SI's Marty Burns tackles three issues from around the league:
Will Shaq's return cure the Lakers?
Shaquille O'Neal Andrew D. Bernstein NBAE/Getty Images
Unless he reinjures his foot tripping over Larry David from HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm while checking into the game Friday night against the Bulls at Staples Center, Shaq will be just fine -- and so will the Lakers.
Sure, it might take a while for Kobe Bryant and L.A.'s cast of role players to adjust to Shaq's presence, but it won't matter in the long run. After a week or two, the Lakers will be back to their old dominant ways.
While it may be true that L.A. has looked like Kobe and four guys from the Y most of the season, don't be fooled. Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Devean George and Robert Horry are complementary players. Without Shaq, their deficiencies get exposed and they look worse than they really are.
Shaq's return will force opponents to double-team him and swarm him in the post. In turn, this will create more open shots for Bryant, Fisher, Fox and Horry. One of the big reasons L.A. has been shooting so poorly is because defenders have been able to get out and get a hand in the face of Lakers shooters.
Defensively, Shaq's towering presence in the middle will prevent opponents from continuing to parade through the lane for easy baskets. It will also allow the other Lakers to extend their defense. Fisher, Fox and Bryant are able to gamble and get up on their man when they know Shaq is back there to clean up any mistakes.
Shaq played most of last year with his foot injury, and the Lakers still rolled to a 58-24 record. It's not just the monster stats he puts up, it's the attention he commands. Even if he's not 100 percent, Shaq's return will be the tonic for these ailing Lakers.
Should Larry Brown be the next coach of the U.S. Olympic team?
Larry Brown Jesse D. Garrabrant NBAE/Getty Images
Depends on if you think we need Shaq or not. If you think we need the Diesel to batter the Yugoslavs and Argentines into submission, then Phil Jackson is your man. After all, Shaq has hinted that he won't play in the 2004 Games unless the Zen Master is on the bench.
Assuming the U.S. has enough talent to win gold without Shaq, however, then Brown is the logical choice. Jackson, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan -- the other three candidates on USA Basketball's list of prospective coaches -- each could surely get the job done. But Brown is uniquely suited for this task of restoring American pride as the world's preeminent hoops power.
Of the four candidates, Brown has the most international coaching experience. He also has been around it more recently, having led the 1999 U.S. team to an Olympic qualifying berth in Puerto Rico and having served as Rudy Tomjanovich's assistant in the 2000 Sydney Games. Given the dramatic gains the foreign teams have made in recent years, it's imperative the next U.S. coach be up to date with the opposition as well as the U.S. players.
Brown, with his Dean Smith background, also is well-versed in the kind of motion offenses commonly used by international teams. He'll be able to implement this philosophy easier and quicker than Jackson would with the triangle offense or Riley with his team defense approach. Best of all, he's old-fashioned enough to not mind staying at the Olympic Village instead of the Ritz-Carlton.
Who the heck is Gordan Giricek?
Gordan Giricek Joe Murphy NBAE/Getty Images
For those who don't have NBA League Pass, the Grizzlies' Giricek is probably the biggest surprise so far among this year's rookie crop. Through the first 10 games, the 6-foot-6 Croatian shooting guard was averaging 12.5 points, second only to teammate Drew Gooden among all first-year players. Filling in for injured starter Michael Dickerson, Giricek was adding 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 24.3 minutes.
A former second-round pick of the Mavericks (No. 40 overall) in the 1999 Draft, he was sent in a pre-arranged deal to the Spurs that same night for Leon Smith. Memphis GM Jerry West then acquired his rights from the Spurs last summer for a 2004 second-round pick and $1 million cash. West knew all about Giricek, 25, who had been starring in the Croatian League, and felt he could bring some much-needed athleticism and outside shooting to Memphis.
In his first NBA game, Giricek (pronounced Geh-ra-check) scorched the Mavs for 29 points (on 10-of-13 shooting), the fifth-highest scoring debut in NBA history. He had 25 points last week against Minnesota. Afterward T'wolves veteran guard Kendall Gill said Giricek might be "the most aggressive rookie besides Allen Iverson" he'd ever played against.
Giricek is no Croatian Sensation -- at least not yet. His defense and shot-creating abilities still need work, and soon opposing teams will stop leaving him wide open. But so far he's making a name for himself while giving the Grizzlies yet another talented prospect to go with Gooden, Shane Battier and reigning Rookie of the Year Pau Gasol.