Weekly Countdown (cont.)
3 Questions rescued from the spam
3. You wrote last week that the Celtics "endured much conflict among their three stars last season." What conflict are you talking about? I watched every game and followed them daily in the Boston newspapers. There was never any indication of friction or conflict. Do you know something that nobody else does?
During the preseason, Ray Allen told me that the Celtics didn't always get along so well.
"It was harder than it looked,'' he said. "We definitely went through adversity last year. We had arguments in the locker room, arguments on the bus, arguments on the plane, arguments on the court. It was just little stuff. But I think teams that don't argue are teams that don't really care enough or want it enough.
"We were fighting for it because everybody thinks they know how to do it. So together we have to come to even ground. We fought for a lot -- the players, the coaches, everybody, because we all had to give ground in order for us all to be on the same page. We really fought to be on the same page.''
Every team suffers from tension among its players. The bigger the egos, the greater the tension.
2. I'm glad you broke down what Ben Gordon's been doing, but what are the trade scenarios? The Bulls probably won't wait until the trade deadline this year. They need to get a lineup established as soon as possible so Derrick Rose and Vinny Del Negro will be as comfortable as possible when running it during the playoffs. What scoring players do you see the Bulls possibly being able to acquire?
The Bulls almost certainty won't be able to trade Gordon during the season. Not only must he approve any deal, but also the Bulls will not be able to trade his Bird rights, which means that team would have to be under the cap in order to re-sign him to a contract worth more than the mid-level exception. This looks like a year that will be invested in developing Rose and finding out which players fit around him. The Bulls can make a flurry of moves next summer, including a sign-and-trade involving Gordon.
1. Here's why you're wrong about your Finals prediction: The Lakers don't need anyone besides Kobe Bryant to be their closer. Why? Because the strength of their second unit -- by my estimation, the strongest in the league -- will allow Kobe to conserve his energy and take over the game only when necessary. Conversely, I believe the Celtics will find themselves lacking without the key defense and shooting of James Posey and P.J. Brown. Oh, yeah, and the Spurs ... do they even have a second-unit player of note? Ime Udoka? Roger Mason? I think you'll find yourself slapping your forehead for picking the Spurs to beat the Celtics in the Finals. San Antonio will be out in the second round.
I still think the Lakers need to develop a No. 2 star behind Kobe, and they could use a tough veteran or two to come off the bench. But you may turn out to be right. Udoka, Mason and Matt Bonner must prove themselves reliable as reserves for San Antonio (it wouldn't hurt for athletic big man Ian Mahinmi to join the rotation either), and the Celtics need to acquire length for their bench.
2 Evaluations of recent acquisitions
2. Ron Artest. Kings coach Reggie Theus on how his high-maintenance former player is similar to a complicated Hollywood star:
"From a coach's perspective, I didn't have any problems with Ron. I think all of the superstars in the league -- maybe with the exception of one or two -- all have something going on where you have to coach them. You have to deal with what makes them special, that little thing that makes them who they are. You look at all walks of life and it's the same with all of the extraordinary or exceptional people. Like Al Pacino -- he's not Al Pacino just being a great actor; he's really got all of that [inner tension] going on.
"When you talk about Ron the player, the other night I watched Houston play against Dallas and I think he guarded four different guys. I miss that.
"I'm happy for him he has this opportunity. We all felt here that Ron needs to be on a team where there are people he would consider his equal, so I think he will find it a nice place there. And listen, that doesn't mean they're not going to have a couple of moments during the season when Ron's going to be Ron. But the good thing is that [Rick] Adelman knows how to coach that because he's been with Ron before.''
1. Allen Iverson. An advance scout makes the case that Iverson will improve the Pistons:
"Iverson scores more points, averages more assists and shoots a better percentage than [Chauncey] Billups. A problem for Iverson is that he holds the ball a long time. In Denver, AI played with a lot of one-on-one guys, which meant he could hold the ball for 15 seconds before passing it to Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith, and they would still have time to make a shot. The good thing about Detroit is that Rip Hamilton plays off the ball a lot. I think Iverson wants to win, he's at the late stage in his career when he needs to win, and he'll sublimate himself to do what they need him to do.
"Billups was overrated defensively. One of his weaknesses was that he couldn't keep quicker guys in front of him; Iverson will be able to do that. He's going to need to gamble less and play the fundamentals, which is the way he defended when he was playing in Philly for Larry Brown. So he'll draw from that experience.
"The biggest thing is his intensity. As good as Billups is, he's too cool for school. Iverson is going to come in with a lot of energy, and guys like Rasheed [Wallace] are going to feed off that. I'll be surprised if Iverson doesn't have a positive impact.''
1 Hope from Grant Hill for the new era
1. That pro athletes will remain committed politically. Two years ago, Hill told me that a majority of American players in the NBA were probably siding with the Republican party. As African-Americans, most of them had been raised as Democrats, but as their salaries soared into the eight or nine figures, they had been lured to the conservative side by President Bush's lower tax rates for the rich.
Those affiliations changed this year as LeBron James and other NBA stars campaigned openly for President-elect Barack Obama. Hill believes his colleagues became involved not just because Obama is a fellow African-American.
"There was that quote, 'Republicans buy Nikes too,' " Hill said, referring to Michael Jordan's explanation for his political neutrality. "I don't think that's as big an issue as it was 15 to 20 years ago. Guys are more comfortable getting out now and using whatever platform there is to endorse somebody. And that's on both sides: I saw where [Cleveland Browns quarterback] Brady Quinn came out for [John] McCain at a rally. So I think that's all good.''
It will be interesting to see how this plays out within the NBA's small, lucrative world. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, at least 20 NBA players will pay $1 million or more in additional taxes annually under the Obama administration. Can the good will of this election be transformed into a social movement of lasting power?
"The problems that exist are far greater than the benefits of certain tax brackets and certain NBA players,'' Hill said. "During the Bush administration, a lot of guys saved a lot in taxes. But I think a lot of guys are willing to look past that to try to do what's right and make the necessary changes to improve things.''