Competence, not greatness, good enough for PGs on title teams
As recent results have shown, teams don't need a star point guard to win title
Several point guards are expected to be picked early in this year's draft
More topics: Kevin McHale's value; Mitch Kupchak's vindication; Hedo's bad luck
Derrick Rose was Rookie of the Year. Chauncey Billups was a hero in Denver. Jameer Nelson and Mo Williams were difference makers in the East. Aaron Brooks almost changed history. Point guards also are expected to dominate the first 10 or 12 picks in the draft next week.
And then there's Derek Fisher. He of the season averages of 10 points and three assists. He of the 40 percent shooting in the playoffs.
And he of the four rings.
There's your reality check. At a time when point guards are generating so much attention, a convergence of circumstances from the 2008-09 season into the draft into free agency next month, the reminder note being distributed after the Lakers-Magic series is that it does not take a great talent at the point to win the title. Big men (Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon), yes. Wing players who leave defenders with singed jerseys (Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Michael Jordan), absolutely. But not point guards.
No knock on Fisher. Few guys are more respected by peers. Smart. Tough. Mature from the day he hit the NBA. The No. 24 choice in 1996 stands as one of the final examples of Jerry West's greatness in pulling players, actual contributors, from the obscurity of late in the first round.
But Fisher has never been in the debate for an All-Star spot, let alone actually made the Sunday game. In his best statistical season, he averaged 13.3 points and 4.3 assists with the Warriors in 2005-06.
Fisher is just part of the story, though: Consider the point guards who have won in the Finals recently, and it's clear teams seldom need great point guards to win a championship, and teams where the best player is a point guard rarely win.
2009 -- Fisher. With the understanding that Phil Jackson's triangle offense does not rely on a traditional point guard, an important consideration since his Bulls and Lakers are all over the championship list.
Parker and Billups are the only All-Stars among starting point guards on the list. No Hall of Famer was in the role since Isiah Thomas with the Pistons in 1990.
It is especially relevant with the storylines of 2008-09 and into the summer. Rose showed star potential; Williams was an All-Star for the Cavaliers and turned in a regular season that gave LeBron James help on offense; Nelson's progress before a shoulder injury became an important part of the Magic's development; Billups was an emotional leader as the Nuggets matured into playoff threats; and Brooks' speed game was a spark in the Rockets' near-upset of the Lakers in the second round. Now Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Jonny Flynn lead a point-guard parade in the draft. A few days later, Andre Miller, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby and Ben Gordon, a combo guard who handles the ball a lot, become free agents with the ability and experience to make a difference.
The draft and free agency alone will alter the league for years. It just may not deliver a title. Because it doesn't take a dominant point guard to win.
McHale will always have 1995
He was the face of the franchise with a losing reputation, and so Kevin McHale had to go as coach if the Timberwolves wanted a fresh start, even if, as my colleague Steve Aschburner rightly claimed, the bad image was more McHale the personnel boss than McHale on the sideline.
But he also drafted Kevin Garnett. Not just drafted Garnett -- drafted him in a gutsy move, about a month into the job as vice president of basketball operations, at a time when taking a high school kid was a rarity. McHale took him fifth, after Joe Smith to Golden State, Antonio McDyess to Denver as part of a prearranged deal with the Clippers, Jerry Stackhouse to Philadelphia and Rasheed Wallace to Washington.
If the Timberwolves had passed on KG, almost every other alternative would have been disastrous: Bryant Reeves went sixth, Damon Stoudamire seventh, Shawn Respert eighth, Ed O'Bannon ninth, Kurt Thomas 10th, Gary Trent 11th and Cherokee Parks 12th. Not only would Minnesota have missed on the best player in the draft, the best player in franchise history and a future Hall of Famer, but the drop would have been severe.
Instead, McHale went with the risk of a skinny 19-year-old. Many regrettable calls would follow, none greater than being taken by the Trail Blazers in the Brandon Roy-Randy Foye draft-night swap in 2006, but 1995 remains a forever-positive moment.
Even if he was standing in the back, typically, as Lakers players, coaches and staff members dominated the victory podium, unassuming GM Mitch Kupchak was a star of the championship run and as deserving as anyone of basking in the moment. He took the brunt of the criticism after Kobe made the front office a personal punching bag a couple of years ago. If executives around the league were not rooting for L.A., they were happy for the vindication for Kupchak, one of the NBA's class acts. He held firm in not giving in to Bryant's demand to be traded, held firm in not giving up on Andrew Bynum, put together the package no one else could to acquire Pau Gasol, and swung the under-the-radar deal for Trevor Ariza that proved to be a key to the title.
The reported discussion of a trade that would have Cleveland sending Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to Phoenix for Shaq is the same basics of a deal the Suns rejected in February. The difference in the calendar is everything. Now, only a small percentage of Pavlovic's contract is guaranteed, and Wallace has said he is willing to talk about a buyout to retire, although Phoenix would surely want to get into specifics with Wallace before finalizing a trade. The Suns would have given serious consideration to sending O'Neal to Cleveland around the trade deadline, a move that could have changed the course of the playoffs in the East, if the offer was the expiring contract of Wally Szczerbiak and J.J. Hickson rather than the Wallace-Pavlovic package.
Jerry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times connected the dots: Hedo Turkoglu was on the Kings when Robert Horry hit the historic shot in the 2002 Western Conference finals. Turkoglu was on the Spurs when Fisher's twisting fling of a buzzer-beater delivered an improbable victory in Game 5 of the 2004 second round. Turkoglu was on the Magic when Fisher burned Orlando with two series-turning three-pointers in Game 4 of the 2009 Finals. He's haunted.
Everything Bryant said at the end of the regular season about handling the demand of the playoff workload turned out to be true. He went from playing all 82 games in 2007-08 to all 21 in the playoffs that season to the Summer Olympics to all 82 games this season to all 23 in the title drive, an exhaustive pace coupled with a dramatic jump in minutes. The 36.1 minutes per game of the regular season turned into 40.9 in the four rounds and 43.8 against the Magic. No player on either team logged more.
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