Archives For June 2005

Not A Savior, But A Start

Kurt —  June 14, 2005 — 

Apparently, Phil Jackson is not a Thomas Wolfe fan.

That’s okay, he can come home and myself and most Laker fans will welcome him (I’m celebrating this with a Duff beer tonight, maybe two). This is a great first step.

In the disastrous aftermath of this rudderless past season I felt (and wrote) that charting an organizational direction had to be THE top priority — and Phil Jackson will provide that. He is someone who knows what he wants and will point the Lakers that way, and while there can be questions about the direction at least this organization has one again.

However, unless he has learned to walk on water — or turn Chucky Atkins into a defender — he will need some time and help.

Let’s start with the positives. I wrote about this before, Phil will bring defensive discipline to a team that desperately needed it last year. To briefly recap, the last time Phil came to Los Angeles he took at team that the year before was 24th in the league in defensive efficiency and made it the best in the league. He also made a major turnaround in Chicago when he took over there.

If the Lakers had just an average defense last year they would have made the playoffs (then likely lost in the first round, but made the playoffs). Jackson will make the defense respectable.

The other thing is the triangle offense — remember Tex Winter going on the radio at the start of last season saying this Laker squad was in many ways better suited to run the triangle than the championship teams? This is not a more talented team, but the triangle may spread the ball around better and leave Kobe shooting less than 17% of his shots with less than 3 seconds on the shot clock, like he did last year. Remember, the triangle is a spread the floor, take what the defense gives you type of offense, if run correctly the Lakers will do well in it.

Despite all that, what Phil cannot do is make this team an instant contender.

This team’s weaknesses do not go away with a new coach. We still cannot defend the point and we still don’t have a consistent shot blocking presence inside to punish the guards who do penetrate. We still need somebody who can clean the glass and defend the four. The draft alone will not solve these problems.

Now, though, the real work to fill those holes can begin. We have a direction. And that is something worth celebrating.

He’s Baaaack

Kurt —  June 14, 2005 — 

It’s official, Phil Jackson will be announced as the Laker coach this afternoon at a 2 pm press conference at Staples Center.

Fast Break

Kurt —  June 13, 2005 — 

I’m just telling this story here because I can, if you want to read some basketball thoughts move on down to the bullet points below.

Yesterday my wife and I hosted a small first birthday party for my daughter, just our families and a few of my daughter’s baby friends (or, more accurately, my wife’s mommy friends) having a picnic in a local park. Things are going great — babies are playing with toys (and not screaming much), adults are having conversations about things other than babies and all the Togo’s I thought I’d have to take home is being eaten.

About 15 yards from us are another couple families picnicking in the park, and their kids (I’d guess second or third graders) are throwing a football around and it’s all very Norman Rockwell.

Then one of the kids tries to punt the ball and it goes straight up into a tree — and hits a bee hive. Suddenly it’s like a seen from The Swarm in the park, with all the parents hustling their children away as fast as they can — including us — and me trying to do things like cover the fruit plate and anything else that may attract angry bees. Needless to say, a nice little family party came to a crashing halt.

In a few years we’re going to look back on this party and really laugh, especially since nobody got stung. Right now it just seems a little surreal.

• Laker coaching search update: Just hum the Jeopardy theme to yourself.

• This little NBA Finals stat from Dan Rosenbaum (posted on the APBR boards): In game two, San Antonio outscored Detroit 61-10 on the combination of three pointers and free throws. Then there’s this stat about the soon-to-be Finals MVP: Manu’s eFG% in game two was 100%. Insane. He is abusing Prince.

• Bill Plaschke takes a lot of flack in the blogsphere for his sports opinions. He usually deserves it. But I will say that his profiles/human interest stories are some of the best writing in the LA Times. If you haven’t read his piece on Gregg Popovich’s days as the coach at Pomona-Pitzer from Sunday, you need to. It will tell you a lot about the man and his coaching philosophy.

• Nobody enjoyed that piece more than my wife, who was a basketball team statistician at Pomona at that time and knew all the people interviewed.

• By the way, Pomona-Pitzer has one of the worst mascots in college athletics — the Sagehen. That’s an animal that plays dead in the face of danger.

• Hoopsanalyst has posted a piece on point guards in the draft that is fantastic. He likes Chris Paul one, followed by Jarrett Jack.

As a side note, I want to talk some draft at FB&G in the upcoming days, but I’ve been holding back some because a coach/team direction is more important. I think the Lakers biggest off-season need is at the point, but who would get drafted/picked up there is probably more influenced by the coach than any other position (Phil likes his points tall, so would he want someone like Felton?). To get around this, I’m going to start with big men. When not being chased by bees I started working on something over the weekend that I hope to post tomorrow.

Apparently now we are all waiting for Phil Jackson to come down from Mt. Sinai (or maybe return from Magadha is the better analogy) and tell us what he is going to do. The best news of all is that this is going to happen by early next week, ending this painfully drawn out process (at least from the outside) one way or another.

While we wait I had hoped to talk NBA Finals, I was excited to have a chance to get home last night and watch the entire first game. Then something came up at the day job and I was going to miss the fist quarter or so, but I could live with that. Then, while driving home I get a call from my wife saying the in-laws have invited themselves over for dinner. And I get to cook. So could I stop by the store on the way home while I was at it?

Outside of plays here and there, I saw nothing. I can say this — the overnight 6.2 television rating the game got was exactly half what the 2000 Lakers vs. Portland Western Conference Finals got. I bet the ABC people are thrilled — NASCAR gets better numbers than that.

Instead, here are a couple of links to check out:

• Popcorn Machine has the game flow up. It shows Ben Wallace struggled to stop Duncan or anyone else while the big three for the Spurs all had good nights. Add to that the Spurs got a few quality minutes out of Big Dog off the bench. Some people will say that a bench is less important in the playoffs because the starters play more minutes, but big play off the bench was a key last night keeping those starters fresh while not losing production.

• Hoopsanalyst has some good playoff thoughts up, plus talks contract negotiations and Tim Duncan’s place in history.

Fast Break

Kurt —  June 9, 2005 — 

Some day of Game One thoughts:

• I have no idea what Phil Jackson is going to say tonight in his pre-game interview on ABC — he may say he’s taking the Lakers job, may say he wants to sit out a year, may dodge the question entirely, may say he wants to marry Jeannie. Well, probably not that last one.

My guess is not he’s not going to say much of anything. If he does announce he took the job in that interview, it would be a big slap in the face of the Los Angeles media. To make the announcement in a national broadcast and not give the scoop to the local publications and stations would fly in the face of how things are traditionally done. That said, the Laker organization has had an obvious frustration with the Los Angeles media this past year — particularly area columnists who essentially took the Shaq side of the story in the end of the Laker dynasty. If Phil does announce on ABC, it will show just how pissed the organization is.

• For those that want to know, here’s a quick rumor roundup: Laker team sources saying Phil takes the job today; Kobe’s people saying that is not the case, he is staying out for a year and Brian Shaw will be the next Laker coach. Buss had ego clashes with Phil and that’s an issue. Jeannie is now saying plans won’t be announced. Everyone’s got an agenda, so take it all for what it’s worth.

• If you want to see a perfect example of why the Laker organization is frustrated with the local media, check out JA Adande’s poorly thought out column in the LA Times from the end of the Heat/Pistons series. It’s not just a “the Lakers never should have traded Shaq” mentality (an opinion that is at least defensible) but comments like this:

It’s interesting that owner Jerry Buss helped explain the Lakers’ 34-48 season by lamenting injuries to Vlade Divac, Devean George and Lamar Odom but never considered the injuries to Karl Malone and even Horace Grant last year when deciding to break up the old team.

There are a couple of things wrong he, but here’s the big one — by the end of last season this team was going to break up whether Buss wanted it to or not. Either Shaq was going to go via trade or Kobe via free agency. They were not going to play together again. Buss’ only choice was which player to keep, not whether or not to break up the team.

• While I’m venting, let me mention problem with Adande’s column and with the coverage of the end of the Shaq/Kobe era in general — what took that team down was less their egos and more the supporting pegs around them being knocked out. But that’s never discussed.

Look at the other key members of the lineup from the first Laker title team: Glenn Rice, Ron Harper, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher. As the team moved through the next five seasons the surrounding cast got much older and poor decisions were made by management — resigning Devean George and Slava to overpriced deals, drafting Kareem Rush instead of Tayshon Prince, expecting Horry and Fox to play bigger roles as their bodies aged, just to name a few.

How did management address that problem — bring in two well-aged future Hall of Famers and make one more run at it. Both showed their age — Payton through his play and Malone through injuries — and so the team falls short because Kobe and Shaq can’t do it all on their own.

If you’d seen smart moves — like you’ve seen in San Antonio — Kobe and Shaq may have stayed together because they were winning titles. We’ll never know because they weren’t given the chance.

But read the local papers or listen to the radio and it’s Kobe’s fault. Or Shaq’s. Whatever.

• Oh, about that game tonight. I think the most interesting part will be to see who is matched up on whom. A quick prediction for the series — look for Brent Barry to have a big one. At times the Spurs are going to shoot over the top of the Pistons defense and Barry is the guy who can do that best.

Smoke Signals

Kurt —  June 7, 2005 — 

There is no white smoke coming out of Staples Center, but according to the latest article from Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld we’ll know in the next couple of days about Phil. Since Pincus wrote that article he said on a message board he has gotten additional information to say Phil will make an announcement on ESPN Thursday.

After all the waiting I’d like a sign that is a little more certain, maybe some white smoke, but my guess is if you turn over the Magic 8 Ball it says “All Signs Are Good.”

Update: Reports early Wednesday night are that Phil will go on ESPN or ABC right before Game 1 tomorrow for an interview to “announce his intentions.” Predicting what Phil will do is risky business, but I’ll stick with my Magic 8 Ball guess.

Fast Break

Kurt —  June 7, 2005 — 

What, you expected some kind of coaching announcement? Here are some general thoughts while the Laker front office treads water.

• That was a really entertaining game 7 between the Heat and Pistons — maybe not the up-and-down play that David Stern wants (and Phoenix delivers) but filled with drama. For my money it was the best game of the playoffs so far, and may be the best overall this post season when said and done.

• Here’s an interesting note from that game from and its game flow — the Piston with the best +/- in that game was Eldon Campbell (+7), the Heat player with the worst +/- was Zo (-11). No Piston was in the red for the entire game — while their bench has been maligned it was a key difference in that game. The Pistons are still pretty deep with good players.

• Tim Duncan sat watching that game and I bet all he was thinking was, “Man, my ankle feels so much better after a week off.”

• Let thee mainstream media howling begin — “This series is going to be unwatchable with two defensive-minded teams” — but the best team from each conference made it to the last dance.

• I’ll still take the Spurs, let’s say in six.

• If the Lakers really are close to announcing Phil Jackson as coach, I think they would have loved to have done it while Shaq was playing in the NBA Finals, just to pull the spotlight off him and make him answer Laker questions.

• Here’s the new information out there on the Laker coaching situation:

• No, that last blurb was not a typo.

• More interesting stuff on the “Nash is MVP?” debate up at Hoopsanalyst.

Who Are They Rooting For?

Kurt —  June 6, 2005 — 

Big game seven tonight, with plenty of story lines and sub plots. To help paint the big picture, here’s a rundown of who the interested parties are rooting for:

ABC Television executives: “Please give us Shaq and Wade. Please. We’re down on our hands and knees here.”

David Stern: “I want whatever ABC wants.”

The San Antonio Spurs: They’ve said all the right things — that they don’t care who they face — and in one aspect they are right because the Spurs should beat either of those teams. But you know they care.

I think the Spurs would prefer the banged-up Heat, mostly for match up reasons. During the regular season the only teams that sort of gave the Spurs problems were teams that 1) played good shooting defense (the Heat and Pistons were almost identical here) or 2) shot well themselves (the Heat had the second best eFG% in the NBA). (As a side note here, what is true of the Spurs is basically all teams, shooting well and keeping your opponent from doing well is obviously Hoops 101 on winning, so teams don’t do as well against teams that do those things.)

Based on that, at first glance you might think the Heat would be a tougher series, but when you look at potential player matchups I think it’s easier to cover the Heat right now. Wade is the biggest problem, but he is slowed by the rib injury and Bowen will make him work for his points, and Parker provides more speed to create problems up top. Then there’s Shaq — the Spurs have 18 fouls to give with Tim Duncan (who will cover the four mostly but can change out), Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic, not to mention double team fouls from Horry and others. Shaq is a force inside, but one that can be slowed down now (unlike, for example, in 2000). For the Heat, the two best +/- players in the playoffs have been the two Joneses, but the Spurs fast-rotating team defense will take away some of their easy looks.

On the other hand, the Pistons may not have a dominant force on offense but they do have a spread of options. Bowen can cover Rip Hamilton, Paker will haunt Billups, Duncan on Rasheed Wallace is another key. But then who stops Tayshaun Prince? The Pistons have more options and Larry Brown will put them in better situations.

Tonight’s referees: Does anyone know what they’re thinking in this series?

Jerry Buss: If you were on vacation in Europe, likely with a smoking-hot 20-something woman, would you care who won this game? He needs to care more about who is coaching his team, anyway.

Me: I’m just rooting for a good game. These playoffs need one.