Archives For NBA general

In a move that was classicly Shaq, the Big Everything issued a statement via his twitter account that simply said, “I’m retiring” with a link to a video making it official.

There will be much more analysis to come and I’m sure many tributes (as well as those that would like to criticize) the big man’s career. I, however, have nothing but love for the big man that came to the Lakers as a free agent in 1996, joined forces with a rookie Kobe Bryant, and brought the Lakers three consecutive championships and four trips to the NBA Finals during his tenure. His time with the team wasn’t always smooth and things certainly didn’t end well, but the memories of those good times last forever.

And speaking of memories, enjoy this clip of highlights from Shaq’s career. His dominance was something that we may never see from a big man ever again. His combination of size, strength, quickness, and overall athleticism made him a monster that none could handle when at his peak. He was truly one of a kind. I’ll miss you, big fella.

While it’s not yet official, it’s being reported that Lamar Odom will be named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year later today. This is great news and I’m thrilled for Lamar being recognized for his fantastic season. His statistics speak for themselves, but even more impressive to these eyes has been his ability to shift between starter and reserve and fully embrace whatever role is thrown at him, all while playing top flight basketball for the entire season.

It’s been said many times over, but Odom really is the glue to this Laker team. He’s a leader, the bridge between the starters and the reserves, and probably the most beloved teammate in the Laker locker room. His ability to stay grounded and always do what’s best for the team shows a selflessness that is very much needed on a team where a precious few consistently get the accolades even though everyone contributes to the success of the group. His humble nature only reinforces the sacrifice that is a requirement on any team expected to contend for the championship. In a way, he’s been the most consistent Laker and could easily be described as indispensable. Not too shabby for a guy that some questioned would ever live up to his potential on this team.

And while I wish Odom could have also gotten that coveted all-star berth that’s eluded him his entire career, this award isn’t such a bad consolation. It only reaffirms his value to this team and shines a light on how consistently good he’s been this year as a key cog to the team’s success. So, again, a big congrats to my favorite lefty. He earned this award with a stellar campaign. Now, there’s only one more piece of hardware to win (and I’m sure he’d trade today’s trophy for that other one handed out in June).

The Expectations Game

Darius Soriano —  November 18, 2010

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Expectations can be tricky.

Live up to or exceed them and the bar gets raised to a level where anything less than achieving or surpassing those same heights can taint future accomplishments (see: Thunder, Oklahoma City).  Or, don’t achieve what’s expected of you in the first place and it’s a disappointment that is tough to live down, regardless of what transpires in the future.  Yet still, if expectations are low and the achievements reached are far greater than what anyone originally thought possible, a hero’s celebration is sure to follow (Michael Beasley is inching in that direction right now).  Such is life – and sports – and walking a path where you don’t find yourself on one side of this line is often difficult or even impossible.

We see examples of the expectations game all the time in the NBA.  In 2008 the Lakers were an afterthought to start the year as trade rumors surrounded Kobe Bryant and engulfed the Lakers’ organization.  By the time the all-star break came the Lakers were one of the better teams in the league, had traded for Pau Gasol and went on to crash through their supposed ceiling by reaching the Finals.  That team eclipsed what many originally thought possible and were thus celebrated. (Initially, at least. Then expectations shifted, but that’s another story for another day.)  Today, we see what being on the wrong side of fulfilling expectations is like with the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh’s performance under a constant microscope with tags of underachievement being placed on a team (and that specific player) based off what was thought they would be and could achieve this season.

There’s really no way around playing the expectations game.  A player or a team can ignore them the best they can, but in the end others’ beliefs of what you can or should achieve, be, or do in any given situation often take the place of whatever the individual or team has in it’s own plans.

I bring all this up because of the case of two big men.  One of them we’re all quite familiar with – Andrew Bynum.  The other is also a familiar name  – Greg Oden.

Earlier this week, Bynum was asked what his return date would be as he continues to work his way back from off-season surgery of his own.  Rather than go into any details, Bynum said, “I don’t want to change expectations”.  You see, Bynum is quite familiar with how this works.  This is the 4th straight season that he’s missed substantial playing time due to an injury.  Each season a timeline was set for his return and each year that date came and went with Bynum still rehabbing his injury.  Fans (myself included) proceeded to call Andrew a “notoriously slow healer” and now our expectations have been reset and adjusted to the fact that there aren’t any real timelines when it comes to Bynum, only waiting.  We know that one day he will be back and when he is we can go back to placing other expectations on him – to be an all-star, a better passer, or more/less of some other quality that we’d like to see in him or his game.

Fans of the Portland Trailblazers could only hope for the same ability to say that their injured big man will be back.   Because with the latest announcement and the reprecussions of it, it’s not a lock that Oden will ever be a viable player in the NBA again, much less do it with the Blazers (check out this post for a great roundup of Oden articles).  Which, needless to say, is a shame.  Because we’ve all had our own expecations for the Blazers’ big man.  Some called him the best big man prospect since Duncan.  Others said he had the potential to be a defensive game changer in the Alonzo Mourning mold, only with a more refined offensive game.  His size, strength, and natural talent as a player was unquestioned and now with another knee surgery planned and another season missed, questions are all that there are.

However this all turns out, though, I hope nothing but the best  for Greg Oden.  Many are counting him out right now and there’s good reason for that.  While the success rate of players who go though micro-fracture surgery is much better than the days of Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, it’s still a daunting surgery with a long and rigorous rehab.  That said, Oden seems like a player that loves the game and after working as hard as he has to come back from his other injuries maybe he has one more push to come back in him.  I sure hope so.

Just as a I hope for a healthy return of Andrew Bynum and for him to show us all again why all the fuss about his timelines exists in the first place.  While Bynum, like Oden, has endured more than his fair share of injuries, he’s also had enough court time to show us what’s possible with his game; for the expectations to be based off actual, sustained production and not just the potential of it.  So, I can’t wait to see him back on the court.  If only because the expectations for continued improvement are still there – even if it’s not always fair that it’s the case.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 28, 2010

Houston Rockets Yao Ming of China (L) goes up to shoot past Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol of Spain during the second half of their NBA game in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

A couple of off days in a row for the Lakers allow me to look around the league and truly take in the entire association.   And with the NBA finally back, a few musings from one happy basketball fan…

*The first few days have provided some fantastic performances with some eye popping numbers from players around the league.  Monta Ellis scored 46 points on 24 shots in his 40 minutes of game action to help dispatch the Rockets, essentially carrying over his hot shooting from his last preseason game against the Lakers.  Meanwhile, the ageless Jason Kidd tallied 18 assists with only 1(!) turnover to go along with his 12 points to lead the Mavs in their opening night win.  Joakim Noah, a player I’ve been high on for some time, had a monster opening night outing – albeit in a losing effort – by scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds (7 offensive) to go along with 2 each of assists, steals, and blocks.  And then Chris Paul had 17 points and 16 assists (only 1 turnover) in his return to action after an injury plagued 2010 campaign.

*But it wasn’t just the veterans that have been playing well to start the season.  DeMarcus Cousins opened his NBA career with 14 and 8.  Wesley Johnson shot well in his debut.  Derek Favors played well last night too, and tonight we get to see John Wall try to fullfill his promise as an elite PG.  But, I can’t talk about rookies without mentioning the guy that resides in the other locker-room in Staples.  BLAKE GRIFFIN!!!  Sorry, got a little excited there, but even though it’s only one game, I don’t see how basketball fans couldn’t be excited about this kid.  His all-around skill set is stronger than many remembered from his college days and his athleticism is beyond anyone we’ve seen since a pre-injury Amar’e or a young Shawn Kemp.  As for the Laker rooks, Ebanks and Caracter haven’t had the types of starts that really deserve mention, but I think that will change soon enough.  With match ups against the Suns and Warriors in the next couple of games, both players should be in the mix for minutes as Ebanks can match up against the many wings that both Pacific Division foes will dispatch and Caracter’s post game can be one ingredient to pound undersized teams when one (or both) of Pau and Odom are on the bench. 

*The Heat are going to be a big story all year.  The stars they have and the media machine ensure that.  So far they’re 1-1 with a win over Philly last night and a loss to Boston in their season opener.  Many have jumped to conclusions about the loss to Boston, but I’m not one of them.  The Heat undoubtedly have enormous talent.  But talent takes time to mold and jell.  Wade’s injury during the preseason didn’t help matters, but to think that this team – a team with only a handful of players returning from last year – would have a strong chemistry or could put it together on the fly were ignoring what the past has taught us about team building.  I don’t care how talented players are, it takes time to come together.  It’s one thing if you’re adding one great player (like the Lakers did with Gasol three seasons ago), but the Heat have added James and Bosh to a team with Wade and working that out will take time.  This is why I thought reaching 70 wins was nearly impossible for this team. (That, and travel concerns.  As Phil has said many times before, teams traveling from the coasts have a rougher road when trying to win that many games.  And Phil would know such things.  Since, you know, he’s the last guy to actually accomplish the feat.)  Ultimately the Heat will find their way…they’ll have to find it amidst a shower of boos and every team’s best effort each night, but they’ll find it.

*We all saw the Lakers championship rings.  They are magnificent and gaudy all at the same time.  People like us could never dream of actually having one.  Except, you know, Ron Artest is raffling his off so now we all have a chance to own one.  If you want to participate in the raffle, you can go here or here for the info..  Also, I agree with commenter busterjonez (who is on his way to buy tickets as I write this) when he said, “If I win, I am going to give the ring back to RonRon. I don’t care if he raffles it off again, but he earned that thing.”  Hear, hear. 

*We’ll have more on the Lakers tomorrow, what with them facing off against the Suns, but I really can’t get enough of the action that’s going on all over the league.  Which reminds me, if you want to catch all the NBA games, NBA League Pass is free through next Tuesday.

Super Teams Are Not New

Darius Soriano —  September 21, 2010

showtime lakers

This Summer, the big news was the free agent acquisitions that the Miami Heat made.  By adding Lebron and Bosh while retaining Dwyane Wade, the Heat have formed what is being called a “super team” as they have brought together 3 of the top 15 players in the league and then surrounded them by good role players in the hope of winning a championship.  Meanwhile, as the summer has progressed, there has been much talk of the futures of Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and their potential quest to team up with Amar’e Stoudemire on the Knicks or go separately to some other team to be part of another roster with high level talent that can not only battle the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy but also claim a championship (or more) of their own.  And then there’s the Lakers – the team that (presumably) all of these players have in mind when wanting to join forces in the first place.   With Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, and the (still) up and coming Bynum, the Lakers have built a team on a foundation of talent that is pretty much unmatched by any other team in the league (and that includes the Heat, Celtics, Magic, etc).

But, none of this is really new as the concept of the super team has been around for generations.  Look back to any era and you’ll find a franchise that thought gathering as much talent as possible on one roster is the way to go about their business.  Which, when thinking about it, is actually an obvious tactic.  I mean, talent wins in this league and has for decades.  There’s no reason to think that this trend is somehow going to stop or that owners/GM’s aren’t plotting ways to make their respective teams as competitive as possible by acquiring as much talent as their roster can hold.

Below are some of the teams that I can think of off the top of my head that staked their claim as a super team with some results as to how successful they were in winning that elusive championship.  For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll only look at teams that have had at least three Hall of Fame caliber players on their roster at the same time.  And, we’ll only go back to 1980 (though the Lakers of West, Baylor, Wilt and Goodrich deserve recognition as do the Russell/Cousy Celtics and the Russell/Havlicek Celtics).  We’ll start from most recent and work our way backwards.

2008-2010 Lakers:  This is the current group of Lakers that is the reiging back to back NBA champions.  Their top 5 players (Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, Bynum) are all capable of being elite level contributors.  The leader, Kobe Bryant, is a 5 time champion, a repeat first team all NBA performer and Defensive team performer, and is a former MVP of the entire league.  Pau Gasol is one of the most versatile big men in the game and shows a combination of polish and skill on both sides of the ball that made him an all star before he came to Los Angeles.  And while it may be a stretch to find another sure fire Hall of Famer amongst Odom/Bynum/Artest, it’s not a stretch to imagine Bynum being a dominant, All-Star caliber player on a different team that, over time could grow into an All-NBA selection.  And while this might be breaking my own rule, when combined the trio of Odom/Bynum/Artest really do add up to another HOF caliber player as their unique variety of skill and versatility on both sides of the ball round out a roster that is the most top heavy in talent across the entire league.

2008-2010 Celtics: This team is a one time champion with two trips to the Finals.  They possess the fantastic trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce – all three of which are multiple time all stars and all league candidates.  KG is easily the most accomplished of the three winning a regular season MVP award and considered by many (including myself) to be one of the two or three best defensive players of his generation.  Pierce and Allen are also quite accomplished in their own right as Pierce has a Finals MVP to his resume and Allen is considered one of the best shooters of all time, much less of his generation.  When you add in the up and coming Rajon Rondo to run the point for this group, you have a fantastic base of talent that can make teams wilt with their defensive pressure and score enough points to make every game a challenge to beat them.

1997-1999 Rockets: The lone non title holder of the teams I’ll mention.  After tasting the ultimate glory with an Hakeem + role players model in 1994 and 1995 (though in ’95, Drexler was still a very good player), the Rockets went for it all again using the super team model in the late 90’s.  Needless to say it was not successful.  After brining in an aged Charles Barkley, this team never really found the needed chemistry and cohesion to win the championship.  Drexler was replaced with Scottie Pippen in ’99, but even that didn’t work and led to a messy, clash of Chuck and Scottie that led to Pippen leaving to Portlant in 2000 (where he saw this first hand). 

1996-1998 Bulls: Three time repeat champion that towered over the league for the second half of the 90’s.  Many think of this team as the Jordan/Pippen show, but when you throw in Dennis Rodman you have a triumvirate that is very difficult to beat.  And since everyone is familiar with Jordan and Pippen, allow me a moment to gush over “the Worm”.  There will never be another Dennis Rodman.  And no, I’m not talking about the hair dye, wedding dresses, or the all-night partying.  I’m talking about the combination of elite level defense and rebounding from a six foot, seven inch forward that created a presence on the defensive side of the ball that was truly difficult to comprehend unless you watched the games.  Rodman successfully bottled up players of all sizes and went to the backboards with a reckless abandon not seen since.  Many can marvel at the rebounding numbers of Dwight Howard or even young KG but in the 7 consecutive years that Rodman lead the league in rebounding average, he never fell below 14.9 and had a high of 18.7.  In comparison, neither KG nor Howard have had an average above 14.2 (Howard) in their high season.  When you throw in Rodman’s underrated feel for offensive basketball (he was an excellent passer, had a high BBIQ, and of course his offensive rebounding was off the charts) and you’ve got a great offensive player that just didn’t put up traditional box score stats on that side of the ball to earn him recognition.  In a sense, he was the ultimate teammate on offense and defense because he knew his role and performed it at a level that defies what even seems possible.  It’s a shame to me that Rodman is not in the Hall of Fame.  So now that I’m off my soap box, when you combine Rodman with Jordan and Pippen and the result is the dominance that we saw, they’re a super team.

1987-1990 Pistons: Back to back champions in 1989 and 1990.  This Detroit team’s back bone were Hall of Famers Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and also had Adrian Dantley for part of this run (HOF class of 1998).  When you add in a young Rodman and excellent, high level role players like Vinnie Johnson, Mark Aguirre, John Salley, Laimbeer, Mahorn, and James Edwards you have a team that often gets overlooked but was stocked full of talent.  Many don’t really consider this group a super team because their star players don’t have the cachet of the superstars of that same era, but I watched those games and those guys (especially Zeke and Dumars) were top shelf players that raised their games in the big moments.

1980-1991 Lakers: Ahh, Showtime.  We’ve discussed this group a lot at this site, so I’ll save all the recounting of fond memories.  But, let me just say that over that decade plus of basketball this team went to 9 NBA Finals, won 5 championships, and fielded a combination of players that include Hall of Famers Magic, Kareem, Worthy, and McAdoo while filling out their roster with near HOF players like Wilkes, high draft picks like Nixon, Mychal Thompson, and Scott, and great role players like Rambis and Green. (EDIT: And Michael Cooper! How could I have forgotten Coop? He’s a Laker I Miss.)

1980-1991 Celtics: Three time champion that went the the Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals 8 times in 9 seasons (’80-’88).  Parrish, McHale, Bird, and Dennis Johnson are all in the Hall of Fame. Danny Ainge was one of the best role players of his era (went to Finals with Boston, Portland, and Phoenix as a major contributor).  While this team was a hated rival of the Celtics and one that I personally loved to see lose, I must show proper respect by including them here.  The 1986 Celtic team is considered by many to one of the two or three best teams of all time and with reason.

There are some teams that didn’t quite make the cut.  The first ones that come to mind are the late 90’s Jazz, the early 2000’s Spurs, and the early 80’s 76ers.  All of those teams had two HOF players, but didn’t have either a third player that fit the bill or a group of top end players that were right below that threshold (though the 76ers did come close with Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, and Doug Collins).

Back to the Heat…will they follow the trend that these teams displayed and win at least one title?  The odds point in their favor.  They’ve amassed high quality talent in their top three players that will make them contenders for years to come.  However, questions remain.  Will they fill out their roster with the type of hard nosed role players that help win championships?  Will their games blend in the manner that past trios have?  Will they have the coaching that pushes them over the top?  Will one of the other “super” teams that currently exist (Lakers, Celtics) be too big a road block for them to break through?  Only time will tell with these questions.  But the Heat are hoping that their formation of a “super team” will lead them to the promised land that many of the other ones mentioned visited.  Because remember, this concept is not new and the Heat are banking on the past being their guide in their pursuit.

Los Angeles Lakers' Ron Artest gets in the face of Boston Celtics Paul Pierce (R) as Rasheed Wallace looks on during the first half of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California, June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In late June, a brawl broke out at a kindergarten graduation involved 20 adults, two of which were arrested. Not that a brawl breaking out at a kindergarten graduation wasn’t bad enough, but the adults began fighting over a Facebook comment that mentioned the Lakers. Adults. Facebook. Fighting. Kindergarten graduation.

We are currently living in a world where society gets scarier and scarier for our children every day. I’m a firm believer in providing an environment in which the children of my life have the best opportunity to succeed. A little over two years ago, my sister gave birth to my first nephew. Not even as a father, my perspective on the lives of children changed dramatically. When you have young kids in your life, there is a burden of raised responsibility that is placed upon you. I’m not saying that I’ve become a dramatically different person since the birth of my nephew, but his mere existence reinforces the fact that there are more important things in life than sports – most notably our youth.

As sports fans, we are a different kind of emotional beings. We love to defend the players and teams that we’ve invested a considerable amount of emotional time in, but there has to reach a line in which our defense has to stop. There is no point in Ron Artest defending players on the bench because they’re out of bounds. I’m sure he can do a great job in guarding those players, but it’s pointless and it makes him look foolish in the same way that fighting at a kindergarten graduation does. We need to make sure that we understand where the realm of our sports fandom begins and ends. This isn’t about the Lakers v. the NBA, this is about unruly parents v. their children. If we can’t even give our kids a peaceful graduation during some of the earliest years of lives, than we are failing them.

TrueHoop’s Henry Abbot wrote about the Bill Simmons/Chuck Klosterman podcast where they talked extensively about LeBron James decision to go to Miami. An interesting exchange that Simmons and Klosterman have involves the question of the ultimate consequence of sport. Simmons argues that James doesn’t understand the “life and death” part of sports. Klosterman argues that there is no life and death part of sports – and this is an argument that needs to be hammered into adults across the nation. No matter how strongly you feel about your favorite basketball team, there is never a situation that should call for one to engage in an altercation over what may or may not happen on the basketball court.

We need to be more responsible about our actions around our children to ensure they grow up with as many opportunities to succeed as possible. It’s a cruel, cruel world we live in, there is no need for that cruelness to be extrapolated from the adults in lives of these children.

Talking Chris Paul

Phillip Barnett —  July 22, 2010

January 20, 2010: Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets in action against the Memphis Grizzlies during an NBA game in the New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA. Tyler Kaufman/CSM.

Where to start with Chris Paul is tough because there are several ways to look at the potential of bringing in one of the best point guards of the last decade to the two time defending champions. Before getting into the ramifications of what it would mean to bring a talent like Paul to the Lakers, I think it’s important to understand the situation that the Hornets are currently in.

Chris Paul, as most star athletes do, wants to play for a contender – and he wants to sooner rather than later. As of right now, the team is built around Paul with David West as his number 2, some young talent (Darren Collison and Marcus Thorton), and a coupe of really bad contracts (Peja Stojakovic and Emeka Okafor). This team is hardly a championship contending basketball team. As reported by Ken Berger, Chris Paul will demand a trade if the Hornets can’t put together a championship caliber basketball team. With the young talent that the Hornets likely won’t want to move and the contracts that will be extremely hard to move if they tried, it doesn’t look like Paul’s wish for a contender in NOLA will be likely. This is a team that reached its peak in 2008 when they finished first in the Southwest Division and got knocked out in the second round by the Spurs in seven games. As Kelly Dwyer put it:

CP3 signed his extension in 2008 soon after the New Orleans Hornets gave the defending champion San Antonio Spurs all they could handle before losing in the second round of the playoffs. With David West screening and Chris Paul rolling, the team seemed poise to break through to the next level by anyone who wasn’t really paying attention. But really, this was the best the Hornets were ever going to get as presently constructed.

Why?

Because you have to look at this roster. All of the main components of the team’s rotation played in upwards of games in the high 70s. Including Paul (who missed 18 games the year before that), Peja Stojakovic (who missed 69 games the season before), and the perpetually fragile Tyson Chandler. The rest of the contributors, including Peja? Already sliding or about to hit the first downslide in the descent from their respective primes. Bonzi Wells, Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo — all men we’d already seen the absolute best from.

And yet, Paul signed the contract extension.

Why?

Because the Hornets were a good team the year before, and players like money. They talk themselves into believing their current situation is better than it is, because the money is better with an incumbent team than it would be with a squad you’d have to jump to, so they talk themselves into thinking that Peja Stojakovic (who had just turned 31) was a proper third wheel on a championship team. That things were going nowhere but up.

So now New Orleans is faced with the impossible task of turning their current roster into a title contending team or they’ll be faced with moving their superstar and re-beginning their rebuilding process, which may make more sense for the franchise in the end. With this current roster, the Hornets will be stuck in a limbo between early playoff exits and mid-round draft picks – not a place any team wants to be in a never-ending quest to get better. This almost ensures that Paul will be leaving in 2012 when his contract ends, putting them in the same rebuilding dilemma that they’d be facing now, except they’ll get no return for him because he’ll be taking his talents elsewhere as one of the most coveted free agents of that particular summer. As TrueHoop’s Henry Abbot writes:

A more pragmatic reality is that Hornets are a middling team who, league sources say, have been calling around looking to dump salaries. There are a lot of different stories you can use to rally your fanbase — good ones include: we’re young and growing, we’re fun to watch, or we’re contenders.

A less compelling story: We’re on the playoff bubble, and likely to stay there. In other words, it’s entirely possible they won’t be exciting in the playoffs nor the draft.

There have traditionally been two ways out of that purgatory: To go cheap, by trading away big contracts and amassing draft picks and cap space, or to go expensive — like the Celtics did — by bringing on expensive players in their prime.

It does not seem likely that the Hornets are about to go the expensive route.

Which means that, as a business, they’ll have a sales job to do. The ownership needs to sell the ticket-buying public, sponsors, even coaches and players, on the idea that they have a real plan in place.

The whole pitch becomes nearly impossible if the eye of the storm — the one superstar in the building — is on record as not wanting to be there.

However, Chris Paul still has two years left on his contract, so a move might not happen at all. Paul doesn’t have much leverage with so much time left on his contract – and he is a superstar, something sports franchises don’t like to move, especially in the primes of their respective careers. And over here at Forum Blue and Gold, we have seen this kind of situation before. In the summer of 2007, the Lakers were placed in a similar position when Kobe Bryant was demanding a contender or a trade out of Los Angeles. That summer, the Lakers essentially did nothing. They didn’t make any major moves to contend and they didn’t move Bryant. From the keys of Kurt Helin:

The Hornets do not have to give in. They should not give in. There are not other Chris Paul’s out there, the Hornets need to try to build around him, not move him.

Certainly Paul and Kobe’s situations are different. Don’t confuse the rudderless ship that is Hornets ownership and management right now with the proven winner Jerry Buss at the top and a patient Mitch Kupchak at the wheel. Kobe did not see the big picture (and nobody saw the Pau Gasol trade coming). Paul doesn’t see the big picture, but nobody does. We’re not even sure who will own the team when the season starts.

Hugh Webber’s rush to fill in the vacuum of power does not instill confidence.

The Hornets can rebuild — this is the last year of Peja Stojakovic’s oversized deal, he is a trade chip. David West is still good. Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton show promise. There are pieces there. Things can improve.

But things will not get better without Paul. Trade him and you start to rebuild from the ground up. New Orleans shouldn’t do that. Not until they have to.

Now, considering all of that, I find it highly unlikely that Paul would become a Laker. There would be too many names involved in a trade for the young stud at the point guard position and could potentially break up some key pieces to the three time Western Conference Champions and two time NBA Champions. It is believed that, if a trade between the Lakers were to happen, both Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, along with maybe one other Laker (maybe Sasha Vujacic or Luke Walton) would be sent to NOLA for Chris Paul and Emeka Okafor’s horrendous contract. In an e-mail exchange with Darius, he had this to say on Paul potentially coming to Los Angeles:

The prospect of getting Paul is one that needs to be looked at from many angles if you’re the Lakers – and that’s not the case with other teams.  If you’re Orlando or the Knicks, wanting to acquire Paul is a no brainer.  He’d instantly become their best player (or maybe tied with Dwight if sent to the Magic) and he’d be the leader with the ball in his hands on nearly every possession.

In LA that wouldn’t necessarily be the case and the Lakers would be dismantling a championship team to acquire a player that really isn’t needed right now, in the short term.  This isn’t to say that Paul couldn’t make a difference – he’s one of the best players in the NBA and if not for injury concerns he’d easily be the best PG in the league (but as it stands now I think he’s still in competition with Deron Williams for that fictional title).  So, yes he’d help.  But how much would he help?  Kobe is a ball dominant guard.  In order to get Paul the Lakers would surely have to give up Bynum and potentially Odom in a deal that includes Okafor.  And if that’s the deal, the Lakers give up the the thing (besides Kobe) that makes your team special (versatile size) to get a player that who plays a position that may not even be maximized considering the other personnel that remains (Kobe) and the system the Lakers run.  In essence, I see the allure and whenever you can acquire the best player in a trade it’s definitely worth looking hard at.  But, this is still a team game and getting the pieces that fit together to make the strongest team is what matters most.

The flip side to this argument – and something that I can easily see as well – is that as this Lakers’ team and the league evolves, a team with a dynamic point guard that is flanked by Kobe, Gasol, and Artest is theoretically one of the best in the league still.  When you look at Kobe, his game is moving more toward one that is more effective in the post than on the perimeter and Gasol is a player whose game is so versatile that he’s comfortable in nearly every spot on the floor out to the three point line.  So, when looked at any potential acquisition of Chris Paul from this angle, the Lakers would have a team whose post game revolves around the exploits of Gasol and Kobe and whose perimeter players would be Chris Paul, Artest, and Kobe (as he slides in between the post and the wing based off the motion of the offense).  If Odom is in the mix over Okafor, this formula looks even better as the Lakers would still have the most versatile team in the league with “do it all” size and two of the top 5-6 players in the league when healthy.  However if Okafor is in the deal that changes some things…”

Darius presented us with some of the positives and negatives of a deal like this, and as I mentioned this morning and Darius just two paragraphs ago, this really takes away from the size that the Lakers have used to dominate the Western Conference and even the rest of the league. Yes, a Paul-Kobe-Artest-Gasol-Okafor lineup would be a formidable one, but it isn’t as menacing without the likes of Andrew Bynum, who is heads and heels above Okafor as far as offensive capabilities go. A healthy Bynum can go out and put up 20 and 10 on any given night while Okafor will go out and get you only 60 percent of that production. The Lakers are better served keeping their roster in tact and adding one or two more minor pieces to the team.

It was reported earlier that Matt Barnes will consider signing a one-year, 1.7 million dollar deal with the Lakers if the Cavaliers don’t raise their three-year, $3.5 million offer for the wing. Adding guys like Barnes make more sense than breaking up a team that has an opportunity to win its third straight NBA title.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  July 9, 2010

LeBron James (L) of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots as Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat watches during practice for the National Basketball Association All-Star game in New Orleans, Louisiana in this February 16, 2008 file photo. James said Thursday he is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat next season in the hope of winning an elusive NBA championship.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

There’s a bit too much on my mind to offer any sigular idea today.  So, you get some fast break thoughts on Summer League, Lebron, and the future prospects of the Heat…

*The Lakers have their first Summer League game today in Las Vegas so we finally get a chance to see the Lakers two 2nd round picks playing actual basketball against other pro-quality players.  If you haven’t bought the NBA’s Summer League Broadband service you can actually watch the Lakers vs. the Pistons at 5pm (PT) online via ESPN at this link.  I won’t say the game itself will be entertaining, but it will be interesting to see if Ebanks and Caracter can perform well and if any of the other pick ups show enough promise tonight (and in future games) to maybe earn and invite to training camp.  If you’d like to know more about the Lakers’ roster, check out Land O’ Lakers’ breakdown of the team or Silver Screen and Roll’s take on what the summer sqaud has to offer us Lakers’ fans.  Personally, I don’t think any of the Lakers’ pickups (outside of the draft picks) are going to make the team, but I’ll still be watching intently because the Lakers still do have some holes to fill and one of these guys may be the inexpensive player that shows enough promise to get picked up.

*I really can’t say anything about Lebron’s decision that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll give my two cents anyway.  First of all, I thought Phillip had an excellent take on the subject this morning and if you haven’t read it, you should stop and go that now.  As for what I think, I look at the desicion two ways – from a basketball standpoint, I think he did the right thing.  Lebron went to the place where he thinks he can get the players and can play for an organization with great owners, a very successful GM in place, and two of the best players in the league to flank him. Some may want to disparage him for that, but I won’t do it. He’s giving himself what he (presumably thinks) is the best chance to win. And while his singular ability would likely give him that chance anywhere, if given the option to choose your teammates and you know who is really great and who is merely really good, I think I too may choose the guys that are really great and see where that takes me. Why should we expect a guy to put himself in a situation where he’s potentially less likely to be successful based his own judgements? So he can prove his own greatness? Based off what many have already said about him and his outsized ego, he already thinks he’s the cow’s milk so do we really believe he thinks he has to prove anything to anyone? Based off what he’s said, winning matters most and based off how fans respond, he’s right. And on a side note, we consistently have said that Kobe’s great and that those who tried to discount his performances and contributions during the Shaq era were fools. And we’d be right to call those people fools. I don’t care what trumped up stories the media throws out there, Kobe was a champion before 2009 and he was integral to those teams. If he retired with only three titles because he never had another team good enough to win, I wouldn’t have thought any less of him. So, at this point, I’m not going to say that Lebron is less a player because he’s on “Wade’s team” and they happen to win a title. I’m pretty damned sure if the Heat end up winning with this group, Lebron will have a big hand in why it happened. The man is a great, great player and trying to tear him down or make him seem less of a talent comes off as petty to me. As fans of one of the most divisive players of the last 25 years (that guy that wears #24), I would think we’d understand this phenomenon best.

But from the standpoint of how the decision was made – the one hour special, the Jim Gray interview, etc – I thought it was a poor decision and it made me feel awful for the Cavs and their fans.  The people that root for that organization and the employees of that franchise got kicked in the stomach on national television and it didn’t need to be that way at all.  Lebron chose to advertise himself and turn his leaving the Cavs into a spectacle.  It was done behind the good will of charity and seemingly with no malice intended, but in the end I can’t agree with the way this played out nor with how it was presented to the viewing public.  A simple press conference with his new team with a heads up to the Cavs that he was leaving would have been a more mature way to handle this situation, but that’s just my two cents.  In the end, I think Lebron could have saved a lot of people some grief and torment and the reactions that he’s receiving right now would not be nearly as harsh.  So, yeah, I wouldn’t have done it this way.

*As for the Heat as a team moving forward, even though Lebron, Wade, and Bosh gave us their answers, I’m still left with more questions.  I’m interested in which players fill out the roster.  Can they get the shooting necessary to flank their big three?  The signing of Mike Miller would be a good start, but he’s only one player and they’ll need more than just him.  Can they find the types of defensive minded big men who can protect the paint, rebound, and play selfless basketball in the name of the greater success of the team?  Those guys don’t grow on trees and every team in the league is looking for more of those guys.  The market for those players has exploded to the point that Brendan Haywood got over $50 million and Shaq is receiving interest from multiple teams for the full mid-level.  Even guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Brad Miller will likely command more than minimum salaries.  So, I have my doubts Miami will find the big men they need to effectively ensure that Bosh is not on an island defending the likes of Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, Pau, Bynum, etc – at least next season.

I also have questions about the X’s and O’s that will be employed by Coach Spoelstra.  By all accounts he’s a very good coach that will take advantage of these players’ fantastic gifts.  However, there is some duplication in Lebron and Wade’s respective games and it will be interesting how this all comes together and what plays/schemes will be used to ensure that both of these players excel.  The first comparison that comes up when discussing Wade/Lebron is Jordan/Pippen.  However, it must be noted that those two had their greatest success running a read and react system where they were used in a variety of areas on the court and developed their games to the point that they were effective attacking from nearly every position on the floor.  Whether it was shooting from the perimeter, posting up, driving to the basket, or slashing off the ball Jordan/Pippen developed games to match the needs of the system.  And despite the greatness of Lebron and Wade, they’re not that well rounded yet.  Both have been mostly isolation players or ball handlers in the P&R for most of their careers and have been the primary offensive creators for their teams.  Both have good mid-range games (Wade’s is superior to Lebron’s) and both are okay three point shooters (and that may be generous).  So, since both players excel at driving the ball, it will be interesting to see how their games diversify or how the schemes employed ask them to grow their games in order to better mesh.  I don’t have concerns about chemistry because both players are unselfish and have typically made the right basketball play when on the court.  But finding the right sets to get the most out of them will be an issue that needs to be resolved.  And I haven’t even mentioned Bosh yet and how his particular skill set as a turn and face post player vs. being a traditional banger probably means fewer double teams on the post and a heavier reliance on either P&R’s or isolations to get him going.  Which brings me back to what scheme is going to work best for everyone.  There’s a lot of talent in these three but cultivating it to the point that it flourishes is on the head coach and we’ll just have to see how it goes.