Time for another edition of the Mailbag. This time we're clearing out some of the NBA-related (as opposed to just Blazers-related) questions populating the inbox. If you have a question, please e-mail it to:
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What's up with the Shaq-Howard feud? Is Dwight the best center in the league? Was Shaq that much better? Which side do you come down on?
OK, let's get this straight. Shaq called Howard a "pick-and-roll" center, implying that back-to-the-basket guys are somehow superior. He also accused Howard of getting by on physical talent more than skill. Howard said Shaq used to hate it when older-school centers bagged on him, so he should just mosey off into the sunset and leave the next-gen players alone.
They're both right.
Howard is not your traditional pivot. His game rides on his awesome physical ability. Brook Lopez and Andrew Bynum are more skilled than Howard in the post. But the extended-range big man game is part of the new NBA. 30 out of 30 teams would love to have that "pick and roll" center.
Shaq calling someone out for riding their physique is...curious. If O'Neal had been 6'10" he would have had a modest career in the league, maybe. Without his hulking size and unprecedented athletic ability he would have been another good-rebounding big forward who missed a ton of free throws and couldn't score outside of dunking. He never would have gotten enough looks to develop the skills that carried him in his later career. Even with his development, at no point could O'Neal be compared to a Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing skill-wise.
As far as who's better, Howard is the best big man in the game right now but Shaq is one of the most dominant of all time. It's not even close at this point. But, health permitting, Howard has plenty of years to go.
Whose side am I on? Honestly this is what I hear any time either of them opens their mouth nowadays. The only guy who wins when these two speak is LeBron James, who all of a sudden doesn't seem quite so disagreeable to listen to anymore. Call me when Howard backs up his "I'm the man" assertion by leaving the Lakers next season and going to a team that he'll actually carry to a title. Maybe then I'll pay attention to him.
That's more than I'll listen to Shaq though.
New flopping rules. Gonna work?
Thanks, Alexa! Of all the questions on this subject yours was the briefest and most to the point. I'll try to reciprocate in kind.
Laws/rules seldom prevent infractions anyway. You know going through a stop sign is wrong, just as players know flopping is against the spirit of the game. People who do it are going to do it regardless. The most the new rules will do is ding their pocketbook a little. When brawling was an issue we saw that the league couldn't crank the fines high enough to actually stop fighting. The only measure that controlled it was immediate suspension, particularly in the playoffs. Once a couple teams sacrificed high-profile series because players left the bench during a fight, the straying stopped. They cannot and will not reach that level of enforcement with flopping. There's no line of demarcation. You're judging intent, trying to determine extent of content and force applied using only video tape evidence. The league will up their workload adjudicating this. They're going to get plenty of calls from front offices asking for punishment or reprieve. Fans and commentators will get up in arms at perceived injustices. But flopping won't stop as long as players feel they can gain an in-game advantage from it.
What do you think of the Derrick Rose situation? How strong are the Bulls?
I had the Bulls neck and neck with the Heat at the start of last season and actually thought Chicago would come out of the East as the season progressed. Rose's injury changed all that, obviously. But if he can get healthy I'm still plenty high on them. And I hope he does, honestly. I hate to see potentially great teams and players derailed by injury (for obvious reasons). I am going to keep a close eye on Rose's output this year. He dipped just a tad in shooting and scoring metrics last season but also increased his assists to make up for it. I like the idea of him developing as a point guard but you don't want to see those scoring numbers fall too much. If they do, you start wondering how much of that is loss of athleticism due to injury and how much is choice.
Houston's Royce White has "anxiety issues" that will prevent him from air travel during the season. Your take? What do the Rockets do here? Is White damaged goods?
First a clarification: I know you were using the quotation marks around "anxiety issues" properly, meaning that was a direct quote. I have left them in for the same reason, directly quoting your question. But if the door is open even a little for the colloquial use of quotation marks--implied sarcasm--some folks will assume we're taking that path. Let's shut that door now.
Royce White should be viewed no differently than players with heart issues or any other condition affecting the body. Mental illness is often misunderstood, often cited as some kind of special abnormality or worse, simply a behavior pattern that you should be able to choose your way out of. It doesn't work that way. If for some reason a player's heart didn't allow him to climb above 5000 feet altitude without risk of something going horribly wrong, people would immediately assert that he shouldn't fly. When the organ in question is the brain people sometimes assume that he should "just get over it". Putting White on a plane means putting him at risk. That should be the end of that discussion. He can't fly.
We should also acknowledge that White is doing a difficult thing here, admitting his condition in public instead of covering it up. Many, many folks would figure they had a few million reasons not to bring this out...that their whole life depended on subterfuge and finding a way to get those paychecks. White evidently understands that his life goes beyond just money or a career, that he's protecting his life by being forthright about this and dealing with it rather than losing his life if this NBA thing doesn't work out. He's doing everything right, acknowledging his condition, managing it, living his life, and asking his community for support.
In this light, the right thing for the Rockets to do is work this out, which is just what they're doing. They're arranging for bus travel to most games. He's going to make practice and shoot-around most of the time as well. It's not ideal, but they can probably find a happy medium that both parties can live with while White tries to make it in the NBA.
That said, nobody is owed a spot in this league. White's future will depend on how well he can play. It's fair to acknowledge that he starts with a disadvantage...as would any other player with an ailment requiring special provisions. White's play will have to make up the difference for him. Whether that's fair or not is a matter for academic debate. The NBA has always worked like this. The better you perform the more leeway you have. White's condition will not prevent him from being a star in this league. It would prevent him from just hanging on by a thread, occupying a 12th-15th spot on the bench.
Personally I hope he makes it. I like to see that kind of forthrightness rewarded. Who knows? It could lead to a broader discussion of (and better understanding of) critical issues surrounding mental illness. That might be more important than a single NBA career of whatever stripe.
For more NBA discussion see previews of the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions here.
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