Archives For September 2011

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  September 30, 2011
  • Kobe’s going to Italy! Wait! No he’s not!! If we’ve learned anything by now about Kobe and his overseas options, it’s that 1). no deal is done until he comes out and says so and 2). it’s not coincidence that rumors of deals seem to occur right as he’s visiting these countries for Nike promotions. I’m treating all the speculation the way that I do trade rumors in February: agendas drive leaks; wake me when a deal is actually done.
  • Mike Brown is the Lakers’ coach but some would have preferred Rick Adelman be the man following Phil Jackson. Instead, Adelman has signed on with the T’Wolves and had this to say about his interest in the LA job and what it would be like trying to fill Phil Jackson’s shoes in a sit down with Sam Amick: So you obviously had interest in the Lakers job, but how did that go down?

Adelman: I think anybody would be interested, and that’s because of the talent they have and the situation they’re in. It’s very intriguing to look at that. It just came down to the fact that we had some discussions about the team, about a lot of things, but they chose to go in a different route [in hiring Mike Brown]. It never really got to the point of, “Are you going to take the job or not?” And frankly, it was very quick after the season ended and I had just moved from Houston back to Portland, so it was kind of a whirlwind thing. But the fact that they decided pretty quickly that they were going to go with Mike, that was kind of it. That’s quite a turnaround mentally to be looking at a championship-or-bust situation one minute and considering a spot like Minnesota the next.

Adelman: Yeah, and that’s how it was going to be, too. Perception is always there, and you just said it, championship or bust. And then you’re following probably the greatest coach in history, record-wise [in Phil Jackson], so there was a lot of stuff there, too. Certainly when you win, it’s better than when you lose, but sometimes even when you win, you lose.

  • Part I in a series of posts on the 1993 NBA draft. Give it a read.
  • Leaks around the CBA negotiations state that an amnesty clause (where each team would have the ability to waive a player to get them off their salary cap) could be part of any agreement. Based off that, here’s a good examination of who each team should release. I can only imagine most of you would agree with the first player mentioned in the Lakers section.
  • Speaking of the lockout, today the negotiations continue in what is universally being called a make or break weekend of meetings. After Wednesdays condensed session, reports surfaced that Stern could announce the cancellation of the season if no progress is made in these talks. And while I view that as little more than a ramp up of the rhetoric as part of a larger negotiating tactic, time is getting short to get a deal done if starting the season on time is a legitimate goal.

On that note, there is some required reading for perspective on where the negotiations are at this point in the process and the main sticking points of the talks:


As for my two cents, I just want this thing over already (like I’m sure all of you do). That said, I’m looking for compromise from both sides and a willingness to come to the bargaining table with an open mind that a one sided deal won’t work for anyone.

With threats of a cancelled season now becoming part of discussion (even if only to scare a deal out of hardliners on both sides), now isn’t the time to dig in your heals but instead extend the olive branch. If hardliners prevail and cost us games, it will be obvious who to blame. I’m completely worn down by most of this and when I really sit back and think about why it’s happening and who is driving this disagreement, my head starts to hurt and I get incredibly angry.

I look at the finer details of it all and simply want to shake people by the shoulders.

For example, this past year the league made so much in revenues that for the first time the owners had to return the escrow money back to the players to ensure their portion basketball related income was paid out. However, in the Stein article linked above, the owners are said to want salary roll backs. I understand that this is also tied to what percentage of BRI the players would get in a new CBA, but how do salary rollbacks help if 1). Revenues are growing 2). The escrow payment is now not a guarantee to go back to the owners? If rollbacks are meant to cut salary value, why is the BRI so important?

Meanwhile, the players want nothing to change and to walk away with a system as close to the one they have now. But, that system also says that guys like Eddy Curry (who don’t stay in shape and lack the work ethic to compete at a level anywhere close to their salary) get to ride the pine and collect millions. Contracts also go for 5-6 years with no way to get from out of a bad decision on a player, with the only repercussion being eating the contract.

Both sides need to give something up here. And they need to do it now. I want the NBA back on my TV at the start of November. Make it happen already.

Revising the Celtics Curse

J.M. Poulard —  September 29, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers are by far one of the most prestigious franchises in all of professional sports. It’s one of the most expensive tickets in sports and all the celebrities come out to support the purple and gold, especially during the postseason. There are few teams that can match the level of appeal and fandom that typically comes with this team. Indeed, only the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers can truly comprehend what it’s like to be a Lakers player.

Indeed, (it seems) their fans are located everywhere and make it their business to travel to any and every venue to cheer on their team. This explains why a player such as Kobe Bryant will get MVP chants in places such as New York, Toronto and Boston to name just a few cities.

And truthfully, it’s rather easy to fall in love with this team given its rich history:

  • 16 NBA championships
  • 62.0% winning percentage
  • 129 All-Star selections
  • 18 players selected to the Hall of Fame
  • A slew of greats that can all be identified by one name: Mikan (Minneapolis), Elgin, West, Wilt, Goodrich, Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Shaq, Kobe and maybe one day Pau.
  • Three legendary head coaches: John Kundla, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.
  • Legendary superstars throughout every decade in the franchise’s history (and by legendary superstars, we are talking about players that are considered to be in the top 20 all-time of great players in the history of the league).
  • Because they drive ratings, thus they are often on national television.

When we put all of those facts together, it’s easy to see why fans would gravitate towards the Lakers.

But then again, people down in Boston might have something to say about that, and they would probably be able to offer a few valid arguments; with the most poignant one being summed up in two words: Celtics Curse.

Indeed, there used to be a time when Lakers players and fans would get caught up in the history of the ghost of Celtics past. And frankly, it’s rather easy to see why. There used to be a time that Boston dominated Los Angeles every time they met in the NBA Finals. Some might say that “dominate” is a bit too strong of a word, but really it applies quite well. Have a look at the results of the Celtics-Lakers battles from 1959 to 1969:

  • 1959 NBA Finals: Boston defeat Los Angeles 4-0
  • 1962 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-3
  • 1963 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-2
  • 1965 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-1
  • 1966 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-3
  • 1968 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-2
  • 1969 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-3

Los Angeles finally broke through in 1972 and won the championship against the New York Knicks, with the Celtics no longer being a super power in the Eastern Conference. Fast forward to 1984 and it was Celtics versus Lakers all over again with Boston prevailing and people stating that the Celtics held a curse over the Lakers, after defeating them eight straight times in the championship round.

Many observers were of the opinion that history was doomed to repeat itself whenever these two teams faced off with the title on the line.

In reality, the curse had less to do with a franchise, and more to do with a person that eventually obtained a stature that seemed almost mythical: Bill Russell.

For years, people said that he was the greatest winner of all time and that his contributions on the basketball court transcended box scores. When watching interviews of players who spoke of the great Celtics center, they always showered him with praise and nothing but respect because they believed he was truly one of a kind as evidenced by his 11 championship rings.

And yet, in all honesty, for years I thought Russell was overrated. He struggled to score it seemed, shot an awkward hook shot and was often lit up by Chamberlain. In addition, players were probably unwise in constantly challenging him at the basket. Could so many players from varying eras have been wrong?

And then, some footage of those old Celtics teams was released and just like that it became clear: Bill Russell was a bad man.

No player in NBA history epitomized team play as much as the former Celtics center. His play simply revolved around elevating the performances of his teammates. Russell was an average scorer and thus he made sure that the players that were better at it than he was got their fair share of attempts. Thus, he would set screens, run give-and-go plays and feed open shooters from the post. He would occasionally take shots within the flow of the offense but more often than not his points came in the form of put backs.

Mind you, he might have been deferential on offense, but no one owned defense much like he did. Although Russell dominated the paint as well as the boards, he did an exceptional job of defending players out on the perimeter. Far too often, it seemed as though the left-handed center knew he could block a player’s shot, but that he picked and chose when he would go after it. Thus, early in the game he might allow his man to take a jump shot from about 10-12 feet, but later in the game he would come out to challenge and get a piece of the shot.

And as good as Russell was in one-on-one defense, he was exceptionally better as a help defender. He would meet players at the rim and either swat or alter their shots, which invariably created a sense of doubt amongst opponents whenever they entered the lane. In addition, when players sensed that center was waiting for them underneath the basket, they would at times stop just about inside the free throw line for a jumper or a floater type shot, but Russell would still catch a piece of it.

Needless to say, this made Russell quite an intimidator during his playing days, and yet there was more to his game; a psychological aspect if you will.

Between foul trouble and fatigue, it would be almost impossible for Russell to cover every inch of the court defensively. Consequently, he was very selective about when to chase down shots. Indeed, when watching those old Celtics play, there are times where other than rebounding the ball, he seems to be just an average tall player on the court. And yet, nothing was further from the truth.

Russell had the uncanny ability to create momentum all by himself.  He would get in a zone when he would go after every shot either at the rim or on the perimeter, block it and then throw the outlet pass to his guard for easy transition buckets. And just so we’re clear, the players that got the those fast break shots were Hall of Famers, thus we know they converted most of their opportunities.

The best modern comparison to the Celtics teams from the 1950s and 1960s would probably be the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns; except we would have to substitute Amare Stoudemire for Dwight Howard. The team would basically look like this:

-Steve Nash at point guard (playing the part of Bob Cousy)

-Joe Johnson at shooting guard (playing the role Bill Sharman and then later John Havlicek)

-Quentin Richardson at small forward (playing the part of a really young Sam Jones)

-Shawn Marion at power forward (playing the role of Tom Heinsohn)

-Dwight Howard at center (playing the part of Bill Russell)

Wouldn’t that Suns team be good enough to essentially put a curse on just about the rest of the NBA for a couple of years?

If we look at the rest of the history between the Lakers and Celtics, we will notice that the odds titled in favor of the purple and gold in recent years:

  • 1984 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-3
  • 1985 NBA Finals: Los Angeles defeats Boston 4-2
  • 1987 NBA Finals:  Los Angeles defeats Boston 4-2
  • 2008 NBA Finals: Boston defeats Los Angeles 4-2
  • 2010 NBA Finals: Los Angeles defeats Boston 4-3

For those of you scoring at home, ever since Bill Russell retired, the Lakers have won three out of five match ups against their hated rivals in the NBA Finals.

Magic and Kareem put on L.A. on the scoreboard in 1985 and once again in 1987; while Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol avenged a 2008 Finals loss against the Boston Celtics in the rematch in June 2010.

It seems that Los Angeles conquered its demons, but the truth is that there never was a curse to begin with. Just Bill Russell…

Remembering Elgin Baylor

J.M. Poulard —  September 27, 2011

The NBA and its fans have been lucky enough to have seen great players such as Julius Erving, Larry Bird, James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, Scottie Pippen and LeBron James display their talents on the hardwood for the sake of our entertainment. These forwards made their mark in the league with their ability to not only play at a high level, but for the most part dominate their match ups and affect games with their ability to exert their collective wills in multiple facets of the game.

These legends stood the test of time because they were unstoppable. And yet, one particular player came before them and paved the way for their successes; he was simply one of the best forwards the NBA has ever seen, and despite never winning an NBA title, few players can come close to approaching his greatness. His name: Elgin Baylor.

In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons had this to offer about the former Clippers general manager:

“[…] Elgin changed everything. He did things that nobody had ever seen. He defied gravity. Elgin would drive from the left side, take off with the basketball, elevate, hang in the air, hang in the air, then release the ball after everyone else was already back on the ground. You could call him the godfather of hangtime. You could call him the godfather of the “wow” play. You could point to his entrance into the league as the precise moment when basketball changed for the better.”

Prior to Baylor joining the league, the NBA was played below the rim with the exception of perhaps Bill Russell. Players took quick semi-contested shots, rebounded, raced the other way and did it all over again. But things slowly started to change prior to the end of the 1950s…

Elgin Baylor was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1958 and went on to average 24.7 points and 15 rebounds per game as a rookie. It took the veterans the entire regular season to adjust to playing with the first year player, which was reflected in the team’s 33-39 regular season record. However, they went on to dispatch the Detroit Pistons in the opening round of the playoffs and eliminated the defending champion St. Louis Hawks on their way to meeting the Boston Celtics in the 1959 NBA Finals.

Bill Russell’s Celtics went on to sweep the Lakers, but the team and its fans could once again be hopeful of their team for the first time since George Mikan had retired in 1954 (his first retirement) and essentially ended the Lakers dynasty.

By Baylor’s second season in the league, there were complications with his NBA career. Indeed, the small forward could not participate in training camp because he had been inducted into the army. The second year player was in basic training at Fort Sam Houston close to San Antonio and thus the Lakers decided to hold training camp in Texas. Baylor would report to duty during the day and play the part of professional basketball player by night.

When the Lakers were not busy playing basketball, they would go down to Mexico where they played poker and shared drinks which served to enhance team chemistry.

Once the season got under way, Baylor lit up Detroit for 52 points and then dropped 64 points on the Boston Celtics a few nights later. And just in case there were still some people that were unimpressed, Elgin poured in 71 points at Madison Square Garden on November 15th and put the whole league on notice.

The problem that opponents often faced with the D.C. native was that he could drive right or left, was big enough to post up defenders and had the ability to not only hang in the air, but absorb hits and still finish at the rim.

Never before had an NBA player been able to glide so effortlessly in the air. Keep in mind though, Baylor is often credited as being the first player to ever attack the basket with such flair and creativity in the air; but the truth is that if he missed all of his shots at the rim, it would not have mattered. Thus, it’s important to note that not only was the Lakers forward a terrific leaper, but he also knew how to put the ball in the basket and that made him a potent scoring weapon.

Elgin Baylor might have been an impressive scorer but his contributions on the court went much further. His strength and leaping ability made him an incredible rebounder from the small forward position and he also possessed a decent jump shot as well as good passing instincts. This explains why the former Laker had so many outlandish scoring nights; opposing coaches were often scared to double-team him because he would routinely find the open man and render the extra attention useless.

Former Detroit guard Gene Shue shares his scouting report:

“You couldn’t defend Elgin. He had such a good outside shot. He could stare you down. He had a quick jab step. He would catch the ball at the top of the key or further out, and he’d get you going back and forth. He’d just explode by you. He had a nervous twitch. He was very, very hard to defend. Not only was he a good outside shooter, but he had a good deceptive first step. He had incredible strength and could hang in the air with the ball. When you put all those things together, you couldn’t stop him.”

Shue mentioned Baylor’s nervous twitch but failed to elaborate on it. Allow Johnny “Red” Kerr, a highly regarded center for the Syracuse Nationals—Philadelphia 76ers franchise, to explain (quote obtained by Roland Lazenby in his book Jerry West):

“If he gave you the nervous tic to the left, he was going left. If he gave it to the right, he was gonna go to his right. But when he shook both ways, that’s when you fell on your ass and he was gonna go around you.”

Everyone was in awe of Elgin and rightfully so. By his fourth NBA season, he was a perennial All-NBA 1st teamer (he made the first team every year in his first seven seasons) and quite possibly the best player in the league. However, Baylor was called into reserve duty with the army near Fort Lewis, Washington that season and consequently could only suit up for the Lakers on weekends and whenever he got an occasional pass.

Elgin Baylor went on to play 48 regular season games during the 1961-62 season and put up averages of 38.3 points, 18.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Despite his limited amount of appearances, the Los Angeles Lakers (moved to Los Angeles in 1960) finished with a 54-26 record, tops in the Western Division.

In the postseason, the Lakers handled the Pistons in six games in the Western Division Finals and then eventually lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the NBA Finals, but not before Elgin dazzled the basketball world with a performance for the ages in a Game 5 win: 61 points and 22 rebounds before fouling out.

In his book The Show, Roland Lazenby obtained this quote from Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn:

“Elgin Baylor as a forward beats out Bird, Julius Erving, and everybody else. A lot of people don’t remember him, but he had the total game—defense, offense, everything, rebounding, passing the ball.”

Just so we’re clear, Tommy Heinsohn is the same famous homer basketball analyst that does the Celtics games broadcasts; thus for him to pick Elgin over Bird should speak volumes about the forward’s greatness.

Unfortunately, prosperity would not last. In the first game of the 1965 playoffs, the main ligament in Baylor’s knee was damaged and his kneecap was split almost in half. Some wondered if he would ever walk again. But the Lakers forward worked hard to make it back to the team and was able to participate in training camp in the fall of 1965.

Elgin had lost some of his explosiveness, he could no longer run the same nor could he rebound the way he once had. He had to rely more on perimeter shooting and occasional post ups to get his points.

During the 1965-66 season, Baylor appeared in 65 games and put up modest averages of 16.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. After a season of adjustment, Elgin Baylor would come back the following season and play like the star he was; making three straight All-NBA 1st teams. His game had shifted, but he was still an effective and efficient player.

By the 1968-69 season (the last time Baylor would be named to the All-NBA team), Elgin Baylor’s game would change to accommodate the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain. Driving lanes were no longer available like once before because the Stilt was now setting up shop in the low post. Consequently, the Lakers legend had to rely more on his perimeter game and also had less scoring opportunities available to him with Chamberlain on the squad.

The Lakers figured out a way to make it work with Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain during the regular season but saw Bill Russell’s Celtics celebrate a title on their home floor in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals.

The two following seasons were a nightmare for the Lakers legend as he played in a combined 56 games, struggling with knee troubles. He would retire early in the 1971-72 season, and watch the ’72 Lakers take off and never look back as they captured the NBA title.

Some might say that Elgin Baylor needed a ring to validate his career but such logic would diminish his accomplishments as well as those of his Lakers teams. Elgin Baylor is arguably one of the 20 greatest players the league has ever seen, was selected to 10 All-NBA 1st teams and directed the Lakers franchise to seven NBA Finals appearances.

The Logo had this to say on his former teammate:

“It was an honor to play with him. I never considered Elgin Baylor as someone I competed against. He is without a doubt one of the truly great players to play this game. I hear people talking about great players today, and I don’t see many that compare to him, I’ll tell you that. He had that wonderful, magical instinct for making plays, for doing things that you just had to watch. I learned from him, from watching him. I was young, wanting to learn. I had an incredible appreciation for other people’s talents. It was incredible to watch Elgin play.”

Just remember, before there were movies like Above the Rim, before there were highflyers such as Shawn Kemp and Vince Carter, before there were And 1 Mixtapes and before there were vicious “I own you” dunks; there was Elgin Baylor, and he started it all. Sounds like a winner to me….

Around The World (Wide Web)

Darius Soriano —  September 26, 2011
  • ESPN reporter Andy Katz caught up with Luke Walton who has signed on as an assistant coach with the University of Memphis while the lockout endures. Plenty of good insight here, but I was encouraged by this passage as it’s good to hear that Walton is finding a way to work on his game and his health:

If Walton were still in Los Angeles, he would have no access to the Lakers’ facilities either. So here he is — 1,800 miles away — coaching, recruiting and working out daily with full access to a training staff as he rehabs from a back injury that nearly forced him to retire in 2009-10.

“I’ve got a bunch of Grizzlies players I’m working out with, my shooting coach is coming this week and I’ve got a training staff and strength coach here at my disposal,” Walton said. “I can do all of this during my time off when we’re not practicing [during individual workouts], coaching or recruiting, so I make sure to stay ready for when the lockout ends.”

Could I walk away from basketball, from the Lakers?  No.  It doesn’t matter if the lockout is miraculously resolved next week, figured out half way through the season, costs us the entire 2011-2012 campaign, or worse.  Basketball can be forcibly removed from my life for six months, a year, 2 years, a decade even, and I’ll still come back.  I’ll still be every bit the fan that I am now, no matter what….There is nothing left to do but accept that the game I love will be gone for a long, long time, and when it comes back, I will be ready for it with open arms.

  • This is something I’ll be DVR’ing. You should too.
  • An exploration of who should be on Team USA’s 2012 Olympic team. There are several “locks” and that leaves only a few open spots. Should Lamar Odom make the team? Derrick Rose? Russ Westbrook? Coach K and the selection comittee are going to have some tough choices. Personally, I’d take Odom over Love or Chandler as I think his versatility on offense and defense is a good compliment to the other big men likely to make the team. That said, he’ll be a year older by the time the London games begin and a younger player may be a better choice. What are your thoughts?
  • If there’s one thing you should read today, it’s this piece by Malcom Gladwell on the business of the New Jersey Nets and the backstory on their move to Brooklyn. It’s all tied into the lockout and paints an interesting picture about finances, the complexities surrounding the economics of basketball, and more. Seriously, go read it now.




Kobe Bryant has been courted by the world during the NBA’s labor unrest and the latest offer from Italian Club Virtus Bologna is a doozy:

Kobe Bryant has been offered a $6.7 million, one-season contract to play for the Italian team Virtus Bologna, appealing to his childhood memories of growing up in the country…Virtus has given Bryant four contract options, stretching from the one-year deal to two-month and one-month options, and a per-game deal that would come out to $739,640 per home game.

On the surface, this is a win-win for #24. He can go back to a country he enjoyed in his youth, follow in the footsteps of his father, further enhance his global brand, and make a nice piece of coin in the process. If the only considerations were how to maximize the money going into his bank account, the reports would probably read “Kobe signs in Italy” rather than detailing the terms of the offer.

But those aren’t the only considerations; there are downsides here. The ever prescient Kelly Dwyer brings up a few good points about why Kobe wouldn’t want to go – citing family, wear and tear on is body, and his loyalty and connection to the Lakers as strong pulls to simply remain stateside and get ready for an NBA season.

This is not an easy choice but, ultimately, I see Kobe staying home. Beyond the reasons Dwyer lists, I simply don’t envision Kobe agreeing to join a full fledged league where he’d be competing every night for a team with larger goals than just trotting him out to fill an arena (though that’s obviously a part of why overseas teams want NBA players). This isn’t an exhibition game in the Phillipines or a glorified pick up game in a local summer pro-am. These games count and Kobe, even some don’t want to admit it, understands the fabric of a team and how a season is a process that a group goes through together in building towards a common goal. I simply can’t see him jumping into the fray with another team if it’s not a real commitment to help them. He’s already made that commitment to the Lakers and he has unfinished business with them from last season.


Speaking of next season, the question still remains when we’ll actually see games being played.

It turns out, a bit later than scheduled. The NBA has announced that the league has cancelled 43 pre-season games and postponed the start of training camps. Of those 43 games, 3 were Lakers games: October 9th vs Golden State (Fresno, Ca), October 12th vs. Atlanta (Ontario, Ca), and October 15th vs. Atlanta (at Staples).

Pre-season games being missed doesn’t really concern me (I thought this tweet summed up how I feel about it) but I do feel bad for fans in Fresno and Ontario that don’t often get the chance to see the team in person and now have one of those few opportunities squashed by the league.

As for the real season, there is still some hope that the games will start on time. Ken Berger, in his summary of Thursday’s meetings, reports that there has been some movement by the owners and those steps towards the middle are important towards finding a resolution:

…what happened here actually had the potential to be productive. For the first time since their initial proposal in January 2010 — when they offered a $45 million hard cap that would deliver the players well below 50 percent of BRI — the owners proposed a revised BRI split that was closer to, but still below what the players have indicated they would be willing to accept. In this impossibly slow negotiating dance, that qualifies as progress.

The owners’ number, one of the people familiar with the details said, represented a willingness to move off their most recent formal proposal to cap player salaries at $2 billion a year for the bulk of a 10-year proposal. So, do the math: Assuming 4 percent revenue growth next season to $3.95 billion, the owners’ $2 billion proposal represented roughly 50.5 percent of BRI for the players. If the players were willing to go down to, say, 53 percent with assurances that a soft cap would remain in place, that would be $2.094 billion — leaving the two sides only $94 million apart in the first year of the deal.

Given that the owners moved off their $2 billion to somewhere between that and the players’ number, we’re talking about perhaps as little as $75 million per year holding up the future of the NBA. That’s why, as one person familiar with the talks said Thursday, a deal is “there for the taking.”

When will each side be ready to take it? Not yet. Not Thursday, and maybe not next week, either. The drop-dead date to preserve the season intact — Oct. 13 or 14 — is still three weeks away.


Today, the Owners and Players Association met again today, and as Adrian Wojnarowski said in the tweet above, not a lot of progress has been made. While this news isn’t particularly good, it seems as if there was something in the 5 and a half hour meeting that prompted both sides to meet again as early as next week. At this point in time, there aren’t a lot of details surrounding the details of what went on in the meeting, so we’ll have to wait for reports to surface for the time being.

If you haven’t checked out already, ESPN’s 5-on-5 discussed the lockout and how it affects both Kobe and Lebron.

The Wages of Wins’ Devin Dignam takes a look at the Pau Gasol v. Juan Carlos Navarro Eurobasket MVP debate in two posts.

Navarro’s teammate Pau Gasol was clearly the best player in the tournament. In addition to being tops in terms of total wins, Gasol was also the most efficient player (as measured by EWP/40) in the entire tournament. The fact that Gasol lost out to his teammate is a travesty. But overall, the all-tournament team did pretty well. Of the five selections, the only one I have an issue with is Navarro. Which isn’t too bad – it’s not like he won the MVP or anything.

Hoop Speak’s Beckley Mason presents a 1999 lockout chronology timeline.

Brian Windhorst of the Heat Index explains how some teams, most notably the Heat, can take advantage of an amnesty clause if such a clause (which is expected) should be in the new collective bargaining agreement.

For months there has been speculation that a new CBA would contain such a clause, which was first used as part of the last CBA deal in 2005. It’s a mechanism to help phase in new rules and create a bridge for teams who are stuck with bad contracts. Six years ago it was used to help teams avoid a more penal luxury tax. The highest profile player to be released was Michael Finley, who the Mavericks waived to save more than $30 million in luxury-tax payments at the time.

This week the Portland (Ore.) Oregonian reported that there’s a consensus among owners to include another amnesty clause in the new CBA that would help clear space in what are expected to be more restrictive salary caps. Of course no one can predict the future but the signs continue to indicate the new deal will have some sort of amnesty option in it.

Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie reports that Yao Ming is still doing humanitarian things despite hanging up his sneakers.

Yao is asking his fellow countrymen to stop eating shark fins, and while his words may not make much of a dent in changing a centuries-old Chinese tradition, this is a very good thing. Because the practice of securing shark fins is a terrible, terrible thing.

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in China, and though the price of a fin can be more than exorbitant, that doesn’t stop the massive consumption of the dish. A dish that, frankly, is more show than substance.

By now, you know J.M. Poulard as he’s been putting together great posts for FB&G over the past few months. So, I’m happy to announce that he’ll be joining FB&G on a more permanent basis moving forward. Join me in welcoming him on board and enjoy his latest effort…

Back when Shaquille O’Neal played for the Orlando Magic, it seemed that the team would be a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference for years to come. The Magic were built around the tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and that squad had taken out Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals on their way to the Finals. The future definitely looked bright for Orlando.

Around the time that the Magic was on the rise, a young teenager once made his way into the Orlando locker room because he wanted to meet his favorite player at the time, which was Penny. Hardaway rushed the young teenager and took take a picture with him and then went on his way. O’Neal saw all of this unfold and offered words of encouragement to the kid because although Penny had taken the picture, he had brushed off the young fan. Shaq went on to talk to the teen asked him where he was from and what have you. In his autobiography Shaq Talks Back, the Diesel shares the last few words he had with the young fan:

“Nice to meet you dog. See you in the NBA.”

The name of that young fan? Kobe Bean Bryant.

Little did O’Neal know, he was paving the way to his first title with that small interaction.

Fast forward to the summer of 1996; Shaquille O’Neal is a free agent and it seems clear to everyone that he will remain in Orlando given the fact that the team is a powerhouse in the making that will own the Eastern Conference for years to come despite having just been swept by the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Mind you, Jerry West is not convinced that the Diesel cannot be lured away. Consequently, he dismantles his team in order to have the required cap room to sign O’Neal outright.

The move would be known as perhaps the greatest free agent acquisition in Lakers history, however in order for it to manifest, two things needed to happen:

I. Resentment of Orlando media: Shaq had grown tired of being in Orlando and facing scrutiny for everything he did off the court. For instance, the local press constantly stated that he lacked dedication to basketball because of his music and movies; and they also made it seem as though the woman who bore O’Neal’s first son was a less than respectable lady.

II. Fallout with Orlando management: Shaq made his decision to leave the Magic the day they informed him that they could not give him a contract exceeding the amount of money that Penny was making because he was sensitive and it could potentially make him uncomfortable. Upon receiving the news, O’Neal told the Magic he would sign with them the following day (which clearly he knew he would not) but he then informed Jerry West that he was coming to Los Angeles.

Once the word got out that the Lakers were about to get Shaq for $98 million, Orlando quickly offered to match the contract offer (funny how Penny’s feelings were no longer important once they realized that O’Neal was set on leaving). In the meantime, Alonzo Mourning had just obtained a $110 contract from the Miami Heat and Shaq felt that he was the better player and thus wanted to be compensated more. West stepped up to the plate and offered the Diesel a monster $121 million contract that the star center signed. Tough luck Orlando.

In that very same summer, West made one of the best draft day trades in the history of the NBA when he acquired the rights to Kobe Bryant in exchange for Vlade Divac.

Then and there, a championship team was slowly starting to take shape: Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The irony of course is that save for O’Neal and Bryant, none of the players above would win a ring with the Lakers. But before the team reached its lofty expectations, they still needed to experience some growing pains.

Del Harris was the head coach of the Lakers when O’Neal arrived in Los Angeles but there was one big problem with him: the players did not respect him. His practices were often lax and he favored the idea of simply giving the ball to the players and asking them to go out and play instead of working on sound principles and focusing on how to stop opponents. Harris and Van Exel often got into shouting matches during practices during which Harris (yes Del Harris) once lambasted the former Cincinnati guard with more curse words than a Dr. Dre album.

Making matters worse, Harris was intent on having Kobe Bryant earn his playing time by forcing him to integrate his game with that of teammates and also working hard on defense. While the veterans appreciated the gesture, management offered a different opinion. Jerry Buss and Jerry West wanted for the young prodigy to get some playing time in order to grow and mature as a player.

Truth be told, if the team had been successful under Harris, they probably would have kept him on board; but the reality is that the team often underachieved; getting by merely with talent and usually folding against more experience teams in the playoffs (eliminated in five against Jazz in ’97 playoffs, swept by Jazz in ’98 playoffs and swept by Spurs in ’99 playoffs). And so, after a few years of watching the Lake Show become a no show, the team fired Del Harris during the 1998-99 season (lockout year) and gave Kurt Rambis the reigns to the team.

The players had always loved Rambis as an assistant coach but as the head coach they were less appreciative of him given the fact that his attitude towards the team changed. According to O’Neal, Rambis was trying to play a part as opposed to being himself. In addition, feeling the squeeze from management, Rambis gave Bryant the playing time he had always yearned for and let him play through his mistakes and never tried to steer him towards team play (also, Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell were traded to Charlotte for Glen Rice which opened up minutes at the shooting guard spot).

Even when the team held meetings to discuss Kobe’s perceived selfishness, Rambis was quick to come to his defense and mentioned his youth as a reason why players on the team should show more patience.

And thus, when the Lakers were eliminated at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals, the first thing Shaq made known was that he wanted his type of head coach. He gave the Lakers a list of three head coaches:

1. Chuck Daly

2. Bob Hill

3. Phil Jackson

The Lakers went with Jackson who brought along with him instant respect as well as an attitude that was almost defiant towards the players. O’Neal shared one of the first few things that Jackson shared with the team upon joining them:

“Listen, if Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen didn’t have egos, didn’t talk back to me, none of you guys should ever say sh** to me. Period.”

The team started off the season with Kobe Bryant sitting out the first few weeks because of a wrist injury. The team played well nonetheless and raced out to a 12-3 record. Prior to Kobe returning to the lineup, the head coach advised his star center that when the star guard would come back into the rotation, he would take a wait and see approach with him. He would occasionally get on him, but would allow him to play his game and then try to gradually bring him into the fold.

Jackson understood that there would be no changing Bryant, but rather that he should embrace his game and then have him make some adjustments. At times, Phil had to show Kobe’s mistakes during video sessions in front of the team in order for him to get the message but there were still occasions where Bryant needed to have the spotlight on him. For instance, in December 1999 the Lakers traveled to Toronto to face Vince Carter and the Raptors and Bryant made sure that everyone knew that he was going to go after the player dubbed Air Canada and he did, putting up 26 points in a 94-88 win.

The turning point in the team’s season came on March 6th, 2000 when the Lakers faced off against the Clippers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an assistant coach for the Clippers and had been critical of O’Neal’s game heading into the match up which already had the Diesel poised to have a good game. But what truly infuriated the center was the fact that it was his birthday and the Clippers had refused to provide him with additional tickets.

With Abdul-Jabbar giving the Clippers big men tips on how to guard O’Neal, the Lakers star center had a field day in attacking every single one of them. But the night was important for other reasons as Shaq explains:

“Kobe is giving it up and I keep scoring. Now I’m at 59 points and Kobe penetrates and people think he ain’t gonna get it to me. What does he do? He doesn’t even think twice. Feeds me for m 61st point, the most I ever scored in an NBA game. On my birthday too.

“My plan was if I get 61, I was gonna come down and shoot the three. So I get it, and the crowd is going crazy. I’m dribbling across half court and I stop. I look at the basket, but I see Kobe breaking toward the rim. So I throw him a lob. He catches it, cocks it back, throws down a reverse alley-oop dunk. That was my way of showing Kobe, ‘Thanks for helping me get 61. This one’s for you.’

“Once we did that together, we were tight. We bonded that night.”

And just like that, a title team had finally emerged. The playoffs were still a month and half away, but the chemistry, trust and belief was there. Thus, the Lakers made it into the postseason and eliminated the Sacramento Kings in five games (the first round was decided with three wins at the time), the Phoenix Suns in five games and had to play the Portland Trail Blazers in a tough seven-game series for the ages.

Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals was played at the Staples Center and Portland was up by 15 points early in the fourth quarter. The same trust, belief and chemistry that the team had acquired in early March surfaced then and there as the Lakers came back to take the lead and punctuated the victory with the signature play of the Shaq and Kobe era: the Kobe to Shaq alley-oop (this might be one of the most significant and demoralizing plays in NBA history for an opponent and yet the video fails to grasp that. Unless you watched the game live, unfortunately its significance is easily lost on you).

The Lakers would go on to the NBA Finals to defeat the Indiana Pacers in six games with Shaquille O’Neal being named the Finals MVP. The long trip the team took during the 1999-2000 season helped the team win two more titles; but it also helped turn Kobe Bryant into the superstar he is today.

In order for dynasties to exist in the NBA, more often than not a team needs to have the perfect set of circumstances come together; like an all world center reaching his prime just as his younger star teammate begins to not only reach his potential, but surpass it thanks in large part to the perfect coach.

And yet, the irony of it all is that it all started with a meeting in an Orlando locker room some years before…

All summer we’ve been checking in with Pau Gasol’s progress as he suited up for his native Spain for the EuroBasket Tournament in Lithuania. The tournament is now over and Gasol is once again a champion, playing a crucial role in his home country’s victory in the title game over France.

Over at The Painted Area (a site worth your time for more than today’s link) Jay Aych sums up Pau Gasol’s tourney quite well:

Another international competition, another sterling tournament for Pau Gasol. Pau capped off a great EuroBasket with another sharp all-around performance vs. the French with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Pau added a 3pt. make on Sunday to finish Euro ’11 shooting 7-for-11 on 3PA.

Pau finished EuroBasket third in points (20 ppg), third in FG pct. (54%), fourth in rebounds (8.3 rpg), third in blocks (1.7 bpg). Pretty much does this everytime he suits up for Spain. If there were any doubts about his enshrinement into the Naismith Hall of Fame, they should cease forever. (We covered Pau’s FIBA accomplishments after Spain’s 2009 Euro final win.)

Don’t agree with the MVP vote–Pau should have won over Juan Navarro. Pau was more of a factor of both sides of the floor, with an underrated impact defensively once again. Navarro was clutch in the knockout round for Spain, but was a little off at the start of the tourney while Pau was consistent throughout.

As we’ve been saying, a strong effort from Gasol serves as a reminder that he is one of the best players in the world and also gave him the opportunity to be the focal point of a team – something that will serve him well when he’s back stateside with the Lakers. If Pau can channel that strong play and carry it over into next season, the Lakers are already a better team than they were when they faced Dallas in last season’s playoffs.

Now, if only we had some progress on the negotiations that will ensure there is a next season…