View Full Version : 7/9 ESPN INSIDER - A new look at the Western Conference

07-09-2003, 10:04 AM
Lakers get stronger; can rest of West keep up?
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Wednesday, July 9
Updated: July 9
10:21 AM ET

Also see: Rumors: A Kidd for Parker swap?

How good is LeBron James? Consider that on a night when one of the biggest free-agent decisions in recent history went down -- Gary Payton (and soon Karl Malone) to the Lakers -- it was an 18-year-old rookie making his summer league debut that stole the headlines.

Ironically, both Payton and James are Aaron Goodwin's clients.

LeBron put on a show that should be typical of what he'll do in his rookie season. Insider has been saying for months that he should average 15 points, six boards and six assists his first year. James nearly hit that on the head Tuesday night, scoring 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out six assists.

Oh, and by the way, the Lakers ought to relocate to Springfield, Mass., to make their future Hall of Famers feel more at home. Payton's decision to accept the Lakers' offer of a four year contract starting at the $4.9 mid-level exception shouldn't come as a major surprise.

Insider first reported a week ago that Lakers owner Jerry Buss had fallen in love with the idea of adding Payton to the roster. When Malone visited last week and said he'd accept the team's $1.5 million exception if they could land Payton, the Lakers went on a full-out blitz.

While agent Goodwin claims Payton turned down a lot more money from Portland and Miami, that might not be entirely accurate. A source in Portland told Insider on Tuesday that sign-and-trade discussions with Milwaukee never got close and that owner Paul Allen was taken aback when he learned that Payton would only play for the Blazers for double the money he'd get in L.A.

The Heat did have interest in Payton, but they weren't even close to offering him the $8 million starting salary he was asking for.

Payton's agreement with the Lakers also means Malone is on his way to L.A., a source inside the Lakers told Insider on Tuesday night. "He's coming," the Lakers source said. "I think he would've come even without Gary."

While Malone's agent, Dwight Manley, maintains Malone is still fielding offers from the Spurs, Kings and Mavs, Payton doesn't see it that way. Malone's recruiting of Payton played a big part in The Glove's decision to sign in L.A. The two spoke at length Sunday, and Payton is of the impression that Malone will join him with the Lakers.

"The basis of the conversations we had," Goodwin told the L.A. Times, "was that Gary had a chance to make money or a chance to make history. He didn't want to let Karl down, either. He looked at this as an opportunity for both of them. I know that Karl being there was one of the reasons he made his decision."

Assuming the Lakers sign second-round pick Luke Walton, the team, with the addition of Payton and Malone, will have 12 players under contract for next season. They'll also try to lock up Mark Madsen to a minimum deal. The deals give the Lakers a lineup that will look something like this:

PG: Gary Payton, Derek Fisher, Jannero Pargo
SG: Kobe Bryant, Kareem Rush
SF: Devean George, Rick Fox, Luke Walton
PF: Karl Malone, Brian Cook
C: Shaquille O'Neal, Stanislav Medvedenko

On paper, that team steamrolls through the rest of the league. In practice, the potential for injuries (though Payton and Malone are iron men) and chemistry problems make the team vunerable.

The question now is, can the rest of the West keep up?

The world champion San Antonio Spurs swayed Jason Kidd with their free agent pitch over the weekend. Considering the Spurs won the title this year without Kidd, adding him to the lineup certainly doesn't hurt their chances. But if the Spurs go that direction, they are going to be dangerously thin next season -- especially in the middle. If Kidd sticks in New Jersey, look for the Spurs to add a combination of Rasho Nesterovic and a player like Corey Maggette or Lamar Odom. Those are both strong additions, but they don't quite add up to Payton and Malone.

Sacramento still fields the deepest team in the NBA, but they don't have the talent -- or the veteran experience -- the Lakers do. Dallas becomes much more dangerous if they can convince Alonzo Mourning to come to Big D and keep him healthy. Minnesota will be much better with the addition of Sam Cassell and possible signing of free agent Juwan Howard. But if Rasho bolts for San Antonio, they're stuck with Ervin Johnson patrolling the middle. And don't forget about Phoenix. If Amare Stoudemire continues the learning curve, the Suns field a team with three young potential All-Stars in Stoudemire, Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion.

If that isn't deep enough for you:

The Jazz will be right there if they can pull off their plan: Signing Elton Brand and Andre Miller. Put those two on the floor with Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko and rookie Alexsandar Pavlovic, and Utah has a tough young team.

The Blazers still go two deep at every position, though you get the feeling that unless they figure out a way to convince a solid GM candidate like John Hammond to reconsider his decision to turn down the Blazers' offer, the team will slip even further into the abyss.

The Rockets have Jeff Van Gundy holding the reins. If Yao Ming and Eddie Griffin keep up their progress, they'll challenge everyone in the West.

The Nuggets could field a team that includes the additions of Carmelo Anthony, Gilbert Arenas and either Maggette or Michael Olowokandi. Factor in the growth curve of Nene Hilario, Rodney White and Nikoloz Tskitishvili, and they won't be push overs.

Jerry West is stockpiling young talent in Memphis. Toward the end of the season, the combo of Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Stromile Swift and Jason Williams looked pretty good. The Warriors could be in serious trouble if they lose Arenas and can't replace him with another solid point guard. The Sonics still have Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Brent Barry. But in the supercharged West, that may only get them to 13th place.

We've giving up on the Clippers -- unless, that is, they shock everyone and fork out the cash for Brand, Maggette and Lamar Odom.

In other words, it's possible that of the top 12 teams in the NBA next season, 10 could be in the West. So much for parity.

07-09-2003, 10:24 PM
Good article - almost as if Chad Ford has been cruising this board! i/expressions/face-icon-small-tongue.gif

07-09-2003, 10:33 PM
I never thought I would pray that Zo comes to the Mavs...but...

that is what I am doing.

Sad, I know.

07-11-2003, 01:25 AM
you shouldnt think its sad...Hes what we needed from the beginning...Hitman what you should pray for is that NJ fires Scott so kidd resigns with the nets that way there is no ALONZO/KIDD teamup for the spurs, thats hell for our division title dreams! (Trust me...its exactly what im praying for!)

Usually Lurkin
07-11-2003, 08:07 AM
Is anyone else going to laugh if the lakers fall apart, and Karl Malone has to retire as a Laker, with no title because the egos couldn't get along, and no scoring record because he gave all his shots to Showbe?