Archives For April 2007

Frustration and Stagnation

Kurt —  April 5, 2007

Since the final buzzer of the Clippers game, I’ve felt very frustrated. I try not to write posts just to vent, so I’ve lived with that frustration for a while. But it’s not going away and there is good reason — the frustration stems from growing realization that these up and down Lakers are likely the ones going to the playoffs, and that means a very quick exit.

Slowly I think we Laker fans are coming to a lot of realizations about this year’s team. Like the fact that without Kwame Brown at about 100% our interior defense is horrible, and Kwame needs off-season ankle surgery and will not be 100% until next October or so.

(To be fair, credit to the Clippers for doing exactly what they should have done with Kwame out — exploit the mismatches. They got the ball to Kaman early, and after he and Brand softened up the Laker defense inside — which really isn’t all that difficult, apparently — there was plenty of room for the Clipper perimeter players to operate. Turiaf tried and brought his usual energy, but he can only do so much, and the Lakers needed more than he could give last night. If you want to see a painful but great recap of the fourth quarter last night, Kevin at Clipperblog has it.)

Another realization is that it’s not the injuries, it’s the lingering remnants of the injuries — inconsistent lineups and rotations that have both exposed the limits of the Lakers depth (ala Turiaf trying to cover Kaman) and also taken what chemistry had been building and destroyed it. Here’s an interesting note from Nate Jones in the comments:

The Lakers have only played 28 games where Kwame, Lamar, Kobe and Luke have been on the floor together (according to ESPN)…29 if you count Kwame’s half game on Tuesday and are 20-9 in those game. I’m a big believer in the theory that injuries have killed this team.

Gatinho followed up on that:

My rationalizations about this season stemming from the last two games are that the biggest toll the injuries took on the Lakers was never really letting them find any sort of identity or work through the more intricate aspects of playing team defense and building confidence in the Triangle.

The fact that we still have no semblance of a set rotation is a huge indicator of that toll, as well

Kobe being either Sir shoots-a-lot or Sir passes-a-lot and never the twain shall meet was something that I thought would be remedied as the season went along and this obviously still an issue.

Odom seems to have also regressed with his aggressiveness and his willingness to find his moments offensively. His perceived (somewhat understandable) lack of respect from the refs has been detrimental to his on court demeanor and ability to be a leader as a calming and centering force for the younger guys.

I won’t yet call this season a step back, but stagnation when most expected greater strides is the irksome part of this journey.

I think that’s how a lot of us feel — we’re not giving up but objectively there are few signs recently to give us hope for a turnaround in the next seven games. Injuries can take some of the blame for the stagnation, but the players and coaches deserve plenty too, for doing things like playing 24 minutes of basketball against the Clippers. Management can take some for not addressing the clear perimeter defense issues last offseason.

All that and the resulting stagnation leaves me frustrated. I’m not yet ready to say, “wait until next year,” but I don’t feel good either.

Why Worry? There seems to be some chatter out in Laker land about who would be the best first-round matchup for the Lakers, San Antonio or Phoenix? (Or, Dallas, although that is an outside chance.)

It doesn’t matter, right now the Lakers can’t beat any of them in a seven game series.

They need to clean up their own house first, and that has to start on the defensive end. All you need to know is the Nuggets shot 51.2% eFG% and had an offensive rating of 107 (points per 100 possessions). That is simply bad defense by the stats, but you didn’t need the stats to see what was going on. Iverson broke Smush and everyone else down off the dribble, there were slow rotations. There were flashes of good defense, but nothing consistent.

Play like that again tonight, lose tonight. Play like that in the playoffs, whomever the opponent, and be golfing soon.

Why not Odom? Commenter kwame a. asked this question last night:

Why don’t we post Odom up and run the offense through him? I don’t understand why we don’t utilize this weapon?

It’s a great question, Odom is a beast in the post then if you put a stronger guy on him to slow him he can drag the guy out to the perimeter and blow past him. As a whole, the Lakers have done a poor job of late of trying to exploit mismatches — the win against Sacramento being the exception (they pounded the ball inside on the small and weak defensive front line of the Kings). Exploiting mismatches (and adjustments game to game) is what playoff basketball is all about.

Ya gotta have Hart. With Livingston and Cassell down, you’d think the Clippers would be hurting at the point. But veteran Jason Hart, scooped up off waivers, has turned in solid performances for the Clips.

Hart is shooting a solid 47.4%, but knows his role here is not to score so he has averaged just 8.3 points per game in the last 10. He’s also pitching in about four assists and two steals a game. His +/- has been 0 so far — not great (like Cassell) but not hurting the team either. Which for a guy picked up off the scrap heap forced to play 30 minutes a night, is pretty good.

The other guy who now has the ball in his hands more is Correy Maggette, and he has responded by shooting 49.5% (eFG%) and getting to the line nine times a game in the last 10 games. The result is 19.3 points and 5 assists per game in that span.

And the result of all that is the Clippers are 7-3 in those 10 games. And they are building momentum toward the playoffs.

Read Clipper Blog. I can’t put it more simply than that, Kevin would get my vote for best NBA team blog.

Godspeed Cory Karl. The Nuggets will be without George Karl tonight as he is with his son, who is having throat cancer surgery. My best wishes to the Karl family.

Ballhype.com. I had a whole post planned on this new site, which computer problems at home have cost me (for now at least). While I’m researching new laptops, you should check out the site that is sort of Digg for the sports world, bringing together sports blog stories in an interactive way. It’s done by the people at one of my daily reads, lowpost.net, so there is quality there.

And, there is already a Forum Blue & Gold group you can join.

Love him. Hate him. It’s a few days old, but if you missed it Nate Jones does a great post on how Kobe has become thee most polarizing figure in sports. Even here in LA there are a lot of people who can’t stand him.

I’m tired of Florida winning NCAA titles. It seems they win everything lattely. Well, I guess the Frozen Four is safe.

Remember Linas Kleiza? Laker fans should, when the Lakers and Nuggets played last month this guy dropped 26 points on them on 10 of 13 shooting, 5 of 6 from downtown. It’s not just against the Lakers, he seems to be the guy benefiting from the Carmello/AI pairing — in his last 10 games he is averaging 13 points and is shooting 46% from three.

It wasn’t just Kleiza. That last meeting of these two was one of the worst Laker defensive performances of the season. And that’s saying something. The nuggets shot more than 60% (eFG%) for the game last time and 69% in the decisive third quarter.

Making up for the defense. The Laker offense looked good in the first quarter in that last meeting, it was the first game that both Luke and Lamar were back and for a little while the triangle looked sharp. Then it all fell apart. Kobe had a team high 25 shooting 47.4%, which is below his average. The problem was the rest of the team shot 39% for the game.

Key for the Lakers. Move the ball. The Nuggets are just 6 and 19 this season against the 10 teams in the NBA that average thee most assists per game. If the Lakers share the ball and move without it, like they did against Sacramento. they will get good looks and easy buckets.

However, go back to what Gatinho brilliantly called the “constant Kobe heat check” offense and you play into the Nuggets hands.

Then there is the defense — it was horrible in the last meeting between these two, but has been better the last couple games. The Lakers need to come out focused on the defensive end. For 48 minutes this time around.

The Lakers are the sixth seed right now, playing the seventh seed tonight and the eighth seed tomorrow. Good chances to continue building toward the playoffs — but two chances for this up and down team to take a step back again. I really have no idea which Laker team will show up anymore, so I choose to be optomistic.

NCAA Finals thread

Kurt —  April 2, 2007

If the Lakers had their choice of any players in tonight’s game to join the team next year, my two top choices would go to Ohio State players — Greg Oden (sorry Drew) and Mike Conley.

But basketball remains a team game, and Florida not only has four starters with NBA talent but they play well as a team. The whole is better than the sum of their parts. They pass well, find the open man and rotate well on defense. They can beat you any number of ways, but it starts with the fact they shoot well — 59.1% on two pointers over the course of the season. If Oden’s shot blocking can change that, Ohio State has a chance.

But I don’t think he can, Florida will make the extra pass and find the open man. Which is why I’ll take the Gators to pull away in the second half and win handily.

But then again, I’m coming in third in my office pool behind a guy who cares more about any Chelsea midfielder than the entire NCAA field, so take it with a grain of salt.

Peeking into the future

Kurt —  April 2, 2007

The Lakers have always been somewhat shrouded in mystery — it may be the most prominent franchise in the NBA but it is run by just a few, a tight-knit family that rarely tips their hand in public (think the anti-Steinbrenners).

So last week, when heir-apparent Jim Buss did a radio interview on 570 AM, it was a rare glimpse behind the curtain to see what he and the Laker brass are thinking. Well, as much as he tipped his hand. I did not hear the interview, so I am relying on Ross Siler of the Daily News for the quotes (and thanks to Ian for providing the link).

Let’s look at what was said in a little detail, with Jim Buss quotes included:

“The way I look at it is I believed last year this current roster could win it this year. The way things are going, it’s going to be very difficult because we didn’t home court. We’d have to go through Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio – – all three of them – – to get to the Finals.

“If we had played without the injuries that we sustained, then I think we would have had a home-court advantage and we wouldn’t have had such a tough road to get to. And yes, I would believe this team is good enough.’’

I think a large part of this is what you say in a radio interview, not what you believe in your heart of hearts. You always say this team could win it all this year, even if you run the Atlanta Hawks. At least I hope that is why he said this — if the top Laker brass really believed this roster was better than Dallas/Phoenix/San Antonio then we should be worried for the future because they clearly don’t judge talent well. I don’t think they are that misguided. This is a second-tier roster when healthy, one that needs another piece or two, they have to realize that.

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The juicy part of the interview was when Buss said the Lakers were targeting bringing in a major free agent in the next couple of years, something they have been planning for.

“Those things start way before a player becomes available,’’ Buss said. “Everything we do is planning to be in a position if you can get an All-Star-caliber player to help your team go to the next level. You have to have it planned out years before.’’

As Rob L. quickly pointed out in the comments on this site, any signing is not likely to happen next year. The Lakers have $57.6 million committed in salary for next season, and that is before resigning Luke Walton (plus maybe Chris Mihm and Shammond Williams, and Smush coming back is not impossible), paying your top draft pick or filling a couple other holes. This team doesn’t have the cap room to make a big move this summer, unless it is a trade where Odom and/or Kwame are involved. But Buss said free agent signing, not big trade.

That following summer (heading into the 08-09 season), the Lakers have $45 million on the books (plus likely the Walton deal and more), which includes the last year of Lamar Odom’s deal. I’m not sure how much the Lakers could offer any free agent just like this coming summer. But that is the time-frame Buss offered up.

Now, the summer of 2009 is the summer Kevin Garnett can opt out of his deal in Minnesota. Would he walk away from $24 million? Maybe, is this the point at which a then 32-year-old Garnett is willing to take less money for a chance to win (alongside Kobe)? If, as Buss said, the Lakers are laying the groundwork for something this makes the most sense. That summer Lamar Odom’s deal will be up and the Lakers currently have about $33 million on the books, even with the added contracts they can have plenty of room to make an offer. Not a huge one, but a decent one.

Also, it makes the most sense because he can opt out. When the three-year deals for Wade, LeBron and others come due they are not just going to jump ship — their current teams can offer basically 30% more over the life of a deal. They are going to come in a sign and trade, because they are not going to leave that much money on the table. So you’d have to have valuable tradable assets to get them, and the Lakers do not and likely will not. The days of the Lakers basically winning the bidding war for Shaq are gone, you have to be savvy now.

“Mitch (Kupchak) is very good at watching the cap and so am I,’’ Buss said. “We have a plan to move forward and when somebody drops the ball and drops one of their All-Star players, we’re there to get them. You don’t go over the cap like some of these other teams and be mediocre. That’s like the cardinal sin in my book….

“What you do is you manage your money until you can spend it on the right thing. And it will happen. It will happen maybe next year or the year after but it’s going to happen. And when that happens, then we go right back to winning championships.’’

So apparently there is a plan. Of course, there was the 2007 plan which included the pipe dream of Yao or LeBron jumping ship. Let’s hope this plan is a little more realistic.

The up and down Jordan Farmar. Jordan Farmar is set to make history today — the Lakers are going to assign him to the D-League so he can play with the D-Fenders at 2:30, then after the game call him back up to the main team and he will suit up for the Lakers. If he gets into the game tonight he will be the first player to play in a D-League and NBA game on the same day.

The thinking, by the way, is that he needs minutes to get his rhythm back and he wasn’t going to get those with the Lakers, so why not with the D-Fenders? For one day, it makes some sense. But I will say I expect that after a summer of working on his shot and strength, plus from watching and learning this season, I think Farmar is going to take a step forward next season.

Smush in the D-League. Roland Lazenby reminds us of something today that we guys who follow him closely need to remember — Smush Parker is a great story. I get frustrated with how he breaks out of the triangle, but how many guys from the NYC playgrounds could run it as well as he does? And how many players fight through playing in a smallish college and playing in Europe to be an NBA starter?

And, Roland and Tex Winter note, Phil Jackson loves the kid.

“He’s a tough little kid and a hell of a competitor,” Winter said. “I admire him for that. I’m still not totally sold on the job he’s doing. He has all that tremendous speed and quickness. But he gambles too much on defense and gets beat on the screen and roll (sounds like Tex describing Bryant’s recent defensive efforts).

“Still, it’s absolutely amazing what he’s done, considering where he came from,” Winter said. “He’s spent two years here as a starter. And I don’t think that’ll change.”

Why? Because Parker has enjoyed the support and admiration of the only person who matters—Phil Jackson.

“He certainly has,” Winter replied when I asked about Jackson’s backing. “I think Smush appreciates it. I think Phil has gotten more out of him than most coaches ever could. Smush knows Phil has a great deal of confidence in him.”

The up and down Kings. I recently asked Sactown Royalty’s Tom about the team’s problems and one of them was inconsistency. Sound familiar.

Among the downs recently has been up-and-coming star Kevin Martin, Early in the year he looked like an All-Star, of late he has looked pedestrian, at best.

After a blistering start that saw his statistics hover around 50% makes from the field and 40% from beyond the arc, Kevin’s statistics have dropped, whether due to fatigue, increased attention from the opposition, or greedy ball-handling from teammates (I won’t name names). Compared with the first month of the season, in March, Kevin is scoring 5 points fewer a game, his field goal percentage is down a full 12 percentage points, to 40%, and his 3 point field goal percentage has been cut nearly in half, from 47% in November, to 27% in March.

The bad news for the Lakers. Balancing out Martin’s down is Mike Bibby, who is hot. And traditionally a Laker killer. Again I quote Tom:

His March has been fantastic. With the exception of Sunday’s eruption, it’s flown completely under the radar. He’s shooting .438 percent this month – not great shakes, but much better than his dreary November .361 mark. From three (which is where he takes 40% of his shots), he’s hitting .456 in March. That’s incredible.

The Musselman Mistake. When Sacramento hired Musselman last year, I thought it a good hire, a guy who got Golden State to overachieve his first time around and was primed for success this time. But I was wrong – he lost the team and it two weeks he’ll have lost his job. And it all is because he got arrested before Ron Artest did. Let me go to the words of Sactown Royalty (since it appears Tom wrote most of this preview, he can have my pay for this post).

He hasn’t gotten a fair shake, but it comes down on his head. Not a single Sacramentan will fault management for sending this guy out on a railcar. And it all stems from that DUI. There’s no reason to believe Muss can capture the hearts and minds of upstanding citizens Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia and Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Ronnie Price after that magnificent mistake. So why keep him around?

I think it’s very obvious that the Maloofs will can him at the end of the year.


Things to look for tonight:
The Lakers to play great defense…. April Fools.