Monthly Archives: May 2010

‘Party Machine’ wants out in Toronto

Long gone are the smiles

In a top secret location somewhere on the globe, Chris Bosh is having a meeting of the minds with the other max free agents. Really, though, it is just a meeting of the moneyed. Together they are devising a sinister plot to take over one NBA franchise in order to rule them all. If this seems like tampering, something that David Stern apparently takes seriously, it is because it is. Yet, do not expect any fine to be levied against any of the participants of this new incarnation of the Super Friends. While Bosh is away and the Toronto Raptors begin mulling their Bosh-less future the last thing they need is more turmoil especially with so many uncertainties surrounding the franchise. Apparently, Hedo Turkoglu did not get the message.

Turkoglu recently announced, in a Turkish television interview, that he no longer wants to remain in the city of Toronto and play for the Raptors. The Raptors’ management can be nothing but thrilled that their biggest free agent acquisition from last summer now wants nothing to do with the organization. You more than likely will not hear a peep out of Bryan Colangelo or the organization as whole as they have decided to deal with the situation internally. It is understandable why they would want to keep quiet on the matter because it was their idea to award him with a $53 million contract and now they are looking to take a severe hit because of it. However, this decision by Turkoglu should not come as any particular surprise. He has had conflicts with the organization for much of the season.

On 28 March this year, he was benched, as healthy scratch, and fined for missing the previous game with a stomach bug but then being reportedly seen out that night at a Toronto club. It was his first benching in four years. The nightclub incident awarded him the nickname “Party Machine.” This is probably the most widely reported grievance between the two camps but Turkoglu’s play on the court this season is an indicator that he has had absolutely no interest in playing for the Raptors. Across the board, except in three-point shooting percentage, his numbers are down from last season’s when he was with the Orlando Magic. (If you look at his bio on NBA.com his profile picture is of him in a Magic jersey. Clearly the NBA has no respect for the Raptors organization either otherwise they would have changed this early on in the season. Getty Images could surely provide them with a picture or two could they not?) To refer to Turkoglu’s play as uninspired this season would be an overstatement. Sure, he had flashes of why the team and Colangelo thought he was worth the contract they gave him but nothing was ever consistent.

The Raptors have a crisis on their hands this summer. There is little question that Bosh will leave to go play somewhere else, especially since he was invited to LeBron Con. Now they face the prospect of suspending Turkoglu, trying to move him and his approximate remaining $42.2 million contract in a trade, or buying him out. None of these options is a favorable one as the Raptors will come up on what will be considered the losing side. Turkoglu will not be in a Raptors jersey next year; that much is certain. If the Raptors decide to take the hit financially and buyout Turkoglu’s contract it will serve as yet another embarrassment, and will be the biggest, on a disastrous season where the team fell apart during a playoff push. A buyout may also set a precedent across the league allowing disgruntled players to demand to leave their teams. With the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement talks slowly getting underway, this is the last thing that the league and David Stern want to see happen.

Turkoglu’s desire to bounce on Toronto is yet another damning condemnation of what Colangelo has tried to establish. Losing his two big name players this summer will leave Colangelo with a shell of his former team. This could end up being a good thing for the franchise, however, as it gives the organization a chance to rebuild using a different model. Perhaps this time they will choose to build a team without such a strong European style influence. The European model has been shown time and again to not work in the NBA. They at least need to do something to do something to please the fans who are deservedly distraught. Toronto may be in the toughest situation of any team in the league right now. Turkoglu is just another reminder of the team’s inadequacies and failures. They have difficult choices ahead and no matter what they choose to do questions will abound about the integrity and legitimacy of the franchise and its future.

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Toast of Tinseltown

Tru-est of Wariers

Reputation has gotten in the way of many players over their careers. It follows them, hounds them, where ever they play. For some players this can be a good thing, they might have a reputation of being a clutch performer or a positive and upbeat teammate that is a credit to all the community work that the NBA so proudly shows us in commercials. Not every player has such a sparkling clean reputation, however. There are those with baggage. Baggage is the most pervasive kind of disease for a player, it not only follows them it confronts them around every corner. A player may spend years changing their image for the better and turning their life around but it still sits there across the room staring right back at them. One outburst, one off color remark and the media is quick to pounce. Since being acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer, Ron Artest has had to confront this baggage (some would say demons in his case) head on in the blazing lights and sun of Southern California.

The Lakers are Kobe Bryant’s team, everybody knows that. Every player that puts on a purple and gold uniform knows that. Their most recent championship, last season, is Kobe’s championship. If they win again this year it will be Kobe’s second championship. He has won before but it was with Shaquille O’Neal. Kobe was, according to the media, living in Shaq’s shadow until he won a ring sans Shaq. He has done so and solidified himself as “Mr. Laker.” Adding Pau Gasol to the team did help the Lakers return to the top of the mountain but it was Kobe, with his demand for a trade, which forced the hand of ownership to trade for help. Bryant knows what is best for his team and for his jewelry box. Acquiring Artest was also a move that Kobe had his hand in. He wanted a player who could defend the other team’s best player for much of the game allowing him to rest some on defense so he could focus on the offensive side of the ball. Artest may no longer be the same defender that won the Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 but he is still a tenacious and physical presence to be reckoned with.

Now, more than ever this season, as the Lakers are in the Western Conference Finals, Kobe is doing what Spike Lee simply refers to as work. Kobe deserves a promotion for the work he is doing in this series. He is averaging 33 points per game, 7.4 rebounds, and 9.6 assists all while shooting an astounding 53.5 percent. If any other player was having a series quite like this it would be front page news. Since it is Kobe, though, it is simply what we have come to expected based on unbelievable skewed perceptions. He has set the bar so high for himself that these numbers have, for the most part, fallen by the way side. Despite these gaudy statistics the series, going into game five last night, was all knotted up at two games apiece.

It has been stated time and again, and will continue to be until proven false, that the Lakers, despite all their talent, cannot win when Kobe does all the work for them. The more he shoots the worse the chances are for the Lakers to find themselves in the win column. This series was tied at two games a piece because of this. In game five Kobe’s numbers were again nearing the stratosphere with 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, and four blocks but the Lakers could never get and hold onto any sort of commanding lead. History was repeating itself yet again, especially in the eyes of the skeptics. To quiet them and the Suns, Kobe called on his bailout “Kobama” powers and pulled up for what would be a game winning three-pointer. It missed and the rebound came into the lane and into the hands of Ron Artest.

Artest was having, by all accounts, a terrible offensive game. He was 1-8 from the floor and had missed all three of his three-point attempts. In the fourth quarter, with the Suns rallying, he bricked to consecutive open shot attempts. To make matters worse, these shots occurred in the final minute of the game. The fans at the Staples center let him hear it with a cavalcade of groans and boos. This is what the Lakers spent their money on over the summer? We let Trevor Ariza go for this guy? Artest’s baggage took center court once again. It is never in the shadows, no, in L.A. it sits courtside next to Jack. In Hollywood, though, fortunes and fame can change in the blink of an eye.

Ron Artest had been 1-8 for the game but that was about to change. Lamar Odom in bounded the ball to Kobe who came back towards Odom off a slight curl at the top of the key after starting in the far post. Kobe hoisted a three with two defenders near him for the win. As the ball was in the air, Artest made his way from the opposite side of the court behind the arc into the paint. Kobe missed. The ball came down into the lane. Artest boxed out Jason Richardson while pursing the rebound and came up with the ball with only 1.7 seconds remaining in the game. He turned and put up and awkward, if not downright ugly, shot while slightly fading away. The ball banked off the glass and fell through the net as time expired. “RON ARTEST!” Marv Albert exclaimed with a heavy dose of surprise in his voice. Artest was now 2-9 from the field, but the second he made shot was all that mattered.

The Lakers now holds a three game to two series lead over the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals. More importantly, however, is that all the baggage that Artest may have brought with him to L.A. is, for the moment, forgotten. Where are his demons now? They are out partying on the Sunset Strip; right now they have no need to confront him. Los Angeles is notorious for the fickle nature of fame and for short memories. Hopefully though, when Lakers fans and fans in general think about Ron Artest, his game winner against Phoenix will become the predominant and lasting image. Today Artest has one less bag to carry.

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Bench Press

Pheonix has finally learned how to use its bench

The Los Suns (Los Soles?) were looking like Los Losers as this series began as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were started to show that both defense and experience are needed to get past the Western Conference Finals.  However, those characteristics are starting to come under considerable question after last night’s performance by a bench that has been slowly turning heads over the last few weeks.

Even with the fall of Robin Lopez, this team is still competing despite a tough playoff schedule with series against Portland, San Antonio and now the Lakers.  With the lack of a serious big-man threat with Lopez out, the Suns lucked out against a beat-up Marcus Camby and an old Tim Duncan but the Lakers were suppose to offer more of a threat when it comes to size.  The signing of Ron Artest would allow the big men in Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to drift away from any sort of serious roll in the defense.  However, last night, they were out-rebounded by 15.  The basic premise is that they will become more predominant in the offense when they don’t have too much to worry about on the other end of the ball with both Artest and Bryant being defensive pests.  However, only Bynum has seen an increase in scoring and yet Jackson has become unhappy with his play.  Dallas’ front court averaged 11 more points per game on the season than the Lakers.

Then comes the Lakers’ bench (Something we have been criticizing for some time).  This group of losers scored only 20 points last night while Pheonix’s scored 54.  Louis Amundson, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye are all making names for themselves as of late.  Together, the four have only played in a total of 68 playoff games including last night’s.  To put this in perspective, Kobe has played in 123 since the 2000-01 Season.  Yet, their swagger is untouchable and Alvin Gentry’s trust in them is unfathomable.  Gentry kept all five reserves, including Leandro Barbosa, in during the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter.  They produced an 18-3 run.  The subs had turned an 87-85 deficit into a 103-94 lead.

Frye broke out of a terrible shooting slump by making four 3-pointers.  Barbosa had 14 points on 8-11 shooting.  Dudley had 11 points and Dragic ran the point perfectly with eight points and eight assists in only 18 minutes.  It shouldn’t be any news to anyone that this bench is actually producing.  They have been putting up solid numbers since the All-Star break averaging 34 points, 15.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists and shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arch.  The Lakers’ bench has only been putting up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists per game in that same amount of time.

To be honest though, it all comes down to a matter of will.  Steve Nash says that he has gotten more rest than ever these playoffs and a lot of that can be traced back to Dragic.  He’s healthy and at the cusp of playing in his first finals ever.  Amar’e Stoudemire was let down by not being traded but is showing that he may be worth picking up come July due to his increased hustle.  He seems to care more now than ever now that he knows he has to prove something in order to get the big deal he wants. Having a good bench to utilize is something this team has never really had or really cared to have.  Mike D’Antoni’s system of full-court with a six-man rotation just doesn’t work well in a lengthy postseason.  Gentry and the Suns understand that you can’t run your way through the Western Conference Playoffs with an aging point guard and an extremely small rotation.

On the other end, Kobe has to pick this team up if they plan on finishing this series.  He’s scoring all he can but to be honest, that has not proven to be enough in seasons past.  Just because he wants it doesn’t mean the Lakers get it.  Same goes for Artest.  He has been the black sheep on this squad from day one and players usually don’t turn it around by the playoffs must less the Western Conference Finals.  Ron, if you haven’t figured it out by now, then it isn’t meant to be.

Phoenix needs to stay physical and get to the line.  The refs have shown that they are going to call personal fouls against both Odom and Bynum in this series.  Attack the basket while they are in the game and that will easily open up the 3-point shooting.  Gentry has to realize this and take advantage of it.  The bench is going to offer the matchup problems once personal fouls start adding up and the series gets lengthened.  Time is on Phoenix’s side but only if used right.  Crash and draw fouls or crash and kick out to Dudley, Nash or Frye.  It’s a simple plan that will have the Lakers playing full-court.  This will continue to wear down the LA’s starters and there you have it, Jackson will call on his dismal bench.  If you see Jordan Farmer and Luke Walton being difference makers in this serious, wake up.

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Party of Five

Decisions, decisions

Yesterday, Chris Bosh’s agent set the Toronto Raptors a list of where Bosh would like to play next season and the foreseeable future. Toronto knew this day was coming, with Bosh’s contract expiring and the Raptors having failed to make the postseason yet again it was inevitable. The product in Toronto is clearly tainted with the dreams of Bryan Colangelo and his aspirations of a Eurocentric style of basketball. Toronto may be a culturally diverse and international city but this does not mean that this should translate into an international flare on the court. This is the NBA and physical defense, and a superstar or two, are what win and this has not changed. Most Euro and street ball inspired teams only achieve the heights of mediocrity. The Raptors are that mediocrity.

Bosh has chosen five teams for which he would like to play for in the coming years. Luckily for the Raptors Bosh decided to include the franchise on his short list. However, their inclusion may just be a matter of semantics, so do not get your hopes of retaining him up, Toronto. They are likely listed because of, in an ideal situation for both Bosh and the Raptors, the potential for a sign and trade agreement which would not leave the Raptors high and dry. Bosh is a Texan and therefore is considerate of the plight of Toronto if they are to lose him. In reality, a sign and trade agreement would allow Bosh to have another year on his contract and allow him earn more money than he would if he simply departed via free agency.

The four other destinations which Bosh has concluded would be a good fit for his skills set are the Chicago Bull, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and New York Knicks. Including the Lakers in this list is for show rather than for serious consideration. Los Angeles would love to get Bosh, but not even a sign and trade would work in this situation. Who, outside of the Lakers top six players, would the Raptors take for Bosh? No one. The Lakers are rather unlikely to give up any one of their top six players to go after Bosh because of their depth in the frontcourt. If this was baseball, Bosh would be a Laker next season. Luckily for the NBA the Steinbrenner’s have no sway in the house of hoops, oh and that whole salary cap thing would be an issue too. If Bosh does land in Los Angeles he would be suiting up in the blue and red instead of the purple and gold.

So that leaves Chicago, Miami, and New York. Two of these cities are petitioning heavily for a certain player this offseason and if that player lands in one of these cities it will make Bosh’s decision on where he wants to play that much easier. For practical purposes, let us assume that New York is only on the short list because of that one player that is out there on the market right now mulling over his summer choices. If “Player X” goes to the Big Apple, Bosh will follow, if he does not then Bosh will likely only play in Madison Square Garden aka Mecca anywhere from one to two games a season.

Miami made the short list also. Much like the situation surrounding Bosh’s potential sojourn to New York, his potential move to South Beach is predicated on the Heat either retaining or losing their star player. Only the Bulls are not dealing with the possibility of losing a star and are simply looking to add star player to play alongside Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Bosh has to strongly consider the Bulls because they are the team that won out down the stretch in the regular season and kept the Raptors from making the playoffs. Chicago also has a good young core that can only get better; Bosh is only 26 and is just now hitting his prime. From the list of cities that he has selected the Bulls are the most well put together team in the group that have the possibility of landing him.

Bosh has seemingly stated with his list that his decision to move cities relies solely on where other max free agents decide to go. He has chosen to follow, not to lead. That is a shame and does reflect on his character but who can really blame him? He is simply choosing not to choose. He wants to play alongside a signature player with the opportunity to compete for a championship. Bosh will not get that opportunity if he remains in Toronto. No matter where he ends up going he has set himself up to succeed. His list of five is really just built around what the media has perceived to be the frontrunners in the summer sweepstakes. Maybe his list will help other players on the market this summer narrow their lists of potential suitors. In the end though Bosh must make a choice for himself and not rely on the movement of others.

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Hitting the Jackpot

Grand Prize: John Wall

Change had come to Washington D.C. in 2009. Barack Obama was sworn into office as the 44th president of the United States of America. The country’s spirits were up for the first time since 2000 (unless you are one of the many ill-informed who feel that the current president is an avid reader of Engels and sings the Internationale before going to bed each evening…but I digress). Spirits were even high for the Washington’s sole professional basketball team as they looked to improve on their dismal 19-63 record from the previous season.

New head coach, Flip Saunders, was brought in to hopefully breathe some offensive life into the team once more. Saunders is widely known throughout the league for his offensive schemes and rotations. However, off the court issues would steal the headlines. It would prove to be a season marred with player ineptitude and unintelligence. This is, of course, referring to the incident where Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton decided that personal gambling debts needed to be remedied and the only way to do that, logically, was to brandish firearms in the Wizards locker room at the Verizon Center. At the start of the season the Wizards were projected to be in the middle of the pack in terms of playoff teams in the East. This was not to be the case early on and the season quickly spiraled out of control. With Arenas suspended indefinitely by David Stern the Wizards’ season collapsed in on itself and the management quickly went into restructuring and cost cutting mode. Basically, they panicked. In financially motivated and blockbusters trades at the trade deadline they let former All Stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler go as well as Brendan Haywood and defensive specialist/Abraham Lincoln enthusiast DeShawn Stevenson. They had gutted their roster leaving JaVale McGee to be a break out but almost universally unknown leader on the Wizards. At season’s end their record stood at 26-56 and they were the only team in their division not to make the playoffs.

Hope, however, was on the horizon. For the Washington Wizards there was finally some light at the end of the very dark tunnel that was the 2009-2010 NBA season. This hope came in the form of the NBA Draft Lottery. With the New Jersey Nets having had the worst record set by any team in the NBA this season they were the heavy favorites to get the number one overall pick and they had a 25 percent chance of doing so. But as a capper to the Nets’ futile season, they essentially lost the draft lottery. There was only a 10.3 chance for the Wizards to move from their fifth place ranking in the draft to number one. That was all they needed though. Analysts should have guessed that the Nets would lose yet again as they fell to the third pick.

John Wall, the standout freshman point guard from Kentucky, is widely acknowledged as the best prospect in the draft and therefore is to be taken with the first pick. A close second to Wall is Ohio State’s Evan Turner who was the national player of the year. Outside of these two players there is quite a bit of promising talent but these are the two that the Wizards will be concerned with. In fact it would be foolish to even look at other options. (This author like the game of DeMarcus Cousins a whole lot but even I do not think that he is a first or second pick.) The Wizards must now ask themselves what is best for their franchise as they hope to rebuild and make it back to the post season.

Obviously, there is an elephant in the room for the Wizards and that is the $111 million contract that they inked with Gilbert Arenas two seasons ago. Arenas is still on the books for $80.2 million coming into next season. Ernie Grunfeld, team president of the Wizards, has continually reaffirmed that Arenas will be a Wizard going forward and getting the number one pick in the draft will not change that. Of course it won’t. No team in their right mind is going to pick up Arena’s remaining contract especially when it is that of a perennially injured player. Arenas and the Wizards are joined at the hip until further notice no matter how disappointed or disenfranchised one might be with the behavior of the other.

Wall seemed generally enthused that the Wizards got the first overall pick in the draft, but honestly what 19 year old kid would not be? He gets to play in the NBA and has been projected to be the number one pick in the 2010 draft since he was a freshman in high school. Endorsements alone will have him set for life (that is unless he has some MC Hammer-esque tendencies). Any team would have been a good fit for Wall. So what will happen if he is taken by the Wizards?

Here comes the elephant again, though this time it is not in the form of money. How will Arenas and Wall play together? They are both point guards so who starts? It would be unwise for a number one overall pick to sit on the bench and for that matter most of the lottery picks to ride pine their rookie seasons. (Look at Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings.) Therefore they must start side by side to give the Wizards the best chance of winning. Putting Wall at one and Arenas at two would seem to be the likely solution. It has been said numerous times that Arenas is not a true point guard as his tendency is to score and therefore he is a smaller shooting guard or off guard. In reality it is a very rare thing to find what purists consider a true point guard in the league anymore. It would force them to play small but this would hopefully not mean that they play in the same fashion of Don Nelson’s Warriors.  With Wall at the point this could be a very potent and quick offense.

Everything, however, is mere speculation for now. All we know is that the Wizards have the first pick in the NBA Draft. What they do with it has yet to be seen. The team is at a crossroads as if they continue to put together losing records and hemorrhage money they will no longer be a viable asset in David Stern’s shopping mall structured and revenue first NBA. The last time that the Wizards had the first overall pick they wasted it on Kwame Brown. This year’s crop of top prospects appears to be much more bust-proof. For the Wizards this will be their second, and unquestionably, most important step in the rebuilding processes. Whether they chose Wall or not it is up to them to make the right choice for the franchise. Hopefully for the sake of their franchise and their loyal fans they choose wisely on June 24th.

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Eastern and Western Conference Finals Predictions

Should the Magic keep the brooms handy?

The matchups are now set for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. In the West the Los Angeles Lakers will play host the white hot Phoenix Suns and out East the Celtics, coming off their upset of the Cavaliers, will travel to Orlando to face the Magic. Many are already writing off the series in the West as Lakers manifest destiny grips many and blinds them to how well the Suns are actually playing. Orlando has seemingly not had a challenge at all during the playoffs as they have decimated each opponent they have faced. So how will the two series play out? Obviously we here at the Beef have no idea. (Look at all my previous predictions, I have been far from perfect.)  However, it is obligatory to predict a winner in each series and since these are the last two predictions before the Finals we might as well have a little fun with it. So here they are: The Kobe Beef’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals Predictions.

Western Conference Finals

1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 3. Phoenix Suns

Phil Jackson is at it again. Just like he did to start the playoffs he is complaining about the play of an opponent to try and soften up the referees. Instead of Durant’s parade to the foul line it is now Steve Nash’s tendency to carry the ball. Yeah, OK, Zen Master. Play your little outdated game. Honestly, have you ever seen Nash carry the ball on a consistent basis? I have not. Whatever, though, Kobe Bryant kicks his legs out to draw fouls, every veteran player does something to gain the advantage. If you want the game called more closely go coach in college. I am fairly certain that Kentucky is about to have an opening. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

With their drubbing of the Jazz in the second round the Lakers and the press that fawns over them recently moved up to cloud ten. Nine just was not good enough for them. They are from Hollywood, remember. Yet, the Jazz team that they swept was depleted and each player seemed to have a myriad of injuries. They were a walking infirmary. It would have seemed comical to attach I.V.’s to them and wrap them in white bandages but that is basically what it boils down to in terms of injuries. The Jazz were sitting ducks.

Phoenix’s second round sweep of the San Antonio Spurs was the more impressive victory. They demolished a Spurs team that was in the midst of trying to recapture their old glory. San Antonio looked to be heavy favorites to challenge the Lakers for a trip to the NBA Finals. The Suns made quick work of them and sent them back to the retirement home.

So just how well do the Suns match up with the Lakers. A look at the regular season meetings between the two clubs would show that the Lakers have an advantage having won three of the four meetings. However, this is not the regular season. Inside the Lakers are too big for Phoenix and should dominate the glass and the paint. Yet, that will not necessarily be what happens. The Lakers’ big men are lazy on the defensive side of the ball. They rely purely on their size and strength to overpower opponents. It is a proven, albeit haphazard, tactic. Their laziness on the defensive end of the floor will only play into the hands of Black Jesus. Expect early and frequent foul trouble for Andrew Bynum (what’s new there) and Pau Gasol. If the Lakers have to turn to their bench for extended minutes at any point during the series things could get ugly for them and quick.

Derek Fisher has been a constant source of defensive ineptitude for the Lakers in the playoffs. Opposing point guards have torched Fisher constantly forcing Kobe Bryant to shift over to guard the one. Now the Lakers will face the best point guard they have seen yet in Steve Nash, the former two-time MVP. Do you think Fisher can keep up with Nash and his constant probing of the defense and the dribble penetration he brings to the opposing paint? No, me either.

Phoenix is the matchup nightmare that Los Angeles has not prepared for. Essentially, the Lakers are just a different incarnation of the Spurs. Los Angeles’ defense will be spread out so that Nash and Black Jesus can work the pick and roll to perfection. Will Phil Jackson have a counter? He may, but no matter what it is, it is unlikely to work every time down the floor. However, there is always the Kobe factor. Grant Hill and whoever else is assigned to guard him will have their hands full.

Series Prediction: The Phoenix Suns will not be a cake walk for the Lakers. No, they will be their toughest opponent yet. This series will be about depth: the Suns have it and the Lakers do not. Their lightning attack along with improved defense will give the Lakers fits. Expect Kobe to get a technical foul in the first game. The Lakers are accustomed to being the royalty of the NBA and dining on cuisine fit for kings however at the close of the series it will be them who are dining on cake with the huddled masses. Phoenix will win in six games.

Eastern Conference Finals

2. Orlando Magic vs. 4. Boston Celtics

Boston has been on some magical carpet ride after stumbling backwards into the playoffs, but now they appear to have recaptured their old form as when they won the NBA championship two years ago. They just did the improbable by knocking off the overall number one seed, Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Just who do these Celtics think they are? Simply put, they are Rajon Rondo. Forget the big three, they should now be referred to as the four horsemen. Rondo is the white horse. He is the leader of the team now. Kevin Garnett inherited the title of leader when he came to Boston but it is clear that Rondo has usurped that position. It is his play that has got the team his far.

Cleveland may have been a gut check for the Celtics but they have not faced a juggernaut like the Orlando Magic. The Magic have plowed their way through the competition with ease and a ferocity that is unfound in any other team that is playing currently. Atlanta and Charlotte were mere sideshows and they expect Boston to be no different. Why should they? They have the number one ranked defense and their offense has looked unstoppable. One look at their scores and one would assume they were looking at the final score of a Harlem Globetrotters game.

On paper each team matches up well with the other. They are both strong at point, guard, forward, and center. Yet it is the intangibles that will dictate how the series will play out. Kevin Garnett completely shutdown Antawn Jamison in the series with Cleveland and will therefore naturally feel entitles to do the same to Rashard Lewis. They are not the same player, KG. Lewis prefers to operate around the perimeter and his will force Garnett out of his defensive comfort zone. He is not a wing defender. Forcing Garnett further from the paint opens up the lane so that Dwight Howard can operate in the post. If a double team drops down on Howard it opens up Orlando’s perimeter shooting, that is if Howard does not turn the ball over.

Boston will have to stay at home on the players they are guarding. There will be little, if no room for error as the Magic will capitalize on every open opportunity. If Boston switches on picks they will be in trouble, if they leave a man open they will be in trouble. The only legitimate depth off the bench that the Celtics have is in the frontcourt. (No, I am not talking about Rasheed Wallace.) They will need Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis to play well if they have any hopes of getting Howard into foul trouble. However, the Magic have shown that they are still unbeatable even with Howard on the bench. They are just too good from every angle.

Series Prediction: The matchup between Rondo and Jameer Nelson should go down as one of the better point guard duels in NBA playoff history. Rondo will likely get the better of Nelson in one on one situations. Boston is riding high on their magic carpet for now but it is the Magic themselves who will turn the Celtic’s carpet into a doormat. Orlando is too good at every position and has yet to even look like they could falter. Certainly, this will be a tougher challenge for the Magic than their previous two series but how much tougher we have yet to see. The fresh legs of the Magic will be key in the first game of the series and will be a catalyst for the rest of the series. Orlando will continue to play at an unmatched level and they will win the series in five games. (I’ll call it now; the game the Magic lose will be game four in Boston.)

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Disrespecting James

No love

Anarchy; Anarchy presently exists in an environment that is ripe for unrest and quick trigger ‘democracy.’ It has become the present state of the internet where sports are concerned and especially that of the future of LeBron James. It seems that everyone with access to the internet feels compelled to weigh in on the subject including an Inuit wearing mukluks blogging from his igloo in a northern Canadian province. (Despite this writer’s epicurean and elitist tendencies this issue is too potent not to write about.) Much has been made about James’ game five performance in the series with the Celtics. This showing bought the detractors raining down from the rafters to join the cavalcade of haters lined up simply waiting for one misstep from LeBron. He gave them one; they did not need much to set them into frenzy. One turnover is all it takes for them to attack his game with the ferocity of a lion protecting her cubs. James will always have cynics who are going to loathe him because they are blind to the beauty of the way he plays the game and resentful of the skill set he naturally possesses. These skeptics live for what happened in game five.

Immediately the reaction to and fallout from James’ lackluster game five performance was shock, disgust, panic, and a general air of ‘I told you so’-ness from those who do not believe that James deserves recognition at all. It was certainly not his best game but it was not the end of the world. Cleveland’s playoff aspirations were clearly hampered because of it but with the roster that the Cavaliers have they should have been able to be more competitive. Yet, because it was LeBron James the reaction, overreaction rather, was amplified one hundred fold. Who does LeBron think he is? What is wrong with the king? Has James given up? Is he done as a Cavalier? The media circus was running wild making a meager amount of questions concerning a player’s personal decisions about his future seem like Jeopardy. It was, and continues to be a childish showing by the media in a petty ratings grab. Boston eventually eliminated the Cavs in six games and that is when the sky fell. Anarchy broke loose on the internet as questions about this summer’s free agency abounded and the detractors made their single-mindedness known. Why do some people have such distaste for LeBron James? What has he done to personally offend them?

If you recall, you probably do not, LeBron James said that he would not guarantee a championship for the Cavaliers just before he entered the league. All he promised was that he would continue to get better and make the teammates around him better. Unquestionably, he has done just that. He is better than he was when he entered the league as a young eighteen year old fresh out of St. Vincent/St. Mary’s and has two consecutive MVP awards to show for it. The Cavaliers and their players are a better team because of LeBron James. He singlehandedly took his team to the NBA Finals. Jordan never did that, Kobe never did that. Players that surround James are better because of it. Mo Williams was a good player when he was on the Bucks but he was asked to do it all for them. Now he has a defined role with a player who can create and dish to when he is open. Antawn Jamison was a superb player with the Wizards and is still a top tier player; however, he was just not able to click in a shortened season with the Cavs after coming over in a trade. These are players who were previously well known though. Players such as Jamario Moon, Delonte West, Anthony Parker, and Daniel Gibson are better players now because of James. Hell, unless you are a basketball fanatic you probably do not remember that Moon and Parker played in Toronto or that Gibson went to the University of Texas or that West used to play for the Celtics and the Supersonics. LeBron gave them names. He gave them opportunities to excel. He has done exactly what he said he would.

This pedestal that the image, marketability, product, and personality that James sits upon is not one that he created. No, it was created by us, all of us. The media is especially to blame for anointing James the boy king who would propel the NBA to new heights and bring a championship to the beleaguered city of Cleveland. David Stern was quick to eat up the hype and promote the NBA’s newest and most marketable player. He later changed the admittance age of the league to nineteen but, honestly, he would still love for young players with superstar potential to join the league as quickly as possible. It is a business after all. James has been smart enough and savvy enough to cash in on the notoriety and celebrity that has been cast upon him since long before he joined the league. He sold t-shirts with his likeness on them at his high school games. As an NBA player he has various sponsorships and endorsements such as doing the Kid ‘N Play dance from House Party in a commercial. It cannot be said that he relishes all the attention, certainly now, that his natural abilities have given him but he definitely cannot escape it. (He seems to enjoy it at times though, but who would not? Celebrity is the new American dream.) The media and the fans will not allow him to escape the limelight. (As I write this I feel bad for doing so but it seems necessary because of his importance to the sport.) It must be remembered that we are the ones who singled him out, we proclaimed him the present and the future. We placed the target squarely on his back and the burden of champion on his shoulders. Nothing needed to be earned; we gave him everything on a silver platter for the taking.

That target and burden continue to grow and with it the detractors continue to climb aboard the negativity and hate bandwagon. LeBron cannot do it, he is not good enough, some king he is, where are LeBron’s rings, overrated, overhyped, baby, failure, choker, and not clutch are just a few of the words and phrases used by skeptics to describe his game. More simply than that people say that they just detest him, they hate him. They are jealous; to a man each one of them would love to have LeBron on their team. To hate LeBron James is to hate the game of basketball, period. Are there players in the league who are better than James? Yes, but that is debatable. Are there players in the league with more complete skill sets and more drive to win and compete than James? Yes. Are there players in the league with better natural gifts suited to play the game at the level which LeBron does? No, there is no one. James makes no excuses for who he is; people just want to say anything they can to bring him down because he is perceived to sit so high. How high does he really sit though?

The highest pinnacle of achievement in the NBA is to win a championship. Naysayers will be quick to point out that James does not have a championship to his credit. They are right. He does not; in fact most players do not have a championship to their credit. Only seven teams have won championships in the past twenty-five years. If you care to do the math that means that seven franchises have won the championship since LeBron James has been alive, seven teams have won championships since David Stern became commissioner. In fact the number of teams that have won has made the NBA disgustingly homogenous. There are thirty teams in the Association, thirty, yet only twenty-three percent of the teams have won it all this generation. Some say that a player’s greatness is defined by championships alone. Ok, so by that standard Nazr Mohammed, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Rick Fox, and Michael Finley are great players. Again, by the same standard that means that John Stockton, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Barkley are not great players. Sound reasoning is it not? Championships may define the greatness of a season for a team but they have no basis in determining the greatness of an individual career alone no matter how badly great players want to win them.

James is a great player. There is no questioning that, none. To do so is to immediately render your points as biased tripe and pure folly. For such a young player, LeBron has established himself as one of the greats in league history. His numbers are simply astounding over the course of his seven years in the league. He has averaged 27.8 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists while shooting .475 from the floor. If he were to retire now he would end up in the Hall of Fame. Detractors will always find something negative to say about his game, they will focus on the tiniest of details and point to it as being the reason that he is not great and does not deserve the accolades which he receives. These critics must be borderline angelic because they could surely have no flaws themselves. No player is perfect. The attention that the detractors pay to James only serves to raise the created pedestal, which they seek to topple, even higher. Trajan should be so lucky.

Despite having come up short in his quest to return to the Finals, LeBron James is still a great player and the Cleveland Cavaliers are still a good team. James is certainly disappointed with the results and this summer has much more to mull about than usual. It would be unwise to speculate about the choices that he faces this off season as only James truly knows what is best for him. (We here at the Beef will, however, continue to keep you apprised if any relevant news concerning James’ future.) Because one player had one bad game in the playoffs the world ended and a foul taste was left in the mouth of those who already likened James to chewing on gristle. They are quick to forget that every player is prone to an off night. It happens. Hopefully, as time progresses and the remainder of the playoffs unfold, LeBron’s boo-birds will return to their nests letting the anarchy subside. LeBron James is not the problem in Cleveland. He never has been, yet he is the heart of the team and city and a heart can only be burdened by so much before it stops beating.

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