• Hey there.

    It’s time for Last Week This Morning, everyone’s favorite slightly-topical NBA column written by a 26-year old kid residing in Hull, Massachusetts, just hours before the second episode of Season 6 of Game of Thrones, listening to the Moneyball soundtrack, considering warming up some leftover lamb from Greek Easter.

    Psychological Warfare

    The San Antonio Spurs decimated the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, and while I know there is plenty to discuss from a strategic standpoint (Billy Donovan is already getting crushed), I’m a lot more interested in how the Spurs approached this series with the Thunder before it started.

    If you watched any of the Thunder’s first round series with the Mavericks, you saw a lot of chippy play, a lot of trash talk, cheap shots, etc. The Dallas Mavericks made Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant angry, and you won’t like them when they’re angry.

    Mark Cuban infamously called out Russell Westbrook by suggesting that Kevin Durant was the only superstar on the Thunder roster, and I think both Westbrook and Durant took that comment personal. I’m sure Cuban was trying to create some sort of rift, or competition between the two, hoping it would turn Westbrook into a chucker in order for him to ‘prove’ Cuban wrong, or maybe Cuban actually believed what he was saying, whatever the case was, it didn’t work.

    The Spurs took the exact opposite approach. The Mavericks went at Westbrook for his dancing, Tim Duncan said that “there isn’t anyone more focused than that kid once on the court, so they can do what they want” in response to a reporter’s dancing question.

    The Mavericks said Westbrook wasn’t a superstar; Tony Parker said, “Do I really have to answer that? Of Course, he’s a superstar. It’s not even close” when a reporter asked him about it.

    You get the point, but I’ll keep going anyway.

    Kevin Durant said, “Tim Duncan could play until he’s 90. It’s not about him scoring 20 and getting 10 rebounds, it’s just his presence”.

    Steven Adams admitted that Tim Duncan is so nice, he can trick players into not guarding him.

    The Spurs play the nice guy card better than any dominant-for-a-decade-plus professional sports team.

    Now, I’m not dumb enough to suggest that the Thunder need to have a personal vendetta against a team in order to succeed, or that the Spurs’ overall kindness and respect they have around the league is significantly responsible for the series that they win.  I just think it’s an interesting wrinkle to this specific series, particularly when you compare it to how the Mavericks tried to approach their matchup with the Thunder. It’s interesting. It’s an interesting way to keep your opponent comfortable, and to a lesser extent, predictable. Don’t rile anybody up, don’t ruffle any feathers, don’t give them any bulletin board material, etc.

    After the Game 1 blowout, Gregg Popovich continued to toe that line, suggesting that the Spurs didn’t crush the Thunder, or anything that could remotely agitate his opponent. He simply said that they made their shots tonight. Flawless.

    I don’t even know if this is a conscious effort by the Spurs to psych out their opponent, or ‘kill them with kindness’ because I do think that this is the genuine personality of that franchise, and it’s awesome. The Spurs are great. They put your brain in a pretzel, and by the time you get out, it’s already over. I love this series. I think it’ll be even more intriguing now that the Thunder got embarrassed in Game 1. How will they respond? What changes will Donovan make? I can’t wait to find out.

    What should the Clippers do?

    I don’t have an answer for that, by the way.

    This was supposed to be the last year of the ‘Lob City’ era Clippers if they failed to make a deep playoff run. Doc Rivers had alluded to this himself on multiple occasions, but considering how injured that team was for most of the season before losing basically everyone in this first round of the playoffs, I have to wonder if those plans have changed.

    I wouldn’t blow that team up just yet, and to be more specific, I’d roll into next season with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick while trying to retool the rest of the roster.

    The NBA isn’t fair, but for what was supposed to be the final hurrah for the Clippers as we know them, it didn’t really work out as intended. It wasn’t the sort of ‘can we win a championship with this core’ final experiment the organization was hoping for. From that standpoint, this season was a disaster for the Clippers. We didn’t learn anything. A compete waste of 82+ games. For shame.

    I might be foolish for feeling as though there is still some untapped potential within that core, but I still think you can squeeze another deep playoff run out of those guys, and if they were playing the Stephen Curry-less Warriors at full strength, who knows? It would have been an interesting series.

    Luke Walton

    This might be the depressed basketball pessimist in me, but I’d be slightly hesitant to hand Luke Walton the keys to my franchise for around $25 million over 5 years. And I like Luke Walton!

    I also think it’s incredibly tough to pre-judge a coaching hire, particularly when that hire is a first-time head coach. I don’t know Luke Walton, I didn’t interview Luke Walton for the position, and I can’t reference any coaching history for analysis outside of the few months he coached the best regular season team in NBA history.

    I’m not predicting that Luke Walton is going to fail in Los Angeles, I’m more posing the question – “Do we know he will be a good head coach?” We don’t. The answer is we don’t.

    The hypocritical part of my hypothetical question is that I’d hire Luke Walton if I were in charge of the Lakers, too! I’m merely pointing out how much irrational confidence owners and general managers have to place in largely unknown candidates. It’s the coaching market, it is what it is, you have to empower your head coach, and one way of doing that is by offering him big money and long terms. It’s the opposite of ‘lame-duck’ coach syndrome. The Lakers players know how much money and time ownership has awarded the head coach, and must react accordingly or they won’t be in L.A. much longer. It’s all part of the game, I get it.

    On the flip side, committing to an experienced head coach that has already failed somewhere else can be just as difficult, and requires just as much faith as the Lakers are putting in Luke Walton. You are essentially paying someone an obscene amount of money over a very long term to do something they’ve already been fired for.

    It’s really difficult to hire the right head coach. It might be the hardest, most scrutinized, most dangerous decision a general manager will make, and the one they are least confident about when making.

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