Sour Grapes

3 06 2008

Recently, MCBias wrote a piece called The Corruption of a Sports Dynasty. He compared ancient Grecian dynasties with successful sports teams. Do teams really become sour the longer they stay on top?

The view from the top of the hill is very nice. It’s easy to become seduced by success. I know of this desire first-hand. I lived in an all-male dorm during my freshman year in college. We would have Tetris matches on an old-school Nintendo and I reveled in being the the unquestioned O’Donnell Hall Tetris King.

Eventually, I would employ mind games such as trash-talking and intimidation to gain every advantage I could (not that I needed it). I would ask around about Meatball’s recent one-night stand and casually mention it during a pivotal point in the Tetris match. These tricks would inevitably distract my dorm mates as they would angrily ask how I caught wind of these stories. “Jenny never hurt anyone, Lord Tetri. Leave her out of this.”

I’m no stranger to tricks of the trade. The longer a team’s core stays together, the richer their game experience becomes. And the longer you play the game on the professional level, the more subtle tricks you learn.

For most people, the line should be drawn here. Once they become aware of these subtle tricks, they shouldn’t employ them. They should turn their back and rely solely on their athleticism.

However, this is where my argument begins. I think that successful sports dynasties draw ire and jealously from those that aren’t as successful. The Evil Empire tag is more of a function of scrutiny than of actually being sour.

Take the NBA’s most successful teams in the last 5 years: the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons. In the beginning, they were a “how to” on how to build a winning program.

Top-level management was sturdy.
The rosters consisted of high-quality guys.
They played the game the “right way.”
They were consistently among the top defensive squads in the league.

Both continue to be model franchises but resentment has been boiling over against these teams. Nowadays, everything about these two teams is scrutinized.

They’re aging and old.
Every off-season, their roster is in shambles.
They play a boring brand of basketball.
They’re dirty.

Both the Spurs and Pistons are the Evil Empire. No one roots for them; in fact, everyone roots against them. But what is it that changed the perception? How did guys like Robert Horry and Bruce Bowen go from “high-quality characters” to “dirty?” A few high-profile fouls? Haven’t they been dishing out hard fouls their entire career?

Since when did the Detroit Pistons become boring? I think they are the most exciting fourth quarter team in the league. Tayshaun Prince in the fourth quarter is entertaining enough then throw in Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Boring? Really?

In my eyes, it’s not the squads that are souring. It’s a general uprising from the people. These guys haven’t changed the way they’ve handled business so why are we throwing a coup?

Photo courtesy of AP


Rick Carlisle: Kung-Fu Master

11 04 2008

Rick Carlisle will beat up your mother. It’s true.

The former Coach of the Year has been linked with potential jobs opening up after this season. The Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks (with John Hammond pushing) are among the teams that are interested. And this will also allow Carlisle to join Ben Wallace in a tour of the Central Division.

The word around Chicago is that Carlisle is a good coach but is too much of a Skiles look-a-like. I resent that statement because the man looks like Jim Carrey.

An interesting trend can be found when looking at the record of Carlisle’s six seasons in the league. None of his teams have ever improved record-wise.

Detroit Pistons 2001-2002: 50-32 (.610)
Detroit Pistons 2002-2003: 50-32 (.610)

Indiana Pacers 2003-2004: 61-21 (.744)
Indiana Pacers 2004-2005: 44-38 (.537)
Indiana Pacers 2005-2006: 41-41 (.500)
Indiana Pacers 2006-2007: 35-47 (.427)

Clearly, something is up. Generally speaking, the longer someone is with an organization, the better they become. As one goes further along on the learning curve, they get more familiar with their position. Players come to know what to expect from their coach. The coach, in turn, gradually learns how to motivate his players. With all other things remaining equal, a coach of Carlisle’s caliber should have shown improvement.

I don’t want to come to conclusions but is it a case of players burning out on the coach? If so, the Bulls might want to steer clear because they’re still salty off Scott Skiles.

In Carlisle’s first season at the helm, he makes his predecessors look like idiots. If there’s one thing that can be said about Rick Carlisle, it’s that he will give you an excellent first season record.

Carlisle took over the Detroit Pistons job from George Irvine in 2002. The Pistons went from 32-50 and into the lottery under Irvine to 50-32 and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals under Carlisle.

Same deal in Indiana. The Pacers went 48-34 in Isiah Thomas’ last season while losing in the first round of the playoffs. Under Carlisle the next season, the Pacers went 61-21 with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The man can get you there but he won’t keep you there very long. The Milwaukee Bucks need a culture change. Their young players need to experience winning and the atmosphere of the playoffs. Michael Redd has only really played in three of his post-season campaigns, so their veteran leadership isn’t exactly savvy in that regard. If they wait any longer, it might be “next year…” for a long time.

If he’s willing, they should roll the dice with Rick Carlisle.