Archives For June 2007

Kobe and the Desperation Samba

Kurt —  June 14, 2007

With draft day nearing plus guys who could be a potential boost to the Lakers on the trading block — say Jermaine O’Neal or even Chris Duhon — fans are waiting for something to happen. Anything to happen.

But making any substantive move is going to be a challenge for Mitch Kupchak, Jerry Buss and the rest of the front office — and Kobe Bryant can take some of the blame for that.

There are some basic rules to follow in getting any deal done. Maybe you’re trying to buy a new car and negotiating with a dealer. Maybe you’re in a bar at 1:10 am trying to convince the blond girl she really doesn’t have to go alone to her apartment for the night.

Either way, right at the top of the list — do not act or sound desperate.

If you come off as desperate to buy the car, the dealer will not budge on the price. And women can smell desperation a mile away and run from it like gazelles on the African plains.

A couple weeks ago, when Kobe went on just about every radio talk show in America to vent his frustrations, he sounded desperate. He got the fan base to feel and sound desperate. He told the front office to act desperate.

And now, part of the Lakers leverage in negotiations is gone. Every GM in the league knows just how much pressure the Laker front office is to make a deal, so why not ask for everything they could possibly want — the pressure is on the Lakers to make the deal. Not Indy, they want to move O’Neal but they will have multiple offers. Not Chicago, they don’t have to give up Duhon. Not on any team the Lakers will talk to about a trade.

Kobe turned up the heat on the front office trying to force a deal, and I think we can all see why. But how he did it means all Laker fans may get burned.

Draft Help and other thoughts

Kurt —  June 12, 2007

Just over two weeks to go to the NBA draft, and because we bloggers tend to think we’re so damn smart, there are a few mock drafts coming out with bloggers serving as GM their respective teams. And I’m taking part in one (put on largely by the quality bloggers at Sports Blog Nation) representing the Lakers.

UPDATE: The picks in this mock draft have started, with the Tom and his blog Indy Cornrows as the host. The first two picks are what we all expected, then with the third pick Atlanta (represented by Chase Kuech from Impending Firestorm) took Al Horford. Keep checking in as the blog draft moves along.

So, what to do? Here’s the plan as I see it, but I’m looking for advice: 1) I’ve opened talks with Indiana about Jermaine O’Neal, but how high do I take that offer?; 2) I’ll ask about or listen to other trades that involve the pick (any ideas for Duhon – the Bulls don’t really need the pick); 3) draft somebody.

If it comes to drafting someone, well, my philosophy is the best available player is the call, you can’t try to fit needs that deep. But if you’re Mitch (or me in the mock), who do you take? I’d love it to be Nick Young (friend of the site Nate Jones did a great interview with him recently) but I doubt he falls to 19.

Josh McRoberts could be around, but what I saw of him at Duke didn’t impress me. On paper, well Chad Ford compares him Luke Walton. But McRoberts does what I don’t like in college players — he took a lot of nights off. I want hustle guys, guys with big motors, and McRoberts is not that guy.

One guy the Lakers are scheduled to out that I like and could be around is Javaris Crittenton, the 6-5 PG from Georgia Tech. He shot 35% from three last year and had 1.31 points per shot attempts, both solid numbers, especially for a freshman. That said, he looked like crap in the Tourney. A bit of a project, perhaps, but he’s athletic and a leader.

His teammate Thaddeus Young could be around, but I’m not as sold. He’s supposed to be a good passer but I saw him as a guy better in the open court than the half court (this based on like the 6 quarters I saw him play on TV and notes from that, so we’re not talking a lot of data). He also struggled in the tournament, I prefer guys who do well under pressure. But, is he a project who will blossom in a year or three?

Then there is Rodney Stuckey, who could turn out to be a steal in the NBA. Combo guard with potential, but because he didn’t play against good talent in college what I would get from scouts at draft camp and see in workouts would be huge. If he performed, he’d be worth a shot. Draft Express suggested he could be a Ben Gordon type guy in the NBA, and the Lakers could use that.

Maybe Rudy Fernandez? Any thoughts from our European readers who have seen more of him than we have?

Just some first round thoughts, although this may all be moot if a trade comes down. This mock draft could also reach the second round, where the Lakers will take a couple fliers – I’m really open to suggestions there.

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Great comment from Reed regarding the Spurs:

The Spurs are better positioned to maintain and improve their roster than any other team in the league. They have managed the cap, free agency, and draft to utter perfection. So, I fear that no matter what the Lakers, do, it will be ultimately irrelevant.

Take a look at their cap situation:

(1) Every relevant player on their team is signed next season (with the possible exception of Jacque Vaughn — who is easily replaceable). So, they will bring their entire roster back and be the favorites again.

(2) After next season, EVERY player’s contract besides Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili expires. (Except for Jackie Butler, but his contract is so small it doesn’t really matter). Brilliantly, the Spurs management constructed their team so that every non-core player was signed to a short, reasonable deal AND would expire all at once. That’s right, eight contracts expire at once.

Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili’s contracts add up to 42M. This year, the salary cap was 53M, and it should be around 57-60M after next season. So after next season, the Spurs will be way under the cap (10-17M, depending on if they sign a draft pick and use their midlevel) and able to sign a max-level free agent to add to their trio of stars. They will also be able to resign their own free agents (such as Bowen, Oberto, Elson, Finley, Horry) without eating into this cap room.

I could contrast that roster management with an analysis of Kupchak/Jim Buss’s decisions over the last few years, but I‘ll spare you the frustration.

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I still expect Cleveland to win at least one, maybe two (just to make my prediction come through of six games), but their lack of options after LeBron on offense is both familiar and painful to watch. They really need a Lamar Odom, a potential second option the Spurs have to respect.

The Lakers, with Odom and the ball-movement of Luke Walton, are the better offensive squad. But the Cavs are playing still because they are a better defensive squad – showing just how important that is and a reminder of what the Lakers need to focus on. Oh, and the fact Cleveland played in the East helped.

Game One Thoughts (and more)

Kurt —  June 9, 2007

• I haven’t watched every one of their games the last three weeks, but I haven’t seen a lot of brilliant adjustments through the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m curious to see what they do different in game two. Or, do they think it was just a fluke the shots didn’t fall and they are on the right path?

• Folks, that is how you defend the pick and roll. The Spurs did a great job having their big (and each of the bigs, even Horry, got their chance) hedge out on LeBron when he came off the screen, taking away his quick turns to the basket. When Bowen recovered, he stayed a few steps off and dared LeBron to beat him with the jumper. Right out of the textbook.

• LeBron and other Cavs did get some chances inside but seem bothered not getting off uncontested shots, the length of San Antonio really got to them. Gibson did well but he pulled up a lot rather than drive the lane — that guy can just plain shoot, too.

• Let me joint the chorus: Gibson needs more minutes.

• I like Cleveland’s Sasha more than I like the Lakers’.

• Great post over at True Hoop talking about the little things the Spurs do well, about their basketball IQ.

• When fans of the New York Knicks or Chicago Cubs or Green Bay Packers keep supporting struggling teams, they are lauded as “loyal, true sports fans.” When Laker fans renew season tickets at a high rate despite a less than stellar season, media members looking for an easy column/radio topic call the fans fools.

• Shammond Williams is close to signing to play with Pamesa Valencia of Spain (via Hoopshype). Maybe he wants a close up view of the America’s Cup (starting June 23 off the coast of Valencia). I hope it is a good move for him.

• Happy Birithday to my daughter Sasha, who turns 3 this weekend. (And no, we named her Sasha months before the Lakers drafted Sasha, that is a coincidence.) Big party this weekend (although, for those that didn’t already figure this out, 3-year-old parties are a little different than the ones you go to; well, save for that they both have greesy pizza).

Preview & Chat: The NBA Finals

Kurt —  June 6, 2007

Hey, we did these for 87 Laker games, why not one for the Finals…

Note to Laker management/fans/players/anyone who will listen. The two teams in the NBA Finals are two of the top four defensive teams in the league. This is not a coincidence.

One-Sided? Without looking at a statistic or a match up, my initial gut reaction was the Spurs would destroy the Cavs. I felt pretty strongly about it. The last time my initial gut reaction was that strong was 2004 — those starless Pistons were no match for the Lakers and their four Hall of Famers. For some reason, I can’t remember how that turned out.

Defense counts. The question I found hardest to answer when trying to break down this series: How much better was the West than the East?

I wondered because so far in the playoffs, Cleveland has put up the best defensive numbers of any team — giving up 95.5 points per 100 possessions, even holding the Pistons to 99.9 (for comparison the Spurs are at 101.6 for the playoffs, but remember they played the Suns). Cleveland playing good defense shouldn’t be a shock — in the regular season they were fourth best in the NBA.

The question I had is: Did Cleveland step it up or is it the level of competition? In the first round Cleveland played an injury-riddled Washington team that even Gatinho could have gotten playing time on. The next round was the good Nets, followed by the good but erratic Pistons.

Maybe the competition has helped the playoff numbers but anyway you slice it Cleveland is a good defensive squad. And teams that play good defense keep games close and always have a chance at the end (especially when you have a guy like LeBron).

But will they score enough? Here’s one thing I thought while watching the Cleveland/Detroit series — the Spurs will do a better job defending the Cavs than Detroit did.

It’s not just Bowen on LeBron, although that would be fun to watch. It’s the overall package. Henry Abbott at True Hoop tried to rain on this parade a little, but I don’t two games (the most recent Jan. 2) carry a ton of weight. That said he did give us some clues — the Cavs posted up LeBron on Bowen a lot during those two meetings and they should do that again, LeBron is far too strong for him in the post and will demand a quick double team, getting teammates open.

And that was a big key for Cleveland against Detroit — the other guys started to hit shots around LeBron. Gibson got the gold star but others started to step up as well. Granted, there was the amazing game five run where LeBron took over, but what made game six a blowout is that the Cavs role players hit their shots.

The challenge for Cleveland will be doing the same thing with a hand in their face — the Spurs defensive rotations in the playoffs have been spectacular. Those Cavs supporting members will not get clean looks. They are going to have to hit shots under pressure.

A typical play. If you have watched much of Cleveland in the playoffs, you know play #1 is to get LeBron the ball and run him off a screen from Ilgauskas (or another big). That is also play #2 and #3. Cavs coach Mike Brown has taken a lot of heat for this, but the basic premise is solid — get the ball in the hands of your best playmaker and scorer, let him make the decisions.

Bowen will be on LeBron, obviously, but I expect the Spurs will put Oberto on Ilgauskas, that leaves Duncan left to freelance a little off Gooden and rotate on to James if he drives the lane. Oberto is a physical, tough player, he will hedge out on James and not just give him a lane to the basket. Duncan’s long arms (along with the fact the rest of the Spurs like to collapse on penetraters) will make LeBron less efficient — James will get a spectacular dunk or two, but he’s going to have a lot more contested shots. Good interior defense forces LeBron to go to his Achilles heal, the mid-range jumper.

As I said before, what will be key for the Cavs is when James makes his often-special passes when the defense collapses the Cavs are to win the role players must step up. With a hand in their face.

Bet the under.
Two teams that like to play at a slow pace and play good defense, they are not going to reach the number (180) for game one. By game two the casinos will have adjusted.

Other Good Previews. Kevin Pelton is a hero of mine. David Thorpe is a hero of mine. For those of you who think reading is too much work, there is a podcast from The Basketball Jones. The always brilliant Free Darko is talking about both teams. (More of these will go up as I see them in the next couple of days.)

Heck with the finals, give me draft/trade info. Friend of the site Nate Jones has done a great interview with Cal State Fullerton stud Bobby Brown, a likely early second round pick. I saw him a few times the last couple years in person and like his game.

Oh, and neither Kobe nor JO will be traded today, so feel free to relax.

One thing to watch. Two powerful teams on the boards here, going to be some great battles inside. If one team can get a decisive edge it will be a big boost.

Finals prediction. I think it comes down to this — the Spurs have more and better offensive weapons. They are going to get their points — not a ton, but enough. And more consistently. I think the Cavs can stretch this out six games for two reasons: 1) LeBron James at the end of close games; 2) the rather stupid 2-3-2 format.

So give me the Spurs in six.

Trade Rumor Primer

Kurt —  June 4, 2007

Artest is going to LA. No wait, Chicago. And that is where Jermaine O’Neal is going, too. Unless he comes to LA. Or New York. And what about KG trades, or Kobe for that matter. Maybe they can both play together in Chicago or New York.

Potential trade rumors are flying around the NBA faster than people are being killed off on the Sopranos.

And most of those rumors are not going to happen, in fact they are out-and-out, um, fertilizer (still trying to run a family blog here). There are a host of reasons NBA trade rumors get started this time of year, and often they have little to do with a deal actually getting done.

So, since the entire Web — including this blog — seem to be following and fueling the rumor mill right now, it seemed a good time to talk about rumors. This is not focused on any one or two rumors in general (although I’ll point to examples) but this is meant as a broad outline of concepts.

Just a few examples of how rumors get started:

1) A team “insider” as a source talks to a newspaper. If a reputable beat reporter for a team says a front office source told him “player X for players Y, Z and a draft pick” then we can trust it, right? I mean, it came from a trusted source, right?

Not so fast. Here’s what they don’t tell you in Journalism 101 — your source has a motive too. People don’t tell beat reporters things off the record because they like them, it’s because they want something or are pushing an agenda. This is as true in sports as it is in Washington D.C., no off the record source is neutral. That’s not to say their information isn’t accurate, but that it’s coming to the reporter for a reason (and the reporter, if it is news of a potential trade, pretty much has to go with it).

For instance, let’s look at a deal a few writers have mentioned — Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and the #19 pick for Jermaine O’Neal. Everyone has agreed that the two sides have talked, but what organization has a motive to float that rumor? Do you think the Lakers would put their three most tradable assets into a deal for JO alone? However, if you were part of the Indiana front office, would those be the things you are asking for out of the gate? And because of everything going on in LA do you think you can put pressure on Lakers management by tantalizing the fans with a deal for a big name regardless of price? And, would Indiana be trying to up any bidding war for JO by saying that is what was offered? Or, maybe you’re a clever Lakers front office guy and want to float a rumor to show you’re doing something, but one with so high a price tag many fans would balk at it. Just a few options.

When you see a printed rumor, ask yourself who had the motivation to leak it. There are exceptions to the above rule, but the vast majority of “leaked” info is a leaked for a reason.

2) Is it a trade both sides can “sell?” Fans tend to look at trades in the “how can we make our team better mode” with almost no regard for the fact the other team and it’s front office is thinking the exact same things. Most GMs don’t make stupid, one-sided trades. When looking at a trade rumor — or trying to come up with a trade yourself — think about it from the other team’s point of view. Does if fill a need for them? Is it something team management can sell their fans without fear of a lynching.

To use another example, and since this is a Lakers blog and all, the Kwame Brown for Marcus Camby rumor — as a Lakers fan I love it. But, if you were Denver, do you really think you’d trade the defensive player of the year for Kwame? Do you think AI and Melo and the entire fan base would quietly watch that trade go down? Yes, the Nuggets have long-term cap issues but Kwame actually makes their problems worse for next season, and this is a team that already could pay $10 million or so in luxury tax. This move makes no sense for Denver, but Lakers fans love it so it stays alive.

3) A newspaper columnist suggests it. Seriously, this has about as much weight as any deals I suggest in this blog or you suggest in the comments here. Not to say the deals aren’t thought through or would even benefit both teams, but GMs don’t turn to media or blogs for trade ideas. Unless he or she says it came from a source, it’s columnist making up stuff to fill space (said columnist will later complain that bloggers make stuff up, but that’s a separate topic).