May 16, 2011

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Why The Lakers and Celtics are Heading in Different Directions

By: Anson Whaley

With the early second-round exits suffered by the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celticsthis past week, much has been made about the shrinking window of opportunity for more championships for each team. The Lakers and Celtics have combined to win the last three NBA Championships and in two of those seasons, have faced off against each other for the title. So why is everyone down on their chances to win more hardware?

Age.

Boston and Los Angeles have two of the oldest rosters in the NBA. Even the 1996-97 Houston Rockets team of aging vets such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Kevin Willis, Sedale Threatt, and Eddie Johnson (all of whom had played at least 11 years at the time) think these guys might be over the hill. So are these two franchises, the most storied ones in league history, effectively done winning championships with the same group of players? Well, one of them is.

Last week, I heard plenty of analysts draw parallels to these two teams. But the fact is that they’re both in entirely different situations.

The Celtics are, for all intents and purposes, finished. The team’s triumvirate of stars, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce are all getting up in age. While all three were durable this season, they are also past their prime – and by several seasons. The Celtics have a few nice pieces in guard Rajon Rondo and forward Jeff Green, but (and with all due respect to Rondo who is a very good young point guard) those are supplementary players. Shaquille O’Neal’s absence in the series against the Miami Heatproved that age is catching up to him and without the recently-traded Kendrick Perkins, Boston was extremely light in the frontcourt, needing to rely on Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic.

Boston simply doesn’t have enough to compete for future rings with this group of players. If they’re to get back to the top, the Celtics will need to reshape their current roster. The greatest need will be to add another skilled rebounder in the middle to complement or even replace Shaq. In the words of Yoda: several mediocre rebounders do not a frontcourt make. Adding a quality guard would also be a good idea as the Celtics are very thin after Rondo and Allen. Boston’s greatest problem lies in the fact that due to their age, the team cannot expect to make it through a full season healthy.

The Lakers, on the other hand, still have enough in the tank for a few more runs. Despite the embarrassing sweep to Dallas, there’s plenty left on this team. Kobe Bryant is still the best closer in the game and one of the NBA’s top players. After Bryant, you’ve got Pau Gasol. I know, I get it – he disappeared against the Mavericks. Fact is that he was dealing with some off-court issues and probably just needed a break from the game. The only problem for the Lakers was that he took it during the most important time in the season.

And here’s the thing about Gasol – even though he vanished faster than Houdini in the Mavericks series, he has a good track record of succeeding in the playoffs. His numbers in the postseason over the past two years actually exceeded those of his regular season stats. Because of that, I don’t expect Pau to shrink again next season and Los Angeles will be a better team for it.

In case the Bryant/Gasol duo isn’t enough, the Lakers also can throw Andrew Bynum, one of the best (and here’s the key) young centers in the game and Lamar Odom, who seems like he’s been in the league forever, but is only 31.

Los Angeles’ key pieces are simply younger than those of Boston’s. Four of the five Celtics starters are at least 33 years old while the only Laker starter that old is Derek Fisher. And while Fisher has been an integral part of the Lakers winning five championships, he’s not relied on nearly as much as any of the Celtics starters. The Lakers would be a better team if they could add a younger point guard in their starting rotation, but they could get by with Fisher for the next season or two if need be.

Not only is Los Angeles younger where it counts, but they’re also better than Boston – which is why a couple more title runs with the same team might not be out of the picture.

February 15, 2011

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NBA All-Star Weekend Needs a Makeover

By: Joe Williams

The year was 1999. The world was preparing for Y2K. The NBA All-Star Weekend was canceled because of a lockout-shortened season and Keanu Reeves starred in the Matrix.

Since 1999, Reeves has been making movies like Thumbsucker and The Lake House while the NBA All-Star Weekend has lost some of its excitement as well. Reeves’ career and the All-Star Weekend are both in need of a makeover. I’ve got some suggestions for the NBA (sorry Keanu, you are on your own).

Maybe the NBA should follow the NHL example. The NHL just held an All-Star Game with two team captains picking teams in a live draft. This is a great idea. The NBA should take it a step further.

Instead of having current players as the team captains, I say David Stern should bring in two NBA legends to coach/captain the teams. Nothing against Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich, but I would much rather see the teams led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. We see Rivers, Popovich and Phil Jackson on TV all season. Why not change things up?

This weekend’s all-star game will be in Los Angeles. The Lakers and Celtics met in the NBA Finals last season. Both teams are among the favorites to reach the Finals this season. Why not keep the rivalry going? Imagine Larry Bird taking Kobe Bryant with the first pick, putting Kobe on the visiting team in his own building and playing against Magic Johnson’s team. Magic could counter with LeBron James as his first pick and then draft a couple of the four Boston Celtics who are in the game.

The NBA could create some great matchups with this system. I would love to see John Stockton lead a team against fellow Utah Jazz Hall of Famer, Karl Malone. How about a Reggie Miller and Spike Lee matchup? Anyone for Charles Barkley against Michael Jordan? The matchups are endless.

I also believe the NBA should take the all-star game back to the cities that no longer have an NBA franchise. When places like Vancouver and Seattle lose their team to another city, the NBA ought to keep in touch with those fans. They deserve an all-star game.

My next suggestion would be to have a HORSE competition with some of the NBA greats. I’d like to see Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play for a Big Mac like they did in a Super Bowl commercial in 1993. There are some great possible matchups for this too. I suggest a Dennis Rodman (58.4% free throw shooter) and Shaq (52.8% free throw shooter) in a free throw showdown. Of course, for the sake of time, they may have to shorten a game of HORSE to a game of H.

The last thing I would like to see change for the NBA All-Star game is the voting process. Currently, the fans vote in the starters for the game and that’s how it should be. But when a guy (Yao Ming) is voted as an all-star starter despite only playing in five games all season, something needs to change. Nothing against Yao, but he should not be on the ballot if he can’t play. That spot should go to someone who has earned it with a great first half of the season.

I would love to see these things happen but I’m sure there is someone smarter than me at the NBA headquarters who has a whole list of reasons why these ideas won’t work. I’d just love to see it happen.

May 18, 2010

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A Feast Fit for a “King”

By: Guest Blogger

by guest blogger James Witham

Imagine walking into your favorite restaurant for quick bite with your buddies.  You look over and you see Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone enjoying a steak dinner and talking about the good old days.  Maybe you whip out your cell phone and take a picture.  Maybe you just can’t help yourself, you just have to get an autograph.  Yeah you might do that, but what if you were LeBron James?  Coming off yet another loss and falling short of a championship once again, does LeBron pull up a chair?

 When LeBron first entered the league, he was almost immediately dubbed “The King” by the fans and the media.  Sure the hype was there, as were the physical tools and skills to be a great player at the next level.  It seemed like a foregone conclusion that this kid was going to finally bring a ring to a city that has seen almost nothing but heartbreak in the world of sports.  You look at the statistics over LeBron’s seven year career and they don’t lie.  They are phenomenal and worthy of being mentioned with the best players in the league today.  That’s great if you’re a stat freak, but does it make him “King”?  Charles Barkley and Karl Malone could both chime in to say they’ve been the league’s MVP just like LeBron.  Patrick Ewing could speak up and say he was Rookie of the Year, just like LeBron.  All three men have scored near or above 25,000 points and grabbed well over 10,000 boards in their career.  The only thing all four men have in common is…no ring.

 Sure, LeBron is only 25 and his contract has expired.  That means he has time right?  I remember people feeling the same way about “Sir Charles” when he left Philly.  Separate stints with the Suns and Rockets still resulted in no championships.  Barkley was 29 when he left the 76ers.  Karl Malone even tried to join the Lakers at the end of his career hoping Kobe Bryant could help him to a title.  Thanks to the Detroit Pistons, that didn’t happen.  Patrick Ewing can certain place some blame on Reggie Miller.  Most of the woes of those three great players could be traced back to Michael Jordan.  Surely, there is no shame in being beaten by arguably the greatest player to even slip on a pair of Nike’s.  So what excuses does “King James” have?

 In his only appearance in the NBA Finals, LeBron was swept by the San Antonio Spurs.  That was 2007, being that he was only 22 and it was his first shot at a title, maybe you cut him a little slack.  His supporting cast that year didn’t exactly read as a who’s who of the NBA either.  So the Cavs overhaul the roster and make another run.  The next year they are bounced in the second round of the playoffs.  Maybe you could blame that one on injuries?  Maybe a lack of chemistry with all the new faces?  The following year yielded a franchise high 66 wins for Cleveland.  LeBron wins his first MVP and Mike Brown is Coach of the Year.  Things were looking great, until losing in six games to the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.

 That brings us to this year, and another overhaul.  Time to bring in some championship experience; enter Shaquille O’Neal which should solve the Cavs’ problem at center.  Add Antwan Jamison to go with Mo Williams who was added last year, fans in Cleveland think this is their year.  Instead they leave feeling beaten and embarrassed by the Boston Celtics.  The Celtics were seen as an aging team who could not handle a superstar like LeBron with all the weapons he now had in place.  In the final two games of the series their “King” looked like a man who no longer wanted to serve his loyal subjects.  A former Defensive Player of the Year, looking interested in doing anything but playing defense.  A “King” who was supposed to be able to do it all only being able to manage 15 and 27 points respectively in the final two games of the series, when it mattered most.  Michael Jordan was able to score 38 points in the 1997 NBA Finals with the stomach flu to win a crucial Game 5 against the Jazz.  Just like the Cleveland-Boston series, the series was tied at 2 games apiece at the time.  I doubt Jordan would have let an elbow injury stand in the way of winning another NBA Title.

 Labels are fun, and a great way to market your superstar player or team.  Maybe in time this will all be a distant memory for LeBron James, and he will sit on his throne to rule the NBA for years to come.  Until that day, I say that LeBron should sit down with Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing to a feast that is fit for a “King”.  A “King”, with no ring.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer, and not the opinions of Fathead, its ownership, or any of its employees.