Archives For December 2007

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  December 7, 2007

Haven’t had a chance to do the old FB&G standby of quick thoughts and other links recently, I used to think I did this too much but lately I’ve missed it. So, we’re back, baby.

• The biggest Lakers news: According to friend of the siteNate Jones, Rambis is trying to regrow his ’80s stash. More than anything else, I’ll be looking for that in the next broadcast.

• One thing of note from the last post here where trade discussions were allowed in the comments — almost unanimously Bynum joined Kobe on the untouchable list for trades. Not really a surprise after the start of this season. But, that would not have been the consensus of this board six months ago, and I think more people than not would have given up on him a year ago for a lot less than Kidd. All of which is to say, next time you blast the front office for not seeing that ‘player X” clearly will/will not develop into something, remember they were ahead of you on the Bynum curve and knew what they were doing.

• There was a great follow up thought (and way to kind of words for me) from Kelly Dwyer when looking at the last post (and the Lakers situation):

I do have to point out that “superstar on a team with just enough to make the playoffs and little else” bag isn’t going away. With the luxury tax effectively ushering in a hard salary cap, we’re going to see a lot of teams with stars that take up a third of the payroll with one large deal, a semi-star who is probably overpaid and a load of cheapies surrounding them. Prepare for a whole host of 48-win teams over the next few years. The NBA won’t reach an NFL-level style of parity, but it will move in that direction. Also, don’t be surprised to see some sort of contract restructuring language added into the NBA’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement, so guys like Kobe and KG can re-do their contracts in order to bring more help in.

• One other note. A few people suggested the Lakers go get a free agent next year — remember that the Lakers will be over the salary cap, meaning they can only offer the mid-level exception (what VladRad signed for), they cannot make a big offer. Not many teams can, frankly.

• Interesting discussion over at With Malice — who wins in a Dream Team vs. 07/08 Team USA matchup. Jeff from Celtics Blog, Henry from True Hoop and others weigh in for round one, I’m in for round two going up in a couple days. (Hint, I think it’s a closer game than you do.)

• I love watching Iverson play, especially when he’s hot like he was Wednesday night. I don’t want him on my team, but I love watching him play.

• This season’s early returns are in at NBA Hot Shots, a favorite tool of mine. Plus, colors make it pretty. Anyway, the Painted Area does some interesting early looks at why LeBron is hot and Dirk is cold so far.

• At some point I’m going to do a whole separate post on this, but I can’t say it enough — kuddos to the Lakers for the upgrades to the Web site this year. The quantity and quality of stuff has been great.

The Next Step

Kurt —  December 6, 2007

We’re almost 20 games into the season, and there have been some exhilarating ups (like last night’s win in Denver) and rather jagged downs.

And through it all, here’s what I think we’ve learned about the Lakers — they are a solid second-tier team in the Western Conference.

Which is an impressive sign of growth (and better than many national experts thought). However, how the team got there may be different than many imagined — this is a team right now with a superstar (Kobe) leading some fast-emerging young talent (enter Andrew Bynum) and a number of guys who are good role players who fit the system. It’s a good, solid, deep team.

So how do you take that next step to contender? Well, you need a key second “star” to mesh with Kobe and the up-and-coming Bynum.

I kept hoping that Lamar Odom would be that cog, and I’ve wanted that for as long as he’s been here. He’s hard not to like as a person, always seeming humble and personable. As a parent myself, my heart ached for him last year, and still does. I wanted so badly for him to succeed.

But I’ve finally come to accept Lamar for what he is — a good, but inconsistent player. Fragile. At times brilliant. Other times absent. At both ends of the court. A guy with good numbers at the end of the night but not one I think the Lakers can count on to bring the Lakers to the next level.

Lamar’s recent struggles to adjust to playing the three — what he said was his natural spot before the season — highlight this. Here are Lamar Odom’s offensive ratings (points he’d score if he used 100 possession) the past five games: 85.3, 85.7, 98.3, 76.8, 75.6, 100.3. Those are bad numbers, to put them in context the Lakers season offensive rating is 110.8, and Kobe consistently is 120 or higher per game, he’s efficient. For the season Odom using 16.6% of the team’s possessions when he is on the floor, down by 18.9 last year, a sign of his uncomfortableness and passivity.

Last night, in the fourth quarter and the game tight, Odom got two chances starting with the ball out on the wing to create something with a bit of a mismatch on him, because Denver was trying to deny Kobe the ball. Both trips were empty and ugly. The Lakers went back to Kobe, and he came through.

It’s not just that game, this recent streak, but rather more than two seasons of pulling for Odom to step up that I’m giving up on. I’m not unhappy with Odom, I’ll still root for him as hard as ever, I’ve just come to a Zen-like acceptance that he is who he is. And who is he is not who the Lakers need.

If that is the case, I see two paths the Lakers could take to become contenders in the next couple of years (and not risk losing Kobe):

1) Trade Odom and filler to bring in a true number two star to this team. That player would likely have to be a four, someone to provide toughness and defense that Bynum is inconsistent at right now, but there may be other options I’m not seeing.

2) Trade one of the young point guards, Kwame Brown’s expiring contract and filler at the trade deadline to bring in a high quality player who can compliment Kobe, Odom and Bynum and make the Lakers a contender. I’m not sure if this player is out there yet, but the season is young. (This was always the theory with the now likely dead Jermaine O’Neal talks — from my perspective you needed Kobe, Odom and the JO of old to compete, so to offer Odom and Bynum for JO was a lateral move. Right now, with the way he is banged up, there is no way we should give up Bynum for JO.)

There are other paths.

3) Trade Kobe for young talent and let Bynum, Farmar, Crittenton, Walton, Ariza and Turiaf and the young players brought in grow together into a powerhouse in a couple years. I’ve never liked this plan for one simple reason — you just don’t trade a Kobe in his prime. First off, it’s a stupid business move because season ticket holders and sponsors would revolt. But even basketball wise, who can you get that will really fill that void on the court. The hardest part of building a contending basketball team is getting that one transcendent piece — your Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett guys. The Lakers have that in Kobe and have him in his prime. You build around that, not let it go.

4) Wait and see how the existing team grows and if it can reach the next level on its own.

If I were the Lakers front office, I’d be thinking about and putting feelers are out there for options one or two. This team is close, it’s growing and coming together, it just needs to be nurtured and one more key piece added. But if not I’d wait, because option four is more likely be successful than three.

All Is Right With The World

Kurt —  December 6, 2007

And not just because the Lakers got a quality win on the road. This may be the best news for fans of good NBA news in a long time — Kelly Dwyer has a blog.

KD is a friend of this site, and one of the most insightful and clever NBA writers out there. SI.com had him and didn’t know what to do with him, classic old media stuff. Now he’s blogging like the madman he is at Yahoo and, trust me, you’ll feel smarter after you read it.* Yahoo is making some great moves lately — they are going to be a major blog player sooner rather than later.

(Also, local blog news, LAists’ Tony Pierce going to the LA Times is a great smart step by the big paper to get in the modern game. I hope the older guard listens to him.)

*Bearing on actual IQ scores unknown. Studies have been inconclusive.

Records: Lakers 10-8 Nuggets 11-7
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.7 (7th); Nuggets 107 (15th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.6 (13th); Nuggets 101.1 (2nd)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Chris Mihm
Nuggets: Allan Iverson, Anthony Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Marcus Camby

The Nuggets Coming In: After an up and down start, we all have some questions about this Nuggets team — and who better to ask about those issues than the Nugg Doctor, one of the better team blogs around. Here are his answers to my questions, but be sure to go to his site for the questions I answered — they seriously think Sasha was acting when he was choked by Melo last game.

1) The offense is a surprising weak link with the Nuggets so far. Is that the lack of structure (something you complained about) or what else is going on here?

All of the offensive problems the Nuggets have run into so far this year have been because of too much individual effort and not enough team effort. In games that the Nuggets have won, they almost always record 25+ assists. But, as we saw in the game against the Rockets, eight assists or a similarly low total almost surely means the Nuggets take the L.

2) You’ve expressed frustration with the inconsistency of the Nuggets this season (a familiar refrain for Lakers fans). Can you put your finger on why the Nuggets fall prey to this?

The main aspect of the consistency conundrum the Nuggets get faced with is leadership. AI is a great scorer and creator, but I’m not sold on his leadership abilities. Carmelo is just not vocal enough at this point in an otherwise fine career to get the job done every night either. Anthony Carter has comeback from injury and is helping us, but until Chucky Atkins comes back from his groin pull, or Coach George Karl decides he wants to work the sidelines, the Nuggets are going to experience stretches where there is no clear leadership.

3) The Nuggets have a lot of talent, but does it have the right balance and role players to reach the next level? If not, what type of changes would you want to see? I would just like to see the Nuggets get a full roster of players healthy for once!

I think that we have the role players on the roster, but guys like Nene, Chucky Atkins, and Steven Hunter are definitely three of our best in this department and they are unavailable. Right now, I look at the Nuggets as a team with their meat and potatoes, (i.e. Carmelo, AI, and Marcus Camby), on their plate, but they are missing their au jus sauce and red wine to wash it all down with.

4) Do you still see this team as a potential Western Conference Champion come the playoffs?

Yes, I do still see this team going as far as the Western Conference finals if, and when, they get everyone back and the chemistry can develop. My reasoning behind such a bold statement is Denver is arguably one of the deepest teams in the west at full strength and also one of the most talented. The Nuggets have guys on their bench that would start for a lot of teams in the NBA this year and if we can find the right rotation recipe and have everyone buy into the schematic that will result in good team play then I believe there is not a team in this league that the Nuggets can’t beat!

The Lakers Last Night: Kwame Brown and Ronny Turiaf are watching at home, Andrew Bynum is watching from the dressing room feeling sick and taking fluids, Kobe hasn’t eaten all day because of the flu — and the Lakers still cruise to a win. Yes, it was Minnesota, but a road win when you are limping along is a good thing, I don’t care who its against.

Good to see Chris Mihm step up. The guy has taken some heat from Lakers fans but he is clearly not the athletic Mihm from before the injury. Yesterday was a step forward, however.

Then there was Trevor Ariza, getting his first serious burn and basically demanding more run because of his play. Good defense, getting to the rack, playing within himself. His defense against other second units could be a terror that creats some fast breaks for the Lakers.

Let’s just hope everyone is healthy tonight.

Keys To The Game: Getting Kobe and Fisher the entire fourth quarter off last night is a big plus, but this is still a tough game for the Lakers. Denver will be a little more motivated than the average regular season game after the embarassment of last week.

The Lakers need to take care of the ball — turnovers got the Nuggets the big lead last game, then when the Lakers shut off that faucet they were able to come back. Kobe is going to have to have a big game, and Odom is going to have to play better defense on Melo than he did last game.

Where you can watch: Game time is 6 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you get the joy that is ESPN.

Records: Lakers 9-8; T-Wolves 2-13
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.0 (11th); T-Wolves 102.5 (22nd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.0 (15th); T-Wolves 113.6 (30th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Vladamir Radmanovic, Andrew Bynum
T-Wolves: (Lots of injuries and game time decisions, so this is a best guess) Sebastian Telfair, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Al Jefferson

Lakers Notes: First the injury update — Kwame Brown and Ronny Turiaf did not make the trip with the team and are out tonight and tomorrow. (UPDATE: According to the Lakers Web site Mihm did not practice yesterday and is a gametime decision. He needs to play tonight.)

For the last two games, the Lakers offense has been its weakness. For the season the team has an offensive rating of 110 (points per 100 possessions) but for the last two games that has fallen off to 94.2 (Orlando) and 101.2 (Jazz). Odom has taken some heat for part of the offensive problems, but this really has been a team effort. Of course, if you were going to turn that around, playing the worst defensive team in the NBA when they are banged up is the best way to do it.

What to do about Odom has been the hot topic in the comments, now Mr. Green at Sportshub has weighed in. I think a number of you will agree with him.

The Timberwolves Coming In: The Timberwolves were not the most talented or deep team in the league in the first place, so the little run of injuries has devastated this team.

For tonight, Antoine Walker (ankle) and Al Jefferson (bruised knee) will likely play but did not take part in the physical parts of practice yesterday. Marco Jaric, Randy Foye (kneecap stress reaction) and Theo Ratliff (knee) are out.

Jefferson has been the only real quality offensive player the T-Wolves have of late, he has averaged 20 and 10 in their last 10 games. After that it is McCants, who is shooting just 45% (eFG%) in the last 10 games (but 35% from three, so hang with him out there).

Last Time These Two Met: It was Lamar Odom’s first game back and it may have been his best game this season — he had 18 points on 70% shooting, was aggressive going to the hole, had 10 rebounds and was a team best +22. Kobe added 30-7-7. Kwame was out but Bynum and Mihm combined for 20 rebounds and 20 points on 9-17 shooting. And the Lakers cruised to a win.

Of course, they got away with a ton of turnovers that game as well, so there are things to work on.

Keys To The Game: The Lakers offense should get back on track tonight — if it does not, I’ll be a little more concerned. Also, this is a game the struggling Lakers bench should be able to get on track against a depleted Minny second unit.

Minny has one guy who really can take over a game in Al Jefferson. Bynum is still learning on defense, but if he puts out the effort he did against Dwight Howard the other night that will be enough.

Where you can watch: Game time is 5 p.m. (Pacific). In Los Angeles tune into KCAL (9), nationally you’ll need League Pass. Since I’ll be at work late paying the price for a day at home sick, I’ll be watching on Gamecast.