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 number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
And why stopping it requires that governments get out of the way
As it stands, the international coalition is far from winning the information war against the Islamic State. Its air strikes may be squeezing the group in Iraq and Syria and killing many of its leaders, but that has not halted the self-proclaimed caliphate’s ideological momentum. Indeed, at the end of 2015, it was estimated that the number of foreigners travelling to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria—predominantly the Islamic State—had more than doubled in the course of just 18 months. What’s more, while these figures may be striking, sheer numbers are less important than intent when it comes to the organization’s actual threat to the world. As we have already seen, it takes a very small number of people to unleash great terror, whether in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere.
How those three little words sound around the world
I love saying “I love you.” I’ll say “love ya” to my parents when I’m about to get off the phone with them, and “love you!!” to my wife as she’s heading out the door for work (“love you???” on Gchat means I’ve gotten myself into trouble with her and I’m searching for a way out). I tell my son I love him, and he doesn’t even get it—he’s an infant. I’ve been known to proclaim that I love sushi and football and Benjamin Franklin (I mean, how could you not love Ben?).
Many people in this world would find my behavior rather strange. That’s because Americans are exceptionally promiscuous when it comes to professing their love. In the United States, “I love you” is at once exalted and devalued. It can mean everything ... or nothing at all. This is not universally the case.
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
In the 1960s, Stanley Milgram's electric-shock studies showed that people will obey even the most abhorrent of orders. But recently, researchers have begun to question his conclusions—and offer some of their own.
In 1961, Yale University psychology professor Stanley Milgram placed an advertisement in the New Haven Register. “We will pay you $4 for one hour of your time,” it read, asking for “500 New Haven men to help us complete a scientific study of memory and learning.”
Only part of that was true. Over the next two years, hundreds of people showed up at Milgram’s lab for a learning and memory study that quickly turned into something else entirely. Under the watch of the experimenter, the volunteer—dubbed “the teacher”—would read out strings of words to his partner, “the learner,” who was hooked up to an electric-shock machine in the other room. Each time the learner made a mistake in repeating the words, the teacher was to deliver a shock of increasing intensity, starting at 15 volts (labeled “slight shock” on the machine) and going all the way up to 450 volts (“Danger: severe shock”). Some people, horrified at what they were being asked to do, stopped the experiment early, defying their supervisor’s urging to go on; others continued up to 450 volts, even as the learner pled for mercy, yelled a warning about his heart condition—and then fell alarmingly silent. In the most well-known variation of the experiment, a full 65 percent of people went all the way.
Women in their 20s are told they're too young to settle down. Then, seemingly overnight, they start hearing they're spinsters. What gives?
Women in their 20s are told they're too young to settle down. Then, seemingly overnight, they start hearing they're spinsters. What gives?
Heterosexual women today, in certain milieus, find themselves placed into one of two categories: too young to settle down, and too old to find a man. There is a window of opportunity to get married, but it is ephemeral almost to the point of non-existence. It falls at a different age according to region, or the idiosyncratic biases of one's circle, but hovers around 27. "Too young" refers not to teen marriage, but to any commitment entered into by a grown woman deemed still a child by those around her.
Here's how it works: A young woman hears from friends and family that she needs to focus on her career or education, not some guy. She is warned of certain dangers: unsolicited male attention; unintended pregnancy, as if intended pregnancy were also a thing; and the desire hardwired into all straight men to turn their girlfriends into 1950s housewives. To entertain the possibility of it being difficult to find a husband, to even utter the expression "find a husband," is to regress to another era. And this advice is incredibly appealing, a rejection of the quaint notion that female heterosexuality is the desire not for men, but for a white picket fence.
The drug modafinil was recently found to enhance cognition in healthy people. Should you take it to get a raise?
If you could take a pill that will make you better at your job, with few or no negative consequences, would you do it?
In a meta-analysis recently published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School concluded that a drug called modafinil, which is typically used to treat sleep disorders, is a cognitive enhancer. Essentially, it can help normal people think better.
Out of all cognitive processes, modafinil was found to improve decision-making and planning the most in the 24 studies the authors reviewed. Some of the studies also showed gains in flexible thinking, combining information, or coping with novelty. The drug didn’t seem to influence creativity either way.
Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— Deuteronomy 15: 12–15
Besides the crime which consists in violating the law, and varying from the right rule of reason, whereby a man so far becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature, there is commonly injury done to some person or other, and some other man receives damage by his transgression: in which case he who hath received any damage, has, besides the right of punishment common to him with other men, a particular right to seek reparation.