NBA PM: The Miracle Cure For Dallas
In the NBA today there are many amazing basketball players, many of whom we have labeled “superstars.” There is, however, another class of player, one that eclipses mere superstar status and requires other terms of definition. It can be argued that most NBA teams have superstars, certainly the playoff teams, but very few have players who redefine the game as we know it every time they step onto the basketball court. We’re talking about those players who are so incredible to watch that we find ourselves constantly thrilled by how they rise above the game and make amazing happen night after night on the NBA hardwoods.
We’re talking about that small handful of players who become bigger than the game itself . . .we’re talking about the icons of the NBA.
The city of Dallas lost an icon this week, and while Larry Hagman never played in the NBA, when people think of Dallas they generally think of J.R. Ewing, the character that Hagman played on the hit TV show Dallas, long before they think of any of the great sports figures who have brought glory to the city over the years . . .and there have been many. J.R. Ewing was the man people all over the world loved to hate, elevating Hagman to a status that very few entertainers share. Larry Hagman was (and remains, posthumously) an icon.
Last year TNT brought Dallas back to television, including the octogenarian Hagman, who had a hard time fitting his filming schedule in around his chemotherapy schedule. There were a lot of new faces on the show and even some old familiar ones, but at the heart of it all was Hagman. J.R. Ewing’s presence carried everyone else, made the new Dallas must-see TV, and he delivered his classic character in flawless fashion, cancer and all. The writing and the acting around him might not quite have been up to the standard of the classic soap, but because Hagman was a part of it the show was a hit, and was renewed for a second season.
Just a couple of blocks away from the Ewing Oil office building resides another icon, this one of the sports world. Dirk Nowitzki may not be the cultural phenomenon that Hagman is, but he is every bit as important to the success of the Dallas Mavericks as Hagman was to the success of his show. The cast around Nowitzki has changed so many times that one almost needs a lineup card to figure out which players are on his team every time a new season starts, but through it all Nowitzki has delivered hit season after hit season in a way that few players have done.
This year the Mavericks lost Nowitzki before the season even started, as a swelling knee wound up needing surgery to correct. The team, which was a championship squad a year and a half ago, still has a couple of familiar faces, but for the most part Mavs fans have had to get to know a new cast, and so far they’ve had to do it without the reassuring presence of Nowitzki to pave the way. That cast has struggled without him, losing seven of their last ten games and currently out of the playoff picture. Still, there is a very real sense that once Nowitzki returns the Mavericks will be right back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture.
He’s that good.
Like TV’s Hagman, Nowitzki is a once-in-a-generation performer. He’s not just a great basketball player; he makes amazing happen every single night. Every single night he makes the big plays that keep his Mavericks among the league’s elite. Just as people once wondered “Who Shot JR?”, Mavs fans sit on the edges of their seats every night waiting to see some incredible shot from Nowitzki.
The Mavericks are having a lot of problems right now, from a barrage of unforced turnovers to faulty fourth quarter execution, but help is on the way. Soon Nowitzki will once again don the jersey that will one day adorn the rafters of American Airlines Center and step onto the NBA stage to dazzle NBA fans once again. More than likely, the Mavericks will soon be back in the playoff picture and fighting for home court advantage as a result of Nowitzki’s triumphant return.
At the same time, the passing of Larry Hagman should serve as a reminder to us that few things are permanent. Nowitzki’s best basketball is behind him, and while the ending of a professional athlete’s career is hardly comparable to the end of a life, it is important for Mavs fans to appreciate what they have while they have it. No doubt the Mavericks’ MVP still has a couple of years of eye-popping plays left in him, but those should not be taken for granted.
When the end comes, no matter when it comes, it will seem to be all too soon . . .because true icons are few and far between.
Don’t Give Up On Derrick Williams
The pressure that comes along with being a high draft pick in the NBA is considerable. Fans expect those players to have an impact on their teams right away, and if they don’t, patience runs thin very quickly. That’s been the case with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Derrick Williams, who was the second overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft and also Minnesota’s highest draft pick in franchise history.
Far from being an impact player, Williams has struggled in a number of ways as he’s looked to find himself in the NBA. Prior to entering the draft, Williams was named Pac-10 Player of the Year after leading the NCAA in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage, averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. By all indication Williams was going to be an impact player in the NBA.
So far, it hasn’t worked out that way. For one thing, Williams was thought to be a power forward coming out of college, and with All-Star power forward Kevin Love locked in at the four it’s been difficult for Williams to get minutes there. He does have a good enough outside shot to play some three, but he’s struggled to defend that position or play small forward consistently well. It’s also important to note that the Timberwolves tried desperately to trade that pick, and subsequently offered Williams for Pau Gasol in a potential trade with the Lakers. They merely took the best available player, and Williams was the second-most coveted player in that draft class after top pick Kyrie Irving.
Williams’ introduction to the NBA has been challenging, to say the least, but he’s not allowing the situation to get him down.
“No, it doesn’t (wear on me),” Williams tells HOOPSWORLD. “I think a lot of people just try and put too much pressure on different guys, but you know it’s not like our team was bad when I got here. We have a good team. We started 4-2 and we’ve had a lot of injuries. Most of the time when you have such a high pick, the team is not very good, and you’re out there averaging twenty to twenty-five points but your team is losing. But, you know, we’re winning, and that’s the main thing. It’s not about stats, and all that. As long as we’re winning, everyone is happy.”
The Timberwolves were, indeed, winning early, even as injuries mounted, but struggled as player after player went down due to a variety of injuries. Still, even as Kevin Love was sidelined and Williams was filling in at power forward, Love spent a great deal of time mentoring his young teammate and trying to accelerate his growth process.
“Yeah, having Kevin, I’m in the same position that K-Lo was in when he was a rookie and a sophomore,” says Williams. “He had Al Jefferson. He learned from him for those couple years, and I’m in the same position he was where I’m learning from him now. It really does help me out, a lot, even though he’s injured, talking to me on the bench, ‘maybe you can do this, maybe you can do that.’ Little things like that, and it’s always good, especially when you have an All-Star, an Olympian, that just can help you day in, day out. Not just on the court, but mentally, him being here with us, the whole time, he’s not just helping me, he’s helping everybody. So I think that’s the good thing about him.”
Williams has also leaned heavily on newcomer Brandon Roy, who understands what it means to face high expectations due to draft position.
“That’s the big key – he’s really good at talking to you,” says Williams. “Just talking to us, in general. I ask him about anything, and he’s there to answer it for me. I think that’s what we lacked less year was a lot of veteran leadership. Not just on and off the court, but you could ask him about anything. And the biggest thing with me was with me being so young as a player, and him being a high pick as well and going through the up’s and down’s that he had to face early in his career to be where he’s at now. That’s really what I talk to him about, and he’s given me so much advice so far so that’s we lacked last year and I’m glad he’s on our team now.”
Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to look back at high draft picks and say that one team or another should have done something different. In the case of Minnesota, that’s not as easy to say. We’re talking about a draft class that saw Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Brandan Knight, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette round out the top ten. The Timberwolves didn’t need another point guard, so Kemba Walker was out, and while Valanciunas might turn out to be a better player than Williams down the line, Minnesota didn’t need another player who wasn’t coming over right away.
Derrick Williams was the right pick . . .but that doesn’t mean he’s a good fit.
Keep in mind, we’re talking about a second-year player who is now behind two long-term NBA veterans in Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko. The best option for him might, indeed, be a trade, but just because he hasn’t taken the league by storm off the bench in Minnesota doesn’t mean he won’t be a quality pro long-term. It just means the fit isn’t right … and plenty of things can happen to change that.
Are the Celtics Suddenly “Soft”?
All NBA teams go through phases as players rise to stardom and eventually make their way to retirement. Still, some teams manage to sustain an element of their persona even as the personnel changes, and one of those has been the Boston Celtics. Win or lose, they have long been one of the toughest, grittiest teams in the NBA, much like the blue collar crowd that turns out to cheer them on night after night.
Despite the additions of some very tough individuals this season, the Celtics have departed from their traditional tough approach, with even head coach Doc Rivers saying the team looks “soft.” Celtics star Kevin Garnett isn’t ready to accept the label.
“I don’t really want to say that,” Garnett said in an interview with WEEI in Boston. “I don’t really want to say that we are soft because as men, and where I am from, you don’t call another man soft. … But you’re right, we need to start the games with some more physicality. We gotta meet the physicality when we get to a high level. When you find yourself on the heels, you gotta meet it head-on. Coach’s assessment is what it is. You can take it as criticism or he is trying to make us better. It’s your call, but like I said, each guy has to look at himself in the mirror and believe he can do better.”
This comes in the wake of a brawl that occurred in a recent game between the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets, in which Nets forward Kris Humphries committed a foul that Garnett said was inappropriately rough.
“A little bit. A little bit,” said Garnett. “When you watch film on the dude, he’s always extra. I’ve seen him foul out. We watched film of the last time the last time we played in Brooklyn and he kind of gave Paul [Pierce] a similar type of foul — two hands, had something on it. Dude’s always been known to be out of control and he’s always tried to play the tough guy, or whatever, role. It was a little extra, but it comes with the territory, comes with the game. They’ve tried to add physicality to that team and I guess they’re trying to hold up to the whole Brooklyn mentality. Everybody knows that Brooklyn is known for being stern and firm and whatever, so I guess this is the new look of the Nets. It had something on it, but you either adapt or go home.”
After Humphries committed the foul, sending Garnett into the crowd, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo went after Humphries and has been suspended for his actions. Garnett wasn’t the least bit surprised by his teammate’s reaction.
“No, not at all,” said Garnett. “A lot of people that know Rajon know that he doesn’t like anybody messing with teammates or messing with brothers or messing with any kind of family. It’s pretty much been the code and been how it is since I’ve been here. This year’s no different from that. We have each other’s backs out there. We consider ourselves like family and like brothers. You’ve got to take care of each other. I was a bit surprised that it escalated to the point that it did, but it was just a big old pushing match at the end of the day. No punches or anything serious. It looks malicious at times. In the end, it was a bunch of pulling the jersey off — pushing match, nothing more or less than that.”
Asked if perhaps Rondo should have refrained from a response that will now likely cost his team games, Garnett said in the heat of the moment reactions can be hard to restrain.
“You gotta understand, man, this is high volume,” said Garnett. “This is high-volume sports here. Nothing is done at a conservative effort. Everything is high-end; the control is within. You see what you see and you react. I’m sure it’s easy for you to sit in your seat and watch the tape and see what it is when you are not in that situation. It’s very similar to being on the playground somewhere and you seeing a family member, or you have a kid or something, and you see it and you react to what we call ‘Monday Quarterbacking.’ You sort of get to look at it and then respond in that situation, without this or that. There’s nothing conservative about our game. We don’t wear a lot of pads. It’s a lot of whatever it is and you gotta take with it and meet the physicality when it comes and adapt to the game and that’s what that is. This league is about eat or be eaten.”
Coming into this season the Celtics were expected to challenge the Miami HEAT for Eastern Conference supremacy, having nearly eliminated them from the playoffs last season. Instead, they are 8-7 and barely clinging to the seventh seed. Garnett says it’s been tough early, but he expects the team to get it together eventually.
“It’s a process, man,” says Garnett. “We’re 15 games in. Are we playing the way we want to be? No. … Can we get better? Yes. Will we get better? Yes, because we don’t have a choice. Other teams are obviously playing good basketball right now. We still have four to five months to play and get better. One thing about us, since I’ve been here we’ve always been a working team. Nobody said this thing was going to be easy. Nobody said this thing was going to be simple. Nobody said that the things that were on paper were going to bond or join up as quickly as it should. In basketball and sports [in general], chemistry is one of the most underrated things that people don’t necessarily think about. That’s the situation here.”
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