On the amazing ripple effects of the 2004 Shaq Trade

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Remember the Summer of 2004? The Lakers, who came into the season with Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, and Shaq making up 80% of their starting 5, had just lost a “gentlemen’s sweep” to the Detroit Pistons. Kobe Bryant was a free agent. Shaq still had that pre-max monster of a deal, and he wasn’t getting any younger or getting along with Kobe any better.

The Lakers had to make a decision, especially when Kobe forced their hand by saying that he wouldn’t come back next season if Shaq was still on the team. (Revisionist history glosses over this fact, but Phil Jackson’s book The Last Season clearly states that Phil had that exact conversation with Kobe, and Kobe re-signed with the Lakers the day after Shaq was traded. The Lakers were going to have to make a tough decision on Shaq and his huge contract anyways, but come on.)

The Lakers ultimately decided to trade Shaq for Brian Grant, Caron Butler, and Lamar Odom. After that, the following things happened:

– Okay, Brian Grant never really became important.

– The Heat had the best record in the East, a relatively svelte Shaq narrowly lost the MVP vote to Steve Nash, and the Heat took the Pistons to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, Kobe, struggling with injuries, a new coach, and new teammates, had one of the worst seasons of his career, and the Lakers actually missed the playoffs.

– Because they missed the playoffs, the Lakers got the 10th overall pick, and decided to take a risk on high school big man Andrew Bynum. This would become important later. (Meanwhile, the Warriors, who picked Todd Fuller 11th the year Kobe Bryant was drafted 13th, drafted Ike Diogu one pick ahead of Bynum. The Magic took Fran Vasquez directly after Bynum. Again, this would become important later.)

– In 05-06, after the Lakers traded Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, a healthy and motivated Bryant averaged the highest PPG of his career, but the wafer-thin Lakers lost to the Suns in 7 games. Meanwhile, the Heat were able to stun the Mavericks and win the NBA title with Shaq playing a vital role, although Miami clearly would not have come close to winning it all without Dwayne Wade’s historically great finals performance.

– At the 2007-08 trade deadline, the Lakers used Kwame Brown’s expiring contract, which came from the Caron Butler trade, which came from the Shaq trade, to acquire Pau Gasol. The Lakers went to the Finals that year and lost to the Celtics, but won the next two championships with Kobe, Pau, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum (when healthy) leading the way.

– Meanwhile, Shaq, after being traded to the Suns and missing the playoffs, was acquired by the Cavaliers as a “Dwight-stopper,” and ultimately ended up helping end the LeBron era because the Cavaliers’ anti-Magic frontcourt got eaten alive by Boston’s frontcourt as the Celtics beat the Cavaliers in six games. (Yes, LeBron had some bad performances in that series, particularly game 5, but the frontcourt mismatches were a HUGE reason the Celtics shredded the Cavaliers.) You have to admit, the levels of irony here are incredible.

– After the 2010 season, LeBron James announces that he is leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach. Many people notice.

***PURE SPECULATION COMING UP***

Consider this: If Wade doesn’t have a ring, do you think he would have been able to convince LeBron to leave his hometown team, which was coming off of consecutive 60+ win seasons, and become, for a time, perhaps the most hated athlete in America. (There’s a real possibility of this — LeBron wanted to play with friends/superstars, LRMR had LeBron convinced that everyone would love him no matter what, and Miami does reportedly have nice weather in the winter. Still, I think Wade’s 2006 ring really, really helped LeBron make his “decision.”

***PURE SPECULATION OVER***

– The Heat make the Finals in each of the next two seasons, losing in 6 games in 2011 and winning in 5 games in 2012. If you’re keeping score at home and believe my theory (which may be a stretch), the Shaq trade has now led to the Heat and Lakers winning two championships apiece.

– Cut to the summer of 2012. The Lakers manage to flip Lamar Odom’s trade exception for Steve Nash, and flip Andrew Bynum, the lottery pick they got because the year directly after Shaq left was the one year they were bad enough to make the lottery, gets effectively flipped for Dwight Howard. The Lakers now have a starting lineup of Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, and are instant title contenders again.

So there you have it — eight years after the Lakers and Heat made a blockbuster trade for the most dominant center of this era, they each have two championships under their belt, and at least three of those four total championships can be directly traced back to the Shaq trade. On top of that, the two teams may well be on a collision course to meet in the 2013 finals, which makes the whole sequence of events that much more incredible.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.