Archives For September 2008

Talking Roster

Kurt —  September 19, 2008

Apparently the Lakers coaching staff is thinking like some commenters on this blog have been — they want to consider Lamar Odom coming off the bench this year. And apparently Odom is game for the idea, making a sort of Manu-like role for himself.

While I’ve been in the “let’s start the big five and see how they mesh before we decide it won’t work camp,” I’ll admit that Odom coming off the bench has what Ziller aptly described as “delightful possibilities.” Odom is the key to the Lakers versatility this year, and the fact that he could come off the bench and play the two, three or four gives Phil Jackson a host of match up possibilities.

But all of those possibilities hinge on one idea — Trevor Ariza has to earn that starting spot.

The question is not at the defensive end of the floor, where he will guard the best opposing two or three (or, at least switch off with Kobe on that task). To have two good wing defenders with Bynum as a backstop would make for a potentially very good defense.

I’ll say this now and it will become my mantra for this season — the Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.

The question about Ariza is on offense — can he develop a jumper to help spread the floor? He shot just 33% eFG% on jumpers last year, and 27% from three for the season (although, when he got open threes with the Lakers, that improved to the Mendoza-line number of 33.3%). Ariza is explosive, he can run with the break an in the half court he gets to the hole (he had a very good true shooting percentage last season of 59.4% with the Lakers, think of that stat like points per shot attempt, and know Kobe was at 57.6%).

But teams are going to play off him on that weak side, they are going to try to take away the two man game, they will double Pau and Kobe off of him until he makes them pay with consistency from the outside. Rumor is he spent a lot of time this summer shooting jump shots, working on that part of his game. We will see.

The bottom line is that apparently the starting spot is there for the taking. I don’t think Walton or Radman can fill the role the Lakers want (remember the mantra about defense). Ariza can, if he has worked on his game, maybe he can grab that brass ring — and as this is a contract year for him it’s a good time to grab it.

If he does, the Lakers are better and deeper and the possibilities are delightful. If not, if Odom starts, the Lakers are still very, very good. Not a bad problem to have.

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There were questions about some of the Lakers signings of the last couple weeks — CJ Giles, Dwayne Mitchell, Brandon Heath and Jelani McCoy. While I’ll give a brief bit of background, know that these guys are there to fill out the camp roster. They are looking to get noticed, maybe get a D-League spot or a good international gig. They will not end up on the roster, although they can fight for the last spot. By my count, the Lakers have 13 guys under guaranteed deals (counting Sun Yue) and want to carry 14 this season. That means these guys need to beat out Coby Karl and Joe Crawford to get that spot at the end of the bench, a very tough task. Because the Lakers are loaded with vets, they are likely to take a first or second-year player for that spot, someone who can split time with the D-Fenders and be called up in case of injury.

And, after watching Karl this summer, I think it will be hard to wrest that spot away from him.

Dwayne Mitchell is the one guy who, with a spectacular camp, maybe could get that spot. He is a very quick guard who last season averaged 20 ppg in the D-League for Iowa. He showed he can shoot in the Summer League, shooting 61.9% for the Lakers. He worked hard on defense, but I thought made a lot of mental mistakes to go with his good plays. If he can eliminate the mistakes, maybe he can fit as a PG. But, he’s 26 years old, how much will he really improve at this point?

CJ Giles is a big body —6-10, 220 — out of Oregon State. He had enough talent to be recruited to Kansas and enough problems to be kicked out of that school. So he went to Oregon State, and they kicked him off the team mid-season, in part for consistently showing up late to practice. He averaged 6.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 18.1 minutes this season for the Beavs. Maybe some of the other Pac-10 honks out there have a better memory of him than I do, what I remember is that he really didn’t stand out.

Brandon Heath essentially carried San Diego State two seasons ago. His shooting percentage of 50.6% (eFG%) his senior year is not bad considering the volume he had to shoot. Last season he played in France for Entente Orlean, where I imagine he ate well, at least. This summer he played for the Clips.

Jelani McCoy is a 31-year-old, 6-11 center formerly of UCLA and the Lakers. He spent some time with the D-Fenders last season. He has an NBA championship ring from the 01-02 Lakers, when he played in 21 games averaging 5 minutes per. He looked like a guy with a lot of potential as a rookie for Seattle many years ago, but that never panned out.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  September 17, 2008

Just a few thoughts that came to me while I was field dressing a moose.

• If you haven’t seen this, the Lakers are now going to charging higher ticket prices for “premium” games. As a guy who used to have a part of season tickets (friends and I went in together, before we had to put that money toward kids), I saw this coming. Other teams and other sports were doing it, and in a revenue-mad world it was just a matter of time. I know this policy bothers some who see it as another thing keeping the “real fans” out of Staples Center. Personally, it doesn’t bother me as long as there are discounts for having to watch Memphis or other bottom dweller teams as well. I think this is just the way the market is moving, not just in the NBA but in sports across the board.

• Andrew Bynum, tech nerd.

• As a general rule of thumb, trade rumors at this time of the year are less reliable than the ones you hear even in February. And those are usually, um, fertilizer.

• A little Kobe/MJ talk.

• We spend a lot of time here talking about the Western Conference, for obvious reasons, but as I’m starting to really look at the season up ahead I think the East could be just as entertaining this year.

Boston obviously will be good again, but they will be a year older and they lost some depth with Posey gone. How healthy will they be this season? How hungry? You know KG will be but what about Pierce and some of the role players? Can Detroit really improve and if so how — more minutes for Stuckey, Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson? Can they get Kwame Brown to accept a role and fill it? I like what Cleveland did this off-season, it may not be as much as LeBron wanted but it was an improvement. I think come April and May they could be the biggest challenge to Boston. Then there is Toronto, if JO is right and meshes well with Bosh, there is a very good sleeper team. They could be a team that starts iffy but is rolling when it matters. Orlando is going to be good as well, mixing in with that group.

My opinions are not fully formed yet on the East (or the West or the Lakers) but there are some good and well-matched teams to follow in that conference.

Lakers I Miss: Michael Cooper

Darius Soriano —  September 15, 2008

Growing up and watching the Lakers, Magic Johnson was my favorite player.  His artistry and creativity generated at least one play a game that just amazed me.  And every time the Captain, Kareem, swung left and shot right and drained that beautiful sky hook my eyes would light up.  And when the team was out on the fast break, nothing thrilled me more than to see Big Game James filling the lane and soaring to the basket with his legs spread eagle for one of his patented one handed jams.  But there was one player that I always wanted to come into the game.  One player that, when he came in, I just knew something good was going to happen.  One player that I rooted for on both ends of the floor, knowing that he was going to make a difference.  And to this day, when I play pick up ball on the blacktop, the local gym, or in my mens league, I wear my tube socks pulled up to my knees in a tribute to that one player:  Michael Cooper.

Every time he would go to the scorers table to check in, COOOOOOOOOOP!!!! was the chant.  And on every perfectly executed alley-oop (as Chick would classicly call it, the Coop-a-loop), on every blocked shot (where he set up the offensive player and baited him into trying that lay up that got thrown back), on every nail-in-the-coffin 3 pointer he buried in the clutch, and on every strip of the ball on even the most perfectly executed crossover dribble, I (along with everyone else in the Fabulous Forum) chanted.  We cheered on the skinny guy with the whispy mustache and the legs that started at his armpits, #21, Michael Cooper.

Michael Cooper was the 60th pick of the 1978 NBA Draft out of the University of New Mexico.  He would join a Lakers team that had won 45 games the prior season and been to the playoffs.  A team that had established players with recognizable names like Jabbar, Wilkes, Dantley, and Nixon.  And even though he was a First Team All-Conference performer his senior season in the WAC, he joined a competitive Lakers team and his rookie season in the NBA would be an afterthought.  He would play in only 3 games and basically be a bystander to a 47 win season and a Conference Semifinals playoff exit.  But the next season, that would change.  In his second season, he would be a major contributor to the team.  He would be a key player off the bench with an established role as a defensive player and help the team to the NBA Championship where he would watch his backcourt mate put on one of the best performances in NBA history in the clinching Game 6 against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

By his third season, he would further cement himself as one the NBA’s premier defenders by making his first of 8 straight  (first or second) All-Defensive teams.  His reign as one of the leagues best shut down defenders was highlighted by his Defensive Player of the Year award in the 1986-87 season, an incredible feat considering that he was primarily used as a sixth man off of the bench.  And not only was he recognized by the media and opposing coaches, Coop was respected by every opponent that he guarded.  Maybe the best compliment that a defender could receive while playing in that era is one that was issued by Larry Bird.  When asked who was the toughest defender that he faced in his career, Larry Legend would simply say:

“Michael Cooper was the best defender.”

But Coop wasn’t about awards or recognition or any statistics.  His career averages in almost every statistical category (except for the 1.2 steals per game) are average at best.  Coop was about winning.  And the proof of that commitment was in the many hats he wore and how he tailored his game to help the team.  Play back up Point Guard?  Sure.  It didn’t matter that he came into the league as a combo Guard/Forward out of college.  Defend the other teams best offensive wing player?  No problem.  The fact that he was his college teams best offensive player didn’t deter him from becoming a stopper on the other end.  Develop a reliable outside shot to provide spacing for Kareem and Worthy’s low post games?  Can do.  He didn’t care that his primary strengths were running the floor and slashing to the basket or that he was less than a 30% three point shooter for the first 5 years of his career.  Cooper would do anything it took to improve his game and help the team win.  And his 5 championship rings are a testament to that mindset of just getting the job done and helping his team.

I miss Coop for all these reasons and more.  His steadiness.  His leadership.  His willingness to get dunked on, not hang his head, and come right back working even harder on the next possesion to get that key stop.  That perseverence that all champions have.  This past June, when we saw a parade of Celtics wing players driving to the basket, I really missed him, that’s for sure.  Like I said earlier, there were a plethora of players that were more famous and had more illustrious careers, whose highlights you’ll find all over YouTube, and whose jerseys hang in the rafters of the Staples Center.  But there’s one Laker that I truly miss:  Michael Cooper.

-Darius

Lakerology

Gatinho —  September 12, 2008

In these days where the lobe of our brain that is all things Lakers is like a forlorn castaway on a desert island longing for a sip of fresh water, we can look back on some vids and articles that can fill in the time and simultaneously slake and whet our thirst for even a simple pre-season tilt

Hit the links and enjoy some Lakerology

Speaking of pre-season, this may be one of the more interesting in recent memory. The Return, The Prelude, starring Young Andrew Bynum

What are the effects of a Phil Jackson training camp on Pau Gasol?

Phil Jackson explains the Triangle… “In His Own Words”:

“If your holding the ball longer than 2 seconds, your holding up your team…” Phil Jackson breaks down the offense for the fans.

Tex explains what to do if the defense is sagging in the post, aka the “Two Pass” or “Pinch Post”… where we should see Pau and Kobe a lot this season…

“The Moment of Truth” in the offense… when a players gets within 3 feet of his defender, the rest of the offense needs to move. This is something the regular fan actually can look for in a game. If Kobe’s jab stepping at the top of the key and there are no cutters…there should be a “pressure release” aka “The Blind Pig”…

Creating a triangle in a way that is inconspicuous to the defense… and another triangle axiom, “The player with the ball hits the first open man. It is an offense predicated on player and ball movement with a purpose

“The first principle is penetration.” Another point the layman can look for…How fast do they get into the triangle?… and they are not called “plays”, they are called “a series of options”. And why don’t the coaches huddle with the players at the beginning of time outs?

Jordan Farmar:

A Peace Player, in Israel making a change in the world with a hoop, a ball, and some Woodenesque ideas on teamwork…

…and if you don’t know who the Fanhouse’s Elie Seckback is… you should check him out

From the SI.com vault… where they have archived and allowed access to some of the greatest sports writing and sports writers…

The young, exciting, and surging 1995 Lakers…

What did the Lakers know that nobody else did?…That 6’6″ rookie guard Eddie Jones , out of Temple , the NBA ‘s 10th draft choice overall, would outplay other lottery picks with contracts $50 million richer than his six-year, $13.5 million deal? That Cedric Ceballos , a career backup with the Phoenix Suns , would make the Laker faithful forget recently retired James Worthy? That point guard Nick Van Exel would help them forget Magic Johnson? That through Sunday they would be 21-11, on a 54-victory pace and in third place in the rugged Pacific Division?

Kermit Washington’s infamous punch…

For all his reputation as one of …the strongest, most dangerous customers in the game, off the court Washington is a gentle, sensitive, family man who is popular with both teammates and opponents…

The Immortal Chick Hearn…

…From high above the western sideline of the Los Angeles Forum, the world’s most beautiful sports theater, hello again, everybody, this is Chick Hearn.”

The voice was steady and sure of itself, and it caught the ear. The voice was made for radio, painting pictures in the dark. “Wow, what a tempo! Magic back and forth like a windshield wiper with the dribble drive, he throws up a prayer…air ball. Rebound left side taken by McAdoo, he goes right back up—a frozen rope that time, no arch, but it melted right in the hole…

The announcement that caused the Lakers to trade Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for the 13th pick in the draft…

…Bryant , a 6’6″ shuffler—except on a basketball court, where he moves like lightning—ambled up to the podium in a vent-less sport coat and fine dress trousers bought at the last minute and in need of a tailor, his sunglasses positioned on the top of his shiny shaved head. His coat had puffy shoulders, masking his frame, which at 190 pounds is as skinny and malleable as a strand of cooked spaghetti. He leaned his goofy kid’s mouth toward the microphone, mockingly brought his fingers to his unblemished chin as if he were still pondering his decision, and delivered the news that insiders had been expecting for a week.

“I’ve decided to skip college and take my talent to the NBA ,” Bryant said.

And finally…

…for what it’s worth. I don’t get out to many shows these days. But Beck in Reno was the highlight of my summer

-Gatinho

No Surgery For Kobe

Kurt —  September 9, 2008

Straight from Kobe’s Web Site:

After seeking numerous opinions from hand specialists, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has decided to forgo surgery on his right pinkie. Fresh off his Olympic Gold Medal performance in Beijing, Bryant expressed that he did not want to miss any time on the court when Lakers training camp opens later this month.

“I have always felt that I can still focus and play at a high level even through various injuries. That’s really just part of the game. When the doctors told me recovery from a procedure could be 12 weeks, I just decided now was not the time to have surgery. What it really came down to for me is that I just didn’t want to miss any time ‘punching the clock’ for the Lakers, given all we are trying to accomplish as a team this NBA season. I am just really excited and looking forward to being there with the guys when camp opens in a few weeks. That is a real bonding process and if I can avoid being on the sidelines for that, God willing, I will,” said Bryant.

UPDATE: Ask and ye shall receive — from Reed here are the pre- and post-injury stats on Kobe:

Kobe pre-injury:
46 games, 45.9% FG, 83.6% FT, 35.6% 3P, 8.8 FTA/gm, 5.1 3PA/gm

Kobe post-injury (including playoffs):
57 games: 46.5% FG, 83.1% FT, 34.4% 3P, 9.4 FTA/gm, 5.0 3PA/gm

Reed’s comment: Basically: the injury had absolutely zero effect on his shooting accuracy, how often he tried to get to the line, or how often he shot 3s. He also missed zero games because of it.