The rumors that have linked Pau Gasol to the Celtics -- no matter how possible or realistic -- got me thinking about some NBA players with bad reputations. Many Celtics fans view Gasol as soft, but there's plenty to like about his game, and it wouldn't take long for Gasol to win folks over if he was in a Celtics uniform. With Gasol as inspiration, I came up with a list of five NBA players who are universally hated but are just fine by me.
5. Pau Gasol:
The 31-year-old center isn't going to be part of any team's youth movement, but he's still the most skilled big man in the league, and he's got three to four seasons left to give to a contending team. All Gasol has done the last three seasons is average more than 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, and he's at 17 and 10 this season. If he's soft, he's apparently still tough enough to make Kevin Garnett look silly in the 2010 NBA Finals, a series in which he should have been named MVP.
4. J.J. Redick:
He's just a shooter, right? Maybe it's because he played at Duke, or maybe it's because he's also known as a "soft" player, but not a lot of people like Redick. I love him. Averaging 11.3 points in 25 minutes per game this season, Redick is a career 40-percent 3-point shooter. He's also an underrated defender who uses is 6-foot-4-inch frame effectively. He'd be a great replacement for Ray Allen if and when Allen leaves Boston.
3. Joakim Noah:
On the opposite end of the toughness scale is Noah, who plays such hard-nosed basketball that he annoys every opponent he faces. Fans boo Noah at every opportunity, and he's not exactly Reggie Miller with the jump shots. But Noah plays such good defense that he can change the game without putting the ball in the basket. Every team talks about having a presence at the rim, but Noah is one of the few players in the league who actually is one.
2. Kobe Bryant:
Another Laker? You bet. Tom Brady said before the Super Bowl that he admires Bryant and Derek Jeter, and the Patriots quarterback was right to link the two players. Bryant has the competitive drive that separates elite athletes, and he's more talented than Jeter. Hardcore basketball fans drool over Bryant's fundamentals -- especially in the post, where his footwork is unmatched. It's unpopular in Boston to like Kobe, but that's just fine by me.
1. LeBron James:
The most hated player in basketball (no, Kris Humphries doesn't count) is hated mostly because he's the most talented. He could help himself by apologizing for The Decision and not begging to be liked on Twitter, but on the court there's nothing to dislike about James. He can get to the basket whenever he wants, and he's cut his 3-point attempts in half this season to focus on that ability. He's 6'8" and is almost always the fastest player on the court. Think what you want to think about LeBron, but he's an unbelievable basketball player.