Death to the big 3 model

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I irrationally hate the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s weird because I was definitely part of the club last summer that wanted LeBron to go back home, in part because the good people of Cleveland deserve a championship. Logically I still feel that way, but I hated watching them in the early part of the year — the way Blatt and coach LeBron have used Kevin Love is still frustrating and I think that is carrying over to the Mosgov era.

I found myself rooting hard for Golden State in the game on Thursday and then LeBron went apes**** in the third quarter to allow the Cavs to pull away. Even though the Cavs are entertaining now, I’m going to root against them all playoffs. What I dislike is the way the Cavs were assembled — they were atrocious every season after LeBron left, lucked their way into three number one picks and only got two right but still convinced LeBron to come back and form a new big three.

Nothing would put the nail in the coffin of the big three era like a Golden State and Atlanta finals this year. Actually, any team in the west besides the Thunder would drive that point home.

Kevin Durant is my boy; I’ve loved his game since college. Westbrook, because I can’t ignore his amazing play, is growing on me. Sam Presti also put the Thunder together the right way — he got all of his top picks right, let the team grow and has assembled a pretty good supporting cast now: Steven Adams, Enes Canter, DJ Augustin and Kyle Singler (although I still dislike Singler and Josh McRoberts from their days at Duke; Oddly enough, I let that go for Kansas guys but it lingers for Duke white guys).

But if the Thunder are able to vault themselves out of the 8th or 7th seed, it tells the whole league — “You know what, everybody was right, you need at least one superstar.”

Atlanta, Golden State, Memphis, Washington, Toronto, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Portland and The Clippers are all assembled as teams not a big three and scrubs. Yes obviously Dirk and Duncan are lasting superstars, Curry and Thompson are amazing, and CP3 and Blake are just at the tail end of their prime together, but the narrative has never been — with any of those guys — this guy or tandem will carry you to a title without any help.

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This all relates to the tankapalooza going on in Philadelphia — the league’s most egregious but not only case of front-office designed tanking. Philly GM Sam Hinkie just traded his best player, Michael Carter Williams, for the Laker’s draft pick he is hoping will fall just outside of the top five. The fly in the ointment is that the Lakeshow are also aggressively tanking. So are the Knicks and kind of Boston. Hinkie also gave away KJ McDaniels, who people tend to like.

As a fan, I agree with what Hinkie is doing. There is a model throughout sports that shows that one of the best ways to build a title contender is to suffer a few years of awful. The Tigers in the early 2000s and recently the Royals have shown that this works. However, in baseball, you can easily recognize that teams are waiting for their young players to come around. The Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are on the precipice of those young pedigreed guys making an impact.

That has not been the case for the Sixers. Everybody thought MCW was a piece of the future and then they dumped him. Embiid and Noel are building blocks but Embiid has not played yet. I think what happens in this years playoffs could inspire Philly to speed things up.

They have their pick, and they have a pick from the Heat if it falls out of the top 10 (a safe bet). If the lottery works out the way it should based on record, Philly would have the No. 2 pick and pick No. 16. Let’s say they pick Emmanuel Mudiay from SMU at 2 (if they like him, it might be part of the reason to get rid of MCW) and Jerian Grant from Notre Dame (his brother is already on the team) at 16. With the two big guys and a veteran wing, that’s a good enough starting five (in an on paper, potential sort of way; I see Grant as a 2 in this scenario) to at least see how they play with each other. If they get the Lakers’ pick this year — in the 6 to 10 range — Kelly Oubre from Kansas makes sense and now you have a potential future starting five. That is unless the two bigs can’t play at the same time and then I would suggest drafting Frank Kaminsky with Miami’s pick.

But if a Thunder and Cavs finals happens, then its oh my God, we need at least two superstars, I could see Hinkie trading Noel for picks.

David Blatt and other coaching abominations

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Press Conference

Everybody, David Blatt is submitting a historically awful coaching season.

I’ll break it down:

  1. He was gifted the best player in the league who is either in his prime or very close. That player is also A. very unselfish, B. an extremely gifted defender and C. extremely coachable.
  2. Included under the Cavs preseason Christmas tree was the ultimate stretch four, who is a rebounding machine and a talented passer. Kevin Love is not that bad of a defender either.
  3. A talented point guard who can get into the lane whenever he wants.

Now the Cavs are certainly flawed:

  • Their bench is terrible.
  • Anderson Varajao is already (predictably) out for the season.
  • Dion Waiters was (predictably) a head-case, chemistry killer.

All of that said, the Thunder are 18-19. As you remember, they started the season without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and they play in the West, which is a million times better than the East. Their bench and overall depth are also terrible. The Cavs are 19-18 and their top three guys have been (mostly) healthy all year. What? How?

David Blatt is getting destroyed by Scott Brooks!

I admit that I fell into the same trap as everybody else. “I like that Blatt won all those games in Europe. I like that he’s bringing a different pedigree to the NBA.” Now that resume from Russia and Israel looks a lot less impressive. Like a gunfighter from Sweden.

I think I would have fired Blatt already. The whole, “well the 2011 Heat got off to a slow start” argument has worn off right? Everyone expected this team to be an offensive juggernaut. Maybe that was an unfair but this team should not be the fifth best team in the East.

This got me thinking of other historically awful coaching performances:

Sean Payton, 2014 Saints

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All they had to do was go 8-8 and they win the worst division in modern NFL history. And they couldn’t do it, with Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Jimmy Graham and three talented receivers. Sure, their defense was not good, but solid was all they needed. At the end of the season, they lost got crushed by the Panthers and beat handily by the Falcons at home. In the words of Will Ferrell, what the Hell happened! Is the Super Dome haunted?

Mark Richt, 2008 Georgia Bulldogs

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This team had Matthew Stafford, AJ Green, Knowshon Moreno, Mohamed Massaquoi (I know but on a college team with AJ Green?), Justin Houston (admittedly a freshman) and Geno Atkins. That team lost three games. Three.

Bob Stoops, 2008 Oklahoma Sooners

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This team had Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, DeMarco Murray, Trent Williams and Gerald McCoy. They made it to the National Title Game, I’ll give them credit for that, but they got beat pretty bad by Florida, 24-14 (a more lopsided game than the score would indicate). But this spot is more of a life-time underachievement award for Stoops. I believe people ripped on the Big 12 in part because loaded Oklahoma teams kept coughing up big bowl games. The 2006 team, with Adrian Peterson as a junior, had a lot of those same players (notably as freshmen) and lost three games — notably the famous Fiesta Bowl to Boise State.

Dusty Baker, 2001 San Francisco Giants

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Another life-time underachievement position because Baker also disappointed with very good Cubs and Reds teams. In 2002, people praised Baker for getting the Giants to the World Series. In retrospect, they should not have lost to the Angels. Oh my God, Barry Bonds hit .370 that season with 46 home runs, 100 runs and RBI each, had a staggering 198 walks for a .582 on base percentage and 1.381 ops. But that team wasn’t all Bonds all the time. They had Jeff Kent who hit .313, Benito Santiago (who had a decent offensive season), and Reggie Sanders (who wasn’t great but was a very solid player). They’re pitching staff had a top three of Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt and Livian Hernandez. Go back and look at the Angels roster.

But they lost to the Angels in seven games. What is inexplicable is the year before when they did not make the playoffs (2001 when Bonds hit 73 home runs).

Bobby Cox, any year in the ’90s that wasn’t 1995

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Now that It’s official a certain fact needs to be shouted from the rooftops. THE BRAVES TOP THREE PITCHERS WERE ALL HALL OF FAMERS. Um, that hasn’t really happened before. If this the rest of the Braves team was a bunch of castoffs and journeymen or if they could only keep Maddux, Smoltz and Glavin together for a couple years, I would give Bobby Cox a break. People give Cox a break because they won one World Championship, but give any other strong manager of the era that team and he would win at least two. In particular, the losses to the 1993 Phillies and 1997 Marlins seem particularly egregious in retrospect.

Bill Self, 2014 Kansas Jayhawks

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Bill Self had the best two players in college basketball — Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid — and they lost in the second round of the tournament to Stanford. In case you’re checking, Stanford had zero NBA players that year. The game was also in St. Louis, which I’m sorry to say is a partisan Kansas crowd. I don’t care that Embiid was hurt. Self still had the best five players in the game. Every year that goes by the 2008 National title win looks flukier and flukier. (Also, screw Kansas.)

John Calipari, 2010, 2011 and 2013 Kentucky Wildcats

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There’s been a significant amount of revisionist history foisted on the public these days about John Calipari. Pundits have been praising Calipari for his X’s and O’s work, in game coaching and that his teams play hard. They even give him credit for convincing players to sacrifice minutes. I believe this talk is inspired by the fact that the 2014 Wildcats might go undefeated and thus become the greatest college basketball team of all time. The coach of that team has to be an all-time great right? All of those people need to chill out because Kentucky should have won five titles in a row. Were Coach K, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino or Brad Stevens had been given this much talent, he would have won at least twice by now. I believe Calipari is the best recruiter of all time but he also has a prodigious history of leaving flaming bags of poop at two different programs in the form of NCAA sanctions as he walked out the door to a better job.

Mike Brown/Mike D’Antoni, 2012 Lakers

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If you think I’m being unfair to one coach or the other, Brown could easily make this list for his job manning the Cavs during the first LeBron era and D’Antoni did a horrible job with the Knicks. However, this season went so poorly that the emotional stress convinced Dwight Howard to flee the sinking Lake Show ship like it was on fire. The raging dumpster fire that is the 2014 Lakers owes its inception to these two guys.

Scott Brooks, Thunder 2011 to Present

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It’s not Scott Brooks fault that the Thunder traded James Harden. It’s a move that looks more perplexing every day, especially when Harden should win the MVP for the Rockets. Still, he’s had three of the top 25 players in the league, including two in the top 10 the past five years and has no hardware to show for it. The Spurs have made the finals twice in this span and the Thunder happen to be the worst match up for the Duncanettes.