Friday, September 01, 2006

A World of Hurt

You guys all know me well enough to know that I enjoy being right. The smartest guy in the room... I told you so... you've heard it all a million times. But I really wanted the US to win this game. I really did.

I can't face a full screed about this right now. I've said most of it before. But I have some quick points (OK, a lot of quick points):

1) SHUT UP ABOUT THE UPSET - Jim Durham must have said 20 times druing the second half that this was the biggest upset of the tournament. Not even close, OK. Lebanon beat France in Pool Play. That's a big upset. Fran Frischilla (that rarest of animals, an American basketball commentator who knows something about International basketball) kept politely correcting Durham ("This is a minor upset, JD"), but 'Bull' Durham would have none of it.

2) SHUT UP ABOUT THE RULE DIFFERENCES - It's still basketball, people. Oh, and btw, on the trapezoidal lane, do the friggin' math. Yes, it's wider at the bottom, but it's more narrow at the top. The backboard is 4 feet in from the baseline. So unless you're an IDIOT and you are trying to establish post up position BEHIND the backboard, the difference is LESS THAN 12 INCHES, and at the mid-post, you're actually CLOSER to the rim.

3) STOP SAYING STUFF WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION - From Marty Burns on SI.com (whose article on the whole wasn't bad): "With its trapezoid lane, shorter three-point line and quirky officiating, one-on-one play is not as important." What the hell does that even mean? How do the trapezoid lane (which at any rate is no big deal, see 2), a shorter three-point line and quirky officiating in any way impact the relative effectiveness of one-on-one play? The ONLY conceivable rule difference that would impact one-on-one versus team play is the absence of a defensive three second rule, which he declines to include in his list. As for the officiating, yes it's quirky but it's quirky both ways. The big difference with officiating is that FIBA doesn't employ the NBA's star system, and let's face it, FIBA is right and the NBA is wrong on that one. The look on DWade's face was pretty comical when he didn't get calls. He's just not used to that with Dick Bavetta around to help him get up off the floor.

4) The days of US domination are simply over, and that's not bad. Did anyone really ENJOY watching the Dream Team (the real one) in Barcelona? It was a joke. But the vast majority of that gap has been closed by the other teams getting better, not the US getting worse. Sure, we've gotten worse - but that team had arguably the three greatest (and smartest) players ever. You can only get worse from there. (People also forget about the timing of Barcelona - The Soviet Union had just broken apart, followed shortly thereafter by Yugoslavia. The two best international teams were a mess in 1992, and hadn't really recovered by 1996. I think it gave us an air of invincibility that wasn't justified, even then. And obviously, the team itself has had a huge impact on the competition we see now. Think the 7 year-old Sergio Rodriquez watched a few of the Barcelona games and thought about how cool it would be to pass like Magic Johnson? You betcha.)

5) This result is not a failure. If the days of domination are over, and if part of 'fixing' the USA Basketball program is having consistency, then you can't really judge the 3-year-plan based on the 1-year result. If the Gold Medal was guaranteed in the first year, you wouldn't need the 3-year-plan, now would you? We've now seen Ginobili, Sanchez, Oberto, Scola, Herrmann, Nocioni and Delfino (among others) in three straight major competitions. Beijing will be the third for LBJ, 'Melo, Wade, etc. If the plan is to have a consistent program, then great, that's the plan.

6) Oh sorry, I have another shut up.... SHUT UP ABOUT THE ABSENCE OF PREPARATION TIME FOR THE US TEAM. Chris Broussard (ESPN Insider required) had a good line on this one: "Don't give me this jive about Greece, Spain and Argentina playing together so long. Those guys play on different teams, and sometimes in different countries, during the season. They're not holed up in some gym playing together year round." Great point. To listen to Jim Durham, you'd think all any of these guys do is compete for their National Team. Every guy on these top rosters is a PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER. They have LONG SEASONS and they make LOTS OF MONEY. Have they played together as a unit more over the years? Maybe. But if they prepare more for any single tournament, that is a decision they are making, and one the US could choose to make as well. They just want it more.

7) The question remains, why does one-on-one basketball rule in the NBA, but not in these international competitions? Of the last 1700 NBA Champions, only one of them (the 2004 Pistons) managed to win a ring without a legitimate MVP candidate. Moreover, the basic NBA offensive set consists of an iso to force a double team. Why? A contributing factor is definitely the 'quick fix' attitude of NBA GM's. The easiest way to get more W's is by signing a superstar, either in free agency or in the draft. But couldn't you try to find talented players AND play team basketball? The one does not necessarily preclude the other. The answer to my question is that one-on-one basketball rules the NBA because we (coaches, players, fans) allow it to. Talented players in the US are identified by the age of 10, and are placed in superstar systems all along the way, from local teams to AAU to high school, college and the pros. The ego of the player is always more important than anything else. I'm not really sure why it's different in Europe, but the professional club team approach may have a lot to do with it. A talented 16 year old in Spain will go pro, and maybe he'll be a star for the junior team, but he's also getting drilled in practice by the senior team from time to time, and picking up jock straps. Broussard had another great ovservation on this one. He thinks that International fans, players and coaches are "beginning to view American basketball like America's 'real basketball' fans, players and coaches view And1 Streetball." Ouch. And probably true.

8) Last point for now. THIS TOURNAMENT IS NOT OVER YET. Team USA has to play Argentina in the Bronze Medal game. Do we care about the Bronze Medal? Of course not. But we had BETTER care about beating Argentina, because they damn well care about beating us. For the immediate future, there are maybe 8 or 10 teams that will be medal contenders in these competitions. We're one of them, Argentina is one of them. If we really want to win Gold Medals, we have GOT to get better at excelling against these teams, and it starts with this game.


Coming soon: what Team USA did wrong and how I would fix it.