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Grampa Celtic Talks Cowens and Rodman
The camera told a fascinating story. There were the San Antonio Spurs in the huddle, mapping out strategy in the final minutes of a tense playoff game against the Houston Rockets. In the middle of the picture was first-year San Antonio assistant coach Dave Cowens. Off to the left was recalcitrant San Antonio forward Dennis Rodman, staring into space, not participating.
They went back out on the court. David Robinson walked alongside Rodman. The Spurs center and league MVP was talking to Rodman in an animated fashion, presumably relaying the instructions just given by head coach Bob Hill. I say "presumably" because with Rodman, you never know. He might have asked Robinson if he'd had a chance to see "Die Hard With A Vengeance" yet.
The TNT people were having an ultra-major cow. Rodman was insubordinate. Rodman was destructive to team wa. Rodman was a subversive. Rodman was selfish. It all made for great conversation, and it guaranteed some crackling postgame conversation when the Rockets went on to win.
Rodman, in my judgment, probably is insubordinate, destructive to team wa, subversive and selfish. But his listening or not listening to what Bob Hill was saying in those final two huddles was not the point. In fact, I found it amazingly ironic that Dave Cowens is now a San Antonio authority figure, because he long ago wrote the book on tuning a coach out, and it didn't interfere with him doing his job.
Let us turn the clock back some 20 years. Dave Cowens is playing for the Boston Celtics. He has been playing for Tom Heinsohn since 1970 and, frankly, he is very tired of it. He chafes under Heinsohn's excessively verbose coaching style during the 1975 playoffs and he does not find it any more entertaining by the following season.
The fact is that by the 1976 playoffs, Cowens is not paying any attention to the coach, at least not while the game is in progress. When the Celtics call time, Cowens returns to the bench in body, but definitely not in spirit. He lurks in the background, and when the team breaks the huddle, he walks up to either John Havlicek or Paul Silas and says, "What are we running?" He then goes about his business. Not one member of the spectating public is aware that anything is amiss.
And the Celtics win the 1976 championship.
Whatever Dave Cowens' problems with his coach happened to be, they did not interfere with his responsibility to his teammates or his legitimate desire to win a championship. The truth is he was not alone in his feelings concerning the Tom Heinsohn of 1976. Almost every veteran shared his frustration. They all understood Cowens' peculiar nature, and they knew they could depend on him to do his job. You might say they were all on the same page.
This is not the case with Dennis Rodman. Cowens was legitimately eccentric. Rodman is an exhibitionist -- make sure you hide this week's Sports Illustrated cover story from the kiddies -- who cares only about himself. Cowens had his little on-court peccadillos, but he nevertheless had a well-rounded game. Rodman is a very limited player. Cowens' little anti-coach display reflected a widespread team sentiment. Rodman's anti-coach, anti-organization, anti-society actions confuse and bore his teammates and do, in fact, detract from their concentration.
Rodman doesn't have basketball specialties as much as he has fetishes. Guess what. Dennis Rodman is a vastly overrated player, and the Spurs would be better served if he were removed from the active roster immediately, allowing the others to go about the business of winning an NBA title in peace.
Is Rodman a good defensive player? Yes. Good. That's good, not great. He was great, but he's 34 now (bet you didn't realize that) and he's no longer great. Is he a very good defensive rebounder? Yes. Is he a very good offensive rebounder? Yes -- to a point.
Rodman's offensive rebounding reflects his warped view of the game. For all his expertise on the glass, his team derives surprisingly little from his efforts.
Here's something you probably didn't know. The Celtics derived more direct benefit from Derek Strong on the boards than the Spurs did from Rodman.
(No, I haven't been drinking.)
Min OR FTA FTM FT%
Rodman 1578 274 111 75 .676
Strong 1344 136 172 141 .820
Rodman thinks it's cute to get an offensive rebound and throw it back out. He wears his disinterest in shooting as a perverted badge of honor when, in fact, his extraordinary selfishness (or is it stupidity?) is a detriment to his team. A man who grabs as many offensive rebounds as Rodman should be putting the ball back up, drawing fouls, at the very least. It would also help if he could then make those free throws. A rebound is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
It's quite obvious that Derek Strong gets something out of his offensive boardwork. So do Grant Long (191 offensive rebounds, 325 free throws attempted), Tyrone Hill (269 offensive rebounds, 263 FTA) and Elden Campbell (168 offensive rebounds, 193 FTA), to name three more people who would be better for the Spurs than Rodman.
Bob Hill has a team good enough to win the NBA championship without Dennis Rodman. Would someone please remind the Spurs that they won -- what was it? -- 15 games in a row after Rodman fell off the motorcycle? Rodman is an ongoing distraction, and the SI article will now become the story of the playoffs. (I'm sure his Pizza Hut buddy David Robinson will appreciate Rodman's appraisal of the great centers.) Rodman will only become more self-absorbed and more irritating the longer the season goes.
Huddle, schmuddle. I know Dave Cowens, and Dennis Rodman is most definitely not Dave Cowens. Send this guy back to the "Star Wars" bar scene, where he belongs.
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