Archives For July 2008

Summer League Starts

Kurt —  July 11, 2008

With all the rumors floating around — from silly to serious — thank Buddha (or the deity of your choice) that there is some on the court hoops to discuss tonight.

Granted, you can’t read too much into Summer League play, and in the case of the Lakers this is a handful of guys competing for one (maybe two depending on free agency) spot at the end of the bench, and a winter playing with the D-Fenders.

Still, it is basketball. And it is a window into how these guys play and what they have worked on (and need to work on). Plus the competition, while not often pretty in terms of teamwork, is intense because these guys are trying to get noticed by scouts, NBA and International alike. These are guys trying to get jobs, and this is a big interview. So it matters a lot to them.

The Lakers tip off tonight at 5 p.m. against the Detroit Pistons. You can catch it on NBA TV (although my guide said they are not starting until 5:30) or you can watch it on streaming video on the NBA site.

What follows is the Lakers roster (with some pregame notes):

• Coby Karl, #11, 6-5, 210, guard out of Boise State. He was the guy at the end of the Lakers bench last year. This is his chance to show how much he has improved in that year, how much he has learned. If he does not show that, he opens the door for others to take his spot.

• Joe Crawford, #12. 6-5, 207, guard out of Kentucky. The Lakers second round draft pick is going to have to show a lot, both on defense and in shooting, or at least much more promise than Coby Karl (in whom the team already has an investment).

• Davon Jefferson, #23, 6-7, 215, forward out of USC. Those of us in SoCal saw a fair amount off him this year, and he has talent and hops. But, word on the street was he showed up out of shape to the Orlando camp, turning scouts off because of work ethic concerns. Can he prove them wrong here? If he played up to his potential….

• Lorenzo Mata-Real, #31, 6-9, 245, forward out of UCLA. A fan favorite because he was a bulldog defender, he is going to have to show that translates to the next level, and that he can develop some offense, to impress any scouts. Plus, he needs to crash the boards, hard.

• Pat Calathes, #25, 6-10, 210, forward out of St. Josephs. You may say “who” but ESPN.com’s David Thorpe called him one of two undrafted guys most likely to make an NBA roster. He averaged 17 and 8, shooting 40% from three, in the Atlantic 10 last season.

• James White, #10, 6-6, 195, swingman out of Cincinnati. Had a cup of coffee the Spurs but spent time in Austin in the D-League (Austin > Dakotas). Played last year with Fenerbahçe Ülker, the champs of the Turkish League. The good thing here — we could see a spectacular dunk or two.

• Marcelus Kemp, #9, 6-5, 210, guard out of Nevada. Led the Wolfpack with 20 points per game and could shoot the college three. The scouting report is great midrange game, has trouble finishing at the rim.

• Cedric Bozeman, #1, 6-6, 220 guard out of UCLA. He played last season in Poland with Energa Czarni Slupsk. He had a cup of coffee with the Hawks two seasons ago.

• Yi Li, #22, 6-9, 210, forward out of China. Probably the skinniest guy on the roster. He is not good enough to make the Chinese national team, he’s here to game some experience. And hopefully eat a burger or two.

• Nik Caner-Medley, #15, 6-8, 240, forward out of Maryland. He played last season with CB Gran Canaria in Spain. Maybe one of our Spanish readers can help us out here with some thoughts.

• Bryant Dunston, #26, 6-9, 250, forward out of Fordham. Apparently did some nice things at the Portsmouth camp. Draft Express thinks he’ll play overseas.

• Sharrod Ford, #20, 6-9, 235, forward out of Clemson. Plays for the Italian team Virtus Bologna. Had a cup of coffee with the Suns in 2005. Led Clemson is scoring and rebounding two consecutive years, back in the day.

• Taj Gray, #21, 6-9, 230, forward out of Oaklahoma. Expected to play for Chorale de Roanne in France next season, he has played overseas the last couple of years. Unless the OKC front office people want to impress the locals….

• James Hughes, #34, 6-11, 225, center out of Northern Illinois. Athletic with a lot of “upside” but that has not translated on to the pro courts well yet.

• Dontell Jefferson, #2, 6-5, 200, guard out of Arkansas. Spent the last two seasons with the Dakota Wizards of the D-League and last season averaged 17 and 5, although the shooting percentage will not impress. By the way, is playing for the Dakota Wizards basketball purgatory?

• Thomas Kelati, #4, 6-5, 210, guard out of Washington State. Played last year for Turow in Poland, where he helped lead the team to a surprisingly good finish.

• Sean Lampley, #24, 6-8, 230, forward out of Cal. He was MVP of the NIT back in the day. Now he is playing for the Melbourne Tigers in Australia, where he is averaging 17 a game. And you have to think Melbourne is better than the Dakotas as a place to live.

• Dwayne Mitchell, #3, 6-5, 210, guard out of Louisiana-Lafayette. He averaged 20 ppg for Iowa in the D-League last year.

• Brian Roberts, #5, 6-2, 175, guard out of Dayton. No, not the Baltimore Oriels second baseman (although he is hitting .291). He apparently had a very good camp in Orlando, looking very professional. He can shoot the ball from range, 45% from three in college. Defense is the question.

• Michael Southhall, #35, 6-10, 260, center out of Louisiana-Lafayette. This guy was a big-time recruit way back when (Kentucky), but eventually declared for the draft in 2003, pulled out and spent time in prison on a parole violation.

• Quinton Thomas, #6, 6-3, 185, guard out of North Carolina. I have no idea, the only guy I can find with this name is still in high school. Any help here?

• Martin Zeno, #14, 6-5, 200, guard out of Texas Tech. Averaged 16 points per game but shot 17% from the college three.

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Clearly, not all these guys will play but that is the roster. Also, remember that in Summer League guards tend to dominate the ball, trying to get seen by shooting and making plays rather than just feeding the post. The best way to judge bigs is often effort on the boards.

Just What Can The Lakers Afford

Kurt —  July 10, 2008

As we wait for what the Lakers will do about Ronny and Sasha ( JONESONTHENBA, who has some good NBA contacts, heard the Lakers will match for Ronny Turiaf, but they resign both? And if not which one is more crucial to the current team and its makeup?) an interesting discussion of what the Lakers can afford and be reasonable with has come up in the comments.

We don’t know all the financials, but Bill Bridges (who, without getting too much into his background, knows plenty about the business side of professional basketball) says the Lakers can afford the increase:

The Lakers as an economic agent operate in an almost perfectly vertical inelastic supply market. That is, there is a fixed supply of seats on offer and a high demand for those seats. This equals pricing power. Also the consumption of these tickets is inelastic to exogenous factors such as overal economic state of the community. A 10% decline in mean wages of greater Los Angeles does not precipitate a commensurate decline in ticket prices.

If Ronny’s fair market salary is $2.5M per annum (for argument’s) sake, the incremental $1.5M “over payment” works out to an average increase in home ticket prices of $2 per ticket. Due to inelastic supply and demand properties, the Lakers have ample ability to absorb the extra $1.5M with no impact on team (and the Buss family) finances.

The only time that salary levels matter is if you under the cap and need room to make a big signing. Once you are over the cap the only thing that matters is the elasticity of your local supply – demand market. The Lakers are fortunate to have an inelastic one.*

* They have to keep winning to keep the markets inelastic.

Then Reed added this followup:

There are really three parts to a free agent signing: (1) will the player make your team better (fit and skills), (2) is the player’s salary at fair value (based on the market, length, age, risk, ability to replace), (3) does the salary fit within the team’s bottom line payroll budget without costing them a greater need.

I think we can safely analyze prongs (1) and (2). First, Ronny unequivocally makes us better. He is better than our other existing backup big men and as good as or better than others available on the market. Second, I believe the proposed contract is fair value. While we remember overpaying for role players the last two summers with Luke and Radman and are now reaping some of the consequences, that does not necessarily mean that Ronny is overpriced. There is a much shallower supply of quality, young big men that are sure to contribute in their minutes than there are of role wing players. These big men are almost always “overpaid” in free agency, but that really just means that the market dictates them being worth more per production than players at other positions. Ronny is big, active, has decent skills (high post jumper, good passer), provides great chemistry, and has proven he can produce when called upon to fill in as a starter when injuries hit. In today’s big man market, that is worth $4M a year, which means the contract would almost surely be movable at any point in the future. Yes he hit some kind of wall late in the season, but don’t forget how critical he was on the road trip before Gasol arrived, or after Gasol sprained his ankle.

That leaves us with the final variable — payroll budget. This is what we don’t know and why we are probably all over the map on the issue. If Buss’s bottom line is something like $77-80M for the final 14 man roster (probably a reasonable assumption given the past), then matching on Turiaf has serious consequences. It means we either need to move one of Radman/Luke (unlikely) or pass on Sasha. Between Ronny and Sasha, I think we all prefer Sasha, so that means Turiaf has to go. However, if Buss’s bottom line is a little higher, then matching on Turiaf becomes very reasonable given how he helps the team and the moderate contract amount.

Finally, JONESONTHENBA adds this:

I just know that in 2007 with a decently high payroll and with a team that was not even close to as good, the Lakers still made $31M in profit. Revenue from advertisers, ticket sales, merchandise, and concessions (although people might have drank more during the down years out of depression), seemingly all go up when a team is winning. The Lakers have one of the best business operations departments in the league. They will figure out how to capitalize on the team’s success and make even more money, which would allow them to go over the luxury tax and still have a bottom line that is satisfactory to them. People also forget that this team is also owned by AEG (30%). They are well capitalized and will likely be very willing to do anything to keep this team winning and rolling, as the Lakers are key to driving people downtown and making the other AEG properties (L.A. Live) viable. The real concern for the Lakers is not if they can afford it, but if it ruins cap flexibility in the future. But sometimes, when you’ve got a team that is capable of winning for years to come, you just have take your chances, roll the dice, and worry about the future burden when you get there. I mean, look how it is paying off for Boston. Their salary Burden with the big three is pretty ridiculous, and will stay that way while those guys are on the roster. They pretty much have no cap flexibility beyond the mid-level. But they don’t care, because they are making money and are winning. Just some things to keep in mind when discussing the Lakers and their financial situation.

Landscape Changing

Kurt —  July 9, 2008

It’s time to talk free agents, both Lakers and everyone else’s. This post will be updated throughout the day (and into tomorrow) as signings are made. Also, the Laker summer league roster is expected to be formally announced today, so that will go up as well.

• Let’s start with the Lakers, the Warriors have offered Ronny Turiaf 4 years, $17 million. I love Ronny, but the Lakers cannot match that, the Warriors are overpaying for Ronny. (This is not the first time the Warriors have done this, remember Fisher left when the Warriors overpaid for his services, then they had to dump that contract on Utah.) If you’re Ronny, you have to take that deal, I’m all for a home-tem discount but one of 50% or more is a little steep. And while some here do, I do not think the Lakers match. Because of the Luxury Tax, the $4 million for Ronny is really $8 million, and that is too much for a 15-minute a game bench big.

But, I will always cheer for Ronny, and I hope he thrives up there. He will remain one of my favorite players just for his passion for the game and life.

• With Ronny out the door (the Lakers have seven days to match but almost certainly won’t) who do you get. There have been reports that the Lakers front office has spoken with Kurt Thomas’ representatives. He could be a solid fit off the bench, and he can hit that midrange jumper that works well in the triangle. Commenter Kwame a. has pushed Craig Smith, that could be another solid fit. There are a handful of other backup centers on the market I’d expect the Lakers to contact. I hope Mihm can be the backup center we need, but after the two years of injuries you can’t bet on that, another big body is needed.

• No word yet on Sasha, but it is not uncommon for players like him to see how the top-tier free agents shake out then see if he can get another offer from a team left scrambling. However, after losing Ronny I think the Lakers will match just about anything (unless it’s another overpayment like Ronny).

• Well, I still think the Clippers will be more fun to watch with Barron out top, but they have to be disappointed. Now how does Barron feel about going from a struggling team with a wide-open style to a struggling team with a button-down style like the Clippers offense?

• Philly is now in the second tier in the east in my mind, behind Boston and Detroit in my mind but capable of competing with Cleveland and the like. And, with a lot of young talent, they should improve the next couple of years.

• Maggette is going to get all the shots he wants now in Golden State. But I am very glad he did not go to San Antonio (the fact he went where the shots were rather than coming off the bench for a winner says plenty about him) (that deleted comment was unfair considering the money offered).

• Out West, so far the balance of power remains pretty much unchanged.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  July 7, 2008

Not much news today as we await the opening of the free agent signing period (Wednesday) and the Summer League (Friday for the Lakers). But, a few thoughts

• If you didn’t see the update on Sasha and Turaif — the Lakers made their qualifying offers but those two are trying to find another team to make a bigger, better offer. As was said before free agency started, they are in a tough spot — other teams don’t make offers to restricted players like them because they think (or know) the Lakers will just match it. So why go through the effort. It’s one thing to make an offer to Josh Smith that Atlanta may or may not match, but for a mid-level at best bench guy that’s not a priority.

So, we wait. It’s a business, which is not always about what is fair.

• By the way, still waiting to see the roster for the Summer League team, which starts play Friday. If you see it put it in the comments and I’ll add it.

UPDATE: Via the Daily News, here is an early version of the roster:

Cedric Bozeman … Former UCLA guard.
Joe Crawford … Second-round pick in last month’s draft from Kentucky.
Davon Jefferson … Forward from USC.
Coby Karl … Backup guard with the Lakers last season.
Marcelus Kemp … Undrafted guard from Nevada.
Yi Li … Forward from China.
Lorenzo Mata-Real … Undrafted forward from UCLA.
Here’s the Lakers’ summer league schedule (all games in Las Vegas):
Friday vs. Detroit, 5 p.m., Cox Pavilion.
Sunday vs. Memphis, 5 p.m., Cox Pavilion
July 15 vs. Philadelphia, 5 p.m., Cox Pavilion
July 16 vs. Minnesota, 5:30 p.m., Thomas and Mack Center
July 18 vs. Toronto, 5:30 p.m., Thomas and Mack Center
July 19 vs. Denver, 3:30 p.m., Thomas and Mack Center

• Let’s get to the important stuff — did you see the Nadal/Federer final? If not, watch it tonight on ESPN Classic, that was the most amazing tennis match I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable winners with the game on the line — that may have been the most impressive part. Like real champions they both kept upping their game with their backs to the wall. Somebody said in the comments that Federer may actually have helped his legacy with that match despite losing, and I agree. The greats need a foil (Magic had Bird, for example) and now Federer has his on grass. And it made Federer more human. I would love to see him win the US Open now.

• This shows up occasionally, someone suggesting the Lakers trade Vlad or Luke (sometimes for someone good). No team is going to take on one of those bad contracts, unless they are paired with some real talent or something a team does want. You will not be able to trade them as is, teams do not just take on bad contracts to help you out.

• I read a note today that said “Okalahoma City’s pick Russell Westbrook…” and it made me sick. I’d really like to pin down Jeannie or Jerry Buss on this issue and why they voted to approve this move. Why they thought it was good for the league?

• I think next season Portland and the Clippers (if Brand re-signs as expected) move into the playoffs in the West. The interesting question then is, who drops out? (Assuming teams remain healthy. We can expect one team to drop due to injuries.)

Lamar Odom > Ron Artest

Kurt —  July 5, 2008

I think one thing most Lakers fans agree on is that the small forward position will be key for next year’s Lakers. Where the disagreement is exactly how to deal with that. But some think they have the answer.

On this blog, in Lakers forums all over the Internet, on talk radio, seemingly everywhere there is a fascination among some Lakers fans with bringing Ron Artest to the LA. And I don’t get it. I understand being unsure how well Odom will do as the small forward, it’s a legitimate question and concern.

But Ron Artest is not the answer.

Let me give you my thinking on this. And to start I’ll grant two points to the pro-Artest fans:

1) Artest is a better defender.
He is. But not by as much as you think. Last year opposing threes guarded by Ron Artest shot 51.5% (eFG%) and had a PER of 16.4 — those are not great numbers. Odom spent far less time matched up against threes, but he held them to 45.5% and a PER of 14.6. I don’t think those numbers would bear out if Odom spent more time guarding threes, like I said I’ll grant Artest is a better defender. But the gap is not as big as most think, Odom’s length creates problems for opposing threes.

2) Artest is a better three point shooter. Artest shot 38% and 35% from three the last two years, Odom shot 29% and 27%. Artest would be better at stretching the defense in the half court. That said, Artest is not the three point shooter many think he is. Go look at Artest’s hot zone shot chart at NBA.com — Artest shot 47% from three from the top of the arc, but no higher than 30% anywhere else on the arc. He can shoot the three from “his spot” but is not a classic three-point shooter. (If you look at Odom’s Hot Zones chart you’ll see he was 11 of 22 on corner threes this season — if he works on that this offseason could he keep up that pace over more attempts?)

To me, there are far more negatives than positives with Artest.

1) He is a worse shooter than Odom. Last season, using traditional FG%, Odom shot 52% and Artest 45%. Use eFG% (to account for three point shooting) and Odom is still 5% higher. The reason is Artest takes a lot of jumpers (66% of his shots last year) while Odom gets to the rim (44% of Odom’s shots are jumpers). And, on all those jumpers, Artest shoots just 3% higher than Odom. Look again at Artest’s hot zones shooting chart — he is not a good midrange guy at all. Bottom line, Artest is like Iverson in that he takes a lot of shots to make his points, he is not an efficient scorer.

2) Artest is not someone who has played well inside an offensive system. There are things he does well, but what are the Lakers going to do when Artest decides he should just take his man (on the post or on the wing) and steps outside the offense? The Lakers offense was impressive last year because everyone played within the system. Do you really think Artest is going to do that for a season and playoffs, when that has not been his MO in the past?

3) Lamar Odom is a much better rebounder than Artest.
I don’t think anyone would question this — last season Odom grabbed 15.6% of available rebounds when on the floor, Artest was at 8.6%. You can say that a healthy Bynum will soak up some of those, but for a team that wants to get out and run having control of the boards will be key. Odom led some of the best Laker breaks this year by grabbing the board and bringing the ball up himself, and we need more of that not less.

4) If you think Odom takes games off…. Artest is worse.
Far worse. It is not a crunch time thing with him, it is a week at a time thing. He does not bring it every night. Ask Kings fans about this. And this brings us to….

5) So this is the veteran image you want in the locker room?
The Lakers are still a young team, a team that by all reports bonded more last season than any Laker team has at least since the three-pete era, and maybe longer. And into that you do want to bring in a true wild card? Some will make the argument that Phil has dealt with these types of personalities before, he kept Rodman in check in Chicago. But he had Jordan ad Pippen and other veterans (plus Jack Haley) to keep him in line. Who in the Laker locker room is going to step up to Artest? Kobe, Fisher and……

The bottom line for me is that the slim advantages you gain from Artest in a couple areas are far outweighed in other areas. He has the chance of being a big problem, if you don’t think so look at his track record. Do you really want to take that risk?

I’m not sure Odom is the answer. I’m in the camp of keeping the roster largely intact, starting the year with Odom at the three and seeing how it works out. If it does not, see who is available at the trading deadline. Or, even let him walk and see if you can save the money (if someone like Ariza really steps up). Any of that is better than bringing in Ron Artest.