I know Sam Smith is a little crazy, but I find him very entertaining. Just believe what you want to believe and enjoy his Monday columns.
Riley takes the gloves off
Coach gets tough with his aging, rebelious team
On Pro Basketball
November 19, 2007
LOS ANGELES -- Last week, an old friend of Pat Riley's was joking about an over/under for how long Riley would coach the Miami Heat.
"Gone by Christmas," the longtime colleague said with a laugh.
It seemed mostly in fun, but there's little joking in Miami. Last week Riley, who has an artificial hip, said he could play better than his team (players love this). Then Riley talked of a massive shakeup that sounded like he'd bench Shaquille O'Neal.
"People who don't think they should ever be benched might have to come off the bench for a while just to turn this whole thing around," Riley told Miami reporters.
Perhaps Riley meant Ricky Davis, too, though he's been benched before. Wondered one old Riley confidant: "He had him before. How could he not know?"
Courtside scouts following the Heat have been saying they see Davis waving off Riley and telling other players he isn't going to run that stuff.
"I don't see a team that really feels like they have anything at stake here," Riley said. "They come in, they play, they get beat, they go home. They go out into the night. I'll take responsibility for it because I put it together. I'm not shirking any responsibility."
The larger shock has been the way Riley is treating O'Neal, whose play has been limited. Riley benched O'Neal less than a minute into Saturday's game with the Nets—a rare gesture, especially for Riley, who has long protected O'Neal. He apparently didn't like how O'Neal played a new pick-and-roll defense.
This came after Dwyane Wade, back from surgery and rounding into form, talked openly of O'Neal needing to be more motivated.
They laughed about it out in L.A., as that's what Kobe Bryant used to say, making O'Neal so upset, though Bryant did so anonymously.
O'Neal took the criticism from Wade in good spirits, though he was more cryptic after the Saturday benching, an astonishing embarrassment to a future Hall of Fame player. O'Neal told local media, "I'm doing it my way from now on."
O'Neal said he has knee and quadriceps problems. Riley responded he didn't see any reason for O'Neal to rest.
"Cortisone treatment, I think, is part of a player's season," Riley said. "Anytime he feels a little aggravation there, he will probably get a shot."
It seems Riley could be on the verge of losing the team, though it could be a test of wills as Riley finally may have decided to stop catering to his aging team. He is known for long, hard practices and a power game, more ferocity over finesse. He hasn't been able to coach this creaky team that way.
Intimates say Wade has been none too happy with the direction of the team, and the belief is Riley is trying desperately to assuage Wade's concerns, with Wade in the first season of his short extension. He can leave as a free agent after the 2009-10 season.
Reggie Theus is learning quickly it's more complicated in the NBA than it was in college. Aaron Goodwin, the agent for Shareef Abdur-Raheem, has condemned Theus' use of Abdur-Raheem. And it was Ron Artest playing peacemaker, trying to calm John Salmons after Salmons, averaging 20 points a game with Artest out for the first seven games due to suspension, stormed out of the locker room after playing little upon Artest's return.
"That's his role, and he's got to make an adjustment. There's really nothing more you can say about it," Theus said of Salmons.
Theus, who had a famous feud with Kevin Loughery in Chicago, once felt it was the coaches who were the problem. Salmons was fined. Theus already has exchanged angry words with Kenny Thomas, draws angry glares regularly from free agent Mikki Moore and saw high scorer Kevin Martin upset over a quick substitution. No word if there was a team vote demanding Eric Musselman's return.
It was good news for one former Chicagoan on the Kings.
That's Justin Williams, the 6-foot-10-inch reserve who attended Thornwood High School, where he was a childhood playmate of Eddy Curry's. You can bet no one else could get in that sandbox.
Last week the Sacramento County district attorney dropped sexual assault charges against Williams. A Sacramento woman told police last month that she had met Williams and another woman at a party and went to Williams' home. The accuser claimed she did not have anything to drink before arriving at Williams' home but told authorities that she felt woozy after having a drink once there, the Sacramento Bee reported.
The woman later reported an alleged sexual advance. The district attorney said there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges.
"Everyone who knows me knows what type of person I am," Williams said. "I know I'm a good person."
Williams was undrafted out of Wyoming and Colby Junior College.
Chandler's a stinger
Tyson Chandler's New Orleans Hornets? They are one of the early surprises in leading the loaded Southwest Division (Mavs, Spurs and Rockets) at 9-2.
"We don't have a bunch of great individual defensive players," coach Byron Scott told New Orleans media. "We have one who I think is a great individual defensive player in Tyson Chandler (averaging 11.4 points and 11.5 rebounds). But I look at San Antonio. They don't have a bunch of great individual defensive players either. But they have a great defensive team. And I try to get that point across to our guys. We don't have to be great individually, but you have to be a great team defender."
King James' court
The Cavs, in need of a point guard, apparently bowed out of potential interest in Stephon Marbury when executive/forward LeBron James said: "I don't know him that well. But I couldn't have a guy like that on my team." It was Marbury, who got credit for his $15 sneakers, who said apparently of James and Nike: "It's best to own than to be owned." The Cavs are still expected to pursue Mike Bibby, though the Knicks supposedly struck out on an even Marbury-Bibby swap among several others with Marbury owed about $40 million through the end of next season.
Like Mel Brooks says, "It's good to be the king." The Cavs last week had shootaround inside the home of L.A. Gear chairman Steven Jackson, whose house in Bel Air has a regulation-size NBA court that is a replica of the Staples Center. The Cavs worked out in Jackson's home because they did not want to deal with Los Angeles traffic and James worked out there prior to joining Team USA this past summer.
That wacky Rasheed Wallace. Phil Jackson said he was pleased to see Vladimir Radmanovic have a good game Friday against Wallace and the Pistons. "Wallace last year toasted him and made Borat jokes about him," said Jackson. ... In Houston, they're at least screaming for their own guys, as fans regularly chant for Steve Francis, who hasn't played yet. ... After beating the Spurs, Mavs guard Jerry Stackhouse said to reporters: "We don't have all this reverence of the San Antonio Spurs that everybody else has. They've got the proof because they have a championship, but in the back of their minds, they know they didn't go through us to get it." ... Must be something about point guard. Hawks backup point guard Anthony Johnson left the team after the shootaround last week after playing little this season. … Though starting 2-7, the Grizzlies have been competitive with a revived, up-tempo offense and predictably poor defense. But, hey, that's not what Pau Gasol and Darko Milicic do. Rookie coach Marc Iavaroni also has been learning the lessons of a new coach with constantly changing lineups. "I almost feel like sometimes I'm trying to please everyone," Iavaroni told Memphis media. "And, in effect, what you get out of it is that you please no one. Eventually the rotation definitely has to shrink. We have to make some hard decisions and really commit to people."