It's been a torrential four or five weeks -- the buildup to the draft, the draft itself, free agency, speculation on the future of Ron Artest, summer league. At last, a chance to step back and get to some letters. Artest, not surprisingly, generated most of the feedback. The consensus based on my In Box is that 95-99 percent of readers just want him gone already, 80-85 want him traded with accompanying regret of losing a talented player, and 60 percent are willing to cash in an IRA to buy a couple gallons of gas and drive him to the airport if that'll get a deal done.
Long time reader, first time I'm sending an e-mail though. I've been waiting for you to weigh in on [the possibility of the Lakers pressing for Shelden Williams and Quincy Douby instead of Kenny Thomas in a Ron Artest-Lamar Odom deal] a little bit more. Can you expand at all on "this version that will undoubtedly be discussed between the teams, if it hasn't been already"? Is this from the Kings camp or is it something that you expect the Lakers to counter with since K9 isn't a desirable contract? It looks like you believe the Lakers would accept this deal -- how about the Kings? Do the pro's outweigh the cons? Also, if Josh Howard becomes available, who is more desirable ... Howard or Odom?
-- David, St. Louis
I'm sure the Lakers would prefer to avoid Thomas' contract. The Kings are the ones who would love to attach it to an Artest deal --- if you want Artest and his workable salary, you have to take Thomas at a bad salary. That sort of thing.
I can not say with certainty the Lakers would accept the deal if it's Artest, Williams and Douby because they are intrigued by the possibility of an Andrew Bynum-Pau Gasol-Odom front line. They never got to see it last season because of Bynum's knee injury, and that unit would have amazing potential. So, it's not a certainty they would accept the non-Thomas version. They are down big men and may decide against the deal no matter what.
But if the Lakers do move forward, Artest / Williams / Douby would have to be more appealing than Artest / Thomas. If the Lakers dig in their heels and say they won't do any deal that includes Thomas, the Kings would have a tough call. It's possible they have other options out there that we're not aware of. Maybe they feel like they can do Artest / Thomas with someone. But to pass on the chance to get a talented small forward in trade for Artest would be hard. It's not the perfect outcome for the Kings, but it's a positive one and possibly the best they'll get considering the number of teams that have no interest in a spin on the Artest roller-coaster.
As for the choice between Odom and Josh Howard, I'd say Odom has a slight edge. They're essentially the same age --- Odom is about six months older --- and Odom can play two positions, is a better rebounder and much better at handling the ball. Howard will score more and is a good rebounder. The obvious concern is that Odom has a history of deferring too much rather than being aggressive.
The other consideration: Odom will be in the final season of his contract. If I'm the Kings, I like that flexibility in this time of roster transition. If he fits in and plays well, you pay him. You'll have to pay him a lot, and with the risk of losing him for nothing as a free agent, but any double-double guy who moves the ball so well will cost you a lot. If he doesn't work out, then he's gone as a free agent. Howard, by comparison, has two seasons, topping out at $11.4 million in 2009-10, plus a team option at $12.3 million that may include some guaranteed money.
I'm a lifelong Laker fan, and assuming [Andrew] Bynum comes back healthy, they should be towards the top of the Western Conference, BUT how do you see the conference shaping up next season? Do you think that teams like Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Denver may fall off? And what do you think of the up-and-coming teams like Golden State, Portland, and the Kings? Could the Western Conference see a big shift in its playoff teams / seedings next season?
And lastly what are your thoughts on the playoffs being seeded 1 through 16 regardless of conference?
-- Jason, Sacramento
The teams at the top last season should be probably be the teams at the top next season: the Lakers, Spurs, Hornets and Jazz in some order, with the Rockets, Suns and maybe Mavericks in the next group. No bold prediction there.
The changing landscape is for the final playoff spot(s). Denver is out. The Trail Blazers are ready. The Clippers got much better and created the potential for a rivalry with the Warriors (Baron Davis went from Golden State to L.A., Corey Maggette went from L.A. to GS, the Clips signed Kelenna Azubuike to an offer sheet and the Warriors matched) that could carry into April and a fight for seedings. The Kings aren't in that mix.
I love the fantasy world of the 16 best teams in the playoffs, but it won't work in real life. The postseason entrants can not be determined by record as long as Eastern Conference teams get the benefit of playing each other far more than the West gets to play them.
As a fan, I am curious as to the different preparations the players and their respective teams / coaches use during the summer months.
We read of various players who start summer camp with an added 10-15 lbs: some have added muscle weight, others hamburger and fries.
We read of the Tim Grovers, Pete Newell camp, etc. Can you elaborate? How important is summer work considered for injury prevention? Skill improvement? (Michael Jordan famously worked on adding a new facet to his game each summer).
We also read of community service trips, stateside or worldwide: the NBA has promoted this, but what of other ventures? The foreign players return to their countries -- Vlade Divac and Dikembe Motumbo come to mind -- to spread the wealth of their celebrity in many forms of goodwill.
-- BJS, Fairfield
The offseason is very important for young players in particular. Some will use the time to work on their bodies in the right way, the non-expanding-waistline way, and all are sent into the summer months with some sort of work list from their coaches or GMs: spend a lot of time on your shooting, here's some agility drills that will help you get better on defense, work on your dribble. Some teams will send a coach, trainer or member of the strength and conditioning arm to work with the players.
Tim Grover has become a superstar in the world of athlete fitness because of his operation in Chicago, with the Midas endorsement of Michael Jordan. Pete Newell's camp, though no longer run by Newell, has a long history of working with big men and more recently has been attracting perimeter player who want to develop a post game. So the summer work is for skill improvement and injury prevention.
The offseason is different for a lot of veterans. As they age, they use the months for rest and recovery more than driving themselves nonstop in the way of a 24 year old. That's especially true for vets hoping to play into June. The Celtics don't need Kevin Garnett and the Spurs don't need Tim Duncan to give them their best games in November and December.
You hit on the other aspect. The goodwill trips have become common. So have the trips that are not necessarily built on helping thy fellow man: the overseas promotional tours to help Thy Fellow Shoe Company. But, yes, the NBA has a major effort called Basketball Without Borders that sends players and staff members around the world.
LeBron's ankle injury this week got me thinking that Mark Cuban is right (for once). The Mavericks owner has been vocal (no surprise) about how dangerous it is to allow our NBA players to play in the Olympics, risking serious injury when they're not playing for the team they've signed a contract with. What's it going to take for players to be concerned about getting hurt and bow out of the year-round hoops?
-- JV, San Francisco
The players are already concerned about risking injury. But they're also concerned about risking the wrath of some sponsor that wants a product line marketed on that world stage. While I think some of the national pride Team USA has been talking about is real, let's not be unrealistic about the corporate influence.
The level of pressure for players in many other countries is different and very real. Not playing in the major international tournaments opens some NBA players to a great deal of public abuse that could follow them for years. It's not the same as Garnett showing little interest in playing for the United States in Beijing.