I’ll Still Take Larry Bird Over LeBron James

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It is a good time to be a LeBron James fan. Having won his third NBA Finals MVP, and leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a historic Championship, the LeBron “lovers” (seems only fair to call them that since they call anyone who challenges the LeBron is a demi-god narrative a hater or a troll) are understandably pounding their chests, and elevating LeBron’s historical place in the game.

According to some of the loving talking heads at ESPN, LeBron is clearly a top three to five player, maybe one, and with this latest championship, definitely the best small forward ever, over Larry Bird.

Here are two ways to talk about the best ever and demonstrate why the lovers are wrong:

  • One, if you were to start a team with one player, who would it be?
  • Two, if you could put together the best starting five, who would it be?

The difference is the best five ever can have two people playing the position, best starting five asks for the best at each.

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So, who is my best starting five?  At the point guard I am going with Magic Johnson.  At power forward, Tim Duncan. At shooting guard, do I really have to say it? Okay, Michael Jordan.  With respect to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlin who I didn’t see play, I’ll take the underappreciated Kareem Abdul Jabbar at center.

Now before I say why I will take Bird over James at small forward (the title of the blog was kind of a spoiler), let me ask you, as great as my starting four is, what is one glaring weakness in this lineup?  Ding ding ding, three point shooting!  Give all the readers who got it a prize.  Given the other starting four, Bird is simply a better fit in this all-time lineup.

Just to show the lovers that I am not a hater, if Steph Curry continues on his trajectory and manages to somehow supplant Magic as the starting point guard, then there becomes a better argument to put James in the starting five over Bird.  I’ll get back to you after Curry retires on that one.

Okay one part down.  As far as who I would want to start a team with, first let me say as far as talent goes, and from what I have seen, LeBron is top three of all time. However, to use the often used Batman/ Robin metaphor, he has Batman talent but Robin mentality.  If I was guaranteed to have a team with two alpha dog stars there is a good chance I would want LeBron to be one of them. For example, I think a young LeBron would have done better with an in his prime Shaquille O’Neal than Kobe Bryant.  Conversely, if I was guaranteed to have one star, there are others I would take before him.  Larry Bird being one, and Kobe Bryant another.

I can hear the lovers screaming about LeBron’s back to back 41 points in the finals and other pretty statistics.  I’m not saying LeBron can’t be clutch or can’t ever close, I’m saying those are skills just like passing and rebounding, and when compared to the best of the best, others do it better.  His former teammate Dwyane Wade being among them.

Between Bird and LeBron, both are all-time great passers, but I’ll give an edge to LeBron. Both can rebound the ball, but edge Bird. Both can score, but three point shooting, foul shooting, and late game foul shooting, big edge Bird.  LeBron is a much better defender, ball handler and driver to the basket.  As far as being clutch, leadership (can’t imagine Bird writing “sub-tweets” about teammates) and intangibles (such as more likely to make a steal versus turn it over) solid edge Bird.

So, it is not a landslide or anything but after reviewing the tale of the tape, as of now,  I’m sticking with Larry Legend.

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Between Allen Iverson And Steve Nash, The Answer is Nash

And It Is Not Even Close

nashIversonWith the latest injury and announcement that 40-year-old future hall of famer Steve Nash will miss the entire upcoming NBA season, many in the media have begun to understandably eulogize Nash’s career.  Indeed, we have likely see the last of him as far as playing in the NBA. One comparison I hear making the rounds is who was better between he and another great guard destined for the hall of fame, Allen Iverson.

Most I have listened to on ESPN, led by an admittedly biased Stephen A. Smith, (Smith credits A.I. for helping him in his career in sports print/TV journalism) either slightly or heavily point to Iverson as being the better or the two, and or the one they pick for their team. I believe Stephen A. stated that A.I. was on another level compared to Nash.

Hogwash. Iverson was great but players like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook must get sick hearing talk about Iverson sometimes, because when they shoot a lot, they’re selfish ball stoppers. When A.I. shoots a lot, despite how many times he misses, he is demonstrating heart. Because A.I. was very tough, fearless, and lets face it, short by NBA standards, he sometimes got a pass on being a volume shooter, and dare I say selfish player, that others would not.

With Nash and Iverson you can make the debatable argument that if either is the best player on your team you will not win a championship. Assuming that is the case, I am far more confident that Nash could have an easier time adjusting his game, and being the second best player on a team than Iverson.

We know Nash was an all-time great passer.  Currently he is number three on the all time assist list.  Yes, he did more to make his teammates better, but he was also a great two, three, and foul shooter, as demonstrated by being part of the exclusive 50-40-90 club  (pointed out by Smith’s sparring partner on ESPN’s First Take, Skip Bayless, who does give a slight edge to Nash.)

Here is a question to ask yourself in the comparison. Hoopsmanifesto
lists the top ten NBA players of all-time as being:

10 – Kobe Bryant

9 – Shaquille O’Neal

8 – LeBron James

7 – Tim Duncan

6 – Wilt Chamberlain

5 – Larry Bird

4 – Magic Johnson

3 – Kareem Abdul- Jabbar

2 – Bill Russell

1 – Michael Jordan

If we could ask them, who on this list do you think would prefer to play with A.I. and who would want to play with Nash? With the possible exception of Magic, my bet is that everyone would rather play with Nash.  Let’s add some more names, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Durant, Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, Karl Malone, David Robinson, Kevin Love, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Julius Erving, Reggie Miller, etc, etc… who would most to all of these guys rather play with between A.I. and Nash?  That is the player I want on my team.

And yes, I have to talk about practice… Who is the better practice player? The more coachable player? More likely to make teammates better? To lead by example and be a better mentor? The answer to all of these is Nash. Better raw skills? I will give that slight edge to A.I. but that does not make him the better nor more desirable player.

A.I. did play with tremendous heart, but because of height, I think he gets talked about and elevated over others I would take before him in a team game…To name some:  Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, John Stockton, and Gary Payton come to mind as others I would take over A.I..  (Isaiah Thomas is already acknowledged by most as being better than Iverson)

Jason Kidd: Right Coach, Wrong Time

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Arguably a top ten point guard of all-time, Jason Kidd has the pedigree to potentially, someday, make a great coach.  I say potentially for history is littered with former great players who were not good, let alone great coaches.

But, is Kidd qualified, let alone the most qualified, to take over as coach of the Brooklyn Nets today?

In a word: No.  In three words:  Not even close.

In sports, there is this idea that an ex-player might not be qualified to coach but if he played and starred for a specific team, that somehow overrides any other lack of qualification and warrants consideration.

My favorite baseball player growing up was Don Mattingly.  When Joe Torre decided he wanted to decline the New York Yankees offer and step away, Mattingly was under consideration to be the next Yankee manager.  Unlike Kidd, Mattingly did serve as batting and bench coach but was still considered inexperienced for he lacked managerial experience at any level.  As much as a part of me wanted Mattingly to be the guy, Joe Girardi was the better choice.

Did any other team express interest in Mattingly at the time?  No.  This lack of opportunity suggests that it was premature for the Yankees to be considering Mattingly in the first place.  As I suspect it is for the Nets to have interviewed and consider Kidd.

Mark Jackson, another great point guard without any coaching experience has found success as the head coach of the Golden State Warriors.  But this came after years away from the game and serving as a TV analyst alongside an established former head coach, Jeff Van Gundy.

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Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw and Phil Jackson.

Personally, I prefer and respect those who pay their dues and serve as an assistant, such as a hot coaching candidate like Brian Shaw.

However, while not coaching experience, at least as an analyst, Jackson was able to study the game on a regular basis.  Distant from his playing days and player mindset, he got to know all of the players and managerial personal.  Further, he could discuss them, and analyze game situation after situation with Van Gundy.

The advantage here is as a point guard you may do this through the lens of your own teams strengths and weaknesses but as an analyst you’re putting yourself in the mindset of everyone you cover without bias.  You are looking at the game from every angle seeing what works and what doesn’t.  And while Kidd’s experience and greatness as a player is a strong step in that direction, an analyst like Jackson or an assistant like Shaw are simply further down the road.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com: “Kidd — with no coaching experience at age 40 — only would be considered if he could assemble “an All-Star cast” of veteran assistants to support him, the source said.”

The thing that I find irritating about this is, um, why not just hire one of the all-star assistants to be the head coach and Kidd to be the assistant?

If the dark side of the force decided to field a basketball team, who be the coach and who be the assistant between Darth Vader and the Evil Emperor?  Between Mr. Miyagi and Danielson?

The idea of Kidd being a coach to an all-star assistant gets the whole mentor/ apprentice thing backwards.

You can say it worked for the Boston Celtics with Doc Rivers and Thom Thibodeau.  Setting aside that Doc was also an analyst first:  Let’s be honest, as much as we like Doc, (and we do like him), his team was loaded with talent.  And while they’re both top coaches, time is proving Thibodeau to be the better one…

A better example would be Larry Bird when he coached the Indiana Pacers with no coaching or analyst experience.  Bird was good.  But his all-star assistant, Rick Carlisle proved to be the better.

There is no reason why the next Thibodeau or Carlisle (arguably Brian Shaw or someone like him) should have to groom Kidd because they weren’t as good of players as Kidd or Bird.

Jasonkidd2No disrespect meant to Kidd (or Bird) who I think has potential to make a great coach.  If he really wants it, let him work as hard at earning that opportunity as he did improving his outside shot.  And not just have it handed to him because he played for the Nets and led them to two NBA finals.

Making The Case To Keep The Boston Celtics Together

NBA: Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic

It may be approaching closing time but the bar is still open and there is time for one more round.  So the Boston Celtics lost in the first round to the New York Knicks Friday night.  Paul Pierce looked out of gas; Kevin Garnett was playing though injury and Ray Allen is in the rear view mirror playing for the Miami Heat.

Now is not the time to panic or make hasty decisions.  It’s the time to be realistic.  Look, I am no fan of Boston.  While I respect what the latest version of the Celtics has accomplished, I can make the argument that resting on the laurels of being one of sports most storied franchises, it has been overrated. But they are winners.  From Celtic team President Danny Ainge, coach Doc Rivers, and the players, they are loyal to each other.  And there is a mutual affinity between the team and its fans.

As someone over forty, I can say we don’t see that as much anymore in sports and it’s worth strongly considering keeping together.  Beyond sentiment here are reasons why the Celtics should keep the Garden a place where everybody knows the names:

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Rajon Rondon driving to the hoop against the Miami Heat.

With a healthy Rajon Rando, and better production out of Jason Terry the Celtics would have finished between the 2nd and 4th seed this season making who knows what kind of run in the playoffs.

The days of logging 40 plus all-star minutes a game are gone but it’s premature to write the eulogies for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  Stars like John Stockton, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd were/are able to perform at high levels because their minutes were strictly monitored as they aged.  Injuries and lack of depth forced the Celtics to abandon this strategy in the playoffs and push their aging stars too much.  This made Pierce look worse than he is.  Health and augmentation is required.  Not disassembling.

If the Miami Heat are healthy they will likely be the favorite to win it all next season no matter what you do.  But Dwyane Wade is starting to break down, and if things fall into place, the C’s can be right there.

Pierce is under contract for one more season.  Unless someone offers you a crazy no-brianer trade for him, why not play it out?  Get Rondo healthy, get Jared Sullinger healthy, pick up a free agent piece and be relevant.

Speaking of Pierce, he may not be Larry Bird or Bill Russell but he is a Celtic legend.  Do you want to jettison him a year too soon and see him play in another team’s colors?  (Okay so I snuck in a reason based on sentiment)

Rebuilding is always a risky proposition with no guarantees.  So unless Danny Ainge has scouted a high school senior who he projects will come out of college after his freshman year for the 2015 draft, and can guarantee the Celtics will be in the right draft position to get him, what is the rush to suck next year?

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Number one pick in the 2007 NBA draft Greg Oden shaking hands with Commissioner David Stern.

Because that’s the argument isn’t it?  Rebuilding is painful but the sooner you start the sooner you get through it.  Not necessarily.  Great prospects don’t equate to a turnaround.  I’m sure Portland felt they were on the right path when they drafted Greg Oden and Sam Bowie.  Washington when they drafted Kwame Brown.  Detroit when they drafted Darko Milicic.  And these were high picks.

The Indianapolis Colts said goodbye to Peyton Manning but it took four neck surgeries and the guarantee of replacing him with stud rookie Andrew Luck.  The Celtics don’t have anywhere close to that type of certainty in replacing Pierce or KG.  Maybe the next Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan is in the 2015 draft class; maybe he is in the 2016, 2017 or 2027!

The fact is, at this point there are more unknowns with rebuilding then there is with one more run.  Why rush to start over and end this chapter of Celtic history when there could be one more story to tell?  A story that your fans and the media love and respect.  Sure Ainge should be on the lookout for deals and possibilities but don’t break it up just to break it up.

It may be time for last call but upon further review it might not be time to break up the band and send everyone home just yet.  Samuel Adams anyone?