TSN's Jack Armstrong offers his thoughts on Game 7 in the Pacers-Heat series, the road ahead for new Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, the new head coaches in Charlotte and Sacramento, the abilities of Knicks head coach Mike Woodson and the distinguished career of Grant Hill.
1. Game 7 - Pacers at Heat: I'm thrilled. A little drama and suspense. We haven't had as much as we'd like this spring in the NBA Playoffs. Got it for this one. Lots of talk (deservedly so) about the offensively inept play of Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, the play of the Pacers inside and of course, LeBron James. With all that being said, to me the area I will zero in on Monday night above all else will be the Pacers offence vs the Heat defence in a do-or-die road Game 7. I'm a huge believer in the fact that your defence and rebounding carry you consistently throughout the season because offence comes and goes. The Pacers defence and rebounding has been sound. The Heat, when they're at their absolute best, play defence with a purpose that defines quickness, ball pressure, organized help and recovery, tight rotations and don't let you get comfortable at all. They force you to take low percentage shots, force turnovers and get the high-octane running game going with dunks and 3's on the back end. I haven't seen enough of that. If I'm the Heat, it's all about the defence and rebounding, grit and energy and the offence will feed off that. If they do that at home, they've got a great chance to win. The Pacers must exhibit 'offensive toughness'. To win huge road games, you have to take care of the ball, control the tempo and have wonderful shot discipline and shot-making ability late in the shot clock. This is the 'game within the game' that will give me the sense throughout the night of how the personality of the event will be defined. Enjoy!
2. Masai Ujiri (Raptors): Congrats to the new Raptors GM. Lots of heavy lifting ahead. In his brief career as the Nuggets GM, he has shown the willingness to be a bold/aggressive executive, yet has the attributes of a thoughtful and patient makeup that suits him well. He'll need to plot a course that benefits the organization in the years to come, getting it on a consistent playoff path (in the weaker Eastern Conference compared to the West that he dealt with in Denver) rather than worrying about short-term gratification that feels good but doesn't lay the proper long-term foundation. Simply put, decisions are made with the best interests of the organization in the long-term at all times and gradually you begin to get it turned around. Do what's right in your mind and heart after careful deliberation and never cave into the need for popularity and approval. Those characteristics are vital and having known him for a while, my sense is that he will stay very focused on what his vision is and not allow himself to lose his way. As I've said it countless times before, it's a tough job but the Toronto franchise has immense potential as an NBA city and has greatly under performed for 18 years. Do it right and it will get right.
3. Steve Clifford (Bobcats) and Michael Malone (Kings): Both guys hired as NBA head coaches this past week. I've known both of them for a long time and consider them friends. I was thrilled for both of them. They've paid their dues big-time and are more than ready. As is the case most times when you're 0-0 as an NBA head coach, you normally don't get a 'good job', you get a challenging one that will do a number (not a good one) on the start of your career W-L record. The way I judge performance is how they lay the groundwork/foundation for gradual/incremental improvement that sets their franchises up for the 'turn-around' in a few years. Rome wasn't built in a day and the Bobcats and Kings surely won't be either. That's not an excuse in any way, shape or form for Clifford and Malone, instead it's the reality of the uneven, and many times unfair, business of coaching. Certain jobs are a lot more messed up than others. I'm a huge believer in the fact that you see if it's working or not in Year 3. I'm convinced that these two guys will absolutely work their tails off and so will their players (or they'll be traded/waived) and you'll start to see the process of creep-crawl-walk-run in front of you. Doubt they'll be off and running in two years but by Year 3, they'll be on their feet and competing with folks. They will impact 'positive change'. They won't be out-worked by anyone nor will they be out-coached, I can assure you of that. Good basketball men.
4. Mike Woodson (Knicks): Knicks fans are obnoxious. Some folks are wondering if he's the 'right' coach for them. Seriously? 18 wins and only six losses last year after taking over for Mike D'Antoni and 54 wins and Atlantic Division Title this Year. Haven't had one of those since the 90's. Back-to-back playoff berths. He built in Atlanta and he's built in New York. Is he Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach? No. Is he a good coach/leader? Definitely. Does he have a championship roster? Far from it. Miami, Indiana, Chicago (when healthy) and possibly Brooklyn (with a stable coaching situation) are better. He might be in a similar situation in New York that he was in Atlanta; yery good team for short stretches but not good enough over the long haul.
5. Grant Hill (Clippers): Announces his retirement. Awesome NCAA player at Duke. Terrific early career with Detroit and then injuries did him in. Battled back and had a nice finish to his career. Class act - gentleman - team player - professional. Great Run. Has lots to be proud of. I'm sure he'll be heard from in a big way in retirement. Has got 'it'.