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Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

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Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby e0y2e3 » Thu Jan 14, 2010 1:47 pm

LOS ANGELES -- John Lucas and LeBron James will be involved in the same NBA game Saturday at the Staples Center. For Lucas, it's 6 ½ years too late.

During the 2002-03 season, Lucas was coach of the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers. He believes team brass had a mission to lose enough games to get a shot at James, then a hot-shot senior 40 miles down the road at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

"They trade all our guys away and we go real young, and the goal was to get LeBron and also to sell the team,'' Lucas said in an interview with FanHouse. "I didn't have a chance. ... You can't fault the Cavaliers for wanting to get LeBron. It was hard to get free agents to come there.''

Gordon Gund, then the principal owner and now a Cavaliers' minority owner, denied the team was tanking during that 17-65 season to get James, who would go to Cleveland with the No. 1 pick after it won the 2003 draft lottery. Gund also denied the team then was for sale, a move that wouldn't happen until 2005.

Lucas, now a Los Angeles Clippers assistant, will run into the Cavaliers on Saturday for the first time since they fired him Jan. 20, 2003 after an 8-34 start. And he will face James, a player he sure wishes he could have ended up coaching.

Lucas has varying emotions when he looks back on his 1 ½-season stint with the Cavaliers. He was very frustrated at his belief the team was willing to lose games in order to get James. But, looking back, he can't deny the Cavaliers have turned their entire franchise around with James.

"As angry as I am about the situation of being there, I was there at the wrong time,'' Lucas said. "But, for the organization, it was absolutely the right move. I'm angry because I should be a big boy because I got paid a lot of money (Lucas was fired with 1 ½ years left on his contract). But you want a chance to be able to be there for a while. You knew what the mission was. You just hoped you could get there to get that.''

Instead, Lucas got fired. He didn't take another NBA job until Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy, a friend since the two were Houston teammates in 1977-78, invited him back last fall to serve as an assistant.

"The Cleveland Cavaliers situation really beat me up,'' said Lucas, who was suspended by the NBA for the first two games of the 2002-03 season due to illegally bringing in James for a voluntary workout with Cavaliers players in May 2002, late in James' junior year. "I didn't know until you get into the inner loop, after you take the job, what their real mission is. ... So I was really beat up from the Cleveland situation and so it took me this long to be back (in the NBA).''

The Cavaliers went 29-53 under Lucas in his first season, 2001-02, and he believed they were making strides. But during the offseason, the team traded its top three scorers in Lamond Murray, Andre Miller and Wesley Person, getting little for Person and Murray. Miller had led the NBA in assists in 2001-02 with a 10.9 average.

Lucas said he was told during the 2002-03 season to use young players, and was discouraged from using veterans such as forward Tyrone Hill and point guard Bimbo Coles.

"What you can't talk about is, 'We're trying to get LeBron,''' Lucas said of the climate that season. "You can't say that (to the fans).''

One of those young players Lucas used plenty was guard Ricky Davis, who averaged a team-high 20.6 points. He's now with the Clippers.

"It was tough on (Lucas),'' Davis said. "They were forcing him to lose and I know it's nothing he wanted to do. It's just the position he was forced in. But it's tough. ... It worked, whatever they did (to get James) so it's hard to knock them. They got what they wanted. But it was hard on Luke.''

Gund strongly denied in an interview with FanHouse the Cavaliers had a strategy to get James by losing games in 2002-03.

"You don't try to get the No. 1 pick,'' Gund said. "That's why the lottery was designed. To not allow that. We had a young team that we were developing. ... We did not tank the season. ... To lose to get LeBron James, we would never do that. I wouldn't do that. I couldn't do that.

"In the very last game of the season, we had nothing to gain and we were in sole possession of last place (in the NBA). But we beat (Toronto) and that left us tied with Denver (at 17-65). ... The chances of getting the first pick were only (22.5 percent).''

Gund did confirm Lucas was directed to use younger players because they were the "future of the team.'' But Gund pointed out that, if the Cavaliers were indeed trying to tank that season, why would Lucas have been fired after the team got off to a horrendous start?

"I just didn't think the chemistry was good. The players weren't responding to John,'' said Gund, who didn't elaborate further on why Lucas was replaced by interim coach Keith Smart for the remainder of the season. "This is not a criticism of John. I like John.''

So do the Clippers' players. In his four months with the team, Lucas has developed into a popular guy due to his enthusiasm, honesty and work ethic.

Lucas stays after practice regularly to work individually with players. He's got to be the most excitable assistant in the league, sometimes standing as much during games as Dunleavy.

"He always tells it like it is,'' said Clippers center Marcus Camby. "He doesn't sugarcoat anything. It's good to have a reality check because he always gives it to you raw. He's a players' coach. I mean, you can talk to him about anything. His life has been well-documented. There's nothing hidden about that.''

Indeed there isn't. Lucas, the No. 1 pick in the draft in 1976 and a 14-year NBA guard, has spoken openly about his drug abuse and, since finally getting sober on March 14, 1986, has spent much time helping others with addictions.

Lucas' passion is working out players. He was doing that in his hometown of Houston, having worked closely with about 40 NBA players, during the six years he was out of the league.

Then Dunleavy called.

"Luke and I have been friends for 30 years,'' said Dunleavy, who, after getting to know Lucas with the Rockets, was a Milwaukee assistant when Lucas played for the Bucks from 1986-88. "I thought last summer we were going to get Tim Grgurich, but at the last minute he changed his mind and decided to stay in Denver (where he has been an assistant since 2005). I started going through my list of guys, and I thought John would be great. He's got a lot of energy. That's the key. I was looking for an upbeat guy.''

Dunleavy worked though a mutual friend to get Lucas to come to the Clippers. He finally agreed, signing a one-year deal.

Now, Lucas wants to stick around the NBA a lot longer than that.

"I thought I was done with (coaching) and it was out of my system,'' said Lucas, 56. "But Mike asked me to come back and help, I've loved every minute and didn't realize how much I missed it.''

Lucas, who coached San Antonio from 1992-94 and Philadelphia from 1994-96 prior to his Cleveland stint, is enjoying it so much that he wants one day be a head coach again.

"I think that I was very successful when I had a chance to be,'' Lucas said. "Most players come to me to work on their game anyway. ... I really have gotten upset some times to be honest because I've seen people that have been in tougher situations than me get other chances. But I think that I've done well enough to deserve another chance.''

Lucas points to his success in San Antonio, where he went 94-49 in just under two seasons. He finished the 1992-93 season with a 39-22 run and then led the Spurs to a 55-27 mark the following season.

But then Lucas bolted to Philadelphia, where he also was general manager. He regrets it to this day.

"I left because they fired the general manager (Bob Bass) and they sold the team too, and they brought in (Gregg) Popovich as the general manager,'' Lucas said. "I always felt that anybody that had been an assistant coach who now was the general manager would always want to coach."

Popovich did take over as Spurs coach during the 1996-97 season and since has won four titles.

"I left for all the wrong reasons, though," Lucas continued. "Then I went from thinking that I was a very good coach, a great coach, that I can make anybody win, to realizing you got to have talent to win. And I've been chasing a San Antonio situation ever since. ... I wish I had stayed and built my resume up.''

Instead, Lucas took over one of the worst teams in the NBA. He was fired after the 76ers went just 42-122 in his two seasons.

"They sold the team. The strength coach at the time I fired, and he came back as the boss,'' Lucas said of Pat Croce taking over as team president with the new ownership. "That wasn't a good move either.''

Lucas served as a Denver assistant from 1998-2001. He eventually resurfaced as a head coach with the Cavaliers.

It didn't take long to get the attention of his new players. During the first week of training camp, Lucas held practices at 6 a.m.

"I wanted to change the culture of who we are,'' Lucas said. "I felt like Cleveland at that time was a place where players would go to the graveyard to die. They'd hide out a couple of years and then be out of the league because of age.''

So Lucas had players work the graveyard shift.

"I thought he was joking,'' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, the only player remaining on the Cavaliers since Lucas coached, said of when he first heard the team would practice so early. "I didn't like that too much. ... When you get up at 4 in the morning, you're going to be groggy. ... But I have a lot of respect for (Lucas). He was a good players' coach.''

Lucas endeared himself to players with some more popular unconventional methods, such as sometimes canceling practice if a player could make a halfcourt shot. Lucas said lots of coaches do that but he has got the reputation for being unconventional because he opened all his practices to the media and everything was visible.

Lucas thought the Cavaliers were making strides after they went 29-53 in 2001-02, a season that included Ilgauskas, eventually a two-time All-Star, playing limited minutes as he overcame foot problems. But it was all downhill after that.

In May 2002, Lucas invited James to work out with Cavaliers players at Quicken Loans Arena, then known by its former name, Gund Arena. Lucas claims he didn't know it was against the rules to bring in a prospect not yet eligible for the draft. In addition to suspending Lucas for the first two games of 2002-03, the NBA fined the Cavaliers $150,000.

"I was $250,000 lighter in the pocket for doing with (James) the exact same thing I did with Kobe (Bryant) in Philly,'' said Lucas, referring to allowing Bryant, then a Philadelphia high school star, to work out with the 76ers. "I used to make Kobe come practice with us in Philly. I had Kobe since the 10th grade. ... I was trying to find a better player to come in then and expose them to the pros. ... Nobody ever said anything (about Bryant working out). When LeBron came in, I didn't even know they had changed the rules.''

At 17, James, according to Lucas, was the "best player in the gym'' alongside the likes of DeSagana Diop, Chris Mihm, Bryant Stith and Jumaine Jones. It wasn't long before Lucas believed the Cavaliers set the stage to get James.

"Andre was really coming into his own and we trade him (to the Clippers) for Darius Miles, who had a bad knee, and Harold Jamison, who (was waived),'' Lucas said. "We traded Lamond Murray, who averaged (a team-high 16.6) points, (to Toronto) for Yogi Stewart, who was on the (injured) list. We traded Wesley Person for the 49th pick, which was Matt Barnes (the Cavaliers also got from Memphis Nick Anderson, who was later waived in a money-saving move and never played again in the NBA). ... So I couldn't win.''

Gund denied the moves were made with the idea of helping the team drop games to get a better shot at James.

"I agreed with the trades,'' Gund said of the deals made by then general manager Jim Paxson. "Andre was one that we really wanted but he wanted a max salary (when he would become a restricted free agent in 2002) and we didn't think he deserved a max at that time because he hadn't shown being an All-Star.

"We all liked Andre. But Lamond Murray was not a key player. He and Wesley didn't have anywhere near the seasons they had (in 2001-02) after that.''

Once the season started, Lucas was rebuffed when he wanted to give more time to veterans such as Hill and Coles, lamenting, "I couldn't play Bimbo because I had to play Smush Parker,'' an undrafted rookie point guard. Management also wanted Lucas to give more time to the likes of Carlos Boozer, who was a second-round steal by the Cavaliers before bolting the team in 2004 as a free agent, rookie Dajuan Wagner, who had health problems and never panned out, and Davis.

"Tyrone Hill had been an All-Star for us (in 1995), but he and Bimbo Coles were on the back end of their careers,'' Gund said. "Playing Tyrone Hill and Bimbo Coles wasn't going to make much of a difference in our record. ... We wanted to build for the future.''

Gund said he was modeling that unit after the 1986-87 Cavaliers, who featured top rookies Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper and John Williams on a team that eventually grew into one of the best in the Eastern Conference.

"It's not unusual for a coach to feel that he's being sandbagged by being told to play young players,'' Gund said of the frustration felt by Lucas.

But Gund stressed the Cavaliers did not sandbag 2002-03 season in order to get James.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby rk » Thu Jan 14, 2010 3:25 pm

I don't think he understands the term 'tanking'. Trading or releasing guys who want to be overpaid, having career years, and guys who aren't going to be part of the future of the Cavs is not 'tanking'. It's positioning for the future.

Tanking games would be the Cavs telling Lucas to lose.

I think he's back on the rock.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby papacass » Thu Jan 14, 2010 3:38 pm

The Cavs weren't tanking just for LeBron. They were tanking for LeBron or Melo. They wanted either/or. But Bron was a local kid, the Cavs had gotten a lot of firsthand info on him, and Jerry West wanted Bron, too. Those three factors tilted the scale in Bron's favor.

But there is no doubt the Cavs were tanking for the most lottery balls they could get. You don't ask the players and coach to intentionally lose, but you get rid of all the veterans on the roster and roll with the likes of Wrong Rim Ricky and Darius Miles. That virutally ensures that you are going to lose an assload of games.

I guess John Lucas' misfortune was to be the coach when Pax and Gund had quite possibly their only collective smart revelation as an owner-GM combo: "Building around Andre Miller and Lamond Murray is stupid. We're never going to be anything more than a mediocre basketball team at this rate. There is a draft for the ages coming up, and we'd better get in position to be at or near the top of it."
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby leadpipe » Thu Jan 14, 2010 3:53 pm

If their goal was to tank, they had the right coach.

No way he could have ruined it.

The Cavs were perhaps the last team to purchase his snake oil.

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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby rk » Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:01 pm

Papa Cass wrote:The Cavs weren't tanking just for LeBron. They were tanking for LeBron or Melo.


You mispelled Milicic when you described the other player teams were allegedly tanking their season in order to draft.

Melo didn't appear to be worth tanking until the Final 4 well past the committed 'fuck this shit let's play for the ping pong balls' decision was made. Also Cavs never even hinted at the possibility of drafting Melo but did hint that they were looking at Milicic even after they won the lotto.

Had the Cavs won that final game, ended up with the 2nd or 3rd pick, and then selected Milicic it would have gone in the C-Town history books along with RR88, the Fumble, and the Drive.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby papacass » Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:42 pm

rk wrote:
Papa Cass wrote:The Cavs weren't tanking just for LeBron. They were tanking for LeBron or Melo.


You mispelled Milicic when you described the other player teams were allegedly tanking their season in order to draft.

Melo didn't appear to be worth tanking until the Final 4 well past the committed 'fuck this shit let's play for the ping pong balls' decision was made. Also Cavs never even hinted at the possibility of drafting Melo but did hint that they were looking at Milicic even after they won the lotto.

Had the Cavs won that final game, ended up with the 2nd or 3rd pick, and then selected Milicic it would have gone in the C-Town history books along with RR88, the Fumble, and the Drive.


I'm pretty sure Brian Windhorst has mentioned in the past that the Cavs' targets for that draft were LeBron first and Melo second. Even before Syracuse won the national title, Melo was still a blue-chipper. He went to Oak Hill Academy, he was the best college basketball player in the land that season. He was still on everyone's radar, even before the Final Four.

Where did you see that the Cavs hinted at wanting Milicic even after winning the lottery? After they won the lottery, there was no question the Cavs were taking LeBron. Right after the draft lottery, a reporter (maybe Mike Tirico?) interviewed Gordon Gund and asked him about LeBron. Gund said, straight deadpan, "Well, we don't know who we're taking yet." He waited on Tirico's puzzled silence for a second, and then burst into a hearty laugh. I remember that vividly.

No question at all that Bron was a Cav the instant that envelope was opened by Russ Granik.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby diminishingskills » Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:44 pm

It all depends on your definition of "tanking".

If by tanking you mean nuking the roster, getting rid of high-priced veterans, and enduring a season or two of extreme sucking in order to grab a couple of high draft picks, then yes, they tanked.

If you mean losing on purpose ... bitch, please.

The thing about the NBA is that it is not a league in which a team can consistently and gradually improve, year after year, until they are a title contender.

In order to win, you need a superstar (the 2004 Pistons notwithstanding; one exception does not negate the rule).

In order to get a superstar, you need to have a high lottery pick. (Or have a good friend who happens to be the Timberwolves' GM, one of the two.)

If you do not have a superstar, but have a good enough team that you are in the middle of the pack ... God help you. It is actually better in the NBA to be a terrible team than a mediocre team.

Although I doubt they would have expressed the strategy as succinctly as I have, that was exactly what was driving the Cavs' decision-making in 2002-03. Look at the moves that are used to support the notion that the Cavs "tanked", and there are actually sound basketball reasons for all of them:

* Murray and Person both had bloated contracts that were way out of proportion to their actual value as players. Now, shame on the Cavs for giving them those deals in the first place; but at least they recognized the need to get out from under those contracts. They weren't helping the Cavs win, and never would be pieces of a championship-caliber team, so why keep them around if they could be unloaded? Is winning 25 games really that much better than winning 17?

* Miller was entering the last year of his deal, and there was no guarantee that he was going to re-sign with the Cavs. Besides, IIRC, he was making noises about wanting a max deal, which the Cavs were (understandably) reluctant to give him. So they traded him to the Clippers. (And lo and behold, a year later, Miller indeed bolted L.A. as a free agent. So at least the Cavs got something in return.)

* The player that the Cavs got for Miller, Darius Miles, was still viewed as a rather valuable commodity by a lot of NBA teams. Stupidly, yes, but that judgment has the benefit of hindsight, which the Cavs didn't have at the time.

Plus, if the Cavs really were gung-ho on getting Bron or Melo, tanking the 2002-03 season wouldn't have guaranteed anything. With the NBA draft lottery being what it is, the Cavs had maybe a 45% chance of getting one of those two players, even if they did a perfect tank job and lost their way to the #1 pick. Even if you lose all 82 games, you are not guaranteed anything more than the #4 overall pick. So if your strategy is to tank a season in order to get player X, it's a stupid strategy, because at most you're going to have a relatively small chance of landing that player.

Before I go, I want to tear Luke a new one. Not because he was a terrible coach (although he sure was awful), and not because his rasp means that we still have to listen to the congenitally-unfunny Kenny Roda try to imitate it, even now that seven years have passed. (Somebody here do me a favor and send Kenny a bushelful of the beating-the-dead-horse icons, OK? Thanks a bunch.)

No, I want to tear Luke a new one because his own actions helped make the 2002-03 Cavs as awful as they were.

Remember, Luke was the one who told then-GM Jim Paxson that he had to have DeSagana Diop in the 2001 draft, and that he had to have Dajuan Wagner a year later. Yes, Paxson should have made his own picks, but he sadly had a terrible birth defect, being born without a spine. So he caved in to Luke and made those picks. And those picks were putrid. They were putrid in terms of the players selected (I will give Luke a bit of a mulligan on Wagner because of the injuries Juanny suffered, although even if healthy, the track record of ball-hogging 6'0" NBA shooting guards is not good). And they were even worse in terms of the players left on the board. Would you have liked a combo of, say, Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire in Cleveland? It could have happened, as those players were still on the board.

In other words, if Luke wants to point fingers at somebody for the 2002-03 Cavs team being a steaming pile of shit, maybe he should find a fucking mirror.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby Cease » Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:46 pm

A. This was pretty well laid out in The Franchise, no? Coach Lucas knows the game and how it's played. He was a pawn. An overpaid, should-be-grateful he lived to tell the story pawn. I personally don't see this as sour grapes, he just wants a little attention and has an interesting/different angle on LeBron's impact.

B. I bash "The Rode Man" as much as the next guy, but his Coach Lucas impression is the shiz. LOVE IT.

C. Your moment of zen: Darius Miles' car, w/ plates "OREO 21"...
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby diminishingskills » Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:58 pm

Cease wrote:A. This was pretty well laid out in The Franchise, no? Coach Lucas knows the game and how it's played. He was a pawn. An overpaid, should-be-grateful he lived to tell the story pawn. I personally don't see this as sour grapes, he just wants a little attention and has an interesting/different angle on LeBron's impact.


The lightning rod for me was the word "tanking". To me, that suggests losing on purpose. I may be splitting hairs here, but "demolishing our roster in order to better set ourselves up for the future" is in a different category from "intentionally trying not to win", if you ask me.

B. I bash "The Rode Man" as much as the next guy, but his Coach Lucas impression is the shiz. LOVE IT.


No, you don't bash him as much as the next guy, because the next guy tired of that impression back in 2003. Even if it were originally funny -- and I never thought it was, but reasonable minds blah blah blah -- it ain't funny today. There's a reason comics don't go on stage today and blurt out "Take my wife ... please".

C. Your moment of zen: Darius Miles' car, w/ plates "OREO 21"...
Image


Made me laugh so hard, a little pee came out. You can link to a dozen Kenny Roda fanboy sites in your sig, and all will be forgiven if you keep delivering the goods with pictures like this one.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby jb » Thu Jan 14, 2010 6:08 pm

F'n ay right they tanked for Bron, and they've been vindicated.

Doesn't splain Jiri, and I can still hear that gravvelly sob waxing on about how great Djiop was on draft day. Oy vay
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby TouchEmAllTime » Thu Jan 14, 2010 7:00 pm

Is he going to be on an upcoming season of not-so Celebrity Rehab? Glad to see he's still sucking wind.
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby Larvell Blanks » Fri Jan 15, 2010 9:59 am

Cease wrote:B. I bash "The Rode Man" as much as the next guy, but his Coach Lucas impression is the shiz. LOVE IT.

Then you must ROFL when he throws out his Brad Daugherty impression too.

::doh::



Although the pic did redeem you!

If they were tanking, they brought the right guy in to coach them
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Re: Johns Lucas - When Admitting Tanking Happens

Unread postby Cease » Fri Jan 15, 2010 10:08 am

Larvell Blanks wrote:
Cease wrote:B. I bash "The Rode Man" as much as the next guy, but his Coach Lucas impression is the shiz. LOVE IT.

Then you must ROFL when he throws out his Brad Daugherty impression too.

::doh::



Although the pic did redeem you!

If they were tanking, they brought the right guy in to coach them


I can't believe I'm the only one with a soft spot for Roda's Lucas impression. Call it a guilty pleasure.
D-Skills take is damn strong, nice work funneling the emotion. Lucas wasn't overseeing a strategic tank, he was a part of the execution. Thanks, Coach!
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