MOSCOW -- Didn't I pick a fine fortnight to leave the country? First
It's true, as his former European colleagues were quick to remind me, that the Suns'
The Suns weren't able to run against the Spurs last spring, and that trend will continue against any title contender that plays disciplined defense. I say it's a mistake to focus on the Suns' breakneck style, because that style has not been available to them in the crucial moments of the playoffs. Hill's mid-range game was already beginning to change the way the Suns play offense; now Shaq gives them hope of winning in the half court, as well as in transition with Stoudemire and Nash still running on the break.
Arguably the best coach outside the United States, Messina is widely perceived as the leading candidate to become the first European to run an NBA franchise. The 48-year-old Italian, who coached his national team from 1993-97, has won two Euroleague club titles with Virtus Bologna of Italy and one with CSKA Moscow, where he is in his third season. His contract with CSKA expires this summer.
My Americans were
"And one day I was very happy because he told me, 'Look, I understand that here in Europe it's not important what kind of stats you put together, but how many wins your team has.'
"Then, unfortunately, in my third year there was some kind of problem and we part ways. In particular, we caught him again with his problem. The problem was we were doing random tests that were not official. So it became a war because the [fans] did not understand why we were losing him.'' In short, Bologna released Richardson but couldn't explain that he had failed a drug test. "And I was right in the middle of all this, and it was very difficult," Messina said.
"I would like one day to be in Spain.''
There are rumors that Messina could end up with the Spanish club Barcelona or Tau Ceramica next season, but he did not address that speculation.
It probably will depend more on the NBA team and the quality of your American colleagues, I tell him. "That's exactly right,'' Messina said. "So I will see. It's very important to see how this season will end and what will happen after the season.''
But it sounds as if he is leaning more in favor of coaching in Spain than in accepting an assistant coaching position in the NBA, which is the career sacrifice he would have to make in order to eventually become an NBA head coach.
In Europe, Messina noted, "The player knows he needs somehow to win with the team if he wants to be recognized. Even in football -- in soccer -- with
"I'm not blaming the NBA. It's just a difference. It's different. I don't know for a European coach how much easier it would be to adjust to this. Again, it all goes back to the organization that you might be working in.''
Is there a universal way of approaching players that can work either in Europe or in the NBA?
"I don't know if there is one way,'' Messina said. "I know the way that I can do it. I'm extremely straightforward. I have to say clearly what I think. If this is appreciated, then it's a good way to relate with people. If this is not appreciated because people would like only to have some kind of smooth level of conversation and information, this could be considered a bad way of relating to people. It does not depend on me, unfortunately.''
He will not change his approach if he ever does come to the NBA. "Absolutely [not], no matter what,'' he said. "The problem is that sometimes in our world, it's misunderstood, the fact that you are a straightforward person, because it means that you pass only bad information or tough information. But no, it's not true. I can tell you [in an] extremely quiet and extremely relaxed [way]. Sometimes I get mad for sure. But most of the time I'm going to tell you honestly, look, I believe this-this-this-this-this. The way you take it makes the difference. Unfortunately, we always assume that there is a lot of emotion involved in passing severe information or corrections.
"So I understand that sometimes people try to be nicer and try to pass you a lot of information in a smoother way. But from what I've seen in my life, in the end it's a waste of time. So I prefer to be like I am.''
A lot of coaches speak this language, but Messina has been backing it up with championship trophies for two decades. In the right situation, with an NBA team dedicated to winning, he could become Europe's answer to
"I must say that I'm lucky that I'm in a position that I can do this,'' Messina added. "But I did the same thing when I was young: I said I will do it this way, because if I try to be different, I will lose respect and I will lose right away.''
I'm starting to wonder if Dallas might be better off standing its ground. The Spurs are struggling with issues of age and injuries, while the Suns and Lakers and even the Rockets -- with the hiring of coach
For some time now the Spanish ACB has been the top national league in Europe, setting the standard for organization in its league office as well as among its top clubs. The Russian league, led by CSKA Moscow and a few other clubs, has become the highest-paying league outside the NBA amid reports that some players are making $8 million "net'' (which means the club takes responsibility for paying the player's taxes as well as providing him with a home and a car; a player making $8 million net in Europe will take home much more money than someone on an $8 million NBA salary who must handle all of those expenses on his own).
The Euroleague is easily the second-best league in the world behind the NBA, and far superior to the level of play you see in the NCAA tournament. If Euroleague teams had the opportunity, I'm convinced that clubs like CSKA and Panathinaikos of Greece would consistently outplay a few NBA teams such as the young Timberwolves or SuperSonics.
The Grizzlies were looking to get out from under Gasol's salary. For the Lakers, he'll be worth his $13.8 million if he boosts them into title contention as a secondary star to Kobe. For a small-market franchise like Memphis, Gasol wasn't providing enough star power to be worth the $49.4 million he is owed over the three seasons to come. Memphis received the same kind of package Minnesota settled for in its
I've changed my mind in a couple of spots since
Recent trades have forced me to come up with a new regular-season forecast for the West: