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"Remember Who We Are"…. Because Pop Sure Doesn't

By Michael Erler on October 25, 2006.

I’ll have to take these sentiments by Bramlet in order so I don’t lose my train of thought…

First and foremost, I have to declare that I am 99.9% certain that at no time this season or any subsequent seasons will you ever catch me pining for ‘Sho or T-Rex. They both had their moments of… well greatness isn’t the word certainly, but let’s just say moments of adequateness. In the end they were both overpaid and underutilized, so they became expendable.

Rasho in particular I have a soft spot for. I recognized his contributions on the defensive more than most Spurs fans I feel, but he just didn’t bring the intensity on that end of the floor every night. Being inconsistent on the offense I could deal with, because whatever Nesterovic gives you there is icing, but being soft, intimidated, and uninterested in defense I cannot forgive. Sure, Rasho made a point of rotating on D, but there is a difference between putting yourself in position to get in somebody’s way and actually making a play. There is a difference between blocking a guy’s shot and just making it more difficult. There is a difference between boxing out a guy and actually grabbing the board. Too often Rasho took the easy way out, and I think Pop had enough. Sure the guy wasn’t a bad teammate, but he had zero fire, period. To be a good NBA player, you have to be a little selfish. Otherwise you reach the point of diminishing returns out on the floor.

It will be a very rare occurrence indeed when I defend Stephen A, but I know exactly why he picks on Rasho. Bullies only pick on people who won’t fight back. It doesn’t bother Smith that Rasho sucks. Lots of NBA players suck. It bothers him that he shows no emotion out there while sucking. Nesterovic is ten times the player that somebody like Jake Voskuhl is, but you won’t catch Smith insulting Voskuhl, because when he does see the floor, he waves his arms up and down and yells and looks like he gives a shit.

Nazr on the other hand I have no ambivalence toward whatsoever. He was a complete bum as far as I’m concerned and I won’t miss him a bit. For the life of me I just can’t understand how by all accounts a relatively intelligent guy just could not grasp the concept of defensive rotations. I mean, this isn’t football. He doesn’t have to memorize 500 plays. He has to know like maybe 20 sets on offense and 10 on defense. It’s not rocket science. It’s even less complicated when you’re a center. Your job is to protect the basket at all costs. Except for a couple of nice sequences here and there in the Finals vs. the Pistons, I just don’t think Mohammed understood that good defense was his primary responsibility here, not scoring.

And as far as the offensive end of the floor went, I mean the guy had the worst hands I’ve ever seen. It got to the point where Tony and Manu absolutely hated to be on the floor with him. You could tell in their body language. And the more mistakes he made, the more nervous he became. He had that one stretch late in the season where it looked like he began to figure it out, and he had that one 30 point game against the Suns, but almost immediately afterward he fell into this abyss he could never pull himself out of. Plus he had this maddening habit of making himself shorter than he is underneath the basket. He’d keep doing these pump fakes that would fool nobody, and he’d bend his knees so low that guys who couldn’t hope to block his dunks if he went straight up with them managed to stuff him by getting hands on the ball on the way up.

Basically, the guy was less of an athlete than he appeared. Oddly, I think the straw that broke the camel’s back for him with this organization was that 3 pointer he hit during the final moments of the Game 1 rout against the Kings. That unsportsmanlike behavior is not Spurs basketball and it was the end of the road between him and Pop, especially for a guy who makes no contribution on the defensive end.

The criticism of Derek Anderson I think is unwarranted. Sure, in an indirect way his leaving paved the way for Manu to join the Spurs, so obviously that’s a great thing, but the cruel hand of fate played a big part our perceptions of him. Few people remember that he had that one really big year for us as the second dog to Tim, and really he was the first exciting athlete we had at the two-guard since a young Willie Anderson. But then Juwan Howard of the Mavericks injured him during the playoffs and he was useless against Kobe and the Lakers. The injury proved to be so serious for Anderson that he never was able to regain his explosiveness. Pop traded him straight up for Steve Kerr, for crying out loud. For all I know the guy was a major turd behind the scenes, but I will reserve any ill feelings toward him because of the injury.

Oberto I think can be of some help to us in setting screens for Tony and Manu and on the offensive boards, but I fail to see how he’ll be of any help at all on defense. He’s too short and unathletic to block shots, and too small and slow to guard anybody. Plus, he’s the guy the refs are looking for as the designated Spur to call fouls on. He’ll never be able to see more than 18 minutes on the floor with us, and I see him being used less and less as the year goes on. I think the development of Jackie Butler, especially defensively, will end up playing a major role this year in regards to us winning the whole kit and caboodle.

My main criticism with Pop and small ball is this: It bothers me that we’re the team who always changes our lineups and our styles of play to suit the needs of the team we’re playing. We play one way vs. the Suns and Mavs, another way vs. the Pistons, etc. It is one thing to be versatile, quite another to be compliant. Why can’t we be the team who dictates to other teams? Why can’t we be the team that says, “THIS is who we are, you gotta adjust to us.”

What people failed to notice about the Mavericks was that except for maybe 10 minutes, they play with a traditional line up. The majority of the time Dallas had either Diop or Dampier on the floor. Those are centers folks. If they can play with ’em, than we should have been able to as well.

I think the faulty logic here was that somebody on the roster was equipped to guard Nowtizki. There isn’t a person alive who can guard Dirk one-on-one without eventually being whistled for six fouls. Yeah ‘Sho or T-Rex can’t guard him. Well Timmy, Bruce, Fin or whoever else can’t either. The smart (and to me obvious) move would’ve been to let Dirk get his and shut everyone else down. Why doesn’t anyone understand that the Mavs couldn’t shoot a lick? Outside of Dirk, nobody on that team had a consistent 20 foot jumper. Nobody. Howard and Terry and Stack’s games were all predicated on driving to the cup where we had nobody in the way because Tim was drawn out on the perimeter. If we just stuck both Tim and Rasho in the key illegal defense rules be damned (they’d have called two or three of them, but not all game), we’d have taken the Mavericks’ strengths away from them and turned them into an outside shooting team that never went to the line. I don’t care if Dirk got 50, the rest of the guys wouldn’t have gotten more than 40 combined.

As for the offensive end of the floor, I completely disagree that it made us a better team with no center. Against most teams it would have, but not Dallas. Why? Dirk, that’s why. You put Rasho or Nazr on the floor, and who does he guard? He can’t guard Tim, he’d get killed. And even the centers if they ever got position down low would abuse him pretty regularly. No, the whole series Dirk was allowed to camp out on Bruce, never breaking a sweat, and then jumping into the lane to get rebounds because the only guy we had at either end of the floor to grab them was Tim. When Diop or Dampier blocked out Tim, Dirk got all the free rebounds. This happene
d constantly. Maybe the weak rebounding of our centers wouldn’t have made a difference in that aspect, but at least they would have forced Dirk to have to guard somebody.

And this brings me to my other point. The playoffs last year exposed Bruce Bowen. His time has come and gone. Defense has been pretty much outlawed in the NBA now and he’s not nearly as effective without a stud shotblocker behind him anyway. One of the main reasons he has such a sterling reputation defensively is that he is afforded the luxury of just playing guys to shoot. It’s not his responsibility if guys drive past him because we’ve always had bigs back there to clean up his mess. Other perimeter defenders, like Ron Artest for example, actually have to shut down guys on their own for the most part and can’t cheat one way or the other. This is why I’ve always thought it was foolish for Bruce to even be considered for the Defensive Player of the Year award. The notion strikes me as patently ridiculous as Derek Jeter getting a Gold Glove, considering that he has the range of a toaster oven at shortstop. Meanwhile on offense Bruce is a liability, and in small ball lineup there is no place for him on the floor. I think a Tim-Rasho-Finley-Manu-Parker lineup would’ve been the way to go, with Nazr the 6th man, Barry the 7th, Horry the 8th, and Bruce in there for maybe a few minutes here and there in certain defensive situations. Alas.

I just don’t understand why Pop tried to outscore the Mavs when our whole identity for the past decade has been as a defensive club. I think by trying so hard to match up with Dirk when he was clearly unmatchupable (not a word, I realize) he played right into the Dallas’ hands. He basically gambled that Tim, Manu, Tony, and Fin would all go insane on the offensive end of the floor, but he put the team’s margin of error to next to nothing. For a coach whose constant mantra has always been “Remember who we are” it seemed pretty disingenuous of him to demand lockdown defense when the group of players he was playing was clearly better at making baskets than preventing them.

Also I don’t buy the argument that playing without a center spaces the floor for Tim at all. First of all, his FT shooting is still too shaky to depend on continually, so you don’t necessarily want him in a situation where the Mavs will willingly send him to the line all day. Secondly, if Nazr or especially Rasho are on the floor, we could have had somebody to set screens at the top of the key for Tony and Manu besides Tim, so that once they got by their man Duncan would have been an option to kick it too near the basket when his guy rotated over to cut off the easy lay up. And if somebody else rotates over, then we get open baseline jumpshots or 3s all night. As long as you don’t play Bruce, you’ll still be in a situation where there are four scorers on the floor at all times, even with a center out there.

Strategically I think Pop’s biggest error in judgment was the belief that the difference between our best offensive and best defensive line up was just one guy: Finley instead of Rasho. I contend that it’s actually two guys: Finley and Barry/Horry for Rasho and Bruce. However the best compromise would have been, as I’ve said, Finley for Bruce.

Now as for that Britney quote, let me make my feelings on the matter crystal clear. When she looked like the picture on her first album, she could’ve told me anything and I’d have agreed with her. Pro-life, war in Iraq is a great idea, no to gay marriage, yes to capital punishment, whatever. The 17 year old Brit was a goddess and the last jailbait celebrity whose countdown to 18 genuinely excited me (unlike the Olsen twins who I find gross). The current version has put on quite a few and shat out a couple of kids, so I don’t care what she has to say.

However, I have a new jailbait goddess in my life. I introduce you all to one Hayden Panettiere.
She stars on this new NBC show “Heroes” which is kind of like an X-Men ripoff. Her character I guess would be the Wolverine of the group in that her power is she’s indestructible. (Bruce Willis’ character in M. Night Shalayman’s “Unbreakable” was also the same deal). Anyway I really like the show, and since it’s followed by the superb “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” Monday night 9-11 pm has quickly become my favorite two hour block of television. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even really care about the football game on Mondays anymore, (especially with that HIDEOUS ESPN broadcast team, production values, etc.) I just look forward to Mondays for these two shows.

And for the record, Hayden’s magic number is 301 days and dropping.

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