NBA PM: A Better “A.I.” For Denver
When the Denver Nuggets traded for Allen Iverson to join Carmelo Anthony in December of 2006, it was supposed to make the Nuggets a contending team. Instead, a new era of selfishness and defensive ineptitude saw Iverson’s career in Denver last less than two seasons, as the Nuggets shipped him to the Detroit Pistons in November of 2008.
This year, the Nuggets acquired a different “A.I.” – one who is helping the team come together as a cohesive unit and crack down on the defensive end of the court. Andre Iguodala arrived in Denver sporting an Olympic gold medal and All-Star credentials, and was happy to put basically two years of trade rumors behind him and focus on basketball.
“Yeah, I haven’t really thought about [trade talk] at all,” Iguodala tells HOOPSWORLD. “Just trying to focus on how to make this team better, how can we get to that next level. They did a really nice job last year in the playoffs, just barely missed getting to the second round. Try to take them to the next level and just enjoy the game of basketball.”
Nuggets head coach George Karl was elated to add Iguodala to his roster, and is already starting to see the impact Iguodala will have on the team long-term.
“I see it when we play well,” says Karl. “Andre is a good, solid basketball player. He doesn’t have a flamboyant part to his body of work, other than his open court dunks, stuff like that. He’s a good passer, good rebounder, good offensive player, good shooter. None of those I’d say he’s great at and in the NBA I think we get excited about greatness instead of just good, solid basketball players. Andre is just a solid piece to a good team and the more that we have success, the more we win, the more people are going to appreciate it.”
It hasn’t been easy for the Nuggets to implement their new pieces and find a comfort zone, as they have played more than half of their road games already with the season just two months old. The team is 9-1 at home, but just 8-14 on the road.
“That’s something that we noticed early on from preseason that we’re going to have a tough schedule and we have to survive this crazy road test that we’re having through November and December,” says Iguodala. “We’ve stayed above water, that was a mental challenge. But the next mental challenge is taking care of home court and not getting relaxed.”
The Nuggets finished a grueling 2012 at two games over .500, and with 12 of their 15 January games taking place in the friendly confines of Pepsi Center, Iguodala expects his team to gain ground in the West.
“It’s making it really hard to get a solid consistency about ourselves,” Iguodala says of the intense road schedule. “It’s starting to come a little bit, these last few games where everybody is clicking and we’re getting on the same page, but it’s a process and it takes time. Sometimes people don’t see that. Coming in, I knew it was going to take some time, take me longer than I wanted it to take. But, like I said, if we can take care of home and mentally lock in and not take any nights off through the month of January, we’ll put ourselves in a really good position.”
As much as Iguodala contributes on the court, his veteran leadership is expected to pay huge dividends down the road. George Karl isn’t pushing that, understanding that it takes time for a team to accept a new leader.
“I think he’s taken small steps, but to become a leader on this team is probably a whole year process,” says Karl. “I think Andre Miller is still our leader, but Ty [Lawson], Gallo [Danilo Gallinari], Kenneth [Faried], the window for leadership is wide open for anybody who wants to take responsibility and demand respect. I think this team is a little more peer-pressure oriented, more professionally in tune, more focused in shoot-around, just little things coaches like to see the team take more control of rather than it just be on the coaches.”
Iguodala does see himself as a leader, but he’s not trying to make a big splash right away. He’s focused on some of the small things as he talks to his new teammates.
“I’m just trying to get them to understand the smaller nuances of the NBA life,” says Iguodala. “It’s all the little things that can affect you on the court. From mental preparation, to getting your body right, to what you eat before a game. Just small things, not trying to put too much on their brains while they’re playing basketball.”
As excited as Iguodala is to be a part of the Nuggets organization, he does still keep an eye on his former protégé in Philadelphia: Evan Turner.
“Yeah, I’m following him pretty much every game,” says Iguodala of Turner. “He was the number-two pick, that put a lot of pressure on him, it’s just good to see him having success. It’s funny because I’ve been fighting for him the last couple of years, especially with so many questions about what kind of player he is. Can he play? Does he belong? Did he deserve to get drafted number two? It’s showing right now, so I hope nothing but the best for him and wish him nothing but the best and I know he’ll do fine.”
The Nuggets would be thrilled to see Iguodala have the same kind of effect on their young core group that he had on his young charges in Philadelphia. It’s a far cry from what the last “A.I.” brought to the table, and could turn out to be the influence that helps the Nuggets ascend to the ranks of NBA contenders, as many thought they would during training camp.
Mavericks In “Unprecedented” Funk
The Dallas Mavericks have had slow starts to their seasons before, but since Dirk Nowitzki has been in town they have always managed to come back to put together 50-win seasons and usually advance deep into the playoffs. This season, however, the team is off to their worst start in more than a decade, and with Nowitzki still working his way back from a knee procedure the team is digging a deep hole for themselves.
“We just didn’t get it done, and we haven’t gotten it done in a pretty significant stretch of games now,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said after last night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs. “It starts with me and then it goes right down the line. There are no excuses. We have simply got to dig in harder and we know we’ve got to do a better job. As far as the big three [Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili]… they’re great players and we didn’t do a good job on them. They made a lot of plays, a lot of shots. Some of them we contested, but a lot of the plays they made, they were just better than us. We’ve got to compete better – that’s where it’s at.”
As usual, the Mavericks were good for stretches of their latest loss, but Carlisle wasn’t taking any comfort from those stretches.
“It’s a 48-minute game, so we’ve got to be better early, we’ve got to be better late,” Carlisle said. “I don’t want to get into a dialogue on the parts of the game that were ‘okay.’ It’s not what this organization has been about since Mark [Cuban] bought the team. This is a stretch that is unprecedented, really. It’s bad. We’ve got to fix it, and it starts with me. I’m taking the blame for it.”
Carlisle can take the blame, but unless he’s going to suit up he can’t fix the effort issues Dallas has had this season. They are currently the third-worst defensive team in the league, allowing 102.87 points while scoring just 98.73 themselves. At the same time, the Mavs are just 22nd in the league in rebounding the ball with 41.13 per contest, and allow opponents a league-high 46.3 boards per game. Shooting comes and goes, but rebounding and defense are effort issues and have a lot to do with pride. Then there’s turnovers, and the Mavs have had a real problem in that area, giving up 15.77 possessions per game – third worst in the NBA.
“The first thing we’ve got to do is collectively make a stand and just decide we’re going to bust through this thing,” Carlisle said. “It’s got to start defensively and on the boards. From there, the offensive things generally take care of themselves as long as we’re not throwing the ball all over the place. We’re just very disappointed, but we can’t make excuses. We’ve got to stick together and we’ve got to fight – and we’ve got to fight harder than we did tonight.”
The good news for Dallas is that even though they have a dismal record at 12-19 and have lost nine of their last ten games, it’s a long season and there is still time to turn it around. Much of the Western Conference is struggling to some degree, and the Mavs are just six losses behind the eighth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves. That said, if they don’t turn things around soon, their hole might be deeper than even the brilliant Nowitzki can overcome.
Rivers, Carlisle On the Hot Seat?
This is the time of year when NBA teams start to figure out which of their preseason predictions are likely to pan out, and which might need a nudge in the right direction via a change of personnel. Trades are the more frequent solutions for struggling teams, but if a team is falling radically short of expectations when the holiday season rolls around you can bet there’s a good chance a head coach might be sacrificed.
We’ve already seen two head coaches bite the dust this season, with Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown getting the axe in November and Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson hitting the pavement last week. There are two more teams that are conspicuous in their absence from the ranks of contenders heading into January, and some are starting to wonder if maybe the Boston Celtics’ Doc Rivers and the Dallas Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle might be next in line for premature contract cancellation.
There’s a difference between these situations, however, and it’s an important one to note. The Lakers and Nets spent a great deal of money bringing in big-name players, with All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash landing in Los Angeles while Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace received new contracts in Brooklyn. Those two teams were supposed to compete for championships based on their star-powered rosters, and their failures cost their coaches their jobs.
What’s happening in Boston and Dallas is hardly similar. Neither team landed any big-name additions over the summer, with Dallas missing out on primary targets Dwight Howard and Deron Williams and settling for a vast array of comparatively small-dollar veterans while the Celtics made Jeff Green their primary (re)addition while adding supporting pieces like Jason Terry, Darko Milicic and Courtney Lee around their core veteran trio.
Neither situation has worked out as well as management hoped, but in neither case is the head coach the issue. Both teams added eight or nine new faces to the mix this season, and the lack of cohesion has been clear in both cases. Dallas blew up their championship team before the rings were even ready for delivery and have gone from a team of veterans who understood what it takes to win to a group of mismatched pieces who either lack a clear understanding of what it means to compete at an elite level or are too old to do so. Carlisle has grown more and more frustrated with the situation, lately saying he might have to start suspending players if they don’t listen to what his staff is asking them to do and make it happen on the court.
The Celtics haven’t been quite as bad as the Mavericks, and they at least have some injury situations that could help the team in short order. Green is still getting back into NBA form after a heart condition kept him away from the game for months, and Avery Bradley is practicing with the team and nearing a return. He won’t cure all that ails the Celtics, but he’ll help. Even with their issues, however, the Celtics are still in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Firing a head coach isn’t easy, but it is a quick step management can take to show the fan base they are working to correct a situation that’s not going as expected. It may have made sense for the Lakers and Nets, but when it comes to Boston and Dallas, management has to take a long look at their own performance before jumping to hold their coaches accountable. It seems highly unlikely Rivers or Carlisle would pay the price for mistakes made at the front office level.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.