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.
Cultural anthropology can help explain why the downturn caught everyone by surprise: Experts around the world tend to focus on the same mathematical models, looking for patterns in the same limited number of places.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
Why haven’t more challengers entered the race to defeat the Iraq War hawk, Patriot Act supporter, and close friend of big finance?
As Hillary Clinton loses ground to Bernie Sanders in Iowa, where her lead shrinks by the day, it’s worth noticing that she has never made particular sense as the Democratic Party’s nominee. She may be more electable than her social-democratic rival from Vermont, but plenty of Democrats are better positioned to represent the center-left coalition. Why have they let the former secretary of state keep them out of the race? If Clinton makes it to the general election, I understand why most Democrats will support her. She shares their views on issues as varied as preserving Obamacare, abortion rights, extending legal status to undocumented workers, strengthening labor unions, and imposing a carbon tax to slow climate change.
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.
Many educators are introducing meditation into the classroom as a means of improving kids’ attention and emotional regulation.
A five-minute walk from the rickety, raised track that carries the 5 train through the Bronx, the English teacher Argos Gonzalez balanced a rounded metal bowl on an outstretched palm. His class—a mix of black and Hispanic students in their late teens, most of whom live in one of the poorest districts in New York City—by now were used to the sight of this unusual object: a Tibetan meditation bell.
“Today we’re going to talk about mindfulness of emotion,” Gonzalez said with a hint of a Venezuelan accent. “You guys remember what mindfulness is?” Met with quiet stares, Gonzalez gestured to one of the posters pasted at the back of the classroom, where the students a few weeks earlier had brainstormed terms describing the meaning of “mindfulness.” There were some tentative mumblings: “being focused,” “being aware of our surroundings.”
The NBC show isn’t casting its net wide enough when it comes to finding new players.
Since the departure of many of its biggest stars two years ago, Saturday Night Live has mostly avoided major cast changes. Yesterday, NBC announced the show would add only one new cast member for its 41st season—the near-unknown stand-up comic Jon Rudnitsky. SNL is, of course, a sketch-comedy show, but it keeps hiring mostly white stand-ups who have a markedly different skill set, with limited results. As critics and viewers keep calling out for greater diversity on the show, it’s hard to imagine the series’s reasoning in sticking to old habits.
As is unfortunately typical today, controversy has already arisen over some tasteless old jokes from Rudnitsky’s Twitter and Vine feeds, similar to the furore that greeted Trevor Noah’s hiring at The Daily Show this summer. But Rudnitsky was apparently hired on the back of his stand-up performances, not his Internet presence, similar to the other young stand-ups the show has hired in recent years: Pete Davidson, Brooks Wheelan (since fired), and Michael Che. It’s a peculiar route to the show, because SNL is 90 percent sketch acting, and unless you’re hosting Weekend Update (like Che), you’re not going to do a lot of stand-up material. So why hire Rudnitsky?
Beijing’s top five scapegoats, from journalists to hedge funds to the U.S. federal reserve
China’s stock markets continue to stumble, despite the massive stimulus that the government has unleashed to prop them up. The Shanghai benchmark index fell by 1.23 percent Tuesday, after closing down slightly Monday. The index has fallen by nearly 40 percent from its mid-June peak.
In some ways, the slide isn’t surprising—after all, Chinese stocks were trading at extremely rich valuations before they started to fall, even as signs emerged that China’s economy was slowing.
The use of a stick to hold a camera at a distance for a self-portrait is not a new phenomenon, but the popularity of the new breed of extendable selfie stick has exploded over the past two years.
The use of a stick to hold a camera at a distance for a self-portrait is not a new phenomenon, but the popularity of the new breed of extendable selfie stick has exploded over the past two years. Multiple companies are producing varied versions of the device, tailored mostly to smartphone users. These sometimes-unwieldy extenders have been labeled as nuisances by some, especially in crowded public spaces, and have been banned in many museums, stadiums, and theme parks. Collected here are recent images of selfie sticks in use around the world, from high in the sky above China to the shores of Greece and beyond.
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
Meet the man behind a new effort to save documents and other artifacts before they disappear.
Jason Scott has something of a reputation. He’s a historian who works for the Internet Archive, and he’s known in some circles as the guy who can save bits of history right before they disappear.
So when he found out that a small store in Maryland that sold manuals for machinery was going out of business, and was going to get rid of its collection of nearly 200,000 obscure booklets in just a few days, Scott got to work.
He got to Maryland on a Friday to check out the stockpile at Manuals Plus. By Wednesday of the next week he had rallied over 70 volunteers to put together 1,600 boxes of manuals (nobody counted exactly how many booklets fill those boxes, but the guess is between 50,000 and 75,000) that now sit in three storage containers. The whole endeavor cost about $9,000, most of which was donated to the project.