Tag Archives: Dwyane Wade

Greetings, everyone! I’d like to extend a warm welcome to all of you – you basketball fans with the courage to seek basketball analysis in the deepest, darkest corner of the basement of the internet. It warms my heart to see you all here. Really. I’m honored that you all came. All three of you! It’s wonderful to have you.

You deserve congratulations! Through your bravery, traveling to the deepest, darkest corner of the basement of the internet, you have found the resolution of the LeBron v. MJ debate. There are plenty of basketball websites out there – from people who have actual credentials to be commenting about basketball. But, only this website contains the resolution to the most important basketball argument of our era. I thought I resolved it a few years ago, but my resolution seems not to have taken hold among hoop heads. (Perhaps it would help if I had more than three readers.) So, I’m back, first to put this issue to bed once and for all, and then to move onto other important topics related to hoops.

You ready? Good. Here goes…

LeBron is playing basketball at a higher level than any human has ever played it. Perhaps cartoon characters have played it better (I guess we’ll find out when SpaceJam 2 gets released), and there’s likely a video game character out there who has played it better. But, if we’re talking about humans, the way LeBron played these last few seasons represents the pinnacle that any human has ever reached over an extended period of time. His combination of skill, athleticism, and intellect is unparalleled.

Plus, by all accounts, LeBron’s a great guy. He seems like a great family man, and what he’s doing as a businessman and philanthropist off the court is remarkable. Off the court, he is achieving much more than MJ ever did. If I had the chance to become friends with LeBron or MJ, I’d choose LeBron eight days a week.

But…
There’s a but…
And it’s a big but…
A big ol’ but…
No, not THAT KIND of big butt, you pervert!

C’mon, get your head out of the gutter!

The but is this… our discussion about who’s the GOAT is not about which player reached the highest level of performance. That’s because the game is constantly evolving, and the level of performance is constantly elevating. The best player in the game right now would beat the best player in the game from 20 years ago, who would beat the best player in the game from 20 years before that. The tenth-best player in the game now would beat the tenth-best player in the game from 20 years ago, who would beat the tenth-best player in the game from 20 years before that. That’s also true of the twentieth-best player now. Etc. Point is, the group of guys playing now are better than any group of guys that’s ever played before.

LeBron’s the best player in the game now, and that’s got to count for plenty. But, if that meant he was the GOAT, it would mean that the GOAT is continuously changing every couple of years. Each time a new player ascends to be the best in the game for a few years at a time, it would mean that he’s become the GOAT.

That’s not how GOAT works. GOAT isn’t like the heavyweight championship, held by one person until he gets too old to retain it, and then passed to the best person of the next generation.

The question about who’s the GOAT is generally a question about who has built up the best résumé over the course of his career. That’s why phenomenal players who performed at an exceedingly high level for a short window of time (i.e., Grant Hill) are never considered. It’s also why phenomenal players who may be the best in the game at a given moment are never considered unless they have won a championship (think Anthony Davis).

The question about who’s the GOAT considers measurable achievements: championships, MVPs, scoring titles, All-NBA selections, etc. Folks can debate the relative importance of those achievements, so it’s something other than an exercise in counting rings. But, fundamentally, it’s a comparison of achievements considered in the context of the player’s era – not a comparison of on-court performance at the players’ peak.

It’s also, implicitly, a conversation about how the best players performed in their role as stewards of the game. Did they elevate it from a down period, like Bird and Magic? Did they take it to another level, like Jordan? Break down barriers and set honorable precedent, like Russell?

Because the GOAT conversation is a conversation about how the best players performed in their role as stewards of the game, LeBron is out of the running for GOAT. No great player before him ever left his team as a free agent, having failed to win a championship, to join a stacked team. In other words, no great player before him ever sought out an easy path to the validation that a championship ring provides.

Until LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami, it was always understood that the pursuit of GOATness was a difficult quest. Until LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami, it was always understood that the pursuit of GOATness was nearly impossible for all but the greatest players, and even for many of the greats, was a quest made even more difficult by obstacles such as mediocre teammates and intimidating competition (see, for example: Nowitzki, Dirk; Barkley, Charles; Ewing, Patrick). Until LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami, nobody in history had quit the quest to get a ring with a stacked team. It was always understood that being recognized amongst the greatest was an immense challenge, and that no competitor who might be part of such a conversation would do such a thing.

Then, LeBron quit on the quest with the Cavs to join up with Wade and Bosh in Miami. When he did, he set a precedent that has damaged the game tremendously, thereby removing himself from the conversation about who is the GOAT. Because of LeBron’s precedent, it seemed perfectly sensible for Kevin Durant – one of the most outstanding players of his generation – to leave a team that was up 3-1 in the conference finals, so he could win a championship with the team that came back from being down 3-1 in the conference finals to beat him in the conference finals. It was the greatest sin against the game of basketball since Isiah Thomas uttered the words “with this signing of Jerome James to a $30 million contract, the New York Knickerbockers are back on the path to greatness.” Durant committed the sin, but LeBron set the precedent.

So, as good as LeBron is, the conversation about whether he’s the GOAT is over. It ended years ago. It ended when he took his talents to South Beach.

If you’re a LeBron fan, I recognize that it might make you angry to read this. But, don’t get mad at me. I’m not the one who ended the conversation.

He is.

On to a new season of Hoopservations! I hope the three of you will stick around, there’s some good stuff in the pipeline.

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Who’s A Good Coach?

I’m old enough to remember when Jeff Hornacek was an exciting young coach, and Derek Fisher was given a big multi-year contract. Now, armed with all the wisdom and experience that go along with being my age, I look at trends in the way NBA coaches are analyzed and wonder Does anyone know how to spot a good coach when they see one?

In the last year:

  • Tom Thibodeau was fired by the Bulls, after bringing them to the second round of the playoffs last season, where they lost to a better team;
  • Scott Brooks was fired after barely missing the playoffs with a team that played without Durant or Westbrook for most of the season;
  • Fisher was fired by the Knicks, who were showing signs of improvement, and had become a team kinda-competing-for-a-playoff-spot even though Jose Calderon was their best point guard;
  • David Blatt was fired when his Cavs were atop the Eastern Conference standings (the season after his team beat Thibodeau’s Bulls in the playoffs);
  • Kevin McHale was fired less than 20 games into the season following his team making the Western Conference Finals; and
  • Hornaceck was fired by the Suns, who were terrible, and had no business being anything better than terrible due to the lack of talent on the roster.

To be clear, I don’t claim to be able to give a deep, thorough analysis of a person’s ability to coach at the NBA level. I have some clues of what to look for, sure. For example, if you choose to play Sasha Vujacic any time there are 5 other living humans in the building, I know enough to question your lineup decisions. Fisher did that – repeatedly – so I have my questions about his ability to coach at the highest level. Or, if you decide, as Thibodeau did, to play Jimmy Butler for an average of 39 minutes per game, I question whether you’re overworking your players. Or, if you have Kevin Love, one of the game’s best offensive players, standing stagnant behind the three-point line, I question whether you’re getting the most out of the talent on your roster. But, in general, I don’t know enough about coaching at that level – or have enough time to watch – to give a detailed X’s and O’s analysis of why one coach is good and another is not.

That lack of knowledge seems to situate me to run an NBA team, because apparently none of the people hiring and firing coaches knows how to spot a good coach when he sees one, either. Consider this, hoopservers: the only coaches whose teams consistently win in the NBA are coaches with top level talent on their rosters.  In fact, the active coaches who have won NBA championships all had Hall of Famers on their title teams. That’s Pop (Duncan, and probably others), Carlisle (Dirk and Kidd, while acknowledging that Kidd was past his prime), Spo (LeBron, Wade, and Bosh), Doc (KG, Pierce, Ray Allen), and Kerr (Curry, and, at the rate the Warriors are going, maybe 7 or 8 other guys). Nobody else who’s coaching today has won a title.

Even among those guys, there are reasons to doubt their collective coaching brilliance. I’ll put aside Pop and Carlisle, and stipulate that they’re excellent coaches. Still, Doc’s Clippers teams have hardly overachieved, Spo missed the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference last year, and Kerr’s Warriors opened their season with a better start than any team in the history of the NBA, while Kerr sat out and Luke Walton coached them. Maybe Luke Walton’s the next great coach. I dunno. Or, maybe the Warriors were so good because of what Kerr had taught them previously. But if we’re inclined to give Kerr credit for what the Warriors did without him, we at least have to consider whether Mark Jackson deserves credit for what they’ve done since he left.  At that point, we have good reason to question whether the Warriors are great because of coaching, or because they have the best shooting backcourt of all time, and a roster that fills out perfectly around them.

I’m not saying that any of those guys is not a good coach, just that their teams’ results seem to be more directly connected to the talent level on the roster than anything else.

The current coaches who have raised their team above the level we’d expect based on talent seem to be Brad Stevens, Mike Budenholzer (last year, at least), and, um… uhh…. I don’t know. Maybe Steve Clifford?  Even among those guys, Bud’s Hawks are 31-25, and Clifford’s Hornets are 28-26. That’s what excellent coaching counts for? Meanwhile, 2006-07 Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell has the Wolves at 17-39, 2007-08 Coach of the Year Byron Scott has the Lakers at 11-45, 2012-13 Coach of the Year George Karl has the Kings at 23-31, and 2009-10 Coach of the Year Scott Brooks has the Thunder at… oh, wait, dude got fired.  (If you’re reading this, thinking “I’d like to see a list of Coaches of the Year,” I gotcha: Coaches of the Year.  It’s what I’m here for.)

If given the choice, I’d rather have an above-average fourth starter on my team than a purportedly excellent coach.  But, hoopservers, maybe I’m overlooking someone.  So, I ask you: any coaches I’m overlooking, who have proven that they can consistently make their team competitive without top level talent on the roster?

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