Archives For July 2008

Bynum’s Deal

Kurt —  July 30, 2008

This topic came up in a series of emails with Reed yesterday — how much do the Lakers pay Andrew Bynum?

The baseline of the market has been set with the deals for Bogut (six years possibly worth $72 million with incentives) and Okafor (six years, $72 million). It makes sense that their deals are similar in numbers, because their on-court production last season was pretty similar.

But let’s compare that to Bynum from last season:

Name FG% TS% Reb. Rate Pts. P36 PER
Bogut 53% 53.2% 16.5% 14.8 17.5
Okafor 53.4% 55.2% 18.5 15 17.4
Bynum 63.6% 65.9% 19.6 16.4 22.6

Here’s a little guide to those stats for those that are new here:

FG%: Shooting percentage
TS%: True Shooting Percentage, think of this as points per shot attempt, it covers twos, three, free throws all adjusted to be a percentage.
Reb Rate: Percentage of available rebounds a player grabbed while on the floor.
Pts. P36: Points scored per 36 minutes of playing time.
PER: John Hollinger’s detailed statistic that gives us a snapshot of the offensive production of a player

The market has been set by the Bogut and Okafor deals, those guys are worth $12 million a year. Now look at the numbers again — Bynum shoots at a 10% higher percentage, grabs a higher percentage of rebounds and scores a little more. Plus, when you think about potential future growth, Bynum is way ahead of those two.

Does Mitch have a choice other than to offer a max deal?

Yes, there is the one number not discussed above — Bynum only played 25 games last year due to an injury. Can you give a max deal to a guy coming off that kind of injury? But, to me, the better question is, do the Lakers have a choice? This is not Sasha or Turiaf, this is the future face of the franchise. If you lowball him, if you try to drag this out, you piss him off and you can end up in a mess (see Chicago). It’s prudent to get a look at Bynum in training camp before offering a deal, but if he is 100%, do you really want to risk lowballing him? (By the way, don’t suggest that Bynum owes the franchise for drafting and giving him training — this is a business, we fans are the only ones with overwhelming feelings of loyalty.)

Certainly it is a risk, offering a max deal to a guy who has looked good for 25 games and is coming off an injury. But young, game changing centers are not something that there are a lot of in the game (quick, name them:: Dwight Howard, Bynum, and, um, ……). There are things worth taking a risk on, and I think Andrew Bynum is one of those.

Are we tough enough?

Darius Soriano —  July 28, 2008

Kurt’s post about Riles really got me thinking.  It had me reminiscing about past Lakers glory, our current team, and taking the next step.  Riley was part of one of the most famous teams in Lakers lore…33 straight wins and a world championship.  They exemplified teamwork and player sacrifice for the greater good.  After thinking of that team, my mind drifted to the golden era of the 80’s….Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Cooper, McAdoo, Wilkes, Rambis, AC, Scott…I could literally go on forever.  I grew up on the execution and flare of those teams.  To me, that was how basketball was supposed to be played.  Fast breaks, excitement, the sky hook, high fives, the opposition laying collapsed in the wake of another Lakers tidal wave.  8 Finals appearances and 5 titles in a decade.  For any Lakers fan, the combination of the titles and the style of play made the 80’s the peak of our basketball fandom.  We were in heaven.  Then I think about the Shaq/Kobe teams.  Power and grace. Execution and turmoil.  (Two of) the best players in the league flanked by the types of veterans that championship trophies are crafted for.  We had the juggernaut at Center, the 2nd coming at Shooting Guard and players like Horry, Foxie, Fisher, Harper, and Shaw that made those teams the perfect blend of high profile talent and anonymous, yet deadly role players that would do anything to win.  But looking back on that specific team (and to some extent, the team that Riley was on too) made me realize that it wasn’t always so. We weren’t always the unstoppable bully.  We weren’t always the favorite.  There were doubters, and their voices were loud and piercing.

Think back to the seasons right before the Shaq/Kobe teams broke through for their first title.  Do you remember what they were saying about the Lakers?  We were soft.  Not soft physically, but soft mentally. In 1998, the great Michael Jordan would say:

“I still put Utah ahead of them because of their mental toughness. I’m talking about from the first round of the playoffs to the Finals round. The Lakers still haven’t done that. I’m not saying they can’t, but in the playoffs, mental toughness means a lot. It’s not always the physically gifted team (that wins).”

Even Dennis Rodman would chime in after a nationally televised game between the Lakers and the Bulls:

“Everybody’s expecting us and the Lakers in the Finals. But the Lakers have to get there. I think it will be Utah or Seattle. The Lakers need to grow up a little bit.”

And that was the sentiment around the league.  All the talent in the world, but soft mentally.  We couldn’t get over the hump because our guys didn’t have the mental fortitude to do it.  Fast forward one more season and the same perception prevailed.  From the 1997 season to the end of the 1999 (lockout shortened) season, the Lakers had been swept out of the playoffs twice (once in the 2nd round and once in the Conference Finals) and had also lost 4-1 in another second round series.  Losing in that manner, in those series, left us with a tough reputation to shake.  The Lakers were the type of team that didn’t have the mental toughness to win it all.  But were we really mentally soft, or did we just lack the experience needed to compete at the highest level? 

Now, look at today’s current team.  What is almost every critic and fan saying about us?  That we’re soft. Only now, they do mean physically.  To many, our loss to the Celtics just confirmed that we didn’t have the physical toughness to win.  Gasol, Odom, Sasha, RadMan, and even Walton…do any of these players scream tough guy?  Even hard nosed players like Kobe and Fisher can’t distort the perception that we don’t have the toughness to win.  The resonating images, for critics and fans alike, are missed layups and half hearted jump hooks.  They see gold jerseys being bullied in the paint and on the glass and the evidence is plain as day.  This off-season, fans have been calling for the Lakers to sign any player that even resembles an enforcer or tough guy.  Right here on these boards (and everywhere else, really) there were calls for Kurt Thomas or Craig Smith or James Posey…any player that would just hit someone, put a body on someone, knock the opponent down.  But is that what we really need?

I would say no.  What we need, like those Lakers teams that won three consecutive titles earlier this decade, is experience.  We need growth and knowledge; an understanding of what it takes to win that develops from trying and failing.  Championship caliber basketball is where talent and experience meet (and we definitely have the talent).  People can talk about mental toughness, physical toughness, hunger, and dozens of other adjectives that ultimately just describe the team that wins.  The guys that fall short are always the players/teams that are “soft” or some other negative connotation that is the tidy bow that wraps comfortably around the loser.  But the truth is, the teams that lose just weren’t good enough…yet.  Like the Lakers of 1998 (and 1999) that had all that talent but couldn’t get over the hump, what this team needs is experience.  They need to grow, together, to get to the point where winning becomes the byproduct of shared knowledge; the culmination from the groups collective experience.  And really, I don’t think there’s that much more growth that’s needed.  This Lakers team has gone from losing to Phoenix in consecutive seasons in two hard fought playoff sereis, to earning a Finals birth.  And sure, we lost. But we lost to a team with some battle tested veterans and some truly great players.  What people always fail to mention is that every step of the way, this team has gotten better and achieved more than anyone could have predicted they would have when their journey started. 

I know, losing the way that we did last season definitely leaves a bitter taste.  Failure, especially on the biggest stage, always leads to second guessing and the search for the easy answer.  Perkins is bullying Gasol?  We’re soft.  KG outmuscles Odom?  We’re soft.  Pierce bodies up RadMan and Walton to force his way to the basket?  We’re soft.  But sometimes the easy answer is wrong.  Or at least, incomplete.  Last season the Lakers were one of the youngest teams in the league and most of our players had never even seen the second round of the playoffs.  To me, that spells a lack of experience, and not neccessarily some lack of physical toughness.  Right now, I could go on some rant about Bynum and Ariza and how those guys, if healthy, would have won us the title.  How their physical presence on the wing and in the paint would have put us over the top.  But I’m not going to do that.  And not because it’s unwarranted, but because those guys also lack experience and to put the burden on them as the ultimate difference makers isn’t really fair.  Those guys have some growing to do as well.  In the end just understand this:  we’ll be back and will be competing for titles for years to come.  And in the future we’ll have the experiences of our past failures to serve as guidance (and motivation) to get us over the hump.  So, are we tough enough?  Honestly, I could care less.  Because with the experience this team has gained, I see us being something more than the toughest team, I see us being champions.


Slot Machine

Reed —  July 25, 2008

How much is a stubborn, awkward head-band-sporting Machine worth?

Unfortunately, that has become a complicated, perhaps even messy, question and one that must be answered by Mitch in the next few days. I’m not going to delve into the suddenly competitive Euro market issue, as that’s been covered deeply elsewhere. What I do want to look at is whether LA should pay Sasha what he’s asking – a reported $5 million a year over several years (4-5?).

The problem is that there is a fundamental disharmony between what Sasha is worth (i.e. what others would pay him on the open market) and what the Lakers can afford to pay him, given their payroll problems and the opportunity cost.

First, his market value. Sasha is undoubtedly worth the $5 million a year he seeks. Our feelings on this are tainted by the unfortunate (and similar) contracts recently given to Walton and the Vladrad. But, putting them aside for the minute, a player’s market value is best determined by what others with similar skill sets have recently been paid. And (as no doubt put out there by his agent in the recent news bites), players with similar skill sets consistently receive the money he now seeks. Comparable players:

• Posey, (2008 stats) 31 years old, 24.6 minutes per game, 12.08 PER, 4 years, $25 million.
• Pietrus, 26 years old, 20.0 minutes per game, 12.76 PER, 4 years, $25.1 million.
• Gibson, 22 years old, 30.5 minutes per game, 11.77 PER, 5 years, $20.8 million.
• Miles, 21 years old, 11.5 minutes per game, 14.30 PER, 4 years, $15 million.
• Kapono, (2007 stats), 26 years old, 26.4 minutes per game, 13.87 PER, 4 years, $24 million.

These 5 players comprise the most recent free agent signings that compare to Sasha in terms of skill set and team role when they hit the market. How does he compare?

• Sasha, 24 years old, 17.8 minutes per game, 15.06 PER, ? years, $?? million.

Sasha has the highest PER by far (Miles doesn’t really count given the low minutes and non-role) and is younger than the three highest paid (Posey, Pietrus, and Kapono). While he’s only had one good season, he is as “proven” as any except Posey. Furthermore, that line doesn’t really capture Sasha’s production and value to the team last year, as he was not given regular minutes until almost halfway through the season. (True, that might also be said of the comparables listed above to varying degrees, but none of them were buried on the bench early, only to emerge during the second half and playoffs with starter’s minutes and production). Sasha’s season in two halves:

• November-January: (34 games): 14.1 minutes per game, 6.8 points per game, 1.0 threes per game, 40.6 3fg%.
• February-April (38 games): 20.6 minutes per game, 11.7 points per game, 2.3 threes per game, 46.5 3fg%.

It took the Machine a little while to find his groove and the trust of Phil and his teammates, but find it he did. The second half stats are really remarkable. Only two players shot higher than 46.5% from three over the year (none making as many) and only five made more than 2.3 per game (none as accurate). You can argue there was no more proficient three point shooter in the league than Sasha during the second half of last year – when he finally had a defined niche and his teammates’ trust. Remember, this production came during perhaps the most competitive conference race we’ve ever seen. Every game counted.

This ability to spread the floor became particularly dangerous once Gasol joined the equation, providing consistent low post offense and passing to spot up shooters. Consider that the single most offensively efficient 5 man unit in the league last year was: Farmar, Sasha, Kobe, Odom, and Gasol, which had a mind boggling points per possession of 1.37, along with a dominant .99 defensive rating – by far LA’s single most effective lineup. The number three most efficient offense? Also Machine inclusive: Farmar, Sasha, Kobe, Odom, and Turiaf – at 1.28. By the end of the season and the playoffs, he was the de facto fifth starter, playing all of the key minutes instead of the Radman.

Defensively, Sasha was somewhere between very good and above average, holding opposing SG’s to a 14.9 PER. He might not possess Prince’s quickness and length, but he is tenacious, dogged, and annoying. Who can forget the time during the playoffs where he was floored while defending a screen and roll, bounced up to scream in the offender’s face with woodpeckery head movements, hairband almost coming dislodged, and then returned to pestering his man a little too closely. We remember painfully Allen beating him for the fateful score in game 4, but we also need to remember Sasha glued to Korver’s fortunate mug through screen after screen, severely outplaying him in an important matchup (Korver shot 37.5% from the field in that series and 33% from three, compared with Sasha’s 45% and 43% from three). Sasha may have been inconsistent in the playoffs, but he’s certainly proven that he plays with heart and is not scared of the moment. Of all our role players, he’s the one with the most “Rick Fox” in him. The one most likely to become an icy, arrogant, effective role player in title run after title run.

So, given the market and his production, Sasha is not being unreasonable in asking for $5 million a year over a few years. Something like 4 years, $22 million. Given that he hasn’t yet hit his prime and the cost of similar players in free agency (much less the ability to sign any at a comparable age given the nature of restricted free agency and the budding European market), why doesn’t LA just pay him, retaining a proven triangle performer and 6th man?

As we all know, the problem is Buss’s budget. While he’s notorious for being willing to go all in for splashy, high priced acquisitions (Shaq, Pau), Buss is (or should be) equally notorious for always trimming fat in often painful ways to make room for those stars. Yes, Buss is a golden owner and committed spender (and we can’t forget that given the only reason we got Gasol was because we were willing to trade straight expirings for his long term contract when Chicago wouldn’t), but he imposes limits. Remember how thin the Shaq-Kobe teams became with time. Remember Buss’s refusal to grab Pippen for peanuts when available during Houston’s firesale.

Right now, there are rumblings that LA’s bottom line budget (before taxes) cannot exceed $81-83 million. If you assume Karl is back for minimal salary, that is 11 players signed for $76 million. It becomes clear there simply wasn’t room for both Turiaf and Sasha, given the size of Turiaf’s front loaded offer. It also becomes clear that if Sasha is signed for $5 million, LA is stuck with the vet minimum or second rounders when filling out the other two roster spots, one of which needs to go to an insurance big. So, given that opportunity cost, what do you do? Pay Sasha and rely on something like Mihm and Mbenga as your backup bigs? A fairly reasonable plan given that Bynum is essentially taking Turiaf’s place on the front line. But, with Ariza likely leapfrogging Luke and Radman on the depth chart, bringing Sasha back probably relegates one or both of them to expensive non-rotation players. Or, do you divide Sasha’s money and throw $3 million per year at two players – something like Kwame and Evans? Thoughts?

(Permanent damnation to the first commenter to turn this discussion into another lifeless trade Lamar debate. Just kidding. Kind of.)

As for me, I agree with the always prescient Dwyer: pay the Machine.


Update: This issue might be resolved very quickly… OC Register is reporting possible decision this afternoon.

The USA Today has confirmed it as a done deal.

Lakers I Miss: Pat Riley

Kurt —  July 24, 2008

For the newest of NBA fans, Pat Riley is the guy with the slicked-back hair who slid Stan Van Gundy aside to win a coaching title in Miami a couple years back.

For somewhat older fans (and those younger ones who watch NBA TV classic games), Riley is the coach with the slicked-back hair who led Magic, Kareem, Worthy and the Showtime Lakers to four titles in the mid 1980s.

But there was a time, before Dep ever touched his hair, that Pat Riley was a very good basketball player, a guy who was a key role player off the bench for the championship 71-72 Lakers team. It is that Pat Riley that I miss sometimes — and it is a player like that Pat Riley that the current Lakers team could use.

Riley may have always seemed like an urbane, big-city guy as a coach, with the Armani suits and tailored look, but he was born in quiet upstate New York. Rome to be specific. He grew up in Schenectady, where by the time he was at Linton High School he was already a standout athlete and a two-sport star in both basketball and football.

Even in high school Riley was gaining notoriety on the court. His Linton High team played a game against the legendary Power Memorial High team led by a tall, skinny sophomore named Lew Alcindor. (For those of you who are new to Laker and basketball lore, Alcindor later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and was the anchor for all Riley’s Laker championship teams.) Riley’s Linton team won, by the way. A decade ago, Linton renamed its high-school gym after Riley.

After high school Riley had two very different scholarship choices — he could go play football at Alabama for Paul “Bear” Bryant or go play basketball at Kentucky for Adolph Rupp. Two legendary coaches. But also two men who were old-line Southerners and were slow to incorporate African-American players into their programs. And both learned a lesson about that the hard way.

Riley, obviously, chose Kentucky, where he played from 1963-67. For three seasons he was voted team MVP and in his junior year averaged 22 points a game on a team that was the top-ranked in the nation.

“I don’t know anybody I ever played with that I thought was a better athlete. I mean, he could run, he could jump, he was very, very quick.”
—Larry Conley, teammate at Kentucky.

Riley was the star of the 1966 team that was 27-2 and ranked number one going into the NCAA tournament, then made it all the way to the NCAA Finals. It was there that Rupp’s all-white Kentucky team, “Rupp’s Runts” as they were called, faced a Texas Western team that had five black starters. If you don’t know how that game ended, go rent the movie Glory Road. Regardless of the outcome of that one game, Riley is still a legend in Kentucky basketball and had his number retired there for his efforts as a player.

Believe it or not, in 1967 Riley still could have played in the NFL — the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the 11th round of the 1967 draft.

But Riley was also the seventh overall pick in the 1967 NBA draft, being the first player ever taken by the expansion San Diego Rockets. He played three seasons in San Diego before going to the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1970-71 season. In moving to that Laker team, Riley was joining a squad that for a decade had as much or more talent than any team in basketball, but could not get over the hump and win a title. In that first year things were not much different, the Lakers won the Pacific but lost in the Western Conference Finals to a Kareem-led Milwaukee Bucks team.

But Riley was just the kind of player you needed to get over the championship hump. He was gritty, a sparkplug guy off the bench who played hard defense matching up on the opposing teams shooting guard or small forward and being asked to shut him down. He knew how to pass the ball (for his career 15.5% of his possessions ended in an assist) and scored a little (7.4 per game for his career on 41% shooting). He was playing 13 or 14 minutes a game that season but was considered a key contributor in those limited minutes.

Think the 2008-09 Lakers could use a gritty wing defender off the bench who is a sparkplug of energy? Think they could have used one back in June?

“Pat Riley’s aura of arrogance helped make him a feisty over-achiever.”
—Charlie Rosen

The 1971-72 Lakers may have been the best team in franchise history. It won an NBA record 33 consecutive games and the NBA Championship. That squad broke the curse of the Lakers in Los Angeles and opened up the floodgates for the championships that have followed through the decades. Riley’s contributions to that team off the bench should not be overlooked.

Riley stayed with the Lakers four more years but finished his playing career with the 1976 Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns. For his seven years of service in the NBA, Riley earned about $400,000. Total. For all those years.

So there could be no retirement to a beach somewhere. Instead, it was on to the broadcast booth. And from there (on the advice of Chick Hearn) on to the Lakers coaching seat and from there on to history. But none of that would have happened without Riley the player.

We’ve got some new friends here at Forum Blue & Gold, and I think you should meet them.

This site has struck a deal to have most of its content at both Lakers Nation — the meta Lakers site run by the former Get Garnett guys — and with them on the Web site for 570 AM KLAC, the Lakers flagship station and home of the Lakers in Southern California. Lakers Nation is just that — a nation, home to its own blog, its own message boards and its own social-networking system (ala Facebook).

What that means here is that you will see more connections to Lakers Nation and 570, things that will grow as we get closer to next season (and after a redesign of this site planned for later this summer). Both sites offer some interesting things that I think people here will like. And the stories here will be seen both at Lakers Nation and at 570’s Web site.

While this means some growth, there will be no changes to what the core of this site is about. We will do in-depth (hopefully smart) analysis of the Lakers and NBA news. The commenting policies on this site will not be changing. The goal is to expose what we do here to more people, but we are not changing who or what we are.

What makes this site special, what makes the growth possible, is the community here. Bottom line is you people make my day, and make my thought processes about the Lakers far more informed and fun. Protecting the integrity of that community remains goal number one. But I don’t think that precludes growth opportunities.

So go over and meet the new friends at Lakers Nation. They’ve opened up new message board forums today and they are large and growing community with which you all have at least one thing in common — you’re all Lakers fans. And that’s a good place to start a friendship.