Does Jermaine O'Neal factor into the Pacers future?

Unless you’ve been on sabbatical somewhere remote, you’ve proably been barraged recently with news on Utah Jazz Andrei Kirilenko, Phoenix Sun Shawn Marion and Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, and their varying levels of unhappiness. The Jazz are pulling out all the stops, including bringing in former player Jeff Hornacek as a temporary shooting coach and mentor, to appease Kirilenko and get him to back off his trade demands. The Suns are putting on their best poker face and calling Marion’s bluff with seemingly no intentions of trading the disgruntled star – team leader Steve Nash welcomed Marion back and chalked up his pre-training camp trade demands to summer frustration. And, Kobe and Lakers management seem to be the best of pals, at least for now [see story below].

But the status of another NBA all-star, whose name hasn’t been as ubiquitous recently, seems to be very much up in the air. Earlier this summer, Jermaine O’Neal made some waves in the NBA universe by announcing his love for all things LA, saying that he wouldn’t mind playing alongside Kobe Bryant in a Lakers uniform. A few days later, he backtracked on those comments, blaming a reporter for taking his words out of context. Whether that was the case or not, Jermaine O’Neal’s future with the Indiana Pacers is cloudy at best.

Listening to a recent interview on the radio station Sports Talk 980 in Washington DC with Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird, it was noticeably clear that Jermaine O’Neal doesn’t figure into the the Pacer’s plans for much longer. When asked about the future of Pacers and how Bird has gone about instilling loyalty and commitment from his players, Larry’s response seemed to make it clear that he doesn’t see O’Neal as a core of the team going forward.

“We’ve got some young players here like Danny Granger and Shawne Williams who are very talented, and I think in the future they’ll take over the team,” Bird said. “Right now they want to be here, they work hard every day and they put in the extra work. I think in the future these young men could step up and be the type of player that we can build something around, be glad of the players they have around them and take this franchise forward.”

Last we checked, Jermaine O’Neal is 29 years old and in the prime of his playing career. Sure, he has had to deal with injuries the last couple of seasons, but had been the face of the franchise since the retirement of one Reggie Miller. Seems odd that JO is left out of the conversation when discussing the future of the Pacers and moving the franchise forward.

Bird continued, later in the interview, with some more comments that indirectly weren’t too kind to his starting power forward/center. “If I could go out and get a big man right now, I would go get him over anybody,” Bird said, when asked about the importance of the post game. “Because, I think that’s the key to winning. You gotta have a guy down in the post where you can pound it inside, get fouls, get the other team into the penalty and keep the pressure on the defense.”

Again, doesn’t Jermaine O’Neal play that post position for the Pacers? The guy has been averaging essentially 20 and 10, with 2 blocks a game since the 2000-2001 season. Doesn’t that count as the post presence that Larry bird is looking for? Maybe Bird was thinking more along the lines of someone like Lakers center Andrew Bynum. Hmm.


Kobe Bryant is all smiles at Lakers media day

At least for one day, it’s all sunshine and gummy bears in Los Angeles. Not only did Kobe Bryant show up to Los Angeles Lakers media day, but just as we had speculated, he was actually happy to be there – towing the company line like some middle management suck-up. Sure Bryant seems to be letting the inept Lakers management off the hook yet again, but, given his seemingly positive attitude on Monday, Lakers fans aren’t complaining.

When asked about his tumultous summer that was, Bryant gave Mitch Kup-cake and ownership a huge pass by saying that his May outburst and trade demands were out of line and came out of sheer frustration. He revealed, just as we had thought, that he and Lakers management had hammered out their differences behind the scenes and were ready to take on the 2007-2008 season with everyone on the same page.

"We purposely didn't say anything because we wanted to keep things to ourselves," Bryant said about his summer of silence. "There was just too much going on - things get misconstrued. We don't need that. We don't need any distractions for the season. There was never a doubt I was coming to camp. They knew that, I knew that. I know they tried [to make a major trade]. It wasn't a lack of effort. That means a lot to me."

"I'm ready to play. I'm in shape, guys look good. I'm ready to go. My job is to come out here on the floor, help us win ballgames." He continued. "I'm a soldier. It's not my decision to say whether or not we should fight the war. My focus and my mind has to be on this team. We have an uphill battle. I'm going to do all I can to help us win."

But, don’t let the love-fest fool you boys and girls, the issues that boiled over in May are far from resolved. Whether it’s midway through the season or at the start of next summer, we probably haven’t heard the last of the Kobe Bryant trade rumors.

Andrei Kirilenko ain't too proud to beg

After spouting off in Russian a few weeks ago, Andrei Kirilenko is back in the media spotlight reiterating his wish to leave the Utah Jazz, this time in plain english. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Kirilenko, during an interview with local TV station KLS 5, made it quite clear in so many ways that he simply doesn’t fit the current Jazz roster and within Coach Jerry Sloan’s system.
“I’m stuck. I don’t know. I’m stuck in this situation,” Kirilenko said. “I just want him [Jazz owner Larry Miller] to help me again and help the team. I don’t want to be an anchor for the team. Right now, I feel like an anchor game-wise and money-wise. I want the Jazz to be as happy as possible.”
You can almost feel the frustration when you read Kirilenko’s words. He sounds like a grounded teenager begging and pleading with his parents to let him go to the party with the cool kids. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I’ll do whatever you want, I’ll mow the lawn, I’ll take out the trash, I’ll clean out my room, please just let me go.”

We’re not sure how the Utah Jazz can go into a season with this Kirilenko issue hanging over their head like an ominous cloud of bad karma. The entire scenario has all the makings of turning into a major locker room issue – a cancer on one of the brightest young teams in the league. It has to be dealt with right now, before the hinges fall off on what should be a promising season for the Utah Jazz. A trade, given Kirilenko’s large contract and small production (at least in 2007), will be extremely difficult to pull off, but Miller and Sloan need to explore all available leads and grant the hypersensitive Russian his walking papers.


For Kobe Bryant it is deja-vu all over again

The Los Angeles Lakers 2006-2007 training camp began on October 3, 2006. Kobe Bryant was coming off a knee surgery. He missed, perhaps thankfully, the brutal Team USA World Championship run. He was clearly annoyed by the level of talent around him and essentially stopped playing in the second half of game seven against the Phoenix Suns, seemingly in protest. The inept Mitch Kup-cake, as he does every summer since his tenure began, made no signings of any real consequence, brining in journeymen Vladimir Radmanovich, Maurice Evans and Shammond Williams as the only key additions via free agency or trade. Despite all that, Kobe stayed positive and came into last season’s training camp ready to lead his rag-tag bunch of young ballers to the NBA promised land.

"We made some key additions with those guys," Bryant said then. "We turned some heads the way we performed last season. We were a very young team. We're still a young team. I think it will be exciting."
Of course, we all know that the following season didn’t turn out very exciting at all for the Lakers or their fans, as the team was ousted once again in the first round by the same Phoenix Suns. During the series, the young Lakers missed shots, committed turnovers and essentially frustrated Kobe, and Coach Phil Jackson, to no end.

Fast-forward to now...

So, here we are, with the Lakers 2007-2008 training camp about to get under way. This time around, Kobe isn’t talking anymore, his summer has been even more eventful, and surreal, than ever and Lakers fans are pulling their hair out, frustrated, yet again, by the lack of any significant player moves by the dysfunctional front-office and ownership. Is it really any wonder why Kobe Bryant seemed to have lost his mind earlier this summer? He has carried what is essentially an NBDL roster, or at best one of the least talented and athletic teams in the NBA, into the playoffs on his back for 2 straight seasons.

Of course, given the fact that Kobe is indeed showing up to camp, his 360 change of tactic from talk-radio regular to his monk-like vow of silence since, coupled with the barrage of “no comment” from Lakers management, seems to indicate that there has been some discussion behind the scenes with all parties involved in the soap opera. Unless Lakers management is even more inept than they seem, it’s fair to assume that Kobe, Phil, Jerry, Jim and Mitch, or some combination thereof, got on a conference call at some point late in the summer and agreed to disagree for the time being.

Really, the two sides are at an impasse – Kobe is bound to the Lakers by the 2 years left on his contract before he can opt out and Jerry Buss and ownership is bound to Kobe by mandate of the Lakers fans that pay so many thousands of dollars to sit courtside and watch #24 play. Given this scenario, as we had speculated earlier, it makes sense for both sides to resume business as usual, or as usual as possible given the circumstances.

Kobe, we’re sure, in collusion with Phil Jackson, has given the Lakers management an ultimatum. Whether that ultimatum runs out at the February trade deadline, next summer or in 2 years, we’re not sure. But, one thing we are sure of is that Lakers management, Kup-cake included, know that this is their last shot with Kobe. If the Lakers aren’t successful next year, or if management isn’t able to bring in solid, veteran talent soon to run with Kobe, “Black Mamba’s” days in a Lakers uniform is severely numbered.

In The News: September 30, 2007

Team McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton is on the cusp of history, as he ran away with a first place finish at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend. With the win and with only 2 Formula One races remaining till season’s end, Hamilton, who came in only 2 points ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso in the driver’s championship race, put himself in position to become the first rookie ever to win the Formula One driver’s championship – pretty impressive indeed. As for the rest of the drivers that matter, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished third, moving all the way up the field after finding himself second to last earlier in the race, while Alonso crashed out (perhaps bad karma finally catching?) and didn’t finish the race. With 2 races and 20 maximum points remaining the top 3 drivers are: Lewis Hamilton (107 pts), Fernando Alonso (95 pts) and Kimi Raikkonen (90 pts).

A weekend of upsets shakes up college football

Talk about a looney Saturday in college football! In a day of upsets, the third, fourth, seventh and tenth ranked teams all lost their respective games, while the fifth ranked team lost on Thursday – the first time since 2003 where half of the college football top 10 lost in one crazy weekend. This weekend, No. 5 ranked West Virginia lost to South Florida, No. 3 Oklahoma lost to Colorado, No. 4 Florida lost to Auburn and No. 7 Texas lost to Kansas State. The weekend has thrown the BCS race and the college football rankings for a loop, but this is what makes college football – and football in general – such a great sport. On any given day, the most powerful teams in the land can take a dive against a scrappy challenger who outplays, outhustles, outworks and outsmarts their stronger opponent.

Favre breaks career touchdown record

Brett Favre broke Dan Marino’s career record by throwing his 421st career touchdown in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Good for Favre, but his record might not last very long given what Peyton Manning has done in his first 9 seasons in the league. Not counting the 5 touchdowns he has thrown this year, Manning has 275 touchdowns in those 9 seasons. At his current pace, if he were to play 17 seasons like Favre has, Manning could end up with more than 500 career TDs.