SPORTS

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October 31, 2003

Stay tuned for Western Conference implosions

I've stood by the Portland Trailblazers a lot in the last few years. OK, so maybe at times I was delivering an elbow to their collective gut during particularly embarrassing events, but I think, all things considered, I've been a good fan. It's nice to see that the rest of the league is starting to take notice of the Blazers' example. The Lakers and Mavericks are trying in earnest to recreate the Blazer teams from the past five years. Three days into the season they seem to have done a good job.

The Lakers jump out most. After years of pounding Blazer teams in the playoffs, this year's Laker squad has the potential for an implosion of magnificent proportions.

Take the obvious example of the Kobe-Shaq fiasco of the last week. Both are feeding the pack of media already following the Lakers simply because of the Kobe rape case, which I'll get to in a bit. Shaq says that it's his team, and if Kobe the petulant ball-hog doesn't like it, then he can leave. Kobe says that Shaq is fat and lazy. Mind you, they both have valid points, and ones, which their coach pronounces to the media monthly, but for the players to take it up reeks of the spectacularly bad chemistry between them.

Kobe and Shaq's feud could take on the form of Blazer feuds in recent years. I would be amused to see Shaq fire a towel at Kobe's face Ă  la Rasheed Wallace's volley at Arvydas Sabonis during the 2001 playoffs. Shaq, after all, was at that game, helping the Lakers send that iteration of the Blazers home for the summer.

Alternatively, Shaq could deliver a sucker punch to Kobe's face during the next Laker practice. For the Blazers, you'll remember, Zach Randolph broke Reuben Patterson's eye socket last spring during a practice scuffle, as Patterson was being held to keep him away from another Blazer player. I don't doubt that Gary Payton, Karl Malone, and Phil Jackson would be more than willing to help Shaq hold Kobe in place. This was supposed to be the Lakers' year, and Kobe couldn't keep it zipped to allow Gary and Karl to capture their rings. The example of Patterson is actually quite apt: Kobe took a page from his book this summer. Patterson, the self proclaimed "Kobe-Stopper," is a registered sex offender, having fooled around improperly with his children's baby sitter a few years back. Perhaps they can become neighbors in the future, and go around with their shattered eye sockets to explain to the neighbors that they are convicted felons. If it's too stressful for Kobe, half of Patterson's teammates on the Blazers have been busted for marijuana use in the last year, and Patterson might be able to hook Kobe up with them.

While the Mavericks and Timberwolves can't match the Blazers and Lakers for volatile personal interactions, they've stockpiled talent and left it to the coaches to figure out what to do with it all. The Blazers did the same thing in years past, ending up with almost every player on their roster being a former lottery pick coming in via trade.

The Mavericks suffer from the same delusion that Bob Whitsitt did as he assembled the 2000 Blazers—that talent cures all chemistry problems. Too much talent resulting in damaged egos on the team as stars compete for shots? Throw more talent in! The Mavericks now have five players who last season averaged close to 20 points per game. Coincidentally, they also all play defense with a prowess that almost ensures that their opponent will score the same amount. In short, there are only so many shots to be taken in any given game. Furthermore, there is only one game-winning shot to be taken in the closing seconds of a game. Who takes it? For the Mavericks, egos will be ruptured like you've never seen before.

To close, I'd like to point out that the Blazers have departed somewhat from this mentality this year and look poised to return to the top of the Conference. Unlike past seasons, the Blazers have a solid eight-man rotation, instead of the 11 players that had previously demanded playing time. Zach Randolph will be an All-Star this season, and the Blazers can watch the other teams implode. Please don't mock me for my false hope. I mock the Laker and Maverick fans for their false hope.