March 26, 2012
Courtside: Bryant benched
By Frank Zicarelli, QMI Agency
Only with the benefit of experience and by taking a step back in the hopes of moving forward do you see a head coach sitting out a superstar in the fourth quarter of a close game.
Only in the me-first NBA where coddling is as part of the game as dribbling is a coach asked to defend his actions.
Mike Brown learned the coaching ropes sitting next to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio amid a basketball culture that demanded defence and selflessness.
When Brown coached the Cavs and LeBron James, Cleveland would appear in an NBA championship, but was far from championship-worthy, a team so reliant on James that virtually every personnel move turned disastrous.
With the Lakers, Brown has somehow been able to fly under the radar, in part because the Lakers have made more headlines off the court involving deals and non-deals that Brown’s on-court skills have yet to fall under the microscope.
And then Sunday night arrived with the arrival of the emerging Memphis Grizzlies to Hollywood where leading man Kobe Bryant sat on the bench.
“It’s his decision to make,” Bryant told reporters of Brown’s decision. “If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to contribute to it. I can’t sit here and criticize the decision.
“As leader of this ball club, it’s something I can’t afford to do. I’ve got to have his back. I’ve had his back the whole season. I can’t start doing something crazy now. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Bryant is too savvy, media wise and basketball wise, to compromise a coach who has preached defence from the moment he stepped into Phil Jackson’s shadow.
The way the Lakers are positioned, they have just as good a chance as any team to come out of the West, though the way Oklahoma City dismantled Miami and its Big 3 on the same night, the Thunder clearly has established itself as the West’s best.
What Brown did in sitting Bryant went far beyond sending any kind of message.
At this stage, Bryant is the last person any coach has to use as some kind of learning tool.
“I treat him the same as everybody most of the time,” Brown said. “Obviously he’s a superstar. And when you have superstars, you try to give them some leeway because they’ve been there and done that.
“But if I make a sub for somebody I don’t feel like I always have to go explain to them why I made a sub.”
On the same night, Dwyane Wade takes the grand total of zero field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter in OKC.
EX-RAPTOR WANTS TO COACH
Former Raptors point guard T.J. Ford is a volunteer assistant coach for the D-League’s Austin Toros. “I’ll look at it from another perspective,” Ford said of his foray into coaching. “I’m really starting at the bottom. I’m not sure where I’m headed. But I’m headed in the right direction.” Ford has a chance to carve himself a niche in coaching because he understands the game. And when he reflects on his career and the people he’s met, he’ll learn from each of his many NBA stops.
At no point in the history of the Raptors did the team feature as strong a point guard presence than Ford and Jose Calderon, two guys who brought two completely different traits to the table.
AROUND THE RIM
* It’s often been said that the best trades are the ones that aren’t made. In the case of the Raptors, the team was approached a few years ago by Boston looking to swap Rajon Rondo for Calderon.
From a pure skill perspective, Rondo is quicker, longer, more active on defence and more prone to attack the rim, while Calderon is much more stable and a far superior jump shooter.
It’s easy to see why the Raptors nixed the deal because Rondo’s personality would have been too strong for anyone to keep in check. In Boston, the presence of three future hall of famers have kept Rondo, for the most part, from completing going off the edge.
• Canada’s Tristan Thompson, who played his high school hoops in Brampton, got two tattoos during the NBA’s lockout. The power forward for the Cavs has one that reads: ‘G2S’ (Grind to shine), another that says: ‘I am my brother’s keeper.’ Explained Thompson: “Me being the oldest of four boys, I feel it’s only right with me having the opportunity of playing in the NBA to take care of my little brothers and make sure they’re all right. I’m putting that responsibility on myself.” Thompson is evolving after playing one year in college and is expected to carry a bigger load next season in Cleveland
* Under the department of class acts is Nate McMillan, recently fired from Portland who took out a full page ad in Sunday’s The Oregonian thanking fans. “There really are no words to express how amazing my time in Portland has been these past few years,” McMillan wrote. “Even though I was called Mr. Sonic from my days in Seattle, you greeted me warmly from the moment I arrived and showed me and my family love, respect and support.” Everyone expects McMillan to resurface next season because his reputation is that good.
KAMAN BIDING HIS TIME
Chris Kaman has been the Big Uneasy in the Big Easy, a basketball big who was basically told to stay away from the Hornets following his trade from the Clippers.
When a buyout was unable to be completed, Kaman was welcomed back, played well given the circumstances, and then watched as the NBA’s trade deadline came and went with no deal.
A free agent this summer who will have suitors, Kaman has no clue what the future holds.
“I just don’t know where I am going to be and what’s going to happen,’’ said Kaman. “I don’t know who the new owner may be, and he may not like me. They might want to move in a different direction.
“At this point, I can’t really say what’s going to happen.’’
There was talk that the Boston Celtics, who have used a revolving door of veteran stiffs since dealing centre Kendrick Perkins to OKC last season, were interested in Kaman.
There was talk Miami had shown interest.
Kaman isn’t athletic and he’s not an elite centre, but he’s more than serviceable and his services will be in demand once free agency begins this summer.
The only certainty is that he won’t be back in New Orleans.
FANS BOO TRAIL BLAZERS
Raymond Felton’s image has taken a pounding in Portland, where Felton showed up to camp out of shape and completely disinterested in buying into Nate McMillan’s game plan.
Everyone in basketball knows Felton helped poison the locker room and was a key reason why McMillan was sacrificed.
Recently, fans attending games at the Rose Garden has voiced their displeasure by booing the team.
The venom is heightened whenever Felton turns the ball over, which has become a common theme.
“Just stick with us,” Felton said. “The boos is about ... they just want us to win, to succeed. It’s not about the boos being a bad thing.
“They have every right to boo. We got our behinds handed to us in our building. That’s not acceptable. I can see why they are upset. I’m upset. Know what I’m saying? To the fans, just stick with us. We’re fighting.
“It’s been a crazy season, 66 games in a tight time. Just don’t give up on us.”
On the non-playoff teams heading into play this week, no team has a better home record than Portland.
Felton isn’t the only reason why the Trail Blazers have been a bust, but his presence has been a failure.
HILL PRACTICALLY AGELESS
No player has reinvented himself better than Grant Hill, whom many felt was too over the hill to have any impact on the game.
In his prime, which was cut short by injuries, Hill was a point forward who is now a shut-down defender capable of guarding as many as three positions.
Hill, 39, plans to return to the NBA next season and for years to follow, even if it’s not with Phoenix.
“I definitely think I can go another year, maybe two,” Hill said. “If the season were to end right now, and I would sort of evaluate the season, I would definitely want to come back and play next season.”
Playing on a Suns team with Steve Nash has rejuvenated Hill, who can still go off on offence in certain matchups.
If there’s a match in Phoenix, Hill, who way back was co-rookie of the year with Jason Kidd, wants to stay in the Valley of the Sun.
“I didn’t anticipate being healthy and feeling this good and still enjoying playing,” said Hill, who turns 40 in October. “I’ll keep going until I can’t go or it’s not fun any more. But it’s still a lot of fun.
“I’ve just learned to take care of myself, eat right and make the sacrifices necessary to go out and play,” Hill said.
Hill recently caught up with former Pistons teammate and current Detroit GM Joe Dumars.
“I used to look at him as old at 33, so I must be really, really old,’’ Hill added. “But I enjoy it. It keeps me young. I still compete.
“I can’t do what I could in my early 20s, but I still can go out and help the team and be productive.”
Last Friday, Hill scored a season-high 22 points in a road win over Indiana.
Dallas at Miami, Thursday
First visit to South Beach since Mavs won Game 6 to claim franchise’s first championship.
OKC at LA Lakers, Thursday
Huge statement game for Thunder, a team that can’t be stopped when players share the ball.
Chicago at OKC, Sunday
Another marquee matchup featuring two teams that may meet again with a title on the line.