Mailbag: America the beautiful?

BY foxsports • September 15, 2010

Throughout the world championships, you ragged on Team USA and focused on their problems and weaknesses. Then when they won you talked about how great they are. Make up your mind, Charley! – J. J. Cawood, Hollywood, Calif.

What you call ragging, I call objective criticism. Because of my experience both on the court and on the bench, I’m fortunately able to see games from a coach’s perspective. Instead of looking at Team USA (or any other team, for that matter) with a fanatical passion that refuses to see or read anything that reveals imperfections in one’s heroes, I seek to point out both strengths and flaws that many casual aficionados might miss. With Team USA specifically, all I tried to do was honestly explain what aspects of their game needed improvement. Since no team (or player) is perfect, it’s always beneficial to have a balanced view. The whole point is to offer a realistic and in-depth analysis of what’s going on between the lines — hoping to increase fans’ understanding and enjoyment of the proceedings.

Apparently, you overlooked all of the positives that I discussed. Moreover, I absolutely refuse to subscribe to a jingoistic adoration of this team simply because they wore red-white-and-blue uniforms.

Once the games were done and won, however, because the Americans' weaknesses were overcome by their strengths and because the players conducted themselves in a mature fashion, there was no longer any reason to discuss the team’s shortcomings.

Suffice it to say that a squad mostly composed of NBA almost-All-Stars beat several relatively inferior international teams. This doesn’t diminish their achievement, but puts it into a realistic framework. Against better competition — like the contestants in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics — the flaws inherent in this version of Team USA might easily have been its undoing.

The Timberwolves have been taking flak for telling their fans that they’re not going to have anything close to a winning record this season. Shouldn’t at least a dozen other teams admit the same thing? What’s wrong with honesty? – Toby Orvieto, Bismarck, N.D.

Honesty doesn’t sell tickets. Except maybe in Minneapolis.

While this admission will undoubtedly come to pass, the most damaging result would be to the players. There’s a difference between understanding they might lose 60 or more games and getting up for a game at hand. This profound reduction of expectations might cause the team to lose games even before the lights switch on — games they might conceivably have won with a more positive attitude.

Why is there such a dearth of big men who are legitimate threats to score in the low post? When I started watching the NBA in the early '90s, on any given night I could see guys like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning — and even “lesser” bigs like Vlade Divac, Rik Smits and Kevin Duckworth— wheeling and dealing points in the low post. But these days, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Al Jefferson and Andrew Bogut seem to be among a short list of post-up scorers. Why is this? And what does it mean for the future of the game? – David Ramil, Miami

First of all, blame the media for highlighting three-point shots, dunks and blocks. When was the last time you saw a drop-step featured on any sports show?

Secondly, the influx of jump-shooting 7-footers has also served to take the focus away from interior play. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani, Mehmet Okur, Spencer Hawes, Amar’e Stoudemire, Mikki Moore, Brad Miller, Nenad Krstic, et al, are only effective when they’re facing the basket. It’s certainly easier to shoot long- or even mid-range jumpers than to bang around in the low post to establish and maintain position — plus the foot and body work necessary to create shots down there are difficult to master.

Thirdly, the modern rule changes allow pivot players to be freely double-teamed, even when they don’t have the ball. Moreover, zone defenses cramp the necessary interior operating space.

Finally, very few high school coaches have the expertise to turn gangly young bigs into dreadnaughts in the paint. Ditto for summertime AAU coaches, also for the vast majority of college coaches and too many NBA assistants as well.

Young big guys see the world differently than ordinary runts do. They’ve grown up under the pressure of having to be as physically coordinated and emotionally mature as their size would indicate. And, because they’ve always literally stood out in their peer groups, they’ve never gotten away with any foolishness or clumsiness. As a result, they’re more liable to be sensitive and self-conscious and require a coach who can empathize with them.

In the future, I can see the problem getting worse.

I think it’s nuts that Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury both may be playing in China next season. They’ve still got game! For sure, they’re better than most of the guards currently in the NBA. Any chance either will return to The League? – Alejandro Nugget, San Antonio

At age 35, Iverson’s legs are going-going-and-almost gone. This makes him have to rely even more on his perimeter shooting than ever before. Too bad that, next to his recklessly gambling defense, shooting happens to be the worst part of his game. Unfortunately, his ego is still as enormous and as active as it ever was, so he insists on not only starting in the NBA, but also on controlling the offense.

AI could conceivably be useful to an NBA team if he could submit to being a sixth-man scorer, one who would only play in a pair of eight-minute stretches per game. However, with his need to be in the spotlight, it’s difficult to see this ever happening.

Starbury is finished in the NBA because he’s a poor imitation of a point guard, can’t defend, grouches when he doesn’t get the bountiful playing time that he thinks he deserves, is a poisonous presence in the locker room and is an all-around knucklehead.

Yet he appears to be happy playing in China. Perhaps the local eateries there have developed a special dish for his enjoyment — prawns in Vaseline sauce.

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