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Cavaliers, Lakers Lagging: The Week In Sports

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. I go about my humdrum life all week looking forward for the one chance to say, it's time for Sports.

B.J. Leiderman is back with our theme music. Doesn't it make your heart race? LeBron is back in Cleveland, Kobe never left LA and Wilt Chamberlain - ha - left the Philadelphia 76ers a long time ago. Here to tie all that together is Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN the magazine.

Howard thanks for being with us.

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HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. You are upbeat today. You're fired up.

SIMON: Yes, I am. I always get to talk to you about sports.

Listen, LeBron is back with the Cavs. I love that Nike commercial. You know, set downtown, up and down Euclid and Short Vincent - just great. But the Cavs are five and six. They lost to the Washington Wizards last night, 91-78. If you're a Cavs fan, like some of us are, when do you start worrying that they might have great ingredients but no chemistry going on?

BRYANT: Well, I think you worry in May or June. I think this team was built to be a championship contender, at least in the Eastern Conference finals. It's November, it's not even Thanksgiving yet. They're five and six right now but let's remember when the Heat got together after the decision, when you had Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh and LeBron, they didn't jump out of the blocks and win all their games, either. It's going to take some time and it's especially going to take some time because you have two players, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who aren't used to winning. They haven't played on good teams and so when you've got a team with LeBron James on it, every other team you play is going to give you their very best effort. There's not going to be any pushovers. When you play for a lousy team, the other team's not trying that hard to beat you anyway because they expect to beat you, but when you're on national TV every night and you're playing against a championship-level player, a Hall of Fame-level player, everybody's coming to get you and I think they're all going to find that out, and I think that you look at it maybe around February, March, when you start getting closer to the playoffs after the All-Star break you see what they kind of are made of.

SIMON: The Lakers are three and 10. I assume it's not because they're cheap. Why?

BRYANT: Well, because they've run out of energy. I mean, this is the thing that is fascinating to me about the Lakers, is that in a money game you would think that that team would always be good, especially in basketball where you don't have that many players on the court. You've got one guy and you know, one guy can make the difference and so the Lakers have always had a lineage of great, great players. You went from Wilt to Kareem to Magic to Shaq and Kobe, and now they're having difficulty getting players to play for them? They've got the greatest advantages in the world. They're a legendary team and there are only two legendary franchises in basketball anyway, the Lakers and the Celtics. You've got the incredible geography of going to play in Los Angeles, where all the players want movie deals and TV record deals everything else and it's gorgeous weather out there, and you've got a franchise that's got tons of money. And so for them to suffer and struggle the way they're struggling is management at the top. After Jerry Buss died they have recovered and it's going to be very interesting to see if they are taking a legendary brand and running it into the ground.

SIMON: Let's wrap this part up with a team that probably should be wrapped up - the Philadelphia 76ers - and put in the recycling bin. They are - what are they? They haven't won.

BRYANT: They're 0 and 12 now. They're 0 and 12 after going 19 and 63 last year so let's do the math on that.

SIMON: Well, do NBA teams have, as Mark Cuban suggested, an incentive to lose games if they want to rebuild?

BRYANT: Well, absolutely. The way this system is set up - once again because there aren't that many players on the court, there's one guy. LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird can make all the difference. You have to get one of those players because the salary cap doesn't allow you to overpay so essentially what teams are forced to do is to lose games on purpose to try to get the next great college player and if you get that player, maybe you can rebuild. But in the meantime, you're going to be awful and that's what they are right now. The problem is, is that that formula doesn't put into account - doesn't take into account the fact that these are still human beings who lose confidence and don't want to play and get into bad habits. Play for lousy team like this, they need to change the system. Losing on purpose is not anything that I think anybody wants, but it's actually the way to go.

SIMON: Adrian Peterson suspended for a year this week for what the League called an incident of abusive discipline toward his 4-year-old son. NFL players' union is appealing.

BRYANT: They're appealing and it's too late for them. This is what they have to fight for in collective bargaining. There's no possible way you can still have a system where the Commissioner is judge, jury and executioner on discipline - and they've got to fight for this and for now, they're losing.

SIMON: ESPN's Howard Bryant speaking with us from New England Public Radio. Thanks so much, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.