Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Lakers' center Shaquille O'Neal (L) la

Shaq would take Kobe Bryant over LeBron James because of “killer instinct”

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Who would you take, peak Kobe Bryant or peak LeBron James?

Shaquille O’Neal was on the Dan Patrick Show and when asked that went with Kobe.

“I played with both of them, and Kobe has that killer instinct. I would probably have to go with Kobe. That’s not a knock against LeBron, but I know Kobe, played with him longer, and I’ve seen what he can do.”

People will see it as a knock against LeBron — there remain plenty of fans oddly bent on denigrating his legacy. Shaq went on to say LeBron does have that killer instinct, but that he is more like Magic Johnson than Michael Jordan. He added LeBron is smart and lets the game come to him more.

If the Cavaliers fall to Golden State in the finals, the LeBron legacy talk will be interesting. He will be 2-4 in the Finals, but he will have dragged a few teams to the biggest stage that were wildly outmatched by their opponents. Does he get credit for just getting there? As with LeBron himself, his legacy is complex — and still developing.

 

 

PBT Podcast: NBA Finals breakdown, predictions

Larry O'Brien trophy
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Golden State vs. Cleveland.

Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James.

Who ya got?

In today’s edition of the PBT Podcast, we’ve got PBT’s Kurt Helin and Brett Pollakoff, plus NBCSports’ Dominic Ridgard breaking down the NBA Finals. We talk about the matchups — how does Golden State deal with Tristan Thompson? How much of the small lineups will we see? — as well as all laying out our predictions.

Also, we spend a few minutes talking about the hiring of Alvin Gentry in New Orleans becoming official, as well as the pending hiring of Fred Hoiberg in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast below or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.

LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry: More than meets the eye

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 15:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    LeBron James #23 of the Eastern Conference in action against James Harden #13 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Western Conference during the 2015 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden on February 15, 2015 in New York City. The Western Conference defeated the Eastern Conference Knicks 163-158. 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 Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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The temptation here is to paint these NBA Finals as the legendary, experienced player against the upstart underdog.

LeBron James is legendary — whatever happens in these finals and future ones, he will go down as one of the greats to play the game. He is experienced, this being his fifth consecutive Finals. He is as physically gifted a player as the NBA has ever seen, but one who also has an incredibly high basketball IQ. His stardom was pegged and followed by the time he was a high school sophomore.

Stephen Curry was an underdog — the skinny shooter couldn’t get big time colleges (or even a lot of mid-majors) interested in him, so he decided to go to Davidson. He led that school to the best seasons in program history. He entered the NBA Draft as an underdog, pegged by many as just a shooter he fell to seventh before being picked up. But teams underestimated his will to get better, for example how good a ball handler he would become. He’s a guy fans relate to because he wasn’t given superlative physical gifts, he had to work for it — he’s how many fans like to see themselves.

But that is just the surface of these two players. Just the part of the iceberg you can see.

This pairing is much, much more than that. Both players are much more than that.

Which is why they are at the heart of what makes this a compelling NBA Finals.

These men are more than just their simple caricatures.

If you paint LeBron as the guy pre-ordained for greatness, as the Goliath in this situation, you overlook his difficult upbringing. More than one talented young man got lost on a road far less bumpy, and with far fewer turns, than the one LeBron had growing up the son of a single mother in lower income areas of Akron.

If you paint Curry as the underdog who overcame incredible odds, you overlook that his father was an NBA player. Curry guy who grew up comfortable and around the best in the game. He had the advantage of that privilege.

LeBron certainly had advantages as he grew into an NBA player — only Wilt Chamberlain was this much more physically gifted than his peers. Curry certainly had rough times and struggles that he had to work hard to overcome. The caricatures of these men are not entirely wrong.

But they are much more than first brush stroke.

They also are the two most popular players in the NBA right now.

There are a lot of ways to measure the popularity of a player. There’s how many All-Star Game votes he gets, for one. Or, you can judge by jersey sales because those are fans willing to plunk down the money to put a guys name on their back.

However you try to get there, you end up in the same place: LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

They were 1-2 in All-Star vote getting this season. And they are 1-2 in jersey sales.

LeBron has been at the top for a while, Curry is new to all this (but handles it in stride, like you would expect of the son of a former NBA player). They are both good in interviews and let the public have glimpses into their families and lives, humanizing them as more than just a name on your fantasy roster.

Fans love them for all of it.

They also are arguably the two toughest players to guard in the league — but they dominate the game in very different ways.

LeBron can beat defenders almost any way he wants, drive past bigger ones on the perimeter or back down smaller ones into the post. That (and key injuries to teammates) is why he has worked much more in isolation these playoffs. His combination of size and speed — along with a steady jumper — allow him to get his shot even when the help defender comes. However, when the defense rotates his passes will find the right open man.

Curry has smooth handles that can create just a little bit of daylight against even the best defender — and that’s all he needs to get off the prettiest shot in the game. Curry is especially dangerous because he can work with the ball or be just as dangerous (and draw defenders) working off it, on cuts and screens. He rarely works in isolation, he’s a much better fit in a modern offense using ball screens to create space. Plus, he also is a gifted passer who will find the open man.

One more thing LeBron and Curry have in common: They are seen as the saviors of long-suffering fan bases.

The last time the Golden State Warriors won an NBA title was 40 years ago, led by Rick Barry. The Warriors have had some of the loudest and most loyal fans in the league — this team went through a couple of decades of terrible ownership prior to the current group buying the team, yet the fans continued to show up. Warriors fans stuck with their team through years of rough times.

The last time any team won any title in Northeast Ohio Lyndon B. Johnson was president and was talking about the just-released Warren Report on the assassination of President Kennedy. “Dr. Strangelove” had just entered the theaters. Bob Dylan was just becoming popular as a singer/songwriter. It has been more than half a century since a title came to the greater Cleveland area — which has always been a special burden for LeBron.

Of course, basketball remains a team sport — and the better team will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in a couple weeks. It’s not simply LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry, it’s the ability of teammates to help defend those two. The gravity of LeBron and Curry to draw defenders opens up things for their teammates, the question is which teammates are knocking down open shots and making plays while the defenses zero in on those stars.

But it is LeBron vs. Curry that will capture the nation’s imagination and attention for a couple weeks. It’s those two who we know will give us some highlight plays. They are the faces of their franchises.

This will go down as the LeBron vs. Curry NBA Finals. The only question is which one will get the Finals MVP Award.

 

Pau Gasol thanks Thibodeau in very Gasol-like comments

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Pau Gasol is as good a human being as you are going to find in the NBA.

The Chicago Bulls big man took to his blog recently to comment on the release of Tom Thibodeau as coach of the team, and as you would expect he was gracious to everyone involved (as translated by the Chicago Tribune).

“Coach Thibodeau, (I) want to thank your trust and support this season,” Gasol wrote. “I am sure that his departure was a very difficult decision for the organization of the Bulls, but I am convinced that they have a solid plan for the success of the franchise. We all have high expectations for the coming season and will do anything to bring the ring to Chicago. Go Bulls!”

Those high expectations will fall on Fred Hoiberg, who is expected to be given the job officially as Bulls coach on Monday.

Part of his challenge is getting the most out of Gasol and finding lineups where he works well. Gasol averaged 18.5 points a game on 49.4 percent shooting and was named to the All-Star Team last season. Though not terribly athletic anymore, he remains a skilled big man with the ball who can score back-to-the-basket or from the midrange. Defensively he’s not bad if allowed to be in the paint, but the farther he is dragged out on the court to deal with pick-and-rolls, the more trouble he gets into.

When Gasol was paired with the other starters — Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Joakim Noah — the Bulls were +4.1 per 48 minutes. Gasol was part of the Bulls four most successful lineups that played at last 100 minutes together last season. He’s got value.

But it’s up to Hoiberg to use those assets well while hiding his liabilities.

Kevin Love to Kelly Olynyk: “Hey, it’s all good”

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After the above injury — which required surgery to repair and ended Kevin Love’s playoffs — Love wanted nothing to do with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Love thought the injury was intentional.

But he’s moved past it.

At least that’s what Love said Sunday when speaking to the media, as reported by Adam Himmelsbach at the Boston Globe.

“About a week went by, I reached out to Kelly, sent him a text, said, ‘Hey, it’s all good,’” Love told reporters in Cleveland on Sunday. “You know, it was a tough play, and we just move on from there.”

Love’s arm may be hurting a little still, his prospects are not. Nothing like free agent options to get you past an injury.

Love can opt out this summer, become a free agent, and then re-sign with the Cavaliers for $2.3 million more. Then he would have an opt out after one year and then become a free agent again (or in two years) when the salary cap spikes. If you don’t like that option he can opt in and try to get by on $16.3 million for a year, then become a free agent.

If you’re expecting Love to bolt Cleveland, you may well be disappointed.