Lakers/Celtics: Which franchise reigns supreme?

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Laker_Celtics_logos.pngLakers fans and Celtics fans do not like each other. True rivals. Some grudging respect through the hate, but both want to take each other out.

And both know they are the best franchise in the NBA. PBT’s Kurt Helin (taking the Lakers side)  and Matt Moore ( Celtics) hash the franchise debate out.

Kurt Helin
: No doubt, you have to respect the Celtics history. The thing is, it is history. Most of their titles came almost 50 years ago — time has passed the Celtics by. They are the Betty White of NBA franchises, still trying to milk a little more out of past glory. They’re still better than most, but the Lakers won more titles in the 80s. More titles last decade. The Lakers are more relevant now.

Matt Moore: And yet barring a KG injury, the path to three straight finals appearances is wide open, including a victory over the Lakers. And recent history won’t overcome the only number that matters. Seventeen.

KH: Sure, 17. Thing is, Bill Russell is not coming out of that tunnel. Larry Bird is not suiting up. The mythology of the Celtics is old, it took buying a title with a lucky trade for KG to get that one more banner. Meanwhile while the Celtics struggled since the 80s the Lakers just kept rebuilding, making smart moves and marching forward. They understand how to win and keep winning. All the Celtics need understand is that window — that imported championship window — is closing fast.

MM: And yet for all their machinations, all their savvy, and all their guile, it still came down to drawing an ace with Kobe and then abusing the luxury tax for them to reach the peal of the mountain, and yet still the C’s hang more banners.

Meanwhile the Celtics’ hard nosed legacy and mystique lived on while the Lakers are no more than a good, not great championship team that lacks effort and heart. Even their former glory is shaded in pomp and circumstance: “Showtime.”

And for all the rebuilding and progress L.A. has made, what do they really have? A window longer by what, 2 seasons, max?

KH: The longer window, even by a couple years, means once again the Lakers will leave this era with more titles than the Celtics.

You are dismissive of “showtime” but it is the perfect embodiment of Los Angeles. This city is about entertainment and winning, and “showtime” means both. Why not win with flair? Not just the Magic-era teams, but now Kobe is putting on a show, hitting fade-away game winners with two hands in his face. Don’t confuse “showtime” with soft. The 80s Lakers were not soft. The Shaq-led three-peat teams were not soft. And if the Celtics think these Lakers are soft, they are in for a shock.

The Celtics legacy? Built on unfair talent advantages for a decade, and tedious physical play. Take the beautiful game and grind it down. Destroy the artistry, ugly it all up. Push, grab and hold. No thanks, I will take the pure game from Los Angeles. Anytime.

MM: You can cherish that pure game all you want, the fact is, that bullying style has been more effective. Beauty’s nice. Strength is better. This isn’t a beauty contest, it’s armed conflict in the gladiatorial arena. You bring the makeup mirror and I’ll bring the crowbar and we’ll see which one walks out.

And you can project all you want for those titles, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the egos in L.A. detonate their title window (hello, 2004!) before. We have what we have, and what we have, is a Celtics franchise with more titles, and who has done it with more nuance and sophistication than simply stocking up on the biggest, prettiest players they can swindle for. And if you want projection, you’ve got to go ahead and tag an asterisk on that 15th championship for not having gone through Boston due to injury.

Furthermore, in the greater franchise context, the Lakers didn’t even start in L.A. They’re the Lakers. Despite L.A. not really being known for its lakes. If it were the Los Angeles People That Only Show Up To Sporting Events Because It’s Fashionable, that would make sense. The atmosphere at the Garden, even the TD Northbank versus the old Garden, dwarfs the experience in the fashion show that is Staples. Boston’s been around forever, and is tied to that city in a way the Lakers will never be because there’s nothing to tie to L.A. Well, besides plastic surgery, perhaps. The Celtics are a classic franchise in sports, the likes of the Packers and Yankees. The Lakers are a championship organization brought out of nothing organic. The Twinkies of sports. Immensely popular, but there’s nothing really there.

KH: Los Angeles is a city of transplants? What exactly is Boston? The place where the first settlers landed — the first transplants? With a team named after the Irish homeland?

Forget it. It’s time to settle this on the court. Again.

So you know what’s going on here: Kurt Helin is the blogger-in-chief of ProBasketballTalk.com and a lifelong Lakers fan. Matt Moore is the weekend editor of ProBasketballTalk.com and doesn’t really think either team is the best franchise, he’s just playing devil’s advocate. He tends to think the Oklahoma City Thunder are the best franchise, because he likes Thunderstix.

Nine-year veteran Eric Gordon finally chose his team, and he’s clicking with Rockets

AUBURN HILLS, MI - NOVEMBER 21: Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets tires to get a shot off against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on November 21, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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A New Orleans restricted free agent in 2012, Eric Gordon signed a max offer sheet with the Suns and infamously declared his heart to be in Phoenix.

New Orleans matched anyway.

“I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Gordon said. “I knew they were going to bring me back all along.”

So why make those statements? Why alienate New Orleans fans?

“You just never know what a team might do or not,” Gordon said.

Gordon been around long enough now to know you never know, even when you’re certain you do. But this much he clearly believes: In his ninth NBA season and on the first team he picked, he’s happy with the Rockets.

Gordon was drafted onto the Donald Sterling, pre-Blake Griffin Clippers, who had made the playoffs just four times in the previous 32 years and had developed a reputation for cheapness and disarray. They went 19-63, 29-53 and 32-50 in Gordon’s three years in Los Angeles. Yet he says, “I enjoyed my time there.”

He was traded to New Orleans as the centerpiece of the Clippers’ package for Chris Paul, and he doesn’t look back on his time with the Hornets/Pelicans quite so fondly. “Nobody was on the same page over there,” Gordon said. “It was just different. We had the talent there, and things just didn’t work out.”

Gordon admits he sometimes wonders what would’ve happened if he had gone to the Suns. But they haven’t made the playoffs and are on their fourth coach since his offer sheet. “After looking back on it now, they had a lot of chaos and turmoil there, too,” Gordon said.

So, Houston is a welcome reprieve.

Gordon’s first unrestricted free agency yielded a four-year contract worth more than $52 million. He’s averaging 17.0 points per game, his highest mark in five years. He has been healthy after after missing 173 games in five years with New Orleans. And the Rockets are 15-7, on pace for what would easily be Gordon’s most successful season.

Playing with James Harden and for Mike D’Antoni – whose fondness for Gordon dates back to their gold-medal run with Team USA in the 2010 World Championship – has treated Gordon well. Houston is focused on offense, Gordon’s specialty, and its system accentuates his strengths.

Gordon leads the NBA with seven open 3-pointers per game, which he’s converting at 41.3% clip:

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Notice the other Rockets on that list: Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza. Benefitting from playing alongside Harden – an attention-tracker and willing passer – is not unique.

But Gordon does more than just rely on Harden to get him open shots. Since moving to the bench with Patrick Beverley healthy, Gordon has proven particularly valuable when Harden sits.

Houston scores 118.7 points per 100 possessions with Harden on the floor, per NBAwowy!. That mark obviously plummets without Harden, one of the NBA’s best offensive players.

Gordon has prevented it from falling too far, though.

He scores more points per 36 minutes (15.5 to 28.5) and does so with a higher true shooting percentage (56.0 to 62.5) from with Harden to without. He also handles more playmaking, increasing his assists per 36 minutes (2.4 to 4.1), though also, disproportionally, his turnovers per 36 minutes (1.5 to 3.6).

Still, Gordon’s effect on the Rockets’ offense without Harden is tremendously positive.

  • Houston’s offensive rating without Harden – with Gordon: 107.7
  • Houston’s offensive rating without Harden – without Gordon: 86.7

Propping up the Rockets’ Harden-less offense has made Gordon an early contender for Sixth Man of the Year. Here are the win-share leaders among eligible players:

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Given voting history, ranking eligible players by points per game is probably more predictive. It’s at least even more flattering to Gordon:

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Lakers guard Lou Williams deserves to be the early favorite for the award. I’m also quite high on Spurs guard Patty Mills.

But Gordon belongs solidly in the mix.

It might not be the stardom the Clippers predicted when they drafted him No. 7 or New Orleans envisioned when it twice acquired him, but at least Gordon is happily contributing to a winner. After so much controversy – both invited (his Suns saga) and uninvited (being part of the Chris Paul trade) – he sounds happy in Houston.

“You just try to stride it out with whatever team you’re on. So, you know, it’s been a unique situation,” Gordon said. “But here, it’s been good.”

Kyle Lowry to critical DeMar DeRozan: ‘Every shot you shoot is a bad shot, analytic-wise’ (video)

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Your reminder that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are the best together.

DeRozan was asked about Lowry’s long 3-pointers after the Raptors’ win over the Timberwolves last night.

  • DeRozan: “”Them shots be lucky. … To me, it’s a bad shot.”
  • Lowry (off camera): “Every shot you shoot is a bad shot, analytic-wise.”

That’s not quite what the analytics say, but I won’t let the facts get in the way of a superb diss.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?