By Rob Mahoney
• Like it or not, the Pau Gasol trade rumors are here to stay. Dealing away Gasol will always be a simpler out than incorporating him into a modified offense, and thus those who approach the game in the most straightforward fashion possible will always see his departure as essential. I'm not so convinced, and the more I dwell on the options available (like those outlined by Tom Haberstroh in this piece for ESPN Insider) I come away thinking that the Lakers are likely best off sticking with their core four stars and seeing how far they can go. The three scenarios that Habestroh describes each have their merits, but when the best haul of the bunch may be Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller (while also dealing away productive reserve center Jordan Hill), perhaps it's time to revisit the initial premise.
• The league's recent fining of the San Antonio Spurs was controversial to say the least, with most siding with commissioner David Stern (and thus the league's business interests) or Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (and the importance of team discreation). Kevin Arnovitz adds a different dimension to the previously tired debate over at TrueHoop, where he hones in on what the NBA can learn from the NFL and NCAA:
The charisma of superstars will always fuel fan interest, especially in the NBA, but the past two Thursdays should serve as evidence to people who get agitated when superstars aren’t in uniform that there’s value in marketing not only marquee players, but teams as brands.
Every week, the NFL draws in millions of viewers on Sundays and Mondays to watch their broadcasts. Some of those viewers can tell you the names of all the offensive linemen and defensive backs on the field, but the vast majority of those who watch nationally are probably unfamiliar with anyone beyond the quarterbacks. But they still watch in eye-popping numbers, because the NFL has sold the game as the product.
That’s one of the things that most bothered me about the commissioner’s response last week. He made an implicit statement that somehow the game was diminished because Duncan, Parker and Ginobili weren’t out there, when the message should’ve been that fans were about to witness the world’s greatest game being played by two of the league’s premier franchises, neither of which will disappoint you.
• Tom Ziller explores the dearth of huge scoring performances in recent years, and has some sound theories as to why the 50-point game is becoming a thing of the past. Yet I spent most of Ziller's piece sitting in awe of Kobe Bryant' 2007 torrent. We all know he was particularly explosive in that campaign, but seeing the specifics relative to other NBA stars puts his scoring success in awesome perspective.
• Don't look now, but the Pistons are actually playing some decent basketball. Michael Pina catalogues, among other things, Detroit's improving defense (with a necessary caveat):
In their last five games, Pistons’ opponents are shooting 38.6% on over four more attempts per game than their season average. They’re one of the 10 best teams in basketball at defending the restricted area, which is a world’s difference from letting teams get there—at this, the Pistons royally suck—but should still be noted as a positive.
They’re the very best team in basketball at defending mid-range jump shots (they’ve allowed the 11th fewest makes on the fifth most attempts), and according to Synergy they’re the fourth best team in spot up situations, allowing just 0.85 points per possession. They’re also third best in the league at defending the corner three, with opponents converting on just 31.3% of them.
Some of this stuff (mid-range jump shots) can be chalked up to luck—it’s a make or miss league, and sometimes you get lucky after rotating poorly and leaving your man wide open—but it’d be impossible to say that the Pistons (Corey Maggette aside) aren’t playing like a team with a vested interest in stopping their opponent from scoring. They hustle like mad, and they try like hell.
Trying and caring is great, as are dandelions and lollipops. But if the Pistons aren’t executing an organized plan all these numbers will begin to hike as the season goes on.
• Gilbert Arenas takes going through the motions to a new level in his debut for the Shanghai Sharks.
• Spurs prospect and benchwarmer Cory Joseph is saying all the right things about his bounces to and from the D-League. Far too many players view assignment to a D-League affiliate as some kind of demotion, but it's simply another avenue for young players to get invaluable on-court experience. What's the harm in that?
The problem with having Bargnani on this roster -- something that wouldn't be a problem if he were on another team with more offensive options where he hadn't been peddled as a face of the franchise for the past few years -- is that while he is here, he has to play. It's hard to keep a player as talented as him on the bench when the team is struggling. It's also hard to play him when he is struggling.
Sitting him brings another problem, though. If the team is indeed trying to move him, he cannot be moved if he doesn't play, but playing him while he plays badly also doesn't help the team's case.
It's a vicious circle that leads back to Bargnani being on the floor in crunch time, even if he hasn't proven successful in that role.
Mix in a fan base that is sick and tired of losing leads late in games with Bargnani on the floor and you have another reason why it is time for something to be done. When the relationship appears to be strained, sometimes the best practice is to simply part ways.
• Utah's rotation hasn't been kind to Alec Burks. • Only due to morbid curiosity should you check out Jared Wade's piece investigating some of the gross spacing issues in the Pacers' half-court offense.