Archives For September 2006

A key Laker to have surgery

Kurt —  September 30, 2006

Before this week, when I served on a jury for a “trip and fall” case, I knew nothing about hip replacement surgery. Now I know plenty (for a layman). And that makes me appreciate what Phil Jackson is about to go through even more,

Just watching Laker games last season it was pretty clear his hip was bothering him, and if that got to the point it was not just getting in and out of folding chairs courtside that was painful but also it was impacting his daily life, the hip replacement surgery he gets next Tuesday is the best thing. The surgery itself takes two or three hours (depending on the exact type of replacement) and there is plenty of rehab, but for a healthy person they can return to doing almost anything in a few months. Jackson is expected to be back on the sidelines by the start of the season.

There are things they ask people with hip replacements not to do for a while, like get in and out of chairs where your knees are above your waist. For most of us, that just means avoiding really soft couches. For the lanky Jackson, that could also include sitting unaided in those courtside chairs. I’m curious if and how he deals with that.

As for the team, the other coaches will be running the show as a unit. With all of them having been in Phil’s system for years, plus Rambis and Hamblin having head coaching experience, I don’t expect that will be much of a problem.

Good luck Phil!

The Turbulent Pacific

Kurt —  September 29, 2006

As of next Tuesday, it is no longer the off-season — the Lakers open training camp. No trip to Hawaii for camp this year, which means new Laker Vladimir Radmanovic will not have a deep bronze tan when the season starts (instead he’ll stick with the Casper white look). How do you feel as the season opens? Optimistic? Unimpressed? Nervous? In the coming weeks we’ll be discussing all that plenty.

But first, along with camps opening comes the avalanche of preseason prognostications. Some of those have the Lakers doing well, and there will be plenty to come on this site (and a couple sites I’m affiliated with — information on those coming soon).

One of those predictions was from a blogger who knows his stuff, Tom over Sactown Royalty, who recently did a Pacific Division preview for the entertaining site The Big Lead. We can discuss the wisdom of doing previews by division when it’s conference standings that matter, but what I’d rather talk about his predicted order of finish:

1. Phoenix
2. Sacramento
3. LA Lakers
4. LA Clippers
5. Golden State

My thought, he’s got at least 2/5ths of that right. I think Phoenix is at the top — and if Amare is Amare by the end of the season they are a threat to snatch that trophy from Miami. I think Golden State is going to get better as the season wears on but in the deep West that will not be enough.

But the middle three, well that’s harder to predict. Each team has lots of questions.

How much better does Eric Musselman and a full season of Ron Artest make Sacramento? Or, do they even get a full season of Artest, who may need to promote that new album? Long-time readers here know I like Musselman — last time he took over a team they improved by 17 games over the season before. He’s not going to have that big an impact here (Sacramento isn’t going to finish with 61 wins) in part because he’s taking over for a good coach (as opposed to Golden State in 2002, when he took over for a legendary player but questionable coach). I think they are better than they were a year ago, but how much?

How much better does more Shaun Livingston make the Clippers? Can he stay healthy for a season? There aren’t a lot of other changes on the Clippers — and you know they are going to be good, but it is Livingston that could be the difference between a four-seed Clippers and a seven seed team. If he gets more time, if he can do consistently what he’s done in flashes, if he can stay healthy the Clippers become more dynamic. Especially since Sam Cassell is not getting any younger. But for all his skill there are questions about Livingston.

How much better will the Lakers be in the second year of the triangle? How much does Radmanovic improve the offense? Can they defend the high pick and roll? Phil Jackson’s teams tend to be better in their second season in the triangle, but how much growth will you really see? On Monday we’ll be discussing that more, but the questions are out there.

I think it’s hard to tell exactly how those three will finish, although if forced to guess I’d say the same order as last season (Clippers, Lakers, Kings). How healthy those teams — as well as many others in the West such as Houston, Memphis, Denver — will be a big key in how the seedings shake out, none of those teams can afford to lose many games from key players.

That’s a lot of “ifs” for everyone heading into the season. Which should make it interesting to watch.

We Built This City On Basketball?

Kurt —  September 25, 2006

This week I’m on jury duty, actually impaneled on a jury in a civil case at the Redondo Beach courthouse. This means during the day I’m awarding old ladies who spill hot coffee millions doing my civic duty, and at night doing the day job, so if my posting lacks this week I apologize up front.

That said, let’s start with one piece of news: The Lakers signed Devin Green to a contract. While terms were not released, this is likely a non-guaranteed deal, much like Pinnock got. As we’ve said before when counting the numbers it may be a challenge for Green to make the squad, but he’s got an invite to camp and a chance.

And, just in case the “Just Say No” Lakers video was not enough of a reminder that everything the Lakers did in the 1980s was not great, there is this (also sent to me by the amazing J.E. Skeets of The Basketball Jones):

Things to do this weekend

Kurt —  September 22, 2006

While you are reading this over the weekend I will be at a bachelor party in Palm Springs, drinking some single-malt scotch, trying to count cards through a drunken haze at an Indian casino and, um, whatever else one might do at a bachelor party.

But, here are a few things worth reading this weekend, one a serious thought about the Lakers future and one and hysterical look at the Laker past.

• Remember the Showtime ’80s Lakers did a “Just Say No” rap video. Well, what is the funniest NBA blog out there (and a smart too), The Basketball Jones, has dug it up. You need to see this, for the neon shorts if nothing else.

• Over at the LA Times Laker blog they have an interview with Andrew Bynum where you get the sense the kid is starting to figure out what it takes to be a professional. Some kids who came straight to the league out of high school got that, some didn’t. Bynum seems to be getting it, which is a good sign.

But Henry over at True Hoop has taken that talk to the next level — just how good can Bynum really be? What is his upside? It’s a good question, and frankly no one (not even Kareem) knows the answer. What I think: At the bottom end of the “how good will Bynum be” scale is a very good defensive center with a little offense. And that is something you can build around.

Crystal Ball Time

Kurt —  September 19, 2006

I’m pulling this out of the comments and making it its own topic because, well, it made me laugh (and has a lot of potential).

It just feels too early to start predicting who will finish where in the West and what team will make it out of the Eastern Conference. But it’s not too early to make a few fun predictions for the 2006-07 NBA season, which is just what commenter Rob did recently:

1. I will throw a projectile at the television screen at least six times. Something soft, like a pillow.

2. Not a single NBA game will be broadcast without “Euro big” being uttered.

3. A team from a city that begins with “C” will represent the East in the Finals.

4. Isaiah Thomas will be Coach of the Year.

5. The Dwyane Wade backlash will begin.

6. The Western Conference Finals will be the highest scoring since the Seventies.

7. Time Warner Cable will drop NBA TV.

8. I will eat a lot of nachos. Seriously. Like way too many.

John R. then pitched in with another good one:

The Christmas day game will feature at least 100 FTA by each side and will not end until after midnight EST. This is the reason it is no longer a double-header.

Then minutes before I posted this, Xavier came through with a long list, of which I’ll excerpt a few here:

1. On Christmas day we’re going to see fire in Shaq’s eyes when Bynum enters the court, and the same in Bynum when he’ll be again at home vs. Shaq

6. Lakers will have 2 All-star players.

7. Shaq won’t start for the East in the All-star game.

For fun, let me throw in a few:

1. Whatever marketing catchphrase the NBA beats into the ground this season, it will drive me to drink (but not as much as those borderline-blasphemous Audrey Hepburn Gap ads).

2. Despite my best efforts, my 2-year-old daughter will learn some “magical” new words during a Laker loss this season

3. Columnists/sports talk show hosts who don’t know the game will say LeBron James is overrated.

4. Don Nelson will be coach of the year. It’s his birthright.

What are your predictions?

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  September 18, 2006

While we suffer through what feels like the dullest NBA off-season of all time, there are still few things worth reading out on the Web. That starts with the latest Carnival of the NBA, which is now up.

• Over at the very good Blazer’s Edge, he posts something we should all remember as when training camp opens in a few weeks, the 10 Commandments of the preseason:

1 THOU SHALT NOT believe anything you read in glowing reports about returning players until thou hast seen it demonstrated with thine own eyes during the regular season…repeatedly. Everybody is talented in the off-season.

2 THOU SHALT NOT put any stock whatsoever in any team’s pre-season record or what it might indicate.

3 THOU SHALT NOT clamor for a player who gets 22 minutes a game in pre-season (for purposes of evaluation and giving the veterans a rest) to get that same 22 minutes once the regular season starts.

4 THOU SHALT NOT pass judgment on the current year’s draft picks until at least an entire season has passed, preferably two or three. Pre-season is too soon!

5 THOU SHALT NOT judge veterans by whether they show up for unofficial pre-training camp workouts with their teammates. This does not guarantee team cohesiveness or better play. The classic example is the 1996 Indiana Pacers who, after going 52-30, winning their division, and losing the Eastern Conference finals in 7 the year before, showed up to a man a month early to train together. That year they played inconsistently, finished with the exact same record, and bowed out in the first round. Rookies and young guys need to work early. If vets want to rest their bodies, let them.

6 THOU SHALT NOT believe that a guy who comes into camp out of shape can play his way into shape during the season. That used to be true but the pace and intensity of the game has changed. Only two things happen to guys who come in out of shape nowadays: either they get benched and don’t play a lot or they do play a lot and get injured.

7 THOU SHALT NOT give too much credence to stories of personal reform. Guys who have truly reformed don’t tell everybody about it beforehand and expect immediate credit for it, they hush up and let their actions speak for them.

8 IF THOU HAST SPENT the entire offseason convincing everybody in earshot why thy previously putrid team hast improved, thou shalt not abandon said position in disillusioned cynicism when they getteth off to a 3-10 start. And thou certainly shalt not then regale us with stories of how they really suckest! It’s early in the season, improvement is incremental, Rome wasn’t built in a day. If thou expectest more than that, it is thy problem, not the team’s.

9 Similarly, IF THOU HAST SPENT the entire offseason predicting that thy team will stink, thou shalt not gloat, nor even be happy, shouldst thou turn out to be correct. Realistic analysis is fine, but be a fan first, a smug smarty-pants second.

10 THOU SHALT NOT brag that your pre-season predictions are holding true in Week Two. Period!

• Finally, it’s not really Laker related, but great stuff from Roland Lazenby on the glory years of the Celtics:

For example, the Celtics won 11 NBA championships between 1957 and 1969 (seven of those victories came at the expense of the Lakers). Yet throughout that great run, the Celtics seldom sold out Boston Garden. Year in, year out, they drew average crowds in the range 8,000, leaving more than 5,000 empty seats most nights.

The Twenty-foot Lay-up

Gatinho —  September 14, 2006

The ball would swing back behind his left ear and, in a circular motion, move back behind his head, held high above his wiry 6′ 6″ 190 lb. frame. A slight bend of the knees and, without ever passing the crown of his head, it was gone. Released skyward, still moving, in a slow motion, circular fashion before inevitably touching the bottom of the twine.

Sounds awkward; looked smooth.

“(Wilkes) had a way about him that didn’t look like he was doing something, and then you look at the stat sheet and he’s got 29 points. Jamaal used to wind up, but (his shot) was like snow falling off a bamboo leaf, it was so smooth.”

Pat Riley comparing Wilkes to Tayshaun Prince

Silk was his name, and silently assassinating teams was his game. His play was unassuming and in no way physically imposing but upon checking the box score at the end of the game, he’d have an efficient 22 points, 6 or 7 rebounds, and a handful assists.

A member of a championship team at every level, he was born in Berkley but later migrated to the Southern part of the state where he would be an All America Prep at Santa Barbara High School. From then on in his career, he was never simply a spoke but also never the hub.

First he was placed alongside arguably the best collegiate ever, Bill Walton.

John Wooden when asked to describe the perfect recruit:

“I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter,” Wooden told the New York Post in 1985. “Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that.”

When the Wizard knocks on your door, you accept the invitation to the quest.

Jamaal, then Keith Wilkes, was a starter on a team that would win 88 in a row. The freshman battled legendary high-flyer David Thompson to aid Walton and UCLA in cutting down the nets in 1972, a climax to the first of two undefeated seasons.

In his pre-Laker incarnation, he was drafted 11th overall and captured the Rookie of the Year award and his first ring as a member of the 1975 Warriors’ team. But, as part of a developing theme, there he was along side Hall of Famer Rick Barry.

It was as a Warrior that his Islamic beliefs would lead him to change his name to Jamaal Abdul-Lateef, though he would continue to be referred to as Jamaal Wilkes.

He would sign with the Lakers as a free agent in 1979, where two future HOFers would be there to greet him.

Magic Johnson’s rookie performance in the 1980 Finals has been heralded as a mythological big game performance. A jaw dropping 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 dimes while, say it with me, playing all five positions…

But who remembers that Wilkes had 37 points and 10 rebounds in that pivotal game 6?

“Tied 60-60 at the half, Wilkes got 16 in the third quarter…Wilkes drove the lane, drew a foul and made a three-point play…The Lakers were up by seven only 1:16 after the timeout.”

Wilkes was incredulous after capturing his second NBA title, “I thought our chances of winning (Game 6) were 10% to 15%,” he said.

He combined with Magic to score 79 of the teams 123 points.

Throughout his collegiate and pro career he was a steadying force but lucky to be placed alongside some the game’s elite. A solid second (or third) option. Way more than a minute eating role player, he garnered two All-NBA defensive team honors. Those long arms would help the Lakers as they ran a relentless half court trap when they would again meet and beat the Sixers in 1982.

Three times he would play in the All-Star Game. His final one played in 1983 at the Fabulous Forum, where he bobbed his head to Marvin Gaye’s daring interpolation of the Star Spangled Banner.

He was deftly efficient on the offensive end. So much so, Chick Hearn took to marking his patented baseline jumpers, calling them good at the zenith of their arc, and dubbing them “Twenty foot lay-ups.”

In his heyday he posted an eFG 53%, averaged 21.1 points per in ’81-82, and 18 per game for his career.

He would be unceremoniously usurped by another future Hall of Famer out of North Carolina, later known as Big Game James, and would end up earning another ring in 1985 while watching from the bench injured. After an 18 game stint with the Clippers, he would retire.

Jamaal Wilkes: a Laker I miss.

-Gatinho

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  September 12, 2006

I haven’t forgotten about this blog, promise. There are some good posts coming later this week and down the line, but I’ve always tried not to write something just for the sake of having fresh drivel up on the site. That said, while I may not be writing other people are, so let me point you to some interesting stuff:

• UPDATE: Roland Lazenby continues to be the journalist around the Lakers we can most count on for insight into the team. His latest blog post does this in a couple ways, first providing some background to the well known dislike between Tex Winter and Shaq:

The serious breech between the assistant coach and Shaq didn’t come until the 2004 season when O’Neal out of nowhere told Winter to “shut the f*** up” during a team film session. A stunned Winter said that never in lengthy coaching career had a player been so extremely disrespectful. In fact, Winter has long been known for earning the respect and allegiance of an array of players, from the most difficult (Dennis Rodman) to the most hard-headed (Kobe Bryant).

O’Neal’s behavior in the 2004 incident is noteworthy for several reasons. First, O’Neal always describes himself as someone who respects his elders. That’s pretty much a self-promoting crock.

Second, Phil Jackson wrote a supposed “inside” book on the season, which was really a document aimed at cementing Jackson’s political position with the team. Strange that Jackson devoted so much ink to his allegation that Kobe Bryant was “uncoachable,” yet somehow he managed to avoid telling his readers the details of the major incident involving O’Neal.

Also, Lazenby talks about a new article he did on the death of defense by referring to how Joe Dumars shut down Jordan in the 1990 playoffs.

Asked in July if he could defend Jordan under today’s interpretation of the rules, Dumars first laughed, then offered a long pause before replying, “It would have been virtually impossible to defend Michael Jordan based on the way the game’s being called right now.”

I’ll be buying a copy of Lindy’s soon.

• Eric Marentette used to have a Portland Trailblazer blog at Oregonlive, but left it this summer — to work for Kobe Bryant. Via True Hoop:

KB is starting up his own company to market himself, since there’s currently a severe lack of Kobe-related products and information, and he’s hired away Eric to head up his new website, which supposedly will have something to do with Kobe’s number change. Eric will be working hands-on, with Kobe Bryant, on all things Kobe Bryant.

To me, this makes a lot of sense. You see other major athletes like Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds taking steps to control the marketing of their name and image. Bringing it “in-house” strikes me as a smart business move by Kobe. And, somehow, he’s the one guy I’m not worried about this being a distraction from his on-the-court responsibilities.

• Does playing in international summer competition — say, the recent World Championships in Japan — mean a drop off in the next NBA season for the players who go?

It’s been a long-discussed and disputed theory, but Kevin Pelton took up the idea for 82games and found:

There does seem to be a slightly higher probability of minor, nagging injuries for the players who participated on USA Basketball, but this effect is mild at best.

While there is always the concern of what happened to Pau Gasol at that tournament, sending guys to play for Team USA does not generally seem to mean less games the next year. Check out the whole article for yourself.