Three Pre-Camp Topics

Kurt —  September 25, 2008

Training camp is just days away for the Lakers, and with that guys are rolling into town, final signings are taking place and there is almost some basketball to be talked about. But there are a few newsworthy areas to cover.

• First, DJ Mbenga is back for camp. As I said in the comments, I think this is really “Chris Mihm Insurance.” If Mihm is back to being close to his old self, DJ doesn’t make the roster, but if Mihm is not back, you need that other big body on the bench.

UPDATE: Eric Pincus had more details, and DJ Mbenga’s contract for this season is guaranteed,

Additionally, the Lakers re-signed center DJ Mbenga. He’ll make $880,658 this season, fully guaranteed. He’s also under contract for next season although his $959,111 is either partially or non-guaranteed.

Based on that news, I’m re-writing the next paragraph.

Apparently the Lakers wanted a little insurance along the front line, as Mihm has not played in a couple of years. With that, via Eric Pincus, here is the roster for the Lakers for camp. There are 19 players, the Lakers can carry a max of 15. Of that, 14 have guaranteed deals. So, Karl (maybe Crawford) can get the 15th spot on the roster, but that is about the only drama heading into camp.

PG Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar/Sun Yue/Brandon Heath
SG Kobe Bryant/Sasha Vujacic/Coby Karl/Joe Crawford/Dwayne Mitchell
SF Lamar Odom/Trevor Ariza/Vladimir Radmanovic/Luke Walton
PF Pau Gasol/Josh Powell/CJ Giles
C Andrew Bynum/Chris Mihm/DJ Mbenga

• If you read just one thing today, make it the Slam interview with Andrew Bynum. Some of this was discussed in the comments of the last post, but I think a couple things are worth breaking out and discussing:

Basically, this off-season I’ve been focusing on dribbling skills and developing a 15-20 foot shot, which should be able to free me up a bit more so I’ll be able to face up against defenders and be able to make moves against them. cause it kind of got to a point where people were trying to take the middle away from me. So now if I open up, and I see that they’re sagging off, I can pop a little J and they’ll have to play me honestly. And it’s just easier.

I think the strongest part is probably sprinting down the court early and getting deep post position. I think if I get deep post position, there’s really nothing anybody can do. I can finish right, left, and just have a variety of different moves I make thanks to Brian Shaw, Gerald Wilkins, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also Kurt Rambis, just teaching me every day, working out.

Frankly, the first answer scares me but the second answer is a little balm on that. Every time Kareem gets interviewed about Bynum, he gets asked about the skyhook, and every time Kareem says that Bynum was more interested in developing a face-up game ala KG than learning a hook shot. I think if Bynum added a little 12-foot jumper to his game, it would be a big help. But, as Brandon Hoffman said in the comments, if Bynum falls in love with that jumper like Patrick Ewing, he diminishes his effectiveness. He needs to get deep as often as he can, which is why the second statement makes me feel good. It shows the Lakers want to run, and Bynum knows he can get easy baskets that way.

Also, remember my mantra — the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them this season. Apparently the team gets that:

The biggest change for the Lakers this season I think will be our defensive mentality. That’s gonna be the biggest change this season, to the fact that we got beat the way we did last year, nobody is happy about that. Second, I think the coaching staff has a whole new defensive scheme for us. Also, I think that guys know now that it requires defense to win championships. I think defense is gonna be the biggest change.

• Finally, Sun Yue had maybe the biggest press conference ever by a player who will be seeing a lot of D-League time this season. But, read the interview and he seems to get it. He understands what he needs to do:

Question: “What adjustments will you need to make?”
Sun: “I think it is my body, because my body is too skinny for the NBA.”

I hope in a couple of years he can really contribute.

to Three Pre-Camp Topics

  1. Kurt,
    I know that Mihm’s contract is guaranteed, but do you think that if he doesn’t show that he’s physically set for next season that he could be waived and DJ is kept on the roster? Mihm is scheduled to make 2.5 mil and DJ’s deal is in the 850,000 range making the total commitment 3.3 mil. However, if Mihm gets picked up by another team (unlikely, but possible) the Lakers would only be on the hook for the difference in what he’s owed by them and what he signs for with a different team, making that 2.5 mil hit a little more palatable. I would think that the general physical reliability of DJ over Mihm would make this a consideration, but financially, I know it would be a tougher bullet to bite, waiving Mihm (although it would keep the roster flexibility that the team wants). What do you think, though?


  2. I am not quite sure if Mihm will really contribute anymore than what DJ can do for us. Its just been so long since Mihm has played on the court with the team and how he is going to fit in with the second unit. It will also be interesting to see how good powell will fit in with the second unit compared to Turiaf as far as just being on the court with them.

    My bigger concern is how rusty will Bynum be when he does get back on the court. Lets be honest about it, we all want to see him come in and just start playing at the same level he was when he went down, which was the best basketball of his career. Realistically, even when the great superstars go out of the game for a little amount of time, let alone as much as AB was, its take a while to get back in the groove. We definitely have the talent on the team to get him back to full speed of the game, but how long you guys think that will take?


  3. The Bynum interview is intoxicating. I like that Bynum appreciates team defense. If it will be emphasized this season by the coaching staff, that’s really encouraging.

    Has he always been this sharp, w/r/t BBIQ? Strategically, he knows what works and what he can do in order to contribute to Laker victories. Due to Kobe’s presence on the floor, and due to his gifts and his development, he recognizes that there are limits to the ways his opponents tactically react. The addition of a mid-range jumper would make him one of the toughest covers in the league.

    He’s mentally and physically prepared. Very impressive.


  4. 1. Waive maybe. But the more likely thing, if you felt the need to keep DJ and Karl, is to just buy Mihm out. Let him walk and eat the cost (probably reduced down to $2 mil or so). Personally, I still hold out hope that Mihm comes back somewhere in the ballpark of his old form. Maybe it’s a sucker bet, but I am hopeful.

    2. I worry more about rust of finesse players than power guys. I think Bynum should be at pretty much full speed by the opening game. Which is good, since we’re talking Oden and all lined up on the other side.


  5. Apparently Sun wont be playing anywhere for a while — he has mono.

    I had that in college, not nearly as bad as some others, and it wiped me out weeks.


  6. I am glad to hear that the coaches are thinking of a different defensive plan. The possibilities for defense on this team are pretty good. They have such a huge line up that it should really make it difficult for anyone to score on the inside. I know Pau is not the greatest interior defender but I think he is a decent weak side defender and with opposing players trying to go around Bynum big long body he could be pretty effective coming from the weak side.

    Bynum and Pau are not as good defensively as Duncan and the Admiral were (obviously), but you could do a similar style of defense and just funnel everything into the middle let the two big bodies clog up the paint.


  7. Kurt,
    “Apparently Sun wont be playing anywhere for a while — he has mono.”

    That probably improves Karl’s chance at the final roster.


  8. So I read in the Oregonian that the Blazers will not sign Livingston. That can be read two ways: (1) he is not fully healed and is a liability; or (2) he wants a guaranteed deal outside of what the team is willing to risk. With a team as young as the Blazers, is tough to tell which of the two apply. Howver, from what I have read elsewhere I think #2 is the stronger possibility.

    I know the roster is full, but I wonder if there is a way to have a veteran like him show up to training camp to earn a spot – without a guaranteed contract – with the idea that if he earns a spot he will get a small guaranteed deal. I just think this kid has a tremendous upside that may be worth a measured risk


  9. The Lakers are pretty loaded with decent PGs, I can’t imagine them taking the risk on Livingston. Frankly, he needs to find a team in desperate need of a PG and willing to role the dice, then show up to camp and prove he can do it. Nobody is going to give him a no-cut contract right now.


  10. If I was the Heat or the Celtics or the Suns or the Warriors, I think I’d be doing my due dilligence on Livingston. All of those teams need PG help in some form and if he’s got anything to offer (which I hope he does; I always liked that kid), I think he could have a role on any of those teams. If a team is looking at Marbury, they should be looking at Livingston too, imo.


  11. 10- you’re very right on that. Especially the Warriors with Ellis hurt (speaking of which, the papers here claim he injured himself riding a “moped.” Do you think they meant a scooter or an actual old school moped? If the latter, I can understand why he lied to the team, even if those things aren’t forbade by his contract. What an ignominious way to injure yourself…)


  12. Hi Kurt,

    Here’s my best guess, with quite a few players in different positions than your list:

    PG Derek Fisher/Jordan Farmar/Sun Yue/
    SG Kobe Bryant (also SF)/Sasha Vujacic/Coby Karl/
    SF /Trevor Ariza/Luke Walton
    PF Pau Gasol/Vladimir Radmanovic/Josh Powell/
    C Andrew Bynum/Chris Mihm/DJ Mbenga

    6th Man/Lamar Odom

    I’m supposing that the Lakers will carry 15. I would not be surprised to see Mitchell (as a Point guard stopper)rather than Coby Karl (as an SG).

    I expect that early in the season that VladRad will be back at SF (with Luke only partly available) and that Lamar will play PF and Pau will play the 5–our starting 5 for last year–but both Ariza and Bynum will start.

    There will clearly be adjustments as the season unfolds.


  13. My reactions to the Bynum interview.

    -I really appreciate his earnestness. It might worry some people that he’s still young, but I like that he won’t give the standard line that he would’ve changed the Finals because he had tough games against the Celtics. Or when he says Pau’s a great passer and he’s alright. He’s open about his flaws, and that makes me hope he is open to correcting him. And hopefully that he’s being honest about his strengths.

    -He can jump an inch higher now? That sounds good.

    -Disney? That’s not a city. I like that he’s been to Orange County but is really excited to find out what San Diego is like. Its like a whole other continent, man!

    -Overall I just kind of like the kid. He’s not anything like your standard entitled superstar and I sincerely hope for the best for him. If he, Oden and Howard do turn into the next generation of centers, the league is in good hands (along with Roy, CP3 and the other great young guys).


  14. My two cents on the interview:
    -he’s young, and he wants to play like a PF. not surprising considering comments made by others such as Amare and Duncan. I really wish Bynum was more in the D. Howard mindset.

    -still, having a J will help his longevity, if anything.

    -But, it’s not like we’re lacking finesse at the front, right? Pau, Mihm, Odom aren’t exactly players known to overpower.

    -still, it’s better to hear our center work out during the summer for a change, not just dawdle on company time.

    This preseason is so much more fun compared to our last. Exciting without too much doubt. Kobe is still in the center of everything with his pinky, but all in all, so far so good…


  15. Darius,
    In the NBA if a contract is guaranteed,you have to pay the player if you waive him. Unless he agrees to a buy-out for less.

    When Dwight came into the League,he wanted to be the next KG. It took the Magic a couple of yrs to convince him he was a Center.

    Sun Yue might have a better/faster transition than expected as he shoud be drawing on Yao and Yi’s experiences. If he’s smart,he should have picked Yao’s brain on what to expect and what he needs to work on.

    I’ve been saying for months some team that doesn’t care about money should give Livingston a modest 2 yr deal,w/understanding this yr is about rehab and maybe shaking off some rust at seasons’s end and expect him to be a 2/3 playmaker next yr.


  16. I think people are reading too far into the Bynum jumper story. Every great center other than Shaq and Wilt had a good jumper. It doesn’t mean that he won’t play center anymore. Look at Hakeem, he used to eat up players in the post and hit an outside J as well. Kareem used to do it to. I know they only show highlights of Kareem’s skyhook, but he had a gang of other moves including a jumper. It is always wise to expand your game, just so long as you don’t fall in love with the outside shot. And if people are still concerned remember Bynum looks up to Kareem, I am sure the coaching staff would make sure that Kareem encourages him to stay down low.


  17. J.D. Hastings,
    “He can jump an inch higher now? That sounds good”

    That’s probably worth another 20-40 blocked shots and 20-40 rebounds over the course of the season, which will result in another 1-2 wins for the Lakers.


  18. UPDATE: according to Eric Pincus, Mbenga’s contract is guaranteed. Two thoughts. First, the Lakers did want Mihm insurance. Second, the only drama in camp now is if Karl gets the last spot, or if Crawford or someone can beat him out.


  19. @ harold: Totally with you on how much better this pre-season is than last one. But, my superstitious side remembers how amazing the regular season was after that maelstrom of an off-season. Let’s hope the opposite isn’t true this season…

    Seriously though, that Bynum interview was a pleasure to read. He says all the right things, but I get the feeling he’s being genuine and not jut hitting the talking points. Just a great mix of candor, realistic assessments of his own strengths and weaknesses, and confidence.


  20. Thanks for giving me credit for the jumper comment. Even though I was just piggy-backing off of your idea Kurt.

    I would love to see Bynum develop a jumpshot. And KG’s face up game is incredibly effective. But I really wish Andrew would forget about all of that and focus on the hook. The hook shot may not be as aesthetically pleasing as KG’s offensive repertoire, but it was the driving force in Jabbar’s six Most Valuable Player Awards and six NBA championships.

    I don’t know about Bynum, but I find it extremely aesthetically pleasing to see a big man hoist the Maurice Podoloff and Larry O’Brien trophies over their head.

    I’m not singling out Drew. That goes for every big man who thinks the hook shot is beneath them. It just so happens that Drew has Kareem as his coach. Bynum should take advantage of Jabbar’s knowledge of the most unstoppable shot in the history of the NBA.


  21. Sun Yue with mono…?


  22. how about the last part where Bynum says he’ll get closer to his teammates? I liked that. I hope it happens.


  23. David St. Hubbins September 26, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I think it will be good for Drew to develop a jumper. Out to 20 feet sounds like a bad idea, but out to 15 feet would be very effective. He should add a face up jumper from the block. I would much prefer he models it after Duncan than KG (Duncan shoots the face up more as a last resort while KG looks at it as the first option). In addition, if he can expand out to 15 feet., he’ll be more effective from the high post when Pau is playing down on the block drawing the double team.


  24. RE: Bynum’s jumper. Realize too, that one of the most important shots that a big man needs in this offense is that FT line (or even 2 feet further out) jumper that gets taken off the high-post flash from the weakside or the intiation from the high post when the ball goes to the big after he runs up the lane to receive the pass. At that point, the big man turns and faces and evaluates the next passing option off all the cuts/motion or he decides that he wants to score himself.

    The two examples that everyone would recognize when the big man decides he wants to score himself are 1). When Horace Grant/AC Green would catch at the high post and shoot the 15-18 ft. jumper from straight away. If Bynum is talking about being able to shoot this shot, I think he’s right in that this is a shot that he’s going to get with frequency off of ball reversals when he flashes from the weakside. And 2). When a the big man catches at the 15-18 ft. mark (at the FT line/top of the key), reverse pivots and takes a power dribble and attacks the basket. One of the best highlights from last season is when Bynum caught the ball at the top of the key, turned, power dribbled, and exploded for a left handed dunk off the wrong leg. AMAZING! Shaq did this as well and was very effective attacking the basket off a reverse pivot when he caught the ball at the top.

    Also, realize too that if Bynum (and Gasol, too) can actually be a threat from the top of the key area, this will greatly enhance our ability to run a high/low with our two bigs as their defenders will not be able to sag off them without the threat of being scored on. Anyways….I’m rambling now.


  25. Just ran into Ronnie Turiaf on the streets of San Francisco. They don’t look that big on TV, but standing next to him… I felt like Verne Troyer.

    He’s looking forward to a fresh start in Oakland, more playing time, but says he misses LA – the city. I said he was a fan favorite down there, and he replied he has to start from scratch on that up here.

    Really nice guy, I’m sure we all wish him nothing but the best.


  26. Darius, you just keep on rambling as much as you want, no problem here.