Wednesday, August 23, 2006

THE bus was old, hot, cramped and slow as a herniated snail. A ride that
should have taken 3 to 4 hours took a harrowing 13.

An international journey embarked on more than a quarter century ago,
ignited by a young boy's fascination with round objects, mainly a basketball
and the globe, took an unscheduled detour last month through a Middle East
war zone.

"Only the most optimistic person alive would have called it intimate," that
boy, now 57, said earlier this week during a telephone interview from a
hastily arranged sanctuary in Amman, Jordan. Meet Paul Coughter, coach of
the Lebanese national basketball team and citizen of the world, by way of
Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Meet the American who engineered his players' escape from the mountains
outside besieged Beirut, through a convoluted and imperiled passage north,
to Syria, then south, to Amman, on the way to the World Championship of
Basketball beginning next week in Japan.

"The crisis began five days after we started our training camp," Coughter
said. "After two days, we sent the players home to be with their families.
Then we realized if we didn't get out, we never would.

"I think we got the last bus in Lebanon. We were in our own mini-world,
trying to block out everything, barely anything to eat, stopping at gas
stations, places where people would say, 'Ten minutes ago, a bomb landed
over there.' They'd say, 'Look at that, it's still smoldering,' and then
we're back on the bus, trying to convince ourselves that because one had
already landed, it couldn't happen again."

Do you think Larry
Brown<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/larry_brown/index.html?inline=nyt-per>has
had a peripatetic career? Over 27 years, Coughter has coached on six
continents, has stalked professional sidelines from Australia to Saudi
Arabia to Taiwan, has also run the national teams of South Africa, Pakistan
and Wales.

Do you believe Brown faced prohibitive odds with last season's
Knicks<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/sports/probasketball/nationalbasketballassociation/newyorkknicks/index.html?inline=nyt-org>?
Coughter's manager and trainer both stayed behind last month to tend to
their families, and his American-born center, Paul Khoury, was marooned in
Idaho, unable to renew his Lebanese visa, when the Beirut airport was
bombed. His best player, Fadi El Khatib, wouldn't leave the country unless
there was room on the bus — which was made — for his wife and young child.

Want to hear the N.B.A. soldiers of fortune whine about the wider lane and
mysterious refs when the Lebanese are dealing with the rules of war? For a
team with aspirations normally no more grandiose than winning a game or two
at the gathering of the world's basketball powers, there have been scant
practices and serious sleep deprivation and incalculable stress.

Even Coughter, the globetrotting bachelor, the avowed adventurer who
promises to retire soon and sail the world for the rest of his years on a
custom-built yacht, called this latest chapter of A Coach's Life "beyond
bizarre."

Lucky for him, he has never evaluated his career by the number of
championships won, by the size of his paycheck. Ask for personal highlights
and he tells of exploring an exotic island in New Zealand, of bunking with a
Chinese family in Zimbabwe, of sipping coffee while gazing at the
Mediterranean from the balcony of his most current address, the Zouk Hotel,
20 minutes from Beirut.

Coughter was born into a large Irish Catholic, basketball-loving Brooklyn
family, his father having played at Erasmus Hall High School and his older
brother for Joe Mullaney at Providence College. He remembers launching his
first shot from his father's shoulders in Prospect Park, learning the game
and using it to facilitate the ultimate road trip.

"It's like Larry
Bird<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/larry_bird/index.html?inline=nyt-per>once
said: 'Don't tell anyone, but I'd do this for free,' " Coughter said.
"For me, the whole thing is experiential."

How else to describe the itinerary, from Lebanon to Syria to Jordan to
Turkey to Slovenia, back to Jordan, on the way to the Philippines this week
and then Japan to, as Coughter put it, "carry the Lebanese flag at a time
the country needs to be seen"?

When the United States is perceived in the Middle East to be the power
behind the invading Israelis, here is an American at a helm, with an Iraqi
assistant, Koussay Hatem, who is married to a Lebanese woman and said in a
telephone interview that he "must call home three, four, five times a day to
see if everyone is O.K."

In every direction is a political tinderbox that a wise and wandering
Yankee, dependent on the kindness and employment of strangers, knows enough
to leave alone. As Coughter said, "One of my best friends in Beirut is from
a family that is
Hezbollah<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/h/hezbollah/index.html?inline=nyt-org>.
We talk about basketball and women."

On the road, the Lebanese players and even Joseph Vogel, an American who has
played professionally in the country long enough to become nationalized,
discuss the war, but mostly as it relates to the future beyond Japan.

"The way it's going right now, who knows if Lebanon will even be open when
the world championships are over?" said Vogel, a former player at Colorado
State. "For me, it's a career at stake. For most of these guys, it's a
country."

The coach recommends focus on the task at hand, on the journey, always the
journey.

Coughter, in fact, will leave Japan the day after the last game to meet the
country's junior team, which he also coaches, for the Asian championships.
He will take three flights to reach a Chinese city near the Mongolian
border. The way things are going in Lebanon, he may not get paid, but don't
tell anyone, he'd do it for free.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Monday, November 21, 2005

New Home for Sammy

I'm officially over at bucks.mostvaluablenetwork.com now, so that's where you can catch my brilliant insights from here on out. Peace.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Marc Stein re-ranks again

Now the Bucks are 4th!

Check this out

If you're familiar with my continued rantings about the fallacy of keeping Jamaal Magloire in the starting lineup over Andrew Bogut, you can read about it here from a much more esteemed writer than I. It sounds strikingly familiar to what I recently wrote. It's good, though, to know that I'm not the only one noticing this. It's ridiculous.

LORDY!

Bobcats 122 Pacers 90

This is the team that's supposed to win the East?

At first I thought that the Pacers were for sure better than the Bucks and we were just lucky to beat them (which still might be true). But not after this game. The Pacers had not one major injury. Not one.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Halfway Done

Sam Cassell NBA Rollerz
Life-size photo of Sam Cassell

Well the Bucks are halfway through their western road swing. Last year they had two close losses to Miami before the trip and that totally demoralized the team and they were promptly swept, on their way to getting swept on the road out west all season, going 0-15. This year the trip didn't start out any better, losing by 24 to the Clippers and our old buddy Sam Cassell. The Bucks played their usual fall behind early game, except this time they didn't come back, which usually isn't a good thing. I have no idea why Corey Magette is coming off the bench for these guys (something about his ankle probably), but he killed us all night, and has been very proficient off the bench in his previous games, so it doesn't make any sense not to start him anymore. Even though he's been crazy efficient off the bench (50% FG 93% FT) and won't keep that up as a starter, it's inarguable that he is more valuable playing 40 minutes a night rather than the 27 he's playing now. Sam Cassell was MVP though, with 23 and 9 and not even playing the fourth.

Most importantly was what happened to Terry Stotts. He's starting to sucumb to Terry Porter syndrome. Check out these numbers:

Jamaal Magloire: 22 min 0-5 FG 0-0 FT 0 PTS 8 REB 3 TO 3 PF
Dan Gadzuric:16 min 3-6 FG 1-2 FT 7 PTS 4 REB 1 TO 2 PF

Which one of those two would you say played better? Now which one would you say got more minutes? Another ominous sign was that Andrew Bogut got only 14 minutes of PT. If this game was just a warning sign, the GS game was the confirmation. More on that in a second. Perhaps the greatest crime Stotts committed was letting Ervin Johnson into the game. I honestly don't care if it was garbage time, he should never ever be allowed to touch a basketball anymore, let alone get into the game. At least Porter was playing Dan Santiago over Gadzuric.

Mo Williams had his first bad game since the season opener, shooting 4-11, and Joe Smith had his first bad game of the season, shooting 1-6 with 4 pts. and 4 PF. Bobby Simmons didn't do much in his return to LA, but pretty much the only player who did play well was Charlie Bell with 8 points on 4-6 shooting in just 9 minutes. He's shooting .462 for the season, not bad for a 6-3 shooting guard.

Just a poor effort all around, I would say. We were lifeless.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


I just like showing Mike Dunleavy pictures

The GS game was a welcome respite from the LAC game, in that it was the first time since the Miami game that we came out strong. But unlike the Miami game, we stayed pretty strong throughout, never falling behind by more than a few and taking a 15 point lead into the fourth. It was a nailbiter at the end, with Baron Davis and Jason Richardson both missing threes, letting the Bucks escape with a 90-87 win, and ending our 20 month Western road losing streak. Even though we did come out strong for once, there were some troubling aspects of the game that need to be addressed. Like I mentioned above, this was the first game where Terry Stotts finally sucumbed to Terry Porter syndrome. I think I've come up with a permanent name for this disease in the basketball world: Terryitis. You know when your coach has Terryitis when he plays obviously inferior players over much more talented players for reasons known only to him. Check out these stat lines:

GSW game:
Joe Smith: 32 min. 4-9 FG 9 pts. 13 reb. (4 offensive.) 5 PF
Andrew Bogut: 16 min. 4-12 FG 9 pts. 11 reb. (7 offensive.) 1 PF
Dan Gadzuric: DNP-CD

Now take a look at those numbers. They both scored the same amount of points, true, and Joe Smith shot better than Bogut, but I've highlighted two key numbers that will explain this. Joe Smith played twice as many minutes but only ended up with only two more rebounds, and Bogut in half the minutes grabbed almost twice as many offensive rebounds. This explains the poor shooting. Bogut was fighting for lots of offensive rebounds, and was therefore putting up more contested shots (i.e. a lower percentage than your normal low-post shot). Lets do the math. If bogut gets 32 minutes he scores 18 points and grabs 22 rebounds, 14 of which are offensive. He probably won't take as many contested inside shots because his coach will be telling him in timeouts to pass the ball out to run a new play when he gets those rebounds.

It's not as if Bogut did anything to deserve the reduction in minutes. He was playing far better than I expected particularly in the areas of defense and rebounding. Don't go thinking those 22 rebounds are unrealistic, he's already had a game of 17 rebs. He was also shooting .555 from the field before the western trip and averaging 8.8 reb. in 31.6 min. He never caught an attitude with Stotts, but far more imprtantly, he has vastly outplayed Jamaal Magloire, who has rebounded and defended reasonably well but has been absolutely wretched on offense, shooting .350 from the field. That's 200 points worse than Bogut. In addition, Magloire is averaging 3 TOs and over 4 fouls a game to Bogut's .88 TOs and 3 fouls a game, in almost identical minutes.

The only reason Magloire is starting is because he has the title of "former all-star." So is Latrell Sprewell. So what? Bogut has earned PT by being with the team throughout training camp and learing the system, and Magloire hasn't. So if Bogut is playing better, and is just as big a part of the Bucks future as Magloire isn't, why isn't he getting PT? Terryitis.

Golden State, despite theur record, has been a mild disappointment to me. They aren't scoring at nearly the rate they did last year, after getting Baron Davis. They are only averaging 93.4 points a game, but their defense is much improved, allowing opponents only 89.4 points per game. Their offensive woes fall mostly on Baron Davis, whose shjooting this year has been unspeakably awful: .324 FG .290 3P .667 FT. It's true that their $85 million duo, Mike Dunleavy and Adonal Foyle, only gave them 5 points and five fouls on 2-10 shooting, but they're only an $85 million duo because Chris Mullin made them one. It's Davis' team.

Next for the Bucks is Sacramento, a team that has struggled but is still dangerous. The second game is Utah, a game that we should win because of the injuries to Kirilenko and Boozer but which won't be a cakewalk by any means. It's very reasonable to expect a split. I'm willing to tolerate Terryitis for now as long as we win, but we won't be able to keep this up for the whole season.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bucks vs. Clippers preview

This is just gross.

Kevin Garnett; Sam Cassell

Monday, November 14, 2005

Re-ranking the Bucks

Marc Stein
"Just kidding! Screw those old rankings!!"

Well, it looks like Marc Stein has re-ranked his power rankings from pre-season. He now has the Bucks ranked at 5th! (as if that means something). However, this was before the Bucks' loss to Golden State and before their win against Indiana; I only just found it now. Before the season, he had us 16th.

SI's Marty Burns also re-ranked the teams, but this one was after the GS loss, before the Pacers win. He has the Bucks ranked 14th.

Rest assured, I'm not going to re-rank my rankings: I actually want to see if I'm right.

MO MY GOD!!!

Bucks 103 Pacers 102
MO? IS THAT YOU?

All right, now that I've calmed down a bit after Saturday's game, I'd just like to say "WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!" How can the Bucks keep this up? I don't know. All I know is that the score was 96-82 with 3 minutes left and I started reading a magazine, and 2 minutes later I looked up and it was 99-97. Whoa. The Pacers apparently missed 10 free-throws in the final minute, after the Bucks had missed countless free-throws before. Ted Davis, the Bucks play-by-play man is someone I usually hold in high regard; he's genuinely passionate about Bucks basketball. But no less than 5 times did he say "It's over," "That's the ballgame," or something to that effect.

This is the first time I have ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, seen the foul-and-hope strategy work. You know that every time you see a game where someone does that you're screaming at the T.V. "Come on! Let the game be over!" I know I do. But anyway, Ted Davis made up for his lack of belief by saying at the end to all the Bucks "faithful" who left the game early, "If you're listening to this in the car as you're heading home from the game, You Missed IT!!" This was a line you had to listen to the entire game to appreciate the hilarity of. Hilarious.

Anyway, I've said many times before that the Bucks can't keep this style of play up the entire season, but they're trying hard. This game was exactly the same as the previous 4, so there's no sense writing a summary. Needless to say, the Pacers looked like the clearly superior team, even without Jamaal Tinsley, for the first 47 minutes and 53 seconds, until Michael Redd hit three free-throws after he was fouled on a three attempt by Anthony Johnson, Fred Jones missed one out of two from the line, and Mo drilled his shot from about 28 feet. This was another failing of Davis, as he reported several times that the shot was from "at least 35 feet." If this was true, he would have been closer to halfcourt than the three-point line.

"Why report the facts? The game's over."

Luckily, the game ended about two minutes before the sports report at ten on the news, so I got to see the shot right away. Considering that, at that point, I thought the shot was from at least 35 feet, the replay was sort of anti-climactic. Ted Davis doesn't really say what's going on during the game, he just says the name of the player with the ball. But that's okay, for now, because the ending really was unbelievable, and it's forgivable to forget to do all the things normally associated with decent sportscasting.

And by the way, you have to wonder if Terry Porter couldn't have done the exact same thing with these Bucks that Stotts is doing. Yeah, he had some bizzare and often downright awful substitution patterns, but still, they went to the playoffs in Porter's first year after SI called them the worst team in the league.

But from now on, I don't care how the Bucks win anymore, as long as they win.