Archives For June 2008

Your 08-09 Laker Roster

Kurt —  June 20, 2008

I think the best way to start a look at the off-season and any potential moves is to see what you’ve got. So what follows is a break-down of the Lakers roster by position going into next year, with a few comments after each player (some longer than others). At the end we’ll break down the total numbers and I’ll give some general thoughts. Almost all the salary info comes from the best source for that on the Web, Draft Express.

    Point Guards

Derek Fisher. back for sure. Under contract for two more years, about $8 million total. He need to spend this summer getting his foot healthy(remember he played the last couple months with ligament issues). One priority for Phil Jackson is to keep his minutes down during the regular season next year (whether he comes off the bench or starts). He is not getting younger and the legs need to be rested.

Jordan Farmar, back for sure. Signed for next year at $1.1 Mil, team option for 2009-10 at $1.9 mil, restricted free agent after that (meaning the Lakers can match any offer). One thing I’m not worried about is Jordan Farmar working hard this summer — he may have the second best work ethic on the team. He’s always going to struggle some to cover strong PGs (ala Deron Williams) but he is a solid defender (opposing PG’s shot a pretty average 47.5% eFG% against him last year and had a slightly higher than average 16.5 PER). The real question here is, what do you sign him for in two years?

    Shooting Guards

Kobe Bryant, back for sure. On the books for three more years at $69 mil total , but can opt out of his contract in June of 2009. I don’t know about you guys, but I think we should keep him. Seriously, he’s not going anywhere, but if the Lakers want to they could start a conversation about extending his deal after next season (not much negotiation involved, this is a max deal). He’ll play in the Olympics then get surgery. Some guys you worry about not getting rest in the summer, not so much with Kobe. He wouldn’t have let himself rest anyway.

Sasha Vujacic, Restricted free agent. That means he can shop around but the Lakers can match whatever another team offers. After the way he played this year there might be some teams interested, but nobody really makes offers on restricted free agents because if he’s a decent player and its not a crazy Thomas-era Knicks overpriced offer the team with rights matches it. The question is, what is he worth — he made $1.8 mil this year. I’d say somewhere between $3 mil and $4 mil.

Which brings us to the second, and a bigger question: Do the Lakers use some of their mid-level exception (MLE) to sign Vujacic to save the luxury tax problems, or do they bite the bullet on Sasha to keep the MLE for a free agent? Fans always want to spend, but it’s not their money.

Coby Karl, who knows if he is back. The Lakers have a team option for $711,000 for next year. It’s hard to say much about how he’ll fit in down the line because we haven’t seen him enough. However, with a pretty full roster and he likely will be battling this year’s second-round pick and some summer camp guys for the last roster spot.


    Small Forwards

Lamar Odom, very likely will be back. He has owed $14.1 mil for next season but has an expiring contract. He’s become a favorite whipping boy of some Lakers fans after the finals, and he played much of the year at the power forward spot.

Next year, with Bynum and Gasol, he would be asked to play the three spot in the triangle, and ultimately the big question is can he fit in playing that role? What is expected of the guy playing the three? I’ll let Darius explain.

From my standpoint, ideally, the SF must be a versatile player that does many things well. I mean, a SF in this system should be a good ballhandler, be able to shoot with range, be able to score inside, be a good passer, move well off the ball, be able to read defenses, play strong perimeter D, and ultimately have a high BB IQ (think Pippen and, though a much lesser athlete, Rick Fox). In my honest opinion, we don’t have the prototypical Triangle SF on this roster, but we do have guys that possess many of the traits/skills needed (just not all of them in the same player).

Before you start saying “Odom doesn’t have all those qualities” ask yourself this: How many guys in the league do? He can rebound, he can lead the break, his is a good ballhandler and his hoops IQ is good. The questions are how well he can defend opposing small forwards and can he be a good enough shooter to spread the floor. The reason Radmanovic started in the playoffs and Finals despite mental lapses on defense was he could stretch the floor. Guys can’t sag off Radman, they can sag off Odom. I like that Odom said he planned to work on his outside shot this summer, that will be a big key for next year, and I think he understands that.

For those of you who think Odom may not fit at the three, you have some good company. David Thorpe (the best of ESPN.com’s analysts and the executive director pro hoops training at IMG) said in an email he isn’t sold either:

Odom is not as good of a 3 as he is a 4. His lack of quickness for the position and his willingness to be a “floater” as a 3 are both problematic. Stan van Gundy saved his career by playing him as a 4 and really challenging him to be a rebounder/scorer (that season still marks as his best ever, I think). Playing the 4 often forces him to be near the rim, which both allows him to use his terrific length to make paint plays and keeps him from launching too many three-pointers (he’s just able enough as a 3 point shooter to be dangerously bad for LA) or long and medium range two’s. He’s not good at either. He plays too much of the game, as a ball handler, at one speed, and that speed is 3rd gear (out of 5). That works against many power forwards, but not against most small ones. Yes, he’d be a tough matchup on the offensive glass, but that would not make up for his struggles to score efficiently as a 3. And he’d get exposed often on defense as well. Ultimately, I just feel like his overall effectiveness would drop.

Here’s my bottom line: I don’t know if the front line of Odom/Gasol/Bynum will work. Ultimately nobody does because we haven’t seen it. But getting a player who is a better fit for what the Lakers want at the three is going to be very hard to find. Trades are not going to come easily. The only way I’d make a summer deal is if it was too good to pass up. I think you need to give all that potential of LO/Gasol/Bynum chance then, if it is not working out, see what deadline trades may be available.

Trevor Ariza, almost certainly back. Player option for next year for $3.1 mil. While he could test the market after that injury it would be impossible to find someone willing to pay more than what the Lakers will pay him, so expect him to say. I think he could be what we need at the three save for one thing — his outside shooting. Last year he shot 33% on jump shots and 27.8% from three, that is not going to stretch the floor. Someone said in the comments he should shoot 300 corner threes a day, and I think that sounds about right. How much he plays next year will depend on how consistent his outside shot becomes.

Vladimir Radmanovic, back for sure. Two years left on his deal, plus a player option for a third, next year at $6 mil. You may want to trade him, but nobody wants him at that price. I think he can be a solid player off the bench, a guy who could come in and light up second units with threes, he’s valuable as one of those flexible pieces that Phil can use for matchups. Just asking him to be a starter in the finals is too much.

Luke Walton, back for sure. Four years left on his deal, at $4.2 mil next year. I could pretty much cut and past my Radmanovic comments here. There is not going to be much trade interest at that price and length of contract. He can be valuable off the bench and in certain matchups, but asking him to do things like cover Paul Pierce is inviting disaster. He’s a nice role player to have, though.

Ira Newble, likely not back. Look at it this way — when the Lakers needed a defensive stopper for Pierce in the Finals, Ira was glued to the bench. Phil clearly felt that whatever Ira could give was not going to be as good as what was out there (rumors are he never really understood the offense). That tells you plenty.

    Power Forwards

Pau Gasol, back for sure. Three more seasons on his deal, makes $15 mil next year. As a Laker he shot 58.9% from the floor, scored 18.9 points per game, grabbed 12.2% of the rebounds available and had a PER very close to Kobe’s. Yes, he got thee “soft” tag in the Finals, but again we had to ask him to be what he is not. He is not a banger and a physical force, he is more finesse. Nothing wrong with that if he is paired with a more physical front line guy, right?

Well, again, we have to see it in action to believe it. David Thorpe, for one, isn’t sold:

Four years ago I think Gasol could have been an excellent 4 next to Bynum. But he’s not the shooter he once was, and is far more effective inside the paint or close by. Study his Hot Spot stats at NBA.com. I’ve heard this from International scouts as well, who feel Gasol was a much better face up player on the perimeter a few years back. His very poor perimeter shooting in the playoffs hurt LA. I’m a big fan of his, but not as a 4, anymore. Could he prove me wrong-absolutely, and it’s far more likely than Odom playing great as a 3, but it’s not close to a sure thing.

According to 82games.com, 35% of Gasol’s shots were jumpers and he hit 45% of those. Not bad numbers for a seven footer, but to be sure his midrange game was off in the playoffs. Gasol will be playing for Spain this summer (it’s going to be interesting on this board if USA and Spain meet) and maybe playing international ball helps him find that midrange game again. He needs to because it will be a key to the front line working next year.

Ronny Turiaf: Restricted free agent. I guess we’re going to see what kind of love there is for Ronny out on the open market. First off, I think I speak for most Laker fans when I say we want him back, maybe at a higher price than he is really worth. We love this guy. And as with Sasha, other teams will be hesitant to come after him because the Lakers can match any offer, but you know there is some interest out there. Turiaf made $770,000 last year, and I think his real value is about double that and a contract of three years. Also like Sasha, do the Lakers use part of their MLE here?

    Centers

Andrew Bynum, back for sure. He is under contract next year for $2.7 mil and is a restricted free agent the year after that. This is the summer the Lakers need to make a long-term offer for Bynum, which leads to the question what is he worth? My gut reaction is a five year deal at about $50-$55 mil, not quite a max deal but he is coming off an injury. If I were Bynum I’d want a three-year deal at $11 per, with the thinking I would be 24 at the end of it and in the perfect spot for a five-year max deal. We’ll see what gets worked out.

As for him this off-season, get healthy and hit the gym. Come back in shape like he did last fall (or better) and be ready for what will be a fun year.

Chris Mihm, back for sure. Player option for next year at $2.7 mil. Lakers fans may not want him back but there is no way Mihm does not pick up that option. Personally, I don’t mind having him back because I may be one of the three people left on the planet holding out hope he can return to his pre-injury form. If so, he is the backup big we need. Remember in the 04-05 season he shot 50% from the floor, grabbed 15% of the available rebounds, blocked 1.4 shots per game and had a PER of 15.7 (just above average), plus he was the second most consistent Laker in terms of hustle that year. I want that Chris Mihm back.

DJ Mbenga, likely not back. He’s an unrestricted free agent. I like the guy, but we may be able to find a better backup big out on the open market. If not, he’s an inexpensive fallback.

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Here is where the Lakers are next year as of now: 10 guys who are back for sure, and that makes up the core of the starters and key role guys. That kind of consistency is huge, as is having them all for a training camp and entire season next year. I think the Lakers want to bring back Sasha and Turiaf, so long as another team does not make a crazy offer for them. That would be 12 players, and the Lakers want 14 on the roster. That leaves room to find one veteran free agent with the MLE and keep either Kobe Carl or this year’s second-round pick (either way that guy is spending most of the year with the D-Fenders).

Already, without Sasha and Turiaf, the Lakers salary is at $70 million for next year, way over the cap and pushing the luxury tax. Buss will be paying some tax next year, the question is how much is he willing to pay?

Bottom line, as constructed now this is a roster that will contend for a title next year. Some tweaks may be needed, but even if nothing happens the Lakers are in a good spot. And that makes me as a Lakers fan happy. We are in a position this summer to wait for good offers, not just take what comes along. We can bargain from a position of power.

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Here is how we are going to handle the comments on this post. I am going to allow some leeway in discussing other players the Lakers should go after, guys the Lakers should look at in trades or free agency. For example, to say the Lakers should look at Posey is totally fair game (he is an unrestricted free agent). What will not be allowed is: 1) Detailed five-team trade proposals, those things almost never happen and this is not your fantasy league; 2) Absolute crazy talk, like that the Lakers should trade LO for Wade (I’ll give you a hint, I don’t think Miami is going to let him go). Know this, just because it goes through on the ESPN trade machine doesn’t mean the teams involved want to do it. Think it through. In the spirit of the site, let’s keep this thoughtful and well reasoned. And play nice with one another. Know that I will bring the editing hammer down hard and fast on this if it starts to get out of control.

First things first — congratulations to the Celtics and their fans. Boston was the better team in this series, the team that played with more focus and a more veteran mentality. They deserved the title, and I’m happy for Jeff and other Celtics fans I know.

Personally, I’m not that happy today. That was a hard way to lose, and that leads to a lot of frustration — for the fans, the players, the coaches. Everyone. There’s going to be a little venting that goes along with an effortless loss like that in game six of the Finals.

But as that frustration ebbs out we need to remember this season for the fun ride that it was. We started in October thinking we had a second-tier team in the West with an ugly soap opera swirling around it. The goal was to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Then seemingly out of nowhere Andrew Bynum emerged as a force in the paint, the Lakers were getting out and running, they were fun exciting and fresh. And winning. At the end of the 2007 the Lakers were flirting with the best record in basketball and we were all wondering if we really could compete with the best in the West when it mattered. Then Bynum went down, for what we thought would be a couple months. The team reverted to what we expected before the season, a streaky and frustrating .500 team.

Then came two trades, one good and one unfathomable. The first was getting Trevor Ariza, giving the Lakers a real perimeter defender to go with Kobe. Then there was the Pau Gasol theft. And it was a theft, the Lakers gave up a prospect and a pick and a contract for a seven-footer built for the triangle. Suddenly there was amazing energy around the team again and the offense was humming as it never has before. It was a joy to watch.

All of that led to a fantastic playoff run — an impressive sweep of the Nuggets, an hard-fought battle with the improving Jazz then a five-game win against the Spurs that made us feel like we really belonged, like we had really reached the elite.

In the Finals the Lakers ran into an aberration — a team that didn’t need to learn to win as a team (I think because its Big Three were veterans and there were a lot of veterans coming in off the bench). Most teams have to learn the hard way. Jordan’s Bulls lost to Detroit three times in the playoffs before they became a dynasty. The three-pete Lakers lost a lot in the playoffs plenty before they won with that unit. The list goes on and on.

And I think that’s what we ultimately take from this — the Lakers saw first-hand what it takes to win a title on Tuesday night. They saw the commitment needed on defense. They saw the will needed to get the rebounds and the loose balls. They saw the focus of a team that didn’t deviate from who it was or what it wanted to do. They saw a real hunger.

As Lakers fans we hope — we believe — that our team will come back next year with that fire. We know they will come back better with Bynum being the shot blocker and rebounder so needed in this series (and throughout the playoffs). We know they will come back with the best and most passionate player in the game. (Although, you have to wonder who will be first in the mainstream media to start suggesting Kobe wants out. We should start a pool.) We know we have a coach who knows how to make that step to a championship.

And we know we will come back with a core roster good enough to compete for a title and win one if they learned the lessons from this last series. There may be some roster tweaks, but the bottom line is the core of this team is a title contender and not much needs to be done to improve upon this year’s finish. The key for the players coming back having put in the work to take that next step. The hope is that this game six disaster drives them this summer, drives them into the gym and into the workouts.

It’s okay to be frustrated today. But know that tomorrow looks damn good. And next season it is going to be a lot of fun to be a Lakers fan.

Lakers/Celtics Game 6 Chat

Kurt —  June 17, 2008

Let’s be honest: This is the game that scares Lakers fans.

We know that the Celtics fans will come and be loud, expecting a coronation. We know that the Celtics themselves will come out and play like this is their game seven. We know it will be physical and the refs are not going to be as much help as we’d like.

We also know every game in this series has been close, and that the Lakers can win — but to do so they will have play their best game of the series.

Usually by this point in a seven-game series there are no secrets, no big matchup changes that can be sprung to turn the tide. And that is largely true coming into this game, although because of injuries and lack of execution there are some things that can be changed up for the Lakers.

On offense, the Lakers need to get to the basket and finish strong — it would be nice if Kobe could do more of that but the Celtics have worked hard to take that part of his game away. Kwame a. had a one suggestion on what to try to get Kobe going:

I think it imperative to play Kobe OFF the ball more. Whether this means cross-screens on the block to give him good post position, or running him off single-doubles on the baseline like Rip Hamilton and Ray Allen, or off the slice cut in the triangle, getting him a head-start to the basket. No matter what, we cannot stick with this top-of-the-key iso, it is asking Boston to flex its defensive prowess.

It is obvious that Odom and Gasol both need to be forces inside, both getting to the rim and on the offensive boards. They were more aggressive in game five but will have to take that to another level tonight.

Defensively, the Lakers need to play off of Paul Pierce more, make sure he doesn’t get to the rim, something coach Anthony Macri talked about at Basketball Prospectus:

The Lakers were largely successful in defending the Spurs’ side pick-and-pop action in the Western Conference Finals. However, their ability to guard high ball-screen action against an offensive player as big, versatile, and strong as Paul Pierce is has been a bugaboo for Los Angeles during this series. If they have any hope of defeating the Celtics, the Lakers must find an effective method of defending this ball-screen action. Because Garnett is such a capable outside shooter, L.A. cannot afford to trap the ball-handler. Their typical soft-hedge and fight over technique has also proven ineffective. Instead, in Games Six and Seven, expect the Lakers to find a way under the screen, daring Pierce to shoot the long jumper off the dribble but preventing him from wreaking havoc in the lane. Again, defense in the NBA is all about making choices, and at this point, with their proverbial “backs against the wall,” the Lakers have little choice but to attempt the high-risk solution.

Pierce is going to hit jumpers, he’s a great player, but fewer jumpers will fall than lay-ups. The Lakers have to force him into help, they have to be smarter on their defensive rotations. The Lakers need to take advantage of when Rondo is in the game by helping off him — but stop doing that on House.

But after five games, this game is going to come down to execution. So far in this series it is the one area the Celtics have outplayed the Lakers consistently — they have done what they wanted to do while the Lakers have seemed to take some mental vacations.

As fans, all we can do is wear our lucky rally cap, hope the Lakers execute tonight and cheer (and not some creepy government-approved cheer but something from the heart). It’s one game at a time still, for us and the team.

May the best team win tonight.

Game 5 Thoughts

Kurt —  June 16, 2008

The goal was to get a win. There was no bonus for style points. So, on the most basic of levels, Sunday’s game was a success for the Lakers — there will be a game Tuesday.

The Lakers executed well enough to win, but that is different than executing well. The defense and rotations were unimpressive, but the Lakers were still able to hold the Celtics to an offensive rating of 102.1. The good news is that the Lakers were able to push the pace some (96 possessions) and they got a few easy transition baskets — when Gasol runs he can get mismatches early in the clock. Jordan Farmar attacked the rim like few other Lakers, and we got better games out of Gasol and Odom.

After five games this is what I think has been key and will be come Tuesday night: The Celtics stick to their game plan and what they do, the Lakers go in and out of their plan. The Celtics have some lapses, but for the most part are more true to who they are. They play hard on defense. They find a weakness they think they can exploit on offense (say Pierce covered by Radman) and they go right at it. Every time down.

The Lakers seem to come in and out of focus. I thought Henry from TrueHoop had a great line about the Lakers in his live chat from game five:

Ball movement for the Lakers is like jogging for most people: They do it occasionally, and it makes them happy. Then they go back to not doing it.

Part of that is the ball pressure and good defense of the Celtics takes the Lakers out of their first and sometimes second options. But that’s when things breakdown, and the Lakers end up settling for long jumpers (27 threes in game five is way too many). The Lakers get frustrated and stop attacking the rim, looking for the kick-out first. The list could go on and on.

As we head back to Boston for game six, if the Lakers are to win, they have to stick with the game plan. Do what they do and not get pushed out of it easily — if the Celtics continue to take away Kobe on the strong side then other guys have to step up with crisp weakside action. The Lakers do not have a good matchup for Pierce, but they have to at least play off him some and make him hit a few jumpers rather than just layups. Pierce is too good a player to stop, but they need to slow him. They can, if they stick to their defensive system.

It’s about executing what they want to do.

Two other quick thoughts:

• I hope Ray Allen’s family is okay. He is in our thoughts.

• There has been a lot of questioning of Kobe’s leadership skills and a lot of “He’s no MJ” in the media. And on one level, that is right, he is not MJ and has not played at that level for that long.

But we have mythologized MJ and see him only as the guy who won six finals. His leadership was called into question, just not in the finals.

Remember, for three years before the Bulls won their first title they lost in the playoffs to Detroit and the “bad boy” Pistons, a team that played very good physical defense and took the Bulls out of what they wanted to do. That Chicago team and Jordan needed to learn how to win, they just did it in the conference finals rather than the NBA finals. Jordan took his lumps, but with the passage of time we tend to forget that.

This team and Kobe are on a different path. Their winning it all may or may not happen this year, but they are growing from it. We forget that the Bulls dynasty also had to learn a lot of lessons, but they learned them before the Finals.

Lakers/Celtics Game 5 Chat

Kurt —  June 15, 2008

This Laker team has provided us with an amazing pure run of joy this year. One loss, no matter how painful to watch, does not change that — this squad evolved into a title contender before our eyes, it was the most fun most of us have had as Lakers fans in a long time. And I am not ready for that ride to end.

What I want to see from the Lakers tonight is what got them this far — a counterpunch.

When the Lakers were playing at their best during the season, this is what they did. When the opposing team took away something, the Lakers went to another option and made them pay. Mid-game adjustments were seemingly always key, everyone stepped up and played their roles at key moments.

Not so in the Finals. When the Celtics have made adjustments the Lakers have not ducked and counterpunched, they have taken it on the chin.

In the first half of game four the Lakers came up with a way to make the pick-and-roll very successful against the Celtics, getting the ball to a big at the free throw line on a sort of pick and pop play and having the other big cutting to the basket. The Celtics adjusted to that, changing how they defended the pick-and-roll (plus they were forced to go to a smaller lineup due to injuries, which helped with this). Credit to Boston, they stepped up their defensive intensity in the second half of the third quarter and the fourth. They didn’t give up and played like champions.

And the Lakers countered by….. nothing much. They did not counterpunch through the triangle. They stopped trying to run. They played worse on defense. Maybe they should have abandoned the triangle earlier, but I’m not sold that was the biggest problem.

I think KG summed things up pretty well in his post game press conference.

“If you’ve paid attention to them all year, usually the first half is team ball, second half is usually Kobe takes over the games. Like you said, they weren’t nearly as aggressive as they were the first half. It just looks like they wanted to get the ball to Kobe and him sort of finish it off. That’s what it looked like to me. It didn’t really look cohesive like they did in the first half.

“The second half I thought we took the lay-ups away, made them go to the second and third options. We were giving Kobe every look we’ve got in the book, from different matchups to trapping him, to a guy on the bottom. We were just making other guys make plays. “

Will the Lakers counterpunch tonight? Will the other guys step up? Will we see a team come out and play with real pride and passion. Will Gasol go to the rim and dunk the ball rather than put up a soft layup? Will the Lakers let Kobe go one-on-one at times and spread the floor with shooters (ala game three)? It’s a cliché but it’s one because it is true — they have to take it one game at a time. Win game five, defend your home court. Worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Will the Lakers come out and defend, rebound and finish with authority at the rim?

I hope so, because I am not ready for this season to end.