Archives For May 2006

The Last Word on Game 7

Kurt —  May 14, 2006

After everyone else has had their say on the Laker “effort” in game 7, Phil Jackson chimed in a email interview with Hoopsvibe and essentially said what many (myself included) said — the Suns worked to take the ball out of Kobe’s hands in the second half, no one else stepped up.

But the best reason to read this is what Tex Winter had to say — the old man is angry. And Kwame’s at the head of the list:

“Kwame missed four or five easy shots early in Game 7,” Winter said. “He didn’t even try sometimes to go after key rebounds that we needed.”

“Brown, he’s not a competitor,” Winter said, pointing out that Brown played with bursts of energy mixed with strange bouts of apathy. “He just doesn’t know how to compete.”

Asked if he thought Brown could improve in the intangibles, Winter said, “I don’t know. You can’t change spots on a leopard. I don’t know how interested he is in playing.”

I think Tex was a little harsh, Kwame played well down the stretch and deserves credit for that. However, doing it for three weeks and doing it for a season — and working hard in the off-season to get better — are two different things.

So let’s have at it one more time. This is the last time we’re discussing game 7 in detail, it’s time to move on. (Starting Monday afternoon, when we start with season reviews and the point guard position.)

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  May 11, 2006

A few links to pass along while I keep wondering why the Lakers didn’t foul someone with seconds left in game six, or at least let them have the uncontested two pointer:

• Want a detailed look at Kobe and Raja Bell in game 7, well, Kevin Pelton gives us a good one over at 82games.com.

What did I learn from watching the game in detail? Well, the first thing is that the match up between Bell and Bryant in Game 7 was more physical than I thought. Watching the game live as a fan, I only made note of the two plays which ended in Bryant offensive fouls and actually thought the match up was fairly mundane. There was much more going on away from the ball than was evident from the TNT broadcast.

The other clear point was that most contact was initiated by Bell. This is a natural product of the two players’ contrasting defensive roles. Bell rarely turned his attention from Bryant, frequently faceguarding him and ignoring the basketball. Bryant, meanwhile, had more of a read and react role on defense, rarely playing within five feet of Bell, who was typically spotting up in the corner.

• Update: Kobe has been named to the NBA’s first team all-defensive team.

• Kevin at Clipper Blog is brilliant, and has a great breakdown of the Clips dominating win last night. And, for those of us talking about what Kaman can and can’t do in the comments before, there is great stuff in here:

Look, Kaman is going to struggle defensively at times when the Suns space the floor – he’s a big guy who makes his living on both ends below the foul line. He can’t run with Diaw and gets in trouble when Thomas draws him out. But those are just the realities of this series. So you return to the Great Law of Basketball Reciprocity:

It’s impossible for Team A to have a matchup advantage without surrendering a similar advantage on the other end to Team B. If the Clips don’t use Kaman to abuse Phoenix inside in some form or fashion, then there’s really no reason for him to be on the floor. Tonight, they put Kaman to work, and it paid off.

• Just wanted to point you go a new blog worth checking out, called The Outside Score. He’s based here in LA so there have been plenty of Laker opinions, but it’s a general sports blog and doing good work.

• The Cavalier, who is the driving NBA force over a yaysports.com, is putting together a movie called Who Shot Mamba and could use a little support.

Notes at 3 am

Kurt —  May 10, 2006

• My late-night television watching while up with the baby this week — The Sopranos and Sports Night DVDs. If you didn’t catch Sports Night (from Aaron Sorkin, the guy who wrote West Wing for television and A Few Good Men the movie) do yourself a favor and rend the DVD’s, this was a creative and funny show that never got the recognition it deserved. (That’s all the TV talk, I’m no Jon and this isn’t Dodger Thoughts.)

• We’ve talked about this before, that the current Lakers, with Phil as the coach, are and should be modeled after the 91-93 Chicago Bulls. Kobe as Jordan, Odom as Pippen are the obvious calls. So what about Kwame as Cartwright? The bigger problem is finding a Horrace Grant. Also, we need a BJ Armstrong/Paxon at the point.

• Friend of this site Broken Cowboy has a good look at Kobe, both the myth and reality, in a new column on his site. I like his use of mythical comparisons because I’ve always though that Kobe is a classic Greek mythological character in the sense that his greatest streghth — his force of will and determination — can also be his downfall.

• The blog that has consistently done the best writing on Kobe, and much of the NBA this season, is FreeDarko, who also talked recently about the game seven questions.

• Apparently the entire Canadian national tourism budget has been blown on ads to run during the NBA playoffs. They’re not bad, but there’s a beach volleyball scene — is that really the best sport to promote Canada with? That long beach volleyball season they have?

• My thought about the firing of Rick Adelman: That’s fine, but who are you going to get that’s better? Adelman is no slouch, and to fire a quality coach and then go looking to see if anyone better is out there could backfire. Tom over at SactownRoyalty is all over the changes coming to the team up north.

• In a discussion I was having in the comments at Blog-A-Bull (about the idea of getting Chris Duhon), one fan suggested Darius Songaila might be a good fit in the triangle — a four who can shoot from the outside. Not much of a rebounder, but he stikes me as a decent fit, the question is the cost.

• The Clippers are more athletic than the Lakers, they can play at a faster pace and still hang with the Suns. But the Suns had 97 possessions in the last game (using the Hollinger estimation), which was too fast for LA. Plus, as the Lakers found, pace is irrelevant if you can’t defend in the half court.

• And part of stopping the Suns in the half court is defending the three ball, which the Clippers found challenging and Clipper Blog detailed.

• I expect a better showing tonight from the Clippers — maybe not Dallas in game two improved, but improved none the less. The question Dunleavy has to figure out is does he want to go small. Chris Kaman was -25 in game one and got torched by the swingmen who play center for the Suns. If the pace is up, if the Clippers aren’t going to pound the ball inside, then Kamen is a liablilty in this series. More Maggette, less Kaman.

• Great breakdown of the Clippers/Suns series has been done by Kevin Pelton over at SI.com.

• The Seeger Sessions, the latest Bruce Sprinsteen release, is brilliant.

The Vision Thing

Kurt —  May 8, 2006

In the heat of the playoffs, I got an email from a new Web site asking bloggers to play GM-for-a-day and tell us what their team should do in the off-season.

I’m not sure how you do that in any serious detail yet — free agency signings can’t happen for two months (July 10) and that is virtually a lifetime in this league. The NBA ground can shift a lot by the time you could sign anyone, heck you can’t even talk to anyone until July 1.

But what the good franchises do is have a big-picture vision and follow it. The Spurs probably haven’t looked in detail at the free agent market this summer yet, still they have an idea of what type of player they want, who will work in their system. If a player they want gets a big offer to go elsewhere, they have an understanding of where to go next, who else would work for them.

In the case of the Lakers, they have again started to get “the vision thing.” Jerry Buss seems to have always had it, as did Jerry West, who was the master of finding the right role players. But after the breakup of the Shaq/Kobe team, the team looked lost for a while. What the hiring of Phil Jackson did, besides appease angry season ticket holders, was give the team direction. That direction started to become cohesion by the end of the year.

But, as was exposed in the loss to the Suns, there are certainly things that need to be done, changes that need to be made. I don’t expect big moves this off-season, but whatever moves come do need to fit the big picture plan.

Player season breakdowns and report cards are coming. What I want to do now is start a list of priorities, to discuss what the next steps need to be. Below I lay out a few I have, which are up for debate, or you can add your own.

• New starting point guard. I love Smush, but right now he’s a backup (opponents shot 48.8% against him [eFG%] and they had a PER of 18.7 — better than Chucky Atkins the year before, 49.6% and 19.1, but still not great). All we likely will offer here is the mid-level exception for two or three years (about $5 million per). I’d like to get Mike James for that, but he’ll likely cost more.

I think a more likely target is Bobby Jackson of Memphis — he’s not tall like Phil prefers (6-1) but he’s a solid defender (opponent PER of just 15.5, about average) and he hit 38.9% of his threes last season.

Also, I’m not on the Speedy Claxon bandwagon, at least for the Lakers. Speedy will thrive in the right situation, but in the triangle he’d be as happy as Gary Payton. He’s a solid defender but his offensive game is all about penetration — we’ve got Kobe for that. And last season Speedy hit just 27% of his threes — and that was a career best. For his career he is shooting 18.9% from beyond the arc. That doesn’t fit the triangle.

• Kwame Brown is staying, not that anyone would take him in a trade anyway. The question is really this: Do you trust Kwame enough to trade Chris Mihm? Mihm may be the only real trade bait you have this summer, but get rid of him and your center combo for the next two years is likely Kwame starting with Bynum off the bench. Is that enough?

My gut feel is no, unless you are getting something very good in return — and big, a power forward or better. For those of you thinking Carlos Boozer, well, that is another column, but I will say this: The Jazz will not trade Boozer for just Mihm. Not only don’t the salaries match, but the Jazz need a shooting two guard not another big. Who are you going to entice them with, Sasha?

• That said, another big is needed. One name that intrigues me is Reggie Evans, he can board (grabbed 21.5% of the available boards last year, way better than any Laker), and is an average defender. Not sure what his market will be compared to the $1.75 the Lakers can offer (he made just $880,000 last season) as part of the lower level exception (this money could also resign Laron Profit). Other names on the list include Melvin Ely and Al Harrington.

Turiaf will provide a boost here as well but he’s a 15-minute guy off the bench at this point.

• Lamar Odom isn’t going anywhere. There’s only one player I’d likely trade him for, and KG is not leaving Minnesota despite how many times you post that on a message board.

• I’m not resigning Devean George unless he wants half his current salary (he made $5 million this season). He’s be a good fit in the right spot (San Antonio, Detroit) and will get a decent offer.

• As for the draft, picking number 26 in a weak year means we’ll be getting a project. I forget who said this in the comments on my one earlier draft posts, but at that point you take the best player regardless of position, and I think that’s correct.

Things I don’t get

Kurt —  May 8, 2006

Who are these people coming out of the woodwork to complain that Kobe didn’t single-handedly beat the Suns in game seven? The suggestions that he “gave up” border on idiocy.

Remember the Laker wins in the series? How did those happen? Kobe shared the ball, Kwame and Odom posted up well, Smush and Walton were hitting their looks and Kobe could pick his spots. Spots like the end of game four. Remember how you mainstream media guys were all were praising Kobe for that?

Now, let’s look at game six, when Kobe did put up big numbers and the Lakers could not beat the Suns despite the Suns not having their best defender. The other Lakers fell short and Kobe could only carry them so far. The lessons were pretty clear — Kobe can’t single handedly win a series and bet the Suns.

Now we get to game seven and Kwame is 2 of 8, the Laker front line is 13 of 37 from the floor. The Suns were not going to let Kobe beat them, but the sacrifice they made for that was to give Kwame, Smush, Walton and others some good looks. They didn’t step up. Kobe and Phil are smart enough to know that Kobe was not going to get the chance to put up 81 — the other guys had to do it and they couldn’t.

If you are laying that game 7 loss at Kobe’s feet alone then you 1) were just looking to blast Kobe; 2) are a sports-talk-radio guy (or wanna be) trying to fill the phone lines; 3) just don’t know basketball. Take your pick.

One step at a time

Kurt —  May 6, 2006

The loss hurts tonight, knowing how close we were to the second round, but as the wound heals we must remember that this was a solid Laker season, with big steps made after the disaster of last year.

A course has been set, we’re a triangle team. The defense, which had its ups and downs this season, was still much better than the year before. Key guys learned the triangle and got better as the year wore on, with Lamar Odom being on the top of that list. Smush was a find, Kwame improved. Those two have shortcomings, which were exposed in the playoffs, but don’t take away from them what they did this season.

And, Kobe established himself as the leader of this team and the best player in the NBA.

If at the start of this season you had been offered a deal where this Laker team would win 45 games, and take the number two seed seven games in the first round, you would have been a fool not to take it. It’s hard to overstate how far this team came from the rudderless ship that was the franchise at the end of last season.

What we saw were some big first steps back to being great again. Keep watching with me this summer to see what the next steps will be – we’ll start talking about it Monday.

(By the way, all the things the Lakers did to the Suns in the first few games, but couldn’t later, are things the Clippers do better than the Lakers. The Suns may be lucky to get this to a sixth game,)

Open Thread — Game 7

Kurt —  May 6, 2006

When this series started, we said Kwame Brown and Smush Parker would be the keys — could the Lakers pound the ball inside and slow Steve Nash? For three games the answer was yes, and if the Lakers are going to win game seven it won’t be because Kobe scored 63, but because Smush and Kwame returned to that first-three form.

Or, maybe Phil has some other tricks up his sleeve. There’s not much else to say, we know what these teams can do, and almost all the games have been close. I expect this one to be as well.

Kentucky Derby Picks

Kurt —  May 6, 2006

A quick break on the day of game seven (keep talking Lakers in the comments of the previous post) for one of my other favorite things — the Kentucky Derby. My wife and I have been to a couple (actually, she’s been to six, we’ve gone to two together) and we’ve thrown killer Derby parties (but not this year). It’s a piece of Americana in a great city. Plus, we love the ponies.

Two years ago, on my old blog, I nailed the exacta (if you boxed my three picks, which is what I suggested and always do). I also hit the exacta two years ago. However, last year was the fluke Giacomo win, which I and nobody in their right mind had. Today, the good karma starts early.

This year was one of the hardest races to handicap in a while. Count me in with the vast majority that thinks the pace is going to be crazy fast (expect the first quarter in at least 22and5, or faster) and that, at closer-favored Churchill, means someone is going to come from the back to win. But who? Well, rather than my usual three, I’m boxing four for the exact this year, and it still doesn’t cover all the horses I think could sneak into trifectas. But here are my four.

1. Sweetnorthernsaint. Yes, they are asking him to rate rather than run out front, and you don’t know how he’ll react to dirt in his face. But, if he gets the right ride, he is the best come-from-the-pack horse in this race.

2. Point Determined. I think this horse can close as well, and this is the one I’ll be rooting for to win. I was fortunate to meet Bob and Beverly Lewis on a couple of occasions, and there have never been more gracious people. Win or lose, they were upbeat and friendly. I want to see Beverly in the winner’s circle.

3. Barbaro. Has won on every surface. Plus, our horse-knowledgeable friend in Louisville said this is the horse that has been the most impressive in workouts this week and seems to love the track. So I’m putting him in over AP Warrior.

4 Brother Derek. I tend to think he’ll go to the front and burn out from the pace, but he may have the class to hang in there. This is a good horse that would be my pick in many years, but this race doesn’t set up well for him. Still, can’t throw him out.