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.
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
To be far from home in a major, diverse metropolis such as New York or Los Angeles is one thing. But those who have landed in small cities across the Midwest face a whole other sort of isolation.
CINCINNATI—When they were deciding where to settle down and raise a family, Lorena Mora-Mowry, a lawyer from Venezuela, and her husband Paul, a mechanical engineer from California, performed extensive research. Based on reports they read in magazines and brochures, they decided that Cincinnati, with its low cost of living, access to arts and the outdoors, and strong schools, would be a good place to live. They moved here in 1995.
It was a difficult transition from (relatively) open-minded, Latino-heavy Southern California to Cincinnati, where just about everybody was either white or black, and where immigrants were a rarity. Mora-Mowry tried to speak to people in stores, but they could never understand her accent, and she hated the long, cold winters.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.
This week, we have photos of the oppressive heatwave in India, a high walkway made of musical glass planks in China, an aerial view of Chicago at night, rescued baby iguanas in Costa Rica, the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, and much more.
Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements in what appears to be a case of blackmail.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton, who first reported on the indictment, notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But reading between the lines of the indictment against Hastert suggests a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)