Ray Ratto

The real message of Steve Kerr unloading on Warriors privately and publicly

The real message of Steve Kerr unloading on Warriors privately and publicly

Coaches speak for theatrical effect – most of the time. Coaches lie when they need the lie to seem truthy – most of the time. Coaches aren’t speaking to you when they talk to the media, but for a different audience, whether it be the players, the league office or the gods themselves.
 
Again, most of the time.
 
But Steve Kerr’s decision to flog the Golden State Warriors both privately and publicly for their effort in a 126-106 loss at Indiana Thursday night is an interesting one because it suggests that he doesn’t believe they can turn their brilliance on and off as they once did, while they still do. And this is the kind of disconnect that can eat at a team, both short-term and long.
 
The matter of consistent effort has been a subtext to this entire season – not quite the daily talker that the injury list has been, but bigger than the carping about the officials and in any event a consistent theme throughout the season.
 
But Kerr aired them out in Game 79, after getting throttled by a team whose own playoff position is pretty much decided (the Pacers are fifth, two games behind Cleveland and 1½ behind Philadelphia with three games left, one of them at Toronto tonight). And Kerr, who is by nature more of a worry wart than he lets on, spoke as a man who believes that a lack of natural urgency corrodes a team’s ability to manufacture it when needed.
 
And the players believe just the opposite, and that they will be as they have been once Curry returns, and once Draymond Green’s panoply of injuries finally heal, and once Andre Iguodala shaves three years off his birth certificate. At that point, the playoffs will fall like a ripe fruit, and the natural order of things will be restored.
 
Nobody can say who is right because the playoff overture has not even begun. The Warriors don’t even know who they will play in the first round, though they might not care about that, either.

The Warriors’ ascendance has been nearly trouble-free, and one made basket in the last five minutes of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals would give them the dynast-ette people have been trying to grant them.

But bad luck is finally part of their reality, and Kerr’s attempts to make them see the need to overcome it through consistent effort and exertion seem to fail as often as they succeed.
 
As a result of the injuries and their occasionally tepid responses to them, their fall from being presumptive sure-things to crush the field to a superb team among other superb teams to “gee, maybe they won’t even get to the Finals at all” has been a precipitous one -- one which nobody within the team or outside it has been swift to comprehend.

Maybe this is all a matter of everyone being a bit jaded about this winning thing and failing to remember how hard it was to get to warp speed in the first place. For that matter, maybe this is just a by-product of the essential truth of the 82-game season – that once you know where you fall in the playoff picture, the season gets very long and tedious and occasionally not even worth the bother.
 
But it also speaks to how the players’ view of their place in the basketball universe diverges from Kerr’s. He sees ways this merry ride can all go south because coaches are required to see the glass not only half-full but half-full of spit, while the players see only a world in which they are always kings, or will be once Curry returns.
 
The last three regular season games against New Orleans, Phoenix and Utah will not change this dynamic, clearly. But starting April 11, we will find out if Kerr’s tempestuous fretting about effort was just that, tempestuous fretting, or a symptom of a Warrior team that assumed championships just show up on the porch rather than things to be fought for and seized, despite their veteran status and championship experience. Or maybe they won’t win because they were never healthy enough to be who they claimed to be.
 
All scenarios are possible, both happy and dire ones, which is worth noting because three months ago the only scenario was another parade for a team used to having them.

The biggest problem with what Bill James said about baseball players

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AP

The biggest problem with what Bill James said about baseball players

Bill James, one of the founding fathers of baseball analytics, is not an idiot, despite what he said about Major League Baseball players being replaceable. Technically, after all, he is correct, because all baseball players except those current active have in fact been replaced.
 
But of course, that isn’t what he’s saying at all, and not what he said in a Twitter discussion. Here, indeed, is what he did say:
 
“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”
 
Now THIS is idiotic, and given that he is a consultant for the Boston Red Sox, who just won the World Series with 25 particularly gifted beer vendors, a source of great embarrassment to his employers (they pay for his consultation time, after all). It was at least embarrassing enough to him that he deleted it later, and has been doing the Twitter perp walk today to clarify, expand and, in some cases, limit his remarks.
 
In short, he replaced his remarks.
 
The Red Sox fled his first bit of typing immediately, of course, given that they have built a team they wish to maintain with people one of their contributing brains regarded, at least in one context, as “replaceable” by commingling them with anyone who can yell, “BEER!” repeatedly while walking up and down stairs.
 
And don’t get me wrong here. Beer vendors are fine and contributing members of society, and part of the entertainment that surrounds baseball. We hail them, their throats, and their arches.
 
But James dismissed them as replaceable, too, even though which is exactly the kind of logic one would expect to hear when collective bargaining negotiations begin, either with the Major League Baseball Players Association or with the concessions unions.
 
The problem, of course, is not that James said something silly/stupid, or that he retreated from it. That happens all the time.
 
It is that baseball is in a particularly fragile state culturally, and the idea that players are interchangeable is diametrically opposed to where the market of professional sports consumption is heading. 
 
In other words, baseball is not in a place to want to get smarmy about its product, even if the smarmer in question is “only a consultant” rather than an employee, a distinction the Red Sox took great care to make in its statement of repudiation of James’ analysis of players’ market value.
 
But even more than that, James’ gift to baseball is analytical, and measuring players and their deeds and making projections from those measurements is what made him worth hearing in a baseball context. All that work flies in the face of a statement that can and has been construed to lump them all into a congealed heap of disposableness.
 
Willie McCovey was by no means replaceable in any context, which is why the Giants held a memorial service for him before thousands at the ballpark Thursday. Mookie Betts is by no means replaceable because the city of Boston feted him and his teammates in a gigantic parade through its streets.
 
And baseball is popular entertainment, and entertainment is built on the basic notion that some people are exceptional at a thing other people wish to enjoy and perhaps even pay for the ability to see or hear. Those exceptional people may be replaceable in the biological sense, but not in any rational cultural sense.
 
Thus, James’ walk-back recognizes both the wasp hive he disturbed and the flaws in his expression. But the original words will linger far longer than his mea culpae, and will be referenced when the fun and games of collective bargaining negotiations begin. In short, he said something which ignored nuance and created an unintended and emotional backlash.
 
In short, not very analytical at all. 

Time for 49ers, Raiders fans to turn to Gandhi on Thursday Night Football

Time for 49ers, Raiders fans to turn to Gandhi on Thursday Night Football

OK, no more whining. You’re all done. We’re all done. Thursday night is coming, and unless you’re planning to leave the planet either physically or ethereally, there is no point going on about it all week.
 
The Oakland Raiders will play the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, and it will be horrific. Two of the three worst records in the NFL (2-13), the two worst records against the spread in the NFL or CFL, and all but three teams in college football, and two teams going nowhere at Warp 2 will face each other in what will NOT be for Bay Area bragging rights. Nobody is bragging about this, trust me.
 
That’s the set-up, kids. Nothing good comes out of this whatsoever, and not even the notion that the teams will never play each other again while sharing the same geographical area saves it. It is the very essence of athletic toxicity.
 
And now we’re done. These are the conditions that prevail, and since you well might be fans of either team (or both, if you’ve been raised poorly), your choice is clear.
 
You have to Gandhi the week, accept the scorn, and move on.
 
You have no arguments to “Your team sucks” to offer even each other, so why raise your blood pressure? You cannot even dog New York Giants fans; at least they have a tougher schedule and the inside track for the Justin Herbert sweepstakes, so why agitate yourself needlessly? You don’t even get the satisfaction of firing your coach like Cleveland did Monday morning after Cleveland fired its NBA coach on Sunday morning, thereby doubling its civic pleasure, so the road from Hell has not yet been graded, let alone paved.
 
Your game -- sorry, this game -- is the worst prime-time game BY STATISTICAL FACT after Halloween in the history of television, so just deal with it as Gandhi did -- with non-violent resistance in the form of enduring what you must now and gathering the strength in time to refuse what cannot be accepted.
 
And by “deal with it,” we mean agree with every taunt, every snide remark, every chunk of ill-intended smack. Nod knowingly and say, “Yep, you got me there, champ. My team sucks the concrete off the sidewalk, no question. You’re very smart to point that out to me. I wouldn’t have realized it without your generous help. Thank you.”
 
And then walk away. Sticks and stones might hurt you, but your only response can be abject agreement followed by tactical retreat. Verbal abuse needs something flammable to keep it lit, and whether you’ve moved to the other end of the bar, the other end of the street or the other end of the galaxy, they can’t hit what they can’t reach.
 
Plus, smack without response really is just bullying, and if your bullying needs someone else’s team allegiance as tinder, then your skill is not a quality skill. Anyone can punch down; the best punch up.
 
And you, who cannot punch at all, can only get through the week by accepting your fate: “Yes, your team is better. Yes, your team’s record is a direct result of your superior character. Yes, you are a genius by wearing the correct piece of laundry. I can only apologize for stealing air that rightfully belongs to you.”
 
And then absent yourself, silently plotting your revenge.
 
Now that last part isn’t what Gandhi would do. He did resist the injustices of colonial rule and repression over decades, but he knew in the end that he would get his back. And the Raiders and 49ers cannot be bad forever – that job is apparently reserved for the Browns.
 
That’s when you get yours back, and double. All you need is patience, and for your team to stop decomposing.
 
Oh, you Raiders fans might give in to the temptation of badmouthing the 49ers in the months you have left to bother before they leave for Las Vegas, but it won’t be a satisfying experience. Beating the 49ers when they’re good is better, because beating the mighty is always better than beating the equally lame.
 
And the same is true of 49ers fans. If your team has beaten the Raiders, what exactly are you winning? A slightly lower draft choice? Hardly seems worth it.
 
So, as you are inundated this week by the well-earned negativity your teams have presented you, escape quietly to a more peaceful place. Watch the game if you must, pass on it if you can, and spend your time in more fruitful pursuits.
 
Say, alphabetizing your children’s candy and take out the good stuff when they’re not looking. Sure, it’s punching down, but when the reward is a Three Musketeers that you didn’t work for -- well, every bit of sound advice comes with an asterisk.