the draft has gotten so hot that the Suns have gotten Noah, Jeff Green and Corey Brewer to agree to a workout on Tuesday. They’ll try to add Brandan Wright as a fourth. That shows you how much players want to play in Phoenix — they’ll drop everything just for the chance. It could be the most competitive workout of the draft.

Their consensus draft board:

    1. Portland TrailblazersGreg Oden – C
    2. Portland TrailblazersKevin Durant – SF – Texas
    3. Atlanta HawksAl Horford – PF – Florida
    4. Memphis GrizzliesMike Conley – PG- Ohio State
    5. Boston CelticsYi Jianlian – PF – China
    6. Milwaukee BucksJeff Green – SF – Georgetown
    7. Minnesota TimberwolvesJoakim Noah – PF – Florida
    8. Charlotte BobcatsCorey Brewer – SG – Florida
    9. Chicago Bulls (via New York Knicks) – Spencer Hawes – C- Washington
    10. Sacramento Kings- Brandan Wright – PF – North Carolina
    11. Atlanta Hawks (via Indiana Pacers) – Acie Law – PG – Texas A&M
    12. Philadelphia 76ersAl Thornton – SF – Florida State
    13. New Orleans Hornets – Nick Young – SG- USC
    14. L.A. ClippersJulian Wright – SF – Kansas
    15. Detroit Pistons (via Orlando Magic) – Rodney Stuckey SG – Eastern Wash.

Click the link for more in-depth analysis and for the second half of the draft.


Betting the house

Gilbert Arenas, star of the surprising Washington Wizards, found himself in a bit of trouble with the league.

The NBA warned Gilbert Arenas on Sunday not to repeat his actions of Tuesday night, when he said he made $10 bets with a group of fans during a game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

“We spoke to Gilbert and explained the issue to him,” NBA spokesman John Acunto said. “And he assured us he wouldn’t do anything like this again.”

Arenas was being heckled by Trailblazers’ fans so he decided to put up rather than shut up and promised to make a critical shot or owe the fans (apparently he did this with two fans) $10. He was unsuccessful and the Wizards went down 100-98.

And how did he know how to pay up? He asked the fans for their e-mail addresses.

And how did the NBA find out about his antics? Arenas wrote about the incident on his blog.

I understand that leagues have to take a strong stand about betting. It may be that this was done in harmless fun and he was betting to win. But at some point once someone’s betting, the possibility that he could be compromised if he runs up too many debts becomes real. There’s a need to draw the line someplace. This case was harmless, and, frankly, probably added to the entertainment value of the fans. I understand why the league reprimanded him.

However the league has gone a step further and removed the blog entries referring to the incident from his blog. Now that the story’s all over the news, I hardly see the point to that.

Read the blog. Check out his player page.

Crossposted at Soccer Dad.


Greatest NBA Centers Ever

For Shaq’s 35th Birthday ESPN saw fit to rank the top 10 centers of all time and I can’t disagree with #1 at all.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

As for his achievements: 1967-68 USBWA College Player of the Year; 1969 Naismith Award; Six-time NBA MVP; Six-time NBA Champion; Two-time Finals MVP; NBA Rookie of the Year (1970); and NBA Hall of Fame (1995).

Like no other player, Abdul-Jabbar embodied the maestro team brilliance of Bill Russell and the individual excellence of Wilt Chamberlain. His NBA cup runneth over: six championships, a record six MVPs and a Finals MVP award … at 38 years old!

Possessed the single most unstoppable shot in NBA history — the sky hook — but more than that, he was clutch, consistent and underrated in the toughness department.

He was the starting center on six championship teams and had the presence of mind to cohabitate with stars like Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and James Worthy.

He’s the all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points; was named to the All-NBA Defensive team 11 times; and is the only modern era player to lead the league at least once in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, minutes played, field-goal percentage and PER.

However, in their explanation of choosing Kareem as #1 I believe they left out on of the most amazing things about Kareem’s career. His expected arrival in the college ranks led to directly to a preemptive rule change by NCAA when they banned the dunk after the 1967 season and reinstated it shortly after his departure from UCLA. No other player that I can think of recieved the same treatment. While the rule was made mostly to limit his size advantage, it didn’t slow Kareem down as UCLA went 88-2 while he was a player.

The other thing to ponder about this list would is where Bill Walton would be if he hadn’t the chronic injury problems.

As for the complete list:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
2. Wilt Chamberlain
3. Bill Russell
4. Shaquille O’Neal
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
6. Moses Malone
7. Bill Walton
8. David Robinson
9. George Mikan
10. Patrick Ewing


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