Don’t Call Him A Defensive Coach (Because He’s Not)

The Knicks hired Mike Woodson as an assistant coach, providing an ending to all those rumors stating D’Antoni needed a defensive guru. Matt Moore of CBSSports stated Woodson “joins the Knicks as a defensive assistant to help shore up the Knicks’ porous D” and Alan Raskin boldly stated “The New York Knicks finally have a defense.” However, is Woodson the defensive minded coach that he appears to be?

Looking at points allowed per game, in Woodson’s 6 season in Atlanta, the Hawks ranked 15th or better 4 times. Unfortunately that was partially due to his grind it out style. In that same time span, the team has been above league average in pace only once (his first year). In reality, the Hawks have been a better than average defensive team only 2 times in 6 years, and only once has his defense been ranked higher than his offense.

Year Off. PPG Def. PPG Pace Off. Eff. Def. Eff.
2005 28 29 13 29 29
2006 16 26 17 12 27
2007 30 15 24 29 23
2008 15 15 18 16 18
2009 19 10 24 10 12
2010 13 10 27 2 13

Even though Woodson isn’t the defensive ying to D’Antoni’s yang, it doesn’t mean he can’t help the team. His team won more games each year he was there & dropped 9 wins after he left. Woodson’s ran a iso-heavy offense, something that may better fit the talents of the Knicks new star player, Carmelo Anthony. And Atlanta had the league’s second best offense in Woodson’s last year.

On the other hand, this move isn’t all positive. Woodson seemed to wear out his welcome in Atlanta, and he made his fair share of gaffs. Additionally hiring Woodson has just fueled the New York media’s paranoia. Could Woodson’s arrival combined with the departure of Walsh mean the end of the D’Antoni era? No doubt the rumors will dog the team for the entire 2012 season, whenever that might begin.

Knicks Officially Sign Mike Woodson as Assistant Coach

The Knicks have officially signed former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson as the newest member of their assistant coach staff.

Woodson was a former top assistant for Larry Brown and has been considered by many to be the so-called “defense coach” that D’Antoni has not had since Marc Iavaroni was named the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2007. Since that time, D’Antoni’s brother Dan has been the closest that D’Antoni had had to a “defense coach.” Woodson, though, bristled a bit at the designation, stating, “I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m just a defensive coach. I can help Mike, I think, offensively as well. I’m just a coach and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to come in and do that.”

D’Antoni took the time to also address concerns about what this hire means for his job safety, as having a former head coach on staff like this (one who has no ties to D’Antoni) seems like having your replacement already picked out, particularly with D’Antoni coaching in the final year of his current contract. When asked if he was worried about only having the one year left, D’Antoni gave a great answer, “I’m okay with that. All coaches are on a one year deal. It’s just whether you get a paid vacation. We have to produce. Every coach in the NBA has to produce. That’s the way it is here.”

I think Woodson has the credentials and the experience to be a strong hire, so I am happy about the move. What do you folks all think?

2011 Report Card: Carmelo Anthony

You know what? Melo doesn’t like you either.

That’s right. He’s looked into your advanced stats. He knows that your posts from January to April registered a blistering True Spite Percentage (TSp%, or posts / vitriolic statements) of 78%. He knows a lot of you didn’t want him – or at the very least, thought we gave up far too much to get him. He knows you think he makes way too much money. He knows his every move from now until Rapture will be dissected and analyzed more intensely than Citizen Kane.

It’s OK though. Because Carmelo Anthony’s not one to hold grudges. “The next Starbury,” “cancerous ball-stopper,” “defensive sieve” – these things just roll off his back, like so many city raindrops. You wanna know how Melo deals with the barbs? He throws on a blue garbage bag, grabs a panda, and smirks away the spite. The symbolism is unmistakable: Through the panda — a creature cursed by its own inability to adapt, grow, evolve — Carmelo is confronted with and knows his own weaknesses. If he’s going to survive in this city, evolution, adaptation, improvement — that’s the goal. More importantly, he’s doing something about it.

Tuff.

He might’ve only played 31 games in an actual Knick uniform, but for most of the 50 that proceeded his February 23rd arrival, Carmelo Anthony was the defacto 16th man (you know, if a 16th man sat at the end of the bench yelling all awkward-like about how 8 of the guys in front of him were about to be shipped out). Like an intangible specter perpetually suspended above the organization, Melo just needed an appropriate vessel to render real what had for months been the stuff of ether. That vessel finally arrived when the Knicks agreed to deal Danillo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Eddie Curry’s expiring contract (That’s it, right?), Raymond Felton (Ok, that should do it.), Anthony Randolph (Jesus, really?), and Timofey Mozgov (Are you $%#&@ kidding me!?) in exchange for Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, and this guy.

Some said we mortgaged our future for a two or three year title window. Others scoffed at taking on a contract that could look exponentially worse if  a new CBA includes a more restrictive salary cap structure. Still others laughed at this painfully funny t-shirt, one of the first off the post-trade press, which features an image of Anthony taking what appeared — rather ironically — to be an ill-advised, off-balance 22-footer. The media, in all its schizoid glory, managed to both deem the deal — any deal, at any price — absolutely necessary… before promptly demonizing it in calling for Mike D’Antoni’s firing. A full six months and one Herculean playoff performance later, the jury is still out.

Given the relatively small sample size, there’s not much to parse through when it comes to post-trade stats. We do know Melo’s TS% trended up slightly after donning the orange and blue (55% with Denver to 58% in New York). The biggest reason for this? His three-point shooting, which took a huge leap from 33% to 42%. Interestingly, his new-found outside shooting prowess reflected a 10% overall uptick (64% to 74% of his shots) post trade. Obviously this has to be viewed more in the context of D’Antoni’s system, which relies on effective floor spacing and opportunistic shot attempts. But even if he regresses half way back to the mean, a Carmelo Anthony connecting at 37-40% from beyond the arc is nothing to scoff at.

As for the worry that Billups and Melo would seek to impose their brand of isolation-heavy ball on D’Antoni’s comparatively more free-flowing offense, it turns out the numbers bear much more of a mixed bag. Indeed, while Melo’s iso rate stayed pretty much the same after being dealt from Denver, dropping only a hair from 37.3% to 37% (Synergy Sports Technology WHAT!?!?), Chauncey’s share plummeted from 25.8% to 13.5%. Meanwhile, Billups’ use of the P&R jumped nearly as drastically, from 20.75 to 36.5% after joining the Knicks. Which suggests what many have suspected all along: namely that the point-obsessed D’Antoni is far more concerned with reshaping Chauncey’s role (and his game) than he is about Melo’s.

What kind of weapon Anthony evolves into on the offensive end will be one of the more interesting narrative threads over the next few years. Towards the end of last season, D’Antoni famously suggested that Melo should be getting “close to a triple double” every single game. Which of course is just batshit crazy. But D’Antoni wasn’t saying that because he somehow believed himself capable of chiseling away and uncovering a hidden LeBron that George Karl couldn’t; rather, he was putting the onus on Melo himself. The dude’s an incredibly gifted basketball player — everyone knows that. But there’s always been the nagging sense that he wasn’t quite the all-around player he was capable of being. Maybe Mike D’Antoni can help bring it out of him (on the offensive end, anyway), and maybe he can’t. What matters is the internal gauntlet has been thrown — a gauntlet which only time will tell whether Anthony is willing to pick up and wield himself.

Does he still take bad shots? Oh yeah he does. Did he still exhibit cheesecloth defense? Yup. Are both of these things fixable? Ask Paul Pierce.

Like the really funny uncle with a healthy bourbon habit who matches every brilliant Thanksgiving story with one or two ill-advised racist jokes or boob grabs, we’re stuck with Melo. So we might as well learn to love him — quirks and all. Thing is, if you look past the albatrossian contract and entirely fixable chinks in the armor (defense, shot selection, ball-stopping, in that order), that shouldn’t be difficult to do. He was born in the city; identifies his roots within it; and, from roughly last September until late the following February,wouldn’t shut up about how badly he pined to return.

As with Amare Stoudemire before him, Melo wanted to come here. Very, very badly. And like Amare’s arrival last summer, there’s something oddly, egoistically appealing about a top-flight superstar who, for all the franchise’s long-worn woe — and for all his own flaws — sees himself as something of a savior. Rational or not, potentially destructive or not, it’s hard not to feel stroked by that. The only question now becomes: does this prodigal son’s return spell a reprise reminiscent of Bernard King, or Stephon Marbury?

Advanced stats may one day vindicate what many still believe: That, for all his undeniable offensive filthiness, Carmelo Anthony is simply too inconsistent and too unreliable defensively to be anything more than a number two option on a top flight team. Until that day comes, however, it would behoove us all to at least flirt with the possibility that – for once in this proud franchise’s perpetually-tortured present – we landed the right player at the right time, and in the right system.

Now hold that thought. Let it sink in. Breathe. Think near decade-long veteran – a scoring machine – nearing 30 and heeding the clarion call of many before him, who found in career apex a sudden commitment to defense and leadership. Think explosive turning to crafty, cocky giving way to vocal, doubted succumb to lauded. Think expected, sustained winning, clutch baskets from iced-over veins and shaking Garden rafters. Think a title. Hell, think titles.

With that, we now return to our regularly scheduled reality.

 

Report Card (5 point scale):

Offense: 5
Defense: 1
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 4
Performance/Expectations: 4

Final Grade: A-

Similarity Scores:

 

PlayerID FLName Year Age Tm PER TS_P eFG_P PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
0 Carmelo Anthony 2011 26 TOT 21.7 .557 .487 25.8 1.5 7.4 2.9 0.9 0.6 2.7
0.043 Larry Jones 1969 26 DNR 23.5 .543 .473 25.2 2.0 5.8 3.1 2.6
0.088 Rick Barry 1971 26 NYA 22.6 .552 .476 24.9 1.5 5.8 4.2 2.9
0.089 Jack Twyman 1961 26 CIN 19.6 .532 .488 24.6 8.3 2.8
0.095 Danny Granger 2010 26 IND 19.8 .564 .498 23.7 1.1 5.4 2.7 1.5 0.8 2.5
0.103 Corey Maggette 2006 26 LAC 18.9 .584 .477 21.8 1.1 6.5 2.5 0.7 0.2 3.0
0.103 Orlando Woolridge 1986 26 CHI 19.6 .560 .497 23.2 2.4 5.6 3.4 0.8 0.8 2.8
0.103 LaPhonso Ellis 1997 26 DEN 18.2 .529 .486 21.6 1.9 6.9 2.4 0.8 0.7 2.1
0.106 Lou Hudson 1971 26 ATL 18.2 .527 .484 23.6 4.5 3.0
0.107 Tom Chambers 1986 26 SEA 17.1 .551 .473 21.8 2.2 7.7 2.4 1.0 0.7 3.5
0.110 Xavier McDaniel 1990 26 SEA 17.9 .533 .498 21.8 2.4 6.6 2.5 1.1 0.5 2.8

 

The Good Ward Giveth: A former Knick’s post-basketball odyssey

With many parts of the state at 35 days and counting since the mercury last failed to hit triple digits – with crops and cows succumbing in equal measure to the Biblical combination of scorching sun and wilting earth, and with no relief in sight – Texas would seem ill-suited for planting seeds.

Charlie Ward doesn’t think so.

Ward, the former Heisman Trophy winner and 10-year Knick backcourt staple, is busy preparing for another season at the helm of the Westbury Christian varsity football squad. A few months from now, he’ll be coaching his son Caleb – now in sixth grade and the oldest of Ward’s three children – on the hardwood. Between work and family (wife Tanja, daughter Hope, 8, and son Joshua, 2, round out the Ward roster), any time he allots to a writer – a blogger at that – is purposefully cast beside the good work that defines the better half of Ward’s daily clock. Which is fine by me. Anything, and any amount of time, to not write KBlogger Report Cards for a few weeks.

Photo courtesy of Westbury Christian School

This fall will mark Ward’s fifth with the Wildcats (and his fourth as Head Coach), a position he took after leaving his post with the Houston Rockets, with whom he’d been an assistant since retiring from the NBA in 2004 . Despite a number of other job offers from around the league, Ward decided instead to take on the dual role of Assistant Football and Basketball Coach at Westbury, a 500 student K-12 Christian school in Houston.  Surely, the opportunity to spend more time with his family, and to watch his young children grow up, were motivating factors. But the chance to lead again was anything but a distant second.

“I wanted to have a more hands-on experience,” explains Ward in his characteristically even, calm Southern drawl. “I wanted the chance to put game plans together, implement those game plans, and really mentor kids. Those are the main reasons I am where I am today. That’s my focus.”

Russell Carr, now the Athletic Director at Westbury Christian, remembers Ward’s 2007 arrival fondly. Carr had just been named Boys Varsity Basketball Coach, when he first got word that Charlie Ward — yes, that Charlie Ward — had agreed to join Westbury’s program. Needless to say, the young Carr had to do a double-take.

“I still remember when our School Head, Greg Glenn, told me about it,” recalls Carr. “He said ‘I want you to meet with Charlie Ward. He’s thinking about coaching here.’ And the whole time I’m thinking, ‘I need to be working for that guy! Not the other way around!’ But I remember meeting with Charlie and him saying ‘I just want to learn how to be a coach.’ Which is unbelievably telling as to what kind of guy he is.”

Carr continues: “Some of us would make jokes that, if I’d won the Heisman, I’d have been wearing it around my neck. But that’s what made Charlie so fun to be around — to be so accomplished and yet so humble at the same time. Especially in this day and age, when everything is so sensationalized, it was refreshing to see.”

Refreshing, sure. But it wasn’t as if Ward had somehow snuffed out his legendary competitive fire. Ward himself probably wouldn’t put it quite this way, but to a writer in want of a narrative thread, it was all too obvious: He wanted to be the quarterback again. And who could blame him? It’s what he’s always been, and always meant to be. Born the third of Charlie Sr. and Willard Ward’s seven children in Thomasville, Georgia, Charlie’s leadership – and eye-popping athleticism – was apparent early on. Of course, everyone knows of Ward’s exploits on pitch and parquet, where he doubled as flashy, electric field general and rocksteady backcourt bulwark . Few, however, know that Ward was also twice drafted as a pitcher; once in 1993 by the Milwaukee Brewers; and again by the Yankees in 1994. Even fewer know Ward made a strong showing at the ’94 Arthur Ashe Amateur Tennis Tournament. Differences in both mode and medium aside, all four had one, important thing in common: Where the ball went, was up to Charlie.

“They all go hand-in-hand when it comes to being a leader,” says Ward. “I had the ball in my hand a lot. And when you’re in that position, the choices and decisions have to be good ones in order for the team to be successful.”

*              *              *              *              *

 

For four years at Florida State University, Charlie Ward was the man — pure and simple. The school’s first black starting quarterback, Ward racked up 6454 yards of total offense between his junior and senior year, capping it all off with the second most lopsided Heisman Trophy victory ever in 1994 (area 51 experiment Bo Jackson’s was the widest). That same year, he reeled in both the Davey O’Brien Trophy and the Maxwell Award — the first time in history all three accolades had befallen a single player for a single season’s work.

Perhaps most relevantly, Ward had, along with Nebraska rival Tommy Frazier, helped usher in a new and exciting era of college quarterbacking. Where once stood a wholly demarcated and conservative game – runners run, and throwers throw – a new breed of player, years ahead of its time, had turned synthesis into the game’s new thesis. And the phenomenon wasn’t lost on anyone. Miami Coach Dennis Erickson once called him “the greatest college football player I’ve ever seen.” Ward’s quarterbacks at FSU, Mark Richt, managed to employ the ‘M’ word, referring to the manner in which Ward combined accuracy with catchable loft as being “like Montana,” while former Super Bowl MVP and Redskin trailblazer Doug Williams went so far as to say he doubted there were “four starting quarterbacks in the NFL better than Charlie Ward” at the time.

Given the heady context of his meteoric gridiron rise, Ward’s moonlighting as the steady, flash-less floor general of the Seminole hoops squad seemed more a way to stave off winter boredom than it did a hedging of future prospects. But that wasn’t always the case: As a freshman (when he was used primarily as a punter) and sophomore (the year he redshirted for football), Ward dedicated most of his time to the court, in the process establishing himself as a possible future pro prospect. By his Junior year however, the balancing act became a little more complicated, with Ward having ascended to become one of the most exciting and promising quarterbacks in the country. As could only be expected in the wake of a football season ending in January — like it did for most of the 90s under Bobby Bowden — Ward wouldn’t hit the hardwood until well into ACC play, playing in just 33 games combined his junior and senior years. While to outsiders the double life certainly seemed glamorous, for Ward, the transition wasn’t always an easy one.

“It took more than a couple of games to get back into sync [of basketball], especially with the conditioning,” Ward recalls. “But playing full time those first two years helped tremendously – it made it easier to jump back in than it might’ve been.”

A walking gridiron highlight reel, Ward was more steady than flashy at the point.

In 1993, Ward helped lead a team co-headlined by Sam Cassell, Bob Sura and Doug Edwards to within one powerhouse Kentucky squad of reaching the Final Four for the first time in school history. A little over nine months later, he would lead Florida State to an upending of #2 Nebraska for the football National Championship. After an earlier exit from The Dance the following March, Ward, now stuck between solid draft prospects in at least two sports, had a decision to make (a third, in the form of the New York Yankees, would make itself available a few months later). Despite wildly varying predictions as to where he’d end up, conventional wisdom had it that the newly minted Heisman winner would capitalize on the accolades and declare himself NFL-eligible only.

But as he did so many times in the pocket, Ward knew the scripted play was merely a suggestion – a set of guidelines which he could either adhere to or ignore, and out of which he could always simply scramble his way upfield, towards the light and the noise and the truth. Your typical pocket passer would’ve thrown – or thrown away. Charlie Ward improvised. In a move that shocked many, Ward made it clear that, unless he was guaranteed to go in Round 1 of the NFL Draft, he’d just assume turn to profit what had always been a secondary passion, and enter the NBA Draft.

At the time, it was harder to tell which was weirder: the fact that many NFL experts didn’t have a statistically dominant Heisman winner projected gone until the third round at the earliest; or the fact that, despite modest production, most NBA scouts had Ward gone no later than the late first round, with many billing him as the third best point guard in the draft behind sophomore stud Jason Kidd and Arizona’s Khalid Reeves. But while both Kidd and Reeves offered something in the way of flash and flare – two qualities Ward himself had made his calling card on the gridiron – neither were the raison d’être of Ward’s NBA suitors. Instead, it was the 23-year-old senior’s steady, heady poise, combined with superior decision making, that would attract surprising buzz amongst NBA GMs.

He’d wind up going 26th to the Knicks, mere weeks after the Bockers had succumbed in seven grueling games to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. He would play just 16 total minutes that first year, learning the ropes from veterans Derek Harper and Greg Anthony. But with Pat Riley’s departure, and the subsequent ascendance of Jeff Van Gundy to the helm (a year of Don Nelson found Ward with only slightly less bench glue about his shorts) Ward played in 62 games in 1995. By 1996, he’d asserted himself as a regular part of the rotation, and one of the most consistent defensive stalwart on a team which lived and died by a manifest, almost savant-like adherence to the craft. Gradually, like the patience and pace with which he steered the offense, appreciation and admiration from the New York faithful buoyed  Ward to the level of bona fide fan favorite.

“Good or bad, I was always going to do what I needed to do as far as little things were concerned to make the team run properly,” Ward reflects. “I played my role. I understood my role. And I think the fans appreciated that.”

He was also omnipresent in the community, dedicating hundreds of hours to countless community services initiatives and charitable organizations. On one Thanksgiving, Ward served dinner to 700 people at a soup kitchen in Harlem. He hosted basketball camps and golf outings. He delivered Christmas gifts. He helped kids learn to read. For Ward, it was all part of the job – one of the many bullet points part and parcel with running point in a city that takes the craft as seriously as seeing amongst them the face, the man above the ball.

More accurately, it was a reflection of a self-honed duty Ward had forged since his days at Florida State. While in Tallahassee, he was a Big Brother for a four year old boy. He donated time to causes ranging from muscular dystrophy to anti-drug campaigns, the United Way to epilepsy. Famously, he had taken a young Warrick Dunn under his wing after the latter’s mother – a police officer in Louisiana – was shot and killed while helping a business woman into a bank while off duty. Keeping with that ethos, Ward believes, was just as important as any clutch three made or pocket picked during his days in New York.

“When you’re putting in that time, both on and off the court, taking the time to meet people and get to know the community – that helps. And when you’re with the Knicks for a long time, and have that fan base to cheer you, that helps too.”

 

*              *              *              *              *

 

Charlie Ward’s been here before. Thirteen years ago, during the last NBA player lockout, Ward – like most Knick teammates of player rep Patrick Ewing – was more than privy to the negotiations.  As such, his perspective on this summer’s equally dramatic redux is, in a word, pragmatic.

“At least they’re talking – that’s always a positive sign,” he says, before a longer-than-usual pause. “But there’s always a lot of posturing in negotiations.”

Of course, that was before August 2nd’s turn for the worst, in which the NBA filed a preemptive lawsuit against the NBPA, citing a belief that the latter had been negotiating in bad faith. Despite this, Ward believes both sides have a ways to go before the shrill pitch and timbre of ’98’s acrimony is matched (Stern and Bill Hunter, after all, haven’t yet taken to full-on shouting matches, as happened more than once back then). Unfortunately, this puts Ward in the minority of former players, many of whom – as with most of the press, blogosphere, and an increasing number of fans – have accepted the grim reality that a full 2011-12 NBA season is about as likely as Westbury’s football squad waking up tomorrow to a 60-and-cloudy practice.

“Both sides,” Ward posits, “are trying to get the fans on their side.” Just like they were back then.

Wow. Steve Nash is old.

Yet for all the similarities between the two lockouts, this year’s second act includes a curious – and decidedly ironic – wrinkle: In large part because of the league’s exploding status — honed despite a bevy of trials and tribulations since the last labor strife derailed the league’s already tenuous post-Jordan popularity– more and more top-flight players (Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant – the list goes on) have openly flirted with the option of taking their talents overseas. In the past two months, Turkey, Spain, China, Greece, Australia – even England – have all been pitched by players as stopgap solutions, if and when it becomes apparent that 2012 is lost for good. Short of saying he himself would’ve held a Europe or Asia’s ace up his sleeve, Ward recognizes the growing trend for the game-changing strategy it’s clearly become — even if it ends up being a limited one.

“Now that it’s an option, there are definitely going to be more players willing to take it,” states Ward. “The guys who are top-flight players in the NBA today, there’s definitely a chance to do some marketing overseas. But not every player’s going to be able to do that.”

As with both the NBA’s last lockout strife and this summer’s just-concluded NFL dispute, Ward doesn’t expect much in the way of progress until the threat of losing games breaches the hypothetical and punctures the probable – by most estimates, sometime in September. That would basically mirror the comedy of errors that was the previous lockout, when the two sides came within 24 hours of canceling the season entirely. (Many fans will recall the process with something akin to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as it seemed every few weeks David Stern – lockout beard in full bloom – would plod under camera just long enough to declare another block of 90 or 100 games lost for good, like so many appendages.) While he fears the potential fallout amongst fans – at a time when the league is more popular than perhaps it’s ever been – Ward doesn’t anticipate a repeat of both sides bringing it down to the wire.

“I can’t see them losing an entire season,” he exclaims. “But it’s definitely put a hiccup in the whole recovery process with the fans. It’s hard for the average fan to understand why the two sides can’t get together on the issues, especially when there’s so much money with both parties.”

Whenever it gets resolved, for Ward, the next C.B.A. won’t owe its almost certain tenuousness to either side suddenly finding their better, reasoning nature. Rather, the ink will only dry when a higher power casts certain demons aside.

“If anything gets done, it’s by the grace of God,” says Ward, his voice picking up just an octave. “There’s a lot of pride on the line on both sides, so at some point both sides have to say ‘this is what we want, and this is what we’re willing to give up.’ Right now, no one’s willing to give up anything that means something to them.”

Pride. It’s something — in its most baleful manifestations, anyway — Ward hoped he could leave behind when he fled the NBA’s grinding slog and searing spotlight for the purer pastures of Westbury Christian in the summer of 2007. Here, home at night with his growing family, no longer did he count in his company a contentious lot of millionaires and billionaires. Here, Ward needn’t fight nor fret his way up the always-competitive professional coaching ladder. Here, at a small Christian school in East Texas, where God and football leave whatever would be a third passion squarely in the swirling summer dust, Ward found himself astride a rung high enough from which to preach his football gospel — though not so high so as to forsake the eyes above — and low enough for his new found disciples to hear. Loud and clear.

Not because he was Charlie Ward, the Heisman winner and former Knick, mind you. With the exception of a handful of juniors and seniors, few of the players knew much of Ward’s career. The little they did know, they more than likely heard from their parents, who, as Russell Carr recalls, “were the ones who were really star-struck.”

“It was a topic of conversation for a little while. But because Charlie’s so unassuming, it just became normal.”

Indeed, it was that very humbleness Carr remembers seeing thrown in high relief before the two’s first varsity basketball game together. As is customary, the referee approached the two coaches for a pregame handshake.

“We’re at the game, and the ref comes up to introduce himself to Charlie and me,” says Carr. “And Charlie says ‘Hi, I’m Charlie Ward.’ At that point, the ref looks at him and says, ‘The Charlie Ward?’ And Charlie looks at him and says, ‘I don’t know. I’m just Charlie Ward.'”

“That’s Charlie. He’s just such a normal guy.”

 

*              *              *              *              *

 

When I finally get a hold of Ward for the second part of the interview, he tells me he’s in the middle of – what else – drawing up play cards. I ask him how the team has managed to deal with the summer heat – a relentless, near record-breaking stretch that’s caused legitimate water shortages in many parts of the state. Which turns out to be probably the dumbest question of the lot. “Well, we just practice in the mornings,” he says, sans even the most rudimentary ribbing.

Right. Of course.

Since assuming Westbury’s wayward helm, Ward has managed to transform a team that was 0-10 his first year as an assistant into a respectable, .500 program. And while he has yet to tally a winning season, he seems confident in his current group’s ability to turn the tide. Given the measured manner in which he fields any inquiry, it’s impossible not to take his answer to the question “How good will you be this year?” as anything less than a hint of promising things to come.

“We have a chance to be pretty good,” he says, mere weeks before he’ll lead his plastic-padded soldiers into battle for their season opener on August 26th. “We’re starting to get some football players in the program – guys who can really make a difference. We got guys and coaches that are committed to making the team better. So we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”

Asked whether coaching at Westbury was a stepping stone towards getting back into the professional coaching ranks, Ward responds in a way akin to how he played point in the World’s Greatest: cautious, steady, tactful.

“It’s a building block for whatever God has in store for me,” he says, assuredly. “I’m not saying what I won’t do. But at this time in my life, as far my family’s concerned, enjoying the opportunity to watch my kids grow up – being home more – I’m enjoying the time I have now.”

When it comes to his current charges, it’s clear that, today at least, Ward prefers the present company to whatever would await him back in The Show.

“They’re a lot easier to talk with,” Ward says. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to coach some good kids – kids that are tough, who respect you for who you are.”

Respect a former Heisman trophy winner, 10-year NBA point guard, and budding pro coach who chose to leave the brighter lights and fruitful fields of kings for a calling at once more hallowed and humble? You don’t say.

“Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. But It’s all about planting seeds, allowing God to water them, and watching them grow.”

NFL Preseason Underscores NBA’s Foolishness

For some time, it seemed nearly inevitable to me that the NBA would take its place as one of America’s most cherished pastimes. I wasn’t thinking as soon as the next decade, but more likely in a generation or two. The inevitable future shift in our society seemed to point in that direction. Baseball has lost its stranglehold on American sports, both in attendance and youth participation. Although it may seem impossible to imagine MLB fall from the top 2 American sports, note that boxing has gone from the pre-eminent American sport to complete shambles in less than 80 years.

While hardball could suffer a decline similar to the sweet science, basketball seemed to be on the rise. Given the ubiquity of courts, the ability to play with a small number of individuals, and the rise of popularity on a global scale, it seemed plausible that should a void present itself, the NBA would be in a good position to ascend. Of course that’s if the league doesn’t shoot itself in the foot first.

Labor differences seem to bring the ire of the public on both sides, and this is especially true of the entertainment industry. Perhaps it’s because people view the workers in that field as lucky to be paid for such a fun endeavor, or maybe because they just don’t like having their distractions from life taken away from them. Whether it be the Writer’s Guild of America Strike or your favorite winter sports league, no one is happy when there is a loss of entertainment.

So of course pigskin fans were happy to have the NFL preseason commence last night. Although August football games are meaningless and boring, this year’s contests are a sign of the league’s strength. A month ago, the NFL was in the midst of a lockout that could have threatened the season. But the players & owners got over their differences and signed a 10 year CBA.

The NFL’s preseason contrasts with its cold weather cousin, because the NBA seems to be headed for a disruption in play. Owners are looking for a radical re-haul of their current contract with the players, and both sides are taking a hard stance. It’s a shame because the NBA has been rising in popularity, and losing regular season games could set them back in the eyes of their fans. Cancelling the 2012 season would be a significant blow to the league’s public image.

The NBA still has time to make an agreement, given that their season starts 2 months after the NFL’s. Both sides need to meet in the middle. NBA owners need to stop the ridiculous claim that three quarters of the teams are losing money. Players need to realise that long term guaranteed contracts are a blight on the league. And if the owners insist on a hard cap and a larger share of the split, then the players should force them to provide better revenue sharing between teams to offset any future claims of small market teams operating in the red. Of course that would make the NBA’s CBA more like the NFL’s, which from the looks of last night’s games would be a proper step forward for the league.

James Dolan decides to Fix the Knicks

Look, I want to warn anyone who is thinking about reading further that what I will show you may ruin your day. There’s a lockout going on. No reason to think about basketball right now. Maybe you’re content with waiting to see what happens this season, full of optimism about the team and the direction in which it is heading. If so, go away. Right now. Because (SPOILER ALERT) this video is a reminder of a big problem with the organization.

Fix the Knicks.

No matter what positive expectations you might have for the coming season, the Knicks still have to deal with an owner who thinks it’s his job to Fix the Knicks. What he actually has to do is get out of the way of the basketball minds whom he pays to do Fix the Knicks for him. Once, it should have been Donnie Walsh fixing the Knicks. Now, who knows? But not the owner.

I almost forgot… he also listens to his “friend, Isiah Thomas.”

Uh oh.

2011 Report Card: Ronny Turiaf

Ronny Turiaf is a strange bird. Not an enigma, like Dennis Rodman or Jack Sikma. Just, well, kind of weird. To be clear, I’m not confusing “weird” with an eclectic, worldly upbringing (born in the small Martinique town of The Robert, moved to Paris at age 15, played alongside Tony Parker, Mickael Pietrus, and Boris Diaw for the eventual Under 18 European Champions France, speaks five languages, etc.). It’s more that few players in recent Knick history have elicited a more dichotomous range of responses than the man they call “Pharoah.”

Here’s what I mean:

In 2005, mere weeks after being drafted out of Gonzaga by the Los Angeles Lakers, Turiaf had open heart surgery to fix an enlarged aortic root. Six months later, he was back playing professional basketball.

Six months!

So, on the one hand, you have a guy who defied all medical logic in bouncing back to basically full strength after one of the riskiest surgeries known to man; doing so in less time than it takes most of us to recover from a bad hangover. If that’s not tough, I don’t know what is.

And then you watch the guy play. Or not play, as the case may be (and often was this past season):

October 2010: Undisclosed injury – 3 games missed.

November 2010: Knee injury – 3 games missed.

November 2010: Knee injury – 4 more games missed.

February 2011: Ankle injury – 3 games missed.

March 2011: Knee injury – 3 games missed.

March 2011: Ankle injury – 4 games missed.

A few things stick out. First, “undisclosed injury”? What does that even mean? Was it a cobra bite? Jetpack accident?  We’ll just say it was a cobra bite.

The second thing we notice is that literally all of these bang-ups resulted in three or four games missed at a time; “nagging injuries”, essentially. He did miss 40 games the season previous, for many of the same ailments. Still, the three seasons before that, Turiaf had been fairly durable, playing in 79, 78, and 72 games, respectively. So there’s no indication that there’s something chronically wrong with Turiaf’s ankles or knees — at least not yet. That beard, on the other hand…

Ronny Turiaf, giving a presser on cobras.

Part of the gourmet pu-pu platter of players brought over from Golden State in the David Lee trade, Turiaf arrived in New York as the only semi-known quantity of the lot. Kelenna Azubuike was just beginning a long rehabilitation process on his shredded knee, and Anthony Randolph – doubtless shell-shocked after months in Don Nelson’s bourbon-scented, roofless doghouse – was basically a 6’11” question mark with a slightly straighter back. As such, each carried their own worrisome baggage. Turiaf, on the other hand, was just the kind of quintessential “glue guy” a perpetually rebuilding team like the Knicks needed.

But those who watched the Bockers with any regularity this past season can probably recall one or fifty instances where Ronny would sky for a rebound or contest a shot, land awkwardly, and crumple like a cheap lawn chair. Then he’d kind of roll around on the ground – “writhing” is probably going a little too far – before joglimping up the floor, eyes closed and grimmace-toothed. Then we wouldn’t see him for three or four games. Then he’d come back, do his uber efficient thing for a while. Rinse, repeat.

When Turiaf would stitch together an injury-free run, he was usually solid, if rarely spectacular. Despite nearly all of his per 36 numbers dropping somewhat from what he put up in Golden State, Turiaf still managed to post career highs in FG% (63%), TS% (64%) and ORtg (127). More importantly, Turiaf knew and appreciated  almost immediately his understandably limited role, and made the most of it. He seemed to “get” Mike D’Antoni’s offense relatively quickly, displaying a solid passing ability (particularly from the high post), and scoring a whopping 27% of his points on sly cuts around the basket (big shout-out to Skynet subsidiary Synergy Sports Technology for that creepy stat).

We know Ronny’s tough. We know he lays it all out there. The dude’s a workhorse, and an incredibly positive presence on the bench. What’s more, he provides Stat with some solid protection down low, allowing the latter to jazz around unburdened by the grueling demands of the five spot.

That said, we get that his whole soccer routine is probably more a reflection of sheer Euro-flamboyancy than it is an indication of lack of toughness. I for one thoroughly grasp the fact that he could hang me from his beard if he wanted to. We’re just all kind of hoping Ronny’s next year unfolds with a few less visits from the knee injury fairy, and a few more deft dishes and dunks down low.

As he’s due to make upwards of $4.4 million this year, and in the absence of any unforeseen trade, it’s hard to see Turiaf going anywhere. Which, on the whole, is a good thing: He’s a decent defender and rebounder, a capable offensive facilitator, and a great teammate. More importantly, he’ll be a valuable mentor to young whelps Jerome Jordan and Josh Harrelson — who’ll need all the fast-tracking they can get — if and when training camp begins. If neither assert themselves as rotation-ready players? Well, there are far worse things than having the title of Starting Center belong to Ronny Turiaf. Better than… never mind.

 

Report Card (5 point scale):

Offense: Dos
Defense: Trois
Teamwork: Quattro
Rootability: Four
Performance/Expectations: Whatever Creole for two is. I’m too lazy to look it up. It’s probably “deux” though.

Final Grade: B-

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
0.000 Ronny Turiaf 2011 NYK 13.6 64.8 63.2 8.4 2.0 6.5 2.9 1.1 2.3 1.3
0.258 Bo Outlaw 2000 ORL 15.3 59.7 60.2 7.6 3.1 8.1 3.8 1.7 2.3 2.1
0.470 Mark West 1989 PHO 12.9 64.4 65.3 10.6 3.0 9.8 0.7 0.6 3.3 1.8
0.530 Andrew Gaze 1994 WSB 10.5 61.5 58.8 11.3 0.5 3.6 2.6 1.0 0.5 1.5
0.533 Darvin Ham 2002 MIL 9.7 57.1 57.1 9.0 2.7 6.0 2.2 0.7 1.1 2.5
0.540 Clifford Ray 1977 GSW 14.1 58.7 58.4 11.3 3.6 11.0 2.0 1.3 1.4
0.542 James Donaldson 1986 TOT 13.0 62.7 55.8 9.6 2.3 10.7 1.3 0.4 1.9 1.7
0.548 Nick Collison 2009 OKC 14.8 59.9 56.8 11.5 3.6 9.6 1.3 1.0 1.0 1.4
0.553 Raef LaFrentz 2005 BOS 17.3 58.7 55.5 14.5 2.5 9.1 1.6 0.7 1.6 1.1
0.558 Robert Horry 1999 LAL 13.5 56.5 52.7 9.1 2.7 7.4 2.7 1.7 1.9 2.4
0.571 Nene Hilario 2011 DEN 20.4 65.7 61.5 17.1 2.3 9.0 2.3 1.3 1.1 2.1