Why Phil Jackson Would Be a Better Coach for the Miami Heat Than Pat Riley

It is All About the Zen

(This blog was originally posted on the Yahoo Contributor Network on June 16th, 2011. As of 7/31/14 YCN has taken down all of its content)

With respect to current Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, after the Heat loss in the NBA Finals, there are calls in the media for Pat Riley to take back the coaching reins. If Spoelstra is going to be replaced, Riley should stay where he is and he should do whatever it takes to bring in the Zen Master.

For years many critics of Phil Jackson pointed to the fact that he coached great players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and used that to minimize his accomplishments as a coach and question how good he was. Pat Riley coached a few good players himself in Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, James Worthy, Dwyane Wade and Patrick Ewing and yet Riley seemed to dodge the, “you were successful because of who you coached charge” to the level extolled upon Jackson.

Upon further review we see that whereas none of Jackson’s players won a title prior to his arrival, (talked about in more detail here), it was Riley’s Lakers who had won a championship before he arrived. Further, Riley lost in the playoffs to lower seeds several years in a row as head coach of the Miami Heat, including losing as a number one seed to a number eight, before he quit just before the 2003-4 season.

If a superstar player had a stretch that bad in the playoffs the media would suggest that it is and should be an indelible part of the player’s legacy. And so it should be with coach Riley.

However, many in the media have always liked Riley more than Jackson. Further, they conveniently leave out certain facts about the 2006 Miami Heat championship team that Riley coached after the Machiavellian maneuver he employed to replace coach Stan Van Gundy.

Riley lovers such ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Skip Bayless have repeatedly stated that Riley brought that Heat team over the top and that Stan Van could not have coached the team to a championship. Lets remember that Van Gundy brought the Heat to the conference finals in 2005.

What Bayless and Kornheiser leave out when they say Riley made the difference between the Heat losing in game seven of the conference finals in 05 and winning in 06 are two key facts.

  • One, Shaq was healthier in 06 than he was in 05. Maybe you can dismiss that one as “The Daddy” was already past his prime and it was D. Wade’s team.
  • Two, Bayless fawns over Wade’s game. Understandable, the man has skills and is clutch. Okay, in that 2005 conference finals, Wade got hurt and missed game 6, and played hobbled in game 7, and they still almost won this series!

When comparing Riley to Van Gundy and who could have done what with which team, don’t you think its fair to bring up those little tidbits? With a healthy Wade (and Shaq) the Heat beat Detroit, without a healthy Wade, the Heat do not win in 2006.

Back to the present. The biggest issue facing today’s Heat is the mind of Lebron James. Clearly he has the talent. Since the end of this year’s finals on Sunday there have been fair comparisons of Lebron to baseball’s Alex Rodriguez and what he went through trying to win a World Series with the New York Yankees.

Further, the calls for Lebron to see a sports psychologist, I think is a good idea. Despite what I said about Riley above, I do think he is a great coach, but he requires players with a thick skin who are on the same page and can withstand and thrive under his intensity. Riley is old school and I don’t think he is the man for the psychological mess Lebron appears to be. Further, James already gets fast break, “showtime” style basketball. It is when the game slows down and is in the half court that he needs help.

Contrary to Riley, the Zen Master, with his books, movies, meditations and alternative approach is what might help heal Lebron off the court and Jackson’s triangle, share and move without the ball offense, might be the thing that redeems him on it.

Jackson has led tormented superstars to the promised land three times. Jordan, Shaq, Kobe, and Kobe a second time after Shaq and Jackson left the Lakers and they fell off the map and failed to make the playoffs. It is a road Jackson has traveled and succeeded on over and over again, more so than Riley.

When they win, Pat still gets the credit for being the executive that brought all the talent together and for having the ego strength to bring in Jackson. For all the unrest in Heat land right now, imagine the instant calm that would ensue if it were announced that Phil Jackson was putting his fishing rod down and taking his Zen to South Beach.

Published by Jeff Schubert

Jeff Schubert is the Host/Executive Producer of the show Filmnut that airs on thestream.tv. Each webisode provides an in-depth interview about the making, marketing, or distribution of film, TV or new media…

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Shaquille O’Neal Is Wrong About Dwight Howard

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Shaquille O’Neal has an affinity for nicknames, “The Big Aristotle”, “The Big Shamrock”, etc… Here is another one:  “The Big Can’t Get Over It”.  Okay it is not as eloquent as the ones he gives himself, but it is long past time he got past his issues with Dwight Howard. 

shaqhowardApparently, Howard’s big offenses to Shaq were:  taking the nickname “Superman”.   (Like Shaq was the first to ever use that one.)  And the media comparing Howard to Shaq, or calling him the next great center. 

For these two offenses Shaq rarely misses an opportunity to put Howard down.  My words to Shaq are:  You are an all-time great stop being so insecure.  If Michael Jordan reacted every time a player was called the next MJ, he’d be hating all the time.  Michael is apparently a lot more secure in himself and his place in history than you are.

Shaq’s most recent salvo is that Howard signed with the Houston Rockets because he couldn’t handle the lights of Los Angeles.  Ridiculous.  Here are valid reasons for leaving that have nothing to do with location:

  • L.A. has a coach in Mike D’Antoni, that Howard believes, doesn’t maximize his game.
  • He signed with a team, Houston, that has a coach, Kevin McHale, and hall of fame mentor, Hakeen Olajuwon, he feels better suits him.
  • Chemistry issues with the Lakers star player, and professed, “man”, Kobe Bryant.  (Shaq can you relate to issues with Kobe?)
  • Houston is also a much younger team and bettered suited to make a run at championships for years to come.
  • The Lakers are an aging, cash strapped, over the salary cap, team.

 

These are factors that would have a lot stars seeking greener pastures.

Shaq, you say everybody wants to be in L.A., but Howard never really professed that.  When he was in Orlando, he preferred a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.  Not exactly dim lights in New York.  On being traded, Howard always stated he would play out his year and see what happens in free agency, regardless of the team he was traded to.

Ironically, if the Lakers did what most thought they should, and hired the same coach that carried you to three championships, Phil Jackson, Howard likely would have stayed.

Bottom line Shaq, logic doesn’t support your conclusions.  I’m a fan of yours.  And as a fan, as big as you are, I can tell you, your attacks on Howard make you look small.  And  they’re getting old and tired.   Give it rest.  It should be beneath you.

 

Why It’s A Bigger Deal When LeBron James Flops or Dwyane Wade Is “Dirty”

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers

Fair or not we expect more from superstars.  Love’em or hate’em, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are stars of the highest order.  (Albeit Wade is past his prime).  We tend to exaggerate their successes and failures.

Another way we judge players of all sports is in how they play the game.  Playing the game, “the right way”, or “the way it is supposed to be played” are two common expressions of coaches and players meant to validate:

  • Hard-nosed play.
  • Physical play.
  • All out effort.
  • Honest way of playing.

True there is also a sports expression that states, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”  But that best represents a sentiment from a pre-social media era.  With drug testing, digital technology, and the traditional media no longer in the back pocket of the games, players simply cannot get away with the things they did years ago.

Technically, since flopping is now a fine-able offense, you can say it qualifies as cheating.  And as much as we don’t like cheating, we like it even less when stars do it.  See the reaction when a player like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens gets suspected of using steroids versus someone like Melky Cabrera actually testing positive for something.

Hypothetically, if a 45-year-old knuckleball pitcher named Phil Niekro got busted for doctoring up a baseball that would be viewed one way.  If Clemens did it?  It would be stop the presses and call into question everything he ever accomplished.  Again, we expect more from superstars.  This is not entirely new.

We admire greatness but feel betrayed by it when it looks to cheat, or for lack of a better word, a weasely advantage.  It was one thing for Vlade Divac or Derek Fisher to be floppers for the Los Angeles Lakers.  It would be another if Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant were habitual floppers.  Just wouldn’t feel right.

LeBron refers to it as a legit strategy.  Forgetting for a moment that it is now a fine-able offense, so is bunting a runner to third base in a critical late game situation in baseball.  If a pitcher or even a leadoff hitter like Brett Gardener does so, we’re excited, but if Alex Rodriguez or Albert Pujols did that in their prime, it would not be greeted with the same enthusiasm.  Plaques aren’t built for bunt sacrifices and floppers.

jordanutahIt was much more satisfying watching the Chicago Bulls win games on Michael Jordan clutch shooting as opposed to if he flopped to draw an offense foul.  MJ, Magic, Bird, Russell, they weren’t known as floppers.  Lebron, do you want that attached to your resume?

Now let’s look at hard fouls/ cheap and or dirty play.  Unless you’re talking about the 80’s bad boy Detroit Pistons led by Isiah Thomas, at best that is a role player function.  Kurt Rambis of the Magic Johnson Lakers, Dennis Rodman with Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and Bruce Bowen for earlier versions of Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs are examples.

dwadeelbowIf Duncan fouled people or executed the cheap shots that Bowen did it would be a bigger deal.  As it is now with seemingly nice guy Dwyane Wade who is slowly building a resume of questionable plays.  Because of his nice guy persona he has enjoyed the benefit of the doubt, but elbows, like the one he threw in game three against Indiana’s Lance Stephenson are starting to add up.

For reasons already well documented, fans already root for the Miami Heat and their not five, not six, not seven proclamation to fail.  Flopping and dirty play only gives them two more reasons to root for them to lose, and minimize them if they win.

As players, James and Wade do so many things the right way and are so talented, they shouldn’t need to flop and or cheap shot to win.

It’s fine for people to trot out the old cliché about only remembering the winner… But with Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, that is not as true as it used to be.

Memo to Commissioner Stern:  Kudos for instituting a fine for flopping, but increase it.

 

Correcting ESPN’s Colin Cowherd Again

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It this week’s edition of correcting ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, the subject is Los Angeles Laker coach Mike D’Antoni.  On his radio show simulcast on ESPNU, this past Monday, the Herd wanted to make the case that going forward D’Antoni was the wrong coach for Lakers.  And more specifically he’s wrong for Laker center and now free agent Dwight Howard.

This is a fair and debatable topic that I have no problem with.  I can understand both points of view.  In fact I recently wrote a blog that the Lakers, New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder might be haunted by not hiring Phil Jackson.

durantanthonyI would also take Kevin Durant over Carmelo Anthony.  Doesn’t mean Anthony isn’t a great basketball player.

Where the Herd went wrong is when he went all “shock jock” and started talking out of his rear-end slamming D’Antoni.  His over the top rant was that D’Antoni always under performed as a head coach in the playoffs.

This is absurd.  Two minutes of fact checking disproves this.  There is no reason for The Herd not to know this.

So let’s look at the facts.  Mike D’Antoni inherited a terrible team, mid-season, when he was the coach of the Phoenix Suns.  He was 20-41 in 2003/04.  He went on to coach for four full seasons.  How did the Suns do in the playoffs in those years?

  • 2004-5:   They lose in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. (Who beat the defending champion Detroit Pistons.)
  • 2005-6: They lose in the Western Conference Finals to the higher seeded Dallas Mavericks.
  • 2006-7: They lose in the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.   This is the year where Robert Horry gave Steve Nash a cheap shot in front of Phoenix’s bench that led to some suspensions of player’s like Amar’e Stoudemire.  The Spurs also won a game in this series thanks to a Tim Duncan three-point shot sending the game into O.T.  Not exactly a failure of strategy.
  • 2007-8:  Lost in the first round to the higher seeded San Antonio Spurs.
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Robert Horry hip checks Steve Nash in the closing seconds of a playoff game where the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Saying D’Antoni always under performed because he primarily couldn’t get by Gregg Popovich and the Spurs dynasty is like saying Pat Riley under performed as head coach of the Knicks because NY couldn’t get past Phil Jackson and the Bulls.

Which series, specifically, did D’Antoni under perform Herd?  Hhmm??

Yes Colin, D’Antoni did have two-time MVP Steve Nash.  But not many would make the argument he was the best player in the game.  In fact many made the argument that Shaquille O’Neal deserved the MVP  one of those years.  But no doubt Nash was great.  You know who else is great Herd?  Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

In New York, D’Antoni inherited a team that was in massive salary cap dump mode to clear room to try to lure Lebron James as a free agent.  Between roster turnover, injury, and the lockout, it is hard to slam D’Antoni for his one first round playoff loss to the Boston Celtics while in NY.

In L.A… He is hired after the start of the season.  So no training camp.  Pau Gasol misses significant time due to injury.  Steve Nash misses time due to injury including some playoff games.  Kobe Bryant misses the playoffs.  Dwight Howard isn’t fully recovered from back surgery, and tears a labrum in his shoulder.  Metta-World-Peace has knee surgery during the season.

This is just part of the Laker’s laundry list of things that went wrong this season.  And as a seventh seed they lose to D’Antoni’s old nemesis the San Antonio Spurs.  Is this a clear example of under performing?

Whether it is Phil Jackson or anyone else Herd, if you want to make a case for a different coach make it.  But don’t slander a coach and misrepresent the record.  You might be able to make a point about a D’Antoni team under performing in a season or two but always? Not even close.

And as I have stated when talking about your assaults on Michael Jordan when deifying Lebron James, you have three hours, five days a week, so you do have time to get stories right.

The reasons he doesn’t?   The choices are:

  • He and his production team are incompetent.
  • They’re negligent.
  • He has a vendetta against D’Antoni.
  • He is a shock jock for ratings and doesn’t care whose career or reputation he might hurt.

You’re good enough without this Colin.  You should clean it up.

NBA Competition Committee Has “Hack a Shaq” Backwards

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You know that annoying strategy, the Hack a Shaq, where unless you’re a fan of the team employing it, you think it should go away?  For the uninitiated, the Hack a Shaq is intentionally, and repeatedly, committing an on or off the ball foul of a player who is a poor foul shooter.

Created by Dallas Maverick coach Don Nelson, it achieved notoriety in the past when employed by San Antonio Spur coach, Gregg Popovich, on former Los Angeles Laker center Shaquille O’Neal.  Current Laker center Dwight Howard is presently on the receiving end of it by Popovich.

As strategies go, if this were baseball it would be called “bush league” and considered unbecoming of a coach of Popovich’s, stature.

I don’t like the Hack a Shaq and it should go.  However, according to an article published by the AP’s Brian Mahoney these are some of the NBA Competition Committee’s thoughts on the matter:

Dwight-HowardLeague president Joel Litvin said owners and the Competition Committee felt that abolishing the strategy, which does slow games down, would be “rewarding a guy who can’t shoot free throws.”

Well I’ll grant the committee this; it does slow the game down by what amounts to a non-basketball play, that is not exciting, or involve skill.  You can make the case that this type of game stoppage, especially when the foul is committed off the ball, should fall into the category of a delay of game. 

The Hack a Shaq slows the game down more than rolling the ball out-of-bounds after a made basket.  If it is a delay of game than the first infraction is a warning and the second is a technical.

And committing a foul is an infraction.  The league is counter intuitively rewarding the team committing the infraction.  It has to be one or the other.   If you don’t want to reward a guy who can’t hit foul shots than you do want to reward the team that says forget legitimate strategy, forget playing the game the way it was meant to be played, we are going to intentionally make illegal contact with a guy who doesn’t have the ball.

I would think the Competition Committee would want games decided by great offense, great defense or a combination of the two.  Not a loophole or exploitation of a rule. 

Shaquille O'Neal, James JonesI’ll even take it one step further and make the case that any foul, which is not in the act of shooting, that results in foul shots, the team being victimized by the foul should get to choose who on their team takes the foul shot.

Again, the team committing the foul has committed the offense.  There should be no or absolutely minimal advantage to them for doing so.  If this is too harsh, perhaps instead of after the 6th team foul committed in the quarter, this adaptation of the rule can take place after the 8th or 10th.  This way there is an incremental aspect to it that further punishes a team for committing fouls to excess.  

The league likes offense right?  This would speed up the pace of the game and or encourage cleaner defense as the consequence of committing a rules infraction, which is what a foul is, would be greater. 

The Curse Of The Zen Master

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If you had an NFL running back who rushed for a 1,000 yards but could get one who repeatedly rushed for 1,500, and you wouldn’t have to give up any other player, would you?  How about letting go a MLB 25 home run guy for a 40 plus guy?  If money wasn’t an issue, these are pretty easy calls right?

Yet after the 2012 NBA season a few franchises seemingly had no problem bypassing arguably the greatest coach in its sports history, Phil Jackson.  Let’s look at three teams that coulda shoulda  went Zen.

The Los Angeles Lakers – I have been a fan of current Laker Coach Mike D’Antoni.  Loved him in Phoenix  with the Suns, and thought he got a raw deal in New York with the Knicks.  If not for a cheap shot by San Antonio Spur Robert Horry against Steve Nash, that instigated Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw  to come off the bench and get suspended, I think Phoenix beat he Spurs in that 2007 playoff series.  They’re then the favorite to win the championship.  That win would have put to rest whether D’Antoni’s style of play can win it all.

PhiljacksonKoThat aside, his style was clearly not the best match for this Laker team.  Not with their bigs, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.  And not with their star player, Kobe Bryant, being so comfortable with Phil Jackson and his triangle offense.  Which oh by the way is better suited to star center Dwight Howard who they hope to retain as a free agent.

True the Lakers were hit hard by injury, but they clearly under performed this season and had chemistry issues. This forced Bryant to play far to many minutes down the stretch just in the hope of nabbing one of the last playoff spots.  Bryant wound up rupturing his Achilles tendon, an injury that Laker personal says you can’t attribute to the excessive minutes thrust upon the 34-year-old star.  However, according to WebMD, the causes for an this tear include overuse and stepping up activity too quickly.  Um, playing 45 to 48 minutes a game qualifies as overuse and stepping up ones activity.  This seems to agree with common sense.

Had Jim Buss been able to set his ego aside and hire Jackson, the Lakers would have been in a better position and likely would not have had to push Bryant.  This may not have eliminated, but certainly would have reduced his risk for this injury.

True Jackson would have cost more money then D’Antoni, but Kobe is going to cost Buss 30 mil next year that he will not be getting a good return on.  And who knows, with a fourth or fifth seed maybe these Lakers could have pulled off the offset and won it all.  Then all of the Jackson haters could have said yeah but look at all of the talent Jackson has.

PhiljacksonKnThe New York Knicks – As soon as Mike D’Antoni resigned in mid-season from the Knicks, it didn’t take long for the rumors to start about Phil Jackson returning to the team he was drafted by and had won a championship with as a player.  Assistant coach Mike Woodson was promoted to interim coach and certainly did more than enough to earn the job full-time.

But I go back to my opening analogy, if you have a 30-homerun guy and 40-homerun guy who do you take?  The additional money Jackson would cost amounts to pennies for Knick Owner James Dolan.  The Knicks have had an up and down year but do appear to be rising heading into the playoffs.  They do have the talent to upset Miami and win it all.  Will they?  Anything short of that should leave questions with respect to what they would have done with Jackson.

For as good job as he has done, Woodson has placated the supremely talented but ball stopping Carmelo Anthony.  The chemistry between he and a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire is still not there and Melo still shoots too much.

phil-jacksonmjKPhil Jackson and his gravitas may have been the best thing to ever happen to Melo.  If Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were able to accept and thrive in the ball moving triangle offense, you know Melo would have had to try to make it work as well.  I also think Jackson would have gotten Melo to play better and more consistent defense.  The book is still open but anything short of a championship this season or within the next two and you have to wonder.

Oklahoma City ThunderScott Brooks has done a great job with the Thunder.  They made the NBA finals last year and got a little jobbed by the officials on their way to losing to the Miami Heat in five games.  Brooks’ contract expired and he was a coaching free agent.  For a minute, it looked like he might not reach agreement.  There was a slight murmur of Phil Jackson to OKC, but not any serious exploration.  This was a mistake.

durantwest_editedThey may say all of the right things off the court but clearly there are on court chemistry issues between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  The Zen Master, has a little experience in this department with two stars, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who didn’t like each other.  Durant and Westbrook appear to like to each other and do want to win.

With the departure of James Harden to Houston, I think Jackson would have made an even bigger difference heading into this year’s playoffs, especially in confidence and fourth quarter execution.  In fact I will go ahead and say it: With Phil Jackson, OKC would have won it all this year.  Now we will see.

Unlike LA or NY, money could have been a real issue with OKC, but I think it was foolish of ownership not to explore further.  Maybe Jackson takes less for this opportunity?

Like Woodson in NY, Brooks earned his place.  But this isn’t about that.  Sports is a win now business.  When the window is open, you never know how long it will stay open.  And when the game’s best is available for the job and can take you that next level, you seize it.  Or at least explore all avenues to see if you can make it work before making your choice.

I think all three franchises struck out here.  We will see if and how it haunts them.  We will see if and when they raise their next or first championship banner.  And if they don’t win, we will wonder if they would have done better  if they went Zen.

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Why does ESPN’s Colin Cowherd hate Michael Jordan?

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ESPN radio and talk show host Colin Cowherd has his pet issues that he has made his mission to influence his audience with.  For instance: telling us Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo is better than we think, and that N.Y. Jet QB Mark Sanchez is as good as the N.Y. Giant’s Eli Manning at the same juncture of their careers.

Annoying as those are, they pale in comparison to what must keep the Herd up at night, and that is that we should all worship Lebron James (LBJ).  He won’t say it but he thinks King James is better than Michael Jordan.  But that is not enough, he finds it necessary to tear down Jordan every time he builds up Lebron.  It would be as if a sportscaster couldn’t say something good about Albert Pujols without trying to diminish Babe Ruth.

Oh he’ll preface any foray into this area by saying he doesn’t hate Jordan and that Michael is the best ever… before he proceeds to diminish Jordan’s career and prop up his fave, LBJ.  This is kind of like Jeff Daniels’ character on the HBO show, The Newsroom, he claims to be a registered republican and then proceeds to bash republicans and agree with democrats the entire time.  Yes Mr. Sorkin, some of us do catch that.

I observed Cowherd’s love affair with Lebron since “the decision” and his never-ending defense of James and his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers.  To listen to Colin, James’ teammates had the skill level of mentally challenged teenage girls, while Jordan played with eleven hall of famers.

Granted this isn’t world news, but the Herd’s reporting here is irresponsible.  The fact that he repeats it so often is troubling because I do not think he, nor his staff are incompetent.  If not incompetence than it is intentional.

Here is an example:  In defending James for leaving Cleveland to pursue his first championship in Miami, the Herd says he had too.  He didn’t have the team there.  Jordan didn’t start winning until he got Pippen, (Scottie) one of the 50 greatest players, Rodman, (Dennis) the best rebounder, Kerr, (Steve) the best three-point shooter, Toni Kukoc, the best European player and so on… That’s fascinating because I could have sworn that Dennis Rodman played on the two time defending champion Detroit Pistons that Jordan beat on the way to his first championship.  Steve Kerr was playing in Cleveland that year and Toni Kukoc was not in the NBA.  Rodman, Kukoc and Kerr were part of Jordan’s 2nd threepeat team.

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Chicago Bulls point guard, John Paxson

Since Colin says the numbers don’t lie, let’s look at the first championship team and compare that to Lebron’s Cavaliers in his final season with them.  Jordan had John Paxson at the point.  Paxson’s career stats are: 7.2 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.2 rpg and a .355% from 3’s.  No all-star game appearances.  Lebron had Mo Williams at the point.  His career stats are: 13.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 2.9 rpg and.386% from 3’s.  Williams did make an All- Star team in the 2008-2009 season, the second to last for James in Cleveland.

Now lets look at the power forward position.  Not Dennis Rodman Colin, but Horace Grant was the PF for Jordan’s 1st through 3rd championship.  His career stat line is: 11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, (3 offensive pg).  In the year they won their first title, Grant averaged 12.2 ppg and 8.4 rpg.  He had one All-Star game appearance, after they won their first championship.  Lebron’s PF was Anderson Varejao.  His stats:  7.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg (2.6 offensive pg).  In Lebron’s last year in Cleveland, Varejao averaged 8.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg.  No All-Star appearances.

At the center position, we have two past their prime players in Bill Cartright for the Bulls and all-time great, Shaquille O’Neal, for Cleveland.  Career stats really aren’t fair here so let’s look at their stats and their backups for the one season.  Shaq’s numbers: 12 ppg, 6.7 rpg  and 1.2 bpg.  His backup, Zydrunas Ilgauskas: 7.4 ppg 5.4 rpg and .8 bpg.  Bill cartright: 9.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, .2 bpg.  His backup, Will Purdue: 4.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and .8 bpg.

Of course Scottie Pippen will get a big edge over whoever we compare him to for Cleveland.  But here are the numbers, Pippen averaged 17.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 6.2 assists per game.  And he was an all-world defender.  During Lebron’s last season with Cleveland they did acquire two-time all-star Antawn Jamison and in 23 games he averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg and just 1.3 apg.  Who knows what chemistry LBJ would have developed with Jamison had they played together a whole season the next year, given how the Herd is always trumpeting how much better Lebron makes other players.

I won’t bore you with bench stats but suffice it to say neither had a 6th man of the year riding the pines.  Leaving out MJ and Lebron, if I could complete a starting five from both teams I would take, Pippen, Shaquille, Mo Williams and Horace Grant.  Ultimately the Bulls get the edge because of Pippen, (and of course Jordan) but the disparity isn’t the gaping chasm the Herd speaks of.  Jordan could have won building with that Cavalier team, and if James was as good as the Herd says, he could have too.

cavscelt

There were two schools of thought about how the Cavaliers series went against the Boston Celtics, who they lost to, in James’ last season.  One, that he was hurt and two that he quit on his own team either out of resignation or that he was disgruntled with a teammate.  Either way, it ends the conversation for me comparing him with MJ but that’s another story.  The point is, the Cav’s took a championship Celtic team that wound up losing a very tight seven game finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, to six games.  So whether James quit on his team or was hurt, they were close and could have continued to build.  A full season with Jamison, another key acquisition, the right role player, etc…

Before Jordan’s Bulls won, they had lost to the Isiah Thomas led Detroit Pistons twice; Pippen had a soft label that he suffered migraines in big moments.  There were no other all-stars or players of note on the team.  Phil Jackson wasn’t a proven commodity when hired as the head coach.  Jackson had asked Jordan to embrace a more team oriented, less shots for him, offense.  Of little notoriety at the time, MJ embraced the triangle offense.   Embracing Jackson, the offense, standing by Pippen, and the Bulls, in retrospect they seem like givens.  They weren’t.  In today’s NBA they certainly are not.  (Props to Kevin Durant for kicking it old school)

Hypothetically, MJ could have pulled a Lebron and looked to get out.  (If not by free agency then by trade.) The 80’s and 90’s mentality was to fight your way through your roadblock or die trying. Not go around it.  In fact it is not difficult for me to imagine if Lebron and Jordan had switched career places and Lebron was a free agent on that Bulls team, after losing to the Pistons for a second time?  I can see him taking off to Boston, LA or one of the other teams in front of them…History would be changed.  There would be no Bulls dynasty.  No “Zen Master” in Phil Jackson.  Scottie Pippen goes down as a borderline hall of famer at best, but not a fifty greatest, and the vaunted triangle offense remains anonymous.

Lebron quitting and abdicating his throne doesn’t make him a bad person (the classless way he left wasn’t a good look), and of course the choice was his.  It doesn’t mean he isn’t a great player.  However, it is one reason why he loses in comparison to MJ and some other greats.

Let’s look at more Herd statements:

“Jordan is the best player ever… but we undervalue the importance of making other players better.  Lebron makes other players better.  Jordan makes himself better”.

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Michael Jordan congratulating Steve Kerr and Kerr hits game winning shot in the NBA Finals. (The pass came from, ahem, MJ)

 

“Shooters will always want to play with Lebron… You play with Jordan you lost shots, you play with Lebron you gain shots”.

Is this true?  First off, Jordan made his teammates better by stepping on the court.  He was much more than a scorer.  Among his many accomplishments, MJ was the first player to record 200 steals and 100 blocked shots in season.  While being a scorer first, his career assist average is 5.3 compared to James’ 6.9.  You would think Jordan would have a negative apg average listening to the Herd.  But let’s look at his specific charge about gaining and losing shots.

Colin refers to Steve Kerr as the best shooter.  Kerr’s shot per game numbers in his seasons with the Bulls were: 7, 6, 5.9, 5.7, and 6.  Before he got to the Bulls his numbers were: 2.4, 2 and 2.3.  After he left the Bulls, and went to play with the big fundamentalist, Tim Duncan, in San Antonio, his SPG were: 4, 2.3 and 2.9.  These numbers don’t include three-point attempts per game, but guess what Colin?  His three highest total three-point shots per game numbers came with Michael and the Bulls.  For the sake of brevity I won’t list the numbers for John Paxson and B.J. Armstrong but they weren’t losing shots.  You can fact check at Basketball Reference.com, click here.

What about shots playing with Lebron?  Well let’s look at the aforementioned Antawn Jamison brought in to help James.  With Washington that the first part of the 09-10 season he took 17.1 shots per game, and with Cleveland, 13.4.  I’m sure Lebron was able to help an aging Shaq get more shots right?  Nope.  He took 11.2 per game in Phoenix the year before he took 8.7 with Cleveland.  Mo Williams?  12.4 with LBJ and 12.6 the year after he left.

And when it comes to creating a shot for your sharp shooting teammates when the game is on the line, Jordan is who I want with the ball.  Why?  Because he is not afraid to go the rim and take foul shots if he gets fouled.  Thus he is more likely to get double or triple teamed and be in a position to pass out.  As opposed to Lebron, who tends to avoid the rim in these situations because he is not a clutch foul shooter.

The Herd goes on, “when Jordan was drafted by the Bulls that was bad news for Orlando Woolridge and Quintin Daily”… Really?  The year before MJ, Woolridge averaged 19.3 points per game taking 14.5 shots.  MJ’s first year, Woolridge averaged 22.9 points on 15.9 shots.  How is that math working out for you Herd?  Daily took a slight drop.  His average went from 18.2 to 16 points per.

“What Lebron did with what he had was more remarkable than what Jordan did… The Cavs had bigger drop off after Lebron left than when Jordan left the Bulls”…

Fact, but not really.  When Jordan left the Bulls the first time they only lost two more games than they did the season before and the Cavs did fall off the map after James left.

But wait, again, the Herd referred to Steve Kerr as “the best shooter”.  Well when was his first season with the Bulls?  That would be the year after MJ left.  Didn’t the Herd refer to Tony Kukoc as the world’s best European player?  Sure did, and you guessed it, his first season with the Bulls was the year MJ was gone.  Oh and Rodman still wasn’t a Bull though the Herd says he was.  Google!  Herd you might want to try it sometime.

What about Cleveland?  In addition to the defection by James, they lost Shaquille, Zydrunas Ilgauskas the starter pre-Shaq also left as a free agent, Anderson Varajo played in only 31 games due to injury, Baron Davis, an acquisition that was suppose to help offset the loss of James played 15 games due to injury, and Mo Williams was traded after 36 games.  There’s more but you get the point.  Not exactly an apples to apples comparison, eh Herd?

The Herd would have you believe the teams were exactly the same but for MJ and LBJ.

Further coach Phil Jackson has said that in Jordan’s last year prior to his first retirement, they had repeated as champions and maybe underachieved during his last regular season.  And with something to prove maybe they overachieved the year he was gone.

“Michael played with better players his first three years”.  “After winning and NCAA title as a freshman he went seven or eight years without winning.”

84-jordan-olympic-card

Apparently the Herd doesn’t think much of winning an Olympic gold medal.  Oh, we know about the dream team in 1992.  However, prior to that, the USA, past it’s dominance, didn’t play in 1980 due to our country’s boycott of the games, and lost in 1988, but won gold with MJ in 1984.  Michael led the all-amateur team with 17.1 points per game.

As for his first three seasons, he was competing against dynasties and much tougher competition.  The Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, 76ers, and more.  The Herd and others have commented on how the talent in the league is watered down today due to expansion.  The rules are much easier and favor offensive players today.  LBJ doesn’t have to take near the beating MJ takes.  I think it was NBA analyst Tim Legler who mentioned that to the Herd but he didn’t seem too interested in hearing it, and certainly didn’t repeat it like he does his pro LBJ comments ad nausea.  Psychologically I don’t think LBJ could have survived the pounding “the bad boy” Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks gave Jordan.

Another semi important factoid the Herd (and others forget or ignore) is that in MJ’s second season he only started seven games.  Why?  Because he broke his foot missing 64 games.  He came back with just a handful of games left against the advice of doctors and heroically led the Bulls into the playoffs.  In Boston, he scored a still unbroken record of 63 points against the eventual Larry Bird led Celtic champions.  A team in the discussion for best ever.

In MJ’s rookie season, only he and Orlando Woolridge started more than 55 games, so it was a team in flux.

“Jordan got a huge gift with a push-off against Utah.  He struggled in that series…  Lebron and the Heat dominated Oklahoma City and won a title with no center, little bench and Dwyane Wade playing the same position.”

Okay, a foul could have been called on MJ on that play against Bryon Russell in the finals against Utah.  However the offensive player usually gets the benefit of the doubt and I think he makes the shot anyway with or without the push.

What you don’t hear Colin repeatedly pontificate about is LBJ as a defensive player getting away with clearly fouling Kevin Durant at the end of game two of their finals. This could have put the game into overtime.  If Miami, who was never trailing in that game, goes on to choke it away, not an impossibility for an LBJ team to that point, the whole series is different with OKC now up 2-0.

Oh and let’s not forget the phantom fourth foul called on Durant in-game three that OKC was taking over in the third quarter that sent Durant to the bench and turned the game around. Click here.  OKC could have been up 3-0 but the Herd emphatically says they were dominated!

As for the Heat’s talent?  How about Shane Battier and Mike Miller combining to make 72 three pointers in the playoffs?  Oh and that is what they do… before they ever teamed with Lebron, so don’t even go there Herd.  How about Udonis Haslem who won a ring with D. Wade and the Heat in 2006?  His return from injury was also key in their run.  And after Koby Bryant, Wade is considered the game’s next best closer.  Not exactly a strength of James’.  Chris Bosh, another all-star and probable future hall of famer, came up big.  Exactly how much talent is James suppose to have around him before he is suppose to win?

Since the Herd likes to paint MJ as a selfish player and not a good teammate, I’ll add that Jordan was the first and perhaps only player to insist that his teammates be in the post championship “I’m going to Disney World” commercial.

With MJ the Herd likes to mention that: Jordan punched a teammate, his gambling, and his less than well received hall of fame speech.

With LBJ the Herd makes like his departure from Cleveland was no biggy, minimizing his quitting on his team, doesn’t mention how he refused to shake hands after a playoff loss, nor apologize for it upon further reflection.  How he and or Nike tried to cover up a video of a high school kid blocking his shot.

None of these events are earthshaking but it’s like if you were a publicist who would you guess the Herd is being paid to make look good and bad?

The Herd refers to MJ’s hall of fame speech as petty, but within the first minute he is praising Pippen commenting on how he couldn’t do it without him.

Herd, I’m an unpaid blogger trying to survive on peanut butter and Matzos… Dude, you have a THREE HOUR ESPN radio show five days a week!  I’m assuming someone(s) helping you with research, and you rant about this topic repeatedly, how about filling in some details, and facts, and balance?!  Do some homework and or come out of the closet and admit you think Lebron is better than Michael.

You want to convince me you don’t hate Jordan and that you think he is the best ever, than mix in an opening rant where you spend as much time talking up MJ as you do LBJ.

You know, the guy who you say is the better rebounder, passer, defender, that he is bigger, faster, stronger, makes his teammates better.

Right, you think Jordan is better than him…And for the record, I don’t hate LBJ.