Archives For April 2005

Town Hall Meeting

Kurt —  April 14, 2005

Mitch Kupchak stood on the firing line in front of about 350 season ticket holders last night at Staples Center and took — and dodged — questions for about an hour. As I said before I had a friend/spy at the event (who wished to remain nameless, so he will heretofore be referred to as “trench coat”) who passed along highlights from the event. (Attendees also got a tour of the locker room and free hot dogs.)

Mitch wanted to make the theme of the night that the Lakers were about winning championships and that the team was going to return to that. He said he accepted that responsibility.

For the fans, the theme of the night was “Why did you trade Shaq?” (Well, that and “Why are ticket prices so high?”) Trench coat said the Shaq question came up a lot in a lot of different ways (and often as part of long rants). Mitch’s answer was that it was Shaq who forced the Lakers hand by demanding an extension that would have strapped the Lakers against the cap/luxury tax, throwing out some numbers in the process. Mitch said he had talked to Shaq for more than a year about a better extension but could get no middle ground. Fans were having none of it — Mitch took a verbal beating.

When it came time to trade Shaq, there weren’t many offers, he said. He said he did ask for Dwyane Wade. As for Phil Jackson leaving, the decision to part ways was made well before the season ended, Mitch said.

While many in attendance talked about the past, I asked trench coat what Mitch said about the future.

The top priority is to get a coach in place and then make player decisions based on that (very good to hear). He said several times that there is no blue print on how to this rebuilding process would be done (not as good to hear).

While fans were eager to talk about specific players — both current and potential — Mitch did his best to avoid all of that. He did say that Chucky Atkins was not an ideal starting point guard and that the team needed to upgrade at the point and inside.

As for Sasha not playing, Mitch said that was a coaches decision and he had stayed out of it.

About the draft, he said the decision that needs to be made as to whether to get someone who can play now or draft a younger, project player. Specifically he said there was one high school player this year that he wants to see in a Laker uniform in three years, someone who could be a big star.

The one thing that worried me from trench coat’s report was this this high schooler idea. The consensus leading high school player is Gerald Green out of Houston who is 6-8, 200 pounds and is projected to play the two or three. He is expected to be around when the Lakers draft. No doubt he’s got some skills (and a 40-inch vertical) averaging 29 points a game and shining in high school all-star events. But he also is skinny and the book on him is he tends to settle for jumpers instead of driving to the hole. He’s a project.

Is what the Lakers need a project perimeter player? I hope that Mitch is not leaning that way (or was knowing this would get on the Web here and at other sites with recaps and wanted to create a diversion). I’m not sure they Lakers are going to get a real impact player in the draft (unless they get very lucky in the lottery) but we don’t need a three-year project at the end of the bench soaking up first-round money.

Fast Break

Kurt —  April 13, 2005

Clearing out my inbox:

• Those plans we’ve all been hatching in our head about trading Lamar Odom this off-season just took a big blow with discussion of shoulder surgery. It was going to be a challenge to get value for him before, coming out of surgery on his shooting arm it may be next to impossible.

• If you didn’t get to see the Fox Sports West feed of the Laker game Monday night, you missed something fun. The network celebrated 20 years of broadcasting Lakers basketball by pulling out old clips and interviewing members of the 1985 championship team (taking your attention away from the current Lakers’ defense). That said, my favorite part was pulling out the 1986 Prime Ticket opening and graphics for the broadcast.

• By the way, what were we thinking in the 80s with pastels being the colors of choice?

• Did anyone watch the NBA TV feed of the Lakers/Suns game Monday? I’m curious because NBA technicians put mics on director Penny Marshall, James Denton of “Desperate Housewives,” Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Ice Cube to get their reactions during the game. I’d be curious what they said.

• Joel Meyers said recently his people were talking up Syracuse forward Hakim Warrick as a draft pick. Apparently his people didn’t watch Warrick flounder against Vermont’s double teams in the NCAA tournament (he had 10 turnovers in that game being covered by guys with half his athleticism). He is also a tweener, he not big or strong enough to play the four in the NBA, certainly not the true power forward the Lakers need. I just hope Meyer’s people aren’t Laker people. If Kupchak drafts Warrick in the first round, I’ll jump on the fire Mitch bandwagon.

• Speaking of the draft, has a mock draft up that has the Lakers taking North Carolina point guard Raymond Felton with the 10th pick overall. Some of the choices are questionable — they have Martynas Andriuskevicius being drafted second overall but rumor is his stock is dropping — but if the Lakers got Felton I’d be thrilled. He’s the kind of quick point that I think the league is moving toward (and away from the big, slower pg).

With all the nostalgia around last night’s Laker game and the great 1985 team (something I may touch on more in a future post, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane), it reminded me of what a great passing team that was.

Obviously, any team with Magic Johnson at the point is going to move the ball well, but that team had other guys — Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, James Worthy, Kareem out of the post — who knew how to pass the ball. Even Ronnie Lester in garbage time could hit the open man (he averaged 13.8 assists per 48 minutes, thing is he only played 278 minutes total that year). The open guy got the shot.

That kind of ball movement is just one of the many things lacking this season. Kobe leads the team averaging 5.8 assists per 40 minutes, but that can be deceiving. The game against the Suns Monday was a perfect example: Kobe had 10 assists but there were multiple times when he took on three defenders as well, ignoring the open man.

This year’s Lakers have two guys who are throwbacks, two guys who can move the ball. Unfortunately, they both have had limited playing time — Vlade Divac and Luke Walton. Both have skills might have blended well with that ’85 squad. And both may not be back next season.

Vlade has played only 12 games this season and the problem is he is due $5.4 million next season. Yet in the last five games (when he has played regularly) we have seen what he can bring to the offense — he’s averaging 14.8 points, 7.1 assists and 10.1 rebounds (5.3 of them offensive) per 48 minutes. He’s only averaging 16.2 minutes per game in that span, so that’s a small statistical sample we’re going off of, but with him at the pinch post the triangle has looked much smoother. He’s hit more guys with passes for backdoor layups in the last five games than I remember all season.

But is he worth keeping next year, or should he be bought out at $2 million? Or another way of looking at it is: Can you find another good backup center for $3.4 million next season?

I’d say the key question here — as with all the Laker off-season moves — is who the next coach is and what style of play the Lakers choose to go with. If it is a triangle-style offense or a slower style of play, Vlade, even at 38, would be a good fit. If the Lakers go young and want to run, Vlade may make a better consultant to the team.

That same key question is going to be a part of the determining factor with Walton — does the new coach want him? But the other question is at what price. Other teams will definitely covet his game, but what is the going price for Luke, likely a backup three? What’s more, the Lakers are already are committed to paying Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Jumaine Jones, Devean George, Brian Cook — all of whom basically play the three and won’t all be traded despite how much some of us would like that. The Lakers are overloaded at forward, and while I’d miss Luke he may have to be allowed to walk.

I know the readership demographics of this site are quite affluent (or, at least I like to believe they are in my delusional little world), so I’m passing along this rare opportunity.

Sotheby’s will be auctioning off a set of nine Laker NBA championship rings. You can own the same rings as Jerry West does for the ’72 team and Kobe does for the 2001 team, not to mention all those ’80s rings. You even get your name engraved on the rings.

Show them off in your home or use them to convince women at blackjack tables in Vegas that you used to play in the NBA.

Money raised will go to Laker Youth Foundation. So, be sure to get your bid in — I’ll be bidding everything in my savings account. (Sadly, that will barely buy me a package of Sour Skittles, let alone the rings.)

On Tap: The Phoenix Suns

Kurt —  April 11, 2005

If I were watching this game in a bar with my friends tonight, here’s what we would be betting on: Can the out-of-shape Vlade Divac make it through a game with the Phoenix Suns without losing his lunch? My guess is no, but I’m not sure the cameras will catch it.

I enjoy watching the Suns play just because of the pace and athleticism — they take 48% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Outside of that, there are only a few things of interest to Lakers fans.

First, will Caron Butler flourish in a fast-paced game? He scored 30 and added seven rebounds the last time these two met. What’s more, he is seemingly developing good on-court chemistry with Kobe. I wrote last week that while is points per game had increased his basic numbers were the same as he had all season (and they were) — he wasn’t playing better just getting more touches. But in the last few games that has started to change — his eFG% over the last 10 is 49.7%, well up from his season average. He is scoring 1.12 points per shot attempt, not only above his season average but also equal to Kobe’s season average. I’m not saying Caron still isn’t trade bait, but if he stayed and Lamar went — and the Lakers played a more wide-open system — he might be a good fit with Kobe.

Second, I think Sasha would flourish in a more wide-open setting, so I’d like to see him play 20 minutes tonight. He can use the minutes Vlade passes up while retching on the bench. I watched Sasha at the end of the disaster in Sacramento yesterday and thought it was one of his better defensive efforts — some things that looked like his fault were really Slava not sliding off picks. He may be a turnover machine against the Suns, but get the ball in his hands and let’s run.

As for the Suns, I think one question remains: Can they beat the Spurs in the Western Conference finals? We’ve got a long way before that plays itself out — and who knows who will be healthy by the times those games roll around — but let’s look at a couple of stats from

When the Spurs play the 10 fastest-paced teams in the NBA, their record is 20-8 (71%). When the Suns play one of the 10 slowest paced teams, they are 21-11 (66%). The Suns win 62% against the 10 teams that hold down shooting percentage, the Spurs win 64% against the best shooting teams. My early guess is if and when these two teams meet, and if San Antonio can limit the Suns fast break points (which every team has tried to do but San Antonio can do), they should win. But the Western Conference Finals are a lifetime from now.


Two quick things worth reading. First, in the New York Times today, one of the better NBA stat guys out there, Dan Rosenbaum, has a story about +/-.

Over at Supersonics Soul, the latest Carnival of the NBA is up. See what other NBA bloggers around the nation are saying about teams actually going to the playoffs. Well, except for Knickerblogger.

On Tap: The Sacramento Kings

Kurt —  April 10, 2005

The best Laker line of the week comes from former Eagle/overrated solo artist Joe Walsh, who on his current tour, according to the LA Times Steve Harvey, has changed some of the lyrics to his best-known song, “Life’s Been Good To Me (So Far):

I’ve got a limo
Ride in the back
I watch the Lakers
They suck without Shaq

Today is another of something we will see a lot less of next year, the Lakers on a national broadcast. This time it is against Sacramento. Following on my new trend of seeing what kind of starting five you can make from guys on the IR of the Lakers and whoever they are playing, we have a very good team putt together: Bobby Jackson at point, Tony Bobbit at the two (this is a problem), Lamar Odom at the three, Chris Mihm at the four and Brad Miller at the five. Not bad.

Sacramento has clinched a playoff spot, but unfortunately they get my favorite NBA title dark horse in the first round, Dallas. If they are to have any chance in that series or the playoffs at all, they are going to need to get healthy and have Miller near 100% (he’s expected back about the start of the playoffs).

The Kings still have good perimeter play with Mike Bibby, Peja and Cuttino Mobley. In fact, in the last 10 games it has been Mobley who has been the Kings’ second best player (behind Peja) — he’s been shooting 54.3% (eFG%) in that span.

With Miller out, we’ll see if the veteran (read: old) Laker frontcourt of Brian Grant and Vlade Divac can take advantage. Stopping the four and the five has been Sacramento’s defensive weakness this season already (opponents PER at the four is 17.9, at center 17.7, and that was mostly with Miller healthy).

The last Laker game against Seattle — even though the Sonics were shorthanded — showed flashes of what we had hoped to see from the team all season. I’m not sure we’ve seen it for two games in a row for a while, but it would be nice to know they can still do that.

Note: This was supposed to post on Friday but apparently Blogger had other ideas. Here it is a day late, but be sure to read the Hoopsworld article linked in the first paragraph.

First, Eric Pincus has started looking forward to the lottery and the rest of the off-season in his new article on Hoopsworld. Good stuff, save that I think he gets to talking coaches too late. Who the Lakers draft/trade for/ bring in needs to fit with the coaching style of whomever gets hired. That is still priority one..

As for tonight’s game, you could put together a good starting five out of guys on the IR or not playing tonight for these two teams: Chris Mihm at center, Vladimir Radmanovic at the four, Lamar Odom at the three Rashard Lewis at the two and Antonio Daniels at point. Yes, Vlad/Lamar/Rashard are all basically threes with much the same length and style of game, but you could come up with a good offense to showcase them.

Of the players that are healthy, the Lakers will have one key task tonight — Keep Reggie Evans off the glass. That’s going to be a challenge with the Lakers two best rebounders, Odom and Mihm, watching from the sidelines.

Evans’ rebound rate this season is 24.3, meaning when he is on the floor he is grabbing 24.3% of the available rebounds. He gets one out of every four missed shots, which is incredible. Second in the NBA right now is Dan Gadzuric at 21.8 (he is a free agent this summer, by the way). John Hollinger did an entire story about this on — the only person to put up the kind of numbers Evans has this season is Dennis Rodman at his peak.

With Lewis and Daniels not playing for Seattle tonight, more pressure will fall on Ray “I’m in a contract year” Allen. Kobe, hobbled or not, needs to shut him down if the Lakers are going to win the battle of the MASH units.

Seattle remains the third most efficient offense in the NBA, averaging 108.3 (points per 100 possessions). By the way, the Lakers have fallen to ninth in the league with 104.5 (they haven’t fallen much, but as happens every year, other teams are getting better at scoring as the season goes on).

What has kept the Lakers out of the playoffs will be Seattle’s biggest problem in it — defense. Seattle is 24th in the league giving up 105.3. The Lakers are 28th at 107.2.

One thing I’d like to see is more Sahsa. He got just 7 minutes in the loss to Houston. I thought we were trying to get a look at this guy?

On Tap: The Houston Rockets

Kurt —  April 7, 2005

Is ESPN going to even show highlights from this game, or are they just going to show a picture of Phil Jackson and Jerry Buss sitting next to each other in a luxury box?

So we can get this out of the way, this is my guess at the entire conversation those two will have about basketball tonight:

Jerry Buss: Look at that play by Kobe. This team still has some potential.
Phil Jackson (stuffing his mouth with nachos): Hmmmth.
JB: Kobe’s still young, with Odom and Butler and that Mihm guy turned out to be pretty good. Shouldn’t we be better with that lineup?
PJ (stuffing his mouth with nachos): Hmmmth.
JB: With the right coach and a couple new players, we could be right back in the playoff mix. Don’t you think so, we just need the right leadership from the bench?
PJ: I’m going to get more nachos. You want anything?

Tonight is a chance to watch one guy often mentioned as a potential Laker when cap space comes open in 2007 — Yao Ming. This is Ming’s third year in the league and he has put up better statistics this year than any previously: His points per 40 minutes jumped from 20 in his first two years to 24.7 this year; his shooting percentage is 54.9% this year, up from 51.1%; his points per shot attempt jumped from 1.16 to 1.22; his PER this season is 23.04, up from 21.3.

That said, Ming has some weaknesses. He is not a good passer out of the post, averaging just 1 assist per 40 minutes despite the double teams he sees. His rebound rate is 15.7 (percent of available rebounds he grabs when on the floor), not bad but far less than what you want out of a guy 7’6” — his rate is lower than Lamar Odom’s (15.9). Something else is that you can still be physical with Ming — when Chris Mihm played him tight this season Ming went to fade aways rather than getting close to the hoop on a guy still six inches shorter than him.

One other thing worries me about picking up Ming in a few years — I think his injury/aging curve is going to be shorter than the average players. What I mean is that because he doesn’t get an off-season — he returns to China where he plays a lot of national team games — he does not really get a chance for his body to heal. I fear he is due for a physical breakdown earlier than most big men.

That said, he is still one of the most dominant post players in the NBA and his play has gotten better each of the last three years. He might fit well with Kobe (the way he now fits with McGrady). However, he has a higher potential than most to be a big money bust.

This is all just idle speculation — Ming may not want to leave Houston, the Lakers may not want him by then. But with what has happened to the Lakers this season, idle speculation is all we’ve got left. Plus, we’re all going to be thinking about Ming in a Laker jersey tonight when he puts up big numbers on Vlade/Grant.

By the way, Kobe is expected to play tonight.