Weekly Countdown (cont.)
4 questions rescued from the spam
4. Yes, Kobe is great. But let's be honest, this was an inferior Finals matchup. Compare the Magic to the Celtics of the '80s, the Knicks, Pistons, Rockets and Jazz of the '90s, or even the Celtics of '08, and you get a distinct feeling that the degree of difficulty for this title was a little lower than MJ's six or Kareem's and Magic's five. One wonders how this Lakers team would have fared against a healthy Yao Ming or a Spurs team with a healthy Manu Ginobili, especially because Kobe seemed to lose his closing magic as the playoffs wore on. Still, Kobe has earned the right to be on the same plane as Tim Duncan and Shaq.
Kobe is the definite second fiddle on three of his title teams, yet is mentioned in the same breath as MJ, et al. A better comparison would be to Scottie Pippen, who won six as a second fiddle. If Kobe can win two more as The Man for the Lakers, then, yeah, maybe move him into Duncan's range. Until then, he doesn't belong up there with the other players on your list of star NBA champions.
Why isn't Scottie Pippen on your list of modern NBA champions? If your reason is "second banana," then Kobe should count as one title (instead of four) and Shaq should count as three (instead of four).
The Pippen comparisons don't work because Pippen never led a team to the championship as Bryant did this season with the Lakers. Even when he was the No. 2 option to Shaq, Bryant was one of the best in the league at creating his own shot, and no one over the last decade has made more big plays in the last minute than Bryant. To watch him over the years was to realize that he was in a different class than Pippen, and this championship provided the last word on the subject.
Pippen was a highly versatile champion, and I don't think I'm denigrating him by saying that Bryant plays to a higher tier. If you were offered the choice of building a championship team around either Bryant or Pippen, most people would choose Bryant.
But Ed from San Francisco raises an interesting point. This year's postseason tournament -- as pointed out here many times -- was decimated by injuries to the Celtics (Kevin Garnett), Spurs (Ginobili), Rockets (Tracy McGrady and Yao) and Magic (Jameer Nelson). The only contender that didn't have a reasonable excuse was the Cavaliers. Even the Lakers had to go through the second half of the season without starting center Andrew Bynum, who, throughout the playoffs, was clearly diminished by his midseason knee injury. While they didn't face the toughest competition, the Lakers had to overcome challenges within their team and they should be recognized for that.
I have to disagree with Ed on the degree of difficulty of Jordan's six championships. Once the Bulls beat the defending champion Pistons in the 1991 playoffs, did they ever face another "great" team during their extended championship run? The point can be made that the Bulls prevented a lot of rival contenders from fulfilling themselves. But I've always thought those Bulls teams never had to deal with the kind of crowded landscape that challenged Magic's Lakers, Larry's Celtics or Isiah's Pistons. In the '80s, you also had Julius Erving's 76ers, Bob Lanier's Bucks and Dominique Wilkins' Hawks. It's never easy to win a championship, but let's say it was more difficult to prevail in the '80s than in the '90s.
3. Does this mean that we now need to start questioning how good Shaq was? Having won four NBA titles paired with the game's premier guards is nice, but what about the failures with Penny Hardaway (a stud in the league at the time) and Steve Nash? Everybody has said this Lakers team was not one for the ages, yet Kobe won. Do we now need to discuss that Shaq hasn't won with anything less than a Hall of Fame wingman? Or is Shaq just too likable?
Shaq was MVP of all three of his NBA Finals with the Lakers, and at his peak he was the dominant force in basketball. There can be no revising either of those facts.
Fisher refused to put himself in that class, and he's right -- Horry won seven championships, which may earn him a place in the Hall of Fame someday. (I think it should.) Fisher will be remembered long beyond his retirement as a role player who shot better than most NBA stars when the biggest games were in doubt.
1. I've read your work for years, but I was surprised, and touched, to see your note of condolence to the family of Stephen T. Johns. His death does make this a sad day, but it's good to see him remembered in unexpected places. My heart goes out to his family, and to everyone who was at the museum that day. What a terrible tragedy. Thank you for noting it.
Thank you for the note about the guard killed at the Holocaust Memorial. Although he may never have expected to face that situation, he was prepared for it, and when the moment came his actions without a doubt saved lives.
Thank you for putting everything into perspective with the death of Mr. Johns. I didn't know him, but your story put it home of a guy doing his job and paying the ultimate sacrifice for others. Thank you.
Thanks sincerely to all of you who wrote.
3 opinions on point guards in the draft
This is a draft dominated by small players, with an emphasis on point guards. Here are three of the stronger opinions I've heard while speaking with a variety of league GMs, scouts and coaches this week.
3. On Brandon Jennings. The 19-year-old was viewed as a top-five pick earlier this season, but now he may not go in the lottery. "He has been having pretty good workouts," an Eastern team executive said, "but I'm not a big fan."
Jennings spent this season -- the equivalent of his freshman year of college -- in Italy with the Euroleague club Lottomatica of Rome.
"It's a good idea to develop your game overseas," the executive said, "but the lesson is that he should have gone to another team."
In other words, Jennings might have done better to play for a smaller club that was practiced in developing young talent. Instead, he averaged only 17 minutes in 27 games for Rome in the Italian league.
"He still needs to learn the game," said the exec, repeating a concern I've heard from others around the league. "I think Sebastian Telfair is a good comparison to him."
NBA Truth & Rumors