We couldn't come up with a single issue to hash out this week so how about some quick-hitters from your pals Flanns and Zills. Beats NBA vs. NCAA hand-wringing.
FLANNERY: Hey, it's March Madness time. Don't worry, we're not going to talk about college ball since we do that every year around this time. Every year, the college bros get all pissy about how we look down on them, and every year the NBA cool kids get all high and mighty about how the pro game is superior ... and I just can't do it again, Tom. Everyone should like what they like and not worry about it.
You know why we talk about college ball at this time of year? Because there's nothing happening in the NBA. We've already sorted out all the big regular season questions and we're all just waiting for the playoffs to answer the rest. At this point in the year, the season is just kind of there, man. Sorry for not feeling inspired. What's on your mind?
ZILLER: Can we talk about Rajon Rondo? You remain the nation's foremost Rondologist from afar, but the bloom's off for me. It began with the awful slur he leveled at Bill Kennedy, but I'm talking more about his play. He's a bizarro Ricky Davis this year! He's searching out assists constantly. Whether he's trying to win the assist title, break some triple-double record or build up a stronger free agent résumé, it's glaring. Even in end-game situations, he's hunting for those final stats instead of, in some cases, cinching up a win.
The idea was that Rondo would soothe DeMarcus Cousins' agita and unify he and Rudy Gay. Needless to say, that hasn't happened. The bad news is that people around and in the organization think he's had a good season! They might give him a long-term, high-dollar contract this summer after one of the most empty-stats seasons in memory.
The weirdness never ends with this guy.
FLANNERY: This has been the Rondo Experience for the last few years. Years ago, you needed advanced metrics to capture the elements of what made him so good -- check out his 2008-09 season. What's amazing now is that he's laser-focused on building up the one counting number that has been discounted the most by the analytical revolution. Has any other player regressed from statistical darling to numbers pariah like he has?
Maybe Melo can recruit him to the Knicks and take you out of your misery.
Speaking of! Wow, are they in tough shape. Kurt Rambis is still not a good coach, to the surprise of absolutely no one outside of Phil Jackson's Enso. Not that it matters all that much with that roster. We're now two years into Jackson's tenure and I still don't know if he's got a clear vision of how he wants to build this team. Drafting Kristaps Porzingis was a game-changer and signing Robin Lopez was solid but the rest of his moves have left me underwhelmed. That rambling stuff about an underground process to find a point guard that he doesn't even recognize is important in this era is troubling.
They've got to trade Melo this summer, right?
ZILLER: As they did in Sacramento, things went from surprisingly pleasant to gnarly real fast in New York. I'm surprised at how fast Phil turned on Derek Fisher, salacious rumors aside, and Rambis is proving again he's not cut out to coach promising kids. (One funny subplot from this season: when people came out of the woodwork to say he got a raw deal in Minnesota and he'd prove it with the Knicks. Ha!)
It's probably time to find Melo a new home. He's still quite good and he's under contract, which is especially nice given the cap boom. The problem is that he has a no-trade clause and he seems fully comfortable losing in a city he loves. (That's not a dig. At that salary and with his interests, I'd pick NYC over most NBA towns too.) Finding Melo a new home that suits him and New York's asset needs could be tough.
Speaking of Rambis, any coaching jobs you're watching in the final month for clues? I'm starting to think Earl Watson might hang around. I'm also a little concerned about a potential shakeup in New Orleans. Firing a coach after one season isn't close to unprecedented.
FLANNERY: I have no earthly idea what the Pelicans will do this summer but I'd cast my gaze toward the front office in that situation. I've defended Dell Demps in the past, but his moves have been brutal since firing Monty Williams. Between extending Omer Asik and sitting tight at the trade deadline, I don't know what they're trying to do, but the AD clock is ticking and they don't have time to waste. Were it up to me, I'd clean house upstairs, keep Gentry on the sidelines and try to build a team around AD with Gentry's style in mind.
I've got my eyes on Washington as most people do. Given the talents and ages of John Wall and Bradley Beal, that's a low-key good coaching gig. That Memphis/Minnesota situation demands attention as well. We talk about this all the time, but so many weird things in this league come back to shaky ownership situations.
Oh hey, how about Peter Holt retiring? He was the platonic ideal of a good owner: hire smart people, leave them alone, sign the checks and be a visible fan during games. That doesn't sound so hard, so why does he stand out as an anomaly?
ZILLER: I'd tend to agree with you about New Orleans, but we know how much GMs love to hire their own coaches. This disaster isn't on Gentry, but he also hasn't exactly distinguished himself, you know?
Holt is interesting for two reasons. One, he handed the reins to his wife, not the next generation. This never happens in sports. So I'm fascinated to see what Julianna Hawn Holt will do differently than Peter, if anything.
Second, I wonder how much we credit Holt for not meddling given he's had the best front office and coach combo since the '90s Bulls. I'm not sure how one would even meddle with Buford and Pop! It'd be interesting to see how Holt would be considered if he hadn't struck gold with the current regime (just as imagining alternate realities where Tim Duncan leaves for Orlando in 2000 leaves us wondering about Pop). Like the Spurs themselves, Holt may not be a good case study because the situation is so unique.
Any award drama you're paying attention to? Do you have a read on Coach of the Year?
FLANNERY: Plenty of owners have screwed up favorable situations in the past so I'm inclined to continue holding Holt in high regard. It's all kind of whispered knowledge because the Spurs are so secretive on the details, but they are far more progressive than most organizations. There's luck in the form of the lottery -- and they have had more than any other franchise -- but there's also intelligence in the form of maximizing advantages and they do that better than anyone.
Ah yes, awards. Coach of the Year is going to be the most divisive vote. I can think of a half-dozen outstanding candidates off the top of my head: Terry Stotts, Steve Clifford, Brad Stevens, Dwane Casey, Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr/Luke Walton. It's like the MVP vote because people get angry if you slight their guy. I lean toward Stotts/Clifford/Pop as my top three but I could be swayed by any of the other choices. You have a favorite?
Outside of that, All-NBA is going to be nuts. The lack of quality, healthy centers is going to skew the results and put guys like Chris Paul and Draymond Green on the second team. Just look at the guards! A bunch of really good players are going to be left off the ballot.
ZILLER: Pop is my COTY with Casey a strong No. 2. As a consolation, my nonexistent Executive of the Year nod goes to Masai Ujiri, in part because he kept Casey on. He turned out to be just the coach these guys needed all along. I wonder how many votes Brad Stevens picks up.
All-NBA should be a riot; DeAndre Jordan is probably gonna get a center nod, because that's the kind of season it's been for centers. (Or maybe Hassan Whiteside!) Perhaps Anthony Davis can earn one of those nods to open up a forward spot. Or --novel idea -- we give defense the respect it deserves and give Tim Duncan a spot, a fitting coda as his era comes to close and Kobe leaves.
FLANNERY: Brad will get a lot of votes and you don't have to convince me that he's a terrific coach. I watch him night in and night out. But I think in the rush to canonize Stevens, we've lost sight of the fact that the Celtics actually have a bunch of good players. It's not like he's taking D-League level talent to the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas is obviously terrific, but you can go up and down their rotation and find players who could contribute just about everywhere. His genius is putting them in situations that maximize their talents and he's very good at that.
Still, I think they've achieved about what the metrics predicted they would achieve. Pop's overhauled a very successful team and made it better. That's amazing. Clifford revamped the offense and maintained their defensive integrity. As for Stotts, he lost four starters, including an All-NBA forward, and still has a top-10 offense. No one had Portland in the playoffs -- except maybe Damian Lillard. You mentioned Casey and he's been terrific, but we still haven't mentioned the Warriors' coaching staff that may set the record for wins! That's quite a list.
I'm with you on Duncan. Here's another interesting one to ponder: Does Draymond Green play enough center minutes to qualify?
ZILLER: Let's not get carried away with expanding the center pool. DeMarcus Cousins is already mad enough.
FLANNERY: It always comes back to the Kings, doesn't it?
ZILLER: I REALLY wish it could be different.
FLANNERY: At least there's always something to talk about.
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Final Meeting: Kobe and LeBron face off for the last time
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