Lakers likely to search for new star power in 2012
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There was a big buzz last week after the Lakers lost to the Celtics and the stealthily surreptitious Mitch Kupchak talked about making trades and Phil Jackson didn't see anything wrong with that. L.A. gasped. Who was going? Who was coming? Would anyone take Artest, at least out of the mental health field? Could they get Carmelo? Would Magic make a comeback?
There's not likely much the defending champions can do, as they aren't trading Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, and no one knows how many hours Andrew Bynum can stay healthy. Kirk Hinrich's name came up, predictably, and when the Lakers teased Kobe with those trade talks a few years back, the only Bull the Lakers were much serious about was Hinrich. Jackson likes Hinrich in his two guard fronts which don't require a classic point guard, and Kirk can only hope as he tries to explain a pick-and-roll to Andray Blatche.
No, I don't think the Lakers were so much thinking this season but sending a warning shot across the bow of any number of teams. There is an arrogance to the Lakers, as if no one has noticed, and when you win that many titles, I suppose everyone better get used to it.
The Lakers and L.A. are about stars, and their star is in descent, though hardly flaming out. They always seem to come up with one, and that's what they'll be casting about for. Sure, it could be problematic with a new labor deal. But you assume they'll decline the Bynum option for 2012, maybe deal Lamar Odom and try to get out from under Steve Blake, and, watch out.
They need star power in L.A. and the Lakers also are growing awfully worried lately that the biggest attraction in their building is becoming the Clippers' Blake Griffin. Some around the NBA are saying that has Lakers' ownership hardly thinking straight.
The speculation is they'll come for Orlando's Dwight Howard, the latest potential expatriate center to L.A. The labor deal could change all this if there is a franchise tag for players like the NFL model and which is one major consideration, or so the speculation goes. After the way the departures of Chris Bosh and LeBron James destroyed their teams, it is becoming a popular concept among management.
So 2012—assuming the world doesn't end, which it would in L.A. if the Clippers beat out the Lakers—could become quite the summer with the likes of Howard, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul potential free agents. L.A. is about stars, and they always seem to get one.
This while the Lakers apparently are practicing some form of sporting Darwinism, a survival of only the fittest (with the $2,500 courtside seats).
Jeanie Buss has mentioned it and owner Jerry has apparently been arguing for the NBA in conjunction with the new labor deal to contract several teams, spread the talent around, strengthen the league and reduce the sharing of national TV revenues.
There is virtually no chance that happens, in my view. I don't see David Stern seeking to shrink the league. He wants to continue to build it. But it also demonstrates the vision of the Lakers.
Yes, they need other teams to play to have a league. It is such an annoyance. But watch out for your favorite star. The Lakers are coming.
Comparing Michael and Kobe...
-- Oakland used to be the one place Michael Jordan actually feared, as Jordan did have his share of superstitions. That was where he broke his foot in 1985, actually, at least according to the doctors then, potentially endangering his career. So it was interesting when someone pointed out that the veteran columnist from the San Francisco Chronicle, Bruce Jenkins, noted Kobe Bryant last week matched the total number of games played in his career, 1,072, that Jordan played.
Who's better? Again!
The numbers favor Jordan: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists and 49.7 percent shooting and five league MVP awards; for Bryant 25.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists and 45.5 percent shooting and one MVP.
There's little debate outside Los Angeles, though Bryant is going for his second three-peat this season with Phil Jackson. That's pretty special in itself. And Bryant never got that year and a half break from the game Jordan that that reinvigorated him. That, too, is a classic, What if? If there were no baseball strike/lockout, we likely would be saying Bryant was better.
Although many predicted Jordan would be back to basketball, he was determined, especially in light of the media piling on, to make the major leagues. And I believe he would have done so. After that one season at Birmingham, he developed more power and was a better hitter in fall league ball against some very good pitching. Though Jordan was being scheduled again for Birmingham and Double A, the White Sox were beginning to believe Jordan could make the majors as a backup outfielder. His arm was strong and his range was good and he might hit just enough. And we know Jordan's competitive life pretty much was built around answering challenges and staring down critics.
But when baseball wasn't ready to open for the 1995 season, the league was pushing for Jordan to be a replacement player. The union was furious. White Sox managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf, though a key ownership figure, advised Jordan not to be a replacement player for the good of his image and legacy. It was only then Jordan decided to return to the NBA.
Perhaps he would have in two or three more seasons, maybe 1997 or 1998, after getting to the majors. But would he then ever been the unapproachable six-time champion Michael Jordan? We saw what the years did when he returned to Washington in 2001.
Kobe never had the popularity of Jordan, though Bryant isn't as morose as he often plays to be. In mimicking Jordan in basketball much of his life, it seems at times Bryant takes on a Zelig-like nature in becoming whom he feels he should be. I was out with Bryant socially a few years back and he was engaging and funny. When I asked him about the comparison between he and Jordan, he laughed and said there never could be one. Bryant said Jordan had become almost an urban legend, that people talked about him now like he never missed a shot. Bryant said it was fine, that you can't compete with that and shouldn't bother.
Kobe, in the end, may get that seventh championship to pass Jordan. But he never changed the game with the weight of his personality and image as Jordan did. He was just the next one. He was never quite the team leader and public inspiration. He never quite had the playoff moments Jordan did, big shots and big games without a flaw while Kobe had some massive low points like the Finals loss to the Pistons when the team self destructed and a bad first round playoff loss to the Suns after blowing a big lead. Technically, Kobe may have more depth to his shot, though Jordan claimed a better shooting percentage by driving the ball more often. Both truly were great clutch shot makers, though. It's difficult to be better, a relative term, anyway, when you are almost literally following in the footsteps: Same coach, same style game. Give Bryant credit the way more than perhaps anyone in the game today he routinely plays through injuries that would have others out for week or months.
The difference is not so much Jordan transcended the game with his play. It's who he was and what he did. He carried that responsibility handed down previously from Dr. J to be something of an ambassador of the game, its gatekeeper to the future.
Yes, Jordan ushered the game into its next stage of marketing and commercialism, yet he kept it from becoming a farce. He eventually would be charged with ridding the game of its villainous elements with the morality play of defeating the Pistons and presenting and preparing the game for the next millennium. So Jordan was more seminal figure, carrying a responsibility with him that overrode the transitory nature of mere games. Those who follow are only asked to do their best. So you don't compare players and statistical achievements to Jordan.
Bryant's one of the game's great ones. As they say, it's just nice to be compared with Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. You just never had the responsibility.
Carmelo three-way rumor just that--a rumor
-- You've got to love the latest Carmelo Anthony trade rumor. Let's see if I have this right: The Nuggets get Wilson Chandler, a pending free agent who doesn't want to be in Denver, and Corey Brewer, also a pending free agent generally coming off the bench for the league's second worst team, and a draft pick. What, they couldn't get Spud Webb also? If the Nuggets are seriously considering that, you should apply for the GM job there, though you'd probably be overqualified... Now if the Nuggets could get someone like rookie Landry Fields it would sound a bit better, especially since they had him. Sort of. The Knicks selected him in last year's draft with a Clippers pick the Nuggets got the pick from the Clippers in the Marcus Camby. The Nuggets traded that pick to the Knicks for Renaldo Balkman... Kyle Korver finds out this week if he gets an invite to the three point shooting contest. History says he deserves it with a 53.6 percent mark last season. He's 30th this season at 40.5 percent with limited opportunities. The Nets' Anthony Morrow declared he'll win. Now he has to be invited... Elton Brand might lead the league in scoring if he could play against Amar'e Stoudemire all the time. Yes, Stoudemire did get 41 against Brand and the 76ers in Sunday's Knicks win. But Brand averaged 30.5 in the back to back split with New York, and from that big free agent class last summer you're not going to find a power forward known for his defense. Give Brand credit for persevering when it seemed like his career was about over... Who else had Frank Vogel for a coach of the year candidate? The last interim doing this was Lawrence Frank with that 13-0 start with the Nets, though he had Jason Kidd. "We're changing the identity of our basketball team dramatically," Vogel told Indianapolis media channeling Pat Riley. "We're a power-post team, blood and guts, old-school-smash-mouth team. Nobody wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough. Nobody. Talk about blood and guts." Yes, he is encouraging. James Posey and T.J. Ford will not be playing. But what Vogel's upbeat presence mostly has done is give the Pacers the edge in the battle for the last East playoff spot. The 76ers have climbed to seventh, though only a game ahead of Indiana with the Bobcats one game behind Indiana and Milwaukee two and a half behind and slipping. The Knicks seem in reasonably good shape in sixth, lining up as a likely Bulls first round playoff opponent... At least according to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who said last week the Celtics and Heat have separated themselves from the rest of the teams in the East... As my buddy Rick said about Kirk Hinrich, "I'd keep my pay stub in my sock to help keep me sane."
NBA news and notes
-- He's not a great athlete, but quietly in the dysfunction of Detroit making it a good rookie season is Greg Monroe, averaging about 12 and nine since the beginning of 2011 with smarts and feel. No, you don't have to jump out of the gym all the time. Attention, scouts! ...Richard Hamilton, after declaring he'd probably played his last game for Detroit, had 15 points in 20 minutes in a win over the Bucks Saturday. Hamilton had been saying the coach refused to talk to him and he was befuddled, but those around the Pistons know Hamilton engaged in an ugly, expletive filled diatribe against coach John Kuester while saying no one told him why he wasn't playing... This is not a Scott Skiles Bucks team. They've allowed more than 50 percent shooting the last four games, hardly anyone rotates on defense and the offense is uncharacteristically quick shooting. Though Skiles has been positive trying to work through so many injuries... Boston did it again Sunday like just about everyone is now: Letting Howard get his points and staying with the shooters as the Magic basically have no one who can create off the dribble or in the post. They'll be desperately shopping for scoring these next few weeks and the feeling among some is they'll make a big run at Memphis' Zach Randolph with J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass, picks and perhaps others in the notion that Memphis won't be able to keep Randolph. But the Grizzlies are in playoff position and more likely to want to move O.J. Mayo, who wouldn't do much for Orlando. Meanwhile, some around the Magic are just looking the other way as Howard clowns his way through the season, mocking LeBron James the other day and then losing to Miami. Howard is a free agent in 2012, and he probably gets to decide after the season if Stan Van Gundy stays... Quite a bit of wincing in the DeVos/Orlando Magic family with Gilbert Arenas served with child support papers at halftime of a game last week. The owning DeVos family preaches strong "family values" with a conservating political leaning. You'd have to figure on some level Gilbert, whom GM Otis Smith sold the family and told the Orlando Sentinel that Gilbert's side hasn't come out yet, may be something of an embarrassment. After all, they're serving him court papers on the court, as it were. Nasty stuff.
-- There are a couple of so called statement games this week with the Lakers in Boston Thursday in the third of a seven-game road trip and the Heat in Boston Sunday with the Celtics thus far 2-0 over Miami... Tyson Chandler was snubbed so badly for the All-Star game he wasn't even on the snubbed lists. But the Mavs have his back. Dirk Nowitzki continues to insist the former Bulls is the Mavs' MVP. Chandler is averaging about 13 and eight the last month and feels as good about himself as ever. Said Chandler to Dallas media: "Some guys are having career years. But if you look at the center position, I feel like I'm the best in the West. Of the centers that are playing in the West, I feel I've had the best year and the most impact." Chandler said he's taking names of West coaches who bypassed him, which I assume is about everyone, but he may be the league's smartest guy. After years of injuries, Chandler is healthy and having his best season with the contract the Bulls signed him to finally up... Some Houston media is saying coach Rick Adelman won't return next season because of frustration with the roster... The day the league announced Zach Randolph was player of the month for January he was left off the All Star team and then overlooked by the commissioner for Kevin Love, who plays for the league's second worst team despite some talented teammates. Since coming to Memphis, Randolph leads the NBA in 30/15 games. So how come Love gets all that publicity and continues to lose with basically no better numbers? I agree also with LaMarcus Aldridge, who told the Oregonian: "First of all, I have nothing against Kevin Love, he is a really good player. But I thought All-Star was about making your team better, making your record better. Keeping your team in the right direction. That's the way it has always been in the past. But now I know: It's about stats, not record." By the way, playing against Love this season, Portland was 3-0 and Aldridge averaged Aldridge averaged 33.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and shot 62.1 percent. Oh, yeah. Love got his butt kicked by Amir Johnson and Toronto on a 13-game losing streak the other night. Hey, the commissioner is busy and probably doesn't watch the NBA much.
-- Basically everyone on the Bulls returns to Salt Lake City Wednesday, or so it seems. Though the big welcome—or not so welcome—will be for Carlos Boozer, who starred and disappointed the locals with big games, big injuries and a big free agency. The Jazz has struggled this season in falling to seventh in the West, just three games ahead of ninth place Memphis. This was NBA TV announcer Chris Webber last week commenting on the Jazz: "I did not realize how much of a leader (Carlos Boozer) was because you would always see him get frustrated out there. You would always see him clapping and yelling at someone. It looks like (Deron) Williams misses that extra presence out there." Williams, a free agent in 2012, has been vocally upset often this season, frequently pointing to a lack of continuity and teamwork. Insiders says Williams remains upset with the Jazz about failing to bring back Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews while the other top Western teams retain their core players. He made a point after losing to the Thunder last week to point out how they retained their players and are moving forward. The Jazz compete thanks to coach Jerry Sloan and Williams, an All-Star. But they are small up front with Mehmet Okur injured often this season and without scorers to create on the wings. They're heading for a first round playoff ouster and likely Williams to follow Boozer's path, albeit more discretely... This happens way more than you know, though not on the reality TV level. Some Hollywood web sites reported last week Kobe Bryant's wife is upset Khloe Kardashian and her husband Lamar Odom will be stars of their own upcoming reality show on the E Network. Supposedly she doesn't want Kobe in any segments and is asking the Lakers to ban cameras from team facilities... And you wonder why the American education system is failing. After Kobe Bryant last week said the Lakers defense in their loss to Boston deserved an F, Ron Artest proudly said, "I got 'F's in elementary school and I still went to college."