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Kanto teams not providing much relief for fans

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Kanto-area teams have combined for a staggering record of 51 wins and 133 losses through Sunday. The Saitama Broncos (5-41), of course, have pushed the teams’ combined winning percentage to just 38.3.

It’s also been a season of more disappointments than accomplishments for the reigning champion Yokohama B-Corsairs (20-26, who’ll likely need a minor miracle to overtake either the Aomori Wat’s or Sendai 89ers, both of whom are 23-23) for the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff spot.)

Meanwhile, the league’s two second-year franchises, the Tokyo Cinq Reves and Gunma Crane Thunders, are both 20 games under .500 (identical 13-33 records).

Tokyo has been outscored by a league-high 556 points this season, a statistic that underscores management’s need to upgrade the roster.

Here’s a brief sampling of the team’s numerous blowout losses: 80-49 to Aomori on Oct. 27; 97-60 to Toyama on Dec. 15; 105-62 to Kyoto on Dec. 22; 108-67 to Shinshu on March 23; 101-66 to Saitama on March 29; and 101-63 to Sendai last Sunday.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Cinq Reves front office does in the offseason to piece together a roster for next season. Will it include a new coach? (Motofumi Aoki is in his second season at the helm, and currently has a 31-67 record with the team.) Will it include established Japanese stars brought in from other teams? Will high-scoring catalyst Ricky Woods be back for a second full season?

The Saitama Broncos’ systemic problems — major roster turnover every season and a policy of changing coaches every year — have been well documented in this newspaper. But what’s also happening for a second straight year is an over-reliance on John “Helicopter” Humphrey to carry the scoring load. The veteran guard/forward — a do-it-all swingman, really — is averaging a league-best 24.0 points per game, and will win his fourth bj-league scoring title. He also won it last season, averaging 27.2 ppg when the Broncos went 15-37 in his second season on the squad.

And remember this: Humphrey took home the scoring crown in each of the league’s first two seasons, averaging 23.1 in 2005-06 for the now-defunct Tokyo Apache (20-20) and 25.9 in 2006-07 (12-28).

It’s worth noting that when Humphrey didn’t finish No.1 in scoring in the upstart circuit while playing under Apache sideline supervisor Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, the team earned back-to-back championship runnerup finishes in 2007-08 (he scored 19.9, team went 27-17 in regular season, second in East) and ’08-09 (19.6, Apache were 33-19, again second in East).

Humphrey cannot carry the scoring load by himself. And he has been at his most effective when he gives his team a big boost for a key stretch of a game, but not all game, every game. But the Broncos don’t have the right complimentary pieces in place to maximize Humphrey’s talents or to keep him from firing up an average of 20 shots per game (865 in 41 games).

Helicopter leads the Broncos with 256 free-throw attempts; no other Saitama player has more than 100 except Mark Dawson (111). Indeed, the team needs to add more explosive scorers ASAP.

Gunma, led by its third head coach (Hiroki Fujita) in less than 24 months, has gone 5-5 over its past 10 games. Is that a sign of better days ahead in 2014-15? Stay tuned.

Yokohama has struggled of late, dropping seven of its past 10 games. Though first-year coach Michael Katsuhisa has put his own stamp on the team after two years as ex-bench boss Reggie Geary’s assistant, the B-Corsairs are running out of time to make a late run at the playoffs.

Akita talk: The expected departure of Northern Happinets coach Kazuo Nakamura after the 2013-14 campaign has become a hot topic around the 21-team league.

One longtime league analyst, who requested anonymity, told The Japan Times that despite the 73-year-old Nakamura’s success with the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (back-to-back titles in 2009-10 and 2010-11) before joining his hometown team, his coaching tactics have lost their luster.

“Kazuo coaches through fear and intimidation, and his two (previous) seasons have ended in a bit of a decline, often because of rash changes he’s made to the roster, or because the players have grown tired of his act,” the source said on Monday.

“Contrast (that) to Bob Nash’s steady hand at Toyama.”

The first-place Grouses (38-10) have pulled ahead of Akita (36-12) in the East under Nash, their second-year coach.

“But who knows,” the source offered, “In one or two games in the playoffs, maybe Akita will get their focus back.”

Is longtime guard Makoto Hasegawa, who’s currently serving as the team’s technical director after hanging up his shoes last May, the right man to succeed Nakamura on the Akita bench, as Japanese-language media outlets have reported will happen? And is one of the most gifted all-around players in Japanese basketball history ready for this role?

“As for Hasegawa, I wasn’t sure he wanted the day-to-day grind of coaching,” said the source, who has followed Hasegawa’s career for decades. “In fact, I would have recommended him to replace (Toshimitsu) Kawachi as league commissioner.

“As head coach, he can’t rule through fear and intimidation like Kazuo. He’s too young. And the organization needs a break. He has the playing experience, but I wonder if he’ll get frustrated that his players can’t see and play the game the way he did.

“It should be fun to see what kind of team he puts on the floor next season.”

Upcoming schedule: The Osaka-Takamatsu series tips off on Friday. The rest of the weekend’s action begins on Saturday. Those two-game sets are: Iwate vs. Gunma, Akita vs. Tokyo, Sendai vs. Toyama, Niigata vs. Aomori, Yokohama vs. Saitama, Kyoto vs. Oita, Nara vs. Shimane, Fukuoka vs. Shinshu and Ryukyu vs. Hamamatsu.

By the numbers: The Western Conference-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings (38-8) are 12-2 in games when rising star Ryuichi Kishimoto scores 15 or more points. The second-year pro leads the team in 3-pointers made (92). He’s also converted a sizzling 92.6 percent of his shots from the free-throw line (87-for-94.). The 23-year-old Okinawan is averaging 11.5 ppg.