Countdown: In postseason hoops, Euroleague Final Four trumps all
While the NBA is beginning its postseason, the Euroleague is culminating its tournament in what has been an eventful year.
"I think he has improved in two things," said coach
The more significant upgrade has been Rubio's floor leadership. Last season with Joventut Badalona -- a smaller Spanish club also based in Barcelona -- he had pushed the tempo ceaselessly, but that recklessness wouldn't do for the championship team he now leads. He has become a more disciplined point guard for Barcelona.
"Sometimes he was not taking into account the value of the ball and knowing the moment of the game," Messina said of Rubio's former style. "Now in the Euroleague, he knows when is the moment to try something and also when it is better to be safe and control the situation -- and he has done this without losing his killer instinct."
The discipline of contending for the biggest championship outside the NBA has toughened Rubio. In the Euroleague's best-of-five quarterfinals, Barcelona surrendered home-court advantage with a Game 2 loss to Real Madrid.
"[Rubio] was not a factor in the first two games," said Messina, who then watched Rubio respond by leading Barcelona to victories in Games 3 and 4 at Madrid. "He was the key. He was able to handle the pressure and he showed he has the patience to know when to step up."
American executives will continue to debate whether Rubio has enough athleticism to star in the NBA. While the 19-year-old has become a household name for European hoops, the hype does not dwarf the substance. What can no longer be doubted is his leadership and resolve to win -- a drive that was responsible for Rubio's decision to remain in Europe. Messina believes Rubio was not turned off by the wintry climate of Minnesota so much as he was concerned with the Timberwolves' long-term plan to rebuild, with several losing seasons likely to come.
"I understand how it is for the best players here in Europe," Messina said. "After playing so many years to win games, it is difficult for them to go to [an NBA] team and think maybe I will lose 45 games out of 82 and I will never have a chance to win. It is very difficult for them to think maybe in four years we will have a shot. Even for myself as an observer, I see the New York [Knicks'] situation where for two years they cleaned house and made space under the cap -- and I don't know how they can handle that. For me, it takes inhuman patience to do that. I respect it is part of your mentality, your world, but over here people could not do that -- not coaches, not players, not fans."
"I read an interesting quote by his coach [
Childress had a frustrating "rookie" season in Greece after leaving the Hawks in 2008 to sign a three-year, $20 million contract. He averaged a disappointing 8.8 Euroleague points last year, and then, to his credit, appraised himself with painful honesty.
"I wasn't really the focus of their plans last year," he said. "I was kind of an additional piece, and they wanted me to learn and to grow into the system. It's different in the NBA when you're the highest-paid player -- whether it's
Expatriate American players often play with one foot in Europe and one foot in the NBA -- they think of Europe as a penance to be paid before they can return home. This season Childress stopped thinking about how things used to be for him in the NBA, and he clearly devoted himself to the European style. The result has been a 15.1 points Euroleague average and a more dynamic role in the offense.
"It's a common misconception that people think the basketball is weaker over here, that it's the J.V. league," he said. "That's definitely not the case. I did have to prepare for it physically by getting stronger, and also with my game, by working on more specific things tailored for the European game.
"After the season I watched some film and broke down parts of my game that I felt I could work on. One of them was my shooting. One was also being able to make a move on a second defender -- I didn't have any issues getting by one guy, but it was the second guy coming over and being able to make a pass or a move on that guy. And also the pick-and-roll and being able to read those better, because that's pretty much all we run."
Childress has also adapted to the lifestyle realities of European basketball. When we spoke by phone last month, he had checked into the team hotel following a five-hour bus ride for a domestic-league game against Greek rival Trikala. He now takes it for granted that police in riot gear will surround the edges of the court during each game.
"Last year, I saw police getting beat up by fans and it was crazy, it was really like a riot in the middle of a game," he said. "In the NBA, you get booed a few times, but it's nothing compared to getting cell phones and cameras and lighters and coffees thrown at you. The only thing that has come close to hitting me was a roll of receipt paper. You know, the kind you see from a cash register. They'd thrown that and it came close to hitting me, and that would have hurt.
"They've shot flares on the court a few times, and you get the firecrackers still, the M-80s. All my teammates said you always run away from [a lit firecracker on the court] or kick it, because I think some [player's] finger got blown off one time.
"During the games they throw stuff at you, they're trying to spit at you, they're doing everything to try to get to you. But off the court, I haven't had too many issues. Maybe some opposing fans have keyed my car a few times; I was at the grocery store and I came back out and someone had keyed a big, long stripe down the side and the hood. If it was my car, I would have been a little angrier, but it's a team-issued car, and I'm sure the team is used to that happening."
As part of his contract, the club has provided him with a Volvo SUV and a townhouse. "It's something I would purchase in the States," he said. "Nice size, nice pool. They really took care of me."
He also likes playing for the Angelopoulos brothers, who control Olympiakos basketball. "They're true basketball fans," he said. "One of the brothers is in the gym all the time working out. He plays in a men's league. They truly enjoy the game and being around us and supporting the team. You see them during the games cheering or shouting at the referees just like
American fans may have trouble believing this, but players in Europe feel more pressure to win each night than stars of the NBA do. "They treat every game like a playoff game [here]," Childress said. "We stay in a hotel on game days because they don't want anything to interfere with the mind or the performance.
"Last year, we lost a game and I tried to go eat afterward, and it was like I was walking around like a crazy man -- like, what is he doing out when he should be home sulking? The type of fan support obviously is great, but it can have its drawbacks, too. We went back to our training facility one time after we lost a game and [discovered] some things had been broken and the fans had kind of rioted. On the court, you try to focus on the game, but if you're not playing well, they'll let you know. I've gotten used to it, but last year it was a tough adjustment."
Consider how much one year in Europe did to elevate and harden Bucks rookie point guard
But he insists he hasn't decided whether to stay with Olympiakos for a third year, or to try to return to the NBA before the anticipated lockout of 2011.
"We feel comfortable with Sporting Bet and our relationship with them," Euroleague communications director
Sporting Bet trades on the London Stock Exchange. "They have alarm systems installed in their betting systems, so that when they notice sudden peaks or algorithms that don't make sense, they freeze the betting," Haack said. "Betting on the games is an accepted part of European culture. In Spanish football [soccer], there has always been some kind of lottery or betting system -- that has always existed in Spain and a lot of countries in Europe."
European soccer has been dealing with a gambling scandal based in Germany and other countries, but basketball has yet to generate similar big-money interests.
When NBA referee
The Euroleague hopes its partnership with Sporting Bet will enhance interest in basketball by encouraging fans to literally invest in the games and therefore care more about the outcome. The bottom line -- despite the official denials -- is that all leagues probably want fans to bet on the games. The NFL is so popular in part because of betting; the hysteria over the NCAA tournament has everything to do with the entire nation gambling on the 64-team pool. If your games aren't attracting wagers, it means your league is irrelevant and in trouble. The example of the Euroleague's breakthrough partnership with an online gambling partner was one reason NBA commissioner
I've said this before: The Euroleague Final Four is the world's best basketball event. It combines the best of March Madness with a more fanatical fan base and a higher level of talent than the NCAA can imagine. The NBA Finals surely operate at a higher level of talent, but they fall short of the passion and unpredictability created by Europe's Final Four.
While Barcelona has been the top team in Europe and will be an overwhelming favorite, my hunch (with thanks to an educated adviser) is that Olympiakos will prevail based on the athleticism of Childress.
I can't imagine the league fining Noah for exercising his freedom of speech, just like the league won't discourage you from trying to boo him out of the building. Don't you wish players would speak as freely as Noah? Every series needs its villain, and you have to give Noah credit for coming up with his best performance (25 points and 13 rebounds in Game 2) after exposing himself. I'm also pretty sure you Cavs fans are going to have the last laugh in this case.
All of these rules are meant to snuff out fights before they can start. Those Phoenix suspensions reminded players once and for all to stay on the bench when trouble starts on the court. Likewise, the ruling on Garnett is designed to punish an elbow to the head as if Garnett had delivered an actual punch -- the "victim" shouldn't feel any need to retaliate knowing that the NBA will punish the aggressor severely and swiftly. So while Stoudemire's offense may appear gentle compared to Garnett's, both rulings are concerned mainly with the potential aftermath.
While we're talking about these kinds of fines, I want to bring up Stern's threat Thursday night to severely punish coaches and players who criticize referees. "It would be whatever a day's pay is and then two day's pay and then a week's pay," Stern told reporters in Oklahoma City. "And if someone wants to try me in the rest of these playoffs, make my day. Because the game is too important, and I don't think people who trash it are respecting it."
I understand Stern's view that coaches are damaging their own product by questioning the integrity of the officials and the NBA, but I'm sure he also understands the frustrations of the coaches and players are based in part on their view of refereeing as a murky and mysterious area of the game. Some of their criticisms of the referees are spun cynically in hopes of gaining advantage in the next game, but other criticisms are sincere.
While Donaghy adamantly denied fixing games -- which you can choose to believe or not -- many of his disparagements of NBA officiating rang true. Instead of (or in addition to) punishing coaches and players for venting their sincere frustrations, wouldn't the league be better served by showing in a transparent way how referees do their jobs and how the league office manages those referees on a daily basis?
I am 100 percent certain that public scrutiny of the NBA's officiating department would lead to improvements, as the league would be held accountable for its practices and be forced to consider the insight and suggestions of
You just recited the Knicks' pitch, Lenny. Maybe they should hire you.
If LeBron sees it your way, then Cleveland is in trouble. But the truth is he knows more about the long-term potential of his own franchise than anybody. I'm guessing he also has learned the hard way just how long it takes to build an NBA championship team from scratch, and that it's not just about talent but also girding the players to alter their games to the needs of the team, especially at the defensive end.
There is no chicken-and-egg argument to this. Winning has to come first for him. The real power and money won't come until he wins multiple championships. He needs to win in the biggest way, and where is that most likely to happen?
It's important to know that Bryan sent this before the Lakers lost Game 3 on Thursday at Oklahoma City. But there was reason to question them even before that loss. They needed all of
By comparison, the Cavaliers aren't dealing with as many questions, though possibly as much criticism. Chicago has given them a tough time over the last couple of games, but I envision the Cavs responding and improving over their first-round series because that has been their trend throughout this season. The Lakers are a different story. They're still the favorites in the West, without a doubt, but I think they're going to face more of a struggle.
Wade understands the importance of playing for a boss who will push him.
"I've always had it from
"The relationship here works in Miami. It's been a great relationship. It's not always going to be rosy, but if you can have many more good times than bad, that's good. That's what we've had here. ... We all respect each other, and that's a recipe for success."
"When I came in [for the 2003 draft] and I was doing my interviews for the teams, I said, 'I'm not a point guard, I'm a basketball player.' That means I can do whatever you ask me to do, and right now they ask me to make plays for my teammates, they ask me to score, to rebound, to defend -- they ask me to do all those things. And when I came in, that's one thing I said: 'You're going to get somebody who can play the game.' I'm not a typical '2,' a typical '1' -- I'm a basketball player.
"We knew it was going to be a struggle throughout the year because we're still a young team. On paper, we're not as talented as those other teams, but you know what? Just stay with it, stay with it, and there's a part of our schedule like everyone in the league has where we can put a run together, and we put a darn good run together [in winning 18 of their final 22 regular-season games]."
Both of these came from an expert in the Western Conference on Thursday morning.
That's why the decision to put Durant on Bryant in the fourth quarter of Game 3 worked so well for Oklahoma City -- not only was Bryant troubled by Durant's length, but the Thunder were more complete offensively without Sefolosha on the floor. The problem is they can't afford to risk foul trouble for Durant by having him guard Bryant the entire game.
"Having said that, my fear for Utah is that the Nuggets are going to just wear it out. Utah is down two starters [forward
The Blazers have lost Games 2 and 3, but even after their 108-89 clobbering in Portland on Thursday -- the Suns led by 31 in the first half -- my brother believes adamantly in a Game 7 upset.
Forget Joe the Plumber; he's Scarlett O'Hara.