Archives For November 2004

House of the Rising Suns

 —  November 20, 2004

Some thoughts and observations from last night’s Lakers’ loss to the Suns, plus some other flotsam and jetsam in my head:

* This Suns squad lived up to their billing — they are an entertaining team to watch. Steve Nash has really helped coalesce a team that was already athletic, plus he seems to have instant chemistry with Amare Stoudemire.

That said, have to say that they strike me as the Dallas Mavericks for a new generation — fun to watch but a team built for the regular season that can’t play playoff basketball. Time will tell.

* Despite his sore foot, Kobe played 45 minutes against the Clippers and 45 minutes against the Suns. So much for cutting back his minutes….

* Rudy T. and the Laker staff must have seen something they really liked on film, because from early on the plan was to feed the ball to Lamar Odom in the low post against Shawn Marion. It worked like a charm early — he had nine of his 18 points in the first quarter and the Lakers were up by 12 when that was the primary option. When the Suns adjusted, the Lakers never really found the other openings.

* It’s weird to say this about a guy with a triple-double, but this was not one of Kobe’s better games this year. He fell in love with the jumper and didn’t penetrate enough — he had 33 shot attempts, 10 from behind the arc, and just five free throws (he had averaged more than 12 a game coming in ). He shot 30% for the game.

Apparently, Rudy T. blames the refs for this.

* Could the Suns’ new center-court logo look more like the House of Blues logo?

* Lots of press about Fred Roggin’s interview Thursday on 1540 am (The Ticket) with Laker owner Jerry Buss. Two quick thoughts:

1) He said he made the changes to the team because he feared ending up like the Chicago Bulls, riding the dynasty too long into a long rebuilding process. As I and others have said before, that fits his style. So does the effort to return the Lakers to a more fast-paced team, reminiscent of the Showtime era. To Buss’ credit, he’s been right far more often than wrong over the years.

2) He also said that Kobe never said anything or asked for Phil and Shaq to be pushed out, neither did his agent. Of course they didn’t — they didn’t have to. It was clear already. Do you really think that if Shaq had been resigned Kobe would be a Laker right now?

* I had the chance to hear Staples/AEG honcho Tim Leiweke speak Thursday morning at an event, talking about AEG’s plans to bring shopping, residential, hotels and more to the area around the Staples Center (and, more importantly financially, the Convention Center). Leiweke said one of the things he’s trying to lure to the project is a West Coast headquarters for ESPN (note that he never mentioned the company by name, but the implication of the “worldwide leader in sports with an office and studio in Time Square” was pretty clear).

At lunch, ESPN employees there can go over to the Fox Sky Bar for some food. Just a thought

Musical Chairs

 —  November 19, 2004

Slava has come off the IR, giving him a court-side seat for the Clipper game, we’ll see if Rudy T. lets him off the bench Friday night. His return is not alone — right behind him Jumaine Jones and Vlade are set to come back to the active roster, providing much needed depth and help in the front court.

But all good things come with a price — who does Rudy T. jettison to create room on the roster? He needs to find two spots now, three when Devean George returns.

The first (and one seemingly sure) candidate is rookie Sasha Vujacic, who will head to the IR (according to Joel Meyers). He has played only three percent of the Laker minutes this season, by far the smallest percentage of any player on the team, and is really more of a developmental project. The down side to this move is, it leaves you with just two point guards — Atkins and Brown.

Clearing the needed second space is more difficult.

If you take the person next on the “playing the least list” you get Kareem Rush, who has earned his lack of time on the floor by not being sharp at all this season. However, we’re talking Kareem Rush of the garuneteed $1 million contract and Kobe’s primary backup. In fact, there’s only one Laker without a guarunteed contract — Tierre Brown. Of course, take him and Sasha out of the mix and now you’ve got just one pure point (Atkins). Plus, Brown has played well at moments and is the kind of player you’d like to keep around and develop.

No easy answers for Rudy and Mitch here.

My guess is that we will see Sasha on the IR and, sadly, Brown released (and likely to quickly land on his feet somewhere). With that, expect to see more of Kobe playing the point guard position at times during the game.

The Myth Of Kobe

 —  November 18, 2004

I’ll admit that I bought into it — the conventional wisdom that with Shaq gone this year’s Laker squad would be all Kobe all the time. He was going to take all the shots, covered or not, and everyone else was a glorified caddie.

Nine games in, while sometimes it feels that way, the statistics don’t really bear that scenario out. Kobe’s numbers are not dramatically different than last year, outside of how often he gets to the free throw line. Lets break this myth down, Snopes style.

So far this year, Kobe is taking just one more shot a game this season than he did last year (19.2 to 18.1). He is averaging just 3.7 more points per game so far compared to last season. However, with the team scoring down slightly and Kobe’s free throws up, he is accounting for 29% of the Lakers’ scoring this season compared to 24% last season.

It’s not that he’s passing much more either, Kobe is currently averaging just .2 assists more per game than last season. His much-discussed field goal average is up to 40.5%, down from 43.8% last season (but up from 37% a few games ago).

As has been noted before by many, the big difference is that last season Kobe shot 8.2 free throws per game. This year it is 12.3.

Maybe the the feeling that this is an “all Kobe all the time” show is in our perception. In past years Kobe had high shot/points totals, but Shaq also had gaudy numbers. Everyone else really was along for the ride. This season, the lights are all on Kobe and we are given the perception it is he is the only show in town. His numbers stick out even more.

All of that said, when the Lakers as a team — and Kobe in particular — are sharing the ball the Lakers are a far better squad. How consistently they do that over the course of the season, and in the coming weeks as players start coming off the injured list, will determine how successful this season becomes.

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On a side note: Maybe my favorite play of the season so far took place against the Clippers Thursday. Near the end of the first half (as I remember it, although maybe it was the first quarter), Kobe dribbled the ball up court and slowed down near the Laker bench, as if he was talking to Rudy T., who was standing right there. Marco Juric took the bait and relaxed his defense while the conversation took place, and the second he did Kobe turned it on and sprinted right past him, down the lane for the layup and the foul. It was pure playground.

The More Things Change….

 —  November 18, 2004

My favorite Laker team pattern for this season continued in the overhyped “Battle for Los Angeles” last night at Staples Center — in the Lakers five wins they average 21 assists per game, in the four losses 14.25.

Last night, 24 assists. Kobe had 11 himself. Lakers win handily.

It sounds simple, but remember there are really several parts to any assist. First, somebody has got to drive the lane or do something to draw multiple defenders, then spot the open man and then get him the ball. Finally, somebody has to hit the open shot. In the Lakers losses some part of that equation came undone (missed early shots led to fewer passes later, for example).

Last night the Lakers shot 51.3% from the field, taking advantage of Kobe and other’s generosity. Six players end up in double figures. It appears to me Kobe and Chris Mihm are working especially well together, on pick-and-rolls (or pick-and-pops, if you prefer) and with Mihm moving without the ball and getting into open spaces near the basket. When Vlade starts taking some playing time down low next week, it will be interesting to see if he and Kobe can generate that same chemistry.

On the Clippers side of the ledger, this was the first time I had seen them at length this season, and I was really impressed the energy and aggressiveness they are getting inside from Bobby Simmons and Chris Wilcox. They are both young players (Simmons 24, Wilcox 22) who may be very good players some day. Whether or not that will be with the Clippers…..

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Among the things we Angelinos like in our sports franchises are tradition and consistency. That includes on television, and the Lakers are giving us that.

The Lakers have extended their contract with KCAL (channel 9) through the 2011-2012 season. That contract was to expire by the end of the year. The Lakers also will stay on Fox Sports through that season as well.

By that second season of the next decade, the Lakers and channel 9 (through its several owners) will have been together 35 years.

Forum Blue?

Bill Bridges —  November 17, 2004

Commenter Icaros (who gets the honor of being the first commenter here, and with that a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni) asked about the name of this site. Then, my sports-knowledgeable wife asked me the same question: Don’t the Lakers wear purple not blue?

I only had to be hit in the head a couple times before dawned on me that some Laker fans who come here may not be familiar with the phrase “Forum blue and gold.”

It is a reference to the late, great Chick Hearn, who, back when the team played at the Fabulous Forum, used to refer to the home uniform colors as “Forum blue and gold.” Why? I’ll let commenter Jon explain”

Former Laker owner Jack Kent Cooke loved the color purple but, for whatever reason, refused to say that was the color he liked. He called it blue. So, to deal with the problem that the uniforms were clearly purple but the owner didn’t want it called that, Chick Hearn (or maybe Cooke himself) came up with calling the Laker purple “Forum blue.” And it stuck.

Gatinho adds to that:

Heisler says that Jack kent Cooke called it that, not Chick. (Chick and Cooke also fought over who called it the “Fabulous Forum” first, as well.) He changed the color to purple, “forum blue”, when he bought the team and built the Forum. The blue is obviously from the Minneapolis days and early LA days. Witness the Lakes wearing the powder blue ’56 uni’s this season.

Donovan Moore from the Society for Sports Uniform Research adds this:

“Forum Blue” was the designation given to the Lakers’ Purple back when they played at the old Forum – as many here have stated. That said, the “Forum Blue” designation was dropped after the 1979-1980 season; from 1980-1981 on, this color has been referred to as “Royal Purple”.

In addition, for a number of seasons starting around 1976-1977 through 2000-2001, the Lakers used a lighter shade of Purple for their logo as opposed to the Purple in their uniforms.

While the designation may have been officially dropped, Chick Hearn continued to use it all through the Showtime era and beyond. And, this blog’s name is a little tribute to him and Laker history.