Q. Why would the Lakers retire Shaq's number when he walked out on them?
- Andy, Santa Clarita, Calif.
A. Did he? Or did the mutual tension with Kobe Bryant simply leave the Lakers at a breaking point, having to make a one-or-the-other decision?
I was there when Shaquille O'Neal made his Staples Center return with the Heat and it was nothing short of a warm embrace, with a rousing ovation amid a video montage of Shaq's career highlights with the Lakers.
The Lakers have proven particularly adept over the years at forgiving and forgetting after sometimes uneasy partings.
The reality is that of all of Shaq's departures, including the ones from the Magic, Heat and even Suns, the Lakers' was the cleanest. They moved on; he moved on. He won a championship without Kobe; Kobe came back and won without him.
In fact, an argument could be made (and has been made in some quarters) that the trade that sent Shaq away ultimately allowed the Lakers to stand where they stand today, with the acquisition of Caron Butler in the Heat-Shaq trade allowing Los Angeles to flip Butler for Kwame Brown and then flip Brown for Pau Gasol; with the trade exception for Lamar Odom (who was also acquired in the Shaq-Heat deal) ultimately opening the cap space for Steve Nash; and with the ensuing losing in the wake of the Shaq-Heat trade allowing for the lottery pick used on Andrew Bynum, who last month was flipped for Dwight Howard.
By contrast, it is difficult to envision the Magic ever honoring Shaq, especially with the repeat sour taste of the Howard departure, and with the acrimonious ending in Miami between Shaq and Pat Riley, those wounds still fester.
Q. It's good to see Nellie going into the Hall of Fame. Now you can stop talking as if the Heat invented small ball. Nellie was doing it even before he got to Golden State, with the Bucks.
- Andrew, Brookfield, Wis.
A. And yet it was Don Nelson, himself, who credited Red Auerbach and the Celtics for starting the approach where versatility among wing players was paramount, albeit with Bill Russell there as a defensive backstop.
No, what the Heat did in the 2012 NBA Finals hardly was groundbreaking, more an act of necessity in the void of a legitimate center than any philosophical mandate.
But for all Nellie did in Golden State with Run TMC, he also was featuring the cartoonish height of Manute Bol at times, even if it did have Bol attempting the occasional 3-pointer. And his attempt to play small in New York was disastrous.
Nellie was the ultimate mad scientist, but there remain those who believe post play is essential to enduring NBA success (unless you have the occasional Michael Jordan or LeBron James). What Nellie did best was (mostly) put players in the best position to succeed, an approach the Heat very much emulated last season.
Q. So Mario Chalmers says he's a top-10 point guard. Based on what metrics?
- David, Brooklyn
A. Uh, those that only circulate through Mario's head?
While putting himself in the top half of the league's top 10 points guards was a stretch on any level of accounting, it also is part of the unique confidence that also had him snapping back at LeBron and Dwyane Wade during the playoffs, the same confidence that previously pushed him past Derrick Rose to an NCAA championship.
The greater issue is whether Chalmers is a point guard at all, with LeBron and Wade handling so much of the playmaking for coach Erik Spoelstra.
This goes back to Spoelstra's notion of "position-less" basketball (which many have mistaken for small ball). The role that Chalmers plays, of defensive nuisance, 3-point shooter and off-the-ball non-shooting guard, simply is one without definition. He's not enough of a scorer to be considered a combo guard, but he also is neither fleet nor explosive. Just effective in this mix.
And perhaps that's the perfect answer, that Chalmers is the best in the NBA in his unique role, as point valet to LeBron and Wade.
Q. Was Dirk Nowitzki sending a message when he spoke of only being sure about playing two more seasons?
- Devin, Concord, N.C.
A. At 34, I think it was more an acknowledgement of his NBA mortality as well as the expiration date of his current contract.
But it is a somewhat precarious dance the Mavericks have danced over these waning years of Nowitzki's contract, trying to reinvent themselves on a year-to-year basis and waiting for a big strike in free agency as Nowitzki moves closer to his expiration date.
That's not to say Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson haven't rebounded well from losing out on Deron Williams in free agency. Yet there remains a holding-pattern sense with Dallas, that there still could be an eventual makeover with Chris Paul or Dwight Howard (but not Dirk) as the centerpiece.
While there is plenty to be said about the superstar who stays in one place - clearly a vanishing breed in the NBA - one has to wonder that if the Mavericks get off to an uneven start that it might not be out of the question for a Nowitzki trade to follow.
A mere season removed from a championship, the Mavericks appear further from a title than Nowitzki has been in years.
Q. Why is Chris Paul on the list of 2013 free agents?
A. Why wouldn't he be? He only agreed to void his 2012 opt-out when he was traded by the Hornets to the Clippers before last season, never extending.
To a degree, the approach made sense for Paul, allowing him to see the possibilities with the Clippers while merely delaying his potential free agency.
For all the moves the Clippers have made this offseason, most have been with veterans who have seen better days, such as Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf. To a degree, if not now, then when for the Clippers, especially with the Lakers again on the rise?
It would seem if Paul's ultimate goal is a championship, he might want to look East, where there are far fewer hurdles than the gauntlet that is the Western Conference playoffs.