Saturday, October 27, 2012

Reading Between The Lines - Hardwood Hype's 2012-13 Eastern Conference Preview

A week ago, as part of an elaborate annual preseason ritual (tonight, sweat lodge!), I broke down the 15 combatants in the NBA’s Western Conference and – with a helping hand from the invisible (unless you’ve got an internet connection and an account) hand of the open (betting) market – hashed out some opinions on the fate awaiting each in the coming months. 

Out West, collection of participant in the 2013 playoffs will likely strongly resemble that which took the floor(s) last spring, though the power structure has undergone something of a facelift. The acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard have the Lakers once again ensconced in the uppermost tier of contender while some brilliant opportunism has elevated the Denver Nuggets to the second tier spot vacated by the Lakers. Injury and big game hunting gone could relegate the 2011 champion Mavericks from playoff picture, but the ascendant Utah Jazz, last season’s #8 seed, appear poised to assume their spot. 

The East differs somewhat. Frankly, it’s a hodgepodge of mediocrity. Outside of the top four, and probably a couple of bottom feeders, there is a case to be made that in no team is a lock to out- (or under-)perform its counterparts in the fat portion of the Eastern bell curve, as win totals in the 30s (and low-40s) abound.

The opening act of this production, while thorough and (I can only hope) occasionally amusing, ran a tad, um, how do you say… fucking long. My aim as I eyed the Eastern Conference was efficiency, conciseness. And…


Yeah… about that…

At least we've still got thoroughness and possible amusement, right? Let's move on.


Atlanta Hawks
2011-12 Record: 40-26 (5th in the East; lost 4-2 in Round 1 to the Celtics)
Key Additions: Devin Harris, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, DeShawn Stevenson Anthony Tolliver, Anthony Morrow
Key Departures: Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Willie Green, Tracy McGrady, Kirk Hinrich
Likely Rotation: Al Horford, Josh Smith, Jeff Teague, Devin Harris, Anthony Morrow, Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia, Ivan Johnson, Anthony Tolliver, DeShawn Stevenson

OK, gonna try this again… THIS is the season in which the Atlanta Hawks fail to exceed expectations.

The loss of Joe Johnson, issues with depth on the wing (Kyle Korver, John Jenkins and DeShawn Stevenson? I smell long 2s from J-Smoove), the defensive difficulties that will likely accompany a Devin Harris-Jeff Teague-Lou-Will backcourt and the inevitable rollercoaster ride that is Contract Year Smoove casts doubt on this team’s ability to win 45+ regular season games.

And yes, shedding a commitment of nearly $90 million over the next four years is a huge plus for the new owners of an enterprise value at roughly $400 million, losing Joe Johnson will hurt. To contend otherwise is ridiculous. It’s like we’ve allowed an awful contract to cloud the reality that Johnson is a damn good NBA player. Yes, Devin Harris and Lou-Will will likely replace his statistical production, but you replace a steady All-Star – and your crunchtime catalyst – with Lou for One, and you will feel it.

That said, this remains a playoff caliber squad. Few teams boast a frontline combo as talented or versatile as Josh Smith and Al Horford. If Jeff Teague – who will be relied on more than ever this season – can play to their strengths, while making the most of arguably the East’s deadliest long-range duo in Korver and Anthony Morrow, this is potentially an excellent team. I would, however, like to see it first.

This team will win some games, and is a decent bet to wind up in the vicinity, but the call here is for UNDER 43 wins, if only because the alternative is tough for me to commit to.

Boston Celtics
2011-12 Record: 39-27 (4th in the East; lost 4-3 in conference finals to the Heat)
Key Additions: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green (missed last season due to heart surgery), Jared Sullinger
Key Departures: Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Pietrus, Jermaine O’Neal, Sahsa Pavlovic
Likely Rotation: Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Jason Collins, Fab Melo

I love this team. I am of the belief that the 2012-13 Boston Celtics’ performance will exceed preseason expectations.

This Celtics team is eerily reminiscent of recent iterations of the Spurs – let’s Mad Lib, shall we?

Simultaneously over- and underrated Tony Parker Rajon Rondo returns, as not only the primary offensive catalyst (I’m looking for 17 points per), but the night in, night out linchpin that generates early season MVP buzz beyond any he’s garnered before. Manu Ginobili Paul Pierce continues to answer the bell. Not reliant on athleticism for his scoring, Manu Pierce continues to add to his legacy as perhaps the greatest grinder of his era. In those, most vital moments – on the road, shorthanded and the fate of the season in the balance – few players can be counted on with greater faith than Manu Pierce to, hell or high water, figure out a way – any way, no matter how ugly – to hang 25 on the scoreboard. Anyone that watched Game 2 of the Celtics' first round series in Atlanta – Rondo suspended and the Hawks eyeing a 2-0 advantage – was witness to absolute mater class in grinding, P.P.-style.

And Tim Duncan Kevin Garnett? Hehe.

Duncan Garnett, now entering his 16th 18th season, is no longer the player he once was. Right?? Sort of. That Duncan KG is simultaneously well off of his peak yet remains offensively productive, a genuine gamechanger on defense and perennial top-12 MVP candidate (admittedly, this applies more to Garnett) speaks less to any emergent shortcomings in his game than it does to the unfathomable heights to which he’s ascended over the past decade and a half.

Outside of the top three, the Spurs Celtics boast an irrationally confident veteran off of the bench for whom confidence sometimes outstrips ability – potentially abrasive in the wrong situation, but an ideal fit alongside an established core (Stephen Jackson Jason Terry; there is a Manu parallel to be drawn as well), a young-ish big man whose role seems to expand with time, but tenuously at best (Tiago Splitter Brandon Bass), a high-upside young big with health concerns (DeJuan Blair Jared Sullinger/Jeff Green) and a pair of perimeter defenders (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee) whose the ability to contribute at both ends in big moments could play as big a role playoff life and death as any performance turned in by their more accomplished mates.

Either I’m an idiot, or... that may not end well for me. Either way, look for the 2012-13 C’s to cruise past 50.5 wins, settling somewhere in the 55-57 range.

Brooklyn Nets
2011-12 Record: 22-44 (12th in the East)
Key Additions: Joe Johnson, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Andray Blatche, Josh Childress
Key Departures: Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, Gerald Green, Shelden Williams, Johan Petro, DeShawn Stevenson
Likely Rotation: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, C.J. Watson, MarShon Brooks, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Mirza Teletovic, Josh Childress

Let’s keep this simple: the Brooklyn Nets are the best professional basketball team in New York City. And it might not be close.

A year ago, in previewing a potentially catastrophic lame duck team, I said of Deron Williams, “… a legitimate superstar – perennially one of the NBA’s ten best players, top-three at his position, and, barring a catastrophe, a Hall of Famer. Greatness doesn’t lose two out of every three games.”

So… maybe it does. But last year, in a nightmare situation – in an arena as inspiring as the Berlin Wall, lame ducks moving not to the greener pastures of a new region, but less than 20 miles east, to just a cooler neighborhood (think about that. The 2011-12 Nets played their home games against a backdrop of “Ok, let’s get this over with a blow this shitbox for our new digs down the road. As long as we still have to be here, can we interest you in some $40 upper level seats?”) – 22-44 had to feel downright triumphant. (And topped 21.5. Holla at the dirty Jerse!)

For a team that got a whopping five games from its 20-a-night center, just 16 from Gerald Wallace following his acquisition at the trade deadline, trotted out Shelden Williams and Johan Petro for more than 2,200 minutes and lived in constant fear that its cornerstone piece would spurn them in free agency, survival was victory.

Script flipped.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reading Between The Lines - Hardwood Hype's 2012-13 Western Conference Preview

I have yet to unearth a more effective method of crystallizing my own take on each team’s fate that staring down a single question, with (usually) a binary outcome.

Last season, as I have done mentally for several years, and a couple of times in writing, in order to organize my thoughts on the offseason that was and the upcoming NBA season, I turned to the open market. Using the Over-Under lines for regular season victories to “assess the market’s assessment” of teams’ fortunes, I previewed the season that was to be (West and East) – and actually got some right!

Let’s keep this simple, since there are plenty of words to come. I, like you, have spent recent weeks immersed in depth charts, shot charts, game logs, and the treasure trove that is the top-shelf work turned in on a daily basis by the NBA blogosphere Thanks to offshore sports books the web over, Basketball Reference, Hoopdata, the Basketball Prospectus crew, and the tireless efforts of Zach Lowe (currently in 1993 MJ mode), as well as the fine gentlemen at Ball Don’t Lie, The Basketball Jones, SI.com, and too many team-specific sites to mention individually, I assembled some semi-coherent, if long winded thoughts on the Western Conference in 2012-13 :

Dallas Mavericks
2011-12 Record: 36-30 (7th in the West; lost 4-0 in Round 1 to OKC)
Key Additions: O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand
Key Departures: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Brendan Haywood, Lamar Odom
Likely Rotation: Dirk Nowitzki, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Brandan Wright, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones, Delonte West

Thanks to the cost-conscious decision to part ways with Tyson Chandler and the Lamar Odom heist that (generously) didn’t quite pan out, the Mavs’ 2011-12 title defense was dead on arrival. Recognizing this – and after whiffing on Dallas native Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and one-time Mavs’ QB Steve Nash – cost-cutting and judicious spending were the orders of the day. The endgame is simple for Mark Cuban: maximize financial flexibility by limiting long-term, big money commitments and steer clear of the luxury tax (under the new CBA, as of 2013 tax payers cannot take part in sign-and-trade deals) in order to remain a player for any superstar that hits the market. Sound strategy.

Beyond this season (in which they’re on the hook for $65.7 million), the Mavs are committed for $44.5 million in 2013-14 and have no commitments beyond next year. Though change has been a constant for much of the Cuban era, the stage is clearly set for a massive overhaul in Big D, one that, not coincidentally, will coincide with the final act of Dirk Nowitzki’s magnificent career.

What does this mean for 2012-13? A collection of viable NBA talent, made up largely of talented underachievers and stars rapidly approaching their respective “sell by” dates. In terms of on-court results, a core of Dirk, Shawn Marion, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo (a longtime Hype favorite; this is a make-or-break year for our relationship), Elton Brand, Vince Carter, Rodrigue Beaubois and Chris Kaman ought to keep the Mavs competitive on a nightly basis, but it’s tough to see this hodgepodge as much more than a .500 stopgap. And if these ominous quotes from Dirk mean what (let’s be honest) they probably mean, the Mavs will finish the 2012-13 season with well UNDER 44.5 wins.

Denver Nuggets
2011-12 record: 38-28 (6th in the West; lost 4-3 in Round 1 to the Lakers)
Key Additions: Andre Iguodala, Anthony Randolph
Key Departures: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington
Likely Rotation: Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgov, Corey Brewer

If you’ve been anywhere around the NBA blogosphere of late, you’ve heard about this situation. The second biggest beneficiaries of the Dwight Howard trade, the Nuggets are being touted as anything from upgraded League Pass darling to darkhorse title contender. I suspect this squad is more the former than the latter. That said, much of the hype is not misguided. This is a really good, brilliantly assembled team.

Since taking over at GM – in the midst of the Carmelo Anthony saga, remember – Masai Ujiri has put on an absolute master class in personnel management. Gotta trade Melo? Fine, get a haul of versatile young talent and dump Chauncey Billups’ contract in the process. Nene hits free agency? Max him out., if for no other reason than to retain a valuable, if overpaid asset. Losing one of your best players for nothing in the name of fiscal responsibility seldom works out well. Sure, overpaying can also be a mistake, but letting good players walk away for absolutely nothing is not a great habit to get into. And who knows? Just months later, maybe you’ll have an opportunity to get younger, cheaper and more athletic at the position. And turning Arron Afflalo into Andre Iguodala while dumping three years and more than $21 million of Al Harrington? Bravo!

Have the Nuggets built a title contender? No. Until they become at least an average defensive team, that conversation stays on the shelf. But this team is a legitimate threat to beat anyone at any time, and has enough talent and versatility to win a good number of games. This is the Daryl Morey method perfected. And they’re going to be a blast to watch. Ty Lawson has game-changing speed, and will be flanked by some combination of Danilo Gallinari, Iguodala, Wilson Chandler and Kenneth Faried (see how I steered clear of the Anthony Randolph landmine? He’s not getting me again).

However, another void that will have to be filled before any talk of contention can begin is inside. Kenneth Faried is the only power forward on the roster, and while his toughness and endless energy are a huge part of who this team is, Manimal’s not yet a legitimate offensive weapon. As for center, the trio of JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov is solid, but has question marks. Koufos and Mozgov are useful NBA big men, but neither is a game changer. And JaVale? Physically one of the most gifted centers in the game, he has the unrivaled ability to introduce the absurd into a professional basketball game. At his best he is an evolutionary Larry Nance. Other times you’d think he was on acid. In a harmless lovable way, though. On balance, this should prove to be a flawed-but-solid, occasionally comical crew.

Can the Nuggets win more than 50 games? Sure. And it’s a safe bet they’ll wind up in the neighborhood. If I had to wager, though, I’d place my money slightly UNDER 49.5 wins, and not feel great about it.

Golden State Warriors
2011-12 record: 23-43 (13th in the West)
Key Additions: Andrew Bogut (acquired via trade last season; has yet to play for team), Harrison Barnes, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack
Key Departures: Kwame Brown, Nate Robinson, Dorell Wright
Likely Rotation: Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack

I don’t like the Warriors as much as I am supposed to.

Apparently Andrew Bogut’s stellar play on defense will elevate that of those around him, including noted sieve David Lee. Because y’know, Bogut will be healthy for the majority of the season (Oy). And David Lee will now learn to keep someone, anyone, in front of him.

On the other side of the ball, Steph Curry – one of this generation’s purest hoops geniuses – will link up with Bogut, Lee, Klay Thompson, Brandon Rush, Richard “let’s just exercise that $11 million 2013-14 player option now” Jefferson and rookie Harrison Barnes, to spark a dynamic attack befitting the Warriors’ offensive legacy. Because, y’know, Steph’s ankle aren’t made of porcelain anymore. And Jefferson isn’t done. And a paid Barnes is fully focused on maximizing his potential as a pro. And NBA-ready to begin with.

Could happen. That’s just an awfully big parlay to have to hit to ascend to mediocrity. I’ve got the Dubs UNDER 35.5 regular season wins.

Houston Rockets
2011-12 record: 34-32 (9th in the West)
Key Additions: Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, Carlos Delfino, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White
Key Departures: Luis Scola, Chase Budinger, Marcus Camby, Samuel Dalembert, Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee
Likely Rotation: Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones, Marcus Morris, Carlos Delfino, Shaun Livingston, Donatas Motiejunas Jeremy Lamb, Royce White

As always, the Rockets boast a number of interesting pieces and the potential to overachieve, but it’s difficult to view this as anything but a throwaway year. And, frankly, I don’t think Daryl Morey would have it any other way.

Monday, October 15, 2012

2012-13 NBA Blog Previews - This Time, No Lockout!

So, apparently this is a thing.

For two years running, late in the spring, with the NBA field whittled to the point where the ultimate prize is within everyone’s grasp, on the heels of an ode to a first-time-champ/Finals-MVP-to-be, I have embarked on a journey. In a literal sense, this usually involves recreational jaunts to Mexico and Las Vegas, but in realty, my annual pilgrimage delivers me to the proverbial edge of the earth, where – like the rat for whom the maze is almost… I fall over.

As it pertains to my work here (this site specifically, but really all internet locales), I question whether there is anything left to write. Scratch that. While continuing to watch and identify so much I’d like to say so much about, I perpetually sweat whether my capacity to effectively explore an idea has vanished – what with anything longer than a ‘graph-long work email requiring a strategy session, outline and 45 minutes of “crafting.”

Thankfully, however, the ability to punch out of this rut also appears to be a thing. Be it regular rereads of Aaron McGuire masterfully tackling writer’s block (by the way, if you’ve not read Gothic Ginobili’s player capsules from this summer, I give you Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. You’re welcome. Now clear your calendar for the week), the continued support of the Forum Blue and Gold crew and community, Basketball Twitter, a fast-approaching NBA season and, well, the love of the game, I plod along.

Additionally, for the second consecutive year (of the seven that it’s been in existence), I am a part of the contingent of writers from home bases web-wide that united to create the 2012-13 NBA Blog Previews. Thanks again to CelticsBlog’s Jeff Clark for lending his considerable powers of organization to the project, and for once again inviting me to the shindig. As was the case a year ago, my contribution to the group focused on the Lakers. Whether or not you’ve checked out Mitch Kupchak at his baddest ass and a (hopefully valid) argument for why Kobe Bryant will not torpedo this star-studded production, check out the stellar work by my fellow members of the basketball blogosphere (while you're here, check mine out too, huh?):

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The NBA's 1% - Previewing The 2012-13 Lakers




Team Name: Los Angeles Lakers
Last Year's Record: 41-25
Key Losses: Andrew Bynum, Matt Barnes, Ramon Sessions
Key Additions: Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks


1. What significant moves were made during the off-season? Y’know. Just a couple of tweaks.

It’s funny, in recent summers, given the roster’s perennial, glaring shortfalls, bolstering the bench with an aging-and-inefficient-but-still-capable veteran scorer and a young(ish), moderately consistent perimeter threat would have sparked celebrations in the farthest reaches of Lakerland and further ratcheted up already-stratospheric expectations.

This year? Not so much.

I’ve frankly had spells during which I have forgotten entirely about Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. How, pray tell, on the heels of a season in which just two second-teamers – Matt Barnes (7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) and (generously) Steve Blake (5.2 points, 3.3 assists per) – took part in 50+ games and provided something bearing even a vague resemblance to consistent production, do Jamison (17.2 points per game last season, though just 40.3% from the field – Nash should help here) and Meeks (235 3-pointers made over the past two seasons, with a 38.3% success rate) find themselves as mere footnotes in the mind of even the most rabid fan?

Well…




2. What are the team’s biggest strengths? As it has been for some time, the strength of this Lakers squad is concentrated at the top of the roster. In last year’s preview, I not-so-controversially declared that, “Barring an unforeseen series of events, the 2011-12 Lakers top four [then Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom] will once again rank among the league’s very best.” The more things change, huh?

While the claim rings true today as it did a year ago, not even the most optimistic citizen of the Nation would have dared predict that in 2012, as summer turned to fall, the Lakers would manage to significantly upgrade the quartet atop the roster. However, by roundaboutly parlaying Odom into one of history’s great playmakers and perhaps its best-ever shooter, and soon after flipping the NBA’s second-best center in exchange for arguably the NBA’s second-best player (and, y’know, first-best center), Mitch Kupchak succeeded in doing just that.

More importantly, rather than simply accumulating a treasure trove of incongruous talents, Kupchak, patient yet aggressive, cherry-picked a pair of prized assets for whom collaboration with the incumbents should come fairly easily. Nash is a no-brainer – a hoops genius whose shot, playmaking and leadership have seldom been seen at the position. His execution on the pick and roll – if not flawless, not far off – is unlikely to suffer as a result of teaming up with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Additionally, no lead guard in the NBA is as effective at finding open shooters on the perimeter (Metta World Peace, Jodie Meeks, c’mon down!), which is helpful, given the frequency and incisiveness with which Nash infiltrates the paint.


Now, like Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard will occasionally displace Gasol from the post. While last season this did result in Pau’s worst as a Laker (a career-low 17.4 points per game, his worst TS% since 2003-04 and lowest PER since his rookie year), there is a case to be made that, given a lead guard with a basketball IQ on par with his own, with both the ability and willingness to deliver the ball at the proper time and place on the court, a bounceback season is in the cards for Pau.

And what of the aforementioned Howard? He should – thanks to Steve Nash being, well, Steve Nash, the defensive attention commanded by Kobe, Nash and Gasol, and post moves that, while hardly Hakeem-esque, are too often sold short – be in line for the most efficient offensive season of his career. Additionally, his work on the offensive glass (12.07% ORB Rate, 19th all-time) and incredible athleticism on the pick and roll, when paired with the penetrating and passing prowess of Nash should transform the Lakers into the NBA’s undisputed kings of the half court.

Oh yeah. And Kobe Bryant is still a thing too.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? Though mitigated somewhat from years past, the Lakers’ greatest weakness lies, once again, in the second unit.

Thanks to Antawn Jamison (he won’t shoot 40% again, right??) and potential Steve Nash All Stars Jodie Meeks and Andrew Goudelock, the 2012-13 Lakers’ reserves should put up some points from the perimeter. Problems arise, however, when we look behind Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol and discover that backing up the league’s most prolific interior duo we have offensively-challenged rebounder/spark plug Jordan Hill, potentially serviceable rookie Robert Sacre, Earl Clark and…

(Crickets)

In reality, the Lakers will spend the vast majority of their 2012-13 minutes with at least one of the their front line bigs on the floor. In the best of times the lack of frontcourt depth will likely not come into play.

HOWEVAH…

Like any deal that is priced for perfection, unforeseen circumstances (foul trouble and, far more importantly, injuries) have the potential to throw this crew for a loop. Not even the best prepared team could “replace” either of these singular talents, but to enter a season with your All-Universe center recovering from back surgery (though he is, by all accounts, progressing quite nicely) with nothing in the way of insurance beyond Hill, Sacre and Clark is something of a tightrope walk.

4. What are the goals for this team? ‘Round these parts, it’s quite simple. Championship or bust. The message has not changed, though it must be said that it’s delivered with far more sincerity this year than in the last couple.

5. How will Kobe Bryant fare as a member of an ensemble cast? Aside from injury, that’s the biggest pitfall here, right?

From the moment we learned that Steve Nash was to become a Laker, questions abounded:

Will Can Kobe subjugate his rock-monopolizing tendencies to accommodate an unimpeachable point guard whose lifeblood is a live dribble? How will Kobe react to once again teaming up – this time as a veteran of nearly two decades – with the league’s best big man, who happens to be firmly ensconced in the prime of his career? After years of vacillation between grudging half-reliance on and blatant distrust of teammates whose ability and desire chronically fell short of his lofty expectations, can Kobe find the capacity to genuinely trust not one, but two new superstar teammates whose respective bodies of work warrant nothing less?

In short… does Kobe want to win on terms that are not his own?

Be it Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Shaquille O’Neal or some other star with whom he’ll one day join forces, as long as Kobe Bryant occupies a spot in the NBA sandbox, both his willingness and ability to play nicely with others will be called into question. And not without reason. Few players in NBA history (young Mike? Larry Bird? Jerry West?) have so publicly combined monomaniacal competitiveness with blatant disregard for the opinion of all they encountered.

Thing is, however, Kobe Bean is no fool. He is, by all accounts, in fact a rather intelligent man. After what must feel like a lifetime of Smush Parker, Chucky Atkins, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and a rapidly declining Derek Fisherthe suggestion that Kobe would allow his ego to alienate Steve Nash a player that he himself recruited, whose approaches to conditioning, preparation and competition mirror Kobe's own discredits immensely Mamba's understanding of not only the finer points of the game itself, but the legacy he's taken such immense pains to construct.

Meanwhile, Kobe has thus refused to cede much of anything to Dwight Howard (and why exactly at this stage should he?). Again, however, make no mistake: Kobe remembers the Shaq era. As far into the rearview as those days have faded, memories of the dominance exerted by the NBA's best inside-outside combo working in concert, and the relative ease with which each facilitated the other's first three rings, remain vivid.

Given what we know of his personality and track record, to question Kobe Bryant's ability to thrive as part of a superstar cast the likes of which the Lakers now boast is only natural. However, to assume that the inherent selfishness that is almost universally ascribed to the man would preclude his ability to function as a part of this unit takes the pennywise-pound foolish image wrongly ascribed to Kobe to obscene heights. Anyone suggesting that Kobe would willfully sabotage a legitimate opportunity at ring #6 in favors of a few more dribbles and a couple of extra shots per game is himself willfully overlooking one rather significant point:

Kobe Bryant knows many things. On no topic is he more knowledgeable than the enduring legacy of Kobe Bryant.