Thoughts From Vegas

Kurt —  January 20, 2008

First off, thanks to Rob L. and Gatinho for filling in while I was gone. Apparently I should take more vacations because the quality of posts here seems to go up when I leave.

Trevor Ariza broke a bone in his foot during practice today, apparently getting tangled up with Lamar Odom. That, combined with Bynum, certainly will not help the Lakers defense or depth. Walton is going to have to step up, particularly on defense. However, read the first bullet below before freaking out.

Last week was an interesting week to be out of the media loop for the most part, watching just parts of games and following the reactions from a distance. That space can help provide a different perspective. So here are a few thoughts.

• The world is not ending. It’s amazing how fast doom and gloom envelopes Lakers fans from one injury. First, Bynum will be back for the part of the season that matters — the playoffs. The team needs to be rolling going in, and with Andrew back and a favorable schedule late, they should be. Seeding is seeding, but you will have to beat the good teams some time anyway.

In the short term, certainly the Lakers will miss Bynum, and there are going to be some adjustments, but this team is still better than last year’s team without Andrew — Farmar and Fisher replace Smush out top, there is more depth and the team is playing better defense. This is better than a .500 team without Andrew.

But only if they snap out of their mental funk the injury put the team in. The Lakers have had one bad offensive game (Phoenix) and one bad defensive game (Seattle) in the wake of Bynum going down. The team needs to find its rhythm, its rotation and get back to exploiting match-ups if they are going to win.

• The Kwame conundrum. With Bynum anchoring down one corner of the triangle, the offense looked a lot more like what Tex Winter envisioned this season compared to the last couple of years. The Lakers got used to that. And in the Phoenix game they kept throwing the ball into Kwame and expecting Bynum-like things to happen. They didn’t, and they will not for seven weeks or so.

Kwame Brown is what he is, a big body who can play man post defense well. I like the Kurt Rambis line about Kwame that Matt “Money” Smith repeats: “For the best players the game moves in slow motion, for Kwame it’s always in fast forward.” To me, this is not a question of Kwame’s hands, contract or work ethic — those are what they have been since before he came to the Lakers. (Which is why I never understood the $9 mil contract offer.) It’s really a question of expectations. People still expect Kwame to play like a former number one overall, to play like a guy with a $9 million contract, to play like a guy with that physique. He never has. He never will. He’d make a decent backup center at $3 mil a year, expecting anything else is courting disappointment.

That starts with the Lakers players and coaches. You can’t throw the ball to Kwame on the block and expect an automatic score. When Kobe or Fish drive the lane they can’t expect to dish inside to Kwame and know the dunk is coming. You can’t count on quick defensive rotations. He is what he is, the Lakers need to play to his strengths and not expect him to be Bynum.

And, Kwame should have plenty of motivation to step up — this is a contract year.

• Thank god Phil Jackson put an end to the Chris Webber rumor. (Hat tip to Muddywood.) The Lakers improvement has been based on defense this season, and Webber hasn’t played it in years.

• If you’re in Vegas and want to see a show, I recommend “Love” at the Mirage. It’s the Cirque du Soleil show done to Beatles music, and it is spectacular. If you’re in Vegas and want to gamble, I recommend craps (it was the only game that treated me well, I was somehow repelling good cards, whether playing blackjack or poker).

• Save the Sonics! I think I get the business game David Stern is playing, trying to pressure some state and local governments to pick up much of the tab on a new arena, that’s a good precedent from the owners perspective. But really, you want to move a team out of burgeoning Seattle to go to Oklahoma City? Really? To me Vegas makes more sense if you’re going to move a team, and the Hornets seem like a team that has to move, not the Sonics. But all that doesn’t make the current owners the most money in the short term — and Stern, the one guy supposed to be looking out for the long-term health of the league, backs the greed.