If it were possible to quantify a statistic to recognize talent and focus on winning important games, no one would rank higher than Bryant. He went through those long mid-career seasons of being viewed as a failure against his potential. But that baggage was abandoned a couple of years ago. He is now cashing in relentlessly.
The Lakers had lost two in a row at Phoenix when 6-6 Bryant -- in his 1,211th career game -- found the energy to respond with 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four blocks. When it was time for the Lakers to make a big play around him,
Artest has sought validation all year from Bryant. He clearly wants to be viewed as a champion and a peer in Bryant's eyes. Bryant understands this and he has applied it to make the Artest experiment work thus far, to overcome all of the potential difficulties that have emerged throughout Artest's previous seasons. When Artest made that shot he instinctively turned away from his bench and ran to Bryant for a certifying hug. Their celebration says everything about Bryant's unique form of leadership, which is based on his ability to command respect.
Now think about James, who finds himself in the limbo of possibilities as he exercises his right to free agency amid frustration with his team's inability to reach the NBA Finals. Bryant was in the same frustrating place a few years ago when he demanded a trade in hope of forcing his way back into championship contention. Then the Lakers acquired
Bryant needed years of experience to learn how to lead, and he also needed a proper blend of talent that could be led. At this moment he holds the advantage over James in both categories.
The rules call for two styles in every NBA game -- patty-cake above the foul line, and greco-roman below it. The difference has been viewed as being unfair to Howard, who can be double-teamed and hammered in the paint. But he has turned that dynamic to his advantage by becoming the aggressor and forcing the Celtics to stop him by fouling him.
In turn the Celtics have renewed themselves around a trio of long defenders in
Then there is Lakers 7-foot forward
Think about how much the NBA has changed over the last decade of the new defensive rules. All you hear coaches discuss now is the need for ball movement, which wasn't as much of a priority in the previous era of boring isolation play.
The pragmatic Suns weren't ashamed to do whatever they could to extend their conference final, and they've created a new awareness for the zone's potential. This is a copy-cat league and I bet we'll see more of the zone next season, which will lead to offenses responding with more ball movement and dribble-drive penetration (the latter is being sold by coaching candidate
Now consider this: Commissioner
Woodson's teams improved over each of his six years with Atlanta. But there comes a time when management knows a coach too well and wants someone new. The feeling in Atlanta was that Woodson had reached his ceiling -- a very high ceiling at that.
Brown was let go not only because the Cavs needed to win a championship while James was under contract, but also because they'll need a new coach to compel him to re-sign in July. It's a business decision, as
No rookie was playing a meaningful role for any of the final four teams this postseason. One reason is that rookies today are too young and unprepared to transition to the highest level.
Over the previous two years no more than two rookies have played a meaningful role in the NBA final four --
It has to be
It is a total conspiracy theory that does have merit. Put it this way: It has as much merit as any other rumor. Their coaching hire will put their chances in perspective. If they were to somehow hire a big-timer like
How far can Minnesota go with an undersized center and an undersized power forward? That would be one question. Cousins' size and potential in the paint would enable them to invest fully in
I don't view James as having ownership of those acquisitions. Of course the Cavs would have sought his opinion, but ultimately the decisions were theirs to make. If we assume James wasn't a big fan of Mike Brown's offense in belief that it didn't bring out the best in him or his teammates, then it stands to reason that James didn't feel entirely responsible for the Cavs' offensive failures in the playoffs, either.
Now that he holds all of the leverage because the franchise will wither financially if he leaves, the Cavs undoubtedly will be asking for his feelings about potential coaches as well as players. But there isn't a lot they can do to improve the roster as they wouldn't get equal value in trades for
"Our situation has drastically changed for the better. Our [player] salaries are in line, we're going to have cap space available, we have a good core of young players, we have a coach we finally feel comfortable with [in
"The [plan for a new] arena -- that's another story. We've got to get something done there eventually. But never did we think of selling majority control, never. There are a number of teams for sale, but we're not one of them. Probably that rumor started because we were looking to sell a minority interest. But we're too bullish on this league. As many problems as we've had in the past, the NBA is still a very special fraternity and basketball is very popular around the world.
"All this pain we've been through, everybody goes through it. Unless you're the Lakers in a market like that."
"There's no feeling like that in the world when you're in contention. Only sports can give you those feelings that we had back in those glory years with the Kings. Give you a taste of that. When you're stuck in the valleys we've been in, you just try to get back in the playoffs first.
"We're going to have a lot of flexibility this summer. We're going to be at [a payroll of] $33 million, and the cap is going to be close to $56 million, so we're going to have lot of space. I can't speak too much about who we're going to go after, but if a free agent or a player comes around who can help the franchise, we're going to look very strongly at him. We're in the game, too.
"There's going to be two views: Some owners are really looking at free-agency strong, and others are going to take a wait and-see approach, because you don't know where collective bargaining is going to go. You do have a lot of power with an NBA team when you're under the cap -- you can take players on, teams can trade into your cap space. We've never had that amount of money under the cap before. We have to see what comes our way."
"We had the Sacramento Kings basketball camp every July, Gavin and I, it was like 120 degrees outside and the camp was stale -- we'd been doing it for nine years. Every time I looked out the window I saw these skateboarders. I said, 'Why don't we do a skate camp in Orange County for a week and hang out at the beach, get out of the hot sun?' Then it evolved and we were getting calls from people saying why don't you guys do a competition?
"Now you have the X Games, which is partly skateboarding, they're the biggest of them all and they've done a wonderful job of promoting action sports. But I don't consider them competitors. You want everybody to do well -- you want the Mountain Dew Tour to do well, we're going to do very well. The only way to expand the lifestyle or the sport of skateboarding is through success stories. It's good to have us involved, because we understand the athletes -- the skaters -- are the real celebrities. It's like the NBA, where it's not about the owners or the coaches, it's about the players.
"All you need is a skateboard and the street, just like basketball where you need a ball and a basket. It's very inexpensive to get into, and kids don't have to be 6-6 and 240 pounds to do it -- though I bite my tongue because if you look at some of these skaters, some of them do look like linebackers. They have to have the talent and the skill and they have to practice -- they get knocked down and they get back up a thousand times.
"For us it can turn into a wonderful business opportunity in a positive way, which means remaining steadfast to the core values of skateboarding and at the same time enhance it with these contests and make it a big deal. We haven't made any money on it, and when I do make money I'm going to plow it right back into the Maloof Cup and grow with the sport."
Yet, the threat of a jinx thrives to this day. When I told Rivers we were thinking about putting the Celtics on the cover, he responded with a shivering grimace. (I think he was joking.) No sooner had the cover been decided than Rondo appeared to be limited by cramping in his right leg throughout the Celtics' Game 4 loss Monday. (But can that be blamed on us? We hadn't even published the magazine at that time.)
The most recent case of SI jinxing was with
I try to remind people that