The most commonly expressed concern among NBA coaches these days is what kind of condition players will be in when they report to training camp on Friday.
"I'm convinced everyone is going to come in out of shape," said an Eastern Conference head coach. "We have to be prepared for it."
In interviews, several coaches reference the abbreviated 1998-99 season, when many woefully out of shape players (see Shawn Kemp, Vin Baker) and a packed, 50-game schedule contributed to one of the sloppiest seasons in NBA history. To prepare, coaches have been working closely with their strength-and-conditioning staff to devise programs they hope will significantly improve conditioning over a shortened training camp.
"Every time the [labor] talks fell apart, we went back to the drawing board on the conditioning program," said a Western Conference assistant. "We took into account the further lost time and how much shorter a camp would likely be. We probably talked about how to get these guys in shape more than anything else."
While NBA coaches and facilities were off-limits during the lockout, many players worked with personal trainers. Rob McClanaghan, a long-time basketball trainer who has worked with more than 75 NBA players and who helped Derrick Rose rise to stardom last season, spent the extended offseason working closely with the reigning MVP, as well as three more of the league's biggest young stars: Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Al Horford. On Tuesday, McClanaghan talked to SI.com about the work each player put in this summer.
Russell Westbrook (PG, Thunder)2010-11 Stats: 21.9 PPG, 44.2% FG, 8.2 APG, 4.6 RPG
Polishing Westbrook's pull-up jump shot was a point of emphasis this summer. Because Westbrook is so explosive in the open floor, it has been difficult for him over his first three seasons to knock down pull-ups in transition. Every day, McClanaghan ran Westbrook through pull-up drills. First, he would start at the opposite baseline. Then from ¾ court. Then from halfcourt. When Westbrook got to the foul line, he would stop on a dime, pull up and shoot.
"Michael Jordan had a great pull-up shot," McClanaghan said. "All the great guards did. Before, Russell would drift sideways when he took that shot. He has corrected that."
In addition to the pull-up, McClanaghan and Westbrook worked on a floater. While Westbrook is spectacular at finishing at the rim, he shot a career-low 26.6 percent from three-to-nine feet out, according to Hoopdata.com. Post moves were emphasized, too. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds Westbrook has superior size for his position. With McClanaghan, Westbrook worked on a variety of power moves and turnaround shots.
"He's so strong that he can bump a defender and create space for his shot," McClanaghan said. "And if he doesn't, he can hang in the air longer than pretty much any guard out there."
Derrick Rose (PG, Bulls)2010-11 Stats: 25.0 PPG, 44.5% FG, 7.7 APG, 4.1 RPG
McClanaghan said Rose wanted to improve his ability to finish shots through contact. He was 11th in the NBA in free-throw attempts last season but was concerned he was missing opportunities to turn fouls into three-point plays.
"He got pretty frustrated last year," McClanaghan said. "He took a beating, but he thought he should be finishing a lot more than he did."
When Rose went to Spain for his Adidas tour, McClanaghan was there with him. When he went to China, McClanaghan went too. At each workout, McClanaghan ran Rose through drills where he would clobber him with large pads when he elevated to the rim. Like with Westbrook, McClanaghan also worked with Rose on a floater ("we talked about not trying to dunk everything," McClanaghan said), a pull-up ("he would lean forward too much when he shot it") and on diversifying and expanding his low post game.
"He's so explosive and strong that once he gets the ball on the post, it only takes him one or two dribbles to get to the rim," McClanaghan said. "This season he should be able to do more of that."
Kevin Love (F-C, Timberwolves)2010-11 Stats: 20.2 PPG, 47.0% FG, 15.2 RPG, 2.5 APG
Love, McClanaghan said, is "in the best shape I have ever seen him." In addition to the workouts, Love became more dedicated to his diet. He hired a personal chef and significantly reduced his body fat.
"Some guys in the league can eat pizza every night," McClanaghan said. "Kevin knows he can't do that. You talk about discipline, he knows what his body is and he knows what he has to do to maintain it."
On the court, McClanaghan and Love focused on continuing to extend Love's range. He shot a blistering 41.7 percent from three-point range last season, a number McClanaghan believes can improve even more. In post drills, Love polished a turnaround hook shot that McClanaghan believes will be a weapon for him this season.
"He doesn't want to be known just as an inside guy," McClanaghan said. "He's a great shooter. And what he did with his body is really going to pay off in those four games per week stretches. He's much more mobile now and it will have much less wear on his knees."
Al Horford (F-C, Hawks)2010-11 Stats:15.3 PPG, 55.7% FG, 9.3 RPG, 3.5 APG
Like with Love, Horford sculpted his body with the help of a personal chef and worked on extending his range.
"He's a very underrated shooter," McClanaghan said. "He can make that 20-footer consistently."
Because the 6-foot-10 Horford is an undersized center, McClanaghan worked extensively with him on his face-up game. McClanaghan said Horford has improved his ability to take bigger defenders off the dribble and knock down a face-up jump shot when they back off him."
"Al took a huge step this summer," McClanaghan said. "He's always been a hard worker with an unselfish game. I think this summer he started to realize just how good an offensive player he can be."