NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Boston big men will play the bully, will L.A. stand its ground?

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Perkins_Bynum.jpgLet the Phil Jackson mind games begin.

At least he’s gotten smart about how to avoid the fines from David Stern when trying to plant subconscious messages in the mind of the referees. Jackson was talking Monday about Kevin Garnett’s play in the last series and the L.A. Times Mark Medina recorded it.

“He was smacking Howard’s arm and finally he was called for an offensive foul,” Jackson said of Garnett. “That’s not our team. We don’t go out there and smack people around.”

Jackson is trying already to get the refs to call this series tight. Because if the refs allow an MMA fight in the paint, advantage Boston. As Jackson later put it the Lakers big men do not have “a smackdown mentality.” Boston does. Big time.

Two years ago the Celtics front line of Kedrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Glen “Big Baby” Davis did smackdown the Lakers. They’ve since added another big man who has tormented the Lakers in the playoffs, Rasheed Wallace.

Can the finesse group of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum stand up to that this time around?

The Lakers do have some advantages over last time in the toughness department. To start with, Ron Artest is a brick to Vladimir Radmanovic’s tissue paper. No doubt Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are nails.

The Lakers also have Andrew Bynum this time. Two years ago Perkins — a very good defensive center — could body up and push around Pau Gasol. This time, Perkins will have to cover the bigger body of Bynum — and he’s going to be able to largely shut down the Lakers center.

But that makes the Garnett/Gasol matchup a key one in this series. Garnett is physical and thrives on intimidation. Gasol has a reputation for backing down. But this is a different Gasol than two years ago — after that Celtics loss was the first time he hit the gym and weights hard to get stronger.

With that came a new mentality. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register recalls one of the regular matchups between the two teams earlier this season, when the Celtics went right at Gasol hard — and Gasol leaned back in and pushed back hard. It led to a little skirmish where the Gasol and Perkins earned double technicals.

The Lakers also are hoping to see more of the hardened grew-up-in-Queens Odom than the one that disappears for games at a time. Which one shows up, who knows?

The Celtics are sort of in the same boat with Wallace — in the playoffs (with the extra rest between games) he has returned to being a good three-point shooter and a huge boost off the bench. But that’s not who was there in the regular season, when Celtics fans were ready to trade him for a rack of shootaround balls. If the regular season Sheed returns it is trouble. Sheed — because he can hit the three — could play a key role. The Celtics would love to pull the Lakers big men away from protecting the rim on defense, and Sheed’s shooting can do that (as can KG’s midrange game).

We know what the Celtics are going to do. They are going to try to be the bully on the block. The Lakers say they are different this time around. Maybe. But they are going to have to prove it. They are going to be tested on the biggest stage with the hardest hits. If they fold, so do the Lakers chances.

Watch Lonzo Ball dodge relentless stream of LeBron James questions (video)

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Shortly before the draft, Lonzo Ball was asked in a televised interview to pitch LeBron James on joining the Lakers – and did.

A couple months and a tampering investigation into the Lakers later, Ball learned his lesson.

Sports Illustrated:

Rohan Nadkarni’s questions were all in good fun, and he couldn’t trick Ball into tampering, anyway. The NBA has essentially decided it won’t punish players for tampering with each other.

Ask Ball an honest LeBron question, and he’ll give an honest answer.

Report: People close to LeBron James ‘fairly confident’ Dwyane Wade will join Cavaliers

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Will the Bulls and Dwyane Wade reach a buyout?

Apparently, not only do people close to LeBron James believe it’ll happen, they have a read on Wade’s destination.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

As of right now, people close to James are fairly confident that, at some point this year, Dwyane Wade is going to end up on the Cavs.

Earlier in the podcast, Vardon even listed the only five people he believes reports should source as close to LeBron:

  • LeBron
  • Rich Paul
  • Maverick Carter
  • Savanah James
  • Adam Mendelsohn

So, that something about the proximity of this information to LeBron. Given Wade’s friendship with LeBron, Vardon’s sources could have inside information on Wade’s plan.

But hold your horses on Wade to Cleveland.

Though they could buy him out sooner, the Bulls are incentivized to keep Wade past the trade deadline. His $23.8 million expiring contract could prove useful in a trade. If no trade comes up and Chicago is out of the playoff race, as expected, a buyout would make far more sense. Now, eliminating that trade chip and sticking a large amount of dead salary on the books would be problematic for the Bulls – unless Wade cuts them a big discount. He doesn’t sound inclined to do that.

Even if Wade gets bought out, he has been rumored to follow LeBron to Cleveland for years. It obviously hasn’t happened yet. Wade’s friendship with LeBron is the primary lure – but it also might push Wade to signal a desire to team up while he can’t commit then go a different direction when push comes to shove. It can be hard to tell friends no.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Wade ends up with the Cavaliers. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is just wishful thinking by people close to LeBron.

Clippers’ Jerry West: ‘I did not want to leave’ Warriors

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A report emerged last spring that Jerry West was nearing a deal to stay with the Warriors as a consultant. Instead, he took the same job with the Clippers.

West, via Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was. A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.

But those things happen sometimes. Obviously to be around a bunch of players that were as together as any I’ve seen and I think more importantly the talent that was on that team and to see the joy. There’s a lot of joy there. I think those are the kind of environments where people really prosper.”

“It was time for me to leave. I’m in Los Angeles again. For me, I’ll have a chance to go in the office a little bit and watch some of the people that have been hired, to watch our coaches coach. I’ve often said I’ve done some crazy things in my life because of the timing and maybe the timing was right.”

The Clippers’ appeal appeared to be their salary offer – reportedly $4 million-$5 million annually. And maybe that factored.

But it sure sounds as if there’s more to the story.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-