If you’re looking for something substantive today, you best move along to the next blog. I’m just not motivated to write anything serious today. But I did find out that the immortal Sports Guy has his own domain now and, since he quit being a writer for the Jimmy Kimmel show, he’s posting stuff nearly every day. If you’re a fan of sports, sarcastic humor, or both, this is a must-read every day. And in honor of him, my own thoughts on what has been the strangest NBA off season in recent memory.
1. Who is the big winner in the Shaq v. Kobe steel cage death match?
Short answer: Shaq. The Lakers did Shaq a huge favor by trading him, but they hurt their team a lot. The Lakers basically turned into Santa Claus and gave Kobe everything he ever dreamed of – got rid of the coach he didn’t like, got rid of the teammate he didn’t like, made an absolutely ridiculous offer to the coach that Kobe wanted (and still didn’t get him), everything they could do short of renaming the team the LA Kobes and requiring all LA fans to bow down to him before the opening tipoff. What did Shaq get out of it? Motivation, baby. The big man is pissed off, and Shaq with a chip on his shoulder should scare the hell out of the rest of the NBA.
See, Shaq is 32. He’s done it all. He’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars, he’s won 3 championships, he’s won multiple MVP awards, he’s an absolute no-brainer first ballot hall of famer. And for the last couple years, he’s pretty much phoned it in on the court. He’s come to camp overweight, he plays defense maybe 10% of the time, and his numbers have dropped to career lows. He just hasn’t been motivated. Guess what? Now he is. My prediction is that he shows up for training camp in Miami in a few weeks in the best shape he’s been in since 97 or 98 and he puts up career numbers, especially against Eastern conference centers. I think Shaq will average 28 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks a game next year and win the MVP award again. Total domination for the big man in Miami.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are in trouble. They now have an entire team of perimeter players, with no fewer than 5 guys who all play small forward – Odom, Butler, George, Fox and Walton. The closest thing they have to a legitimate center – and if this doesn’t have Rudy Tomjanovich waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, nothing will – is Slava Medvedenko….IF they resign him! Brian Grant is a warrior and you gotta love his hustle and determination. And in the east, he could almost impersonate a center. But in the west, where he’ll be guarding the likes of Yao Ming, Tim Duncan and Brad Miller, he’s going to be the basketball equivalent of an all you can eat buffet.
The Lakers will be lucky to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. The Spurs, Kings and Timberwolves are clearly the class of the conference, with Dallas a bit behind them. Memphis managed to finish 5th last year and will be better this year, especially if they manage to sign Dampier. The Nuggets made the playoffs last year and have improved dramatically with the signing of Kenyon Martin. Utah just missed the playoffs and they’ve improved themselves more than any other team in the league. The Lakers may find themselves in the lottery. And if that happens, while Miami makes a deep run in the playoffs and Shaq destroys the league, Kobe is going to be crucified in the press so badly that he’ll be wishing he was in prison – assuming he isn’t in prison.
2. Who is the big winner in the off season orgy of free agency?
Short answer: Utah Jazz. They had a stellar draft, picking up potentials stars in Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder, then went out and signed Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer to huge long term contracts, then signed their own free agents in Carlos Arroyo and Gordon Giricek. They will start the season with a starting lineup with no one over 25 years old, all of them signed to long term contracts, with one all star in Kirilenko and one potential all star in Boozer. And they have solid backups at every single position. And they’re all Jerry Sloan kind of players, too. Oh, and did I mention they still have $6 million in cap space to sign additional players? Just a brilliant job by the organization to build a team. By the end of the season, they’ll be very tough, and in the next 3 or 4 years, expect to see them in the NBA finals.
3. Will Houston be improved after the trade for McGrady?
Short answer: No. Tracy McGrady is an amazing player, everyone knows that, but how does he fit with Yao Ming? And will Jeff Van Gundy have a clue what to do with him? He just does not fit Van Gundy’s system and I don’t think he’s a good enough coach to adjust the system to fit McGrady. They gave up Steve Francis, a guard whose game is geared toward an open floor, up and down system, because he didn’t fit Van Gundy’s grind it out power system. What did they get in return? A guard whose game is geared toward an open floor, up and down system. Unless the coach seriously opens up his offense, this is a bad move, and I predict that by the all-star break, McGrady is bitching about the coach and the coach’s head is on the chopping block.
4. Will Shaq’s heat challenge the Pistons in the Eastern conference?
Short answer: Yes, but they won’t beat them. The Pistons pounded the Lakers with Shaq and Kobe and no one else. A Heat team with Shaq and Wade and even less won’t fare any better against them. The Pistons had a great off season as well, resigning Rasheed Wallace and adding Antonio McDyess. If McDyess is even half the player he was before the knee problems, he’s gonna be a monster off the bench in the low post for the Pistons. They also signed Carlos Delfino, their second #1 pick last year, to a contract so small that he had to borrow money from his agent to make the trip to the United States (I’m not making that up). The Pistons return with the same starting lineup, even more firepower off the bench, and the entire team a year older, better, and all signed to long term contracts. The Pistons are going to be the class of the Eastern conference for the next 4 or 5 years and Shaq’s contract will prevent the Heat from adding the role players necessary to beat them. Shaq will make nearly as much next season as the entire Pistons starting five.