Archives For January 2005

Kobe Out Five Games, Maybe More

 —  January 14, 2005

Doing their best Matt Leinart imitation, Laker doctors asked for more time. The official word after the MRI is that Kobe did indeed suffer a severe ankle sprain and he will be re-evaluated in 72 hours.

The one move the Lakers did make was to put him on the IR, which means he will miss at least the next five games. No word on who takes his roster spot yet.

I’m no doctor, but I’ll play one on the Internet. According to what I have been able to read so far today, the MRI is really more to confirm what the doctor already suspects or knows through other manual tests. Problem is, the swelling/bruising that comes with a sprained ankle — and I think we’ve all been there — can interfere with a good diagnosis. I bet the doctors have a pretty good guess if there is a tear or not, but want the swelling to go down so they can be sure.

I’d love to hear from someone with more medical knowledge than myself or who can offer better medical suggestions than I ever got. The only advice my dad ever gave me for the countless sprained ankles I got playing basketball was “tape it up and get back out there.”

Update: Rudy T. confirms that Tony Bobbitt will be activated.

Update 2: According to Saturday’s Los Angeles Times the injury does not likely include tears — which is very good news. He will miss five, maybe more, but fears of 5 weeks or more on the sidelines seem to be gone.

Television and Radio Notes

 —  January 14, 2005

Two things of interest in the LA Times Media column today:

1) KCAL (channel 9) is again going to start tape-delaying Laker games on the East Coast — games that start at 4 p.m. Pacific will now not start on television until 5:30 p.m. Five games will meet this criteria, starting Feb. 9 against New Jersey. I personally hate this, it kills the suspense, but they’re doing it because ratings are down for those early games so it’s hard to blame the station.

2) Laker games on radio are staying on 570 AM, but as of Feb. 3 the station itself will now become the all-sports station that is currently XTRA 1150 and 690. I like having my sports teams on sports-talk stations, but since I’m not fond of most of the hosts on that station, I’m not sure I’m going to be listening more. By the way, those of us who like the old-school, Swingers-style music on 570 will have to change our preset to 690.

Anticipation

 —  January 14, 2005

A few thoughts while waiting for Kobe’s MRI results:

• I’m not as optimistic as Kobe about the severity of his injury after his post-game quotes:

“Crunching, instant throbbing. A lot of pain right now. I can’t hop on one leg. My foot, when it’s not weight-bearing, kind of jiggles a little bit, and that hurts like crazy.

“This one might be weeks, bro. It doesn’t feel like a day-to-day thing.”

• Whatever the result, Kobe’s going on the IR. The Lakers have two options of who to activate — Tony Bobbitt keeps enough guards on the roster, Deavon George brings more skills to the table (if he is ready). My guess (and that’s all it is) is that Bobbit is added to the roster.

• I really hate TNT. And not just because I’m sick of Law and Order. Also not so much because of the Marv Albert/Steve Kerr announcing team, as national teams go their good. It was sitting there having to watch the tedious end of an overtime in Houston — “oh, good, Bob Sura’s shooting free throws again” — while missing my team’s biggest moment of the year. The NFL switches over local markets, cable companies need to find a way to do the same thing.

• Referring back to my note of yesterday — they Lakers beat the Cavs because they won the turnover margin by five (18-13) and had six more offensive rebounds. They out-hustled Cleveland. They gave themselves more possessions and shots, so even though they shot worse (Lakers’ eFG% was a sad 41.2%, compared to the Cavs’ 51.2%) they got more opportunities.

• Why again has Sasha been burried on Rudy T.’s bench? He had energy and he was fearless — he shot just 1 for 7 but he reminded me of a first-year Kobe in how he was not intimidated by the game. He knows his shots will fall. The knock on him was that he wasn’t ready defensivly for the NBA, but the Lakers played a lot of zone with him in the game and he looked fine. He also had that great one-on-three steal. He’s got rough spots in his game, but more time on the court could smooth those out.

• Another Sasha point — I know it was in garbage time against Denver, but it was a lot of fun to watch when he and Luke Walton were in the game at the same time. I’d like to see more of that.

• By the way, Rudy T. apparently lost his cool with the team after the Denver game. Good. They deserved it.

• The Laker offense had a lot more movement with Kobe out and everything running through Lamar. The team knew it needed to step up and did, but if we did that with Kobe in the game imagine how good we could look.

• The energy was up on defense too, which is more important.

• I feel better looking ahead at the schedule and seeing two games in 10 days against Golden State. Without Kobe, we need some help from the scheduling gods.

No Time To Panic. Yet.

 —  January 13, 2005

Kobe went down in the first quarter with what is being called a severe ankle sprain, rolling it when he came down with a rebound and Ira Newble was under him, Kobe’s foot landing on Newble’s.

X-rays were negative, nothing broken, and the MRI is tomorrow. (I will scour the Web/radio tomorrow and post the results as soon as I hear them.)

I would guess Kobe could be out anywhere from a couple of weeks to…..

It’s tough to really process the impacts of something like this instantly. My first reaction is that, if the injury is not serious, this could be a good thing for the Laker offense short term. In all sports, when a star goes down other players often step up in the short term. Tonight (the game is just entering the fourth quarter as I type) Odom became more aggressive, Sasha got playing time, there was passing and movement, guys attacked the rim rather than settle for three, all things we wanted to see. If they can keep that up for a couple of weeks and Kobe were to return, the Lakers would be better for it.

Where Kobe would be missed most is on defense — he is by far their best defender, and the only good one on the perimeter. Look at the Lakers’ Roland Ratings (a +/- system for how a team does when a player is on or off the court) — the Lakers are only slightly better with him on the court (+2.1 points for each 48 minutes) but are -13.3 with him off. He is their defensive core.

If the injury is long term, all bets are off.

On Tap: The Cleveland Cavaliers

 —  January 13, 2005

Forget all the hype around Christmas Day, this was the game I have been most looking forward to this season. This is the game I wanted tickets to. (I had to pass due to a work situation. I need to quit this job and blog full time — I’m just six numbers away.)

LeBron James, within a couple of seasons, will be the best player in the NBA. Right now he’s in the mix (his PER of 25.75 is fifth best in the league, his eFG% is 51.9%, he has a pure point rating better than any Laker starter) and I think it’s a fair debate to ask whether he or Kobe is the best perimeter player in the league right now — by the end of next season there won’t be a question. Or, as Sports Guy put it:

He’s headed for 55 wins on a team with an overmatched coach, two decent starters, three role players and a bunch of stiffs. More importantly, he’s reached “There’s nothing on right now, maybe I’ll flick on The Package and see if LeBron is playing” status — which hasn’t happened since MJ was playing in Chicago.

The thing is, LeBron’s game doesn’t remind me of MJ’s, it reminds me of Magic. He has that kind of court sense and vision, the passing skills are there and he lifts the level of play of everyone around him.

Among those benefiting from LeBron’s skills are the two players that give the Cavs a good inside presence —Drew Gooden (20.08 PER) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (18.81).

This is a big key tonight — while all the focus tonight will be on the Kobe/LeBron match up (even though Kobe plays the two and LeBron the three), the winner of the Gooden/Odom match up may well decide the outcome of this game. Gooden’s defense has been better than Odom’s this season (Gooden’s oPER is an average 14.6, Odom’s is an unimpressive 17.0), so Odom needs to step up his defense tonight as well as score.

By the way, the Mihm/Ilgauskas tussle should be entertaining as well. Also, Caron Butler, for the second night in a row, is being asked to step up big on the defensive end and stop a guy who can single-handedly defeat the Lakers. (Carmello had 17 last night, but the Lakers’ defensive problems were more widespread than just any one person). Finally, Cleveland has gotten good bench play Brazilian Anderson Varejao, watch out for him tonight.

The Cavs have a good offense, their numbers aren’t quite as impressive as the Lakers (averaging 1.8 fewer points per 100 possessions and their eFG% is a point lower), but their defense is much better. Cleveland allows just 98.8 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-lowest total in the league (the Lakers average 103.6). Teams only shoot 46.6% eFG% against them and the Cavs give up few offensive rebounds. The position they are best at shutting down is the off-guard, providing a challenge for Kobe.

The one defensive weakness for the Cavs this season has been against good point guards (16.1 oPER). The last team with that weakness was Minnesota, and after a slow start Atkins stepped up and was a key part of that comeback and win — he needs to duplicate that effort tonight.

As for tonight — with this Jekyll and Hyde team, I have no idea what Laker team will show up from quarter to quarter, let alone game to game.

For the past four games the Lakers have fallen in a deep first-half hole. Cleveland presents some real match up problems for the Lakers. The Lakers are in the second night of a back-to-back. All those things should give the Cavs the advantage, but it could be meaningless if the Lakers show up and play defense.

I have no idea what to expect, save that I expect to enjoy watching this game.

Turnovers

 —  January 13, 2005

Last night, the Lakers had16 turnovers to Denver’s 11, and many of those Laker flubs came early in the game when Denver took the big lead it never surrendered.

So far this season, the Lakers are losing the turnover battle on a nightly basis by an average of 3.3. That goes a long way to explaining why Laker opponents average 6.8 more shots per game than the Lakers do. It’s a real simple bit of math — possessions, and shots on them, generate points (figure about a point per possession). If you’re opponents are getting fewer empty possessions and taking more shots, you have a big hurdle to overcome nightly. Denver had six more shots than the Lakers.

That’s been a nightly problem with the Lakers, but it was only part of the problem in Denver. The Lakers played no defense — how do you give up back-door lob dunks on three consecutive trips down the court? They still freeze up against a zone and try to shoot over it (which was odd with Mihm playing well inside, when he could hold on to the ball). Brian Cook shot them right out of rallies that were started. The bench on the whole was terrible — the Nuggets pulled away when Kobe and Caron went to the bench for a blow in the second quarter. The team eFG% was just 41.2%. The list goes on and on and on. It was maybe their worst game of the season.

————————————

Eric Pincus over at Hoopsworld reports that before Cuttino Mobley was traded to Sacramento, the Lakers almost got him.

Sources have told Hoopsworld.com that the Lakers made a very strong push for Cuttino Mobley, offering Chucky Atkins and Devean George. In the proposed deal, LA would have also received Andrew DeClercq.

My gut reaction is this would have been a bad deal. Mobley is a better defender and has the reputation as a better shooter, although this year’s stats are close (Atkins eFG% is 54%, Mobley’s 53%). The problem is Mobley would have to play out of position, he’s a two not a point. He played some point in college, but that was seven years ago. I would miss George, but the Lakers are overloaded at forward and someone is going to have to go in a trade. George is good bait because he is viewed as having “upside.” (I hate that word, by the way, a topic for another day.)

Pincus goes on to discuss other trade possibilities for the Lakers, such as Carlos Arroyo out of Utah. For my money he’s the best beat writer covering the team and his stuff is well worth your time.

On Tap: The Denver Nuggets

 —  January 12, 2005

Here’s the level of frustration and paranoia this year’s Lakers have brought me to: They should win this game, all signs point to a win, so I’m sure they are going to get blown out. Every time the Lakers should break through the next barrier — like winning three in a row for the first time this season (which they can do tonight) — they take a huge step backwards.

The Lakers have some advantages tonight. For one, they catch the Nuggets in second game of a back-to-back, and Denver is 2-5 so far this season in those second games. This is also their forth game in five days, so there should be tired legs for the Lakers to exploit if they can get out and run.

Another advantage is Kobe. The last game between these two was Jan. 2, in the middle of Kobe’s 40-points-a-game streak. He scored 42, shooting 51.7% eFG%, and afterward Michael Cooper surprisingly said he thought the Nuggets did a good job of containing him. The Nuggets still have trouble stopping the opponents two guard (17.1 oPER for the season), so this could be another big night from Kobe.

Also, while the Lakers have won both games against Denver this season they have yet to shoot the ball particularly well in those games. The Lakers have a below-average eFG% of 44.6% against Denver (it is 48.9% for the season).

What has happened is Denver has been worse — an eFG% of 36.7% against the Lakers (well below their season average of 46.6%).

The one guy who gave the Lakers problems last game was Carmello Anthony, who scored 24. If allowed to post up, he will push Caron Butler around (and Butler’s oPER is already a high 20.1 this season), so Mihm or Odom need to help out. The better move (and one taken by other teams, according to an interview Joel Meyers did with the Denver Post’s Nugget beat writer this morning) is to sag off Carmello and dare him to shoot from the outside. Carmello’s eFG% on jump shots is just 34.5% — make him shoot it from the outside.

One other change from the Jan. 2 game is that Marcus Camby is back for the Nuggets. The combination of Camby/Anthony/Kenyon Martin is a tough match up for the Lakers, particularly if Mihm gets in foul trouble.

That said, the Nuggets have lost five in a row, making me feel bad for Michael Cooper but seeing the advantage for the Lakers. This is a team that is down emotionally and tired physically. The Lakers should win this game.

That’s why I’m nervous.

Making Money In The NBA

 —  January 12, 2005

Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban made a quote once I consider the ultimate truism about professional sports owners:

There are two types of owners — owners who can’t stand to lose and owners who can’t stand to lose money.

That quote came to mind today when the Los Angeles Times published the Forbes Magazine list of the worth (and revenue) of NBA franchises. There is no better example of Cuban’s axiom — and the flaws with the current NBA financial structure and system — than to look at the two teams that call Staples Center home.

For the record, the Lakers are worth an NBA-leading $510 million on annual revenue of $170 million, and the team’s payroll this season is about $60.7 million. The Clippers franchise is worth $224 million on revenue of $77 million, with a team payroll of $44.1 million.

With all that revenue streaming in, you’re first thought is that the Lakers must be the more profitable squad. You’d be wrong.

I quote now from the best published research on the NBA finances and the effect of its revenue sharing and luxury tax, a paper by Dan T. Rosenbaum called, “The Brave New World of the NBA Luxury Tax.”

Most recently, the NBA introduced a tax system on players and high-spending teams that redistributed more than $300 million in salaries and benefits in the 2002-2003 season. The NBA’s tax system dwarfs that of Major League Baseball (the only other professional sports league with a tax system), where taxes have totaled less than $50 million combined in their four years of existence.

Interestingly, prior to the institution of this tax system in the NBA, low-spending and high-spending teams were about equally profitable, on average. But the tax system changed the profit structure dramatically. In the 2002-03 season, low-spending teams likely earned about $300 million in profits, while high spending
teams about broke even.
(emphasis added)

I believe that this is at the heart of why we saw the Laker dynasty broken up last summer — Buss has never been an owner looking to turn a huge profit, but he doesn’t want to lose money either. Keeping Shaq for another three years at $30 million per (or in that ballpark) would have meant losing money, followed by a long rebuilding process.

The rumor I’ve read is that Buss wants a Laker payroll in the $55 million range — that is over the “cap” number but would keep the team in the black. In reality almost every team is over the soft cap when you count in keeping their top free agents. (As a side note, I think this is smart business by the NBA, offering an incentive for top players to stay in once city, if the ownership wants them. Fans want to root for more than laundry, and I like the idea of Kobe always being a Laker or King James always playing in Cleveland. I think it’s good for the league.)

The Clippers generate only about 45% of the revenue the Lakers do, but thanks to the luxury tax millions of dollars are kicked down to the team each season ($14.7 million in the 2002-03 season, for example). Theoretically, that money should be poured back into the team, creating a better product. In the case of the Clippers, estimates are that owner Donald T. Sterling will earn an eight-digit profit (maybe more than $30 million this seasn thanks to expansion fees paid the owners for the new team in North Carolina).

Buss hates to lose. Sterling hates to lose money. It’s that simple.