We need a season because it’s now or never for Kobe v. LeBron

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It was supposed to be 2009. Whoops, thanks Orlando and your ridiculously hot shooting. Then it was supposed to be 2010. Whoops, Boston strikes again. Then, no, seriously, surely it has to be 2011, we don’t even have the rest of the Cavs to blame it on. Whoops, Dallas denied. And now we’re on the verge of losing our last chance, the last good opportunity we’ll have. There will be a million reasons why losing the entire 2011-2012 season to the lockout would be a crushing disappointment for everyone who cares about the NBA. And inside that million reasons is this.

It’s our last chance for Kobe vs. LeBron in the Finals.

Don’t get me wrong. The stories told in each of those seasons was more than worthy, especially last year’s vindication of the Mark Cuban tactical approach. The Mavericks were worthy champions, Dirk a phenomenal champion, the storybook ending both different and fascinating at the same time. But we need this. We’re not going to have another chance, not with Kobe at anything worth comparing.

The thing is, many will say it’s irrelevant for one reason or another. Kobe’s too old. LeBron would just fail in the clutch again, anyway. The Heat’s super-team makes it illegitimate as a match-up. But there are factors to consider here. For starter’s, Kobe Bryant is coming off the most rest he will have had in four seasons. He’s had time to rest, have surgery, recover, condition, improve (if that’s possible) and get his legs back. He’s going to be his voracious self, only even more motivated to get back on top. If anyone can have a bounce-back season at 33, it’s Bryant. James’ failures have not come at the hands of the Lakers, not for many years. His recent Cavaliers and Heat teams have dominated Bryant. Bryant won both matchups against the Cavs in 2009, and in the four meetings since, the King has topped the champ. James is 10-5 all-time versus Bryant, which is a pretty good record against the best player in the league over the past ten years.

And for all the Heat’s talent, the Lakers feature just as much if not more, though everyone conveniently overlooks Lamar Odom and Ron Artest playing for significantly under market value. The Heat have more star power, the Lakers have more depth and a better overall team.

A Finals contest between the two would settle an age-old debate. Just kidding, it would solve nothing. But it would make for fantastic television, and provide an even better addition to the narrative of both’s careers. James would have a chance to finally become a champion by beating the five-time champion. Bryant would have a chance to tie Jordan for rings by toppling the supposed best player in the world. Live chats, message boards and comment sections would feature enough vitriol from both sides of the debate to bring Vigo from “Ghostbusters II” back to life. It would be a river of bile and it would be incredibly fun to watch.

The two have been linked for the past half-decade, a forced commercial string jinxing their inevitable conflict into oblivion. Yes, the NBA has its fair share of terrible, forced storylines and overblown hype machines. But this one would be worth the price of admission. The two best basketball players over the past four years, with one having represented their conference in the Finals in each of the past five seasons. This needs to happen, before it’s too late. So please, owners, players, if you won’t do it for the fans, will you at least do it for Nike? Poor, unloved, under-profiting Nike?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.