Psychology and the Celtics, Round Two

Reed —  February 6, 2009

We’ve spent a lot of time today talking about psychology, the Celtics, confidence, etc. Before that mood passes, here is a second round of scattered thoughts on point. Warning: there might be nothing less worth reading than someone playing pop psychologist in the world of sports.

At the end of the Christmas Lakers-Celtics game, a close friend called and, after appropriate gushing, prophesied an extended rough patch for the Celtics. I rejected the notion out of hand – they had just won 19 games in a row, were the reigning champions, had handily defeated LA in the finals the year before – what was one regular season loss to them? Nevertheless, my visionary friend firmly pressed on: “you don’t understand the psychological impact of that loss and the mental fragility of Boston.” The Celtics lost six of their next eight games, most totally unexplainable: a self destructing Golden State, Portland with no Roy, New York, Charlotte, at home to an injured Houston, and a total thumping from the Cavs. Prophecy fulfilled. This made me think more about the hand of psychology in sports.

Every team has a unique identity, earned through months and years of successes and failures; victories and losses; scandals and fights; heroism and selflessness. This identity reflects the team’s psychology more than its physical characteristics. A team is “soft” or “steely” or “united” or “disinterested,” but they are always something.

The current Celtics team has perhaps the most identifiable identity in recent memory. The typical watch word is “intensity,” but I believe this confuses an effect with its cause. Yes, the Celtics are perhaps the most intense team in recent memory, but this trait springs from a more fundamental characteristic – one that I think captures their psychological identity: insecurity. Now, at first blush that sounds like a petty jab, but when properly understood I think it also serves to compliment our rival. Insecurity, like most primal traits, manifests itself in several ways. On the positive end, it fuels hunger, intensity, work ethic, common purpose, a chip on the shoulder – all to prove naysayers wrong. On the flip side, it fuels self doubt, wild swings in confidence, and a constant need to show others up. Boston is all of these things. They pile on the trash talk; they are hungry, devoted, on a mission; they are white hot with confidence one minute, and full of strange doubt the next; they run off huge win streaks, but then are capable of immediately falling apart; they are, in a word, the team embodiment of insecurity.

For such a successful team, whence this strange insecurity? I believe it springs from the players’ and team’s roots with failure. First Garnett, the spiritual leader of the team and the prototype for insecure athletes. From off the court beginnings to his decade of failed championship questing in Minnesota, KG lived in the shadow of failure for a long time – always labeled as that star who couldn’t get out of the first round, and always afraid of the big shot. We all know people like him – the alpha male who has to be in charge, picks on the little guy, works like a demon, seems haunted by lingering self doubt, and is wildly successful.

For much of the rest of the team, I think the 2007 season sets the stage – the year before the championship. This was probably rock bottom for the Celtics as a franchise. After years of struggling to get over the hump in the east and going through various phases of rebuilding, the team saw salvation in Oden and Durant and (like a few others) shamefully tanked. We all remember the infamous Ryan Gomes quote after being withheld from key parts of a close game:

“I probably (would have played), but since we were in the hunt for a high draft pick, of course things are different,” Gomes said. “I understand that. Hopefully things get better. Now that we clinched at least having the second-most balls in the lottery, the last three games we’ll see what happens. We’ll see if we can go out and finish some games.”

Or this article, titled “Tankology,” from Boston.com, where the author breaks down the evidence, including the team’s shutting down “injured” stars, playing odd lineup combinations during critical parts of games, limiting the best players minutes, etc. The author concludes:

Look, I don’t think the players were trying to lose any of these games intentionally. I do, however, think they weren’t properly motivated to give their best efforts as a team. I also think that Doc intentionally did not make his best effort coaching the team in late, close situations, under the guise of “I wanted to see what the guys would do” or “I thought we had a favorable matchup and didn’t want a timeout to ruin it” even though he had to know the players on the floor would not pull off what he supposedly wanted to see them do.”

At the same time, Jeff at Celtics blog was unleashing a steady stream of tongue in cheek articles monitoring the dive in the standings: “Tanks for the Memories,” “Tank Job Complete,” and “Welcome to Tank Week.” Jeff sums up his feelings when commenting on another’s tanking analysis: “the general feeling that he had (and that I share) is that it is great that we got the 2nd worst record, but we can’t help but feel a little icky about how it all happened.” Simmons chimed in with “From Celtic Pride to Celtic Shame,” and pushed for retooling the lottery system to punish would be tankers.

Several key members of the current Celtics were born on that team: Rondo, Perkins, Powe, Tony Allen. Their first taste of the league was on a team that seemed to break the one cardinal rule in sports: no matter what else you do, when on the court you play to win. They lost 18 games in a row, mostly because they were bad, but also because Doc and Ainge wanted Durant and Oden at any cost. They were the laughing stock of the league and Exhibit A for what was wrong with the league’s draft system. Deep insecurity was born.

When the lottery came and Boston’s plan failed (karma?), all seemed lost for a while. Pierce wanted out unless something dramatic happened. Ainge made a move for Garnett, but he initially refused to join the struggling franchise. He relented only when Allen was added and Kobe made it clear he wanted out of LA. With Garnett and Allen in the fold, a few critical veterans came for cheap (Posey, Allen, Brown, Cassell), filling out the holes.

This is when and how the current Celtics team was born – on the heels of embarrassment and failure. The players and team were full of hunger and intensity, but also faced lingering self doubt. Rondo and Perkins and Powe were easy converts to Garnett’s mantra of work and intensity, but they also shared his ghosts, even if they stemmed from different roots. We see both sides of that insecurity now, with the team exhibiting unparalleled work ethic, intensity, and confidence, but also strange periods of implosion. The bullyish side of the coin leads even rookie point guards like DJ Augustin (who should keep their mouths shut) to say things like: “(The Celtics) come in and intimidate you and try to punk you. But if you don’t back down from them, they kind of fold.” As Wojnarowski noted in his column last month, the Celtics’ antics have stirred up an unusual amount of disrespect from the rest of the league.

Now, let’s tie this back to the Lakers. What is the psychological identity of this Laker team? Does it have one?

This team is clearly distinguishable from the Shaq-Kobe-Phil teams. Those teams, despite the presence of all sacrificing role players like Fish, Fox, and Horry, seemed to carry the primal trait of self love. Shaq and Kobe both wanted to win, but they wanted to win in a way such that they could be The Man. They juggled an intense desire for team success with grand personal ambitions – mvp awards, legacies, media favor, etc. On the positive side, this resulted in steely self confidence down the stretch of key games (that rubbed off on others) and unthinkable on court accomplishments. On the negative side, it resulted in constant bickering, public posturing, division, and ultimately a team blown up well before its time. This is not who the Lakers are now.

Are we, perhaps, more like the Spurs psychologically? Driven by Duncan and Pop, those teams have always been characterized fundamentally by calmness and humility – which translates to being steady, united, moderate, unflappable, and enduring; but also creates complacency (remember that they always start slow and are counted out, only to pull it together at the end). There are some similarities, but the Lakers are still very different.

The truth is I don’t know if this Laker team has found its identity yet. Two things give me hope that the identity is grounded on something that is positive and will endure. First, in contrast with the Celtics, this team was not thrown together patchwork on the heels of disaster. By and large, Mitch added one piece at a time through the draft and modest trades. Gasol is the exception, but for the most part the team has grown step by step together. The core and system have been in place for years. Second, Kobe, Fisher, and Jackson present a united front of leadership and they emanate focus, professionalism, and intense competitiveness. But there’s also a casualness to the team that doesn’t fit with that – Odom, Radmanovic, Walton, Bynum. While Kobe has a killer instinct, I don’t know if the team does. While Fisher is a relentless competitor, the team as a whole isn’t all the way there.

Surely, they are developing, and in the right direction, but until we/they figure out who they are deep down, I sense we’ll always be left a bit unsure of what to expect on any given night. With the Shaq-Kobe teams, we were often frustrated by the drama, but knew that come playoff time the competitiveness and confidence would carry through. I think wins like we saw last night, or on Christmas, or against Cleveland reveal that this team is slowly adopting Kobe and Fisher’s character and developing a mental edge that harmonizes with its physical talents. This will result in an identity based on simple confidence. To me, this development is the last step before we overcome all. When Pau, Drew, Odom, Farmar, Ariza, etc. believe in themselves and their ability to win like Kobe and Fish do then we’ll see the titles roll in.

After last night, I believe we are well on our way.

–Reed

(PS, make sure to read Dex’s brilliant comment).

Reed

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89 responses to Psychology and the Celtics, Round Two

  1. Interesting thoughts.

    Since you are playing pop-psychologist today I have a few problems…..

  2. PeanutButterSpread February 6, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    On another note, let’s save the “boston sucks” kinda homerism till the playoffs or something.

    The Lakers won by 1 point in OT.

    Let’s take it easy, savor the victory, but don’t get cocky.

    There’s still too many games left to play in the season and the Lakers are not out of the woods yet on this roadtrip.

    Still, a really good win for forum blue and gold.

  3. Actually I would say this teams characteristic is confidence, (not saying that is a better characteristic than boston)

    MAkes the team very competitive, calm, hard to fluster, and good down the stretch. Also causes the team to play better against better teams.

    On the other hand it also attributes. To cockiness, overconfidence, occasional lack of intensity, and not getting up for every game. Explains why this team and the spurs who I fell as similar will occasionally play down to competition as they don’t take lower level teams seriosly

  4. Great post, far from pop psychology and especially far from jeering that Boston sucks (you go out of your way to underscore the strengths of the team as much or more than their weaknesses). I hadn’t thought of the playground wisdom, which is true, that the bully is often more fundamentally insecure than his victims, with regard to the Celtics. Now that you bring it up it strikes me as being spot-on.

    Garnett’s embarrassing, histrionic antics as he clutched the trophy last season are a case in point. He was like a hillbilly who’s just won the lottery, giggling and whooping and screaming and rocking back and forth and moaning. It was like all the pressure of his years as a playoffs no-show with the Timberwolves was exploding from him in that moment, years and years of pent-up, horrible gas finally freed in a very public forum.

    Karl Malone probably would have acted similarly if he’d won a ring with the Lakers back in the day. Enormous relief to have that particular monkey off his back mixed with a gnawing awareness that he’d done a little piggybacking to get there. Guys in the Boston media who were calling for Doc’s head a few years ago now act as if he was legitimate from the get-go. The whole tanking fiasco is forgotten, lost in the giddiness of being on top again.

    Yet every so often these “sins of the fathers” reveal themselves as deep, deep insecurities; like the playground bully, Boston responds with shock and chagrin to teams that stand up for themselves. Kobe shoving his finger in Rondo’s face and Odom’s aggression with Garnett were good signs that we’ve moved on from last year’s defeat and are willing (if not quite ready) to face all comers. Great post, Reed, we need more like it.

  5. I think a critical component to this laker team’s psychology is that most of it’s members have grown up playing under the shadow of Kobe Bryant. Historically, he has demonstrated a willingness and desire to take (and make) big shots in big moments. His teammates expect him to take (and make) those shots. When the opposing team makes a 6-0 run during an important part of a game, Kobe is the one who typically responds by burying 2 tough shots in a row. This must be very assuring psychologically for everyone on the team. It must provide a general sense of confidence and calm.

    But during the finals, for whatever reason, he was NOT making those shots (except for game 3). I don’t believe that the other players were mentally prepared for that situation. When the Celtics made the game 4 comeback, I just kept thinking: it’s okay, it’s okay, Kobe will bury a couple 3s and we’ll hold on for a close win. Maybe everyone else was thinking that too?

    Several members of the team demonstrated last night (and on Christmas day) that they’re ready to adopt a bigger role on the team. I think that the psychology of this team is changing from a Kobe + team mentality to a team mentality.

  6. Wow. This was so freakin’ awesome.

    I admit that I forgot that the current Celts were “born – on the heels of embarrassment and failure.” What a difference a year and a ring makes?

    I often argue with colleagues about why Kobe, and even LeBron, are on a different stratosphere than other NBA stars. In comparison to a Pierce or a Wade, neither Kobe or LeBron would lead their teams to such dreadful records. It’s just not in them. Even while playing with the Smush Parkers and Kwame Browns. But that’s another discussion.

    But the psychology of the current Lakers? Dynamic yet limited (as a whole). Yes, we know Kobe and we know Fish. But I honestly think Drew and Ariza embody this. They have the physical tools to be so much more than they are, and have yet to reach their ultimate dynamicism, and it’s not a matter of if they reach it, but when…

    Much like young Kobe coming off the bench in the late 90s.

  7. To the person posting as Leon Powe: It’s not content but I’m killing everything posted in an active players name.

  8. I think our team is influenced by 3 very powerful forces:

    1) Phil: Unlike Pop’s relentless emphasis on execution, Phil always goes back to the intagnible “Zen” aspects such as: flow, energy and rythym. This provides a broader perspective than just hoops, and brings to life the players personal characteristics.

    2) Kobe: He brings a coldness that is necessary to not care about looking cool, making friends or being liked, it simply is about winning.

    3) Several Foregin Players: This gives our team (with Sasha, Pau, Vlad, Sun, Mbenga) an international presence that brings real-life world experience to the psyche of the players, allowing them perspective on what the games mean, and also a foregin flavor that almost bonds the team together like a college team.

    Put it all together and we have this quirky, buddihst principled, cold blooded killer, foreign vibe team that is really easy to root for, and is learning to be a champion. I’m glad I’ve been along for the ride to this point.

  9. i think you have to examine the history, culture, management, and leadership of a team to really get at their present identities.

    i don’t know that it helps to look at this from a psychologicaly perspective.

  10. I’m fascinated by the collective meltdown of the Celtics fans that has occurred. Now, like any Laker fan, I loathe the Celtics, think they are a bunch of thugs, and I also think the personality of the team rubs off on their fans. As such, the fascination is to see my conception of them manifest themselves objectively. Reading the Celticsblog thread after the game, there were about 100 comments, and probably 90% were “it’s the refs’ fault we lost”. Also very interesting was to watch Jeff, the guy who so comfortably played the reasonable, gracious fan while his team was clearly the league’s best team, uncork the old “The refs were bad, but I’m not going to say they’re the reason we lost… but really, we lost because of the refs,” now that they have been upstaged a little bit. The contrast to Kurt’s philosophy, there is no excuse to blame the refs ever.

    Evil empire is exactly right, if such a thing is possible in sports.

  11. Interesting post.

    As I have said in the other threads, I think the issue is not so much “psychology” per se but a willingness to play tough, play physical, jaw bac k at KG, push Perkins, get chippy with Rondo. Talent, cohesion, a balance of skills and coaching are the main ingredients of a basketball team–but there is a visceral element to the game that can affect outcomes when the talent is relatively evenly matched.

    As many here said about G6 of the 2008 Finals: I didn’t mind the team losing–the Celtics were better than the Lakers in June 2008–but I did mind the team backing down and getting embarassed. Last night is important because it tells me that is less likely to happen again if the the Lakers do make the Finals.

    Here’s a question: If the Lakers win Sunday, is this perhaps the greatest road trip in team history? The 1972 team had some great ones, I am sure, but undefeated without the starrting , winning the last two in CLE and BOS has to be up there.

  12. I think if I were a Boston fan reading this post my blood would be boiling now.

    A hilarious moment from the end of last night’s game was a fan’s comment clearly clearly heard in the background: “You’re the worst in the world!” It would be just as comical if it were directed at the Lakers or the Celtics, but for different reasons.

  13. Kurt –

    Any chance you could talk to Henry over at TrueHoop? Not one, but -two- posts today concerning Mr. Bean Bryant, neither of which is particularly flattering.

    Does the guy have an axe to grind or what? Is it that now that the Blazers are actually good again, he feels threatened by the success the Lakers are having? Maybe it’s just me, but it’s certainly seemed to be rather biased over at TH the last few days…

  14. 14-okay, that photo is phenomenal just for the anguish on pierce’s face.

  15. what seperates our team from others are that each and everyone of the players on the lakers have a winning attitude, they understand kobes determination and will to win. i think all of them feed off of that and in the long run will be very beneficial.

    also kobes clutch 3’s with time winding down i can only believe will make all the other guys want to do it too – be like kobe. kobe leads through example, he’s quiet and not loud and showy. that’s where i think the media doesnt understand the silent leadership kobe takes on so they like to make it seem as if kobe isn’t a leader, hes all about himself and winning.

    kobe does so much for this team, so much more then just during the game. he definately influences and motivates the players and i hope that everyone on the lakers will carry on the same kind of competitiveness that he has, if they do we really will be unstoppable.

  16. Whatever Kurt. I can see you aren’t interested in an open discussion. Heaven forbid a fresh perspective, when its easier just to delete stuff you don’t agree with…

    http://forums.celticsblog.com/index.php?topic=25459.msg421141;topicseen#new

  17. Is anybody here good enough at Photoshop to give us a picture of what LO will look like “sail[ing] off to the sunset on [his] white horse?” I gotta see it.

  18. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with the post – but it has certainly sparked some deep thoughts. Good work!

  19. Great narrative. Don’t disagree with a thing you said.

    Pau is a toggle guy in this story, as he has always had a reputation for being soft, folding in the heat of the brights lights, and he is definitely showing discipline, intensity and willingness to come up big down the stretch.

    Fish/Kobe/Jackson have always been what they are, save for Kobe finally getting that to be The Man he has to trust and THEN hold his teammates accountable.

    My point is that there it often takes a respected player who is not emblematic of the core to toggle over for everyone else to get religion.

    Pau is the guy who will hopefully maintain it for balance of season and playoffs, leading the balance to follow his “lead.”

  20. Reed, regardless of whether your points are true or not and whether or not people agree, just props for some outstanding writing.

    That kind of writing is why this site is fantastic.

    Good flow and rhythm. Clear points brought up with examples cited. Written for people with reading comprehension above grade school, yet easily digestible and accessible. It’s not a dry academic journal treatise by any means.

    That’s just some durn good writing.

  21. A “willingness to play tough, play physical, jaw back at KG, push Perkins, get chippy with Rondo,” etc., seems first and foremost a psychological virtue, a psychological edge. It’s true that a psychological edge can result from “talent, cohesion, a balance of skills and coaching,” and it’s also true that, all things being equal, a “visceral element” enters in, something undefinable that ultimately “effects outcomes”; which I think is what Reed is getting at when he talks about psychology.

    Last year Boston struggled into the finals, where they played a fantastic series. They played so fantastic that everyone seemed to forget that they’d struggled, and, more importantly, that they were a piecemeal team who’d not given any evidence of longevity or staying power.

    These aren’t Boston guys by any stretch of the imagination. Their younger up-and-comings (as noted by Reed) first stretched their wings in an atmosphere tainted by Doc and Ainge’s inglorious backdoor conniving, and their other key players on and off the bench (Pierce excepted) only moved into town because they had to. It was almost a Dream Team scenario, let’s pull a disparate but talented squad together and see if they can win a ring. They won a ring, but they’re no more Boston than Karl Malone was Los Angeles, and that’s one of the areas in which the psychological question becomes very interesting.

    I thought that the Boston media especially would home in on the question of in what sense is Boston truly a team, what is the basis for trusting Doc Rivers, etc., this year, but instead a combination of recent happy memories and Boston’s impressive start served as a broad swath of whitewash and resulted in a lot of overhyping and nonsensical comparisons. This team has no relation to the Celtics of old, no relation to glory of any kind. Their roots are embedded in failure and ignominy. There’s no core of leadership that they can rally around when times get hard. Pierce, Doc? Come on.

    And, as someone already mentioned, it’s reflected by the fans. They reacted to Boston’s slide with pandemonium. There was no sense of direction, no focus to the discussions. You had voices blaming the refs, and voices blaming the schedule, but hardly any voices raising the issue of the integrity of the team itself. In a sense they took their cue from Doc, who, after the first Laker’s loss, insisted that it was no big deal, it was nothing, just another loss, no different than losing to the Thunder, a loss is a loss, etc. etc. etc. When patently it was anything but another loss; if Gasol gets knocked to the court by Garnett in the closing minutes, and instead of sulking there (as he did in the finals) he leaps up and in the next possession slams the ball down Garnett’s throat, that means something; the wind is shifting; the tide shows signs of change. But no, in Boston it was the perfidious refs that were to blame; and last night it was no different; voice after voice decrying the refs, with an occasional objection immediately shouted down.

    The truth is that the fans don’t know this team well enough, and the team doesn’t know itself well enough, to ask embarrassing and difficult but absolutely necessary questions. On the other hand, when the Lakers lose, one looks immediately to the core of Kobe and Phil and Fish, to their philosophy of basketball and their long tradition of winning — which itself is a link in a long, long chain — for a framework in which to frame a coherent and useful discussion. And even relative newcomers like Gasol, given the fact that they’re additions to an already existing core, as opposed to the vacuum that was Boston, exude the confidence of old-timers.

    Maybe Boston is currently experiencing the growing pains of a dynasty in embryo and Doc and Garnett will emerge as bonafide leaders and shake off the monkeys that still cling to them gnawing. If they don’t, they’re in trouble, because teams who have figured them out psychologically, how to get in their heads, will continue to do so and wreak havoc.

    There’s no way we should have won that game yesterday. We played Boston about as blearily and disjointedly as possible, but when we hit them in the mouth once or twice they lost their cool. They sort of wear their psychology on their sleeve. They’re an exiled, mercenary tribe with more bad memories than good ones. Doc has two looks in tight situations, outraged and scared. Garnett just has the latter, and I’m not sure that Pierce and Allen can make up the difference this year.

  22. 16 – huh?

    He basically said “change your handle” and everything would be fine. You need to calm down.

    He didn’t delete post 16, so clearly he’s fine with you linking to you pretty much trashing him at celticsblog. So maybe you’re jumping to conclusions, yes?

    In case you didn’t notice there’s a lot of juvenile mudslinging today, and so Kurt has to put on the forum police hat. Maybe the reason you didn’t notice it is that he’s censored a lot of stupidity in the last 24 hours (ie he’s doing a good job).

    Your thread at celticsblog though makes me wonder why you picked the Powe handle, instead of KG: you’re pretty riled up over nothing. :)

  23. I think objectively it is absolutely fair to call this celtics team characterized by insecurity.

    But, I’d say Kobe’s had a chip on his shoulder born of insecurity going back to the Colorado incident. He had that, then he had the “driving shaq out of town” thing, he’s had the “gunner” image since day one — and he’s spent years repairing (or trying to repair) his image.

    Basically, I’m saying with these stars I think insecurity is the rule. Duncan- or spurs-type confidence (and the Shaq-Kobe teams’ “self-love,” which I would just call over-confidence) has to be the rare exception.

    Our team, especially after last year’s game 6 drubbing, is probably mostly “insecure” deep down inside too. If there’s a dominant motivating force for this laker team it’s probably that same insecurity, hoping we can make everyone forget that embarrassment. After taking a beating like that doesn’t this almost have to be the case?

    (The only problem is “insecurity” is too quickly associated with being derogatory, so there’s no question there’s going to be a lot of kneejerk reaction to this. The irony is that would probably help prove the point.)

  24. Dex, really enjoyed both your posts so far. Just fantastic; keep it up.

  25. well written, thoughtful article

    not sure I buy all the conclusions, but I agree with a lot of it and I would be hard pressed to offer a better analysis

    nice job

  26. “I hope not,” Odom said when asked before Thursday’s game against Boston about the possibility of a trade. “I want to be a Laker for the rest of my life. I’m a rock star. I can’t help it. Some people want me to go, some people want me to stay.

    “I want to stay. I love L.A. I’m done moving around. I’ve been in L.A. since 1999. Why would I want to go anywhere else? And I want to win the big one. Why not? You’re playing, you might as well want to win, right? I’ve lost plenty. It’s time to win.

    LO wants to stay in LA, reckon he’ll take a pay cut?

    http://www.dailynews.com/ci_11641441?source=rss

  27. Lots of good insights that flesh out or reasonably disagree with my thoughts.

    Brilliant thoughts from Dex — critical, but well said. I agree.

    Good insight from Mark Segal on Pau’s role as a “toggle player” in solidifying our identity.

    Kwame — I agree completely. The team is made up of three very different forces and it is interesting to watch them blend together into a cohesive whole, without stripping each part of its individual virtues.

    Shaky — very well said and I see your argument. However, I do not think Kobe can honestly be described as insecure (and you are right that it misses the point to read my use of insecurity just pejoratively). Insecurity involves self doubt and while Kobe has skeletons in his closet, they do not involve lack of confidence in himself. While he has something to prove, I don’t think he’s ever felt the need to prove anything to himself (like Garnett). Instead, Kobe has wrestled with believing in others and playing in a way that makes them believe not only in him, but themselves. So I think we’re dealing with a completely different mentality with Kobe. Ditto Phil and Fisher — I don’t sense any insecurity. I’m still trying to put my finger on the team’s identity, but at least as to Kobe-Phil-Fish, I don’t see what I see in Boston.

    Clutch, specialM — great insights.

  28. Off topic

    There is a story on True Hoop that I find simplifies the concept of the clutch player. They quote 82games list of players/percentages the make key shots in the last 24sec of the game. As usual, statistics generally simplify a much more complex situation, such that no real truth is arrived at.

    I have Two points…
    1) When comparing last second (24sec) shots you should include assists in the key players totals – as in they hit the open man and he made the shot.
    2) Many games are won in areas that do not fall into the last second. The key statistic, and I don’t think it is kept anywhere as it is subjective, is how a player does in changing the momentum at a key part of the game where things are going poorly and this player makes a play, or series of plays, that turns the game around. A sample of this would be the Olympic Bball Final game.

    This topic has come up on this blog and I prefer to blog here, as I don’t pay to subscribe to any “Insider” type of blog.

  29. Great post Reed, it took awhile to go through all the links but they made the article more interesting, for me at least. I did not really know the recent past of the Celtics, but it was interesting how you described it. Dex complimented your post nicely.

  30. I’m going to break a bit from the crowd here, and argue that Dex has taken it perhaps a tad further than I might be inclined to do. I think that Boston’s team make-up isn’t *so* far removed from that of the Lakers.

    Mercenary star who couldn’t seem to get out of the first round, brought in from an underachieving squad via a highly-advantageous trade. We have Pau, they have Garnett.

    Top-level scoring guard who has seen the worst of the franchise in recent memory. We have Kobe, they have Pierce (like it or not, blame Bryant or not, the ’04-’05 season was the worst in LAL history since the Pfund years of the early 90s).

    A number of young players, brought in during years of struggle. We have the Bench Mob, Bynum and Odom. They have their bench, Rondo and Perkins.

    Our bench is slightly less harried. They have a Ray Allen, we don’t. Kobe is more focused than Garnett, perhaps, but one would be hard-pressed to suggest Garnett lacks in that category. We have Phil Jackson and greater recent successes prior to last season… But they have last season.

    I think the two teams, psychologically, are not so different as one might imagine. In my mind, the difference is their leadership. Phil Jackson is one of the greatest coaches in the history of professional basketball – or at least, his resume is. Doc Rivers reminds me of nothing so much as the old quote, “the inmates are running the asylum.” He’s just lucky his inmates are the basketball equivalent of Red, Andy Dufresne, and their compatriots at Shawshank. But to complete the metaphor, remember that Brooks eventually can’t handle the “outside.”

    For the Celtics, the question must be, is the eventual outcome of this season going to be that of Andy Dufresne? Or of Brooks?

    As for the Lakers?

    Think ‘Air Bud.’

  31. For these Lakers I would also say that their team identity is still developing, but I am not sure whether it will develop fully. The main reason is Kobe, or rather, the polarizing effect of Kobe’s personality.

    For most athletes, being “driven” means that they are driven to succeed in some way. For Kobe, it is being driven to do the improbable (he is too smart to go for the impossible, but for some reason he keeps going for the improbable).

    The other pillars of the team, Phil and Fisher, do not share this. They are typical, “character” – based professional athletes. They want to win and since they play a team sport, the winning has to be done as a team and therefore they are wired to lead the team to win, long term. Phil has his philosophy, etc., but when it comes down to it, his philosophy and methods are tools to help the team win over the long term.

    A thought experiment to highlight the differences. Can one imagine Phil leading the Spurs, or Fisher playing under Pop and Duncan? Both would thrive, and perhaps each of them would achieve MORE than they have achieved with the Lakers teams they have been involved with.

    But Kobe? Hard to say. He is on a path that no one in basketball, not even Jordan, and certainly not LeBron James, has dared to tread. But Kobe is also a natural leader by example and such a strong personality, so he is a very polarizing influence in terms of a team’s development. It is easy to be charmed by Garnett and buy into his insecurity and intensity for a few years, and even easier to grow up and mature into a firm believer of the long-term professionalism and balanced work ethic that Fisher, Phil and most other “character” athletes in the team setting exude. But in order for a team to be driven you basically need a bunch of Kobes, and is anyone in the league really wired like Kobe?

    This team has not yet developed a personality because, at this point, guys don’t know how much they need or want to be like Kobe, or to follow in Kobe’s footsteps. Remember when Odom was on the Clippers and the Heat? He had an immediate, personality impact on those teams – good and bad. With the Lakers his wonderful, team-oriented personalty has been subdued. Sometimes I get the feeling that the other Lakers, especially the young guys like Sasha and Farmer, are playing not to disappoint Kobe (not because they are afraid of Kobe, but they respect him so much that it is a bigger hit to them if Kobe is disappointed in them).

    In truth, Kobe probably should have never played a team sport, or at least a team sport like baseball where it is easier for individual excellence to decide wins and losses.

    So I think eventually it is Kobe who must again temper his own personality to allow the team develop its own personality. I think we have seen this over the last few years, and Kobe has embraced this, with these group of smart, eager and talented players, because he had such a hard time dealing with the over-confident, self-love of Shaq before. Phil has been a great mentor to Kobe in this respect – to teach him the joy of watching a team grow. Fisher is also a necessary part of this development, and hopefully this year we will see more signs of a professional team that is driven to long term excellence, for no other reason than it is great joy to share the experience of winning, as a team.

    (This joy of winning, as a team, could also carry the Big Three of Boston, especially Garnett, to get beyond their insecurity — we will see that this is happening when they stop acting like bullies.)

  32. These are some absolutely amazing posts.

    Also, if Henry wants to know why people want Kobe taking the last shot, maybe he should watch that last regular season game from 2004 again.

  33. 17. You are right, as evidenced by this post and the following comments, I do not want an open discussion.

    There were a number of people this morning trying to post first person as players on both teams, and those got axed, and I started cutting everything along those lines. I’m not comfortable with people using the names of players as their user names simply because I don’t want anyone misinterpreting who is actually doing the talking. That’s the logic being used.

  34. I get where all this stuff is coming from but the Celtics still smacked us in the Finals and got that ring and are a half game behind us or so in the standings. If the Lakers would of lost yesterday we would be saying it was just another game in early Feb. I still think the Celtics could repeat this year and it would not be a shock at all.

  35. 35 — I wouldn’t be shocked either to see Boston repeat. My point is not to say “Boston sucks,” it’s to try and understand what drives their strange behavior (both success and failure). They are a fascinating team, full of deep emotion and seeming contradictions. I think they won last year both because of and in spite of deep seated insecurity.

    Underbruin and Yueh Fei — awesome posts. My goal was to spark an interesting discussion, not to convince everyone of my position. Your thoughts are extremely helpful and well written.

  36. Brilliant text. It’s stuff like this that keeps me reading this site more than any other on the net.

  37. 35 –

    I’m rather with Jonathan on this one. If we’re going to talk pop psychology, there’s no better place to start than with a discussion of the ‘fanatic.’ =P

    I do believe that LA’s ability to win speaks volumes about the Lakers, but I -don’t- think it speaks volumes about the Celtics. It was simply important to show that LA *can* beat the Celtics in Boston without Bynum. Will they during the playoffs? Who knows.

    I doubt anybody here honestly believes that the Lakers are a shoo-in to win an LAL-BOS series, even if the Lakers have the home court. What we do know is, even if Big Drew isn’t back yet, there’s empirical evidence showing that it’s not a guaranteed lost cause.

    Had the Lakers lost, this would not have been a promise of future losses. But it would have given us no additional insight into their potential ability to beat Boston at TD Banknorth. Now we can not only hypothesize, but point to existing precedent. That is no small change for the psyche of the fan. And it is certainly not insignificant when theorizing over potential postseason match-ups.

    But I will leave with this:

    We are 2-0 against Boston this season.
    We are 0-2 against Orlando this season.

    If both teams are totally healthy, which of the two would you honestly expect the Lakers to be more likely to defeat? And does last night change that perception?

  38. I should clarify that last night’s victory did not inspire the post. I largely wrote this during Boston’s swoon in January following the Christmas loss. But I shelved it when the time for it seemed to pass. Playing Boston again and talking about them made me dust off the post and throw it up today (no play on words intended). In other words, I didn’t decide they were insecure because of an overtime victory last night that could have gone either way; it’s been an impression from watching them for a long time. On the flip side, last night’s victory did tell me something about LA’s developing identity.

  39. Who is the espn play by play guy for the PHX-GSW game? He actually seems to follow nba basketball.

  40. 41

    I wasn’t watching the game but it sounds like Kevin Calabro (sp?). He used to work for the Sonics.

  41. Sorry, that should have been 40 (j.d.’s comment)

  42. 39 – Reed, I think the post was a great one (let me join in the chorus lauding you for it). My response (and, I hope, the responses of those who were along the same lines as I am) was not directly aimed at your initial idea, but more the follow-ups to it. Some of them seemed to take your very workable premise – the Celtics are a team driven by insecurity – and run with it to the point where last night’s victory all-but-guarantees LA a victory in a potential LA-Boston finals.

    I don’t think that’s what you were going for. I don’t think that’s necessarily what -everybody- was going for… But there were certainly some vibes within the posts, that the Celtics had been ‘broken.’ I hesitate to use “insecurity” not because I think the descriptive principles are wrong, but because its connotation seems overly strong.

    In my mind, the Celtics are very much like glass. When grains of sand are placed into a fire, it glows red-hot. It will now burn those who touch it, yet is malleable enough to fit any shape so desired without flaw. However, as the fire is removed, the glass hardens – seemingly impenetrable, it is instead overly brittle, and can be easily broken at that moment. However, the resulting shards are extraordinarily dangerous, and can do massive amounts of damage in their own right.

    This is a Celtics team that has been “broken” with regards to the mystique surrounding their invincibility. I think you touched on this in an excellent fashion, above. However, all of us observers should not make the mistake of thinking the Celtics are any less dangerous than before – in some ways, they are likely more so.

  43. the other Stephen February 6, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    OMG. this was deep.

  44. Great post, Reed, and really well explained. I’ve considered similar things all year, but you put it in a way I never managed.

    I respect all the Celtics individually, but have been annoyed by the way they’ve seemed to act like they inventied the NBA championship. But that is sort of a result of 3 guys who had only ever flirted with a wealth of success before. Now they are the nouveau riche, flaunting the thing they have gained that they used to lack.

    I also like your analogy with the old Lakers.

    I think this Lakers team is something akin to a well oiled machine, or a prized show dog that has been bred to near perfection. They are a ferarri, built to be a near perfect showcase of basketball when every piece is working right.

    And that’s where the belief that they are soft comes from (a notion I disagree with like the rest of us here)- the idea is that they are lab built but not road tested.

    Meanwhile the Celtics area mustang that has been slowly suped up off the proceeds of road race wins. The Lakers might have the edge on a closed course, but would break down under the harsher environment of the real world.

    This year, and especially last night. I think they are proving that they are a well oiled machine that can function well on the road regardless of a few side swipes from the competition.

  45. truehoop is soooo negative about the lakers. even after a win.

  46. the other Stephen February 6, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    OMG. “this development is the last step before we overcome all.” i might cry. OOH OOH, what about the state of the pistons in past seasons?

  47. great post reed. and this was generally a great thread — a lot of interesting takes.

    I for one am psyched for Sunday. I can’t believe the Lakers might end up 6-0 on a road trip that we all initially thought would live in MCL infamy.

    I’m also really curious to see how the Spurs play the Celts.

  48. I liken the psychological identity of this current Lakers team to Neo in the first Matrix movie. In that first movie, Neo was full of power and potential but lacked the belief in himself that he could achieve what people told him he could actually do. However, there’s a scene where he rescues his mentor and then saves his girl from a crashing helicopter, and it was said that he’s beginning to believe. Much like Neo, I think the Lakers are finally starting to believe what they are actually capable of.

    If the Finals taught this team anything it’s that they really are a championship caliber team and that they really are close. Sure they lost, and were literally shamed as they got blown out in the deciding game. However, they reached a level where after analyzing their performance they could easily see where they erred and could set out to change those mistakes and turn those missteps into positive change. Going back to my movie analogy, the Lakers are now at a point where they are true believers in their ability and I think are ready to take that next step. A while back, I wrote that I think we’re tough enough to win a title and that I think what this team really needs is experience; the collective knowledge that comes from shared experience. This is something that will shape our current team and make them champions eventually. I’ve always said that winning is where talent meets belief in yourself. Belief that you are good enough, that you will execute, that when the chips are down you have what it takes to win. Our 3 peat years were the fruit born of trees that were planted from seeds of defeat in previous seasons. The experience gained from those years (and the guidance of a coach that knew what winning was about) took a team that could not get over the hump and made it into a team that stayed on top for several seasons. I truly believe that what we are seeing now is a repeat of that same trend.

  49. Darius,
    Your analysis leads me to one other component of our team – our coaching. If you are correct, and we are at the birthing of a potential dynasty (with the proper respect to the young and developing teams in the NBA), then I suspect we will have Phil as a coach for longer than just through next year. I just can’t see him following Red Auerbach’s tradition to that extent.

  50. http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-lakersceltics020609&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

    While we’re talking about psychology, Woj’s article is a bit interesting, namely these lines:

    “In a lot of ways, Bryant was wired to be a Boston Celtic. He’s uptight, antagonistic and unapologetic. There isn’t so much L.A. cool in Bryant as there’s East Coast gruff. As hard as the Celtics had been on these Lakers, Bryant is still the toughest opponent they’ll ever have.”

    I think our identity is difficult to discern because we’ve had the identity be solely Kobe for so long. He took the team on his back, and only last year was he confident enough in his teammates that we saw a burgeoning identity from the entire team. Before that, it was basically Kobe and everyone else staying out of his way; for Kobe to allow anyone else to have a say correlated to his respect for them. And for the Smush Parker and Kwame Brown, Kobe took it upon himself to subsume any team identity lest it damage their play, as neither honestly contributed to a winning culture. With everyone making a huge step forward last year, Kobe was able to take a step back and we got a glimpse of a team identity; IMO, it’s one of the reasons he got the MVP. After the Game 6 humiliation, I think that the players’ were able to band together around a common cause, and after Kobe seeing how talented this roster is, he can allow a team identity to come forward, as it’s the winning culture he desired. At any time though, I believe it’s at his discretion to put the foot forward (as we saw against the Knicks), but this year, him doing so is more to provide an example for his teammates rather than to simply dominate in the past.

    In any case, incredible thread. One of the reasons I love this board. Kudos to everyone for their insights.

  51. Darius,

    “I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see…….I’m going to show them a world without you.”

    That’d be great over a highlight of the game.

  52. This thread or entry is in many ways very very interesting. I never thought of dissecting the Lakers in this psychological, identity-centric way and for it I am most glad that this blog exists and is different from the rest. My hat is off to those who pay close attention to these Lakers and give their dose of wisdom with justice for those like us who are fans but really unsure of our fanhood ourselves in terms of depth and commitment to a Lakers ideal.

    I think much to do with the Lakers identity, if it is defined as we speak or is still under molten fire which is actually the case, revolves around core personalities that like Boston’s case now, have seen what the team has been before and what that team is. And “what has been before” is being part of an immensely huge responsibility that our young players are slowly but surely coming to grips with. You see it in the eyes of Phil, Kobe and Fish. You see not only the maturity and restraint that experience can only harness, but also the Laker ideal engraved in their guts and souls. The Laker ideal transcends players and even eras from the 60s to Showtime to the triple-treat to today and it is simple: the LA Lakers is a winning franchise and has been so even proud enough to claim that it is the most accomplished in league history. Experience can bring that to the team and that is what a lot of our players wearing purple and gold still are reluctant to take hold of. But as said, we are getting there. It is upon Kobe, Phil and Fish, having been with this franchise and having seen that “what has been” of this team to pass on that and I think we are right on schedule barring significant losses to that team. It so happens that Kobe is the man on the floor and he demands so much attention that for some time, the team did revolve around him. But now that Kobe sees it differently, and as a Laker veteran should, things can only get better.

    This is not simply a matter of pushing back and racking up wins. This is about Laker pride. Vague as that idea seems, ask Laker greats and our thread-makers here and you’d get the idea that it exists. Kobe has it in him I believe. Fish has it. Now when Pau, Drew and the mob find it for themselves then this won’t just be a question of Xs and Os but now a concerted effort to just win as the Lakers should. Psychology at the time being, sure. Triangle offense and loading the strong side, sure they work. But heart and pride knowing what grand legacy rests on your shoulders, now that makes champions. I’m glad our team grows positively and not in such a way other teams do. I need not digress. I may sound a bit proud here but we all here share the same happiness when our Lakers compete and do so at the high level we have gotten used to seeing them.

    And perhaps that is why we have to be patient with this team. It is still learning to embrace the responsibility. This is not the Euro Lakers as much as the 80s had Showtime. This is just the LA Lakers franchise. Period. If it wins rings then it wins a team unique in parts and ways, but still bleeding purple and gold. And if we lose, no bickering and pointing. God allows, we still have the Lakers to look on to and watch — be it version 2k9 or 2k25.

    That said, long ways to go so I’d rather save further breaking downs for when we hold the trophy.

    On another unrelated matter, the suns are in panic mode again. And another unrelated matter, ESPN reports we are listening to offers. Can we pull off another surprise post-Bynum-injury wonder? A little help wouldn’t hurt. If not, then we have Lamar who’s lovin things now and I hope it only drives him to be the 17-12 player night in and out.

  53. ahhhh grass hopper…
    when you can snatch the pebble from my hand…

    deep discussions, and thanks Darius, you’ve brought it into my world, (and by the way, for you aspiring screenwriters out there, read Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, the last screenwriting book you’ll ever need)
    so, for ‘a hero’s journey’, aka ‘a quest’, we need the following-
    the set up – last year’s shame in the finals
    the inciting incident – ? (suggestions)
    the debate – this season, and now.
    fun and games – a stretch drive mid season
    false victory – this last win against the C’s
    bad guys close in – if we falter a bit down the stretch
    dark night of the soul – hope it doesn’t happen, but necessary for a good story
    the finale, true victory – of course a finals win.
    I’ve often thought a winning season would be a great story/movie. I once pitched the Texas El Paso vs Kentucky story, from the Texas team’s POV for that season, (later made by Disney called Glory Road) I liked my title better, “A Minor Victory”, we had a good director etc, but couldn’t get the players rights, long story, but a great movie subject.
    one of these days, we’ll see the Magic-Larry story I’m sure. (I hope)

  54. I think the Lakers are in the process of forging thier identity. There are two different camps. One is very talented, loose players who don’t quite know what it takes to win it all (LO, Pau, Bynum, Sasha, Vlade, Farmar). The other is hyper-focused, junkyard dog tough and driven (Kobe).

    Kobe has needed to learn from the others how to enjoy the ride, how to be a team mate people want to be with. The others have needed to learn from Kobe how to take a hit and get back up, how to hit back, how to step on a throat and not let up.

    I think Fish has been a key bridge between the two. Players like Ariza and Powell bring some toughness (but haven’t won it all yet).

    The Lakers are, at heart, a finesse team – They play some beautiful basketball and you can tell they love doing that. I think that is what they want to be and will be (kind of like Brazil’s soccer team)- but they also have to be tough enough to handle the back alley brawl. They are getting there. This past game was huge, in that they not only hit back, they sometimes hit first.

  55. I think a few posters have hinted at it, but I would love for someone who has lived in Boston to explain the correlation between the mentality of the team to the mentality of the fans. I do not want to paint the whole fanbase with the same brush, but it seems many of their fans have the same insecurity issues that this current Celtics team is displaying. Despite the blip by the Celtics in the 80’s (and of course their success in the 60’s), I do not think Boston has had much success with their sports teams until this decade (the Patriots, the Red Sox, and now the Celtics). What happens to the psyche of the fans after decades of losing? And when their teams start to win? Are they happy about the winning or do they have in the back of their mind the idea that it might all be over soon?

  56. Oh, and great post again, Reed. I feel like a psuedo-intellectual just coming to this site.

  57. I would assume that fans of a team that has been losing for a very long time, would be confused initially from a championship. “What do we do” What do we feel? How do we handle this???”

    It seems likely that fans in that situation would take their cues from the teams themselves and from the local announcers. If the attitude is “in your face, we did it!” the fans will adopt that. If the attitude is one of feeling that the rest of the league is jealous now, because they would have preferred keeping us at the bottom where we’ve been for so long, then resentment comes into the picture.

    If there also is a little bit of gnawing doubt that no one takes us seriously, because no one believes that we actually are as good as we are after being a loser for as long as we were, then the really unpleasant behaviors begin. Because now being a champion isn’t enough. Now we have to prove that we deserve it, and that we are good enough to have the title. That it wasn’t just a fluke, that we can do it again, and before you know it, you have a bit of desperation mixed in with everything else.

    Ever been around a person who’s desperately trying to prove to you that they belong in this social group, that they have are as good as everyone else in the room? It’s annoying, irritating, and most of the time that person ends up coming across very negatively. And yet, deep down, you know that if they weren’t so annoying you’d probably feel sorry for them. Living with such a desperate need to prove yourself to everyone around you is difficult and actually a little sad.

  58. There is alot to be said for this thesis. Remember when Doc Rivers was miked up in the finals last year? He kept telling his team in timeouts and halftime “we are the better team.” Very strange.

    After the first game all we heard was the game meant more to the Lakers. Maybe, but the 7 in 9 games says something else.

    Now its the officals, Garnett has the flu, etc.

    The Laker schedule is much more difficult this year, Boston would have 4 to 5 more losses if they played more games against Western Conference teams and if they had road games on the second night of a back to back in New Orleans (twice) San Antonio (twice, one to come), etc.

    The schedule for both games favored Boston. For the Christmas game, the Lakers had finished a 4 game in 5 night raod trip (including three playoff teams, Miami, Orlando and New Orleans) with only one day rest. Boston had every other day games before the matchup. The second game was a back to back on the 5th game of a opposite coast road trip for the Lakers.

    Boston is very good, but very vulnerable.

  59. 49.

    Reed,
    I was just thinking about “The Matrix” and the exact line you were using and to continue with that stream of thought…

    I was thinking about how all of last year we said the physical nature of the Boston Finals was going to dictate how we do in that series. The two main figures we needed that struggled to match the physical nature were Pau and Lamar. With Bynum going down both were finally pushed to mature into the type of player we’ve been craving for since the Finals last year. Lamar particularly stepped up in that second half and would not allow KG to step all over them and started taking it to the hole. Pau had a game that showed he wouldn’t back down and kept pushing back in a physical match… just like when Neo saves Morpheus. After the success of the last two games against Bos and not to mention the latter games of this road trip I think it’s time to say, “The Lakers are starting to believe they can be the physical team that is not scared to face anyone anymore.”

    Another thing about the whole identity of the Lakers. The reason why we have made steps toward success these past two years is because of two things.

    1. Personnel, duh

    The two trades were huge, getting Pau and Ariza who are now two key players in our crucial end game lineups.

    2. Kobe’s leadership

    When we had the Smush Parker and Kwame Brown, neither knew how to win at the crucial intense moments like in the playoffs, both would shrink in the big moments. Not to say that they could never succeed in these situations but that it would take a long time to change their mindset and confidence for those players to succeed.

    Now we have players that Kobe can imprint his DNA on. Talking to Bynum last season he was talking along the lines of, “When I was young I wasn’t ready to compete for championships, but Shaq was at that stage of his career where it made me mature and sense the urgency of bringing the best out of his talent.” Kobe is now able to demand the most out of his teammates, because the team now senses that urgency and is able to take the “constructive criticism” that Kobe issues. You now see Kobe taking Sasha under his wing and telling him about what he’s seeing. The same can be said about Pau, Luke, and so many others. And now being able to contribute in tight and stressful situations.

    Basically, we have a group that is learning how to handle the pressure and what it takes to win close games = how to win a championship. And that is something we did not have last year.

  60. (56, 58) – I was in Boston a few years ago, shortly after the Red Sox won their first championship, and I talked to a few Boston fans there about it. They were genuinely puzzled (albeit in a pleasant way) by their feelings about their team. I think that’s probably worn off by now, with the second Series title and their perennial contender status, but it was very interesting to see that initial flush of, what do we do now?

    With the Celtics I imagine it’s different. I think that franchise and its fan base has always felt entitled, literally, and honestly, it’s the same if you’re a longtime Laker fan – you just grow up thinking you’re going to enjoy multiple championship seasons throughout the decades. Their last 20+ years of futility have been well documented, and I’m sure this extra bluster from the team and fans has something to do with that.

    I really dig Boston as a city, but I loathe the Celtics and all they stand for, frankly. I’m working there for a week next month and I’ll do what I can to spread a few seeds of basketball discontent before the playoffs get started.

  61. really interesting analysis, reed. may be pop psychology, but it’s thoughtful pop psych. i’d love to see a thoughtful response from a celtics fan — they may take issue with a lot of it, but it seems pretty valid to me.

    in a way, these celtics are the antithesis of the ’94 red sox. which team better reflects the city? does either?

  62. Think what the Laker fans felt like during the three seasons prior to last year. Now imagine that going on for 20 years.

  63. 51) Wow, Ben! Great, great post on Kobe! During those Smush and Kwame years many complained that Kobe shot the ball too much. I always queried who would you rather see shoot and miss Kobe or Smush/Kwame? My vote, even when he was triple teamed, was Kobe Bryant!

    The Pistons threw the ‘Jordan Rules’ at Michael during their battles, and that only toughened the entire team on the road to a dynasty. Jordan’s team rallied around him and each stepped up to the challenge by becoming someone to whom Jordan could trust in the game.

    Jordan was tough in claiming his position in basketball lore and like Jordan, Kobe has now faced a similar obstacle in staking his claim. Behind the Celtic green curtain, I am sure that that finals defense had a Kobe Bryant moniker.

    This year’s team has rallied around Kobe Bryant on so many levels, and it is directly reflected in tough victories away from Staples.

  64. Yueh Fei,

    Great post @ 32 but…

    “In truth, Kobe probably should have never played a team sport, or at least a team sport like baseball where it is easier for individual excellence to decide wins and losses.”

    I shutter to think.

    As Lamar Odom has said “God put Kobe Bryant on this earth so that we could watch him play basketball”

  65. The Lakers traded Radmonovich to Charlotte for Morrison and Shannon Brown. Not sure I get this trade, the Lakers get out of one year of Rad’s contract though.

    http://www.hoopsworld.com/Story.asp?story_id=11477

  66. Vlad wasn’t playing at all, and likely would play less in the future with Ariza.

  67. That put us over the top! Lakers are the Champs for the next four years!

  68. Vlads been in the doghouse ever since he was late to practice a couple weeks back

  69. emh101 – my thoughts exactly! only different.

    anyways, I’m generally keen on dumping vlad, even if it is for a major project like morrison. that guy needs a serious injection of mamba dna. it’ll be a fun project to keep an eye on in the coming years.

    does he still shoot the 3 well?

  70. Does Mitch Kupchak google “idiot GM” and find potential trade partners?

    Amazing. In Morrison, the Lakers acquire a small forward, who can shoot, dribble-drive, and brings intensity to the team. He can also teach the other Lakers how to cry in big games too.

    Shannon Brown is a good combo guard who can rebound too. Not sure if he will last with the Lakes.

  71. i think it was just a salary dump. The Lakers get out of one year off Vlad’s contract. I don’t think Morrison gets any more playing time than Vlad (if that much).

  72. I honestly haven’t followe morrison at all…but if he’s less Streaky then Rad-man, then Mitch gets us out of a contract and ups the talent to boot.

    Whatever Wheaties Mitch has been eating, I hope he keeps doing it.

  73. I hope Morrison doesn’t start crying everytime Jordan gets a steal.

  74. This is why we carried 14 players all year?

    Well, this saves the Lakers $13M on Vlade’s contract, in his last year. It also reduces the damage next year, allowing us to spend more on Ariza and Odom.

  75. I think vlad was more often benched for his major defensive lapses. now morrison is no lock-down defender himself, but he might at least LEARN to consistently make his rotations and force his man towards help.
    I think vlad pretty much convinced phil that he was never going to bring the necessary focus every night.

  76. craig w – a very good point. the financial concerns for next year probably weighed heavily in making the trade.

  77. Somebody explain the Morrison/Brown-Radman deal. Salary dump? We lose in terms of talent. Morrison shot well in college but has been an abomination in the pros; Radman is an elite shooter and makes Morrison’s defense look artesque (coinage mine). As with Kwame, he’s hard not to like as a person, but as a player, doubts multiply.

  78. i agree on it being a salary dump. The Lakers would save about $2 million with shannon brown’s expiring contract and morrison’s lesser contract.

  79. Another great trade by Mitch.

    I think that first and foremost this was a move made to clear up salary space to re-sign Ariza and possibly Odom after this season. But, that said, since we’re talking about psychological factors of late, I like the fact that both Morrison and Brown came from well-coached winning programs in college. Vlade has all the talent in the world, but in the end you just never know what you’ll get from him game to game. That’s been the story of his career, and it isn’t going to change. He’s especially not suited to come off the bench.

    Has anyone watched Brown enough to know whether he’s capable of defending quick point guards? I suspect he and Morrison will ride the pine the rest of the season unless we have injuries, but you never know. I’m curious about Morrison in the triangle.

  80. Remember, every $ saves is 2$, because the Lakers are over the luxury tax level.

  81. will – the salary dump is a major part. but also, realize that phil was not going to play vlad in any critical game. i think powell’s performance in the last few weeks sealed the deal — we can compete just fine without vlad’s long range game. we might as well pick up someone who MIGHT learn to play regularly in the defensive system.

  82. New Radman trade post up.

    I’ll be updating this as the day goes on.

  83. I agree with the salary dump idea but here is a little more of my 2 cents on why it may not just be a salary dump.

    First cent = Morrison as a project. Morrison may be less talented compared to Vlad now, but Morrison’s ceiling is a little higher since you haven’t seen everything from him yet — a very intriguing project. After 7+ years we all should know what Vlad brings — treys, no defense, no rebounding. Morrison may be a better shooting version of Luke (I make that comparison more because of their athletic talents…or lake thereof.)

    Second cent = trade asset in the off-season. In the current economic situation that the NBA is in and you’ll notice that Morrison’s contract, depending on which site you reference it’s either a team option or for 2009/2010 (which is as good as an expiring contract) or 2010/2011, is a more attractive asset to have this offseason — possibly in acquiring a third point to complement Fish and supplant Jordan as our spark plug off the bench while Jordan gets promoted to the starting lineup — would be the natural progression, no? Or we could just get both Brown’s and Morrison’s contract off our books and resign both Trevor and Lamar to deserving contract extensions.

    Anyways, great trade for the Lakers…GINORMOUS props to Mitch for another masterful move!

  84. In the 1984 finals, his team was bullied, his power forward literally clotheslined. The Lakers were Intimidated and then finally beaten by the Boston Celtics, a team the Lakers had never beaten since their move out west.

    Fast forward a year. Pat Riley heard a year of talk about how his team was soft, good enough for show time but not tough enough to win. It was then. prior to the rematch that he told his team what his father had told him. “Just remember what I always taught you. Somewhere, someplace, sometime, you’re going to have to plant your feet, make a stand and kick some ass. And when that time comes, you do it.”

    It was the spirit of Lee Riley that Lamar Odom channelled on February 5th 2008. “Sometimes you’ve just got to make a stand. Tonight, we made a stand.”

    If history repeats itself it must do so on 24 year cycles. The finess team from Los Angeles goes into Boston and kicked sand into the bully’s face. As it was in 1985, so it shall be in 2009.

    “Cathartic? I don’t know what cathartic means. I didn’t go to college” Kobe Bryant may not know what cathartic means but Lamar Odom embodied it.

    We might have witnessed the tranformation of LO. For so long he has tantalised us with a unique combination of size, speed, and skills. Always disappointing instead with inconsistency and lack of focus and fortitude. Can a moment be so cathartic for an individual? Can transformation happen in an instant?

    Stephen Jay Gould amended Darwin by showing that evolution happens in an instant (geologically speaking). Puncutated Equilibrium rather than a gradual crawl. Evolution is Revolution.

    What are the traits keeping LO back from greatness. Not skills. Not size. Not athleticism. But focus, determination, concentration, will. Maybe he finally got it. Finally realised he has to let go to move forward. Phil started the process by having LO come off the bench for the first time in his life. Humility shatters the illusions of the ego that prevent growth. By letting go, maybe LO now can play in the moment. Present, focused, determined.

    “Basketball is a humiliating sport, it can humble you right in the middle of the game,” Odom said. “But tonight I just left all that behind.”

    Character is shaped not by success but reaction to failure. Evolution only occurs change in environmental stress favours a new variant of the species. Without stress no growth. Andrew Bynum’s injury, especially due to the deja vu nature, created cruel and violent stress. But also an opportunity for growth and evolution. How this team, on this trip, reprising the character of 1985 has responded to this stress been gratifying to us all. How LO, in this game matched the passion of KG, looked the bullies in the eye and, in the end, won the game, might be the true blessing arising from the misfortune in Memphis.

    We sensed the change even during the game. Any other game, you would despair at seeing LO at the line with one free throw to tie and two the win. But for the first time since he became a Laker, somehow I knew he would sink both. And he did.

  85. We don’t really need to add anyone. This is just another plus toward a team that’s proven itself against a weak Cavs and Celts team.

  86. This Laker team’s identity is pretty simple to me. They are a collection of different individuals who work together to get a job done. Bynum is a quiet guy. So is Powell. Odom is a goofy kinda guy with a big heart but deep wounds. Luke is laid-back california guy. Farmar is a cocky yet fun SoCal kid. Ariza is an intense personality who’s game is fueled by the loss of his brother, who he wears a tattoo on his arm.

    The Lakers are deep collection of individuals who are different, yet they seem to get along together off the court and enjoy each other’s company. Each loss results in pain felt and shared by all, as does every win. It kinda reminds me of a church, where everybody that goes to the church are different people, but they are all seemingly united by Jesus. Winning basketball games and championships seems to be the way that these vastly different individuals seem to get along. Considering that Jackson’s parents were pentalcoastal preachers, it’s not surprising to me that a team was built under his direction.