Pau Gasol and revisionist history

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He won two titles for them. Yes, the Lakers had improved tremendously in 2007-2008 , but without him, they never would have made it to the Finals, nor won them the next two. It was only eight months ago that he was called “the best big man in the league” and touted as a possible MVP candidate.

So before we get to the business of burying Pau Gasol for arguably the most disappointing performance by a Lakers star in NBA history, we should take note. The crushing disappointment of failing to close out the three-peat, the seemingly inevitable glorious end to Phil Jackson’s coaching career, the cementing of the Lakers as the winningest team in the NBA with their 18th title, all of these expectations would not have been possible or reasonable without Gasol’s contributions. So before we start to flambe his role in this disaster, we had better recognize that Pau Gasol has been an incredible player for the Lakers, and a huge debt of gratitude is owed to him for his contributions to the Lakers’ title runs.

Now that we’ve said that… man, did Pau get punked.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Perhaps more than anything, the notion that Pau Gasol can be this teams next great leader was swept away. His sudden and odd postseason disappearance was the most obvious reason for the Lakers troubles, his fall completed Sunday when he scored 10 points while being pushed around by everyone but his coach, who thankfully refrained from hitting him for a second consecutive game.

“I have to learn from this,” Gasol said. I have to learn that when something happens off the court, you have to keep it off the court.”

He was referring to the report that he stopped talking to Bryant during the postseason because Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, had contributed to the breakup of Gasol and his longtime girlfriend. Lakers fans will remember that Karl Malone once publicly accused Vanessa of interfering with his personal life in a similar fashion.

via Lakers-Mavericks: Divided Lakers simply get lost on way to three-peat – latimes.com.

Gasol denied Bryant’s involvement in the situation in an alternate report, but the shady nature of the rumor and Gasol’s response to it blends in with this L.A. nightmare. The bigger problem is that even though breaking up with your fiance is a rough, rough thing to go through, especially when it’s tinged with public scrutiny, it won’t matter. Just like fans and media revolt at the idea of it being a worker’s right to change jobs or locations once his contract is available, despite it being totally acceptable outside of sports, so too will they reject the notion that a significant disruption in one’s personal life is an acceptable cause for failure. All of Gasol’s previous efforts and triumphs are being rewritten as more to do with Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson (who has bizarrely escaped much scrutiny in this disaster, despite most of the problems being directly in his wheelhouse, effort, motivation, mental focus, etc.). The calls are out there to trade Gasol and bring in someone tougher. Gasol’s soft touch has always bugged Lakers fans. You want  your big man to throw it down, not tap it in; to reject the opponent, not faintly contest. But the biggest reason he’s being flogged for all of this?

He really was that bad. He’s been badly outplayed in these playoffs by his younger brother Marc, whose Grizzlies hold a 2-1 series lead over the second-favorite Thunder. And everything the younger Gasol has shown (toughness, tenacious attack, physicality, and that soft touch that proves so effective) is what the elder lacked. He was bullied by Tyson Chandler, abused by Dirk Nowitzki, and his string of mistakes seemed to feed off themselves. Blown passes, mishandled catches, missed layups, botched tip-ins, Gasol was outworked, out-hustled and looked older than his birth date would suggest.

Being a No.2 on a team is difficult, you have to be great without getting all the credit. But you’re also counted on to be the emotional and physical leader when the star is too bogged down with his responsibilities. Gasol found out the hard way what happens when things don’t fall exactly right, and if the talk of a Lakers’ blow-up is accurate, it could be a lesson that shows him out of town.

We won’t forget what Gasol did for the Lakers to get them two titles and three consecutive Finals appearances. But we also won’t forget how when the going got tough? The Gasol got got.

Former Lakers forward Michael Beasley signing in China

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Before the season, Michael Beasley said the Lakers “can be exactly where we want to be at the end of the year.”

I doubt he envisioned himself being in China.

But that’s where he’s headed after getting traded to and waived by the Clippers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Beasley has played in China twice before and dominated. High-volume scorers like him translate well.

At 30, Beasley might be nearing the end of his NBA chances. He can still contribute a little, but the bar is higher for someone who brings headaches and silliness.

If he again plays well in China, he’ll probably get another chance with an NBA team next season. But that’s certainly not a lock.

Blake Griffin enjoying resurgence a year after trade to Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Blake Griffin doesn’t need to jump over any cars to be a hit in the Motor City.

A year after arriving in Detroit with his career at a crossroads, a more earthbound Griffin is doing all he can to shake the Pistons out of their decade-long malaise.

“He does a little bit of everything for us. Probably one of our better pick-and-roll players, passers, scorers, leader by example, just so many things,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “His basketball intellect, for me, is one that’s been the most impressive of our players. I didn’t know that about Blake, because when you think about him, you think about the high-flying dunker and the muscular guy in the post, but there’s a lot more to that than just his dunking and athleticism.”

A month shy of his 30th birthday, there are fewer above-the-rim highlights but Griffin’s first full season with Detroit has been one of his best. He’s averaging a career-high 26.3 points per game while making strides as a perimeter shooter, and he earned his first All-Star selection since 2015.

Most importantly, he’s been able to stay healthy, and although the Pistons still have a losing record, they’re in the playoff race, largely because of Griffin.

“As a player, you always believe in yourself,” Griffin said. “I knew I had another level to go to, and being healthy was part of that. … But the beginning of the year, my goal isn’t to only make the All-Star team. It’s much more than that.”

In July 2017, Griffin agreed to a $171 million, five-year deal with the Clippers, the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 2009. Less than a year later, he was abruptly traded – from glitzy Los Angeles to a Detroit franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. It was a risky move for the Pistons, given Griffin’s high salary and the fact that he has only three seasons with more than 67 games played. They gave up a first-round draft pick in the trade, and when they missed the playoffs anyway, that was the end of Stan Van Gundy’s tenure as coach and president of basketball operations.

For Griffin, it was an inauspicious start to the Detroit portion of his career, and there’s been frustration this season as well. The Pistons are 26-30, tied for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. Even if they do make the playoffs, they don’t look like a team ready to make a run.

But for Griffin individually, the season has been a significant step forward. The man who once pulled off a two-handed dunk while jumping over the front of a car is a bit less of an athletic sensation in Detroit, but the blue-collar elements of his game are still plenty effective. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin can muscle his way to the basket and draw fouls, and he gives the Pistons another tough rebounder alongside Andre Drummond. Griffin is also leading the team in assists.

“I think for me, my job is to make his game as easy as possible on the offensive end. When I get him open, he usually makes the right plays,” Drummond said. “It’s a nightmare for teams. You’ve got to really pick your poison, who you really want to get going, and it’s scary when we both get it going.”

Griffin has expanded his offensive repertoire to include the 3-point shot in recent years. He has already made a career-high 134 3s this season, shooting a credible 37 percent from long distance.

“It helps a lot, especially in today’s NBA, with everybody spacing the floor a little bit more, and playing with a guy like Dre, who’s so effective inside,” Griffin said. “To be able to give him a little bit more space is a good thing. I always see guys working to expand their range, and when you do, you see them add years to their career.”

When Griffin joined the Clippers, he added some legitimacy and excitement to what had been one of the league’s most downtrodden franchises. Now the Pistons are a team that could use some buzz. The results recently have been mixed: Griffin has been terrific, but the team as a whole has remained mediocre.

But Detroit won four of five heading into the All-Star break, and if the Pistons do make the playoffs, they’ll have Griffin to thank.

“He’s thinking the game. He’s a couple steps ahead,” Casey said. “I’ve had a lot of great forwards, power forwards, and he’s right up there with the best, whether it’s Dirk (Nowitzki), (Kevin) Garnett, Detlef Schrempf – just a lot of great players that I’ve been around. He’s right in that category.”

 

Hawks GM: “If we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka (Doncic)”

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It was the Draft day trade that shook the NBA last June.

In a deal made agreed to before the picks were made, the Atlanta Hawks traded Luka Doncic, taken No. 3, to Dallas for Trae Young (taken fifth), and the Hawks got the Mavericks 2019 first-round pick (top five protected). It forever linked Doncic and Young in the minds of fans (fair or not).

Doncic has gone on to become a historically good rookie — averaging 20.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, he is the Mavs best player, is the runaway Rookie of the Year, and is already a star (who fans almost voted into the All-Star Game) — which has led to a lot of criticism for Atlanta in some quarters for not keeping the pick and Doncic. That despite the fact Young has played well after a slow start (20 points per game with 35.9 percent shooting from three in his last 20 games) and the Hawks got another pick in the deal.

On the Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said that the team would have drafted Doncic if they kept the pick (hat tip Real GM).

“Not a lot of people know this…if we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka. We had worked with his agent, he did a physical with us that morning in New York…but then Dallas came in an hour or so before the draft. I told them all along that it would take another lottery pick for us to slide back, and that’s when the conversations got started.”

Interestingly, Schlenk added that the team’s analytics department, projecting into next season, played a big role in the deal getting done.

“Our analytics staff was predicting Dallas to finish 8th this year,” added Schlenk.

As of right now (and before the lottery shakes things up), the Mavericks are projected to pick ninth. If that remains, Dallas has a 20.2 percent chance to jump into the top four with the new lottery odds. Otherwise, the pick will go to Atlanta.

Despite Doncic’s play, it’s too early to fully judge the trade. How good will Young become? How high is Doncic’s ceiling? What happens with the future first-round pick, and who will the Hawks get with it?

For a rebuilding team like the Hawks, a second lottery pick to move back a couple of spots can make sense — so long as the guy your trading doesn’t become a superstar. Doncic may become that. Atlanta was higher on Young than many teams, and he has rewarded that faith of late, but how good will he ultimately be? It’s not quite a Sam Bowie pick, but some fans may ultimately see it that way if Doncic’s star continues to rise. However, as Schlenk explained, there were logical reasons to make the trade.

One last look back: Best dunks of All-Star Weekend (VIDEO)

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Defense? That’s one thing that rarely makes an appearance All-Star weekend.

Combine that with the game’s best athletes and what you get are three days of insane dunks.

The NBA put this together, the best dunks of All-Star weekend in Charlotte. Enjoy.