Archives For June 2005

Fast Break

Kurt —  June 20, 2005

For Father’s Day I got to sit and watch an entire NBA playoff game relatively uninterrupted (and thanks to TiVo, nothing is missed). And what a game to catch. Duncan doing his Shaq imitation from the free throw line, Horry looking young and a close game with drama. Now that is why I love this game.

While watching I scribbled some notes on the Lakers and other things, so here they are:

• If you’re Rasheed Wallace, wouldn’t one of your most painful memories be the 2000 Western Conference Finals, when your Trailblazers lost to the Lakers, including blowing a 15-point lead in game seven? Wouldn’t you remember what a key part of those games Robert Horry was in beating you? Wouldn’t that be seared into your brain even five years later? Then why do you leave him to double Manu in the corner and let him have an open three with the game on the line?

• The underrated coaching move of game 5 was the Spurs putting Bowen on Billups in the fourth quarter. Billups had been eating Parker alive and he was the obvious go to guy — then when Bowen went on him the Pistons struggled.

• Draft rumors are flying faster than a Jamaican sprinter. Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld again does the best wrap up in his new article. Among the things worth noting, he says that the Devean George, Slava Medvedenko and the 37th pick to the Indiana Pacers for Jonathan Bender and the 17th pick deal is done. He said the Lakers are talking several deals, including a couple with the Hornets that could net Jamaal Magloire and PJ Brown for Caron Butler and some last year contracts. He said that the Lakers are high on high schooler Gerald Green. He said a lot more, it’s a must read.

• There are almost as many NBA Draft Web sites as blogs, and with just as many opinions. Here is who a number of them say the Lakers will take (assuming they stay at 10):

Draft Express: Channing Frye
Hoopshype: Fran Vazquez
NBADraft.net: Charlie Villanueva
Basketball draft central: Jarrett Jack
Inside Hoops: Martynas Andriuskevicius
Yahoo: Charlie Villanueva
ESPN: Raymod Felton

• I hope to have a point guards draft preview for the Laker up tomorrow, Wednesday at the latest.

• Dan Rosenbaum — who was involved in the negotiations during the last round of CBA bargaining — has posted an in depth piece about the current NBA negotiations. He makes suggestions on keeping youth not ready out of the league and ways to reduce contract length that are innovative. Very interesting, but clear out some time on the schedule because it’s not a short read.

• Bill Simmons at ESPN.com has been ripping on using Rob Thomas’ highly annoying “This Is How A Heart Breaks” bumper music for the NBA Finals. He’s right. But what’s bugging me more is Coors Light taking a song that was good to start with — Love Train by the O’Jays — and poisoning it for me by turning it into a commercial with a train full of bad beer. That is the song that is stuck in my head — which wouldn’t be so bad but now I associate it with swill beer and that’s what ticks me off. It was like when Sinatra’s “Just the way you look, tonight” became a Michelob commercial — why does Sinatra want to take a good song and associate it with that crap? (I always thought the “It’s not beer — it’s Michelob” slogan was ironically accurate.)

• Look at how deep the Western Conference is right now and you see why it will be hard just for Phil and the Lakers to make the playoffs next year. Just off the top of my head: San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver and Houston will be the top five, and I might put Seattle there depending on what happens with their many free agents. Only two teams could potentially fall out and they are both pretty good — Sacramento and Memphis. Ready to swoop in are Minnesota, Golden State with Baron Davis, the Clippers and the Lakers. There are just few easy games in the West and who can stay healthy will be a big factor.

• New Minnesota coach Dwayne Casey was one of the guys stats guru Dean Oliver worked well with in Seattle, according to a message board post from Oliver himself. Minnesota is a team with a lot of potential to very good again very soon.

Let’s Go Big

Kurt —  June 18, 2005

Now that Phil is making a daily commute from Playa to Health South (with Jeannie in the passenger’s seat), we can start to focus on the draft. Expect changes — I’d be more surprised if the Lakers don’t make trades before and on draft day than if they stand pat. It’s going to take more than one summer to get this roster in shape, but I expect moves will start sooner rather than later.

Everyone is on the same page that there are two glaring player needs for the Lakers — a point guard who can defend and a rebound-grabbing, shot blocking presence inside.

Through the draft the Lakers can address one of those in the first round (whatever spot they draft from). This draft is deeper in point guards — after making this big man’s draft list, I realized there aren’t a lot of good bigs. I put together this list with Phil in mind — looking for someone to play the Dennis Rodman role in the triangle. It includes both centers and power forwards here because the idea of moving Chris Mihm to the four is not without some merit — he can run the floor and doesn’t have to get the ball with his back to the basket.

So let’s talk bigs — this is my current draft of who the Lakers should draft if they go big at 10. This list is subject to change because, frankly, I haven’t seen all these guys play (I just try to read a lot) and I’ve been known to change my mind. I can be swayed by good arguments/evidence.

1) Andrew Bogut: Thank god we don’t actually have to make a decision on whether or not this guy is the next Bill Walton, the next Brad Miller or the next Sam Bowie. He may have flopped in the Chicago pre-draft camp, but he’ll still go in the top two. Even if the Lakers move up he won’t be around, so I’m not going to deal with him.

2) Fran Vazquez: One good thing about guys who play in the top European leagues for a few years is, much like the guys who go to college, you get a good look at them. People who follow Europe are high on this guy. Don’t think Vazquez is the new Darko: he’s 22, 6-10 and 230 and comes ready to play in the NBA. He averaged 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds in 20 minutes per game this season in Spain. His offense may not be up with his defense yet, but scouts say he has a solid jumper out to about 15 feet. Some players listed below may have more “upside” but here you are getting a good player who will be around for a while. The Lakers need sure more than potential right now. I’d take him if he fell to 10, but they should go after a point if they trade up.

3) Channing Frye: He’s got an NBA body — 6-11 and 250 with a good vertical — and put up good numbers (15.8 points, 7.6 rebound and 2.3 blocks a game) in a good system for a good coach in Arizona. However, those are not great numbers (particularly rebounds) and Frye is trying to shake his reputation as soft (he had a good workout in the Chicago predraft). I watched him a couple of times this year and rather than soft he just seems to just take parts of the game off — he just disappears for a while. Phil and Kobe may be able to correct that by riding him. Rumor is the Knicks are high on him at #8.

4) Ike Diogu: After the top three I think there’s a drop off, this is The last big guy I’d take at 10. A very polished offensive player — I watched a handful of his games this season and he was double and triple teamed every time he touched the ball, but he still scored in double digits every game. There were questions about his height, but he measured a legitimate 6-8 with the wingspan of someone 7-2, according to Chad Ford at ESPN. He averaged 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game this past year as well. The downside is he is not known as a great defender and is too slow to cover the fours he’ll see a lot of in the NBA. He’s not going to block many shots at the next level. I’d prefer someone else at 10, but it depends on who is left on the board, Diogu may be the best choice.

5) Andrew Bynum: If you’re going to take on a project, take on one that could be a star one day. Bynum is a legit 7-0, 300 pounds coming out of high school and has a lot of skill. He also is very raw at both ends of the court — if he goes to UConn for two years he may well be the #1 overall pick. If the rumored Laker trade with Indiana goes through and we get the #17 overall pick (and keep it), I’d consider Bynum strongly. The Lakers reportedly have worked him out privately so they may have an idea of what he can do. Not many physical specimens like this come along and he may be worth the wait.

6) Hakim Warrick: One of the best athletes in the draft and he has performed well on the biggest college stage (remember how good he was in Syracuse’s run to the title?). He’s very quick. The knock on him is he is a tweener — a 6-8, 215 power forward who is too small to be an NBA four but is not really a three. For the Lakers, he’s a good fit in the interchangeable triangle system Phil has talked about putting in, but he’s not going to grab a lot of board or block a lot of shots, filling those much-needed roles. I’d consider at 17.

7) Sean May: As he showed in the NCAA Tournament, he is very good on the block — he’s a polished scorer and will grab plenty of boards in the NBA. I think, in the right setting, he can have good NBA career. That said, I don’t see him fitting in with what the Lakers are trying to build — a 6-8 he’s not going to intimidate in the paint and certainly will struggle to guard the fours in the NBA. He can’t play the three. Again, I’d consider at 17, depends on who is still out there.

8-9) Charlie Villanueva and Chris Taft: I’ve lumped these two together because they present the same challenge — lottery talent that would be a great fit for the Lakers but questionable desire. Taft’s stock is dropping like a rock after some terrible workouts, so that makes Villanueva better by default, I guess. NBAdraft.net has the Lakers taking Charlie at 10. But I really watched Villanueva during the NCAA tourney and was very unimpressed — he was slow and looked lost defensively, looked confused by Vermont’s double teams and was outworked on the glass by lesser players. If some combination of Kobe/Phil/Shaw/Rambis/Mitch/their moms can motivate these guys they are great picks, but guys who can’t get up for the NCAA tourney have to be questioned. If there is nobody else good on the board at 17 maybe, but even then I’d rather have a guy who is a lesser athlete but will work hard when the paychecks start to come in.

Beating Dancers Into Plow Horses

Kurt —  June 16, 2005

Update: If you’re looking for more of what’s next with the Lakers, Eric Pincus has his latest story up at Hoopsworld. Among the things he’s reporting is that the rumored trade of Devean George, Slava and a second round pick to Indiana for the #17 pick and Jonathan Bender will happen before the draft. Now, back to my origional post…

“This roster has too many dancers and not enough plow horses.”

That was Phil Jackson’s comment about the Laker roster while being interviewed on 1540 The Ticket Wednesday by Jennie Buss and Kurt Rambis (Jackson had to face Larry King-quality softballs from that pair). While he did not get pressed for details, he did lay out some vision for the future.

He talked several times about the need for defense and toughness, the need for plow horses to guard and get rebounds and not just score. Also, this will not be your year-2000 triangle offense, Jackson said that without Shaq there will be a lot more flexibility, diversity and new wrinkles in the Laker game plan. (As a side note, he said the triangle with Shaq was effective but predictable, the ball went into Shaq in the low block and what happened out of that was simplistic but hard to guard. The wide ranging potential of the offense will be explored now, he said.) Phil envisions a team with a number of interchangeable parts — a host of players between 6-5 and 6-10 — who can fill various roles on the team. As I said before, that sounds a lot like the early 90s Bulls to me.

In that light, below is a list of players — some Lakers, some free agents and some potential draft picks — with a little speculation as to what the return of Phil and his new look triangle could mean.

Kobe Bryant: One interesting thing Phil said about the much-discussed relationship between the two — in addition to the usual “there is a lot of trust built up” and that he and Kobe will be fine. What is important to the success of the team is how the rest of the teammates perceive the relationship between the two. Kobe is the leader on this team and if the other players see Kobe and Phil getting along and Kobe following Phil’s direction, they will fall right in line.

Brian Grant: It took only a couple of minutes into Phil’s welcome back press conference to call him out. The 2002-03 Grant — with his 50.9% shooting percentage, 1.10 points per shot attempt and impressive 18.3% rebound rate — would be the perfect plow horse along the Laker baseline in the triangle. The problem is the Lakers have a $14 million a year contract with the knees of the 04-05 Grant. He may not start, but the Lakers need to get 20 minutes a night from him. My guess is what Phil wants out of Grant is to be a one-year stopgap — give us one more solid year. The following year that enormous last-year contract becomes trade bait. This year Phil needs it not to be dead weight. Grant may be working at it but I’m not sure how much Lakers can expect.

Lamar Odom: He’s the other dancer Phil is going to ask a lot of. He is going to get put in better situations scoring — he’s got to respond. And his defense has got to improve. Phil is going to give Lamar a chance, but if he falls short he’s on the trading block at the end of the year if not earlier.

Vlade Divac: Another potential stop gap if the Lakers can’t find a better and younger defender in free agency or the draft. The last seven games of the year, when the Lakers showcased Divac in the triangle, his passing from the high post made it hum, so having him back is not the worst idea. He may also be trade bait.

Eric Snow: While we’re talking stopgaps, this is a name that has been bandied about. He is a tall (6-3) point who can be a solid defender and passes well (career 9.1 assists per 48 minutes), but is not a great long-range shooter (career 21.7% from three point range) and doesn’t get to the line a lot. Also, he is a 10-year veteran whose numbers dipped last year — was that a result of situation or age?

Sasha Vujacic: He’s tall and an interchangeable part that can play back up for either guard position and his passing will fit the triangle. I’d love to see him get his chance, starting at about 15-20 minutes a game, but he’s got to learn to defend (that means getting stronger, too). If he is a defensive liability his minutes will fade, play well and they likely go up. Sasha, if you’re reading this, stop right now, go eat a steak and then head to the gym.

Deron Williams: My guess is the point guard out of Illinois is the point guard Phil most wants out of the draft, but it’s only going to happen if the Lakers trade up. He’s 6-3, 200, can shoot and runs a team well, and played well in the NCAA Tournament. There are questions about his quickness, and with that ability to defend, but he did test well in Chicago, being as quick as Felton (according to ESPN).

Raymond Felton: I think the Tar Heel point guard going to have a good NBA career, I love his quickness and athleticism, but that career will not be as a Laker. 6-0 is not big enough for Phil.

Chucky Atkins: I think Phil might be willing to trade him for a rack of basketballs. I know I am.

Earl Watson: Fast, fun, fan-friendly point guard. Also very short. Not going to happen in Phil’s world.

Luke Walton: This may be an interesting dilemma. Phil obviously loves Walton’s hoops IQ and the way he fit in the triangle — when was the last time Jackson have that much playing time to a rookie? But, Walton is a free agent at a position the Lakers are already overloaded in. Also, Walton’s defense has never been spectacular, solid but nothing special. If they resign him he’s going to get a fair amount of playing time which means other guys (Devean George, Jumaine Jones, Slava) may be out the door in trades, or at least spend a lot more time in the Paul Shirley role (without the blog).

Brian Cook: Maybe the best example of a dancer and not a plow horse, a 6-9 power forward who took 47.2% of his shots from beyond the three point arc. Now defense and rebounding matter most, so expect his minutes to drop. He’s also trade bait.

Sean May: While some mock drafts have the Lakers looking at May, he is a low-post only guy who isn’t going to block a lot of shots in the NBA. I think he can have a decent NBA career, but doesn’t fit the mold of what (I think) Jackson wants to build.

More Reading

Kurt —  June 16, 2005

This morning in my inbox were a couple more things worth directing your attention to.

One is at one of the top NBA blogs out there — Bulls Blog — taking a look back at what Phil Jackson did for that franchise. It includes interesting comments from the author of The Jordan Rules about Phil’s return.

This could be something of a rebirth for Jackson. Before those nine championships with the Bulls and Lakers and his record number of playoff victories, Jackson was a coach, not a Zenmaster. He loved the CBA, loved coaching in Puerto Rico. He long has savored that 1993-94 Bulls season when Jordan first left and the Bulls won 55 games. Yes, he would like that 10th title, but he’s not really a philosopher and professor.

The other is the latest Carnival of the NBA, which is up over at the very good End of the Bench. There are people talking about other things than Phil, believe it or not.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Kurt —  June 15, 2005

Since Phil was hired everyone and their cousin has thrown in their two cents (my pennies included). Here are some of my favorites comments (some with of my opinions thrown in because I couldn’t resist) plus an assortment of other links and thoughts. I have more change to throw in by the way on what Phil means, particularly about roster moves, and that begins with a post tomorrow (I’m working on it, but “the man” keeps expecting me to work for him, too).

• First, take a break from all the Phil talk: Dr. J penned an article on his finals match up with the Lakers 25 years ago, when Magic burst into the national consciousness. This is a must read. I can’t thank Dan enough for sending me the link (the Sports Guy has it up too).

The series began pretty evenly, with my personal highlight being in the fourth quarter of Game Four, with us trailing 2-1 in the series. In what’s now become a pretty well-documented move, I drove baseline, elevated, reached back behind the backboard with the ball and emerged on the opposite side of the basket to convert the layup. We ended up with a 105-102 win to tie the series, and our confidence was riding high.

• I’ve come to expect stuff I love from Eric Neel, and since he’s a Laker fan he didn’t disappoint with his ESPN.com Page 2 piece on Phil.

• Tim Brown’s piece in the LA Times reminded me why I miss having him on the Laker beat (with all due respect to Brenham, who has been solid). Brown’s years with the team and good writing gave his coverage depth others lacked.

• Ripping ESPN’s Chad Ford is like beating on a piñata without candy inside — it’s easy and not very rewarding. That said, I couldn’t resist when his first piece on the Phil hiring, written while in Italy, is speculation on when the Lakers will trade Kobe. I’d say he wins the Chad Ford Award for Irresponsible Sports Reporting — publishing the speculation of scouts on another continent — but I’ve already named the award after him.

I doubt Kobe gets moved this summer. Buss has invested too much in Kobe to dump him this early. But with Jackson back in the saddle in L.A., the chances that Kobe stays in L.A. long term don’t look very good.

• Lamar Odom has great calves.

• Did you know the NBA Finals are still going on despite Phil’s hiring? Duncan was atrocious in game three, a -24 on the night (the Spurs best runs came with him on the bench), while the Pistons backcourt of Billups and Hamilton stepped up. Here’s the question for game four — was Duncan just off or did the Pistons get to him? I’ll put my money on Duncan and the Spurs bouncing back, but it should be interesting. I’m actually enjoying this series, believe it or not.

• I find this site oddly fascinating. People send in anonymous postcards of their most personal secrets.