Yet they remained, through the first half, an average offensive team this year. This, too, was no surprise to Morey. "Former players for coach [
It could not have been easy, after years of running plays to the precise choreography of
"You can get into habits where you're running the same things -- handoffs and options out of it -- that make you easier to guard,'' Morey said.
That's one of the reasons why Morey dealt
Both charges were dismissed, but they contributed to the impression that Alston was on the way out from Houston. Adding to that impression was the offseason arrival of point guards James,
Morey offers a different take while noting that Alston averaged an exhausting 44.1 minutes during the Rockets' seven-game loss in the first round to Utah last spring. "We had a meeting after the season, and Rafer said he couldn't keep that up,'' Morey said. "He said he needed help at the spot. Maybe in his mind we brought in too much help. But he studied tape before training camp, came in in his best shape and made it clear from Day One that he should be our starter.''
"The good thing about those two incidents was that the team knew it was uncharacteristic of myself to even be involved in those things,'' said Alston, 31. "They didn't react by trying to waive me or trade me. They stuck with me, but they also brought in a lot of competition. I told them they were going to be amazed at what kind of condition I got myself in this summer. No matter where I went, even on vacation, I took someone with me to get in a lot of running full court.''
Alston credits the Van Gundy brothers with preparing him for this season, his ninth in the league and his best yet. He looks back to 2003-04 with
"That year in Miami made me a more accountable basketball player,'' Alston said. "Stan made me understand what hard work could do ... also he was working on me keeping my temper.''
Jeff Van Gundy persuaded Alston to devote the 2006 offseason to improving his three-point range. "He made me stay in the gym all summer because it would be beneficial not only to myself but to the team if I could consistently knock down the shot,'' Alston said. "Now when I'm missing, I'm able to figure out what I'm doing wrong -- raise my arc, get low with my legs, get under the shot.''
Alston is aware that many still think of him as an unreliable point guard dating back to his legendary New York streetball days. But the numbers expose a new truth. Over these last two years in Houston, he has averaged a steady 13.1 points and 5.5 assists. During the Rockets' recent 22-game winning streak, he bloomed to 15.7 points and 6.6 assists.
"I'm doing more scoring in this stretch than I've done in my career,'' said Alston, who had a career-high 31 in a win against the Lakers last Sunday. "You get older, you become smarter: managing the game, understanding how to run a team. And I've improved at finishing at the rim over the big guys. I'm not afraid to take the hit.''
"The NBA, it was my dream since I'm a little kid,'' said the 27-year-old Scola, the MVP of the Spanish league two of the past three seasons. "As time goes by and you get older and more important in the team and in European basketball, you've got to start looking at the whole picture and being happy for what you have. If you would tell me I would have the career I am having in Europe, I would be surprised. I would say it's impossible.''
Each summer, Scola's enormous contract buyout combined with the Spurs wealth of talent to prevent him from moving overseas. "I tried to take it with more philosophy; I want to be there [in the NBA], I'm not going to lie,'' he said. "But if it doesn't happen, do I want to cry all day? I've got to be happy with what I have. I'm with one of the best teams in Europe, they like me, I'm happy in the city ... that's how I took it.''
He was ready to give up on the NBA last summer. "I got the extension contract offer from Tau, and I was about to take it,'' he said. "The deadline was July 15, and if nothing happened by then [with an offer from the NBA]? I'm 27, I was drafted five years ago, and if nothing happened until now, what makes me think it's going to change in the future?''
Instead, Scola's rights were traded to the Rockets on July 12. He had a difficult first half of the season adapting to the way the NBA game is officiated -- because he plays so aggressively -- but he wasn't necessarily disappointed. "He only has one gear, which is, like, fifth,'' Morey said. He kept pushing to discover how to maintain his physical style on the court, and in his free time he would go sightseeing. San Francisco appears to be his favorite American city thus far.
The Rockets have gone 22-3 since introducing Scola's energy to the starting lineup in late January. Today, he appreciates those extra years in Spain.
"Four or five or three years ago, I didn't think like that,'' he said. "I was always feeling I was ready, I have to come, I deserve it. But now, when I'm 27 and five years after, I realize that it was good. I wasn't ready when I was 22. I think I'm more prepared mentally now, more settled down with my family and everything.''
The Rockets had won 12 in a row when
"We still hear the voice when we're out there on defense,'' Alston said of Van Gundy. "We still keep the principles. We love the things Rick and his staff have brought to the defense, but we still hear Jeff's voice. It makes you want to defend the ball or you know you're coming out.''
Those lopsided losses by a combined 41 points to the Celtics and Hornets can be written off as natural lulls following the 22-game streak. The issues for the Rockets remain unchanged since Yao's season-ending injury, however. They lack size -- especially with 6-9 rookie power forward
"They have very little inside,'' a Western Conference scout said. "What more can you expect from them? They've already overachieved.''
After watching the Rockets play a perfect quarter of the season, it would be wrong to assume that they can't play team basketball over the month ahead. But this talk during the streak of whether they're better without Yao has been ridiculous. They're going to miss Yao badly in the postseason, and -- unless they recreate the makings of the streak, or an opponent suffers an injury of importance similar to Yao's -- they're going to struggle against all of the potential opponents in the West, each of whom should enter the playoffs with more talent.
The NBA held its second annual Assistant Coaches Clinic in Secaucus, N.J., last week, inviting 15 former NBA players (including
In other words, lose the extra pounds and get back in playing shape. "A head coach is much less likely to hire somebody who can't get out on the floor and sweat,'' Carlisle said. "It may sound demeaning, but player development has been the wave of the last 10 years, and in the future it's going to be even bigger.''
As Stotts and the others pointed out, a good relationship won't matter unless the head coach believes his assistant will help the team win games.
"One thing as a head coach you look for is a friend who is going to be loyal,'' Casey said. "Not just to repeat what you say, but someone who can be an advocate for you. Because with young guys, they're going to come to you [as an assistant] and say, 'What's up with coach? He's screwing me. I can't get any playing time.' So what are you going to say? 'Oh, hell, coach is crazy, he don't know what he's talking about anyway.' Or are you going to be an advocate for the coach?''
"It's the same thing on airplanes. When you get in this league and you've got flights, you have to learn to use that time on the plane to work and to grow, to keep growing and to stay ahead of your players. You should never, ever walk on that court and not be a step or two ahead of your players, and be able to answer any question. Sometimes you've got to b.s. them a little bit, but be prepared to answer any question, no matter what it is.''
Stotts gave the former players an overnight assignment to break down game films by diagramming plays and accumulating statistics that aren't kept on the box score. The next morning he asked for the number of contested shots and fast-break opportunities; some of the players hadn't assembled those stats even though it was part of the assignment.
"It's like being in school,'' Stotts told them. "You need to make sure to give the coach what he wants. He might let you get away with it once, but after that, you need to give him the information he needs to know.''
It goes without saying that some players, depending on their high school and college experience, never received the training that would help them with the academic challenges that are integral to NBA coaching. "One of the stigmas about ex-players is that they don't like to work,'' Carlisle said, encouraging the players to overcome the stereotype.
"I didn't play in the NBA, so mine came the hard way through networking. There's never a job that's too small for you to do. And that's the hardest thing, I think, in being a [former] star, is to say, 'OK, what do you want me to do? I'm checking my ego at the door, and what do you need me to do?' "
"You've got to be ready for anything,'' Hill said.
"You might be in summer league and a coach might come up to you and tell you to go out and work with our guys,'' Carlisle said. "They find out about you right then.'' After the workout, Carlisle added, go right up to one of the famous coaches or GMs. "Go say hello,'' he said. "They're as full of it as anybody.''
The surprising Turkoglu leads the even-more-surprising Magic with 6.3 points in the fourth quarter alone, including 15 closing periods of double-digit scoring. His Turkish fans will be sitting in one section wearing 300 T-shirts bearing Hedo's picture as well as the usual Turkish flags and banners that seem to follow Turkoglu everywhere he goes in the NBA. And yes, he will be meeting with them after the game.
Hill would also like to coach in the NBA again, but winning in the Euroleague is something he doesn't take lightly after coaching Virtus Bologna in the Italian League in 1988-89. When Hill returned to the NBA two decades ago, his place at Bologna was taken by
"The league has matured over there, and it's so much better now,'' Hill said. "You can't coach NBA guys the same way you can coach guys over there.'' Which is to say that players in Europe are less resistant to firm coaching.
As mentioned last week, I put out those picks to give an early indication of the individual races heading into the final month of the season. Some players might yet play their way onto or out of the All-NBA teams over the concluding weeks.
As for McGrady, it was a difficult choice to leave him out. The streak was amazing, but these All-NBA teams represent a full season of work. Look at Houston's 44 games before the streak, and you'll see that McGrady played in 30 of them -- and not at his normal level, either. The resulting speculation was that the Rockets might be looking to unload him. They were never planning to do so, and it turns out to be a good thing that they didn't. The short of it is that McGrady has been terrific since February and still could earn a spot on my ballot -- not that it matters much to him either way, I'm sure.
As for the "Steve Nash love affair,'' I believe it's a universal condition. Is there something in the water in Delaware, or maybe a virus contained to Newark, that prevents you from enjoying the way he plays? He's the NBA's most entertaining point guard while averaging 11.3 assists and 17.5 points (47.3 percent from three-point range) for a team that's a half-game out of the lead in the West.
As for Williams, you're all correct. There is no easy choice among point guards, but Williams is the best player on a contender with a better record than the Warriors, and that latter point should have served as the tiebreaker in his race with Davis. We'll see how the race settles over the weeks ahead, but at this stage I regret not awarding the third-team spot to Williams.
As for the Nuggets, I awarded players according to the five positions. Therefore, Anthony qualifies as one of the top three small forwards. Boozer is a power forward, and he ranks just behind
As for Bosh, I've asked him in the past about playing center. He hasn't liked the question. He has said, "I am not a center.'' But it wouldn't be a week in winter if I didn't get a desperate letter from Canada complaining about the lack of respect for the Raptors.
Jeremy S., you are a genius. (Unless the "S" stands for
It's obvious from the e-mail I receive that a lot of people get angry when I say that
There are all kinds of objective reasons to replace Thomas, and in most other NBA cities, he would have run out of opportunities by now. But the Knicks are not run like any other team. Owner