Basketball and Blueprints

Kurt —  February 16, 2009
Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons

Terry Porter is getting axed in Phoenix because GM Steve Kerr and owner Robert Sarver made long-term mistakes but they can’t fire themselves.

Not that Porter did a great coaching job, but he was brought in specifically to change the style of play the Suns had been successful with for years. Sarver begged Kerr to take the job, come in and shake things up. In part because a lot of people thought the Suns style couldn’t win a championship (great for the regular season, doesn’t work in the playoffs). I never bought that argument, but to delve into that would be off-topic from what I really want to get at.

Porter did what he was asked, and he is being fired for it. Now Alvin Gentry is going to bring back the old style of play. You know, the one that sold out the building and had the team talked about as contenders.

This is a recurring theme here at FB&G, but I think it is a point that is hard to repeat often enough — winning organizations have a blueprint and stick with it. They know what kind of team they want to be, they hire a coach that will execute that type of play on the court, and then they go get players that fit that system.

I loved what the Collangelo/D’Antoni Suns did, and they followed that plan. They decided they were going to go with a certain style — seven seconds or less, up and down, entertaining — and then they went and got players who could do it. Their stars — Nash, Stoudemire and Marion — were athletic and could run. Borris Diaw couldn’t get off the Atlanta bench but was built for the Phoenix system. Raja Bell was seemingly nothing special, but he brought some shooting to the two and a little defense that the Suns needed.

The Suns defense was average on a per-possession basis, that was not what hurt those teams. What undercut the Suns was depth — as j.d. Hastings pointed out from the George Karl/Doug Moe section of the NBA Coach’s Handbook, if you are going to run like that you need a lot of legs, or the legs you do have can wear down by the playoffs. Sarver, trying to save money, forced the Suns to trade picks and that cut some depth that could have been drafted into Phoenix. That was where the depth could have come from. Instead, D’Antoni ran a seven-man rotation. Legs (and Nash’s back) got tired.

When Kerr came in, the honest thing to do would have been to say “we are blowing this thing up,” except that I don’t think Kerr and Sarver thought they were. They thought that these players could be equally good in another, more Pistons-like style. If they just bring in Shaq everything will be better because of the defense. But that is not how basketball works — only a few players can really transcend style of play. Kobe and LeBron will be impossible to stop if you ran the Four-Corner offense. But that is not the case with 95% of NBA players, the difference between thriving and surviving for them is style of play and fit.

Now the Suns are a mess and getting worse. Amare is off, likely to Chicago (which is another franchise that can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be). Shaq is 37 and now is a second-tier player on a title team. Nash wants out. Sarver needs to cover his financial butt and shed salary (especially after the Porter firing will cost him about $4 million).

Look at that team now and tell me what the Suns want to be.

Here is Los Angeles, Mitch Kupchak took enormous heat (often for things like the Shaq trade that were decisions made way over his head). But when Phil Jackson returned he and the organization there became a clear focus — this was going to be a triangle team. And Mitch went out and got players who can fit that system. Credit also should go to Jerry Buss for letting the basketball people do basketball.

Luke Walton is not as valuable to other teams as he is the Lakers. Derek Fisher is a point guard who doesn’t demand to run the show and have the ball in his hands. Lamar Odom is a power forward who can get a rebound and take the ball the length of the court. Sasha Vujacic can bomb threes. Pau Gasol is the best passing big man from the high post in the game and can drain an 18-footer consistently. Trevor Ariza. Jordan Farmar. The list goes on and on of guys who are not just good players but good players who fit the Lakers system.

The Lakers stuck with their blueprint. So has San Antonio over the years. The Pistons did until they made salary cap moves this season, but you just know Dumars is going to rebuild that franchise the right way in the next few years. Cleveland is getting there, finding a system and guys to fit around their star. It looks like teams such as Portland and even Oklahoma City may be doing it right.

But if those up and coming teams want a lesson on why not to change horses in the middle of the stream, they need only to look to Phoenix.

Kurt

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77 responses to Basketball and Blueprints

  1. Looks like the Suns are using the Clippers blueprint. Fire coach. Go cheap on talent. Miss the playoffs. Let your best players go to other teams. Start over. Rinse. Repeat.

  2. Kurt,

    Great job.

    I guess that is why I love these Lakers so much. This team was built from the ground up around Kobe, made to fit Phil’s triangle. Created through blood, sweat and tears. They were average together and have become elite together, all while complimenting each other. Mitch proved that he’s the GM for a reason.

    San Antonio has been the model for some time now. From top to bottom, the organization is on the same page as far as what they need and want and look for in players.

    Cleveland has done a great job tailoring a team to fit LBJ’s talents and Mike Brown’s strengths as a coach. They remind me of the Larry Brown/Iverson team that made the Finals. The Sixers were tailor made to compliment Allen Iverson’s strengths and weakness, and it worked.

    Too many times we see teams looking for the quick fix home run signing or trade, that eventually backfires. It happened to the Lakers in 03-04. I’m glad Mitch had the foresight to see what this team would become by sticking to his guns.

  3. Great post. The list of teams who succeed because they consistently execute a certain vision must include the Spurs too. The Celtics definitely do have that as well (unfortunately :). I wonder how much of the credit for that should go to Doc Rivers, but that’s another conversation. Another thought that comes to mind is LeBron potentially bolting for NY. It is obvious that even as great a player as he is, he will need a system and supporting players around him to win a championship. Kobe’s heroics in the Smush/Kwame era are probably as far as a single player can take a team in today’s league. Does LeBron choose to stay in the dull Cleavland into the peak of his career, but keep a realistic chance at a Championship, or does he hope that NY turns things around quickly enough? It’s a gamble. They definitely improved their organization this season, but the owner is at the top of it, and he is the last person i’d trust to build a lasting winning franchise.

    Anyway, as far as we are concerned, i think the most important thing is for Phil to stay with the organization as long as possible. Also, with many teams going into money saving mode, how is the Buss family doing financially – I definitely wouldn’t complain about taking advantage of the situation and buying our way to a few even greater teams than what we have right now. Maybe laying the foundation for post Kobe era – you know it’s coming eventually.

  4. Karamazov,

    Shaq left Orlando after he made the Finals with him.

    I think some people forget that. I think the fact that Cleveland just might have a good team when LBJ leaves them is overrated. I’m sure LeBron KNOWS he’s good enough to make ANY team a legitimate contender, plus NY is *willing* to spend whatever it takes.

    I don’t think the Celtics can be included in the list of team Kurt named, because Danny Ainge seemed to have no direction. He lucked out after their tank job in 06-07 backfired and they missed a top 2 pick. In fact, they are the opposite of what Kurt explained. Closer to the Suns right now. No real direction.

  5. Great post. What’s happened to the Suns is almost sad because as irritating as they were rivalry-wise, they were a fun team to watch. And it would have been nice to have them be at an elite level now that we are.

    3, Interesting thoughts on LBJ, but I’m wondering if he won’t face the same problem that Kobe did when he talked about wanting a trade out of LA. Teams will throw all kinds of money at him if they think they can sign him, but if they do that, don’t they (and he) risk having a crap team because they won’t be able to afford to pay quality guys to put around him?

  6. *were the opposite.

    Sorry for the double post.

  7. Nice post, but I think you should expand on your belief that you think that style could win a championship. It seems to be very pertinent to your post, because if you or others believe that, then firing Porter would seem to be the “right” thing to do at the moment. Essentially admitting a mistake and trying to correct the ship.

    Personally, I was never a fan of that whole circus. And it’s terrible to fire Porter for these reasons this quick. Actually, they never should have hired him anyway, it was a ridiculous, desperate pick. If they really think Gentry can effectively run D’antoni’s system, the Suns management is even more messed up than I ever thought. To his credit, it’s way more complex than just “run”.

  8. Great post, Kurt!

    I think the Celtics, and several other team,s in the league right now, fall in some sort of strange limbo where the team itself and the coach have a very clear idea of what they want to do and how, and have at least a season strategy in place, but the owner and GM have no direction at all. They have a good team right now, they should start planning for the long haul by deciding once and for all what kind of team they want to become and then start working towards that goal.

    Kind of what the Cavs should have done as soon as they signed LeBron, not a few years later, when he’s frustrated and wants to leave…

  9. “Sarver, trying to save money, forced the Suns to trade picks and that cut some depth that could have been drafted into Phoenix.”

    You hit the nail on the head there Kurt.

  10. Great post Kurt. But I think a distinction has to be made between the Suns and the Lakers/Spurs. While all three teams are built around superstar talents and a specific system, the Suns were the only team where the age of the key talent was becoming a noticeable issue. Nash’s back and legs were accumulating a lot of mileage and I think it was starting to show. The D’antoni style would continue to tax his body at a very fast rate.

    I think the Suns saw too much wear and tear in the key cog of their offensive machine, so they tried to retool the team to provide some longevity — to switch into a style of play that would allow Nash to get some regular season rest. I think it’s a justifiable move (even if it was for Shaq.)

    However, when it became clear that the new system wasn’t working, they made a bunch of panic moves. Many of them silly. No, the results haven’t been pretty. But I would give the Suns some credit. These aren’t the Clippers we’re talking about. Over the last few decades the Suns have been quite competitive, despite their penny pinching and market limitations. I think they’ll be a decent team before the Bobcats and Grizzlies of the league are…

  11. This is the same issue some, myself included, touched upon last week when the Marion/O’Neal trade took place. Like Toronto, the Suns are another example of a team that doesn’t have a clear direction, and until they find it, they’re screwed.

    It was barely a year ago when the Gasol trade came down, and the aftermath of that Laker theft-job was almost as enjoyable as what Pau has brought to the team on the floor.

    Within days of that deal, two of the West’s best teams in recent years went into panic mode and basically slammed their championship windows closed as a result, not just for the near term but for years more to come.

    I laughed aloud when I heard the Suns had traded for Shaq, and I laughed even more when Dallas shipped out Harris for the ghost of Jason Kidd. Look at those teams since that deal: new coaches, more trades, instability, and early playoff losses.

    Mitch’s moves haven’t all been good (Caron Butler, VladRad & Luke’s big money contracts, the fact that Smush started for two seasons, etc.), but the Gasol trade was as good a double whammy as anyone ever laid on their competitors. It made the Lakers substantially better, and it caused their rivals to act stupidly to the detriment of their team’s future prospects.

    The ongoing Suns drama this weekend is in part just another side effect to the Gasol trade. And in the interim, the Knicks are in the playoff mix while the Suns flounder. I love it.

  12. the other Stephen February 16, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    robert sarver is pooh pooh, and steve kerr should’ve known better.

  13. This is why I am grateful to have an owner like Jerry Buss. Sure he has taken some missteps along the way, but what team in any sport has been as successful or as competitive as the Lakers under Dr. Buss? I would argue none.

  14. The Suns may have won a title with that style of play – if not for the Horry hip-check and subsequent suspensions.

  15. Good post, but I think you may underestimate the role of finding truly valuable talent and overestimate the importance of scheme. Pau Gasol is a valuable basketball player, triangle or no, and the Lakers are lucky to have him. Same with the Spurs and Ginobili and Parker — they’re good, no matter what system they have. One problem the Suns have had is beyond scheme or style — they simply haven’t recruited enough talent. Don’t misunderstand, they have plenty of _offensive_ talent, but there’s only one ball, and you need people to rebound and play defense. This lack of balance in team composition will make it hard for Gentry to improve their record very much. Meanwhile, the Lakers have made sure to maintain a solid balance of offensive, defensive, and rebounding talent (as have the Spurs, Celtics, Cavs), and that does seem like a solid blueprint (and common sense).

  16. 11.

    +1, an owner who has deep pockets and trusts his gm to do his job is as much as anyone can ask for.

    4.

    It’s true that Shaq left Orlando when they were winning, but I think he’s kind of an exception. If I recall correctly, he really wanted to come to LA. I’m guessing that Lebron has experienced enough craptitude with previous Cav teams that he’s not going to willingly go from a championship contender to a lottery team just because he knows that he’ll be able to make them better. Besides what can NY offer Lebron that Cleveland can’t?

  17. #16:
    A bigger stage with brighter spotlights.

    Lebron wants to be an international icon as much as he wants to be an NBA champion. New York is home to the biggest media resources in the industrialized world… if he can make it there, the world will be his. Whereas if he makes it in Cleveland, he will never go anywhere else.

    New York have everything except a championship contender team, but if Lebron genuinely believes he can bring them that, then why should he not go?

  18. Mimsy, I think you have a point, but I would argue that championships still matter. I mean, look at Tracy McGrady. The guy has been a superstar in the league, but that whole “can’t get out of the first round” has dogged him and it’s diminished him, I think. Same kind of deal with AI. He’s a great scorer, but there are plenty of guys who can score in this league. Guys like that want to be remembered for more, and I think it’s the same with LeBron. Sure, he wants to get paid. But for a guy of his caliber, I think there’s still a lot to be said for the winning factor. All the money in the world doesn’t compensate for losing for guys like that.

  19. That NY Times article has left a lasting impression. For the longest time, I’ve been saying that the standard metrics for basketball just don’t cut it for “Moneyball” – type analysis, that Wages of Wins and PER, and anything else that uses box score stats is just a bunch of number manipulation. I’m glad that Daryl Morey sees this the same way. If we’re going to make meaningful progress on basketball statistical analysis, we’re going to have to do better than “point, rebounds, assists” and some formulas and adjustments. We need to look at deflections, controlled blocks, types of shots, it’s got to break down those chunky old stats into the smaller pieces that they are.

  20. I think Lebron will be a lot better served, long-term, by STAYING in Cleveland. Yes, New York is a bigger market, New York has more commercial potential, New York is sexier, but here’s a little thing to consider: When I say Chicago Bulls, what’s the first face that comes to mind? For most, it’s Michael Jordan. Jordan put that franchise on the map, almost single-handedly making them the 3rd best franchise of all-time (in terms of championships won). If LBJ goes to the Knicks, he’ll be one in a long line of great Knick players. Off the top of my head, I can name Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, and Patrick Ewing already being members of the 50 Greatest who spent significant time with the Knicks. From the Cavs…. not so much.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that if LBJ goes to the Knicks, he just becomes another great face, but if he stays in Cleveland, he can become THE face of the franchise for the entirety of basketball history, much like Jordan is for Chicago. I think that gives him much more marketing potential than Cleveland, not to mention that Cleveland has a much better team, organization, and cap situation than New York.

    As for blueprints, I really think you have to luck into a franchise player in order to actually have a blueprint. You can’t make a blueprint then say, “all right, let’s go get the players now.” You need a centerpiece, a Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Shaq, a game-changing player in order to have a successful blueprint. All the good teams have a center-piece and build a team around them. It’s only the bad teams that have no direction and no true center piece, which is the case with Phoenix right now. They’re not sure whether to stick with Nash or go with Stoudemire (both bad options, because Nash is old and Stoudemire is too selfish to be a winner).

  21. karamazov…

    is that a reference to “The Brothers Karamazov”?

    and I want shaq to dance before every NBA game.

  22. The Spurs are an interesting case. I am very curious to see how their system continues after TD retires. Not only is he the anchor on O and D, but he is the superstar with such humility that Pop can yell at him and the whole team because he takes it so constructively. What sweet-natured superstar will the Spurs build around next?

    That’s the thing about Phil. For all his blind spots and stewing up conflict, he has developed an unparalleled ability to get the most out of prima-donna superstars. (I’m obviously referring to Jordan, Shaq and Kobe.) Everyone says that anyone could have won with that talent, but those are likely people who’ve never had to manage others.

    Pop is a great coach, but I am not sure the guy’s current system and style can work with egomaniacs, and there are only so many David Robinsons and Tim Duncans in the game.

  23. I think it’s a given that LBJ leaves Cleveland. The only way to stop him is if he won while in Cleveland. Now that would present a fairly big dilemma, but he has many more years after 2010; he can create a new image regardless of whom he ‘betrays.’

    Anyway, I honestly don’t care what LBJ does unless he accepts the min and joins us, but as for the Suns, I think that they had the best system in the league, the best system that would work in a bad economy like this one.

    Since only one team can win the championship, the bottom line for all teams should be to have either the illusion of a legitimate contender and/or have a really entertaining team.

    Suns, obviously, were both at their peak, and I think they could’ve won if they didn’t catch that many bad breaks. It’s just that their main catalyst was aging and their players’ belief in the system was fading.

  24. 22 – Great point. Remember that the Spurs intentionally tanked their season to go after the #1 pick that resulted in Duncan. He and Robinson are both great pillars in the community, but Popovich (like most coaches) would not be able to run his team around the corporate Spurs line without Duncan. That said, they are 6 games back on us in the L column. There is little doubt that this will be the team we meet in the WCF. Go Lakers and let’s keep the train a rollin’.

  25. Apricot’s analysis was right on. In order to have a system, you have to have a superstar – then build a system that fits that superstar.

    I think that is one thing that makes the Lakers unique. The next possible superstar on the Lakers is Andrew Bynum and he will start his peak years about the time Kobe starts to cool down.

    Andrew will be able to play in the triangle, but he is flexible enough to fit into different styles – post Phil. That is where the Lakers have it all over other organizations.

  26. I think the ’09 Celtics kind of put the lie to the slow-team-building model, at least for championships. It definitely helps to have owner, GM and coach on the same page to be competitive, but the free agent systems means this is an era of superstars.

    To put it another way, how much money would you want to bet, right now, on the 2011 champs (other than the Lakers, of course)?

  27. What amazes me about the Lakers is when was the last time they drafted a pick before the 10th in Bynum. All the way back to ’79 with Magic, they have always been in the Playoffs and Finals usually just getting somewhere around the 25th and later picks in the draft, if they even have a first round pick that year. You have Peeler at what 15 and Eddie Jones was taken early in the draft, but still not alot of early picks. Well, I guess Worthy was also a top pick wasn’t he in ’82, but I mean the one owner and two GM’s with the right coaches and players seemed to always work together to field a great team year in and year out. I seem to always expect the Lakers to make the Playoffs, don’t all teams?

  28. The only mistake that Kerr made was hiring Porter, who did not do what the Suns asked and had not at any point proven himself capable of doing what the Suns asked, which was the whole defense thing. I think Kerr has done a fairly decent job (Shaq for Marion, in terms of actual play is looking good, Raja and Diaw for Richardson isn’t bad) but there’s only so much you can do when your owner ties your pursestrings.

  29. The right thing to do is trade Amare and Nash, Try and get to the playoffs with who they got and get back. Nash is done and Amare is a loser. Shaq and Hill can give you some good leadership to build around and maybe sneak in depending on what comes back.

  30. #27 – Yes, it was nice to win the title in ’82 and get the #1 pick in the draft.

    And selecting Worthy over Wilkins & Cummings was one of the great all time picks.

  31. Really? I like James as much as the next guy but the Lakers would have been just as dominant and just as exciting with Dominique, likely moreso.

  32. Simon,
    I think you are confusing talent with team. Dominique Wilkins was, perhaps, a superior talent to Worthy; but he would have had a much harder time fitting into the Laker system. While he could have scored like James Worthy, he wouldn’t have meshed as well with the dominant Magic and majestic Kareem. Also, he didn’t play the level of defense required of all the Lakers, except Magic – and Magic was a sufficient team defender.

    While Riles wasn’t the defensive fiend he later became with the Knicks, he did require a defensively tough team.

  33. 28. Kerr started messing with the chemistry of the team by bringing in Shaq in the first place. Shaq was a terrible fit with what the Suns were doing and he didn’t provide nearly the defense they need. Porter was simply the next step in trying to change a culture and style that didn’t need to be changed.

    29. Really, you think Shaq and Hill can give you more than Nash and Amare? I’ll be polite and call that an interesting position.

    7. Clutch, philosophically I think the best you can do as a GM (and hope for as a fan) is that your team is in the mix for a title. After that, to win one, takes some luck (such as no key injuries) that is beyond anyone’s control. The Suns were in that mix. As someone pointed out, if not for the Horry hip check loss to the Spurs, they could have won that year. If they added depth they could have been in it last year. Instead, they thought they could win by just changing the style, and I don’t think that ever works (unless your style really sucked).

  34. Why would he have a hard time fitting in? You think one of the best finishers ever would’ve had trouble playing with the best point guard ever? If Nique was put into a situation where he had to carry less of an offensive load, he could play defense just fine. Same if Worthy had to carry a team offensively his defense would suffer. Pierce didn’t really start to defend until last year. Defense is really more about coaching and players buying into the system than pure defensive talent. In any case, somebody as athletic as Nique certainly had the tools to be a good defender.

  35. Heard something from a friend of mine when he was watching the news just now that there was some in-fighting among the Lakers caught on video. Is there any truth to this, to those watching the news right now?

    I’m going to give my friend a stiff clothesline tomorrow if he’s pulling my leg once more.

  36. The chemistry of the Suns was already suffering. Phoenix’ biggest defensive flaw was their inability to grab offensive rebounds and Shaq fixed that. Plus, Shaq’s arrival practically turned Amare into a 30/10 guy for the rest of the season. They had “statement” wins over teams like San Antonio in the regular season (kind of like the wins over Boston we’ve been so excited about here). The Shaq trade wasn’t a disaster. What Phoenix had wasn’t working and Shaq did have the potential to put them over the top. Their series against SA was closer than 5 games indicated and they lost largely due to a fluke three and more Hack-a-Shaq than anybody has ever done. I don’t know that anybody could’ve anticipated that Pop would foul with the lead and such. I’m not convinced we would’ve beaten them in a playoff series if it came down to it last year.

  37. 35. DJ Mbenga and Mihm had a little scuffle in practice, but there is not much too it, according to the people I asked. Just some frustrated big men trying to get minutes and get noticed by going hard in practice.

    36. I think the benefits of the Shaq trade, like rebounding, were negated in the long term by him slowing their tempo and that being the start of changing who they were as a team. The Suns had a hot streak for a while with Shaq, but to me what happened this season was predictable from that move. It smacked of desperation.

  38. Regarding the mini-scuffle:
    That’s a good to hear… the way my friend made it sound to me, it seemed like it was the Palace Brawl Pt.2.

    Pretty surprised also that it involved Mbenga and Mihm only.. I was expecting it a bit to be centered around Sasha. Well anyway, I can sleep a bit easier tonight.

  39. The sad thing is that the 7 Seconds Suns were one of the few beautiful NBA teams to watch (on offense). The more sad thing is that last season the Lakers had finally caught up to them and would have, in my opinion, certainly mashed them in the playoffs with either Bynum or Gasol in the middle. But that vengeance was denied when the 7 Seconds gang committed suicide.

  40. Whoops, I meant defensive rebounds, but I’m sure you knew what I meant. Yes, Shaq did change who they were as a team. That was teh whole idea. Who they were as a team hadn’t worked and wasn’t going to work. It could be argued that the trade chased D’Antoni out of town which is entirely possible and really the only long term problem the Shaq trade caused. Even then, the Suns wanted a championship and D’Antoni was never going to get them there.

    Which brings us back to the Porter hiring. He choked as a player on those Blazer teams and did a terrible job in Milwaukee. Why the Suns’ management thought he was the right guy to come in and motivate a locker room like the one the Suns had is beyond me. You’re right in saying that Porter was the next step in this changing identity. But it wasn’t wrong to want to change their identity. It was just wrong and stupid to think Porter was the right guy to do it. Had they hired the guy who outcoached Phil in the Finals (Boston’s assistant whose name escapes at the moment) I think we’re talking about a very different Suns team right now.

  41. Zephid,

    Without LeBron, Cleveland’s team isn’t much better than New York’s current squad right now. We already know New York is getting ready for 2010, and their history shows us that they are able and willing to go way over the cap if need be.

    Being the greatest Knick is a better accomplishment than the greatest Cav. He’s already on track to be an all-time great, and being THE face of a long line of great faces outweighs being the only face of a franchise no one ever cared about before he arrived. I don’t see players lining up to be Clippers. They’d rather be Lakers.

    I just read on ESPN.com that the Kings will reportedly help the Celtics out and take Sam Cassell and cash for a heavily protected 2nd Rounder.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/news/story?id=3912402

    WHY? Boston has no roster spots. Do they hate us that much that they would help out the defending champs for no good reason?

  42. James Worthy was the so much better then Dominique its ridiculous.

  43. It looks like New Orleans is throwing in the towel on the season, along with Phoenix. I guess that should be viewed as a good thing, be nice if we could steal a player or two from one of these blow ups.

  44. The New Orleans thing is really hard to fathom, but the owner’s financial situation must be dire.

    My biggest concern at the trade deadline is that San Antonio makes a smart deal for a good role player who boosts what they do. That is not Vince Carter, by the way. But the Spurs are not that far behind us, and a quality pick up for next to nothing would make things a lot more challenging.

  45. the thing is there might not even be a new orleans after this season. If cash-strapped new orleans doesnt pay the money they owe to the team. They can scrap the contract and move to states that can support a team. Most probably Las vegas.

  46. Guess I’m pretty much out of the loop here, but how exactly is New Orleans throwing in the towel already this season just like Phoenix is?

    I know of Phoenix’s woes (who doesn’t these days?), but what about N.O.? I haven’t been hearing that much about them lately, aside from some of those guys who were scratching their heads at West getting into the WAS team.

  47. 47,

    They’re considering trading Chandler to get under the luxury tax next season. OKC has apparently offered Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith, and a first round pick. Obviously, this takes the Hornets out of any serious contention, as Chandler was the person that anchored their defense. Honestly though, I really don’t think they had the depth to stay with the heavyweights out West in a seven game series. Signing Posey over a backup PG and a backup big was a mistake.

    Kurt,

    It is worrying, but I’m not seeing who they can get that will put them over the top. They really need a shot-blocking big to anchor the middle and guys like that don’t grow on trees around the league. The lack of appreciable trade chips really hurts them. If Splitter had decided to come over, I think we would be singing another tune now, but I think we really undercut how much value another decent big had to them after they basically dumped Scola.

  48. Great organizations in sports are stable. Probably the most important ingredient.

  49. The Shaq move was a calculated risk. They were sure that they would not be able to compete for a title “as is”, and Nash was getting older, so they took a gamble. It slightly increased their chances of winning it all, but also increased their chances of imploding.

  50. Shaq move was kinda sad but something had to be done about Marion. It probably was a move about Marion as it was about their identity, and I think it worked for a while. Problem is that their team had an offense that could overcome their defensive shortcomings, but they ditched it. Then they ditched D’Antoni, which was the bigger mistake. There aren’t too many coaches that players WANT to play for… and whatever motivation they had just went out with him.

    Lakers also suffered when we lacked identity and a steadying hand. We really got back on track when PJ came back, and the importance of head coaches can’t be overstated when looking at other steady teams such as Utah and San Antonio. Knicks and Bobcats are turning around as D’Antoni and LB arrived, and Nets have been relatively competent during Lawrence’s tenure. Then again, it’s probably a self fulfilling scenario: longevity of the coach increases his influence over players.

    Anyway, we’re lucky to have a front office that righted the ship in a relatively short time, and an otherworldly talent that kept the team competitive for the most part.

  51. As for NO, the word earlier was that Byron had lost influence in the locker room and players started to shut him out. It would be interesting how that plays out in addition to all the other mess they have to deal with.

  52. The Suns should have followed the Jazz business model. If you’re not going to win it, at least give the fans a consistent winning team. They could’ve kept their team together, and might be better off. Instead, they tried to change the culture of the team in the middle of the season, with the most expensive player in the NBA, who just so happened to be the prototypical Anti-SSOL player. then to top it off, they let the main piece of the engine go. It may have been high risk, high reward, but they never went about it the correct way to yield the reward. All signs pointed to low reward.

    People are blaming Kerr, but I think Porter is gone because Steve Nash and Amare wanted him gone. As a coach, something has to work, and the fact that he was tinkering back and forth between the styles shows that it wasn’t working. A coach has to make players believe in them, or all else is lost. Phoenix is lost.

    But the real culprit is Robert Sarver. It starts at the top.

  53. Great Post Kurt! The Suns have always been a fun team to watch and a contender. I mean they were one Robert Horry / Nash bloody nose away from possibly going all the way. It’s crazy to think that they were that far away with what they were doing. Depth is the key, and your post nailed it.

    Thank goodness we have a great bench that Phil has developed and are poised for the long run.

  54. It is easy to have a plan when you have Tim Duncan, Lebron James or Kobe Bryant, or even a Kevin Durant.

    Steve Nash was only good in D’antoni’s system so was Marion and Amare.

    Steve Nash was the reason Dallas couldn’t get over the hump, he was inneffective when the pace slowed down, so Dallas Traded him. If Pheonix wanted a slower pace, then Nash should have been traded.

    If you want to succeed with Shaq, you need a guard who can score in the 4th quarter and the rest of your team should consist of shooters…that is the plan.

  55. Hmmm, yeah, I don’t know about this.

    Roger Mason is playing worse in San Antonio than he did in Washington. Raja Bell has played better in Charlotte than he did in Phoenix. Boris Diaw in most years wasn’t very productive in Phoenix and was overrated due to one marginally productive season.

    As for the Lakers role players, Ariza was already quite good before he got to the Lakers. Walton could be a productive player on any team in this league. Fisher simply isn’t that good. Gasol was a top ten NBA player for several years in Memphis.

    The common thread to your post really is that players look a lot different when they are on winning teams. Which you attribute to a change in style. But really, the only thing that usually changes is a player’s teammates. Stick a guy next to Kobe, Odom, Gasol, and Bynum, and suddenly you view him in a new light.

    I would say the truth is pretty much the opposite of what you argue above. That players productivity is inherent and more or less independent of the style they are playing.

    What has happened in Phoenix has less to do with style, and more to do with Amare going on strike and refusing to play hard. He wants out. He doesn’t want to be playing next to Shaq in a contract year. As for Nash, he has reverted to the same productivity level he showed in Dallas, when he helmed the best offense of all time. Not as good, but still an elite NBA point guard.

    At the end of the day, what happened in Phoenix is they traded one of the best players in the NBA, Shawn Marion, for Shaq, who isn’t nearly as good. That is the bottom line more than the style of play

  56. I believe I can name a lot of players better than Shawn Marion, and Shaq, even at 36, would be one of them.

  57. I think Kurt is right all the way
    One thing no one has brought up is intelligence.I think, in the triangle,being smart is just as important as being talented.The reason Luke is playing and Vlad is gone.The Lakers,from top to bottom, have the smartest team in the NBA.Thank Mitch,I think he looks for it.

  58. Flint,
    I would argue that Amare’s dip in production and his perceived sour attitude this season is directly related to the style that the Suns are playing under Porter. During D’Antoni’s tenure, the Suns were a high P&R team with Amare setting screens and then rolling to the hoop in wide open lanes created by the spacing that D’Antoni’s system generated from inserting shooters at SG, SF, and PF. Amare flourished in that system and was an All-NBA player and viewed as one of the top 5-10 players in the league. Now, under Porter, the Suns have become an isolation low post team that runs their offense through Shaq. In this system Amare only sporadically runs the high P&R with Nash and gets most of his looks on isolations from the wing/mid post where he is forced to create his own shot off the dribble or by shooting a jumper. And while he’s still effective in this style, he is not the force of nature that he was in the SSOL system where he looked like some Moses Malone/Shawn Kemp hybrid.

  59. I think you may be giving your GM a little too much credit. I think the key move – the move that permitted the Lakers to be contenders last year, this year, next year, etc. is the trade for Pau Gasol. Gasol was already a stud – aside from a complete offensive game, he has good hands and can play good defense against all but the most physical PF’s. And the Lakers got him for his brother and some future D-league all stars. And maybe Kupchak’s soul, too.

    Granted, Kupchak was smart to talk with Chris Wallace in the first place. He probably has on his outlook calendar to follow up with Wallace about August of this year to see if a Fisher and Walton for Mayo deal could work.

    But I don’t think you declare the Lakers one of the best-run teams in the league because they lucked into the most obviously lopsided deal in the last five years.

    All of that criticism aside, I think major credit is due for NOT committing major dollars to pretty good players just to keep them from leaving. How many terrible contracts do the Lakers have? I don’t think Walton’s qualifies, because I agree with some of the people above who said he could start, or be a 6th or 7th man for pretty much every team in the league.

    So the number of terrible contracts is basically zero, right? That’s the most impressive thing to me.

    As fans, you will never look at your Laker team and say, “We’re screwed for the next two seasons.” Fans in Washington, NY, NJ, Toronto, Minnesota, etc. haven’t been able to say that. And that, to me, deserves the kudos.

    By the way – the dude who said that Worthy was so much better than Dominique is nuts. Yes, Worthy was awesome, and even better than his stats would indicate, but Dominique basically single-handedly put the Hawks into the playoffs for years.

    Worthy had Kareem, Nique had Koncak and Willis. Worthy had Magic, Nique had Spud Webb/Doc Rivers. Nobody could stop Nique, even with all the handchecking and brutality in the paint (especially in the East), and even when he was the focal point of every team’s defensive plan.

  60. Magiclover you are totally on point. The BB IQ of our team is impressive. I think that SA has it and the Celts (aside from the occasional Rondo overdrive and kick to no one). A high BB IQ is essential and is generally underrated by fans and appearently most GMs.

  61. And, sorry for the double post, but I think that Kerr was only doing what he knew to work.

    Understand that Kerr is a multiple time champion that values a low post game, but also one that values Chemistry. His trade of Marion was a bit of a panic move where he felt like Marion’s discontent needed to be shipped off somewhere else. So why not kill two birds with one stone and get the low post game and improve your chemistry by aquiring Shaq? Like metioned by another commenter, it was a calculated gamble that almost paid off.

    Like Kurt mentioned, contending teams need a bit of luck to win the whole thing. The Suns, have been one of the more unlucky teams in this era. First they consistently faced the Spurs, who in terms of matchups is the team that will give them the most problems. And to top it off they also have these kind of freakish events happen that greatly hurt their chances to win games and do so in a manner that completely deflate your team. A little while back Reed had some fantastic posts on psychology. Well the Suns were a team that suffered from many negative psychological hits with the Amare/Diaw suspension, the close and overtime losses, the Nash bleeding, etc. If any of those things go their way, maybe we’re talking about much different results stemming from a completely different outlook from their players.

  62. Hawks preview post up

  63. Flint,

    It’s true, a good player can look better playing with a great player, or on a good team (Mo Williams), but I think you’re missing the point of what Kurt meant.

    He didn’t say that the Laker players wouldn’t be good on any other team. He just outlined that our guys *fit* our system and organizational blueprint.

    It’s not a question of whether or not Roger Mason was better in Washington. It’s whether or not Roger Mason fits the Spurs and makes them better than they were last year at that position.

    Fish might not wow you, but he fits the Lakers need much better than Smush did. Same thing with Pau vs. Kwame.

    Amare may have wanted out *because* Porter’s style didn’t compliment his game. So, at the end of the day, Raja, Diaw, Nash and Amare played a style under D’Antoni that made the collectively, the best team they could be. Shaq, then Porter, didn’t mesh and now the Suns are searching for an identity. Searching for a blueprint.

  64. I think two things contributed to PHX decline:
    1) Robert Sarvar and the excessively small market pocketbook.
    2) D’Antoni and his insistence on playing only seven players in a SSOL offense. I grant you that #1 may have influenced #2, but I also think the coach has to develop his bench – regardless – I mean, look at Smush.

  65. Wish I could have gotten involved in this topic earlier. (apologies if I’ve overlooked a few of the previous comments).

    Kurt, I think you’re correct that a team will be most successful if it can find a plan, or identity, and stick with that (at least for the medium term future). However, sometimes that ‘plan’ needs modification depending upon your personnel, which may not always turn out like you’d expect or want.

    You mention the Lakers having a plan, and that contributing to their success. This is largely true but not completely. The three-peat team was hardly the same run-n-gun Showtime era Lakers. Let’s face it, a large part of the Lakers success over the years is simply the fact that they’ve had superstars on their teams. Having superstars is ultimately more of a prerequisite for title contention than having a ‘plan’.

    As for the Suns: I have a big problem with the “Sarver is cheap” argument. Seriously, how can Sarver be cheap when his team is over the salary cap? Yes, the dumping of draft picks and the like have often (or mostly) been for financial reasons, but not because of cheapness. Instead, Sarver’s problem is that he *overpaid* on a number of contracts, thereby leaving himself with no room under the cap and forcing the salary dumps.

    As for Porter, Kurt said “Porter did what he was asked, and he is being fired for it.” This isn’t correct. Kerr wanted more emphasis placed on defense and half-court execution (which Nash and others wanted as well), but Porter came in and tried to implement a full-on Detroit-like scheme. He did this without realizing that the talent on his team wouldn’t allow this. If Porter wanted to move the team more into a Detroit direction he needed to take more time, until the Suns could bring in players to implement that system. Porter’s other huge mistake is that he tried to change things without getting his players on board. He was never able to convince Nash on the change in style (and that gave others like Bell and Diaw and excuse to not buy-in either). Local reporters here in Phoenix are saying they’d heard coming out of training camp that the players hadn’t bought into Porter’s overly half-court system. You simply can’t be a successful coach if you don’t get your (star) players to buy into what you’re doing and Porter didn’t. That was Porter’s fault, not Sarver or Kerr.

  66. Flint,
    “Gasol was a top ten NBA player for several years in Memphis. ”

    Gasol has never been a top ten player, including this year. He is (career-wise) a borderline All-Star, who is a perfect fit for this roster.

  67. Wondahbap – Respectfully, i think the idea that offensive “systems” matter doesn’t have much empirical support. You don’t need to look at players stats for very long to realize that on a pace adjusted, per minute basis NBA players are astonishingly consistent. As Lakers fans, I am sure you guys believe the Triangle is an important part of your success, but the truth of the matter is that a team which has Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, and Ariza at its disposal will win 60 games no matter what offense it plays.

    Re Amare – The problem is not the system, but personnel. While diminishing returns aren’t generally a huge issue in the NBA, they are with Shaq and Amare, who play essentially the same position.

  68. 46 – I’m a Las Vegas native. This city is not capable of supporting an NBA team with no decent stadium and in the midst of the current economic meltdown. If the Hornets were to seek greener pastures outside New Orleans, this isn’t the pasture.

    Even before the economy went south, I could have easily made a solid argument against this city’s case for an NBA team. With the way things are now, it’s not even worthy of debate.

    And speaking of Worthy, no knock on Dominque, but Worthy was the better all-around player. As underrated as any Hall of Famer can ever be, he meant more to the Lakers than most could see. That team wouldn’t have won with Dominque, unless he totally changed his style of play to mesh with what L.A. needed.

  69. Exhel – Well, this is a Lakers blog, but the evidence out there tells a different story.

    Gasol’s Grizzlies averaged 49 wins for three years in a tough Western conference. His best teammate were Mike Miller and Shane Battier. They rest of those rosters were an assorted collection of NBA detritus.

    Kobe in the post-Shaq era pythaged out to 40.5 wins.

    In my book, I would say Kobe and Gasol this year, and over their careers have been pretty much equally productive. You would have to give Kobe the nod as the more valuable player since his production is much harder to find from a shooting guard, but there isn’t much to choose between them as players.

  70. Flint,
    This may be a Lakers blog, but most of us are not biased homers. However, I would say that any comparison of Kobe and Gasol as players has Kobe ahead by quite a bit. Team wins are a good measure of team success, but not a great indicator of individual talent or ability.

    In the first year after Shaq left the team, the Lakers had their coach resign mid-season and suffered many injuries that affected their win total. Not an excuse but an explanation of why their record was poor. But in the 2 seasons before Gasol came on board, the Lakers won 42 and then 45 games and made the playoffs both seasons (both seasons where the Grizz did not make the playoffs). Those seasons, with marginal NBA players *starting* (Kwame and Smush), I think, prove what Kobe’s value was and also show that Gasol, while a very good player, was not a franchise player that could overcome the same obstacles that you imply he was just 2 seasons earlier. I mean, look at those Memphis teams after Hubie and Fratello left but still had Gasol and Mike Miller and then look at those Lakers teams and I think you can see what the real value of Kobe is.

  71. SBCinAZ,
    Thanks for the info on the Suns. I will not continue to claim Sarvar is cheap, however, I don’t think he has enough basketball knowledge to make reasonable decisions, including hiring Kerr as a first time GM.

    Flint,
    From the wreckage that was the Lakers, post 2004, through 2007; Kobe was the only reason the Lakers 1) got to the playoffs at all and 2) remained a big draw on the road. I would contend both those conditions are necessary to consider a player really great. Pau was a member of a team being developed and, while they never rose above mediocre, that was still a step above the Lakers prior to the 2007-8 season.

  72. Flint,
    “In my book, I would say Kobe and Gasol this year, and over their careers have been pretty much equally productive.”

    Sorry, but that’s a ridiculous statement. No way are they equally productive. And as far as Gasol being a “top ten” player, that means that he has been in the top 4 of all PFs and Cs. Off the top of my head, I would put Duncan, Shaq, Yao, Howard, Garnett, Bosh, J. ONeal (before the injuries), possibly Stoudamire ahead of him.

  73. Craig – Whether he is a big draw on the road? That’s an interesting definition of greatness.

    It’s a pointless argument about Gasol and Bryant, and hopelessly off topic. My point is this. You win in the NBA not because of systems, but because you have great players. And Gasol demonstrated he was that in Memphis, carrying his team to three 50 win seasons without much help.

    I always love a good Kobe argument, obviously I don’t believe he is as good as you guys think he is, but we can argue that another time…

  74. Detroit, in 2004 as the exception, proved the rule that you need at least one great player to win in the NBA. Actually, I would say Wallace might actually qualify on that Detroit team.

    That said, systems must be built around the great player you have. If your great player doesn’t fit the system you want to use, then you better get another system, because you are in a self defeating spiral. Granted some great players can fit most systems, but I think putting Yao Ming into a running system wouldn’t work at all.

  75. This is an extremely late contribution, but I felt like posting this link to an article written by Roland Lazenby about the Suns for anyone who hasn’t read it:
    http://blogs.hoopshype.com/blogs/lazenby/2008/12/19/breaking-the-fun-machine-in-phoenix/

    I sort of think along the same lines. The Suns did come somewhat close to a championship (or at least a Finals appearance) with D’Antoni and the SSOL system, but the Spurs (their worst matchup as an earlier poster pointed out), stomach punched them pretty much every year (you can claim suspensions, Nash’s bleeding, etc., but the fact remains that they couldn’t get over the hump regardless of whatever extenuating circumstances were in play; there are no moral victories in sports).

    I would also argue that the rise of the Lakers (along with the Jazz and Hornets) last season as real conference contenders also contributed to closing the window on SSOL as it existed. Kerr didn’t have the same faith in the experiment as Colangelo/D’Antoni did, and tried to do his own job the best way he knew how, by building in the mold of the franchises he’d seen succeed.

    Can we blame him? I don’t know. Current affairs suggest his plan is not paying off in the short-term at least. I agree that the plan as Porter envisioned was not much up the alley of the Suns’ personnel.