Pau Gasol and revisionist history

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He won two titles for them. Yes, the Lakers had improved tremendously in 2007-2008 , but without him, they never would have made it to the Finals, nor won them the next two. It was only eight months ago that he was called “the best big man in the league” and touted as a possible MVP candidate.

So before we get to the business of burying Pau Gasol for arguably the most disappointing performance by a Lakers star in NBA history, we should take note. The crushing disappointment of failing to close out the three-peat, the seemingly inevitable glorious end to Phil Jackson’s coaching career, the cementing of the Lakers as the winningest team in the NBA with their 18th title, all of these expectations would not have been possible or reasonable without Gasol’s contributions. So before we start to flambe his role in this disaster, we had better recognize that Pau Gasol has been an incredible player for the Lakers, and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to him for his contributions to the Lakers’ title runs.

Now that we’ve said that… man, did Pau get punked.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Perhaps more than anything, the notion that Pau Gasol can be this teams next great leader was swept away. His sudden and odd postseason disappearance was the most obvious reason for the Lakers troubles, his fall completed Sunday when he scored 10 points while being pushed around by everyone but his coach, who thankfully refrained from hitting him for a second consecutive game.

“I have to learn from this,” Gasol said. I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court.”

He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.

via Lakers-Mavericks: Divided Lakers simply get lost on way to three-peat – latimes.com.

Gasol denied Bryant’s involvement in the situation in an alternate report, but the shady nature of the rumor and Gasol’s response to it blends in with this L.A. nightmare. The bigger problem is that even though breaking up with your fiance is a rough, rough thing to go through, especially when it’s tinged with public scrutiny, it won’t matter. Just like fans and media revolt at the idea of it being a worker’s right to change jobs or locations once his contract is available, despite it being totally acceptable outside of sports, so too will they reject the notion that a significant disruption in one’s personal life is an acceptable cause for failure. All of Gasol’s previous efforts and triumphs are being rewritten as more to do with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson (who has bizarrely escaped much scrutiny in this disaster, despite most of the problems being directly in his wheelhouse, effort, motivation, mental focus, etc.). The calls are out there to trade Gasol and bring in someone tougher. Gasol’s soft touch has always bugged Lakers fans. You want  your big man to throw it down, not tap it in; to reject the opponent, not faintly contest. But the biggest reason he’s being flogged for all of this?

He really was that bad. He’s been badly outplayed in these playoffs by his younger brother Marc, whose Grizzlies hold a 2-1 series lead over the second-favorite Thunder. And everything the younger Gasol has shown (toughness, tenacious attack, physicality, and that soft touch that proves so effective) is what the elder lacked. He was bullied by Tyson Chandler, abused by Dirk Nowitzki, and his string of mistakes seemed to feed off themselves. Blown passes, mishandled catches, missed layups, botched tip-ins, Gasol was outworked, out-hustled and looked older than his birth date would suggest.

Being a No.2 on a team is difficult, you have to be great without getting all the credit. But you’re also counted on to be the emotional and physical leader when the star is too bogged down with his responsibilities. Gasol found out the hard way what happens when things don’t fall exactly right, and if the talk of a Lakers’ blow-up is accurate, it could be a lesson that shows him out of town.

We won’t forget what Gasol did for the Lakers to get them two titles and three consecutive Finals appearances. But we also won’t forget how when the going got tough? The Gasol got got.

NBA looking into Rockets’ owner interacting with referee during game

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Like every Rockets fan — and, let’s be honest, every fan of every team — Leslie Alexander is convinced the referees were screwing over his Rockets.

Except that Alexander is the owner of the Rockets.

And he approached a referee during game play.

The NBA is understandably investigating this, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The NBA said an investigation “is underway” into Rockets’ owner Leslie Alexander’s getting up from his courtside seat to have a few words with official Bill Kennedy in the first half.

Alexander appeared to say something to Kennedy during a Thunder possession before returning to his seat. Alexander declined to give any detail beyond he was “upset … really upset.” Rockets guard James Harden said he didn’t see his owner get up. “He did that?” a surprised Harden said after the game. “He’s the coolest guy. I would have helped him.”

The NBA doesn’t let players or coaches cross a line when talking to officials, but they are at least allowed to interact and discuss calls with a ref during a game. It’s something else entirely for an owner to get in the ear of an official during game play.

I’d expect Alexander will see a fine for this.

Whatever he thought of the officiating, the Rockets won to advance on to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Steve Kerr to see Stanford specialists about back issues, is optimistic about return to bench

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If he were not coaching a perennial contender and a team where he genuinely has a deep bond with the players, the GM, and his fellow coaches, Steve Kerr might have walked away from basketball for a while. The pain from spinal fluid leakage from a couple of back surgeries he had two summers ago (the ones that led to Luke Walton coaching the first half of the season in Golden State) would have been too much.

But he tolerated and managed the pain as best he could, until a few days ago when it became too much. Kerr did not coach the final two games of the Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers and said he would not return to the bench until healthy enough to do so.

Kerr’s next step is to talk to specialists at Stanford University’s medical program, and Kerr is optimistic about the long-term prognosis, he told Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

He revealed to NBCSportsBayArea.com that in recent days he has spoken to several people who have experienced the debilitating effects of a cerebrospinal fluid leak and been able to overcome it. He says that because his symptoms have intensified over the past week, in an odd twist, that may make it easier for specialists to trace the precise source.

“That’s what the next few days are all about,” Kerr said, standing down the hallway from the visitor’s locker room. “They’re trying to find it. If they can find it, they can fix it.”

He’ll begin in the coming days by consulting with specialists at Stanford Medical Center, which has some of the more respected surgeons in the world.

Kerr said his spirits have been lifted by other people who went through this, people who told him doctors found the leak and it changed their lives, that they bounced back to 100 percent. He said that the first back surgeries did their job in relieving his lower back pain, but it has led to spinal fluid leakage that is worse than the symptoms the first surgery solved.

Whether a fix can happen to get him back on the bench these playoffs is immaterial, we all hope it happens just so Kerr the person can go back to enjoying his life without chronic pain. He’ll be around the team as much as he can through the playoffs, but there are far more important things going on with him than basketball right now.

 

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.