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Prying Open the LA Panic Room

Lakers fans feel emasculated. Losing to the Charlotte Bobcats was one thing. Looking listless against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team that practically redefined losing this year? Pathetic. It reminds me of a classic scene from my childhood.

You’ve been called out, Lakers fans – and by the most ragtag group of rascals (and Antawn Jamison) in the NBA. By a team that lost the only pair of PF Flyers they’d ever seen this summer. By a team you vanquished earlier in the season by a double-nickel, MJ’s favorite number in New York.*

*His favorite number in Vegas? Red. Or the hard eight, if he’s feeling loose.

But to quote your own beloved scribe, Los Angeles, “Easy there, Romeo.” Slow your roll on that panic disco. Is it disconcerting that the Lakers were defeated by a team they should dominate? Undoubtedly. Does their lack of effort against the dregs of professional basketball represent the collapse of morality and competition into a black hole of vacuous indifference and switch-flipping? If that’s the gravy you want to pour on your regular season meatloaf, I won’t argue.* It clearly diminishes the significance of our 82-game buffet – something a much wiser man than I called his “favorite thing in sports.”

*Personally, I see using your energy and resources sparingly if necessary as a wise strategy, and strategy is a part of competition. But I have a poker player’s perspective, so everything I say should be viewed as underhanded and weasel-y.

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Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers?

While hoops fans were busy talking about the Bobcats surprising win over the Celtics last night, the upcoming showdown between Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard, and the #lastimethecavswon fun on Twitter, news broke that could change the entire landscape of the NBA season.

That news? A potential Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers deal.

From ESPN.com:

The Lakers’ package would be built around center Andrew Bynum. Denver has no interest in Ron Artest and isn’t particularly interested in Lamar Odom either, sources said. A straight-up deal of Bynum for Anthony works financially, but there could be other players involved since Denver would look to shed more salary if possible.

Well, now isn’t that something. And while that is something, I simply cannot see this happening. Continue Reading

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Game Preview: Spurs versus Lakers

Tonight, the San Antonio Spurs head into Los Angeles for a big game against the Lakers. If the Lakers vs Celtics game on Sunday was a preview of a potential NBA Finals, this game could be a preview of the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs head into this game following a tough loss to Portland Trailblazers, while the Lakers narrowly avoided defeat in a game against the Houston Rockets. So what does this game mean?

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Quick Hits: Random Thoughts on the NBA and Other Stuff

Today, I thought I’d try something new. Instead of an article about the NBA, I thought I would list off a bunch of random thoughts about the NBA, mixed in with thoughts about life in general. Of course you can look to Saving the Skyhook for a new article soon, but today I thought you, the reader, might enjoy something different.

Image from Hoops Collective

1. Ron Artest is complaining about the criticism he’s received playing for the Lakers. Should we expect anything less from a guy who thanked his psychiatrist after winning the Larry O’Brien trophy last June?

2. Sticking with Ron Artest, what team would want any part of that contract? I honestly think he’s almost impossible to move at this point.

3. From one Western Conference team to another, when will the Nuggets trade Carmelo Anthony? I think they may have lost all of their leverage at this point. How many times can you almost trade a guy?

4. Speaking of the Nuggets, wouldn’t JR Smith look good in a Bulls uniform? I know I’ve discussed this already, but with news that the Bulls may be adding Anthony Parker, I think Smith deserves a look. I think his impact would be much greater than Parker’s.

5. Who would do more damage in the playoffs, the Bulls or Magic? I’m still not sold on the moves the Magic made; outside of adding Hedo Turkoglu have they really improved? Continue Reading

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NBA Today: May 28

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Expectation Series: Part 3 (Most Disappointing Players)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

As much as that facial fracture must have hurt, Turkoglu's performance this season is what he should be drying his eyes about.

So far I’ve reviewed the bests and the worsts of the alarming teams from this season. But it’s important, too, that I take a look at the individual productions that have crippled team’s performances. While these teams have had marginal success despite unsatisfactory efforts by key players, their underperformance may play an appreciable role come playoff time. With that, here’s my top-five disappointing players.

No. 5 — Ron Artest

Ron Artest has experienced a significant reduction in his offensive output. In fact, he has lost six points off his per-game scoring average. That said, he’s also taking six fewer shots a game. And, to be honest, it’s reasonable. Going from the second offensive option in Houston behind Yao Ming (excluding Tracy McGrady, who missed most of the season with injuries) to the fourth (or fifth, if you prioritize Lamar Odom off the bench) option on a stacked Lakers team is a legitimate justification for putting up fewer shots. However, his offense isn’t the problem.

Artest has long been known as one of the premiere perimeter defenders in entire league. Unfortunately, his effort on that end of the ball has not been there as much this season, and he’s starting to lose his reputation. Opposing small forwards are no longer wetting their pants in anticipation of being matched up with Ron Artest. Chalk it up to his age or just his unwillingness to play as hard as part of a much more talented roster than he’s ever seen, but he’s not doing what Mitch Kupchak brought him in to do. Perhaps keeping Trevor Ariza would have been the better play for L.A. At least they haven’t had to deal with any of his attitudinal issues, though.

No. 4 — Richard Jefferson

When I wrote about the Spurs a few days ago, I mentioned that the acquisition of Jefferson hadn’t really panned out for the team as they expected. He has lost over seven points a game compared to last year in Milwaukee. While he, too, experienced a downgrade in offensive priority, his case is more troubling than Artest’s. He isn’t known as a defensive standout, so it is his responsibility to get on the scoreboard to help his team win. With the various injuries San Antonio has had, it is imperative that RJ increase his offensive output for the playoffs to keep them alive.

No. 3 — Josh Howard

What an awful year for a player that was well above average in the league. Howard is scoring nearly six fewer points a game this season, and he is shooting only 40 percent from the field and a staggeringly low 27 percent from long range; this inability to score has led to nearly a five-point drop in PER from last year. His failure to contribute on the hard wood coupled with his off-the-court issues and attitude problems led to his midseason ouster from Dallas to the Wizards in exchange for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Now he is stuck on the Wizards, and they’re going nowhere fast. He has a potential out with an $11.8 million team option for 2010-2011, and I have to assume Washington will not exercise it given his horrid play this season. Let’s hope he can reestablish his name somewhere else next season for a lower sum of money he actually deserves.

No. 2 — Rasheed Wallace

If you want to talk about a bad influence, look no further. Well, actually, you should look further. Go read Bill Simmons’s column on the infectious Wallace and how badly he has hindered the Celtics this season. The big man who was supposed to be the boost to get the Celtics one more ring in the Big Three era has utterly failed to do so. Sheed is scoring only nine points a game on 40 percent shooting and ghastly 28 percent from three-point territory. The one bright spot? Coach Doc Rivers has realized he should only play the guy about 20 minutes a game to avoid total annihilation. But Sheed’s parasitic effect goes beyond his horrible shot selection and lack of scoring. He’s completely unathletic at this point, limiting his once stellar defense. He’s incredibly insubordinate. He can’t control his temper, which may cost the Celtics valuable points off leads from technical free throws in the playoffs. Rasheed Wallace has done exactly the opposite of what the team brought him in to do. And to think: I wanted Doc to start him over Kendrick Perkins at center before the season started.

No. 1 — Hedo Turkoglu

Hedo Turkoglu trumps the rest because of the way he will siphon the Raptors’ money for the next four (maybe five) seasons undeservedly so. He is guaranteed $41 million over the next four years, and he as a $12 million player option for a fifth year in Toronto. Quite frankly, that money would be better spent researching ways to bring Wilt Chamberlain back from the dead and forcing him to play for the team. It’s evident Hedo turned on his game in his final years in Orlando to net a good contract, and now that he is financially secure, he doesn’t give a damn anymore. He has lost five points off his per-game scoring rate from an also-subpar 2009-2010 season, and he no longer hits big shots at the end of games — his trademark quality in the playoffs in Orlando, where they had no other big-shot guy. It goes to show how a a tapped crop of free agents like the one prior to this season can really screw teams over when they have to overpay players like Turkoglu to hope to be competitive.

Look back tomorrow for the five most positive individual surprises of the season.

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Lakers extend Kobe’s contract: good move for No. 24?

I hate to keep tooting the Lakers’ horn (seeing as I hate them and all), but the most significant NBA story today is, by far, the announcement from Mitch Kupchak that they have come to an agreement to sign star player Kobe Bryant to a three-year contract extension. Kobe previously had an early-termination option for this year, which gave him the right to hit free agency come July 1 with the other big boys. Instead, Kobe — barring a blockbuster trade — will be playing his home games in the Staples Center through the 2013-2014 season.

Obviously, L.A. fans are thrilled by the news. They get to hold on to the player that propelled them to three titles to begin the decade and a fourth one to close it. He has never played anywhere except L.A., so obviously he’s a fan favorite.

This deal is just as good for the team. The last year of the extension coincides with those of Ron Artest and Pau Gasol’s contracts. So when Kobe’s 35 and will have inevitably suffered some losses to his on-court performance, the Lakers will have the opportunity to wildly slash payroll and make a play for the next big thing in four years.

However, was this really a great idea on Kobe’s part? Sure, he assures a mammoth paycheck for an additional three seasons. But what happens when the aging star has to renegotiate a deal then? It’s highly plausible he’ll have significant health issues to deal with at that time — particularly with his legs and knees, which have logged an absurd number of minutes in Bryant’s 15-or-so years in the league. Teams may be very hesitant to give him the big bucks if it no longer appears he can head a team like he has for so long.

If Kobe had waited until his deal expired, he could’ve started fresh. He only would have been 31 or 32 and very well could have stayed with the Lakers if he wanted to, but he would have had the option to go elsewhere, too. How is this better? There’s a big difference between Kobe’s physical condition now and what it will be in four years. With a new contract, he could have negotiated a more long-term deal (say six or even seven years) that would have assured his pay day for an additional two, three, or four years beyond what the extension assures.

Nevertheless, now he has his peace of mind. He doesn’t have to worry about the media frenzy in the offseason, and he can just focus on a championship. But Kobe may have just cut a few years off his storied career by signing that extension today.

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