by Lang Whitaker

Let’s gooooo!

Linkstigator Matt Walsh writes…

Hi Lang,

One of my pet peeves on the basketball court is flopping and watching the Cavs v. Magic series I cant help but get frustrated by Varejao’s acting (even Ben Wallace in Game 3 was diving all over the court).

I understood that this season players would be penalized for flopping but I have not seen this happen once all year. Was this rule ever put in place? How badly does someone have to flop to get T’d up for this? Am I the only one that screams at the TV when they see this happen over and over again?

On a lighter note, how is the book going?

Ha! There’s nothing light about writing a book, I can promise you that. Especially a book that’s due in about three months. I’ve tried not to mention it much here on The Links, but…well, it’s a lot of writing. Think of it this way: A normal 4- or 5-page feature I write for SLAM every month runs about 2,000 words. This book is supposed to be something like 90,000 words. So I have to write the equivalent of about 45 SLAM features before September. At least the Braves are starting to play well again. But enough about that.

The flopping thing is funny, because if you think about it, everyone is flopping all over the place, even LeBron and Kobe. It’s just that Varejao just might not be as good at flopping as everyone else is.

But to your point, yes, one year ago at this time, the NBA made a lot of noise about their new flopping rules. They even said players would be fined for flopping.

But you know what? I don’t remember hearing about anyone fined for flopping this season. I spoke today with an exec from an NBA team and he said nobody on his team was fined for flopping. And I just texted with an NBA player who said he doesn’t remember hearing of anyone being fined for flopping, either.

Weird, right? Did the rule change scare everyone into not flopping? Or does the NBA just interpret a flop differently than everyone else in the world?

(I also emailed an NBA spokesperson about 20 minutes before posting this. If I hear back I’ll either update this post or incorporate the answer into tomorrow’s Links.)

• The Conference Finals are going strong, and all the games have been mandatory viewing for hoops fans. I still think the Lakers and Cavs are going to win, because that’s how much I respect Bron and Kobe. If these guys are as good as we all think they are, they don’t let their teams lose these series. Right? Right?

Especially Kobe. He’s the second-best all-around player in the NBA right now, which isn’t a bad place to be, and he’s got such a talented team surrounding him. But ever since I saw “Kobe Doin’ Work,” I can’t stop thinking about how horrible it must be to play on Kobe’s team. The constant correcting of everyone else, the constant unsolicited advice, the constant Kobeness. I don’t think Spike Lee meant to make a movie that exposed Kobe as one of the more fussy teammates of all-time, but he did.

I got into a little twitter argument about Kobe with Vince Thomas and Nate Jones over the weekend. I said that Kobe’s titles with the Lakers were as much or more about Shaq than they were about Kobe, and that in my eyes Kobe still needs to win a title on his own to be one of those true super-duper-duper stars. Because if their careers ended right now, I’d have to rank Shaq ahead of Kobe. (Hey, that could be a good idea for a new issue…) Yes, Kobe is awesome. And in his prime he was awesome. But in his prime, Shaq was better.

Vince and Nate tried to engage me in an argument that if Duncan had been on those Laker teams instead of Shaq, they would have won more titles than they did with Shaq. Maybe, I said, though after I thought more about it, i realized that I don’t think Tim would have put up with Kobe’s micromanaging for long enough to win four titles. Because Kobe spared nobody in “Kobe Doin’ Work,” when he knew he was being recorded. He talked at the best players on his team: Odom, Fisher, Gasol, etc.

Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. “Kobe Doin’ Work” has made appreciating Kobe Bryant very hard for me. I understand the obsession with perfection, the work ethic, wanting all of his teammates to become better. But I think he’s got to figure out a way to turn it down a notch, at least when he’s dealing with his teammates. Like I said, Kobe is the second-best player in the NBA right now. But as far as being the best teammate…I’m not sure he’s even in my five.

• While we’re talking about the Lake Show, watching them play these games against Denver, it’s become obvious to me that the Lakers aren’t as good a team as they could be. As good as they are, they could still upgrade at their starting guard slot, and they could definitely use someone in the post who will play with a little aggression and fire, who will battle for rebounds and not get out-toughed against a team that gets physical, like Denver’s been doing. But this morning I looked up the Lakers’ salary situations, and getting better isn’t going to be easy, not by a long shot.

Without re-signing Lamar Odom or Trevor Ariza or Shannon Brown, three of their best players this postseason, the Lakers already have $74 million committed to salaries next season. And that’s with the luxury tax threshold expected to be around $69 million next season. They have a total of $19.8 committed next season to Fisher, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic and Adam Morrison. Let’s say, considering how many teams are looking to shed as much money as possible, the Lakers are forced to keep all these guys they’ve got signed to bad contracts, then somehow get Lamar to take the midlevel and give Ariza and Brown a total of about $8 million next year. That would put their payroll figure at about $87 million, which means with the luxury tax included they’d be paying out $105 million total. And that’s just maintaining, not getting any better.

• One interesting wrinkle…you know who could become a free agent this summer? Oh, a guy named Kobe Bryant. Just saying. He has a player option and can opt out if he chooses to. Will he? Probably not. Though…

• Hey, shoutouts to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal and to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for quoting me in their Ricky Rubio coverage of late. (And I managed to get Sekou on my Toney Douglas bandwagon.) I’ve also talked about Ricky on several radio shows lately, and almost everyone asks me about Ricky’s potential. Does he need time to develop? Will he take a while to learn the NBA game? And my answer to everyone is to watch the tape of the Gold Medal game. Or ask Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd if Ricky can play right now.

• Linkstigator Joe R. writes…

I’ve watched the final second of Game 2 over and over again, and it’s unarguable that was the best shot LeBron has ever hit. After the game the TNT guys were arguing how to defend that last play, and I was wondering if you think Orlando did the best they possibly could to stop LeBron from scoring.

Van Gundy had Lewis on Williams inbounding, Alston on West, Howard on Ilgauskas, Pietrus on Pavlovic and Turkoglu on James. West sets a screen for Z at the elbow, giving him a corner three (Williams doesn’t consider it), Pavlovic comes from the baseline to the three point line, leading Pietrus away from the basket. LeBron goes for the lob but Hedo denies it, so he then goes out for three and drains a ridiculous off-balance shot. It wasn’t by any standards an easy shot, but should Orlando have even let James touch the ball at all in that final second?

The way I would have it, Alston on West and Pietrus on Pavlovic as they did, then have Lewis on Ilgauskas. Have Howard on the rim, defending any attempt of a lob for a dunk or layup. Have Turkoglu completely deny the ball instead of cutting off the rim as his main priority. Sure, this leaves Mo Williams open, but one second isn’t enough time to pass, get himself inbounds and get the ball back then get a decent shot off. Orlando’s single main priority should be keeping the ball away from LeBron. I’d take a contested Pavlovic or Ilgauskas three or even a contested West mid-range jumpshot over leaving the game in James’ hands. I’m keen to hear your take on this.

Loved the email, because I’ve thought a lot about that play also. (Especially after the game when Reggie Miller said it was “bad defense,” and Kenny and Charles almost choked him for spewing nonsense.)

(Also, if you want to get familiar, you can re-watch the play here.)

My take is that I think Orlando played it pretty well. Bron tried to go backdoor, Turkoglu prevented that, and then LeBron pushed off and created just enough space to catch and shoot. But Turkoglu even closed on that pretty well, too. LeBron basically had the minimum room necessary to catch and shoot, but he pulled it off because he’s LeBron and you’re not.

But if you want to nitpick, there’s a couple of places I can think to do it.

1) When the teams lined up for this play, I immediately thought of the play earlier this season when the Cavs threw an oop for LeBron and he was “fouled” and sent to the line for two free throws. With one second left, I thought for sure that’s what Cleveland would do. And they did try it, but Turkoglu cut it off. Tukoglu cutting it off, however, meant that he had to play between Bron and the basket, so when Bron changed direction and went to the ball, he was momentarily open.

2) What was Rashard Lewis doing on the play? I understand he was ostensibly guarding the inbounds man, but get on him. He’s standing about a yard back, watching halfheartedly. He’s way taller than Mo Williams, so why not try to make the pass as difficult as possible. Or…

3) Leave Mo Williams open and double LeBron. Put Lewis behind him to stop the lob and put Turkoglu in front of him to stop the three. Or…

4) Take Dwight Howard off of Ilgauskus in the corner and have Dwight watch for the lob and have Turkoglu watch for LeBron cutting the ball, and have Lewis split between Ilgauskas and Mo Williams.

Basically, I would have done anything possible to keep the ball away from LeBron James, including leaving other guys open. And if you lose on a three from Ilgauskas, hey, you lose on a three from Ilgauskas. But whatever you do, under no circumstances should you let LeBron James touch the rock.

One other interesting thing: Watch the play again and notice that the Cavs don’t even use the right half of the halfcourt. You know how football announcers always talk about how hard it is to score in the red zone because you have less room to work with? Setting up the way they did, the Cavs basically took away half of the room they had to work with. And the play still worked.

• Which reminds me: Anyone else noticed that Sasha Pavlovic can’t even come close to defending Hedo Turkoglu? There was a moment in the first half of Game Three when Mike Brown sent in Pavlovic to guard Turkoglu, and Turkoglu took him off the dribble on back to back possessions. So what did Mike Brown do with the game on the line in the fourth? He put in Pavlovic to guard Turkoglu! And what did Turkoglu do? He drove, drew a foul and made both free throws to help put the game away.