News » NBA 2009-06-17

NBA 2009-06-17

NBA 2009-06-17
With the franchise's 15th championship trophy in hand, the Lakers returned Monday to Los Angeles, greeted by an exultant fan base and questions in search of answers.

Euphoria has a short shelf life. Free agency begins in just 15 days, and two players vital to the Lakers' playoff success will hit the market.

Lamar Odom has committed to taking a pay cut to retain a purple and gold uniform, but when it comes to free agency, greed and self-interest are undefeated.

Trevor Ariza, who elevated his play with each series, probably thinks he is worth more now that he has a championship ring.

Speculation that Phil Jackson will walk away in triumph, with a ring for every finger (and thumb), is natural. But Sam Smith, who opines for, isn't buying a Jackson retirement. Nobody in the media knows Jackson better. If Smith thinks Jackson will be back, count on it.

The league's other 29 teams shouldn't count on a roster implosion, and Jackson has proven he knows how to defend a championship. Has the Zen Master begun to dream of a fourth personal three-peat?

Don't bet against it, but Jackson understands it isn't easy. The Rockets took his team to seven games in the Western semifinals, and that was after Yao Ming went down with a foot injury.

Would the Rockets have won with a healthy Yao?

Every title team understands it needs a little luck to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The Lakers know Yao's misfortune was their fortunate spin of the wheel.

Point a telescope at the 2009-10 NBA landscape, and see there could be plenty of contenders, depending on how fortune and fate play out this summer:

* The Spurs haven't had all three of their All-Stars healthy for the entirety of their past two playoff runs. Manu Ginobili promised he would be 100 percent when training camp opens in October. Gregg Popovich will settle for a 90 percent healthy Ginobili when the playoffs begin, as long as Tim Duncan also is right physically then.

* The Cavaliers were supposed to cakewalk to the Eastern title, but the Magic made LeBron James carry too big a portion of the scoring load. Now there is speculation the Cavs will try to revive trade talk that will unite James with Shaquille O'Neal. This will drive defensive-minded Mike Brown up a wall, but O'Neal won't cede every rebound to Dwight Howard in another Eastern finals.

* The Nuggets will be projected as the Lakers' No. 1 challenger in the West because they got to the Western finals, but this is fool's gold. I see the Nuggets sliding the way that the Hornets, the popular pick to win the West before the 2008-09 season began, struggled. There's too much disharmony, in the front office and on the roster, for prolonged success.

* The Celtics' hopes of a title defense ended the day Kevin Garnett's knee betrayed him. If Garnett returns to full health, there is no reason the Celtics can't return to the Finals. And if they do, well, you know what happened when they met the Lakers there in 2008.

* The Rockets will hit opening night with two worries: Yao's recovery and Tracy McGrady's presence. They know they can't win consistently without Yao. They worry they can't win in the playoffs with McGrady.

* Howard is the league's most physical big man, but he needs to develop a 10-to-12-foot shot and a stronger mental constitution. Orlando must spend dough to keep Hedo Turkoglu if it wants to return to the Finals.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: June 17, 2009


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