Magic, Nash and Some Blog Talk

Kurt —  February 14, 2007

There is so much great and interesting stuff put out in the basketball blogsphere the last couple days that to just talk about Lakers’ lack of focus on defense last night seems masochistic. So today bask in the sunshine, the darkness may creep back in tomorrow.

Let’s start with friend-of-this-site Nate Jones of Jones on the NBA, who takes a look back at Magic Johnson’s 1996 comeback (read the entire thing, this is just an excerpt).

Magic would return to the Lakers as a 6th man on January 30, 1996 against the Golden State Warriors. After not playing in an NBA regular season game for almost five years, Johnson came back and had a tremendous impact on the team. The Lakers planned to use Magic as a back up power forward/6th man for the young Laker squad. In his first game back he played 27 minutes, scored 19 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists. He would have his down points (such as the drubbing he and his young teammates took at the hands of the mighty 72 win Chicago Bulls), but for the most part had the Lakers rolling.

They were 13-5 in his first 18 games back with the team when the jealousy of the younger players started to set in. Cedric Ceballos, an All-Star the year before, became upset that he had to give up some of his minutes to Magic and decided to take out his frustrations partying on a lake in Arizona. Despite the Lakers victory against the Western Conference leading Seattle Sonics, Ceballos bailed on the team, upset that he only played 12 minutes and scored 2 points while Magic played 34 minutes, had 14 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds. With Ceballos missing and controversy hanging over the team’s head, the Lakers would end up losing their game two nights later (against Seattle again). Ceballos would join the team again in Orlando (where they upset them at home…a big deal considering Orlando was undefeated at home up until that point), but the team was never the same. Guys like Nick Van Exel started to join Ceballos in their jealousy of Johnson. The team was winning, yet the young guys were too worried about their minutes and who the leader of the team was to enjoy it. The Lakers got through the regular season going 22-10 during Magic’s return. But by the time the playoffs rolled around the fight over team leadership had torn the team apart. Despite having home court advantage in the first round, the Lakers would eventually lose to the defending champion Houston Rockets in four games. Realizing that he wasn’t cut out for playing with young players Magic left the Lakers for good.

I was at that Golden State game and it is one of my fondest memories as a Laker fan. The building was electric, like a playoff game but one you just knew was going to go well. I remember Magic setting up in the low post then making brilliant passes out of it that left Golden State looking like a YMCA pickup game team on defense. It was, well, magical. And thanks to Nate for bringing up those fun times.

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Kevin Pelton has put up a story talking about just what Nash — and his absence the last few games — means to the Suns.

Over the last two-plus seasons, Nash’s primary backup has been Barbosa. Barbosa has matured into an explosive scorer with lightning quickness, but he is no Nash, particularly when it comes to distributing the basketball.

Phoenix’s ability to play without Nash can be evaluated by Nash’s net plus-minus rating over the last three seasons – the difference, measured per 100 possessions, in Phoenix’s play relative to opponents. As the table at right shows, the Suns have become more dependent on Nash this season. Only two players in the league (Washington’s Gilbert Arenas and Dallas’ Devin Harris) have higher differentials. Most of the difference, predictably, is on offense: Phoenix’s Offensive Rating drops from 119.6 with Nash to 105.4 without him.

What’s interesting is that Nash missing games, and the struggles the Suns had in his absence, two years ago helped him to the first MVP trophy. That could happen again, which I will add I think is grossly unfair — you are punishing Dirk for not getting hurt (or Kobe or Wade or whomever). Long way to go in the MVP race, but this will be interesting.

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The biggest news in the NBA blogsphere, which many of you already know about, is that the amazing True Hoop is now part of ESPN.com’s empire. I can tell you this has bloggers buzzing.

I think it’s fantastic — both for Henry and the multitudes of NBA fans who didn’t know what they were missing. His is the best basketball blog out there, leading the field like Secretariat at the Belmont. He deserved to get paid (and get paid, well, one could hope). Also, credit is due to Royce Webb (I assume he pushed for this) at ESPN.com for pulling together a bunch of diverse basketball voices at his corner of the Web. You may not love Hollinger or Stein or Ford, but what you get at the site is not the same old talking heads saying the same old stuff. They get it; there is a diversity of voices.

True Hoop’s move has a lot of bloggers wondering what the next step is for the NBA blogsphere in general, and how they can get paid (at least something) in particular. And I’m really a guy without good answers to those questions. I think I’m just starting to get my head around the niche of blogging about the NBA (and in my case an NBA team) fits into the larger blog and online media as a whole. I’m behind on that learning curve. I’ve tried to broaden out doing more mainstream-style blogging at LAist — I don’t really question my ability to write well enough for a more mainstream audience, but to do that well without dumbing down the content is another matter. I think I’m getting better at it. I hope I can take better advantage of future opportunities that roll my way.

But here’s the bottom line — I started FB&G with no expectations. No expectations of readers, certainly no expectations of income. What this has grown into (a community of smart, thoughtful and passionate basketball and Laker fans who can have civilized discussions) is beyond what I dreamed. And I guess what that means is this — I’m not changing the style here. There are professional bloggers doing Laker blogs that are fun and a more mainstream. If I’m going to get paid for this site, well I guess the mountain will have to come to Mohamed (so to speak). Because I like it here.

Kurt

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