Archives For February 2005

Malone Retires

 —  February 11, 2005

Just passing this along, in case you haven’t seen it yet, but Karl Malone is hanging up the shoes. For all his years in Utah he was the player we Laker fans loved to hate, but you had to respect his game. Last season, he was the only Laker who (when healthy) showed up night in and night out to play. No agendas, he just wanted to win. He was a professional and grew on the fans quickly. I wish him the best.

Shortest Laker Coaching Tenure

 —  February 11, 2005

Rudy Tomjanovich’s tenure with the Lakers was short, just 43 games, but it’s not the shortest of a Laker head coach who started the season with the team — he actually had a longer tenure than three others. HoopsAnalyst compiled a list of NBA coaches gone in their first year and they found this from the Lakers:

Los Angeles Lakers, 1979-80: Jack McKinney, 10-4
Minneapolis Lakers, 1957-58: George Mikan, 9-30
Minneapolis Lakers, 1959-60: John Castellani, 11-25

McKinney, if you remember, was the former Jack Ramsey assistant who loved the running game and was brought in to take advantage of Magic’s talents in the 1979-80 season. However, early on he barely survived a bicycle accident (riding to play tennis with assistant coach Paul Westhead). He never returned as Laker coach and Westhead went on to win a title that season. McKinney retuned to coach the Indiana Pacers the next four years (making the playoffs once and being named NBA coach of the year in 1981) then he went to the Kansas City Kings in 1984, but lasted just nine games at the start of the season (going 1-8).

HoopsAnalyst listed other notable one-year coaches such as:

Philadelphia 76ers, 2003-04: Randy Ayers, 21-31
Chicago Zephyrs, 1962-93: Jack McMahon, 12-26
Chicago Bulls, 1977-78: Larry Costello, 20-36
Cleveland Cavaliers, 1979-80: Bill Musselman, 25-46
Sacramento Kings, 1987-88: Bill Russell, 17-41
San Antonio Spurs, 1983-84: Morris McHone, 11-20
San Antonio Spurs, 1992-93: Jerry Tarkanian, 9-11
Seattle SuperSonics, 1977-78: Bob Hopkins, 5-17

On Tap: The Detroit Pistons

 —  February 10, 2005

We have to start with this — that was a big win last night. I don’t want to get too high after one victory, but it’s hard because that was probably the most exciting game of the season. The Lakers are now 7-7 without Kobe and remain 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota for that last playoff spot (and we are 2.5 back of Memphis in the seventh spot).

It really helped to jump out to an early — if short lived — lead rather than fall behind big. That said, the Lakers fell behind anyway and mounted another Hamblen-trademark comeback. I’ve had my problems with Chucky Atkins this season, particularly on defense, but he hit key shots and was a +15 on the night. With Kobe out Atkins has had the chance to come off the pick-and-roll, something he did well in Boston and Detroit, and his numbers have picked up because of it. And, he can shoot. I like the idea of Atkins staying with the Lakers and coming off the bench in future years.

His +15 was second on the team, by the way, to Caron Butler’s +19. (On the other end of that spectrum, Brian Cook and Tierre Brown were -14, Brian Grant was -10.) We got solid play from Jumaine Jones and Luke Walton as well. Defensively, the Lakers did a better job on Vince Carter than the last game, by the way, even though he scored 27. He shot just 39.1% (eFG%) and he was -12 on the night.

(As a side note, you should check out the Popcorn Machine game flows when the days after each game, very enlightening stuff.)

That said, life in the NBA moves fast and tonight we are on to Detroit.

Here’s an amazing statistic — after Rasheed Wallace came to the Pistons last season, they allowed just 88.8 points per 100 possessions defensively. That’s insane. For some comparison, the best team in the NBA this season is the San Antonio Spurs at 94.0. The Lakers are at 104.2.

The bad news for the rest of the league is that the Pistons are healthy now and starting to look like last year’s Pistons more and more. This season the Pistons give up 97.1 points per 100 possessions, a number that has been falling lately. Teams shoot just 46.2% eFG% against them, the fourth best total in the league. They play good defense against all five positions — the only thing that seems to work against them is very good ball movement. The Pistons have won just 42% of their games against the top-10 teams in assists per game.

The Pistons like the game played slowly — they average 90.4 possessions per game, the slowest pace in the league. They score only 100.4 points per 100 possessions, but with their defense they don’t need to score a lot. They get most of their offensive production from the guard spots — Chauncey Billups has a PER of 18.38 and Richard Hamilton has 16.50. Also, watch out for Antonio McDyess off the bench, he has a team-high PER of 18.70 and has a field goal percentage of 54.9 this season.

This is a tough game for the Lakers, particularly on the second night of a back-to-back and at the end of a road trip. But last night should have taught us not to write this team off.

The Inaugural Honorary Chad Ford Award

 —  February 10, 2005

I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but the early speculation on the next Lakers coach has produced some bad ideas.

However, Sean Deveney, one of the Sporting News’ “experts,” gets is the first recipient of what I hope to make a regular feature, the Honorary Chad Ford Award for random speculation.

Deveney’s idea: Rick Barry.

But Barry would make sense for the Lakers. Barry knows Kobe Bryant and is close with Jerry West, one of the few people in the business Bryant trusts. Barry might be lacking in game-coaching skills, but running the Lakers right now is more about managing people than organizing X’s and O’s.

Let’s quickly recap just a few of the reasons this is a bad idea.

• Barry would be a good choice because he knows Jerry West. By that logic, Magic Johnson would be a good coach too, except…. Hell, I met Jerry West once, maybe I should throw my hat in the ring.

• Barry would be a good coach because he knows Kobe Bryant. (I’ve got too many joke options on this one to pick just one, so insert your own.)

• Barry’s not really good at “game-coaching skills” but who really needs those. If you’ve watched the Lakers this season you can see that they don’t need a coach, they’ve gelled seamlessly.

• Then, just for fun and to show his grip on reality, there’s this quote from the 60-year-old Barry from a Hoopshype interview in December:

I’m not sure about 20 (points per night), but I could still play. I’m serious. One month to get in shape and play zone with the way they play the game now I would be able to shoot the basketball. Because people can’t shoot. I’d play a zone. I don’t care how big they are, I can face guard a guy and keep him off the boards. I’ll just play zone and get down to the other end and stand on the perimeter.

Thank you, Mr. Deveney, for the laugh. And, congratulations.

On Tap: The New Jersey Nets

 —  February 9, 2005

There are two things I don’t want to see tonight:

1) That MasterCard commercial that rips off Swingers. Have you seen this one, the one where there’s a guy on a cell phone making several pathetic calls to a woman he met that night in a bar. If you’ve seen the commercial and you’ve seen Swingers (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you) then you know this commercial is a direct rip-off of the movie — they didn’t even change the character names. Jon Favreau should be getting royalties. This Web site has broken down the dialogue so you can see just how blatant this is.

2) The New Jersey Nets being allowed to shoot 58% (eFG%) like they did against the Lakers 12 days ago. (For comparison, on the season the Nets average 46.1%.)

To make number two happen, the Lakers are going to have to defend Vince “you must love me because I’m an All Star” Carter, who torched the Lakers for 30 in the last meeting. He’s been doing that well and better lately — scoring 30 ore more in five of the team’s last six, and 40 or more in the last two games — and once again the Lakers don’t have Kobe to shut down anyone on the perimeter. A combination of Jones, Butler, Atkins will have to do the job on both Carter and Kidd.

Mihm also needs to help stop any penetration Carter does get, and somehow do that without getting in foul trouble (without him in the game the Lakers defense on penetration falls apart). Teams that block shots give the Nets inordinate amounts of trouble – they have won just 21% of their games against the top 10 blocking teams in the NBA.

The Nets scored 109 in the last meeting between these two, a shockingly high total considering the Nets have the 28th most efficient offense in the league (96.7 points per 100 possessions).

Not everything was bad about that last game for the Lakers — they grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and, in a rarity for them, took more shots than their opponents (eight more). The Nets overcame that with a combination of hot shooting and sad Laker defense. Don’t expect that kind of offensive rebounding performance again, the Nets were shorthanded in that game and for the season are fourth in the league in defensive rebounding (by percentage of chances gathered in).

The best place to attack the Nets is at the point guard position, where their opponents PER is 17 — much higher than anywhere else on the team. Last game Atkins had 22 (Butler led the Lakers with 31). Maybe Tierre Brown can carry over his hot hand from the last game.

It’s tough to be optimistic facing a team that has won six of seven after losing to the Atlanta Hawks. That said, maybe in one of the odd rotations Hamblen tries tonight he can find something that works and keeps this team afloat in the 8th seed spot.


By the way, if you want to watch the game on television tonight and not know the score, don’t listen to the radio on the way home. Channel 9 is delaying the start of the broadcast 30 minutes, until 5 p.m., in an attempt to boost sagging ratings for the early games this season. The radio broadcast, however, will be live.

Being Mitch Kupchak

 —  February 8, 2005

After three consecutive losses, and with Minnesota just 1.5 games back of the eighth-seed Lakers in the playoff chase, Mitch Kupchak is feeling the pressure to upgrade this team before the trading deadline Feb. 24.

There’s no doubt the Lakers need better talent, particularly at the point and the need for another real inside presence to go with Mihm. Frank Hamblen has tried just about every player combination short of bringing Mychal Thompson out of the radio booth to spark this team, all to no avail. Getting Kobe back will help, but this was barely a playoff team with him.

But before he makes a trade, Mitch has one key question he has to answer:

What kind of team is this going to be?

It sounds like a simple thing, but I’m not sure the Lakers can answer it right now. Whatever the answer it will affect both the players traded for and the players kept on the roster. More importantly, it affects who gets hired full-time as coach. The Lakers need to settle on an organizational philosophy of what they want to see on the court — an up-tempo Showtime team, a Phil-coached “triangle” team, or some other option — then build to that.

The current Laker roster problems are evidence of a team in philosophical flux. The best example is Slava Medvedenko, who got a two-year, $3 million per contract because he fit in the “triangle,” but in the isolation-and-three offense of the current Lakers Slava is averaging 5.6 minutes per game. Luke Walton was another guy lost in the rotation, at least until the last few games.

Then there is this example: Dr. Buss said numerous times that one thing he wanted to see in this remolding (he would never say rebuilding) of the Lakers was to become an up-tempo team. According to 82Games, this year’s Lakers are averaging one possession fewer per game than last year. If the Lakers want to become an up-tempo team, you can’t bring in Phil Jackson as coach and you need to make some big changes at the point and other spots.

I’m not saying what style the Lakers should go with, but that they need to choose one now and follow through on it with both player moves and hiring a coach. It is something Jerry West was quite good at and it is the real job that falls to Mitch K. now.

Channeling Dr. Phil

 —  February 8, 2005

If you really want to surprise your girlfriend or wife the day before Valentine’s Day, you can get her Dennis Rodman.

Maybe this is why I should not give out relationship advice. But if you want to see the shell of a great rebounder and defender, a guy well past his prime, Rodman is set to return to the Long Beach Jam of the ABA this Sunday. Tickets are available.

Rodman played for the Jam last year and I went to see him for reasons that still escape me. He filled the seats and pulled down a number of rebounds (14, I think), but it was clear he is no longer an NBA-level player. He got his boards by position and experience against a questionable (and short compared to the NBA) talent level, but he had no hops and his conditioning was unimpressive. Partway through his second game he was reported to by back in the locker-room in tears while the game was still going on — I think it dawned on him he would never be back in the NBA. Tex Winter pretty much confirmed that in the paper a couple days later.

I don’t know what Rodman has been doing for the past year aside playing Celebrity Poker. I doubt he has been singularly focused on getting back to the NBA, and after what I witnessed last year I’m not sure a year of that kind of focus could make a difference anyway.

So if you want to see the freak show, it’s in Long Beach Sunday. Me, I’d rather watch the Lakers and Cavs on television.

Missing Kobe

 —  February 8, 2005

According to our new-sound Laker radio station, Kobe is going to practice with the team today in New Jersey (although a return date is not yet set), and I think we can all say “thank god!” We’re past the “the team will learn from this” stage, past the “we’ll be better off in the long run for this” talk. The last two games have shown us just how much we need that well-dressed man sitting on the end of the bench — those are games we win with Bryant on the court.

Without him, optimism has left the Laker nation after two ugly losses. With games this week in New Jersey, Detroit and Cleveland, it’s not likely to return soon.

Things did not start out bad in Kobe’s absence, the Lakers were 4-1, Lamar was asserting himself and the ball was moving on offense (which hid the defensive weaknesses). Since then the team is 2-6 (making them 6-7 since the injury, and I’m counting the Cleveland win in there). Everyone was thinking “if they can just play .500 ball until he gets back we’ve got a chance” but with the remaining games this week that is not going to happen.

Last night’s loss in Atlanta really hurt – it was the worst Laker performance of the season. The Lakers played 12 minutes of defense — the fourth-worst shooting team in the NBA shot 51.7% (eFG%). It was a second straight slow start, this time the Lakers listened to poster Zach and ran a lot of plays for Lamar early, but he passed some and the Lakers were a jump-shooting team for the first few minutes. Eventually Odom started to attack the rim, but by then the Lakers were already down 14-0, a hole they would never climb out of.

Two straight games the Lakers have fallen behind early, in part because they don’t have a guy they can give the ball to and almost guarantee will give them two points. The other team gets on a run and there is little the sans-Kobe Lakers can do to break it. Lamar tries to fill that role, but he’s not that guy — he can be doubled and will pass out of it, Kobe can beat that or at least draw the foul. Against Atlanta Odom was the focus in the first quarter, getting plenty of isolation plays, but the Lakers never made a run. (The Lakers ran a lot of isolation against Atlanta, turning them back into a three-point happy team with 23 chances.)

Then there is defense — the Lakers have almost none on the perimeter with Kobe out. Atlanta brought Tony Delk off the bench (a guy averaging 18.3 points per 40 minutes, except that he only averages 24.5 minutes per game) and let him torch them for 25. Kobe was not there to shut him down, to turn the tide. Inside, we had the team’s worst interior defender — Slava — playing key minutes. Enough said.

And, do you think things could have been different at the end of last night’s loss with Kobe in charge of the offense? I do, I think the Lakers get better looks (and Kobe, if he got to the free throw line 20 times like Lamar, would have hit more than 12). Same with Houston, although there Cook got the kind of shot you want to end the game, one you expect him to knock down. He’s not Robert Horry yet.

Of course, the old issues are still there with this team. In Houston the Lakers had 21 turnovers to the Rockets’ 8, with led to 14 fast break points from one of the slowest-playing teams in the NBA, and the Rockets took 12 more shots than the Lakers. In Atlanta it was offensive rebounds — the Lakers grabbed 5 but gave up 15, and the Hawks took 12 more shots than the Lakers.

Kobe is not a cure-all, but this team is much better with him than without. And if the Lakers are going to make the playoffs, they need him back sooner rather than later.


On a side-related Kobe note, I just want to wish his daughter well and I’m glad to read she is back home. I know first-hand how scary it can be when your child is sick.


By the way, a quick apology for the poorly-researched preview yesterday. In my rush I didn’t bother to check the injured list, so I discussed Josh Smith and Al Harrington, neither of which suited up (which makes that loss even more pathetic). I’ll try not to let it happen again.