Archives For August 2006

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  August 9, 2006

Time for a new thread, if for no other reason than to move on from the moot discussion of Al Harrinton or whether we can blame Mitch for not following through on trade scenarios we came up with in our head.

I’d start one about Team USA’s close game with Brazil, but I didn’t get to see it (but I’d love feedback from those who did). So here are a few things from the Web worth your time (in my humble opinion).

UPDATE: One of the NBA writers I enjoy most, Kelly Dwyer over at SI.com (that’s THE Sports Illustrated, thank you very much), has started previewing the upcoming season by doing a few Q&As with top bloggers. The first two installments have been very insightful — TZ from Sactown Royalty talks about the Sacramento Kings, who will have a full season of Artest and a new coach in Musselman and could dramaticly improve; and Matt from Blog-a-Bull, who talks about one of the rising powers in the East. There will be more on this series in the coming weeks, including some Laker Q&A.

• While I had a bit of schadenfreude at Donald Sterling’s latest legal troubles, Kevin at Clipper blog has a great, thoughtful post about the blind eye we all tend to turn as sports fans.

How can a gay ChiSox fan possibly root for Ozzie’s success? What about rooting for a collection of known rapists when the most important thing in your life is your five-year-old daughter? Should you give your money to an owner who is a crony of George Bush if you have a truly principled stance against the Administration?

The assumption here is that most readers have an easier time than I do parsing their consumer loyalties from their overall worldview. I, on the other hand, have trouble doing that. Do I really want to drop $1,700 per seat into the pocket of a guy who does America the wrong way? Should I just sublimate my guilt and root for the nine black guys in the world that Sterling does like?

We Laker fans can certainly appreciate this. We’re not going to get into a discussion of Kobe’s guilt or innocence — only two people in the world know the real answer and you and I aren’t among them — but we certainly all try to give a benefit of the doubt to players we like. If nothing else, it’s something we need to be aware of.

• To further our soccer discussions here — Kobe is an AC Milan guy.

• One of the funniest things I’ve read in a while is the “Nike Infant and Toddler Scouting Report” from McSweeney’s.

4. Christopher “Magic” Johnson, guard

One-year-old phenom. Already plays like a 2-year-old. Scouts say he’s the best ballhandler they’ve seen in years: can hold ball without falling. Turnover rate should drop considerably if he stops drooling. Defense and rebounding need work: seems more interested in breastfeeding than boxing out.

• And a random YouTube finding put here for no other reason that I still think it’s the funniest thing I may ever have seen on Saturday Night Live — Jessie Jackson reading Green Eggs and Ham. (Be warned, the video quality sucks.)

Bynum = the future?

Kurt —  August 7, 2006

Lord knows at age 19 I was not ready for serious responsibility or anything that would have required a concerted work ethic — I was more focused on trying to figure out how to steal a bell off the old-school Taco Bell near my college campus, because I knew how cool that would look in my dorm.

But Andrew Bynum passed on his bell-stealing days to go straight to the NBA, and he has been thrust into a difficult position — be slowly developed into a cornerstone of a legendary franchise but, by the way, do it fast enough to overlap with Kobe’s prime.

The questions about how fast — and how far — Bynum can develop remain unanswered. There certainly has been improvement, but can he give the Lakers 10-15 solid minutes a game next season? After this year’s Summer Pro League I said he showed flashes but was inconsistent, plus seemed not to understand positioning himself for rebounds or how to use his frame.

Roland Lazenby has a pipeline to the most honest and knowledgeable critiqer of the Lakers right now — Tex Winter. That’s good for us because Lazenby is a great sports writer in the classic sense, he lets the people with the insight tell the story.

Even if we don’t always like what the story says — in this case about Bynum.

(After the summer league games), Jackson and his coaching staff wanted to see what Winter thought of the play of the team’s young players, especially teen-aged center Andrew Bynum.

“We all were in hopes that he would really arrive,” Winter explained.
However, after studying the tape, Winter offered the truth. The 7-1 Bynum had “a couple of really good games,” Winter said, but the 84-year-old guru came away with questions about Bynum’s intensity, his lack of “fire in the belly.”

“His energy is a question,” Winter said.

Winter also raised questions about Bynum’s quickness, his reaction to the ball, to events on the floor.

Is Bynum still a couple more years away from being a solid contributor? If so, where does that leave the Lakers? While I think we need to be somewhat patient with a challenging rebuilding process, the clock is ticking on Kobe’s prime and the Lakers can’t afford setbacks.

That isn’t to say Bynum isn’t both working on his game and improving. Along those lines there is a great article by Eric Stitt at Hoops Hype, talking about why the skyhook has gone the way of the dodo — what’s more crowd pleasing, a dunk or a skyhook? — and about Abdul-Jabbar’s the effort to teach the shot to Andrew Bynum.

Bill Bertka, former longtime Lakers’ assistant coach, said in the early 1980’s the coaching staff designed a number of plays for Abdul-Jabbar to shoot the skyhook on the left block, which made the shot even more effective because of its versatility.

“On this block over here (sketching the right one), he’d always wanna step into the lane here, which was deadly,” Bertka said. “Anytime he got that, it was money in the bank. But they took that away. And that’s when he developed this drop step on the left block. A counter move. Kareem had the shot mastered to perfection and with his agility and shot concentration, you couldn’t reach the shot.”

But Bynum’s offensive game is a long way from Jabbar’s. While we never expected him to score 38,000 points, the questions of how much he can contribute and when will be keys to seeing if Kobe can raise another banner at Staples.

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You need to read all of the Roland Lazenby talk with Tex Winter for other reasons. First, Winter likes Farmar but is not sure how much he can contribute this year. Personally, after watching him at the SPL, I still think by the end of the season (if he can stay healthy) he’ll be taking key minutes from Smush and Shammond. But either way he can be the guy in a couple years. Second, he thinks Pinnock is a keeper.

What about the rest of the world?

Kurt —  August 7, 2006

We saw Team USA demolish Puerto Rico, and get to see them again tonight against China and tomorrow against Brazil — but what about the other top teams going to the world championships? Just how good are they?

Commenter Xavier, who lives in Barcelona (don’t you love the Internet, where would we have gotten this kind of info 15 years ago?), gave us a quick preview in the comments and I thought this was worth passing along.

The main front runners apart from the US are Argentina, Spain and France.

Argentina has a strong starting five, lead by Ginobili and Nocioni at the wings, Prigioni (a pass-first PG) and a frontcourt with two players that have dominated the paint in European basketball, Scola and Oberto. A tough team to play against.

Spain is one of the most explosive teams in this tournament. These guys have high basketball IQ and the press defense and different kind of zone defenses are the main characteristics of Spanish coach Hernandez. (Memphis’) Pau Gasol as main star but there are also NBA players at PG in Calderon and PF in Garbajosa (Raptors), plus NBA project Rudy Fernandez, the best shooting guard in the Euro-League JC Navarro and a solid backup for all of them.

This team loves the outside game — Navarro, Fernandez and Garbajosa have good three-point range. Watch out for Navarro, the first scoring option in this outside game, a terrific scorer, and Gasol, who has started this season to show more aggressiveness (not to mention his beard).

France will be with Spain, the most explosive team. Toni Parker is one of the quickest players and will have Mickael Pietrus and soon-to-be Sonic Gelabale who are both great athletes, the do-it-all sun Diaw and John Petro that will bring toughness to this team. Turiaf will be maybe 6th-7th man in rotation.

Team USA Thoughts

Kurt —  August 4, 2006

Thank God we got to watch Team USA in action so we didn’t have to rely on Chris Sheridan’s reporting any longer (more on him later). One game is just one game, and you can’t say much bad about a 45-point win, but here are a few thoughts.

• I didn’t see him on the bench, but I’d swear that Nolan Richardson was helping coach that team, because that sure looked like the old Arkansas “40 minutes of hell” defense to me.

• Has the USA solved the outside shooting issue that plagued it in Athens? I’m not so sure. By my count (I couldn’t find the official stats online even two hours after the game ended, and my Tivo cut off the last 2:30) the USA was 11 of 32 from three-point range (34.4%), which is not very impressive from the shorter international line. In the first half, when the tempo was slower, the USA was just 3 of 17 from beyond the arc, but with more transition and open looks in the second half — not to mention the shooters just feeling comfortable — they hit 8 of 15. So which numbers are more what we will see in Japan?

• I had the USA 7 of 14 from the midrange.

• That’s high pressure style can be great defense and style to play when you have the depth of this USA team and can just keep throwing guys out there in waves. But more talented and experienced teams could make the USA pay for it if they don’t get back.

• The USA really needs to come up with a couple zone-buster plays they can run consistently. Even if one of those is Wade just breaking guys down off the dribble (that worked pretty well).

• Carmello Anthony looked good (including 3 of 4 from deep), his outside touch really suits the International style.

• I loved when LeBron (or another forward) would get the rebound then lead the break themselves, that made the USA even more dangerous in transition.

• Okay, let’s talk about Sheridan. I’m slow to criticize reporters because I appreciate the work they do — for example Chad Ford may get things wrong at times but you can’t question the work he puts in to cultivate sources and info.

But since going to Vegas to cover Team USA, Sheridan, who has long covered USA basketball, seems to want to stir the pot for no particular reason. First there was his insistence Coach K was in error for asking the team to try to dominate every quarter. Tom at SacTown Royalty did a good job shooting down both the original premise and Sheridan’s defense.

In his next column, Sheridan talks to Kobe, who shows up to watch a practice, and spends the entire column questioning why Kobe would call the team “they” and not “we.” He calls Kobe out for it. I have a theory why Kobe chose those words — HE’S NOT ON THIS TEAM. He had an operation but still cared enough to come out to a meaningless scrimmage. Despite what Sheridan said in that column, I saw photos later that showed Kobe joking around with Team USA guys afterward. He said several times he wished he could be playing.

It’s disapointing, because Sheridan is usually a good reporter, but it’s as if he’s disappointed he hasn’t been invited on Around the Horn, so he’s trying to show he’s ready by making up stories where there are none. “See, I can be controversial too, put me on as a talking head.”

My kingdom for some old-school reporting.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  August 1, 2006

Not much new, working on a few things, but wanted to comment on some recent happenings and point you to a few things worth reading.

• Update 2: It’s official, Devean George has signed in Dallas. Two years, second one at Geroge’s option, for $4.2 mil. This is a good fit for both sides, George can give Dallas some quality minutes off the bench and he makes a team that made it to the NBA finals last season even more dangerous.

• Update: The Laker schedule is out.

Looking at it briefly did not dramatically change my initial thoughts, although I did feel a little relief. For Phil Jackson teams, seasons like this one that are front-loaded with home dates (15 of the first 20 at Staples) are not ideal. His teams, adjusting to the triangle, tend to peak later, like last season when 10 of the lat 13 were at home. The schedule was front loaded two seasons ago and that was a disaster. I’m confident this team will not fall apart like that one, but the 06-07 squad will have to meld fast and count on the veterans returning at late last season’s level to counter the tough road trip the road trip (eight games in a row in February) and more games on the road after the All-Star break.

The good news is that look at the last 25 games and you see the Lakers mostly playing teams they likely will be fighting for playoff positioning — their fate will be in their own hands. Which is about all you can ask. And, as I said before, you got to play them when they schedule them. That’s professional hoops.

• I’m more and more comfortable with the idea of Chris Mihm comming off the bench, playing the four primarily with some center as needed. We’ll see how it works in practice, but on paper it seems worth trying.

• My biggest concern about keeping Mihm and not making any changes to the already-full roster before the season starts is that a guy like Danilo Pinnock could be lost. Maybe he’ll play in Europe and come back to the Lakers next season, but maybe another NBA team looking for a steal at the end of their bench makes him an offer.

• I’m late to this party, but if you haven’t read Chad Ford’s piece about sports as a way for rival groups — including youth in the Middle East — to get to know one another and reduce conflicts, you must. This is really great stuff.

• The new Laker blog The Jell-O is Jigglin has done some fun stuff, including looking at the Laker roster in Haiku.

• My early Team USA thoughts: I love that they are going to use a high-screen offense ala Phoenix, there are a lot of guys on that team who can be dangerous handling the ball (Wade, LeBron, Arenas, Paul) or as the guy setting the pick (Melo, Miller). The question is can the other guys adjust and become “catch and shoot” spacers? If Wade has the ball and drives, then kicks it out to LeBron for the open 21-footer, can he drill it? Consistently? That’s where the loss of Kobe really hurts, he could fill that role. He could also get into the open floor and run, which this team should do well (and Chris Paul will be perfect for). I still wish there was one more “pure shooter” (ala Redd).

That said, I think this USA team is incredibly deep and if they can come together they should win it all. But we’ve all said that before, so we wait to see them in action.

• As much as I’m looking forward to the Laker season, my excitement for the start of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season is right behind it. This is going to be a fun year to be an ND fan.