By all accounts, no coach in the league will outwork Eric Musselman. Part of the prestige of Musselman's figure is that he's an absolute gym rat, a guy who would rather break down tape and pore over box scores than engage in any sort of recreation. To Musselman, breaking down tape and poring over box scores is recreation.
Yet Musselman gets hammered by all corners. Us fans, we hammer him. Joe Maloof, hammers him for not winning the close ones. Ron Artest hammers him for paying too much attention to numbers. Other players, like Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim in the New York Times, hammer him for being too intense. Pundits near and far, in newspapers and on television, in bars and on blogs - everyone blames Musselman.
Color me joyful, then, to see Musselman fight back with some daggers of his own:
The fatigue games, you've got to somehow find a way to win them. And we haven't done that this year, so it's my fault. Maybe we need to be in a little bit better condition to win these types of games."
Make no mistake - Musselman's no dummy and he's not gracefully asking for the stones. He's taking all that blame we all keep pressing down on his midget shoulders, after every blown lead and close loss and disappointing night, and he's relishing the opportunity to make us look like fools.
Because we are fools if we blame the Kings' rebounding troubles on him. Let's see: Brad Miller (a poor rebounder, wholly unathletic, aging), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (a poor rebounder, not particularly athletic, aging) and Kenny Thomas (undersized, uncoordinated, sucky) are his frontcourt pieces. Mike Bibby is a poor rebounder for his position, and always has been. Kevin Martin is an average rebounder for his position. Ron Artest has rebounded better this year than ever before. Yet, the Kings cannot rebound the ball. They are #28 in offensive rebounding and #16 in defensive rebounding. Yes, this is definitely Musselman's fault. He should definitely be able to take these undersized, unathletic, and/or sucky frontcourt players and make them rebound, dammit!
On the close games: Some of you (not you fine readers particularly, more 'the world at large') may consider this heretical, but studies have shown close games in basketball are essentially won and lost at random. John Hollinger of ESPN.com has the best summary of this idea. The truth is: The Kings are about an average team with a below-average record. Their expected winning percentage based on scoring margin is .479, which would have them in the playoffs as the 8th-seed. Actually, their scoring margin suggests they are the 12th best team in the league.
Yet, the close losses matter in the real world. The Kings have an 8-11 record in games decided by five points or fewer, and famously 0-5 in overtime games. Essentially, Joe Maloof is asking Eric Musselman to get a rabbit's foot or a leprechaun or a damn four-leaf clover or something, and turn some of those tight losses into tight wins. It doesn't work like that.
Despite all these sneering missiles fired at Musselman, the coach hasn't exploded. He isn't even dealing with a full deck - Star Player #1 could pull himself out of the starting lineup any given night, and reportedly decides when he should come in and out of the game. Star Player #2 admits to not listening to Musselman during crucial timeouts at the end of games because Star Player #2 knows how to play ball.
Yes, it is all Musselman's fault. Yeah. Uh huh.