This weekend in Phoenix we will see Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson all reunited for the first time since the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in The NBA Finals in 2004. It marked the end of a highly successful but also highly tumultuous run for the trio.
Almost five years ago, no one could even imagine the three on a basketball court working toward the same cause. The emotions at the time simply ran too high.
Time, however, tends to heal most wounds.
Just recently O'Neal told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith the whole squabble between he and Bryant was simply "marketing," later adding, "I always did love Kobe."
Anyone else feel like the big guy is angling for a reunion that might last longer than the few hours it will take to play Sunday's All-Star Game? And with Andrew Bynum out for the rest of the regular season and everyone not named Steve Nash on the trading block in Phoenix, what better time for it?
On the surface it sounds like an intriguing idea. The problem is that O'Neal is making $20 million this season and will make the same again next season. The Lakers are perennially one of the NBA's biggest spenders, but it would be hard to see even the Lakers absorbing that kind of price tag in this kind of economic climate.
Moreover, the Lakers would have to part with too many pieces to make a deal with the Suns work financially. Since Pau Gasol is untouchable Lamar Odom would almost certainly have to be part of the deal for it to work financially... yes, the same Lamar Odom who dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers last Sunday. In addition to Odom, the Lakers would also have to give up at least two other players for the salaries to work. Given the way the Lakers are playing, that would simply be too much for the Lakers to give up.
From a sentimental perspective it's fun to think about O'Neal coming back to Los Angeles. And given the kind of shape he's in and how well he's been playing, he could be just the kind of inside presence the Lakers need to assure another title for the Lakers come June.
All that said, a return to Tinseltown for O'Neal appears very unlikely. At the very least O'Neal's recent rhetoric is posturing to make sure his number 34 one day hangs in the rafters in Staples Center next to greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson.
And who knows, perhaps the Lakers might be able to pick him up when he's a free agent in the summer of 2010 or even next summer if the Suns get crazy and decide to buy him out after this season to help shave some money off their cap. At that point, though, there's no guarantee O'Neal will be playing at the level he is now and Andrew Bynum will have likely developed his game even further and might be lacing up his sneakers for an All-Star appearance.
If there were ever a place where we could script this kind of ending, though, it would of course be Los Angeles.
Kobe, Shaq and Phil riding off into the sunset together.
Too crazy to imagine?
Well, Hollywood endings always seem to be.
Will Denver Stand Pat?
The Denver Nuggets are playing some very good basketball. We're talking best in the history of the franchise since it joined the NBA kind of basketball.
With a record of 36-17 the Nuggets head into the All-Star break for all intents and purposes tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the West's second best record and 6.5 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers.
After Tuesday's against the HEAT, Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra called the Nuggets a contender and one of the top six teams in the league. He hasn't been the first to voice such sentiment this season, either. Barring some kind of drastic change of fortune, it seems hard to fathom Denver not making it out of the first round of the playoffs this season.
All that said, it also seems hard to fathom the Nuggets getting past the Los Angeles Lakers out West.
Can the Nuggets compete with the Lakers as currently constructed? You bet. However, anyone who thinks the Nuggets would beat the Lakers in a seven game series based on what we've so far this season is probably fooling themselves.
Don't get me wrong, if the Nuggets were even able to advance to the Western Conference Finals that would be one hell of a season all things considered. However, if the objective is truly to win a title than the Nuggets have to make at least one more roster move. But wanting to make a move and finding one that makes sense are certainly two different things.
Furthermore, given the relatively solid showing Johan Petro had last night in Orlando with Chris Andersen out of the lineup, perhaps the coaching staff might now view Petro as the additional big man the team has been said to covet.
Should Denver want to make a deal, the team has Charlotte's conditional first round pick to play with and can also offer up the expiring deal of Linas Kleiza. Whether or not that will return anything that makes the team better, though, is questionable especially considering how much the value of New York's David Lee seems to have increased over the past several weeks.
George Karl has been more and more public over the last few days about how he thinks this current Nuggets' group has earned the right to stay together and show what they can do come playoff time. Of course, this is the same sentiment we heard last year when the Nuggets were exploring deals for players like Ron Artest and Mike Miller.
Don't misunderstand, last year's team had some fatal flaws that this year's iteration simply doesn't have. That said, it's still hard to imagine the Nuggets getting past the Lakers come playoff time.
Perhaps making it to the second round of the playoffs or even to the Western Conference Finals is good enough in the eyes of some in the organization. If not, Denver's front office had better be glued to their cell phones over the course of the next week looking for a deal that could give Denver a viable shot to knock off the Lakers.
Windows of opportunity close very quickly in the NBA... just ask the Dallas Mavericks or the Phoenix Suns. Denver is at least in the conversation right now as far as being a contender is concerned and the worst thing the organization can do is take it for granted and assume they will be in a similar position a year from now.
If the right deal is not there to be made even despite the front office's best efforts, that's one thing. But standing pat because of financial considerations or because this team has "earned the right" to try and win come playoff time is something entirely different.
V.C. Really a Good Fit in San Antonio?
There have been substantial rumblings in the past week or so about the Spurs trying to find a way to land Vince Carter. While the idea may sound intriguing on the surface, the more one thinks about it the less sense it seems to make.
First, it doesn't seem like San Antonio really has the pieces to get a deal done. And even if the Spurs tried, it would almost certainly mean the team would have to part with Roger Mason, a player that has been a very important part of the Spurs' success this season.
Second, Carter really isn't the type of player the Spurs need. Sure he's got all kinds of scoring ability, but he is also a player with notoriously bad shot-selection who often becomes disinterested defensively. San Antonio is a team that has always been built to execute with precision offensively, play tough on the defensive end and find a way to add role players that fit around the team's "Big Three."
"Clearly this is a championship organization and I think it starts from the top," Mason recently told your friendly neighborhood columnist. "I think everybody's mindset is totally unselfish and towards one common goal which is to win. And with that unlike a lot of other teams they are willing to make the sacrifices to do that."
One such sacrifice is resisting the urge to trade for a "superstar" mid-season and instead stay the course with role players like Mason who aren't sexy names but fit what the Spurs are trying to do a whole lot better. Moreover, it's not like the Spurs made the wrong choice by bringing in guys like Matt Bonner and Mason, who are now thriving in Gregg Popovich's system after having been given ample playing time.
"I knew they made me a very high priority in free agency," Mason explained. "I got a lot of attention from a lot of teams, but when I signed here I knew I'd have a pretty big role."
Part of that role has included making big shots at big times... sort of like a guy named Robert Horry used to do.
"Obviously, you dream about hitting game-winners as a kid but you can't predict that," said Mason. "But I definitely thought I'd be an integral part of the team."
Much like the Nuggets as mentioned above, the real question for the Spurs seems to be whether or not they can get by the Lakers come playoff time. The Spurs would probably be viewed as underdogs by most around the league at this juncture, but given the organization's track record you have to believe they will have at least a puncher's chance.
"We're still a work in progress," Mason admitted. "We're starting to play better now, but the encouraging thing is that we're winning games and we still haven't hit our stride yet. Obviously, the Lakers are the team to beat since they went to The Finals last year. Even without Bynum they are still the team to beat in the West because we saw what they did last year without him. I like where we're going and by the end of the season I think we'll be able to compete for a championship."
And given the Spurs' history why should anyone believe otherwise?
It's fun to talk about Carter relocating to San Antonio, but in the end it's hard to see how that deal fits into the recipe Popovich and General Manger R.C. Buford have used so successfully for so long.