One of the most acclaimed basketball writers in the world, Charley Rosen has spent years around the game. He played it at an MVP-level for Hunter College from 1959-62. He played it in the Eastern League (a forerunner to the CBA). And he coached it with Phil Jackson.
Since then, Rosen has authored 15 well-received books, among them Barney Polan’s Game, Scandals of ’51 and Maverick (co-authored with Jackson), a ballplayer-turned-journalist.
With it being the 60th anniversary since the scandals of 1951, and with the retirement of his friend Jackson, I figured it was a great time to talk some hoops with a guy who not only once played against Wilt Chamberlain but still writes about the NBA today for FoxSports.com.
This is just Part One. Check back tomorrow for the second half where Rosen talks about the dysfunction of the Lakers, Kobe-for-Grant Hill rumors back in the day and whether Jackson will ever coach again.
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Dime: To start, are you surprised by Dallas and Miami?
Charley Rosen: I’m not surprised by Miami at all. I never really felt that the Bulls were really that good. The regular season and the playoffs are two different forms of the same thing, like scrambled eggs and hard-boiled eggs, the same substance but two totally different entities. And what the Bulls were able to get away with during the regular season, they couldn’t as they got deeper into the playoffs and as you get deeper into the playoffs, the competition is better and teams have an opportunity to do some real in-depth scouting. During the season, you play a team once a month maybe and you have, if you’re lucky, one practice session and a shootaround to go over a gameplan, a scouting report. But in the playoffs, it’s just so intense. The scouting reports, you can go over game videos that are right there, that are pertinent, that are immediate. You can make really impactful adjustments right then.
So given that, Derrick Rose is the only Chicago player who can create a reasonable shot off his own dribble. I anticipated that they had no chance to beat Miami.
Dime: How good do you think Oklahoma City can be in the future?
CR: I think they have to make some changes. I think Russell Westbrook played as well as he could play in Game 5 in a close-down game. That’s as well as he can play. But taking a closer look at what he did, it’s clear this guy is not a point guard. He’s great on a fastbreak and early offense and any kind of broken field and any kind of hesitation in making proper defensive baseline rotations, wham, he can get to the basket. But he takes questionable shots and his jump shot is questionable. When he misses, he bangs it off the front rim. Shooters don’t do that. Shooters, when they miss they go around and out. A good miss is a back-rim miss, not a front-rim miss. When he misses, he misses badly. Shoots too much, makes too many mistakes. As many people have said, he doesn’t always make sure that the ball gets into Durant’s hands. Durant I think…I think the offense needs to be expanded. Just getting him the ball off a screen-and-roll at the top of the key a step above the three-point line isn’t good enough. It puts too much pressure on him. He takes long threes. If you miss one of those, you get deep rebounds and the other team is off on the run. And the Thunder defense isn’t that good that they can afford to give up so many fast-break baskets. He came off weak-side screens a little bit more frequently in Game 5, but he needs to be used like Ray Allen is used…have him constantly in motion, except you can post him up a little bit, run him off single-doubles, run him off staggered screens, get the ball on the move instead of having to stop, catch it and then create something. It puts too much pressure on him. It’s too easy to rough him up, to get physical with him when he catches the ball at a standstill and that’s what a lot of teams do. So their offense has to open up.
What else do they need? I think they need another point guard. I like Maynor. I think he’s a great backup. Somebody like Andre Miller would be great for this team. Mature, sees the court, understands what’s going on, can score if he has to. He’ll slow them up a little bit, but since everybody else can run, that’s okay. But they need a mature, disciplined presence at the point. Perkins is overpaid. He can bang people around. He can set pretty good picks, but he’s no threat on offense. He can’t guard anybody who can face the basket and go. He’s foul prone. He’s not such a good passer. He’s limited.
Ibaka has got a lot to learn. He’s got a lot talents. He’s got great range defensively, but he still plays like a rookie which is understandable. He’s kinda comparatively new to the game. He needs to develop some kind of post-up game. They don’t have a post-up player. They really don’t have a guy who can demand a double-team and the post-up, which enables them to play inside-out basketball which would create easier opportunities for Durant. So they need a post-up player. I still see Perkins as a backup. When he was playing for Boston, he had four guys who could score, so you could go along with him. But with the Thunder, he doesn’t have that luxury. I love Collison. I think he was the MVP – if there was one – in the Thunder’s play against Dallas, except for that one game, that one crazy game where Nowitzki was like 12-for-15. He controlled Nowitzki as much as you can and he really made him battle for every shot. I think he’s a keeper.
Harden has got to start. He’s too good not to start. He’s not a great defensive player, but he does everything else. He passes like a point guard. He sees the floor. He can find a lane to drive somehow. He can hit perimeter shots. He’s gotta be a starter. Sefolosha, I also like him, but the problem is with Sefolosha, Collison and Perkins, you have three guys who really can’t score so it’s impossible to play all three of them at the same time, which it compromises whatever exists of the Thunder’s defense. And it’s difficult to play two of them at the same time. Sefolosha can hit a three-pointer once in a while but you can live with that. So I think what the team needs – all the talk about they’re young and they’re growing and they’ll learn from the experience, yeah but you don’t learn from blowing leads like they did in the last two games. There’s nothing positive you gain from those kinds of situations, from not executing in the end game. There’s nothing you learn from that.
I think they need a point guard. I think they need a wing who can create and score off the bench to take Harden’s place when Harden starts, and they need another big man, someone who can score in the post and who can be more of a solid defensive presence. Collison is too small to play center for long periods of time. It’s really going to wear him down. The chip they have is Westbrook. He’s got one more year guaranteed and two option years. He’s a guy who’s attractive that people you would think would give up something meaningful in exchange. Yeah, they’re young, blah blah blah blah. That’s really wishful thinking. It depends on what the Thunder want to do. Are they satisfied being in the Western Finals and…I don’t want to say folding, but not being able to do what they had to do when a couple of games were on the line? Or do they really legitimately want to be a championship team? If they want to be a championship team, I think these are the changes that they have to do.
Dime: Do you have any predictions for the Finals?
CR: Well, I don’t like to make predictions. I’m forced to. Being in the media, you kind of have to. Somehow the fans think that making correct predictions proves your expertise. But nobody knows what’s going to happen. If I knew, I would make bets and retire. All you can do is analyze certain things, talk about what has happened and talk about what might happen. But to make solid predictions is I think something that is forced on the media to do. I think obviously Miami is gonna win. I think it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. That’s all I can say. It’ll be hotly contested. At this point, home-court advantage means nothing. Fans screaming and yelling, that’s also overplayed by the media. Players can’t hear them. You are too tuned in to the game. It takes too much focus to play in the NBA. You have to make so many decisions so quickly that fans and all that stuff is just background noise.