Roundtable: LeBron top defender?
Debating whether LeBron James deserves consideration for defensive award
The Clippers and Raptors are among this season's biggest disappointments
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SI.com NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All records are through Monday.)
1. There's been talk that LeBron James deserves consideration for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Are you buying it?
Ian Thomsen: He will be in that talk because he is driven to win titles and defense will get him there. No one -- not even Dwight Howard -- has yet to surpass Kevin Garnett defensively, but James should be recognized for his leadership of one of the league's dominant defenses.
Jack McCallum: I'm not. James is an excellent off-the-ball defender. His intelligence, instincts and athleticism enable him to swoop in and create chaos at every spot on the floor. But there are more disruptive forces both in the interior (Howard and Garnett) and on the perimeter (Ron Artest and Shane Battier). And you know what? I'm not sure the other MVP candidates -- Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant -- aren't as good as LeBron. That's no knock on James, but rather an acknowledgement that we live in an era of four spectacular all-around players. Bless us.
Chris Mannix: Come on. Let's not get carried away. Is LeBron a better defender? Yes. Everyone who played on the U.S. Olympic team improved their defense this season. But I can rattle off a handful of better defensive players. Garnett. Howard. Artest. Battier. Bryant. To me, James ranks well behind them. Now, does he have the tools to become a great defender? Absolutely. His freakish athleticism makes him an almost bottomless well of potential. But one summer spent with Bryant and Jason Kidd doesn't make him a great defender. It just makes the beginning of one.
Steve Aschburner: LeBron doesn't just deserve consideration for the award, he deserves a time-share on it, at least. Howard can make a persuasive case as this season's dominant big man on the defensive end -- his rebounds and blocks speak loudly, issuing plenty of denials. But James has been an outstanding defender from the wing, and while his chasing down of opponents' shots seems a little like grandstanding, it sure has been effective. Enough that penetrators better be looking over their shoulders, which is a tough way to finish any field-goal attempt, even layups. And in what might seem a rich-get-richer thing, I give James extra credit because, let's face it, he could have coasted at his previous defensive level rather than boosting that area of his game.
2. Detroit's Allen Iverson, who is close to returning from a back injury, will become a free agent after the season. What kind of team do you expect him to play for next season -- a contender or a lottery team looking for a box-office draw?
Ian Thomsen: I have no idea. The market will be tough to forecast for a peaking big man like Carlos Boozer. So where will Iverson fit in and at what price? I'm guessing he'll be attractive on a short-term deal to a lottery team. But there's really no way to guess until it becomes clear how many teams are willing to spend.
Jack McCallum: There's a difference between "expect" and "should." Iverson should play for a contending team that will give him a mid-level contract, well below the $21.9 million salary that wraps up his old contract at the end of this season. But I expect that, given the history of the NBA, one of the teams near the bottom of the payroll scale (such as Memphis, the Clippers and Minnesota) will buy into that old seduction that a superstar -- even a faded one near the end of his career -- shall make you whole and fill your seats.
Chris Mannix: It's an interesting question. Iverson has told me several times that he's not interested in a career as a role player. If he feels that he's no longer capable of being a significant contributor, he will hang 'em up. But I don't get the feeling that Iverson is interested in putting up big numbers for a lottery club. Losing with that kind of regularity just isn't in his DNA. So I think he'll split the difference. I think Iverson will look for a contending team that needs a scoring combo guard. The Spurs, who have never shied away from adding a veteran they thought could add something to the mix, are one possibility. The Lakers, who have no need for a traditional point guard, are another. I don't believe money will be an issue; Iverson has made plenty in his career. I think he will look for the best possible situation, grab something around the mid-level exception and try to close his Hall of Fame career with a championship.
Steve Aschburner: I'll go with the latter, only because it's harder for me to imagine the former. Iverson has been one of the NBA's best all-time, self-contained superstars ever, particularly among guys less than 6-foot-10. He is a constant, requiring all around him to adjust -- his best seasons with the 76ers, especially 2000-01, came when their roster was full of guys adapting to AI. Doing that for Iverson in his prime, at the peak of his powers, was one thing; finding a contender willing to do it now would be tougher. That's why he seems like he's most fit for the sideshow circuit now (if a club can earn back his salary), with the best teams unlikely to risk their winning formulas at this stage of AI's career.
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