Archives For April 2005

Notes From The Weekend

 —  April 25, 2005

I watched some NBA playoff games, read what I could about the Lakers and went to the LA Times Festival of Books. Here are some thoughts:

• Phil Jackson Watch: The Lakers are meeting Tuesday with Jackson to talk coaching, according to Joel Meyers. Phil also is scheduled to talk to the New York Knicks in the next week or so. Personally, if I were Jackson I would meet with everyone I could, even if I knew where I wanted to coach, just to drive up my price.

• Do you really think Isaiah Thomas would give up the roster control Phil Jackson would demand?

• Kobe’s wrist, which bothered him the last couple weeks of the season, does not have anything seriously wrong with it.

• I guess what Laker play-by-play Paul Sunderland will be doing next fall depends on whom you ask. As passed along here, Bob Kaiser in the Press Telegram said a few weeks ago that he was toast. Then last Friday Larry Stewart in the Times said no decision would be made until May. My guess is management is looking to see who is out there before making a decision. Stewart also said:

Word is the Lakers are considering a change because the ratings are down. Earth to Lakers: Maybe the team’s performance had something to do with that.


• How ‘bout those Nuggets? I still have to like San Antonio over seven games, but what if this were a five-game series like the “old” days? Same thing with the Houston/Dallas series, I think the Mav’s depth will win out in seven but if this were a five-game series Mark Cuban would and should be a lot more nervous.

• By the way, the rest of my playoff picks (based on my first round selections) are: Western Conference, second round, Dallas over Phoenix in seven, San Antonio over Sacramento in five. Western Conference Finals: San Antonio over Dallas in six.

Eastern Conference, second round: Miami over Chicago in five, Detroit over Boston in five. Eastern Conference Finals, Detroit over Miami in six.

NBA Finals, San Antonio over Detroit in seven.

• There are T-shirts on sale in the Miami arena that say, “Thank you, Kobe.” That’s pretty funny.

• My wife and I got to the LA Times Festival of Books early Sunday so our daughter could see Bob the Builder. Turns out he’s just like a real contractor — he show’s up late and only works for about half as long as expected.

• Other highlights from the Festival include getting a book signed by Gore Vidal (I had to get his new book, but also had him sign my copy of Lincoln) and a very funny speech by Eric Idle. By the way (and not that anyone organizing the festival reads this), but at the large political panels (such as the one we saw in Royce Hall), don’t let the public ask questions. People at the mike either give a speech, plug some other book or just generally spout nonsense — you’re lucky if one out of 10 people actually ask a good question. I came to hear the people on the panels, let them talk.

• Mike G. over at the APBRmetrics board posted recently this chart showing the Lakers true shooting percentages as compared to points per game — and it showed that the Lakers who took the shots pretty much were they guys who should have taken the shots. I’d like to see Odom and Butler getter a higher TS%, but all in all this isn’t that bad. That said, the offense wasn’t the problem.

TS% . . player . . . . . . PPG
.563 Bryant,Kobe . . 27.6
.558 Atkins,Chucky . 13.6
.556 Jones,Jumaine .. 7.6
.552 Mihm,Chris . . . . 9.8
.539 Grant,Brian . . . . 3.8
.539 Odom,Lamar . . 15.2
.528 Butler,Caron . .. 15.5
.522 Cook,Brian . . . . 6.4
.437 Brown,Tierre . . . 4.4

(True Shooting Percentage is half of points per shot attempt, a stat that credits people for three pointers and free throws in addition to basic made baskets. Some stats people prefer TS% to PSA because they see the stat as more “digestible” as a percentage. I don’t have a preference. The league average this season was about .529.)

• Wild, unsubstantiated rumors of the day: The Lakers sending Devean George, Slava and both our second-round picks to Indiana for Jonathon Bender and the 17th overall pick. There’s also the rumor the Lakers are trying to revive the Carlos Boozer deal with Caron, Chucky Atkins and more going to Utah — I’d love to see that, but I’d also love to see myself driving a Porsche. Both seem highly unlikely.

The Playoffs: Round One

 —  April 22, 2005

Normally at this time of year in Los Angeles Laker flags start popping up on cars like cherry blossoms in Washington DC. Everywhere you turned people were wearing Laker gear, talking playoffs and showing some civic pride. This year we get the “news” that Phil Jackson is a viable coaching candidate. Shocking.

Today, I’m wearing my Dodger jersey (and if I had one, a “DePodesta was right” T-shirt, something the entire LA Times sports staff should be forced to don). At the gas station this morning two people were wearing Dodger hats. Last night at the grocery store I saw people wearing Dodger shirts. It’s great to see — if we don’t have the Lakers at least we have one team overachieving.

That said, I’m still going to be watching the NBA playoffs. Here are some first round thoughts and predictions. Please feel free to contribute your own.

Western Conference

Phoenix and Memphis. Jerry West is brilliant, but for the past two years Bryan Colangelo has been better. Phoenix in four.

San Antonio and Denver. This is going to be interesting, if San Antonio were healthy it would be one thing but they are not. George Karl will try to exploit this — he has enough big bodies (even if they don’t play defense) to throw at Tim Duncan, then Manu Ginobili will get run until he drops. San Antonio catches a break with the number of days off in the first round. The franchise that produced the greatest first-round upset in history will come close again, but I’ll take the Spurs in seven.

Seattle and Sacramento. Paging Hawkeye Pierce. We may even need Frank Burns to attend to the walking wounded in this series. All season long the Sonics were the darlings of we fans of the new thinking in NBA stats, but injuries and more have pulled the team apart. Sacramento is not better without Chris Webber, but they’re not worse either. Seattle is 2-8 in their last 10 games, with teams shooting 55% (eFG%) against them. I can’t pick a team that cold, so I’ll take the upset of Sacramento in six.

Dallas and Houston. I like Houston, but I like Dallas more. The Mavs are a solid all around team and Houston, with its average offense (15th in the league in offensive efficiency) is not there yet. I’ll take Dallas in six.

Eastern Conference

Miami and New Jersey. The Nets come in playing their best basketball of the year, 8-2 in their last 10 and Vince Carter averaging 39.75 points per 48 minutes in that span. On the other side of the ledger, Shaq is not 100% and it may take a couple of games for the team to gel around him again. You think that means I’ll call an upset? Miami in six.

Detroit and Philadelphia. There may be no team playing better right now than Detroit. The Sixers come in hot as well, having one 8 of their last 10, but Tayshaun Prince can shut down Iverson. Detroit in five.

Boston and Indiana.
If there is one series I have no feel for it’s this one. Whose star is going to hit the bigger clutch shots — Paul Pierce or Reggie Miller? I’ll take Pierce. Celtics in seven.

Chicago and Washington. If Deng and Curry were healthy this would be a no-brainer, but instead we get the battle of the backcourts. I think the difference here is defense — on the season Chicago has been the second most efficient defense in the league (97.4 points per 100 possessions) and in the last 10 games, without Deng and Curry, that has fallen to 96.5. Meanwhile Washington on the season gave up 103.9 and in the last 10 — with their playoff lives hanging in the balance — it was 110.4. It’s still close, Arenas will have some big games, but give me Chicago in seven.

There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart.

-Lao Tzu

I was worried at first when I heard Mitch Kupchak say there was no set blueprint for the rebuilding of the Lakers. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw a Zen-like wisdom in the idea of being flexible — there is not one path back to the championship. It can be done running or through Phil’s slowed-down triangle, and with Kobe as the core player you have options because his game has so many facets.

I’m less concerned with what specific actions Mitch takes than that there are actions — he is on the clock.

I’m not sure we’ve ever really seen what Mitch can do. When he took over for Jerry West it was Phil Jackson that ultimately had the say over player moves. Mitch was the guy in charge when Karl Malone and Gary Payton to put on Laker uniforms — a move we all thought guaranteed a championship — but again that was more about Phil, Kobe and Shaq than it was Mitch. Then, after last season, owner Jerry Buss tells Mitch to trade Shaq and make sure he did it fast enough to resign Kobe, tying his hands to make a good deal and forcing him to take the best of bad options.

The Mitch/Jerry Buss tandem did make one big mistake this past off-season — saying they wanted a running team then hiring Rudy T. As was pointed out during the season, the penetrate-and-dish-for-three offense of Rudy T. was exactly what should have been expected. Rudy T. was an odd coaching choice for what the Lakers’ stated goals and talent were — with a point/forward like Lamar, plus Kobe, Butler and Mihm this is a team that could have run.

That said, Mitch and no one else expected Rudy T. would have no apparent defensive system and then would need to step down because the stress of the job was too much.

So my grade for the past season is an Incomplete.

Now they have to retake the class — they have the chance to start the rebuilding and do it right. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy.

As I and many others have preached since day one, this rebuilding must start with a coach and a team philosophy. In a radio interview on 570 am yesterday afternoon, Mitch said that Phil Jackson’s name was at the top of the list of candidates, although that was the only name on the list he discussed.

Whether it’s Phil or someone else, who is the coach and what offensive and defensive systems will be run will determine Mitch’s next moves — the point guard Phil would want for the triangle is different than what Flip Saunders would want if he wants to make the Lakers a running team. Or, in another example, Phil very likely would want Luke Walton back, other coaches may be lukewarm.

Whatever moves the Lakers make, Mitch said to look more for trades than free agent signings. This makes sense — the Lakers already have more than $69 million in salary committed for next year and this is not New York, they aren’t just going to add salary.

The big question with trades is: Do you break up the trio of Kobe, Lamar and Caron? To get something in a trade the Lakers are going to have to give up something, and if they want a significant trade Lamar or Butler will have to go. The end of the year play between Kobe and Caron has many Laker fans thinking it is Lamar who should go — but it is Butler that is by far the more tradable asset. Odom will make $10 million next year and is signed through 2009, Butler is in the last year of a deal paying him $2.4.

Last year contracts are the coin of the realm for trades in today’s NBA, and unlike at last year’s trading deadline Mitch has several at his disposal now — Atkins, Butler, George, Vlade, Slava and Jumaine Jones. Slava and Vlade have little trade value, but the rest could be moved more easily — certainly more easily than Odom.

Kupchak also will have his best draft position ever — likely 10th. By the way, if you’re dreaming of Chris Paul running the point for the Lakers, know that they have a 1.4% chance of the top pick and a 4% chance of landing in the top three. It’s not going to happen — can you imagine the outcry and wailing that the system is fixed if the Lakers got the top pick?

The best mock drafts out there have the Lakers getting someone like Chris Taft out of Pittsburgh (an Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh at the four — $1 million body and a 5¢ head). Most likely the Lakers will get a guy who can contribute off the bench but not be a starter or star.

All of this is a lot to ask of Mitch, to rebuild this team back into a good playoff team in just one year, especially in the very deep Western Conference.

But that’s the job he signed up for, and if he wants to keep it he’s going to have to get a passing grade next year.

On Tap: This Is The End, My Friends

 —  April 20, 2005

This has been a hard season to be a Laker fan. A hard season to watch if you love basketball.

Back in October we entered the season with muted expectations after the trade of Shaq, but this was not a team without talent. I thought — we all thought — that as the season wore on this team would get more used to each other’s games, more used to what Rudy T. wanted as a coach and by the end of the season we would be above .500, in the playoffs somewhere and we would have an idea of how to build for the future.

Tonight is the last game of the season and those ideas — and that plan for the future — have been obliterated. The rest of the league (and countless fans, media members and bloggers) have reveled in our fall and offered a swift kick on the way down. Tonight we play a poor Portland team that can we relate to — we are both without a coach for next year, with a talented but underachieving rosters, and apparently without blueprints for making things better.

I’ll watch tonight’s game hoping that the team that apparently has given up can find a little effort, give us something to hang our hat on heading into the off-season. What has been the most frustrating thing about this season were the flashes — flashes of team defense (they were rare), flashes of offensive cohesion, flashes of the team we thought we’d have. I’d love to see one of those flashes tonight.

But what I expect to see tonight is what I have seen (and not seen) all season — a lack of interest on defense, no Vlade (due to the suspension this time), Kobe being given the ball with six seconds on the 24 and told to get the shot off by himself, Chucky Atkins being Chucky Atkins, and a substitution pattern that will be bewildering.

All I can hope is that we see some progress tonight. And this off-season.

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While tonight is the end of the Lakers’ season, it is far from the end of this blog. I started this less than six months ago and already we are past 12,000 total hits (and that was after a first month where nobody came) and readership is growing despite the Lakers demise. Thank you all for taking the time to come here — and especially all of your comments. This site has a core of great and intelligent commenters that I sincerely enjoy and hope will expand over the summer and into next season.

This should be an interesting summer — a new coach, the draft, the Long Beach Summer Pro League (which I will be at a fair amount of), and plenty of roster changes. We’ll be watching and talking playoffs at this site too, because we are basketball fans not just Laker fans. Thanks again — you have made this fun for me and I look forward to the wild ride ahead.

New Carnival of the NBA

 —  April 20, 2005

The letter of the day is K, as in Knickerblogger, who came up with an interesting way to put to put together the latest Carnival of the NBA post, then blamed it on an 80s band. Whatever reason he uses, it’s still a good way to find out what else NBA bloggers are saying.