Archives For May 2007

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 getgarnet.com, 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 ESPN.com’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.