I like it when a team rewards a veteran who gave his blood, sweat and tears to his organization. Loyalty is such a lost art in professional sports, so when I see a team hook its player up with a new contract, I usually applaud it.
In the case of Kobe Bryant’s new contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, not so much.
No one is saying Kobe Bryant is turning into an “okay” NBA player before our eyes. Before he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon late last season, Bryant still averaged 27.3 points, six assists, and 5.6 rebounds per game. And that was during a season where he played through a variety of injuries.
It’s just that I do not believe in investing in risky commodities.
Bryant is coming off that aforementioned ruptured Achilles tendon last May, and the timetable for rehabbing that injury is at least a calendar year. How could the Lakers be sure that they will be getting the same Kobe who is one of the best players in the NBA last season? Will they even get Kobe back by the end of this calendar year?
And now with various stars destined to hit the free agent market next season (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade to name a few), the Lakers could not afford to have too much of their salary tied up. That changed when they re-upped Kobe to that ridiculous two-year, $48 million extension.
And yeah, I know that the Lakers have media deals that help them to more than afford that extension. However the last time I checked, professional sports is all about winning championships than making the most loot (ask the Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones how that is working out for him).
And speaking of the dollars, what that signing did was send a message to the rest of the league which said that the Lakers is STILL Kobe’s team until he retires. That’s not such a good message to sell to potential superstar free agents looking for a new home.
And it seems to me that Kobe has made more than enough money in his career, and that he would take less in order to bring in the right cats to help him win that coveted sixth championship. But as usual, Kobe’s super-sized ego trumped common sense.
I will say this: that is good news for this life-long Laker hater. That signing just reaffirmed that Kobe and the Lakers will not be winning another championship any time soon.
And thank God it’s almost here.
I’ve lined up my predictions for y’all by division, along with analysis for all the divisions. Enjoy, and feel free to rip me a new one (as most of you tend to do)…
- Brooklyn Nets*
- New York Knicks*
- Toronto Raptors
- Boston Celtics
- Philadelphia 76ers
Analysis: This is going to be a two-team race between the Nets and Knicks. I’m afraid that my Knicks peaked last season, which led to a second round exit in the playoffs. I also wasn’t happy to see Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce arrive in Brooklyn via trade from the Celtics. That alone should add some spice to an already budding rivalry between Brooklyn and New York. The rest of the division is irrelevant, though I will take perverse pleasure in watching the Celtics suck during their rebuilding project.
- Chicago Bulls*
- Indiana Pacers*
- Cleveland Cavaliers*
- Detroit Pistons*
- Milwaukee Bucks
Analysis: This will be easily the toughest division in the NBA. While the Bulls and Pacers will fight it out for the Central, the Cavs and Pistons will make plenty of noise not only during division play, but also during playoffs. You know the Bucks (and their fans) will be in the fetal position all season long.
- Miami Heat*
- Washington Wizards*
- Charlotte Hornets (not calling them the “Bobcats” anymore)
- Atlanta Hawks
- Orlando Magic
Analysis: This is easily the weakest division in the NBA. The defending champion Heat could literally moonwalk their way to another division title. I will say that this is the year that the Wizards will make the playoffs. When John Wall was healthy near the end of the season, Washington played better. I think a healthy Wall, Bradley Beal, Nene and newly acquired Marcin Gortat will get the Wiz (I wish they were called the “Bullets” again) over that playoff hump.
- San Antonio Spurs*
- Houston Rockets*
- Memphis Grizzlies*
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Dallas Mavericks
Analysis: I will have the most fun paying attention to this division because each of the top three teams have a legit shot of winning this division. While I am tempted to go with the Rockets (thanks to the free agent acquisition of Dwight Howard), I gotta roll with “Old Faithful” a.k.a the San Antonio Spurs. Sure they may be older but I do not trust Howard with anything of importance on the line.
- Oklahoma City Thunder*
- Denver Nuggets*
- Minnesota Timberwolves*
- Portland Trailblazers
- Utah Jazz
Analysis: I have a feeling that whenever Russell Westbrook comes back from injury, the Thunder will seek to avenge last year’s playoff failure. It’s obvious that Kevin Durant missed the hell out of Westbrook after he injured his knee in the first round of last year’s playoff. The Nuggets are playoff contenders, and the Wolves may a playoff run of their own, but OKC should easily win this division. Meanwhile, Jazz fans are still longing for the next “Stockton to Malone”…
- Los Angeles Clippers*
- Golden State Warriors*
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Sacramento Kings
- Phoenix Suns
Analysis: This is the Clippers’ division to lose. They are not only a year better – especially after re-signing Chris Paul to a max deal – they have brought in former Celtics coach Doc Rivers to lead them. Rivers is one of the two best coaches in the NBA (the other being the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich), and he will get the most out of Blake Griffin and the rest of the team not named Chris Paul. I love what the Warriors are doing, and love their new downtown digs in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the Lakers will be one interesting soap opera this season. When will Kobe come back? When will the Lakers fire coach Mike D’Antoni? When will Phil Jackson stop picking on Jim Buss?
* – denotes playoff teams
Eastern Conference champs: Miami Heat
Western Conference champs: Los Angeles Clippers
2013-2014 NBA Champions: Miami Heat (what the hell do y’all think?)
I normally would look back on a superstar’s career and extol the athletic exploits of such an athlete upon his/her retirement. Though with Iverson, his career from my point of view could be summed up with two words: what if.
What if Iverson embraced the coaching he received (notably from Larry Brown during Iverson’s prime with the Philadelphia 76ers) that would have made him arguably the greatest player in NBA history? What if Iverson put in the work – notably by attending practice – what also would have made him the greatest?
For the record, I am a HUGE fan of Iverson. He was one of the two best small players (the other being Isiah Thomas) to play the game. I admired his courage and willingness to put a team on his shoulders and take them to the promised land. The Sixers team that played the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2001 NBA Finals would have been a lottery team without Iverson.
For his career, Iverson averaged 26.7 points per game, 2.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. Check out Iverson’s other career accomplishments:
- NBA Most Valuable Player (2001)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1997)
- 11× NBA All-Star (2000–2010)
- 2× NBA All-Star Game MVP (2001, 2005)
- 4× NBA scoring champion (1999, 2001–2002, 2005)
- 3× NBA steals leader (2001–2003)
- 3× All-NBA First Team (1999, 2001, 2005)
I think that even with the aforementioned accomplishments, Iverson should have accomplished more. When Brown coached the Sixers, he pushed and propped Iverson into being the best – but Iverson was usually not but so receptive to it. Keep in mind that Iverson was never one for believing in practice, let alone going to practice. Remember this gem (which also happens to be one of my favorite press conference meltdowns)?
I could also go on about how Iverson cost himself tens of millions of dollars by tatting himself up and portraying himself as being “thugged out”, but that would focus on the ancillary stuff instead of what matters most.
Iverson had the game to be the greatest baller of all time. He had the will to be the greatest of all time. He had the heart to be the greatest of all time.
Iverson didn’t have the DISCIPLINE to be the greatest of all time. If he had Kobe’s discipline and work ethic, Iverson would easily have at least two NBA titles, not to mention a greater legacy.
But for now I am left to wonder, “what if?”
Well, it’s official: Dwight Howard is a member of the Houston Rockets. (or as Ice Cube calls him, “Dwight COWARD”)
Last week I suggested that he should chose the Rockets over returning to the Los Angeles Lakers. Why? It’s because Houston is a better fit for Howard than LA.
And I am not only talking about a better BASKETBALL fit. I’m talking about a better emotional fit as well.
Playing for the Lakers requires a special type of player – a player that does what it takes to deliver a championship. A player who is able to block out the distractions from the media and focus on his craft. A player who is never afraid of big stage and the storied championship history of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Magic Johnson fit that mold. So did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Shaquille O’Neal and of course Kobe Bryant. Not Howard.
Howard left LA because he wanted to take the easy way out. He did not want the pressure of delivering a championship to the Lakers. He did not have the stomach to be the face of a storied franchise after Kobe retires. Hell, he did not want Kobe to show him how to become a champion.
Let’s face it, Howard was never going to cut it in LA. He has the emotional fortitude of a mustard seed.
Besides, Houston is not the media monster that LA is. He will be a big fish in a smaller pond (similar to his Orlando Magic days), and will not be as pressured to win in Houston as he would in LA. He’ll be surrounded by better players – namely James Harden and Chandler Parsons – and have a better support system in coach Kevin McHale and former Rocket great Hakeem Olajuwon.
Now that he chosen the Rockets, Howard is running out of excuses. It was never his fault in Orlando. It was never his fault in LA.
Is Howard finally going to maximize his awesome talent and deliver a championship to Houston? Will he man up to the challenge?
Given Howard’s history, I’d be surprised if he does.
I mean sure, Stevens brings to the table a VERY successful college coaching career. During the past six years coaching Butler, he led the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championship games in 2010 and ’11. He has a career winning percentage of .772 and never won fewer than 22 games in a season.
However, I think the combination of the lack of NBA coaching experience and his age (dude is only 36 years old) are potentially HUGE roadblocks to a successful NBA coaching career. Stevens is five months younger than the recently traded Kevin Garnett!
And here is one more nugget to ponder: if Rajon Rondo was so bull-headed and stubborn with a universally respected coach in Doc Rivers, how would he jibe with a young dude fresh from the college ranks? Do we REALLY expect Rondo to diligently accept Steven’s leadership and become more coachable?
My money is on “no” and “hell no”.
There is a reason why only a handful of college coaches – if that – are successful in the NBA. Specifically I only know of ONE who has been successful in the NBA: Larry Brown.
Most college coaches fail miserably in the NBA. The list of successful college coaches who failed in the NBA is stunning. Jerry Tarkanian: fired from San Antonio. Rick Pitino: fired from Boston. P.J. Carlesimo: fired from two teams and choked by one player.
Hell if Mike Krzyzewski, the Hall of Famer who coaches Duke and USA Basketball, hasn’t made the leap to pros (though it has been reported that he came THIS CLOSE to in the past), what does that say for college coaches’ ability in the NBA?
Pro players are not going to listen to a college coach. And I hate to say this, but Stevens will suffer the same fate.
I expect this experiment to last no more than two years.
Yup, the same Dwight Howard who while a member of the Orlando Magic kept saying how much he wanted to leave for bigger media markets and greener pastures – only to inexplicably OPT IN to what was the final year of his contract with the Magic. Oh, and he also managed to get his head coach (Stan Van Gundy) and general manager fired before deciding, “you know what, I STILL want out!”
This is also the same Dwight Howard who in and out mentally during his first (and maybe his last) season as a Los Angeles Laker. His capricious and buffonish attitude did not sit well with Kobe Bryant. Howard’s style of play is not conducive to coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense (I’m still baffled by that). And frankly, Howard never felt comfortable in Los Angeles.
And more importantly, Howard is more preoccupied with being liked than doing what’s best for him. He’d be a member of the Brooklyn Nets (where he wanted a trade to early that season) by now if he didn’t opt during his final year of Orlando.
Now having all of that, Howard makes damn near perfect sense for one team: the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets have the talent around him that would give him his best chance of winning an NBA title. They already have already with James Harden as the playmaker and good role players around him such as Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin. And while the Rockets will be contending with the runner-up San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies in the Southwest Division as well as the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference, Houston would be a heavy favorite to at least reach the NBA Finals.
Houston also has strong ties to the Chinese market (from the Yao Ming era and now with Lin), a lot of their games are still shown there, which would be good for Howard’s branding. Howard could also lean on Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler for advice and practically anything he may need help on the court. And if that is not enough, Howard would be coached by Kevin McHale – arguably one of the best big men to play in the NBA.
Most of all, Howard would be happier playing at a place where he WANTS to be instead of where he HAD to be (L.A. last season).
I mean sure, L.A. could pay Howard the most money to the tune of five years and $117 million while other teams can offer $87 million. L.A. also has the allure, the sexiness, the media exposure any player would probably crave.
But being that Howard doesn’t want to be the big fish in an even bigger pond, I think that he would thrive in Houston. He would have a more talented supporting cast who would love to have him. Howard knows that McHale would be more than willing to help him succeed.
No matter how much more money the Lakers will throw at Howard, he knows deep down it will not buy him the happiness he has long craved.
The Nets acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and Jason Terry) from the Boston Celtics. In return, Boston received three first-round picks (2014, ’16 and ’18) along with Kris Humphries’ expiring contract, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and a sign-and-traded Keith Bogans.
On paper, it appears Brooklyn made a HUGE upgrade to its roster. They got two superstars in Garnett and Pierce, and while they are on the downsides of their careers both can still play and contribute. It was painfully evident from Brooklyn’s playoff loss to the Chicago Bulls that it needed a big change in attitude and heart. Garnett alone will give the Nets both. Pierce would serve as a reliable go-to scoring threat, perhaps off the bench? More importantly, the Nets did not have to give up Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, nor Brooks Lopez in making the trade with Boston.
Having said all of that, there will be some growing pains while making all of the parts work.
As we all have seen time and time again in sports, having the most talented players does not always equal championships. Exhibit A: the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers. When they acquired Karl Malone and Gary Payton, everyone (including yours’ truly) thought that the Lakers would eclipse Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Bulls’ 72-10 record. While the Lakers did make the NBA Finals, they were crushed by the less-talented Detroit Pistons four games to one.
Exhibit B: the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. That was Year One of the Big Three Era. Most thought that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh would lead the Heat to an easy NBA title that season. Like the Lakers, the Heat made the NBA Finals, but was beaten by the less-talented Dallas Mavericks four games to two.
Look at the Nets’ new roster for a minute. Do you think there will be no problems sharing the basketball? Williams and Johnson are proud players who want their touches, as will Pierce and perhaps Terry. Plus, I am still not sold on Jason Kidd being a head coach in the NBA. Will he really be able to get all of those proud egos to buy into the team basketball concept? I am not so sure.
So for now, I’d still have the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers as the top threats to the Heat in the Eastern Conference. In fact, here is how I would rank the contenders in the East:
- Miami Heat
- Indiana Pacers
- Chicago Bulls
- Brooklyn Nets
- New York Knicks
As for Boston, they are officially in rebuilding mode. To the coach who has to follow former coach Doc Rivers and lead the now less-talented Celtics, you are in my prayers. You’re (and Celtics fans) are going to need it.-
The Los Angeles Clippers made a bold – and I mean BOLD – move in prying Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics. They will will send a 2015 first-round pick as compensation to the Celtics, as well as pick up the remaining three years, $21 million he had while coaching the Celtics.
For Clippers owner Donald Sterling, long known as a cheap-ass bastard who for some reason does not believe in paying top dollar for his past head coaches, to make this move signaled to fans that his Clippers is ready to take it to the next level – regardless of the cost.
Again, color me shocked.
Now let’s look at what this move does for both teams going forward. For the Clippers, it means they are serious about stepping into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Doc Rivers is in my opinion the best coach in the NBA. He is a master motivator who will get the best out of his players. The players will love playing for Rivers, just as during his coaching days in Boston. Players in Boston raved at Rivers’ tactical acumen and his leadership. The players in Clipper-land will be more than happy under Rivers’ stewardship.
Speaking of those players, Chris Paul is a free agent, and this move should all but guarantee that Paul will not leave the Clippers. Paul never really respected former coach Vinny Del Negro. That should change when Rivers comes aboard. Rivers, a former NBA point guard, will earn Paul’s respect quickly and will get the best out of Paul.
Given Rivers’ rep around the league, free agents from other teams will be looking to play for him, thus making the Clippers organization the place where players want to be. I never thought I’d see myself type that, much less THINK it.
As for the Celtics, this may the beginning of a rebuilding project in Beantown. Rivers did not want any part of a rebuild, and it will be tough for the Celtics to recapture that same mojo they had when they ruled the Atlantic Division – and the Eastern Conference – for several years straight.
Kevin Garnett is a broken-down shell of himself who is nearing the end of his career. The same goes for Paul Pierce. The only valuable asset Boston has is Rajon Rondo. He’ll be coming off of a knee injury that ended his season last winter, so there’s no telling where Rondo will be.
As I said earlier, the Clippers now have a good thing going with Rivers coaching their squad. Let’s just hope that Donald Sterling stays the hell out of the way…
LeBron James validated his superstar status with 37 points and 12 rebounds. Dwyane Wade showed he still had it with 23 points and 10 rebounds. My fellow ACC’er Shane Battier scored 18 points off the bench while going 6 for 8 from 3-point land. And let’s not forget head coach Erik Spoelstra coaching the game of his life last night.
Having said all of that, it’s hard for me to be convinced that the Miami Heat were a better team than the San Antonio Spurs.
I mean I can’t help that the Spurs gave away Game 6. The same game where the Spurs went up by 10 during the fourth quarter AND had a 5-point lead with 20 seconds left.
Let’s be real about something folks: the Heat had NO BUSINESS winning Game 6.
And let’s not forget the Spurs hung with Miami and led for a big portion of the game. Tim Duncan had another big game to follow his monster Game 6 with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard became a budding star with 19 points and 16 rebounds.
However, I have to take the good with the bad. Tony Parker’s hamstring limited him to the tune of 10 points. Manu Ginobli capped his nightmarish series with 4 turnovers. Danny Green came back to earth on 1 of 12 shooting.
And let’s not forget the Heat stepped up when it mattered most in the 4th quarter. It may have helped that the Spurs were out of gas in the end.
Look, I’m not here to poo-poo on the Heat’s championship achievement. As I said at the beginning of this rant, props to Miami for winning back-to-back NBA titles.
Sometimes though, one has to wonder “what if?”…
I thought it was foolish for the Brooklyn Nets to hire a former player who had NO coaching experience on ANY level – let alone one who just retired from a rival team (my New York Knicks). I thought it was another lame attempt for a second-rate New York City-based team (like the Jets and Mets) to garner attention on the back pages.
I even posted a snarky message on the blog’s Facebook page over the hire:
So the Brooklyn Nets think that Jason Kidd – with no coaching experience on ANY level – is the man for their head coaching job. That’s cute…
Then I started having conversations over the Kidd hire with other folks. One loved the idea of fresh blood over the constant rehiring of retreads. Another pointed to the success of Mark Jackson in Golden State as an example on how such a hire could work. And there was this excellent piece by ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor.
In short, my eyes were opened and saw the light.
Kidd has a few things going for him in his second go-round with the Nets.
First, he should be able to quickly earn the respect of Nets point guard Deron Williams. Who wouldn’t want to learn from a Hall of Famer, especially if he played your position? Williams, who possesses a high basketball IQ himself, will be chomping at the bit to take in as much knowledge as he could from Kidd. And who could forget the fact that they were teammates on the Team USA’s “Redeem Team” that took back the gold medal during the Beijing Summer Olympics?
The second – and perhaps the most important factor – is this: Kidd is perhaps the most celebrated (and definitely the most successful) Net in franchise history. Keep in mind that he led the Nets to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals last decade – that’s right, the NEW JERSEY NETS were in the NBA Finals TWO YEARS IN A ROW.
Kidd was brave enough to overcome the challenge of turning the horrific Nets into winners as a player (and be highly successful in doing so). He should do well leading a more talented Nets team to the promise land as a head coach.