TSL 5-on-5: Sleeping on the NBA

Q1: The Lakers can’t buy wins. They’re like a rudderless ship. Forget Mike D’Antoni, isn’t that what Kobe is for? Kobe got at Pau Gasol and told him to put on his “big boy pants,” but what about #24? L.A.’s struggles might be a referendum on Kobe’s dwindling impact. He is now a scorer and not much else. Right, wrong or sacreligious?


SANDY DOVER: For some reason, people act like Kobe can do no wrong. That’s the problem. Kobe has been FAR from perfect, and his platform and legacy isn’t sacrosanct. However, KB24 is right – Pau Gasol has to work through his struggles. Meanwhile, Mike D’Antoni is a known hardhead, as well, much to his past detriment. And he’’s not exactly the most ideal coach for this gig.


KEVIN COTTRELL: Wrong. Kobe deserves a bonus for babysitting these sensitive teammates. Bean is not only leading the league in scoring, but playing the role of Nash dishing out 5.1 assists along with 5.2 rebounds a game. Does Kobe shoot a lot? Sure. Kobe is also posting career highs from the field and behind the arc. We should be accusing the 17-year-veteran of riding Superman’s cape-tails, yet he’s busy carrying two 7-footers on a nightly basis. Honestly, it’s not on Kobe, Gasol or Howard; it’s on the coach. Where’s the Zenmaster when you need him?


VINNIE GOODWILL: It’s the worst combo of pressure, aging alpha male, mismatched roster and overmatched coach. Kobe is gonna go unchecked because there’s no other alpha in that locker room. D’Antoni doesn’t have the jewelry to command the respect and the funny thing is this: Kobe, unlike MJ, LeBron or even Magic, is the one star of his stature who’s never changed his game. You can almost say he’s won in spite of it, so if you expect him to change his stripes, YOU’RE the one who’s wrong. 


MICHAEL TILLERY: First: Birthday shouts to the Detroit Vinnie Goodwill. Get it, fam. Beans does not do weak sauce. Losing is no option. Period. Damn the drama, injuries, who the hell is coaching or is seated courtside. When that Philly bull is gone, the Lig will be soft like baby butter. Why do we criticize a Top 10 all time champion when a bunch of fake, paper-weight, plastic cats step outside of the shade?


MAURICE BOBB: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially if he doesn’t want to learn ‘em.  There’s no way Bean changes the way he plays, so that’s a moot point.  So for me, the onus is on Mr. Pringles.  The Zen Master found a way to win with/in spite of Mamba, so it can be done.  Question is, can it be done with this coach and this collection of players?  I’ll take “no” for $500, Alex.


Q2: Ricky Rubio is almost ready to hit the court. Aside from starring in awkward (even for a foreigner) commercials, he’s been known to play some point guard. Point guard is a deep position. Where does he rank? Elite? On the cusp? Overrated?


SANDY: Ricky Rubio is definitely a top-flight point guard. He’s got a lot of Jason Kidd in his game and can really alter the complexity of the point guard position in the league. His rookie campaign, next to Kyrie Irving, was one of the best in recent memory. He’s a true point, he’s a big point, and he has legitimate All-Star potential. Just don’t blame him for the commercial — blame the three stripes (lol).


KEVIN: Rubio is on the “cusp,” but time will tell if that is good or great. The Spaniard showed flashes last season, making the Wolves relevant but he joined a team with All-Star forward Kevin Love in place. When we mention the elite, the class is reserved for Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. Rubio never relied on his athleticism so he should be fine returning from an ACL injury; problem is those elite guards are very athletic and in mid-season form. The PG position is very deep and players like Kyrie Irving aren’t just keeping his seat warm, especially when it comes to commercial ads.


VINNIE: I won’t say overrated because his vision — perhaps the most important trait in being a point guard — is top notch. Coming off that type of injury, there’s no guarantees he’s gonna hit the ground running and he wasn’t a superior athlete to begin with. Jason Kidd was special because he worked himself into being an above average shooter and his defensive instincts matched the ones on offense. To say Rubio will certainly follow in those footsteps is certainly premature — but it’ll be captivating to watch his progression.


MIKE: He's aiiiiiight. His passing skills are most definitely elite, but I'm definitely not ready to anoint this cat. He gets a pass because of injury, but until he and the rest of his mates enter the playoff picture like many leads did when they were younger, he's Jason Williams to me


MAURICE: I pegged Rubio as overrated before he officially suited up for Minny and had to eat a heapin’ helpin’ of crow, no hot sauce, when he wrecked shop on the league last year.  I’m not doing that again.  Rubes, with his stellar instincts and court vision, can flat out ball and if you’re like me, you love a PG that can make magic with the rock like Merlin.  Sure, he’s not as athletic as Russ or Kyrie, but he doesn’t have to be.  His game centers around zipping passes through and around defenders, so he’ll still bring the MF-in’ ruckus, trust me.


Q3: On the real, this early NBA season has been a yawner. If there’s a legitimately exciting/compelling storyline, what is it?


SANDY: Depends on what you define as “a yawner” — it’s been strictly about the game for the first time in a while. No silly non-demands for trades, no jerseys being burned, no lockout. The Knicks are ballin’, the Lakers are focused on re-forming their nucleus, and LeBron is looking like Beta MJ. We can finally focus on the roundball for the first time in ages. Feels good, man.


KEVIN: It’s tough finding a compelling storyline just a month into the season. Harden had the best first week ever! The Lakers stink without Nash. The Heat and Thunder are consistently good, Celtics are aging, Bulls sans D-Rose is a tough watch and the Grizzles are playing like a nucleus that’s been together for a few seasons. Some say the first month was a “yawner,” well wake them…there’s a serious battle brewing in the Big Apple. Nets & Knicks are more than a Jay-Z rap lyric, they’re a winning fixture in the East. Even the coaches compete for awards. Before the season began, many believed the Nets and Knicks would battle for city bragging rights; but if you continue to snooze, they could be on a crash course to a subway series in the Eastern Conference Finals. 


VINNIE: The Big Markets, the Superteams folks complain about during the months of July and August will be what keeps this sport hot during April, May and my favorite month (and yours, too), June! Brooklyn, New York, LA, these are the markets that move the needle and relative to the drama that transpired before the lockout and after. The focus being on ball at this stage is best thing to happen in years. You want the attention to simmer…then rise as you can taste the playoffs. I love it like this and chances are, you will too.


MIKE: Damian Lillard. Young rock monster. What Vinnie said about the Knicks and Nets. What Kevin said about who isn't out there. The league is on some Rip Van Winkle slobber all over the pillow stuff, but I think it's the calm before the storm. Look at the standings. June will be great. This is the power-up. 


MAURICE: Kevin touched on a lot of great points about the NBA’s year-to-date, but I think the compelling storyline this year, unfortunately, will be David Stern.  Something tells me his latest tirade against the Spurs won’t be the last time he abuses his power.  Stern has lorded over the L for lo these many years, so you can’t bet your sweet ass that he won’t ride off into the sunset on some humble ish.


Q4: This is what LeBron James had to say in response to winning Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year: “The thing that’s helped me is that I’ve been watched and followed since I was 16 years old. They praise you and you make one mistake and they bring you down. They praise you again and then bring you down again.” Did June 2010 through June 2012 scar Bron for life?


MIKE: Shout out to hypocrisy. Headband-hate and money time six unbelievers. All that is why I had to put up 4000 plus after the June confetti fell down. The universe thick bs became a weapon of mass distraction that is now of cricket sounds. Of course he's scarred. Good for him. Remember the pain LeBron. It'll keep you sane until long after you walk into the Hall of Fame. 


SANDY: I was talking to a friend about trauma the other day, and I definitely believe post-traumatic stress disorder could’ve been in play for him on some level. He was calloused to the pressures of his first 11 years in the spotlight (he was being vetted back in 1999 as a freshman), but The Decision, the 2011 Finals loss, and even the 2012 All-Star Game were like a bad staph infection that ate through him. He fought it off, though. The scarring will stay, however.


KEVIN: June 2010 through June 2012 may have been the best thing to happen to LeBron. Ultimately people achieve greatness by assuming risk and James had played it safe never leaving the state of Ohio his entire career. Just as quick as LeBron gave back those throwback jerseys in High School, he was crowned King and handed a $90 Million contract from Nike. Then the NBA happened. He showed flashes of greatness and eventually made a tough decision, but learned a title had to be Earned not given. LeBron used the stumbling blocks of June 2010 as a stepping stone to June 2012, so its far from a scar more like a beauty mark.


VINNIE: LeBron is the first test-case for this new age media and hype, considering that he’s one of the few who’s actually fulfilled the promise laid out since he was on SI’s cover. I won’t say June 2010 to two years later was the best thing to happen to him but possibly the most telling about his athletic character and the most defining for his career. A scar is something you can possibly never recover from but this has strengthened him in ways he never imagined, so I disagree with Sandy. It was a really bad nightmare, one that could reappear at any time.


MAURICE: We won’t know how deep King James was cut by the events of ’10-’12 until he gives an F-U HOF speech like Mike.  But what we do know is that he finally owned up to his petulant transgressions and became the player we all knew he could be.  Vinnie made an excellent point, everything he did was scrutinized every hour on the hour because of the new age media and as the first true test case, we watched it all play out like a movie.  Fortunately for LeBron, it’s a movie with a happy ending.


Q5: Who’s the most slept on player through the first month of the season?


SANDY: Honestly, Kevin Durant has been very much slept-on. He’s still putting up great numbers and averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and both three-point field-goal and overall field-goal percentages. He’s having the best all-around season of his career, and no one is really talking about that. We’re talking about Russell Westbrook’s shoes and James Harden being a Texan and jerseys and stuff. That’ll change soon.


KEVIN: Just as the NFL is a Quarterback driven league, the NBA is spearheaded by Point Guards. Currently the Rodney Dangerfield of the Association has to be Sixers guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday is leading his team in scoring and assists posting career highs in both categories. He may not be getting the respect he deserves because the Atlantic division is shared by the Knicks, Nets and Celtics, but his numbers proves he’s among the elite. All Holiday has done is led his team to a 10-7 record despite the absence of Andrew Bynum. One may shake their head at my choice, but when he’s named to his first All-Star team you’ll just be proving my point.


VINNIE: Who knew OJ Mayo could cook like this? With Dirk out, not only is he scoring (20 per) but he’s efficient, shooting 53 from three. He was looked upon as a ho-hum signing, more Michael Beasley than Derrick Rose relative to his draft class. Now he’s looking like a bargain and will be a valuable commodity down the line. He’s still 25 so there’s more room to grow–and more room to cook, even when Diggler gets back.


MAURICE: No one is catchin’ more Z’s than Anderson Varejao.  Sure, Cleveland’s record is only 4-14, but the mop-topped Brazilian is ballin’ like he’s Dennis Rodman 2.0.  He leads the league in rebounding with 15.4, almost a full three boards more than Z-Bo at 12.7 per.  And just to keep things interesting, he’s also dropping 15.2 points per game on cats while dishing out 3.2 dimes.  With numbers like that, it’s no wonder teams are picking up the phone to see if the Cavs are about that trade life.


MIKE: DeMar DeRozan. It's a shame he's way up top because he's becoming a star before few wanting eyes. Compton is progressing weekly, monthly and yearly. I see a difference in his on floor intention. Stealth and quick fast like hot knives screaming through NBA cheese, the young fella will eat like his team mascot…breaking necks, knees and bangin' on all the trees.

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