As the NBA regular season begins its final full month of action, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
In the aftermath of the Lakers' come-from-behind victory over the Nuggets on Sunday night, I figured now would be a good time for my latest round of Uncontested Shots.
Without further ado....
More Rumors Regarding LeBron to the Lakers
HoopsHype columnist and well-respected NBA writer/historian Roland Lazenby wrote a post on his blog on Sunday stating that LeBron James is, "quietly making overtures to the Los Angeles Lakers," based on knowledge from an "unimpeachable" source.
While Smith's article was mostly written on a hunch, Lazenby's comes from a "well-connected agent."
There are a few things that need to be considered. First and foremost, I don't think LeBron is leaving Cleveland. So before any Cavs fans start writing me hate messages, this is really for me to explain how the move would be possible, and not why it's probable.
Personally, I think LeBron will sign a three or four-year extension, and explore free agency in a few years when he's still only 28 or 29.
My first instinct was that the rumor had been put out by the Lakers as an attempt to expedite Kobe's extension—something that was once considered a foregone conclusion, but now raises questions with each day it remains unsigned.
The idea being that if Kobe isn't interested in signing an extension this season and decides to opt out of the final year on his current deal, he runs the risk of the Lakers turning their attention to LeBron. Isn't that exactly what the Lakers did when they turned their attention to Ron Artest once Trevor Ariza's agent turned down their initial offer?
The largest obstacle standing in the way of LeBron joining the Lakers is their salary cap next season, even without Kobe's contract. So unless LeBron decided to play for the mid-level exemption, there's no way they could match the type of offers that LeBron will get from the Cavs, Knicks, Bulls, or any other team with significant cap space this summer.
There is always the possibility that the Lakers and Cavs could pull off a sign-and-trade.
One school of thought says that if LeBron was intent on leaving Cleveland, the Cavs wouldn't help accommodate him with a sign-and-trade—preferring to watch him lose out on millions by leaving.
The other side of that argument is that the Cavs are currently committed to Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Daniel Gibson for at least the next two seasons and might prefer to at least get something of value in return if LeBron is indeed intent on leaving.
It's not as if the Cavs would have much cap space to add a quality player if LeBron decided to leave via free agency. It would be in their best interest to at least acquire an asset or two to remain competitive and rebuild in the aftermath of his departure.
If you were a Cavs fan and LeBron was dead set on leaving, would you rather his wallet suffer and receive nothing in return, or see your team acquire Andrew Bynum, and either Lamar Odom or Ron Artest?
If the Cavs weren't willing to trade him away, the only way he could join the Lakers would be by accepting the mid-level exemption for three years before the Lakers would own his Bird Rights, and be able to reward him with a new contract.
Considering the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire after next season, there's no guarantee that would still be a possibility with the new CBA.
Again, I'm not suggesting this as a real possibility so much as it is an explanation of how it could happen.
In other words, it's unlikely but not impossible.
In Defense of Lakers Fans
I've been a Lakers season-ticket holder for 21 years. I've heard every joke about Laker fans being fakes and phonies, arriving late to games just to leave early.
I'll never defend the lame taco promotion that's done nothing to change the perception of Laker fans. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, there's a promotion at every home game where every fan receives a coupon for two free tacos if the Lakers win and hold their opponents under 100 points.
As a result, many Lakers fans seem to get a kick out of chanting "We want tacos!" the moment they realize it's within reach.
Consider that the average cost of a Lakers ticket is $107, and the cost of two tacos at Jack In The Box is 99 cents.
I can't get over the fact that these people go berserk over free tacos when 99 percent of them have enough change in their car's ashtray to afford not one, but two of these greasy colon-cloggers.
Let's also not forget that this is Los Angeles we're talking about. A city that's home to better Mexican restaurants and taco stands than even Tijuana or Cancún, and yet it's the tacos from a San Diego-based fast-food chain that causes them to turn into four-year-olds.
I can't tell you how embarrassing it was during the Lakers game on Feb. 16 against Golden State when Laker fans began chanting for tacos as Stephen Curry made a layup with 1:31 left in the game and the Lakers only up by five points.
A two-possession game and instead of "Defense!" chants they were chanting for freakin' tacos!
I just want people to know that I can be as critical, if not more so, than those complaining about what happened on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
There was much criticism on the Internet regarding the Laker fans' booing of the team's first-half performance.
I wasn't at Sunday's game but I've been to a number of games where fans have booed the home team—including the game in which Kobe scored 81 points, and Game 7 against Portland in the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
These critics need to understand the difference between booing performance and booing effort.
If a team is giving their all and shots just aren't falling, then booing is totally unacceptable. If a team is showing a lack of passion and effort in a game that many labeled a "must win," then in my opinion, it's completely acceptable given the average cost of a ticket.
There's no doubt about it: Laker fans are spoiled. Where fans in Portland or Cleveland consider it their duty to inspire their team from the get-go, Laker fans rely on the team's effort to give them a reason to cheer.
See the difference?
I'm not excusing their behavior as much as I am explaining it.
Laker fans have a standard by which they measure a team's greatness that is unlike any other team in the league, and I don't even think reading my article helps explain what I'm talking about.
Anything less than that type of effort is completely unacceptable.
The fact that the Trail Blazers haven't won a championship since 1977, and the Cavaliers have never won one might explain why their fans are so passionate. No matter how passionate Laker fans might be, it's impossible for them to pretend to mimic the voice and passion of a fan base as desperate for a championship as those in Portland and Cleveland.
The fact that the Lakers came out for the second half with a vengeance gave their fans a reason to cheer and they responded.
There were some fans and beat writers in Portland who couldn't understand how the Blazers and Lakers tied for third in a survey that asked the league's general managers, "Which team has the best home court advantage?"
Both teams received three out of a possible 29 votes (the Cavs finished first with 11, and Utah finished second with nine).
Part of the reason the Lakers finished third was because tough teams would be hard to beat, even in an empty arena. But another reason, contrary to popular belief, is because the Staples Center can be an intimidating place for opponents when the building is as popping as it was during the second half of Sunday's game.
How Will Shaq's Thumb Injury Factor in the Race For Home-Court Advantage?
Even though the Lakers and Cavs are only separated by one game in the standings, the Cavs virtually have a two-game lead in light of the fact that they won both regular season meetings between the two.
The Cavs are expected to be without O'Neal for the next eight weeks and won't be able to re-sign Zydrunas Ilgauskas until March 22.
If that's the case, the Cavs can expect to be without Ilgauskas for the next 11 games.
Lucky for them, there aren't many challenging games during that stretch.
In fact, the entire month of March doesn't pose much of a challenge for the Cavs.
With the exception of potential trap games at Milwaukee and at New Orleans, the only games that should worry Cavs fans are road games at Chicago and San Antonio, and a date at home with the Celtics (if you still consider them a challenge).
While both teams have 22 games left heading into Monday night, the Lakers play 14 on the road while the Cavs only have 10 of those away from home.
You could make the case that the Lakers have as many tough road games as the Cavs have total road games left.
That list doesn't include home games against San Antonio, Portland, and Utah.
The Cavs' toughest remaining road games are against the Celtics, Bulls (twice), Hawks, Bucks, Hornets, and Spurs.
Their toughest home games are against the Magic, Celtics, Spurs, Hawks, and Raptors.
Make no mistake, even with Shaq's injury, the Cavs are still in the driver's seat to claim home court advantage should the two teams meet in the Finals.
I Don't Know What To Make Of It
The Lakers already have one fewer loss than they had all of last season. Of the Lakers' 16 losses last season, six came against teams that would end the season below .500.
This season, the Lakers have only lost one game to a team that currently has a losing record—the Clippers on Jan. 6.
While it's encouraging that they haven't suffered lapses against the league's worst teams, it can't be a good sign that they've struggled in the games against the league's best.
Against the other nine teams that make up the league's top ten records, the Lakers have an unimpressive 10-9 record.
The silver lining in their difficult remaining schedule is that they have a golden opportunity to silence critics with an impressive showing heading into the playoffs.
In the meantime, critics and fans will continue doubting their ability to repeat.
Considering how they've played in many of those tough games up until now, you can't really blame them for doing so.
Andrew Ungvari is a Senior Writer and Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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