Alford's already on hot seat at UCLA - NBC Sports

Alford's already on hot seat at UCLA
If Howland couldn't keep his job, who really expects the new guy to?
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Steve Alford would have been much better off either staying at New Mexico, or moving up to another high-profile program in another part of the country where the expectations are less insane.
March 31, 2013, 11:03 pm

Alford will probably do a fine job. He's an outstanding coach. But I think everyone knows that's not enough.

The school fired a man who once had taken the team to three straight Final Fours. He was dismissed after his Bruins - without injured second-leading scorer Jordan Adams - were ousted by Minnesota in the first round of the 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament; he was replaced by someone whose New Mexico team was also bounced in the first round - by an Ivy League school (Harvard) winning its first NCAA tournament game ever.

So how long will it be before Alford starts feeling pressure from alumni, media and fans? Remember, even though Alford is a trusted name in college hoops, UCLA partisans expect Pitino-like results at the former home of John Wooden. They want Boeheim-like longevity. They demand Calipari-style charisma.

Again, Alford is certainly a splendid coach. But he's just a coach. He's not a miracle worker, or a pied piper, or a hoops heartthrob. He's just a coach, and that may not be enough to enable him to live up to impossible expectations.

Realistically, to keep the hounds at bay, Alford will have to win the Pac-12 again - because Howland did this year - and then get to the Sweet Sixteen in the 2014 tournament. If he doesn't, there won't be an uprising, but there will be the grumbling.

Alford would have been much better off either staying at New Mexico, or moving up to another high-profile program in another part of the country where the expectations are less insane. UCLA is a classic no-win situation, because no coach can win enough basketball games there to convince fans that he's a winner.

Who is Ainge to call anyone a whiner?
Pat Riley's recent swipe was short and scathing. Rarely does one pointed remark reveal such long-standing hatred. And that's enough to give all NBA fans a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Riley is president of the Miami Heat. Danny Ainge, president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics, commented that LeBron James' recent complaints about hard fouls that came after his team's winning streak was halted at 27 games was "embarrassing."

This did not sit well with Riles, who replied: "Danny Ainge needs to shut the f--- up and manage his own team." Riley also added of Ainge: "He was the biggest whiner going when he was playing and I know because I coached against him."

Whichever side you're on in this East Coast spitting contest, Riley is right about that. Ainge was widely regarded as the most annoying pest in sports during his playing days. But it didn't come from manhood, it came from boyhood. It was the manifestation of a spoiled brat mindset. The dynamic went like this: I'll slap you and poke you and bump you and pester you because I'm an intense competitor. But if you do it to me, I'll tell mommy.

And let's also be clear about LeBron: He's having an otherworldly season. His team just won 27 straight games. Teams can't beat the Heat, so they're doing the obvious: resorting to thuggery. It's hardly new. In fact, Riley employed those tactics to try and stop Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls while Riley was coaching the Knicks. But whether it's Jordan or LeBron, a superstar is entitled to the occasional brief expression of displeasure over it.

It's not whining. Ainge should know the difference. He was the freaking Leonardo da Vinci of whining.

Are fans getting priced out of the market?
When Jason Verlander signed an extension recently that may make him Major League Baseball's first $200 million pitcher, it raised the question: Can we afford this?

The Detroit Tigers seem to feel they can. But collectively, can we?

It's clear that over the last 30 years or so middle-class incomes have flattened out. Average folks only have so much disposable income. And a lot of them put a priority on sports, which is fine. Sports are a refuge from the day-to-day grind. Sports are a reliable source of entertainment, because they always contain the promise of drama.

But there is a danger that the very people to whom the networks are dependent may get priced out of sports. With every Verlander, with every Tony Romo, with every Dwight Howard, the cost goes up. Television rights fees keep going up and up, but that's because cable companies thus far have been able to pass increased costs on to the consumer.

Yet there has to be a ceiling. Eventually John Doe, average office worker with a wife and kids making $55,000 a year, is going to look at his cable bill and say, "Enough." The market can only take so much.

There are only two real solutions: One, cable companies will have to freeze or reduce prices, which seems unlikely; or two, they'll have to offer a la carte pricing.

Under the latter, just as the non-sports fan who resents his cable bill going up because he doesn't believe he should have to absorb the costs of something he isn't interested in, the sports fan may get the reverse: He can pay for his local sports channel and not have to shell out dough for AMC or A&E or the History Channel.

A la carte pricing isn't just likely, it's inevitable. Because the current system can only take so many Verlander-like contracts before it blows a gasket.

Kobe to retire ... right?
Kobe Bryant is close to making a decision. Then again, he isn't.

The Lakers' superstar recently told NBA.com that he'll decide before training camp begins next season if that will be his last. I'm sure that's what he's thinking now. And I'm sure when he makes his decision, he will believe it. He's getting to the point after 17 NBA seasons (next year, his 18th, is the last of his current contract) where he's unsure whether he can handle the physical toll anymore. I get that.

But really, his decision will come down to perceived championship potential.

He says he doesn't want a reduced role where he's only scoring 19 a night (even though a lot of guys in the NBA would be thrilled with a reduced role like that). Yet he's still addicted to championships, despite his relatively advanced age of 34. If there's a championship possible on the horizon, he'll seek out his fix.

And I have to think after this stink bomb of a season that franchise will do some serious re-tooling, both to give Bryant a chance at a sixth ring and to show Dwight Howard that the team has a bright and prosperous future filled with jewelry.

So I believe Kobe is indeed sincere when he contemplates retirement out loud. I just think that's subject to change - like the Lakers in general.

A game of pepper

  • Thanks to Jordan Hill of the Lakers, "Don't ever lend your Bentley to drunken friends" will be added to the NBA's rookie orientation.
  • Tampa Bay Rays DH Luke Scott reportedly suffered a right calf strain and was put on the 15-day DL after drinking too much alkaline water. How does that happen? Was he trying to run while carrying a five-gallon bottle of it?
  • Joey Logano seems like the kind of guy who should be racing James Dean for pink slips.
  • That AT&T commercial with Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Bill Russell is terrific. But a couple of points: I assume Russell would have to move over to power forward in that alignment, and they still would need a shooting guard, because I'm pretty sure the little guy in the middle in the suit isn't going to cut it.
  • Michael Beasley of the Phoenix Suns said he loves Skittles and eats "six or seven packs a day." I can't decide if that's something the Skittles company wants to embrace, or run away from.
  • "Game of Thrones" reminds me of the NFL, only with less intrigue and violence.

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44



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