It's not easy being an NBA head coach these days (although being a millionaire helps). A record 12 of the league's 30 teams have let their coach go this off-season, and six of those clubs actually made the playoffs. But in this age of the punitive luxury tax, when developing the players you draft is even more premium, teams are less patient with their bench gurus.
But do teams have any idea what makes a good coach?
Not really. NBA coaching is something of a catch-22: You need to be successful in order to be successful. Coaches need the credibility to get players who are much less replaceable (and know it) to buy into their system and roles. In other words, it's not as much about Xs and Os -- there are only so many ways to run or defend a pick-and-roll -- as it is about managing egos and motivating players. That's why teams gravitate towards former head coaches, assistant coaches from top clubs, and players -- they can convincingly say they know what it takes to win in the league. (And that's possibly why college coaches who try to transition to the pros tend to have a harder time).
Of course, it's still a crap-shoot. Economists have found that most coaches don't statistically improve their teams' performances in any significant way. But what if front offices hired assistants from the few teams that have head coaches who make a difference? Matthew Yglesias of Slate thinks that might be the next frontier in exploitable inefficiencies: Rather than bringing in retreads or retired players, teams should poach top assistants from the Spurs or Lakers. In particular, Yglesias thinks the New Jersey Nets should have opted for former Lakers guard and Phil Jackson assistant Brian Shaw over the very recently retired former Nets star Jason Kidd.
But Matt should pay closer attention to recent history: Hiring a former assistant coach from a successful team is the most wrinkled page in the GM playbook.
New Jersey itself just went through two coaches with Spurs ties. Interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo served as San Antonio head man Gregg Popovich's deputy for five years -- and he had replaced Avery Johnson, another Spurs alum, who quarterbacked the team to its first championship back in 1999. Now, it's true that both Carlesimo and Johnson were retreads, but the fact that franchises would give them second (or third) chances shows how much rival teams keep trying to sprinkle the San Antonio pixie dust on themselves. As you can see in the chart below from SB Nation, seven head coaches last year had either coached or played under Gregg Popovich.
This is a pretty impressive list of coaches. Sure, Vinny Del Negro doesn't have the best reputation, and Jacque Vaughn and Monty Williams are too soon into their rebuilding projects to judge, but Mike Brown and Avery Johnson have enjoyed real success. Both won NBA Coach of the Year and took a team to the NBA Finals ... but both also got let fired from their second job this past year. Indeed, Brown's got let go just five games into his Lakers tenure after his ill-fitted flirtation with the Princeton offense.
If it wasn't already clear, coaching is nowhere near a science. But front office management is much closer. Smart teams like the Spurs have always done a superior job identifying under-the-radar players who fit their system, but they've gotten even better at it with the Moneyball-ization of the NBA. I mean, just look at the roster of ex-Spurs execs above who have gone on to lead other teams after learning from Spurs GM R.C. Buford. It's incredible. Sam Presti probably has nightmares about giving away James Harden, but has nevertheless turned Oklahoma City into a perennial contender overnight; Kevin Pritchard lost his gamble on Greg Oden's knees holding up, but otherwise built up a strong team in Portland; and, in one of the biggest upsets in front office history, first-year GM Rich Hennigan somehow managed to almost win the Dwight Howard trade for Orlando, and robbed the Bucks of Tobias Harris.
But why have the Spurs' front office alums done better than its coaching alums? Well, building a team is a skill that, unlike motivating a team, doesn't depend on what the players think of you. Either you pick the right players or you don't -- and if you do the former, you can make a lot of coaches look good. After all, there might not be a statistical impact from who leads a team, but there sure is for who's on a team.
In other words, teams should stop trying to find the next Gregg Popovich, and focus on finding the next R.C. Buford.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
As the world frets over Greece, a separate crisis looms in China.
This summer has not been calm for the global economy. In Europe, a Greek referendum this Sunday may determine whether the country will remain in the eurozone. In North America, meanwhile, the governor of Puerto Rico claimed last week that the island would be unable to pay off its debts, raising unsettling questions about the health of American municipal bonds.
But the season’s biggest economic crisis may be occurring in Asia, where shares in China’s two major stock exchanges have nosedived in the past three weeks. Since June 12, the Shanghai stock exchange has lost 24 percent of its value, while the damage in the southern city of Shenzhen has been even greater at 30 percent. The tumble has already wiped out more than $2.4 trillion in wealth—a figure roughly 10 times the size of Greece’s economy.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.
Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of Americaby Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.
Highlights from seven days of reading about entertainment
British Cinemas Need to Do Better for Black Audiences
Simran Hans | Buzzfeed
“The myth that black people don’t go to the cinema becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, predicated on the assumption that cinemagoers are only interested in seeing themselves represented on screen. This seems to be at the heart of the problem.”
Hump Day: The Utterly OMG Magic Mike XXL
Wesley Morris | Grantland
“Not since the days of peak Travolta and Dirty Dancing has a film so perfectly nailed something essential about movie lust: Male vulnerability is hot, particularly when the man is dancing with and therefore for a woman. It aligns the entire audience with the complex prerogatives of female desire.”
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.