Archives For May 2007

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  May 15, 2007

Thoughts while wondering what kind of hockey enforcer Robert Horry would have made….

• Yesterday was an example of why this time of year can get on my nerves (and is leading me to break my rule of not discussing random speculation in the blog). One Sacramento newspaper writer, idly speculating about where Ron Artest could possibly traded, throws the Lakers in the mix because the Lakers are looking to make a move this off-season. But have the Lakers and Kings actually had any discussions along these lines? Not by any report (and mainstream media types complain bloggers just sit around and make stuff up). A lack of talks didn’t stop the talk shows and message boards and all things Lakers from buzzing about Artest all day.

Ron Artest is a good defender, but not at the two key positions the Lakers need. He is not a point guard. And, trading him for Kwame (as the Sactown writer suggested) weakens the Laker interior defense, which was plenty weak this year already. So this makes the Lakers better? Plus, and correct me if I’m wrong, Artest brings a little baggage with him. His dependability is exactly what this team needs right now, what with the stellar focus they showed last season.

• Watching Vince Carter at the end of game four should be a reminder just why Kobe is a great closer.

Kobe puts himself in better positions to attack — Carter on the last play made a little swing move with the ball then started to drive right but when the defender went with him he turned his back to the basket, put himself in a tough position trying to back his man down and was caught off guard by a quick double (part of that impressive slip and fall move). Kobe finds a way to face-up, his moves to the basket are far more aggressive and because of that (and the respect for his move) he creates room for the pull-up jumper that Carter never had. He also has a plan for when the double comes (although, too often, because of his confidence, he still just shoots over the double).

• In case you missed it, the Seattle Supersonics and Sacramento Kings have been given permission to talk to Kurt Rambis about their head coaching spots. Previously the Indiana Pacers interviewed Brian Shaw for their head coaching vacancy.

• Great point by my two favorite ESPN writers yesterday — Henry Abbot and David Thorpe — comparing the 1980s Lakers and the current Suns, and their mental makeups.

Which are both excellent reasons for the Suns to especially remember Magic Johnson’s Lakers now. They may not have been the bullies of the league, but they were plenty physical in their way. (Consider the career of Kurt Rambis. Also, watch old video of Michael Cooper and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — I’m sure Bruce Bowen and Tim Duncan have done just that.) And more than anything, when Magic Johnson’s Lakers encountered extremely physical teams like the Celtics of Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, and Robert Parish, they didn’t let all that fire burn up their playbook. They were able to impose their fast-breaking style nonetheless. Even in that environment, the Lakers could often be in their element, and more often than not, Los Angeles ended up not whining at all, but smiling.

• Kevin at Clipperblog does one of his fantastic breakdowns of the final minutes of game four between the Spurs and Suns. A must read.

• I’d hate to see Amare or Diaw get suspended for game five. As Rob L. said in the comments, this is the problem with zero-tolerance policies, there is no wiggle room to do what is right.

• Good luck to Lamar Odom, who goes under the knife to repair his shoulder today.

• Last night looked good for my Cavs/Suns NBA finals prediction from October. Not that I really think it’s going to happen.

• I’m rooting for the Celtics to win the lottery. Seriously. I think it’s good for the league when they are good.

Drafting 19th

Kurt —  May 14, 2007

For those of you wondering what kind of player you can get drafting 19th — where the Lakers sit this year — here is the list of 19th selections going back to 1990:

Quincy Douby, Sacramento
Hakim Warrick, Memphis
Dorell Wright, Miami
Aleksandar Pavlovic, Utah
Ryan Humphrey, Utah
Zach Randolph, Portland
Jamaal Magloire, Charlotte
Quincy Lewis, Utah
Pat Garrity, Millwaulke
Scot Pollard, Detroit
Walter McCarty, New York
Randolph Childress, Detroit
Tony Dumas, Dallas
Acie Earl, Boston
Don MacLean, Detroit
LaBradford Smith, Washington
Dee Brown, Boston

Some pretty good players on that list plus a few, well, not so goods.

A couple things of note. First, these are not players that contributed much immediately but some grew into good players after a few years. Second, the hit and miss nature of this spot in the draft means it has limited value for trades — even in a deep draft nobody really wants the 19th pick.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  May 11, 2007

• It’s no secret Laker fans lust after Kevin Garnett, as do the fans in Chicago and New York and every other NBA city. Including Minneapolis. That said, now Laker fans have their own web site about it. If you haven’t checked out the slick new, it’s worth a look.

You know where I stand on this: The ball is in KG’s court. If he asks out, if he pushes for a trade, then the Lakers need to make an offer. And if he does, we’ll all know about it. But KG has not made the first step, and all the wishing in the world by Laker fans won’t change that.

• The Mavs/Suns/Spurs = rock/paper/scissors.

• I am pumped to watch the game in Golden State tonight, the crowd will be on fire. Apparently I’m not alone — Golden State has been the ratings darlings of the playoffs so far.

• Bulls fans, I know its not easy right now, but keep your heads up. It’s a young team and game three was a learning experience. A painful one, but a learning experience nonetheless. If Paxon can keep that core together there will be titles in Chicago again in a few years.

• And what’s the lesson the Bulls have taught us about building a team? Right. Make trades with the Kincks.

• The Spurs/Suns series is simply at a higher level — of coaching, of smart play, of pure basketball — than any other right now. Golden State has charisma, but this series is for all the marbles (Detroit is nice and all, but no).

• During the regular season, the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady combo had the team +15 per 48 minutes when paired on the floor. In the playoffs it was -7.

Commenting Guidelines

Kurt —  May 11, 2007

One of the beauties of the Web is the blend of diversity and community — the fact that basketball fans, Laker fans, from around the nation and the globe can get together and talk hoops. The community that has built up at this humble little blog the best thing about it.

And that community has grown — with the playoffs and a few higher-profile links, a lot of new people have found FB&G. Everyone’s welcome, you’ve added a lot to the discussion.

My goal is to keep the site fun, the smart tone going, and to have thoughtful discussions of what has happened and what could happen (or maybe should) with Lakers basketball and the NBA.

So, to that end, here are some “commenting guidelines.” There are no hard-and-fast rules, but if we can all live by these I think the discussion will remain at a high level. Here we go:

1) Don’t use profanity.
2) This is a basketball blog, keep the focus on the Lakers and other hoops — leave politics at the door.
3) The goal is discussion, so try not to make multiple comment posts in a row (that is a lecture, not a discussion).
4) The goal is not an argument — don’t start one or bait other commenters into a fight.
5) No personal attacks on other commenters.
6) We use complete sentences here, not ALL CAPS or short cuts u luv. This is not an IM conversation. That said, there’s no need to mock others grammar.
7) Talk of potential trades, ideally ones that have been reported as things team management is thinking of, is okay. Posts of fan fiction speculation on how the Lakers can land KG (or whomever) are not. (There is no shortage of other Lakers sites that welcome that kind of speculation.)
8) Try not to make the same point over and over, the goal is a ranging discussion.
9) Don’t drink and comment. We’ve all done it and it’s not pretty.
10) Basketball is a game; don’t confuse it with the really important things in life.

And have fun. That’s why we’re all here.

Winning Now, Part II

Kurt —  May 9, 2007

As was said in Part I of this series, the challenge the Lakers face is that if they want to be contenders in the next couple of years they have to do it via trade. They can’t do it through the draft (picking 19) nor do they have the cap room to sign a major free agent.

The Lakers have three pieces other teams will be interested in, but really, the bit issue is “The Andrew Bynum Question.” Lakers fans desperately trying to think of a great deal are vastly overrating the desire any NBA team has for Radmanovic, Cook, the barely-able-to-walk McKie (spare me a sign and trade with him, please) — rose-colored glasses wearing fans are seriously overvaluing every available Laker on the roster. Other GMs are not.

There are only three key cogs for talks. (To be fair, GMs may ask for Farmar or Turiaf as part of a deal, but as throw ins, not key pieces.) Let’s look at the three big trade pieces the Lakers have, starting with the big question first:

Andrew Bynum. This is the big test not because of Bynum but because of what it says about Lakers’ management. Bynum was Jim Buss’ pick and the young Buss is trying to establish a reputation for himself within the organization and around the league. Bynum was the sticking point in Jason Kidd talks back in February, the Lakers refused to part with him.

The question now is: Has a second straight first-round playoff loss, this one in ugly fashion after a season that was a step backwards, changed any minds? Or specifically, one mind?

It’s easy to see the Lakers reluctance to part with him — legit back-to-the-basket seven footers with loads of potential are a rare find. He’s not yet 20 and improving, there were flashes this season of a guy who could be a force in the paint. He shot 55.8% this season. And while he struggled the second half of the year, reports are this has not tarnished his trade value (GMs love them some potential).

But there are questions. One is his work ethic, something questioned by Phil Jackson (and some other writers close to the team). He has come a long way in two years and clearly has worked hard to improve his game, but if he is not as passionate to keep improving how good does he really become? Frankly, we can speculate but the only people who could answer this well are Kareem and some assistant coaches. Their input should be given heavy weight.

Then there is this issue raised by’s David Thorpe (in an email to Henry at True Hoop): How many true big men are left in the playoffs? Who is left? Look at it: Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming all out; remaining is Golden State without a true big, Utah and Phoenix playing fours as the center, the Bulls have a center who is 6-9.

I’m not sold that the league is dramatically changing — if Greg Oden pans out then three years from now every GM will be looking for his clone and writers will be asking, “Where are all the great bigs?” The point is that with the right guys along the front line to fit your system, you don’t need a “classic” center to win.

And, the triangle offense (in its pure form) prizes versatility. I’m saying the Lakers can win without a “true” center, if they have guys who can still defend the paint. And offering up Bynum could bring someone like that.

If some minds within the Lakers brass think Bynum should be traded at all.

Kwame Brown. Don’t overestimate how much teams want him — what they want is his expiring $9.5 million contract. Kwame’s reputation around the league may be better than it was when he came here but it’s not good. He fills in the salary for a trade if one happens. Nothing more.

And, despite what Bill Simmons may suggest, the demand for expiring contracts alone seems to be waning among GMs. The Lakers were far from alone in the last couple years of eating expiring deals because there was not much interest from teams to take on your poor, your tired, your oversized-contract players yearning to be free, just to gain a little cap room. You seem to have to offer more than that now, although some fans are a little slow to see that trend.

Lamar Odom. With everything that happened to him physically and mentally in the past year, I don’t think you could have asked more of Lamar Odom. As was evidenced in the playoffs, he is one of the few Lakers who “brought it” this year.

And, I think with another scorer on board, he would fit just fine in the triangle. But, if you are going after someone off All-Star caliber, then Odom’s name will come up. I’m not completely opposed to moving him — but a number of criteria have to be met:

Moving him removes the Lakers best rebounder (he grabbed 14.5% of the available rebounds while on the court this season, only Bynum had a higher percentage and I hesitate to call the youngster a better all-around guy on the boards than Odom). He is one of the few guys who can be a presence inside on this team. If you are going to move him, you’ve got to get someone who can do more than just replace those skills, you need someone who can do them better and bring more defensive presence inside. There are not many guys who fit that bill.

And since more than just Odom would likely be part of such a deal, you need to solve the PG spot as well to make this a viable option.

Here’s my thinking on Odom — the Lakers are better off keeping him and bringing in front line or back-court help to pair with him and Kobe. If you bring in a “classic” power forward and move Odom to the small forward, the Lakers become long up front and a real match up problem for other teams. Bring in a great PG and Odom will get the ball in better positions to do damage.

Bottom line — if you are getting rid of someone like Odom, who gave so much to the team this past year, you had better get a blockbuster back. One that makes you an instant contender.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  May 8, 2007

Just a few thoughts from the playoffs (part two of the Winning Now breakdown comes tomorrow).

• I fear that all the talk on this blog about what the Lakers needed to do in round one could have drowned something basic out — the Suns are very, very good. I picked them to win it all before the season started, and did so because the Suns are a team that has talent that perfectly fits its system. Steve Nash is unbeleivable, but Barbosa and Stoudemire and Marion and Bell are perfect compliments. That is what an NBA contender looks like.

Kevin from Cliperblog said it well:

The only way to beat the Suns is to field a lineup that can defend their playmakers straight-up. Even the most well-oiled defensive rotation can’t possibly keep up with the speed of the Suns’ offense. You may have the best help defenders in the league, but at a certain juncture in a PHX possession, something will beat you.

The Suns deserved the win and all that comes their way.

• Of course, what came their way in game one against San Antonio was a loss. The Suns found their shots at the rim contested, as they did their threes. Nash took 18 shots an had 8 assists — the Spurs made him the shooter. And they scored a lot themselves. That’s how it is done, and it was still a hard-fought win. This is going to be a great series.

• Kevin from Clipperblog also had a great breakdown of Dirk Nowitzki in the playoffs and reaches a wise conclusion:

There isn’t a worse crime in the NBA than dispassion, and that’s why fans are turning on Dirk. It’s not the losing, or the lousy shot selection, or even the historic nature of the upset. It’s the close-mouthed manner in which Dirk absorbed the blow from GSW. That’s the transgression.

• Can Golden State play in a game that’s not fun to watch?

• One final Lakers note, from Kevin Ding in the OC Register (I pasted this into the comments yesterday but thought it dserved to be in a post):

Who cared: Bryant, Odom, Turiaf, Luke Walton. Who sort of cared: Maurice Evans, Jordan Farmar, Aaron McKie, Sasha Vujacic. Who didn’t care: Kwame Brown, Bynum, Brian Cook, Smush Parker, Vladimir Radmanovic, Shammond Williams.

“There’s a certain sense of dedication that players have to the game and to their responsibilities,” Coach Phil Jackson said. “Kobe matches that in all points. He sometimes overmatches it. And the intensity he brings to the game is sometimes not on a level guys can live up to. That frustration, more than anything else, is why our team didn’t survive and flourish, even though we had injuries.

“Even though guys came back at the end of the year, that was the disrupting element. Guys didn’t work hard enough. There was some selfishness that came along with it.”

Winning Now, Part I

Kurt —  May 6, 2007

“That’s one of the things when I re-signed here, they promised they would build a contender and build a contender now. I don’t want to have to wait any more than I already have.”

    —Kobe Bryant after his exit interview

When the Lakers decided to pay Kobe and trade Shaq, everyone was clear the plan was to rebuild a contender around Kobe. Three years into that experiment, well, Phoenix is a contender and as a benchmark it’s pretty clear that the Lakers are more than a few steps behind the Suns.

And now Kobe’s patience has worn thin, which is a season or two behind when a lot of Lakers fans patience went away.

This summer Lakers management has to decide what to do: Continue with the plan of building for the future or building to win now. It can’t do both, that has led to a mismatched roster. In the real world there is only one option, they need to build for now. That means a new willingness to make moves that could hurt five years from now to win today. That’s really the only option, because if you’re building for the long-term future the move is to trade Kobe, and that is not how the Buss family works (and would lead to a fan uprising).

As Nate Jones pointed out in the comments, the problem is that championship contenders are not built overnight. Look at the four major title contenders left in the playoffs — San Antonio, Phoenix, Detroit and Chicago. Each of those teams took years to build through the draft (remember the Suns drafted Shawn Marion back in 1999) and picking up the right free agents to fit the mix.

The good news is some of the moves the Lakers have made in the last couple years put them in position to make aggressive moves now. And some pieces are in place — this Lakers team was not as bad as it looked against Phoenix in the playoffs, but neither are they as good as they looked in December.

The bad news is that the way the roster structured, the aggressive moves will have to be trades. Those are a lot harder to pull off. All the Lakers can offer a free agent is the mid-level exception of about $6 million a year, which is not going to garner a big-time player (and that could go to Luke Walton). And drafting 19th they’re not going to get a difference maker.

Rather than do a “he gets an A” season review it’s time to look forward. I’m going to do a series of posts talking about what needs to be done to win now. Today’s first installment is simply about guiding principles, the big picture concepts behind what should be done. We’ll talk about specific players and other steps in future posts, but winning organizations start with a plan and with guidelines, then get the players that fit inside that design. Some of the Laker moves the last couple years make you questions how closely that concept is adhered to.

So, here are some suggested guiding principals for this summer.

1) Defense first.
Despite the rash of key injuries, the Lakers still had the seventh most efficient offense in the league last season, scoring 110 points per 100 possessions. The flipside is they gave up 110.5. That makes you basically a .500 team. Or, look at it this way — you win a lot of games scoring 103.3 points per game, as the Lakers did to finish fifth in the league, unless you give up 103.4.

Every roster move this summer must be made with improving the defense as the goal— every player brought in must be a good defender. The Lakers score enough to win with the roster they’ve got, if they could stop anyone.

It should be noted, this was the concern last summer and the Lakers signed Radmaovic and Mo Evans, only one of which was a signing made with defense in mind. That cannot happen again.

2) Improve the point guard position. Opposing point guards took 28% of their shots against the Lakers close to the basket. Think about that — the smallest guys on the court were still taking more than one in four shots as basically lay-ups. This was the root of the entire defensive problems the Lakers had, the perimeter defense broke down against anyone who could drive the lane even moderately well, and that led to guys scrambling trying to cover and rotate.

Offensively, all the triangle really asks of its point guards is to be able to help bring the ball up and hit threes. If they can do more, great, but as item number one mentioned defense at this position is first and foremost.

3) Consistency in the paint. With Lamar Odom living on the perimeter mostly (when he was healthy) and the combination of Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum anchoring the paint, the Lakers were incredibly inconsistent inside this season.

Opposing power forwards scored 21.2 points per 48 minutes, grabbed 11 rebounds, shot 51.5% and has a PER of 18.7. Opposing centers scored 18.8, grabbed 14 rebounds, shot 51.6% and had a PER of 18.4. Think about it this way, opposing point guards only had a PER of 17.

The loss of Chris Mihm for the season was part of the problem, but because he returns from a year off and a major injury means he cannot be relied on for a huge upgrade. I’m not suggesting trading Odom, he brings a lot to the triangle. But if Odom is going to spend more time as the initiator or out on the wing in the triangle, the Lakers need a more consistent presence in the paint. At both ends of the floor.

4) Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream. In the wake of the second elimination by the Suns in as many years, there have been some calls for major, philosophical changes. To site an example, the usually smart JA Adande came out in the LA Times the day after the Lakers loss and said the Lakers need to rebuild into the Suns style.

Teams that struggle long term are teams that change styles every couple of years, trying to find the right formula. They bring in new coaches on a seeming carousel and never form a team or franchise identity. There is no one right formula — it can be a variety of systems, but you have to have the players to fit that system. The triangle clearly can win titles; there are nine to its credit. The Lakers have some of the key pieces to win in that system. To remake the roster into a Suns-style contender would require a major overhaul that would take years. The Lakers don’t have those kind of athletes right now, nor a point guard who can run that kind of offense. (And how many of those PG’s are there? Nash, Chris Paul, Baron Davis when healthy. None of them are available. And those kinds of talents don’t grow on trees.)

The Lakers are a triangle team, and that can win. The key is finding players that fit the system.

Kentucky Derby Picks

Kurt —  May 5, 2007

It’s time for my one annual non-Lakers post making horseracing picks. (A longer-look at restructuring the Lakers is coming in the next day or so.) My wife and I have been to the Derby a couple times, love horse racing and throw a mean Derby party.

This race is always a little hard to pick because there are 20 horses in the field, which can lead to a lot of traffic and difficult trips for good horses. Specifically, Curlin jockey Albarado is going to have a great ride to keep a very good horse out of trouble coming out of the two hole. It’s also hard because so many prep races are now run on the new poly-track, while this race is on dirt.

It rained pretty hard yesterday in Kentucky, and there is a chance of rain today, but since it looked sunny at the morning “Breakfast at Churchill” broadcast I’m going to base these picks on a fast and dry track. But my favorite stays on top if there is slop.

1) Hard Spun. I think this horse has been building and building, and his amazing workout Monday shows that, and that he loves the dirt track at Churchill. My biggest concern is that the big work Monday took too much out of him, but I think that’s long enough to recover. Also, if it rains, this is my big choice; I think he wins handily in the slop.

2) Street Sense. Another horse that has great numbers over the dirt, and has dealt well in the past in races with a fast pace (this race likely will have one, most Derbys tend to start fast). He won the Breeders Cup Juvenile over this course last year, and I don’t by the fact that no BC Juvenile winner has won the derby means that much. He had an off-race in the Blue Grass (beaten by Dominican) but I think he will bounce back big.

3) Curlin. How can you ignore those last three races? Big, easy wins, albeit against lesser competition (the only other Derby horse he’s faced is long-shot Storm in May). If there is one “superhorse” in this field, Curlin is it. Plus, it’s a great name (he’s named after a former slave who fought for the Union in the Civil War).

If I were a betting man (and, ironically, I am) I’d put those three in an exacta box. If you’re going for exotics I’d probably put Tiago and Any Given Saturday in the mix on the back end.

Enjoy the race! And the big fight tonight. We’ll get back to the Lakers and the NBA tomorrow.