Kobe wins, LeBron fills stat sheets

There’s one basic reason why the Lakers won the championship and the Cavaliers watched the game on TV. No matter how poorly Kobe played — especially in Game 7 — he was surrounded by several clutch players (Gasol, Fisher and even Artest) who were able to overcome his bad performances. Unfortunately, LeBron doesn’t have this luxury, and he has to be at the top of his game for the Cavaliers to have a chance to win. So the premise that Kobe is better than LeBron because the Lakers won the championship is just simplistic and inaccurate. What is your take on this? – Jose Rosado, Puerto Rico

Kobe is better than LeBron for many more reasons that his five championship rings — he knows how to play the game while LBJ only knows how to fill up a stat sheet.

However, as far as the universal belief that LeBron’s teammates have always been inadequate, let me remind you of the following: Mo Williams, Shaq, Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes, Ricky Davis, Damon Jones, Flip Murray, Drew Gooden, Joe Smith, Jamario Moon, Anthony Parker, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. When these guys joined up with LeBron, they were touted as being just the players who would make a perfect fit with James and push the Cavs over the top. Although several of the aforementioned were well past their respective primes, mostly notably Shaq and Smith, several were certified All-Stars and all were well-respected by diligent NBA watchers. But when the Cavs failed to go all the way, the retrospective wisdom in some quarters was that the team’s failures could be pinned on the newcomers.

This is utter nonsense.

The truth is that the way LBJ plays the game makes his teammates worse instead of better. He is either incapable of, or resistant to, playing in a structured offensive system, one that isn’t primarily based on his having the ball on a string.

Forget about his assist totals. He accumulates dimes because he’s a very good passer and because he controls the ball. But how often does LeBron deliberately throw a pass that leads to somebody else making an assist pass? Or LeBron do anything significant without the ball except making dive cuts or (seldom) settling into the low post?

On those rare occasions when it’s somebody else’s turn to go one-on-one or use a screen, LeBron usually stands idly by somewhere on the weak side. For the most part, he’s either a spectator or makes spectators of his teammates.

Until he learns how to play five-man basketball, LeBron will pile up impressive numbers and MVP trophies, but never win a championship.

Longtime reader here. I was wondering if you could compare Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker. – Jason, Jersey City, N.J.

Thanks for your patience!

Rondo is a better all-around athlete, with better hops and infinitely better defensive instincts.

Although Rondo has a quicker and longer last step, Parker is a better finisher. And these days, Parker’s jumper is more accurate, which makes him a more dependable point-maker, a situation that will be eliminated in a year or two as Rondo hones his own shooting mechanics.

Because Rondo can do more things — rebound, deflect, steal — when he’s got his mojo working, he usually has more influence on any given game.

In the 2004 Finals, did Detroit dominate because it was a high quality team or because L.A. was falling apart from within? – John Montgomery, Seattle

While the Lakers were indeed rife with dissension and confusion — most notably Gary Payton’s dissatisfaction with the triangle offense and Karl Malone’s inability to comprehend the particulars of the same — they still could/should have beaten the Pistons.

The fact is that, coming into the series, Malone was bothered by a sprained MCL. Yet in the first two games — which were split — his fiercely physical defense completely intimidated Rasheed Wallace. During those two games, Malone averaged 40 minutes of playing time.

But he aggravated his injury in Game 3, played a total of 40 minutes in games 3 and 4 and didn’t play at all in Game 5. In Malone’s absence, Luke Walton was eaten alive by the suddenly aggressive Wallace.

So, while the Pistons were indeed a high quality team, there was a subplot to their championship.

Hey, Charley, how ya doin’? I have been reading your articles for quite some time and am a fan even though I don’t always agree with what you say. How do you think the following great big men in their prime would do against Bill Russell’s defense at his prime: Shaq, Kareem, Hakeem, Duncan, Garnett, Ewing, David Robinson and McHale? – Gurjo O’Niel, Arizona

I’m doin’ fine, except that my old basketball injuries flare up whenever it rains.

Although Russell is officially listed at 6-10, 220, he had the kind of tensile strength that made him play bigger. He was also an extremely quick jumper, so quick that he could hold his ground on defense and not go after a shot until the ball was released. Moreover, Russell could get up and down the court faster than any of his teammates.

Because of Shaq’s mass, Russell wouldn’t be able to deny him optimum position in the pivot, but he would certainly be able to harass many of the big guy’s shots and perhaps block one every so often. However, Russell’s speed would be a major factor in that he could get out on the break and consistently beat Shaq downcourt.

On a basis of 1-10, with 10 being lock-down defense, give Russell 5 versus Shaq.

Russell would beat Kareem to his favorite spot on the right box and then get into his body as the sky hook was being unfurled. But the only way that Russell could get to Kareem’s pet shot was if he was allowed to play with a broom in his hand.

Russell gets 3 versus Kareem.

Since Hakeem Olajuwon was primarily a quick-stepping face-to-the-hoop scorer (although he could do severe damage in the pivot), Russell could match him step-for-step.

Give Russell 8 going head-to-head against Hakeem.

Duncan would have to routinely hit his overrated bank shots from the wing in order to pile up points against Russell. TD’s inside game would be virtually nullified.

Russell gets 9 against Duncan.

Russell would totally stifle Garnett, Ewing and Robinson (whose only offense was an elbow jumper coupled with an up-fake and duck-under after driving his left hand into the paint).

Russell rates 10 against all of these guys.

He’d also be able to stay on his feet while McHale went through his vast array of fakes and duck-in maneuvers.

Russell’s projected defense against McHale warrants 8.

In my opinion, Kevin Garnett is an obnoxious jackass with all of his pounding on his chest and pounding of the floor and screaming like an idiot. What’s his excuse? By the way, I also take exception to Big Baby’s droolings and Nate Robinson’s over-the-top celebrations when they won Game 5. Scott Douglas, St Clair Shores, Mich.

Like you, I’m put off by KG’s antics. What he’s presumably trying to do is get himself pumped up and, at the same time, intimidate his opponents. However, if a seasoned pro like Garnett, who has already won a championship, needs to go to such silly extremes to get himself more involved in the game action, then there’s something seriously wrong with his emotional mechanisms. And the only way that he could ever intimidate a team as poised as the Lakers would be to hit more clutch shots and play more consistent defense

I suspect, however, that is what Garnett is really out to do is to simply call attention to his own wonderful self.

And whatever nonsense that Davis and Robinson act out in public view can be attributed to their profound immaturity. Or perhaps they believed that the Finals was a best-of-five series.

How would you rank Kobe among the all-time greats? — Michael Downs

Any exercise in this vein has to be done with the understanding that the vast difference in skills and on-court responsibilities mean that big men and all others have to be considered in separate categories. So what we’re talking about here are all-time greats who played the backcourt and wing spots.

That said, Jordan’s hands were bigger than Kobe’s, so he had better ball control. He also played better and more consistent defense. Plus, MJ showed more discipline by not freelancing at either end as much as Kobe.

Kobe is stronger and more creative than Jerry West, but not nearly as strong as Oscar Robertson.

So, I’d rank Jordan at the top of this list, Kobe and The Big O tied for second place, and West right behind them.

Do you think the Cavaliers would have a ring already if Phil Jackson were coach?- Jacob Baker, St. Louis, Mo.


NOTE: Some time back I opined that Karl Malone was overrated, a statement which some bloggers mistakenly took to mean that I didn’t think he belonged in the Hall of Fame. He surely does, but it’s a grievous mistake to believe that he’s the standard of excellence for power forwards.

Anyway, here’s the last word on the subject, as submitted to me via e-mail by Darren DeVoue, whereabouts unknown:

On a Sunday game in the NBA Finals, Karl Malone went to the free-throw line in the closing minutes. Before his crucial attempts, Scottie Pippen walked up to Malone and said, "The mailman don’t deliver on Sundays." Malone missed both free throws and the Jazz lost the game and, of course, the series.

The prosecution rests.

If you have a question or comment for Charley Rosen, please email charleyrosen@gmail.com and he may respond in a future column.