SportsProf

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

You Decide Whether

Stephon Marbury is a potential champion or a career "good" player on underperforming teams.

Here is his curriculum vitae.

According to Tim Legler, Marbury has played for 10 coaches in his career, having played on four teams, and in a league where the average coach's tenure is shorter than Bobby Knight's fuse. Legler, on ESPN Radio this morning, opined that Marbury's career has suffered because he hasn't had enough time with one coach to play within a system, reach greater heights, etc. He observed that with Larry Brown coaching the Knicks, Marbury has the opportunity to play for a coach who has a championship ring and who could help get him one.

Fair enough. I don't think that Legler meant to imply that Marbury's failure to play on winning teams has been everyone's fault but Marbury's. In criticism of Marbury, he has appeared to be a shoot-first point guard who hasn't made his career's mission the improvement of his teammates and his team. That Marbury has been traded as often as he has, for a player of his ability, speaks volumes as to the type of player decisionmakers in the NBA believe Marbury to be. That Marbury has played for so many coaches, to a certain degree, is Marbury's doing too. As one of the most talented players on any team for which he has played, he, to a greater degree than the average player, has more of an impact on his team and, correspondingly, his coach's success (or lack thereof). Ergo, if Marbury doesn't listen to his coach or act as a leader, his team will not fare that well.

And the coach gets fired.

Legler made a great point this morning, which is that the head coach's relationship with his stars has more of an impact in the NBA than in any other sport. This explains why the tenure of the average coach is rather short. The players, with their long-term contracts, have the leverage here. They can make or break their coaches, and if they're not as focused on winning championships as others, they'll get their points, win their share of games, and end up having participated in more of an entertainment business than in a competitive sport. Their legacy will be one of someone who was a talented player who got his points, but who otherwise wasn't a winner. He'll get more acclaim than an "innings eater" for a Major League Baseball team, the fourth starter who you need to give you 200 innnings and hopefully can win about half his games. But, truth be told, the innings eater knows his role and perhaps cannot do more, while the talented potential star doesn't understand his role and could do more. Yet, because the talent is there, unless you're a J.J. Daigneault in hockey, a Ryan Leaf in football, a Travis Lee in baseball or a Shawn Bradley in hoops, where you'll be remember as a guy who was drafted early, got a big contract, or both, and who accomplished very little, you'll still have a legacy as a "good" player.

Even if, to a degree, all you did was take up space and help keep your team respectable.

I definitely think that Marbury has one of his last shots to determine his legacy when playing under Larry Brown. It would be a great story if he were to trust in Brown, shoot a little less, work harder to find the open teammate and work harder on defense and lead by example. If he does that, and if the Knicks buy into Brown's teaching, they'll have a chance this year to be a #5 or #6 seed in the East. But if Marbury worries more about his numbers, he and Brown will end up at odds, the Knicks might win half their games, and Marbury will continue to merit a legacy of a talented player who was unable to embrace the team concept.

Larry Brown is a great coach. He is not a magician. He did a great job in 2001 with the 76ers in getting them to the NBA finals, getting 1 up on L.A. in those finals and almost 2 up (the 76ers had the lead and had fouled out Shaq in the last several minutes, only to lose). That team featured a unique player in Allen Iverson, whom the Sixers selected over Marbury and Ray Allen in the draft about 8 years ago. Iverson, in is own way, listened enough to Brown to help his team win (he was MVP that season). Marbury would do well to follow Iverson's example and work with Brown to forge a winner.

But make no mistake about it. Part of whether Marbury plays for a champion is up to Marbury. Sure, there are factors beyond his control, such as his supporting cast. But he can make a big difference if he chooses.

If he does, he'll help begin to change his legacy.

If he does not, he'll be part of a long line of NBA players who scored a bunch of points but whose teams never got close to a championship.

He has a golden opportunity now; the choice is his.

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