SARASOTA, FLORIDA – The buzz name on the lips of the coaching civilization that migrated here in flocks Friday night from all over the country and helped raise over $1 million for cancer research at the sixth annual Dick Vitale Gala — picking up where Jimmy Valvano left off 18 years ago — was not those being honored.
In due course, John Calipari, Roy Williams and Nick Bollettieri certainly received their appropriate respect from the 850 people that packed the Ritz Carlton hall. However, the most talked about guy before and after the five-hour plus affair was Scott Brooks.
Conversations with Larry Brown, Stan Van Gundy, Billy Donovan, Jay Wright, Mike Fratello, Richie and Scott Adubato and Matt Doherty inevitably led to the chutzpah Brooks demonstrated by keeping Russell Westbrook buckled to the bench for the final 12:28 of the Thunder’s Game 2 upset of the Mavericks.
Regardless of how the game played out, Brooks’ peers are very proud, in awe is more like it, at how he refused to pussyfoot around the prickly situation.
The fact this is just Brooks’ second full season as a head coach makes his serene stance even more remarkable.
“Had the Thunder lost, it would have been a shame,” Fratello said when asked to consider the fallout had that happened, “because it would have detracted from what Scott did for all the right reasons.”
The above coaches agreed Brooks was correct to squat Westbrook for not getting the most out of his teammates -Kevin Durant went over nine minutes during one stretch without a shot — turning the ball over and then mouthing off behind Brooks for an awfully long time after being yanked and reprimanded.
Those consulted also agreed, despite Westbrook’s unruliness as well as the Thunder’s synchronized success with Eric Maynor and James Harden as backcourt partners, they would have been steeply inclined to re-insert him, if not the other three regulars, halfway into the quarter for fear of assorted harmful repercussions.
Any later and a star — second team All-NBA, in this case — has a ready-made excuse for not producing. A loss would have resulted in crooked fingers galore being internally and externally cocked at the coach.
“When one of my key guys is sitting, I feel it’s important to bring him back with six minutes to go,” Van Gundy said. “If you don’t do it, then it’s very hard to do it around the 3-minute mark and expect the player to get loose. By that time, considering longer TV timeouts, Russell would have been sitting about 20 minutes.”
Only a selfish fool would have said something negative for public consumption following the victory. And, by all accounts, Westbrook is a model kid and idyllic teammate whose off-the-charts competitiveness unfortunately sometimes arouses him into a state of disturbance and confusion.
On the surface, at least, Westbrook took his minutes in the timeout chair like a model kid and an idyllic teammate. His actions on the sidelines — cheering and charging Harden and Mayor and Durant and Nick Collison with high-fives during work stoppages — were emphatically supportive.
But Westbrook’s eyes betrayed him. Humans can hide only so much emotion; he looked dejected.
Is it possible Chicago’s Derrick Rose was tight (17-for-45) in front of the home crowd?
When you watch him the way he carries himself you forget he’s only 22. One thing’s for sure; 3-20 from the suburbs is not going to get it done.
Someone other than Rose -Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng — must start producing from the perimeter. The Bulls have to hit those shots because when they put it on the floor the quickness and length of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James challenges everything. Meanwhile, Erik Spoelstra has his snipers on a very short leash.
How many more games must LeBron dominate at crunch time to convert a doubting world of experts?
He’s showing the onions to close, the will to and the knowhow. He showed in Game 2 that he sure knows how to close, when to subordinate his game and when to be selfish for the good of the team.
Spoelstra was wise to get Udonis Haslem a cameo appearance in Game 1 so he could gauge his readiness in case the Bulls continued their assault on the offensive boards in Game 2.
When that happened it was easy to justify using him (to the displaced players) so much, so quickly; an 0-2 deficit might have been too big to overcome.
The Heat remain flawed (four ineffectual centers and two pointless guards) and fragile.
One of the many highlights at the Vitale charity event was speaking at length to Magic senior VP Pat Williams whose “mission is remission.”
His battle with blood cancer may have temporarily interrupted his marathon scampers; the last one was Disney’s shortly before being diagnosed in November.
And it may have stopped him for the moment from getting behind the plate and catching at fantasy camps; again, he attended one just before discovering why his back ached so much.
But the disease did not prevent the 71-year-old from driving from Orlando to Sarasota and gracing the event with his wit and wisdom . . . on a day he underwent a chemotherapy treatment.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.