Hoping for a little churn at the top of the NBA and not the seemingly inevitable Warriors-Cavs rematch

 

Surely in the minority here, but I’m glad Dwyane Wade is with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the simple reason that it makes the 2018 NBA Finals worth watching.

It’s going to be Golden State vs Cleveland again next June. You know that. Every other team in the league knows that, too, though they will try to convince themselves otherwise as the new season kicks off this week.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Does this make the 82-game regular season that stretches before us a crashing bore? Of course not. There will be all kinds of drama. Sensational and courageous playmaking. Comebacks and upsets and teams, like the Miami Heat last year, playing absolutely out of their heads for significant stretches.

In the end, though, it we wind up with Warriors vs. Cavs again, for what would be the fourth year in a row, it will be abundantly clear why fans get so worked up about the free-agency signing period each summer. It’s the only time when competitive conditions across the league are subject to real change.

Come to think of it, even that has become a bit of a wash in recent years, with all kinds of great talent going all kinds of interesting places but the Warriors negating that collective energy by taking Kevin Durant for themselves.

Which new talent grouping interests you most? My choice is Oklahoma City, with Billy Donovan trying to find a formula that works for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Fascinating stuff, but again the Thunder aren’t expected to measure up to the Warriors in the Western Conference, so there they go again.

Trying not to be so cynical here, but a little churn at the top keeps the interest going stronger and longer for me.

Even with all the talk of Tom Brady and New England dominating the NFL, the last 10 Super Bowls have been won by eight teams. Two each by the Patriots and Giants, and the rest spread around among Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Green Bay, Baltimore, Seattle and Denver. That grows hope in more fan bases. It makes the regular season count for more than just playoff seeding.

As for baseball, here’s one that surprised me. There hasn’t been a World Series rematch since the Yankees beat the Dodgers in 1977 and again in 1978. And here we are looking at the Warriors and the Cavs for a possible fourth year in a row?

Thanks goodness it’s a league and an industry driven by stars because the teams alone seem to be fairly ordered.

As for the Boston Celtics winning eight NBA titles in a row from 1959-66 and a total of 11 in 13 years over the same stretch, we won’t go there, hopefully, ever again.

[What Miami will get from Syracuse, the team that lost to Middle Tennessee?]

[Flying high again with the ever-changing Central Florida Knights]

[Even greatest UM teams learned how tough it is to run the table]

 

 

Only three Gator teams ever made it to the Sweet 16 more easily than this one

 

No telling what will happen to the Florida Gators vs. Wisconsin on Friday night, but it’s been a shockingly easy ride so far.

With a total victory margin of 41 points in wins over East Tennessee State and Virginia, the Gators rank fourth in program history in terms of domination on the way to the Sweet 16 round.

ORLANDO, FL – Devin Robinson #1 and Justin Leon of the Florida Gators react in the first half against the Virginia Cavaliers during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at the Amway Center on March 18, 2017 in Orlando. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The 2012 Gators won their first two games in the NCAA tournament by a total of 60 points (plus-26 over Virginia and plus-34 over Norfolk State). That group, featuring Bradley Beal, Kenny Boynton and Patric Young, lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight.

Florida’s 2007 national championship team reached the Sweet 16 round with a total victory margin of 50 points (43 over Jackson State and seven over Purdue).

The Gators’ first national champions in 2006 had a 48-point edge over two opening opponents (26 over South Alabama and 22 over Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

Of course, it helps to have low-seeded teams as opponents in the opening rounds, but any NCAA tournament game is a potential face-plant. Mike White’s 2017 Gators don’t have a fistful of NBA players, like the championship teams of Billy Donovan. Also, this group had to beat a No. 5 seed on the way to the Sweet 16 round, which is more than was asked of those monster Gator teams listed above.

To this point, White’s only disappointment has been getting so little scoring from KeVaughn Allen, an All-SEC first-teamer, and Canyon Barry. They averaged 26 points per game as a pair during the regular season. In the NCAA tournament they are scoring less than half of that (5.5 points per game for Allen and 7.0 for Barry).

Get those two guys going against Wisconsin, plus the same overall defensive effort that has been a hallmark for the Gators this season, and there may still be another gear for Florida to hit.

The Badgers are tournament-tough, of course, and represent a major problem. Twice in the last three years Wisconsin reached the Final Four, including an appearance in the national title game against Duke in 2015. Florida has no experience to rival that, from the head coach on down.

[Most got in free for inaugural NCAA basketball championship in 1939]

[From the franchise’s darkest history comes inspiration for today’s Heat]

[Reliving Wilt’s 100-point game with two Palm Beach County eyewitnesses]

Every year is different, however, and every matchup. Try this mindless trivia on for size.

Wisconsin won the 1941 NCAA tournament with a 39-34 victory over Washington State in the championship game. Virginia scored 39 points in the second round of the 2017 tournament and lost by 26 points to the Gators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sooner or later a college coach is going to work out in the NBA

If the Chicago Bulls close the deal on Fred Hoiberg as their new head coach, it won’t be the first time the franchise has turned to Iowa State for leadership.

Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg's first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Fred Hoiberg will leave Iowa State University to become head coach of the NBA Chicago Bulls, according to published reports June 1, 2015. This would be Hoiberg’s first head-coaching job in the pros. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tim Floyd jumped right from coaching the Cyclones to running the Bulls in 1998 and it was a disaster. In four seasons of trying to win with a stripped-down roster minus Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and other championship pieces, Floyd was cut loose with a record of 49-140.

Among the other busts in making the leap from college coaching to the NBA are John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Kruger and Leonard Hamilton. Tark the Shark only lasted 20 games as coach of the San Antonio Spurs because he got sick of ownership trying to set his lineup.

So why the trend among NBA franchises to dip back into the college ranks with increasing frequency?

Billy Donovan to Oklahoma City makes some sense because he won a couple of national titles at Florida and was a Final Four regular but still it’s a gamble.

Brad Stevens, meanwhile, is gaining some traction with the Boston Celtics. He made the playoffs in his second season after making the jump from Butler. That’s encouraging, and follows with his pattern of efficiency in twice reaching the NCAA championship game with a mid-major team.

Hoiberg never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in his five seasons as Iowa State coach but he did play 10 seasons in the NBA and later served as a vice president with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Put it all together and it looks as if NBA owners increasingly want coaches who are still willing to learn, who have sharp technological skills and who are willing to bend.

That means giving in to management in ways that Tom Thibodeau didn’t believe he should have to do after earning a .647 winning percentage in five seasons as the Bulls’ coach. It means giving in to veteran players on occasion, too.

The players, remember, are the real celebrities here. That’s how two rookie NBA head coaches – David Blatt and Steve Kerr – could wind up in the 2015 NBA Finals this week. That’s how Erik Spoelstra won two NBA titles in Miami.

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Dan Jennings’ step from the front office to the dugout in Miami can still go in any direction. It was the same with Jim Fanning, who late in the 1981 season became the manager of the Montreal Expos after previously serving as the team’s general manager and director of scouting.

Fanning, whose easy manner and courtesy made lots of friends back when the Expos trained in West Palm Beach, didn’t bother giving a pep talk when he first stood before the team as manager.

“I gave them a fact talk instead,” said Fanning, who shockingly replaced Hall of Famer and

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

two-time World Series champion Dick Williams. “I told them they had 27 days to win it.”

That’s how many games remained in the regular season and Montreal won 16 of them. How much or how little Fanning had to do with that is difficult to tell. He was, however, the only manager in Expos history to reach the playoffs, losing in the 1981 National League Championship Series when Rick Monday of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run in the ninth inning of the fifth and deciding game.

Fanning, who died April 25 at the age of 87, had managed 20 years earlier in the minor league system of the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves.

Jennings’ story is still being written, but if he can match Fanning’s 116-103 record as Expos manager, that would be far more than anyone expects.

 

 

It’s been a long time since Gators had simultaneous restart in football and hoops

Not since 1990 have the Florida Gators simultaneously started over with new coaches in football (Jim McElwain) and basketball (Michael White). Spooky stuff, but it really did work out pretty good that other time.

 Michael White (yahoo.com)
Michael White
(yahoo.com)

All Steve Spurrier did was give Florida its first SEC title. Then he won five more of those and the 1999 national championship, too — another Gator first.

Meanwhile, Lon Kruger — who also came on in 1990 — was making something of Florida basketball, too. He took the Gators to their first Final Four in 1994, the highest achievement for the program until Billy Donovan came along.

White’s turn at the wheel begins Monday with his introductory press conference in Gainesville.

White seems painfully young at 38, but he’s eight years older than Donovan was when he took the Florida job in 1996.

White is a coach’s son, but his father moved on from small-college track and field to become an athletic director. Today Kevin White is the athletic director at Duke. They seem to know a little about basketball up there, so that’s a good sign.

Florida AD Jeremy Foley had more than just White’s coaching record at Louisiana Tech (101-40) as a job recommendation. In his college days, White played basketball for Ole Miss, starting at point guard from his freshman year on. That sounds like leadership. What’s more, White is tied for seventh on the Rebels’ career assists list. That computes as leadership, too, and is an example of the kind of team-first concept that Donovan made work at Florida.

And how did White do as a player in games against Florida? Well, it’s pretty tough digging up box scores from 1998 and 1999 on the fly, but the overall results suggest he had a pretty good handle on the Ole Miss offense.

Jim McElwain (Getty Images)
Jim McElwain (Getty Images)

The Rebels beat Florida 90-79 at Oxford during White’s junior year. As a senior, he was part of a 79-68 win over the Gators at the O’Connell Center. That Gators team went 22-9 and made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time under Donovan. Matter of fact, that Ole Miss game was the only one Florida lost at home that season.

White is getting $2 million a year to coach the Gators. Not bad, considering Billy D signed for $400,000 per year on his original contract at Florida.

Not much pressure, then, on McElwain and White. Like I said, this double dose of change hasn’t happened at Florida since 1990. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1960, when Ray Graves became the football coach and slippery old Norm Sloan began his first of two runs in charge of Florida hoops.