--The Lakers just completed a 7-2 road trip, the best 9-game continuous road trip in NBA history. It's clear now that after trading for Pau Gasol, the Lakers have become a great team in a hurry. Kobe and Pau are already playing like a dynamic duo, and Lamar Odom has suddenly become a super role player, earning a triple-double in last night's win at Minnesota.
The Lakers have done all of this without Andrew Bynum, without a reasonable amount of practice time to get Gasol adjusted to the triangle, and with Kobe suffering from a dislocated finger. Hopefully, Bryant will sit out the All-Star Game and give his body a much-needed rest.
In the meantime, it's time for Mitch Kupchak to get some of the credit he deserves. Kupchak has been blasted by fans and writers for years, but he's turned an extremely difficult situation into a dynamic one. He saw something special in Andrew Bynum when others didn't want to take a chance on him. He refused to get only 50 cents on the dollar in a Kobe trade this summer. He's built a lineup with several late draft picks like Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton, and Ronny Turiaf. And now he's found a way to bring Pau Gasol to LA for almost nothing significant.
The trade was so good for the Lakers that San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been whining about it for days.
"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," Popovich told SI.com. "There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I would have voted no to the LA trade."
It's nice that Popovich can imagine something like a trade committee in his head, and then magically appoint himself to that committee, but the point is that the coach of the defending champs is worried.
--Laker fans don't have wonderful memories of Devean George, but today he's pretty popular in LA. The former Laker and current Dallas Maverick successfully blocked a Jason Kidd-to-Dallas deal through an obscure NBA rule that effectively gave George a no-trade clause. It's still very possible that the Mavs will work something else out with New Jersey, but Laker fans have to love George's role in what's become a "Buy a Superstar Sweepstakes" in the Western Conference.
Last night George went 0-for-11 from the floor, scored zero points, and was booed right and left by the Dallas fans. In the meantime, I'm trying to think of a single game when George actually took 11 shots when he was with the Lakers.
--Over in Phoenix, former Laker Shaquille O'Neal still hasn't suited up for the Suns, but he has found the time to get into an argument with Bill Walton. On ESPN, Walton criticized Shaq for being injured in Miami, but suddenly healthy enough to play in Phoenix.
"Shaq's arrogance is an insult to people who think," Walton said.
Shaq responded, "I looked at what Mr. Walton has done and I looked at what Mr. Walton has said, and one thing I hate is a hypocrite. So if I'm faking an injury, his whole injury-plagued career is a fake. Here's a guy who only played one or two seasons injury-free, and now he's talking about me being injured."
Shaq closed, "Mr. Walton has broken the big man ordinance code 225.27 - no big man under should talk about a big man above."
--Great news at USC, as it appears that the University and the Coliseum have a deal in place that will keep the Trojans playing near campus. USC does have an opt-out in two years if the Coliseum can't make improvements in a timely manner.
Part of the agreement hinges on a naming rights deal, and Coliseum Commission officials told the LA Times that naming rights could fetch as much as $5 million a year. I find that figure hard to believe, but I could be wrong. A look at naming rights deals across sports reveals very few stadiums commanding more than $5 million a year. Additionally, existing stadiums tend to make less in naming rights than brand new stadiums. I've been surprised before though, and football stadiums do seem to command more money despite hosting fewer games, but I'd love to meet the company that will pay that much.