Lakers stuck with Payton at the point

By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Monday, May 3
Updated: May 3
9:23 AM ET

The question isn't whether Gary Payton should be starting the fourth quarter for the Los Angeles Lakers, but rather if he should be starting at all.

"It's very frustrating," Payton said in the San Antonio Express News after shooting 1-for-8 in Sunday night's loss to the Spurs, "because I know I can go back at the kid. I've been playing against (Parker) since he's been in the league. When he gets going, you have to go back and get him. You've got to make him play. He gets tired, too. But we don't do that. We don't go back and get him so he can get in foul trouble."

But which kid is he talking about?

Houston Rocket point guard Steve Francis simply went over him in the first round.

Steve Francis
First-round stats: 19.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 7.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 42.9% shooting

Gary Payton
First-round stats: 8.4 ppg, 3 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 37% shooting

San Antonio Spur point guard Tony Parker is going around him in the second round.

Tony Parker
Second-round stats: 20 ppg, 4 rpg, 9 apg, 3 spg, 42.1% shooting

Gary Payton
Second-round stats: 4 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg, 0 spg, 12.5% shooting

Gary Payton
Point Guard
Los Angeles Lakers

82 14.6 4.2 5.5 .471 .714

And does anyone really think he'd be doing any better against Mike Bibby or Steve Nash or Sam Cassell in this bracket?

Or Jason Kidd, Baron Davis and Stephon Marbury in the other?

As columnist Bill Plaschke wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "Can we finally conclude that when the Lakers claimed to have found two championship answers last summer, they were only half right? While the stark differences between Malone and Payton make for good locker-room drama, at this point, one wonders if it would have been better to see Malone show up last summer with someone else.

"Say, Tyronn Lue."

Sure, after making nine all-star teams and being named the 1996 Defensive Player of the Year, Payton is going to the Hall of Fame. He's been named to eight all-defensive first teams, seven All-NBA teams and two gold-winning Olympic teams.

But so far in the playoffs, it can be argued that he is the absolute worst point guard in the field.

This is how he ranks in the field of 16 starting point guards in the postseason:

Scoring: Last
Field goal percentage: 15th (18-for-54)
Rebounds: 13th
Assists: 11th
Steals: 10th

It gotten so bad that Phil Jackson started benching him the fourth quarter of games against Houston. Payton then complained about playing time, the offense and his role on the team.

It was the same thing Sunday night. After the game, while Karl Malone took the blame for the loss in the locker room, Payton was pointing out that he wasn't getting any help from his teammates.

But that may be the only reason why the 14-year veteran is still playing.

Off the bench, the Lakers are pathetic.

Derek Fisher: One assist per game to 1.5 turnovers while shooting 37.1% from the field.
Devean George: Five points in first three playoff games.
Rick Fox: Three points in the first five games and DNP in Game 6.
Kareem Rush: Two turnovers and two fouls in nine minutes Sunday night and yet to make a pass that hasn't been deflected.

There is no one to start in place of Payton at point guard. There is no one to replace Kobe Bryant at shooting guard if he is to run the point. There is nowhere to hide the Glove and his gaudy career accomplishments.

Tyronn Lue
Point Guard
Orlando Magic

76 10.5 2.5 4.2 .433 .771

Payton is going to start Wednesday night for the second game against the Spurs because, well, the Washington Wizards signed Tyronn Lue as a free agent in 2001 and the Orlando Magic picked him up in 2003.

Lue wouldn't be able to stop Parker completely, but he could keep up with him. He'd understand his role within the triangle and in the locker room. And the Lakers would expect and adjust to Lue scoring seven or eight points per game like Payton is doing now.

But Payton missed four shots in the paint Sunday night and committed two crucial turnovers in the fourth quarter.

"Gary will find his way too," Phil Jackson said in the Los Angeles Daily News of his veterans. "They'll find their way as they go through this one. Having a game against them gives them a little expertise they can work with for the next one."

Well, here's a little expertise just in case anybody has missed it.

So far in the playoffs, the Lakers are operating at a devastating deficit in statistical contribution at the starting point guard position.

They are giving up, on average per game, 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

This isn't Ron Harper and two buckets of ice filling in as the Lakers win their first NBA title of this generation. This isn't A.C. Green or Horace Grant being reclaimed off the scrap heap to go along for the ride. This isn't Brian Shaw being invited on the bench for his veteran wisdom and a calm, cool bucket every once in awhile.

Or is it?

Next year or the year after that or the year after that, Payton will officially retire as, perhaps, one of the 10 best point guards in the history of the game.

But to say that he is best point guard on the Laker team today doesn't mean much at all.

* Payton off to slow start
Mike Finger / San Antonio Express-News
* Playing as if He's Wearing Gloves
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
* Payton, Malone fail
Steve Dilbeck / Los Angeles Daily News

Pistons' Prince continues to progress

By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Tuesday, May 4
Updated: May 4
12:00 PM ET

Richard Jefferson can play in the Olympics after the NBA season is over. Carmelo Anthony can have the regular-season Rookie of the Year runner-up award if there is such a thing. Desmond Mason can even keep his Slam Dunk trophy from some past All-Star Weekend.

All Detroit Pistons small forward Tayshaun Prince wants is the playoffs.

"Those insomniacs who endured the evening's offensive futility might have captured Tayshaun Prince's graduation from reliable contributor to dominating force," wrote Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp, after the Pistons defeated the Nets 78-56 Monday night. "He has taken his shots in the past, physically and mentally. But he delivered them Monday. The second-year small forward continues to grow before our eyes."

You can actually see this skinny kid get bigger as the games get more important.

Tayshaun Prince

2003 reg. season: 3.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.2 spg, 0.3 bpg on 44.9% shooting in 10.4 mpg

2003 playoffs: 9.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.8 bpg on 47.6% shooting in 23.2 mpg

Tayshaun Prince

2004 reg. season: 10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.8 bpg on 46.7% shooting in 32.9 mpg

2004 playoffs: 17.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.8 bpg on 59.4% shooting in 37 mpg

In two seasons, Prince has gone from being the forgotten No. 23 pick of the 2002 NBA Draft to the third-best shooter in the entire 2004 playoffs.

Tayshaun Prince
Small Forward
Detroit Pistons

82 10.3 4.8 2.3 .467 .766

His field goal percentage is higher than that of Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett.

Last year, he finished as the Pistons' 10th-leading scorer during the regular season. This year, he is the team's second-leading scorer in the playoffs.

He is averaging more points than Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace.

Last postseason, he opened on the bench and finished Game 1 in the same place, with a big, fat DNP-CD. This postseason, he is making everyone forget the Pistons selected Darko Milicic with the second pick of last year's draft instead of the much more heralded Anthony.

Prince vs. Milwaukee: 17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.2 bpg, 59.3% shooting

Anthony vs. Minnesota: 15.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.0 bpg, 32.8% shooting

Last year, the Pistons were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals by the New Jersey Nets. This year, they are up 1-0 in their semifinal matchup.

"Obviously, it weighed on our minds," Prince said in the Detroit News. "We got swept. For me, it was going to be a matter of time to change things. I played an 82-game season, and I've learned how to make adjustments. I was looking forward to whoever we played. (Last series) I was chasing Michael Redd around; now it's Richard Jefferson. Playing against these guys has made myself a better player."

He has now beaten Gordan Giricek in the playoffs after Giricek had averaged more than 14 points per game for the Orlando Magic during the 2003 regular season.

Let's remember that Prince took only four shots in the first four games of that first-round series last year while playing only 28 minutes with two DNPs, and the Pistons were down 1-3. In the next three games, Prince scored 40 points, and the Pistons advanced. Giricek has since been traded.

Prince then outplayed veteran Keith Van Horn in the next round, scoring 13 points per game off the bench. In the two games the Pistons lost in the series, Prince played 11.5 minutes per game. In the four games they won, he played 31.5 per game. Prince would get his very first postseason start in the next round. Van Horn was later traded.

Sure, Prince and the Pistons were swept by Jefferson and the Nets in the conference finals. But you can see how Detroit has responded this year after ousting the Bucks in the first round with Prince taking on the sweet-shooting Redd and high-flying Desmond Mason.

Everyone is talking about Ben Wallace blocking three shots per game and Rasheed Wallace blocking two more. But it's Prince, all 215 pounds of him dripping in sweat, who also is blocking shots (1.8 per game) while holding Jefferson, a career 49 percent shooter, to just 1-for-12 shooting from the field Monday night.

By the way, he also shared the team scoring lead with Richard Hamilton, had only one fewer rebound than Ben Wallace and tallied five assists, as well.

As Terry Foster writes in the Detroit News: "We must stop calling him an X factor. X factors are surprises. They come and go. Prince is the most consistent playoff performer for the Pistons ... He reminds me a bit of former Piston John Salley, who accelerated his game during the playoffs."

* Prince gets best of Nets' Jefferson
Tom Markowski and Chris McCosky / Detroit News
* Prince gets tough as Pistons choke Nets
Drew Sharp / Detroit Free Press
* Result of opener no surprise
Terry Foster / Detroit News

Peep Show

NBA Insider
Tuesday, May 4
Updated: May 4
8:40 AM ET

Miami Heat: How big is big for Lamar Odom? "This is going to be the biggest game I ever played in my life . . . professionally," Odom said in the Miami Herald. "This is what we looked forward to. That's why we played hard to try to win the home-court advantage. We're going to leave it all out there. We're going to make it loose. I'm not thinking about losing. I'm going to come away victorious." Even if the other team is bigger. "This is my first time playing against a physical team six, seven times in a row," he said. "We've been just as physical as them. They're bigger than us."

Minnesota Timberwolves: Minnesota vice president Kevin McHale is sure glad he took a chance on some high school kid nine years ago. "To me, what happened with Kevin [Garnett] was just hard work," said McHale in the Star Tribune after KG won the MVP award. "I remember nine years ago sitting down with a skinny little kid -- I was skinnier too back then -- and him telling me he wanted to be the best player in the league. I remember thinking, 'Set your goals high. Reach for the sky.' We talked and I said, 'You work hard and take the time, and we'll see what happens.' That young man has turned into a bigger man and a hell of a basketball player." Head coach Flip Saunders agrees. "A lot of people ask me, what makes KG so special? I think there's really three things," Saunders said. "No. 1, he has great respect for the game, knowing where the game was and the players who made it special, whether it was Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, right on down the line. He has an unbelievable amount of loyalty. He has shown the loyalty twice to this organization, re-signing with us, and the main reason was he felt there were things that weren't done. The third thing is, he has a great amount of passion. What [fans] see 82 games on the floor, we see for 200 days every day of the season."

Indiana Pacers: Kevin Garnett has Jermaine O'Neal's vote, too. "It's not a slap to my face," O'Neal said in the Indianapolis Star after placing third, himself, in the MVP voting. "He deserved it. You have to step back and say, 'This guy was better than me this year.' " His coach sees it as motivation. "Jermaine has taken a quantum leap into the upper echelon of players in this league," Rick Carlisle said. "He's become known as an MVP candidate and I think it's going to be consistent from year to year. It's a building block. It's a step. It's got to be good motivation for him to keep getting better and I know he will."

New Jersey Nets: Tomorrow is another day for Kenyon Martin. "This is one game," Martin said in the Detroit News after losing to the Pistons. "You want me to say the series is over because they won one game? I'm not going to say it. I'm sure everyone will say the series is over. But I don't care. They haven't changed their defense one bit. But if you shoot 19-of-70, you're not going to win many games. They (the Pistons) played a decent game." And another day for Richard Jefferson. "We'll be all right. We'll be fine. We laid an egg. It was one game. We're not a team that's going to panic. We're not going to question each other. Tonight they were just the better team."

San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs have missed free throws before, but this is getting ridiculous. "We weren't real good, but now we're way bad," head coach Gregg Popovich said in the Star Telegram. "We're a whole lot worse than we were." And he thinks he might have an answer. "We're going to take all jump shots from the free-throw line," Popovich said. "Luckily, LA is in the same boat as us."

Boston Celtics: Despite what you may have heard, Danny Ainge is still the boss in Boston. "I was just talking to Jack; I didn't even know it was an interview," Rivers said in the Boston Herald of a previous piece by ESPN's Dr. Jack Ramsay. "I'm not sure where he got where he did with this. I know we talked about my staff and I said I had the right to choose those guys. But all I can do on player personnel moves is give my input. The final say is Danny's. That's his job." And that's the way Rivers says he wants it. "Wouldn't that show a real lack of trust if I'd asked for that right of refusal over every player move?" he said. "That wouldn't be a good way to go into something like this. I wouldn't enter into any kind of agreement like that because I think it means you're expecting to have problems. Danny and I may disagree on some things, but we know how we want to approach this."

Los Angeles Lakers: The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Gary Payton was late to practice on Monday. He also left practice early because of an ongoing back problem. But none of that had to do with his poor play of recent and his desire to get more play calls. "We don't have to be on Gary's page," head coach Phil Jackson said. "He has to be on our page. It's not a concern."

* Odom: Time to put up
Barry Jackson / Miami Herald
* MVP Garnett: 9-year journey to the top
Steve Aschburner / Minneapolis Star Tribune
* O'Neal has no beef with MVP voting
Mark Montieth / Indianapolis Star
* Nets blame shooting for lopsided loss
Jim Spadafore / Detroit News
* Spurs stumped by foul shooting
Dwain Price / Fort Worth Star-Telegram
* Rivers: Ainge calls shots
Steve Bulpett / Boston Herald
* Payton Is Battling a Sore Back
Tim Brown / Los Angeles Times