Yesterday's piece on figuring out the offense got a lot of response on and off-site, a fair amount of it positive. I thank you for the feedback. It's nice to hear.
I feel like I should add that it's horribly easy to put generalities down on paper. It's infinitely harder to turn those generalities into real-life specifics on an NBA court with opponents trying to stop you from doing exactly that. It's like the perfect video game that each one of us has in the back of our mind. Mine is going to be turn-based strategy just like the Civilization series but it's going to incorporate first-person shooter team combat with elements of an RPG and it's going to happen in a world without boundaries that contains both random instances and solid landmarks that stay constant except when players affect them in some permanent way.
OK, sounds great! So let's start programming it! Let's see...
10 Print "Greatest Game Ever!"
20 Print "Enter Your Name:"
30 Input A$
Hmmm...this is going to take a while. Meanwhile we should address the question that several of you wrote to ask, perhaps put most succinctly by BlazerJim:
There seem to be two camps here. Some say the players are responsible. Some say the coach. Whose job is it to make sure this kind of stuff happens?
Click through for the reponse.
I think on this team you have to start with the coaching staff. Whatever you think of Nate McMillan he does have experience winning NBA games that none of his players yet have. He's been to the Finals. He watched Gary Payton grow into a Hall of Famer firsthand. He knows more about this league than any individual on his team right now with the possible exception of Andre Miller. The team still needs a guiding shove in the right direction and this is one of those times when only he can keep them from stumbling around in the dark hoping to find the right way. It's not so much that he's responsible for leading them to the Promised Land. Rather he's responsible for making the preparation for the journey as efficient as possible and making sure that the first steps are in the right direction. He has to set the big picture. He has to let his players know which steps are necessary, both on the court and in the locker room. And I'm not sure he can leave even the latter completely open to chance. Of course players are individuals and each will relate and participate in their own way. Brandon Roy will not be the kind of leader Nate McMillan would be. Trying to turn him into Nate would result in frustration and poor leadership. But I don't think it would be amiss for Nate to help chart the course with the team's clear captain. He could easily sit down with Roy and/or other team leaders and say, "Here's what we're going to need as far as people aligning and pitching in. If we don't get this we're going to have more difficulty. So however you manage it, try to make it happen."
That is where I see Nate's responsibility ending. He charts the game plan. He tells the guys we need to run and get the ball to Oden early and space the floor. It's up to the team leaders, the players themselves, to first commit and then make sure everybody else follows.
I know some will say that Nate's big picture is wrong. OK...I won't argue against that possibility. It may be. But we do know it hasn't been in seasons past, at least judging by win totals and overall progress. There's no doubt Nate should have been the coach leading us into this year. And since he was (and is) what are you going to do now if you're a player even if you think the plan isn't the best? Yes, you could sulk and give up but you're not helping anyone, including yourself, by doing so. If you quit or "go rogue" then how do we know it was the system that failed and not your attitude that failed the system? Changing coaches in the middle of the season is certain to cause more disruption and there's no guarantee the next guy will have anything better on the spur of the moment, nor that you could learn and implement it if he did. It could get better, but it could just as easily fall apart. The option you're left with is to play as well as you can, sticking as much as you can to the same page everybody is supposed to be on. If you've done that and it turns out to have been a failure at the end of the year then that will speak for itself, and no fault to you either. Then you can have the "this isn't working" conversation and have it mean something. You also have the best chance of correcting it with the entire summer to adjust. This is what you do when the going gets tough. You give everything you can in order to keep things going and make them better until such a time as you're all able to evaluate and regroup.
Anyway, back to the players' portion of the locker room responsibility. This is where I see a considerable amount of growth needing to happen. This does need to become Brandon Roy's team and Greg Oden's team and LaMarcus Aldridge's team and not just Nate McMillan's team. They're in the early stages but they're ready to start making their imprint and needing their coach a little less. But if you're going to take that control, you have to do it in the right way. You have to show that the team is better off with you calling more of the shots, not just that it works better for you. Extending yesterday's analogy a little, you can't drive however you want just because you now have your license. It's your time to prove what you can do with this responsibility.
This means that each player in that triumvirate has to have an eye out for the success of the other two. It's in Brandon Roy's best interests to make Greg Oden look really good and vice versa. It's in both of their interests to keep LaMarcus happy as well. Offensively, defensively, you do whatever you can to show that you've got each others' backs and that an integral part of you getting yours is also them getting theirs because that's how wins are created. I wouldn't just expect Brandon Roy to go to the coach and say, "Give me the ball more." I would expect him to say, "Now that I've got the ball in my hands, what's the best way for me to play off of Greg so that both of us do damage?" That right there is utilizing your coach right while still getting what you need.
This also means that the Big Three need to realize that they are the Big Three for a reason and enforce that. Remember what we said yesterday about role players having roles? The truth is, the coach can't completely enforce those roles himself. Guys are going to resent him and tune him out for that. You can do that because he's the coach. Sure, he can bench you, but how many times can he do that if you're a good player? In the end the players always have the upper hand in this league. But the stars of the team can be enforcers. It's not like Brandon has to give you the ball. He can create his own option at any time and it's probably comparable to yours. Nobody is going to fault him for taking 26 shots a game. Nobody's going to complain if you get 3 shots a game either except maybe your agent and your momma. And Brandon doesn't care about either of them. He's got a long-term contract, he's got an All-Star berth waiting, and he's got the rock. When he speaks you pretty much have to listen.
Part of the growing up process for the team leaders will be realizing that they can't be nice, let alone fair, in the locker room. This isn't the Athens Senate. This is a cabal which should, at this point, have a membership of three. They rule, you follow. If another player starts breaking the offense to get his they take him aside and get him back in line. If a guy has an attitude problem they inform him it doesn't matter. He can make everybody listen to his fits when he gets his own team. If a guy isn't hitting his jumpers he fixes it or they fix it for him by taking him out of the process and working for better shots for themselves. If a guy is trotting down the court when they want to push they tell him to get his butt in gear. Once upon a time Michael Jordan informed his teammates that anyone who passed the ball to center Bill Cartwright in the fourth quarter would never see the ball from him again. When I first heard that I thought he was a complete jerk. I have since come to realize that he was a complete jerk, but that's also what it takes sometimes. The Showtime L*kers didn't belong to Chuck Nevitt. Those were Magic's teams and Kareem's, just as the Bulls were Jordan's and Pippen's and the Celtics Bird's, McHale's, and Parish's. Those players depended on each other more than they depended on anyone else so everyone else had to fall in line for lack of leverage if nothing else. You be as nice and chemistry-oriented as you are allowed to be but the wins come first. You can't be afraid to get in somebody's face and let them know that. You also have to understand that even though teams succeed by unselfishness and sacrifice, when you're among the best players part of your role is to be a little selfish so that your teammates have a chance to practice their unselfishness and sacrifice. If people don't like you...well, they probably didn't like most of those other Hall-of-Famers we just mentioned either. But their consolation prize was a fistful of rings. Time and distance soften resentment. Championship bling lasts for-ev-er.
Jason Quick reported today that Oden, Aldridge, and Roy met with Coach Nate behind closed doors to check in. To me that's an encouraging sign, not so much for what might come out of the meeting but because the personnel were right. Nate had the right idea last year when he invited the three for dinner at his house...a nice gesture but also one which, by definition, set them apart from everyone else. We haven't seen the three of them pull together yet, let alone seen them chewing the baby fat off of one of their teammates. At least we haven't seen it on the court. And there have been plenty of reasons to chew a little fat on the court lately. Even were they jawing at Nate today I would take that as a positive sign...even were I Nate himself. In fact I'd like to see more of that spirit and that hardness. Properly directed, which again gets back to the coach's role, that's the kind of thing that will grow this team and eventually produce more wins.
Whose job is it to make sure things go right? It's the coach's job and the players, each in distinct, but hopefully complementary, ways. It'll take all of them doing their jobs well, supporting and challenging each other, in order to maximize the potential of this club.