Author: Kurt Helin

Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings

Report: Jermaine O’Neal to decide in January whether to return to NBA, contenders want him


Quality NBA big men are hard to come by. Even mediocre NBA big men are hard to come by, which is guys well past their expiration date keep getting chances.

Enter Jermaine O’Neal. Last you saw him the Golden State Warriors inserted him into their starting lineup for the first three games of their playoff series against the Clippers. By Game 7 of that series he could’t get on the court, he had fallen far out of Mark Jackson’s rotation (and the Clippers won the series). After that the Warriors decided not to bring him back this season (they went with Festus Ezeli, a guy who had missed the entire previous season with a knee injury). O’Neil mulled retirement and wasn’t in any camp this fall.

But O’Neal is tough, a veteran, and has the size you can’t teach (officially 6’11”, 262 pounds). Which means if he decides to come back — and he’s considering it — a number of teams are going to line up as suitors, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Depth along the front line is hard to come by so it’s not a shock that teams are lining up. O’Neal can provide a decent defensive anchor in the paint for limited minutes, plus he can score a little (not efficiently, but he can score). He’s had knee issues (he’s been to Germany for the Kobe treatment) but playing just half a season in a limited role shouldn’t be a problem.

The question is, does O’Neal want to put himself through the work to get in shape, get with a team and give this one more run? Tune in next month for the answer.

Jeanie Buss: Lakers chose to build around Steve Nash not Dwight Howard

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers

Jim Buss — the man at the top of the Lakers’ basketball operations food chain — has said all along that hiring Mike D’Antoni as coach back in 2012 was a call his farther Jerry Buss made from the hospital bed he would eventually pass away in. Father and son talked, Jerry had always wanted a return to Showtime and Jim wanted his imprint on the team, so they went with D’Antoni five games into a season with a roster that was a wretched fit for his style of play.

But was it worse than that? Did the Lakers consciously choose to build around 37-year-old (at the time) Steve Nash over then 26-year-old Dwight Howard?

That’s what Lakers president Jeanie Buss says in a Q&A she did with ESPN’s fantastic Ramona Shelburne.

“It came down to hiring a coach. [The Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni in November 2012.] When you have a big man and a guard, you have to decide whom you’re going to build your team around. The choice was to build it around Steve Nash and what suited Steve Nash instead of what suited Dwight Howard.”

Clearly Jennie Buss has a dog in this fight — she is engaged to Phil Jackson, the runner up in that coaching race. That’s who she wanted, who most Lakers fans wanted, and who Dwight Howard wanted as coach. But to bring in Jackson — at a salary three or four times what D’Antoni would make — would have shifted the balance of power in the organization toward Jeannie. Jackson would have coached the Lakers for a couple years but he wanted the kind of front office job he eventually got in New York, immediately Jackson would have had some say over players/personnel, and that eats away at Jim Buss’ power.

Jim again told ESPN this was all about what Jerry Buss wanted.

Jim: I’ve been on record as saying [hiring D’Antoni] was my dad’s decision. I know that makes Jeanie uncomfortable, but I’d sit down with him for hours going over Laker decisions. In my opinion, he was sharp.

Jeanie: [Interrupts] Dad was in the hospital. I would always run things by Dad too. But he was in the hospital, not feeling well, and that is why he counted on us to make the decisions. So I agree that he would have input, but he needed my suggestion or Jimmy’s suggestion or [GM Mitch Kupchak’s] suggestion because he was confined and did not have access to all the information that we did.

I’ll say this: I don’t believe Jim Buss thought “we should build around Nash.” He may have wanted to go to that up-tempo style and thought Nash could help bridge the gap to the next star player, but no way he thought Nash was some kind of long-term cornerstone. Nobody would.

That said, Jim may want to lay the D’Antoni hiring off on his father, but he can’t. For several years prior to this Jerry was not really involved in the operations of the team, he was more consultant than active partner. Jerry would not have forced D’Antoni on Jim, this was an idea from Jim that Jerry was good with. This was two guys thinking alike but also more about the power play than what would work on the court.

And it was a big swing and a miss.

Hiring D’Antoni was a decision that turned off Dwight Howard — he wanted Phil Jackson. The guy the Lakers shot down with a late-night call. More than that, Howard wanted to feel listened to, like his input mattered to the team, and getting a coach with a system that was the opposite of fitting what Howard wanted to do was a sign he wasn’t being taken seriously. This was one of the early dominoes that ended up having Howard opt for Houston as a free agent. Lakers fans can say “good riddance” but they got nothing in return for a superstar walking out the door. That’s a loss.

There’s many more layers to this story — obviously Howard and Kobe Bryant didn’t get along in terms of approach to basketball — but what is clear is the Lakers set themselves back with that coaching hire. It was one where most of the people around the league were scratching their heads at the time it happened, now it retrospect it was an unmitigated disaster. One of several situations that led the Lakers to the mess they are right now. And will be for a while. And the Buss family will have to own up to that.

Kobe Bryant could pass Michael Jordan on all-time scoring list Friday

Kobe Bryant with Michael Jordan

Just 31 more points.

After scoring 32,292 points in his career, Kobe Bryant just needs 31 more to pass Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list. He could do that Friday night in San Antonio (although if Kawhi Leonard is cleared to play as expected it will be tough). If not then Kobe will almost certainly pass MJ Sunday in Minnesota.

Kobe tried to downplay it, as he often does when it comes to comparisons with him and Jordan — even though Kobe has clearly patterned a lot of his game, and how he works off the court as a professional and leader, off Jordan. Of course, Kobe said what mattered was the rings, not the accolades.

But becoming No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list has to rank high on Kobe’s long list of personal accomplishments.

It speaks to a long career played at a very high level, a carer where virtually every team he was on leaned on him (even this year at age 36 coming off a couple serious surgeries). It speaks to a lot of time in the gym, time in the weight room, time in the training room to get your body through 19 NBA seasons and still be playing at an elite level. It speaks to a ridiculous level of dedication to the game, to his craft.

It doesn’t say he’s better than Michael. He’s not. Phil Jackson said Kobe trained harder than MJ, maybe so, but he’s not better.

However, it’s also not an easy comparison, something Kobe told Arash Markazi of

“I’ve had to be a point guard and shooting guard,” Bryant said. “I was always very jealous of him having Scottie Pippen. It’s much more frustrating for a natural scorer to wear both hats. In our games and our development, I’ve had to play more of point guard role, particularly in those first three championships with Shaq, which is not a natural thing for me.”

We as fans always want to compare and rank — was Shaq better than Kareem, or Wilt, or Bill Russell? It’s arbitrary and ultimately moot, but it’s part of the fun of talking and enjoying sports (and it’s just human nature to rank things).

But sometimes we need to put that aside and just savor the great things we do get to witness. Kobe is one of the games all-time great players, a guy with impeccable footwork, a great basketball IQ, a gift for getting to his spots on the floor, and a guy who worked as hard as anyone ever has in the game to polish his craft. He shoots a lot, but he’s still someone you have to watch, even now.

As Kobe passes MJ we should just celebrate that and what Kobe Bryant has given us over the years. We’re going to miss him when he’s gone.