Kiki's NBA cuts (Dec. 31)
DEC 31, 2012 2:41p ET
Coach of the year talk
As we head into the new year, I thought it would be appropriate to look at coach of the year candidates. As I started to make my list, the usual suspects emerged as top candidates. The New York Knicks' Mike Woodson has done a marvelous job transforming the hot shooting Knicks into a defensive-minded team that currently leads the Eastern Conference. Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks has continued his team's winning ways even with the loss of James Harden. The San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich is probably the best overall coach in the NBA and has done nothing to disprove that this year. Golden State's Mark Jackson has brought a strong-minded defensive mentality to a surprisingly good Warriors team. Chicago's Tom Thibodeau has kept the Bulls relevant even though his centerpiece Derrick Rose is still out with injury. Miami's Eric Spoelstra continues to guide last year's champion, the star-studded Heat into another very good year. But the runaway candidate in my opinion is Los Angeles Clippers’ own Vinny Del Negro.
Del Negro's work began in the summer when he and Clippers point guard Chris Paul had a great deal to do with putting together this current Clippers roster. He has a great relationship with players and adroitly tapped Paul for who would integrate the best with the Clippers very solid returning core group.
The Clippers currently have the best record in the NBA at 25-6 and are on the longest win streak, currently 17 games, since the Boston Celtics won 19 a row from Nov. 15 to Dec. 23, 2008. Of the previous 22 teams to win at least 16 consecutive games, 17 of them advance to the NBA finals. Their 25-6 start also is the best start in franchise history by a significant margin. During the month of December, their average margin of winning was 15-plus points per game. The closest comparison to this current Clippers team is the 1980’s Showtime Lakers, at least according to Magic Johnson, who piloted those Pat Riley-led teams.
All the accolades for this great start have gone to the Clippers’ stars and to their exceptionally deep bench. But no team wins this many games without great game planning and great game management.
Del Negro has done a tremendous job putting his players in a position to succeed. The plays that they run are expertly designed to maximize his player’s exceptional talents. On a team with so many good players, he has done a very good job of managing minutes. His stars are well rested and his bench is happy. That is no easy task in today's NBA.
He has been very patient bringing the multitalented Lamar Odom back from the abyss. Managing his minutes carefully, he has preserved Odom’s confidence and made him a solid bench contributor. Del Negro has also dealt with the injuries of veterans Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill, who were supposed to be major contributors this year.
The Clippers have a defensive mentality that comes directly from their coach. With such a star-studded team, the wins would be there on some level. It is the way the Clippers are winning that is important. Every night they come out and play great defense. They currently lead the NBA in steals and at any moment in the game is poised to have a significant run sparked by a tremendous defensive effort.
The Clippers are hands down the most fun and exciting team that I have ever seen in my 30 years of NBA basketball. All these spectacular plays are backed by a solid foundation provided by their coach. None of the league-leading fast-break points or spectacular dunks would be possible without a great defensive game plan and consistent defensive effort.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Clippers assistant coaching staff. This includes ex-NBA players and veteran coaches Mark Iavaroni, Robert Pack and Bob Ociepka. Assistant coaches are major contributors to game planning and player development.
Del Negro may be the most underrated NBA Coach of the year candidate I have ever seen. If this current winning streak continues, that may not be the case much longer.
The Clippers owner Donald Sterling has, in the past, not always received the best of press. He has been blamed publicly when the Clippers have had poor records. So why has he not been getting more credit for putting this team together when the Clippers have the best record in the NBA?
He has okayed the acquisition and contracts of Odom, Jamaal Crawford and Matt Barnes. He has paid handsomely to keep Billups. He also just signed Blake Griffin to a five-year maximum extension. The Clippers currently have the 11th largest payroll in the NBA. From experience, I can tell you ownership many times has very little to do with the poor performance of the team. But they have a great deal to do with hiring the right personnel and spending the money to sign the right players. Both of which Sterling has done.
Clippers President Andy Roeser has always done an excellent job on the business operations side of the Clippers. These last couple years, he has expanded his role to help with basketball operations. He has also done a great job of making the Clipper games’ atmosphere one of the most entertaining in all sports.
So, maybe it is time to look at giving Sterling some credit in putting together a fabulous Clippers team.
A couple of weeks ago when I wrote my MVP article, I said that the MVP race came down to four candidates. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony were listed, in that order, as the top candidates for MVP honors this year. I did mention about 10 other names, including the Clippers Griffin and Paul.
Because of the Clippers undefeated December, their NBA longest winning streak and the NBA’s best record, move Paul to the head of the MVP list. Ever since he got to the Clippers, he has transformed the organization into a winning machine. This year he has taken his game and the Clippers to a whole new level. He became the third youngest to achieve 5,000 career assists on Dec. 19. He is second in the NBA with 283 total assists and averaging 9.4 assists per game. So far he has committed only 64 turnovers, which translates to first in the NBA with 4.4 assist to turnover ratio. He is also first in the NBA with 79 steals and leading in steals per game at 2.63. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the week of Dec. 17 - 23. If he is not the player of the month for the NBA, I would be shocked. Given his leadership and overall contribution to the NBA’s-best Los Angeles Clippers, he must be the top MVP candidate.
Fantasy tip of the week
As teams are starting to figure out where they are in the playoff picture, look for them to start adjusting the minutes of their players. The teams that are seemingly headed in the wrong direction may start to limit the minutes of their veterans and play their youth. Teams that are in the playoff race will start to solidify their rotations. Young players may get fewer minutes in these cases and veterans may start to play more. So as you're picking your players for the upcoming weeks, start to look at records of teams and where they fit into the playoff picture.
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