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.

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37 responses to Pay Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

  1. fun post, Rob. most of it is what i usually term ‘wishful thinking.’ maybe some of it is indeed true, but more often than not, there are actually negative issues involved when holding players back, as agents and players want exposure, and lots of it.

    at any rate, i’m definately not worried about how pau and drew will play together, since they’re not as big a ball hog as Kobe was. If either can adjust to Kobe (which they have), they can adjust to somebody that looks to pass.

  2. Interesting points and very well written even though, as you admit, very speculative. I think it’s entirely possible that both Ariza and Bynum are a lot further along than we are being told. Ariza perhaps slightly less than Bynum as with a broken bone that does take a long time to heal. There could be a multitude of reasons for it; most to speculative to really note here but as you point all nearly all are mental. The best point you made is the fact we really don’t need to rush them back, we needed to rush Gasol back really because our backup bigs don’t make the cut. But even with just Gasol we’re a force to be reckoned with and a very tough team to beat, so why rush the other two back into the mix and risk reinjuring them or having chemistry problems with reduced efficiency when we could easily do the entire end of the season without either and bring them back at more than 100%, have them back begging to get out on the floor and murder some people.

    I’ve never really worried myself stupid over the decisions the Laker’s make for the simple fact we have an amazing coaching staff, the greatest coach with the only possible argument of Auerbach who knows what he’s doing. He’s got 9 rings, if anything that shows he knows what he’s doing and I’ll put my faith in that any day.

    Interesting read.

  3. What the hell are you smoking and where can i get some? hehehe. I agree with #2. Especially about not needing to rush the future franchise center back from injury.

  4. Warren Wee Lim April 3, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Interesting ideas Rob, you have just unlocked my curiosity in this since the guys were talking about “Fire-Vitti” as a way to improve.

    To feign weakness but have actual strength works both ways. In poker, you could be bluffing yourself to lose half your stack. In basketball, you could suffer chemistry issues and overall confusion. In our case, its very possible that these 2 (our 2 best defenders next to Kobe) are fully healthy, but Phil wants to project a “weakness”. Thus keeping them shelved…

    Call me a conspirator and a hopeless romantic, I’d still prefer to believe the notion more than the actual risk. It is my conviction that these two are “prepared” but have not been unleashed. With the current status of the West, its best to keep our rivals guessing how good we will be.

    In trying to come up with simulated matchups, I cannot help but think that we are in for a pleasant surprise. I cannot help but think of a matchup that would possibly derail us from the 1st round – not even the Spurs if the Basketball Gods planned for us to meet that early.

    I like the idea as much as I hate the fact that I am kept guessing. At which point I put my blind faith on the proverbial “man behind the curtain” for the many aces in his sleeves.

    At this point in time, its nice to be at this side of the fence. The non-believers shall see. Then again, I could be wrong. But then again, I am seldom wrong. Its nice to know that our “captain” is far less too predictable than any other captain wants to claim.

    A plan is in the works and be ready to see Drew AND Trevor in the last game of the season.

  5. Renato Afonso April 3, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Let’s cast Ariza’s injury aside. A broken bone takes long time to heal properly, specially on your foot.

    But the other injuries, you must take note that people don’t have the same injury proneness nor do they heal at the same time. I know people who keep having sprained ankles and take 4 to 6 weeks to recover. And I have stepped on other people’s feet, twisted my ankle to the point of having the bones in my ankle touch the floor while standing up and it’s doesn’t get sprained. One day’s rest and I’m running again (yet, my fingers brake very easily)…

    It depends on how your body reacts, how flexible are you, and what are areas of oyur body are more sensitive.

    Regarding Gasol, it seems it was a normal recovery time for such injury (keep in mind he aggravated it last week).

    Regarding Bynum, let him fully heal, even if it costs us this season. The Spurs are over next year, and we take the front seat to the title…

  6. Renato, thanks for that gruesome image of your ankle bone touching the floor. Oof!

    Also, I live blogged the game last night. Check it out in the game thread.

  7. I can support any post that includes quotes from the ‘Wizzard of Oz’ and ‘The Art of War’ any day.

  8. This LIttle Pinky April 3, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Clicking heels: “There’s no place like home, There’s no place like home, There’s no place like home”… fade into the LAKERS PARADE!!!!

  9. #7, don’t forget “Alice in Wonderland” as well.
    Rob, thanks for this post, and for my 2 cents worth, (I know, that’s twice what it should be worth), I’d like to see more of this and less of “throwing *luke, or Vlad, or pick a name* under the bus for this one game’s performance” (only to be a hero the very next night).
    or, Trainer theory conspiracies…this gets old to me.

    I much prefer the occasional speculative post on “the bigger picture”, this is much better for opening our collective minds, (remember… to break our 2 game losing streak to sub 500 teams, PJ put the boys out there for a collective meditation). no doubt, there is something spiritual about the whole notion of a team flowing as one to meld into an unbeatable force…sometimes we call it chemistry. these things can “just happen”, but more likely, they are “guided” by a master, who, as Rob points out, is
    behind the curtain”.
    thanks again Rob, very refreshing indeed.

    and…2 more cents worth, I loved the caption on the FSN post game…
    “The Pau-wer of Pau”, and the stats showing his contribution. for me, last night was so much fun to watch, an inside presence, and inside-out game. I agree with Rob, this team with Pau is still a force to be respected in the league, and can hold it’s own. for me, I think bringing ‘Drew back for the NO game feels about right. Gives the “dynamic duo” a chance to play together, see what can possibly happen, also gives us a chance to beat the probable #1 seed at the time, and as Rob points out, isn’t too soon to “tip our hand” as to what we are going to bring to the BIG PARTY…the PLAYOFFS baby!!

  10. This is crazy. You are crazy. Andrew Bynum is still too young, I doubt even Phil Jackson knows what Andrew is going to bring on a game by game basis. To have him out for this long without facing NBA level competition may or may not affect his game. Even if we’re just counting on him for putbacks, rebounding, and defense instead of him creating his own shot (thanks Pau) that much time off the court could really affect his timing.

  11. Is this in response to Dallas’s Dirk manuevers? While that worked, you have to consider it a little dsesperate that the team thought they needed a trojan horse just to beat a competitor for the 8th seed.

    Otherwise, I don’t know if PJ would be holding Bynum out while our interior D was suffering to the extent that it has during this tough stretch run (or hold Ariza out while Vlade and Walton pretend to guard 3s). The feeling I’ve had is that they didn’t want to rush Bynum back because they don’t want to put too many expectations on him. they don’t want him to feel pressured into trying to be the franchise savior. I think this is in response to what they saw from Kwame. Everytime somebody throws over-high expectations on Drew (like Joel Myers insisting that Andrew become a 20-10 guy every night), PJ shuts them down. He wants to get what they can from the kid, but doesn’t want to ask for more than can be given.

  12. Nice theory,wonderfully presented,but….
    NBA players usually need a few games to get into “game-shape”. They need a few games to be accustomed to what their teammates do when the other team puts pressure on them.(Practicing against Turaif and Mbenga is a tad different from going against Shaq/Amare,Boozer/Okur,West/Chandler. I remember Pau’s first few games-not just the scoring and chemistry w/Kobe,but also the numerous muffed passes. Same not-quite-in-sync I saw last night.)
    You would not want their first few games against real competition to be in the PlayOffs where unfamiliarity under pressure could dig an early 0-2 hole that couldn’t be recovered from.
    This is Bynum’s first serious injury. We don’t know how long it will take for him to get fully confident in his body again. Will he try to protect the leg? Will he freak out after a game and there’s swelling and some pain and insist on sitting out the next game?(Young players recovering from their first serious injury can go wildly diff ways. Amare has come back stronger than ever,Penny Hardaway never recovered mentally.)
    As pointed out,Bynum is the future-hopefully he’ll be Lakers Center for next 15 yrs. There is no sense in rushing him back and killing the Bynum Era before it starts. So they will wait until he’s fully ready and then put him on the court. If he’s healthy,expect to see him in the last few games. Now he might not get many minutes and he might not team w/Pau very much on court,if Pau plays 30 minutes,Bynum could get the other 15 or so,thus preserving the suprise factor of the two together for PlayOffs.
    The Lakers are letting Fish possib ruin his career by playing on his injury. Why? Becuase he’s an old vet who won’t be around for too many yrs,so the risk/reward goes to playing him.

  13. Oh Rob L. you, you got what we ne-ed….

    Very interesting post, much appreciated.

  14. That was a legendary post. The first time ever, in written history, that Biz Markie was scratched for Phil Jackson. Brilliant.

  15. There is a football player named Shaun Alexander who suffered a cracked bone in his foot. This is a very similar, if not exact injury, which Ariza suffered.

    Alexander was a top 3 running back about 2-3 years ago. He supposedly “recovered” from his injury in 6 weeks. Upon reassessment in 6 weeks, he was shelved for a couple more weeks since the fracture did not heal. Alexander felt healthy enough to play 2 weeks later. The Seahawks inserted him immediately back into the lineup despite his foot still needing rest and giving Alexander only 1 week of rehabilitation.

    Alexander performed poorly the following season. The Seahawks waived him and he remains unsigned.

    This is why you do not rush players back from injury.

  16. I have no clue why I believe everything you posted. Maybe it’s because PJ is the type of coach that does this kinda stuff. I mean, if he’s willing to compare coaches with Hitler and players with skinheads….. what’s holding out your players to give the rest of the league a false sense of security?

  17. As far as this article, I like the angle. With that said, let’s not be quick to drink the cool aid. The Lakers don’t know what they are going to get from Andrew. And since he is potentially the successor to Kobe, the Lakers have determined that they need not to rush him, regardless of what that does for his preparation for the playoffs. This has nothing to do with the Lakers trying to conceal their secret weapon. IMO, I hope that Andrew Bynum is able to get out there sooner rather than later so that he can get back up to game speed. Whether or not that happens depends entirely upon his physical and mental state of rediness. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.

  18. Very entertaining, Rob, way to broaden the scope of thinking for the fans. As for your idea being anything more than that, i highly doubt it. Its fun to speculate on the motives of PJ, but honestly, when has ANYONE been able to figure out his agenda? ask any fan out there and they usually say “He’s a good coach, but i question his (rotation, strategy, etc.)” The only thing i would go out on a limb to support is the fact that PJ is intelligent and any questionable actions can be traced to his vision for the future.

  19. Truehoop has a post mentioning that Alan Houston was seen at the Suns practice facility and speculates about him playing for them since their medical staff has some sort of voodoo priestess on their payroll that magically rejuvenates nba mummies. It wouldnt shock me if Houston came back averaging 9 ppg on open 3s. Hell, at this point it wouldn’t surprise me if they brought Rick Barry out of retirement. George Mikan even expressed interest in backing up Shaq…

  20. Truly inspired, Rob. Thanks for having the courage to post that.

    The fact that Phil changes his story on Bynum’s return from one day to the next at least supports that fact that he’s playing with the media (and the rest of the league). Both of which he has been prone to do.

  21. Great post. Although, I would beg to differ on 1 point:

    The “element of surprise” is no where near as effective than playing with the team on a consistent basis. If the Lakers were indeed holding Bynum and Ariza so that opponents will be off guard…….well, that doesn’t make sense to me. I rather have Bynum and Ariza playing now so that a rhythm can be established and the rust of missing an extended period of time can be removed. Especially, since there is no substitution for actual game experience.

  22. Off topic but I’d like to comment on an earlier post about championship line-ups. There’s an interesting split happening in the West. One group is built around a PG/PF and the other is built around a SG/C. Will be interesting to see which style proves superior down the road. Recent history has seen both effective w/Spurs(PG/PF) and Lakers and Heat(SG/C) winning 7 of last 8 titles.

    PG/PF-Spurs,Suns,Jazz,Hornets and now Mavs.
    SG/C-Lakers,Rockets,Blazers(next yr).

  23. Warren Wee Lim April 3, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Stephen, I think the Lakers would never be able to belong to the PG/big man scheme because we will never have a flashy PG on our TRI. The last bigger PG name I heard play for us was Nick Van Exel and the 2 seasons of Ron Harper. Even he was a PG-turned SG.

    In the same regard, I hate to be included in any way or form with the Tmac-led Rockets.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to look at it from the starpower, support, bench POV?

    SA – Parker / Ginobili / Duncan 1-2-4
    PHX – Nash / Amare / Shaq 1-4-5
    DAL – Kidd / J-Ho / Dirk 1-3-4
    NOH – Paul / West / Chandler 1-4-5
    LAK – Kobe / Pau / Drew 2-4-5
    Utah – Deron / AK47 / Boozer 1-3-4
    GSW – Baron / Ellis / Jax 1-2-3
    DEN – Iverson / Melo / Camby 1-3-5
    HOU – Tmac / Luis Landry

    In the ever-strong West, the 1-4-5 is the most pertinent format. Suns, Hornets and to some extent, Denver has this while the Spurs use its 1-2-4 which is basically its strength for a long while.

    The Spurs strength is on its guards and its weakness is on its bigs. Well the West are pretty darn big and this must be the #1 reason Phoenix did the Marion for Shaq.

  24. Great post. Love the quotes. Here’s hoping…

  25. Renato Afonso April 4, 2008 at 3:46 am

    23.

    Oberto, Thomas and Duncan a weakness? Hardly… I actually think that Tony Parker is their bigger liability. He can’t hit a 3 pointer to save his life (you know he’s penetrating… get into his rythm on defense, although easier said than done) and he’s not a good defender nor does he have the size to handle bigger guards.

    To beat the Spurs you must attack Tony Parker in every possible way… Bang his body on offense, rough him up a bit on the pick and roll and get him tired. He will start shooting from the outside…

    Now, stopping Manu and Duncan is another story…

  26. Hi Rob,

    Let’s keep in mind that with Pau, but without Bynum or Ariza, the Lakers have never really lost a game–they just ran out of time. Bynum’s injury could easily become the “trick knee” that keeps going out all the time–destroying his career. Ariza’s foot bone can heal up better than before, but he’s definitely pushing the envelope to get back this year at all with a broken bone (even though he’s said that he will be playing before the playoffs start).

    This year, Bynum is most likely to back up Gasol at center and play with the “bench mob” for no more than 20 minutes in the playoffs. Gasol is likely to move to PF sometimes, relieving Lamar for 10. Ariza may be used like an “energy guy” when needed–inserted with as much strategy as possible for his defense at a critical time–possibly against San Antonio.

    Let me go out on a limb:

    If we EVER see Bynum at center, with Gasol at PF and Lamar at SF–and Ariza off the bench at critical times–it will be the Lakers playing the Celtics for the championship.

    If we get that far–your post could be prophetic.

  27. 25. You are right about SA. I think Detroit could beat SA because of Billups. A big strong guard can post up Parker. Manu, is another story. If hes hitting the outside shot then hes almost impossible to guard.

  28. 28. Haha, that’s fantastic. I love that a key part of his quote involves catching lobs…because obviously Kwame’s amazing hands have always been his bread and butter.

    By the way, I was at the Memphis game at Staples last Friday, and the only chant as frequent as the MVP chants for Kobe was the “We want Kwame!” chant that would erupt every now and again. It’s kind of sad that the crowd was chanting the name of a player on the opposing team simply so they could boo him relentlessly when he checked in. He never checked in.

  29. Interesting read by John Hollinger at ESPN:

    http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/insider/columns/story?columnist=hollinger_john&page=WestForecast-080403&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fnba%2finsider%2fcolumns%2fstory%3fcolumnist%3dhollinger_john%26page%3dWestForecast-080403

    His take on the western conference stretch run. It’s an insider piece, but they’re showing it for free right now–I’m not sure if that will last.

  30. Ahhh. The great unknown. Will Bynum be ready? Will he mesh well again? Etc, etc…A god problem to have, I think.

    Laughing Hard….

    John Hollinger’s crap is only worth reading free anyway. Along with Chad Ford, Chris Broussard, J.A. Adande, and the rest of those hacks at ESPN.com . Sometimes Ric Bucher (Every NBA player’s reporter to feed the wrong info to purposely. He’s almost as bad as the L.A. Times) is okay, and maybe Marc Stein.

  31. Great post Rob L., its amazing to me that only 31 comments were left on your post; one of the most entertaining i have ever read here! I was going to comment yesterday but I thought I had nothing more to add, you said it best and covered all the bases IMHO so i did nothing, i suspect that is why you had such a low turnout.

  32. The depth of FBG’s “off-the-bench” bloggers is incredible. Rob L, Kwame a., Reed, Gatinho. You guys rock.

  33. #33….I agree.

    Hopefully our Lakers “Bench Mob” will do just as well in the playoffs as our “Bench Bloggers” (Kwame A. Rob L, Reed, Gatinho).

    Now I just hope Phil Jackson substitutes his bench players as well as our Coach K(urt).

  34. where is the breakdown on the dallas game … im getting impatient

    jk … take your time … but not too much

  35. Probably both caution and deception happen to dictate the same outcome regarding holding Bynum out longer.

    PJ knows what the Lakers will try to do on offense and defense with Bynum and Pau in the lineup (and Lamar). But it will significantly impact the preparation of other teams in the playoffs because what say Houston does against our lineup would have little relation to what might work for Phoenix. In the regular season, 3 or 4 games against our lineup, along with the experience of every other team, would demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of our lineup would be clearer.

    However, as I started with, this probably came about through caution, with deception an added bonus.

    Whether, in the long run, the element of suprise outweighs the benefits of playing together in the regular season, will be determined in time.

    My guess is that the Lakers recognize that next year is more likely to be their year, but cannot say so because Kobe is playing hurt.

  36. Dallas preview up.