Yardbarker NBA writers Pat Heery and Sean Keane address the hottest issues in the NBA. This week's topic: All things Lakers.
Heery: We're in the midst of one of the lulls in the 82-game season. There's no mid-season tournament (yet). The trade deadline is about a month away, and the rumors are only just starting to crackle as middling teams are still deciding whether to be buyers or sellers. And the All-Star Game doesn't happen until mid-February. What are we going to talk about this week?
Lucky for us, Jimmy Fallon gave us a nice hypothetical on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" the other night when he asked his guest, Shaquille O'Neal, whether he and Kobe Bryant would have beaten LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a hypothetical two-on-two game. Shaq's response: “Yes. Hell, yes. Of course [we’d win]. Cause there’s only one contributing factor. Who’s gonna guard me?”
OK, Sean, let's pretend Skip Bayless called off this week of work after falling off the elliptical upon seeing that the Cowboys hired Mike McCarthy to replace Jason Garrett. Here's your audition tape: Would Shaq-Kobe beat LeBron-AD in a game of two-on-two?? The floor is yours…
Keane: QUITE FRANKLY, Pat Heery, it’s no surprise that a star from the '90s went on television and claimed that he’d beat a contemporary star. That’s what happens each and every week on "Inside the NBA," the last place where the triangle offense reigns, jump shooting teams can’t win an NBA title, and your manliness is directly correlated with how many times you post up every game. However!
The big advantage that LeBron and AD have over Shaq and Kobe on a basketball court is their passing ability and court vision. In a 2-on-2 game, LeBron’s passing wizardry means you never know who the ball is going to go to, and in this hypothetical, it's always going to Anthony Davis. If I'm Phil Jackson -- obviously he's going to coach Kobe-Shaq and probably run the straight-line offense -- I'm sticking Shaq under the basket full time and making the 2020 Lakers beat me with jumpers. I'm not sure Kobe can stop either of these guys by himself, because they outweigh him by at least 40 pounds apiece, but perhaps he gets to hand check since that was still legal when his career began. But if a fan tries to paint a mural of Davis and James during this game, it is getting defaced immediately.
Shaq is right that as good as they are on defense, he's still going to be tough to stop by the AD-Brow combo, but that assumes that Shaq can get the ball. His teammate is KOBE BRYANT after all. He's allergic to passing, remember? I can imagine long stretches where Shaq backs his way into deep post position on Davis, only to see Kobe spending 20 seconds trying to shake LeBron one-on-one before launching a fallaway jumper.
Eventually Shaq will leave the court entirely to shoot commercials for off-brand rechargeable batteries and muscle creams, leaving Kobe to battle the modern Lakers one-on-two. That's the ultimate Mamba Mentality challenge!
There are plenty of complicating factors: Does Davis have to miss 20% of this game with injuries to mirror his regular-season career? How do the referees decide which of their traditional favorites, Kobe or LeBron, gets all the whistles in his favor? Will they ever call three seconds in the key on Shaq, or traveling on LeBron, and are the modern Lakers allowed to Hack-a-Shaq? Ultimately, I'm going with Shaq and Kobe because I like them better as an NBA Jam duo, my go-to tiebreaker.
Keane: How about you? Are you going with the Big Aristotle or El Gran Taco Tuesday? And while we're going through hypothetical scenarios, who do you imagine coming to the Lake Show this spring, either via trade or signing?
Heery: Tell you what, Skip better watch his back and recommit himself to his hot take craft ... and, right on cue, Skip accused LeBron of stat padding today. Long live Skip!
I think your point about officiating is the key to this game. Is there a ref? Call your own foul? Free throws? Can you Hack-a-Shaq? Are the players taking their era's analytics into account? Because if they’re playing by 1s & 2s, then LBJ and AD are beating Shaq/Kobe because three-point shots (aka 2s), are even more valuable than usual because 2 is 50% more valuable than 1 whereas 3 is only 33% more valuable than 2.
Alright, that’s enough of hypothetical nerd corner.
As to your question about the current Lakers trade and buy-out targets, everyone knows the Lakers have basically one asset: Kyle Kuzma. And Kuzma is arguably the most divisive trade chip in the league in terms of value. Some teams probably see him as a future All-Star (he averaged 18.7 ppg. last season) and potential third wheel on a championship contender. Other teams probably see him as Carmelo Anthony -- a one-trick pony who puts up inefficient scoring stats (42.5-35-75 shooting splits this season) and has little impact on winning (10.9 PER).
If the Lakers could flip Kuzma for the likes of Bogdan Bogdanovic, an effective scorer and playmaker on the Sacramento Kings, they should do that deal now. If the best they can do is a backup veteran three-and-D wing like the Grizzlies' Jae Crowder, they absolutely should not trade Kuzma.
The one trade target I keep flipping back and forth on is the Knicks' Marcus Morris. He's a great fit alongside LeBron and AD because he can space the floor (46.9 percent from three this season) and isn't afraid to mix it up on defense with the best forwards. However, he's a bit of a head case and only on a one-year deal. I don't envy Lakers GM Rob Pelinka if he has to make that decision come early February.
If the Lakers can't acquire Bogdanovic, then the move is to do whatever they need to do to sign the recently retired Darren Collison. Collison apparently wants to come back in February, and would like to play for one of the LA teams. He's a better fit on the Lakers because the Clippers don't have many guard minutes to go around. But that could easily change if the oft-injured Pat Beverley goes down again.
Heery: Are there any sleeper moves you see out there for either of the LA teams? And could the Lakers simply stay pat at the deadline and win a title with this team? They do seem to have great chemistry right now.
Keane: If he can’t reunite with his twin brother Markieff, I love the idea of Marcus Morris on the Lakers. He’s having a dream season on the awful Knicks -- he has the green light at all times. As an identical twin, it has to be the first time in his life he’s not expected to share.
When thinking about the ideal teammates for LeBron, I usually start with members of the 2012 Eastern Conference All-Star team, but he already has Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo, and the Derrick Rose experiment already failed with King James in Cleveland. Plus, Paul Pierce and the remaining Heatles have retired, and Kevin Garnett is focusing on his acting career. That leaves just one possibility: Grizzly-in-exile Andre Iguodala, who can’t be traded directly to LA for salary matching reasons but could end up with the Lake Show if he can engineer a buyout. It would be shady and borderline illegal, but since when has that stopped LeBron and Team Klutch?
Crowder didn’t work out with LeBron in Cleveland, but a non-washed version of him would be perfect for their crunch-time minutes. E’Twaun Moore of the Pelicans would be an excellent fit, having already thrived while enjoying the wide-open threes that come from playing with Anthony Davis. But any deal would have to involve Kuzma, and New Orleans may balk at taking a fourth disappointing Lakers prospect. It would definitely restart Kuzma’s diss track-fueled feud with Lonzo Ball, and might draw in Zion Williamson, leading to dissension, more terrible rapping and awkward rhymes for “meniscus.”
Barring a great three-and-D guy becoming available, the Lakers might settle for just the threes. The Warriors might be loathe to deal with their rival to the south, but Alec Burks could be a great fit to the team, providing threes, ballhandling and someone to bond with LeBron about the joy of leaving Cleveland.
Regardless, these are luxury moves for the Lakers, who could win the West with one Alex Caruso tied behind their backs.
Keane: Are you at all worried about the team chemistry, with Kuzma’s trainer dissing LeBron, and Dwight Howard, well, existing? And who are the most realistic threats to their title hopes -- their crosstown rivals? Luka D? Or the NBA’s newest dynamic duo of Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. in Denver?
Heery: I would hope that Kuzma understands the trade rumors part of the business as well as the win-now urgency that accompanies LeBron by now. Assuming he does, I don’t foresee any chemistry issues if Kuzma isn't traded (from an off-the-court perspective at least). On the court, however, his redundancy with LeBron and AD may rear its ugly head in a series against the Clippers.
The only other team (as currently constructed) that I could see taking down the Lake Show are the Rockets. And I’m giving them that credit only because their style is so awkward to play against and they shoot so many threes that they could get hot in a series and basically out-math a team.
What’s your take? Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. look great lately, but don’t you think the Nuggets and Mavericks are still a major player away from a title team?
Keane: The future is bright in Dallas and Denver, but they still feel like they’re one or two moves away from being true contenders. Dallas has a bright, shiny expiring Courtney Lee contract to use at the trade deadline to pick up a spare piece, but there are very few LeBron stoppers out there, and Andre Iguodala might not be one anymore.
Denver has too much talent for head coach Mike Malone to even figure out his rotations, but not enough high-level talent that it's a credible Lakers threat. But if Denver can turn some of their multiple good young players into one great player -- like Jrue Holiday of the Pelicans -- Jokic is just good and just weird enough that the Nuggets have a shot. But I wouldn’t bet on him in a two-on-two battle against Shaq.