Monday, May 30, 2011

Heir to Air?

Even though I believe Scottie Pippen's remarks were blown out of proportion, they still re-aggravated a longstanding question: Who's the next MJ?  Out of every player that has been compared to Jordan, only two are realistically within that realm: Kobe and LeBron.  This has led to a seemingly endless discussion of who's better than who.  Who's better: Jordan or Kobe?  Jordan or LeBron?  Kobe or LeBron?  The problem with these discussions is that they often blur the lines between past, present, and future.  People will use Kobe's legacy as reasoning for why he's better than LeBron currently, or they'll use LeBron's current production as reasoning why he's better than Kobe all-time, or they'll compare Jordan's career to what LeBron may do in the future.  Inconsistent parameters lead to a senseless discussion.  If you're using what Kobe did in 2006 to say he's better than LeBron in 2011, you're being foolish.  Analytical comparisons should stay in the same time frame.  Compare currently to currently or all-time to all-time, but don't go randomly between them.  With that said, let's sort through the Jordan-Kobe-LeBron debate.

As of right now, how do they compare all-time?  I'd rank them Jordan, Kobe, then LeBron.  Jordan's clearly number one, for obvious reasons.  Kobe's second because he already ranks among the ten greatest players to ever play the game.  He has the most compelling "next MJ" case of anyone in the last decade plus.  Despite what most people would like to believe, his resume stacks up nicely to Jordan's.  It's very similar, but does fall a little short.  LeBron is behind Kobe because his accomplishments don't match up.  Not just in championships (which I think is a pretty inadequate way of comparing individuals), but also in overall recognition (All-NBA Teams, All-Defensive Teams etc).  Kobe's the most skilled player in the world and was the best two-way player in the game for the better part of a decade (at least the best two-way wing player, depending on where Duncan fits in).  LeBron's track record just isn't long enough to surpass Kobe, at this point.

How do they rank currently (obviously excluding the retired one)?  I'd put LeBron above Kobe.  I think Kobe being injured in the postseason makes it feel like there's a bigger gap between them than there may be, but I'd still give the nod to LeBron.  One guy is 32 and has played 15 years in the league and the other is 26 and has only played 8 years in the league.  One guy's exiting his prime, while other one appears to be reaching his apex.  Putting Kobe above LeBron would be like if Jordan had continued playing into Kobe's career and someone said a 37-year old Jordan was better than a 22-year old Kobe.  I think people who put Kobe above LeBron in '11, or would've put Jordan above Kobe in '01, are not comparing the current state of both guys.  I think they're comparing the track record of the veteran against the prime of the other player.  Otherwise I think common sense would dictate that the guy in his prime would have the advantage. 

How will they rank in the future?  As close as Kobe is to Jordan, I don't think he'll ever pass him.  Whether or not the rankings get switched up depends on what LeBron does in the next few years.  In theory, LeBron should be able to pass Kobe and Jordan.  He's at least as talented as the other two.  And when you combine that with his superior physical talents, you'd assume he could pass them.  The chink in LeBron's armor appears to be his mentality.  The reason Jordan is better than Kobe and LeBron is because he was an assassin, but he also learned to trust his teammates.  For the most part, Kobe's too much of an assassin and LeBron's too much of a facilitator.  If LeBron had half the competitiveness and ruthlessness of Jordan or Kobe, he would have a legitimate shot at being the best player ever.  Kobe eventually learned to trust his teammates.  Will LeBron ever learn to play cold-blooded, on a consistent basis?  If he does, he'd have a good shot at passing Kobe and challenging Jordan.  

The one thing that could prevent that from happening is his decision to team up with Wade.  No, not because LeBron couldn't win without help.  All the greats need help.  Bird had McHale, Magic had Kareem, Jordan had Pippen, Shaq had Kobe, Kobe had Pau etc.  The difference is that those tandems had a clear pecking order.  As great as their sidekicks were, Bird, Magic, Jordan, Shaq and Kobe were the alpha dogs of championship teams.  Elite players should be the alpha dog of their team.  Who's the alpha dog of Miami?  That's what I think the problem is for LeBron.  He didn't get a great sidekick.  He got an equal.  If he would've teamed up with Bosh, I don't think anyone would've seen that as hurting his legacy.  It's that he teamed up with Wade.  LeBron should want to prove that he's better than Wade, just like he should want to prove he's better than Kobe, Durant, Carmelo, and Howard.   

Him teaming up with an equal seemingly reveals his desire to be the best, or lack thereof.  Kobe wanted to be 'the man' so bad that he forcefully ended a dynasty by pushing out Shaq.  LeBron doesn't appear to care about whether or not he's "the man."  And if he doesn't have that, how's he going to be better than Jordan?  That's why I think teaming up with Wade could hurt his all-time standing.  Because it wasn't just him getting help to win titles, it was him seemingly relinquishing the alpha dog role.  For him to rid that perception, I think he'd have to win multiple championships as "the man."  If he shares the spotlight with Wade, I think it hurts him.  

Is LeBron the heir to Jordan?  It's not impossible, but he would have to develop an assassin demeanor and be the preeminent player on his team if he wants to catch Air.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Great Scottie!

"Michael Jordan may be the greatest scorer to ever play the game, but I may go so far as to say LeBron James is the greatest player to ever play the game."  Did Scottie Pippen really say LeBron is better than Jordan?  Stop the presses....or actually....start the presses!  Get the story out ASAP and make sure to blow it way out of proportion!

Scottie Pippen's remark about LeBron sent shock waves through the sports world.  Almost immediately, people freaked out.  How could he say such a thing?  No one's better than Jordan!  No one will ever be better than Jordan!  People jumped on him so fast that by the time he clarified his statement it was seen as backtracking.  The knee-jerk reaction of the media, and the fans, is comical.  The second you say something, it becomes your definitive opinion.  Any further statement you make on the matter isn't regarded as you explaining the nuances of your opinion, it's regarded as you taking your foot out of your mouth.  I wonder how many people that blasted Scottie even heard the full context of the statement, because every article I read only included a 30 to 90 second sound bite or just the quote itself.  If you listen to the extended clip, you'll hear that Scottie's statement was in response to Chris Broussard asking, "How good do you think LeBron James can be all-time?  Can he challenge Michael for that mythical title?"

The problem was that Chris asked him a two-part question.  He asked Scottie if he agreed that Jordan is the greatest of all-time and if LeBron could challenge him.  Scottie answered "I think he can," and then elaborated.  For some reason, Chris took that to mean that Scottie was answering "no" to the question about Jordan being the best, because he tweeted: "I don't agree with Pippen. MJ is the greatest of all-time. LeBron has chance to be top 10, 5 or higher if he starts winning rings."  Did Scottie mean that LeBron is better than Jordan?  Well, he clarified what he meant, when he later tweeted: "Don't get me wrong, MJ was and is the greatest. But LeBron could by all means get to his level someday."

I believe the failure in this situation is on the interviewers.  Chris asked him a two-part question and, even though Scottie never specifically addressed both questions (and used the words "can" and "may"), he never asked a follow-up question.  How do you not ask a follow-up question, after the answer didn't blatantly address both the analytical and hypothetical questions?  Especially if you think he answered differently than one would expect?  To recap, Scottie included "can" and "may" in an answer to a hypothetical question about a "mythical" title and that morphed into "Scottie thinks LeBron's better than MJ."  Unbelievable.

Because no one asked Scottie point blank if LBJ is better than MJ, I'll continue to assume that his answer was indeed aimed at the hypothetical question and that it was just a "rare" occurrence of the media taking a sound bite and blowing it out of proportion

Saturday, May 21, 2011

NBA Finals looking good

We're down to four teams, which means there are four NBA Finals possibilities.  The NBA is in good shape, because there's a 75% chance of having an intriguing Finals matchup.  What are they?

Chicago vs. Oklahoma City
This series would probably be the most fun.  Both of these teams are new and exciting.  In a year that included "The Decision" and the "Melo Drama," it was refreshing to see two new teams that were built so fundamentally.  They didn't spend the most money to get where they are now.  In fact, the Bulls and Thunder have the lowest payrolls of any playoff teams, and actually have two of the lowest payrolls in the league.  The only teams with lower payrolls were the T-Wolves, the Clippers, and the Kings (who are all rebuilding).  Without spending 100 million dollars, on the likes of LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Stoudemire, Carmelo or Joe Johnson, they were able to find the right type of players to surround their superstars with.  And they did a good job, because they're the two deepest teams left in the playoffs (probably even the two deepest teams in the league).  Both are loaded with talent and are legitimately 10 deep.  It's pretty amazing that both franchises have built such talented teams without breaking the bank.  They also happen to be built similarly:

Superstars- Durant and Rose
Secondary Superstars- Westbrook and Boozer
Third scoring option- Harden and Deng
Defender who can score- Ibaka and Noah
Wing defender- Sefolosha and Bogans/Brewer
Interior defender- Perkins and Thomas
3-Pt Shooter- Cook and Korver
All-around player- Collison and Gibson
Backup point guard- Maynor and Watson
Backup center- Mohammed and Asik

And those are just the similarities of the rosters.  It gets better when you think about the actual matchups: Rose vs. Westbrook, Durant vs. Deng, Ibaka vs. Boozer, and Noah vs. Perkins.  This series wouldn't be about bad blood or a rivalry.  It would just be two exciting, talent-rich teams battling for a championship. 

Miami vs. Dallas II: Dirk's Revenge
Five years ago, Dirk Nowitzki came the closest he's ever been to getting a championship.  Unfortunately for him, he was bested by Dwyane Wade and the Heat.  If the Mavs were to get back to the Finals, a rematch against Miami would be very enticing.  The main storyline would obviously be whether or not Dirk could avenge the Finals disaster of 5 years ago and finally get a ring.  The interesting sub-plot for the Mavs would be the, presumed, final chance for some deserving veterans (Kidd, Terry, Marion) to finally win a title.

Oklahoma City vs. Miami
This matchup would have the most contrast.  On one side, you have a team of built through free agency and spending money.  On the other side, you have a team built through draft picks and trades.  While LeBron had a television special to announce where he was playing, Durant quietly announced on Twitter that he had signed a contract extension.  These teams are practically night and day.  It's a clash of the most honorably built team in the league against the team that's despised for the way it was assembled.  One team has spent years finding quality players - that fit their system - to surround their stars with, while the other team spent tons of money on big free agent superstars and a rotating door of veterans to try and compliment them.  It's the right way to build a championship versus the wrong way.  It would be quite poetic for the team that's been organically built, over the last four years, to beat a team that has tried to buy its way to a championship.

As long as we don't end up with Dallas against Chicago, it should be a very entertaining Finals.  Not that Chicago-Dallas would be bad.  Just not as interesting as the other three possibilities.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Case for Shaw

With Phil Jackson's retirement, the Lakers find themselves searching for a new coach.  The expected choice has always been Brian Shaw.  He's been apart of the organization for over a decade, both as a player and assistant coach, and has the endorsements of Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Luke Walton.  But now reports are coming out that the Lakers are interested in Rick Adelman and Mike Dunleavy, among others.  This has sparked a debate about whether or not the Lakers should stay in-house, with Shaw, or go with an outside hire of a veteran coach.  Some worry about the idea of having a rookie head coach for a team that's ready to win now, but should that be that big of a concern?

While veteran coaches have a proven history that would benefit them, there's also history on the side of Shaw.  Every dynasty that has made a coaching change has done so with the promotion of an assistant, and has done so successfully.  The Lakers replaced Paul Westhead with assistant Pat Riley, the Celtics replaced Bill Fitch with assistant K.C. Jones and Bill Russell took over for Red Auerbach; while Russell wasn't technically an assistant, it was still an in-house hire of a rookie head coach.  Three times a dynasty has changed coaches.  Three times it was a first time head coach.  Three times that rookie head coach went on to win multiple championships.  While veteran coaches may have more experience, they also come with different philosophies.  Shaw knows the players and he knows the system.  Continuity should count for something.  Instead of focusing on the history of each coach, the Lakers should focus on the history of assistant coaches being promoted in the midst of dynasties.

If the Lakers go in a different direction, it should be because they want to go in a different direction.  It shouldn't be out of a fear of handing over the keys to a first-time head coach.  That fear is bogus, when there's a clear history of assistant coaches successfully maintaining dynasties.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Heat's stars need a history lesson

The Heat's star-studded duo, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have repeatedly shown a rather surprising disregard for basketball history.  The first instance of this occurring was while LeBron was with the Cavs, when he announced that he was switching numbers.  I still find it hilarious that he thought no one should wear Michael Jordan's number, then proceeds to switch to Bill Russell's.  Not only is it a dumb idea to suggest that the whole league should retire a jersey number, but if there was one guy in history who that would be done for it would be Bill Russell.  The first African-American coach in NBA history, he won two titles as a player-coach, and is the greatest champion in team sports history.  Of course, all those accomplishments happened on the court.  Maybe LeBron doesn't feel the need to not wear Russell's number because Russell was never the global icon that Jordan was, which is what he appears to value the most.

The second instance that occurred was at the Heat's celebration party.  You know, where they weren't celebrating winning, but celebrating three guys signing contracts.  At that non-championship championship-caliber party, Wade made a comment about the quality of the trio.  He said that they were "arguably, the best trio to ever play the game of basketball."  How does the quality of this trio compare to Jordan-Pippen-Rodman, Magic-Kareem-Worthy, Bird-McHale-Parish, West-Chamberlain-Baylor, or Shaq-Kobe-Horry?  Other possibilities include: Reed-Frazier-DeBusschere, Erving-Malone-Barkley, Jordan-Pippen-Grant, Kareem-Oscar-Dandridge, Russell-Cousy-Sharman, and Russell-Havlicek-Jones.  The advantage for the Miami trio is that they teamed up in their primes.  If you had all the aforementioned trios teaming up in their primes, Miami's may not even be top 10.  But even just comparing them to the actual production of the other trios, when they really happened, I still don't think Miami's trio is top 5.

The most recent example, of a misstep assessing history, is when James and Wade said that the Boston "Big Three" was their inspiration for coming together.  There's a major difference between the Garnett-Pierce-Allen combo and the James-Wade-Bosh combo: one group was in their prime when they did it, the other was not.  Garnett was 31 years old and in his 13th season.  Allen was 32 years old and in his 12th season.  Pierce was 30 years old and in his 10th season.  James, Wade, and Bosh were all in their 8th seasons and were 26 years old, 29 years old, and 26 years old, respectively.  The blueprint Garnett and Allen made was coming together after a decade of trying to win with other teams.  Neither Garnett, nor Allen, nor Pierce were two of the three best players in the world, when they teamed up.  Neither were Barkley, Pippen and Olajuwon, when they teamed up.  And neither were Malone or Payton, when they went to the Lakers.

The '99 Rockets, '04 Lakers, and '08 Celtics were veterans coming together to win championships.  They weren't players, at the top of their game, collaborating with their competition.  To compare the situations is misleading.  If Boston's "Big Three" were the true inspiration, they would've stuck with their teams three more years before teaming up.  But I guess that would require them having an accurate view of history.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

On the Contrary: Phil Jackson's not overrated

A recent article quoted Scot Pollard saying the following about Phil Jackson:

"I just think he’s one of the most overrated coaches of our time. He’s only had the greatest players of our era on his teams. Put him in charge of the Sacramento Kings this year, and I don’t mean to offend Sacramento fans, but put him on a team with no Hall-Of-Famers on it at least no one that has established themselves as a Hall-Of-Famer already, put him as the Head Coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers right now and let’s see how he does next year with no Hall-Of-Famers on the team. That’s all I’m saying."

First of all, what would coaching the Cavs or the Kings prove exactly?  That he couldn't win a title with those teams?  Nobody could win a title with those teams.  Besides, no one is saying that coaches don't benefit from great players, but why are we pretending like Phil's the only one to do so?  Every Red Auerbach title included Bill Russell and at least three other future Hall-of-Famers (with four of his teams having as many as seven).  Bill Russell won two titles as a player-coach, but not without fellow future HOFers John Havlicek and Sam Jones.  Pat Riley never won a championship that didn't include Magic, Kareem, or Shaq.  Gregg Popovich never won a title without Duncan.  Rudy Tomjanovich never won without Olajuwon.  John Kundla never won without Mikan.  K.C. Jones never won without Bird, McHale, Parish, or Johnson.  Red Holzman, Tommy Heinsohn, Chuck Daly and Alex Hannum all never won without at least two future HOFers.

I just listed every coach that has ever won multiple championships.  Not one of them has done it without having a.) one of the 13 best players to ever play or b.) at least two future HOFers.  So yes, Phil Jackson benefited from coaching great players.  But so has every other coach that has ever won multiple championships.  To pretend that Jackson somehow benefited more than others is foolish.  It completely minimizes the personalities that he had to deal with.  Bill Simmons addressed this in his latest column, which just happens to be about Phil Jackson (I'd highly recommend reading it).  Here are two quotes:

"He never gets enough credit for successfully handling two of the three most difficult NBA superstars ever: Jordan and Kobe (with Wilt being the third)."

"When people dismiss Jackson's credentials with 'Anyone could have coached Michael Jordan,' they are wrong."

To give an example of the difficulty of coaching Jordan, here's what Simmons wrote in The Book of Basketball:

“For years and years, Jordan couldn’t rein himself in. He cared about winning, but only on his terms – he also wanted to win scoring titles, drop 50 whenever he pleased and treat his teammates like the biggest bully in the prison block – which led Phil Jackson to adopt the triangle offense in a last-ditch effort to prevent Jordan from hogging the ball (and, Jackson hoped, embolden his supporting cast).”

People look at what happened in the '90s and assume Jordan was just destined to win multiple championships.  Just because he ended up as one of the most successful basketball players ever, that doesn't mean championships were always inevitable.  In his book, The Jordan Rules, Sam Smith states:

"It was already a popular theory that the Bulls would never win a title because Jordan's style of one-on-one play eliminated the other players as contributors. But the fans loved it, and to Reinsdorf, that meant money."

"[Doug] Collins had always told [Reinsdorf] the Bulls couldn't win with Jordan, and Reinsdorf had always told friends he knew only two things about basketball: 'You win with defense and team play.' He could have one, he knew, but perhaps not the other as long as Jordan dominated the scoring."

You can't look back at what happened with Jordan and the Bulls and assume that would've happened in any scenario.  Why are people, in 2011, making inferences about the degree of difficulty it takes to win with Jordan?  Should we listen to people who had zero involvement with the Bulls, or people who had firsthand experience?  Because, in the '80s, the Bulls' coach and management didn't think that Jordan equaled "guaranteed championships."  So much so that they actually considered trading him.  Smith states that, during the 1987-88 season, Clippers owner Donald Sterling "offered any combination of five players or draft choices," in exchange for Michael Jordan.  With two of the draft picks they could get from the Clippers, they would possibly be able to draft Rik Smits and Mitch Richmond.  They also thought maybe they could trade Charles Oakley or Horace Grant for Kevin Johnson, "leaving the Bulls a starting five of Johnson, Richmond, Pippen, Grant or Oakley, and Smits. The Bulls thought about it long and hard; they were almost sure the deal could get them a title faster than staying with Jordan. But in the end, Reinsdorf held firm: Michael Jordan was untradable. Period."

Jordan had made multiple appearances on the All-NBA First Team, the All-Defensive First Team, the All-Star team, had won multiple Scoring Titles, had won Defensive Player of the Year, and had won a MVP award.  Did those accolades stop the Bulls from trading him?  Nope.  It was because of money and because Reinsdorf feared that "such a trade would force him right out of town."

If winning with Jordan is so easy, why was Doug Collins fired?  The Bulls had gone to the Eastern Conference Finals that year; it wasn't like they completely whiffed in the playoffs or something.  Why wasn't he the recipient of six championship rings, if having Jordan is all that's needed?  And if winning with Shaq and Kobe is so easy, then why did Dell Harris get fired?  In '97 and '98, the Lakers won 56 and 61 games respectively.  The '98 Lakers had four All-Stars, yet couldn't win one game against the Jazz in the Western Conference Finals.

If success is independent from coaches, then why did the "Showtime" Lakers replace Paul Westhead with Pat Riley?  Why did the '80s Celtics replace Bill Fitch with K.C. Jones?  It means something that Pat Riley won four rings with Magic, while Paul Westhead only won one.  It means something that K.C. Jones won two rings with Bird, while Bill Fitch only won one.  And it means something that Phil Jackson won 11 rings with Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe, while Doug Collins and Del Harris won zero.  There's a reason why Jones, Riley, and Jackson were the primary coaches during dynasties and had more success than their predecessors.  If having elite players leads to championships, than Fitch, Westhead, Collins, and Harris should have experienced the prolonged success that their replacements did.

Both Magic's Lakers and Bird's Celtics pushed out coaches.  Isn't it telling that Jordan's Bulls never pushed out Phil?  It's not like Phil let the Bulls do whatever they wanted.  He instituted the system that he wanted and they followed suit.  Is that not pretty significant?  Is it not noteworthy that even when Kobe did push out Phil that he was eventually brought back?  If Phil doesn't bring a lot to the table, then why would Kobe let him return?  If he could win championships with just about any coach, why on earth would he do it with the guy that blasted him in a book?  How does the fact that Phil didn't end up on whatever revenge list that Shaq ended up on not speak volumes?  Not only did Phil have only one major falling out during his coaching career, he repaired the one he did have.  How many other coaches could say the things about a player that Phil said about Kobe and still be welcomed back by that player?  Especially by a player with Kobe's ferocity?  He obviously has something that makes the players want him to be the coach.

Bill Simmons stated in his column, "Coaching isn't just about calling plays, riding the officials and figuring out strategies. Really, it's management more than anything else. You manage people. Jackson managed people better than anyone."  Westhead couldn't successfully manage Magic's Lakers and Fitch couldn't successfully manage Bird's Celtics, yet people are going to minimize that Phil Jackson could successfully manage Jordan and Kobe - two far more difficult players - for over 18 years?

Auerbach managing Russell, Riley managing Magic, Popovich managing Duncan and Kundla managing Mikan are all regarded as successful, but Jackson managing more difficult superstars makes him overrated?  Phil had more success than any other coach, with more difficult superstars (other than Wilt) than any other coach has had to deal with.  That shouldn't be ignored or minimized.  It should be admired.  Phil Jackson is not overrated.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On the Contrary: Dirk's not Top 10

In an article on, Rick Carlisle recently stated, "In my opinion, [Dirk's] a top 10 player in NBA history because of the uniqueness of his game and how he's carried this franchise on his back for over a decade."

I'm sorry, but Dirk Nowitzki is not one of the 10 best players in NBA history.  Here's the unequivocal top 9 players in history (in no particular order):

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Michael Jordan
Bill Russell
Magic Johnson
Larry Bird
Wilt Chamberlain
Tim Duncan
Kobe Bryant
Oscar Robertson

For Dirk to get that last spot, he'd have to be better than Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, and Jerry West.  He's not.  I don't think that he'll end up better than Baylor or Erving.  Add in guys like Karl Malone, LeBron and Kevin Garnett and Dirk's clearly not top 10.  In the hardcover edition of The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons ranked Dirk at 37 all-time.  The 2009 edition of Slam Magazine doesn't even have Dirk in the top 50.  So no, Dirk is not one of the top 10 players of all-time.

Countdown to 12?

The rumors of Dwight Howard wanting to go to LA started months ago.  And with the Lakers recent playoff disaster, the "Dwight Howard to LA" discussion has kicked up a notch.  Magic Johnson said that everyone on the Lakers should be expendable but Kobe.  If that became the case, the long shot of getting Howard would seemingly become a realistic possibility.  Should LA go after Howard?  Should they make any significant trades at all?

Why they shouldn't:
I think everyone saying the Lakers are "old" is overblown.  Why?  Because the team they just lost to is older than them.  I think people are underestimating how difficult a 3-peat really is.  This isn't a team that's just "old."  It's a team that is coming off three straight Finals appearances.  And during that time, Kobe and Pau played in the Olympics in '08 and Odom just played in the FIBA World Championship this past off-season.  Their three main players have only had two short off-seasons of no basketball, during a span where they've played 405 games (not including international games).  Isn't it possible they're just burnt out?  Should they really mess with a championship core because they couldn't make it to the Finals four years straight? 

Why they should:
If fatigue was not the primary reason for poor play, there would be two reasons to shake up the team: lack of cohesiveness and lack of competitiveness.  I don't think fatigue was the only contributor to Gasol's poor play.  Even though he has been labeled "soft," his passivity was on another level.  Something else had to be going on.  The rumor is that his girlfriend broke up with him, and that there may have been an additional problem with Kobe, made sense to me.  He looked like he didn't care at all whether or not the Lakers made it to the Finals.  He looked so apathetic that I'm half expecting him to announce that he's taking his talents to South Beach.  But now he's saying that those rumors of conflict are false.  He said that it was the false rumors being spread that caused him problems.  False rumors caused you to play bad?  They caused you to lack any semblance of aggression?  They caused you to show no heart, even after Phil Jackson got in your face multiple times?

If that's true, that's ridiculous. The Lakers aren't paying him 17 million dollars to be affected by what people are saying on the internet.  If that's not true, and the source of his abysmal play was a result of conflict between teammates, then the Lakers would need to make some trades.  Either way, here are their possibilities going forward...

Lakers stand pat:
I'd prefer not to see Dwight Howard in a Laker uniform.  I like to see franchise guys stay with their team.  Besides, I thought Bynum was the only one besides Kobe who looked invested in winning.  I would like to see LA be loyal to him.  I'd prefer they make some minor changes - such as acquiring Aaron Brooks and someone like Jared Dudley - but, ideally, the core should remain intact.

LA makes a trade without getting Howard:
If LA is going to make a trade, here's what I'd like to see happen (working off the idea that Josh Smith is going to leave Atlanta and that Golden State needs to trade Curry or Ellis):

LA gets Josh Smith and Stephen Curry
Atlanta gets Pau Gasol
Orlando gets David Lee and Zaza Pachulia
Golden State gets Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Chris Duhon

LA gets younger and more athletic.  Atlanta immediately becomes a serious contender, with a pretty scary lineup.  Orlando gets a solid frontcourt of Howard, Lee, Bass and Pachulia.  Golden State gets a compatible point guard for Ellis and a power forward duo of Anderson and Udoh that will be around for a long time.

Howard to LA:
Let's assume that Kupchak thinks LA needs to make some trades and that it's true Dwight Howard wants to play in LA and follow in the footsteps of Shaq, Wilt and Kareem.  If this were to happen, here's how I'd like to see it play out:

LA gets Dwight Howard and Josh Smith
Orlando gets Andrew Bynum, Stephen Curry, and David Lee
Golden State gets Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Zaza Pachulia
Atlanta gets Pau Gasol

The Lakers get the guy they want and Josh Smith.  Orlando gets a solid foundation of Bynum and Curry (both only 23), along with a quality player in Lee.  And the results for Atlanta and Golden State would be virtually the same as the prior trade suggestion.

If Dwight Howard ending up in LA is inevitable, I would love to see Orlando get Bynum, Curry and Lee.  At least then they would be set up with two young, very good players.