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thebac
11-13-2003, 12:55 PM
NBA Insider...Nov 13: Jamal Crawford; Skill over size; Why is scoring down?

Does Jamal Crawford have a future in Chicago?

Chat with NBA Insider Chad Ford at 1 p.m. ET today
BOSTON -- Jamal Crawford sits in his locker, shoulders slumped, fiddling with the laces on his shoes.

There is a celebration going on in the Chicago Bulls locker room. Crawford smiles. Shakes some hands. Says the right things. But right now, everything looks a little forced.

The Bulls hit a huge milestone just three weeks into the season. Their 89-82 victory over the Celtics Wednesday night was cause for celebration. It was their third road victory of the year. That ties their entire 2002-03 mark for road victories when the Bulls went 3-38 away from home.

Unless the Bulls lose the next 37 games on the road, they already have improved.

Coach Bill Cartwright smiles and lovingly calls his squad "The Road Warriors." He praises Jalen Rose, who just days before was in his dog house, for defensively shutting down Paul Pierce. He praises Eddy Curry, another of Cartwright's whipping boys, for going out and grabbing 14 boards. He gives love to Scottie Pippen. To rookie Kirk Hinrich. Even to Donyell Marshall, who shot just 1-for-10 from the field.

Crawford, who played 20 minutes and scored just five points, doesn't warrant a mention for Cartwright.

From all outward appearances, the Bulls' early-season problems appear to be behind them. After a miserable start that included three blowout losses, Cartwright's shake-up last week seems to be having an effect. The Bulls have won three straight on the road and are playing competitive, gritty basketball for the first time this season.

The train has moved on, GM John Paxson will say before the game. Has Crawford been left behind?

"It hasn't been like I thought it would be," Crawford told Insider. "I thought I ... we'd ... get off to better start."

Jamal Crawford
Point Guard
Chicago Bulls
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
9 14.2 2.7 4.7 .412 .870


Crawford knows when a team struggles early, it's often the point guard who takes the blame. He knows winning is more important than individual stats. And he believes, deep down, his return to the starting lineup will happen soon enough.

He knows his insecurity has gotten him into trouble. That his words, spoken in the heat of the moment, have made him look selfish. He says he regrets lashing out when he found out he'd lost his starting job. He also claims to be misunderstood.

Talk to Crawford a little longer and his perspective starts to come into focus. He's been fighting adversity his entire basketball career -- an NCAA suspension his freshman season; riding the bench his rookie year in the NBA; a serious knee injury in year two; a year-long position battle with rookie Jay Williams in year three; and now yet another position battle, this time with rookie Kirk Hinrich, during his contract year. Every time Crawford appears ready to break out, an obstacle gets thrown in his way.

Forgive him if he thinks the world, or the Bulls, are out to get him a little bit. Nothing has come easy for Jamal. Sometimes, even the simplest of gestures gets filtered through Crawford's experiences as a plot to bring him down.

"Just look at everything objectively," he says about his problems with the Bulls. "I don't want to bring everything back up. I'm trying to get past it. ... But just look at it objectively. All anyone wants is a fair shake."

A week after his blow-up over his demotion, he claims to have moved on -- to have gained perspective. "Everything happens for a reason. It's weird, because I got a call from Jay [Williams] today. It puts it all into perspective. You can't take anything for granted. I'm just happy to be able to play."

He says it, and I think he means it. Since his demotion, Crawford has reined in his game. During one key possession last night, he dove to the floor for a loose ball. That got him a smile and a high five from his coach when he went to the bench. But for the most part, Crawford looks lost. He's a scorer. A gifted scorer. He also has a gift for handling the ball. Three years into his career, he has yet to reconcile the two. Cartwright wants his point guard to distribute the ball and to be a gritty defender.

Crawford just doesn't play that way. He can and does make smart passes. But his instinct tells him to look for the shot. During one brief flourish in the fourth, Crawford felt the itch and fired away on two straight possession. Both of the baskets went in. The points held off a furious Celtics rally. But within a minute, Crawford was sitting on the bench watching a rookie play the most critical minutes of the game.

Cartwright has grown weary of explaining Crawford's situation. When asked if he had an explanation why Rose was re-instated to the starting lineup and not Crawford, Cartwright pauses, looks up at the ceiling and then says softly, "Today? No." A few second later, after another question about Crawford, Cartwright lays it out.

"The biggest goal is stopping an opponent," he said. "That's what we want to see from our guys. The more solid we can be from the defensive end, the better. It's that simple."

Paxson, who has tried to mediate between the two, thinks Crawford's benching has been overblown.

"Jamal's a really good kid," Paxson told Insider. "I've always really liked him. I understand his situation. Every player, if they have any competitiveness, want to start. Jamal's had his fair share of adversity. How you react to it tells me everything about what kind of guy he is. He's still young and still fighting through how this game works."

Several rival GMs insist Crawford is on the trading block. The writing does appear to be on the wall, even though Paxson claims it isn't.

Crawford isn't comfortable in Chicago. He hesitates before answering whether he'd like to re-sign with the Bulls long term. "Yeah, I bought a house here," he finally says dispassionately. "My first choice is to be back."

Does Crawford believe the Bulls want him back? This time there's a longer pause before he quietly says, "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think they do."

Cartwright isn't comfortable with Crawford. There's a reason he's starting a turnover-prone rookie in place of Crawford. No one believes Hinrich runs the offense better, but his tough defensive efforts already have given him a leg up.

Paxson seems to genuinely like Crawford (though it's less clear whether he believes Crawford is a point guard), but he isn't comfortable with the team's struggles. He wants his team to move on. He is tired of the excuses. He has put heavy expectations on his team for a reason.

"I don't know how you play this game without expectations and pressure," Paxson said. "We put it on them from day one. I think it's the right thing to do. We have to find out how the players respond. That's the reason we didn't do much this summer. We have to find out as an organization whether the guys we saw the last six weeks of the season can sustain that effort over a full season."

" There's a lot to be taught. We don't have any experience. We don't have guys who understand the game or know how to win on the road. ... They don't have a clue. "
-- Scottie Pippen
So far Crawford, and several other Bulls, has struggled to realize the promise he showed toward the end of last season. It's one thing to excel personally on the court. It's another to mesh the individual effort with the team's effort.

The Bulls have too many young players who understand the one-on-one game but still don't have a clue about the team one. They know how to score but don't know how to win. The know how to play hard when things are going their way, but they haven't figured out how to compete when the chips are stacked against them.

Pippen, who has seen it all through his career in Chicago and then with the dysfunctional Blazers, claims what the Bulls need is more time.

"There's a lot to be taught," Pippen told Insider. "We don't have any experience. We don't have guys who understand the game or know how to win on the road. ... They don't have a clue. No chemistry with each other on the floor. That's what's got this team so far back. No chemistry between one or two players who can help them get over the hump."

Pippen claims he was brought in to help the situation. To be a teacher. During the game, it is Pippen, not Cartwright, who is the first off the bench yelling instructions to his teammates in the game. In the fourth quarter it is Pippen, not one of the Baby Bulls, who takes over and helps the Bulls hang onto a victory.

But Pippen claims the teaching and example will only get you so far.

"You have to work at it as a player," Pippen said. "You can't just write it down on paper and players learn from it. You have to put your body through it."

Paxson agrees.

"You have to learn how to compete," Paxson said. "They don't realize how hard they have to work and play every night to win games."

How do you instill that?

"You hope that through the experience they figure it out," Paxson said. "If you do, then you know they got something. If they don't then you know you've got a problem."

Nine games into the regular season, the 4-5 Bulls appear to be solving their problems. Whether Crawford is part of the long term solution remains to be seen.

Around the League


-Speaking of the Bulls, one player who got Bill Cartwright's message loud and clear was Curry. Since Cartwright decided to bench Rose and Crawford, Curry's rebounding numbers (Cartwright's big gripe with Curry) have gone through the roof.
Eddy Curry
Center
Chicago Bulls
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
9 13.3 6.9 1.0 .483 .632


In Curry's first five games, he averaged just 4.2 rebounds per game and just 1.2 offensive boards per game. After Cartwright decided to make his move, Curry's been grabbing 10.3 rpg and 3.5 offensive rpg.

Did his teammates' demotions have anything to do with it?

"Oh yeah, definitely," Curry told Insider. "I didn't want to be the next one out. I felt I needed to step up and do the best I could. I just needed to give more energy, and have more awareness on the court."

Whatever he's doing, it seems to be working. His 14 boards Wednesday night were just one shy of a career high.

"That was Eddy Curry's fourth consecutive good game," Cartwright said. "If we get that every night, I will be pretty pleased."

Can Curry keep it up now that he's out of Cartwright's dog house?

"I don't need that any more," Curry said. "I don't need the negative. I'm just going to get myself up for every game."


-I know the Most Improved Player of the Year award isn't supposed to be the Comeback of the Year award, but nevertheless, if Vin Baker keeps playing the way he's playing right now, he has my vote.
Vin Baker
Power Forward
Boston Celtics
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
8 14.8 6.8 1.5 .557 .741


Baker's 15 ppg and seven rpg averages have played a large part in the Celtics' good start. While those numbers pale in comparison to his career highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds per game, it's tough not to be in awe of what he's accomplished.

Late last season, it looked like Baker's career was over. He was out of shape, averaging just 5.2 ppg and 3.8 rpg, and by the end of the season, had checked into a substance abuse clinic.

Baker claims the rehab he had to go through there was harder than anything he's done in his life. "People will never know what it took to get back here," Baker told Insider. "It was a struggle every day, man. I just wanted to play basketball again, to live life again. There were a lot of days when I didn't know if that was possible."

A new, slimmer Baker claims going into training camp he wasn't sure what to expect. "I was afraid," he said. "Luckily, things starting coming quickly, and my confidence started to soar. But still, every time I missed a basket or made a mistake, in the back of my mind I was thinking, man, what if I don't have it."

Now that Baker has strung together eight solid games, he claims that's no longer a problem. "I haven't felt this good since my first year in Seattle," Baker said. "It just feels great to be playing basketball again. To not have all of those other negatives bringing me down."

The fans in Boston have noticed. Last season Baker was mercilessly booed by the home crowd. The talk shows were calling for Chris Wallace's head. Wednesday night, after scoring 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds, Baker got a standing ovation as he left the court. Now, he's the most popular player in Boston


-Don't be surprised if the Celtics make at least one trade before the February deadline. Right now the team is sitting on a $59.2 million cap number. That's about $2 million above the projected luxury-tax threshold for next season. The Celtics' new owners don't want to pay the luxury tax and forgo the rebates they'll get from the league. Last season the Celts got $14 million in rebates for staying under. They don't want to miss it again.

The primary trade bait will be Tony Battie. With the strong play of Mark Blount, Baker and Raef LaFrentz, Battie is becoming expendable. And, one Celtics source claims rookie Kendrick Perkins has been so good in practice the team is itching to get him off the injured list and give him at least a few minutes every night.

If the Celtics can get an expiring contract and a draft pick for Battie, they'll probably pull the trigger.


-Sixers center Samuel Dalembert has been averaging 11.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 4.3 bpg over the last three games.
Many were surprised that the Sixers picked up their fourth-year option on Dalembert. Now that he's healthy and getting minutes, the decision looks pretty wise.

"Young player, ups and downs, good plays and bad plays," coach Randy Ayers said. "But he gave us some positive minutes. The extra work he's starting to put in, the extra film sessions and his work on the court, hopefully is starting to pay off."

Dalembert's strong play prompted his agent, Marc Cornstein, to boast to Insider that, "If the Sixers would play Sam 25 minutes a game, he'd lead league in blocked shots."

It's no coincidence that Dalembert's production has come with an increase in minutes, and perhaps Cornstein is onto something. Dalembert currently ranks second in the league in blocks per minute, trailing only Chris Anderson of Denver.

-It sounds like Knicks GM Scot Layden isn't in any hurry to fire coach Don Chaney after a rough 2-5 start.
"It's unacceptable to be 2-5," Layden told the New York Post. "It's unacceptable for us to play the way we did in Cleveland [in a 94-80 loss Monday]."

However, Layden had plenty of praise for Chaney.

"I can't say enough about him," Layden said. "I have tremendous faith in him and his staff. ... If we don't win, it won't be shame on him. I'm his biggest fan."

Little guys can still stand tall

Who does 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins think he is?

I tuned in last Wednesday night to watch 6-foot-8 Carmelo Anthony score seven points in the first three-and a-half minutes of the game to give the Denver Nuggets a lead they would never surrender. I tuned in to watch 6-foot-8 LeBron James grab 11 boards and hand out seven assists as the tallest point guard in the league. I even took a look at 7-foot-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas toss in a game-high 23. And hoped Nikoloz Tskitishvili, all 7-feet of him, would throw up at least one 3-pointer.

I didn't fire up the barbeque, drop two paychecks on a new big screen TV and invite 23 of my closest friends over to trash my house so that we could all sit and stare at this little sliver of a player score 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including two 3-pointers.

Earl Boykins
Point Guard
Denver Nuggets
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
8 14.1 2.1 3.5 .408 .867



I don't care if, as we speak, he is second on the team in scoring and second on the team in assists despite not starting single game and playing only 26 minutes a contest.

I want 7-foot-6 Yao Ming backing up 350-pound Shaquille O'Neal with 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki shooting 3s as a power forward, 6-foot-11 Kevin Garnett at, get this, small forward, 6-foot-8 Tracy McGrady at shooting guard and, OK, we'll take the 18-year-old at point guard.

"I've been hearing for 10 years now how the little guy is going to be phased out of the league but it just isn't happening," said one NBA scout. "Obviously, the trend is to get bigger. But the trend has always been to get bigger and the bottom line is that if a player can put the ball in the basket, then he can play in this league."

And I really don't care if some pencil-necked number cruncher is telling me that the league is at an all-time low in shooting percentage.

I want 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley blocking shots while I beat him in an arm wrestling contest. I want 7-foot Tim Duncan kissing turnaround jumpers off the glass. I want 6-foot-10 Vladimir Radmanovic at, get this, small forward with 6-foot-6 Paul Pierce at shooting guard and 6-foot-4, 212-pound Jason Kidd at the point.

"What's happened," said another scout, "is that we've gotten away from skilled players. We're looking instead for bigger more athletic players. Basically, we've sold our soul on size and we just don't have as many players who can dribble and pass and shoot, which is why the scoring is so bad."

But I don't care if the Raptors are averaging only 75 points as the losing team while their opponent is scoring only 81. Did you see Vince Carter dunk over Karl Malone last night? Sure, the Raptors lost to the Lakers. Sure, they scored only 79 points. But, boy, that surgically repaired knee has got some spring back in it.

"I've been to several drafts," said the scout. "I've been in war rooms and I've seen some talented kid come up on the board at 6-foot-2 and immediately be labeled as undersized and get passed up. This isn't good for the game. It isn't good for the league. We've got to go for skill. It's missing."

I don't care if you say that eight of the top 11 3-point shooters currently in the league are 6-foot-5 and under. Or that the best 3-point shooter of all-time, Steve Kerr, is 6-foot-1 and has helped five teams win NBA titles. I want 6-foot-9 Antoine Walker forgetting that he once averaged 10 rebounds per game while scoring 22 at the same time so that he can focus on shooting more than 580 3-pointers like he did last year or more than 1,200 in the last two years or more than 1,800 in the last three.

And I don't care if his career mark from that distance is at 33 percent while Kerr finished at 45 percent.

"The overall shooting in the league is horrible," said one of the scouts. "And to be honest with you, I can't tell you all of the definitive reasons why this has happened except to say that maybe, on a wide scale, a 7-footer isn't as coordinated as a 6-footer. That may not be true in all cases but across the board, the mechanics of shooting may come easier to a smaller guy."

I'll give you Allen Iverson. You can throw in Stephon Marbury, too. Baron Davis, if his stocky little body can hold up, can stay along with Stevie Francis. Those guys look really cool on my Nintendo 64 when I stand up and hit the red button really fast while wearing my throwback jersey.

Carlos Arroyo
Point Guard
Utah Jazz
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
6 12.2 1.8 7.3 .476 .800



But who is this 6-foot-2 Carlos Arroyo kid from Utah averaging 7.3 assists per game backed up by 6-foot even Raul Lopez averaging another four a game a year after 6-foot-1 John Stockton retired with an all-time best 15,806 career assists?

"Sure, having a smaller guy trying to defend a larger one creates a mismatch," said the scout. "But on the other hand having the taller guy trying to stop the smaller guy can also create mismatches or have we already forgotten about Allen Iverson. You get a guy like him and it forces every other team to have a similar type player on their roster to stick in front of him. They, in turn, speed up the game and create mismatches of their own."

I'm two inches taller than Boykins. I just spent $100 on a pair shoes. I was just in Denver for the weekend. How come I didn't get to play back-up point guard for the Nuggets and score 19 points against the Clippers?

Defensive-minded style has reduced scoring
By Greg Anthony
ESPN Insider

Well here we are at the start of a new season, and the biggest on-court issue around the league is scoring. League-wide, the numbers are down in a trend that has been continuing for quite some time now. You always hear how the talent is not as polished, so many young players coming into the league are not ready to perform on the big stage initially, or that too many teams has spread the talent too thin, thereby increasing the gap between the good teams and the bad ones.

These are all issues, and there is some validity in the above mentioned premise, but if you really want the answer to why scoring is down and the overall product is not as appealing as it once was, the two biggest reasons are coaching and passing.

No, I'm not auditioning for a head coaching job. Actually, I think the ability of head coaches today is better now than it ever has been, which is precisely the problem. There is far too much of it going on, which leads to the lack of offense.


The slow-down, drag-it-out style of play was a staple of Pat Riley's tenure in New York.
First, you have to understand that a coach's job at this level is simply to win, period. It's not to develop talent; not to create harmony; not to entertain; it is to win. So the NBA coach devises a strategy to give himself the best opportunity to win. Look at the collegiate level, where we talk about coaches who can control tempo and minimize possessions to give his team the best chance to win. That control of tempo is applauded at the collegiate level but chastised at the professional level.

It started back with the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s under Chuck Daly, and Pat Riley, my former coach, took it to a whole new level in New York. It's simple, really. Eliminate transition and force teams to shoot contested shots in the half court, and you greatly improve your chances of winning. The statistics don't lie -- players shoot a far higher percentage when uncontested (no hand in their face or elbow to the gut) than when contested. You don't see nearly as many contested shots when teams are on the fast break. So if you can eliminate a team's fast-break points, you give yourself a much better chance of winning. Fewer possessions reduces the gap in talent, because the better team has fewer chances with which to use that talent.

Scoring's steady decline
Teams scoring
above 95 ppg Teams scoring
below 85 ppg
'01-02 17 0
'02-03 16 1
'03-04 8 3

This isn't a new phenomenon. Instead, it has gradually become the status quo. Typically, you have two types of coaches, offensive (Don Nelson, Rick Adelman) and defensive (Gregg Popovich, Kevin O'Neill). These days, more and more coaches are leaning toward being defensive-minded, because they will be employed a lot longer if they win games, and winning ugly sure beats losing pretty. So much of the game is focused on the defensive end that it tends to swallow up creativity and ability on the offensive end.

Passing is the other area where developing young talent is hindered, because, again, fewer possessions means turnovers become even more of a factor. If your team averages 100 points a game and your team averages 17 turnovers, you don't pay them much attention. But if you're scoring 85 points and committing 14 turnovers, it becomes much more important to limit your turnovers. In effect, that eliminates a lot of the great passes you used to see. Players are less likely to pull the trigger on a pass if they fear it will result in a turnover, because they know just how important each possession is. Great passes have a higher degree of difficulty -- that's why they're great. Combine that with the ever increasing use of zone defenses, and the very thing that made the game such an art form -- creativity -- is being suffocated for the sake of winning at all costs.

The shackles have to come off to bring back the beauty of the game, and at the end of the day the best teams will still win. It will just be more entertaining for the fans paying their hard-earned dollars to either attend games or pay for them on cable. The problem is, too much coaching reigned the creativity in, and figuring out how to let it loose again might be easier said than done.

Peep Show
By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Thursday, November 13
Updated: November 13
9:29 AM ET




ArenasWashington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas, we're finding out, isn't one to turn the other cheek, especially after getting busted in the chops by Sixer forward Samuel Dalembert. "After the elbow, only one thing came to my head," said Arenas in the Washington Post. "I wanted to whip his [behind]." In fact, Arenas tried to get at Dalembert after the game but security stopped him. "I'm not like a Ron Artest or a Rasheed Wallace back in the day," Arenas said. "I just want to win the game . . . I'll fight for all five players. I'm talking for everybody. I'm playing hard. That's how bad I want to win. If I've got to get a technical to show that's how much I care, that's what I'm going to do." A day later, the NBA did fine Dalembert for the play that was never even called a foul on the court, but that still wasn't enough for Arenas. "We could have used that [Tuesday] because that's an extra free throw and the ball back," Arenas said. "There's nothing you can do now. They acknowledged it but if that's all it gets is a flagrant one, that means you can hit anybody you just don't like."
Minnesota Timberwolves: Don't ask Wally Szczerbiak how good his team could be if he and Troy Hudson weren't injured. He hasn't played a single game with them yet. "It's so hard watching," Szczerbiak said in the Star Tribune, "knowing how good this team can be when we all get healthy. We've never had this type of team before. I just want to get out there . . . It's hard. Although you're a part of the team, you're not a part of what's going on on the court and you feel somewhat detached." Both players have even stopped traveling with the team and are not scheduled to return any sooner than Thanksgiving.

Philadelphia 76ers: If one MRI on Derrick Coleman's tender left knee isn't enough, then the Sixers will just have to get another one done sometime around Nov. 22. Coleman was forced out of the second half of their most recent game after fluid build up in the knee caused him too much pain to play, reports the Philadelphia Daily News. It is the same knee that the power forward had surgery on during the summer.



RichardsonLos Angeles Clippers: We're not sure, yet, what hurt worse. Was it rolling an ankle in practice that took Quentin Richardson out of play, or was it his coach comparing him to Blazer bad boy Bonzi Wells? "He's about as good a post-up [shooting] guard as you're going to find," coach Mike Dunleavy said in the L.A. Times. "There aren't a whole lot of guys like him in the league. When I first came in [after being hired by the Clippers in July], I said right away to our people, 'Look, I can turn this guy, worst case, into Bonzi Wells. He can play inside and outside. He's a scorer.'" Richardson is not expected to miss any games because of the injury. No word if he will miss any due to the comment.
New Jersey Nets: If Byron Scott had his way, his players might be wearing dresses to start their next game after getting whipped senseless by the Spurs Wednesday night. "At halftime, I thought we were passive," Scott said in the New York Post. "We played like we were scared out there. ... It's the first time I thought that we played like that. Just scared to play." Kenyon Martin disagreed. "Ain't nobody scared on this team. There better not be," said Martin. "I pay it no attention."

Houston Rockets: Patrick Ewing, brought to Houston to tutor Yao Ming, didn't say anything we didn't already know about the 7-foot-6 center from China. "He's a big man," Ewing said in the Dallas Morning News. "A big man." He didn't say he was good. Didn't say he was great. And if you look at Yao's numbers, you really couldn't say it, either. But Yao's not about to take all of the blame for that. "Before this year I knew he was one of the best centers in the NBA," Yao said through an interpreter. "Now I have to find out if he's a good teacher. We've only just started so I'll have to tell you later."