Pay Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

Rob L. —  April 3, 2008

I must apologize in advance for this post. Normally, Forum Blue And Gold is a great source of basketball analysis. Today you shall have none. The few posts I have written here tend to have a lot of statistics. Today my spreadsheet is empty. No, with the playoffs only seven games away I have found my mind drifting to the psychological. Or to put it bluntly: the mind games.

“You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom. ” -The Wizard of Oz

Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza have not arrived back on court. They have gone beyond the initial diagnosis time line. A lot of fans assume either: A. the injuries were more severe than the Lakers initially let on or B. Gary Vitti doesn’t have the same magic pixie dust they have in Detroit. One of those scenarios is fairly plausible, but those are not the only options. It is possible the Lakers have held back Andrew and Trevor after they fully recovered. There are two very good reasons to do this. Once the Gasol trade happens and clicks, the need to rush Andrew and Trevor back to make the playoffs recedes. This sets the stage for the first very good reason to sit on their return: Bynum’s the franchise when Kobe retires. While his knee subluxation seemed like bad luck, in a way it was very, very good luck. Just ask any Clippers fan. Dr. Buss was not going to risk bringing Andrew back too soon. Remember, he wanted Kobe to have finger surgery (or did he?) which would have most likely killed the Lakers’ playoff chances for this season. Trevor could be around for awhile too; so why damage two players in your potential post-Kobe nucleus?

Of course, this doesn’t really explain why you’d keep them out this freaking long. And I did promise you two very good reasons.

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable…” -Sun Tzu

Humor me and count the number of times you’ve read an article about a treadmill before this season. Please, take your time. (No, that piece in Men’s Health doesn’t count.) Now count how many times you’ve heard about that miracle/monster/timemachine/torturedevice. Sure, some of that is PR for the fan base. “Look, we’ve bought a treadmill that’s worth three years of the average fan’s salary! We mean business!” But come on. It’s almost like some coach with a reputation for Mind Games was writing a movie for Gene Hackman to star in: Bynum’s so messed up only anti-gravity can save him! Trevor’s still in a humidity controlled boot! Kobe’s finger is going to fall off!

So yes, the second very good reason to hold them back is to play opossum. Though not necessarily in the strictest sense of the term. If those cats have been good to go for awhile, I’m sure the other NBA teams know. But the one thing nobody knows, which coincidentally has Lakers fans tied up in knots, is how will Bynum and Gasol play together. This is the key. Not a single team has faced that Lakers squad. No one knows what that looks like. That is what they call the element of surprise.

“It was all very well to say ‘Drink me,’ but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry: ‘no, I’ll, look first,’ she said, ‘and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not…” -Lewis Carroll

But that makes no sense. Even the Lakers don’t know what will happen with Andrew and Pau on the floor. That’s just playing Russian roulette. The thing is, the Lakers do have a good idea of what those two will do together. First, Andrew knows the triangle. He passes well within the system, blocks shots and can put the ball in the basket from the post. Second, Pau has had a crash course in the triangle from the center position. He has been at the end of the line of deployment, getting dished to. Now, all he will have to do is think from the other end of the line of deployment he’s been playing on. (The line of deployment runs from the center to the forward on the wing.) In a way, having Pau start the triangle from the center then move to forward has probably quickened his learning curve. It has given him time to absorb the motion while still contributing to the team in a meaningful way. There is no reason to think that, at this point, Pau and Bynum can’t click on first team like Pau did with the rest of the team. If that happens you’re talking about a massive win streak until teams can figure out the weakness. And if you can see that possibility and could choose the timing of it…well, who wants to be the NBA version of the Colorado Rockies?

“East, West, just points of the compass, each as stupid as the other.” -Dr. No

Which brings me to the diabolical genius that is Biz Markie Phil Jackson. My entire line of thinking may be delusional, probably is. But at the very least Phil has taken actual uncertainty about the team’s health and played with it in the press. Given Phil’s history this creates doubt in the opposing team’s minds. “Maybe he is up to something?” He has taken a perceived weakness and used it as a weapon. Not many coaches bother to even try doing stuff like that.

This whole post is so speculative, I almost didn’t put it up. I fully realize it’s the pop psychology version of the trade machine.

But I’ve got this feeling we should pay attention to that man behind the curtain, because in this version of the story, I think his hot air balloon can take all of us home.

-Rob L.

Rob L.