Changes in the script

Much is different in NBA since Stars last visited LA

February 20, 2011|By Mark Heisler

LOS ANGELES — At the end of the Passover service, Jews recite, "Next year in Jerusalem," acknowledging their hope of celebrating the holiday there.

In the NBA, it's "Next year in Los Angeles."

With the All-Star Game last here in 2004, it's the fastest turnaround since Boston in 1957 and 1964. And there were nine teams in 1964, so it wasn't the same.

With high-end hotels, five-star restaurants and the beloved theme parks, this may not be the cradle of basketball, but it's the cradle of All-Star weekend.

You can chart recent NBA history from the changes between visits.

If the 2004 event was a ball for participants, it was a giddy, nervous time for the league.

The West had won the last five titles by a combined 20 games to 6 as TV ratings sank toward record lows. The league lived so vicariously through the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, Commissioner David Stern joked his ideal matchup was "the Lakers versus the Lakers."

But the best of times were over and the end of times loomed with Shaquille O'Neal on the way out and Kobe Bryant playing while standing trial.

Days before the All-Star Game, the team announced it had withdrawn its extension offer to coach Phil Jackson, at the time tacitly allied with O'Neal. With Jackson's deal running out, Bryant, asked for comment, said, "I don't care." Shaq called Jackson the morning of the All-Star media session, asking if he wanted him to torch Kobe.

Amazingly, they reached the 2004 Finals against the Pistons before self-destructing for the last time.

Meanwhile, the East still had some things missing, such as these:

•New York.

The Knicks found fans came even if they made the playoffs once in 10 years. With a major sex scandal on top of it and contraction not an option, Stern finally suggested owner James Dolan give up control.

Now playoff-bound under Donnie Walsh, the Knicks have two maximum slots that could go to Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Deron Williams ... or Carmelo Anthony?

•Chicago.

In 2004, the Bulls were coming off win totals of 13, 17, 15, 21 and 30 since Michael Jordan's retirement.

Now they have a budding superstar in Derrick Rose and a 38-16 record with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, who played only a handful of games together, about to be reunited.

•Boston.

By 2004, the once-mighty Celtics had become doormats and abandoned ones at that.

Since Kevin Garnett arrived in 2007, the Celtics won a title, blew a second, beefed up by signing Shaq and are duking it out with the budding superpower in Miami.

Ask Doc Rivers, halfway home to Orlando a year ago as his wounded team duked it out with the Hawks for the No. 4 seed, is this a great season or what?

"I think the hype should stay the same," Rivers said with a laugh. "I think it should all be on Miami and the Lakers.

Oh, yeah, the Lakers.

If the road to the title leads through here, it's a wide spot in the road with a gas station as the codgers watch 14-wheelers barrel past doing 70.

Late in the game as it may be for this Lakers team, with all the NBA gains in key markets, it owns this one.

All but lost in coverage of the Lakers' 20-year cable deal was the reported money, which Time Warner disputed. As far as the Lakers and the NBA are concerned, it can be summed up in two words:

$3 BILLION?

A source close to negotiations says those reports are close, with the offer beating Fox's "by billions."

With owners and players about to rumble over the cost of "growing the game," the Lakers, who have the NBA's lightest marketing footprint, going years without sending their people to the league's annual meeting, just broke the bank at Monte Carlo?

If happy times aren't here again, these had better do.

mheisler@tribune.com

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