Archives For September 2010

In Praise Of Team USA

Darius Soriano —  September 13, 2010

ISTANBUL, TYRKEY. SEPTEMBER 13, 2010. USA's Chauncey Billups and Lamar Odom (L-R front) hold up the trophy as the US team celebrate their 81-64 victory over Turkey in the final of the 2010 FIBA World Championship at Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Dome. (Photo ITAR-TASS/ Roman Kruchinin) Photo via Newscom

Yesterday, Team USA did what many thought they could or would not do – they won the FIBA World Championships Tournament and cemented their status as the best basketball playing nation on the planet.  The American team defeated host nation Turkey 81-64 and cruised to the title by playing the type of pressure team defense and Kevin Durant fueled offense that carried them the entire tournament.  A hearty congratulations to the U.S. team.

This is a team that earned our respect for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost is the fact that many actually picked a different nation to claim this title.  With the U.S. not returning a single player from the 2008 Olympic gold medal team, many saw a young, inexperienced team, that lacked size and leadership.  Many labled them the B-team.  But, as Kevin Durant tweeted after the game: “B-team huh?? Haaaaa we got it done…US, seat pleasant, dc, oklahoma city…we did it for yall..GOLD MEDALIST”. 

Secondly, they played a brand of team basketball that many were unsure they could actually play.  Guys that many may see as second (or even third) tiered players that are asked to carry their NBA teams on most nights, abandoned any selfishness and contributed to wins by playing to their individual strengths that can sometimes be dormant when they put on their NBA jerseys for their respective teams stateside.  I mean, watching Andre Iguodala become a defensive and rebounding force while eschewing taking shots for the betterment of the team? Rudy Gay doing the same?  Eric Gordon hustling on defense to the point that he caused shot clock violations almost single handed?  Sure these players have shown in flashes that they are capable of playing this way, but to show a nearly complete committment to playing the role(s) that the coaches envisioned for them on a nightly basis was a great treat.  The fact that their perseverance was rewarded with the ultimate payoff only reinforces what the U.S. is capable of doing in international competition – regardless of the make up of the roster.

Below are a few notes on some of the players with some random thoughts gleaned from the gold medal game and the tournament as a whole:

*Kevin Durant is a monster.  I suppose you could say that we knew this already and that this is no revelation.  However, his performances in the elimination portion of the tournament were exceptional.  Not only was his scoring fantastic (99 points combines in the final 3 games) but his defense and rebounding were top shelf too.  Plus, his ability to raise his game in the big moments was just fantastic.  It seemed like any time the U.S. needed a big bucket, Durant was there to put the ball through the hoop.  Whether by driving to the hole, showing off his impressive handle and mid range game, or by bombing away from long distance, Durant continued to prove he’s as dynamic an offensive player we have in the world while also showing a great understanding of “the moment”.  Some players that show that they’re the former never quite prove to be the latter, but Durant is both.  What a talent.

*As far as explosive guards go, I don’t know if there is one better than Russell Westbrook right now.  Sure, there are more complete PG’s (Paul and Williams immediately come to mind) and there are better floor generals (Nash, Rondo) but Russell is the type of guard that can get you out of your chair in an instant.  His quickness, strength, and athleticism combination is unmatched (even by Derek Rose) by any other point guard and measuring these traits for a “pound for pound” argument, I would say he’s right up there with some of the best athletes in the entire league (yes, even Lebron, Wade, and Howard).  And sure his jumper needs some work and he can be a bit out of control at times, but focusing on the things he struggles with means you’re missing the point with this player.  Westbrook is just a fantastic young player that will only continue to grow and get better.  The sky is the limit for him.  (On a side note, you notice the first two players I’ve mentioned play for the Thunder? Yikes.)

*I already mentioned Iguodala, but he deserves even more praise.  His rebounding and defense were top notch the entire tournament and the self-less way he played deserves recognition.  And while his size and physique (you saw his Karl Malone arms, right?) sometimes had him miscast as a defensive stopper against some of the smaller, quicker guards in this tourney, his overall play on that side of the floor was stellar.  Add that to the fact that he willingly moved the ball and really only looked for his shot in transition situations and off hard penetration showed me that he’s also extremely coach-able and understanding of what winning basketball is.  I know when he goes back to Philly they’ll ask him to be the do it all scorer/playmaker for his team, but I shudder to think of what he could be playing next to an elite scorer like Durant where all you asked him to do defend, rebound, and slash off the ball.

*Quietly, Lamar Odom did exactly what he was asked to do and did it well, overall, for this U.S. team.  Yes he showed that his inconsistencies can be as great as his talent level, but in the end he battled hard in the medal round and once again proved his worth to a winning team.  The man just does all the little things well and it was very nice to see him step up in the second half of the gold medal game to help turn a semi-contested game into a contest that wasn’t that close down the stretch.  Whether it was rebounding, bodying up bigger offensive players, starting the American’s fast break with pin point outlet passes, or slashing into the open space for either finishes or to make the extra pass on offense, the man filled a bunch of roles for this team and deserves his credit as a World Champion twice over (FIBA and NBA) in the same year. 

*On a not so positive note, I was not that impressed with Chauncey Billups in this tournament.  While he showed good presence as a floor general by aligning his teammates in the half court offense, he also often broke off too many possessions to fire up long range jumpers early in the shot clock.  I know that Billups has long been a fan of the “dagger” three pointer that can salt away the hopes of the opponent, but in the last few games I thought he went for these shots too often and did so in situations where it was not required.  I thought his defense was good, but that it wasn’t to the level of Westbrook and Gordon. 

*Lastly, on a confused note, I’m not sure why Kevin Love didn’t play more.  Without a representative (be it Coach K or anyone else) commenting on it, I would assume it had to do with the want to always have the most athletic team on the floor at all times that saw Love’s minutes decrease.  But, for a guy that rebounds and passes very well while also having some range on his jumper to only see one minute of game time in the gold medal game?  I just don’t get it.  When Turkey was really giving the U.S. fits in the first half with their zone defense, I really thought a Love/Odom front court with Durant, Westbrook, and either Billups or Gordon would have been a great line up to try out.  But alas, Coach K kept the T’Wolves’ big man glued to the bench.

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204247 Boston Celtics player Rajon Rondo brings the ball down court against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of game six of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 15 June 2010. The series is tied 3-3 for the best of seven games.

This morning, we have a special edition of our morning links. Jeff Clark from Celtics Blog has organized 76 different NBA blogs to participate in an NBA preview. Today, the Celtics are being previewed, and we’ll continue with the rest of the Atlantic Division for the rest of this week. This is a great idea for us to check out how the other teams around the league will be looking heading into the 2010-2011 season. This post will be updated throughout the day as other Celtics bloggers post their previews.

From Jeff Clark, Celtics Blog: What are the team’s biggest strengths? Defense, defense, defense.  Granted, the team lost their defensive guru in Tom Thibodeau and they will be missing Kendrick Perkins for half a year (at least), and of course everyone on the team got a year older.  Oh yeah, and we added the world’s worst pick and roll defender who happens to be 38.  But with all that said, the team is going to be better defensibly than about 85 to 90 percent of the league. Continuity helps.  These guys know each other and they bought into the system long ago.  In fact, as Nate found out, unless you buy into the system, you don’t play.  Simple as that. A mostly healthy Kevin Garnett should help matters even more (knock on wood).  Jermaine O’Neal won’t be too much of a drop off from Perkins and Rondo has become one of the best defending guards in the league.  Ray is surprisingly good at what he does and Paul Pierce really doesn’t get enough credit for the work he does on that side of the ball.  Overall, this team is still capable of locking down an opponent for long stretches and mostly taking away the other team’s strengths.

From Jamie Canu, Celtics 24/7: What Significant Moves were made during the off-season? Alot of people question the Shaq signing, or just plain out minimize it. With Boston’s already solid defense Shaq will just be the icing on the cake. Like Perk, Shaq moves like a stalled tugboat. The range of KG in the post will close Shaq more into the paint and significantly zero in on his basket responsibility. Cleveland never had the personnel to utilize Shaq’s interior presence. Mark my words, he will dominate the hell out of ground zero this season.

From Celtics Life: What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? The biggest weakness at this point seems to be at the small forward position behind Paul Pierce.   Marquis Daniels was resigned to back up Pierce at the 3 but Daniels has been oft injured and should he be out for any length of time or if he once again finds himself in Doc’s doghouse, the Celtics are very thin behind him.  The Celtics’ biggest need right now is to get another long defensive 3.  It’s possible they have that already in Gaffney and if Von Wafer or Delonte don’t work out, Gaffney could be what they need here.   But Danny also  has a few chips he can use for a trade should the right player become available and so I don’t expect this weakness to be there come playoff time.  Weaknesses of last season’s team that have to be addressed this season are the offense, especially in the 4th quarter, rebounding, and turnovers.  With the roster moves that Danny made this off season, it appears that he has made them with at least the offensive lapses and the rebounding problems in mind.

From John Karalis, Red’s Army: What are the goals for this team? Can I copy and paste last year’s answer?  Championship or bust. Look… you don’t load a roster up with old stars with their tanks licking “E” if you’ll be happy with an OK playoff seed and maybe a series win or two.  This team is built to combat the strengths of our biggest playoff obstacles.  They have depth to counter the mega-front-loaded Miami Heat… they’ve got a bunch of big guys to run at Dwight Howard (and the guards to stick to their shooters), and that same size will battle with LA’s trees. This team is built as best as it can be to make another run… maaaaaaybe 2… at a title.

UPDATE: Below are links to additional previews on the Boston Celtics for the upcoming season.

*Celtics Hub sees health and KG’s athleticism as keys to the Celtics’ success next season.

*Gino’s Jungle is in a wait and see mode in wondering if the additions of Shaq and Delonte disrupt the chemistry of the team.

*SB Nation Boston uses a bunch of Shaq qotes to preview the upcoming campaign, including this beauty on why smarts may be the C’s biggest strength: “I’m not a young jitterbug anymore. When I was a young jitterbug, I never won. I didn’t start winning until I got older. The older I get, the wiser I get. You just have to play it smart.”

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I couldn’t leave you guys without a few Lakers links to balance out all of this Celtics talk:

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: As far as keynote addresses go, it was 100 percent Artestian, strewn with diversions, tangents, and stories including an eclectic array of characters from his extended network of family and childhood friends. But Thursday, speaking to a crammed auditorium at Eastmont Intermediate School in Montebello, Ron Artest wasn’t graded on the elegance of his delivery, just his willingness to speak openly about a subject so many, adults and children alike, are uncomfortable addressing: mental health. Yes, Artest is aware of the irony: “I know no parent wants their kid to be hearing from the guy who was on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in his boxers,” he joked from the podium, after admitting to concerns he wasn’t exactly the expected source for an important message.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: As he did throughout the playoffs in consecutive title-winning years for the Lakers, Lamar Odom performed at his best when his team needed it most, this time for Team USA at Sunday’s World Championship final against Turkey. Odom went for a double-double for the second straight game, scoring 15 points with 11 rebounds in the 81-64 gold-medal-deciding game against the Turks, playing in front of a frenzied home crowd in Istanbul. All 15 of Odom’s points and eight of his rebounds came in the second half, and he scored nine of his team’s first 13 points to open the fourth quarter, helping to keep Turkey from getting back into the contest.

From Patrick Crawley, You Been Blinded: Resume: 14 seasons; 25,790 points; 5,410 rebounds; 4,766 assists; 12 AS app; 1 MVP; 2 Finals MVPs; 5 championships; 2008 Olympic gold medal: What can you say about Kobe Bryant that hasn’t already been said by legions of car flagging, mouth-frothing, MVP-chanting Lakers fans? 14 seasons into his career, he’s a Laker legend, an unmatched competitor and one of the most reliable late-game performers the league has ever seen. He’s so good it’s scary. He’ll rip your heart out, then smile for the cameras after he’s done. When teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in the early 2000s, Kobe was a force of nature who was forced to bend to the whims of his elders. The duo combined for three championships, but you could tell Kobe was never really happy. Now he’s the elder, capturing two straight NBA titles and setting his sights on Michael Jordan’s once-ironclad legacy, and he’s never been happier. Sure, he’s had more rough patches than Robert Downey Jr. in the 90s, but Lakers fans always seem to forgive him. He’s one of the most revered athletes in the history of L.A. sports.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: Derrrick Caracter is one of two rookies who will be looking to make this season’s Lakers team and by the looks of things, he could have a legimate shot. That is, if he can get his weight down. What does he think about his chances? What is his current weight? Does he miss ice cream? Which Laker is he most excited to play? Why did he switch jersey numbers? I will find out that and more Monday when the former UTEP center calls me and we discuss the upcoming season. There’s plenty to ask him before training camp opens Sept. 25.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Jeff Skibiski —  September 12, 2010

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From Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: I’ve picked the Americans to win, and I’m rooting for my pick. But I also hope this one comes down to the final seconds just like the second semifinal did, because witnessing one of these one-and-done games, on the road in a country where the home team and the home crowd are united as one, is to witness international basketball at its very, very best. Be sure to remember that if you find yourself deciding whether watching the second half of a Week 1 NFL game can compare to watching Durant and the rest of Team USA try to accomplish something that hasn’t happened in 16 years, in the toughest atmosphere imaginable.

From Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: Twenty-four hours earlier, Kevin Durant had scrunched his face, pursed his lips and played back the most arduous moments of the Los Angeles Lakers series. His accuracy stunning, his disposition downright dour, Durant ripped off a detailed list of the most minute transgressions that had cost the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had come to these world championships on a journey of self-discovery, on a rapid and resounding rise toward an MVP and an NBA championship…While LeBron James tried to decide this weekend whether he wanted to go to a college football game in the States, Durant had a decision of his own to make in the final seconds. Take an open shot for his 39th and 40th points, or drop the ball to Andre Igudoala for a dunk. Surprise, surprise: Durant flipped him the pass, Igudoala flushed the ball, and the Americans move into what promises to be a wild, raucous gold-medal game against host Turkey.

From Chris Olds, ESPN.com Page 2: But there was one thing that Robert Horry never did during his pro career — he never signed a basketball card featuring him in an NBA uniform for a trading card company. Despite all those clutch shots that helped the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs win it all — a few times — there weren’t any certified autographs (cards he was paid to sign that were then placed into packs) showing him in any of those uniforms. But all that has changed.

From Alex Kennedy, Hoopsworld: Devin Ebanks wasn’t supposed to be a second round pick. Three years ago, he was one of the top high school players in the nation and looked like a future lottery pick. He was putting up impressive numbers, dominating national tournaments and camps, and being recruited by the top college programs in the country. So how did the Los Angeles Lakers land Ebanks with the forty-third pick in this year’s draft? After two solid seasons at West Virginia, the twenty-year old forward was overlooked in a class that was loaded with wing players. Despite being one of the better athletes in the group and possessing the kind of potential not usually found in a second round selection, Ebanks sat in front of his television and watched as other players came off of the board in front of him. That’s when the defending champions finally grabbed him.

From Mike B., Bleacher Report: Michael Jordan vs. Kobe Bryant. An NBA superstar of the past vs. an NBA superstar of today. Who’s better? Sometimes, younger fans give the nod to Bryant since they never watched Jordan play in his prime and feel that Jordan only dominated in the 1990s because the decade was watered down. On the other hand, older fans claim Jordan is the greatest hoops player ever and that Bryant isn’t even in the same galaxy because he played in a not-so-competitive era and served as a sidekick to Shaquille O’Neal for years. Fans’ opinions may differ on the subject, but everyone agrees that both players are all-time greats. So what if Jordan and Bryant swapped eras?

Team USA Live Blog

Phillip Barnett —  September 11, 2010

USA's Lamar Odom (C) shoots under pressure from Angola's Joaquim Gomes (R) as Angola's Carlos Morais (L) looks on in the first quarter during their FIBA Basketball World Championship game in Istanbul, September 6, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (TURKEY - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Team USA tips off against Lithuania at 9:00 a.m. PT. Lamar Odom, Kevin Durant and co. need one more win to play in the title game. I’ll be updating the blog as the game unfolds. Feel free to add comments of your own during the course of the game.

— (8:30 1st Q) Team USA has come up empty on their first three possessions and have given up two layups. I can tell you now, if they’re going to beat Lithuania, they’re going to have to move the ball much better than what they’ve been doing all tournament. Lithuania plays a pretty unforgiving zone.

— (6:45 1st Q) It looks like Andre Iguodala will have the defensive assignment of taking on Linus Kleiza, who has had a great tournament thus far.

— Kleiza has been stripped on 2 of his 3 post-ups. Once by Billups, once by Iguodala. (via @johnschuhmann)

— (4:33 1st Q) Kevin Durant has things going early, scoring 12 of Team USA’s first 14 points.

— (1:30 1st Q) Lithuania was very efficient their fist few possessions, but Team USA seems to have figured out how to play their S&R offense. They’re currently on a 12-0 run.

— (End of 1st Q) 23-12 Lithuania’s offensive efficiency has really came to a stand still during the second half of the first quarter. Team USA got their hands on a lot of balls, creating deflections and getting into transition. Kevin Durant finished the first quarter with 17 points, Lithuania really has no answer for him.

— (7:40 2nd Q) Lamar Odom picks up his first points of the game on a tip in after a missed layup.

— (5:35 2nd Q) Team USA finally got some really good movement against Lithuania’s zone which led to Odom feeding a cutting Iguadala. Beautiful basketball.

— Lamar Odom doing all the little things that he never gets credit for. Great pass led to an easy dunk. (via @JonesOnTheNBA)

— (3:50 2nd Q) Lithuania has weathered the early storm and seems much more comfortable against USA’s athleticism. They’ve cut down their turnovers and have taken away a lot of Team USA’s fast break points. They’re only down eight points: 33-25.

— (2:10 2nd Q) Lithuania guard Martynas Pocius has been good thus far. Nine points and four rebounds. Most importantly, no turnovers.

— (End of 2nd Q) Team USA extended their lead back out to 15, going into the half 42-27. Kevin Durant, as always, has been brilliant with 24 points at the half. Lamar Odom has been doing a lot of really good things. He has six points, five rebounds, an assist, a block and no turnovers. He’s been great defensively sliding to help side on the S&R and closing out on shooters. He’s having one of his patented all around nights, doing a lot of things you won’t find in box scores.

The first half has gone pretty smoothly for Team USA. They have 12 turnover, which is way too many. They’ve also missed a lot of shots around the rim, something that I talked about in their preliminary games. @jose3030 posted Russell Westbrook’s missed dunk late in the first quarter, something that he’s done all tournament:

Team USA really just needs to keep the pressure on Lithuania on both ends of the ball. If they keep the ball pressure at a high level, they’ll be able to continue to score in transition.

— (8:31 3rd Q) Andre Iguodala’s offensive rebound started a sequence of five passes finishing with Lamar Odom scoring and getting fouled. They came up empty in their first two possessions. Iguodala’s offensive rebound was huge. Don’t want to come out of the half cold.

— (5:30 3rd Q) Eric Gordon missed a dunk on a fastbreak leading to a Lithuania three pointer. The  five point swing cut the US lead to 10.

— Odom has been huge. Hopefully he’s exhausting himself for the NBA season. (via @celticshub)

— (1:40 3rd Q) Lithuania’s shots are starting to fall and have picked up their intensity. They’re on an 8-0 run. Timeout USA.

— Kevin Durant has 27 points on 16 shots. 74.2% True Shooting. Yeah, he’s been pretty good. (Via Darius; @forumbluegold)

— (End of 3rd Q) It was an up and down half for Team USA. Lithuania was finally able to knock down some shots, but they weren’t really able to pick up too much ground on the Americans, down 12 going into the fourth quarter: 65-53

— (8:15 4th Q) LO with a great sequence there. Instead of forcing a bad pass while trapped underneath the rim, he was patient and hit a cutting Chauncey Billups. He didn’t give up on the play, and tipped in Billups’ missed layup for his 12th and 13th points.

— (4:26 4th Q) This game has been much closer than what the score board shows. Outside of that huge first quarter, Team USA has only outscored Lithuania by two points. 77-64.

— (2:20 4th Q) Kevin Durant sets the USA scoring record in international play with his 38th point. He’s 14 for 24 from the field and has added seven rebounds. Fantastic individual performance.

— (End of 4th Q) Team USA remains unbeaten in the 2010 World Championships after beating Lithuania 89-74. Kevin Durant paced everyone with 38 while Lamar Odom was second in scoring for Team USA with 13 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Team USA will play in the title game tomorrow against the winner of the Turkey/Serbia game, which promises to be a very good basketball game. Turkey and Serbia tip off at 11:30 a.m. PT today on ESPN Classic. Tomorrow’s bronze medal game begins at 9 a.m. PT and the Gold Medal game tips off at 11:30 a.m. PT.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  September 10, 2010

Jun. 03, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02186398 Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol of Spain goes to the basket for two points as Boston Celtics' Glen Davis defends during the second half of game one of the NBA Finals at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA 03 June 2010. This is the 12th time that the 17 time champion Boston Celtics and the 15 time champion Los Angeles Lakers have met in the 64 year history of the NBA Finals with Boston taking nine of those series.

A variety of topics to cover today, so let’s get to it.

*Everyone should already know that Matt Barnes was arrested this week on suspicion of domestic violence.  I’ve been largely silent on the Matt Barnes arrest for a couple of reasons.  First is because I typically try to focus on issues that play out on the basketball court and not those surrounding appearances in a court of law.  And with Barnes being a new member of the team and having not yet played a single minute for the Lakers, there’s little to discuss in terms of how this affects the team in a basketball sense.  Sure we’ve had thoughts on what role Barnes would play and how many minutes he might see, but that’s all speculation until he actually suits up.  The second reason is that I don’t have all the facts of what occurred at Barnes’ home on that day and I try not to form opinions on issues until I know more details.  Even with statements from both Barnes and his fiance now coming out speaking to these accusations being false, we still don’t know what happened that day and we may never know.   In the end, I think Kurt at Pro Basketball Talk said it very well when summarizing the entire situation:

We have no idea what happened in the Barnes household. Maybe nothing. However this points to a bigger societal issue — it is common for the female in a domestic violence situation to protect the man. It makes convictions on the charges challenging. It makes the pattern of violence harder to stop.

What exactly happened in the Barnes house remains a mystery. But you can be sure of one thing through all of this — the Lakers front office isn’t happy.

*Changing gears to news that is more about the actual game of basketball…Earlier this week we were discussing the correlation between offensive execution and good defense.  How, for the Lakers specifically, executing the Triangle well leads to better defense; that by operating with strong spacing and good floor balance the Lakers promote defensive success because it enables the players to transition well from offense to defense and thus forces the opposition to face a team that is set up and prepared.  This conversation was prompted by a series of posts that ran at True Hoopabout how strong defense actually has more impact in winning championships than playing strong offense.  When thinking about this more over the past couple of days, another thought came to me:  We’ve all heard commentators (Jeff Van Gundy being one) say that “great offense beats great defense every time”.  And I agree with that.  However, how many great offensive players are there in the league?  I mean truly great ones.  5?  10?  When trying to name them a list might include Kobe, Lebron, Wade, Durant, Carmelo, Chris Paul, Dirk, Steve Nash and others that I’ve surely left out.  We’re talking less than 3% of the entire league.  Now, think about very good defensive players and, even more, think about defensive schemes and the teams that execute well on that side of the ball.  My point is, you’ll likely find way more defenders that are considered very good to great than you will offensive players.  And even when you have a great offensive player (like Kobe), that guy will have bad nights.  Basically, you’re damned right I believe that defense is going to lead to more championships than offense does if only because you can’t rely on offense as much; the number of players that can truly hurt you consistently is minuscule in comparison the the population of the entire league and even those guys have off nights.  And when trying to beat the other team, what do you think is going to be the more effective tactic – scoring in a manner that few players and teams can actually do consistently or stopping the other team from doing something that is actually already quite difficult to do efficiently?  I’ll take the latter.

*Looking around the league, the big rumor of the past couple of days is the potential trade of Carmelo and his (suposed) preference of either going to the Bulls or the Knicks.  One floated deal had the Bulls giving up Deng and Noah for Carmelo.  When I thought about that deal from the Bulls’ end, I thought they’d be crazy to give up Noah in a trade for Anthony.  Noah’s a versatile big that rebounds and defends at near elite levels and is the type of player that championship teams always have.  And while I greatly respect ‘Melo, he’s a scoring wing that rebounds and defends at below a league average level for his position.  When looking at it this way, I thought the decision would be easy.  Which got me thinking, is Carmelo an elite player?  Yes he’s got name value and he’s one of the purest scoring forwards in the league but is he elite?  Let me know what you think in the comments because I’m really not sure and am leaning towards no.

*Speaking of elite players, its seemingly the time of the year where folks want to bring back the bar stool debates about players rankings and who the best players of specific franchises are.  The Lakers have a storied history and have had some of the best of the best this game has ever seen suit up for them.  Over at Hoops Manifesto, they’ve listed their top 10 Lakers of all time.  Personally, I think Elgin and Mikan are too low, but that’s just me.  Tell me what you think in the comments.

*One player that didn’t make that list is Pau Gasol.  Get him a championship or two more and he just might make a future one, though.  However, just so that we can all remember how great Gasol actually has been for the Lakers, here’s a video to refresh our memories.

*Lastly, did you realize the Lakers first pre-season game in on October 4th (in London, btw)?  That’s 24 days away.  The countdown is officially here as we’re within a month of actual Lakers’ basketball being back.

*One last lastly – this may or may not interest any of you, but a little while back I answered some questions about basketball in general and some other “getting to know you” types of questions over at the 3manweave.com. Click this link if you want to know (amongst other things) my fondest sports memory growing up (here’s a hint, it involves the Lakers downing the Celtics).

NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 27: Drew Brees  of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at the Louisiana Superdome on August 27, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Tonight marks the beginning of the NFL season. I know all of us are huge hoops fans, but I like to delve into the other sports as well and I’ve been waiting for the football season to begin for an awfully long time. The Saints joined the Lakers in the immortal champion fraternity after beating the Colts in last season’s Super Bowl and kick off the season tonight against the Vikings.

Are there any teams you guys are excited about? Any early predictions about how this season might end. Just excited for some football. Let us know how you guys will be spending the NFL kick off.

Earlier today, Team USA took a step closer to the FIBA World Championships Title Game with a win over the Russians. Kevin Durant paced everyone with a very efficient 33 points while Lamar Odom helped out by chipping in six points and 12 rebounds. They will play Lithuania next.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Phillip Barnett —  September 9, 2010

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(h/t to youbeenblinded.com for the picture of Pau Gasol jumping over this kid in India.)

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Matt Barnes is saying he was the victim of the domestic violence in his home Wednesday night. The Sacramento Sheriff’s Department has charged him with a felony for being the primary aggressor. This is Barnes’ first headline as a Los Angeles Laker, and it’s not quite ideal to go straight from the lifting-up-your-brand-new-jersey photo to the police mug shot. The thing is, you would’ve been shocked if you heard there was this kind of trouble for either of the other new Lakers, Steve Blake or Theo Ratliff. When you hear it’s Barnes, well, it might be a shake of your head … or a nod of your head.

From Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Ron Artest is promoting mental-health awareness. That’s it. There is no punch line. No big finish, no rim shot, no laugh track. Just the starting small forward of the two-time defending champions visiting a middle school Thursday in the Los Angeles suburb of Montebello to call for passage of federal legislation and encourage students to reach out to a health-care worker if they need. Artest is telling others to get help. Yeah, he knows. He knows he’s asking for it. He knows every Internet comedian will jump on this with some crack, mostly behind the anonymity of a screen-name handle, of course. But he doesn’t care because shining a light on an urgent topic is more important to him.

From Land O’ Lakers: Soriano: I have the Lakers winning 62 games this year. While I understand how the Lakers’ ability to win the title with a lesser win total last season could create a coasting mentality this year, I also think the team understands three key factors: 1). Home court in the Finals is a major advantage. 2) Last season the Lakers were a bit lucky in that they avoided facing a team (Orlando, Cleveland) in the Finals that would have had [home court advantage] over them. 3) The combination of Phil’s last season and Miami’s “super team” formation will give the Lakers that extra motivation that may have been lacking at times last year. So, I think a big push for a higher win total and the Lakers clearing that 60 win mark.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Forget about wondering how the Lakers will turn out this season. Forget predictions on how each player will perform. And forget about scouring websites, television shows, magazines and newspapers so that you know every single morsel about every single Laker. OK, I was just kidding about the last part. I still want you to visit the L.A. Times Lakers blog so I have company and so the bosses are happy. But because there’s plenty of time for me to seriously dive into what’s in store for the 2010-11 season, I thought it’d be good to mix it up a bit. I hoped to talk to a numerologist so he or she can share readings on the Lakers, but that’s apparently something that doesn’t come for free. Since it’s policy from The Times and pretty much any reputable outlet not to pay for interviews, I figured I’d do the next best thing. Find a website that gives free numerology readings, proving that all the pre-season speculation is really just a waste of time – except of course when it comes from The L.A. Times Lakers blog.

From Lakers.com: In what may have been the best all-around performance by the Lakers throughout the season, Shannon Brown put the proverbial icing on the cake with an absurdly athletic one-handed hammer dunk off Pau Gasol’s alley-oop in Game 6 of the Finals against Boston. The slam put L.A. up 20 halfway through the third quarter in what ended up as an 89-67 blowout win. It was all working for L.A. in victory featuring 26 points and 11 rebounds from Kobe Bryant and a near triple-double from Pau Gasol (17 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists). The Lakers grabbed 17 more rebounds in a stat that defined the series, and their bench – thanks in part to Brown – scored 24 points before Boston’s had scored even one.

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The Emmys may have invaded Los Angeles two weekends ago, but everyone in this town knows that it’s the Lakers who take home best drama every year. With that said, Forum Blue & Gold takes a look at 12 intriguing plot lines for the upcoming season—in honor of Phil Jackson’s bid for a record 12 NBA championships. Chime in below to share your own thoughts on what stories you think will fuel the press this season.

12. How much burn will the rookies get? – Second-round picks Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks showed a lot of promise this summer, but will it translate to success in the NBA? Both players will most likely only see small glimpses of the court during trash time, but Luke Walton’s ongoing injury woes could creak the window open a little. Caracter’s conditioning is also an issue, as the team only partially guaranteed his salary for the upcoming season, contingent on a weight check-up next week.

11. Does Pau take another step? – Pau Gasol’s image and stature around the league has undergone somewhat of a rapid metamorphosis in his two-plus seasons as a Laker. When he first arrived in L.A., Gasol was widely regarded as a soft, willowy big man—a strong offensive threat, adept passer, but a black hole on defense and largely incapable of serving as option 1.A. on a contending team. Nearly three years later, Gasol has improved to the point where he is considered by many to be one of the top three or four big men in the entire league. Last season, Pau upped his rebounding average to a career-high 11 per game, while also holding his own in the playoffs against the likes of Carlos Boozer, Amare Stoudemire and Kevin Garnett. With an offensive game as polished as any big man in the NBA, Pau’s ascent toward becoming an All-NBA second or first team selection will primarily depend on his growth on the defensive end.

10. Artest’s sophomore year – Ron proved his longtime naysayers wrong and was a key cog in the Lakers second consecutive championship. His irreplaceable defense and magnificent performance in Game 7 against Boston (both during and after the game) transformed the always entertaining forward into folk hero status in Tinseltown. Now that the proverbial monkey is off his back and he’s proven himself as a winner, what happens next? Does Artest come out with the same burning desire to win what would be his second title in a row? The addition of Barnes, along with the incumbent Bryant, means the Lakers have an enviable three premiere defenders at the wing spot, which should help with any fatigue issues after Ron played the longest season of his life.

9. Who backs up Bryant? – While the Lakers have all kinds of options on the wing with the addition of Barnes, the newly resigned Shannon Brown will still be relied upon to fill the lion’s share of minutes at the two behind Bryant. The Lakers need both Shannon and Sasha Vujacic—who figures to serve as a third string guard—to provide consistent support if they want to limit Kobe’s minutes during the regular season. Both players are coming off subpar regular seasons and playoff runs, but the hope is that Shannon’s second full year with the team and the confidence gained by Sasha after nailing two pivotal free throws in Game 7 will bode well for both guards.

8. Lamar Odom, post-World Championships – If you factor in the Lakers’ deep playoff runs over the past two seasons, Odom has been playing basketball for nearly two years straight. At a certain point, the 11-year forward has to start showing signs of fatigue, right? Even Lamar himself admitted that he wasn’t in tip-top shape when Team U.S.A. first took to the practice floor last month. Depending on how deep his team goes in the now single-elimination round of the FIBA World Championships, Odom could be looking at little to no time off between the end of the tournament and the start of training camp with the Lakers. The team’s improved bench should help some in this regard though, along with his experience as one of the de facto leaders of Team U.S.A.

7. Return of the bench mob? – If all goes as planned, the Lakers bench should be much-improved when the team heads to training camp in a short few weeks. With the additions of trusty veterans like Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers bolstered one of their lone weak spots from the past season—and did so with players who should fit in well with the team too. As with any new additions though, there’s no telling how seamless that integration will be until they actually step foot on the court. Steve Blake, in particular, should help shore up the Lakers’ longstanding weakness at point guard, while also spelling the aging Derek Fisher.

6. The importance of home court advantage – Conventional wisdom says that a group as seasoned as this Lakers squad is past the point of needing home court—even in a potential Game 7 situation against the likes of Boston, Orlando and Miami. Throw conventional wisdom out the door when discussing home court advantage, though; as much as players claim that it doesn’t matter, it clearly paid off in Game 7 against the Celtics. The race for home court throughout the playoffs figures to be a tough one too this year with Heat added to the fold. Where do the Lakers’ priorities lie at the end of the season if the team is banged up and it might make more sense to rest the starters?

5. Phil’s last stand? – It’s Phil’s last season. Again. There has been a lot of talk this offseason about motivation for this year’s team and near or at the top of that list has to be the quest to send Coach Jackson off into the sunset with a mindboggling fourth three-peat. For a man who practices Zen, winning a title this season would certainly represent a great deal of symmetry in what has been an amazing career. Then, there is the other camp who believes that Jackson wouldn’t turn down another chance to coach a potential four-peat team, especially considering there’s a decent chance the following season would be condensed due to a lockout.

4. Can Bynum finally stay healthy? – Is this the year when we finally get to see what Andew Bynum is made of for all 82 games…or at least something close to that figure? If you could describe the center’s career at this point with one phrase, it might be stop-and-go. How Andrew responds to yet another knee injury will go a long way in determining the Lakers three-peat fate. Even on one leg for most of the playoffs, #17 still provided a huge boost, particularly on the defensive end. If the resolve he displayed during the NBA Finals is any indication, Bynum’s head is in the right place and he could be on his way to a big season.

3. Kobe continues to build his legacy – For the first time in years, Kobe took the summer off to rest his battle-worn body—a body that many pundits claimed was beginning its steady decline last season. The All-NBA veteran had a few injuries to recuperate too, starting with a troublesome knee and mangled finger. Assuming both have healed to the point where they won’t be an issue for Bryant this season, all signs point to a monster year. With five NBA titles under his belt, Kobe is officially in “legacy mode,” only one championship away from tying His Airness and one away from his team tying the Celtics. Not that motivation has ever been an issue for him.

2. Battling the injury bug – The Lakers won their second consecutive championship last season in spite of a myriad of injuries that affected everyone in the starting lineup not named Derek Fisher. One year older, will the team be able to replicate their success if the injury bug bites once again? An improved bench should help this cause, but injuries on an aging team will again be a wild card as the team looks to cement its place in the history books.

1. Where’s the motivation? – Top to bottom, the Lakers are, by and large, a well-disciplined, focused team. After winning back-to-back NBA titles and most of the team basking in the glory from their seven-game duel with Boston, the Lakers will still have to resist the urge to take their foot off the pedal this season. Kobe Bryant will make sure they stay on course though, as he prepares to fight for his second career three-peat. Moreover, the emergence of the Heat as a new league superpower should have the Forum Blue and Gold ready to go to battle from day one of training camp.