Archives For February 2005

On Tap: The Boston Celtics

Kurt —  February 22, 2005

It’s been almost a couple of decades since this was a must-see NBA matchup, but there is always something exciting about the Boston Celtics coming to town. Twenty years later, those green uniforms still stir my passions.

That said, these are not exactly the 1985 Lakers and Celtics. The Lakers are two games over .500, the Celtics just one (for Boston that’s good enough to lead the Atlantic division). Both are in the playoffs as of now but by just one game and need a strong second half to make sure it stays that way.

In a major role reversal from two decades ago, it is Boston that will want to push the pace tonight — they are fifth in the league averaging 96.8 possessions per game and take 45% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock (shooting 52.9% eFG% on those). The Lakers, for contrast, take jut 37% of their shots in the first 10 seconds. Fast-paced teams have not given the Lakers a ton of problems, they are 7-7 against the 10 fastest-paced teams in the league this season.

What has given the Lakers problems is good point guards, and Gary Payton will try to exploit that. He has a just-above-average PER of 15.68 this season, however he is averaging 7.4 assists and just 2.6 turnovers per 40 minutes.

Of course, the Celtic offense focuses on Paul Pierce. He has a PER of 22.73, is averaging 24.2 points per 40 minutes and is getting to the free throw line 9.3 times in those same minutes (being fouled on 15.5% of his shot attempts). He’s also grabbing 7.6 rebounds per 40 minutes, or 11.1% of the missed shots while he is on the floor. Second on the Celtics in PER is Raef LaFrentz at 18.45.

The player I’m interested in seeing is rookie Al Jefferson, who Celtics fans are very high on. He’s playing just 15.7 minutes per game but has a PER of 17.09, and averages 17.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. He’s grabbing 17.7% of the missed shots when he’s on the floor, a very good percentage.

For the Lakers, tonight is a good night to attack inside. The Celtics have done a good job defending on the perimeter this season but have been weaker inside (18.4 opponents PER at the four, 17.9 at the five). Lamar Odom should be able to put up good numbers, and this is a great chance for Chris Mihm to show his old team they made a big mistake.

The Lakers may be without Caron Butler tonight, who missed the morning shoot around because he really doesn’t feel well (and is not just about to be traded).

These first two games out of the block after the All Star break are going to tell us a lot about the Lakers — both Boston and Portland are teams the Lakers can beat, but will lose to if they don’t show up ready to go. These are tough wins, but the kind the Lakers need if they want to hold off Minnesota.

Apparently, the deal with Utah is dead everywhere but Jack Haley’s mind. Sources reliable (such Hoopsworld) and not so trustworthy (Peter Vessey and Chad Ford of ESPN’s Insiders) all say the Boozer to the Laker talks are not only dead, they were never really all that alive.

No good word on other moves. It appears that, as some of us had said before, the Lakers are standing pat.

Let the Jack Haley bashing begin. (And check out the comments below in the Travel post, where Dan and I started a Haley discussion.)

Update: Jack Haley himself said he thinks Utah “may go in another direction” during an afternoon interview on 570 am. He said he had sources that told him it was a go, but that Utah got buyer’s remorse.

The Last Laker Trade

Kurt —  February 22, 2005

While we wait for more trade information to come down, let’s look at the last major Laker trade — the one with Boston this summer that has defined what both teams have become this season. The two teams face each other tonight at Staples.

After all the retirements (Rick Fox), refusals to report (Gary Payton), changes of mind (Payton) and alterations to the deal, here’s what it ended up being: Payton, the Lakers first-round draft pick this year (if they make the playoffs) and cash for Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm and Jumaine Jones.

Would you do that deal again? I would. The Lakers got a center for the future in Mihm as well as two guys who can be good backups (Atkins has been thrust into the starting lineup). Plus, they got rid of an aging Payton who couldn’t stop the top points in the West anymore, and whose attitude during the playoffs last year was reason enough for me to want him gone.

I asked Jeff, who runs the very good, what he thought of the deal 50 games in.

I still love the trade. Looking back, if I knew what I do now about Blount and Mihm, I’d rather have Mihm I think, but that would mean no GP, which is a bad thing. GP has been nothing short of a revelation for us. Even with a step off his game and questionable defense, I’d love to keep him around another year or two if he’ll stay.

I also asked him what the Boston faithful thought about the players they gave up in the deal.

Atkins was great for us in that he gave us a true playmaker at the point (something Marcus has yet to grasp). He ran the pick and roll and really helped set up our offense when we were floundering around. Still, he wasn’t anything spectacular and we’ll always remember him for being the guy that Kenny Anderson torched against the Pistons many moons ago.

Mihm was understandably shaky. He wasn’t really around long enough to establish himself and mostly was prone to dumb fouls.

Jumaine was an enigma. He never got off the bench despite some early promise in training camp. Danny even went out of his way to tell Jones that he believed in him during a pep talk mid season. Still, it was necessary to toss him your way in exchange for Banks because we needed a backup plan in case Gary didn’t work out.

Atkins must have been a better playmaker in Boston than in LA, although Kobe takes all the pick-and-roll chances here. Jones may have been an enigma, but when he got his chance he’s played pretty well (still second on the team in +/-), giving a spark off the bench. And I think Mihm and his potential is the brightest spot in the trade for the Lakers.

Maybe this is a trade that worked out best for both sides.

Travel Story

Kurt —  February 21, 2005

Something to lighten the mood while trade rumors swirl:

My wife, 8-month-old daughter and I landed at LAX Sunday night after an hour flight delay in Phoenix (where we had been visiting relatives from Ireland, several 65-year-old women who liked to complain about how hard it is to get a cab when they leave the pub at night). We get our bags (well, three of the four, the other came 15 hours later) and go outside. While I’m on the phone trying to find out what happened to our ride home, my wife taps me on the shoulder and says, “Is that guy a coach?”

I turn around to see Ben Howland standing there with most of the UCLA team behind him, returning from the Bay Area. Most of the guys head for the team bus, but a couple break off as other people are picking them up.

I find this mildly interesting, but that cannot overcome the frustration I have with the disappearing ride home. So I walk over to an area with better cell reception to make another call and raise my blood pressure a few notches.

When I come back over to my family what do I see — my daughter doing her best to flirt with Jordan Farmar. She’s cooing and talking to him, and he’s smiling and saying “hi” back.

It was very cute, but I think I’m in a world of trouble in 15 years or so.

Carlos Boozer A Laker?

Kurt —  February 21, 2005

Here is the hot trade rumor: Carlos Boozer to the Lakers for Caron Butler, Deavon George and Vlade Divac. Let me stress that as of right now this is just a rumor, one that got legs because Dennis Rodman’s former baby sitter said it on Fox Sports last night. Everyone else is denying it, but that doesn’t mean much.

If it does happen, lets look at the trade:

Boozer is a traditional four, something the Lakers have needed all season. They particularly need it if they are not going to play the triangle long term (remember George was a starter in the triangle for the last few years), the triangle does not need a great four to score. Even in the triangle, Boozer can play the Dennis Rodman roll, but adding a few more points.

Boozer has a PER of 19.47, is scoring 20.5 points per 40 shooting 52.1% eFG%, is scoring 1.12 points per shot attempt, and is averaging 10.3 rebounds per 40, 3.2 of them on the offensive glass. Those numbers would make him second on the team in PER, second in points per 40, second among starters (and fourth overall) in points per shot attempt, third on the team in rebounds per 40 and second in offensive rebounds. Those numbers are better than what the Lakers are giving up, but only because George has yet to play this season. B-R calculates that similar players at Boozer’s age were Shawn Kemp and Elton Brand, pretty good company.

Boozer is 23 years old and is making $11 mill this season and $11.6 million for the four after that. He is under contract through the 2008-09 season, with a player option for the 09-10 season. Utah allegedly wanted some cap relief (something they can get by buying out Vlade for $2 million at the end of the season plus Butler’s contract runs out after next season) and some athletic people who can play the three (they get two of them).

My first reaction is that I like this trade for the Lakers. Odom finally is forced to move to the three, which we have wanted to see all season. Boozer and Mihm make a strong front line, even though Boozer is not considered a great defender (opponents PER against him is 17.1). I think this makes the Lakers far more balanced team, at least on paper. I’m not sure why Utah would do this — they just signed Boozer as a free agent.

Updates throughout the day as we hear/read things.

Update #1: David Aldridge reported yesterday a Lamar Odom to the Kings for Peja and Bobby Jackson deal . I didn’t mention it because I find it hard to buy, that kind of a deal within the division is very rare. That said, Aldridge is one NBA reporter who tends to get his facts right. This would give the Lakers a point but gets us another small forward, something we need like we need more rain today. We shall see, but this seems unlikly to me.

Update #2: In case you didn’t see it, here is the quote from a Utah paper on the proposed Boozer trade: “Absolutely ludicrous,” said Jazz basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O’Connor.”

Update #3: Poster Gatinho mentioned it and here’s the link: Eric Pincus leans toward thinking this deal can get done, and if not Haley should update his resume quickly.

Update #4: Two people were not doing their jobs yesterday. Caron Butler missed Laker practice with a “stomach flu,” although it is common for players about to be traded sit out practice to avoid injury. Second, Jack Haley was not on the So Cal Sports Report last night. My guess is that pretty soon, one of those two will not be in Los Angeles.

Update #5: In case you haven’t seen it, T.J. Simers writes about Haley and his column today. He seems to think Haley is full of it, but we already knew that.

All Star Break

Kurt —  February 18, 2005

As a Laker fan, I’ve already watched 50 games where there was no defense, why would I want to watch another?

So, while the NBA tries to figure out things to do in Denver when you’re dead, I’m off from the blog until Monday. I’ll be spending the weekend with a bunch of inlaws, including ones all the way from Ireland, in Mesa, Arizona. (Anybody have any suggestions of things to do when your trying to get away from the inlaws in Mesa?) I’ll be back and writing on Monday. Enjoy the weekend.

Who Worries You?

Kurt —  February 18, 2005

As of the All Star break, here are the standings in the West:

(6) Houston 32-21
(7) Memphis 30-23
(8) L.A. Lakers 26-24
(9) Minnesota 27-27
(10) Denver 24-29
(11) L.A. Clippers 23-30

The Lakers on the bubble for the last playoff spot in the West (and the rights to lose to San Antonio in the first round). While you can make a case that the Lakers would be better off long term falling out of the playoffs and keeping their first-round pick this season, I can’t root for that to happen. I want to see them make the playoffs, even if I know what awaits us on the other side.

Will the Lakers make the playoffs? Can they move up out of eighth? Let’s tackle the second question first. Houston is one of the hottest teams in the NBA and we’re 4.5 games back of them, so let’s not pretend we’re not catching them. We’re 2.5 back of Memphis, only one in the loss column, so this is more doable. Looking at the upcoming schedule, this is a case where I’m not sure we can catch them without some help, like the Griz hitting a losing streak. If that happens and if we start to win again at the pre-Kobe-injury pace, maybe this can come true.

Directly behind us are two teams with new coaches. I think Denver’s chances of making the playoffs have more to do with any trades made at the deadline than George Karl. This is a flawed team, but if they can get someone who can shoot from the outside they can suddenly start to look like last year’s Nuggets again.

Minnesota, on the other hand, worries me. They have all the pieces, those pieces have just been getting older and playing poorly. They are 19th in the league in defensive efficiency at 103.8 points per 100 possessions, last season they were sixth at 96.6. Last season, Spreewell’s PER had already started to slip and finished at a pedestrian 14.7, this season it is down to 12.08. Those are the kind of things that can be turned around for the final 30 games, making it tough for the Lakers to keep the Twolves at bay. The question is can McHale get them to play defense.

All that said, I’d rather be the one being chased rather than the chaser. For all the problems the Lakers have had this season — lack of a team identity, losing a coach, Kobe missing 14 games — they are still in the playoffs and can make a push. I like our chances. Minnesota just worries me. Who worries you?

One thing the Lakers have seemingly never had this season is a good rotation – while we knew who was starting and maybe the first guy off the bench, after that it was a tossup. Frank Hamblen, in particular, seems willing to throw different combinations out there to see what works. Laker fans have their own opinions, bemoaning the use of Tierre Brown, Sasha and, above all, the giving of playing time to Brian Cook over Chris Mihm.

Thanks to the great work of, we can look at what 5-man units the Lakers have played this season, for how long, and how well each of those have worked. When you do you can see a few things, among them why the coaches have a soft spot for Cook.

By far, the regular starting five of Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Mihm has seen the most court time, 32% of the Lakers’ available minutes this season. By one standard they are doing pretty well, shooting 54.9% (eFG%) and holding opponents to 46%. You would think that would win you some games, but on a pure +/- that squad is -30 on the season (for those unclear, opponents have scored 30 more points than the Lakers with that five on the floor). In fact, the starting five has beaten the five its on the floor against it just 34.4% of the time.

That is better than the non-Kobe starting lineup, which has played 10.6% of the available Laker minutes this season. The group of Atkins-Butler-Jones-Odom-Mihm is -44 and bested its opponents just 28.5% of the time.

No other five-man unit has played more than 5% of the Laker minutes, even though these units have been the most successful. (In part, their success is likely do to the small sample size of minutes, as well as who the units are out there against, which is usually not the opponents best five.)

Arguably the best five-man unit has been Atkins-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook, which has played together for just 55 minutes (2.9% of available). This unit is shooting 57.1% and holding opponents to 39.9%, and is a +36 in those limited minutes. They beat their opponents76% of their stints on the floor.

The next six best units, based upon raw +/-, are:

Atkins-Butler-Jones-Cook-Mihm +21 (win 100 % of match ups, played 10 minutes)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Cook-Grant +20 (70 %, 31)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Mihm +18 (83 %, 13)
Atkins-Bryant-Butler-Odom-Cook +18 (69 %, 95)
Atkins-Butler-Odom-Walton-Cook +15 (75 %, 17)
Brown-Bryant-Jones-Odom-Cook +14 (58 %, 52)

Here’s one of the things that jumped out at me on these units: Cook is in six of the seven.

If you have read the latest piece on Seattle’s use of statistics as an organization, you see that coaches love +/- numbers. It makes sense — if your job is to win games you want to know who is on the floor for you when the team is doing well, then play them more.

Who leads the Lakers in +/-? Cook. He is +227 on the season, or if you use Roland Ratings to break that down to a per 48-minute average, the team is +13.4 when he is on the court. (For comparison, Kobe is +135 and +6.3.)

I have been exceedingly frustrated with Cook being, as TNT color guys have said, the tallest shooting guard in the league, with his love of the three and with his questionable defense. I think you can, and I have, made the case that Mihm needs to play more at the end of games.

That said, when Cook has been on the floor the Lakers have done better than when he is off. I need to learn to accept this and learn to love Cook.