In Friday morning’s assessment of the recent Springfield-Maine trade that sent Morris Almond and TJ Cummings to the Red Claws, I promised I would update my reporting on the deal (if not my analysis of it) if I were able to speak with Springfield Head Coach and Director of Basketball Operations Dee Brown. Brown and I chatted this weekend, and he shed some light on the impetus for the move on the Armor side.
The primary goals in Springfield: obtaining chemistry and defense.
“Nothing against Morris or TJ, it really came down to just trying to get better team chemistry,” Brown said. “The record that we have, having the leading scorer looks good on paper, but I thought we were missing something as a team. From the overall standpoint, we’re just a bad defensive team. We need to become a better defensive team. We wanted the identity of our basketball team to be more than trying to outscore people. You look at a lot of losses, those came on the defensive end, not on the offensive end. We had enough points to win late in the game, but we couldn’t make stops.”
I count myself among the world’s foremost believers in steering clear of players who can’t behave or cause off-court distractions. I’m aware that basketball is a game in which the whole of a team can be worth more or less than the sum of its individual statistical parts, and I’m aware that I’m not sitting in the locker room or going to practice every day in Springfield.
That said, neither Almond nor Cummings has been publicly labeled any sort of in-house distraction. As far as the issue of chemistry goes otherwise, that has been a chicken-or-the-egg question among scribes for quite some time: Do teams with better chemistry tend to win more, or do teams that win basketball games tend to have better chemistry?
Attempting to become a better defensive team will have more tangible results, and some time will need to pass before a fair evaluation can be made on that front. Teams with new personnel need time to jell. Just as it would be premature to suggest the Armor won’t be missing Almond offensively after posting 123 points in Friday night’s game against Reno, it would be too quick to posit that the trade won’t improve the defense because the team gave up 124 that same night. At an absolute minimum, it will be a few weeks before we can offer a reasonable assessment on this end. In terms of changes the trade will cause at the offensive end, Brown referred to a conversation we had earlier in the season when he played starting point guard JamesOn Curry alongside then-backup Chris Lowe (who has since departed for Maine). At the time, Brown stressed that he wanted to get Curry playing in more off-the-ball situations so that he could put added focus on being a finisher at certain times. This move will open more similar situations for Curry to moonlight at the two going forward.
“Having Morris in that position kind of limited us, things we could do at the offensive end,” Brown said. “It stagnated the offense a bit. Going into the second half of the season, we had to make a drastic change on our roster.”
I asked Brown straight-up if he turned to the trade market looking to move Morris Almond.
“I didn’t go out there saying ‘Hey, who wants Morris Almond?’ But when you have commodities, people are going to ask about them,” Brown said. “I think Morris is a dominant scorer, TJ is a very good rebounder and post player, but we had to make a little difference in our team. It’s tough to make that decision, but when you have that kind of record, you’ve got to make tough decisions.”
By the end of our conversation, we had circled back to the chemistry issue once more with an interesting semi-revelation from Brown: He felt the team quit on itself (himself included) in its final game before the All-Star break, a dreadful 31-point loss against Austin, and he was glad to see a contrast in the loss to Reno on Friday.
“I feel we had better effort, we had guys on the court that really cared about winning the game,” Brown said. “I’m not saying that Morris and TJ didn’t care about winning, but I think we had a little passion out there [Friday night] that they didn’t want to lose. Everybody wants to win, but we have more guys [now] who refuse to lose. Losing was not an option, and they got upset about it.”
Take from that what you will. Brown kept things largely politically correct about his former players, but with just the smallest bit of reading through the lines there (a practice in which I’m not generally apt to engage), it’s tempting to wonder if the coach was getting the all-around effort level he wanted from one or both of the two departed members of the Armor.
My assessment of the trade remains unchanged as in spite of Friday’s 123-point performance, I still question whether the defensive upgrades will be significant enough to offset the losses of Almond and Cummings at the other end of the floor.
But just as I told Dee Brown, I hope his team’s performance going forward proves me wrong.