Mailbag: LeBron at the point?

Charley, love your articles. What do you think about having LeBron start at point guard for the new-look Heat? This would enable them to put Mike Miller out there to extend the defense with his shooting, one of the few weaknesses of this team. However, as athletic as LeBron is, I don’t know if he could keep up with the majority of PGs. Good idea or bad? – Jeremy, Oklahoma City

Bad idea for several reasons.

While LeBron can play acceptable defense against big, strong and relatively slow opponents — like Paul Pierce — quick guys leave him in the dust. So your suggestion that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with most of the point guards in the league is right on.

Putting LBJ at the point would also give him license to over-handle the ball, which is something that the Heat must absolutely avoid. The negative results of this scenario would be a stagnant offense, as well as defenses loading up since they’d know where the ball would most often be.

Such a move would also maximize one of LeBron’s most significant shortcomings — his erratic perimeter shooting — while minimizing his biggest plus: his power drives to the hoop.

Moreover, Miami would best be served if LBJ is a finisher rather than a facilitator. Lastly, with James having to blast and spin his way into the lane to be most effective, the Heat’s court balance would be seriously compromised, leaving them vulnerable to opponents’ fast breaks.

But your question does serve to emphasize how badly the Heat are in need of a top-notch point.

Why did the Warriors let go of Don Nelson? Isn’t he the all-time winningest coach in NBA history? – Yuri, Juneau, AK

Because Nellie was always on a power trip, a characteristic that got worse with each passing season. One way in which this trait was manifested was his refusal to establish a consistent player rotation. As a result, his players never knew when they’d play and/or sit, or how much PT they’d get in any given game. This kept the players edgy, afraid to take even reasonable risks and focused on their own numbers.

And, of course, Nellie’s teams have never played good defense — except in Milwaukee when the late John Killilea had full control over this half of the game.

In retrospect, Nellie was a good, but not great, coach, whose biggest downfall was his humongous ego. His career win total has more to do with longevity than with expertise.

You get the choice of being General Manager of a team in the NBA that you feel is on the verge of possibly becoming a championship-caliber team. Excluding the Lakers and Heat of course, what team would it be, and what players would you move while being payroll considerate? Your job is on the line here! (Keeping the trades fair, of course.) – Jake Baker, Saint Louis, MO

I’d go with the Thunder because they have a burgeoning superstar in Kevin Durant to be the locus of their offense, because Russell Westbrook still hasn’t reached his full potential, because James Harden could easily develop into a prime-time scorer off the bench and because the team is so young.

My first move would be to try to trade Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green and a No. 1 draft pick for an experienced center. Somebody like Chris Kaman or Nene would do. This would take the pressure off of Serge Ibaka and give him more time to develop and would also be preferable to hoping that one of their small-time big-men draft choices unexpectedly blossoms. To replace the erratic and defenseless Green, I’d split the power-forward time between Nick Collison and D.J. White while also giving Ikaba some daylight at this spot.

Most importantly, I’d sign Scott Brooks to a long-term, guaranteed contract.

I have heard that Dean Smith was a master coach who could have made it big in the NBA. Do you think he would have been a good fit for the NBA? What kind of skills made him great? – Barry Greenstein, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

In addition to his tactical and motivational brilliance, Smith was honest, humble, intelligent and always willing to go out of his way to help any true seeker.

That said, the primary reason why he left coaching was his dislike of, and inability to deal with, the modern breed of ballplayers — particularly Rasheed Wallace. Their selfishness, refusal to take personal responsibility for their mistakes and lack of discipline ruined the game for Smith. And that’s precisely why he would not have been a good fit in the mad, mad, mad world of the NBA.

I feel that Chris Bosh is the most underrated player in the NBA. Explain why Pau Gasol is regarded as a better player. – Emad, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

On the contrary, Bosh is one of the most overrated players in the league. Gasol is smarter, more unselfish, more consistently competitive, has a better post-up game and is a much better passer. Plus, Gasol makes better decisions on defense and is infinitely superior in clutch situations.

You’ve discussed in this column that centers are starting to evolve as jump shooters. My question is this: Why do centers have to develop pivot moves and low-post maneuvers when they can easily jump and shoot the ball in the shaded lane? My opinion is that "old school" centers rely on pivot moves because they lack the shooting touch of jump-shooting centers. Your thoughts please. – Ian L. Guballa, Santiago City, Philippines

As the ball is positioned closer and closer to the basket, defenses become more and more vulnerable. Bigs with evolved low-post moves attract double teams and allow their teams to play inside-out offense, which opens up good looks and cutting lanes for their teammates. Jump-shooting centers don’t require such drastic defensive measures — either they hit their shots, or they miss.

Guys who can operate inside are in excellent position to grab offensive rebounds. They are also liable to inflict personal fouls on their defenders and get lots of opportunities to score “free points” at the free-throw line.

Of course, a center who can score in the paint while still being a threat from mid-range (like Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol) are incredibly valuable. But it’s still their interior prowess that sets up their jumpers.

Charley, who would you pick as the all-time best players (full team, not just starting five) on the two most successful franchises in the history of the association? And who would you pick to win such an epic standoff in a seven-game series? As a life-long Celtic lover and a Laker hater, I would of course go with the men in green, but you’re a bit more objective than I. – Lincoln Hirschi, Salt Lake City, UT

Ignoring the 10 best scorers on each franchise and concentrating instead on selecting a workable team, here are my picks in alphabetical order. Let’s extend the hypothesis so that each player is at his peak:

LAKERS: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Cooper (for defense), Magic Johnson, Rudy LaRusso (for toughness and defense at power forward), Jerry West, Jamal Wilkes and James Worthy. The coach is Phil Jackson.

CELTICS: Larry Bird, Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, Tommy Heinsohn, Sam Jones, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce, Bill Russell and Bill Sharman. The coach is Red Auerbach.

The Lakers win the seventh game in seven overtimes because of their overall edge in quickness and size in the middle. And because PJ makes better in-game and between-game adjustments than Red did.