Three Things Heard Over a Cup of Coffee
• With former Pacers coach Jim O'Brien. Weeks before he would be fired by the Pacers, O'Brien referred back to his decision to win games at the end of last season; Indiana finished 10-4 over the final month, while other teams appeared to tank games in hopes of improving their position for the draft lottery: "It would be impossible for me to do it. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't do it. I don't know how you could ever look at a player in the eye if you're not giving yourself the best chance of winning."
So you and team president Larry Bird never had a conversation about losing on purpose?
"Never, not one," he said. "First of all, I would never have enough guts to bring it up to him, and it's not in his makeup, nor is it in my makeup. Nobody in that franchise, from ownership down, would ever -- I mean, that never even crossed our mind. It crosses your mind only from the standpoint that you're reading that's what you should do. The irony is that you're saying you should get fired because you're not winning; and then when you start winning, you should get fired because you're winning. If there was ever a Catch-22, you got it there. It's really nuts."
• With Nuggets coach George Karl. On galvanizing his team amid trade rumors involving Carmelo Anthony: "The quote I use is from [former Denver VP] Mark Warkentien: I get paid to win the next game. I give my organization my predictions before the season, and they know the month of March is, for us, the most difficult month maybe I've ever seen in the NBA. With a good team, if we're playing well and we go 7-6 [in March], we'll be lucky. So we know we've got to put the numbers up before March, but we also know Portland has that same stretch, New Orleans has that same stretch -- I don't know when it is for them, but every team will have that same kind of month during the season.
"So the thing is you can't get crazy about playing bad. And there are certain guys I can't be around, because they don't want to be flustered by my immature enthusiasm at age 60 to try to win the game. But there are some guys, I can put my arm around and pick them up and move 'em. And you've got to think those things through: I call it my 15 minutes of ego management. So I'll probably stay away from Nene. But I can probably get Kenyon [Martin] in a good place, because he's got to make a lot of defensive reads that he and I can work together on, and there are two or three other guys. Al [Harrington] might need a touch because his name's been in the paper a lot [as a player who may be traded] and Al likes my enthusiasm, we have a good relationship. But those are the things you think about."
• With Larry Bird. On Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo as the NBA's most entertaining player: "If I turn on the TV, I'll watch him play more than anybody. He's got tremendous reaction as a point guard with those passes he makes. If you were to ask him about some of those passes, I'd bet he'd say, 'It was out of my hands before I knew I was throwing it.' That happens a lot. It happened to me. The pass would be out of my hands before I knew, because you're just reacting. I remember some of those tip passes off rebounds -- it just happens and by the time you see it, it's done.
"It was like that steal from Isiah [Thomas in Game 5 of the 1987 East finals]. People don't believe me, but that was all reaction. It was in my hands and out of my hands before I could tell it was happening. I knew they had a timeout, and I couldn't believe they didn't take the timeout. But he probably figured I couldn't get over there."
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