Changes need to happen across basketball
I don't want this to be one of the 10,000 post-mortems on why our Olympic basketball fared so poorly in Athens the last two weeks. There will be enough Monday morning quarterbacking on this to last an entire NBA season.
Instead, I want to make some observations about how we can fix the basketball mess we are in. I coached college basketball for 23 years, scouted in the NBA, coached and spoke at clinics overseas in eight different countries and now spend about four-to-six hours a day in the offseason, aside from ESPN duties, studying film and talking basketball. It may, or may not, qualify me as an expert, but it does qualify me as passionate about the game.
Like many others, I have seen the erosion of basketball skills, fundamentals and team play building in the United States over the last decade. There are many reasons for this, and simply put, everyone from AAU coaches to NBA executives are to blame. I am sure we could argue for hours over the problem.
So, don't blame Stephon Marbury for not fighting over screens against Lithuania, when he wasn't held accountable by his coaches for doing it on the high school, college or pro level. In other words, it took him 27 years to get this way; Larry Brown wasn't changing those habits in a fortnight. And don't blame Carmelo Anthony for pouting over playing time. After all, he should be entering his junior year at Syracuse instead of being used as a marketing tool to sell jerseys at The NBA Store.
By the way, credit the players who did make the trip to Greece for sacrificing a big part of their summer when many of their fellow NBA stars begged off the team with a variety of excuses. To say they didn't compete, especially after the embarrassing losses to Puerto Rico and Italy, is nonsense. These guys played hard and had no intention of coming back to the United States as a laughingstock.
Unfortunately, the NBA, like the rest of basketball in America, has seen team play erode and has become a game of individual play and poor fundamentals. According to statistics provided by 82games.com, NBA teams shot only 37 percent from 6-to-11 feet from the basket last season. On the other hand, watching Argentina play is like watching Pete Carril's old Princeton teams on steroids. These are smart players who are just about as athletic as many NBA stars.
Obviously, USA Basketball's selection committee needs to shoulder a lot of blame for the debacle. When you have one of the two best centers in the world in Tim Duncan and no perimeter shooting, teams will play zone or play five men so close to him that they look like coats on a coat rack. And, of course, we can go on and on about not having a pure point guard, a duplication of players, blah, blah, blah.
Rather, let's get constructive. Here are a few ideas for USA Basketball and the NBA as my very small contribution toward a solution to the problems we face in international basketball:
1. Appoint a committee of the best minds in basketball to analyze the state of our game at the international level. Retired coaches like Dave Gavitt, Chuck Daly, Dean Smith, and John Thompson have enormous Olympic experience. Coaches like Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Larry Brown and others should be utilized, as well. We need to study the international game and its nuances to better prepare for our competition. As Knight likes to say, "In order to win, you must understand what goes into losing."
The retired coaches could also scout our opponents in tournaments that occur during the NBA season leading up to the World Championships or Olympic games. And they could monitor players in the NBA for their skills, attitude and ability to blend in on an all-star team. Their knowledge would be invaluable for the Olympic head coach consumed by his NBA season.
2. Hire someone like Donn Nelson as permanent assistant coach of USA Basketball's next World Championship and Olympic teams. The Dallas Mavericks President of Basketball Operations has helped build Lithuania into one of the world's basketball powers and knows the international game as well as anyone. At the very least, we should be picking his brain for any morsel of information than can help us prepare for our competition. This is no time to act like we have all the answers.
3. Come up with a new system for picking our team. There are many ways to go here. My idea is to allow the committee to select five "automatics" like Duncan or Kevin Garnett. Then have a trial with 20 players vying for the next four spots. In addition, allow three "coach's selections" of players who fit the head coach's system. Finally, carry 15 players in pre-tournament competition before cutting the squad to account for injuries and chemistry issues.
4. The NBA, along with the NCAA, should consider adopting some of the international rules to hasten our adjustment to competition. The trapezoid lane would be an easy one to consider. Obviously, the zone rules would take away from individual creativity but would put a premium on outside shooting. At worst, they could experiment with rule changes during the exhibition season.
5. Play more exhibition games versus international competition in the preseason. This would allow NBA players to acclimate themselves to international basketball more quickly. Many NBA teams have begun to play overseas during the preseason. The Grizzlies played in Paris and Barcelona last year and the Rockets will play in China this year. In addition, we should invite international teams to train and play exhibition games in the United States.
6. Help strengthen the game at all levels. This one would take another complete column (or a hundred). But there must be a recommitment by coaches at all levels to get back to teaching the game of basketball better and holding players accountable for the way they play the game. I would call for a "basketball summit" comprised of NBA, college, high school and AAU coaches and administrators to begin to fix a "system" that is currently broken. We have created a generation of players who value the spectacular dunk but don't know how to adequately pass, dribble, shoot or defend. Maybe my colleagues at ESPN will do their part by calling for a moratorium on all dunks this season on SportsCenter. Let's see Stuart Scott work his magic with highlights of made foul shots and two-hand chest passes. Hey, in order to get USA Basketball back on track, everyone is going to have to make a sacrifice.
Fran Fraschilla spent 23 years on the sidelines as a college basketball coach at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico before joining ESPN and ESPN.com as an analyst last season.