Archives For May 2005

We Have Seen The Enemy…..

 —  May 19, 2005

Apparently the NBA and players union are on their way to a lockout this summer. Even a one-month lockout could be bad news locally as it could water down the Summer Pro League in Long Beach, at least in terms of having a Laker (or Clipper or Warrior or…) team competing. With a new coach coming in, that summer league is something the Lakers really need for putting in the new system. (Update: I heard back from the organizers of the Summer Pro League and they said they would very likely have games with teams put together by agents looking to showcase clients, something that already accounts for a number of teams. However, there would be no teams representing NBA organizations if there is a lockout.)

The good thing is the NBA is not the NHL — this is not a broken system where owners are loosing money and television ratings are nonexistent. The financial structure of the NBA works. Maybe not as well as everyone would like, but it works.

Which is why I find it odd the negotiations reached the point they did so smoothly. The concessions the owners are asking for is not just something that will line their pockets — the owners want to be protected from themselves and not face the consequences of bad decisions.

Let’s start with shortening contract lengths, currently free agents can sign max six-year deals with a new team, seven with their current team. The owners want that cut the three years and four years. Why? Not because the Lakers don’t want to keep Kobe around or Cleveland is worried about giving money to LeBron, but because the owners overspend and give huge deals to Allan Houston and Brian Grant and they want to be able to get out earlier. A better example would be this coming summer and the unrestricted free agent Ray Allen: Despite the fact he is 30 some team would have given him a six-year max deal. Then, four years from now when Allen’s considerable skills have started to seriously erode, they would be on the hook for a couple more years.

I say they should be, they should face the consequences of unwise contract decisions. Offer a long-term deal to an old player — or one who had one good year and can’t continue to play on that level — and your team should be punished with the cap hit and contract. Bad management decisions should have consequences.

The same is true of the idea of an age limit. What the owners want to do is take the pressure off themselves to scout and draft these young players, because many don’t work out. The owners love LeBron and Dwight Howard, what they don’t want are more Darko Milicics. Again, I say a team that drafts a high school player is taking a chance — usually high risk/high reward — and they should have to live with the consequences of that decision. The owners want to solve the situation by postponing the decision.

I’m not sure if there will be a lockout and how long one would last, but the current NBA system works fairly well and should be able to be tweaked rather than have major changes made. And whatever changes are made, management decisions should have long-term consequences for their team.

End of Season Report Card: Center

 —  May 18, 2005

This is the last (finally!) of a series of season wrap-up posts for the Lakers (we’ve already done team management, point guard, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards). Players in this post will be listed this way: Kobe Bryant (23.8/15.1/+2.8). Those numbers are: the player’s PER, his opponents PER for the season at his primary position, and his +/- averaged for 48 minutes. I stole this listing idea from Knickerblogger, and get the stats from his site and 82games.com. While none of these statistics is perfect, together they give a pretty good indication of what a player meant to a team.

Laker fans, we can all admit it: As much as we were frustrated with the unmotivated Shaq in Los Angeles his last couple of years here, we knew there was going to be a big drop off once he left. Fat Shaq had a PER of 24.4 his last year in Laker colors, still higher than any Laker this year.

That’s why the grades at the center are somewhat based on perception — no one was going to replace Shaq, the question was simply how far the drop off was going to be.

Due to injuries, much of the burden fell on the shoulders of Chris Mihm (16.09/16.2/-2.1) and he handled it surprisingly well. Mihm played a career high 24.9 minutes per game and his usage rate (percentage of the offense run through him) went up from last year — usually when that happens a player’s efficiency goes down but Mihm’s went up. That said, with each positive with Mihm it is easy to find an area he still needs to improve.

For example, Mihm shot a career best 50.7% (eFG%), and inside of 15 feet shot 58.7%. His points per shot attempt was 1.10, the third best rate on the Lakers (behind only Kobe and Jumaine Jones). That said, he has a glaring weakness shooting — he took 31% of his shots as jumpers from more than 15 feet out and on those he shot 32.8% — he needs to be near the basket or develop a consistent jumper.

Mihm’s rebound rate this season was a respectable 15.1 (percent of available rebounds grabbed), second best on the team this year (Odom was the best). He also was the team’s best offensive rebounder, averaging 4.2 per 40 minutes. His rebound rate is down from his career numbers — 17.6 last season and a very good 19.8 the year before — but I think that decline in percentage is due more to scheme and playing time more than anything: This season he started 75 games, far more than any other season, meaning he was playing against better rebounders and talent; he also had no real help down low, with the rather thin and perimeter play of Lamar Odom at the four; the Lakers infatuation with the three-pointer early in the year led to longer rebounds that, while statistically count in his rebound rate, were not real opportunities for him due to longer rebounds.

One other concern about Mihm was his Roberto Duran-like “manas de piedra” — he averaged 2.4 turnovers per 40 minutes compared to just 1.1 assists. He dropped a lot of balls inside and needs to work on reducing turnovers inside (turnovers that come from the center position are killers).

Mihm showed a lot of potential this year, flashes (particularly at home) where he looked like he can be a solid center for the Lakers for years. Maybe the biggest problem was that he was a starter playing less than 25 minutes per game — minutes that were cut short because of his foul trouble. Mihm averaged 6.1 fouls per 48 minutes this year and it was frustrating to watch him pick them up — there were a lot of fouls on the offensive end going over the back or a loose ball foul; fouls picked up trying to stop point guards driving the lane past questionable perimeter defense; and just fouls picked up in the course of play. Mihm has always been a foul sponge — for his career he averages 6.9 fouls per 48 minutes and in the 2003-04 season it was 7.7. One way to look at this is that Mihm’s unimpressive 6.1 per 48 this year was his best ever — he is getting better. He needs to keep doing that.

Based mostly on perception, I’d grade Mihm a B- for the season. His defense needs to get better and the Lakers need to use him better — he needs a strong inside presence along side him to remove some of the burden (opponent centers shot 50% against him). He can be a solid complimentary player, but he cannot hold down the middle himself.

The problem is that when Mihm left the floor the level of play really dropped off.

Brian Grant (10.19/18.9/-4.6) has played most of his career out of position, a natural power forward forced to be a center — he used to be good enough to overcome that, but not anymore. Grant hurts the offense because he is not a threat to score — he averaged just 7.4 shots per 40 minutes, which meant about three a game. When he did shoot he was efficient, hitting 49.3% (eFG%) and with a points per shot attempt of 1.08, he just didn’t shoot much.

Grants rebound rate was 9.0. Think about that for a second — with 100% of the rebounds available and 10 players on the floor, an average rebounder can grab 10, or have a rebound rate of 10.0. Now, it doesn’t work out that way, you don’t expect your point guard to mix it up and pull down boards, but you do expect your big men to do that and pull down a higher percentage. Grant is theoretically one of those big men, but he pulled down just 9 rebounds out of 100 when he was on the floor. Defensively, opponent centers shot 50.2% against Grant. I’ll be generous and give Grant a D.

Grant is coming back next year — his $14.4 million a year contract is not going anywhere (he might be able to be packaged for a trade during the 2006-07 season at the trading deadline, with a team looking for a big expiring contract, but I doubt he could be moved before then). The key for the Lakers is to find a role for him that works — 10 minutes a game backing up the four might work. He can’t do much more than that.

One of the big off-season decisions for the Lakers will be what to do with Vlade Divac (10.74/20.5/-7.7). While his raw numbers for the season are actually worse than Grant’s, Vlade had a small sample size of just 15 games and playing an average of 8.7 minutes in those games. But, he played more in the Lakers final seven games of the season, working in the triangle (where his passing skills from the post would be a good fit) and in those games he averaged 7.7 assists per 48 minutes, 14.45 points per 48, 11.9 rebounds with 6.2 offensive rebounds per 48. All good numbers.

If the new Laker coach is Phil and the triangle is going to stay, Divac could be a good fit as a backup center (if not, Divac may be gone for sure). He is due $5.4 million next year but can be bought out for $2 million. There are two big questions. First is his health — if you are just going to get 13 games out of him he has to be let go, but if he can play an average of 15-18 minutes a game for 70+ games in the backup role, that may be a good deal. The other question is who can you get to replace him — if you buy Divac out then can you get someone as good for $3.4 million to fill in that role? Those are some of the first questions that must be answered when the new coach comes in.

There is no doubt the Lakers need a stronger presence inside, particularly defensively. That does not necessarily mean a new center — if a strong four can be brought in, I think you’ll see Mihm’s game take another step forward as he is asked to do less. Mihm is still young and could be a solid center for years to come, which is the wake of Shaq leaving is more than I expected this season.

Earning My Lunch Money

 —  May 16, 2005

Bunch of thoughts from a bunch of different things this past weekend.

• Let’s get the Phil Jackson stuff out of the way (I’m growing weary of the Buss/Jackson dance the same way I was weary of the Shaq/Kobe “As The Basketball Turns” soap opera).

Phil Jackson spoke to the LA Times and said, “the current roster is not appealing at all” and then turned around and said. “There’s no doubt this team was much more talented than their record showed.” In a Zen way, however, those contradictory statements are both true. In a radio interview Sunday on TJ Simers program, Buss said the same things he did at his last interview — Phil is at the top of a very short list of coaching candidates. The one new bit of information is that the new coach will not be a current college coach (whew) or a current assistant. That narrows the field for those looking ahead.

Buss told a number of media he wanted a decision made by May 15, then Jackson tells the Times he is in no rush to make any kind of decision. It’s all negotiations through the press. Forget May 15, the real deadline is closer to June 15, a couple of weeks before the draft. Sadly, that could mean another month of posturing and negotiations through the media.

• On a more interesting note, can we talk about how much fun the NBA playoffs have become? I thought we’d have to wait a round for things to pick up.

My new favorite series is Seattle and San Antonio because of the great coaching job by Nate McMillan and his staff (including a guy I look up to) — it’s a gutsy move to go after Tim Duncan’s defense. In game three, the Sonics moved their pick and roll farther away from the basket and when Duncan jumped out the Sonics used their quick guards to drive past him, which led to a lot of easy points in the paint. The Spurs adjusted the next game but the Sonics were one step ahead, having their guards not drive all the way to the hole but rather hit the 12 to 18-foot jumper (a renaissance, at least for a series, of the lost art of the mid-range jumper). On defense, the Sonics have packed it in on Tony Parker and dared him to beat them with his jumper — he shot just 40.5% (eFG%) during the regular season from more than 15 feet out, and in the playoffs that has fallen to 36.7%. Add to that that the Sonics have a host of big bodies to throw inside and bang around and this gets interesting. I’ll still take the Spurs, but the Sonics have been better than I thought the way they limped into the playoffs.

• When was the last time you watched a series as entertaining as Dallas and Phoenix? Dan Rosenbaum from 82games.com did a great breakdown of how these two teams got here on Sports Illustrated’s Web site, one of the must reads of the week.

• Who do you think was better, the 1992-93 high octane Suns or the 2004-05 run-and-gun Suns? The answers Hoopsanalyst got surprised me.

• Heading into this weekend, TNT’s NBA playoff ratings were close to last year’s, however ABC’s are down by a third. My read would be that the real NBA fans are still watching, but the casual fans drawn in the by the Laker dynasty/circus have tuned out.

• If you want to get a standard mainstream media member’s perspective on the state of the Lakers, as well as the Dodgers and more, the Times JA Adande has a long interview up with LAist.

• Jeannie Buss will be representing the Lakers at the lottery, rumor is. Good choice. She is the best face for the organization — and I don’t just mean her looks.

Carnival of the NBA

 —  May 16, 2005

NBA blogs are catching on like, well, blogs, with more and more popping up each week. A number of the best new ones are listed in the new Carnival of the NBA up at Bulls Blog. A lot of great stuff in there and a chance to read what some very clever writers are saying.

If Not Phil, Then …..

 —  May 14, 2005

I’m not really comfortable with publishing rumors in this blog, even on a juicy topic such as if Phil Jackson is returning or, if not, trying to discern from the outside who or what the obstacle is. I’m not privy to inside information, which is why I’ve focused this blog on the discernable, things you can get from stats and observation. I post — or more accurately, repost — what I think is the best inside information from people I think do it right, but I’m not comfortable just passing along rumors.

Right now the Lakers are at a crossroads — good enough that competitiveness at the least and being a contender at best is within their grasp with some smart steps over a couple of years; but with enough question marks that many more seasons like the one we just saw could easily be fallen into with a one more Rudy T.-like misstep.

That’s why my first report card was on team management — they are the ones that need to set a team direction. That starts with hiring a coach. And, if plan #1 falls through and there is no Phil, then who is next? I think we can safely rule out John Wooden, after that everything else is speculation and I’m unsure where the Laker management will look. What follows is a short list of possibilities, with commentary, intended not as rumors but as food for thought.

Flip Saunders. We know the Lakers have contacted him. So has everyone else with an opening (except Minnesota). Last season he helped Minnesota finally get over the hump and into the Western Conference finals, but this year he got fired because Sprewell and Cassell got older. He has experience with a superstar and building a team around him in Kevin Garnett. The one warning I have about Saunders — in the breakthrough 03-04 season his team was ranked sixth in the league in defensive efficiency, but the years before that they were 16, 15, 15, and 12. I’m not sold on how defensive minded a coach he is.

Larry Brown. Unquestionably a great coach whose teams play defense. Questionable whether he will coach anywhere next year as there appear to be health questions around him. If he does coach, you’re going to have to give up picks to get him out of Detroit, if Brown even wants to get out of Detroit. Not likely to happen.

Eric Musselman. Some team is going to get him, and I think some team will be happy with him. At first glance people will look at his past and say he coached two years in Golden State with just a .457 winning percentage and never reached the playoffs. But the three previous years that team’s winning percentage was .231 and the roster he had was unimpressive. No coach did well there, until they got Barron Davis anyway, but he was the best of the bunch.

Kurt Rambis. He spent years on the bench coaching along side Phil Jackson, is popular with Laker fans, and returned to the bench this season to help bail the team out (a Herculean task). His last stint as coach is not remembered fondly but the team was 24-13 and reached the second round of the playoffs (where they were swept by San Antonio). That Laker team was second in the league in offensive efficiency but 24th on defense.

Tom Izzo/Roy Williams/Jim Calhoun/any college coach. This happens and you’ll be able to find me at Our Lady of the Angels lighting every candle I can find.

Michael Cooper. An easy sell to Laker fans, but in a short stint in Denver this season he didn’t show much. That said, outside of the WNBA titles there’s not much to judge him on.

President Jackson?

 —  May 12, 2005

According to Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld, everything is set for Phil Jackson to return as head coach of the Lakers except for one detail — his title.

In his “State of the Lakers” press conference last week, Dr. Buss acknowledged Laker General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Assistant General Manager Jimmy Buss as his key advisors. I am told that Jackson does not mind their roles in personnel decisions, but he requires “there to be a clear line of authority” ensuring that he answers directly and solely to Dr. Buss.

Pincus, the guy covering the Lakers with the most reliable inside information, said that Buss has planned to slowly turn over the reins of his franchise to his son Jimmy, making giving Jackson a title of authority over the younger Buss a potential deal killer. It’s worth a read, plus Pincus throws in a wise opinion at the end (that matches my first thoughts when reading this).

Update: I usually ignore what Peter Vecsey writes in the NY Post because he strikes me as a rumormonger without a filter. Which is what you should expect from the Post. However, his column today backs everything Pincus said but with a more aggressive slant — Vecsey says the real problem is Jimmy Buss.


The way I hear it, Jim Buss basically has been in charge of the Lakers since they got “swept in five games” by the Pistons in last June’s Finals. So much so that he hired Rudy Tomjanovich on his own, without Jeanie’s knowledge or expertise (her job is to oversee all contracts) for $30 million over five years.

Again, I’d say it’s Vecsey, so take what he said with a full shaker of salt. However, in a message board today Pincus said that Vecsey went farther than he did in his story, but Pincus has a relationship with the Lakers to protect that Vecsey does not, freeing the New Yorker to post more details. Check it out for yourself and decide. The greatest strength of the Laker organization over the years has been wise ownership that hired smart basketball people (Sharman, West) to make decisions rather than do that themselves. Moving away from that model would be very unwise.

This is the fifth in a series of season wrap-up posts for the Lakers (we’ve already done team management, point guard, shooting guards and small forwards).Players in this post will be listed this way: Kobe Bryant (23.8/15.1/+2.8). Those numbers are: the player’s PER, his opponents PER for the season at his primary position, and his +/- averaged for 48 minutes. I stole this listing idea from Knickerblogger, and get the stats from his site and 82games.com. While none of these statistics is perfect, together they give a pretty good indication of what a player meant to a team.

It’s a question you ask yourself after particularly disappointing movies — was the acting that bad or were the actors miscast and lacking direction?

That’s the nagging question left about Lamar Odom (17.65/17.6/+1.9) after this season: Is he not as good as the flashes he shows, or was he just miscast and misdirected in whatever the Laker offense was this year? Odom’s numbers weren’t bad at all, he shot 49.6% eFG% and scored 1.08 points per shot attempt, both numbers that were up from his “breakthrough” year in Miami the year before. On top of that, he averaged 11.3 rebounds per 40 minutes with a rebound rate of 15.9% (percentage of available rebounds grabbed while was on the floor), both the highest numbers on the Laker and up from last year.

Many Laker observers, myself included, think Odom was better suited to the three than the four, but he played inside well — 52% of Odom’s shots came from within 15 feet and he shot 58% on those. His PER while playing the four this season was 19, while when he played the three it was 16.8. Overall, his numbers were better when at the four, although part of that was due to teammates around him and the situations in which he was asked to play the three.

More importantly, Odom could not begin to provide the defensive play the Lakers needed at the four. Opponents shot 48.1% against Odom when he played the four and scored an average of 19.1 points per 48 minutes. Odom’s win shares this year were 12, down from 22 last year (although due to injury Odom only played 64 games this year, that said his win percentage was down 16%).

While Odom’s numbers were good, his game never meshed with Kobe’s — both wanted the ball on the perimeter so they could penetrate. Odom had the lowest percentage of the offense run through him in his career (19.7 usage rate, down from 22.6 last year). He never seemed comfortable on offense, deferring to Kobe. That is, until Kobe went out and Odom stepped up his aggressiveness and played well. Overall, I give Odom a C.

If a coach can find a way to make Odom and Kobe mesh they could be a powerful combination — and the next coach may have to, as Odom’s contract makes him hard to move. He is due $11.5 million next season and that escalates each year through 2009.

Part of the problem the Lakers (and Odom) had at the four is they had no good option behind him.

First there was Brian Cook (14.42/15.8/+8.7). More than any other Laker, Cook’s basic numbers can be deceiving — if next season our back up four shot 50.9% (eFG%) and put up a +8.7 (per 48 minutes) I’d be thrilled. And we need to give Cook credit, the Lakers were better with him on the floor than off.

The problem was Cook was a power forward in name only, TNT’s Steve Kerr at one point in the season called him the “tallest shooting guard in the league.” Cook was rarely near the basket — 47.2% of his shot attempts were three pointers, 82% of his shots were jump shots outside of 15 feet (and he had to be assisted on 92% of those shots), he drew fouls on just 2.8% of his shots, and his rebound rate was 11.2 (percent of rebounds grabbed while he was on the floor, a very low number for a four). He averaged one blocked shot per 40 minutes played, meaning he was not the defensive intimidator needed inside.

Cook’s ability to hit the three point shot made him a favorite of Rudy T. early in the season, but in the triangle he looked lost and his minutes dropped. If the next coach is looking for a four to pull opposing defenders away from the basket, Cook’s the man. Otherwise, he needs to be more of an inside player or be used as the backup small forward (which is a bad idea, he can’t defend the quick threes in the league).

The other backup four was Slava Medvedenko (12.12/14.4/+0.7). Due to an injury prior to the start of the season Slava was behind the learning curve in Rudy T.’s system and saw very few minutes early on in the year and played only 423 minutes all season, the fewest since his rookie year.

While his minutes were down, his averages per minute shooting numbers were similar to previous years — he averaged 18.7 points per 48 minutes (exact same as the previous season), his eFG% was 45.5% (compared to 44.1%), and his points per shot attempt was 0.98 (0.96 last season). Slava’s rebounding numbers were down, his rebound rate fell to 10.5 from 13.3 last season.

Slava’s defense is notoriously poor, but his oPER of 14.4 for this season isn’t bad. However, it was 16.3 last season and 23.2 the season before that — either Slava is becoming a good defender or the limited minutes he played this season against mostly the end of the bench guys masked his deficiencies. I think it’s the latter.

What’s wrong with Slava is not so much his game — it is what it is — but the $3 million per year he makes. That is way too much for what he brings to the table. Slava, maybe more than any other Laker, is hoping Phil Jackson comes back because Jackson did a good job of putting Slava in situations where he could succeed.

The four is one place the Lakers need to upgrade this off-season, one of the two glaring holes (along with point guard). Odom may be able to play the four, but then you need an All-Star center and defender behind him, and I don’t see that coming. Mitch has his work cut out for him this off-season to plug this hole.

Wednesday Morning Reading

 —  May 11, 2005

I’m finishing up the end of the season report on power forwards, but if you want Laker news let me point you to a couple of things.

Eric Pincus of Hoopsworld is on Phil Jackson watch but there is little new news to report. That said, it’s a good breakdown of where things stand.

For those of you looking for the new wave of NBA stats for the playoffs, Knickerblogger has set up an NBA playoff stat page that is worth checking out.

In case you missed it, T.J. Simers of the LA Times laid this season’s Laker problems at the feet of Shaq in his Sunday column. Simers is the biggest name in a growing mass media understanding of what really happened in LA at the end of the dynasty — that this was not just Kobe’s fault. Eric Neel mentioned it in a recent ESPN.com piece — comparing Shaq’s last two years in LA to what Vince Carter did in Toronto.

My belief has always been that Shaq and Kobe deserve equal parts of the blame for the fact they couldn’t get along, with Buss getting some blame for not finding a way to get them on the same page. I think that’s always come through in this blog — although it was best expressed in a piece I did for Knickerblogger.

That said, my goal with this blog has long been to stay out of the soap opera that surrounds this team and to focus on the future and on the court (which is a little harder when there is no on-the-court action). So no more about the past, but I thought the slight shift in perception is worth noting. (Of course, if you read the USA Today piece on Shaq or watched ESPN’s Outside the Lines yesterday, you’d see the love affair with Shaq in the media is far from over.)