Monday, February 11, 2008

Shaq is Done

Nothing could make me happier, as a Lakers fan, than watching Andrew Bynum blossom; the Lakers had the best record in the Western Conference when he was healthy. Bynum's the one the Lakers are going to build around for the next decade plus, and if Bynum never ends up as one of the great centers in NBA history, there's little doubt he'll be a good one -- and the post and point guard are the two hardest spots to fill in the NBA.Barring injuries, the Lakers are set in the post for 15 years to come....

Nothing could make me happier than that, this season (short of a championship) ... but the Gasol trade came close. The Lakers with Bynum were a contending team. The Lakers with Kobe, Bynum, Gasol, Odom, and Derek Fisher, are the best starting five in the NBA. You can argue with me, but you'll be wrong. And the second team may be the best second team in the league -- Jordan Farmar, Vladimir Radmanovich, Sasha Vujicic, Trevor Ariza, Rony Turiaf, and Luke Walton -- Farmar, Ariza, and Turiaf are future starters in this league. Sasha and Rad might be. (Walton has been in the past and might also be again, though he shouldn't be -- he's not a starter on a good team.)

Gasol takes the Lakers from probably-not-a-championship-this-year to possibly-a-championship-this-year ... the only real question is whether the Lakers can mesh in the time remaining. In any event I don't have any big hesitation naming them the favorite for next year -- put a year of seasoning behind this group, and assuming everyone's healthy, which has lately been a crapshoot with the Lakes suspect medical staff, and I don't see a team in the NBA I like better. (And yeah, I'm prejudiced, but, and you non-Lakers fans must forgive me for saying this - Lakers fans have seen a lot of championship squads close up. The Lakers have appeared in nearly half of all NBA Finals, since the league's inception -- that's a lot of good teams to watch. And these guys should be in the mix ...)

And now, in a stretch when my happiness is already at a very high level ... the Phoenix Suns traded for Shaquille O'Neal, giving away in Shawn Marion possibly the best rebounding small forward in the history of the game to do it.

I dislike Shaq. I always disliked Shaq, even when he was bringing rings to the Lakers. He's charming and jokey and dishonest and never loved the game nearly as much as Kobe -- or Magic or Kareen or Worthy or Logo -- yeah, we've been spoiled. If Shaq'd had half the work ethic of a Bryant or Jordan or Magic, he'd have been the best player the game had ever seen. He was a big, Big, BIG man with the moves of a guard. In the post he was fluid, smooth, quicker than any behemoth of that size had any right to be. Sometimes he'd get goofy, put the ball on the ground and dribble it the length of the court, usually finishing with a monster stuff at the other end. No big man does that....

But he dogged it. He was lazy and sullen and insecure and masked it with the outgoing personality. For all the trillion words written about the "Kobe And Shaq Feud" ... Shaq started that feud. Shaq kept it going. In his career Shaq's feuded with Penny Hardaway, with Kobe, with Phil Jackson, and with Pat Riley. Hey, but at least Shaq didn't have problems with the third of the three All-Star shooting guards he's been fortunate enough to be paired with ....

Of couse there's this: "Probably this year more so than any year I have been more vocal with Shaq, talking to him and trying to motivate him. But the main thing is Shaq has got to be self-motivated. He has got to be willing and ready to do it. Even though he is not getting the ball as much as he wants, we need him to help lead this team in other ways, whether it's rebounding the ball or passing the ball the way he knows how to pass."

Who said that? Sounds like Kobe, circa 2004, no? It's not; it was Wade, about two months ago. Apparently Wade didn't think they were getting the effort Shaquille was capable of.

And now the Suns have him. And his 20 million a year, for the rest of this year and all of the two to follow, with Shaq vowing to play out those two years and take his 40 million.

So I'm making my prediction right now: the Suns will be worse because of this trade. They'll miss Marion, who was their best on the ball defender, and Shaq won't bring them a thing when it comes time for the playoffs. And man, I'm going to enjoy it. It's been a great stretch for the Lakers: Bynum, Gasol, and Shaq to the Suns. Couldn't have asked for more, when this season began, so unpromisingly, just a few short months ago.

~~~~~

I've really never seen anything like this, in all my years watching basketball: the best teams in the NBA is probably the Celtics, much as it pains me to say so, in the Eastern Conference. And the Pistons are pretty good -- and that's it, in the East.

The Eastern Conference has been deteriorating for a solid decade. One of the reasons the 72-10 Bulls went 72-10 was because they got to feast on rotten Eastern Conference teams. Since the Bulls broke up, the East has won only two championships, versus seven by the West. (And both the victories were considered upsets, and were.) The overall records in those finals were West 31 games, to East 17.

This year the disparity's even greater than it's been previously. There are 10 teams with winning records in the West; there are 5 in the East. (Obversely, since there are 15 teams in each conference, there are 5 teams with losing records in the West, and 10 in the East.) The Houston Rockets are 30-20 right now; ten games above .500. And if the playoffs started today, both they and the Portland Trailblazers would miss them, while Washington, Atlanta, and New Jersey, three teams with losing records, would all make it in, in the East.

There's not a single team in the West guaranteed of a playoff spot. The Suns, with the fewest losses ... 15 ... are only five losses ahead of the Houston Rockets, who have 20. One injury, one losing streak, and the Suns could easily miss the playoffs. (So could the Lakers or Spurs or whomever.)

The East has two good teams, and they're both old. We've been through a decade of rotten Easern Conference basketball -- and we may be in for another.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dude your an idiot if you think the suns will be worse because of this trade if anything they'll be average but worse I don't think so if anything the suns are gonna benefit with this trade this is my byist opinion I know that but to say the suns are going to be worse with this trade is taking a stretch.
btw Lakers suck balls and will probably drop down to around the 8th spot by the end of the season
you hated on my beloved suns so its only reasonable for me to get back at your lakers
go suns!!!!!!!

Dan Moran said...

Anon,

"Suck balls" seems a little harsh, but I feel your hatred. If you could also chant "Beat L.A." a little, that would just about do it for me ... :-)

Your guys have a really rough schedule coming up -- at Golden State, then home to Dallas; All-Star break; home to the Lakers, Boston, and Detroit; then on the road to Memphis and NO. Home to Philly, then on the road at Portland and Denver, then home to Utah and SA.

That's a rough stretch. If Shaq's going to do anything for the Suns, we'll know when they get to the other side of that ....

Steve Perry said...

Jeez, you root for L.A. but you'd rather they lose than have guys like Shaq onboard?

He and Kobe might not have gotten along, but they did win games ...

Dan Moran said...

Not sure what you're asking -- do you mean do I wish Shaq had never been a Laker? Absolutely not; rings are rings and Shaq did nothing that would have brought disgrace on the Lakers or himself -- a little embarrassment maybe, but no worse.

But I don't like him and never did, even when I was rooting for him. The majority of the drama the Lakers went through over the time Shaq and Kobe were onboard together would have been avoided if Shaq had been more of an adult -- he was the adult, when he started feuding with Kobe, though he never acted like it.

I'm not sure I could say I "like" Kobe, either -- but I sympathize with his dedication and passion for the game a lot more than I ever did with Shaq's it's-all-a-joke-but-really-it-isn't routine.

The rape allegation festers underneath every conversation concerning Kobe. I hope it's not true, and there's no reason to believe it is, based on the facts in that case ... but the only ones who know are God, Kobe, and the woman who accused him and settled for a cash payment rather than trying to get justice .... if justice it would have been. It's fairly well established she had someone -- not Kobe's -- DNA in her rape kit, which means that after being raped by Kobe, she went out and had sex with someone else and then went to get her test with Donor #2's DNA in her.

Anything's possible, and since I always wanted to believe Kobe, I doubt my own response on this one. But, coming back to it years later after it's all faded -- I do doubt it.

Plainly Kobe's an adulterer ... like most rich young men with opportunity. I don't just him for it too harshly. In the all the rest -- his arrogance, obsession, self-involvement, etc., he's cut from the same mold as most other world class athletes.

Anonymous said...

While we're talking about sports, [insert brilliant transition].

Btw, any chance of getting AI War up soon? The perfect Valentine's Day gift for your fans....

*pathetic large-eyed puppy look*

*shameless batting of eyes*

Steve Perry said...

I gotta say, Dan, most of the super-jocks making a fortune seem like boys who didn't have to grow up. Getting all that money to play? Yeah, it's hard and all, but I don't think basketball or baseball compare with collecting garbage cans on a frigid Thursday morning in Boise.

When you get millions of dollars and mucho approbation for being a sport star, that tends to skew the way you look at the world -- just as it does rock stars or movie stars.

Shaq realized early on he didn't have to work as hard to be good enough. A shame, but a lot of people settle in a lot of professions. Once you get to the top of the heap, it has to be tempting to look around and decide you can ease off and still stay there.

I think Kobe's adventure in Colorado probably started out consensual, but I expect that saying "No." anywhere along the way is going to be a problem with somebody who doesn't hear it very often. Tall, good-looking kid, rich, famous, he could get laid every day and twice on Sunday, and not make a dent in the line of volunteers.

Reminds me of Hugh Grant getting busted in L.A. for picking up a street hooker, and what Leno said when he interviewed him: What were you thinking? Couldn't you do better?

Bryant Durrell said...

Hm.

Kobe over Pierce? Yes, by a fair margin. But likewise, KG over Gasol without question. That's easy.

Odom vs. Ray Allen is tough. They do very different things. I'd be willing to call it a wash, and I wouldn't argue too hard if you said Odom was more valuable. I wouldn't trade Allen for Odom, but the Celtics aren't needing the rebounding Odom brings. They do need Allen's ability to score.

Now to be controversial. Rondo is a better guard than Derek Fisher. He is less experienced, but he's on a curve very similar to Bynum's. If you look at what he's done while Garnett's been out, you'll see it. He's patient, he's smart, and he learned to be a point guard under Tubby Smith. I value Fisher's experience, but I think Rondo has the edge.

This leaves us with Perkins vs. Bynum. Hm. Well, Bynum's better, so I can't argue that. On the other hand, Perk did not have a lot of trouble with Bynum in the two games this season... but that's not what we're talking about, is it? I'd trade Perk for Bynum in a split second.

So, yeah, the Lakers have the better starting five. On the other hand, if they meet the Celtics in the Finals, assuming everyone's healthy, I'd be loathe to predict a winner. That'd be a really good series.

Oh, and the Shaq trade. It's a malcontent for a malcontent, but the Suns gave up the better player. This is pretty much a lose-lose for everyone involved.