Archives For November 2004

Uno. Dos. Tres. Catorce.

 —  November 17, 2004

I’m feeling a bit of Vertigo from all the cold medications currently pulsing through my veins, but here are a few thoughts as the cuatro y cuatro Lakers (who may end up catorce y catorce) head back to the court after three whole days off in a row.

* Everyone seems to want to make tonight’s game the start of a “real” rivalry between the Lakers and the Clippers. Right now, I’d say this rivalry is more akin to the good-natured ribbing between Dodger and Angels fans than the animosity you see between the Oakland Raiders and, well, everyone.

For this to be a real rivalry, these two teams will need to either compete for the same playoff spot or meet in the post-season. The heat of the playoffs is where rivalries are forged. Until then, the Lakers and Clippers are just friendly competitors.

* I’m not one for predictions (if you saw my work football pool, you’d know exactly what I mean — a tic-tac-toe playing chicken would have crushed me last week), but I’ll throw this one out there: Lamar Odom will have a huge game tonight. Players love to rub how good they are in the face of teams that let them get away.

* Also, catching the Clippers in the second game of a back-to-back doesn’t hurt.

* The other basketball team I actively root for, besides the Lakers, is from my alma mater — Cal State Northridge. You know it’s supposed to be a good year when we land on the front page of the LA Times sports section before we even play a game.

* And while we’re talking Northridge — coach Bobby Braswell is my hero. Taking a team with the worst facilities in Div. I college ball and making the team a respectable part of the Big West, plus giving us the magical year where we beat UCLA and made it to the NCAA Tournament, is more than I expected in my lifetime.

* In case you didn’t see the USA Today article, Kobe is the NBA’s biggest beneficiary of the new rule enforcement on the perimeter. He is averaging 5.1 more free throws per game than he did last season. Right now, 40.6% of his points are coming from the charity stripe.

* While we’re quoting other people, the Sports Guy over at ESPN put up one of his “War and Peace” length posts on the NBA yesterday, and he had one observation I liked a lot:

With so many teams dumping coaches, making panic trades and wasting money on shaky free agents — it’s like 80 percent of the league at this point — the teams that keep building around the same nucleus (one bona fide star, four or five supporting stars, one coach) have an enormous competitive advantage over everyone else….When the subject of NBA problems comes up, everyone points to poor shooting, over-reliance on three-point line, overzealous defense, high schoolers … to me, the lack of continuity is THE biggest problem in the sport right now. None of these teams knows how to play together for more than four-minute stretches. Of course a team like San Antonio will win 60 games. Why wouldn’t they?

The Lakers need to spend the next couple of seasons building that core, then, in the summer of 2007 when all those salaries come off the books, fill out what is needed to make this team a champion again.

* But with the good also comes the bad — the Sports Guy also said:

Q: How has the city of Los Angeles responded to Kobe and the Lakers in the post-Shaq Era?
Ambivalently. When Kupchak and Buss made their big choice last summer, they underestimated three things:

A.) The city’s sweeping affection for Shaq.

B.) The number of locals who would blame Kobe for Shaq’s departure.

C.) The number of locals turned off by Kobe’s involvement in “CSI: Eagle, Colorado” (even if charges were eventually dropped).

He then goes on to talk about LA fan’s the (true) love of Shaq and standoffishness with Kobe. He even speculates about what would happen if the Lakers fans get frustrated with a slow start and turn on Kobe.

I’m not one who will spend a lot of time being critical of other writers — it’s a hard gig and they are welcome to their opinions. But in this case I’m going to comment.

I think he misses a key part of the point, something somewhat unique to Angelinos — Los Angeles sports fans love their stars and, while maybe disappointed with him right now, they will never turn on Kobe. Also, LA fans can come off as ambivalent toward any team that is not a winner. Oh, they show up — the Dodgers drew 3 million a year despite the disastrous ownership of Fox — but the passion doesn’t come to the surface (except for some diehards) until the team starts to win consistently. (And by the way, you don’t see most of those diehard fans on television because they have to sit above the luxury boxes at Staples.)

Rather than turn on him, by the end of this season and in the heat of a run to the playoffs, LA fans will be fully behind Kobe.

* Finally, a thought on finances. A recent article in Forbes Magazine talking about the NHL and its lockout also discussed ancillary income hockey team owners get (that often does not end up on the profit/loss statement). This included Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center owner Philip Anschutz:

Perhaps the best example of using your hockey team to create wealth is the Los Angeles Kings. Billionaire Philip Anschutz bought the team for $113 million in 1995. He used the Kings, which lost $5.3 million last season, to get the go-ahead to build Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles; it was completed in 1999 at a cost of $400 million.

Anschutz also bought a stake in the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association in 1998 and rents out his building to basketball’s Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League. When you add in tennis, gymnastics, concerts and other events, Staples Center is busy almost every day or night during the year. Premium seats for corporate fat cats are cross-marketed for the teams and events. Documents related to a bond offering on the building show that bankers estimated Staples Center would generate operating income of $50 million last year, only a fraction of which shows up on the Kings’ P&L statement.

Pass The Rock, Kobe

 —  November 16, 2004

I noted it one way the other day — when the Lakers share the ball they look good, when they don’t they don’t.

Eric Neel over at ESPN puts in another way, and lays the blame at the feet of Kobe and his shooting percentage.

He’s taking the lion’s share (and then some) of the shots (19.6 per game) and leading the league in scoring (28.3 ppg). We knew he would. He’s getting to the line more than anyone else in basketball (38 more free-throw attempts than Dirk Nowitzki in the No. 2 spot); and we could figured on that, too, because he’s got the ball a lot, he’s double-teamed a lot, he’s a made guy, and the refs are going to give him his props. But the sickly shooting percentage number is a problem. He’s forcing. He’s giving in to that little demon who sits on his shoulders and tells him he can do everything on his own.

He isn’t using Chucky Atkins (who’s shooting .500 from beyond the arc) enough. He’s forgetting the kind of game Chris Mihm had on opening night. He’s a kid at the beach trying to dig a sand tunnel straight through to China; and the faster he digs, the faster the hole collapses on itself. He’s got to change his approach. He needs to pass on more shots and pass to more teammates. Because what’s happening now isn’t working. What’s happening now has the Lakers 4-4, with wins against Atlanta, New Orleans, Athletes in Action, and a YBA team from West Covina. What’s happening now has them on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

I think, on an intellectual level, Kobe knows this. It’s just that, in the heat of battle, he forgets and takes it on himself. It’s among the changes I expect to see evolve over the course of the season. That or, as Neel said, we’ll be on the outside looking in.

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

 —  November 16, 2004

I’m not a patient person, and apparently neither are Laker fans on the whole. While we give lip service to patience as this Laker team grows together and gets healthier, in our heads (not to mention various chat sites and call in shows) we start thinking about trades, tinkering with the lineup and otherwise formulating ways to make the Lakers start to win more than they lose and become a playoff team.

The problem is, there are not easy answers — if there were we already would see them in action. Everything has flaws.

Lets look at two of the ideas floating in the ether:

Moving Kobe to the point. Kobe is the best defender on the Lakers. Kobe is a very good ball handler and makes smart choices with the ball. Through the course of the season, more and more teams will try to deny Kobe the ball. So, why not move Kobe to the point?

This has some merrit, and I think we may see more of this, especially if the Lakers do not pick up a point guard at the trading deadline. To steal a Sports Guy line, let’s break this idea down Dr. Jack style:

Advantages: On defense, Kobe’s size, long arms and quickness would create problems for the Mike Bibby/Tony Parkers of the world, limiting their penetration. On offense, the Lakers starting line up of Kobe at the point, Butler at the two, Odom at the three, Grant at the four and Divac/Mihm in the middle would create matchup problems for other teams — that is a fast, tall and athletic backcourt. Who is Bibby/Parker going to guard?

Disadvantages: Kobe’s offensive effectiveness would likely diminish as he gets tired chasing around smaller guards all over the court (and, if his foot problem lingers, how will all this extra effort affect him). He may have play fewer minutes per game, and the Lakers need him on the court. In addition, if I were an opposing team, I would have that quick small point go at Kobe early, maybe get stripped a couple of times but also put a couple of fouls on Kobe. If he gets in foul trouble and has to sit for extended periods, the Lakers are considerably more vulnerable.

Trade for a point guard. First things first, trades in the NBA don’t happen right now, teams are still trying to see how everything fits together and how in (or out of) contention they are. Trade talk may start to pick up as we get closer to Santa’s annual journey, but things will not get serious until January and closer to the February trading deadline. So, this is all just idle speculation.

That said, there are two logical things we can say: 1)The Lakers biggest weakness so far is at point guard, and that’s what they’d like to get; 2) There is a glut of players (five) at small forward. So the fit we’re talking about here is small forward plus another body or draft pick for a pure point. Obviously, the better the player the more you have to give up, my guess is the Lakers will look for someone defensive minded and would give up one player and a draft pick or two players.

So, who does that put on the potential trading block? Probably Devean George Brian Cook, Luke Walton, and, while he’s a shooting guard he’s not playing much here, Kareem Rush.

The challenge here is the NBA’s salary for salary trade restrictions — a combo of Luke Walton and Kareem Rush, while giving your trading partner two young, good players, nets only a point guard earning $1.5 million or so. We’re talking a mid-level exception guy or someone probably underpaid, and getting teams to give up players that are underpaid is no easy task.

You can get a lot better player in the mix if you can get someone to take Devean George and his $4.5 million salary. The problem here is people have seen George play and don’t want to pay that much for him (neither do we, really).

In addition, the Lakers do not want to take on any long-term big contracts. The team as currently constructed will have a lot of cap space to go after free agents in a couple of years (right about when Yao Ming becomes a free agent). That puts another restriction on any trade from the Lakers end.

Kupceck has his hands full making a trade, Rudy T. has his hands full if no trade is made. There are no easy answers. And we just need to be patient.

Observations From The Weekend:

 —  November 15, 2004

The Lakers are .500, with a few days off to practice, and here’s what I’ve been thinking about:

* In the Lakers four wins this year the team has 81 assists, in the four losses just 57. In the four wins, the Lakers have scored a total of just 9 more points than the losses. Assists continues to be the stat that is most telling about how this team plays — when they play one-on-one without ball distribution this team struggles. Not saying they need the Norman Dale system of five passes before a shot, but passing to the open man means wins.

* Friday night’s loss in Orlando showed all of the Laker weaknesses at once — inability to cover a good, penetrating point guard (Steve Francis); no stopper inside to slow that penetration; getting almost nothing from the bench; looking sharp for a while but letting the inconsistency in their game allow the other team back in it. That was hard to watch.

* Saturday night’s win showed all the Lakers potential at once — they played good defense for much of the game (save for the collapse when they gave the lead away); other players besides Kobe stepped up; they got enough good play inside to contain Yao Ming, they showed heart in the last quarter.

* Friday night is what makes us worry now, Saturday night is what gives us hope for the future.

* Divac coming back soon will help that future both with inside presence and depth. I probably never thought I’d write this, but he’s been missed already.

* At the top of the list of things I never thought I’d write — right now the Clippers may be better than the Lakers. The two face of Wednesday, but that’s not for the rights to L.A. Talk to me at the end of the season — the Lakers will start to gel and get better as the season wears on, the Clippers are, well, the Clippers.

* By the way, did you hear — or do as I did and read after the fact — what Donald Sterling to XTRA radio about the Clippers winning:

“It’s very important to me, very, very important,” he said, “and I’ve been trying for almost 25 years to get it right. And some people never get it right. … It’s very hard. Everybody that owns a team and every organization is smart and they’re all trying so hard to win. It’s just very difficult. It’s not like other businesses. But we never give up, nor will we ever give up.

Right. Actions speak louder than words and the Clippers have been a team more about making money — they are expected to make upwards of $30 million this year for Donald once you throw in the expansion money — than winning. Rarely are high-priced players resigned, or if they are (Brand, for example) it’s just enough to keep up the perpetual hope needed to keep fleecing fans. Ric Bucher got it right.

Scoring Up — Except At Staples

 —  November 14, 2004

We may only be a couple of weeks into the season, but one early NBA trend is good for fans — scoring league-wide is up.

Nobody appears to be happier about this than Mark Cuban, whose Dallas team has always been more about entertainment than being built to win it all. In his latest blog entry, he gave some telling stats:

Through November of 2003, there were 7 teams averaging 95 points or better. This year there are 19. Last year there were 10 teams scoring under 90 points. This year there are 4. Last year there was 1 team with an adjusted field goal percentage of 50 pct or better. This year there are 7.

Cuban also has a reason for the increase, enforcement of the no contact rule out on the perimeter.

I know that Ronnie Nunn and Stu Jackson put in a lot of hours going through tape, coming to the realization, correctly so, that contact on the perimeter slows down play, impacts shooting percentage and gives the defense an advantage that shouldn’t be there.

Rarely is something like this the cause of just one thing, other factors play in as well, but the change in rule enforcement may be the leading reason for more buckets per game. Of course, defenses will adjust over the course of the season, so this trend is something to watch more closely as the season progresses.

On the home front, my gut reaction is that with a younger, more athletic, ready-to-run team that the Lakers would have been part of the increase. Those bad gut feelings are why I do not make a good gambler.

So far this season the Lakers scoring average per game is down 3 points per contest compared to last season. The main reason for this: The Lakers are averaging two fewer possessions per game than last season. NBA teams on the whole average .94 points per possession (at least last year). Two fewer possessions per game means two fewer points. Add to that a team shooting a few percentage points worse than last year (46% last year, 44% so far this year) and committing four more turnovers per game, and you start to see the points evaporate.

(As a side note, the Lakers are giving up 4 more points per game than they did last year, defense continues to be a concern.)

The fewer possessions per game stat surprised me, with the emphasis on running this year I would have expected more. And, as the season goes on and the Lakers grow more comfortable with each other, this could change. But right now, this Laker team is scoring less and moving more slowly than last year.

NBA fans deserve a return to the fun, fast-paced days of the 1980s, when running was in style and (in 1984-86) the league average was 104.8 points per game. What’s more, we Laker fans would like to see some of that.

Update: The USA Today has a story about scoring being up in the NBA and credits the new enforcement with leading to more free throws, leading to more scoring. The top beneficiary of this: Kobe.