Archives For April 2005

Fast Break

 —  April 6, 2005

Work is still kicking my a** this week, so today it’s fast break, collection of notes I’ve been compiling.

• I’m not a season ticket holder, but events I want to be a fly on a wall for include an exclusive event next Wednesday at Staples where season ticket holders get to hear from and ask questions of Mitch K. and other members of the Lakers front office. There should be some very interesting give and take here — well, mostly give with the frustration of Laker fans this season. I have a spy, er, friend going to that who is reporting back to me.

• How bad was the Laker defense against the Suns? In the first half the Suns shot 73.3% (eFG%) and put up 70 points by halftime. They cooled off in the second half and for the game only shot 65.3%.

• Injuries are making this collapse appear worse than it actually is (and it isn’t good). But injuries have been slowing this team for some time. My favorite example recently was the game against San Antonio: Kobe got the ball with time winding down for a last-second, potentially game-winning shot. The double team came followed by a switch off a pick, and Kobe was one-on-one with Robert Horry, a guy Kobe can take off the dribble. Hamblen was frustrated that he didn’t and said so afterwards, but the combination of Kobe’s shin, ankle and tired legs means he may not have been able to beat Horry, who is long and smart defensively. Just a little thing, but symbolic of all the little things contributing to one big, bad season.

• Last night at 2:30 a.m., up with a teething child, I replayed the end of the loss to the Suns again and focused on Sasha, who was playing the two. On offense he looks pretty good — he had a team-high seven rebounds and three of them were offensive. But in man-to-man defense he is lost. He went crashing into some screens hard, lost his man and never recovered several times, just got beat on others. He needs to play a lot this summer and get coached on that end of the floor, if he can improve to decent defensively he could come off the bench next year. But he’s got a long way to go.

My other thought while watching that garbage time: Vlade looks slow and old. First game back though, so he gets some slack.

• A ways back I used an unscientific system to predict the rest of the season and gave the estimation the Lakers would finish with 38 wins — and I thought that was pessimistic at the time. They need to go 5-3 the rest of the way just to do that.

• Interesting note posted by the Stats Pimp on the APBR boards recently. He figured out the number of ejections (of coaches or players) by each official from the 2001-02 season through last season and figured out the average is one 12.3 games. The ref with the most ejections was Steve Javie, who had 31 in 215 games, or an average of one each 6.9 games. The fewest ejections was Dick Bavetta with 7 in 239 games, or an average of one every 34.1 contests.

• I link and talk about other’s more often, but the best writer (and my favorite) at ESPN.com is Eric Neel.

On Tap: Elimination

 —  April 5, 2005

The Lakers travel to Phoenix tonight to take on a Suns team that is 15-5 in their last 20 and has the best record in the NBA. What’s more, the Lakers almost certainly will be without Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Chris Mihm — the guys with the three highest PERs on the team. The bookmakers have the Lakers as 14.5-point dogs.

A loss tonight and the Lakers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, although that comes as no surprise.

Let’s talk about the one positive for the Lakers the last several games, Caron Butler. With Odom down Butler has seen more of the offense — his minutes have jumped to 40 per game the last 10 from a season average of 35.2, and his points per game is up to 19.8 per game from a season average of 14.8.

The thing is, Butler isn’t playing any better than he has all season, he’s just getting more touches. Butler is shooting 47% (eFG%) in last 10 games, barely up from his season average of 46.5%. His points per shot attempt in the last 10 is the same as his season average of 1.05. He is grabbing slightly fewer rebounds (5.9 per 40 minutes in his last 10, a 6.4 average for the season). We can go on down the list, but it’s all pretty much the same.

If the Lakers are going to make a big trade in the next two years, it likely means Butler or Odom is going to have to go. There are two things that need to be asked here: Who is the better player and who can play better with Kobe?

On the first question, I think it’s clear Odom is the better player overall, not just on offense and rebounding but on defense — both are poor but Odom’s opponents PER is 17.7 (and he has to cover some very good fours, a deep position in the league right now) while Butler’s is a sad 19.3.

As for the second question, who plays better with Kobe, I’ll turn to 82games.com’s player pairs, which show a +/- for the team when these two players are on the floor (averaged for 48 minutes), plus offensive and defensive efficiency. First, when Kobe and Lamar are on the floor, the Lakers play basically even with their opponents, a +/- of 0. With Butler, that is -3. More specifically, the problem is defense. With Butler and Bryant on the floor the Lakers have a slightly better offensive efficiency rating than with Kobe and Odom — 100.7 (points per 100 possessions) compared to 99.3. However, the Butler/Bryant combo allows 103.2, compared to the Odom/Bryant combo of 99.7.

Those +/- numbers are not without statistical “noise” — there is a lot of overlap when all three are on the court at once — but it starts to show that for all their problems, Kobe and Lamar mesh better than Kobe and Caron.

I’m glad Butler’s numbers are up the last few games and maybe he is landing on some scouts/GM’s radar, because I think he and Devean George are the Lakers two most tradable commodities this summer (two guys whose reputation my be higher than their actual worth) and both should be on the block.

Update: Chris Mihm is now on the DL and Vlade has been activated for tonight’s game.

Ranking The Coaching Vacancies

 —  April 4, 2005

It’s going to be a buyer’s market. Or a coach’s market. When the Lakers go searching for a coach this off-season there are going to be more good vacancies open than experienced, winning coaches available. Phil Jackson and Flip Saunders — as well as Larry Brown if he leaves Detroit (creating another tempting vacancy) — will have multiple teams that need them.

To help those coaches out, here is a purely subjective ranking of the top six coaching vacancies available this off-season as of right now.

6. Portland. The upsides here are plenty — an owner who can spend money and a team with only $38 million committed for next year (that’s $40 million off the books from this season). Some good young talent on the roster in Zach Randolph, Sebastian Telfair and Darius Miles, although you’ll need more. As coach, you have a team option on Nick Van Exel (but at $12 million is he worth it) plus you can try to resign Damon Stoudamire or Shareef Abdur-Rahim if you want to (although I think you don’t). Fans are frustrated now but with the right coach/team philosophy, plus some key free agency pickups, the Blazers can be good again pretty soon. This is a chance for a coach to mold young players and get free agents in. Phil Jackson is supposed to meet with Paul Allen in late April.

5. Orlando. It starts with Dwight Howard, this is a team with a future star in place for a coach to mold and mold a team around. You’ve got Grant Hill (pray he stays healthy) and Steve Francis for a few more years. You’re also paying Doug Christie and Kelvin Cato more than $8 million next year, but they are expiring contracts that may be able to be moved. This is a team that is going to need to be reshaped in the coming few years, but its core is in place. Plus, it has never been hard to get free agents to come to Florida to play.

4. New York. This could be the job to have staring in the 2007-08 season when the weight of a $100 million payroll holding down the franchise starts to come off the books. However, for the next couple of years it is going to be challenging. You do have Stephon Marbury, Knickerblogger favorite Michael Sweetney, and Kurt Thomas — this team is not chopped liver, you can make the playoffs in the East with these guys, but not contend. The big upside is there is no bigger stage than Madison Square Garden and your owner will spend as only New York team owners can. However, any coach is going to have to work closely with Isaiah Thomas — that may be hard for Phil Jackson, who wants a lot of player control.

2 (tie). Minnesota. For a coach that wants to win a title now, this may be the best choice. It starts with getting to coach Kevin Garnett — plus there is some good talent around him. Latrell Sprewell is gone, Cassell is still on the payroll (even if he is unhappy), Fred Hoiberg gives you a great shooter plus there are solid players like Eddie Griffin. The coach needs to get this team to play defense, or get players who will defend. There is $48 million on the payroll next season but only $35 million the year after that (goodbye, Michael Olowokandi), so you can go get good players (and they will come to play with Garnett). While they have had a bad year, this is a team that knows how to win and can do so again now.

2 (tie). Lakers. Like Minnesota, you get to coach one of the best players in the NBA in his prime, Kobe. There is other talent on this roster — Lamar Odom, Caron Bulter — and some solid guys who can come off the bench. The challenge is getting together a roster that can play defense and can mesh on offense. There is $68 million committed in salary next year and $50 million the year after that, so there will be no big moves unless you can move a key piece, such as Odom or Butler. The upside is this is a storied franchise with an owner who demands winning, he will give you what you need to get back to the mountaintop. But it is going to be a couple of years before it all comes together.

1). Cleveland. There are two big attractions here. First is LeBron James. The second is new owner Dan Gilbert — he is energetic and rich like a Mark Cuban, but in a much better place with this team. You have until LeBron’s deal is up (two more seasons) to convince him to stay, but there is plenty at your disposal. The Cavs only have $28 million in salary committed next season — although you need to resign Zydrunas Ilgauskas. You can go out and get free agents and shape this team around King James. Within two years this is a team that should be competing to come out of the East each year for a decade to come, and your owner will spend what it takes to get you there. Handle this properly and it is the perfect NBA job.

Weekend Reading

 —  April 2, 2005

I’m going to spend the weekend in front of a computer, but not working on this site as I am swamped with paying work. So, rather than a traditional game previews (it’s really pretty simple anyway, the only way the Lakers are going to win is to outscore their opponents) let me offer some suggested reading.

If you want to get an idea of just some of what Dean Oliver — the preeminent NBA stat man — brings to the table for the Sonics, check out his latest column at 82games.com. Oliver invented an artificial intelligence program that analyzes stats of a team and picks out weaknesses.

My other suggestion is not basketball related but it is a LA blogging coup — Jon at Dodger Thoughts has interviewed the team’s general manager, Paul DePodesta. While the mainstream LA media plays up the Dodger paranoia (“all he cares about is his computer”) Jon gives a well rounded piece that talks stats and Beltre. A must read if you like the Dodgers, and an impressive get for the best of the LA sports bloggers.

Legendary Laker Magic Johnson is making a comeback as a player for the rest of this season, Forumblueandgold.com has learned from a series of exclusive interviews at Staples Center last night. With the team struggling and attendance down, the proud organization is reaching into its past to help guide this team in the future.

At 6’9” and a whole lot more pounds than he played at in the 1980s, Magic is going to step in as the power forward the Lakers have needed this season. In an exclusive interview in a luxury box above the game last night, Magic said he could still play.

“I was telling Chuck and Kenny the other night I could still grab some boards in this league and that’s when it hit me — this team needs me,” Magic said. “I’m going to need a bigger uniform than I used to — maybe that one hanging up there on the wall — but aside that I’m ready to go. I’m already better than Brian Grant.”

More than just on the court, Magic said he thought he could help this revamped Laker team gel into a cohesive unit.

“I’m taking them all out so we can bond like a team. First we’re going to all go eat at my TGI Fridays. Then, we’re going to my theaters to see a movie. It’s hard though man, it’s all a negotiation with these guys now. I thought we should all go see “Ring Two” but it turns out Kobe’s still really sensitive about the ring thing. Maybe we’ll just see “Beauty Shop.”

Jeannie Buss tied Magic’s comeback into the only thing she talks about — Phil Jackson.

“I think this helps us get Phil back,” she said. “He wants a coaching challenge and I was worried because he’s already coached Kobe and they’re looking for someone to coach LeBron. But Phil’s never coached Magic — and Phil’s no Paul Westhead so Magic can’t run him off. I think this means he’ll come back. Please tell me he’s coming back. Please?”

More details from the official press conference later today when they are available.