NBA News, Notes, and Observations: Finals Edition
I know I vowed to do an NNO after each of the Finals games but unfortunately I tragically lost a friend last Thursday, so I've been a little preoccupied.
I'm going to dedicate this column to him.
Maxy-Lev, you were a true original and you will be incredibly missed by those who loved you.
I know this might not be the time or place, but sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind us to tell those we love that we love them, because we may never get the chance to do it again.
Now onto my news, notes, and observations...
Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy was asked during the post-game press conference if experience played a part in the Magic's Game Four loss on Thursday night.
Here was Van Gundy's response:
"That has nothing to do with any of it. We've played enough basketball games. It's basketball. These guys have been in hundreds of games, thousands of them. Most of these guys have been in huge games.
"It's just too cliche to say it's all about Finals experience and that we're all of a sudden playing with 11-foot baskets and a smaller court. I just don't buy it."
I found Van Gundy's comments to be especially hilarious since he spent the entire press conference second-guessing everything his team did down the stretch.
Experience is what gave Phil Jackson the idea to take the ball out from three-quarters length instead of half-court. Lack of experience is what caused Jameer Nelson to give Derek Fisher so much space for him to tie the game with a three-pointer.
Here's the question you have to ask of SVG:
If you have a chance to replay the last 11 seconds of the game, do you do anything differently?
If the answer to that question is yes, then experience is huge.
Instead, Van Gundy chose to throw Jameer Nelson under the bus.
Speaking of Nelson, I still find it curious that Van Gundy decided to give Nelson so many meaningful minutes after missing four months of action after shoulder surgery. I guess Van Gundy thought that the more minutes he gave him early in the series, the better Nelson would play at the end of it.
At this rate, Nelson should be back to his old self by Game Eight or Nine.
Last month I wrote an article about Carmelo Anthony before the Nuggets series with the Lakers got under way. Derek Fisher was in the midst of a terrible playoff run. Here's what I wrote in response to a comment left by Erick Blasco:
"It's tough to see the Nuggets winning the series when they can outplay an opponent and still lose. But that's why teams, for the most part, have had to fail first before learning how to win. Experience in this series is huge.
Derek Fisher could be 0-for-9 from downtown and J.R. Smith could be 4-for-7 and I'd still rather have Fisher take a meaningful shot in a playoff game because of his experience."
For the record, Fisher was 0-for-5 from downtown before hitting those two huge three-pointers.
To read more on Derek Fisher, I urge you to read B/R colleague Robert Kleeman's article on Thursday night's game. I wrote in the comments section that his recap of the game was better than anything I've read in any of the local newspapers or national sports websites, and I mean that in all sincerity.
In response to my comment on his article, Robert asked me a series of questions and I promised, as a lifelong Lakers fan and 20-year season ticket holder, I would use this space to respond to each of them.
Kleeman Question: The (Lakers) have thus far only retired the jerseys of its Hall of Fame alumni. Given that Fisher has played an enormous role in what will soon be four championships this decade, but is nowhere close to the Hall (of Fame), how should the team celebrate him? Is just saying "thanks Derek" enough?
Ungvari Answer: I love Derek Fisher but his jersey doesn't belong on that wall any more than those of Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, or Robert Horry. Lakers fans will show their appreciation for Fisher by greeting him with a standing ovation every time he appears in public, and he shouldn't have to pay for another beer or meal again.
I'm sure that when Fish decides to hang up his sneakers, the Lakers will commemorate his career with a halftime ceremony, 10-minute video montage, and an equally long standing ovation.
KQ: Which player would be your free agent priority, Trevor Ariza or Lamar Odom? Do you think the Lakers will be able to retain both? Is there a way to pick one over the other in terms of value?
UA: This is the big question facing the Lakers this off-season. There are a couple different scenarios that could play out but neither of them involve the Lakers losing both.
If I had to choose between the two, I would pick Ariza for two reasons. First, Ariza is younger than Odom (he turns 24 on June 30), so his best days are still ahead of him.
Odom, who turns 30 in November, has probably reached his maximum potential. Ariza will probably command at least four years and somewhere between $30 and $35 million dollars, while Odom will probably require a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $8 million per year.
Second, Ariza can help prolong Kobe's career by helping to defend the opponent's best perimeter player. If the Lakers were playing the Cavs in this year's Finals, who would guard LeBron James?
Obviously, Bryant would spend the bulk of the game guarding him, but Bryant would surely be spent over the course of a seven-game series after playing three previous rounds.
Odom's current deal was for six years and $63 million, so unlike Ariza, he has already made his big money. The only teams that have the cap space to sign Odom this summer are Oklahoma City, Memphis, and Detroit. None of the three are the quintessential destinations for a veteran who wants to win a championship.
The good news for Lakers fans is that all three of those teams already have really good starting small forwards in Jeff Green, Rudy Gay, and Tayshaun Prince, respectively.
Toronto would also have cap space if they decide not to bring Shawn Marion back. If I had to guess, I'd say that the Raptors and Marion will end up agreeing on a one-year deal that will make Marion a free agent again next summer when many more teams will have cap space.
The Lakers have two contracts that expire after next season in Adam Morrison ($5.25 million) and Derek Fisher ($5 million). They also have team options on Josh Powell, DJ Mbenga, and Sun Yue for less than a million dollars each.
If Lakers owner Jerry Buss is willing to bite the bullet, then he can afford to bring both back for one more season, since he'll relieve the team's payroll of $10 million after next season.
The Lakers don't have a first-round pick in next year's draft but they do have Memphis' second-round pick. They have a first-round pick in this year's draft and two second-round picks (their own and Charlotte's).
With five picks in the next two drafts they could try to replace Morrison, Fisher, Powell, and Mbenga through the draft.
Buss need only look at what happened to the Celtics after losing both P.J. Brown and James Posey last year. With Posey, Paul Pierce wouldn't have had to play as many minutes and he probably wouldn't have run out of gas against Orlando.
With Brown, the Celtics would have been better prepared to deal with the losses of Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe.
The X-factor in all of this is Kobe Bryant and his ability to opt out at season's end and sign a new deal. Bryant can either sign for the max that he's eligible for or sign the type of deal that both Garnett and Tim Duncan signed where his salary dips down next season to somewhere between $16 and $18 million before going back up in 2010-11 to help accommodate the return of both Odom and Ariza.
KQ: What do you think Turkoglu will do? Will any team enter a serious bidding war with Orlando and snatch him away?
UA: Turkoglu will opt out. I would bet on it. We saw what happened in Thursday night's game when Rashard Lewis disappeared (six points on 2-of-10 shooting). The Magic are a missed Courtney Lee lay-up and a Derek Fisher 26-foot three-pointer away from being up 3-1 in this series with Game Five at home on Sunday.
Can they really afford to lose him?
Turkoglu will opt out because he knows the Magic can't afford to lose him. Don't forget that Gilbert Arenas opted out after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Déjà Vu all over again?
This Finals series is very similar to last year's Finals in terms of the outcomes of each of the first four games are concerned.
In both series the home team won the first two games, both had a Game Three in which the team up 2-0 played their worst game of the series and still only lost by a few baskets, and both had a Game Four in which the home team choked away a double-digit lead.
Considering that the Lakers won Game Five when trailing 3-1 last season, expect the Magic to give their home crowd something a positive final game and win Sunday's game.
For those Magic fans who insist this series isn't over yet just know that the Lakers have yet to lose three games in a row since trading for Pau Gasol and that the team without home-court advantage in the 2-3-2 format has never won Game Six and Game Seven on the road.
Quote of the Week
Doc Rivers was on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption before Game Four. Co-host Michael Wilbon asked Rivers who he thought was going to win the series. Rivers' answer?
"I hope neither one wins."
Spoken like a true old head. Rivers followed that up by saying he thought the Lakers would win the series.
Song of the Week
Some guy named Ryan Parker wrote and performed one of the funniest songs I've ever heard. It's called "Phil Is Your Father". The basic premise is that Phil Jackson impregnated Gasol's mother on a trip to Spain back in 1979.
One of the funnier lines of the song:
"Phil went abroad on a vacation in '79,
It was a year when his career was on the decline,
He met a fine Senorita who answered his call,
And it was there where he conceived Pau Gasol."
The site has been getting a heavy stream of traffic since Jeannie Buss sent it out on Twitter. So be patient and if you can't get it the first time, try again later.
Genius of the Week
This winner of the Genius of the Week Award is Christopher James Carolan, a 22-year-old security guard who was hired to guard Spurs star Tony Parker's home while construction work was being done on Parker's home gym.
Carolan stole an autographed Michael Jordan jersey from Parker and tried to sell it on craigslist.
It gets better.
Carolan had an outstanding warrant for his arrest stemming from a separate burglary charge.
This is the section where I lose all sense of dignity and shame. For those of you on Twitter, you can follow me here throughout the rest of the Finals and into the off-season.
You can also hear me this Saturday night (or Sunday morning for you East Coasters) on Sports Overnight America on Sports Byline USA with host and Bleacher Report contributor Patrick Mauro. I'll be talking NBA Finals at around 10:10 PST.
Last but not least, I've been hired as the lead NBA blogger for a new basketball-related website called SirCharlesInCharge, part of the FanSided network. I will be blogging throughout the off-season on all NBA-related news.
Please bookmark the site and visit often. There are a number of extremely talented contributors who were all hand-picked from some of the more popular basketball websites throughout the world.
This doesn't mean that my days at Bleacher Report are over with. Not yet at least. It just means you'll have to head over there to read all of my content.
My first article should be up on Monday or Tuesday. It's a follow-up to a story I wrote in February 2008 on B/R.
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