Lakers/Celtics: Which franchise reigns supreme?

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Laker_Celtics_logos.pngLakers fans and Celtics fans do not like each other. True rivals. Some grudging respect through the hate, but both want to take each other out.

And both know they are the best franchise in the NBA. PBT’s Kurt Helin (taking the Lakers side)  and Matt Moore ( Celtics) hash the franchise debate out.

Kurt Helin
: No doubt, you have to respect the Celtics history. The thing is, it is history. Most of their titles came almost 50 years ago — time has passed the Celtics by. They are the Betty White of NBA franchises, still trying to milk a little more out of past glory. They’re still better than most, but the Lakers won more titles in the 80s. More titles last decade. The Lakers are more relevant now.

Matt Moore: And yet barring a KG injury, the path to three straight finals appearances is wide open, including a victory over the Lakers. And recent history won’t overcome the only number that matters. Seventeen.

KH: Sure, 17. Thing is, Bill Russell is not coming out of that tunnel. Larry Bird is not suiting up. The mythology of the Celtics is old, it took buying a title with a lucky trade for KG to get that one more banner. Meanwhile while the Celtics struggled since the 80s the Lakers just kept rebuilding, making smart moves and marching forward. They understand how to win and keep winning. All the Celtics need understand is that window — that imported championship window — is closing fast.

MM: And yet for all their machinations, all their savvy, and all their guile, it still came down to drawing an ace with Kobe and then abusing the luxury tax for them to reach the peal of the mountain, and yet still the C’s hang more banners.

Meanwhile the Celtics’ hard nosed legacy and mystique lived on while the Lakers are no more than a good, not great championship team that lacks effort and heart. Even their former glory is shaded in pomp and circumstance: “Showtime.”

And for all the rebuilding and progress L.A. has made, what do they really have? A window longer by what, 2 seasons, max?

KH: The longer window, even by a couple years, means once again the Lakers will leave this era with more titles than the Celtics.

You are dismissive of “showtime” but it is the perfect embodiment of Los Angeles. This city is about entertainment and winning, and “showtime” means both. Why not win with flair? Not just the Magic-era teams, but now Kobe is putting on a show, hitting fade-away game winners with two hands in his face. Don’t confuse “showtime” with soft. The 80s Lakers were not soft. The Shaq-led three-peat teams were not soft. And if the Celtics think these Lakers are soft, they are in for a shock.

The Celtics legacy? Built on unfair talent advantages for a decade, and tedious physical play. Take the beautiful game and grind it down. Destroy the artistry, ugly it all up. Push, grab and hold. No thanks, I will take the pure game from Los Angeles. Anytime.

MM: You can cherish that pure game all you want, the fact is, that bullying style has been more effective. Beauty’s nice. Strength is better. This isn’t a beauty contest, it’s armed conflict in the gladiatorial arena. You bring the makeup mirror and I’ll bring the crowbar and we’ll see which one walks out.

And you can project all you want for those titles, but it’s not like we haven’t seen the egos in L.A. detonate their title window (hello, 2004!) before. We have what we have, and what we have, is a Celtics franchise with more titles, and who has done it with more nuance and sophistication than simply stocking up on the biggest, prettiest players they can swindle for. And if you want projection, you’ve got to go ahead and tag an asterisk on that 15th championship for not having gone through Boston due to injury.

Furthermore, in the greater franchise context, the Lakers didn’t even start in L.A. They’re the Lakers. Despite L.A. not really being known for its lakes. If it were the Los Angeles People That Only Show Up To Sporting Events Because It’s Fashionable, that would make sense. The atmosphere at the Garden, even the TD Northbank versus the old Garden, dwarfs the experience in the fashion show that is Staples. Boston’s been around forever, and is tied to that city in a way the Lakers will never be because there’s nothing to tie to L.A. Well, besides plastic surgery, perhaps. The Celtics are a classic franchise in sports, the likes of the Packers and Yankees. The Lakers are a championship organization brought out of nothing organic. The Twinkies of sports. Immensely popular, but there’s nothing really there.

KH: Los Angeles is a city of transplants? What exactly is Boston? The place where the first settlers landed — the first transplants? With a team named after the Irish homeland?

Forget it. It’s time to settle this on the court. Again.

So you know what’s going on here: Kurt Helin is the blogger-in-chief of ProBasketballTalk.com and a lifelong Lakers fan. Matt Moore is the weekend editor of ProBasketballTalk.com and doesn’t really think either team is the best franchise, he’s just playing devil’s advocate. He tends to think the Oklahoma City Thunder are the best franchise, because he likes Thunderstix.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.