Posted Jan 29 2010 10:24AM
There was a time when NBA teams and players would challenge each other to settle a beef, and David Stern didn't seem to mind.
Well, not to an actual fight with fists or semi-automatic weapons. In the past, "fights" had more to do with rivalries, which were the rage in the NBA but now are about as rare as a Nuggets player without body art. Those rivalries gave the NBA some character, buzz and an intense following. They were spiced with a healthy amount of trash talking, bold challenges, even ruffled coaches. Those rivalries made everyone look forward to the next meeting.
Priceless, they were.
Lakers-Celtics. Of course.
Pistons-Bulls. Jordan Rules and all that.
Lakers-Kings. Shaq and Kobe versus C-Webb and Divac. Phil Jackson vs. the city of Sacramento.
Spike Lee-Reggie Miller.
Reggie Miller-John Starks.
Michael Jordan-John Starks.
Knicks-Heat. Lots of low scores and high temperatures.
And there were others. Those rivalries created headlines, hard feelings and were absolutely good for basketball. But whatever happened to them?
The few legitimate rivalries now are mainly manufactured by TV, looking for an angle. The last one with an edge was Kobe vs. Shaq, a rivalry for all the wrong reasons. And now even those two are back on speaking terms. Teams and players just don't rub each other the wrong way any more. When the Sixers are playing the Celtics nowadays, it's no different than the Sixers playing the Wizards. No intensity beyond the usual. No tough talk, before or after the game. No name calling. No blood. No big deal.
You'd even think that Kobe and LeBron James would at least try to settle the best-player issue, once and for all, but they're on good terms. Same for LeBron and Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. They were all teammates on USA Basketball. They like each other too much to be rivals. Some have even discussed the possibility of being on the same team next season. You think Bill Laimbeer ever had those summit talks with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale?
There are theories, whether true or not: Games aren't as physical. The same three or four teams don't meet in the playoffs every year, not like before. Thanks to expansion, too many teams mean too few regular-season head-to-head contests. And so on.
That's too bad. The league could use a few rivalries, if only to reassure folks that certain teams and players can work up a healthy dose of emotion against a specific enemy without crossing the line. Instead, we get two players who disagree over a card game, then promise to settle it in a way that even Laimbeer and Parish would refuse.
Gilbert Arenas has played his final game for the Wizards. So says a person connected to the organization. The Wizards were so embarrassed by the incident, and lost so much goodwill in town that they're ready to do whatever it takes (within reason, of course) to sever ties and move on.
It won't be easy, obviously, to trade Arenas because Agent Zero has $80 million left on a deal that runs four more years. With an upcoming labor negotiation putting teams on salary alert, good luck finding a taker for that contract. Plus, Arenas is awaiting sentencing and nobody knows what the judge might decide.
Unless the Wizards are prepared to get 50 cents on the dollar, they may be stuck with Arenas and his contract. Here are a few teams that might be willing to listen, if only because Arenas would be their missing link:
Clippers: They'll have room under their cap this summer and if they can't attract a premium free agent, Arenas would be the next best option. He's from Southern California and owner Donald Sterling is desperate for a star. Maybe they could send Baron Davis to the Wiz in a straight-up deal.
Hawks: If they lose Joe Johnson to free agency, and that appears likely, Arenas would be a good replacement, considering the Hawks were prepared to pay Johnson the money Arenas is making.
Nets: They need help. They have money.
Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: 41 minutes, 8-for-13 field goals, 12 rebounds, 25 points against the Pistons.
Honestly, which Gasol would you rather have: Marc or Pau? Just by throwing the question out there says plenty about Marc, who is enjoying a breakout season on the suddenly interesting Grizzlies. Marc is much more physical than his older brother (whom he outweighs by 50 pounds) and isn't afraid to mix it up. His game isn't as fluid as Pau's but Marc finds a way to get his numbers, which is interesting given he plays on a team with Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo.
With Marc Gasol on a roll, it brings even more scrutiny to the decision the Grizzlies made on Draft day last summer to take center Hasheem Thabeet over Tyreke Evans and Stephen Curry. Both Evans and Curry would be in the rotation and get heavy minutes on the Grizzlies, whereas Thabeet is busy, well, being big.
Baron Davis, Clippers: 29 minutes, 2-of-10 field goals, four turnovers, six points against the Nets.
Davis is a complex man. He's someone who is intelligent, socially aware, business oriented and at times a very good point guard. On the flip side, he's not always motivated to play, has dealt with fitness and injury issues and struggles with inconsistency. That pretty much sums up his career with the Clippers.
The Bad Baron suited up the other night in the Meadowlands. The Nets were without Devin Harris, meaning they were ripe to be beaten (again) and scorched by Davis. Instead, the opposite happened. The Clippers allowed the Nets to win only for the fourth time all season and Davis was an interesting no-show.
Of course, Baron being Baron, this probably means Davis will deliver a string of big games in the next week, which is exactly what you'd expect from him.
•After shooting 13-for-14 against the Mavericks and 11-for-14 against the Raptors, Andrew Bogut is beginning to grow on me. He's not Kwame Brown, that's for sure. Meaning: Don't make him out to be a disastrous No. 1 pick.
• Knicks general manager Donnie Walsh said even if the Knicks don't get the big-name free agent this summer, "we still did the right thing" by using the last two years to clear cap space. And he's absolutely correct. What was the alternative, win 35-40 games and not reach the playoffs or increase their odds of a high draft pick?
What the Knicks shouldn't do is throw big money at their fifth or sixth choice (Carlos Boozer?) and take themselves out of the running for a free agent the following summer.
That would be Carmelo Anthony.
• Oklahoma City will have a few dollars to throw around this summer. How about the Thunder making a run at Amar'e Stoudemire? Or perhaps Chris Bosh, bringing him closer to home in Dallas? That would satisfy their scoring problems in the post.
Then if they package Jeff Green with Nick Collison (expiring contract next season), they might reel in another big name. Scary thought.
• Wouldn't want to play the Nuggets in May if I were the Lakers, Mavericks or Spurs. Kenyon Martin is suddenly looking like the guy who once played for the Nets.
Speaking of which, Jason Kidd sure made a lot of his New Jersey teammates rich: K-Mart, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Mikki Moore all put up big numbers, both on the floor and in the bank, when they caught passes from Kidd.
• Write the check already, Larry Ellison. The Warriors could use a shakeup.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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