Roundtable: Early rookie returns, East improvements and more
Another way of looking at it is to ask whether the West's top five or six teams will be superior to the East's elite; in that sense, I think the West may be better, after the Jazz's Deron Williams and the Spurs' Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are fully recovered, and the Rockets and Mavericks have grown more comfortable in their new systems.
The East has a plethora of nice stories, including the Knicks' early success under Mike D'Antoni and Atlanta's strong start. But when healthy, the West is still significantly superior to the East.
Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain won the 1972 title together, but Gail Goodrich was also on that club. Goodrich, in fact, led that team in scoring. Magic and Kareem won five championships together, but they got a lot of help from James Worthy, Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis on those Showtime teams.
Shaq and Kobe pretty much were the show during their Lakers' three-peat. They led those teams in scoring all three times by large margins. When NBA fans think about those teams 20 years from now, they will think of Shaq and Kobe. I don't think those other Lakers clubs will be remembered as two-man teams.
What's more, Shaq knows that's true. He has already admitted that most of what he says is for effect, with the intent of being marketable. He knows what he says will stir the pot and brighten the fading spotlight that surrounds him. It's what he's good at. And he has done it again.
Let me explain: The best one-two punch in Lakers history was West and Baylor. Those two Hall of Famers, in their prime, were the most formidable pair of wing or perimeter scorers in NBA history. They had three seasons in which their combined scoring average topped the best ever produced by O'Neal and Bryant (57.5 in 2002-03). West and Baylor combined for 69.1 points in 1961-62, 61.1 points the following season and 58.1 points in 1964-65.
The best guard-center punch, meanwhile, was Magic and Kareem, on the basis of five championships to three for Bryant-O'Neal. They didn't score like the more recent tandem but they stayed great for a decade, not half of one. (I'll note here, too, that in 1969-70, West and Wilt Chamberlain combined for 58.5 points -- with Baylor chipping in 24.0.)
Most exciting? I'll give Shaq that. The combination of his thunder and Bryant's lightning was stupendous. Most controversial? No other pair is even close. But best? Not quite.
Oh, we're supposed to elaborate? The Clippers have Ricky Davis, who seemingly brings 10 losses to a team the minute he signs a contract. They have Baron Davis, who is struggling to blend his freelancing style with Dunleavy's frequent play-calling. They have two centers (Kaman and Camby) who are still trying to figure out a way to play together. They are giving up 102 points a game and getting beat by an average of 12.8 points.
The bottom line is that while second-year forward Al Thornton and rookie guard Eric Gordon are decent building blocks, the Clippers need a massive overhaul. And it could start with Baron, who may start to pack it in if the losses continue to pile up.