July 2003 - Posts
It appears George Karl is blaming his being fired as the coach of the Bucks on his decision to hire Anthony Mason, and I think he's partially right. Of course, part of the reason he was fired could be because he's overly emotional and doesn't tend to his player's egos, which leads to things like losing Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen. If nothing else, George shows us that a team's personality chemistry is of paramount importance - and that includes the personalities and temperment of the coaches.
I think the reason coaches like Phil Jackson do so well is because they are calm, collected, and have the players' respect due to past performance. Of course, one could reasonably argue that even George Karl could have won six championships with MJ and the Bulls, and another three with Kobe and Shaq. But I like to think that it takes more than just superstar talent. While Karl may have the technicalities of the sport down pat, it may be a bit of an understatement to say that he is not the best people person.
According to this ESPN article, the Lakers have released Mark Maden, and have signed Horace Grant. This move solidifies the Lakers concentration on the present, seeing as Grant only has a short amount of playing time left as compared to Mark. This approach makes sense, though, considering their roster of Payton and Malone, both of whom only have, at most, two to three years left, if that.
Let's stop for a moment and sum up the number of championship rings the Laker players have:
- Shaq - 3
- Kobe - 3
- Fisher - 3
- Fox - 3
- George - 3
- Malone - 0
- Payton - 0
- Grant - 4
That's 16 rings, not counting the coaching staff. Of course by giving up Horry they surrender 5 rings. Here's hoping the Lakers can give Karl and Gary their first rings. Go Lakers!
Rather than blab on about Kobe Bryant's arrest and charge, something that I'm sure I'll do later in painful detail and never-ending prose, let me instead think back and relive some of the greatest NBA moments that I was able to witness:
Jordan's Last Shot
I was watching Game 6 of the '98 Finals in Kansas City with some friends who were all Jazz fans. They had been taunting me - me! - the entire game, saying it was going to go seven and that the Bulls had met their match this year. And then it came down to the final 45 seconds, Bulls down by three, Jordan with the ball. Driving in he shoots a floating layup for 2, pushing the Bulls to within 1! Stockton brings it down court, guarded by Michael. He passes into Karl in the post, and cuts down baseline. MJ follows him, but cuts back and picks the ball from Malone's pocket! As MJ brought the ball up the court I stood. Here we go, last play of his career (or so I thought then - it really should have been, IMHO). Jordan, at the top of the key. Dribbles. Dribbles. Cuts in, Russell gives a swipe, MJ swipes him back, pulls up from 17 and drains it!
The Lakers Game 7 Comeback Against the Blazers
The Lakers had yet to win a championship with the Shaq/Kobe team, but were looking dominant during the regular season. In the WCF they had started the series against the Blazers with a couple of impressive wins. But the Blazers battled back, and pushed the series to a game 7 in L.A.
With their impressive roster and talent, the Blazers took command of the seventh game, entering the fourth quarter with a seemingly insurmountable double-digit lead. 'Sheed had been on all game, making his turn-around low post jump shots at will. But he stopped making them in the fourth quarter. Steve Smith stopped draining the outside shot. And the Lakers capitalized. They traunced past the Blazers, having an impressive offsensive and defensive quarter. And who could forget the end of that game, with that impressive oop from Kobe to Shaq for the monster dunk (back when Shaq was in shape).
That series not only netted the Lakers their first NBA championship since the 80s, it also established that the Blazers were the Laker's bitches. The Lakers destroyed the Blazers in the playoffs the following two years as well, while the Blazers soon afterwards began their infamous implosion.
Paxon's Three for the Three Peat
Game 6, 1993 Finals, Bulls vs. Suns. The Suns played well that game, leading the Bulls for a significant portion of the game. MJ was not on, Grant had missed some easy shots, things were just not falling for the Bulls. But, the Bulls, as always, managed to pull within 2 late in the game. The final play happened when Grant was able to get free from his man, open down low. He got the pass and Paxon's man, Kevin Johnson, cheated down. Grant had the four foot open shot, or he could have tried to take it in for a dunk, but his game, thus far, had been off, and he had blown a few easy put backs. So... he kicked it out to Paxon, who was sitting behind the 3 point line, waiting patiently. Paxon calmly drained the three, putting the Bulls up by 1. The Suns had one last chance, but Grant pulled through again and blocked KJ's final shot attempt.
Well, as everyone knows by now, Kobe Bryant will be charged for sexual assault. Kobe and his wife released a statement saying that he is guilty of adultery, but is innocent of any charges against aggrevated assualt and whatnot. I tend to believe this is the case. I can't see why a multi-millionaire superstar would need to rape someone. He doesn't come across as a socially inept person, one who hates women, or someone who enjoys weilding power over others.
I expect, in the end, Kobe will make a payout to this lady and move on. Even if he is 100% innocent of the aggrevation-related charges, I can't see him benefiting from a trial, where the seamy details of that night of passion will leak out. Better to pay her off now and keep those endorsements rather than have his sex life brought out into public airing.
What I just don't understand is why anyone would do this, especially someone in Kobe's position. Dude, you're married, with a kid, don't sleep around, espeically since you have mega-money and everyone knows who you are. If you really need tail that bad, pay tens of thousands of dollars for a night with a high-class prostitute who won't be ratting you out in hope of a paycheck. Better yet, though, learn to be satisfied with your wife. If you are unhappy, work through it, or get divorced, or whatever, but try to stay faithful to those vows you took on your wedding day. Perhaps he just got married too soon... ok, I'll get off my soapbox now.
As a fan, I guess the good news is that this will likely be behind Kobe when the season starts up (assuming the payout scenario), and this won't tarnish his image too bad and he won't do any jail time. Of course this all is predicated on the assumption that he's innocent; if he raped this girl (which seems unlikely), then he should be imprisoned.
dh003i has posted in his blog the following exerpt on the Laker's 2003/2004 season:
[The Lakers are] the kind of team that could break the Bulls record of 72 victories in a season; and that wouldn't be a knock on Jordan, because he only had one other hall-of-famer with him, not 3. He was the greatest player ever to step onto a basketball court, but he still only had one other hall-of-famer playing by his side. That was enough for 72 victories in one season. How many victories will a team with 4 future hall-of-famers be? Hell, you can forget the 5th man and just let them 4 play.
There's no way in hell the Lakers will win 72 this season. The Bulls were able to win 72 for a few reasons:
A cohesive core unit, and
A sense of invincibility in the league
First, Michael Jordan had the drive, skills, leadership, and basketball genius to lead the Bulls to 72. The only player on the Lakers whose drive comes close to that of MJs is Kobe, but Kobe is option #2, after Shaq. While Shaq may be a dominant player, he is past his prime and has a slack work ethic. From interviews it seems like Shaq has a lot on his mind, both during the season and during the off-season. Kobe, it seems, has only one thing on his mind: basketball. (Well, that and sexually [allegedly] assaulting country girls.) With no MJ-like presence on the Lakers, the Lakers are hopeless to win 72.
Second factor: the Bulls had a very solid, cohesive core of players and coaching staff. Michael and Scottie were on the same page. Scottie knew he was the second option and accepted his role. Dennis knew he was there to rebound and hustle, and Phil Jackson let him do his own thing. Harper knew his place, Toni his, and so on. Can the Laker's this year say the same thing? There has been contant bickering between Shaq and Kobe on who the top dog is over the past few years. Add to this two additional All Stars, and who knows how things will play out? Will Payton and Malone know their places, that they are contributors, there to be role-players with Shaq and Kobe? Only time will tell.
Finally, the other NBA teams feared the Bulls that year they won 72. When the Bulls walked out onto the court, the other team knew they would have to play perfect to escape with a win. While the Lakers may have had that dominance in 2001 when they went 16-1 in the playoffs, and maybe even had that dominance in the 2001/2002 season, their performance in 2002/2003 showed the league that there is nothing to fear about the Lakers. Yes, the Lakers are very tough when Kobe or Shaq is on fire, impossible to beat when both are hot and playing well with each other, but how often did that happen last year? Shaq's injuries and out-of-shapedness limited these times.
I think the Lakers will do much better this year than last, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them win the championship, but win 72? Not over MJ's dead body.
The question that has been plauging me over the past few weeks is, "Will adding Payton and Malone to the Lakers make the Lakers better or worse?" Of course, in 2002/2003, the Lakers, sans Kobe and Shaq, were a bunch of scrubs, and even Shaq through most of the season was a bench-warming scrub himself. The Lakers that three-peated received significantly more help from their supporting cast, whether it be big threes from Horry, solid defense by Rick Fox, or Fisher draining the open J.
However, this year the supporting case was out to lunch. Horry's entire season, and especially the playoffs, were lackluster at best. Fox played adequately, but not well enough, and his injury in the playoffs didn't help anything. And Fisher... well, let's just say he is getting paid way more than he is worth. Tack onto this sorry group the likes of Samaki Walker, Mark Madsen, Medvedenko, Devon George (another overpaid player), and Murray, it's surprising that the Lakers made it as far as they did in the 2003 playoffs.
However, as everyone knows, this summer the Lakers will pick up two perennial All-Starts: Gary Payton and Karl Malone for six million and change. Not only did the Lakers pick up these two superstars, but they also released Horry, whose playing woes culminated in some big missed threes in the playoffs, most notable a potential game-winning shot against the Spurs in the pivotal Game 5 of the conference semi-finals.
First, let me say that taking Payton and Malone for the six million it is costing the Lakers is a no-brainer - you make that acquisition in a heartbeat. However, now that the deal is done, the question is, "Can these four superstars - Kobe, Shaq, Payton, and Malone - play effectively together?" Intuitively the answer seems to be a resounding, Yes! Prior to this pickup, the Lakers were a two-superstar team - now they're a four-superstar team. Four is better than two.
Of course, in reality, such logic is not always correct. One has to look no further than the Blazers to see a prime example of the biggest collection of talent, yet the Blazers seem to excel at nothing but blowing big playoff games, and getting in trouble with the 5-0. Now, I'm not saying Malone and Payton have the moral fiber of delinquents like Patterson and Wallace, all I'm trying to say is the play effectively, players must mesh. Too many people expecting too much playing time and many shots can quickly lead to disaster.
Overall, though, I'm optimistic about this pickup. First, Payton is heads and shoulders above Fisher, averaging four assists more per game than Fisher, and almost 10 points per game more as well. Plus, I really liked Payton's play in the playoffs this year, I think he showed that he is one of the better players in the league.
I wish I could say the same thing about Malone. Entering his 19th year, Malone is getting old. His strongest assests have always been his strong inside presence and his offensive skills/awareness running the pick and roll with Stockton. As he's aged, though, his shots have moved further and further from the basket. His interior game has subsided. His points have been steadily decreasing each year, as have his rebounds per game. Of course, Malone is head and shoulders above the likes of Walker, but I don't know how much better he is than "normal Horry" (normal Horry being Robert Horry pre-2002/2003, which might have just been an off year... guess we'll find out if the Mavs pick Horry up). However, I always had hoped the Lakers would get a dominant inside presence. Could you imagine if Jermaine O'Neal had been like Payton/Malone, and decided that winning was more important than a paycheck? The Lakers need someone big down low who can block and get rebounds. Ideally, this would be an O'Neal or Ben Wallace. I think where Malone will help the Lakers the most is with his offensive awareness, and his ability to run the pick and roll. If the triangle breaks down, and the Lakers need a score, who better to play the pick-and-roll game with Bryant than Malone?
Barring any injuries, and assuming Shaq has any fire left in him, this year should be a blast to watch for Lakers fans everywhere. If these four can stay healthy, if Shaq gets his butt in shape, and both Payton and Malone keep their egos in check, expect the Lakers to be back on top.
As an avid NBA fan, I have decided to create a blog to record my predictions and impressions of the latest NBA games and events. A large part of my starting this blog is to bore as many people as I can with my commentary. No longer am I restrained to talking the ears' of off friends, family, and sports bar companions. Rather, I can potentially now bore everyone with Internet connectivity. Second, this will serve as a nice, "See, my prediction came true" venue. I figure the only type of person more annoying than someone who says to some unexpected event, "I predicted that would happen several months ago!" is someone who says, "I predicted that would happen several months ago, see, I wrote it down, I have conrete proof of my prediction!"
Anyway, I live in SoCal, and follow the Lakers primarily, hence you'll likely find the majority of my wity commentary on their trials and tribulations. I also have a soft spot for the Bulls, as I grew up in Chicago during the championship years. (Go Bulls. Jordan is God. Pippen should have never sat on the bench in the '94 playoffs. That foul call by Hugh Evans in '94 was a disgrace. Jordan let Nick Anderson steal the ball. It was not a pushoff in '98. What do you think Karl Malone would give to be able to go back in time and convince Jordan to stick to baseball? The difference between Jordan and Kobe: Jordan, with the flu, plays lights-out and wills his team to win; Kobe gets sick on a cheeseburger and the team falters.)
I think this year will be very interesting, to say the least. The West keeps getting better - I'm jazzed to see how the Lakers play out this year - while the East keeps doing its East thing. It will be neat to see how LeBron fares in the league, as well as how all these coaching changes we've had in the off-season impact the teams.