I find it to be a glaring contrast. On one side, Kobe Bryant will be playing in his seventh Finals, going for his fifth ring.
He will get started in his quest on Thursday night, against Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and the rest of the Celtics team trying for its second title in three years.
On the other side, LeBron James, with his seventh season in the league long since completed, will give an interview on Friday night. He will say nothing of news, nothing of note, but accomplish his goal of stirring the pot and keeping the story going.
The news story this week has been the reported superstar free agent summit that is going to take place between James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, and possibly Amare Stoudemire.
For the others involved, I don’t really see a problem. Wade has a ring, and Johnson, Bosh, and Stoudemire are not good enough to be the best player on a championship team. They all need to team with a Wade or a James.
For LeBron, however, it just speaks volumes to his priorities. He says his primary goal is to win a championship. That may be true. But he has no idea how to do it and does not seem to want to put in the real work necessary to achieve greatness.
He thinks he is great already. And he is to some extent.
But he wants to be the greatest and through this summit, he is seeking some sort of short cut to immortality. All players need help to win a title, but the starting point for James needs to be himself and not trying to piece together the best package deal possible.
I just can’t see Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan taking a step where they were hitching their wagons to another superstar in order to win. Certainly neither won alone, but others came to them. As great as Shaq was, it was him coming to the Lakers, not Bryant chasing down another star to try to win a championship.
James has the tools to win a championship and can do so wherever he goes, with or without Wade, Bosh, Johnson, or Stoudemire. Spend the time this summer, not talking to Larry King or other free agents, but developing a mid-range game so, like Bryant (even like Paul Pierce), you can score from any point on the floor.
Want to win a championship, LeBron? Find a post-up game so that someone like Tony Allen can’t guard you for extended minutes. James with a post-up game to speak of would be a nightmare for opposing defenses in a half-court set.
That is what I would want to see out of someone who wants to be the best.
One last point on James—back in 2007, Alex Rodriguez was universally criticized for announcing his new contract with the Yankees during the World Series. How dare he try to upstage the sport’s marquee event!
Isn’t LeBron doing the same thing now with his first interview—where he will again say nothing new—taking place on the day after Game One of the NBA Finals?
Anyway, enough about a guy who did not even make it out of the second round.
Here are five questions for the 2010 Finals.
1. Will Ron Artest get inside Paul Pierce’s head?
From all the games I have watched Paul Pierce play, I cannot think of anyone who has done a consistently better job against Pierce than Artest. I also cannot think of anyone who has done a better job of getting inside Pierce’s head and taking Pierce off of his game.
This series represents the third time in the playoffs Pierce and Artest have gone against each other. In 2003, Pierce led the Celtics to a 4-2 series win over Artest’s Pacers in the opening round. Pierce did average 25.8 points, but shot just 38.8 percent.
A year later, Artest helped Indiana to a sweep of Boston, and limited Pierce to 20 points per game on only 34 percent shooting. That included Game Three of that series when Pierce shot 4-17 for a mere nine points.
While those series were several years ago, Artest still has the ability to lock Pierce down. In the regular season this year, Artest limited Pierce to only 13 points per game.
The good thing for Boston is Pierce does not have to be great for the Celtics to win, like was the case back in 2003 and 2004. But Pierce will have to have his moments, most notably during crunch time.
2. Will Kevin Garnett be able to shut down another power forward (or perhaps 2 power forwards)?
Garnett’s defense on Michael Beasley, Antawn Jamison, and Rashard Lewis has been one of the more underrated aspects of the playoffs. But he will have his toughest challenge against Pau Gasol, and also against Lamar Odom.
Beasley, Jamison, and Lewis are all good offensive players, but they are also not traditional power forwards. They don’t really post up and they don’t crash the boards. Both Gasol and Odom can do that. Garnett has to limit their offensive rebounds and be able to handle them one-on-one in the post.
With Kobe Bryant on the court, the Celtics absolutely will not be able to win the series if they have to be double-teaming Gasol, or if Odom is routinely putting up big offensive rebounding numbers.
3. Can Kendrick Perkins not get a technical?
By now, we all know Perk will be suspended for one game with just another technical foul. Through three series, he has six, which for a math wizard like myself, means two per series.
Against the Lakers, with talent in the frontcourt of Gasol, Odom, and Andrew Bynum, the Celtics can’t afford to be without Perkins for a game.
And of course as each game goes on, the pressure not to pick up the seventh technical will only grow. If he misses a game early in the series, perhaps Boston can overcome it. But disaster could easily strike if Perkins was to get the seventh technical in Game Five or Six, and suddenly, Boston’s starting center has to miss perhaps the most important game of the season.
4. If this were a pick-up game, in what order would the teams be picked?
On Mike & Mike in the Morning today, Greenberg and Golic discussed the depth of each team and where the players would be picked if the Lakers and Celtics were just in a gym, and two teams needed to be chosen. Here is the order I would pick the teams:
1. Kobe Bryant. 2. Rajon Rondo. 3. Paul Pierce. 4. Pau Gasol. 5. Kevin Garnett. 6. Ray Allen. 7. Lamar Odom. 8. Ron Artest. 9. Andrew Bynum. 10. Derek Fisher. 11. Kendrick Perkins. 12. Rasheed Wallace. 13. Glen Davis. 14. Tony Allen. 15. Shannon Brown. 16. Jordan Farmar.
5. Can Rajon Rondo succeed where Steve Nash and Deron Williams failed?
With his play in the playoffs, Rondo has positioned himself right alongside Nash and Williams (and Chris Paul) as one of the top point guards in the league.
Nash (18 points, 12 assists) and Williams (22 points, 9 assists) each put up good numbers against the Lakers. But the NBA is about winning, and it will be another reason to support the Rondo for Best Point Guard in the NBA argument if Rajon can put together another great series and lead Boston to the title.
Back in 2008, the Celtics were able to defeat the Lakers with Rondo not having much of an impact on the first five games. During that span, Rondo averaged only seven points and six assists, playing just 26 minutes per game (and only 18 minutes per game in the three games in L.A.).
Rondo then exploded in Game Six, as it was his setting the pace at both ends that sparked Boston to the easy victory. He had 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and six steals that night. The Celtics need those types of performances out of Rondo throughout this series.
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