Bob Hill is the new Seattle SuperSonics coach.
Hill aims for a Sonic bloom
And what happened Wednesday night in his first game was an old story.
The players want to show it's not their fault the team was playing so poorly -- "it must be the old coach" -- in this case Bob Weiss. The new coach Hill promised increased emphasis on defense. No lackadaisical walk-through practices. No more Mr. Nice Sonic.
The game got tight at the end, but instead Seattle held on for a 101-97 win over a Bulls team that has now lost eight in a row. The increased energy level helped them at the end. That's the kind of game that a struggling team loses, but not one with a new taskmaster.
I think the team will do well initially, as is often the case with in-season changes, but eventually revert back to its true nature.
A mediocre team.
But what Hill has going for him is management's backing, and the timing of the move. He was brought in as an assistant for this kind of scenario. The season is still early enough where he can establish a new approach before the All-Star break.
His first moves included inserting Vladimir Radmanovic into the starting lineup for the first time this year, restoring Luke Ridnour to the starting point guard and, perhaps most dramatic of all, 19-year-old Frenchman Johan Petro stepped into his defense-and- rebounding role. And seldom-used pivotman Robert Swift, 20, who committed five fouls, got eight minutes of PT. Both were first-round picks.
Petro played more minutes Wednesday night (31) than he did in all of December (19).
Is Hill playing those two because management wants him to? You'll never know exactly. But coaches who are brought in like this can end up beholden to management. When I took over in Boston in 2004, I kept hearing "play this guy, play that guy" from upstairs. What a headache.
Hill has to be careful not to go too far with developing players. If you're playing guys management wants, the team's veterans can tell, and you risk losing them. Management may say, "Put a player who's out for 15 minutes, because, what's one guy playing 15 minutes in the scheme of a full game?
I'll tell you -- the difference in winning and losing.
No matter what, I think Hill is going to look good in the way he gets Seattle to play. He's a balance between Nate McMillan and Bob Weiss. McMillan's style caused friction -- in a good way. He got that team to play better than it probably was.
In his first game, Hill's team held Chicago to 41 percent field goal shooting. The Sonics had been giving up a league-worst 49.8 percent on FGs.
Hill has been on this bench. He knows what they needed to do. He knows the dilemmas. Now he can change the atmosphere, and make the players more accountable.
He has management's backing. It was very big that they didn't name him interim. As crazy as that sounds, that's very important for how the players view you and what kind of juice you have.
The team's now 14-17, two games behind the Timberwolves in the Northwest standings.
Hill's got the early momentum. The real trick will be elevating the team in the manner of McMillan.
LeBron James gets ready to jam en route to a triple double: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists in a 91-84 win at Milwaukee.
The last time the Seattle Supersonics replaced a coach in his first season with the team was back in 1977. Bill Hopkins went 5-17 before being replaced by Lenny Wilkens during the 1977-78 season. That season Wilkens took the Sonics to the NBA Finals only to lose in 7 games to the Bullets. The following season the Sonics nearly swept the Bullets in the NBA Finals... winning in 5 games.
-- ESPN Research
Scott: 'No Babies Allowed'
Iverson Wants A Gold Medal
Bob Hill's debut as Sonics coach was a success. It's his third midseason hiring, having joined the Knicks in December 1986 and the Pacers in December 1990.
Quote of the Day
"I was telling myself, 'Marko, this team needs a point guard out there.'"
-- Wolves guard Marko Jaric, often self-critical, asserted himself for 22 points in a 91-78 win over the Mavs.
-- Andrew Ayres
If I was David Stern, I'd be concerned. Not somebody-just-hacked-into-my-Swiss-bank-account concerned, but worried nonetheless.
I'd be worried because the low-scoring games that were supposed to be eradicated by last year's rule changes are proving to be stubborn pests, and I'd be worried that the cure I introduced might be as bad as the original disease.
As we all know, the powers that be in the NBA have a financial interest in producing fast-paced, high-scoring basketball games -- even if the coaches don't. Up-and-down, flowing games help generate fan interest, which helps sell tickets and merchandise, which ultimately benefits everyone.
That's how things worked during the glory years of the late 1980s and early '90s, but over time the pace slowed and defense gained the upper hand. The nadir was reached in the spring of 2004, when the Pistons and Pacers competed in a well-played, hard-fought and completely unwatchable Eastern Conference finals.
Dirk Nowitzki was 6-for-6 from the line in the Mavericks loss to the Timberwolves, extending his franchise-record streak of consecutive free-throws made to 56, the longest for any NBA player since Reggie Miller made 60 in a row late last season (March 18 to April 6).
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
As disappointed as some were about the poor start Larry Brown got off to with the Knicks, December provided another blow. The Knicks won just two games in the month, and lost to Orlando twice and Atlanta once - all by double figures. Another large factor in their 2-12 December was poor defense.
New York allowed over 103 points per game - nearly nine more than during November. One positive is that Jamal Crawford seems to have found his way into the good graces of coach Brown, and is enjoying his most productive stretch of the season.
Mike (Hollywood): Will the Suns be even better with Leandro Barbosa back? They look like the class of the Pacific at this point.
John Hollinger: Frankly, I've been amazed -- AMAZED -- at how well Phoenix has played. Understand folks, that team is much better than their record -- in terms of victory margin they're right up there with San Antonio and Detroit, and this is without Stoudemire. They're No. 2 in the league in Defensive Efficiency right now, believe it or not. I'd be shocked if they didn't win the Pacific, and I'm sure Barbosa's impending return will help that process along.