:07 Seconds Or Less: Book Notes

Author Jack McCallum chronicled the Suns 2005-06 season from the bench from training camp through the playoffs. A few thoughts I noted as I read:

1. D'Antoni & his staff are phenomenal managers of egos and instilled confidence in every player. For instance, when Tim Thomas arrived, D'Antoni tells him he'll never get mad at him for shooting but only if he doesn't shoot. Thomas felt like he was in heaven. In another instance, D'Antoni is lobbying a reporter to "make sure you mention Marion".

2. The Colangelo's and the front office put together pieces and a "lean roster" with solid competitors. They combined their stars with hungry role players with something to prove to teams that cast them away. These were good fits for the Suns such as Eddie House, Raja Bell, James Jones, and Boris Diaw. They were flexible enough to add Tim Thomas late. Everyone could shoot, handle, and play without the ball.

3. They developed their players. Early on, assistant Dan D'Antoni is assigned to take Leandro Barbosa under his wing and you see the development throughout the season.

4. Kwame Brown says they're not a fundamental team and that they just "run a bunch of screen-and-rolls and have such good shooters". The author astutely picks up that Brown doesn't equate movement and spontaneity to fundamental basketball. A sure sign of the times where the basketball game he grew up has evolved into "what can i do with the ball when I get it".

5. If the league norm is considered fundamental then the Suns were certainly different. They played the offensive game based on freedom of movement and decisions on the run as opposed to lining up across from the opponent and running choreographed sets within a 25 by 45 foot half court box. It seems to me that part of what made this work is that they understood the difference between bad, good, and better shots.

6. The suns minimized time as a critical element of the game. They created many more possessions with the idea that they could get more points per possession than their opponent. They were comfortable making decisions of bad-good-better at fast pace but being different they would sucker opponents into making those decisions without the same comfort level.

7. Lawrence Frank said it best: "Playing the suns is like being a passenger in a car going seventy-five miles an hour. When your driving, like they are, you feel comfortable. But when you're the passenger, you're uncomfortable. The trick is how to figure out how to be a driver. But they don't let you do that."

8. Coaches have become more and more controlling in every situation. I credit D'Antoni for having the self confidence in what he believes to play the game differently than what was considered acceptable at the time. He believes in his preparation. For instance, at times his teams will practice under an hour if everyone goes well and he feels good about it. Here's a guy that got fired after 1 year in Denver but comes back and does it his way.

9. The author has a great line when asked if D'Antoni is a genius: "Coaching is at one level the art of repeating almost the same thing over and over so it doesn't sound like the same thing."

10. Don't underestimate the amount of perspiration behind "genius". As the author notes, if u sat with Hemingway as he tried to get it right you would probably say "Damn, that guy rewrites a lot." As he notes, D'Antoni and staff rewrite a lot.

11. D'Antoni on why he plays fast: "most coaches believe defenses are more vulnerable late in the shot clock, that you can get them out of position with a lot of passing. I don't know why defenses wouldn't be more vulnerable before they get set. Thats why we play fast."

12. D'Antoni on turnovers: "people say that when you play fast you'll be a high turnover team. I think you'll be a low-turnover team because you don't throw as many passes."

13. D'Antoni on blowing leads: "people say 'you blew a big lead because you play fast.' Well, hell, did they say that before we got an eighteen-point lead? Playing fast is how we got the lead."

14. D'Antoni on players sitting and learning: "they told leandro barbosa he could learn by sitting behind Stephon Marbury. When I was playing, they told me I could learn by sitting behind Tiny Archibald. Well, guess what? I didn't learn shit, just like leandro didn't learn shit. He doesn't play anything like stephon, and I was about a hundred times slower than Tiny. So how was I going to learn anything?"

15. Alvin Gentry on D'Antoni and coaching: "What makes Mike so good is that he gets to the meat of what he wants very quickly, then trust his players and it took me a bit of time to accept that. NBA coaching 101 says: 'you gotta cover every single thing. And I found out from Mike that you don't".

17. D'Antoni believes coaches must know everything the opponent is going to do and devise a game plan but that the players don't need to know all that. He thinks players can't read and react with too much info.

18. Several times the staff makes the classic debate of whether to try to stop kobe or the other teams star with a team effort or play the opposing superstar straight up and not let anyone else get involved or beat you.

19. D'Antoni on what they do: "Push the ball, dive hard on pick-and-rolls. Keep spaced. Drive, kick, run the floor."

20. D'Antoni gives his half time speech in game 7 of round 1 series versus the Lakers. I think it shows the nature of the beast he fights with his system and represents what he believes. He says, "Every inch of the game, every possession, you have to fight. You can't be, 'I'm up fifteen, I can force a shot now.' 'I'm up fifteen, I can take a defensive possession off.' You can't be that way. You gotta be disciplined enough to go frame by frame by frame. Now, within that, there will be mistakes. But you know what? That's fine. Go to the next frame."

21. Nash on his athleticism: "I'm more elusive than quick, and people confuse the two," he says. "I'm really good on the move, which involves coordination, timing and balance. Once I get going, I can do a lot of things. But I'm painfully bad at explosiveness." Moving, changing gears, and court sense separate Nash. He gives it up on the run and gets it back on the run (via pass or dribble handoff). An interesting concept but think of the suns and usually if i player catches flat footed its going up for 3.

22. Nash makes a point that I whole-heartily agree with: "you hear about so-called tweaners, right, guys who aren't quite point guards and aren't quite shooting guards. what do they usually become? The answer is: mediocre shooting guards." He believes point guards are too an extent born not made.

Terms I liked from the book:

Game plan summary: "Pace. Space. Pass."

Steve Nash: "dribble probe" the defense

D'Antoni's coach in Italy wanted his teams to "sputare sangue" or spit blood


Offense spreading the floor: The '07-'08 Duke Offense

Here's an article from the Daily Tar Heel about Duke's shift in philosophy this past season to a drive and kick offense. Much of what they do mimics what Mike D'Antoni does and is predicated on spacing & re-spacing.

The afterword to this article is that the Blue Devils finished 28-6. They finished 4th in the nation at 83.2 points per game and had 5 scorers average double figures. Duke was 16th in 3-pointers attempted and 12th in free throws attempts. These stats suggest they were a team that bought into getting to the rack or shooting the 3 while limiting mid-range jumpers. They ended up ranking 50th in the nation in offensive rebounding.

Duke started 4 guards and Kyle Singler who projects as wing. The question is did the personnel dictate the change or did the change in philosophy dictate the change in personnel?

By: Jesse Baumgartner, Senior Writer, The Daily Tar Heel
Issue date: 2/6/08 Section: Sports

DURHAM - It seems unnatural, as if the basketball court is somehow off-balance.

The open space in the middle of No. 2 Duke's offense begs for something to occupy it, remaining almost untouched as the Blue Devils camp on the 3-point arc.

But, in a nutshell, that space is what defines the lethal Duke scoring machine this year.

After they struggled to find the hoop last year without a true post player down low, coach Mike Krzyzewski has let his team loose on the fast break and built his half-court offense around versatile ball-handlers, shooters and the ever-important perimeter spacing - leading to the nation's third-best scoring average at 85.7 points per game heading into today's throwdown with No. 3 North Carolina.

The observant basketball fan will notice a touch of NBA style in the scheme, not surprising given that Krzyzewski has taken some of the Phoenix Suns' elements from his good friend - and offensive mastermind - Mike D'Antoni, who coached the USA Basketball team with Coach K this summer.

"I think our offense is growing," Krzyzewski said. "It's not exactly like the Phoenix Suns', but there are elements of it, especially the fact that we don't post as much. That's probably the biggest similarity, is they don't post Amare (Stoudemire) and we don't have Amare."

But while Duke lacks a Stoudemire, the team does spread the floor in a similar manner using guard-heavy lineups.

Off turnovers and rebounds, the smaller Blue Devils race down the court and often run players toward the corners rather than the basket to space out the floor.

And when Duke starts its half-court game, the team often puts four, and sometimes all five, players around the perimeter.

"I think the biggest thing was getting comfortable with it," said point guard Greg Paulus, who mentioned Jason Kidd as someone he watched to understand the concepts better.

"But we watched a lot of film on ourselves and on coach's USA team and the Suns. I think that has really helped us with our spacing and creating the type of shots early in the offense that we've gotten all year."

By spreading out the defense so much, Duke gives itself lots of room to maneuver, screen and create openings - particularly from the 3-point line.

For instance, Paulus can get a high-ball pick for his own long bomb or look to kick it back to the screener, who pops to the perimeter. Most dribble drives cause defenders to leave their men and help, but Duke players often maintain their spacing and wait for the open 3-pointer from the kick-out (see diagrams).

This is all made possible by Duke's shooting ability. Not surprisingly, the Blue Devils rank No. 20 in the country in 3-pointers made per game, with nine on 23.1 attempts. Paulus, Jon Scheyer, Taylor King and Demarcus Nelson all shoot .397 or better from the outside.

Both King and Paulus take more than 70 percent of their shots from 3-point land, and even 6-foot-8-inch freshman big man Kyle Singler steps out on the perimeter for more than 40 percent of his field goal attempts.

"I don't really consider myself a post player," Singler said. "I play a lot of outside, too, but I just happen to guard the post on the opposing team."

With the nation's No. 19 best field goal percentage, the Blue Devils also have seen plenty of success from inside the arc, thanks to Nelson and sophomore pogo stick Gerald Henderson, two slashers who take a minimal amount of 3's.

While the spacing helps the shooters, it also gives Nelson and Henderson - the team's best one-on-one players and leading scorers - lots of room to get to the basket themselves, allowing Duke to supplement its outside shooting.

And when the Blue Devils do miss, the paint often is free for offensive rebound chances because the defenders are leeched to their perimeter-hugging counterparts.

"It gives me lots of lanes to actually rebound a long miss or a floater or something of that nature," said pseudo-big man Lance Thomas, who ranks No. 3 on the team in offensive boards.

While the game plan can have its downfalls, such as 21 percent 3-point shooting in the loss to Pittsburgh, the Blue Devils already have ridden the free-wheeling Spatial Express to 19 wins and three 90-point games in their last five.

"Our offense has run pretty well," Krzyzewski said. "The more we do it, the better we're going to be at it."


Not much was made of Sam Cassell winning his 3rd ring after latching on with the Boston Celtics late this season. As his career winds down it is interesting to note just how successful of a career he has had.

Not only has Cassell won 88 playoff games with 6 different teams but he has won everywhere he went. More impressively, he has taken teams that are perennially down and won with them. Then when he leaves the team carries on with their ways. Winning in the era in which he won such as the '90s Nets, '90s Bucks, Timberwolves, and clippers is far more impressive than the fact that he's a career 16 pt & 6 asst guy.


1. Houston Rockets: after being drafted 24th, he splits time with Kenny Smith and wins back to back championships in his first 2 years.

2. He was traded from Houston to Phoenix to Dallas to New Jersey all in 1996-97 season. He was a major piece in deals for Charles Barkley & Jason Kidd.

3. In '97-'98 he helped turned the New Jersey Nets around, making the playoffs after 3 straight 30 or less win seasons.

4. In the shortened '98-'99 season he got hurt in game 1 then was traded to the Bucks in a deal that landed the Nets Stephon Marbury. New Jersey went 73-141 the next 3 years. Milwaukee went on to the playoffs for the first time in 7 seasons as Cassell returned after the trade in '98-'99.

5. The Bucks went to the playoffs 4 out of 5 seasons with Cassell. In 2000-01 the Bucks were a game 7 away from the finals.

6. After 2002-03 Cassell was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The first season with Minnesota, Cassell was 2nd team All-NBA. The team won 58 games and went to the conference finals and lost with Cassell out with an injured hip. Before Cassell, the Timberwolves won 7 playoff games ever. In '03-'04 they won 10.

7. Minnesota won 44 games in '04-'05 but missed the playoffs. They dealt Cassell to the Clippers.

8. Before Cassell came to the Clippers they had won 4 playoff games in 28 seasons as a franchise and never won a playoff series since moving from Buffalo in 1978. In Cassell's first season with the LA Clippers the team won the most games since 1975 (Buffalo Braves). They won 7 playoff games losing in game seven of the western conference semi-finals.

9. In an injury riddled '06-'07 season, the Clippers won 40 games but missed the playoffs.

10. After being bought out this season he won a title in his first season with the Boston Celtics.


Cassell wins 2 championships with Rockets, 51 wins a year in 3 years
BSAM: 6 playoff wins in 3 years
ASAM: 2 winnings seasons & 2 playoff series wins in 3 years

Goes to playoffs with New Jersey Nets in his only full season there
BSAM: avg. 29 wins 3 years before SAM
ASAM: avg. 24 per yr in 3 years after

Takes Milwaukee to game 7 of conference finals & playoffs 4 times in 5 years, all 5 winning seasons
BSAM: 7 year playoff drought, average 29 wins a season over that span
ASAM: average 33 wins a year over 5 seasons with 0 winning seasons

Took Minnesota to game 7 of the conference finals
BSAM: Minnesota never won a playoff series, 7-22 in playoffs in 7 seasons
ASAM: average 29 wins a season over 3 seasons

Leads Los Angeles Clippers to game 7 of western conference semifinals with 7 playoff wins, wins 87 games in 2 years
BSAM: Clippers avg. 25 wins a year over 8 years, 4 playoff wins in 28 years
ASAM: 23 win season after Cassell suits up for 38 games before buyout


winning seasons :
3 with Houston Rockets
'96-'97 traded 3 times (HOU/PHX/DAL/NJ)
1 with New Jersey Nets
5 with Milwaukee Bucks
2 with Minnesota Timberwolves
1 with Los Angeles Clippers
losing season 40-42 with Clippers
1 with Boston Celtics

playoffs in 11 of 15 seasons
winning seasons in 13 of 15 seasons

3 Championship Rings (Houston 2, Boston)
2 Conference Finals - both game 7 losses (Milwaukee, Minnesota)
2 Conference Semi-finals (Los Angeles Clippers, Houston)
4 playoff first round (Milwaukee 3, New Jersey)


93rd all time in scoring - Walt Frazier ranks 95th
29th all time assists - Larry Bird is 32nd
27th in Free Throw percentage - ahead of Mitch Richmond, .0047 behind Chris Mullin
84th in career free throws - 3 more than Pete Maravich
53rd in assists per game all time

If I am an NBA executive I might just put Robert Horry & Sam Cassell on the end of the bench until they are 50 just to see what would happen.

Caught In The Middle: Stephon Marbury article in '96

1. Every team that traded Marbury (Wolves, Nets, Suns) got significantly better immediately following his departure. Meanwhile, every team that has received Steph in a trade (Nets, Suns, Knicks) posted a worse record the season after he arrived.
2. His teams have won 36 games or fewer in 9 of his 12 seasons.
3. He averages 50 losses a season and never lead a team to a fifty win season. His average season is 32-50.
4. Played for 2004 OLYMPIC team that was the first to fail to win gold with pros.
5. Marbury lead Georgia Tech (along with drew barry & matt harpring) to the sweet 16 and the most wins Bobby Cremins had in his last 10 years at Georgia Tech.

January 22, 1996
Caught In The Middle
Stephon Marbury, Georgia Tech's heralded freshman guard, carries a heavy burden as the last, best hope of a Coney Island hoops dynasty
Alexander Wolff

Stephon Marbury pulls a Suzuki 4x4 into a parking lot in downtown Atlanta . He pays the attendant in advance, Brooklyn -dodges his way across the street, then ducks into Hasan's Atlanta 's Finest Barber Shop.

Hasan's is a hedge against Atlanta 's atrium creep, an antidote to all the Peachtree Thises and Perimeter Thats—an enclave in this Brave New City of the South that's timid and old and perfectly happy to be so. For Marbury, a Georgia Tech freshman who has been called the best guard prospect ever to come out of New York City , it's also a refuge from the indignity of the night before, when Tech lost 71-69 at home to Mount St. Mary's.

Here is Hasan's on a December afternoon with Christmas coming: An urchin in a green sweatsuit kneels in front of the barber chair where Marbury is sitting and flips open a leather briefcase jammed with video-cassettes; Stephon chooses Bad Boys and peels off a $10 from a fat wad of bills. Also sitting for a cut is Atlanta Hawk forward Ken Norman , a living reminder that for Marbury the NBA is the terminus of the road on which Tech is a mere way station. A 10-year-old, left here by his mom while she works in the beauty shop down the street, sits in one of the chairs, facing a mirror, pantomiming shot after shot, his hand and wrist describing a perfect cobra's head at the end of each follow-through.

At this, Marbury allows a smile to break over his face—cautiously, so as not to jeopardize the fade that Philly Mike, his regular barber, is in the midst of crafting.

"How can you not like that?" Marbury says.

For someone who has been considered a prodigy for more than half his 18 years, there could be no more serene and innocent scene. Georgia Tech sank thousands of dollars and man-hours into recruiting Marbury in the hope that, before he lights out for the pros, he'll at least lead the Yellow Jackets into the NCAA tournament that has spurned them the past two years. Meanwhile, Marbury's family has its own interests: It's counting on Stephon for deliverance from the Brooklyn housing project in which Jason Sowell, a high school teammate of Stephon's, was gunned down last summer. But here at Hasan's, in this hothouse of fellowship and easy badinage, Marbury is no one's ticket in and no one's ticket out.

"He got passes and he got shots and he got hops and he got game," Hasan says, casting an admiring eye from the register.

"But if the head grows," says Philly Mike, "I'll know."

For more than a quarter century now, Don and Mabel Marbury's five boys have been apprenticing for the NBA on the basketball courts of the Coney Island Houses. Eric (Sky Dog) Marbury was a 6'2" inside scorer at Georgia between 1979 and '82, only to be cut in camp by the San Diego Clippers in 1982. Six-foot-three Donnie (Sky Pup) Marbury went undrafted, even though he was a shooter of such unalloyed purity that he led the Southwest Conference in scoring as a senior at Texas A&M in 1985-86. Don Sr. calls his third child, 6'3" Norman (Jou-Jou) Marbury, "the purest point guard you'd ever want to see," but Jou-Jou failed to make the grade on the SAT, had a scholarship offer from Tennessee withdrawn and got exiled to the junior colleges. He played one season of Division I ball at St. Francis College in Brooklyn (1993-94).

As each Marbury brother has failed to stick, his professional aspirations have slid down to the next, until all have accumulated in the catch basin that is Stephon. Family members speak about the successive refinements in the Marbury game—of how Eric's raw desire set a tone, and Donnie added the sweet stroke and Norman the nose for the basket—and how these gifts have coalesced in the fourth Marbury boy. There is a fifth brother, Moses, a.k.a. Zack, who in the family tradition wears number 3 for Lincoln High, where he's now a sophomore guard. But Zack isn't the phenom that Stephon is, and that only serves to send the family's hopes rebounding up the line.

Stephon, who's 6'2", embellishes this legacy with skills entirely his own: dial-8 range on his jump shot; a predator's appetite for on-the-ball defense; and an aura, a New York ease with his station that in other precincts might be called cockiness. In November, Marbury suggested to the New York Daily News that he would leave for the NBA after this season, a comment that touched off much hand-wringing in Atlanta , where Georgia Tech likes to think of itself as more than a trade school for aspiring pro basketball players. But Marbury now says that there was much more nuance in his remark, and that he had simply addressed a hypothetical. "If I'm guaranteed to be in the lottery?" he says still. "I wouldn't even hesitate. I'm leaving. In fact, I would hope the people at Georgia Tech would tell me to leave. Because if not, they wouldn't be thinking about anything but themselves.

"I don't feel I'm totally ready. The NBA and college are two totally different games. The NBA is just pick-and-roll, and if the pick-and-roll's not there, throw it to Hakeem and he scores. How hard can that be? It's just physical strength. Being ready means adjusting to being around older players. Right now I don't have anything in common with those guys."

As Marbury ruminates over the differences between college and the pros, his coaches at Georgia Tech think there's still much for him to learn about the differences between high school and college. Mount St. Mary's senior Chris McGuthrie, a 5'9" guard, lit up the Yellow Jackets, and often Marbury, for 37 points—a reminder that even the best on-the-ball defender is of little use if he can't fight through the picks a well-coached college team will set to spring a shooter. So far this season the Jackets have run a gantlet of a schedule, over which Marbury has been reliably inconsistent: horrid against Georgia and splendid against Louisville ; a first-half terror at Kentucky (he went for 17 as Tech forged a halftime lead) and a second-half bust (he failed to score as the team collapsed over the final 20 minutes); and just the reverse at Duke (he followed a four-point first half with 23 in the second of a 86-81 victory). With exhilarating wins over Maryland and North Carolina , and excruciating losses to Bradley and Santa Clara , the Jackets (10-7 after a 91-78 defeat of Western Carolina on Saturday) have been every bit as mercurial as their freshman point guard.

The NBA does not make lottery picks of floor leaders whose teams lose to Mount St. Mary's at home. With Tech up a point and a minute and a half to play, Marbury threw away a blind wraparound pass. "We don't need to be forcing it in a close game like that," says Drew Barry, Marbury's fifth-year senior backcourt mate. "Stephon's a great talent. He's going to be a great player. But right now he has a lot to learn."

With Barry and forwards Michael Maddox and Matt Harpring , Yellow Jacket coach Bobby Cremins has the nucleus of a pretty good team, and he wants to let Marbury, who was averaging 19.3 points and 4.4 assists at week's end, grow naturally into the role of leading it. "Why is he not there yet?" Cremins says. "He's stubborn. And there's the pressure to perform. The expectations are ridiculous. All this pressure. All this hype. It really pisses me off. He's had his mind on other things."

Cremins and his staff have sat Marbury down on several occasions for what Cremins calls "long, heavy talks," sessions referred to around the Tech basketball offices as "de-recruiting." The coaches tell Marbury that the word is out on him: Apply the man-to-man screws—that's what Kentucky and Georgia did—and he panics. Reverts to his roots. Just tries to break everyone down one-on-one. Stephon, they say, you've got to play with their minds. Give the ball up, get it back, then make them pay. "Stephon should never shoot under 50 percent in a game," says Tech associate head coach Kevin Cantwell. "If he does, he's taking shots he shouldn't."

In the aftermath of the Mount St. Mary's debacle, Marbury was the lone Yellow Jacket to ask a manager for a copy of the game tape that night. He watched it in all its horror until 3:30 a.m. But he also spent an hour on the phone with Donnie back in Coney Island . Donnie hadn't seen the game, but his advice distilled to this: Got to play like Stephon. Got to go through the middle, got to get to the basket.

Cremins fears counsel like that only interferes with the message he's trying to get across. The next morning Marbury pronounced his diagnosis: "I've been so focused on what Coach wants me to do—be a leader, get everybody involved—that I haven't been Stephon."

Hooo, boy.

"There's a lot of talk about Stephon's making it to the NBA for his family," Cremins says, "but his mother once told me, 'We're a family, and we're going to be a family whether he makes it to the NBA or not.' And they're a happy family. They could live there the rest of their lives and be happy."

Cremins is a devotee of Pat Conroy's novels—he loves the stripped-down honesty of those dysfunctional-family sagas—and he considers himself something of an expert on sprawling hoop dynasties. But he says he knows no family like the Marburys. Not the Prices, who raised former Yellow Jacket and current NBA star Mark; not the Barrys, who produced Drew and former Tech guard, Jon, now a Golden State Warrior . Cremins says he had "heard a lot of stories, a lot of war stories" about the Marburys, but none quite prepared him for what he came upon when he visited the family's four-room apartment in Coney Island , on West 31st Street between Surf and Mermaid. The unlocked door. The people everywhere. The comings, the goings. "They're extremely close," Cremins says. "It's amazing. Go see. I don't know what the hell makes it work."

What makes it work may be that Don, an out-of-work laborer, and Mabel, a daycare worker, know no other way. He's one of six kids, she's one of nine. You could start at 17th Street and go 20 blocks north and find kin, covering five generations, in every high-rise along the way. One of those comers-and-goers, Stephon's cousin Jamel Thomas, is an orphan whom the Marburys essentially raised. Thomas is now a freshman forward at Providence.

Despite appearances, Stephon didn't spring from chaos. From age three he has followed plans carefully laid by his older brothers, beginning with Eric, who would urge Stephon to run up and down the 15 stories of their building—three times per workout—and then run some more on the beach near the projects. "The whole object was to teach the brothers under you to be better than you," says Eric, "to take this oath and accept this challenge."

As a nine-year-old, Stephon would stage shooting exhibitions at halftimes of Lincoln High games. In 1988 Hoop Scoop, a recruiting newsletter, anointed him the best sixth-grader in the nation. As an eighth-grader he sneaked into a local camp for high-schoolers and played so well that the organizers pardoned his audacity. Up to that point, Marbury says, "I wasn't a very nice kid. I thought I was it. It was, y'all supposed to talk to me, I'm not supposed to talk to y'all. I'd just come out on the court, just talk junk, with this walk and this look."

Adults weren't spared this treatment. In CYO ball he woofed at opposing coaches: I'm just killing your guards. Get someone out here who can stop me.

But he had changed his demeanor by the time he entered his sophomore year at Lincoln. By then he had the tattoo of a panther etched into his right arm. "A panther is quick and smart and always alert to everything," Marbury says. "He's sitting on top of a mountain, with the sun and the clouds. That's where I want to see myself." And he had replaced his badass street act with self-discipline. "I learned to treat everybody with respect," he says. "I've learned to be focused, be a professional person, the kind who is always an honor to be around. When you're a good person, good things happen to you. The guy in the shop? With the tapes? He thought I was a star from the way I carried myself."

Scouts, he says, are always watching. "If you're on the bench, they're watching to see if you're picking your nose or playing with yourself. They want to know if you're into the game, what your attitude is when you're 20 down. Before they give out a million, they're gonna ask, Can we trust this kid?"

Marbury has so sanitized his attitude that he doesn't even talk smack anymore. According to McGuthrie, the guard from Mount St. Mary's, the only thing Marbury said to him was, "Damn, you're hot."

New York City can be unforgiving toward its phenoms. The starmakers ballyhooed former playground legend Dwayne (Pearl) Washington , who never lived up to his precious nickname while playing at Syracuse , and struggling St. John's sophomore guard Felipe Lopez , who sat for Richard Avedon's camera while still in high school, only to turn their backs on both when they turned out to be anything short of great. But about Stephon the older Marbury brothers are irrepressible. Even if Eric's example couldn't see Donnie or Norman safely through, Stephon is on course. He made his college boards, didn't he? And he won a public school city title with Lincoln, a first for a Marbury. Did it wearing that number 3 on his back.

"Eric picked that number out," Stephon says. "Says it's for a third eye or something. I don't know what that means. I gotta ask him that."

Ask Eric, and he won't tell you. "Stephon will see what it means" is all he says.

In The Last Shot, Darcy Frey's 1994 book chronicling basketball in Coney Island , Don Sr. is depicted as a cackling opportunist trying to shake down Frey for cash in exchange for the Marbury family story. Stephon is not much more flatteringly portrayed. He angles for meals and rides, boasts of putting himself up for bid to warring New York City AAU teams, and names the make of car he'll get from the college of his choice. With withering understatement, Frey calls Stephon, then a ninth-grader, someone with "an attitude that needs some adjustment."

The Marburys despise the book. "It tries to make my family look like a bunch of niggers trying to get out of the ghetto and not anything else," Stephon says. But it's a portrait that, rightly or wrongly, has taken hold. Adidas powerbroker Sonny Vaccaro has persuaded the Marburys that with another year or two of forbearance their payoff will come and that a more developed sense of public relations is called for in the meantime.

Lou D'Almeida (SI, Nov. 6, 1995), to whose Gauchos AAU team Stephon ultimately became loyal, keeps him flush with pocket money, in apparent accordance with NCAA rules, while the Marbury patriarch, who over the years had picked up a reputation among recruiters as someone unafraid to assert his prerogatives, is gracious and charming with the press. He'll discourse on Nixon , jazz and New York City politics, and cry honest tears in his living room while recounting the sweep of his and his five boys' lives. "We have a working agreement, my wife and I," says Don Sr., whose progeny have earned him the nickname the Creator in the neighborhood. "If there's something positive, that's hers. If there's something difficult—a problem—I take care of it."

Stephon had verbally committed to Tech last January but had failed to return his letter of intent well into the April signing period. Early that month Jerry Tarkanian happened to take over as coach at Fresno State . Reports indicated that Tark, in discussions with the Marburys, employed the perfectly permissible recruiting tactic of dangling an offer of an assistant coaching job to someone close to his quarry—in this case, brother Donnie. As word of these negotiations filtered out, Cremins couldn't get his prospective signee on the phone. Panicked, he flew to New York . Stephon then reassured the coach he would sign with Tech and on April 28 did. "Why don't people believe a kid's word?" Stephon says now. "I don't even know where Fresno is."

Last year D'Almeida gave Stephon a used Acura—because "he deserves it," D'Almeida has said—but after the arrangement hit the papers over the summer, Marbury gave up the car amid fears that his eligibility had been compromised. (The Suzuki that Marbury drove to Hasan's belongs to Tech teammate Maddox.) "I'm doing without some things that are essential to me," Marbury says. "It's hard without a car here. But I'm doing without one."

A lightbulb seems to appear over his head. "It's good for me not to have a car," he says. "I have no choice but to watch film. Just makes me watch film a little bit more."

That the Marbury men are thick with one another is common knowledge throughout Brooklyn . "Stephon looks up to his little brother," says Tech freshman guard Gary Saunders, a Gaucho teammate. It's the Marbury women few know about. "The father will charm you one minute, then go off on a tirade the next," says someone close to the family. "Give him $1,000 and he'll want $5,000. But Stephon and his mother and sisters, that's a beautiful story. The innocence is there."

The Marbury women—Mabel and her 30-year-old twin daughters, Marcia, an education reporter with KFDM-TV in Beaumont , Texas , and Stephanie, a special-ed teacher's aide in Brooklyn—account for Stephon's soft side. Stephanie in particular deserves credit. She was 12 when her little brother was born. Name him after me, Stephanie pleaded, and I'll care for him—feed him, wash him, dress him, scold him.

Within a few years Stephanie, already large for her age, was regularly taken to be Stephon's mother. After Stephon fell off a bike, she dressed the gash that's now a scar on his right leg. When Stephon lost the city championship game as a junior, it was Stephanie who consoled her sobbing brother, wrapping him up in her arms at midcourt. When he wanted to go to Georgia Tech and the Marbury men stood solidly for Syracuse , she dried his tears and told him, "If you really want to go there, go there." In the second half of the Kentucky game last month, bench-ridden with a bloody nose, Stephon sneezed and more blood gushed forth. Rushing from her seat behind the bench, Stephanie tended to her brother, draping herself over his shoulders. There was no question that Stephon's daughter, whom he calls "the light of my eyes" and who was born last March to his girlfriend, Nicole Thompson, would be named Stephanie.

"We are the stabilizers," Stephanie says of the Marbury women. Then she adds, "Whether we have a house on the hill or in the projects, whether we go to the NBA or not, this is already a success story."

Still, every Marbury stands vigil, each in his or her own way: Stephanie, calling Stephon's dorm room every day; Marcia, monitoring the news wires and TV feeds at the station in Beaumont ; Mama, playing the good cop, Papa, the bad; Dog and Pup and Jou-Jou, watching with their third eye. And Zack, taking notes, just in case the dream must be deferred one more time—passed on down to the last in the line.

It's rare that Stephon's parents and six siblings can all gather to watch him play, but when Georgia Tech takes on UMass in the Meadowlands just before Christmas, the family has a chance to sound its urgency in chorus. Tech is struggling against a team soon to be ranked No. 1 in the nation, and Stephon is on his way to a 7-for-20 night.

"Shoot that, Steph! This is where you take over, Steph!" It's Eric, in the second row, bellowing at his brother as the Minute-men push their lead into double digits. To reach Stephon, Eric's exhortations must wash dissonantly over the coaches and players on the Georgia Tech bench.

Stephon shoots from the outside and misses.

There's a whoop as Stephon makes a steal and scores. "What I tell you?" It's Donnie now, right behind Eric. "The steal! I know my little brother!"

But soon the Jackets' 75-67 defeat is certain. The Marbury men caucus. "Drew," says Don Sr., "he don't pass the ball to Stephon!"

Caught between Surf and Mermaid, between the pounding of reality and an abiding, alluring fantasy, Coney Island 's Original Not-Quite-Famous Marburys shout as they hold their breath.


Making Their Points: Teams are hungry for a new kind of point guard who can be counted on to score as well as run the offense



NEXT THURSDAY'S draft is loaded with paradoxes. It's deep in talent but full of players short in stature. It's top-heavy with potential point guards who are largely unschooled at the position. And for those lucky teams picking from Nos. 3 through 10, the choices are damnably difficult because there is so little to differentiate one prospect from another. "I have no doubt that whoever we pick will be a good player," says Knicks president Donnie Walsh, whose team will choose sixth. "The hardest thing is knowing [whom] to pick, because it's going to be hard to say this guy's better for my team than that guy."

Much of the uncertainty stems from the draft pool's wealth of combo guards, a term traditionally applied to backcourt scorers who are too short to be shooting guards and too selfish to run the point. But that altogether negative view is passé in the modern NBA, where long-established roles have merged to the extent that pure point guards such as the Suns' Steve Nash, the Hornets' Chris Paul and the Jazz's Deron Williams routinely lead their teams in scoring. "I'm looking for a player who doesn't necessarily have to be a point guard but is somebody who can pull the team together," says Walsh. "All of the guys we're talking about in the draft will be able to do that. When you throw them the ball, they're not necessarily looking for their own play."

The Chosen Ones

That's not the strongest endorsement of their future as floor leaders, but it's a start. The combo candidates who are viewed to varying extents as potential point guards are 6'3 1/2" Russell Westbrook (UCLA), 6'4" O.J. Mayo (USC), 6'3" Jerryd Bayless (Arizona) and 6'3" Eric Gordon (Indiana). All are expected to be taken soon after the Bulls use the No. 1 pick on 6'2 1/2" Derrick Rose of Memphis—the only pure point assured of going in the lottery—making this the deepest backcourt draft since Dwyane Wade, Kirk Hinrich and T.J. Ford were among five guards who went in the first 14 picks in 2003.

Of this year's combo foursome, one is best equipped to run an NBA team from Day One. "O.J. Mayo can be a true point," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a former point guard himself. "I watched him play a couple of years ago, and I thought he was off-the-charts phenomenal." While Mayo's age (at 20 he is the eldest of the quartet), athleticism (a startling 41-inch vertical) and instinct for scoring (he ranked second in the Pac-10 at 20.7 points per game) make him an instant Rookie of the Year candidate, his reputation dating back to high school as a high-maintenance star may dissuade some teams from investing in him. A number of NBA scouts view Bayless and Gordon as lesser character risks with greater upsides, though each has to improve enormously to match Mayo's current abilities as a scorer, playmaker and defender.

The wild card is Westbrook, who has been rising up teams' draft boards. While each of his fellow combos, all freshmen, led his respective club in scoring this past season with at least 19.7 points per game, Westbrook, a 19-year-old sophomore, averaged just 12.7 points. He made his impact in other ways: Though he spent most of the year at shooting guard, Westbrook nonetheless led UCLA with 4.3 assists per game as the Bruins advanced to the Final Four. (UCLA opened the season 7--0 while Westbrook ran the point for the injured Darren Collison.) He used his explosive athleticism and impressive 6'7 3/4" wingspan to become the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year; in head-to-head matchups he squelched the production of Mayo and Davidson's Stephen Curry, who called Westbrook the toughest defender he faced during the season. And Westbrook further affirmed his team-first approach by accepting a brief midseason demotion to the bench as coach Ben Howland worked junior power forward Alfred Aboya into the starting lineup.

Coming on Strong

Westbrook is a late bloomer who didn't dunk until midway through his senior year of high school. As a 5'10" point guard at Leuzinger High in Lawndale, Calif., he was being recruited by the likes of Creighton, Kent State and Wyoming before he grew five inches entering his senior year. His coach shifted him to shooting guard, he made third-team all-state, and he signed with nearby UCLA, where he played just 325 minutes as a freshman. Westbrook decided to enter the draft as a sophomore based on initial speculation that he would be a mid-first-round pick—"from the late lottery to maybe 20," he says. "I don't know what happened next."

What happened was a profitable merger of supply and demand. At least half of the teams in the lottery are seeking a long-term solution at point guard, and their executives have spent the last month connecting the dots of Westbrook's potential. Scouts now rate Westbrook as a more likely point guard candidate than Gordon or Bayless, who are natural scorers, and some observers have him going in the top 10.

As terrific as Westbrook is in the open floor, he must still improve his ball handling and decision making in the half-court. But the team that drafts him will be gambling wisely on his winning demeanor, which he traces back to scoldings from his father, Russell Westbrook Jr., that began after he threw tantrums on the football field as a nine-year-old. "I would get mad at anything—I was mad all the time," says Westbrook. "He used to tell me, 'This attitude you have is not going to get you nowhere in life.' So I cut that out in middle school." That's also when his father persuaded him to begin running the steep sand dunes at Manhattan Beach to build up his legs—the start of a work ethic that foretells continued improvement by Westbrook as a pro.

A Backcourt Evolution

It will help Westbrook and his fellow combos that the responsibilities of an NBA point guard aren't necessarily as complicated as they used to be. "The wing positions have changed and in turn that's changed the point guard position," says an Eastern Conference team president, referring to new-school creators such as Wade, LeBron James, Joe Johnson and Tracy McGrady, all of whom led their teams in assists this season. "Your point guard doesn't have to be the only playmaker on the floor. Guards who aren't thought of as typical point guards can be successful now because they aren't called upon to create shots for the other four guys the way they used to be."

"How hard is it to be a point guard in the league?" asks another Eastern executive. "Nobody's picking up and pressuring you. You advance the ball uncontested to half-court, make a couple of dribbles, pass the ball and cut—and now you're into the motion offense. Today fewer teams are setting up each time and calling a play, because we're getting to be more and more like European teams."
As much as any coach might prefer to have a quarterback like Paul or Williams, the fact is that recent championship teams dating back to the Bulls' dynasty—with the exception of the Spurs (with Tony Parker) and the Pistons (Chauncey Billups)—have excelled without an elite point guard. "A lot of point guards in the NBA were scorers in college who are now bringing the ball up," says Walsh. "They're not able to make plays that Magic Johnson made, but they can find the open man and in the pick-and-roll they'll hit the right guy. All of the guys we're talking about in the draft will be able to do that."

The teams that pick them will be counting on it.

Can This Marriage Be Saved? An article of egos

Here's an article by Steve Rushin for SI from November of 2003 on the shaq & kobe rift that tore apart a great collection of talent.

Kobe thinks he wears the pants in the family, Shaq thinks that he does. Kobe complains that Shaq doesn't call, Shaq complains that Kobe's aloof. Kobe threatens to walk out on Shaq , Shaq tells him to go right ahead. And so Kobe says, in a moment of cruelty, that Shaq 's butt has gotten big. Sound familiar? "It sounds like a marriage," says Dr. Joyce Brothers. When Shaq says Kobe hogs the ball, he might as well be talking about the covers.

What Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant really need, if the Los Angeles Lakers are to win another title (page 66), isn't the Mailman. It's Dr. J. Says Dr. Joyce, "Some people are incompatible, and the best thing for them to do is divorce. But a really good coach might be able to stop this squabbling." Good coach? They need a good marriage counselor. The Lakers are way beyond Coach Phil and now require Dr. Phil , who likes to say, "Competing can quickly turn a relationship into an ugly battle of one-upmanship. How can you possibly be a winner if it is at the expense of making the person you supposedly love a loser?"

This couple keeps playing "He Said, He Said," Shaq insisting he's the Man, Kobe suggesting that he's the Man. "Constant one-upping can be a real issue in all relationships," says Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, a psychologist and couples counselor based in New York City . "It goes on with parents and children, with office workers. The Lakers need to understand that each person is a Man, working toward a common purpose. And when that happens—when a team is like five fingers on a hand—they will be unstoppable."

But Shaq says Kobe is selfish, and Kobe says Shaq is childish. "Therapists call this displacement," says Audrey B. Chapman, a family therapist in Washington, D.C. , where she hosts a radio show aimed at African-American listeners. "We displace our anger, frustration and fear onto something else." Like the uncapped toothpaste. Or the seat left up. Or the missed first day of training camp in Hawaii .

"I think O'Neal is angry and frustrated with the amount of attention Kobe has gotten lately [for his upcoming rape trial]," says Chapman. "And while it's negative attention, it still takes away from O'Neal , who is handling it by getting personal. Character assassination. You see that a lot with couples that are competitive."

When it comes to basketball, Dr. Joyce is not Dr. Jack Ramsay . ("Now, was Shaq also the coach of the Lakers ?" she asks me.) However, she does know human nature. "Both Shaq and Kobe are used to being the moon and the sun and the stars," she says, in her soothing purr of a voice that's familiar to audiences from 50 years of American television. "Kobe is getting an enormous amount of publicity at the moment—not all of it good, granted—and Shaq is used to having that. Now, he has to compete for it."

Indeed, Kobe agrees that Shaq is jealous. ( Shaq says Kobe is.) Kobe says Shaq exaggerates his own injuries. ( Shaq says Kobe won't play hurt.) The question is, Can this marriage be saved? "These two guys are not relationship-savvy enough to stop the cycle," says Ellen Sue Stern, author of Loving an Imperfect Man and He Just Doesn't Get It. "This sounds to me like, 'My d—- is bigger than your d—-.' "

Not literally, mind you. At least not yet. But few would be surprised if it came to that. Says Chapman, "When you have two massive egos like this, each would rather have his own arm chopped off than submit to the other." That, too, could happen this season.

For now, Kobe has told Shaq he'll walk out on the Lakers after this season. "When that threat is in the air in a marriage, it's very dangerous, because it creates an insecurity," says Shoshanna, author of, appropriately enough, Why Men Leave. "Issues of abandonment are stirred up. It says to the partner, 'I can't count on this person, this person's not really there for me.' It's not a good note to strike, in a relationship or on a sports team."

So what can be done? "I would say the same to Shaq and Kobe as I'd say to Arafat and Sharon or any other alpha males who have a hard time dealing with these things," says Stern. "I'd say, 'What doesn't get better does get worse. Would you rather be right or make things right?' "

Alas, these alpha males keep rising to the bait of us zeta males in the media. We're toxic friends, driving wedges between Shaq and Kobe. Instead of listening to Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus author John Gray ("Forgiveness is power"), they listen to reporter Jim Gray (" Shaq says that you have not been a team player, [Kobe]. Is he right?").

And so the unholy union of O'Neal and Bryant might be worse than a bad marriage, as I learned the other morning, when my phone rang at home. "This is Dr. Joyce Brothers. I thought of one other thing," she said. "At least when two people are feuding in a marriage, they get to have make-up sex."

Sigh. This could be a very long winter in Los Angeles .