Archives For July 2007

Some Dreams Do Not Come True

Kurt —  July 30, 2007

Lakers fans need a new impossible dream.

Part of being a fan is thinking with your heart, dreaming of the improbable, maybe the impossible. And Lakers fans fascination with Kevin Garnett was always based on thinking with their hearts, because once your head got involved the dream was quickly shattered.

The hearts of Lakers fans, and I have little doubt the team’s front office, loved the idea of KG as a Laker. But the chances the team would get him were always microscopic, and for a number of reasons — starting with being in the same conference and finishing with not having enough young talent to interest Minnesota. It’s hard to fault McHale for this choice, Al Jefferson is a better prospect, one who already has proven more, than Andrew Bynum, and the Lakers don’t have a young Gerald Green to sweeten the offer. Some fans clung to the fantasy that KG would just opt out next year and play in Los Angeles for the midlevel exception, but that never made sense — Boston is going to give him a $25 million a year or so extension, with the Lakers he would have made about $6 million. Yes he has a lot of money in the bank, but to leave around $95 million on the table? Would you do that? Seriously?

It was hard not to be tantalized by the dream, but now Laker fans need to get back to reality. This is a Laker team that is has some nice pieces — and one great one — but is a key piece or two away from contending. There is more than one way to get those pieces, but holding out hope for KG was really never a viable one.

The KG dream is dead, but that dream and one of contending Lakers are not one in the same.

I Shot the Logo

Gatinho —  July 29, 2007

“Wen Roberts, 70, the longtime official photographer for the Lakers, Kings and Inglewood Forum, died Monday at his El Segundo home of complications from… Lou Gehrig’s disease, his wife, Mary, said.”

Coca-Cola, Nike, the NBA logo

“Alan Siegel, who designed the logo to complement the Major League Baseball logo that Jerry Dior had designed in 1968. Siegel confirmed that West was his model; he said that he had found a photo of West driving to the hoop in the files of the now-shuttered Sport Magazine and that he had tweaked the image when he created the NBA logo.

Wen Roberts believed that he took the photo of West that was used for the NBA logo; West himself told me that he thought the image came from a Roberts photograph. …all those visual images we have of the Lakers –- Elgin hanging in the air, Wilt’s dominance, Goodrich squaring to shoot, and, yes, Mr. Logo himself, Jerry West, driving to the basket –- speaks to the exquisite artistry of Wen Roberts.”

There is a quasi-controversy concerning tht NBA logo. Who is it? For whatever reason, the NBA doesn’t want to admit officially that it is Zeke from Cabin Creek, the GM’s GM. West believes it has to do with offending other players, but the creator of the NBA logo has admitted openly that it was West’s image that he used as his simplistically tight marketing gem…

and it was derived from the artistic eye of Wen Roberts…

-Gatinho

Not a lot of news to write about, but there are a couple things of note.

The first thing is over at Hoopshype.com (a site I visit regularly) myself, Brian Kamenetzky of the LA Times Lakers Blog, Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register (smart man, writes for the OC but lives in the South Bay) and Paul Hershenson of In The Refrigerator (great blog name) took part in their new “Bloggers corner,” basically doing a Q&A about Kobe and the Lakers. Here is one of my answers just as a tease:

4. What has been Mitch Kupchak’s biggest mistake during his tenure as the Lakers GM?

The easy answer here would be to say the Shaq trade, but I don’t think that falls on Mitch. It is clear Jerry Buss made the decision to make the trade, then Mitch got stuck having to do it fast to make sure Kobe didn’t jump to another team that free agency period. So he got what he could get.

I think his biggest mistake has been one of philosophy — the Lakers have simultaneously tried to build both to win now and for the long term. With Kobe at his prime, with Phil Jackson as the coach, the effort for the last few years should have been to build a contender fast and around Bryant, but some moves (such as an apparent desire not to trade Andrew Bynum) appear to be made with the longer term in mind. The front office (and the decision makers with the Lakers go beyond just Mitch — Jim and Jerry Buss both are involved, although its hard to tell how much) needs to chose one philosophy and go after it.

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One little bit of news is that the tired Kobe/Shaq showdown, er, Miami/Lakers Christmas Day game appears to be off the NBA schedule. Instead, it’s Heat/Cavaliers, creating the Wade/LeBron rivalry for your holiday viewing pleasure.

My thought — the second game that day needs to be Spurs/Suns or Suns/Mavericks. Because, if your goal with the Christmas Day game is go showcase the best, most exciting product the NBA has to offer, those are your three best teams. (We can get into the debate about Dallas and the playoffs if you want, but I think the Golden State loss was a matchup issue for the Mavs in a deep Western Conference. They are still a very good team.)

Do I really want to turn away from NFL football to watch the 86-82 shooting disaster that will be the Heat/Cavs game? Now, Phoenix and the Mavs, that would be entertaining. (Heck, how about Suns/Warriors?)

Bottom line, at least I can spend time with my family that day not trying to catch a Lakers game (and then watching it in detail on Tivo once everyone is asleep).

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If you haven’t seen the latest attempt at a comprehensive new attempt at a statistical measure for defense at 82games.com, do check it out. I think it’s a pretty good first draft of a measure, and it passes the laugh test. To use the Lakers as an example, it ranks Kwame Brown as the best Laker defender, and when you consider +/- is part of the equation that’s not a surprise because Kwame was the Lakers best interior defender last year. It also shows Farmar as a much better defender than Smush, which passes the eyeball test as well. Where if fails is having Mo Evans as one of the team’s worst, I think that had more to do with him playing with backups much of the time, but how to sort that out statistically is a challenge.

Still, well worth the read.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  July 23, 2007

Here’s a roundup of thoughts and other things to help us get started on a Monday, sort of like a cup of coffee for the week.

• I thought friend-of-the-site Nate Jones had an interesting piece about the referee/Tim Donaghy scandal over at Fanhouse — basically, it doesn’t bother him that much.

My thoughts are this is a HUGE problem and issue. Not as much with Nate or myself or many of the readers and commenters here because we are basketball junkies — bottom line, we’re not leaving the sport. We can say that Donaghy was a bad apple, that he was working primarily the under/over not game outcomes, that things can be done to prevent this in the future. (The under/over thing is interesting, Brandan “Two for the Money” Lang told ESPN.com it’s a challenge for a ref to influence a game outcome — what if Kobe has an off night? — but the under/over is much easier to fix.)

Right now the NBA is struggling, slipping some on the national sports scene (television ratings and other numbers show it). I think that is primarily due to the lack of a charismatic star/tandem to drive viewers (Magic/Bird, then Jordan, then Shaq/Kobe for a few years) but this scandal is a kick in the groin of a sport trying to find its footing. It hurts a lot. It cuts to the very core of the sports respectability.

And that hurts with the casual fans. Not the ones who tune into summer Team USA scrimmages in Vegas but the ones who first check the standings around the All Star Break, think Charles Barkley is the best basketball commenter on the planet and really tune in mostly during the playoffs. For those fans, this is a chance to confirm the long-standing belief that games are fixed, either by the league or other higher powers (the New Jersey mafia). It confirms that refs have other agendas and ulterior motives, something even we harder-core fans thought at times. Bill Simmons said it well — guilty or innocent people will not watch an NBA game quite the same way again.

• Blog-a-Bull was one of the first really great NBA blogs out there (one I tried to steal stuff from when I started this blog). Congratulations to Matt on turning four (and continuing the quality work).

• The Team USA scrimmage sounded like a lot of fun (I have yet to watch the replay, but there are some good recaps in the comments) but I’m not sure how much we can take away from it. What we need to see is a month away — this team against real quality international competition. Until then it’s just a scrimmage, even if it was one with some promise.

• Some people really seem surprised Kobe didn’t want to clarify his situation with the Lakers while in Vegas. Really? What is he going to say that helps his situation one way or the other? You think he wants to rehash that media disaster of a couple months ago?

Getting Team USA Right

Kurt —  July 20, 2007

Today, Team USA is taking part in part of its “grueling” tryout camp in Las Vegas leading up to its participation in the FIBA Americas Championship next month, an event conveniently also taking place in Vegas (only because the president of Venezuela can be a little nuts).

This upcoming tournament matters because the USA has to earn a 2008 Olympics berth by finishing in the top two in the event. The thing is, the talent of the other teams in this tournament is horrid — the only other team of note is Argentina (who will be without Nocioni and other key players). Brazil has had a decent team, but they will likely be without Anderson Varejao and others, so they shouldn’t be a threat. After that it’s the Canadas and Puerto Ricos of the world. Well, maybe I shouldn’t dis Puerto Rico.

The point is Team USA should roll to one of the two automatic Olympic berths. But this mini summer season needs to be about more than that, it needs to be about laying the groundwork for Beijing 2008. Team USA’s results in the World Championships last year in Indianapolis showed some improvement over previous outings — particularly in terms of team makeup geared toward international style basketball — but also showed some key weaknesses.

It is those weaknesses that need to be addressed. Let’s look at three big problems from last summer and how to deal with them.

Defense. This was Team USA’s biggest weakness last summer, and it may be the most difficult to address. Of the final four teams in last summer’s tournament (USA, Greece, Spain and Argentina) the USA had the best offensive rating (of points per 100 possessions) by a whopping 9.1 points. (And that was despite the offensive concerns.) But Team USA’s defensive rating was 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse than the next worst among the big four, which happened to be Greece. And we remember what happened when those two met.

This time around the USA has individual athletes on the wing who can defend — Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Kobe Bryant — but the challenge will come on defensive rotations. That starts in the paint, last summer the USA team seemed to count on Carmelo Anthony to provide the inside presence, and he’s not a defensive powerhouse. I think a combination of Howard/Bosh/Amare improves that somewhat, just in terms of athleticism, but inside presence could still be an issue.

On the whole, international teams (particularly the better ones) move well without the ball and all the players — even the bigs — can shoot the three. American players coming out of the NBA aren’t used to seeing that.

Building team trust in defensive rotations is something that does not happen overnight, it takes time. And that’s one thing the USA and its schedule do not have. It’s a challenge for Coach K and his team, but in part he may need to count on an overwhelming offense and decent defense. If they can start playing that.

Outside shooting. Team USA’s overall shooting percentage was the best at the World championships last summer, but nobody that watched them play thought their outside shooting was consistent. For the tournament they shot 36.8% from beyond the arc (not what you’d hope for a 20-foot line), and they shot just 32% against Greece and 25% against Germany the their second to last game.

Here is one area where this summer’s personnel could help. Last summer we dreamed of a Michael Redd like player on the squad, this year Redd is there. So is Kobe, who can shoot 40% from the international three point line with a couple hands in his face. Plus Mike Miller is in Vegas and if he makes the squad that’s another shooter. This is an area I expect we should see improvement this summer, although that may be dependent of factor number three.

Movement without the ball. Last summer, if the USA could not get into transition (they played at the fastest pace of the tournament, averaging 98.4 possessions per game), it looked like they wanted to go with the Phoenix “set the high pick and let the ball handler create” offense. Except that the USA didn’t have anyone with the experience and savvy of Steve Nash. And that meant guys stood out at the three-point line and let Paul/Wade/LeBron/Anthony drive, and they watched from a nice vantage point.

This summer, movement without the ball and better spacing will be the keys to an improved offense. The USA should keep the pace up and try to take advantage of their athletic superiority. But when forced into the halfcourt there needs to be more than the individualistic drive-and-kick we see in the NBA regular season. There needs to be guys moving without the ball, guys making the extra pass within the offense. I think if Billups is running the offense that is a plus, he will be more the facilitator and director rather than a scorer.

The USA has the talent, the question is execution.

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Maybe that’s the key to everything, executing a game plan that fits with the International style of game. Certainly the USA puts forth the most talented team, even if there are weaknesses, but the lack of playing time together and a certain casualness (at times) has derailed talented teams in the past.

I do have some concerns about the makeup of this team inside, in terms of getting rebounds and providing a strong defensive presence. There is no question about the athleticism of the guys up front, but Amare and Bosh are really fours masquerading as fives. Howard is the one true center on the team, but he is green and his game doesn’t seem suited for the international style (working from the high post, hitting the midrange jumper and longer consistently).

But that is a problem the USA can overcome. It’s one they need to overcome by next summer. And they need to lay the groundwork for that in the next six weeks.