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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NBA Coast to Coast Breaks Down Iverson, "Ring Thing" Guys, the NBA's New/Old Ball and the Lakers' Title Chances

What is it like to guard Allen Iverson? Most of us will never experience that firsthand but three people who have--Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Jon Barry--answered that question posed by Matt Winer on ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast. Anthony said, "The thing about Allen Iverson that overwhelmed me is that I'd never seen a guy with his overall speed and quickness have that high a level of skill." According to Anthony, that combination made Iverson "the most intimidating player in the game other than Shaquille O'Neal." That's a bold statement but Legler completely agreed, adding "There were only two guys that I ever played against who brought fear into my locker room: Shaquille O'Neal and Allen Iverson." Legler explained that O'Neal can overpower players and that Iverson wears players out with his constant movement, noting that even a great scorer like Reggie Miller would have times during games when he was passive and the ball would go into Rik Smits. Legler declared that Iverson has "relentless competitiveness--the only other guy I saw who had that was Jordan." Barry agreed with his two colleagues, adding, "Nobody in the NBA is faster with the ball."

One would think that such a tremendous player would be an asset to any team but Barry is not so sure. He said that Iverson would not fit in on a really good team because he demands the ball too much and that a really bad team might not be inclined to give up several young players who have upside in order to acquire Iverson. Anthony completely disagreed with Barry, saying that Iverson's availability is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" because "if you don't think that he can go play with other teams and other players you are kidding yourself." Anthony argued that Iverson could help put a good team over the top, suggesting that an Iverson for McGrady deal could help Houston and adding that Nowitzki-Iverson would be a powerful duo in Dallas. Iverson wants to win, Anthony explained, and he would do what he has to do to help teams like that to win. Legler took the middle of the road, agreeing that Houston might be a good fit for Iverson but siding with Barry in stating that Iverson would not be able to blend in with an elite team--Legler cited San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix as examples--that has a chance to win this year; those teams have set offensive patterns that would be too disrupted by Iverson's style of play.

Later in the show, the panel returned to the subject of Allen Iverson and his possible future destination. Anthony said that in order for the team that acquires Iverson to fully benefit from his skills, two things must be in place: a coach who commands Iverson's respect and a great player who Iverson respects: "Great players don't have a problem deferring if you can prove that you are better than they are." Anthony is absolutely correct. Look at big time scorers like Oscar Robertson, Bob McAdoo and Mark Aguirre--or even former All-Stars Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning from last year's Miami Heat: players will sacrifice minutes, shot attempts and points for a legitimate opportunity to win a championship.

The Coast to Coast crew also tackled the subject of the NBA getting rid of the new composite basketball in favor of the leather basketball that the players prefer. Marc Stein reported that the tipping point that influenced Commissioner Stern to give in on this issue is that a number of players complained that the new basketball is cutting their hands. Ironically, even some of the players who have brought this up--including two-time MVP Steve Nash--don't want to switch back in midseason because they have just gotten used to the new basketball. Ric Bucher added that the NBA is waiting until January 1 to make the change because most teams simply gave away their old basketballs, so the NBA has to find out how many old basketballs are still around and then decide how to procure enough for each team. How did the NBA get into this mess in the first place? Anthony explained that, like so many things in life, it was simply a matter of miscommunication. The NBA sent a personalized new composite ball for each player to the teams in the offseason. The problem is that most players do not spend the offseason in the city where they play during the season, so they either received the basketballs late in the summer or not at all. The NBA was waiting for feedback and when the league office received none the powers that be interpreted that as a sign to go ahead with the change.

NBA Coast to Coast devoted a segment to what it termed "Ring Thing" guys--players who do the dirty work that must be done for teams to win championships. Barry cited Derek Fisher, Shane Battier, Robert Horry, Eduardo Najera and Ben Wallace. Anthony said that he prefers the term "glue guys" and he listed Andre Miller, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Udonis Haslem and Mehmet Okur. Legler's five are Derek Fisher, Anthony Johnson, Andres Nocioni, Shawn Marion and Etan Thomas. ESPN also showed a graphic of four all-time "glue guys" who helped teams to win championships: Bill Walton (presumably from the '86 Celtics when he was Sixth Man of the Year and not the '77 Blazers when he was the Finals MVP), Kurt Rambis, Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant.

In the past year or two, no one has liked the Lakers more than Anthony (other than 20 Second Timeout, of course). Anthony said that Phil Jackson "has never coached a team that has underachieved. That is the ultimate compliment that you can give a coach." He added that Jackson recently told him that this Lakers teams is "eerily similar" to the 1991 Bulls team that won the NBA championship. Anthony has spoken with several other Western Conference coaches and he said that each and every one of them said that they fear how good the Lakers might be this year. Anthony concluded, "I think that the L.A. Lakers can win a championship this year."

Barry disagreed with Anthony, citing Smush Parker's inconsistency and the lack of playoff experience on the roster (other than Kobe Bryant, of course). Anthony countered that the Lakers received valuable playoff experience last year by extending the Phoenix Suns to seven games.

Tuesday was a slow night in the NBA, with only four games on the schedule. One of them involved the Lakers, who raced out to a big lead and hung on to beat the Rockets, 102-94. Houston started out the year 14-6 but McGrady is out indefinitely with back spasms. Last year the Rockets were also a .700 team with McGrady but a .007 team (or pretty close to that) without him. People who downgrade McGrady's impact should look at how poorly Houston does without him even when Yao puts up 26 points like he did against the Lakers. Bryant finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists but the big news from the game is that Lamar Odom sprained his knee during the first quarter and did not return to action. If these Lakers are the '91 Bulls then Odom is their Scottie Pippen--and one thing that the '91 Bulls avoided were injuries to key players. If Odom has to miss an extended amount of time then Bryant may have to go back to putting up 35 ppg to pick up the slack.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:57 PM



At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 3:13:00 AM, Blogger vednam said...

I am impressed (and surprised) with how good the Lakers have been playing. I think they added some much needed depth during the off-season, Kobe is playing a more team-friendly style, and Odom has become more aggressive and stepped up to become more of a leader. I agree with Anthony that the Lakers can win the title.

With that said, I am a little worried about how much trouble the Odom injury will be. It looks like he will be back well before the playoffs, and no one has suggested that it is serious enough to permanently diminish any of his skills. What I'm worried about though is the possibility that the excellent chemistry the Lakers have been displaying may be upset with Odom's absence, and may not be fully regained when he returns.

I just can't see Iverson accepting a significantly lesser role with a team in order to win (say scoring about 17-20 ppg). Iverson may possibly dominate the ball more than any player in NBA history. I also think he needs the ball a lot in order to be effective.

I think Iverson would disrupt a team like Dallas, and would fit in best with a team lacking a superstar who wants to have the ball and win games down the stretch (such as Minnesota, as many have suggested).

Derek Fisher has got to be one of the most overrated "role players"/"glue guys" in history. All he could do was shoot open three pointers and flop in order to draw charges. He couldn't create on offense. Moreover, he was sucked on defense (which is extremely puzzling since he seems to have a repuation as a good defender). Whenever the Lakers faced a team with a quick guard (Iverson, Parker, Bibby, Stoudamire, etc.), Fisher was basically helpless, and whoever he was guarding was able to score at will. I remember the Lakers routinely had to put Kobe on Fisher's man at the end of games.

At Wednesday, December 13, 2006 8:53:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Anthony is very intelligent but has been smoking if he thinks the Lakers can win a championship this year. We are only 20 games into the season, he and everyone else needs to calm down.

All summer Ive been saying Iverson for McGrady. McGrady is soft and injury prone. Iverson will give Yao the ball. He definitely wouldnt like scoring 17-20 a game but 22-25 with 10-12 assists is something that he should do. Someone who handles the ball as much as he does should average at least 10-12 assists.

Why change the ball now? The Godfather messed up on this one.


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