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Too many coaches, or not enough?

I'm not one of those people embarrassed to tell you that I don't have all the answers. Let me give you just a few examples.

I've been to hundreds and hundreds of NBA games. Thousands and thousands, probably. But I'm still befuddled by something I'm seeing these days prior to games.

In early warm-ups, before much of the crowd is in the building, players are on the court working out with assistant coaches. In some cases, as many as four assistant coaches combine with three or four ballboys and a few players. During this time, players work endlessly on post moves, jump shots, footwork Ñ all sorts of things, with the coaches and their helpers feeding them basketballs in a rapid-fire manner. This sort of thing happens on a daily basis throughout much of the year.

In some instances, it's kind of funny to watch. You'll see a 60-year-old assistant coach out there rushing at a shooter with his arms up as if he's going to block his shot. Over and over. A balding, pint-sized guy with glasses who probably blocked his last shot in 1953. These coaches, by the way, are usually dressed in gray shirts, which tend to more easily show evidence of sweat than any other color, evidence to higher-ups of how hard these men are working.

A few years ago, the coaching fraternity convinced ownership you need several of these 'developmental' assistant coaches because so many players are coming into the league without significant time in a college program. So, now it's an arms race, as teams race to sign as many coaches as possible. By the way, they earn six-figure salaries for either shagging missed shots, passing guys the ball, or running at them as if to threaten their shot.

Actually, I understand all this. Coaches have a natural instinct, like rabbits, to multiply. If left alone, they will do that.

What I don't understand is why, with all these coaches bumping into one another, are we still bemoaning the lack of fundamentals in the NBA? Why, still, are there no pure shooters? Heck, these players get more individual coaching in one NBA season than they'd get in four years of college, where the NCAA is now severely hindering practice time.

Either these people aren't very good coaches or the players are very, very slow learners. I'm mystified by it all.

I'm also at a loss to explain what's going on in Portland, where the Trail Blazers coast rudderless through another season. Am I the only person in the Rose Garden who sees that the Blazers aren't playing hard? That they aren't well-organized? Am I the only person who wonders why, in all these years of on-the-job training, Maurice Cheeks still doesn't seem to have a clue what he's doing?

Now we're hearing that he's turning into something of a disciplinarian. Puh-lease. He is anything but that and his team reflects the lack of discipline just about every night. And the lineup Ñ what's that all about? He's playing Nick Van Exel, who appears to have almost nothing left in his legs, ahead of Damon Stoudamire? He's not using Sebastian Telfair on a regular basis? This kid is not only talented, he's the most fun player on the team to watch Ñ a legitimate gate attraction.

And Shareef Abdur-Rahim, arguably the team's best player during the first half of the season, loses his starting job due to an injury, when Cheeks has always said that doesn't happen?

I understand the Blazers' reluctance to make a coaching change in the middle of a season and I would usually agree. But this is a special case. Houston and Utah are struggling and, in spite of how lost the Blazers are, it appears they'll be in the hunt for a playoff spot all season. They'll be close enough, in fact, that a coaching change might be enough to get them over the top.

Oh well, some things I guess I'm not meant to understand. A coaching change last year would have gotten them into the playoffs, too. But it didn't happen.

I'm not ashamed to say that I just don't understand.

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