Nate: Loosen Up, Sarge!

 While watching other teams play this week, I came to some conclusions that enable me, a fairly rabid Nate hater, to suggest a two-word adjustment for Nate that might win me over.

In my view, for the Blazers to reach a championship level contender (and assuming for now that Nate remains our coach) Nate needs to Improve in the following areas:

-          Offensive scheme.  His is pitiful.  Way too predictable and way too easy to shut down.

-          Defensive scheme.  Too predictable, too much switching.  Everybody is not buying in.

-          Delegating.  He can’t do all the jobs required of a head coach effectively by himself. Get help.

-          Get more out of your players.   Utilize their strengths more effectively.

I think that Nate can potentially fix all of the above if he will, in short: Loosen Up.

Loosen up, Nate!  Have fun, listen to your gut, play for the 100 game season.  Let these kids mature.

Please bear with me while I explain after the jump...

While watching the Celtics game last night, I couldn’t help notice one huge difference between the Celtics and the Magic (and the Blazers).  These Celtics are men. Warriors.  True tough guys.  Pierce. KG.  NeverSmile Perkins.  Rondo. Even Ray Ray is as tough, mentally as physically, as they come.  These guys realize the price you have to pay to win, and they demonstrate every game to their teammates that they are willing to pay that price.  They all individually realize and have internalized that team excellence starts on the defensive end.  Now, that message is constantly reinforced by Doc (and KG), but everybody on this team knows it all starts with TEAM.  DEFENSE.

Jeff Van Gundy said it during the Celts/Magic game: “don’t penalize guys for normal reactions”.  He was referring to Vince Kotter (so says Mark Jackson, anyway – maybe he’s Gabe’s brother?) getting T’d up.  Then, after Pierce got attacked by Superman, and the C’s went to him time and time again, Mark J. said “great coaching by Doc, you get a star who has been roughed up, get him the basketball”. 

I realized one of the strengths of Doc is that he was a player, and could tap into the emotions that fuel this game, and he knows when and how to use them to his teams advantage.  (But wait, why can’t Nate do that?)

And then it dawned on me:  Nate just needs to loosen up, and let his emotions drive him.  Let him think again like a player.  And give his players the edge they need to succeed:  by riding the hot hand; playing team ball, with plenty of ball and player movement; playing smothering (full court?) team defense.  (If you really want to use two lines, let’s really wear the other guys out and play full court D and run every play on offense!)

Nate needs to let players have a little fun, after all, it’s a 110 game season.  That’s right.  It’s not an 82 game season.  That thinking is for losers (or those who soon will be (losers, that is) in the playoffs).  Look at Pop in SA, he had his team take the first month off practically, because he knew these old men didn’t have 9 months in ‘em.  (October to June).  Doc Rivers was getting killed by the press in Boston when they were slumping coming down the stretch, but he was resting his guys, getting them ready for that long 28 game REAL season in May and June.

Nate needs to listen to his gut, and let his, his staffs, and his team’s emotions out.  Who let the emotions out?  Well, most of the winning teams.  (See KG, Kobe, etc.) Maybe that’s not Nate’s style, but I think the fire is burning in there somewhere.  He wouldn’t work this hard if it didn’t.

Use your player’s instincts:  If a guy isn’t running when you yell to push the ball up, bench him.  If a guy dogs it (in the outfield, for example, like Hanley), you sit him down.  Doc knew when it was time to give the ball time and time again to his star.  Sometimes it is, Nate, and sometimes it isn’t.  Great coaches have learned the difference. 

If a ref makes a terrible call, let him know you know, and you know the difference, and complain!  (It does the team good, Nate!)  Or when to ride the hot hand (much like Stan Van Gundy did with JJ Reddick.)  

If any player talks to the press negatively, you have to make him know that is not acceptable.  It’s team first.  There is no me in…  no, wait…  no I in team..

Nate has done a great job guiding our (Blazers) children (in NBA terms) through their formative years. If he is to remain coach of the Blazers, he needs to realize that (perhaps like when a re-marriage brings three older kids), we now have a solid core of older guys on the team (Dre, Camby, Juwan).  And the old messages and Sarge-like behavior just won’t work for these old guys.  So you have to re-invent yourself a little to deal with a much different team chemistry (family). 

Not only that, but the “young guys” are leaving the nest!  That’s right, LMA and Brandon are not under your control anymore, Nate (with their max contracts… things change).  Oh, they’ll come by when you ask (for practice and games), as long as you do laundry (uniforms), but you really can’t control them like you could when they are kids.

So, next year, our Blazers NEED more freedom, more independence.  Let them make mistakes (turnovers), Nate.  That’s how they learn.  That’s how they grow. 

Even the really young guys, Nate, like Bayless.  And Rudy.  And crazy Jeff.  And young (?) Greg.  And fiery (sorry) Cunningham.  Sure, maybe they require bed checks on the road.  And make sure they all check in with the nutritionist weekly.  And give them regimented off-season workouts, supervised by onsite visits.  And make them work their butt off. 

But during the games?  If Greg makes two dumb fouls early, he knows it, Nate.  You don’t have to yell at him in front of his friends (take him out of the game).  He knows he has to really watch it now.  Let him show you he’s learned your lessons. 

You’ve done a decent job with Bayless, Nate, but I think you need to let loose the hounds next year.  Let this guy RUN on a unit that likes to run (JB, Rudy, Batum, Cunningham and LMA come to mind), and tell them (if you must have rigid time constraints)  “OK, you 5 are in this game for the next 6 minutes.  Run them out of the building.  Don’t worry about turnovers, just run, and push it every chance.  But give it all up on the D, too.  That’s where offense comes from.  In fact, let’s do a full court zone trap, on 1, ready… break”.

Finally, I now have some answers to those who want to know “who else could possibly be a better coach than Nate that we could get.  Here are some coaching possibilities:

-          Jeff Van Gundy, commentator extraordinaire

-          Tom Thibodeau, Assistant coach (defense) Celtics

-          Tex Winter, assistant  coach (offensive), Fakers

-          Monty, Blazers assistant. 

JVG I’m sure would make it very fun to be a Blazer fan.  He seems to have a great grasp of the game, and has been a coach. The number one reason he’s not likely is that he’s having fun and working a lot less on TV.

Thibodeau is my most likely option.  He has been looking, and in my mind is just what the Blazers need: an awesome defensive coach.  Unfortunately, he’s never been the head guy before in the NBA, which is different.

Tex Winter is the brilliant architect of the triangle offense.  (That Phil was smart enough to steal.)   He’s old (like 81), but if Tex wanted to go out with a bang, installing the triangle in Portland would be a beautiful thing to watch.  Besides being old, he hasn’t beenthe #1 guy in the bigs, either.

As I’m writing this, I realize that my ideal would be to get all three of them.  JVG to massage egos and do PR.  Winter to install the triangle, and Tom creating Oden in KG’s image as the anchor of the best D in the league…  (Sigh, OK, dream over…)

If everybody associated with the Blazers thinks that Monty is a great coach… let’s keep him!

In short, loosen up Nate, feel free to roll with the momentum, let the guys have fun, but be sure to also earn their respect by enforcing the rules consistently, to all players equally.  Let them run, and commit turnovers, as that is how young players learn.  Emphasize great team D, and bench anybody (including BRoy who isn’t giving their all on D).  Be a leader.  You can do it, Nate.

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