NBA finals, Lakers Celtics: Odom is as Odom does

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odom.pngLamar Odom is a perplexing player. He possesses an enviable skill set and considerable talent, but after a career’s worth of opportunities, roles, teams, and coaches, no one has quite found the magic button that would turn Odom into a superstar.

Juxtapose the ongoing Odom conundrum with Andrew Bynum, who is more of a conventional everyman star. Nothing about Bynum’s talent or physique suggests he’s a working class hero, but the way he’s battled through his knee injury during this playoff run makes him endearing to sports fans who cling to the warrior ideology. There’s nothing wrong with that, as valuing strength, perseverance, and resolve makes for sound living.

Nowhere is that perspective better encapsulated in today’s NBA sphere than in Kevin Ding’s excellent column for the OC Register:

[Odom] couldn’t be such a great team guy if he didn’t understand what it takes to win. He gets it. He just doesn’t want to have to do it, because it’s too much pressure to have great expectations and too hard for him to stay focused all the time. The sad reality for the Lakers is that Bynum’s knee might not be so
thick with yellow goo right now if Odom hadn’t been floating like a
butterfly out there and mindlessly drawing fouls – overburdening
Bynum’s knee – early in Games 1 and 2. Despite Odom improving in Game
3, Bynum still had 10 rebounds to Odom’s five.

He played slightly more of that game than Odom, too. That was enough
time pounding the parquet for Bynum to suffer what he called “two
tweaks,” leaving the knee weakened for Game 4. Bynum got a drop pass 53
seconds in, went up to dunk it and found himself strangely smaller than
Kevin Garnett, who blocked the shot cleanly. It’s not an issue of additional pain. Yes, sometimes the torn
cartilage pinches acutely between the bones, which hurts like heck, but
the muscles and tendons won’t fire properly at all when there’s so much
swelling.

…[In Games 2 and 4], the fruit has hung there within the Candyman’s reach and gone
unclaimed in Lakers losses. As wasted an opportunity as it was Thursday night – no team has ever
blown a 3-1 NBA Finals lead, and the Lakers are 9-0 all time when
holding such situations in the championship round – this Lakers team’s
happy ending should still be out there.




That last note is a crucial one, and part of what makes Ding’s column so balanced. Rather than continuously call out Odom for what he’s not able to do and question why he can’t do it, he simply concedes that Odom’s full potential isn’t what the Lakers need to win. Because it’s not. They obviously need him be better, which Ding clearly acknowledges, but I think we’ve reached the point in our familiarity with Lamar that we can all move past ripping Odom for being what he’s not.

That’s where the conversation with Odom always goes sour, both in these playoffs and in any other. We tout stars like Kobe Bryant as being superhuman for their limitless drive and unconquerable will, and deride anything that falls short of a frankly ridiculous standard. What we’re really doing is criticizing Odom for being merely human; he’s one of basketball’s mortals, even if he is an athletic specimen and as versatile as they come.

Lamar should be playing better, but this is who he is. It’s who he always has been, and always will be. Ding’s headline reads “Bynum a tree, but Odom has been a shrub.” It’s fitting, even if Ding himself doesn’t run with the metaphor throughout. Bynum has been a tree, and Odom indeed a shrub, but that extends far beyond the limits of these finals. That’s who Bynum and Odom are. Lambasting Odom for being Odom is criticizing a shrub for not being a tree. It doesn’t make it any less true, but at this point, should anyone really expect the shrub to transform into a tree?

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.