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The Inbounds: Steve Nash, the Lakers, and the lawlessness of the point guard wilderness

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

“How does Steve Nash help them stop Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker?’

That’s the standard reaction from skeptics to the Lakers’ addition of Steve Nash. Sure, Nash can dish at an obscenely high rate even as 40 comes screaming at him like a bald eagle ready to pounce on him with a good ol’ American mid-life crisis on his Canadian head. Sure, he can still shoot at an efficiency that makes the assembly line look like two dudes with hammers whacking away at sheet metal. But Nash has never been a good defender. People with full understanding know that it’s in large part because he has a degenerative back condition that forces him to lay down every time he goes to the bench and that the fact he’s able to move laterally at all is a miracle. But it doesn’t change anything. Nash isn’t going to make the Lakers’ point guard defense, which was shredded against OKC in the Western Conference Finals and in the regular season against San Antonio. 

Here’s the problem with that line of reasoning.

We’ve reached critical mass with point guard offensive talent in the NBA. Versus every other position in the league, point guard is no longer determined by “who can you line up to beat the other guy across the lineup sheet from you” and has gone simply to “who’s the guy that can do the most damage for your side?”

Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash.

Then there’s Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Jameer Nelson, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas.

That’s a murderer’s row for defenses. Those guys can slice, dice, torch, saute, roast, blend, poach, chew up and spit out any defense out there on any given night. Very few of them can be defended with one player, it necessitates a team effort. And almost none of them can defend well enough on their own.  Westbrook and Parker often play to standstills across their season series, based on their inability to contain one or the other. Chris Paul will slide by any defender, manipulate any switch, but put him on an island, and you’d better have help behind him. This has less to do with the quality of these players as defenders, and more with the elite level of offense that is produced by this caliber of point guard, and the sheer number of such guards they face night in and night out.

(Note: Not all these players struggle to defend. Clearly Rajon Rondo is a crackdown, lockout, shut-em-out defender, but by and large, the trend skews towards turnstyle.)

Consider how often you’r seeing small forwards shift to cover point guards. LeBron James on Rajon Rondo. Andre Iguodala on Derrick Rose. Carmelo Anthony on Deron Williams. It’s trying to contain the elite perimeter speed with size and length, and even then, you have to have great help defense. That’s the real hallmark of a great defense in this league. The Bulls’ defense isn’t elite because Derrick Rose is able to shadow, harass, and bottle up anyone who tries to create outside-in, it’s based on their ability to bring a second and third and fourth guy to swipe, challenge, and deter once they get past Rose. And Rose has become a passable defender! What of the teams like the Lakers with Nash? The truth remains that with players like Westbrook, it’s partially challenging them at multiple opportunities, partially goading them into the shots you want them to take (that they can still hit), and living with it. But that’s not something you can stomach if you’re one of the few teams bringing a knife to a heavy artillery fight.

That may make the Knicks’ situation with Jeremy Lin as fascinating as anything. Lin’s defense was surely questionable. But over and over again last season, he found ways to make plays on his own. When Lin has the advantage, great. When he doesn’t, all he has to do is be what I refer to as a “painkiller.” He just has to take away enough of the sting from what the point guard is doing on offense by providing his own numbing euphoria with timely buckets and big shots. Do that, and you can survive the onslaught if the rest of the team steps up.

With the Lakers, they have the capacity to be an elite defensive team. They showed it at times. But they were so discombobulated for such long stretches that you could tell they lost their way on both ends. With Nash, the offense will be great. Not fine. Not better. Great. He solves nearly every issue they have, specifically. And he’ll get torched.  The Lakers will once again have a hard time finding ways to slow down or deter opposing point guards. Nash will do almost none of that.

But look around you. We’re in a point guard looting-and-plundering paradise. Point guards are the Allied Powers, cleaning out the Eagle’s Nest. If it’s not bolted down, they’re taking it. The Lakers have to win all the other battles, and that’s a bigger trick for Mike Brown and company. But they can live with Nash letting his man get past him. He’s going to get past his guy enough, make the right pass enough, hit the big shot enough.

This is a league where point guard play is the Wild West. It’s not about law and order, or structure. It’s just about who’s got the fastest gun and the most bullets. And Steve Nash?

He’ll make you famous.

John Wall’s reaction to the Cousins’ trade is to have a drink (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at Verizon Center on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.  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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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It was a strange situation in the “mix room” interview zone after the All-Star Game Sunday, the place the majority of players went for a post-game media obligation (MVP Anthony Davis, the coaches, and a few other players who had big games such as Russell Westbrook went to a different, larger room).

Strange because in the three hours or so the players had been away from their phones and social media accounts, the DeMarcus Cousins trade had gained steam and seemed destined to be done (the story the deal was done broke about 15-20 minutes later). The players walked in and had no idea what had happened — including Cousins.

But I loved John Wall‘s reaction.

When the news broke about the Cousins trade, it seemed everyone needed a drink. Wall had his recovery drink handy — notice the label was stripped off of the bottle, meaning it was not the NBA sponsor’s product — so he went with that.

Kyrie Irving on All-Star Game: “I would love to play in a competitive game”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be a star-studded exhibition, and not one necessarily aimed at the core of basketball fans. Sort of like the Super Bowl, the goal of the All-Star Game is to suck in the casual fan to watch both great athleticism and the show around it — The Roots, John Legend and on down the line. In the city the weekend of the event, it’s as much about showing league sponsors a good time as it is basketball.

Let’s be honest, the basketball itself isn’t good. From the Rising Stars challenge through the All-Star Game itself, there’s matador defense and cherry picking all game long. The defense was so bad Stephen Curry was literally laying down on the job.

Kyrie Irving would like to see that change, and he speaks for at least some players.

“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” Irving said. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense going forward.”

Will it? Guys are trying not to get hurt and — like the entire weekend itself — are focused on the fun off the court far more than anything on it.

“It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game,” Irving said.

The onus to change this falls to the players, something. West coach Steve Kerr echoed.

“I think that in the past, at least generally in the fourth quarter, guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen (Sunday),” Kerr said. “I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players really.

“As a coach in the All-Star game, you ever seen that movie ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’? They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We’re not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”

To get guys to play harder, the league is going to have to find an incentive to motivate the players. Currently, the winning team’s players get $50,000 each, the losing team $25,000 — while that extra $25K would make a big difference in your life or mine, for All-Stars with eight-figure annual salaries it doesn’t matter as much as staying healthy and getting some rest.

“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow, Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”

There is, but until the NBA comes up with a new plan we’re not going to see it All-Star Weekend.

Kings announcer goes scorched earth on Twitter after DeMarcus Cousins trade

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 07:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings takes on the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on December 7, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, but that hasn’t stopped members of the Sacramento Kings organization from taking shots at him as he walks out the door.

In the team press release announcing the trade on Monday Sacramento GM Vlade Divac said, “Winning begins with culture and character matters.”

Subtle.

Meanwhile, the team’s play-by-play announcer Grant Napear went scorched earth on Cousins minutes after the trade was announced. The Twitter thread is pretty dang straightforward:

Yikes.

There’s definitely a contingent of Kings fans that were fed up with Boogie’s attitude — 7 years is a long time to wait for your franchise center to not consistently get kicked out of games — but it’s not a good look to flame the dude on his way out.

Saying you don’t think they could win with him is one thing, but saying he’s a “dark cloud” and that most of his teammates hated him is borderline. Plus, coming from a team-affiliated it’s just a weird thing to do.

Napear has had his issues with Cousins in the past, so perhaps it’s understandable we see this reaction with the big man now in a new uniform.

Add this to Divac saying he had a better deal lined up two days ago, and the Kings look even moreso like an organization without a direction.

Charles Barkley hung out with King Cake Baby to celebrate his birthday (VIDEO)

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One of the New Orleans Pelicans mascots is a Pelican. His name is Pierre, and after a makeover he’s looking pretty normal these days. But the Pelicans also have a second mascot of sorts. His name is King Cake Baby — named after the Mardi Gras pastry — and he’s horrifying.

So when you have an NBA All-Star Game in town, what do you do? Trot out a giant baby mascot to mix in with the league’s elite, of course.

Or at least have him bother Charles Barkley on his birthday:

Ok it’s actually weirder that Kenny Smith wanted to see what was under King Cake Baby’s bib. I can never unsee that.